Our recent review of the new book on The Arches by Bratchpiece and Innes noted the great achievement of the work in showing how that institution was at the heart of a grassroots creativity in Glasgow. But before the internationally famed club came the prelude -the Theatre company that kept the Arches open and made it all possible. Raymond Burke has set the record right on this, collecting and introducing the story of the Arches Theatre through the words of the actors themselves. We publish in two parts: here is PART 1- the story goes on.
“Were You There?” is the opening line of Brickwork, the recently published biography of the Arches by David Bratchpiece and Kirsten Innes. “Yes, we were,” is the response of many thousands of people who attended the theatre and club over the years and the many hundreds who worked there. In fact the authors should be congratulated on completing the mammoth task of interviewing and gathering information from as many people as they did: journalists, critics, directors, designers, DJs, cloakroom attendants, bar-staff, stewards, box office staff – the list goes on. Even the cleaners get a namecheck. Oh, and a couple of actors. However, considering the book is promoted as being about the people who made the place, there is nothing about the team of actors who actually did make the place – artistically and physically. Despite its rather ironic title, the ‘Dramatis Personae’ that lists the many Brickwork contributors does not include any of the original Arches Theatre troupe. Although a few actors who appeared in later productions are included, the entire original team appear to have been given an exeunt omnes.
Andy Arnold was the Artistic Director of the Arches for nearly two decades. In the early nineties, before the Arches became the massive internationally recognised dance club, it was a small theatre left over from an exhibition amongst some dilapidated railway arches and kept alive by a small team of dedicated actors. One of Andy’s greatest talents was his unorthodox approach to casting; he was not shy of giving opportunities to the weird and wonderful of the entertainment world. These performers, placed within the unusual physical setting, became an essential part of the Arches theatrical experience; more so in the early days when non-existent budgets meant that the casts had to fill in the gaps, both onstage and off, by making their own set, props and costumes, cleaning toilets or running the box office. ‘In with the bricks’ would be the standard – in this case dramatically ironic – cliché. Some of these actors worked day and night for many months for little or no money to get the place going, so it can be understood how let down they were by the lack of acknowledgement of their contribution to the history of the venue.
The first couple of chapters of Brickwork skip rapidly past the original theatrical stories, and even Andy only refers to the original actors as his ‘little team’. As a mere banjo-playing handyman with an Equity card, I should perhaps consider myself lucky to have been included in a photo with Craig Ferguson, but the other actors who gave so much time and energy to get the place up and running, Lesley Davidson, Ross Stenhouse and especially Grant Smeaton, who was there from the very beginning, acting, directing and selecting shows for performance, surely deserve a little recognition.
Hopefully the omission was merely an ingenuous oversight. After all, the authors of the biography only appeared on the scene in the late nineties and early noughties, so would probably have no idea of the anecdotes and adventures from the genesis of the Arches, most of which took place whilst they were still at school. Therefore, rather than a criticism of the book, this should be regarded as more of an addendum. (Although, having said that, the very existence of this article raises certain questions regarding the acuity and depth of the research.)
In order to ‘re-point’ a few gaps in the Brickwork, as many as possible of the original actors were contacted along with others who performed there place in the early years. Sadly, some have passed away and others have gone off the radar or to Hollywood. Nonetheless, the following reminiscences and quotations will hopefully go some way to redress the verbal immurement of the hard work of several dedicated people without whom the Arches may never have survived beyond 1990. In the spirit of the DIY ethos – this is a history of the birth of the Arches Theatre by the people who were actually there.
1990 – GLASGOW’S GLASGOW
The Arches Theatre was first constructed as part of the Glasgow’s Glasgow exhibition. In 1990 Glasgow was European City of Culture and Glasgow’s Glasgow was the controversial flagship. The exhibition itself was a well-hyped damp squib, but the one popular element was the theatre company who performed promenade shows. At certain times during each day, all the piped music and sound effects were switched off and a troupe of actors would burst on to the scene in the middle of the exhibits to perform one of their fifteen minute shows such as The Story of St Mungo, Mary Queen of Scots and The Grave-robbers.
