Letter from Viv

Letter from Viv

I was brought up not a million miles from Stratford upon Avon. It was not a big surprise that a few of our teachers were unashamedly passionate about both Shakespeare’s work and being part of a live audience. So they organised theatre visits for us. It was one of the few, highbrow, local experiences that was ‘cool’ in the swinging sixties. I was hooked by the first play I saw in Stratford (‘Henry IV’), from an extremely uncomfortable bench seat in the ‘gods’. My lifelong love of live theatre was deepened by enthralling, landmark productions there, directed and performed by theatrical legends. David Warner’s ‘Hamlet’ and Paul Scofield’s ‘King Lear’ mesmerised me. I could not believe that live theatre could be so thrilling, savage, visceral, emotionally exhausting and transformative. I loved the risk-taking element of live theatre. The audience might boo or walk out. There is a dangerous ‘feel’ to a live play, which film lacks: someone might forget lines, or ‘corpse’, or actually stab someone in one of the complex, choreographed sword fights. All those things have happened on stage, in front of me and not to spear-carriers. They involved icons such as Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Ian Richardson. Real blood flowed!

I have always loved the frisson of excitement when the curtain goes up or the lights go down and you hold your breath. It could be a defining moment in someone’s cultural experiences and even in theatrical history. It was just so with the ‘Marat Sade’, Peter Brook’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and one of the first exhilarating performances of ‘Black Watch’, which I saw in the Drill Hall in Forrest Road.

When I started coming to the Lyceum after moving to Edinburgh eleven years ago, I was as wide-eyed, open to experience and ready to engage with productions as ever. I still wonder how ‘Touching the Void’ captured so authentically the sense of awe and staggeringly bleak remoteness of parts of the Andes. We shivered with the extreme cold, risk-taking and stark challenges of the climb. We shrank from cutting the rope, our teeth chattering through the chilling aftermath. Such icy brilliance! In contrast, ‘Pride and Prejudice (Sort of)’ had a scintillating lightness of touch and quick wit, which was an utter joy to watch. Your productions are such a rich reflection of the reality of life as a roller coaster ride, with moments of humour, stillness, frenzy, deprivation, excess, despair, hope and simple humanity.

I desperately wanted my grandchildren to have a taste of the thrill of it all. I hoped that they would love the experience in their own right and see that their Nonna was not barking mad to spend so much time in the dark in theatres. I booked seats for us all to see ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ at the Lyceum at Christmas in 2018. The children sat in a box, wide-eyed, totally spellbound and almost disbelieving, when Peter swung effortlessly on to the adjacent box. They were entranced by a sprinkling of fairy dust and colourful, magical memories, which is exactly the legacy I want to leave them.

Thank you, Lyceum!

Viv Phillips

Tags: From Audience