A Decade without Walls

Sep 27 2016 | By More

BBC Doc celebrates 10 years of the NTS

By Thom Dibdin

Vicky Featherstone, the founding artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, has revealed that hit show Black Watch made her believe in theatre again.

She makes the revelation in A Dramatic Decade, an hour-long documentary about the first ten years of the company, to be broadcast on BBC2 Scotland tonight, Tuesday 27 September 2016. It will be also available on iPlayer.

Vicky Featherstone was the first artistic director of the NTS - a "theatre without walls". Photo: Peter Dibdin

Vicky Featherstone was the first artistic director of the NTS – a “theatre without walls”. Photo: Peter Dibdin

In the programme she says: “We watched one of the first run-throughs. I choke up saying it now because I sat there and thought: ‘My god – something has happened which makes me believe in theatre again’.”

Over the years the NTS has built up a reputation for big production values and musicality which is embedded in the shows. Something which Featherstone herself has used to great effect when she returned to the company in 2015 in an external capacity to direct Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour.

But it appears that it was there as a deliberate policy right from the get go, when Black Watch first burst into the University of Edinburgh Drill Hall, off Forrest Road, on August 5, 2006, under the direction of John Tiffany.

Featherstone remembers: “John really was somebody that celebrated those Scottish traditions in the music. He was consciously bringing all those things that he felt were so important, and were actually slightly waning at the time because they were no longer fashionable, into Black Watch.”

signature production

However much John Tiffany and writer Greg Burke were responsible for creating the show which has toured the world and become the NTS’s signature production, the idea came to Featherstone on her first day in post.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

She tells the documentary: “When I started I went downstairs to get the papers. On the front page of one was an article saying that Tony Blair was trying to disband the Black Watch regiment.

“On page three there was a little story about two young men from the Black Watch regiment who had been killed in Iraq and what this meant to their community.

“Theatre is about the gap between two things. I thought: if ever there is a possibility of a piece of theatre that is it.”

Created as a theatre without walls the NTS had no permanent base at the start and will not have one until later this year when its new home Rockvilla (not a theatre but an administration building) is opened in canal-side Glasgow.

In this way, it has been able to engage with theatre makers across Scotland and to champion and celebrate what already exists. It has used existing theatres – all of Edinburgh’s theatres have been used at some point in the last decade, starting with the Queen’s Hall for its opening show Home – to stage its own new shows and collaborations with existing companies.

All of this, from Home to Black Watch to Tutti Frutti, from The James Plays to Glasgow Girls, is recalled in the documentary which talks to the actors, directors, writers and audience members who look back on the last dramatic decade.

And it finds a company which has sought audiences across Scotland and beyond, to create a body of work that both reflects and celebrates Scotland’s place in the world.


National Theatre of Scotland: A Dramatic Decade will be broadcast at 9pm on Tuesday 27th September on BBC Two Scotland.

It will then be available on the BBC iPlayer here: www.bbc.co.uk


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