It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Leeds Playhouse with its fun festive family show, The Night BeforeChristmas, perfect for young children.
Yorkshire Families went along to the Courtyard Theatre in Leeds Playhouse for the latest production at the new facilities.
After marching through the hustle and bustle of Leeds City Centre at Rush Hour, we were relieved to be able to escape into the stunning purpose-built building that is Leeds Playhouse’s new home. The city facing entrance helps to make the theatre feel more accessible. The bright lights were a welcome aim in the darkness.
We made our wait into the Courtyard Theatre to review The Night Before Christmas, perfect for 3-6 year olds (there’s also Snow Mouse on at the moment for 0-3 year olds and The Wizard of Oz for older children).
My friend and I had brought along our there kids straight from school, so we were all a bit stressed and rushed as we took to our seats.
But within moments, we were transported to the gentle land of Carol and Elf at home on Christmas Eve.
The show is all in sign language and rather than it be an addition it is an integral part of the characters;’ communication on stage, which was great to see.
All the stresses of Christmas seemed to whirl away into the twinkling stars above Carol’s house.
The setting is simple and the show features two main characters who communicate through sign language, speech and “Elvish.” I wasn’t sure how the kids would react to such a calm production but surprisingly they were engulfed into the beautiful friendship between Carol and elf.
There were nice touches of dancing and costume changes too as well as lovely parts where the characters came into the audience.
As the snow settled on Carol’s house ready for Christmas Day, we too felt relaxed and in the Christmas Spirit for the big day.
The Official Lowdown
Production imagesgive a glimpse of the twinkly Christmas Eve sky above the small, neat home of Carol (Alexandra James) as she prepares for another ordinary day in her ordinary life. But then something extraordinary happens. Elf (Lladel Bryant) drops in – literally – and turns her world upside down, leading to rooftop adventures, ice dancing, a search for Santa and, best of all, a firm festive friendship.
The NightBeforeChristmas by Robert Alan Evans(Crumble’s Search for Christmas, Kes, Leeds Playhouse) proved a big hit with audiences of all ages when it was first staged at Leeds Playhouse in 2015. Now, director Amy Leach (A ChristmasCarol, Kes, Leeds Playhouse) has added a dynamic new dimension for Christmas 2019, introducing creative use of sign language to make every performance D/deaf friendly, while giving Carol the perfect tool to communicate with Elf, who only speaks Elvish.
A very different format to the traditional Christmas pantomime, Rock ’n’ Roll Pantomimes mix traditional elements of audience participation and corny gags with a jukebox full of classic rock anthems and chart-toppers – performed live on stage at City Varieties in Leeds, by a talented cast of actor-musicians. Be sure to keep your wits about you though, or you may just get rocked by the legendary Boulder Battle!
In what will be his ninth year playing ‘The Fool’ in the legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime at City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds lad Kenny Davies reveals why he keeps coming back for more.
Kenny knew he wanted to be an actor from a very early age when his grandmother bought him a plastic guitar that he ‘played’ for family and friends. A pupil at Intake High School, he performed in most school plays and swapped his plastic guitar for a real one, also learning to play the keyboard and drums. He went on to study at Rose Bruford College, London, from where he graduated with a BA Hons Degree in Actor Musicianship. With stage and TV credits to his name, Kenny is best known in his home city for appearing in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime at The Varieties.
Q: This will be your ninth Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime – what keeps you coming back for more?
A: Apart from Yorkshire being the best county in the UK (!), one of the main reasons I keep coming back is because Leeds is my home town and I feel that I have a connection with The Varieties; I have been performing in shows at the world-famous venue since my first Youth Theatre appearance back in 2000. It’s a tradition now; when I think of Christmas, I think of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto!
Q: Why do you prefer Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime over traditional?
A: The reason I love to perform in Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantos over traditional ones is because you get two shows in one – as well as the acting and dancing, you also have the live music aspect. The thrill of being an actor-musician in a show like this is being able to play multiple instruments on stage in front of a live audience – I think this truly improves the experience as the band forms a connection with the audience; it’s organic.
Q: You always play The Fool who never gets the girl – do you not fancy playing Prince Charming to ensure your ‘happily ever after’?!
A: I love playing The Fool as I love slapstick and making people laugh. As for getting the girl, who knows, maybe this year will be my lucky year!
