Thursday, 5 October 2017

It’s back! Trainspotting returns to the Citz

After a sell-out run in 2016 Trainspotting returns to the Citizens this month

Audiences and critics were blown away by last year's production.

“And if you want further proof that Trainspotting is one of the great, iconic narratives of the last 25 years, then you should beat a path to the Citizens’ Theatre, where this sharply-timed revival of Harry Gibson’s stage version – emerging just in advance of Trainspotting’s film sequel – is playing to packed houses and standing ovations.” 
The Scotsman  ★★★★★

“everything a theatre production should be” 
Broadway World  ★★★★★

“crackles with a raw new power” 
The Independent  ★★★★

“Nicholls shows Trainspotting still speaks loudly, scabrously and irreverently about urban alienation and young lives under pressure” 
The Guardian  ★★★★

“The cast of five, led by Lorn Macdonald as Renton…make the material their own.” 
The Herald   ★★★★

“To take on such a production takes courage; to both recognise and subvert expectation takes skill; qualities here in thankful evidence” 
The National  ★★★★

Read more about what audiences thought on Storify.

Lorn Macdonald and Gavin Jon Wright. Photo by Tim Morozzo

Trainspotting plays at the Citizens Theatre from 18 October – 11 November, before moving to the King’s Theatre Edinburgh, where it will be presented by Selladoor Scotland, from 14 – 18 November.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week three

This week, Faithful Ruslan Assistant Director George Nichols talks about the challenges which come with moving from the process of exploration to working towards a more refined product.

Tangible progress is the order of the week. Less time can now be afforded to exploration, as, after all, we do have to finish the play. That means our rehearsals have been split with some time afforded to working further on what we’ve already done in the first half of the play and the rest of the time spent continuing on working through the play. While the collective conscience of the chorus improves every day and their movements come closer to being instinctive and intuitive, consistent practice is needed to maintain this, like practising an instrument. Ultimately in this production, it’s important to get the balance right, as the big choral set pieces need to be polished and progressed, whilst progress also needs to be made on the script.

This being a new play, and an adaptation based on a translation, the main edition of the book is in English as Russia has never published the text, there is constant chopping and changing. This also means that seeing a skeleton of the play is essential, to see if the adaptation effectively translates the book to the stage. There are many difficulties involved in adaptation, aspects that seem the most stageable when reading the book can quickly seems ineffective in practice, and so it is important to be able to kill your darlings and pursue the best version of the play possible.

It is important to locate the moments that need changing quickly so that amendments may become embedded in the cast’s minds as early as possible. This means that this week’s rehearsals didn’t focus on achieving as much detail as we would eventually like in favour of seeing the staging of the complete script and this can be irritating to both the creative team and the cast. However, once the structure and words of the play and firmly in the cast’s minds we can start layering detail and precision more effectively.

From a practical viewpoint, the rehearsal period for this kind of play is very challenging. The script is constantly changing and so myself and the stage management team need to be constantly aware of what is happening in order that the book can be kept up to date. The other creatives who are not in the room (and in many cases not even in the country) need to be kept aware of these changes so that they know how the play currently works and can adjust their own work accordingly. While this is challenging, a production like this is one of the reasons why you want to make theatre in the first place; to be part of a process the relies on constant invention, imagination, creativity and most importantly a talented and generous cast.

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week two

Assistant Director George Nichols shares all the latest news from the Faithful Ruslan rehearsal room in his second blog. This week they've looked at the complexities of staging a play from a dog's point of view and how a ‘physical language’ is being created for the actors. 
Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog rehearsals - week two -

