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Citizens Theatre Spring Programme 2009

The ghosts of Citizens Theatres past can’t help but occasionally haunt the Gorbals-based theatre’s current artistic team of Jeremy Raison and Guy Hollands. The announcement of their forthcoming spring 2009 season, however, as exclusively revealed by The Herald, goes rustling into dark corners which look to vaudeville and melodrama in excitingly invigorating ways beyond any shadowy figures looming over the pair. With The Citz’s own productions featuring classics old and new while visiting companies reinvent familiar stories, there’s also an emphasis on site-specific work which, in Raison’s words, “opens the building out.”

The first evidence of this comes in Sub Rosa, a co-production with David Leddy’s Fire Exit Ltd company, while Museum Of Dreams is a development led by Hollands. Beyond this are two deeply contrasting main stage productions, first of Willy Russell’s commercial staple, Educating Rita, which is followed by a rare look at Henrik Ibsen’s guilt-trip of a play, Ghosts. With a Bollywood take on Wuthering Heights, a revival of Anthony Neilson’s early Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats Of Loneliness and a solo look at vaudeville, Only When I Laugh, from veteran actor Jack Shepherd, the twenty-first century sideshow theme is strictly accidental, according to Raison.

“It would be lovely to say it was deliberate,” he says, “but it never is, particularly in terms of touring shows, because you never know what you’re going to be offered. Obviously it reflects our taste in some way, and while the gothic isn’t necessarily a choice, there is a theme of looking at the building. We’re always trying to reinvent the place, because people tend to feel relaxed here. But we’re totally aware of the potential for poltergeists.”

This may come to light in Sub Rosa, a pitch-black promenade show in which audiences of just fifteen at a time get to peer into the darkness at a piece of Victoriana described forebodingly as being ‘the bastard theatrical child of Stephen King and Marie Lloyd.’

“The reference point for Sub Rosa,” Raison points out, “is a love of ghosts and a love of this building. Somebody said that architecturally this is the most important theatre building in Britain, because it has a lot of the original Victorian machinery. We don’t particularly use it, but it’s still there. Everyone else has ripped it out, but we haven’t, and we want people to see that in this show. We like David Leddy’s work, and we wanted it to happen in the darkest, deepest winter, because we’re going to try and make the whole building as dark as we can for this strange, ghoulish tour with a play structure. We go into parts of the theatre that simply haven’t been seen before. It won’t be for the squeamish.”

Far more family friendly is Museum Of Dreams, which will invite children and families into the theatre’s main rehearsal room to see a new work that features puppets and digital animation in a tale of a grumpy museum attendant’s reawakening to some very live exhibits. Produced by TAG, Hollands (who is hard at work on the Citz’s Christmas show, The Wizard of Oz, the day The Herald meets with Raison) brings in puppeteer Ailie Cohen to develop the piece.

“It’s about creating work for young people which we can take anywhere,” Raison stresses. “It’s virtually wordless, and is a public example of some of the things we can do in the rehearsal room. We did an extraordinary piece called Blackout, which Davey Anderson did with the Young Company. It was a twenty minute piece of debate theatre about somebody who committed a crime. We did it here, and are touring it to schools, but is another example of being creative with the building.”

Some might argue that the scheduling of Educating Rita is just as creative.

“It’s not your typical Citz fare,” Raison admits, “but I would argue that it is a modern classic. There are very few comedies that are regarded as classics, and I know Willy Russell has been very unhappy with that. But it is a classic myth and an odyssey of knowledge. I saw the original production done by the RSC among these Edward Bond and Peter Flannery plays, and all these epics they were doing at the time. Among all that was this one smaller, quieter, gentler play that was this beautiful jewel with a real heart to it. Then it became this hugely successful show on at the west end, and after the film it acquired this whole baggage of commercial tours. But what’s been interesting about here just now is that the things that have been best received have been classics done fairly straight, like Waiting For Godot and The Caretaker. What I realised is that these plays aren’t really being seen.”

This could certainly apply to Ghosts, which hasn’t been seen in Scotland since a production at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, several years ago.

“We’ve had Hedda Gabbla done relatively recently by Theatre Babel,” Raison observes, “and we’ve had A Doll’s House at the Edinburgh Festival. But this felt like the third of those great Ibsen classics. There’s so much there about the sins of the fathers, and I think we’re very much the products of previous generations. It’s very interesting with Obama being elected at the moment, when he said that he was descended by both slaves and slave-owners in terms of what’s made him who he is. Even in Afganistan and Iraq, the sins of our fathers are being revisited on us absolutely, where they were British colonies, there was tribal oppression, and then the whole lid’s lifted off what they are.”

Elsewhere, with the Citizens Community Company taking a dark look at romance with Clydeside Valentine and the theatre’s Young Company producing Citizen Y, a new piece by Martin McCardie, visiting companies lend even more eight to the season. The National Theatre of Scotland will visit with their adaptation of Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Be Near Me, Tamasha Theatre Co will bring a Bollywood version of Wuthering Heights, and Headlong, who co-produced the epic Angels In America with the Citz, will return with Anthony Neilson’s early play, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats Of Loneliness. Childrens company Catherine Wheels will bring Book Of Beasts for Easter, while Jack Shepherd brings his one man homage to music hall, Only When I Laugh. All of which goes some way to reinventing the Citizens for the future, though not without acknowledging its past.

“This place is full of ghosts,” says Raison. “One night someone was in here when all the lights were turned out, and a lantern appeared and led her out. She said thank you and it vanished. If you walk anywhere round the back you can feel it. But you’re also very aware of the Pierce Brosnans and the Sean Beans or the Albert Finneys and the Leonard Rossiters walking around. You’re very aware of the history, and how far back it’s gone, to Duncan McCrae and all these extraordinary people who made this place.”

Raison, though, is more concerned with creating a new set of ghosts for the future.

“We have to increasingly focus on what will bring people in. We don’t have the room to bring in shows that won’t sell. But we still want to be maverick with it, We’ve produced something like eighteen pieces in the last year, and we want to continue being this extraordinary powerhouse of productivity and see what magic we can create.”

Tickets for all shows of the Citizens Theatre’s spring 2009 season go on sale on Monday 1st December.

The Herald, November 25th 2008


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