Leeds audiences are invited to put on their Boogie Shoes and strut on down to Leeds Grand Theatre from Tuesday 27 toSaturday 31 August 2019 when Bill Kenwright’s Saturday Night Fever will ignite a Disco Inferno.
Based on the 70s classic movie starring John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever tells the story of Tony Manero and his reckless, yet thrilling, road to dancing success. The show features the greatest hits of the Bee Gees, including Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, Night Fever, Tragedy and More Than a Woman; the original album remains the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.
Returning to the iconic role of Tony Manero is Richard Winsor. Winsor previously performed worldwide as the principle dancer with Matthew Bourne for 10 years before landing the lead role in the cult dance film StreetDance 3D and going on to play Caleb Knight in the BBC’s Casualty.
Whilst paying homage to the movie, this new stage version promises more drama, more music and new choreography. It is directed and produced by Bill Kenwright with choreography by Olivier award-winning Bill Deamer.
Saturday Night Fever is at Leeds Grand Theatre fromTuesday 27 to Saturday 31 August 2019
Book online at leedsgrandtheatre.com or call Box Office on 0844 848 2700
8/13/2019 0 Comments
James, Doves and Ocean Colour Scene headline the first Bingley Weekender, a three day festival at Bradford & Bingley Rugby Club from 30th August- 1st September.
Friday’s headliners Ocean Colour Scene achieved both critical and public success in the 90s. The band released 5 top ten albums. One of which, Marchin’ Already reached number one in 1997. The band’s biggest hits include The Riverboat Song and The Day We Caught The Train.
Continuing with the theme of Brit Pop icons, James Walsh of Star Sailor Fame will be appearing to play some stunning cuts from his recent album ‘Tiger On The Bridge’ and more.
Giving some strong yorkshire representation on Friday are Fling, an up and coming Bradford band who specialise in creating self described ‘wonky pop’ tunes. Recently they signed to iconic Leeds label Dance To The Radio who are responsible for publishing work from bands including Forward Russia, Dead Naked Hippies and Grammatics.
Also performing on this day are Idles. Idles are at the epicentre of the punk revival that has taken the industry by storm recently and sold out an entire UK tour last autumn off the back of their album Joy as an Act of Resistance.
Saturday provides a compelling mix of established and emerging indie acts. After taking a long hiatus from 2010 till late 2018, Doves are well and truly back. The band are responsible for brilliant tracks including Black & White Town and There Goes The Fear Again.
The second day of the festival includes performances from Tom Grennan, Circa Waves, Anteros, The Blinders and more. Tom Grennan has managed to gain a legion of fans, release some fantastic tracks such as ‘Royal Highness’ and ‘Sober’ and even bag a world record for performing the most gigs in 12 hours.
Circa Waves, one of the newly announced acts are one of the UK’s best loved indie acts. Their sunny indie first caught people’s attention back in 2015 with their debut album Young Chasers.
Doncaster band The Blinders have quickly risen to the top of the indie pile for their political lyrics and wild live shows. Their dystopian debut record ‘Columbia’ is a strong statement of intent.
Another Yorkshire band playing who will need little introduction are Leeds natives Marsicans who the national music press can’t get enough of.
Sunday 1st September at Bingley Weekender has a billing of epic proportions. Headliners James are regarded as one of the prolific bands that arose from the Madchester scene. Their discography includes tracks such as Sit Down and Laid.
In addition, Sunday includes performances from iconic British acts Miles Kane and Billy Bragg. Bookings including The Night Cafe, The Snuts, Ten Tonnes and local lads The Indigo Project ensure that festival goers get to see some of the next generation of up-and-coming bands.
Although music is the primary focus of the fantastic new festival, there is so much more to Bingley Weekender. The boutique, family friendly festival will include street art, comedy, great food and opportunities to camp/ glamp depending on your preferences.
Although there are no more early bird tickets left, a limited number or tier one tickets are now on sale for adults and children.
For tickets and more information head to: https://www.bingleyweekender.co.uk
Dammit Janet, Richard O’Brien’s legendary musical, The Rocky Horror Show, returns to Leeds Grand Theatre from Monday 19 to Saturday 24 August 2019.
Since first opening in London in June 1973, The Rocky Horror Show has become the world’s favourite rock ‘n’ roll musical, having been performed worldwide for 45 years in more than 30 countries and translated into over 20 languages.
Directed by Christopher Luscombe, the musical extravaganza will star Blue singer and Hollyoaks actor Duncan James as Frank, Strictly Come Dancing champion Joanne Clifton as Janet, James Darch (Maggie May) as Brad, and writer, comedian and actor Steve Punt as The Narrator. Musical numbers include Sweet Transvestite, Science Fiction/Double Feature, Dammit Janet and, of course, the timeless floor-filler, The Time Warp.
The Rocky Horror Show tells the story of Brad and his fiancée Janet, two squeaky clean college kids who meet Dr Frank-n-Furter by chance when their car breaks down outside his house whilst on their way to visit their favourite college professor. It’s an adventure they’ll never forget.
Duncan James said: “Frank is such an iconic role, it’s an honour to be able to play him and a role that I have always wanted to do. I’m so excited to be touring with such a fun and vibrant show, and to be working with this fantastic cast.”
Joanne Clifton added: “I've always loved Rocky Horror. I learnt the Time Warp in my dance classes in Grimsby when I was 4 years old ... 30 years later and I’ll be jumping to the left on the actual Rocky Horrorstage, I can't quite believe it!”
Be warned, this show has rude parts!
The Rocky Horror Show is at Leeds Grand Theatre from Monday 19 to Saturday 24 August 2019
Book online at leedsgrandtheatre.com or call Box Office on 0844 848 2700
The Rocky Horror Show first began life in 1973 before an audience of just 63 people in the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. It was an immediate success and transferred to the Chelsea Classic Cinema, before going on to run at the Kings Road Theatre, 1973-79 and the Comedy Theatre in the West End, 1979-80. Many stars, including Russell Crowe, Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Jerry Springer, Jason Donovan and Meatloaf have appeared in the iconic stage show over the past 45 years.
In 1975 it was transformed into a film called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This film adaptation took over $135 million at the Box Office and is still shown in cinemas around the world more than 40 years after its premiere, making it the longest running theatrical release in cinema history.
In 2015, as part of a sold-out season at London’s Playhouse Theatre, a special star-studded Gala charity performance in aid of Amnesty International was broadcast to over 600 cinemas across the UK and Europe. The live screening - featuring a host of celebrities playing The Narrator, including Stephen Fry, Mel Giedroyc, Emma Bunton, Ade Edmondson, Anthony Head and Richard O’Brien - smashed box office records and was the biggest grossing film in cinemas across the UK. The performance was subsequently screened on the Sky Arts channel.
Columbia – Miracle Chance; Eddie/Dr Scott – Ross Chisari; Rocky – Callum Evans; Magenta/Usherette – Laura Harrison; Phantom – Reece Budin; Phantom – Shelby Farmer; Phantom – Katie Monks; Phantom – Jake Small; Swing & Resident Choreographer – Andrew Ahern; Swing & Dance Captain – Maddie Hope Coelho
Twitter: @rockyhorroruk I Facebook: /rockyhorrorshow
8/6/2019 0 Comments
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner…” is one of the most memorable quotes from Dirty Dancing as the story dances into the finale, but whilst we all love the film, how does it fare on stage?
Sophie Mei Lan went to review Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage at Leeds Grand Theatre as it concludes its 2018/19 UK tour.
Dirty Dancing is one of the only films I can watch time and time again. From the lifts and the steps to the love story and comical moments. It’s an absolute timeless classic.
So I jumped at the chance to see Dirty Dancing in Leeds and what better way to spend a Monday evening?
