Show about poet McGonagall’s life story takes centre stage

William McGonagall spent years trying to carve out a career as a wordsmith but was roundly mocked.
William McGonagall spent years trying to carve out a career as a wordsmith but was roundly mocked.
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His disjointed verse has long seen him lampooned as the worst poet in the history of the English language.

Dundee weaver William Topaz McGonagall spent a quarter of a century attempting to carve out a career as a wordsmith and performer – only to find himself mocked almost everywhere.

Gary McNair in the role of the notoriously bad poet William Topaz McGonagall. Photograph: Joe Douglas

Gary McNair in the role of the notoriously bad poet William Topaz McGonagall. Photograph: Joe Douglas

Now the man whose poetic efforts would be satirised by the The Goons, Monty Python and The Muppets is set to be cast in a new light as a stage show focuses on his life and legacy.

Award-winning theatre-maker Gary McNair, who spent a year watching stand-up comics for a previous show, is to step into the shoes of McGonagall in the ‘tragi comedy’.

McGonagall’s Chronicles, part of the series A Play, A Pie and a Pint, will explore whether it is OK to “laugh at someone’s obvious and relentless failings.”

McNair will honour his way with words, described as “unwitting butchery of the art” by the Scottish Poetry Library, by writing the script in “almost rhyming verse.”

He is working on the show, which will tour Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee in March and April, with Simon Liddell, guitarist in indie band Frightened Rabbit, and director Joe Douglas, whose previous work included a revival of John McGrath’s classic play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.

McNair said: “When I was researching stand-up comedy for the show Donald Robertson is Not a Stand-Up Comedian I became fascinated with bad stand-ups – people with a lot of heart, who were magically bad and magnetically enjoyable because of their failings. When I was doing all this research I bumped into a pal in the street and was telling him about my favourite bad stand-up.

“He told me he thought I would love McGonagall. We went to a cafe for an hour 
and a half to read his work. I just fell about laughing. I couldn’t believe he had existed and that I hadn’t heard of him.

“The show will look at his life and his motivation for his poetry – whether the car crash nature of it was intentional or accidental, and how much he was manipulating or controlling things.”