Hidden: Lyceum Youth Theatre. Review


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(Picture Credit:  Douglas Shirlaw)

I have to share my congratulations with the Lyceum Youth Theatre.  I’ve seen many of their productions in my time as a board member of The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company but none have been as absorbing and original as this.  Conceived and developed by the company themselves and boasting no fewer than four directors (Mark Thomson, John Glancy, Christie O’Carroll and Amanda Gaughan) it’s a showcase of Lyceum directing and producing talent past and present and a fitting way for our amazing theatre to celebrate its 50th anniversary as one of the stars of this site specific production is the theatre itself.

We get to see dressing rooms, the undercroft, behind the bars, a now unused Victorian staircase and the dusty old ‘Gods’ as we are ushered around the building by a series of guides, one of whom turns out to be a performer in disguise.

What the production itself consists of is four ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ that are anything but dreadful as they spookily explore the mysteries of the Lyceum’s Victorian building, its ghosts and the secrets it may contain.  Particularly affecting is John Glancy’s contribution in ‘The Gods’ in which a group of animal-masked performers summon up demons and appear to sacrifice the biblical Abel.  The disused and peeling Victorian stairwell gives Mark Thomson a fantastic canvas on which to paint a picture of ghostly Victorian trauma with a number of particularly creepy vignettes.

The back stage area was used effectively to show a group of actors preparing for their stage performance in pale white light casting effective shadows in the gloom, and the undercroft hosted a particularly effective scene with three Cheshire Cats (or were they dastardly rabbits) that whirled the audience of only 25 about their space demonically.

The scariest moment was reserved for the bar area where we passed through another Victorian Bedlam.  Pity the poor lady audience member who was first in, as she was met by a shrieking madman, caged to her left, in a moment redolent of Silence of the Lambs.

The dressing room sequence also had some particularly Kubrikesque moments that would not have been out of place in The Shining.

Throughout the hour long performance the young cast were entirely inscrutable as they delivered their otherworldly creepshow to perfection – not easy to keep up this degree of deliberate underplaying so consistently.

All in all a superb theatrical experience that had all of the audience laughing nervously as they approached each play within a play within a play full of trepidation.

Excellent.

Pronoun. Lyceum Youth Theatre


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Sorry, but I just have to plug this.

I was at the opening tonight of Evan Placey’s Pronoun and I have to say it’s a brilliant piece of writing about sexual identity, transgender issues, gender stereotyping and adolescent identity.

Here’s what Placey has to say about it.

Evan Placey wrote the play for National Theatre Connections, of which Lyceum Youth is a regular contributor.  It will play on the main stage in the summer but you can see its development performances this week at The Traverse.  And I would urge you to do so.

It’s about childhood sweethearts Josh (Louis Plummer in a very funny and mature performance) and his girlfriend Isabella who is the (perhaps surprisingly female) transgender subject of the play.

Isabella changes her name to Dean in thrall of her movie idol James Dean who takes on a role that resembles the Moonboy character that is played by Chris O’Dowd in that he exists in an imaginary space.  It’s an important construct in the play and it works incredibly well because James Dean is played superbly by Keir Aitken.

It’s an excellent play;  thought provoking, intelligent and  challenging.

The cast universally rise to the challenge.

They are supplemented by a Greek Chorus of a dozen or so who had, earlier in the evening, presented a selection of short plays developed in the very laudable and interesting Traverse Scribbles initiative.

Bassett by The Lyceum Youth Theatre at The Traverse (until Saturday)


This is  Christie O’Carroll’s first, and stunningly, directed show for Lyceum youth and it is blessed with not only a cracking script by James Graham but also a gifted cast; in particular the quite mesmerising performance of Aaron Jones as the central and most troubled teen, Leo.

He’s not alone in deserving acting plaudits.  For a start it’s an excellent ensemble show and cleverly written to give all 14 young actors their moments to shine.  But inevitably there are stand outs.  For me they were the aforementioned Aaron Jones who, although slight of build, puts in a gargantuan performance.  In a smallish but rocket fuelled cameo (it’s much more than that really, but her spell in the limelight is a true short sharp shock) is Lucia D’Inverno as Lucy and throughout the laughs are provided by Hannah Joe Mackinlay as Zoe and on slightly more cerebral level by Tom Palmer as a quietly understated Amid.

The play delivers 40 minutes of changing mood and pace and centres on a school classroom in Wooton Bassett the day that a local hero is repatriated from Afghanistan in a wooden box.  The dead ‘hero’ is Charlie an ex pupil and idol (in different ways) to many of the classmates.  His death and the resulting ritual parade through Wooton Bassett are an incendiary device to the class who are inexplicably locked into their classroom by a particularly inept supply teacher just as the parade is about to happen.  This enrages Leo who gradually winds up his classmates as he himself becomes convulsed by the situation.

