Tag Archives: west yorkshire playhouse

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Now that I have to work in the evenings, I’m seeing a lot less theatre than I used to. I’ve spent a lot of time moaning about it, but not that much time actually finding ways around it, until last week when I plucked up the courage to attend a weekday matinee alone – and I couldn’t have picked a better show with which to start this tradition.


It was an afternoon of firsts, actually: my first time seeing a matinee, my first time attending alone, my first time seeing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and my first time sitting on the front row at the theatre. It was also the first time I literally gasped as I walked in to the theatre, taking in the lavish set designed by Francis O’Connor. It seemed to pulse with potential – something was about to happen here. It’s a great testament to the skill of the cast that they managed to outshine that gorgeous stage. (My photo, taken hurriedly with an iPhone, does not do it justice in the slightest.) 

The play opens with Brick and Maggie, who are at Brick’s family’s plantation in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. The second Maggie (Zoe Boyle) appeared on stage, I judged her in a kind of bored way. Ah, I thought, you’re the spoiled, vain girl with a lesson to learn. But as she sparred with the unresponsive, emotionally absent Brick, her façade crumbled and I started to see the desperate, ruthless and vulnerable person beneath. She certainly captured my attention where other characters failed. Meanwhile Jamie Parker’s Brick was a very powerful kind of negative presence, a black hole on the stage sucking in energy and emotion and giving nothing back. Their arguments – primarily Maggie monologue – were so real I found myself cringing back in my seat from the anger and heat.


As the night continues, we learn that it’s not only Brick and Maggie dealing in lies and subterfuge. Big Daddy, the smart but cruel and misogynistic patriarch of the family, believes he has received a clean bill of health, while his two sons know he has less than a year to live. Brick’s brother Gooper claims to want to help his father, but secretly has his eye on the plantation. As the pretence of a good natured family birthday party crumbles, both careful lies and careless truths come pouring out. The result is intense, gripping and richly rewarding. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this play since I saw it! (It’s also been pretty tricky to shake the Deep South-style accent, which added an extra layer of claustrophobic tension on stage but just sounds ridiculous in Boots.)


I can’t help but recommend this beautiful production by Sarah Esdaile. It’s only on until Saturday 27th, so you don’t have much time! Book your tickets here, now – even if you have to go alone on a Thursday afternoon, you’ll be glad you did once you emerge, blinking from the theatre.


The Guardian are running a little project about theatre criticism alongside this production. You can read more about it here and if you’ve seen the play, tweet your thoughts and read other people’s reviews using the #catreview hashtag. You can also let me know what you thought about the production below – I’m interested to hear your thoughts!


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Mary Shelley at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Not only am I a bit of a bookworm, I’m quite stubbornly feminist, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go see Shared Experience’s new production, Mary Shelley, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The poster, featuring a dishevelled Kristin Atherton as Shelley staring insolently into the camera, sparked in me a curiosity about this woman, who at just 19, wrote a haunting, classic novel about man’s fascination with creating life.

From the very opening scenes, all eyes are on Atherton, who plays a vibrant, irrepressible Mary, full of dreams and aspirations, and nursing a fervent admiration for the mother she never knew. She’s energetic and wilful and smart, as one would expect the offspring of the feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical political philosopher William Gibson to be.

The setting is fairly domestic, to begin with: Mary, her half sister Fanny and her step sister Claire are reunited when Mary returns from a visit toScotland. The house is all abuzz with news of a visitor: the young, handsome, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who admires Godwin’s politics and wishes to help him out of his debts. Of course, we all know what happens next: Mary and Shelley fall in love, and despite Shelley’s wife and children, decide to go away to be together. When Godwin’s lack of support becomes clear, the pair are forced to run away in the dead of night, taking Claire with them.

It is in the crucial scene where Godwin tells Shelley that his running away with Mary is impossible, that we see his struggle. Years earlier he wrote freely about the affairs his wife (Mary’s mother) had, and then went on to encourage Mary to read all about them. Yet faced with this real, liberal daughter, a product of the upbringing he gave her, willing to run away with a married man, we see how much society has worn his ideals down. He is more sensitive to the pressures of society, and the realities of business than Mary ever will be. He shuts Mary out of his life, and refuses to have any more to do with her.

