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Dominic Hill - The Citizens Theatre's Spring 2016 Season

It's probably not every day a Glasgow cabbie starts talking to his passenger about what a great playwright Samuel Beckett is. That's exactly what happened to Dominic Hill, artistic director of the Gorbals-based Citizens Theatre, however, when he jumped a fast black one day en route to work. The theatre's forthcoming production of Beckett's 1957 play, Endgame, had just been announced in partnership with Manchester's recently opened Home venue, and the cabbie knew all about it.

This had little to do with the fact that Hill's production will feature David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne, both familiar faces from iconic TV soap, Coronation Street, as the blind Hamm and his servant, Clov. Rather, the driver was a fan of the play itself, and was keen to tell the bloke on the back seat all about it lest he miss the show. Hill eventually 'fessed up who he was, but not before he and the cabbie had agreed on one thing.

“It's my favourite Beckett play,” Hill says, “and I think it was the taxi driver's as well. It's a play that’s entertaining, fascinating, intriguing, dark, funny and macabre all at the same time. I think as that conversation showed, Endgame also has this extraordinary appeal to everyone. It can be difficult and obscure if you choose it to be, but if you just accept it, then it can be whatever you want it to be.”

This is a mantra for much of the Citz's Spring 2016 season, which Hill's production of Endgame opens, While a major collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream has already been announced alongside Endgame, there are several shows that are only being announced on these pages today prior to tickets going on sale a week from now.

Following on from Endgame will be a new production of Blackbird, David Harrower's two-handed exploration of the fall-out between an older man and a much younger woman who meet several years after he was convicted of having sex with a minor. The play was originally presented at the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival in a production by German maestro Peter Stein, since when it has been seen all over the world as the play's controversial themes have chimed with real life events.

“I think Blackbird is such an important play,” says Hill, “and it's a great Scottish play. It's very powerful and very challenging, and it will be interesting to see what Gareth does with it.”

With both a Broadway production and a film of Harrower's play pending, this new production will be directed by the Citizens Main Stage Director in Residence, Gareth Nicholls, who scored a slow-burning hit with his recent production of Gita Sereny's Into That Darkness. Nicholls current production of Sam Holcroft's play, Vanya, has just opened as part of the Citz's Close Up season of studio plays.

Blackbird will be followed by Get Carter, a staging by the Newcastle-based Northern Stage company of a very British gangster yarn story made iconic by Mike Hodges 1971 film starring Michael Caine. Torben Betts' new dramatisation of a story which originally appeared as the novel, Jack's Return Home, written by British pulp noir writer Ted Lewis, will be directed by Northern Stage artistic director and former associate director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Lorne Campbell.

“Torben is quite an unusual playwright,” Hill says of the writer whose work was last seen in Scotland in Stellar Quines' 2007 production of his play, The Unconquered,”and I think he'll do something really interesting with what is already an iconic story.”

The Royal Shakespeare Company's touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream finds them teaming up with assorted amateur and community-based companies from each venue's immediate locale. For its Citizens dates, RSC deputy artistic director Erica Whyman's production will team up with the Citizens Dream Players, an ad hoc alliance of performers from the theatre's various networks who will play the Rude Mechanicals alongside a professional cast.

“Bringing something different to classic plays along with the huge community element seemed to chime with us,” says Hill, “so to bring these two elements together is a great fit for us.”

Even more epic will be Zinnie Harris' two-part take on The Oresteia, Aeschylus' trilogy of plays that form one of the central benchmarks of ancient Greek tragedy. Performed over two nights or in one marathon sitting at weekends, Harris' fresh take on the plays will be directed by Hill, and is produced in association with the National Theatre of Scotland.

“Zinnie is the perfect writer to adapt these plays,” says Hill. “She's been working on them over the last couple of years, and they're very exciting texts. They're not literal versions of the three plays. As the trilogy goes on things move further away from the originals, and you see things very much from the female characters perspective in a way that feels very contemporary.”

The season will close with Frank McGuinness' First World War set play, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. This will be directed by Glasgow-trained Jeremy Herrin, artistic director of regular Citz visitors, Headlong, who here co-produce with not just the Citizens, but Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin as well. Written in 1985, McGuinness' play was last seen on the Citz stage in 2002 in a production by then co-artistic director Giles Havergal that featured the stage debut of Brian Ferguson, who recently took the title role in Hill's production of Hamlet.

“Frank is a great writer,” says Hill, “and Observe The Sons of Ulster isn't a history play. It uses the situation of these men being on the frontline to explore some very twenty-first century issues.”

The Citz's spring 2016 season is announced on the back of the theatre's current programme which is still in full swing. As well as Vanya, Hill's production of Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross' new musical, The Choir, has just opened following the company's epic Edinburgh International Festival co-production of Alasdair Gray's novel, Lanark.

“I suppose after a year of what was primarily new and Glasgow-based work,” Hill says, “we wanted to turn back to doing big classical plays, whether they're by Shakespeare and Aeschylus or twentieth century classics by Beckett or Frank McGuinness.”

One thing that stands about today's announcement is the amount of co-productions and partnerships involved in bringing the work to the stage. While this has been done reasons of economic pragmatism, Hill points out that “What is absolutely crucial is that the Citz maintains its identity, even if we're doing a lot of co-productions. That's important to us. I don't want to get into a situation where theatres can just swap productions which can be from anywhere. I think that would be our death knell. Being able to share costs is important, but it's also vital that a show feels like a Citz show.”

With the plans for the theatre's multi-million pound redevelopment ongoing, both retaining and reinventing the Citz identity is more important than ever.

“We just keep developing who we are and developing the work that we want to do,” says Hill, “and to do that we have to find the right partners to make the work better. Building our audiences over the last year has been very successful, and we have to keep on building that in what is going to be a huge period of transition. But as long as Glasgow taxi drivers keep on talking about Beckett, I think we'll be okay.”

Tickets for all shows in the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2016 season go on sale on November 10.

The Herald, November 3rd 2015



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