New plays by eight of Scotland’s most exciting young writers can be consumed in a single night at the Traverse this fortnight. Director John Tiffany and writer Duncan McLean discuss keeping it brief
with Andrew Burnet.
Andy Warhol promised a quarter-hour of fame to everyone: at Edinburgh‘s Traverse theatre. it's a more esclusive offer. Scotland's most fertile seedbed of new drama has assembled Sharp Shorts. a programme of fifteen-minute wonders by eight of the country‘s most happening young writers. all
performed by a busy cast of four.
The man behind the project is John Tiffany. assistant director at the Traverse since August “>95. Inspired by British Shorts a mixed bill of short films screened at the National liilm Theatre in London. be commissioned twenty of his ‘dream writers' to write scripts. "They fell into three categories.‘ he explains. ‘Actors who were also writers. novelists and new playwrights.‘ Among the actors were Alan Cumming. Tam l)ean Burn and Kathryn llowden. best known from the enduring Hora/age”; the novelists included Janice (ialloway. Kate Atkinson l
and Duncan McLean.
enjoy the process.‘
Duncan McLean: full speed ahead
‘They were all people whose writing we really I loved. who we wanted to draw in in some way.‘ says Tiffany. ‘Commissioning money isn‘t that abundant. and the writers might not want the pressure of a full commission on their heads. It would be great for Janice or Kate to write a full-length play. but they wouldn‘t do it without knowing they were going to
It‘s a useful exercise in the 'l‘raverse‘s stated agenda of promoting playwriting. but will it provide an
: entertaining evening'.’ After choosing and helping develop the most suitable scripts. 'l‘iffany is now directing them. Set and props have been kept to a minimum -~ in their place is a close collaboration with lighting designer Ben ()rmerod. whose own brand of wizardry will create eight distinct environments. Tiffany is confident the results w ill stimulate and satisfy. ‘\\'hen I saw Brit/sh Shorts l was amazed at how the audience responded.’ he enthuses. ‘and also at the experimentation that the writers and directors were playing with. in a fifteen-
For Duncan .'\lcl.ean
: lilac/alert and [tanker Man. Somerset Maugham
award-winner for his short story collection liar/set of , limgues. and former small-scale publisher who ‘ launched lr'yine \Velsh‘s career special opportunities. ‘lt‘s a good opportunity to do something really powerful.‘ he says. ‘ because in an hour-and-a-half—long play you can have outbursts and rants. but you always have to temper them with calmer moments and lyrical moments and ensemble pieces. With a short piece you can open at full speed and continue at full speed right through to the end.‘
McLean's contribution. ‘Rug Comes To Shuv' features the return of two unsavoury characters who first cropped up in Bur/sot ()l 'linretaas's "Three Nasty Stories‘. It’s a thoroughly unromantic brief encounter
: minute fornrat they felt as though they could do nrorc. which they wouldn’t have to sustain through a
author of the novels
the project creates
covering adultery. gatecrashing and urination. ‘You
have to lind characters who are just exploding with life.‘ says their creator. ‘And probably that means they have to be exploding with it in quite a negative way. because esploding with happiness onstage is a bit hard to imagine. So these two guys appeared in my head and started spouting off. and believe it or not. the whole thing has come out very funny.‘
Perhaps Sharp Shorts signals a healthy new
direction for Scottish theatre. currently making sluggish progress through the funding doldrums 'l’m not saying that just because people hay e written good novels they should autorrratically be welcomed into
the bosom of Scottish theatre] argues .\lcl.ean. himself no drama virgin. with five or \l.\ plays under his belt. ‘But you can't ignore the amazing explosion of fiction talent. and if theatre directors have any
sense they should get talking to these folk and get them involved.’ (in that basis. Sharp Shorts makes Perfect sense. (Andrew Burnett
Sharp Shorts. 'I'rairrw' ‘I‘ht’a/rt'. lz'tr’Irrhttre/t. l'ri .i/
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Taking off in a new direction: Graham Eatough
There’s a holiday romance on the luggage trolley, the customs man has gone ballistic, and the Spanish pair are messing up the conveyor belt. Indeed, the rehearsal room at Tramway has the feel of an international playpen, but this is all in a day’s work for Suspect Culture and their new devised show Airport, a co-production which not only embraces Glasgow’s Tramway and Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, but involves a trio of Spanish performers working alongside their Scottish counterparts.
‘lt’s considered ambitious to work with foreign performers, especially in Britain,’ says co-director and performer Graham Eatough. ‘But we’ve always seen ourselves as international. The piece developed out of ideas of communication and national identity, and how people perceive other nations’ cultures. That’s why we set it in an airport, which is a kind of limbo between countries.’
For Spanish actor Andres Lima Fernandez de Tom, who comes from a classical acting tradition, it’s a
chance to extend his range as well as crossing boundaries. ‘lt’s much more emotional working between Spanish and English,’ he says, by means of interpreter Emma Williams. Her task has been to mediate between nations and make sure there’s no confusion in theatrical intention. ‘Sometimes the precise meaning of something will get lost,’ she says. ‘lt’s my job to get the meaning of both the text and the physical style over. It’s fascinating, because you can be very direct in Spanish in a way that you can’t in
5 English, so things end up being much
Cross-border travelling and migrancy of one form or another are recurring motifs with Suspect Culture. Eatough’s co-founder is playwright David Greig, whose high public profile via his Traverse hits Europe and The Architect have led some to assume he’s the senior partner of the operation. Seeing Eatough in action in the rehearsal room, though, there’s no doubt of his capabilities. ‘The way we work, David concentrates on script, character and story, while I work on
performance style, staging and movement,’ he explains. ‘There’s a physical style we’ve been developing throughout our twelve shows which is to do with gesture. When we say it’s physical, it’s not about how high you can jump or how far you can stretch. We don’t want it to have that earnest quality that for instance some contemporary dance has.’
Future plans for the company include an ambitious three-year project based on cities (hatch), alongside outreach community work, just to make sure they don’t have their collective heads in the clouds. ‘We get lumped alongside other experimental companies, but our work is very accessible and our working methods are too,’ says Eatough. So the company’s taking off then? ‘We’re going in very good directions.’ High times indeed. (Neil Cooper)
Airport, Suspect Culture, Tramway, Glasgow, Wed 12-Sat 15 June; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 19—Sun 23 June.
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