I got to know you first of all from your stalls and circle, and it’s still a thrill for me when I walk across town on the night of a performance, entering your foyer, making for the bar, where the buzz has already started. People are perusing their programmes, ordering their interval drinks, chatting to each other about the production ahead of us all. The last play I saw was ‘Pride and Prejudice (sort of)’; before that ‘An Edinburgh Christmas Carol’. Both were amazing, life-affirming, affecting – all those words you want to see on the advertising hoardings.
Entering your auditorium proper, I find my eyes drawn towards the ceiling. Such a gorgeous large space, and yet decidedly intimate. Upstairs there’s little sense of downstairs, while downstairs who knows what’s behind you – or above you. At the interval I’ll ascend or descend, seeking friends in the different bars, comparing notes about the show’s first half between sips of a drink or scoops of ice-cream, guessing what’s still to come.
How long have I been coming here? Let me count the years. I grew up in Fife. Theatre trips were rare, visits to Edinburgh rarer still. So it was probably undergraduate days. I hung out with an arty crowd. They started magazines, ran poetry evenings, formed bands, wrote and performed in plays and short films. Now and again we might deign to visit The Lyceum rather than our own Bedlam Theatre. We could see Beckett done properly there, or Arthur Miller, or Shakespeare - lifted from our bedsits or the university library and transported to exciting new locations where words sang and miracles often did happen.
I remember attending a workshop for budding young playwrights. I also remember being hopeless. I was much older when the BBC asked me to think about penning a radio play. I enjoyed that, so wrote another. Both were set in eighteenth-century Edinburgh and introduced me to the company of actors, though I didn’t think to offer either play to an actual theatre. I was more interested in my next novel, where I could play producer, director, costume designer and set designer as well as writing the script – playing God, in other words. A few more years passed before the artistic director of The Lyceum, Mark Thomson, said to me one day over coffee: ‘could a contemporary whodunit work on stage?’ The answer to that simple question required us to co-write a play called ‘Dark Road’, which had its world premiere in September 2013. Finally I was a playwright of sorts, thanks to you. Finally, I found myself able to explore behind your scenes. Weeks were spent in the rehearsal room (in a building directly opposite the theatre). The actors worked their way through the script time and time again, until the words sounded natural rather than recited. The stage designer showed us his elaborate ideas – and went on to make them work. The costume and sound designers did the same. We tweaked the script and tweaked it some more until it was time to cross the road into the theatre, where the stage had become our set and the actors could do it all again, all of us nervous as opening night loomed. (It was fine, and the bar takings were immense.)
This whole process was such a privilege for me – as well as an eye-opener. When you watch a play, you probably aren’t aware of the work that has gone into staging it. Nor should you be, if the play is doing its job. But to peer behind the curtain was to open up another world to me, a world of many unseen professionals who work tirelessly to help make the magic happen. Without whom, in fact, it would not stand a chance of happening.
I can’t wait to visit you again, Lyceum. We all deserve a little magic, and great storytelling, and those wow moments only theatre can produce. Here’s to many more nights in your darkness, a darkness from which emanates pure joyous light.
Yours in thrall,