The original team were – Mark Saunders, Neil Herriot, Grant Smeaton, Ronan O’Donnell, Marie Claire McGuinness, Paula Macgee, Rosie O’Neill and Raymond Burke. When Neil and Mark left after a month or two, they were replaced by Tony Curran and Ross Stenhouse.
I had no real ambition of pursuing a career in theatre. I had done some am-dram stuff before and made a short film with Channel Four. But my main source of income had been from singing, “You can stick your Tory poll tax up yer arse!” with my band, Jacobilly Bush Box, busking in Buchanan Street. I went along to book a couple of gigs for the band at Glasgow’s Glasgow and bumped into Andy Arnold who was getting a group of actors together for the exhibition. We got chatting and he asked me to come and audition a couple of days later. No one was more surprised than me when I got the job.
Marie Claire McGuinness
My Agent, Karen Koren, put me forward. Meeting Andy Arnold was a tad mad as he was such an irreverent maverick. He had the ability to gather the oddest troupe of musicians and actors together and the rare intuition to actually trust his performers; that is his genius. It was magic.
Andy came along to watch Marie Claire performing in the Kit Kat Klub at Blackfriars, a comedy-cabaret show which we performed along with Ross Stenhouse and Kirsty Miller. After watching the show he offered me a job too.
One of the pieces we were given for promenade performances was about Shackleton because, apparently, his Antarctic expeditions were partially funded by Beardmore’s of Glasgow. (Tenuous or whit?) But, as the script was not up to the standard of the others, it was never used. However, as Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band had written some beautiful music for the show, I asked Andy if I could rewrite it and put it on. Of course, he said yes, and I had my first ever piece performed by professional actors. To be honest, it was a bit weird with carrier pigeons and Shackleton living in half an igloo with tins of beans and a half bottle of Bucky delivered from Glasgow, but the actors were totally game for it and Stanshall’s music was fantastic.
Marie Claire McGuinness
We devised and performed many rolling promenade pieces for the public. One fond memory is of playing Mary Queen of Scots in full boned costume (made by the wonderful designer, Graham Hunter) and being pulled through the crowds on a trap by Tony Curran and subsequently being let go because he saw a friend in the crowd. He sent me flying in the air landing on my back, on concrete. Thanks, Tony.
I had worked in the bookshop at Glasgow’s Glasgow, and although I knew Grant and Ross already that was how I got to know the other actors Burky, Rosie, Marie Claire, Ronan and Tony Curran -and of course Andy. The Glasgow’s Glasgow exhibition had its attractions, and was pretty good for families, but for everyone else it was the acting troupe and their ‘attitude’ that really made the life of the place.
There were tensions amongst the cast too. At a company meeting, out of the blue, one of the actresses decided to complain about Rosie McNeill having lines in the plays as she was only on a Musicians Union contract and not a member of Equity; in those days Equity had a bit of power. Andy went to the office to phone the union and sort things out. Rosie, who was a lovely person and a fantastic musician, sat there in a state of shock. The rest of us felt really awkward and were worried that she would have her lines cut or even be replaced. About ten minutes later Andy returned and said, “It’s all sorted. I’d like you to put your hands together for the newest member of Equity – Rosie McNeill.” (In those days every company could give out two cards each year.) We all cheered the bricks off the roof and the instigator was left sitting with a crinkly mouth.
THE ARCHES THEATRE
The first ever show to be performed in the theatre space was Clyde Unity’s, Will Ye Dance at My Wedding? by Aileen Ritchie and opened on 17 April 1990.
The theatre space was also at the disposal of the actors who were employed for the shows in the exhibition. They had three or four twenty-minute promenade performances per day, so there were very long breaks between. Consequently, a couple of slots were booked in so that the theatre space could be utilised for some evening shows. The actors would then rehearse these between the promenade performances.
