Cast­ing a spell

The big win­ners at this year’s Crit­ics’ Awards for Theatre in Scot­land look likely to be Orla O’lough­lin and the Tra­verse Theatre – and in par­tic­u­lar the Fringe hit Ul­ster Amer­cian

The Scotsman - - ARTS THEATRE - Joycem­cmil­lan @ joycemcm

When Scot­land’s theatre crit­ics gath­ered at the Fes­ti­val Theatre last week­end to ham­mer out the short­lists for this year Crit­ics’ Awards for Theatre in Scot­land ( CATS) – ten short­lists of four, over cat­e­gories rang­ing from Best Mu­sic and Sound to Best Show of The Year – dis­cus­sion raged as fiercely as ever. There were al­most 160 pro­fes­sional shows made in Scot­land over the past year on the long list of eli­gi­ble pro­duc­tions, and the num­ber of ac­tors, writ­ers, di­rec­tors, de­sign­ers, mu­sic- mak­ers and tech­ni­cal staff in­volved must have been close to a thou­sand. Some shows that had at­tracted pos­i­tive re­views sud­denly failed to arouse that ex­tra surge of en­thu­si­asm needed to pro­pel them onto short­lists, while oth­ers that only a few crit­ics had seen proved so mem­o­rable and pow­er­ful, in dis­cus­sion, that they shot through the ranks to claim well- de­served recog­ni­tion.

Th­ese short­lists can never be de­fin­i­tive, of course; it’s al­ways been the hope of the CATS crit­ics, since the CATS be­gan in 2003, that their ex­is­tence would in­spire oth­ers to set up their own awards for theatre in Scot­land, us­ing a range of dif­fer­ent judg­ing meth­ods. None­the­less, by the end of the day, a craggy and de­bat­able out­line of the year in Scot­tish theatre had emerged; and its most strik­ing fea­ture is the huge achieve­ment of the Tra­verse Theatre, in Orla O’lough­lin’s fi­nal year as artis­tic di­rec­tor, in win­ning an out­stand­ing ten nom­i­na­tions across six cat­e­gories.

There are four nom­i­na­tions for the Tra­verse’s Ed­in­burgh Fringe

2018 smash- hit Ul­ster Amer­i­can, recog­nis­ing the play­wright David Ireland, ac­tors Lu­cianne Mcevoy and Dar­rell D’silva, and the whole show as one of the best of the year; Cora Bis­sett’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal show What Girls Are Made Of – an­other huge Fes­ti­val hit, di­rected by O’lough­lin and co- pro­duced by Raw Ma­te­rial and Reg­u­lar Mu­sic – won three nom­i­na­tions. And the Tra­verse also won recog­ni­tion across three cat­e­gories for O’lough­lin’s su­perb De­cem­ber pro­duc­tion of Mouth­piece, Kieran Hur­ley’s play about class, theatre, and who gets to tell whose story, which has just fin­ished an ac­claimed run at the Soho Theatre in Lon­don.

No sin­gle Tra­verse show, though, has won as many nom­i­na­tions as My Left Right Foot, the cheeky and bril­liant mu­si­cal com­edy about dis­abil­ity, am­a­teur theatre and po­lit­i­cally cor­rect at­ti­tudes pre­miered at Assem­bly Roxy dur­ing last year’s Ed­in­burgh Fringe, and staged by Birds Of Par­adise, Scot­land’s main com­pany work­ing with dis­abled artists, and the Na­tional Theatre of Scot­land. Just 15 months ago the fu­ture of Birds of Par­adise was in doubt, af­ter it fell vic­tim to Cre­ative Scot­land’s con­tro­ver­sial 2018 fund­ing round. Within weeks, though, the fund­ing de­ci­sion was re­versed; and now this lat­est show – cur­rently on tour to Ja­pan, Brighton, and Dundee – has won six CATS nom­i­na­tions, rang­ing from Best New Play to Best Ensem­ble. The Tron Theatre’s au­tumn pro­duc­tion of Enda Welsh’s sur­real Ir­ish mas­ter­piece

Bal­ly­turk fared al­most as well, with Tron artis­tic di­rec­tor Andy Arnold win­ning a Best Di­rec­tor nom­i­na­tion,

Out­lander ac­tor Grant O’rourke recog­nised for his per­for­mance, and the show also win­ning recog­ni­tion for its bril­liant de­sign, sound and ensem­ble work.

