Away with the Fairies

Which is not the name of my upcoming play, but a reasonably apt description of it. Except that it is more serious than that. Much more serious. Ever since I first read Robert Kirk's The Secret Commonwealth, many years ago, I have wanted to write a play about it. A couple of years ago, I actually submitted this as a potential radio play. The (independent) producer liked the idea very much and badly wanted to do it, but the BBC - unsurprisingly - didn't.
Then, earlier this year, David McLennan at the Oran Mor in Glasgow decided that he too loved the idea and commissioned a play for the new A Play, A Pie and a Pint season, 2010. This suited me much better, since I soon realised that The Secret Commonwealth was crying out to be a stage play. What I didn't realise at the time was that the play was going to open the new season, on 1st February. However, all those years of working on the story, albeit sporadically, must have paid off because both David, and the director, Jennifer Hainey, approve of the finished play.
Robert Kirk was a seventeenth century minister of Aberfoyle. He was well educated and obviously intelligent. He also believed in fairies and wrote a treatise about them, a sort of natural history of the supernatural world, at a time when witchcraft was still a capital offence in Scotland. He would wander up the Doon Hill, listening to the music which he swore that he could hear, coming from below the ground. He died up there, ostensibly from a heart attack, but then he appeared to a cousin and said that he would reappear at the baptism of his posthumously born child. The cousin must throw a dagger over the apparition's head and shout 'cauld iron' - this metal being anathema to the fairies - whereupon Kirk would be released from his enchantment. He duly appeared, but the cousin was so gobsmacked that he forgot to throw the dagger, and poor old Kirk was doomed to live in the supernatural world for ever. Or so the stories go.
The play, though, is about more than that. It is, I think, a play about two cultures, about one culture replacing another, about a set of beliefs and customs which are in the process of being banished - sent underground if you like - and about the possibility that what Kirk was writing was not so much a treatise about fairies, as a subversive text. It is also, I hope, constructed like a poem. As ever, I find myself walking along the boundaries between poetry, drama and prose and enjoying the sense of experiment, the sense of trying to get at things that lie just below the surface - bit like Kirk himself really. The play is going to be a single hander, with music. It is still to some extent, 'in development'. New drama always is, until it has been through the production process. But I think it's just about there. And I hope it says something interesting, in an unusual way. More as it happens!

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