Yorkshire theatre companies Slung Low and Imitating the Dog fly the flag for the county

Two Yorkshire theatre companies are flying the flag for the county in exciting projects this week. Nick Ahad reports.

Imitating the Dog's new show Cinema Inferno
Imitating the Dog's new show Cinema Inferno

When Yorkshire’s strong, England’s strong, so the saying goes.

As it is with cricket, so it is with theatre – all culture, really. The arguments have been made time and again about why investment in the arts pay dividends: it’s a maths equation so simple an arts graduate could do it.

Arts events bring people into city centres and surrounding businesses all benefit. Investment in culture pays dividends.

Imitating the Dog's new show Cinema Inferno

There are less obvious ways in which cultural investment pays off, more oblique benefits. Bradford is feeling it already – when the city is mentioned these days it is with the label ‘City of Culture 2025’ and not – let’s just say not the labels the city has previously had. You can’t put a price on that, but it is, clearly, invaluable.

There are two examples this week of Yorkshire culture receiving the kind of boosts to which accountants would struggle to attach a figure, but which have enormous value.

The first happens tonight, at 6pm, in Prescot. That’s Prescot just outside of Liverpool, over the other side of the Pennines.

At 11am today Shakespeare North Playhouse opens its doors with a full weekend of celebration.

Built during the pandemic with the help of public funds and donations, Shakespeare North Playhouse is a 17th century style, timber-built ‘cockpit’ theatre, the only such structure outside London. It is effectively a Globe theatre for the North, expected to bring 140,000 visitors to Prescot annually.

It’s a major and impressive achievement, but what does it have to do with Yorkshire pride?

The company chosen to open this building, a hugely significant cultural addition to the North – in Lancashire, remember – is Leeds’s Slung Low.

All The Joy That You Can Wish is an opening ceremony for Shakespeare North featuring ‘all the noise, glamour and silliness we can muster… our team of local heroes will create a ceremony to conjure muses and to fill the air and the new theatre with promise… a ceremony that summons the magic of yesterday and delivers it into the future’.

Slung Low, the company that has created outdoor spectacles for well over a decade now, for Hull’s year as City of Culture and in Leeds Docks where it created

an unforgettable Moby Dick,

is really the only choice of company to do something on the scale the good people at Shakespeare North were looking for.

That they looked to Yorkshire for a company to celebrate the opening is one of those things that matter, but not something you could easily quantify.

Alan Lane, artistic director of Slung Low, says: “It is brilliant that there is a new theatre building being opened in the greater North in this most difficult of times. It takes imagination and nerve to do such a thing. In Prescot and its people we’ve found courageous partners full of story and ambition.

“It was a real honour to be asked to create a ceremony to mark the opening of Shakespeare North Playhouse and we’re having such fun bringing it all together

this week; we can’t wait until Friday.”

Maybe you’ll never make it across the Pennines to the venue (although I’m planning on heading there in the coming weeks – a Globe of the North is worth supporting), but even if you

never do, the fact that a public-funded company, based in Yorkshire, will forever be the company that created the opening ceremony for Shakespeare North Playhouse is an undeniable feather in our collective Yorkshire cap.

Perhaps even more impressive is a story that came to fruition this week with another Yorkshire company, and another company that pushes at boundaries.

Imitating the Dog, the Leeds company led by co-artistic directors Pete Brooks, Andrew Quick and Simon Wainwright, has been working in secret for the past year on a project for Parisian haute couture house Maison Margiela.

The theatre company is perhaps best known in Yorkshire for its imaginative takes in recent years on The Night of The Living Dead and Dracula: The Untold Story. Both those shows used technology to put stories on stage, with cinema blending with theatre. They were tasked by the high ups of Paris high fashion to bring their unique take to one of the highlights of the haute couture calendar.

Based on an original concept by creative director John Galliano, the new show from Imitating the Dog was called Cinema Inferno. Using techniques that would look familiar to Yorkshire theatre fans, the company told the story of a pair of young lovers on the run, pursued by gunslingers through a mythical American landscape. Using integrated live cameras

and projection, Cinema Inferno created a film made in real

time in front of the audience

with performers using found objects, miniature sets and giant screens.

“We set out to make something extraordinary and ground- breaking that has never been done on the official Paris Haute Couture Calendar,” says Brooks.

“For our team it has been a fascinating experience and over the months we have learned an enormous amount about two incredible creative industries and how they can collaborate to create an event so special.”

It goes on. The creatives we have in Yorkshire are creating world-beating work and the brilliant thing is – they continue to make it here on our doorsteps too.