Although new man James Brining is now officially in charge at West Yorkshire Playhouse, the current season is actually the final one from outgoing artistic director Ian Brown.
With theatres having to plan their seasons several months ahead, it will only be next year that we see what Brining will bring to Leeds with his programming. It also means that the upcoming season is all the work of Brown and his team. As leaving presents go, Brown has gifted Yorkshire audiences with what could potentially be a belter at the Leeds theatre.
The season, kicking off in elegant style with Northern Ballet’s Ondine, looks from this distance as solid throughout with a few major flagpole productions around which the smaller, more “interesting” productions hang.
The four major productions from the theatre are Steptoe and Son, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Wind in the Willows (which will be directed by Brown himself, returning to the theatre as a freelance director) and Sleeping Beauty.
Steptoe and Son is a co-production between the Playhouse and one of Leeds’s favourite theatre companies from out of town, Kneehigh.
Based in Cornwall, where their anarchic spirit translates into theatre that is always playful, interesting and dynamic, Kneehigh are led by artistic director Emma Rice.
She has adapted the company’s new show from the scripts of the legendary originators of the TV show Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Steptoe and Son was a screen classic from two of the greatest television comedy writers in British history and the tale of Albert and Harold Steptoe, who wake up every morning to the same old sickening sight of each other has been enjoying a revival over the last few years.
First, York Theatre Royal got Simpson and Galton to come up with a script for their stage production – which transferred to the West End – then the scripts of the comedy writing duo were published as a book last year.
Now the Playhouse and Kneehigh have got in on the act, with a new production that is clearly going to be a creation that will stand entirely by itself. How can we be so certain that this take will be unique?
In the Playhouse production, opening on September 14, Dean Nolan will play the character of Harold Steptoe, made famous in the TV series by Harry H Corbett.
Nolan, last seen as the “ringmaster” in Red Ladder’s Big Society is a brilliant actor, so expect good things from this production.
The season continues with what should be an epic staging of one of the 20th century’s greatest plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Sarah Esdaile, the sultry American south is going to be brought to life by someone who in recent years has staged triumphant productions of The Deep Blue Sea and Death of a Salesman.
The play, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, was made world famous when it was turned into a movie starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
The tale of a family torn apart while patriarch Big Daddy watches helplessly from the veranda of his beautiful Mississippi delta home, it should be a searing production. It opens on October 6 and runs for a month.
While Brown has now stepped down, his links to the Playhouse will continue and that nod to the future begins with the director reprising his critically acclaimed production of The Wind in the Willows.
The Alan Bennett adaptation of the play was first seen at the Playhouse in 2003 and was a show that all the family – even though it sounds like a platitude – could genuinely enjoy. The tickets were worth the price for the battle scenes alone and it will be interesting to see how Brown attacks the play as director when given a second go.
While Willows is the Playhouse’s big Christmas show, the smaller, less flashy, but equally popular “other” Christmas show is Sleeping Beauty from the now well established team of writer Mike Kenny and director Gail McIntyre.
Then there is Our Country’s Good the true story of a ragbag cast of convicts, who put on a play under the guidance of an earnest young marine officer. As the barriers between captors and captives break down, they start to discover each other, both onstage and behind the scenes.
There is so much else to recommend at the Playhouse this autumn.
If you’re really into theatre then Furnace (a new work being staged on October 26 and 27) really shouldn’t be missed and Devoted and Disgruntled, the theatre conference normally held in London and a cauldron of creativity, comes to Leeds on October 4 and 5.