The Mack

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

Three black chairs and a bare stage. Not, however, just any old chairs. All three have the tall, narrow ladder back that carries the design stamp of Charles Rennie Mackintosh – and, like the rose-motif window in the back wall, they represent a legacy that went up in smoke when the Glasgow School of Art (The Mack) was badly damaged by fire in 2014 and comprehensively destroyed by another blaze in 2018.

Rob Drummond’s new one-act, The Mack, uses those events as a portal into profound, far-reaching issues of how we gauge the value of something, with humankind and its needs being implicitly weighed against art, heritage and cultural identity.

Our own instinct for survival surely favours human life regardless, but the three people who deliver Drummond’s interweaving monologues ensure that the loss of the Mack is expressed in such vividly human terms that its future fate has echoes of life or death decision-making. It’s a cannily-wrought, hauntingly nuanced piece of writing, compellingly delivered by the cast and kept free of faux-dramatics by director Jack Nurse.

John Michie (Fireman), Janet Coulson (Expert) and James Mcanerney (Mackintosh) address us directly, divulging deeply personal experiences that border on debilitating trauma.

There’s no on-stage interaction, but emerging parallels – especially when loneliness exacerbates morbid insecurities – deftly link past, present and the place of the Mack in each life. Coulson’s Mack-obsessed Expert is simply overwhelmed by its loss, poring over Macintosh’s blighted life while the man himself (a poignant Mcanerney) reads from wistfully longing letters to his faraway wife.

The real emotional clout lies, however, with Michie’s gruff, stalwart fireman, who recalls risking his life to rescue artefacts from the 2014 fire, only to find himself stressed and unravelling in the aftermath. His process of self-discovery has a painful sincerity that brings us face to face with Drummond’s core challenge: what is the cost – and the value – of art, and dead artists, in our life…