National Theatre at Home to stream Barber Shop Chronicles co-production with Leeds Playhouse on YouTube from May 14

The Barber Shop Chronicles: Cheering on Chelsea in a Champions League match. Pictures: Arc Brenner

BARBER Shop Chronicles, the Leeds Playhouse co-production with the National Theatre, will be streamed on the National Theatre at Home’s YouTube channel from May 14.

Staged in the Courtyard at the Leeds theatre in July 2017 and filmed at the National Theatre’s Dorfman theatre in January 2018, Inua Ellams’ international hit play will be shown in a never-before-seen archive recording.

Barber Shop Chronicles tells the interwoven tales of black men from across the globe who, for generations, have gathered in barber shops, where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always cutting.

Co-produced with third partner Fuel, Bijan Sheibani’s production went on to play BAM in New York before a London return to the Roundhouse last summer and further performances at Leeds Playhouse last autumn.

The National Theatre at Home initiative takes NT Live into people’s homes during the Coronavirus shutdown of theatres and cinemas with free screenings, each production being shown on demand for seven days after the first 7pm show on Thursdays.

Patrice Naiambana as Tokunbo in Barber Shop Chronicles

Hull playwright Richard Bean’s comedy One Man, Two Guvnors kicked off the series, since when Jane Eyre, Treasure Island, Twelfth Night and Frankenstein have been streamed, drawing eight million viewers over the past month. Next up, from 7pm tonight, will be Antony & Cleopatra starring Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as Shakespeare’s fated lovers.

Looking ahead, the Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois, is in the diary for May 21 to 28; James Graham’s insight into the workings of 1970s’ Westminster politics, This House, May 28 to June 4, and the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus, starring Tom Hiddleston in Shakespeare’s political revenge tragedy, June 4 to 11.

Given that theatres are predicted to be at the back of the queue for re-opening under the gradual relaxation of lockdown measures, the future of the industry for artists and organisations remains uncertain. Consequently, the National Theatre has, in agreement with the actors’ union Equity, committed to pay all artists and creatives involved with productions streamed as part of National Theatre at Home.

Robin Hawkes, executive director of Leeds Playhouse, says: “We’re really pleased that Barber Shop Chronicles, which we brought back to Leeds last year after it was a huge hit with audiences here at the Playhouse previously, is going to be one of the first partner theatre performances accessible to such a wide audience through NT at Home.”      

Lisa Burger, the National Theatre’s executive director and joint chief executive, says: “I’m delighted that in this next collection of titles to be streamed as part of National Theatre at Home we are including productions from our NT Live partner theatres.

Cyril Nri as Emmanuel in Barber Shop Chronicles

“When we launched National Theatre at Home last month, we wanted to offer audiences the opportunity to engage with theatre during this time of isolation while we were unable to welcome them to the South Bank or into cinemas.”

Burger continues: “This initiative wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a great number of artists for which we are incredibly grateful. We have been absolutely thrilled by the response from viewers enjoying the productions from right across the globe, and we have also been surprised and delighted at the generous donations we’ve received since closure.

“While the National Theatre continues to face a precarious financial future, we now feel able to make a payment to all artists involved, as we recognise a great many are also experiencing a particularly challenging time at this moment.

“While theatres across the world remain closed, we’re pleased that we can continue to bring the best of British theatre directly into people’s homes every Thursday evening.”

National Theatre at Home is free of charge but should viewers wish to make a donation, money donated via YouTube will be shared with the co-producing theatre organisations of each stream, including Leeds Playhouse, to help support the Playhouse through this period of closure and uncertainty.

For more information, go to

Barber Shop Chronicles playwright Inua Ellams

Charles Hutchinson’s review of Barber Shop Chronicles, Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, July 2017. Copyright of The Press, York.

BARBER Shop Chronicles is the first West Yorkshire Playhouse collaboration with the National Theatre, and sure enough it is a cut above the norm.

