When I was a Girl I used to Scream and Shout is a bittersweet, harrowing and hilarious dissection of the relationship between a mother and daughter; it is also much, much more than that, examining the choices available to women over the generations and the stigma that continues to surround female happiness and desire.
Sharman Macdonald’s play is a quiet classic of modern times; written in 1984 and set in a small coastal town in Scotland, the isolation – and tribalism, perhaps – of the cut-off community is clear. Fiona (Gillian Hardie) is 32 and has returned for a beach holiday with her waspish mother Morag (Barbara Wallis). Her childhood friend Vari (Danielle Rude) is on hand to illustrate how life could have turned out had she stayed in her home town; and the reasons for their strained relationships are all about to come out in the wash. It’s surely no coincidence that Fiona’s holiday reading is Marilyn French’s Her Mother’s Daughter.
In between, there are flashback scenes to Fiona and Vari growing up – sharing baths and playing ‘willy games’ as small children, to bragging and exaggerating their knowledge of sex as young teenagers – with the fear of the all-seeing eye of a very attentive God keeping Fiona on the straight and narrow. When she finds out her mother plans to move away with a new boyfriend, she takes desperate measures to throw a spanner in the works.
The consequences of Fiona’s actions at 15 last for the rest of their lives. On the beach, Morag loudly laments the lack of the grandchild she always wanted; Vari contemplates how her three children have taken their toll on her body; and it turns out in their own ways all three have spent their lives stifling their own pleasure and there is no ‘right’ way to be a woman. Macdonald’s beautifully written script examines womens’ lives with a keen sensitivity and realism, and director MF Murchison plays to all its strengths.
There is one male role in the play – that of the town’s supposed bad boy Ewan. A sweet performance from James Ledsham, who bashfully loses his virginity to Fiona and struggles to cope with the consequences, is beautifully measured and captures the confusion of first teenage fumbles just as well from the boys’ point of view.
It is a particularly fine ensemble cast – in a Blood Brothers style, Hardie and Rude are great fun as we watch the girls grow up, but are also heartbreaking as they reunite later in life. Wallis is perfectly aloof as the post-war matriarch with the Dot Cotton-like sense of religious duty.
The set is also fun but sometimes unnecessarily busy – a bath at the front of the stage doubles up as bathroom space and also, thanks to projections on the tub, becomes a sea for dipping toes in or lying by. A larger projection onto the back of the space helps to set a scene or add a little cartoony extra exposition; this works best during the amusing sex scene.