Royal Lyceum Theatre takes 'heartbreaking' decision to cancel plans to bring audiences back for Christmas shows

An Edinburgh theatre which is being helped by Outlander actor Sam Heughan and his fans to withstand the impact of the pandemic has taken a "heartbreaking decision" to call off efforts to bring audiences back in the run-up to Christmas.

Garry Robson appears in Tiny Tim by Robert Softley Gale as part of the Lyceum Christmas Tales. Picture: Aly Wight
Garry Robson appears in Tiny Tim by Robert Softley Gale as part of the Lyceum Christmas Tales. Picture: Aly Wight

The ongoing restrictions on events and travel in and out of the Scottish capital have been blamed for the plug being pulled on a sold-out series of live shows.

Socially-distanced audiences were due to attend a week-long run of performances, which would have been the first inside a theatre auditorium in Scotland since the complete shutdown of arts venues was ordered in March.

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The Royal Lyceum has extended its stage out into the stalls in order to stage productions, including the recent show with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival, Lament for Sheku Bayoh.

Cal MacAninch in A Fairy Tale by Morna Young. Picture: Aly Wight

This week it has launched a series of “Lyceum Christmas Tales,” which are being made at the theatre and performed on extended stage before being released online one by one.

The final series of stories, by Jackie Kay, Louise Ironside, Lynda Radley and Shona Reppe, which were intended to be performed before audiences, will instead be live-streamed from the temporary stage.

The run of live shows was intended to be an alternative offering to audiences after it was forced to call off its planned full-scale production of The Snow Queen this winter, as well as bid to ensure that the theatre did not miss a Christmas show for the first time in its 137-year history.

The Royal Lyceum has pulled the plug on audiences being able to return days after it emerged that a crowdfunding campaign set up for the venue by fans of Heughan had raised £45,000. The actor penned a moving “love letter” to the venue, recalling how he had fallen in love with theatre there, earlier this year.

Mara Menzies in Nyanya and the Mighty Whizz! by Mara Menzies. Picture: Aly Wight

An email sent to ticket-holders said: “Unfortunately, following the recent statement from The Scottish Government, the Lyceum has had to make the heart-breaking decision to cancel the live-audience element of our Lyceum Christmas Tales.

“Despite putting into place wide ranging measures to ensure any visit to the theatre would be as covid-safe as possible, even a small assembled audience would sadly require public travel and gatherings beyond the level of caution now advised for this period.

“With the wellbeing of staff and audiences of paramount importance, the festive tales and magical music will now solely be streamed into homes for audiences to enjoy safely.”

David Greig, the Royal Lyceum’s artistic director, said: “We desperately wanted to be able to invite people to join us in our theatre this Christmas - socially-distant, masked and hand-sanitised – but together, sharing stories.

"We’ve worked diligently and hopefully to make this happen, but it is now clear that, sadly, it just won’t be possible.

"We’re contacting seat-holders to offer refunds and inviting them instead to join us online from their living rooms as we perform these tales live from our stage each night for families to enjoy with us.

"We’ll be pulling out all the stops to bring the joyful experience of Christmas at the Lyceum to the sofas of Edinburgh and beyond, and we invite everyone to join in to share what promises to be a really special Christmas moment.”

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