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Pirie deserves a bow before his role ends at Traverse

When Hamish Pirie arrived at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in April 2012 to take up the post of associate director under recently-appointed artistic director Orla O'Loughlin, one of his first tasks was to stage a verbatim reconstruction of both a daily meeting of the Occupy movement and the weekly bunfight of Prime Minister's Question Time in Westminster.

READY FOR A NEW SCRIPT: Associate director Hamish Pirie is leaving The Traverse.                       Picture: Eoin Carey
READY FOR A NEW SCRIPT: Associate director Hamish Pirie is leaving The Traverse. Picture: Eoin Carey

While Pirie had started his new job just three days before the public presentation of Tim Price's script, he rose to the occasion with an event that set a stamp on a tenure that has gone beyond purely text-based work.

Almost two years on, and as he prepares to depart the Traverse for pastures new as his contract ends, it is clear that this was the case whether it was directing radical comedian Mark Thomas in his very personal solo show, Bravo Figaro!, or another collaboration with Price called I'm With The Band.

In between these two Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows came Quiz Show, Rob Drummond's devastating and timely study of a young woman coming to terms with a past that echoed real life headlines.

Beyond these full-scale productions, Pirie took on a myriad of projects. These include playing a key role with the Traverse 50, in which 50 writers developed work throughout 2013. Then there is an ongoing directors programme, which gives young directors the opportunity to work with Traverse writers and hone their own skills in the rehearsal room.

With assorted readings, lunchtime plays and other performances for the theatre's Write Here festival of new writing under his belt, no wonder actress Imogen Stubbs, whom Pirie directed in the Donmar Warehouse's Olivier nominated production of another Tim Price play, Salt, Root And Roe, described Pirie as being "like Jamie Oliver after 55 double espressos".

"I'm very sad to be leaving," Pirie says of his forthcoming departure, "but I am also excited about both the work I have done and the work still to come.

"I was very happy to start at the Traverse at the beginning of Orla's tenure, when she was just starting to put her artistic stamp on things, and that has been a real thrill, and a real learning opportunity for me. But now seems the right time for me to leave and try something else."

Pirie's restless spirit has paid dividends since he first arrived at the Traverse with a pedigree that included stints as assistant director at Paines Plough, then run by former artistic director of the National Theatre Of Scotland, Vicky Featherstone, and with the Donmar.

In 2008, Pirie worked as staff director on John Tiffany's production of Black Watch with the NTS. Given such already established connections with Featherstone and Tiffany, one might expect to see him work with the current artistic and associate directors of the Royal Court Theatre, London, in the near future.

He has also worked as a creative associate at the Bush, London, and has directed mainly new works by the likes of Jack Thorne and Chloe Moss at venues as diverse as Soho Theatre, the Arcola, the London Eye and at the Latitude Festival, Suffolk.

Pirie was an associate director on Shrek The Musical, and, given the range of his work, it comes as no surprise to discover he once worked for a comedy promotions company during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This led directly to an association with Mark Thomas for his show, Extreme Rambling, seen in Edinburgh at the Bongo Club prior to a UK tour.

"That was initially quite daunting," Pirie admits, "because Mark is a bit of a hero of mine."

The success of Extreme Rambling led to Bravo Figaro!, in which Thomas looked at his relationship with his father.

"Mark is so rigorous in his investigations of things he goes on this sort of gonzo journalistic style," Pirie says, "but he had never investigated himself before, and that was really exciting."

Pirie has recently returned from Seoul, South Korea, where he and Rob Drummond watched a rehearsed reading of a Korean language version of Quiz Show at the Doosan Arts Centre as part of a cultural exchange that also saw Pirie direct Korean work.

"I think it went down really well," Pirie says of the Quiz Show performance. "The audience seemed to really connect with the concept and the topic of the play. Some of the parallels obviously do not work, but the presentation of a woman being taken advantage of in the way the play deals with seemed to really connect.

"I was sitting there listening to it, obviously not understanding a word, but watching the audience go through the same process that the audience in Edinburgh did, where for the first 10 minutes everyone's having a great time. Then someone pulls a gun out, and there was exactly the same sense of shock."

In his remaining time at the Traverse, Pirie will direct two of the new season's lunchtime plays in association with Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie And A Pint initiative, and continue to work with young writers and directors.

Pirie's successor, Emma Callander, is already in post, and, as co-founder of the politically-tinged Theatre Uncut series of hot-off-the-press events that have featured in the Traverse's Fringe programme, looks set to continue Pirie's energetic, can-do approach.

"The brilliant thing about work in Scotland," says Pirie, "is that there are no rules about what theatre should be. For a director that is a brilliant thing to come into. My job is to find the right form and the right tools to tell a story, and they are going to be different every time. There is a sense in Scotland as well of there being a real theatre community that has a completely open door. That makes for something really exhilarating to be part of, to tell stories that have never been told before, and to try and make them connect with audiences. When that magic, intangible thing happens, that is an amazing feeling. That's rock and roll."

Tickets for the Traverse Theatre's spring season go on sale today.

l www.traverse.co.uk

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