A couple of years back a hashtag was being used on Twitter that swelled the heart of all Yorkshire folk involved in the arts. The hashtag was #YorkshireRising and a lot of us used it when writing about the purple patch the arts in Yorkshire seemed to be enjoying.
The hashtag has gone a bit quiet of late, not because Yorkshire doesn’t continue to rise, but more to do with the waxing and waning of social media trends.
I was moved to use the hashtag again a month ago when I received a press release announcing that Madani Younis is to take over the role of Creative Director of the Southbank Centre. When he does so, in January next year, he will become one of the most influential artistic leaders in Europe.
Not bad for a lad who learnt his artistic practice in Bradford.
Madani was appointed artistic director of Asian Theatre School, an off-shoot of Red Ladder, in 2001. His first piece for the company, Streets of Rage, was a response to the Bradford riots of the previous year. The first time I saw his work was a year later when Silent Cry, his piece about deaths in police custody, toured the country. It was clear that here was a director with a startlingly strong vision. The piece also incidentally starred Asif Khan, a Bradford- born actor who trained with Asian Theatre School and who is currently at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon playing the title role in Tartuffe. You can see why I felt more than justified in evoking #YorkshireRising once again last month.
In 2007 Madani moved the company to Bradford and Asian Theatre School became Freedom Studios. The first piece he produced as artistic director of Freedom was Happy and Married, which played at the Ilkley Literature Festival as part of a national tour. Madani’s ambition has always been impressive, something which was on show when he staged The Mill – City of Dreams in Bradford’s Drummond Mill in 2011. It was theatre on such an impressive scale and I wasn’t surprised when he was announced as the new artistic director of London’s Bush Theatre just a few months after the end of that production. Not surprised, but saddened that Yorkshire was losing such a talent.
Now, though, any lingering sadness has been replaced with immense pride. Although not a Yorkshireman by birth, Madani was forged in the fire of the Broad Acres and that is something to give all of us in the arts in Yorkshire reason to be proud.
It feels not insignificant that the previous artistic director of the Southbank was Jude Kelly, a woman who also learnt her trade in Yorkshire when she was running the West Yorkshire Playhouse, now the Leeds Playhouse.
Last week I paid a visit to Madani’s Bush Theatre to see the hugely acclaimed production of Vinay Patel’s An Adventure. Ever true to his word, Madani is producing work by writers from undervalued and marginalised backgrounds. Vinay, whose Murdered by My Father won a BAFTA and who was recently revealed as one of the writers on the latest series of Dr Who, is the kind of writer who has been overlooked for decades by mainstream theatres. Madani continues to put down markers that show the quality we all get to enjoy when doors are opened to all writers.
I can’t wait to see what he does at the Southbank.