Coming Clean: Barbara

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

You might, at the start of this one-woman play, hanker after a comeuppance for self-satisfied Barbara as she scores unnecessary points off another church-goer. Status and superiority matter to Barbara: her husband’s a police superintendent, her son a qualified doctor, she’s a whizz at classy home-making.The centre surely cannot hold in such a smugly untroubled domain. And indeed, Barbara’s world does disintegrate when her husband is arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing young girls.

Alma Cullen’s play – the first new work to be staged in this part-retrospective PPP season – feels like a forensic dissection, with Barbara pinned out on the slab of public scrutiny while privately having to close-examine every aspect of her marriage. Did Barbara truly not know what was going on? Or was she too busy living a rose-tinted dream to ask awkward questions? Did she ever really know the man she loved unconditionally? Does she actually know who she is, now that the carefully constructed carapace of a happy family has fragmented.

Cullen’s drip-feed monologue takes loyal wife Barbara from court-room shocks to prison visiting hours and beyond to a point where bleak reality can’t be dodged or denied. At each shift in Barbara’s awakening, Wendy Seager simply owns every physical and emotional inch of her character.

She unerringly draws us in to the core turmoil that seethes away under Barbara’s neat, polite jackets and pearls, challenging our earliest opinions of a somewhat superficial woman with instances of suppressed insecurities, desperate aspirations, trust betrayed.

In truth, the piece would work effectively on radio, but director Marilyn Imrie introduces some visual action by having Seager energetically discarding bits of costume as if she was sloughing off skins.

In a week when a TV documentary will level accusations of child abuse against the late Michael Jackson, Cullen – and a compelling Seager – remind us that for many, such traumas lie closer to home.