The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil

Bloomsbury Publishing
2
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Written during the 1970s, John McGrath's winding, furious, innovative play tracks the economic history and exploitation of the Scottish Highlands from the post-Rebellion suppression of the clans to the story of the Clearances: in the nineteenth century, aristocratic landowners discovered the profitability of sheep farming, and forced a mass emigration of rural Highlanders, burning their houses in order to make way for the Cheviot sheep. The play follows the thread of capitalist and repressive exploitation through the estates of the stag-hunting landed gentry, to the 1970s rush for profit in the name of North Sea Oil.

Described by the playwright as having a "ceilidh†? format, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil draws on historical research alongside Gaelic song and the Scots' love of variety and popular entertainment to tell this epic story.

A totally distinctive cultural and theatrical phenomenon, the play championed several new approaches to theatre, raising its profile as a means of political intervention; proposing a collective, democratic, collaborative approach to creating theatre; offering a language of performance accessible to working-class people; producing theatre in non-purpose-built theatre spaces; breaking down the barrier between audience and performers through interaction; and taking theatre to people who otherwise would not access it.

The play received its premiere in 1973 by the agit-prop theatre group 7:84, of which John McGrath was founder and Artistic Director, and toured Scotland to great critical and audience acclaim.
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About the author

John McGrath was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, in 1935. After national service and Oxford University, he wrote and directed for theatre and television, as well as writing for cinema. Early work included Z-Cars for BBC-TV (1962), Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun (1966) and the screenplay for Billion Dollar Brain (1976). In 1971, together with Elizabeth MacLennan, he co-founded the 7:84 Theatre Company, which divided into Scottish and English companies in 1973 with McGrath remaining as Artistic Director of both. During his career McGrath wrote over 60 plays, including Fish in the Sea (1972), The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (1973), Blood Red Roses (1980), Border Warfare (1989), Watching for Dolphins (1992) and, most recently, HyperLynx (2001). He was twice Visiting Fellow in Theatre at Cambridge University. His previous books include A Good Night Out (1981), The Bone Won't Break (1990) and Six Pack: Plays for Scotland (1996).

McGrath founded Freeway Films in 1982, for which he produced, amongst others, The Dressmaker (1985), Carrington (1995), Ma Vie en Rose (1997) and Aberdeen (2002). He also founded Moonstone International Screen Labs to support and promote independent European filmmaking. He received Lifetime Achievement Awards from both BAFTA (in 1993) and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain (in 1997), as well as Honorary Doctorates from the University of Stirling and the University of London. He died in 2002.

Graeme Macdonald (editor) is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, UK, where he teaches modern and contemporary literature and drama. He has authored various articles and essays on 19-21C literature and culture, and is editor of Post-Theory: New Directions in Criticism (1999) and Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature (2011).
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Reviews

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Additional Information

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing
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Published on
Feb 26, 2015
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9781472531278
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Drama / General
Performing Arts / Theater / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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John McGrath
Music abounds in twentieth-century Irish literature. Whether it be the ’thought-tormented’ music of Joyce’s ’The Dead’, the folk tunes and opera that resound throughout Ulysses, or the four-part threnody in Beckett’s Watt, it is clear that the influence of music on the written word in Ireland is deeply significant. Samuel Beckett arguably went further than any other in the incorporation of musical ideas into his work. Musical quotations inhabit his texts, and structural devices such as the da capo are metaphorically employed. Perhaps most striking is the erosion of explicit meaning in Beckett’s later prose brought about through an extensive use of repetition, influenced by his reading of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of music. Exploring this notion of ’semantic fluidity’, John McGrath discusses the ways in which Beckett utilized extreme repetition to create texts that operate and are received more like music. Beckett’s writing has attracted the attention of numerous contemporary composers and an investigation into how this Beckettian ’musicalized fiction’ has been retranslated into contemporary music forms the second half of the book. Close analyses of the Beckett-inspired music of experimental composer Morton Feldman and the structured improvisations of avant-jazz guitarist Scott Fields illustrate the cross-genre appeal of Beckett to musicians but also demonstrate how repetition operates in diverse ways. Through the examination of the pivotal role of repetition in both modernist music and literature of the twentieth century, John McGrath’s book is a significant contribution to the field of word and music studies.
John McGrath
Written during the 1970s, John McGrath's winding, furious, innovative play tracks the economic history and exploitation of the Scottish Highlands from the post-Rebellion suppression of the clans to the story of the Clearances: in the nineteenth century, aristocratic landowners discovered the profitability of sheep farming, and forced a mass emigration of rural Highlanders, burning their houses in order to make way for the Cheviot sheep. The play follows the thread of capitalist and repressive exploitation through the estates of the stag-hunting landed gentry, to the 1970s rush for profit in the name of North Sea Oil.

Described by the playwright as having a "ceilidh†? format, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil draws on historical research alongside Gaelic song and the Scots' love of variety and popular entertainment to tell this epic story.

A totally distinctive cultural and theatrical phenomenon, the play championed several new approaches to theatre, raising its profile as a means of political intervention; proposing a collective, democratic, collaborative approach to creating theatre; offering a language of performance accessible to working-class people; producing theatre in non-purpose-built theatre spaces; breaking down the barrier between audience and performers through interaction; and taking theatre to people who otherwise would not access it.

The play received its premiere in 1973 by the agit-prop theatre group 7:84, of which John McGrath was founder and Artistic Director, and toured Scotland to great critical and audience acclaim.
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