Traverse Theatre

The Traverse Theatre is a theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was founded in 1963[1] by John Calder, John Malcolm, Jim Haynes and Richard Demarco seeking to extend the spirit of the Festival throughout the year.[1]

Traverse Theatre
Traverse Theatre
Address10 Cambridge Street
Coordinates55°56′51.43″N 3°12′17.25″W
CapacityT1: 214 (end-on) & 284 (festival configuration). T2: 99 (end-on) & 115 (horseshoe).

The Traverse Theatre commissions and develops new plays or adaptations from contemporary playwrights. It also presents many productions from visiting companies from across the UK. These include new plays, adaptations, dance, physical theatre, puppetry and contemporary music.[2]

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 Edinburgh International Children's Festival (previously 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"[7] 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 included a happening involving Allan Kaprow among others. The first performance was on 2 January 1963.[8]

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.[7]

Current Traverse Theatre building

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 214 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 of the Traverse was to continue the spirit of the Edinburgh Festivals all year round.[1]

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. In 2010, 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.

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 hosted 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".


  • At the second Traverse performance on 3 January 1963, lead actress Colette O'Neil was accidentally stabbed on stage. The knife, which was real, had caught in the folds of her costume and had gone into her side. The actress went on with the rest of the performance and was seen to at the end by a doctor who had been in the audience and later taken to hospital.[9] John Martin (co-founder of the Traverse and an early chairman of the board) says that the real knife was used because the space was so small and the audience sat so close to the stage a fake knife would have been detected. Richard Demarco says it was because they had no money and could not afford a paper one.
  • Throughout 1965 the Traverse Theatre Club was threatened with police raids due to open homosexual activity in a time when it was illegal.
  • At the 1967 Edinburgh Festival, twenty-two Traverse Theatre shows were performed; including Rochelle Owens' Futz! which the Daily Express described as "Filth on the Fringe", and Alfred Jarry's Ubu in Chains which featured Ma and Pa Ubu as 6-foot tall sexual organs.
  • At a meeting in 1971 Artistic Director Michael Rudman persuaded the Edinburgh Corporation to increase the Traverse grant but refused to give any assurances on the 'decency' of future productions.[10]

See also


  1. "How Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre Is Bringing New Writing Talent to The World". The Theatre Times. 20 November 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  2. "About Scotland's new writing theatre". Traverse Theatre Edinburgh. 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  3. Hill, Dominic (12 August 2008). "My Edinburgh: Dominic Hill, artistic director, Traverse theatre". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  4. "Artistic Director: Dominic Hill | About". Citizens Theatre. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  5. Pollock, David (4 December 2018). "Orla O'Loughlin interview | Guildhall | re-imagine theatre training". The Stage. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  6. Desk, BWW News. "Gareth Nicholls Appointed Interim Artistic Director Of The Traverse Theatre". Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  7. Dean Gallery (2008) Focus on Demarco. Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
  8. Haynes, Jim (2010). "Jim Haynes Web site". Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  9. "Actress returns to frightening scene of stabbing". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  10. McMillan, Joyce (1988). The Traverse Theatre Story 1963–1988. Methuen ISBN 0-413-19250-4

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