Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Dominic Hill - The Citizens Theatre's Autumn 2015 Season

The announcement of the Citizens Theatre's forthcoming autumn season has been something of a gradual affair this year. While the shows scheduled by Citz artistic director Dominic Hill have been regularly revealed on the pages of the Herald, this year much of the season is already out there.

Both David Greig's new version of Alasdair Gray's epic novel Lanark and Vox Motus' revival of their show for young people, Dragon, will be seen at this year's Edinburgh International Festival prior to their Glasgow dates, while this year's Christmas show, Rapunzel, is also in the public domain.

Three very special parts of the Citz' autumn programme, however, are revealed here for the first time. First of all, the Glasgow-based Solar Bear company will present Progression, an International Celebration of Deaf Arts, set to run over two days in September.

Secondly, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of The Close, the Citizens Theatre's ill-fated experimental studio space which burnt down in 1977,the Citz will present a season of four short plays that go some way to recapturing the out-there spirit of The Close.

Finally, and perhaps most impressively in an already tantalising season, the Citz's partnership with commercial producers Ambassador Theatre Group to create new musicals bears its first fruit in the form of a collaboration between Deacon Blue vocalist and songwriter Ricky Ross and actor Paul Higgins, who was in the very first production of Black Watch, and was last seen at the Citizens as the Earl of Kent in Hill's production of King Lear.

The Choir will be the first play by Higgins since  Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us was directed by John Tiffany at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 2008 in a season of new work co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland. This new piece focuses on a community choir formed in Wishaw by an Iraqi immigrant, and the tensions created by the disparate community who come together to sing.

“Ricky and Paul had known each other and wanted to work with each other, which I didn't know,” says Hill, “but talking to them separately this seemed like the perfect moment for them to do that. Although Paul hasn't written much, his voice is rooted very much in his personal experience, which is a working class Glaswegian, or in this case, Wishaw experience, and he is very funny, very insightful and very compassionate as a writer.

“He had this idea of doing something about a community choir, and he and Ricky were keen on writing something that wasn't a traditional musical with people bursting into song, but that they could be used naturalistically as part of the action. Ricky's music is wonderful. He's written some fantastic songs, and that makes for something really warm and really human.”

This ties in with Hill's increasingly diverse use of music in his productions of Crime and Punishment, Hamlet and Fever Dream: Southside. Like the latter, The Choir also forms part of the Citizens' ongoing canon of plays close to home.

“I guess it's a piece about tolerance, community and identity,” Hill says, “and for me it falls in with things like Brassed Off , The Full Monty or Billy Elliot, which have very serious things to say, but which do it with a lightness of touch, although Paul and Ricky's play has more grit to it as well. It's not sweet.”

The Citizens' partnership with ATG was initiated on Hill's arrival at the Citz in 2012 when he was contacted by the company regarded as one of the UK's biggest commercial theatrical producers.

“When ATG first approached me,” Hill explains, “they wanted to create pieces of musical drama that came out of communities other than London, and which had a strong sense of identity. We've been developing that relationship for a couple of years, and this is the first thing to come out of that. It still feels like a Citz show alongside the likes of Glasgow Girls, but ATG have been brilliantly supportive of nurturing this idea that there's so much great drama coming out of places that aren't London. It still feels like a Glasgow play, but it's also possible that it might be seen on a stage beyond Glasgow.”

Meanwhile, The Close Theatre Season 1965-1973 will present a quartet of lo-fi chamber works overseen by three different directors in the Citz's Circle Studio.

“When we were investigating our seventieth birthday I was very aware that it was also the Close's fiftieth,” says Hill, “and I found the history of The Close really interesting in terms of its reputation and the work it did, and more importantly perhaps, the effect that it had on the main house. Giles Havergal has always said that when The Close burnt down it was the best thing that ever happened to them, because all of that experimentation that was going on there, with work by the likes of Lindsay Kemp and Charles Marowitz was then channelled onto the main house.

“It's interesting as well, because The Close was a direct response to what was going on at the Traverse in Edinburgh, and then later on, the Tron was a direct response to The Close, so I wanted to mark that in some way. The anniversary also comes in the midst of the redevelopment plans for the Citz, which will have a new studio theatre which at the moment we're calling The Close. We've also taken out the seats of our existing Circle Studio, which I think makes a really nice space, so I approached three people to see if they wanted to do something.”

The three people were Debbie Hannan, who as well as assisting at the Citz, directed her own take on Dostoyevsky's Notes From the Underground; Matthew Lenton, artistic director of Vanishing Point, who are now in residence in the building; and Gareth Nicholls, who for the last two years has been the Citz's Main House Director in Residence, and recently scored a hit with his production of Robert David MacDonald's adaptation of Gitta Sereny's book, Into That Darkness.

While Hannan will direct Howard Barker's biblically inspired 2012 miniature, Lot and His God. Lenton will tackle Striptease and Out At Sea, two plays by Polish absurdist Slawomir Mrozek which were first seen in 1961. Nicholls, meanwhile, will tackle Vanya, a response to Chekhov's Uncle Vanya first seen in 2009. Holcroft, incidentally, made her professional debut in 2008 with Cockroach, which formed part of the same Traverse/NTS season as Higgins' play, Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us.

“The rules are very strict,” Hill says. “There's no money other than to pay actors, sand other than that they have to use everything from within the building. They have one technician, but I just wanted the emphasis to be on just the text and on the actor and not hide behind anything else in an attempt to create something that was bold and exciting, and which could in some way reflect the ethos of what that space used to be, in the hope that it can become that again in the new building.”


Lanark – A Life in Three Acts, August 14-17, September 3-19; Progression, September 24-25; Dragon, October 1-10; The Choir, October 22-November 14; Rapunzel, November 28-January 3. The Close Theatre Season 1965-1973, October 3-31. All shows at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, where tickets are on sale from today.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, June 16th 2015

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