Sunday, 31 August 2014

Peter Brook on political theatre

Wordle: vilesstart

For me, there is only one reason to go to the theatre, and only one value to be derived from it: to cope with the contradictions of life. Very simply, the theatre must awaken something that is asleep.

During the period you mention, the '60s, I was involved in politics, though I never in my life believed, even for one second, in any political system. It was clear in the '60s that everything that stemmed from right-wing thought was infinitely worse than what came from the Left. I did Marat/Sade because I felt that Peter Weiss, who believed himself to be a communist, formulated his own contradictions in the play: He felt as much for Sade as he did for Marat. Out of this strong and tragic conflict between two oppositional forces, a very fine theatrical event was fashioned. Weiss believed that he was on Marat's side against Sade; but his play denied this. And I directed it to make the spectator share this contradiction.

When I produced US, about the Vietnam war, all my colleagues wanted me to be a good English socialist, to show that all Vietnamese were good and all Americans bad. What I did was totally different: I produced something that, in those days, looked like a requiem. I wanted the audience to deal with a real tragedy; not to make right-wing people feel that they are in the right, nor to feel good as a left-wing person simply because you are in opposition. The point is that tragedy doesn't provide the answer, not to political or to social problems.

In those days it was possible to produce simplified, didactic plays, because it seemed possible to be clear about one's point of view. Today, let's be honest, nobody would dare to write a polemical play on the situation in Yugoslavia. Only a charlatan could write a text about Bosnia or write a play in the manner of Brecht where he explains who is guilty and who is not. If you did write such a play, where would you begin? Should we kill all the Serbs? Should we kill the Russians because they backed the Serbs? Should all the Croatians be killed because they tortured their prisoners? Or the Bosnians? You can approach these subjects only through tragedy, not on the level of politics. Moreover, who would dare, today, to write a play about the German reality? Who would come up with anything but banalities?

For me, today, Mahabharata is infinitely more profound in terms of politics and political education. And Shakespeare's texts are even more overwhelming. We are not allowed to simplify situations and political events. It would be dishonest.

All the rest is chatter: culture is chatter, politics are chatter; theory, concepts, art - all is chatter. Only one thing is important: that is a group of people together creating a climate that allows the recognition of the real problems of life and the courage to tolerate them, to face them, and to grow up a little bit. Then theatre becomes a useful action.

All the rest is chatter: Peter Brook redefines his theatrical aesthetic and intentions - and rails against the yakkity-yak of contemporary society
Author(s):C. Bernd Sucher
Source:American Theatre. 12.4 (Apr. 1995): p18.
Document Type:Interview
Copyright:COPYRIGHT 1995 Theatre Communications Group

Kirby on Political Theatre

Political theatre and a few thoughts...

Both Adrienne Scullion's survey of the Glasgow Unity Theatre (Glasgow Unity Theatre: The Necessary Contradictions of Scottish Political Theatre, Twentieth Century British History Volume 13, Issue 3, Pp. 215-252) and Daniel Lapenta's critique of John McGrath's Border Warfare suggest that, on the West Coast, the connection between theatre and politics is consistent and long-standing. Scullion points out that most scholarship surrounding the GUT has emphasised its left-wing intentions, including links with the Communist Party, before pondering whether the political tensions within the company led to its eventual disintegration: Lapenta repeatedly comments that Border Warfare has a pro-nationalist slant and notes that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is presented as the latest in a long line of English tyrants who have bullied the Scots.

When Eric Karoulla pondered political theatre in the 2013 Fringe, he reflected that 'everything could be political': Michael Kirby's 1975 essay On Political Theatre attempts to deconstruct that assumption by defining politics more closely. While Karoulla continues to suggest that the very act of performing, since it requires a degree of freedom of speech, is political, Kirby is more concerned with relating 'political theatre' to dictionary definitions and questioning its impact as a form of activism (he suggests terrorism is probably more effective).

The politics of both McGrath and the GUT were expressed as the advocacy of socialist positions, and in the case of GUT and 7:84's revival of their plays, a focus on the experience of the working classes. Plays now accorded the status of modern classics (Men Should Weep, In Time o' Strife, GUT's The Gorbals' Story, which was made into a film in 1950) reflect this emphasis: perhaps, as Scullion hints, the dynamism of Scottish theatre is driven by resistance. 

Mary Brennan talks Citz, 1984

As a coda to what the Citizens' is  about (a reflection too of Giles Havergal's yearning for a Globe-type audience... here is one of his favourite anecdotes. 

When the tenements were still standing, a fat, rather unprepossessing old woman used to watch the company going in and out, day after day. On the night of the free preview, Havergal was surprised to see the old dear waddle in with her young grandson. 'They sat in the stalls, she got out a thermos, gave him a drink, hit him over the head for talking.

At the interval I thought, 'they'll go'. But no, they stayed.' 

And the play that held their attention? The Duchess Of  Malfi.

(Mary Brennan, Theatre Ireland, No. 5 (Dec., 1983 - Mar., 1984), pp. 60-64)

Mary Brennan's article about The Citizen's Theatre in 1984 begins with a photograph of the venue as it was then - standing alone in a derelict waste ground. Through interviews with both the creative team and company manager Paul Bassett, she describes how, despite its location, the theatre thrived through cheap ticket prices and a diet of imaginative interpretations of classic texts.

Although The Citizens has a book dedicated to its history, Brennan's piece is a snapshot that explains why the venue, and the tenure of Giles Havergal, is so fondly remembered. Contrasting the strategies of Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse ('the gang of three') with those of other reps who took their cues from London, Brennan identifies their approach and success.

Where other reps will look to London's West End for a play (and 
often an identikit production) they hope will 'take', the Citz will ferret out a neglected Goldoni. Robert David MacDonald will burnish it up in a new translation, they'll stage it with a commendable lack of false and stifling reverence and a delighted audience will suddenly find that Goldoni's observation on people and social behaviour are enduringly relevant and funny. 
(page 62)

Pondering their influences, Brennan observes a 'confident theatricality more redolent of the European than the British stage,' before listing their international touring programme. She also mentions the 'enviable reputation for exciting and original design,' a quality that would be found in later Citizens' alumni such as Kenny Miller and Stewart Laing. 

Theatre Venue of the Month: The Arches 2011

Perhaps thanks to the credit crunch, Glasgow's performance landscape is shifting. The Arches usually begins its push for Behaviour around this time - the annual jamboree of international experimental work. Yet this year, it has focused on local, emerging artists, leaving May free for the Tron's festival


Strictly speaking, neither Davey Anderson, author of Brick Award winner Thickskin nor Claire Cunningham, now an international touring dancer, are emerging talents. The cast of Gareth Nicols' Platform 18 piece are Gary McNair and Kieran  Hurley, who have impressive previous form. But the two awards – the Brick scoops up two pieces from the Fringe, while Platform 18 is all about the new blood – alongside the announcement of Tom Pritchard as artist in residence adds to the feeling that The Arches are supporting young artists who do more than boast about their celebrity friends.

Gareth Nicols has been working his way up the directing hierarchy for the past few years: a graduate of the RSAMD's contemporary performance degree, Platform 18 acknowledges his rising star by supporting his creation of What Happened Is This, a play that combines storytelling, scripted and devised drama. With musical support from Michael John of Zoey Van Goey, this line up is something of a performance supergroup, although the inspiration for the piece was a little more mundane.

"I was sitting at home, giggling at these coincidence stories in Bella," Nicols laughs. "Everyone seems to have one, or people strive to pull threads together to make a coincidence." From this shared human need to make up stories, and the humour in telling them, Nicols pulled together his supergroup and won the Platform 18 Award.

Glasgow does have a strong dance community, and the appointment of Pritchard as associate artist connects The Arches to Dance House, for whom he runs a community company, and the many improvisers, in dance, criticism and music and film, who have been part of Pritchard's investigations. 

And while he is best known for his radical approach to creating dance, he is clearly no elitist. "Education plays a big part in my work, because it is here that I really gauge how well I can communicate ideas on a physical or intellectual level," he explains, before disavowing the idea that experimental means incomprehensible."Experimental for me translates as someone who is simply questioning what it is they are doing and how they might do it."

The return of Claire Cunningham's ME to Glasgow, after success at the 2009 Fringe and an international tour moves The Arches to the West End: although the University's G12 venue has been quiet for the past year, it serves as a better place for Cunningham's spectacular high wire acrobatics. ME pairs her two semi-autobiographical works, Mobile and Evolution, and showcases Cunningham as both dancer and aerialist.

"Mobile came initially from seeing an exhibition by the sculptor who invented mobiles," she begins. "It was something about the confusing distribution of weight." This inspired her to consider how she incorporates crutches into her work, "get them away from their quite negative associations," and use them to explore balance and suspension in an aesthetic form.

The third dance entry, When We Meet Again, was part of Dance Base's programme during the Fringe, and was described by Shimmy critic Mark Harding as "part ghost train, part date, part fair ground ride, part out of body experience." It refuses the rules of most art forms, and is a disorienting delight for stoner and philosopher alike.

With Clare Duffy bringing Money – The Game Show as another new work, and the version of Thickskin coming on the back of Fringe five stars, the programme is not only full but surveys the best of Scotland's new companies and artists.

2011 Theatre Venue of the Month: Arches Live

Live Art young team gather with a programme of over 30 performances

As inevitable as the annual migration of English actors from Edinburgh back to milder climes after the Fringe, so September's Venue of the Month is the Arches. Arches Live! is the big gathering of the young live art teams, new performance crews and wild outsider artists from the East and West coasts, and 2011 is the largest edition yet, with over thirty acts in a little under a fortnight.

Aside from the obvious highlight of The Skinny's own Mr Criticulous, fresh from fighting Ontroerend Goed in Edinburgh, in a one-to-one confessional, Arches Live! has spots from established names – Little Johnny is taking over the cafe, and Kieran Hurley presents a new work, Beats, that captures the current mood of political agitation in his trademark compassionate style. The eclectic range matches any Fringe venue, from Tony Mills throwing some hip-hop inspired shapes to Rosana Cade and Laurie Brown finding out what the tariff is for same-sex sins in Glasgow's confessional booths.

The joy of Arches Live! is that it sets veterans alongside newcomers: Nick Green is back on the block, after touring the world with her Trilogy, and Solar Bear's artist in residence, Ramesh Meyyappan, returns from swinging Snails'n'Ketchup on the Fringe with a look at the fishy treat from Arbroath. Meanwhile, the latest generation of graduates from the RSAMD make their first steps into post-student production.

The Arches has built up a reputation for challenging and imaginative performance, alongside its comprehensive clubbing and gigs programme. Its subterranean atmosphere, complete with passing train sounds, lends itself to the experimental theatre. When Andy Arnold was artistic director, before he began his revitalisation of the Tron, The Arches became the perfect home for his versions of Beckett, echoing the hollow terror of mundanity through its stone walls. Now, it has become a place where the usual rules of theatre can easily be ripped up.

That isn't to say that traditional theatrical craft is discarded. Stef Smith, award-winning writer of Roadkill, will be reading through her latest script and Tom Pritchard will be using his experience as an improvising dancer to rock his body in a free foyer performance. It's this mixture – like that of the National Review of Live Art – which makes Arches Live! so powerful. And with so many spaces, all levels of theatrical engagement, from the intimate to the grandiose, are included.

The importance of the Arches cannot be overstated. Edinburgh does not have anything similar, although Summerhall is hoping to follow in its alternative path: in the meantime, the Arches functions as a crucible for new work, a meeting place for radical performance communities, a bridge between student and professional theatre making and a champion of the challenging and provocative. With Arches Live!, it insists that the festival season is longer than just a single month.

Venue of the Month: The Citizens

The Skinny speaks to Dominic Hill, artistic director of the Citz

Last year, the arrival of Dominic Hill as artistic director of the Citizens was greeted with delight. Charging straight in with three heavy-weight numbers – King Lear, Betrayal by Pinter and a Beckett double bill – Hill was making a clear announcement that his leadership would continue the legendary era of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald (1969- 2003), when the company became famous for reinterpreting classic texts in a funky, modern style.

After a successful Autumn Season, which saw Hill take a back seat as Glasgow Girls reimagined musical theatre as politically vibrant, the Spring Season seems to be taking the original promise forward. Hill's having a crack at Doctor Faustus, one of the few plays from the Elizabethan era to have a reputation that matches a Shakespeare, Stewart Laing is getting busy with The Maids – Laing's maverick style perfect for Genet's snide look at power hierarchies and the failed holiness of the criminal – as well as bringing back his Salon Project, which dresses the audience up in period clobber. Meanwhile, a team-up with the Lyceum has Donna Franceschild replay her TV drama Taking Over the Asylum on the stage. The season ends with another Hill direction, a pair of Caryl Churchills – Churchill has been called the greatest living playwright and has a scathing feminist bite to her writing.

Hill is clearly making sure that the Citizens has a clear identity. Over the years – it opened as Her Majesty's in the late ninetenth century – it has been mercurial: sometimes known for its democratic inclusiveness (cheap tickets for local residents, the foundation of a theatre company based on an early draft for a Scottish national theatre), its excellent work for young people (TAG is still an important part of the brand) or, as from 1969, a hotbed for experiment with the classics of British theatre.

Without necessarily going the whole ‘new writing’ route – it is clear that The Traverse in Edinburgh is enthusiastic on this – Hill's season sees theatre as contemporary and relevant. His Faustus promises a swipe at consumerism, and Churchill's Far Away is a dystopian horror that demonstrates how visceral a script can be.

But it is The Maids that kicks off the year. Stewart Laing might come from a familiar Scottish tradition of the director who designs, but his recent productions have seen him deconstruct the very nature of performance. The Salon Project mixed up the talents of visual artists, costumiers and public thinkers and by taking on Genet's story of two women who would like to be glorious killers, he is grappling with one of France's most sensational authors.

Moving into February, as a contrast, there is the anti-sectarian Divided City, directed by Guy Hollands, who has been making work for the venue for the best part of this decade. Although taking place over in Hamilton, it is a fine example of how the new Citizens is not afraid to reach out and tackle a tough problem.