The show stars Michael O’Reilly making his professional debut as ‘Johnny Castle’, Katie Eccles (normally it’s Kira Malou) as idealistic ‘Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman’ and Millie Hood (normally it’s Simone Covele) as ‘Penny Johnson’.
The inside of the theatre was all lit in pink to mark the occasion and I just knew we were in for a feel-good treat.
Straight away we’re immersed into the Summer of ‘63 as we watch the various love and lust stories unfold at the holiday resort.
It’s a simple setting with all the cheese from the original film and it’s everything we want it to be. It doesn’t veer off from the original and why should it, as we all love it as it is?
The cast are all strong and believable and shimmy in to all the classic moments with good humour and sensitivity. It's hard to believe that it's O'Reilly's professional debut as Johnny as he fills the shoes of his character perfectly.
France aka Baby is exactly as you expect - loveable, naive and optimistic.
It’s particularly comical as Baby and Johnny practice the lifts in the water. You can’t not help but laugh and love this simple timeless production, perfect for Dirty Dancing fans like me.
We all squealed when Johnny returns through a side door of the theatre and leaps on stage to do the final show with Frances/Baby.
Produced by Karl Sydow and written by Eleanor Bergstein - script writer of the phenomenally successful 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray - the production features all the much-loved characters, original dialogue from the iconic film (plus extra scenes) and countless hit songs, including Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, Do You Love Me? and the heart stopping (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.
Dirty Dancing story
It’s the summer of 1963 and 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is about to learn some major lessons in life - as well as a thing or two about dancing.
On holiday in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents, she shows little interest in the resort activities, and instead discovers her own entertainment when she stumbles across an all-night dance party at the staff quarters. Mesmerised by the raunchy dance moves and the pounding rhythms, Baby can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle, the resort dance instructor.
Baby’s life is about to change forever as she is thrown in at the deep end as Johnny’s leading lady both on-stage and off, and two fiercely independent young spirits from different worlds come together in what will be the most challenging and triumphant summer of their lives.
You can’t help but want to join in playing Simon Says or learning to dance with them. Luckily, we were all up dancing in the auditorium at the end to finish the night off perfectly.
Dirty Dancing on Stage is everything you want it to be. And I promise you’ll be singing and dancing your way home… or maybe that’s just me.
I just want to watch it again and again!
Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage is at Leeds Grand Theatre from Monday 5 to Saturday 17 August 2019
Book online at leedsgrandtheatre.com or call Box Office on 0844 848 2700
7/20/2019 0 Comments
Julie Hesmondhalgh, Natalie Gavin, Jesse Jones and Tessa Parr are to perform in the world premiere of There Are No Beginnings, a Leeds Playhouse production by Yorkshire writer Charley Miles.
Directed by Amy Leach (Hamlet, Road, Romeo & Juliet, Leeds Playhouse), There Are No Beginnings will be the first production in the Bramall Rock Void, an intimate new theatre space created as part of the Playhouse’s capital redevelopment.
Leeds Playhouse Associate Director Amy Leach said: “Opening the Bramall Rock Void with There Are No Beginnings is a thrilling celebration of local talent. Charley Miles’ relationship began with us a number of years ago through our Furnace programme including being our Channel 4 Writer in Residence in 2017, during which she was inspired to write about what it was like to be a woman in Leeds at the time of so-called Yorkshire Ripper. She interviewed participants from our Older People’s programme and many of their stories have fed in to the narrative, creating an important and empowering story. It’s amazing to be starting the season with a production that is so rooted in the city, highlighting incredible female resilience and solidarity. The production lends itself beautifully to the Bramall Rock Void and I am honoured to be directing it with this stellar cast.”
There Are No Beginnings follows the lives of four women living in Leeds across the five years when Peter Sutcliffe dominated news headlines. The play highlights female fear, strength and survival, exploring women’s experiences during the late 1970s and shining a light on solidarity and activism born from the time, particularly the Reclaim the Night movement.
