In the Mary Barbour Hall at the Pearce Institute in Govan, scenes are taking place of which the great women’s welfare campaigner would never have dreamed, although she might have enjoyed the show.
On stage is final year Royal Conservatoire of Scotland student Nima Sene, surrounded by a three-piece band, backed by troubling video images, and dressed in a style that parodies something that is itself a parody – the style of the drag queen, sending up exaggerated ideas of female sexual allure from a transgender perspective.
Her costume includes an amazing head-dress of giant, suspended acrylic flies, like a pantomime dame gone many degrees more subversive and questioning. She sings her own songs alongside weird, ambient versions of standards like Misty; and she finally leaves the stage like a queen, escorted by two of her male band members.
And this is just one of nine shows featured in this year’s RCS Into The New event, the annual celebration of the work of the Contemporary Performance Practice course; on one of four evenings, I also saw Jo Sharp with five other female members of her family, from grandmother to niece, exploring what might be said at her own funeral (she played the corpse with terrific comic flair), and David Gillan taking us on an unsettling journey through the magic of performance. The thematic preoccupations – family, gender, self-image, the mystery of performance – are familiar to anyone who has followed the work of CPP and the Arches in recent years, and perhaps a shade inward-looking; but the combination of gentleness and creative verve in the performances is impressive, and exhilarating.
Into The New isn’t the only showcase of young theatremakers’ work around, though, at a time of year when Scotland’s big theatre companies are traditionally quiet, and the rising generation have a chance to make themselves heard. The Traverse’s annual Class Act project, delivered over two nights last week in Traverse One, featured 30 brief plays by 55 young writers from five Edinburgh secondary schools, presented as always by a crack team of a dozen professional actors. The mood here was angry – sometimes furious – and satirical, with family featuring mainly as a series of cries of rage against bigoted or inadequate parents, and politics featuring as an object of surreal derision, as well as more subtle questioning – as in the gentle 1960s-set refugee play, Teeming Shore, by two young writers from Firrhill High School; although it will be another decade before we know whether the rebellious mood of these plays – and their strong sceptical interest in the past century of political history – simply reflects the age of the writers, or signals a real, exciting generational shift.
And then, on Friday night in the Traverse Bar, there was the Golden Arm Theatre Project, who have already wowed audiences in Glasgow with what they call “a gig like no other”. Essentially, GATP offers a full-on 100-minute set of songs by indie band Golden Arm, wrapped around four short plays inspired by those songs, and staged by Glasgow-based theatre group Blood Of the Young, who also become part of the band for the evening.
Given the quality of both the music and the writing – by Clare Duffy, Isobel McArthur, Isabel Wright and Meghan Tyler – this makes for an electrifying show, full of sad and witty reflection on were we are now both personally and globally, and driven by a pair of terrific front-line performances from actor-musician Kim Allan, and actor-musician-playwright Isobel McArthur. And if what is new here is not so much the people as the format, it still carries a real shiver of innovation: a refusal to accept that the fizzing energy of young theatre artists has to be tamed to a style that still alienates so many, and can never rival the left-field appeal of the indie music scene, where those who come together to resist the sadnesses and idiocies of our world so often find a home.