Towards a Native Theatre? An Open Letter to Laurie Sansom, NTS Artistic Director Designate

Laurie Sansom: the Englishman who replaces an Englishwoman as head of National Theatre of Scotland

An open letter to Laurie Sansom, the artistic director designate of the National Theatre of Scotland

from Thom Cross

You have taken up the challenge in difficult days I assure you. The ground is moving up here and many with years of native wisdom are struggling to grasp the thistle of the present time. As to the future… coming from Northampton will not make your vision any more assured.  (Northampton shire County Council, with a massive Tory majority (54 Tory, 10 Lib Dem, 6 Lab, 1 UKIP, 2 Ind), is so fundamentally the antithesis of the Scottish political reality. (Your Kentish origins I somewhat share as part of my theatre education took place at Rose Bruford in Sidcup.)

This may appear a personal attack; I assure you it is far from that. The challenge of playing the role of the beleaguered expatriate cultural authority is familiar to me. The binary cultural reality (Brit et Scot) within the subordinate and sadly peripheral Scottish arts community will force you to make difficult choices. Here are some questions that might help you. The argument/discourse has been made without personal rancour or any resentment save that of the usual political polemics.

Do you agree with the following sentiments?

1.     There is a contemporary cultural current in Scotland that requires your support (or your resignation) viz the  dynamic diversion of a cultural vision away from the historical hegemony of British cultural policy in and for Scotland and towards what has been described as  native reflection.

2.     How and why you make your theatre signs, statements and symbols will demand scrutiny from many of the disappointed at the appointment of what can be seen as the imposition of another British arts leader in Scotland – a living Prospero.

3.     You will find the healthy artistic opacity* of many of our arts community an inordinate discomfort perhaps but which you will engage with or dismiss at your peril.

( *The term comes from the French negritude movement in which creole/kweyol was used to offer a legitimate non-colonial form of expression, yet more than a vocal vernacular. Best described as native forms of artistic expression often difficult for the non-native to penetrate like Aboriginal art or Noh Plays or even James Kellman’s novels or Joe Corrie’s Fife miners’ dramas but especially the various cultural forms found in A’ Ghàidhealtachd.  I see this opacity movement as (Mc) Caliban-theatre in place of a Prospero- infused theatre.

4.     You will acknowledge that Prospero gave Caliban a language (in return for labour): yet here we are striving to find an indigenous theatre language, a vernacular Scottish theatre vocabulary (visual, emotive and semiotic) that may be repressed/hindered by your very talent.

5.     Having been brought up on Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough you may need to spend 6 months in the Mitchell Library where there exists a quite remarkable national theatre of texts and playscripts.   Your ears should become a vital overworked set of instruments.

6.     You bring with you quite a cultural authority accumulated in England. By the very context of that accumulated theatre experience you will decrease the (already marginalized) authority of a local discourse battling to create a nascent theatrical space of and for legitimate NATIVE expression. (I make no apologies for the use of the native).

7.     You will understand that the sheer accumulated power of British drama has created a cultural hegemony that often delegitimises our attempts at creating an *autochthonous experience.  We in Scotland are a part of a peripheral cultural system that  Britishness has marginalized into a gutter of neglect or exodus. (* Again the term is from the colonial experience see Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o s Kenyan Theatre where the struggle for an indigenous artistic interpretation of the African popular experience was often seen as radical, nationalist and dangerous.)

8.     There must be a distinct theatre culture of and by Scottish people that attempts to express a peculiar historical consciousness built around /created under forms of what can best be described as British cultural imperialism (see Ireland and India and Jamaica). (Many of the imposers were themselves Scots). So we share with many of our Commonwealth cousins that sense of fighting for a legitimizing popular community creative space.  We are further hindered by being a stateless subordinate peripheral nation.

9.     We have lost so much native potential already with the demise of  the Gael;  characterised (so often by Scots) as being too mired in romantic myth and nature and the theatre of the land that like historical nature it had to be suppressed /conquered (read Kenneth White or Alastair McIntosh.)

10.    Scottish theatre has been and might remain a minority discourse through  the process (and injustice ) of a suppressed culture, deemed inferior which I’m afraid your presence might only exacerbate. Make no mistake it is a radical inequality that persistently seeks to make illegitimate and or ignores indigenous cultural authority. (Thus the NTSThe Edinburgh Festival, Creative Scotland are all managed by non-Scots). This persistent imposition of British bureaucrats is a political attempt at displacing, making impotent Scottish cultural authority. Indeed the on-going failure to build native capacity within cultural authorities/institutions is incredibly debilitating.

11.   If Scotland is to become a nation or even half a nation it must develop an indigenous leadership of core arts/cultural systems and institutions.    We must be allowed to accumulate authority and legitimacy in order to negate this pernicious cultural periphery paradigm.

