A symbiotic double act

No list of the key names in Scottish theatre in the last ten years would be complete without David Greig and Graham Eatough. They have produced one significant work after another – their company Suspect Culture’s Timeless, Airport, Candide 2000 and Casanova, Greig’s The Architect, The Speculator and last year’s Outlying Islands. They rarely miss a Festival.

This year they’re delivering a double whammy, Greig, 33, with his play San Diego at the International Festival, Eatough, 32, with Suspect Culture’s One-Two … at the Traverse, a show which foregrounds the musical aspect of the company’s work. In a brief respite from both sets of rehearsals, they conform to type: Greig, serious, bespectacled and chain-smoking roll-ups; Eatough, open-faced and amiable, devouring a chicken sandwich. Listening to them is extraordinary. If one leaves a sentence hanging, the other finishes it. On tape, their voices are almost indistinguishable.

Close friends for more than a decade, and one of the longest running partnerships in Scottish theatre, how do they feel about working separately? “You can’t divide yourself off,” says Eatough. “David stays interested in One-Two … I stay interested in San Diego.”

“You feel involved, even when your involvement isn’t direct,” says Greig. “You want to be there as soon as possible to see the work.”

So they’re still seeing each other? “Well, at the moment, I don’t see my wife very much,” says Eatough. “I hardly see my children.” Greig adds: “When you’re working on a show, you’ve got to be very focused, but even just today is a nice chance to catch up.”

Eatough and Greig met on the theatre course at Bristol University, contemporaries of Mark Ravenhill and the late Sarah Kane. “The thing I remember,” says Greig, “is that Graham was a very good actor. I was in the year above him, so when there was a new intake, you were always looking at what shows you might do.”

Eatough says a seminal moment came when both acted in a production of Howard Barker’s Victory. “David was very good,” he says, while the bashful Greig stares at his cigarette. “That was quite an important point of inspiration for us.”

Working on Barker helped them to formulate their own ideas about theatre, which they quickly realised they shared. “A lot of the work that was going on in the department at the time was pulling towards devised and physical work,” says Greig. “A lot of the new plays around seemed very grim, very naturalistic and televisual. We weren’t wholly comfortable with either.”

Even then, they were establishing the territory Suspect Culture would occupy: a shifting middle ground between scripted and devised theatre, coupled with a European awareness of design and music. They are swift to remind me that the heart of the company is not two collaborators but four: music director Nick Powell and designer Ian Scott also joined them at Bristol. “We had lots of drunken conversations about what kind of company it might be exciting to set up,” says Eatough.

Eatough and Greig’s first project together predates this, a one-man play called A Savage Reminiscence performed at the Hen and Chicken Pub Theatre in Bristol and the Fringe. “I remember sitting in the union discussing with David about what might be interesting,” remembers Eatough, “and David coming back in with one sheet of A4 text the next day and we’d discuss that. Which, in a very haphazard form, established the way we have worked with text ever since.”

After graduating, Greig in 1991, Eatough in 1992, they decided to relocate to Glasgow, a city still suffused with “energy and potential” after its year as European City of Culture. “I had read this statistic that Mayfest at that time was the size the Fringe had been ten years previously,” chuckles Greig. “I remember saying to Graham, ‘It’s just going to build and build, this is the city to be in’.” Infamously, Mayfest folded but they still made the right choice. With the opening of Europe at the Arches in 1993, they became a serious force in Scottish theatre. This hasn’t changed and the four-man team is still intact, one of the longest running collaborations of its type in the UK. It has lasted, according to Eatough, because it’s based on friendship.

Both admit the dynamic of the company is changing. One-Two … is the first Suspect Culture show without Greig, and all four of the collaborators have independent careers. It’s healthy, they say. “In a way,” says Eatough, “we feel we’ve earned a bit of freedom.”

•One-Two … is at the Traverse, 5-23 August. San Diego is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, 15-17 August.