Ness @ Òran Mór, Glasgow

A Play, A Pie and a Pint's Ness is a heartfelt comedy about Scottish legends and non-binary identity

Review by Rho Chung | 11 Apr 2024
  • Ness

A Play, A Pie and a Pint, Aberdeen Performing Arts and Sanctuary Queer Arts stage the world premiere of Ness, an exuberant one-act by Scottish playwright Hannah McGregor. Under Debbie Hannan's expert direction, the cast of three tell a heartwarming – and, if you're trans, perhaps painfully familiar – story of identity and personal mythmaking.

My Scottish partner sees a half-empty bottle of Buckfast on the empty stage and says that he knows he's going to like this play. The script feels proudly, joyfully Scottish, and the crowd in Òran Mór immediately relax into the show's familiar cadence. The play lands joke after joke (and the pies aren't so bad, either) – until there's that pang of trans recognition when the protagonist's mother refuses to accept their non-binary identity. 

At the same time, Em forms a bond of necessity with Loch Ness's legendary mother, Nessie. One of the play's biggest successes is the queer reimagining of one of Scotland's most famous myths as a fabulous bearded queen. The text intertwines legend as a cultural phenomenon with legendary status in the queer and trans community. As Em, Afton Moran is effortlessly charming and charismatic, and Craig Hunter gives a dazzling rendition of Nessie, complete with glittery, emerald Crocs. As Em's mother, Annie Grace is heartbreaking; the hurtful things the character says to her child are almost too real to bear. This strong cast have iron-clad chemistry. 

The play is somewhat affected by its own de-racialised perspective, but that isn't necessarily a hindrance. It's a deeply personal story, and the vestiges of whiteness and the mainstream – at one point, Em and Nessie are overtaken by the spirit of noguing – are part of that. In many ways, the whiteness of the play incidentally reflects the concept of whiteness as the Scottish default; it points to a particular faultline in Scottish theatre that imagines marginalities as distinct from each other. 

Ness is a deeply affecting story about re-beginning with your loved ones and with yourself. It's about loving and being loved enough to try. Queerness is magic, if our minds are open enough to see it. 

Ness, Òran Mór, Glasgow, until 13 Apr, £15-18.50; Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 16-20 Apr, £13.50-14.50 – part of A Play, A Pie and a Pint