The Sash King’s Theatre

Hector MacMillan was brought up in Glasgow and served in the British army in Omagh where the military convoys were both cheered and reviled by the populace, according to their beliefs. This background gave him the impetus to write ‘The Sash’ in 1973 exploring the prejudice on both sides of the sectarian divide. It’s not a comfortable play to watch. Bill MacWilliam (Stewart Porter) is a racist, drunken, blaspheming bigot. He desperately wants his son Cameron (Colin Little) to join him at the Orange Walk in Glasgow, continue the family tradition and honour his late mother’s memory.

Cameron is having his doubts. His mother’s death has prompted him to question what he believes and he resists his father’s attempts to persuade him to continue the Orange tradition. Bill takes pot shots at Catholics, Indians, God, and anyone else who doesn’t fit his narrow-minded Protestant ideal. He wants nothing more than for Cameron to marry Georgina McDonald, and bring about a merger of two strongly protestant families.

The language is racist and offensive but typical of that used in the 60s and 70s and although there was laughter in the audience there were also a few sharp intakes of breath and the laughter was tinged with embarrassment. The downstairs neighbour is an Irish Catholic spinster, (played by Still Game’s Jane McCarry) who has her pregnant unmarried niece Una (Ashley Smith) to stay. Bridget and Bill have equally strong and opposing beliefs but hope for the future is here too as both Cameron and Una recognise, and to an extent ridicule, the attitudes and traditions of the older generation. At one point the pregnant Una accepts the offered whisky with the comment that ‘Whisky is less damaging than prejudice.’

Sectarianism is still part of Scottish culture. The programme notes point out that last year saw a record number of arrests for sectarian offences. I am undecided if this play serves to perpetuate this prejudice or whether it provides hope that future generations will have a more open minded attitude. You’ll just have to go and make up your own mind!

Val Clark