LEEDS Playhouse regular Robert Pickavance, Gemma Barnett and newcomer Danny Sykes will star in Dr Korczak’s Example, the first 2020 production in the new Bramall Rock Void.
Artistic director James Brining directs David Greig’s powerful and moving play in a Leeds premiere timed to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.
Set in the shadows of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in 1942, Dr Korczak’s Example examines life in an orphanage where escapism is key to survival, and where the children’s shared sense of community is the only barrier against the wave of hatred approaching their haven of solidarity.
Greig’s play highlights the work of Polish educator and children’s author Dr Janusz Korczak, who championed the voices of young people and whose influence led to the creation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.
Director James Brining says: “Dr Janusz Korczak was an incredible individual whose beliefs and teachings helped to redefine how we think about the way we bring up our own children and the part we have to play within society to achieve that.
“I commissioned the play and first directed it in 2001. It’s such a powerful, moving and timely story and I’m so looking forward to returning to it in the new Bramall Rock Void and particularly to working with Hebden Bridge designer Rose Revitt, winner of the Linbury Prize for theatre design.”
The Bramall Rock Void forms part of the £15.8 million redevelopment of Leeds Playhouse, completed last autumn. “What we have already discovered about our new theatre is that its raw intimacy can create a powerful environment for powerful stories and Rose’s vision for Dr Korczak’s Example does just that,” says James. ”I’m honoured to be directing this [play] again with such a brilliant company.”
Brining commissioned Greig to write the play 20 years ago when he was running TAG, a children’s theatre company in Glasgow, Scotland. Now looking forward to introducing it to a new audience in his home city of Leeds, he says:“I’ve done quite a few things more than once, but I never intended to go back to this piece again.
“I was really happy with the original production. Then, a year or so ago, I came across a statistic that showed quite a high number of people – maybe 18 to 20 per cent – thought the Nazi holocaust was exaggerated, with a slightly smaller number saying it was completely fabricated. I was really struck and shocked by that because when I grew up it was a very present thing.”
Brining continues: “On a very personal level, revisiting the play has made me ask if I’m the same person I was 20 years ago. Having children has changed the way I see the play and, perhaps, explains why I was so moved when I read it again. I’m not saying that having children gives you more of a profound understanding, but it does give you a different perspective. And I’m just older, so I can now align myself quite strongly with Korczak.
“I think that’s the measure of a really great piece of theatre: it speaks to you differently according to who you are and where you are. Having children, being older, the world being a slightly different place, even having more distance from 1942, all of these things affect the way you engage with it. But as I’ve watched rehearsals, I’ve been really moved. The power of the play is still very potent.”
The role of Dr Janusz Korczak will be played by Leeds actor Robert Pickavance, who starred as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Sava in David Greig’s Europe as part of the Leeds Playhouse Ensemble during its Pop-Up Season.
He will be joined by Gemma Barnett, fresh from starring as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare In The Squares, as well as Rory in A Hundred Words For Snow at Trafalgar Studios and Lola in Lola at The Vaults, both in London.
Danny Sykes will make his first professional stage appearance after graduating with a BA in Acting from Arts Ed in 2019.
This Playhouse production is supported by the Linbury Prize for Stage Design, funded by the Linbury Trust. This biennial prize, the most important of its kind in Britain, brings together the best early career designers with professional theatre, dance and opera companies.
Joining Brining and Revitt in the creative team are lighting designer Jane Lalljee, sound designer and composer David Shrubsole, movement designerRachel Wise.
Dr Korczak’s Example runs at Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse, January 25 to February 15. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.