Monday, 20 May 2019

Blood-filled vengeance, murder and madness

This September we’re presenting a brand-new version of The Duchess [of Malfi] written and directed by multi-award winning Zinnie Harris. But how well do you know the 17th century original and its author John Webster? 

The dramatist was a contemporary of Shakespeare (though 16 years younger) and appears in the 1998 film Shakespeare In Love. He is depicted as a macabre young boy who relishes feeding live mice to cats. When asked about Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Webster replies:

I like it when they cut their heads off. And the daughter mutilated with knives… Plenty of blood. That’s the only writing.

This fictional portrayal of the budding playwright nods to Webster’s real reputation for dark and violent plays, and his habit of writing particularly gory endings for his characters.

Webster is best known for his two ghoulish dramas based on real-life events in Italy: The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi. Both are classic Jacobean revenge tragedies – characterised by blood-filled vengeance, murder and madness. This gruesome genre was a favourite of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre goers. Their love for guts and gore meant theatre companies would develop close relationships with local butchers so that they could use the off-cuts in bloody scenes to make them more realistic! Other popular plays during the era include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Changeling by Thomas Middletton and William Rowley, and Antonio’s Revenge by John Marston.

Title page of The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster [Public domain]
While Webster’s work is notable for its inventive and disturbing depictions of violence, he is also celebrated for his ability to write complex, sympathetic characters. His stories often expose uncomfortable truths and the darker side of humanity as they explore issues of class, the nature of love and lust, political corruption and the role of religion in society.

The Duchess (Kirsty Stuart) and Ferdinand (Angus Miller) in rehearsals
Image by Mihaela Bodlovic
The Duchess of Malfi is widely considered a masterpiece of the 17th century and continues to be staged regularly by modern theatre companies around the world. The tale follows the recently widowed Duchess as she gains financial independence, prioritises her passions and refuses the authority of her brothers with horrifying consequences.

Our forthcoming production is a contemporary adaptation by Zinnie Harris (Oresteia: This Restless House). Her bold interpretation sets the tale in the 1960s against a Cold War backdrop of espionage and cutting-edge psychological experimentation. It promises to be just as bloody as the original. Zinnie explains why this classic story is so ripe for adaptation:

"now feels like the perfect time to revisit this incredible, brutal story of female determination in the face of patriarchal power... The Duchess is an unapologetic, fearless character, who happens to fall in love, and I'm excited to be bringing her to life for audiences."

This blood-soaked story of family, forbidden love and fierce gender politics runs at Tramway from the 4th – 21st September as part of our Citizens Women season. 

The Duchess [of Malfi] is a co-production with The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh.


John Webster: A Darker Playwright for Renaissance England at by Kate O'Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK).

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

The story of our Silent Heroines

"I was struck by the sheer integrity, beauty and honesty of the performance. The sharing of life stories through recordings, coupled with music choices to complement and support the personal testimonials, was a powerful experience. As I laughed, cried and danced with the women on stage, I knew that we had to be part of this fascinating and evolving international movement of connecting women." Elly Goodman

Our Community Drama Artist Elly Goodman attended her first Silent Heroines' Disco at the International Community Arts Festival in 2017 and knew straight away that she wanted to get involved with the project. 

Originally created by Rotterdams Wijktheater Women Connected, a community arts network in Rotterdam, the Silent Heroines' Disco is an alternative audio and immersive theatre piece performed by an all-female cast. Through headphones the audience listen to the women's deeply personal stories of loss, dreams, strength and survival before joining them for a party on the dance floor! This intimate performance technique gives a platform to the women whose voices are rarely heard and provides a unique insight into their lives. 

Inspired and enthusiastic, Elly brought the idea back to Scotland and together with our Community Drama Worker Carly McCaig, co-created and organised the Citizens' first ever Silent Heroines' Disco. A group of 12 women living in Glasgow developed a performance exploring their own life experiences. 

Kaat Zoontjens and Inez Schatz from Women Connected came to Glasgow
for our Silent Heroines' Disco
The first Scottish Silent Heroines' Disco was a great success. One participant described the project:

"From the first workshop I was hooked. Everyone's amazing stories and experiences woven into music then fed directly into your ears. It takes a bit of getting your head around but it just works and almost transforms into something different. It's like a kind of alchemy."

You can browse more pictures from the inspiring event here

More recently, Elly and Carly travelled to The Netherlands for the Silent Heroines' Disco XL, a celebration with 1,000 women of all cultures, generations and backgrounds telling their stories together at Theater Rotterdam. Here, Elly and Carly tell us all about their visit: 

"From the moment we entered the Theatre Rotterdam, we were struck with the sheer amount of women taking part in the rehearsal. Some women were on the stage in a wonderful array of vivid traditional costumes, others were sat quietly in the seating banks while all being communicated to by Director Kaat Zoontjens via a microphone directly linked to their headphones.

