Friday, 1 March 2019

In conversation with Tom Piper, Designer of Nora: A Doll's House

Nora: A Doll's House is a radical retelling of Ibsen's classic play. Stef Smith's lyrical script sets the drama against three time periods, challenging the idea that society has come a long way. During rehearsals, we caught up with Designer Tom Piper to find out how he approaches staging such a poetic play.

Tom Piper

What attracted you to this project?

I always enjoy collaborating with the Citz team and find it a very creative environment in which to work. I was also attracted to the reworking of the play and the storytelling challenges Stef’s version gives us. I've worked with Elizabeth Freestone (Director) before and knew that it would be an exciting open discussion on how we might stage the play.
Can you give us an idea of what the set for Nora: A Doll's House will look like? Where did you draw your inspiration from?

I always begin with the theatre space. Tramway is configured in a thrust (as it was for Cyrano de Bergerac last year) so I knew that the space had to work well from three sides. This also meant I was free from creating a more conventional, naturalistic space.

The thrust stage at Tramway
In the play Nora remains in her home environment throughout and I wanted it to have a sense of homeliness but abstracted. The play explores both the comfort and confinement of a domestic space, how our need for love and approval within a domestic relationship can easily become a relationship based on control and lies. We also wanted to find a way to suggest the sense of the outside world, the frozen river and the sense of possibilities for Nora beyond the ‘haven' of the home.

I also needed to find a way that the actors could shift easily from naturalistic scenes to more choral moments and so started exploring a series of layered stages and framing ceiling elements. We looked at a range of images from each era to try and define what the world of each Nora might be. I also looked at various contemporary artists such as Rachel Whiteread and Gordon Matta Clark, whose exploration of space inspires me in very different ways.

Rachel Whitehead's statue at Trafalgar Square
The play is set over three different time periods, 1918, 1968 and 2018. What are the challenges of that?

The three periods overlap, glitch and cross cut, sometimes in just a moment. Whilst I began thinking that the design could perhaps indicate which period we are in, it soon became clear that part of the power of the play is the layering of time and events in the same space. This means the main living room has to be the centre of the world for all three Noras. We do have three different door frames in the space, which I imagine might initially be used for each Nora’s entrance thereby defining that frame as a portal into their era. But that idea might be unnecessary or too prescriptive - we will see how it develops in rehearsals!

The rehearsal room with the three door frames
Image (C) Mihaela Bodlovic

We are currently experimenting with how clothes can help tell us which era we are in. This is particularly complicated as each actress plays a Nora and also a Christine in a different period! I am searching for a look for each of them which can be quite fluid in period. Perhaps it will be the coats that characters wear to enter or leave the space that give us the strongest clue as to what year we are in.

The rehearsal room is full of images from 1918, 1968 and 2018. This has helped inspire the design.
Image (C) Mihaela Bodlovic

In the end I hope the effect will be a kaleidoscopic fracturing of the play -  in which each era talks to the other and we can see how the different social mores of the time affect how Nora behaves and ultimately leads to three very different endings. 

How does your original vision when you first read the play match-up with the end result on stage? Does the rehearsal room process impact on the design?

I didn’t have an instant design in my head, as the play offered no easy answers. In many ways I am searching for a way to present the play that can have the same playful freedom of a rehearsal room. The challenge is adding just enough design elements to help with the narrative without forcing an interpretation on the piece.

Through my sketches and initial models I was looking at how I might create an almost cubist layering of spaces and had matching floors and ceilings layered onto each other. In the end that felt too literal so instead I have created a central square - almost like a boxing ring - sitting on top of other layers. Hopefully this will allow a more fluid use of the stage as the actors can rapidly enter or leave the main space or comment from the sides. Through rehearsals the actors have improvised a lot of the spaces that are referred to in the play but never seen, such as the bank or pharmacy, and have also created their own versions of the living room in each era. I think this will help inform a lot of their choices and how the characters interact in each era and environment.

Some of the cast in rehearsals
Image (C) Mihaela Bodlovic

This is a bold new adaptation of a classic play. Is that reflected in the design at all?

It is very stripped back and so I hope it will put the focus onto the actors and their characters' stories rather than relying on the design to illustrate the play for us.
Is there anything else you'd like to add? 
It might all change!

15 March - 6 April

Friday, 15 February 2019

Behind the scenes with costume designer Kenneth MacLeod

Ahead of the opening of The Dark Carnival, our co-production with Vanishing Point, we caught up with the talented Kenneth MacLeod who designed the set and costumes for this production.

Kenneth kindly shared his notes on three of the main characters and his original sketches, to show just how he brought them to life (or death as the case may be!).

The Narrator – played by Elicia Daly

The Narrator is the first character we meet in the Dark Carnival, and one of the most mysterious. All we know for sure is that she’s our guide to the proceedings. Her costume has a few subtle hints as to her true character. Overall she’s in a period of her own, but borrows a lot from 1950s and 1960s work wear.

Young John – played by Malcolm Cumming

A lot of the early design work for The Dark Carnival was examining the approach to burial clothes in the various periods our characters hail from. Young John, who has died young, is in smart clothes befitting a young man from a respectable background.

Mrs Mark – played by Ann Louise Ross

Mrs Mark has died far earlier, and while her costume has evolved since this early rendering, the concept has remained. Buried in the late Victorian era, his costume still has singed edges from her fiery demise.

With sixteen performers and musicians, we hope that you'll join us in the graveyard for this music and theatre spectacle!

The Dark Carnival runs from 19 February to 2 March at Tramway. Find out more about the production and book tickets.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Rena Hood Tribute

We were so sad to hear of the passing of long term Citizens Community Company member and Gorbalite Rena Hood, at the age of 90. 


It seems significant that Rena was in the very first Community Company production, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Rena discovered her theatrical passion at the age of 70, in Driving Out The Devil, by Bertolt Brecht in the Stalls Studio, following in the footsteps of Glenda Jackson. From that moment Rena never looked back in her theatrical escapades! Rena was an inspiration to everyone who worked with her or watched her enchanting and often playful, mischievous, comedic performances. She appeared in so many community productions in the Citizens studios and also on the main stage in Ice Cream Dreams, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, The Grapes of Wrath,  Queens Of France, Where’s The Tramp, Where’s the Moon, The Ape Men, The Warriors The Others and Me, My Clydeside Valentine, Fair Friday, Here We Stay and numerous Wicked Christmases.                      

It is with particular fondness that we remember Rena making her entrance in the Circle Studio and entertaining the audiences with her performance. Whether that be as a Queen or Fairy, she always stole the show. 

We were lucky to be a part of Rena's life and the fact she was performing well into her 80s, is testament to her passion, determination and hard work.  Those who were fortunate enough to have crossed paths with Rena will have many precious memories, as she was always full of stories and mischief.  We are absolutely certain she is entertaining another troop of players elsewhere and regaling them with tales of growing up in the Gorbals and of her theatrical triumphs at the Citizens Theatre. 

We loved Rena as a performer and as a wonderful human being.

Here's a selection of photos of Rena in some of the many productions she took part in at the Citz over the years:

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Tommy Coll Tribute

The Citizens Theatre were very sad to hear of the passing of Tommy Coll who recently died, aged 54.
Tommy Coll
Tommy was a committed member of the Citizens Community Company and more recently our Community Collective. His first performance was in 2010, when he took part in a community opera On The Rim of the World. He went on to appear in many shows, both on the Main Stage and in the Circle Studio including, A Wicked Christmas, The Temptations of Tam, Fair Friday, Sports Day and our award winning Festival 2014 production, On Common GroundHe also delighted scores of children as Santa in our wee ones Christmas shows in the Circle Studio and most recently appeared in the final Community production at the theatre before it closed for redevelopment A Night to Remember

He was very proud of his affiliation with the Citizens Theatre and his talent, friendship and laughter will be sorely missed. 

Here's a selection of photos of Tommy in some of the many productions he took part in at the Citz over the last nine years: 

 Wicked Christmas, 2011
Wicked Christmas, 2011
Fair Friday, 2011
Temptations of Tam, 2012

Sports Day, 2014
 Community Company members at the Gorbals Fair.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Reviving a spooky Christmas tradition

Though ghost stories are now associated with Halloween, they were once more closely linked to another holiday. Traditionally, it was Christmas that was considered the best time of year for sharing terrifying tales.