After this point, Mary seems to fade into the background a little. Perhaps because we never see her talking to anyone outside her family, she seems to lose some of her spark. Poverty and motherhood have matured and changed her. She becomes eclipsed by the other dramas happening around her, and we get caught up in the stories of Claire and Fanny. Claire is played marvellously by Shannon Tarbet – she’s flighty and bubbly and incredibly self-possessed, Meanwhile Flora Nicholson’s Fanny is perfectly kind, gentle and proper. Fanny is overshadowed by both her sisters, and as she becomes increasingly torn between the two halves of the family she almost becomes invisible. I felt for her the most. Her story is the least well known, but it’s the most relatable and the most human, and it’s so sad.

The set is limited but inventive. Shelves packed with books dominate the stage, and a long dining table at the front serves whichever purpose it is called upon for: it is at various times a bed, a boat, a desk or a gravestone. The oversized, eclectic furniture and the imposing bookcases give the whole stage a gothic feel that matches the story so well.

At just about three hours, this isn’t a short play, but it didn’t feel anything like that long. I was completely absorbed in the story and the characters all the way through, which is very rare for me. I never watch a film all the way through, and even at good plays I’m generally clock watching towards the end.

Not everything was perfect; there were moments that rang slightly false, and I would have liked to see a little more of Mary and Shelley falling in love, as it was all a bit sudden for my liking. Regardless, I’d give this a hearty five stars, and recommend it to anyone.

Mary Shelley is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in the Courtyard Theatre until 7th April 2012.


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Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

I think everyone who blogs knows that feeling you get when you’ve been at it a while: you can’t find anything good to blog about, you can’t find any time to write and you’re convinced it’s pointless because no-one’s reading it anyway. Well, the thing about blogging about cultural events in Leeds is that as soon as you sense that malaise creeping over you, you attend an event that leaves you chomping at the bit, desperate to get to a computer so you can tell the world how exciting it was. Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging, which I imagined would be a light hearted laugh at teenage girls, was actually one of the most exciting theatre events I’ve been to in a while.

As soon as we walked in, my husband rolled his eyes. You literally couldn’t move in the lobby for teenage girls in leggings with huge hair, squealing with excitement. As we filed in to the theatre, making a quick detour to check out Georgia’s bedroom which has been set up in the café seating area, the first thing we heard was Lady Gaga pounding from the speakers. Four girls in school uniform were bounding about on stage, then running through the audience handing out stickers. They grabbed groups of girls and dragged them down to the stage, to teach them the famous Viking Inferno dance routine (or something). It was impressive!

Once the show began it was a riot from start to finish! I expected to smile indulgently at childish humour and a bit of slapstick comedy, but this had all the genuine fun and wit and realism of the books it is based on. Every two minutes I found myself laughing hysterically, sometimes along with the rest of the audience, sometimes with just the ones who had spotted a cheeky piece of double entendre. (When Jasmine argues with her bird spotting boyfriend, Georgia says something like, You argued with Owl Boy? What happened? Did you forget to polish his beak? This was mainly met with blank stares, apart from about ten of us who laughed, and then laughed even more at how inappropriate we felt.)

Georgia and her friends are refreshing, normal, fun teenage girls. When the boys from the neighbouring school run their bikes into them and call them slags, only to be told it’s because the boys fancy them, they rightly laugh and proceed to completely ignore them. They hysterically navigate school lessons that are a minefield of double entendres. They have snogging on the brain – why doesn’t anyone want to snog me? Am I doing it right? They argue about boys, only to make up within about 5 minutes.

And oh, the boys. It was hard to tell who was the most popular: Robbie, who is lead singer of the Stiff Dylans, until he comes over all eco-warrior and moves toScotland, or his replacement, Massimo, the Italian Stallion with muscles like bricks and an accent that melts Georgia like a chocolate button dropped in a hot espresso. Whenever either of them appeared on stage the whole theatre erupted in screams – I’ve literally never seen a reaction like it in a theatre. It was pretty much as I imagine a One Direction concert to be – jumping and dancing and screaming. If I were to go again I think I’d brush up on my first aid as I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before a mass fainting episode.

