The Scottish National Theatre dream: the Royal Lyceum in the 1970s; the Scottish Theatre Company in the 1980s

The Scottish National Theatre dream: the Royal Lyceum in the 1970s; the Scottish Theatre Company in the 1980s

Dennis Agnew

Given the current interest in the possibility of establishing a Scottish National Theatre, this article sets out to consider the two most recent attempts to establish such a company, the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh in the 1970s and the Scottish Theatre Company (STC) in the 1980s. It places the developments of these companies in the general context of earlier twentieth-century attempts to set up some form of Scottish National Theatre. It then investigates the details of the initiatives taken in each case, often drawing on hitherto unpublished evidence, including interviews and minutes. In the case of each company, it offers an analysis of the reason it did not in fact become the Scottish National Theatre. It has to be accepted that the perception of such a theatre means different things to different people. For some it could mean Scottish actors, playwrights, directors and other theatre professionals working in and/or controlling a Scottish-based theatrical organisation. For others it could mean a Scottish centralised company which performs a rotating repertoire of Scottish plays and tours to rural as well as urban parts of the country; or a particular Scottish company adopting an enhanced role to tour within Scotland and abroad with a particular repertoire and a broad-based company of actors. 

Beginnings 

Early twentieth-century Scottish theatrical aspirations for independent theatre provision, or for the establishment of a company which promised a greater ambition than merely providing weekly entertainment, usually in the form of transfers from London’s West End, emerged when The Glasgow Rep (aka The Scottish Playgoers, “The First Citizens’ Theatre in the English-speaking World”i) was founded by Alfred Wareing and others in 1909. The company was formed with the intention of creating something new and different to the theatrical entertainment which was on offer to the people of Glasgow and “to encourage the initiation and development of a purely Scottish drama by providing a stage and acting company which would be peculiarly adapted for the production of plays national in character, written by Scottish men and women of letters”.ii 

Wareing’s initiative, although often viewed as an adjunct to theatrical development elsewhere in the UK during the Edwardian era, was in fact a culmination of ideas and ambitions which began to be formulated in the winter of 1900 by Wareing and others, to create a Glasgow-based repertory company. Speaking in 1939, Wareing stated “the idea of a repertory theatre for Glasgow, begotten as far back as 1900, was entirely a Glasgow idea”.iii While the development of theatre in Scotland during the twentieth century has to be considered in the broad context of the repertory movement which emerged in England during the first half of the century,iv this revelation from Wareing changes the perspective of Scottish theatrical development in the early part of that century. It enables the creation of Wareing’s Glasgow Rep to be regarded in a new light, placing it at the forefront of the British and Irish repertory movement. Wareing’s initiative predates the Abbey (1904), the Vedrenne-Granville-Barker Royal Court seasons (1904-1907) and Annie Horniman’s Manchester Rep (1907), all viewed as the beginning of the modern repertory movement. 

Although Wareing’s concept was not fully realised until 1909, his plans demonstrate the mood of people who, along with him, wished to see in Glasgow the creation of a company which presented Scottish plays and Scottish characters on stage. Unfortunately, the Glasgow Rep ceased its operations in 1914, due to the outbreak of World War One and the company was wound up finally in 1920, with its residue funds going to the St. Andrew’s Society (Glasgow). 

During the same period, a similar move to create an independent theatre company in Edinburgh began. Mainly in response to Wareing’s initiative, several prominent people in Edinburgh came together to create something distinctive in Scottish theatre. This initiative was led by the sculptor and poet James Macgillivray and his playwright daughter, Ina. The company, the Scottish National Repertory Theatre (1912-1917), was founded “primarily for the encouragement of Scottish national drama”.v One of its aims was to see the establishment of a Scottish School of Drama. However, as with the Glasgow Rep’s initiative, the outbreak of the 1914-18 War prevented this venture from succeeding and it came to an end after the death of Ina Macgillivray in 1917 

The Scottish National Players (1921-1953), initially formed in 1914, due to the war, were not established as a company until 1921, with the aid of the Glasgow Rep’s residue funds. The inaugural performance took place at the Glasgow Royal Institute on 13 January 1921. Although the Scottish National Players had ambitions to become the national theatre, they did not fulfil their expectations, remaining fixed in the amateur mould, despite attempts by James Bridie, the playwright, and others in the early 1930s to change their course and enable them to become a professional organisation. The Players continued to perform until the late 1940s but eventually formally ceased operations in 1953. 

A decade earlier in 1943, one of the most significant companies in Scottish theatre – the Glasgow Citizens’ Company – emerged. Founded by James Bridie, the Citizens’ not only crystallised theatrical development in Scotland at that time but also went on to become a major influence in British theatre culture. Bridie’s Citizens’ provided a firm basis from which Scottish theatre could develop and, although it was created as a “civic” rather than a “national” theatre, it was effectively an embryonic national theatre company, given that it provided an ensemble company of actors, the majority of which were Scottish, and it toured extensively. Over its fifty-eight-year history, the Citizens’ has continued to provide not only continuity but also high levels of theatrical provision. During the past three decades the company, under the direction of the artistic triumvirate of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald, has consistently given the people of Glasgow and beyond innovative and rewarding theatre to which most other companies can only aspire. Havergal, Prowse and MacDonald have, in the best European tradition, offered watchable informed and relevant theatre for audiences and in doing so have paved the way for others to follow. 

Within the broad context outlined above, in addition to the Citizens’ Theatre, two other twentieth-century Scottish theatre companies at one time during their existence had a role akin to a putative national theatre of Scotland. More clearly than earlier potential candidates, they staked a public claim to be recognised as the Scottish National Theatre. They were the Royal Lyceum Company (in 1972 and, briefly, 1977) and the Scottish Theatre Company (1981-1987). 

Developments in Edinburgh and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company 

in 1948 the Saltire Society,vi based in Edinburgh, following a debate two years earlier, published a report on the establishment of a Scottish National Theatre, “recommending the capital of Scotland should have a National Theatre, and that money therefore should be raised by public subscription and an appeal to the Treasury and Local Authority”.vii Its timing was fortuitous, given that the Government had agreed to provide state funds for a national theatre sited in London. After Sir Stafford Cripps made a statement in the House of Commons on 23 March 1949 that the “Government would give sympathetic consideration to the question of Treasury aid towards the cost of erecting a Scottish National Theatre in Edinburgh”,viii the Saltire Society set up an ad hoc committee to take the matter forward. Sinclair Shaw, a senior Advocate Depute in Edinburgh, was a leading campaigner for a Scottish national theatre and in 1949 he, along with Lord Guthrie, Robert Kemp and Mr M. R. Dobie (all members of the Saltire Society’s newly formed National Theatre for Scotland Committee) met with the Drama Committee of the Arts Council’s Scottish Committee on 19 July.ix Lord Guthrie stated the purpose of his committee was to “advance the project of a National Theatre in the sense of a play-house and to enlist public support for it”.x 

Dr Welsh, who chaired the meeting on behalf of the Arts Council, equating a national theatre with a building, replied that the circumstances were likely “to preclude any building for ten years at least”xi and he pointed to the work already being carried out by the Arts Council to develop theatre in Scotland. He added that “Scotland was not bound by any offer made for the development of a National Theatre in England”,xii thereby suggesting that the Scottish Committee viewed the situation from a Scottish perspective and that it saw the role of the National Theatre in London as specifically an English concern. The meeting concluded with several proposals from Lord Guthrie to “promote public interest [in a playhouse and …] to enlist financial support for it”, and to invite the National Theatre Committee to a meeting in the autumn.xiii Thereafter the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council did announce its intention “to call a widely representative public meeting early in the autumn [of 1949] in connection with the establishment of a Scottish National Theatre”xiv but the meeting was not held. 

The Saltire Society’s actions were not met with complete approval in cultural circles. For example, James Bridie dismissed its plan out of hand and described it as “an arbitrarily collected group of individuals”.xv As well as hostility from Bridie, the Society was also criticised by Hugh MacDiarmid for its methods rather than for its aims, as he too wished a Scottish national theatre, one with “a genuine repertory system, a permanent acting company, and a distinctive style of acting and drama. The National Theatre […] should not be particularly hospitable to Scottish plays for a long time”.xvi MacDiarmid’s views reflected his belief that Scottish playwriting was not what he thought it should be, and also his views on internationalism which echoed the sentiments of Sinclair Shaw on the “universal”. Shaw, in respect of a national theatre for Scotland, believed 

that such a theatre must be universal in its scope and in the presentation of its plays and not confine itself to purely nationalistic plays. It would, of course, owe a duty to Scotland to stage anything of Scottish origin which made the grade on its own merits. The State theatre should be in Edinburgh, and should be something to which the whole of Scotland contributes – not merely a particular Town Council.xvii 

His call for a theatre which is “universal in its scope” is important and has been a recurring issue in the Scottish national theatre debate throughout the twentieth century. The opposition to the Society’s view illustrates the fact that without the support of key people within the cultural community it would be difficult to establish a national theatre.  

Edinburgh Town Council did offer two sites for such a building but nothing came of this, partly because there was not enough public support for a Scottish national theatre.xviii Then in 1960, Shaw continued his commitment to creating a national theatre in Scotland by writing his essay, “Edinburgh and a national theatre”, which speculated on Edinburgh’s bid at that time to host the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. He suggested that any possible successful bid would require major investment to bring the city’s sports amenities up to international standard, and at the same time highlighted important questions: 

Before the matter proceeds any further it is surely time that the question of priorities should be publicly debated. If Edinburgh Corporation is prepared to spend £600,000, should that money be spent on building a swimming pool, or should it be spent on building a National Theatre in Edinburgh? […] but could the advantages of such a pool began to compare with those to be derived from the building of a National Theatre?xix 

Shaw saw the spending of such a large amount of public money on the former as wasteful in the long term. Although he pointed out that Edinburgh’s annual three-week International Festival was in itself not enough to sustain the need for high quality theatre, he believed there was a need to consider the matter further, as “[almost] every state in Europe regards a magnificent national theatre in its capital as an essential part of the amenities of that city”.xx In calling for a public debate on the issue, Shaw said:  

When it is appreciated how far Edinburgh falls behind the other capitals of Europe in the field of drama, it is staggering to find Edinburgh Corporation blandly discussing the prospect of spending a great sum of money on a swimming pool which would give pleasure and edification to far fewer people than a national playhouse, and it is even more staggering to find that both in Edinburgh and in Scotland the proposal has passed almost without comment. Surely the question of whether this large sum of money should be spent on a national playhouse or on an Empire swimming pool demands full and careful public debate.xxi 

The apparent apathy which existed at the time over this expenditure may reflect a general lack of public interest in taking decisions or in influencing those who were in positions to make policies. Prophetically Shaw raised the question of funding such a national organisation and suggested, “Why should the British Government not itself run, or permit a statutory body to run, a Scottish National Theatre lottery?”xxii The other facts speak for themselves: having lost the bid for the 1966 event to Jamaica, Edinburgh did host the 1970 British Commonwealth Games (as they were then known) for which the Royal Commonwealth Pool was indeed built, and Shaw’s request for the establishment of a national theatre, although not completely unheeded, was not realised. 

 

In 1961, however, speculation over the proposed development of the Synod Hall site on Castle Terrace in Edinburgh began to appear in the press. In May of that year the City Treasurer, Mr D. M. Weatherstone, responded to suggestions of a proposed national theatre and informed the public that he welcomed the idea of such a theatre, and the proposals had been submitted for the development of the site. He also pointed out that the Lord Provost’s Committee had appointed a special sub-committee “to examine and report on the facilities available in Edinburgh for the enjoyment of, and participation in, music and the arts”. Mr Weatherstone, echoing Bridie’s view on civic theatre, continued 

if and when a new theatre is built, it should be – indeed, it must be – an all-purpose civic theatre. […] I am familiar with the governmental pronouncement made in 1949 about a national theatre, and I am equally familiar with the more recent decision of the National Government to subsidise on a greater scale the repertory theatres of the people. […] As far as I am concerned such a possibility does not rule out in any way the constant and unremitting consideration to the greater possibilities of a Scottish national theatre.xxiii 

Again, the focus was on a building rather than on other aspects of what a national theatre company might entail but the move was positive and, given the Corporation’s commitment, seemed likely to succeed. The debate continued in the press up until 1964 and the Corporation’s decision to form the Civic Theatre Trust, which resulted in the Gateway Theatre (which had not considered itself as a potential national theatre) closingxxiv and a new permanent company being established at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in 1965. Although this latter action did not address the issue of a Scottish national theatre, it did provide a focus for those who wished to see a major theatre company in Edinburgh and it kept alive the possibility of that company at some future date becoming the national theatre. 

 

During the period 1965 to 1970 there was no expressed intention by the Lyceum to be seen or considered as a national theatre. The Lyceum saw its role at that time to be that of a civic theatre with artistic autonomy and a remit to provide theatre for Edinburgh’s inhabitants and visitors. However, there was a growing awareness by the Corporation of the potential for Edinburgh to be viewed as the cultural centre of Scotland after it had considered creating a new multi-purpose arts complex, which would host the Usher Hall and Lyceum Theatre, on the Synod Hall site. Donald Campbell commented, “The existence of such a building might not be called a National Theatre, but its geographical position, at the very heart of Scotland’s capital city, would be more than enough to convince visitors that a National Theatre was indeed what it was supposed to be”.xxv Whatever one’s speculation, however, the Lyceum was founded as a civic theatre 

 

On 1 March 1965, Tom Fleming became the first Artistic Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company. He owed a great deal to the Gateway for developing his early career, was from Edinburgh, and had a strong feeling of identity with the city. He wasted no time in making his intentions for the Lyceum clear. In a statement in July 1965, he said, “It is not my job to say to the public what it ought to see nor to try to give it what it wants, but to present ‘Total Theatre’ in repertoire”.xxvi Donald Campbell also notes, “Fleming revealed his European consciousness. Quite clearly, the theatre he had in mind was one which, while rooted firmly in Scotland, would never fail to exhibit an international awareness”.xxvii Fleming was committed to a theatre which, although located in Scotland, would nevertheless have a broad international perspective with nothing parochial about it. After an indifferent first season that opened with Victor Carin’s The Servant o’ Twa Maisters from Goldoni’s Arlecchino, Servitore di Due Patrone on 1 October 1965, Fleming ended his inaugural season by directing and starring in Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo, thereby completing the company’s season on 11 December after a total of seventy-one performances.xxviii The first season had brought about a net loss at the box office of £13,245, illustrating how difficult it was to take chances and run an innovative theatre company. Despite this loss the company continued on its course and produced a second season. In addition, Fleming directed Douglas Young’s adaptation and translation of The Burdies, from Aristophanes’ Birds for the 1966 Edinburgh Festival. 

Despite high expectations about the long-term future of the company,xxix the growing differences which were beginning to emerge between Fleming and his Board eventually came to a head after the Board appointed three advisers, Alexander Reid, Robert Kemp, former Chairman of the Gateway, and Mr J. B. Rankin to form a Programme Advisory Panel.xxx Fleming felt this not only undermined his directorship, but also his personal judgement, a position he could not accept; given these circumstances, he felt forced to resign in August 1966 after only seventeen months, although he did stay on to complete his contractual commitments to take the company to the Nottingham Playhouse with his production of The Life of Galileo.xxxi 

Clive Perry succeeded Fleming in September 1966 and after directing his first play, Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, set about putting the theatre’s affairs in order, following broadly what Fleming had proposed “with a few variations”.xxxii In 1970 Perry was appointed Director of Edinburgh Theatres. This gave him the added responsibility of the King’s and the Church Hill Theatre. In 1971, he created a small off-shoot company, the Young Lyceum. Under the guidance of Peter Farago and later Ian (Kenny) Ireland, a strong young ensemble or Scottish acting talent was established. Perry had brought from Leicester in 1966 a young director, Richard Eyre, who along with Bill Bryden (who joined later in 1971) created a new force in Scottish theatre. Eyre stayed for six years, becoming Director of Productions in 1970, during which time he took the Lyceum Company on tours to West Africa and the Far East in 1971 and 1972, respectively.xxxiii 

 

The Scottish Arts Council and the concept of a national theatre in Scotland 

In 1970, meantime, the Scottish Arts Council Drama Committee, in light of the National Theatre being founded in London seven years previously and responding to calls from some for some form of national theatre for Scotland, delivered an internal report, “Theatre in Scotland”. The report concluded, “There should be a major drama company of the highest quality based in Scotland which with Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet can offer a nucleus of the major performing arts for No. 1 theatres and be capable of touring both south of the border and abroad and of bringing prestige to Scottish Theatre”.xxxiv The Scottish Arts Council (SAC), in declaring that it wanted to put drama on a par with Opera and Ballet in Scotland, was making a bold statement by committing itself to supporting a company which needed the same level of funding to make it viable. However, the Report contained an interesting alternative investment recommendation which reflected an idea suggested in the same year in the “Theatre Today” report by the Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) in London: 

that a Theatre Investment Fund should be established, using funds provided partially by Government grant to finance commercial productions. We agree with the need for co-ordination of touring and for a Theatre Investment Fund but we doubt whether these two measures in themselves will provide a panacea for Scotland. For one thing, it is unlikely that there can be any sudden increase in the number of touring weeks undertaken by the subsidised London-based companies without a very considerable increase in grants to them. Nor is it likely that the Theatre Investment Fund will quickly improve the situation.xxxv 

The document highlighted the problems of London companies touring so far north, without additional resources and stated that such plans “may create special difficulties”.xxxvi It also proposed that “special arrangements can be made to help the situation in Scotland”.xxxvii The document identified possible solutions: for example, visiting companies could utilise the facilities of the Royal Lyceum and the Roseburn Workshop; it further considered whether the Theatre Investment Fund could benefit not only Scotland but also work further afield into the English provinces. These proposals throw light on the SAC’s attempts to sustain theatre in Scotland whilst stimulating growth in the profession, by offering financial incentives to prospective touring companies to provide “extended tours throughout Britain”.xxxviii This centralised Fund would provide commercialised theatre to Scotland in the short term and the SAC proposed that a “separately financed Scottish fund must, we feel, be investigated”.xxxix This demonstrated that the Council at the time was looking to the future and hoped that a new type of funding could enable a greater development of theatre in Scotland. 

 

The proposed Scottish Theatre Investment Fund in the SAC’s document allowed, for example, a one-off event called “Stage 1”. This would provide short seasons of opera, ballet and drama over a fifteen-week period with seven weeks in Aberdeen, five weeks in Edinburgh and three weeks in Glasgow. The SAC had already begun to create new strands in Scottish performance culture with its approach to Western Theatre Ballet, which was located in Bristol, and its request that it move to Scotland and form a new permanent company with a base in Glasgow. After the new company was formed under the direction of Peter Darrel in 1969, it became known as Scottish Theatre Ballet, eventually becoming Scottish Ballet in 1974. 

 

To provide high quality touring in drama on a more consistent basis and following the model, already seen in dance, of grafting a Scottish role on an English-based touring company, the SAC considered Prospect Theatre Company, the only touring company of appropriate scale to parallel Western Theatre Ballet, as a viable option, along with possible tours by Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Company. The SAC did approach Prospect with a view to building on its previous tours in Scotland. The company indicated to the SAC, “it might be prepared under certain conditions to base its organisation in Scotland”.xl The report also pointed out that Prospect’s Artistic Director, Toby Robertson, and Administrator, Iain Mackintosh, were both Scottish, illustrating the sensitivity with which the SAC viewed the issue of national identity. 

 

SAC’s proposals for an existing touring company were an alternative to the establishment of a new Scottish national theatre company. It wanted to avoid the creation of a national organisation which would consume most of its core grant from the ACGB. Therefore, through its proposed Theatre Investment Fund, it might create a new, or build upon an existing, organisation to provide a quasi-national company: 

we believe that the development of a major Scottish touring company could also provide a basis for it, since it would be better placed to create a good public image for theatre in general, and, as a touring company, be better able to attract subsidies from different local authorities, commercial or industrial organisations, foundations and trusts.xli 

Out of the “Theatre in Scotland” report, the SAC took on board major issues such as improving standards and levels of subsidy. Although many ideas never materialised, the report did, however, provide a stimulus for discussion which gave a resonance to the future of Scottish theatre and to the prospect of a Scottish national theatre. According to Donald Smith the process seemed under way: “Remarkably the ‘working paper’ of 1970 was translated into action, and over the next few years the Lyceum received substantial enhancement funding in preparation for its flagship status”.xlii Smith also recognised the reasons why the Lyceum did not become the “flagship” so many wished it to be, citing the political change within Scotland during the 1970-71 period. The Lyceum, under Perry’s direction, had become a model of “civic theatre”, a factor which the SAC clearly used as its main example in its 1970 paper. Perry has built a company of the highest standards and, had he continued on the course he was following, it could be argued that the Lyceum might have become a Scottish National Theatre, if the SAC’s financial support had been increased to an appropriate level to allow that ambition to be realised. 

