Traverse Theatre

For other uses, see Traverse.
Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre
Address 10 Cambridge Street
Coordinates 55°56′51.43″N 3°12′17.25″W / 55.9476194°N 3.2047917°W / 55.9476194; -3.2047917Coordinates: 55°56′51.43″N 3°12′17.25″W / 55.9476194°N 3.2047917°W / 55.9476194; -3.2047917
Capacity 256 & 100 (2 stages)
Opened 1963

The Traverse Theatre is a theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was founded in 1963 by John Calder, Jim Haynes and Richard Demarco seeking to extend the spirit of the Festival throughout the year.

The Traverse Theatre commissions and develops new plays or adaptations from contemporary playwrights. It also presents a large number of productions from visiting companies from across the UK. These include new plays, adaptations, dance, physical theatre, puppetry and contemporary music.[1]

The Traverse is a pivotal venue in Edinburgh, particularly during the Edinburgh Festivals in August. It is also the home of the Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival and the Imaginate Festival.

Artistic directors


The Traverse Theatre began as a theatre club in 15 James Court, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, a former doss-house and brothel also known as Kelly's Paradise and Hell's Kitchen. It was "a long, low-ceilinged first-floor room barely 15ft wide by 8ft high"[2] with 60 seats salvaged from the Palace Cinema placed in two blocks on either side of the stage. The theatre is named because Terry Lane mistakenly believed that the staging arrangement is called 'traverse'; he later realised that it is 'transverse' but it was already too well known to change it. In its first year of operation, a Theatre Conference was organised by director Jim Haynes, John Calder and Kenneth Tynan and including a Happening involving Allan Kaprow among others. The first performance was on 2 January 1963.[3]

Following a surveyor's report in March 1969 which stated that the internal floors of James Court were unsafe, the Traverse moved to a former sailmakers's loft at 112 West Bow in the east end of the Grassmarket. This larger space had a 100-seat theatre with flexible seating configurations. The first performance in this venue was on 24 August 1969. In its early days the theatre included exhibition space for the visual arts, until 1966 when the administrators for that space – including Richard Demarco – moved away to establish what became the Richard Demarco Gallery.[2]

Current Traverse Theatre building

Cambridge Street, with the Usher Hall on the right

In 1992, the Traverse moved to its current location, 10 Cambridge Street. A £3.3 million purpose-built two theatre space with bar café created as part of Saltire Court development on Castle Terrace. The theatre's first performance at this location was on 3 July 1992.

Traverse 1 is the larger space with flexible seating that can be moved to create many different configurations (e.g. transverse, end on, in the round, etc.). The most common configuration is 'end on' and has 216 seats. Traverse 2 is the smaller studio space. New flexible seating was installed in September 2005 to allow for different staging configurations and the average capacity is approximately 100 seats.

The Traverse and the Edinburgh Festivals

Founded in 1963 by John Calder, Jim Haynes and Richard Demarco, the mission was to continue the spirit of the Edinburgh Festivals all year round.

During the Festivals in August, the Traverse continues to present cutting edge new writing, as well as new work of all kinds to an international audience. The Traverse is occasionally referred to as 'The Fringe venue that got away', reflecting its current status as a permanent and integral part of the Edinburgh arts scene throughout the year.

Today August remains the busiest time for the Traverse. During the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Traverse played host to 19 shows. In a first for Scottish theatre, a series of specially commissioned rehearsed readings by Enda Walsh, Linda McLean, David Eldridge, Simon Stephens and Marina Carr were broadcast live on 23 August 2010 to cinemas across the UK. One third of 2010 Scotsman Fringe First Award winners were shows performed at the Traverse.

The Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner has described the Traverse's programme as, "The backbone to the Fringe programme. What you see there will often set the tone and tenor of the rest of the Fringe."

Notable associations

From its beginning in 1963, the Traverse Theatre has launched the careers of many of Scotland's best-known writers including John Byrne, Gregory Burke, David Greig, David Harrower and Liz Lochhead.

During the 1960s Richard Wilson was a regular performer. Throughout the 1970s the Traverse Theatre became a mecca for actors, including Timothy Dalton, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Simon Callow, Bill Paterson and Steven Berkoff. In 1978 David Hayman famously directed John Byrne's Slab Boys which featured Robbie Coltrane.

Tilda Swinton and Forbes Masson memorably performed during the 1980s and Steve Unwin directed Alan Cumming in a 1988 production of The Conquest of the South Pole. Ashley Jensen and Bill Nighy began their acting careers at the Traverse.

Many of the theatre's sponsored seats have personalised plaques, including Robbie Coltrane's "This is a no farting zone" and Tom Conti's "In memory of my longest dry".


See also


  1. "About Scotland's new writing theatre". Traverse Theatre Edinburgh. 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  2. 1 2 Dean Gallery (2008) Focus on Demarco. Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
  3. Haynes, Jim (2010). "Jim Haynes Web site". Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  4. McMillan, Joyce (1988). The Traverse Theatre Story 1963–1988. Methuen ISBN 0-413-19250-4
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