McGrath’s 80th marked

Oct 22 2020 | By More

Magnetic North revive McGrath’s Dream Train

Edinburgh’s Magnetic North theatre company is streaming a new performance of its first ever production, The Dream Train by Tom McGrath, on what would have been the playwright’s eightieth birthday.

The Dream Train (2020) is a socially distanced and script-in-hand production – what the company is calling a “concert performance” – which was developed and filmed over two weeks at The Hub. It will stream on the Magnetic North website from Friday 23 October 2020.

Kirstin Murray and Sean Hay in rehearsal for The Dream Train. Pic: Magnetic North

The Dream Train was Magnetic North’s debut production. It was commissioned by Magnetic North artistic director Nicholas Bone from the Scottish playwright and jazz musician, and performed for three nights at the Traverse in November 1999.

The play is based on the structure of J.S.Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the probably mythical story of its composition, that it was written for a young keyboard pupil of Bach’s who had a night-time job playing music for an insomniac nobleman count.

Introducing the new production, Nicholas Bone says: “The Dream Train, as you might imagine from the title, takes place in a world that is not entirely real.

common interest

“It developed out of conversations that Tom and I had about dreams – and about how vivid dreams seem sometimes. And about how sometimes, when you are dreaming, you can dream that you wake up when in fact you are still asleep and still dreaming.”

Bach’s music – and specifically his Goldberg Variations – were of common interest to McGrath and North. Unsurprisingly, the music of the Variations threads in and out of the text of the play, sometimes underscoring it, sometimes accompanying rhythmically-spoken sections.

Rachel Flynn and John Harris in rehearsal for The Dream Train. Pic: Magnetic North

“One of the changes we have made in the version is that we have introduced a new character, the Pianist,” says North. “In the original version we used Glen Gould’s recording, in this version we have worked with the pianist John Harris and he plays the music live, as the actors perform, and he becomes a character within it.”

The production was filmed it in the main hall of the Hub in Edinburgh, the Edinburgh International Festivals base.

“It is a beautiful atmospheric space and it really suited the character of the play,” says Bone. “We had to film it using social distancing, because this happened in September 2020. We only had a limited amount of time to work on this project so the actors are using their scripts, but we think of it being like a concert performance.”

resounding influence

McGrath, who died in 2009, had a resounding influence on modern Edinburgh theatre, working with the Traverse as both a musician and a playwright, and with the Lyceum as a playwright and a mentor. His final play, My Old Man, was produced by Magnetic North in 2005.

“It was fascinating to come back to this play after so long,” says North. “There are elements of it that seem incredibly up to date, the character of Goldberg for instance is referred to as being a ‘voice activated music machine’ at one point, and you realise that Tom was foreseeing Alexa, 20 years before the reality of that.”


The Dream Train (2020)
Streamed online at
Online from Friday 23 October 2020.

Magnetic North website:
Twitter: @magnorththeatre
Facebook: @magnorththeatre

Cast & Creatives:

The Baron: Sean Hay
Laura: Kirstin Murray
Goldberg / Julie / Tina: Rachel Flynn
Chris: Nicholas Alban
The Pianist: John Harris

Playwright:  Tom McGrath
Director: Nicholas Bone
Designer: Emily James
Stage Manager: Louise Gregory
Music: J S Bach


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