Despite the theatre being declared a Tweet friendly zone, I didn’t see a lot of phone action going on. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the stage! I can’t tell you how heartening it was to see such huge numbers of teenagers excited and enthusiastic and passionate about live performance; I hope they hold on to the way Angus Thongs made them feel, and seek that out in future years. At times I thought Naomi Petersen overacted Georgia’s more dramatic lines, until we walked out for the interval and I saw two girls, probably both 15ish, talking at the tops of their voices, with eyes wide, and arms flailing everywhere: ‘Did you SEEEEE him! No WONDER she calls him the SEX god! He is SOOOOO FIT!!!’

I had an absolutely fantastic time and I’d go see it again in a second. I’d recommend it to anyone, old or young, as a rip-roaring evening with something for absolutely everyone. It’s on until March 3rd at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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Crossing Points at Phoenix Dance Theatre

Last year I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre perform a mixed programme, Declarations, at their home venue. It left me absolutely amazed and so when I was offered tickets to the premiere of their new show, Crossing Points, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

The programme features four rather discrete works, two of which are brand new. Things kick off with Catch, a new piece by Ana Lujan Sanchez inspired by the Magritte painting, Son of Man. The six dancers, all in suits, initially move in careful, structured patterns, but as the piece progresses, they shed their restrictive clothing and become more free and more fluid. In Henri Oguike’s Signal, the soundtrack is a relentless beating of Japanese drums, and the lighting a row of three flame filled bowls. The movements are tribal and war like, interspersed with a few moments of peace. Next comes Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, by Aletta Collins, which is always a crowd pleaser. Based around five dancers and a microphone, it does two remarkable things: it elicits laughs from the audience and somehow gives a microphone a personality. Finally, another new piece: Sound Clash by Kwesi Johnson, which used resourceful lighting by Ed Railton and grungy, asymmetric costumes to create a complex, intricate piece which was visually stunning and definitely a worthy show closer.

The use of props was nothing short of impressive. Ropes, bowler hats, microphones and more were all used to great effect; the microphone and the rope in particular made me think of the famous Pixar lamp as movement and lighting and the dancers combined to give animation to the inanimate.

The highlights for me were a few stolen moments of silence, where the music stopped and all you could hear were gasps of effort, bare feet hitting the floor and heavy breathing. The focus was drawn right to the dancers and to the sheer mechanics of what was happening. Whilst music drowns everything out, the dancers’ movements look effortless and graceful; being able to hear them suddenly made everything more human and physical. The movements felt more brutal and visceral, and suddenly I found myself thinking not about the beautiful shapes and movements but the bodies themselves: brutal, visceral tools that are strong and sinewy and controlled.

There were eight dancers in all, each one of them incredibly talented. I’ve said it before but Azzurra Ardovini has this energy about her that is almost palpable; in any group piece I found my eyes drawn to her. Having said that though, Ryu Suzuki and Chihiro Kawasaki dance incredibly well together, and both are strong, lithe and fluid. I expect huge things from them!

Crossing Points is running until Sat 4th Feb at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Check out Phoenix Dance’s Twitter feed to get ticket offers! I hugely recommend it as a gorgeous night of contemporary dance that’s enjoyable for even dance dunces!

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12 things I’m looking forward to in Leeds in 2012

As an antidote to my gloomy commute and the horrific weather over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about some of the fun things that are happening this year in our lovely city of Leeds…

Exciting theatre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

The Playhouse have tons of exciting stuff happening this year. I’m particularly looking forward to absurdist tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, which just started rehearsing this week. Also in the pipeline are second instalments of both Furnace and Transform, which promise to be even more adventurous and exciting in 2012.

The Olympic Torch

Is that lame? Is that too mainstream and uncool and a waste of taxpayer’s money? Well, sorry, but I can’t wait! Perhaps that’s just because I’m one of what seems to be a very few people who have actually managed to get Olympics tickets. There’ll be an ‘evening celebration’, apparently, when the torch reaches the city centre on Sunday 24th June, and I’m thinking there’ll be fireworks…

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

As much as I ask, no-one seems to be able to tell me if we’ll still get that bank holiday if the Queen doesn’t quite make it to next June? Apparently it’s a morbid thought. Anyhow, I’m really hoping everything goes to plan because a diamond jubilee calls for bunting and tea parties and cake and I LOVE all of those things. Let’s make Leeds the centre of the celebrations!