In the second week, you quickly learn that progress in terms of pages is not necessarily the most important thing; particularly in a production like Faithful Ruslan. On some afternoons you can get through a significant chunk of the play, but the satisfaction you feel from this pales in comparison to the satisfaction felt when progress is made in regard to creating an understandable on stage language. Progress like this has ramifications throughout the rest of the process. It goes without saying that a play told from the point of view of an animal presents some challenges in terms of staging, that’s why some of the best moments of this weeks rehearsals were when text, physicality and sound married together perfectly to create a visceral insight into the world of Ruslan.
Of course, progress was made with regards to the script too, and every day we get nearer to being able to do a full run. One of the exciting, but also challenging, aspects of working on a production of this kind is that as the play constantly changes so do the production elements that go with it. The rehearsal room is a kind of document in itself, as the props brought in by our wonderful stage management team reflect where the production has been at different points over the last fortnight. The room is strewn with various army jackets, boxes, suitcases, buckets and even a peculiar leather dog mask.
Much of this week’s time has been spent on structuring the big choral moments of the first half of the play. The cast create many aspects of the play, and so a lot of time is spent working out the best way to create a tractor on stage, or a train, or a market place. This requires constant ingenuity from both the cast as well as Helena (Director) and Marcello (Movement Director). The actors have to be constantly aware, and continue to do sessions every morning with Marcello to develop their understanding and coordination. Going into the next few weeks this will be vital, so time is saved by the cast having a collective understanding of the world they inhabit so decisions can be made collectively, without too much hesitation.
Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog -

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Friday, 4 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week one

Rehearsals are now underway for our exciting co-production of Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog, a new adaptation of the cult Russian novel by Georgi Vladimov. Assistant Director George Nichols will be sharing his experience of bringing this story to life on stage over the coming weeks.  

The first week of a rehearsal is like standing on a cliff at the edge of the ocean; your feet tingle with anticipation as you long to jump into the great expense of mysterious water that is the play. This has certainly been the case with Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog, as the strange and enticing world of Josef Stalin’s Siberian prisons, also known as ‘gulags’, was waiting to be explored and excavated. Georgi Vladimov’s compelling dissident novel illuminates the reality of a life lived in service of a system through the eyes of a dog, and Helena Kaut-Howson’s exciting adaptation requires a unique process the melds the strands of textual work, movement and research to create a physical language that demonstrates the social and political context of the play. Our days have been split accordingly, with a large amount of time devoted to both movement and textual work.

The text relies on a strong chorus, and thus the movement director Marcello Magni has spent a lot of time with the cast working on techniques to help them become an ensemble that are able to think and act as one. This has involved exercises inspired by Jacques Lecoq’s chorus techniques; such as adding multiple instructions to collective tasks so the cast may become sensitive and responsive to each other’s actions. All of the cast must quickly change between prisoners, guards and dogs and so time has been spent working on quick physical transformation, and needless to say, there has been lots of running around on all fours!

Our initial text work has been focused on making the words of a novel immediate and playable and Helena has also been trying to get people out of their own world’s and sensibilities in order to unlock the complexities of Ruslan’s fanatical devotion to the service. We have also looked at a good deal of research, focusing on a broad range of recorded experiences from those who came into contact with the gulag system. Helena has felt it important that in order to portray the complexities and realities of this world we look at sources that also talk about the positive moments people had in the camps; there was sometimes camaraderie, faith and moments of justice. As well as research into the system, we have also looked at videos that detail the relationship between dogs and their handlers, in order to understand the closeness of their bonds and also how dependent we are on our canine friends.

We now look forward to getting more of the piece on its feet, and pushing off toward deeper waters, where our feet no longer touch the ground…

Stay tuned for more updates from George over the coming weeks! 

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A season of power, violence and revenge at the Citizens Theatre this autumn!

Today we announce our Autumn 2017 season including plays from different ages and countries focusing on the very personal consequences of absolute power, violence and revenge. Here, Artistic Director, Dominic Hill introduces the new season.

At the Citizens, we believe that plays and stories originally created in the past have the power to shed light on our lives and society, and that great literature can speak to us over the centuries. In particular, the theatre has always been effective at dissecting the violent aftermath of tyranny and the abuse of power.

