Leeds boasts almost 300 years of theatrical heritage. From the first Leeds Theatre Royal in Hunslet Lane to the present Playhouse at the end of Eastgate, there have been laughs and tears that echo across the generations.
The earliest reference to acting in the town can be found in Ralph Thoresby’s diary in 1722. Ralph, who was the first Leeds historian noted that a company of actors had visited the town and stayed for six to eight weeks, “which had seduced many and got an abundance of silver.”
The Leeds crowd have not always been so easily seduced however. During a portrayal of Lady Macbeth in 1788, actress Sarah Siddons was brought a poisoned pot of porter during a sleepwalking scene to which one Loiner crowd member shouted, “soop it oop lass.”
On the final night when the curtain fell, Siddons raised a shaking fist to the air and angrily shouted, “farewell, ye brutes.” It should be noted that the actress did so from a safe distance behind the curtain, away from the crowd.
At one time in Leeds there were around six venues in operation that offered dramatic and musical performances. Of those six the Grand Theatre and the City Varieties Music Hall still operate today.
Renamed in 1990 as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Leeds Playhouse has been the main venue for theatrics in the city since 1970.
Tony Robinson, later of Blackadder and Time Team fame performed in the first production at the Playhouse.
The Playhouse was relocated to its current location as part of a regeneration scheme in the nineties.
WYP is currently undergoing some regeneration of its own as the front entrance is set to be realigned with the new Victoria Gate shopping development, which is set to open later this year.