Friday, 16 March 2018

Q & A with Come Hell or High Water Composer Finn Anderson

Come hell or High Water is a community led production that focuses on people's hopes and fears for a future after Brexit. With a diverse cast of 25, some of whom have experienced long-term unemployment, the criminal justice system and addiction services, it draws on a series of workshops, discussions, improvisations and interviews that have taken place since October 2017.

Composer Finn Anderson has created a live score of original music and songs for the production. We sat down with him to find out more about the process.

You’ve worked with the Citz on a few productions now (Buckets, One More Sleep ‘til Christmas), how does Come Hell or High Water compare?

In terms of the process it has been completely different to anything I’ve worked on here before, or anything I’ve ever worked on! We’ve been working with the group since October. The first two months were just us all getting together, drinking tea and coffee, and talking about Brexit and what it means to be British. It was a very open space to share views and debate, and to get to know each other. The next stage was trying to shape those conversations into a piece of theatre. It feels like we’ve created a community in the room that has then become a cast. That is really unique.

This is the first time that I’ve worked on a production at the Citizens with lots of songs. I really love writing songs, and marrying music and words together. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do that with the company here which has been really exciting. It’s also unusual as nearly all the words in the play, and definitely all the lyrics, are verbatim – they’ve come from real interviews with real people across Glasgow and Scotland.

So in all of those ways it is completely different to my previous work at the Citz!

How much work did you do in advance of rehearsals and how much is developed in the room?

The preparation phase was really the time we spent early on, having conversations over tea in the rehearsal room. During this time cast members also interviewed their friends and family about what it means to be British, about Brexit and about how it might impact their lives and about what it means to be living in Glasgow – whether you are a refugee that has recently moved to the city or you have lived here all your life. A lot of the content that has found its way into the script has come from these interviews, as well as our discussions in the room.

Were there opposing views in the room?

Yes there were opposing views in the room! And it’s so rare to have a space where a group of people can openly discuss their conflicting views, and at the same time work together towards a shared goal. It’s great because the group of participants have also now become a really good group of friends too. I think what has been really key is creating a supportive space where everyone feels they can share openly and won’t be judged for it.

What does your role of Composer entail?

As a composer I always tend to take musical style for any piece from the story, the characters and the setting. My role here is slightly different as I have the added responsibility of authentically representing different people’s opinions. So, rather than selecting a musical style what I’ve done is focus on what people have said and how they’ve said it, taking the rhythms of someone’s speech and using that to inform the rhythm of the music. For example, if someone said something really fast, or they had particular emphasis on a specific word, I’ve tried to incorporate that into the music.

My task has been putting all our different conversations to music without losing the original meanings and intentions behind the words. I’m aiming to create something that is accurate as well as theatrically and musically exciting. This has been a really fun challenge for me as composer.

Finn and the cast in rehearsals

What styles of music can we expect to hear in the show? Is it quintessentially British?

What I’ve done with the songs is pull out small excerpts from the interviews and tried to find hooks in them. I’ve selected parts that sound like they have a good rhythm or could be repeated as a chorus.  So, it is not a classical sound; it is not a particularly folksy sound. It has quite a catchy, upbeat feel to it.

Within that there will also be elements of Scottish folk, as well as different music from the many different cultures in the room, and the rich musical heritage that comes from all those different places.  I’ve tried to marry that with a musical theatre style.

Wow, that sounds like a really interesting mix!

It is a bit bonkers but somehow it works! It’s nice because everyone involved recognises their own voices in the songs.

What has been your favourite part of the process?

There are a few things. Firstly, getting to work with a group of 25 singers is very rare as a professional composer in the theatre – you hardly ever get to work with a company of that size. It’s also been brilliant working with such a diverse group of people on a joint project.  Meeting up with everyone on a regular basis over the past few months has been very special. Personally, it has really reconnected me to the joy of making theatre, of why I do it and why it is important. I’ve also loved getting to explore this particular topic through music. 

And what about the most challenging part of the process?

