Curtains fall on the Rowan Tree Theatre Company after 25 years

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The Rowan Tree Theatre Company is taking its final bow after 25 years on stages in the Borders and across Scotland.

The board of the Selkirk-based company has decided to bring down the curtain at a celebratory farewell hosted by the Duke of Buccleuch at Bowhill Theatre on Monday.

Present will be patrons, actors, playwrights, directors, stage crews, make-up artists, choreographers and costume designers from a quarter century of plays, which toured village halls of the Borders and the Edinburgh Fringe.

The board explained in a joint statement to The Southern: “In these difficult times Rowan Tree has struggled to survive financially. The recession has meant a decrease in sponsorship and funding opportunities and the costs of touring even small scale professional productions are enormous. In view of a lack of support from Creative Scotland in particular, the board decided that the time had come to call it a day.

“But the company will leave a legacy that will inspire future arts practitioners and theatre lovers. That legacy highlights the company’s innovative concept of ‘chamber theatre’ and its demand for high production standards, its encouragement of work reflecting Scotland’s rich cultural heritage, and its unparalleled record in touring to far-flung village halls and small theatres across the south of Scotland. 

“Indeed, the company’s popularity at these, and the regularity of its visits, has encouraged many village hall committees to upgrade their facilities to enable touring from other groups and also inspired them to promote the arts across the region.”

The statement continued: “Rowan Tree Theatre Company pioneered the now thriving arts scene in the Scottish Borders when it was founded by Judy Steel, John Nichol and Janice Parker in 1987. They continued to be the driving force behind the company for many years and Rowan Tree played an integral role in turning the Scottish Borders from an area where ‘nothing happens culturally’ to its present vibrant, powerful status as an area where the creative arts are flourishing.”

Co-founder Judy Steel, former artistic director of Rowan Tree, commented: “I want to thank everyone who was ever involved with the company for the support they gave me over the years.

“Nobody could have asked for more moral and practical help and they gave so much to me in terms of differing expertise, which allowed the fruition over the years of small masterpieces such as Willie Wastle, Fishtales, Wandering Willie’s Tale, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Hermiston, The Ragged Lion, The Journey of Jeannie Deans, Sins of the Father and The Lasses, O.

“All of these were productions of totally new work (some based on classic Scots texts by Burns, Scott and Hogg) and all were well reviewed and received, with the last named receiving a prestigious CATS award for the best music during 2009.”

There were also distinguished productions of The Puddock an’ the Princess, Barry, Nancy Sleekit, The Herd of Standlan, and Not About Heroes. 

Moreover, the board continued: “Rowan Tree ‘brought on’ young actors and technicians from the area, gave them opportunities early in their careers, and taught them excellence and attention to detail.

“It is a matter of some pride that the up-and-coming actress Jessica Hardwick made her first stage appearance as a child in a Rowan Tree production. Writers Allan Massie, Jules Horne, Tom Murray, Janet Paisley, John Carnegie, Judy Steel, John Nichol and present Lifelong Learning Minister, Alasdair Allan MSP, have all had their work premiered by Rowan Tree.”

There have also been two playwrighting competitions and an exhibition, and Rowan Tree’s work has been seen in South Africa and Canada.

Helen Currie, chair of Rowan Tree Theatre Company, added: “The board has immense faith in Spoon, by Duncan Kidd, the final project and winner of the second playwriting competition which has still to come to fruition. We believe in the play’s potential and in its author as a future voice of originality and lyricism and another lasting legacy to Rowan Tree.”

Above all, the board’s farewell statement concluded, this is “a pretty good record for a company whose support from the Scottish Arts Council over nearly 30 years consisted of a few small grants under Awards for All. It is all the loyal audiences and sponsors, particularly the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust and Stobo Castle, who made this impressive programme of work possible, as well as the support of the arts development department of Scottish Borders Council within its limited resources.”

As the Duke of Buccleuch hosts an evening to bring down the curtain on Rowan Tree, Ms Currie commented: “It has been an amazing achievement, and Rowan Tree is bowing out on a very positive note, leaving the arts scene in the Borders thriving, and building on what we started. The evening of celebration will be poignant, but ultimately positive and celebratory for all that has been achieved.”