I’m delighted to be bringing back Zinnie Harris’ reworking of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, which will also be presented at the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival. Acclaimed at its premiere last year, this is an epic theatre event which takes its audience on a wild, disturbing but always gripping journey that ultimately leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Pauline Knowles and Lorn MacDonald in This Restless House

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog is an extraordinary satire on Stalinist Russia seen through the eyes of a guard dog.  An international creative team will work to deliver a unique, visceral and very funny show. It’s very much a modern ‘Animal Farm’ for the world of Trump, May and Putin.

Where Faithful Ruslan and Oresteia engage with the world today indirectly but forcefully, Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 Lampedusa will bring us right up to date. The play connects an Italian former fisherman who now collects the dead bodies of washed-up migrants to a Chinese-British student in Leeds who is forced to work for debt collectors. Lustgarten’s play, receiving its Scottish premiere at the Citizens, is deeply engaging and relevant, and is a moving celebration of humanity.

My first show in the Citizens’ Circle Studio, The Macbeths, adapted from Shakespeare’s play, will focus on the relationship of the killer couple and its disintegration following an act of murder which at first binds them together and then destroys them.

We’ll welcome two touring companies to the Citizens this season: our friends at National Theatre of Scotland with two new groundbreaking productions, Adam and Eve, both timely and theatrical explorations of the complexities and challenges facing trans people today and Actors Touring Company for the first time with their production Living with the Lights On.

And as Brexit and recent events once again bring back to mind past troubles in Northern Ireland, we thought it was a perfect time to revive Bold Girls. Originally written for 7:84 in the 1990s, it launched the career of leading Scottish playwright Rona Munro.”

Judith Kilvington, Executive Director added:

“Oresteia: This Restless House perfectly encapsulates Dominic’s tenure so far as Artistic Director at the Citizens Theatre and it’s perfect that we’ll be taking the work to the Edinburgh International Festival as we mark his fifth year as artistic leader of the Citizens. I am delighted to see the return of Trainspotting, a show that appealed to people from all walks of life when we presented it last year, and I’m pleased that it will extend its reach to audiences in Edinburgh this year. The Citizens Theatre is committed to engaging with as inclusive a range of people as possible in the creative life of the theatre and breaking down barriers to engagement with the arts. I am personally very pleased to welcome back the National Theatre of Scotland with work by and for the trans community and Actors Touring Company for the first time with their production, Living with the Lights On, which speaks openly and honestly about living with mental health difficulties.”

The Autumn 2017 season will include:
  • Oresteia: This Restless House at Citizens Theatre and Edinburgh International Festival, a thrilling story of murder and revenge focussing on three women who are forced to confront the consequences of their acts of violence, presented in association with National Theatre of Scotland.
  • The Macbeths, a radically cut adaptation of Shakespeare’s play in the Circle Studio exploring the corrosive effect of power, directed by Dominic Hill.
  • Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, an exhilarating and funny celebration of four Belfast women set in the 1990s, directed by Dominic Hill.
  • The return of 2016's critically-acclaimed, sold-out production of Harry Gibson’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting at Citizens Theatre and King’s Theatre Edinburgh.
  • The acclaimed Actors Touring Company production Living with the Lights On, one man’s honest account of living with mental health difficulties.
  • The Scottish premiere of Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa, the story behind the headlines of the ongoing refugee crisis on a small Italian island.
  • National Theatre of Scotland’s Adam and Eve, two new productions exploring two extraordinary lives in transition, created by a team of leading Scottish and UK theatre artists including Cora Bissett, Chris Goode and Jo Clifford.
  • and two new festive productions: Stuart Paterson’s Cinderella, directed by Dominic Hill and an original show for 3-6 year olds One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas, directed by Guy Hollands and presented by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Travels with My Aunt: Around the World in 28 Years with Henry, Giles and Aunt Augusta Too

Herald art writer and critic, Neil Cooper, sat down with theatre director and actor Giles Havergal to discuss his world renowned adaptation of Travels with My Aunt.  Read on to find out more about the play's long association with the Citizens and why it is just as relevant today as it was in 1989.

