2017 Arts Preview - The Year Ahead in Theatre
The year opens on a landscape of unrelieved gloom. Climate change rages out of control, refugees flee from ever-expanding war zones to find all borders closed, and relatively comfortable citizens of the west increasingly seem inclined - possibly after seeing the Lyceum’s Christmas production of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – to believe six impossible nasty things before breakfast, in order to justify this grim state of affairs. Small wonder that theatre audiences react by demanding not gritty realism but ever more optimism, escapism and nostalgia, or if possible, all three. On 14 January, at the gala Lyceum opening of the Melbourne Malthouse’s production of Picnic At Hanging Rock, the theatre’s artistic director David Greig makes an upbeat speech about civic engagement in terrible times; on the whole, the audience prefers the speech to the show. Meanwhile, the National Theatre of Scotland throws a party to launch its new headquarters at Rockvilla, beside the canal in Glasgow; but several partygoers are only narrowly restrained from chucking themselves into the murky waters, after a tweet from Donald Trump, the newly inaugurated American President, announcing that he and his pal Vladimir Putin are going to collaborate in achieving world domination.
After a brief statement from the Scottish government deploring the new world order, the nation goes into tim’rous beastie mode, and decides to keep its head down for a while. Early in the month, people are caught on camera fighting for the last few tickets for the stadium version of Still Game at the 12,000-seat Hydro, despite an eye-watering top ticket price of almost £200. At the Tron, the incoming NTS boss Jackie Wylie launches the new multi-venue Glasgow festival, Take Me Somewhere, on which she has been working for the past year. And at the Traverse, Gary McNair opens his new reality show Locker Room Talk, an investigation into whether Donald Trump’s language about women represents the way men really talk; the President tweets that McNair is not his favourite person, and the beleaguered playwright goes into hiding in the Traverse’s unsolicited script cupboard.
The Lyceum in Edinburgh hosts the press night of Dominic Hill’s new production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, a co-production with the Citizens’; audiences are delirious with delight at the chance to spend an evening in the dotty home-counties fantasy-world conjured up by Coward during the roaring Twenties. Meanwhile, the Citizens’ February production of John Byrne’s Cuttin’ A Rug, set at a 1957 staff dance in Paisley Town Hall, visits the King’s in Edinburgh, offering a parallel trip into the past for fans of 1950s popular culture, as well as a boost for the famously optimistic Paisley 2021 City of Culture campaign.
The Traverse launches Stef Smith’s brilliant new play The Girl In The Machine, about artificial intelligence and the idea of a post-physical existence for humanity; audiences declare it too realistic to bear, and flee weeping into the night. Leading playwright Peter Arnott writes a new lunchtime play for Play, Pie Pint and the Traverse about John Wilkes Booth, who shot an American President; after another late-night tweet from the Oval Office, he has to join Gary McNair in the script cupboard.
Jo Clifford’s incendiary unproduced political drama War In America opens at the long-abandoned Royal High School on Calton Hill, in a production by Edinburgh’s new young Attic Theatre Collective, based at the King’s Theatre. After noting the play’s radical critique of capitalism, Donald Trump tweets that he is considering sending in a drone, as a way of bringing an abrupt end to Edinburgh’s years of indecision over the building’s future.
June & July
Little happens. A touring musical comedy version of the Addams Family arrives at the Festival Theatre, but flops after audiences find it too similar to real-life scenes filmed at the Trump White House.
During the Edinburgh Festival, the National Theatre of Scotland stages its new transgender show Eve/Adam, complete with online global choir of transsexual people, and is picketed by the newly-empowered forces of bigotry; the Scottish government declares that the tim’rous beastie policy is clearly not working, and goes ahead with its annual international Culture Summit. Delegates propose replacing Tim’Rous Beastie with New Enlightement; the Scottish government says it will commission a report, to be published shortly after the end of the world.
Scottish theatre veteran Tony Roper launches a 35th anniversary touring production of his great play The Steamie, written in the 1980s about the early 1950s. On opening night, audiences besiege the box office at the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy, desperate for a glimpse of a past when things were tough, but seemed to be getting better; similar scenes pursue the show across the country, until its grand finale at the King’s in Edinburgh, on 11 November.
October & November
Fog, rain. In a minor act of defiance against the looming apocalypse, Creative Scotland announces another three-year funding plan, slashing here and cutting there; the Scottish theatre community goes to the pub.
The National Theatre of Scotland’s new artistic director, Jackie Wylie, launches a fierce and inspiring
2018 programme under the title Party At The World’s End. Despite all efforts to prevent the NTS’s new headquarters from becoming a performance space, artists from across the world begin to converge
on Rockvilla, camping along the canal bank, and staging impromptu shows. Scottish theatre’s leading lights respond by presenting a outdoor production of Jack And The Beanstalk, starring Jackie Wylie as Jack, Dominic Hill as Dame Trott, David Greig as the singing harp,
and Jack and Victor from Still
Game as Daisy The Cow.
Meanwhile in Edinburgh, the
King’s Theatre launches its 2017 production of Cinderella, and – as
ever – simultaneously puts tickets on sale for its 2018 panto. Sales are sluggish, though; and audience members, when surveyed, say
they feel it will take more than a bit
of panto magic to see the world through to the end of 2018 – something more, they say, like a downright miracle. ■
*Apart from the fantasy outdoor version of Jack And The Beanstalk at Rockvilla, all shows and festivals mentioned will take place at the places and times described, during 2017.