Play time: raising the curtain on experimental and traditional theatre
- Gareth K Vile
- 23 September 2016
From the Royal Lyceum to Buzzcut Festival, Gareth K Vile looks at theatrical extremes in Edinburgh and Glasgow
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have strong traditions of popular and experimental theatre. Although the major venues on both coasts of the central belt often collaborate, each of the cities have their own particular performance personality: Glasgow goes for edgier, rougher pleasures while Edinburgh enjoys a year-round programme of high-production plays.
Edinburgh's two major production houses, the Royal Lyceum and the Traverse, have venerable reputations. The Traverse is 'the home of new writing' – although it does have a healthy turnover of touring companies – and the Lyceum, which recently appointed playwright David Greig (pictured, right) as artistic director, delves into theatre history for inspiration.
Situated back to back in the 'cultural quarter', they are often defined in relationship to each other, with the Traverse playing the punky younger sibling to the august Lyceum. This doesn't tell the whole story, since Greig's ventures into programming include new work from Cora Bissett and new translations of Greek classics, as well as a recent and well received foray into gig-theatre with folk singer Karine Polwart at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The Traverse is also notable for its support of female theatre-makers, and its increasingly wide appreciation of what new writing can mean. Dance has found its way into the programme and artistic director Orla O'Loughlin has modelled its year-round programme on its successful Fringe bookings, bringing in companies from across the UK and beyond.
The Brunton Theatre invites smaller-scale theatre to its seaside home, while two upstarts, Summerhall and Assembly Roxy, have expanded from Fringe operations into year-round spaces for challenging, international performance. There is also Bedlam, primarily a student theatre venue, and Church Hill: and for the really large-scale performances, from Broadway musicals through to internationally renowned choreographers, there's the Playhouse and the Festival Theatre. The latter, alongside the King's Theatre, provides a constant stream of impressive plays and dance shows.
Glasgow straddles the divide between populist theatre and more avant-garde antics. Òran Mór in the West End offers a new play every week in its A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons. The Theatre Royal houses Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet, and invites touring companies, both dance and drama, for week-long visits, catering to discerning popular audiences.
Buzzcut Festival, which has established itself in Govan is a role model for more DIY events: it has recently moved into the CCA for a monthly production, and still holds its annual jamboree of performance art.
There is a plethora of other groups, including UNFIX, which addresses environmental concerns and Cryptic who champion 'music for the visually minded'. The Art School, the Glue Factory and many galleries host pop-up happenings throughout the year. Tramway's biannual festival Dance International Glasgow is due to return in 2017.
The Citizens Theatre and the Tron both offer new and established plays, but the venues have their own personalities. Under Dominic Hill, the Citz regained its reputation for exciting interpretations of classic scripts and plots, balancing it somewhere between accessible and experimental. Andy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron, admits an enthusiasm for a good script, although this is as likely to be a brand-new work as an absurdist favourite.