Forty-one years ago today, the play that revitalised Scottish theatre had its first theatrical performance in public at Aberdeen Arts Centre on 24 April 1973.(1) Above is the BBC’s Play for Today version – a fascinating mix of live performance and documentary that ends with moving sequences on the impact of oil in Aberdeen and interviews with Texan oilmen, roustabouts and young folk made homeless by the price of houses.

Having spoken at two public showings of the film in the past two years, it is remarkable how the key theme of the play – control of natural resources – remains as vital and relevant today as it did when the 7:84 theatre company toured Scotland in the 1970s.

An account of the play and its significance can be found at the National Library of Scotland’s website here and this academic article in International Journal of Scottish Theatre provides much more detailed analysis of the play. On 26 January 2010, the National Library of Scotland hosted a discussion of the play which can be heard here.

Here’s what theatre writer and director Davey Anderson said about the play.

“I saw the Cheviot on my honeymoon. It was October 1973, we’d got married in my home town, Rutherglen, and decided to take a road-movie holiday, hippies that we were … 

“First stop Kyleakin, Skye. The gig – Kyleaking Village Hall. The Audience – the good people of Skye. The Performers – a bunch of folk who didn’t seem ready: five minutes to go and they were still setting costumes, tuning instruments and blethering with each other and the audience. 

“Where were the curtains, the hushed reverence, the dinner jackets, the blue rinses? 

“… That night in a community hall in Skye proved to me that theatre was far from dead, as I has assumed it to be. 

“All the mince in the West End, where the actors couldn’t even be arsed acknowledging the presence of the audience was forgotten. Here was theatre that spoke to you about your life, the important things, the daft things, the things that give you joy and the things you can change. The company were startling in their energy, anarchic versatility and joyous commitment.”

Time for a revival?

(1) It was first performed at the What Kind of Scotland Conference in Edinburgh in April 1973. Thanks to Rob Gibson MSP for that clarification – he was at both performances. Another informant tells me of an earlier performance at a conference of the same name but held in Callendar Park College of Education.

8 Comments

  1. Graeme Macdonald

    I’m just concluding a new Introduction for a new Bloomsbury edition of the play. And I’ll be expanding on exactly the points you make above. With a wee bit of Andy Wightman cited! It’s as relevant as ever, not only for a Scottish situation, but in the general world context of ongoing land and resource conflicts.

    • Wonderful! When is it due out? I have copies of the original script published by West Highland Publishing lying around somewhere.

  2. Just read it for the first time. Even on the page it’s fantastic, but I can only imagine what it must have been like to see it in person. I’m really surprised no-one’s revived it, this year of all years.

  3. Ideal for National Theatre of Scotland I would have thought. They do lots of innovative work in partnership with others. And this would certainly count as the revival of a classic Scottish piece.

  4. Hebridean Farmer

    Just as the people were cleared off the land for the cheviots , now they are being cleared off the land for the government subsidies. (or in some cases Feed in Tariffs )

  5. I consider myself extremely fortunate to rank one of the original performers, Dolina Maclennan among my friends and discuss with her and others associated with the original of what an impact it had on Scotland in the 70s. However, very sadly here we are all those years later with title 7:84 and satire based on 7% of the population owning 84% of the wealth( land, not just disposable income) every bit as relevant today. Foodbanks and privately owned ‘national’ parks be damned!

  6. I still think of Bill Paterson as “Andy McChuckemup”.

    • Dolina Maclennan

      The first ever reading was at George Square Theatre in Edinburgh hosted by Scottish International Magazine which was edited by Bob Tait. We then had a couple of weeks rehearsal and opened formally in. Aberdeen Arts Theatre before touring all over Scotland and Ireland. A visit to Brussels thrown in . It was later filmed . The location being Dornie Village Hall.An unforgettable period of my life. More in my book”an Island Girl’s Journey”to be published in August.