A POIGNANT stage set designed and painted by Scottish playwright and artist John Byrne has gone on show at V&A Dundee to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

The scene, which depicts a war memorial in a field of poppies, is one of five held within the pages of a huge pop-up book that was used as the original set for John McGrath’s The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, a play that is lauded as having revitalised Scottish theatre.

It was loaned to V&A Dundee by the National Library of Scotland and is on show in the museum’s Scottish Design Galleries.

The memorial page went on display yesterday and will remain until December 3, when the pop-up book will be turned back to the tranquil Highland scene that formed the backdrop to the opening of the play.

Because the stage set is very delicate – it was made 45 years ago from corrugated cardboard and brown gummed paper tape – a team of conservators and technicians from the National Library of Scotland travelled to Dundee to change the scene ahead of Armistice Day on Sunday.

The National:

Playwright John McGrath

Sophie McKinlay, V&A Dundee’s director of programme, said: “This moving scene incorporated into a huge pop-up book was seen in town halls throughout the Highlands and islands when John McGrath’s influential play originally toured.

“The powerful image of the war memorial in the shape of a fallen soldier surrounded by red poppies stood to represent those from across Scotland who died during war and the devastating impact this had on their communities.

“Visitors to the museum will be able to see it until Monday December 3, when the pop-up book will again return to the opening scene of the play.”

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil was the first play performed by the theatre group known as 7:84 (Scotland) at Aberdeen Arts Centre, in April 1973.

Liverpudlian McGrath formed the 7:84 company in 1971, along with his wife Elizabeth MacLennan and her brother David, taking its name from a statistic in The Economist which said 7% of the UK’s population owned 84% of its wealth.

He brought the company north the following year and established 7:84 (Scotland), which used theatre as a platform to tell stories about the Highland Clearances, taking the play to village halls across the Highlands and Islands.

The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil is probably the play for which the company is best remembered in Scotland.

McGrath called it “a ceilidh play” that told how the Highlands were exploited between 1746 to 1973, drawing on what was the most recent research into Highland history, Gaelic song and tradition.

It covered the post-rebellion suppression of the clans, the Clearances, the shooting estates and the oil boom, all of which were dramatised with quotations from original documents, reportage, Gaelic language and song, music and comedy.

The National:

Artist John Byrne

Byrne’s pop-up book stage set also ranked as an innovation, opening – as it did – to reveal five different backdrops to what was happening on stage.

The National Library of Scotland described the play as: “A Scottish history lesson delivered as ‘a good night out’ with comedy, music and drama.

“It still sings off the page today, and is vividly remembered by those who saw it.

“The Cheviot is one of those rare plays that changed people’s lives.”