Letter from Sarah
All of us who are lucky enough to work with you (in you? on you? or in my case across the road from you) are missing you at the moment, but for me there’s an extra knife-twist of poignancy as – and I really didn’t want to have to tell you like this – I’m leaving you. Please rest assured that it’s not you, it’s me… but that’s a different letter.
My head was first turned by your velvet plush and gilt-edges back in January 2005 on a pilgrimage to see David Tennant, whose boyish vulnerability and cheekbones straight out of the knife drawer had set my heart a-flutter in the TV series Blackpool. Six months after leaving university, I had just started my first theatre job at The Crucible in Sheffield and was learning the unique joy of working at a producing theatre where you get to see a production grow from the first readthrough to first night (and in The Crucible’s case get to meet a lot of snooker players, who were pretty much lost on me). Taking my seat for Look Back in Anger, I was immediately enchanted by the snug jewel box of an auditorium, although my attention was quickly high-jacked by David in his pyjamas and the titian-haired smouldering of Kelly Reilly. Given this formative experience I took it as a good omen that on my first day working at The Lyceum, some ten years later, I noticed a cross-stitch of David Tennant on the mantlepiece of my office. Legend had it that David himself had sewn it although I later learned that this is apocryphal.
My first day working at The Lyceum was also the first day of rehearsal for Waiting for Godot, the star-studded opener to the 50th anniversary season. I got to introduce myself to the other staff alongside Bill Paterson and Brian Cox while blushing furiously. My last day working for The Lyceum - that is to say the last day in the office alongside my colleagues rather than from my kitchen on Microsoft Teams while stopping a lively toddler from climbing onto the table top – was spent writing emails to customers to inform them of show cancellations. Not the ending I would have chosen.
While I admire the generosity of theatres putting recordings of their stage performances online while we can’t gather in the stalls, I have to say for me they just don’t replicate the thrill of the live experience. A synthetic methadone high for the true theatre junkie. Instead I’ve been having to satisfy myself with the theatre of the mind so I’ve been recalling some of my favourite onstage moments from my time at The Lyceum. In chronological order they are:
1. The dizzying aerial love-scene between Nancy and Kitty set to Nick Cave’s heart-rending ‘Into my Arms’ in Tipping the Velvet.
2. Getting a tour of long moth-balled backstage spaces of The Lyceum with the Youth Theatre’s chilling production of Hidden.
3. The smell of the peat-fire and the splash of rain in the opening moments of The Weir.
4. The rallying cry of a community chorus singing ‘Give equal power to all women’ in The Suppliant Women.
5. The total blackout in Picnic at Hanging Rock when you could feel every hair on the back of your neck stand up one by one.
6. The night when the breakfast trolley crashed to the floor in Hay Fever and the much-missed Pauline Knowles brilliantly deadpanned the line ‘This haddock’s disgusting’ (in the script) after scraping it off the floor (not in the script).
7. Sandy Grierson reading a shopping list in Charlie Sonata imbuing the line ‘We need Comfort’ (the fabric softener) with such pathos.
8. Mary, Queen of Scots and her lady’s maids dancing to Christine and the Queens in Glory on Earth.
9. The heart-stopping operatic aria in Cockpit.
10. Lewis and Glen’s kiss at the denouement of Love Song for Lavender Menace to the sweaty pulse of disco beats.
11. Every minute of Karine Polwart’s exquisite Wind Resistance.
12. Ti Green’s innovative climbing frame set for Touching the Void.
13. The pure unalloyed joy of Pride and Prejudice* *sort of which seemed to have looked inside my twelve-year-old geek girl heart and made a show out of what it found there.
But of course, it isn’t just the moments under the lights which make a theatre. What I will really miss about Grindlay Street are the people; the raggle-taggle crew of the good ship Lyceum – extravagantly talented production staff, passionately committed educators, meticulously organised stage managers, visionary designers and everyone in-between. Each person a vital element to ensure the show must go on while also being bakers of cakes left out to share by the kettles, gossip-mongers, press night raconteurs and quick-change room comedians.
I’ll be back Lyceum, with no backstage pass this time, but as just another theatre fan, sinking into a red velvet seat and feeling that tingle of anticipation as the lights go down.
Yours with love and gratitude,
Tags: From Audience