Andy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron Theatre, ushers me out the fire escape and into the night. Meeting me is Edwin Morgan, whose portrait adorns the wall, bathed in gold light. His eyes are raised, quietly, softly, gently. Looking out, to the street, to the night, to Glasgow. What were those words? They slipped through my ears just before the door closed. Now they are dancing in my head, on the edge of making sense. I hit refresh, wait.
Andy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron Theatre, opens the door. I’m invited back inside.
Machines can be persuaded to stumble on dreams –
Except that it isn’t stumbling and they aren’t dreams.
high man pen meander is a virtual promenade around and about the Tron, in tribute to Edwin Morgan, one of Scotland (and Glasgow’s) most revered poets. Performers lie in wait around corners, in kitchens, goods lifts and stairwells, delivering recitations, visionings and adaptations of Morgan’s work. It’s beguiling, always interesting and fun. Yet despite its short running time, this is an evocative and appetising tribute to Morgan’s language, to poetry itself. Immediately after it ends, I start watching again, awakened to a hunger I didn’t know I had. I don’t really know Morgan’s work, yet the rest of my day is spent trying to make up for lost time, as I’m snacking on his poems whenever I can. On the loo, before a zoom, lying in bed. I’ll be dreaming his words for a few nights yet.
This is the first time the Tron has opened its doors to an audience since lockdown – and for those who know its walls, it is thrilling to be back. For those less familiar with the building there’s still plenty to see, in a short film populated with surreal moments, shadows and fine details. Watching high man pen meander feels like a dream, or a fantasy of what a promenade performance could feel like, but often doesn’t. Watching through the camera’s lens, I feel singular, comfortably alone, bearing voyeuristic witness to a seance held amidst dark and twisting corridors. Arnold, in Beckettian bowler-hat get-up, addresses the camera, offering moments of clarity before ushering us along. By contrast the performers are often set-back, at a distance, ghosts framed by corners, mirrors, elevators and the steel apparatus of kitchen furniture. high man pen meander is a spectacle, a space for watching, a gallery on a precipice between this world and the next. It feels quiet, intimate, live. As if it is happening to me, in that moment, and to me alone.
The recitations and interpretations of Morgan’s work are well curated and contain a great variety of style and tone, creating a refreshingly mixed evening of performance which also does justice to the diversity within Morgan’s oeuvre. The Loch Ness Monster’s Song is playfully reimagined as a monster-ish choreography, performed by Jess Haygarth & Imogen Smith, where the aesthetics of contemporary dance meet early-years Dr Who. While this is delightfully fun, other work grapples with the emotional weight of Morgan’s other poems. Joe Proctor is solemn, moving and heartfelt as The Porter from the series of poems ‘Stobhill’, while Jocelyn Losole’s striptease to ‘The Death of Marilyn Monroe’ is troubling, a little hard to watch. Meanwhile, this poet’s connection to Glasgow is affirmed in Renee Williams’ presentation of Glasgow Sonnets: 1, set against archive footage of the streets, buildings and places he was connected to. Each work has its own merits and vitality, yet brought together the effect is altogether more powerful and resonant.
Much of theatres’ digital offerings have felt like poor substitutes for the ‘real thing’, perpetually overshadowed by what they are not and cannot be. I certainly do miss the Tron and would love for those doors to open again in real life, yet high man pen meander successfully manages to stand on its own. As much as the work is about poetry and theatre, it is also about architecture and theatres. Towards the end, Arnold stands in front of an auditorium with row upon row of empty seats. He remarks, in an off-hand manner, that “they’ve all gone home early.” This moment is handled lightly. It does not outstay its welcome and seconds later we are out the door. While brief, it speaks loudly to the persistence of this building, of a stage, of the fact that these seats remain, even though there’s no audience left to sit in them. high man pen meander is about dormancy, not an imitation of the theatre we remember, but a portrayal of the theatre as it is – waiting, persisting, still breathing without us.