There’s an end of term atmosphere in the foyer of the Citizens Theatre. It’s Saturday lunchtime, and Kyle Minogue’s greatest hits are pumping out from behind the box office, adding bounce to the activities beyond. On the floor behind the bar, a large jigsaw of a steam train is some way to completion. Elsewhere, paints and crayons are fully utilised by the under tens who busy themselves with being creative. Mums and dads, meanwhile, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi facilities as they surf the internet.
In a couple of hours time, a show-and-tell of stage work by the assorted Saturday morning theatre classes that make up the multiple age range Summer Academies will be unveiled. Included in the cast will be the offspring of Jeremy Raison and Guy Hollands, the joint artistic directors of the Citz, who’ll be getting notes off their parents just as they so studiously offer up their own opinions on their parents artistic output. In the meantime, Raison and Hollands have a new season of more grown-up work to unveil, which, with tickets on sale this week, they do exclusively for The Herald today.
With three in-house shows on the main stage as well as work from the Citz’s Young Company and Community Company and a season of visiting companies, one could be forgiven if at first glance things looked familiar. The season’s flagship production of Don Juan, after all, is the version translated by Robert David MacDonald, whose work as director, writer, translator and actor at The Citz spanned the best part of thirty years After spending the last couple of years focussing on plays set in or around the theatre’s immediate Gorbals locale, Don Juan is a return to the Citz’s former stock-in-trade of audacious and maverick takes on the classics.
“Classics have always been a staple of the main house,” Raison explains. “But classics with a twist. We’re very muck looking at what about it is about it that’s modern. I started with the Goldoni version, because it has a woman dressed up as a man, but the very first thing that someone says is that it’s a woman dressed up as a man. I love that exploding of conventions, and I want to make it about more than just sexuality so Don Juan becomes this Richard Branson type figure, and there’s a lot of contemporary relevance, so you get this big theatrical explosion.”
The last Don Juan at the Citz was in MacDonald’s own production in 1993. This new take on it, then, just about fits in with MacDonald’s maxim that a translation only lasts ten or fifteen years. With a series of stripped-down classics at Oran Mor similarly invoking the Citz spirit of yore, all parties stress this latest move isn’t being chosen for sentimental reasons.
“It’s not a conscious connection we’re making,” says Hollands, “though it is nice that link is there.”
“We’ve done a whole series of Glasgow-set plays,” says Raison, “which people have loved even though the critics haven’t. I’m not sure how many more of those there are to do now. With Don Juan I’m interested in doing something with real bravura.”
MacDonald, whose spirit lingers in the fund set up in his name to develop young directors, would undoubtedly approve.
During the run of Don Juan, a new initiative, The New Not New, will see Hollands and puppeteer Ailie Cohen present a short curtain-raiser. This work-on-progress will be based on the writings of Anais Nin, sand will be developed further for Manipulate, Puppet Animation Scotland’s festival for adult puppetry in 2009.
Following Don Juan will be a main stage production of The Caretaker, Harold Pinter’s intense tree-handed dissection of the grubbier side of post-war Britain.
“I suppose that’s occupying the same slot as Waiting For Godot,” says Raison. “It’s a fantastic play, and it’s probably time for a fresh look at it. Phillip Breen, who’s doing it, has worked with us before on The Shadow Of A Gunman, and has done Pinter’s The Birthday Party in Clwyd, and knows the territory.”
“The Citizens has always had a great relationship with Pinter,” says Hollands, who himself directed the play seven years ago. This time out, however, Hollands will be tackling The Wizard of Oz, which, following his recent work on David Greig’s hit play, Yellow Moon, as well as Hamlet and Waiting For Godot, marks his debut directing a Christmas show.
“We’ve got Cara Kelly playing The Wicked Witch Of The West,” says a clearly delighted Hollands of his casting.
This is the fifth year of Raison’s tenure as artistic director of the Citz. Hollands, already in charge of TAG, joined him on an equal footing eighteen months ago as TAG was reintegrated into the company it grew out of. A significant development during that time has been the development of the Citizens Young Company and the Citizens Community Company. Both return this season with new shows in the Circle Studio. While the Young Company’s Reflections On The River is set to be a poetic meditation on the Clyde devised with playwright Peter Arnott, the Community Company offer up Wicked Christmas 3.
Such relatively light fare is in contrast with the company’s last two shows, Martin McCardie’s play, Ice Cream Dreams and the more recent production of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Both put large-scale community casts on the main stage in a manner that went straight for a high-production approach that paid dividends, looking as professional as anything else that’s appeared there.
“The Young Co’s in its third year now,” says Hollands, “and there’s a big-scale production already planned. They’re also taking part in the Connections festival at the National Theatre in London, which shows how far they’ve come. The Community Company as well is now such a vital part of what the Citizens Theatre is about, which is engaging with people who might not have been exposed to us before, but who have something to offer. Part of the process is learning how to work professionally, and to do something as polished as anything else that goes on here. To see something like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? was really exciting.”
The accompanying visiting programme includes Offshore, a collaboration between Birds of Paradise and writer Alan Wilkins, while the Herald Angel winning Follow Me, which looks at Ruth Ellis’ final hours before being hanged, makes its Glasgow debut. A strong Glasgay programme features two rarely performed Tennessee Williams plays. The Parade finds Citz veteran Laurance Rudic return for this early autobiographical work, while And Tell Sad Stories Of The Death Of Queens delves even deeper into the playwright’s psyche. A November Day, a children’s show marking the 90th anniversary of the end of World War 1, also features, while the high-octane Zero completes the line-up.
Up first, though, is a week of high-profile audiences with the likes of Tommy Docherty, Tony Benn, Chris Bonnington and Brian Blessed. Again, “they bring in people who might not have been here before.”
Paramount in Raison and Hollands’ minds, though, is the Summer Academy performances. “They’re our fiercest critics,” says Hollands, “and give us notes on everything we do. Now it’s our turn.”
Don Juan opens the Citizens Theatre Autumn 2008 season on September 17th. Tickets for all shows are bookable on 0141 429 0022
The Herald, July 1st 2008