By Anne-Marie Platt. MLitt Theatre History
Although the National Theatre of Scotland is only currently 9 years old, it has achieved a great deal in its relatively short life so far: and you can find almost every piece of that busy young life in the Scottish Theatre Archive within the Special Collections Department. The name of this company ‘National Theatre of Scotland’ or ‘NTS’ tends to just roll off the tongue without much thought given to exactly what we’re saying, it’s just the name of another theatre company. However when you stop to consider the meaning behind these words, this is when things get interesting. This is not just another theatre company: this is a company created to represent Scottish culture, Scottish people and Scottish life; designed to work theatrically in and for Scotland as a nation and I have been working with the Scottish Theatre Archive’s extensive collection of National Theatre of Scotland materials to examine just what the NTS does in order to fulfil its role as Scotland’s National Theatre.
National identity, in this instance Scottish national identity, is a somewhat illusive concept which can mean many different things to many different people: someone from Skye won’t necessarily see Scotland in the same way as someone from Glasgow, and someone whose family has immigrated to Scotland won’t necessarily feel the same as someone with generations of Scottish ancestors. And so the question arises as to just how one theatre company can represent this multitude of Scottish people and cultures and indeed even how many of them they can reach (particularly in more rural areas), after all, Scottish people may be known for being friendly but our terrain certainly isn’t. The materials held in the National Theatre of Scotland Collection allowed me to explore the company’s productions and press coverage from the very beginning of its life and follow the thread of works which highlight the numerous ways in which NTS goes about representing and reaching Scottish people.
Home (2006) – National Theatre of Scotland’s opening production was a “statement of intent” as Mark Fisher put it, a statement event which saw 10 shows performed in 10 locations across Scotland between Shetland and Dumfries. NTS used this event to demonstrate their plans to bring theatre to all reaches of Scotland, not just the main cities or the central belt. The productions saw artists working across Scotland with professionals, communities and schools to create pieces which explored various ideas of ‘home’: a very fitting start for the National Theatre of Scotland.
Black Watch (2006) – Over the years National Theatre of Scotland have travelled and performed all over the world, Black Watch was their first international production: it toured throughout the UK, USA and Australia gaining praise and recognition for the company and for Scottish artistic talent and is still regularly revived today. National Theatre of Scotland has continued to tour shows around the world in an ongoing dedication to raising Scotland’s cultural profile abroad.
House of Bernarda Alba (2009) and Peter Pan (2010) – I’ve selected these productions as examples of how National Theatre of Scotland adapts popular and well known works to make them relevant to a Scottish audience. House of Bernarda Alba was adapted from Lorca’s original European setting to take place within a gangland environment in Glasgow’s East End and J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan was re-imagined in Victorian Edinburgh and performed with an impressive recreation of the Forth Rail Bridge for a set.
Caledonia (2010) and Men Should Weep (2011) – Not only are these productions an example of National Theatre of Scotland’s dedication to supporting and celebrating Scottish talent they also show a consideration of Scotland’s history. Men Should Weep is a powerful piece of writing by Ena Lamont Stewart which depicts the struggles of a 1930s working class family living in a Glasgow tenement and Caledonia is the tale of William Paterson’s disastrous plans to found a Scottish colony in Central America in the 1690s. Both productions explore very different eras in Scottish history and both are evidence of National Theatre of Scotland’s commitment to representing all areas of Scottish life and all manner of Scottish people.
Reveal (2012) – Rehearsed readings, works in progress, scratch nights and full productions made up the Reveal season of work. National Theatre of Scotland in partnership with the Citizens Theatre showcased their support for emerging artists by providing them with an opportunity to present works in progress to an audience. Many of the artists involved had also received support through National Theatre of Scotland and their Pioneering Partnership with Bank of Scotland. National Theatre of Scotland knows that in order for them to continue and in order for Scottish arts and culture to develop, new talent must be nurtured and given the opportunity to flourish.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (2012) – Performed in a pub, accompanied by whiskey, inspired by border ballads and containing traditional live music and poetry with a modern twist this production is a celebration of Scottish traditions. Prudencia Hart is a mixture of traditional storytelling, music and mythological folklore. It has been toured internationally as well as around Scotland and the UK. This production is an example of the basic purpose of the National Theatre of Scotland: a celebration of Scottish culture and talent; used to entertain the Scottish people and used to share this celebration with other cultures and other parts of the world.
The National Theatre of Scotland has of course produced many more shows and supported many more projects than the productions discussed above; these are just a few select examples of the multitude of ways in which this company live up to their responsibilities as both an entertainment facility and a voice for the people of Scotland. These shows, amongst all the others, are evidence of National Theatre of Scotland’s ongoing dedication to reaching all areas of Scotland and beyond, representing all different varieties of Scottish people, remembering our Scottish history and traditions and safeguarding and nurturing our future artistic talent.
For additional information see: National Theatre of Scotland. Staging the Nation