The Mack @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Review by Mirren Wilson | 08 May 2019
  • The Mack

If the recent events at Notre Dame have taught us anything, it’s that buildings can hold great love, memories and admiration. The world's relationship to Paris’ Gothic cathedral is not unlike the Scots' relationship to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh library at the Glasgow School of Art, which has tragically been up in flames twice within four years.

Rob Drummond's new play, The Mack, couldn’t have been presented at a more relevant time. Directed by Jack Nurse, it explores characters surrounding these fires and whether buildings or art or anything can be “more precious, more beautiful – more lasting than life itself".

There are three empty chairs on stage with a backdrop of a classic Charles Rennie Mackintosh flower. Three chairs, for three characters. You’ve got the artist himself, a fireman present at library fire number one and an art expert specialising in Mackintosh’s work, present at library fires one and two. All three are experiencing some form of turmoil with cleverly woven parallels of depression, loneliness and death. After a slow start, your attention is grabbed fully as the text delves into existentialism.

James McAnerney is gorgeously charming as the iconic art deco artist. His Glaswegian tones deliver Mackintosh’s love letters (known as the Chronycle) to his wife with openness and wit. The intimate space works in John Michie’s favour as he takes on the emotional role of the shaken fireman. Faced with a wakeup call, after sending in 120 firefighters to save a building, his character questions if art is valued more than life. Then you have the unfortunate art expert, played by the internally fiery Janet Coulson, who takes you through the rollercoaster of continuous loss with great expression.

There are some questionable moments where these characters directly engage with each other, after previously existing in their separate worlds. The story is slightly broken due to several unnecessary blackouts but overall, it’s a very moving piece.

This play questions how you find self-worth when you’ve faced complete destruction using three poignant perspectives. It embraces honesty surrounding mental health and the process of refocusing, rebuilding and everything that occurs along the way whilst celebrating the sense of purpose that art can bring. Buildings may not last forever, but art will outlive us all.

The Mack @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended