In two days the country will finally make its decision. The campaigning will be over and we will wake on Friday to a new political reality. No matter which side is ultimately successful, the landscape of our country will have changed. Whilst we wonder about the economy, oil, or the currency, it is important not to forget our arts: Scottish theatre and its current place in the United Kingdom.
As a little but loud country, Scotland manages to hold its own in the theatre world. Our National Theatre produces some phenomenal works of theatre, productions which then tour and spread the word of Scottish culture across the world. Playwrights like David Greig, Rona Munroe and Gregory Burke showcase the best that Scotland has to offer. But do these successful individuals benefit from the union with the rest of the UK or would their talents shine brighter in an independent Scotland?
On the whole, the arts community appears to be in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote. Artists have a strong national identity and have been actively involved in shaping the distinct ‘Scottish image’ that has grown in the past decade.
Actor Alan Cumming says that a ‘Yes’ vote is the only way to promote Scottish creativity, ambition and pride. Playwright David Greig equates the United Kingdom’s union to an unhappy marriage, saying that the last Holyrood election was the moment when both sides realised divorce was inevitable. Greig’s Dunsinane, a distinctly Scottish play set after Macbeth’s death, has toured the UK as well as America, China, and Russia. This interpretation of Scottish reaction to war and peace has been shown in new languages and to vast audiences. Greig has had the opportunity to shape these opinions of our country. Dunsinane is a joint production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company. The former makes it clear from the off who is responsible for the work. It has a very clear identity.
But as a small country we do benefit enormously from the union to an extent. With only a few theatrical centres in Scotland, we rely hugely on touring productions from the rest of the UK. With London only four hours away by train, we have access to some of the best theatre the world has to offer. In an independent Scotland we could obviously still travel, but would we lose these great touring productions?
The Royal National Theatre, founded in 1963, exists to showcase great writing, classical and modern, to the people of Great Britain and across the globe. British playwrights have the opportunity to have their work produced on a large scale and showcased in a highly respected manner.
This year, for the first time, The National Theatre of Scotland and The National Theatre (of Great Britain, as it is known worldwide) have come together as co-producers. Rona Munroe’s trilogy, The James Plays, are currently playing at the Olivier theatre in London, after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival theatre.
Munroe’s plays do not explicitly question Scotland’s position in the union but the links are there and the timing of the production makes it very difficult to ignore these tacit connections. One has to question whether this production is the start of a new tradition of unity or whether a ‘Yes’ vote will ruin any chance of this happy alliance.
If, in a United Kingdom, Scotland is given the chance to shine on a Scottish, a British and even an international stage, why would we ruin this for the chance at a possibility of change?