JOYCE MCMILLAN on THEATRE IN SCOTLAND 2014:MYSTIC MCMILLAN LOOKS INTO HER CRYSTAL BALL
As the year begins, the glass is cloudy, in more ways than one. Like everyone else in Scotland, the theatre community is strained to breaking-point by the sheer length and ill-temper of the independence referendum campaign; David Greig, leader of the current generation of playwrights, has taken to writing 140-character satirical Yes No Plays on twitter, in an attempt to relieve his feelings. And the thespian world has also been devastated to discover that the funding agency Creative Scotland – which promised to speak plain English in future, after the 2012 rebellion against its management style – has lately launched a “Creativity Portal” with a “quality assurance tool” designed to allow creative organisations and individuals to “engage” with it. Asked whether the portal is anything like the one in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe – or indeed the small green door in Alice In Wonderland – Creative Scotland fails to answer. The mood is grim, though, as audiences gather for the premieres of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Royal Lyceum, and War Horse at the Festival Theatre; many mutter that with real life in its current shape, a bit of escapism wouldn’t come amiss.
The quest for escape and entertainment continues, as the Citizens’ Theatre offers up a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, but suffers from a clash of dates with the Dirty Dancing tribute show in Dundee. Meanwhile, Edinburgh audiences flock to see Private Lives at the Royal Lyceum, Dial M For Murder at the King’s, and Singin’ In The Rain at the Festival Theatre; who needs the year 2014, they reason, when you can have 1930 or 1954 instead?
At the end of March, though, there’s a sudden explosion of political energy, as the Royal Lyceum unveils Tim Barrow’s play Union, about the Act Of Union of 1707. “Yes” and “No” supporters fall to fighting in the stalls, and demonstrating outside the theatre; the Lyceum’s artistic director receives unpleasant phone calls from the press officers of various political parties and campaigns accusing him of bias, and realises that theatre has made it into the heart of Scotland’s national conversation, at last.
Spring arrives, and with it the premiere at the Citizens’ of the new Vanishing Point/NTS co-production The Beautiful Cosmos Of Ivor Cutler, celebrating one of Scotland’s most brilliant, eccentric, and unpredictable creative minds. The show comes as a sharp reminder that it’s the job of artists not to be trapped by conventional terms of debate, but to explode and reimagine them; or at the very least – in memory of Cutler – to treat them with the disdain they so obviously deserve.
A riot of activity ensues, as Dundee Rep stages a new play called Cars And Boys by Christmas-show genius Stuart Paterson, the Citizens’ ravishes its audience with the Scottish premiere of The Libertine, and Pitlochry Festival Theatre begins to roll out its second-ever all-Scottish season of work, ranging from Liz Lochhead’s Perfect Days to James Bridie’s Mr. Bolfry. Has Scottish theatre passed through a creativity portal? No one knows, since the quality assessment tool has been mistaken for a hammer, and disappeared into Pitlochry’s set construction workshop; but both audiences and reviewers seem to be enjoying the shows.
JUNE & JULY
Commonwealth Games fever grips Scotland. The Citizens’ offers a whole week of sports-related plays and readings, and the National Theatre of Scotland presents its huge 2014-related community project the Tin Forest, at the South Rotunda on the Clyde. And elsewhere, the NTS finally rolls out its long-promised Big Yes-No-Don’t-Know Roadshow, designed to explore people’s feelings around the referendum with a touring show that changes each night, in response to events. Does Scotland need a creative space where people can freely express their feelings about the referendum? It does. Will Messrs. David Greig and David MacLennan, joint curators of the show, be able to provide it? Impossible to tell; but if they can’t, then it’s hard to imagine who can.
The Edinburgh Festivals take place, amid much discussion about the decision of the outgoing Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills to focus on the Commonwealth, and on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, rather than the independence debate. Thanks to Mills’s slightly odd decision, no-one talks about anything else but independence, for the entire four weeks of the Festival and Fringe; which, for all we know, might have been the waggish Sir Jonathan’s intention, all along.
SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER
On 18 September, Scotland goes to the polls to determine its future; and thereafter, the glass becomes too murky to read. It does tell me, though, that on 19 September, come unionist hell or nationalist high water, the stadium version of Still Game will open at The Hydro in Glasgow, suggesting that some things in Scotland will never change. It says that Creative Scotland will continue to issue statements about its organisational “journey”, without ever reaching a point where it can describe itself not in the tones of a bad 1980’s management manual, but in the language of passion, transformation, beauty and joy that has something to do with art. And it adds that in whatever altered state they find themselves, theatre people will keep on making theatre; because like most artists in Scotland, they passed through the Creativity Portal long ago, to the land where – given a little faith and invention – the possible becomes easy, and the impossible just takes a few decades longer.
All shows mentioned this year are real, and can be found on the relevant websites!