Liz Lochhead

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Plays by Liz Lochhead

Blood and Ice

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's earliest play, Blood and Ice is a psychodrama that tells the story of Frankenstein’s creation and weaves a web of connections between Mary Shelley’s own tragic life and that of her literary monster. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1982. It was later revived, in a revised version, by David McVicar at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1988, and subsequently toured by McVicar's company, Pen Name. It was again revived, in the version that was ultimately published, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 24 October 2003.

The play unfolds as a series of flashbacks from the perspective of Mary Shelley in later life, disillusioned, let down by her friends, and struggling to understand her own creation, Frankenstein, or why she wrote it in the first place. It focuses on the summer of 1816, when eighteen-year-old Mary and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley are joined at a house party on the shores of Lake Geneva by Mary’s half-sister Claire and the infamous Lord Byron. They take part in a challenge to see who can write the most horrifying story. Little do they know that Mary’s contribution is to become one of the most celebrated novels of all time, nor how her life, already burdened with the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, is to be so full of tragedy.

Liz Lochhead, in a 2009 Introduction to the published text, writes 'It’s exactly thirty years since I first took down from a library shelf Muriel Spark’s Child of Light, her wonderful biography of Mary Shelley, and, shortly after, began my own pursuit. Could I make a play…? Naively, I was, at the time, quite blithely unaware that I wasn’t the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, to be fired by the dramatic possibilities of this moment in history, that iconic stormy summer of 1816 by the shores of the lake and beneath the high Alps.'

The 2003 Royal Lyceum production was directed by Graham McLaren and performed by Lucianne McEvoy, Phil Matthews, Alex Hassel, Susan Coyle and Michele Rodley.

Dracula (adapt. Lochhead)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's Dracula is a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s hugely influential novel. It was first performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 13 March 1985.

Jonathan Harker, engaged to Mina Westerman, has come from England to Count Dracula’s crumbling mansion in the Carpathian Mountains to provide legal aid in a real estate transaction. Dracula has bought a castle next to an asylum in England and plans to travel over to take up his new residence. While at first impressed by Dracula’s inviting manner, Jonathan soon becomes unnerved by the sinister goings-on within the castle, including a terrifying encounter with three vampire brides. Meanwhile, back in England, strange things are also afoot. Asylum inmate Renfield is raving about ‘not letting him in’ and Mina’s sister Lucy is growing paler by the day. Dr Seward, in love with Lucy and fearful for her life, calls in his rival Van Helsing to help solve the mystery of her illness. It seems Dracula is on his way.

In her 2009 Introduction to the published text, Lochhead writes 'Rereading it now, my version – and I haven’t for years – I see what a strong debt the whole atmosphere of it owes to my other reading at the time. My appetites have always found deeply satisfying the work of Isak Dinesen (real name: Karen Blixen, the Danish baroness, author of Out of Africa), whose Seven Gothic Tales and, especially, her Winter’s Tales are so pervaded by loneliness and longing. And an aching luminous loveliness and "bottomless wisdom". She’s like an even more deeply visionary and romantic Hans Christian Andersen – for grown-ups, though.

'I also by then had read, and reread – it’s so gorgeous — The Bloody Chamber, by the great and original Angela Carter, whose equally delicious but deliberately more ornate and baroquely romantic tales were also soul food for the feminine imagination.'

The Royal Lyceum premiere was directed by Hugh Hodgart and designed by Gregory Smith. It was performed by Patricia Ross, Irene McDougall, Tamara Kennedy, Vari Sylvester, Laurie Ventrie, Robin Sneller, John McGlynn, Sean McCarthy and Tam Dean Burn.

Educating Agnes

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's Educating Agnes is a Scots-inflected adaptation of Molière’s classic comedy The School for Wives (L’Ecole des Femmes). It was first performed by Theatre Babel at Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, on 25 April 2008. Educating Agnes follows Lochhead's earlier adaptations of Molière’s Tartuffe (Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh,1986) and The Misanthrope (as Miseryguts, Royal Lyceum, 2002).

In her introduction to the published edition, Lochhead writes 'The play [is] about an old man of forty-two [Arnolphe] who is so obsessed with the infidelity and treachery of womankind he decides the solution is to marry a young, young girl [Agnes] – his ward, a child innocent to the point of ignorance – and, all the worse for him, falls in love with her. ...