Giles Havergal thinks it might have been the very first preview of Travels with My Aunt when he thought his new production was doomed. It was 1989, money was tight, and, necessity being the mother of invention, Havergal had opted to make his adaptation of Graham Greene's 1969 novel as economically spare as he could. On the eve of Phillip Breen's revival for the Gorbals-based institution's main stage, things may have come full circle in terms of austerity, but Travels with My Aunt remains both of its time and an evergreen masterpiece which transcends literary fads and fashions.
Travels with My Aunt, Citizens Theatre 1990 Production
“I'd just got started,” recalls Havergal during a flying visit to Glasgow for the read-through of Breen's production. “I'd just got into the aunt and I was fluttering away doing all my stuff, and I suddenly heard one of the seats in the circle go, and I thought, oh, somebody can't bear it. Actually, I discovered later it wasn't that, but at that time I thought, oh my God, I've got the whole of the play to do, and somebody's already walked out. I think it was somebody who got ill or something, because I immediately asked Front of House as soon as the show had finished, and I was so relieved, but I initially thought we had a disaster on our hands.”

This proved to be far from the case, as the speedy revival for Glasgow's year as European Capital of Culture in 1990 proved and the extraordinary journey that followed made clear. Havergal puts the responsibility for the Travels with My Aunt phenomenon squarely on Greene's shoulders.

“Looking back,” he says, “I think the way we did it was probably fairly typical of the way we did a lot of things. Graham Greene is a major literary figure, and we tended to do work by major writers, so I think something like it was going to happen sooner or later. But I just think the title was very potent in 1989. I think it was still on the shelves at Waterstones, and indeed it still is, but I think it was still known, and people wanted to see it because it was a famous title. And did Graham Greene say it was his favourite book? Which is rather interesting. But also, I think it sold much better than most of his books. It really was a best-seller, so when you put the title up there, that was the appeal. It was a famous story which people liked.”

Greene's book charts the belated getting of wisdom of retired bank manager Henry Pulling after he is taken under the wing of his Aunt Augusta, who leads Henry astray on a series of international escapades which open him up to a world of possibilities beyond the purely geographic. In normal circumstances, putting Greene's roll call of adventurers, spies and exotic agents of all kinds onstage would have been out of reach to all but the most extravagantly inclined productions. Even the Citz' trademark penchant for large-cast classics would not have been able to accommodate such an epic of subverted English suburban mores.

Travels with My Aunt, Citizens Theatre 1990 Production

Havergal's option was to stage it with a cast of just four actors, all clad in identical suits, who would proceed to play all the parts, doubling up as Henry as they went. With the quartet also acting as the story's narrators, Havergal even cast himself in his own production alongside Citz stalwarts Patrick Hannaway and Derwent Watson, with Christopher Gee completing the quartet. It was, as Havergal says, “the biggest vanity project that ever was, to adapt it, direct it and play the two leads in it. I was very keen as well that the principle character of Henry Pulling should be played by all of us, and that it should be very carefully divvied up between us. It was tremendous fun to play, and of course it meant a lot having three really marvellous actors, who were so good in it.”

Such a consciously theatrical approach that makes clear the story's artifice from the off is fairly commonplace these days for stage adaptations. Back then, a more traditionally naturalistic rendering of literary wares was more the done thing in terms of form. Or at least that was the case on the main-stages of British repertory theatres. As Havergal had proven ever since he began running the Gorbals-based emporium in 1969, the same year Travels with My Aunt was published, and shortly afterwards with his co-directors Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse, the Citz was no ordinary rep.

“We were very short of money,” Havergal says, “and I think it was even mooted at one point that it should be a one-man show, which is obviously the cheapest thing you can possibly do, with me going on wearing one of my own suits. Then it grew slightly from that. I'd read the book, and I liked it very much, and when it came up, I was excited by the idea of adapting it. It's a long time ago to remember, but I was."

“A lot of people have said to me that I opened things up for them to do their adaptations of various things, which is nice, though I think it was very much in the air at the time too, to do that very pared down thing, and just let the dialogue tell the actual story.”

From such modest ambitions of a very Citizens take on notions of poor theatre, in which small casts double up like billy-o, few could have predicted the life that Havergal's version of Travels with My Aunt would embark on beyond its home turf. In terms of adventure, Havergal's construction has crossed borders and boundaries on a par with Henry and Aunt Augusta's own trans-continental leap. 

“It was a huge success immediately,” says Havergal of his original production, which he co-directed with the Citz' then associate director Jon Pope. “For some bizarre reason, we did it right at the end of the autumn season, before the pantomime, and we only played it for a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and one week, and it was very successful. I remember that there was tremendous advance ticket sales for it before people knew at all how I was going to do it, and then we brought it back the following spring for a proper run. It was very exciting, those first few performances. Would the public wear it? Would they wear a man in a suit being Aunt Augusta?”

While its initial run went like a fair, with future Still Game star Gavin Mitchell stepping in for an otherwise engaged Christopher Gee, it was during its 1990 revival that the show really took flight.

“It had a whole other life,” says Havergal, “because we did it the two times here, and then we took it to the Lyric Hammersmith for two weeks, and then, of course it had its West End run, and then New York and all that. Then we did it again here in 1996.”

In 1993, following its West End run, Travels with My Aunt won two Olivier awards, one for Best Entertainment, and the other for actor Simon Cadell for Best Comedy Performance. The first saw Havergal's show win over competition that included comic performer and 'living cartoon' Ennio Marchetto, as well as productions of The Blue Angel and The Invisible Man. Cadell's competition included Sara Crowe in a production of Hay Fever, Guy Henry in The Alchemist and Robert Lindsay in Cyrano de Bergerac. Two years later, the show travelled to New York, where it opened off-Broadway with a cast that included British comic stalwart Jim Dale. In 2015, a Broadway revival was directed by Jonathan Silverstein.

Havergal's rendering of Travels with My Aunt wasn't the first adaptation of Greene's book. In 1972,  George Cukor directed a Jay Presson Allen scripted film version starring Maggie Smith as Aunt Augusta and Alec McCowen as Henry.  A radio version by comedy writer Rene Basilico starred veteran actor Charles Kay and Dame Hilda Bracket, performer George Logan's half of cross-dressing double act Hinge and Bracket, as Aunt Augusta.

More recently, a Havergal approved fifty minute one-act version was presented by the Backwell Playhouse Theatre Company as an entry to the 2015 Avon Association of Art One Act Play Festival, where it won the Best Play award. In 2016, a new musical version of Greene's novel opened at Chichester Festival Theatre. With a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, Patricia Hodge starred as Aunt Augusta.

Travels with My Aunt, Citizens Theatre 1990 Production

It is Havergal's version, however, which remains the definitive adaptation, its over-riding playfulness tapping into Greene's inherent sense of serious fun like no other before or since. Recent productions in such quintessentially English towns such as Windsor and Hornchurch have continued the play's popular appeal in places where one suspects closet Henry Pullings and would-be Aunt Augustas are hiding in plain sight among the audience. If Havergal's version risks giving Greene's cross-generational fan-base more than they bargained for, there is enough familiarity there for them not to feel alienated by the experience.

“Henry Pulling is the most archetypal Graham Greene character,” says Havergal. “He's got all the Catholic thing and the repressed sexuality and all that going on, so if you are a Greenite you actually spend the evening with four archetypal Graham Greene characters. I think that is possibly some of the appeal, because you never feel like you're being shortchanged. The full range of the Greene humour is there, and so is the regret and nostalgia and all those things.”

For both Havergal and Breen's new production of Travels with My Aunt, however, nostalgia isn't on the agenda as much as it might be for some who saw the original production.

2017 Travels with My Aunt Cast (L-R): Joshua Richards, Ewan Somers, Iain Redford, Tony Cownie

“It's been nearly thirty years now since we first did it,” says Havergal. “It's incredible, really, but there we are. It was exciting to do that, and it's interesting how, in retrospect, people remember it. When it was done in Pitlochry, they did it in very much the same way as we did, with the suits and everything, and it was very good. One of the actors told me that, after the show, a woman in the audience went up to them and said, of course, I saw it at the Citizens, but I really miss the costumes. He said, oh, I also saw the production at the Citizens, and there weren't any costumes, they did it just like us. They just wore suits. And the woman said, no, no, I can remember the aunt wearing the long grey dress and the toque.... It's fascinating, isn't it, what people see?”

