As Leeds Playhouse announces its new autumn and winter season we take a look at some of the highlights
It used to be that theatres would announce their coming seasons all pretty much around the same time; in winter, we’d find out what was coming in the following year and sometime between spring and summer, we’d hear about the autumn and winter.
These days, and I feel like I want to lay the blame at the door of social media, it’s a far more free range, free-for-all affair. We already know some of the shows Sheffield Theatres are planning for next year, while others in the region have yet to announce what’s coming before the end of the summer.
One thing we do know is that Leeds Playhouse, which this week announced the full programme for autumn and winter 2022, has an impressive season on the way for when the nights have drawn in once again.
My recent trips to the Playhouse have shown that audiences are coming back to pre-pandemic levels, although not necessarily there yet, there are still some nerves.
James Brining, artistic director at the Playhouse, is optimistic. “It’s wonderful that we’re finally coming back together, at home, at work, in our communities, in our city and across the region,” he says.
“As a theatre and a charity, we come alive and flourish more when we share our spaces – what we think of as our ‘house’ – with as many people as possible. We’re really pleased to be able to showcase the diversity and eclecticism which is at the heart of our Autumn and Winter season.”
That word ‘diversity’ is coming up a lot these days, but since the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s gone beyond a word that helps tick a box. Theatres are really starting to do the work –since May, Mikron theatre company has committed to an anti-racism statement which it has published on its website.
Leeds Playhouse is staging several productions that will contribute to this ongoing conversation. Working with English Touring Theatre and the Rose Theatre, the Playhouse is co-producing a new contemporary take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Denzel Westley-Sanderson, the winner of the Sir Peter Hall director award in 2021.
The production will open the season when it comes to the Playhouse in September. Westley-Sanderson says: “Touring is such a vital part of the theatre industry and I’m excited to be a part of that and to open the season at Leeds Playhouse with this production.”
Yorkshire audiences will then be treated to a new production of Natasha Gordon’s Nine Night. The play premiered at the National Theatre in 2018 before transferring to the West End, making Gordon the first black woman to have a play in the West End.
The play is a touching and funny exploration of the rituals of the traditional Jamaican memorial celebration following a British-Jamaican family as they mark the passing of their beloved matriarch.
Another co-production, this one between the Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse, will be directed by Amanda Huxtable, a Yorkshire-based director who has a strong track record and is well regarded. “It’s a real honour to direct this play, a wonderful opportunity to work with my dream team on a project that I hope will encourage audiences who need a good laugh and a good cry to express themselves in the safe, supportive environment of the theatre.”
The coming season also sees the return of Ramps on the Moon, a brilliant and important initiative which sees deaf and disabled artists put at the centre of productions. An initiative involving a number of regional theatres, including the Playhouse and Sheffield Theatres in Yorkshire, the Playhouse will this autumn host a production led by Sheffield artistic director Robert Hastie. He will be at the helm of a new production of Much Ado About Nothing which will open in Sheffield ahead of a national tour, coming to Leeds in September. The previous Ramps on the Moon production, Oliver Twist, directed by the always impressive Amy Leach, is available to watch now on screen via National Theatre at home until February.
Leach, the Playhouse’s deputy artistic director, will be returning to the stage to restage the popular Orpheus in the Record Shop. Written by Leeds-based rapper, beatboxer and playwright Testament, the production was staged in 2020 featuring members of the orchestra of Opera North and was such a hit it went on to be filmed by the BBC and screened during lockdown.
Performed as it was during the pandemic, it will be a chance for audiences who missed it the first time around to see this winning piece. This autumn also sees the return of Furnace, the Playhouse’s artistic development programme, which offers a number of opportunities to local artists including the return of the popular Bramall Rock Void Creation Space, new free Furnace Tuesdays drop-in sessions, and a new course exploring the Black British theatre canon in collaboration with Leeds University.
Christmas is, of course, a hugely important time for theatres, a time of year when a large amount of the annual income is made, so the programming of a big Christmas show is vital.
This festive season will see a new production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory staged at the Playhouse. Featuring songs from the iconic 1970s film as well as a number of newly penned songs. With James Brining at the helm, it is guaranteed to make for a Christmas hit at the theatre.
More details www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk