BLOG: King’s Theatre Edinburgh – Our New Spiritual Home?

By Rob Myles

Look up at the ceiling of the King's Theatre in Edinburgh and you'll see a beautiful fresco, painted by the artist John Byrne in 2013. It's delightful scene of day and night, portrayed as nymphs, chasing one another across the 85-meter-square space. A ribbon follows their dance, and it reads:

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

One of the most famous lines in Shakespeare, and the one that inspired the name of the company.

Fun fact: The company was originally known as The Merely Players, but became Merely Theatre when we began producing national touring shows.

It's an interesting word, Merely.

Merely
ˈmɪəli/ ● [meer-li] Adverb

1. just; only.
2. without admixture; purely.
3. altogether; entirely.

usage: "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players"
synonyms: purely, simply, entirely,

To us, Merely Theatre means making theatre through sheer imaginary force.

Over the course of our tour we had the privilege to play some amazing spaces, both classical and modern, and even a couple of pub theatres.

Theatre At The Mill in Newtonabbey felt like it had been finished a day before we arrived – its glossy wood panelling and slick-smooth stage seemed showroom fresh, as we barrelled frantically from entrance to entrance. By comparison, Wakefield Theatre Royal felt lived in, cosy, and classically kitsch, with labyrinthine run-arounds and a delightful greenroom practically beside the stage.

But entering King’s Theatre Edinburgh for the first time felt like being inside a monument.

Clambering up the six-foot escarpment that separated the stage from the street outside, the cavernous rolling shutter had opened up a portal into a dark world, hosting an implausibly long raked stage. While it had a roof, I couldn’t see it – only shadows stretched up beyond the already lofty rigging.

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Hannah Ellis and David Gerits demonstrate their twinning ritual.

Passing across this otherworldly expanse, I finally saw something more familiar – the rolling crimson hills of red velvet chairs.

My perspective was thrown for a loop, stretched and squashed like Tamara’s accordion – the stage was longer than I had ever seen and yet the audience were piled high on top of us, closer than any proscenium space we’d been in. The dress and upper circles loomed forward as if to hug the stage.

KingsHenry

Zena Carswell surveys her kingdom as Henry V.

 

The stage, too, after scaling the wall to get to it from the back, was barely more than a lip by the time it reached the audience – you could comfortably step off it right into the front row. Good for me, as Bottom spends half his time in the audience.

Then, finally, someone pointed out the ceiling. Shadowy figures curled around the central circle, the ‘wooden O’ into which we would cram our bellowing voices and boisterous performances.

One of the tech team flipped a switch, and the mural was illuminated. A stunning and surprisingly contemporary piece of art, with a muse and a harlequin chasing one another, the sky, moon and stars all swept up in the chase.

Taking a photo, I was so taken with the style and strength of the image I’d missed a key detail.

“It’s our quote!” someone cried. I zoomed in on the photo, and sure enough, there it was.

John Byrne's Stunning Mural

John Byrne's Stunning Mural

 

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

The space seemed made for this company. Or rather, the company was perhaps made for this space.

Those who’ve seen our shows will know: we go big, but we also get close. This space perfectly allowed for both. The line between the audience and the action didn't exist. For the first time in a space like this, there wasn’t even a fourth wall to smash. And then the ceiling, attempting to sum up all of theatre, life, and the universe, mirrored our own ethos.

A bare set of wood and canvas, emblematic costumes, barely any props: merely players. And what a space to play in.

 

 

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