Creative industry '
Scotland's most vigorous arts venue is back after a two- year refit. So what's new‘about Glasgow's TRAMWAY?
Words: Susanna Beaumont
PETER BROOK CALLED it ‘an industrial cathedral which connects art and humanity‘. And Tramway has a lot more than a nice Peter Brook compliment to thank Peter Brook for. Back in the late 80s. the Southside venue was redundant. After the Museum Of Transport moved out in 1986. it became a down-at-heel hangover from a past age and looked set for demolition.
Enter Brook. the world- renowned director who. in l988. was touring his nine-hour production of The Mahabharata. He was keen to tour to Britain. but no suitable venue could be found. That was until he clapped eyes on Glasgow‘s Tramway after an exhaustive search for sites with Bob Palmer and Neil Wallace. the pair who led the city through its Year of Culture 1990. With its bare brick and raw interior. it had just the quality of exposure and discomfort he was searching for. the same quality you find in his own down-at-heel Bouffes du Nord theatre in Paris.
With Brook’s inspira— tion behind it. Tramway metamorphosed into one of Europe‘s most vibrant contemporary arts spaces. Brook‘s own company has returned on several occasions to a venue that has played host to many of the world‘s greatest
practitioners from Robert Lepage
20 THE lIST 25 May—8 Jun 2000
to the Maly Theatre. from nva to Communicado. from Silviu Purcarete to Michael Clark.
A decade or so later. we find that ‘industrial cathedrals‘ are all the rage. The recently opened Tate
Modern is housed in a former
power station. Amsterdam‘s Westergasfabriek is a vast cultural centre in an old gasworks. the Baltic Flour Mill in Newcastle is home to visual art. and Glasgow's Arches. beneath Central Station. hosts clubs and theatre. Any industrial attribute is a stylish ‘period feature’ not to be tampered with. Yet 'I‘ramway. in all its vastness. could be a touch intimidating.
‘We wanted to make it Tramway does “at more inviting. make people take to
feel at ease.” says Peter
Richardson. an architect with brass l'ght f'tt'ngs 7.00. the (ilasgow practice or an expanse of fitted carpet
behind the building's refurbishment. To this end. the company has created a social space. dubbed ‘the street’. which runs the whole length of the building. l-lere will be a reception area and a bar.
As for fixtures and fittings. utilitarian is the name of the game. Strip lights. wooden floors and no fashion—driven fussiness. ln Tramway l. the main theatre space with a 620 capacity. site lines have been improved but the guts of the space are still on show. The same approach has been taken in the gallery space. The old tram lines still run across the floor and there has been no attempt to turn it into a conventional pristine ‘white cube‘.
Expect no fashion-driven fussiness after the refit
Richardson is a self-effacing sort of man. He quickly realised that Tramway was not a building to be messed with. ‘lt was really just a massive ease of tidying it up.‘ he says of the two-year long. £3m refit.
Rightly so. Tramway is Scotland's most vigorous and adventurous contemporary arts venue. yet it is the look and feel of the place that have made an impression on both its audience and visiting artists. A one-time tram depot built in 1895. it is a robust. no-nonsense building. Covering a vast area (the refurbishment has increased the floor space by a third) housing three main multi-functional spaces. It is not a building that would take kindly to brass light fittings or an expanse of fitted carpet. And it is Tramway"s rough and ready style of good looks that has been its saviour.
Another driving aim of the refurbishment was to open the stables. Reached by a ramp leading up from the ‘street‘. the stables were once home to packs of tram-pulling horses. Now converted. they provide seven studio spaces available for use by visiting companies and community groups. It‘s going to make all the difference in turning a sometimes intimidating building into a living, working space.
But the most pressing point is one Peter Brook never thought to address. As many a female visitor will attest. a trip to Tramway invariably raised the vexed question of public conveniences. Previously. it meant queuing for one of the portaloos situated at the back of the building. Those who developed a nostalgia for this ritual will be pleased to hear they are still in place. but — oh joy! ~ further toilets have been installed within the building. Tramway is indeed ready to take on the 21st century.