As the Herald exclusively reveals the announcement of three shows and a mini festival that complete the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2017 season, tickets for which go on sale today, the theatre's more playful side can already be seen in some of the season's shows which have already been announced. Cuttin' A Rug, for instance, is the second part of John Byrne's Slab Boys trilogy, which follows the adventures of that play's young anti-heroes, Spanky Farrell and Phil McCann, as they prepare for the Christmas staff dance at the Paisley carpet factory they pretend to work in.
Directed by actress and co-founder of Raindog theatre company, Caroline Paterson, Cuttin' A Rug will now no longer be designed by Byrne, who has been forced to step down from his originally announced role due to other commitments. Stepping into the breach will be Kenny Miller, whose relationship with the Citz, both as a director and designer, dates back to when Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse were artistic directors of the building.
Light relief too should be found too in Hill's own production of Noel Coward's comedy, Hay Fever, a co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. It will be there to some extent in the first visit to the Citizens by Cheek By Jowl, the company founded by director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, and who brought their Russian language version of Shakespeare's Measure For Measure to this year's Edinburgh International Festival. In January Cheek By Jowl open the Citz season with an English language production of another Shakespeare play, The Winter's Tale.
The newly announced additions to the programme will see the Citizens host part of Take Me Somewhere, a Glasgow-wide festival of new work produced by former director of the Arches, Jackie Wylie. The anarchic spirit of the Arches, which was so cruelly closed last year after Glasgow Licensing Board removed the venue's late licence, looks set to live on in the festival, with the Citz opening up its Circle Studio space to host performances by the winner of Take Me Somewhere's Somewhere New award. This new award will encourage theatre makers to tell classic stories in radically different ways.
“I'd been on the panel for the Platform 18 awards for young emerging directors at the Arches,” says Hill, on a break from rehearsing this year's Citizens Christmas show, Stuart Paterson's version of Hansel and Gretel “so I very much wanted to be part of the post Arches world as it were. Take Me Somewhere feels like a very exciting shift, and by this new award connected to classic texts, it feels very much what the Citizens is about as well.”
Wylie's recently announced appointment as the new artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland is something Hill describes as “fantastic. Jackie will be able to take the NTS in a daring new direction which hopefully the Citizens can be part of.”
Take Me Somewhere will be followed by My Country – A Work in Progress, a post Brexit verbatim play produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain with a group of partners around the UK, who have been conducting interviews on the EU Referendum. These will be woven together by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and the National Theatre's artistic director, Rufus Norris.
“We're very excited to be the Scottish collaborators with the NT on this show,” says Hill. “Our learning team have been going out and interviewing people about their views on Brexit, which is an issue that is so current, and which is going to affect us all in really important ways. With all of that, I think it's equally important that people's voices from all over the country are heard.”
As well as being seen in London, My Country will tour to all the show's partner theatres, with the possibility of going further afield in Europe at a later date.
The 2017 season will also see the return of Giles Havergal's much loved stage adaptation of Graham Greene's 1969 novel, Travels With My Aunt. First seen at the Citz in 1989, Havergal's four actor version of Greene's globe-trotting yarn about a retired bank manager's adventures with his eccentric aunt transferred to the West End, where it won an Olivier Award before opening on Broadway. It is now something of a much-loved staple of the international repertoire.
“It's very difficult sometimes to find a show that is right to put on in May,” Hill observes, “but with Travels With My Aunt you've got something that is both familiar and joyful. It was phenomenally successful, and was a show that came about because of the financial necessity of doing something with a small cast, but which has had this amazing life right across the world. I've been talking to Giles about doing it for a while, but we're not just going to reproduce the original production. We're wanting to put a new slant on it, and that's another way of connecting the old and the new.”
This approach will also see the return of director Phillip Breen to oversee the show. Breen's previous work at the Citz has included productions of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and Sam Shepard's True West.
The season closes with Tristan and Yseult, Kneehigh Theatre's smash hit show based on the classic tale of forbidden love.
“I think there's a similarity between Kneehigh's style and the Citz's style,” says Hill. “There's a sense of celebration and an anarchic feel to their work, but is still very much rooted in storytelling. Tristan and Yseult was one of their big hits, and it's toured all over, so it's great to have it in Glasgow.”
Tristan and Yseult arrives in Scotland following the announcement that former Kneehigh artistic director Emma Rice will be stepping down from her role in charge of the Globe theatre after only being in post for a year. The production should give Glasgow audiences the chance to see for themselves how Rice's trademark playfulness with classic texts might work. Again, the production illustrates the light touch at the heart of Hill's new season.
“There's joy in it,” he says. “There's a lot of celebration of theatre in this season about what theatre can bring to people. The way the world is at the moment, I think there's no harm in trying to find some joy.”
Tickets for all shows for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow's Spring 2017 season go on sale today.www.citz.co.uk