I would say the music – because all the lyrics are verbatim a lot of the music is very fast, and the rhythms are complex and difficult to learn. Trying to sing in the rhythm of someone else’s speech is actually quite tricky! These guys are doing an incredible job, but that’s a challenge for all of us.

The other big challenge is that balance between creating an exciting and theatrical show and being authentic. As soon as you put some sad music under something that was said, it suddenly makes it ten times sadder than that person intended. That’s fine if you are telling a fantastical, magical story but when you are putting real people’s words on stage you have to be more sensitive about using music to support those words without allowing it to change the meaning of them. This piece has been a real challenge from that point of view.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the project?

I think this production is special because there is room for everybody and all their different opinions. I feel like the atmosphere we’ve created in the rehearsal room, where people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities feel their voice is valid, is something that should be found in more theatre foyers and audiences around the country. For me, it is exciting to be in a theatrical environment where everybody comes from completely different backgrounds but we are all united in a shared passion. I think that theatre has a unique ability to achieve that.

Sounds like you are going to miss your twice weekly meetings

I really am! It has been a highlight of the past six months for me. 

Come Hell or High Water is one of 50 new works commissioned by Sky Art’s Art 50 project, all on the theme of what it means to be British following the EU referendum. See it in the Citizens Theatre Circle Studio 21-24 March

Friday, 9 March 2018

Long Day's Journey Into Night : Inside the Rehearsal Room

Rehearsals for Long Day's Journey Into Night began this week and it's been wonderful to welcome old and new friends to the Citz to get torn into this epic American drama. Here, Assistant Director George Nichols shares his insights from behind the scenes:

With a masterpiece like Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night you want to make the most of every second of your rehearsals in order to bring the play to life; there’s no use in a slow start. So once we had all introduced ourselves and looked at Tom Piper’s stunning and atmospheric design we got straight to it. Dominic expressed his excitement at working with such a talented group of actors (George Costigan, Dani Heron, Lorn Macdonald, Bríd Ní Neachtain, and Sam Phillips) on what is surely one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century and he laid out how he sees the production and what he hopes we will achieve in the coming weeks.

As we started to work through the play the cast were struck by how the dialogue sounded so natural and real whilst also having a deep poetic resonance. This tempers the ugliness of much of the play, which deals with the raw wounds and bitterness at the heart of the Tyrone family. Even though we’re still in the early stages the tension and drama that permeate much of the text already feel very present which bodes well for when we get to share it with our audience in five weeks time.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we were blessed with the company and tutelage of our dialect coach Penny Dyer. The accents in Long Day’s Journey are particularly important as they act like a map of the characters’ lives. We should hear their heritage, and in the case of James and Jamie their professions too. The specificity of Penny’s work allows us strive toward an authentic and detailed production. As the play is epic in scale, both in length and subject matter, it is important we create a world that is specific and thorough in order to provide the best platform for this tornado of a play to take place. Useful companions in this regard are the many biographies which cover the life of Eugene O’Neill. While it would be unhelpful to suggest the play is an exact telling of O’Neill’s life, biographical information helps us to fill in the gaps in the world we are creating.

Already we are finding the work thrilling, and as we progress the play reveals more and more of its secrets to us. We’re looking forward to the coming weeks, and to getting completely swept away by the tornado.

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

Thursday, 8 March 2018

SOS - #SaveOurStatues

To mark International Women's Day 2018, we are celebrating our inspirational muses, who have been watching over our foyer for several years. 

The Citizens Theatre Muses with Robert Burns & William Shakespeare, 1977
By John Crallan
The muses were created specifically for the Palace Theatre, which shared a frontage with the Citizens Theatre, by sculptor John Mossman. Mossman is responsible for many of the public statues in Glasgow, including the statues of Robert Burns and William Shakespeare which also stand in our foyer.

The statues represent the inspiration the muses have provided in the fields of Music (Euterpe), Comedy (Thalia), Tragedy (Melpomene) and Dance (Terpsichore).

They lived on top of the Palace Theatre until 1977 when the building was demolished. 

Citz Exterior Facade, 1977 by John Crallan

The muses, as well as the statues of Burns and Shakespeare, were rescued before the Palace's demolition by members of the company, who recognised their historical significance and their vital connection to the origins of the theatre. They later found a new home in the Citizens Theatre. 

Shakespeare being rescued from The Palace roof, 1977

As part of our redevelopment we'll be returning them to pride of place on top of the building, but they need a bit of TLC first! The muses have suffered over the years and require substantial restoration. Our planned conservation work will preserve the statues and improve their appearance by:
  • Restoring missing and damaged parts
  • Removing paint spots
  • Preventing water damage at vulnerable locations

Artist impression of redeveloped Citizens Theatre, set to open to the public in late 2020 

The restoration of each muse will cost £10,000. With just 100 donations of £100 each, we can save one of the muses, return them to their rightful place and ensure they keep inspiring future generations of theatregoers and Glaswegians.

If you'd like to contribute to the Citizens' redevelopment campaign and help #SaveOurStatues you can make a donation of £100, or any amount, here. 

The restoration of our muses is part of our wider building redevelopment to conserve, repair and expand our much loved home in the Gorbals. To find out more about the project please visit  

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Three Sisters' Assistant Director Fiona MacKinnon shares an insight into the rehearsals!

We are just over halfway through rehearsals. Which feels mad to say as the time has flown by! So here is a half time update on Three Sisters rehearsals so far. 

I was nervous on my first evening session with Lung Ha, because of how close I knew the company were. They are one of only a few ensemble companies in Scotland, training throughout the year, with some of the actors being there for 10 to 20 years. To shake off nerves, I decided to throw myself into the initial company warm-up and any apprehension about me joining - from myself, and the performers -was soon shed. A lot of dancing was had, and the closeness of the actors was really highlighted during some improvisation exercises around themes from the play. I left feeling welcomed and excited! A good start to my Lung Ha journey.

Once rehearsals started, we initially explored the story. Chekhov is complex and multi-layered, and so the first challenge was understand the narrative and characters. Chekhov writes more than one main part (a rare gift in theatre), which means there are love triangles, rivalries and many subplots to explore. We did this through character sheets, a giant storyboard that stays on the wall as a reference point, and many discussions along with scene work. We even had a day with just the three sisters, improvising around their relationship. This has led to a beautiful relationship between the three actors (Emma Clark, Emma McCaffrey and Nicola Tuxworth) that is authentic, trusting, and is clearly reflected in their scenes together. Although this is a classic text, it’s really enjoyable observing the actors find ownership, and their own interpretations of the characters.

Russian theatre director Konstanin Stanislavski directed the original Three Sisters with the Moscow Art Theatre, in the 1900’s. Although it became regular in their repertoire, Chekhov was unhappy with the original direction as he felt it was too “exuberant” to show the subtleties of the text. Maria Oller (Lung Ha’s Artistic Director) emphasised from the start that she wanted the acting to be as natural as possible. So once we had explored what was happening in the scene, and what intentions were, we looked at stripping back, and being in the moment. This has been an interesting challenge as the company have previously come from doing Moliere and a fun, interactive show at the Zoo, which both call for a very different style of acting. But the naturalism is paying off - the most heart breaking moments come from a character’s acceptance in their fate, or a moment of vulnerability on stage, and as we progress more moments like that are appearing.

It would be hard to talk about the first half of rehearsals without mentioning the giant RFO elephant in the room. A few weeks in, we got the heart-breaking news that Creative Scotland had decided to cut Lung Ha’s regular three year funding. This was a hard hit to the company, but Michael, Maria, the Lung Ha support team and actors did an incredible job at rallying support, fighting their cause while simultaneously continuing on with rehearsals. I have never been more inspired than watching their response to that situation. That really showed me the heart, strength and hard work that goes behind Lung Ha - everyone goes above and beyond what their role entails. I was surprised at how much the news affected me - in such a short space of time, how invested I had become in the company, and how lucky I felt to be working there. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, and thousands of people rallied behind their cause, ultimately leading to a turn around in Creative Scotland’s decision. I didn’t realise there had been a fog in the rehearsal room, until it was lifted the day we found out the funding had been reinstated. We have a new drive and energy moving forward.

