McGrath, John. The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.
(from the Heinemann edition)
- the play was performed by McGrath's 7:84 Theatre touring throughout Scotland ("7 per cent of the population own 84 per cent of the wealth")
- combines modern theatre devices, folk performance, journalism, music, song, pantomime etc.
- engages the audience to take part in the play by joining the choruses of songs, warning a character of impending danger, making the actors chat to audience before the play proper begins
- uses both English and Gaelic, the latter especially for songs, to reinforce the national theme
- neutralizes the division between the stage and the auditorium
- makes actors take on multiple roles, lets them slip out of character to explain the ramifications of the action to the audience, makes some of them sit in the auditorium and perform their parts there
- engages MCs to introduce and comment on the action, readers to communicate historical facts etc.
- evokes various emotions, from compassion with the victims to laugh on the ironical scenes
- political theatre, urges for action, appeals to both reason and emotions of the audience
1746, the Scottish Highlands: The Gaelic and plaid are forbidden. Patrick Sellar and James Loch introduce their plans for drawing large profits from keeping the new breed of sheep, the Cheviot. The aborigines are forced to leave for the coast and become fishers or to leave overseas. Women prove to be tougher fighters for their right to stay in their land than men. Men, women, children, and the old are treated with equal violence. Only Sellar is charged for his crimes but he is found innocent. Those who moved overseas to America are in constant danger presented by the Indians. The settlers who came before them receive them with equal hostility.
1882, the Isle of Skye: The natives are forced to leave their homes and their land is turned into game sites for rich English gentry. They organize a series a protests which are more successful than those from the preceding century but still insufficient. Some of the natives sell their soil voluntarily, but the overwhelming majority protests against their traditional agricultural and cattle-breeding way of life being taken away from them.
Early 20th century: Oil is discovered in the sea. The American investors come and exploit the country and its inhabitants again. The local men are hired only as manual workers for poor wages. The traditional way of life has almost disappeared, its remains are only a show for the tourists coming to see the oil rings and the devastation of the country. The play concludes with a song urging for fight through negotiations.
AuthorMcGrath, John. (1935 - 2002).
Full TitleThe Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.
First PerformedEdinburgh: 1973.
McGrath, John. The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. (1973). London: Heinemann, 1981.