Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Let the show begin

National theatre must be rooted in the community

At last the curtain might come down on the longest rehearsal in Scottish theatre history. The much-delayed plan for a national theatre for Scotland, plundered once before of start-up funds before they could do any good, is expected to make its bow today, brought into being thanks to some 6.5m of Scottish Executive funding over the next two years. The theatre has been in the dark for so long that, when the curtain finally comes up, it would be no surprise if its entrance on the Scottish stage was hesitant. That might not suit ministers who will seek to unveil the funding announcement, part of a 600m investment package, with a fanfare. A cautious debut is probably more appropriate. Welcome as the financial commitment is, there is still a long way to go before the national theatre takes its first production on the road and, all being well, showcases Scottish talent in a way that pulls in audiences and inspires budding writers, directors, and actors to follow their artistic instincts. To succeed, the theatre must be about more than headline-making productions. It will need to work with schools and communities to ensure that the place of the theatre is firmly rooted in modern Scotland. Like Scotland's artistic companies, it must also demonstrate a talent for drawing in private-sector support and helping develop the ailing Scottish economy.

All of that is understood. Making it work is the difficult part. The first year's funding, thought to be worth more than 2m, will be spent on setting up the national theatre. It already has a steering group waiting patiently in the wings. It can now proceed with the job of selecting a chairman or woman and a board. Making the right appointments will be critical because they will take on the equally important task of choosing an artistic director. That person, working with the board, will be responsible for commissioning writers to produce scripts that sum up young Scotland and are good enough to attract the best directors and actors. The talent is there on all fronts. Harnessing it could benefit Scotland on many levels.

It is important not to be obsessed with the location of the theatre's headquarters. These are noises off compared with the main plot. As envisaged, the theatre will be mobile, taking productions to the main venues throughout Scotland. Whether it succeeds or fails will depend on its ability to win curtain calls across the country. The responsibilities of the HQ will be largely administrative, to commission and support the movable feasts it is hoped the theatre will offer up to audiences throughout Scotland. If Glasgow is to be the location, it deserves to enjoy the moment, but the city and the rest of Scotland should know that the HQ venue has limited status.

Ministers have apparently concluded that Scotland's existing theatres are sufficiently well funded to set up the national theatre without damaging their futures. That might be so now, but we must remember that the 6m-plus package comes from a substantial pot of underspent money that will not always be there. Like the arts generally, the national theatre cannot expect to be feather-bedded by public funds. Neither must it be caught up in an endless repetition of the robbing Peter to pay Paul production familiar to many in the arts. With secure funding and a clear vision, the national theatre could be box office for Scotland. Let the show begin.

author:Glasgow Heralf editorial

original source: Glasgow Herald
11 September 2003


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