ASSOCIATE director Amy Leach notches a hattrick of make-you-think-anew Shakespeare productions at Leeds Playhouse with her psychological thriller, Macbeth, after her modern Yorkshire industrial take on Romeo & Juliet in 2017 and Hamlet with Tessa Parr’s female Hamlet in 2019.
A huge drawbridge hangs heavy over Hayley Grindle’s stage. Searchlights scan the auditorium from metallic towers spread out like a forest. Fog spreads. Deafening noise bursts through the air. This could be the start of an arena rock concert, but then, look more closely. To one side is a puddle of water; the ground is muddy.
Then listen to the Witches’ opening words; re-shaped, re-ordered, with new rhythms, their sound as important as their meaning. What’s this? Macbeth (Tachia Newall) and Lady Macbeth (Jessica Baglow) are cradling a new-born baby, only for the bairn to die within a heartbeat.
In the Playhouse’s wish to “explore the damaging physical, spiritual and psychological effects of treachery on those who seek power at any cost”, Leach has grabbed the bull by the horns, putting child loss, lineage and legacy at the heart of the Macbeths’ behaviour, the acts of murder, the need to eliminate all threats to their ill-gotten power.
Leach then takes it even further, Baglow’s Lady Macbeth being pregnant when she says “unsex me here” and later suffering a miscarriage as blood seeps through her nightgown. Come the finale, Leach adds new text to give a foretaste of Banquo’s son, Fleance, becoming king as the Three Witches had prophesied.
Those Three Witches are typical of Leach and Leeds Playhouse artistic director James Brining’s “commitment to accessible and inclusive theatre-making”, as is the participation of the blind Benjamin Wilson as associate director and audio description consultant.
Among the witches, Karina Jones is visually impaired and Charlotte Arrowsmith is profoundly deaf, while Ashleigh Wilder identifies as “a queer, Black, neurodivergent non-binary person”. Interestingly, Shakespeare’s “weird sisters” are not weird, or alien, in the way they are often played, but are as wild as the landscape instead.
Arrowsmith also plays Lady MacDuff, partnered by the profoundly deaf Hull actor Adam Bassett as MacDuff. Tom Dawze’s Lennox vocally interprets the sign language, complementing the intensity of Bassett’s expressive face, hands and arms with the staccato rhythms of his speech.
Not only do lighting designer Chris Davey’s aforementioned searchlights induce a sense of paranoia, but there are relentlessly oppressive natural elements to the fore too, along with the sound and fury of machismo war. These are all big, muscular, mud-and-blood splattered men, except for Kammy Darweish’s surprisingly jovial King Duncan; their physicality being emphasised by Georgina Lamb’s movement direction. Likewise, Nicola T Chang’s sound design adds to the cacophony.
Macbeth’s vaulting ambition may in part be represented by the drawbridge, crowned when on top of it, but broken beneath it, but Leach’s production is deeply human amid the technology.
In the relationship of Newall’s reactionary Macbeth and Baglow’s more intuitive Lady Macbeth, the shifting sands become less about calculating mind games, controlled by her, more about brute physicality and brutal will, imposed by him, as intense love and mutual hopes are snuffed out in the face of ultimate destiny being beyond their control, whether shaped by supernatural witchcraft or the resurrection of natural order.
Newall’s Macbeth begins as the soldier’s soldier; his soliloquies remain the stuff of northern plain speaking, rather than poetic airs, amid the fevered actions of his bloody rise and fall.
Above all, Leach puts Lady Macbeth’s motives under the spotlight, and if purists feel she has gone too far in doing so, the reality is that Baglow’s performance is all the better, more rounded, for it. Risk-taking change can be liberating, rather than be judged as taking liberties.
THURSDAY’S evening of conversation with Yorkshire actor/director Reece Dinsdale in the York Theatre Royal Studio is billed more simply as “Reece’s Pieces”.
