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Sylvia Dow - A Beginning, A Middle and An End


As a writer, Sylvia Dow has just come of age. As she prepares for the 
Greyscale company's  production of her first full stage play, A 
Beginning, A Middle and An End, which opens at the Tron Theatre, 
Glasgow, this week, Dow is clearly on a roll. Dow has ducked out of 
rehearsals with Greyscale director Selma Dimitrijevic for the afternoon 
to attend the tea-time launch of the thirtieth edition of annual 
literary compendium, New Writing Scotland. Dow's short play, A Little 
Touch of Cliff in the Evening, gives the volume its title, and, like 
many of her works, uses a pop reference to make its point.

While the sainted Cliff Richard is the signifier for her New Writing 
Scotland play, it's a Bee Gees song that gave Dow the title for It's 
Only Words, a radio play written especially for veteran actress Edith 
MacArthur. This play receives a rehearsed reading at the Traverse in 
Edinburgh to coincide with A Beginning, A Middle and An End's visit. 
Yet another play, Neil Diamond Saved My Life, will be performed at the 
Riverside in London next month.

Dow isn't, however, some twenty-something picked up on the young 
writers workshop circuit. Dow is seventy-three years old, and, after a 
lifetime working in the arts as a teacher and an administrator, has 
finally found her voice.

“The first play, I ever wrote,” she says, “I felt so liberated. I 
couldn't believe it, that you could just say whatever you wanted to. 
I've always loved plays that maybe don't tell you the story directly, 
but make the audience work a little, and I'm a great admirer of Caryl 
Churchill, but who isn't?”

Whether such influences have seeped into A Beginning, A Middle and An 
End remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that Dow has 
brought a lifetime's experience to her work.

“It seems to me that humankind operates in a cycle of optimism and 
despair,” she observes. “We're always looking for a new beginning, and 
then we grab hold of that before we mess up comprehensively. We have 
war and disaster and chaos and famine, yet somehow we always seem to 
come out of all of that hoping for another new beginning.

“You just need a change of government or something to make us shout 
hooray, before it all goes wrong again. I don't know that we'll ever 
get beyond that, but with each cycle I hope we can learn a little 
something, because even in my lifetime, things have changed in terms of 
how ethnicity or sexuality is looked at. Things certainly aren't 
perfect now, but they're a hell of a lot better than how they used to 
be, and I'm only pleased that I've lived long enough to see those 
changes.”

Dow's love affair with theatre began aged seven, when she was taken to 
the theatre by her mother, who bought her children season tickets every 
year.

“I saw some incredibly inappropriate things for someone my age,” Dow 
remembers. “The first thing I saw had Mai Zetterling and Herbert Lom in 
it, and was called something like Rat Trap, which was all about murder 
and child-birth outside marriage. It was quite an education.”

Dow became as smitten with theatre as her mother. After training as an 
actress at Edinburgh College of Speech and Drama, Dow spent the first 
half of the 1960s on the front-line of the counter-culture in Berkeley, 
California, where she became a radio presenter and actress. While never 
pursuing a professional acting career on her return to Scotland, Dow 
went on to teach drama at her former alma mater, and became head of the 
drama department at Bo'ness Academy. Dow later became Education Officer 
for the MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling, and latterly Head of 
Education at the Scottish Arts Council, building what was then a new 
post to a thriving department.

Only when she returned to education herself, however, did Dow fully 
explore her untapped potential when, aged seventy, she embarked on a 
master's degree in playwriting and dramaturgy at Glasgow University.  
One of her tutors was Dimitrijevic, who  spotted Dow's potential enough 
to develop her work beyond academe.

“I'd always written in some way. Even when I was at the Scottish Arts 
Council, writing reports, I always tried to make them readable,” Dow 
says.

Beyond her current spate of activity, Dow is planning to write a play 
about the nature of belief, in which “a new messiah wasn't what he 
thought he was.”

Such questioning of faith seems to tie in too with the sort of cycles 
Dow is dealing with in A Beginning, A Middle and An End. Again, 
experience counts.

“I don't think we're in a very good place, just now,” Dow says, “but 
hey, I'm an old Socialist, so I would say that.”

A Beginning, A Middle and An End, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, September 
5th-9th, then on tour. A Reading of It's Only Words takes place at the 
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, September 19th.
www.greyscale.org.uk
The Herald, September 4th 2012

ends

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