Category Archives: Other Theatre Writing

Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 – A Feast Of Irish Theatre



IN THE MAIN auditorium of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, the audience is gathering around a space that seems to have shifted slightly on its axis. Where the stage usually sits, there are extra rows of seats facing towards us; and the stage itself has become an oval, chequered pub floor somewhere near the centre of the room, with a few audience members sitting on stage, at the pub tables and chairs.

This is the set for Graham McLaren’s production of Dermot Bolger’s stage adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, first produced at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow in 2012, and now revived as the Abbey’s main contribution to the 2017 Dublin International Theatre Festival, this year celebrating its 60th birthday. And as McLaren’s first show created for the Abbey’s main stage since he and Neil Murray left the National Theatre of Scotland in 2016 to become joint artistic directors of Ireland’s revered national company, it sends out signals that are already becoming closely associated with the new regime; signals about inclusion, about a friendly, convivial and welcoming style of theatre rather than a formal one, and about an approach to the great canon of Irish writing which suggest that the great writers of the past will be honoured, in future, in a manner more robust and comradely, and less reverential.

The show itself is a vivid and sometimes slightly rambling affair, far less sombre and tightly-focussed than Andy Arnold’s 2012 production. If any two-hour stage version of Ulysses can only offer one or two facets of that huge, infinitely rich novel, then this one specialises in the bawdy, the rude, the humorous, and the straightforwardly emotional, wrapping Leopold Bloom’s day-long journey through early 20th century Dublin in layers of song, broad comedy, and puppetry, both poignant and satirical; and although Dublin’s response to the show has been genuinely mixed, this show sits firmly in the tradition of a nation that – unlike Scotland – naturally talks to itself through theatre, not least about about how bold, brilliant and taboo-busting this iconic Irish novel is, and always has been.

In that sense, it’s appropriate that the Abbey stage should be largely occupied, during this Dublin Festival, by the big brass bed on which Molly Bloom – perhaps the most gloriously and uninhibitedly sexual woman in all of literature – takes her ease and thinks her thoughts; for all around the Festival, this year, there are Irish companies arguing, dramatising, imagining and creating around the continuing struggle for sexual freedom. Out at the old Ringsend power station, Ireland’s female-led site-specific company Anu present a haunting, fragmented and powerfully inconclusive promenade show called The Sin Eaters, which arraigns the Irish state for the way in which it has historically pressurised women to take on, absorb, and endure the suffering caused by, the sins of the whole society.

The Corn Exchange’s Nora, at the Project Arts Centre, is an elegant and terrifying new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House written by Belinda McKeown with Annie Ryan, and set in a near future when – with a nod to The Handmaid’s Tale – women are once again having to accept a world of patriarchal laws forbidding them from owning property, running businesses, or being legally equal with their husbands.

Two new shows from Landmark Productions ponder on the recurring story of women murdered by their jealous menfolk. Camille O’Sullivan acts and sings up a storm of emotion as the victim Marie in Conall Morrison’s beautiful Woyzeck In Winter, co-produced with the Galway Festival, which marries Buchner’s drama with music and words from Schubert’s Winterrreise; Sharon Carty sings the role of the murdered 21st century wife Amy in The Second Violinist, co-produced with Wide Open Opera, a strangely unsatisfying new opera-with-film by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh, partly set in the badlands of modern internet sex. And at the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire, Sebastian Barry’s On Blueberry Hill offers an exquisite pair of entwined prison monologues about a cycle of violence that begins in the heart of a good man unable to accept his own homosexuality, and ends in a redemption as beautiful and moving as it is improbable.

What Dublin mainly offers this year, in other words, is a mighty feast of Irish theatre, with many of its greatest makers and creators in full flow, angry, engaged, passionate and lyrical. There is still international work to be seen in Dublin of course; some eight of the 20 shows for adult audiences on this year’s programme come from outside Ireland, and Scotland is the most prominent visiting country this year, with Lyceum shows The Suppliant Women and Wind Resistance opening and closing the Festival, and children’s show Poggle playing at the Arc.

