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The regeneration game

Some theatre productions ferment in the minds of their creators, and, like a fine wine, only see the light of day when their time has come.

Gavin Johnston, Graham McLaren and Kevin Murray from the National Theatre of Scotland at the South Rotunda
Gavin Johnston, Graham McLaren and Kevin Murray from the National Theatre of Scotland at the South Rotunda

The Tin Forest - the mammoth series of events being staged by the National Theatre of Scotland as part of the Culture 2014 programme of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow - is such a creation.

Taking its inspiration from Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson's acclaimed children's picture book of the same name, the possibility of the project has been knocking around the NTS for years. In fact, it's been discussed ever since the company's previous, and first, artistic director Vicky Featherstone suggested that the story, which was a favourite of her children, might make for a great piece of theatre.

It isn't difficult to understand her thinking. The allegorical tale of an old man who uses the discarded industrial material which surrounds him to build a metal forest is wide open to all manner of ecological, social and political interpretations.

This makes it particularly well suited to a project which involves a series of community productions across Glasgow, draws in artists from throughout the Commonwealth, and culminates in a huge, 10-day festival of arts and ideas at the iconic South Rotunda by the Clyde (from July 24 to August 3).

"It's a beautiful, simple idea about building the life you want to have," says NTS associate director Graham McLaren, who is co-directing The Tin Forest with Simon Sharkey. "It's about building the country you want to have, if you want to see it like that, or building the city you want to live in. One guy in the United States has used it as a metaphor for post-9/11 New York."

The simplicity of Ward's narrative is the key to the whole project, says McLaren. "Because it's such a simple little parable, you can hook a whole lot of activity on it."

In terms of people in the working-class communities of Glasgow, the idea of post-industrial regeneration which is embedded in the tale makes absolute sense. Springburn, for example, where the next community events take place from Wednesday through to Saturday, was once a global centre for the manufacture of train locomotives.

"It's not difficult to get people in the communities to see themselves through the lens of this little story," observes the director. "It's been quite exciting to see how people in Govan and the east end have related to The Tin Forest."

If the children's book speaks to Glasgow, its metaphorical reach is also truly global. The old man's making of a living from rubbish ties him to the millions of people around the world who scrape a desperate livelihood from the garbage wealthier people throw away. The writer John Berger writes sympathetically of these people as the "rag pickers".

McLaren sees this connection, too. "I remember, years ago, being on tour in India with [Theatre Babel's show] Medea. We stayed in this massive hotel. One of the actresses asked, rather naively, 'why would they build a big, posh hotel next to a huge shanty town?' She was corrected, of course. The hotel came first. That shanty town, with thousands of people living in it, lives off the stuff the hotel throws out."

With so many narrative avenues to explore, The Tin Forest offers an almost endless array of possibilities. It is, says McLaren: "a little moment for Glasgow to portray itself in its own voice and to bring in others from around the world to come in and play with us."

The Tin Forest runs at various venues until August 3. For further information, visit: thetinforest.com

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