Leeds Playhouse kick off their 50th anniversary celebrations and reopen the doors with six short monologues written by a mix of new and experienced writers.
Decades: Stories From The City takes a particular decade from across the Playhouse’s lifespan covering the 1970s to the 2020s, tracing how their home city has changed over that time.
As this is their first set of shows after lockdown the Playhouse have also recruited a strong cast of directors, including Leeds Playhouse’s Artistic Director James Brining who is joined in the rehearsal spaces by Associate Director Amy Leach and RTYDS Resident Assistant Director Sameena Hussain, Evie Manning of Common Wealth Theatre and Theatre State’s Tess Seddon.
The hugely experienced Amanda Huxtable directs Leanna Benjamin’s The Unknown as a new century dawns in Leeds. Nicole Botha makes her professional debut as Sophia preparing to hit the clubs, but wondering just what the 2000s hold for her.
So Amanda, what is Decades?
Decades is a celebration of Leeds, and Leeds Playhouse is the centre of that conversation, so it’s a really great opportunity to have six writers, six cast members, six directors telling the story of Leeds from the seventies through to right now. So we get to see every 10 years and what that means from a character’s point of view having lived in Leeds.
It’s an interesting mix of new and more established talent like Maxine Peake who has written one of the monologues. That must create an interesting creative atmosphere?
Simon Armitage kicks us off with the 1970s and we’ve got Alice Nutter, who you know from the Chumbwamba days. It’s a lovely mix of people, and what I think is really exciting about this is it’s not just about the heavyweights, but the heavyweights to be. So you have your brand new writers coming through who have an opportunity to shine their light and be supported by a solid, respected, know what they are doing company. Leeds Playhouse has been doing this for a very long time, so it’s really good to have that opportunity for those who have less opportunities through the decades to tell their stories. It’s good to see the fresh writers, and ones who have a little bit more game, side by side going through the same process.
It struck me that trying to capture the spirit of a decade in around 20 minutes must be a bit tricky?
It’s a challenge. If you’ve got 20 minutes to tell a story you have to tell it well, you have to tell it tightly and land it.
Tell me some about The Unknown which you are directing?
The story, written by Leanna Benjamin, is telling the story of the 2000s. We’re going into the millennium and it’s a historical moment. Sophia is telling her story, it’s a night out, a mixed race woman in her space about to go to Majestyks. What’s the millennium about for her?
Do you have particular memories of that almost pre-internet time when you actually needed a camera to take a photo?
My age group, I’m knocking on the door of 50, we were talking about glitches, we thought the computers were going down and everything would be lost. We’d only just got used to having all these emails. It was a bit frightening, but not too frightening as we did definitely go out to enjoy ourselves, but we came back and realised the phones and computers were fine.
This piece seems to focus on the massive club scene in Leeds at that time, so will non-clubbers get something out of this?
Leeds is more that its centre. I totally celebrate the fact it is a homogeneous place which people come to and come out of. It’s also surrounded by its hills and surrounded by all sorts of very different communities. Leanna speaks to that as it’s about one person’s voice who just wants a night out, but it’s about her life, and what is to be expected in the next part of that. It’s about how we have enjoyed or shared Leeds together.
Does Decades look to trace the events and people that have shaped Leeds warts and all?
I think it attempts to and Decades is a good starting point of conversation. There’s no way six pieces even with these heavyweights of 20 minutes each could we start to begin to talk about that complexity of the city, but it attempts to start that conversation. Back in the day we may have met six white characters, but that’s not the case here, we are going to meet all kinds of people, and it is also the complexities of Sophia. She’s a person who’s been outside the city who came back and choose to live here. It’s very much my story, although not born here, certainly it’s a city I’ve known for a very long time, and taken to my heart.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Decades?
Let’s be really clear we’re doing this in the COVID era as a return. We’ve all gone through whatever this last year so I’ll just be glad to see people back in, to be engaging and this is a celebration of let’s get back in safety, the wheels are turning back in the cultural industry and theatre’s coming back. We made it, we’re here, after that then it’s about what are we making, who is making it, what did that provoke. Leanna Benjamin has written something special as I said from the very first day, how many times do I get hear a black disabled woman’s story on our stages in Britain. I have unfortunately in my career have not had the opportunity as much as I’d liked to have done, but I’m very proud that finally this opportunity is here. Hopefully long may it reign as it’s important this character, in particular, takes centre stage and tells their very important story.
The productions can be experienced live at the theatre, either as six pieces in one evening or in two sets of three. The show will also be available online via Playhouse: At Home. All performances will include creative audio description.
Decades runs in Leeds Playhouse Courtyard Theatre and At Home from Wednesday 19th – Saturday 29th May.
Available online At Home Monday 24th May – Saturday 5th June. Book online at www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk or over the phone 0113 213 7700.