A Christmas Carol is a ghost story.
Image (C) Tim Morozzo
There’s nothing better on a cold evening when the nights draw in than getting together for some good old-fashioned storytelling. December is also a time when we reflect on the past year, looking back and remembering people and places that are no longer with us. So, it’s not surprising that one of the most famous Christmas stories of all - A Christmas Carol - is a ghost story.

 Scrooge is visited by some supernatural spirits, who teach him the true meaning of Christmas
The tale follows Ebenezer Scrooge on a spooky tale of seasonal redemption. It is probably Dickens best known ghost story, although his fascination with spirits and the supernatural led him to write about phantoms in many of his other books including The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain and A Trial For Murder.

Here's a look at the ghosts of A Christmas Carol:

The Ghost of Jacob Marley
The Ghost of Christmas Past
The Ghost of Christmas Present
The Ghost of Christmas Future

Our current production celebrates this yuletide tradition as it 'relies on the magic of storytelling' (Broadway World). Nikola Kodjabashia's 'magnificent sound design' (The Scotsman) is performed live on stage by the actors using various instruments and voices transporting you to Dickensian London, whilst Rachael Canning's 'fabulous puppets' (The Herald) are brought to life by the 'excellent ten-strong ensemble' (Reviewsphere).

So, why not revive old traditions and get into the spirit this season with a ghostly tale. Our five-star production of A Christmas Carol runs at Tramway until 6 Jan. BOOK NOW

A Christmas Carol is sponsored by Urban Union.


Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Back by popular demand! A Christmas Carol opens at Tramway next month

The spirit of Christmas past returns to captivate audiences once again with this revival of our sell-out 2014 show

Audiences and critics alike were enchanted by A Christmas Carol when it was first staged. Now, Citizens Theatre Artistic Director Dominic Hill is refreshing his five star festive treat for 2018 as we continue our residency at Tramway

“Dominic Hill's three years at the Citizens Theatre have already been hailed as a golden age for the famous playhouse. Here, he lives up to that billing with this impeccable staging of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.” 
The Telegraph ★★★★★

“the darkest feel good show in town” 
The Herald ★★★★★

“It is a show to remind you of both the magical powers of the theatre, and the true meaning of Christmas” 
TV Bomb ★★★★★

“Hill's production is a beautifully staged, eloquent and vividly imagined account of one of the greatest Christmas stories of all” 
The Scotsman ★★★★

“a rich and satisfying seasonal treat” 
The Guardian ★★★★

A Christmas Carol rehearsals
Image (C) Shiona Walker

A Christmas Carol opens at Tramway on 4 December and runs until 6 January. Performances around Christmas are already looking busy so book soon to secure your seats! BOOK NOW

A Christmas Carol is sponsored by Urban Union

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The man who invented Christmas

This year, the Citizens Theatre is bringing back audience favourite A Christmas Carol. The five star production captures the inventive and uplifting spirit of Dickens' original novella. Here, we take a look at how the author has shaped the modern Christmas.

Charles Dickens’ famous festive stories have influenced many of our favourite Christmas traditions. In fact, the author was so closely associated with the holiday season that when he died in 1870 a young girl in London was overheard saying, “Mr. Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?”

Portrait of Charles Dickens
 (C) Public Domain via Wikipedia

At the start of the Victorian era Christmas festivities were in decline in Britain. The hardships of the industrial revolution meant few had enough time or money to celebrate and many businesses did not even consider it a holiday. Dickens’ seasonal stories, such as The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, helped reignite Christmas traditions and led London’s Sunday Telegraph to declare Dickens ‘the man who invented Christmas!’

It was his beloved tale A Christmas Carol, however, that really captured the nation’s imagination as the story’s focus on charity, compassion and the importance of family brought a new meaning to Christmas in the Victorian era. First published on 19 December 1843, the book was so popular it had had sold out by Christmas Eve. 

First edition of A Christmas Carol
(C) Public Domain via Wikipedia

The language of the story is so well known that it has crept into our conversations. A ‘scrooge’ is someone that is tight with money and the exclamation ‘Bah! Humbug!’ can be used to retort anything overly sentimental. Even the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ was popularised by A Christmas Carol - it appears 21 times in the book!

