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D.C. Jackson - Over The Wall

DC Jackson doesn’t seem himself the day we meet. It’s not just the check-shirt and army trews ensemble that’s replaced the young playwright’s trademark art-rock pin-striped suit jacket and half-mast tie. The day before the first preview of Jackson’s first main-stage play, The Wall, gone is the cock-sure young fogey spouting forth his opinions with a certainty that gives him the air of some seasoned old hack still recovering from the result of the 1979 devolution referendum. Which, given that he’s actually a 28 year old novice working in the early years of a new enlightenment, is probably for the best.

Today, however, with a Dictaphone whirring away on the table in front of him in The Tron Theatre foyer, Jackson is initially as tongue-tied as a teenager on a first date. This could, of course, be a method-style hangover from The Wall, which charts the rites of passage of a group of small-town adolescents not entirely dissimilar to the play’s author. Despite Jackson’s self-deprecatory observation of his sartorial inelegance resembling “an American gun-man about to shoot up the school,” frankly, the boy is a bag of nerves.

“It’s not an exclusively positive experience, having plays on,” he says. “It’s horrible. It’s like flashing. I imagine flashers feel exactly the same way before they dash across the football pitch. I have the need to do this and obviously I want to do this, but it’s still terrifying exposing yourself in front of people like that.”

Especially when, as Jackson humbly admits, “I don’t have much of an imagination. More or less everything I write is auto-biographical, but changed. Nothing particularly noteworthy happened to me in my childhood, so obviously to build a play I have to fabricate something, and I think probably all four characters in The Wall have aspects of me about them.”

Daniel Jackson never meant to be a playwright. Only when he spotted a competition run by Playwrights Studio Scotland was he motivated to knock together the required ten page scene at the last minute. This went on to be one of the competition winners, the prize for which was to work with professional writers and directors in developing the script into a full length play. This would eventually become TheWall.

Jackson’s father is Eddie Jackson, head of Ayrshire-based touring theatre company, Borderline, who also happen to be co-producing The Wall with The Tron. Growing up in Stewarton, Jackson junior may not have actively fled the family circus, but he didn’t exactly embrace it either. Not that it was particularly showbiz at home.

“It’s not as if Billy Connolly was coming round for his tea every night,” Jackson points out. “But Borderline did a play about The Marx Brothers, which had a big affect. As did Peter and Penny’s Panto, which was written by Alex Norton, and was kind of a fore-runner to Forbes Masson’s pantos. But then I worked as an usher at The Tron, and I probably saw more theatre doing that than I did in my whole childhood.”

As a student Jackson Junior wrote comic strips with his artist flatmate. This resulted in the brilliantly skewed Glasgow Fabulous, one big in-joke based in and around Glasgow’s club scene, which unless you were already a keen observer of the assorted cliques it poked fun at, was hard to decipher. This was a far cry from his embracing of popular culture Jackson only fully realised watching Liz Lochead’s Good Things at The Tron.

“It was punter-friendly,” he says, “just seeing a theatre jammed with people and having fun and being taken on an emotional journey, and I wanted to do something with similar themes, but for a younger audience.”

Jackson sees himself following in the tradition of intelligent populists such as Lochead and John Byrne. His real inspirations, though, don’t come from theatre at all, but from a lineage of geek-boy Scots whimsy.

“Bill Forsyth’s films are one of my biggest influences,” he says. “The effect something like Gregory’s Girl had on people my age can’t be over-stated. And if The Wall was a song, it’d probably have to be something off If You’re Feeling Sinister by Belle and Sebastian, which comes straight from the whole Postcard Records thing.”

One shouldn’t, then, expect a piece of gritty, sink-estate realism from Jackson anytime soon.

“My favourite time in a theatre audience,” he says, “is when they’re falling about with laughter enjoying themselves.”

Whatever happens this week with The Wall, doors have already been opened for Jackson because of it. To date, this side of the border there have been Matinee Idol and Drawing Bored, two lunchtime plays at Oran Mor, and under the auspices of the Federation Of Scottish Theatre worked a season as assistant director at Oran Mor. He was also attached to The Royal Court for two months, where he received several readings of short works, and is about to return to London’s primary new writing theatre, this time for a year via the Pearson Playwrights Scheme.

A new play for Oran Mor, Out On The Wing, opens later this month, and is set during a local radio football phone-in show on the night a star player comes out as gay. Typically of Jackson, its starting point came via his own experience working on a similar sort of show.

“I’ve had so many rubbish jobs,” mourns the Stewarton slacker, “that you have to do something with them.”

Jackson will also be making his full-fledged directorial debut next month, again at Oran Mor. With such a multitude of projects ongoing, Jackson is doing his own growing up in public.

“It’s interesting now,” he points out, “that some of the more interesting things happening in Scottish theatre are coming from a second generation. Davey Anderson and Anthony Neilson both come from theatre backgrounds. They both had access to that world, and because people are becoming less exposed to theatre now, if your parents are involved in it, you’re going to be exposed to it, and see it as a possibility, whereas someone without that upbringing might end up making the next Holby City or something instead.”

Speaking of television, “I like telly a lot,” enthuses the self-confessed Hollyoaks fan. “Some writers think telly’s beneath them, but as much as I want to be successful as a playwright, I certainly don’t think telly’s beneath me. It’s the same with comedy. There is a tendency for comedy not to be as highly regarded as other things. There’s also the misnomer that writing funny stuff is easy. But there is a danger that no-one takes you seriously unless you’re doing some middle eastern child abuse play.”

Just how popular a writer, then, does DC Jackson want to be? Outside of the subsidised sector, after all, the conveyor belt of singing-in-the-aisles musicals and soap-star peopled comedies is actually the real face of popular theatre.

“As much as I say I want to write comedies and popular theatre,” he answers, “I don’t think those two things should necessarily exclude being able to write things with truth and honesty and wider political resonances. All of which,” he asserts, serious at last, “I think The Wall has. But would I be against writing a juke-box musical? No, I certainly would not, and if Billy Bragg’s ready to have his songs spun into a ham-fisted romantic comedy, I’m his man.”

The Wall, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tonight-March 8, then tours; Out On The Wing, Oran Mor, Glasgow, March 17-22; An Advert For The Army, directed by DC Jackson, Oran Mor, Glasgow, April 7-12

The Herald, March 4th 2008

ends

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