 

However, it must be remembered that Perry was against the idea of any proposed Scottish theatre being one company, believing the concept of such an organisation to be “a non-starter”.xliii Instead, rather like James Bridie and his circuit of civic theatres, Perry thought the concept of a national theatre collective was a better one: “A national theatre, as I see it, will eventually, through nurturing, consist of at least six companies and I think it is highly essential for the terminology of a national theatre that more than one company makes it up”.xliv That a national theatre should be a collective sum of its parts was not a solution which the SAC seemed to favour at the time; its support for the proposals for Prospect Theatre Company’s increased involvement in theatre in Scotland would indicate that it was in favour of a single company to deliver the remit of a national theatre.xlv 

 

Allen Wright, following up the SAC’s report some eighteen months subsequent to its publication, commented after a press conference held by Sandy Dunbar (Director of the SAC), Clive Perry and Toby Robertson on 17 April 1972 at the Royal Lyceum, “Fortunately it looks as if the Lyceum and Prospect are going to join forces to form the new national company”.xlvi Wright in his article went on to make the claim that Clive Perry and Toby Robertson would form a dream team whereby Scottish theatre would be saved. What Wright was arguing for was quality theatre; and to a great extent this arguably was provided by the Lyceum during 1970 to 1975, one of its most creative periods. But Wright also took the view that any proposed Scottish National Theatre would be at a disadvantage from the outset as “The shortage of ‘Scottish’ directors has been a serious handicap to the development of a national theatre”.xlvii 

 

Clive Perry did take the Lyceum forward and produced during early part of the 1970s some of the finest work to be seen in Scotland with productions such as Bill Bryden’s Willie Rough (1972) and Roddy McMillan’s The Bevellers (1973), both directed by Bryden. During this period Perry created a civic theatre with a national profile. This was a change from Fleming’s time as then, according to Campbell, “The Civic Theatre, it seemed, was proving most unpopular with the Lyceum audience. The plays were obscure and lacked entertainment value, the seat prices were far too high and the acting company contained no ‘star names’”.xlviii Perry put the Lyceum onto a more secure footing, rebuilt confidence within the company, and established a more productive relationship with Edinburgh Corporation. 

 

Perhaps the proposal Wright referred to was not developed further as Perry created a “dream team” of his own which included Richard Eyre and Bill Bryden. It may be that there was no need to create another company to augment the Lyceum’s work or to consider reshaping it to become the national theatre for Scotland, as neither Perry, Eyre nor Bryden wished to take on that role at that time.xlix The main house was performing work such as Stewart Conn’s The Burning, Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows, and John Morris’s How Mad Tulloch Was Taken Away; in addition, developmental work was being carried out by the Young Lyceum Company where actors were being encouraged to develop other talents (directing, for example, in the case of Kenny Ireland). The ensemble approach to its work during this period also gave the Lyceum a distinct identity which could have been taken further had there been enough support and incentive to retain together Perry, Eyre, Bryden and the established company which had formed around this triumvirate. Reflecting on the Lyceum’s perceived status, Wright further commented, “One of the most encouraging developments has been the willingness of Scottish actors to join in this movement towards a national theatre”.l 

 

Although Perry, Eyre and Bryden were committed to the development of theatre, it appears that that commitment did not go as far as supporting actively the creation of a Scottish National Theatre. Perry opposed the foundation of a single company to represent the nation as he thought this should be done by at least six companies.li Neither Eyre nor Bryden had fully considered their positions, being involved in developing their own careers, both eventually moving south. Before Bryden left, he did contribute to the Lyceum’s change of course during the early 1970s and saw it evolve to become a company with a more focused repertoire of new Scottish plays by indigenous writers. Robertson’s position should be considered also at this point: he was keen to enhance the profile of Prospect, but it is doubtful whether his notions of a Scottish national theatre would have coincided with those of many others during that era, given the company was English, and, had it become a national theatre, it might have been seen more as an imposed company than a new one for Scotland. In other words, the linking of the Royal Lyceum and Prospect encouraged by the SAC was bedevilled by conflicting ambitions and priorities which meant that those involved were not all equally enthusiastic about the project. 

 

Further, in 1972, according to Clive Perry, there was a hostile reaction to the idea of a national company by influential journalists such as Cordelia Oliver of The Guardian and Bob Tait of Scottish International and the initiative lost momentum. Richard Eyre went on in 1972 to become Director of the Nottingham Playhouse. Bryden joined the National Theatre in London at Peter Hall’s invitation in 1974 and became Associate Director in 1975. On Bryden, Donald Campbell comments, “The impact that Bill Bryden made on Scottish drama during his few short years at the  Lyceum cannot be overemphasised”.lii Perry left the Lyceum in 1976 to become Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep. 

 

Stephen MacDonald succeeded him at the Lyceum and at a Gala Performance of McDonald’s adaptation of Alexander Ostrovsky’s Diary of a Scoundrel on 28 September 1977, Ludovic Kennedy, the then Chairman of the Board of Directors, made the following speech which explicitly laid claim to the ambition to become the Scottish National Theatre 

The purpose of this Gala Evening is to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the Royal Lyceum Company’s history. The American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, once said of his aspirations “I have a dream”. Well, we have a dream too, and that is that, given the facilities we need, and only after having proved ourselves worthy of it, we shall be permitted to grow into the National Theatre of Scotland. During the past few years, there has been the birth of Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet – but they, like their elder sister, the Scottish National Orchestra, have found their permanent homes in another place. Let us see to it that we keep our national theatre in our capital city. We at any rate will work for that goal and we hope that you will support us.liii 

This speech was a surprise to MacDonald who was completely taken aback by it, as the core sentiment expressed, that the Lyceum might become or might wish to be considered as a Scottish national theatre, at that juncture had never been discussed with him.liv In short, in this case, on the evidence, no strategic initiative had been discussed, let alone decided, and the “dream” stimulated no response. The Lyceum has altered its course several times since these words were uttered, and perhaps there still lies in the back of some people’s minds the possibility of the Lyceum fulfilling the ambition of being recognised as the national theatre of Scotland. It was clearly not on the agenda during tenures of Leslie Lawton who succeeded McDonald in 1979 or his successors, Ian Woolridge and Kenny Ireland. Ireland, the current Artistic Director, makes no bones about his commitment to international theatre, whilst retaining a distinct Scottish style by including Scots seasons and plays by Scottish writers but the company has never again made a claim to be a Scottish National Theatre. 

 

The Scottish Theatre Company 

The touring option seemed to be favoured in 1980 when the Scottish Theatre Company (STC) was formed. The STC is the only professional company which has come near, at the time of writing, to realising the ambition of actually being recognised as the national theatre of Scotland. In 1977 Ewan Hooper, a London-based Scottish actor and director, approached the SAC and was given a bursary to draw up a consultation document, A New Scottish Theatre.lv Hooper submitted his paper in June 1979 and succeeded in obtaining the SAC’s backing later in 1979 for a trial season. The Scottish Theatre Trust was formed in late 1979 and, in 1980, the STC was founded. One of its main objectives was to promote and develop new writing, along with producing plays which reflected the best in Scottish theatrical culture. Hooper argued that excellence in theatre tends to come when companies specialise in a particular area of work and cited the examples of the “Glasgow Citizens’ Company and the Traverse Edinburgh”lvi as recent instances when this had proved the case. 

 

He considered also that the proposed company should be based in Glasgow and that it should play at the Theatre Royal in repertoire with Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet, and tour both large and small venues. As the STC was to be a touring company, this persuaded the SAC to support the idea since it was considered by the managements of the major receiving theatres that there was a lack of quality product for themlvii and the STC was seen as a potential supplier for such a product. 

