Theatre in Scotland

A Field of Dreams

By Joyce McMillan Edited by Philip Howard

Theatre in Scotland
Paperback, 432 pages Online Price:
ISBN: 9781848422926
Format: 216mm x 138mm
Imprint: Nick Hern Books
Published: 30th June 2016
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Category: Biography & general

‘She has, to my knowledge, an almost unblemished record in never having failed to spot a great new play…’ Philip Howard, from his Foreword

Joyce McMillan has been writing about theatre in Scotland for more than three decades. As drama critic successively for The Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman, she has reviewed thousands of plays. During that time she has borne witness to an extraordinary cultural and political renaissance in Scotland, reflected in the newfound confidence of its playwrights, in the vibrancy of its theatre culture and in its recent outburst of new theatre companies.

Compiled by McMillan and the theatre director, Philip Howard, Theatre in Scotland is a panoramic history of modern Scottish theatre, reported from the frontline. It traces the remarkable journey of Scottish theatre towards its new self-confidence: the road to 1990, when Glasgow was European Capital of Culture; followed by the explosive expansion of the 1990s; culminating in the emergence of the National Theatre of Scotland and its drive to bring theatre culture right into the heart of the nation.

Gathered here are the leading Scottish playwrights, from John Byrne to Liz Lochhead, from David Greig to David Harrower, as well as the full breadth of English playwrights, from Shakespeare to Pinter. There are reflections on the great Scottish plays, classic – Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, Men Should Weep – and modern – Black Watch, The James Plays. There are reports not only from the urban theatre centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow but from all over Scotland; and from the feast that is the Edinburgh Festival, to the nourishing A Play, A Pie and A Pint.

A leading thinker and writer about Scotland, McMillan has an incomparable ability to detect the wider cultural resonances in Scottish theatre, and to reveal what it can tell us about Scotland as a whole. Her book serves as a portrait of a nation and a shared cultural life, where visions of ‘what we have been, what we are, and what we might become’ are played out in sharp focus on its stages.

‘When Scottish theatre works [its] magic over the coming years, I will be there, to try to catch the moment in print, and to tell it as it was. And believe me, on the good nights and the bad ones, the privilege will be mine: to be paid to go looking for joy, and occasionally to find it.’ Joyce McMillan

'Joyce has an unrivalled passion and hunger for theatre - to be surprised by it, challenged by it, moved by it. Her prose when describing something which has done just this is inspiring and affecting.' Vicky Featherstone

Blog Post: Joyce McMillan on why she became a theatre critic: 'Like many people who grew up in the 1960s, I saw theatre as an old-fashioned art form, already half-dead on its feet. Yet in the late 1970s, I was suddenly gripped by the power of the shared experience of theatre, by the idea of it as a place where ideas could be made flesh, and could be tested against the real reactions of the audience.' Read more >>

'A superb collection… it is McMillan's impassioned ability to contextualise the work which makes this book of interest to those who wish to read about theatre but also contemporary political history'

- Drama Magazine

'A wonderful book… a work of historical, sociological and political as well as artistic relevance, and also one which is hugely enjoyable… what most shines through these pages is McMillan’s spirit: erudite, curious, generous and with a blood-pumping passion for democracy and the value of theatre'

- Bella Caledonia

'A very valuable resource indeed… [an] important book, as well as an invaluable reference work and a jolly good read'

- The Herald

'A stimulating and excellent work which covers the decades when McMillan had the joy – her word – to cover Scottish theatre in what is the most exhilarating and fruitful period in its history… a work on Scottish theatre’s past which is of value for today and tomorrow'

- Scottish Review of Books

'Our most essential voice on the artform and its relationship to our social and political landscape… an expertly edited compilation'

- The Skinny

'Fascinating... a detailed and eclectic picture of how Scottish theatre, and indeed, Scottish life has changed and developed over three decades'

- The Stage

'A worthy and most enjoyable collection'

- British Theatre Guide

'An extraordinary range… a thoroughly uplifting collection, reinforcing the reputation of a cultural gatekeeper but more importantly celebrating Scottish theatre... vital to anyone seeking to understand Scotland’s cultural life in the last 30 years'


Joyce McMillan is theatre critic of The Scotsman, and also writes a political and social commentary column for the paper. She has been a political and arts columnist, theatre critic and broadcaster for more than thirty years, living in Edinburgh and working for various Scottish and London-based newspapers. She also broadcasts regularly, mainly on BBC Radio Scotland and Radio 4, and has been involved in Scottish and European campaigns for democracy and human rights. Her history of the first twenty-five years of the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, was published in 1988, and in 2003, along with other critics, she helped launch the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland, now an annual event.

Philip Howard is a director and dramaturg. A former Artistic Director of the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, he is a director of Pearlfisher, Scotland’s touring new-writing and talent-development company. For Nick Hern Books he is the editor of Scotland Plays and Scottish Shorts.

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