Ida Tamson

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

five stars

While Jock Tamson was off fathering the bairns, Ida was doubtless at home looking after them... Which is what the Ida Tamson in Denise Mina’s play is still doing, caring full-time for the wee boys who belong to her daughter Mary.

Where’s Mary? Good question! Given Mina’s proven (and awarded) flair for writing crime novels, there are troubling twists attached to Mary’s non-appearance.

Ida herself has a somewhat shady background: married to a Glasgow gangland drugs boss, she’s rejected the comfortable trappings he’s accrued and stayed put in Barlanark. With Mary off the scene – overtaken by a serious drug habit – Ida is battling poverty and the nippy disdain of neighbours while raising her grandsons. Cue The Flesher: the younger boy is his – and he wants him right now or else...

First seen at Oran Mor in 2006, this revival has a different director (in Lesley Hart) and a couple of cast changes but hurrah! Elaine C Smith has returned to the role of Ida Tamson and – now a grandmother herself – there’s a sense that Ida’s fierce determination to keep both boys safe has a truly deep-felt meaning for her.

Across three short scenes, Ida is forced to keep her sharpest wits about her as she encounters unscrupulous characters who want something from her. One is an ambitious young journalist (a slyly manipulative Joy McAvoy) who sees a career breakthrough in scooping Ida’s life story, the other is Flesher (an affable Paul James Corrigan, delivering soigné menace).

Mina’s script offsets the grimness of Ida’s choices with some humorous ripostes that Smith serves up pithily in brave defiance of desperate circumstances. She shows us an Ida who is trachled yet resilient, initially out of her depth with hackette Helen but increasingly in shrewd control of things. An Ida who channels the heartache-loss of a daughter into unswerving, protective love for her grandsons. An Ida who can move you to cheers and tears. Simply beezer.