Leeds, England, United Kingdom
1970 - 73
I have been overseas – outside of England – since 1985. There are many advantages to working in the tropics – climate, lifestyle, cost of living etc - but one of the things I miss about England is going to the theatre. Opportunities to watch plays have been scarce in Egypt, Tanzania, Argentina, Venezuela, Ghana and my present country, Vietnam. In all these countries, over a period of 30 years, I reckon I have watched a grand total of just 20 plays (not counting school productions). By contrast, when I was a student at Leeds University, and a teacher in the West Midlands, I was surrounded by theatres and used to watch plays constantly. In my three years at Leeds, I must have watched at least 30 plays.
I was reminded yesterday of how powerful a play can be when I attended an amateur production of 'Death and the Maiden' by Ariel Dorfman in a restaurant in downtown Saigon. Part of the restaurant had been converted into a theatre, and I was in the front row. It was an intimate and intense experience. Back home, I reflected on the plays
I have seen during my life and, in particular, I recalled my time at Leeds University, when I began to watch plays in earnest for the first time.
When I arrived in Leeds as a student in 1970, I had only ever seen a handful of plays. Now I started going to the theatre with a vengeance. As well as the newly built Leeds Playhouse (now the West Yorkshire Playhouse), there was the posh and well-established Leeds Grand and one amateur theatre, the Leeds Civic. There were also many university student productions. I revelled in the abundance and variety of plays on offer. Before Leeds I had been an avid novel-reader; now I became a devotee of plays too.
On the internet I recently found a list of all the plays performed at Leeds Playhouse during my three years at Leeds University – between 1970 and '73. Here they are: LEEDS PLAYHOUSE PRODUCTIONS
1970 – 1971 1 SIMON SAYS... ALAN PLATER 2 HENRY IV… LUIGI PIRANDELLO 3 THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR…SHAKESPEARE 4 LOVE FOR LOVE… WILLIAM CONGREVE 5 OLD KING COLE… KEN CAMPBELL 6 OH GLORIOUS JUBILEE… C
HANLEY & I GOURLAY 7 THE CRUCIBLE… ARTHUR MILLER 8 HAMLET… SHAKESPEARE 9 ALFIE… BILL NAUGHTON 10 THE HOSTAGE… BRENDAN BEHAN 11 DRACULA… H. BALDERSTON & H. DEANE 12 A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE… T.WILLIAMS 13 TIGHT AT THE BACK…LEONARD BARRAS
1971 – 1972 14 FAMILY ALBUM/FALLEN ANGELS… NOEL COWARD 15 PICTURES IN A BATH OF ACID… COLIN WILSON 16 TWELFTH NIGHT… SHAKESPEARE 17 LULU… FRANK WEDEKIND (adapted by Peter Barnes) 18 WAITING FOR GODOT… SAMUEL BECKETT 19 TOAD OF TOAD HALL… A. A. MILNE 20 ROMEO & JULIET… SHAKESPEARE 21 THE ENTERTAINER… JOHN OSBORNE 22 CLOSE THE COALHOUSE DOOR… ALAN PLATER 23 THE ALCHEMIST… BEN JONSON 24 AND WAS JERUSALEM BUILDED HERE… BARRY COLLINS 25 THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE… BERTOLT BRECHT 26 OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR!... CHARLES CHILTON 27 MACBETH… SHAKESPEARE 28 THE WIZARD OF OZ… SAN HUGHES 29 A FLEA IN HER EAR… GEORGES FEYDEAU 30 BLOOD WEDDING… FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA 31 MEASURE FOR MEASURE… SHAKESPEARE 32 THE RELAPSE… SIR JOHN VANBRUGH 33 SAVED…. EDWARD BOND 34 LOOT… JOE ORTON
1973 – 1974 35 CANTERBURY TALES… STARKIE & COGHILL 36 RICHARD III… SHAKESPEARE 37 KNIGHT IN FOUR ACTS… JOHN HARRISON 38 BEAUTY & THE BEAST…. BARRY COLLINS 39 PARADISE HOTEL… GEORGE FEYDEAU 40 THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN… BERTOLT BRECHT 41 DEATH OF A SALESMAN… ARTHUR MILLER 42 THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW… D.H. LAWRENCE 43 HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES… ALAN AYCKBOURN 44 SAY GOODNIGHT TO GRANDMA… COLIN WELLAND
What strikes me about this list is the sheer number of plays performed. 21 plays in 1971-72! How did they do it? Of course, I did not go to all of them. The ones I remember are:
- The Merry Wives (made me laugh a lot)
· Love For Love (Restoration drama was new to me)
· Alfie (with Bill Simpson - ‘Dr Finlay’- as Alfie)
· The Hostage (I was reading a lot of Irish stuff at the time)
· Lulu ( a load of old rubbish, I thought)
· The Entertainer (Shirley Ann Field as the piece of crumpet, but not a great play)
· The Alchemist (I was really
hooked on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama at the time)
· The Caucasian Chalk Circle (my first Brecht – and I still don’t like him)
· Blood Wedding (I had read this at school)
· The Relapse (more Restoration)
· The Canterbury Tales (very enjoyable)
· Richard 111 (with Richard Briers in the lead role)
I wish I had seen more.
My big memory of the Leeds Grand is of a young Ian McKellen stealing the show in ‘The Recruiting Officer’.
My big memory of the Leeds Civic is of ‘King Lear’ – but for the wrong reasons. It was a piss-poor production, far too ambitious for this amateur theatre. The Fool kept forgetting his lines, and the prompt kept shouting them at him in a loud Yorkshire voice. I was in fits of laughter.
As I said, living in Vietnam offers many benefits, but watching ‘Death and the Maiden’ has made me pine for the rich cultural scene of England – the art galleries, the music, the exhibitions and, most of all, the plays.
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