Sunday, 23 October 2016

23 Questions for October 23rd - What the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh's Board of Trustees need to answer on the day they close Inverleith House

1 - Would the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's Board of Trustees agree that Inverleith House is a major international public artistic asset?

2 – If so, could the Board of Trustees explain why they have chosen to close Inverleith House down as a contemporary art gallery without notice?

3 - Could the Board of Trustees clarify what Creative Scotland's explicit expression of 'disappointment' with the Trustees' decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary artspace without notice might refer to?

4 – Given that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a publicly funded body, could the Board of Trustees provide the minutes of the meeting at which the decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery took place, presumably at the Board's quarterly meeting on October 5th 2016?

5 – As a publicly funded body, could the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's Board of Trustees also provide a list of all those in attendance at the meeting where the decision was taken?

6 - Given that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Inverleith House are public assets directly funded by the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland, could the Board of Trustees clarify what level of public consultation was undertaken prior to their decision?

7 - Could the Board of Trustees also clarify who contributed to any public consultation?

8 – Could the Trustees also clarify where any information collected by any public consultation is published as is required by law concerning any public body?

9 – Creative Scotland's 'disappointment' at the decision taken by the Board of Trustees suggests that Inverleith House is at no financial risk in the immediate future. Can the Board confirm that is the case?

10 – It is a matter of public record that Creative Scotland awarded the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh some £80,000 project funding for four projects at Inverleith House during 2016/17. The projects were British Art Show 8, a thirtieth anniversary exhibition, a publication and the writing of a Strategic Report to provide recommendations for the sustainable future of Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery between 2017-2021. Could the Board of Trustees clarify what recommendations were made for the future of Inverleith House in the Strategic Report?

11 - If the recommendations contained within the Strategic Report were that Inverleith House should continue as a contemporary art gallery, can the Board of Trustees clarify why they did not vigorously pursue these recommendations, but instead chose to close the building as a contemporary art gallery instead?

12 - Could the Board of Trustees clarify what was meant by the phrase quoted in the Herald newspaper and attributed to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's Regius Keeper that Inverleith House is unable to “wash it's face” financially?

13 - Given the use of the phrase, does the Board of Trustees regard the public assets of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Inverleith House solely as a business?

14 - Could the Board of Trustees clarify why Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Inverleith House staff have been advised not to speak to the media?

15 - If Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Inverleith House staff were to speak to the media, could the Board of Trustees clarify what the consequences of such actions would be?

16 - Could the Board of Trustees clarify why the Strategic Report for the publicly funded Inverleith House and paid for by public money from Creative Scotland is being withheld from public and press scrutiny?

17 – The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh received substantial amounts of National Lottery funding in 1990 and 2003 for the upgrade of Inverleith House specifically in relation to the building's status as a contemporary art gallery. As the Board of Trustees has stated that Inverleith House will no longer function as a contemporary art gallery, will the change of use mean that at least £143,000 worth of National Lottery funds given to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will now be returned?
18- If the Board of Trustees does not intend returning at least £143,000 worth of National Lottery funds granted to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in relation to Inverleith House's specific status as a contemporary art gallery, given the intended change of use of the building, could they clarify why this is the case?

19 – Could the Board of Trustees clarify what future use for Inverleith House is planned, provide costings and clarify the financial advantages of this option, alongside any accurately costed options for alternative uses of the building discussed at the meeting of October 5th 2016?

20 - Could the Board of Trustees confirm if any discussions have taken place in respect of any proposals to convert Inverleith House into a hotel, wedding venue or other commercial use?

21 – There has been a widespread sense of outrage and dismay generated in response to the Board of Trustees' decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery, both among the artistic community and the wider public who the Board of Trustees are accountable to. Would the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's Board of Trustees agree that those who took the decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery are responsible for a major act of cultural and civic vandalism caused by their actions, and which undermines the international importance of Scottish art?

22 – If the Board of Trustees does not agree that those who took the decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery are responsible for a major act of cultural and civic vandalism, in what ways do they believe the decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery is of any benefit to the public?

