Dear Lyceum,

May 22 2020 | By More

A letter from playwright Jo Clifford

The brilliant Jo Clifford wrote a love letter to Edinburgh’s beloved Lyceum Theatre. It is a specific letter, but it is also a letter to all theatre – to all the buildings and all the companies…

Dear Lyceum,

I wrote this to you on Tuesday night when our play was due to open, and didn’t. And I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I thought I’d write to you and see if that helped me understand.

Understand why you matter.

The play is called LIFE IS A DREAM and I sometimes wonder whether, to quote the play, you’ll turn out to be one of life’s good things that have passed away and that, as we look back at you, will feel just like a dream.

Life Is A Dream was due to open at the Lyceum on Tuesday 19 May, 2020.

The trouble with you, dear Lyceum, is that you’re labour intensive in an economy that’s capital intensive. You value people in a world where the so-called successful enterprises succeed by eliminating people as much as they can, and so cause great suffering.

But you promote well-being, dear Lyceum, and you give pleasure, and that just doesn’t show up on balance sheets.

And you do financial good to the city you belong to, in fact you bring in millions, but that doesn’t show up in your yearly returns either, and so people still somehow think you’re a drain on the public purse.

But that’s why you matter. You remind us that wealth is not just about getting rich at someone else’s expense; that true wealth is collective.

And you point to a time when we will value more than just money. When we give more value to human happiness.

The Great Theatre of the World

The man who wrote Life is a Dream, Calderón, my hero and my inspiration, also wrote a play called The Great Theatre of the World, which is also about you.

About the way you remind us that we all depend upon each other, and we have to work together.

Because a play is the creation of everybody – writer, actors, designer, stage crew, director. Everybody. And that includes the audience.

In your space, even if only briefly, we can feel we all belong together.

And so you remind us of a deeper truth: the fact that’s how it is on our planet earth.

We are all in this together.

And only if we understand and feel for each other, and work and co-operate with each other, that we’ll ever get out of the mess we’re in and make the world a better place.

The fact is, dear Lyceum, you’re like a gym. Only in your space we don’t lift weights, or run on treadmills to become fitter and stronger. Instead you’re a place where we strengthen our capacity to feel for each other and to empathise.

And so you contradict the cruelty of our selfish world and you help us to resist it.

And that is also why you matter.

I wish our play was opening tonight. I wish I didn’t fear for you.

There’s a line in our play that’s always helped when I’m struggling with a sense of despair or futility.

Someone says:

“The good you do is never lost. Not even in dreams…”

Let’s remember that, dear Lyceum.

The good you do has not been lost. It counts for something.

Let’s keep our hope alive. Let’s believe that one day a way will be found to re-open you and that our beautiful play, alongside many others, will be seen and give pleasure and joy to the world.

With the deepest love,

Jo xxxx

On Wednesday 20 May, 2020, the management of the Lyceum announced that the theatre is to enter a period of “hibernation” as a building-based producing theatre with immediate effect, postponing all 2020 shows and entering into negotiations with all staff over redundancies.


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  1. Tom says:

    Beautifully expressed. I’m off to have a wee greet ..