Welcome! This is your first free article. Get more free articles when you sign up with your email.

Scenes for Survival

“First-class writing, directing and acting”

Scotland’s National Theatre turns its attention indoors with a poignant series of isolation vignettes


The National Theatre of Scotland has long enjoyed its status as a ‘theatre without walls’ – a collaborative organisation without a stage of its own. For this reason, and the fact of its public funding, the NTS’ sees its Scenes for Survival series of short, socially distanced monologues filmed in isolation as a responsibility and a means of continuing freelancers’ employment and audiences’ identification.

The first six of more than forty pieces offer an ironic proliferation of those walls the NTS has previously disregarded. In each, a first-class trio of writing, directing and acting talent combine to show what life is like under lockdown from within the performer’s own room.

Novelist Jenni Fagan’s film – Isolation – is about a woman coping with coronavirus. Director Debbie Hannan has made it into a Trainspotting-like withdrawal scene, with Kate Dickie’s gripping performance making visceral the pain of losing human connection.

Kate Dickie in Isolation, part of NTS Scenes for Survival
Kate Dickie in Isolation, part of NTS Scenes for Survival

Another short – Clearing – by writer Morna Pearson sees a comically eyebrowless teen girl (Ashleigh More) adapting to life between two parental households, while writer Stef Smith’s The Present touchingly shows Moyo Akandé prepare an unseasonal Christmas celebration for a disconnected companion.

Creators who we may not know principally from the theatre deliver some of the most satisfying moments of this selection. For example, the comedian Janey Godley (widely known for her viral overdubs of Nicola Sturgeon’s daily press conferences) writes and performs a sweetly tender film about a woman stuck in her home with a controlling husband.

Janey Godley in Alone, part of NTS Scenes for Survival
Janey Godley in Alone, part of NTS Scenes for Survival

The crime novelist Ian Rankin shows his famous detective John Rebus’ lockdown experience as that of a vulnerable pensioner taking comfort in music, feeding the dog and receiving groceries from his long-standing partner Siobhan. The story’s poignancy and humour is drawn out by a dream team of actor Brian Cox and director Cora Bissett.

Brian Cox in John Rebus: The Lockdown Blues, part of NTS' Scenes for Survival
Brian Cox in John Rebus: The Lockdown Blues, part of NTS' Scenes for Survival

The most affecting few minutes here, however, are an excerpt from Frances Poet’s play Fibres, in which Jonathan Watson’s former Clyde ship worker reflects on the beloved job that poisoned him with asbestos. It is a prescient vignette about the dangers of the shared air we breathe.

Production Details
Production nameScenes for Survival
Running time47mins
AuthorFrances Poet, Ian Rankin, Jenni Fagan, Stef Smith, Morna Pearson, Janey Godley
DirectorCaitlin Skinner, Cora Bissett, Katherine Nesbitt, Louise Shephard, Cameron Mowat, Debbie Hannan
Sound designerJohn Leonard, Kim Moore, Dougal Gudim, Dragan Pecinar
CastBrian Cox, Kate Dickie, Moyo Akandé, Janey Godley, Jonathan Watson, Ashleigh More
ProducerBBC Arts' Culture in Quarantine, BBC Scotland, National Theatre of Scotland, Screen Scotland
Add New Comment
You must be logged in to comment.
David Pollock

David Pollock

David Pollock

David Pollock

Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue

Invest in The Stage today with a subscription starting at just £3.98
The Stage
© Copyright The Stage Media Company Limited 2020
Linked In