On the eve of the Citizens’ Theatre’s new season. major reconstruction is underway. Giles Havergal tells Andrew Burnet how the Cits plans to survive the Brickies’
onslaught. while Douglas MacGregor pictures him (here and on our cover) at casein an unusual environment.
Giles Havergal has the ill-contained eagerness of a child on Christmas Eve. Tall and gaunt. with the face of a benevolent hawk. he watches with undisguised excitement as a large crew thump and curse and heave their way around a huge blue box. the sky-piece for lbsen‘s The Lady From The Sea. the first play of the Citizens‘ Theatre‘s new season.
Our conversation takes place on one of the seating banks which enclose the new studio theatre‘s acting space on three sides. It‘s a completely new installation. housed on the existing stage and due to remain there until November. It all came about because a large portion of the building has been completely demolished to make way for a new facade and foyer. Access to the auditorium is now practically impossible. so an alternative had to be found. Reluctant to close. or to go elsewhere. Havergal and his co-directors Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald decided to create a new space within the building. ‘I think it‘s ourjob to be going on. even if you‘ve got the builders in.‘ he says. ‘This is a small gesture towards keeping going.‘
That smallness. however. has had gratifying side effects. The abrupt switch to studio work imposes a whole new discipline upon actor and director alike. but not without yielding advantages. ‘In a proscenium arch situation.‘ Havergal explains. ‘finally you are presenting a three-dimensional picture in a picture frame. Here it‘s totally different. You can present the actor in all sorts ofdifferent and exciting ways. but what you can‘t have is a bloody great bit ofscenery behind him. and I think that does make a very big difference.
‘You might as well take the opportunity of doing something completely different and giving the audience a completely different ﬂavourf
The Lady From The Sea will be followed by Richard III and Racine‘s Phedra. To what extent was the choice of programme for the season
' informed by the change of
‘I think any of these three plays we might have done in the main theatre.‘ he replies. ‘but it‘s not entirely insignificant that this is the first Ibsen we‘ve done and I think it‘s ideally suited to this kind of circumstance. It‘s a play that I would prefer to see in a studio than a big theatre.‘
Directed by newcomer Tom Cairns. The Lady From The Sea is a psychological drama written at the time of psychology‘s infancy. and centres around a marriage of convenience under stress because of the wife‘s obsession with a mysterious sailor from her past. The climax comes when the sailor returns. and she has to decide between him and her husband. ‘It‘s a very gripping piece.‘ says Havergal. ‘because you don‘t really understand what it is that this guy has over her. and then you really genuinely don‘t know what she‘s going to do in the end.
‘What we hope is that the audience will become hypnotist by what happens between the actors. Of course from a director‘s point of view. you‘re able to do a much subtler sort of production. because the message that‘s going between the actors has only to be transmitted a very short distance. In a way. the truth of what the actors do is more important than their ability to kick it out.
‘I also think it‘ll be terribly interesting for Richard 1]]. Normally it‘s done with masses of flags and thousands ofsoldiers. and suddenly you‘ve got this enormous kind of pageant play crammed into a tiny little space with everybody looking down on it — almost like looking into an Operating theatre. I think in a different way it‘ll work very well for Racine too.‘
For Richard [I] there will also be a guest director. Jon Pope. well known for his highly visual and grotesque style, whose Frankenstein was seen in the main house last year. I ask Havergal how the Citizens‘ triumvirate go about selecting plays
and directors for the season. What it comes down to. he explains. is a personal vision and enthusiasm about the material under consideration.
‘Somebody has got to walk into the rehearsal room with a real creative urge: there‘s got to be somebody in the organisation who actually will kill to get that piece on. When you‘re lucky. that spark can fire the actors. and thus the audience.‘ Conversely. if this commitment to the project is absent. he says. ‘it shows.‘ Of course. these creative urges must not simply be indulged. but controlled and shaped into a varied and cohesive programme. ‘We try to get a balance ofall sorts ofdifferent things: not to do three translations together. for example.‘
We move on to discuss the criticism sometimes levelled at Havergal‘s company. that its artistic policy is elitist; that the title (‘itizens‘ Theatre is an ironic misnomer. It‘s a vitally important subject for him. and one on which he has plenty to say: ‘We hope that whatever we do will appeal in a city where you have an immense range ofeducational background. financial and class background. You have people who have lived here all their lives and a lot ofpeople have come into the area very recently. and I think you try and do a programme which will appeal across the board. People say. “What on earth are you doing. doing Ibsen and Schiller and Lermontov and Proust in the Gorbals'?“ and the answer is of course that if you really believe that these are the great works ofart then you must believe that they can and should be shared: it‘s a belief that people do like the best. On the other hand if you do those plays. you have to have an idea who you‘re playing to. and we certainly do have that in mind all the time.‘
‘lfwe do a Goldoni and people enjoy it then we do another. In most theatres you probably wouldn‘t have heard of Goldoni. People don‘t care whether he‘s the great Italian dramatist of the 18th century. they come if they know they have a good time with him.‘ The Citizens‘
excellent box office policy (£3 for all seats. with £1 concessions. and free admission to unsold seats for OAPs and the unemployed). is also a factor. A recent survey showed that more than half the audience at a free preview had come on foot.
‘Anyone in Glasgow can come and see our work whether they‘ve got any money or not. and if the entertainment is inexpensive. people are much more prepared to take a chance.‘ To illustrate this point. he relates the following encounter with a stranger:
Stranger: Sa w your play ‘M assacre At Paris".
Stranger: Yes. [)idn 't like it.
Ha vergal: ()h — I 'm sorry.
Stranger: ()h I didn 't hold it against you: only cost me [2.
‘And I thought. that‘s brilliant: that guy had tried that play. He probably wouldn‘t have done otherwise.‘
We break ofro watch the sky-piece being hoisted into position above the stage. where it sits like a square stormcloud to emphasize the claustrophobic oppressiveness of Norway in midsummer. To our left a half-painted fjord begins to complete the picture.
Before I leave. Havergal conducts me to the barren site at the front of the building. ‘This will be the new circle foyer and bar.‘ he enthuses. indicating the thin air above our heads. ‘and here will be the new glass frontage. with the statues.‘
One last question: won‘t he miss the studio. when things get back to normal? (The auditorium should be open in time for the Panto. and the grand re-opening is scheduled for Mayfest.) He chuckles delightedly. ‘lt‘s marvellous to know that we can do it. The problem is a simple one — it‘s 260 seats as opposed to 640. But
ofcourse it‘s a very beguiling space. I think it‘s marvellous. I‘m thrilled with it.‘ Somehow I knew that already.
The Lady From The Sea opens at the C itizens' Theatre '5 studio on 2 Sept;
Richard III on 30 Sept; Phedra on 28 ()ct. Tickets and details 041 429 0022.
6 The List 2 - 15 September 1988