- The Edinburgh Companion to Liz Lochhead Edited by Anne Varty
The Edinburgh Companion to Liz Lochhead, edited by Anne Varty, comprises eclectic critical, scholarly and practitioners’ approaches to the work of the Scottish Makar and it is precisely this eclecticism that enables Lochhead’s work across different media to be seen and revaluated in a wholesome manner, taking into consideration Lochhead’s own views and frustrations with misreadings of her writing, and thus it is well placed to offer a worthy contribution to the ongoing recontextualisation of Lochhead’s work.
Varty cleverly divides the Companion into different areas that encompass Lochhead’s opus. In the first section, six practitioners (Robyn Marsack, Andrew Greig, Robert Crawford, Marilyn Imrie, Joe Ahearne and Graham McLaren) reinforce her position as a significant voice in Scottish poetic and dramatic literature since the early 1970s. Here, she is presented as an artist who exists within the two realms, (a) the poetic, demotic and auditory and (b) the plastic, visual and tangible, a self-professed anti-intellectual, an accomplished performance artist who brings poetry and storytelling to different communities, from early reviews in working men’s clubs to theatre for children and young people, an adaptor and a visual artist. Greig reminisces gleefully about Lochhead’s reaction to his crestfallen remark, after having seen Edwin Morgan’s 1992 Scots translation of Cyrano de Bergerac, that the rest of Scottish writers might as well give up trying: ‘ “It means we’re all just going to have to try harder!” she responded vehemently’ (p. 14).
Scholarly discourse has as often touched merely the surface of her work as it has distorted it, trying to find depths in the matters and themes that are really rather simple. This is touched upon in a delightful anecdote in McMillan’s chapter, where a shy schoolboy asks Lochhead the meaning of imagery in her poem ‘Revelation’, with her struggling not to offend by explaining that there is nothing in it beyond the image itself (p. 26).
Each chapter also brings a fresh perspective on Lochhead’s role as an artist. Laura Severin comments that Lochhead’s 2003 collection of poems represents ‘a celebration of the role that art, not only writing but also the visual arts and music, play in “colourising” Scotland, or pluralising its identity’ (p. 37). The identity question is touched upon throughout the Companion, in, for instance, Nancy K. Gish’s chapter, that begins with an [End Page 157] excerpt of her 2009 interview with Liz Lochhead and Margery Palmer McCulloch and builds upon it a comprehensive discussion of Lochhead’s creative use of demotic and false Scots, somewhat reflective of Hagemann’s earlier research into a variety of uses of demotic Scots in drama.
Susanne Hagemann and John Corbett respectively unwrap the translations of her drama in other languages and her own adaptations of classical Greek tragedies, Molière’s comedies (which equally follow and deviate from the MacMolière tradition in Scottish theatre) and Chekhov among others. Hagemann aptly concludes her chapter with a statement that because not all of the translations of Lochhead’s plays have been published, staged or evaluated sufficiently by other cultures, unless Scottish Studies ‘appropriate these translations as a research object … it seems unlikely that the target cultures will’ (p. 71). Similarly, while Corbett’s chapter mostly covers her collaborations with Theatre Babel, and to a lesser measure with Tony Cownie (Three Sisters are barely mentioned and frequently forgotten in favour of her classical Greek and MacMolière adaptations), though her adaptation of Chekhov, while in some circles frequently seen as controversial due to the extent to which she cuts into cultural contexts of the source text, is also one of the most accurately interpreted Chekhovian texts thus far. Lochhead’s art of adaptation continues to be explored in Benjamin Poore’s chapter, which revisits Dracula (1985) from the perspective of the concept of the ‘modern gothic’ double both in her adaptation of Stoker’s book and in her later drama such as Quelques Fleurs (1991), Perfect Days...