Q: What has been your favourite Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime to date? And for what reason?
A: I have loved all the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantos, I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite.
Q: What has been your favourite part to play? And favourite song to sing?
A: I’ve enjoyed every part I’ve played over the years, but I feel like Buttons has the edge. I’ve played Buttons twice (2012 and 2018), but both times have felt completely different because I’ve worked with a different cast each time. As for my favourite song, I loved singing I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) in Robin Hood.
Q: Can you share any funny stories?
A: When I played Buttons in 2018, I had to wear a yellow wig as part of my costume. In one scene I get bashed on the head and thrown in the well. All was going fine until in one performance, when, as I was bashed, my wig flew off my head and landed in an audience members lap. It was rather embarrassing for both me and the audience member who politely passed it back to me!
Q: Can you divulge any times when things have gone wrong?
A: Due to the nature of the part I play, there are lots of times when I must fall over, walk into a wall, get bashed on the head etc. During Robin Hood there was one scene where I get hit with a mallet – due to a spacing issue, instead of the mallet missing my head, it connected with my face and bust my lip – the show still went on!
Q: Any quirky pre-show rituals?
A: No rituals but I do love pre-show as we (the cast) get the chance to interact with the audience as they are taking their seats. It gives us an opportunity to fire them up and get them excited. We also get to tell the children to shout and be loud – and it provides a great excuse to pinch the audience’s sweets!
Q: And finally, what would be your dream role in any musical?
A: I would love to play the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera; it’s a role I could really get my teeth into.
Kenny can be seen playing Ruffles/Jack Frost in this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime, Red Riding Hood at City Varieties Music Hall from Friday 29 November 2019 to Sunday 12 January 2020.
“One of the secrets of its success lies with its cast of actor-musicians who waste no time in developing a great rapport with the audience in the intimate atmosphere of this historic old theatre. Full of audience participation you can cheer the goodies, hiss the baddie and shout until you are hoarse and that’s what pantomime is all about.”
(YORKSHIRE EVENING POST – Aladdin, 2017).
PLEASE NOTE: Rock ’n’ RollPantomime contains loud live music, smoke effects, flashing lights and ‘a barrage of boulders’, plus loud bangs from the ‘explosive’ action on-stage (!) We do not recommend this production to anyone under 4-years-old
Performances may last up to 2hrs 30mins (including a 20-minute interval)
Bringing a School Party? Theatrical workshops, based upon the traditions of Pantomime, are available for KS1 or KS2. The lively sessions will help pupils explore the different characters within the story, as well as the chance to create one of their own. Directly linked to literacy skills on the curriculum, it will make their visit to the theatre even more valuable and memorable
Director: Rob Salmon; Musical Director: Dan de Cruz; Designer: Judith Croft; Choreographer: Sam Spencer-Lane; Lighting Designer: Jason Salvin; Sound Designer: Tom Blackband; Production Manager: Phil Clarke.
Lucy Keirl (Red Riding Hood); Ben Mabberley (Prince Florizel); Ben Stratton (Sir Jasper / Wolf); Simon Nock (Dame); Claire Greenway (Fairy Cherry Blossom); Laura Sillett (Miss Muffet); Lana Walker (Dodgit); Mike Slader (Bodgit); Rachael Garnett(Bo Beep).
All About City Varieties Music Hall:
City Varieties Music Hall holds the record for the longest running music hall in the country. Hidden up a cobbled side street just off Briggate in the heart of Leeds City Centre, it began life in 1865 as a room above a pub called ‘Thornton’s New Music Hall and Fashionable Lounge’. Founded by landlord and benefactor Charles Thornton, it was originally established for the working people of Leeds to be entertained; its affluent sister venue, Leeds Grand Theatre, was meant only for the higher classes. The name subsequently changed to the ‘White Swan Varieties’ and then ‘Stansfield’s Varieties’ before becoming the ‘City Palace of Varieties’.
In its early years the Varieties welcomed many weird and wonderful acts including the world-renowned escapologist Harry Houdini and singer, comedian and musical theatre actress Marie Lloyd.
