Ash in hand
Scots playwright Tom McGrath enjoyed an idyllic collaboration in Quebec with Canadian playwright Daniel Danis. Andrew Burnet hears why both writers are so pleased with the result.
‘.-\rtists are doormen. We open the doors of the subconscious.‘ No. not Jim :‘ylorrisorr. This intriguing soundbite is from a recent interview with Daniel l)anis. one of French-speaking Canada's nrost admired young playwrights. Discussing his award- winning second play. (Wu/res (lt’ mil/our. he continued: ‘lltl is set in a specific place and time. but for rrre. the larger question remains: will there be a marriage between the masculine and feminine souls'." 'l‘ranslated by Tom .‘vchrath as Stones and xix/It’s. the play centres on a bereaved husband who brings his daughter to a remote town in Qtrebec (‘ounty following his wife‘s death in Montreal. There. they encounter a brutal gang. and unwittineg provide the catalyst for a devastating revenge tragedy. This is no traditional drama in the Jacobean mode. however. as McGrath explains. ‘lt’s radical in its treatment of time. It tells the story from a vantage point that is many years on from the events. but it doesn‘t tell it in
a sequential way. It kind of outwits time in favour of what the characters carry inside themselves as memory of the event.‘
McGrath -- who is the Traverse 'l’heatre‘s‘ associate I literary director — first discovered Danis‘s work 1 through the Canadian organisation CliAl) ((‘wrm'
(It's (llllt’llH drmnuliqrrcsl. which was keen to organise an exchange of Scottish and Quebecois
Buried messages: Stones and Ashes writers. "They sent a variety of scripts for us to look at.‘ he recalls. 'and l idly picked one tip because the cover appealed to me. liust opened it to give my mind a rest. The first thing I saw was a qtrote from .-\tllonitl Artaud. who I've been very influenced by.
‘We were working in French, but whenever he talked about the play I could understand him perfectly. I would read him parts of my new draft and he absolutely loved the use of the Scots idiom.’
Then I read the opening section of the play and it reminded rue ofa lot of the French poetry that I like
- Jacques l’revert and people. Then l read the next bit and lov ed the values in the play and its portrayal of relationships and its tenderness ~ although it‘s very
savage in places. l loved the fullness of the portayal ofthe human being: it wasn‘t all negativisrn. And I loved the way he was telling the story. I thought it was a big advance in ways of telling stories. It was actually a very important play from a technical point of view.‘
Fired with this enthusiasm. McGrath wrote to CEAl) saying he‘d love to see the play performed in Scotland: and perhaps Danis would like to come over. Shortly afterwards. a fax arrived from Danis himself. explaining that he‘d made a vow to stick at his work in Quebec for a year. but that he‘d heard all about McGrath. ‘He said if I'd like to go over there and work with him on a translation he'd pay my fare and put me up.‘ Though he declined the airfare. it was an offer McGrath couldn‘t refuse.
During an intense ten-day collaboration in July this year. the two writers becarrre practically symbiotic. ‘We were working in French. btrt whenever he talked about the play I could understand him perfectly.‘ says McGrath. ‘I would read him parts of my new draft and he absolutely loved the use of the Scots idiom. When I left. he said to me that l could feel free to make my own decisions without referring to him.‘
It was also an opportunity for McUrath to assess at first hand the much-discussed similarities between Scotland and Quebec. which was also enjoying an unfeasibly fine summer. ‘The similarities are the nature of the landscape ~ the big. big lakes and the hills and the forests — and the language. which is twangy with deep vowel sounds. and the constantly unresolved separatism problem. However. Quebec‘s much bigger. There are whole tracts of land that aren‘t owned. and it does have its own government and its own infrastructure. So you begin to feel. well. actually this society is on a much bigger scale; and although any rural society is very kind of closed tip. the thinkers in Quebec are very international.‘
‘ Even the North Americo-sceptics among us should concede that a bit more internationalism could do Scotland a power of good.
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mm— The ghost . with the most ? ,.
Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera is a tale of tragic love between a beautiful singer and a young composer shamed by his appearance into a shadowy existence beneath the majestic Paris Opera House. It might not seem like the stuff of legend, but just over nine years ago, the popular casting of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman kicked off one of the most successful musicals of all time.
Since then, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s extravagant musical has notched up over 3500 performances at Her Majesty’s in london, where it has yet to play to an empty seat. It’s broken every box office record in every
. r ..
i Shadowy existence: the Phantom of the
phacts and phigures. . .
theatre it has visited around the world, and now the Edinburgh Playhouse looks set to follow the
In 1993—4, l.es Miserables pulled
350,000 people through the Playhouse’s doors; this was trumped
last year by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Oreamcoat, with 422,000 punters. But all that’s chicken feed compared to the estimated 600,000 - one twelfth of Scotland’s population — expected to troop in for Phantom.
Impressed? Try a few more Phantom
I Scotland will be the sixteenth
= country the Phantom has visited -
. ' others include Japan, America, Canada, Austria, Germany, Holland
‘ . and, most recently, Switzerland.
. I It took thirty-two 40-foot-long trucks to bring the Phantom from its
‘ sell-out run in Manchester. An 80-
strong crew has spent six weeks
erecting the staging. And that’s working fourteen hoursa day, seven
days a week. .
g I The show gets through 1.3 tonnes of l dry ice per week, at £4000 a throw.
3 I One of the most spectacular
; moments is when a half-tonne
l chandelier descends 75 feet in iust under five seconds. It’s situated above : the stalls, so mind your head.
l I If you’re on a diet, it’s worth
i bearing in mind that front-of-house
l staff expect to sell 21,000 litres of
l ice-cream, 25,000 litres of Coke, 1.5
5 tonnes of Maltesers, and .75 tonnes of ! popcorn.
I If you like trees, try not to think about the 25 tonnes of programmes.
I This run will cost £35 million, at an average weekly cost of £150,000. How you know why they need those 600,000 bums on seats. Then again, Phantom has grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, so the Milky Bars are on Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Philip Dorward) Phantom of the Opera, Edinburgh Playhouse, Fri 20 October-Sat 20 April
The List 20 ()ct-Z Nov IWS 59