The Last Picture Show

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan, four stars

It’s December, 1918 and the troops are heading home. But if the Armistice – signed on November 11 1918 – brought peace on the battlefield, the physical and mental scars of war were emerging on Civvy Street.

It’s that lingering fall-out from the Great War that writer/director Morag Fullarton acknowledges with poignant compassion and appropriately resilient humour in The Last Picture Show at Oran Mor.

Bob (Matthew Tomlinson) has been blinded while on active service: his appearance – his mutilated upper face is cartoonishly masked – unnerves many of Dunoon’s locals, but not 12 year old Willie (Matthew Campbell).

If the lad’s make-believe games have romanticised soldiering, Bob’s recent experiences – shown in re-enacted flashbacks, complete with screen footage – provide a grim reality check. That reality, however, has left its mark on Bob’s future. In peacetime, he’d played the cinema piano that accompanied silent movies... what hope now, that he could secure the same job at Dunoon’s Picture Palace?

In a nice twist of casting that points up the energising value of camraderie in the face of adversity, Campbell plays not just the quick-thinking young Willie, but Bob’s wartime buddy, Billy. Helen McAlpine, meanwhile, is switching roles, and swapping hats – from the cinema manager’s pull-on cloche to nurse’s cap and even Charlie Chaplin’s bowler – in a whirlwind mosaic of the other characters in Bob’s time-traveling narrative.

Her Chaplin routine is knockabout brilliant, especially when some unexpected audience participation gets in on the act. As for the evocative strand of music that winds from the trenches to the popular tunes of the day, well, that is where all three performers sing from their hearts and totally touch ours.

It’s almost a 100 years since that Armistice was signed: The Last Picture Show is a timely reminder not to forget the ongoing battles that faced those walking wounded who came back.