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Obituary: David MacLennan

David MacLennan receiving his producer of the year award from The Stage in 2013. Photo: Stephanie Methven

A giant in the Scottish theatre world, David MacLennan was an inspiration to those around him and a passionate proponent for the cause of theatre, both popular and radical. He was highly regarded as both an actor and a writer, but it was as a producer that he was a true pioneer, being instrumental to the success of the radical theatre company 7:84, Wildcat Stage Productions and his own lunchtime theatre phenomena A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

Born in Glasgow in 1948, MacLennan was the youngest of four children born to the eminent doctors Hector MacLennan and Isobel (nee Adam). His love of theatre came early at the Glasgow King’s panto, aged five.

This was further enhanced when Jimmy Logan, a neighbour of his parents, invited the family to see his legendary Five Past Eight shows at the Alhambra Theatre. Here, the young MacLennan was taken backstage to meet Logan in his dressing room. Another formative theatre experience was seeing by Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War in London in 1963.

Despite a conventional school career for someone of his status – prep school in Drumtochty, then Edinburgh’s Fettes College – MacLennan left Edinburgh University early in 1969. He became first a street cleaner, then an acting assistant stage manager at Brighton’s Gardner Centre Theatre.

It was in 1971 that his first landmark foray into theatre began. With his sister, the actress Elizabeth MacLennan, and her husband, the director and playwright John McGrath, as co-directors, MacLennan set up 7:84, named after the statistic, reported in The Economist in 1966, that 7% of the population owned 84% of the wealth.

In 1973, the company split into 7:84 England and 7:84 Scotland. That was the year of the legendary tour of John McGrath’s The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. Touring the Highlands as a popular ceilidh production, it took theatre into the world of those to whom it spoke, and along the way transformed the lives of those who were in it.

In 1978, MacLennan set up Wildcat Stage Productions with his friend David Anderson, touring popular musicals around Scotland.

At the time, MacLennan was married to Ferelith Lean, one of the co-founders of Glasgow’s Mayfest in 1983. That marriage was dissolved, and in 1988 he married actress Juliet Cadzow. The following year, he opened the Clyde Theatre in Clydebank.

In 2003, when on a visit to Dublin with Anderson, MacLennan visited Bewley’s Lunchtime Theatre. In 2004, with the financial backing of Glasgow businessman Colin Beattie, who had plans to open the Oran Mor pub in a converted church on Byres Road, he set up his own version, the legendary A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

Pivotal to Scotland’s new-writing scene, the PPP phenomenon has been responsible for more than 35 new plays a year, and has been exported around the world.

The Stage awarded MacLennan its producer of the year award in 2013 for the concept. He also received the first Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) whiskers award in 2012.

David MacLennan was born on June 19, 1948. In 2013, he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. He died in hospital in Glasgow on June 13, aged 65. He is survived by his second wife, Juliet Cadzow, and their son.

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