A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Chic Murray - a Funny Place for a Window

BBC Scotland, Sunday 10pm


EVERY now and then some TV writer tipsy on nostalgia calls for the return of Play for Today. Visions of Abigail’s Party, Just a Boys’ Game, and a young Kenneth Branagh, straight out of RADA, swim before their eyes.

Just think, they implore, of the writers and directors who cut their teeth from the dramas: the Loaches, the Poliakoffs, the Bleasdales. Imagine the hundreds of young actors being given the chance to show what they can do.

What is forgotten is that there were more than 300 plays over the 14 year run of Play for Today in its main incarnation, and while some were outstanding the rest ranged from so-so to occasionally dire.

Rather like today’s afternoon plays on radio, I seem to recall a lot of ranting and misery, most of it set in rural Wales.

READ MORE: Neil Cooper on BBC tie-in 

It was with some reservations, then, that this viewer approached the first of six televised pieces from Oran Mor’s successful A Play, a Pie, and a Pint events, held at lunchtime in Glasgow.

The run started with Chic Murray – a Funny Place for a Window, Stuart Hepburn’s study of the Glasgow comedian and his wife, Maidie. Dave Anderson played the man in the bunnet, Maureen Carr his wife Maidie, with young Brian James O’Sullivan in a range of roles from agent to neighbour.

As the play made clear, Murray divided opinion between those who thought he was a genius and those who just did not get his brand of streetwise surrealism. The Oran Mor audience were clearly in the former camp. Fair enough. One would hardly go to see a piece with Chic Murray in the title and not be a fan.

Even so, the famous lines did not quite soar as expected. Perhaps they have been repeated too often by other comedians, keen to show their adoration of the master. More of a problem was some of the rather well worn Glesga banter that peppered the script: “Tell me something I don’t know”, “We’re a legend in our own lunchtime,” etc.

When the comedy was turned down a notch and the focus fell on the relationship between Murray and Maidie – “the tall drawl and the small doll” as they were known – the piece came into its own.

The scenes exploring their marriage, good times and bad, were spare yet said so much. It was all there, his need to please audiences versus his resentment at always having to be “on”. Her desire for a quiet family life after her own successful career. Anderson and Carr played it like the old school troupers they are, every note struck just right.

READ MORE: Four stars for Crocodile Rock

This was a no frills production, with a couple of close ups providing a break from the wide shots. The set was simplicity itself: a piano, a sofa, a backdrop with a stage bill. The most animated thing in the production was the energetic and multi-talented O’Sullivan charging on and off stage as he switched characters.

READ MORE: Dusty Won't Play, Oran Mor

Once upon a time, TV folk would have thought this kind of thing deadly dull and stagey. Why would anyone want to watch a play at home and miss out on the atmosphere of the theatre? Yet the hugely successful broadcasting of live theatre to cinemas shows the public likes drama on the big screen, so why not the small?

At just 55 minutes, the lunchtime-length Oran Mor plays are ideally suited to television. Any longer and the piece would have struggled to hold the attention’ any shorter and it would not have drawn the viewer in.

Consider this experiment a success.

On iPlayer