Author: Neil Cooper
Travels With My Aunt, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, May 3-20

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Phillip Breen's Insight Into Travels With My Aunt

Director, Phillip Breen, is a familiar face at the Citizens Theatre having previously directed A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, his own adaptation of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Shadow of a Gunman, The Caretaker and True West.  Most recently, Phillip has directed Mark Addy and Caroline Quentin in The Hypocrite, a new co-production between The Royal Shakespeare Company and Hull Truck as part of the Hull 2017 UK City of Culture.

Here Phillip discusses what drew him to Giles Havergal’s adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, Travels with My Aunt.

Cast of Travels with My Aunt 3-20 May |

Travels with My Aunt is both very much a novel of its time and one that has taken on the status of a classic, in that it has something new to say to each passing generation. It’s funny, satirical, grotesque, dark, morally knotty and elusive; it’s almost as if P.G. Wodehouse had been tasked with rewriting Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It’s rooted in the literary mileu of the ’60s while at the same time somehow sending it up. 

As in Camus’s great existentialist novel The Outsider, we meet our anti-hero at his mother’s graveside, (he’s “agreeably excited” by the prospect of the funeral), it also has aspects of Kerouac’s On the Road, complete with clouds of cannabis smoke. The political anger of Brecht and his contemporaries is captured by Henry’s belief that his Aunt’s crimes are “nothing so wrong as [working] thirty years in a bank”. Part of the genius of the novel is that unlike those angry young men protagonists, rebelling against the ‘greatest’ generation who fought fascism in World War II, this middle aged bank manager is shown the seedy underbelly of the swinging sixties by his septuagenarian aunt with flaming red hair, who happens to be having lashings of sex with an African drug dealer and lover of romantic poetry. 

It’s a passionate injunction to lead a ‘true’ life, but unlike many of his contemporaries’, Greene’s portrait of the ‘true’ life has troubling consequences: freedom costs. Henry leaves behind the stifling conformity of Southwood, where death inches inevitably closer to him day by day, for life in lawless Paraguay, where you’re as likely to get a life sentence for blowing your nose on the wrong coloured handkerchief, as you are to make your fortune as a dealer in stolen renaissance art, as you are to crash your plane somewhere over Argentina. Henry’s striking ambivalence to everything (including his own desires), hangs mysteriously over the narrative. 

It also feels like a novel for now. Never has the idea of Southwood - a little Englander’s fantasia of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist - and the desire to return to it, been so present in the national conversation. Greene describes it as “a little world of ageing people where one read of danger only in the newspaper”. Perhaps the novel has something to say to a generation of young people, made increasingly rootless as their geographical networks are superseded by digital ones.

Either way it’s a fascinating subject for a play and Giles Havergal’s adaptation has in itself taken on the status of the classic being performed regularly all over the world; its ingenious dramaturgy allowing the theater-goer to experience the full depth of Greene’s gloomy imagination while having a bloody good laugh. It is one of the finest flowerings of one of the greats of European theatre, and one of the most memorable moments in the Citizens’ recent history.

