The National Theatre of Scotland has become a cultural landmark and put Scottish theatre on an international stage
AS ARTISTIC director and chief executive of the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), Vicky Featherstone is one of our Scots of the Year, but really the award goes to the whole of that extraordinary organisation, which, in 2007, continued to combine creativity with a commitment to having their theatrequake felt by as wide an audience as possible.
In July, I spoke to John Tiffany, the associate director in charge of new work, about the expectations surrounding each new NTS production. He was thrilled that the staging of a new play could provoke the same anticipation as a hot band releasing their latest album. The NTS does generate that sort of heat. Maybe it's because of its lack of a fixed base, giving it a certain vagabond energy that goes into the work.
Since launching in February 2006, the company has performed 59 productions in 89 locations, to almost a quarter of a million people. This was the year of louche gods (Alan Cumming in The Bacchae, Tam Dean Burn in Venus as a Boy) and looming monsters (the puppets of The Wolves in the Walls, the child-killers of Aalst). One weekend in April, I saw Tutti Frutti and Black Watch and would count both as among the best things I've seen at the theatre.
Black Watch, in particular, was extraordinary. Regardless of your views on Iraq, it was impossible to not feel proud of both the Scottish soldiers represented on stage and the Scottish creativity which had put them there. The NTS website features extremely moving post-performance interviews with members of the public. One woman can hardly speak for tears.
Ten years ago, Featherstone gave up a career in TV to work in theatre, and was artistic director of Paines Plough until the NTS job came along. When she saw how audiences reacted to Black Watch, she must have felt that swapping screen for stage had been the right choice.
Black Watch came about as a result of Featherstone, in 2004, asking the writer Gregory Burke to follow the story of the Black Watch regiment, and although it premiered at the Edinburgh Festival last year, 2007 saw it become a phenomenon. It toured Scotland, was performed in LA and New York, and was filmed for the BBC. Next year, it travels to Australia and New Zealand.
Writing in the introduction to the Faber edition of the script, Featherstone has no doubt about the play's significance and what it means for the organisation she leads: "If the non-building-based model of the NTS can create something so universal, so powerful and so pertinent, we really do have the opportunity here to create a cultural landmark. Not a monument to the past, but rather a breathing, flexible, challenging and bold movement for the future."