Fiona Shepherd talks to Iain Reekie about a bright new 7:84 Theatre Company Scotland.
7:84 is playing the regeneration game. First came the realisation that a proud nineteen-year history is no guarantee ofcontinuing relevance. and shifting the equilibrium has been no breeze of a task. Since the departure ofJohn McGrath. the company has spent a couple of wilderness years fumbling in the half-light ofan identity crisis. As an overtly socialist theatre company there was a peremptory need to move with the times. and as new Artistic Director Iain Reekie explains. nothing short of a complete overhaul would suffice.
‘7284’5 history has been one of agitprop theatre.‘ he says, ’and there‘s certainly an argument for theatre to be able to react instantly to an event that takes place, but I think that’s got a limited use now. It’s not dynamic enough, it‘s not energetic enough and it’s not engaging people enough. We’ve got to look beyond that. Over the last ten/fifteen years the political dynamic has changed so much in the UK that political theatre has to address a new form, to find a more universal, international language in terms of relating to people’s experience. We‘ve got to become part of a wider movement. We‘re not discarding the past.
but we’re going through a rebirth.‘
Evidence enough that the lithe. new-look 7:84 (with all the personnel shunting that metamorphosis demands) is putting its programme where its mouth is, is its choice of ‘comeback‘ productions. In October and November it tours with The Lament ForArthur Cleary by Irish poet/novelist Dermot Bolgcr; previously a Fringe First winner for Dublin‘s Wet Paint company. It follows this with Sophocles‘s thrusting, modern Antigone. Iain feels the decision to stage a 2000-year-old classic perfectly illustrates 7:84‘5 shift in emphasis.
’It‘s perhaps one of the most political plays ever to be written.’ he says. ‘It’s about how power relates to the individual and how government should relate to people individually - that‘s a huge political debate that‘s timeless. Now there‘s a whole bracket of youth who are feeling disenfranchised from politics. Scotland‘s just
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voted the way it has done for the fourth or fifth time but its needs are being ignored again so we’ve got no outlet for the power we‘re meant to have. From that point of view Antigone is absolutely ideal because it‘s about an individual voice trying to find reason within the state. It‘s relevant in terms of the constitutional debate that‘s taking place in Scotland.‘
The Lament ForArthur Cleary. based on Gaelic legend but set in contemporary Dublin, is an even more pertinent choice, in that it underscores the company's quest ‘to reﬂect the European experience‘.
’Our experience, while it‘s unique to us. is also an international experience.‘ says Reekie. ‘We‘ve got an awful lot in common with people from France. Italy. Germany. or people from Ireland which is a marginalised nation in the way Scotland is. The Lament For Arthur Cleary is about Ireland‘s struggle with a wider Europe — something Scotland is having to think about as the pace gathers towards a united Europe. The play really explodes those issues. about somebody who‘s lost in space. needing beyond everything to return home but not really knowing where home IS.
This production marks 7284‘s return to Highland
% touring. substantiating its renewed commitment to
cover all Scotland. and should also be instrumental in forging a reciprocal relationship with the urban community, from whom the company can learn as much as teach. Reekie is unremittingly enthusiastic about all aspects of 7:84‘5 return to the fray. ‘I‘m just interested in making 7:84 a national company again. There used to be too much competitiveness between companies in Scotland. I like to think that‘s changing now, that these companies like Raindog and Pen Name can start to celebrate their differences in a way and I‘d like to think that 7:84 can stand alongside them as a new company. sharing the broad cultural activity that‘s happening in Scottish theatre just now.‘
V NEW PLAY From
Democracy to Spam
in-group jargon to describe their techniques. Their methods expose Pants to be a fundamentally navel-gazing operation. Yet their last production, Democracy, was perceived to be a critique on the Thoroughly Modern Male; mercifully, they beg to differ, but, well . . .shuffle uncomfortably, avert eyes, look embarrassed . . . their work is open to interpretation.
group that had equal rights to say “yes” or “no".'
‘I guess people will see their own organisation,’ Clayton continues, ‘be it the teams working behind a banking desk, or a social work office. You know, people who have to interact with other people, but it’s about how this group works.’
it’s all a bit existentialist really; or is it Marxist, or maybe Freudian?
What are Pants Performance Association about? Do they mirror a wider world or are they just five guys and a performance space to fill passing comment on how it feels to be five guys with a performance space to fill? Their non-text based physical theatre inhabits a nebulous realm somewhere between fuzzy allegory and creative insularity; their inspiration for any one production is usually the loose ends left by their previous show; they use
Take their new show, Spam, a Barclays New Stages award-winner. It’s a sporting event. 0r it’s the Game of Life. 0r it’s Pants outlining the process of creating theatre. 0r it's a quality meat product.
‘Spam became a word we used among ourselves to describe an undermining of one member of the company by another,’ explains Gavin Clayton. ’Upstaging or outshouting or outdoing or setting somebody up to fail
‘We always talk about this game of Spam being a threshing machine which you put “stuff” — material - into,’ says David Richmond, ‘as you would in any
Anyway, it must be something to do with masculine braggadacio, right? ‘A lot of men come along to our shows expecting to be told how tough it is being a man, some cathartic experience. You don't get that from us; it’s not tough being a man.’
Okay, wrong. Spammed again. (Fiona Shepherd)
Spam, Centre For Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, Thurs til-Sat 12 Sept.
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The List 11— 24 September 1992 39