Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mary Brennan talks Citz, 1984

As a coda to what the Citizens' is  about (a reflection too of Giles Havergal's yearning for a Globe-type audience... here is one of his favourite anecdotes. 

When the tenements were still standing, a fat, rather unprepossessing old woman used to watch the company going in and out, day after day. On the night of the free preview, Havergal was surprised to see the old dear waddle in with her young grandson. 'They sat in the stalls, she got out a thermos, gave him a drink, hit him over the head for talking.

At the interval I thought, 'they'll go'. But no, they stayed.' 

And the play that held their attention? The Duchess Of  Malfi.

(Mary Brennan, Theatre Ireland, No. 5 (Dec., 1983 - Mar., 1984), pp. 60-64)

Mary Brennan's article about The Citizen's Theatre in 1984 begins with a photograph of the venue as it was then - standing alone in a derelict waste ground. Through interviews with both the creative team and company manager Paul Bassett, she describes how, despite its location, the theatre thrived through cheap ticket prices and a diet of imaginative interpretations of classic texts.

Although The Citizens has a book dedicated to its history, Brennan's piece is a snapshot that explains why the venue, and the tenure of Giles Havergal, is so fondly remembered. Contrasting the strategies of Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse ('the gang of three') with those of other reps who took their cues from London, Brennan identifies their approach and success.

Where other reps will look to London's West End for a play (and 
often an identikit production) they hope will 'take', the Citz will ferret out a neglected Goldoni. Robert David MacDonald will burnish it up in a new translation, they'll stage it with a commendable lack of false and stifling reverence and a delighted audience will suddenly find that Goldoni's observation on people and social behaviour are enduringly relevant and funny. 
(page 62)

Pondering their influences, Brennan observes a 'confident theatricality more redolent of the European than the British stage,' before listing their international touring programme. She also mentions the 'enviable reputation for exciting and original design,' a quality that would be found in later Citizens' alumni such as Kenny Miller and Stewart Laing. 

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