Sunday, 31 August 2014

Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock

A creative hub for the Renfrewshire region attracting major touring productions
Even though the Beacon Arts Centre is still a new venue in Greenock - it began its inaugural season in January - it has a programme for April that is the envy of many venues located in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. Perhaps its location is off the beaten track - although it is a short train journey out along the west coast - but its ambitions are huge. 
Despite visits from The Bon Jovi Experience and a Bee Gees tribute night, The Beacon is shaping up as a serious contender to the Glasgow venues. Communicado's excellent The Government Inspector arrives on its tour at the start of the month, Fringe award winner The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is popping in and the month ends with Visible Fiction's Mark of Zorro. The Beacon has the full range of performance styles, from provocative contemporary dance (SDT's double bill) through opera (Madame Butterfly) to children's theatre (Mark of Zorro).
In many ways, the venue expresses the current state of Scottish theatre. Even the National Theatre of Scotland are bringing their adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Day I Swapped My Dad for A Goldfish, but the rough mixture of different genres and styles is impressive. It follows in the footsteps of centres like Glasgow's Platform, emphasising its importance as a community hub (the cafe is elegant and accessible), while ensuring that the productions are appealing and professional.
The appointment of Julie Ellen as artistic director made the connection to Scotland's existing theatre community clear. Formerly the boss at Playwright Studios, she recently directed In An Alien Landscape for Birds of Paradise and has a strong awareness of contemporary trends in performance. The appearance of Communicado's The Government Inspector alongside new plays in collaboration with Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint production house ensures that Greenock will have an easy chance to see some of the highlights that might otherwise remain in the major cities.
Since The Beacon follows on from the tradition of The Arts Guild Theatre - which served Greenock for over half a century and was kept open by the energy of an independent body - it has firm links with the  local community and is very much an expression of the town's needs and enthusiasms. The main auditorium matches a practical, modern space with a traditional elegance, and the presence of a smaller stage ensures that the range of programming can accommodate boutique performance.
Certainly, its location - in the harbour, with beautiful views of the Clyde from both bistro and rehearsal rooms - won't hurt its attraction. There is a tendency to regard Edinburgh and Glasgow as the most important locations for theatre, but The Beacon is part of a web of venues across the country that are crucial for the ongoing health of Scotland's touring network. It is companies like Communicado, or Birds of Paradise, who take theatre outside of the central belt, and The Beacon is a welcome statement that towns can provide as beautiful and accommodating a space as the cities.

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