A full list of Phillip Breen's credits can be found at

Cast of Travels with My Aunt 3-20 May |

3 - 20 May

Monday, 24 April 2017

Giles Havergal: A Theatre for the Citizens

Blog post by Erika Rodríguez Horrillo. MLitt Theatre Studies student, on placement in Glasgow University's Archives and Special Collections department. 
Sir Ian McKellen and Giles Havergal in front of Citizens’ Theatre sign. 
Photographer Alan Crumlish. Ref: STA GHC 1/8
It’s 1969 in Glasgow. The city doesn’t know it yet but it’s about to witness a real theatrical revolution: Giles Havergal arrives at the Citizens Theatre as its new artistic director, and the scene is set for a showdown. Over his 33 years’ tenure, Havergal will make the Citizens a theatre not just for the people of Glasgow, but one that’s a reference to the world.
Over the past few months I’ve been going through countless boxes of material from the Giles Havergal and the Citizens Theatre Collections at the Scottish Theatre Archive (STA), as part of my Theatre Archive Placement for the MLitt Theatre Studies programme. I remember the excitement of the first day I arrived in the Archive and I was given a tour around it and introduced to the amazing people that work there. I remember the thrill that overcame me when I saw the huge room full of shelves containing books, documents, posters, and even costumes and objects related to shows and artists. I knew the Archive was big, but then I got a real notion of the magnitude of it. And it’s absolutely amazing to know that we have access to all those materials in our University Library!
I need to confess that when I first heard the name of Giles Havergal, while looking for a collection to explore in the STA, I had no idea of who he was or what he had done to have an entire collection dedicated to him there. I have to excuse myself here. I am Spanish and didn’t know much about Glaswegian/Scottish theatre when I first arrived here. But I had been to the Citizens Theatre on several occasions, in fact I had collaborated with them in social projects before, and couldn’t wait to learn more about the person who made that amazing theatre what it is today. And now I can share it all with you.

Hard beginning

The Citizens Theatre opened as such in 1945, when the Citizens’ Company, directed by James Bridie, moved into the former Royal Princess’s Theatre Gorbals Street. The Gorbals is an area in the city of Glasgow, on the south bank of the River Clyde not far away from the city centre. During the 20th century, and due to being massively populated, the area was subject to several remodelling plans that included the construction of multiple social housing tower blocks. Opening a theatre there may not sound like the greatest idea, and it has often been hard to attract audiences. When Havergal arrived in the late ‘60s, the Citizens had been through 7 different artistic directors in 9 years, the last of whom lasted less than a year. The theatre was under great threat: audience numbers were very low, and there were plans of taking the theatre to a new more central location. But Havergal was determined to stay and offer the people of Glasgow an entertainment that would defy that of the Palace Bingo next door. And so he did.

The Triumvirate

The Edinburgh-born director arrived in Glasgow straight from the Palace Theatre at Watford, and brought designer Philip Prowse with him. A year later Scottish writer and translator Robert David MacDonald would join them, and together they would direct the theatre for 33 years in what has been known as the Triumvirate, or as some referred to it, the ‘Unholy Trinity’. In a short time, they would transform the theatre in all ways possible, and make it one of the leading theatres in Britain, which contributed to Glasgow becoming European City of Culture in 1990.
STA GHC 4-49-4
Philip Prowse, Giles Havergal and Robert David MacDonald.
Ref: STA GHC 4/49/4


But how did Havergal succeed in a task where so many had struggled before? We could say that everything started with a very controversial production of a Shakespeare play: on the 4th of September 1970, Hamlet opened at the Citizens Theatre, and as theatre critic Michael Coveney would say years later, “all hell [broke] loose”. Prowse had the idea of gathering a bunch of young actors and creating innovative productions of classic plays. If nobody liked what they did, he said, they could do what they liked. Giles Havergal directed an all-male production of Hamlet that included representations of sex and partial nudity, which challenged 20th century morality. The production provoked an outburst of critics and the cancellation of bookings by lots of schools. That could had been the end of Havergal’s directorship. However, contrary to the predictions of newspaper critics, the immediate results of the controversy were packed houses and new young audiences that came to theatre attracted by the sense of rebellion and disinhibition experienced there. It was the beginning of a 33 year reign marked by socialism, provocation, and theatrical splendour.
STA GHC 2_11
‘Hamlet’ may indeed be going to Hell on a bicycle.
Ref: STA GHC 2/11

