Leeds Playhouse – until Saturday 23rd June 2018
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
Searching For The Heart of Leeds is the final production before the Playhouse closes its door for its capital redevelopment programme which will take place over 2018/19 season. The production could not come at a better time when the theatre is celebrating 50 years of its existence and it was announced earlier in the day that theatre will revert to being called Leeds Playhouse – its original name.
Written by Mark Catley and directed by Alexander Ferris Searching For The Heart of Leeds is about stories within a story. Catley, with the help from the theatre’s award-winning Creative Engagement Team, looked at many stories from a cross-section of many communities across Leeds and chose a kaleidoscope of stories that make Leeds what it is. 70 local people were selected through open auditions and applications to perform their inspiring and moving stories on stage.
The performer, Hopi Gavin-Allen, is tasked to find stories and establish what the heart of Leeds is for a community play. She goes about asking a number of passer-bys across the city and listens to stories old and new which are shared from a wide diverse background – no story is the same but there is a lot in common with its shared industrial and social history, the nostalgia and modernism and issues that many have to face. Such issues include increased cost of living, mental health issues, homelessness, loneliness and social isolation, prejudices and so on.
Such stories are shared via different mediums individually and collectively through music, voice, song, dance and movement. The cast is accompanied by the live band on stage who plays the music and sing songs by Leeds musicians including Soft Cell and Chumbawamba and the local performers are supported by Charis Charles from Phoenix Dance Theatre and Christella Litras for movement and music respectively. A number of local choirs are also engaged in the production from the city’s cross section of the community.
Katie Scott’s simplistic stage, supported with David Bennion-Pedley’s lighting and Rob Landells’ sound, is ideal and not distracting for a community play which focuses on the heart of the performers’ stories.
The stories that are shared sum up the Heart of Leeds and the city continues to welcome change, social and urban landscapes that keep on evolving, and people in general are proud of their city. There will always be life challenges but there are people out there who are passionate about the city and making a difference in the community such as welcoming asylum seekers and refugees at English conversation clubs. There are also many communities’ events such as the long running of the West Indian Carnival and currently the Great Get Togethers that are happening in Leeds and beyond that will promote community cohesion and intergeneration.
It is the people that make the heart of Leeds as Gavin Allen concludes that she has seen her personal journey from being anti-social and frustrated to positive social and it is the people now and not then. This is the spirit the Leeds Playhouse is achieving with the theatre being a place of stories and the heart of Leeds. Their forthcoming redevelopment project will cement more this positive spirit and it become more than just a theatre.
Searching For The Heart of Leeds is an excellent production and is delivered by passionate performers who care about Leeds and the communities they live in. They are supported well with the creative and backstage team.