Leeds is mentioned only in passing – one character has links with the city – but a Chapeltown barber (Stylistics, should you be wondering) was one of the principal inspirations that led Nigerian playwright and poet Inua Ellams to write his joyous, illuminating play.

Barbers have not had a great press on stage, what with Sweeney Todd’s cut-throat business practices in Fleet Street, but that all changes with Ellams’ drama, a series of conversations with the barber often in the position of counsellor.

David Webber (Sizwe) and Fisayo Akinade (Sam) in Barber Shop Chronicles

In Britain, traditionally such conversations would normally not extend beyond asking where you might be going on holiday this summer, sir, or if you needed something for the weekend, or if you had any preferences, to which the answer once came “To sit in silence”.

Not much scope for a play there, then, but it is a different story in the African community, now in London (and Leeds), as much as in Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana, all of which Ellams visited to collect stories for his Chronicles.

The Courtyard has been transformed by Rae Smith into a theatre in the round, well, square, to be precise, with seating on all four sides, and the sign boards of barber shops in London and the various African nations displayed all around the perimeter beneath a globe with a mirrorball that lights up for each change of location, heralded by an a cappella song name-checking each city. In turn, a spotlight picks out the sign for the next barber to be featured.

Patrice Naiambana as Paul in Barber Shop Chronicles

This allows Bijan Sheibani’s ensemble production to flow and fly through its two hours without an interval, the momentum too thrilling to break. We begin and end in Lagos, and the focus then switches back and forth from a London barber shop to one-to-one encounters in Accra, Kampala, Harare and Johannesburg.

A family of barbers is at war in the London shop, although united in supporting Chelsea (in a Champions League encounter with Barcelona), and all manner of subjects come up for discussion: black men and white girls; Patrice Evra versus Luis Suarez; the “N” word and rappers.

There is much humour at play, but serious points too, not least about what it means to be a strong black man, and the family clash cuts deeper than a soap opera.

What’s more, the African chronicles throw you off your guard, reappraising the worth of Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe and Fela Kuti. Take a seat….

Zombie alert! Imitating The Dog’s Night Of The Living Dead – Remix re-surfaces online

Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse in their shot-for-shot remix of Night Of The Living Dead

“THEY’RE coming to get you, Barbara”… from tomorrow morning at 10am when Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse launch the online premiere of their hit 2020 co-production of Night Of The Living Dead – Remix.

In 1968, Night Of The Living Dead started out as a low-budget George A Romero indie horror movie telling the story of seven strangers taking refuge from flesh-eating ghouls in an isolated farmhouse.

Fifty years on, seven performers enter the stage armed with cameras, a box of props and a rail of costumes. Can they recreate the ground-breaking film, shot for shot before our eyes, using whatever they can lay their hands on?

Set the task of re-enacting 1,076 camera edits in 95 minutes, they face an heroic struggle. Knowing success demands wit, skill and ingenuity, what could possibly go wrong?

Imitating The Dog’s poster for their Leeds Playhouse co-production of Night Of The Living Dead – Remix

In their 2020 stage production, Leeds masters of digital theatre Imitating The Dog create a love-song to the cult Sixties’ film in a re-making and re-mixing with a new subtext that attempts to understand the past – the assassinations of JFK, MLK and Robert Kennedy – in  order not to have to repeat it. 

Staged in the Courtyard at Leeds Playhouse from January 24 to February 1, their version is in turns humorous, terrifying, thrilling, thought-provoking and joyous. Above all, in the re-telling, Night Of The Living Dead – Remix  becomes a searing parable for our own complex times.

Presented by courtesy of Image Ten, Inc, Night Of The Living Dead– Remix can be watched online at from 10am tomorrow (April 17). For a behind-the-scenes video, go

Imitating The Dog shows go online for fortnightly streaming from tomorrow

Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse in the 2020 co-production of Night Of The Living Dead – Remix. Picture: Edward Waring

INNOVATIVE Leeds theatre company Imitating The Dog are responding to the Coronavirus restrictions by going online with a fortnightly streaming.

