My introduction to the Nottingham Playhouse was actually my first espresso martini. They mix a fine drink at Cast, although I’m a little ashamed to say that it wasn’t until a few visits later that I came there as a paying audience member. Still, I haven’t looked back – I’ve seen music, comedy and theatre there, and I still manage to nab excellent value tickets, even though I’m no longer a concession.
Unsurprisingly, the drink handed to me on the eve of the Playhouse’s 50th anniversary launch was first-rate. And I promise that’s all I’ll write about booze for the rest of this post. The evening was a showcase for the new theatre season, which also celebrates 50 years since Peter Moro’s Grade II listed building was ready to house the company. The message that ran through the night is the same one that continues to inform the programme year after year: that ‘the theatre should belong to everybody’, as declared by its former Artistic Director John Neville.
With this in mind, a programme has been planned specially for Nottingham, connecting its people, its history, but also considering its place in the wider world. Coming up first is The Kite Runner (26 April – 18 May), a European premier of the stage adaptation of the Khaled Hosseini’s book. The play sounds fantastic, with a dedicated cast – but I’m just as excited about the extra events planned around the production. These events – most of them free – offer the same fresh perspective on Afghani culture that the book has provided many thousands of readers. Among other things, children’s kite making workshop will take place, teaching participants about a popular Afghani tradition, with the kites then being displayed in the Playhouse foyers. There will be an Afghani poetry recital, and for those interested in ideas there are a number of talks, from a discussion of women in the Middle East to a large-scale one-off book club, where readers can share their thoughts on the novel. There is also a related event at the Nottingham Refugee Forum, which explores immigration, and brings the focus back to the city and the people who come hoping to build a home here.
Nottingham is never far from the focus of any of the productions taking to the stage over the remaining months of 2013. Grandpa in My Pocket: Teamwork! by the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company (23 – 31 May), brings the childrens’ television show to life, and naturally starts its country-wide tour here. A taster video of the show suggested a fast-paced and exciting production for under-12s, with plenty of music, clever puppetry and imaginative effects.
Next up is The Ashes (27 June – 6 July), the story of Nottinghamshire cricketer Harold Larwood and England’s notorious ‘bodyline’ attack. This play has been revived to coincide with the visit of The Ashes to Trent Bridge. Giles Croft, Artistic Director for the Playhouse, had the two leads up on the stage to talk about the relationship between Larwood and his wife Lois, and the difficulties they faced as news of the notorious matches reached England.
There was (is!) still more to look forward to, as the focus moved to the Autumn season, starting with a production of 1984, adapted by Headlong as part of their mission to ‘interrogate’ popular and classic novels. Charlie Peace, written by Notts writer Michael Eaton, tells the story of the eponymous celebrity criminal of the 19th century, who spent time in hiding among the region’s Narrow Marsh. Often represented in the travelling fairground theatres of that century, Eaton has recreated the look and feel of this experience working from old playbills and scraps of song. He has formed a ‘company’ as musically versatile as it would have been in the Victorian age, and collaborated with graphic artist Eddie Campbell, who illustrated From Hell. I can’t provide any particular details on the upcoming production of Richard III, because the introductory home video sent in by Ian Bartholomew got me so excited about seeing him as the lead that I’ve just scribbled ‘Richard III! OMG!’ in my notebook. I have a feeling it’s going to be great.
And there’s still more – Jack and the Beanstalk, Kenneth Alan Taylor’s last and 30th pantomime, looks set to delight all ages. Rewritten by and starring Taylor, who came onstage to talk about his experience treading the boards at The Playhouse over the years, I can’t see how it can fail to spill over with his enthusiasm for the genre.
This is already the longest piece of writing I’ve completed since uni, and I’m not really finished yet. There are upcoming productions by the Playhouse Youth Theatre and also their Young Company; there are places left for community theatre group The Ensemble, who welcome on or backstage any interested thespians aged 15 and up. Club Encore is a theatre club for the over 50s who love theatre and are interested in what goes on behind the scenes as well. Nottingham Playhouse’s resident poetry collective The Mouthy Poets opened the launch with some of their work, and welcome anyone aged 16-30 with an interest in the spoken word.
There really is something for everyone here. You’ll need to get on the website, or go and pick up a brochure to see the full extent of the next two season’s work – and you’ll be impressed. The best thing about the Nottingham Playhouse is that it really does try to place itself within the city and the region; I hope the efforts to involve as many people as possible are successful, because they should be. It’s clear to see that hard work, good times and collaboration have gone into the making of every production, and I can’t wait to see them all in action. Probably with a drink in hand.
Thanks to Nottingham Playhouse for the use of publicity images from their website www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/
Rosy has recently moved to Nottingham after three years away, and is really very happy to be back. She’s particularly enjoying the charity shops, the new record stores and exploring the area by bike. Follow her on Twitter @HowManyRoses.