How much do you know about the history of the Traverse Theatre? If the answer is ‘very little’, don’t expect to leave enlightened. If you’re familiar with the origins of this theatre-cum-gallery and its talented network of founders, patrons and associates, please put your summary on a postcard and leave it by the entrance – it will come in very handy for future visitors. The exhibition sorely lacks a breakdown of who was who, and how the items on display relate to the Traverse Theatre’s eminent history. Framed period flyers opt for pretension over explanation. Some of the captions are informative, but visitors unversed in the basics will have little to gain.
That said, this exhibition really does capture the spirit of the innovative edge that transformed Edinburgh into a global cultural capital from the mid-60s onwards. Posters, original artworks, dress rehearsal photos and press clippings evoke life at the artistic crossroads that was the Traverse Theatre Club. The impression is of a broad community which snaked out tendrils of influence far beyond what might be thought to be its original remit. The spirit of Richard Demarco looms large over the artefacts on display (one of which, for instance, is a Christmas card designed by Demarco for the Traverse Theatre Club in 1964). The celebrated watercolourist and promoter of the arts helped found the Theatre in 1963, and despite only remaining part of it for a handful of years, his vision was important in transforming it into an important arts centre. He pushed for the creation of a gallery space attached to the theatre, and some of the artists championed by the Traverse have works on display in the exhibition. Unfortunately, the less you know about Demarco, the less you are likely to appreciate about the objects on display.It’s a shame, because so much of the display is genuinely interesting once you get past the feeling of leafing through a private family album.
Traverse was always much more than a theatre company . Through the influence of prominent founding members like Demarco and the publisher John Calder, the Traverse Theatre Club was at the nexus of developments in Edinburgh’s artistic, literary and cultural worlds. It has remained a powerful force in the city’s theatrical scene. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with a speaker series; the lectures will hopefully provide more background to a fascinating period. This is a story which deserves to be told more fully – if only it had been afforded a more structured approach in a bigger space.