Yorkshire Theatre Newsletter: What's On This Week (Jun 25-Jul 1)
Hijinks In Hong Kong and A Little Night Music.
Bad things happen to animals in Amy Ng’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie (York Theatre Royal, to Jun 26, £20). Most of it happens off-stage and none of it to real creatures. But I did spend much of the opening night worrying about Miss Julie’s poor dog, a pedigree bitch who sealed her own unpleasant fate when she followed her base desires and mated with the Pekingese next door.
This tells you everything you need to know about the plot of Miss Julie, which in New Earth Theatre’s relocated production features a Hong Kong Governor’s daughter who sets her sights on her father’s Chinese chauffeur, John, in the aftermath of the Second World War.
This isn’t a love story. Sophie Robinson presents the young Julie as a brittle, borderline personality who, out of a self-acknowledged emptiness, plays increasingly savage games of dominance and subservience with a domestic who is, unlike the eponymous heroine, sufficiently clever and well-travelled to see that the British Empire is finished and who wants his revenge for such matters as the Opium Wars.
So far, so ‘decolonising the curriculum’. But the thing about playwright Amy Ng is that she is a proper historian, with a real history book to her credit (Nationalism and Political Liberty). The colonial system that her play describes is complex, contradictory and, above all, in flux — the randy Pekingese belongs to a senior Chinese banker who has just moved into the house next door. The de facto racial bar on Hong Kong’s famous Peak is breaking down.
It was never going to be a comfortable watch. Strindberg’s original has an offputting reputation for misogyny, and Amy revealed in the post-show chat that she had tried to ameliorate this by building up the character of the third person in the piece, servant girl Christine.
I’m not sure she succeeded. The misogyny is hardwired into the basic scenario, and the version I saw even featured that appalling trope about how white women ‘cry rape’.
In the end, the theme that kept recurring for me was “offstage”. Actor Leo Wan observed that both sex and violence can be more theatrically effective when they’re in the imagination — and that this artistic choice was forced upon the production by Covid regulations which made physical intimacy between the actors difficult.
Yet, at the same time, a script that lays so much emphasis upon the awkward biological aspects of women’s fertility — menstruation, abortificants — is never going to build up much erotic charge.
As John points out, early on, the reserved Cantonese don’t even have a word for romantic love. He and Miss Julie are at cultural cross purposes from the very start.
And throughout the play, the absent Governor’s shoes and gloves sit waiting to be cleaned, a silent reminder of where, for the moment, true power still lies…
What’s On This Week (Jun 25-Jul 1)
Last chance, this weekend to see Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake at the Grand Theatre (£20-£55), Everything I Own at Hull Truck (£21.50 & £24.50, on demand £10-£26), Beyond These Walls at Sheffield Theatres Studio (£8-£10) and the 8x8x8: A Fresh Start Playwrighting Festival at Ilkley Playhouse (£10). All to Jun 26, see previous newsletters for details.
And Alan Ayckbourn’s 85th full-length play, The Girl Next Door at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, runs to Jul 3 (£10-£31)
Together In The Square is a free weekend festival of outdoor entertainment in Tudor Square, Sheffield, assembled by Sheffield Theatres. Family-friendly activities run during the daytime, with cross-genre arts group Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre performing on Saturday night. Jun 26 & 27.
Over in Huddersfield, Charles Court Opera perform Express G&S in the Courtyard outdoor space at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. It’s a mystery-murder spoof set on the railways, and laden with songs and allusions from Gilbert & Sullivan’s best-loved operettas and rarely performed works. Never mind that it involves putting on a silly moustache and attempting to speak like a foreigner (a radically subversive act, nowadays), the satire on British life and culture is just timeless! Jun 26, £12.
The actor-musicians of Three Inch Fools present a musical version of Shakespeare’s ‘written to commission’ comedy The Merry Wives Of Windsor at Farnley Hall Park near Leeds. Fast-paced fun abounds in the preposterous tale of how the drunken knight Falstaff attempts to seduce two respectable, married Windsor matrons for their money. (Jun 27, £12-£50)
Whistlestop Opera’s mini-version of The Magic Flute pops up again for a short run at York’s National Centre For Early Music. Jun 26 & 27,£6. See previous newsletters for details.
And just over the border at Bardney Hall in Lincolnshire, the mighty Illyria present the Bard’s twisted romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. On the road since 1991, this is the granddaddy of outdoor touring companies — internationally famous and multi-award-winning. Jun 30, £8.
Leeds Playhouse can come across as a charmless behemoth at times. But the building is an uplifting piece of architecture and when they open a show as big as Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in association with Opera North it has to be Star Choice. Directed by the Playhouse’s Artistic Director James Brining, it features the oh-so-poignant number Send In The Clowns. Jun 26-Jul 17, £14-£45.
Across the city centre, the Grand is hosting Six: The Musical. What is to be said about this extraordinary thing? It’s popular, it’s multi-nominated, and it’s a brash rock opera devoted to the assorted wives of King Henry VIII. Altogether a must-see (if only to say you did) and it’s a revenge on the murderous old tyrant of sorts, I suppose. Jun 29-Jul 3, £27-£39.
Tragedy more recent and closer to home was remembered when playwright Janet Plater wrote a play about the trawler The Gaul, which went down with all hands in freezing Arctic waters. Now she turns her attention to Frank Piddock, a man on the run from his care home, in Hull & High Water at Hull Truck. Jul 1-10, £13.50-£24.50.
Join green campaigner Mick Bradley at Otley Courthouse for an illustrated ramble through all 214 Wainwright hills in the Lake District, including lower, more obscure Wainwrights suitable for walking with family. Jul 1, £3
And finally, don’t miss Red Ladder’s wrestling drama Glory, reprised for one night only at Leeds City College (Quarry Hill Campus). Jun 30, £15.
Hull’s Middle Child Theatre return to the fray in July with a summer outdoor Cabaret in Queen’s Park. We Used To Be Closer Than This features new songs by Hull writers — Natasha Brown, Angelo Irving, Tabby Lamb, Jay Mitra, RashDash, Leo Skilbeck, Kobby Taylor and Tom Wells — set to music by James Frewer. The audience will be seated cabaret style, four to a table, with a capacity of 100 people per show. Jul 16-18, pay what you can.
That’s all for this week, folks! You’ll notice there’s no Resources section — it’s been a busy few days but I’ll try and pull one together over the weekend for sign-ups only.