‘ve been wanting to do this season for about eight or nine years.‘ begins Neil Wallace. with the tense enthusiasm ofan expectant father in a maternity ward. ‘It
FEATURE THEATRES AND
hasn‘t been possible until now. but I can‘t
think ofa better moment to do it.‘
Tramway. the once-barren former transport museum on Glasgow‘s southside. reincarnated as a theatre by Peter Brook‘s magical Mahabharata in 1988. rapidly established itselfas the country‘s most versatile and exciting performance space. Despite the triumphs of 1990. it was almost doomed to permanent closure earlier this year but now. with grants of nearly £7()().()()() from Glasgow District Council and £15().()()() from the Scottish Arts Council. Tramway is
back. Fired by ‘a fantastic sense ofoccasion‘.
programme director Wallace has seized the opportunity to schedule a remarkable season of new work from Wales. Ireland. England and Scotland.
'It‘s never been done before. as far as I‘m aware.‘ he says. ‘There‘s never been a celebration ofcontemporary or innovative theatre which is deliberately setting out to look at any similarities or distinction that there might be between theatre-makers from these cultures. Entitled Theatres and Nations. the season offers both the cream of energetic. experimental theatre from these countries and an exploration of national identity. The two criteria were: it had to be innovative in some way — radical even: and it
had to have something which was about nationhood — that dimension in a theatre
production which unmistakeably has something to do with where those performers live and work.
‘We also wanted to make use ofthe spaces here in an interesting way. It‘s about fulfilling the promise ofthis place and everything we hope to do with it. That is. working with companies who normally find theselves shoe-horned into a scale ofwork which is small and under-funded. We‘re trying to give them far bigger opportunities to make big art.‘
Indeed. Brith Gof, one oftwo companies representing Wales in the season. are presenting a show so ambitious in scale that even Tramway‘s space is insufficient. PAX. a larger version of Los Angeles (seen this year at Mayfest) will be performed at the Harland and Wolff building in Govan.
Ofthe other companies. Scotland‘s Communicado and Ireland‘s Abbey Theatre may already be familiar to local audiences. The second company representing Wales. Y
Cwmni (The Company) is a young but highly
regarded group from Cardiff. and England will be represented by the Wrestling School. who are dedicated to performing the rich. dense and radical work of Howard Barker. Interestingly. England was the most difficult country in which to find a production that. in Wallace's words. 'tells me a bit about who the English are.‘ Interesting. but perhaps not surprising.
‘I don‘t think it‘s a coincidence that the work of these companies is so strong and confident. Just as you have huge problems with identity in the theatre in central European states (for obvious reasons). I think that the political trend ofdominance from a southern neighbour has fuelled and energised the work in each ofthese countries. There has been a greater and
greater need for artists to express their anger and frustration about their identities being marginalised by a threatrical tradition in Britain which is without doubt centred in Londonf
Drawing together the themes and questions raised by the performances. there will also be a conference. Whose Nation? Whose Theatre? at which a group of distinguished speakers will address 3 questions oftheatre and culture. The I conference will be chaired by journalist and ' television producer Stuart Cosgrove. whose ; particular interest in contemporary Scottish : theatre centres on its ‘sense ofsocial history and personal memory.‘ There is. as he points out. ’a tendency to look at suppressed areas of Scottish history ~ partly because Scotland has always been economically and culturally in the shadow of England and partly to do with memory: to do with the strong hold that nostalgia has on the Scots.‘
He also points to an aspect of Irish culture raised by Peter O‘Toole during a recent interview: that while Scots culture is centred : firmly within its hard-fought boundaries. the ' Irish — almost like the Jews — are scattered throughout the world.
Theatres and Nations should be many things. but will emphatically not be either , pro-Celtic or anti-English. ‘It wouldn‘t have been difficult to do that.‘ reflects Wallace wrily. ‘but it‘s an enquiry really. it‘s an exploration.‘
Theatres and Nations begins on Wed 4 September with Communicado 's production of The Cone Gatherers.
Glasgow‘s 'I‘ramway. long threatened with permanent closure. re-opens this fortnight with a major season ofstate-of-the-art theatre from around the British Isles. Andrew Burnet speaks to Theatres and Nations" programme director Neil Wallace about the birth of a cherished project: and Philip Parr invites comment from
6 l he I.I\I 3t) August 13 September l‘)‘)l