Elly and Carly were busy backstage
We were promptly handed headsets and we watched the rehearsals unfold. There were women from many different countries sharing stories that explored marriage, children, ageing, cultural restrictions and celebrations, bereavement, gender, elderly v young people, traditional dance and more. We tuned into the Dutch language as best we could, and it soon became apparent that the themes being explored on stage were universal and recognisable despite the language barrier.

Having worked on large scale productions before, we were well versed in the enormity of producing a show, but perhaps not quite of this scale! We were more than happy to lend a hand to assist this remarkable theatrical undertaking.We were pleased to spend time with Kaat and Inez whilst they went through their lighting cues in the technical rehearsal and lend support on the stage.

On the day of the performance we busied ourselves with the efficient production team and made sure that the dressing rooms backstage had everything required for the performers from posters adorning the walls to comment and reflection books. As the time drew closer to the show we ushered the 200 strong cast onto the stage for their final notes from Kaat and were then stationed in the Dress circle armed with 1000 headsets to hand to the audience as they made their way to their seats. The auditorium was packed and it was wonderful to witness the entire audience experiencing the show through the headsets.

The main auditorium at Theatre Rotterdam Schowburg 
The atmosphere was incredible as the audience followed the stories and enthusiastically joined in when it was required. As the performance drew to its close the audience rose to its feet in a standing ovation and then joined the cast on stage as the disco took hold. Those who couldn’t make it to the stage started dancing in their seats and the aisles.

The event ended with a big disco
It was clear that the event had been an utter triumph for those who had taken part and for the people who witnessed it. The foyer was packed with people eating food, sharing their feedback and congratulating the performers. It was an affirming sight to see so many women of different nationalities, ages, cultures, background and walks of life celebrating together in one space. We came away reeling from the event and excited about our visit." 

You can read more about the event on the Theater Rotterdam website, and browse some pictures from the epic performance below: 

We've loved collaborating with and learning from Women Connected and look forward to continuing our international partnership. Keep an eye out for more projects coming soon! 

The Citizens Theatre has a long history of working with women’s groups in the community. Through a variety of different projects and workshops, our talented Learning team create a safe space for women to explore issues that impact their lives. Read more about some of our other Learning projects for women here

Friday, 5 April 2019

How movement was used in Nora: A Doll's House

We caught up with Emily-Jane Boyle, our Movement Director for Nora: A Doll's House who explained how movement was used in the play.  We asked her how movement was used to build character and relationships and how it was used to tell the story and highlight important themes such as entrapment, power and control.

Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

EJ told us:

"We had a lot of workshop time at the beginning of our rehearsal process to discover the role of movement in the production. The narrative shifting between time periods was a clear starting point in the cast physically developing characters who convincingly existed in each of those periods, and in enabling them to shift rapidly between those characters in differs eras.  We also did a lot of work with the three actors who play each Nora and Christine in devising a commonality in the Nora’s and the Christine’s physicality that could exist across each of the time periods and unify them in some way.

In the building of the character relationships we did a lot of work on the space/distance between characters, tension levels, pace, levels of threat, physical manipulation and the levels and methods of physical contact between characters. Defining these for each character and each relationship in turn helped us tell the story of the control/power balances, not only between the characters but in each of the Nora’s overarching relationship with the time period she lived in and what expectations and elements of control that era placed on her.

In addition, the theme of emotional repression and consequent emotional release running through Stef’s script, for me felt like such an important element of the piece and hugely influenced the overall movement language that we developed."

Thursday, 4 April 2019

How sound was used in Nora: A Doll’s House

We caught up with Michael John McCarthy, our composer and sound designer for Nora: A Doll's House who explained how sound was used to emphasise moments which were particularly important in the play and related to its main themes and issues.

Both the sound and the music were created by MJ in the rehearsal room and were designed to complement the emotional journey of the play. It also helped us tell the story: the Noras have a chord that is played when the play fractures into their monologues and poetic sections. The sound is also used to mark the shifts in time: we found a combination of strong physicality from the actors, a lighting shift, and a sound moment an effective and precise way of jumping between 1918, 1968, and 2018 in a matter of seconds.  We used some of MJ's original music in our trailer for the play.

Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

MJ explained "There's an extent to which the use of sound in Nora is all built around one moment of silence. Even as the audience enters the auditorium before the show begins, there is a very low level room-tone (a bit like the sound of a very quiet air conditioning system) playing through the speakers. It's barely perceptible but you'd notice the difference if it was switched off. Throughout the production various layers of music and sound come and go, always with an atmospheric layer in the background, leading up to the moment where Thomas leaves the room after almost hitting Nora. It was the director's wish, from our very first conversation, that this moment where each Nora realises that she is about to leave her home and family, would be the first and only moment of silence in the entire production. I don't know if many or any audience members are aware of this silence, but my hope is that they feel the difference it makes, even if they couldn't say exactly what has changed."

Friday, 29 March 2019

The creative process behind Nora: A Doll’s House

Nora: A Doll's House
Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

Our Citizens Women season kicked off earlier this month with a radical new version of A Doll's House. In Stef Smith's empowering adaptation, she revisits Ibsen's iconic play through the experiences of three different Noras, over three different time periods.  

Our Assistant Director Jo Bowman recently ran a Q&A with some Higher Drama students. After watching the show, they discussed the key themes and ideas of the play, as well as how the production came together in the rehearsal room:

What would you consider the main theme?

For me, Nora: A Doll’s House is about many things; Stef Smith hasn’t limited the scope of the play to focus on one main theme. However, the themes that ping out as particularly central to my reading and understanding of the play are those of love, loneliness, and gendered roles and expectations.   

Anna Russell-Martin, Molly Vevers and Maryam Hamidi in Nora: A Doll's House.
Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

What would you say the purpose of this play is?

I’m not sure there is a singular purpose of the play. I think at its core it tells a thrilling and relevant story – a story that reverberates through time and demands to be told today. Without spoiling the ending, I think it can be seen as both a rousing call to arms (the fight for gender equality rages on) and an explicit moment of female solidarity. Depressingly, there is still something striking – albeit also inspiring and exciting – about putting a woman’s story on stage and I think there is a sense that this production of this play exists not only to tell this wonderful story but also as a demonstration that women’s stories belong on stage, and have belonged on stage for a long time.

Can you say something about how the set design served the play and its themes?

The form of the play – that is three time periods sitting on top of one another – means the piece is a particularly demanding one when it comes to the visual choices the production team made. At its simplest, the set (designed by the wonderful Tom Piper) is three stage spaces on top of each other, which directly mirrors the form of the play. It was also important that the stage space could exist in each of the time periods (1918, 1968, 2018) so the chairs had to be selected to fit into a multitude of different times. In a play about being trapped, having a stage space dominated by three door frames offers a tantalising means of escape; by physically showing the way out of the space, the potential for Nora to leave hangs over the play throughout.

The stage is dominated by three door frames.
Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

How the costumes and hairstyles chosen fitted the historical context and how they linked the three Nora characters thematically?

The costumes chosen (again by our designer Tom Piper) act as a visual representation of the time period each Nora occupies: Maryam Hamidi has a beehive-esque hairstyle to suggest the 60s, just as Molly Vevers’ Nora is in a long skirt which indicates the 1910s. However, the demands of each actor not only playing Nora but also playing Christine in a different time period meant we also had to find a visual language to help with these transitions. The green scarf worn when each actor is playing Christine is a simple visual cue to assist with the story telling of the multi-roling.

The costumes help distinguish between the different eras.
Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

How the lighting helped the audience understand the mood of the moment or the action / interaction?

The lighting design (by Olivier-nominated Lee Curran) is central to both the story telling and emotional journey of the play. Each time period has its own colour and the colours change depending on if the story is happening in 1918, 1968, or 2018. There are also subtler shifts in the brightness of the lighting depending on the emotional state of the characters. For stylised moments such as the dance scene, the lighting is designed to be just as dramatic and striking as the direction and text of the play.

Lee Curran's atmospheric lighting enhances the storytelling and emotional journey of the play.
Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

How sound was used to emphasise moments which were particularly important and related to the main themes or issues?

Created by MJ McCarthy in the rehearsal room, the sound and music were designed to complement the emotional journey of the play. It also helps us tell the story of the play: the Noras have a chord that is played when the play fractures into their monologues and poetic sections. The sound is also used to mark the shifts in time: we found a combination of strong physicality from the actors, a lighting shift, and a sound moment an effective and precise way of jumping between 1918, 1968, and 2018 in a matter of seconds.

Can you say anything about why the writer, director, cast and you felt it was important to do this play, like this, now?

For me, Ibsen’s plays – particularly A Doll’s House – are some of the best-written and exciting theatrical stories that exist. The richness of the stories mean they are ripe for adaptation, updating, and re-examining, three things Stef has done with Nora: A Doll’s House. Politically it feels like we are at something of a turning point when it comes to our understanding of gender (as I am sure it did in 1918 and 1968 as well) and it feels like there is a move to centre women’s stories on our stages. A Doll’s House is a compelling and shocking story and Stef’s adaptation, as brought to life by Elizabeth’s production, has not only pulled this story into the twenty-first century but also taken the politics of the original and explored them further. This version feels urgent but also timeless, which is why it is a powerful and radical adaptation of a play that already has drive and clout to it.

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: