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Blackwatch - Politics in Action

The National Theatre Of Scotland’s production of Black Watch has already proved itself to be the most thrillingly incendiary theatrical experience of the last year, either in this country or anywhere else. It’s co-opting yesterday by the Scottish Executive to usher in the new session of parliament, however, sends out mixed messages.

On the one hand, here is the opportunity for a genuine artistic phenomenon to be endowed with the weight of historical significance. Blackwatch’s just announced British Council supported dates in New York and Los Angeles should prove that.

On the other, what could be perceived as a hi-jack by posterity-seeking politicians basking in the reflected glory of something they had no hand in, only confirms what some have always believed. That any artistic institution funded directly from the Scottish Executive coffers, as the NTS is, will eventually have to dance to its master’s tune.

For anyone arguing for artistic autonomy free of political interference, yesterday’s photo call was a discomforting experience. As First Minister, Culture Minister and a gentleman from The Clydesdale Bank, who are funding the three performances, lined up with NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone, one recognised all too well how the Executive will inevitably use a play concerning the fall-out of young squaddies in the aftermath of the Iraq War as political capital. How it squares its appropriation of what is essentially an anti-government piece of work, however, remains to be seen.

When The Herald announced in its review of Black Watch last August that ‘The world should see this play. Immediately.’, it could not have predicted the international cause celebre it would become. Now everybody wants a piece of the action, one hopes Black Watch doesn’t itself become a neutered casualty of politics.

The NTS’ artistic vision must never be compromised by politicians, and must be allowed to bite the hand that feeds it if need be. More pertinent right now, the politicians must remember at all times that the NTS is a national theatre, and not a Nationalist one.

The Herald, June 16th 2007

ends

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