DAVID GREIG FEATURE
Edinburgh-born playwright David Greig has just put the finishing touches to his latest dramatic construction, The Architect. Andrew Burnet asks a rising star of Scottish theatre about the bricks and
bsen may be among the influences David
Greig cites for his new black comedy. but
the man at its core is no master builder.
Significantly. the central character in The
Architect is something of a failure. Not
only do the occupants of the tower block he proudly erected in the 1960s want it demolished. the foundations of his family life are also crumbling. But Leo Black. the embattled architect in question. does owe his ancestry to lbsen and his contemporaries Strindberg and Chekhov.
‘I wanted to throw a l9th century hero into a 20th century play and see what happened.‘ explains Greig. Slender and soft-spoken. he presents a rather shy appearance which belies his growing reputation as a hot young talent. He was. by his own admission. too self-conscious to become an actor. but his enthusiasm and talent for drama are such that his latest offering is anticipated as An Event by Scottish theatre— goers.
Greig’s last play. lint-ape. was widely praised when it premiered at Edinburgh‘s Traverse Theatre last year. and later was translated
for productions in Berlin and Chemnitz. His Fringe First-
winning Stalingrad was revived by the Citizens‘ company in Glasgow the year before. A television film. Nightlife. is in the can at BBCZ. awaiting broadcast. Commissions are in hand for a big project for the Royal Shakespeare Company on the Spanish Civil War. a BBC, radio drama about ex- pats in Africa and an unspecified Traverse production for next year. No small achievement for a man who‘sjust turned 27.
To these conventionally scripted works must be added his participation in Suspect Culture. essentially a partnership with actor Graham Eatough. This Greig describes as a ‘more organic” process: it was through discussion with Eatough — a fellow graduate in English and Drama at Bristol University — that he arrived at the theme and subject matter of his first play. A Savage Reminiscence. a kind of sequel to Shakespeare‘s The Tempest.
A similar approach led to several more Suspect Culture projects. the last of which. One Way Street. was revived to popular acclaim last year. This June. the company will collaborate with Spanish performers in a show called Eurostar. based on the true story of a man trapped in an immigration limbo. who wound up
mortar of his creative process.
living among the baggage reclaim carousels at the Charles de (iaulle airport in Paris.
A cursory glance over (ireig‘s curriculum vitae reveals a range of interests that is remarkably broad. both geographically and culturally. lira-ape in particular used a small community of thoroughly marginalised people in a forgotten border town to stand for an entire continent. It was. he says. ‘very influenced by Brecht. but more emotional and accessible‘. What. then. has drawn him to a story so rooted in domesticity — in the home and the family?
‘I was looking for a figure who represents a kind of benevolent authority.‘ he says. ‘The ideal architect is a kind of god-like figure who creates your environment for you and has possession of mystical skills that ordinary punters know nothing about. I‘m interested in the way you could live in an estate. and you‘re not conscious of it as sotnebody‘s work; it‘sjust where you are.‘
The play creates a series of parallels between personal and public life, as Leo Black faces a pincer attack from pro-demolition campaigners on one hand and his dysfunctional family on the other. Writing about the uninhabitable monoliths architects all over Britain threw up in the 1960s clearly has a political aspect. but Greig fights shy of polemic: ‘The implication of setting Europe in Europe was that the audience couldn’t have any argument with the way characters spoke. I think most people watching it will probably think this thing should be knocked down. but I‘m trying as much as possible to hold the character and the argument in balance. I don’t take a stance on it. Some of the architecture of the l960s has succeeded and some hasn’t; but the stuff that hasn’t was in many cases as well motivated as the stuff that has.’
The politics of class are not irrelevant to the play. however. ‘British audiences are extremely fussy about whether a working-class character would know about certain things or talk about them in an articulate way.” says Greig. ‘I took a definite decision that I wanted to set this play in Britain: but I wanted to find a writing voice which would allow me to write all the characters as being equally poetic.’
For Greig. though, finding that voice is a secondary element of the writing process. The earliest inklings of inspiration. he says, tend to arrive in visual form. ‘In this case, there was a picture of two boys at the top of a tall building, walking along the edge, and a picture of a girl in a truck, driving through the night. I write whole scenes which don‘t connect up, but then begin to find a story in which they can. There‘s obviously a lot of honing after that, but I don’t feel
any control over where these images come from.’ Once the characters have
developed, they have a way of supplying their own voices. ‘I find them most entertaining when they’re saying things I’ve never thought before,’ reflects Greig. ‘The lines that jar in rehearsals are the ones I had thought before — they’re the ones that get cut.’
Like dismantling the scaffolding when the building’s almost finished?
‘Yeah definitely — it’s exactly the same.’ It’s a simile that Leo Black — master builder or not — might
‘The ideal architect is a kind of god-like figure who creates your environment for you and has possession of mystical skills that
ordinary punters know nothing about.’
appreciate. The Architect is at the Traverse
Theatre, Edinburgh, Saturday 24 February—Sunday IO March.
The list 2? Feb-7 Mar 1996 23