As the region’s theatres prepare for their new seasons, Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad shares his absolute must-sees.
First of all you’re about to disagree with me.
And I hope, when you disagree, you will get in touch to tell me why.
What you see via the prism of a piece of art is not the same as what I see.
I’m about to share the top five theatre shows of the coming season that I think you shouldn’t miss.
We’re so blessed in Yorkshire when it comes to theatre. As well as writing as the Yorkshire Post’s theatre correspondent, I also write for a magazine called Plays International. The magazine carries reviews from theatre shows in London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Chicago and, via my reviews, from Yorkshire. And we don’t look out of place, not one bit. We should be really proud of that and if you’re going to choose to see just one theatre show in the coming months at Yorkshire theatres, well, maybe you’ll choose one of my top five.
In No particular order:
The Collector, York Theatre Royal, September 21-24.
Our big theatres, the ones with the grand stages, are really beautiful, wonderful places. There are other theatre venues that fewer of you, logic dictates, have visited. The studios. There is a very impressive studio in Sheffield in the same building that houses the Crucible and a less glamorous one in the attic of Harrogate Theatre (where, by the by, I saw Sondheim’s Putting It Together in 2004, still one of the best musical productions I’ve ever seen).
At York Theatre Royal the studio theatre sits somewhere between those two in size and stature and in September is plays host to writer Henry Naylor’s award- winning show about the invasion of Iraq, The Collector.
Set in Mazrat Prison, Iraq, in 2003, it is based on Naylor’s own experiences. It tells the story of a translator working for the Americans and explores torture that was carried out on both sides of the Iraq war. When it was premiered two years ago it won a Fringe First at Edinburgh, has had sell-out runs at the Arcola Theatre in London (a place run by people of very good taste) and is now coming to Yorkshire. Naylor, who you may recognise as the bumbling assistant in the Rowan Atkinson-starring Barclaycard commercials, will be hosting a Q&A on September 22. What makes this a show not to be missed is that, post-Chlicot, I suspect this will resonate even more than when it was first performed.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical, West Yorkshire Playhouse, November 30 to January 21.
There’s lots at the Playhouse (a debut play called Blackthorn, the whole Bronte season) that I think will be great and lots of choice at our theatres over Christmas (Leeds City Varieties’ Rock n Roll panto is just one recommendation), but this is going to be special. I just know it.
Why? Well, there are a couple of elements that virtually guarantee it. First, Baz Luhrmann, the creator, made this at the start of a career that quickly revealed to the world an artist of rare quality. Moulin Rouge and his movie of Romeo + Juliet were works of untouchable brilliance. Before those, Strictly Ballroom was the first of Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy. It’s been staged in Australia, but this is the first time it has been seen in the UK. Director Drew McOnie is a serious talent and once we see it in Yorkshire – and you can mark these words – it will transfer to the West End.
Alvin Ailey, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, September 27 and 28.
The Alhambra Theatre has bagged some impressive shows over the coming months – Mary Poppins flies into town in November, its panto is always a delight, and next year I can’t wait for Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes and I may explode with excitement about the arrival of The Wedding Singer, the Adam Sandler movie, on stage.
I’ll also be going back to Leeds Grand Theatre, a similar venue, to watch Chicago again in November, but if I could only recommend one show, and those are the rules we’ve set ourselves here today, it would be Alvin Ailey.
You may know the story about me and contemporary dance, I’ve told it in these pages. Essentially, I love the art form, something which surprises this son of a Keighley bus driver as much as anyone.
But it was at the Alhambra in Bradford where I first discovered the beauty of contemporary dance. This New York-based company are as special as you can imagine and then some.
Their signature dance, Revelations, created in 1960 by the man who gives the company its name, is a virtually spiritual experience. It will close the collection of dances performed in Bradford. If you go see it, you’ll see what I mean.
The Gaul, Hull Truck Theatre, October 6 to 29.
Hull has always had a special ability to connect with its audiences when it tells stories about its audiences.
Richard Bean, before he became one of the hottest writing properties in British theatre, started out telling stories about factories and prisons in Hull on the stage at Hull Truck and now playwright Janet Plater is bringing to the stage the story of the Gaul, the Hull trawler which sunk in 1974 with 36 souls on board.
In case you’re wondering – that is Janet as in daughter of Alan Plater. Her much-missed Hull-raised father was a brilliant writer for stage and screen. If his daughter is half as talented, this will be a real treat.
No Knowing, Stephen Joseph Theatre, December 1 to 24.
A Christmas comedy by Alan Ayckbourn. I’m tempted to say no more. I’ve always found it fascinating that one of the UK’s most prolific playwrights is considered somehow safe simply because he deals with the foibles of the middle classes. His work deserves an audience more diverse than the ones I find myself sitting with in Scarborough. There is real darkness and brilliant exploration of humanity in Ayckbourn’s work. It feels like Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for me without an Ayckbourn play.
An anniversary party for a boring couple is the setting. The fact that it appears to be so mundane makes me particularly excited – that’s the sort of setting that brings out Ayckbourn’s subversive best.