Play to be recognised for 50 years of ‘outstanding’ influence on theatre

The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil charts the modern economic history of Scotland.
The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil charts the modern economic history of Scotland.

One of Scotland’s most well-known plays is to be recognised with a prestigious theatre award.

The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil will be recognised for 50 years of “outstanding” influence on Scottish theatre with the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (Cats) Whiskers award, which has been given out only five times previously.

Created in 1973, the play charts the modern economic history of Scotland, from the Highland Clearances in the early 19th century to the North Sea oil boom in the late 1970s.

It was created by John McGrath’s 7:84 Scotland Theatre Company and two of the four members of the original cast, Dolina Maclennan and John Bett, will accept the award.

Taggart star Alex Norton and fellow actor Bill Paterson will record contributions as part of the award, having both previously appeared in the play.

Joyce McMillan, Cats co-convener, said it is the first time the award has been given to a specific show.

She said: “The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil, which was premiered 50 years ago this spring, helped change the face of Scottish theatre forever, and tackled themes to do with the ownership and control of Scotland’s land and resources that remain urgently topical today.

“Devised collectively by writer/director John McGrath and the cast, it broke new ground in so many ways, not least in the company’s commitment to staging performances in halls and community centres across the Highlands and islands, in combining theatre with the ceilidh tradition, and introducing a form of touring theatre that remains a vital part of Scotland’s cultural landscape today.”

Ms Maclennan said it is both “thrilling and sad” to be accepting the award.

She said: “Thrilling in that the play is being celebrated in this way by the critics after 50 years have gone by, but sad that only four of us remain.

“John, Liz, David, Alan and Chris would have been as happy to receive it as we are. They are all a great miss to our theatre family.

“We lived through an amazing time as a team. Being able to introduce Gaelic song to a theatre performance was very important to me. It had been part of my life and culture from birth and to share it with hundreds of people who were unaware of it was very important.

“Scottish theatre and politics have changed since 1973 but we still have to remember the message of the play. The words of Mary Macpherson from the 1890s: ‘Remember you are a people and fight for your rights.’”

Mr Bett said of working on the play: “It was an exciting time for us, being young and working on a play which touched people in so many different ways.

“The feedback from audiences was tremendous, the energy infectious, and the adrenalin kept us from being tired and jaded in what was pretty exhausting work. It was joyous.”

The award will be presented at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on Sunday as part of the venue’s 60th anniversary celebrations.