2020: The Year ahead in Theatre, by Joyce McMillan

An unexpected figure, the MP for Surrey Heath, looms large as Mystic McMillan looks into her crystal ball to see what’s coming up for the next 12 months in Scottish theatre
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the MP for Surrey Heath PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA WireMichael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the MP for Surrey Heath PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the MP for Surrey Heath PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

January: The crystal ball clears, and shows an image of a shiny black door marked No. 10. Inside sits a man in Macbeth mode, at the pinnacle of his power, but still uneasy. “To be thus is nothing,” he grunts. “But to be safely thus….” He thinks of Gove, who stabbed him so cruelly in the back in 2016, declaring him “unfit for office”; and he devises a plan. “Govey,” he cries, “you grew up in Scotland. Here’s a bag of taxpayers’ loot, take it up there, bomb them with it, and don’t come back until they’re all true Brits. And don’t forget the cultural types, they’re the worst; tell them they’re getting none of this unless they start talking properly, and sticking a Union Jack on all their branding.”

February: Gove heads for Edinburgh, where he finds not only Dundee Rep’s anti-racist Oor Wullie musical on tour, but five young women in cross-gender garb romping the Lyceum stage in an all-female version of Pride And Prejudice. He has to concede that this brilliant Tron Theatre show, hailed across the UK in 2019, is oddly true to the spirit of Jane Austen’s comic masterpiece; but retreats to the British government’s flashy new Scottish headquarters in the Canongate, to pen a memo saying that the whole place is in the grip of radical political correctness, and – what’s worse – seems to be enjoying it.

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March: Gove reluctantly attends a Lyceum performance of Brecht’s Puntila And Her Man Matti, starring Elaine C Smith; and afterwards delivers a stern reproach to artistic director David Greig for encouraging the performance of classics in Scots voices. “Don’t you know,” he thunders, “that everyone in early 20th century Finland – and for that matter in ancient Rome and 19th century Russia – spoke with the accents of Westminster and Bayswater?” David Greig is a diplomatic man, and therefore does not comment on Gove’s own famous accent, which – to put it politely – is neither fish, fowl, nor convincingly posh.

April: Gove rages over the advertising logo for the Dundee Rep/National Theatre of Scotland production of The Cheviot, The Stag, And The Black, Black Oil, which reads, “The people must own the land.” But oddly, when Gove attends the show at the Pavilion in Glasgow, he forgets to feel angry, and finds himself joining in a rousing chorus of These Are My Mountains.

May: To Perth Theatre, where Gove watches Peter Arnott’s fine monologue about the 1879 Tay Bridge disaster, The Signalman, performed by Tom McGovern. At the end, he finds himself weeping. “Strange how moving a Scots voice can be,” he reflects, “when it’s used appropriately;” but the wider story of the disaster – and about the danger of commissioning corner-cutting private companies to do a job that is vital to public wellbeing – is somewhat lost on him.

June: Summer. Wind and rain.

July: All Scottish theatre turns out for the premieres of two major plays by leading Scottish playwrights - John Byrne’s musical Underwood Lane at the Tron, and David Greig’s Adventures With The Painted People at Pitlochry. Gove is interested in Greig’s story of the Pictish people who once inhabited Tayside; but even more exotic, to him, is Byrne’s tale of a struggling skiffle band in 1950s Paisley, written in honour of the late Gerry Rafferty. Both theatres receive small wads of cash; Gove writes a memo saying this mission might be tougher than anticipated.

August: The Edinburgh International Festival announces that, as a leading global arts festival dedicated to the cause of peace, it cannot be doing with national flags of any stripe; so Gove spends August mooching aimlessly around the city. To his surprise, he enjoys Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea, appearing in a big new National Theatre of Scotland/EIF co-production directed by Sir Michael Boyd, formerly of the Royal Shakespeare Company; Gove is smitten by the fabulous Glasgow-based actor and writer Adura Onashile, who plays the leading role.

September: Post-festival exhaustion, complicated by heartbreak; Gove takes a holiday in France.

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October: Gove is back in Pitlochry for the world premiere of the National Theatre of Scotland/Pitlochry co-production Enough Of Him, a play about Joseph Knight, an 18th century African-born slave who lived in Perthshire, and fought for his freedom in the Scottish courts. Afterwards, Gove composes a sombre memo to Downing Street, saying that the play – by Edinburgh-based writer May Sumbwanyambe – is both very subversive and very good, and that this whole Scottish theatre business is too lively for comfort.

November: In the darkness of Glasgow’s Merchant City, Gove’s tweed cap can be seen among the crowd at a promenade performance of Adura Onashile’s Ghosts, the National Theatre of Scotland’s second show of the year to reflect on Scotland’s historic links with the slave trade. The show finishes, the audience return to the Tron Bar; but Gove has vanished. The remains of the bag of cash are found on his desk in Edinburgh, along with a note saying “gone native;” in London, Boris Johnson smiles a secret smile, and considers his mission accomplished, for now.

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December: All is quiet. But somewhere in eastern Scotland – maybe Kirkcaldy, or Arbroath – a previously unknown performer is spotted playing the daft laddie in the Christmas panto. Is it Jordan Young, on leave from the King’s in Edinburgh? Or the ghost of the late, great Gerard Kelly? No – his accent is too strange for that. He looks happy, though, as he skips on stage shouting “hiya pals!” Happier, anyway, than the man in Downing Street; who has no-one to shout “behind you” when the next gaunt conspirator approaches with a knife, and has spent the year learning just how uneasily lies the head that wears the crown.

All the shows named will take place at the times and places mentioned; the rest, of course, is pure conjecture