The Ghost of Christmas Present
(C) Public Domain

It’s also because of Dickens that we all hope for snow on the 25th December as the author persistently depicted frosty scenes with snow-carpeted streets. Dickens’ biographer Peter Ackroyd notes that Dickens’ childhood coincided with the coldest decade in Britain since the 1690s and suggests that it is this historic coincidence that has influenced the ideal of the white Christmas.

Today, 175 years later, A Christmas Carol continues to be as relevant as ever, sending a heartening message that cuts through the materialistic trappings of the season and leaves all rejoicing in the Christmas spirit. 
Have you received some post from the Citz this week? Our festive mailing is inspired by Dickensian Christmas traditions

We hope you’ll come and celebrate the festive season with us at Tramway – and enjoy a heart-warming production of everyone’s favourite Christmas story!

A Christmas Carol runs 4  Dec – 6 Jan. BOOK NOW!


Thursday, 27 September 2018

In conversation with Frances Poet

The Macbeths is an intimate and stripped back version of Shakespeare's epic tale. Director, Dominic Hill worked with writer, dramaturg and Citizens Theatre Literary Associate Frances Poet to create a version of the famous play that uses only the dialogue between the Macbeths but allows the full story to be told.

Here, Frances discusses their approach:

What does the role of Dramaturg involve?

That’s a tricky question. I’ve been to conferences dedicated to answering exactly that. It’s a very clearly defined role in Germany but in Britain it’s a bit vaguer and more amorphous. As far as I’m concerned it means somebody who is obsessed with text making themselves as useful as they can be to the director, writer (if they're alive) and actors either in the development of the project or in the rehearsal room or, ideally, both. In this case, it consisted of me assisting Dominic to realise his brainchild of distilling the story of Macbeth into a two-handed drama.  

Can you tell us a bit about The Macbeths?

The Macbeths is a much truncated version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth told through the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The production shows the couple in their private sphere and takes place on and around their marital bed. In carving out their stories alone, the production is able to offer a focussed and nuanced interpretation of this famous couple. It makes for an intense and powerful evening which allows an audience to relish the Shakespearean language while also rediscovering the drama anew.    

This version of the text only uses the dialogue between the central couple. What were the challenges of that?

In the first third of Shakespeare’s play, at least, the interactions between Macbeth and his wife carry the spine of the narrative and all the most riveting drama so it was easy to pare back everything else and let their dialogues stand alone.  As the two characters begin to pull away from each other in the wake of their terrible deed, however, they interact less and we had to take more liberties in our adaptation. We found various means of bringing in outside voices to tell the story. Having the couple practice their reaction to Macduff finding Duncan’s dead body, for example, helped to create a sense of how that scene would play out offstage.  Another key one was using Macbeth’s surveillance equipment and reel-to-reel recordings as a means to receive news from the outside world. In the main though our focus was much less on the outside world, focussing instead upon the couple and their markedly different reactions to the bloody deed they are complicit in. And while some speeches have been moved or borrowed with lines reallocated, generally we’ve treated the text with a lot of reverence.  

What did you enjoy most about adapting this famous play?

Working closely with Dominic Hill and diving feet first into Shakespeare’s exquisite language was an unadulterated joy. As was being able to tussle with and find answers for those huge questions about this famous couple, the nature of their relationship and whether or not they had children.  And the resulting piece is such a showcase for the tremendous talents of the actors, it has been exhilarating to watch. There is nowhere to hide in this piece. Neither leaves the stage. It’s just them in this beast of a play, speaking some of the most heart-achingly powerful lines ever written.        

How do you think an all-female cast might impact on the show?

The enfuriating answer is that it changes everything and nothing. They are still the same couple who together embark on a bloody course of action that destroys them both. And in some ways, it feels like the only real impact of this choice is to allow an audience to see the genuinely extraordinary Lucianne McEvoy bring her clarity and ferocity to the part. On the other hand, the casting does yield new resonances both linguistically and thematically. There’s a greater sense of understanding between the couple somehow, and their disparate responses to their deed feels to me to be accentuated. Instead of soldier and Lady coping differently with the bloody act of murder,  we have two women who start at the same place trying to negotiate their own hellish remorse in different ways. 

This October, the Citizens is taking this powerfully concentrated production on tour. Visit for full details.