This ignites a classroom discussion which covers just about every subject a class of fifth formers would typically cover in their social life; sex, politics, slagging each other off, sex, toilet humour, being gay or not, sex, x box versus PS3, sex and swearing.  Oh, and sex.

It’s laugh out loud hilarious at times but gradually darkens as the mood swings from resentment at being excluded from the parade to bitter political ideological debate about the futility of war, nationalism (racism really), sexuality and religious belief.

It’s a tremendous script.  It’s expertly directed and it leaves the audience really quite shell shocked.  Although I have not yet seen Black Watch live I suspect it has that sort of visceral impact.

I strongly recommend that you see this.

The supporting performance consists of two one act dramas written by young writers on the Traverse’s Scribble initiative.  Tonight I saw “Is this it?” ( a thought provoking and very mature piece by Kiera McIntosh-Michaelis & Alex Porter-Smith) and Bang by Kelly Sinclair, a highly amusing insight into life in a detention class.  These pieces rotate on a performance by performance basis with four other, presumably very short, scripts.  Each are acted (with scripts) by members of Lyceum Youth and both were very enjoyable.

The Lyceum Youth Theatre; Summer on Stage


For the second year running I found myself at the opening night of Summer on Stage, an extraordinary theatrical venture that gives young people a truly great experience.  As it happens I was sat next to a lovely lady from Cairn Energy who was one of the founders of the whole thing and I have to say she was as blown away as I was.

The evening consisted of two productions, one for younger children (up to about 16 I’d say) and one for older youths.  The former was a charming tale called The Musicians in which a “shite” school orchestra arrived in Russia to perform as part of a cultural exchange, only to find that their instruments had been impounded at the airport because a spliff had been found in one of the cases.  The spliff had been secreted there because the doting flautists in the orchestra had hoped to use it medicinally to calm down the highly excitable conducter played excellently by Louis Plummer.

In the end the performance was mimed to Tchiakovsky’s 4th Symphony but inspired by the supportive (eventually) intervention of two hilarious stage hands/cleaners who stole the show (Keir Aitken and Samuel Adams).

The second performance, A Vampire Story, is a highly complex meeting of 19th Century vampirism with contemporary mental health issues and is quite stunning.  Both shows shared basically the same simple but highly effective set but in this one the set was used to meld two very different eras very effectively.  Although dark in content it is also hilarious in parts; it deals with the story of a teenage girl who clearly has become delusional and is creating a fantasy world of vampires as she seeks (with the help of her sister ) to escape the grasp of the authorities by constantly moving on.  On her journey she encounters another lost soul in the form of a home taught kid who is similarly trying to escape the attentions of his eccentric parents.  I can’t tell from the programme who played what parts but all of the principles were phenomenal and a special word has to go to the dotty teacher, Mint, played by Blair Grandison.  (The Home Economics teacher, Filet, who was played by Emma Mckenna was a class character part and I recognise the girl who played the part from previous Lyceum Youth performances – a real talent).

Director Steve Mann made a considerable impression on me with this show because the content was complex, the movement difficult and the pace very important.  All were delivered perfectly in a great technical set up so that what emerged was a highly professional production that replicated the sort of conditions that professional rep actors and technicians have to (and most certainly had to) work under;   short time scales to learn and perfect the the performances.  In this case A Vampire Story was created in under three weeks and The Musicians in under two.

As a kid, I’d have loved to have had this opportunity and so hats off to The Lyceum for making this happen and also to Cairn Energy for supporting it financially.

Lyceum Youth Theatre – success by Nick Drake


No, not that Nick Drake, the contemporary playwright.

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I took Ria to see the opening night of LYT’s contribution to The National Theatre’s New Connections festival of new youth drama.  And damned fine it was too.

A cast of 19 on a tiny Trav 2 stage put on a fine performance in a space that was frankly too small given their energy.  It’s a highly choreographed show drawing on pretty much every theatrical trick in the book and it works very well.

It’s not quite an ensemble piece because three principals stand out;  Nick (the devil?) played with aplomb by Steve McMahon to the point you would happily punch his city spiv character (how appropriate in these times) hard in the face and the two romantic leads Tom (an outstanding and likeable Hector Brown) and Lucy (the lovely Kim Donohoe).

The theme is about the pursuit of money ending in tears and is a morality tale for our times with real resonance.  Money indeed cannot buy you love it seems in Drake’s eyes.  It would have been easy for the script to cross the line into cliche and clunkiness but it avoids this at all turns and the performances of the ‘chorus’ hold the show together crisply and engagingly.

It’s the first LYT show I’ve seen and just goes to show that FCT (biased as I am) do not have a monopoly on brilliant young people’s theatre in Edinburgh.  Joking aside these are very different companies and LYT’s take is very much more adult in theme and tone.

You’ll be lucky to get a ticket, but if you can.  Do.