Will the recently established National Theatre of Scotland give rise to a new golden age of Scottish contemporary drama?by Michael Coveney / October 21, 2006 / Leave a comment
One of the most important things to emerge from this year’s Edinburgh Festival is that the new National Theatre of Scotland—an informally arranged enabling agency with no permanent theatre, no building, no red carpets and a modest budget of £4m a year—might not be such a bad idea after all.
This revisionist thought is prompted by the resounding success of two NTS Edinburgh productions of new plays by Gregory Burke and Anthony Neilson. These suggested that a flexible policy of commissioning and co-operation bypass the problems of a bureaucratic institution locked into anxieties about its status or programming.
Burke’s Black Watch, an unofficial biography of the famous regiment and its last assignment in Iraq before amalgamation in the new Royal Regiment of Scotland, was the hit of the fringe festival. The play demonstrated what can happen when extra resources are hitched to extra ambition: John Tiffany’s production was part history lesson, part documentary, part social realism, part locker room comedy and part ritual of war.
Neilson’s filthy, funny Realism was a zanily designed dream play of a day in the life of a fat slob. It played out on a vast stage of sand with furniture and characters stuck into it at odd angles. In an epilogue, Stu, the fat slob, revealed what we might have seen without the re-imagined drama of his ordinary day: Stu wrapped in a dressing gown seated at a kitchen table in a poky “fringe theatre” setting.
Both writers are established playwrights in the Scottish theatre, along with their talented contemporaries David Greig, David Harrower, Zinnie Harris and older hands like John Byrne, Liz Lochhead and John Clifford. The point was that the involvement of the NTS had taken their work onto a new plane, and into a new dimension.
With Greig attached to the NTS as resident dramatist and many of the others working on new commissions, it is not hard to imagine a new golden age of Scottish drama. Greig, in fact, is probably the busiest, most talented yet most unsung playwright in Britain. His recent work at the Royal Shakespeare Company (The American Pilot), the Barbican (Herge’s Adventures of Tintin) and the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark (Pyrenees) has covered an extraordinary range of themes and topics with rare wit and intelligence.
The success at Edinburgh has given the NTS project a much needed focus. Despite a drum-beating launch in February…