The first official Arches Theatre Company show in the theatre space was Brian Friel’s, Freedom of the City which opened on 12 June 1990. It was directed by Paula McGhee and the three main roles were taken by Marie Claire McGuinness, Ronan O’Donnell and Neil Herriot, with Andy Arnold, Grant Smeaton and Raymond Burke filling all of the various minor roles between them.
The next Arches production, the first directed by Andy Arnold, was Andrew Dallmeyer’s Rudolf Hess – Glasgow to Glasnost with Benny Young in the main role.
Marie Claire McGuinness
During the Hess play the theatre was covered in bluebottles: a dead pigeon was eventually found in the arches below. The back wall in the theatre was like the Amityville Horror.
Grant Smeaton then directed the promenade team in Joe Orton’s, What the Butler Saw andalso took the main female role when Paula and Marie Claire declined the offer to take part. (They performed their own show, Talking Hearts in the space each evening after What the Butler Saw.) The action takes place in a psychiatrist’s office and we had no budget for a set, so I found a couple of old doors and built a skylight window frame. Ronan, was more of an artist and painted some large abstract shapes on some old sheets of wood to hang on the bare brick walls. After the show, a member of the audience asked if he could buy a couple of the artworks and Ronan took us all for a drink.
My first job in the Arches was with Fablevision in 1990. The show was Birth of the Egg with a cast made up of disabled performers from the west of Scotland. Gerry McLaughlin and I played demonic doctors lifting people from their wheelchairs and dragging them round the stage; this was before health and safety stuff – you wouldn’t be able to do it now. The Arches’ stinky brick tunnel was a perfect backdrop to the nightmare and the cast filled it with wails that echoed all round the walls. I remember flirting with a really good looking security guy with big blue eyes. He thought I was some kind of saint because every time he saw me I was helping one of the disabled performers to the bog.
Glasgow’s Glasgow was run as a private concern but subsidised by Glasgow City Council. There was a bit of controversy because the exhibition was getting so much support whilst the People’s Palace was being ignored. Glasgow’s Glasgow had promised to attract more than a million visitors during the year but, as the entrance fee was £4, the expected numbers never materialised. Eventually the entrance fee was dropped to £1, but the damage was done. Financially, it was a disaster and gradually the staff became alienated from the directors as cutbacks were made whilst consultants were brought in and paid ten of thousands of pounds. The entrance fee was eventually done away with, and the council offered more support; but only if they managed to reach 500,000 visitors before the close of the exhibition in November.
There was an electronic counter at the main entrance with a large digital display. Of course, when we arrived and left each day we could see how many visitors had been through. With about a week to go, we realised that the average daily attendance was about a thousand. The running total was about 470,000 and there were only a couple of days left; they would never reach the target. Following my day off, I noticed that the counter had now passed the half million mark. It had increased by about 25,000 in two days! “Bloody hell, it must have been mobbed yesterday,” I said to one of the other actors.
“No, it was just the same as usual.”
An hour or two later, between shows, I wandered into the office where they had an old dot-matrix printer that fed out the visitor totals every few minutes. It was the kind with holes at the side of a long roll of paper and the figures for the past couple of months were sitting together in a large bundle. I looked through the numbers for the previous day to see when all the people had come in. During the day – about 150 an hour as usual. I then noticed that at 2am, when the building was closed, it had suddenly increased by 12,000. A similar thing had happened during the previous night too. And other nights – a thousand here and a thousand there. Something untoward was happening with the figures. I thought, “Someone is trying to rip-off the good people of Glasgow.” So, when no one was looking, I ripped off a few of the sheets and dropped them in at the office of the Evening Times and Herald. Next day the headline of the Evening Times was, ‘Phantom Visitors Mystery.’
