Scottish Executive pledges £7.5m to turn dream of a national theatre into reality

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The long-awaited dream of a national theatre for Scotland is to become a reality after the Scottish Executive pledged £7.5m yesterday towards getting the scheme started.

An underspend in this year's executive budget freed funding to honour a policy commitment of Labour's first term in office and satisfy more than a decade of lobbying by the Scottish arts establishment. But the project will go ahead without a designated building.

Instead, the National Theatre will have a chairman and a creative director who will commission existing theatres or companies, or form companies to create productions that will tour venues across Scotland.

James Boyle, the chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, said this would not be a costly approach but would deliver high-quality work to audiences across Scotland.

The move was welcomed yesterday by Scottish actors, writers and directors.

The playwright Liz Loch-head said that she was delighted. "These plans have been evolving over a long time and I am really pleased that everyone in the theatre world that has worked so hard to make this dream a reality will get a chance to be part of it."

Andy Kerr, the Finance Minister, pledged £3.5m for 2004-05 and £4m for 2006. The Executive also gave a general commitment to support the project.

The announcement in Scotland was made as Wales unveiled what in effect will be an English-language national theatre in addition to the Welsh Language National Theatre that the Welsh Assembly has established. Swansea City Council is backing the director Michael Bogdanov, a long-term advocate of a national theatre, to form the Wales Theatre Company.

The company's inaugural show will be a 50th anniversary production of the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood, in the poet's home city of Swansea next month. It is not an official national theatre but has been backed by the Welsh Arts Council and the Assembly.

Bogdanov said: "Whether it turns into a national theatre or not is anybody's guess. I'm just going to do projects, gradually increasing the activity until it is full-time by 2006-07 turning it, de facto, into a national company. He said he was delighted for Scotland, but envious. "It's crazy because we have such a plethora of extraordinary talent - Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen, Matthew Rhys, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Ifans and Catherine Zeta Jones. They should be appearing on the Welsh stage."