National Theater launches inaugural sked

EDINBURGH — Nearly 200 years in the making, the National Theater of Scotland came one step closer on Nov. 1 with the launch of an inaugural 2006 program that will reach across Scotland and as far as the U.S. Backed by a two-year budget of £7.4 million ($13 million) public funds, the NTS is the only national body to be formed since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The first-year lineup announced in Glasgow by helmer Vicky Featherstone includes an adaptation of cult U.K. TV hit “Tutti Frutti” by John Byrne (husband of thesp Tilda Swinton); a “site-suggestive” show called “Roam” staged beyond the check-in desks at Edinburgh Intl. Airport by Grid Iron theater company; and “The Wolves in the Walls,” a family musical co-produced by England’s Improbable that will tour to six U.S. cities in spring 2007.

“Our raison d’etre was to give a national and international platform to outstanding Scottish talent, and that is exactly what this program will deliver,” says NTS chairman Richard Findlay, formerly group chief executive of Scottish Radio Holdings.

The NTS is unique among national theaters for operating with neither a company nor a building. Instead, it is a commissioning body driven by a small artistic team working with existing drama producers to create, develop and exploit work all over Scotland. The model allows the org flexibility to back small-scale tours as well as high-profile foreign tours and prestige productions in the Edinburgh Intl. Festival.

“The model means that the money will be spent on productions rather than leaking roofs and ice cream audits,” says Findlay. “It will open the door for Scotland to present theater at an international level.”

It is the fulfillment of a dream that has been around since 1822, when a visit by King George IV to the Edinburgh Theater Royal (long since gone) gave rise to an ambition to create Scotland’s first national theater. Playwright James Bridie harbored similar ambitions for the Glasgow Citizens’ Theater in the 1940s; as did director Bill Bryden for the Edinburgh Royal Lyceum in the 1970s.

“The fact that I’m standing here on this historic day for Scotland is testament to the dedication and vision of the people who campaigned for years to have a national theater of our own,” says Featherstone, 38, ex-helmer of London-based new writing company Paines Plough. “It’s also testament to the artists who want to create the world-class theater that the NTS will be about.”

Among the org’s artistic associates is Gotham-based Scot Alan Cumming. Casting details have yet to be announced, but names such as Cumming, Brian Cox and Ewan McGregor could be tempted home.

Featherstone herself will co-direct “The Wolves in the Walls” with Improbable’s Julian Crouch, one of the team behind tuner “Shockheaded Peter.”

Billed as a “musical pandemonium,” the new show is based on the 2004 children’s graphic horror novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. With music by Nick Powell of Glasgow’s Suspect Culture and a Scottish cast including Iain Johnstone of children’s company Wee Stories, the production will tour Scotland from March 2006 before heading Stateside in 2007.

As a symbolic indication that this is no ordinary national theater, the opening night on Feb. 25 will involve nine site-specific perfs taking place around Scotland, from the Isle of Lewis in the north to Dumfries and Galloway in the south. Billed as a “once in a lifetime event,” the free performances, all called “Home,” will vary in audience capacity according to the nine leading directors.

Other productions announced for 2006 include a revival of Chris Hannan’s 1985 drama “Elizabeth Gordon Quinn”; a large-scale staging of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”; a translation of Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” by David Harrower; and Gregory Burke’s “Black Watch,” based on verbatim interviews with soldiers from one of Scotland’s oldest regiments.

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