THE Citizen’s Theatre has kicked off an exciting £19.5 million project to repair, conserve and renovate its much-loved home in Glasgow’s Gorbals.
Scottish stars Blythe Duff, Elaine C Smith and David Hayman are all supporting the scheme which is set to transform the iconic theatre.
Plans include refurbishing the auditorium, knocking down the front of house building to make way for a new foyer and creating a 152-seat studio.
Blythe Duff, lauded with critical acclaim for her theatre turns and known for her long-running role in Taggart, is backing the Citizens’ campaign.
She told the Sunday Post that the refurbishment is very much needed.
The actress said: “Backstage is really grim. Sometimes the lights go out when it rains.
“You can hear pigeons and seagulls on the roof, it’s like an aluminium shed!”
Blythe’s ties with the theatre go back to her school days, when the drama group at Hunter High in East Kilbride went on trips there.
She said: “I remember thinking performing there was out of my grasp.”
Blythe describes performing in her first professional production at the Citz – Swing Hammer Swing in 1995 – as ‘such a nice moment in my life.’
Since those early drama trips, things have come full circle for Blythe, who was part of the five-star Into That Darkness at the Citz, and also appeared on stage in solo show Ciara in 2014.
She said: “It was great to bring Ciara to its spiritual home.”
The theatre launched a campaign called ‘We Are Citizens’ to help raise the final £1.7 million needed for the building redevelopment.
The campaign began with a gala dinner, where guests included Sanjeev Kohli, Elaine C Smith, Celia Imrie, Ricky Ross, and, of course, Blythe – who performed a special song for the occasion.
She said: “I wanted to hit the right tone with it. It was an honest homage to the theatre.
“There were some serious Citz alumni there so it was really nerve-wracking – it was a bit like performing in front of your aunty.”
Although it may be surprising that the esteemed stage and screen star still gets butterflies, Bythe says ‘you have to’ get nervous before a performance.
She said: “If you relax there’s something missing.”
It’s not just the theatre that Blythe has a passion for, but the area too.
She said: “We went to the Gorbals when we were filming Taggart and I was super impressed with the community.
“They really embraced us and were so warm and welcoming.”
The gala was a wild success and raised more than £70,000 for the building project, which will be the most comprehensive redevelopment of the category B listed building in its 139-year history.
Dominic Hill, Artistic Director of Citizens Theatre said: “Our vision is to preserve our past, whilst securing our future.
“This project will create a building which honours and celebrates the remarkable history of this theatre, while remaining a vibrant and vital landmark in our community.
“The Citizens’ work on stage has long been celebrated for being bold, innovative and accessible to people from all walks of life, and I’m looking forward to working in a building that reflects that philosophy.
Actress and comedian Elaine C Smith, an Ambassador for the Citizens, said the theatre is an ‘integral part of the fabric’ of Glasgow.
She said: “The Citizens is a theatre that is an integral part of the fabric of this city – artistically and culturally.
“I have appeared on stage at the Citizens Theatre many times over the last 30 years. It has to survive and flourish and that’s why I’m supporting the We Are Citizens fundraising campaign.”
As well as their theatre productions (Blythe noted she had been along to see the ‘beautifully done’ This Restless House earlier in the year), the actress also highlighted the extra work the Citizen’s does to encourage inclusivity.
She said: “There’s the Citz Society – for older people with a love of theatre. They meet up on a Saturday morning, and there’s some brilliant cakes. My mum would’ve loved that group.”
Blythe’s ties with the theatre are so strong that they have established a prize – the Citizen’s Theatre Christina Chalmers Award, named after her mother, which goes to outstanding, promising newcomers.
Blythe said: “When they put it on their CV I get such a buzz.”
For both the Citz and the future of theatre in general, Blythe has a positive outlook.
She said: “There are cuts, but there are always cuts happening. Everyone’s struggling, not just the theatre.
“I’ll always be fighting in the corner for the arts.
“There are places for young people to go – the Scottish Youth Theatre, grants to apply for.
“If you want it enough and work hard, you’ll find a way.”