Our Bad Magnet: ‘At one point I considered either suicide or teaching’
Few writers have emerged so suddenly to prominence as Douglas Maxwell, but it's been a longer journey than you think.
Words: Steve Cramer
‘Exactly a week ago. I was working in a computer games shop. and now I'm here.’ ‘Here‘ is the Tron. and the speaker is the profoundly affable Douglas Maxwell. After five years of struggle, the young writer has become, almost overnight, one of the most sought after talents in the country. The Tron is treating Maxwell's ()ur Bad Magnet as the highlight of its season. while Grid Iron, a young company with a reputation for producing the highest quality site-specific theatre in the country. will be staging his [)eeky Does A Bronco in the autumn. Also rumoured as an autumn highlight is his play. Helmet. which the Traverse has an option on.
His amazement at his sudden promotion is self- evident. but Maxwell is also aware of the hard road trodden to be in his position. ‘lt‘s exactly five years to the day since I left Stirling University after my degree,’ he says. ‘A friend and l were running Two Dogs. a theatre company with a little money from the university early on. but after we finished that. I worked on my writing. I got rejection letter after rejection letter for my scripts and each one was worse than the last. I thought I was getting worse. At one point I considered either suicide or teaching. and my parents. who are teachers. were terrified I might take
'I'd thought that plays had to be about middle-class English couples and their divorces.’
the second option.‘
So what brought Maxwell from this slough of
despondency‘? You suspect that what eventually told
in his favour was a kind of cheerful nai'vety of
approach. Maxwell. it seems. has learned the great old lesson about writing what you know. and hang the conventions. Dee/(y Does A Bronco. a play set. and indeed to be performed in a swing park. illustrates his attitude. ‘lt‘s a play about children growing up to be
adults and it required a big space. so I just said. “If
the theatre isn‘t big enough. just do it in a park". I was lucky. because only Ben Harrison. who saw the script would be willing to do that.‘ Harrison. artistic director of Grid Iron. might have been born to direct such a project. and is said to be ecstatic about it.
But what of 010' Bad Magnet? 0n the face of it. it‘s a rites of passage play set on the West Coast. a kind of Stand By Me in which the protagonists don't grow up to be as tall as their American counterparts. It speaks of three schoolboys who meet up with a mysterious outsider called Giggles. He appears troubled. but becomes a shaman figure among his peers through his powers of storytelling. Giggles disappears. and subsequently the play deals with reunions of the three remaining friends at two intervals when they are nineteen. and subsequently. when they are 2‘). Each discusses his life. and the quite separate impact of Giggles upon it.
‘1 wrote it. and realised that it was the first time I‘d written something about where I came from.’ Maxwell says. ‘I got a bit of a buzz from it. because up until then I’d thought that plays had to be about middle-class linglish couples and their divorces. Deeky and this play are about similar things like friendship and growing up. but they‘re quite different in technique. What they have in common is they start out funny and end up tragic. /\ lot of my plays do. Maybe I‘m a natural optimist.‘ l’or Maxwell there seems every reason for this state of mind. (Steve Cramer)
Glasgow: Tron Theatre, Thu 1—Sat 17 June.
Stage whispers Re: Treading the boards
They're a queer lot. I try to be liberal and tolerant about them, but deep down they make me feel uncomfortable. Let’s face it, they've got a lot of influence in society already, and they can’t help the way they are, poor things, but I certainly wouldn't want them teaching my children. However, the assorted bunch of repressives, religious fanatics and loony right-wingers of the ’keep the clause’ fraternity have gone too far this time.
Recent court action by the splendidly-named Mrs Strain has led to the freezing of grants to two prominent theatre organisations, MCT and Glasgay, presumably because she thinks they are liable to promote homosexuality in their audiences. Now I've been to a number of productions under the auspices of these companies, but haven’t yet felt the urge to put on earrings and scent as I left.
What all this is about is the curtailing of our right to see the theatre we wish to. It amounts to censorship, no more or less. These companies are small and ill-funded from the start, and the capacity of this well-bankrolled, ideologically motivated organisation to bully the Glasgow City Council into freezing their funding reveals the dangers that may lie ahead
We shouldn’t think that this will stop with these small companies. The implications of the court case threatens film, television and theatre alike, for if these people triumph, you can say goodbye to all manner of entertainment. It's all very well to be existential and say there's nothing you can do, but sometimes, when your foes are ideologically organised and focused, you have to show the same attitude. Stop these people. If you don't fight, you lose.
What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Will we be able to see classics like
Torch Song Trilogy again?
.v-s 9 m an»: mausr 65