Monday, 30 October 2017

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week Two: 'Stu, Sand and Storytelling'

Assistant Director Tess Monro shares all the latest news from the Lampedusa rehearsal room in her second blog. This week the team have been exploring the use of space and music, as well as how the story can be updated for 2017. 

The second week of rehearsals on Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa has sailed by; the week of “Stu, sand and storytelling” as it has been affectionately christened by the creative team. Specifically, we worked through the play scene by scene focusing less on shape and picture in favour of music, connection and detail.

An essential aspect of week two was working closely with composer Stuart Ramage who has been a constant and invaluable presence in the rehearsal room. Together, we have experimented with the use of music to underscore the narrative progression of the play and the experiences of Denise and Stefano. Following Louise Mai and Andy’s responses to the text with meticulous attention to detail Stu has been able to improvise compositions as we delve deeper and deeper into the play; investigating how we can use live acoustic guitar to enrich our response and exploration of the text and the emotional trajectory of the characters. The interlacing of music into the production has been an illuminating part of our process, highlighting and unlocking key transitional moments in the play. We are confident that with Stu’s original composition our production will be an evocative, affecting and distinctive response to Lustgarten’s distinguished text.

After much discussion with the cast and creative team this week we decided to bring our story forward from 2015 into the present day. From these discussions specific ideas for adjustments to the script were born and presented to Lustgarten, who has generously updated the original text. In 2017 the migration crisis is far from behind us and the switch to Universal Credit continues to threaten the financial security of those relying on the government benefit system; thus, the original themes in the play feel more pressing and urgent than ever. Due to the nature of this play and Anders’ powerful and challenging perspective, it is important to us that our production retains the sense of urgency of the political issues raised in the 2015 production. This we hope to achieve by incorporating contemporary politics for a modern audience, in the spirit of the original text; by challenging the status-quo and shining a light on the experiences of many suffering as a result of socio-political injustices of today.

Week two has also concentrated on combining the space; introducing both Denise and Stefano’s respective worlds and working with Louise Mai and Andy in the space, together. Director Jack Nurse and the cast have experimented with building the sense of connection between Denise and Stefano and their seemingly distinct experiences within the narrative. Specifically, how and when their individual narratives and performances intersect and how to fluidly and imaginatively transition between their stories. The synthesis of Louise Mai and Andy’s rehearsals, the worlds of Denise and Stefano and the integration of music into the narrative has added a vibrant, inventive and dynamic energy to the piece and generated an invigorating momentum as we press on and into week three. 

Lampedusa runs at the Citizens Theatre from 8 Nov - 18 Nov. Tickets from £12.50.
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Monday, 23 October 2017

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week One

Migrants on Lampedusa
Lampedusa Assistant Director Tess Monro offers an account of what's been taking place during the first week of rehearsals, and how Director Jack Nurse has been working with the cast and crew to draw out the core issues in the play.

The first week of rehearsals on the much anticipated Scottish premiere of Anders Lustgarten’s bold, incisive and moving masterpiece, Lampedusa, was a reflection of the urgent and assertive attitude of the play itself.

Lampedusa tackles European mass migration from a global perspective and its impact on British domestic politics. But, more importantly, as Anders and director Jack Nurse were keen to stress on day one of rehearsals, this is a play about the personal experiences behind the politics. It is the story of two strangers finding hope and connection where they least expect it.

 The first two days of rehearsals were spent with Anders Lustgarten. Under his guidance we descended into the deep tissue of the play with table work and group discussion. This process illuminated the enduring vitality of the politics in the play and, crucially, the necessity to maintain the sense of political urgency encapsulated in the original production (Soho Theatre, London 2015). Consequently, Anders proposed to update the original text; to encompass the current political climate in Europe and post-Brexit Britain. Citizens Theatre’s Lampedusa will therefore be an entirely new, cutting-edge and unique production.

 Next order of business was get the play up and on it’s feet. Director Jack Nurse’s process is curated to mirror his overall vision for the production. The play introduces two independent and diverging experiences of mass migration from a global and domestic perspective. As the play progresses parallels between the characters begin to emerge and unite their experiences.

The first week of rehearsals was centered on working with Louise Mai Newberry and Andy Clark individually to get better a sense of the shape and arc of each character within the text. Week by week as we continue to work through the play we will begin to integrate these rehearsals and, furthermore, the physical and emotional journeys of Denise and Stefano.

With the mid-week arrival of composer Stuart Ramage came the infusion of live music into the rehearsal process. In this production the lyrical quality of Lustgarten’s writing and the centrality of Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté’s song Lampedusa will be supported and enhanced by live acoustic guitar. Stu’s presence in the rehearsal room throughout the three-week process will enable the development of a musical score in tandem with the exploration of the text.

Week one has also been about acclimatizing to the intimate performance space of the Circle Studio and confronting the challenges of balancing the contrasting worlds of Denise and Stefano while they inhabit same physical environment. At this stage in the process possibilities are infinite and continual investigation, trying new and diverse ways to respond to the text and use of space, is essential and encouraged.

Week one is not about nailing ideas to the ground but rather discovery, imagination, playing and interrogating ideas; skills that Lousie Mai and Andy demonstrate with verve and dexterity. Working at an impressive and efficient pace we are off to a flying start.

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