More big names join star cast at National Theatre

TWO of Scotland’s top playwrights have taken roles in the National Theatre of Scotland as its creative team begins to take shape in earnest.

The playwright and poet Liz Lochhead, one of the most important figures in Scotland’s literary landscape, is the first person named to an advisory group of "artistic associates".

David Greig, the leading star of a younger generation of Scottish writers, is to work more closely with the theatre as a dramatic adviser, or "dramaturg".

The theatre’s first director, Vicky Featherstone, confirmed their appointments in an interview with The Scotsman.

Featherstone said: "Liz is somebody who is totally part of the literary heritage of Scotland. She has found ways of creating drama that is contemporary as well as classical for Scotland.

"She was an absolute first choice for me in that advisory capacity."

Greig, she said, would have to do more hands-on work, as dramaturg, a position common in Europe but almost unknown in the UK. He will join the theatre in May and could hold the post for about two years.

Featherstone said: "He will be discussing plays, suggesting plays, working with international writers, helping set up translations and looking at ways we can work on existing Scottish plays. It’s about us being able to access David’s expertise."

The NTS was launched last year as a 7.5 million experiment in making a national theatre without a building or full-time company of actors to call its own. Working on this untried model, with about 4 million in funding a year, it will be expected to work with other theatres, large and small, to revive Scottish drama and take it to new heights.

So far there is little hint of what plays, directors, actors or venues the theatre will use. But Featherstone appears to be building a tightly knit core group focused on new writing, with strong associations with the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and the Traverse in Edinburgh.

This week she named John Tiffany, her former creative partner in the English touring company Paines Plough, as associate director for new work. Tiffany formerly worked at the Traverse theatre, which prides itself on promoting new Scottish writing.

The director of the Tron theatre, Neil Murray, also recently signed up with the national theatre, as executive director.

Lochhead made her name in the 1980s for popular plays including Blood and Ice, centred on the Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley, and Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off.

Her reading of a poem by Scotland’s poet laureate, Edwin Morgan, was rated one of the highlights of the opening ceremony of the new Scottish Parliament building. More recently she wrote a prize-winning adaptation of Euripedes’s Medea. She won wide praise for her work translating and adapting the works of Molire.

Greig is a prolific younger writer whose play San Diego was a huge hit at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2003. His adaptation of the diaries of a Palestinian writer, When the Bulbul Stopped Singing, is currently being staged by the Traverse Theatre company at a theatre festival in Iran.

Featherstone, Murray and Tiffany now fill the top three posts at the theatre. A fourth key position, that of education director, has yet to be filled.

Tiffany and Featherstone ran Paines Plough together for four years. Greig’s new play, Pyrenees, which will premiere at the Tron theatre in March, is co-produced by Paines Plough and Murray.

Robert Dawson Scott, critic and convener of the Critics Awards for Theatres in Scotland, said: "I think these appointments they have made are first class. I don’t think they have put a foot wrong. I couldn’t be happier."

His only concern was the theatre should look at producing classics as well as new work, he said.

Featherstone said Lochhead would join a group of about eight "artistic associates", high-profile actors, writers and other artists working as advisers and potential contributors to the theatre. They will meet regularly to talk through ideas, she said. "They will be close to the national theatre in terms of creative work that we are involved in."

No other artistic associates were confirmed this week but the actor Brian Cox was an early champion of the national theatre, seeming to make him a natural candidate. Another likely candidate might be the playwright and painter John Byrne, the Slab Boys author who, like Lochhead, is a leading Scottish literary figure.

It is thought the artistic associates will not be expected to give up their other jobs and will not be limited to people living permanently in Scotland. They will be a resource to call on for work or advice.

Greig said yesterday he was "incredibly excited" about joining as dramaturg. He hopes to write for the theatre, and also speak about it in lectures and talks.

"A dramaturg is a very common position on the continent. The easiest way of thinking of it is something like a consultant, or strategic thinker. It’s advising the director on how to put exciting shows on the stage and working very closely with writers, helping to identify work."