Yorkshire Theatre Newsletter: What's On This Week (Dec 17-23)
You've Got To Be Carefully Taught... Chichester Festival Theatre's acclaimed production of South Pacific comes to Yorkshire in 2022. Plus, shows that celebrate 'the hinge of the year'.
Great Aunt Peg was like a character from a story book. Clever, gossipy and full of fun, she was adored by her younger relatives and by the junior employees of the accountancy firm where, in the later stages of her life, she established the financial career her razor-sharp intelligence deserved. When she died, having against the odds reached her eighties, she was discovered slumped over her kitchen table besides a smouldering fag end and a half-drunk glass of late-night whiskey.
Hers was a life over-shadowed with darkness. Born into an Irish Catholic family in Cardiff, South Wales, just after the First World War, she had a vivid early memory of being forced to lie quietly in a wet County Cork ditch with her mother whilst soldiers of some militia or other fired shots over their heads. (They’d chosen this inopportune moment to visit relatives in Macroom.)
I’d like to say with confidence that the thugs they encountered on their trip were from the notorious Black And Tans, a raggle-taggle army of brutalised World War I veterans and seriously out-of-control British loyalists. But it was the time when the Irish War Of Independence (1919-1921) was becoming the Irish Civil War (June 1922 – May 1923) — and those chaotic shots could have been fired by anybody.
It wasn’t easy being the only girl in an Irish Catholic family living near Cardiff docks. What it meant for Aunt Peg was truncated education and skivvying. Her first engagement was abandoned due to family pressure (he was Protestant) and her second was to a convivial man who after the War carted her off to impoverished Dublin. There she was forced to share a house with her new mother-in-law. After a decade or so, her husband’s heavy drinking put paid to the marriage: she returned to South Wales a disgraced woman. Divorce in that environment was impossible so she could never really start again.
Aunty Peg’s life was materially damaged by sectarian hatred. She understood what hatred was and what it could do to people. But by the end she had achieved a kind of forgiveness. And when she couldn’t forgive, she could at least forget. (The Jameson helped with that, I suppose.)
And South Pacific was her favourite musical. On a night out together once in early 1980s Cardiff (steak and chips in the old basement bar of the Angel Hotel where my parents two decades before had celebrated their ‘mixed’ marriage), she quoted the lines of a song to me:
You've got to
You've got to be taught
Before it's too late
Before you are six
To hate all the people
Your relatives hate
You've got to
Be carefully taught
I was still a student and, although I applauded the sentiment, I was too young and stupid to understand what a deeply felt thing she was sharing with me. She was one of the several relatives from both sides who didn’t attend my parents’ wedding and I think, in retrospect, it may even have been an apology.
“Hate” (along with “safety” and “trauma”) is a concept that has been trivialised recently. The new usage denies people such as my late Aunt Peg the language with which to talk about the harms they suffered and the sometimes ugly ways they responded to them.
South Pacific, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical first staged on Broadway in 1949, draws its immense power from the fact that it deals with the really hard stuff — authentic, life-mangling racial or ethnic prejudice. But to sweeten the pill it’s chock-full of good tunes, from Bali Ha’i to Happy Talk, and set on a balmy, tropical island.
The next few weeks may prove difficult for many people. So, instead, let’s look forward to next Autumn when Chichester Festival Theatre’s acclaimed production of South Pacific, directed by Daniel Evans with choreography and movement direction from Ann Yee, arrives at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. Nov 1-5, 2022, £25-£63
What’s On This Week (Dec 17-23)
Theatre, once more, is moving online. The good news is that the multi-theatre digital co-production Going The Distance, written by Henry Filloux-Bennett & Yasmeen Khan, is now available until the end of the year (see Dec 3-9 for details and a review). To Dec 31, £15
The digital run of Smile Club, a Red Ladder production, has also been extended. It’s a satirical, one woman show on a feminist theme from writer-performer Andrea Heaton and writer Adam Z. Robinson. To Dec 22, £5-£15
Those who missed Red Ladder’s LUFC drama Damned United when it toured earlier this year (like me, f’rinstance) can catch up with it now. Based on a novel by David Peace, it’s a fictionalised account of Brian Clough’s brief but disastrous tenure as manager at Elland Road. To Dec 22, £5-£15
And Glory, written by Nick Ahad, follows three men who are determined to triumph in the wrestling ring. To Dec 22, £5-£15
Also worth checking out is Northern Broadside’s podcast Tales Of Christmas. It includes, alongside short stories by Ian McMillan and Max Bownas, extracts from the recently decoded diaries of Halifax landowner Anne Lister. Defying convention, Anne married Ann Walker in 1834 though obviously at that time their same-sex relationship had no legal basis.
The novelist Angela Carter memorably described this time of darkness as ‘the hinge of the year’. For the triple-vaccinated who are prepared to risk a live show under the new protocols there’s the intriguing Winter Solstice at the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds. Actually, this isn’t theatre: It’s a musical and visual collaboration between Opera North and South Asian Arts UK. Dec 21, £10
And the admirable European Arts Company (a grand title for a tiny outfit which mostly tours small venues with solid adaptations of literary classics) offers Mr Dickens Presents A Christmas Carol at Helmsley Arts Centre. In 1858, Charles Dickens came to Yorkshire and gave some celebrated public readings of his ghostly novella - actor John O’Connor recreates those performances. Dec 17, £6 & £12
And for kids…
The Pixie And The Pudding brings Scandanavian folklore to the Studio at Sheffield Theatres. It’s a new musical with puppetry aimed at 4-11 year-olds. To Jan 2, £11 & £13
Norwich Puppet Theatre present Beastly Belle at Otley Courthouse. Aimed at ages four and above, it relocates a well-known fairytale to 1920s Hollywood — a world cruelly obsessed by good looks. Dec 18, £7 & £9
And Middlesbrough Town Hall has A Winter’s Tail by local writer David Tuffnell. Set at Christmas Eve, it’s the story of an over-excited little mouse, his grandma and… a soothing mouse organ. Charming! Dec 20-22, £7, babes in arms free
That’s all for this week, folks. Look out for Irita’s review of Cinderella at York Theatre Royal early next week, along with the results of the survey. Then I’ll be taking a break until the third week of January.