It was  the very dynamics  of imposing a British presence in/on our  cultural institutions)  produced  by Prospero’s books and magic wandism  (talent and technology)  alongside  others sources of power dynamics,  that has forced us to  inherit a deformed/uncertain  cultural practice . We have left ignored so many; talent waste in Scotland is an ecological disaster. (See Kenneth Roy in Scottish Review : ‘Why Shakespeare  should be sacrificed for ‘dire’ Scots.’

12.    We must strive to create a theatre language and form that creates a sense of our own popular indigenous capacity and indeed our own opacity /myths and magic that we can proudly share with the world.  For the making of a Scottish theatre is either an inescapable act or it is a mere illusory affectation-a devolved drama with a Saltire mask to cover its blushes.

Specific Questions

1.     Surely Scottish reflections can be made creative, wonderful and legitimate through the use of our rich theatre heritage and/or through a dynamic transformative Scottish inspirations and adaptations? Or will we see ‘illegitimate formations’ appearing as legitimate national cultural creations? (See Caledonia)

2.     If culture is the conscious expression of a distinct historical existence and experience will the NTS be a leader in the production and enabling of the discovery of  theatrical sovereign symbols through native intellectual engagement?

So you have choices. You can decide to reinforce the historical dominant British cultural system (or dance with it) or you can permit us to create our own theatre forms and language while engaging with the world. The making and delivery… the being of a Scottish theatre is either radically of and for these times in Scotland or it will be a mere mask pretending to be legitimate while being reduced to an impotent drama on behalf of a damned periphery.

Thom Cross

Writer and Dramatist

 
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Categories: Arts & Culture, Scottish Culture, Theatre

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47 replies

  1. Strong stuff. It is a shame that so many of the top posts in the arts and elsewhere are filled by non-Scots. I think this imbalance will become ever more glaring as Scottish cultural confidence grows, irrespective of the outcome of the referendum. The flip side, of course, is that many ambitious Scots still head south to advance their careers. There has always been this exchange.

    It’s an uncomfortable issue – therefore all the more important to be raised – but there’s no doubt that the imbalance promotes a sense that we are just not capable enough.

    Of course, as Thom says, it’s not personal; and there are no easy solutions – I really don’t think we want to go down the route of ‘Scottish jobs for Scots only’…

  2. Tend to agree, Dougie.

    It would be unfair and damaging to single out individuals just because they are not native Scots. Many English people have done a great job here and that includes Vicky Featherstone of the NTS (up to a point and that point is raised in the letter above). But when so many of our national cultural institutions are consistently headed up by non Scots who are not fully aware, or immersed in, so much of our own localised or indigenous culture questions do need to be asked.

    Historically our cultural educational institutions have been de facto neocolonialist in nature. This has changed greatly in the years since 1999 when control of Scottish education passed over to Holyrood. But the Anglocentric colonialist mindset – related to cultural and educational institutions – was an integral part of Scottish Labour’s control freakery up to 2007. The reversal of this process among the boards of certain institutions still has a course to run.

    KW

    • From the standpoint of pure good manners (and hospitality used to be a strong Scottish tradition, lingering longest in the Highlands) we should let Mr Sansom unpack his case and complete his handover from Ms Featherstone before laying into him and particularly before using words like ‘autochthonous’.
      Vicky Featherstone’s interviews in the Herald and the Scotsman in recent days have made it clear how hurtful the little Scotlander mentality has been during her tenure – a tenure which has seen ‘Black Watch’, a play written not in historic Scots but in the true vernacular of today’s Scots, tour the world again and again, spreading an image of Scotland that’s far more interesting and truthful than the tired tartan tat tourism agencies are pushing.

      Celebrate her achievements. Could anyone in Scotland have done what she did? I don’t think they could. I don’t think appointing her was a case of cultural cringe, it was a case of getting someone with the energy and vision and above all the courage for the job. As for her successor, let the poor man get his coat off and sit down with a cup of tea before you start biting his ankles.

  3. ‘the thistle of the present time’ ???? Someones been smoking bifters in Kingston for too long.Any idea how childish and cliquey the theatre scene is here ? The NTS should have brought in Mr Tumble instead. I’ll take anyone that prevents us from turning into a large scale theatre alba – complete with such hits as ‘Macbeth-in Scots !’.

  4. You’re onto something here, but it gets lost in some very murky corners. It’s not the opacity I mind, it’s the long shadows around nativism (and especially NATIVISM).

    Two thoughts:

    The analogy with African colonialism — so often given a free pass within left-nationalism — is queasy in the extreme. Even if it wasn’t, where exactly does reactionary nativism lead (because that’s what you’re advocating)? Potentially, some scary places.

    (I take it the author will be on the committee which determines who/what counts as NATIVE, and who/what will have to be rubbed out as part of decolonisation? No doubt may sacrifices will be required in order to redeem ‘the Gael’…)

    Second: the dominant factor in the suppression of Scottish theatre was, beyond any doubt, Scottish religion. How does that fit into the master-logic that every ailment in Scottish culture is a consequence of imperial violence and suppression?

