Leitheatre Takin’ over the Asylum at Festival

Leitheatre in Takin' Over The Asylum. Pic: Comp
Leitheatre in Takin' Over The Asylum. Pic: Comp
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Donna Franceschild’s Takin’ Over The Asylum was a six-part BBC series that first aired in the mid-Nineties and famously gave a young David Tennant his big break.

But as well as representing the former Doctor Who actor’s first major telly role, this hilarious and profoundly moving play, which also starred Rebus actor Ken Stott, was hugely acclaimed, winning BAFTAs and Royal Television Society (RTS) awards in 1995.

Last year, Franceschild updated the script to the present day in a well-received stage co-production by Edinburgh’s Lyceum and Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, directed by Mark Thomson.

Tomorrow night, Leitheatre get in on the act with their own take on Takin’ Over The Asylum, which is an important production for the company, as they will be staging it in the Festival Theatre’s new studio space – and in doing so become the first amateur theatre company to use the venue.

“We’re hoping to attract a different audience,” says Leitheatre secretary, Lynne Morris, who is also assistant director and stage manager for Takin’ Over the Asylum.

“In the past, we’ve mainly had loyal patrons of the club – which we don’t want to lose – but we’d also like to see new people, the kind who go to the theatre all the time, coming along.”

The 60-strong company, who have a reputation for tackling works other amateur groups shy away from, formed in 1946 and were runners-up in last year’s Evening News Drama Awards for Best Production with A Wee Touch ‘O Class.

Takin’ Over The Asylum represents another ambitious move for the company, in that many will have seen the play performed on a much larger scale at the Lyceum barely 12 months ago.

The signature line of the play is “We are loonies. And we are proud!”

It tells the story of a handful of patients in a Glasgow mental facility and reveals hope and joy in the fragile beauty of the human heart.

A new hospital radio DJ is brought in to raise the morale of the patients, but ends up arguably belonging with them.

The DJ, Eddie, has nothing to hand other than some Sixties soul vinyl and, at its best, this is the theatrical equivalent of good soul music.

When ‘Ready Eddie’ McKenna, Soul Survivor and replacement double-glazing salesman, arrives to re-launch a defunct hospital radio station in a psychiatric unit, he turns more than the ramshackle station upside-down.

The whisky-drinking would-be DJ meets the irrepressible Campbell, whose dreams seem untouched by reality, the hyper-organised Rosalie, who is fighting a one-woman war against germs, the electronic genius Fergus, whose voices tell him he’s stupid, and the brittle and self-destructive Francine.

While the patients battle with perception and prejudice as much as illness, Eddie — armed only with his soul music record collection — transforms their lives as well as his own.

Takin’ over the Asylum, The Studio at Festival Theatre, Potterrow, tomorrow, until Saturday, 7.30pm, £10 (£9), 0131-529 6000