Yorkshire Theatre Newsletter: What's On This Week (Oct 8-14)

The Rent Boy and the Sailor. Plus Northern Ballet's Merlin and what the caddish Mr Wickham did next.

I believe in miracles. They’re part of my upbringing; we did ‘the loaves and the fishes’ at Sunday School.

But I also, as part of my university degree, read Enlightenment philosopher David Hume’s essay ‘Of Miracles’, which trashes the whole idea.

In fact, there’s something a bit odd about the concept of a miracle and I feel queasy just trying to think about it.

And so I muddle along with two different paradigms in my head — religious and scientific. Praying for a miracle is fine when Liverpool are three goals down in a UEFA Champions League Final. But it’s not something you should rely on when designing bridges.

The concept of transgender causes me the same intellectual unease. There’s something about the idea of being ‘born in the wrong body’ which doesn’t quite hang together. If ‘sex’ is biology and ‘gender’ is the socially constructed bit — then what is someone’s ‘gender identity’? Is it a fixed part of people’s biology (presumably located somewhere or somehow in their brains)? Or is it a social construct? Do we have enough science yet to know?

As a gender-critical feminist I’m confident that feelings of gender dysphoria exist and cause distress in some people. But ‘trans’? Is that even a thing? In the various, incompatible ways trans activists are inviting us to understand the condition — crudely gendered but innate, fluid (in adults) but fixed (in kids) — I don’t see how it can be.

So what am I to make of Mariposa? This new ballet — oh, it had to happen — is ‘a transgender tragedy inspired by Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly’. To be clear: I defend the Leeds-based DeNada Dance Theatre and choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra’s right to make it. They can make what they want. It’s just the thing they have created only makes sense — and then, hardly — within a topsy-turvey intellectual framework I don’t share.

But art isn’t that simple, is it? I don’t dismiss Greek tragedies because the god Apollo never existed. And ballet, of all the artforms, can encompass wonders. Giant mice, battling toy soldiers — you got ‘em. A ‘transgender’ Suzuki? Why not?

And with Mariposa you get to enjoy DeNada’s trade-mark fusing of ballet with Latin and Hispanic rhythms.

Many found the rape scene in MacMillan’s ballet The Invitation shocking and distasteful. A consensual love affair between a rent boy and a sailor is mild by comparison. And as for the material reality of embodied sex — we don’t trouble ourselves with that when enjoying Les Sylphides. Stanley And Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds, Oct 12, £19

What’s On This Week (Oct 8-14)

The Yorkshire premiere of Northern Ballet’s Merlin at Hull New Theatre this week is ballet of a more traditional kind. Choreographed by Drew McOnie, with input from Chris Fisher who created illusions for the film Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it draws on characters from Arthurian legend including Morgan le Fae and the Lady of the Lake. Oct 12-16, £9-£43 (also Sheffield Lyceum Theatre, Nov 2–6 and Leeds Grand Theatre Nov 9-20).

Actor David Suchet is the epitome of a certain sort of theatrical glamour. In Poirot and More: A Retrospective at York Theatre Royal he talks about his many iconic roles, from Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective to Freud. Oct 13, £15-£33.

The theme of theatrical introspection continues at the venue with Being Mr Wickham. Adrian Lukis, who starred in the definitive 1990s BBC TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s comic novel Pride and Prejudice, returns to the role of Hertfordshire’s worst cad. It is amazing how many sassy women read and re-read Austen’s novels on rotation, and my own enjoyment has been greatly enhanced by the close readings supplied by Dr Octavia Cox on YouTube. In this production, the ageing scoundrel looks back at his mis-spent life. Oct 14-16, £15-£27

Meanwhile DH Lawrence has been unfashionable for so long we’re in danger of forgetting what a debt of freedom former generations owed him. He is most famous for a bad book — the risible Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Happy Idiot's Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover offers a parody version — I suppose, the only way you can do it now — that has the audience in stitches. Theatre Royal Wakefield, Oct 8, £15-£15, Helmsley Arts Centre, Oct 9, £23, Royal Hall Harrogate, Oct 13, £25 (part of Harrogate Comedy Festival).

