Mark Fisher considers a new book ofScottish plays. Also the revival of Elizabeth Gordon Quinn, Shakespeare in Edinburgh and the Bolshoi Ballet in Glasgow.
LISTINGS: THEATRE 48 CABARET 52 DANCE 54
Mark Fisher welcomes the publication of a new collection of scripts and a timely revival ofa recent play.
For all its successes and achievements. the establishment ofa definable Scottish theatre tradition has always been difficult. Unlike novels that stay around to be read generations after publication. or films that are re-screened long after their first release. plays tend to hit the boards for three weeks and promptly disappear into the ether. This is especially true in a country with no specialist publisher ofscripts. no agents operating exclusively for Scottish playwrights and no West End or national theatre to celebrate its accomplishments. It is no surprise that the theatre should move forward in fits and starts. unsure ofits history. uncertain of its future.
In the next fortnight. however. two events take place which. even ifthey won‘t correct the imbalance overnight. will at least allow us to begin to take stock ofthe state ofour theatre. On 3 May. Nick Hern Books confirms its commitment to Scottish theatre with the publication ofScot-Free. a collection ofseven plays first performed here in the last fifteen years. One of those plays. Chris llannan‘s Elizabeth Gordon Quinn. will be revived a week earlier by a new-look Winged Horse Theatre Company which under the direction of Hamish Glen has made a commitment to giving recent Scottish plays a second look.
‘We‘ve talked about doing Elizabeth Gordon Quinn for ages.‘ says Hamish Glen about the play that was first produced in 1985 at the Traverse and directed by Steve Unwin. ‘Chris llannan liked the first production. so it was really my enthusiasm for the play and the idea ofgiving plays second productions that brought it about. A play like that is set in Glasgow and yet it’s never been seen there. There is a whole body of work worth having a second look at. That will be one of the main strands of my work with Winged Horse. as well as doing contemporary work from abroad.‘
It is a timely revival both because of the new book. the first such collection in ten years. and because of a new political situation that makes the play particularly relevent. Set in a squalid Glasgow tenement flat during the 1915 rent
strike. Elizabeth (Jordon Quinn suggests an immediate parallel with the poll tax. ‘lt’s all there without having to do very much.‘ says Glen who is giving the play a period treatment in preference to Unwin‘s more alienating approach. ’The bailiffs come. there is civil disobedience from large numbers of the community — I haven't made it contemporary. It‘s a happy coincidence.‘
As well as giving the play a fresh treatment. a second consideration and a life longer than three weeks. there can be another useful advantage of oing a revival. Both Ralph Riach and Eileen Nicholas were in the original production and they return to this version with a more mature understanding of the play. ‘They‘d always wanted to have a stab at it again.‘ says (ilen. ‘so they were game to starting from scratch. It has huge advantages. They know what it‘s talking about straight away which saves a week's rehearsal time.‘
The easy availability of the other plays in .S'cot-I’ree should mean that modern revivals will be seen more frequently in the Scottish repertoire. Apart from the work of lain lleggie. Liz Lochhead. John Byrne and the odd writer in general collections. few Scottish plays have ended up in print. Now amateur companies and the casual reader. in particular. will have the chance to give the work ofJohn Clifford. Ann Marie Di Mambro. John McKay. Rona Munro and Tony Roper the sort of attention previously awarded almost exclusively to English playwrights. lfthe larger publishing houses like Methuen and Penguin choose to follow the lead ofthe young and innovative Nick llern Books. then there is real hope that Scottish theatre will become properly represented.
.S't‘ot-Frt'e is published on 3 May by .Vft‘lx lli'rn Books (£7.95). Elizabeth (iortlon Quinn opens at the 'I'rat'erse Theatre. [filinbio'gh on 27xiprilantl t/zt’tz tours.
Traditionally seen as Shakespeare’s most political play, Julius Caesarvisits Edinburgh next week in a new production by Compass Theatre Company. ‘If you play it in period,’ says actorTim Piggott-Smith, ‘it's amazing how many contemporary resonances appear; whereas if you impose a setting on it— a fascisti setting is the most common—you gain a few resonances but it crushes many of the others. You can’t overlook the resonance of a political leader who
would like to be a monarch, for example.’ So the play is set firmly in Caesar's day, though the design includes ‘tailored and very colourful’ costumes to help delineate the characters.
But doesn’t the text (which contains every pedant’s favourite anachronism - a reference to clocks) set the events in Elizabethan ratherthan Roman times? ‘I think we’ve benefitted from restoring some of that Elizabethan raunch,’ replies Piggott-Smith. ‘It was very well spoken to begin with, but rather stiff. We’re four weeks in now, and it’s much livelier.’
As sole artistic director of Compass (since the death last year of co-founder Anthony Quayle), Piggott-Smith stresses well-spoken dialogue as a primary consideration. ‘I think it’s vital
forces in government.
to any classic or modern classic play,’ he says, ‘and it tends to be neglected. We always start from the language.’ On that understanding, he chose Michael Joyce as director, and is acting with the company forthe first time, in the part of Brutus, reluctant conspirator against the over-reaching dictator.
Compass now consumes much of Piggott-Smith’s energy. ‘I tell people I used to have free time, but now I have Compass,’ he quips. These commitments have not, however, put a stop on his highly successful acting career elsewhere. This Friday, the first episode goes out of The Chief, a six-parttelevision drama in which Piggott-Smith plays the title role of a provincial chief constable whose libertarian ideals fall foul ofthe dark
If political wrangles be the food of drama, it seems Piggott-Smith has a healthy appetite. (Andrew Burnet) Julius Caesar is at the King's Theatre,
Edinburgh, 24—28 Apr; The Chief is on lTVfrom Friday 20, 9pm.
The List 20 April — 3 May 1990 45