Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Why UK theatre should look beyond its borders

As much as I am trying not to distracted by the outside world, Lyn Gardner posted an opinion piece on the important potential of British work looking towards Europe for future collaboration. Aside from a pessimistic belief that it is being encouraged 'as the money dries up in the UK,' she makes some positive sounds about the artistic possibilities.

Quick as a flash, someone - I assume it is Matthew Lenton - from Vanishing Point added a comment. They noted that Gardner's article used the UK when she meant England (and I know that's getting called these days), and that his own company had been collaborating with Europeans for years. On twitter, Tam Dean Burn mentioned that he's first seen European work in Scotland during the 1980s.

Before I started doing my survey on Glasgow performance - and before I even became a critic - I always thought that talk of British theatre denied the distinctive identity of Scottish theatre (and probably the local identity of the regions, too). Being a critic then got me into more shows than anyone with a social life would want. And my assumption was that Scottish theatre was an amalgam of English and European traditions. I was getting to see all sorts of Belgian antics at Tramway, plus David Greig at the Tron.

There was a period, early on in my critical career, when everyone seemed to be doing a Forced Entertainment. I didn't mind, because I had had my mind blown by Bloody Mess, but as I saw more (say, Les Ballets C de la B), I recognised that international traditions were crucial to Scottish performance.

The initial soundings of my survey are confirming this - no results yet, please wait and see - but Lenton's reply (if it is him) cuts to the bone. I'm ploughing through Rewriting the Nation by Aleks Sierz and am constantly surprised by how few Scottish-based works are mentioned. Of course, the book is about new writing and legitimately excludes much of the devised work I praise (although the line between the two processes is pretty thin these days).

However, preoccupied as I am with the idea of a Glaswegian performance identity (which may or may not exist), I am frustrated by the grand-standing of critics who make large statements without closing in on the facts. I am suspicious of 'should' and I am even more suspicious of 'UK theatre' as a meaningful category. 

I do have a category of 'international theatre': stuff which is big enough to tour the world. I always put Vanishing Point in that category, even though their office is just upstairs from me.

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