Joining Leeds Book Club

This month is the month I join the Arcadia branch of the Leeds Book Club, which I totes can’t wait for. Book the first is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, (which I’m hoping arrives from Amazon, like, NOW so I actually have time to read it) and it looks really good. I’m looking forward to meeting other Leeds-based bookworms for fun times.

Baking at Iron Cupcake: Leeds

Although I’ve attended, I’ve never entered Leeds’ premier cupcake competition. However, bring on February’s freestyle month because I have my ticket and I am there. Being very much an amateur, I’m counting this as a practice round. However, before I enter for a second time, I’ll employ my secret weapon: I have a voucher for a cupcake lesson at the Sunshine Bakery.

Watching Leeds Arena take shape

Whilst the Trinity Leeds project makes me want to throw things, I’m completely on board with the Arena. It’s about time the citizens of Leeds were able to attend an arena concert without trekking across the Pennines and paying for a hotel, or getting hives from worrying about whether you’ll make the last train home. It’s not due to open until early 2013 (so probably November time), but over the next few months I think we’ll really be able to see things coming together. Rather unnecessarily, you can watch the construction live here.

Big musical numbers at Leeds Grand Theatre

There’s something a bit magical about Leeds Grand Theatre. I like to get dressed up when I go, and have a nice meal beforehand, and stroll through the lamplit streets afterwards with friends or a significant other. This year my highlights will be Dirty Dancing and the amazing, incredible Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve been dying to see again after my first viewing in theWest End in 2007.

Summer in the City

Shall we just pretend that it’s going to be this incredibly hot summer, and the sun will just beat down on us for three solid months, and no-one will bother to go on holiday because it’s too warm, but instead we’ll all go to Kirkstall Abbey or Hyde Park or Millennium Square and eat ice creams and play rounders, and we’ll all wear shorts or sundresses with flip flops, and there’ll be zero crime because everyone’s so happy, and anyway, it’s just too hot? Yes, let’s!

Heritage Open Days

I had a really busy work schedule for 2011’s Heritage Open Days, which was really disappointing, so this year I plan to be out in force. In particular I want to have a good nosey around Leeds Grand Theatre, and take a guided walk in an area I’m unfamiliar with.

Light Night Leeds

Last year’s Light Night was my first, and I got home from it completely exhausted! I felt like I’d never worked so hard for my entertainment before. The ideal for me would have been three Light Nights on consecutive nights, each in different parts of the city (say, the university, the cultural quarter and the city centre). However I’m sure this brings heaps of administrative problems that I know nothing about. This time, I want to make the most of things by setting out with a more structured plan, and maybe focussing on one geographical area.

Meeting more Twitter faces

This year I’ve met some lovely people including the tireless Emma Bearman of @culturevultures, the insanely talented Abi Manifold (@SewYou) and the hilarious Wendy Denman, aka @Wandapops. This year, I’ll be aggressively seeking out all of you, so watch out.

Developing my blog

It’s been an exciting 4 ½ months since I posted my first blog post in August, and I’ve been on a real journey. It took me a couple of months to get the confidence to put my name to it, and soon I think I’ll even put my face to it! This year I’ll be putting together a new blog header, introducing guest posters and possibly changing the blog name…watch this space.


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Orphans, errands and Italian food

My weekend started early this time, for once, with a trip to see Annie at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I can get the odd free ticket to productions there via my day job, and initially I hadn’t especially fancied it. After seeing a couple of pretty impressive reviews in the Guardian and the Telegraph, though, I didn’t really want to miss it.

The production absolutely blew me away! As all the papers say, it really is the kids that make it. They’re so professional – every note is perfect, every move is measured and precise. We saw Phoebe Roberts as Annie (she’s alternating with Sophie Downham) and she was everything Annie should be – feisty, but vulnerable, with heaps of street smarts and a healthy dose of optimism. The setting – the USA in recession – couldn’t be more fitting and we left the theatre feeling on top of the world. Honestly, if I’d seen it in the West End, at West End prices, I’d have still loved it.

If you like musical theatre, get Annie tickets. If you need a last minute Christmas present, get Annie tickets. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, get Annie tickets. You won’t regret it!

