Scottish independence referendum pollsters take note. Gabriel Quigley
is here to help. It's not that the actress's current stage role as
Fiona, the first ever Foreign Minister in an independent Scotland in
John McCann's play, Spoiling, has gone to her head or anything. Neither
is it the fact that the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh's Festival Fringe
production of McCann's play, which is currently playing at the Theatre
Royal Stratford East in London, will return to the Traverse during the
week of the vote.
Indeed, Quigley will seize the reins of power as Fiona in Spoiling on
referendum night itself. It's just that, being a familiar face off the
telly in prime time comedies like Chewin' The Fat and the Karen Dunbar
Show, Quigley gets to chat to taxi drivers a lot. In the current
climate, there is pretty much only one subject that comes up.
“I'm doing a secret survey,” deadpans Quigley, spilling the beans that
YouGov and co have unilaterally failed to take into account. “Black-cab
drivers in Edinburgh and Glasgow are Yes,” she reveals, “whereas mini
cab drivers in Edinburgh and Glasgow are No. What's that all about?”
The answer may not be found in Spoiling, but McCann's look at some of
the compromises that may have to be made once the champagne corks have
stopped popping for whoever wins the vote and the hangover kicks in
after September 18 is as up to the minute as it gets.
“It's just so topical,” says Quigley. “Doing Spoiling during the
Fringe, because of the things the play's looking at, there was a wee
frisson every time we did it. I think it was one of the best reactions
I've ever seen at the festival. People watching it seemed so excited
and happy that they were being addressed, even if they didn't agree
with it. People from both sides of the argument seemed to enjoy it.”
Much of this, one suspects, came from Quigley's performance as much as
McCann's script, and the way she deals with the Northern Irish civil
servant tasked to keep her on message.
“She's a brilliant character,” says Quigley. “She's pregnant, so that's
very freeing, because the guy who's been sent in to keep an eye on her
can't touch her, even though she's just been caught smoking. She's a
classic politician, because she's got so many characters within her.
She's a child and can be really irresponsible, but then she can say all
these important things.
“People like Fiona are absolutely ego-maniacs on a power trip, but
Fiona is a clever lady, and she does mean what she says. She's
passionate, and goom 0-60 in seconds, but can be quite hard as well.
There are obvious shades of Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker when she
starts swearing, but Scottish people swear very well.”
If there are shades of the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald's fiery
independent spirit in Quigley's portrayal of Fiona, Quigley has also
been referring to the flamboyant late Conservative MP Alan Clark's
somewhat scurrilous diaries so see just how badly behaved politicians
can be. It is MacDonald's influence, however, which remains close to
“Margo was in the swimming team with my mum,” she says. “They went to
different schools, but my mother was brought up in Hamilton, and they
were both very blonde and very glamorous. They weren't afraid to be
feminine, but they were very strong as well. My mother was a mid-wife,
and there was a campaign for mid-wives which Margo MacDonald supported,
and my mother always remembered that.”
In many ways, playing Fiona seems to encapsulate all the different
facets of Quigley's two-decade-long acting career, which has seen her
play broad comedy with an intelligence that imbues it with a
seriousness others might miss.
Much of this, one suspects, stems from Quigley's background in
Hamilton, growing up as the youngest of six in a highly politicised
household where her teacher father would lap up piles of daily
newspapers from all sides of the political spectrum.
Quigley originally planned to become a journalist when she studied
English at Glasgow University, but falling in with a crowd from the
Theatre Studies department that included playwright Nicola McCartney
and future Black Watch director John Tiffany soon put paid to that.
Quigley appeared in McCartney's student production of Arthur Miller's
Death of A Salesman, and in a double bill of plays presented by
McCartney and Tiffany's newly-formed Lookout company.
Quigley's second job was a tour of Trainspotting at the height of
Irvine Welsh mania alongside a cast that also featured Billy Boyd.
“I went to quite a rough school,” Quigley points out, “so I ended up
playing a lot of people like that.”
Quigley's career has seen her work mainly with new writing, including a
Herald Angel winning turn in Rona Munro's translation of French
rom-com, Strawberries in January. She later reunited with Tiffany for
Enquirer, the National Theatre of Scotland's timely verbatim study of
the newspaper industry's fluctuating fortunes. Quigley most recently
appeared in Tomorrow Is Always Too Long, a film by Turner nominated
artist Phil Collins, which was recently shown at Queens Park in Glasgow.
It is Spoiling, however, that is currently the most relevant play
around. During the play's London run, Quigley has noted marked
differences in the audience's response. At the start, she observes that
the referendum debate had “barely touched the surface. There was no
real sense of what was going on.”
A week and a half later, and Fiona's speech about how the referendum
would affect Northern Ireland was interrupted by an audience member
loudly disagreeing with it. The day after a post-show discussion, and
the change is even more marked. Quigley describes the audiences as
“stricken” in their need to understand exactly what is going on. In a
lively sounding debate, a group of young people in the Stratford East
audience asked about the National Collective, the pro-indy artist-led
collective they'd discovered online. Others too were hungry to hear
what was going on in Scotland,
“The difference in a week is remarkable,” says Quigley. “It's just
hitting home to people in London how much this matters. On one level
Spoiling is a popular comedy, but if it's having that effect in London,
it shows just how much something is happening.”
Spoiling, Theatre Royal Stratford East until September 13; Traverse
Theatre, Edinburgh, September 16-20.
Gabriel Quigley - A life on stage
Quigley studied English Literature and Theatre Studies at Glasgow
It was here Quigley met playwright Nicola McCartney, director John
Tiffany and others who went on to form the Lookout Theatre Company.
Quigley went on to appear in Grimm Tales at Leicester Haymarket, which
was followed by a UK tour of Trainspotting.
Quigley appeared in Wildcat's last show, The Gun, Dissent with 7:84 and
Mainstream with Suspect Culture.
With the Traverse, Quigley featured in 15 Seconds, The Chic Nerds, and,
with Paines Plough, Strawberries in January, which won her a Herald
On TV, Quigley has been seen in Chewin' The Fat, The Karen Dunbar Show
and Rab C Nesbitt.
On film she appeared in Festival, and has since gone on to appear in
other work written and directed by Annie Griffin, including New Town
Quigley was recently seen in Tomorrow Is Always Too Long, a film made
by Turner Prize nominated artist Phil Collins which was shown at an
event in Queens Park, Glasgow.
Quigley works extensively in radio.
The Herald, September 9th 2014