23 – If the Board of Trustees does agree that those who took the decision to close Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery are responsible for a major act of cultural and civic vandalism, could they clarify in what ways they believe those responsible for the decision to close Inverleith House as a gallery are in any way fit for office?

Product, October 23rd 2016


Friday, 21 October 2016

Grain in the Blood

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Sacrifice is everywhere in Rob Drummond's brooding new play, co-produced here between the Tron and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, where it visits following its Glasgow run. It's there in Andrew Rothney's near silent figure of Isaac, on compassionate leave from the prison he's been rotting in since he attempted to bring life through death during harvest time in his rural home years before. Now he's back, and with John Michie's stoic prison chaperone Burt watching over him, it's his twelve-year old daughter Autumn who needs saved. Isaac's mother Sophia would do anything to see Autumn survive, as would Frances Thorburn's Violet, who would kill to replace her own lingering loss.

There's an eerie sense of foreboding that looms large in Traverse artistic director Orla O'Loughlin's production that is ushered in by Michael John McCarthy's cracked chamber folk score. Even at it's most sombre, however, Drummond's script is peppered with grim one-liners delivered mercilessly by Blythe Duff as Sophia and John Michie's stoic Burt with barely a deadpan glance.

At the play's brutal heart, however, is a revelatory performance by Sarah Miele as Autumn, who carries the play right to the end, taking control of her own and everybody else's destiny with a premature wisdom beyond her years. This helps her see through all the hand-me-down hokum so much clearer than everybody else in such an unsentimental fashion. Even so, Autumn enjoys the ritual as a game as much as she does the fateful round of Truth or Dare at her birthday dinner. It is here the knives really come out in a dark tale where broken lives continue come what may.

The Herald, October 24th 2016


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Kai Lumumba Barrow and Eric A. Stanley - Arika - Episode 8: Refuse Powers' Grasp

When the Arika organisation started out as producers of experimental music festivals, their
work on Instal at the Arches in Glasgow and later Kill Your Timid Notion at Dundee Contemporary Arts broke the mould in terms of bringing major international left-field musicians and sound-makers to Scotland.

As the artistic landscape shifted, the ground Arika occupied opened up for a new generation of sonic explorers to put on their own events, perhaps inspired by some of the veteran acts they'd seen at Instal and Kill Your Timid Notion. As more experimental music festivals grew up around them, Arika moved beyond sound to consider the social and political forces that gives art its meaning.

The end result has been a series of weekend-long Episodes, in which Arika have hosted various provocations, discussions, performances and screenings which create a dialogue where art and activism meet in a kind of counter-cultural salon.

This weekend, Episode 8 – Refuse Powers' Grasp, looks at ideas that stem largely from the idea of the prison-industrial complex. The term was first coined by veteran black civil rights activist Angela Davis in the title of a speech she gave in 1997 which became the basis of her book of the same name. It refers to how prisons are used as an ideological tool in which oppressed minorities are invariably incarcerated more than a privileged majority. This is particularly the case in relation to queer, black and trans people.

Refuse Powers' Grasp brings together an international array of thinkers, artists, writers and performers to square up to the forces that attempt to cage such minorities as they argue for progressive alternatives to prison.

One of the highlights of Episode 8 looks set to be a presentation by Gallery of the Streets, a radical performance troupe led by director, activist and prison abolitionist Kai Lumumba Barrow, which uses everyday spaces as sites of resistance.

In Glasgow, Barrow will work with local groups to oversee an open rehearsal for her ongoing development of (b)reach: The Fugitive Chronicles. With the title drawn from Marge Piercy's 1976 feminist science-fiction novel, Woman on the Edge of Time, the show is a black queer retelling of Percy's story about a former prisoner committed in a mental hospital who begins to communicate with a being from a utopian future. While totalitarianism and other of society's ills have been wiped out in that future, the death penalty remains in place.

“We are going to be doing an experiment,” says Barrow, who since the 1970s has been at the forefront of abolitionist grassroots organising in the United States. “We're looking at a model for social change, working with our bodies to visualise and verbalise our stories concerning state violence, and doing that in a collaborative way.”

