Citizens: Venue of the Month

With more scenery and name changes than perhaps any other theatre, the story of The Citizen's Theatre is as intriguing as those it has produced for the stage.

Feature by Victoria McGillop | 20 Nov 2009

Built in 1876 and opened in 1878 as 'His Majesty's Theatre', it quickly descended into bankruptcy. In 1880, the building was redesigned and re-opened by Harcourt Beryl under a new name, the Royal Princesses Theatre. It was later leased to the Citizen's Theatre Company in 1945, before becoming renamed as the Citizen's Theatre.

Having borne witness to the demise of all three surrounding theatres in the Gorbals area, The Citizen's still retains its original Victorian auditorium as well as some of its ill-fated predecessors' features. Following the demolition notice of its neighbouring theatre the Palace of Varieties in 1977, a stay of execution was arranged by the Citizen's General Manager, Clare Blenkinsop. Citizen's staff worked overnight to save some of its unique features and fittings. Statues of the four muses, Robert Burns and William Shakespeare from the exterior as well as the nautch girls and elephants from the interior can now be seen in the Citizen's Theatre foyer, painted in glorious colours and watching the patrons in the bar.

Its unique location and architectural composition makes it stand out from today's playhouses: even a small show in the upper room is given a sense of occasion by these grand statues and the presence of history. For many years, it gained an international reputation, as Giles Havergill introduced a shockingly kitsch and innovative approach to classic drama: a strategy that still informs their frequent adaptations of novels, and is echoed in the excellent productions that take place in the two smaller spaces.

"I think the auditorium is an extraordinary space, it's Victorian but quite intimate in comparison to others" says Jeremy Raison, Joint Artistic Director of the Citizen's Theatre. "The skill of those who produce the work, the iconic nature of the pieces and our reputation over the years have also been a pull on audiences. It's also quite rare for a theatre to be based outside the city centre and our position in a lesser privileged area like the Gorbals also helps informs your thinking and gives a kind of context and a background to the work that we do."

The shows themselves are also unique as The Citizen's Theatre provides high quality main house and studio productions, taking responsibility for set and costume designs. The choice of programming is pivotal to its continuing success. The first of the seasonal offerings is Wicked Christmas: Cinders' Revenge, an adult-orientated, alternative Christmas story full of sarcastic wit, featuring writing from the Citizens Community Company (a free organisation currently comprising of around thirty permanent members aged from 22 to 80, from all walks of life in Glasgow).

The second offering is the family-orientated; Cinderella produced by Mr Raison. He adds: "We've had a strong run of Christmas shows and rather than pantomines we try to appeal to the whole family, we're very keen to tell stories and we see the Christmas shows as being part and parcel of what we do throughout the year.

"It's about creating a sense of magic," Raison continues. "This year with Cinderella we have a live band, new script, dancing, and a newly composed soundtrack."

With continued popularity and high quality performances, it appear the Citizen's Theatre still has quite few stories still to tell.

Cinderella 28 Nov 2009 to 2 Jan 2010 Citizen's Theatre, various times, from £10 Wicked Christmas 16 to 19 Dec 2009 Citizen's Theatre, 7.30, £10 Box Office: 0141 429 0022