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6.5m funds pledge sets scene for Scottish national theatre     

THE dream of a national theatre for Scotland is at last to emerge as a reality with the announcement today of the first tranche of funding for the venture.

Andy Kerr, the Scottish Executive's finance minister, will reveal details to parliament of a multi-million-pound spending package which will take effect from the start of the 2004-5 financial year. The theatre's first production is likely in 2005.

And, as revealed by The Scotsman two weeks ago, the Executive will confirm that the new institution's administrative base will be in Glasgow.

News of the imminent establishment of the theatre brought expressions of delight from the arts community.

The playwright Liz Lochhead, who has been one of the most passionate supporters of the project, said that her feelings mirrored the emotions which accompanied the devolution settlement.

"I am excited and apprehensive. It's a bit like the parliament and I hope it is a huge success," she said.

Dr Donald Smith, who chairs the steering group which advised the Executive, said that ministers deserved praise for funding the project.

"It is by far the boldest thing they have achieved in the cultural arena. They have consulted with the theatrical community and they have listened," added Dr Smith.

"It isn't fanciful to say that this is the first major cultural decision which has been arrived at in Scotland through a full democratic discussion."

Dr Smith - who lives and works in Edinburgh - added that the Executive's decision to locate the theatre's headquarters in Glasgow was "absolutely correct", and was a mark of the strongly-rooted theatrical community in the city.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Kerr will accept funding levels set by the steering group and allocate £2.5 million to the theatre in its first year with a further £4 million to consolidate the project in 2005-6.

Thereafter, core funding for the project will be linked to inflation, and will be sourced directly from the Executive.

The proposal for the national theatre does not envisage a building-based company, but a commissioning body.

Its structure is designed to harness the talents of experienced theatre companies, directors and writers from throughout Scotland.

Productions will be performed at venues across the country and - its supporters believe - the world.

"Every company in Scotland is effectively part of the national theatre and touring will be a huge part of its remit," said Ms Lochhead.

"It will help break the stranglehold of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and take the best theatre out to the widest possible audience. I am very hopeful."

Before the first major award is put in place in April, the process of appointing someone to chair the theatre will be restarted, an exercise funded by reserves held by the Scottish Arts Council (SAC).

That appointment had been expected in the spring, and it is understood that a shortlist had been drawn up.

However, with insufficient funds then available to fund the overall project, the original £1 million assigned by the Executive was redistributed into the theatre infrastructure when the 2003-4 SAC budget was published.

With a chairman now likely to be in place within a matter of months, the appointment of a board will follow quickly. It in turn will be tasked with the problem of finding an artistic director.

That key post will represent an enormously difficult choice, as the timing of the national scheme comes at something of a watershed for the country's theatrical community.

An older generation of directors has recently moved on - Kenny Ireland from Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum, Giles Havergal from Glasgow Citizens'Theatre and Hamish Glen from Dundee Rep - and their younger replacements, including figures such as James Brining or Mark Thomson, may be judged to be too inexperienced to claim the national position.

Other Scots who might be considered for the director's post include Neil Wallace, who is with the Haarlem City Theatre and Concerthall; the opera director David McVicar, and the actor/director Ian McDiarmid, who was, until recently, the joint artistic director of London's Almeida Theatre.

However, an alternative directorial model which is known to have some support within the theatre community is for a joint appointment.

This would comprise both a producer and a dramaturg, who would be charged with selecting the repertoire.

Names in the frame for this model might include, as producer, John Stalker, the chief executive of Edinburgh's Festival City Theatres Trust and, as artistic director, the playwright David Greig, who has been an outspoken advocate of the national theatre project.

Whatever the outcome, supporters believe the theatre can play a major role in the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), a prospect which they believe will ensure a high calibre of applicant for the director's post.

Some influential voices in the arts even believe a national theatre director should be charged with commissioning the EIF's annual theatre programme.

This aspect of the festival bill has been criticised from some quarters in recent years, both for its quality and for its lack of support for Scottish theatre.

Further details of the national theatre project will be confirmed over the next few days by the culture minister, Frank McAveety.

The Scotsman  
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Thursday, September 11, 2003back



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