Poet, playwright, translator, teacher

Born: March 13, 1937;

Died: January 14, 2020.

STEPHEN Mulrine, who has died aged 82, was a writer whose craftsmanship extended to referring to himself as a wordsmith. As a poet, playwright and translator, however, his considerable output was rich in both artistic merit and construction. This was the case whether in his comic poem, Coming of the Wee Malkies, in his many translations of plays by Chekhov and other Russian writers, or in more contemporary fare such as Moscow Stations, his stage adaptation of Venedikt Yerofeev’s novel, which he also translated.

In Mulrine’s version, Yerofeev’s story of a boozy intellectual travelling through Brezhnev’s Soviet-era Russia was brought to life by Tom Courtenay at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh before it transferred to London’s West End, where Courtenay won a Best Actor award. The production then moved to New York. As with much of Mulrine’s work, Moscow Stations invested poetry into everyday speech in a way that brought it vividly to life.

Stephen Mulrine was born in Townhead, Glasgow, the eldest of five brothers and sisters, and attended St Mungo’s Academy. After National Service in the RAF as a radio engineer, he did stints as an apprentice gold beater and as a sales manager in Lewis's department store. It was here he met his future wife, Elizabeth; they married in 1966, and remained together for the next fifty-three years.

Mulrine took Highers at Skerry’s College in Glasgow, and went on to study English Literature at Glasgow University, graduating with first-class honours. After becoming a teacher in Possilpark, he was invited to join Glasgow School of Art’s newly-created Liberal Studies department, despite the fact that he had no prior knowledge of art history. He ran an informal creative writing group, whose participants included Liz Lochhead, and directed student plays, including Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, featuring Robbie Coltrane. The department was later renamed the Department of Historical and Critical Studies, with Mulrine being appointed its head.

Between 1975 and 1995, he was an extra-mural lecturer in creative writing at Glasgow University, where he became president of the university’s literary society. He also became part of Philip Hobsbaum’s legendary writing group, and, alongside peers such as Tom Leonard and Tom McGrath, wrote poetry in a Glasgow dialect that became part of a new wave of Scottish writers who wrote in their own voice.

Coming of the Wee Malkies appeared in Noise and Smoky Breath, the era-defining illustrated anthology of Glasgow poets from 1900 to 1983, published by the Third Eye Centre. The poem was later referenced by Billy Connolly in his 1994 TV series, World Tour of Scotland. Mulrine’s monologue, A Good Buke, was later included in the 100 Scottish Poems to Read Out Loud anthology.

Mulrine’s move into translating came from his love of Chekhov and a desire to understand the plays in the language they had been written. He was awarded a post-graduate diploma in Russian from Strathclyde University, and visited Moscow and what was then Leningrad.

is translations of The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard were produced by English Touring Theatre, while his take on Uncle Vanya was chosen by Sir Peter Hall to open the Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames. Hall also oversaw Mulrine’s versions of Chekhov’s Swansong and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at Bath’s Theatre Royal. Other translations by Mulrine included Ghosts and John Gabriel Borkman, both by Ibsen, and works by Molière, Pirandello and Strindberg.

For television, Mulrine’s original works included The Audition (1976), starring Ian Hendry; two episodes of the long-running Network series (1976-1977), and Extra Mural Study (1979) for the Scottish Playbill strand. There were episodes of long-running rural soap, Take the High Road, and The Human Crocodile (1980), an episode of Square Mile of Murder, based on Jack House’s book about real-life killings in the Charing Cross area of Glasgow. He also penned The Silly Season (1982) for the BBC’s Play for Today season, and The House on Kirov Street (1985) for Summer Season. He regularly reviewed poetry on BBC Radio Scotland’s MacGregor’s Gathering programme, and was a board member for the Scottish Arts Council and the Citizens Theatre.

As a loyal Herald reader, Mulrine was an avid solver of the cryptic crossword, and was the proud owner of not one, but two Wee Stinker t-shirts. It was as a translator of the Russian classics, however, that his wit and eye for vernacular was brought to life in a way that tapped into each play’s human soul. He is survived by Elizabeth, their children Stephen, Leigh, and Jonathan, and six grand-children, Sean, Evan, Kyle, Iona, Egan and Oran.