Critics go beyond backslapping at theatre awards

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

image captionThe National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol won two awards

I remember the first ever CATS awards as a small affair.

Even the small band of Scottish theatre critics who set the event up seemed slightly bemused by what they had created but aware that things were changing on the cultural landscape.

A decade on, with a National theatre company, a raft of new shows and a controversial shake-up of funding for many companies, the CATs (Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland) have an important role beyond a backslapping awards ceremony.

They give a sense of the scale of the industry and the range of work on offer - from children's shows such as Too Many Penguins (the creators unable to pick up the award because they are in the midst of an international tour) to shows which cross the genres - a Christmas Carol which picked up two awards combined puppetry, drama and music .

The show's compere, Alan Cumming, illustrates the point perfectly.

He is a bona fide Hollywood star who began his career in this very theatre - the Tron Theatre in Glasgow - 27 years ago.

Back in Scotland rehearsing a new show for the National Theatre of Scotland - incidentally the same play, Macbeth - he acknowledges the strength of the sector and its role in feeding into other areas such as film and television.

Between awards - for David MacLennan for his work with a Play and a Pie and a Pint; for King Lear; for Ann Louise Ross; Stephen Clyde and for Dominic Hill - there are warnings about threats to the sector.

Kieran Hurley, who picks up best new play for Beats at the Arches, dedicates the award to all writers and performers because, despite what has been said, "we're not all in competition".

Mark Brown from the Sunday Herald is less convinced.

He says: "All actors will be expected to enter into gladiatorial combat till death. Sorry. I got my papers muddled up. That was the latest policy statement from Creative Scotland. "

Mary Brennan from the Herald urges the audience to write to Creative Scotland to complain about the recent funding change which will mean many organisations having to apply for funds on a project to project basis.

She said: "I'm not sure how many of these shows the beancounters will have seen. At least we've seen them all."

It is admittedly an odd relationship - between critics and theatre folk.

Many of those in today's audience - even Alan Cumming - will have felt the barb of a bad review. It's a love-hate relationship but a necessary one.

As the Scotsman's Joyce Macmillan says "You may not always like us, but we care about you".

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