The management of Glasgow’s Glasgow went ballistic and questioned all of the office staff. They never realised that the real whistleblower was the guy that walked up and down the exhibition playing a banjo and occasionally blowing whistles. I remember telling Alasdair Gray about this little adventure whilst we were at the Portsmouth Festival and was very proud when I heard that he had brought it up twenty years later at a meeting about arts funding in Scotland.
The original name of the exhibition was, The Words And The Stones, and the initials are frequently remarked upon. However, the final show in the theatre that year was by Valerie Edmond’s company, Theatre In The Sand. Glasgow’s Glasgow fittingly preserved in acronymic parenthesis.
When the exhibition closed, the place was gutted. It had lost £4.6 million and the only memorable success had been the promenade players. Thankfully, with a bit of foresight, Andy managed to persuade the powers to leave the seating and floor in the theatre.
NOISE AND SMOKY BREATH
I first met Andy in late 1990 after he had come to see Tony Curran in a play that I also appeared in called, The Boy who Wanted Peace, at Washington Arts Centre. Andy arranged to meet me for a coffee and told me about a new project he was getting together for the Third Eye Centre.
A few weeks after the closure, Andy called to say he was doing a show based on the popular Glasgow poetry book, Noise and Smoky Breath (Smoky without an ‘e’ as in whisky)for the Third Eye Centre [Now the Centre for Contemporary Arts]. He already had Grant and Ross from the original Arches team and a new actor, Lesley Davidson. I think Andy phoned me because Benny Young said no. This was to become the core team that would work over the next couple years to establish the Arches as a viable theatre company. This show also became the keystone of the company for the next year. We would perform it everywhere from Ruchill to Rostov.
I’d lent the Arches my copy of Noise and Smoky Breath that my aunt gave my for my 21sat birthday, and they used as the text for the show. (I never saw the book again)
I remember meeting the cast in Andy’s flat for the first read-through of Noise and Smoky Breath. It was the interregnum when Glasgow’s Glasgow had closed and Andy was negotiating to keep the place going. It was a cold wintry day but there was a feeling of elation – Thatcher had just been ousted!
We gathered in Andy’s flat to choose poems from the book and add a few other Glasgow songs. Andy, being from Southend, said, “There’s a brilliant song about throwing pieces oot a twenty storey flat. We could do that.” We told him it was twee and only brilliant if you were a five year old. “Nah,” he said, “It’ll be great. Let’s do it.” Imagine our relief when the writer Adam MacNaughtan refused to give his permission.
We started the show by sneaking on, badly hidden, under a large black sheet before bursting into song. Richard Jobson of the Skids was presenting an event for funders on the first night and we had to appear behind him and begin the show as he walked off. After our rehearsal, Ross was told to stop singing Into the Valley from under the sheet as it was upsetting the host.
Noise and Smoky Breath was great to be involved in but we were still a theatre company without a home. Then, a few weeks later, I got a phone call from Andy saying he had the keys to the old Glasgow’s Glasgow exhibition space and wanted to have a go at re-opening the theatre. Would I like to be involved? I jumped on the next bus into town. I remember four of us going back into the place armed with torches. It was now just a huge dark cavern stripped of most of the evidence of the exhibition. We went in a transit van to the Tramway; they had offered us help with a lighting board and dimmers to get things started. They also offered us huge obelisks left over from some show and since we just needed things to fill up some of the huge space we took them too. These were the obelisks that Mischief la Bas famously sat on top of, peeling potatoes.
The actual building provided a few adventures outside of the theatre itself. Sometimes just leaning against a wall your hands might sink into some disconcertingly warm fungus or slime mould, probably new to science. Many strange things flourished in that subterranean environment.
We also needed a box office. On the right hand side of the entrance there was a room with a solid 10ft x 4ft window. This was the old technicians room from the exhibition and would be a great place for a box office but the window was no use as it didn’t open. So Ronan and I removed the window, recycled the skylights I had built for What the Butler Saw, put one at either side and went off to look for something to plug the gap between them. There was nothing lying around so we wandered into the street and noticed a large advertisement for Irn Bru with a 5ft perspex cover. We ‘borrowed’ that and it fitted nicely into the space. A wee lick of black paint around the frames and we had a box office.
