James Plays Playwright Rona Munro does Christmas at the Traverse

Rona Munro, writer of the three James Plays – critically acclaimed and popular with audiences at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival – has a new collaboration with Stephen Greenhorn at the Traverse Theatre this December. Paul F Cockburn finds out more.

Live theatre, however, retains a particular excitement nothing else can match.

How would you describe Tracks of the Winter Bear?

Tracks of the Winter Bear is intended as a little bit of Midwinter Magic, Christmas sparkle for an older audience.

Tracks of the Winter Bear is actually a double bill of short plays by yourself and Stephen Greenhorn (best known for Passing Places, and Sunshine on Leith). How closely did you work on this with him on this?

Stephen and I are old friends, a friendship which started properly when we first collaborated, several years ago, on a play called Gilt for 7:84 Scotland. We know each other a lot better now than we did then and I think what surprised us both was how compatible these two plays became, given the small amount of active collaboration. We had a series of conversations before we started but wrote in complete isolation, just hoping that the two plays would dovetail. They’re very different pieces, stylistically, but I think they work very well together for an audience.

The Traverse Theatre describes you as one “of its most successful alumni”. What is it about this theatre that you particularly like?

There’s no short answer to that one! The Traverse staged my first ever professional stage production, Fugue back in 1982. Since then I’ve had a further five productions there and have performed in both the old Traverse in the Grassmarket and what I still sometimes think of as the “new” space. As long as it remains a home for new Scottish plays and playwrights I’ll always want to be there.

What do you hope audiences will get from Tracks of the Winter Bear?

We’d like it to be a proper Christmas entertainment for adults with the heart and sensibility of the season. When asked the same question Stephen referenced It’s a Wonderful Life and I think that’s a great reference for the effect we’d like to have. Mine’s a bit weirder than that though!

Do you prefer writing for live theatre? Are radio and television still useful platforms for your work?

I adore writing The Stanley Baxter Playhouse plays for radio as I am still starstruck every time I’m in the same room as the great man himself. I love television and film too, as opportunities to reach that mass audience and to use different writing muscles. Live theatre, however, retains a particular excitement nothing else can match. It’s the immediacy and the democracy a live audience brings to the experience. An audience will always be an active part of the narrative in theatre as their reaction shapes the story they see. No other dramatic form has that live relationship.

Are you pleased that the James Plays are being resurrected so soon after their initial production?

I’m delighted. They are such large pieces, in every way. I knew that made them very difficult to produce, so the odds of getting another life for them were always going to be shorter. My dearest hope was that they would get that further life in front of Scottish audiences, so I couldn’t be happier. The fact that they are also touring internationally is just the icing on the cake.

Tracks of the Winter Bear plays at the Traverse Theatre throughout December: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/tracks-of-the-winter-bear/710097

Photo credit: Colin Hattersly