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From Brontë to Baz Luhrmann: a season of local relevance and global ambition

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West Yorkshire Playhouse Autumn/Winter 2016

• The UK première of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical, directed by Olivier Award-winner Drew McOnie, is unveiled for Christmas 2016.

The Brontë Season explores the extraordinary works of Yorkshire’s literary sisters from a 21st century perspective on the bicentenary of Charlotte’s birth. A daring new adaptation of Villette premières alongside musical-in-development Wasted, dance performances, digital projects and panel discussions. Presented in partnership with the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

Anthony Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning thriller Sleuth twists and turns onto the Quarry stage in Giles Croft’s co-production for West Yorkshire Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse.

Mark Thomas: The Red Shed recreates the legendary Wakefield Labour social club in its 50th year. It premieres in Edinburgh prior to returning to Leeds in November.

• The Barber studio rehearsal room is transformed into a pop-up studio performance space for four weeks of brand new vital theatre. Charley Miles’ debut play Blackthorn receives its first staging. Furnace: Festival 2016 showcases new work that has been developed or supported by West Yorkshire Playhouse, during which a total of 20 new projects at all stages of their development will be shared for the first time.

• The culmination of a two year co-commission, Anniversary receives its premiere staging. A community ensemble of people over 60 are paired with older artists from renowned contemporary dance companies in a boundary-breaking show challenging stereotypes about age. Anniversary has been developed with members of the Playhouse’s flagship Heydays programme for over 55s and is directed by Alan Lyddiard.

Nikolai Foster’s critically acclaimed production of Roald Dahl’s The Witches is this Christmas’s terrifying treat for families in the Courtyard Theatre, while Rudolf flies into the Barber Studio for the Playhouse’s youngest audiences.

This Autumn/Winter West Yorkshire Playhouse champions the region’s most distinctive creative voices and collaborates with renowned national and international theatre-makers in a season of ambitious performance.

Reflecting the creativity and cultural diversity of its city, the Playhouse presents new work across a variety of scales: from a stripped-back staging of a new play and work-in-development sharings, to the Brontë Season premiering three new West Yorkshire Playhouse commissions and spanning dance, digital and spoken word.

The season culminates with a major co-production of Strictly Ballroom The Musical, co-produced by West Yorkshire Playhouse with international producers Global Creatures and an industry-leading creative team. This major UK premiere of this new musical inspired by the iconic film by Baz Luhrmann premières in Leeds and transfers to Toronto in 2017. Alongside The Witches and Rudolf, it forms the Playhouse’s Christmas offer of three vibrant shows for audiences across all ages.

Artistic Director James Brining said:
‘Being rooted firmly in our community is vital to West Yorkshire Playhouse, as is working with the most inspiring artists to create exceptional theatre in our city. This season brings together these strands in a season of new work which celebrates Yorkshire’s cultural legacy, champions our next generation of creative voices and sees us collaborating on an international scale to premiere the first UK staging of a major new musical.

Working in partnership with the Brontë Parsonage Museum on the bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth, the Brontë Season invites artists to create contemporary responses to their body of work, as we interrogate the impact of this extraordinary family who are so integral to Yorkshire’s heritage. Stories of local significance are hugely important to our programming and we’re thrilled to play a part in the development of Mark Thomas’s The Red Shed, which premieres in Edinburgh before returning later this year.
Creating a new studio space is a part of the ambitious plans for a major capital redevelopment to transform West Yorkshire Playhouse and we’re expanding our artist development programme Furnace in preparation for that. Building on our commitment to developing and championing new work by our most distinctive local voices, we’ll be temporarily creating a pop-up studio in our rehearsal room to bring together our artistic community and audiences, premiere performances, share ideas and spark collaboration.
Complementing our locally-focused work, the Playhouse is teaming up with Global Creatures to co-produce the premiere UK production of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical. It’s a hugely exciting prospect for us to be developing and premiering this major global title here in Leeds with a leading team of creatives. The new musical, which was originated by Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, receives its first British staging in our epic Quarry theatre for Christmas 2016, and then transfers to Toronto in 2017.’

As the Playhouse presents its Autumn/Winter season, the recent appointment of Page \ Park Architects to design the capital development project means that ambitious plans to transform the Playhouse continue to take shape.

Executive Director Robin Hawkes said:

‘Page \ Park’s appointment to the redevelopment project means that tremendously exciting plans to transform the Playhouse are taking a big step forward. This season is a great reflection of the diverse work that happens at the Playhouse, as we look ahead to the redevelopment of the theatre as a great artistic beacon for the north. We look forward to sharing more news as the process progresses.’

West Yorkshire Playhouse productions

The Brontë Season, 5 Sept - 22 Oct
Building on the Playhouse’s commitment to sharing stories of local importance, the Brontë Season, presented in partnership with the Brontë Parsonage Museum, interrogates the influence and impact of the sisters’ work on the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. Artists are invited to share contemporary responses to their extraordinary body of writing in a month of performance, spoken word and digital projects devoted to Yorkshire’s distinguished literary family.