The role of June will be played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, who makes her Leeds Playhouse debut. Julie is best known for her multi-award winning role as Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, and her powerful performance alongside Olivia Colman and David Tennant in Broadchurch, both ITV. She’s joined by Otley raised Tessa Parr as Sharon, whose definitive portrayal of Hamlet at Leeds Playhouse wowed critics back in March this year. Huddersfield born Natalie Gavin joins the cast, fresh from roles on Channel 4 in Ackley Bridge and on the BBC in Line of Duty and Gentleman Jack. Newcomer Jesse Jones from Bradford completes the cast as Fiona, graduating from East 15 Acting Schoolin 2018.
There Are No Beginnings will be supported by a programme of work exploring the real-life impact of the stories explored in the play. The Playhouse is hosting a series of post-show discussions to celebrate and amplify the work happening to support women in the city.
Integrated audio description will feature as part of every performance. The Playhouse will also host its first ever Parent & Baby Performance, allowing parents to enjoy a relaxed version of the play alongside their infants (under a year old).
There Are No Beginnings, Bramall Rock Void
Friday 11 October – Saturday 2 November, Press Night Wednesday 16 October
Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online leedsplayhouse.org.uk
MORE ABOUT LEEDS PLAYHOUSE...
Leeds Playhouse opened nearly 50 years ago. It is a cultural hub, a place where people gather to tell and share stories and to engage in world class theatre. The Playhouse makes work which is pioneering and relevant, seeking out the best companies and artists to create inspirational theatre in the heart of Yorkshire. From large scale spectacles to intimate performance, the Playhouse develops and makes work for the stage, found spaces, touring, schools and community venues. As dedicated collaborators, Leeds Playhouse works regularly with other organisations from across the UK, and some of the most distinctive and original voices in theatre today. Through their Artistic Development programme Furnace, they develop work with established practitioners and find, nurture and support new voices. They cultivate artists by providing creative space for writers, directors, companies and individual theatre-makers to refine their practice at any stage of their career. The Playhouse’s sector-leading Creative Engagement team works with over 10,000 people aged 0 - 95 every year through a range of weekly workshops and exciting creative projects using theatre to open up possibilities, reaching out to refugee communities, young people, students, older people and people with learning disabilities. At the Playhouse there is always a way to get involved.
Leeds Playhouse’s Autumn/Winter 2019 season will take place back in the redeveloped theatre following a £15.8 million transformation. The new building will include improved access to and around the theatre, a new city-facing entrance and the addition of a new studio theatre, the Bramall Rock Void. The full season consists of: OPEN WEEKEND (11 – 13 October), where visitors are given the opportunity to explore and rediscover the newly transformed theatre at the heart of Quarry Hill through a series of free events; LUNG Theatre return with award-winning TROJAN HORSE (3 – 5 October); Charley Miles’ pertinent new drama THERE ARE NO BEGINNINGS opens the Bramall Rock Void (11 October – 2 November); the club night run and for adults with learning disabilities BEAUTIFUL OCTOPUS CLUB (14 October) takes place in the building for the very first time; co-production of Hanif Kureishi’s MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE (23 – 27 October) plays in the Courtyard theatre; Leeds Playhouse Youth Theatre present INFLUENCE (31 October – 2 November) at Leeds City College; FURNACE FESTIVAL 2019 returns showcasing a weekend of works in progress (13 – 16 November); Inua Ellams’ critically acclaimed BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES returns (20 – 23 November); celebrating 80 years since the iconic film THE WIZARD OF OZ (20 November – 25 January) is the Playhouse’s Christmas spectacular; Leeds Playhouse presents THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (30 November – 28 December); the The Egg and The Travelling Light present SNOW MOUSE (10 – 21 December), and the Playhouse proudly celebrates 10 years of Relaxed Performances this Christmas-time, pioneered at Leeds Playhouse and now adopted as standard practice in theatres worldwide.
