On 22 January 2022, sruth-mara hosted an online gathering to mark the 20th anniversary of playwright John McGrath’s death, and to ask: did a largely forgotten Hebridean play help kickstart the formation of his famous theatre company 7:84?
McGrath’s play Random Happenings in the Hebrides premiered three years before his most famous show, The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil. It was McGrath’s first ever Scottish production, and also the first time he’d written about the politics of the Highlands and Islands.
Random Happenings was staged at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre in 1970, directed by Richard Eyre with a cast including John Thaw, John Cairney and a young Denis Lawson. Half a century on it’s been almost forgotten. The Cheviot, McGrath’s second Scottish production (and 7:84 Scotland’s debut show), toured to community venues across the country three years later. It is now recognised as a landmark in Scottish theatre.
A Hebridean Happening for John McGrath brought together theatre director Richard Eyre, Lewis-based actor John Stahl (Game of Thrones, High Road), Dolina Maclennan (singer, actor, writer, broadcaster and former 7:84 cast member), playwright Alan Bissett, Scotsman theatre critic Joyce McMillan, and performers Daibhidh Walker, Laura Cameron-Lewis and Jane Paton to explore the play’s legacy through conversation and readings from the play.
The event was instigated by John Stahl and produced by sruth-mara, and broadcast from Uig on the Isle of Lewis. We are grateful to Kate McGrath and the estate of John McGrath for allowing us to perform extracts from the play, and also An Lanntair for allowing us to promote and ticket the event via its website.
John McGrath died from leukaemia on 22 January 2002.
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“John McGrath was a beacon to us all.” – Bill Paterson
“No one since Joan Littlewood did more to advance the cause of popular theatre in Britain than John McGrath” – Michael Billington.