If the kind of theatre you like is big, bold, in your face, then the coming theatrical season in Yorkshire is for you.
There’s The Lion King in Bradford, Les Miserables at Leeds Grand, a bona fide movie director bringing one of her big hits to the stage, a meaty Shakespeare at Sheffield Crucible and an institution celebrating a significant anniversary.
Perhaps it’s the effect of austerity, perhaps theatres are coming out swinging in 2020 against the swingeing cuts they’ve endured over the past decade; whatever the reason, it feels like theatres in the region have thrown caution to the wind and decided the best way to ensure their futures is to have big, crowd-pleasing productions and the way to do that is to commit resources to making some impressive shows.
In Sheffield artistic director Robert Hastie continues his record of bringing intelligent theatre that stretches an audience. His Julius Caesar was remarkably clear and in 2018 the regional premiere of Frost/Nixon was a real highlight of the year.
In March the director will turn his attention to another politically resonant piece, Coriolanus. The story of the super soldier propelled to power who goes on to lose the trust of the people, Hastie promises a ‘contemporary take on the tale of disconnect between rulers and the ruled’.
It’s difficult to imagine a more perfectly timed and programmed play, which will star Tom Bateman and comes to the Crucible March 6 to 28.
The Studio theatre will host the world premiere of Run Sister Run by Chloe Moss, a story that spans four decades and the highly regarded Oladipo Agboluaje will see his play Here’s What She Said to Me come to the studio, telling the story of three generations of women separated by continents, space and time and trying to bridge that gap. Bryony Lavery, one of our top playwrights, will see her world premiere of Oscar and the Pink Lady come to the Crucible in June. Based on the novel by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt it tells the story of a friendship that traverses the age barrier.
Following its reopening in October Leeds Playhouse feels like it has a new energy about it and that is translating on to the stage. The theatre will play host to one of the most impressive seasons I’ve seen at the venue in a long time.
Mira Nair, the director of the movie Monsoon Wedding was too busy filming the BBC adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy to attend the Playhouse’s season launch, but in a video message sent from India her enthusiasm was clear for the world premiere of the stage version of Monsoon Wedding, which will open in June. It’s going to be a spectacular production.
A second major tentpole production of the season is A Little Night Music, which will see director James Brining at the helm of the Stephen Sondheim classic and of the company and orchestra of Opera North. It’s this kind of collaboration that makes Yorkshire such a cultural powerhouse. Among the big productions there is Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Oliver Twist, produced as the Ramps on the Moon scheme, which sees a company of disabled and non-disabled actors bring stories to the stage. Also look out for a new production of Pam Gems’ Piaf, Missing People, a co-production between the Playhouse and Japan’s New National Theatre, and Maggie May, a story of living with dementia. It’s a season this brilliant new building deserves.
At York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird is beginning to make his presence felt, following the departure of long-term artistic director Damian Cruden. A three week season by a leading South African theatre company is an intriguing prospect. Isango Ensemble brings three productions – The Magic Flute, The Mysteries and SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill (May 5-23).
Isango’s productions re-imagine theatre classics in a South African setting, using performers drawn mainly from Cape Town townships. The company was founded by Yorkshire-born director Mark Dornford-May and music director Paulina Malefane in 2000.
Later in the year comes a new production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (July 10-25), a powerful re-telling of the story of Penelope, wife of Odysseus.
Over at Hull Truck the theatre is co-producing with Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre for its first production in the new season, a new staging of Jim Cartwright’s brilliant Two. The eclectic season will also feature a community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an ‘interactive theatrical experience’ based on the work of Roald Dahl.
As ever at this time of year, I’m out of space and the surface is barely scratched. Next week I’ll bring you more highlights of the coming season.
Barrie Rutter and Eliza Carthy: A unique evening of storytelling, poetry and music is promised. Two Yorkshire legends will be performing at Hull Truck Theatre, January 24.
The Penelopiad: Proper, serious drama and an indication of what the new man in charge at York Theatre Royal Tom Bird has in store. York Theatre Royal, July 10-25.
Say Yes to Tess: A show with music about a young woman from Leeds who decided to stand in a General Election for reasons that become clear during the show. At Leeds Playhouse, March 26-April 4.