West End Festival - Theatre preview

Quad a feeling

As the West End Festival opens with more theatre than ever before, Steve Cramer looks at the highlights, including Romeo and Juliet in Glasgow University Quadrangle

The trend for small and medium scale festivals we’ve experienced over the last decade has had a refreshing effect on attitudes to the arts, making the odd soggy day in muddy open spaces as worthwhile for theatre lovers as it has, more traditionally, for fans of popular music. Often, events such as the West End Festival breed not only new audiences, but new, and more informal approaches to being an audience.

So it is that in both open and closed spaces across the West End of Glasgow, there are new opportunities presented in a greatly expanded theatre programme. Festival director Michael Dale says, ‘We have to break out of this nonsense that we all have to start at 8 o’clock. If the shows are on on a Saturday or Sunday, they can be on at any time. I blame Noel Coward; didn’t he say that shows should start at 8 o’clock and finish at about 10.20, and that’s what civilised people do. We work at completely different times these days, a lot of us are self employed, unemployed or retired. If shows can start at 2pm at the Edinburgh fringe, there’s no reason why they can’t in Glasgow.’

Among this year’s fare are a new take on Antigone by Theatre Found, which will use Kelvingrove Art Gallery as a suitably palatial backdrop. ‘Instead of the sign saying “Kelvingrove Art Gallery”, we’ve got “Palace of Thebes” in big yellow neon for a couple of hours in the evening,’ Dale says. ‘That and someone standing in front of the “No Smoking” sign, and it should look really impressive.’ There’s also a contribution from David McClelland’s Play, Pie and Pint folk called Kibble, which is more general variety entertainment than a play.

But the unquestioned highlight must be the first ever visit by London’s Globe Theatre with Edward Dick’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Billed rather adroitly as the Globe’s first tour in 400 years, this will be a new departure for London’s open air replica of the original, and its new venue, a quadrangle of the university, equally suited to the interactive, knockabout spirit of the company. With a promising Glaswegian actor in the male lead, there’s plenty to recommend this.

Richard Madden, who made a huge impression in his debut at the Citz late last year in Tom Fool, has both the youth and the ability to make a good Romeo. Although much loved, Romeo and Juliet is a problematical tragedy, partly because of the sudden changes which occur in the characters. Madden sees this, though, as part of the journey the couple are making. ‘That’s precisely his problem: he doesn’t know who he is. He’s from this wealthy background, so he can afford to be a lover. If he had to get up and work in the morning, he wouldn’t have time to do all this philosophising, and focussing on love and poetry. I’m trying to understand him now. There’s points in the script where he reacts in quite a shocking way. When the Nurse arrives to take him to Juliet, there’s a really graphic scene where Mercutio sticks his hands down her pants, and he doesn’t do anything but joke about it with his mates later,’ he says. ‘But there’s also this gentle side to him.’

It is a different, at times harsher and more violent version of a familiar classic, which audiences can be close up to in Glasgow.

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