Susannah Radford chats with the Citizens Theatre Artistic Director Dominic Hill about making theatre accessible for all and why the first person in the queue for the 50p tickets to the Beckett short plays was also given a banana.
I have to wonder if Citizens Theatre Artistic Director Dominic Hill must have some circus genes in his blood; balancing the theatrical past with the present must require some serious tightrope skills and it looks like he’s walking that fine line with finesse.
With his inaugural season as Artistic Director opening with Pinter’s Betrayal, followed by Shakespeare’s big daddy King Lear then closing with Beckett’s short plays Krapp’s Last Tape and Footfalls, it’s quite a triumvirate. These are plays by playwrights who changed theatre; to face up to these works and make them current must take all the courage of a lion tamer.
But Hill looks pretty calm to me. It’s the theatre that’s buzzing on Saturday morning as people buy tickets to the Beckett short plays for only 50p. This is key because making great works accessible to all is very important to Hill. For one thing he is building on the glittering past of a theatre which was famous for, among other things, its accessible pricing policy; ticket prices at the Citz in the 70s and 80s were also only 50p.
Matching ticket prices from a few decades ago is impressive. Every theatre faces the challenge of making theatre accessible for all and it’s getting harder, even the National’s £10 tickets have now risen to £12 but Hill is determined to pursue affordable ticket pricing.
“It’s my first season and I just wanted to say come to the Citz and you can get in for 50p. So it’s a kind of nod, it’s a nod to the past and also a very serious attempt to ensure that nobody can say they can’t afford to go to the Citz.” He points out that if you live in the Gorbals you can see anything for £2. “We try to be accessible. It’s tricky; grants are decreasing, they’re not increasing. But you know, it’s called the Citizens Theatre; I felt we needed to live up to that name.”
As such, 10 tickets of every performance for 10 performances of Hill’s new season has been available to buy for 50p. For that price all you have to do is queue for them. The day for queuing for the Beckett plays was yesterday.
While Hill says there’s been a fantastic response to the 50p ticket offer he’s still filled with dread on the morning of those ticket sales. “There’s always the terror. Like this morning I had it, that I’d come round the corner and there would be nobody here. Particularly you know with Beckett, cause not everybody’s into Beckett. So you know it’s a huge relief that there’s a queue.” While I’m not sure how fast the Beckett 50p tickets sold out, it took only 35 minutes for Betrayal and just 24 minutes for King Lear. It would seem that this pricing policy is a rip-roaring success.
I can see why he was a little worried about the Beckett tickets though; Beckett plays are often hard work to watch. Hill advises an open mind and reminds me that the Beckett short plays are short. Krapp’s Last Tape is 45 minutes and Footfalls is 25 minutes so he says “even if you hate it you don’t have to sit there for too long.” But he adds “I think Krapp is possibly Beckett’s most personal, most accessible play. It’s also very funny. So I think, you know, I think Krapp is very accessible and very moving and very entertaining.”
His approach to the other short Footfalls is intriguing. “Footfalls is very different; I mean Footfalls is a bit like installation art.”
He goes on to elucidate. “Beckett often wrote with a kind of image in mind to begin with. So like in Happy Days a woman is buried up to her waist in earth and then up to her neck. Then there’s Not I which is just a mouth. So I think those plays, I often kind of look at them as pieces of installation art and Footfalls is the same. It’s an image. It’s a woman walking backwards and forwards talking. It’s strange, it’s mysterious, it’s haunting, it’s very beautiful, I think. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what it means; it means exactly what it is. Or whatever you want it to mean.”
He compares it with listening to music. “It’s like a piece of music, you don’t know what a piece of music means but it affects you, it can be very transformative. And I think I feel that about both of these plays. Both of these plays are kind of extraordinary images, they’re extraordinary ideas. And they sort of changed theatre, they changed culture. They may be only small casts, but they are big plays, which is why they’re on in the main house. They were often written for the Royal Court. They’re written for proscenium arch theatres, they’re not written for studios. And I think that’s exciting as well.”
The one actor filling the auditorium as the character Krapp is Irish actor Gerard Murphy, currently greeting 50p ticket buyers at the box office. Hill calls him a “big important British actor,” a theatre and film actor who was also a huge star of the Citz in the 70s and 80s, which raises the past – present dichotomy. “Again I think part of the thing that we’re doing here is about saying we’re looking forward but we’re not afraid to embrace the past successes of the theatre and the people who made that success. Which is why it’s so great to have him doing it.”
I am curious as to the brochure’s assertion that the Beckett plays are humorous; I’ve seen a few productions of Beckett and often they aren’t that funny. Are they like Chekhov plays which often can miss the inherent humour of life? Hill agrees but says Beckett’s a lot funnier. “It’s more slapstick. Beckett loved the musical tradition, vaudeville. So a lot of his work, you know like Waiting for Godot, the two tramps are musical characters and Krapp’s a bit like that. The first ten minutes of the play is a silent routine with a banana.”
That’s why the first guy in line got two 50p tickets and a banana. It’s in the play.