Venue of the Month: Bedlam

Less chaotic than its name suggests, here is one independent venue set to survive the crunch

Feature by Zoe Keown | 31 Jan 2011

Home to the Edinburgh University Theatre Company (EUTC) for over 30 years, the Bedlam Theatre, in its 19th century stature alone, is one of the Capital’s most distinctive student institutions. But this isn’t the only thing that sets it apart.

Boasting alumni such as Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting, Dog Soliders), Rachael Stirling (Maybe Baby, Another Life) and Ewen Macintosh (The Office) to name but a few, the Bedlam is a cornerstone for nurturing talent and encouraging dreams. And with playwrights such as Al Smith and Lucy Kirkwood in its history books, it offers its members more than a stage to fulfil their ambitions.

As the EUTC President, Camille Acosta suggests, one of Bedlam’s main aims is to “encourage new writing,” and its playwriting talents are certainly being rewarded. Winning a Fringe First in 2008, and subsequently a run in London’s West End and New York, Eight, by Ella Hickson is a fine example of one of the Theatre’s landmark productions. The comedy Wild Allegations, co-authored by two EUTC members, which has now been published, is another.

As the Roxy Art House, owned by the Edinburgh University Settlement closed its doors in 2010 due to financial difficulties, it’s natural to wonder if Bedlam will suffer the same fate. Eleanor Chalmers, Productions Manager of the EUTC is confident that this will not happen, as she says: “There are always financial issues involved with running a theatre but thankfully Bedlam Theatre is fully supported by Edinburgh University which is a wonderful asset to the theatre. The alumni association of the EUTC is similarly supportive.”

On top of this, Bedlam’s infallible strength is also demonstrated in its sense of community and its members’ involvement where around 200 of its some 350 affiliates take an active role in the running of the building and organisation: from writing and directing the weekly shows, to building sets to selling box office tickets. Operating without any faculty or departmental supervision, Bedlam has always been valiantly independent. As EUTC President Acosta explains: “Bedlam operates successfully because of the hard work and passion of all of its members and this drive comes from the fact that every single member of the EUTC, in some way, is responsible for the building and considers it a second home.”

This responsibility results in a win-win situation for Bedlam’s members and its audience, as Acosta continues: “Because of the student-run nature of Bedlam, the passion and energy that goes into our productions are immediately evident to any member of the public that steps through our iconic red doors.

“We operate completely on the enthusiasm of our members and their commitment is truly evident in the sheer volume and high quality of the shows that are performed.” As it takes one of the worst recessions in history in its stride with confidence the Bedlam Theatre is testament to the power of student responsibility, and community. Keeping both of these in check, it will still be standing tall in another 30 years.

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Starting 22 Feb: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe