The upcoming theatre writers, performers and festivals in Scotland
New Scottish theatre work from Rob Drummond, Keiran Hurley, Nic Green and 85a Collective
Topical monologues, collaborative writing and the breaking down of genre boundaries: Scottish live art is always an exciting prospect. The List’s theatre editor Gareth K Vile explores Glasgow’s revered history of experimental performance
The fierce vitality of Glasgow’s experimental performance art scene is unique in the UK. From authors like Rob Drummond, who are as likely to be on the stage as behind the typewriter, through monologue maestro Kieran Hurley, to the community-orientated projects of Glas(s), Glasgow is a thriving centre for theatre that isn’t content to rest in the shadow of Shakespeare.
The city’s history has undoubtedly contributed to its plethora of experimental artists. Although Glasgow City Council insists on the Scotland With Style brand and parades its traditional architecture to tourists, there is a healthy spirit of rebellion in the arts communities. The DIY ethos of punk, still present in the music scene, inspired a similar approach to theatre. The Buzzcut Festival has quickly developed a reputation for attracting hundreds of artists for a jamboree that spreads across multiple venues, while the Arches offers two festivals that promote emerging performers: Arches LIVE and Behaviour (pictured above is Tayor Mac at the 2013 event).
Although any attempt to subdivide the scene is arbitrary, looking at five areas can help to clarify its diversity. First of all, there are the playwrights: Rob Drummond, AJ Taudevin and Alan McKendrick are all good examples, while Alan Bissett is a comfortable fellow traveller. They all start with the script, but have a habit of acting in their own pieces, and bringing contemporary issues to the fore. The Glasgay! Festival has supported many playwrights, especially Martin O’Connor, who uses Glaswegian dialect like lyric poetry.
Then there are the monologuists: Kieran Hurley (who also writes scripts), Gary McNair and Alan Bissett, again, could fit comfortably here. They bring a personal perspective to serious subjects: McNair recently deconstructed stand-up comedy, and Hurley has tackled subjects from riots to repetitive beats. Hurley, in particular, is keen to express the importance of collaboration, but when the National Theatre of Scotland supported five emerging talents in spring’s Auteurs programme, they were correctly identifying how some artists (including Hurley) control the creation of their work to an unprecedented degree.
Next are the live artists: the term is another generalisation, but also a fair description of the creators clustered around the Royal Conservatoire’s CPP course and the Buzzcut Festival. Artists trained in the city, like Rosana Cade, are being joined by international performers such as Louise Ahl who are attracted by Glasgow’s energy. Often breaking boundaries until it is impossible to decide whether it’s dance, comedy, theatre or something never previously seen, live art is more fun than its serious reputation might suggest.
The 85a Collective deserve a mention of their own: a loose collaboration of visual artists, they include members who also work with Cryptic, Glasgow’s proud production house for art on the line between music and theatre, and have a casual alliance with Louna, a company that’s most famous for grim fairytales. For 85a, the event is part of the art and their film screenings have become legendary.
Lastly, there’s the trend for community theatre that has an experimental edge. In this vein, Nic Green became famous for her Trilogy: she might be able to turn a monologue or even encourage audiences to enter a sweat lodge, but this massive work defined her for a few years. Glas(s) are also well known in this sphere, having recently turned an entire street into a performance festival.
It is the meeting of all these trends that makes Glasgow so performance-friendly (and we haven’t even mentioned Al Seed’s Conflux or the Art School’s music and performance mash-ups). Experimental theatre expresses the best of Glasgow: sometimes rowdy, always imaginative, accessible and intelligent, it makes the most of the city’s spaces, ethos and lively personalities.