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Noel Greig Interview

Posted on 22 June 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Noel Greig, playwright and director, who has worked with Theatre Centre, Gay Sweatshop, Royal Court, Birmingham Rep and many other leading new writing companies. Routledge Press are bringing out his manual on playwriting, autumn 2004.

Tell us something about your background.

I have been working in theatre since leaving university in 1966. As part of the generation that was politicised by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, we wished to create work that dealt with the issues of the time. We were greatly influenced by such companies as The Living Theatre, the Theatre du Soleil, and the work of Joan Littlewood, and produced work that was rough, rowdy and irreverent. It was a time when small-scale theatre was a truly popular medium and there was a sense that it was part of a greater social and political change, one that would lead towards a fairer and more just society.

How did you move from director to playwright?

During that period (the late 60's and early 70's) I had no ambitions to be a playwright. However, as director of the groups I worked with - The Brighton Combination, Inter Action and The General Will - I tended to type up and develop the improvisations that much of the work was based on. It was only when I became involved in the gay movement (the Gay Liberation Front) that I became acutely aware that the radical left-wing theatre I had been helping to develop did not include the politics of sexuality on it's agenda. So, along with a handful of other gay and lesbian practitioners around the country, I began to make work that addressed the politics of homosexuality: first with the GLF in Bradford, producing large-scale community plays, then (in 1977) with a professional company that was lesbian and gay led: Gay Sweatshop. For about ten years Gay Sweatshop was my home base, and it was here that I finally allowed myself to 'come out' as a playwright.

Tell us about the political movement in theatre at that time

Gay Sweatshop was part of the second wave of the new movement in theatre: groups of people who wished to give voice to those sections of the society that were discriminated against or were excluded: 'making the invisible visible', as it were. The Women's Movement brought forth such groups as Monstrous Regiment and The Women's Theatre Group, and the Black Theatre Co-op and Theatre of Black Women were some of the many companies challenging the tendency of left-wing theatre towards a white, heterosexual perspective on the world. Companies such as Graeae were to come along, challenging the exclusion of artists with physical and mental differences from the profession.

What kind of work challenges you the most?

During the Gay Sweatshop period (1977-87) I wrote a number of plays that were published and given further productions around the world; but even then I had no particular wish to work outside of that sphere. By chance, a company in Nottinghamshire (New Perspectives) wanted to take a play into youth clubs that would deal with sexuality, and they asked me to write it. At around the same time, Graeae also wished to look at the same subject matter, and a similar offer was made, so it was becoming clear that I might become employable as a freelance writer. It was the New Perspectives project that opened up for me the world of TYP (theatre for young people) and TIE (theatre in education): a movement I had been hazily aware of, but not involved in. From the late 80's, through to the present day, a strong thread in my work as a writer and director has been this field of work, particularly with Theatre Centre YPT. Although I have and do work for other types of companies, it is this area of work that offers the clearest and most rewarding context for me.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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