Villette (24 Sep – 15 Oct) is brought to life in a striking new adaptation for the Courtyard Theatre. Yorkshire writer Linda Marshall-Griffiths reimagines Charlotte Brontë’s ground-breaking novel whilst remaining true to its unique insights into loneliness, yearning and the redemptive power of love. It is directed by West Yorkshire Playhouse Associate Director Mark Rosenblatt (The Fruit Trilogy/Richard III/Untold Stories).

Wasted (20 Oct – 22 Oct) presented by West Yorkshire Playhouse, Bobby Tiwana and Tiger Strut is by Christopher Ash, (Musical Director on the 2016 Olivier Award Winning SHOWSTOPPERS! The Improvised Musical) and Carl Miller, developed in association with Mercury Musical Developments and Musical Theatre Network. Wasted is an exclusive work-in-progress performance of an electrifying new musical. Anne, Branwell, Charlotte and Emily are nobodies from nowhere - but they have stuff to say. Wasted is the explosive crash and burn story of four young people with incredible dreams. This contemporary reclamation of the Brontës as visionary creators of shocking genius presents ‘The kids from Haworth’ as you’ve never seen them before.

Tiny Shoes (from 5 Sept), an audio drama by Emma Adams, is an immersive exploration of the reality of life in Haworth today in contrast to the romanticised image of the Brontës’ world projected upon the town. It can be experienced away from Haworth in an online download, headphones transporting the listener to the Yorkshire dales from wherever they are, as well as from the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

Rocket and West Yorkshire Playhouse present Know Your Place (from 5 Sept), an interactive collaborative digital arts project mapping the lives, locations and work of the Brontës 200 years ago. In 1837, the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, tried to put Charlotte Brontë in her place, announcing “literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be.” Charlotte and her sisters defied him, becoming Yorkshire’s most famous literary family. Know Your Place will map the physical places in Yorkshire which influenced the worlds and the characters they created, alongside contemporary reflections on ‘place’ created by artists, audiences and members of the public around the world. Rocket is a BAFTA winning team based in Sheffield, using smart thinking, design and technology.

The Season also includes a series of thought-provoking panel events with guest speakers including author Blake Morrison and Brontë biographer Juliet Barker exploring the Brontë’s lives, words and influence today.

Furnace: Barber Studio Programme
As the West Yorkshire Playhouse Capital Redevelopment project progresses, the Playhouse expands its programme of new work by local performance-makers, looking ahead to the creation of a permanent studio space at the theatre. The Barber Studio is transformed into a pop-up studio space for a month to bring together Yorkshire’s artistic community and premiere bold new work as part of Furnace. The Playhouse is committed to supporting local artists across a broadening range of opportunities, from its new Trainee Director scheme to this expanding Furnace artist development programme, which provides support to local artists and companies at every stage of their careers.

Blackthorn, 13- 17 Sept
The debut play by Kilburn-based writer Charley Miles, Blackthorn is produced by West Yorkshire Playhouse in a stripped-back, full scale performance. Blackthorn was developed through Furnace over a period of 12 months and exemplifies The Playhouse’s commitment to developing brand new plays by writers born, raised or living in Yorkshire. Literary Associate Jacqui Honess-Martin directs this tender love story which unfolds in the countryside of a tiny North Yorkshire Village.

Furnace: Festival 2016, 27 Sept – 8 Oct
Furnace: Festival celebrates the wild, unpredictable process of making new theatre - from the initial creative spark to the finished production. The fortnight includes scratch nights, a new project by the award-winning writer and director of Barrel Organ, Lulu Raczka and Ali Pidsley; a script-in-hand reading of Zodwa Nyoni’s new commission with music direction by Testament; an acclaimed children’s show; two world premiéres, plus workshops, talks and events.

Highlights include Three by Wrongsemble, a musical romp for ages 3 and above (1 Oct). The Economy of Ecology, a study of touch and grief devised by Manic Chord Theatre (8 Oct) and What If I Told You, the premiere staging of Pauline Mayers’ one woman show made in collaboration with Chris Goode (30 Sept, 1 Oct).

Anniversary, 14 - 17 Sept
As the Playhouse continues to lead in providing creative opportunities for older people, Anniversary is the culmination of a two year co-commission breaking down concepts about age and providing a platform for older performers. The performance has been developed with older people from the Playhouse’s flagship Heydays creative programme for over 55s.

Bringing together Heydays members Hum Crawshaw, Connie Hodgson, Barbara Newsome, Pat White and Maureen Wilks with older professional artists from some of the country’s leading dance companies, The Performance Company shares personal stories in a boundary-blurring performance crossing contemporary dance, music and drama. Alan Lyddiard directs this new show, choreographed by Roston Maldoom and performed by a community cast of people over 60 and Namron (ex London Contemporary Dance Theatre, leading dancer, Founder teacher at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and 1st Rehearsal Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre), Sally Owen (ex Ballet Rambert leading dancer, Lindsay Kemp Company, Scottish Dance Theatre), Tamara McLorg (EMMA Dance Company, Solo Performer, international choreographer), Alex Elliott (Performer Northern Stage, Traverse Edinburgh, Unfolding Theatre Etc), Villmore James (Founder member Phoenix Dance Theatre) and Christopher Benstead (Composer of 100s of dance, theatre and film scores, working internationally with companies from around the world).

