Playing With Books – Sea State

Aug 19 2021 | By More

Theatre returns to the Book Festival

By Hugh Simpson

Playing With Books, the collaboration between the Book Festival and the Lyceum, has returned in the Book Festival’s new ‘hybrid’ format. This means a staging with both a limited, distanced, in-person audience at the College of Art, with online viewers, and which is later available on demand (albeit, in this case, for a very limited time).

The format of Playing With Books remains the same – a recent book is reimagined by a team of creatives over a few days and presented as a theatrical work-in-progress followed by a discussion.

Charlene Boyd and Owen Whitelaw. Screengrab: All Edinburgh Theatre

The first event this year featured Tabitha Lasley’s Sea State, itself something of a hybrid – being part memoir and part reportage about the Scottish oil industry and the men who work in it.

As adapted and directed by Pamela Carter, this took a somewhat minimal approach, with Charlene Boyd as a Lasley figure and Owen Whitelaw as all of the men in the story.

Unusually for one of these events, there was little in the way of music, with visual accompaniment from designer Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart and filmmaker Anna Chaney.

While the compelling performances of Boyd and Whitelaw made for absorbing theatre, overcoming even an enforced break for a fire alarm, the visual elements were less convincing.

visual presentation

This is where the ‘hybrid’ element fared less well. It is probably convincing in the room, but watching a screen that is already on a screen is probably one remove too many – especially with someone sitting in front of it hampering visibility. The visual presentation of a film script rather than a film maybe also makes too much of a demand on the audience’s imagination too.

Owen Whitelaw, Charlene Boyd, Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart, Pamela Carter, Tabitha Lasley and David Greig. Screengrab: All Edinburgh Theatre

As always, however, much of the power came from the tantalising suggestions of theatrical possibilities, and of the discussions that followed. Both Carter and Lasley were honest and illuminating about the creative process, and David Greig’s joy at the first piece of genuine live theatre under the auspices of the Lyceum for 18 months was evident.

Greig’s contention that the performance did not paint men in a bad light was somewhat controversial, however, with Lasley’s report of one response to her book ‘Men are trash. LOL’ seeming to be a more accurate summary.

As for the Festival’s new setting, it may take some time to grow on dedicated habitues of Charlotte Square, but has definite possibilities, with plenty of outdoor seating and a big screen showing selected events. The ice-cream cart is back too.

Many of the Book Festival events are available to watch on demand on a pay-what-you-can basis until 30 September.

However, some have a more limited timeframe – Sea State is available until 8.30 pm on Saturday 21 August.

Running time: One hour 30 minutes (no interval)

Watch here:
Only available until 8.30pm. Saturday 21 August 2021.

Upcoming Playing With Books events:

The Long Drop by Denise Mina
Dominic Hill, Artistic Director of Citizens Theatre has worked with writer Linda McLean and actors to prepare dramatic scenes from the book that they present in a 45-minute performance. Afterwards, Hill, McLean and the actors will be joined on stage by Denise Mina for a discussion about the book and the performance they have presented.
Wed 25 August 2021
Live and online: 8.30-10pm.
tickets and online viewing details:

The Yellow Door by Kathleen Jamie
David Greig, the playwright and artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, with a composer, choreographer and a team of actors and musicians, translate Jamie’s  “extraordinary fragments” – observations of life in 2021 –  for the stage and present them to an audience for the first time. Followed by Q&A.
Mon 30 Aug 2021
Live and online: 8.30-10pm.
Tickets and online viewing details:

The Book Festival continues until 30 August. All events are available online, with limited in-person tickets available. The new venue at the Edinburgh College of Art is free for visitors, with selected events available to watch on a big screen in the courtyard.

Details at


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.