Yet although White would like – after ten years of relative financial austerity, since the crash – to restore the Dublin Festival to the glory days when it could host huge main stage international productions by leading world directors, he is also conscious that the whole idea of internationalism in theatre is changing. “It really is a different atmosphere from the 1980’s or 1990’s,” says White. “So many of our companies – like Dead Centre, who are doing Hamnet this year, and who had such a huge international success with Lippy – now have very strong international links of their own, which have a huge impact on the aesthetics of their work.

“So in a sense, the whole idea of an international festival is evolving, along with everything else. Yes, I’d love to have the money to bring, say, a great big Ariane Mnouchkine show one day. For the moment, though, we’re working with what we have; and with most Festival shows either selling out or selling extremely well, we seem to be creating a celebration of theatre that works for our audience, and for the moment we’re in.”

The Dublin International Theatre Festival runs until tomorrow, 15 October, with Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, until 28 October.



Fringe First Winners 2016


ANGEL Pipeline Productions at Gilded Balloon
COUNTING SHEEP Lemon Bucket Okestra & Aurora Nova at Summerhall at King’s Hall
EXPENSIVE SHIT Adura Onashile & Scottish Theatre Producers at Traverse Theatre
HEADS UP Kieran Hurley and Show & Tell at Summerhall
THE INTERFERENCE Pepperdine Scotland at C Chambers St.
WORLD WTHOUT US Ontroerend Goed at Summerhall


DAFFODILS (A PLAY WITH SONGS) Bullet Heart Club at the Traverse Theatre
FABRIC Robin Rayner etc. at Underbelly Cowgate until 28
FASLANE Jenna Watt in association with Showroom at Summerhall
MARK THOMAS: THE RED SHED Lakin McCarthy in association with West Yorkshire Playhouse at the Traverse Theatre
TANK Breach at the Pleasance Dome
TWO MAN SHOW RashDash at Northern Stage at Summerhall
US/THEM BRONKS, Big In Belgium etc. at Summerhall


THE DUKE Hoipolloi, PBJ Management & Theatre Royal Plymouth with Save The Chlldren at the Pleasance Courtyard
GROWTH Paines Plough at Roundabout@Summerhall
JOAN Milk Presents with Derby Playhouse and Underbelly Untapped at Underbelly, Cowgate
LETTERS TO WINDSOR HOUSE Shit Theatre with Show & Tell at Summerhall
ONE HUNDRED HOMES Yinka Kuitenbrouwer, Big In Belgium etc. @ Summerhall
SCORCH Prime Cut Productions at Roundabout @ Summerhall


Mystic McMillan 2016!




The year begins in a mood of confusion, with theatre companies still scratching their heads over the Scottish governent’s enigmatic budget, which appeared to slash cultural funding by 9.4% – the biggest cut of any area of government spending – but was followed by briefings to the effect that no-one was actually being cut by much more than 3%.

Rumours circulate that for reasons unknown, the government wishes to appear to be tough on arts funding, while in fact not being all that tough; and they begin to spread like wildfire after the opening night at the Lyceum of Conor McPherson’s pensive modern ghost tale The Weir, when a man in a heavy winter coat, bearing a strange resemblance to finance minister John Swinney, is seen at the stage door handing wads of grubby fivers to the cash-strapped theatre’s executive director, while muttering “Don’t tell them I gave you this.”


In the first week of February, Rona Munro’s huge trilogy of James Plays returns to the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, at the start of a global tour . At the after-show party, NTS boss Laurie Sansom and artistic director designate of the Lyceum, David Greig, call for the Scottish theatre community to be inventive about generating new income, in the wake of the govermment cuts, and to remember that government can also provide the arts with help in kind; a senior civil servant in the crowd is inspired to announce that in future, all such Scottish theatre gatherings will be provided with a supply of government-issue sausage rolls, freshly delivered from Victoria Quay.


In March, the Citizens’ Theatre presents a new version of Get Carter by Northern Stage, and puts out an innovative call for funding from those in the city who know exactly how it feels to be a local gangster returning to former haunts; the response is muted. At the end of the month, the entire Scottish theatre community boards a fleet of buses to Cardross, west of Dumbarton, where Angus Farquhar’s NVA organisation is staging an event called Hinterland, as part of its restoration project at the old St. Peter’s Seminary, Kilmahew, an outstanding neglected masterpiece of Scottish modernist architecture. Asked how he finally managed to raise the money for this long-cherished project, Farquhar replies that it was simple: he just stopped using the word “theatre”, and the cash started to pour in.


