Traverse Theatre autumn festival 2009
Why the Edinburgh Theatre is ready for battle
Dominic Hill tells Mark Fisher why the Traverse is still on a festival footing
At the start of the classic comedy Block-Heads, we find Stan Laurel guarding a trench not realising World War I has been over for 20 years. It’s a bit like that at the Traverse. The cultural bombardment of the Edinburgh Fringe has been over for weeks, but the Cambridge Street theatre is still on a war footing. Since the ceasefire, it’s turned out an excellent new play – Ursula Rani Sarma’s The Dark Things – hosted several touring productions and kept the building busy with readings, discussions and try-outs. Now it’s putting on another festival.
‘It came about because the desire of a lot of companies to work here all focused in at one point,’ says artistic director Dominic Hill. ‘It suddenly occurred to me that it might be rather marvellous to celebrate all this work.’
Hence the Traverse’s first Autumn Festival, a 12-day series of dance, music and puppetry, ranging from a 3D film installation by Billy Cowie to a revival of the 21-year-old A Wee Home from Home by Michael Marra and Frank McConnell. The rules for inclusion are broad, the defining characteristic being only the absence of plays. ‘New writing is at the core of what we do, but there’s so much else in performance art that’s new and interesting,’ says Hill. ‘The Autumn Festival is a calling card to say this is also what we’re about and who we are.’
Turning up for one or two-night stands are Music Theatre Wales with Letters of a Love Betrayed, based on a story by Isabel Allende; the National Dance Company Wales with a double-bill by Nigel Charnock and Andonis Foniadakis; and Puppet Animation Scotland with a scratch night of four-minute performances by Scottish puppeteers. It has allowed Hill to cement relationships with organisations such as Scottish Dance Theatre and David Hughes Dance Productions, the Traverse’s associate company, and to welcome other artists for the first time.
Planning on joining the audience each day, Hill is looking forward to a number of personal favourites. ‘I’m really excited by Bill Cowie’s hologram dance piece that will sit in Traverse Two for a week and the audience goes in every 20 minutes,’ he says. ‘I really like Colette Sadler’s work and it’s the first time she’ll be coming here. And Scottish Dance Theatre are doing two of their signature pieces, so that’ll be like returning to an old friend.’
As much as the individual shows, he is excited by the opportunity the programme presents to inspire audiences. ‘I like festivals,’ says the director, who brought the springtime Manipulate festival with him to the Traverse from his former base at Dundee Rep. ‘I like that explosion of lots of different things that are only on for a very short period of time. The Traverse in August is a fantastic place to be and I want it to be like that for as much of the year as possible. You see a show and then you talk about it and then you think about what you’ll see tomorrow. For an audience there’s a sense of all-in-it-together – everyone is part of it – which gives the experience an extra dimension.’
Autumn Festival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 17–Sun 29 Nov.