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New Chair of National Theatre of Sctland named     

THE chairman of the future National Theatre of Scotland was named yesterday as Richard Findlay, a trained actor and respected businessman who heads the radio and newspaper conglomerate Scottish Radio Holdings plc.

The Scottish Executive this year set aside £7.5 million in funding for the theatre over two years. It is to operate on an entirely untried model - with no building of its own, commissioning productions from existing theatres and companies.

Mr Findlay came to the selection committee for the unpaid job with an enthusiastic and coherent game-plan for launching a new national institution.

Chosen less than 24 hours after three candidates were interviewed on Monday, he was said to have outlined the idea of a theatre rooted in Scottish culture that would not only reach out beyond the central belt, but serve as a calling card internationally, through the growing number of Scottish missions in UK embassies.

One aspect that won interviewers over, it was said, was his clear awareness that its future reputation could hang on its launch production. "The launch of this will be absolutely key," Mr Findlay said. "It’s going to be quite difficult climbing back, so we have to make sure we get it right on day one."

There is lingering concern that the mission of the Scottish National Theatre is still too vague, but there were clear signs that Mr Findlay, 59, was ready to confront that issue.

His business background - building up the radio empire based on Radio Forth and Radio Clyde - is seen as a guarantee that it will not fall foul of the budget crises that have afflicted other major national drama and music companies.

He has also spent six years as chairman of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and was credited with helping to turn round its fortunes.

One of the first decisions Mr Findlay took at the Lyceum was hiring Kenny Ireland as artistic director. Mr Ireland has been talked of as a leading candidate for the National Theatre’s first creative director, a post which Mr Findlay and his board are expected to fill by the spring.

The Lyceum had a troubled history when Mr Findlay stepped in. Its subsequent success he credited partly to the co-productions with other theatres which are vital to the new National Theatre, as it is currently envisaged.

Mr Findlay said yesterday that he learned through his early experience at the Lyceum the problems posed by a run-down and outdated building. The new National Theatre will not have this problem.

Mr Findlay, 59, said: "The National Theatre has to be part of the Scottish identity that we are all contributing to. It has to make a major contribution to theatre in Scotland, to be accessible to all parts of Scotland. It can’t be elitist. It’s got to contribute also to the economy of Scotland."

The National Theatre would be falling short of its mission if it did not encourage new Scottish writing in its early years, he added.

James Boyle, chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, said Mr Findlay was someone who combined a business career with a life-long commitment to the arts and a long history of public service, who would deliver "value for money".

He added: "He is a very successful Scot, and he is absolutely determined to produce theatre that is going to be successful from day one and taken out to the broadest possible Scottish public."

Mr Boyle said the new chairman understood the need to enhance Scotland’s reputation and build a real prospect of success for a theatre that would be "of the people".

Mr Findlay was chosen from a shortlist of three by a committee chaired by Mr Boyle.

Frank McAveety, the culture minister who approved the recommendation, said yesterday: "He has a clear grasp of the task before him, and he will ensure flair and vision in the appointment of the creative director, and excitement and glamour in the productions themselves."

Scottish Radio Holdings operates 23 radio services across the UK and Republic of Ireland, along with 40 local newspapers. It was created from the merger of Radio Forth and Radio Clyde, and as group chief executive, Mr Findlay is credited with its successful expansion.

Mr Findlay said he had approached the SRH chairman, Lord Gordon, to clear his theatre appointment and had won his "whole-hearted support".

A self-made Glaswegian who trained at the city’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Mr Findlay trod the boards for three years before concluding, he said, that he was only a competent actor.

The compliments paid to Richard Findlay yesterday suggested he had been rather better than competent in his subsequent career.

He was called "hugely confident" and "scarily ambitious", but also "charismatic".

His career in public service ranges from chairing Lothian Health Board to serving as the rector of Heriot-Watt University and as governor of the academy where he once trained. His first task is to appoint a theatre board, probably by early in the new year, and then a creative director. The theatre’s first production is scheduled for 2005.

"One has to understand that people in employment have to give notice," he said. "They can’t duck out of projects they are involved in. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, obviously, but we will make it happen as quickly as we possibly can."

The Scotsman  
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Tim Cornwell
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Wednesday, December 03, 2003back

 

 

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