Save the Big Red Door

Edinburgh needs venues: The Big Red Door needs to be rescued. What is going on around the corner from one of Edinburgh's most notorious triangles?

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 22 Jan 2010

The overwhelming presence of the Festival and Fringe can give the impression that Edinburgh has an exceedingly healthy theatre culture. While the mainstream of musicals and big name shows are excellently supported by The Playhouse, The King's and The EFT, and the Traverse covers the more alternative performance, the sort of venues that Glasgow has in abundance, where self-motivated young creators can place their shows, are sadly lacking.

The Big Red Door, which has been the home of experimental company te POOKa for nearly two years, is an exception. Starting off during the Fringe, but determinedly detatched from the flyers and star-rating culture, it has become a permanent venue for cabaret style performance, awkward live artists and a range of classes and workshops, from clowning to aerialism. With a strong, independent spirit, a definite agenda of environmental sustainability, and a winning sense of fun, The Big Red Door thrives on an anarchic playfulness, as well as serious intentions.

As a venue, The Big Red Door offers multiple spaces, including a relaxed bar for cabaret, and a flexible theatre studio, while having something of the complex architecture of Glasgow's Arches – without the dungeon atmosphere. Acting as a base for te POOKa, a company who have been developing community focussed performances and explore theatre outside of the obvious locations, it holds their extensive wardrobe and offices, almost suggesting a multi-layered, interactive show before the performers even arrive.

Most recently, the space has been home to the No Class Cabaret, and functioned over the holiday as an alternative bar; in the next few months, their workshop programme gears up again. Circus skills, from juggling to trapeze, are high on the menu, alongside yoga and an Edwardian martial art. In performance, Ricky Payne brings his celebrated Fringe one man play Wombman.

Wombman is a brave attempt to examine modern sexuality and gender politics, bringing together Cockney Christ, Malcolm X and an articulate cave-man, straddling the divide between hilarious stand up and serious social commentary. Payne himself is a confident raconteur, witty and switched on.

For a venue that was originally intended as a base for te POOKa's activities, as Antti Jalkanen, one of the team, points out, it has rapidly become a venue in its own right, bringing a much needed diversity and subversion to Edinburgh's scene. Yet, The Big Red Door is, unfortunately, far from secure.

Relying on volunteers, and facing financial pressure, its admirable aims of engaging the community and maintaining environmental sustainability are constantly under threat: it seems absurd that a city with Edinburgh's artistic heritage cannot support such a vibrant project. Nevertheless, the venue has been forced to make great strides in order to pay off debts to the landlords, even as it prepares to open new artists' studios and a soundproofed music studio.

The charm of The Big Red Door comes from the obvious enthusiasm of the team, their imagination and willingness to re-use and recycle the materials that other companies throw away. This is a genuine self-starting project, driven by its members and proudly expressing a creative self-sufficiency.