William McGeough: Swearing in Front of Old People

Actor William McGeough was terrified to perform a sexually explicit extract from his one-man play Mistaken to the august Edinburgh establishment that is the Scottish Arts Club. Would they boo him out of the building?

The grand atmosphere and waiting audience of very distinguished-looking members left me feeling somewhat intimidated.

I don't subscribe to Groucho Marx's view of club membership: it's always nice to feel wanted, so when I was invited to become a member of Edinburgh's historic Scottish Arts Club for the duration of the Fringe I was really flattered.

To tell the truth, the last time I was invited to join a club I was eleven and it was by a girl who lived down my road. The Neighbours Club was held in this girl's garden shed and I was allowed to join because I shared her appreciation for the Australian soap opera, rather than because I was actually her neighbour.

The Scottish Arts Club is certainly not held in a garden shed. It's home is an elegant Georgian townhouse near Princes Street and when my writer/director Nick and I were invited to present a section of our play, Mistaken, to it's members for their Fringe Highlights show, we were very honoured.

Mistaken is a quartet of four plays all performed by one actor (me) and dealing with issues such as depression, homophobia, and being a Morrissey fan in a blackly comic way.

When we arrived at the Arts Club I must admit I was somewhat taken aback. The grand atmosphere and waiting audience of very distinguished-looking members left me feeling somewhat intimidated.

The extract from Mistaken which we had chosen to share is the most controversial and in your face of the four monologues, with very colourful and sexually explicit language.

During our London previews most of our audience had been made up of friends, usually around my own age, and I felt worried about how a crowd a generation older would react. Were they open minded enough for this?

I voiced these concerns to the club's president, Nola Meikle, and wondered if we should swap our chosen extract for something less controversial, and I was greeted with loud laughter. Nola explained warmly that the club's members consisting of, amongst others, filmmakers, architects, poets and sculptors who were well used to challenging or provocative work, and had been enjoying (or indeed creating) them before I was even born.

And she was right. With the exception of one walk out, the audience were one of the most generous and supportive I have ever performed to, and many of them asked for flyers so they could see the complete play.

I felt put in my place, and rightly so, and I was ashamed to realise my reservations were partly based on ageism. Which is all the more ridiculous when you consider that the Arts Club itself was established in 1872, so for over 140 years, it's members (of all ages) have been creating works which discuss all aspects of society, light and dark. Indeed the Fringe itself has been challenging as well as entertaining audiences since 1947.

So thank you Scottish Arts Club for the membership, the opportunity to share with you, but also for showing me it was actually me who needed my mind opening.

And their membership card is much nicer than the Neighbours Club too.

William McGeough is in Mistaken: A Quartet of Plays for One Actor by Nick Myles, at 8.45pm at C nova every night during the Fringe (not 18th).


Photo by Owen Figgis