Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Hamish Pirie - Leaving The Traverse

When Hamish Pirie arrived at the Traverse Theatre in April 2012 to take 
up the post of associate director under then recently arrived artistic 
director Orla O'Loughlin, one of his first tasks was to stage a 
verbatim reconstruction of both a daily meeting of the Occupy movement 
and the weekly bunfight of Prime Minister's Question Time in 
Westminster. While Pirie had started his new job just three days before 
the public presentation of Tim Price's script, he rose to the occasion 
with an event that set a stamp on a tenure that has gone beyond purely 
text-based work.

Almost two years on, and as he prepares to depart the Traverse for 
pastures new, it's clear that this was the case whether it was 
directing radical comedian Mark Thomas in his very personal solo show, 
Bravo Figaro!, or another collaboration with Price called I'm With The 

Inbetween these two Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows came Quiz Show, Rob 
Drummond's devastating and timely study of a young woman coming to 
terms with a past that echoed real life headlines. Beyond these 
full-scale productions, Pirie took on a myriad of projects. These 
include playing a key role with the Traverse 50, in which fifty writers 
developed work throughout 2013. Then there is an ongoing directors 
programme, which gives young directors the opportunity to work with 
Traverse writers and hone their own skills in the rehearsal room.

With assorted readings, lunchtime plays and other performances for the 
theatre's Write Here festival of new writing under his belt, no wonder 
actress Imogen Stubbs, who Pirie directed in the Donmar Warehouse's 
Olivier nominated production of another Tim Price play, Salt, Root and 
Roe, described Pirie as being “like Jamie Oliver after fifty-five 
double espressos."

“I'm obviously very sad to be leaving,” Pirie says of his forthcoming 
departure, “but I'm also excited about both the work that I've done and 
the work that's still to come. I was very happy to start at the 
Traverse at the beginning of Orla's tenure, when she was just starting 
to put her artistic stamp on things, and that's been a real thrill, and 
a real learning opportunity for me, but now seems the right time for me 
to leave and try something else.”

Pirie's restless spirit has paid dividends since he first arrived at 
the Traverse with a pedigree that included stints as assistant director 
at Paines Plough, then run by former artistic director of the National 
Theatre of Scotland, Vicky Featherstone, and with the Donmar.

In 2008, Pirie worked as staff director on John Tiffany's production of 
Black Watch with the NTS. Given such already established connections 
with Featherstone and Tiffany, one wouldn't be too surprised to see 
Pirie work with the current artistic and associate directors of the 
Royal Court Theatre in London in the near future.

Pirie has also worked as a creative associate at the Bush, and has 
directed mainly new works by the likes of Jack Thorne and Chloe Moss at 
venues as diverse as Soho Theatre, the Arcola, the London Eye and at 
the Latitude festival. Pirie was an associate director on Shrek The 
Musical, and, given the range of his work, it comes as no surprise to 
discover that he once worked for a comedy promotions company during the 
Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This led directly to an association with 
Mark Thomas for his show, Extreme Rambling, seen in Edinburgh at the 
Bongo Club prior to a UK tour.

“That was initially quite daunting,” Pirie admits, “because Mark is a 
bit of a hero of mine.”

The success of Extreme Rambling led to Bravo Figaro!, in which Thomas 
looked at his relationship with his father.

“Mark is so rigorous in his investigations of things that he does on 
this sort of gonzo journalistic style,” Pirie observes, “but he'd never 
investigated himself before, and that was really exciting.”

Pirie has recently returned from Seoul in Korea, where he and Rob 
Drummond watched a rehearsed reading of a Korean language version of 
Quiz Show at the Doosan Arts Centre as  part of a cultural exchange 
that also saw Pirie direct Korean work.

“I think it went down really well,” Pirie says of the Quiz Show 
performance. “The audience seemed to really connect with both the 
concept and the topic of the play. Some of the parallels obviously 
don't work, but the presentation of a woman being taken advantage of in 
the way the play deals with seemed to really connect. I was sitting 
there listening to it, obviously not understanding a word, but watching 
the audience go through the same process that the audience in Edinburgh 
did, where for the first ten minutes everyone's having a great time. 
Then someone pulls a gun out, and there was exactly the same sense of 

In his remaining time at the Traverse, Pirie will direct two of the new 
season's lunchtime plays in association with Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie 
and A Pint initiative, and will continue to work with young writers and 

Pirie's successor, Emma Callander, is already in post, and, as 
co-founder of the politically tinged Theatre Uncut series of hot off 
the press events that have featured in the Traverse's Fringe programme, 
looks set to continue Pirie's energetic, can-do approach.

“The brilliant thing about work in Scotland,” according to Pirie, “is 
that there are no rules about what theatre should be. For a director 
that's a brilliant thing to come into. My job is to find the right form 
and the right tools to tell a story, and they're going to be different 
every time. There's a sense in Scotland as well of there being a real 
theatre community which has a completely open door. That makes for 
something really exhilarating to be part of, to tell stories that have 
never been told before, and to try and make them connect with 
audiences. When that magic, intangible thing happens, that's an amazing 
feeling. That's rock and roll.”

Tickets for the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh's Spring 2014 season goes 
on sale today.


Hamish Pirie at the Traverse

Demos – A verbatim piece that contrasted the daily meetings of the 
Occupy movement with Prime Minister's question Time that involved the 
audience in a dramatic exploration of what democracy can mean to 
different people.

Bravo Figaro! - Where political comedian Mark Thomas' solo shows 
normally focus on global events, this very personal work focused on his 
relationship with his opera loving father, who had been diagnosed with 
the degenerative disease, progressive supranuclear palsy. The show was 
awarded a Herald angel, and went on to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Quiz Show – Rob Drummond's first play beyond his own solo shows used an 
initially kitsch sleight-of-hand to explore a young woman's coming to 
terms with her mixed-up memories in a work that won the Critics Awards 
For Theatre in Scotland Best New Play award.

I'm With The Band – Tim Price's lively musical allegory about 
Scotland's forthcoming independence referendum put an Englishman, a 
Northern Irishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman in a band called The 
Union, and looked at what happens when the Scotsman decides to go solo.


The Herald, January 7th 2013


No comments: