Edinburgh’s Traverse has long-championed new drama—indeed, the venue’s self-description is the simple goal of being “Scotland’s new writing theatre”. As a result, Traverse Theatre aims to give unheard writers access to its stages through either its own initiatives – such as flagship education project Class Act which, in 30 years, has developed more than 900 scripts – or cooperating with other theatre companies, including Glasgow’s world-famous A Play, A Pie, and a Pint.
If nothing else, these “Pride Plays” are excellent calling cards for everyone involved.
The specific focus of Pride Plays, according to Edinburgh-based co-producers Shift, was – is – “to give the stage to voices of a community who still feels underrepresented in Scottish theatre”. (The specific community they have in mind would appear to be LGBTQI+ identifying playwrights, clearly determined to legitimise the lived experiences of their peers.) These were, in one sense, nothing more than rehearsed readings, with scripts clearly held in the actors’ hands, performed on a stage empty except for a few chairs. Yet, thanks to skilled actors and focused direction, the results could still genuinely emotionally affect an audience.
Natalie McGrath’s We’ll Meet in Moscow was essentially a monologue about a Muscovite lesbian who finds true love while fleeing across Siberia. Although I found McGrath’s script on occasions too needlessly verbose, there were numerous subtle decisions by performer Rebecca Elise and director Connel Burnett which helped “sell” the central character’s loneliness, joy and determination within the wider context of LGBT+ oppression in Russia. In contrast, Katie Gartlan-Close’s Cocoon focused on two women, Randy and Sophie, whose marriage is fractured by the latter’s desperation for motherhood, and an unexpected opportunity during a supposed holiday train journey between Vancouver and Seattle.
Gartlan-Close isn’t afraid to use comedy as a means of punctuating the drama, something she has in common with Gabriella Sloss, whose 787 Blinks expertly explores the consequences of rape, women’s friendships, and positive relationships. In one sense it’s dramatically the strongest of these Pride Plays—somewhat ironic given that, bar one hint of bisexuality, the characters are presented as fundamentally heterosexual and cis-gendered. Dramatically, though, it's strong enough to slightly overshadow J D Stewart’s Elastic, which inventively (if not always clearly) explores the changing dynamics within a “ménage à trois” from the present day backwards in time.
If nothing else, these Pride Plays are excellent calling cards for everyone involved: not least directors Burnett, Laila Noble, Sarah Masson and Jo Rush. They successfully create emotive theatre with little more than some chairs and a cast of young, talented actors who must be congratulated, not least for successfully embodying a range of clearly delineated, yet nuanced characters—ensuring that these new playwrights are not just worth listening to, they need to be heard.