Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh enters ‘hibernation’ period

Having closed its doors on March 16th this year, The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh is now postponing all shows until at least Spring 2021. Making it clear they would not announce their season until they secure information for when audiences will able to safely attend. Suffering a loss of £700,000 in income due to the pandemic, with evident measures of social distancing likely to last until the year’s end, the theatre is facing the dire choice of entering redundancy discussions with unions, losing members of its theatrical family, or complete closure before Winter.

An icon of the city, The Lyceum is a lifeblood for the arts community and has been since 1883. Home for much of the Edinburgh International Theatre’s productions, with massive support from locals, it has endeavoured to sustain itself through austerity – where a vast number of its increasing income is earned through ticket sales. As a grant-aided company, this, unfortunately, means that as steady income halts there is no longer an inbound revenue. Sustaining itself thus far thanks to generous donations from the public, and continuing support from Creative Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council, the theatre’s board have made financial projections that, without intervention, the Lyceum will empty its funds in November this year.

Speaking directly on the issue, the Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig said:

To protect The Lyceum from closure we have to act now to preserve the theatre company and our ability to create theatre in Edinburgh in the future. Sadly, to do this we have to reduce the wage costs which make up the vast majority of our expenditure…

…This will mean losing friends from our theatre family – people I am in awe of, who make the magic happen on our stage and who are much loved and valued. Very sadly, with our principal income stream removed during this epidemic, the stark choice we face is between a redundancy process now to reduce our expenditure, or total closure before Christmas – an alternative that would leave the Lyceum shut long after the pandemic has passed.

Entering this period of hibernation will allow us to conserve the limited resource we have through the dark winter of Covid-19 and emerge, hopefully in the spring, with enough capacity to make theatre again with the brilliant theatre-makers of Scotland for the people of Edinburgh”.

Previous high-selling shows, such as the theatre’s annual Christmas production will be pushed back until 2021. Ticket holders for rescheduled shows will be contacted in due course. Meanwhile, it has been made clear that there will be continuing support for the city, as the Lyceum will maintain to operate community engagement and creative learnings.

With glimmers of hope, and re-schedules occurring, the theatre is working with producers and artists for a re-opening, but as of right now the focus is to conserve the minimal resources remaining. Our thoughts go to staff, colleagues, producers and cherished friends working towards a dawning era of post-COVID 19 theatre for the people of Scotland.

Further information, donations and contact details can be found on The Royal Lyceum’s website:https://lyceum.org.uk/

Photo credit & copyright – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Mrs Puntila and her Man Matti – Lyceum Theatre

Written by Bertold Brecht

Adapted by Denise Mina

Directed by Murat Daltaban

Never accept charity instead of your rights” – this exceptionally powerful excerpt from Denise Mina’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s socialist satire had the potential to solidify a lacerating piece of Scottish theatre but instead sits as the dribbles of a once splendid cocktail, knocked to the floor.

We are no longer following an aristocrat in Finland, no, far from it – we’re right on our back doorstep. With Scotland’s cherished Elaine C. Smith taking the gender-switch role of Mrs Puntila, the drunken Scottish landowner who adores one thing above a drink – a nightcap. Her faithful chauffer Matti, the quintessentially clever sober in this master-servant comedy could potentially find himself betrothed to Puntila’s daughter Eva, in place of her fiancé the Attache.

Updating this socialist satire, Mina desires to paint Mrs Puntilla as the lush in our lives, usually an ‘aunt’, who has no relation to us whatsoever. Ideally, Puntilla should be the Jekyll & Hyde, the opportunistic split-self, but Murat Daltaban’s interpretation of Smith’s character casts too wide a net. In reality, the distinction between the bitter, callous and cold (sober) Puntilla isn’t discernible from the inebriate. Unengaging, Smith feels stagnant throughout much of the production, disjointed from the room. Largely down to Daltaban’s direction, structure seems devoid for the most part, scenes rolling into the other, broken by musical introductions. Interludes of sorts, which become indecipherable in a cauldron of noise, poor audio quality and repetitious scoring which tunes the ears out.

Who does make a positive impression is Lyceum favourite Steven McNicoll. Instantly a connection forges with driver Matti, it’s difficult not to fall for his witty cynicism or deft control of the stage. Bouncingly lyrical in attitude, McNicoll achieves the only firm laughs this evening, which is still a stretch. A production of extremes, McNicoll sells the mood but sits in stark contrast to the deep-rooted gravity of the nihilistic social injustice performances. The two extremes find no correlation, the humour isn’t landing, which costs earnest tonal changes to feel abrupt, uncertain and, while powerful, merely skin deep.

And this is precisely where Brecht’s original text understood the exaggeration, the utmost extreme, of farcical nonsense. The satire has two attacks – a precise scalpel, or a blundering hammer. Uncomfortably alienating, Mina’s adaptation attempts to spin the plates, making peculiar decisions across the board. Principally, the script adaptations have merit, especially with Scot’s language, but characterisation falls flat, Joanne McGuiness never managing more than a furrowed brow of confusion, until a burst of aggression toward the Act 2 closing.

It all comes too late, as the satire dies, the partygoers are shuffling to their feet, booking taxis and hunting for the nearest chippy. They’re done, ready to go home, and the brutally biting political commentary hits, but not nearly as viscerally as it ought. Stood, a self-proclaimed owner of the Scottish lands, boozed up and arrogant, Puntilla rides through the groaning feast below, Flower of Scotland blaring, a symbol of the aristocracy who preach the beauty of the land they violate. That line, on how charity isn’t an excuse to ignore basic rights, is perhaps one of the sincerest and accurate sentences theatre will utter this year, and while you may forget much of this production, do not forget these examples of Mina’s conceptual ability. 

