Alex Mullarky reviews a rather theatrical Glaswegian weekend

These were the enthusiastic words of National Theatre of Scotland director Graham MacLaren this past Sunday, as a weekend of theatrical workshops came to a close. The weekend was a collaborative effort from NTS and the RSC as part of its Open Stages programme, wherein amateur theatre groups – including Mermaids and some of St Andrews’ own production companies – were invited to take part in a series of workshops in the fields of performance, directing, and tech/design.

We Mermaids arrived fashionably late in Glasgow, just three minutes before the introductory talk was due to begin, and were handed our timetables and name badges. After being welcomed by the organisers, the group (all 150 of us) moved to the subway to travel to a rather theatrical industrial estate where the buildings of GAMTA, the Civic Centre, Spiers Locks Studios and Scottish Opera were all within walking distance of each other. Divided into groups, we began our workshops.

At two and a half hours long, every workshop was substantial. There were four over the course of the Friday and Saturday, in which directors studied puppetry and text analysis and performers covered everything from voice to stage combat. The most beneficial part of the weekend was the opportunity to speak to professionals in the industry, to learn everything from the nature of their audition process to their most basic warm-up games. Throw in a couple of fancy hotel lunches and a ceilidh in the Glasgow Art Club and you get what was really an amazing, worthwhile weekend.

On Sunday morning all the groups joined together in the University of Glasgow’s Gilmorehill G12 Theatre for a chorus workshop. A game of grandmother’s footsteps, an exercise called a ‘sound bath’ and some straightforward memorising of a Shakespeare passage combined to create a rather eerie prologue from Romeo and Juliet (which you can find on YouTube, if you’re interested). That feeling of having worked all morning towards a goal when we had thought we were just playing around was really rewarding, and introduced us all to a style of directing where everything has a purpose while still being fun.

Finally, we were invited to step into the centre of a huge circle and put forward our ideas for how we wanted the legacy of this weekend to continue. ‘Better links between professional and amateur groups’, was one suggestion. ‘Reclaim Shakespeare from the academics.’ ‘Help young people realise their dreams.’ And so on. In short, the participants wanted a theatrical revolution, and with the enthusiasm and support of the professional bodies of the RSC and NTS, it’s really quite possible we could achieve it.

Another suggestion that had universal support was that this weekend be made an annual event. And if it is – when it is, I hope – don’t underestimate the value of professional advice, and don’t hesitate to sign up. Thanks to Mermaids for allowing us to take part in such an amazing event, and great thanks to NTS and the RSC for organising it.


Alex Mullarky

Image credit – @NTSonline on Twitter