Monday, 3 June 2013

Two Versions of "National" (part 1): The National Theatre of Scotland

After five years, the National Theatre of Scotland announced that it would be spending a year considering the debate that surrounded their genesis. Although the press release didn't point out the terms of this discussion - it refers to the angry arguments around whether the NTS' remit was to preserve the past greats of Caledonian drama-  the inclusion of Men Should Weep in the autumn programme, and series of readings of classic Scots plays were good enough clues.

The best thing about the NTS so far is its failure, or refusal, to fix on a single identity. Of course, Blackwatch still defines the company: its mix of verbatim theatre, physical dynamism and political sensitivity made a surprising international hit . But a quick flick through the company's archive reveals experimental site-specific specials (Home), collaborations with local theatres (Peer Gynt, via Dundee Rep), big name glamour musicals (The Bacchae, made into a vehicle for Alan Cumming). Having a year when they concentrate on a few Scottish greats won't suddenly turn the NTS into a parochial museum: it merely emphasises the pluralism of its approaches.

Nevertheless, they do have "Scotland" in their title, and in this time of political change, that's important. There was probably a time when being called "Scottish" was simply a matter of location, a bit like Ballet West or Northern Ballet. Suddenly, there is an expectation that this adjective describes more than geography, but a style. The interest in the old plays signifies that the NTS does remember this.

While these paragraphs have been languishing in the VileBlog Draft Box, The NTS moved on: Vicky Featherstone went south, and the NTS had their season of emerging artists in The Arches Behaviour season. Under the title of Auteurs, the selections emphasised that the national company was not afraid of presenting works in progress and younger theatre-makers.

Whether their selection of artists managed to cover the full range of identities within contemporary Scotland (picking on a particular programme for its failure to be diverse is to scapegoat a specific instance without considering the underlying structures that present opportunity through particular social or racial, or gender, identities), the range of ideas on display didn't really suggest that a particular, monolithic national identity was part of the emerging process.

Kieran Hurley had a look at Scotland in Rantin, although his political points - especially when a teenager decided to bring back King Ludd - could apply as well to any part of the UK. Equally, The Riot of Spring looked at the riots in London - even the references to Thatcher's death could have been part of an English dark celebration - rather than Scottish agitation. And if Gary McNair's story happened on a Glasgow bus, it didn't force any jocular nonsense onto its universal tale of comedy's vicious truth.

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