Transform at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Bourgeois and Maurice
Bourgeois and Maurice
Have your say

THERE’s been more than a touch of festival fever at Leeds’s biggest theatre complex this week.

Since Monday the Playhouse has dispensed with the usual formula of staging one show per stage per night in favour of a huge programme of events taking place in shorter bursts.

Transform, which runs until Saturday June 18, hosts 25 different types of performances which may be found in the Quarry or the Courtyard Theatre, or perhaps be popping up in the bar, or the cafe or the foyer, who knows?

Actually Alan Lane knows. Alongside fellow theatre director Kully Thiari, he was enlisted by the Playhouse six months ago to help curate the jamboree.

His starting point for the two-week event was the idea that we, as a society, tend to want to be entertained in an increasingly varied and innovative way.

“Now, if we go see a movie we’ll often watch it in 3D,” he says. “Or if we go see a play or a show we’ll check bits of it out online first through YouTube.

“Our whole experience of culture has completely altered, even just over the last five or so years, and that’s really because of technology.

“So, with Transform what we’re trying to do is discover new ways of staging theatre, partly by asking the question: what is theatre?”

But what does that mean, exactly? Well, Lane uses the example of the attractions being staged called The Soldier’s Song by Quarantine.

Performance artist Renny O’Shea has created an interactive video featuring video footage of numerous soldiers she captured on camera over an 18 month period. Visitors to the installation then have a chance to sing a song alongside one of the serving personnel in a rather strange moment which is spookily interactive yet completely detached.

Running in tandem, however, are more easily recognisable dramatic offerings such as Gbolahan Obisesan’s drama about expectations and miscommunication between three generations of a family, developed in collaboration with the National Theatre Studio.

The intermittent, pop-up, ever-changing, apparently never-ending nature of the event heightens the sense that this is very much a festival. It’s also something of a birthday treat as West Yorkshire Playhouse celebrates its 21st anniversary.

Be warned: the programme is continually changing. Although some performances last days, others are one-offs and last minutes. Either way no two days during Transform are entirely the same, so choose carefully.

Highlights include Something Dark by Lemn Sissay on the evenings of June 10 and 11 – a very personal journey through Lemn’s incredible life.

Driven by his two-hundred-words-a-minute delivery he tells the story of being put up for temporary foster care while his mother was finishing her studies and then how she was prevented from getting him back.

Fostered by English foster parents on the basis that he was a message from their God and would go back to Africa as a missionary to save African babies, their plan did not work and he was subjected to many years of the UK care system. Subsequently he has been reunited with his mother.

Light relief comes in the form of saucy fun courtesy of the Wau Wau Sisters’ Last Supper on June 17 and there’s some superb dance to be experienced in the form of Geraldine Pilgrim’s 15-minute show, Handbag, on Saturday June 11.

Smoke and Mirrors help bring the two-weeks to a spectacular conclusion on June 18 with some 21st century cabaret and they’re joined simultaneously by razor sharp London duo Bourgeois and Maurice.

In fact, the variety of performances on offer is breathtaking. From comedy to serious theatre and cabaret, Lane and Thiari have put together a rather challenging programme.

“But we don’t want it to be seen as too serious or threatening,” insists Lane. “We didn’t set out to destroy or discredit traditional forms of enjoying theatre, just look at something different.

“And we want people to come along and have a fun time, to get a pass and catch some comedy in the foyer or watch some cabaret pop up in the restaurant, to move about and feel exhilarated. We want people to go home at the end of the night and feel they’ve had a great time.”

This is the first time a programme like this has been staged at the Playhouse, but it’s unlikely to be the last time since bosses at the theatre are keen to continually explore the concept, perhaps with different curators next year.

Though that may come as some relief to lane who, as well as curating Transform, has been preoccupied with the work of his own theatre company Slung Low. He’s tired but very happy.

“In the current climate if there is work to be done you just have to do it,” he says. “Fortunately I already had certain people in mind when we started on the project, but a lot of them we had to search around for. It’s been a simmering project for the first few months then the heat really came on in the final weeks.”

As well as one or two familiar companies – such as Pilot, Imitating the Dog and Peepolykus – there will be a showcase of new creators with 21 writers from the So You Want To Be A Writer? project. But, as well as challenging the notion of traditional theatre, the other question which had to be pondered by each every participant was this: in what way is your piece transformative?”

l Until Saturday June 18, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Hill, Leeds, daily wristbands £15/£10, a limited number of free passes are available for those aged under 26, Tel. 0113 2137700, visit For general details visit

The Grand Theatre, Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme.

£12m Leeds Grand Theatre regeneration plan includes a little extra help from the taxpayer