In April, Edinburgh theatre is almost all about nostalgia and escapism, as screaming crowds of middle-aged women besiege the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh for performances of Jackie The Musical – about the famous girls’ magazine of the 1960’s and 70’s – and queues form at the Festival Theatre for the spectacular stage version of Mary Poppins. Meanwhile legendary director Michael Boyd – former boss of the Tron and the Royal Shakespeare Company – returns to the Traverse with his production of eerie Quebec ghost story Right Now. Asked how Scottish theatre can generate more income, Boyd suggests that companies try doing some Shakespeare, since 2016 is the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death; but apart from a one-day celebration at the Citizens’ on 23 April, no Shakespeare productions are forthcoming.


On 5 May – Holyrood election day – David Greig holds his last Two Minute Manifesto session at the Traverse before taking over as boss of the Lyceum, and the SNP wins another impressive overall majority in the Scottish Parliament; the John-Swinney-like figure immediately appears at the Citizens’ Theatre with an entire suitcase of Royal Bank of Scotland notes, which he says is an anonymous contribution to the theatre’s current building project. Meanwhile, Liz Lochhead’s new play Thon Man Moliere, about the life of the great 17th century French playwright, opens at the Lyceum. In a pre-show talk, an audience member suggests that since Moliere’s main source of funding was Philippe Duke Of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV, a bit of royal patronage for Scottish theatre might not come amiss; but despite attempts to follow up this inspired suggestion, the palace remains silent.


In June, the National Theatre of Scotland tours revivals of two briliantly successful recent shows, Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour – about a group of riotous Oban schoolgirls travelling to Edinburgh for a choir competition – and The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart, David Greig’s post-modern Border ballad, best performed in a pub. In an effort to provide Scottish theatre with help in kind, the Scottish government offers to buy a pub where the NTS can stage Prudencia Hart in perpetuity, like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap; NTS boss Laurie Sansom politely declines.


In July, as is traditional, nothing happens in Scottish theatre at all; apart, of course, from the Pitlochry summer season, which does not rely much on public subsidy. Asked what Scottish theatre should do to enhance its income, artistic director John Durnin says, ”Get yourself a gorgeous Highland location and a big restaurant, and you’ll find your problems melt away like snow off Ben Vrackie.”


The Edinburgh Festival takes place amid cries of astonishment, as culture secretary Fiona Hyslop leaves politics to become the new Chief Exedutive of the Edinburgh Fringe. “Well, I’ve leanred a lot about it over the years,” says Ms Hyslop, “and I thought it looked like more fun than being in goverment.” Meanwhile, the Scottish Government buys up the Royal High School in Edinburgh – still the subject of bitter disputes about its future – and offers it to Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan as help in kind, and a perfect future location for his spectacular start-of-festival outdoor events; to everyone’s amazement, Linehan accepts.


The National Theatre of Scotland moves to its new shed-like home at Rockvilla in Port Dundas, billed to become a base for all NTS backroom activities and educational projects. Within weeks, though, NTS boss Laurie Sansom shocks the Scottish government, Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Licensing Board by announcing that following the sad demise of the Arches in May 2015, he has decided to launch Rockvilla as a late-night club and music venue, and to use the commercial proceeds to support the NTS’s work with young artists. Crowds flock to the Rockvilla club nights, and for the time being the GLB fails to think of a reason not to give it a licence.


Excitement is intense, as the acclaimed new touring version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – produced by former Festival Theatre boss John Stalker, and directed by former Dundee Rep artistic director James Brining – arrives at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. A Scottish government representative turns up with a bag of Clydesdale Bank tenners, but is politely turned away; this is one show, he’s told, that can wash its own face, and fly its own magic car out over the audience, too.


Wind, rain, panto rehearsals. Nothing happens.


