Royal Lyceum Theatre – 24/25 Season Launch

The Recs’ Laurence Wareing looks ahead to Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre’s forthcoming season

Necessity is the mother of invention in The Royal Lyceum’s hugely imaginative 2024-25 season, just announced in Edinburgh. From home-grown musicals and re-worked classics to powerful Shakespeare through American eyes, Artistic Director David Greig has ranged far and wide to compile a season that’s the very definition of ‘something for everyone’.

At first sight, it’s a dispiriting sign of financial pressures in theatreland when, in a nine-show line-up starting this June and running through to July 2025, the first of only two solely Lyceum productions doesn’t hit the stage until the end of November and the season opener is one-hander. The seven other productions are all being produced in partnership with assorted theatres and companies – from Pitlochry in Scotland (Shirley Valentine, A Streetcar Named Desire) to New York’s prestigious Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) (The Merchant of Venice). But as TFANA founder Jeffrey Horowitz told Lyceum patrons and supporters at the season launch, exchange and collaboration brings all the benefits of learning different ways of doing things, ‘of artists talking to artists’ – adding, ‘theatre should be international, not local, right?’

The new season is a far cry from the Lyceum’s roots as a fixed production company but, as David Greig admitted, the mixed economy of borrowed shows and crowd-pleaser musicals (there are two this season, with songs a-plenty elsewhere) reflects the fact that in recent years Creative Scotland funding has been dished out only on an annual basis. There’s been little chance to do any forward planning. Greig hopes that will change in October, with the possibility of a three-year deal being mooted.

The first offering of the season is an experiment for the Lyceum – a summer show. But if you’re going to kick off with a one-hander, Willy Russell’s deceptively light and bubbly Shirley Valentine is surely the way to do it. Actor Sally Reid says she came to the role completely fresh and discovered something very moving beneath the surface froth. She and director Elizabeth Newman found writing they say is beautiful and sophisticated, ‘by a man who has observed women with great sensitivity’.

Newman also directs Tennessee Williams’ smouldering A Streetcar Named Desire in October. She and Greig wax lyrical about Williams’s great ‘humanity’. You may not like the characters, they say, and yet you come to understand and love them, drawn to watch even in the most harrowing moments.

Kirsty Stuart in A Streetcar Named Desire

While Streetcar (and Shirley Valentine) was successfully reimagined on the big screen, the Lyceum’s two musicals make the transition in the other direction.

Coraline is a much-loved film by Tim Burton (based on a much-loved book by Neil Gaiman), transformed here by playwright and the Lyceum’s Associate Artistic Director, Zinnie Harris – fresh from last season’s explosive reimagining of another dark piece of theatre, Shakespeare’s Macbeth (an undoing). With songs by Scottish musician Louis Barabbas, this tale of a parallel world in which doppelganger parents have buttons for eyes will definitely be for all ages. Younger theatre goers are unlikely to run screaming for the door, Harris says, though she does wonder if their carers may be rather more unsettled by the fantasy of disturbing substitute parents.

Wild Rose press shot

The other musical, for next spring, is Wild Rose, adapted from her film screenplay by Nicole Taylor and with award-winning director John Tiffany at the helm (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Once). Rose-Lynn is passionate about country (cue hits from countless country legends). Fresh out of jail and bursting with raw talent, she dreams of escaping Glasgow to make it as a singer in Nashville. Only, she has two young kids and a frustrated mother. Will her dream come true…?

Classy music also accompanies a genuine for-children premiere, an adaptation of Julia (The Gruffalo) Donaldson’s The Baddies. A motley trio who aren’t very good at being bad, with sparky songs from Joe Stilgoe, will take centre stage in October, while another famous book is re-imagined for Christmas. Versatile Orcadian author Duncan McLean gives Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island a quirky update, with hero Jim Hawkins now running accommodation for reformed pirates in Leith. But once a pirate, always a pirate, and the story of their greatest adventure soon takes over as Jim, Ben Gunn and Lean Jean Silver go hunting for treasure in the isles of Orkney.

There’s wild invention of far more acerbic kind when The Thick of It’s Armando Iannucci brings Pandemonium for a short run in September: ‘Being a scornful account of the activities of Mr Boris Johnson and “Others” during the Pandemic, his downfall, and its terrible aftermath’. However, undoubtedly it’s the American input that promises to raise the season’s impact more than a notch or two. Not only Streetcar and dreams of Nashville but the Scottish premiere of a modern American classic and, from TFANA, Shakespeare’s ever-intriguing and always controversial ‘comedy’, The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice - image by Henry Grossman

In the motel room Dr Martin Luther King stayed in the night before he was assassinated, he left the beginnings of a sermon, ‘Why America may go to hell’. The next day he made his last speech – ‘I’ve been to the mountain top’. Both ideas promise to make Katori Hall’s account of King’s last hours on Earth, The Mountaintop, more pertinent than ever. Too hot to handle in America when first written, the play is set in Lorraine Motel, Memphis. It received its premiere in London in 2009, winning an Olivier for Best New Play and getting gong nominations for stars David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs.

For many, The Merchant of Venice is still too hot handle, but the appearance of TFANA’s emphatically multi-cultural production fresh from success in New York promises to be the unmissable highlight of the season. It stars foremost American classical actor John Douglas Thompson, described by the New York Stage Review as ‘unforgettable in the Shylock annals’. Forensically revealing a biased justice system and discriminatory practices in the markets and housing, director Arin Arbus
says the play couldn’t speak more clearly to contemporary America.

When Americans bringing Shakespeare to the UK is such a rare experience (the bard almost always travels the other way, Arbus says), this Merchant promises to kickstart your 2025 like no other production could. This is set to be a season with the widest conceivable emotional range, and its proof that, despite all the financial challenges they face, theatres outside London retain the vision to reach the very mountain tops of dramatic heights.

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh – 24/25 Season

Find out more about all
nine shows in the Lyceum’s 24/25 programme

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