Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A launch event last night for the 2014 National Theatre of Scotland programme.

And goodness me, it was like the Oscars of Scottish theatre. Compered by Laurie Sansom, Vicky's successor, we were presented with Kiaran Hurley, Cora Bissett, David Greig, Simon Sharkey, Graham McLaren, Rona Munro, Gary Lewis and John Byrne. John Byrne! FFS. (Who beautifully, when asked by Laurie why he was taking part in their collaboration with the Portrait Gallery, Dear Scotland, said he didn't have any other work.
Entitled Dear Scotland, the programme takes the various momentous events in this year's calendar as a springboard to explore, explain, cajole and coerce the people of Scotland (and the people of the world, we might hope) to consider all of the things that make Scotland a fine and feisty nation.
Laurie as Michael Parkinson quizzed the various participants about their various ventures: a really neat way of getting round the fact that they, in most cases, won't have anything much to show us yet.
So lots to look forward to.
Cora B and David G's Glasgow Girls which I was enormously sorry to miss last time and will certainly try and catch this.

A fascinating (potentially) exercise in community participation rounded off with a set piece in Glasgow, The Tin Forest. I've been watching this with half an eye via the NTS newsletters and it sounds maybe marvellous.

David Grieg - with bucketloads of back room support - is resurrecting Five Minute Theatre in June and giving it a forthcoming referendum theme. Nicely done as by turning the focus of the exercise to the "common" people, any over-energetic political agenda is neatly side-stepped.

Rantin is Kieran Hurley's site-specific, music-laden, contemporary stab at ceilidh theatre. And it sounds delightful.


Rona Munro has taken it into her head, encouraged by Vicky F, to write a trilogy of history plays about the three King James'. The James Plays. With Wolf Hall and its sequel romping home to five star reviews in Stratford at the moment, the timing (coupled with that pesky old Referendum on these shores) feels nothing short of serendipitous. Giant, epic, rep theatre style, fab cast, the EIF as a platform. I'm sold and I DON'T LIKE history plays.

I might even be tempted to go see Graham McLaren's musicalisation (so not a word) of Joe Corrie's 1920-something play. Time O' Strife. (And I must must must stop bristling when he mentions, in his best encouraging manner, AMATEURS.)

But then he won me back (Graham, I mean) with his vision of Blabbermouth. 12 hours of an open mic, the day before the Referendum, at which any old person can take to the stage and read some of Scotland's great words. So we wound up with Gary Lewis (oh for Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us) reading Jimmy Reid's 1970s Glasgow University rectorial address.

And here, at last, a tiny dollop of politics. A year of theatre inspired by the gigantic debate about independence and they've all managed to avoid saying anything overtly political until these glorious words are delivered with delicious vigour by such a fine actor:
To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?
A swift dip into audience participation in the final snuck from Time O' Strife song and we were done.

What a difficult brief. They don't have a regular venue. They can't afford to be political. Everyone will be expecting them to talk about Independence and they'll get castigated if they don't. And castigated if they do - too overtly.

This programme walks a taut and heroic tightrope, in my humble opinion, between political enough but not (well, I should really wait and see but in anticipation) too much. It shows interest, commitment and respect but no sign of fervour. And it made me proud all over again to be living in a land that seems to spit out such fine theatre without really trying.

Thanks, NTS, for inviting me.


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