James Brining is a man of his word. When he arrived at the West Yorkshire Playhouse two and a half years ago, he said he wanted to inject something of the essence of Leeds into the theatre.
Plays by Alice Nutter, set in Armley and a whole season of the work of Alan Bennett followed. He wanted to make the Playhouse more “porous”, to see the city’s – and the region’s – artists using the building much more.
He also wanted to widen the Playhouse’s views in concentric circles beginning at the theatre on top of the hill in Leeds and spreading out.
That journey continues with Brining’s just-announced latest season. “As we were pulling together this season two themes emerged and the strongest one was the idea of a big, global perspective,” says Brining. “We’re bringing to Leeds, next season, plays and stories from around the world. Leeds is a diverse city with people, and therefore stories, from all over the world.”
That global perspective includes a tale of a Northern town, a story of the American West, one of Russia’s greatest plays and a piece of work that has a fusion of two separate but connected cultures.
Zodwa Nyoni is a Zimbabwe-born Leeds playwright, whose first full length play is being produced in the Spring season in the Courtyard. Boi Boi is Dead will be at the theatre in February.
The biggest show of the coming season, I expect to be The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. The Jim Cartwright-written play made a star of Jane Horrocks and has been successfully restaged over the years. It does seem a surprisingly mainstream choice? “I am aware that Little Voice isn’t radical programming but if everything I did was radical programming, I wouldn’t have an audience,” says Brining.
“Plus, this play for me has a huge amount happening in it. It’s about the effect of poverty and the relationship between a parent and a child.
“It’s set in a Northern, multi-cultural, quite fractured town. It’s about identity and that’s something I am really interested in exploring.”
The other flagship show of the coming season is a new version of Uncle Vanya, which will be directed by Brining’s associate Mark Rosenblatt. It’s another big title. “It’s a great, classic play, but that doesn’t mean it’s all samovars – they are looking at some really big themes. In Uncle Vanya there is a real sense of life passing you by, so you don’t tell the person you love that you love them, and how you live like that. It’s full of these big emotional arcs.”
A new play represents a lot of the other things Brining is determined to tackle at his theatre. Little Sure Shot is a telling of the story of Annie Oakley, the woman whose story inspired Annie Get Your Gun. The play, once it has been at the theatre, will tour out to communities across Leeds. “We did that with Talking Heads this year and it’s really important to build those relationships all around the city. It’s important for us to go into parts of the city where we don’t traditionally draw an audience from.”
There is a second, important theme that has emerged from Brining’s latest season, but it’s one that he is actually reluctant to shine a light on too brightly. “I don’t want to make it a big thing, but we have committed to rebalancing the work we stage in terms of gender,” says Brining.
To that end the season includes a number of women-written or directed shows, including an adaptation of Anna Karenina by a transgender writer called Jo Clifford and a new play by Eve Ensler, the woman behind the phenomenon of The Vagina Monologues.
He said he hoped to keep building on early success. Brining is definitely a man of his word.
For more details visit www.wyp.org.uk