Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Do you like it here now? Are you settling in?

The decision by new National Theatre of Scotland (NToS) supremo Laurie Sansom to commission two of Scotland’s finest drama writers/producers - David Greig and Dave MacLennan - to collaborate in producing drama inspired by the referendum ‘debate’ has prompted this response (at last), and possibly even given the lie to Alasdair Gray’s deliberate polemic against the Anglo-centric control (as he sees it) of Scotland’s art establishment.

David Greig
Dave MacLennan

His attack on English people in the arts certainly stirred up the respective nationalist tribes - as he presumably wanted, Early attackers often did themselves no favours by labelling Gray as a racist without reading the essay, although defenders were often disingenuous in the extreme to suggest that offence was being manufactured by the recipients, rather than given by the perpetrator.

It is clear (I think) that Gray is not a racist, but someone of his huge writing talents must be aware of
Alasdair Gray
the impact that his choice of words has. Labelling people ‘colonists’ is obviously designed to tar them with an imperial brush, but ‘settlers’ too - albeit a lesser accusation - is too often bracketed with the adjective ‘white’ to be a neutral term. Indeed it is not that long ago that the advent of the avowedly anti-English ‘Settler Watch’ in NE Scotland caused the SNP to exclude them as racist.
Vicky Featherstone

It is a matter then of considerable regret, that a man of obvious talent, like Gray chooses to have a pop at the people he says control funding/commissioning of Scottish artistic talent on the basis of their place of birth and nationality. Had he done so on the basis of being fully paid-up members of the establishment there may have been more accuracy in his attacks, but to include people like Vicky Featherstone - Sansom’s predecessor as Director of NToS - indicates how far off the radar Gray has gone.

While one can have reservations about some of the directions taken by NToS at the beginning, (and surely any artistic venture must be given space to experiment?) surely the Director who funded and developed Black Watch has some understanding of Scottish culture? Interestingly enough, Black Watch director, John Tiffany also hails from South of the border (Yorkshire - in fact), and has had some pointed things to say about Gray’s comments - not the least of which is to identify the oft-ignored fact that many parts of England also feel badly ruled by London and the South.

In addition to both (so-far) Heads of NToS, and Janet Archer, the new Head of Creative Scotland (surely a much more poisoned chalice) a cursory look round prominent artists who have contributed to the Scottish arts scene produces a fair sprinkling of ‘non-Scots’. Composer Peter Maxwell Davies, for example, has lived in Orkney for 42 years (as long as I have lived in Scotland - not that there are any other links!). Director and playwright John McGrath was born and brought up in Birkenhead and North Wales - anyone suggest that The Cheviot... or Ane Satire of the Four Estaites shows a lack of understanding of contemporary (or historical) Scottish culture?

Interestingly enough in a recent Herald article, Keith Bruce pointed out that choreographer, Matthew Bourne has asked some really serious points about Scottish national identity in his ballet Highland Fling. Indeed he (unusually) has let Scottish Ballet stage it (he normally reserves his work to his own company). It will not come as a surprise to readers that Matthew Bourne too, comes from anent these shores (Walthamstow, since you ask).

The kind of offensive polemic that Gray unleashed is not the tack that the two David’s will take. Although both are enthusiastic and impassioned political beings, I had to read the article to find out which was heading up which side of the debate! Hopefully we can look forward to articulated drama about the real issues - rather than where we were all born.

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