Leeds Playhouse opens a new studio space where emerging playwrights can thrive

Playwright Charley Miles in rehearsals for There Are No Beginnings.
Playwright Charley Miles in rehearsals for There Are No Beginnings.
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Ironic that the play marking several brand new beginnings should be called There Are No Beginnings.

The new play from wunderkind Charley Miles will be the first produced by the Leeds Playhouse since it reopened following a £16m refurbishment, it will be the first in the newly created studio space the Bramall Rock Void and it will be the first time the work of Miles has launched a new season of work. That’s a lot of new beginnings.

Tessa Parr during rehearsals.

Tessa Parr during rehearsals.

“I think I feel a healthy mixture of feeling incredibly overwhelmed, and massively honoured,” says Miles.

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To be fair, it’s a lot for any playwright. For a young playwright who is only a few short years away from her debut, it’s little wonder there are a lot of emotions flying about.

There Are No Beginnings marks a new era for the Leeds Playhouse. Last week audiences started re-entering the building following the year-and-a-half closure as it was refurbished.

Although that word doesn’t really adequately describe the almost total transformation the Leeds theatre has experienced.

From a new frontage to totally reimagined spaces inside, it is as though a new theatre has been created for the people of the region from the building that was the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Inside, perhaps the most significant change is the addition of a new theatre space. The Bramall Rock Void, a flexible space that will seat around 100-120, will have a big impact for a small space.

Why? A studio theatre, a place for experimental work, is the one thing the Playhouse has sorely missed over the years. The Quarry space needs big, bold, epic productions like artistic director James Brining’s Sweeney Todd. The Courtyard, while smaller, still needs work of scale to fill it.

A flexible, smaller studio space will allow theatre makers a place to create work that might not pull in a massive audience, but as can be witnessed in other theatres across the land, can have a big impact.

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Miles’s There Are No Beginnings is a perfect example of just such a piece of work.

It’s already creating waves. “It’s such a big deal that you can’t really process it properly. It sort of hit me yesterday when I was in the theatre space, it was the first time we’d been in the actual space with the set and the tech and the stage and I thought to myself ‘this is the most beautiful studio theatre I’ve ever been in’,” says Miles.

“I was talking to a friend and she was saying ‘there will be books written about this building, about it reopening and people will read about your play as the first one that was staged in this new theatre’.

“I was a little overwhelmed when I realised that, but the truth is over the past year it’s just been me and a blank page while I’ve been writing, so you don’t really have the chance to think about all of that.”

Miles, whose debut play Blackthorn premiered at the Leeds theatre in 2016, has had an impressive couple of years, developing television work and seeing Blackthorn win awards in New York. She came up with the idea for There Are No Beginnings while writer in residence at Leeds Playhouse thanks to a Channel 4 scheme.

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The play, set around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper, is categorically not about Peter Sutcliffe, but about four women whose lives were impacted by his crimes.

“My mum was a teenager at the time of the Ripper and when my sister went to university, she went to Leeds,” says Miles.

“I remember going with my sister, we all piled into the car to take her, and the closer we got to Leeds the more hysterical my mum became about my sister going away and living in Leeds.

“She had this really vivid memory of how it all felt and she had this trauma and these emotional scars from that era. I wanted to write something about that and how mothers pass these traumas on to their own daughters and the fear we inherit.”

It’s a big story, but Miles has chosen to tell it with four female actors. Tessa Parr, hugely impressive as Hamlet last year

at the Playhouse, well regarded Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh, Natalie Gavin and recent drama school graduate Jesse Jones are the cast bringing the story to life.

“It’s a period that has been written about and lots of films have been made about it but they all seem to be part of this quite patriarchal structure in which the women are portrayed as victims without their own agency.

“Peter Sutcliffe never appears in the play, it’s not about him. It’s a story about these four women and how they were affected by the way his story was told, because all the power was given to him and his story.”

It sounds like a powerful piece and Miles has proved already in her short career to be a writer with an impressive command of the poetry of a script.

There Are No Beginnings marks a new beginning for the Playhouse and, perhaps, for theatre in the region. Last weekend in The Yorkshire Post magazine, I reflected that we are currently in one of the most impressive moments in Yorkshire theatre that I can remember in my two decades of writing about the theatre scene in our county.

The addition of a writer like Miles, a reborn Playhouse and a brand new studio theatre are all going to be significant additions to that theatre culture.

An exciting new beginning, in fact.

Leeds playhouse open weekend

This weekend sees the Playhouse open its doors for

an open weekend, giving people the chance to take a look around what will feel like an entirely new building.

It begins this evening at 5pm as a neon light is switched on. Tours around the building begin tonight too and continue tomorrow and Sunday from 10am to 11.30pm with workshops and performances.

There Are No Beginnings by Charley Miles is at Leeds Playhouse from October 11 to November 2.

Tickets from the box office on 0113 2137700 or online via leedsplayhouse.co.uk