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Title: History as theatrical metaphor : history, myth and national identities in modern Scottish drama
Author: Brown, Ian
ISNI:       0000 0000 7103 732X
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2018
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The completion of History as Theatrical Metaphor, now submitted for consideration for the award of the degree of Doctor of Letters, represents an integration and culmination of a number of related strands arising from both my practice as a playwright over the last five decades and my relevant academic research. Susanne Kries has summarised a key approach underlying my writing of history plays as ‘deconstructing the ideological intent behind the very endeavour of writing history and of revealing the ways by which mythologies are formed’. Much of my related academic research shares this interest. A recurring theme of both playwriting and scholarly writing, central to the work submitted, is the significance of the interaction of drama, language – especially Scots and English – and history. The initial phase in exploring such themes was in my developing professional playwriting practice. In 1967, I wrote the first draft of Mary, eventually produced by the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in 1977. In this first version I sought to address the theme of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, but in a revisionary way. The play’s first acts, before Mary arrives on stage, involved an unlikely affair between Mary of Guise, Queen Regent in Mary’s absence in France, and her Secretary of State, Maitland of Lethington, conceived as a cross between a Chief Minister and a Mafia consigliere, a relationship in which Mary of Guise achieved some form of Lawrentian ‘authentic’ sexual release and self-fulfilment through her relationship with a powerful Scots leader. This motif was developed when Mary arrived and proceeded to fall under the magnetic spell of the even more Lawrentian Bothwell, a transformation of her sexuality and identity marked by the fact that about half way through her scenes she stopped speaking in French-inflected English and started to speak in Scots. The play’s tendentiousness was further marked by its being written in Scots-language free verse. The decision to write in Scots was consciously, if superficially, ideological. It sought to reflect the vibrant language amongst which I grew up on a council scheme, although in my home the dominant language was Standard Scottish English. I also sought to take a revisionary view of Scottish history, seeking to avoid what I saw as the sentimentalisation of that history in plays by an older generation like that of Robert McLellan. What I was concerned to do was later outlined explicitly by Tom McGrath in a 1984 interview, talking of his own practice: I suppose at that time we were coming up with a different ideology. We were coming up with a different approach after all that work, work that had been done [by writers like MacDiarmid and McLellan] in Scots language. We were coming up with this street level sound of existentialist man in the street, "black man in the ghetto" type of writing. It just upset the applecart. (Later I would develop a contextual interpretation of the shift McGrath refers to, and which I sought to be part of, in arguing that the use of Scots on stage was key to supporting and enhancing the cultural prestige of Scots in the 2011 chapter, ‘Drama as a Means for Uphaudin Leid Communities’. This – in a continuing conscious intention to assert the potential and status of Scots – while academic in content, was written entirely in Scots.) In short, from the beginning of my professional playwriting, a key strand was experiment in and exploration of the relationship of drama, Scots language, community identity and history, particularly the interrogation of accepted versions of ‘history’. The first draft of Mary came by the early 1970s to seem to me to be unsatisfactory in its exploration of the interaction of drama, language and history. By then, it appeared in its sensationalist version of Scottish history to have fallen into a parallel trap to the earlier one of a sentimental and romanticised view of that history. It certainly had moved away from conventional treatments of Scotland’s past, but was rather tending to a simplistic dramatic interpretation pour épater les bourgeois. Indeed, its attempts at sexual directness made it unacceptable at that time, 1968-69, to the management of the Royal Lyceum. While its Literary Manager Alan Brown spoke positively of the play, he still felt the company could not present it. Within very few years my own view came to be that, while it might substitute a certain late-adolescent Scots-language raunchiness for earlier playwrights’ Scots-language sentimentalities, it was itself somewhat naïve and sentimental. Further, the use of Scots in a free verse form, rather than adding anything to the dramatic potential of Scots language, seemed to remove it from the everyday discourse which inspired me to use it in the first place. This change of critical perspective and creative intention arose from two related developments in my dramaturgy. One was the impact of a variety of late 1960s theatrical experiments which impressed me in dealing with historical and political material in a post-Shavian and post-Brechtian way. These included the 1964 film version of Peter Brook's production of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade, which I saw in 1968, John Spurling's MacRune's Guevara (1969) and Peter Nichols's The National Health (1969) in the programme of the National Theatre in London, New York’s Negro Ensemble Company's version of Peter Weiss's The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey, which is concerned with Portuguese colonial exploitation, presented in the 1969 London World Theatre Season, and John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy's version of Horatio Nelson’s life and reputation, The Hero Rises Up, presented by Nottingham Playhouse at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival. I was further impressed by the theatrical techniques of the New York-based LaMama troupe, by its version of Paul Foster's Tom Paine (1967) and the popularised and commercialised exploitation of those techniques in Hair (1967). I had also read Foster's Heimskringla! Or The Stoned Angels (1970), written for LaMama and derived from Norse sagas. All employed varying metatheatrical techniques to deconstruct received versions of history and politics which extended my own understanding of what was creatively possible. The second development was that, as those plays affected my understanding of theatrical possibilities in exploring historically based themes, I was researching and beginning to draft my next play on a historical theme. This explored the life, business ethics and politics of Andrew Carnegie. On top of all of this, at this time, having showed Max Stafford-Clark, Artistic Director of the Traverse Theatre, a first draft of Carnegie, begun during the autumn of 1969, I was invited by him to work, in my first professional theatre role, as a writing assistant on the first Traverse Workshop Theatre Company production, Mother Earth (1970), directed by Stafford-Clark when he ceased to be director of the Traverse itself. With his new company, he was developing the deconstructionist and improvisational rehearsal techniques that would later be more widely thought of as the creative method of his Joint Stock Theatre Company, into which the Traverse Workshop Company morphed in 1974. The dramaturgical lessons learned from the examples cited above and by working with such a creative and methodologically innovative director as Stafford-Clark were allied to my own quizzical view of Carnegie’s reputation. This was partly derived from the fact that my great-grandfather was a first cousin of Carnegie’s. There were family stories which, if they did not fully undermine his philanthropic reputation, suggested there were other sides to his career.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Litt.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: D History (General) ; DA Great Britain ; GR Folklore ; NX Arts in general ; PE English ; PR English literature