At this moment, Theatre is fighting tooth & nail for our right to express a freedom of creativity, and engage an appreciation of what we, as a community, can produce. What finer way to demonstrate the capabilities of exceptionally talented individuals coming together, than with a composite of forty-plus digital artworks produced in isolation. Isolated adaptations of previous works, new creations from aspiring creators and national treasures, speaking to all generations, cultures and yet harkening back to that individualistic ability to take you, however briefly, out of this world and into another.
Following the release of this short film collection, The National Theatre Scotland will begin broadcasting another segment of Scenes for Survival every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9 pm, starting with a brief extract from Frances Poet’s Fibres, titled A Mug’s Game.
If you had been lucky enough to catch Poet’s production during its recent tour, you’ll be familiar with the blood-roaring fury etched into its script, a revulsion communicated in a way only morose Scottish humour can capture. Returning to perform an extract is one of the country’s most beloved performers, Jonathan Watson, who stars as a Clyde shipbuilder, who like many lives with the effects of Asbestos exposure, and the absence of acknowledgement or care from those who created these dangerous environments.
Watson is the voice of a generation of men. A humble man, his rage isn’t blazing, but subdued in a quiet reserve of warped gratitude for work, tying into the dying relevance of Glasgow’s dockyards, and value of the Scottish working class. Dauntingly accurate, stepping beyond the ideas of masks and safety, the drive for bosses, gaffers, and board members to march their ‘human capital’ into dangerous environments is, frankly, disturbingly relevant. Seth Hardwick’s editing, including the splicing of stock dockworkers shift-work, offers a weight to tie back into the rusted veins of Scotland’s labour intense history.
The harsh reality is that with every choice, every breath we take right now, we have no idea of the potential consequences. Fagan’s writing is the catalyst for Kate Dickie’s intense performance, honing itself not solely around the biological impacts of COVID-19, but the debilitating aura is exudes – the crippling solitude, reinforcing a growing concern of the fragility of mental health, on top of our obvious concerns of physical well-being. Wonderfully imaginative, Fagan’s writing enables Dickie to convey an ethereal, almost detached view of the world and its recovery in our absence. Dickie transcends her prison and establishes an understanding with the audience’s frustrations, concerns and questions to the future.
Isolation’s sound design neatly ties deeper into Fagan’s descriptive troubles of mental deterioration, the almost hallucinogenic properties where isolation forces us to confront ourselves, in the absence of being able to see this alien entity, this virus, our minds tie even the clatters of Thursday night Claps for Carers into a malevolence. Within the intermediary transitions, the sound score leans heavily on the dramatic foreboding, attempting to add more to an already clear intent.
For some, the time in lockdown has enabled us to have a clearing of sorts, enabling them to remove the gunk from their minds, freeing space for other thoughts to fester. Morna Pearson’s Clearing toes as a comedy, tearing itself between the uncomfortable reality of death/disease and discomfort children face going between two homes.
Ashleigh More provides a wide range of facial emotions, remarkably animated and energetic, something missing from the other performances which focus on the wearying effect of lockdown. The brilliance of Clearing is Pearson’s toying with layers of narrative, and a revelation which subverts the built-up sentiment remarkably so. Short, effective, and worth it for the levels of Pearson’s writing.
You might be expecting some humour from Godley, and you’d be correct. Alone is so much more though, it’s an authentic experience of a woman’s life. You see Jim, Jim likes his rules. Fastidious, controlling, but carried with an air of buffoonery, Godley illustrates a familiar situation, perhaps one we recognise in our parents. The underlying commentary, however, the subversion of the obvious, while jabbing at the ignorant attitudes some share regarding which rules they will and will not follow, leads to a short which feels undoubtedly the most ‘Scottish’.
Grim, earthy, with a twang and wink of charm, Godley lets down her hair in this lockdown short which will speak to many women sitting at home, experiencing the same routines and Jim’s of their own. With some exceptionally tight writing, with an unashamedly gorgeous appearance from Honey, this is a must-see for those newfound Twitter fans of Godley’s to experience the brilliance of her creative capabilities.
It’s a tough year so far, right? You’d be forgiven if you lapsed into the nostalgic times – hell, you’d be forgiven if you just wanted to relive last Christmas. Stef Smith’s The Present has a definite flow and the plainest story evolution of this evenings shorts.
Moyo Akande brings everything to Smith’s lyrical structure, which in the hands of another could have robbed The Present of its gradual evolution into sentimentality. The pacing of this short is paramount, too soon and the character feels hollow, too late and there’s no connection. Akande’s performance has a progressive build, Katherine Nesbitt’s direction knowing how to utilise the production’s strengths, allowing for Smith’s words to feel entirely natural, unrehearsed and shifts into an accessible language which retains its intention.
Well Scotland, we’ve been waiting for this one. He’s back, not for a case, not even for the pub(s). No, this time Rebus is finally leaving his stubbornness at the door, to an extent, and isolating. Refusing to modernise, choosing to seek comfort in his vinyl’s, a paper and a few cans, Rebus returns to the realisation of how important the one point of contact he has with longsuffering, friend, and colleague Siobhan. Like welcoming an old friend into the home, Rebus reflects on his life as he faces his own ‘sentence’.
An unstoppable trio of engaging writing, performance and led with Cora Bissett’s exceptional direction sees the nation’s curmudgeon return for a special which retains all of the Rebus humour, call-backs and characters, but Rankin’s original story also proffers a connection with a generation who connects with these stories like no other. This is a role which fans have been casting Brian Cox in for decades, and this feels right. From the first line, this just feels right.
Despite its roots in storytelling, Scotland looks forward, these weavers of narrative use their craft to utilise our reflection not to think of the ‘normality’ we will return to, but what the next step is. Not how quickly people will fall back into their routines post-lockdown, but how we come together to learn, to celebrate the magnificence of Scottish artists, and seek solace in hope. A prevalent concept in the peripherals of many creators is to the world we shall emerge into. A theme throughout Scenes for Survival, for good reason. That in this grand scheme, this infinitesimal amount of time demonstrates how the incompetence, arrogance and crimson soaked talons of the elite have pried open the eyes of the future, revealing that in truth – we can never go back to the way things were.
Theatre will return. Tyrants fall, but stories rule forever. And art will outlive commerce, but the way forward is unclear, and these Scenes of Survival will charter a dawning era for Scotland, for expression and community.
The entire launch collection can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hybVBdI2SXI
Further information, donations and other projects can be sourced from The National Theatre Scotland’s website: https://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/