Plays by John McGrath

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An exuberant and sweeping ‘Ceilidh Play with Scenes, Songs and Music of Highland History’ which tells the continuing story of the exploitation of the Scottish Highlands.

McGrath’s winding, furious, innovative play begins with the story of the Clearances: in the nineteenth century, aristocratic landowners discovered the profitability of sheep farming, and forced a mass emigration of rural Highlanders, burning their houses in order to make way for the Cheviot sheep. The play follows the thread of capitalist and repressive exploitation through the estates of the stag-hunting landed gentry, to the most recent rush for profit in the name of North Sea Oil. It is a passionate history told through ballads, Gaelic songs, poetry, comic sketches and tragic stories of resistance.

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil was first performed in 1973 at the ‘What Kind of Scotland’ conference in Edinburgh, then toured throughout Scotland before being televised.

John Peter McGrath, (1935-2002), was a Liverpudlian playwright of Irish descent, best known for his work with the 7:84 theatre company. His most successful play, The Cheviot, the Stage and the Black, Black Oil (1973) tells the story of the clearance of the Scottish highlands, first for grazing, then shooting and finally for oil.

Indeed, McGrath took up the cause of Scottish independence as a focus of his writing, placing the issue hand in hand with his efforts at a popular, radical theatre. Upon McGrath's death at the age of 67 Michael Billington wrote: 'no one since Joan Littlewood did more to advance the cause of popular theatre in Britain than John McGrath'.