Curtain up on West Yorkshire Playhouse autumn/winter season

CREATIVE LEADERS: Artistic director James Brining and executive director Robin Hawkes.
CREATIVE LEADERS: Artistic director James Brining and executive director Robin Hawkes.
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The West Yorkshire Playhouse launched its new season this week – and there is a lot in it to get excited about. Yvette Huddleston reports.

On Monday night, the West Yorkshire Playhouse launched its autumn/winter season – and it is artistic director James Brining’s most ambitious yet.

A compelling combination of classics presented in a fresh and original way and truly innovative ground-breaking new work, this is a season that inspires excitement at the possibilties of theatre in general and in particular for the direction that the Playhouse is going in.

With new executive director and joint chief executive Robin Hawkes, who joins the Playhouse from the National Theatre and is just weeks into his post, Brining has a new leadership partner with whom to take the theatre forward. And, at the launch, both seem to be delighted at the prospect of working together. It’s certainly a good season to be jointly overseeing.

Opening with the world premiere of Northern Ballet’s 1984, based on George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, the season continues with another classic and the first of several collaborations and co-productions. Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a co-production with Headlong and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. Williams’ characteristically claustrophobic and troubling drama will star Greta Scacchi as Amanda, an overbearing mother whose inability to break free from the past has terrible consequences for her fragile adult children Tom and Laura. Award-winning actor Reece Dinsdale who has a long history with the Playhouse – having appeared there as a young actor, and more recently as Alan Bennett in Untold Stories – will be tackling one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles and history’s most controversial figures in Richard III.

Christmas time will offer up a couple of real treats for all the family. First, the Playhouse joins forces with Music & Lyrics Limited for a seasonal spectacular – a reimagined version of the much-loved musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Brining directs and after its run at the Playhouse the production will begin a large-scale UK tour throughout 2016 and 2017. Also on at Christmas is a wonderful sounding children’s piece (but which speaks to adults too) The Night Before Christmas in which an unhappy woman called Carol is taught about friendship and how to have fun by a mischievous elf who falls down her chinmney. Written by Robert Alan Evans, it will be directed by Amy Leach who was at the helm of the excellent Annie Oakley-inspired piece Little Sure Shot.

For those looking for a less family-oriented yuletide offering there is a Christmas Cabaret which is billed as a ‘raucous, raunchy and rambuctious’ celebration of the best cabaret artists from across the UK.

In between there is some excellent theatre that pushes at the boundaries – such as Blake Remixed in which world record-holding beatboxer and acclaimed rapper Testament combines UK Hip Hop with the poetry of William Blake in his first original theatre show. At the launch we were given a taster – and it was outstanding.

Bradford-based Common Wealth have become the Playhouse’s latest associate company alongside Unlimited Theatre and Rash Dash. They specialise in devised, site-specific theatre and their piece The Deal Versus the People – exploring power, participation, anger and what we can do collectively to bring about political change – promises to be a rousing, revolutionary piece. It will be performed in Bradford City Hall before touring to the European Parliament in Brussels.

Visiting companies include the ever-popular Kneehigh who will be bringing their Dead Dog in a Suitcase, their idiosyncratic version of John Gay’s musical satire The Beggar’s Opera; Out of Joint return with Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkerne in a piece inspired by events in a Hertfordshire village and written by Bafta-winning writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation attempts a dialogue with political extremism.

All in all, a lot to look forward to.

n For the full programme and to book tickets visit www.wyp.org.uk