Or, as he puts it, “just a bloke beginning to find his voice” in his anecdotes, revelations and stories, after his uncanny knack of finding voices on stage and screen since the age of 12, whether playing Shakespeare’s Richard III or fellow son of the West Riding Alan Bennett.
“It started in lockdown as a challenge to myself,” says Normanton-born Reece, 62. “As an actor I had never felt comfortable speaking publicly unless I was playing a role, so I thought I’d face a few demons by attempting to talk live online to my Twitter followers.
“What I discovered was that when I got started…I couldn’t stop! Reaching the age of 60, I realised I might have a tale or two to tell.”
Indeed he does, having performed extensively in theatres across the country, as well as for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. He has starred in myriad TV dramas too, ranging from leading roles in the BAFTA Award-winning Threads and Jim Henson’s Storyteller, through Spooks, Minder, Silent Witness and Life On Mars, to Joe McIntyre in Coronation Street and the comedy series Home To Roost, playing opposite the late John Thaw when drawing 14 million viewers each week.
In 2020, he joined the cast of ITV’s Emmerdale, on the understanding his bad-lad character, Paul Ashdale, would be killed off in 2021, and he now directs episodes of the Yorkshire village soap.
Reece’s Pieces has brought about his return to the theatre spotlight but in a different format: as himself. “I’ve not been on stage in a play since (The Fall of) The Master Builder [at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in October 2017, playing predatory architect Alvard Solness in Zinnie Harris’s contemporary Yorkshire re-imagining of Henrik Ibsen’s play during his tenure as the Playhouse’s associate artist],” he says.
“I’ve been so busy doing other things, but I really miss theatre. What I can say is I’ll be doing something somewhere on stage in 2023. Whatever I do, acting on stage, acting on screen, directing, acting on stage is the last thing I’d want to stop doing.”
He might have returned to treading the boards sooner. “I was going to play Benedict [the ‘eternal bachelor’] in Much Ado About Nothing for Northern Broadsides. Conrad [director Conrad Nelson] had asked me if I’d do it, and my reaction was, ‘I’m far too old’, but he said, ‘No, you’re not’.
“But then we got to the first day’s rehearsal and I learned my father had three months to live, so I had to pull out. I can’t wait to get back to performing on stage again.”
Reece, who spent 24 years in London, but has since returned to Yorkshire and now lives in Harrogate, has made the stage his second home for 50 years. “I was press-ganged into being an actor at school when I was 12 and found it was the way to express myself without using my own emotions, and I’ve always been happy to be someone else on stage, rather than me,” says miner’s son Reece, who graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1980.
“But, as it happens, now I’m happy to talk as me, now I’m getting there, I’m happy to do Reece’s Pieces. It started with me taking to Twitter, and I’m now doing this for my dad, after he said ‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Go and show people what you’re about and what you can do’.
“I thought, ‘I’m 59, nearly 60, I’ve been around the block maybe 15 times; how do I go about doing this, being myself in a way that would be comfortable for me and for others?’. There’s this feature on Twitter called Periscope, where you go on there for ten minutes, asking people to ask you questions. Well, I did it and it ran to 45 minutes! After ten weeks it was up to an hour and three quarters with 30,000 people logging on.
“This was in lockdown, so I didn’t confine it talking about myself but also to talking about mental health, hopefully helping people through lockdown, and so many people connected with it…and as you can tell now, from this conversation, once I get started, I don’t shut up. In answering one question, it would be 25 minutes later before we’d finally go on to the next one.”
Cue Leeds Playhouse artistic director and great friend James Brining contacting Reece to say: “We need to re-open; will you do a show? I’ll host it for you.” And so, leaving behind the front room, the stage format was born for Reece’s Pieces, one where Reece invites an actor friend, presenter or journalist to anchor the evening, with radio presenter and writer Bob Fisher doing so in York tomorrow (3/2/20220, just as he did at Harrogate Theatre last Thursday.