Barrow's activism includes co-founding Critical Resistance, a prison abolitionist organisation co-founded with Angela Davis and others. Barrow has worked with numerous other grassroots organisations, including the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, the Black Panther Newspaper Committee and Queers for Economic Justice. She formed Gallery of the Streets in 2010, and, using Black Feminist Theory as a jumping off point, has created temporary site-specific installations in collaboration with marginalised communities directly affected by existing hierarchies. The open rehearsal for (b)reach is the first stage of a much longer project that Barrow aims to complete by 2020.

“I've been trying to organise forms and ideas into something we're calling the praxis of imagination,” Barrow says. “I'll be using multiple artforms that work together to create a single story, and through all this, looking at how the imagination can be used as a tool for liberation.”

Also appearing at Episode 8 will be Eric A. Stanley, who, as well as being an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, co-edited the 2011 anthology, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, which has recently been republished in an expanded second edition by AK Press. Along with Chris Vargas, Stanley directed the 2006 film, Homotopia, and this year the pair made Criminal Queers, which will be screened at Episode 8.

Criminal Queers is a campy film we made with no budget over a ten year period” says Stanley. “It's quite funny, as probably most people who are in the film are going to be at Episode 8, but the film is a humorous way of looking at serious issues.”

Captive Genders opens with a foreword that looks back to the Stonewall riots that took place in 1969 after the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, was raided by police. The book brings together writing by current and former prisoners, activists, academics and others in an attempt to understand how race, gender and sexuality are played out and defined by the prison-industrial complex. In this way, the book highlights a sector of society whose struggles with incarceration are rarely seen in mainstream media.

“A lot of mainstream LGBT organisations have never thought critically about imprisonment,” says Stanley. “Mainstream LGBT politics has a disavowal of LGBT people who are incarcerated.”

One of the most high-profile trans figures currently imprisoned is Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Soldier who, as Bradley Manning, was court-martialled and sentenced to thirty-five years in a military prison after disclosing almost three quarters of a million classified military documents to WikiLeaks. Manning has written a chapter for the new edition of Captive Genders.

“Unfortunately,” says Stanley, “Chelsea Manning could spend the rest of her life in prison. She's a horrific example of all the things prison can do to you - a microcosm of what thousands of people are going through right now.”

Episode 8 – Refuse Powers' Grasp runs from October 21st-23rd at Tramway and The Art School, Glasgow. Full programme details can be found at

Product, October 2016

Where The Crow Flies

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Three stars

The baby won't stop crying and scary men are shouting obscenities through the letterbox at the opening of Lisa Nicoll's curiously creepy new play produced by the Glasgow-based In Motion Theatre Company. Graffiti is sprayed across the walls of Carrie's house, and rubbish is rotting in the summer heat in the back garden. Just to add insult to injury, Emily has moved in next door, and is already invading Carrie's space enough to make her paranoid.

The cause of Carrie's siege mentality is her husband's imprisonment for a crime he says he didn't commit, and the bad lads left on the outside who say he did. Emily may not be in league with them, but she has a few secrets of her own, largely to do with her absent daughter Annabel.

Beth Morton's production begins with a kitchen-sink style set-up that looks at two very different women living alone with their pain, then lurches into psycho-thriller territory before Carrie and Emily come out the other side seemingly unscathed. This makes for an oddly overloaded seventy minutes that at times resembles an unholy alliance between Mike Leigh and Ken Loach if they'd worked on Tales of the Unexpected.

Keira Lucchesi and Angela Darcy invest an edgy humour into their respective portrayals of Carrie and Emily in a show that tours Scotland this month as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Commissioned by the Scottish Government backed Sense over Sectarianism initiative and developed with women from Blackburn in West Lothian, Morton's production shows off the bonds that form between this oddest of couples as they learn how to survive together.

The Herald, October 20 2016


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Inverleith House to Close as a Contemporary Art Gallery

It has been confirmed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh that Inverleith House, contained within its grounds, will no longer be used as a contemporary artspace. This comes after thirty years as a gallery, in which, under the curatorship of Paul Nesbitt, Inverleith House became a pioneering venue that showed early work by many Scottish artists alongside a bold international programme which has consistently sat alongside a parallel programme of botanical-based work.

Inverleith House has also presented more exhibitions by Turner Prize winners and nominees than any other gallery in the UK apart from the Tate Gallery in London. The gallery's current exhibition, I still believe in miracles... closes this weekend on October 23rd, after which the building's future is uncertain.

In a statement released on October 18th, RBGE said that 'After considerable consideration the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) has accepted that, in the interests of prioritising its core mission To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future, it must be pragmatic about the overall diversity of its wider commitments.

'As part of this, Inverleith House will no longer be dedicated to the display of contemporary art, and RBGE is looking at options for the alternative use of the building. RBGE will continue to use both the overall setting of the Garden and other existing indoor spaces to engage our visitors with art in the Garden environment. No member of staff will lose their job in the adjustment. The intention is very much that we intend to retain our reputation as an art venue across the board, be it for botanical art, illustration, performance, photography, sculpture and contemporary art.'

The statement went on to say that 'Through this change the organisation will remove the various inevitable financial risks attached to running a high-profile gallery. It will also free-up resources to concentrate more fully on its scientific and horticultural research and conservation work and provide greater scope to encourage public engagement with the environment.'

RBGE's decision comes two years after Inverleith House was unsuccessful in its bid for three year regular funding from Scotland's national arts funding body, Creative Scotland. Along with its predecessor, the Scottish Arts Council, Creative Scotland has supported Inverleith House's exhibition programme with £1.5m of public funding between 1994 and 2016. This includes an annual sum of approximately £80,000 of Flexible and Open Project funding for exhibitions, plus a capital award of £148,453 towards the cost of up-grading the provision of visitor facilities at the Inverleith House Gallery made in 2003.

Built in 1774 as the family home of Sir James Rocheid, Inverleith House was a part of the Inverleith estate sold to become the Royal Botanic Garden around 1820. In 1877, the House and its surrounding land was gifted to the Crown for the due purpose of extending the activities of the Royal Botanic Garden and for the enjoyment of the public. After restoration work following a fire, the building became the official residence of the RBG's Regius Keeper.

From 1960, Inverleith House became the inaugural home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and in 1970 was given category B listed status by Historic Scotland. It opened in its current guise as an exhibition space managed by RBGE in 1986, with Nesbitt appointed curator.

It was arguably Nesbitt's vision that put Inverleith House on the map as an artspace, as he opened the House and its unique light up to a series of exhibitions by major artists that the two tranches of National Lottery funding received to upgrade the building, first in 1990, then in 2003, would arguably not have been forthcoming.

Artists who have made solo exhibitions for Inverleith who have won or who were nominated for the Turner Prize include Douglas Gordon, Richard Wright, Callum Innes, Jim Lambie, Cathy Wilkes, Karla Black and Mark Leckey. In 2012, Luke Fowler was nominated for the Turner for his show at Inverleith House. Other Scottish artists of note who have shown at Inverleith House include include Lucy McKenzie and Ciara Phillips. The list of artists showing work in I still believe in miracles...., reads like a Who's Who? of internationally renowned contemporary Scottish artists. The exhibition also features botanical drawings, plant models, and teaching diagrams from the garden’s archive and the Linnean society in London.

Other botanical-based works seen at Inverleith House include John Hutton Balfour’s Botanical Teaching Diagrams in 2003,The Dapuri Drawings in 2002, Stella Ross-Craig's Drawings of British Plants in 2001 and Rungiah and Givindoo's South Indian Botanical Drawings.

Edinburgh-based artist Alec Finlay, whose work has frequently been seen in outdoor environments, and whose father, Ian Hamilton Finlay, currently has work on display in I still believe in miracles... stated that 'It will be a matter of concern to the entire art community and audiences alike that the distinguished thirty year tradition of exhibiting art in what is commonly acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful venues in the UK is under question. The ability of the curator, Paul Nesbitt, to select artists suited to the graceful proportions of the building and the wonderful light has gone hand in hand with his ability to work with peers exhibiting botanical art. While RBGE is not responsible for provision in a way that conventional art galleries are, the tradition it has established is a precious reality.'

In response to RBGE's announcement, a Creative Scotland spokesperson said 'We are very disappointed that the Board of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (RBGE) have taken the decision to cease operating Inverleith House as a dedicated contemporary art gallery. Over thirty years, under the stewardship of Paul Nesbitt, Inverleith House has built an international reputation as a place where contemporary art is curated and presented to the highest standards and in a truly unique setting. The importance of the gallery, alongside the work of Paul and his team, to contemporary visual art and artists in Scotland cannot be understated and its loss will be profoundly felt.
We understand the financial pressures that RBGE are under, like other publicly funded organisations. However, we would have hoped that the value that Inverleith House brings to the gardens, to the public, and to Scotland as a space for art and creativity could have been better recognised and result in a different decision. We look forward to hearing more about the plans for the wider exhibition programme in the Gardens. This decision by the RBGE Board precedes the publication of our Visual Arts Sector Review which, while highlighting the significant successes and strengths of visual art in Scotland, also underlines the challenges the sector faces and the barriers that prevent it from achieving its full potential.'

The List, October 19th 2016


Clipper – Maid of the Seas

On December 21st 1988, Pan Am flight 103, a Boeing 747 named Clipper Maid of the Seas, which was making a regular trip from Frankfurt to Detroit via London, fell from the air over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie, in Dumfries and Galloway. The aeroplane's 243 passengers and sixteen crew members were killed by a bomb placed inside a suitcase stored onboard the aircraft. As the plane careered into residential areas of Lockerbie, eleven people on the ground were also killed.

Passengers on the flight included Paul Jeffreys, onetime bass player with Steve Harley's Cockney Rebel, and poet Joanna Walton, a former girlfriend of Robert Fripp who had written lyrics for Fripp's 1979 album, Exposure, and who had coined the term Frippertronics to define Fripp's tape-looping techniques.

The subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Libyan national Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, followed by his release from Greenock Prison by the Scottish Government in 2009 on compassionate grounds has mired the tragedy in a controversy over who exactly was responsible for the bombings that remains unresolved today.

In Lockerbie, the event obviously left its mark on everyone, including then eighteen year old Malcolm Irving, a small-town indie kid weaned on John Peel's late night radio show.

It was on Peel's programme, in fact, that Irving first heard reports of this calamity so close to home. Back home in Dumfrieshire while on a break from college in Edinburgh, he was a mere fifteen miles away.

Later, in Edinburgh, Irving would go on to form indie noiseniks Cupid Mount Etna, who were regulars at the city's Cas Rock venue in the mid 1990s. Irving also ran the short-lived Colon Blast label, which released a 7” by Cupid Mount Etna, and a cassette compilation of Edinburgh bands, Capital City on its Knees.

Twenty-eight years after the disaster, Irving and the band of fellow travellers he's christened Clipper have released Maid of the Seas, a suite of musical responses to Lockerbie that are an elegy to the events themselves, but which also sound like a more personal purging.

The opening title track sets the tone with a funereal piano-led instrumental overture, over which David Rosenthal's flute seems to soar throughout the record. Insistent low-end guitars suggest the roar of an aircraft itself before actual jet engines segue into Breaks The Morning Light, a country-tinged slowcore lament, in which Irving's doleful vocal sets down an initially innocent sounding prologue.

Similarly, December Song takes an old-school prom ballad framework and fuses its festive croon with local references that are peppered throughout the record. Dryfe Sands. Copshaw Holm. Tundergarth. Solway. All Irving's mystical-sounding playgrounds now sullied by falling debris.

The names sound even eerier when offset by the more far away yet still more familiar JFK, Washington and Trafalgar Square.