Leeds audiences are encouraged to get their ‘rock’ on as the award-winning musical Rock of Ages makes its first ever visit to Leeds Grand Theatre from Monday 29 July to Saturday 3 August 2019
Now a global smash with hit seasons on Broadway, London’s West End and Las Vegas, and a star-studded Hollywood movie version starring (amongst others) Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise, Rock of Ages is an LA love story lavished with over 25 classic rock anthems, including The Final Countdown, I Want To Know What Love Is and We Built This City.
Starring in the lead role of Stacee Jaxx is boyband Blue member Antony Costa (Mon 29 Jul – Thu 1 Aug) and Strictly Come Dancing champion Kevin Clifton (Fri 2 – Sat 3 Aug). Kevin Kennedy (Coronation Street, Fat Friends The Musical), Zoe Birkett (Pop Idol) and Jodie Steele (Heathers The Musical) also star in the ultimate 80s rock ‘n’ roll musical.
Antony Costa and Blue have had three number one albums, previous theatre credits include the role of Mickey Johnstone in the West End production of Blood Brothers and the UK tour of Save The Last Dance For Me. Most recently he played the role of Roger Meadows in the UK tour of A Judgement in Stone.
Kevin Clifton is an international Ballroom and Latin dancer having won numerous titles across the world, including the Britain Latin Championships four times. He is best known as a Pro Dancer on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing, and having reached the final in four consecutive series, was finally crowned Strictly champion in 2018 with television presenter and journalist Stacey Dooley. Kevin made his musical theatre debut in Dirty Dancing the Musical at the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End before going on to become a principle dancer for the Burn The Floor Dance Company, performing in the show’s record breaking Broadway run, in London’s West End and across the world. Kevin also toured nationwide with Karen Clifton in 2017 and 2018 in their theatre showKevin and Karen Dance.
Warning: contains serious rock ‘n’ roll debauchery!
Rock of Ages is at Leeds Grand Theatre from Monday 29 July to Saturday 3 August.
Book online at leedsgrandtheatre.com or call Box Office on 0844 848 2700
Following an acclaimed three-night run at Yeadon Town Hall, The Carole King Songbook is heading off on a UK tour. With 15 dates planned in, the show is set to delight audiences across the country.
The concert-style show puts a spotlight on Carole King’s songwriting genius, with performances of some of her most famous pieces as well as songs she wrote for other artists. Other great tunes from the era are also included, treating audiences to a full night of musical hits.
The world premiere of the show on Thursday 13 June saw members of the press, proud locals and audiences from further afield come together to enjoy the stunning musical showcase.
With dazzling costumes, professional tech team and a striking LED screen providing a unique and eye-catching backdrop, the show offers a toe-tapping night of entertainment.
Jamie Hudson, Director of Yeadon Town Hall, says: “The Carole King Songbookshowcases our extraordinary local talent, from our cast and musicians right through to our creative team. It’s been a fantastic journey and we’re so proud of everyone involved - now we’re looking forward to showing the rest of the country what we can do.”
The show begins its tour this June, with performances continuing throughout 2019:
6/25/2019 0 Comments
Leeds Arts Centre's current season of theatre ends with Helen Edmundson’s take on the Victorian classic, George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. Innovation and collaboration have been hallmarks of the year and this production is no exception, with Maggie Tulliver, the woman at the heart of the story, played by three actors and the rest of the cast forming an ensemble to represent the physical world around them.
The theatre group may be the oldest in Leeds, its history going back more than seventy years, but it continues to present new dramas and to develop new ways of working. For this play, Donald Edwards, artistic director of Ruff/Cut Dance Theatre and Assistant lsla Hurst have been working with the cast. Donald is a founder of Phoenix Dance Company, nominated for an Olivier Award and was the proud recipient of a Black Achievers Award (RJC) for his continued mission to bridge the space between people through dance.
