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Setting the scene

Pauline McLean | 20:28 UK time, Friday, 18 December 2009

As a compulsive collector of theatre programmes, I was delighted to see the latest exhibition at the National Library of Scotland.

Curtain Up celebrates 40 years of theatre in Scotland using scripts, props, costumes and huge piles of programmes, posters and flyers from loads of different shows.

The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil is the obvious starting point, not just because NLS hold the 7:84 archive but because this groundbreaking piece set the scene for many of the shows that came after it.

Its most obvious heir is Black Watch - which also features - but its influence can be seen in many other shows.

Theatre is an ephemeral art form and many of the items on display might have easily been discarded. But it's the fact they are disposable and mundane which make them so fascinating.

Like Anthony Neilson's neat, ordered notes for The Wonderful World of Disassocia, or the wages book for the Cheviot tour (cast and crew paid, in suitably egalitarian fashion, the same £20 rate).

Less likely to be lost or thrown away, is John Byrne's fabulous pop-up book set for The Cheviot.

"I remember John McGrath approaching me," he tells me at the preview of the exhibition.

"I'd just finished The Great Northern Welly Boot Show - and he said he wanted this book for a show. It had to be a certain size because it had to go on the roof of their van for the tour and it had to feature a different set on every page and turn over easily, which took a bit of doing. But it worked. And I was glad to be involved."

The book's been looked after by John McGrath's family since his death in 2002 but it was acquired by the National Library of Scotland earlier this year.

No small object, even they admit it'll be a headache to store at the end of the exhibition. Suddenly, those piles of theatre programmes don't seem such a hassle to house.

That's my final post for this year - I'm taking some time out for the festive season. I'll be back in January.

Meantime, I'd like to wish all you readers of the blog a very, merry Christmas and the very best for 2010.




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