Obituary: David MacLennan, actor, 65

David MacLennan was the founder of A Play, A Pie And A Pint. Picture: Julie Bull
David MacLennan was the founder of A Play, A Pie And A Pint. Picture: Julie Bull
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A POPULAR actor described as the “very heart of Scottish theatre” has died.

David MacLennan, who was 65, had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year.

In 1973, he co-founded the legendary 7:84 Scotland Theatre Company, and for many years he was a co-director with David Anderson of the radical rock theatre company Wildcat Stage Productions.

In the last decade, he became the founder-producer of the lunchtime theatre project A Play, A Pie And A Pint, which presented 337 new plays and helped to transform the Scottish theatre scene. Born in Glasgow, he went to prep school at Drumtochty, and then on to Fettes College in the Capital, taking part in many school theatre productions.

And although he got a place at Edinburgh University when he left school, he gave up his studies without graduating in 1969.

He first became a bin man in the city before a stint working at the Gardner Theatre in Brighton.

But it was the 1973 founding tour of 7:84 Scotland – the legendary Highland tour of John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil – that transformed Mr MacLennan’s life.

He was already immersed in the radical politics of his generation, and had been working with his brother-in-law and sister on the 7:84 project in England. But McGrath’s famous ceilidh play – with its daily topical updates, its innovative determination to bring theatre to communities around Scotland, and its criticism of patterns of land ownership and exploitation in the Highlands over two centuries – brought together many of the formative influences in Mr MacLennan’s life.

For the next 25 years, he was involved as a writer, director and producer with the work of 7:84 Scotland and then of Wildcat Stage Productions, which he formed with David Anderson in 1978. Wildcat’s aim was to pursue the same radical agenda as 7:84 through rock musicals. The duo produced two or three rock operas a year, from The Steamie to Business In The Backyard, on subjects ranging from the threat of nuclear holocaust to the miner’s strike, loan sharks in Clydebank and American foreign policy in Latin America.

In the 1970s and early 80s, Mr MacLennan was married to Ferelith Lean, one of the co-founders of Glasgow’s Mayfest. Then in 1988, after the end of his first marriage, he married the actress Juliet Cadzow. Their son Shane was born in 1992.

Wildcat’s Scottish Arts Council grant was withdrawn in 1998, and Mr MacLennan went through some difficult years of intermittent freelance work. But in the autumn of 2004, he made a comeback with A Play, A Pie And A Pint, commissioning more than 35 new short plays a year and attracting an international audience. National Theatre of Scotland executive producer Neil Murray described Mr MacLennan as an “inspiration”.