“It has been a collaboration of people, diversity and creative talents emergingtogether to create a piece of theatre that is interwoven with beautiful moments by thecast and a fantastic story. It’s been a pleasure sharing experiences and working with a fantastic company of people.”
Helen Edmundson is also flying high with her version of ‘Small Island’ garnering plaudits at the National Theatre. She also wrote the play that the Oscar-winning ‘The Favourite’ grew out of and LAC have worked hard to make sure her clever way of storytelling is truly brought to life.
LAC’s performance will add to the 200th birthday celebrations of the author Mary Ann Evans, known to the world as George Eliot. Eliot was famous for her desire to escape the stereotype of women's writing as light-hearted romance; instead she wrote this impassioned story of Maggie Tulliver: bound by convention, torn by love and determined to go her own way.
The Mill on the Floss opens on Thursday 27th June for three nights on the main stage at the Carriageworks.
LAC offers exclusive discounts for students at 10% off. Use code MOTF19.
Book online at https://www.carriageworkstheatre.co.uk/whats-on/drama/the-mill-on-the- floss/4584 or in person at Leeds Town Hall Box Office, £10 concessions and £13.49 for standard tickets.
6/20/2019 0 Comments
Standing on a rooftop sipping rhubarb gin as we watched the sun setting, it’s hard to believe we were overlooking the city of Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
Blog Up North influencers Victoria Chic, Sarah Louise and I had been eating at The Yorkshire Deli which comprises of two floors and a rooftop to eat and drink.
The deli is a hidden gem amongst a busy Wakefield street.
We opted to sit downstairs to eat an array of deli-style dishes. It was also the weekend of the Long Division Music Festival so they had a singer on who was brilliant and took requests.
We shared a large platter between two of us and Sarah had a vegetarian lasagne.
Our platter included Brie, stuffed olives, vine leaves, red peppers, garlic and bread. Sarah loved her lasagne and none of us could finish what we had ordered as we were fully.
We then ordered gin and tonics to take up to the rooftop area which you enter via the stylish upstairs dining area.
We couldn’t believe how gorgeous the rooftop area is, it felt as if we were on holiday as the sun was setting, the music playing and we were sipping our drinks.
This was highlight of our night. We spent ages just chatting and drinking overlooking the city centre.
It’s a stylish yet cosy venue with a large selection of hot and cold food.
It felt a little cramped as everyone was downstairs enjoying the entertainment. But everything else was close to perfection.
It was the perfect way to start a night out in Wakefield. All of us definitely want to return as it catered for all of our tastes and dietary requirements.
That’s not to mention one of the most instagrammable spots in Wakefield.
A contemporary new production of Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby has opened at Leeds Playhouse. Playing now until Saturday 1 June, Be My Baby marks the end of the Pop-Up Season at the Playhouse, created whilst the main theatre building undergoes a capital redevelopment.
Production images reveal the all-female ensemble company of Leeds Playhouse performing the touching production. Designed by the award-winning Amanda Stoodley (Europe, Around The World in 80 Days, Leeds Playhouse), the production gives a nod to the 1960s weaving in a well-known soundtrack to a story of innocence and hope set in a maternity home for unmarried young, pregnant women.
19-year old Mary is seven months pregnant when her mother delivers her into the charge of St Saviours. As Mary, Dolores, Queenie and Norma bond over music, they begin to understand what it means to give their children to the Welfare Service and Mary realises she must fight to take her baby home.
The female Ensemble Company is Tessa Parr fresh from her role in the critically acclaimedHamlet. She’s joined by Anna Gray as Norma, Jo Mousley as Mrs Adams, Crystal Condie as Queenie, Simona Bitmate as Mary and Susan Twist as Matron.
Be My Baby is produced in association with Mind the Gap Theatre Company and plays in Leeds Playhouse’s Pop-Up theatre, in association with SOYO Leeds, until 1 June.
