Save The Ramshorn – Plays New, Rare and Immersive

I’ll start with an update on our campaign – a lot has happened in two days.

The Ramshorn hasn’t been singled out by Strathclyde University, we’re being closed as part of a wider policy to rid the University of cultural activities and concentrate on its core mission which seems to be ‘keeping students away from anything that isn’t maths, engineering or science’. The poor things are going to be attending the dullest university in Europe. The University’s lifelong learning programme will have lost the three things most likely to appeal to a wider public and bring them back into education – namely The Ramshorn (an accessible theatre), The Collins Gallery (where tickets for the Ramshorn can be purchased and some wonderful Scottish art viewed in welcoming surroundings) and the musical directorship of Alan Taverner, a respected musician who has introduced classical music to a wide range of new and established audiences. The Tuesday lunchtime concerts held at the Ramshorn will be a great loss to the Merchant City.

Our petition has over 1000 signatures, but we still need more (links at the end of this post). On Twitter we’ve been retweeted many times – we even trended in Glasgow, so many people were using our hashtag #SaveTheRamshornTheatre. I’m particularly thrilled to see support from professional theatre companies like Paines Plough (no theatrical snobbery here) and from writers and actors in other parts of the world who realise the importance of local arts no matter where they are.

The press have been kind to us (though more coverage is desperately needed), we’ve been featured in the The Herald, The Evening Times and on Clyde Radio, and Glasgow University’s student paper The Glasgow Guardian has reached out to us (updates as and when). Celebrities have voiced their concerns on our behalf. The actor Peter Capaldi has said he’s alarmed and upset by the decision to shut the Ramshorn, that ‘STG and the Ramshorn Theatre are a vital part of Glasgow’s rich cultural history. To abandon them now is not only to abandon our past, but our future’. Ian Wainwright, the producer of the RSC’s Open Stages Programme, which we were due to collaborate with next year in a production of ‘Coriolanus’ said the closure of any theatre is sad, particularly one which was so close to the heart of those who use it. And the composer James MacMillan has denounced the cuts as amounting to vandalism and ‘a disgrace’.

The support is out there, we only need to focus it.

In the meantime I’d like to blog about ‘what the Ramshorn means to me personally’ – a run through of some of the productions I’ve seen or been involved in that are highlights for one reason or another, along with other things I know the Ramshorn should be cherished for.

I’ll start with seeing a show. The ticket prices are the best in Glasgow. In twenty years we’ve rarely charged more than £10 (even for a show by an outside company), and any show can be seen for free if you join STG (only in recent years have we had to charge an annual subscription of £20/£10) and volunteer to do Front of House (meet and greet the audience, show them to their seats, sell programmes, make announcements etc). FOH duty isn’t only economical, it’s one of the rituals that makes us feel like an unconventional family, rather than a rarefied clique. Start off with us and The Tron, Arches, Tramway and Traverse wont seem so daunting (and if the Citizens has missed you, you’ll find a kindred spirit there too).

Then there’s our resemblance to Theatre Workshop. In my childhood and early teens all my information about theatre came from BBC documentaries (which tended to be retrospectives on big names like Noel Coward or Alan Bates), ITV documentaries (well the South Bank Show really – plus the occasional celebrity interviewed on Des O’Connor Tonight who might be appearing in a West End hit like ‘Cats’) STV documentaries (which mostly contained clips of the Edinburgh Festival and the early years of the Traverse which seemed to solely involve Malcolm Rifkind being youngish and Sean Connery walking down a road) and Paisley Library. Paisley Library was where I fell in love with theatre – or rather where I fell in love with the brooding picture of Harold Pinter on the back of those 1960s blue methuen paperbacks of his plays, and with the autobiography of Joan Littlewood (with an equally inspiring picture of Joan on the back, looking like a cheerful midget docker).

Susan C. Triesman had the same hat as Joan Littlewood in her later years, and I’m sure (although I’ve never actually asked) roughly the same politics. STG sets looked like Theatre Workshop sets (a bit shabby but still aiming for modern symbolism rather than a perfect paper-mache reproduction), our actors seemed like the same mix of types, some proper working-class, some well-educated, some suburbanites like me, our productions fell into the same categories, new (written by our members), middle-England favourites (like the Importance of Being Earnest), comedies and farces, Shakespeare, local plays (instead of Cockney – although we did have Cockney, Susan being a Londoner – we had Granny Glasgow, a term coined by our bar manager, a floor show unto himself, Mr Paul Cassidy, which is the Urban working-class West Coast equivalent of shows with lots of crofts and tartan and Edinburgh lawyers), and lastly and mostly we had the kind of modern, difficult, obscure or brand new British, American, European and World plays that you couldn’t see anywhere else. It was absolute gold dust.

If I mentioned all the shows I loved you’d still be reading this ten years after you started – so I’ll confine myself to the five (God! Just five!) that shaped my thinking the most.

One. ‘In Flame’ by Charlotte Jones, directed by Maggie Lovell. We staged it in 2002 and it was the first production I’d helped out on (though I’d been a member since 1998). It was written by a woman, was poetic and slightly fey, involved romance, caring for the elderly, the local past and the present, and seemed like a good omen that the things that matter to me could be interesting to a theatrical audience. I remember the anxiety of getting all the props together (which has made me think about props everytime I write a play – half thinking I must make it easy – and half thinking, that if I ever make it as a writer, I’m going to put in something bloody difficult). I was involved in the set changes, of which we had too many, I remember one audience member sighing ‘God, them again’ as we trotted in during the blackout to change a rug. You learn a lot if you eavesdrop.

Two. ‘Blasted’ by Sarah Kane, directed by Peter Lamb. This was staged last year, in 2010. Sarah is the only modern playwright I’ve loved so much that I couldn’t waste time searching for a second hand copy of their work and had to risk starvation (I’m chubby, I’d survive) to buy a new copy immediately from Waterstones. She makes me wish I wasn’t a murky combination of optimistic and cynical but had her purity of vision. A bad version of ‘Blasted’ would have made me cry, as it is, this good version made me cry. Peter captured the tenderness, the despair, the angry rebellion and the resigned reconciliation perfectly. It also contained full-frontal nudity, and I realised I’m the kind of person who hides behind their hair during sex scenes but will munch sweets while someone gets their eyes eaten out.

Three. ‘Tales of Hollywood’ by Christopher Hampton, directed by Bruce Downie. Staged in 2008, and based on the life of the Austro-Hungarian playwright Odon Von Horvath. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, its centre in Vienna, was almost the exact opposite of Scotland. It was Catholic, directly Imperial with its own monarchy; its repression and despair came from a different direction to ours, and yet that only makes it easier to identify a structure of feeling in common – the modern world is casting us adrift. Played by Robert Radcliffe, Odon was all cheekbones and world-weary affection & he made me want to decline elegantly in Hollywood before getting killed by a random falling tree branch. The intense and heartbreaking performance of our very own resident diva Frankie MacEachen made me grateful that I’ve escaped the worst of social prejudice and self-destruction.

Four. ‘The Slab Boys’ by John Byrne, directed by James Keenan. Staged in 2010. For all sorts of reasons. The cast were talented and passionate. The play is witty and full of energy. It’s set in Paisley, the town I was born in. The set used the walls of the theatre and our real backstage door. The director makes everything he does seem like a celebration of being alive (I mean, he might cry himself to sleep at night and get in a moody strop with his relatives – but I’ve never seen it). John Byrne himself came to the theatre to watch and ended the evening with a q & a. Susan and our set were featured in Newsnight Scotland. It seemed like a rare, long-overdue, and miraculous public triumph.

Five. The Crucible by Arthur Miller, directed by Mark Coleman. Mark is a brilliant director, though I’m not sure he knows it. Everything about this show was minimal and intense. I remember the stage being bathed in vivid red. The seating was in-the-round. There was no pretence. Every decision was honest and clear. The lead actor was so committed I remember he ate the most disgusting prop meal I’ve ever seen. The scenes were ritualistic, like the before, after and during of a funeral procession; the shrieking of the girls became like the shrieking of gulls, natural, part of this place, but manipulated, the way man manipulates so much. Yet none of it was dry or dusty. It had emotion.

And here’s where I cheat.

I adored ‘Measure for Measure’ directed by Pat Williams, her interpretation made Mariana’s scheme to marry Angelo comprehensible. ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ directed by Susan Triesman made me root for the lovers Beatrice and Benedick as well as making me understand that Shakespeare’s comedies aren’t an ordeal, once you stop rolling your eyes at the punning and the clowning, and start listening to the wisdom and the romance.

‘Language Roulette’ by Daragh Carville, directed by Bill Wright was a tough little drama that gave me a rare insight into ordinary life, parallel to the troubles, in Northern Ireland (although for some reason I can’t stop thinking of the author as the lead actress, the short, pretty Marianne Boyle, instead of the slightly burly man he is).

‘Winston Churchill’s Neck’, directed by Andrew Townsley, was a madcap-serious, devised piece about life on the Glasgow buses in the 1970s. It was semi-scripted, a leisurely paced, coming-of-age, day-in-the-life, but I can still picture every scene long after most well-known classics have been buried in my memory, and hearing ‘Don’t Give Up On Us Baby’ by David Soul will forever take me back to the works canteen.

And finally ‘Terry Pratchett’s Mort’ adapted by Stephen Briggs, directed by Neil McDonald, a rip-roaring fantasy where I regularly plunged actors into darkness while I struggled to master the angel of death that was the strobe light.

And of course a hundred others.

(spelling mistakes will be corrected when my computer stops creating them).

 Please sign our petition : http://bit.ly/edjTSc

Blasted by Sarah Kane, directed by Peter Lamb
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