Theatre Venue of the Month: Ramshorn

Ramming home the importance of theatre

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 03 Jan 2011

At the end of December, Susan Triesman, the energetic and creative force behind Strathclyde Theatre Group (STG) retired from her post at the University. Since the company’s home, the Ramshorn Theatre, has only just recovered from the latest threat to its continued existence, the timing is unfortunate. Triesman has been a powerful advocate for the importance of the company and venue since the 1980s, and her leadership has seen the Ramshorn become a major feature in Glasgow’s theatrical landscape since its conversion in 1991.

In person, Triesman is passionate and knowledgeable about theatre, recognising its importance within the academic community and recalling the many successes of the STG during her tenure. Not only is STG open to non-students – a rare example of the university connecting directly with Glasgow’s wider communities – it has inspired many now-famous performers and runs a busy annual programme that includes new writing, established classics and unfamiliar works from contemporary playwrights.

There is no question that Triesman has been crucial to the Ramshorn – as she points out, it stages more shows across the year than any other theatre, from STG’s own programme through lunchtime concerts and visits from outside companies. She can recall the first years of the venue, long before The Merchant City regenerated, when the arrival of the Ramshorn as a dedicated venue was an outpost of culture in an impoverished adjunct to the city centre.

Now, of course, the proximity to Buchanan Galleries and the new, improved gallery spaces make the Ramshorn a prime property to the extent that the recent campaign to defend it all the more necessary. Ironically, the building that perhaps precipitated the cultural growth of the East End could have become a victim of the success. Since G12 at Gilmorehill has effectively closed its doors to the community, the Ramshorn has become an even more vital home for student theatre.
Before her departure, however, Triesman has programmed a season for the Ramshorn, which includes the annual week dedicated to new plays, a swathe of comedians from the comedy festival and Triesman’s direction of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Although she directed the show over a decade ago, she has been waiting for the necessary permission since before the film. She explains that Disney held the rights for years, and prevented anyone from staging it until long after the film had been made, shown and sold on DVD.

The eclectism of 2011’s season is a reminder of The Ramshorn’s ongoing commitment to a diversity of scripted work: from John Byrne’s Cuttin’ a Rug (part of The Slab Boys Trilogy) through to a surprise visit from Black Market International as part of New Territories, The Ramshorn is a flexible space that can host traditional drama alongside more radical processes. Triesman points out that her version of Ibsen’s Ghosts, in the 1990s, was one of the first mixed-media events in Scotland: STG was the first company to present work by Sam Shepard and many other contemporary authors.

The departure of Susan Triesman represents the end of an era for the theatre, and following both the recent threat to the building, when the university debated whether it should continue in its present use, and the general threat to the arts posed by government cuts, vigilance is necessary to ensure that it remains, as the website says “a jewel in the crown of Strathclyde Theatre.”

Season begins in February with Cuttin' A Rug, and continues until July with Shakespearian additions to the Merchant City Festival.