A mood of festive cheer sweeps over Scotland’s theatres, as the Scottish government offers in-kind support to Jack And the Beanstalk at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh in the shape of a giant beanstalk specially cultivated at the Royal Botanic Gardens’ outpost in Galloway; sadly, it collapses under the combined weight of panto stars Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott, and is never seen again. “It was an unfortunate incident,” says diplomatic Duncan Hendry, boss of the Festival and King’s Theatres, “but we still very much appreciate any support the Scottish government can give us. And of course, like everyone else in Scottish theatre, we’re still searching for the magic beans that will bring us fame and fortune, in 2017.”

All shows featured in this column will take place at the places and times mentioned, as will the NTS’s move to its new headquarters. Everything else, of course, is pure fiction!


Review Of The Year, 2015


JOYCE MCMILLAN on REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2015, for Scotsman Magazine, 19.12.15

ANY YEAR IN Scottish theatre tends to offer a strong sense of contradiction, and of suddenly shifting moods; perhaps it’s the old Caledonian antisyzygy in action, playing itself out across our stages. Yet I doubt if there has ever been a theatre year so beset as this one by contrasts between rich achievement and celebration on one hand, and – on the other – a mounting feeling of apprehension and loss, as Scotland’s theatres look to a future which seems set to be dominated by ever deeper cuts in public funding.

In Scotland, at national level, those cuts have hardly happened yet, as culture minister Fiona Hyslop continues the fight to avoid the reductions in arts spending that have already swept England. Yet the pressure on local authority spending is already visible everywhere, not least in a capital city besieged by developers, and struggling to maintain its global festival city status. And the mood of gloom found its most visible outward expression in the sudden closure in May, after the highly debatable withdrawal of its late-night club licence, of the Arches theatre, gallery, music and club venue in Glasgow, for 25 years an outstanding symbol of Glasgow’s cultural gains from its year as European City of Culture in 1990, a pioneer of a new model of arts funding, and a city-centre hotbed of rehearsal, development and performance for generations of young Glasgow artists.

If the Arches closure embodied the dark side of 2015, though, then the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh was the place that most brilliantly reflected the year’s stark contrasts, with one of the most brilliant programmes of work in the history of the Lyceum Company – founded under Tom Fleming’s direction 50 years ago this autumn – shadowed by the announcement that from April 2015, Creative Scotland would be slashing the theatre’s annual grant by a stinging 17%.

On stage, though, the litany of achievement was magnificent, as the year opened with a heart-stopping John Dove production of Faith Healer by Brian Friel (the mighty Irish playwright who died this year, aged 86), continued through a breathtakingly timely and brilliant staging of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by artistic directort Mark Thomson, and culminated in a 50th anniversary autumn season that featured Thomson’s world-class production of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, with great Scottish stage and screen stars Brian Cox and Bill Paterson.

Following the negative funding news, Mark Thomson announced in the spring that he would leave the Lyceum next summer, after 13 years in the job; and in September, in a strikingly bold move greeted with huge excitement, the Board announced that the next artistic director would be Scotland’s leading playwright David Greig, the first playwright to take on the solo role of running one of Scotland’s major building-based companies since James Bridie at the Citizens’ 70 years ago.

The Citizens’ itself celebrated its 70th anniversary in the Gorbals with a remarkable year of west-of-Scotland-based work, ranging from a revival of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys in February, to new musical The Choir in October and November. The highlight of the Citizens’ year, though, was David Greig and Graham Eatough’s mighty stage version of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, co-produced by the Citizens’ and the Edinburgh International Festival, and designed to introduce a new generation to one of Scotland’s defining novels of the last 35 years. And there were other anniversaries this year, too. The Citizens’ celebrated the 50th birthday of its famous, shortlived studio theatre, The Close – destroyed by fire in 1973 – with a memorable autumn season of studio productions; and Lung Ha’s, the ground-breaking Edinburgh-based company working with adults with learning difficulties, marked its 30th anniversary with fine productions of Morna Pearson’s take on Jekyll & Hyde, and Linda McLean’s new play about ageing and dementia, Thingummy Bob.

