Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


WITH a glass of whisky to hand, yer man RD Laing (Billy Mack) is waxing vaunty about ... himself. It’s the 60s, he’s been rated number three in a top ten list of ‘mind-doctors’ - only Freud and Jung are ahead, and they’re dead already.

There’s only one cloud on his blues-skies horizon: the current woman in his life, Jutta, has left him and he’s hoping every phone call is from her.

But when the phone rings, it’s one of his two Glasgow daughters, Karen - would he? could he? come and visit, because she has some news she needs to share. And here is where writer Ian Pattison introduces us to Laing, who can write, at best-selling length, about the far-reaching dynamics of family life, even as he’s failing as a father to his own children - one of whom, Susie, is fatally ill with leukaemia.

The irony of all this is beyond painful: how could Laing, with his high-flying reputation for radical, empathetic treatments of schizophrenics, be so physically and emotionally distanced from his own flesh and blood?

Laing’s monologues, full of bizarre biographical details and droll anecdotes, shade in the circumstances that shaped him. Mack, dapper in black, delivers these with the showman’s flair - bordering on arrogant swagger - that allowed Laing to function so successfully in his career.

That same, self-serving performance no longer blinds Karen to his flaws. Nonetheless his absentee indifference to their poverty wouldn’t matter to Karen (Eva Traynor, touchingly stalwart) if only he would be there for ailing Susie (Sarah Miele, who lights up so poignantly when he does arrive).

Claire Prenton’s direction wisely opts for nuances rather than histrionics: her cast - with Mack deftly reviving the role he created in 2013 - make us well aware of the complex hurts, defence mechanisms and vulnerabilities barely contained under their characters’ skins, make us aware, too, of the daughters’ ongoing love that accepted Laing’s divisive self.