We’ve got the story, the style of acting and blocking (where people move on stage) down. The next step is the most exciting one - bringing the world alive. This includes working on our transitions, being in the moment in the scenes, and adding the live music! Next week we have the musicians flying over from Finland who will be adding their original compositions to the production, and I cannot wait!

Will update you then,

Fiona Mackinnon, Assistant Director on Lung Ha Theatre Company's Three Sisters.

1.30pm & 7.30pm 28 Mar

Monday, 15 January 2018

Scotland and the Spanish Civil War

In the 1930s hundreds of military volunteers from across Scotland joined the Spanish Civil War’s legendary International Volunteer brigade. Our upcoming Circle Studio show 549: Scots of the Spanish CivilWar follows four miners who leave their homes in East Lothian to join the conflict.  

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War
Book tickets

When author Mark Gillespie spotted the play in our Spring 2018 programme he got in touch to share his own connection to the International Volunteer Brigade. Mark’s great uncle, John Joseph Lynch, was one of the many Scottish volunteers that travelled to Spain to support the fight against fascism.

J.J.Lynch during his Royal Navy training. 
Mark has published a short book When the Gorbals fought Franco telling his great uncle's story. J.J.Lynch was born in Ireland but as a young boy his family moved to a tenement flat at 25 Hallside Place, in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. Aged just 20 he travelled to Europe where he fought in the battle of Jamara and Brunete - two of the bloodiest conflicts of the Spanish Civil War. In his book Mark explains how J.J.Lynch's experience growing up in the Gorbals shaped his political views.

When the Gorbals fought Franco.
  Buy a copy
If you'd like to find out more about J.J.Lynch's story you can buy a copy of When the Gorbals fought Franco for £5 in person at our Box Office or online now

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is presented by Wonder Fools in association with the Citizens Theatre and the Brunton Theatre. The play runs in our Circle Studio from 13 – 17 Feb. Tickets for most performances are now sold out. Visit for more information on all our Spring 2018 productions. 

Monday, 8 January 2018

Tribute to Tommy Smith

The Citizens Theatre would like to pay our respects to Tommy Smith, who sadly passed away in December 2017.
Tommy Smith

Tommy was born in Portugal Street, across the road from the Citizens Theatre, and became a highly-regarded self-taught Gorbals artist. We at the Citizens were privileged to get to know him when we discovered his true talent: as a vampire hunter.
L-R Tommy Smith, Tommy Donnelly, Kenny Hughes, Bob Hamilton, Joseph Curran. Credit Tim Morozzo.

Tommy became an important part of our 2016 Community Production, 'The Gorbals Vampire', sharing with us his recollections of this legendary event that took place in the Southern Necropolis in 1954. He painted a particularly vivid picture of a night when 100s of local schoolchildren, armed with makeshift weapons, hunted down the mythical 7-foot tall 'man with the iron teeth'. 

The Gorbals Vampire publicity image by artist Frank Quitely. Buy a copy

Tommy had been seven years old at the time, taking his place alongside all the other brave children, proudly toting his Tomahawk made out of a stick and a baked bean can. He lived to tell this tale, along with many others tales of growing up in the Gorbals which will be treasured by those that met him and retold for many years to come.
Hear more from Tommy and some other vampire hunters:

Monday, 30 October 2017

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week Two: 'Stu, Sand and Storytelling'

Assistant Director Tess Monro shares all the latest news from the Lampedusa rehearsal room in her second blog. This week the team have been exploring the use of space and music, as well as how the story can be updated for 2017. 

The second week of rehearsals on Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa has sailed by; the week of “Stu, sand and storytelling” as it has been affectionately christened by the creative team. Specifically, we worked through the play scene by scene focusing less on shape and picture in favour of music, connection and detail.

An essential aspect of week two was working closely with composer Stuart Ramage who has been a constant and invaluable presence in the rehearsal room. Together, we have experimented with the use of music to underscore the narrative progression of the play and the experiences of Denise and Stefano. Following Louise Mai and Andy’s responses to the text with meticulous attention to detail Stu has been able to improvise compositions as we delve deeper and deeper into the play; investigating how we can use live acoustic guitar to enrich our response and exploration of the text and the emotional trajectory of the characters. The interlacing of music into the production has been an illuminating part of our process, highlighting and unlocking key transitional moments in the play. We are confident that with Stu’s original composition our production will be an evocative, affecting and distinctive response to Lustgarten’s distinguished text.

After much discussion with the cast and creative team this week we decided to bring our story forward from 2015 into the present day. From these discussions specific ideas for adjustments to the script were born and presented to Lustgarten, who has generously updated the original text. In 2017 the migration crisis is far from behind us and the switch to Universal Credit continues to threaten the financial security of those relying on the government benefit system; thus, the original themes in the play feel more pressing and urgent than ever. Due to the nature of this play and Anders’ powerful and challenging perspective, it is important to us that our production retains the sense of urgency of the political issues raised in the 2015 production. This we hope to achieve by incorporating contemporary politics for a modern audience, in the spirit of the original text; by challenging the status-quo and shining a light on the experiences of many suffering as a result of socio-political injustices of today.

Week two has also concentrated on combining the space; introducing both Denise and Stefano’s respective worlds and working with Louise Mai and Andy in the space, together. Director Jack Nurse and the cast have experimented with building the sense of connection between Denise and Stefano and their seemingly distinct experiences within the narrative. Specifically, how and when their individual narratives and performances intersect and how to fluidly and imaginatively transition between their stories. The synthesis of Louise Mai and Andy’s rehearsals, the worlds of Denise and Stefano and the integration of music into the narrative has added a vibrant, inventive and dynamic energy to the piece and generated an invigorating momentum as we press on and into week three. 

Lampedusa runs at the Citizens Theatre from 8 Nov - 18 Nov. Tickets from £12.50.
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Monday, 23 October 2017

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week One

Migrants on Lampedusa
Lampedusa Assistant Director Tess Monro offers an account of what's been taking place during the first week of rehearsals, and how Director Jack Nurse has been working with the cast and crew to draw out the core issues in the play.

The first week of rehearsals on the much anticipated Scottish premiere of Anders Lustgarten’s bold, incisive and moving masterpiece, Lampedusa, was a reflection of the urgent and assertive attitude of the play itself.

Lampedusa tackles European mass migration from a global perspective and its impact on British domestic politics. But, more importantly, as Anders and director Jack Nurse were keen to stress on day one of rehearsals, this is a play about the personal experiences behind the politics. It is the story of two strangers finding hope and connection where they least expect it.

 The first two days of rehearsals were spent with Anders Lustgarten. Under his guidance we descended into the deep tissue of the play with table work and group discussion. This process illuminated the enduring vitality of the politics in the play and, crucially, the necessity to maintain the sense of political urgency encapsulated in the original production (Soho Theatre, London 2015). Consequently, Anders proposed to update the original text; to encompass the current political climate in Europe and post-Brexit Britain. Citizens Theatre’s Lampedusa will therefore be an entirely new, cutting-edge and unique production.

 Next order of business was get the play up and on it’s feet. Director Jack Nurse’s process is curated to mirror his overall vision for the production. The play introduces two independent and diverging experiences of mass migration from a global and domestic perspective. As the play progresses parallels between the characters begin to emerge and unite their experiences.

The first week of rehearsals was centered on working with Louise Mai Newberry and Andy Clark individually to get better a sense of the shape and arc of each character within the text. Week by week as we continue to work through the play we will begin to integrate these rehearsals and, furthermore, the physical and emotional journeys of Denise and Stefano.

