On a muted yet atmospheric set designed by Jamie Vartan, Sue Glover’s The Bondagers eke out a meagre living working the land in 19th century Scotland.
Bound together by toil, the women are at the bottom of a social pile, pressed down by the largely male-dominated strata of maisters, hinds and ploughmen.
The first half of director Lu Kemp’s production is the underpainting to the more emotionally-defined shift of the second half. In the first hour, the details of The Bondagers’ lives and circumstances are sketched in through a rhythmic script, beautifully dynamic lighting and a palpable sense of time and place.
Thus established, the narrative focuses on the plight of Tottie (Cath Whitefield), a simple-minded girl picked on by the others and taken advantage of by the men. In the harshness of her surroundings, her fate is a foregone conclusion – with the seeds of doubt, betrayal and tragedy sown and nurtured through the narrative’s understated arc.
The strength of the all-female cast helps drive The Bondagers through one or two points where the pace flags, their determination and doggedness defining the mood of Glover’s quietly devastating piece.
With the imminent march of the industrial revolution haunting the bleak countryside, The Bondagers is not only a superbly evocative recreation of a time long forgotten, but a poignant reminder of the transient nature of life itself.
The Bondagers runs at The Lyceum until 15 November. More details are on the Lyceum website