IT IS the most prestigious job in Scottish theatre. So, just days after Vicky Featherstone’s shock resignation as artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), it is perhaps unsurprising speculation over who her successor is already at fever pitch.
A cast of names is being whispered off stage for the job – which will see the new incumbent take on an organisation responsible for international hits such as Gregory Burke’s Black Watch and David Greig’s The Bacchae.
The front-runners include John Tiffany, Featherstone’s second in command at NTS, Michael Boyd, founding director of Glasgow’s Tron and current artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Tom Creed, who runs the Cork Midsummer Festival and is bringing a Samuel Beckett production to this year’s Edinburgh Festival.
But with a round of musical chairs within Scottish theatre recently completed – James Brining is leaving Dundee Rep for the West Yorkshire Playhouse; Dominic Hill has just taken over the Citizens’ in Glasgow and Orla O’Loughlin and Rachel O’Riordan have only recently landed at the Traverse Theatre and Perth Theatre respectively – the NTS board, which must make the decision before Featherstone’s departure for the Royal Court Theatre in London at the beginning of next year, has a tough task ahead.
Theatre critic Joyce McMillan said: “Some of the most obvious candidates who are already working in Scotland have just taken other big jobs, so there’s a high likelihood that the board will be looking at a lot of candidates from outside Scotland.
“There is huge interest in the NTS worldwide, and there will be huge international interest in the job. We’re likely to see candidates from the Netherlands, North America, and Scotland itself.”
Tiffany – who has worked in tandem with Featherstone on many projects and will shortly direct Hollywood actor Cumming in an NTS production of Macbeth – is perhaps the obvious candidate for the job. He produced the original and highly successful production of Black Watch, but is said to enjoy the freedom of not being solely in charge at NTS.
“I think John prefers to be a bit lighter on his feet because he has worked all over the world and it’s a role that demands a huge amount of chief executive work,” said Judith Doherty, of Grid Iron Theatre company. “However, he is the first name a lot of people would think of because of his track record.”
Other heavyweight names are being banded about. Boyd, who recently announced his departure from the RSC, could be tempted back to his old stomping grounds north of the Border. Rupert Goold, director of the play Enron and Marianne Elliott, co-director of War Horse may also be in the frame.
Other London luminaries could be considered. Lyndsey Turner is believed to have lost out to Featherstone for the Royal Court job. Bijan Shebani, director of The Brothers Size and Gone Too Far, and Emma Rice, joint artistic director of Knee High, might also be in the running.
However, one Scottish theatre insider cautioned against making a hasty appointment from London or abroad. “There is a tendency with senior Scottish arts appointments for people to be dazzled by international CVs and end up appointing someone who knows nothing of the arts in Scotland and spends the first three years learning where everybody is,” said the insider.
“I hope the board looks to appoint someone who knows the artistic landscape in Scotland and understands it.”
Scottish playwright Peter Arnott said: “Before the board [members] decide on who they want, I’d be interested to know if they’re going to think about why they want them – about collective as well as individual direction. I suspect that’s the last thing they want to do but the organisation is so unique, so based on the very strong personalities and visions of its original team, that I’m not sure they can avoid it.”
Docherty concluded: “I’m looking forward to the ensuing drama.”
Contenders: Names in the frame
Currently associate director at NTS and Featherstone’s second in command. Responsible for many of NTS’s early successes, including Black Watch. Likes living in Scotland and may not be keen to move south but a decision may depend on whether he wants to remain without Featherstone.
Recently announced he was to stand down as Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company later this year. Boyd is a veteran of the Scottish theatre scene as the founding artistic director of the Tron. A natural choice for the NTS job, although having quit the RSC he may look to go freelance.
Tom Creed runs the Cork Midsummer Festival and is a prolific director in his own right. His acclaimed production of Samuel Beckett’s Watt plays in this year’s Edinburgh International Festival and he has a good knowledge of theatre in Scotland and elsewhere in the world.