Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Thursday, July 29, 2004 ::
Vicky Featherstone to be NToS Artistic Director
Today at 14.00 GMT, at a press conference at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Scottish Culture Minister Frank McAveety will announce that Vicky Featherstone (right) has been appointed Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland.
This is wonderful news! There have been many names thrown into the ring over the last ten months. Encore kicked a few of them around itself. Some pointed to Ian McDiarmid, others to Richard Wilson; sometimes it seemed David McVicar was in the frame, at others the smart money seemed to be favouring Giles Havergal. Encore favoured Neil Murray or David Greig. Only Kenny Ireland made public his desire for the job.
It’s a great pleasure to report that we were all wrong. Vicky Featherstone, 37, the artistic director of Paines Plough since 1997, will be an excellent choice for this new job.
- The appointment recognises that Featherstone is not just a good theatre director but that her real strength is making good work happen. Since her appointment at Paines Plough she’s thrown her energies into locating and developing distinctive new writers. The ‘Wild Lunch’ series of short play readings has run more or less annually since 1997, producing work from writers like Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane, Gary Owen, Glyn Cannon, Katie Hims, Amy Rosenthal, Chris O’Connell, Steve Waters, Debbie Tucker Green, Rebecca Prichard… and the list goes on. And on. And on. Many of these writers have been taken on to full production, even more of them have subsequently been produced to great acclaim elsewhere. Paines Plough has produced some of the most important work of the last ten years. Crave, The Cosmonaut’s Last Message…, Splendour, Riddance: this is quite a haul for a small-scale touring company.
- It’s widely believed that the choice finally came down to Featherstone and Kenny Ireland. If so, this was the point at which the path forked for the National Theatre project. Kenny Ireland would have brought a pugnacious flamboyance to the role, experience of solid financial management running the Lyceum, a wealth of experience in Scottish Theatre. But under his management it’s hard not believe that the project would have drifted towards being a traditional building-based National Theatre. Vicky Featherstone is tough-minded and thick-skinned enough to insist on quality, but she has shown a decisive commitment to touring and has resisted the blandishments of bricks and mortar. She is the ideal person to take the huge virtual network that is the NToS project and develop a vital artistic identity through it.
- It will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers that the board have not appointed a Scottish artistic director. But Featherstone has worked extensively with Scottish writers (Gregory Burke, Linda McLean, David Greig, to name but three), made Paines Plough virtually resident at the Traverse for the Festival, brought John Tiffany into Paines Plough as Associate Director, and has worked extensively with Scottish actors. She is a familiar name and face in Scottish theatre circles. Furthermore, her artistic priorities are defiantly not London-centred. The work that Paines Plough has championed since 1997 is not the voyeuristic, naturalist mundanity of the Court; the work has been lyrical, poetic, drawing on fantasy, speculation, mystery and grace. In other words, her tastes have always been much more in line with the Scottish theatre renaissance than with Ricksonian realism.
- It’s very exciting that they’ve appointed a young woman. Most of the names bandied about were middle-aged men. How many national theatres have been run by women? It’s another promising sign of the board’s commitment to maintaining the NToS as visionary, innovative and iconoclastic. It reminds us that the promise of the NToS is to be a question, not a statement.
- She’s not afraid of other people’s talents. You’d be surprised how rare this is. There was the work with Frantic Assembly, producing, in Tiny Dynamite, their best work in five years; the ambitious collaboration with Graeae; her invitation to John Tiffany; the Wild Lunch, Ticket to Write, and This Other England projects…
- These last three endeavours show not only a desire to bring more and more people into the company, but also an intense desire to explore what theatre might mean to a changing nation. All three of those writing projects share a determination to address place and geography, but also to reimagine it. This kind of imaginative collaboration will be vital if the NToS is to be what it could be: a blueprint for national theatres in the 21st century.
It's a brilliant, daring appointment and the best cause for British theatre to celebrate all year.