I’ve often said in these posts that I believe that culture can play an important part in helping to regenerate cities and encourage civic pride. I was reminded of that earlier this week when I watched the BBC documentary Blood and Glitter: 70 years of the Citizens Theatre.
The programme, available on the BBC i-player until the end of October, looks at the history of this influential and often controversial Glasgow theatre. I remember that when I was around 15 or so Giles Havergal, the Citz Director, came to my (comprehensive) school to try and encourage us along to his theatre with the lure of ridiculously cheap tickets. He was accompanied by a young actor called David Hayman.
At that time, we are talking about the mid to late 1970s, the Citz made a point of staging innovative, and more often than not highly camp, productions of works by the likes of Wilde, Brecht and Goldoni. The repertory company in those days included many actors who are now familiar faces on cinema and TV screens, including Alan Rickman, Celia Imrie and Rupert Everett.
I loved it and I’ve had a keen interest in theatre ever since. I even celebrated my 21st birthday by taking a group of friends to the Citz panto where Alex Norton, now best known for Taggart, was a splendid pantomime dame.
More recently, I’ve enjoyed going along to Liverpool’s recently refurbished Everyman Theatre. Like the Citz, the Everyman has a proud history, having nurtured the likes of Willy Russell, Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite. Interestingly, neither theatre has ever pandered to narrow parochial tastes and instead both have given their audiences works that would not be out of place in any city in the world.
With many of the theatres in London now seemingly full of stage musicals based on Hollywood films, you could do worse that go to Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester if you want to see serious drama on stage.
In theatre, as with much else in modern Britain, there is a clear north/south divide. The difference is that this is one battle which The North would seem to be winning.