No longer the reluctant raconteur, it is now a case of “Let’s just go with what happens,” says Reece, with his list of 1,000 potential questions from meeting a thousand wonderful people known and unknown in his work, from Peter Ustinov to David Bowie, Jack Lemmon to Alan Bennett. “Then we open it up to the audience; we have a laugh and a joke, so it’s both funny and touching.
“Some people have been to the show three or four times, and I say, ‘Look, I’ve only had one life’, but they say, ‘No, we love it; we’ve got something different out of it each time’. It’s extraordinary!”
As someone who admits to having been shy off stage, going on stage as himself, rather than in character, has been a chance to “face a few demons”. “It’s been very good for me, and because I’m a director, I remember when I started ten years ago, I was frightened because you need to be a master communicator, and my ability to do that needed to be addressed,” he says.
“That’s been really useful for Reece’s Pieces, and with the roundabout way these shows have been come about, it’s been fascinating bringing all these things together.”
Should you be wondering how Reece came to direct Emmerdale, he had directed dramas already for Jimmy McGovern and Ian Bevan, winning a Royal Television Society Award for Eighteen from McGovern’s Moving On series, and it was Bevan who facilitated the opportunity for him to direct a couple of episodes initially.
“I’m a good pupil, I listen, and on the last day I was shooting, I got word that the executive producers wanted to see me, and they showed me to the comfortable sofa, rather the hard chair, which was a good sign!” Reece recalls.
“They said, ‘We’d like you to direct…but in a year, because we want you to be in the show first’. It was meant to be for seven months, playing this bad guy, who would die at the end of it, but it turned to be for a year as Covid caused such havoc.
“They offered me a block to direct, and I said, ‘How about two blocks?’, and as soon I finished filming in March 2021, I started directing, from April. I’ve done three blocks of shows now, and I’ll be hotfooting it from the studio for the York show.”
From this spring, he will be swapping Yorkshire for Lancashire, or more precisely Emmerdale for Weatherfield, as he takes one the new challenge of directing Coronation Street. “I’m not sure there’s anyone who’s previously been in and directed both soaps,” he says.
“The advice for life I was given was ‘always keep coming out of different corners, always keep them guessing’, and I think I’ve kept them guessing for 40 years. I’ve lost that young man’s burning ambition; now all I want to be is creative every day, and long may that continue.
“I’m happy – and I’m just as passionate as I was when I was 20, leaving drama school.” And now, he is only too happy to talk about it in Reece’s Pieces.
Reece’s Pieces: An Evening of Conversation with Actor/Director Reece Dinsdale, York Theatre Royal Studio, tomorrow (3/2/2022), 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623 568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
A Little Night Music, Opera North and Leeds Playhouse, Leeds Playhouse, until July 17. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk
THE collaboration between Opera North and Leeds Playhouse has finally resumed 13 months after originally intended. It has been a long wait but has picked up very fruitfully.
A bitter-sweet musical by the grand old man of bitter-sweet, Stephen Sondheim, is the perfect vehicle, reflecting on the fall-out from amatory accidents in European operetta just as we all contemplate a newly changed cultural scenario.
James Brining’s new production, updated to mid-20th century and hand in glove with Madeleine Boyd’s flexible set, is everywhere imaginative and often heart-warming, reaping the very best from a widely talented cast.
On the Playhouse’s apron stage – no proscenium arch (except briefly an improvised one for a Baroque throwback in The Glamorous Life – there is virtually no scenery. All is movable furniture: two clothes-rails, a grandfather clock, a doll’s house, a toiletry dresser, a double bed, a half-submerged piano. The only fixed point comes in Act 2, where the centrepiece is a fountain surmounted by a cherub, which is probably Eros.
James Holmes’s theatre orchestra – using the original and incomparable Jonathan Tunick orchestration – is placed at the back, stage right and blacked out for Act 2. Lighting designer Chris Davey’s discreet spots gently guide us to the next focal point, so that we are duped into feeling the action is continuous, the scene-changes happening magically.
Although much of the music moves in triple time, reflecting the triangular relationships of the story, its character evolves with the scenes. Holmes is masterful at these changing colours and accents, while remaining in close touch with his singers.
