Liz Lochhead

Edinburgh International Book Festival

On 19 August 2013

Review by David Chadderton

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Scottish Makar Liz Lochhead was joined by former Festival director Catherine Lockerbie for one of three events looking back over 30 years of Scottish culture—or, as Lochhead labelled it, "a bit of blether about books".

Lochhead is a poet and playwright, and so the conversation jumped between both of these areas and novels, but was mostly concerned with literature and poetry. However Lochhead, who had just been performing her one-woman show on the Fringe at the Assembly Rooms where a backstage comedy called God Bless Liz Lochhead followed her show, did speak about Scottish theatre and her own works for the stage.

Her most famous play, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, was with the National Theatre in London in 1987, who praised the play but said it was "too Scottish"—she said this showed just who it was the National Theatre of. The play was revived by National Theatre of Scotland in 2009, but she said this was only because her friend the playwright David Greig fought to get it produced.

Greig was one of the names she mentioned as the great Scottish playwrights of today, along with David Harrower, Daniel Jackson and a few others. However her reaction to the productions of NTS were decidedly mixed. While she was full of praise for Black Watch, she called Caledonia "a disgrace" and said that 365 was "crap".

Referring to Communicado Theatre Company, she said that its production of Mary Queen of Scots was great but it followed this with Danton's Death, which she said was "rotten". She spoke highly of a production of her play by Scottish Youth Theatre last week.

She said she has never suffered sexism as a writer ("I have as a woman") but she has suffered from ageism as a writer. Younger people, she believes, have not heard of her.

Lochhead finished the event by performing the opening narration from Mary Queen of Scots, which she did beautifully and was greatly appreciated by the packed audience.