Jen McGregor’s “Such A Nice Girl” is the stablemate of Jen Adam’s earlier play “Warrior,” with both sharing the venue of St John’s Church. Many of the compliments and criticisms which I had bestowed on “Warrior” would apply just as readily to “Such A Nice Girl,” and my sense of these plays was ultimately the same: of innovative Scottish drama which is overshadowed, and in creative terms almost obscured, by the political context which has produced it. In February the Scottish government announced the spending of £860,000 on anti-sectarian theatre and educational projects. The challenge for McGregor is of creating a drama which can viably withstand the embarrassment of also being propaganda.
So we are back in the chapel at St John’s Church, this time in the company of Eilidh (Hazel DuBourdieu), a Catholic who is in jail awaiting trial for sending a hate-filled email to her Protestant boss Laura (in “Warrior” the Prod was in the slammer). Whilst Eilidh is at prayer, the figure of her boss floats into her mind, as well as on to the stage, and Eilidh mentally and physically re-enacts their confrontation. We have all surely experienced the sense of being imprisoned for hours within the memory of some disastrous argument. It is in its intense, claustrophobic structure that McGregor’s play is at its most effective, and once the workplace tormentor has assumed the role of Eilidh’s own conscience, then the existential agony is wound up with an exquisite grip.
I have learned to expect sharp acting from Black Dingo Productions, the company behind this play, and “Such A Nice Girl” conforms to the quality of the brand. Oh, but let us turn to the politics, which is the dark sin behind this play’s fair face. Think of teenagers having their front doors kicked down at dawn, a man being jailed for eight months for comments made on Facebook, the prosecution of a man for singing “Roll of Honour” at a football match, and other delights which make our liberal democracy ring somewhat hollow, and then you will know what is at stake in this play.
“Such A Nice Girl” seems to at first wander into difficulty because the heroine’s struggle to overcome her hatred supplements, and corresponds with, the state’s determination to control how she thinks. If Eilidh uses her own reason to become a better person then good for her, but otherwise her journey is not really important because the state will get the same result anyway by jailing, fining, humiliating and wearing her down.
McGregor gets this performance slightly off the hook by having her character arrested for sending death threats, which is illegal regardless of any associated sectarianism. Her play, with its accusation that Eilidh is “all talk,” also raises an interesting uncertainty about the line between thought-crime and real crime. If somebody enjoys fantasising about murder whilst they are morally incapable of it, should the state intervene? Tychy would always answer no, but this play at least acquires credibility by demonstrating how challenging these issues can be.