 

Anthony Wraight, Drama Director of the SAC, said in a letter in June 1982 to Hooper, “I note that the estimates foresee a deficit of £68,678 before sponsorship and before grant-aid (although incorporating both Local Authority and Scottish Arts Council assumed guarantees to support particular touring weeks)”.lviii From this letter it seemed the SAC understood the financial position the company might face and the level of grant required to make the venture a success. Hooper had pointed out the problem of the company possibly being underfunded in his A New Scottish Theatre. Alluding perhaps to the possibility of forming a Scottish National Theatre if funding was provided under the heading “The Cost of a New Scottish Company”, he said, 

It is, of course, possible to pitch the cost of a new company at almost any level, up to that of the RSC and National Theatre […]. However, I have taken into account those of Prospect – a company which undertakes large scale tours and which was also at one time mentioned as a possible candidate to fill the need for more touring in Scotland.lix 

A £50,000 grant was made available, with additional guarantees against losses from the SAC and from Local Government. The Scottish Theatre Trust was established as a non-profit distributing company, Governors were appointed and a plan prepared for the trial season in 1981. Shortly after Hooper began to form his company and to approach a number of prominent people inside and outside the theatrical profession; soon he had an impressive list of support of potential board members and actors, including Professor James Arnott (who was chairman until retiring in 1981), Iain Cuthbertson, Fulton Mackay and Tom Fleming. Like Wareing and Bridie before him, Hooper realised the necessity of gaining the endorsement of influential people for his scheme. 

 

It was quite clear from the outset that Hooper and the Board were ambitious, as the following company memorandum states 

The objects for which the company is established are to advance public education by promoting, maintaining, improving and advancing Scottish drama, particularly by the production and performance of plays which (First) relate to the experience of people living in Scotland, (Second) are concerned with experiences outside Scotland of any playwright who is a Scot or who has lived long enough in Scotland to be regarded as a Scot, and (Third) are classic or other plays translated or adapted by Scottish writers and (Fourth) to do all things such as are incidental thereto; provided that all objects of the Company shall be of a charitable nature.lx 

This statement of intent set the company a difficult task of trying to please everyone, given its overriding purpose was to produce the best work of Scottish dramatists and to show their work widely throughout Scotland and abroad. It may have seemed a wide brief, but the company may have thought the number of possible venues so large that it would hardly be possible to encompass them all. Hooper, in What the Company is For, stated: 

We have already said that we are a specialist company which is concerned almost entirely with the work of Scottish writers. We also gear our thinking as far as we can to the needs of a wide variety of theatres and audiences. […] It has been said that these functions could be saved by sending repertory companies out on a circuit. The problem is that a ‘Rep’ has won audiences which is [sic] based on a local loyalty. Dundee identifies with Dundee Rep, Edinburgh with the Lyceum. We feel it necessary to create a wider loyalty for a touring company, one which is not identified with any one city but with the country as a whole.lxi 

A company which could be “identified […] with the country as a whole” is one of the identifying factors of a national theatre. Audience loyalty plays a part in this identification, so that no matter where theatregoers live they view their country’s national theatre as belonging to them. However, the loyalty of audiences across a nation may be difficult to achieve, as Hooper discovered.lxii 

 

In terms of repertoire, Hooper had stated in 1980 “that there are several good little known plays, you end up with 40-50 strong possibilities”.lxiii Bearing that in mind, in its first season the STC included a revival of Robert Kemp’s (1948) Let Wives Tak Tent adapted from Molière’s L’École des Femmes, which opened at the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, on 16 March 1981, directed by Hooper and starring Rikki Fulton. The opening was celebrated by the poet Edwin Morgan, who was moved to write a heroic prologue to mark the occasion of the first performance of the STC. Morgan’s words gave impetus to the feeling of those present that at last a national theatre for Scotland had been achieved. The following extracts from it give a flavour not only of the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the event but also of the company’s expectations: 

Let more than wives tak tent, let all tak tent 

New players are among you, their intent 

To please, divert, startle and stir your soul. 

In city, town and village; Scotland whole 

Will be the stamping-ground for their best art 

Tonight they stamp at Stirling for the start 

 

This is our first night and our mad March birth. 

We hope to live and please. Hear now a play 

Both old and new. Love us, farewell, away!lxiv 

The company’s second play was a revival of Tom McGrath’s Animal, co-directed by Kenny Ireland and Stuart Hopps. (The play had been premièred earlier by the Traverse in 1979.) As a consequence of the company’s commitment to touring, the play opened in Belfast in April to critical acclaim and demonstrated a true ensemble piece of acting in which the convention of theatre was used to full effect. The drama critic of The Sunday News observed, “It was a staggering stunning show. The sort of play one would never envisage or think up. It had to be seen to be believed.”lxv Ray Rosenfield of The Irish Times commented, “The Scottish Theatre Company, formed only a year ago, work superbly as a team”.lxvi In Glasgow there were queues almost around the entire Theatre Royal for the play and “Sold Out” notices were put up outside. 

 

McGrath’s play also struck a note of approval with people outside Scotland who considered it to be the most international of the company’s repertoire. It attracted interest from the British Council who thought it should appear at the Belgrade Festival in the Autumn of 1981 as its director, Jovan Cirilov, “enjoyed and admired the production very much indeed”,lxvii confirming Hooper’s belief in the play and its broad international appeal. In this respect the STC came close to what a national theatre might become, namely, a company which is seen to represent the best drama a nation can produce and to be recognised for doing so by those outwith the country itself. 

 

However, the Citizens’ Company was eventually chosen instead of the STC to visit the Festival with its production of Robert David MacDonald’s A Waste of Time. This decision had greater ramifications for the STC as it, in effect, caused the company to lose possible appearances at the Athens Festival in Greece, the Festival d’Automne in France, the Dublin Theatre Festival and it lost the further possibility of the production appearing in Canada at the Toronto Theatre Festival in the following year, May 1982. Robert Sykes, Director of the Drama and Dance Department for the British Council, wrote to Hooper on 12 June 1981 to advise him that Animal would not visit the Belgrade International Theatre Festival in Yugoslavia later that year, citing Cirilov’s reasons in respect of his preference for the Citizens’. Sykes went on to inform Hooper that the possible visits to the other festivals had hinged on the Belgrade visit.lxviii Had the STC been able to develop an international profile, it might well have developed further and evolved into a successful Scottish national theatre company. 

