National Theatre of Scotland's The Tin Forest set for 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games cultural programmme

The National Theatre of Scotland: The Tin Forest

credit: Jassy Earl

The South Rotunda hosts play inspired by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson's children's book

It’s one of the forgotten treasures of Victorian Glasgow, a roundhouse in brickwork and tiling that has sat boarded up on the banks of the Clyde for more than 25 years. Now the South Rotunda is being brought back to life as the focal point for The Tin Forest, created by the National Theatre of Scotland as part of the Commonwealth Games cultural programme.

‘It feels like one of the great found spaces anywhere in the world,’ says Graham McLaren, associate director of NTS who is overseeing this final stage of the marathon project, one of largest NTS has ever mounted. ‘Inside, it’s truly breathtaking. The fact that it’s in the heart of Glasgow, and in such an intact form, is incredible.’

The North and South Rotundas were built in the 1890s as access points for tunnels under the Clyde. Pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles reached the tunnels by hydraulic lifts in the two buildings, an expression of the city’s engineering prowess at the height of its industrial golden age. Now, appropriately, the South Rotunda is becoming a focus for re-imagining and regeneration.

The Tin Forest is inspired by the children’s book by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson in which an old man builds the detritus of the industrial world into a tin forest, only to find it transformed into something much more beautiful. The NTS Learn team worked for the first six months of this year in four Glasgow communities affected by industrial decline to create large-scale local performances prompted by the story.

The final stage of the project, the Tin Forest Festival, will be launched on 22 July with an open-air concert of spoken word and music that draws on some of the heroes of Glasgow’s industrial past. Over the period of the Games, NTS will facilitate pop-up performances around the city by a 90-strong international youth company, and will host shows from young Commonwealth theatre-makers at the Rotunda. But the central focus is in the Rotunda itself, which becomes home to an immersive promenade performance directed by McLaren.

He says the simplicity of the story has allowed him plenty of room to flex his theatrical muscles, and plans to use live performers and musicians, puppets (by Gavin Glover, with whom he collaborated on his award-winning production of A Christmas Carol for NTS), aerial performers and digital installation to create his own version of the story. ‘I could do it with one actor, a little one-man show, but I thought that was a missed opportunity, that we could put ourselves through the character’s experience in some way and get a greater sense of that regeneration, that hope for the future.’

McLaren sees the project as a jumping-off point for practical discussion, and has programmed a special evening on 31 July to concentrate on the exchange of ideas. ‘The message of The Tin Forest is: if you want the world around you to change, you must do something about it. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind in the world, and certainly in the UK, that we’re looking for things to change – no matter what side of the referendum question you’re on. I think all of that energy is there in this story. It asks people to imagine where we might be, and what can we do to make the place that we’re in a better place?’

It’s a discussion that he believes will strike a chord with international visitors. ‘People in a favela are asking absolutely the same questions about how are they going to improve where they live. Or in India – or in England: how do we make things better, how do we move things on?’

The Tin Forest Festival, Mon 21 Jul–Sun 3 Aug

The Tin Forest

A celebration of Glasgow’s industrial past and creative future inspired by the book by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson. Featuring site-specific community performances led by Graham McLaren and Simon Sharkey. Booking is essential.

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