THE “Citz” in Glasgow is due to re-open this year after five years of refurbishment. Mossman’s statues are back up, Shakespeare taking his place beside Burns and the Muses of Tragedy, Comedy, Song and Poetry, and Dance. I can’t wait to see it.

Back in the 1960s, the directing duo of Michael Blakemore and Michael Meacham commissioned me to compose incidental music for four Shakespeare productions at the Citizens Theatre, so I have happy memories of working there.

The first Shakespeare production I was involved in was Julius Caesar.

Though my music was pre-recorded, I was nervous. I was new to incidental music and Blakemore cannot have heard a note of mine before this. And he was not a director to mince his words.

Of course I included a trumpet with sundry signal calls and menacing war-like music but the scene I – and indeed any – musician would particularly recall is set in Brutus’s tent late on the night before battle and his sleepy boy Lucius is asked to play for him. The exchange between them is extraordinarily touching:

Brutus: Bear with me good boy, I am much forgetful.

Canst thou hold up thy heavy eyelids awhile,

And touch thy instrument a strain or two?

Lucius: Ay, my lord, an ’t please you.

Brutus: It does, my boy:

I trouble thee too much, but thou art willing.

Lucius: It is my duty sir.

Brutus: I should not urge thy duty past thy might;

I know young bloods look for a time of rest.

Lucius: I have slept, my lord, already.

Brutus’s next line was repeated to me in a telegram on opening night: “It was well done; and thou shalt sleep again.” Andrew Leigh was the business manager and he sent a telegram to me every first night, even though he knew I would be there. That was an enlightening experience of how supportive the world of theatre could be in maintaining its fragile but absolute determination to render the imagined real, to help us all to believe; to help the company itself to believe.

The Tempest is perhaps my favourite because a wise man abjures his own power. Prospero comes in for a lot of stick these days – autocratic male domineering figure with slaves. But he gives it all up. He, marooned himself, frees Ariel and Caliban and gives up his magic powers. Few things are harder to do than give up power. Alas, we all know only too well these days.

Donald Douglas made a fine Prospero and the producer was Michael Meacham. I remember him encouraging Zoe Hicks, the mature lead actress at the Citizens. One would never have imagined Zoe requiring any encouragement except that what Michael wanted was for her to appear bare-breasted in the Masque as Juno, the goddess of marriage. Naked breasts were pretty well unheard-of on stage then and Zoe, by then in her mid-40s, was nervous of her appearance.

The National: Shakespeare 
at the Citizens

Michael, however, with that power that some men have of getting round even the most formidable women, assured her she would be magnificent and, of course, she was.

Miranda was played by the lovely Nicola Pagett. She was very young, but in a delightful interview in The Independent, remembered those days with particular affection: “If I hadn’t gone to Glasgow I wouldn’t have known I could do it.”

I can still see her curled up on the beat-up green room sofa, fast asleep, her thumb in her mouth.

It was a very moving production, especially with Richard Kane as Ariel. He described it many years later as his favourite part and his performance for that production justifies his choice. Seemingly moving and breathing in a different element, he floated across the stage or stood miraculously still on one foot like the statue of Eros, encrusted pipe held out straight while my music went on longer than was normally bearable for such a pose – nobody had told me that was how it was to be presented.

There was a magical touch added to the play, not Shakespeare’s but Michael’s, who rehearsed it with Richard with care. As Ariel accepted his release from servitude to Prospero, he slowly, ever-so slowly, floated across the sand-coloured backdrop until, just before disappearing into the wings, he turned sufficiently to look back towards Prospero with a heart-rending wonder at his release. Was it really true? And he was gone.

The music itself was scored entirely for organ – two organs, one in the Bute Hall at Glasgow University and the other at Paisley Abbey where Alexander Anderson was organist. This arose out of an ongoing row with the Musicians’ Union (I was a member) which blacklisted the theatre.

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It was all to do with the use of recorded music rather than live musicians, but sadly the days of theatre orchestras were done and besides, the only harpist available in Scotland wasn’t skilful enough to manage the music I had in mind. The skilful ones were attached to orchestras and could not commit to a three-week run with matinees.

