Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Citizens Spring - Dominic Hill's First Season at the Citz

When Dominic Hill took up his post as artistic director of the Citizens
Theatre in Glasgow following his departure from Edinburgh's Traverse
Theatre, big things were expected from one of Scotland's few directors
who is capable of working on a truly epic scale. The announcement today
of his first full season of work as exclusively revealed by The Herald
confirms both the sense of expectation Hill's appointment shook up, and
the scale of his own ambitions for the Citz.

Even by themselves, the presence of a play by Pinter, a Beckett double
bill and a Shakespeare are enough cause for celebration. The fact that,
not just King Lear, but both Pinter's mid-period ménage a trois,
Betrayal, and Beckett's solo miniatures, Krapp's Last Tape and the
rarely performed Footfalls, will be directed by Hill on the theatre's
main stage rather than its two studio spaces, says much about Hill's
thinking. Betrayal, Krapp's Last Tape and Footfalls may have small
casts, but here they are being recognised as big plays on every other
level, and which deserve the space to breathe only a main stage can

The Citizens main stage in particular is a curious hybrid. As a space
it is more than capable of showing off panoramic spectacles, yet
without ever losing a sense of connection with those seated in its
auditorium. Intimately epic, is what Hill calls it.

With such all year round activity on the main stage, there will be far
less visiting companies. The studio spaces will be given over to
artists such as Roadkill director Cora Bissett to develop new work,
while Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons will be rehearsed at
the Citz.

Casting too is of major significance to Hill's way of thinking. Two
names are already in place. One is Cal MacAninch, who will appear in
Betrayal. MacAninch may be a well known TV name these days, but his
acting career began at the Citz during the theatre's glory days under
the directing triumvirate of Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and
Philip Prowse. Prowse in particular showcased the Govan-born actor's
talents, casting him in Tis Pity She's A Whore, Frankenstein, A Tale of
Two Cities and Enrico IV.

The second and even more significant casting is that of David Hayman,
who will play Lear. Hayman too is familiar from TV roles such as Lynda
La Plante's Trial and Retribution, but he was a key figure at the Citz
in the 1970s, when he played in some of the theatre's defining shows.
Most startling of these was playing the title role in Hamlet in a
radical 1970 production of the play that caused a furore. Almost a
decade later, Hayman courted controversy again with another
Shakespeare, when he played Lady Macbeth.

The symbolism of Hayman's return to the Citizens cannot be understated.
For Hayman himself, it's clearly a special moment.

“When I was in the theatre the other day,” he told the Herald this
weekend, “I managed to find a quiet moment, and I went onstage and
looked out at that auditorium, and I came out head to toe in
goosebumps. When Dominic first asked me to do Lear, I emailed him back
straight away, and said that I had a very large smile on my face. It
feels like coming home to the place where I started out, and which is
still a very special theatre, both in Glasgow and in the world.”

Hayman was a key component of Hill's plans from the off.

“I wanted as quickly as possible to say that we'll put on great,
important plays, but I also thought it would be amazing to get David
Hayman to play Lear, and I'm thrilled we've managed to make that
happen. David started here, and now he's come full circle with us. That
feels right in terms of not denying our past, but celebrating it, and
using it to go forward. King Lear is also one of the greatest plays
ever written, but it's hardly ever done here, and I don't know why.”

It may be an accident, but all three main stage plays deal with the
consequences of the past on their chief protagonists.

Hill describes Betrayal as “beautiful and raw. On one level it's a very
intimate play, but on another it's huge.”

Of Beckett's work, Hill says he prefers the writer's smaller plays.

“Footfalls is like this art installation or something, and it's right
it should be seen on a big stage. That's my priority at the moment, to
re-establish our identity as a place for great theatre from the
classical repertoire on a big stage. There's a danger of losing that
identity if you have too much work on. Also, with all the trend for
mixed-media and non-text based theatre, there's a danger of the great
plays getting lost as well.”

While this will be Hill's first full season since his arrival, he did
programme the Citz's most recent main house, production, A Day In The
Death of Joe Egg. While directing duties for Peter Nichols' play were
passed over to Phillip Breen, who previously directed Pinter's The
Caretaker at the Citz, its scheduling nevertheless made its own
statement about Hill's ambitions.

Here was a taboo-busting play, after all, that received its world
premiere at the Citizens in 1967 after being rejected by almost every
theatre in the country. Michael Blakemore's production of Joe Egg
transferred to the West End and Broadway before being made into a
feature film starring Alan Bates and Janet Suzman.

Breen's confident revival featured a cast that included stand-up
comedian Miles Jupp and a cameo by Miriam Margolyes. On the opening
night, Nichols himself made an appearance for a post-show discussion
with the audience. Here was a theatre, Hill seemed to be suggesting,
that can not only get lesser-spotted contemporary classics on a main
stage. It can also get famous faces to perform alongside more
left-field cast members. It can even get major writers to talk about
their own experience of their work being performed both then and now.

“It felt like a good bridge,” Hill says of his calling card. “It says
that we are about doing classic plays, but contemporary classics as
well. It was saying that we're a hugely important theatre, and that we
can attract the best artists in the UK. That's absolutely what I want
us to be, and I think we have the opportunity to be. I've only been
here six weeks, but the kind of warmth and loyalty and devotion that
this theatre engenders in people is kind of extraordinary, and I think
we have to use that. There's a fantastic wealth of connections this
theatre has that I think we can use in the future.”

If Hayman can be taken as a barometer of the sort of connection Hill is
talking about, then the feeling would appear to be mutual. As Hayman
says, “Dominic is a very gifted director who has a vision. He wants to
put the Citz on the international map again, the way it was in those
wonderful heady days when I was here before. Not as a museum, but as a
new version of the glory days. It's all very exciting, and I'm looking
forward to a long and fruitful relationship with the new Citizens.”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2012 season go on sale on
Tuesday November 29th

The Herald, November 22 2011


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