On the way I had my first ever Fish&, as I never seem to be in town when they are, and they always sell out early at events! Even on this occasion, as it was late evening, they were out of their legendary mac baps, so we settled for the lime and chilli battered fish and sweet potato chips. Gorgeous and the perfect meal to squeeze between some evening shopping and the theatre. Light, satisfying, locally produced and responsibly sourced.

Garlic mayo...YES PLEASE

Why is a menu written in chalk ten times more appetising than a printed one?

Saturday brought errands – we’ve just moved house so we headed to Ikea to pick up some essentials.

The dreaded self service warehouse...does it really save them that much money?

We definitely needed to recover after that, and we had some family in town for a shopping trip, so we headed off to – where else? – the Tiled Hall Café at Leeds Art Gallery for a hot drink and cake. I’ve said this before but there’s nothing I love more than showing off a gorgeous, unique part ofLeeds to someone who’s visiting. They loved the food and the atmosphere (who wouldn’t?) so it was a job well done. My brother-in-law tried the dandelion and burdock cake and pronounced it exceptionally good, so it’s on my list to try next time!

The amazing roof

Pretty Christmas lights

Then on Saturday night, we finally got to try out that Leeds institution, Salvo’s. I’ve been hearing good things about it for years, but never made it there for one reason or another. We had agreed with some friends of ours that instead of presents we would go there for a meal, and it was a great choice. I forgot to take pictures – the company was rather good – but I had the chicken supreme in a garlic cream sauce, and it was divine. It’s on the pricey side unless you stick to pasta and water, but the food really is good and the service is excellent. We left very happy indeed!

After all that excitement, plus the fact that I’m currently recovering from a rather nasty sinus infection, we dedicated Sunday to Christmas films and home made Christmas biscuits with some good friends.

The best Christmas film of all time?

What’s that you say? Why are my pictures so small? Gosh, well, I’ve really got no idea. Sorry.


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Coming Soon in Leeds: December Roundup

If the crowds at Millennium Square’s Christkindelmarkt are anything to go by, it’s certainly going strong after ten years here. Although it’s horrendously busy and drastically overpriced, it’s also the only place in Leeds you can buy honey, a metal wine bottle holder and a snow globe at 9pm, so you’ll just have to suck it up! Seriously though, the chalets and fairy lights and busy-ness all combine for a kitsch and cheesy but super Christmassy atmosphere. It’s worth a stroll through in the early evening for a pretzel and a mulled wine in a vile seventies ‘Christmas’ mug.

For a slightly more local experience, don’t forget our very own Kirkgate Market, which will be staying open until 8pm every Thursday in the run up for Christmas.

Of course it’s pantomime season, and this year Denise Nolan is starring as the villain in Beauty and the Beast over at the Carriageworks (Oh no she isn’t, etc etc). It’s on from 2nd December until 7th January and is fun for all the family. Personally, though, I’ll be holding out for Northern Ballet’s version of Beauty and the Beast, on at Leeds Grand Theatre from the 17th to the 31st December. It’s the world premiere, don’tcha know?

Voluntary Action Leeds is a charity that matches volunteers with third sector organisations in Leeds. They also offer training and advice for both organisations and volunteers. You can support them this month by going to the Lord Mayor’s Carol Concert on the 15th December at the Town Hall.

If you’ve had your fill of festive fun, though, then why not take a stroll down to the Henry Moore Institute? From the 1st December right through until March they have United Enemies – an exhibition dedicated to the sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s, described as a defining period in sculpture’s history. It’s there 7 days a week but on Wednesdays they’re open until 9pm. It looks to be the perfect antidote to frenzied Christmas shoppers.

Alternatively, Adam Ant at the O2 Academy with his new act The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse on the 10th December should be pretty season neutral. Likewise if you need some laughs, the Courtyard Comedy Club at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 18th December is a steal at just £11.

And if all that isn’t enough, perhaps you need a stiff drink inside you. Headingley Ale Festival is running on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December, with your £4.50 ticket (available on the door only) getting you a free pint. There’s a vegan ale among the 45+ on offer, and award winning Yorkshire business I’s Pies will be serving their gourmet handmade pies.

Also – it’s Christmas, so do enjoy that, chaps, if it’s up your street.

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