The Scottish matter

To the Hamlet debate others would follow. The Triumvirate was often criticised for the lack of Scottish plays in their programme. They would very rarely put on plays by Scottish authors, to which Havergal would argue that the company had a Scottish playwright in their team, Robert David MacDonald, and that the plays they received were often not good enough. Some of the board members would disagree with this claim, to which the Triumvirate would reply that the plays might read well, but not stage well.
STA GHC 8_38b
Death in Venice. Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow. 
Photographer Alan Wylie. Ref: STA GHC 8/38
STA GHC8_38a
Death in Venice. Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow. 
Photographer Alan Wylie Ref: STA GHC 8/38

Keys to success

On a visit to Waverly Secondary School in Glasgow at the beginning of his tenure, Havergal told the school magazine that he thought the problem with the Citizens was that it had never been anything for long enough, and that what the theatre needed was “a consistent policy over a few years” that he thought would help build up the audiences. He did give the theatre a consistency throughout the three decades of his tenure, and his policies proved to be very successful.
Some of his ideas were absolutely revolutionary. With Prowse’s aid, Havergal would introduce multiple socialist policies to the theatre, the most acclaimed of them being the low ticket-pricing. For many years, all tickets would be 50p, with senior citizens and the unemployed having free entrance to every show. The prices were increased with time, but they were always kept affordable to everybody. All actors in the company would be paid approximately the same (recently graduated actors would be paid slightly less), and they would be cast in leading and small parts interchangeably, giving them a chance to play big roles that they wouldn’t probably be offered elsewhere. They also introduced the alphabetically ordered staff-list that remains to this day, which gives an egalitarian status to every member of the staff.
The triumvirate was always faithful to their own beliefs and not to what audiences/critics expected from them. This refusal to patronise the public, together with an outstanding financial management (the theatre never ran up a deficit under Havergal’s tenure), were vital to the Citizens Theatre’s success under the Triumvirate’s reign.

New look for the Citz

In 1989, just in time for the 1990 double celebrations of the 21st anniversary of the new Citizens Theatre Company, and Glasgow being named European City of Culture, the theatre was given a complete makeover, giving birth to the Citizens as we know it now. The current design of the theatre was inspired by Glasgow’s shipbuilding past. The new foyer was covered by a glass and metallic structure, and it included new bar premises. A new studio theatre had been set up during the works so that the season could go on, and they decided to keep it going when the works were over. It wasn’t the first time The Citizens housed a studio theatre. In fact, until it burnt down in 1974, The Close Theatre cohabited with the Citizens for many years.
Whilst the main auditorium has remained the same since it’s construction in 1878, the theatre has been through renovation and expansion several times. The first big remodelling of the theatre would come in the ‘70s, when the neoclassical façade of the old Royal Princess’s Theatre, previously known as Her Majesty’s Theatre, comprising 6 columns topped by the four muses of theatre flanked by the two bards, Shakespeare and Burns, was demolished. The goddesses were kept safe until they were restored to the new foyer in 1989.

Giles Havergal’s Legacy

Giles Havergal gave up his directorship of the theatre on 2003, but he kept working as an actor with his one-man production of Death in Venice, this was highly acclaimed and was programmed oversees in San Francisco and New York.
Havergal lives in London and recently attended the rehearsals of a revival of his adaptation of Graham Greens Travels With my Aunt at the Citizens. The theatre keeps being the welcoming, socially concerned place he conceived alongside Prowse and MacDonald. He created a temple of creativity where some of the most acclaimed actors such as David HaymanPierce Brosnan, or Alan Rickman gave their first steps in theatre.
Havergal didn’t give the audience of Glasgow what they wanted, or rather, what they expected. But he did make theatre for the citizens of Glasgow. His European based repertoire was affordable to all social classes, and he brought to them plays that couldn’t be seen anywhere else in Scotland. Glasgow theatrical landscape wouldn’t be the same without the Citizens Theatre, and the Citizens would not be what it is today if it wasn’t for Giles Havergal.
If you want to learn more about him and his legacy, I genuinely encourage you to visit the Special Collections Department at Glasgow University Library, and have a look at the STA GHC collection that Giles Havergal himself has donated to the Scottish Theatre Archive. For more information about the topic, you can also turn to the Citizens Theatre Collection (STA CTC).