Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Thinkin' about the Tron
The Tron was a mixed blessing. For a boy raised on the heady brew of Belgian choreography and American avant-garde cooked up in Tramway, I'd often nip up into town for a refresher in scripted work. Like many of the Glaswegian theatres in the early years of the century, The Tron had been done up thanks to millenial funding, but did suffer as a result.
Since I wasn't that bothered in those days - I had Latin classes to prepare - I didn't notice that the venue had a proud tradition, and that audiences had been undermined across the board by the year of refurbishment. It was only after a few years of running with the critics that I noticed how The Tron had a niche within the scene: less experimental than The Arches and Tramway, but supportive of new writers and sitting in the context of English language scripts coming from Scotland, England, Ireland and the States.
Arnold is an artistic director of vision. His enthusiasm for theatre that is both populist and intelligent has driven his annual Mayfesto festival and the promotion of premiers from around the world. After I didn't win the competition to discover new playwrights, I dismissed Open Stage as a gimmick, before realising that the actual winner, a tough drama about the First World War that echoed the vicious historical tragedies of Howard Brenton was exactly the sort of drama that I claimed could not win. The lesson is probably to trust Arnold rather than me.
The 2012 Autumn Season - this is written before it starts in earnest - gives a strong indication of where Arnold's interests have led the Tron. A National Theatre of Scotland presentation, My Shrinking Life, kicks off in September, swiftly followed by entries from Random Accomplice (Tron regulars these days), a return from Theatre Jezebel as part of Glasgay, an in-house production of Ulysses and a pantomime that has a definite Glasgewian patter.
Arnold is directing Ulysses himself: unsurprisingly, since he has a love of Irish theatre and many of the authors he has directed have their roots in James Joyce's respect for the mundane and fascination with the power of language. Dermot Bolger's adaptation of the novel may feel risky - an epic book of many pages and allusions, it acts as a text book for formal experimentation, a detailed examination of one man's life, an allegory for how the daily grind can have a mythical dimension and a handy doorstop - but it beats producing Joyce's single play, Exiles, a worthy yet predicable study of love and fidelity.
Next to the recent Greyscale/Stellar Quines co-production of A Beginning, A Middle and An End, and the upcoming Sex & God by Magnetic North (both in the smaller Changing House), Ulysses represents Arnold's belief in the importance of theatre that deals with Big Stuff. Ulysses is being promoted by a picture of a fecund Molly Bloom, rather than her husband's portly frame, suggesting that Bolger is dealing with the mysterious politics of sexuality that drive the hero's wanderings around Dublin. This is possibly the most earthy and sexy part of the novel - Kate Bush did a song about it on The Sensual World - and allowed Joyce to hang his reflections on location, isolation, exile and spirituality on a bawdy, entertaining tale of adultery.
It also got the book censored, and was helped to get it out through the agency of Jesuits.
If this ambitious main auditorium production announces Arnold's ambition, the various bookings - even in the Victoria Bar - reveal his intention to make The Tron popular and busy. Dorothy Paul is doing her one-woman show in October, Confab are presenting a mixture of Roma song and dance and STG are doing one of their highly entertaining A La Carte evenings. There's even a chance to sketch cabaret artists at the end of every month.
My ancient prejudices against The Tron - a mixture of snobbery and tunnel vision - might not have been reasonable, but they did at least grasp what The Tron has come to be about: the power of a good script, an enthusiasm for theatre that entertains while having a serious intention and a wide variety of companies. It also does a very nice cup of coffee and has wi-fi in the bar, meaning that it is a likely place to find me in the afternoons.