Saturday, September 20, 2008

The National Theatre of... where?

Bluedog commented on our post about Audience Bad Behaviour expressing his disappointment at the short run of "365" in Scotland before a much longer run in London. I'd drafted the post below back at the start of July but now that I see I'm possibly not alone in being concerned I feel more confident in raising the issue...

This post has been kind of bubbling under for a while and with our pre-Fringe gap keeping things quiet it's made its way to the surface. But first, let me be clear - I love what the National Theatre of Scotland has achieved in recent years. 'Roam', 'The Bacchae' and of course 'Black Watch' have given us truly memorable moments and I'm delighted some of these shows have been given the opportunity to showcase the NTS outside Scotland. It's just that recently, that balance between staging shows home and away seems a little uneven...

It was the announcement of next year's 'Be Near Me' that first made me raise an eyebrow. A co-production with the high profile Donmar Warehouse, adapted by and starring Iain McDairmid this should be a highlight of the coming season, but let's look at the schedule - 4 nights at The Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock followed by 7 weeks at the Donmar in London. To be fair there is the mention of a seven week "tour of the UK" following the run at the Donmar so hopefully this will include a return north of the border.

But it was enough to make me look a little closer at upcoming performances. The 2008 return of 'The Bacchae' commenced in Scotland for 7 dates split between Aberdeen and Inverness, but then transferred to New York for 12 days. Even last year's original production did 12 dates between Edinburgh and Glasgow followed by 14 at The Lyric in London. And this year's contribution to the Edinburgh International Festival - '365' - 4 nights in Inverness, 4 nights in Edinburgh and then it too is off to the Lyric for 18 days.

And this year's Edinburgh Fringe production raises a different version of what is essentially the same concern. 'Architecting' is a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and New York theatre company The TEAM, and of course bringing International groups to Scotland is part of what the NTS should be about. But The TEAM are not new to Scotland and have twice featured at the Fringe in previous years. Wouldn't it be better to work with a group new to the Fringe - or match an international group with a resident Scottish company rather than with the NTS itself (which makes me feel like it's just some of the usual NTS 'names' getting to choose who they fancy working with next).

I appreciate that there may be commercial factors driving these decisions but am I really being unreasonable in expecting Scottish audiences to get a decent first crack at these shows?

6 Heckles

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. The NTS hit the ground running with their first couple of seasons but now they do seem more concerned with getting their work out of the country than attempting to create a Scottish National Theatre showcasing the best of Scottish theatrical work to Scottish audiences. Is this surprising though, given how few scots actually work for the organisation? From the top down it seems to be London organisation based in Glasgow. I am a huge fan of Featherstone and Tiffany but I wish that there was more popular Scottish work being created and shown in Scotland by our national theatre.

Shona said...

Hi Statler

Almost as if in response to your post, the NTS has announced some Scottish tour dates for Be Near Me!

They aren't on the NTS site yet but are available in the Coming Up section of OnstageScotland (http://www.onstagescotland.co.uk/comingup.htm)

Statler said...

Thanks Shona - it was certainly good timing that the Press Release e-mail with the tour dates landed in our Inbox today, but it's a shame they weren't able to include them in the paper brochure for the general theatre audience that dropped through our letterbox this morning.

"Be Near Me" having dates in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Perth certainly removes some of our concerns but I think other instances remain valid - particularly in relation to "365" where Waldorf has pointed out that its performances in Inverness were all Previews.

Indeed a quick look at the schedule of performances for National Theatre of Scotland shows between September and January reveals that there are more performances outside Scotland than within it!

Steve McMahon said...

I agree with much of what you say. However, the NTS does provide purely for a Scottish audience as well as the work it tours internationally. The current rural tour of 'One Giant Leap' plays in tiny venues in the further reaches of the country and this approach has been done before with shows such as 'A Sheep Called Skye' and 'Molly Sweeney', which also played the cities.
I do agree with your fears about the trend forming of treating Scottish venues as a launchpad for shows. Admittedly, the NTS is using the new Eden Court as a sort of centrepiece of its work for the season, but they aren't actually producing anything with the venue, just using it as a touring venue. It's important that the NTS establish international links and increase its reputation in the wider theatrical community, but first and foremost it MUST live up to its standing as a NATIONAL theatre, for the people of Scotland.
Its work so far has been exemplary. Long may it continue.

National Theatre of Scotland said...

Allow me, Anonymous, as one of a great number of Scots working for the National Theatre of Scotland, to respond to your assertions about the amount of work we do in our own country. We wouldn’t normally respond to blogs but, in this instance, I prefer not to leave these inaccuracies on the record.

By far, the greatest number of performances we give take place in Scotland. We do more work in Scotland than elsewhere and our work always opens here. In the last week alone, new shows have opened or previewed in Easterhouse, Fort William and St Andrews. We have three major Learn projects currently in development in Dumfries, Barrhead and Dunfermline. Alongside this work in Scotland, UK touring and international engagements fulfil one of the key principles enshrined in the original manifesto of the National Theatre of Scotland. It was, rightly in our view, always intended that the work of the Company would be seen beyond our borders. This maximises the impact of the creative excellence of Scottish theatre-makers not just in Scotland but world-wide.

Now. Let me turn to your xenophobic statement about the National Theatre of Scotland being a “London organisation based in Glasgow”. Our Chairman is Scottish and every single member of our Board is Scottish, bar one who is part-Indonesian. Our Senior Management team consists of one colleague who was born in Scotland but brought up in England (not London), a Yorkshireman (not from London) who has studied, lived and worked in Scotland for 18 years, a Welshman who has lived and worked in Scotland for 21 years and has never worked in London, and three born and bred Scots who have worked professionally in the performing arts in Scotland for a combined total of 60 years.

Oh and one Londoner who has just joined as Finance Director.

Of the other colleagues, 22 are Scottish, 4 are English, 3 are Irish and one is Spanish-Iranian. And this doesn’t even include the hundreds of Scottish actors, playwrights, composers, lighting designers, stage crews, technicians and other theatre-makers we have worked with over the last two years.

I am guessing you subscribe fully to the old adage of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story?


Roberta Doyle
Director of External Affairs
National Theatre of Scotland

Statler said...

Hi Roberta

Thanks for taking the time to read our thoughts and respond. The issue of the background of staff isn’t one that we felt was particularly worthy of response but thanks for setting the record straight.

But we’re a little disappointed you seem to focus on that and not the concerns that we (and clearly others) have regarding the extent of resources being used further afield. You say that “By far, the greatest number of performances we give take place in Scotland” but I’m afraid the numbers tell a different story.

Working from the National Theatre of Scotland schedules included in publicity brochures for Feb to July 2008, the current Autumn/Winter brochure (up to the end of January) and adding in performances of Architecting and 365 in August we get a total of 221 performances in Scotland and 216 performances outwith Scotland. (Yes we were sad enough to count)

As we said, we’re all for showcasing the best work around the UK and abroad but there needs to be a balance or some reassurance that these performances contribute to resources rather than diverting them. But of course we do appreciate the large numbers of shows that do tour extensively in Scotland and the grassroots work that is done in schools and communities.

We must also add that it’s a shame that you “wouldn’t normally respond to blogs” as we tend to think of the NToS as a forward thinking organisation and we’d have hoped it would recognise and encourage any discussion of theatre in Scotland regardless of the medium.

We didn’t post this in an attempt to create a controversy or to denigrate the work of the NToS - more to see how widely our concern may be shared.