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Performances that are in your face ... and your local

DURING Rachel O'Riordan's three-year tenure in charge of Perth Theatre before she departed the city's Horsecross Arts body to run Sherman Cymru in Cardiff, she enlivened a theatre previously seen as a solid but safe producing house with a series of hard-hitting productions that could compete with any other stage in Scotland.

KENNY MILLER: Says he is keen to explore the intimate style of theatre which is performed in venues such as Glasgow's Oran Mor.
KENNY MILLER: Says he is keen to explore the intimate style of theatre which is performed in venues such as Glasgow's Oran Mor.

As the theatre prepared to close for major refurbishment, O'Riordan also set plans in motion to keep Perth Theatre in the public eye with several off-site initiatives.

The first fruits of these efforts come in the form of Cross Country Stories, which consists of two 45-minute solo plays which will tour hotel bars in the region in a pair of up-close-and-personal productions overseen by Kenny Miller.

Face, written by Peter Arnott and performed by Janette Foggo, opens tonight at the Kinross Hotel with its female protagonist opening up to strangers in a way she is not used to. Alan Bissett's piece, Jacquoranda, performed by Louise McCarthy, visits the same venue next Tuesday as its eponymous heroine sets up a group therapy session with a difference.

"It's very informal," says Miller, who and has been drafted in by Horsecross Arts as associate director for theatre. "Both plays have been written completely around the idea of them being done in bars. They're very low-spun and really in your face.

"Face is about a woman whose mother has died, and who has a twin sister, who's completely alienated herself from her while she's cared for her mother, and the play is really about this woman's battle with herself.

"Jacquoranda is a therapy session, really, about a man who comes up to this woman in the pub, sees she's a lost soul, and gets her to give up drink, cigarettes, drugs and everything that gets her through the day."

While Cross Country Stories is something of a radical departure for Perth Theatre and Horsecross Arts, a template of sorts was set up with Tips. This was a short piece by Mary Gapinski which the writer, actress and sometime collaborator of Miller performed in Perth Theatre's Redrooms space, where the National Theatre of Scotland's The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart was also presented. As the nearest venue to the company home, both Cross Country Stories shows will end their short tours there.

As a veteran of directing and designing shows both great and small in the Citizens Theatre, where he cut his directing teeth, and at the Tron and Oran Mor, Miller is aware of how spaces can be adapted to suit a production. He recognises too how much Cross Country Stories fits in with an increasingly lo-fi aesthetic pioneered at Oran Mor in a climate where no tradition of pub theatre existed in the way it does in London.

"We're really keen to explore that intimate kind of theatre Oran Mor does so brilliantly," he says. "Although the shows there still work very much with a stage, which is slightly different to what Cross Country Stories is doing, there's still a similarity."

What audiences in the Green Hotel in Kinross and beyond will make of the two plays remains to be seen, although those who don't live in Perthshire but who are keen to see both plays can see a special Cross Country Stories double bill in the Tron Theatre's equally intimate Victorian Bar in Glasgow this Saturday night.

"I think some audiences may be surprised," he says. "Our regular Perth Theatre audience certainly wasn't used to it, which is part of why we brought in Mary to do Tips, but they loved it. Some of the places we're going to certainly won't have seen this kind of theatre, and they probably won't be used to having someone sit down at the table next to them and start telling them a story. Maybe some people will just get up and wander off, but I think if they stay they'll enjoy themselves.

"These are both great plays which, in different ways, have ended up having a kind of therapy theme to them, and there's really something for audiences to get their teeth into."

While Miller can't say too much about future plans for Perth Theatre beyond Cross Country Stories, it is safe to assume that the nearby Perth Concert Hall may be co-opted for larger productions at some point. Smaller off-site fare on a par with Face and Jacquoranda also look set to become company staples.

"Now we've started doing it," says Miller, "we want it to continue. Even when the theatre re-opens, we always want to have plays done off-site and commit to that as part of our programme. Perth Theatre isn't known for doing new writing, but new writing is something that I think is so important to do and we hope to continue once the theatre re-opens. By doing Cross Country Stories, we're making a statement that Perth Theatre is still here, and this is the sort of work we might be doing when we reopen."

Face opens at the Green Hotel, Kinross, tonight, with Jacquoranda at the same venue on June 17. Both shows then tour venues in Kenmore, Pitlochry, Crieff, Blair Atholl, Dunning, Dunkeld and Perth. A double bill of both plays takes place at the Victorian bar, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, on Saturday. www.horsecross.co.uk

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