Martin Hannan: A crisis out of a drama for Mills

Sir Jonathan Mills should reconsider his referendum stance. Picture: Jane Barlow
Sir Jonathan Mills should reconsider his referendum stance. Picture: Jane Barlow
Have your say

Every column should have a bogey man, and this week the holder of that dubious office is Sir Jonathan Mills.

The director of the Edinburgh International Festival should resign, or certainly consider his position, if he does not change his mind about allowing the referendum to be part of next year’s Festival.

His claptrap about the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and “the Commonwealth” being themes which will address nationhood is frankly insulting to this SNP 

Our nation will be considering its most important democratic decision ever, and the country’s greatest arts festival is going to be a referendum-free zone? The Festival board should be asking Mills for proof of his sanity.

I suspect the real reason why Mills is backing off the subject of the referendum is that he is scared of another Caledonia, the frankly dreadful production by the National Theatre of Scotland that besmirched the Festival in 2010.

A play about the Darien expedition that tried to comment on modern-day Scotland, it was panned by the critics and briefly made the Festival a laughing stock. After all, if leading Scottish writer Alistair Beaton and the country’s national theatre company couldn’t say something about the state of the nation, then who could?

It was such a horrendous failure all round that I presume Mills was scarred by the experience and doesn’t want to take the chance of repeating it.

That should not be his view – 
theatre by its very nature should fail sometimes, but if you do not try you will never find out what works on stage and becomes unforgettable.

That’s why Mills should not be a cowardy custard but should look very seriously at tackling the subject of the referendum head-on.

By all means, hold a big set-piece debate, but there will be more than enough of those next year. Better still, why not commission small theatrical works that reflect the very many strands of opinion about the issue.

Get the National Theatre and our various rep companies and especially our young theatre groups to produce playlets of, say, 40 to 50 minutes, with the themes that will resonate with the public – what does it mean to be 
Scottish, why are we in such a mess, how do we go forward, how do we relate to England and the rest of the world, what exactly is the Scottish 
cultural cringe?

Oh, and make a few of them comedies, for goodness’ sake, because the debate is becoming more and more po-faced and I am fed up with hearing from politicians when we should be hearing from our philosophers and, yes, our comedians.

Get Scottish Government funding – as was the case with Caledonia – and it could run as a series at a single venue and it would be up to the public, not Mills, to decide whether they like the Festival hosting such material.

I hope Mills isn’t one of those dictatorial arts administrators and can change his mind. I believe he has made an honest mistake but has painted himself into a corner – so why not just say, okay, I got it wrong, and here’s what I propose to do to correct the issue (by not having another Caledonia!).

If he does not, the usually supine Festival board must act.

There’s a way to change a will …

If Mills wants proof that media opinion is a powerful force that should not be ignored, he need only look at the immorality of this disgusting coalition government. If they had been allowed, David Cameron and Nick Clegg would have taken the late Joan Edwards’ donation of £520,000 to “the government to use as they think fit” and put it in their own

parties’ coffers.

Carving up the cash for the benefit of the Tories and Liberal Democrats was not Miss Edwards’ intention – indeed, when she made her will in 2001, Labour was in power. Press attention and their own MPs forced CamClegg to back down, but their actions leave a very unpleasant taste in the mouth and won’t be forgotten.

Nick and Luke are my top tips

My final recommendations for this year’s Fringe are a couple of comedians. Nick Helm, pictured, One Man Mega Myth at Pleasance Forth is like no stand-up comedy show you have ever seen, and is completely bonkers.

It doesn’t work all the time, but you will hurt your sides laughing at Helm’s amazing antics. Not for the kids, though.

Luke Kempner’s extraordinary impressions of everything from Downton Abbey to the diver Tom Daley are available on Youtube and give you a hint to what to expect in his show at the Pleasance – a must-see if you like impressionists.

Our transport of delight?

So, now we are to have a new body looking after all aspects of transport in the city. Transport for Edinburgh is the decidedly unsexy name of another group that will no doubt come up with grandiose unworkable plans that

will cost the council taxpayer millions. Or

else it could do something revolutionary, like listening to what the city’s people


Wife’s a bit tied up

Ardal O’Hanlon discoursing on Fifty Shades of Grey: “The only time I put my wife in handcuffs is during the January sales.” Not very pc, but you have to laugh.