In part two of our interview with Leeds Playhouse Associate Director Amy Leach our features editor Paul Clarke asks whether people will get bored with the theatre’s new ensemble and can that team of actors deliver the theatre’s traditional Christmas hit.
Usually when you go to a major regional theatre you are seeing a show with a brand new cast but if you go to Leeds Playhouse over the next year you will see some familiar faces.
That’s because while they close their main spaces for multi-million pound refurbishment they have brought together an ensemble of 10 actors who will appear in all their productions until they reopen the doors in 2019.
Associate Director Amy Leach has already steered the ensemble through a critically acclaimed production of Jim Cartwright’s Road, and she is confident audiences won’t get bored seeing this group of versatile actors.
“I remember going to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton quite a lot because I grew up in Darwen, and at that time a lot the same actors came back and back into different plays,” recalls Amy. “I remember me and mum saying ‘oh, we saw him in that thing and now he is playing that thing’. So I think there is a joy to seeing someone, as long as they are good, playing that drunken woman and that old lady to playing Polonius, or a matron in Be My Baby.
“Even in one play that is exciting, so within Road people watch Rob Pickavance go from playing this reminiscing old man to this absolutely drunken lout because we reveal in seeing that transformation, which is what is exciting about theatre as opposed to any other art form like TV. Hopefully that will a virtue and we won’t bore people.”
So the big question is when the renovated Playhouse reopens next year will there be an ensemble?
“I think in terms of the desire to do it is we probably love to do it again. It’s more just practically as we’ve able to do it because it’s such an unusual year for the Playhouse as in a normal year we’d programme a lot more show that are co-productions, visiting work, and so actually the potential to do an ensemble in a normal year is quite impossible really.
“They have only done it once before, which was back with Ian McKellen many, many years ago, and we may well consider a short season like McKellen’s, where they did three plays that played in rep for a shorter period of time. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repeat quite this length of time, or this experience again, because in a normal year it isn’t now how we normally programme, which felt all the more reason to do it when we could.”
So the message for local theatre fans is clear - enjoy this ensemble experience while you can as it likely to be a once in a generation chance to see actors grow together over a year. There is additional pressure on the ensemble as since James Brining took over as Artistic Director he has revamped their Christmas offer with spectacular hits like Strictly Ballroom, and last year’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
This year the ensemble are tackling A Christmas Carol in the much smaller Pop Up Theatre, but Amy is confident that it will be another hit.
“It’s a ghost story so it demands a detail that will work really well in that space,” is Amy’s firm response. ”We went for A Christmas Carol for a number of reasons, and one was that it is an interesting Christmas story as it is not particularly child friendly for really little kids.
“One thing we can’t do a lot of is matinees in the pop up because of the building work, and what is great about Christmas Carol is a lot of adults come along to watch it, and don’t feel the need to bring a child with them.
“This particular adaption was originally set in the dockyards of Hull when I did it there last year, and now it’s set in the in the docks down by the Leeds/Liverpool canal. The industrial feel of that space will really suit the design we have, and the feeling of it being the industrial space in Scrooge’s warehouse.”
The other challenge for Amy and the troupe of actors is they will performing in the temporary Pop Up theatre, which is a fantastic space, but has very little of the technical wizardry that the Quarry Theatre offered the casts of previous Christmas hits.
“The thing we don’t have that we normally would is things like trapdoors or wing space so the way we made this Christmas Carol it happens that the Hull Truck is quite similar to the Pop Up in that it is a thrust space, and doesn’t have much fly capacity. It is a piece that really plays on the ability and versatility of the ensemble to create that intimacy with beautiful lighting making it quite spooky, so it will work well in there.
“Deborah McAndrew has done the words, and she grew up in Leeds and she is Chancellor at Leeds Trinity, so it has a Northern flavour and it’s funny, it’s scary, it has singing and some dance routines. Hopefully we will scratch the itch that people now come to expect with a Christmas show at Leeds Playhouse.”
A Christmas Carol, Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up theatre Tuesday 20th November – Saturday 19th January. Box office 0113 213 7700 or online www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk