Preview of 2012 - King Lear

New Citizens Theatre boss Dominic Hill brushes up his Shakespeare

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Preview of 2012 - King Lear

Dominic Hill

Take on the Citizens Theatre and you take on the past. Any artistic director of the Glasgow institution can only be aware of the building’s history. Opened as the Royal Princess’s Theatre in 1848, it became home to James Bridie’s Citizens’ company in 1945 and was where Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald sealed their international reputation during a 34-year reign.

For Dominic Hill, who arrives at the Gorbals theatre from Edinburgh’s Traverse, this is a history to be cherished. ‘The theatre’s reputation rests on some amazing stuff that happened here,’ he says. ‘That gives us lots of opportunities. There’s a whole wealth of talent that’s come through this building and will help us in the future. Connected to that is an enormous warmth and loyalty not just from the actors but also from audiences.’

After four years focusing on new plays in Edinburgh, he is delighted to return to the kind of classics in which he specialised at Dundee Rep. He is directing all three of the plays in his inaugural season, moving swiftly from Harold Pinter’s Betrayal to William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (teamed with the 20-minute Footfalls). ‘It’s a space that works on an epic level and an intimate level,’ he says. ‘It’s crying out for us to inhabit it with those kind of plays again.’

There’s a loose thematic connection in that King Lear has an existential darkness that anticipates Beckett, a writer who in turn influenced Pinter. Stylistically, though, they are very different and will demonstrate Hill’s ability to turn from the reverse love story of Betrayal to the grandeur of King Lear and then the solitary reflection of Krapp’s Last Tape.

Of the three, Lear is the big one. It’s a major study of a king’s descent from authority to madness after he divides his kingdom between his daughters. The central role needs an actor of uncommon range and stamina and Hill has found just the man in David Hayman. The Trial and Retribution star made his name at the Citz in the 1970s, which helps give the season a sense of rootedness.

‘I wanted to do a big Shakespeare as a bit of a marker, I was talking to David and it seemed the right one,’ he says. ‘I would never programme it without knowing who was going to play it. King Lear with David Hayman is going to be different from King Lear with Derek Jacobi and that’s exciting.

‘The thing that strikes home now is the play’s engagement with the idea of society, humanity and the state and the responsibility we all have to each other. It engages with the poor and the dispossessed and that feels very urgent and modern.’

Looking ahead, he wants to stick with international and Scottish classics and also to find the equivalents of Men Should Weep, plays such as Cora Bissett’s Glasgow Girls, an autumn co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland, that reflect Glasgow life today. ‘Glasgow Girls is the first of those plays that are for Glasgow and about Glasgow and are put on at a certain scale. Audiences love that.’

King Lear, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 20 Apr–Sat 12 May.

Like the sound of this? Try Alan Cumming's Macbeth. Tramway, Glasgow, 14–30 Jun.

King Lear

Shakespeare's mightiest play features a storm, a tragicomic sidekick, a charming scumbag, evil sisters, not one but two good men betrayed and a scene where a character gets his eyes gouged out. It also has one of the greatest and toughest title characters ever. Returning to the Citz after 33 years' absence, David Hayman…

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