Iain Robertson is Taking Over The Asylum at Royal Lyceum

Iain Robertson. Picture: Comp
Iain Robertson. Picture: Comp
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‘YOU don’t have to be mad to work here. But it helps...”

Ready Eddie McKenna is bent on taking over the asylum. Or to be precise, the double-glazing salesman is on a mission to resurrect St Jude’s defunct hospital radio station. In doing so, he turns more than the ramshackle station upside down.

Based on the hit BBC TV series, Donna Franceschild’s Taking Over The Asylum opens at the Royal Lyceum tomorrow evening.

First broadcast in 1994, the BAFTA-winning series starred Rebus’ Ken Stott and a young David Tennant in his first major television role.

Returning to those scripts, Franceschild has updated the story, which is set in a Glasgow psychiatric hospital, to the present day.

Mark Thomson, artistic director of the Royal Lyceum says, “Donna Franceschild’s fantastic TV series has been made into a piece of theatre that is funny, moving and brave. It’s a story of people who sometimes fall under the radar but who are remarkable and worthy of our attention.”

Iain Roberston plays Ready Eddie, the whisky-drinking wannabe DJ who meets his match at St Jude’s, a hospital peopled by 19-year-old bipolar Campbell, schizophrenic electronic genius Fergus, obsessive compulsive Rosalie and the elusive, self-harming Francine.

“Do you know, they don’t call it self-harm in hospital,” says Robertson, best known as Craig Stevenson in the BBC series Sea Of Souls.

“We had a talk from this person during rehearsals, they explained that they call it self-hurt, because we all self-harm to a degree. For example, when I am very, very anxious, I grind my teeth. I don’t even know I’m doing it. Other people pick at their fingers or bite their nails... so everybody, to some degree, self-harms.”

As Eddie and the inmates of St Jude’s strive to fulfil their dreams of being accepted for who they are and what they might be, Taking Over The Asylum challenges our perceptions of people’s mental health issues.

“The main change from the telly series is that it has been brought into current times,” says Robertson.

“I like Donna’s decision to to that because by setting it in current times, she is saying, ‘Don’t write this off as a problem of the early 90s, when the TV series was set’.”

If that all sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry, the piece has also been described as a ‘hilarious and heartfelt adaptation,’ featuring a R&B sound-track that includes Soul Man, Rainy Night in Georgia and Can’t Get Next To You.

Robertson, who also played Gash in Rab C Nesbitt, recalls, “In the rehearsal room we always went for the truth and made a really serious piece of work. Then we previewed it and people laughed... we remembered, ‘That’s right! It’s a comedy’. That’s one of the reasons it’s going down so well. We are not going out every night saying, ‘Laugh at us, we’re dead funny.’ We’re just playing the truth of the scene and the audience are not just laughing at the jokes, but at the sad truth of the piece.

“Donna put it brilliantly. I have recently become a massive fan of the author Kurt Vonnegut, his writing has been described as a bitter pill with a sweet centre. Donna likes to think that her writing is the opposite. It’s a sweet pill with a bitter centre. One minute you’re having a great time, laughing away, and then she hits you with a bit of truth that knocks you sideways.”

And Robertson, who last appeared at the Lyceum in Confessions Of A Justified Sinner in 2009, is excited to be back in the Capital. “I can’t wait to be back on the Lyceum stage,” he says. “There’s something about playing the Lyceum that’s just like getting a big cuddle.”

Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, until 6 April, 7.45pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14.50-£29, 0131-248 4848