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FringeReview Scotland 2014

On Common Ground

Citizens Theatre Company in association with the First Nation Storytellers - Debajehmujig

Genre: Community Theatre

Venue: Rose Garden, the Gorbals, Glasgow


Low Down

We begin in the Citizens Theatre where our Indian guide calls us to attention. The Citizen’s Company respond from above us with their own call and drumming before we are taken through the streets, accompanied with street theatre all round us before being delivered to the performance space that is all withies and worthy entertainment where the Storytellers and the Gorbals collide, tell stories, fix a broken bird and witness the clash of the water spirit and the Thunderbird.



I arrived at the car park and saw six police tumble out of a van to be perplexed by the sound of a tropical bird and thought – great start. Once in the Citizens we are gathered by the voice of an Indian come to gather us into the audience. Once he had completed his song, the young team (A tribal term from Glasgow) from the Citizens Community Theatre Group responded from the balcony. Hidden at first they came down the stairs and in front of a magnificent metal eagle that was spread across the Citizens Bar which extended up beyond the balcony we were danced and sung to before the team scarpered out the front of the building. Told to follow – procession like – we went outside to be greeted by snare drum before toddling off to the Rose Gardens. We were accompanied by guides and the aforementioned police who guided us through some of the most bizarre and yet intriguing set pieces along the way. My favourites were the two women scrapping keech aff the steps, the boy on the roundabout who was eating his dinner whilst two people out the 50’s were having a wee dance and that wonderful pipe band that finished it all off by piping us to the Rose Garden.

Once at the Rose Garden we sat, open air, for a clash of cultures between the Indian visitors from Canada and the Gorbals’ residents. It all centres around the Thunderbird which has arrived and frightened the Glaswegians whilst it is what the Indians seek. The Thunderbird is “the good guy” and will fight the evil water spirit to keep us safe whilst the local populace are frightened of what is unknown. Once the stories are swapped and people are comforted the final battle sees good triumph and hands clasped in friendship. The young team meanwhile, rather than the catalyst for misunderstanding, become the binding partners as they rescue a bird with a broken wing that they enlist the help from the Canadians to fix.

There is a lot in here and the narrative is what keeps the whole thing focussed and straight. We hear about the bird as soon as we leave the Theatre. At first I was frustrated at not being able to hear what the young ornithologists in the first installation were saying but soon it became clear that all of the installations were pointing towards the same thing – an unusual sighting of an unusual bird. Once again the complex telling of a simple story won out for me.

The performers were simply amazing. The one thing that I loved is the ones who were clearly new to this or had problems just getting to the right spot at the right time. They were my favourites. This was community theatre as it ought to be because the door was open to the young lad, all nervous in the choir whose participation was his moment. Or the guy with all the tattoos who seemed to worry about getting into the wrong place and was giving himself a hard time. It brought a feeling of genuine effort to the enterprise. This wasn’t polished for the tourists. When you consider how big Sports day was and it wasn’t THAT long ago this was remarkable.

The scope of this project is equally remarkable and the effort and investment that the Citizens has put into this included a full band with some wonderful Gaelic singing, props and set that matched the performers and  movement that captured the spirit of this dear green place.

Beyond the performances and their interaction with theatre arts it was the experience that was so wonderful. It reminded me, as if I needed it – and we all do – that theatre is transformational. I was bowled over by Sports Day when I went to see it and this wrapped me up again, taught me some new tricks and bowled me over once again. This was ambitious, breath taking and inspirational. There were no hiding places and nobody hid. Sure at times there were wee slips and occasional problems with microphones but this was all about the Community. It made me almost want to put in for a housing transfer to join it. 


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