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Justin MacGregor

Justin MacGregor was born in London, UK to Scottish and Welsh parents who met as actors at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is an award-winning filmmaker and playwright, and the John Sherlock Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at Trinity College Dublin. His plays have been critically acclaimed at venues such as The Lowry in Manchester, Lost Theatre in London and Smock Alley in Dublin. In November, he arrives to Prague for his winter residency stay with Prague UNESCO City of Literature to work on his new play entitled Vaclav’s Prague Spring Blues, which is based on a true story.

Justin MacGregor’s work debuted on the silver screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival as a writer and director of The Vigil (1998) – a feature film about a group of young people on a road trip to Kurt Cobain's vigil. His film work includes documentaries, as well as short and long-form films for television, and experimental films.

His major recent work is in the theatre – he has written and directed eight full-length plays to date. Justin MacGregor‘s work focuses on real events and people. This includes an anti-war trilogy, the second of which, God Wept and the Devil Laughed, won a Manchester Theatre Award in 2012. Since 2010, five of his plays have premiered through the award-winning NeverBeenSeen strand at The Lowry in Manchester. He is currently writing a series of plays about normal people in extraordinary circumstances that began with How I Helped End Communism (and Save Democracy for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin), Mugabeland! (Manchester Theatre Award Nominee, 2014) and Uhta! the last part of the night.

During his residency, Justin MacGregor will be working on Vaclav’s Prague Spring Blues as both a theatre play and a film script. The project is based on the true story. In 1964, in the year of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday celebration, the Royal Shakespeare Company was invited behind the Iron Curtain to perform Peter Brook’s staging of King Lear, with Paul Scofield as Lear. Justin MacGregor’s father, Barry, was one of the actors in the production.   In Prague, the actors met an aspiring playwright named Václav Havel, whose first play, The Garden Party, was being performed at the same time. During the next few days, Havel led the company through Prague’s illegal jazz clubs while eluding the secret police and talking about the high cost of freedom and art.

At the time, Paul Scofield was questioning how Lear could cast his daughters away, setting in motion his own doom. It was Václav Havel who helped him to understand how, at the end of the war, the West had abandoned the nations of Eastern Europe just as Lear had turned away his own family. In 2004, Paul Scofield’s performance in King Lear was voted the greatest Shakespearean performance of the 20th Century by alumni of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Commenting on his residency, Justin MacGregor said: “The chance to go and research this project in Prague, at the Vaclav Havel Library, through the City of Literature programme is an amazing opportunity. The story I am researching is, at its heart, one that is funny and tragic and incredibly moving. Havel’s letters to my father – especially those written when he was out of favour with the Communist Government, and living and working in exile from Prague and the theatre – are incredibly powerful. And what the actors learned about Lear when they were there, through him, helped shape that production as one of the most significant of the 20th century. Havel’s vision of a unified Europe is one that is also incredibly timely. I can’t wait to get started.”

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