Their cutting-edge work from the past 20 years will be made available through their website,, kicking off tomorrow (April 3) with projection project Oh, The Night!.

Every fortnight on Fridays for the foreseeable future, Imitating The Dog will release the next in a selection from their theatre performances and sited work.

Look out, in particular, for 2020’s Night Of The Living Dead – Remix, a shot-for-shot stage re-creation of George A Romero’s cult 1968 zombie movie, made in co-production with Leeds Playhouse, streaming on April 17.

Further performances will include Arrivals And Departures, a strange and fantastical bedtime story, commissioned in 2017 by Hull: UK City of Culture to look at the East Yorkshire port’s legacy of migration, on May 1, and 6 Degrees Below The Horizon, a macabre and playful tale involving sailors, pimps, barflies, chorus girls and nightclub singers, on May 15. Projection project Yorkshire Electric, on May 29, uses clips from the Yorkshire Film Archive.

Further productions will be announced through social media in the coming weeks. Each will remain on the website and can be viewed on a Pay-What-You-Like basis.

Imitating The Dog’s Yorkshire Electric at the Spa Theatre, Scarborough. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

The resulting income will go into a development fund to facilitate the company supporting freelance artists and practitioners to create new work.

Co-artistic director Simon Wainwright says: “With the end of our own Night Of The Living DeadRemix tour being cancelled and so, so many events and performances now postponed, we thought we’d make some of our past shows available for people to watch online.

“We’re in a lucky position to have some fantastic recordings of past work, mostly filmed by our friends Shot By Sodium. It’s obviously no substitute for the real thing but in these isolated days, and until we can get together in a room again, we hope these videos will provide joy, thinking and entertainment in equal measure.” 

Fusing live performance with digital technology, Imitating The Dog’s two decades of ground-breaking work for theatres and other spaces has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people at venues, outdoor festivals and events across the world.

Among other past productions are Hotel Methuselah, A Farewell To Arms and Heart Of Darkness, while their sited work has included light festivals.

For more information and to watch productions from April 3, go to

6 Degrees Below The Horizon: Imitating The Dog’s macabre and playful tale of sailors, pimps, barflies, chorus girls and nightclub singers

 Here are the upcoming productions:

Friday, April 3: Oh, The Night!

ONE wintry night, a bedtime story is being told, but it’s late, time for the light to go off, time for the story to pause until tomorrow night.

However, one child starts to wonder… one child at first, but then another… and another. It might be bedtime and it might be late but without the end to the story how can they possibly sleep?

What’s happened to the characters? Where have they gone? Are they just stranded there, waiting for earth to turn its circle, so their story can carry on the next night?

The children decide to find out. They creep past the grown-ups, out of the house and to who knows where to find out what happens and how their story ends.

They find bears and foxes, monsters and ghouls, elves and wizards all stranded in the night, hiding or hunting, not knowing who to scare or where to run. All stuck in a place between.

Together, they go on a journey through the night, to the morning and to the safety of the light.

Performed in Hull, Oh, The Night! combined elements of bedtime stories gathered from around the north of Europe to create a new fable for 2018. The work was commissioned by Absolutely Cultured for Urban Legends: Northern Lights and featured a community chorus and soundtrack from Finnish composer Lau Nau.

Night Of The Living Dead – Remix: Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse match George A Romero’s film shot for shot

Friday, April 17: Night Of The Living Dead – Remix

IN 1968, Night Of the Living Dead started out as a low-budget independent horror movie by George A Romero, telling the story of seven strangers taking refuge from flesh-eating ghouls in an isolated farmhouse.

Fifty years on, seven performers enter the stage armed with cameras, a box of props and a rail of costumes. Can they recreate the ground-breaking film, shot-for-shot before our eyes and undertake the seemingly impossible?

Requiring 1,076 edits in 95 minutes, it is an heroic struggle. Success will demand wit, skill and ingenuity and is by no means guaranteed.

Night Of The Living Dead – Remix is an Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse co-production, presented by courtesy of Image Ten, Inc.

Friday, May 1: Arrivals And Departures

IMITATING The Dog’s work for Hull: UK City of Culture 2017 put a poetic spin on the history of arrivals in and departures from the city. The piece looked at the past of migration from a contemporary perspective, exploring the journeys that have gathered a population and moulded a landscape.

Using The Deep, in Hull, as both canvas and building blocks, Arrivals And Departures pulled together strands of the complex and universal issues of migration as a wider subject matter.

The work was created as part of the Made In Hull opening celebrations for Hull: UK City of Culture.

Imitating The Dog’s Arrivals And Departures for the Made In Hull opening to Hull: UK City of Culture at The Deep, Hull, in 2017

Friday, May 15: 6 Degrees Below The Horizon

THIS macabre and playful tale of sailors, pimps, barflies, chorus girls and nightclub singers is a startling and visually stunning work, where the audience views the action through windows and moving frames. In doing so, they piece together a modern fable of failed dreams, lost love and the guilt of absent fatherhood.

Building on the successes of Hotel Methuselah and Kellerman, in 2012 the company created an immersive experience for audiences with a captivating fusion of cinema and theatre.

Part French film, part Edwardian vaudeville, and drawing on the works of Genet, Wedekind, and Brecht,6 Degrees Below The Horizon undertakes a delightful and twisted voyage into a shadowy world wherein there are no certainties.

Friday, May 29: Yorkshire Electric

YORKSHIRE Electric travels from the dales to the coast on board the footage of the Yorkshire Film Archive.

Using video mapping, intricate lighting and a soundtrack from the Leeds band Hope & Social, the show transformed the Spa Theatre, Scarborough, offering the audience the opportunity to wander through 100 years of Yorkshire lives and landscapes, from the farming hills to the holiday beaches and back again.

Bringing together Imitating The Dog and architectural lighting specialist Phil Supple, the piece offered the opportunity to enjoy rarely seen footage of a century of Yorkshire life in your own time.

Opera North and Leeds Playhouse postpone Sondheim’s A Little Night Music

The artwork for the postponed Opera North and Leeds Playhouse co-production of A Little Night Music

OPERA North is cancelling or postponing all “public-facing activity” until at least the end of April, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Leeds company also confirmed the postponement of this season’s co-production of Stephen Sondheim’s acerbic musical A Little Night Music with Leeds Playhouse. Rehearsals had been due to start this morning for the May 9 opening to mark the year when the New York composer turned 90 yesterday.

“Our immediate priority is the health and safety of our audiences, artists and staff, and we hope to be able to mount the production in a future season,” said Opera North general director Richard Mantle.

Stephen Sondheim: composer of the 1973 musical A Little Night Musical

“This is undoubtedly a time of great challenge for Opera North and our peers but we are determined to respond with creativity and resilience.

“We will honour the contracts of all guest artists to the end of our current main stage opera season and those of guest orchestral players until the end of April.”

Mr Mantle continued: “We are working with our many education and community partners to ascertain what work can still be delivered in those settings, and will focus our creativity and core resources on finding new ways of using music and opera to enhance people’s lives. In these uncertain times, it feels more important than ever that we use music to connect with each other.”

A close-up of the Orchestra of Opera North. Picture: Justin Slee

Opera North remains hopeful that the 2020-2021 season will go ahead as planned in September. In the meantime, the company is working on finding other ways to share its art form with audiences, including online resources. 

Opera North’s livestream of The Turn Of The Screw is available via OperaVision at; the full Opera North Ring Cycle at; the 2017 production of Trouble In Tahiti via Now TV and Sky on-demand services.

For updated information on Opera North event cancellations and postponements, visit

Seeds tells the mothers’ stories on two sides of knife crime at Leeds Playhouse

A scene from Seeds at Leeds Playhouse. All pictures: Wasi Daniju

TWO mothers united in sorrow, unable to escape the tragedy of knife crime, try to protect their sons, one in life, one in death, in Mel Pennant’s new play, Seeds, at Leeds Playhouse.