It is here, atop the moving staircase, where Tom piper’s design work once again elevates a production, this time keeping it from rock bottom. Reflecting the comedy of profession era, noted in the large dog masks as the production opens, Piper’s design is stripped back. A bare-bones set, relying on the raw metal and woodwork to communicate purpose, this is a skeleton of a stage where the cast are its muscle – and the gym was sorely needed. It feels vast, hollow, ravaged, which should (the operative word here) be symbolic of the promises made by Puntila, but it just feels empty.

 A fizz without bubbles, a gin without lime, Mrs Puntilla and Her Man Matti has vision, intent and talent, which are put to squander. Dull satire damages an entire production, one which bolsters such incredible statements and diverse talent. Mina’s adaptation has teeth, razor blades protruding from the gums, but these are brandished, rather than used. Instead, a gentle gnawing around thick, juicy satire on social class is left unscathed, and lacking humour. 

Mrs Puntila and her Man Matti runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatred until March 21st. Tickets are available from: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/mrs-puntila-and-her-man-matti

Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Written by Isobel McArthur after Jane Austen

Directed by Paul Brotherston

Ignore everything you may have thought you knew about Jane Austen’s literary classic Pride & Prejudice; Isobel McArthur is about to change your entire perception. It takes a vision to reinvigorate a text, especially one with as countless adaptations, stiffness and dust that Pride & Prejudice conjure to a general audience, but Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) brings a freshness to the crumpled pages.

Every story is made up of the background lives upon which is builds a foundation. Sometimes, these backdrop characters form mere scenery, other times the stories wouldn’t cope without them – as can you truly have romance without clean linen? McArthur’s loving retelling of the Bennet sisters lives, and their Mother’s resolution to secure their future is told by six women, all of whom are the cleaners, bedmaids and keepers of the family home. For who has a better impression of what is going on upstairs, but those downstairs?

Taking on the mantle of adapting Austen’s piece for comedy is a feat taken on by many, with few succeeding. Lizzie Bennet has found herself an online vlogger, fighting zombies and on more than one occasion, no longer human. To not only infuse rich, distinctly West Coast humour, with a bubbling blend of gutter sniping insults, a wit beyond measure but perform the roles of Mrs Bennet and Colin Firth Mr Darcy too, well no bloody wonder Isobel McArthur looks proud at the standing ovation the production deserved.

Bo-Jo has arrived, and this might be the one time the buffooning Etonesque ‘charm’ has appeal, and if that doesn’t sell Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s performance of Charles Bingley then evidently recognising brilliance is a difficulty of yours. Manifesting four distinctly unique characters, with a tremendous helping of hot air, Jarrett-Scott finds a balance in excessive physicality, but still retains an emotional connection; particularly with Charlotte Lucas. Far from alone, equality exists between the six women’s role, with Tori Burgess bringing as much effervescent energy as Jarret-Scott.

This good ole’-fashioned stance of feminist storytelling finds comfort in its resolute cast of talents, who are living for their respective parts. As evident as the parody may be, the care in Austen’s text is equally clear – Meghan Tyler, evokes a brassier Elizabeth Bennet, but no less human. If you had any wonder if the writer of Crocodile Fever’s performance capability could match her written, from the outset Tyler’s characterisation makes it unambiguous how nimble her skill is in producing a character and shaking the audience’s pockets for every last dribble of laughter.

And that’s precisely what this is; fun. A collect of gags and laughs, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is merriment at its hungover messy best. Finding a balance in larger than life chaos, with a ripple of dramatic integrity – there’s a delicate keel which tips in the smallest of ways. Pacing slackens towards the Act 1 climax, where a false ending of sorts crescendos in bombastic energy, to make way for a quick, narrative scene which drops momentum, even if it does close with a banging song choice. 

Thing is, what sort of party would this be without music? We’ve got finger foods, drama and wine – so surely the tunes must follow? A convoluted mixture of karaoke hits on shuffle, Michael John McCarthy’s legendary sound design and musical supervision achieve the lacing of pop classics with period literature without irking. It’s a release of sorts, the way only music can achieve; that just as the volatile nature of a scene grows, the only possible emotional release is to belt it all out – a task Christina Gordon’s Jane relishes.

If you’re having a peculiar sense of déjà vu, designer Ana Inés Jabares – Pita’s previous Lyceum production Twelfth Night seems to have been the benchmark for McArthur’s production. Paul Brotherston directs the space well, utilising the limitations of the venue, becoming remarkably inventive on occasion, enabling the six to showcase Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography, which sways from a movement-based to a more comical farce.

Now, despite what your English teacher may have once notified you; you’re allowed to dislike Pride & Prejudice or Austen. In particular, a fault not with the novel, but the exclusivity and absurd purity fans of the Period genre adhere to. In truth, the story is a paradigm of romantic comedy, a wonderful example of the genre and the disservice many adaptations do to the ‘image’ of Austen’s work. Isobel McArthur, on the other hand, has a canny ability to isolate an issue of class and place the servants in the storytellers armchair.

McArthur tears up the novel and lovingly binds the pages back together with chewing gum, plasters and a few choice vino stains. There is tremendous respect in the art of parody, even if they do pick apart the narrative issues, heavyhandedly highlighting how far (if at all) we have come from ‘antiquated’ beliefs. Invigorating a precious text, unafraid to let its mascara run while slapping on rose-tinted specs, and infusing it with plenty of craic; Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is sort of marvellous

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until February 15th. Tickets are available from: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/pride-and-prejudice-sort-of

Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic