Traverse theatre set to move to new home

New venues: Traverse's Orla O'Loughlin. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

New venues: Traverse's Orla O'Loughlin. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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ONE of Scotland’s leading theatres could be set for a relocation after outgrowing its current venue, it has emerged.

The Traverse in Edinburgh has revealed it is exploring options for a new site after more than two decades at its current home off Lothian Road.

The venue’s artistic director, Orla O’Loughlin, told a BBC documentary marking 50 years of the theatre that it was “absolutely” time for another move for the venue.

Ms O’Loughlin was appointed two years ago to succeed Dominic Hill at “Scotland’s new writing theatre” after he left to take over the Citizens’ in Glasgow.

The Traverse has had two previous homes in the city since its formation by Richard Demarco and Jim Haynes in 1963.

Its current home is said to be inadequate, particularly during the Fringe, even though several parts of the modern building in which it is based, Saltire Court, are currently lying empty.

A major drawback identified by Ms O’Loughlin is a shortage of space to try out experimental work during the Fringe, when the Traverse is one of the major venues staging theatre productions in the city.

Stars to appear there early in their careers include Tilda Swinton, Richard Wilson, Alan Cumming, Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane, Billy Connolly, Forbes Masson, Simon Callow, Timothy Dalton, Ewen Bremner and Ashley Jensen.

Marc Almond, Blythe Duff and Bill Paterson have appeared at the Traverse during the Fringe in recent years.

Among the long-term options for the venue, which opened in July 1992, are understood to be a vast site earmarked for a new cultural hub near Edinburgh College of Art.

In the shorter term, the Traverse is looking at establishing a major “pop-up” venue during the Fringe which would be dedicated to emerging artists.

A major redevelopment of its current home is also being explored.

Sue Perkins, narrator of the BBC documentary filmed over several months behind the scenes, revealed that a move to a new venue was part of Ms O’Loughlin’s vision for the theatre, having “outgrown” its current home.

Ms O’Loughlin said: “I absolutely think it’s time. Quite how that is made manifest, there are a number of possibilities being explored.

“But certainly, the future is going to be about regeneration and change and the place reimagining itself.”

In a separate interview with the Theatre Voice website, Ms O’Loughlin said: “Anything is possible at the moment.

“I’m quite interested in the idea of a pop-up venue that moves around the city, just taking our work up and out a little bit more. We are at such capacity with the spaces that we have already.

“I’m quite interested in finding something a little bit more mobile and mercurial, that could maybe surprise people out and about.

“If you’re not someone in the know about where the Traverse is, we can be quite hard to find. We are slightly off the beaten track away from Bristo Square and that hub.

“At the moment, Traverse One and Traverse Two during the festival doesn’t feel the right time and place for giving people their first break and trying out something that is in its embryonic stages.

“There is an expectation that if you come to the Traverse you see something that is finished, well-formed, rigorous, crafted and ready.

“I’m a lot more interested in offering something that is a bit more live and dangerous.

“It’s about getting the real new blood in, giving people their first break and then being able to try something for the first time.”

Drama aplenty on the way to Cambridge Street

FINDING a new home for the Traverse could be easier said than done, according to The Scotsman’s chief theatre critic.

Joyce McMillan recalls lengthy “haggling and arguing” throughout the 1980s over where the theatre should move to before it.

And she said the inevitable focus on work being produced on stage at the venue meant a pop-up festival venue was the more likely proposition in the short-term.

The Traverse started life as a theatre club in a former brothel at James Court, off the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile, in 1963. It moved to a former sail-maker’s loft on the Grassmarket in 1969 and then to a purpose-built site on Cambridge Street, next to the Usher Hall, in 1992.

But the entire venue – built at a cost of £3.3 million to fill a notorious “hole in the wall” gapsite - is buried completely underground and has just two performance spaces.

Joyce McMillan said: “A theatre like the Traverse always has to be thinking about the future and this is clearly part of that process.

“If there are any plans I think they are at a very embryonic stage, although I have heard a bit about the idea of some kind of pop-up venue.

“The theatre is only really at over over-capacity during the festival, but it’s not an ideal building and does have some drawbacks, particularly the lack of any daylight and with some of the other facilities.

“It may be they are speaking to the council about a potential new site nearby, but I think any move would be a long-term thing. “I can remember all the haggling and arguing that went on in the 1980s. The Traverse spent a long time trying to move from the Grassmarket and they’ve not actually been in the current building that long.”

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