Since its conception in 1963 as ‘Scotland’s new writing theatre’, the Traverse has earned an international reputation for producing the very highest standard of new and innovative work. The current, somewhat unlikely, partnership between the Traverse and Edinburgh University’s ESRC Genomics Forum, represents the most recent example of its dedication to venture into unchartered territory and mine its creative potential.
Genomics is the study of genomes, the information contained within every living organism that is essential for its development; for becoming whoever it is you are going to be, whether that is a human being or a grain of rice. Recent technological developments open up the possibility that in the future we will be able to compare individual human genomes, which raises a number of complex questions such as, what we are to do with such knowledge, who should have access to it and what might the social consequences be.
Having already delivered a body of work concerning the social context and impact of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, there is perhaps no-one better placed to consider such issues as Glasgow-born writer Peter Arnott. Based at the Forum, Arnott is the Resident Playwright - the embodiment of this strange and unusual partnership. Arnott has been exploring the vast area of genomics research to date, and he is now at the stage where he can begin to perform the writing that has evolved out of this process.
Arnott introduced Talent Night in The Fly Room as a step along the way to producing a full play for the Traverse. It looks back at the interesting research papers he has read and forward to the play he will write. He describes this evening’s performance as putting his writing under laboratory conditions, where what works – and doesn’t – will become a reality.
Arnott was one of four performers, all reading from scripts, taking part in this revue. There was a storyline - although it took a bit of piecing together, but mostly it was fabulous fun: a riot of songs, spoof adverts, poetry and dialogue that carried you on a merry dance from one mad (but definitely plausible) idea to the next.
The songs were particularly clever, a sublime hybrid of Noel Coward and Tim Minchin with a bit of Monty Python (especially from The Meaning of Life) thrown in. It was wordily witty - from the tango that includes the line, ‘material machines tell you what existence means, all your fears and all your dreams are in your genome’ to the final song ‘Don’t You Think It’s Strange To Be Alive’ that begins, ‘We are islands of order in oceans of entropy’, accompanied by Arnott on the harmonica with an enthusiastic tongue firmly in his cheek.
I’ve mentioned Arnott a lot but John Keilty, Mark McDonnell and Ros Sydney were also superb, with brilliant comic timing and great energy. This hour-long performance absolutely flew by. Now we just have to wait for the full-length version.
Event: 29 March 2012