Sunday, 31 August 2014

Revealing the New (venue of the month)

A Venue without Walls
FEATURE BY GARETH K VILE.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE SKINNY 25 FEBRUARY 2011
When the National Theatre of Scotland was born five years ago, after a protracted conception and labour, it boasted that it was "theatre without walls." In much the same way, this venue of the month is a venue without walls, featuring the Reveal programme, part of the NTS' debate about its identity as Scotland's national theatre.
Reveal is clearly designed to introduce the NTS's audience to the new generation of theatre makers. Gary McNair, last seen bothering global capitalism with Crunch, Robert Softley getting political about the right to self-determination and Molly Taylor loving the transport system are all working for the first time with the company, while a rehearsed reading of Martin Travers' Roman Bridge and a platform performance of Ian Finlay MacLeod's Somersaults give insights into works in progress. 
With both the Traverse and, more surprisingly, the Citizens enlisted to stage the season – with additional help from The Play, A Pie and A Pint team at Òran Mór, Reveal aims to locate the NTS at the experimental edge of theatre and made good its inclusive manifesto.
Given the energy and experimentalism that characterises much new Scottish work, the NTS's audience may be introduced to unfamiliar styles. McNair, although a veteran of The Arches and The Òran Mór, straddles a variety of genres: "I've tried to avoid labelling myself – people have said it is a hybrid of stand up and monologues," he explains. "But I am just making what I am making." And while he avoids easy classification, McNair's skill is to unite radical ideas and an easy-going, audience friendly performance. 
Unsurprisingly, McNair is diving into new territory. "I tend to tackle subjects i don't understand," he laughs. "If I did make shows about things I do understand, I'd make one show, about REM, and then I'd have to get a job." And after heading to the apocalypse and financial meltdown, there was an obvious topic. "I realised as a 25 year old, it's not good to know nothing about politics. That why I went for this."
Across the NTS's programme, there has always been a diversity of subjects and styles. In the past, this has led to criticism from critics who believe that its remit ought to be to preserve the best of Scottish drama. While that is catered for elsewhere in this year's selection, Reveal consciously goes beyond the parochial, as in the teaming of Robert Softley with Pol Heyvaert, the Belgian creator of Aalst, one of the NTS's great successes.
Softley, like McNair, is excited by the opportunity to collaborate with the national company, especially as it allows him to maintain the distinctive identity of his work. "It’s inevitable every time I perform, being disabled, that the audience reads layers into the work that wouldn't be there with a non-disabled performer," he begins. "But I usually focus on other issues.  My previous work has always tended towards the overtly political – I guess at the core of what I want to do is engage with people and then challenge them to change their preconceptions of the world around them."
The seriousness of Softley's approach is also  reflected in McNair's content, yet they share a desire to be more than just agit-prop. "Girl X fits in with my political work," he continues. "Although I hope audiences are also entertained while they’re being challenged – there’re quite a few laughs here too!" And in this mixture, Reveal's intentions are precisely revealed.

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