The Scandinavian twilight of Act 2, with alto flute, cor anglais, celesta and harp, is positively fragrant. He can equally easily find a lament in a waltz, as in Henrik’s Later, or pomposity in a polonaise, in the Count’s In Praise Of Women. His orchestra is the unsung hero of the evening.
There are some pretty splendid singers too. Heading the list has to be Josephine Barstow’s Madame Arnfeldt, the grande dame of the tale who has seen it all before, as she sardonically reminds us from her wheelchair in Liaisons. She exudes effortless authority through her commanding mezzo and diction that is a paragon of clarity.
As her actress daughter Desirée, Stephanie Corley brings a lovely soprano to her vacillating emotions; in Send In The Clowns, against a backdrop of slow choreography, her pacing and rubato is wondrous.
Opposite her – and incidentally rekindling their double act from Kiss Me, Kate with Opera North – is Quirijn de Lang as her erstwhile lover Fredrik, the lawyer caught in a mid-life crisis, whose firm baritone fires You Must Meet My Wife. His fall into the fountain is straight out of P G Wodehouse. Together their ambivalent emotions are cleverly cloaked.
Christopher Nairne brings an incisive baritone to his poker-faced Count, while Helen Évora’s Countess has charm to burn, notably in Every Day A Little Death. A word too for the Petra of Amy J. Payne, who brings both pizzazz and pathos to The Miller’s Son, a marvellous piece. Corinne Cowling’s Anne, Fredrik’s virginal second wife, and Laurence Kilsby’s high-strung Henrik merge neatly into elopement, while Agatha Meehan makes an engaging young daughter to Desirée (her alternate is Lucy Sherman).
The Quintet, five chorus members from Opera North acting like a Greek chorus, seem to me to sum up the whole show: they blend superbly, proving that good teamwork will always win the day. Congratulations to all, especially James Brining for pulling it all together.
BAH, Tier 3 Humbug. A Christmas Carol should have been opening at Leeds Playhouse tomorrow for a run until January 9, but then came the Government’s latest killjoy message for much of the north.
The Playhouse’s response is to go ahead anyway…but for five special online performances only, from December 21 to 23.
“Just as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future try to instil in Scrooge some seasonal spirit, Leeds Playhouse remains committed to spreading much-needed festive cheer across the city and beyond this year, with ‘as live’ digital screenings of its sensational family show A Christmas Carol,” says the Playhouse statement.
“As Leeds remains in Tier 3, the Playhouse is sadly unable to welcome people into its Quarry Theatre to enjoy the production in person, but we remain determined that audiences will be able to experience the spirit, fun, music and magic of A Christmas Carol in the run-up to the big day.”
Leeds Playhouse has worked with Pilot Theatre, resident company at York Theatre Royal, to film the production and share it for free with care homes, schools and hospitals in Leeds.
“It’s brilliant to be working in a new partnership with Leeds Playhouse on Playhouse At Home,” says Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson. “We know how disappointing it is for everyone this Christmas in Leeds not to be able to attend theatre performances, but if you access the show via your television, or the largest screen you have at home, it’s amazing how close our team are able to make you feel to the actors and the magic of this enduring Christmas story.”
Now, tickets are being made available to the wider public for online performances at 7pm on December 21, then 2pm and 7pm on December 22 and 23. Prices start at £10, but be warned, numbers are limited, so early booking is advised to avoid disappointment.
Charles Dickens’s winter evergreen can be enjoyed in the comfort and safety of homes – whether in Tier 3 across West Yorkshire or Tier 2 in York and North Yorkshire – in Huddersfield-born Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation, premiered at Hull Truck Theatre in December 2017, when directed by Amy Leach.
Now associate director at Leeds Playhouse, Leach is directing this season’s production too, wherein the spirits of theatre past, present and future emerge from ghost lights centre stage to share with miser Ebenezer Scrooge the true meaning of this festive time of year.