A compromise was reached with The Tempest. Alex was paid as though he were performing each night and matinee and he was supposed to demonstrate his availability. Alex did a wonderful job and the music turned out well, some of it revised as a Toccata for Organ. Waste not, want not.

Twelfth Night

OF all the productions at the “Citz”, it was Twelfth Night in 1967 that gave me the most satisfaction, for there I got to set three of Shakespeare’s eternally wonderful lyrics – “Come away death”,

“O mistress mine” and “When that I was and a little tiny boy”. They are all sung by the Fool, Feste, played by Christopher Guinee.

I kept the vocal lines simple as Christopher was not a natural singer but he did wonderfully well, not least as, after a shouting drunken episode with Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch, he had to dash off stage, throat open to receive a quick spray of honey and lemon, change costume and appear on the other side of the stage for the next scene, and sing with sentiment “the song we had last night”:

Orsino: Mark it, Cesario; it is old and plain:

The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,

And the free maids, that weave their thread with bones,

Do use to chant it: it is silly sooth

And dallies with the innocence

of love

Like the old age.

Christopher, somehow became the sorrow of the song, which ends “Lay me, O, where Sad true lover never find my grave To weep there.”

FESTE’s final song I had always understood as some kind of world-weary but gentle lyric. It was my father, a lecturer in English literature, who pointed out to me that it was a bitter protest against impotence which, coming just after a double wedding, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. The sequence is inescapable:

“When that I was and a little tiny boy . . . A foolish thing was but a toy,

But when I came to man’s estate

‘Gainst knaves and fools men shut their gate,

But when I came, alas! to wive

By swaggering could I never thrive,

But when I came unto my bed,

With toss-pots still had drunken head,”

So he was impotent even with professional sex workers. “For the rain it raineth every day.”

Feste had a small stick and tabor and this he beat with increasing savagery as the music’s parallel fourths grew more and more angry by the simple addition of an instrument per stanza and a shift up in pitch halfway through. At the very end of the play, on the final smack of the stick on the drum, Michael ordered a total blackout. It was a level of dramatic honesty I have never encountered in any other production. Why did Shakespeare end this, of all plays, thus?

I have no idea.

The Dream

Well, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is as magical a play as has ever been written, as well as being hilariously funny. I composed the music for Michael Meacham’s New Shakespeare Company production at Regent’s Park open-air theatre in London.

It was my first experience of open-air theatre. In those days’ over-flying jets were few and far between and, as dusk fell at the very end of the play, and the fairies each came on holding their own lights to give a blessing to the house (the house was the trees and the hedges and the grass), and as the wedding party carried on behind the hedge out of sight but just audible, the dream became a truth.

Mendelssohn as a teenager composed a magical score for the play, which was why Hitler had the Wedding March banned, Mendelssohn being of Jewish stock.

But the length of Mendelssohn’s music works against modern ideas of production, so lesser mortals such as myself are given their chance. My script tells me there were 32 music cues but it is the production that I remember.

The following summer I heard my music drifting across Regent’s Park on a warm afternoon and squeezed a repeat fee out of the company, thereby earning more than had the much more famous Elisabeth Lutyens. It got good reviews and the music migrated into other pieces. Waste not, want not. Joseph Noel Paton, a Dunfermline lad, memorably painted scenes from the play. He was fascinated by folklore and his fantasy is based on traditional beliefs. Like his painting, the theatre is the place where one willingly suspends disbelief.

Both The Tempest and The Dream take us beyond the world of substance. But just how insubstantial are we and how insubstantial are they, the Ariels and Pucks, Titanias and Oberons; they who are the makings of our own imaginings? When the Reverend Robert Kirk wrote The Secret Commonwealth in the 1690s, he explained the comparative rarity of sightings of fairies as follows:

But diverse of that Secret Commonwealth may by permission discover themselves as innocently to us who are in another State, as some of us men do to Fishes which are in another Element, when we plunge and dive into the bottom of the seas, their native region.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare has received their permission to discover them.