Arnott, Peter 1962-
ARNOTT, Peter 1962-
PERSONAL: Born May 18, 1962, in Glasgow, Scotland; son of James (a corporate lawyer) and Jean (a nurse; maiden name, Allan) Arnott; married Eloise Fergus, August 11, 1989; children: Tom, Gregor. Education: Clare College, Cambridge, graduated 1983; attended Glasgow University.
ADDRESSES: Home—Scotland. Office—c/o Tron Theatre Company, 63 Trongate, Glasgow G1 5HB, Scotland.
CAREER: Playwright, songwriter, and writer for television, c. 1983—. Leader of writer's workshops; active in community theatre.
The Boxer Benny Lynch, produced at Glasgow Arts Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1985.
White Rose, produced at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1985.
The Death of Elias Sawney, produced at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1985.
Thomas Muir's Voyage to Australia, produced at Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1986.
(Adapter) Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, produced at Wildcat Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1986.
Losing Alec, produced at Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1988.
(With Peter Mullan) Harmony Row, produced at Aberdeen Arts Centre, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1989.
Century's End, produced at Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1990.
Salvation, produced at Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1990.
Hyde, produced at Dundee Repertory Theatre, Dundee, Scotland, 1996.
(Translator into Scots) Bertolt Brecht, Puntila and His Man Matti, produced at Dundee Repertory Theatre, Dundee, Scotland, 1998.
A Little Rain, produced at 7:84 Theatre Company, 2000.
The Breathing House, produced at Royal Lyceum Theatre, London, England, 2003.
Also author of play The Wire Garden, 1998. Author, with Peter Mullen, of television play Miles Better, Channel 4.
Songwriter; author of lyrics to song "The Kindness of Strangers," music by Craig Armstrong.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Arnott was one of only a small number of experimental playwrights working in Scotland in the late twentieth century, explained Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Greg Giesekam, who called Arnott "a playwright who combines a strong political interest with a literary turn of mind, and a commitment to the aims of popular theater with a desire to experiment formally in each new play." Giesekam stated that Arnott wrote plays "while also working with participatory community theater groups in Glasgow's housing projects." His works, ranging from the socially conscious The Boxer Benny Lynch to the melodrama Hyde, placed him among the leading lights of the Scottish theater world during the late 1980s.
Although he has worked extensively with performers from working-class backgrounds, Arnott himself comes from a relatively privileged environment. His social awareness expanded during his long stint at Kelvinside Academy, a private school that trains young men for professional work. "My initial class consciousness," he told Giesekam in a New Theatre Quarterly interview, "was not so much in terms of being aware of privilege, as being aware of it … in the sense that you were only going to be brought up to be the servants of the people that really mattered and wielded power, as opposed to becoming the ones who actually ran things. It was probably the most neurotically competitive atmosphere you could imagine."
From Kelvinside, Arnott moved on to Clare College, Cambridge, where he read English literature and "did a lot of theatre, a lot of acting, a bit of writing," he told Giesekam. It was in this atmosphere that his first play, The Boxer Benny Lynch, was composed. Arnott's social analysis emerges in the story of the 1930s-era Glasgow flyweight champion boxer, who lost his title and eventually his life because of his inability to cope with the fame that came with his title. "The play," Giesekam stated in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "shows how Lynch becomes a tool of others' ambition and greed. … resulting in the collapse of his marriage and career." Two years after Arnott left Cambridge, The Boxer Benny Lynch opened at community centers in Glasgow, where it achieved much success with local audiences.
Arnott continued to present his political and social perspective in White Rose, a play about a female World War II-era Soviet fighter pilot, in The Death of Elias Sawney, the story of a working-class Everyman's interactions with different upper-class figures, and in Thomas Muir's Voyage to Australia, about a Scottish reformer who was exiled to Australia in 1794. Each of these plays is partly a commentary on Scottish life during the ministry of Margaret Thatcher and on the kind of society that emerged under her conservative leadership during the 1980s. Arnott told Giesekam, "Contempt was no longer secretive, it came out into the open: that was the way things were going to be run now, with violence, and contempt towards people who were different."
Arnott's productions dropped off after 1990, in part because of "changing circumstances in Arnott's life and a couple of projects that misfired," Giesekam explained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Arnott was also faced with a decline in interest in regional Scottish theater. He did complete a theatrical project titled The Wire Garden, a World War II story based on "the German capture of Stalin's illegitimate son," as described by Giesekam. Other projects included a Scots-language rendition of Bertolt Brecht's Puntila and His Man Matti, and A Little Rain, the third part of a trilogy of plays by different Scottish writers that is "intended to reflect changes in Scottish life since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament," Giesekam stated. By 1990 Arnott dabbled in writing for the stage, and with Peter Mullen produced the television play Miles Better, which was produced on Great Britain's Channel 4. Following a successful run of his play Losing Alec, which toured Scotland in 2000, Arnott began work on his next play, The Breathing House. A Gothic drama set in Victorian Edinburgh, The Breathing House became Arnott's London debut when it was chosen by director Kenny Ireland to close the 2002/2003 season at the Royal Lyceum Theatre.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 233: British and Irish Dramatists since World War II, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
New Theatre Quarterly, November, 1990, Greg Giesekam, "Connections with the Audience: Writing for a Scottish Theatre," pp. 318-334.*