Interview: director Graham McLaren on reviving Joe Corrie's In Time O' Strife
'I love that we are giving voice to an artist who, in his own lifetime, was denied that voice by the theatre establishment'
Set in the 1920s, and highlighting the struggles of Fife miners against poverty and social injustice, In Time O' Strife is a neglected Scottish classic, presaging in its anger the great theatrical revolution of the Angry Young Men in the 1950s. Director Graham McLaren's enthusiasm for his adaptation of Joe Corrie's tale of striking miners is immediately evident. 'I love this show: I love every minute of making it,' he says. 'I love working with the live musicians and the subject matter. I love that we are giving voice to an artist who, in his own lifetime, was denied that voice by the theatre establishment.'
In Time O' Strife is not a play blessed by revivals, and McLaren has expanded the script with Corrie's other writings, lending the performance a sense of the context of both Corrie's life and politics. And, as McLaren notes, Corrie was excluded.
'He would say he was politically out of step: which he was. His work was too socialist, too Bolshevik,' McLaren continues. Fortunately, after the rise and fall of later politically engaged companies like 7:84, the climate has changed. I think we are hungry for it! We need it,' he enthuses. 'We can see that Scotland sees theatre as a vehicle for complex political ideas.'
McLaren's directorial style is imaginative and distinctive – his Christmas Carol injected new life into an old standard – and his vision of In Time O' Strife follows a traditional, yet experimental format. Adding music to the mix – via Corrie's poetry – he recalls iconic plays such as The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.
'Form and content go hand in hand. It is not accidental that the landmark shows made in Scotland have had a political content and a popular form – that ceilidh form. This mix is something we do very well in Scotland.'
With the support of the National Theatre of Scotland, McLaren is able to realise his vision on a grand scale. The charged content might refer to an earlier depression, but the resonance is quite clear for contemporary society. By placing big ideas into a form that can include music and dance, McLaren is taking theatre on a tour across the country and helping to define the nation's conversations.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 9–Sat 13 Sep.