FESTIVAL THEATRE | National Theatre of Scotland Lorna Irvine examines the diverse voices in National Theatre of Scotland’s festival offerings, and discovers that collaboration and shared experience are key
T he National Theatre Of Scotland is synonymous theatre-goers’ minds with collaborative creativity during the festival, having produced more than 20 shows at the International and Fringe festivals over the last 11 years. Crucial to its success is a spirit of generosity to both established and emerging artists, and a strong sense of authorship within its projects.
This year is no different, featuring new works from the likes of Cora Bissett (Adam), Rona MacDonald (Fuaigh – Interweaving) and Douglas Maxwell (The Whip Hand), plus the return of Zinnie Harris’ critically acclaimed Oresteia: This Restless House which started its run at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.
Jemima Levick, who became artistic director of Stellar Quines in 2016, believes that theatre is a positive tool for inspiring audiences, with a particular emphasis on female lived experience. Her previous successful shows include adaptations of The Glass Menagerie and The Tempest. Her new production, The Last Queen of Scotland, written by Jaimini Jethwa and directed by Levick, focuses on issues of identity, conl ict and immigration. Originally it was a poem, but was adapted and commissioned the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep. through mentoring
‘It’s inspired by Jaimini’s experience of the Ugandan-Asian expulsion and her move to Dundee in the early 70s,’ says Levick of the script. ‘And it’s about how she chose to explore her past in order to be in control of her future.’
Levick wants to focus on stories that have remained on the sidelines. ‘It’s an untold Scottish story, which is something I’m always keen to give an audience access to.’ she continues. ‘It’s about knowing who you are, and belonging, and defeating the powers that be from controlling you.’ Visibility – in terms of representation – is key, as Levick adds, ‘I think that seeing two young performers, both strong young women from Scottish / Nigerian and Scottish / Pakistani descent, is a real signal of how diverse Scotland has become, and how central diversity is to making this nation a much better and more interesting place.’
Jo Clifford’s work is personal, spiritual and heartfelt. She has worked with the Traverse Theatre many times since the late 1980s, and her Great Expectations was the i rst play written by an openly trans playwright to hit London’s West End. Her latest Traverse show, Eve, is running in tandem with Cora Bissett’s Adam. ‘They are both stories of individuals who have tried to discover themselves,’ says Clifford. ‘And this is in spite of abuse, in spite of prejudice, in spite of the incredible difi culties that our societies have put in our way to discover ourselves.’ She’s working alongside writer-performer Chris Goode, a friend and previous collaborator, and says that, as with much of her work, it draws on her own life.
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‘This is an autobiographical one, and I will be relating to photographs of myself when I was a child and when I was a young man. I had a suitcase full of photographs which I opened up and spread all over the l oor.’ She feels trans representation is still a problem in the arts. ‘It wasn’t until The Crying Game, when I was in my 40s, when there was a trans character played by a trans actress who was presented as a fully rounded, loveable, brave, courageous human being. That was the i rst time I had seen that anywhere. There’s still very few, and that really struck me as shocking and damaging. I want to begin to create a repertoire of trans narratives, because the experience we have in one sense is very specialised. When I was growing up, I thought I was the only person like myself in the whole world, but what I’ve since begun to understand is that everybody has had similar experiences of inadequacy, of not feeling like a real man or real woman. So there’s a universality.’ Graham Eatough is well-known for making large-scale projects, including The Making of Us, Lanark, and most recently Nomanslanding, all of which eschew easy categorisation. It’s something he’s exploring in his latest production, How to Act. ‘This is a much more conventional play, however there are direct connections with some work [I’ve done previously] for the NTS and different bits of research I’ve been doing over the years. There were lots of things bubbling away for about four years, so it’s been quite a long time in the making.’ This has led to Eatough pondering how to contextualise all of his ideas. ‘I’ve been really asking some fundamental questions about what is it that only theatre can do, and why am I interested in making theatre.’ He is philosophical about the universality of the form. ‘It’s about an approach to theatre which believes that if we can only tell a story well enough, if we can access the kind of deeply-held truths that all of humanity share, then we can transcend cultural boundaries and linguistic boundaries: we can speak beyond language. We can touch something that’s common to all of us.’ And that shared experience is another association that the NTS’ productions hope to make synonymous with their identity.
Adam, Traverse, 6–27 Aug (not 7, 14, 21), times vary, £21.50 (£16.50). Preview 5 Aug, £15 (£9), 1.45pm. Fuaigh – Interweaving, Scottish Storytelling Centre, 17, 21 Aug, 3pm, £10 (£8).
The Whip Hand, Traverse, 6–27 Aug (not 7, 14, 21), times vary, £21.50 (£16.50). Preview 3, 5 Aug, £15 (£9). Oresteia: This Restless House, Lyceum, 23–27 Aug, 6pm, £10–£32. Preview 22 Aug, £10–£26.
The Last Queen of Scotland, Underbelly Cowgate, 5–26 Aug (not 9, 16), 6.50pm, £12–£14 (£11–£13). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £6.50.
Eve, Traverse, 4–27 Aug (not 7,14, 21), times vary, £19.50 (£14.50). Preview 3 Aug, 6.30pm, £13 (£9). How to Act, Summerhall, 4–27 Aug (not 7,14, 21), 1.10pm, £15 (£13). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £13 (£12).