The Citizens’ takes a how after 50 years of ‘alien’ theatre
The Citzens’ Theatre is 50 this year and Giles Havergal has been artistic director for half that time. Kathleen Morgan looks back at a tradition of ground-breaking theatre in the Gorbals.
Glasgow‘s (iorbals has been built. razed and reconstructed over the last few decades. High-rise monoliths have replaced rows of tenements. and they in turn are gradually making way for the next developers’ dream.
If Gorbals residents are unable to take their skyline for granted. they can rely on one landmark — the Citizens' Theatre. This year the institution celebrates its 50th birthday and an impressive reign as one of Britain‘s most outstanding theatres. It has not been easy — the theatre has itself survived demolition threats and since the l970s. the company it houses has provoked almost as much outrage as it has admiration.
Consistent only in its ability to draw audiences. the Citizens‘ has carved itselfa reputation for producing challenging theatre. sometimes verging on revolutionary. The formula couldn't be simpler. lts directors do what they want. justifying themselves at the end ofthe day by pulling in the punters and balancing the books.
That policy has been in place for half ofthe Citizens' 50-year history. beginning with a mind-blowing interpretation of Ham/er. Involving an all-male cast with an average age of 22. including David Haymer. the production sparked a healthy uproar in . I970. Since then. the company‘s trio of irreverent directors. Giles Havergal. Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald. has been making waves.
When Edinburgh-born Havergal came to the Citizens‘ from the Watford Palace in I969. he was just the latest in a succession of artistic directors ~ there had been five since I962. Audience figures had slumped and the building stood in the path of a planned motorway extension. ‘The Citizens' I had had a very turbulent few years.‘ I says Havergal. ‘Relations between the
board of directors and artistic directors were far from cordial. There was a feeling of irripermarience. which l thought I might be part of.‘ His arrival marked a watershed for the company. Founded in I943 by Scottish dramatist James Bridie. the C'itizens‘ was launched at Glasgow‘s ()Id Athenaeum Theatre. moving two years later to its current home at the former Royal Princess‘s Theatre in Gorbals Street. After Br'idie's death in I95 I. his dream of a Glasgow repertory theatre independent of London lived on. Haver'gal saved it from collapsing
before ever-dwindling audiences.
The theatre itself was saved by
economic forces. ‘The motorway 3 extension was abandoned.‘ explains
‘Relations between the board of directors and artistic directors were far from
cordial. There was a feeling of impermanence, which I
thought I might be part of.’
Havergal. ‘That was the only good thing to come out of the recession.‘ In I988. the building‘s facade was transformed and two studio theatres incorporated. but it stands solid while the surrounding community is transformed.
Havergal has always seen the Citizens' remoteness from London and on a smaller scale. from (.ilasgow‘s city centre. as an advantage. ‘In the early days. the Gorbals was a risky place to
come.‘ he says. ‘.»\udiences have invested quite a lot of time. effort and possible incony enience coming here. We have to ruakc it worth a stand in the rain. not just the price of a ticket. It has been our strength being in Glasgow. We are now seen as alien to British
However alien the (‘itizens‘ is to the heart ofestablished British theatre. it has found no difficulty attracting critics from the London-based press. Michael Coveney has been reviewing Citizens‘ productions since I972. first for the l’inmn‘ru/ 'li'mes. then for The ()bserrm'. ‘I go there. not simply because I see it as tokenist. but because it is the most interesting company in the British Isles.' he says.
C‘ovency puts the company's success down to not only artistic innovation and
The Citizens' deep in the heart of the Gorbals in the early 703 (left) and as it is now (below) minus the columns
brave programming. but hard-headed economics. ‘It's the most thrifty organisation.’ he says. ‘The key policy is they have never run in the red.‘
For Havergal. there is no choice: it is a question of survival. His determination to keep ticket prices as low as possible is another Citizens‘ founding stone. ‘It's absolutely essential that a theatre financed by the public at large should be accessible to the public at large. he says.‘ We have no God-given right to more of people's money than Schindler Tr List.
He is astounded that he. not the theatre. has stood the test of time. ‘I’m not a sticker — I'm amazed at having stayed in one building for 25 years.‘ he says, adding: ‘I don't think anyone else would have me.‘ Many would regard that as a blessing.
I let result Last week Edinburgh‘s lntemet cafe war began in earnest. with the opening of not one but two outlets offering cappuccino and computers. Web 13. originally known as Netcafe until a well known instant coffee manufacturer intervened. is at
13 Bread Street on 013] 229 8883 or e- mail: quen’es@webI3.presence.co.uk. Cyberia. the franchised off-shoot of London‘s first net cafe. is at 88 Hanover Street and can be contacted on 0131 220 4403 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Both offer introductory training for Internet virgins and hire out PC time.
I Hands on deck Drugs harm—
reduction team Crew 2()()() is opening a
drop-in advice centre in Edinburgh. The centre is due to open next week at 32 Cockburn Street. For further details call 0131 22() 3404. Meanwhile the Scottish Drugs Forum has launched a series of postcards drawn by a former user aimed at persuading intravenous users to ‘jag safely‘. Details on 0141 22I 1175.
I Bullish performance (.‘ontrovcrsial arts administrator John Drummorid. who was director of the International Festival for six years until I983. will be reminiscing about his days in Edinburgh as a fund raiser for the Festival Theatre. Drurmiiond's press
clippings are packed with sound bites — he famoust suggested Heritage Secretary Stephen I)orrell wouldn't know ‘an art if it farted' — and audiences will no doubt be hoping for some more memorable irreverence.
Drummond appears on Sunday 30
April at the Iii-'1‘. I Parliamentary questions James (‘ornford. the former director of left-of-
? centre think-tank ll’l’R. is the keynote
speaker at a conference which will debate the implications ofestablishing a Scottish parliament. The scares over additional taxes and the notorious ‘West I.othian‘ question are amongst the topics considered. ‘Beyond Westminster" is on Wed 26 April at the
Royal High School building.
Edinburgh. Call 0131 557 55I5 for details.
I Breath of fresh air An air-pollution monitoring kit. which enables members of the public to measure levels ofcar- exhaust gas nitrogen dioxide, has been launched by Friends ofthe Earth. The idea is to build up the first detailed picture of pollution levels in Scotland.
A recent Government report showed
that Hope Street in Glasgow was one of the most polluted streets in the UK. but the monitoring kits are designed to allow concerned citizens to measure I gas-emission levels in their own area. Each kits costs £14. Further details
from l’oE on ()I 31 554 9977.
The List 21 Apr-4 May I995 5