The Sunday Times Article, 10th August, 2014

Edinburgh: Roll up, roll up


“THE idea of a company of travelling players is as old as theatre itself. As for the theatre building also travelling — well, that’s also got some history. Think of circuses and fairground show folk and Spiegeltent dancehalls. But, mostly, touring companies use other people’s buildings. So it’s interesting to find at the Edinburgh Fringe this year a new kind of fully designed, working, permanent travelling theatre.

It’s called the Paines Plough Roundabout. Paines Plough is a touring company devoted to breaking new dramatic writing. Now 40 years old, it is embarking on a new chapter of its existence. I found them — and it, the Roundabout — inside a marquee in a courtyard at Summerhall, Edinburgh’s former veterinary college, now an arts venue and mainstay of the Fringe.

The marquee is off-the-peg and unremarkable — the company now wants to design its own distinctive tent, too — but the auditorium inside is undeniably clever. It’s circular, it has its own ceiling, with a very neat built-in LED lighting rig, and it can seat an audience of 138. It feels timeless, even classical — it is, after all, a mini-amphitheatre, 36ft in diameter, with a central circular stage 15ft across and standing a bit over 16ft high. Its four gangways are shared by audience and actors alike.

The whole thing is based on a system of hinged plywood boxes, lightweight ceiling segments and yacht-style winches. It can be assembled and taken down by two unskilled people with an Allen key — no other tools required. The seat backs are like big aluminium shoehorns that just slot in behind the tiers of benches with their circular cushions. All the pieces fit through a normal-sized door, and everything packs away into a truck.

The company’s artistic directors, George Perrin and James Grieve, and its lighting designer, Emma Chapman, meet me in a lunchtime break in rehearsals. “The exciting thing for us is that we can now tour to towns that don’t have theatre buildings. We’ve got portability, we can replicate productions from London to the Outer Hebrides,” says Grieve. The ever-burgeoning music festival circuit also beckons: Paines Plough can roll up with its own theatre as an additional attraction.

A group of people, including Chapman, the theatre designer Lucy Osborne, the theatre consultants Charcoalblue and the lighting expert Howard Eaton refined the design from prototypes tested in Sheffield and London. The final version, supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, among other donors, has a notional 10-year life. If it works as planned, it could be on the road for years longer.”


By: Hugh Pearman