Yorkshire’s thriving theatre scene

Iain Bloomfield and and Sarah Legg  in The Netherlands, a play developed by Bloomfield. (main picture: Tim Smith).
Iain Bloomfield and and Sarah Legg in The Netherlands, a play developed by Bloomfield. (main picture: Tim Smith).
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It’s an exciting time for theatre in the region. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad talks to three people making a mark.

Congratulations. If you’re reading this in Yorkshire, you are living through what will be looked back upon as a golden age for theatre in our region.

Ayckbourn, Godber, a new studio space for Wakefield Theatre Royal, an entirely new-look Leeds Playhouse, a brilliant creative team leading the Square Chapel in Halifax, a beautiful rep company in Leeds, Damian Cruden in York showing all the experience he has and Harrogate Theatre with some bold programming. All of these triumphs sit on top of several layers of brilliant creativity happening around our region and today I want to highlight three people working in the arts in Yorkshire on whose shoulders these magnificent successes stand. I happen to have chosen Iain Bloomfield, Dick Bonham and Lizi Patch as the creatives who demonstrate the ecology of Yorkshire theatre, but there are hundreds if not thousands I could have used to help explain why we’re so privileged to be witnessing the extraordinary power of this moment.

Iain Bloomfield was for a decade the artistic director of Theatre in the Mill in Bradford, a powerhouse that had enormous reach and influence on the theatre scene nationally and internationally. He is a brilliant and supportive theatre maker and I was sad for artists, but happy for him when he stepped aside to create his own work. He’s doing this with his new company Two Tonne and his first show The Netherlands is touring the region now. “I’m doing this for a number of reasons, firstly because I think it’s vitally important that arts leaders don’t ‘bed block’ and that there is a flow of talent passing through all funded arts organisations,” he says. “Secondly I wanted to make work with a range of different artists, in different ways and find ways in which work comes out of broad conversations with artists and non-artists alike; finally, and following on from my work at Theatre in the Mill, I wanted to find ways of giving voice to those lived experiences that don’t often get heard. Hence our first show focussing on the experience of being the parent of a learning disabled child. I wanted to explore making powerful theatre that starts with small, human conversations, work that really mines what lives are actually like.”

Another person leading a charge after allowing other artists to do so is Dick Bonham. A former programmer at Leeds Carriageworks, he is the executive producer of Little Mighty, a producing company that has worked with artists from storyteller Adam Robinson to playwright and rapper Testament. His latest project is a new venue in Farsley.

“It’s called The Constitutional and we’ve got an ongoing series of performance events which include a twice-monthly comedy night,” he says. “We’ve staged work by Freedom Studios and music with Aziz Ibrahim. We’ve only been open about six weeks but we’ve been overwhelmed by the response. The programme has been brought together by the Trouble at Mill team, made up of producers with backgrounds in theatre, music and the arts. This is a project in our own back yard – we all live five minutes walk from the venue, and we’re excited to be part of a new creative hub in our own community. The level of feedback and engagement we get is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced working in theatre. This is a venue that’s right in the heart of its community. I think this offers a chance for people to come together and share some great experiences in surprising and unexpected ways. A lot of our audience aren’t necessarily seasoned theatre-goers, but are prepared to give new things a try, which is really exciting.”

Lizi Patch is another who is creating work that will have serious impact on the future of Yorkshire theatre. “After a brilliantly successful pilot year and thanks to funding from the Emerald Foundation, Wade’s Charity and Leeds Inspired, I’m about to launch the second year of Leeds Actors in Training in collaboration with the Leeds Grand Theatre. LAIT is unique in Leeds as it gives 18 to 25 year olds the opportunity to access actor training of the highest quality under the guidance of theatre professionals also working in the industry.”

Patch, a writer, director and performer has long wanted to bridge the gap for young adults between education and the theatre industry. Combining with the Leeds Grand she is providing a place for people to graduate from youth theatre into the industry. These three are examples of the mighty oak that is Yorkshire theatre. We see the tops of the branches on stages across Yorkshire, but the roots and branches are people like Bloomfield, Bonham and Patch and there are very many of them working to bring us a very special moment in Yorkshire theatre.

Champions of Yorkshire theatre

The Netherlands is a play about ending up where you least expected in becoming a parent of a child with a learning disability. First created ten years ago it has been reworked by original collaborators Iain Bloomfield and Lucy Hind. Interplay, Armley, Leeds, Nov 14. www.twotonne.com

The Constitutional, Farsley, is hosting Jade Byrne’s Pricks on November 23. For details visit The Constitutional Facebook.

Lizi Patch is writing a play about murderous menopausal twins, and working with Dawn Holgate on a new piece SKIP, an all-female show which explores the role of middle-aged women in contemporary society.