Damned Rebel Bitches Podcast

Let’s suppose you took an action movie where the hero is Liam Neeson, or Bruce Willis, and they’re running around saving people, and being all kinds of cool – and you replaced the big boys with an 80-year-old grandmother. What would happen?

I’ll tell you exactly what happens; magic. Because that is the story of Damned Rebel Bitches, which played on The 7th of October in Paisley Arts Centre, and I have to be honest right from the top – I loved this play. The title immediately grabs you in and if I’m honest my first thought was that it was from the era of the United States Civil War, but the truth is actually far closer to home.

The title comes from the Jacobite uprising, when women would bring their families to the battlefield with their husbands so that the men could never retreat during the battle. The duke of Cumberland got so naffed off with it that he referred to these women as “damned rebel bitches.” These women were legendary, and took the title back for themselves – not too dissimilar to last year when, during a political debate, one of the candidates referred to his opponent as a “nasty woman” which inspired women all over the country, and the world, to take the title “nasty woman” and use it to unite in the fight against him.

And in the play it’s used to wondrous effect; we follow the lives of sisters Ella and Irene, from the Clydeside Blitz all the way up to the days before, during and after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. During the 71 years between the two points we see Ella fall in love, get married and have a family of her own, and when Ella’s grandson Cameron disappears in the days before Hurricane Sandy, the sisters take to the streets of New York to track him down.

With such a deep play, you’d expect there to be dozens of actors on stage representing the characters and the times they lived in. There are four actors who play everything from bartenders, all the way up to the dead soldiers recreating the battles of World War 2 where Ella’s husband, Pete, served and is haunted by his own demons of the battles.

Between four actors, a hundred and sixty props and over two hours, what Sandy Thomson has managed to do is take every Scottish grandmother you’ve ever met in your life and taken her out of the supporting, advising role that grandmothers and elderly women always seem to play and given her a role front and centre that captures you immediately.

Ella is the sharp tonged, pissed off bad ass granny we all have; the one that will throw a slipper at you if she thinks you’re getting mouthy and will literally hold a gun to a strangers head to defend you. I’m not kidding, that happens.

Actress Tina Grey (it’s impolite to state a lady’s age) owns the stage; we see her go from being a 10-year-old school kid to an 80-year-old grandmother, and you never question Tina’s performance. And if Tina is great at acting down than Eilidh McCormick is a wonder at acting up, taking on the role of Irene she goes the opposite way, she starts as age 87 and goes down in age. Again, impolite to state a lady’s age, but there is a gap in years between Tina and Eilidh but you never notice it, they perform the perfect double act either as sisters, or during one memorable moment outside a New York City bar when Eilidh plays bartender Jenny and Ella reminds Jenny, not too subtly, that just because she’s old it doesn’t mean she’s forgotten what sex is!

There are genuine moments of laugh out loud hilarity in this play. There are also moments that will make you gasp and, it sounds cliché, but I found myself getting misty eyed at a couple of points as well so there’s definitely heart to it.

Director Sandy tells me the show will tour again and when it does make sure you go to see it. Trust me, you don’t want Ella coming after you! And if she knows about Tinder and how to use a phone-tracking app, I assure you she will.

Interview by Peter Greenwood for www.paisley.org.uk