When he arrived to run the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2012, Leeds native James Brining promised several things.
He promised that the theatre would connect with the city in which it sits and he promised bold and ambitious work. In the newly announced autumn and winter 2017 season, Brining delivers on those promises.
A celebration of Leeds Carnival in its 50th year, a first time collaboration with BBC Radio Leeds and the most structurally demanding production the Playhouse has seen in its 27 years all help to make it one of the most striking seasons the theatre has seen in some time.
To the last in that list, first: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Long time supporters of the Leeds theatre will be forgiven for thinking they are experiencing déjà vu. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Yes, it was the title of the big Christmas show for the Playhouse in 2004 and then three years later in 2007.
Why is it being restaged as the big Christmas show this year?
Well, for several very good reasons. Chief among them is Sally Cookson. The Olivier award nominated director is one of British theatre’s hottest properties right now. In truth, it’s something of a coup that the Playhouse has managed to get her. She will be at the helm of the new version of the C S Lewis classic story and that is a serious reason to be cheerful.
She, however, is only one of several reasons why this production will be so hotly anticipated: there’s also the fact that this will be the first co-production by Elliott and Harper, a new theatre production company led by the War Horse director Marianne Elliott.
It also marks the first time the theatre has staged a piece in the round. What this means is that the Quarry theatre, the vast space that holds the Playhouse’s main productions, will have seats all the way around with the playing space in the middle. At the launch of the season, held on the stage of the Quarry, a visibly excited Brining announced that it will be like turning the theatre into the shape of Headingley stadium with seats on 360 degrees around the stage.
Suzi Cubbage, head of productions at the Playhouse and the woman in charge of turning the Quarry theatre into a cauldron of drama declared it the ‘most ambitious thing we’ve ever attempted’.
Speaking of which, those at the launch of the season were also treated to an impromptu performance by Jenny Sealey, the artistic director of Graeae Theatre company, talking about the show her company will be adding to the season, Reasons to be Cheerful, celebrating the infectious music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
At the end of August Leeds will come alive with the incredible sights and sounds of the Leeds West Indian Carnival as the event celebrates its 50th birthday. Queen of Chapeltown, directed by associate director Amy Leach, will help continue the relationship between the theatre and its city. Written by Colin Grant, the play will be a snapshot documenting the creation of this Leeds event that has become internationally renowned. It will also mark a culmination of events at the celebrating Carnival, including the hosting of the Carnival King and Queen coronation.
Brining himself will be at the helm of The Rise (and fall of) The Master Builder.
A reimagining of Ibsen’s classic drama, director Brining will team with the Playhouse associate artist (and Normanton-born) Reece Dinsdale, who was seen in the theatre as Alan Bennett and Richard III.