There was also wide­spread recog­ni­tion for last year’s Imag­i­nate chil­dren’s show Baba Yaga, co- cre­ated by Scot­land’s Shona Reppe with Aus­tralian theatre- mak­ers Chris­tine John­ston and Rose­mary My­ers, which was recog­nised both for its script and de­sign, and as one of the shows of the year, as well as one of the best shows for chil­dren and young peo­ple; and al­though it opened only two weeks ago, Perth Theatre’s su­perb pro­duc­tion of Morna Young’s

Lost At Sea, which runs at Perth un­til tonight be­fore go­ing on tour, also won four nom­i­na­tions, for the qual­ity of its ensem­ble act­ing, de­sign and mu­sic, as well as for Ian Brown’s di­rec­tion.

Be­yond th­ese lead­ing shows, there are of course many that re­ceived just one or two nods. Un­ti­tled Projects’ fine adap­ta­tion of Louis Edouard’s

The End of Eddy, about the early life of a young gay man in small- town France, is recog­nised both for its bril­liant tech­ni­cal pre­sen­ta­tion, and as one of the best shows of the year for young peo­ple. There is a nom­i­na­tion for well- known tele­vi­sion ac­tor John Michie’s out­stand­ing per­for­mance as a se­nior fire of­fi­cer in Rob Drum­mond’s re­cent Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime drama The Mack, about the two fires that de­stroyed

Glas­gow’s School of Art; and a rare lone nom­i­na­tion as Best Pro­duc­tion of the Year for the blis­ter­ingly bril­liant Pride And

Prej­u­dice* (* Sort Of ), an all- fe­male 21st cen­tury take on Jane Austen’s rad­i­cal clas­sic co- pro­duced last sum­mer by the Tron Theatre and young Glas­gow com­pany Blood Of The Young, and now about to be­gin a UK tour.

Scot­tish theatre in 2019 is not with­out its prob­lems, of course; the num­ber of shows on the CATS eli­gi­ble list has de­clined by around 15 per cent over re­cent years, as in­creas­ing num­bers of cost- driven co- pro­duc­tions re­duce the amount of fully pro­fes­sional work avail­able for Scot­tish- based ac­tors, de­sign­ers, mu­si­cians, di­rec­tors and tech­ni­cal staff.

Yet it re­mains true that if ev­ery one of the 17 pro­duc­tions nom­i­nated this year had never ex­isted, the crit­ics could re­con­vene to­mor­row and cre­ate a new list al­most as strong, from the re­main­ing shows. If tough times lie ahead, in other words, then the Scot­tish theatre cul­ture we gather to cel­e­brate, on 9 June, seems ready to ride out the storm – not per­fect, and cer­tainly not with­out its ten­sions, but pow­er­ful, var­ied and full of am­bi­tion in the themes it tack­les; and with a rich pool of tal­ent to draw upon, in ev­ery cat­e­gory recog­nised by the CATS, and far be­yond.

Joyce Mcmillan is co- con­vener of the CATS Judg­ing Panel. The CATS award cer­e­mony 2019 will take place at the Tramway, Glas­gow, on 9 June; tick­ets at www. glas­gowlife. org. uk/ event/ 1/ crit­ics- awards- for- theatre- in­scot­land- 2019

If the 17 pro­duc­tions nom­i­nated had never ex­isted, the crit­ics could re­con­vene and cre­ate a new list al­most as strong

Ul­ster Amer­i­can; My Left Right Foot; What Girls Are Made Of

CATS nom­i­nees in­clude, clock­wise from main:

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