JOYCE MCMILLAN on A PLAY, A PIE AND A PINT – MOVING ON for the Scotsman Magazine, 11.10.14. ________________________________________________________
IT’S A WET Monday lunchtime on Byres Road; outside on the street, faces are dour and traffic is sluggish. Yet downstairs in the Oran Mor nightlclub space, there’s barely a seat to be had, as a packed audience of students, theatre folk and West End regulars pick up their pies and pints, and squeeze into their seats to watch the opening performance this week’s new play, the fifth of thirteen in the current season.
It’s ten years this autumn since the Wildcat veteran David MacLennan launched the Play, Pie and Pint phenomenon, in this converted church at the heart of the West End. And seven months after his sad death in March of this year, the theatre season he left as his legacy is powering on into the future, under the direction of Susannah Armitage, who arrived at A Play, A Pie And A Pint as MacLennan’s right-hand woman in 2008, and has now become his successor as Producer, with Sarah MacFarlane in the associate producer role.
“It’s been a really hard time in many ways,” says Armitage after the show. “Yet the support we’ve had from our audience has just been astonishing, and we’re now regularly selling out four or five of our six lunchtime performances each week.
“In terms of how I do the job, I think I just learned so much from David about how to work as a producing team, with everyone on board for the whole creative project. So at the moment, I tend to look after most of the forward planning, while Sarah takes care of the day-to-day process of performance and rehearsal. And of course, we both read scripts, all the time.
“Overall, we’re in no hurry to change a formula that has worked so well; we’ll carry on staging around around 30 new plays a year including two pantos, and we also want to maintain the Wildcat tradition of staging the odd musical, and some topical pieces of agitprop and political cabaret.” Armitage offers the current Oran Mor show – due to arrive at the Traverse next week – as an example; it’s Mrs. Barbour’s Daughters by A.J. Taudevin, a political memory-play with songs about the legacy of Glasgow’s great 1914 rent-strike campaigner Mary Barbour.
If Armitage is intent on steering A Play A Pie And A Pint steadily through this critical year, though, there are also plenty of new initiatives on the horizon. As well as pursuing successful existing partnerships with the Traverse Theatre and Aberdeen Performing Arts, A Play, A Pie and A Pint is about to launch a new relationship with Sherman Cymru theatre in Cardiff, now under the direction of former Perth Theatre boss Rachel O’Riordan. Next spring, the season will include three new international plays from Russia and Ukraine. And although David MacLennan launched A Play, A Pie And A Pint with a vow never to tangle with Scotland’s arts funding bodies again, before his death he helped to prepare a three-year regular funding application to Creative Scotland.
“Any funding we receive will still be a relatively small proportion of our budget, though,” says Armitage, “because basically, we are funded by our audience, which is a terrific strength. So far as the wider Scottish theatre scene is concerned – well, it’s always possible to imagine improvements. But I do think the scene here is now exceptional, in the number of different avenues there are for people to have new work presented and developed. There’s so much talent out there; and we feel very supported, too, by all the many people in Scottish theatre who have offered to help in every way they can, over the last months. And although there were times when David was ill when I felt that I just wouldn’t be able to do this without him, now that he’s gone I feel determined to carry on the good work – and really excited about everything we’re planning, for our next few seasons.”
Mrs Barbour’s Daughters at Oran Mor today, and at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 14-18 October.