Thomson’s Final Curtain

Mark Thomsons final production, as artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
Mark Thomsons final production, as artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
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‘ONE of my very first ‘Dear Mr Thomson’ letters was along the lines of...

‘Dear Mr Thomson,

I’ve just seen your production of Julius Caesar for the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, and I am writing to inform you that they did not have three-piece suits in the period of the play.

Mark Thomson, the out-going artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company is reflecting on his first production at the venue as he prepares for the opening of his last as director, The Iliad.

In 13 years, Thomson has overseen almost 100 productions, 27 of which he directed himself, and he is musing on the vagaries of keeping audiences happy. He continues, “But my favourite ‘Dear Mr Thomson’ letter ever, came after we did a Beggar’s Opera with Matthew Lenton and Vanishing Point, with an indie band on stage.

“It was a very radical Beggars Opera and there were people leaving, people cheering, the critics gave it from one to five stars, and it split people across the board.

“Anyway, the letter began...

Dear Mr Thomson, I am a 70-year-old subscriber...

“I thought, ‘Here we go’, but it went on...

I would just like to tell you that I had one of the best nights at the theatre I have ever had in a long time at your Beggars Opera.

They say you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and that certainly appears to true when it comes to programming the Capital’s acclaimed Rep.

“What I’ve tried to do is be sure that every season, there is something on stage for everybody in Edinburgh,” says Thomson.

“You don’t have to come to all six plays if you don’t want to, nor should you. I know a lot of people will pick and choose, so it has been very important for me that there is a very eclectic buffet of work to choose from.”

During his reign, Thomson has treated theatre-goers to works that have ranged from love stories to thrillers, satires to farce. For a boy from Harthill, it’s been some journey, he admits.

“When I first walked into the auditorium and saw the chandelier and the architecture, so beautiful and grand, I did think, ‘How did a boy from Harthill get in here?’

“I’m saying that playfully and also truthfully because there had been a big journey for me to be here.”

It’s safe to say the building has grown on him in the intervening years.

“The Lyceum is full of paradoxes, it is the intimidating grand lady you’re not sure you ought to go to dinner with and it’s the place that was built for you, to make you feel special.

“It looks from the outside like it has everything to do with tradition and heritage, yet it contains subversive transgender Faust, sweary-mouthed gangsters, and Tele-tubby -land As You Like Its.”

From tonight, the Gods of Olympus hold court as award-winning Scottish playwright Chris Hannan’s take on Homer’s Iliad receives its world premiere.

Arguably the most influential epic poem ever written, it tells of the tragic and bloody climax to the ten-year siege of Troy; the darkest episode in the Trojan War.

“What being here has allowed me to do is engage with some of the greatest playwriting minds that have ever lived,” says Thomson.

“I’ve been able to do classics, Shakespeare, Beckett, Pirandello... I’ve also been able to work with the likes of Des Dillon, DC Jackson, and Ian Rankin, so I’ve had a rare chance to commune with writers both living and dead.”

Thomson’s era comes to an end when the company’s 50th season closes later this year when his successor David Greig takes the reins.

“You leave for one of three reasons,” says Thomson.

“One, you are angry and fed up with the place. Two, you find something else. The third is more illusive... about things having run their natural course, and that’s me.

“I never thought I’d be here 13 years and I need a rest.

“The plan is, there is no plan. That terrifies me and excites me in equal measure.”

The Iliad, Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, tonight-14 May, 7.30pm (matiness 2pm), £13-£29.50, 0131-248 4848