Damned Rebel Bitches

A nine-year-old Ella tells the audience the tale of the fierce Jacobite women who followed their husbands onto the battlefield and prevented them from retreating during the Jacobite uprising. Termed “damned rebel bitches” by the Duke of Cumberland, these women faced the world with unrelenting determination.

Writer and director Sandy Thomson creates two new rebel bitches through sisters Ella and Irene. Thomson knocks down every preconceived notion that the elderly are weak and helpless. Both in their 80s, Ella and Irene trek from Scotland to New York in search of Ella’s grandson Cameron. As Hurricane Sandy descends on New York, Ella and Irene prove that they can navigate any challenge. After all, what is a Category 1 hurricane to a woman who made it through the Clydeside Blitz of 1941? The story jumps through the sisters’ lives as they live through the Second World War, move to New York, and eventually move back to Scotland. At each moment of time, Ella and Irene take on life with a tenacity that delights the audience.

I couldn’t help but laugh as 80 year old Ella cracked Tinder jokes and chastised her daughter for not understanding Facebook. And when the two sisters looked for Cameron in a gin bar, I giggled indulgently as I imagined my own grandma downing one too many G&Ts.

The youthful exuberance of Ella and Irene becomes more touching after watching stories of their past. In the two-hour play the audience gets to watch as Irene and Ella gracefully make lives for themselves after being orphaned by Second World War. The struggles of the wartime generation are not taken lightly, and Thomson deftly covers topics such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and dementia.

The beauty of this play is not just watching elderly women swear and hot-wire cars, it is the resilience of women as they move from one obstacle to a next, always with sharp wit and a drink in hand.

Much of the success of this play can be attributed to the outstanding four person cast. Tina Gray’s Ella was everything I aspire to be in 60 years, a truly unapologetic rebel bitch. Always rife with humour, I enjoyed watching Gray’s portrayal of Ella from age nine to age 80. Geoffrey Pounsett’s portrayal of Pete, Ella’s deceased husband, is convincing and tragic. Though times change and the present becomes history, his battle with PTSD sheds a darker note on the wartime generation. Additionally Eilidh McCormick and Jeremiah Reynolds show the struggles of old age versus youth respectively. All of Thomson’s characters were extremely likeable, and certainly carried 80 years worth of depth.

While the ending of the play felt haphazard and rushed with a few stumbles along the way in execution, after experiencing so many years of Ella and Irene’s lives I didn’t care. Damned Rebel Bitches is an entertaining play and fresh portrayal of older generations. To paraphrase Ella, “being old isn’t for sissies”.

Damned Rebel Bitches

Traverse Theatre 

Run Ended

Photo Credit: Sarah Darling

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