Brian Cox: The Royal Lyceum was founded on ambition

Actor Brian Cox, a founder member of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company. Picture: Greg Macvean
Actor Brian Cox, a founder member of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company. Picture: Greg Macvean
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AS the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company marks its 50th anniversary, founder member Brian Cox remembers the energy, excitement and controversy of the early days

It’s great, not to say a miracle, to be returning to The Lyceum for the 50th Anniversary. I was a founding member of the company 50 years ago as a wet-behind-the-ears 19-year-old. The Lyceum was and still remains the most formative experience of my theatrical life. To be afforded the opportunity to observe and work with the greatest Scottish actors of their day - a formidable roll call that included Duncan Macrae, Fulton MacKay, Russell Hunter, Una Maclean, Calum Mill, Eileen McCallum, all led by the visionary, ahead-of-his-time Tom Fleming.

Brian Cox and Bill Paterson star in the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company's Waiting for Godot

Brian Cox and Bill Paterson star in the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company's Waiting for Godot

Tom felt strongly and passionately that Edinburgh should have a theatre company worthy of reflecting the ambitions and range of its cultural flagship, The Edinburgh International Festival. He believed that the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company could and would be the springboard for a Scottish National Theatre.

The repertoire for his first year was extremely ambitious. Tom Fleming blended the ingredients of Lyceum repertoire first with an innovative A Servant O’ Twa Maisters in a Scots adaptation from the Goldoni by Victor Carin, designed by the ‘genius’ Abd’elkader Farrah and performed by a stellar Scottish cast. Then he introduced the works of Slamowir Mrozeck under the direction of Jan Kott, the infamous Polish critic whose work Shakespeare our Contemporary was the seminal Shakespearean critique of post-war theatre and a major influence on Peter Brook.

Tragically, Tom’s tenancy only lasted a year. The city fathers of Edinburgh did not share Tom’s vision or, for that matter, taste. Also, the adage that “the prophet is never honoured in his own country” was bitterly true in Tom’s case. But the spirit of that inaugural company of ‘65 imbued the fabric of The Lyceum with a heritage that could not be erased. Whoever followed would have to pick up the gauntlet of excellence and innovation so positively thrown down by Tom.

Clive Perry was just the man to rise to the occasion, creating an environment where for ten years new talent and new gifts would come to the fore. The direction and writing of Bill Bryden with his formidable company of seasoned Scottish players, the burgeoning of a future director of the National Theatre - Richard Eyre, I could go on, but just two thoughts further.

My late friend Kenny Ireland, a true hero of our business, whose concern first and foremost was the work - always the work! The man who virtually built with his own hands The Young Lyceum - the space that (when the folks who planned to build offices on the site in the eighties had to replace The Young Lyceum with some kind of theatre space) became the present Traverse Theatre. What the theatre world in Scotland owes Kenny Ireland is inestimable.

Finally to return to the beginning and the question of dues. Personally I owe Tom Fleming a great debt. He introduced me to the potency of the Scots language in theatrical performance and the tremendous tradition and variety of world class theatre practitioners that were integral to Scottish theatre. Our anniversary production of Waiting for Godot, with a tremendous cast of John Bett, Benny Young and the great Bill Paterson, hopefully continues that great tradition.

• Waiting for Godot is at the Royal Lyceum until 10 October. This is an extract from 50 Years of The Lyceum – a limited edition souvenir book featuring stunning archive photography from the last 50 years of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, along with essays and reminiscences from a variety of Lyceum alumni including Richard Eyre, Bill Bryden, Eileen McCallum, David Tennant, Siobhan Redmond and Alan Cumming. Available in person at The Lyceum or online at, price £25