 

A new play, Civilians, written and directed by Bill Bryden, was the STC’s third production. It opened in Stirling on 27 April 1981, splitting the week with Animal. Depicting a community devastated by the effects of war, Civilians was enjoyed more by the audiences than the critics. Set in Greenock during the blitzing of the Clydeside shipyards in the early stages of the Second World War, the production was extremely ambitious, using huge sets and a large cast which was led by Scots actors, Fulton Mackay, Paul Young, John Grieve and Phyllis Logan among others. Tom Kinninmont noted that “Bill Bryden’s Civilians, though it found less critical favour, was a work of substance, certainly worth doing”.lxix 

 

Donald Campbell’s Scots adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts with Fulton Mackay and Anne Kristen completed the season, but this production was the least successful in the repertoire. Randall Stevenson comments in his essay, “The Scottish Theatre Company: First Days, First Nights”, on the impact made on an unsuspecting public by Ghosts “which unhappily haunts the memories of those few who ignored the almost uniform hostility of reviewers and went to see it”.lxx Stevenson further comments that although Donald Campbell’s adaptation of Ibsen’s play did not make for a successful production, the overall “responsibility for the debacle” must rest with the company’s inept production. He also cited Fulton Mackay’s central performance as being “infected by ponderous and stiffly clockwork mannerisms: his performance seemed in urgent need of more careful direction, and more thorough integration with the efforts of the rest of the cast”.lxxi Clearly Hooper thought that, if he cast well- known faces in his last play of the season, he would have a successful production, but the difficulties in creating ensemble playing in such a short time were perhaps insurmountable and the attempt over-ambitious, in addition to the unwise choice of text. 

 

In this first season, with a mind to fulfilling its brief successfully, the company had toured to Stirling, Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with “House Full” notices going up at the King’s, Edinburgh, and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. There had been also a planned press campaign at local and national level, followed up by a marketing plan for the Scottish Theatre Trust which had aimed 

to sell as many tickets as possible on a subscription basis for seasons in the following theatres: Glasgow Theatre Royal […] Edinburgh Lyceum [actual venue was the King’s] […] Adam Smith Centre, Kirkcaldy […] MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling […] Eden Court Inverness […]. Assuming four performances of each production this would give us a total of 14,600 possible subscriptions […] it is envisaged that, with the following plan, the minimum we should hope for would be 65% – 9490 – […] would generate an income of £52,384 – single ticket buyers could bring this minimum revenue – £65,000.lxxii 

These predictions of potential income, dependent on fairly high audience figures, seemed extremely optimistic for a new company setting out on such an enterprise, given the need to develop and nurture audiences. The reality was that the first season was financially miscalculated. There was considerable loss above the budgeted figure, in addition to over-expenditure on productions, which included a £17,000 overspend on both Animal and Civilians due to unrealistic budgeting and poor marketing. Less income was taken at the box office for Ghosts than had been expected and the company achieved less commercial sponsorship than it had thought likely. However, £4900 was raised from the Duncan Macrae Trust and the Wilforge Foundation, and Scottish Television gave £2500 towards the cost of Civilians. Before part of the subsequently agreed Arts Council grant was taken into account, the loss stood at £76,000.lxxiii When the scale of the loss began to emerge, various fund-raising schemes were instituted, including a “Friends of the Theatre” organisation and the sale of souvenirs. The company also received a number of covenants which raised £3160. An unsecured overdraft facility, up to £71,000, was negotiated with the Bank of Scotland. This as much as anything enabled the company to carry on into its next season. Such assistance was seen by the Board as important for the future of the Company. In June 1981 Hooper concluded on an optimistic note on the first season, citing the following two main points  

(A) – Overall we felt we had acquitted ourselves well. A new company had been formed from scratch, much exciting work had been performed and large audiences attracted. (B) – We felt our ‘base’ grant should have been higher in order to reduce the cost of the company to its promoters and also to allow for better staffing administration and financial control.lxxiv 

In his initial season, Hooper had kept to his promise by producing a repertoire which reflected a range of dramatic writing – two revivals, both from different periods in Scottish writing, one new work and a new adaptation into Scots, presented by a large and generally successful company of Scottish actors. With the first season under its belt, the STC was given funding to continue. Hooper, having survived, stated “we know how to mount large-scale seasons in repertoire”lxxv and put together a second season in which on one level he fulfilled his commitment to perform new writing with Heroes and Others by Catherine Lucy Czerkawska and Marcella Everist’s Commedia. 

 

Despite the odds, the company’s optimism was exceptionally high and they mapped out their plans for the future by stating, “We would also like to mount a small scale tour of four weeks in the Autumn of this year – 1981 – Iain Cuthbertson will lead the Company and venues from Thurso to Dumfries via Dunfermline are already pencilled in”.lxxvi These aims indicate Hooper’s ability to research, plan and initiate new ideas as well as his vision and commitment to establishing a high quality theatre company. The company was also looking to the future and was considering far-reaching ideas such as setting up meetings with teachers, lecturers and administrators, a move which would have led to the building up of a new audience, key to the continuing success of any company. With the donations from the Wilforge Foundation and the Duncan Macrae Trust, the company appointed an Education Liaison Officer who drew up a report on the work which had already been carried out and what plans she had for the future. An exhibition was mounted on the history of Scottish theatre with the help of the Scottish Theatre Archive and, with the Scottish International Educational Trust, they were discussing the possibility of publishing their plays. They stated optimistically, “We can see a great many possibilities for exciting growth in the future”.lxxvii Although plans were being made for that future, it was clear that, if the company was to continue along viable lines, there would have to be tough measures implemented to ensure its long-term position. 

 

The second season was not a success. Hooper was perhaps being too ambitious in programming Heroes and Others and Charles Macklin’s Man of the World with himself playing, in the latter, the lead – Sir Pertinax MacSycophant. It was a risk which did not pay off. The outcome might have been different had a star name such as Rikki Fulton or Stanley Baxter taken the role. This failure to attract audiences further threw the company into deficit – the figure had increased from a projected £80,000 to an actual deficit of £125,218, with a possible addition of a further £10,000 towards the Jamie the Saxt tour, making an overall deficit of £135,000. 

 

Tim Mason, Director of the SAC, wrote to the STC on 30 March 1982, raising the concerns of the Council’s Touring Committee about the deficit. The SAC’s main worry was that the company seemed to be in a “position where it is unable to meet its liabilities”. Mason continued to say that even if the company continued to trade until the end of June, it would be difficult to “ascertain the source of funds which enables that continued operation. […] Under these circumstances, the Committee could not see how the Company can now continue to trade.”lxxviii On 12 April 1982 the ACC again wrote to Hooper, this time with the Touring Committee’s recommendations: 

That SAC should agree to offer to the Scottish Theatre Trust a grant in respect of its general costs of operation for the first quarter of the year 82-83 with the following conditions – I. The company takes on no new creditors. II. The Company satisfies SAC that adequate and immediate steps are taken for the marketing of the Company’s work. III. Revised budgets are prepared and approved in respect of the company’s work between 1st April 1982 and the end of June.lxxix 

Marketing was seen as an issue and it has to be accepted that this aspect is essential in terms of the development of a company, particularly a new one and one which has ambitions. Despite the offer of funding, at the beginning of June 1982 Hooper resigned due to pressure from the SAC which made clear its position, that he should be replaced.lxxx STC’s Chairman, Martin Reid-Foster,lxxxi on 4 June informed his Board of Ewan Hooper’s resignation and this the Board accepted.lxxxii In an interim report to the SAC in July 1982, the company stated its current position: 

(1). The founder and Director Mr Ewan Hooper tendered his resignation to the board of Governors. After consideration the board accepted his resignation. (2). In order to reduce overheads to a level of strictest economy consistent with maintenance of the company, the staff was cut from 6 to 2. (3). The board decided to retain the premises leased at Otago Street, considered to be a suitable base. […] It has been acknowledged by the board that its composition has been: (i). Disproportionately representative of the theatre profession. (ii). Impractical in its non-residence furth of Scotland. The board took steps to remedy these deficiencies and invite new Governors residing in Scotland to represent a wider and more effectively influential cross-section of public life, business, finance, Local Government, media and from professions other than the theatre.lxxxiii 

The main functions of any theatre Board are to instil confidence within the company, offer an objective view on matters, and work in conjunction with the artistic and managerial directors to achieve the best possible results, both in the short and long term, for that company. The above statement indicated a way forward for the STC. However, the proposed measures seemed to be the result of a panic reaction to a problem which stemmed from initial underfunding and that problem was not addressed. The Board seemed more concerned about financial management than about artistic stability. On his resignation Hooper proposed Tom Fleming as his successor. 

