The site of the present day Tron Theatre has played a central role in the life of Glasgow City for nearly five centuries, during which time it has been a place of Christian worship (both Catholic and Protestant) and a place of execution, a meeting hall, a market and a store house, a police station and a theatre.
A church was originally built on the site now occupied by the Tron Theatre in 1529. However, the oldest surviving part of the structure is the 16th Century clock tower – still one of Glasgow’s most recognizable landmarks.
The name Trongate first appeared around 1560. The “tron” was the beam with which trading goods were officially weighed on entering the city walls and Glasgow is not unique in retaining a Tron Gate to this day – at least in name. For the next three hundred years, this area came to be at the heart of the city’s mercantile and financial activity.
"… in the most best and commodious forme that can be devisit by the best craftsmen"
In the reconstruction that followed the great fire of 1577, the Tollbooth (including the steeple) was built by the Town Council and used for meetings, hearings and hangings. Here, too, Glasgow's first pavement area was built but reserved for the use of Virginian tobacco merchants.
In 1793, the notorious Hell Fire Club set the building on fire again, destroying it save for the steeple which was incorporated into a replacement structure by the architects, James and Robert Adam. The new Adam building still forms the basis for the Tron Theatre today.
In 1800 the first Glasgow police force were based for a short time in the building, and in 1821 the Tron steeple clock was the first in Britain to be illuminated with gas reflectors, the invention of a Glasgow pastry baker. Yet despite such innovations, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century did much to change the character of the East End as the new phenomenon of pollution drove the monied further and further west, carried on the equally new railways.
Back in the East End, new forms of entertainment established themselves: drinking shops, free-and-easies, dance halls and penny theatre. Known as the 'dark side of Glasgow', a newspaper reported 200 houses of ill fame in the area and the Leigh Kirk alone had 20 brothels within its close. The Britannia Hall opened nearby, along with a number of other music halls and wax works including the Metropole, once managed by Stan Laurel's father.
"… to provide opportunities for local writers and actors, to widen the choice for theatre-goers, and to make the Tron the most accessible and welcoming venue in Glasgow".
There then followed a period of disuse and shabby obscurity until the formation of the Glasgow Theatre Club in the late 70s. In 1980 the Club took over the building at a rent of £1 per annum and after little more than a year the Tron was off to a flying start with a full programme of visiting companies and jazz in the bar on Sundays (a tradition which is being revived once more). However, facilities were meagre and development continued side by side with the artistic programme: in 1982 the main auditorium was opened and in 1984 Michael Boyd was appointed as the first Artistic Director of the Tron Theatre.
Under Boyd's direction, the Tron Theatre Company won five Mayfest Paperboat Awards, performed twice at the Edinburgh International Festival, won an LWT Plays on Stage Award and toured four times to North America. Nevertheless, as a theatre club, the building was only open to members and their friends until the Victorian Bar & Restaurant were opened to the public in 1990.
In 1992 the building was developed still further and again in 1995, thanks to European Regional Development Funding. Throughout this time, the Tron continued to establish itself as a powerhouse of new writing and dynamic productions. Leading artists to emerge from the Tron around this time included Maureen Beattie, Ewan Bremner, Peter Capaldi, Alan Cumming, Craig Ferguson, Forbes Masson, Peter Mullan, Eddi Reader, Siobhan Redmond and Elaine C Smith. The Tron became known not only for its theatre but also for its lively bar and restaurant which became a regular hang out for the Glasgow art world.
In 1996, when Michael Boyd left to become Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Irina Brown took over as the second Artistic Director of the Tron and, with the advent of the National Lottery Fund, staff set to work on a proposal to completely upgrade the Tron. In 1996, £5 million was awarded for the refurbishment and improvement of the entire building. The re-development project was funded by the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund, Strathclyde European Partnership and Glasgow City Council. One year later, the Tron once more became a building site. Performances continued in the Victorian Bar and, after December 1997, occasionally in the re-opened box office. The new Tron Bar on Chisholm Street opened in November 1998 and work continued in the Victorian Bar, the heart of the building for so many years. Finally, in July 1999, building works were nearing completion and the Tron officially re-opened.
The re-development brilliantly juxtaposes the old and historical elements of the Tron building with spectacular new spaces (including the Changing House studio theatre) and much improved facilities. The new building received the Glasgow Institute of Architect's People's Choice Award 1999; was short listed for the Regeneration of Scotland Award 1999; and was also awarded a commendation by the Civic Trust.
Irina Brown left the Tron in 1999 and Neil Murray took over as the company's Director. Boosted by improved grant funding and a resurgence in the fortunes of the Tron Bars and Restaurant the company goes from strength to strength as one of the UK's finest small to medium scale theatres.
When Neil Murray left the post in 2005 to take up the post of Executive Director of the National Theatre of Scotland. Since then Ali Curran, formerly of the Peacock Theatre at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin and Direcor Gregory Thompson have held the post.
In April 2008 Andy Arnold, previously Artistic Director of The Arches, was appointed Artistic Director of the Tron Theatre. In May 2008, his first production The Drawer Boy, a Scottish premiere of Canadian playwight, Michael Healey's much plaudited play, received audience and critical acclaim. The vibrant Autumn 2011 programme includes two Tron Theatre Company co-productions,our not-to-bemissed Tron Panto, a exciting selection of new work in our studio space and an eclectic programme of theatre, music and cabaret in the Tron's Victorian Bar.
From its origins as a kirk in 1529, through five centuries of worship, creativity and imagination, the Tron continues to flourish. In the recent overhaul of Scottish arts funding the Tron was delighted to learn that it was awarded Foundation level Funding. This level of support has secured the Tron's future as a leading player in Scotland's cultural landscape, ensuring the continuation of its commitment to produce and present inspiring and innovative theatre.