Gregory Thompson

Blair bitch project

Steve Cramer talks to Gregory Thompson, the new artistic director of the Tron about politics, the theatre, and his debut with Grae Cleuch’s The Patriot

Politics has become the art of the horrible. We might feel, more now than ever, the truth of Paul Valery’s comment that ‘Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs that properly concern them.’ Perhaps because of a growing sense of disillusionment, there seems a greater urgency today to engage politically, far more than there was a generation ago.

This is especially true in the theatre over the last few years. So is the new artistic director at the Tron a left wing firebrand? Actually no, not really. Asked about his first new season at the Tron, artistic director Gregory Thompson is almost self-conscious about just how political it is.

‘I know it looks quite a political season, but most of all, I’m concerned with getting the best work out there. It happens that a lot of that has been political lately. I’m reserving the right to put the best theatre I can in front of audiences, whether it’s a play about Iraq or The Tempest.’

Thompson makes his directorial debut at his new theatre with The Patriot, a new play by Olivier Award winner Grae Cleugh. The play follows a young man whose brother has been killed in Iraq and who involves his girlfriend in a plot to bomb the Scottish Parliament. He falls in love with the girl, the adopted daughter of an MSP, and calls off the plot in favour of a visit to her parental home, armed with a gun. A night of debate, exacerbated by claustrophobia and potential violence ensues.

Cleugh, also an actor of some distinction, made his full length play debut with the much heralded Fucking Games at the Royal Court, a piece about a dysfunctional gay couple intruded upon by a younger man, which netted him the Most Promising Playwright Olivier award in 2002. Since then, two shorter works, including one for radio, have also been praised, but this appears to be his first major work since his award winner.

Cleugh himself will perform the role of the young man, alongside Hilton Mcrae, fresh from many a fruitful spell at the RSC, and Juliet Cadzow, a veteran, along with McRae, of political theatre from their shared early days at 7:84.

Asked about the obvious anger that underpins the play, and its dealings with terrorism, Thompson points to the lack of political plurality in Britain, more in tones of regret than zealous idealism.

‘I think there’s a lot of anger around, and the feeling that we’re given a lack of choice about what we can do naturally leads to this kind of activity. There’s this idea that the only way to strike back is through the kind of extreme measures described in the play.’

Thompson finds that the base line of this anger is with the current government, and it’s no surprise that the fictional MSP of the play is a Labour member. ‘When John Major was Prime Minister, it didn’t matter so much, but for people in the arts there was a sense that Blair’s was our government.

‘There was this level of belief that 1997 changed things, so as the contradictions emerged I think people were more disappointed than they were with the previous government. That’s part of the problem in the arts and across the country.”

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 12 May.

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