Founded as a theatre club in 1979, members took over the old Tron Kirk in 1980, staging plays originally in the Victorian Bar as the kirk itself was transformed into an auditorium. Opened formally as the Tron Theatre on May 10, 1981, it went on to flourish under the artistic leadership of Michael Boyd between 1986 and 1996 – a phase that saw now established names emerge, including Alan Cumming, Peter Mullan, Craig Ferguson, Siobhan Redmond and musician Craig Armstrong (who has worked on Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ among other films).
The Citz, as the Citizens Theatre is affectionately known, is the epicentre of the Glasgow theatre scene. It’s the principal producing theatre in the west of Scotland, and a veritable conveyor belt for trustworthy stage favourites, as well as works by new and exciting directors. A commitment to inclusivity and community involvement is reflected in education projects and classes for aspiring thesps of all ages, and affordable ticket prices. Famous names to have trodden the boards or worked backstage are too many to mention: Rupert Everett, Helen Baxendale, Tim Roth, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman – the list goes on.
Theatres in Glasgow don’t come any older than this. Opened in 1867 as the Royal Colosseum & Opera House, it became the less fussy-sounding Theatre Royal in 1869, and has been in constant use ever since. It's home to both Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet, and as well as all the major productions by these two resident companies – which have in recent years included Scottish Opera’s take on Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ and Scottish Ballet’s hugely successful version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – the Royal Theatre also hosts a broad variety of populist entertainment spanning the worlds of theatre, dance, comedy, musicals, kids shows, close-up celebrity encounters and live music.
The Glasgow City Council-owned King’s Theatre was opened in 1903 as a sister venue to the considerably older Theatre Royal. The two remain linked today by the fact that, as of 2005, they’re both managed by the Ambassador Theatre Group. By and large purely a receiving theatre, with a focus on populist, particularly family entertainment, the venue hosts everything from touring versions of hit West End and Broadway musicals, theatre and dance shows, to stand-up comedians and, every Christmas, a blockbuster annual pantomime, produced by First Family Entertainment. Major shows to have visited King’s in recent years include ‘Wicked’, ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘Thriller Live’ and ‘The Full Monty’.
One of many converted churches around Glasgow (see also Oran Mor), Cottiers inhabits the imposing, neo-gothic former Dowanhill Parish Church at the top of Hyndland Street, and has done since 1992. The theatre seats 206 people, and presents a regular and diverse programme of independent and community theatre productions, as well as the odd gig and comedy show, against an impressive backdrop of stained glass windows and ornate timberwork. Since 2013 Cottiers has also been presenting shows in the nearby Webster’s Theatre, a pop-up performance space based in the old Lansdowne Parish Church by Kelvin Bridge.
This former Pollokshields tram depot's centrality to the city’s arts scene was underscored by the announcement that it would host the 2015 Turner Prize, as the ceremony rightly comes north for the first time in tribute to the number of Turner Prize winners to have emerged from Glasgow. These include Douglas Gordon, who won in 1996 for his film ‘24 Hour Psycho’, which was commissioned by this very venue. Tramway is an international multi-arts space which commissions, produces and presents contemporary arts projects across a broad spectrum – from visual art and theatre to experimental music, dance and all things in between.
An organisation with a very wide remit, the CCA offers dance classes, DJs, exhibitions, film, live music, residency programmes, space for writers' groups, various other talks and events, and even a vegan café. In among this gallimaufry of artistic goodness, it even finds time to function as a small theatre putting on a wide range of new work from writers both near and far. There have been actor-playwrights performing one-man shows, international collaborations that have grown out of work during residencies, even performance art pieces with a crucial theatrical element that have seen actors improvise their way through the day. It can be challenging but rewarding stuff.
Although the Arches has a stellar reputation as a club and gig venue, with café-bar thrown in for good measure, it also functions as an arts centre with visual art exhibitions, creative learning events plus theatre, dance and other live performance. This covers everything from children's shows at Christmas to contemporary dance or challenging avant-garde drama – all from local and international artists and companies.
This is a populist city. It may have spaces for the kind of cutting-edge theatre that can baffle audiences but Glasgow also appreciates a good night out. That means something like An Evening of Dirty Dancing, maybe Motown and Philadelphia on Tour, psychics or Treasure Island as the Christmas panto featuring Michelle McManus who rose to fame after winning Pop Idol. This is the kind of fun you find at the Pavilion Theatre in Renfield Street which bills itself as Scotland's National Theatre of Variety. Panto laughs, hypnotists and Fleetwood Mac tribute bands keep the Pavilion very much alive and kicking.
A theatre with wooden puppets or a gallery with moving sculpture and live performance? At Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre it's both but either way it's fascinating. Based in Trongate 103, an arts centre in a repurposed Edwardian warehouse, shows involve carved grotesques bringing stories to life, aided by props made from recycled scrap, expert lighting and sympathetic music. Russian artist Eduard Bersudsky has been making wooden figures and kinetic sculpture since the 1970s in Leningrad, now known as St Petersburg again. He began a collaboration with theatre critic and director Tatyana Jakovskaya in the late 1980s and so Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre was born. The third team member, Sergey Jakovsky, joined when he was barely in his teens to do light and sound.