A FLAGSHIP theatre production tackling the independence debate will tour village halls and community centres across Scotland in the immediate run-up to next year’s decision day, The Scotsman can reveal.
The National Theatre of Scotland is joining forces with the producers of the award-winning A Play, A Pie and A Pint series of shows for a “political variety show” expected to be performed just weeks before voters go the polls.
It will be directed by veteran Scottish theatre figure David MacLennan, artistic director of the lunchtime play series at Oran Mor, in Glasgow.
One of Scotland’s most successful playwrights of recent years, David Greig, is expected to lead a team of writers from different generations who will be working on the production, including Alan Bissett, Kieran Hurley, Dave Anderson and Peter Arnott.
MacLennan, a key member of both the former 7:84 and Wildcat theatre companies, said the as-yet-unnamed show was expected to feature “polemic, music and most definitely comedy.”
He told The Scotsman: “The idea is not to put on a show which is simply promoting or arguing against the case for independence.
“We’re not going to be campaigning for a yes or no, but we will be asking much more profound questions surrounding independence.
“The show will be trying to air some of the more complex issues that are not getting looked at by the politicians or, dare I say it, some sections of the media.
“It will bring a group of writers and their voices together and at the moment the idea is that David Greig will be holding the editorial pen and I’ll be directing it.
“The idea is very much to take it out on tour right around the country, into community centres and village halls, and we want to make it right up to date, so I think we’d be looking at performances next August and September.”
Greig - whose best-known plays include Midsummer and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart - told The Scotsman: “The notion we’ve been knocking about is that theatre, particularly with the National Theatre of Scotland, is a place where you can discuss. There are not many of those places left.
“I’m pretty sure we will be performing the show right up until the referendum and hopefully even on the night itself.
“The idea, which we’re developing with NTS at the moment, we have is to use stories from ordinary people in every part of Scotland, as well as from a number of playwrights, so that it is a different show every night. There will be lots and lots of voices in there.
“Different parts of the show will come from various perspectives in the debate and we also want to look at the issues that are not being addressed in the question that people will be asked, issues which are hugely relevant at the moment and are developing on almost a daily basis.”
Neil Murray, executive producer of NTS, said: “From our perspective, two of the great pieces we have done have been quick response pieces. Black Watch was written in 2006 about something that happened in 2004 and Enquirer, the piece about Leveson, was done in the moment of that happening.
“I would be nervous of somebody who was trying to write the great referendum play right now , because so much is going to change.”
News of the NTS referendum show emerged amid claims that playwrights in Scotland are wary of tackling the independence debate in their work because of the “divisive” nature of the current political debate north of the border.
Alasdair Gray, one of Glasgow’s best-known artists, told The Scotsman at the weekend he had no regrets about his infamous “settlers and colonists” essay.
The artistic director of the Traverse Theatre, London-born Orla O’Loughlin, said she had had just one submission on the issue of independence for Scotland. Her venue hosted a major debate on Scottish theatre and the forthcoming poll at the weekend.
She said: “My job is to produce great work, discover and develop and support new writing talent and new voices, and to push limits theatrically, politically, morally and intellectually.
“I have the privilege of being at the helm of Scotland’s new writing theatre at a very significant time.
“My response is to wait and see what emerges. I use those words very deliberately because the only play that has come to me, or been pitched to me, in my brief time in Scotland - in just under a year and a half - that directly deals with the subject of the break-up of the Union has come from a Welsh playwright, and I have commissioned that play.
“On a more personal note, the referendum debate of course talks about issues of identity. I’m very aware I sit here with an English accent and the recent comments regarding settlers and colonists are very much in my mind.
“I think it becomes more pertinent and more amplified as the debate becomes more pertinent and amplified.”
Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman’s theatre critic, told the debate, said: “I do think the polarising nature of this referendum is damaging.
“It is problematic and I am slightly worried by what Orla says and that simply no Scottish writers are addressing it at present.
“It is really interesting and maybe a sign of how far the nature of this particular (referendum) question silences artists from dealing directly with the debate, although that it not to say that they are not dealing indirectly very much with the kind of society that we live in and the world around us.”
Actor Tam Dean Burn, star of River City, said: “It’s the artists that have kicked off all this anti-Englishness, which is what it fundamentally is. Settlers and colonists came from an artist, Alasdair Gray, and there are other artists as well.
“The incendiary difficulties that are coming up are coming from the artists, not from the politicians, thank goodness.
“It’s not really kicking off yet, with any sort of anti-Scottishness, but I think it could, and I think it will, because we are setting up a division with this referendum. I have felt so isolated.”
Kieran Hurley, whose show Beats won the best new play honour at last year’s Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland, said: “The impending referendum demands that we ask big questions about who we are, where we are and where we might be going.
“Theatre should always be doing this. I’m excited by the demands I think this moment makes on us and I hope we can all rise to the challenge.
“The challenge for writers and theatre-makers might be in figuring out how to navigate this complicated moment without the urgent conversations that it demands being subsumed into the relentless branding for either camp. These are exciting times, but potentially dangerous and divisive ones.”