Glasgow, Scotland


REVIEWS by Willard Manus


Playwrights' Studio, a wing of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, annually mounts a program of original short plays in such cities as Glasgow, London and Edinburgh. The plays feature RCS student actors and directors, many of whom have already worked professionally, as have the playwrights. 2011's bill included four plays, all of which I caught when they were performed at Glasgow's Tron Theatre.

First up were MOTHER MARIA by Ann Marie Di Mambro and SCAVENGERS by Davey Anderson. The former told the true story of Elizaveta Pilenko (India Crawford), an idealistic woman who fled the Russian revolution, settled in Paris and devoted herself to the caring of the poor and infirm, first as a social worker, then as a nun. Di Mambro captured Mother Maria's conflicted personality: compassion and saintliness mixed with an iron will and impatience. Ultimately, she sacrificed her life in a brave and noble attempt to help a bunch of Jewish children escape from the Gestapo. Thanks largely to Crawford's impassioned performance, MOTHER MARIA took on tragic dimensions.

SCAVENGERS was an entirely different kind of play: a smart, snappy morality tale about a property developer (Francois Menard-Noens) who gets in trouble when the real-estate bubble bursts. Michael loses everything and becomes so disoriented and distraught that he decides to fake his death and start over again in life.

Director Claire Moyer used a cinematic style and drill-team precision to tell this edgily satirical story about the avariciousness and shallowness of contemporary life.

Night Two fell off in quality somewhat. THE BENDS' hero was Adam (David Hooley), a man who wakes up thirty years after his death in 2011. Thanks to the miracle of cyrogenics, he's very much alive, but unfortunately has no idea who he is or where he's come from.

THE BENDS moved uneasily between realism and satire before it made its somewhat obvious point: that even in the afterlife, man needs love. The acting and directing were first-class, though.

LIBERTY EQUALITY FRATERNITY was a play in three acts, only two of which were performed at the Tron. Based on the true story of Tommy Sheridan, the young and charismatic leader of the Scottish Socialist Party whose career was wrecked when his secret life as a sex swinger was splashed across the pages of Rupert Murdoch's "News of the World."

As fictionalized by Pamela Carter (and director Deborah Hannan), the play opens in a swinger's club and spends 45 uneccessary minutes there, giving us the patrons' various reasons for liking anonymous sex. It's all very expository and dull. Act two was when the drama finally kicked in. It was set in a coffee shop, where Ian, the Tommy Sheridan character (Jayme Wojciechowski) is confronted by his Socialist Party comrade (Joseph Hawkins) who demands to know whether the sleazy accusations are true.

The full story of Sheridan's rise and fall is potentially powerful and relevant, dealing as it does with journalistic entrapment, the class war, the right of everyone, even politicians, to enjoy a sex life of their own choosing (as long as it is consensual).

There's a good play in all this, but Carter hasn't come close to writing it yet.

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A word on the Tron Theatre. It's run by Andy Arnold, who for seventeen years was executive director of The Arches, the hive of theatrical and musical spaces located beneath Glasgow's Central Station. (The Arches served as an air-raid shelter during WW II).

Arnold moved over to the Tron in 2008. "I always wanted to run a small theatre company," he said in an interview. "I have some managerial duties here as well, but I'm also able to direct 3-4 productions a year, and even do some acting."

Because the Tron has two spaces, a 230-seat theatre and a black box, Arnold is able to offer a range of plays and do educational outreach and cabaret shows as well.

"We mostly mount work by UK, Scottish and Irish writers," Arnold said in an interview, "but we've also featured plays by such American writers as Paul Rudnick and David Mamet."

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The Tron Theatre itself makes for an interesting story. The site has played a central role in Glasgow history dating back some five centuries, during which time it has been a Christian place of worship (both Catholic and Protestant), a meeting hall, a storehouse, a police station, and finally a theatre.

The area around the Tron was known as St. Ennoch's Gate. It was the hub of Glasgow's trade and a vital meeting point for merchants. The Tron Theatre recently celebrated thirty years of performances.

Forthcoming productions include: KES by Rob Evans; TALL TALES FOR SMALL PEOPLE by Gerry Mulligan; DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES by Owen McCafferty; EDWIN MORGAN'S DREAMS AND OTHER NIGHTMARES by Liz Lochhead (directed by Lochhead and Andy Arnold); CALUM'S ROAD by David Harrower; and MISTER MERLIN...A PURE MAGIC PANTO by Alex Norton.

(63 Trongate, Glasgow. 0141-552-4267,