Dennis Knotts Tribute by daughter Jenny
The company were saddened to hear about the passing of Dennis Knotts at the end of last year. His family have a long history with the theatre. Dennis’ daughter, Jenny Knotts, a playwright, and familiar face to many Front of House and at Box Office, shares some fascinating insights and stories in tribute to her dad’s time at the Citz.
|Dennis Knotts in the Citizens Theatre paint frame
Dennis began working in the Citizens Theatre in 1971 when his dad, Big D, got him a job painting the floors for that year’s pantomime, Cinderella. He stayed on helping his dad - the theatre’s Dayman and driver - with odd jobs backstage. Later, his brother Peter would also join the Citz staff and become the theatre’s carpenter.
Dennis was a keen artist and was desperate to help with painting the scenery, but he was too shy to ask. He began leaving little drawings lying around in the hope that someone would notice his talent and ask him to help. It worked! Dennis became a scenic artist and prop maker, and eventually Philip Prowse’s design assistant working across both the Citizens and the Close Theatre Club’s stages.
Dennis’s work featured in many iconic Citizens productions, and his creativity and problem-solving skills flourished as he worked to uphold the Citz aesthetic on a tiny budget.
When charged with the task of making an edible arm for David Hayman to bite into in a production of Early Morning, he shaved his own and covered it in latex to make a mould. He packed it full of sawdust and filled the top fake blood and melted mars bars so that when Hayman bit into it, you’d see (in Dennis’s words) ‘the stringy bits’ dangling from his mouth.
|David Hayman in a production of Early Morning
He recalled being asked to make a ‘lump’ of Macbeth to be paraded onstage by MacDuff instead of the customary severed head. He constructed a jumble of offcuts and organs from the local abattoir, tied together with string. The director told him it wasn’t gruesome enough - he wanted it to ooze - so Dennis went to the fishmongers where he acquired a bucket of fish guts with which he smothered the contraption and doused the lot in fake blood. The director was delighted: the poor actor playing MacDuff less so. The putrid ‘lump’ - which had to be remade every night or two - was thrown onto the stage at the end of the play, spraying the first few unlucky rows of the audience.
Dennis also worked, and socialised, at the Close Theatre Club adjunct to the Citz. He often went ‘up the close’ after his shift and credits the Close with introducing him to some of his favourite music and also to sweetcorn - which he encountered for the very first time in the Close canteen. He used to paint the signs outside the Close for a few extra pounds. In May 1973, he painted a sign advertising an upcoming film night
When they got the call that a fire had broken out at the Close, he and the rest of the staff ran to see what could be salvaged. The only thing entirely unaffected by the flames was the sign he had painted the day before. He remembers scrambling through the ash and debris of the theatre with the rest of the staff for 50p pences that had spilled from the till.
|Dennis Knotts as part of The Citz football team
One night, in 1974, while making his way from backstage to Front of House, he came across Geraldine, an usherette, sitting outside the dress circle after putting the show in. They chatted for ages and Dennis was smitten. Though he nearly gave up any thought of asking her out when he discovered that she was the daughter of formidable Head Usherette, Mary Sweeney. Luckily, he didn’t, and they married three years later. Many years after that, both of their children also took up roles at the Citz.
Dennis left the theatre in the mid-seventies to work as a prop master at the BBC, and later as a freelancer. Throughout his career he worked on Rab C Nesbitt, Monarch of the Glen, Chewin the Fat, Still Game, Mrs Brown’s Boys and many, many others.
The Citz was always enormously important to Dennis for so many reasons, and he was incredibly proud that he, and his family, were a part of its history.
Everyone at the Citizens Theatre sends their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dennis.