Giles Havergal has always been the perfect host. During his thirty-odd year tenure as co-artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Havergal would be there in the foyer on each opening night, meeting and greeting with an old school charm that came to define the Gorbals-based emporium. While many directors prefer to duck out of view, only meeting their public once the first night stresses have subsided, in contrast, Havergal seemed joyously unfazed by such things. Only when he was acting in a show was he absent from his task.
All of which makes Havergal the ideal choice as guest presenter of this year’s Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland, the ceremony for which takes place at Tramway in Glasgow this Sunday afternoon. This year’s awards see a smorgasbord of productions and artists from the last year’s crop of home-grown shows celebrated by Scotland’s theatre critics in its annual ceremony.
With winners announced on the day, nominations include Birds of Paradise and the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of My Left/Right Foot, Robert Softley Gale’s satirical musical inspired by Softley Gale’s reaction to Jim Sheridan’s film, My Left Foot, which saw Daniel Day Lewis cast as disabled artist Christy Brown.
Also in the running across the ten awards categories are the Traverse Theatre for their productions of David Ireland’s play, Ulster American, Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley and Cora Bissett’s autobiographical show, What Girls Are Made Of. The Edinburgh new writing theatre’s co-production with Oran Mor of Rob Drummond’s response to the Glasgow School of Art fire, The Mack, also in the frame.
There are nominations too for Perth Theatre’s production of Morna Young’s play, Lost at Sea, and the Tron Theatre’s revival of Enda Walsh’s play, Ballyturk, as well as its co-production of the Blood of the Young Company’s reimagining of Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort of). All of which makes Havergal’s return to Glasgow a tantalising proposition.
“I’m very intrigued,” he says about the possible results. “There seems to be so many exciting things going on in Scotland just now, such as My Left/Right Foot, which sounds terrific. There’s such a lot of varied work going on as well by the sound of it.”
Havergal pauses for reflection.
“It sounds like it’s all going rather well,” he says with paternal-sounding glee. “It will be good as well to see who’s around on the day, and to see all the new people who are doing things. It will also be good to see people like John Michie, who I know is up for something he’s been doing at Oran Mor, and is working in a new kind of world in a way.”
Since his departure from the Citz sixteen years ago, Havergal, who will be celebrating his 81st birthday on Sunday afternoon, has directed the likes of The Merry Widow for Opera North, with whom he also directed a Kurt Weill-based compendium called From Brecht to Broadway.
“We did it at the old variety theatre in Leeds where The Good Old Days used to be filmed,” Havergal says, referring to the 1970s TV nostalgia-fest.
Havergal has also been traveling the world, playing Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s play, Endgame, with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, where he also led workshops on Tennessee Williams with drama students. Havergal has just been doing something similar on restoration comedy with students at RADA, and will soon be returning to Glasgow to look at Shakespeare with second years at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
“It’s such fun to do,” he says of his four-week stint looking at restoration plays, “although it’s such a long haul for students now, with that language and that world, but seeing initial bemusement turn to delight is an absolute joy.”
Plays Havergal worked on included two by John Vanburgh, The Provoked Wife and The Relapse, and the less well known A Bold Stroke for a Wife by Susanna Centlivre.
“I’d never heard of it,” Havergal admits of the latter, “but it was very intriguing. We did do The Relapse at the Citz very early on, however. It was the very first show Philip directed and designed, and had people like Jonathan Kent, Ian McDiarmid and Mike Gwilym in it. Then we did it again towards the end of our time there, with Greg Hicks and Jack Klaff.”
The CATS had yet to be conceived when Havergal was at the Citz, though if they had existed one suspects his work and that of his co-directors Robert David Macdonald and Philip Prowse might well have been in the frame with some kind of regularity. As it stands, Havergal has been the recipient of less awards than one might expect of someone who helped transform the cultural life of Glasgow with such a flamboyant internationalist sweep.
His esteemed four-actor staging of Graham Greene’s novel, Travels with My Aunt, won an Olivier Award in 1993 after transferring to the West End. A year later, Havergal received the St Mungo Prize, a triennial award for individuals who have done most in the previous three years to improve and promote Glasgow. Havergal plays all this down with a typical smattering of self-deprecatory politesse.
“People can sometimes become obsessed by awards,” he says, “and if it’s only about who wins then it can become ludicrous, but I think awards like the CATS are consciousness raising. Every show that is in the running is important in terms of recognising the excitement of what theatre can be, and that’s got to be a good thing. The more people talk about theatre, the better.”
The Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2019 takes place at Tramway, Glasgow on Sunday at 4pm.
The Herald, June 8th 2019