Scotland still has radical touring theatre – Letters

Don’t write off a whole sector, says a reader

The Stornoway Way by Kevin MacNeil, a Dogstar Theatre Company production (Picture: Leila Angus)

I was interested to read Joyce McMillan’s article in Saturday’s Scotsman Magazine about small-scale touring theatre. I can’t agree with her assertion that “although touring theatre in Scotland is alive and thriving, there is a widespread feeling that it has never quite recaptured the sense of radical purpose, and of a central place in Scotland’s theatre culture, that it had during the 1970s”.

I don’t know where this widespread feeling is located, but if it exists, to me it’s a rather unhealthy and misguided kind of nostalgia.

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My small-scale theatre company, Dogstar, has been touring since 1999, for its first few years in the Highlands, and since then throughout Scotland and abroad.

Every tour we undertake includes village halls in remote venues. Indeed, I would be so bold as to assert that there is no company which has been touring more widely, and with more success in Scotland in recent years. I have been involved in this kind of small-scale touring since I started working in 1982, inspired by 7:84, among others. Dogstar has never lost its radical purpose and we have had many, many memorable nights in community venues with our challenging and engaging shows.

These include Factor 9, Let’s Inherit The Earth, The Sky Is Safe, The Captain’s Collection, Mungo Park, The Stornoway Way, Seven Ages, The Heretic’s Tale, The Seer, e’ Polish Quine, Jacobite Country and The Tailor of Inverness. I certainly think Dogstar has, or at least should have, a central place in Scotland’s theatre culture and I think our audiences would agree.

But we receive no core funding, even though Dogstar is the most internationally successful project-funded company in the history of Scottish theatre and is also one of the only companies which has continued to carry the torch for the kind of small-scale touring Joyce is writing about.

Touring theatre in Scotland is alive, but it’s not thriving and has not been thriving for a long time. It took far too long for Creative Scotland to recognise this, despite the fact that it was directly responsible for the decline and it is now, belatedly, addressing this in a limited way through its new Touring Fund. (Sadly, Dogstar proposals have been rejected for each of this fund’s three rounds of awards to date, by the way. Try to figure that one out – I can’t). I daresay with all the talk of small-scale touring to community venues being a practical, early way to restart theatre there could be a revival in our field. But if it were not for Dogstar, Mull Theatre and a few other companies during the last 15 years or so, Scotland would no longer have much of a small-scale touring theatre circuit at all.

Matthew Zajac, Dogstar Theatre, Upper Knockbain Road, Dingwall

Stay partners

It is not, as R McCallum naively suggests, time for Scotland to stand tall and take responsibility (Letters, 21 July). On the contrary, it is time to take a long, hard look in the cold light of day at our circumstances.

Scotland is part of an integrated UK economy and our trade with the rest of the UK is worth more than our trade with the rest of the world. The M6/M74 is Scotland’s carotid artery. A border on that road, which if the SNP had its way would be the EU’s external border, could only do great harm to that trade and Scotland. We would need a separate currency with all the entirely avoidable difficulties setting that up would entail. Commercial investors would be few and far between.

The SNP has pursued an energy policy of closing real power stations and erecting over 12GW of wind turbines which produce expensive, part-time electricity. These lead to high energy costs, fuel poverty and undermining our economic competitiveness.

Union with England has given us centuries of peace on the Border. Countries hostile to England (France in the past, Russia and China today) would find Scotland very useful for undermining English and Western security. Dividing the island is not in Scottish security interests and will not lead to long-term peace.

Few Europeans would immigrate to Scotland owing to its weak economy. While many Scots were forced to move south for jobs, immigration to Scotland would largely consist of non-western migrants with little to offer economically. The future would look rather like Sweden with a growing network of ‘no-go zones’ where our laws didn’t apply.

Perhaps the biggest negative of all is that the leadership of the nationalist movement is quite uninterested in economics, and unconcerned about the brutal austerity which would occur in the early years of separation.

Otto Inglis, Ansonhill, Crossgates, Fife

Poll stars?

