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Michael Coveney: Snow greets Northern Broadsides in Halifax

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I am writing this in a grey stone, medieval farm house in the Shibden Valley, just outside Halifax, looking through the window at a steady blizzard of snow.

I've just helped my host, Geoff Horrocks-Taylor, move a tin bath and a couple of bales of hay up a field or two for the sheep. The snow is already accumulating on the hilltops - and the local forecast hadn't predicted any of this until later this afternoon.

By which time, critics and locals alike will be heading towards Dean Clough in the centre of Halifax for the opening of Jonathan Miller's revival for Northern Broadsides of Githa Sowerby's Rutherford and Son. Let's hope the show goes on - which is more than it did last night.

I'd come up a day early for a local crunch football fixture between FC Halifax Town and Harrogate. But at 6.45pm, when the referee threw up a ball in the centre circle and watched it plop, without bouncing, in a puddle of mud, the match was abandoned, pitch unplayable.

There are few places on earth more miserable than Halifax town centre on a freezing Tuesday night in the middle of February. A few of us gathered in the Three Pigeons, a beautiful octagonal pub near the Shay ground, to "toast" the referee and mutter darkly about the pile-up of fixtures and what it could cost the club, which is budgeted to break even on a home attendance of 1350 paying spectators, a figure just beyond the current average.

I knew Susannnah Clapp of The Observer was in town to catch the last preview of Rutherford and Son and I thought for a second or two of dashing down to Dean Clough and spoiling her evening, but it was already show time in the Viaduct.

So I walked around the town centre, picking up a wretched bag of fish and chips before settling into the White Horse Hotel (a far cry from The White Horse Inn, the first ever musical at the Coliseum in 1931), where the live European Championship match between Celtic and Juventus was being shown on television to a disinterested audience of three or four drunks. A reasonably jolly evening nonetheless ensued before I retired to my farm house bed in the valley.

I hope my colleagues in Stratford-upon-Avon for the opening of Brecht's Galileo (starring Ian McDiarmid) fared a little better. But I think the bad weather this week is restricted to the north, and that should leave all systems "go" for Friday night's big celebration of the centenary of the Birmingham Rep.

It's impossible to underestimate the part the Birmingham Rep has played in our theatre. Founded by Sir Barry Jackson in 1913 with his family's private fortune, it became a post-war forcing ground for the talents of Peter Brook, Paul Scofield, Donald Sinden, Daphne Slater, John Harrison (who himself then became a guiding light of repertory theatres in Nottingham and Leeds), Albert Finney and Derek Jacobi.

Unfortunately, the occasion is being marked by yet another play based on a book by Philip Pulman, I Was a Rat, which may well be a masterpiece, but doesn't quite fit the bill for such a significant anniversary in our national theatre.

So, while I'm sorry to miss the party, I shall seek alternative pleasures at the Coliseum for David McVicar's ENO revival of Charpentier's Medea, sung by the divine Sarah Connolly.

For while it's a tremendously important week in the regional theatre, there is no let-up in London, and I shall be doing some serious weekend catching up with Jerry Herman's Dear World (based on Giraudoux's play, The Mad Woman of Chaillot) at the old Players' Theatre, and Chess, by Benny and Bjorn of Abba, Richard Nelson and Tim Rice, at the Union in Southwark.  

And the weekend also sees the biggest event of the lot: the sold-out Whatsonstage.com Awards concert at the Palace Theatre - a new venue for us this year, after several wildly successful "do's" at the Prince of Wales. I just hope I'm not still stranded in Halifax.


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