The Politics of Alternative Theatre in Britain, 1968-1990: The Case of 7:84 (Scotland)by Maria DiCenzo, and: Scottish Theatre Since the Seventiesed. by Randall Stevenson and Gavin Wallace (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 33, Number 3, Fall 1999
- pp. 407-414
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews Maria DiCenzo. The Politics of Alternative Theatre in Britain, 1968-1990: The Case of 7:84 (Scotland). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xiv+247 + 10 ill. $22.50. Scottish Theatre Since the Seventies. Edited by Randall Stevenson and Gavin Wallace. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996. Pp. vii+240. $54.95. The 1 970s witnessed an unprecedented flourishing of Scottish theater , the legacy ofwhich has continued, despite occasional stumbles, to the present day. Partly due to (and considerably contributing to) resurgent debates around Scottish identity and Scotland's political status within the United Kingdom, partly due to inspiring interventions by a number of key practitioners—such as Giles Havergal and colleagues at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, Chris Parr at Edinburgh's Traverse, John McGrath with 7:84 (Scotland), and (later) Robert Palmer and Neil Wallace at Glasgow's Tramway, a range of fresh approaches to production and performance styles, writing, audience development and the location of theatrical activity emerged, changing the face of Scottish theater. Stevenson and Wallace's anthology of seventeen articles attempts to provide "a preliminary survey ofthe wide and partially charted territory ". While it adequately introduces some aspects of recent developments , and several articles are entertaining and provocative, the coverage of the resulting chart is rather patchy: too many surveyors re-cross similar ground and little real editing leads to frequent repetition. Fewer and longer contributions might have encouraged more detailed investigation ofkey issues and practices. The work is divided into three sections: "Stages and Companies," "Plays and Playwrights," and "Politics and Practices." The first maps the terrain of Scottish theater, starting, curiously, with discussion of a non-existent stage, as Roger Savage engages with the controversy over whether Scotland should have a National Theatre. Savage summarizes the quandaries around the putative policies of a National Theatre, sketches previous attempts to establish a National Theatre (oddly avoiding discussion of the ill-fated Scottish Theatre Company in the 1980s), outlines hypothesized benefits, but concludes with a skeptical view ofthe desirability and feasibility offounding such an institution. While Owen Dudley Edwards' eccentric essay is hardly of central relevance, it is very lively. In a frantic dash through the history of the spasmodic role Scottish-produced work has played in the Edinburgh Festival, the exhaustive, and exhausting, detail descends at times into 407 408Comparative Drama name-checking surpassing even George Steiner's more baroque efforts, but is redeemed by the wry humor of its compressed aperçus, as in: "Scotland may conquer its own parochialism: at least it knows it's there. But it then has to conquer England's and England doesn't know that's there." He makes valid points about the development of the Festival and Fringe and the meeting-place they offer for encounters between Scottish theater and international theater and has little time for those who complain that they drain Scottish theater of finance and opportunities . In "Scottish Theatres Old and New" Mark Fisher addresses the impact of architecture on production practices. Recalling that much adventurous work in recent years has been presented in spaces not originally designed as theaters, he observes that, Tramway aside, most have been small spaces, such as the old Traverse or Glasgow's Tron. He argues the confinement of new writing largely to a ghetto of small theaters or the studios of larger reps limits the theatrical ambitions of what is presented and curtails the development ofwriters, who have no next step up the ladder, except into radio or television. This is persuasive , although Fisher's focus on the needs of writers leads him to underestimate the extent to which Tramway has fostered new Scottish work which has been company-devised or created in collaboration with writers—work which he dismisses as placing "substantial emphasis on the physical, visual, or directorial aspects ofperformance." In the following two essays, David Hutchison and Linda Mackenney provide dutiful accounts of Glasgow's Citizens Theatre and 7:84 (Scotland). The Citizens discussion is rather po-faced, giving the impression that Hutchison is happier with the company in its later, more sedate years than in its iconoclastic first decade. Taking the "divine decadence " of early productions too much at face-value, he underestimates the...