JOYCE MCMILLAN on ALBERT DRIVE at the Tramway, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 9.7.13.
4 stars ****
IT’S 25 YEARS since I first saw a piece of theatre at the Tramway in Glasgow; and yet until this weekend, I had hardly given a thought to Albert Drive, the street in which the theatre sits. It turns out, though, that Albert Drive is one of those roads that reflects the whole history of the city, beginning among the factory sheds of old industrial Glasgow, sloping gently uphill into a leafier zone of handsome tenements, and then swooping over a crest into what was once a world of serious wealth and elegance, where fine stone villas stand in gardens full of whispering trees. Along the way, it passes the new Sikh temple; and runs through one of the heartlands of Glasgow’s postwar Asian community.
It is, in other words, the kind of road of which we should be mindful, when we try to understand the world we live in; and at the weekend, the Tramway Theatre – with Glas(s) Performance directors Jess Thorpe, Tashi Gore and Rachel O’Neill – hosted a final celebration of their year-long project designed to encourage that kind of mindfulness in Albert Drive; to create a space where people living around the Tramway could think about their neighbours, their shared place, and its history, and could come to know one another better.
So my day at the Tramway began with a glimpse of the fabulous table – decorated with breathtaking, glowing flower arrangements from the local allotments – around which scores of residents would share a community meal. There was also an exhibition, rich in detail of the everyday and private lives of people living in Albert Drive; Janice Parker’s installation involving the music to which people dance at home, or Arpita Shah’s Purdah-The Sacred Cloth, a glorious gallery of strong portrait photographs of veiled women.
Then there was the show, in Tramway 1, a clever, searching, slightly anarchic collage of Albert Drive life presented by a cast of 21 local residents, and backed by an infinitely fascinating fast film of the journey up the drive and back again. And finally – up the street, past lamp-posts pinned with letters to unknown neighbours – there was the little green door into the hidden world of New Victoria Gardens allotments, and Nic Green’s Vivarium, a 75-minute audio show which takes each solitary audience member round the gardens, and through a rich weave of lyrical brass-band music – the soul music of the industrial revolution – into the deepest thoughts of the allotment-holders.
Vivarium is an exquisite and moving show; but it’s a measure of the achievement of the Albert Drive project that it was just one element of a dazzlingly diverse and insightful experience. In the 25 years since the Tramway opened, I have never seen the building so packed with people. And although community relations in Glasgow, as in most British cities, have been through good times and bad – and a single arts project, sadly, cannot change the world – it’s safe to say that this sunny weekend, in Albert Drive, was one of the good times; and that it was a pleasure and a privilege to be there.