Last updated on June 21st, 2013 | Written By Dick Bonham
What’s on at Leeds theatres
These are exciting times for the Leeds theatre scene. As I write, local companies like the fantastic Rash Dash are making a big impact at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and the coming months have got plenty of treats for audiences closer to home. There’s been a revitalised sense of purpose in the theatre scene in the city over the past couple of years and the coming autumn season is no exception. There’s a great mix of work, from full-scale commercial musicals to the contemporary physical theatre from international companies, there’s something for everyone. So why not try something new?
West Yorkshire Playhouse
After ten years at the top, the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Artistic Director Ian Brown stepped down over the summer, making way for new boy James Brining. This marks a homecoming for the Leeds lad, who has recently been making a name for himself at Dundee Rep over the past decade. Brining is an excellent choice, and I can’t wait to see how the Playhouse will change and evolve under his leadership.
In the meantime, this feels very much like an interim season – we’ll have to wait until 2013 for him to direct his first show in the new job, and for his influence to really start being felt. There is still a lot to look forward to though, including the new show from the highly acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre. Steptoe and Son (14 Sept – 13 Oct) is an updating of the classic 70s sitcom that’s sure to pack in the crowds.
Look out in particular for Dean Nolan as Harold. No stranger to Leeds audiences, he was recently seen in Red Ladder’s excellent Big Society at the City Varieties, starring alongside Phil Jupitus. Other highlights include physical theatre company Frantic Assembly with their latest, Beautiful Burnout (6-10 Nov) and Christmas favourite The Wind in the Willows (24 Nov – 19 Jan), in an adaptation by that most reassuring of Yorkshire playwrights, Alan Bennett.
It’s great that the Playhouse are beginning offer more support to new theatre-makers from our own region. Some great work is being done as part of the Furnace programme, and on 26 & 27 October there’ll be showings of a whole variety of ground breaking new theatre. The full line-up has yet to be announced, but previous projects in this strand of work have been of excellent quality. With a weekend pass costing just £6, my advice is to take the plunge and see what happens – you might just end up watching the “next big thing”.
The Carriageworks Theatre
Some real gems from The Carriageworks this season. Located on Millennium Square, the theatre has two of the smallest spaces in the city, but definitely punches above its weight with an exciting programme of new work.
Perfect for footie fans is Beating Berlusconi (21&22 Sept), the true story of a Liverpool fan who ended up sitting next to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Attaturk Stadium and the stranger-than-fiction events that followed. Other season highlights include Victoria Melody’s Northern Soul (26 Sept) is utterly charming. It’s a hard show to describe, but does feature her learning to dance in stranger’s living rooms and living with pigeon fanciers. It’s warm, witty and well worth a watch.
Definitely also on my list is an evening of three new pieces under The Best of BE banner (3 Nov). The BE Festival has been running in Birmingham only since 2010, but the quality of shows coming out of it has been astonishingly high, including plenty of pieces from international companies. What binds the work together is a strong visual aesthetic – so don’t worry, you don’t need to be able to speak another language to enjoy it.
One of the best companies from last year’s Best of BE was Austrian company CieLaroque. They return this year with full-length piece Habibi Problem (16 Nov), which follows the story of two young gay men facing the death penalty in Iran for their homosexuality.
City Varieties Music Hall
I’ve recently had the pleasure of making some wok at the newly renovated City Varieties, and it has to be said that this is one of the most beautiful venues in the region. You can feel the wonderful history of the building as you step through the doors. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore!
The gothic stylings of Hull Truck’s new version of Jekyll and Hyde (26 Sept) should prove an ideal fit for the Victorian architecture, especially as the nights begin to draw in. And, as ever, there’s plenty of comedy. Keeping the laughs coming will be Mark Watson (23 Sept), Marcus Brigtocke (16&17 Oct) and John Shuttleworth (15 Nov).
Plus, Michael Morpurgo will be reading from his acclaimed war time epic War Horse (16 Nov), accompanied by songs and music from John Tamms and Barry Coope. You might need your hankies at the ready, though.
The Grand Theatre
The Grand Theatre continues its recent revitalisation, with some of the really big shows from recent years coming to Leeds for the first time. The new production of Oliver (6 Nov – 8 Dec) stars Neil Morrissey and looks absolutely spectacular. This is one of my favourite musicals and this new version, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, has been picking up some pretty healthy critical acclaim. I’ve already booked my seat.
After this the National Theatre present One Man, Two Guvnors (11-15 Dec). Rufus Hound replaces original lead James Cordon, but the show has proved a huge international hit, and should be resilient enough to prove a reliable crowdpleaser.
If Mozart is more your thing then resident company Opera North will also be in action, with their first Don Giovanni for seven years. With various dates spread from September to December, the new production is directed by Alessandro Talevi, whose Turn of the Screw proved a hit with audiences a couple of years ago.
Once more Leeds theatres are proving themselves some of the best in the region. With all these great shows on offer who needs to travel to Edinburgh for the Festival? It’s all right here on our doorstep!