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Dominic Hill - From The Traverse to the Citz

Anyone visiting Edinburgh's Traverse Bar Cafe recently will have
noticed a brand new set of posters adorning the far wall. These posters
aren't for shows currently holding court in Scotland's new writing
theatre, however. Nor are they advertising the Traverse's 2011
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, announced on June 9th. These
posters actually illustrate every in-house show produced at the
Traverse since the arrival in January 2008 of Dominic Hill as artistic
director.

These range from Zinnie Harris' wartime drama, Fall, through to
co-productions with the National Theatre of Scotland, Oran Mor and,
with Edinburgh International Festival, Rona Munro's The Last Witch.
Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, Ursula Rani Sarma's The
Dark Things, Linda McLean's Any Given Day, and, most recently, Chris
Hannan's swashbuckling take on The Three Musketeers and the Princess of
Spain are all up there.

It's an impressive body of work, and if there's any feeling of memorial
in such a display, it's accentuated by Hill's recent appointment to
head up the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow from October. With Hill's
Traverse swansong yet to come this August, The Herald's exclusive
announcement of the Citz's first season under his tenure can reveal
that, while he won't be directing anything himself until Spring 2012,
Hill has chosen the season's flagship in-house production.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg lays down a stamp of both the
contemporary and the classical that looks set to be a hallmark of
Hill's reign. Especially as Peter Nichols' 1967 play had its world
premiere at the Citizens prior to a west end transfer starring Albert
Finney.

“Joe Egg is a play I've always loved,” Hill says of Nichols' play about
the strains put on a couple's marriage as they struggle to raise a
daughter with cerebral palsy. “I think it has this extraordinarily
rough, raw kind of theatricality and emotion to it, because it comes
from a very personal place for the writer. I don't think a lot of
people know that Joe Egg started at the Citz, so I think it's exciting
that it returns to where it was born as it were. It's also a play that
has a kind of vaudeville, stand-up feel to it, even though the subject
matter is pretty brutal, and which is something that absolutely suits
that theatre. Joe Egg is a play that lots of people know about, but
which hardly anybody's seen, so it feels right show to start out with
it.”

Also in the autumn season is the National Theatre of Scotland's revival
of Ena Lamont Stewart's Men Should Weep, another classic play made
famous at the Citz in Giles Havergal's 1982 revival for John McGrath's
7:84 company. While the only other main stage in-house show beside Joe
Egg will be Alan McHugh's take on Hansel and Gretal for the Christmas
season, the theatre's Stalls Studio will host Ulla, a new children's
show by Clare McGarry in association with the Citz, while in the Circle
Studio the Citizens Young Co gear up for Halloween with Gothic, while
the Citizens Community Company host their latest instalment of A Wicked
Christmas.

The Glasgay! Festival will present two new works, Spain by James Ley
and Martin O'Connor's Ch Ch Changes. An adaptation of Robert Tressell's
seminal working class novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist will
be presented by Townsend Theatre Productions. It's the very first show
of the season, however, that hints at where Hill's ambitions lie.

Scottish Opera's production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld,
seen and heard in a new translation by Rory Bremner, has already been
highlighted on these pages. Given Hill's championing of music at the
Traverse during his reign there, both through chamber operas from
Music Theatre Wales and from collaborations with composer John Harris'
Red Note Ensemble, the show looks like an accidental continuum.
Especially as Hill is too one of few theatre directors in Scotland who
can convincingly direct opera, a talent he shares with Citz alumni
including Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Stewart Laing.

“I like what Scottish Opera are doing in terms of trying to break that
mould of just creating opera to be done in huge theatres,” Hill says
unprompted. “There's an opportunity here for them in terms of
small-scale works. A lot of eighteenth century works would work really
well in that space, so hopefully Orpheus will be the beginning of a
relationship.”

Of his own new relationship, Hill talks like a fan-boy who's just been
given the keys to the best toy-box ever.

“There are a small number of theatres in the UK that you think I'd love
to have it,”,” Hill says. “That's always been the case with the Citz
since I first went, and previewing The Last Witch there reinforced
that. Working in it you realise the space is extraordinary. It's
intimate, epic, rough, dirty, faded and haunted. Which is everything a
theatre should be. It reminds me of places like the Berliner Ensemble
and other theatres that are alive with their history and with their
theatricality. So when the opportunity came up to apply for the job I
felt that I couldn't turn it down.”

There's something there too about being able to present classic works
on a grand scale. Few directors in Scotland apart from Hill understand
how to work a big space. This is evident from Hill's time as
co-director of Dundee Rep, where he directed the likes of Howard
Barker's Scenes From An Execution and – crucially – an audaciously huge
production of Peer Gynt. Only the sainted Citz triumvirate of Havergal,
Prowse and Robert David MacDonald did something similar. A taste of
what may be about to take the Gorbals by storm too could be found in
Hill's recent production of The City Madam for the Royal Shakespeare
Company.

“I think there's a huge opportunity in Scottish theatre to reinvigorate
that space,” Hill says of the Citz. “On the west coast there is no
large-scale classical work being produced, which is ridiculous, so it
felt like there was a gap in terms of cultural vision.”

For all the reasons outlined, if there was any sense of disappointment
in the Traverse at his departure, there was probably little surprise,
despite his successes in opening out the space to less formal events.

“The Traverse at its most thrilling is when you've got the festival
atmosphere permeating throughout the year,” Hill says. Whoever his
replacement is, and tongues are already wagging on the grapevine,
Hill's experience is telling.

“I think we need to find a way to get more work onstage,” he says
flatly. “I wish that had been possible over the last few years, because
there's no point in developing writers if you can't get their work on.
If there's not going to be any more money, you just have to think about
how you spend it, and strip everything back. The same thing of getting
more work on applies to the Citz, because there is not enough Citizens
company work on, and that has to change, otherwise I don't know what
it's there for. I want to find ways of putting on large-scale,
exciting, innovative work mainly rooted in the classical repertoire. We
need to get an audience back in there and make the Citz a sexy exciting
place to go to. To do that we need to be ambitious in terms of style
and presentation. Theatre for me always has to be an event. You're
halfway there with that theatre, which jump-starts what can
potentially happen on the stage. It has to be thrilling.”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Autumn season are on sale from today
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, Citz Autumn Season / Dominic Hill
by
Neil Cooper

Anyone visiting Edinburgh's Traverse Bar Cafe recently will have
noticed a brand new set of posters adorning the far wall. These posters
aren't for shows currently holding court in Scotland's new writing
theatre, however. Nor are they advertising the Traverse's 2011
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, announced on June 9th. These
posters actually illustrate every in-house show produced at the
Traverse since the arrival in January 2008 of Dominic Hill as artistic
director.

These range from Zinnie Harris' wartime drama, Fall, through to
co-productions with the National Theatre of Scotland, Oran Mor and,
with Edinburgh International Festival, Rona Munro's The Last Witch.
Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, Ursula Rani Sarma's The
Dark Things, Linda McLean's Any Given Day, and, most recently, Chris
Hannan's swashbuckling take on The Three Musketeers and the Princess of
Spain are all up there.

It's an impressive body of work, and if there's any feeling of memorial
in such a display, it's accentuated by Hill's recent appointment to
head up the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow from October. With Hill's
Traverse swansong yet to come this August, The Herald's exclusive
announcement of the Citz's first season under his tenure can reveal
that, while he won't be directing anything himself until Spring 2012,
Hill has chosen the season's flagship in-house production.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg lays down a stamp of both the
contemporary and the classical that looks set to be a hallmark of
Hill's reign. Especially as Peter Nichols' 1967 play had its world
premiere at the Citizens prior to a west end transfer starring Albert
Finney.

“Joe Egg is a play I've always loved,” Hill says of Nichols' play about
the strains put on a couple's marriage as they struggle to raise a
daughter with cerebral palsy. “I think it has this extraordinarily
rough, raw kind of theatricality and emotion to it, because it comes
from a very personal place for the writer. I don't think a lot of
people know that Joe Egg started at the Citz, so I think it's exciting
that it returns to where it was born as it were. It's also a play that
has a kind of vaudeville, stand-up feel to it, even though the subject
matter is pretty brutal, and which is something that absolutely suits
that theatre. Joe Egg is a play that lots of people know about, but
which hardly anybody's seen, so it feels right show to start out with
it.”

