Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre delivers bold programming and nurtures links with its community. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.
A couple of years ago I wrote in these pages that I am ‘constantly impressed by Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield’.
Turns out I’m not the only one.
The Arts Council this week announced that the theatre is going to receive a £145,000 share of its Catalyst programme.
The idea behind Catalyst is to help organisations that have a limited track record in fundraising through philanthropy. Or to put it in an easier to understand way: It’s to help organisations that aren’t as ‘sexy’ as some of the big companies attract more cash.
When you’re in Yorkshire, you’re battling international opera and ballet companies for your share of rich people’s money. Big banks and rich individuals, it’s fair to say, prefer to give their money to big flagship organisations, the sort of buildings and companies that can host champagne receptions for clients. Huddersfield, god bless it, isn’t going to be as attractive as a big opera company in a major Yorkshire city. That’s where Catalyst comes in. The money will be used by Lawrence Batley Theatre to invest in developing fundraising skills for staff and use money to make money.
Victoria Firth is the director of LBT and I’ve previously credited her as the driving force behind the theatre’s upturn in fortunes. A determined individual, she fully understands the limitations of her organisation but leads it from the front and has been programming an eclectic, interesting and often experimental selection of work.
She says: “This grant will make a huge difference to the LBT and enable us to protect and develop our ambition in the coming years.
“Our recent 21st birthday celebrations showed the long- standing and new relationships that it is possible for us to share with our local community and this award gives us ways to explore this further for the benefit of artists and audiences.”
That’s the thing the organisation does so well – it nurtures and develops artists and at the same time it concentrates on not patronising its audience, but giving them work which will inspire and challenge.
It is interesting that the theatre hosts amateur productions. Not many professional theatres do that much any more, yet LBT sees it as a key part of its work. At the same time it is also home to three companies that make performance work: Dark Horse theatre company, an organisation that works with professional actors and artists who have learning disabilities, Chol Theatre and Joss Arnott Dance. That’s not all. The theatre is also a base for five visual artists in residence. What this means is that the theatre, for me, embodies exactly what a theatre building should be – a place where a variety of people can come together and express their creativity. The coming autumn and winter season encapsulates that perfectly.
Firth says: “We are forging new partnerships with big producing companies, working with internationally renowned dance companies and producing our own professional production... the theatre’s first ever traditional pantomime, Cinderella will be the first performance made in house at the theatre for over a decade.”
The show will be the creation of seasoned pantomime royalty director Joyce Branagh (younger sister of Kenneth) and writer Andrew Pollard. Other season highlights include John Godber’s latest and a performance of dance artist Gary Clarke’s Coal.