With Hill delivering on his promises, Hollands moving out into the community, and Laing breaking various social taboos and theatrical presumptions, the Citizens is looking healthy. There's plenty of nonsense written about how the venue reflects its Gorbel's location – tough, determined, whatever – but here's a programme that is setting the pace for performance that respects the old and enters the new. [Gareth K. Vile]

A Public Apology - The Tron's Open Stage and Ankur's Social Rage


My misgivings about The Tron’s Open Stage competition – that the public vote would ensure mawkish, safe drama ­ - are squashed by Sea and Land and Sky. My defence - its online trailer suggested a more conventional take on World War I - can’t escape that LASAS harks back to the vicious theatre of Edward Bond, Howard Barker and even the blessed Sarah Kane.

If the final scene is disappointingly sentimental, and the odd line smacks of historical research bubbling to the surface (“fifty seven thousand men die in the first two hours,” indeed), Abigail Docherty’s script is admirably uncompromising in its presentation of the psychological impact of violence. Scattered body parts, desperate humping amidst the carnage, corpses embraced and wounds self-inflicted: Docherty’s portrayal of psychological disintegration in the face of World War I’s horrors is unflinching.

There are moments in Andy Arnold’s direction that lift the action beyond the immediate violence into an abstract absurdism: Tyler Collins gives his philosophical deserter an overdone gravity, while a disembodied head expresses a desire to die old and horny. The dead soldiers carried about by the deranged nurse could have done with a little more weight, and the collection of body parts slips towards slapstick.

With a solid set that doubles as trench and endless road through 
fields of slaughter, LASAS is nasty theatre, uneasily between naturalism and a symbolism. This is difficult theatre: the dry delivery gradually gives way to hysteria, and it is a challenge for the show to live up to the extremity of the script’s themes and episodes. Yet its message is familiar: war is hell. Even Paul Riley’s working-class romanticism can’t transcend the brutal rending of flesh and hope.

Towards the end, the script betrays a lack of confidence, bringing in domestic murder to add to the pathos: whether the revelation that one nurse committed matricide is an attempt to show the universality of savagery or a late plot twist is debatable. However, I do accept that this made for a more engrossing victor of Open Stage than my own entry, the burlesque Greek Tragedy.

Playback, over in the Briggait and the latest community-focussed project from Ankur, is very much youth theatre gone tough. Bigg Taj rocks the mic, young actors play gang members and the story is a hip-hop variation of the struggle between good and evil social impulses. The competing stories don’t always mesh effectively – Taj’s narrative only becomes relevant in the last moments, and feels like an after-thought finale just to prove how bad the bad boys really are, but it is exciting to be ushered around the Briggait’s cold storage spaces and see how community theatre is attempting to take on the challenge of both physical and site-responsive theatre.

Since the play is set in the places where I live and socialise, the question of authenticity becomes vital. There’s a slight sense that the script is spelling out the tension, using almost stereotypical notions of communities and gangsters, yet the theatrical presentation of Glasgow South’s street youth is recognisable and chilling. Ankur still haven’t quite found their voice - the integration of local detail and the archetypal narrative isn’t complete, but it does feel as if their fusion of community work and ambitious productions is a leading edge within Scottish theatre.

Bigg Taj - some notes from the Glasgow School (the artists reply, v)

Big Taj is too much of an individual to be an example of anything. A beat-boxer who has collaborated with Indian dancers (I first met him when he was warming up for this at Dance Base, a tall man making odd noises in the cafe), he has crossed boundaries to be part of theatre productions, turns up at cabaret nights to rock the house, and even arrived at the recent National Festival of Youth Theatre to essay his signature mix of good natured banter and complicated beats.

If his style is too eclectic to easily define, his popularity isn't. Despite coming from a hip-culture that is often tough and macho, Taj has a charm and gentility that belies his talent. He can stand up alongside the rapper (Bram E. Gieben, himself no mean performer, said Taj 'is one of the UK's most respected beatboxers,' and that his sets are a 'technically audacious showcase that takes in everything from soul and house to dubstep.'

Taj's thoughts on Glasgow, however, help to clarify his influences. 'I feel that my whole beatbox style is influenced by Glasgow,' he says. 'When I look back to when I started beatboxing all I ever listened to was hip hop: the gigs I went to were hip hop, those nights were bigger than Drum and Bass nights.' 

He sees this as a stark contrast to other people working in similar areas.  'If you look at the London beatboxers, they had a more mixed style - like Grime, DnB and hip hop.  Those were the styles that were popular down there, but those genres to me were not as accessible in Glasgow. My style was then moulded by the sounds I heard around me.'

Despite his ubiquity in the performance scene - and in working with young people (again, his time with Ankur) - he clearly feels a strong connection to other Scottish rappers. 'I think most of us in the hip hop scene share the same passion and goals as each other,' he notes, before reflecting on how that impacted on their national presence. 'It used to be quite difficult for scottish rappers to make a mark due to the accent. I feel this has changed lately, but we had to put in more work to get us heard. That is what links us all.'

Nevertheless, when pushed to define his art, Taj describes it in terms that go beyond any particular genre: 'I'm always looking for that something that leaves people in awe, something that breaks down barriers and also opens eyes and ears. Something educational and fun, a different perspective.'

Revealing the New (venue of the month)

A Venue without Walls
When the National Theatre of Scotland was born five years ago, after a protracted conception and labour, it boasted that it was "theatre without walls." In much the same way, this venue of the month is a venue without walls, featuring the Reveal programme, part of the NTS' debate about its identity as Scotland's national theatre.
Reveal is clearly designed to introduce the NTS's audience to the new generation of theatre makers. Gary McNair, last seen bothering global capitalism with Crunch, Robert Softley getting political about the right to self-determination and Molly Taylor loving the transport system are all working for the first time with the company, while a rehearsed reading of Martin Travers' Roman Bridge and a platform performance of Ian Finlay MacLeod's Somersaults give insights into works in progress. 
With both the Traverse and, more surprisingly, the Citizens enlisted to stage the season – with additional help from The Play, A Pie and A Pint team at Òran Mór, Reveal aims to locate the NTS at the experimental edge of theatre and made good its inclusive manifesto.
Given the energy and experimentalism that characterises much new Scottish work, the NTS's audience may be introduced to unfamiliar styles. McNair, although a veteran of The Arches and The Òran Mór, straddles a variety of genres: "I've tried to avoid labelling myself – people have said it is a hybrid of stand up and monologues," he explains. "But I am just making what I am making." And while he avoids easy classification, McNair's skill is to unite radical ideas and an easy-going, audience friendly performance. 
Unsurprisingly, McNair is diving into new territory. "I tend to tackle subjects i don't understand," he laughs. "If I did make shows about things I do understand, I'd make one show, about REM, and then I'd have to get a job." And after heading to the apocalypse and financial meltdown, there was an obvious topic. "I realised as a 25 year old, it's not good to know nothing about politics. That why I went for this."
Across the NTS's programme, there has always been a diversity of subjects and styles. In the past, this has led to criticism from critics who believe that its remit ought to be to preserve the best of Scottish drama. While that is catered for elsewhere in this year's selection, Reveal consciously goes beyond the parochial, as in the teaming of Robert Softley with Pol Heyvaert, the Belgian creator of Aalst, one of the NTS's great successes.
Softley, like McNair, is excited by the opportunity to collaborate with the national company, especially as it allows him to maintain the distinctive identity of his work. "It’s inevitable every time I perform, being disabled, that the audience reads layers into the work that wouldn't be there with a non-disabled performer," he begins. "But I usually focus on other issues.  My previous work has always tended towards the overtly political – I guess at the core of what I want to do is engage with people and then challenge them to change their preconceptions of the world around them."
The seriousness of Softley's approach is also  reflected in McNair's content, yet they share a desire to be more than just agit-prop. "Girl X fits in with my political work," he continues. "Although I hope audiences are also entertained while they’re being challenged – there’re quite a few laughs here too!" And in this mixture, Reveal's intentions are precisely revealed.

2011 Theatre Venue of the Month: Ramshorn

Ramming home the importance of theatre
At the end of December, Susan Triesman, the energetic and creative force behind Strathclyde Theatre Group (STG) retired from her post at the University. Since the company’s home, the Ramshorn Theatre, has only just recovered from the latest threat to its continued existence, the timing is unfortunate. Triesman has been a powerful advocate for the importance of the company and venue since the 1980s, and her leadership has seen the Ramshorn become a major feature in Glasgow’s theatrical landscape since its conversion in 1991.
In person, Triesman is passionate and knowledgeable about theatre, recognising its importance within the academic community and recalling the many successes of the STG during her tenure. Not only is STG open to non-students – a rare example of a university connecting directly with Glasgow’s wider communities – it has inspired many now-famous performers and runs a busy annual programme that includes new writing, established classics and unfamiliar works from contemporary playwrights.
There is no question that Triesman has been crucial to the Ramshorn – as she points out, it stages more shows across the year than any other theatre, from STG’s own programme through lunchtime concerts and visits from outside companies. She can recall the first years of the venue, long before The Merchant City regenerated, when the arrival of the Ramshorn as a dedicated venue was an outpost of culture in an impoverished adjunct to the city centre.
Now, of course, the proximity to Buchanan Galleries and the new, improved gallery spaces make the Ramshorn a prime property to the extent that the recent campaign to defend it all the more necessary. Ironically, the building that perhaps precipitated the cultural growth of the East End could have become a victim of the success. Since G12 at Gilmorehill has effectively closed its doors to the community, the Ramshorn has become an even more vital home for student theatre. 

Before her departure, however, Triesman has programmed a season for the Ramshorn, which includes the annual week dedicated to new plays, a swathe of comedians from the comedy festival and Triesman’s direction of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Although she directed the show over a decade ago, she has been waiting for the necessary permission this time ince before the film. She explains that Disney held the rights for years, and prevented anyone from staging it until long after the film had been made, shown and sold on DVD.
The eclecticism of 2011’s season is a reminder of The Ramshorn’s ongoing commitment to a diversity of scripted work: from John Byrne’s Cuttin’ a Rug (part of The Slab Boys Trilogy) through to a surprise visit from Black Market International as part of New Territories, The Ramshorn is a flexible space that can host traditional drama alongside more radical processes. Triesman points out that her version of Ibsen’s Ghosts, in the 1990s, was one of the first mixed-media events in Scotland: STG was the first company to present work by Sam Shepard and many other contemporary authors.

The departure of Susan Triesman represents the end of an era for the theatre, and following both the recent threat to the building, when the university debated whether it should continue in its present use, and the general threat to the arts posed by government cuts, vigilance is necessary to ensure that it remains, as the website says “a jewel in the crown of Strathclyde Theatre.”

Theatre Venue of the Month: Tramway

Tramway has often been a prophet without honour in its home city. Tucked away on Glasgow's Southside, it is internationally renowned as both a gallery and theatre, yet its location has prevented it from attaining the same local presence as The Arches or The Tron. Yet after a relatively quiet performance year, as the venue built up both its visual art programme and status as a local community hub, December sees Tramway remind Glasgow that it is the home of large scale contemporary performance.
The Story of How We Came to Be Here is a production by Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan linking the visual arts with performance: the duo are best known in Tramway for their monolithic exhibition HK, which dominated the gallery space in the early twenty-first century. This move into performance is a natural extension of their style, which has always been influenced by theatricality. Taking the form of a long monologue – shades of Forced Entertainment's controlled anarchy – it puts the artists directly in front of the audience and unfolds a shaggy dog tale that is part stand up comedy, part absurdist drama.
"The relationships and differences between the performing and visual arts is always something that's interested us," they note. "Tramway, as a venue which shows work across both disciplines, seems to be trying to think through this and our performance follows on from events such as This Time With Feeling – a symposium with contributors from both performing and visual arts."
Within the show, Tatham and O'Sullivan retain their visual art aesthetic – there are echoes of the late modernists in their approach to bricolage, alongside clearly theatrical influences.
"When we make an artwork we often use approaches or forms that could be described as found," they continue. "These approaches may be categorised as amateur, folk, or vernacular art – and drawing on such forms has long been a recurring strategy within both the visual arts and theatre. Vaudeville is one such mode of theatre that has been frequently and constantly referenced and returned to – and it's this process that interests us, as much as the characteristics of vaudeville itself."
If Tatham and O'Sullivan have a history with Tramway, this month's other event – Fresh Faced – stars Junction 25, a Tramway supported youth company who wowed the recent IETM by proving that young performers can grapple with radical theatre making. Jess Thorpe, part of the Glas(s) company who evolved J25 explains that this is more than just a side project.
"The style of working has clear similarities with the work of Glas(s) Performance, but it is important to recognize the distinction – Junction 25 is our collaboration with young people. It means what we do together – all of our ideas pooled – is collective. It means young people trying out new ideas and working together to explore the world in which they experience. They need to and can speak for themselves."
Gender Divide, their latest work, attacks the polarisation of gender roles – a relevant and heady topic that emphasises the company's willingness to take on serious issues from a fresh perspective. Alongside contributions from Y Dance and the NTS' youth project,Fresh Faced is a mini-festival of Scotland's young art teams: and Tramway, now a mixture of community cafe, avant-garde art gallery and legendary performance space, is the ideal venue.

The Glasgow School XIV: question two

The second question is a little more about possible connections between artists. Affinity could be read as sympathy, or a shared ethos. 

Question 2:

Can you name any other Glasgow-based artists with whom you feel an affinity? 

What shared characteristics do you have with them?

The Glasgow School, unlucky for some XIII: the questions.

At the suggestion of a certain Kenneth Davidson - a man who not only made some of the theatre that currently adorns my wonderwall - I am going to make my questions public. I'll do it one question per blog post, so that specific questions can have their own discussion forums.

This works because I do want my process to be transparent - and if my assumptions are blunt, stupid or prescriptive, I know I shall be told. I also think this will give a chance for people to answer who might not have otherwise been involved.

Question Number One:
Are there any aspects of your own work or practice that you feel are defined by Glasgow? 

If so, what are they and how would you describe Glasgow's influence?

Notes: 'your own work or practice' can mean any level of engagement with performance - from working the box office, through administration, to writing, producing and directing an eight hour long version of Shakespeare. 

Living in Glasgow is not a necessity to answer, although having some relationship to the city is.

If the answer to the question is 'no,' an alternative influence would be interesting to have named.

The Glasgow School XII: Into the breach once more...

This stage of the process, despite all efforts to the contrary, has become a little introspective and self-reflective. I've been cutting and pasting my old articles from The Skinny - primarily to remind myself what I have said in the past. Between flinching at the prose faux-pas of my younger self (although maybe the review full of short, simple sentences was an attempt to reflect the feel of a particular production), I am amazed at the volume of my writing.

