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The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black…

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (1974)

by John McGrath

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This is one of my favourite texts from my literature course so far; I found it very inspiring as an encouragement to be more politically involved and it made me think a lot more about socialism. However, although it was very thought-provoking the lack of character-development or a single narrative would be unusual if I read it just for fun. One of the most interesting things about reading it was the background and secondary material, learning about 7:84 and their ideologies, and not the play itself; not unlike 'Cheviot', full of history, politics, local knowledge and culture. ( )
  AaronPt | Nov 23, 2009 |
Oh...and I re-read John McGrath's script of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil yesterday too. This is a play that the Scots among you will probably have heard of (and hopefully read or seen at some point?), but probably won't be familiar to many others. Written in the 70s as the first play performed by the Scottish branch of the 7:84 theatre company (a socialist collective of writers, actors, directors who produced theatre designed to stimulate discussion and thought about social issues), it was hugely influential at the time, and has continued to have resonance in Scotland, though particularly in the Highlands ever since. It looks at the history of the Highlands from the perspective of those who have lived and worked the land, and the effect of the original Clearances (for the sheep, the Cheviot of the title), and then the later iterations of the same historical pattern, as huntin' shootin' and fishin' on the part of the landed gentry, and then the discovery of oil have each shaped the land and its people. The play was written as an unashamed socialist call for the people of the Highlands to stand up together and be heard; to prevent the same pattern of exploitation that had marked the preceding centuries taking hold again at the start of the oil boom. Its effect was arguably minimal, but as a stirring evocation of what it means to be a Highland Scot, it is still a powerful bit of theatre (designed to be performed at its best in the style of a traditional ceilidh).

I think that people outwith the Highlands, and certainly non-Scots, often fail to appreciate the depth of the scar that the Clearances still leaves there. McGrath's script takes the facts, collective memories and feelings about the history of the Highlands that I had known since I was relatively young, and shaped them into a piercing bit of socialist polemic. I'd have loved to have been there in the early 70s to see it being performed live in the town halls and community centres of the Highlands for the first time. ( )
  MikeFarquhar | May 27, 2007 |
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