Curtain up on a season of top quality theatre

As the ideological attack on the arts continues apace, the theatres of our region are continuing to provide some high quality work. If you need an argument for the value of public funding for the arts, you don’t need to look much further than the programmes for our theatres and the autumn seasons coming up.

Sheffield Theatre's Romeo and Juliet:  Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark. Picture: Hugo Glendinning
Sheffield Theatre's Romeo and Juliet: Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

Sheffield, the heavyweight of our producing theatres in the region has lined up another season of real high quality.

A member of a theatrical dynasty, Freddie Fox, will star in a new production of Romeo and Juliet. Before you start to think “not again”, there are two things to remember. First, the production is directed by Jonathan Humphreys, the director who brought The Village Bike and Happy Days to the theatre – the production is in safe hands. There’s also the small issue that we don’t really see these Shakespeare classics nearly as much as we might suspect. As Sheffield Theatres’ artistic director Daniel Evans says, it’s the first production of Romeo and Juliet at the theatre in 20 years. I imagine I’m not alone in being incredibly excited to see the show in the autumn line-up.

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Since he took over as artistic director in 2010, Evans has truly made the theatre his own. Intelligent, challenging programming has been at the heart of that, the fact that he’s appeared on stage at the theatre several times has helped, but what has really sealed his reputation have been his spectacular, deservedly five-star productions of musicals at Christmas time. From Oliver! to My Fair Lady, he appears to have a midas touch. This year, it’s Show Boat.

The world premiere of John Godbers Poles Apart will take place at Wakefield Theatre Royal. Picture: Amy Charles

“I’m looking forward to directing a seminal work of American musical theatre, Show Boat, which will be our most ambitious Christmas production to date.”

The theatre is also continuing its strand of regional premieres with Deborah Bruce’s play The Distance, a hit for the Orange Tree Theatre last year. It will also be celebrating the Sheffield theatre company, Third Angel, as it reaches its 20th birthday. A genuinely brilliant company, Third Angel will be staging Presumption at the theatre during the autumn.

Another big Shakespeare is being brought to several Yorkshire stages by the ever brilliant company Northern Broadsides. Subtlety has never been the name of the game for the Barrie Rutter-led theatre company. You might even call it In Yer Face Shakespeare. That categorically doesn’t mean that it lacks nuance.

Broadsides mine the work of the Bard to strip away the unnecessary and leave audiences with a direct link to the muscularity of the language. I expect the trick to be repeated when Broadsides brings The Winter’s Tale to the stage with Conrad Nelson directing. A highly intelligent translator of Shakespeare for the stage, he has decided to set the action on New Year’s Eve and span 16 years. Last month Nelson told me why he decided to set it at that specific time – the idea of New Year’s Eve being a fulcrum moment is a key element. Whatever else it is going to be, this production will be thoroughly interrogated and presented with real clarity. The show opens at Harrogate Theatre on September 18 before touring nationally and visiting venues including the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, and the Broadsides’ home theatre, the Viaduct, Halifax, in November.

Also in Harrogate this autumn, audiences will be able to continue enjoying a bijou comedy festival that has quickly become a favourite among comedians. Now in its seventh year, the festival will feature stand-up – obviously and, less obviously: magic, cabaret, beatboxing and sock puppets. Comedians visiting the various venues in October are comedians including Nick Helm, Jimmy Carr, Josh Widdicombe, and the legend that is Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Beside the festival, the theatre will also play host to a production of Waiting for Godot. The increasingly interestingly programmed Studio Theatre will host a number of productions from emerging theatre companies, including a staging of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Townsend Productions.

Some might be surprised to see Jim Davidson appearing on the bill at Wakefield Theatre Royal this autumn, but there will also be comedy with wit and intelligence on display when John Godber’s Poles Apart shares its world premiere at the venue on September 9. The ever popular Demon Barbers will be visiting the venue and Wakefield is staging what will be a really special evening to say goodbye to the chief executive of the venue over the past 17 years when it stages An Evening With Murray and Friends on September 17. Chris Hannon will be back to appear in pantomime, this year the show is Dick Whittington.

Speaking of pantomime, you can probably guess who appears in the Bradford Alhambra’s panto this year. Billy Pearce will be joined by Lisa Riley for this year’s Jack and the Beanstalk.

The theatre will also be playing host to a three-week long run of the musical Shrek, which is bound to be popular and will be followed for a single-week run at the theatre from Annie, starring Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan – except for Saturdays. Apparently he has a dancing show on the BBC on Saturdays, so Lesley Joseph will be stepping into his shoes.

There are several other highlights, but the ones really not to miss are a return of dance company Rambert and Rebecca, adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s novel by the inimitable Kneehigh Theatre Company.

If there really needs to be any stronger argument for the funding of our theatres than this list, there’ll be another next week – we haven’t the space to do justice to all the productions you can see, so next week we’ll look at the autumn season at some of the other venues around the county.