Theatre revew: Citizens Theatre autumn season

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AS A way to launch an autumn season it was unfortunate. Less than a fortnight before the Citizens was due to welcome Scottish Opera's Carmen on to its main stage, the Glasgow theatre announced details of what sounded like a boardroom coup.

In one fell swoop, the theatre's joint artistic directors Jeremy Raison and Guy Hollands were to step down, while the chair of the board Roderick Macpherson and the vice-chairman Dr William T Scott would both retire at September's AGM.

The press release issued on a Saturday morning - unusual in itself - tried to put a brave face on it. "Leadership changes signal new era for Citizens Theatre," it said, promising ambitious theatre-making and artistic innovation for the future. The details told a different story. All the talk of "uncertainty surrounding public sector finance" and the "significant challenges" being faced by arts organisations suggested the board had been forced to make some awkward decisions.

According to one newspaper, a report commissioned from arts consultants the Burns Owens Partnership had given a number of recommendations, one of which was a complete change in artistic management. This appears to be the option the board preferred and the seven-year reign for Raison as artistic director - and four for Hollands - was brought to an end.

In an email to journalists, Raison implied the decision to quit had been his, saying he was "happy to leave" and pointing out that seven years is the longest time he had spent in any job. With the prospect of funding cuts on the way, he felt it was "time to move on". He confirmed he would be directing A Clockwork Orange in October, as previously advertised, although made no mention of Marilyn, a co-production with Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre, which he had been scheduled to direct in 2011. A Citizens spokesperson said the two companies were now in negotiations about that project.

Whether he is leaving willingly or not, Raison is right to trumpet his achievements at the Gorbals theatre. In many ways, it is impressive he survived as long as he did, having taken over from Giles Havergal who, with fellow directors Philip Prowse and the late Robert David MacDonald, ran the theatre for 34 years, building it into an internationally acclaimed powerhouse. Not only did Raison have this reputation to contend with - a reputation few directors could have matched - but he had to face the reality of ticket sales that had been in decline since long before his arrival. He can be justifiably proud that he is leaving soon after the theatre earned its highest ever box-office income.

Perhaps he has not established a clear artistic voice of his own, but he has proved strong in programming and in forging partnerships with other organisations, something that is evident in the season now getting into gear.

Without the input of the Citz as co-producer, for example, the Market Theatre's production of The Girl in the Yellow Dress is unlikely to have got further than Johannesburg. Having enjoyed a run at the Traverse on the Edinburgh Fringe, Craig Higginson's two-hander is now about to delight Glasgow audiences with its psychological twists and turns. Powerfully acted, it is about the dark, sexually charged relationship that develops between a language teacher and her pupil.

Also direct from the Edinburgh Fringe is Hit Me!: The Life And Rhymes Of Ian Dury. Like the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and the recent Raspberry by Glasgow's Sounds of Progress, Jeff Merrifield's play celebrates all that was good and bad about the Blockheads' front man, while treating the audience to a big helping of infectious, witty and literate jazz-pop.

Other highlights coming up soon include an appearance by singer-songwriter Sarah Jane Morris and a run of Douglas Maxwell's new musical comedy The Bookie, produced by Cumbernauld Theatre. Meanwhile, out on tour, is David Greig's new play for teenagers The Monster In The Hall, directed by Hollands for TAG, the in-house young people's theatre company. Shows such as this - about a girl caring for a father with MS - are a central, and often unsung, part of a theatre which also has a community department with an international reputation.

The Monster In The Hall will play at the Citz in November, by which time Raison's swansong production, a staging of A Clockwork Orange, will be up and running. After that, it'll be time for us to ask what direction we'd like the theatre to head in next.

The Girl in the Yellow Dress, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tuesday until 9 October; Hit Me!, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tuesday to Thursday; The Monster in the Hall, on tour, Thursday until 29 October; A Clockwork Orange runs from 13 October until 6 November

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