Sleuth, 28 Sept - 15 Oct
Giles Croft directs Anthony Shaffer’s thriller in a co-production with Nottingham Playhouse. Sleuth is an expertly written and funny satire of the classic crime genre in which two characters fight mercilessly for power over one another through carefully calculated game play. First staged in 1970, it has won numerous awards for its bewitching cunning, twists and turns.

Mark Thomas: The Red Shed, 2 - 4 Nov
Mark Thomas takes Wakefield’s legendary venue as inspiration for a new show developed in association with the Playhouse, which premieres in Edinburgh before returning to Yorkshire. Part journalism, part activism, part theatre, The Red Shed is a story of strikes, fights, dinnerladies, commies and - most of all – remembering. Mark Thomas’ third show in his award-winning trilogy recreates the infamous Wakefield labour club in its 50th year.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical, 30 Nov - 21 Jan 2017
Visionary director Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical receives its UK premiere in Leeds this Christmas. An award-winning creative team develops this title for the UK, led by Olivier Award-winner Drew McOnie (In The Heights/Jekyll and Hyde) who has been handpicked by Baz Luhrmann to direct and choreograph the production, and writer Terry Johnson (Mrs Henderson Presents, The Graduate, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest) who has adapted the original book.

Inspired by Baz Luhrmann and designer Catherine Martin’s (Moulin Rouge/Romeo + Juliet) groundbreaking first film, this dazzling musical brings to life the story of a championship ballroom dancer who defies all the rules to follow his heart. It features break-into-song numbers such as Love is in the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time, as well as new songs by internationally acclaimed artists including Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect.

A dementia friendly performance of Strictly Ballroom The Musical will take place on 17 January. Earlier this year the Playhouse published its Guide To Staging Dementia Friendly Performances, a national resource advising theatres on how to adopt its pioneering, award-winning accessible performance model.

Rudolf, 25 Nov- 31 Dec
Andy Manley writes this spellbinding festive show about reindeer school, sleigh rides and triumphing over being the ‘red nose reject’ for the Playhouse’s youngest audiences.

Roald Dahl’s The Witches, 2 Dec - 21 Jan 2017
Nikolai Foster (Annie/White Christmas) directs David Wood’s stage adaptation of this family favourite in a critically acclaimed production which sees a company of actor-musicians bringing Roald Dahl’s terrifically terrifying story The Witches to life.

As well as presenting vibrant home produced work, our season features work from some of the most prestigious companies in the UK.

Visiting productions

Continuing the Playhouse's relationship with Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean Carnival, the Leeds Carnival King & Queen Show (26 Aug) is a feast of foot-tapping steel pan music and jaw-dropping costumes and sees participants show off eye-popping creations.

As part of the Brontë Season, Brontë’s romantic masterpiece is brought to life by Northern Ballet in Wuthering Heights (6 - 10 Sept) featuring live music by Golden Globe and Academy Award nominated Claude-Michel Schönberg (Les Misérables/Miss Saigon and Northern Ballet’s Cleopatra). Choreographed by David Nixon OBE.

Iyalode of Eti - A Reimagining Of The Duchess Of Malfi (22-24 Sept) is a unique West African transposition of John Webster’s The Duchess Of Malfi. Utopia Theatre presents and Moji Kareem directs Debo Oluwatuminu’s play. Utopia Theatre is running a symposium on African theatre to accompany the performance on Friday 23 September.

Northern Broadsides and York Theatre Royal present JB Priestley’s classic comedy When We Are Married (18-22 Oct) in a heartily entertaining production directed by Barrie Rutter.

Susan Hill’s chilling ghost story The Woman In Black (25-29 Oct) is brought to life in a gripping production adapted by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford.

Watershed Productions present the Polka Theatre production of award-winning children’s book Gorilla (27-29 Oct) by former Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne. A spellbinding show adapted by Rachel Barnett and directed by Roman Stefanski, with music and songs by Julian Butler.

Adapted by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice, Kneehigh in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre present 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (1-5 Nov). A magical play for families it uses music, puppetry and foolishness to share the tender and political story of a 12 year old and a cat, and reveals the secrets of the D-Day landings.

Whose Sari Now? (10-12 Nov) is a funny and poignant examination of the momentous role of the sari. Written and performed by Rani Moorthy and directed by Kimberley Sykes.

Olivier Award winner Mark Gatiss (Sherlock/Doctor Who) stars alongside his husband Ian Hallard in this eagerly anticipated revival of Mart Crowley’s ground-breaking play The Boys In The Band (14 - 19 Nov). Nine men gather in a New York apartment for a birthday celebration in this new production of the seminal play, presented by the producers of Beautiful Thing.

Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode - The Movie Doctors (6 Nov) offers a unique blend of movie trivia, opinion and bickering from the BBC’s go-to experts on all things film

Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Night (7 -8 Nov) sees the author recounting the funny, terrifying and compelling adventure that led to his best-selling book Psychopath Night.

Tickets can be booked through West Yorkshire Playhouse's Box Office on 0113 213 7700 or