Joyce McMillan: 2014 a vintage year for NTS

Compton Mackenzie's Whisky Galore. Picture: Contributed
Compton Mackenzie's Whisky Galore. Picture: Contributed
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FROM The James Plays at the Edinburgh International Festival to the Great Yes-No-Don’t-Know Five Minute Theatre Show, 2014 was a vintage year for the National Theatre of Scotland, as the company stepped up in impressive style to the challenge of capturing the mood of a country divided by the referendum question, but still determined to enjoy the debate.

The question now, according to the NTS’s artistic director Laurie Sansom, is how to follow all that, as an exceptional year for Scotland fades into history; and to judge by the intensely varied menu of work just announced for the first half of 2015, it’s one the company is well able to answer.

The season announced by the NTS comes under the general title “Belong”; and what’s perhaps most striking about it is its intense internationalism, as it focuses on the dilemmas of those whose lives force them to think every day about the different communities in which they have lived, and how far they belong to any of them.

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At the core of the programme sit two stage adaptations of great Scottish novels, as the NTS begins several years of theatrical exploration of Scotland’s literary heritage; yet both Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore and Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat involve stories of people alienated from communities, or cheerfully drawn into them.

And around these shows circle a series of productions that highlight the global interconnectedness of 21st century lives, from the spring series of short new plays by young Russian and Ukrainian writers co-produced with A Play, A Pie And A Pint, to Douglas Maxwell’s new version of Argentina’s favourite comedy La Nonna, now re-named Yer Granny, and set in a Scottish-Italian chip shop.

Shows like Rites - a bold attempt by Glasgow theatre-maker Cora Bissett, in partnership with Manchester’s Contact Theatre, to tackle the issue of female genital mutilation as it affects women living in Britain - may be tough to sell to audiences who have sent a clear signal, in 2014, about how much they love to see our national theatre company staging Scottish history, and conventionally Scottish subject-matter.

Yet it has always been part of NTS’s mission to keep reminding us of just how diverse and dynamic the reality of Scotland is, in the 21st century; and the bright, challenging range of work fulfils that mission to the letter.

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