Very many returns as Alan comes back home

A Leeds theatre director has been trying to get his work in the city for years – now it’s everywhere. Nick Ahad spoke to Alan Lane.

It took a little time for Leeds to wake up to him, but suddenly he’s everywhere.

Not that Alan Lane’s come out of nowhere.

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Lane’s title is theatre director, although theatre maverick seems more appropriate. In 2005 he was the resident assistant director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, but since then he has worked in an exciting, bold and entirely new way, with his company Slung Low, creating theatre “experiences”.

If nothing turns you off faster than hearing those words, then you haven’t seen a Slung Low show yet.

“Site-specific”, “immersive”, they are all buzz words in contemporary theatre, but Lane is aware that to non-theatre types they can be somewhat off-putting. It would be better to perhaps explain a couple of Slung Low shows.

They Only Come At Night was a show that took place in a car park and then, in a sequel, in Huddersfield, during which the audience walked around and were met by actors playing vampire hunters and vampires.

In Mapping the City, a stunning show, three connected stories took place around the streets of Hull with the audience following actors and listening in on their conversations via headphones and radio microphones.

In their most recent work, Original Bearings, audiences were taken to Holbeck on a bus with a story woven around the area of inner city Leeds.

All these shows were arresting, beautiful and brilliant, but Original Bearings represented a triumph for Lane, the artistic director of Slung Low, because it was in Leeds. “I’m from Leeds, but for years I have been making work anywhere but here,” says Lane, whose company is now based in disused railway arches south of Leeds city centre.

“We made work in London, in Manchester, next year we’re creating a third They Only Come at Night show in Singapore, but I couldn’t get arrested in Leeds. I’ve been banging on the door for ages.”

The door has finally opened.

On November 17 Lane will present a new piece of work in his home city. What is particularly gratifying is that the piece has been commissioned by Opera North.

“We’ve been talking for ages about the fact that the big boys in Leeds, like the Playhouse, like Opera North, should be opening up their doors to the smaller scale artists working in the city.

“It feels like there is something of a change going on – Opera North wanted to do this piece and they wanted to find someone who could work in a certain way and they came to me. It’s great for me personally, obviously, but I think it marks a real shift in attitude towards the way we can all work together,” he says.

The piece Opera North have asked Lane to work on is part of the increasingly inventive programme at the Howard Assembly Room. The Gambler, based on Dostoevsky’s novel, is a production which will see the HAR kitted out like a casino with three actors playing the parts around the audience.

“Opera North were looking for someone who can work in that kind of way and they came to me. I hope I’m going to bring the same feeling of Slung Low’s shows to the production,” says Lane.

While Lane is creating the piece for Opera North as a freelance director, he is working with his company on another new piece which will feature the work of six Leeds playwrights being performed as a radio play in front of a live audience.

15 Minutes Live will feature the work of Alice Nutter, Aisha Khan, Ben Tagoe, Boff Whalley, Emma Adams and Rommi Smith and will be recorded then be played in homes for the elderly in Armley. The production is part of the I Love West Leeds Festival and is on November 13.

A theatrical career

Alan Lane began his career as an assistant to Ian Brown at West Yorkshire Playhouse 2005-2006.

The following year he set up Slung Low, a theatre company that specialised in site-specific work, where the theatre happened around an audience, in theatres, car parks and around city centres.

He has directed all of Slung Low’s shows inlcuding the award-winning Helium at the Barbican Centre in London.

The Gambler, Howard Assembly Rooms, Nov 17. Tickets 0844 848 2727.

15 Minutes Live, Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley, Nov 17, 2pm-5pm. Tickets on 07870 58 1566.