Glasgow is a city in love with performance. From a gloried past – we are home to some of the UK’s most historic and beautiful theatres - to an ever-evolving contemporary scene, the city is home to one of the world top performing arts education institution, cutting edge theatre companies and venues. Furthermore, there are many theatre experiences that you can take in whilst visiting, from behind the scenes tours and theatre in unusual locations to grabbing a seat in super cool cultural hangouts.
Glasgow is home to stunning theatres, both old and new. The city’s oldest purpose built performance space, theCity Halls opened in 1841. The City Halls has attracted amazing speakers over the years, such as Charles Dickens and Dr David Livingstone, and has become the country’s home of classical and chamber music. Meanwhile quirky sister venue, the Old Fruitmarket, retains the listed ironmongery and greengrocers’ signs of the original fruitmarket, making for a charming music and multi-purpose venue.
Both The Pavilion and Kings Theatre opened at the turn of the 20th Century, attracting the leading artistes of the day, including a then unknown Charlie Chaplin. These two historic theatres have continued strong, showing the best touring and home-grown shows.
The recently refurbished Theatre Royal combines old and new architecture to stunning affect. Even if not attending a show, the Theatre Royal’s Victorian auditorium and stylish public areas, such as the central spiral stairwell, café and roof terrace, are definitely worth a visit.
As the second oldest operational theatre in the UK , the Citizens Theatre is unique for its boundary pushing and progressive approach towards both productions and ticketing policies.
Both The Tron and Platform Theatres have continued in this tradition of creativity as a tool for social inclusivity, operating lots of participatory opportunities for all.
Creating a stir
Creatives converge in Glasgow to create some of the most original material produced in the UK…As a former tram terminus, The Tramway was turned into Scotland’s internationally acclaimed venue for contemporary visual and performing art as part of Glasgow’s year as City of Culture 1990.
The city also has a number of original home-grown theatre companies. There’s Untitled Projects, who create adventurous theatre on a largescale. Then there’s Vanishing Point, who create new theatre for modern audiences, and who gained success for unique productions such as Interiors – a completely silent show, where the audience peers in on a dinner party taking place behind a window.
Making their headquarters in Glasgow, the National Theatre of Scotland is the first national theatre company to opt not to have their own venue but to exist as a ground-breaking touring company – a ‘theatre without walls’. Their shows have been as equally cutting edge as their model. Black Watch, Macbeth and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart are just a few of their shows which have received critical acclaim and performed across various continents.
"The National Theatre of Scotland has redefined the whole idea of theatre in Scotland; and has shown, definitively, that what happens in formal theatre buildings is only the tip of a dramatic iceberg in a nation drenched in possibilities."
Originally opened in St. Petersburg, the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre was driven out of Russia in 1993 by economic depression and lack of support for art. Recognising its value and uniqueness, Glasgow Museums bought some of its exhibits, with the theatre finding a permanent new home in the Merchant City in 1996. The 40 and 70 minute shows bring to life hundreds of carved figures and pieces of old scrap, which perform incredible choreography to haunting music and light. While the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre offers a centre of excellence for mask, mime, puppetry and physical theatre, with shows on every weekend.
Theatre isn’t confined to the four walls of venues in Glasgow. Performance spills into the streets and parks of the city, particularly during the summer arts festival season. Bard in the Botanics is performed in the beautiful surrounds of the city’s Botanic Gardens by Scotland’s premier Shakespeare company as part of the West End Festival (every June).
Meanwhile, SURGE Festival takes place as part of the Merchant City Festival (every July), bringing street arts, physical theatre and circus to the streets and unusual spaces of Glasgow. Unique to Glasgow, is the fact that the city hosts the UK’s most successful lunchtime theatre programme. A Play, a Pie and a Pint at the stunning Oran Mor, producing 38 new plays a year.
For tours and astounding stories, The Citizens offers a guided tour through the unseen backstage areas of their historic Victorian theatre, including taking in the wardrobe store, carpentry workshop and understage.
A must-see for all theatre and history lovers is a trip to the Britannia Panopticon – the world’s oldest surviving music hall. Opened in the 1850s, the Panopticon was where the city’s workers would cram into to be entertained. Hear about the future stars (including Stan Laurel and Archie Leach aka Cary Grant) who dared to tread the boards to perform in front of the unforgiving audience, about the multiple functions of the venue over the years, and about the infamous reason why it managed to avoid burning down like all other music halls of that era.
If you’d rather browse than attend a tour, then check out a theatre exhibition. The Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre has a permanent exhibition drawn from their extensive collection of materials, whilst the Theatre Royal has a permanent heritage display for people to learn more about the performance history of the theatre.