On 10 December Harrogate Theatre mounts a production of Edith in the Dark, a new play by Philip Meeks based on the creepy horror stories of E Nesbit. The much-loved author of The Railway Children had a darker literary side and Philip Meeks explores this whilst interweaving it with a plot involving Edith Nesbit herself.
The three-and-a-half week run in the Studio Theatre offers a chilling contrast to the latest Harrogate pantomime, Sleeping Beauty (again the work of Phil Lowe and David Bown), which runs in the Main Theatre from 22 November to 12 January.
But what is surprising about Edith in the Dark is that it's Harrogate's first solo production of a brand new piece in over 20 years – compared to the goings on at, say, Hull and Scarborough, a surprising dearth for such a successful theatre. And Harrogate, over the last five or six years, has become a very successful theatre!
The launch of the 2013-2014 season on 15 July saw the presentation of a report on the previous year where, in a series of impressive statistics, the most astonishing was that, for every £1 of public subsidy, Harrogate Theatre turned back £38.22 into the Harrogate economy and £85.18 into the UK economy. I'm not totally certain how this is worked out, but there is no doubt that it is firmly based on sizeable and enthusiastic audiences for a tremendous variety of theatrical work.
Harrogate Theatre proves that it is possible to be innovative in more ways than one. Instead of a succession of world premieres, the theatre offers a highly productive series of partnerships with other companies, from the nationally acclaimed Northern Broadsides to small-scale companies fostered by the main theatre; a succession of festivals, most famously the Harrogate Comedy Festival (this year 6 – 19 October), but also including a mini-festival of opera, with English Touring Opera bringing a series of baroque masterpieces from 31 October to 2 November; a comprehensive and high-class music programme aided by the theatre's role in administering Harrogate's Royal Hall; and any number of community projects.
The 2013-2014 season starts with a mini-festival that sums up Harrogate Theatre's appeal. The main feature of All Points North, celebrating the diversity of Yorkshire theatre, is The Grand Gesture (6 – 21 September), produced by Northern Broadsides in partnership with Harrogate Theatre. Like last season's A Government Inspector, it is freely adapted from a Russian play by Deborah McAndrew and directed by Conrad Nelson. The difference here is that the original is a somewhat obscure play by Nikolai Erdman, The Suicide, written in 1928 and banned by Stalin, which has not been staged in the UK for over 30 years. Surprisingly, given the subject, this is a riotous farce and, inevitably with Northern Broadsides, involves a Northern setting (a bit further west than usual) and rumbustious original music (choral singing and Irish folk/gypsy music are promised).
Two joint-productions in the Studio support The Grand Gesture. Royal Flush, co-produced by Rich Seam Theatre, premieres writer Nick Lane and actor Matthew Booth's take on the life and times of Yorkshireman Thomas Crapper (3 – 7 September) and Reform Theatre revives David Bown's award-winning football comedy Stand (12-21). As Northern Broadsides move out of the Main Theatre, a Yorkshire theatrical institution moves in: John Godber with his own company in association with Wakefield Theatre Royal and a revival of Teechers (24-28) – and, to round off a five plays in 20 days festival, a new company Elemental Theatre Company begins its first tour in the Studio with The Rain King (25-28).
- Ron Simpson
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