'Molière’s comedy is profound, universal and eternal. What he reveals here about the power-relationships between old men and young girls – about unhealthy obsession, about youth, sweetness and innocence versus middle-aged male self-deception, terror of sex and misogyny – are, of course, all equally pertinent today. Beyond all that though, it is – as are both of those other masterpieces of his I have come to know and love so well – finally about the comical, appalling suffering which love, especially inappropriate love, causes us human beings.'

The Theatre Babel premiere at Citizens' Theatre was directed by Graham McLaren and designed by Graham McLaren and Robin Peoples. It was performed by Kevin McMonagle, Anneika Rose, John Kielty, Sean Scanlan, Lewis Howden and Maureen Car. The production then embarked on a national tour.

The play was revived in 2011 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.

Good Things

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's Good Things is a bittersweet romantic comedy about finding love later in life. It was conceived by Lochhead as a loosely thematic sequel to her earlier play Perfect Days (Traverse Theatre, 1998). Good Things was first performed by Borderline Theatre Company, in association with the Byre Theatre, St Andrews and Perth Theatre, at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow on 16 September 2004, prior to an extensive national tour.

The play is set in a charity shop where Susan – newly single and approaching fifty – works as a volunteer. She also has to cope with a father in his second childhood, a daughter in the throes of aggravated adolescence, a blind-date stalker and an ex who, unfortunately, still has the power to wound. So when David comes in to drop off a bag of his late wife’s possessions, Susan barely has time to notice him or how he keeps coming back. The play is written to be performed by two male and two female performers, with one male actor playing all the male parts except for David, and one female actor playing all the female roles except for Susan.

In her Foreword to Liz Lochhead: Five Plays (Nick Hern Books, 2012), Lochhead writes that Perfect Days and Good Things were 'conceived as part one and part two of a loose trilogy of popular comedies, romantic comedies, about the lives of modern women as they approached what the women’s mags would have us regard as big milestones – fear of forty, Perfect Days, and fear of fifty, Good Things.'

Lochhead also explain that 'The extensive doubling, originally for reasons of economy, done by two of the actors, which means that they are literally never off the stage except for the most bravura of quick changes, well, this doubling was for me the point of it, the structural fun in the writing of it.'

The Borderline Theatre Company production was directed by Maureen Beattie and designed by Finlay McLay. It was performed by Annette Staines, Vincent Friell, Molly Innes and Kenneth Bryans.

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off is about the bitter rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin and fellow ruler, Elizabeth I of England. The story is presented in a distinctive cabaret style, with much of the dialogue in the 'Braid Scots' vernacular. It explores the deep sectarian divisions within Scotland and dramatises the fateful moment the country rejected Mary’s Catholicism for the Protestantism of anti-feminist revolutionary John Knox.

It was first performed by the Communicado Theatre Company at the Lyceum Studio Theatre, Edinburgh, on 10 August 1987. It was revived, with a revised text, by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2009, when it was first performed at Druimfin, Tobermory, Mull, on 18 April at the start of a tour.

The play's action is introduced and narrated by a crow-like character known as La Corbie. Following the death of her husband, the Dauphin of France, the beautiful and staunchly Catholic Mary Stuart returns to the British Isles to rule Scotland, a country she neither knows nor understands. Ill-prepared to rule in her own right, Mary has failed to learn what her Protestant cousin, Elizabeth Tudor, knows only too well: that a queen must rule with her head, not her heart. All too soon the stage is set for a deadly endgame in which there can only be one winner and one queen to rule the green island.

In her introduction to the revised text published in 2009, Lochhead describes the play as 'a debate about the then current state of affairs between Scotland and England. ... Margaret Thatcher is not Queen Elizabeth the First, but questions of women and power – and how to hold on to it – are always there as we consider either icon. There was at that time a real sense of frustration in Scotland, a need for us to tell our own stories and find our own language to tell it in.'

The 1987 Communicado Theatre production was directed by Gerard Mulgrew and designed by Colin MacNeil. It was performed by Anne Wood, Myra McFadyen, Anne Lacey, Alison Peebles, Stuart Hepburn, Gerard Mulgrew, Frank McConnell and John Mitchell.

The 2009 National Theatre of Scotland revival was directed by Alison Peebles (a member of the original cast) and designed by Kenny Miller. It was performed by Joyce Falconer, Jo Freer, Angela Darcy, John Kielty, Lewis Howden, Marc Brew and Owen Whitelaw.

