Whether it is Live Art mayhem, grass-roots burlesque clubs, obscure European contemporary dance or more traditional scripted drama, Glasgow has a year long festival of performance. Edinburgh might have the International Festival, but Glasgow is the home of innumerable artists at every level of public recognition. From the Arches to the Theatre Royal, Glasgow supports the home-grown and the international.
The two Strands of Glawegian Theatre
There are two strands to Glasgow’s theatrical scene. A thriving tradition of scripted theatre runs parallel to an experimental wing. While these strands rarely share audiences or aesthetics, they both draw on the deep enthusiasm for theatre within Glasgow. Going back to the nineteenth century, there has always been a strong support from the working classes: venues like The Pavilion offer drama that is often so rooted in West Coast Scottish culture that it is impossible to imagine them outside of the city.
When the National Theatre of Scotland was founded in 2006, there was discussion about its direction, with many expecting a return to b1950s neo-realism. Yet the NTS has supported both experimental and traditional, discovering a happy alliance in the massive success of Blackwatch. Aside from this rare fusion, the two strands happily co-exist, rarely crossing over and forming distinctive paths through the city’s theatres.
Scripted Drama and Traditional Classics
The revivals of Scottish classics like The Steamie, or tours of old fashioned comedies like “The Grass is Greener” pay testament to the city’s enthusiasm for a clear script and strong performances. When Oran Mor started up A Play, A Pie and A Pint season, it looked to new scripts to ensure its popularity. PPP offers week long runs, creating a constant turnover of new work. While the format is traditional, the subjects are not. The Ching Room looked at drug use: a collaboration with Piers Payne gave About a Goth, a well-meaning peek at the dark sub-culture.
The King’s Theatre is a key venue for traditional theatre. It has become a regular stop for major tours- both “Chicago” and “Hairspray” have visited, and it presents many plays that have been adapted from classic Scottish literature. In terms of form, these plays are not challenging. However, they are the most popular events in the theatrical calendar, their audiences dwarfing the more radical shows.
Live Art and Contemporary Performance
If the script attracts a mature audience, Live Art is about youth. Harder to define, it is constantly re-invented by adventurous graduates, who blur boundaries and incorporate influences from poetry, dance, rock music and political activism. For many years, Tramway was the natural home for theatrical agitators: multiple spaces, attractively post-industrial ambiance and connection to the European experimental companies made it versatile and accommodating. In the past year, the new Artistic Director of The Arches has challenged Tramway’s: a city centre location, a variety of dungeon-like spaces and an imaginative programme that includes at least three festivals gives it a cutting edge intensity.
There are some venues that balance the two strands. The Citizens, despite being known for large scale productions of classics, has an small auditorium that frequently stages difficult work. The Tron may feature existentialist drama, but its Counting Room offers Live Art treats. And companies like Vanishing Point, who scooped an armful of prizes at this year’s Critics Awards for Theatre Scotland, straddle the divide with shows like The Beggars’ Opera.
Scottish Theatre Companies
Aside from Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and the NTS, Glasgow houses numerous companies. Vanishing Point and Cryptic have offices in the CCA, and both emerged from the tumult of the 1990s. Although they have achieved status and security, they are committed to maintaining the radical edge of theatre, with artistic directors Kathy Boyd and Matthew Lenton following very different, idiosyncratic paths.
Under Boyd, Cryptic have moved into opera, classical music, site specific events and a monthly night to showcase everything from video art to rock. Lenton had led Vanishing Point through intimate chamber works, adaptations of surreal European film, rock-climbing adventures, and meditations on cosmology.
Over at The Arches, Nic Green, currently courting controversy with her avowedly feminist Trilogy, launched her reconsideration of the meeting between Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer, while the recent Arches Live! saw Kieran Hurley and Flora Pitrola use the spoken word and subtle soundtracks to powerful effect.
It may be that the radical performers give critics far more to discuss, but it is the on-going support for theatre of any style that has made Glasgow’s theatre so healthy. As the pantomime season dominates the venues, it is worth remembering that it is easy to go out and see a play every night of the week, and that there are usually enough options for all tastes.