It’s going to be another good year for the theatre in the region. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad selects some highlights.
I often wonder if at this time of year people might resolve to ‘see more theatre’. It’s an odd one because it smacks of a ‘take your medicine’ kind of a resolution, because theatre is ‘culture’ and therefore good for you.
The truth is, however, people are unlikely to make such resolutions because more of us than ever are getting our cultural fix through theatres – the research tells us that more people attend theatre productions in the UK than attend football matches.
So what will those thousands of people be enjoying when they visit Yorkshire’s theatres in 2016?
In Sheffield, the big news is that Daniel Evans, the artistic director of the Crucible, the Studio and the Lyceum, will be leaving come the summer. He’s off to Chichester to run the theatre there, but his final season in Steel City looks a very good one, including as it does three world premieres.
Hull native Richard Bean has had a very good run over the last decade. In 2005 his play Harvest premiered at the Royal Court. The playwright’s work had been enjoyed by a Hull audience, but Harvest suggested someone with huge potential, fulfilled when his One Man, Two Guvnors became an international hit out of the National Theatre. His latest play, The Nap (March 10-26), set in the world of snooker, will premiere at the Crucible immediately before the theatre gives way to the World Snooker Championships. The theatre’s season opens with the always brilliant Sheffield company Third Angel bringing the world premiere of its latest play Partus (January 15-20). The play delves into myths, statistics, politics and birth and promises ‘hand-gripping tension, dancing and tears’. The final of the three world premieres comes from Mike Bartlett, whose muscular play Bull was an international hit for the theatre a couple of years ago. His latest play, Contractions, returns to the world of work (June 23-July 16) and if it’s even half as good as Bull, it will be great. A Raisin in the Sun and Waiting for Godot, Alan Bennett’s Single Spies and The James Plays are all productions that should make certain Evans bows out on a real high.
Up the M1 in Leeds, I will be very surprised if James Brining announces that he’s off any time soon. It feels like the Loiner is just getting his feet under the table and, despite a very busy 2015, he shows no signs of slowing. Having tackled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he is taking on an even bigger challenge this year when he brings Sondheim’s Into the Woods to the stage (June 2-25). Uniting the Playhouse for the first time with Opera North, the chorus of the opera company will perform in the darkly twisted musical which tells a skewed version of several well-known fairytale characters.
From March 4 to April 2, the two main spaces of the theatre – the Quarry and the Courtyard – will play host to two epic productions. Great Expectations will be directed by Lucy Bailey. Dickens’ story of Pip, the young orphan who becomes a wealthy gentleman, will look fantastic on the Quarry. At the same time a story rooted in Leeds will be on the stage of the Courtyard. David Peace donated the rights to his book The Damned United to Red Ladder Theatre Company. Well rehearsed in turning local stories into something even more meaningful, Red Ladder will have some fun with this piece. Other highlights are new plays from Eve ‘Vagina Monologues’ Ensler and a new version of Kes.
Harrogate Theatre is playing host to a programme that is best described as eclectic, with highlights that include the Laura Lindsay written Parallel (March 1-5), while David Bown is the writer and director of Loaded in Harrogate (Mar 3-12), an update of a 1999 dark comedy.
The theatre to perhaps get most excited about in the next year is York Theatre Royal. In March 2015 the theatre closed its doors for a major refurbishment – and in Spring this year, the building will reopen its doors. A new layout, new auditorium – the truth is, I suspect it’s going to feel like a whole new theatre and hundreds will be queueing up to see how the redevelopment has made it look. It reopens with what is bound to be a sumptuous production of Brideshead Revisited (April 22-30), written by Bryony Lavery and directed by Damian Cruden. The fascinating notion of EM Forster’s The Machine Stops, a cautionary tale set in a dystopian, technology-defined future being brought to the stage will thrill audiences in the theatre’s studio (May 13 - June 4). It’s going to be good to have York Theatre back home.
Out east at Hull Truck Theatre, Mark Babych seems to be directing a theatre that is growing in confidence. After a very troubled few years, financially if not on the stage, audiences are coming back. This year the theatre has introduced music and cinema strands, but what I am intrigued by are two productions Babych is going to helm: Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis (February 11- March 5) and then Educating Rita (June 16-July 9). Both hilarious and poignant shows.
Wakefield Theatre Royal had a shot in the arm when John Godber took his company to his home town. With the departure of the highly regarded chief executive Murray Edwards, the theatre is in a period of flux, but the solid presence of Godber will steady any rocking of the ship. The theatre will play host to a new play set in the world of mining by Godber, Shafted! (February 3-6).
Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre will once again play host to the genuinely excellent National Student Drama Festival (March 18-25), always worth a visit. It will also stage a new play from Amanda Whittington, Kiss Me Quickstep (March 29-April 2).