Made In Scotland

Michael Cox and Clare Sinclair check the home team.

Feature by Clare Sinclair and Michael Cox | 04 Aug 2009

"There are between 1,000 and 1,200 promoters and scouts who come to the Edinburgh festivals every year. And the aim of Made in Scotland is to raise the profile of Scottish theatre and dance to those visiting promoters and scouts and to nurture and encourage an international creative dialogue."

So says Owen O’Leary, arts publicist for this ambitious project. Made in Scotland was a cornerstone in the SNP’s manifesto: a three-year project with over £1 million in funding, it hopes to give Scottish theatre and dance a serious platform on the Fringe, allowing international eyes to see the best of Scottish work. Initially, there were over 40 applications for Made in Scotland’s inaugural year. Of these, 14 made the shortlist, each ranging in artistic stature and style.

"It’s a celebration of drinking and sex, which are two things that happen quite a lot in Edinburgh during the Festival," says Ben Harrison, director of Grid Iron’s latest and one of the Made in Scotland productions: Barflies. Barflies marks Grid Iron’s return to the Festival after a three year absence due to international touring. Based on the writings of American Charles Bukowski, the play is a site-responsive production set in the Barony Bar. "Judith Doherty and I were in New York a few years ago, wandering around, and this woman fell out of this bar. And I said to Jude, 'There’s a classic barfly'. And it reminded us of the film Barfly, which in itself was based on Bukowski’s stories. It led us to think, 'Oh, wow, we could stage a piece in our local pub'. By the end of the night, we’d dreamed up the production."

Harrison studied Bukowski’s stories before writing an adaptation, focusing on three short stories. Of Bukowski, Harrison said, “He’s a man who understands about drinking culture." Though originally set in Los Angeles, Barflies has been "transposed into a Scottish context". As for the film, Harrison states that it assisted with creating mood and tone and helped through Mickey Rourke’s convincing performance as a drunk.

Showcasing two performances this August is writer and director David Leddy, with Susurrus and White Tea. Susurrus has been rewritten for the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens for its return, cited by Leddy himself as “such an exciting, remarkable place to go to work: the most beautiful place in Edinburgh, I think”. The drama takes the audience member individually through the gardens, guided by a story through a headset by actors Paul Thomas Hickey, Wendy Seager, Karen Ramsey and Stewart Ennis. “Lots of the events have moved location and make reference to places in the garden, and to Edinburgh. Jenners even gets a mention.”

White Tea, in association with the Tron is even more intimate: “The show's a multi-media spectacular that normally would be done on a huge stage, but I wanted to make something close and intimate where you get that same visual and sonic spectacle, but you can still see the hairs standing up on the back of the actors' necks.” Gabriel Quigley and Alisa Anderson lead the performance involving audiences wearing white paper kimonos and drinking white tea. Comparatively, these two performances seem to be worlds apart from each other; however Leddy describes the two pieces of work as “companion pieces, sort of like a set of salt and pepper shakers. Whilst they're definitely separate, they compliment each other. Susurrus is completely sound-based and White Tea is very visual and highly technical with an amazing installation, projection on all four walls and even the ceiling, sound coming from eight different directions, lasers and LED projections” – all made possible by working with production team Becky Minto, Tim Reid, Nich Smith and Graham Sutherland who have won countless awards. “People who come to both shows will see lots of deliberate links and quotations from one piece to the other. They're very detailed pieces. Whilst the stories are completely separate, the characters in each story do know the characters in the other story and do influence the events in the narrative.” Whether it’s something site-specific or something visually spectacular to see this Festival, Leddy can provide.

"I think it’s a piece of theatre for people who hate theatre," says Cora Bissett, speaking about another Made in Scotland entry: Midsummer. Midsummer is a remount of a last year’s vastly successful production. Written by playwright David Greig with music by Gordon McIntyre, the play follows the lives of two thirty-somethings trying to make sense of their present life in Edinburgh. Speaking about the play’s appeal, Bissett said, "David’s writing wins people over because it’s very human, it’s very real, it’s very vulnerable and naked. And there’s a moment for everyone in the play where they go 'Oh God, that’s me!'" Matthew Pidgeon, Bissett’s co-star, says, "I think really what it is, is that it’s a beautiful script and I think people like the connection we have with the audience. There’s a more relaxed atmosphere with it. I think people enjoy that breaking of the fourth wall and not seeing a straight play as such. There’s a slightly cabaretish element to it." On the audience reactions to Midsummer, Bissett says, "It’s a breath of fresh air that’s very enjoyable without being fluffy or vacuous. It’s got incredible heart and honesty and incredible insight. People who don’t usually like theatre come away loving it."

Even beyond the Made in Scotland programme, Scottish acts look set to dominate the Fringe: the Traverse offers new work from Rona Munroe, and the Stand is recreating Gregory Burke's Gargarin Way, an earlier work from the writer of Blackwatch. And Edinburgh's dynamic Magnetic North are presenting Walden, a personal journey through the American mystic's experiences in self-sufficiency. "As soon as I started reading the book, I knew that I wanted to make a performance from it – I think it was because of the directness of Thoreau's voice," comments artistic director Nicholas Bone. Walden is a journal, part philosophy, part memoir and the production is a simple one man show. The nature of the book helped to define the nature of the production: "It seemed essential to make the simplest piece of theatre possible – this was about someone simplifying their life after all – that the idea of performing in a white space with no theatrical paraphernalia like lanterns and blackouts seemed perfect."

If The Fringe can feel like an imposition on the North, a holiday for London bohemians and a confusing plethora of uncertain qualities, Scottish theatre is ready to astound the international community, with work of beauty, complexity, precision and direct expression of profound emotions.

Barflies (Grid Iron) Traverse @ The Barony * Venue 311 7 – 13, 16 – 20, 23 – 27, 30 – 31 Aug 15:00; 24 – 25 Aug 12:00. £16

Midsummer (Traverse Theatre Company) Traverse Theatre * Venue 15 6 – 30 Aug (except Mondays). Performance times vary. £16 (£11)

Susurrus (Fire Exit/David Leddy) Assembly @ Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (John Hope Gateway) * Venue 240 4 Aug – 6 Sept daily every 30 minutes from 10.00 – 17.00 £8 (£7)

White Tea (Fire Exit/David Leddy and Tron Theatre Company) Assembly @ George Street – Scott Room * Venue 3 6 Aug 14.00 & 17.00; 10, 12 – 13, 17, 19 – 20, 24, 26 – 27, 31 Aug 14.00 & 17.00 £9.00 7 – 9, 14 – 16, 21 – 23, 28 – 30 Aug 14.00 & 17.00 £10

Walden (Magnetic North) Dovecot Gallery 17 – 29 Aug, 15.00 £10