Raising the curtain on real life theatre in Fife

A scene from Doglife in the Old Kirk. Pics by FPA
A scene from Doglife in the Old Kirk. Pics by FPA

A groundbreaking project which will use theatre to help vulnerable people to help themselves out of poverty, build self esteem and avoid a life of crime has just launched in Kirkcaldy.

It will see Edinburgh-based theatre group, Grassmarket Projects, set up as a theatre in residence at the Linton Lane Centre in Kirkcaldy for two days a week for at least the next six months – and possibly three years if more funding can be found.

Mark, Thomas and Jeremy with Councillor Hamilton and Mandy at Linton Lane

Mark, Thomas and Jeremy with Councillor Hamilton and Mandy at Linton Lane

Staff will help guide residents from around the town who could benefit from a helping hand on a series of theatre and drama based sessions to tell their own stories in their own words to audiences in and around Kirkcaldy. The project came about after Mandy Henderson, manager of the Linton Lane Centre, went to see the production Dogslife at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2016. She was so impressed by its raw emotion that she took her friend, Kirkcaldy councillor Judy Hamilton to see it.

They got talking to the show’s stars as well as the artistic director, Jeremy Weller and creative producer, Mark Traynor, and decided it would be a great show to bring to Kirkcaldy.

After finding funding to do so, the show was performed twice in the town’s Old Kirk to audiences of over 200 each night and they were very well received.

Further discussions with interested parties saw a desire to bring Grassmarket’s theatre self-help programme to Kirkcaldy to work with deprived communities, and this is now starting with groups of young homeless people, former offenders and possibly people set to leave the local authority’s looked after programme to offer additional support and hope for the future.

The cast of Doglife

The cast of Doglife

Funding from Fife Council and the Criminal Justice Service will enable the sessions to run until Christmas, and more work is being done to increase this for longer.

Jeremy and Mark, along with former gangland enforcer, Thomas McCrudden, the star of two of Grassmarket Projects’ recent productions, will work with groups of up to 50 local people, helping them to write about, film and perform their experiences in no-holds-barred theatre workshops and productions.

“We have worked with groups around Scotland and overseas, in prisons and some of the most deprived communities you could come across, and projects like this which help people to tell their own stories have been proven to help them to build up their inner resilience by unpicking what can sometimes be pretty horrendous narrative from their past. There’s a real therapeutic process in this,” explained Jeremy.

“The minimum we would aim for in Kirkcaldy is to raise people’s self esteem to build up their confidence and increase their wellbeing.”

Mark added: “We are not social workers or the government or employers. What we are interested in is working with existing networks in the area and building up new relationships so that when people can do something on their own to help them progress to other things then they can.

“They will be different people from what they started out as. Some could even go on to mentor others facing similar issues as themselves.”

And Helen Chamier-Tripp, service development manager with Apex Scotland which works with offenders, ex-offenders and those at risk, to develop skills to change their behaviour and lead fulfilling lives, has also been talking to those from the project about getting involved.

Mandy Henderson, centre manager at Linton Lane, added: “We’ve worked hard to bring this to Kirkcaldy because we believe it is a unique way to bring theatre to people who would maybe not otherwise come across it and help them to help improve their lives.

“We have been going around local groups which we believe could benefit from the project and anyone who would be interested in finding out more can contact the centre.”

For information (01592) 643816 or visit www.grassmarketprojects.com.

The idea for the Kirkcaldy theatre project all began with a production of Dogslife at the Edinburgh Fringe, starring long-time criminal Thomas (Tosh) McCrudden.

McCrudden grew up in a deprived housing scheme in Glasgow where, despite a supportive family, he turned to violence in order to survive.

He became involved in gangland culture from the age of 11, the beginning of his criminal life.
However one day, while in HM Prison Lewes, he saw a man coming through the prison doors.

“I could see right away that he was terrified. He wasn’t looking at anyone and I knew he would become a victim. Something changed inside me and I decided to take him under my wing. It changed my life,” he said.

“I became a listener in the prison and the boys started opening up to me because they knew I was one of them.” Thomas worked as a mentor for Scottish charity Positive Prison Positive Futures, offering support to young men coming out of custody.

He enrolled in college aged 40, writing about his life as a violent thug. These memoirs were passed on to theatre-makers Jeremy Weller and Mark Traynor, who thought there was the basis of a play.
After a lot of persuading, Thomas agreed to take part and his plays are now widely acclaimed.
Mandy said: “When I saw the play at the festival I knew right away that it would strike a chord.”