Let’s Get This Show on the Road

Feature in Issue 20-2 | Summer 2008

Ben Walmsley reflects on rural touring at the national theatre of Scotland.

With no building of our own, the mission of the National Theatre of Scotland is to create and tour great theatre all over Scotland and beyond. This was reflected in our launch event Home, which comprised ten theatrical events playing to audiences in locations ranging from a Shetland ferry to a forest in East Lothian.

Since then, we have been involved in creating more than 53 productions in over 88 different locations. Although perhaps best known for our big international hits such as The Wolves in the Walls, The Bacchae and Black Watch, in the past two years we have created or remounted six small-scale shows in addition to the ten Home events. Most of these productions (Gobbo, Julie, Mancub, Snuff and Venus as a Boy) have played in village halls and community centres all over Scotland.

But we are also keen to work in rural areas in site-specific locations and on the larger scale. The Elgin Macbeth in June 2007 was an outdoor version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, performed by an integrated professional and community cast in the ruins of Elgin Cathedral as part of the Highland Year of Culture. And Half Life in September 2007 – a co-production with renowned environmental artists NVA – took audiences on a Neolithic journey through Argyll, culminating in an open-air night-time performance in a purpose-built forest amphitheatre.

But what we tour is just as important as where we tour it and programming our tours to fit the diverse needs of our audiences and promoters will be an ongoing challenge. Last year, we decided to remount Brian Friel’s modern classic Molly Sweeney, one of the big theatrical hits of 2005. For our younger audiences, we chose to commission Nicola McCartney to adapt the popular Scottish children’s book A Sheep Called Skye by Sarah Harris.

Throughout Autumn 2007, our ensemble company took these two productions to 21 towns all over Scotland, presenting a total of 58 performances in village halls and small-scale venues from the Borders to the Highlands, via Ayrshire, Fife, and the isles of Skye, Islay and Mull. The tour was designed specifically to tie-in with local events and festivals. So, for example, it opened in Wigtown during the town’s annual book festival in late September and featured in the Dràma Na h-Alba Festival in Inverness during the October school holiday.

The main aim of rural touring is to work in partnership with regional promoters, and one of our main artistic aims is to breathe new life into Scottish theatre and to give new audiences another chance to see shows. For us, this generally means hitting the road and getting away from the central belt. But this can sometimes prove tricky. When booking our last tour, I was keen to go back to Carrbridge in the Highlands, but the only dates we could make clashed with their annual porridge-making championships! And recently, I received a letter pointing out that although we’d covered a fair amount of ground in our first eighteen months, we hadn’t yet made it to Aviemore. So our audience do keep us on our toes.

2008 work from the National Theatre of Scotland includes The Emperor’s New Kilt, (a take on the fairy tale); Little Otik (an adaptation of filmmaker Jan Svankmeyer’s story about a baby carved from a tree stump) and 365, a commission for Edinburgh International Festival directed by Vicky Featherstone. For more details on these and all other projects, please visit www.nationaltheatrescotland.com. by Vicky Featherstone. For more details on these and all other projects, please visit www.nationaltheatrescotland.com.

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Issue 20-2
p. 14