Scenes For Survival is a brand new initiative from the National Theatre of Scotland presenting theatre reinvented for lockdown. Alongside NTS, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and other sector bodies have launched a Hardship Fund to raise money for those in the arts sector who have been hardest hit financially by the pandemic.
The opening night featured six ‘digital artworks’ – we’re promised more than forty in total over the coming weeks – from leading Scottish performers, writers, and directors. New work will be released in the coming weeks at 9pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on the NTS website.
First up is A Mug’s Game, a beautifully delivered piece by Jonathan Watson, an extract from Frances Poet’s play, Fibres. Originally produced last October as a co-production between the Citizens Theatre and Stellar Quines, it tells the tale of the Glasgow shipyards. Eerily prescient, Watson recalls requesting a mask if he was to be made to work in amongst the asbestos but his boss ridiculed him and dispatched him to be an electrician instead. Taking advantage of this remote world, Watson’s monologue is inter-cut with footage of the yards, the trade unionists, and demonstrations from the time. Watson is unperturbed by the camera and this is a lovely natural and nuanced performance.
The wonderful Kate Dickie features (and films herself) in Isolation by novelist and poet Jenni Fagan. Dickie is a woman, ill, anxious, and trapped in her flat as the city shuts down around her. Edited by the dark imagination of Lewis den Hertog, this creepily atmospheric piece strikes a brilliant balance between filmic panache and the brutal immediacy of theatre. Fagan’s language is extravagantly poetic and eminently of the moment. “My greatest fear is that I might never get to hug you again,” says Dickie, echoing the mood of nations.
Ashleigh More tells a brilliant tale of why her homework was late in Clearing. Writer Morna Pearson sets her story in the north east of Scotland. When Wormyface says stay home, she has to choose between staying with her mum and her brand new boyfriend – or her dad with his cupboard of Pot Noodles. But More believes she belongs somewhere else altogether. It is a feisty, funny performance with a sparky script that proves great fun.
Janey Godley stars in Alone, which she also wrote, and proves to be a class act. Directed by Caitlin Skinner (whose Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego was last seen at Manipulate 2020), this is a window into the world of a wife whose husband likes her to follow the rules – but isn’t so impressed when ‘the Government’ announce a whole new set of rules of their own. It’s a biting satire of those who believe themselves above the regulations, and Godley’s effortless comic timing is only just overshadowed by her dachshund.
The Present a typically gorgeous work of poetry by Stef Smith. A woman sits at home, waiting for the day that she can be reunited with her lover. In the meantime, she tidies her house – what else is there to do? A gently seductive performance by Moyo Akandé, shot through with a sedate and graceful yearning, making deft work of Smith’s script. This piece is funny, astute and tender and all packaged up with a bow on top.
Finally, a treat for Rebus fans. A short from Ian Rankin featuring Brian Cox as the detective inspector. Confined to his tenement with only his dog for company, Cox gives us an ode to pubs and pints, a love letter to losing yourself in the white noise of the world outside and a yowl of frustration for being left alone with your head. Cora Bissett’s direction is understated and elegant. We could almost be sat there with him, at his kitchen table. But we’re not. And there’s the rub.
Somehow, all of these Scenes for Survival convey the intimacy of theatre – the immediacy – on film without missing a beat, with or without den Hertog’s bells and whistles. If we’re going to be lurking inside for a little bit longer, the creativity and imagination of companies like the NTS will go a long way to sustain us. And maybe we should expect nothing less. As Jenni Fagan writes in Isolation, “we are made from the carbon of stars. Don’t tell me we aren’t capable of changing everything.”
Scenes for Survival is releasing new work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on the National Theatre of Scotland website
Donations to the Scenes for Survival Hardship Fund can be made here