West Yorkshire Playhouse announces new season
Autumn/Winter in Leeds promises a mix of challenging new work and family favourites
On the same day that Arts Council England confirmed continued funding at the same level for West Yorkshire Playhouse, the theatre announced its September-January programme. More than anything else, it shows that regional theatre has always to find new ways of making itself indispensable to a community when the old days of comparatively lavish subsidy have gone forever, making monthly year-round productions in main and studio theatres a thing of the past.
The latest report from the Playhouse reports a prodigious 672 ticketed performances this year, yet the new programme involves only one new major Playhouse production before the Christmas season. Productions these days have to go a lot further, whether it be the Playhouse's inspired idea of taking Alan Bennett's Talking Heads into community halls and front rooms around Leeds or working up the WYP production of Sweeney Todd into full operatic form with Welsh National Opera in 2015.
Of course the reverse side of this is the programme of visiting productions at the Playhouse, with such favourites as Northern Ballet (with Dracula in September) and Northern Broadsides (with She Stoops to Conquer at the end of October), but perhaps the most exciting initiative in the Lyric Hammersmith with Secret Theatre (September 16-27). The Secret Theatre Company of 20 actors, directors, writers and designers came together in 2013 to explore new ways of making theatre. In two weeks at the Playhouse, using the Barber Studio as well as the Courtyard Theatre, Secret Theatre will stage six different productions from radical reinterpretations of classics such as Woyzeck to a brand-new piece by Mark Ravenhill, still just called Show 6.
The first major Playhouse production runs at the Quarry Theatre from September 29 to October 25. It seems that every generation needs its own take on The Crucible, Arthur Miller's great play from 1953. This striking depiction of the 17th century trials in Salem, Massachusetts, is the classic dramatisation of a witch hunt, its moral dilemmas and its personal score-settling, and is still relevant today, though with a different resonance from the days of McCarthy's persecution of Communists and fellow-travellers. The Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining directs.
Christmas time at the Playhouse sees no fewer than seven performances on some days. In the Quarry Theatre (24 November - 17 January) Irving Berlin's classic White Christmas is directed by Nikolai Foster, all Vermont snow and winter-defying songs such as "Blue Skies", "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and, of course, the title song. The Courtyard Theatre is given over from 5 December - 24 January to David Wood's adaptation of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. For those even younger than the 6+ range of James, the Barber Studio offers Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas in an adaptation by Pins and Needles from 22 November - 3 January.
And all the while new initiatives continue: Furnace, a weekend offering opportunities to emerging creative artists; the establishment of the Playhouse as a place of safety for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, the world's first Theatre of Sanctuary; the Graduate Actor scheme supported by the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation; the community ambassador scheme that played a part in the Talking Heads tour; and so on.