London calling - David Greig interview
David Greig talks to Steve Cramer about his recent elevation to London theatre heavyweight and his current play, Europe
In many professions, inhabitants of London seem to feel that to live or work in any other city shows a remarkable lack of ability or taste. It’s a shame, really, since the rest of us might find it equally incomprehensible that someone would want to live in a pokey, overpriced home in Clapham, or some such place, and spend much of their day commuting in underground trains. A bigger disadvantage to London, though, might be the lack of knowledge, so often betrayed there, of the outside world. Thus it is that David Greig, a household name for well over a decade in the Scottish arts has, slightly embarrassingly, been referred to as if he were a wünderkind just out of college in some London reviews of the last couple of years.
Since 2005, Greig’s transition into a major name, rather than an occasional tepidly received visitor in London has been completed by acclaimed productions such as The American Pilot and Pyrenees, as well as a revival of the originally poorly received The Cosmonaut.
Sitting in a vegetarian café opposite Edinburgh’s Haymarket station, he contemplates this transformation. His current revival at Dundee Rep, 1994’s Europe, seemed to play a role in the divide in cultural tastes that, until recently, his work exemplified. ‘Europe was picked up by both the Traverse and the Royal Court,’ he explains. ‘Being a slightly bolshie young man, I wanted it on the best stage I could get. The Court were offering me the studio theatre upstairs, while the Traverse offered me the main space. Who knows what might have happened if I’d chosen the Court?’
Even Greig’s EIF work didn’t seem to impress the London critics. ‘There I was at the Festival without them having said that I deserved to be there. I think they responded badly to that, so for a while there was a certain amount of “who does this guy think he is?”,’ Greig says. ‘I think London tends to respond best to Scottish theatre when it’s violent and funny, in the same way that it responds best to Irish theatre when it’s pastoral and melancholic. Just as I’ve seen a number of great Irish plays that have been more urban that haven’t taken off in London, I’ve also seen plays from Scotland that are intimate and cerebral not do so well.’
The text tells the story of two people, father and daughter, waiting at a station platform in an unnamed, newly capitalist former Eastern Bloc country. A rationalisation has occurred, and the train no longer stops there. The people of the town begin to persecute the stateless pair we meet on the platform.
‘I think when people are put in the position which the people of the town are in, it’s often the case that a certain amount of right-wing thinking occurs,’ Greig says. ‘A couple of people at the read-through called it prescient, but I don’t know, I’m not sure that this isn’t just a continuation of the time it was written. There’s a lot about asylum seekers - how people are scapegoated, and the way that you can belong to a country which, overnight, disappears. But dealing with otherness, and the way we persecute people, that’s been a constant for a long time.’
Europe, Dundee Rep, Sat 3-Sat 10 Mar, then Wed 4-Sat 7 Apr.