The SNP’s current lead in the polls which is being referred to in the press may well simply be due to the people the pollsters choose to ask. I am not aware of any way of scrutinising those who take part and I must admit that, on a personal basis, I do not know of anyone who has changed their opinion about independence. If anything, the circumstances that would face Scots if we voted for independence next year are infinitely worse now than they were in 2014, so it would be a brave or foolish person who would think that this was an opportune time to sever the links with the rest of the UK.

Another pont which has not been addressed is that Nicola Sturgeon has had free access to the media on a daily basis for four months. Has anyone actually calculated what that amount of exposure would cost her party on a commercial footing? No political party in the history of the UK, even at the height of the Battle of Britain ever had so much exposure to their audience.

The UK government often uses other ministers in their daily statements. In Scotland, there is only ever one person who is always there: Nicola Sturgeon.

Dave Anderson, Broomhill Road, Aberdeen

Show, not tell?

Nicola Sturgeon would like us to believe that her ‘show not tell’ leadership will benefit the campaign for Scottish independence.

I wonder if that will involve showing us how an independent Scotland would make up for the £1,600 per person that we can currently spend on public services. Or perhaps showing us how they would deal with 7 per cent deficit. Or maybe they will show us by how much they will raise our taxes to pay for the setting up of this independent country.

The White Paper was full of promises, telling us how as an independent country with full control of levers, we could be wealthy with a strong economy and a generous welfare system. I can’t remember the section showing us how this would be achieved. I am sure I am not alone in waiting with bated breath to see all the details of this new ‘show not tell’ indy campaign.

Jane Lax, Craigellachie, Aberlour

Midden heaps

I have just seen on television the disgusting aftermath in Leeds city centre of Leeds United’s successful promotion into the upper echelon of the English Premier League.

I’ve been a closet Leeds supporter ever since two of my children attended Leeds University and I was just as delighted as any in Leeds that the team is back in its rightful place, but the sight of the city’s fine streets besmirched by such awful behaviour is quite depressing and unacceptable. Unfortunately nowadays it’s not an unusual sight after almost any large-scale public gathering.

Thankfully sports stadia, concert arenas and other large scale entertainment venues are responsible for meeting the cost of clearing up their ain midden heaps, but for clearing up our city streets and public open spaces, the cost comes out of the public purse.

Perhaps the answer might be to make it a requirement that organisers of large scale public events lodge an insurance bond against the cost of any required subsequent clean-up operation directly attributable to the event.

After all, there is an obscene amount of money sloshing around in the English Premier League, with players being paid inflated wages and millions of pounds often being exchanged for players’ signatures. Surely some of this can be spared to meet public responsibilities?

Robin Whike, Craigmount Park, Edinburgh

New party threat

When the Scottish Executive was formed at Holyrood in 1999 most people regarded the proportional representational system adopted as a fairer system than the ‘first past the post’ system in use at Westminster. The Scottish Parliament system involves the election of 73 Constituency Members and the appointment of 56 Members by proportional representation. This system has worked reasonably well.

However, this system is likely to come under threat, it seems. In addition to the recognised SNP, it seems that a new nationalist organisation is being formed by somewhat extreme members of the SNP. Any such party is obviously intended to cause disruption, and not just to the Unionist parties, but also to the SNP.

If such proposals to form a new party bear fruit, I fear that there will be very little democracy left in Scotland. The majority (56 per cent) of the electorate at the 2014 referendum concluded that Scotland should remain part of the UK. That was the will of the people. The SNP proved themselves to be very bad losers.

This latest Nationalist development is a devious plan designed to bypass democracy in such a way that the constituency MSPs and those appointed via proportional representation would effectively come from the SNP, directly or indirectly, through force of combined numbers.

The political scene would descend into chaos, with the electorate ill-represented by the wrong sort of politicians. ’

Surely the people of Scotland deserve better?

Robert IG Scott, Northfield, Ceres, Fife


Beauty is subjective, it is in the eye of the beholder. Hate speech is similar, it is in the ear of the hearer. One person’s innocuous statement is another person’s hate speech. If the Hate Crime Bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament, it will grow legs and who knows where it will go?

Tom Scott, Cairn Park, Cults, Aberdeen

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