Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Tony Cownie - New Man In Cumbernauld

There's something of a homecoming feel to Tony Cownie's appointment as
associate director of Cumbernauld Theatre while artistic director Ed
Robson goes on sabbatical for a year sourcing theatre abroad. It was in
the former farm cottages situated in the local park, after all, where
the director and actor made his professional debut in the late Tom
McGrath's play, The Flitting. That was back in 1990, since when Cownie
has carved out a successful career as a comic actor with edge, with
roles varying from the Porter in Macbeth to an award-winning turn as
the troubled Kenny in Mark Thomson's play, A Madman Sings To The Moon.

In the mid 1990s, Cownie moved into directing with Liz Lochhead's play,
Shanghaied, which was later presented with a second act as Britannia
Rules. This led to a fruitful relationship with the Royal Lyceum
Theatre in Edinburgh, where he was encouraged by the late Kenny
Ireland, and latterly under Thomson, Ireland's successor as artistic
director. Cownie has had two stints as associate director at the Royal
Lyceum, first between 2000 and 2003, with his current tenure beginning
in 2007.

Taking over Cumbernauld Theatre's far more bijou confines looks like
quite a leap, especially as Cownie has recently returned to the stage
after the best part of a decade away, appearing in period dramas Union
at the Royal Lyceum and The Libertine at the Citizens Theatre in

“I've always wanted to have a go at running my own building.” says
Cownie, “ I know Ed and I know the work that he's done in Cumbernauld
in turning it around when it had no money, so coming into the building
like this is the ideal grounding for what's required. Having worked
here, I know the space already, and working on a smaller scale is
something I've always wanted to do. You can experiment more, but in a
way that gives people a chance. The community work at Cumbernauld is
really important, and my own priority here is to develop more projects
and to push forward with everything else that's going on here.”

Cownie's arrival in Cumbernauld comes at a crucial stage in the
theatre's development. With resident company Stoirm Og developing a new
show for 2015, the Theatre has also just launched the Scotland Short
Play Award, designed for new scripts up to fifteen minutes long. As
Cownie arrives, two associate artists have been appointed, with
performer, director and musician Sita Pieraccini and director Claire
Prenton receiving bursaries to develop their work. Also ongoing are
plans for Cumbernauld Theatre to move into new purpose-built premises.
This is all a far cry from a few years ago, when Cumbernauld Theatre,
founded in 1960, was on the verge of closure before Robson turned
things around.

“It's all go,” says Cownie, “so there's lots to do. It's a brilliant
organisation I'm working with, and everybody here is really keen to
make things happen."

The first shows directed by Cownie for Cumbernauld Theatre are Intimate
Secrets, a series of three devised works-in-progress based around the
home. The first, The Street, was directed by Robson prior to his
departure, with Cownie picking up both its follow-up, The Bedroom, and
next week's premiere of The Garden, performed by Michael Mackenzie.
Beyond The Garden, Cownie will direct the theatre's annual Christmas
show, which this year looks set to be a version of Aladdin.

While Cownie is planning an unspecified production for autumn 2015, his
ideal play for Cumbernauld would be a Scots-accented take on Michael
Wynne's comedy, The Knocky, originally set on a Birkenhead council

“That's a great play,” he says, “and it's really funny, but its got
quite a big cast, so I think finding the resources to do it would be
quite hard.”

Given the commitment and determination already shown by Robson and
picked up by Cownie, such ambitions aren't impossible.

“Cumbernauld Theatre is the hidden gem of Scottish theatre,” Cownie
says. “Once my year here is up I'll obviously keep a very close
affiliation with the place, and I'll see where that takes me. While I'm
here, the crucial thing about my job is being able to have an idea
which I can pursue and make it happen.”

Intimate Secrets 3: The Garden, Cumbernauld Theatre, October 23-25;
Amazing Adventures of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, Cumbernauld Theatre,
November 28-December 24.

The Herald, October 14th 2014


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