If any publishers are reading, I'm pretty sure there's enough for an anthology. I reckon it would be really cool if we got artists to respond to some of them, too.

At this point, I have a set of great answers, some interesting replies of dissent, and no clear idea of whether a 'Glasgow School' or style can be defined. I have tried to keep my hunches about performance on the West Coast quiet - so as not to infect the replies to my survey - but the questions, inevitably, are defined by my assumptions. Even if the main assumption is 'oh hell, I have to write about something....'

I can't say whether it is unique to Glasgow, but there is a spirit of generosity that clearly drives the city's artists. Even people who are not involved have been supportive and helpful. Sometimes, the positive refusal is as useful as answering my questions, since it throws up the problems of my methodology, and identifies dangers in both academic and critical processes.

Theatre Venue of the Month: Tron

More than a theatre
When Andy Arnold moved from The Arches to The Tron, he was arriving at a very different theatre to the one he left. While The Arches has a reputation for new work, and an atmosphere that converts every show into a site responsive extravaganza, The Tron has a classic theatrical arch and has drifted between the populist and the experimental.
Arnold has not so much redirected the Tron as find a surer balance between the populist and experimental: the return of DC Jackson's popular dysfunctional family in The Chucky Brae this year has been countered by an increased use of the smaller Changing House for a series of challenging plays, while his Mayfesto was a brave attempt to revive an old Glasgow festival with a political edge.
Equally, The Tron has been open to outside influence: the competition in association with the NTS, Open Stage, may not have found Many new voices, but it has led to the development of three new plays from established authors – including CATS award winner Rob Drummond –  and winner Sea and Land and Sky from Abigail Doherty, which is premiered this month.
Directed by Arnold himself, SLS looks back to WWI for a story of love, loss and dark humour. Although Arnold did not select the winner himself, the play has the classic Arnold combination. Fascinated by sparse, terse scripts – he is a master director of Beckett – it has a strong cast, an emotive background and the potential for serious dialogue and revelatory climaxes, plus the guy who played Winston in Still Game, Paul Riley.
Dirty Paradise, a monologue based on a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a fine example of how Arnold has opened up the building to other groups: it is part of The Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, and directed by Alison Peebles. Peebles, fresh from David Leddy's Sub Rosa and currently working on Panic Patterns for Glasgay! has a good claim to be the hardest working women in Scottish performance: this one hander, that deals in magic realism and hallucination, is both written and performed by Leann O'Kasi, who superbly directed the thrilling Top Dog/Under Dog at the Citizens last year.
The smaller spaces at the Tron are equally open to exciting events: the Victoria Bar regularly hosts The Supper Club Cabaret, alongside Club Sublime – led by Blind Girl and the Crips, this monthly special is curated by the ever imaginative Sounds of Progress – with Lost in Digression joining them from October. Dedicated to anti-heroes, riot grrls, nancy boys and anyone who has never quite managed to find their way back, Lost is a salon for the post-burlesque cabaret.
As the latest posters advertising the season suggest, the Tron is attempting to be far more than just a theatre: the various rehearsed readings, the arrival of Traverse hit Midsummer and the visits from community poetry slammers Word Factory all combine to generate an atmosphere of constant activity and creativity. It may not be The Arches in audience or intention, or atmosphere and continuity, but Arnold's Tron is finding a logical direction for a traditional theatre space to break the mould.

The Botanics: Venue of The Month

The Botanics is rarely used as a venue, but one annual festival is a reminder of how theatre need not be confined to the indoors
Since its inception in 2002, Bard In The Botanics has wrestled with two of contemporary theatre's driving forces: the continued importance of Shakespeare and the need to find exciting performance spaces. A group of theatre makers noticed Glasgow's Botanic Gardens. Gordon Barr explains: "The Gardens have a range of locations within a relatively small area – from tree-lined lawns to small, cultivated gardens – it gives you great flexibility. Also, they are in the heart of the West End which is such a culturally thriving area – it's great to be a part of that.”