Running in the Bramall Rock Void until Saturday, it tells the stories of those who fight to keep their children safe from the world they grow up in, when knife-crime offences in England and Wales have reached a record high and hate crimes have more than doubled over a seven-year period.

Shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award, Seeds is billed as “a courageous play that looks at difficult subjects of racism, violence, death and grief. It describes a hate crime and uses the N word, all of which may be a trigger for people who have suffered as result of the above and may be difficult for some audience members”.

The setting is Michael Thomas’s birthday, when his cake sits in his mother’s living room, its candles burning undisturbed. Jackie wants to clear her conscience, while Evelyn has a big speech to deliver on the 15th anniversary of Michael’s fatal stabbing. Are some things better left unsaid?

Seeds is presented by Tiata Fahodzi and Wrested Veil in association with Leeds Playhouse, Soho Theatre and Tara Finney Productions.

Here, first, writer Mel Pennant and, then, director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour discuss the play.

“Rollercoaster, awkward, emotional”: Mel Pennant’s play Seeds

How would you describe the play, Mel?

“Two mums, either side of a racist murder, come together and explore what happened to their sons 15 years earlier.  They go to places no-one else would take them to and,, in doing so, come to an agreed truth which is life changing for both of them.” 

How would you sum up Seeds in three words? 

“Rollercoaster, awkward, emotional.”

What inspired you to write the play?

 “In writing the play, I was conscious that we rarely hear, in any depth, the stories of the families of people involved in tragedies and yet as a society we often judge them.

 “I wanted to explore those stories through two mothers on either side of such an event and, in doing so, interrogate the very essence of motherhood.

“Those two women have a conversation that couldn’t happen without the other: they can face the depth of their despair and longing, how they define themselves in a space that is becoming even more limiting.” 

Why is it important we discuss knife crime from the perspective of mothers? 

“Because it’s families, parents, mothers who are left with the aftermath.  When the headlines are over, they are the ones who deal with the reality.  I wanted to explore that reality.”

What do you want audiences to take away from Seeds?

“I hope audiences see my play as the beginning of a conversation.  I hope that it enables audiences to see and engage with the complexities and layers of the issues discussed.”

“Tense, emotive, shattering”: director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s summary of Seeds

How would you describe the play, Anastasia?

“Seeds is a tense drama where two mothers fight for their sons, bargaining with each other to get what they desperately need and, in the process, bare their souls, leaving them both changed by the encounter.”

How would you sum up Seeds in three words? 

“Tense, emotive, shattering.”

What initially drew you to the play?

 “Its subject matter. It explores racism and motherhood in a way that really resonates with me: placing racism in the context of families, how the ‘seeds’ of racism can grow in families, ‘take root’ and have horrifically dangerous consequences – a point that I feel is so important to highlight.

 “It also considers how far a mother would go to protect her son. Having reached an age where I’m thinking about having children, I worry a lot about how safe the world is, whether I can keep my children safe when I bring them into this world, I think about what I would do to protect them.”

Why is it important we discuss knife crime from the perspective of mothers? 

 “They are left dealing with the shattering aftermath for years and years after; they bring life into the world only to see it cut down. There’s a need to highlight these people so that, as a society, we can think more about how we support them to survive the deepest of tragedies.”

What do you want audiences to take away from Seeds?

I want to inspire greater awareness of the ‘seeds’ of racism in families in the hope they can be rooted out before they cause disaster.

“I believe people can change and grow. People with racist views – if they would allow themselves to see it – can change and help to change others if they choose to take a stand.

“I want people to see the play as a warning that we all need to take xenophobia seriously and act to stamp it out. Discourse-challenging racist and xenophobic rhetoric and events, like this play which allows people from diverse backgrounds to be in the same space to face these issues, will help and play a part in creating change.”

Seeds, Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse, until Saturday, 8pm plus 2.15pm Thursday, and 2.45pm, Saturday. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at Age guidance: 14 plus.

Phoenix Dance Theatre find hope in bleak Black Waters in Leeds Playhouse premiere

Phoenix Dance Theatre in Black Waters

PHOENIX Dance Theatre are exploring the long-lasting effects of British colonial forces in the world premiere of Black Waters at Leeds Playhouse this week.

Drawing inspiration from history, this emotionally evocative new production by the Leeds company combines two events.

Black Waters: Phoenix Dance Theatre’s exploration of place, worth and belonging

In the first, in the late-18th century, 130 slaves were thrown overboard from the Zong as the ship owners attempted to profit from their life insurance.

More than 100 years later, Indian freedom fighters were incarcerated in the Kala Pani prison for speaking out against the regime. 

Co-choreographer Sharon Watson during rehearsals for Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Black Waters

Black Waters reflects on these two colonial landmarks, showing how people can find value, inspiration and hope even in the bleakest of times.

The co-choreographers, Phoenix artistic director Sharon Watson and Shambik Ghose and Dr Mitul Sengupta, artistic directors of Rhythmosaic, from Kolkata, combine contemporary dance with Kathak dance: one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance, traditionally attributed to ancient travelling storytellers.

Black Waters co-choreographer Shambik Ghose

Sharon says: “Black Waters is not about recreating these two events through contemporary dance, but is an exploration of place, worth and belonging, which can often be conflicting for people of colour.”

Black Waters can be seen in the Quarry Theatre at 7.30pm tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at

REVIEW: Kneehigh’s Ubu! The Sing Along Satire. Who knew politics could be this much fun?

Riotous: Ubu (Katy Owen) and Mrs Ubu (Mike Shepherd) in Ubu! The Sing Along Satire

REVIEW: Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, tonight at 7.30pm. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at

ALEX, the woodsman-bearded drama teacher from York, won’t forget his afternoon visit to Leeds Playhouse, thrashed by a Leeds boy in a daft party game in Kneehigh’s promenade musical.

He loved it! We loved it! You’ll love it! Yet again, Cornwall’s Kneehigh send you home dizzy and delirious with the joys and jolts, the thrilling rock’n’rollercoaster ride, of theatre that aptly comes with an exclamation mark in its show title.

Ubu! A Sing Along Satire has politics, a big flushing loo, cheers and boos, inflatable animals, songs, more politics, more songs, competitive audience participation and a giant bear with poor vision in a chaotic, kinetic, karaoke cabaret circus of derailed life under a deranged dictator.

First, house lights up, Delycia Belgrave and the soul house band The Sweaty Bureaucrats set the boisterous mood from up on high with party anthems.

Enter our convivial, dry-witted host in vest, tie and striped trousers, Jeremy Wardle (Niall Ashdown), commenting on the state of the British nation as he introduces the land of Lovelyville and the campaign trail of sleek, sloganeering President Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote), his woke daughter Bobbi (Kyla Goodey) and their Russian security boss Captain Shittabrique (Adam Sopp). Shitt-a-brique. Geddit. There are plenty more risqué gags like that to follow.

Where’s Ubu? Here’s Ubu! Tiny yet hugely impactful Katy Owen’s unhinged, petulant, crude and cruel soon-to-be-dictator Ubu. Potty mouthed, bespectacled, dreadlocked, Welsh voiced, and in the words of Kneehigh: “impossibly greedy, unstoppably rude, inexorably daft and hell-bent on making the country great again! Sound familiar?”

Familiar, yes, but told so gleefully afresh, as Alfred Jarry’s famously riot-inducing shot of anarchy from 1896 Paris kicks up a song and dance in the manipulative era of Trump, Johnson and Putin.

Conceived by writer Carl Grose, his co-director Mike Shepherd (the show’s ribald, preening Mrs Ubu) and musical director Charles Hazlewood, Ubu! is a punk-spirited, twisted vaudeville study of power, protest and populism that could not be better timed.

Boos for Katie Hopkins, Boris and Trump; Britney’s Toxic, The Carpenters’ Close To You and Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk re-invented so joyfully; wonderful performances all round, audience included; crazily energetic choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves and a constantly busy, circular rostrum set by Michael Vale all make for another Kneehigh knees-up high.

Cause a riot, if needs must, to secure a ticket for this petty, power-mad protagonist’s panto of pandemonium.

REVIEW: Night of The Living Dead – Remix and Dr Korczak’s Example at Leeds Playhouse

Night Of The Living Dead – Remix: theatre and film in synchronicity

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

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.

Robert Pickavance as Dr Korczak and Gemma Barnett as Stepanie in Dr Korczak’s Example

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 impact too.

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.

Charles Hutchinson    

Kneehigh mount Leeds Playhouse protest with Ubu party games and singalongs

Kneehigh’s Ubu!: party and protest rolled into one riotous show . Picture: Steve Tanner

ALFRED Jarry’s ground-breaking political parable Ubu Roi caused riots when first staged in Paris in 1896. Now, Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire promises an equally riotous night out at Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.

Conceived by Carl Grose, Charles Hazlewood and Mike Shepherd, it smashes together Jarry’s gleefully rude and deliberately childish script with a crowd-pleasing singalong, party games, inflatable animals and contemporary political satire.   

Kneehigh’s Ubu! is a punk-spirited, comedic study of power, protest and populism. “And what better form of popular culture to demonstrate this than mass karaoke?”, ask the Cornish company.

The show is led by Katy Owen’s tiny, tyrannical Pa Ubu and Mike Shepherd’s pouting, preening Ma Ubu, alongside the ever-versatile Kneehigh ensemble: a six-strong cast and the band The Sweaty Bureaucrats.  

Arranged by Hazlewood, the selection of songs is inventive and cannily chosen, ranging from Britney Spears’ Toxic and Edwin Starr’s War to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk and The Carpenters’ Close To You, as a festival atmosphere builds.

Writer and co-director Carl Grose explains how Ubu! came to fruition and why the petty protagonist still resonates with modern audiences. “When Alfred Jarry’s play received its premiere at the Théâtre de l’OEuvre in Paris on December 10 1896, there was, so the story goes, a full-on riot,” he says.

Winging it: Kneehigh’s singalong Ubu!. Picture: Steve Tanner

“Audiences and critics alike were confronted with sights and sounds of such outrageousness that pandemonium broke out and the production was shut down after only two performances.”

Grose continues: “Like all great artists, Alfred Jarry was a disrupter, and Ubu was his weapon of mass disruption. A personification of chaos, a lord of misrule, a howling, hysterical metaphor for greed, lies and corruption.

“The main character was designed to be both laughed at and despised, and that’s still the case. He is here to gather us together as his prisoners, his acolytes, his victims – or his potential usurpers.

“He is a reminder that those in power will do their damnedest to make their reality our normality. It’s up to us to collectively remember that there’s nothing normal about Ubu and his ilk.”

Ubu’s behaviour beggars belief, concludes Grose. “He is cruel, nonsensical, cowardly, aggressive and beyond vile in his actions,” he says. “Career mad, he looks totally ridiculous, puts money over humanity in a heartbeat and has a vocabulary that leaves a lot to be desired. What an absurd creation, eh?”

Prepare for a Kneehigh antidote to a divided world that makes a stand against divisiveness and brings audiences together through the joyful act of singing

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, February 4 to 8. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at

Leeds Playhouse marks Holocaust Memorial Day with David Greig’s ghetto play Dr Korczak’s Example

Robert Pickavance as Dr Janusz Korcza in rehearsals for Dr Korczak’s Example. All pictures: Zoe Martin

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.

Director James Brining at work in the Leeds Playhouse rehearsal rooms

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.”

Gemma Barnett rehearsing her role as Stephanie in Dr Korczak’s Example

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.”

Leeds actor Robert Pickavance during rehearsals for Dr Korczak’s Example

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.

Newcomer Danny Sykes rehearsing his role as Adzio

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