25 Years of LIP Theatre Company

A retrospective by Rob Currie, written February 2018

Cast members from Couples

LIP Theatre Company began in 1992 after the founding members split from another drama society called Mortar Boards. Here are some extracts from an article called ‘Luvvies Lip Gloss,’ which was in the Student Times about the first few years of the society:

To start with, they weren’t really all that good. Friends would be dragged along to their productions, and it would be more of a penance than a pleasure. Some performances did stand out during their early productions … but at its very worst, it descended into under-rehearsed mush.

Apparently not the finest of starts, but the author marks LIP’s production of Braveheart II: Brave Harder as a turning point for the society:

The authors, all members of the club, had produced a script with clung closely to the Holywood vision, but at the same time took on board a healthy dose of irreverence, surrealism, modern satire and haggis … a respectable 70 people turned up for Brave Harder‘s first night. On the second night the audience had doubled and more to 150, and for the first time in three years the bleacher seats at the back of the Bonar Hall had to be used to accomodate some of the audience.

The society’s first three productions had all been existing plays by established playwrights: Confusions by Alan Ayckbourn, Couples by Bettine Manketlow and Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off by Liz Lochhead. In the programme notes for Brave Harder, former society president Kathryn Nelson explained how the society came to create and put on this very different production:

With the largest enrolment of members in LIP Theatre Co.’s fourth year of existence, we decided to try and perform a large play so that all members would be able to take part somehow. Having read a few disappointing scripts and having a very small budget, a group of students decided to write a farcical play themselves to cut costs, and experiment … this was a whole new experience for LIP Theatre Co., and we were worried whether we’d pull it off, never having tried writing, performing and producing a complete play ourselves.

Those writers were society members Simon Reid, Stephen Murray, Fiona J Johnston and Ambrose Hudson. The script was described as a “bizzare reflection on the life of William Wallace, hero of all Scotland.” Scenes had titles such as ‘Eddie Junior’s World Tour of Europe,’ ‘Arse-kicking at Stirling Bridge,’ and ‘The Haggis gets his Cards,’ and featured such characters as Marmaduke De Twang (played by Ander La Runbe), Wullie’s Babe (Diana Kiemander) and Uncle Shug (Steven Forrest).

Cast members from Braveheart II: Brave Harder

Riding high on the success of Brave Harder, and following a lot of interest from members, LIP decided to take the show to the 1996 Edinburgh Fringe. Apparently funding proved to be problematic, but society patrons Stephen Fry and Andrea Brooks contributed funds which allowed LIP to set their sights on Edinburgh. A slightly modified version of the play ran for six nights at Diverse Attractions, a venue with a capacity of 150, and the first night was so busy that people had to be turned away.

While the seats were filled, the critics weren’t convinced. The Herald called it “allegedly funny,” remarking that “the Fringe would not be the Fringe without self-indulgent students, all fitted with comedy bypass devices, who cavort around the stage being obvious and cringe-worthy. In that sense this was definitely the Fringe.” Though bad reviews battered the egos of the society members, the audiences kept coming and four of the six nights were sold out. The final night proved so popular that friends of the cast were asked to watch from backstage so that more room could be made for the audience.

Artwork for Snog and Other Stories

LIP were riding high on their sell-out performances of Braveheart II: Brave Harder. 1997 saw a back-to-back production of a new show, Snog and Other Stories, and Stephen Brigg’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. In the production’s programme notes, society joint-president Kathryn Nelson explains how the year went.

This year the members desired to follow on from last year’s company’s writing success … so, in the first term LIP produced a Christmas Comedy Revue of short sketches, advertising spoofs and guest band Ruby Slippers. Much to everyone’s amazement we got a large crowd into the Union’s main hall and survived bad acoustics and drunken gibbering to pull off a reasonable show. The second term raised its ugly head with the members at loggerheads. Half the company wanted to follow on from the Revue with either a company-written play or some short sketches. The other half wanted to produce a modern play of which there were a selection to choose from. In the end a compromise was achieved.

The compromise was a night where Snog and Other Stories – a collection of sketches written by company member Ian Low – was presented alongside Wyrd Sisters. The company even seemed to resolve their conflict, as some members appeared in the casts of both plays.

