NTS joins Team America for a drama of ideas

THE National Theatre of Scotland will join forces with one of New York's leading theatre companies to mark its return to the Edinburgh International Festival this summer with a show inspired by the debate over Scottish independence.

Anything That Gives Off Light will premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in August.
Anything That Gives Off Light will premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in August.

Anything That Gives Off Light, which will trace the relationship of Scotland and America back to the time of the 18th century Enlightenment, is expected to be one of the theatrical highlights of the EIF programme this summer.

Leading Scottish actors will join forces with performers from The Team, the Brooklyn-based ensemble which has won numerous plaudits at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in previous years.

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It will be the first brand new NTS production to be programmed by new EIF director Fergus Linehan since his appointment in the spring of 2013.

The new production, which will have an extended run at the festival, will explore the “overlapping national myths” of America and Scotland through a story largely set in the Highlands.

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The play will unfold after a Scot returning for a belated homecoming heads off on a spontaneous tour with a lone American he bumps into drinking in a pub.

The play, which was developed by the two companies in the run-up to the referendum vote, has been jointly created by the two companies over the last couple of years, is billed as a “tale of two nations reshaping, rebuilding, and wrestling with their own identities and heritage.”

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The “foot-stomping collaboration” is expected to examine the influence that key Scottish thinkers like Adam Smith, James Macpherson, Walter Scott and David Hume had on America.

NTS, which announced the show today as part of its 10th anniversary season, says it will also “explore the tension between self interest and sacrifice and the individual and the collective in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.”

The show, which will be set to a soundtrack of traditional music from both Scotland and America, will feature Brian Ferguson, one of the stars of the original run of NTS hit Black Watch, and Sandy Grierson, who wowed critics last year for his performance in the EIF production Lanark, a new adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s iconic novel.

Previous NTS success at the EIF include The James Plays, Rona Munro’s epic trilogy about the three generations of Stewart Kings who ruled Scotland in the 15th century, and The Bacchae, which saw Alan Cumming front a new adaptation of the Greek tragedy.

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Two critically-acclaimed NTS productions, Dragon and Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, were revived by Mr Linehan for his debut programme last year.

The Team, who are four-times winners of Scotsman Fringe First Awards for their previous shows in Edinburgh, previously collaborated with NTS on the show Architecting.

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The two companies performed a “work-in-progress” version of their new production, under the guise of The Scottish Enlightenment Project, at Summerhall arts centre during the 2014 Fringe.

The show, which only ran for three performances, was said to “use the Scottish Enlightenment as a springboard to dive into the murky depths of our national mythologies.”

Promotional material at the time said: “In America, the underdog battles against all odds to triumph in the dying seconds of the game.

“In Scotland, we dwell on moments of glorious defeat snatched from the jaws of victory; the glass isn’t just half empty, it’s been smashed on the bar and waved in your face.”

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The Team, which was formed just over a decade ago and is led by artistic director Rachel Chavkin, has previously been dedicated to “creating new work about the experience of living in America today.”

Ms Chavkin said: “This piece began in a pub one night, when several Scottish friends started riffing on American movie endings, where the underdog snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. One of them said, ‘If The Karate Kid was made in Scotland, it would end when Daniel-san breaks his leg.’

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“The Team has always been obsessed with the gap between inherited mythology and lived experience.

“And the Enlightenment ideals of personal liberty and self-determination are responsible for both the most utopian and most divisive American values today, embodied in our first and second amendments, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.

“As our Scottish friends and their country were wrestling with the possibility of independence and the question of what kind of democracy they wanted to be, it seemed like the perfect time to begin a collaboration about parallel national and personal narratives.”

Mr Linehan said: “This production marks 10 years of collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival, a relationship that began with Anthony Neilson’s Realism and has gone on to feature projects such as The James Plays and, most recently, Dragon.

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“The National Theatre of Scotland has, in that time, enriched the festival with the startling originality and virtuosity that has earned them plaudits throughout the world.”

“With Anything That Gives Off Light we welcome Rachel, Davey and Jessica, a group of artists whose work has been marked by combination of curiosity, fearlessness and virtuosity.”

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Meanwhile NTS has announced that a new double-bill of plays about transgender people will also be part of its 10th anniversary season.

Transgender playwright Jo Clifford and Cora Bissett, the theatre-maker behind the hit musical Glasgow Girls and the sex-trafficking play Roadkill, will be creating Adam and Eve, which will be staged by NTS in Edinburgh and Glasgow in October.

NTS has already announced plans to perform the first instalment of a new cycle of works commemorating the stories of the 306 men shot for cowardice and desertion during the First World War.

Dawn, which is set in France around the time of the Battle of the Somme and will be performed inside a barn in the Perthshire countryside, will explore the real-life stories of three young men whose contribution in the century-old conflict has been all-but-forgotten.

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The James Plays, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and Let The Right One In will be among the previous NTS hits revived this year, which will see the company touring to the likes of the United States, Canada, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.