The Arches Comes Alive

A new monthly feature gives you the Skinny on a Scottish venue. This month: The Arches

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 20 Aug 2009

Most theatres strive for a neutral space. The proscenium arch, the banked auditorium, the clean, warm bar space: everything is calculated for comfort and to allow the play to shine. The Arches, reclaimed from the depths of the underground and rescued after the 1988 Year of Culture, bleeds into its events, infecting each club and every performance with a slightly sinister, Victorian dungeon atmosphere. Hosting bands, music festivals, performance art, The National Review of Live Art and its famous clubbing programme, the past year has seen The Arches establish a reputation for a very specific strand of young, enthusiastic theatre. It settles somewhere between the all-out extremity of live art and the experimental end of more formal theatre. The multiple arches lend gravitas to their dank, gloomy brickwork, transforming each show into something site-specific and brooding. Through Arches Live! and Behaviour, artistic director Jackie Wylie has enthusiastically supported younger artists in their first steps as well as bringing in the bigger names, including Ann Liv Young and Dot 504, the Czech contemporary dance wonder-company. The programme takes risks, as do the companies, yet in the case of Nic Green - currently winning plaudits for Trilogy - when these risks pay off, they lead to emotional, intelligent and controversial drama. This month's Arches Live has a typical selection of the usual suspects - and a few wildcards. Glasgow's performance art supergroup Fish and Game are kicking off their latest research with an enquiry into the natural world, and David Overend is bringing his academic knowledge into a performance that will corrupt Death Disco. The spirit of Arches Live! is radical, playful and eclectic: with a pass offering entry to all the shows that you can bear, the best way to enjoy is to hunker down for nearly ten days of entertainment. Stadium Rock, who present Cable, are typical: messing around with different media, they say they will capture the spontaneity of the rehearsal in performance. Then Keven Wratten says I Can Change Your Life in a one-man parody of a self-help presentation. Meanwhile, activist and charmer Kieran Hurley reports back from his Hitchto the G8 summit. With many of the artists working in Glasgow, and having connections to either the university or the RSAMD, there is an intellectual aura around Arches Live!. This rarely translates into arid exercises; plenty of uncomfortable emotions fly around, audiences are shocked or suddenly charmed, the mechanics of drama are smashed and reconfigured: manic energy and the desire to communicate surge through the festival. Sometimes it fails - most often when the performer can't let go of theatrical certainties, or becomes so self-obsessed they forget the audience. Yet even the failures are instructive: exciting! Like the Fringe, this festival accepts success and failure while slapping complacency - even in radical theatre - and offers a platform for work that really isn't going to make the Citizen's. It helps to sum up The Arches’s own credo: a willingness to dare, a place for conversation, argument and new vocabularies, a testing ground and a safe place for difficult emotions, techniques and ideas.

17-26 September The Arches Pass price to be confirmed, but usually under £30 Times and Artists vary