University of Exeter Press

Freedom's Pioneer

John McGrath's Work in Theatre, Film and Television

    • 256 Pages

    John McGrath's plays are compulsory reading and viewing for students of drama, film and television courses in many University and Further Education departments and yet despite recognition of the central importance of McGrath's work, very little has been written about him. This is the first full-length study of his work.

    This book illuminates the importance of John McGrath's role in the development of theatre, film and television in the last four decades of the twentieth century. Through play and script-writing, through directing, producing and co-ordinating work, and through his critical, political and philosophical reflections, McGrath exerted a powerful influence over developments and innovations in all three art forms.

    The contributors include film and television directors, actors, designers, writers, university researchers and journalists, many of whom worked with McGrath. Questions of day-to-day working practice are addressed alongside broader political and aesthetic concerns, and the question of McGrath's relationship to and influence on the arts in Scotland receives careful consideration.

    This is the first full-length study of John McGrath's work, and illuminates the importance of his role in the development of theatre, film and television in the last four decades of the twentieth century.

    ‘…the editors and publishers are to be congratulated for their rich and eclectic volume that allows academics, journalists, playwrights, actors and singers, designers and producers to coexist, challenge and unsettle each other within a single volume.’ (Theatre Research International: 31.2. 2006)

    ‘Handsomely produced and illustrated, both volumes are an eloquent monument to one of British twentieth-century theatre’s most important cultural activists.’ (Theatre Research International: 31.2. 2006)

    List of Illustrations

    Notes on Contributors


    Foreword by Richard Eyre

    Introduction by David Bradby and Susanna Capon

    Part One: Culture and the Socialist Vision

    1. Theatre,Theory and Politics: The Contribution of John McGrath, Maria DiCenzo

    Part Two: Early Work

    2. Get Out and Get On: Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun, Peter Thomson

    3. A Life Outside: John McGrath and the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, Ros Merkin

    4. 'Serjeant Musgrave Dances to a Different Tune': John McGrath's Adaptation of John Arden's Serjeant Musgrave's Dance, John Bull

    5. Finding the Right Places, Finding the Right Audiences: Topicality and Entertainment in the Work of England, Nadine Holdsworth

    Part Three: John McGrath and Scotland

    6. Border Warranty: John McGrath and Scotland, Randall Stevenson

    7. Celtic Centres, the Fringes and John McGrath, Ian Brown

    8. Bursting through the hoop and dancing on the edge of the seediness': Five Scottish Playwrights Talk about John McGrath, Ian Brown

    Part Four: Case Studies

    9. The Television Adaptation of The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, Robin Nelson

    10. A Practical Realism: McGrath, Brecht, Lukacs and Blood Red Roses, Stephen Lacey

    11. A Good Night In: The Long Roads, Robert Dawson-Scott

    12. Three One-Woman Epics: The Political Performer, Olga Taxidou

    Part Five: Working with John

    13. Working with John-Interviews by Susanna Capon:

    Pamela Howard

    Bill Paterson

    Troy Kennedy Martin

    Jack Gold

    John Bett

    Jenny Tiramani

    Elizabeth MacLennan

    Works by John McGrath



    Susanna Capon is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway. She was previously a producer and director in the television industry and she is Course Director of the first vocational MA in Producing for Film and Television. 

    The late David Bradby was Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, Royal Holloway, University of London. His published books include Beckett: Waiting for Godot , The Theater of Michel Vinaver , Modern French Drama 1940-1990 and, with Annie Sparks, Mise en Scène: French Theatre Now