_ The “best of live‘.perfonnanceji
IAIN HEGGIE is certainly one of Scotland’s leading theatre writers, so why is he contemplating leaving for London, and writing in other media? He talks to theatre editor Steve Cramer
mm A Wholly Healthy
Glasgow, through An
15 x p e rie n e e (1 W0 m a n Gives Advice, to Wiping My Mother's Arse and onwards. lain Heggie has been a dominant voice in Scottish new writing for well over a decade. His work. featuring complex language and rhythms. acerbic satire and often shocking content. has a complex. but ultimately intelligently moral vision to it that makes it distinctive and always important. His latest play. Vanishing Point’s Sauehieltall Street. the story of an ageing Glasgow theatrical agent. her partner, an older actor, and their encounters with their younger equivalents. promises to bring to the theatre the astute observational qualities that this writer has brought to so many other worlds. But Heggie has indicated a desire to move away from the theatre in Scotland. Why? Steve Cramer Your work has been well received outside of Scotland. but sometimes there‘s been disappointment. even expressed by yourself. in local productions. Do you think there‘s a source to this? Iain Heggie There are too many untrained directors. I don’t think you can train talent. but directing is a job with a huge amount of skill attached to it which will make talent ﬂourish. and too many directors don’t have enough skilled training. So they live in a spirit of denial and bluff. partly pretending that the skills don‘t matter. and partly pretending that they have skills they don't have. 1 don’t think it’s about them individually. it’s about the system. that Anglo- Saxon thing used throughout the English speaking world that disapproves of training. But the problem with this is when you‘re in rehearsal. you‘re often aware that the person who‘s ostensibly in charge is the least skilled person in the room. That can become very uncomfortable. SC What about acting in Scotland? IH We‘ve got some wonderful actors in Scotland. But actors are very vulnerable in rehearsal. and like any human being. they‘ll look for the easy way out. What they need then is for the director to be a strong man. and insist that they don‘t take the easy route. at the risk of their own popularity. But too often they let things go. even when they know what should be done. and too often they don‘t. They let the main disciplines of the show go to be popular with the actors. appealing to the weak side. the “comfort me"
THE PERSON IN CHARGE IS OFTEN THE LEAST SKILLED PERSON IN THE
part of the actor. Actors want to be made to walk the
plank at a deeper level. Scottish actors are afraid of
heightened acting. because they say it‘s untruthful. There's a fear of loss of dignity which can give them a problem with my work. But explanatory. naturalistic acting can kill it.
SC Why. if there's a problem about this. hasn't it been identified?
IH Scotland is in a state of denial about it. Everyone knows what the problem is. but no-one says anythiiw. even you people in the press. I think the Scottish
press is very soft on its theatre. If
you compare your job to a football journalist‘s. in the same situation they’d be banging on people‘s doors. Can you imagine. I don’t know. just for example. a headline like “Sack the head of the Lyceum" or “The guys at Dundee Rep must go". That’s inconceivable.
SC What about your current director. Matthew Lenton?
IH So far. I’ve been very impressed. It‘s not necessarily about individuals. it‘s about training. I loved working with Tony (‘ownie We disagreed sometimes but hea was very open. and understood the process. And Matthew‘s been very open. too.
SC Do you think these kind of comments have affected you in the Scottish theatre?
Ill I feel as though. by complaining so much about things like production standards. I’ve been treated like an eccentric. someone who‘s far too old to be angry. People start saying there can‘t be any wisdom in this. can there? And the desire to drive up standards can‘t be anything but eccentricity. But someone has to state the truth. even if it's painful.
STAGEWHlSPERS Re: Treading the Boards
WHISPERS WRITES WITH deep sadness this week at news of the death of Russell Hunter. This towering figure of the Scottish theatre, who died from cancer on Thursday 27 February, aged 79. was not only one of the most versatile and accomplished actors of his era. but also a great character of the Scottish theatre. A wee guy who looked as if he'd just fallen off a charm bracelet, Hunter had charisma, warmth and generosity of spirit in greater quantity than any reasonable man might expect from a person. The air of cultured sophistication and urbanity he presented was wonderfully tempered by an almost elven, Iaddish twinkle in his eye. I don't care who you are, if you’d have met him, you'd have loved the guy.
In a career that spanned from the first ever Edinburgh fringe until last year's. where he was memorable in 12 Angry Men, theatre lovers have much to thank him for. Television viewers might most remember Hunter as Lonely in Cal/an, but his output was broad in this medium, and in film. I can‘t help but think, though. that Hunter was most at home in front of a live audience. Having created some wonderful characters throughout the 608 and 703. from the Lyceum, to the Traverse to the RSC. Hunter showed no inclination to rest on his Iaurels. Recent years saw some outstanding acting in such pieces as King of the Fields at the Traverse, Lovers at the Lyceum and a wonderful solo performance in a touring Krapp's Last Tape.
Each of the too few times I met Hunter left me with stories to tell, for the man was a mine of Scottish theatre anecdotes. I remember an interview at the Traverse that should have lasted a half hour, but extended to two after I'd switched off the tape. as Hunter regaled me with one marvellous story after another. The time passed without either of us noticing. Each subsequent meeting produced the same effect. Whispers sincerest sympathy is extended to Una McLean, Hunter's third wife — and another great of our theatre — his family and legion of friends.
Russell Hunter (1924-2004)
11—18 Mar 2004 THE LIST 67