Yorkshire’s theatre highlights - What to look out for this autumn

Reasons to Stay Alive, based on Matt Haig's bestseller will open in Sheffield.
Reasons to Stay Alive, based on Matt Haig's bestseller will open in Sheffield.
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“It’s a funny kind of month, October. For the really keen cricket fan it’s when you discover that your wife left you in May.”

Notwithstanding the slightly anachronistic nature of the language (apparently cricket fans can be all genders these days), Dennis Norden’s quip often comes to me at odd times of the year. For me it’s a comedic line entwined with great melancholy.

A scene from Toast, based on Nigel Slater's memoir, which is tours to Yorkshire venues this autumn.  (Picture: Simon Annand).

A scene from Toast, based on Nigel Slater's memoir, which is tours to Yorkshire venues this autumn. (Picture: Simon Annand).

Whenever the line appears unbidden in my head, I know I’m in a contemplative, ‘what’s it all about?’ frame of mind.

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It arrives in the subconscious like clockwork at this time of year, the beginning of August, or as it’s known to those who work in the performance arts To the Fringe or Not?

It often feels to those who work in theatre or, as I also do these days, stand-up comedy, that everyone is at a party that, thanks to social media, you get to now look at through the window. At least in the old days you only had a suspicion that everyone else was having a better time than you. Now Twitter and Facebook confirm the sensation isn’t paranoia.

A scene from Malory Towers - new production from Wise Children, directed by Emma Rice.

A scene from Malory Towers - new production from Wise Children, directed by Emma Rice.

So, to help stave of the existential angst, this always feels like a great time to look forward to what is coming in the coming months, after all, we’re only a month away from September, when the new theatre season really gets going.

Just a little warning, this is going to be a cherry picking article and the coming season is something to which I will return because the truth is we have hit a point of excellence in Yorkshire theatre in which virtually everything is worth recommending. No, seriously.

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First up, Halifax’s Square Chapel. Not an obvious place to kick off, but it is doing tremendous work of late, driven by behind-the-scenes staff who have a real passion for pushing this venue to punch above its weight.

It doesn’t produce its own work, but it curates what it does beautifully. The venue has been busy appointing patrons over the last few years with Adil Ray and Lucy Beaumont recently joining Sally Wainwright, Timothy West and Reece Dinsdale as holders of the title.

It is Beaumont who is my first highlight of the coming season. The former BBC New Comedy Award winner will be bringing an evening of comedy to the venue on November 1. (Edinburgh Fringe veteran Arthur Smith will also be at the venue on September 27, which I mention because his support act is yours truly).

The biggest story in the region is, of course, the reopening of Leeds Playhouse following a £16m transformation. It’s going to be epic. If I were forced to pick just one thing (I will be waxing in these pages about the whole season in detail in the coming weeks) I think it would have to be There Are No Beginnings.

Opening at the theatre on October 11, it is a new play from bright new thing Charley Miles and as well as telling the story of women of Leeds who lived in fear of the Yorkshire Ripper, it will mark the opening of a brand new theatre space, the Bramall Rock Void. The first studio theatre in Leeds Playhouse, the impact of this little theatre space will be big.

What to see at the theatre in Yorkshire this year

In Sheffield the Christmas production (sorry, yes I did just write the ‘C’ word – don’t shoot 
the messenger, it will be here before you know it) is Guys and Dolls and under the direction of Robert Hastie, will be well worth seeing.

The show I would highlight though is Reasons to Stay Alive. Written by former York resident Matt Haig, the bestseller is being brought to the stage by English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres in a co-production which opens in Sheffield, at the theatre’s Studio, on September 13 ahead of a national tour (visiting a number of Yorkshire venues).

What’s particularly exciting about the production is that it is the book ‘reimagined’ by Jonathan Watkins, the choreographer and director who brought 1984 and Kes to the stage previously with dance, movement and storytelling. It’s an intriguing prospect.

York Theatre Royal will have a new artistic director filling a very large Damian Cruden-shaped hole, but it’s got a very strong season to help plug the gap. Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is an obvious bit of programming, but I always look forward to seeing a classic like this. More appealing to those looking for something a little more left-field will be Malory Towers. York is teaming up with Emma Rice’s production company Wise Children to bring the Enid Blyton books to the stage. Rice, former artistic director of Kneehigh and the Globe is one of the most inventive and mischievous theatre makers working in Britain today. When this production arrives on September 10, don’t miss it.

In Huddersfield the Lawrence Batley Theatre has an intriguing new leader in Henry Filloux-Bennett. Formerly the head of marketing at Manchester’s Lowry, I think I’m correct in saying as the LBT chief executive, replacing the brilliant Victoria Firth, is the only theatre leader in the region who also has a play on in the West End. Filloux-Bennett is the writer of the stage adaptation of Nigel Slater’s Toast, currently playing in London and preparing for a national tour this autumn.

The tour of Toast will take in a number of Yorkshire venues, but it begins at the author’s new home in Huddersfield on August 19. It is a real coup for the theatre to have landed this, courtesy of the new man in charge. It smacks of good things to come.

There is so much more to come. So much more that the best way to end this is to write: to be continued…

More new season highlights...

Here are a few others to watch out for:

Terror from the Skies: Matthew Bellwood is a storyteller from Yorkshire. 
His new show is about society and friendship and time in 
his company is always well spent. Harrogate Theatre, September 17-18.

Dada Masilo – Giselle: South African internationally renowned choreographer comes to Bradford. Genuinely world class dance. October 11-12.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane: One of the most disturbing plays you will ever see, from Oscar winner Martin McDonagh. Hull Truck Theatre, October 3-26.