Brexit will loom large over Scottish theatre next year, predicts Mystic McMillan, but what else awaits in 2019?
The New Year dawns; but after the combination of farce and horror-show that was 2018, no-one is in the mood for any theatre that doesn’t aspire to a certain dark, nihilistic glamour. Perhaps it’s looming climate catastrophe, or the thought of the chaos that might ensue following a hard Brexit, but only a La Clique-style cabaret at the end of the world will do for 2019. Nonetheless, David Greig and his co-producers at Bristol Old Vic score an unexpected Lyceum success, in January, with their stage version of the epic mountaineering story Touching The Void; perhaps because it involves a chillingly close encounter with death, and a survival so improbable it seems more like dream than reality.
Early in the month, Scotland’s annual Manipulate Festival of visual theatre hits the spot, with its feast of pan-European imagery both wild and apocalyptic. Then on the 21st, at the Tramway, Vanishing Point and the Citizens’ Theatre – with the infinitely weird and brilliant cabaret band A New International – launch their timely co-production of The Dark Carnival. The show is inspired by an album by horrorcore band Insane Clown Posse, in which – fittingly enough – the dead inhabitants of a city cemetery rouse themselves to help the living, who seem to be suffering from some strange, self-inflicted crisis.
Britain’s Brexit date with destiny looms; and on the night of 29 March the National Theatre of Scotland stages a farewell Dear Europe event at Glasgow venue SWG3, masterminded by leftfield genius Stewart Laing. Late in what proves to be a wild night, several audience members seem to disappear into a parallel universe in which Scotland never left the European Union; they do not return.
People have little time for theatre in April, as they are all down at the supermarket or the local chemist, fighting over scant post-Brexit supplies. Nostalgia becomes a refuge for some, however; as A Play, A Pie and A Pint celebrates its 500th play, since 2004, by reviving Morag Fullarton’s Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, the movie tribute show that the audience has voted its favourite lunchtime show so far. “If we’re going to re-enact Second World War conditions,” say some in the audience, “we might as well have the glamour and romance to go with it.”
Undaunted by mounting economic chaos, the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep launch their new small-scale touring version of John McGrath’s great 1970s ceilidh show The Cheviot The Stag And The Black, Black Oil, reimagined for our times. Its effect on audiences is unexpected, though; as they start to weep copiously, and demand to be taken back to 1973, so that they
can change the course of Scottish history.
Outside the Lyceum Theatre, audiences are observed fighting for the last few tickets for Zinnie Harris’s production of The Duchess Of Malfi, a Jacobean tragedy just about dark and sultry enough to meet the mood of the times. Meanwhile at Pitlochry, audiences at the theatre’s opening summer production of Summer Holiday rush the stage in an effort to get back to the sunny 1960s; but to no avail.
Holiday time. Scotland is so overcrowded with British holidaymakers unwilling to pay extra to get to the rest of Europe that no theatre can take place, except at Pitlochry.
The Edinburgh Festival is cancelled due to visa problems, emergency funding cuts and increasing local disgust at the excessive “festivalisation” of Scotland’s capital. However, the NTS/EIF stage version of Red Dust Road, by Scotland’s Makar Jackie Kay, proceeds as planned. The show tells the story of Kay’s relationship with her Nigerian birth father; she observes that even though the western world is coming to an end, Africa is still cheeringly inclined to behave as if it had a future.
Post-festival blues are replaced by post-no-Festival blues, which turn out to be worse. Very little happens.
The theatre scene remains quiet, although Edinburgh Playhouse audiences at the Queen musical We Will Rock You stage a riot when they realise that the script involves a geeky guy coming back from the future to discover what great rock music was all about. Like “gilets jaunes” across Europe, they start demanding time-travel back to some period of political and cultural history they can understand; commercial theatre managements become increasingly anxious, as they realise much of their repertoire is fuelling nostalgic passions they can no longer contain, even with offers of free interval ice-cream.
Brilliant young Scottish novelist Jenni Fagan and director Debbie Hannan combine to create a thrilling National Theatre of Scotland production of Fagan’s dystopian novel The Panopticon, about a young girl trapped in the underbelly of a vicious surveillance society. Audiences, though, are not impressed with its claims to “magic realism.” “It’s set in the real world, what’s the use of that?” they cry; and demand a version with added cabaret, glitter and satire.
The panto season begins; but performances of Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the King’s in Edinburgh are severely disrupted when audiences break into uncontrollable booing at the first round of Brexit jokes from Allan Stewart and Grant Stott, playing Dame and villain respectively. “It was the bowls of Brexit porridge, you see,” said one survivor of a rowdy opening performance. “They started to say that one was too hard, and the other was so sweet it wasn’t porridge at all, and the third was just right; and at that point people just lost it. My wee boy said, ‘Why are the people so angry, Mummy?’, but I didn’t have the heart to explain. I just hope someone comes along with a magic wand to sort all this out, before 2020 gets under way; but I’m not holding my breath, are you?”
All the shows mentioned here will take place at the places and times suggested above; the rest, mercifully, is fiction.