Encouraged by the success of international festivals that place Stratford's favourite son in nature, the team recognised that an annual outdoor festival avoided the perennial dilemma of either updating the classics with a potentially absurd interpretation, or sticking to a recognizable formula that might fail to offer anything new. With Bard in the Botanics, which leads off from the West End Festival, Gordon Barr has developed a strategy that combines the power of tradition with a magical staging.
“This year's programme is a perfect example of how flexible the gardens can be,” Barr clarifies. King Lear is a play that is filled with references to nature and the majority of it takes place outdoors so we can use the gardens in a very organic way, making full use of everything that surrounds us from the heavens to the earth itself. The grandeur and the intensity of the struggles faced by Queen Margaret require the splendour of a venue like the Kibble Palace glasshouse. Twelfth Night has a wonderfully lyrical quality, very delicate and beautiful so it's being staged with a backdrop of the stunning Rose Garden. Finally, Titus Andronicus has had to unearth a space that has a much wilder quality to suit the nature of that piece; four very different shows, all using the Botanics in completely different ways.”
Previous programmes have showcased taut productions that join some of Scotland’s most impressive actors with a unique atmosphere. The charm of the Botanics dispenses with the need to adorn the play with awkward interpretations, providing a traditional Shakespeare that does not sacrifice imagination.
“These plays were, by and large, written for outdoor performance,” Barr admits. “They have a scale and a scope which matches perfectly with outdoor performance and Shakespeare's language paints such a vivid picture that complicated scenery is just not necessary.” The language itself is often enriched by escaping the theatre. “As we're currently discovering with King Lear, the outdoor environment can really bring aspects of the play to life. When Lear curses his daughter, and calls on Nature to help him do it, we see George Docherty playing Lear making a real connection to the ground and the forces of Nature – it's no longer an abstract concept.”
 Of course, in Scotland, the al fresco season is strictly limited, as Barr concludes. “If I listed every challenge, I would be here all day. Weather and midges are unavoidable in Scotland but everyone expects that. It's the unexpected that brings the biggest challenges – the quad bikes that suddenly roared across the lawn and through the curtain call for a production of Macbeth, for example.” Yet experience has been a fine teacher. “After 9 years, we're getting pretty good at staging work in the Botanic Gardens but we'll never be totally prepared because a new random element will pop up every year – at least it keeps us on our toes.”

Month of the Venues

originally PUBLISHED in the skinny 06 JUNE 2011
 When the National Theatre of Scotland defined itself as a company “without walls”, they echoed the discovery of many cash-strapped dramatists: an established venue is not necessarily essential. Theatre can happen anywhere, from a warehouse (Dundee Rep’s latest production, Rhymes with Purples’ waterboarding special), through airports (The NTS' Home) to the side of the Clyde (Kate E Deeming – Glasgow’s morning dancer). At the same time, a National Theatre could only make this brave decision because Scottish venues were already diverse and plentiful.
However, it hasn't been a great year for venues. G12 Gilmorehill’s commercial management team was disbanded by Glasgow University, Te Pooka’s bold attempt to maintain the Red Door in Edinburgh’s pubic triangle failed, and The Ramshorn, after fighting successfully for its life last year, is being threatened with closure by Strathclyde University. 
Meanwhile, other spaces are developing new identities: Tramway is slowly strengthening the connection between its visual and performance art, and booking big name choreographers; The Citizens had bagged Dominic Hill as artistic director. And smaller companies are unearthing new places – Fort Tightlaced in Edinburgh, or the SWG3 in Glasgow – to respond to the economic climate. 
Vague attempts to challenge cuts in state funding – the odd Facebook campaign and the occasional ranting article – would be better co-ordinated towards a defence of existing venues. It might be possible to find new places, and it is always exciting to be driven out to an industrial estate to watch actors torture each other, but established venues provide both the stage and a forum for networking and discussion. Programmes like Mayfesto, the Traverse’s autumn offensive and Arches Live! are more than just a selection of plays. They are the epicentres of artistic communication.
The reopening of Cottiers, and the appearance of the Glue Factory in Glasgow are to be welcomed: Cottiers’ return suggests that theatres are viable economic concerns, but the history of public funding warns that venues are not safer in state hands. Leith Theatre, now hosting Dance Base’s expansion, was rescued by a local trust, that feared for its safety within Edinburgh Council’s care. This was in 2004, a time of supposed prosperity, in a city that has the largest Fringe festival in the world. Hacking at theatres and public spaces is going to be very tempting for local authorities when cuts start to bite.
Whether the state’s attack on the arts is philistinism, or a conscious effort to undermine a fruitful space for public discussion – the NTS’Dunsinane is a reminder of how theatre trumps politicians in the understanding of national identity – a strategy of resistance could concentrate on protecting existing spaces. Whether they book in major tours – the EFT, Theatre Royal, the two Kings and Macrobert – maintain a strong company themselves – Dundee Rep – or reach into the community – Citizens, Traverse, Tron – the theatres are symbols of a healthy performance community.
Unfortunately, the vision of local authorities can be confusing. In 2010, the English Higher Close Reading reprinted a report on Glasgow’s approach to city planning. It clearly identified the emphasis on tourism as a trap, and the best festivals have always had a firm support both from and by the local communities. As long as councils are intent on showing off to the world – Scotland with Style – the actual ongoing work of community development will be marginalised, effectively destroying the culture that allows the boasting. 
Back in the 1990s, the Merchant City was a shit-hole, and the Ramshorn was one of the first places to establish a beach-head for culture. This was then followed by visual artists, resisting the establishment of GOMA by having their own galleries in the cheap East End. Two decades later, Glasgow City Council wades in to gentrify the area, capitalising on the pioneers. If they do this at the cost of grassroots activity, and fail to support venues that are willing to take risks, there will be nothing left on which to build their next international bragging session.