The theatres are closed. What now? Commissioned and co-created by Greyscale, Imaginary Reviews is a series that invites critics and artists of all stripes to write about a fictional performance at their local theatre. The series continues with Andy Edwards’ imaginative journey into Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.
Audio version by Nigel Barrett:
Tonight, I saw the best show in town.
The Tron Theatre is a building – a theatre, at the corner of Trongate and Chisholm Street in Glasgow’s Merchant City. At the building’s edge is a steeple, rising upwards from a blue-faced clock tower. These are the remains of a 16th century church, raised to the ground in a late 18th century arson attack. After years of misuse and falling into ever greater disrepair, the Glasgow Theatre Club made it their home, and it came to life. But today, the lights are off.
Glasgow is quiet, the evening is spring, and the shadows are long. I am pulling at the boundary of my half-hour heavy-stepped daily walk, waiting for my elasticated civic duty to snap me homewards. I loiter, guiltily, stood across the road from this building’s darkened windows. Up ahead, I hear footsteps echoing off the pavement. Unwilling to leave, I cross over.
The Tron’s entrance is easy to miss, narrow and inobtrusive. There’s an archway, under which leads a cramped, ramped path, guarded by an iron gate. The floor is cold, grey, stone – and littered with cigarette butts. The gate is open. On my right are high walls made of glass, which break into archways beneath the steeple. To my left is a rounded exterior wall, which could belong to a turret, with a small white-framed window. I can’t see anything inside. I look down at my watch; show-time – 7:30pm.
It hits me like a thunderbolt – the bright lights, blazing through the window. Blinking with startled eyes, I see the door is ajar, held open by a hand, briefly glimpsed, which disappears inside. The crowd has begun to gather on this cold, dark winter’s eve – and I’m running late.
At the front of the queue people in uniform take payments, distribute tickets and answer the phone. Behind them, someone is pressing their hand to their ear and with clipboard under arm, contorting themselves through administrative actions. It’s a busy night under the bright lights. Around me people are smiling, laughing, drinking and staring at their phones. I move forward to pick up my ticket and join them – we’re all waiting for the same thing. The doors open, I have a ticket in my hand. Someone tells me it’s an hour and a half.
The race is on. My pulse quickens, I panic – there’s not much time. I weave in and out of the crowd, exchanging polite nods, big smiles and tentative waves. The corridor to the bar is long and softly carpeted. Photos of last year’s productions adorn the walls. I keep moving – through the double doors, past the bar, around this odd narrow corner and into safety. The door won’t lock so I sit down and wedge it closed with my foot while checking the time on my phone. Overhead the show announcement, the doors are open. Pee, flush, sink, towel, mirror, out and …. the doors close behind me. I’m in.
It’s a sell-out. The auditorium is bustling with greetings, gossip and the many choreographies of drink balancing, as coats, bags and programmes are discarded to the floor. Through the tangle of language and limbs, some sit quietly, studying what lies before them as if reading tea leaves or the stars. Others, meanwhile, are already on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, hoping to join in the action. I see plenty of friends and plenty more strangers as I climb the steep incline towards my seat. From across the other side of the hall, an usher motions towards the tech box. The lights start to do down. Everyone has forgotten, and now remembers, to turn off their phones.
The lights go down and I am in an audience. Perhaps I see the show I’ve always wanted to; which bends genre, keeps me on my toes, grabs me by the heart and speaks into my ears. Perhaps this is the show that is earth-shattering, industry-breaking, and tears apart conventions. Perhaps it’s entirely unexpected, the show I couldn’t even imagine, for which I haven’t developed language even to describe. Perhaps it was none of these things. Maybe it was terrible, with awful performances, bad writing and a highly confused, deeply offensive, poorly conceived central concept. Maybe the characters were two dimensional, the set fell over and a fire broke out in the audience. Maybe it was a car crash, a disaster so truly awful that we all gave up on theatre and swore to never ever be dramatic again.
When the lights come up, there is rapturous applause and thunderous silence. Downstairs, at the bar, we are back on stage – talking loosely about the show and talking more clearly about everything else. We fill the room with the thoughts on our minds, our problems to air and axes to grind. This is our rehearsing, conversing our way through, about and around our relationships of difference, power and exchange. It’s thirsty work, even in spite of the steep prices. Time slows down and disappears. The night stretches out as the calls for “Last Orders” pass by unnoticed. All of a sudden, the spell breaks, the music stops – they want us out. Bright lights send us shuffling and stumbling out onto the street. We divide, some of us unable to resist the lure of Maggie Mays, which keeps the party going but not without acquiring a debt to pay off in the morning.
“Not tonight,” I say, “There’s always next time.”
As they disappear up the street, I find myself returning. The pavement warms beneath my feet and the sound of footsteps drift past and out of earshot. The Tron’s windows are dark once more, but I can still feel the touch of surfaces, shines of light and echo of voices; the fabric of seats, squeak of stools and those heavy front doors; the scents, the drinks, the food, the warmth, the noise, the work, the time, the faces.
The best show in town.
I turn around, cross back over the road, and walk home.