Leeds Playhouse and Opera North’s innovative co-production of beatboxer Testament’s Orpheus in The Record Shop has won a slot in the BBC Lights up programme.
Orpheus In the Record Store was originally staged at Leeds Playhouse in October 2020 as part of the Connected Voices co-production season with Opera North fusing classic and contemporary theatre on the themes of isolation, connection, resilience and reflection.
Leeds-based rapper, writer and world record holding beatboxer Testament was commissioned to explore the power of the solo voice, within a communal space and the relationship between performer and audience.
Testament’s beatboxing weaved round musicians from the Orchestra of Opera North that gave the Greek myth of Orpheus a contemporary Yorkshire twist. There was something intensely moving watching the joy on the faces of highly trained classical musicians responding to Testament’s powerful words.
“This bold, collaborative performance by Testament and the Orchestra of Opera North gives us a unique opportunity to look back at what we created in the testing times of 2020 while also looking forward to the work to come in 2021, when we will be welcoming audiences back into the building to celebrate both our 50th year and the joy of live theatre,” says James Brining, Artistic Director of Leeds Playhouse.
BBC Lights Up is a season of plays for BBC TV and radio produced in partnership with theatres across the UK, and continuing BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.
“BBC Lights Up is a major broadcast season celebrating the creativity and resilience of UK theatre in its darkest hour” says Jonty Claypole, BBC Director of Arts. “It’s that seemingly impossible thing: a theatre festival in the midst of a pandemic, consisting of eighteen original productions from theatres and producers right across the UK.
And for Testament the collaboration that took him way out of his comfort zone worked way beyond his expectations.
“The creation of Orpheus In The Record Shop was an intense and fiercely contended pursuit,” recalls Testament. “The nature of lockdown, the exciting last-minute commission, and the time and resource limitations forced me, director Aletta Collins and dramaturg Amy Leach to be as innovative as we could”.
“The positive response has caught me entirely off guard and makes me very grateful for my collaborators, musicians and for Leeds Playhouse and Opera North taking a chance on a project that ended up growing into something very different from where we started. The play is a tangle of emotions: bitterness, regret, joy, fear and ultimately belief in love in its universal sense”.
“Being asked to work further on the piece to prepare it for television has been a huge challenge, and my hope is that the laughter, music and messages within it will be an encouragement to us all”.
Orpheus In The Record Shop will be broadcast on BBC Four and released on BBC iPlayer this spring.