When Stuart Hepburn’s play, Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window, is screened on BBC Scotland this Sunday night as part of a new series of works first seen at Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons of lunchtime theatre, Hepburn’s study of the iconic comedian will mark a new era for an already phenomenal Glasgow institution. The play is the first of a series of six plays that aims to capture the immediacy of what is now more than 500 brand new one-act works showcased at the fifteen-year old institution.
With the new season of of A Play, A Pie and A Pint having opened at Oran Mor this week with Crocodile Rock, a new musical by Andy McGregor, if you’re quick off the mark you could catch the filming of today’s performance for later broadcast as the final show of the BBC Scotland season. All other plays being screened have already been filmed in front of a live audience in similar fashion, designed to catch the buzz of the play as performed.
“We’re really, really excited about it,” says April Chamberlain, who, alongside Morag Fullarton, has been co-artistic director of A Play, A Pie and A Pint since 2016. “We’re hoping it will widen our audience to people who haven’t been able to come along to Oran Mor, as well as providing a chance for people who have seen the plays already to see them again onscreen. We’re not changing anything in what we do, and the BBC Scotland series is a great snapshot of what our little lunchtime phenomenon is all about.”
Following on from Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window, the next five weeks of BBC Scotland’s Sunday night series will feature Anita Vettesse’s play, Ring Road, followed by A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity by Douglas Maxwell. Next up will be Uma Nada-Rajah’s play, Toy Plastic Chicken, and Meat Market by Chris Grady, before the series concludes with Crocodile Rock.
“We’re keeping very much true to our roots,” says Chamberlain. “Obviously we can’t give out pies and pints to the viewers watching at home, but we’re keeping things as authentic as they can be. And who knows, maybe home food deliveries will do a roaring trade.”
A Play, A Pie and A Pint has always felt like a natural fit for television, and, given the location of Oran Mor and its clientele, feels long overdue. When the late David MacLennan first teamed up with Oran Mor owner Colin Beattie in 2004 to present A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s inaugural season, BBC Scotland was still based across the road in Queen Margaret Drive. The former home of Kelvinside Parish Church quickly became a hub for Glasgow’s West End society, with A Play, A Pie and A Pint a key part of the venue’s identity.
The full history of the theatrical phenomenon can be seen the night before the first play is screened, when BBC Scotland will show A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Scotland’s Theatre Revolution, originally seen in 2014 to mark the tenth anniversary of the initiative.
“I think it has been a very symbiotic relationship,” says Chamberlain of the new partnership. Both she and Fullarton have roots in television, with Chamberlain having co-founded The Comedy Unit, the company responsible for numerous TV sit-coms. Fullarton too has extensive TV experience as a director of the likes of River City, Taggart and Rebus, while she also oversaw the TV adaptation of her stage version of Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo.
“Morag and I have always been really keen to have a mix of writers on board for A Play, A Pie and A Pint,” says Chamberlain. “We thought it would be good to try and get some of the people we’d been working with in television to try and write something for the stage, and we felt the same about people writing for theatre who might want to write for television. Who knows if this season with the BBC will lead to anything, but it would be fantastic if writers who haven’t worked on television before went on to be picked up for something else, and hopefully this will encourage everyone involved to take more risks.”
While it remains to be seen whether the initiative will be picked up by BBC Scotland’s commissioning executive Gavin Smith and his team for any kind of follow-up, it is perfectly possible that the TV version of A Play, A Pie and A Pint might well become a phenomenon as big as its theatrical source.
“I think it’s early days yet,” says Chamberlain, “and I don’t think things will necessarily change drastically from these six plays being shown on television, though I do think the appetite for seeing a capture of live performance is increasing. I for one go to see cinema screenings of live shows that I would otherwise never have the chance to see, simply because I would never be able to get down to London to see them.
“I’d love to think what A Play, A Pie and A Pint is doing with BBC Scotland is a tiny seed being planted of Scottish theatre being able to be seen in that way. It’s obviously different from the live experience, but if it helps grow an interest and an appetite for audiences, it could be the start of a great thing.”
A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window is screened on BBC Scotland on Sunday at 10pm, with the series running for the following five Sundays at 10pm. A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Scotland’s Theatre Revolution, originally shown in 2014, will be screened on BBC Scotland on Saturday at 10pm. The current season of A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Oran Mor, Glasgow continues this week with Crocodile Rock by Andy McGregor.
The Herald, August 29th 2019