In 1953 the City Varieties became home to the BBC TV Series The Good Old Days; a recreation of old-time music hall featuring Leonard Sachs as the alliterative Chairman and many well-known and less-well-known performers, including Les Dawson, Barbara Windsor, Bruce Forsyth, Eartha Kitt, John Inman, Ken Dodd and Barry Cryer. The TV programme ran for 30 years until 1983.
Book online at cityvarieties.co.uk or call Box Office on 0113 243 08 08.
As the cast ofThe Wizard of Oz prepare to take audiences on a magical adventure along the yellow brick road at Leeds Playhouse this month, it’s time to meet Lucy Sherman and Agatha Meehan, who will star as alternate Dorothys during the festive run from 20 November 2019 to 25 January 2020.
The Wizard of Oz at Leeds Playhouse
These images show the young local actors with their new best friends, Doris and Scruff, who will be playing Toto, Dorothy’s faithful four-legged companion on her journey to the Emerald City alongside a stunning puppet designed and created by Charlie Tymms (Life of Pi, Sheffield Theatres, Running Wild, UK tour).
In this timeless story of adventure and friendship, directed by James Brining (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sunshine on Leith, Leeds Playhouse) and designed by Simon Higlett (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Leeds Playhouse), the Munchkins and a number of ensemble roles are being played by local children in two teams – Team East and Team West.
James opted to cast a young ensemble and two real-age Dorothys to heighten the tension and ramp up the energy of this timeless tale: ‘Having a child play Dorothy brings out the jeopardy of the story. As soon as a child steps into Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the whole energy of the piece changes. There’s more vulnerability and an increased sense of responsibility on behalf of the adults for the child, for someone so young and small. I’m also very conscious of having young people in the audience watching the story and identifying with the protagonist – that’s a very powerful thing.’
The Wizard of Oz will play in Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre, which reopensthis Christmas following the building’sdramatic £15.8m redevelopment.
The theatre will host a sing-along performance of The Wizard of Oz on Friday 13 December, inviting the audience to dress up,sing out and join in the fun. Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances will also be available, and there will be a selection of bespoke wrap-around and in–school activities led by the Playhouse’s award-winning Creative Engagement team.
There’s no place like home
Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining talks about his fresh, dynamic take on The Wizard of Oz – and why it’s the perfect show to mark the theatre’s first Christmas in its newly redeveloped home.
Why have you chosen The Wizard of Oz for the Playhouse’s first Christmas after its £15.8 million redevelopment?
‘The Christmas show in the Quarry at the Playhouse is a big event that attracts tens of thousands of people. For many, it’s a special occasion that marks the festive season, so we’re always looking for a show that can unite an audience in celebration.
‘The Wizard of Oz is a story of people triumphing over challenging odds. It’s full of peril, jeopardy, excitement and hope, but it should also make people feel inspired, positive and joyful.
‘Theatrically, it gives us the opportunity to make the most of the amazing space that is the Quarry Theatre. It’s a chance for us to stage a fantastic, affirmative theatrical event. The notion of ‘there’s no place like home’ is particularly interesting because, this year, we’re back in the theatre after our redevelopment. It’s brilliant to welcome people back with a show of this scale – it feels appropriate as a celebration of the monumental year we’ve had.’
What, for you, are the key themes of The Wizard of Oz? And what new elements are you striving to bring out?
‘The story is so well known but now, having worked on it so closely, I have found lots in there I hadn’t recognised or maybe had just taken for granted before. It really repays a fresh look.
‘It’s about a child who’s let down by lots of people, particularly adults, and isn’t having an easy time. She has to battle really hard to discover who she is and, in the process, she enables other people to discover who they are and what their positive and affirmative qualities are.
‘The approach we’re taking is to make it feel as inclusive as possible so that it represents a contemporary view of the world rather than an old-fashioned view. It’s a cherished story still very much set in its original time, but ours is a modern telling that’s very accessible to audiences.’
You’ve chosen two young local actors to play Dorothy – 12-year-old Agatha Meehan and 14-year-old Lucy Sherman – and have also cast a young ensemble. Why was this important to you?
‘Having a child play Dorothy brings out the jeopardy of the story. As soon as a child steps into Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the whole energy of the piece changes. There’s more vulnerability and an increased sense of responsibility on behalf of the adults for the child, for someone so young and small. I’m also very conscious of having young people in the audience watching the story and identifying with the protagonist – that’s a very powerful thing.
