Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dominic Hill - Trainspotting and the Citizens Theatre's Autumn 2016 Season

If Trainspotting has ever stopped being in the news since Irvine Welsh's debut novel was first published in 1993, it's renewed profile is currently at a premium. This is largely to do with Danny Boyle's stylish film version of Welsh's tale of life and death among Edinburgh's junkie culture, which became a totem of 1990s pop culture, as its flashy mix of sex, drugs and rock and roll among the dole queue classes went stratospheric.

Boyle's film receives a screening at next month's Edinburgh International Film Festival, just as its original cast have reconvened twenty years on to begin work on a sequel. While both Welsh's book and Boyle's film tapped into a zeitgeist that gave voice to a strata of society previously sidelined by the artistic mainstream unless it was American, it has been largely forgotten that Harry Gibson's stage adaptation did something similar between the two.

Gibson's version was originally seen at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in the Gorbals-based theatre's tiny studio space, in a production by Traverse Theatre director Ian Brown that featured a young Ewan Bremner as the book's lynchpin, Mark Renton. Boyle's film would see Bremner play Spud, while Susan Vidler, who was also in the original stage production after appearing with Bremner in Mike Leigh's 1993 film, Naked, would also be cast in the film.

Twenty two after Brown's production of Trainspotting won the 1994 Spirit of Mayfest award, the Herald can exclusively reveal that the Citz will be revisiting the play with a brand new production that forms a major part of the company's forthcoming autumn season. Gareth Nicholls will direct Gibson's adaptation as his final show as the Citz's Main Stage Director in Residence. This post has seen Nicholls also direct productions of David Harrower's play, Blackbird, and Robert David MacDonald's stage version of Gitta Sereny's book, Into That Darkness.

As well as Trainspotting, the Citizens 2016 autumn season will see artistic director Dominic Hill lighten the tone with a production of Richard Brinsley' Sheridan's eighteenth century comedy, The Rivals, as well as a Christmas production of Hansel and Gretel in a version by Stuart Paterson. The season will also feature a new community play, The Gorbals Vampire, which will be based around a local legend and will be written by Johnny McKnight.

Two major touring productions will visit the Citz, with Dundee Rep bringing their acclaimed production of John McGrath's ceilidh play, The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil, to the main stage, while actor/director Cora Bissett's Pachamama Productions will revive their smash hit musical collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland inspired by real life events, Glasgow Girls.

It is Trainspotting, however, that looks most tantalising in the Citz's revival of a show which at one point seemed to be a permanent fixture of the touring circuit, and which most recently was revived in a more immersive form than the original by the young In Yer Face theatre company.

“I'm really pleased that we're doing Trainspotting,” Hill says of the Citz's forthcoming take on the play. “We did an excerpt from it at the theatre's seventieth birthday last year, and it reminded a lot of people that it started off as a Citizens show, and a lot of people have forgotten that.”

As if to stress the currency of Trainspotting, Hill picked up a copy of a tabloid newspaper the day we speak, only to be greeted with three pages of pictures taken on location of Boyle's forthcoming sequel to Trainspotting. At the moment the film is dubbed T2, but is loosely adapted from Welsh's novel, Porno. While this book has yet to be seen onstage, Gibson followed his version of Trainspotting with adaptations of three other Welsh novels. Marabou Stork Nightmares, Filth and Glue were all staged first at the Citizens.

“It's twenty years since the film of Trainspotting,” Hill points out, “and there's this renewed interest in the characters and that time, so it felt like the right time to look at the play again. Gareth is keen to do it, and is absolutely the right person to do it, because I think he'll have a fresh take on things. We're not looking at the play with some kind of historical perspective. These characters have become trapped in a world and a situation that I think can be seen as even more relevant now than it was twenty years ago when it was a response to Thatcherism, and in some ways we haven't moved on at all.

“The characters in Trainspotting are so strong, and Irvine's writing is so vivid, and has such wit and life to it that it absolutely feels like something that can come alive on a stage. I remember seeing a touring version of the play, but I'm excited that it's coming back to the stage where it was first seen.”

The Citz's programming of The Rivals comes shortly after it was announced that Hill will direct a production of Noel Coward's Hay Fever in co-production with Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre as part of both theatres' Spring 2017 seasons. Given that Hill's tenure in the Gorbals has seen him focus on tragedy, this move into comedy might come as a surprise to some. As he talks about his forthcoming co-production with Bristol Old Vic and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, however, Hill begs to differ.

“For me,” he says, “doing The Rivals taps into the history of this theatre in terms of how the Citz used to do these large mainstage productions of classic comedies. I suppose the play first came into my mind when we did The Libertine and took it to Bristol Old Vic, which opened the same year that The Rivals was written, and this seems a great way of celebrating the heritage of our two theatres. We're always trying to tap into the Citz's theatrical and artistic heritage, and we're doing that here in a fun, entertaining way. It's good to do a comedy now and then.”

Hansel and Gretel too should provide light relief after Trainspotting.

“I think Stuart Paterson's version of Hansel and Gretel taps into the seriousness and the darkness of the original story,” Hill says, “but also fills it with things that are fun and entertaining for audiences.”

This should also be the case for The Gorbals Vampire. Based on a real life incident in 1954 when a group of children marched to Glasgow's Southern Necropolis in search of vampires, McKnight's version of the story should take urban mythology to fantastical extremes.

“It's a really great story for us to be telling,” says Hill. “It's a tale of mass hysteria among children that happened on our doorstep, and we hope we can tap into a collective memory.”

Hill stresses the importance of community-based projects initiated by the Citz with an attitude that pulses the theatre's entire autumn programme.

“Appealing to different audiences has always been important to the Citizens,” he says. “We know we can do Beckett or Pinter, but at the same time we're keen on programming work that has a broader appeal, and I think Citizens audiences can sense that. That's what makes them special.”

Tickets for the new season at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, go on sale today. Glasgow Girls, August 30-September 3; Trainspotting, September 14-October 8; The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, October 18-22; The Gorbals Vampire, October 28-29; The Rivals, November 1-19; Hansel and Gretel, December 6-January 7.

The Herald, May 31st 2016


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