With the mid-week arrival of composer Stuart Ramage came the infusion of live music into the rehearsal process. In this production the lyrical quality of Lustgarten’s writing and the centrality of Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté’s song Lampedusa will be supported and enhanced by live acoustic guitar. Stu’s presence in the rehearsal room throughout the three-week process will enable the development of a musical score in tandem with the exploration of the text.

Week one has also been about acclimatizing to the intimate performance space of the Circle Studio and confronting the challenges of balancing the contrasting worlds of Denise and Stefano while they inhabit same physical environment. At this stage in the process possibilities are infinite and continual investigation, trying new and diverse ways to respond to the text and use of space, is essential and encouraged.

Week one is not about nailing ideas to the ground but rather discovery, imagination, playing and interrogating ideas; skills that Lousie Mai and Andy demonstrate with verve and dexterity. Working at an impressive and efficient pace we are off to a flying start.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

It’s back! Trainspotting returns to the Citz

After a sell-out run in 2016 Trainspotting returns to the Citizens this month

Audiences and critics were blown away by last year's production.

“And if you want further proof that Trainspotting is one of the great, iconic narratives of the last 25 years, then you should beat a path to the Citizens’ Theatre, where this sharply-timed revival of Harry Gibson’s stage version – emerging just in advance of Trainspotting’s film sequel – is playing to packed houses and standing ovations.” 
The Scotsman  ★★★★★

“everything a theatre production should be” 
Broadway World  ★★★★★

“crackles with a raw new power” 
The Independent  ★★★★

“Nicholls shows Trainspotting still speaks loudly, scabrously and irreverently about urban alienation and young lives under pressure” 
The Guardian  ★★★★

“The cast of five, led by Lorn Macdonald as Renton…make the material their own.” 
The Herald   ★★★★

“To take on such a production takes courage; to both recognise and subvert expectation takes skill; qualities here in thankful evidence” 
The National  ★★★★

Read more about what audiences thought on Storify.

Lorn Macdonald and Gavin Jon Wright. Photo by Tim Morozzo

Trainspotting plays at the Citizens Theatre from 18 October – 11 November, before moving to the King’s Theatre Edinburgh, where it will be presented by Selladoor Scotland, from 14 – 18 November.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week three

This week, Faithful Ruslan Assistant Director George Nichols talks about the challenges which come with moving from the process of exploration to working towards a more refined product.

Tangible progress is the order of the week. Less time can now be afforded to exploration, as, after all, we do have to finish the play. That means our rehearsals have been split with some time afforded to working further on what we’ve already done in the first half of the play and the rest of the time spent continuing on working through the play. While the collective conscience of the chorus improves every day and their movements come closer to being instinctive and intuitive, consistent practice is needed to maintain this, like practising an instrument. Ultimately in this production, it’s important to get the balance right, as the big choral set pieces need to be polished and progressed, whilst progress also needs to be made on the script.

This being a new play, and an adaptation based on a translation, the main edition of the book is in English as Russia has never published the text, there is constant chopping and changing. This also means that seeing a skeleton of the play is essential, to see if the adaptation effectively translates the book to the stage. There are many difficulties involved in adaptation, aspects that seem the most stageable when reading the book can quickly seems ineffective in practice, and so it is important to be able to kill your darlings and pursue the best version of the play possible.

It is important to locate the moments that need changing quickly so that amendments may become embedded in the cast’s minds as early as possible. This means that this week’s rehearsals didn’t focus on achieving as much detail as we would eventually like in favour of seeing the staging of the complete script and this can be irritating to both the creative team and the cast. However, once the structure and words of the play and firmly in the cast’s minds we can start layering detail and precision more effectively.

From a practical viewpoint, the rehearsal period for this kind of play is very challenging. The script is constantly changing and so myself and the stage management team need to be constantly aware of what is happening in order that the book can be kept up to date. The other creatives who are not in the room (and in many cases not even in the country) need to be kept aware of these changes so that they know how the play currently works and can adjust their own work accordingly. While this is challenging, a production like this is one of the reasons why you want to make theatre in the first place; to be part of a process the relies on constant invention, imagination, creativity and most importantly a talented and generous cast.

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.