Shared themes prompts play pairing at Leeds Playhouse

Kiza Deen in rehearsals for random. Picture Anthony Robling.
Kiza Deen in rehearsals for random. Picture Anthony Robling.

Leeds Playhouse is pairing two plays separated by a generation but with similar themes. Nick Ahad reports.

Late last year I was in London with a free evening. It happened to be on the day the Royal Court releases tickets for their shows for that evening for a tenner at 10am.

Lucas Button and Jack Lord rehearsing for Kes. Picture Anthony Robling

Lucas Button and Jack Lord rehearsing for Kes. Picture Anthony Robling

I logged on to the website and by 10.10am, I had one of the final seats for ear for eye. As I went into the theatre that evening, the usher warned me that the show was over two hours long and there was no interval. Were I to leave, I wouldn’t be allowed back in until a suitable point.

Perfect. I wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I had, I think, the worst seat in the Royal Court that night with a seriously restricted view but I barely shifted for the two-hours plus that I watched debbie tucker green’s ear for eye (she doesn’t use capitals in titles). It was a gripping piece of theatre. Well, theatrical event.

What to see at the theatre in Yorkshire this year

You understand, then, that I was quite excited to discover both Sheffield Theatres and Leeds Playhouse planned on bringing a debbie tucker green play to the stage this season.

Sheffield’s tucker green offering is hang and comes to the Sheffield Studio on February 21. Premiered in 2015, again at the Royal Court, this Sheffield production is the first time the play has been seen in Yorkshire. A real gift to lovers of serious and challenging theatre.

In Leeds her play random is part of an intriguing sort of double feature offering. Directed by BAFTA-winning writer Gbolahan Obisesan, it will, on some evenings, share the same stage and set as a production of Barry Hines’ classic Kes.

Kes, of course, tells the story of Billy Casper, the young Yorkshire boy who simply wants to find a way to fly from his life. One-woman play random is an account of a family’s world being turned upside down when they find themselves caught up in a catastrophe that will change all of their lives forever.

On select evenings audiences will be able to watch Kes and then random in the same venue. A spokesman for the theatre said: “For us the pair make an interesting double bill. Both stories are from a young person’s perspective, and in both cases that young person is being challenged by their environment and overcoming adversity. The similarity between the past and present and how young people are affected seems a key theme.”

Director of random, working in Leeds for the first time, Obisesan comes with a plethora of credits to his name. A previous Genesis Fellow and associate director of the Young Vic Theatre, he directed the 2017 Olivier Award nominated Cuttin’ It and as an actor received critical acclaim for his performance as Dr Martin Luther King Jr in The Mountaintop. He says: “random is an incredibly beautifully crafted play from the perspective of a young woman and her family. The play is unique in how it explores the human experience and emotional turmoil around the heartbreakingly social concern of knife crime. In the play we see the fragility and disorientation of a family’s experience of an unexpected incident.”

Fragility and disorientation of a family’s experience? Anyone who knows the work of Barry Hines will recognise a theme. In the 50th anniversary year of the iconic film of Kes, the version coming to the Leeds stage is a little over an hour long and the stripped back, poetic take on the story is told by two actors. When you consider the themes both Kes and random explore, it becomes clear why the Playhouse felt that these two shows could sit together. Obisesan agrees. “To experience the two parallel stories will, I imagine, feel like a 50-year juxtaposition of the lives of two different working-class teenagers. It is open for interpretation, but I would suggest, both plays have complimentary themes of isolation and the search for continual freedom from concern, and freedom of expression crucial to the perspectives of the characters being depicted. Ultimately it is the voice and experience of relatable but vulnerable teenagers. In these two plays about young people in Britain, we can potentially see ourselves, our families and the risks we must try to eradicate as a society for the next generation.”

Kiza Dean, who audiences may recognise from Hollyoaks and Silent Witness, takes on the single role in random. “I am absolutely delighted to be working with Kiza,” says Obisesan. “She came into the audition room and totally blew us away. She connected with the world of the play, found a voice for the characters and showcased her talents and intuition as an actor. She has the depth and range of emotions required to make random resonate with audiences open to be affected by her performance.”

It is a start to a new theatrical year that will delight lovers of theatre that challenges and entertains. It bodes well for the rest of 2019.

Coming soon:

hang: in a Britain with a radically altered legal system, the victim of a serious crime is in control of the perpetrator’s fate. Morality and justice is explored through the lens of one victim’s decision. Sheffield Studio, February 21-March 9. 0114 2496000.

random: An ordinary day in the ordinary life of an ordinary family. And then one random act changes everything. Leeds Playhouse, February 4-16. 0113 2137700.

Kes: Billy trains a kestrel and together they are ready to fly. All his troubles fade into the horizon until he makes a fatal decision that alters the course of things forever... Leeds Playhouse, January 25-February 16. 0113 2137700.