Borderline Theatre's back

THE curtain has gone up once again on Borderline Theatre, eight years after its funding was pulled.

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Billy Connolly with the Borderline Theatre cast of his play An Me Wi' A Bad Leg Tae. Back row - Martin Callister, Jimmy Kennedy, BillyConnolly, Alex Norton, Sandy Morton, Bill Paterson. Front - Simon Tutchener, Margot Gillies, Saria Ballantyne, Stuart Mungall.
Billy Connolly with the Borderline Theatre cast of his play An Me Wi' A Bad Leg Tae. Back row - Martin Callister, Jimmy Kennedy, BillyConnolly, Alex Norton, Sandy Morton, Bill Paterson. Front - Simon Tutchener, Margot Gillies, Saria Ballantyne, Stuart Mungall.

Established in 1974, Borderline became synonymous with entertaining theatre and featured new emerging talent such as Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Billy Connolly, Elaine C. Smith and Alan Cumming.

However, when the cash stopped, the theatre company that was a mini-theatre empire on the west coast shrank to suit.

But now it's back and touring a production of David Harrower's critically acclaimed play, A Slow Air.

The play follows the funny and poignant story of Morna and Athol, a sister and brother who haven't spoken to each other for 15 years.

The re-emergence of Borderline, now based at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, will be hailed by the public.

However, it has resulted in an especially wide smile on the face of Eddie Jackson, one-time producer with the company and a man with a reputation as large as any of the actors he once hired.

Eddie pulled together the Big Picnic for Bill Bryden and packed out theatres with plays such as Billy Connolly's An Me Wi' A Bad Leg and Dario Fo's Trumpets and Raspberries.

"It's an interesting play," he says of Borderline's new production, while relaxing at the Gaiety Cafe.

But Eddie is soon on to the subject of why the theatre company should never have been forced to collapse.

"Those who back theatre have become bureaucrats," he maintains of the Scottish Arts Council, now replaced by Creative Scotland.

They are people with a vested interested in the serious and esoteric caught up in their own processes.

"And I believe they don't have a generosity of spirit.

YET, you and I know the audience for the serious and the esoteric is toatie."

He adds: "My interest has always been the final end user, the person who sits in the auditorium. The buzz you get from this, of seeing someone enjoying themselves, is incredible."

Jackson has always been a populist, his entry to the world of entertainment and escapism first illuminated by his mother who was a cinema usherette at the La Scala in Helensburgh.

Young Eddie wasn't a performer, but he could 'make things happen' and in 1971 joined Tom McGrath (who would go on to found 7:84 Theatre Company) at the Scottish Arts Council's Glasgow centre "to turn his ideas into reality".

"One of the first things I pulled together was the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the Kelvin Hall.

"I went on to bring Miles Davis and Duke Ellington to the Apollo. I believe it was the first time the Arts Council made a profit. It was fantastic."

But the bottom line wasn't always the bottom line.

He said: "This was a world of hippies and gurus, not of balance sheets. But you can still make money if you put on the right shows."

IN 1975, Jackson learned new theatre company Borderline was looking for a PR/co-ordinator and landed the job, based in the West Coast.

"I'm sure I got it because Borderline was looking for someone who could sook up to the Arts Council to get money," says the gamekeeper-turned-poacher.

Money secured, Borderline's future looked less rosey.

He said: "We did a play about the infamous murderer Dr Crippen. It didn't really work. Nor did a theatre play by Willie McIlvanney, The Attic, at the Fringe.

"The big tipping point was getting An Me Wi' A Bad Leg, the Billy Connolly play.

"The audience response was fantastic. It was of its time in 1976, but we did three tours of it, such was the astonishing demand.

"And the Arts Council were happy with it. It was a different cultural move."

Borderline went on to have more incredible success with the likes of farce Trumpets and Raspberries, starring fresh faces Elaine C.Smith and Andy Gray.

And Eddie proved during a sabbatical he had the power to part oceans when he produced Bill Bryden's iconic creation, The Ship.

However, the Arts Council pulled the curtain down on Borderline's Ayrshire base, cutting the £218,000 grant.

"My whole life was devastated," he recalls.

"The application they refused had a play by John Byrne and a play by Daniel Jackson (his son, now a major playwright with an international reputation.)

"Now, the reason they had a Daniel Jackson play was because Oran Mor producer Dave Maclennan rated him.

"But after we put it on anyway, they had the good grace to say they were wrong.

"But they had already picked off 7:84, Wildcat and then us. It was a cultural cull.

"In 1978, we did an adaptation of John Galt's novel, the Provost, a mix of high art and showbiz and we toured all over Scotland.

"And one day the drama director of the Arts Council phoned me up and said 'I see you're going to Arran on tour. Can I come with you?'

"That would never have happened in the past two decades with the Arts Council or Creative Scotland."

l A Slow Air stars Lewis Howden and Pauline Knowles; Falkirk Town Hall, April 2, Eastwood Park Theatre, April 12-13, Cumbernauld Theatre, April 19, Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine, April 25-26, Rutherglen Town Hall, May 1, East Kilbride Arts Centre, May 3, Ayr Gaiety, May 16-17.

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