At the launch of the West Yorkshire Playhouse 2010-2011 Autumn/Winter season references to the country’s financial problems abounded. Though the arts will always be a prime target for cuts and nobody can even veer towards complacency, the Playhouse remains pretty positive – and why not, with a 7% increase in box office income in the last financial year and 18,000 new customers?

However, the fare on offer reflects in various ways the current troubled financial times, most directly and most excitingly in William Nicholson’s new play Crash opening on October 16th. Nicholson, Oscar-nominated for his screenplay for Shadowlands, based on his own award-winning play, is currently working for director Sarah Esdaille on a play about the consequences of the global financial meltdown for insiders and outsiders alike. Described both as contentious and as comic, Crash arises originally from Nicholson’s anger at the ability of bankers and financiers to ruin us and emerge unscathed. “Theatre,” he says, “has the ability to articulate the things that are worrying us.” So he has turned eagerly to plays such as Enron and David Hare’s The Power of Yes and been disappointed, despite their many good qualities: “Why isn’t someone writing a play that expresses what I’m feeling?” So he wrote it himself, only to find that what he was feeling was less straightforward than he expected!

Two children’s plays over Christmas follow West Yorkshire Playhouse’s traditional paths to excellence, but also cast a sideways glance at the financial crisis. The Quarry Theatre presents another high-quality collaboration with Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Modern versions of A Christmas Carol tend to find much more in it than the traditional sentimental interpretation and such is the case with Bryony Lavery and Jason Carr’s adaptation, directed by Nikolai Foster, very well received at Birmingham last year. Whether as an indictment of financiers or as an affirmation of human values, it’s certainly a contemporary text for 2010. And even the newest in Mike Kenny’s Big Stories for Little People in the Courtyard Theatre, again directed by Gail McIntyre, has a certain relevance. The opening two plays of the season could, at a stretch, be seen as dealing with values of the materialist and non-materialist world, but there are stronger reasons for staging them. In the Quarry Theatre from September 17th Artistic Director Ian Brown continues his very successful series of Shakespeare productions with As You Like It, alternating tragedy and comedy after 2007’s Macbeth. And the season kicks off in the Courtyard on September 4th with a 50th birthday production of the Keith Waterhouse}/[Willis Hall classic, Billy Liar, staged in the West End in 1960 and now restored to its roots in Leeds. In-demand director, Yorkshire-born Nick Bagnall has the best of all reasons for wanting to direct it: he claims that he is still furious that nobody cast him as Billy in his years as an actor!

Also on the September-January programme are the Northern Ballet with Dangerous Liaisons (September 7th-11th) and an enterprising set of One Night Stands in late October/early November, including Julian Clary, Jeremy Hardy and the Ian McMillan Orchestra. And already lined up for March 2011 is Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma directed by the first winner of the Quercus Award, Roisin McBrinn. This prestigious new award for young directors is given by the Quercus Trust in association with the National Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

- Ron Simpson