At the National Theatre of Scotland, this seemed a relatively muted year, as the company planned its 2016 move to a new production centre at Rockvilla in Glasgow’s Port Dundas basin, and learned that two of its leading figures, Executive Producer Neil Murray and associate director Graham McLaren, would move on in 2016 to become joint directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. And the same was true at the Traverse, also facing a serious Creative Scotland funding cut, although the company continued to develop its strong working relationship with the lunchtime new-short-play powerhouse of A Play, A Pie And A Pint at Oran Mor, and scored a significant Festival hit with artistic director Orla O’Loughlin’s impeccable production of Stef Smith’s Swallow, a powerful piece about women in the 21st century city by one of Scotland’s most gifted young playwrights.

The Traverse and the NTS came together, though, in one of the most explosively successful first nights of the year, when the Traverse hosted the Edinburgh Fringe opening of Vicky Featherstone’s brilliant NTS touring production of Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, an adaptation by Lee Hall of Alan Warner’s fine 1998 novel The Sopranos. In a year when Scottish theatre often seemed to be drawing new inspiration from the nation’s recent theatrical and literary history – and mourned the death of 7:84 co-founder Elizabeth MacLennan – Dundee Rep scored a massive hit with Joe Douglas’s revival of John McGrath’s mighty 1972 agitprop classic The Cheviot, The Stag, And The Black, Black Oil, a production greeted with acclaim by most of those who saw it, and by complaint from those who didn’t, and who felt it should be touring the Highlands & Islands, as the original 7:84 production did 43 years ago. In fact, many shows toured extensively in 2015, from Rapture Theatre’s Arthur Miller season of All My Sons and The Last Yankee, to Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour itself; but the impression persisted that Scottish touring theatre now lacks the impact and coherence that it had, in the days when there was more ideological heft and radical theory behind the whole concept.

And here in the capital – well, despite funding threats, the grasroots theatre scene continued to thrive on the slimmest of shoestrings, from the Village Pub Theatre in Fort Street to Discover 21 at Jock’s Lodge. In the summer, Leith-based Vision Mechanics staged an exquisite seaside installation-with-soundtrack called Drift, on glorious beaches from Fife to Shetland; throughout the year, the King’s and Festival Theatres continued to offer a memorably rich diet of visiting theatre, from Regent Park’s wonderful To Kill A Mockingbird back in February, to Kneehigh of Cornwall’s fabulously inventive version of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, in the autumn.

And the Edinburgh International Festival, the first under the direction of Fergus Linehan, began a dynamic new phase by not only realigning its dates with the Edinburgh Fringe, but also opening up a brand new relationship with Scottish theatre, offering an international platform both to large-scale new work like Lanark, and to existing Scottish shows that deserve a wider audience. 2015 was not a smooth or easy year for Scottish theatre, in other words, and it had its deep shadows. But there was a creative annus mirabilis at the Lyceum, a promising new era at the Edinburgh Festival, a determined effort by other theatres – notably the Tron – to pick up the suddenly-severed loose ends of the Arches’ creative effort; and a pattern of sudden, unpredictable bursts of briliance everywhere, in a year that drew strength and inspiration from the past, but also offered a glimpse of a troubled, energetic, and hugely productive future.


After The Storm – Arts On Mull


JOYCE MCMILLAN on AFTER THE STORM – ARTS ON MULL for the Scotsman Magazine, 12.12.15.

IT’S BEEN A STORMY SEASON ON Mull, and not only in terms of the weather. Back in July, something like a popular rebellion broke out on the island, after Comar – the new organisation combining the island’s two arts institutions, Mull Theatre and An Tobar gallery and music centre – announced a new management plan which involved maintaining the posts of creative director and chief executive, but getting rid of the organisation’s two long-standing artistic leaders, Alasdair McCrone of Mull Theatre, and music man Gordon Maclean.

So protest meetings were held, an elected shadow board was set up, the previous board resigned, and last week the Transition Board announced that McCrone and Maclean would be reinstated, with Alasdair McCrone taking over the job of Creative Director, and acting Chief Executive. Now, the grassroots Comar members’ organisation has begun the process of electing and appointing a new board; and as McCrone – a talented actor as well as a director – takes the stage as the Dame in the Tobermory community panto this week, it’s tempting to see the whole story as something of an island fairytale, in which the good people of the village triumph over the dark forces of modern management-speak, and top-heavy administration.