The very fabric of the building-dark, cavernous, damp and a bit smelly sometimes, with eerie noises and rumbling, clanking trains overhead, was so atmospheric that just entering the building was to enter another world where anything could happen. Your senses were already fully engaged before you even saw a play or exhibition or got faceless at a club.
The sense of anarchic co-operation, of everyone working together in a big open artistic enterprise was quite powerful.
Another problem at this point was that the building still opened straight on to Midland Street. I was given a £200 budget to build a vestibule/foyer area around the box office window and the giant steel doors. I built a huge wooden frame, covered it with plasterboard and re-cycled a pair of fire doors from the old exhibition. Richard McLean, being a tall geezer, lent a hand as I was attaching the plasterboard to the ceiling. I asked the management if we should put some more solid wood on the top for safety. But was told that the budget wouldn’t stretch that far and, “No one will ever go up there.” Of course, a year later, Eddie the cleaner decided to stand on it and his leg went right through. Thankfully he was not hurt.
The place was so extraordinary – vast railway arches. Arches full of stories. Doors that led to terrifying spaces underneath – a rumour that if you went down far enough you eventually stumbled on a door that opened out onto the railway tracks.
During one show, for some reason, the costume rail was in the dark and creepy basement where apparently, many years ago, two workmen just disappeared, never to be seen again. It was scary enough being down there by yourself, but when the lights went out, I was terrified. I couldn’t find my way out for ages and genuinely thought that I might become a third legendary ghost.
Once in the very early days, after a late night lock in at the Midland Street bar, a few of us, fuelled by alcohol, decided we’d explore the further reaches of the building that none of us had been before. Armed with a dodgy torch we set off northwards. This was long before the Argyle Street entrance was built. We passed through the familiar big arches and started to hear rushing water sounds which drew us to a smaller unknown arch. Inside this room there seemed to be a large open cistern complete with giant ball cock, hence the rushing water sounds. It must have been there to drain water leaking in from above or maybe from the nearby River Clyde. It was quite spooky. But next to the cistern there was a hole in the floor with a very rickety looking wooden ladder descending into the stoorie murk. Of course, there was no question of further exploration. I can’t remember who went first (not me) but we went down and found ourselves in a series of much smaller arches with only enough room for single file movement. This was really spooky. As our eyes adjusted to the dark we noticed a dim light in the distance which we followed until we reached the end of the arch where it opened up into a much bigger, lit-up space. We could see railway tracks and, stretching our necks out of the arch to the left, we could see the brightly lit Glasgow Central low level station. It was a great wee adventure and we postulated that it would be a good escape route for a bank robbery.
I remember creeping our way along the wee tunnel during the day to make ghost noises for the confused commuters standing on the platform a hundred yards away.
There wasn’t enough money to install the fire alarm in the Arches, so we were booked into the Tron theatre with Noise and Smoky Breath for a week to raise money for it. I remember having to work in Banana Joe’s during the day and rushing off to rehearse or perform at the Arches and then do the sketches at Café Loco and really worrying about how I was going to pay my rent. Then we discovered that, whilst we were working for zero, the office staff were all getting paid.
We were a bit pissed off as we thought we were all in it together, but everyone in the Arches was getting a wage apart from the actors. But I suppose arts administration is an oxymoronic necessity. If you want to make a living from theatre – keep away from the stage.
I first discovered the Arches when I was invited along to see the brilliant Noise and Smoky Breath. It was a compilation of live music, poetry and song, unpredictable and fun, starring Burky, Lesley, Grant and Ross. It was so perfectly suited to the space, the soaring brick arches propping up central station and every time a train went overhead it added to the ambience.
