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Bill Paterson - And No More Shall We Part


Age becomes Bill Paterson. There's always been a calm sense of 
authority behind everything the Glasgow-born actor has done, ever since 
he arrived onstage in the 1970s in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show 
and The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil. These great popular 
works not only redefined contemporary theatre in Scotland, but 
introduced Paterson's dulcet tones to a world beyond the Citizens 
Theatre where his career had begun.

Forty years on, the sixty-seven year old is preparing for his first 
stage appearance in two years in And No More Shall We Part, Tom 
Holloway's moving play about an elderly couple coming to terms with 
their own mortality. Hampstead Theatre's production is being brought to 
the Traverse Theatre as part of its Edinburgh Festival Fringe season 
following an off-radar try-out run on home turf, where it proved to be 
a very quiet success story.

“They're a very loving couple,” Paterson says of his character, Don, 
and Pam, played by Dearbhla Molloy. “They have a very natural, normal 
relationship. Their kids are grown up, and they're two people who've 
loved each other all their lives. In the play you see them over the 
course of one evening, sitting talking, until gradually you realise 
there's something else going on. It's a play that grips you. It pulls 
you in. There was a box of tissues on the table as people left, and 
there was an awful lot of mascara being reapplied in the ladies toilets 
being reapplied afterwards, I was told.”

Holloway is an Australian writer, who took his play's title from a song 
by fellow countryman, Nick Cave. He wrote it after his mother died 
after suffering from cancer for six years.

“He wished she'd had more choice in how she died,” Paterson explains.

Mortality is something that's been on Paterson's mind a lot lately, 
ever since the recent loss of artistic polymath and adventurer, George 
Wyllie, aged ninety. Paterson appeared onstage alongside Wyllie in the 
mid 1980s in Wyllie's all too prophetic vaudevillian critique of the 
world banking system, A Day Down a Goldmine. It was a show that mixed 
up a small-scale take on theatre of the absurd with some of Wyllie's 
self-styled scul?tures.

“George was unique,” says Paterson. “It would be fantastic to do 
something about the corruption of banks now. It's a show that's much 
more of the zeitgeist than it was in the 1980s.”

Paterson ended up doing it after the late Russell Hunter, who'd 
appeared in an early reading of the show, was unavailable. By that 
time, Paterson had moved out of doing regular theatre, and  had  
appeared in films such as Comfort and Joy and The Killing Fields.

“George said to me, 'I hear you're a bit of an actor. Maybe you could 
learn it better than that other fella.'”

It was a good-natured jibe designed to appeal to an actor's competitive 
spirit, but A Day Down A Goldmine went on to become an Edinburgh 
Festival Fringe hit. Parts of the play were filmed by Murray Grigor for 
The Why?sman, an impressionistic documentary on Wyllie.

“The last time I saw George was last year,” Paterson remembers, “and we 
talked about doing A Day Down A Goldmine again. He was still a very 
tough man, but part of the show involved him lugging round these 
constructions of his, but there was no way he could lift that stuff 
now, so we talked about getting an attractive young man or a beautiful 
girl in the show.”

Sadly, such plans never came to fruition. If they had, audiences might 
have seen Paterson onstage sooner. And No More Shall We Part, after 
all, not only marks Paterson's first stage appearance since Mike 
Bartlett's Earthquakes in London at the National Theatre's Cottesloe 
space in 2010, his first for a decade, it is also his first time on a 
Scottish stage for almost twenty years. That was in 1994 in Mikhail 
Bulgakov's A Mongrel's Heart at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre. Prior 
to this Paterson had appeared in another Russian play, A Man With 
Connections, at the Traverse Theatre in 1988.

“I found it very good going back into the theatre again two years ago,” 
Paterson says. “I really liked being in a company again, especially a 
company like the one for Earthquakes in London. Apart from Lia 
Williams, who's not that old, I hasten to add, the company was full of 
young people, which made me feel like this ancient mariner figure, and 
that really suited me.”

With the establishment of the National Theatre of Scotland over the 
last half decade, it's perhaps surprising that Paterson hasn't been 
co-opted for some main-stage vehicle closer to his birthplace. In 
truth, there have been offers, but boring old logistics have got in the 
way.

“There were various reasons,” Paterson says. “I was doing Law and 
Order, which scuppered one thing, which the NTS were very generous 
offering me. But now we're doing this two-hander in Edinburgh, so I 
certainly wouldn't rule out me doing something in the future. At one 
point I think A Day Down A Goldmine would have been ideal for the NTS, 
but now Vicky Featherstone's leaving, let's see what happens.”

Such an approach has worked well for Paterson, ever since his ambitions 
to be a teacher were thwarted while studying at what was then RSAMD 
were thwarted after he found himself trying out for the Citizens 
Theatre for Youth. This precursor to theatre in education company TAG. 
Paterson toured schools for a year, and made his mainstage debut 
alongside Leonard Rossiter in a 1967 production of The Resistible Rise 
of Arturo Ui.

The 1970s brought the Welly Boot Show, which made Billy Connolly a 
star, and the show which Paterson says was “without doubt, the lynchpin 
of my career”, The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil. John 
McGrath's ceilidh play for 7:84 Scotland captured a crucial moment, 
politically and socially as much as artistically, and Paterson has 
spoken about it a lot over the last thirty-odd years since he toured it.

All he'll say now is that “It was a coming together of everything we 
wanted to do, John Bett, Alex Norton and I, but had never got round to 
doing. All the other great things I've been involved in, The Singing 
Detective, The Crow Road and so on, they would have happened anyway, 
but The Cheviot was the one thing I was involved in that I think 
changed things.”

David Hare's 1977 TV Play For Today, Licking Hitler, took Paterson away 
 from the stage shortly after appearing in the original production of 
John Byrne's Writer's Cramp. Paterson nevertheless managed to navigate 
between appearing in the first production of Ariel Dorfman's Death and 
the maiden and award-winning TV dramas such as Traffik.

Following And No More Shall We Part, Paterson may well be making a 
speedy return to Scotland by way of a proposed stage production of a 
radio play he wrote for Stanley Baxter at Oran Mor as part of the 
venue's ongoing A Play, A Pie and A Pint phenomenon. With former 7:84 
company member David MacLennan running that particular show, if it 
works out it will bring Paterson's career full circle in a way he 
clearly relishes.

“I'm not a lazy actor,” he says, “but I'm not driven in a particularly 
competitive way either. Acting is a very nice way to earn a living 
after a lot of people have retired. And if you're still acting in your 
sixties or seventies, you're not stealing roles from twenty-three year 
olds.”

And No More Shall We Part, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,
www.traverse.co.uk
The Herald, July 24th 2012

ends

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