Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A bit of 1918 style entertainment! The Citizen's history of variety

Our upcoming production A Night To Remember will take audiences back in time to our building’s origins as the Royal Princess’s Theatre for an evening of variety set on one eventful night 100 years ago.  

Variety and music hall are central to Scottish theatrical history. The genres shaped local audiences’ tastes for an accessible, engaging style of theatre that is fast-moving and funny as well as dramatically exciting. Here, we take a look back at where it all began: 

Did you know our poster design for A Night To Remember (right) is based on a stain glass window from the Royal Princess's Theatre (left) which is in place in our dress circle bar.  

Music hall emerged in taverns and coffee houses across Britain in the middle of the 19th century. It involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, dance and speciality acts. Performers entertained whilst the audiences ate, drank and joined in with the singing. Music hall’s popularity spread and it quickly became a favourite British pastime. The genre was regional in character and reactive to local tastes. In Scotland, for example, music hall performances often featured traditional Scots songs and music and the poetry of Robert Burns. 

By the early 20th century music hall had started to fade away, and was gradually replaced with variety. Although similar in style to music hall, variety was more formal, audience participation was discouraged and new-purpose built theatres were created across Britain. The buildings often featured beautiful, ornate auditoriums with chandeliers, gold leaf decorations and red velvet seats. In Glasgow, venues such as the Empire Palace, Pavilion and Alhambra all became city centre landmarks, highlighting the importance of the genre for the city. 

Exterior of the Royal Princess's Theatre. Image from Scottish Theatre Archive
Ref: STA PH 483

The Royal Princess's variety programme featured names such as Neil Kenyon, Marie Kendall, Wal Langtry, Ella Retford and Florrie Forde. During the era, Scotland produced a wide range of home-grown variety stars including:

Tommy Lorne 
Image from the Scottish Theatre Archive.
Ref: STA H.h. 11
Tommy Lorne was a natural clown who starred in the Royal Princess's well-loved pantomimes. Born in the Cowcaddens area of Glasgow in 1890, some of his catch phrases even entered the local vocabulary - including "In the name of the wee man" and "Ah'll get ye, and if Ah don't get you the coos'll get ye!"

Grace Clark & Colin Murray
Image from the Scottish Theatre Archive.
This husband and wife team were better known as 'Mr and Mrs Glasgow'. Their comedy sketches portrayed Grace as the tough, tyrannical wife and Colin as the long-suffering husband. The duo starred in several Scottish Royal Variety performances and were awarded the British Empire Medial in 1982. 

Will Fyffe
Image from the Scottish Theatre Archive.
Ref: STA JLC PH 55 
The Dundee-born entertainer appeared on stage, radio, television and film. He was so well liked that a variety theatre in Glasgow ran a 'Will Fyffe' competition, where hopefuls entered to sing the star's best known song 'I belong to Glasgow'. Disguising himself, Will entered for a bet and won second prize!

The popularity of variety across much of the UK began to diminish in the 1930s as audiences turned to the talking pictures. The Royal Princess's Theatre was converted to a cinema, and later a bingo hall. The Citizens Theatre Company then took over the building in 1945 and developed an innovative programme of new plays and classic texts. But this May we are going back to our roots with a bit of 1918 style entertainment, and we hope you'll join us at the Citizens Theatre for A Night To Remember!

A Night To Remember is a community production, with a company drawn from the Gorbals and across Glasgow. It runs from 23 - 26 May. Tickets available from £10.50. Book Now.

Part of the Southside Fringe Programme


Monday, 9 April 2018

Getting Long Day's Journey Into Night ready for opening night

Assistant Director George Nichols reflects on the final few days of Long Day's Journey Into Night rehearsals:

At the time of writing, it is the day of our first preview, after having completed our technical rehearsal and two dress rehearsals. As this will (probably) be my last blog for this production I thought I’d talk about how everything comes together, and talk about some of the work that goes on in the build up to our opening night.

Production photography by Tim Morozzo

The work in the auditorium begins long before the cast and director arrive. While rehearsals are ongoing, the technical staff here set about turning Tom Piper’s design into a reality from technical drawings and of course, the model box. For those that don’t know a model box is a model of the final design but at a 1/25 ratio, so is basically a much smaller version of the set. This allows production team and the company to see what the set will eventually look like. 

Production photography by Tim Morozzo
The set design is complimented by the lighting. While the set design is likely to be fairly final going into rehearsals, the lighting design is more flexible and created in response to not only the set and costume design, but the action too. As BrĂ­d, who  plays Mary Tyrone, noted: you know things are getting serious when the lighting designer is sitting in rehearsals. Lighting is always important, but it has an added significance in Long Day’s Journey because of James Tyrone’s relationship to the electric lights in his house, and also because we know from biographies about O’Neill that he had a particular interest in theatre lighting. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design does an excellent job of working with the set to accentuate important elements of the play. For example, this production plays with who you can see and when, and what members of the family do and don’t hear of each other’s conversations. By highlighting the stairs when someone is sat there, with a murky light, for example, Ben’s design helps us to tell the story of the play.

Production photography by Tim Morozzo
Another element that is built through rehearsals is the sound design. In our team we have Matt Padden, who is working on the atmospheric soundscape in the play, and Claire McKenzie, who is the composer of the music that features in the production. This has been another quite flexible element of the production, and something that we’ve been playing with throughout rehearsals. Even in previews we will be tweaking what you hear when in order to tell the story more effectively. A lot of thinking goes into when the best time to hear a fog horn might be, or which parts of the play have underscoring.

Production photography by Tim Morozzo

These two weeks are when everything comes together, everyone is working through the day and into the night (remind you of anything) in order to make the production the best it can possibly be. As we move away from the technical rehearsal and into the dresses and previews, the focus is once again on the actors. After each run Dominic notes the cast and we work bits in the space, tweaking things ever so slightly and then noting the effect they have on the audience. This work is about subtle changes and little tweaks, in order that all of the different elements of our production may be balanced perfectly.

Until 5 May

Long Day's Journey Into Night is a co-production with HOME Manchester
Supported by Friends of the Citizens
By arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Long Day's Journey Into Night: Week Four of rehearsals

Assistant Director George Nichols continues his blog from the rehearsal room of Long Day's Journey Into Night. This week he explains the importance of storytelling : 

It sounds obvious that when staging a play a big part of what you are doing is storytelling. But as anyone who has read a bedtime story to a child will have experienced, it is about more than just reading the words in front of you out loud.

So, how do we tell the story of a play? What tools do we have at our disposal?

One tool is the world we set the story in. Is it set in a completely naturalistic environment, or does it also include elements that are aesthetically poetic and metaphorical? Or is it symbolic? For example, if you were to do a production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night where all of the furniture was made of whiskey crates it would immediately bring alcohol to the fore. On the other hand, Tom Piper’s design for our production strips away the family’s privacy, which has its own effect on the story we are trying to tell.

Another tool is characterisation. When Laurence Olivier played James Tyrone in 1971 people commented on his how thick the Irish part of his Irish American accent was. This may have made James’s impoverished immigrant background more consistently present and set him apart from his sons; illuminating that facet of the story. Another example would be that in our production we’ve talked a lot about James Tyrone’s history as an actor, which in turn will have its own affect on the the story we share with you.

The staging itself is also a tool. As an assistant director one of the messages most impressed on me by the directors I have worked with is to make every moment on stage tell a little story that unlocks a new part of the text to the audience. An example of this from this week’s rehearsals is a moment when Edmund falls to the table in a fit of coughing and knocks over the whiskey bottle. As Jamie sees his brother coughing and the whiskey bottle rolling toward the edge of the table, does he go to help Edmund or does save the whiskey? I won’t give away our choice but this moment, played in two different ways, can tell two different stories.

Of course with a play like Long Day’s Journey Into Night your pneumatic drill (to extend the already tenuous tool box metaphor) is the text. Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is give the audience important information needed for the understanding of the play whilst keeping the action dramatic and engaging. An example this week was when we went back through the first act and reached a conversation between George and Jamie. In this exchange we learn a lot and it sets up much of the action of the rest of the play. For example we hear a bit about Edmund’s illness, about Jamie’s lifestyle, James’ relationship with money and hints about Mary’s morphine addiction. Eugene O'Neill's masterly writing means we are drip fed this information in a way that piques our interest and creates suspense. But rehearsing this can be difficult when you already know the plot so you have to constantly put yourself in your audience’s shoes. It’s great watching Dominic doing this sort of work, as by feeding little notes to the cast about what we learn when, and how they’re using this information to affect each other he manages not only to make the story clear, but charge it in a way that makes it more than just an exchange of facts.

The word ‘vision’ is a bit of a taboo phrase in relation to theatre directing, because it implies that a director might be forcing the story they want to tell on to a text that is doing something completely different. In actuality, storytelling is about working with the text and making lots of small, informed decisions that impact the world, characterisation and action of the play as truthfully and faithfully as possible. We are very much looking forward to sharing this story with you.

13 Apr - 5 May

Long Day's Journey Into Night is a co-production with HOME Manchester
Supported by Friends of the Citizens
By arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited