In The Spotlight

This week, theatre correspondent Nick Ahad takes a look at some of the touring shows coming to Yorkshire this year.
VISITING SHOWS: We Are the Lions, Mr Manager! comes to Harrogate next month.VISITING SHOWS: We Are the Lions, Mr Manager! comes to Harrogate next month.
VISITING SHOWS: We Are the Lions, Mr Manager! comes to Harrogate next month.

When Yorkshire’s strong, England’s strong, goes the old adage. As for cricket, so for theatre.

Last week I took you on a whistle-stop tour of the work being created in our region’s theatres. It is important to concentrate primarily on the work made in Yorkshire because it means the brand Made In Yorkshire might well go on to be shipped around the world. Just this week Barbershop Chronicles returned to the National Theatre: a show made in Leeds at the West Yorkshire Playhouse kicking off the new year at the capital-based national theatre. That really should make the chest swell.

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Alas, the theatres in our region can’t survive on home-grown alone, we need to rely on importing some work not just to fill our spaces, but because cross-pollination is a vital part of our creative landscape. So what are the shows to watch out for?

We’ll come to the big theatres that play host to large scale touring shows in a moment, but there are a couple of smaller theatre shows that I really want to bring to your attention first.

In Harrogate I’m looking forward to We Are The Lions, Mr Manager! It tells the remarkable true story of Jayaben Desai, recounting how she led a strike by the workers of a film processing factory in Willesden in August 1976. The Grunwick Strike had a major impact on trade unions and the way they discussed race and immigration. I missed this show when it toured last year and won’t make the same mistake again (Harrogate Theatre, February 5-10. Cast, Doncaster April 14, Freedom Centre, Hull, April 15).

You might not have heard of a little company called Uncanny Theatre, but they are a company very dear to my Yorkshire-theatre-loving heart. Mat and Nat, otherwise known as Natalie Bellingham and Matt Rogers have been making absurd, surrealist work for a few years now. In their new show, Outrage, they attempt to become famous through social media notoriety. It looks like they are putting real substance into their work this year – but the real reason to recommend them is because when you see them you will witness top-class clowning in its purest form. (Cast, Doncaster, March 6).

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Black Men Walking doesn’t strictly belong in this week’s article, but it was developed and made by Sheffield-based Eclipse theatre and opens in Manchester before touring nationally, so here it is. Revolution Mix was created to address a paucity of work about the black British experience and this is the first piece from that project. Written by the brilliant Testament, aka Leeds’s Andy Brooks, this is a play about, well, black men walking. The people involved – from writer Testament to director Dawn Walton – are reason enough to recommend it. (West Yorkshire Playhouse, February 20-24. Hull Truck, February 27-March 3. Sheffield Studio, April 9-12).

To those big old grand theatres we have in our region, chief among them, Leeds Grand and Bradford’s Alhambra (not to do a disservice to York’s Grand Opera House, Hull’s New Theatre or Halifax’s Victoria Theatre). In Bradford the Alhambra’s new year gets going in seriously impressive style with Sunset Boulevard (February 5-10). A very long time since it toured the regions, the Tony award winner based on the classic movie will be a big hit. War Horse is returning to the theatre – if you haven’t seen it before, see it this time (February 14 to March 10). I’d also recommend The Play That Goes Wrong (June 18 to 23).

In Leeds there is plenty of excitement about the return of Wicked to the Grand. It was a massive sell out when it was here a couple of years back, so it’s easy to see why the excitement. (June 13 -July 7). Watch out for the return of Yasmina Reza’s Art. A modern masterpiece, it’s amazing to see a three-hander filling out theatres as grand as this. When it arrives, it will be with Dennis Lawson, Nigel Havers and Stephen Tompkinson. (April 3-7). Leeds Grand has also landed a bit of a coup by being the first theatre in the region to bring The Last Ship to the stage. Written by Sting, with original music and lyrics from The Police former frontman, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good: the place will be packed. (May 1-5. York Theatre Royal, June 25-30).

On February 20 one of Yorkshire’s most important touring theatre companies begins a new era. Northern Broadsides heads out on the road for the first time without one Barrie Rutter at the helm. Conrad Nelson will be in charge of Deborah McAndrew’s script for Hard Times. They are a winning combination. (Halifax Viaduct, February 16 to 24. Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, April 17-21. Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, May 2-5. West Yorkshire Playhouse, May 22-26). The ever engaging Daniel Bye is bringing his Instructions for Border Crossing across the county this year. An hour spent in his company is always worthwhile (York Theatre Royal, May 23). Finally, another piece that should have been included last week, made as it is in Yorkshire, is John Godber’s The Scary Bikers. (Theatre Royal, Wakefield, February 8-17. Hull Truck Theatre, February 27-March 3. Lawrence Batley Theatre, April 13, 14). I’d also recommend Square Chapel, Halifax, an always intriguing venue that looks more beautiful than ever.

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Also – can I really do this? Okay, my own play, The Chef Show, is returning for a national tour. It’s coming to Cast in Doncaster (March 21) and the review in The Yorkshire Post last year was very complimentary.

Happy theatre-going.


Fleabag: So good it was turned into a BAFTA-winning TV show. Sheffield Studio, May 30 to June 2.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too: There are too many reasons to recommend this, just see it. Lawrence Batley Theatre, January 30 to February 3.

What If I Told You: Pauline Mayers’ hit show that she’s dredged from the depths of her soul. West Yorkshire Playhouse February 13 to 17.

Robin Ince – Pragmatic Insanity: When I last saw Ince, three years ago, he said he wasn’t doing stand up again. I don’t mind that he lied. Victoria Theatre, Halifax, February 21.