REVIEWS By Willard Manus
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND--The Phantom of the Opera would be right at home here.
Glasgow's Central Station is one of the UK's main railroad hubs, a vast, high-vaulted building teeming with life--trains arriving and departing, loudspeakers barking news, people rushing this way and that, vendors hawking their wares.
Things are just as busy and productive beneath the station, thanks largely to the entrepeneuriship of Andy Arnold, a British-born director/producer whose vision and drive have turned Central Station's underworld into an arts paradise called The Arches.
Once a dark, damp, gloomy patchwork of caves, corridors and storage rooms that only a rodent or ghost could call home, The Arches is now centrallly heated and lit and plays host to bars, restaurants, discos, exhibition halls, art galleries and theatre companies. On any given evening, hundreds and even thousands of Glaswegians, mostly on the fair side of forty, can be found here, enjoying a varied night life that rivals anything on the continent.
The transformation of Central Station dates back to 1989, when Glasgow was getting ready to assume the mantle of Europe's City of Culture. British Rail, owners of the property, decided to mount an art exhibition in one of its underground spaces. Arnold, who had worked previously at Edinburgh's Theatre Exchange and London's Bloomsbury Theatre, was asked to also set up an adjoining theatre space.
"The exhibition was a disaster," he recalled in a recent interview, "and both spaces were shut down in a mess. But I saw the potential and went to British Rail and asked for permission to try and develop the site. BR was only too happy to let me come in, at a rental of 70,000 pounds a year (about US $1l0,000)."
Arnold got half that much from a city fund and made up the rest by opening various clubs featuring local bands and DJs. "The clubs helped us pay our bills--and still do, ten years later. We also used the income to build a 100-seat theatre and began to put on plays."
Arnold, who once visited the USA on a fellowship to study theatre business models, depends on a mixture of grants and self-generated income to keep The Arches humming. "Our small restaurant breaks even, but the cafes and bars, plus the live music scene, make the money that allows us to do theatre."
Presently, The Arches has 40 fulltime staff and 50 part-time.
The theatre has a fulltime stage manager, p.r. person and costume designer. The actors and all other crew are jobbed in. Most of the actors are local, with the occasional addition of performers from Edinburgh or London. Actors are paid the Equity minimum of 285 pounds a week (about US $317).
"Glasgow's a great theatre town," Arnold said. "Unlike Edinburgh, which draws a large audience only during the three-week Festival season, Glasgow audiences turn out year round and support many different companies."
A dozen of those companies work under an umbrella arrangement with The Arches. "We give them space, rehearsal rooms, technical and marketing assistance," he explained. "Because many of these companies are experimental--they do a lot of visual, dance and performance pieces--we keep our fees low, enabling them to survive on a shoestring."
In its early years, The Arches' physical condition was on the primitive side--it remained a cold, dark, somewhat forbidding place. But when the funding and cash flow began to tally, Arnold was able to install modern lighting and heating. Today, The Arches is warm, brightly lit and full of good vibes. Music throbs eveywhere, there's chatter and laughter in the air, and activity on all sides.
The Arches now operates on two floors, with elevator access between the ground floor and the basement level. Ramps and toilets for the disabled have been built and the studio theatre can accomodate wheelchairs. Subway, bus and train lines all connect to Central Station and there is a Quality Hotel on the premises.
Arnold himself produces "four and a half" plays a year in the theatre, each one of which has an average run of three weeks. "I have a preference for irreverent, anarchic works," he admitted, "but we occasionally do something naturalistic. For our tenth anniversary last year, we did a production of O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, and it was so successful it transferred to Glasgow's Citizen Theatre for a long run." (Starring in that production, by the way, was Arnold's actress wife, Muireann Kelly).
Although The Arches concentrates on works by Scottish and British playwrights, Arnold is proud of the fact that he has introduced John Patrick Shanley and David Mamet to Glasgow. "We did extremely well last year with Shanley's The Big Funk," he said, "and that's why we scheduled his Four Dogs and a Bone this year."
Shanley's biting Hollywood satire was teamed with a little-seen Tennessee Williams 17-minute vignette, Lord Byron's Love Letter. Arnold directed both plays, which were distinguished by their top-level acting and stagecraft (especially the lighting and atmosphere created for Love Letter). The actors also managed credible southern accents.
Coming theatrical attractions include visiting productions of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maidens, Patric Prior's On Our Way to Lisbon, and Alfred Jarry's Ubu the King. Also on tap are video, audio, dance and performance pieces, plus artists' forums, actors' warm-ups, comedy shows, music quizzes, theatre design workshops, folk and dance recitals, not to speak of such rock bands as Grandmaster Flash, the DAP Kings, Xpress 2 and Mr Scruff.
The Arches is also used for corporate meetings and fashion shows.
The Arches is located at 253 Argyle St. Visit www.thearches.co.uk or call 0901-022-0300.
FREAKS by Iain Heggie combines outrageous satire and farce in portraying
contemporary sexual politics. Set in the Scottish training center for
Costly Coffee, a multinational enterprise headed by Marlon O'Donnell (Callum
Cuthbertson), a gleefully rapacious self-made millionaire, the play not
only lampoons Marlon but his dim-witted offspring Ronana (Brian Ferguson,
doubling as Ronan's American alter ego, Brad) and several of his employees.
Key to the action are Whitney Colqhoun (Gabriel Quigley), Costly Coffee's
horny and ambitious instructor; assistant manager Celine McAnsespie (Julie
Austin) and her lover, Jarvis Hood (Paul Riley), a self-described "logo-naked,
fully downsized and serially monogamous eco-warrior" who opposes
CC's plans to become a company of multi-national, globalized importance.
Based loosely on Marivaux's Double Inconstancy, LOVE FREAKS is a comedy of bad manners. In trying to sort out their twisted needs, Heggie's characters constantly make fools of themselves. All principles and notions of fidelity and loyalty go by the wayside as they scheme and scratch for sex, money and power.
Heggie, whose previous plays include King of Scotland and Wiping My Mother's Arse, has a masterful command of Glaswegian working-class humor. A wickedly witty and irreverent writer, he writes pungent dialogue, but he has allowed it to be spoken so broadly as to be near-incomprehensible to a non-native. If I hadn't been given a published copy of the play (Methuen paperback), I could not have written this review. Heggie and his director (Graham Eatough) should perhaps consider being less provincial next time around.
Tron Theatre, 63 Trongate. For upcoming attractions call 0141-552-4267 or visit www.tron.co.uk