  5. As someone well outside literary networks in Scotland or elsewhere I feel really uneasy about what comes over to me as an adopted victim position, with a wee hint of xenophobia.

  6. It all feels a wee bit like the adopted victim stance with a wee tough of xenophobia . . .

  7. The whole scenario starts within our educational system, which for generations has promoted English literature as the be all and end all.
    Now that Mike Russell is trying to rectify this absurdity the establishment is doing its best. to try and derail his efforts. Scottish
    literature should be taught in our schools and universities before any other country’s.

  8. What a load of pompous pretentious pish. If you have complaints about the first five years of NTS ( beyond twaddle about ‘Caledonia’ being an “illegitimate formation” whatever that means.) debate them. But perhaps that success story is a wee bitty trickier to tackle than having a go at the new AD before he even outlines his first season, just because he is English, not British, unless you paint us all with that brush. And just who the hell are you to speak on behalf of The Scottish theatre community? I’ve never heard of you, though you claim to be a dramatist. I also see you have been in the Carribean for thirty years. I think you should back off and give the guy a chance before mouthing off in public like this. We have got enough shite to deal with at the moment, thank you very much.

    • The author is raising legitimate questions and theyre worth engaging with. The critical and commercial successes under VF tell an important story. Few in Scottish Theatre wouldnt congratulate her and wish her well for the job she did. But this doesnt negate the fact that there was a bloody great hole in the centre of the NTS programme durung her tenure that needs addressed namely far too little of NTS output has engaged with a crirical examination of where Scotland has come from and where it is going. THAT has to be at centre of a genuinely national theatre company which has remit and public finances of NTS. That would be the case in any other country. I cant speak for the author but it seems he is articulating this concern after a second non Scot takes the helm at NTS and the questions are addressed to the right person.

      KW

      • Why does NTS have to concentrate on engaging in a critical debate about where Scotland has come from and is going, whatever that means? Why can’t it concentrate, as I think it has to a great extent, on reflecting Scotland now, in as myriad ways as poss, and engaging with audiences in ways that make them feel that theatre is something worthwhile. This talk of ‘native theatre’ is guff and inherently racist and basing an argument on being a ‘non Scot’ is dangerous- should the application have said “Only Scots, born and bred in the soil, need apply”. There is a discussion to be had about developing directors in Scottish theatre. But that’s for another day. Let’s see what he comes up with and pray that it’s not back to the middle class mediocrity that dominated so much of Scottish theatre in the past.

      • Here’s Vicky Featherstone talking in-depth about making NTS, well worth a listen- http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/exzj3d/acts/a9zc6q

      • In the only previous writing I’ve found by Thom Cross ( no sign of the plays yet ) in January BC featured his ‘Beyond Knoxian Theatre’ criticising Dominic Hill’s first season at the Citz. The Knoxian element escaped me till I read this- “I want to be quite straight forward. Any theatre company in Scotland (particularly any company receiving public funds) not should, but must, include a Scottish text within the mix. It is imperative that either a new Scottish text is staged or we see a revival of one of Scotland’s ‘great’ dramas.”
        I can only presume such dictat is Knoxian but maybe that’s beyond me…

  9. It’s not the person appointed, it’s the prism through which they view the world. The arts, land ownership, civil service, conservation bodies. Internal colonialism is alive and well, however, the guy should be given a chance, to see how he dances. I wonder how many English people are appointed to similar roles in Ireland?

  10. Sorry If I upset Tam Dean Burns but the search for a native Scottish theatre has a long and distinguished history. Certainly from the 1920s with the Scottish National Players (see extract from article) as well as the Glasgow’s Curtain Theatre 1930s. (see below) as well as Glasgow Unity Theatre in the 1940s.

    “The Quest for a Truly Representative Scottish Native Drama’: The Scottish National Players
    Karen Anne Marshalsaya1
    a1 Gaelic Books Council.
    The Scottish National Players were the most interesting and important group in Scottish theatre in the 1920s, and the ‘national drama’ which they produced defined Scottish theatre for almost two decades. The SNP, as they were known, became the focus for the aspirations of young people wanting to progress to a professional career within theatre and were responsible for training a whole generation of Scottish actors. Later theatre groups, such as the Curtain and the Gateway, were greatly influenced by the Scottish National Players, who also made a major contribution to the early years of broadcasting in Scotland.

    “The Glasgow Curtain Theatre a highly influential small studio theatre with the aim to support new Scottish writing for the stage and develop Scottish styles of performance at a time when Scotland’s own native traditions had been all but lost. It emerged out of the dissolution of RF Pollock’s short-lived Tron Theatre Club in 1932.”

