It is, in many ways, extraordinary to think that it is only five years since the National Theatre of Scotland exploded onto the nation’s cultural landscape. In February 2006, the NTS opened its account with the Home project, a startling series of 10 productions, presented in an amazing array of venues from Shetland to Dumfries.
Although much of the subsequent commentary has focused on the large scale successes – most famously John Tiffany’s stellar production of Gregory Burke’s Black Watch – the experimentation and risk-taking represented by Home has been at least as important to the development of the NTS. It makes real sense, therefore, that the company should celebrate its fifth birthday with Reveal, a series of developing pieces, initially staged at Scotland’s new writing theatre – the Traverse, Edinburgh – and toured around the country.
Involving no fewer than 14 pieces, which range from an international version of Glasgow venue Òran Mór’s famous A Play, A Pie And A Pint season to Molly Taylor’s contemplative Love Letters To The Public Transport System, Reveal offers work on a more intimate scale, and, often, at an earlier stage of development, than is often expected of a prestigious institution such as the NTS.
“I think it’s really important that the NTS doesn’t stop staging developing and experimental theatre”, says NTS artistic director, Vicky Featherstone. “We shouldn’t only do work which is apparently more ‘robust’. It’s vital that our programmes have a maverick, experimental streak.”
In British theatre terms, you don’t get much more experimental than acclaimed Flemish theatre artist Pol Heyvaert, of Ghent-based company Victoria. The NTS has collaborated with Heyvaert before, in 2007, on the English-language premiere of the brilliant and courageous play Aalst.
Girl X (which opens at the Traverse on March 4) promises to be equally hard-hitting. Based upon an idea by Scottish actor and theatre maker Robert Softley, who has cerebral palsy, the play focuses on the ethical dilemma surrounding an eleven-year old girl who has a very severe form of the same condition. Her health, it is believed, will be enhanced by the removal of her womb. But who, if anyone, has the right to make that decision on the girl’s behalf?
“Pol comes from that European attitude that’s really anti-political correctness in the theatre”, Featherstone comments. “It’s an attitude which insists that we can ask really difficult questions and be challenged by them in a theatre.
“Pol has asked really difficult, unusual and, sometimes, quite odd questions about this project. You think, ‘wow, there’s an amazing naivety, but also a great sophistication in his need to understand it. The qualities he brings to this kind of work are really exceptional. Working with Victoria opens up questions about the nature of the theatre and who it’s for.”
Girl X is, Featherstone explains, the most “fully formed” of the works being showcased by Reveal. Across the programme, however, she believes audiences will be enthused by the NTS’s commitment to allowing theatre artists to experiment and develop their work. Theatregoers should, she suggests, treat the programme “like a menu”, from which they can select a number of dishes, including things they haven’t tasted before.
The NTS Reveal season opens at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh tomorrow, with work touring throughout Scotland. For more information visit: www.nationaltheatrescotland.com
This article was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 13, 2011
© Mark Brown