Brian Ferguson: National Theatre of Scotland’s new home is taking shape

Jackie Wylie was artistic director at The Arches in Glasgow for seven years before it closed last summer.
Jackie Wylie was artistic director at The Arches in Glasgow for seven years before it closed last summer.
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It was late March but there was nothing spring-like in the air as we gathered on the banks of the Forth & Clyde Canal as wind and rain swirled around us.

So it was with some relief we were able to step inside the vast warehouse for a first glimpse inside the National Theatre of Scotland’s new home. I can recall thinking the rather gloomy abandoned “cash and carry” building felt more suitable for a post-apocalyptic zombie movie rather than the city’s new creative powerhouse.

Fast forward 18 months and much had changed when I returned to see progress on the latest corner of Glasgow’s booming canal-side culture quarter.

For a start, Laurie Samson, the artistic director and chief executive of NTS when the plans for its first permanent base were being developed, is no longer with the company having resigned in the middle of building work after speaking out about the impact of funding cuts on the company. It is hard to imagine how much upheaval there was behind the scenes in trying to recruit a new figurehead, while preparing a move to the new HQ, and running a £2 million fundraising campaign to help pay for it - in the midst of NTS’s 10th anniversary programme.

But it was finally able to signal the start of a new era late last month with the announcement of Mr Sansom’s successor, Jackie Wylie, who was previously at the helm of The Arches. This news was announced shortly before NTS finally took up residence in Rockvilla, where rehearsal spaces, a costume department, workshops and offices will be created by the time it is fitted out in January. When it becomes a real hive of activity - with several productions in rehearsals at the same time, others being thrashed out around them, and visiting artists passing through its revolving door - the vision developed just three years ago with architects Hoskins will really begin to take shape.

In Edinburgh, things tend to move at a slower pace. An overhaul of the Scottish collection of the National Galleries of Scotland has been a priority for its director-general Sir John Leighton since his appointment a decade ago. But work is only now about to start on a £16.8 million project to create fit spaces for the nation’s most important paintings.Organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations will yet again have to built a vast stage in Princes Street Gardens to accommodate Paolo Nutini’s sell-out concerts more than a decade after the city council began moves to replace the Ross Bandstand when the festivities fell victim to bad weather. A fitting arena seems as far away as ever, despite a philanthropic offer to bankroll the project.T he Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Filmhouse Cinema and Traverse Theatre have all harboured ambitions to move into new homes in the capital over the last decade, but none of their hopes and aspirations have even reached the starting blocks.

But with many still coming to terms with the sudden closure of the Inverleith House art gallery, some of the despair about Edinburgh’s cultural infrastructure has been lifted with news that the old Leith Theatre building will be brought back to life next year - after nearly three decades. If anyone is wondering about the potential for a building that has been shamefully neglected since the 1980s head over to the Facebook page for the Hidden Door Festival - which will take over its spaces next May. Its organisers deserve every possible support to ensure their venture is only the beginning of an exciting new chapter, for both the building and the city’s wider cultural aspirations.