JOYCE MCMILLAN on GALLUS IN THE GORBALS – THE CITIZENS’ COMPANY CELEBRATES ITS 70th ANNIVERSARY for the Scotsman Magazine, 25.7.15. _____________________________________________________
TO ANY OTHER ARTS INSTITUTION, these could look like grim and testing times. After a decade of standstill funding, the Citizens’ Theatre Company is leaner and poorer than it was in the days when it was run by the legendary triumvirate of Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse; and there’s the additional problem that without a massive rebuilding programme, over the next four years, parts of the much-loved old theatre in the Gorbals, first opened in 1876, would – in the words of its artistic director Dominic Hill – “simply fall down.”
Yet there’s something about the Citizens’ Theatre – the shape of its famously welcoming auditorium, its location, and its brilliant creative history – that encourages a cheerfully dauntless spirit in the face of practical difficulties. Plans for the rebuilding project are already well advanced, thanks to generous support from Glasgow City Council and others; and the Citizens’ is preparing for its autumn season in fine fettle, as the theatre celebrates both the 70th anniversary of the Citizens’ Theatre Company at the Citizens’ – brought there by James Bridie in 1945 – and the 50th anniversary of the legendary Close Theatre, the Citizens’ studio which opened in 1965 and fast became a west coast equivalent of the Traverse, before it burned down in 1973.
“Our aim this year,” says Dominic Hill, “has been really to celebrate the Citizens’ relationship with Glasgow and the West of Scotland. So in the spring, we staged our new production of John Byrne’s Slab Boys, and then Douglas Maxwell’s terrific new Glasgow play Fever Dream: Southside; and in the autumn, we’re both co-producing the new version of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark that’s about to premiere at the Edinburgh Festival, and then creating a brand-new mainstage musical – by playwright and actor Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue – which is called The Choir, and reflects on ideas about community and harmony in the west of Scotland now.”
The theatre’s mainstage autumn programme also includes the revival of Vox Motus’s superb young people’s show Dragon, which also appears at the Edinburgh Festival, and a Christmas version of the legend of Rapunzel. Just as interesting, though, is the autumn Up Close season of three shows in the Citizens’ Circle Studio, which features a Slawomir Mrozek double-bill directed by Matthew Lenton of Vanishing Point, and plays by Howard Barker and Sam Holcroft staged by young Cits directors Debbie Hannan and Gareth Nicholls; and is designed to celebrate the legacy of the Close Theatre, which stood on the same site.
“This idea really came out of me reading up a bit more about the history of the Citizens’, and realising just what an influential space the Close Theatre was in the development of Scottish theatre. So we wanted to celebrate that; and also to give a final burst of life to our Circle Studio, which is scheduled to be pulled down next year, in the next phase of our rebuilding project.
“And yes, we are aware of Giles Havergal’s comment that when the Close burned down, it actually helped the Citizens’ of the 1970’s find its focus, because all that experimental energy just poured onto the theatre’s main stage. In the end, though, we decided that in order to do what we want to do in supporting other companies, and providing opportunities for young theatre makers, we really need to have a studio space. I don’t want ever to be staging shows there that we really should be doing on the main stage. But for our wider relationship with theatre in Glasgow and beyond, a studio space is a huge asset; and so we’re looking forward to opening up our brand new studio theatre sometime before the end of 2019, when our building project should be finished, at last.”
Lanark at the Citizens’ Theatre 3-19 September, Dragon 1-10 October, The Choir 24 October – 14 November, the Up Close season 3 October-7 November, and Rapunzel from 28 November.