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Knocking On The Wall – A Trilogy by Ena Lamont Stewart

Ena Lamont Stewart, who died at the age of 96 in 2006, was Scotland’s first modern major female playwright. Although she was from a large cultural and artistic family, her writing was not encouraged as, even in the twentieth century, it was not considered a suitable activity for a woman, even though she married an actor. She said that she wanted to write about “Real life. Ordinary people”.

Knocking On the Wall - Matt Littleson and Jasmine Hyde. Credit Craig Fuller.
Knocking On The Wall – Matt Littleson and Jasmine Hyde. Credit Craig Fuller.

Her second play, Starched Aprons used her own observations of Glasgow’s Children’s Hospital; it was very successful and led to her strongest piece of writing, Men Should Weep in 1947. “Many friends and neighbours were affronted. How could she write about ‘those awful people’… she must be a Communist.”

The three short plays that make up Knocking On The Wall date from the 1970s and are subtly and often very cunningly written. For example, the first of them Towards Evening appears to start as a light comedy, with a voice-over indicating Leonard’s thoughts about living with his sister, this being a very recent arrangement. They barely seem to know each other, Leonard – a superbly understated portrayal by Robert Hands – seemingly not even wanting to get to know his sibling, Edie, wonderfully and desperately acted by Janette Foggo. Yet. Just as we get comfortable with the two people, Stewart gives us a piece of information that suddenly turn the play in a different direction… beautifully written!

The second play, Walkies Time for a Black Poodle, also demonstrates Stewart’s ability to lull the audience into a false sense of security, and then suddenly turn everything around. Here Ella, the excellent Joanne Gallagher, coping with a very broad Glaswegian accent superbly, is sitting alone, bored, friendless – they have all deserted her – in a converted villa flat in a Glasgow suburb. She has recently married a wealthy man who is never at home: clearly, his business dealings are suspect, but she saw this as the only way of escaping from her roots. The play is a conversation between her and her cleaner, Maggie: Janette Foggo in another ‘all is not what it seems’ role. In fact, the ending is very bleak and truly shocking – but so powerful and beautifully understated. What a magnificent writer Stewart was!!

The third play, Knocking On The Wall, concerns two sisters, Isobel (Joanne Gallagher again) who considers herself above everyone else and is quite unpleasant! and Dorothy (Jasmine Hyde), a former teacher who is slowly recovering from a nervous breakdown. They have a water leak in the bathroom, so whilst Isobel is out, a plumber’s mate, Alec (Matt Littleson) calls, saying that his boss will be there shortly. Littleson is suitably enthusiastic in the role, whilst Hyde shows him and us a side of her that would have shocked the neighbours if they had been looking through the window! The portrayal of Dorothy by Jasmin Hyde is breathtaking in its energy, yet is very subtle and completely believable. It is very funny, yet we scarcely laugh because it is truly shocking! When Mr Brown, the plumber himself turns up, it just makes the whole scenario even more tragic. Stewart packs more into this 40-minute play than many writers are able to in a full-length one!

Finlay Glen is obviously a hugely talented and imaginative young director who instinctively knows how these plays should ‘go’ – bringing out the light and shade and cleverly pacing them so that we are never aware of the surprises that suddenly appear around the next corner. Likewise, Delyth Evans, who has designed a traverse set showing us three different rooms in the course of the evening – simple, believable, and focussing our attention on the plays. Likewise, the lighting (Zoe Ritchie) allows us to concentrate on the actors.

Three ‘must see’ short plays by a master of her craft – even if those of us born in the south of England may at first have slight difficulties with the Glaswegian accents. If only Ena Lamont Stewart had been encouraged to write more plays…

Very highly recommended to those who enjoy searching out unfairly neglected plays of the past – something that Neil McPherson and the Finborough Theatre do so well! MORE PLEASE!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Three women on the edge of society; three chance encounters; three tales of isolation, reconciliation and hope from one of Scotland’s greatest playwrights.

Towards Evening. Siblings Leonard and Edie have been estranged for many years, but – in search of companionship in their advancing years – have now decided to move in together. When the two clashing personalities encounter each other late at night, their uneasy domestic arrangement is tested and deep secrets revealed from their past…

Walkies Time for a Black Poodle. Ella has moved up in the world. From a working-class background, she and her husband Bob have made it and moved to a posh suburb out of town. She should be happy, but she’s not. Desperately lonely and out of place, Ella longs to return to her old life in the city. Her only company is her upright and genteel housekeeper, Maggie…

Knocking on the Wall. Former teacher Dorothy has had a nervous breakdown, and moved in with her sister, Isobel. The plumber is due to visit, but Isobel has had to leave Dorothy alone. When young Alec, the plumber’s apprentice, turns up instead, he and Dorothy strike up a very unlikely connection…

Production Team
Director – FINLAY GLEN
Set and Costume Design by – DELYTH EVANS
Lighting Design by – ZOÉ RITCHIE
Sound Design by – HATTIE NORTH
Executive Producer – MICHELLE DYKSTRA
Producer – Presented by Georgie Polhill for Dryad Theatre Limited in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.

Cast
JANETTE FOGGO
JOANNE GALLAGHER
ROBERT HANDS
JASMINE HYDE
MATT LITTLESON

KNOCKING ON THE WALL
A trilogy by Ena Lamont Stewart
Tuesday, 31 October – Saturday, 25 November 2023
https://finboroughtheatre.co.uk/

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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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1 thought on “Knocking On The Wall – A Trilogy by Ena Lamont Stewart”

  1. Absolutely marvellous review of 3 fantastic short masterpieces. I found “Knocking on rhe Wall” especially moving- such great acting by all of rhe cast and so well directed.
    The Finborough deserves much more acclaim – it is a hidden jewel that comes up with superb productions, time and time again. It certainly puts some of rhe dross that is staged in the West End to shame.

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