Brian Beacom

ANDY Arnold is celebrating his tenth anniversary running Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.

During this stint, he has been responsible for a series of acclaimed, bold and innovative plays.

Andy has also stretched the Tron’s influence, and reputation, as far as Russia and China, where he has co-produced and directed acclaimed work.

Yet, Andy never set to become a theatre producer or director.

It transpires he was once a punk poet, who performed under the stage name, RC Skidmark.

The theatre boss smiles as he tells of his own story, one of anarchism lite, a little acting, lots of community work - and cartoons.

“I’ve always loved theatre,” he maintains. “I’d spend a lot of my time up in the gods (the cheap seats) in the Palace Theatre in Southend where I grew up, every week.

“And I’d always wanted to work in theatre, but not in Southend.”

He adds, grinning; “You want to escape from there as soon as you can.”

As a teenager, he didn’t see himself as an actor, although he has acted over the years, from school to professional productions.

Then parental pressure saw him arrive at Dundee University where he studied Social Sciences.

“There weren’t a lot of people going to Dundee to study at that time,” he recalls, smiling.

“You could get in with low A’Level grades. So you had me and a lot of thick English public school kids going up there. But I had a great time.”

Andy joined the drama society, but gave up when he realised it was run by ex-public schoolboys.

“I’d hang around with Brian Wilson (the future MP) and Jim Innes who ran the student newspaper and I did the cartoons. I almost ran off with them to form the West Highland Free Press.”

Andy loved Scotland but career ideas were vague.

“Totally nebulous,” he agrees.

“I did teacher training, and had some idea of starting up a free school, and meantime I was very much involved in the International Socialist movement.

“Life was more about doing something different, making a mark, not conforming.”

Work involved part-time teaching, freelance cartooning, and some writing.

But a light bulb moment came when he found himself teaching in Cambridgeshire and sharing a house with Tony Grey, who was part of a performance group called The Alberts.

The group who were so anarchic they were deemed too dangerous for television.

When Andy saw their current show, The Electric Element, running in Stratford East, he reckoned it to be “Totally absurdist, ridiculous nonsense. And I loved it. Then I thought ‘How do I do something like this?’”

You just do it. RC Skidmark (later named by a magazine as the nation’s Number One punk poet) was born and with a puppeteer pal Andy took a show on the road, playing in between bands.

More part-time teaching followed, and he moved to Leeds. But still hadn’t quite found his world.

“I remember getting to the age of thirty and not being happy with my life.”

In 1980, an ad appeared that re-wrote his future. It was for a coordinator with the Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh, a venue for small scale touring companies.

“I was commissioning people to put on plays, but I thought ‘I could do better than that. Suddenly I was paid to being in a rehearsal room, creating theatre, and it was fantastic.

“I hadn’t trained as a director, of course, but that didn’t matter. Looking back, I’m glad of that. I came to it fresh.”

Arnold made a real impact. An unlikely collaborator was Jimmy Boyle. The play produced a play together based on Boyle’s Pain of Confinement autobiography.

A stint running London’s Bloomsbury Theatre followed but “it didn’t feel right, culturally.” Andy wanted to come back to Scotland.

In 1990, he came back to work in street theatre, with an idea of setting up pub theatre, but came up with the idea of creating The Arches Theatre, which was a massive success story.

“I got Glasgow Development Agency to pay the rent for a year and meantime set up the nightclub part of it. Then we were approached by a swimming pool attendant and his mate to run an Alien Spaceship . . . and I said ‘Why not?’”

It seems ‘Why not’ is Arnold’s maxim in life. And thanks to the Aliens, the bar, the night club takings and some great theatre programming (David Mamet, Joe Orton plays) the Arches was a massive success.

Andy however left The Arches “because it was time.” He wanted a decluttering. But was there a trepidation in coming to the Tron with its powerful legacy?

“No, there was no fear,” he says with a wry smile.

“Instead of cycling towards the Arches I’d reach Eglinton Toll and just come here.”

His bike saddle bag contained the same maverick ideas; bold plays, cheeky titles such as The Motherf***** With The Hat, he’s produced Irish and Russian plays.

“I like to do absurdist pieces, I like to do new plays, contemporary classics.

“What I tried to do initially however was appeal to the Tron’s older audience. But over the years I reckoned I’ve got to do what I want to do, and hope there is an audience for it.”

He adds; “If you put on good writing people will come and see it. And they’ll come see work they don’t know.”

Andy Arnold is clearly his own man. The punk in him hasn’t subsided, even though he’s now a father of four.

“What I do feel is a great hunger to keep on doing the work,” he says.

To make theatre that surprises?

“Always,” he says, smiling.