Also in the autumn season is the National Theatre of Scotland's revival
of Ena Lamont Stewart's Men Should Weep, another classic play made
famous at the Citz in Giles Havergal's 1982 revival for John McGrath's
7:84 company. While the only other main stage in-house show beside Joe
Egg will be Alan McHugh's take on Hansel and Gretal for the Christmas
season, the theatre's Stalls Studio will host Ulla, a new children's
show by Clare McGarry in association with the Citz, while in the Circle
Studio the Citizens Young Co gear up for Halloween with Gothic, while
the Citizens Community Company host their latest instalment of A Wicked
Christmas.

The Glasgay! Festival will present two new works, Spain by James Ley
and Martin O'Connor's Ch Ch Changes. An adaptation of Robert Tressell's
seminal working class novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist will
be presented by Townsend Theatre Productions. It's the very first show
of the season, however, that hints at where Hill's ambitions lie.

Scottish Opera's production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld,
seen and heard in a new translation by Rory Bremner, has already been
highlighted on these pages. Given Hill's championing of music at the
Traverse during his reign there, both through chamber operas from
Music Theatre Wales and from collaborations with composer John Harris'
Red Note Ensemble, in the show looks like an accidental continuum.
Especially as Hill is too one of few theatre directors in Scotland who
can convincingly direct opera, a talent he shares with Citz alumni
including Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Stewart Laing.

“I like what Scottish Opera are doing in terms of trying to break that
mould of just creating opera to be done in huge theatres,” Hill says
unprompted. “There's an opportunity here for them in terms of
small-scale works. A lot of eighteenth century works would work really
well in that space, so hopefully Orpheus will be the beginning of a
relationship.”

Of his own new relationship, Hill talks like a fan-boy who's just been
given the keys to the best toy-box ever.

“There are a small number of theatres in the UK that you think I'd love
to have it,”,” Hill says. “That's always been the case with the Citz
since I first went, and previewing The Last Witch there reinforced
that. Working in it you realise the space is extraordinary. It's
intimate, epic, rough, dirty, faded and haunted. Which is everything a
theatre should be. It reminds me of places like the Berliner Ensemble
and other theatres that are alive with their history and with their
theatricality. So when the opportunity came up to apply for the job I
felt that I couldn't turn it down.”

There's something there too about being able to present classic works
on a grand scale. Few directors in Scotland apart from Hill understand
how to work a big space. This is evident from Hill's time as
co-director of Dundee Rep, where he directed the likes of Howard
Barker's Scenes From An Execution and – crucially – an audaciously huge
production of Peer Gynt. Only the sainted Citz triumvirate of Havergal,
Prowse and Robert David MacDonald did something similar. A taste of
what may be about to take the Gorbals by storm too could be found in
Hill's recent production of The City Madam for the Royal Shakespeare
Company.

“I think there's a huge opportunity in Scottish theatre to reinvigorate
that space,” Hill says of the Citz. “On the west coast there is no
large-scale classical work being produced, which is ridiculous, so it
felt like there was a gap in terms of cultural vision.”

For all the reasons outlined, if there was any sense of disappointment
in the Traverse at his departure, there was probably little surprise,
despite his successes in opening out the space to less formal events.

“The Traverse at its most thrilling is when you've got the festival
atmosphere permeating throughout the year,” Hill says. Whoever his
replacement is, and tongues are already wagging on the grapevine,
Hill's experience is telling.

“I think we need to find a way to get more work onstage,” he says
flatly. “I wish that had been possible over the last few years, because
there's no point in developing writers if you can't get their work on.
If there's not going to be any more money, you just have to think about
how you spend it, and strip everything back. The same thing of getting
more work on applies to the Citz, because there is not enough Citizens
company work on, and that has to change, otherwise I don't know what
it's there for. I want to find ways of putting on large-scale,
exciting, innovative work mainly rooted in the classical repertoire. We
need to get an audience back in there and make the Citz a sexy exciting
place to go to. To do that we need to be ambitious in terms of style
and presentation. Theatre for me always has to be an event. You're
halfway there with that theatre, which jump-starts what can
potentially happen on the stage. It has to be thrilling.”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Autumn season are on sale from today
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, May 31st 2011

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