Itsy Bitsy Theatre

Gareth Vile | 22 Jul 2009

Frustratingly, in a period when the theatres have either gone dark or are saving their resources for August in Edinburgh, there is a clash of events on Friday. In Glasgow, the Now Museum is staging The Dead Man’s Waltz, a musical performance by Skye band The Injuns. Edinburgh responds the latest instalment of Itsy’s Kabarett, part of a brief festival of decadence that takes during Saturday’s Va Va Voom at the Electric Circus.

Both events reflect a movement of alternative theatre that has strong roots in the central belt: mixtures of old-fashioned cabaret, live music, provocation and drama given a wryly subversive edge and located in interesting spaces beyond the usual theatrical varieties. Like Flatrate’s platform for multiple artistic forms, or the work by companies like Palazzo, these happenings owe as much to the dynamism of the local scene as to conventional ideas of performance.

Having spent four days immersed in ‘research’ at the Latitude Festival, it has become clear to me that a younger generation of artists are breaking away from the ossified restrictions of traditional drama. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a work based around the discovery of a burial site at Latitude, using the festival as a foundation for thoughts on history, witchcraft and guilt. While Live Art companies like Uninvited Guests are moving towards the mainstream- in a positive, inclusive manner- with Love Letters, the established companies are looking for new avenues, new approaches.

Glasgow is especially well-placed to lead this trend. The resurgence of The Arches as a sponsor of a specific brand of work; the success of the Contemporary Performance Practice course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama; the programming at Tramway’s eye to European experimentalism- along with its sharp, critical urbanity- the city is like a perpetual festival of hybrids and bastards. Part of this is scale: so many actors and musicians, visual artists and galleries, everyone is seeking a unique contribution. Itsy’s Kabarett is strengthened by the appearance of some of Glasgow’s finest burlesque dancers and awkward musical duos: the Now Museum is hosting cutting edge art, music and drama.

Equally, Edinburgh- especially around the time of the Festival- has an influx of quality acts from around the world. Sometimes perceived as a bean-feast for student companies and comedians making ‘amusing’ comments about cash-points and Post Office queues, it smuggles in some serious Europeans and, at the least, offers a couple of versions of Sarah Kane’s Crave. And some of the best value-for-money nights are home-grown: Hightease from Blonde Ambition is a festival edition of an ongoing Edinburgh evening of glamour, and the Bongo Club is being produced by Rhymes With Purple, the masterminds behind the Cabaret Festival.

Kabarett will be living up to its reputation as an alternative to the alternative: fresh from performing at Torture Garden and for Damien Hurst comes Empress Stah. Stah is a trapeze artist, another example of how cabaret is hybridising genres and inventing something new and deliciously wicked. Of course, cabaret revivals are inevitably the consequence of financial austerity, an aesthetic response to the failure of politicians. Yet with such urgent creativity, it will hopefully take more than an economy recovery to stop this ferment.