Miseryguts

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's Miseryguts is an adaptation of Molière’s classic comedy of manners, The Misanthrope (Le Misanthrope). It was first performed on 22 March 2002 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh (press night on 23 March). It followed her earlier adaptation of Molière's Tartuffe, which premiered at the Royal Lyceum in 1986.

Molière’s The Misanthrope is a bitter comedy about a worldly sophisticate who cannot help telling uncomfortable truths about his fellow men and women. But yet, despite himself, he falls deeply and painfully in love with one particular woman, the vivacious Celia. And though he acknowledges what he sees as the superior virtues in some of his own female admirers, his heart still lies with her.

Lochhead's version transposes the action of the play into the world of media and politics in 21st-century, devolved Scotland, allowing for a rich seam of contemporary satire.

In her introduction to the 2002 edition of the play, Lochhead describes her approach to adapting the play: 'Le Misanthrope is Molière’s darkest, strangest, therefore potentially most hilarious anti-comedy. What could be less funny than to find yourself deeply and hopelessly in love with someone of whom you know you deeply and fundamentally disapprove? ... Nothing in this that couldn’t be set in the here-and-now. So (unlike Tartuffe) the characters got new names as well as flats in the New Town and Leith. Do they speak Scots? Well, they speak the way these particular Scotsmen and women do right now. Some Scots, yes, some Americanisms, lots of clichés and buzz-words, much casual profanity, I’m afraid. Like life.'

The Royal Lyceum premiere was directed by Tony Cownie and designed by Geoff Rose. It was performed by Jimmy Chisholm, Greg Powrie, John Kielty, Cora Bissett, Ronnie Simon, Barrie Hunter, Helen Lomax and Janette Foggo.

Perfect Days

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's play Perfect Days is a romantic comedy about a 39-year-old Glaswegian hairdresser who desperately wants to have a child. It was first performed on 7 August 1998 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The play is set in a 'large and very stylish Merchant City Loft in Glasgow' belonging to Barbs Marshall, a celebrity hairdresser. She is successful, has her own show on local TV, a nice apartment in a trendy part of the city, but she is 39 years old and almost deafened by the ticking of her biological clock. To make matters worse, her mother is a nag, her best friend is holding out on her and her ex-husband Davie has a new 22-year-old girlfriend. Then she meets 26-year-old Grant, who seems more than ready to oblige. But the complications are by no means over.

The Traverse Theatre premiere was directed by John Tiffany and designed by Georgia Sion. It was performed by Siobhan Redmond, Anne Kidd, Ann Scott-Jones, John Kazek, Vincent Friell and Enzo Cilenti.

The production was revived at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 6 January 1999 and then transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End on 21 June 1999.

Quelques Fleurs

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's Quelques Fleurs is a short play for two performers, a portrait of a marriage, both funny and tragic. It was first performed by Nippy Sweeties Theatre Company at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, on 10 August 1991.

In the play, Verena and her husband Derek speak in intercut monologues from two isolated spots on stage. Verena’s scenes span from 24 December 1990 until 23 December 1991, the date of Derek’s single journey – 'shown backwards from drunk till sober and measured by a dwindling mountain of beer cans' – from his Aberdeen home to Glasgow. The couple are childless and their marriage is unravelling. Gradually we enter the hearts of both of them as they reveal the hidden pain behind their union.

In her Foreword to Liz Lochhead: Five Plays (Nick Hern Books, 2012), Lochhead writes 'This is a play about two people, one of whom talks and talks (all year!) to not say what matters to her, until, after all that repressing, out it comes; and one who, in a single day at the end of that year, is taken backwards in time from being incoherently drunk and almost home to what we know will be hell, back to being sober and telling us the whole truth at the beginning of his journey. At the end of the play. ... Sound confusing? The interlaced structure, with its two different time frames, one for each character, is, I admit, hard to bring off. A flaw I see no solution for. The audience do seem to catch on fine, though.'

The premiere production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1991 was performed by Liz Lochhead and Stuart Hepburn.

Tartuffe (adapt. Lochhead)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's version of Molière’s comic masterpiece Tartuffe is written in a robust Scots dialect, while retaining the rhyming couplet form of the French original. It was first performed on 24 January 1986 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.

