Bondagers is the story of Tottie, Maggie, Sara, Liza, Jenny and Ellen who are employed as Bondagers, or female agricultural labourers, in the nineteenth century Borders. Strong, feisty, full of humour, these women are equally bound by the seasons and the cycle of life. Ultimately, Tottie, â€˜the bairnâ€™, is both abused and blamed for being so, and as writer Sue Glover says, this is a metaphor for what happens to the land.
Glover started, she says, with â€˜a misty landscapeâ€¦ shadows in a fieldâ€™, and the stage set, monochrome and eternally twilight, remains true to that. The women â€“ in grey, from bonnets to ankles â€“ shine through by force of their personalities, their â€˜spontaneousâ€™ singing and dancing, their stories. Led by Wendy Seager as Sara, the performances are exemplary; an ensemble piece where every woman relies on the others, to get them through and to have a laugh whilst doing so.
First performed by the Traverse Theatre Company, 23 years ago, the play is compelling. Skilfully directed by Lu Kemp, it has as much relevance now as it had in 1991, as it would have had in the 19th century. The Lyceumâ€™s director, Mark Thomson, hails it as one of the most memorable Scottish plays of the last fifty years. Certainly, it sits up there with other classics, like adaptations of Lewis Grassic Gibbonâ€™s Sunset Song, but itâ€™s not only a play set in Scottish history. Bondagers is fundamentally about the human spirit, about how we endure, how we survive and how we love. The women are concerned about a place to live, having babies and not having babies, the â€˜dread of winterâ€™ to come and the simple hope that â€˜itâ€™s dry for the flittingâ€™ at the end of the season.
I settled in my seat as a reviewer, on the look-out for memorable moments, quotable lines. Twenty minutes in, more or less attuned to the Scots dialect, my notebook was forgotten and I was engrossed in the play. That has to be the most favourable review of all.
Star Rating ****
Performances at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, running from 22nd October to 15th November 2014. Box Office 0131 248 4848 or click hereÂ