‘Lucy and Agatha are working so hard. The show asks a lot of them, but they are really excellent. I’m so impressed with them; they’re both very skilled and talented and also have a wonderful open enthusiasm.’
Why is the character of Dorothy still so beloved by audiences?
‘Dorothy helps liberate people and communities by her actions, and her personality – she’s always completely without ego. She takes other people along with her, inspiring them to make a change in their own lives. The potential of a child to change the world is a really powerful idea. Adults can often be much more aware of risk, failure and disappointment. What I find interesting here is that you have a child who’s put into a position where she has to act beyond her years, and she achieves everything she sets out to do.’
What can people expect from Leeds Playhouse version of The Wizard of Oz?
‘All the classic elements will be there – the ruby slippers, the yellow brick road, the Wicked Witch – but there will be so much more besides. Aerialists, puppetry, real animals – our aim is to not only match people’s expectations but to surpass them. We’re also using projections to energise the aesthetic and bring a new dynamic element to the show.
‘For me, the yellow brick road is an interesting metaphor. It’s obviously a real thing in the story but it also represents a journey, growth and companionship. Also, for me, it represents faith; not in a religious way but in the possibility of achieving something that initially seems impossible. It shows how, if you set out with purpose in good company, you can achieve a goal that you never could have imagined achieving by yourself.’
What’s your personal relationship with The Wizard of Oz?
‘I don’t know whether it’s a generational thing, but when I was growing up there were films that seemed to be on the telly all the time, every year, andThe Wizard of Oz was one of them. The story has entered the national consciousness to a certain extent. There are certain lines in it that have become iconic, almost Shakespearean in their recognisability. Like “I’ll get you my pretty” and “I’m melting” – they’ve become part of popular vernacular.’
Has working intensely on The Wizard of Oz changed your view of the story?
‘Working so closely on it means I’ve got to know it really well. The Wizard of Oz is such a complex and interesting story that it has almost taken on mythological proportions, moving beyond its narrative and becoming a powerful emotional arc.
‘The technique of having a reality that is, in effect, in a dream world is something I’ve realised I’ve done quite a lot in my other work, in other shows, almost subconsciously referencing The Wizard of Oz as a source idea. The idea that there is a reality and then there’s an alternative reality based on that reality is a very rich, dramatic and incredibly neat structure to make a piece of work from.’
Who do you think Leeds Playhouse production of The Wizard of Oz will appeal to?
‘It’s tempting to say “all the family”, but it’s a story that reaches even further than that, to people who don’t have a family, to everyone in fact. It’s a great story that, as the Playhouse, we will deliver with an integrity, depth and warmth.’
What makes The Wizard of Oz in the Quarry special? What sets it apart?
‘For me, it’s not just about the songs and the spectacular elements, it’s about interrogating the story, and making it clear and gripping and exciting. I want to make it about something; about courage and friendship and the possibility of transformation and community.
‘We will, of course, deliver on the songs and the dancing and the spectacular elements, but with added dynamism and freshness. I want people to experience things they didn’t expect to see.
‘It’s a family show, but it’s also more than that. It’s a classic story, and we do classic stories very differently at the Playhouse. We respect the original, but present it in a way that feels fresh, modern and completely unexpected.’
The Wizard of Oz, Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre
20 November 2019 – 25 January 2020. Press Night Tue 26 November 2019, 7pm
With Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Background Music by Herbert Stothart
Dance and Vocal Arrangements by Peter Howard
Orchestration by Larry Wilcox as revised by Toby Higgins
Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company
Based upon the Classic Motion Picture owned by Turner Entertainment Co. and distributed in all media by Warner Bros.
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: 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 Playhouse and Leeds Corn Exchange have joined forces to host a free family friendly takeover day.
Running on Saturday December 15, the takeover will see the Corn Exchange filled with free activities and workshops for young people aged 5 – 16 and their families.
The packed programme of free events will include story dens, festive choirs and singing groups, craft activities and workshops, all inspired by Leeds Playhouse’s current yuletide offering A Christmas Carol, playing now in the Playhouse’s Pop-Up theatre. The day will be delivered by the theatre’s award-winning Creative Engagement programme. There will also be an exciting opportunity to dress up as your favourite character in a pop-up photo booth, with beautiful outfits from the theatre’s Costume Hire.
