Oct 21 2015 | By More

★★★★☆     Unique

The Royal Lyceum: Tue 20 – Sat 24 Oct 2015
Review by Thom Dibdin

From the bowels of the Lyceum up into its gods, the Lyceum Youth Theatre expose and explore the building’s hidden spaces and lost souls.

These are the places that are little trod in modern times – doorways and stairwells built to facilitate movement through a building which held four times the 658 it can today – or are little seen by the public.

safe_imageWith the sort of careless attitude to cheap thrills that you might have found in a Penny Dreadful, this is a promenade performance which is never afraid to spring a cackling child from a hidden doorway or have a grinning urchin scatter Tarot cards over the passing audience.

Groups of 25 at a time troop up and down the hidden staircases, through half-forgotten dressing rooms, led by ushers whose detachment from what is being witnessed is not always as dispassionate as might be expected.

It’s a great move by artistic director Mark Thomson. Of course the LYT had to be included in the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations. But it was a bit of inspiration to give them the fabric of the building – built in 1883 (or was it!) – to play with and create stories around.

In retrospect it’s such a sensible idea that it is obvious. The LYT has both the numbers and the abilities to give life and theatricality to a behind-the-scenes tour.

Naturally, the tour takes a ghostly turn. How could it not with so many wonderful spaces from which strange beings can spring. Or simply stand, statue like, observing the audience as they pass.

the voices of the long-lost beings

After entering the theatre through the old side entrance to the stalls, a hidden dressing room is a first step into the ghostly arena, where apparitions are beginning to find substance. Passing through the next-door wardrobe, the voices of the long-lost beings who stand shrouded around the room, can be heard relating gothic stories of death and loss.

Hidden Montage 4All the while, beyond the performance, it is an intriguing glimpse of how life was behind the scenes almost a century and a half ago. Little has changed in many ways. But all the different accoutrements are worth scrutinising carefully – there are subtly hidden items which provide clues to the unfolding story.

On the Lyceum’s stage itself, history has actually come to life with a troupe of actors who are preparing for their performance. Destined it seems, to repeat the rituals of The Half.  While down below them, in the area underneath the stage, beings from other dimensions glower through doors and speak in rapid tones of existential crises.

There’s never any doubt to the performers here. Each stop on the route is more alive and real than the last, as the supernatural leach into the natural world.

It’s only when the tour begins to ascend what is called the Victorian Staircase – the direct access route to the no-longer used upper circle – that it begins to unravel slightly. And that is for purely technical reasons to do with the ushering of the audience up the steps. More emphatic control from the ushers would ensure that the whole audience was in a place to see the events as they unfold.

And once in the gods, looking down from the dusty seats no longer used, the company really let rip with the surreal, drawing from Old Testament biblical texts to find a crack into the hereafter.

It’s disturbing stuff, building a coherent tale from seemingly disparate elements in a series of scenes which have been devised by the LYT members, with direction from Mark Thomson, Amanda Gaughan, Christie O’Carroll and John Glancy.

And there are excellent performances in every single scene. I did not see a single one of the 55 performers allow the conceit to be dropped at any time.

It is also fascinating stuff, a tour of the theatre unlike any other. One which, because you are actually using the spaces rather than walking through them, really makes you understand the building and how it has been used over the ages.

Something of a must-see opportunity to witness the Lyceum Theatre in a manner that is unlikely to be repeated. Tickets are still available every night, but not many.

Running time 1 hours 5 mins (no interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Tuesday 20 October to Saturday 24 October 2015
Four performances daily: 7.30pm, 7.50pm, 8.10pm & 8.30pm.
Tickets from: http://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/lyceum-youth-theatre-present-hidden
Access: the promenade performance goes up and down many stairs. There is no way to bypass this.


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