Friday, June 3, 2011

Scotland's Theatre In The Spotlight At Glasgow Library

By Nancy Mattoon

Program and pages of script from
Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head
Chopped Off
by Liz Lochhead.
(All Images Courtesy of Scottish Theatre Archive.)

An online display from the University of Glasgow Library has been created to highlight the holdings of its fascinating Scottish Theatre Archive. Scotland has a checkered history when it comes to the theatre. All the way back in the year 1214, pious King Alexander I banned all theatrical performances in the land the Romans called Caledonia. The Catholic Church periodically enforced such bans, but the literary flowering of the Renaissance period still came to Scotland in the form of Sir David Lyndsay’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, a masterpiece of satirical comedy-drama first performed for King James V in 1540. But by 1640 the Protestant Reformation once again brought about the banning of all theatrical "diversions" throughout the British Isles.

Undated Publicity Photo of Harry Lauder,
One Of Scotland's Most Famous
"Music Hall Artistes."

Located between two nations with peerless literary stage traditions, England and Ireland, Scottish dramatists have been constantly overshadowed by the great playwrights of London and Dublin. But the theatrical culture of Scotland kept rising from the ashes, with the 18th century producing important works by Alan Ramsay and John Home. Scotland long specialized in translating and staging the world's finest plays for local performances, including everything from Greek tragedies to Molière, Racine and Rostand. The first-ever Chekhov production in the English-speaking world took place when the new Glasgow Repertory Theatre staged The Seagull in 1909.

Actor, Director, Producer Alan Cumming
Adorns A 2007 Poster For
The National Theatre Of Scotland.

So it should come as no surprise that what arose in the Scottish capital from the rubble of World War II, and became the largest cultural event on earth, bar none, was the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival. Established in 1947 to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit," over 40 years on, the festival, and its more outrageous twin, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, have become the finest theatrical showcases on the planet. The icing on this dramatic cake is the founding of the new National Theatre of Scotland in 2006. Scotland's National Theatre does not have a single central location, but is committed to commissioning plays and bringing theatre to the people throughout Scotland, in both the major theatres of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and in community playhouses both large and small.

A 1955 Program From
The King's Theatre, Edinburgh.

Scotland's libraries have a vital role to play in this theatrical heritage, and recognizing that, The Scottish Theatre Archive was founded in 1981 as part of the Special Collections within the University of Glasgow Library. Its mission is "to help preserve Scotland's theatrical heritage by providing a safe and accessible home for archival material relating to Scottish theatre." It also serves as a clearinghouse for information on Scottish theatre and drama requested by "scholars, students, theatrical practitioners, historians and members of the public from all parts of the world."

Sketch Of A Costume by Colin MacNeil
for Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp, 1987.

According to the Archives' website, its "coverage of Scottish theatre is very broad, and includes traditional and contemporary aspects, as well as serious and popular works. Among the largest collections are the archives of the Citizens Theatre, Scottish Ballet, including material from its beginnings as the Western Theatre Ballet, the BBC Radio Scotland script collection and the Jimmy Logan collection of music-hall material. Other collections include material relating to many Scottish theatres and companies, such as the Scottish National Players, Wilson Barrett Company, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe."

1982 Poster For
The 7:84 Theatre Company
of Edinburgh.

The contents of the Archive include, "programmes, scripts, production notes, photographs, posters, and press-cuttings. Some of the collections also include business papers and correspondence. The Archive has extensive holdings of playscripts, totalling over 7,300 titles." A small sampling of the Archives' fascinating materials has been made available online, along with a dedicated computer catalog for all materials currently accessible. All of which underlines the fact that there is a lot more to theatre in Scotland than the superstition that surrounds that unlucky Shakespearean tragedy dubbed "The Scottish Play," because to even utter its true title, Macbeth, in a theatre is to invite disaster.


1 comment:

  1. Oh dear, not a geography scholar:

    "Located between two nations with peerless literary stage traditions, England and Ireland,"


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