Leeds Playhouse’s Head of Young People Gaby Paradis said: “This is the first collaboration between the two Leeds organisations and we are thrilled that this free family friendly day will happen in the iconic surroundings of the Corn Exchange – it will be fantastic to see the inspiring venue filled with amazing activities the whole family can get involved in. At Leeds Playhouse we aim to make theatre as exciting and as accessible as possible and being able to host the event in the centre of Leeds and in partnership with the Corn Exchange demonstrates our commitment to opening up creative possibilities for everyone whilst showcasing some of the fantastic organisations within the city.”
Leeds Corn Exchange Centre Manager Adam Warner said: “We’re really excited to welcome Leeds Playhouse to Leeds Corn Exchange on the 15th December. It’s really important for us to create valuable relationships with key city centre partners and we feel that this partnership is a perfect fit. Leeds Corn Exchange has long been a hub of creative activity in the city and we are looking forward to welcoming their team for a unique day of workshops, live music, performances and more.”
Leeds Playhouse offers a regular dedicated programme of work for young people aged 5 – 25 consisting of creative projects, workshops and productions. Over 350 young people take part in Playhouse Youth activities each week both within the theatre building and its dedicated creative space for young people, First Floor.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we were invited to experience Meadowhall’s new interactive Christmas experience. But my fears of dragging two small children through a packed-out shopping centre were quickly allayed when I realised that the Wish upon a Star with Santa attraction is perfectly placed outside the entrance to the Oasis food court in its own pop-up tent.
As we entered the white marquee not only was I please to find that it was warm and cosy, but we were greeted by a very friendly character from the Christmas experience.
Once inside the themed tent we were immersed in a Christmas inspired theatrical production. This marked the start of our Wish upon a Star journey.
My family, fellow bloggers Trips with a Tot and Man Vs Baby and I, were introduced to the story behind Wish upon a Star.
All our children eagerly watched on as they were transported into a magical world of wishes. They were led into the first room and welcomed by the next character who introduced a short film about making wishes. So, we all sat on little logs and put on star themed headsets.
We watched a short film before being guided into the next part of the story.
At this point I felt as if I had been transported into a magical set from CBeebies. Next was a male character with a telescope and he too told the next part of the story. All the children were then invited to truly experience the magic and look at the stars through the telescope.
After that we were led into a workshop room to make our own stars to wish on. Another character led this part of the journey. The children were all seated around a wooden table as they decorated their own stars to hang on the Christmas tree and to use to make wishes.
Whilst the children were busy making their own sparkling stars we were then invited into a magic room. Inside this room was Santa himself who greeted my family and I. Santa told us about the true meaning of Christmas and asked Jasmine and Arianna to make a wish for someone else.
This was a really nice touch rather than just them receiving presents. They struggled to think of someone other than themselves at first but once they thought of their Auntie Gemma in New York for me the true magic then happened as I realised that Jasmine was really missing seeing her auntie at Christmas.
After they had made wishes and we had had a family photo the girls were then treated to a gift each from Santa.
That was the end of our experience and we were given a print of our family photo with Santa and you can also buy a range of bespoke products.
The Wish upon a Star experience with Santa lasted around 30 minutes which was the perfect length of time for my young daughters aged three and six years old.
It was a really enjoyable experience for the whole family and it was one of the best Santa experiences we have been to. I particularly loved the characters who put the children at ease and made the whole experience extremely magical.
For me, it was great to have a Christmas adventure which was about wishes rather than gifts because a wish can be for something much more wonderful than any material thing and, most importantly a wish can be for somebody else.
So, forget the gift lists and make your Christmas more magical by wishing for other people and also this is a great opportunity to spend time with the family.
Meadowhall’s Wish Upon a Star with Santa experience is open until Monday 24 December 2018. Sessions will run daily from 10am-5pm on week days and 9am – 5pm on weekends and Friday 21st and Monday 24th December. Accessible, quiet sessions are also scheduled on Tuesdays from 10-11am, allowing smaller groups of children to enjoy a little extra time in a calmer environment.
Spaces are limited so early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment. Tickets are priced at £3.00* for adults and £6.00* for children (*plus booking fee) and can only be purchased online in advance.