“A Celtic legend.” “A phenomenon and a cause célèbre.”“The most prolific producer of new plays in the U.K.”

These are just a few of the accolades that have been heaped on A Play, a Pie and a Pint, a small theater company working out of a church basement in the West End of Glasgow. Led by the visionary David MacLennan, the company has been specializing in lunch-time theater for the past eight years, offering up hour-long dramas, comedies and musicals, most of which were original works commissioned by MacLennan.

Operating six days a week, eleven months a year, A Play has built a loyal following over the past decade; most performances in its 290-seat theater are sold out, with no drop off in attendance even when edgy, unconventional and dark material is offered up. Part of the appeal, of course, is the company's reasonable ticket price: £10 (approximately $15) will get you a seat, a glass of wine or beer, and a steaming hot meat or veggie pie.

“What brings people back in is our close relationship with them,” said MacLennan in an interview. “We try and keep things intimate, with small sets and simple sets. The emphasis is on maintaining a semi-workshopping environment in which writers are unafraid to take risks.”

Unlike most theater companies in the U.K., A Play does not seek direct government funding. “I prefer to operate in a light-footed manner,” said MacLennan. “I don't want to have to deal with arts committees and drama boards, or to have my plays approved or censored. We survive on box-office takings and the odd charitable contribution.”

What also helps keep A Play afloat is its willingness to co-produce with other like-minded theater companies, such as The Traverse in Edinburgh, The National Theatre of Scotland and Bewley's Cafe Theatre in Dublin.

A Play’s reach has also extended to the USA. The Tiny Dynamite Company in Philadelphia has not only been staging lunch-time theater for the past three years but exchanging plays and writers with MacLennan.

“I'm hoping to link up with other theaters in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles in the months to come,” said MacLennan. “A project with the National Theater of China is also in the works; we'll be inviting six young Chinese writers to Glasgow where we will help develop and produce their plays.”

MacLennan began his theatrical career in London in 1971, moving to Scotland in 1973, where his Wildcat Company toured in Scotland, the continent and Ireland. He not only managed the company but wrote, directed and produced for it.

He has always been interested in radical, political theater. In a recent interview with The Glasgow Herald, he said “There was a time when people said agit-prop was past its due date, but I see more young people wanting to write politically engaged work. I believe theater is an indestructible art form. It's very interesting to work in Scotland. The appetite for this kind of theater was always there. It just needed someone to whet it.”

Among the playwrights in MacLennan's stable are David Grieg, Louise Welsh and William McIlvany. Such well-known actors as Robbie Coltrane and David Hayman have appeared in productions at Oran Mor, A Play's home base.

Political concerns aside, A Play has also presented musical revues, operas and scaled-down classics. Next year, a commissioned play in the Gaelic language will open at Oran Mor, followed by tours in Ireland and The Highlands.

Recently A Play was awarded the Cat's Whiskers, one of the U.K.'s top theater prizes.

Key Subjects: 
A Play, A Pint and a Pie, Scotland, lunchtime theater, David MacLennan.
Willard Manus
July 2012
A Play, A Pie and A Pint Serves Lunchtime Theater with Lunch