Steve Cramer talks to Ed Robson, artistic director of Cumbernauld Theatre about imprisonment, torture, justice and Greek classic The Oresteia
Even Hollywood has turned, of recent times, to the subject of extraordinary rendition. But if the somewhat glamourised approach to the subject promised by the film Rendition, looks like creating a moral simplicity to the subject which threatens to bury it under layers of gaudy colour, the darker truths of the subject might well be borne out by Cumbernauld Theatre, where a revival of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy looks like providing a very intimate examination of the subject.
Cumbernauld’s artistic director, Ed Robson sits before me at the Traverse, his long, dark, below the shoulder hair framing a pale, slim face above a black shirt in a manner that suggests something between a romantic poet and one of Suzi Quatro’s backing guitarists. But the Geordie accent dispels many first impressions, as does a glance at his impressive record in the first 18 months of his tenure at a theatre, which has, despite its geography, started to become a significant venue for cutting edge work in Scottish theatre.
His new initiative, Nucleus, encourages young companies to come to Cumbernauld and bring experimental work to a more complete level than the average scratch night or reading. The first production to come out of this initiative looks like something of a cou: in producing a one-man show by one of Scotland’s most celebrated young actors, Robson is bound to attract theatre-savvy audiences from all over the country.
Sandy Grierson won this year’s CATS best actor award for his performance in Communicado’s Fergus Lamont, and followed this up with a splendid turn in Vanishing Point’s Subway at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s testament to Robson’s out there artistic policy that Grierson’s next show should take place at Cumbernauld, where a truncated, one-man version of a trilogy of war, murder and vengeance seems to begin at its end, with the central character, Orestes, explaining the slaying of his mother and her lover – in retribution for her murder of his father – to a jury, after enduring torture in a country he can’t identify.
‘The steep banking of the seats at Cumbernauld, the way that they tower over stage all helps. The audience acts as the jury, and this one small man gives his account of the event,’ says Robson. ‘He does the whole thing in stress position. He and the director, David Johnstone assumed this position in rehearsals. When they first started they could only hold it for a minute. Now it goes on for an hour, though, inevitably, because it’s so painful, he falls over now and then. The shock on his body is really quite an extraordinary thing. The challenge to his audience is that they get to see the suffering of the choices they’ve made about justice.’
Robson feels that this is the right time to be staging Greek classics. ‘There’s certainly a kind of zeitgeist in the air. When else has there been three Scottish productions of the Greeks in such a short time? After The Bacchae at the Festival, there’s Antigone at the Tron and this at the same time. One of the questions at the heart of all these plays is about justice and how it works. ‘How on earth can whole nations be held responsible for justice? What individual can possibly be responsible for war? In the UK context alone, we’re having to ask how justice is served by this. Is this about justice, or is justice just a convenient label or process for some kind of political mechanism of social control?’
Cumbernauld Theatre, Thu 18–Sat 20 Oct.