‘It's silly doing this many plays’ – Jemima Levick on life in Scottish Theatre’s fast lane

There are no fewer than 20 productions in Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint spring season. Jemima Levick, artistic director of the long-running lunchtime theatre series, tells Mark Fisher how she plans to stage more original shows in a few months than many theatres manage in a year
Jemima Levick PIC: Tim MorozzoJemima Levick PIC: Tim Morozzo
Jemima Levick PIC: Tim Morozzo

Jemima Levick is enjoying life in the fast lane. In her last job as artistic director of Stellar Quines, she was responsible for perhaps a handful of shows each year. Now, as the guiding force behind Glasgow' s lunchtime theatre, A Play, A Pie And A Pint, she has 20 productions on her plate. That's in the spring season alone. There'll be another batch in the autumn.

"The sheer volume is madness," she says, looking like she is enjoying every minute. "It's silly doing this many plays. But the moment you say, 'This is silly. We can't do this. It's impossible. We've got to slow it down,' the spirit of [founder] David MacLennan appears and you go, 'It's not silly. It's exactly what it is should be. It's fantastic.' It's 32 new plays a year. That's barmy. And of course you're going to get some hits and some misses, but that is the joy of the place."

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Since its foundation in 2004 by the late MacLennan, the West End theatre has staged more than 550 plays, many of which have enjoyed further life on tour. That is the case in the new season, some of which will spill out to Greenock, Mull, Dumfries & Galloway, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

As Levick has given the programme the title Stories From Scotland, that seems doubly appropriate. The season's artistic calling points range from the Borders to Perth, from the cities to the islands. Levick is kicking herself for not being able to include something from Sutherland, but otherwise, she reckons she has hit most places on the map.

"The audiences here quite often come every week," she says. "Because of that, I was keen to go on an overarching journey."

She inherited most of her 2021 inaugural season from her predecessors Morag Fullerton and April Chamberlain, so the spring programme is the first she has been able to give her own stamp. The Scottish theme was broad enough to embrace plays by old hands such as Peter McDougall, David Ireland and DC Jackson as well as first-timers, not to mention everything from a drama about asylum seekers to a mini musical about the country's future.

"Coming out of the pandemic, I was keen to do something where we travelled out of the West End of Glasgow into places we've not seen for a while," says Levick, contemplating an international season in the autumn. "I was keen to remind ourselves what it feels like to reach out into other communities – and not just the walls we've been staring at."

In some of the plays, she says, the setting is part of the backdrop; in others, it almost becomes a character in itself: "The Ticket Meister by Peter McDougall is very definitely a story of the underground streets of Glasgow. Inheritance by Belle Jones is very definitely about a community living in the Highlands. In those plays, the location couldn’t be anywhere else – and Daniel Getting Married by JD Stewart is set in a very particular church in the Borders!"

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The season begins on 14 February with Oscar by Brian James O’Sullivan, who stars with Kirsty Findlay. It is set on an island where a musician hopes to end his writer's block, not bargaining for the interruptions of his new landlady. Before the season is out, we'll have seen a jukebox musical from Fraserburgh and a political drama on Edinburgh's Meadows.

Levick herself is directing two plays. The first is Man's Best Friend, a canine caper by Douglas Maxwell, starring Jonathan Watson. It's about a man who has spent lockdown walking his neighbour's dogs. When they slip their leads and disappear, he has lessons to learn about companionship. "Douglas has written a fantastic script, really funny and heartbreaking," says Levick, who first worked with Watson on the Frances Poet play Fibres.

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She is also directing Scots, the final show of the season, an ambitious attempt to embrace the whole country in the form of a musical. It's the work of Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie who, as Noisemaker, have been making inroads to the USA with their show Hi, My Name Is Ben and the forthcoming Habitat.

"It's about all of Scotland and all of the people that live there," says Levick. "There is something formidable about those people that change the landscape of Scotland but it doesn't occur to us to celebrate them. Maybe their life story doesn’t quite make a show, so we thought we could do a journey across Scotland and pick out the nooks and crannies we always overlook. We wanted to scoot round the bits we don't normally consider."

Elsewhere in the season, DC Jackson gets gory with I'm Dissolving My Love In A Bath Of Acid, his first play for eight years; Rob Drummond imagines a meeting between a right-wing politician and a left-wing activist in Milkshake; and Kim Millar takes us to 1960s Easterhouse and a visit from Frankie Vaughan in Mr Moonlight.

"The gift of A Play, A Pie And A Pint is people do want to write for it," says Levick. "I've tried to mix up the heavyweight writers and directors with people who are brand new. DC Jackson and David Ireland are writing a lot for telly nowadays but both had plays they said they would really like to do. For them, it is a good short, sharp hit of theatre and it's really exciting. For the newbies, it's a chance to get their work on stage, to be seen and to develop a profile."

The new season of A Play, A Pie And A Pint is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, from 14 February, https://playpiepint.com/

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