‘WHEN I WAS GROWING UP THERE WERE NO HEROES FROM DUNDEE'
Playwright Simon Macallum tells Mark Fisher how Billy Mackenzie opened up a world of possibility with The Associates
oday we associate Dundee with the
enterprising work of Dundee Rep's ensemble.
the world-class art at [)(‘A and the tourist attractions of the (‘ity of Discovery. It‘s a place the Victoria and Albert Museum can consider setting tip a northerly outpost without fear of ridicule. But not so long ago such ideas would have been preposteroUs in this town of jute. jam and journalism.
This is the Dundee that Simon Macallum recalls lrom his childhood. The actor-turned-p|aywright remembers it as a hit of a ‘joke tow'n'. liven now. he points out. Stirling has a monument to William Wallace where Dundee has a statue ol‘ Desperate Dan. ‘\\'hen l was growing tip there were no heroes l‘rom Dundee.‘ he says. admitting to having l'elt ashamed when people asked him where he was from. ‘lispecially in the l‘)t\’l)s. it seemed such a godt‘orsaken place.‘
Against this backdrop. the figure of Billy Macken/ie. lead singer of The Associates. seemed all the more extraordinary. This is the whippet-loy'ing pop star who made his Til/i oft/iv Pops debut in I982 putting heart and histrionic soul into 'Party Fears Two'. All trench coat. beret and cheekbones. he was impossibly glamorous. It wasn't like Dundee at all.
For the young Macallum. Macken/ie was vital not just for his music but. more importantly. for what he represented. ‘I remember how strange it was having someone from your city who was a strange celebrity.~ he says. ‘I never met Billy. but he made me think you could do something more. Just from being an ordinary guy from Dundee. you could actually do something. He opened these doors.‘
It is something ol‘ this sense ol‘ new possibilities that Macallum aims to capture in [fa/em Ill/l l‘or Dundee Rep. Named alter the cemetery where Macken/ic is buried. it l'eatures songs and video footage by The Associates as well as music performed live by the cast. Btit don‘t expect another jukebox musical. even one as smart as the Rep‘s Proclaimers celebration. .S'unx/tim' on [ml/1.
Rather. it is an attempt to look at the impact
Macken/ie had on Dundee by means of a story ol~
l'our lictional characters. ‘lt‘s about their experiences of Billy and of growing tip in Dundeef says Macallum. glowing with pride having just become a father for the first time. ‘()ne character‘s take is maybe not the right story — it‘s up to you to decide the truth. We‘ve also used Billy 's words to counterbalance the fictional view.‘
The fact of Mackenzie‘s suicide — he oyerdosed on prescription pills in l‘)‘)7 — adds a plangent note to the show which. says the playwright. encompasses the comic and the tragic. He sees the singer as torn between his humble beginnings on a scheme in Dundee and the world of stardom: a man. who despite his great imagination and mtisical ability. always l‘elt an impostor. ”I think a mixture ol‘ dark and light in theatre is great.‘ he says. ‘There is comedy in the play. but obviously the mood does change becatise of what the characters go through and what happened to Billy. Btit my aim is for it to have an element of hope as well. Billy's story lives on through the characters.‘
Balgay Hill, Dundee Rep, Tue 9—Sat 27 Jun.
“H.371; EAW‘I‘A M LU: I ()5)
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Mr: 27/; THE LIST 89