Sep 28 2020 | By More

★★★★★  Necessary mementos

Lyceum: Thurs 24 Sept – Sat 3 Oct 2020
Review by Thom Dibdin

Theatre as we knew it might not have made a return to the Lyceum just yet, but there is enough drama in the #TakeASeat exhibition, viewable in the foyer until October 3, to engage as performance.

Created by Scottish theatre designers and production managers, it uses the humble seat as a device to begin to examine the nuances of what live theatre means to its participants and audiences. And the result is surprisingly engaging and poignant.

#TakeASeat. Pic: Brian Hartley

In its static form, #TakeASeat is simply an exhibition of a number of different seats, of various kinds and sizes, artistically cast across and around the Lyceum foyer..

As you peer in through the glass walls of the foyer, they ripple forward. Right at the back, teetering piles are glimpsed inside the internal entrance hall, thrones and deconstructed seating perches sit centre stage and, down in the footlights, tiny models are placed – on a hand, a turntable or even another chair.

exploded jigsaw

It is intriguing in and of itself, a glimpse at an exploded jigsaw, artfully lit in such a way as to allow you to focus on one chair then another.

At 7 o’clock, however, the depths of the theatre begin to come to life. From the street outside you can hear a buzz of conversation from the foyer and the announcements for the audience to take their seats, counting down the calls until the show begins at 7.30pm.

#TakeASeat. Pic: Brian Hartley

Now lights and sound bring this once static exhibition to life. It is slow start. Without actors to pull the attention, it is up to the lights to begin to charge the atmosphere as the buzz of conversation is replaced by birdsong and a musical thrum, building more anticipation.

Then there are the voices, disembodied but each connected by the lighting cues to a particular chair. They speak of first shows seen – of pantomime as a child, or bright lights and strange smells. They recall last shows experienced before lockdown, naming friends and colleagues.


There are small points, passed over quickly but marking great loss or importance. Martin Forman mentions a production which might now only ever exist as a plan in his head. Someone from the Citizens draws on the symbolism of Scrooge’s chair, alone on the stage of the theatre as it is being refurbished.

Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart talks of her shyness as a designer, how her tiny chair is there as a distraction, Karen Fishwick talks of an empty bar-stool in a rehearsal room, waiting for the actors to finish consulting the design ideas on the walls before getting on with rehearsal.

#TakeASeat. Pic: Brian Hartley

It’s all highly evocative, but its doesn’t really begin to chime until Cate Machie recalls the old leather seat in the corner of the Dundee Rep fitting room. Spoken by Ann Louise Ross, Cate’s words echo with portent, as she recounts the list of those who sit on its faded leather over the course of a day, a run, a season, a year, a lifetime in the corner.

In that one memory the vast extent of the family who make up the world of theatre begins to appear, while the hum of life that a working theatre creates becomes somehow tangible. It is a simple and beautifully emotional memory, that seems to embody the essence of the whole enterprise.


There’s comedy here too, in the banter of a trio of stage managers whose memories are rooted in the smell of foosty pantomime costumes, much sweated-in.

Such levity is needed. The empty chairs just highlight the lack of theatre, each one different but the same, each one a reflection of the person who caused them to be there, just as each seat in an auditorium holds an audience member who has a unique take of a show.

But there is still hope here. The final memory, from set designer Roxanne Spence, is of a production in a garden in August. Theatre, you feel, will always find a way to exist and continue to make the world real, its complexities tangible, for its audiences.

Running time 50 minutes
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX.
Thurs 24 Sept – Sat 3 Oct 2020
Mon – Sat: 7.30pm; matinees Weds & Sat: 2.30pm.
The installation is visible from the street at all times.

#TakeASeat websitewww.takeaseat.org.uk

Gallery of submitted seats: 

#TakeASeat. Pic: Brian Hartley


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