I loved the anarchy of Noise and Smoky Breath, thumbing its nose at the big budget events.
While Noise and Smoky Breath was running, Grant suggested doing David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and came up with a brilliant selection of seventies and eighties disco music that was played to link the scenes. The show needed two females, so Fiona Bell was brought in to join the team.
I built the set and did all the lights and sound for Sexual Perversity. In accordance with the usual non-existent budget, I built two large angular rostra from very thick chipboard that was lying around. It weighed a ton but was fine because it would only be placed on the stage area of the Arches for the run of the play. However, when the show was taken to Edinburgh the actors had to carry these extremely heavy and cumbersome rostra down a cramped corridor of the Gilded Balloon and on to the stage each day. Sorry, guys. Nonetheless, it was a great show and, with Grant’s soundtrack, it became brilliant; even when I blew up the lighting racks an hour before the second performance. Luckily Colin Proudfoot came to the rescue.
John Linklater, Arts Editor of the Herald was always very supportive when the Arches was struggling to get started in 1991. He wrote some great reviews and articles to publicise what we were trying to do. It is quite surprising that he was not included or quoted in the Brickwork biography.
One ‘glaring’ mistake in Brickwork is the photo of what they describe as ‘The original sign’. Lovely though it is, it is not the original nor even the deuteriginal. When we opened up the Arches we couldn’t even afford a bulb, never mind a large electric sign. However, a sign was needed, so I built the very first sign from the old scraps of timber and hardboard that were lying around the back arches of the dismantled exhibition. This may seem a petulant criticism but the demise of the first sign was to be portentous. There were some blue felt-covered sheets of hardboard lying at the back of the disused arches as well as bits of plywood and plenty of scraps of timber. I constructed a large triangular structure that could be attached above the doorway and be seen from both sides. On one side it said, ‘Arches’ and the other, ‘Theatre’ cut out of brightly painted ply in the shapes of the Arches Theatre font from 1990. This was the original sign: garish yellow letters on a blue background. After a few months, when some money became available, the lettering was replaced but hung on the same structure. The main difference was that it now simply said, ‘Arches’ on both sides. The theatre was diminishing in importance. I remember saying at the time, “Rather than a theatre with a club – it is becoming a club with a theatre.”
One morning, as the cast were rehearsing Sexual Perversity for Mayfest, Andy arrived late from a meeting. Glasgow City Council were beginning to become a bit more supportive by this time and Andy told the cast: “I’ve just been at a meeting in the City Chambers and the council asked us to go to Russia with Noise and Smoky Breath to represent Glasgow.”
Cast: “…and what did you say?”
Andy: “I said no – we’ve got a show that week.”
Cast “Fuck the show – we’re going to Russia. Get intae that office and phone them.”
So, a few weeks later, the Arches Theatre Company flew to Rostov on Don in the Soviet Union to perform their show of Glasgow songs and poetry.
The props for the show were packed tightly into a suitcase in the Arches and taken with us to Russia. When the suitcase was opened in the theatre in Rostov, a wee Glasgow mouse jumped out.
The Russians we made friends with were very impressed with my clothes and I gave them a few items as gifts. It was nice to see one kicking about next day in a B52’s top, but when Grant offered them his t-shirt they politely declined.
We played the songs from the show in an outdoor arena to thousands of people and they loved it; it was like being in the Beatles.
I remember when the Russians came on a return visit and brought the sound of the trains rolling out of Central Station into the performance. They all stopped in mid-line, looked up and waited for the train to pass before they carried on. Brilliantly done. And there could be lots of trains.
At this point, it was important to publicise the company as much as possible, so the company decided to take both shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.
During the hiatus of the Arches, I decided to write a full-length musical, The Return of Burke and Hare. (Some of Andy’s ‘just do it’ attitude had rubbed off on me.)
