Gareth K Vile checks out The Ship and ponders Scotland's cultural life--and how it is (or isn't) covered.
Expecting to spend an afternoon in thrall to my usual obsession about the line between performance and representation, I made my way to the GFT for a film showing of The Ship, a site-specific tale of the Clyde building industry that was made during 1990, when Glasgow was the European City of Culture. Thanks to the political will of Pat Lalley, Glasgow won this title, and used it to regenerate both the city’s image and status. The Ship was one of the proudly Glaswegian entries, an ambition play staged in an old ship yard that cost near to a million pounds. It was cross-platform and promenade, has a band that rocked up folk music, rather like the then popular Run Rig, and a multiple strand narrative that took in sectarianism, the slow decay of industrial Britain and the immense Pride of the Clyde. Even the quaint film stock recalls an era when ambition amounted to more than upping the number of shops in the town centre, or snorting enough cocaine to make a counsellor think he is a rock star, rather than a petty functionary entrusted with public funds.
The grand final scene, when the set was launched like a big ship, was both poignant and impressive. It marked the end of an era, when Glasgow built ships for the world. Even now, it is impossible to mention Govan without sighing about the death of that industry, that community. And while I am not so sure that ship building has the same resonance, Bill Bryson’s script was politically and socially relevant.
I did wonder what could symbolise decline for a modern audience. I wondered why so few shows now dare such an expansive scale, such a brave inclusivity: as a post-modernist, I did cringe at some of the broad statements, and the white-wash of working class life. But The Ship is a profound testament to a time when Glasgow was ready to compete with the big boys of theatre.
Then I picked up the Scotsman on Sunday. It is only a pound at the moment, but the cheap price seems to have come at the cost of the arts journalists. Anyone reading this would not think that Scotland is currently hosting two major programmes of new work – the NTS’ Reveal and New Territories. They certainly wouldn’t know that there is a vibrant hip-hop scene, a literary festival, or several of Britain’s most consistently adventurous orchestras in Glasgow. It struck me that Performance is now our dying industry, increasingly starved of publicity, and working on an amateur footing. On the other hand, I did get to find out what some TV actress is doing, and how Lily Allen creates controversy. And I got a variety of opinions on the Celtic-Rangers problem. SoS’ ability to be both parochial and generic is quite astonishing.
My proposal for a site-specific work is quite simple: it can even be staged in one of those theatres that don’t get mentioned enough. A struggling band of actors decide to devise a new work, that incorporates dance, Live Art, music and film. Their struggles against bureaucracy, appeals for funding that get diverted to the costs of policing an Orange March or a new, ineffectual school campaign to stamp out bigotry, form the drama: they finally triumph, creating an international festival that reminds the world that Scotland is thriving and creative, only to have it taken away by the council who decide they could get a multi-national to sponsor it, and make it more accessible. From City of Culture to Catastrophe Capitalism in ninety minutes.