Peter Arnott presents new play this week
23 September 2013 ← return to listing
One of Scotland's most cherished playwrights, Peter
Arnott, has been working at Edinburgh University, developing a play
for the Traverse throughout 2012. On Thursday, he will present the
culmination of his year's work with his rehearsed reading Group Portrait in a Landscape (Et In
We caught up with Peter to hear more about the
residency, and the play itself.
You've been Playwright in Residence with the ESRC
Genomics Forum at the University of Edinburgh - what does the
department do, and what was your role?
The Forum brought together social scientists and artists to look
at the intellectual, cultural, legal and economic (as well as
scientific) ramifications of the sequencing of the Human Genome in
Basically, the whole of Life Science is undergoing a revolution,
and reaching in all kinds of directions. Not just in medicine, but
in the environment and the history of life on earth. And, I guess,
to the meaning of life... really big, fundamental stuff about...
well... "meaning" and "life". Just for a start!
And how has your play taken shape from the Forum's
What I'm trying to do in the play is look at what the new
knowledge we have about "how" life works, in order to consider the
more traditional playwright's territory of "why"? There is a really
urgent question for me, which I think feeds into absolutely
everything we ever talk about in the theatre and in new
"How do we value human life now that we understand how it
connects to a universe where nothing has any more value than
If we're not created, we are accidents, and need to find a new
reason to care.
So I'm looking at a family whose life is, well, perfect. They're
comfortable, civilised, well intentioned (or pretty much).
The drama comes from biology...the unnegotiatable facts of
life and death.
The play is about what happened to us when we're suddenly
smacked in the face by something that forces us to recognise
ourselves for what we are... with the "new" knowledge. And to
wonder how it changes us.
We've already seen glimpses of Group Portrait in a
Landscape, in the form of rehearsed readings (then called Talent
Night in the Fly Room) last year. Could you tell us a little bit
about how the play has changed since then, and it's current
Last year we read the first half of what is being read on
Thursday, the climax of which is like a rock being thrown into the
pond. The second half the play is kind of the splash, or immediate
Oddly too, I've only found it possible to write the second half
the play in the context of what I might call "the ripples from the
rock in the pond". That is, having now written ANOTHER play with
the same group of characters but set fifteen years later (not to
worry, were only reading part 1!).
So what we have now, in Group Portrait in a Landscape
does work as a self-contained piece. Or, rather, that's what we're
going to find out, by working with a really strong company of
actors and a very experienced, talented director in Tony Cownie.
And of course, most importantly of all, with an audience of live
committed people who can tell us whether we're onto something, or
whether we're just travelling in ever expanding/diminishing
Be good to see you there.
The rehearsed reading
Group Portrait in a Landscape is in Traverse 2 on Thursday