The Arches team came along to see KYBO perform the show in a sold-out 300 seater in East Kilbride. After the performance, Andy suggested we could do it at the Arches and then take it to the Edinburgh Fringe under the banner of the Arches Theatre to help raise the company profile. This was the wonderful thing about the Arches, KYBO had been formed by a group of buskers and unemployed people from EK; no other theatre in Glasgow would have let us into the audience never mind on the stage.
Several of the Burke and Hare cast would go on to appear in future Arches shows: Mari Steven, Richard McLean, Gerry McHugh and Shug Larkin. The Arches then had three shows at the festival, all of which attracted large audiences and received great reviews.
The first I became aware of the Arches was when I was with KYBO and we were booked to perform a five night run of The Return Of Burke And Hare in May of 1991. For me and many of the cast this would be our first professional performance in a Glasgow theatre. The large cavernous space of the building with its arced Victorian brickwork was not what I was expecting the venue to be like. The intimate auditorium was a bit chilly and I wondered how our large cast and live band were going to fit in the space.
I had aspirations to be an actor and one day Burky said, “I’ve written and play and you’re in it and we’re going to the Edinburgh Festival as part of the Arches Theatre.” To say I was excited is putting it mildly. The festival was an incredible experience, a bunch of minstrels and mavericks performing a punk rock musical at the iconic comedy venue, The Gilded Balloon. We were on stage at 1pm and Sexual Perversity in Chicago was on right after us which I watched numerous times, trying to learn how to act!
I was lucky to be cast in the first ever Arches pantomime, Connie Stewart’s adaptation of Alice Through The Looking Glass. This was great fun to do as well as a bit of a learning curve as I’d never played so many and such strange characters in one show.
The primary-school age audiences would reach a deafening fever pitch of noise at certain points in the show. The actor playing the White Rabbit used to turn up every morning in a more hungover state than the day before. Some days he looked like a living corpse and if you had a hangover one look at the ghastly White Rabbit would make you feel much better. One day the noise from the audience was particularly deafening. Even backstage you had to shout into each other’s ears to make yourself heard. Well, the old Rabbit snapped, and at the top of his voice, not expecting to be heard, screamed out, ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP YA FUCKING WEE C**TS!’. Just as there was a sudden lull in the wall of sound. They even heard him in the lighting box.
Another outing for Noise and Smoky Breath was when the company was booked to represent Glasgow at the Portsmouth Festival. All of the rostra, props, instruments, suitcases and cast were crammed into and old transit van and headed south. There were a couple of performances in the Guild Hall, another for drama students in a college and even one in Portsmouth Jail.
I knew Grant and Ross from the Glasgow Art Centre, so saw a few of the Glasgow’s Glasgow shows. Later, I accompanied my girlfriend to an Arches audition, and Andy got me to read in the other parts. This led to him asking me to stand in for Grant in Noise and Smoky Breath at the Portsmouth Festival.
Although we had performed the show about a hundred times, we had to re-rehearse it to allow Callum to learn his moves and lines. Andy sat against the back wall as we repeatedly ran over the show. At one point we realised that he had lost interest and was just balancing a stick on his finger. We stopped rehearsing and when he turned around about a minute later. We all gave him a round of applause.
When we took the show to Portsmouth representing Glasgow alongside Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead and James Kelman, the Arches, again penny pinching, put us up in people’s spare rooms.
Ross and I were given a room that hadn’t been opened for about ten years: broken furniture and everything covered in dust. It was the kind of place that would give a ghost the heebeegeebees. The jail looked much more comfortable.
Unfortunately, the house we were put in had a litter of newly born kittens which I ended up allergic to and my eye swelled out like jelly.
The cat just had a litter of kittens. I woke up one morning, sweat lashing off me, head completely surrounded by a halo of sleeping kittens. I kept on finding them in my pockets and swinging from the laces of my Doc Martens.
So one of my main memories of Portsmouth is looking for the casualty department of the local hospital.
PART 2 -TO FOLLOW -WATCH THIS SPACE!