    Then we had the celebrated Glasgow Unity Theatre in the 1940s see extract from Bill Findlay.
    “‘By Policy a Native Theatre’: Glasgow Unity Theatre and the Significance of Robert Mitchell’s Scottish Adaptation of The Lower Depths
    Bill Findlay “Glasgow Unity Theatre was established in 1940 and staged its first production in January 1941. It was formed through the amalgamation of a number of left-wing amateur companies in the city: the Workers’ Theatre Group, the Clarion Players, the Glasgow (formerly Scottish Labour College) Players, the Transport Players, and the Jewish Institute Players.1″

    “If Scotland is to become a nation or even half a nation it must develop an indigenous leadership of core arts/cultural systems and institutions. We must be allowed to accumulate authority and legitimacy in order to negate this pernicious cultural periphery paradigm.”
    That is my core argument. It is is very difficult to create national capacity when the NTS, Creative Scotland, Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, The Edinburgh Festival , CCA, the Citizens, the Traverse in Edinburgh, DCA in Dundee and Perth Theatre are allegedly led by non-Scots.

    Thom Cross

    • Don’t worry Thom, you’re not upsetting me. I don’t know when you arrived back in Scotland but to many of us working away in Scottish theatre, we are living through the brightest of times for aeons. Just take Glasgow- nowhere else in Britain ( oops sorry for sweary word but don’t please dare label me Unionist ) has such a vibrant theatre scene, outside big bad London, of course. Your extensive quotes from ancient tracts betrays exactly the conservative radicalism you criticised in BeyondKnoxian Theatre. And on that, UCS was on the button to insist ‘Nae bevvyin’ at the sit-in.

      • I’m sorry Tam (my faither’s name) but Glasgow Unity was far from conservative. Working class and native are not enemies.

    • I did also have to lookup the meaning of ‘autochthonous’, used in both articles ( much else in the open letter I couldn’t quite grasp but get the patronising gist ). “Indigenous rather than descended from migrants” it seems. Well I can offer no greater riposte to your whole muddled argument than ‘Glasgow Girls’ playing at the Citz right now and gloriously descended from migrants uniting with the indigenous inhabitants. A great piece of theatre, celebrating struggle right here right now.

  11. Glasgow Girls from all accounts is exactly the kind of theatre Scotland needs and more power to NTS and everyone involved with it. No arguments there Tam.

    Yet, theatre, like everything else, has a social and historical context and lets not pussy about here: Scotland does not have control over who can live here. Period. The London government sets the laws and brutally enforces them. This is why a celebration of the “here and now” is simply not good enough IN ITSELF. It ignores future possibilities as well as historical injustices – whether to migrants or to the many generations of Scots before us whose lives and stories are important. If our culture gets lost in the present then as a people we’re fucked, stumbling in the dark.

    A straightforward comparison with literature surely underlines the need for a rigorous and creative examination of who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we are going. For example, where is Scottish theatre’s equivalent – championed by NTS – of, say, the contemporary literary output of James Robertson?

    KW

      • Of course, David doesn’t, as far as I know, write in the Scots vernacular ( hope that’s an acceptable term to use ). But then who else does really, apart from James? NTS encouraged my interest in an adaptation of The Fanatic but it didn’t reach production. A shame but there you go. I learnt as an actor way back that it’s easy to decry what directors aren’t doing but it’s much healthier to judge them on whether what they are doing is any good, as we all have limitations. And a debate about what Vicky has done, or if you insist, not done with NTS is valid and might even be fruitful but a troll-like personal attack on the new incumbent-designate on the basis that he is a British bureaucrat ( in bold FFS! ) is mean, useless and, aye, racist.

      • Good call. Before new AD was appointed I was hoping David would get the job.

        KW

  12. Probably a majority of serious Scottish novelists engage with Scots in some form or another. This could be through dialogue, as a language used to write an entire work, or anywhere in between. Incidentally Tam, I think that both yourself and Thom are articulating important arguments that are far from inimical.

  13. Ferfuxake, I was hoping to have a day entirely free of being opinionated.
    Well here goes:
    Working in scottish theatre today is no guarantee that you’re a good actor – (Tam is wonderful obviously).
    Maybe that’s to do with colonialism, maybe it isnt.
    By the writers metric though- Joan Littlewood would never have been allowed up here.
    I’m dissapointed to see a kind of closing off of debate here and elsewhere – it assumes that unless you’ve been accepted by a current cultural institution (eiff,traverse,citz,summerhall,sng etc etc) then you are in no position to participate in a debate on how exclusionary or defective these institutions are.

    If they were exclusionary or defective – wouldnt that mean there were people who had been left out ? Who could have been contenders ?

    Shouldn’t they be listened to as well ?

    I’m not seeing any evidence of that and i’m becoming slightly concerned that these pleas for justice and equality are little more than pre independence posturing while this kind of closed off debate goes on.

    I’m with the littlewood and hagen idea that theatre,writing,film etc are somewhat bigger than country boundaries.

    That kind of thinking has never really spread from the classroom to your actual rehearsal space in an impactful way.
    Perhaps that’s down to the influence of the almighty Glasgow music hall tradition – which rendered the Scots as minstrels on the colonial fringes – who knows ?