As he settles into his new role, though, Alasdair McCrone is under no illusions about an easy happy ending; on the contrary, he is well aware of the financial pressures that led the previous board to conclude that top jobs in the organisation had to go, and is clear that the levels of spending that were possible during the founding phase of Comar – when the organisation benefited from transition grants – cannot be built into its long-term plans.

“Essentially, we have a Creative Scotland grant of £416,000 a year, which represents between 70% and 80% of our income,” says McCrone, “and that’s just a little bit more than the total the two organisations had, before the merger. So my starting-point is that we should be able to maintain our level of creative activity, across theatre, music and the visual arts, and then look for ways to improve our income and expand Comar’s work, in a gentle, organic way. We’re hoping, for example, that Mull will start to benefit greatly from the new road equivalent tariff that’s just been introduced, which will slash car-ferry fares; so one priority for me would be to reinstate some kind of summer season on Mull, to meet demand from visitors.”

The idea of a summer season, of course, represents a nod to the history of Mull Little Theatre, founded at Dervaig in 1966 by actors Barrie and Marianne Hesketh; but as director of Mull Theatre – now based at Druimfin, near Tobermory – McCrone’s pride and joy is his programme of newly-commissioned plays, funded by Creative Scotland to tour throughout the country, which in 2016 is set to include Peter Arnott’s new play Unspotted Snow, about the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic, and Robert Dawson Scott’s The Electrifying Mr. Johnston, about wartime Secretary of State Tom Johnston, the visionary founder of Scotland’s Hydro Electric Board. First up, though, will be a revival of a gorgeous nostalgic play, Movietime, written by the late island bookseller David Pitman, and set in the projection booth of a 1940’s Glasgow cinema.

“I think the point about this organisation is that to make it work, everyone has to multi-task a bit. Gordon Maclean, our music director, is also a working musician, and a great technician. I’m happy to take on the responsibility of being Chief Executive, but I also direct plays, act and write; the same applies to the visual arts. And hopefully, if we keep our focus on the organisation’s creative output, we’ll be able to come together to make the idea of Comar work really well, both for Mull, and for the whole Scottish arts scene. Because in the end, the work we produce is the only reason we’re here; and so long as we remember that – well then, I’m optimistic.”


Theatre Of War


JOYCE MCMILLAN on THEATRE OF WAR for the Scotsman Magazine, 5.12.15.

IN THE 500-year-old Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, weapons are everywhere. It’s a beautiful space, a great work of civilisation; but the mighty displays of spears and helmets lining the walls make it impossible, here, to forget either the central role of war in our history, or its devastating human consequences.

It’s therefore hard to imagine a more fitting space for a performance by Brian Doerries’s Theatre of War, founded in New York seven years ago, and now working across the United States and internationally on a project which began by using scenes from ancient Greek tragedy to help war-damaged US veterans, but now also helps communities confront issues including addiction, domestic violence and political violence.

On this wintry Sunday night in Edinburgh, though, Doerries’ company is back on home territory, playing to an audience of serving soldiers and veterans, military families, concerned professionals and volunteers, brought together by Glen Art, the Scottish-based charity dedicated to helping veterans and their families. And there’s a profound, attentive silence in the Great Hall, as actors Lesley Sharp and Jason Isaacs deliver a searingly intense reading from the scene in Sophocles’s Ajax in which the great Greek hero – exhausted by the nine-year siege of Troy, and distraught at events surrounding the death of his brother-in-arms, Achilles – goes mad, tortures and slaughters a field full of dumb beasts, and finally, despite the pleas of his wife, goes alone to the sand-dunes takes his own life.

Now of course, at one level, The Theatre Of War is just one more effort to win support for the arts by demonstrating their usefulness in addressing a whole range of specific social ills. Yet the sheer power of the performance, and the depth and personal directness of the discussion that follows, seems to take us back to the roots of drama itself, and to the role of Sophocles – himself a former general – in writing dramas that would enable the whole state to confront painful truths about itself, and what it asked of the men it sent to war.

“Whatever you feel or think about war, you will find people in an audience like this who have felt all that you feel, and much more,” says Brian Doerries, who was a young writer and translator of the classics living and working in Brooklyn, when the massive 2007 scandal over the negect of veterans at the US’s premier military hospital inspired him to set up Theatre Of War. “I guess I always felt that these stories belong to a whole society and not just to a few specialists; but it took me a year to find someone in the military who supported the idea, and helped me set up our first session, with 400 marines and their spouses in San Diego.

