Brian Ferguson: Creative Scotland cuts need explanation

Alex Salmond's visit generated much positive coverage for Scottish Youth Theatre's referendum-inspired production. Picture: PA

Alex Salmond's visit generated much positive coverage for Scottish Youth Theatre's referendum-inspired production. Picture: PA

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WHEN there are more than 3,000 shows at the world’s biggest arts festival, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd.

In the year of the Scottish referendum, the impressive coup of getting Alex Salmond to watch rehearsals was pulled off by a largely unheralded production.

His visit generated much positive coverage for Scottish Youth Theatre’s (SYT) referendum-inspired production at the Stand Comedy Club. After viewing a special preview of the show, which was performed by teenagers voting for the very first time, Mr Salmond went as far to say it was the “authentic voice” of young Scotland.

Yet, I am sure no-one had the slightest inkling that within just a few months the historic theatre company would be plunged into a serious crisis after having all its funding withdrawn by the national arts agency.

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Creative Scotland’s surprise move, which – along with a handful of other high-profile rejections – it has refused to explain to the media, has left many leading actors with links to the theatre company dismayed and outraged.

In the wake of the funding blow, actress Blythe Duff has delivered one of the most scathing verdicts on Creative Scotland since its inception four years ago.

Ms Duff said it was “infuriating” that the SYT, formed in 1976, had been left to “fight for its place” by being cut adrift from regular funding support.

I doubt the nation’s playwrights could have summoned up a more withering comment than the one which she followed up with: “The SYT has a proven track record for a long, long time more than Creative Scotland. Other organisations should be proving they can do their job, we’ve proven we can do ours.”

While Mr Salmond is yet to deliver his verdict on the withdrawal of the SYT’s funding, his culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has already intervened to stress the Government’s belief in the importance of having a national youth theatre company, as firm a rebuke as can be delivered to an organisation that is supposed to remain firmly “arms-length”.

I would not be surprised if Creative Scotland is already feeling the heat from those comments from Ms Hyslop and Ms Duff, as well as from Douglas Henshall and Billy Boyd, two other high-profile supporters.

But with big-hitters like Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Liz Lochhead, Elaine C Smith, Bill Paterson and Richard Wilson on the list of official SYT patrons, a resolution sooner rather than later might be advisable for Creative Scotland to avoid a winter of discontent whipped up by a host of the nation’s leading acting talents.

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