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Sex and God - Linda McLean Explodes

Sex and God are quite understandably all over Linda McLean's new play 
for Nick Bone's Magnetic North company, which opens this weekend in 
Easterhouse prior to a short tour as part of the Scottish Mental Health 
Arts and Film Festival. Despite such strong transcendent themes pulsing 
the worlds of the four twentieth century women from different 
time-zones who occupy McLean's play, she had never considered it for a 
title. Only when McLean's son asked her what the new work was about did 
it become obvious.

“I said it was about sex and God, but didn't have a title,” McLean 
explains, “and he said 'That's it!'”

McLean's work is full of little eureka moments like this, in which 
characters in seemingly domestic situations are enlightened somehow. 
While you could say this about most drama, over the last decade or so 
McLean has quietly become one of the most experimental playwrights in 
the country. Her subversion of dramatic form has been subtle, however, 
whether in the rain-battered trip to Iona taken in Shimmer in 2004, in 
the exploration of family in Word For Word, McLean's first 
collaboration with Magnetic North the year before, or her exploration 
of urban ennui in 2010's Any Given Day.

If elements of all these plays border on a home-grown form of magical 
realism, McLean's narratives are rooted in the surface ordinariness of 
the everyday. Only after bearing witness to them does one realise just 
how tantalisingly special they are. Sex and God may follow in this 
tradition, but, as the quartet of stories are told simultaneously, it 
also finds McLean stretching her writing muscles further out than ever 
before.

“I had a conversation with someone about how there hadn't been a 
history of the twentieth century in the west coast of Scotland either 
written by or about women,” McLean says about the roots of Sex and God. 
“That coincided with me researching into my personal family history, 
and then someone asked if I had an idea for TV. I explained all of 
this, but couldn't find a way of doing it in the sort of 
straightforward way that you have to do things for TV. You know me, I'm 
never happy unless I'm juggling with form.”

The result, according to McLean, is not unrelated to the work she 
explored while Creative Fellow at Edinburgh University’s Institute of 
Advanced Studies in Humanities between 2010 and 2011.

“What happens if you remove the chronology of a story?” she asks. “What 
are you then seeing? That suddenly opened me up to being much more 
playful with form, and I was able to put all four women in the same 
place. The things that emerged out of this, which were lots of sex and 
lots of God, seemed to have a big impact on all this. Those two things 
jumped out as aspects of life which, if you look through the twentieth 
century are things that seem to matter.”

Each of the women in Sex and God occupies a moment somewhere between 
the beginning and the end of the twentieth century.

“There's no specific dates,” McLean points out. “It's funny, because 
when you abstract them, these things don't matter. Sometimes it's as if 
they do know each other, then at other times it's as if they don't.”

Central to McLean's creative process has been the influence of Cold 
Dark Matter: An Exploded View, an installation by visual artist 
Cornelia Parker. Parker's piece suspends time via the shattered 
particles of an exploded shed frozen in mid-blast.

“It was a big influence on the form,” McLean admits. “The stories are 
told in a very fragmented fashion, and each one of the four voices 
occupied equal amounts of space in my head. In that way, you're never 
going to know the whole of these women's stories, the same as you're 
never going to see the whole of this exploded shed. You'll only see 
parts of their stories that they choose to reveal.”

In this respect, McLean is keen to stress amongst the maelstrom of 
desire, loss, relationships and family that drives her play, is that 
Sex and God is most definitely not a series of criss-crossing 
monologues. Rather, the effect sounds more akin to a musical score or a 
liturgy.

“It would have been impossible to write this play as monologues,” she 
says. “Magnetic North are the kind of company who embrace experimenting 
with form, so I knew I could go to Nick with something like this, and 
that he would relish it.”

At one point in rehearsals, Bone put every word spoken in Sex and God 
onto one long sheet of paper, so it really did more resemble a musical 
score than a script.

“I suppose it also became impossible to write these stories and have 
any kind of judgement about whether I found what these women were doing 
was right or wrong, but moving backwards through the twentieth century, 
I also found this great warmth.”

There's always been a keen sense of spirituality filtering through 
McLean's work, and with Sex and God it sounds more pronounced than ever.

“That's a consequence of how I've experienced the world,” McLean says. 
“It's very hard to grow up in a world without some sort of sense of 
spirituality, and that's directly related to the sort of questioning we 
do from a very early age about what is the nature of being alive in the 
world.”

Despite what sounds like Sex and God's clear leaning towards 
transcendent forces, there remains something very grounded in McLean's 
work.

“Here's what I'm hoping,” says McLean. “I'm hoping that there's 
humanity in the play. The heart in it. The people in it. That's what I 
hope people will really love, and that they're not obscured by any 
other kind of story-telling. It's just these four women, each one of 
them in the moment.”

Sex and God, Platform, Glasgow, September 27th-28th, then tours

www.magneticnorth.org.uk
www.platform-online.co.uk
http://www.mhfestival.com/
The Herald, September 27th 2012

ends

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