Unique in the National Library of Scotland's collections is the set for 'The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil'.
Designed by artist-dramatist John Byrne, the set comes in the form of a book three by four metres tall. Each opening reveals a different pop-up backdrop to the action in John McGrath's seminal play.
The book cover
From the stage directions in the published version of 'The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil' by John McGrath (London: Methuen, 1981):
'In the centre of the stage, a huge book stands, upright, closed, with the title of the play on the cover.'
More about the set
First performed in 1973, John McGrath's play was intended to be taken around Scotland from the outset.
Clearly any kind of traditional stage set was not practical for transporting around the country in a van and setting up in small venues. Enter Paisley-born artist John Byrne.
Storytelling is important in 'The Cheviot'. Appropriately, Byrne created 'scenery' for this Scottish history lesson in the form of a large book.
In 'The Year of the Cheviot', McGrath wrote about the 'scenery':
'This was a giant pop-up book, like children's pop-up books, only eight feet deep and ten across, made from strengthened cardboard. As you turn each page, a fresh "set" pops up from in between the pages … all beautifully constructed and painted by John Byrne.'
Alex Norton was in the cast of the original 7:84 Scotland production of 'Cheviot' in 1973. In his autobiography, 'There's been a life', he describes the company's reaction when they first opened up the book in rehearsal:
' … we couldn't believe that anything could be so magical. It was a genuine work of art.'
Watch our film
Before the 'Cheviot' set could go on display at the Library in ’Curtain Up’, our 2009 / 2010 theatre exhibition, a lot of conservation work was needed.
Watch Collections Care team members unfold and reveal the conserved set and John Byrne's striking set design.