A DARING and controversial play partly inspired by the Jimmy Savile scandal, Hollywood actor Alan Cumming’s one-man version of Macbeth and Taggart star Blythe Duff’s portayal of a husband killer have all been honoured at the Scottish theatre “Oscars”.
Rob Drummond’s unsettling drama “Quiz Show,” which starts off as a comedy about a garish game show before lurching into much darker territory, was named best new play of the last year by Scotland’s leading drama critics.
Featuring comic Jonathan Watson - star of Only An Excuse and Bob Servant - as the smarmy host of a 1970s-era quiz that appears to be rigged, it was believed to be the first major play to tackle issues raised by the Savile affair. However audiences were deliberately kept in the dark about the subject matter to avoid spoiling the dramatic plot twist, and ticketholders were even urged to avoid any reviews.
Quiz Show - the Glasgow playwright and performer’s follow-up to Bullet Catch, in which he persuaded a member of the audience to shoot him each night - was staged at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh just six months after serious allegations about the late Top of the Pops star emerged, although there is no mention of him or any other real-life celebrities in the script.
The play, which had four nominations at the awards, more than another production, has been the stand-out highlight of the 50th anniversary season at the Traverse, which played host to the Critics’ Awards For Theatre in Scotland.
The judging panel, led by The Scotsman’s chief theatre critic, Joyce McMillan, said Quiz Show had “a twisting, duplicitous script which created an elaborate game show, in all its jollity and public glare, before moving off into altogether more unforgiving territory.
“Audience members laughed along at first before realising their complicity has been there from the beginning, woven into every word of the script.”
The 11th annual event saw the best actor award go to Cumming, for his acclaimed turn in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of “Macbeth,” which is still running on Broadway after a world premiere in Glasgow. He was hailed by the critics for “an unforgettable, bravura performance.”
Duff, who will be part of the Traverse’s 50th anniversary season this August in a new one-woman show, won the prize for best female performance for after playing a killer meeting her estranged daughter for the first time in 15 years in Iron. It was produced by the Hawick-based Firebrand Theatre Company and toured the Borders before being staged in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Her triumph meant that rising star Eileen Walsh, who played the pivotal role of the sexual abuse victim in Quiz Show, missed out.
Another of Scotland’s best-known actresses, Maureen Beattie, whose one-woman show about a woman struggling to adapt to rural life in Quebec won huge plaudits at the venue Summerhall during last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe - saw it named best overall production at the “Cats.”
The coveted best ensemble and best director prizes both went to The Seafarer, a dark comedy about five men playing an alcohol-fuelled game of poker in Dublin on Christmas Eve, which was premiered at Perth Theatre earlier this year and directed by the venue’s creative director, Rachel O’Riordan.
Vicky Featherstone, the former artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, was honoured for an outstanding contribution to the theatre scene during her eight-year tenure.
Cumming, speaking in a message recorded from the stage of Barrymore Theatre on Broadway, where he has been performing his award-winning show, said: “I’m very grateful, especially because Macbeth was, and is, the thing I’m most proud of in my whole career.
“To be honoured like this is really great and I want to thank everyone at the National Theatre of Scotland for making it happen. “This means a lot to me – it’s great for something I feel so proud of to be honoured by my country.”
Featherstone, who left her post at end of 2012, said: “The eight years I spent creating and producing work on stages across Scotland was an extraordinary period in my life and one which will always have a special place in my heart.
“I learnt more about theatre, what it is for and its true value in our lives, than I could ever have imagined. For that transformation I am eternally grateful.
“I am deeply proud too of the bravery, talent and passion of the Scottish artists and the hunger and challenge of the audiences I had the pleasure of working with and for.”
The awards - shared out among nine separate productions - were presented at the Traverse by veteran artist and playwright John Byrne, whose famous play The Slab Boys was first staged at the theatre in 1978.
Joyce McMillan added: “The last 12 months have seen an astonishing array of theatrical productions from one-man shows to all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas.
“That different productions are recognised in the ten award categories at this year’s CATS speaks volumes about the calibre of work being produced across the country.”
Hamish Pirie, Quiz Show’s director, said: “The play was conceived in September, before anything about Jimmy Savile had come out.
“Rob’s original concept was simply to formed around a quiz show, but right from the beginning the idea of it was to be around the concept of ‘truth.’
“Rob pretty much locked himself away in a room to write the show but then all the stuff about Jimmy Savile started to emerge and it infiltrated its way into the play, although it’s always been about the point of view of the victims.”
Blythe Duff told the audience at the Traverse that she had first performed there as an aspiring actor 30 years ago.
“I’ve got nothing prepared because I never win anything, so it was lovely to even be nominated by the critics. It takes me back to my very early days when you would fear them being in the room.”
Best male performance: Alan Cumming, Macbeth, National Theatre of Scotland
Best female performance: Blythe Duff, Iron, Firebrand Theatre Company.
Best ensemble: The Seafarer, co-production between Perth Theatre and Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Best director: Rachel O’Riordan, The Seafarer, co-production between Perth Theatre and Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Best design: Ménage à Trois, National Theatre of Scotland, Claire Cunningham and Gail Sneddon
Best new play: Rob Drummond, Quiz Show, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Best production: The List, Stellar Quines, Edinburgh
Best music and sound: Hilary Brooks, White Christmas, Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Best technical presentation: The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, Random Accomplice, Glasgow
Best show for children and young people: Sonata for a Man and a Boy, Macrobert, Stirling