SEEN from across the river, late at night, Glasgow’s huge new 13,000-seat arena the Hydro can look like some glowing alien mother-ship, just arrived from a distant planet.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that just a year after its launch, it has given birth to a whole new life-form in Glasgow entertainment and taken Scottish theatre into previously uncharted regions.
The stadium version of the television comedy Still Game, which ended its run at the Hydro last Saturday night, played an astonishing 21 performances at a venue where even major rock stars expect to play for only two or three nights; and in the course of its three-week run, the show was seen by more than 210,000 people, more than a quarter of the population of the city. The venue’s commercial partners, SSE and ScotRail, threw themselves into the spirit of the event, transforming the local station into a version of “Craiglang”, the mythical Glasgow community where the Still Game characters live. And the economy of Glasgow’s new West End, out along the Clyde, received a huge boost, with bars and restaurants packed.
“It really was something completely beyond our ken,” says the actor Gavin Mitchell, best known to Still Game fans as barman Boaby, of the Clansman Bar. “None of us in the cast had anything to compare it with, and the response on social media was huge. It really was a very strange combination of this huge, hangar-like space, and a very, very intimate drama that people know so well from television, and that feels very close to them. So the collision between the two seemed to create a kind of explosion of recognition from the audience; and it was actually a very, very warm feeling.”
It’s unlikely that the Still Game show would have created such a buzz around Glasgow, though, if it had not been so skilfully crafted, by director Michael Hines and his team, to work well in the giant space of the Hydro. There were huge screens projecting the live action to the audience as it happened, a pre-show film of the actors in make-up sessions, and plenty of cheeky panto-style breaking of the theatrical “fourth wall” as characters chatted to the audience; and the whole show raised some intriguing questions about what it actually was – was it theatre, television or film, panto or sitcom, or some strange new hybrid, never seen before?
“It certainly was a new experience for us as actors,” says Mitchell. “There’d be moments when you’d be acting away, and you’d suddenly look at the front rows of the audience, and you’d think, ‘they’re not looking at me, they’re looking at whatever’s on the screen.’ So it was a unique combination of stage and camera technique, and we got better at handling that as the run went on.” There was also the sheer scale of the response, the huge, slow roar of a crowd that size – Greg Hemphill, the show’s writer and creator with Ford Kiernan, said that it was like steering a huge ocean liner, playing to laughter on that scale.
As for whether there’s any other possible show that could bring a similar size of audience to the venue, John Langford, the Hydro’s director of live entertainment, isn’t sure. “We’re just delighted with how this has gone,” says Langford. “We thought we were pushing our luck when we first signed up for just seven performances of Still Game; yet the tickets just went on selling and selling, and we ended up with this amazing run.
“So let’s just say I think it’ll be a while before the Hydro runs 21 performances of anything again. But there’s certainly an appetite for local comedy; we’ve just signed up Kevin Bridges for 11 shows in the autumn of 2015. So we’ll see how that goes; and if another Still Game comes over the horizon – well, we’ll be absolutely thrilled.”