• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Theatre goes from strength to strength under Robson

When Ed Robson took over as artistic director of Cumbernauld Theatre, he had something of an uphill struggle ahead of him.

MAN WITH A PLAN:  Ed Robson's enthusiasm saw him get the job of turning round the economic fortunes of Cumbernauld Theatre. Picture: Colin Mearns
MAN WITH A PLAN: Ed Robson's enthusiasm saw him get the job of turning round the economic fortunes of Cumbernauld Theatre. Picture: Colin Mearns

Here was a theatre with a proud past both as a community and professional venue, but which had just had its Scottish Arts Council grant cut. With heavy debts mounting, the theatre's closure seemed inevitable. Rather than appoint some number-crunching bureaucrat to step in and manage the venue's demise, Cumbernauld Theatre's board of directors were convinced enough by Robson's enthusiasm that he could turn things around.

Seven years on, and things look different.

With Robson still in post, Cumbernauld Theatre is alive and well with a mixed programme of visiting shows and in-house work. An annual company-in-residence project was set up last year with the award-winning Tortoise in a Nutshell company the first partner, and the Edinburgh-based Stoirm Og company now named as the second recipients of an initiative which aims to culminate in the opening of a new co-production at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Stoirm Og's arrival in Cumbernauld comes alongside the announcement that a new building looks set to house Cumbernauld Theatre from 2017, when the company will move into a multi-purpose arts centre more fitting for the 21st century than the theatre's current home.

With all this activity ongoing, Robson is about to take an unpaid sabbatical to investigate international theatre work and possibilities for future collaborations. While this sounds like a well-earned breather for Robson, he remains ebullient about the developments at Cumbernauld, which he helped bring about.

"In a moment of visionary belief in the arts," Robson explains, "North Lanarkshire Council has decided to invest more than £4 million in a new theatre and arts centre. A new school is going to be built on the site of the existing Cumbernauld High School, and the new Cumbernauld Theatre is going to be built next to it. That affords us the opportunity to share resources and to work on projects together and develop creative learning work without being totally joined at the hip."

Robson is philosophical about the state his theatre was in when he first arrived there.

"It all seems like a long time ago now," he says. "To all intents and purposes we were bankrupt. We couldn't afford to pay the bills, and no-one was going to give us any money for a new building if we couldn't afford to run the one we had. So we had to start from scratch and reinvent the whole thing, and ask ourselves why we were here, what we were doing and how the building was being used. The only reason we are talking today is because we started on a journey of doing more creative things and being more collaborative, and endeavouring to make what is a relatively small amount of resources go a very long way, and to have as much reach and impact as we possibly can with it."

This was achieved in part by a series of co-productions, which eventually led to the current company-in-residence scheme. Adopting a philanthropic approach, Robson opened the building up to the wider community to generate more activity inside it.

"The building itself is bricks and mortar and heating and lighting, but they are resources which a lot of smaller companies don't have access to, so these are really valuable things for them to have. Together we have done more challengingly creative things, and we've paid off the debt. By changing the economic way of working and opening up the building, we now have more people attending events and taking part.

"Once that started to happen and we turned things around and started becoming successful, we could start talking seriously about why we need a new building, and why the building that we've got, as quirky and full of character as it is, is a building of its era, and limits what we can do."

For Stoirm Og's co-founder, playwright Elspeth Turner, having scored a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the company's first show, The Idiot at the Wall, the opportunity to be Cumbernauld's company in residence is one that came at the right time.

"It all seemed to fit," says Turner. "They wanted an emerging company that they could help grow, and after The Idiot at the Wall we certainly had lots of room for growth in lots areas where we needed mentoring and guidance.

"We had all the energy and enthusiasm, but just thought we'd really benefit from having the sort of support network that Cumbernauld Theatre could provide."

Robson sees Stoirm Og's presence as a radical move in keeping with his vision for the theatre's future. "Scotland is in a really interesting place just now in terms of language," he observes, "and we thought it might be interesting to engage with a company that worked with Gaelic and Doric. When we met them, they had a really wonderful way of describing ideas for magical realism in theatre and relating traditional myths to the modern world."

After his forthcoming sabbatical, Robson plans to still be in charge of Cumbernauld Theatre when it moves into its new building. In the meantime, there is still a lot of work to do.

"To make the new building a reality, we still have to raise another £1.8m," he says, "but given that there is already a significant financial commitment and political will from the local authority, I'm confident we can make it happen."

www.cumbernauldtheatre.co.uk

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

244366