The studio season at West Yorkshire Playhouse is presenting exciting new work. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.
British theatre is a complex system, an ecology that relies on all the constituent parts for its good health.
The mighty oaks of the forest, to continue the analogy, are the big beasts that bring in the punters in the West End and the big theatres around our country; shows like The Lion King, Wicked, Phantom.
These shows – and all the inevitable money and people they bring into British theatres – rely heavily on the writers, actors, technicians, producers to make the shows happen, all of whom invariably cut their teeth on less high profile shows.
It’s a simple equation: artists learn their craft on small shows, move on to bigger shows, bigger shows thrive and pump money into the economy, British theatre remains in good health.
The key, then, is for the shallow feeder pools to be rich in creativity and invention.
The Rocky Horror Show remains a perfect example: incubated at the Royal Court Upstairs before it moved to theatres around London and ultimately to the big screen. It all began as a hugely unlikely idea in the brain of Richard O’Brien and a seriously low-tech performance in a small theatre space.
Mighty oaks, little acorns and all that.
Consider, then, that over the next fortnight audiences might have the opportunity to see The Rocky Horror Show of the future at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
No guarantees, of course, but that is the beauty of a festival of fringe work.
Launching on Wednesday earlier this week with a Scratch Night, the Barber Studio Season is already underway, bringing the most exciting and interesting theatre artists working in Yorkshire to the stage to present work at its earliest stages.
The beauty of the Scratch Night, an opportunity for artists to try out ideas, is that it brings to an audience ideas that really are embryonic – and for fans of theatre it makes for an incredibly exciting experience.
Gilly Roche is the new work producer at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
“The Scratch Night really is my favourite night of the year in the whole season. We ask theatre makers to come and test a totally mad idea,” she says.
“We have a little bar and generally a really friendly audience and we invite artists to take a wild creative leap and ask the audience for feedback. I invite artists to do the thing that scares them, and the bargain is that I will then create an environment that is as safe and cushioned as I can.”
The scratch night launched a fortnight of exciting work at the Playhouse.
One of the most intriguing pieces of work in the mini season within a season, and the one that made me really sit up and listen when the season was launched in December last year, is a play called A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar). A theatre show in which much of the action takes place in the dark, it is set in the near future. During the regular blackouts that plague the nation, women are going missing and a schoolgirl and barmaid team up to try solve the mystery.
“It’s a sci-fi adventure mystery and it’s absolutely brilliant,” says Roche. The play is written by Lulu Raczka and directed by Wetherby based director Ali Pidlsey.
It sums up the spirit of the Barber Studio Season for Roche – all the work being presented is, she says: “Small in scale but big in ambition.”
Tonight Newcastle-based Unfolding Theatre will be presenting with Leeds-based independent theatre company LittleMighty a show called Putting the Band Back Together.
Described as ‘part riotous gig and part tender storytelling’ it’s a piece based on the real life quest of theatre-maker Mark Lloyd who, when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, decided to put his old band back together.
“It’s for anyone, like me, who has a guitar in the corner of the room gathering dust because they used to play it but haven’t picked it up in a while,” says Roche.
“Anyone who has ever played an instrument but now just doesn’t play anymore, this is the show for them. The Futureheads’ Ross Millard is going to be leading the band on stage. I think it’s a brilliant opportunity to be involved in something completely unique.”
Unique is the word. A show like Putting the Band Back Together in particular will only happen in the incarnation it has tonight, if it’s performed elsewhere, the audience will be different, so the show will be different.
It is also the kind of show that demonstrates the sort of work the Barber Studio Season is perfect for.
The truth is, the kind of work being presented over the next fortnight would largely come under the banner of ‘fringe’ theatre. It relies on a generous audience to, in the example of the Scratch Night give feedback and in the example of Putting the Band Back Together to be willing to pick up an instrument and get up on the stage.
Turning the rehearsal room of the theatre into a temporary studio theatre is a stroke of brilliance and gives an insight into what will happen in the coming years when the Playhouse refurbishment takes place and a new studio space is created.
For now rehearsal room one, or The Barber Studio as it’s called for the next two weeks, is the place to experience work either in its developmental stages or the kind of work you won’t see on the main stages any time soon.
Tickets 0113 2137700 or www.wyp.org.uk