David MacLennan, who died on the 13th June in Glasgow’s Western Infirmary aged 65, has been described by the Herald and many others as the country’s “top theatre producer” and indeed his work ranged from the remarkable to the outstanding.

For many, David is synonymous with the highly successful Play, Pie and & a Pint; but for us, David was a  deeply significant player in developing touring theatre in the Highlands and Islands. Indeed, in the words of Cora Bissett, who dedicated the first night of GRIT to him at Druimfin last week ‘he was almost single handedly responsible for establishing the touring network across Scotland‘.

This link between rural promoting and 7:84 is beautifully explored by promoter, Duncan MacInnes of SEALL, Skye:

David MacLennan, actor, writer and producer, born 19 June 1948; died 13 June 2014

Many of us promoting touring theatre events throughout the Highlands and Islands would not be doing it, but for David MacLennan’s activities in the early 1970s.  Even for recent arrivals on the promoting scene, the effect of 7:84 Theatre Company continues to resonate. With his troop of actors, McGrath and MacLennan’s company toured the Highlands and Islands in rickety vans playing to tiny audiences bringing ‘The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil’ to very appreciative and sympathetic audiences in some remarkable places.

In October 1973 Davey Anderson, the actor, crossed the ferry to Skye. “I saw the ‘Cheviot’ on my honeymoon. First stop Kyleakin, Skye. The gig – Kyleakin Village Hall. The Audience – the good people of Skye. The Performers – a bunch of folk who didn’t seem ready: five minutes to go and they were still setting costumes, tuning instruments and blethering with each other and the audience. Where were the curtains, the hushed reverence, the dinner jackets, the blue rinses? That night in a community hall in Skye proved to me that theatre was far from dead, as I had assumed it to be.”

I got actively involved in promoting on Skye in 1987 and received 7:84 in October 1988 with ‘Mairi Mhòr’. I seemed to remember the irony of presenting a play about the injustices of the Macdonald estates in the 19th C, in the refurbished Stables of the MacDonald’s Armadale Castle.

MacLennan went on to be part of Wildcat Theatre with David Anderson. I have a poster on my wall, for their ‘Bedfellows’ promoted by SEALL in Broadford Hall in June 1995. “We never got rich, but we never stopped touring,” MacLennan recalled. “I’m so lucky I came into the business when it was growing. It was fun, sharing attitudes and politics.” I think promoters can understand that.

The local enthusiasm for radical theatre, nurtured by 7.84 and Wildcat, was taken up by Highland Council Arts Officers who developed those early local promoters. This became the Highland-wide promoting group and subsequently the Highlands and Islands-wide PAN, and now the Touring Network.

Duncan MacInnes, has promoted events on Skye since 1987 and through SEALL since 1991.

The Touring Network (Highlands & Islands)

Supporting live performance across the Highlands & Islands as part of a central, celebrated and indispensable part of the cultural life of Scotland.

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