Banned play set for stage debut at old Royal High

L-R 
Susan Worsfold, Jo Clifford and Catrin Sheridan.


 Pic: Neil Hanna
L-R Susan Worsfold, Jo Clifford and Catrin Sheridan. Pic: Neil Hanna
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A PLAY banned by one of the Capital’s leading theatres is to finally see the light of day two decades later – in a the old Royal High School.

The Calton Hill building will be transformed into a temporary theatre to allow award-winning playwright Jo Clifford’s work to get its world premiere.

War in America, which was deemed “too offensive” by the Royal Lyceum Theatre when the script was submitted by the writer in 1996, will be one of the first productions to be tackled by a new company for emerging acting talent in the city.

Written a year before the demise of John Major’s Conservative government and set in the near future, the play is billed as “a hard-hitting portrait of a degenerate European democracy, rife with corruption, hypocrisy, division and distrust, set against the backdrop of a religious war in America”.

The city council, which owns the 1829 neoclassical building, has given permission for the play to go ahead in what was set up as the “debating chamber” ahead of the 1979 devolution referendum.

The building, which has been lying largely empty since the school relocated in 1968, has been used by the Edinburgh Art Festival in recent years.

The city council announced six years ago that it had agreed a long-term lease of the building to allow it to become a hotel.

However, the plans were rejected due to concerns about the impact of two “Inca-style extensions” on either side of the landmark.

Councillors later approved a bid by independent music school, St Mary’s, to take over the site.

But St Mary’s currently has no right to the school and hotel developers have drawn up fresh plans.

War in America is being performed by the Attic Company – which was set up by the trust which runs the Festival and King’s theatres – after a long-standing partnership between director Susan Worsfold and Ms Clifford, who has written more than 80 plays.

The playwright said: “I wrote the play and didn’t hear anything from them for ages until eventually they said it was too shocking and they were worried about losing their subscription audience if it went ahead.

“It all happened at a very difficult and unhappy time, because for years no theatre would commission me to write an original play. I’d been approaching the Lyceum for years to try to get something from them.

“I’d forgotten all about the play. I felt it was just awful. But when I read it again earlier this year I thought it was really good and up to-the-minute.

“One of the things I imagine in the play is an almost terminal decay of Westminster party politics, which we’re living through now, and a state of civil war in America, which we’re very much on the edge of. I thought ‘My God, I saw all this coming’.

“When the old Royal High School was suggested for the play it felt like an incredible opportunity.”

Cat Sheridan, creative producer at the Attic Collective, said: “The council was really positive about it.

“At the end of the day, it’s a big, beautiful building.”

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk