Edinburgh trams play to make drama out of crisis

Playwright Joe Douglas seeks inspiration for a new production at the Traverse Theatre. Picture: Jane Barlow
Playwright Joe Douglas seeks inspiration for a new production at the Traverse Theatre. Picture: Jane Barlow
Share this article
Have your say

A PLAY that tells the story of Edinburgh’s troubled trams project through the words of the city’s put-upon residents is to be staged later this month.

Bloody Trams, which will be staged just weeks before passenger-carrying trams return to the streets of the capital for the first time since 1956, could be a “catharsis” for residents who have waited more than a decade for the project to be completed.

The Traverse Theatre, in Edinburgh, has announced a “rapid-response” piece on the trams which many critics believe made the city an international laughing stock. The cost of the trams project more than doubled. Currently five years behind schedule the route will cover a much smaller area of the city than originally envisaged.

Extracts from real-life interviews on the project, including dozens carried out on the streets of the city, will be weaved together to create a script which will be performed later this month.

The show – commissioned less than three weeks ago – is being developed by Glasgow-based theatre director Joe Douglas.

The production – which will be shaped in just three days by Douglas, pianist-composer David Paul Jones and two actors – is billed by the Traverse as a “rough, ready and urgent” response to “one of Edinburgh’s most contested and emotive debates over the last decade”.

Bloody Trams was partly inspired by another “verbatim theatre” piece Douglas saw more than a decade ago about the longest siege in British history, when a gunman in Hackney was at the centre of a festive stand-off with for more than a fortnight.

However, Douglas, who grew up in Manchester as a fan of the city’s own tram system, said he had been both frustrated and confused over what had gone wrong in Edinburgh, and felt “something other than just concrete has been ripped out of the city”.

He told The Scotsman: “The idea for the show first came about a couple of years ago when I was doing a show at the Fringe and was coming through an awful lot from Glasgow.

“I remember coming out of Haymarket station one day and was just confronted by all the tramworks. I just couldn’t really believe how much they had invaded the city. Whenever I came back to Edinburgh, they still seemed to be there.

“I had friends who lived in town and heard all their frustrations. It seems to have been such a disruptive influence to the whole city, I just figured there must be lots of stories out there and people who want to share their experience.

“The more I looked into it, to try to find out how and why it had happened, there didn’t seem to be an awful lot out there. I read that there was supposed to be a public inquiry happening at some point in the future, but nobody ever talks about it now.”

Edinburgh City Council’s transport leader Lesley Hinds said: “The trams have inspired lots of artistic responses and this play sounds like an interesting and topical project. It would be good to see a second instalment once the trams are actually up and running, too.”

The Traverse is urging anyone who would like to contribute to the show to get in touch with Douglas via his Twitter name @UtterJoe or the #BloodyTrams hashtag.

Bloody Trams will be staged at the Traverse Theatre on 19 and 20 March.