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bet Terry Gilliam would like the new Traverse Theatre. As I wander round the Cambridge Street site three weeks before the 3 July opening of the first purpose-built theatre in the company’s 30-year history, I‘m surrounded by metal flues. silvery pipes. chrome tubing, sound-proofed steel doors and dangling wires. Meanwhile, Clerk of Works Ronnie Kneale is boasting about the thousands of feet of cable between the two auditoria and the outside world three floors above. In the workshop, they’ve got vacuum cleaners like three-headed space creatures. rubber funnels at the ready to absorb noxious fumes and stray sawdust. Health and Safety standards I’m told, but if they hadn’t been, Gilliam would have had to invent them for a star part in Brazil. In this pre-opening period, with 100

12The List l9June—2July 1992

w. figuflv,

rough charm ofa building that signalled

workers on site. there are gadgets and gizmos everywhere. The air-conditioning system can provide a complete change of air between six and ten times every hour for the subterranean culture-house which. at its deepest, lies below the water-table, well and truly embedded in the volcanic rock. No more fainting on the top row for lack of oxygen in an all-new Traverse that has more than doubled its previous Grassmarket capacny.

Ifit works according to plan. it‘ll be a far cry from the old IOU-seat studio where the smell of Victoria Street hamburgers. the cries of passing Ghosts-and-Ghouls tours and the drips through the less-than- watertight ceiling were a regular feature of Traverse performances. Yes. but what about the character. the atmosphere. the

. 3

As Edinburgh’s home of new playwriting prepares to move up-market from sail-maker’s loft to Financial Centre basement, Mark Fisher climbs deep into the hole—in-the-ground to judge if the Traverse Theatre really has sold out to Mammon.



danger even before the house-lights dimmed? There‘s no denying that a brand new Financial Centre. with its stockbrokers and corporate lawyers. sitting smugly next to the copper-cleaned Usher Hall and the newly-fronted Royal Lyceum, lacks the beatnik appeal of a dingy court-yard surrounded by hostels for the homeless. Can a company so closely associated with three decades ofinnovative and challenging theatre really sit comfortably in the bowels of this symbol of 905 capitalism?

Maybe it can. Once you’re inside the new building and you follow the carpet down to the spacious bar and two theatres one 250 seats, the other 100— you do find a kind of roughness not normally associated with temples to Mammon. The main theatre can be stripped back to the bare concrete, the studio to its white painted breezeblock, while the cafe-bar will reflect the theatre’s ambience with a programmable lighting system hanging from the exposed gantry above. It‘s new, but it‘s not plush. ‘It feels like a theatre,’ says Artistic Director Ian Brown. ‘It doesn’t feel like a banking hall or