Curtain up: 40 years of Scottish theatre

Curtain up: 40 years of Scottish theatre

An exhibition celebrating Scottish theatre since the early 1970s. Ran from 19 December 2009 to 3 May 2010.


'Curtain up' marks the achievements of Scottish theatre over the past 40 years. Using theatre archives, props and playwrights' and actors' papers, the exhibition highlights Scotland's rich and vibrant theatrical tradition.

We take visitors on a thematic journey, looking at, for example:

  • The political days of the 1970s and 1980s
  • The outward-looking years of the 1990s
  • The new millennium and the creation of a national theatre company.

Along the way we stop off at the companies and the venues — big and small — that they filled. We provide a glimpse of the many versions of Scotland that writers have put on stage. Visitors can also discover which plays have travelled further afield, and which imports we welcomed here.

Two key productions

Soldier in 'Black Watch': photo by Manuel Harlan
'Black Watch'
National Theatre
of Scotland.

Scottish theatre has reflected the times and the nation. It has included activists, thinkers, show-offs, entertainers, and a genius or two.

Two plays in particular stand out during the period that has seen the Scottish theatre scene flourish:

  • 'The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil' — John McGrath's groundbreaking play, first performed in 1973 by the 7:84 theatre company.
  • 'Black Watch' — Gregory's Burke's award-winning international triumph, commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and first performed in 2006.


Props and plays on display

The wealth of material on display from National Library of Scotland collections includes:

  • Production photographs
  • Published plays and unpublished scripts
  • Publicity posters, handbills and programmes.

Among eye-catching items on loan from theatre companies are:

Actor in gold kilt and waistcoat: photo by Rhuary Grant

National Theatre
of Scotland.
Actor in Elizabthan dress

National Theatre
of Scotland.
  • The original set design for 'The Steamie' by the cartoonist Malky McCormack, 1987
  • The gold kilt worn by Alan Cumming in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Euripides' 'The Bacchae' in 2007
  • The dress worn by Siobhan Redmond as Elizabeth I in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Friedrich Schiller's 'Mary Stuart', 2006
  • Bonnets worn by the cast of Sue Glover's play 'The Bondagers', first performed in 1991.


Pop-up set for 'Cheviot'

One of the most notable items on display will be the original set for 'The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil'.

This giant 'pop-up-book' was painted by John Byrne and used by 7:84 when the company toured church and community halls in 1973. It is part of 7:84 Scotland's archive which is now at the National Library of Scotland.

Film footage

Exhibition visitors can enjoy footage of some of the significant Scottish productions during the past 40 years, such as:

  • 'The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil'
  • 'Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off'
  • 'Europe'
  • 'Home' — the first production from the National Theatre of Scotland
  • 'Black Watch'.


Scottish playwrights talking

Visitors can also listen to short audio clips of some distinguished writers talking about their careers, including:

  • Liz Lochhead
  • Tony Roper
  • Anthony Neilson
  • Gregory Burke


Become a theatre critic

Yacht and flames detail from theatre poster
Poster for
Traverse Theatre.

You may remember some of the plays we feature in 'Curtain up'. We want to know what you think of them. How did they make you feel? Were there others that made a lasting impression on you?

The interactive area of the exhibition is where you get to become a theatre critic and give plays you have loved or hated a star-rated review.

You also get a chance to spot the Scottish faces in the casting directory 'Spotlight'.


Past exhibitions page


Exhibitions page


Speak me