Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is the final production at Courtyard Theatre before refurbishment, after visiting 28 out of 29 Leeds postcodes in intimate settings before coming to WYP in LS2. Originally written in 1988 for the BBC it displays a fine blend of tragedy and comedy throughout the six pieces. There is a kind of social realism but with a definite theatricality and poetic style.
Marlene Sidaway as Doris in A Cream Cracker Under the Settee is a widow who stubbornly refuses to go into a nursing home, but we witness her crawling around her room following a fall.
Vanessa Rosenthal as Irene in A Lady of Letters plagues all and sundry with the power of her pen which ultimately leads to her imprisonment. She is basically a lonely old woman who means no harm but is simply misguided and obsessed.
Flo Wilson as Peggy in A Woman of No Importance whose routine as an office clerk is interrupted by a mysterious illness.
Tina Gray as Muriel recently widowed in Soldiering On faces the aftermath of her husband’s death.
Cate Hamer as Susan the vicar’s wife with a drink problem in Bed Among the Lentils. She is increasingly bored of and infuriated by her husband Geoffrey and his ‘Fan Club’ of female church-goers. At the local off licence she discovers Mr Ramesh with whom she has an illicit affair, but this is in a way equally problematic.
Chris Chilton as Graham in A Chip in the Sugar lives with his widowed mother who comes across an old flame who is not all he seems.
Each actor totally demands our attention for the entire duration of their performance, even leaving us wanting more at the end of their set. The shows benefit from Laura Ann Price’s functional yet aesthetically pleasing revolving set design and incisive direction by James Brining, Amy Leach and John R. Wilkinson. I highly recommend you take in both sets of three pieces each to get the breadth anbd depth of the deeply meaninglful and profound performances.
Until 23 June 2018 at West Yorkshire Playhouse Leeds.
Review by Rich Jevons.
Image by Richard H. Smith.
This year’s Hebden Bridge Arts Festival is as radically eclectic as ever with events to attract all tastes. The opening night is a treat for clubbers with a special event to mark the publication of Hacienda resident DJ Dave Haslam’s memoir; entitled Sonic Youth Slept on My Floor; Music, Manchester & More. Dave will be interviewed by Jon McClure from Reverend & the Makers. After a short break Haslam and McClure will DJ together (for the first time ever!) from 9.30pm into the early hours.
As Arts Editor at Leeds Guide I had the privilege of interviewing poet John Hegley to much hilarity and he even wrote us a special limerick about Leeds! So I am really looking to seeing him on the 23rd with songs, poems, drawings and joining-ins devised with adults in mind but acceptable to many nine year olds wearing spectacles. New and Selected Potatoes includes work from a dozen of Hegley’s genius collections 1984-2013.
Another favourite interviewee of mine is Cosey Fanni Tutti, originally a performance artist in COUM Transmissions, co-founder of Industrial avant garders Throbbing Gristle and then partner with Chris Carter in CTI (Creative Technology Institute. Art, Sex, Music is the autobiography of a musician who has consistently challenged the boundaries of music over the past four decades and whose work continues to be held at the vanguard of contemporary art, some of which resides as part of the Tate permanent collection. Cosey is interviewed by my ex-colleague at Leeds Guide Elizabeth Alker, now broadcaster on 6 Music.
And finally there is a chance to stretch your legs and have a sing-song with the Commoners Choir, led by Chumbawamba’s Boff Whalley. This is a choir dedicated to singing the news: local, national and international. Based in West Yorkshire, they sing their own songs, about theworld immediately around us, about inequality, hope, and Tory politicians.
This is just a taster so log onto http://hebdenbridgeartsfestival.co.uk/whats-on/ and make the most of this scintillating series of events.
Northern Broadsides’ take on Charles Dickens’ Hard Times is a tribute to both Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation and Conrad Nelson’s direction. It is a bittersweet affair with the visiting circus to industrial Coketown giving gloriously light interludes to the more serious side of the complex plot.
The most full-blown Dickensian character is seen in Howard Chadwick’s performance as Josiah Bounderby, a man of bountiful blustering outbursts, mainly questionable in their accuracy by the end of the play. For much of the action Mr Thomas Gradgrind (Andrew Price) is his business partner and runs his school according to the prominence of factual information – statistics, algorhythms, percentages etc. – which he has also strictly applied to his two children, the errant Tom and the astute Louisa.
So when Bounderby sends a proposal of marriage to Louisa via her father it is sheer logic that rules the decision – not love or romance. There are many subplots such as Tom’s gambling debts being met by his benevolent sister; Steven Blackpool’s wretched marriage and affection for Rachael; and the Union’s plan to subvert the authority of Bounderby’s unjust measures of employment.
Dawn Allsopp’s design is simply but ingenious while Rebekah Hughes as Musical Director finds the perfect moments for the actor-musicians to add their contribution to the staging. Then Darren Kuppan as Mr Harthouse really stirs things up but ultimately to no avail. The shame of Tom’s misdemeanours (spoiler alert) force him to join the circus. And it is the circus that indeed serves as light relief from Gradgrind’s reliance on logic, a fact that even he eventually realises.
This is Northern Broadsides at the top of their game and despite the long running time the flow of the show is smooth and our attention kept alert at all times. And the message of the power of the imagination over strict rationale is one that is as poignant now as it was in Dickens’ day. A great combination of dramatic depth and lightness.
As seen at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. See https://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk/ for info on forthcoming productions.
Opera North’s revival of Cole Porter’s 1949 musical consists of a play within a play with the tempestuous scenes backstage at Baltimore’s Ford Theatre running along the equally frenetic on stage production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Edward Gogin’s production stays true to Bella and Samuel Spewack’s book to great success.
Quirijn de Lang doubles up as Fred Graham, egotist and actor manager, and Petruchio, Kate’s suitor and Shrew-tamer! While Stephanie Corley is at one moment Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, who discovers his amorous intentions on blonde sexpot Bianca, and Kate, who for most of the play resists Petruchio’s wooing.
In this revival David James Hulston’s choereography is simply stunning while Colin Richmond’s classically-influenced designs are used with seamless scene changes. Perhaps the most comic capers come from Joseph Shovelton and John Savourin’s Bard-living gangsters, especially the incredibly witty rhymes of Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
The Opera North Orchestra are at the top of their game under James Holmes and Ben Cracknell’s lighting successfully relies on spotlighting key characters amongst the strong ensemble. Particular mention should be made of Alan Burkitt’s terrific tap-dancing and Zoe Rainey’s perfect rendition of Always True To You In Your Fashion – very sexy, seductive and sassy.
This all-singing, all-dancing production is full of rib-ticklers and a fair few belly-wobblers, and has a feel-good factor almost off the scale. Opera North once more demonstrate why they are always considered a jewel in Leeds’ cultural crown.
See www.operanorth.co.uk for tour details.