Matthew Lenton is looking decidedly chilled. Sitting in the Royal
Lyceum Theatre rehearsal room in Edinburgh, as Lenton explains his
thinking behind his forthcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at the Lyceum, Lenton’s demeanour is as far removed from the last time
he spoke on these pages as he can get. Then, Lenton and his acclaimed
Vanishing Point company were about to premiere Wonderland, a major new
commission at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.
After more than two years development spent exploring the dark
underbelly of internet pornography, Wonderland was an understandably
intense experience for everybody involved. While Lenton’s dramatic
curiosity remained unbowed, he looked exhausted, and not a little
haunted. Lenton was also in the thick of the ongoing fire-storm over
national arts funding agency, Creative Scotland.
Lenton was one of the first high-profile artists to speak out publicly
against Creative Scotland’s scrapping of the organisation’s two-year
flexible funding stream in favour of project funding. This has
effectively put the future of forty-nine arts organisations, including
Vanishing Point, in jeopardy.
Since then, as has been reported extensively on these pages, Creative
Scotland’s credibility has been questioned further, while Culture
Secretary Fiona Hyslop encouraged Creative Scotland to be more
transparent in its dealings with artists. Last week, a letter signed by
one hundred leading Scottish artists was sent to Sir Sandy Crombie,
Chair of Creative Scotland’s board, expressing their dismay at the
Lenton, may have just a few weeks rather than a couple of years to get
his Dream onstage, but while he’s clearly feeling militant regarding
the Creative Scotland debacle, he’s also feeling decidedly chipper.
“It's a very pleasant relief after Wonderland,” Lenton says of his
tenure at the Lyceum on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It's the
Shakespeare play which as a kid I always found the most accessible.
I've always been interested in the magic and the darkness and the
beauty of it, and it's nice to be able to spend time in such a
different place. I've always had a difficult relationship with
Shakespeare. It was certainly not something I loved as a kid, and not
something I found easy, so I think for those reasons I found it a
challenge for me to see what I could do with a Shakespeare, but also to
learn about it as well.
“I think sometimes when you watch Shakespeare onstage, the danger is
you have these jaggly-jawed actors speaking language. What we're trying
to do is find the action in everything that's happening, so I think
I've got a good idea and a good feeling for the kind of production I
want it to be.”
With this in mind, Lenton’s Dream will be set in winter during a
recession. Here a group of starving artists are forced to enter a
Britain’s Got Talent-style TV show in order to attempt to compete for
success. How much of this is art imitating life remains to be seen.
Either way, with Creative Scotland’s ongoing crisis unlikely to go
away. Lenton is unabashed about taking a stand.
“I thought it was time for one of the companies to speak out,” Lenton
says of his statements to the Herald several weeks ago. “The system
that exists with Creative Scotland isn’t good.”
Since saying this, inquiries into Creative Scotland’s internal
operations are pending following last week’s public letter. Meanwhile,
Vanishing Point have secured Creative Scotland project funding to
develop two pieces, one a collaboration with the National Theatre of
Scotland, the other with Brighton Festival and LIFT.
With Interiors about to tour to Moscow and Wonderland set for a second
international life, all of this is some kind of vindication for
Lenton’s very singular vision which looks set to be applied to
Shakespeare. All of which, as Lenton sees it, is about gaining the
confidence to stick to his guns.
“It's about following my impulses,” he says, “and realising that what
I've got in my head is what I want to see onstage.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October
The Herald, October 16th 2012