 

Theatre managers in Scotland were also instrumental in Hooper’s departure; their reluctance to continue to book the STC demonstrated their controlling power as, in their roles of theatrical facilitators, they effectively held the purse strings. At a meeting in Perth on 5 March 1982, the managers of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, Eden Court, Inverness, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh and the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, expressed their concern over the STC’s tour of Heroes and Others and Man of the World as the plays failed to attract audiences. All theatres involved experienced very low figures for this tour and further anxiety was aired about the future tour of Jamie the Saxt and Bread and Butter. (See Appendix for a playlist.) The result was those theatres which had not exchanged written contracts with the STC decided to cancel its bookings for all dates after 31 March 1982. Managers fully accepted that this step might jeopardise the future of the company, but they felt that to continue booking it “as it is presently constituted would mean that the situation for the STC could only worsen”.lxxxiv 

 

When Fleming took over as Artistic Director in 1982, much was also expected of him. He immediately revived the great Scots sixteenth-century classic Sir David Lindsay’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis. Ruari McNeill joined the company in May 1983 as Administrative Director. McNeill says the company 

was certainly at the crossroads. The sort of flush of the company being started had dissipated and a new way had to be found to make the company work. Financially, it was in a very serious position with large debts, a moratorium had been agreed by the creditors […]. If the moratorium hadn’t been agreed the company would have gone into liquidation. It would have no choice. Actually the creditors allowed the company to survive.lxxxv 

McNeill also states that the company’s artistic policy had to be redefined in terms of providing a new approach to programming. He and Tom Fleming carried that task out and this subsequently convinced the SAC of the company’s artistic viability, something which resulted in further funding, most of which went to pay the creditors. McNeill comments about the initial financial situation and the possibility of artistic success: 

Our grants were never large and a lot of that money, any money we earned, any surplus we made, went to pay off the creditors. I think when I went there the amount owing was somewhere in the region of £100,000. By the time I left, it was down to about £45,000 pounds. […] It seemed the right time for a company to take well produced productions to the big theatres, and the theatre managers seemed to be supportive of that idea.lxxxvi 

As to the company keeping its pledge of producing new Scottish writing McNeill says, 

We didn’t do that as much as we would have liked to, because, well, that was the company’s pledge. The theatre managers of the big theatres who looked at it with a much colder commercial eye didn’t see new writing as a commercial venture, which one can understand. […] We certainly wanted to do more new work but it became clear in the second year there was a lot of people who were not supportive of the company.lxxxvii 

McNeill gives a clear account of those difficulties when he says “for most of the time I was there we couldn’t afford a production manager, so I was Administrative Director and Production Manager […] I always seem to spend my life behind the wheel of a car, quite often a van”.lxxxviii 

 

The company’s production of The Thrie Estaitis stayed in repertoire, being revived for two Edinburgh Festivals. In 1986, with British Council support, the company took the production to Poland; the first time the play had ever been seen outside Scotland. At the Warsaw Festival the company performed it three times to capacity audiences, receiving a standing ovation after each performance. The company also received excellent notices and the British ambassador in Poland stated “that in three days the company had done more for public relations between the West and the East than he had seen in twenty years of diplomatic service”,lxxxix illustrating the potential good which could come from a Scottish national theatre company. Fleming followed up his success of The Thrie Estaitis with productions of Robert McLellan’s Jamie the Saxt, with Ron Bain in the title role; a Scots version of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, with Walter Carr, John Grieve and Alex McAvoy; and a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The latter almost destroyed the company’s reputation, as Fleming’s choice of Mark McManus, TV’s “Taggart”, as the leading actor was an artistic mistake. Cordelia Oliver’s comments on the performances give an example of the level of dismay felt by the company’s supporters: “Despite moments of real insight on the director’s part, it [the production] suffered from lack of cohesion, and at worse [sic] from perfunctory playing in subsidiary roles.”xc 

 

Fleming further compounded this apparent misjudgement by an overblown production of Sydney Goodsir Smith’s The Wallace and even a production of J. M. Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows failed to alter the Company’s situation. Alasdair Cameron welcomed the latter production and saw the merits of a Scottish company performing Barrie’s play as he thought it should be performed: “It was, however, a revelation to see Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows played by Scottish company, using a more ‘out-front’ technique, rather than the introverted realism more usual when English companies produce the play.”xci Cameron also observed some of the deep-seated problems which surrounded the company when he further commented, 

From the start, however, for such an ambitious artistic remit, the company was seriously underfunded by the Scottish Arts Council. To this woe was added a lack of artistic vision in certain of their productions. A Macbeth with Mark McManus was singled out for particular critical opprobrium, as was a revival of Sydney Goodsir Smith’s historical pageant, The Wallace.xcii 

Allen Wright, in his essay, “Twenty-One Years On”, made the following observations which also echo Cameron’s point: 

Having brought the Scottish Theatre Company into being and having under-nourished it for about six years, the Scottish Arts Council must resolve the problem by either putting it out of its misery or placing it on a proper footing. […] If the Scottish Theatre Company is going to be a significant creative force, it must be given the funds to present a wide range of drama in each of the towns it visits, just as the Royal Shakespeare Company treats a city like Newcastle to a cross-section of its repertoire.xciii 

Wright looked back to the days when Scotland was in the grip of a renaissance, as a result of the work being done at the Traverse and the Lyceum in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and cited the coterie of talented directors that led both companies, namely, Max Stafford-Clark, Michael Rudman, and Mike Ockrent at the Traverse, and Richard Eyre and Bill Bryden under the guidance of Clive Perry at the Lyceum. In doing this, Wright was perhaps hoping the SAC would see the long-term benefits of the Company, and perhaps believed these examples would add some weight to the argument for funding it on a more secure footing. However, Wright’s advice went unheeded. 

