Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Glasgow School VII: The Citizens Theatre

In the universe according to Wikipedia, The Citizens is 'the principal producing theatre in the west of Scotland.' The article goes on to note that it had some controversy in the 1970s, both for nudity in a production of Hamlet and an act of solidarity with striking workers (free entry to anyone with a valid trade union card). It has a reputation, thanks to the long tenure of Gile Havergil as artistic director, for staging experimental plays, and provocative interpretations of classics and, not least due to its name, a strong connection to the surrounding population of Gorbals.

It is currently under the artistic direction of Dominic Hill (described by critic Mark Brown as having a 'talent for classical drama which is genuinely world class... Hill’s highly imaginative, transfixing productions of classic plays by such authors as Shakespeare, Beckett, Howard Barker and Edward Albee mark him out as the best director to have worked in Scotland since Giles Havergal'). Hill's time has seen acclaimed productions of Beckett, Shakespeare's King Lear and an adaptation of Crime and Punishment.

The Citizens also provides a home for Untitled Projects, the company of maverick director and designer Stuart Laing. 

Programming at The Citizens represents a lineage that reaches back to Shakespeare. Hill - following his predecessors Havergill and Jeremy Raison - selects works that are part of the English language's canon, international scripts and commissions new work from established playwrights. Recent seasons have seen Pinter (Betrayal) and Ibsen (via a version from Zinnie Harris, Miss Julie) alongside a carefully selected set of guest companies who, like Filter with their gig influenced Twelfth Night, often parallel Hill's iconoclastic approach to classic texts. 

Throughout the years, The Citizens has had special offers, encouraging audiences that would not usually go to theatre. Their latest strategy is 'tickets for a pound,' which leads to long queues on the day of release, and headlines. 

Hill does have a distinctive directorial style - it acknowledges influences from post-dramatic theatre by frequently introducing microphones for monologues, has a very Brechtian attitude to scenography whilst using the cast sometimes in the manner of a Greek chorus - but his programming includes enough recognisable plays to hint at a sharp eye for marketing. His Hamlet is a crwod-pleasing choice (coming in September 2014), but as much for the possibilities that Hill might apply as for the script itself. 

Thank you to Steven Thomson for the geographical correction.

1 comment :

  1. Having only been in Glasgow for a year thus far, I admire the number of productions (both Citizens Productions and Touring) that have come through the theatre, I am also quite fond of Dominic Hill's investment in flagship productions (Crime and Punishment last September, now Hamlet) that show the theatre place real investment as a producing house in a major production now only for Glasgow, but often for subsequent touring. Whilst my experiences of the productions at the Citizens has not always been as engaging as I might have liked, the theatre makes very effective steps at making their tickets affordable and I am often willing to attend the work at the Citz because I tend to associate their mark with particular qualities. The qualities that I think of for the Citz are roughly: high-end production values, a strong reverence for theatrical tradition and work that can often sustain an interesting discussion if not always the most stimulating experience.

    One question that hovers around the Citz for me though is its rich history as a place for the avant-garde, the theatre even sells posters of their 1970s/80s seasons from its box office. I am aware that this history has something of a mythic quality to it, but the comparison might serve to highlight the relative mainstream position the Citz currently occupies, with much of its programme reading like the cannon of Dramatic literature. Although the Citizens link with companies such as Untitled suggests that it may still aspire to being 'a laboratory for Scottish theatre-makers', I feel more likely to find experimental work at the Arches. This is not to discredit the Citz, it is what it is and occupies the space that it does. It is a plus for me having a venue to see touring work by companies like Headlong and Filter.