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Neil Cooper

Internationalism and collaboration on scales both great and small were very much on the agenda in a Scottish theatre year that rode the recessionary wave with consistently ambitious programming unafraid to mix up classical and popular forms.

The tone was set right at the start of the year when Vox Motus presented their biggest show to date, The Infamous Brothers Davenport. As scripted by Peter Arnott and conceived by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, the play dissected the alleged supernatural powers of a pair of vaudevillian siblings with a box of tricks all of their own.

Vox Motus's look at artifice and belief was oddly book-ended at the end of the year with a set of similar themes from Peepolykus' The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society at the Traverse. Both were bested, however, by Rob Drummond's Bullet Catch, a close-up solo dissection of the same terrain that created real magic out of similarly styled hokum.

Also at the Traverse was BEATS, another solo show written and performed by Kieran Hurley. As with Drummond's show, BEATS was produced by The Arches in Glasgow, and was a searingly insightful portrait of the early 1990s rave era, when hedonists were first outlawed then politicised by the Criminal Justice Bill that effectively attempted to make electronic dance music illegal. Aided by DJ Johnny Whoop, Hurley delivered his trilogy of stories with the evocative engagement of a rave generation Spalding Gray.

Other solo shows featured the pleasure of seeing Samuel Beckett on a big stage in Dominic Hill's production of Krapp's Last Tape and the rarely seen Footfalls. These two miniatures closed Hill's inaugural season as artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, which had peaked so spectacularly with David Hayman's return to the Gorbals to play the title role in Shakespeare's King Lear.

Also making a prodigal's return was Alan Cumming, who played a solo Macbeth in John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg's National Theatre of Scotland production. With the action re-imagined in an asylum, Cumming gave his all in an unmissable performance. Another unmissable NTS show was Enquirer, an all too timely verbatim look at the state of print journalism today.

In a year of arrivals and departures in terms of artistic directors, Rachel O'Riordan came good with a revival of Frank McGuinness' Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, while James Brining's parting shot as artistic director of Dundee Rep was a revival of Zinnie Harris' Further Than The Furthest Thing, notable for a stunning water-based set.

While Andy Arnold directed a magnificent stage version of James Joyce's Ulysses at the Tron, at the Traverse incoming director Orla O'Loughlin set out her store during August with Dream Plays (Scenes From A Play I'll Never Write), a series of early morning performed readings put together quickly, but which served up some of the most imaginative work on the Fringe.

If O'Loughlin ushered in her tenure with such glorious scratch-works, she nailed it by directing what was, alongside BEATS, the best new play of the year by a country mile. Morna Pearson's The Artist Man and the Mother Woman was a jaw-droppingly dark comedy about a molly-coddled teacher's belated coming of age. Written in Pearson's scatological Doric, it tapped into the insular brutalities of a small-town underclass in a way that announced a major writing force to the world.

Of the independent companies, Stellar Quines premiered ANA, a remarkable bi-lingual Scots-Quebecois collaboration developed over several years that chartered one woman's voyage through history. This imaginatively staged production was overseen by Quebecois director Serge Denencourt, who returned to Scotland later in the year to direct the NTS' revival of The Guid Sisters, Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay's vivid Scots translation of Quebecois writer Michel Tremblay's equally female-focused play, The Guid Sisters.

Vanishing Point, meanwhile, upped the ante by being included in the Edinburgh International Festival's exemplary theatre programme with Wonderland. This was a taboo-busting and discomforting peek into an online rabbit-hole where porn stars and porn users live a troublingly symbiotic existence.

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