Dark horse lands top theatre job

• First director of the new National Theatre of Scotland has been named as Vicky Featherstone

• After seven years at the helm of Paines Plough theatre, she will command a 7.5 million budget in her new job

• About 30 candidates applied for the post, with a shortlist reduced to just six names

THE NEW National Theatre of Scotland named as its first director yesterday the 37-year-old female boss of a London touring company who had appeared on virtually no-one’s list of favourites.

Vicky Featherstone was touted as a bold choice for what promises to be the biggest job in Scottish theatre.

She will command a 7.5 million budget and shoulder with it the long-held dreams of a Scottish theatrical community that feels underfunded and often under-appreciated.

In her seven years as artistic director of the Paines Plough company, which specialises in producing new writing, Ms Featherstone is credited with turning it into a major force in British theatre. She has worked with major Scottish playwrights, run co-productions with Scottish companies and collected many prizes, among them three Fringe First awards in Edinburgh.

Calling herself "fearless", and vowing not to let people down, Ms Featherstone said at the announcement of her appointment in Glasgow: "This is an incredible moment, a life-changing moment, for me personally and also, I believe, for theatre, and for Scotland. We will have very exciting, epic, state-of-the-nation productions that will make us proud to be alive, let alone Scottish."

Ms Featherstone was born in Surrey but spent her primary school years in Clackmannanshire, before moving with her family to India.

She did a drama degree at Manchester University and did some directing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Bolton Octagon theatre before taking her current job.

Ms Featherstone, who is married, will formally take up her new post on 1 November. She said she hoped to announce a programme in the spring and stage the first National Theatre of Scotland production at the end of next year.

She will live in Glasgow, where the NTS is to have its offices - it will have no theatre building of its own, instead commissioning and producing work at other centres.

About 30 people applied for the job and Ms Featherstone was picked from a final list of six. She is neither a stalwart of the Scottish theatre scene nor a household name. Candidates mentioned for the job - almost all men - had ranged from the director Kenny Ireland to the heavy-hitting actor and director Ian McDiarmid.

Eddie Jackson, the chairman of the Federation of Scottish Theatres, said: "Well done for getting the job. But there will be a sense of disappointment that they weren’t able to appoint from within the existing Scottish theatre community or from the Scottish diaspora."

Another major figure in Scottish theatre, who did not want to be named, noted her lack of experience in producing large-scale works and said: "She’s got a big job on her hands. It’s not a boring choice, but risky and therefore quite exciting."

There was a broadly positive reaction to the choice of a woman who was not on the list of usual suspects. Richard Findlay, the NTS chairman, said her achievements at Paines Plough had included turning round the company’s deficit.

He suggested her reputation and experience could help take Scottish productions to theatres in England and abroad - she has carried out international tours with Paines Plough, and has worked in Mexico, Finland, Sweden, Italy and Lithuania.

Philip Howard, the artistic director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, said: "She’s one of the best directors of new writing around - and has a golden touch. I don’t think she would have taken on the job if she didn’t know she could make a success of it."