Much Ado About Acting: A Guide to Theatre
Perhaps surprisingly - given that Edinburgh can claim to be The Festival City - Glasgow has the healthiest performance scene outside of London. If there isn't a small festival, from September's Arches Live! through to July's Merchant City shindig, Glasgow's theatres produce a constant programme of dance, weird physical theatre, traditional plays (usually given a twist) and community projects that can easily eat up study time and overdrafts. Yet all of Scotland's central belt cities are full of aesthetic goodness, whether it is high art (Scottish Ballet, Shakespeare in the Botanic Gardens), student theatre (Bedlam in Edinburgh; Glasgow's STAG and STUC companies) or more experimental work (New Territories).
The top end venues - Edinburgh Festival Theatre, The Theatre Royal and the two Kings Theatres - maintain a year round onslaught of international companies and touring musicals; The Traverse caters for new writing fans, as does The Tron; The Lyceum and The Citizens cover classic drama, as does the excellent Dundee Rep; Tramway is worth visiting just for the main space even before it books its eclectic programme of British and international avant-garde work; small scale shows range from The Arches' emphasis on rising stars to Fort Tightlaced's new home for Edinburgh's young teams.
Some studies have suggested that getting involved in art is more beneficial than watching it: luckily, all three cities have excellent student companies - Bedlam is especially impressive - and plenty of feisty young professional units for the more ambitious. Glasgow's Flatrate keep turning up in pubs and at the Centre for Contemporary Arts to poke at the boundaries of what counts as drama and even the youth theatre Junction 25, based at Tramway, seems intent on squaring the circle of experimentation and accessibility.
Scottish performance is especially dynamic at the moment: the National Theatre of Scotland has refused to settle on a single identity, and flips between Belgian re-readings of contemporary Scottish scripts, challenging mixtures of movement and language, and honest-to-goodness modern classics given a respectful rendering. Dance fans can choose between Scottish Ballet, who have been wandering around the edge of contemporary styles even as they preserve the greats, Scottish Dance Theatre - formerly Dundee Rep's dance wing but a national leader in their own right - David Hughes Dance, who delight in ignoring boundaries or any number of innovative choreographers, from Janis Claxton's primate inspired moves to Barrowland Ballet's witty meditations.
More informal performance thrives thanks to the cabaret scene: while the past year has been relatively quiet, Itsy keeps it Weimar and alternative, and Rhymes With Purple are re-inventing variety as a post-modern melange of forms. And the number of classes, be they free-form improvisation, classical ballet or beginner's burlesque, ensures that the next generation are being trained already.
In Dundee, it is simple enough: the Rep has a company that can manage musicals and site-specific, claustrophobic drama with equal aplomb. In Glasgow, constantly jumping across the city ensures a balanced diet of theatrical pleasures: Mayfesto at The Tron is an intensive blast of innovative theatre, The Arches Live! is the cream of the local Live Artists. Edinburgh has a slightly more dignified pace: the Lyceum is famous for its rich sets and serious adaptations, while the Traverse builds on half a decade of riding the cutting edge just before it reaches the mainstream.
Scottish culture has frequently been the victim of idiotic schemes to sell a sentimental vision of shortbread and whisky to gullible Americans. Fortunately, the performers of Caledonia have managed to get way beyond the stereotypes and forge a distinctive identity that blends European and British traditions. This imagination accounts for politicians' general lack of enthusiasm, as it counters their attempts to keep the nation asleep.