If Vicky Featherstone hadn't come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when
a student at Manchester University, it's unlikely that the National
Theatre of Scotland would exist as it does. Featherstone, after all,
was the company's first artistic director of a company which had already opted
for a radical 'theatre without walls' initiative, programming a body of
work that drew from all aspects of Scottish theatre.
During Featherstone's tenure, the NTS developed more left-field artists
alongside big main stage plays, a tradition which Featherstone took
over as artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre in London. Despite
heading up such august institutions, it feels as though Featherstone
has retained a Fringe sensibility sired during the 1980s and early
1990s era of politically driven grassroots shoestring companies and
Featherstone's first Edinburgh show in her own right was an adaptation
of Gogol's short story, The Nose.
“The then literary manager at the Royal Court came to see it,”
Featherstone remembers, “and everything that's happened since came from
The latest recipient of Featherstone's open-minded approach to what
theatre can be is Edinburgh regular Chris Goode, whose latest solo
show, Men In The Cities, is currently running at the Traverse Theatre.
The play was born out of Goode's response to the murder of Drummer Lee
Rigby, and to the suicide of a young gay man around the same time. Out
of this, Goode explores the fear and loathing behind being a man in
twenty-first century society.
“Chris was on attachment with the Royal Court,” Featherstone explains,
“and he came up with this idea that sounded amazing, and which he
wanted to bring to Edinburgh. Anything by Chris Goode appeals to me, so
whatever he was going to do was probably going to be amazing. I think
Chris is one of the most thrilling and honest performers ever, and when
he did a reading of Me in the Cities, it was so raw and so honest about
what it is to be male that it just made me feel really happy as a
For Goode, although Men in the Cities is a fiction, it also comes from
a pretty personal place.
“It's a pretty angry piece,” he says. “I'm really interested in the
ways in which we see men struggling to talk about certain things that
are going on, and the ways in which men consciously hurt themselves and
the people around them through a set of conversations that they're not
having, and which aren't doing them any favours.
“There are conversations which I'm not having with my friends, let
alone with the people I sit next to on the bus, but there are
unpalatable things that need to be spoken. If there's one thing I've
learnt over the last fifteen years, it's that theatre is a place where
you can say those unpalatable things and know that the sky isn't going
to fall in.”
Goode's attitude fits in with Featherstone's ethos, both for what the
Fringe should and could be and at the Royal Court.
“For me the Royal Court has changed immeasurably since Vicky arrived,”
Goode observes. “For me it's really good to be in a conversation with
Vicky and everyone else there, and know that you can make something
adventurous, even though you don't know what it's going to be, and that
inspires you to push yourself to try things you might not have
otherwise thought of.”
Again, the umbilical links of this approach go way back, as was
demonstrated by Featherstone's most recent visit to Scotland for the
funeral of David MacLennan, he producer, director, writer and performer
who co-founded Wildcat Theatre in the 1970s after a stint working with
John McGrath's 7:84 company. For the last decade, MacLennan pioneered
the A Play, A Pie and A Pint lunchtime theatre phenomenon at Oran Mor
“David was such a great, generous man,” says Featherstone, “and just to
be part of that community that was around him was a real privilege.”
It is telling that Featherstone forged links, not just with pioneers
like MacLennan, but with a newer generation of theatre-makers such as
Goode, who continue to say important things with their work. In
Featherstone's view, Men in the Cities is crucial in this respect.
“I think it's what the Fringe is for,” she says. “It's about great
artists like Chris taking a risk, challenging what entertainment means,
and really surprising people in their honesty.”
Men in the Cities, Traverse Theatre until August 24, various times.
The Herald, August 12th 2014