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In what ways did amateur practitioners contribute to the development of mid-century theatre in Scotland?

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2001 9 Seiten

Theaterwissenschaft, Tanz




The Scene

The Scottish National Players

Glasgow Unity Theatre 1941-1951




“At the end of the nineteenth century Scotland[‘s] [...] theatres [...] were almost entirely dependent for their presentations on touring companies based in London, which brought the latest metropolitan success to the rest of the country.”[1]

What nowadays is known as “Scottish National Theatre” did not exist one hundred years ago. Though there were a high number of theatres in Scotland at this time, the programs performed on their stages were entirely dominated by English companies, English actors, English playwrights and directors. In general they were dominated by “English Theatre” in the broadest sense. Even “traditionally Scottish topics”, such like Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake and the like were performed on stage as if one would present a kind of a tourist attraction. The Scots could by far not find their history presented, as they understood it in these productions, for they were again London-based. However, through the economical situation in Scotland at that time and the complete lack of a dramatic tradition (like there has been one in England for several centuries), it was nearly impossible for emerging Scottish Playwrights and Companies to establish themselves. That hopeless situation changed in the first decades of the 20th century. Scotland felt a strong need for an independent, national identity and this should affect the theatre as well. Ambitions to follow the example of Ireland and to become theatrically independent lead to a serious effort in creating a national theatre. An important role in the formation of the lively Scottish theatre scene one can find today played the activity of amateur theatre, which was established by working-class communities. An amateur theatre movement had risen in Britain during the second half of the 19th century and it strongly influenced the industrial parts of Scotland (namely Glasgow) in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Through the enthusiasm of heavy-industry workers an increasing amount of amateur companies was being founded in Scotland. Theatre was seen as a social instrument to describe the life of the ordinary man, but it also was a way of expressing national identity. A tradition of “Scottish popular drama” was about to emerge.

“The Scottish popular drama tradition, thus defined, belongs to a distinct historical period , which opens with the inter-war economic slump and the rise of the British Labour Movement and closes with the era of post-war affluence and the fall of the Labour Government of 1945-51”[2]

Although this movement had reached its peak by the beginning of the fifties and from then on was about to decline, the amateur companies of these times, indeed, can be seen as the rock on which professional national Scottish theatre was built later on. Figures like James Bridie, for example, did greatly benefit from what the workers had created before.

This essay first takes a look at the development of this kind of theatre in general and than discusses the case of two very important of these amateur companies, “The Scottish National Players” and “Glasgow Unity” in detail. It will concentrate on the “historical period” , defined above. The role of the “mighty” James Bridie in the development of these companies will be mentioned as well.

The essay, however, can only provide a rather rough outlook on the Scottish amateur theatre phenomenon. Therefore I decided just by personal choice, which groups will be used as examples to illustrate the movement. For matters of space, the essay concentrates on historical issues rather then analysing plays and performances.

The Scene

In 1926 the Scottish Community Drama Association was founded.[3] That was a first important step for giving amateur companies, which were already rehearsaling, an opportunity to present their work to the public. The SCDA organised festival competitions of community drama with the aim to encourage amateur actors, playwrights and directors to develop their skills for creating a national drama in Scotland. These festivals turned out to be more and more successful and just ten years after the foundation of the SCDA there were “more than one thousand amateur clubs in Scotland”[4], involving large numbers of people as active participants. In the season of 1932/1933 the SCDA-festival could count no less than 307 entries .[5]


[1] Hutchison, David: The Modern Scottish Theatre. (Glasgow 1977); p. 4

[2] Mackenney, Linda : “The Activities of Popular Dramatists And Drama Groups In Scotland 1900-1952”

(Lampeter/New York 2000); p. 2

In her book “The Activities of Popular Dramatists And Drama Groups In Scotland 1900-1952”,

Linda Mackenney describes the development of the amateur theatre phenomenon in Scotland in detail.

I will therefore use it as the main source for this essay. It is vital, that the author wants her term “popular

drama” to be understood as “people’s drama” and that means “working-class drama”. (Mackenney: ibid.)

[3] The concept of this Drama Association was inspired by the British Drama League (fd. 1919).

[4] Hutchison: op. cit.; p. 32

[5] In fact, the amateur theatre became a real „fashion“, what on the one hand enabled its enormous power and

growth, but on the other hand marked its decline from its very beginning on.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
482 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Glasgow – Department of Theatre Studies
B (2,0)
Scotland Glasgow Working-class theatre theatre



Titel: In what ways did amateur practitioners contribute to the development of mid-century theatre in Scotland?