During Rachel O'Riordan's all too brief three-year tenure in charge of
Perth Theatre before she departed the city's Horsecross Arts
organisation to run Sherman Cymru in Cardiff, she enlivened a theatre
previously seen as a solid but safe producing house with a series of
hard-hitting productions that could compete alongside any other stage
in Scotland. As the theatre prepared to close for major refurbishment,
O'Riordan also set plans in motion to keep Perth Theatre in the public
eye with several off-site initiatives.
The first fruits of this is Cross Country Stories, which consists of
two forty-five minute solo plays which will tour hotel bars in the
region in a pair of up close and personal productions overseen by Kenny
Miller. Face, written by by Peter Arnott and performed by Janette
Foggo, opens tonight at the Kinross Hotel with its female protagonist
opening up to strangers in a way she's not used to Alan Bissett's
piece, Jacquoranda, performed by Louise McCarthy, visits the same venue
next Tuesday as its eponymous heroine sets up a group therapy session
with a difference.
“It's very informal,” says Miller, who and has been drafted in my
Horsecross Arts as associate director for theatre. “Both plays have
been written completely around the idea of them being done in bars.
They're very low-spun and really in your face. Face is about a woman
whose mother has died, and who has a twin sister, who's completely
alienated herself from her while she's cared for her mother, and the
play is really about this woman's battle with herself. Jacquoranda is a
therapy session, really, about a man who comes up to this woman in the
pub, sees she's a lost soul, and gets her to give up drink, cigarettes,
drugs and everything that gets her through the day.”
While Cross Country Stories is something of a radical departure for
Perth Theatre and Horsecross Arts, a template of sorts was set up with
Tips, a short piece by Mary Gapinski which the writer, actress and some
time collaborator of Miller performed in Perth Theatre's Redrooms
space, where the National Theatre of Scotland's The Strange Undoing of
Prudentia Hart was also presented. As the nearest venue to the company
home, both Cross Country Stories shows will end their short tours there.
As a veteran directing and designing shows both great and small in
theatres such as the Citizens Theatre, where he cut his directing
teeth, to Perth, the Tron and Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint and
Classic Cuts seasons, Miller is aware of how spaces can be adapted to
suit a production more than most. Miller recognises too how much Cross
Country Stories fits in with an increasingly lo-fi aesthetic pioneered
at Oran Mor in a climate where no tradition of pub theatre exists in
the way it does in London, where function rooms are at a premium.
“We're really keen to explore that intimate kind of theatre Oran Mor
does so brilliantly,” he says. “Although the shows there still work
very much with a stage, which is slightly different to what Cross
Country Stories is doing, there's still a similarity.”
What audiences in the Green Hotel in Kinross and beyond will make of
the two plays remains to be seen, although those who don't live in
Perthshire but who are keen to see both plays can see a special Cross
Country Stories double bill in the Tron Theatre's equally intimate
Victorian Bar in Glasgow this coming Saturday night.
“I think some audiences may be surprised,” he says. “Our regular Perth
Theatre audience certainly weren't used to it, which is part of why we
brought in Mary to do Tips, but they loved it. Some of the places we're
going to certainly won't have seen this kind of theatre, and they
probably won't be used to having someone sit down at the table next to
them and start telling them a story. Maybe some people will just get up
and wander off, but I think if they stay they'll enjoy themselves.
These are both great plays which, in different ways, have ended up
having a kind of therapy theme to them, and there's really something
for audiences to get their teeth into.”
While Miller can't say too much about future plans for Perth Theatre
beyond Cross Country Stories, it's a fairly safe bet to presume that
the nearby Perth Concert Halls may be co-opted for larger productions
at some point. Smaller off-site fare on a par with Face and Jacquoranda
also look set to become company staples.
“Now we've started doing it,” says Miller, “we want it to continue.
Even when the theatre re-opens, we always want to have plays done
off-site and commit to that as part of our programme. Perth Theatre
isn't known for doing new writing, but new writing is something that I
think is so important to do and to get it out there in a way that we
hope to continue to do once the theatre re-opens. By doing Cross
Country Stories, we're making a statement that's saying that we're Perth
Theatre, we're still here, and this is the sort of work we might be
doing when we re-open.”
Face opens at the Green Hotel, Kinross on June 10, with Jacquoranda at
the same venue on June 17. Both shows then tour venues in Kenmore,
Pitlochry, Crieff, Blair Atholl, Dunning, Dunkeld and Perth. A double
bill of both plays takes place at the Victorian bar, Tron Theatre,
Glasgow, June 14. For full tour dates, see www.horsecross.co.uk
Twenty-first Century Perth – The future of Perth Theatre
With contractors now appointed, work on Perth Theatre's multi million
pound redevelopment is scheduled to start this summer.
As well as creating a 225 seat studio theatre, the newly transformed
venue, which aims to reopen in 2017, will have increased workshop
spaces for creative learning and community projects including Perth
The B listed Edwardian auditorium will be restored to its former glory
and there will be improved access and facilities for audiences and
The Perth Theatre redevelopment project has already been pledged £13.5
million from various funding bodies and partners.
The Herald, June 10th 2014