Ron Butlin

Ron Butlin

Dear Lyceum Theatre,

I hope this finds you well. It must feel pretty strange and lonely in there, behind your vast glass frontage and heavy stonework. Probably you were surprised when the front and stage doors were unexpectedly locked a while back and have remained locked ever since. Surprised, then shocked. You must feel abandoned. Such stillness and silence within, like you are holding your breath until – and do you sometimes imagine hearing it? – the doors are opened once more.

I wish I could tell you when that will be. Not next week, I’m afraid, nor next month. The beginning of next year? Well, fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I am writing to send you greetings from the outside. And also, to ask for your help.

It’s not easy to describe what’s happening out here, but put briefly, humans are sick. Hardly news, you might say, having witnessed so many psycho-dramas played on your stage! But this is very different.

You could say there is a touch of theatre in the life we are now living. We are encouraged to don masks to go into the streets and take the opportunity to dance round every stranger who comes our way. From time to time, real eccentrics band together in protest for the right to become sick.

And where did this sickness come from? A mysterious virus that appeared out of nowhere, as if the Earth had finally had it with human beings.

Right from the start we have done our best for the planet, trying to help it make the most of itself. Beginning as hunters and gatherers we became farmers, then went on to build amazing cities and roads. During this last century we’ve upped our game, saturating the ground with chemicals to force better growth, treating plants and animals to protect them from harmful pests. We bring the earth’s precious resources into the light of day; we organise the forests and waterways, the seas and skies to make them more efficient. In short, the earth hasn’t a brain so we have done the thinking for it. Long ago in its evolution, Nature tried size, then gave up on dinosaurs; more recently it tried intelligence and now wants to give up on us.

The virus responds to our well-intentioned labour and ingenuity by seeking out those already damaged, and killing them off; some people find they are no longer able to breathe, others lose their sense of taste or smell, and no longer wish to eat. Nature’s message could not be clearer.

Now, here is where you can help us.

In the theatre, from front of house to back stage, from attendant lord to Hamlet, everyone must play their part, or the play itself founders. Everyone needs and depends on everyone else and is involved in a common aim. The coming together of it all, creates genuine magic.

Should something go wrong – a missed cue or a forgotten line – the other players will improvise and help the actor get back on track. Most theatre actors are fine actors, especially at the Lyceum, but each production needs to be worked over and over before it is ready for performance. The greatest threat to any production is a bad director.

The worst directors – never at the Lyceum, of course! – are most likely arrogant, ignorant, incompetent and with a sense of entitlement that is willing to sacrifice the entire production to maintain their self-image. Sadly, out here in the sick world, the worst of our current leaders seem to have modelled themselves on the worst of directors.

Electioneering and political rallies can be pure theatre of the worst kind. There are honourable politicians with honourable aims, of course, and then there are the others strutting their stuff to charm us and deceive, promising whatever it is we think we want. We need to learn to choose better leaders. Will you teach us not to fall for their stage tricks and deceptions, whether they are playing an orange-faced God or a cheery buffoon?

If the climate scientists are correct, we human beings must mend our ways and rethink our relationship with the planet we live on. There no time left for rehearsals, for second chances, for hopes that we’ll get it right on the night. The night is fast approaching.

From the moment your doors are unlocked, can you remind us that every living thing on earth depends on every other living thing; that human beings are only one species among many and all are interdependent. We can no longer continue hogging centre stage and acting as if we owned the whole theatre. Please, inspire us not to go back to our old ways of raping land, sea and air, plant and animal life. Touch us with your magic. We so desperately need it, if the show is to go on.

Meanwhile, take care and stay safe. See you soon, let’s hope.

Warmest greetings, Ron Butlin