From Shakespeare to Harold Pinter and Richard Bean's new play - what's on in Yorkshire's theatres in 2022

I was talking recently with James Brining, the artistic director of Leeds Playhouse about the upcoming season of work and it sparked a memory of something.

The thing was, it was something of which I couldn’t possibly have a memory.

I had an image in my head of Tracy-Ann Oberman as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The strange thing about the ‘memory’ is that it couldn’t be real because the production never happened. It was one of many lost to the pandemic. “You have to just accept that some things you have to let go,” said Brining.

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He’s right and it is with that in mind, and with caveats and cautious optimism, that I write my bi-annual round up of theatre highlights, one of the main caveats being that this time last year I was looking forward to seeing Oberman play Shylock and the world had other ideas.

Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street opens at Hull Truck in Feburary.Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street opens at Hull Truck in Feburary.
Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street opens at Hull Truck in Feburary.

I’ll return to Leeds Playhouse, but we ought to begin the 2022 highlights round up with two of our theatres celebrating significant milestones this year.

Hull Truck will be hanging out the bunting as will Sheffield Crucible as both celebrate turning 50 this year.

Both Hull Truck and the Crucible were actually founded in 1971 but nobody is going to begrudge the venues celebrating on a technicality, given the 2021 they endured.

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Helen Edmunson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina runs at the Sheffield Crucible through February.Helen Edmunson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina runs at the Sheffield Crucible through February.
Helen Edmunson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina runs at the Sheffield Crucible through February.
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To begin in South Yorkshire, the Crucible is attempting something quite extraordinary – staging three plays that are linked narratively, performed by the same cast and that, uniquely as far as anyone can tell, are staged at the same time. The three plays, by former Sheffield resident Chris Bush, are Rock, Paper, Scissors and tell the story of Sheffield’s oldest scissor manufacturer and the three generations who go to war over what happens to the factory site.

How it will work is hugely complex and would probably take the rest of this article to explain but essentially actors will exit one play in, say the Crucible, and then run across the square outside the theatre to appear on stage in the Lyceum. If the theatre doesn’t sell tickets for audience members to sit outside while the plays are performed, they’re missing a trick. The plays will be at the theatre June 14 to July 2.

The year of celebration kicks off in earnest with a new production of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina directed by Anthony Lau, the theatre’s associate artistic director with an adaptation by Helen Edmundson and running at the theatre throughout February.

Other highlights of the half-century season, and there are many, include How A City Can Save the World, a piece celebrating ten years of the Sheffield People’s Theatre in August and then later in the year Hastie’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, made in conjunction with Ramps on the Moon.

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Out East in Hull, the celebrations begin in February with what has to be one of the most hotly anticipated new plays in these parts for some time. The all-conquering Richard Bean returns home with 71 Coltman Street, a dramatised telling of Hull Truck’s origin story. Bean, a Hullensian by birth most famous for the worldwide theatrical hit One Man, Two Guvnors has written the script telling the story of Mike Bradwell setting out on a mission to revolutionise British theatre back in the early 1970s. With current artistic director Mark Babych at the helm, this has all the hallmarks of a big hit.

Speaking of which, another old favourite is heading back east to celebrate the theatre’s fiftieth. John Godber, the man who ran the theatre for 25 years, has reimagined his critically acclaimed play Teechers. First performed at Hull Truck in 1987, Teechers Leavers ’22 will be at the theatre from May to June.

The summer will also see a celebration of the local community with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by the theatre’s associate director Tom Saunders. Watch out also for the final piece in a trilogy from Amanda Whittington as she follows Ladies Day and Ladies Down Under with Ladies Unleashed.

In Leeds the celebrations are not of anniversaries, but of simply being open to the public again.In February Amy Leach will be directing Macbeth. Her Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet showed she has serious chops when it comes to putting Shakespeare on stage; the production will star Tachia Newall in the title role.

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Another major production heading to the stage this season is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Co-produced by Manchester’s HOME, the show will feature Yorkshire’s own drag queen Divina De Campo in her first leading role in a show that will feature a live rock band on stage in the Courtyard.

York’s Theatre Royal is presenting an eclectic season of work, including Matthew Horne and Keith Allen in Pinter’s The Homecoming, but watch out for Pilot Theatre’s co-production of The Bone Sparrow, a novel by Zana Fraillon, adapted by the award-winning playwright S Shakthidharan and coming to the theatre at the end of February.

Fraillon’s story of a Rohingya refugee boy who has spent his entire life in a detention centre in Australia has been developed by Pilot, Australian Theatre for Young People and with SBC Theatre, based in Bradford.

With Sirazul Islam on board, a young man from the Rohingya community now living in Bradford and who is assistant director, this will be a moving piece.

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Next week we move on to the big shows and the touring companies. It’s good to know we’ll soon be making new memories in our theatres.

Three shows not to be missed

Anna Karenina: The story of desire, duty and defiance is perfect for a big stage and they don’t come more epic than Sheffield’s Crucible. February 5 to 26. Tickets

Say Yes to Tess: A new musical based on a true story, this is one show that survived the pandemic. I think it will be worth the wait. Leeds Playhouse, March 24 to April 2. Tickets

71 Coltman Street: The story of Hull Truck has always been compelling, there is nobody better to tell it than Richard Bean. February 17 to March 12. Tickets

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