A Drunk Woman Looks at The Thistle
- Mark Fisher
- 7 August 2008
This article is from 2008.
Scotland in a Mina key
If Liz Lochhead had continued the opening speech of Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off for another hour, it could have sounded a lot like A Drunk Woman Looks at the Thistle. Written by crime novelist Denise Mina as a response to Hugh MacDiarmid's 1926 poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, it's a funny, brainy, argumentative dissection of the very idea of national identity, performed with bright-eyed élan by the excellent Karen Dunbar.
The central argument of Mina's rhyming monologue is that the talismans of Scottish identity are too diverse, indeed too contradictory, to mean anything at all. It is a nation of country-dwelling townies who love to laugh despite their dourness. As with any generalisation, the notion of a national identity falls apart the more you pick away at the detail. When Dunbar – whose drunkenness releases a fantastic eloquence – calls for the cultural slate to be wiped clean and the nation to go forward without the legacy of its self-definitions, it feels like a liberation.
The irony is that the very act of analysing the country in this way is a particularly Scottish characteristic and, in its wit, irony and free-ranging allusions, A Drunk Woman Looks at the Thistle is nothing if not a Scottish play. An entertaining one at that.
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