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Leeds At War: A Tale Of A City Of Culture
photo by Tony O'Connell
It is somewhat fitting that on Remembrance Day this year, the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds will welcome a production that commemorates both Armistice and the theatre's own starring role during World War 1.

Those Were The Days takes to the stage on Saturday November 11th - exactly 99 years after the hostilities of WW1 ended. It looks at both the dark days of the war along with the joys of live performance and Yorkshire spirit. Performed by actors ranging from aged 6 to 60, the production brings together history, entertainment and theatrical style with humour, emotion and a large dollop of Leeds.

Leeds writer and director Liz Coggins is the creative behind the piece:

"Those Were The Days celebrates this city; its people, its culture and, importantly, its theatres," she explains.

"In the late 1800s and early 20th century, there were six theatres in Leeds and a music hall on practically every corner of the city centre; they Music Halls were the heart of the culture of the working classes; people would gather and sing, drink and laugh together and forget their troubles; when war broke out this didn't stop - in fact it became even more important."

The auditorium - photo by Tony O'Connell
The City Varieties was one such music hall. It began its life in 1865 as a room above a pub and went on to entertain the people of Leeds through two world wars before becoming world-famous for hosting the BBC programme The Good Old Days which ran every weekend for 30 years from 1953. As other such venues closed, the City Varieties continued and today is the longest running music hall in the country.

"I have such a deep-rooted love of this venue," says Liz.

"It is steeped in history - a history you feel when you walk through the doors. The list of stars that have graced those boards is incredible and I have drawn on this within the production."

In what promises to be a pure celebration of music hall entertainment, the show will introduce audiences to the stars of the time; Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, Florrie Ford, Charlie Chaplin and Leeds lass Vesta Victoria each make an appearance, buoyed by the songs and comedy sketches of the era. A live band supports the cast and songs include the famous Marrow Song, Yes! We Have No Bananas, It's A Long Way To Tipperary and many more.

The Leeds characters that introduce the production and take the audience on their journey may well be fictitious, but their tales are based on real life stories; the story of the famous 15th Service Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment - better known as The Leeds Pals - is honoured in the second half and is based on the accounts of a Leeds Pal called Harry - Liz's own Grandfather.

"Of course those who lived through WW1 are no longer with us," says Liz. "I don't want these stories to die with them. Our history is important to our understanding of the present day."

The younger cast members are students at On Stage Academy, a drama class based in Leeds city centre. They work with Liz and her team to learn every aspect of theatre and stagecraft.

"It is such a delight to see young people performing pieces from 100 years ago," says Liz. "Children are never too young to experience live professional theatre and its many genres. The history of this profession is as important as the craft itself. To this end I would encourage families to come together for an old-fashioned, much-loved evening at the theatre."

Those Were The Days is at City Varieties Music Hall on Saturday November 11th at 7pm
Tickets are on sale now priced at £19.60
Book online at cityvarieties.co.uk or call Box Office on 0113 243 0808

Audiences are encouraged, though not required, to dress up in costume reminiscent of the Music Hall period.

Leeds At War: A Tale Of A City Of Culture, 11th October 2017, 14:11 PM