Snog and Other Stories was also LIP’s second offering at the Edinburgh Fringe that year, a highlight that was noted in the December 1997 member’s newsletter, written by joint secretaries Rebecca Mitchell and Kelvin Aston. The show was not without its hiccups though.

Only on the third night did disaster loom as Sarah Kimber was harshly and cruelly struck down by illness, preventing her from going on. The mere fact that she had two main parts did not bother LIP in the slightest, and so Alison and Liz stepped in with pure professionalism and model ‘the show must go on’ attitudes.

LIP is more than a theatre company – it’s a student drama society, and the social activities are just as important to its members as the shows they put on. The oral legend goes that LIP used to be known as a drinking society with a theatre problem, but no society experience would be complete without parties and pub crawls. Foggy memories of the crawl are mentioned in the old newsletters.

To be honest I don’t actually remember anything after my fourth double vodka (consumed around 8pm and returned around 12am) and, when asked, Kelvin slunk off into a corner muttering something about someone puking on his shoes.

The start of 1998 saw the company put on a comedy revue called Fresher’s Folly, which featured sketches with titles such as, ‘Poisoning Pigeons,’ ‘It’s Fish,’ ‘Punk Hamlet,’ and ‘Dead Spice Girls.’ The newsletter gives a behind-the-scenes look at the show.

As the weeks progressed, skits got added, others got cut and we all got pissed on a regular basis … before we knew it the revue was upon us. Even more alterations were made, some of them so last minute that the programme, which had been printed less than two hours before the production started, was inaccurate.

The 1998 Edinburgh Fringe saw LIP taking a variety of short plays by company members to St. John’s Church Hall on Princes Street under the banner title of The Real Deal, including In Memoriam by Martin Lennon, Desire by Monty Springs, and One Last Dream by Peader Callaghan. It also saw committee members going above and beyond the call of duty to secure an excellent deal on their Fringe promotional materials.

We are in the process of negotiating an advertising deal which will mean all our t-shirts, flyers, programmes and posters will be free, providing it has Bacardi Spice plastered all over it. Sarah and I have been testing Bacardi Spice and see nothing wrong with it being plastered everywhere (as long as we can be plastered too).

1999 saw LIP repeating the Fringe formula established by Snog and Other Stories, and The Real Deal, taking a collection of member-written short plays to Edinburgh. This time it was A Tay Bridge Too Far, which featured the plays Judgement Day by Keith Shaw and Owen Adams, I Don’t See Why Not by Pab Roberts, and Irreverend by Mark Z McDonald and Pab X Roberts. Every production has its challenges, and president Ian Petrie writes in the programme notes for the show that LIP, “had ups and downs. And sometimes the ups outnumbered the downs. Which was nice.”

A Tay Bridge Too Far received an unorthodox review in The Scotsman, which focused less on the plays themselves and more on the pre-show arrival of cast member Hamish Drummond (who played the Devil in Judgement Day).

Five minutes after A Tay Bridge Too Far was scheduled to begin, a small knot of ticket holders waited anxiously in the foyer. Most of them seemed to know each other and, in fact, most of them to know the performers, a troupe from Dundee University. Suddenly the waiting crowd cheered in unison as a tall pony-tailed figure raced across the car park outside and dashed through the door and up the stairs to the theatre. “It’s Hamish,” one girl cried, “we’re saved. Now we all have to give Hamish a standing ovation at the end.”

LIP Pub Crawls have the whole society split into smaller teams, going around several bars near the university campus. At each pub the teams are met by Station Masters who set them a few tasks, often (though not always) related to drinking and embarrassment. I’m not sure if the Station Master tradition started earlier, but it was certainly in place by the 2002 Crystal Maze themed crawl, according to another member newsletter.

At the start of the night the taskmasters were sent to their respective pubs. However the pubs that the taskmasters were sent to were not warned that these tasks would be taking place. This caused a little tension in the Nether Inn when every half an hour a balloon would burst scaring the sh*t out of everyone around, much to the annoyance of the bar staff … after some dodgy adding up of scores via a conversion chart, the winners were announced. Not that many people were sober enough to care, or in some cases, even notice.

In a 1999 newsletter, former president Ian Petrie set out the purpose and ideology of the society as he saw it.

This society is for those students that have always wanted to be actors, directors, backstage crew, writers, chain smoking alcoholics and anything else that has anything to do with the theatre.

The society wanted to continue the success of 1999’s earlier production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and so 2000 saw LIP taking on Jean Genet’s play The Balcony, which was performed in the Bonar Hall. Ian writes in the programme notes that the production marked the end of eight weeks of dedicated work by the company, and the programme also thanks the Discovery 102 radio station (now Wave 102) for supporting the production with announcements on air.

The cast and crew of The Balcony

December 2002 had the company presenting their festive revue show Christmas Crackers. The show consisted of five short plays, Duck Feeders (which had two cast members throwing bread at the audience), The Bingo Affair, Superheroes (which featured the characters Batman, Spiderman, Wonderwoman and the well-known superhero Sean Connery), Fellatio (the line from the newsletter, “after the interval we had Fellatio,” amuses me endlessly), and finally The Way We Live Now.

At the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe, LIP took two plays to The Zoo: Lester’s God and The Shift, though neither were appreciated by The Scotsman, who thought that Lester’s God was, “a desperately unappealing tale of one man’s attempt to follow a god he finds in his sofa.”

Cast members from A Brief History of Scotland: We Done Loads

LIP’s Fringe reviews get a little easier to find from 2006 onward as newspapers began to make the shift from print to digital. A Brief History of Scotland: We Done Loads was the society’s offering that year, with two reviewers from The List both appreciating the show’s opening scene set in the Garden of Eden(burgh), with a Sean Connery impression as the Voice of God. In 2007, The Skinny’s Fest magazine was appreciative of A Beginner’s Guide to Fringe Greatness.

There are the usual pitfalls of a small Fringe production in a larger-than-average hotel room, but if you accept a few lines that you can’t hear properly, and a vague sense of awkwardness from some of the performers, there’s plenty to be enjoyed. Two young men sit at the front, discussing their ideas for a production which will get them fame, money and, of course, lots of “the sex.” Their potential creations are acted out on stage with varying amounts of success, ranging from block-busting movie spectaculars to socially-relevant dramas.

2008 saw LIP take its potentially controversial new play Achtung Pal to the Edinburgh Fringe. An alternative history comedy, the play was set in a Nazi-occupied Dundee and featured a resistance attempting to stop the Nazis. The Scotsman described it as “a cross between Dad’s Army and ‘Allo ‘Allo,” and called it “suitably madcap,” while The List was less impressed, finding it to be “a genuinely irritating show,” despite “sparky performances.” The Nazi costumes would go on to sit in the society store unused until 2015, when they were finally dumped to make space. The very next year in 2016, LIP would decide to take company member Vachel Novesha’s play In Defence of Hitler! to the Fringe, and have to buy new costumes. So it goes.

By 2014, LIP’s ever-growing list of previous performances had weighty plays such as Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Guards! Guards!, and Macbeth alongside sketch shows such as A Series of Unrelated Events, and brand new writing from members such as Assault on Psychiatric Ward XIII, and Auld Edinburgh Tales. Former LIP president JD Henshaw – who would go on to create Sweet Venues – recalled his first experience at the Fringe on a podcast with the comedian Simon Caine which was recorded at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe.

I was here [in Edinburgh] and if anything could go wrong it did. There’s this amazing photo of me kissing the train station platform in Dundee having gotten home, because it all just went wrong. And then next year I was here, and the next year, and the next. Addict.

JD Henshaw arriving back in Dundee after the 2003 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Taking new work to the Edinburgh Fringe had always been – and continues to be – an integral part of the LIP experience, offering members a chance to showcase their skills in front of an international audience, and an opportunity to enjoy the unique festival experience.

Cast members from ‘The Last Wolf of Scotland’ in A Variety of Cabaret

2014’s semester one self-written sketch show, Mythconceptions, saw sketches including the infamous 15-minute long ‘Ancient Greece Lighting’ sketch, which company member Ewan Gray said, “could have done with being about 15 minutes shorter,” and ‘The Last Wolf of Scotland,’ written by Koren Heyden-Dumbleton. 2015 saw LIP putting on We Were Heroes by company member Calum Hodgson, a play which dealt with themes of war, morality, and the personal ramifications that arise through military conflict. Booking issues meant that the play was moved from its original venue of Mono in the student union to Fat Sams Live, a gig venue in Fat Sams nightclub (now Club Tropicana). At the end of the run, Calum Hodgson was presented with a tin of golden syrup – one of the key ingredients in the vast quantities of fake blood that the backstage team had to produce.

The cast of Eleanor

2015/16 saw the company pushing its limits. Alongside its usual social events such as the Pub Crawls and the annual Ball, and fundraising events such as bake sales in the university’s main library foyer, LIP put on nine productions in the year. Established plays included William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and a return for the society to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. New plays written by company members included Eleanor, a ghost-walk set in the streets of Dundee written by Shaun Falconer and Ewan Gray, Future Tense the company sketch show, Undertaking written by Rob Currie, The Gorgon Girl written by Rachel Main, and In Defence of Hitler! written by Vachel Novesha. The result of the company’s hard work and commitment that year saw it win Most Active Society at the annual DUSA Society Awards.

The following year was filled with the usual mixture of classic and original plays. In the first semester of the year, LIP presented Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, society member Shaun Falconer’s ghost-walk Wiccan, and for the first time, a play by society patron Stephen Fry, Latin! or Tobacco and Boys. Of Latin! Stephen Carruthers wrote in the Dundee University Review of the Arts that, “two heartfelt performances kept the audience engaged … LIP should be applauded for having the courage to take on something that bit different.” Christmas saw the company putting on an original pantomime, Hansel and Gretel’s Excellent Adventure by Luke Macdonald and Gavin Gilfillan.

Cast members in Hansel and Gretel’s Excellent Adventure

Following Christmas, 2017 saw LIP produce Nate Rufus Edelman’s Desert Rats, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Treasure Island. 2018 was the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and LIP’s 21st year of performing there. The plays taken were Open Heart Surgery written by Rob Currie, and Size Matters by Ewan Gray.

The 2017/18 academic year has so far seen LIP present Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, another original pantomime, If The Shoe Fits written by society member Louise McCahery, and an original play, Bodies, written by Kai Durkin. Bodies saw the backstage team going above and beyond the call of duty, by creating a shallow grave filled with soil that could be put on the stage in Mono. The society also put on a variety evening in celebration of the 25th anniversary, which featured a mix of scenes from previous productions, original sketches, musical numbers and other formats such as the improv gameshow Whose LIPs Are These Anyway, and The Calum with One L Show, which had previously been a pre-show warm-up/extravaganza hosted by society president Calum Telfer.

Calum Telfer in The Calum with One L Show

By the end of this 25th anniversary year LIP will have produced over 100 plays, with the vast majority of those (almost 70) being original plays written by members of the society. Over its quarter century history, the society has been more than just a place to perform and create for its members. It has been a place to explore, to play, and to meet lifelong friends.

Here’s to the next 25 years.

Thank you to everyone who has been a member of the society throughout the last 25 years. There’s no way I could have mentioned every single person, or every little thing, but I hope you enjoy this short history of something you were part of.This retrospective would not have been possible without the help and generosity of the members of the Wrinkled Old Lips LIP alumni group on Facebook.

Particular thanks go to (in no particular order): Kathryn Foot, Owen Adams, JD Henshaw, Paul Creegan, Iain ‘Norris’ Martin, Ambrose Hudson, Jasmine Garrett, Graham Cain, Rob Edwards, Tot Ross, Hamish ‘It’s Hamish, We’re Saved!’ Drummond, Calum MacAskill, Steph Giles, Natasha Chiara McKim, Dave Goodwin, Pab ‘X’ Roberts, Alastair Pack, Ian Petrie, Rebecca Mitchell, Kelvin Aston, Calum Telfer, Joy Naomi Ramsay, Vachel Novesha, Andrea Brooks, Stephen Fry, and Dundee University Students’ Association.