From Julie Hesmondhalgh to Ralph Fiennes - there are plenty of theatre highlights in Yorkshire this spring and summer

I used to write this kind of article twice a year. Generally in January and then again at the end of August/beginning of September.

Naomi Petersen as Lily in The Girl Next Door, a new play by Sir Alan Aykbourn.  (Picture: Michael Wharley).
Naomi Petersen as Lily in The Girl Next Door, a new play by Sir Alan Aykbourn. (Picture: Michael Wharley).

How strange and joyful to be writing a ‘theatrical highlights of the coming season article’ in late April.

I recently heard someone in the theatre world describing the period we’ve all just lived through as ‘an interval’. Well, brace yourself for a hell of a second half.

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Theatre is back.

Desert Island Flicks, part of Sheffield Theatres’ Together season.

It really is difficult to explain just how much it means to be bringing to these pages news of productions that are on the way. So I’ll just get on with it.

One of the first out of the traps is Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. I know all theatres have had a terrible time this past year, but it’s felt particularly hard for a theatre like SJT which relies on people being able to travel to the town and venue, often from not inconsiderable distances.

It’s perhaps one of the reasons the theatre opens its doors as soon as possible, on May 17, with the first live show the following day.

The theatre will reopen with the acclaimed one-woman show The Greatest Play in the History of the World, which pops up at several venues in Yorkshire in the coming months. Written by Ian Kershaw and performed by Julie Hesmondhalgh, it runs at the venue from May 18 to 22.

Ralph Fiennes who appears in Four Quartets at York Theatre Royal in July.

Paul Robinson, the theatre’s artistic director, says: “We can’t wait to open our doors again. We know from the messages from our audience how much they’re missing being in the building for live theatre.

“We’ll be keeping all the Covid security measures that made them feel so safe when we re-opened briefly last year. These will include temperature checks and hand sanitising on entry, social distancing everywhere in the building and regular safe disinfecting of both our auditoria in between shows or films.”

The rest of the season is full of highlights. There’s a new world premiere from Alan Ayckbourn with The Girl Next Door (June 4 to July 3), Home I’m Darling by Laura Wade, a huge hit in 2018 for Theatr Clwyd and the National Theatre, is in Scarborough July 9 to August 14 and The Offing, adapted from Ben Myers’ novel, is another world premiere at the theatre, from October 14 to 30. That is a seriously impressive line-up.

As a snooker fan, I have always been glued to my TV around the World Championships at the Sheffield Crucible, but during this year’s tournament I kept getting a thrill every time there was a wide shot showing the auditorium – who knew how moving it would be to see an audience in a theatre.

Now that the boys have cleared off the baize, the theatre is preparing to launch its Together season, a programme of 13 pieces of work from local artists which runs at the theatre from May 24 to June 5. The festival forms part of Sheffield Theatres’ initiative to champion new work and give a platform to local artists.

Associate artist Anthony Lau says: “This is a celebration of the extraordinary talent in this city and region. There is a huge breadth of work over the two weeks of the festival – in showcasing some of the most exciting artists in Sheffield, we wanted to bring us all back together too.”

Shows include Spiltmilk Dance with Desert Island Flicks, a cross between a dance performance and a sketch show, Monster Proof, a play about a Godzilla-like creature stomping through the city from Sheffield writer John Hunter and Per-So-Na, a one-woman show from Bradford artist Kafayat Adegoke.

Leeds Playhouse returns with a full summer season, hoping to bring audiences back with some big, bold work and has even whetted the appetite by announcing it’s Christmas show for this year – Wendy and Peter Pan. Before that, though, the theatre presents a programme designed to ease audiences back into the building – to help celebrate the theatre’s 50th birthday.

It begins with a collection of six monologues by six writers from around the region in a series of performances under the title Decades: Stories of the City. The writers; Simon Armitage, Leanna Benjamin, Kamal Kaan, Alice Nutter, Maxine Peake and Stan Owens will tell the story of the region, theatre, the people and the city through the decades.

The monologues will be performed live at the theatre May 19 to 29 and will be available online May 24 to June 5. From May 27, the Playhouse will use the courtyard area at the front of the building to stage a family show called Fairy Poppins and the Naughty Winter Ghost written by Rob Alan Evans and directed by Alexander Ferris.

Leeds-based Wrongsemble will be also catering for families with the musical The Not So Ugly Sisters (June 2-5), while other shows on the way include Red Ladder co-production The Damned United, Pam Gems’ Piaf and artistic director James Brining at the helm of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.

In York, the city’s Theatre Royal opens on May 17 with its Love Season. Chief executive Tom Bird says: “The season celebrates what we’ve all been missing this past year – human connection, the live experience and a sense of togetherness.”

The season begins on May 17 and 18 with 20 commissioned love letters, all presented in five minute chunks in an event hosted by Harry Gration.

The HandleBards will be bringing their unusual version of Romeo and Juliet to the theatre (May 25 and 26) and York drag act Velma Celli will perform Love is Love: A Brief History of Drag (May 29).

The theatre has also landed a bit of a coup with the world premiere of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (July 26- 31) directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes.

Productions not to miss

The Greatest Play in the History of the World: The Ian Kershaw one-woman show performed by Julie Hesmondhalgh will be at several venues in the coming months including at Hull Truck, the Stephen Joseph Theatre and York Theatre Royal. See it.

The Girl Next Door: A brand new play from Sir Alan Ayckbourn. His 85th. No more needs to be said.

Decades: Stories of the City: Leeds Playhouse will be reflecting on its half century with a series of monologues from writers associated with the city. I suspect this will be really quite moving.