John Mcgrath

(1 June 1935 – 22 January 2002 / Scotland)

Biography of John Mcgrath

John Mcgrath poet

John Peter McGrath was a Liverpudlian-Irish playwright and theatre theorist who grew up in Wales and notably took up the cause of Scottish independence in his plays. His life partner was the Scottish actress Elizabeth MacLennan.

He was known both for his work with the 7:84 Theatre Company as a playwright and for his theoretical formulation of the principles of a radical, popular theatre. His best-known play is The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil (1973). The play utilizes some of the dramaturgical and theatrical techniques of epic theatre - actors take on multiple roles and frequently slip out of character, for example - in ways that many students of theatre would associate with the praxis of the modernist theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht, but which McGrath is keen to stress have a genealogy that stretches far further back through the history of popular traditions of performance. The title of the play refers to three pivotal periods in the history of class struggle in Scotland: the clearing of the Scottish highlands to make way for grazing land, the subsequent use of this land by the wealthy for shooting, and its current exploitation in the oil market. These changes are identified as forming a recurrent pattern of abuse of the land and the exploitation of the people by outsiders and by wealthier locals.

He adapted the satirical morality play A Satire of the Three Estates (1540) by David Lyndsay as a contemporary morality A Satire of the Four Estaites, which was presented by Wildcat Theatre Company at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1996. This production opened on 16 August 1996 and starred Sylvester McCoy.

John Mcgrath's Works:

The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil
A Satire of the Four Estaites

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And when our streets are green again
When metalled roads are green
And girls walk barefoot through the weeds
Of Regent Street, Saint Martin's Lane

And children hide in factories
Where burdock blooms and vetch and rust,
And elms and oaks and chestnut trees
Are tall again and hope is lost

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