Venue of the Month: The Citizens
The Skinny speaks to Dominic Hill, artistic director of the Citz
Last year, the arrival of Dominic Hill as artistic director of the Citizens was greeted with delight. Charging straight in with three heavy-weight numbers – King Lear, Betrayal by Pinter and a Beckett double bill – Hill was making a clear announcement that his leadership would continue the legendary era of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald (1969- 2003), when the company became famous for reinterpreting classic texts in a funky, modern style.
After a successful Autumn Season, which saw Hill take a back seat as Glasgow Girls reimagined musical theatre as politically vibrant, the Spring Season seems to be taking the original promise forward. Hill's having a crack at Doctor Faustus, one of the few plays from the Elizabethan era to have a reputation that matches a Shakespeare, Stewart Laing is getting busy with The Maids – Laing's maverick style perfect for Genet's snide look at power hierarchies and the failed holiness of the criminal – as well as bringing back his Salon Project, which dresses the audience up in period clobber. Meanwhile, a team-up with the Lyceum has Donna Franceschild replay her TV drama Taking Over the Asylum on the stage. The season ends with another Hill direction, a pair of Caryl Churchills – Churchill has been called the greatest living playwright and has a scathing feminist bite to her writing.
Hill is clearly making sure that the Citizens has a clear identity. Over the years – it opened as Her Majesty's in the late ninetenth century – it has been mercurial: sometimes known for its democratic inclusiveness (cheap tickets for local residents, the foundation of a theatre company based on an early draft for a Scottish national theatre), its excellent work for young people (TAG is still an important part of the brand) or, as from 1969, a hotbed for experiment with the classics of British theatre.
Without necessarily going the whole ‘new writing’ route – it is clear that The Traverse in Edinburgh is enthusiastic on this – Hill's season sees theatre as contemporary and relevant. His Faustus promises a swipe at consumerism, and Churchill's Far Away is a dystopian horror that demonstrates how visceral a script can be.
But it is The Maids that kicks off the year. Stewart Laing might come from a familiar Scottish tradition of the director who designs, but his recent productions have seen him deconstruct the very nature of performance. The Salon Project mixed up the talents of visual artists, costumiers and public thinkers and by taking on Genet's story of two women who would like to be glorious killers, he is grappling with one of France's most sensational authors.
Moving into February, as a contrast, there is the anti-sectarian Divided City, directed by Guy Hollands, who has been making work for the venue for the best part of this decade. Although taking place over in Hamilton, it is a fine example of how the new Citizens is not afraid to reach out and tackle a tough problem.
With Hill delivering on his promises, Hollands moving out into the community, and Laing breaking various social taboos and theatrical presumptions, the Citizens is looking healthy. There's plenty of nonsense written about how the venue reflects its Gorbal's location – tough, determined, whatever – but here's a programme that is setting the pace for performance that respects the old and enters the new. [Gareth K. Vile]