As Edinburgh’s TRAVERSE THEATRE celebrates its 40th anniversary, we trace its journey through three buildings and endless creative ideas through the people who were there. Interviews: Steve Cramer
The Traverse was founded on love . . .
JIM HAYNES, co-founder of the Traverse, 1963, and artistic director, 1964—66
‘I got the four storeys of this old building just off the Royal Mile from Tom Mitchell [an eccentric stetson-wearing millionaire from Yorkshire. who owned a rugby league club] and he agreed to rent it to me for a shilling a year — I‘ve still got the document. The truth is. we were both madly in love with actresses. so it seemed a good idea to start a theatre. I'd been using my bookshop as a theatre since 1960. but here we had a fully- fiedged building.
‘lt’s hard to narrow down all the people we worked with then. but I remember reading a couple of plays by (‘P Taylor and writing to him in Newcastle saying: "Write whatever you want. you‘ve got a theatre.‘ and he produced some great work. And I'm still in touch with (‘harles Marowitz. who produced stuff no one had ever seen the like of before. Then there was Jack Henry Moore. the designer and director. He was openly gay at the Traverse at a time when you really malt/11'! be openly gay. I remember Steven Berkoff drifting in to see the place. He walked in and I handed him a tray of drinks to distribute. He took it pretty well and wrote about it in his autobiography.‘
. . . and sick
STANLEY EVELlNG, writer, 1965—
‘l was once sick on Max Stafford-Clark in rehearsals. That was good. but he didn‘t think so. The first Traverse was an amazing place. You could only get about ll people in. and they weren't too comfortable when they sat down. But you could do whatever you wanted. We really were in the middle of a cultural revolution when it started.
‘I remember in l‘)72 we did a play of mine called Caravaggio Bar/(Iv During rehearsals the actors all fell out with the director. Michael Rudman. and refused to show him anything about their performance. We really didn't know what was going to happen and l was terrified. When the first night came. they were brilliant
Ian Holm was leading. and I’ve rarely seen
anything like it in the theatre. I also remember
Mike ()ckrent creating the most enormous and beautiful set I‘ve ever seen. it collapsed on the actors as they came on for the first night.~
You didn’t know who you’d meet at the Traverse
RUSSELL HUNTER, actor, 1969—
‘II must have been l‘)7l. l was actually playing James llogg in a festival show at the Lyceum. when I got called to show tip in ftill costume at the Traverse one night. I didn‘t know what they were tip to. but I went down. I was having a
drink with Billy Connolly. who I'd known for
some time. when the penny dropped — someone came tip and said Menuhin‘s here.
‘1 went out to the courtyard and there was Yehudi Menuhin. I asked him why he'd come. and he said: “Because they asked me. and they sent a white Rolls Royce." Marvellous! Anyway. (‘onnolly had given me a line to introduce him. I said: "This is a musical item by that great Scottish fiddle player Yehudi Macliwan.~
'He laughed. got a Stradivarius out from under his silk suit and played for seven minutes under a big umbrella in the pissing rain in the courtyard. There were people hanging out of all the windows and standing crammed into the corners. It was a fantastic night.
‘At the first Traverse was also the first time I ever saw someone roll a great big joint in public and share it with friends. It was very frowned upon in those days. but at the Traverse it was just part of the chat..
But it made you love Edinburgh - and nudity UNA MACLEAN, actor, 1989—
‘I realised that there was a heart to lidinhurgh when I worked at the (irassmarket. Until then. I'd done shows at the Kings and the Lyceum. but never really stayed around in the city. It was a lovely place to go to work. but it had Preservation Hall right behind it. with all the rock bands playing there. Sometimes. just as the show started. they‘d open their back doors. and
there‘d be a terrible noise. Someone would have to run tip Victoria Street and ask them to please close their doors.
‘Just a few years back. Russell and I did a trilogy called family. For the publicity shot they had us posing apparently nude. with Russell standing behind me barechested and me cut off just above the nipples. During the run. two prominent Scottish television actresses. who I won’t name. showed tip. In the first half they sat right in the front row. then in the second they moved further back. After the show they told us they were very disappointed. as they thought we‘d be nude in the show! They asked if we only did it nude on the opening night. Really. what do people show tip for.”
Although some nudity should not have been permitted
IAN BROWN, artistic director, 1988-96
‘I think the biggest and most stressful adventure was the move from the (irassmarket to the new building. As the ribbon was cut. there were still workmen in the building. and we got our theatre licence at 6pm on the evening of the first performance. If it hadn‘t been for our chairwoman. Sheena McDonald. who worked so hard in getting the building and dealing with all the shenanigans that went around it. I don't know what would have happened.
“I remember a roasting hot festival night in the (irassmarket. There was a one-man show in the old studio theatre. It was so hot that The Guardian's critic Nicholas de Jong — he’s mellowed now. but at the time I must admit I found him the most odious theatre critic — actually took his shirt off during the performance. I mean. you should make yourself comfortable at the theatre. but really. it wasn‘t pretty.’
And today’s Traverse
PHILIP HOWARD, artistic director
'If you pick up the glass and look at it one way. you see a state of abject misery. with declining income. and articles in the press about the collapse of the Scottish theatre. This year we're facing our first ever real deficit. Now all that is true. but I find it impossible to be pessimistic about the Traverse. If you look through the glass another way. we‘ve produced all this great new work. and we‘ve stressed our identity as the home of new writing in Scotland. The writing is all the ballast. all the reserves we have — we don’t have money. But there's a tremendous energy produced by the conflict between a lack of reserves and the work we're producing. While that work it; going on. there‘s plenty to be optimistic about.
‘The mad. self-referential craziness of the old Traverse has indeed gone. We can't even afford to be the Traverse of the 70s and 80s anymore. when you could take a gamble and put on any old stuff. We don‘t have "the right to fail" anymore. But I don‘t mind being teased and criticised. I'm happy to admit that we might seem a bit New Labour to people. a bit too sleek with no rough edges. because in the great scheme of things. so bloody what — we're doing play after play. putting them on well and they work. We can only afford three full-scale productions for the coming year so we want them to be good.‘
Readings and events continue all year, culminating in the revival of John Byrne’s Slab Boys trilogy in November.
16-30 .Jan Roos THE LIST 17