Zoo - Venue of the Month

How does a Venue stand out when every corner houses three new art spaces? This Zoo is about more than performing monkeys

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 30 Jul 2010

One of the biggest challenges in The Fringe is cutting through the star reviews, PR superlatives and laconic programme blurbs to discover work that is both exciting and original. The Skinny's media partnership with Zoo is an expression of ongoing respect for the venue's imaginative vision and continued evolution. Since the departure of Aurora Nova, and alongside the careful curation at Dance Base, Zoo has established itself as a home for contemporary, vibrant performance.

James Mackenzie, Zoo Venues director, has been careful to cultivate a distinctive identity over the past three years: "We started out with a clear idea that dance, physical theatre and new writing will be given priority," he explains. Certainly, the Zoo programme has avoided the traditional problems of Fringe venues – either being over-powered by comedians hoping for big break or losing any identity beneath a flood of diverse productions.

Regular favourites Scottish Dance Theatre and After Dark, of Zombie Apocalypse notoriety, are joined by internationally acclaimed choreographers Liv Lorent and Collete Sadler, while Scottish talent – more usually swamped by the August influx – is given a special place.

"It's really important to us that the Fringe doesn't feel like a group of English theatres and companies taking over Scotland," MacKenzie affirms. "Making sure Scottish acts feature in our programme is vital, especially when we can bring in a company like SDT as a flagship of both Scottish performance and our dance bill."

Aside from Sadler and SDT, Scotland is represented by Bette/Cavett, a Grant Smeaton show premiered at Glasgay! last year, and part of the Made in Scotland promotional push. Bette/Cavett is a fine example of a Zoo work: taking a classic moment of American TV history, it poses questions about identity and fame in a recognisable format.

The alliance with the revitalised Roxy had added a third Zoo venue, although this is more than just empire building. "Having Zoo Roxy this year means we now have a greater range of spaces," MacKenzie explains. "We've been conscious that while dance is at the forefront of what we do, we want to welcome the whole breadth of the Fringe – and if people see us as a purely dance venue, we're in danger of losing that.

"We're welcoming genres that we've barely had room for at all in the past," he continues. "More musicals, burlesque cabaret and more experimental theatre in the Roxy's late night programme. As well as spreading the dance programme across all three venues, we've added a greater range of physical theatre and drama – things like Maria de Buenos Aires which is heavily operatic as well as physical theatre and tango based or Theatre Delicatessen's Pedal Pusher – which is a good example of physical theatre with the strong narrative of traditional theatre."

Expanding without losing sight of the intimacy and attention to detail that has fueled their success, Zoo have a reputation as the home of the more experimental and challenging works. Shows like Sex Idiot slip between confessional, cabaret and stand up, while Ballet Lorent tackle the impact of child care on a couple's relationship. Lorent notes that she has always enjoyed the atmosphere, through her work with SDT, and identifies the key quality that lifts Zoo above many venues: a dedication to the works they present, and a love and care that runs through their programming.


140 The Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR, Zoo Roxy at 2 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh EH8 9SU, Zoo Southside at 117 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9ER.