Bloody Trams

Aug 6 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Only goes halfway

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) Tues 5 – Sun 10 Aug 2014

Up-to-date, emotive and with musical accompaniment, Bloody Trams in Traverse 2 has returned now that those trams are finally here. The Traverse and Utter have produced a late-night entertainment that is always diverting but ultimately not fully realised.

A tram testing on Princes Street. Photo © Marion Donohoe

A tram testing on Princes Street. Photo © Marion Donohoe

Billed somewhat portentously as having been written by ‘The People of Edinburgh,’ this is largely a piece of verbatim theatre based on anonymous interviews conducted by director Joe Douglas. Rather than working from a script, performers Nicola Roy and Jonathan Holt work from the recorded sources relayed from their phones via earpieces.

That is not all there is to it, of course – the testimony is presented in a variety of ways, including musically, with the impressive David Paul Jones providing backing and further musical interludes from the piano.

This variety means that the show is presented as much as a cabaret as a piece of straight theatre. While it is always interesting and fairly slick, it is not entirely successful as an example of either genre.

Some of the interview evidence is extremely touching, notably the opinions of those whose businesses were adversely affected by the long-drawn-out process. Other parts are presented more for their comedic value, and there is something rather disquieting about seeing exaggerated versions of individual members of the public depicted on stage, knowing that the actors are working from their actual speeches.

Holt and Roy are both talented and versatile performers, and the end results are always entertaining, but while sometimes we are laughing with the testimony at others, we are definitely expected to laugh at its providers. You hope that (for example) those people who came to view and travel on the first trams do not see themselves represented on stage.

a strangely plangent quality

The musical numbers are also somewhat variable. At their best – such as the inspired use of Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s Depression anthem Brother Can You Spare A Dime? they add real depth. However, One Direction parodies should probably be left to second-rate student revues.

One of the most impressive sections comes when the words of a Big Issue seller are echoed mournfully in song, taking on a strangely plangent quality. This interview strays furthest from direct relevance to the trams and addresses more of the human background. The show might have been stronger had it taken more of this tack – just repeating that the trams have taken a long time to build and cost ridiculous amounts of money that could have better have been spent elsewhere is hardly news to Edinburgh residents.

Visitors, meanwhile, might appreciate a show with a little more pace and a more defined structure. The use of a Scotsman letter from the 1950s warning of the dire consequences of removing the original trams provides this kind of context, which is more useful than getting cheap laughs with remarks about paving the streets with gold.

Something of a missed opportunity, but there is much that is true and demands to be heard – and visitors will at least get some sense of what has been going on.

Running time 1 hour
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED (Venue 15)
Tues 5 – Sun 10 Aug 2014
Daily at 23.00
Tickets from
Traverse website:


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