Tartuffe, a pious fraud, is lodging with Orgon and his family, ingratiating himself to such a degree that they are initially blind to his true designs, which include marrying Orgon’s daughter whilst seducing his wife. When the family realise what Tartuffe is up to, they set about exposing his despicable plan. However, Orgon won’t be so easily persuaded, and names Tartuffe as his sole heir. When Orgon finally discovers the truth about Tartuffe, it comes too late.

In her introduction to the 2002 edition of the play, Lochhead gives an account of the play's development: 'In 1985 I began a version of Molière’s Tartuffe for Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre Company. All I set out to do was a version for one production for one particular company: that it has had a longer life is an unexpected bonus. I thought it’d be in English for Scottish actors to perform in their own accents. The Scots it emerged in was a big surprise to me. Well, I’d set it at the end of the First World War, when small businessman Orgon could’ve made a lot of money and married a beautiful young widow; could still plausibly think he could tell his daughter who to marry; could still be head of a household with a maid. This was exactly my grandmother’s time and her guid Scots tongue was evidently inside me waiting to be tapped. Words I didn’t know I knew just tumbled out as I got on with the enormously good fun of my first attempt at a whole play in rhyming couplets.'

Lochhead went on to adapt Molière's The Misanthrope, reimagined as Miseryguts (Royal Lyceum, 2002), and Educating Agnes (Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, 2008), an adaptation of The School for Wives.

The Royal Lyceum premiere of Tartuffe was directed by Colin MacNeil and Ian Wooldridge, and designed by Colin MacNeil. It was performed by Anne Myatt, Sarah Collier, Juliet Cadzow, Gerda Stevenson, Graham Valentine, Stewart Preston, Alan Cumming, Andrew Dallmeyer and Billy McElhaney.

The play was revived at the Royal Lyceum in January 2006 in a production directed by Tony Cownie.

Thebans

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's Thebans revisits the ancient myths of the Kingdom of Thebes, drawing together the stories of Oedipus, Jokasta and Antigone. It was first performed at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, on 2 August 2003, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The play draws on Sophocles' version of the stories of Oedipus and Antigone, with the addition of an interlude taken from various versions (but mainly Euripides) of the story of Jokasta, mother of Antigone and both the wife and mother of Oedipus. The stories tell of Oedipus unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother, Antigone risking everything to bury the body of her brother killed in the internecine war, and Kreon's period of rule. Lochhead's play tells how three generations of a family cursed by the gods had their chances to determine their own fate, but through ignorance, selfishness or greed destroyed themselves.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival premiere was directed and designed by Graham McLaren and performed by Jennifer Black, Peter Collins, Barrie Hunter, John Kazek, Lucianne McEvoy, Bill Murdoch, Rebecca Rodgers, Ian Skewis and Vari Sylvester.

Picture of Liz Lochhead

© Norman McBeath

Liz Lochhead was born in Lanarkshire in 1947 and educated at Glasgow School of Art. Her collections of poetry including Dreaming Frankenstein, The Colour of Black & White and True Confessions, a collection of monologues and theatre lyrics. Her influential play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off premiered at the Lyceum Studio Theatre in 1987. Its classic status was re-affirmed when the National Theatre of Scotland revived the play to great success in 2009.

Her original stage plays include Blood and Ice (Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1982 and later revised and revived at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, 2003); Quelques Fleurs (Nippy Sweeties Theatre/Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1991); Perfect Days (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1998, Hampstead Theatre and Vaudeville Theatre, 1999) and Good Things (Borderline Theatre/Byre Theatre Company/St Andrews Theatre/Perth Theatre at the Tron Theatre followed by a national tour of Scotland, 2004). Her many stage adaptations include Dracula (Royal Lyceum Theatre, 1985); Molière’s Tartuffe (Royal Lyceum Theatre, 1986 and revived there in 2006); Miseryguts based on Le Misanthrope (Royal Lyceum Theatre, 2002) and Educating Agnes based on L’École des Femmes (Theatre Babel/Citizens Theatre, 2008). She also wrote versions of Medea by Euripides (Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2000 and winner of the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award) and Thebans, adapted mainly from Sophocles’ Oedipus and Antigone (Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2003).

Liz Lochhead lives in Glasgow. She became the city’s Poet Laureate in 2005, and was appointed Scotland’s Makar, their National Poet, in 2011.