How Huddersfield Lawrence Batley Theatre is celebrating its 25th anniversary

Celebration time: Lawrence Batley Theatres community production of Henry V. Picture: Ant Robling
Celebration time: Lawrence Batley Theatres community production of Henry V. Picture: Ant Robling

As Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, Nick Ahad looks at the programme.

Earlier this week Henry Filloux-Bennett tweeted with a mixture of pride and a touch of incredulity: “BBC News yesterday, Guardian today. Our amazing theatre putting Huddersfield front and centre.”

Toast, above, was a hit at the Lawrence Batley Theatre this summer. Picture: Simon Annand.

Toast, above, was a hit at the Lawrence Batley Theatre this summer. Picture: Simon Annand.

He’s allowed the moment of celebration. He’s only been in charge of Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre since March and to already be receiving national attention is something of a coup.

Review: Toast - Lawrence Batley Theatre

I’ve always had a soft spot for LBT. It’s not one of the big producing theatres we have in the region, but nor is it a receiving house like the Victoria Theatre in nearby Halifax, yet under previous director Victoria Firth it always staged brave, bold and interesting work – something which looks set to continue under current director and chief executive Filloux-Bennett.

The national gaze of the arts world turned on Huddersfield’s little theatre just a couple of months after Filloux-Bennett’s arrival when it was announced that the West End hit play he’d written, Toast, based on the Nigel Slater memoir, would be starting its national tour in Huddersfield. Not many chief executives arrive in post and are able to immediately hand their theatres a West End touring show and the media noticed.

This weekend the LBT celebrates its 25th anniversary, not something that would necessarily attract national attention. Filloux-Bennett has pulled the gaze towards Huddersfield by landing a second impressive catch in as many months.

All weekend the LBT will celebrate its significant date with a number of events, but the one that is attracting the media attention is a new exhibition of Simon Annand’s work.
The world-renowned photographer’s exhibition The Half is receiving such attention because it is an extraordinarily intimate insight into one of the most vulnerable moments in a performer’s life.

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The Half, in theatrical parlance, is the half hour before curtain up. Anyone who has been backstage during a production will know when the call comes over the tannoy from the stage manager announcing ‘members of the cast, this is the half’ is the moment butterflies begin to flap about the tummy of all performers.

Annand gained unprecedented access to photograph actors during the half and the result, the chance to see Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the like, in that intense moment, is going to be enjoyed by audiences at LBT when the exhibition opens this weekend in a newly created gallery space for the theatre.

“As we reach our 25th birthday, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on how we got to where we are, but also to look ahead to the future,” says Filloux-Bennet. “I can’t think of a better, more exciting way of doing that than getting to work with one of the best photographers in the world to explore that concept of time passing, but also of our industry’s future. We couldn’t be more delighted to be sharing this brand new collection of images in Yorkshire.”

It’s an impressive booking and one that speaks to Filloux-Bennett’s plans for the building of which he now has charge. It is also just one of a number of ways in which the quarter century will be marked this weekend.

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Saturday night is the official big birthday party featuring a fireworks display in the theatre’s courtyard (made just a little more famous thanks to its appearance in Sally Wainwright’s locally filmed Gentleman Jack) and a show by renowned drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat.

Filloux-Bennett says: “I couldn’t be more delighted that we’re able to bring Le Gateau Chocolat to Huddersfield. For me personally it’s a complete dream come true. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I first saw him years ago as part of ‘La Clique’; there is quite simply no-one like Gateau. His shows are jaw-dropping, his voice is stunning, and I have no doubt he is going to make our birthday completely unforgettable.”

The entertainment for the weekend celebration continues with a performance of Henry V, the like of which you will not have seen before. At the launch of the season in July, I saw a short extract of the new community production, directed by Sameena Hussain, Olivia Race and Filloux-Bennett and can honestly say that I never imagined Henry’s ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech prefaced by Reel 2 Real’s I Like to Move It (and if you understand both those cultural references, you and I may be soul mates).

So, for the birthday weekend there is: an exhibition by a world renowned photographer, fireworks, a drag show and a community performance of Henry V featuring a dance track from the 90s. It feels like there’s something missing. Or at least, it must have seemed that way to FIlloux-Bennett because into this already eclectic mix he has added a reading, on Sunday, by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

An Afternoon with Simon Armitage will see the Huddersfield poet performing a special reading from his collection Zoom! which features poems set in and around his home town. It is, frankly, one of the maddest most eclectic and inspiring line ups I’ve seen at a theatre in a while.

Filloux-Bennett reveals a method behind it. “It’s all happening here, I hope people come along. We’re celebrating the fact that the theatre was built 25 years ago for the community and we want to be part of the community.”

With as wide an offering as you can see this weekend, he’s on the way to job done.