National Theatre of Scotland's Laurie Sansom sees 'remarkable' 2014

Black Watch Laurie Sansom called Black Watch "an amazing piece of work"

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The new artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland has been speaking for the first time about the challenges of the job and his plans for 2014. Laurie Sansom took up his post a few weeks ago, replacing the company's founding director Vicky Featherstone.

She admitted facing anti-English sentiments during her tenure but her successor, who's also English, says he's up for the challenge. He's been talking to BBC Scotland arts correspondent Pauline McLean.

Laurie Sansom isn't new to theatre. He was until recently at the helm of the Royal and Derngate in Northampton. And before that, Alan Ayckbourn's associate director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.

His latest job though, offers the nationwide challenges of a "theatre without walls". For the 40-year-old director, it helps that he knows the territory a little.

"I've certainly brought a lot of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe in my time, I've worked with the Conservatoire and I've been in the audience for a lot of Scottish work so it's not completely new to me, but there are bits of the country that I'm getting to know for the first time and that's one of the perks of the job," he says.

We're speaking in the labyrinth of office space the National Theatre of Scotland administration team currently occupy, on the outskirts of Glasgow's city centre. But within days, Sansom is off to Skye to cast an eye over the latest touring production of Callum's Road.

'Moved to tears'

Many NTS productions have toured south of the border, so what had he encountered prior to his appointment? He couldn't surely have missed the company's most successful work so far, Black Watch, which is still touring seven years on?

"It's almost not worth mentioning, it's so obvious," he laughs.

Laurie Sansom Laurie Sansom has said 2014 will be "a remarkable year" for Scotland

"I was at one of the very first previews when it was on its first outing when there was no buzz and no hype about it. But there's no arguing. It's an amazing piece of work. And I know people ask why NTS keep taking it out again but when you see 700 young people seeing it for the first time and moved to tears by that story, you remember why.

"But there's also Beautiful Burnout, The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart. Sometimes Black Watch overwhelms the rest of the programme which has been so diverse and has reached all parts."

So what does he intend to focus on?

Already his attention has turned to 2014.

"Next year is going to be unique, a remarkable year for Scotland," Sansom says. "I feel both humbled and excited about joining at this point. We have some big plans including two pieces which are going to tour Scotland next year. One is Rantin' developed with The Arches and Kieran Hurley.

"It's looking at Scottish identity across the country and at all the different types of Scots who exist throughout the land. And that will tour extensively next year. That's a way of instigating debate and other people's writing as well as audience contributions, all of which will add to another show we're going to take out in the summer.

"The working title for that is the Great Don't Know Show which gives you an indication of what it's about. That's going to be a series of sketches and songs, reflections and rants about the issues around independence and we hope that by Kieran taking his show out earlier in the year, we're going to instigate debate and talk and letters which can then be included."

Independence debate

So he has no concerns as a newly arrived Englishman about engaging with the debate about independence?

"Absolutely not! Scottish artists wouldn't let us," he replies. "It's what they want to be talking about it and writing about it.

"Obviously as a company we don't have any political viewpoint but we are a vehicle to allow artists to expose their viewpoints and stimulate the debate."

His predecessor Vicky Featherstone, the company's founding director, noted after she left that she'd faced some anti-English sentiment in some quarters. As an Englishman leading a Scottish cultural company, did he have his own concerns?

"It maybe gave me pause for thought," he admits. "There were some tricky moments but I've only been welcomed and made to feel at home here and I do feel at home. It's not an issue, I don't think. And it's not a debate I can enter into.

"I can't do anything about my nationality and I didn't appoint myself. Scotland is a very international country and looks outside of its own borders as a matter of course and that's one of the most exciting things about being part of this company."

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