To kick off their delayed 50th birthday celebrations the Playhouse team commissioned both experienced and newer creatives to create short monologues boldly trying to meld the history of Leeds and events across the north over six decades since they opened their doors..
They are offering all six as the King Lear of monologues, or two lots of three like tonight’s offering spanning three decades. There may be some obscure artistic reasoning behind this but it seems odd to run them out of sequence as doing so might have added to their power.
As a veteran of the eighties Leeds anarchist and squat scene it must have tempting for Alice Nutter to offer a sugar-coated version of that scene, but typically in Nicer Than Orange Squash she offers an often funny indictment of the hypocrisy and misogyny that lurks in her fictional dingy squat.
Loz has moved from Burnley to live with her smelly Svengali Gaz who is nursing a big secret. Evie Manning’s lively direction allows Isobel Coward as the former café worker turned anarchist the freedom to roam Amanda Stoodley’s basic, but strangely, effective stage made of scaffolding poles as she vents her rage. Coward beautifully essays Loz’s journey from a naïve young woman who finally finds her own way standing up to the middle-class posers who mock the only proletarian in the dump they inhabit.
Many veteran actors would be wary of taking on a monologue so kudos to 15-year- old Connor Elliott making his Playhouse debut in The Bodyguard. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage successfully switches to prose taking us back to when Leeds – and the north – was living under a long shadow during Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror as he murdered and assaulted women.
Teenager Wilf is trying to make sense of new PM Margaret Thatcher with her odd hair, punk rock and his hormones as he girds his loins preparing to venture out into the night to escort his mum back from the bus stop in a dark time where women couldn’t walk home alone. The Playhouse rightly deployed their artistic director James Brining to guide this young actor through what is a challenge for any actor, but Elliott offers an assured performance that suggests we will see much more of him if he chooses to treat the boards as a career.
The Unknown is much more reflective as disabled mixed race woman Sophia contemplating the millennium from the floor of her flat as she gazes longingly at the gold dress she was going to wear for a big night at the Majestyk nightclub in town.
As well as reflecting the city’s big club scene in the 1990s, and into the next decade, Leanne Benjamin explores the nature of change and a life altering one at that. Amanda Huxtable’s direction makes light of the lack of movement as does Nicola Botha’s dignified performance on her professional debut
This second set of monologues was much more consistent, but all six have something to say, delivered by high quality creatives who were clearly desperate to get back to what defines them. If the rest of the Playhouse’s 50th celebrations are as good as this then our return to live theatre will be a key part of the collective recovery we all need so badly after months of not being able to sit in a dark room with other human beings.
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
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 25th May 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
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