Yorkshire Theatre Newsletter: What's On This Week (Sep 22-28)
"A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance." Dario Fo (1926-2016)
I have been away. Not literally ‘away’ away (apart from a brief jaunt to Lombardy and Ticino) but distracted by life events and the necessity for earning a living.
Also, there was a bereavement. Yes, the Queen, obviously, but also a personal loss which knocked the stuffing out of me. Here’s the management summary — I learned about the death of an ex-lover by chancing upon his obituary in a national newspaper. That was tough. I don’t recommend it. Mind you, I don’t recommend quarreling with someone so badly they don’t tell you they’re dying, either. And it’s even worse when you realise they were trying to tell you they were dying but you refused to give them airtime…
So, I was in the doldrums, creatively speaking. And, oh, the heat…
But then, a few days ago, those lovely people at Substack emailed to say that it had been three months since I’d last posted a newsletter — and did I know that during that time I’ve added more than 50 subscribers?
Three months? That long? It’s time I pulled myself together. Now I’m resolved to look ahead — and not just at the region’s Autumn offering but also at how the industry plans to survive this upcoming brutal winter of sky-high energy bills. (Here’s a clue — keep your jacket on during the performance.)
It’ll be hard but it’ll be interesting. The way theatre people respond to challenges is always interesting. Inspiring too.
It’s not an auspicious time for a regional theatre to open. But this is how the fates have panned out for the brand new Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot, near Liverpool.
There can’t be a Shakespeare fan in the UK who doesn’t know about this amazing project. A replica 17th-century performance space has been built on a site in North West England where the Earls of Derby are known to have built a pioneering theatre.
The historical links between Prescot and Shakespeare are elusive but plausible. Shakespeare might have spent time in the Catholic stronghold of Lancashire during his youth, and he might have written A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the venue’s choice for its first Shakespearean production) to commission for the 6th Earl of Derby’s wedding. He also might have tried out some plays in the north-west before launching them on the London stage.
The Merseyside town has embraced its new, Shakespearean identity with enthusiasm. And despite the ancient Red Rose-White Rose rivalry, you’d have a heart of stone not to wish them well. Besides, Prescot is — for the more enterprising sort of driver — less than two hours away on the hair-raising M62 out of Yorkshire. Leave at Exit 7 and you’re almost there.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Matthew Dunster and Jimmy Fairhurst, with Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Nadine Shah making her theatre debut in the role of Titania, runs to Oct 22 (£17.50-£35) with opportunities later in the run to pay what you can.
And on this side of the Pennines, Hull Truck Theatre are getting in on the Bardic act by collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company to co-host the nationwide playwriting project 37 Plays. Anyone living in the United Kingdom may enter a play. There is no fee to enter, and younger playwrights may be able to access confidence-boosting play-writing courses.
Hull Truck have a page devoted to the project on their website here, and the RSC provides useful playwriting advice. The deadline for submissions is Jan 31, 2023.
What’s On (Sep 22-28)
Meanwhile in South Yorkshire, Shakespeare’s feistiest comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, is playing in the Sheffield Theatre complex’s enormous Crucible space. This version is a co-production with D/deaf and disabled company Ramps On The Moon. (In case you’re wondering what D/deaf means, it’s a way of acknowledging the difference between those born profoundly deaf and those who acquire some deafness during their lives.) Autistic actress Daneka Etchells, who plays Beatrice, brings fresh and poignant neuro-diverse insights to the portrayal of a familiar character, and every performance features the use of integrated creative sign language, audio description and captioning. To Saturday, £15-£33, then Leeds Playhouse, Sep 27-Oct 1, £14-32
Another classic, Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, opens in Sheffield Theatres’ newly renamed Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse (the old Studio) on Sep 23. By coincidence my mini-break took me to the Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright’s old, industrial stomping ground of Lombardy in Northern Italy (I even got myself mixed up with the Formula One crowds at Monza!) So right now I’m feeling the connection.
Accidental Death Of An Anarchist dates from 1970, with his other stand-out, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! following in 1974. Interestingly, right up until near his death in 2016, an aged Dario Fo used to pop up occasionally performing at Ropery Hall, the small theatre venue at The Ropewalk arts complex, Barton-upon-Humber. Good man. Good taste. And I love a bit of angry, satirical drama.
This production has been adapted by BAFTA-nominated and Edinburgh Comedy Award-Winning writer Tom Basden. The play is based, inevitably, on real events in post-War Italy. Sep 23-Oct 15, £21-25
Dario Fo and his lifelong partner Franca Rame (who Wikipedia informs me was once kidnapped, tortured and raped by fascists) were part of the old-style Left whose understanding of oppression was rooted in the relationship between labour and capital. But, possibly because I was in on the ground floor with all this post-modernist stuff at my posh British university 40 years ago, I remain fascinated by the newly emerged identitarian Left and the impact it is having on theatre.
So yesterday evening found me amidst the school parties at York Theatre Royal, watching Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s woke children’s novel Noughts & Crosses. This production, first brought to the stage by York-based Pilot Theatre in 2019, is a co-production between Derby Theatre, Coventry Belgrade, Colchester Mercury and York Theatre Royal — and is about to embark on a nationwide tour.
A full review will have to wait for the weekend, but may I say how impressed I was by the good behaviour of that young audience. British teenagers, unlike their US counterparts, seem to have an instinctive understanding of what is expected of them in the theatre. (Or perhaps nowadays such trips are only organised by the better sort of school…)
Anyway, Noughts & Crosses, which offers a mirror-image encounter with an apartheid society where Jim Crow-style legislation is rigidly enforced, runs at York until Saturday. And right now, given the reality of our Paulo Freire-inspired education system, no teacher will ever be fired for booking it. To Sep 24, £15-£28
Fed up with politics? Family Album at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough is Alan Ayckbourn’s 87th play. It offers what only a playwright of such longevity can offer — a perspective on social history from the 1950s to the present day. Elizabeth Boag, Georgia Burnell, Tanya-Loretta Dee, Antony Eden and Frances Marshall are directed by the author in a family drama which chronicles the trials, tribulations and temptations of three generations across 70 years in the same home. To Oct 2, £10-£32
And there’s just time to catch floaty-boat Mikron Theatre’s last few performances of Red Sky At Night at various venues around Yorkshire and the rest of the North before they pack up for the winter. This is the story of the British public’s love affair with the weather (and the heroic status enjoyed by TV weather presenters). Mercifully, for these final shows the company has now moved indoors. To Sep 28, prices vary
Dan Hayes of the Sheffield Tribune makes the case for a creative re-purposing of the derelict Cole Brothers building in Sheffield as a Continental-style Kulturhaus:
That’s all for this week, folks. My apologies if this one feels a little under-researched. (Small venues, this week I dun you wrong.) But right now I’m struggling against a slow, whirring laptop that is due to visit the laptop hospital. Or possibly, if I’m feeling vengeful, for a one-way trip to the great landfill site in the sky.
See you again soon.
So glad to see you back, Liz, and my sympathy. I'm delighted by all the Shakespeare news, and, possibly because I've been reading about Mexican anarchists, and definitely because I'm gobsmacked to see the 90s come back with a vengeance, curious about Death of an Anarchist. Wondering when British teens started behaving at the theatre, though? We never did, and we were far more trouble than any American teens I've seen. Living over here, I'm not a fan of US theatre audiences, but it's the adults who are the primary problem, although I daresay Shakespeare would have loved them. 😂