Happy Birthday Mary Sweeney!

A very special birthday, for a special person was celebrated at the Citz on Saturday. We asked Christine Hamilton to blog for us:

"For forty years Mary Sweeney was the public face of the Citizens Theatre.  While Giles Havergal was often to be found graciously welcoming the audience into his theatre in the Gorbals, it was Mary who was bustling around in the background ensuring the ushers, usherettes bar and door staff were all in place, patrons welcomed and directed to their seats, school parties efficiently herded into the right place and those with problems with walking or in wheelchairs, accommodated without fuss.  Regular patrons (as they were known) could be sure of a word of recognition along with the welcome and, at the end of the show, no matter how startling, shocking or controversial, she gently sought their views with neither pressure nor judgement.

Dominic Hill and guests gather to wish Mary Happy Birthday (photo by Yvonne Smith)
All of this happened apparently seamlessly – without fuss or drama.  Problems dealt with, crises diverted.  When today I hear the well-worn phrase ‘your safety and comfort is our priority’, I think of Mary, the very embodiment of customer care before the phrase was invented.

I first came under Mary’s influence in 1976 when I started my first ‘real’ job as House Manager at the Citizens Theatre.  While nominally Mary’s ‘line manager’ she trained me – a callow 22-year old- the same way she trained all her young house managers.  We were encouraged, coaxed, advised and supported till we got it right.

Giles Havergal and guests mingle (photo by Yvonne Smith)
So when I realised that it was coming up to Mary’s 90th birthday, I thought it might be appropriate to arrange a tea party in her honour.  When I asked Dominic Hill for the use of the foyer for a party, he willingly offered the Citz support.  Lesley Davidson and her team worked with Mary’s grand-daughter, Jenny who is a current member of the front of house team, and they arranged for a brilliant spread fit for a special afternoon tea.  Jenny along with Mary’s two daughters provided decorations and photos and flowers.   Isabella Bassett, another front of house member with a dynasty at the Citz made beautiful cup cakes.

I was left with the task of inviting people.   Mary left the Citz ten years ago when Giles departed and so I anticipated a small affair with a few people who worked with her and who are still around in Glasgow.  How I underestimated the love and admiration for her!

Fifty people turned up in total including Giles Havergal, Ian Ribbens, Production Manager for four decades, Paul Bassett, General Manager for many years and, most travelled of all, Clare Blenkinsop who was General Manager in the 1970s and who came from Kathmandu for the party. Gerard Murphy who first performed at the theatre in the 1970s and returned last year to perform in Krapp’s Last Tape was just one of several actors who made it or sent messages.  There were also people who worked backstage including Trisha Biggar costume designer (inc. Star Wars), and then many who had worked directly front-of-house with Mary including Janice Forsyth.  And of course the current team were there too - Dominic and Anna lending support.

A Waste of Time (including Mary)
Mary had a ball.  Still sprightly and full of energy she revelled in three hours of laughter, chat and just a little speechifying. She had enjoyed one very brief period on the Citz stage during her career with the theatre when Philip Prowse asked her to be an extra in A Waste of Time – and adaptation of Proust’s great novel by Robert David Macdonald.  A wonderful photograph of that production which featured Mary was used as the image for the invitation and formed the picture on the top of her birthday cake.  As well as a beautiful brooch and flowers from a collection, many also brought presents for her and she was, as was fitting, terribly spoilt.

One person who could not be there was David Hayman another actor who had first performed with the Citz in the 1970s and returned last year to play the title role in King Lear.  David is filming in Australia at the moment but sent a wonderful DVD in which he paid warm tribute to Mary’s role at the Citz.

Of course it was all about Mary but we all had a great time catching up with ‘old’ friends and renewing contacts which had been lost.  The whole event confirmed the strong allegiances many of us feel to the theatre today as well as to its past.

When leaving, Chris Davidson, one time secretary to Giles Havergal, asked if perhaps I could organise a party for all ex-employees who reach significant birthdays.  Judging by how formidably well Citz retirees are doing, this could keep me very busy for many years to come!

Christine Hamilton"

Photos below by James Wilson

The party

Mary and Gerard Murphy
Mary and Janice Forsyth
Mary and Virginia Sumsion
Mary with her two daughters Geraldine and Philomena 
Our little helper
Mary with grand-daughter Jenny
Lorna Duguid and Ian 'Ribbie' Ribbens
Mary and Clare Blenkinsop
Mary and Giles Havergal
Mary and Christine Hamilton
Mary and Paul Bassett
Mary and Maureen Dalton
The inimitable Mary Sweeney!
A spread fit for a royal
Mary and Tristram Wymark
Mary and Trisha Biggar
Kenny Miller, Jackie Muir and Mary


starring Kevin Trainor and Siobhan Redmond
5-27 April
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