The bar of Oran Mor is quiet on the cold Tuesday morning April Chamberlain and Morag Fullarton sit down to talk about A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s forthcoming spring and summer season of lunchtime theatre. As the co-artistic directors of arguably the biggest theatrical phenomena of the last fifteen years tuck themselves away in the corner of the bar that has become of the liveliest cornerstones of west end social life in Glasgow, however, this might be regarded as the calm before the storm.
Chamberlain is auditioning later on, and she has twenty plays to cast. The first of those, a bite-size version of Liz Lochhead’s rambunctious Scots version of Moliere’s comedy, Tartuffe, opens in early February. Then there is the small matter of the autumn season, which will feature another twenty plays.
Both seasons are landmarks in A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s history, founded in 2004 by the late David MacLennan, who had already been at the forefront of popular theatre as co-founder of the original 7:84 company before forming Wildcat. As well as it being the initiative’s fifteenth year of operation over thirty seasons, this year will also feature the 500th play to be produced by A Play, A Pie and A Pint.
To celebrate, while the focus of PPP remains on showcasing brand new bite-size dramas, twelve of the forthcoming season’s productions will form what amounts to a greatest hits set. This shows the range of material which has made its way onto Oran Mor’s stage in a low-budget, low-risk way light-years away from a prevailing corporate philosophy of big-budget event-based shows.
This includes revisiting the debut plays by David Ireland and Denise Mina, as well as favourite shows about comedian Chic Murray, Dusty Springfield and Fife-born darts player, Jocky Wilson. Ireland’s play, What The Animals Say, heralded a career which has seen one of his most recent plays, Cyprus Avenue, win numerous awards, while his Traverse Theatre hit, Ulster American, is about to tour to Australia and Ireland. Also revived is Aye, Elvis, Morna Young’s comedy about a female Elvis Presley impersonator.
“After fifteen years it seems like the right moment to look back, and to celebrate,” says Chamberlain.
As Fullarton points out, it is also an opportunity to revisit pieces which have all but disappeared from view.
“One of the things about the shows at A Play, A Pie and A Pint is that they’re only on for a week,” she says, “so unless the writers and directors can get producers and other theatres interested, they disappear, and there are some cracking plays which deserve the chance of a wider audience, or to be expanded. There’s so many we’d like to bring back, but at the same time keep the new stuff coming up alongside that.”
As long-time audience members before their involvement in A Play, A Pie and A Pint, while Chamberlain and Fullarton were happy to revive the plays they have done, given the immediacy of PPP, there were some plays that were never going to make the cut.
“It’s been interesting going back through plays that we’d only seen many years ago, but which reading them now don’t really stand up, and you think, oh, were we just in a really good mood that day when we saw it?”
New works in the spring/summer season include The Origins of Ivor Punch, written by Colin MacIntyre and based on the Mull Historical Society singer/songwriter’s debut novel. There will also be a new piece by Peter McDougall, Last Ferry to Dunoon, while The Mack is Rob Drummond’s timely look at the legacy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the wake of last year’s second major fire which devastated the Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art.
One of the major attractions of the season is Casablanca, Fullarton’s own play, a lunchtime version of the iconic film starring Humphrey Bogart. Lest there be any accusations of nepotism, the choice of what plays should be seen again was put to a vote involving Oran Mor regulars, with Casablanca coming out on top.
“We’re being guided quite a lot by the regular PPP audience,” says Chamberlain, “and one of the things we’ve tried to do since we started here is to widen the pool of writers involved. We’re putting so much on now that we can maybe afford to get a writer to do another draft of a play if it’s not quite ready, and we can put that on a bit later.”
Chamberlain and Fullarton have been at the helm of A Play, A Pie and A Pint since 2016, taking over from producer Susannah Armitage, who had overseen the organisation since MacLennan’s passing in 2014. Both come with swathes of experience in theatre and television, with Fullarton combining both in the early 1990s with a TV version of her stage production of Dario Fo’s play, Mistero Buffo, which starred Robbie Coltrane. Chamberlain, meanwhile, co-founded production company The Comedy Unit, responsible for numerous much-loved TV sit-coms.
While things have become more streamlined in terms of the day to day running of the company since the early days of PPP, all those involved since have nevertheless retained the sense of low-risk immediacy which MacLennan championed, and despite receiving Creative Scotland funding in a way it might have previously steered clear of, remains a small operation.
“One of the great joys of A Play, A Pie and A Pint for the writers,” says Fullarton, “is that your play can be on in three months, and it doesn’t have to hang around for a year waiting for lots of executive producers to make decisions. Our model is a model that works for actors as well. It’s a three-week gig, so they can fit it in with whatever else they’ve got on.”
At its heart, A play, A Pie and A pint’s prevailing spirit echoes the sentiments of the late John McGrath, founder of 7:84 and brother-in-law of MacLennan, but with a Play, Pie and a Pint twist.
“It’s a good night out,” says Fullarton, “but at lunchtime.”
A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s spring/summer 2019 Celebration Season opens at Oran Mor, Glasgow on February 11 with Tartuffe by Moliere, adapted by Liz Lochhead. Full details of the season can be found at www.playpiepint.com.