“For that session, we scheduled a 45-minute discussion, and were still there three and a half hours later; so we realised we had found a really powerful tool. And my feeling is that the main healing effect comes from this deep recognition that you are not alone with these experiences – that your pain is known and achnowledged, over great distances of space and time.”

All of which makes a great deal of sense, in a country whose National Theatre achieved its greatest ever hit with the cathartic Black Watch, based on the real-life experiences of British soldiers in Iraq. Brian Doerries has now written a book about Theatre Of War; he hopes to be in Britain again for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. And if Theatre of War does return to these shores, I’d say these events make essential viewing; both for the veterans and families who are so profoundly touched by them, and for those who care about the primal power of great Greek tragedy, and who might find inspiration in seeing that power in action, at the heart of one of the key political issues of our time.

The Theatre Of War, by Brian Doerries, is publshed by Scribe UK; see also


A Great Barlinnie Journey Reaches The End Of The Road – For Now



IT’S A COLD, BLUSTERY November night at Barlinnie, as an audience of twenty or thirty people trudge up through the walkways and courtyards of the old prison, towards a low, modest building known as the conference suite. This is a place which once had a grim reputation; but these days, Barlinnie is a much more upbeat institution, a short-stay prison where the emphasis is very much on education, rehabiltation, and ways of helping the men, once released, not to relapse once again into a life of crime.

Which is where we come in: because for the last three years – and in projects before that – the community arts team from the Citizens’ Theatre, in partnership with the Offender Learning programme at North Lanarkshire College, have been working hard at Barlinnie, with volunteer groups of prisoners, to encourage them to use drama as a way of gaining different perspectives on their lives, and imagining their way to a different possible future.

Over three years, there have been storytelling and design projects, playwriting workshops, and two shows – Man Up, performed in 2013, and last year’s Back Of The Bus. And tonight, the latest group of prisoners – with two professional actors, Joyce Falconer and Ian Bustard – will perform Tales From The Wagon, the last in the series, directed by the Citizens’ Elly Goodman, which emerges as a rough-and-ready but beautiful Christmas dream-play, with songs, about what happens when a van dropping off prisoners at institutions across Scotland becomes stranded in snow somewhere near Perth.

“The Citizens’ relationship with Barlinnie goes right back to the 1970’s, when Giles Havergal used to bring actors to work with the prisoners here,” says Neil Packham, the theatre’s Community Drama Director. “So we’re really going to miss this work – our 3 year funding from Creative Scotland’s Arts & Criminal Justice Fund is coming to an end, as the programme is wound up. But we really hope we’ll be able to continue this relationship in some form, given how successful this sustained programme has been.”

And there are three men also in the audience who couldn’t agree more; for since their release last year, Hugh Young, Archie Dickinson and John Reilly have come together to form their own theatre company, Street Cones; they were to be seen in Edinburgh last weekend, with fellow company members George and Neil, performing a powerful series of interactive monologues about prison life to accompany Summerhall’s 183 More Sleeps exhibition, curated by the Koestler Trust, which encourages art by offenders.

“This theatre work was so important to us when we were in Barlinnie that we just wanted to carry on with it,” says Hugh Young, “and we’re determined to do what we can to encourage people to confront issues like offending behaviour and substance abuse. At the moment, we’re working on a script that deals with the growing problem of “legal highs”, and we hope that will find an audience over the next year.”

And young James – a terrific natural comic performer, who plays the judge in Tales From The Wagon – agrees that working with the Citizens’ Company can change lives. “People say to me that I must have been on stage before,” he says, after the show. “But my life out there was rough, I didn’t get on well at school, and I just never had the chance.

“But now me and Billy here” – he introduces another cast member – “are writing scripts for Barlinnie Radio, as well as doing this. Our next one is called One Man And His Ned, and it’s about a spaceman on his way to Mars – but he’s got a ned with him. It’s really funny. And now we know that we can do all this, it really boosts our confidence – and that’s the first step, isn’t it, to making something better of your life.”

More information at, and


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