Sectarianism is just one of the many social issues being explored at this year’s Just Festival. We’ve previously reviewed Warrior, a co-production with Black Dingo, which premiered at last year’s Just and showed how sectarianism can blight youngsters’ lives. Another illuminating play on the subject, Scarfed For Life, written by Martin Travers and produced by the Citizens Theatre, runs this year. Set in the heated atmosphere around the first Old Firm match of the season, it’s a play that has been drawn from life and has evolved since it was first written, as Martin explained to us…
How do you think sectarianism affects the young people of Glasgow?
Scarfed for Life is based on what young people from Glasgow told us about how sectarianism interrupts their lives. The problem is not just about gangs of football hooligans fighting in the streets or scuffles in pubs. Sectarianism can limit their options – who to see, when to see them, whether to stay at home, who and where to avoid. It’s usually family that push them – parents, uncles, older brothers and sisters that put pressure on them to conform to the old prejudice, language and hatred.
Is it just a football thing or does it extend beyond that?
We see it most through football allegiances – that’s what gets in the news – but it’s usually more subtle than that – golf clubs, five-a-side football teams, bingo clubs and smaller businesses can be riddled with sectarianism. It’s the quiet sectarianism and “friendly banter” that runs deepest. This too needs addressed.
What do you think can be done to change the culture?
I think the facts about sectarianism – the history of its development – need to be taught in primary and secondary schools. We can’t ignore it; it played a massive role in shaping the Scotland we live in. Most sectarian views are based on half truths passed down through the ages. If we can get people to stop using the labels and offensive language associated with the problem we can start to move forward.
Do you think enough is being done to tackle it? Who (apart from playwrights!) is leading the way?
The Scottish Government is leading the way. There are 44 organisations supported by them to tackle sectarianism. The Citizens Theatre are proud to be on of those 44 organisations. [The Together Tackling Sectarianism strand of Just has also been co-financed by The Scottish Government].
How have audiences reacted to the play?
The play was written to make people laugh and to get them thinking about how ridiculous and serious things can get if we tolerate sectarianism and sectarian language at any level. When I was researching the play I read about a sectarian assault that was committed with a rake. That got me thinking about neighbours and gardening.
Has the play had the life you expected when you wrote it? Has anything surprised you about it?
I wrote the play initially for secondary schools. Little did I know then that I would end up rewriting it for two prison tours. It’s the audience’s reaction and feedback that keeps the play going into production, so that’s a good feeling. The play keeps developing and there’s a new scene in this version. The way things are going it might end up developing into the first opera to tackle sectarianism!