The Citizens at seventy: a theatre with personality

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Kirsty Conway
Culture Editor

The Citizens Theatre Company turns seventy this year, and, despite a turbulent history for the building that has housed this well-loved company, this is a theatre, and a company, that has remained true to its ethos of authenticity and personality.

The building now known as The Citizens Theatre was first opened in 1878. From the time of this opening, there were many closures and re-openings of the theatre under various names, due to difficulties including bankruptcy, riots and censorship. Finally, however, James Bridie founded The Citizens Theatre Company in 1943, and the building was permanently established as The Citizens Theatre in 1945, after Harry McKelvie, who got a foot in the door selling programmes, worked his way up through the ranks to manager. He leased the building to the Citizens Theatre Company, and thus the theatre acquired its lasting name.

The theatre has gained nationwide respect and admiration, with many notable actors having graced its stage, including Pierce Brosnan, Alan Rickman, Sean Bean and David Hayman. Nonetheless, true to its name, The Citizens is a theatre for the people. It has built a strong reputation for presenting both contemporary reworkings of classic plays, and new Scottish drama, working with talented writers, directors and companies. Upcoming productions are wide ranging in appeal, from a family-oriented, “darkly mischievous” comic adaptation of a classic fairytale, Rapunzel, to an interpretation of Beckett’s classic black comedy, Endgame, and a new Scottish drama, first staged at the Edinburgh International Festival, David Harrower’s Blackbird.

The theatre also retains a personal, hands-on approach, by maintaining extensive backstage workshop facilities, so that they are able to design and create their own costumes and sets. The company have proven that keeping set and costume production in-house does not mean compromising on quality, given that Trisha Biggar, wardrobe mistress at the Citizens for many years, went on to design the costumes for the first three episodes of the Star Wars film series.

What’s more, this is a theatre invested in the future of Scottish drama. The company foresees potential obstacles for theatregoers, keeping its prices relatively low, to avoid alienating those of us without a lot of cash to spare, and includes Sign Language interpreted, captioned, and audio described performances in their programme, as well as hosting events exclusively for their Deaf Theatre Club, ensuring that the theatre is not off limits to anyone with hearing or visual impairments.

The Citizens also runs drama classes and community projects for all ages, actively encouraging the Scottish public, children and adults alike, to get involved in theatre. In a nutshell, The Citizens Theatre is dedicated to maintaining wide public interest in live theatrical performances, and to training the next generation of Scottish actors, directors and backstage crews, ensuring that this art form is not lost in an ever-increasingly digital world.

The Citizens Theatre Company has withstood the test of time thus far, and if the high standards and commitment to the Scottish public that it consistently maintains are anything to go by, it will continue to do so in years to come.