THE CHEVIOT, THE STAG AND THE BLACK, BLACK OIL
by John McGrath.
Dundee Rep To 26 September 2015.
Tue-Sat 7/30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described/Captioned 26 Sep 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 25 Sep.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01382 223530.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 September.
Rallying-cry for the people rings true as ever.
This production received a spontaneous standing ovation from a packed midweek audience at Dundee Rep, sadly.
Sad not because Joe Douglas’s production didn’t deserve it. Graham Maclaren’s design moves tables and chairs around a stage extended to create a shared floor-space for actors and some audience members, recreating the village hall fit-ups of the original 1973 Highlands and Islands tour by writer John McGrath’s 7:84 Theatre Company, with their sense of informality, and join-in ceilidh dancing lightening the often tough telling of hard times. Dundee Rep Ensemble seemed almost audience members themselves at times, standing to do their turn or start a discussion.
Audience involvement is fun – two people crouch under a blanket to form a representative Highland. Yet also serious – later, a similar ‘Highland’ topped with model houses saw one of them burned as representation of the Highland Clearances. Asking women audience members to stand while instances of violence by militias against women defending their homes brings home the individual suffering.
42-years on the piece remains firm in political structure as it is exuberant in theatrical manner. The sadness beneath the cheering measures how McGrath’s political points have intensified. The brutal employment practices of American oil, just arriving in the North Sea, have become the contemporary plague of zero-hours and health-and-safety disregarding jobs; evictions are at most a split-definition away from ‘bedroom tax’ and Benefits Cap.
Added references to the Scottish Referendum were cheered in this ‘Yes’-voting city. Yet McGrath said Edinburgh capitalism is no better than London capitalism, his point summarised in a line declaring Capital always seeks to create more Capital. Highlanders were thrown-off the land to allow cheviot sheep to graze on mountains for the profitable wool trade. Then the land became wealthy people’s happy hunting-ground for stag shooting, before North Sea oil was sold-off in the 1960s, sucking life and creating new inequality in the country around.
Sellar, a 19th-century PR man, issues bland lies about no harm being done, as such statements are still issued. McGrath’s theatrical verve gives this piece its life. So does its underlying social analysis, which still applies today, sadly.
Minister/Sturdy Highlander/Lord Crask: Stephen Bangs.
Mary Macpherson/Andy McChuckemip/Wife/2nd Girl/Highlander Wife: Jo Freer.
1st Girl/Highlander 2: Christina Gordon.
Duke/Old Man/Old Woman: John Macaulay.
Gaelic MC/Ghillie/Old Man: Calum MacDonald.
Loch/Woman/Lord Selkirk: Irene Macdougall.
Sellar/Granny/Highlander 1/Queen Victoria/Old Man 1/Whitehall/Crofter: Billy Mack.
Texas Jim: Alasdair Macrae.
Young Highlander/Macleod/Victorian Gent/French Northwest Trader/Aberdonian Rigger/Lord Vat: Martin McBride.
Sheriff’s Man/Harriet Beecher Stowe/Woman 1/Lady Phosphate/Lord Polwarth: Emily Winter.
Director: Joe Douglas.
Designer: Graham McLaren.
Lighting: Kate Bonney.
Sound: Michael John McCarthy.
Musical Director: Alasdair Macrae.
Voice/Dialect: Ros Steen.
Choreographer: E J Boyle.