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This article is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

Iain Crichton Smith: The Plays in English Stewart Conn

Iain Crichton Smith died in October 1998. Many of his admirers, steeped in his poetry and prose, are still not merely unfamiliar with his dramatic work but virtually unaware of its existence. This is understandable. His short plays in Gaelic are accessible only to a selective audience; while the two full-length dramas in English were a late flowering. That aside and whereas novelists, story writers and (despite the popularity of public readings) poets establish their reputations through being published, a playwright can reach an audience without appearing in print.

This explains why in the 1990 bibliography of Crichton Smith's work Drama is not among the categories - though under 'Uncollected Prose Fiction' three unpublished plays in Gaelic are listed: Phones (1968), Eilidh (1975), and Tog Orm mo Speal (1979). Later works included fragments purportedly from the pen of 'Murdo', an adaptation of Brecht's The Wedding Party and a one-woman version (by Robert Paterson) of his first novel Consider the Lilies. But wider access to many of his plays was curbed by their being written for radio, a medium in which the finished work vanishes into thin air - and published texts for which are few and far between.

Despite that Crichton Smith's radio pieces (many of which I directed) seem an ideal starting and vantage point both chronologically and in that so many stemmed from other sources - as a river might draw on underground springs, or its tributaries interlace. Significant too was his attraction ...


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