The Offing opens at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Thursday. This is Janice Okoh’s adaptation of Benjamin Myers’s 2019 novel about a young man who sets out to walk from Durham to Scarborough in the aftermath of the Second World War. Instead he gets waylaid by an older woman in the beautiful seaside village of Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s an SJT co-production with Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne. Oct 14-30, £10-£28, selling fast.

Rob Gee’s Fruitcake: Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward is on at Sheffield's Theatre Deli. This would be my Star Choice if I was still doing Star Choices (I’m not). It's a comedy show he wrote with the help of several ex-patients from his days as a mental health nurse. It charts a night shift on a mental health unit, as seen through the eyes of a jaded nurse who hears the voice of God. In this case, God turns out to be a kindly Jamaican woman voiced by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. She gives him 10 benevolent commandments to help him through the shift — and life. Quite frankly, it sounds like just what I need. Oct 8, £12 & £14.

Also worthy of remark is a troubling little show called Who Cares? at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. The award-winning Lung Theatre present the real-life testimonies of children who care for sick and disabled adults in their lives. Oct 12, £12.

And much noise is being made about Aaliyah: After Antigone. It’s one of those worthy Freedom Studios efforts, directed by Alex Chisholm, and updates the Greek myth of a young woman who finds herself in conflict with authority to an immigration office in contemporary Bradford. Kamal Kaan wrote what is being billed as a ‘live/digital hybrid’ and CARBON: Imagineering supplied the special effects. See it at Impact Hub, Bradford, or watch it online. Oct 8-16, £0-£10

Ahead of the opening of Lone Flyer, which tells the story of Hull air ace Amy Johnson and her tragic last flight, Hull Truck Theatre sent me a syndicated interview with stars Louise Willoughby and Benedict Salter. To avoid cluttering your inbox with non-exclusive content, I created a Google Docs file. You can read the interview here. To Oct 30, £10-£28.50

And don’t forget that next weekend is Leeds Light Night. Famous Leeds landmarks are transformed with spectacular light installations and artist Luke Jerram, responsible for the haunting Museum Of The Moon, is displaying his latest work Gaia. Oct 14 & 15, free.

News And Resources:

Sheffield’s Theatre Deli are offering a Workshop In Theatrical Sound Design aimed at beat makers over the age of 16 who want to turn their tracks into theatrical and cinematic soundscapes. Oct 9, pay what you can, advance booking required

Transforming Lives Through Theatre: An Introduction To Clean Break offers a practical introduction to the company's specialist work in prisons and the community led by Joint-Artistic Director Anna Herrmann. Oct 14, £10

Booking Now

Tucked away in the Studio at Hull Truck Theatre are a couple of solo shows with songs by Tayo Aluko. Both have (deservedly) been doing the rounds for several years and both offer uplifting history lessons sweetened as art.

The first, Call Mr Robeson, deals with African-American actor and singer Paul Robeson. Aluko’s account of Robeson’s extraordinarily brave and principled life features a rendition of the song that made him famous — Ole Man River. Nov 19, £12 & £14

The second, Just An Ordinary Lawyer, tells the story of Tunji Sowande, who in 1978 became Britain’s first black judge. Nov 20, £12 & £14

And, finally, as another reminder of the many surprises the past has to offer, I very much enjoyed this myth-busting piece by Sophie Atkinson for the Sheffield Tribune:

Sheffield Tribune
Why Victorian Sheffield was a utopia for Britain's gay men
By Sophie Atkinson On 25th May, 1895, Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency. On delivering his sentence, the judge said: “It is the worst case I have ever tried. I shall under such circumstances be expected to pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this.” Wilde would be sentenced ……
Read more

Liz x