Feature: theatre highlights for 2015

Theatre highlights 2015

By Mark Brown

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) recently began a new policy of announcing, and opening early ticket sales for, selected, high profile shows. The first theatre work to get this five star treatment is acclaimed Flemish stage director Ivo van Hove’s staging of Sophocles’s great tragedy Antigone (King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, August 9-22), starring the extraordinary French actress Juliette Binoche.

The production, which boasts a new version of the play by award-winning poet Anne Carson, is likely to be a highlight, not only of 2015, but of many people’s theatre-going lives. Like Diana Rigg playing Brecht’s Mother Courage or Maureen Beattie taking on Medea by Liz Lochhead (after Euripides), the prospect of seeing Binoche embody such a powerfully defiant heroine is a tantalising one.

If Edinburgh’s festival steals the headlines, Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, continues to set the pace for theatre produced in Scotland.

John Byrne’s evergreen The Slab Boys (February 12 to March 7), the first part of his famous trilogy, is a touching and humorous play set in a Paisley textile factory in the late-1950s. Who better than revered actor David Hayman (directing) and Byrne himself (design) to bring us this head-on collision between West of Scotland, working-class experience and American Rock ‘n’ Roll culture.

Other Citz highlights include Douglas Maxwell’s new play Fever Dream: Southside (April 23 to May 9), staged by the Gorbals’ theatre’s world class director Dominic Hill, and Into That Darkness (May 18-29), late Citz co-director Robert David MacDonald’s powerful dramatisation of Nazi genocidist Franz Stangl’s famous account of himself to the journalist Gitta Sereny.

The Citizens’ Edinburgh repertory counterpart, the Royal Lyceum, has also announced  an impressive spring season. Its staging of Brecht’s great, post-Second World War parable The Caucasian Chalk Circle (February 18 to March 14), featuring a new version by Alistair Beaton, is a particularly exciting prospect.

With the National Theatre of Great Britain’s acclaimed One Man, Two Guvnors (based on Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic A Servant Of Two Masters) still fresh in people’s memories, the Lyceum is staging another great Goldoni comedy. The Venetian Twins (April 24 to May 16) is adapted and directed, with a Scottish twist, by fine comic actor and director Tony Cownie.

There’s a new version, by David Ireland, of another classic of European theatre, Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding (March 4-14), at Dundee Rep. Lorca has not been well served on Scotland’s stages in recent times.

Jeremy Raison’s Blood Wedding for the Citizens (2006) and the National Theatre of Scotland’s rendering of Lorca’s masterpiece The House Of Bernarda Alba (2009), directed by John Tiffany in a dreadful new version by Rona Munro, were enough to turn a generation of Scots away from one of the greatest writers in world drama.

Let’s hope the Rep’s production can restore Lorca’s drama to something like the acclaim it deserves. No pressure.

Finally, I would love to be able to tell you about the upcoming work of one of Scotland’s most innovative and interesting theatre companies, Stewart Laing’s Untitled Projects. Sadly, however, I cannot.

Thanks to the short-sightedness, if not the outright philistinism, of the decision makers at arts funding quango Creative Scotland, Untitled has announced its closure after it was denied the stable funding its high quality work required and so clearly deserved.

Fêted by theatres around the world, Laing was under no compulsion to work here in Scotland. It is sad indeed that a such a brilliant artist may well have been driven from our country by the appalling decision making of those who are tasked with fostering the nation’s artistic talent.

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 28, 2014

© Mark Brown

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