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Sherlock world premiere bound for Huddersfield

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As a theatre serving a community, the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield is doing most things right. On 16 January director Victoria Firth’s introduction to the upcoming season could point to five visual artists in residence, monthly Saturday daytime productions for the young under the title Imagine, experimental dance and stand-up as well as amateur and professional plays and musicals. Particularly interesting as drama are Invisible by a relatively new company Transport in association with the New Wolsey Theatre (January 24th-25th) and Theatre Alibi’s version of The Crowstarver, adapted from Dick King-Smith’s book (April 3rd-5th).

Invisible examines the forces of migration in the world and is written by Croatian playwright Tena Stivicic and directed by Complicite’s Douglas Rintoul. The Crowstarver is aimed at children of 8+ and Victoria Firth promises beautiful puppetry along with the human action!

However, the Lawrence Batley Theatre has generally lacked a role as a producing house for professional theatre. This makes the production of The Hound of the Baskervilles (March 12th-17th) a very special event for the Huddersfield theatre – and not only because a choice made a year ago is now uncannily tuned in to the Zeitgeist – no doubt about it, 2012 is the Year of Sherlock! This co-production with the Oldham Coliseum is something that Oldham director Kevin Shaw sees as a win-win situation for both theatres. The Coliseum is 125 years old and he claims, tongue in cheek, that “no work whatever has been done on it in that time.” A refurbishment is essential and the presence of asbestos means that there is no hope of keeping the theatre even partially open. So a six-month closure means that the Coliseum is now “a producing theatre without a theatre”. The LBT, meanwhile, is a fine theatre eager to develop into production. So the Coliseum’s new production is to begin its 10-week tour with seven performances in Huddersfield.

The adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle story is by well-known actor Clive Francis. First staged at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2004, it initially was performed by four male actors, one as Holmes, Watson divided between the other three who played all other parts, too. For a national tour of 2007, Francis enlarged the cast to five and gave Watson to a dedicated actor. Now he is making further changes (the LBT performances will be the world premiere of this version), but the cast remains at five, three of them playing multiple parts.

Kevin Shaw enthuses over the adaptation (“brilliant, very faithful to the original, definitely not a spoof, but creating humorous moments”) and also over working with Imitating the Dog, the avant garde theatre company whose projections will be a key part of the design. He is coy about telling how the hound will be created, but one feels that Imitating the Dog is only too true!

Oldham Coliseum has various other projects to tide over the closure period. I particularly like the idea of reviving a former performance venue, the Grange Arts Centre, for an in-the-round production of Alfie that will then tour to all the major “round” venues except the Royal Exchange. An open-air spectacular of Star Crossed (a Lancashire take on Romeo and Juliet) in Alexandra Park in defiance of Oldham’s 12-month rainy season is a noble act of faith! But first of all it’s on the road for Huddersfield and Dartmoor, with coach trips arranged from the Coliseum so regulars can go to the theatre just as usual, only a bit earlier!


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