Goodbye West Yorkshire……Hello Leeds

Saturday 23rd June 2018 marked the final performances at West Yorkshire Playhouse in its current form and the last under this name.

Do not despair –  it is not closing but undergoing a major refurbishment costing £15.8 million, which will transform the building into a theatre fit for the great City of Leeds.

During the coming year, performances will be held in various venues around the City and its environs as well as in a pop-up theatre called The Bramall Rock Void, which is situated next to the current premises. The box office will relocate to a unit in Victoria Leeds at 19 Eastgate.

As I have already suggested, the new theatre will have a new name, Leeds Playhouse. I had seen an item on the breakfast edition of Look North which said that an announcement would be made that day about the name change and I wondered whether I had missed a referendum for Lexit whereby Leeds had voted to leave the County of West Yorkshire, but this was not the case. The idea, far from making the theatre more parochial, is that its appeal would be more inclusive. Todmorden in West Yorkshire is 35 miles away whereas Harrogate in North Yorkshire is a mere 15 miles. Barnsley in South Yorkshire 23 miles and even Goole in East Yorkshire is a mile closer than Tod, so to call it West Yorkshire Playhouse could have been putting off a lot of folk.

I  imagine, although I could be wrong here, that it may also be an acknowledgement of Leeds City Council’s investment of resources, both financial and administrative, in the project. I have no problem if that is the case.  In fact, the raising of the profile of Leeds in the world of the arts and culture is a very welcome move.  Other notable contributors are The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation and Arts Council England, who have kindly diverted some of my National Lottery losings to the theatre so that I am able to enjoy superb local productions until I hit the jackpot and can nip across to Broadway or pop down to the  Old Vic in the Roller.

The event announcing the above was a double whammy, also being a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of an open meeting in Leeds Town Hall leading to the formation of the original Leeds Playhouse which was eventually opened in the grounds of Leeds University in 1970.  Several speakers told of their involvement during the first fifty years and there were video messages from Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake. The star of the show as far as I was concerned was Doreen Newlyn, who set the ball rolling all those years ago and was an absolute hoot; far more entertaining than the aforementioned stars.
Doreen Newlyn with Marlene Sidaway.

She was not able to travel to the event but sent a video message in which she recalled the early days when she sent a letter to the Arts Council asking for money to set up the venture. She said that she had a reply and was asked several questions, the answers to which she made up on the spot, thus claiming to be the inventor of fake news. When asked how many people were involved in the organisation she plucked the number 150 out of thin air, even though it was just her, her husband and a few helpers. With the support of local heroes Keith Waterhouse and Peter O’Toole, the ball was set rolling.  In 1990 the Leeds Playhouse became West Yorkshire Playhouse and moved to its present site.

Inclusivity has always been the aim of the Playhouse and this is a continuing philosophy as reflected in the new logo, which has a spotlight picking out the word ‘us’ from the letters of ‘Playhouse’, the idea being that absolutely everyone involved is one of ‘us’. The architect who designed the new building has kept this in mind, and access to the auditoria will be much easier for those with mobility problems, being on the ground level rather than from the back of the rooms and down several flights of steps. The new entrance will be much taller and face the bus station to give a higher profile, especially when the redevelopment of SOYO is completed with skyscrapers dominating the locality.

To conclude the presentation there was a performance of Searching For The Heart Of Leeds, which was written by Mark Catley ‘inspired by the people of Leeds’. This was a series of vignettes performed by members of the many groups who use the Playhouse as a base. The theme was that a young woman is set the task of answering the question ‘What is the Heart of Leeds?’ and to find this out she has to go and listen to people’s stories. Some were sad, some inspiring and some downright hilarious. The performances were top notch from the actors, dancers and musicians alike, with the backstage contributors pulling everything together a treat. It was the best possible advertisement for supporting the work of this unique organisation.

Leeds Playhouse Young Company

Tickets for the 2018/19 season go on sale on 25th June and the programme is as adventurous as ever, with new twists on familiar works such as Hamlet, A Christmas Carol and Around The World In 80 Days, with brand new productions such as Dinner 18:55, a project from the Creative Engagement Department, Random from Debbie Tucker Green and Not Such Quiet Girls by Jessica Walker, a story of three women who volunteered as ambulance drivers on the front in the First World War.

For a full list and further details please go to leedsplayhouse.org.uk where there is also a short film explaining the ethos of the company.

The new building will still be a community space, so when it reopens why not go and have a coffee, something to eat or, as true Loiners, a good old nosey.

Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living.  He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds.  He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.

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