Red Ladder takes mental health play into unusual venues in Leeds

A hard-hitting play about men’s mental health is being staged in Leeds at unusual venues.

By Charlie Bullough
Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 1:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th October 2019, 2:36 am
Tom Swift and Alyce Liburd, who play Jim and Sara in Red Ladder's production of The Parting Glass. Picture: Anthony Robling
Tom Swift and Alyce Liburd, who play Jim and Sara in Red Ladder's production of The Parting Glass. Picture: Anthony Robling

The Parting Glass is being put on at TCV Hollybush Conservation Centre in Kirkstall, Hunslet Rugby League Club and at Queen’s Mill Castleford on October 11, 18 and 19.

It tells the story of 30-year-old Jim, his fight with depression and the difficulty he has talking about it.

The play, by Leeds based Chris O’Connor, is being performed by radical theatre company Red Ladder, from Leeds, which has a history of taking stories of human struggles to community venues.

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Mother Courage cast at Red Ladder's 50th anniversary party. Picture: Anthony Robling

Producer Chris Lloyd: “Jim is not dissimilar from many lads you would see around town. He is chatty, bubbly, likes a beer, football and a bit of a punt at the bookies. But that outward exterior masks a troubled soul, someone who is really struggling with his place in life.

“He finds it incredibly difficult to let people in on that. A lot of people he knows also find it even harder to talk about things like that. Basically it is about a lad’s struggle to overcome depression.

“It’s a beautiful story and beautifully written but ultimately it is a cry for help for lads to articulate what they are going through.”

Earlier this week the play was performed to 500 pupils at Allerton Grange School in Leeds. Next week it will be performed at Leeds Mind, the mental health charity.

Pauline McLynn, Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, was in Mother Courage. Image: Anthony Robling.

Funding from Leeds City Council, administered by Leeds Community Foundation, has also enabled Red Ladder to take a mental health professional on tour with them to help with post show question and answer sessions.

The producer added: “We have done a number of Q & As now and they have been profound in terms of people asking for help, but also reiterating their own stories and experiences, giving people a forum to chat.”

The money has also helped pay for extra performances and for the filming of The Parting Glass in a studio and at Hunslet RLFC next Friday. It is hoped the film will become a resource to prompt discussion about mental health issues.

Red Ladder is no stranger to taking challenging issues into the community. It has been doing it ever since it was founded in 1968.

The Damned United by Red Ladder theatre company. Luke Dickson as Brian Clough. Picture: Malcolm Johnson.

Mr Lloyd, who has worked for Red Ladder since 2006, said: “Our audience, which we have developed over a number of years now, is not necessarily ever going to set foot inside a theatre. Alongside playing in wonderful theatres like Leeds Playhouse, we have developed 11 venues throughout West and South Yorkshire that are certainly not traditional theatre venues.”

He said they had also done three big shows, including its 50th anniversary show Mother Courage with Father Ted actress Pauline McLynn, in a warehouse near the Royal Armouries. These have been very successful and had attracted people who weren’t your usual theatre goer. Unusual play venues also help to create a different kind of ambience for the performance.

Mr Lloyd added: “Put it in a working men’s club or in a fairly grim warehouse, then it brings a different feel to the evening.

“We are eclectic in terms of our productions and where we play. The underlying theme for a lot of our work is trying to shine a light on human struggle, humanity and the community generally. That’s our raison d’être: to try and find as many routes as we can for people to feel comfortable coming to see the work.”

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Red Ladder theatre company began life as the Agitprop Street Players during the Vietnam War.

It emerged after a group of socialists performed a play at the Trafalgar Square Festival of 1968.

Their prop, a red ladder to gain height over the crowds, would become the group’s name in 1971.

In 1976 the company moved to Leeds. It is based at St Peter’s Buildings on York Street. Red Ladder has two full time employees, artistic director Rod Dixon and producer Chris Lloyd. They are supported by part-time workers, freelancers and a volunteer board of trustees.

Since 2006 Mr Dixon and Mr Lloyd have striven to reposition Red Ladder. It was seen as a theatre company which concentrated on a teenage audience, playing in youth clubs and other community spaces.

Now it focuses on wider themes and plays a mixture of theatre and community venues.

It is funded by a variety of sources like The Arts Council, Leeds City Council via Leeds Community Foundation, Unite, Wade’s Charity, The Home Office and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Notable productions have included Mother Courage for its 50th anniversary, which starred Father Ted actress Pauline McLynn. It also staged an adaptation of David Peace’s novel The Damned United about Brian Clough’s time at Leeds United. It’s current production is The Parting Glass, directed by Mr Dixon.