Theatre artists transform their approach to the stage

RashDash perform a scratch of The Ugly Sisters as part of Transform12 at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. Picture: Richard Davenport
RashDash perform a scratch of The Ugly Sisters as part of Transform12 at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. Picture: Richard Davenport
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The most innovative weekend in Yorkshire theatre is back. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad on the return of Transform.

When managers start speaking of “blue sky thinking” collective eyes roll skyward, and when artists start talking about “creating work in different ways” the reaction is often the same.

You can just imagine the collective eye-rolling at the idea of artists employing a bit of blue sky thinking.

But actually when theatre artists start imagining their work presented without barriers, something special happens – especially in Yorkshire, where we just happen to be blessed with some of the most interesting and innovative theatrical talent in the country.

Transform is now firmly established as an annual event at West Yorkshire Playhouse which this week opens its doors and resources to some of the best theatre artists we have in the county.

Artists like Selina Thompson, recognised as one of Yorkshire’s brightest emerging theatre makers in recent years.

Her latest work, It Burns It All Clean, is being shown as part of the four-day festival. Presented four times daily from now until Sunday, the audience gathers at the Playhouse and is led to the secret location where the performance takes place. Thompson’s piece is the kind of work that finds a home outside of the traditional theatre programme.

It Burns It All Clean is a work about job centres, which we have been developing since late last year,” she explains. “It started from looking at them as spaces of anger, resentment, boredom, shame – but ultimately pragmatism and the every day and trying to figure out exactly what it is about those buildings that lead to people have such a complex array of emotions about them.

“It’s not all doom and gloom though – the piece is a game, slightly chaotic, pretty surreal and with a very real chance of winning a very real cash prize. We like to think it’s an exciting experience.”

And there, in a nutshell, is the raison d’etre of Transform. It’s about showing people that theatre isn’t necessarily about sitting together in the dark and watching a play on a stage – it’s about “exciting experiences.”

It takes theatre artists like Unlimited Theatre, Chris Goode and Third Angel and asks them to show audiences work at the most exciting stage in the process – the beginning. If those names don’t necessarily mean anything to you, don’t worry. They are simply theatre makers who understand the ways that theatre can be given a fresh context.

Amy Letman, the producer at the Playhouse behind the festival, says it’s full of adventures and experiences. “There’s never a dull moment at the festival – it provides the opportunity to see some of the most innovative theatre on offer in a festival experience.”

If you’re thinking this is all a bit “out there” don’t worry – that’s sort of the point. Transform is regularly attended by a very different type of theatre audience to that you might normally see. The Transform Variety Night, for example, takes place on Saturday and if you think a theatre audience is all twin-set and pearls, this Saturday at the Playhouse will seriously challenge those preconceptions.

Third Angel, a Sheffield-based company, is bringing Cape Wrath to the festival. A sell-out success at the Edinburgh Festival, the audience is strictly limited to 14. Why? Because it takes place on a minibus. Another show that’s receiving high praise is Ring. Although performed neither in a secret location, nor on a minibus, it is performed in total darkness, the audience wearing special headphones.

If none of these appeal, you can always take advantage of the fact that the Playhouse is using as many of its nooks and crannies as possible. So why not come and have a look around?

• Transform is at West Yorkshire Playhouse until Sunday. Details 0113 213 7000.