Review: Careful – Gilded Balloon at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Wednesday August 24 2016

Three Stars

For the past two years, Scotland has topped the Rainbow Index, which measures legal equality for LGBTI people across Europe. The country hasn’t always been nearly this progressive, though. Lanarkshire in the early 1970s was a particularly lonely place for a young girl named Sheena Mary McDonald who was questioning her sexuality and gender identity. “While other girls were dreaming of a date with David Cassidy, I was dreaming I was David Cassidy.”

That adolescent girl survived and became the singer-songwriter Horse, whose astonishing vocal talent and heartfelt lyrics have won her a devoted following in Scotland and beyond. Yet, her path to happiness and self-acceptance was long and rock-strewn, as this enjoyable and admirably frank one-woman show, scripted by the playwright and comedian Lynn Ferguson, makes clear.


Appearing on an open stage with only a couple of armchairs and a table with a photograph of her beloved late parents in the centre, the singer charts the key episodes in a life of tremendous highs and desperate lows. Her recollections of her youth are especially poignant. If being repeatedly called a “lezzie” while walking around Lanark (including once by a female police officer) was humiliation enough, worse was to come. When the teenage Horse revealed to her parents that she wanted a sex change, they dispatched her to a psychiatrist, who betrayed her confidences, plunging her into depression.


Pic: Kris Kesiak

Taking its cues from the landmark events in McDonald’s life, Ferguson’s witty script follows the classic trajectory from despair to redemption-through-creativity, and there’s a certain comfort and pleasure in knowing that love and fulfilment are on the horizon for this likeable, self-effacing woman, alongside increasingly rapid improvements in acceptance and equalities legislation.


McDonald isn’t always the slickest of raconteurs, and some of the transitions between scenes are a little raggedly defined in Maggie Kinloch’s production. The vivid writing and the warmth of the performance keep us on-board for an hour, though, and the show is unsurprisingly at its most alive at the end when the singer belts out the beautiful title song in her huge and wondrous voice.


Box office: 0131 622 6552, to August 29

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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