Star Wars villain Ian McDiarmid to play Enoch Powell on Edinburgh stage

Ian McDiarmid had the pivotal role as the Emperor in the Star Wars films.
Ian McDiarmid had the pivotal role as the Emperor in the Star Wars films.
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He is known to millions of movie fans as the man behind the villainous Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars blockbusters.

Now the veteran Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid is to make a rare appearance on stage in his home country - playing the controversial politician Enoch Powell.

The 72-year-old, an Olivier and Tony award winner, who was born in Carnoustie, will be performing at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh for the first time in more than 40 years when he stars in a new play recalling Powell’s notorious 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech.

Due to be staged in September, it is one of the centrepieces of a new season of plays programmed by artistic director David Greig to response to the Brexit vote last summer.

Others include a revival of a long-lost Irish play 1948 about British soldiers guarding refugees in an occupied German town and a Syrian playwright’s new take on The Arabian Nights, which will be staged over the festive season.

Written by Clydebank-born playwright, What Shadows is partly set in Scotland and sees Powell confronted by an Oxford academic and daughter of a Caribbean immigrant 24 years after the speech, one of the most explosive in British political history.

Addressing a Conservative association meeting in Birmingham, the MP compared anti-discrimination laws to “throwing a match on to gunpowder” and arguing that mass immigration from the Commonwealth was “literally mad.”

Roxana Silbert, director of What Shadows, said: “As we near the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s explosive ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, I’m excited to be working with the brilliant Ian McDiarmid for Chris Hannan’s What Shadows. Chris’s powerful play is a scorching interrogation of how a divided nation can learn to speak across the divide.”

Meanwhile actors will perform throughout the entire auditorium of the Lyceum for Cockpit - which tells the story of a young British Army officer attempting to take charge of a mixed group of refugees in Germany towards the end of the Second World War.

Director Wils Wilson said: "I'm drawn to the play because it feels like it needs to be seen now. Though it was written in 1948, it feels absolutely urgent and immediate, both in its style and subject matter."

Greig said: “The new season was really born the day after the European referendum. I was walking out of Waverley Station, having stayed up all night, and just had a feeling of disorientation about the world I thought I was living in.

“I just had the feeling that the coming season needed to head directly towards questions about identity, who we are, what we are and what Europe is that felt very strong. Then Trump happened - another parameter shaking moment.

“I felt we had to go straight for the things we need to think about and talk about, but do it in a way that’s about big stories, theatricality and entertainment, not propaganda.”

Two Edinburgh International Festival shows will be revived in the Lyceum's new season, which runs from September-June.

Singer-songwriter Karine Polwart's first theatre piece Wind Resistance, which was premiered in the Lyceum's rehearsal studio last August, will be revived in the main theatre this November, while Zinnie Harris's new interpretation of Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, which is part of this year's EIF programme, will be back at the Lyceum next spring.