    All I know is that post independence, there should be a government inquiry into why the film version of the acid house was such a monumental fuckup – saved only by Gary McCormick’s performance.
    Nobody apart from him could do an accent or perform believably on film.
    They’ve only just caught up with screen acting ….about a year ago ?

    To me that was a welcome move, as well getting rid of tutors who prided themselves on treating students like crap.

    Anyway, progress is glacial here and will be for a pretty long time to come, part of it also being somewhat related to Tam’s Jimmy Reid quote – there’s about 3 artists in Scotland that aren’t off their tits on something or other and the opening night pish up is where the business is done here…..which eh……….disnae translate awfy well across the pond likes.

    I never got to work with Tam ….and had all these cunts from take the high road to suffer instead – which haunts me to this very minute and rightly casts a long shadow on this nations culture – like you would get if you had a tomb of the unknown artist or some such shite.

    …..getting back on message.. it was aw big Maggies Thatchers fault, please give me a job/grant/post big Alex, you know it makes sense furra freedom n that eh – ah’ve got some used Joseph Beuys undies ah kin sell ye for a fiver.

    There’s yer memorial.

  14. Thom Cross has rather tentatively put forward a view that was debated extensively in 1970s newspaper forums as Home Rule was then being considered. Namely, the control of important positions in Scottish society by individuals from outwith our culture. This is interesting in that it shows the progress towards self-rule has either been counteracted in some way by the British state or that globalisation is unstoppably and automatically removing any local element.

    The vicious and snobbish tone of some of the comments does not IMHO remove the need for this debate, and it will definitely arise again if Scotland actually achieves ‘independence’. I have never written a play (though I’ve watched a few) so don’t expect anyone to pay any attention to my post.

  15. David Smillie raises some very important points. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the British state is actively attempting to counteract the move toward Scottish Independence (Look at the output of BBC Scotland news and the appointment of wealthy, anti-Independence mercenaries like Kaye Adams, Fred MacAulay and Douglas Fraser, plus the narrative in general print media output.The Independence question is being deliberately closed down and repackaged as an accusation answering exercise.), however, it would be over-simplistic to say all erosion of native culture is somehow being orchestrated by the faceless of London aided by their northern acolytes. America is doing its bit and, it seems, ’twas ever thus.Globalisation is here to stay.We have to come out fighting and make our culture as “sexy” as those on offer from eslewhere. I’m not talking wee red-haired lassies firing bows, although she has her place in raising our profile. Look at the latest cop offerings from Scandinavia. Control of output is the key. Who should be in charge? Who understands Scotland better than the indigenes? Why is broadcasting a reserved matter? No, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s needed.
    I have a quote here, from Gus MacDonald, former (?) media person of note. “If you lose the argument of investing in Silicon Glen, certainly you lose jobs. If you lose the ability to create imiges of yourself and to conduct arguments within your own society through broadcasting, to keep control under some reasonably democratic aegis, you lose far more than a wage packet”.
    There are a good number of issues at stake here (apologies for steering this to the broadcast media scene but I think it’s relevant.). One of our biggest problems is who produces “images” of Scotland and where they are produced. We see little of what happens in East Lothian, Caithness, Angus or Wester Ross, of an evening. Are murders in Glasgow and the fate of two football teams without any Scottish allegiance all we can do? We, as a culturally diverse country, have been shut down and tightly packaged by the laziness of geography and the fears of the politically motivated.

  16. Not quite sure which america you’re talking about in regards to theatre – as far as i know, it’s made a great contribution.

    I see that Tam has exeunted this discussion.

    Come back and talk about the minstrelfication of Scottish actors, you’ll really enjoy it.

    Beveridge and Turnbull #1 ya bass

    • The British influence/hegemony in Scottish theatre has been a long historical phenomenon that has created a fractured dualism of a distinctly subordinated Scottish theatrical experience in the face of the overwhelming presence of a culturally powerful neighbour. This is not unique to Scotland. The Irish also found this a reality and did something about it creating the Abbey movement with Yeats and Synge etc.
      The powerful cultural neighbour phenomenon is very much a part of the Canadian theatre (culture) experience and there is a growing movement (supported by the Canadian Government) to safeguard/promote Canadian artistic expression in the face of the powerful presence of US content. Canada has gone further and is funding through theatre training and company formation a new Native Theatre that works in conjunction with a developing Canadian national theatre. Creating space for a national and native theatre is seen increasingly in Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Nigeria and across the Caribbean where 20 years ago what was being offered was essentially either a British theatrical experience or at best plays using a theatrical style, vocabulary and semiotic language of British/European theatre.
      This is part of wider post-colonial discourse in which an indigenous identity is being promoted while the former dominant expression is being at least interrogated, often challenged and national options created. These national (native) options surely should be A role of a National Theatre. Somewhere in Scotland we should have a new theatre that works within traditional rituals and indigenous formats in order to frame the dramatic language of our stage offering a unique national experience in contrast to the overwhelming British theatrical presence. See( 7:84 and David Greig)
      The political battle over the next two years will have to examine British-ness in many of its political, social and cultural manifestations and one important contribution should be the theatre’s role in the making of a cultural identity. The complex political realities of the current period will bring theatre into the wider discourse and as pointed out, it will be challenge for any director of a National Theatre but especially for one who knows so very little of Scottish theatre. There is a tradition of social engagement in Scottish life or theatre and unquestionably identity, marginalization and ‘new nation’ themes cannot be left behind.

      • “a distinctly subordinated Scottish theatrical experience in the face of the overwhelming presence of a culturally powerful neighbour”
        What planet are you living on? Never mind, which country or century… Open your blinkered eyes and see how Scottish theatre is thriving, here and internationally. I’m not going to list off all the examples to prove that. Even a cursory look at NTS productions touring in the last month proves that, never mind the last five years. And that phenomenal output includes many productions looking at aspects of where Scotland has come from and is going. B’jesus The Tron has just toured a production of Ulysses to Ireland! We didn’t let Creative Scotland deny the power and international respect for Scottish theatre right now and you need to move beyond your backward narrow negativity if you want to contribute to discussion of the Scottish theatre community.

  17. Contemporary Scottish theatre is boring and irrelevant to the vast majority of the population. There is no cultural revival running in parallel with the independence movement. Perhaps this reflects the timid and culturally uncertain nature of Scottish society. Where are the modern equivalents of Peter MacDougall for example. If the referendum is won perhaps some cultural giants will come creeping out of the woodwork. If the vote is no, forget any further cultural expressions of Scottishness – they won’t be tolerated, most especially by the officer class of the BBC.

  18. Right on the button, Mr Smillie.
    Could someone enlighten me as to the productions which have been produced recently, reflecting the current political and cultural situation in Scotland? Where is the latest, “Cheviot”, for example?
    Of course we are very heavily influenced, culturally, by our bigger neighbour. Listen to any of the radio programmes on BBC “Scotland”. Guests are more likely to be plucked from the nice little network which exists between Pacific Quay and London. From inside knowledge, I know that peculiarly Scottish ideas are suppressed (except in isolated cases) and the “Britishness” element maximised, especially at peak times. I have even heard metropolitan guests on Kay Adams’ show apologise because they didn’t know anything about the Scottish scene they’d been invited to comment on.
    If those here didn’t already know, culture is political! It’s essential that our world view is created through a scope focussed on London. Who controls it has political power. By not having Scots in charge of our theatre companies, we are sending out a message to our own people and the world. We don’t have suitable talent. We don’t train suitably talented people and allow them a medium of expression. We reinforce the first two statements in the minds of our own fellow Scots; we ain’t good enough. And when we hear the inevitable southern voices in charge, it reinforces the notion that control is firmly where it’s always been. We are an appendage, not a country. We are a colony.

    • Piobaire puts the argument firmly within the post-colonial struggle. We have a new season at the Citz; central to this season (the dominant expression) will be Marlowe, Checkhov, Genet and Churchill.
      “***The tradition of British/European theatre dominance in Scotland is not a calculated imperial plot. It is a historical outcome of a process of national neglect and repression combined with a validating relationship defined by subordination and sheer quantity.

      We can see if we look hard enough, a denied past, a dislocation since Burns. This has produced (as seen in the 2011 May elections) the reasonable ambition of a new-day future.
      Post-devolution Scotland has acquired an altered political DNA with fresh ideological energy that has transposed the nature of cultural discourse. One outcome of this ‘new-nation’ energy is the questioning of the assumed traditional hegemony and inviolability of what are classics?
      We saw this quite clearly in Ireland, with the deliberate development of the Abbey with Yeats and Synge and Lady Gregory and O’Casey. Did Hill have any thought that he might have made the Citizens our Abbey? If not, why not? I want to be quite straightforward. . It is imperative that either a new Scottish text is staged or we see a revival of one of Scotland’s ‘great’ dramas at least once a year. (isn’t it time to revive a 7:84 classic.)
      Quite frankly, in Scotland in 2012 we should not be petitioning (begging) for a token presence in a major theatre season on our own doorstep. If theatre is to reflect or alter through its art, the form and nature of our society, then surely a new director would understand the cultural significance of these times. We see, hear and feel the development of a self-conscious and confident culture that deserves expression. Sure, we need the significant texts from the metropolitan centre. But where is our centre?. (the dominant expression) will be Marlowe, Checkhov, Genet and Churchill.
      Yet Scotland does have an authentic theatre hinterland from mediaeval mummers-type performances through the repression of the reformation, and the forgotten 30s 40s and 50s dramatists well-documented in flurry of books on the history of Scottish theatre.
      (The Mitchell Library is full of great Scottish ‘classical’ playscripts especially after Eddie Morgan gifted his collection to the Mitchell.)
      Scotland has a rich field of talent from which to offer us a major Scottish play. I would not be insulting by suggesting titles or listing the host of contemporary authors that are desperately looking for a stage.. But we need more.

      The Abbey is the model.”
      ***
      This is an extract (adapted) from an article I wrote for Scottish Review published last year with Dominic Hill’s first season of Shakespeare, Pinter and Beckett.

      The struggle continues.

      Thom Cross

  19. There don’t seem to be any contributors to this thread who have any idea about Scottish theatre beyond muppet-style heckling from a Jock-box occasionally and then going back to the telly. Apart from Commisar Cross of course, who is seriously proposing that ALL theatre companies in Scotland MUST include a new or old Scottish play in each season. And he demands Dominic Hill answers why he is not attempting to recreate the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, formed in 1904, out of very specific circumstances that in no way whatsoever apply to Scotland in the 21st century. We are not a colony being militarily suppressed in need of a national liberation struggle and all that entails, however much what David Mackenzie rightly described as the adopted victim position makes you all want to play the blame game at hame. There’s lots of harping on about 7:84 here. May I just remind you all that that it was run by John McGrath, a fee-fi-fo-fum BLOODY ENGLISHMAN!!
    The new play in the Citz season is Takin’ Over The Asylum and I tell you here and now if independence means the sort of nutters spouting their xenophobic reactionary ignorant bile here taking over, I’m off!

    • I think all we’re saying is that we want the Arts, including drama, to focus a bit on our society. As apparently happens in England, or the USA, or bloody near anywhere else on the planet. Not to the exclusion of other parts of the World obviously. The comment about a Jock-box reveals a deep sensitivity about Scotland’s subordinate cultural position. Glad the status quo has guardians like you to keep it safe from us Jocks.

  20. I think you may already occupy a little box of your own, Tam. For Scotland (A country, with it’s own cultures, history and identities) to desire a theatre which reflects the aspirations and actualities of Scottish life, past and present, is wholly laudable. We are not English and very few here would admit to being British, except in a geographical sense. You seem to suggest that expecting our theatre, our Scottish theatre, to reflect the sentiments listed above is somehow “xenophobic reactionary ignorant bile”. Your observation would apply to “The Cheviot”, also; written by an Englishman, John McGrath. He understood many of the problems of modern Scotland and produced one of the best modern pieces of xenophobic reactionary bilious theatre, ever. You may be living in the wrong country, my friend.

    • You’ve come a long way in the course of this thread, Piobaire- from ” the guy should be given a chance, to see how he dances ” in regards to the new NTS AD, to telling me that I may be living in the wrong country. I can understand that my belligerent intransigence has fuelled this but I’m only on that kick because of the very grave dangers that follow the logic of Cross’s argument. I’ve outlined my objections to that clearly enough I think and ask you to see where it is already heading. There is a positive discussion to be had about theatre in Scotland but this isn’t it. Firstly and most importantly, Cross’s poison must be fought tooth and nail. It is thoroughly negative and reactionary and I refuse to give an inch to him. It offers nothing to the ongoing creation of a vibrant rich Scottish theatre that I like to think I have contributed, not just as an actor but a producer of work, all of which has plenty to say on aspects of Scottish life. If you’d prefer to side with Cross’s dictat and proscription, suit yourself, but it won’t just be me that’ll be off if such ideas take root. Secondly, in your contributions and virtually every other, there is no mention of theatre at all, beyond simplistic calls for a new Cheviot ( possibly on its way, you’ll be pleased to hear. And I don’t think it was xenophobic and reactionary but I think Border Warfare strayed into dodgy territory ). It’s all about TV and radio so has nothing to offer the debate. I don’t mind admitting I have misgivings about the whole independence project, not because I want to defend the status quo, but because I try to keep seeing things through the prism of class politics as the only route out of the mess we are in. A capitalist Scotland offers no independence from that mess and the fight for it, to me, is at least a distraction from the real task we face and, at worst, a poisonous xenophobic nightmare. As things stand, I am sort of ‘in a box’ as you put it, which is to reject both sides and boycott the referendum, or spoil my ballot paper. This, I know, is far from an ideal position and I hope it can change between now and Autumn 2014. But in the meantime, I go on trying to contribute to Scottish theatre as it exists and if that means defending it from Cross or Creative Scotland or any other potential forces of reaction, so be it. It’s far from perfect but it is offering a lot to Scotland in all sorts of ways and I suggest you take a good look at it and get yourself away from the box in the corner, to have what John McGrath called ‘ a good night out ‘.

  21. You have listed a number of misgivings so, please, bear with me.
    I still hold that Laurie Sansom should be allowed time to prove himself, however, I would have preferred to have seen a Scot in charge of the National Theatre of Scotland. I would expect that, quite reasonably, as I would expect an irishman/ woman to be in charge of the Ireland’s national theatre and an Dane, Canadian, etc, to be in charge of their respective theatres. Scotland is a nation, not an appendage, a province, or a region. As an internationalist, I love and respect many cultures and identities. I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few countries and live in slightly fewer. I was brought up in a left-wing household. I have been a life-long trade unionist. I used to be a Labour Party member and activist. My father was the same, as was his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. My father stopped voting Labour when they junked Clause 4. I left because, in 1979, the “working class” of England voted for Thatcher. They did it again and again. When the sociopath, Blair, was voted out, the “working class” of England voted for a Etonian multi-millionaire. In all fairness, by the end of Thatcher’s second term, I’d had enough of the Union. It has never served Scotland well, in any sense. We have always been used as cannon-fodder for the interests of the mercantile “elite” which cobbled the Union together. Nothing has changed. My family is what you may term working class. I think the class label is bullshit. I don’t believe anybody is a different or better “class” than me for any reason. I know some “toffs” with buckets of money who are as thick as a manure. They are better connected than me and wealthier but I’m far more intelligent and creative than they are. They would regard themselves as being in a higher class. I know wealthy accountants and lawyers who are utterly bereft of any moral or ethical sense. I would put them in the pond-life category. They are definitely a lower “class” of human being. I have worked using my hands and my brain for more than 30 years. I work. I am classless. I believe people should pay income tax in proportion to their earnings. I believe in a more egalitarian society and that we, as a society, have responsibilty to care for those weaker and more vulnerable than ourselves. I reject the selfishness and greed loved so much by that corner of this island which determines the colour of state government we get, government rarely voted for by my country; that’s the democratic deficit, I believe, and the reason for a Scottish parliament. It doesn’t stop “us” going to war, though. I want a country and government which reflects the political consensus within Scotland, Duncan Rice, former Chancellor of Aberdeen Univerity’s, “Communitarian Scotland”. We are a communitarian people. This sense of society, identity and community have informed the political debate in Scotland in a way that is completely alien to English experience. We have been invaded, constantly, by our larger neighbour, over the centuries. That creates a different sense of self, community and society. Ultimtely, we had our identities stolen from us and replaced by the type of imperial synthesis found in the the brave loyal “jock”, always the first to bayonet the fuzzy wuzzies. Britishness never replaced our sense of identity because, in reality, Britishness is Englishness, with bells on. Our sense of identity and nationhood was suppressed at every opportunity by the British state (aided by agents from our own ranks). The need for us, as Scots, to write our own story is absolutely imperative. Having Scots in charge of our theatre, telling our story, is not zenophobic or anti-English. It is a rejection of centuries of cutural imperialism, where our native languages, Gaelic and Scots were all but wiped out and our history and sense of self were deliberately suppressed to fit the sterile, safe, British Unionist model.
    Scotland will be independent again and we will create the type of socially responsible country which we desire. You shouldn’t feel threatened by that; you should embrace it.

  22. I will leave this as the crude Sun-like dog-whistle slogans of racist and reactionary are making me sick after serving the cause of liberation both social and national through a popular theatre that struggled to build consciousness in the face of cultural, class and national schizophrenia, a theatre that resisted in the face of harsh and often vicious tyrannies, that offered a voice to the powerless and voiceless, that offered hope of a new and better society from the remnants of old failed models of war and crude exploitation and in that long struggle a national theatre has to decide where it stands and who it stands with. So I wrote this open letter to Laurie Sansom without malice.

    “Here are some questions that might help you. The argument/discourse has been made without personal rancour or any resentment save that of the usual political polemics.
    This may appear a personal attack; I assure you it is far from that. The challenge of playing the role of the beleaguered expatriate cultural authority is familiar to me. The binary cultural reality (Brit et Scot) within the subordinate and sadly peripheral Scottish arts community will force you to make difficult choices. ”
    In that spirit I wrote but it is time to move on. There is much work to be done (Saturday at RIC).

  23. Blimey; what a lot of words! And who cares? Vicki Featherstone did a brilliant job, and world of the arts is internationalist and without borders, which one might think would pretty darn obvious in Scotland – it being the home of one of the world’s oldest and greatest international arts festivals…

  24. Lovely (not) Thanks for this article, just really defines exactly what have always felt here. You’ll be glad to know that WE are leaving Scotland exactly because of this. You can shove your erts up yer erse capish? AND I really can’t stand this f-ing online magazine – load of white middle class talentless p*sh. BTW How’s ma Scots efter 16 years?

    I KNOW what you are saying about identity, culture, lit, ownership, direction, leadership – my GOD I was reared by people with a much bigger hangover about ownership of culture. But I just cannae listen to it nae more!

    Offended? I aim to please.

  25. Oh *and* knowing you won’t have the balls to post my first comment just above. I would like to add that instead of posting an open letter why not talk directly to a person? And if you feel so brave, then do so to my English son who’s off to London to do a degree in music. Go on. I invite you.

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