An interview with someone you know is at once dangerous and fascinating. You may take for granted what the person is like and assume you will fill in existing contours with some details; you may realise that you are in certain ways about to meet them for the first time. I knew .loy'ce McMillan the theatre critic the ‘scourge of the First Nights‘ as a fellow -critic once called her. ratherpeculiarly intendinga compliment The Lisl's representatiy e at the photographic exhibition on the male nude. But having read The 'I'rat'erse Theatre Story I wondered if I would know the person I was to interview. And in the most important ways. I didn't.
To start it off I cited II I. Mencken‘s classification as among the great moments of his life ‘the day I corrected the proofs of my first book'-this was her first book. and was that her feeling'.’ No. she said. not the proofstage but the ‘experience of putting the first draft into the Red Star parcels office in Waverley and it was a March evening I remember it most vividly and just floating down the road and thinking ‘Thank God. When I put the entire bundle of proofs into the Red Star parcels the bundle weighed seven pounds ten ounces. It was exactly the same weight as my niece w ho had been born the previous week and I thought same sort of
experience same sort ofecstasy when it’sall over”.
This maternal sense may hay e been largely subconscious; I didn’t get the impression she would have spoken like that if the Mencken thing hadn‘t prompted it. But she seemed to have become at once older and younger. She was ten when the Traverse was born. and she had had to project herself back in time to get the sense of being an observer in the time ofcreation. 1962 when the 'l‘raverse was being formed. 1%} when it opened. and beyond. Yet the search for conjuring up at least some sense of w hat each stage was like left her discovering each new phase as an innocent. Historical judgements had to be made. but the successive atmospheres had to be conveyed. Ilow had she done it. she who vaguely thought she had first heard of the Traverse in 1974'? ‘I talked to people. most exhaustively .‘ The snide thought struck me. was it exhausting for her more than for her interviewees. and the snide thought withered to its mean death: she might have been exhausted. but as she talked now it was obvious that she had devoured her oral evidence with the voracity of a Herodotus. and that her sources had rejuvenated themselves in the telling. She was not explicitly saying that. perhaps not knowing it. but that was the message ofwhat she was saying of what she found. There had been ‘eight or nine people who were involved in the early days of the Traverse — Tom Mitchell - Demarco — Terry lane -- varioUs others — that chapter is based on perhaps depth interviews with people who were involved at the time plus a kind of background sense of the city through having lived here for ten years because you tend to pick up a sense ofevolution in the time you've lived here. I tried to catch a sense. I suppose all the time I was looking for the common denominators. the different stories that I was
.* 2235‘s.: c -~ 3mm”
To open our Festival Preview. ()w en Dudley l'idw'ards talks to .once McMillan. about her new book about the Traverse Theatre. twenty-five years old this year and a
seminal influence on the Fringe.
hearing. cony ersations w ith people all of w hiefi I recorded on tape carefully I just sort of built up a picture which w as growing within me. and I suppose that w as the king of method which stuck. plus ofeourse rey icws. press cuttings. ephemera. you know the aspects that bob up in the press.‘ She laboured long and hard in the National Library on the Traverse archives: in fact. .she was having the most delightful of all historical activities. mingling official minutes. correspondence. theatrical bills and programmes. with the recollections of fascinating informants. It was an exercise in oral history on a highly sophisticated level: although she seemed startled. and slightly apologetic. when I called it that. As to archival material. she paid particular tribute to Tom Mitchell who owned the original .lames (fourt building of the 'I'raverse. Richard Demarco‘s superb collection of photographs she found ‘extraordinarily evocative of the period. She is highly critical of the work in a number of ways. and it is a cool appraisal. not false modesty or tactical manoeuvre She concluded that John Malcolm ‘had evidently been the key element in the foundation of the theatre ~ it was obviously he who had decided that was the time and the place for getting Demarco and Haynes and all their chums together and gave it the impetus to become a professional theatre at a time when it was just an idea in people's minds. But I couldn't get an address'. She is proud of having got such extensive material from the nine Artistic Directors. yet both in interview and in the deliberate stress on Malcolm in the very last sentence of the book she makes it clear something vital is missing. ‘It is not a definitive history ' I pointed out that no history is ever
difinitive. She seemed surprised. but insisted tiers was less dc finitive than most.
But as she thought about it she reflected that the great creative moment for production and audience can never be realised on the page in am case: she could not really discoy er w hat the impact of individual plays had been. and w here she thought she got nearit. it was often not something that could be com eyed in words ‘Mostly I felt I w as working with people’s memories and rightly so I think because theatr- fundamentally is in its impact on people’s mint'~ everyone you talk to about the Tray erse you g: -' an impression of something that happened to them which was of importance in affecting them or changing their tninds.‘
The most startling point of the intcry lL‘“ can. w hen I asked .loycc McMillan about her succc in allowing for people's yicwsoftheinsclycs twenty years earlier hayingbeen changed. I cl ::-.. I said. consider 'I'ray erse (’hairman Nicholas I-‘airbairn oltlic late l‘Iblls: he had subsequentit become a I‘ringe-basher. somewhat unsuccessfully. in the late l‘)7fls. \Vas he not likely to imagine himself now as holding view s other than w hat he bclicy ed them'.’ She smiled I looked at Nicky I5airbairn‘s autobiography thinking that I'd find some considerable insing into the Tray erse. There are two paragraphs I suppose on the subject of the 'I ray erse which made some rather flamboyant remarks such a» you would expect from Nicky I’airbairn. one o which was rather a fine phrase which I won’t attenth tocjuote here but which went sometlu'i ' like ‘in art and culture. faith should always triumph oyercaution‘. which I thought was y c ' a line. since he'd just been attacking .lim I lay tie in the previous paragraph for always allowing faith to triumph over caution. and he also called .lim Haynes a Socialist and I found that I suppose illuminating' she smiled again. it seeming (rightly) unnecessary to comment on the intellectual limitation which could classify the Tray erse's most unclassifiable creatiy e genius. whose ferocious anti-bureaucratics had led to his clash with I’airbairn and departure. But. said I. thinkingofhcrobvious capacity toshow developments from l‘airbairn's standpoint as u all as from that of Haynes and so many others. h« “A did she guard against I-airbairn's possible second-guess recollection in intery iew '.’ ‘I didn‘t inteiyiew Nicky I’airbairn. lwiotc to hint sev.' tl times and received no answ cr.‘
And yet. she had brought him to life as he has never. perhaps. succeeded in bringing himself to life. The minutes. she thought. had giy en her good material: and people had remembered Iterf‘. I had talked about dissecting I‘airbaiin’s matc ' '3 (having assumed from her authoritative w ritii‘. ' there must have been an interview ): she was cy idently constructing I-‘airbairn (and cvcryot~ else) frorn correlation of material and scientifh (though she wouldn't have called it so) testing « ~l oral and w rittcn cy idencc,
I had never realised the similarities betw cert Herodotus and Alice in \‘l'ondcrland before. I-‘m' an Alice perpetually in love w ith \Vondet land a"
all HI lls c‘pipltimles.
The list I: lSAugiIst l "\11