JOE Corrie (1894-1968) was a working miner, becoming a playwright, poet, journalist and short-story writer. In the same decade as Sean O’Casey’s great socialist, Irish nationalist and humanist plays were being first performed in Dublin, Corrie was writing his own poems and plays.

One-act plays performed by the amateur Bowhill Players led to his first full-length play, In Time o’ Strife (1927) and The Image o’ God and Other Poems (1928). The play is a modern classic, depicting the aftermath of the General Strike in a mining community in Fife, and revived to new acclaim in 1982.

At its climax, the matriarch Jenny cries out off-stage to the men singing “The Red Flag”: “Sing! tho’ they ha’e ye chained to the wheels and the darkness. Sing! tho’ they ha’e ye crushed in the mire. Keep up your he’rts, my laddies, you’ll win through yet, for there’s nae power on earth can crush the men that can sing on a day like this.” The defiance of the spirit in the face of such oppression remains exemplary, while there are today no fewer hearts of lead.

READ MORE: Alan Riach: Neglect this historically key Scottish play at your own peril

Before, during and after the Second World War, James Bridie (real name Osborne Henry Mavor, 1888-1951) worked to embed professional theatre in Scotland. The Glasgow Citizens Theatre was founded in 1943.

Bridie, a founder member of the Arts Council, chair of its first Scottish Committee in 1948, and adviser to the Edinburgh Festival, also helped establish the College of Drama in Glasgow, attached to the older Music College, which became the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and then Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His original plays combine deft stagecraft, delight in the energies of words and ideas, characters and conflicts, immediately engaging seriousness and high-spirited fun.

The Prologue of The Sunlight Sonata or To Meet the Seven Deadly Sins (first performed 1928) sets out themes that recur in later works. Beelzebub appears among great, dark, cold, grim mountains, the Bens, asking: “What are the Bens to me? / Give me the bonny wee glens with the quick brown whispering water ...”

Then his thoughts turn to “the living heart of a man”:

Man. Man. Man.

You’re feart o’ me, you’re feart o’ me,

Droll wee slug wi’ the shifty e’e!

Raise your praise to the Ancient of Days.

I prevent you in all your ways.

The Scots voice, the sharp versification, the Deadly Sins who then appear and the human dilemma enacted, all indicate essential aspects of Bridie’s style and concerns. These overlap with those of John Brandane (Dr John McIntyre, 1891-1947), who helped him with the text. In Tobias and the Angel (1930), Jonah and the Whale (1932) and Susannah and the Elders (1937), Biblical themes explore perennial dilemmas with contemporary references. These are plays that remain pertinent and can be studied both as historical texts and as lastingly appropriate explorations of ideas.

They all address questions that never really go away. Does anyone know how far their selflessness may be trusted in the ideal of helping humanity at large? Who would be a traitor to their own comfort? Do good things emerge from ruthlessness? Can cruel means justify beneficent ends? Can people ever really work for the benefit of others when self-destruction and vanity are components of the human character?

In Daphne Laureola (1949), a young man becomes obsessed with an older woman in upper-class society. Social limitations encroach on people of different stations and a sense of human worth adheres to some people of no social privilege whatsoever. Human value is not measured by class distinction. Egalitarianism is at the heart of this vision, but idealism may be just a liability.

The Anatomist (1930) is based on the story of the body snatchers Burke and Hare, and the moral dilemma of the anatomy teacher Dr Knox, who needs corpses to dissect to teach his students and advance the benefits of medical understanding: but at what cost? A Sleeping Clergyman (1933) tells the story of a family across generations, from the 19th century till after the Second World War, in the conflict of social morality and natural desires.

At the centre of Mr Bolfry (1943) is a question about the nature of Presbyterian belief. It is set in a Highland manse during the war. Raging good and evil are pitched against each other in the dialogue.

How can anything be good when it denies the happiness, energy and decency of life? And if a religion configures itself in such a way, how can we accept it, especially in the context of international warfare?

IN the play, two soldiers from London, Cohen and Cully, are staying in the manse of the self-righteous Free Church minister Mr McCrimmon. His niece Jean is with him, also from London, in Scotland to recuperate after a bomb incident. Jean and Cully are radical thinkers, tired of McCrimmon’s moral certainty. For them, his religion itself contains demonic elements, so opening a book of old spells, they conjure up a devil: Mr Bolfry.

A long night follows: morality, war and peace, society and the individual come into the discussion of the question of self-justified hypocrisy, as McCrimmon sees the spirit world he has spoken of so readily come to life in front of him.

Holy Isle (1942) is set in the islands, about to be invaded: colonial domination is the theme. The Queen’s Comedy (1950) is set in the Trojan Wars, questioning the authority of the gods and asking questions about human suffering and endurance. The Baikie Charivari (1952) is a challenging, pessimistic, disorientating work representing various kinds of dislocation in the post-war world, with the Devil making comment on contemporary society.

Bridie’s plays were commercially successful in London but they show again and again familiar themes from Scottish literature. His medical training served him well as a writer whose forensic attention to unanswerable questions was tempered by a constant sympathy and understanding of the human.

He has been criticised for sometimes failing to resolve his plays in satisfying conclusions but the point of the open-ended questions is Brechtian: the audience is invited to carry on asking these questions, not to feel smug with reassuring answers. His autobiography, One Way of Living (1939) is beautifully written, a modern classic.

It would be as facile to caricature Bridie’s plays as no more than “middle-class” as to dismiss Corrie’s as merely “working-class”. Both are perennially provocative and will always warrant new productions.

As with so many of the plays I’ve been introducing in recent weeks, there’s an essential question: Why is contemporary culture so shy of reconsidering our inherited file of theatrical history? And don’t just dismiss this with a shrug and acceptance of the proverbial “Scottish Cringe”.

What does that phrase mean anyway? Nothing less than a vast psychological trap of conditioning into massive cultural self-suppression.

Well, pilgrims, if we’re going to be avalanched by a stupendous vomitorium of fools, horses, grandads’ armies, carry-on empires and Great Brutes of Britishness, we’ll need to do a lot more than we have done so far. Get started.