What Would Our Theatre Industry Look Like In An Independent Scotland? | Written By Lewis C. Baird

2020 allowed us all to reflect on our past, but what it also made us do is look to the future in hope. One of the massive events which could soon impact Scotland is a second independence referendum. And the SNP have promised if they get a majority at this year’s Scottish election, then they will take that as a mandate to seek a second referendum. With that being said, what we need to consider is how will that impact Scotland’s theatre industry? 

For the last two decades, Scotland’s theatre industry has had a very contemporary culture where a majority of the shows produced in Scotland are new writing. Those productions have also starred up and coming performers. This outlook has made our theatre scene very fresh and most of our productions are relevant for their time. Our theatre is renowned internationally for being critically acclaimed, creative and bold. With that, Scottish theatre rarely produces big commercial productions, which can on some occasions show they prioritize art over money, but on the other hand this can be a problem. 

Wicked The Musical (Edinburgh Playhouse) Photo Credit: Veronica C

In Scotland the shows which attract the biggest audiences are either large touring productions from London or regional pantomimes. In an independent Scotland, we could see a reduce in the number of productions we see coming from down south, and some pantomime producers may pull out of Scotland. This is all hypothetical. However, it might not totally be a negative, as it then gives us a gap in the market to allow Scottish creatives to take the initiative and fill our theatres with large scale work.  

We have the largest seated theatre in Europe in our capital, and yet for years there has barely been a Scottish made production which has played there, let alone sell out the Edinburgh Playhouse. And it rarely happens in our other touring theatres, apart from with pantomime. 

Dundee Rep, The Lyceum, The Citizens and The National Theatre of Scotland companies have toured productions which have sold houses out, however they lack wide spread renowned success. As I have mentioned within a previous article, ‘Glasgow Girls’, ‘Slab Boys’, ‘Pride & Prejudice (*Sort of)’, ‘Blackwatch’, ‘Still Game’, ‘Sunshine on Leith’, ‘The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil’ and Scottish Ballet’s ‘The Crucible’ are productions which toured internationally plus are the productions which have made the biggest impact from our country’s theatre industry. As much as they are major successes, they cannot be compared to the successes seen in the West End and on Broadway. For despite ‘Cheviot’, ‘Slab Boys’, ‘Glasgow Girls’ and ‘Sunshine on Leith’, we see most of our successful productions fizzle out and never tour again. This is something which needs to change and perhaps with more opportunities within an independent Scotland, our artists and creatives will be able to produce theatre which truly resonates internationally causing major commercial success. 

Pride & Prejudice (*Sort Of)

Moving on from talking about prosperity, there is the risks in going independent, as we do remove ourselves from easy connections with the west end, where we see plays and musicals transfer directly from London to various venues in Scotland on tour. Removing ourselves from the union could mean that we lose that connection and we will minimize the tours that come into Scotland. Also, with that we may lose some of the artist who come to work in Scotland’s theatres. This is once again hypothetical. As knowing our industry, there is a high chance that breaking out the union will not impact the touring productions that come to Scotland. Every company loves a Scottish audience, especially a Glaswegian audience. They wouldn’t want to miss out on that. 

Whatever lays ahead in our future, if we do go independent, we may lose some connections, but remember, Scotland is a creative country. We can and have produced some absolutely cracking theatre. No matter the result, let’s make Scotland’s theatre industry thrive when the pandemic is over.