Words: Adina-Diana Pop (she/her)
A Glasgow staple for thespians is returning, bridging the gap between Glaswegians and the art of theatre. A long-standing cultural institution with a history of political action, and a cemented identity as a provider of cultural activity in the Gorbals, the Citizens Theatre is set to reopen its doors to the public in 2024 to palpable excitement from the community, following a five-year long redevelopment project. However, currently ephemerally absent as it may be, it’s essential for people to know that The Citz, as it is colloquially known, is far from gone. Keen to keep the community in the loop, while also reminding people of its future return, the theatre’s Head of Production, Graham Sutherland, started a blog documenting the redevelopment of the establishment. On his website, readers can find records of the many renovations done, ranging from the first demolition taken place in September 2019, which saw former First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, in attendance, to the history and fate of the beloved statues of Burns and Shakespeare, the elephants, muses, and the Nautch Girls which, never fear, will remain with the theatre.
Though long and strenuous, the refurbishment was necessary. The Citizens Theatre Company was founded in 1943 and officially established post World War II in 1945, but its headquarters had been active for well over a century, with its inauguration in 1878.
The iconic status of the building cannot be contested, but neither can the company’s. As its vision developed, it brought along a sense of togetherness and artistic metamorphosis to the community. The Citz is recognised as an inclusive and accessible environment for all, while simultaneously being known for producing bold and innovative performances by Scottish artists. The company affirms its work to be both “ground-breaking theatre productions and empowering participatory projects.” True to their word, the repertoire containing the company’s own collection of scripts, initially developed in 1943 by the Glaswegian playwright James Bridie, currently houses a plethora of frequently updated plays whose topics deal with socio-political themes and issues relating to contemporary society. Despite lacking a physical space, the company has remained active in different venues across the city. May 2023 saw the premiere of “PAL: YOUR AI CARE COMPANION” at Tramway. The play, written by Sara Shaarawi, and performed by the CITIZENS THEATRE YOUNG CO, introduces the audience to a dystopian imagining of the year 2044: a future where the AI project PAL, initially designed to comfort the overwhelmed, anxious, and burnt out, morphs into a device used to surveil civilians when it lands in the wrong hands.
The performance’s thought-provoking qualities served to challenge the viewer’s perspective on many things, including the development of technology and the way individuals are treated by the government. Moreover, it included a diverse cast, as well as low-priced tickets which saw that the unemployed only had to pay £2 to see the show, in keeping with the company’s ethos of creating an accessible and inclusive theatre environment.
Working our way back in time, “Red Riding Hood: Relaxed Performance”, was presented in December 2022 at Tramway, and was designed to create a relaxed environment where neurodivergent children and their families could watch the company’s performance of the famous story within a friendly environment. The relaxed show eliminated the pressure of sitting still for the entire duration of the performance, inviting audience members to move inside the auditorium if they wanted to; it also adjusted its technical aspects, provided a quiet room available at any point before, during or after the performance, and had trained staff on site to help.
These productions, being just two examples of the breadth of important work done by Citizens Theatre Company, hint at the future of politically engaged performances by the company that will be sure to electrify the Gorbals community. The Citz undoubtedly attests to the calibre of theatre as both an artistic and political form of expression, aiding the audience’s understanding of not only our society, but our human and social conditions, too. Everything is political, even creating theatre solely for entertainment purposes, which serves as a form of resistance against the gloom of oppression. That said, to create performances with the intention of making the unseen seen, to educate others on topics that are not talked about and provoke thoughts that challenge mediatised narratives, is especially powerful.
The Citz serves as a continuous testament to the vital nature of theatre in both our cultural and societal development, and its future return deserves all the anticipation that it is getting.