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Some thought Howard Barker’s Scenes from an Execution (below) too political to stage. Now it has dominated the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scofland.

As several plays with political themes win accolades at the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland, Steve Cramer assesses the future of our theatre.

came back to a country whose newspapers are mainly filled with tidings of war. insurrection. industrial unrest. political controversy and parliamentary misbeluiviour. and to a theatre from which it seems to me. in the first shock of reacquaintance. that all echo of these things is shut oil as by sound proof walls.‘

Not my words. but those ol. the great British theatre critic Harold Hobson. .\'ot this year. either. but in l952. on his return to London after a long sojourn in Paris. :\s I read them. though. on a plane returning from some far more adventurous theatre country than the ['K a couple of years back. they struck me as profoundly true of the situation in Scotland ol‘ the time. Hobson was returning to a London scene dominated by plush repertory revivals. actorly Shakespeare. and writers of new work. many of whom were little more than West lind brand names. Radical theatre meant not talking about what was in the papers. but the examination of middle-class marital strife. And it‘s not that the quality of all this was in question: actors such as Guinness. Gielgud and ()livier. were. whatever we say now. performers of true quality. Directors such as Tony Richardson. (ieorge Devine and Peter Brook were all working. while no one would question the emotional qualities of the writing of 'l‘erence Rattigan. The problem was. the theatre wasn’t about anything really important to anyone but a very narrow class of folk. and the marital problems ol‘ their elders were of little interest to young people of the time. Whether the shake up that would l‘ollow. ot‘ten identified as occurring in 1956 with the actually rather conservative Look Back in Ange): was ultimately for better or worse is Up to academics to decide. My response to Kenneth Tynan‘s remark that he could not love someone who didn't love ()sborne's play is that I'm not sure I could love someone who did. But whatever the ins and outs. what was happening in the world outside the theatre became part ol’ the theatre. and audiences changed. getting younger as a result.

Back to Scotland two years ago. and you had pretty much the same scenario. We were looking at the end of an era in terms of several artistic directors of larger theatres. and while one could not complain of the quality ol‘ what was produced. it was possible to wonder about its relevance against the background of upheaval we were witnessing in the world. Theatre became about escape. not everyday life. So too. the companies seen as cutting edge presented an evasive strategy on the subject of politics. It. you asked a theatre practitioner what the new piece they were presenting was about. you tended to get answers like ‘As artists. we're on a journey" t'l'ranslation: ‘I don‘t know"). Ask what effect it intended to achieve. and you'd get an answer like ‘liach member of the audience will take away what they see in it. it‘s not up to me to tell them' (Translation: ‘I don‘t care‘ ).

All this came from a retreat from asking hard questions about the political

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