For the Edinburgh-born actor Nicola Roy, like for so many other Thespis disciples, the Covid-19 pandemic brought a successful stage career to a very abrupt halt.
Shortly before the first UK ban in March last year, Roy had been in Australia for five weeks, starring in Liz Lochhead’s acclaimed one-hour adaptation of the French bard Molière of the satirical comedy Tartuffe.
The production won the coveted Critics’ Choice Award at the Adelaide Festival and was scheduled for a tour across Scotland. The show had begun its life at Glasgow’s lunchtime theater, A Play, A Pie And A Pint, and had been the toast of the Edinburgh Fringe 2019.
However, Roy, Lochhead and the rest of the company had barely returned from their Australian triumph when the playhouses closed and the tour forcefully halted. Like most people in the theater industry, the actress began having conversations about what she could do creatively while the live drama was paused.
Amid this brainstorming session, producer Stephen Dunn (who co-produced Tartuffe) suggested that Roy do a podcast given her famous love of conversation. Not only that, he also had the audio equipment needed to turn it into a professional job.
“I never thought about doing a podcast at all,” says Roy. “But I was very excited about it.
“I earned the nickname of ‘Social Secretary’ in some theater companies because I love an event. I love nothing more than bringing people together. ”
The actor’s excitement led her to the door of David Greig, playwright and artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theater in Edinburgh. Roy has a longstanding relationship with Edinburgh and Greig’s support resulted in The Cultural Coven, a podcast produced by the In Motion Theater Company in association with the Lyceum Theater and the Stephen Dunn Theater Fund.
The basis for the show is that Roy interviews leading figures in Scottish cultural life. The actress-turned-host is fortunate to have “wonderful friends” in Scottish art who agreed to “take a leap of faith” and be interviewed by her for the podcast.
Those friends include singer-songwriter, radio host and front man for Deacon Blue, Ricky Ross, fellow actress Elaine C Smith, writer Ian Rankin and of course her good friend, playwright, poet and Scotland’s former Makar Liz Lochhead. With this type of cast, it should come as no surprise that The Cultural Coven has received considerable media attention.
For example, Lochheads’ refreshing honesty made headlines when she told Roy that the Scottish Qualifications Agency auditors were “total idiots” when selecting their jobs. While overlooking her early poem The Choosing, which teenagers love, the examiners instead chose work that was more relevant to middle-aged women who were “victims of the dating game.”
Another well-known friend who got on the show was Outlander star and whiskey entrepreneur Sam Heughan. Roy and Heughan date back to their time as founding members of the Lyceum Youth Theater.
Heughan’s appearance in The Cultural Coven sparked massive interest from Outlander fans and from there to reporting in Hello! Magazine. As the Heughan interview gained increasing attention, Roy grew a little concerned about how the Legion of supporters of the Outlander star would view their interview.
As it turned out, she shouldn’t have worried. “They were really beautiful,” she recalls.
“They said I got things out of Sam that they had never heard before, and I didn’t ask the easily disrespectful questions that can sometimes be asked.”
While the feedback on her interview with Heughan was wonderful, Roy’s most embarrassing moment in creating the podcasts came during her conversation with him. Before the interview, friends had dared the presenter to ask the actor on behalf of a friend and even ask him to marry her.
Roy told Heughan this during their conversation, to which the actor replied, “I’m waiting for this marriage proposal.” “I didn’t have a comeback,” recalls Roy, embarrassed.
“I’m proud of a good comeback, but I went back to the vocabulary of a 15-year-old and said, ‘I’ll use a projector!'”
If that self-deprecating anecdote proves anything, it’s that Roy’s podcast, based on the world of arts, has more in common with the Graham Norton Show than with a confident artistic program like Front Row on Radio 4. “It was really important cover different genres within the arts, ”explains Roy.
“I wanted there to be something for everyone. I am aware that it can be said to be a podcast about the arts and that may sound like you have to be a Guardian reader to appreciate it.
“But that’s just not the case. Hopefully we made it accessible.
“It’s a chat in the green room, I present the guests with a creative challenge, I ask a few quick questions.”
These rapid fire questions include a “yes” or “no” to Scottish independence. So far, says Roy, every single guest has answered “yes”.
This does not surprise the presenter, who is herself a passionate supporter of an independent Scotland. “The nature of the arts requires us to be pretty robust,” she says.
Artists are constantly changing from job to job, she continues. As a result, they are “probably less afraid of change” than the average person.
Add to this the much touted “liberalism” of the arts, which Roy believes is reflected in generally progressive political attitudes among artists, and it should come as no surprise that Indy has made a clean impression among her podcast guests so far.
Will Roy leave The Cultural Coven after the vaccination program begins to bear fruit and an eventual return to the stage? “I don’t really want to leave the podcast now,” she replies.
“I’m an actress first and foremost, but I think there is a hunger to learn more about artists. Hopefully I can have a podcast alongside my acting work. ”
The Cultural Coven can be accessed via the Lyceum Theater website or the podcast platforms lyceum.org.uk