David McKail : British Actor

David McKail : British Actor

As a writer...

Writing as "Frederic Mohr", David McKail is the author of six solo plays.


James Boswell, returning to his London home from delivering the final proofs of "The Life of Samuel Johnson" to his publisher, finds a young man from Scotland with a letter of introduction. It is some months old and Boswell is clearly a last resort. Nevertheless, Boswell recognises something of his younger self in the suppliant and suggests some possible avenues down which he might make his way in life. This advice is illustrated with scenes from his own struggles, with parental authority and his own nature. He begins to drink and become more and more indiscreet. It is played in real time and runs in two acts for 90 minutes plus an interval. Premiered in 1981 on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with the author playing James Boswell and, directed by John Carnegie, it was awarded a coveted "Fringe First Award" by The Scotsman newspaper.


James Miranda Barry was a young woman who attended Edinburgh University Medical School in the early years of the 19th Century, masquerading as a man and graduated MD. She was commissioned into the British Army Medical Service and remained there for many years rising to the rank of Major General. At some point during her service she had a child and we first meet her, in Act I, about to go into labour and feeling apprehensive. She speaks to us, the audience, as if we are the local midwife (who may or may not speak English), and confides to us the events which brought her to this moment. In Act II we see the medical man, the Inspector of Hospitals in Upper Canada, waiting for dawn when he will fight a duel, justifying himself to the audience, which we discover is to be his second in the encounter. The audience is expected to note the contrast between the healthy young female about to give birth and the crusty and embittered old General (prepared to die for a slight from a young officer) which she has become in order to pursue a career in medicine. It is in effect two solos and the evening runs for 90 minutes plus an interval. Premiered in 1983 by Aspect Theatre in New Jersey, USA, with Jane Sharp in the dual role. Direction was by Allan Harari In 1984, it was given its UK premiere at the Traverse Theatre Club in Edinburgh with Barry played by Gerda Stevenson and directed by Stephen Unwin. It was revived as part of the Traverse Festival Fringe Season later that year.


Concerning the life and times of James Hogg, "The Ettrick Shepherd", HOGG was commission by the Border Festival via the Scottish Arts Council and was produced on its behalf by the Traverse Theatre Club premiering there in 1985 prior to touring in the Scottish Borders and playing a subsequent season back at the Traverse. In 1986 it was revived by the Edinburgh Festival Society and played for the middle week of the festival at St Cecilia's Hall. The part of Hogg was played by Donald Douglas and Morag Fullerton directed. Originally, the play found Hogg, with an American visitor, in his half finished house extension. He has just discovered that he was not born on the 25th of January, the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, which was the basis of the belief that he was a "chosen" man marked out by destiny. As a result of this hubris he has turned down a government pension and he is beginning to wonder if his pride might have repercussions for his growing family. Meanwhile, he maintains a cheerful disposition as he regales his transatlantic visitor with the wondrous tale of his rise from poverty and deprivation. This version still exists as "Ur-Hogg". However, in the author's absence from rehearsals, the director and the actor jettisoned this scheme and replaced it by a "turn" in which Hogg, now in some undefined social setting, sings some songs and delivers a monologue on his life and times with illustrations from his work. The play, in two acts, runs for 90 minutes plus an interval.


The Scottish American soprano has returned from signing her Last Will and Testament, to give a talk to a ladies' luncheon club in Aberdeen the city of her birth to which she has retired after a long career as a Diva in France and America. She has been doing these lectures for some time now in America but this is the first in her native city, on her own doorstep as it were, and she is more circumspect in her disclosures. Nevertheless she has a tale to tell and tell it she does. Not only has she toned down the excitements of her life for the local audience but she is aware that she must tone down her own extravagant way of life, as her long retirement is outrunning the provision she has made for it. Although written as a solo this play was originally performed as a two-hander on BBC Radio4 on 11th March 1989 and repeated twice and on the BBC World Service. The parts of "Mary" and "The Diva" were played by Eileen McCallum and Miriam Margolies. Patrick Rayner produced and directed. The solo version was premiered at the Kilmardinny House Theatre in Bearsden, Glasgow in 1994 with Deirdre Murray as Mary Garden. Direction was by Brian Hayward. It is played in real time and runs for 90 minutes in two acts plus and interval. A shorter version conflating the radio version (which is played in Mary's head) with the solo version was prepared for Gill Bowman for presentation at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1999 and a subsequent tour in Scotland, directed by John Carnegie. It is more of a performance and less of a lecture than the previous version, is played without an interval and runs for 80 minutes. In it, Mary, confused in the psycho-geriatric hospital in which she died, believes she is giving one of her talks a subtle but effective shift of emphasis.


John Paul Jones, "The Father of the American Navy", dying in Paris in 1792 of interstitial nephritis enjoyed a period of remission and held a party in the garden of his lodgings for a few of his friends including the US Ambassador. They have been urging him to make a will but he will have none of it. Why should a man who has led his charmed life and is enjoying a bout of good health think of wills; a man who came from nowhere to command ships of war for the fledgling navy of the rebellious American colony and Catherine the Great's Imperial Russian Navy? He reveals that he is on the brink of his greatest command having survived a life time of penny-pinching bureaucrats and devious politicians. But it is clear that his body will be his final betrayer; he will die, his will made, three days later. The play is an attempt to reconstruct that garden party, in which "he talked wonderfully". It was premiered in the Theatre Royal, Dumfries on 15 July 1993, 201 years (to the day) after the events are purporting to take place. The part of Paul Jones was played by Jimmy Chisholm and direction was by John Carnegie. It was revived for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was awarded a "Fringe First Award". It is played in real time in two acts and runs for 90 minutes plus an interval.


Charlotte Charke, the 18th Century actress and writer, has returned from the life of a strolling players in the provinces to London, scene of previous theatrical triumphs and disasters, to embark on a new life. In her rented hovel in on the lower slopes of Islington she has gathered some publishers to pitch her memoirs for publication. It is January 1755. Before reading the text to the audience she reminds them of the excitements in store, the rebellions against her actor-manager father, Colley Cibber, Patent Holder at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Poet Laureate; satire and politics with Henry Fielding's company which changed the course of theatre history in England; the highs and lows of the acting life and above all the dedication and the commitment of the artiste. This meeting is recorded in history and this play exploits the interstices of the bare account left to us. It is performed in real time and lasts 90 in two parts plus an interval. It played for three weeks during Mayfest in Glasgow from 2nd May 1997 at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre's Circle Studio. Directed by John Carnegie, the part of Charlotte was played by Maureen Beattie.

"BOZZY" and "GARDEN NOTES" were recorded for radio produced and directed by Patrick Rayner. "BOZZY" was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland. "GARDEN NOTES" was broadcast on BBC Radio4 and BBC World Service.

1965-1968 McKail was part of a collaboration with John Cargill-Thompson, using the pen name "John Mohr" which wrote several TV plays and a situation comedy. One play, "No Kind of Hero", based on McKail's experiences in the army while doing National Service, was televised by Scottish Television and broadcast in December 1966. McKail played the leading part.

In 2008, the 25th anniversary of the first production,  Rowan Tree Productions presented a revival of "BARRY" which toured the Scottish Borders.  Production was by Judy Steel, direction by John Carnegie and the part of Barry was played by Isabella Jarrett.