A Play, A Pie and A Pint Volume One
Douglas Maxwell, Uma Nada-Rajah, Stuart Hepburn, Denise Mina, Jane Livingstone, Jonathan Cairney and Alan Bissett, edited by Morag Fullarton and April Chamberlain
As the doyenne of Scottish theatre critics, Joyce McMillan, points out in her introduction, the late David MacLennan’s moment of genius when he thought up the concept of A Play, A Pie and A Pint in 2005 has literally changed the face of Scottish theatre.
The idea is so simple that it is amazing no one had thought of it before. Playwrights are asked to create a piece lasting no more than one hour. This is then presented at lunchtime accompanied by ubiquitous pie and pint. As habitués of Glasgow’s Óran Mór pub soon discovered, they could take an hour out of the working day and simultaneously receive both mental and physical sustenance.
500 plays later, the idea has spread far and wide. When you read the six plays in this collection, chosen from across the project’s life, it is easy to understand why.
A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity by Douglas Maxwell
The opener is a Scottish linguistic comedy that has made various appearances stage, such is its appeal.
The piece begins in grim fashion, as newly widowed Annabelle receives condolences from one of her late factory-owning husband’s workmen, Jim. The cultural gulf between the pair is the size of Loch Lomond, but somehow, Jim’s infelicitous use of the vernacular piques Annabelle’s curiosity.
In no time at all, the genteel lady is begging for lessons in swearing, forming a bond with the younger man as she attempts to transform herself into someone interesting and trendy. The result is extremely funny and anyone vaguely tempted to do so is encouraged to buy this book if only to discover the difference between “a dick” and “a prick”.
Toy Plastic Chicken by Uma Nada-Rajah
Although it is dressed as a light comedy, Uma Nada-Rajah’s contribution has serious political undercurrents.
It addresses the problems faced by Rachel as she attempts to fly to Turkey for a blind date, accompanied by the titular Toy Plastic Chicken. With no great reason, security officers Ross and Emma pull her aside and, thanks to a series of escalating obligations, put her through hell.
The pertinent question that remains unanswered is whether Rachel’s problems have resulted from either conscious or unconscious racial bias.
Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window by Stuart Hepburn
Stuart Hepburn has written an affectionate portrait of popular Scottish comedian Chic Murray. It largely follows his career through the eyes of the star’s ex-wife and current agent.
One imagines it will have greatest appeal to those who are most familiar with Murray’s life and work, although it is also more universal reflection on times past.
Ida Tamson by Denise Mina
A meeting between an ambitious young journalist and a salt of the earth housewife to discuss an article for Take a Break takes an unexpected turn.
That turn leads to tales of Glasgow gangsters and junkies with proud Ida Tamson proving herself to be something of a working-class heroine when it comes to protecting her family.
Jocky Wilson Said by Jane Livingstone and Jonathan Cairney
Judging by this collection, the Scots enjoy writing whimsical, biographical plays about their equivalents to minor royalty.
Darts player Jocky Wilson certainly comes into that category. He was a working-class orphan who made good, defying the expectations of just about everybody.
For reasons that are not always apparent, his life story is presented in autobiographical fashion while the sporting supremo hitchhikes across the Nevada desert on the way to a tournament, in what might be a fevered dream or nightmare.
Once again, the tale is told affectionately but will have greatest appeal to fans of the minority sport.
Do Not Press This Button by Alan Bissett
Alan Bissett has written an intriguing play that demonstrates what is possible in a one-acter with a short running time.
In Hitchcock territory, a pair of strangers meets on a train and begin what can be a challenging conversation, both fearful that the other has dishonourable intentions.
Just as the play appears to be running out of steam, a third individual plonks himself down in a nearby seat, changing the direction of (mental) travel and turning Do Not Press This Button into a worthy play with some powerful quasi-political messages to share.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher