Life of Pi, The Hypochondriac and White Christmas: What's coming up at Sheffield theatres

A couple of times a year I write a piece like this, looking ahead to the coming months and what they hold in our theatres. As Autumn approaches, this year is no different - except it is actually.

What remains the same is that Yorkshire theatre remains exceptionally strong, with some nationally recognised leaders creating productions that go on to have an impact around the country and indeed the world. What’s changed is, you might be surprised to hear towards the end of 2023, the pandemic.

There is currently a national conversation happening in the theatre world about the high churn of artistic directors, the leaders in charge of our theatres.

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So far, and I hope you touch wood as you read this next part, that hasn’t happened in Yorkshire: the people who led theatres through the worst crisis to hit the industry in two centuries, continue to lead from the front today.

Life of Pi is back in Sheffield this autumn. Photo: Johan PerssonLife of Pi is back in Sheffield this autumn. Photo: Johan Persson
Life of Pi is back in Sheffield this autumn. Photo: Johan Persson

That’s not to say it’s been easy. The effects of the pandemic, the fallout of people falling out of the habit of going to the theatre and the enormous challenges that has brought, combined with the impact of inflation on costumes to scenery builds means that everything is starting to form into a perfect storm for our theatres.

The good news is, in face of all of this, our theatres continue to provide some very good reasons for us to continue to support the work they are creating.

One of the very best reasons is coming to town next week and it demonstrates exactly some of the things I describe above, the resilience and brilliance of our theatres.

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Life of Pi is the production that demonstrates the strength of Yorkshire theatre. Born on the stage of Sheffield Crucible back in 2019, in the last four years the production of Yann Martel’s story of a boy, a boat and a tiger has transferred to both London’s West End and Broadway in New York, winning five Olivier Awards here and three Tony awards over there.

The Hypochondriac will be staged this autumn in Sheffield. Photo: Sheffield Theatres.The Hypochondriac will be staged this autumn in Sheffield. Photo: Sheffield Theatres.
The Hypochondriac will be staged this autumn in Sheffield. Photo: Sheffield Theatres.

It’s a spectacular success story, one that owes everything to the badge of ‘Made in Yorkshire’. The show is setting off on a year long UK and Ireland tour, but it begins, appropriately, back where it started, in Sheffield. The production opens at the Lyceum in Sheffield on August 29 and is in situ until September 16.

If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, this homecoming is well worth checking out. When the production was first mooted, I spoke to the adapter Lolita Chakrabati.

We both talked of the virtual impossibility of telling the story on stage of a young boy who gets shipwrecked and finds himself on a lifeboat with an orangutan and tiger for company. The impossible happened and you can see how for yourself.

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Staying in Sheffield, you have to admire the way artistic director Robert Hastie and his right hand man Anthony Lau have been building seasons over the past few years. There was always serious quality on show, but they have also started bringing to Yorkshire theatre spectacle.

Earlier this summer it was Miss Saigon, the first new non-replica production since the world dominating musical premiered. This autumn there is a return to serious, high quality work.

Sarah Tipple, a name possibly new to Yorkshire theatre audiences but who comes with a seriously impressive pedigree, directs a new production of Roger McGough’s acclaimed adaptation of Moliere’s The Hypochondriac. Considered the French satirist’s finest work, the quality on show will be impressive.

Then come Christmas and Paul Foster, well known to Yorkshire audiences, will be at the helm of White Christmas. The show was last seen at the Leeds Playhouse a few years back as a festive treat and, based on the Irving Berlin, Paramount Pictures movie, it is about as classy a piece of work as you might hope for as the festive season comes around.

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It would be impossible to do justice to the other big producing theatres in the region in the space left, so, as ever, the autumn round up of our theatres will have to be split over two parts.

Next week I’ll look to West, East and North Yorkshire, each of which will be holding their own with the South of the county.

In combination they make what has to be the strongest region of the country when it comes to theatre outside of the capital.

Yes, we are living through a seriously hard time for theatres, but if the quality of what is coming to our stages is anything to go by, it’s a period that they will survive.