MORE than thirty years ago, a pop-up set provided the backdrop to one of Scotland's iconic modern plays.

Now the set created for John McGrath's The Cheviot The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, a giant book made the artist John Byrne, has been revealed as the latest exhibit at the V&A Dundee.

Byrne's ingenious work for the 7:84 theatre company has been the property of the National Library of Scotland since 2009, and indeed is its single largest book.


Now the art work, the backdrop to McGrath's play about the history and exploitation of the Highlands, has been loaned to the new museum in Dundee for 25 years.

It features five scenes, and measures more than three by four metres when open and over two metres tall, it is made up of five pop-up scenes painted by Byrne: a Highland landscape, a croft, a poppy-strewn war memorial and a Native American tipi.

Made of cardboard, the set was cheap to make and could be transported on the top of a van and quickly set up in village halls as it toured around Scotland.

The actors would turn the page during the play to reveal the next scene: now curators at the V&A will turn the pages regularly when it is on show in Dundee.

Byrne said: "I am thrilled to see it again.

"It's wonderful - I thought it was lost forever."

Philip Long, Director of V&A Dundee, said: "John Byrne’s striking pop-up book is a fantastic example of imaginative design.

"Not only was it made to be portable on the long trips between towns and villages across the Highland and Islands, it also added to the magic of the play.

"It is painted like a children’s book, which deliberately creates quite a juxtaposition with the hard-hitting subject matter of the play.

"Due to its sheer size there have been limited opportunities for the public to see this stage set after the original 1970s tour of the play, so we are delighted that people will be able to enjoy it when they visit V&A Dundee."

Dr John Scally, national librarian and chief executive of the National Library of Scotland, said: "It will be difficult to let this important part of our collection go after years of careful restoration.

"But that is the whole point of preservation – to enable future generations to enjoy items of great national and cultural significance.

"We can’t think of a more fitting place for the stage-set to be on display than V&A Dundee."

7:84 took the play to village halls across the Highlands and Islands.

During the first run more than 30,000 people came to see them perform.

McGrath approached Byrne to make the pop-up book after seeing a giant pair of welly boots the artist had made for Billy Connolly’s The Great Northern Welly Boot Show.

Since acquiring the pop-up book, the National Library of Scotland’s conservators have carried out repairs and structural adjustments to preserve the stage-set beyond its intended life-span and enable it to go on long-term display.

The pop-up book will be displayed in V&A Dundee’s permanent Scottish Design Galleries.

V&A Dundee will also feature an ambitious international programme of changing exhibitions showcasing the very best of design from around the world, as well as new design commissions and fast-changing installations.

V&A Dundee opens on Saturday 15 September.