West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new season has been announced! I tootled along to the Season Launch last week and as the mulled wine flowed, the creative team offered some insights into the months ahead. Focusing on ‘embracing our city’ and bringing ‘vital theatre’ to the people of Leeds and beyond, the upcoming home-grown work and launch of a brand new festival, Every Third Minute, at West Yorkshire Playhouse looks very promising indeed. The theatre will undergo major redevelopment which includes a brand new studio space from July 2018, with the Quarry and Courtyard Theatres closing while the theatre continues to produce work in a converted workshop space, which will seat 350. The pop-up will offer ‘a full and varied programme of work throughout Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019’ and to keep us all eager, they have announced their Christmas show for 2019 as Charles Dickens’s classic novella, A Christmas Carol. In the meantime, here are my top picks for the last season launch of the West Yorkshire Playhouse as it currently stands…Vive progress!
West Yorkshire Playhouse Productions: Top 5
Marking the final show to play in the Courtyard Theatre, Alan Bennett’s wonderful observational, satirical monologues will find their way back to a Yorkshire stage where they belong. The celebration of this inimitable comic marvel will take place in two halves, with the first instalment, Graham, Peggy & Muriel proceeded by Susan, Doris & Irene. Looking at life through the eyes of some fantastically entertaining characters, Bennett’s work should reach everyone on some level – that’s the beauty of it. Each collection can be seen in isolation of course, but you can count me in for the lot! Run: 14th-23rd June.
Sunshine on Leith
Along with The Girl on the Train, Sunshine on Leith will launch its national tour from the nest of West Yorkshire Playhouse. Tapping into the musical genius of The Proclaimers and recently a hoot for movie-goers, this new production of the popular musical will be directed by Artistic Director James Brining and is scripted by Stephen Greenhorn. Exploring ideas of home, love and life’s journeys, Sunshine on Leith should prove to be a feel-good hit. Run: 20th April – 19th May.
What if I Told You?
A story of defying expectations and embracing identity in the face of societal oppression, Pauline Mayers’s one woman show intertwines dance with storytelling to reflect on the past, present and future. Run: 13th – 17th February.
Live Art Bistro Partnership: Dollywould and Mia: Daughters of Fortune
West Yorkshire Playhouse partners up with Live Art Bistro this season to promote local work. Mind the Gap’s Mia looks at important issues in an under-represented part of our society by telling the story of parenting with learning disabilities. Dollywould, from Sh!t Theatre (no really, that’s the name of the company…genius, right?) will apparently cover a wide range of topics under the umbrella of relevance to country legend Dolly Parton; ‘cloning, branding, immortality and death’. Count me in! Mia run: 27th-28th April. Dollywould Run: 11th-12th May.
Searching for the Heart of Leeds
Sending the Quarry Theatre out with a hearty local hug, this production is inspired by the people of Leeds ‘in a collision of music, movement, and the words of over 200 Leeds residents’. Promising to be an ‘epic closing show’ which tells stories about what it is at the very heart of this great city. Run: 19th-23rd June.
Visiting Productions: Top 5
Turn of the Screw
My favourite Henry James story is coming to the stage! Full of gothic tension and eerie happenings as a governess battles unseen forces to care for her charges, I can’t wait to see how Tim Luscombe and Daniel Buckroyd will bring such a thrillingly haunting tale to life. Run: 20th-24th March.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Elizabeth at Always Time for Theatre recommending a Kneehigh production? Am I getting predictable? Well, I’ll tell you what is predictable; Kneehigh’s ability to impress with slick and stylish story telling which usually features some surprises to make the creative brain grin from ear to ear (read my reviews of 946: The Amazing Adolphus Tips here and The Tin Drum here). With this production, the Kneehigh Gang take on a tale of love and survival as the characters make their way through the Russian Revolution, reflecting on ‘some of the most devastating times in history’. Run: 20th – 24th March.
Did you ever hear about the penguins at Central Park Zoo who tried to hatch a rock? No? Let this children’s show teach you all about identity, acceptance and family. While other adventures for children in this season include the classic Dahl creation George’s Marvellous Medicine and popular characters Peppa Pig and The Teletubbies, I think Penguins sounds delightful and inclusive and I will do all I can to catch it! Run: 15-17th February.
This cabaret production promises ‘a brilliant, moving and musical night out’. Featuring drag star Divina De Campo, this production explores faith, sexuality and gender identity. They had me at ‘drag star’ with this one… LGBTQ+ stories are making their way to more stages and I couldn’t be happier about it! Run: 6th-7th April.
Black Men Walking
Written by the fantastic ‘conscious MC’, Testament, this three hander taking place in the Barber Studio explores identity and history through three hiking friends. I saw Testament’s WOKE earlier this year (review here) as part of the Furnace Festival and I cannot wait to see what he’s done with this new piece. Run: 21-24 February.
Taking on the gifts of Charles Dickens in an adaptation of one of his best works, this production seeks to bring Dickens’ wit and sharp observations to the stage in Deborah McAndrew’s new, ‘joyful’ adaptation. Characters will navigate a world of forbidden fun and when the circus arrives to town, the they will have to keep a tight hold on their no-fanciful-notions compass in this ‘touching and often hilarious tale of repression and longing’. Run: 22nd-26th May.
The Game of Love and Chai
This romantic farce from Nigel Planer takes Marivaux’s farce and updates it to bring us a modern take on the perils of testing those you love and the frictions caused by class and love. Set in England and featuring Bollywood song and dance, this show promises variety and gentle comedy. Run: 1st-5th May.
Every Third Minute Festival :
Ever the pioneering collection of theatre folk, West Yorkshire Playhouse continues to carry the baton of inclusivity in theatre. This season, they launch a brilliant new festival, Every Third Minute, to highlight the stories and the experiences of those living with dementia. The launch offers this explanation of the name: ‘every Third Minute in the UK someone will begin living with dementia.’ These stories are produced in consultation with those living with dementia and also seek to make productions more accessible. The printed narrative promises more listings to come, but so far, of the shows announced, my top picks are:
The Nature of Forgetting
Exploring ‘what is left when memory is gone’, this production follows 55 year old Tom as he reminisces over key life events as those memories begin to merge and fade. Promising to deliver a ‘powerful, explosive and joyous’ show, this definitely looks worthy of a visit. Run: 6th – 9th March.
Recently a hugely successful film and based on the novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice comes to the stage with direction by David Grindley and with central performance from Sharon Small. Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and struggles to keep a hold on herself and her life as she knows it, coming to terms with a major shift in the direction of her life. This should be a compelling drama and worthy of note. Run: 9th February – 3rd March.
With collaborations, partnerships, festivals and initiatives galore, West Yorkshire Playhouse has a fantastically varied season ahead, boasting great scope and vital stories needing to be heard. As the theatre prepares to briefly downsize in order to impressively upscale, they are certainly making this season as busy and as vibrant as is humanly possible; celebrating classics, new writing and stories across cultures and experiences, it’s a stellar season ahead. There’s more on offer than I could cover here, with notable additions being productions of Birdsong, Our Country’s Good, Ruby Wax’s Frazzled and This House – all of which look intriguing but apparently it’s cheating to cover a whole season in a top picks post, so you’ll just have to pick up a copy of the season brochure for the rest! You can find tickets for all of the above and more here – and I’ll see you there!