 

After almost five years as Director of the STC, Tom Fleming stated, when reacting to speculation as to his commitment to the Company during 1986-87, “This time […] we mean to stick with it as long as we’re allowed to. If we don’t; if we lost our impetus and our enthusiasm, it’s the end of the road. There will be no more opportunities in our time, I’m sure”.xciv Fleming seemed like a man fighting for his life when he began to justify his policies and the STC’s existence, whilst convincing the Company’s detractors of its worth, 

You cannot separate the need for more money from anything else we need or feel we ought to have […]. I badly want a young associate director of the right quality, and that needs money. We need longer seasons in one place and that, too, means money […]. Scotland is full of fine actors […]. But […] we have to pay them properly. That’s the beginning and end of it.xcv 

Fleming’s and his supporters’ words and commitment went unheeded. SAC withheld its funding after a deficit of £32,000 was predicted in February 1987, which, added to the Company’s then existing deficit, would make a total deficit of more than £60,000. After this announcement, Ruari McNeill stated, “We have a problem, but we think it is soluble and we hope to be back in business either at the Edinburgh Festival or later in the autumn”.xcvi Tom Fleming maintained that the Company was underfunded right from the beginning and said, “It is a moment of re-appraisal but we are confident that the people of Scotland want us to go on with our work showing Scottish acting talent at its best at home and abroad”.xcvii 

 

However, further concerns over the Spring tour being cancelled and the Company’s planning procedures and its commitment to fulfil its touring brief to the main theatres in Scotland were raised by the SAC. In a statement the Council said its concern was “over the apparent difficulty that the Company has had in persuading certain theatre managements to take its productions on a consistent basis”.xcviii SAC further stated that it would be creating an assessment team which would examine the Company’s future “within current funding parameters”xcix and that the team would also look at “options for providing touring theatre productions to medium – and large scale – theatres in Scotland”.c 

 

After this announcement Allen Wright criticised the SAC’s Drama Committee for its lack of vision and its “attitude” and commented further: 

It is depressing but the Scottish Theatre Company should be regarded as an “option”. If anyone suffers from “the national vice of self-deprecation” it is the Scottish Arts Council’s Drama Committee in its attitude to this company. The success of The Thrie Estaites at an international festival in Warsaw last year seemed to give the company committee more embarrassment than satisfaction.ci 

Wright highlighted the paradox of a company that, in his view, had achieved success, however marked by occasional lapses at home, and was capable of achieving the same level of appreciation abroad, but was funded at a lower level than comparable companies from other countries. Wright was the leading proponent of the STC and in favour of a Scottish National Theatre: “If theatre in Scotland is not to be simply an outpost of English Rep it is all the more essential that the Scottish Theatre Company continues to perform a leading role, with or without the ‘National’ tag.”cii While he, along with other critics such as Tom Kinninmont, Randall Stevenson and John Fowler, was critical of the company at times, he and the others remained in broad support of it. 

 

To assess the matter of the STC and the need for touring, the SAC established a Review Working Group, headed by Professor Michael J. Anderson.ciii It met on a number of occasions between 30 April and 2 June 1987, is terms of reference being 

  1. To undertake a detailed assessment of all aspects of the current operation of the Scottish Theatre Company 
  1. To consider options concerned with the future role and operation of the Scottish Theatre Company 
  1. To compare the merits of the continued operation of the Scottish Theatre Company with any practical alternative means of touring theatre productions to designated medium and large scale touring theatres in Scotland. 

The Working Group also considered written evidence from actors, writers, directors, drama companies in Scotland, former SAC Drama Committee members, members of the public, theatre managers, local authorities and other organisations, as well as a written submission from the STC itself. On 10 June 1987, the Review Group delivered its report, offering nine recommendations which, in essence, supported the continuation of the Company with certain conditions, and had a further proposal that its findings be made public.civ When the SAC published the report, it stated it would be seeking comments “from the theatre profession, and in particular concerning the report’s conclusions and recommendations, which will be taken into account when the Committee next considers the matter”.cv Despite indications to the contrary, the SAC finally withdrew its funding in late 1987. 

 

Alasdair Cameron expressed in 1988 an opinion as to the company’s artistic misfortunes which had led to its demise, by saying “An excessive reverence for the text was often the cause of their undoing, especially when coupled with the lack of directorial vision, leading to rather dull and literal productions. […] The company collapsed into liquidation in 1987 and left a void which no-one as yet has filled”.cvi Although the STC did create something different and as Cameron says, “left a void which no-one as yet has filled”, there were, as he also correctly highlighted, flaws, one of which was that the plays it presented were non- commercial; perhaps this was because both artistic directors were actors and as such possibly prone to selecting plays which appealed to actors rather than to theatre managers and their audiences. 

 

It had been Hooper’s intention to produce new Scottish work but it may have been too ambitious to try out that new work before he had built a strong audience base. Fleming’s commitment to “Total Theatre” was evident from Jamie the Saxt and The Thrie Estaitis, but although these productions were epic in scale and performance, he could not continue to deliver new work on such a level without a permanent theatre base. The importance of selecting an appropriate repertoire is one which any national theatre company faces. Initially Hooper did attempt to realise his commitment to performing new and existing Scottish plays. However, these plays did not always attract audiences as new plays by less well-known authors tend not to attract a broad range of the public. It might have been better for the Company had it offered plays by well-known dramatists, performed by a cast of popular actors, in its early stages of development, particularly as the STC did not have a base and, therefore, no secure “home” audience in one particular city but had to hope to appeal instead to the theatre-going public across Scotland as it toured. In his submission, A New Scottish Theatre, Hooper did recognise the dynamics of audience attendance; however, the theory was not addressed in practice. 

 

Another error the STC may be seen to have committed is that it presented new plays by relatively unknown Scottish writers in main-house theatres, where good houses are necessary in order to balance the books, rather than in smaller venues where the work of such writers could have been considered an experimental aspect of the Company’s repertoire. What was significant about the STC’s repertoire was that the vast majority of plays performed were by Scottish writers (see Appendix). Ironically, this overall choice of repertoire proved to be a major flaw and that it was not sufficiently appealing to Scottish audiences as a whole. 

 

Conclusion 

 

The case of the Royal Lyceum shows that the proposal to graft on a company to form a national theatre could not succeed, given that the civic theatre concept was too well-established in Edinburgh and that personal ambitions appeared too strong to take forward the collaborative possibility of the Lyceum’s becoming the national theatre. The positive attributes it had – money, a building base and a good range of repertoire which included international and new writing– were not enough. The Scottish Theatre Company, on the other hand, had insufficient money, no permanent base and a repertoire less balanced between the Scottish and the international. What it did have was its Scottish roots and name, a national role, in terms of its touring, and a committed Board and leadership. Both companies had a commitment to good acting. They also shared an attitude to repertoire, that there should be a balance between new writing and classical revivals. In addition to the deficiencies listed above, crucially neither had the power of political or community will behind it to support its becoming a Scottish National Theatre. 

 

 

Appendix 

 

Repertoire of plays of the Scottish Theatre Company, 1981-87 

(* indicates première) 

 

1981-82 

Let Wives Tak Tent Robert Kemp, from Molière 

Animal Tom McGrath 

Civilians* Bill Bryden 

Ghosts* Donald Campbell, from Ibsen 

Heroes and Others* Catherine Lucy Czerkawska 

Jamie the Saxt Robert McLellan 

The Man of the World Charles Macklin 

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle Hugh MacDiarmid 

 

1983 onwards 

Bread and Butter C. P. Taylor 

Macbeth William Shakespeare 

The Quiet Room Tom Fleming, from William Soutar 

Commedia Marcella Evaristi 

Battle Royal Bruce Baillie 

Mr Gillie James Bridie 

The Life of Galileo Bertolt Brecht 

Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis Sir David Lindsay 

Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett 

The Wallace Sydney Goodsir Smith 

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle Hugh MacDiarmid 

Mr Gillie James Bridie 

Robert Burns Joe Corrie 

What Every Woman Knows J. M. Barrie 

Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis Sir David Lindsay