The last show in Leeds Playhouse’s pop-up theatre is almost defined by missed opportunities. On its surface a story about young women being pressured into giving up their children for adoption against their will due to the societal pressures of the early 60s could really have had some real emotional weight; but this particular production never really gets there.
The story uses the slightly tired trope of placing a middle class protagonist into a setting that would be unusual for them, as though a theatre audience couldn’t possibly understand the point of view of anyone else. We follow Mary (Simona Bitmate) a 19 year old from a “good family” who has managed to hide her pregnancy from her family for 7 months and after confessing to her mother has been secretly placed in a home for unmarried women. Under the care of The Matron (Susan Twist) she will work in the laundry with 3 other young women; Queenie (Crystal Condie ), a working class lass who longs to be a singer; Dolores (Tessa Parr), a kind but naive and girl who holds onto her Romantic ideals; and Nora (Anna Gray), a young woman with learning disabilities who doesn’t like to talk about her past. As they all wait for the secret birth of, and separation from, their children.
The production is clearly intended to be mix of high drama, humour and musical nostalgia; but it just comes off as being tonally confused. Never committing hard enough to any of these elements for them to pay off that well. I just couldn't provide either gut wrenching emotional scenes, or a particularly memorable laugh out loud moment. Overly relying on a joke at our characters expense whereby they don’t really know what childbirth entails, a lot of the humour didn’t really land for me.
This show is visually and stylistically very sparse. Amanda Stoodley’s design offering up a grey aesthetic evoking the austere, puritan surroundings of the home that these young women inhabit. Hard cubic slab-like “beds” dominate the stage, but rather than working as a symbol for the overall discomfort of the situation they have been decked out in LED lights that make them reminiscent of a boy racer’s dream car. A somewhat peculiar decision that undercuts the severity of the of overall look. Needless to say I was longing for some sort of visual flair that could cut through and heighten a key moment in some way. The closest we got to this was during the climactic moments of the show where Mary is giving birth. There’s a bizarre sequence in which the action stops, she is positioned in a stark spotlight and slowly reaches up toward the light - then matter of factly removes her prosthetic pregnancy bump, sits down and is handed her “baby”. It doesn’t reference any other part of the show, it didn’t tell me anything about how she was feeling, it was just jarring and odd.
Jarring and odd sums up a lot of the decisions made in this show. Chiefly the use of music. Very clearly the characters talk about music as escapism and a lifeline, especially for the character of Queenie who becomes very distressed at one point at the thought of losing access to a record player; but in the show these saccharine pop songs from the early 60s about love and marriage seem to just bookend scenes. The cast perform them well, but I never felt like this was a ray of light in our characters lives, in fact those characters were just dropped for a bit to indulge in a musical interlude.
Which is all a shame because this cast is clearly capable of a lot more if they had been given the opportunity. For example Susan Twist has a towering and imposing presence as The Matron, whose control could have been felt throughout the show a lot more. Offering an austere, Nurse Ratched-esque antagonist whose control we all hope that our cast of young women can break free from; but the show doesn’t really portray that. In fact for much of the show they seem to have relative autonomy and freedom which runs counter to the story that’s being told. Similarly Anna Gray, an actor with learning disabilities herself, was brought into the Playhouse’s ensemble to lend authenticity to the portrayal of Norma. Throughout the show she shows really striking emotional range in her performance but for some reason she is introduced to the audience in a manner that is almost tailor made not to play to any of her strengths: reading from a medical textbook, where the dense language was an unwelcome barrier to her portrayal of the character.
To sum up Be My Baby is a bit of a drab, lifeless production, that leans on nostalgic music to carry people’s attention. It never feels like anyone involved in making it really got to grips with why they were telling this story right now. So it ended up feeling like it wasn’t really about anything.
Be My Baby, Leeds Playhouse’s Pop-Up theatre
11 May – Sat 1 June, Press Night Thursday 16th May, 7.30pm
Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online leedsplayhouse.org.uk
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