Curtain up for the new theatre season in Yorkshire

SPRING SHOW: Sunshine on Leith, a musical based on the music of The Proclaimers, directed by James Brining, opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in April.
SPRING SHOW: Sunshine on Leith, a musical based on the music of The Proclaimers, directed by James Brining, opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in April.
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As the region’s theatres open their new seasons, Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad has a look at what we can expect.

I imagine this is something I say every year, but I genuinely am looking forward with some anticipation to the new season across Yorkshire theatres.

There’s a huge amount coming up at our theatres across the region that has potential to excite. It’s the big shows that hold the most anticipation for me personally: Frost/Nixon at Sheffield Crucible, This House at West Yorkshire Playhouse, both theatrical behemoths coming to Yorkshire for the first time.

They, for me, sum up the power that we have in this region when it comes to theatre. I say it in these pages all the time, but it is well worth repeating as The Stage newspaper publishes its list of the 100 most powerful people in the business and once again believes the epicentre of all good theatre is London: Yorkshire is the best region for theatre in the country, the capital excepted.

We should remember that and not simply take it for granted and the fact that our theatres get shows like Frost/Nixon and This House is a demonstration of that.

Another show that gives me cause for excitement and pride, is James Graham’s Culture – A Farce in Two Acts. Graham is one of the most successful playwrights not just of his generation, but of many generations. He currently has two shows in the West End: the last time a living playwright was treated to such a bounty is beyond living memory. So that he has been somehow coaxed to Hull to write a kind of swansong to the city’s year as the UK City of Culture, is an honour for him but a coup for Hull and its audiences. Particularly exciting is that Graham’s play, which opens at Hull Truck on January 26, is still being written.

He was given behind the scenes access to the machinations of the City of Culture machine and that has provided the inspiration for the play. I don’t expect a West End transfer, but I do expect a monster hit for Hull.

The city’s producing theatre will have another sell out show in June – mark my words – when it stages the world premiere of Clown Klub, a new play from Lucy Beaumont. There are many in the East of the county who will remember when Beaumont was a cast member in the old Hull Truck building – that was before she became a hugely successful stand-up, winning awards from the BBC and gathering huge acclaim. Now she’s back as a playwright. The local support will be huge.

In York the biggest production of the season is surely Bryony Lavery’s new adaptation of the Graham Greene classic Brighton Rock. In association with Pilot Theatre, the York venue is staging the premiere of this play before it heads out on a national tour, appearing at other Yorkshire theatres.

Lavery has been on a decades long hot-streak and I expect her telling of the story of Pinkie Brown and his associates will continue that streak. Also watch out for Imogen Stubbs in the world premiere Damian Cruden-directed The Be All and End All, a new play by Jonathan Lewis.

Frost/Nixon is a film that I love. Two huge personalities battering heads against each other and Peter Morgan does it better than anyone. The movie was based on the West End hit penned by Morgan and now it receives its regional premiere in Sheffield this February. Meaty, politically heavy, intelligent work: Sheffield became famous for it under its previous artistic directors and Robert Hastie is continuing the tradition with this production which sees Kate Hewitt, one of the country’s hottest young directors, in the director’s chair.

Speaking of big, meaty, intelligent productions, Hastie himself will be at the helm of Peter Gill’s The York Realist in March. Winning a clutch of awards when it premiered in 2001, it will be interesting to see what Hastie does with the piece.

Also watch out for Chicken Soup by Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles. Knowles, who trained and worked as an actor, wrote the hit play Operation Crucible, set in Sheffield. It was a popular piece and I imagine this, also set in Sheffield, will resonate at the Crucible Studio in February. There is obviously still an appetite for Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, which is being produced by the Ramps on the Moon initiative.

It’s at the Crucible in May and Ramps on the Moon, which aims to integrate disabled and non-disabled casts, should be supported by everyone, not for any particularly moral reason, but just because it creates really powerful work.

While Sheffield has a play that started as a play then became a movie, West Yorkshire Playhouse has a movie that is now a play with Still Alice. In 2014 Julianne Moore won an Oscar for the lead role in the movie. On stage the part will be played by Sharon Small (pictured on the front page) who will go through the emotional journey of a woman losing her identity to early onset Alzheimer’s.

February 23 is in my diary. That’s opening night for the national tour of James Graham’s (recognise the name?) This House, going on tour for the first time since its success at the National Theatre and then the West End. It’s going to be a theatrical event and I cannot wait for.

Red Ladder returns to the theatre with its popular adaptation of David Peace’s novel The Damned United in March 
and also watch out for artistic director James Brining’s Sunshine on Leith. A musical based on the music of The Proclaimers, Brining was the original director of this before it became a movie and it will be a sunshiney hit show in late-April, early-May.

Space is up. We have more great theatre to talk about; as they say: to be continued.

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Don’t miss:

This House: James Graham takes us into the mother of all parliaments in 1974 and tells the story of Britain’s political parties trying to change the nation. West Yorkshire Playhouse, February 23 to March 10.

Frost/Nixon: The story of what happened when international socialite David Frost took on one of the most notorious US presidents in history. At the time. This will resonate like a gong. February 21 to March 17.

The Culture – A Farce in Two Acts: A look behind the scenes of Hull’s big year in the spotlight. Hull Truck January 26 to February 17.