Festival Insider: Iain Heggie
Festival veteran and multi-award winner takes a step back in Fringe time
This article is from 2011.
Back in the dark days of 1988 when people were still being disgusted, and before they had taken up being offended, a well known city councillor, after seeing my play Wholly Healthy Glasgow, was so disgusted she had to go home and have a bath. The play completely sold out, which you might think was good, but no one in the back half of the Churchill Theatre could hear a word. This was a tough early lesson in acoustics. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem you can write your way out of unless you write wordless plays. But it did make me wary of certain venues.
I got the chance to return to the Churchill a year later with Clyde Nouveau. ‘Not under any circumstances,’ I said to Michael Boyd, the director. But I was somehow persuaded by the leaden-tongued Mr Boyd that he could ‘make the Churchill work’. It was an early lesson in the fatal allure of my own optimism and never believing a word directors say.
In 2002, at the press night of Wiping My Mothers Arse, I sat immediately behind the reviewer from the Daily Telegraph. The show produced more laughter than I would have thought possible so early in its run but he never lifted his eyes from his notes. ‘Every bit as unpleasant as its “look at me I’m so shocking” title suggests,’ he wrote. The show was a sell-out. Whether the audience were attracted to its ‘unpleasantness’ or not I have no way of knowing. The Traverse box office reported that people buying tickets had trouble saying the title and resorted to the ‘Heggie play’. I would have dined out on the associated anecdotes except no one ever invited me to dine out for fear that I would obsess over pasta e fagiole about my mother’s toileting issues.
In 2008, two days before Global Warming Is Gay opened at C venues, I learnt that we had got the slot length wrong and we had to cut 15 minutes. The play was already in a provisional form for its student cast as part of a research project. The plot was crazy and after the Fringe run I had planned to get to grips with it but I liked most of the jokes. In the overnight cutting most of the jokes had to go. I was left with a crazy plot and my best jokes binned. In our technical run I realised that acoustic issues were far worse than they were in the Churchill 20 years earlier. Actors would be standing three feet from me and I couldn’t hear a word. It looked like they were miming speech. I mentioned to a critic on the press night that I was having trouble with the acoustics. At the end he said he had no problem hearing. What he didn’t know was that the actors had taken to bellowing and probably ruining their voices for life.
Iain Heggie appears in Love Songs for a Timewaster, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 622 6552, 19–29 Aug (not 22), 6.45pm, £10 (£9).