The new figurehead of one of Scotland’s most historic arts venues is to take shows out of its Victorian home for the first time under a radical rethink aimed at helping Edinburgh stake a claim as a home of year-round world-class theatre.
David Greig, the Royal Lyceum’s artistic director, has vowed to wake the “sleeping giant” of Edinburgh’s culture scene outwith the summer festivals by staging work in different venues and unusual spaces, as well as embracing different art forms at its home.
He wants the venue to shed its “very respectable and very establishment” image by introducing new cabaret-style variety nights, staging “risky and challenging” new work, and establishing the Lyceum as a “democratic space”.
Audiences will get the chance to explore the 1883 landmark in intimate new shows and events around the building, or perform in shows themselves with 200 members of the public to be cast in Greig’s debut programme.
It will feature the return of This Life star Daniela Nardini to the stage in Scotland for the first time in a decade to take on a comedy role, a brand new play which will bring to life the historic encounters between John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots, and A Number, a science-fiction drama about cloning.
International artists will be part of the Lyceum’s programme for the first time outwith the Edinburgh Festival, with two Australian companies bringing a haunting new adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s chilling novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Leading Scottish theatre figures working with Greig will include playwright Douglas Maxwell, creation of recent National Theatre of Scotland hit Yer Granny, who is returning with “booze-soaked fairytale” Charlie Sonata, long-time collaborator Cora Bissett, who will direct Nardini in hit west-end comedy Jumpy, and Dominic Hill, artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, who will be at the helm of Noel Coward farce Hay Fever.
Greig’s first programme, which launches in August, also includes a revival of John McGrath’s iconic “ceilidh-play” The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, and a Victorian re-imagining of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Greig - whose first programme includes collaborations with both the Edinburgh International Festival and the science festival - said his vision for the Lyceum was inspired by the idea of Edinburgh as “the Athens of the North.” One of the first plays to be staged under his tenure will be the ancient Greek story The Suppliant Women.
He said: “The Greek vision of a theatre was a place where you came together. Edinburgh is a city of politics, law, science and enlightenment. It needs a public sphere, where we can gather and encounter each other, not behind the avatars of social media, but as humans.
“The public sphere is under strain in Scotland. I’ve tried to construct a programme in which every show is bringing something into the open that we need to talk about.
“The building we have is wonderful and this programme is about using it as an engine of entertainment and discussion. But I’m aware we need to go out into Edinburgh and explore spaces of different sizes. We can’t only play to a very set audience who come from a limited number of postcodes. Somewhere like Leith is a prime example. There are spaces and audiences that I’d love to take work to.
“I would love the Lyceum to be a sort of force-multiplier of energy in Edinburgh. I want a feeling that we’re not just a theatre. If a theatre is really ambitious it can be a really great engine for culture generally and a place where all the different art forms can be represented.
“Edinburgh is a bit of a sleeping giant culturally. People have a sense that culture happens for one month and for the rest of the year is very quiet. I’d love the Lyceum to be part of changing that, having an ambition for the city and saying: ‘Come on, there’s all this talk that we’re a capital city in Europe. Let’s live up to it.’
“The Lyceum has this nickname as ‘the old lady of Grindlay Street.’ There is a facade that is very respectable and very establishment.
“But I think all the best theatres are about the bringing together of the rambunctious, the scabrous, the satirical, the profane and the challenging with the respectable.
“I just want the old lady to unbutton her top two buttons, maybe have a gin and tonic and a fag, and just get a little bit more outspoken and challenging. I think the audiences in Edinburgh are really ready for it.”
Greig, who unveiled 12 shows in his initial line-up, admitted he had delayed the impact of £700,000 cuts in the venue’s funding over the next year as part of an “risky and experimental” season aimed at making the case for the venue to be producing theatre “worthy of a capital city.”
The celebrated playwright has urged the Scottish Government and the Creative Scotland to rethink future support for the nation’s theatres, warning that they were “teetering on the brink” due to a lack of certainty over future funding.
He raised the prospects of a talent drain out of Scotland unless a mounting crisis is addressed and the Royal Lyceum having to stage “a season of one-man shows” in future.
Under Greig’s vision, it would instead become a “big city theatre” regularly collaborating with other venues around Britain and Europe - while creating a public space for “challenge and thought” in Scotland.
Greig added: “There was no way I was going to join the Lyceum to do less. That was absolutely of no interest to me.
“The central point for me is that the Lyceum should and could and must be a producing big-city theatre. I am determined we are going to be that.”
NEW LYCEUM PROGRAMME IN FULL
Wind Resistance: Singer Karine Polwart’s debut work for theatre is inspired by the flight of pink-footed geese from Greenland to a protected peatbog in Midlothian.
The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil: Joe Douglas’s acclaimed production for Dundee Rep returns to the Lyceum for the first time since 1973.
A Number: Zinnie Harris directs Caryl Churchill’s acclaimed sci-fi story about cloning and its consequences.
The Suppliant Women: David Greig’s reunites the team behind his 2013 Fringe hit The Events to revive the 25000-year-old Greek play.
Jumpy: Daniela Nardini returns to The Lyceum for the first time in 22 years to head up the hit comedy.
The Winter’s Tale: The Old Vic’s Max Webster tackles William Shakespeare’s timeless tale of love, betrayal, magic, and misfortune.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Edinburgh-born Anthony Neilson masterminds a magical Victorian version of the Lewis Carroll classic.
Hay Fever: Dominic Howard, artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, takes the helm of Noel Coward’s 1924 dark comedy.
Charlie Sonata: Playwright Douglas Maxwell presents his “booze-soaked fairytale about redemption.”
Glory on Earth: Linda Mclean’s play is inspired by the real-life encounters between Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox.
The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other: More than 100 members of public are expected to be cast in the one-act play, which focuses on a day in the life of a town square and has more than 450 characters.
Sunday Variety Nights: Musicians, writers, poets and theatre-makers take centre stage at the Lyceum for a series of new cabaret-style shows overseen by Jenny Lindsay.
Picnic at Hanging Rock: The UK premiere of a new adaptation of the chilling 1967 novel about the disappearance of a group of girls and their school-teacher in the Australian bush.
The new Royal Lyceum season runs from August 2016 till June 2017.