Katie's Knowe references the hill where the plane's cockpit fell down, and it can't be a coincidence that, as Rosenthal's flute twitters high above it, the song's chorus lifts the melody from the John Denver-penned Leaving on a Jet Plane, which became a hit in 1969 for folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, and was later used in TV ads for United Airlines.

Captain MacQuarrie is a sad little portrait of the plane's pilot, which, like Autumn Leaves that follows, fuses Americana with Caledonian musical sensibilities. In the latter, voices howl over a lazy twang that wouldn't sound out of place in a David Lynch film. In what sounds like a noirish investigation in the undergrowth, the record's first mention of al-Magrahi offers little hints of conspiracy.

The Water of Milk, named after a burn that runs close to the River Annan, has a 1950s cop show feel that continues the detective work, focusing on the iconic aerial photograph taken the day after the crash. The female flight attendant found still breathing by a farmer's wife, but who died shortly afterwards is there too.

The Mediterranean exotica of Mary's House moves the action to the shop in Malta that gives the song its name. It was here where the clothes in the suitcase containing the bomb were bought.

All the detail here can be found in books and a multitude of newspaper reports from the time, and Irving has clearly done his homework. But if a casual listener might be unaware of the record's full back-story, each song and the album as a whole still stands up. The narratives here, after all, are akin to hand-me-down murder ballads that mythologise even as they mourn the dead.

Up until this point, Maid of the Seas has been a thing of slow-burning melodrama and brooding ambiguity. Yes, there are politics at play in each of the meticulously crafted miniatures, just as there were in the bombing itself and even more so in everything that followed. But Irving is never hectoring, preferring to paint impressionistic thumbnail sketches of events, in which journalistic observations are laced with understated poetic barbs of opinion.

The last two songs on the album are where things finally crack open to vent more explicitly inclined spleen. Somewhat appositely, The Ballad of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi isn't a ballad at all. Rather, it’s a propulsive waltz-based dervish of a song. Here, Gordon Kilgour's loose-limbed drumming and Colin Seditis' loping bass patterns come into their own over Alan Cloughlie's psychedelic organ sounds, while Rosenthal's flute sounds like it's flapping about looking for an escape route.

With Jonathan Kilgour's stabbing lead guitar pattern running throughout, the final Cancer is the Killer is accusatory in tone before itself exploding into the distance, leaving only a raging calm on this vital musical evocation of an international tragedy that even now leaves a myriad of unanswered hanging in the air.

Clipper launch Maid of the Seas with a performance of the album in full at Leith Depot, Edinburgh, October 21st, 7.30pm. Maid of the Seas by Clipper is available at

Product, October 2016

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Elliot Roberts - Grain in the Blood

When Elliot Roberts saw writer and performer Rob Drummond's show, Bullet Catch, at the Arches in Glasgow, he never thought he would end up working as assistant director on a new play by the prolific writer and performer presented on the main-stage of the Traverse, the world-renowned Edinburgh-based new writing theatre. Three years on, however, and Roberts has been installed for the last few weeks on Traverse artistic director Orla O'Loughlin's production of Drummond's play, Grain in the Blood.

This co-production with the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, where it opens this week, finds Drummond putting a noirish thriller into a rural landscape where a prodigal's return home to an isolated community steeped in local folklore raises moral dilemmas about personal sacrifices made for a greater good.

For Roberts, his tenure on Grain in the Blood also marks a breakthrough for the young director and former dramaturgy student at the University of Glasgow enabled by a bursary initiated by the Saltire Society Trust. The £3,000 bursary has given Roberts the opportunity to work as assistant director of Grain in the Blood for a full nine weeks, and forms part of a wider programme of support which will see the Saltire Society supporting a variety of young artists in the early stages of their career with £50,000 worth of backing from the independent charity.

“It's the perfect opportunity for me to gain a bit of experience,” a quietly spoken and erudite Roberts says. “My background is equal parts directing and dramaturgy, which both come from the same impetus and skill-set, and which hopefully help writers tell their stories, and obviously the Traverse has a big reputation as a theatre that works exclusively with new writing, so experiencing the range of what goes on there has been really important.

“I've been working with the literary department, and getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of how that works, but there's so much I can learn as well from being in the rehearsal room, hopefully becoming more confident with the various processes, as well as learning first hand more about what makes the Traverse tick.”

The role of an assistant director covers many bases, and can, one suspects, be a hugely different experience depending on the personality of both the organisation and the artistic director an assistant is working under. Given that both O'Loughlin and the Traverse have a long history of collaborating with artists to nurture developing talent, however, Roberts' experience has been a fruitful and stimulating one.

“It's covered quite a lot of different things,” he says. “A lot of it has been about doing as much research about the world of the play as we can, and being able to answer questions about the background to the characters and what we do or don't know at any point in the play. It's also a very flexible and collaborative role, and I've been able to offer my eyes onto things when Orla might want a different perspective on things.”

Originally from Cambridge, Roberts was attracted to drama from an early age.

“I was drawn to the idea of telling stories,” he says, “but out of all the different ways of telling them, what appealed about theatre was the fact that it happens live and in the moment, and when it works, you feel witness to something special. When you're watching something like that, it's as much about what isn't said as what is, and where a perfectly realised silence can say as much as a perfectly pitched line. That's one of the great things about watching actors.”

Prior to moving to Glasgow, Roberts studied drama at Hull University.

“Hull is getting all the praise and attention I thought it should have been getting years ago,” Roberts says, referring to the city's forthcoming tenure as UK City of Culture 2017. “When I first went there I was told that there was a queue at 8.30 in the morning when the drama department opened, and that they had to chuck people out at 11 O' Clock when it shut, and that was the sort of place it was. That's the sort of place I wanted to be, where everyone was enthusiastic about what they did because they believed in it. It was the same in Glasgow, and it's the same at the Traverse as well, and that makes for a really intoxicating atmosphere. Otherwise, if you don't believe in something, what's the point?”

Roberts started coming to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, performing in a short play about Everyman one year, working as a technician the next, and doing a placement as a dramaturg with the Third Angel company the year after. He moved to Glasgow in 2013.

“It seemed like somewhere with a vibrant theatre scene,” he says, “and coming up allowed me to see a lot of Scottish work.”

Since graduating from the University of Glasgow in 2014, Roberts has worked as an assistant director on Ophelia at Oran Mor as part of A Play, A Pie and A Pint and other companies. Roberts is also a core member of the Glasgow-based Leylines Theatre company, and worked on their production of The Giant and her Daughter, which was staged at Govanhill Baths as part of the city's Southside Fringe, and as part of a special programme for Refugee Festival Scotland.

“Leylines isn't just about putting on new writing,” he says, “but is looking at storytelling skills in communities. The last thing we did was called Ley Night, and was an event where people sang songs or told stories in a way they might not have had the confidence to do before.”

Beyond Grain in the Blood, Roberts says he has no immediate plans, “though what I'm hoping the bursary will help me to do is expand on the work I've been doing at the Traverse, and as both a director to continue conversations with particular writers and directors and see where that leads. Again,I have a strong feeling that I only want to work on pieces I believe in.

In terms of theatre that might have had an influence on his own work, Roberts points to Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, director Stewart Laing and writer Pamela Carter's meta-theatrical extravaganza disguised as a monologue produced by Laing's Untitled Projects company.

“I was hugely inspired by that,” says Roberts. “It was incredibly clever, with this huge amount of visual detail, but it was also very affecting.”

Grain in the Blood too appears to be leaving its mark.

“This is really quite a special offering from Rob,” says Roberts. “My first experience of Rob's work was seeing him do Bullet Catch, but this is so different. It's meticulously written, like watch machinery, with all these delicate components that make it tick, and if you removed one then the whole thing would fall apart. As a play it looks at this really tricky moral dilemma about what we would be prepared to sacrifice, and bringing all of these aspects of the play together in the way that Rob does is really striking. It's a real emotional tug of war of a piece. It has all these dramatic twists and turns in there, and it does them excellently.”

Grain in the Blood, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 19-29; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 1-12.

The Herald, October 18th 2016