On Christmas Eve in Victorian Leeds, the cold-hearted Scrooge has not spread an ounce of festive cheer. As the cold night draws in, first Jacob Marley, then the ghostly spirits, take Scrooge on his frightening but enlightening magical journey, hoping to show him the error of his ways.
“Our vivid retelling of one of the best-loved stories in English literature was inspired by the evocative beauty and intrinsic hope of the ghost lights that continued to burn bright while theatres across the land were forced to go dark when the pandemic hit,” says Leach.
“Our aim now with Playhouse At Home is to share that same light and hope with people in their own homes, giving them the best seats in the house for a story infused with goodwill, festive spirit and optimism. What a way to kick off Christmas week!”
As part of the Playhouse’s on-going commitment to supporting the Leeds community, the Quarry Hill theatre is gifting a free screening to closed wards of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, so patients can enjoy the on-stage magic even while they are in hospital over the festive period.
The offer is being extended to the Playhouse’s Burberry Inspire partner schools, residents in three care homes and to two day-service settings for adults with a learning disability.
Ticket holders who booked for cancelled shows will be sent the digital version for free. In addition, the Playhouse will bring A Christmas Carol to 1,000 NHS key workers and their families as part of the #LeedsSaysThanks scheme.
Playhouse artistic director James Brining says: “It feels more important than ever that we should honour our ongoing commitment to the wider Playhouse community in Leeds, the city region and beyond, giving our more vulnerable neighbours the chance to experience the life-enhancing joy of live theatre at Christmas in the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings.”
Reflecting on “undoubtedly an incredibly challenging year”, Brining says: “With challenge comes innovation. We launched Playhouse Connect during lockdown to stay creatively engaged with more than 4,000 people across Leeds.
“This resulted in a collated series of dynamic online projects that we were able to successfully share with a much wider digital audience. We have also previously partnered with the National Theatre and Curve on lockdown screenings of Barber Shop Chronicles and My Beautiful Laundrette.
“Playhouse At Home is the next logical step, giving us a vital outlet for the incredible work we are continuing to produce, and audiences an essential opportunity to experience inspiring and energising theatre at home.”
Jack Lord will play Ebenezer Scrooge; Stephen Collins and Nadia Nadarajah, Bob and Mrs Cratchit; Dan Parr, Young Scrooge and Fred; Tessa Parr, Christmas Past; Lladel Bryant, Dick Wilkins and Topper, and Everal A. Walsh, Marley and Fezziwig.
Lisa Howard, last seen in York in Park Bench Theatre’s late-summer premiere of Matt Aston’s lockdown play Every Time A Bell Rings in Rowntree Park, will take the roles of Christmas Present and Mrs Fezziwig.
Leach, who directed Oliver Twist at Leeds Playhouse in February, is joined in the creative team by designer Hayley Grindle; lighting designer Chris Davey; Leeds composer and music director John Biddle; Otley sound designer Ed Clarke; Leeds BSL consultant Adam Bassett; choreographer Lucy Cullingford; puppet designer Rachael Canning and puppet director Elisa De Grey.
Tickets (£10/£12/£150 can be booked at leedsplayhouse.org.uk or 0113 213 7700 with access for 48 hours from the ticket time. All performances include integrated British Sign Language (BSL), captioning and features creative audio description, courtesy of Hear The Picture.
OPERA North and Leeds Playhouse are collaborating on a celebration of the power and expressiveness of the human voice that will bring audiences back into the Quarry Hill theatre next month for the first time since the March lockdown.
They will co-produce Connecting Voices: six new and existing 40-minute pieces of live performance staged safely and Covid-securely in four areas of the Playhouse, played over three weekends in October, fusing classic and contemporary theatre on themes of isolation and connection, resilience and reflection
Leeds rapper, writer and world record-holding beatboxer Testament has been commissioned to explore the power of the solo voice within a communal space and the relationship between performer and audience, while freelance artists Matthew Eberhardt and Khadijah Ibrahiim will be devising new work together with musicians, poets, actors and young people
Running from October 2 to 17, Connecting Voices will mark the reopening of Leeds Playhouse six months after lockdown began by “partnering with the wider arts industry to find new and innovative ways of reintroducing audiences to live theatre, in a safe and secure environment, contributing to the life and vibrancy of the Leeds city region”.
Orpheus In The Record Store, written by Testament and directedby Aletta Collins, will fuse spoken word and beatboxing with players from the Orchestra of Opera North in a collaboration in the Quarry Theatre that gives the Greek myth of Orpheus a contemporary Yorkshire twist.
“I’m so excited to be back at Leeds Playhouse with Opera North, especially after this turbulent period,” says Testament. “To be commissioned to create a new piece of work is a massive honour.
“The Playhouse was one of the first organisations to take a chance on me as a theatre maker and it feels like home; their help and support has been invaluable to my growth as an artist. And only last year I got to work with Opera North as an artist on their Resonance programme, which opened my eyes to new possibilities as a composer.”
Looking forward to live performances returning to Leeds Playhouse, Testament says: “There is much to say and share right now, and I passionately believe theatre has an almost spiritual role in making the direction we wish to go in as a society tangible.
“I can’t wait to be back in front of an actual audience – being together enjoying worlds that we make together in those moments of live connection.”
What can next month’s audiences expect? “Right now, I’m in the lab creating, pushing buttons, and I’ve got something planned as a beatboxer that has never been like this way before,” says Testament. “I am also super-excited about connecting with Opera North musicians: we are planning to take the crowd on an epic journey with music, spoken word and live theatre.”
Playing alongside Orpheus In The Record Store will be topical re-awakenings of two pieces from 1958 that present characters isolated from others and struggling to connect again through technology.
The first is Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, to be performed by Niall Buggy in the Bramall Rock Void, directed by Dominic Hill.This will be counterpointed by Francis Poulenc’sshort opera La Voix Humaine, performed by Opera North soprano Gillene Butterfield in the Barber Studio, directed by Leeds Playhouse’s Sameena Hussain.
In the Courtyard Theatre, each of the three weekends will see a different and newly devised piece of work from Leeds spoken-word artist Khadijah Ibrahiim and two pieces by freelance director Matthew Eberhardt, whose credits include Opera North’s Street Scene.
They will work with singers, actors, young people and musicians, including classically-trained singer Keertan Kaur Rehal, Amy J Payne and stalwart Playhouse actor Robert Pickavance, to create contemporary responses to the themes of remembrance, collaboration and the act of storytelling.
James Brining, artistic director at Leeds Playhouse, says: “Re-opening the Playhouse after six months of enforced closure and being separated from each other has made us value even more than before the act of live performance and what that means.
“Our beautifully refurbished building provides us with many opportunities to safely welcome audiences and artists back into the Playhouse. Connecting Voices is a carefully curated programme exploring isolation and connection, resilience and reflection, as well as the relationship between performer and audience member in a shared space.”
Brining is delighted to be working once again with Leeds company Opera North. “We’re pooling our resources to help the city of Leeds to get back on its feet and bring joyous and powerful communal shared experiences back to the lives of its citizens,” he says.
“As we head into our 50th year at this challenging time, it’s vital that we reconnect with audiences and communities and collaborate with bold and diverse voices from across the region. We can’t wait to welcome back artists and participants into the building safely to create and experience live theatre once again.”
Richard Mantle, Opera North’s general director, says: “Connecting Voices is a compelling exploration of the power of the human voice and the profound desire to establish meaningful ties out of experiences of isolation and loss.
“We are delighted that we are able to begin the process of welcoming audiences safely back to live performance through this collection of work in partnership with Leeds Playhouse.
“Connecting Voices brings together voices spoken and sung from across the city and wider region, and we are especially thrilled to be collaborating with such a diverse and talented group of freelance artists, singers, musicians, poets and directors who all share artistic ties to both Opera North and to Leeds Playhouse.
“Now, more than ever, it is apparent how strongly intertwined the artistic and cultural community in our region is, and how important collaboration will be in ensuring a vibrant future for the arts and audiences across the city.”
Please note, in line with Government guidelines, audiences will be of limited capacity with social distancing and temperature checking will be conducted too. Tickets will go on sale to Leeds Playhouse’s Supporters’ Club, Playhouse Pass holders and Opera North Patrons from Monday, September 14 and on general sale from 12 noon on Tuesday at leedsplayhouse.org.uk and on 0113 213 7700.
Connecting Voices: the full programme
Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett, directed by Dominic Hill
A 69-year-old man listens to the voice of his 39-year-old self. Looking back on his loves, failures and losses, Krapp rewinds through his life with humour and heartache. A classic Beckett play, both punchy and personal.
Performances: October 2, 9 and 16, 8pm; October 3, 10 and 17, 3.30pm and 8pm, Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse.
La Voix Humaine, by Francis Poulenc, directed by Sameena Hussain
A devastating short opera exploring the pain and fear of rejection in the rawest fashion. Through the lone voice of the woman, Poulenc expresses the full range of human emotion with a score of caressing warmth and intimacy. This powerful one-woman performance will be sung in English.
Performances: October 2, 9 and 16, 6pm, and October 3, 10 and 17, 1.30pm and 6pm, Barber Studio, Leeds Playhouse.
Orpheus In The Record Store, by Testament,directed by Aletta Collins
Orpheus is alone, playing tunes in his record shop. When an old friend arrives, music and stories collide as the ancient and contemporary merge. Testament takes inspiration from the classical Greek myth in a show that fuses spoken word and beatboxing with classical music from the Orchestra of Opera North.
Performances: October 2, 9 and 16, 9pm, and October 3, 10 and 17, 4.30pm and 9pm, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse.
Reflections: Dead And Wake, written and directed by Khadijah Ibrahiim
Experience a Jamaican “Nine Night” with literary activist and theatre maker Khadijah Ibrahiim. This thought-provoking performance explores Caribbean rituals around death through poetry, music and ghost [duppy] stories, featuring turntablist DJ NikNak and Paulette Morris. The event also includes performers from the Sunday Practise with their creative response to living through the last six months.
Performances: October 16, 7pm and October 17, 2.30pm and 7pm, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse.
Reflections on La Voix Humaine, directed by Matthew Eberhardt
Take your seat on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre, look out into the auditorium and witness actors and musicians explore themes of isolation and connection, of resilience and reflection, through words both spoken and sung. This is a contemporary reflection on Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and can be enjoyed either alongside the original piece or independently.
Performances: October 2 at 7pm and October 3 at 2.30pm and 7pm, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse.
Reflections on Krapp’s Last Tape, directed by Matthew Eberhardt
Relish the power and expression of the solo voice from the stage of the Courtyard Theatre in this celebration of the return of live performance. An actor and a musician collaborate, filling the auditorium with words and music that reflect upon the themes of Samuel Beckett’s monologue Krapp’s Last Tape.
Performances: October 9 at 7pm and October 10 at 3.30pm and 7pm, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse.
The running time for each Connecting Voices performance is 40 minutes.
REVIEW: Night Of The Living Dead – Remix, Leeds Playhouse/Imitating The Dog, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, until February 15; Dr Korczak’s Example, Leeds Playhouse, Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse, until February 15. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk
FIRSTLY, apologies for the tardy reviewing, but there is
still time aplenty to see these two contrasting yet equally impactful
productions at the restructured Leeds Playhouse.
The human condition, what we do to each other, lies at the heart of both pieces, and at a time when the divisive aspects and little island mentality of Brexit are coming home to roost after cutting the umbilical cord with Europe on January 31, they are even more resonant.
American film-maker George A Romero, from The Bronx, New York, would have turned 80 on Tuesday, making Leeds Playhouse and cutting-edge Leeds company Imitating The Dog’s co-production very timely.
Romero’s trademark was
gruesome horror movies, satirical in tone yet serious in their message, delivered
as it was through depicting variations on a zombie apocalypse. Night Of The
Living Dead, from 1968, set the template and here comes a Remix that is at once
theatrical and filmic.
In a city where football
coach Marcelo Bielsa preaches the value of repetition, yet still with unpredictable
results, the Playhouse/Imitating The Dog company sets itself the challenge of mirroring
Romero’s film, frame by frame. The two are shown side by side on screen, synchronised
in motion with actors saying the lines.
Your gaze goes from screen
to screen but also you watch the actors in the act of re-making the film,
switching between performing and working the cameras, and defying the odds in
pulling off the feat when seemingly always up against the clock with the need
for improvisation, confronted by limited
resources. Round of applause, please, to Laura Atherton, Morgan Bailey, Luke
Bigg, Will Holstead, Morven Macbeth, Matt Prendergast and Adela Rajnovic.
You find yourself appreciating
a “dance” show as much as a theatre and film one, because the movement across,
on, off, and around the stage has the ebb and flow of choreography. Another
round of applause, then, to co-directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks;
projection and video designer Simon Wainwright; lighting designer Andrew Crofts;
composer James Hamilton and on-stage model creator and operator Matthew Tully.
Laura Hopkins’s set and costume designs are a show in themselves too.
Night Of The Living Dead –
Remix is not a mere tribute act of breath-taking invention and bravura humour.
Instead, it seeks to give 1960s’ American social and political context to Romero’s
message by bleeding in film and sound of John F Kennedy, Senator brother Robert
and Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speeches and the cast’s re-enactment of
coverage of their assassinations. The words echo down the years, haunting and
disturbing, all the more so when matched with a zombie apocalypse.
The Playhouse’s new third
performance space, the Bramall Rock Void studio, made its autumn debut with Charley
Miles’s all-female Yorkshire Ripper drama There Are No Beginnings, giving voice
to a blossoming North Yorkshire writer.
Now it turns the spotlight
on the Holocaust in a Playhouse production timed to mark Holocaust Memorial Day(January
27) in a city with both Jewish and Polish communities. Playhouse artistic director
James Brining had commissioned David Greig to write Dr Korczak’s Example when working
in young people’s theatre in Scotland 20 years ago for performances in school
halls, and on moving to Leeds he read it with the Playhouse youth theatre “a
year or so ago”.
That prompted Brining to
direct this winter’s production, turning the spotlight anew on the Polish Jewish
doctor, children’s author, storyteller, broadcaster and educator Janusz
Korczak, who brought liberal and progressive ideals to running a ghetto
orphanage for 200 children in Warsaw.
His principles live on, becoming the basis for the United Nations Convention on the Rights Of Children that still prevails. That is the history and the present of a story that Greig turns into a play set in 1942 that is at once grim and yet hopeful because of the example of the title that Dr Korczak set.
Brining’s production is
supported by the Linbury Prize for Stage Design, a prize for emerging designers
that sees set and costume designer Rose Revitt turn the new studio back to
rubble, with piles of bricks, dusty furniture and desks.
Greig’s play is a three hander, wherein Playhouse regular Rob Pickavance brings gravitas, warmth and sensitivity to Dr Korczak, while Danny Sykes and Gemma Barnett announce talents to watch.
Sykes plays Adzio, brittle, brutalised
and psychologically damaged at the hands of adults, his 16 years of childhood stolen
from him, as he becomes the latest child to be taken in by Korczak. Barnett’s
Stepanie is a beacon, benefiting from Korczak’s care already and drawn to
trying to help the deeply bruised Adzio.
David Shrubsole’s sound
deigns and compositions complement the tone, Rachel Wise’s movement direction
is as important as Brining’s direction, and the actors’ use of models (the size
of Action Man, without being glib) to play out several scenes has a powerful
Having a recording of Leeds children reading Dr Korczak’s principles for children’s rights to freedom, respect and love at the play’s close is a fitting finale, one that echoes into the Leeds night air.
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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
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.