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A Voice of the North
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Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
@philhopkinsuk
6:20 AM 21st May 2021
arts

Fifty Years In 150 Minutes – Leeds Playhouse

Eva Scott (Danny). Don't You Know It's Going to be Alright (90s) by Maxine Peake. Dir Amy Leach. Photo Sharron Wallace
Eva Scott (Danny). Don't You Know It's Going to be Alright (90s) by Maxine Peake. Dir Amy Leach. Photo Sharron Wallace
For a Leeds Loiner who recently joined the ranks of those in ‘their 60’s’, Leeds Playhouse’s latest offering, Decades: Stories From The City, was a joyous walk through six decades of nostalgia that began in the punk era of the 70’s.

And, whilst I couldn’t possibly have been all of ‘those people’ either featured or talked about in each 25-minute segment, somehow I knew every one of them and the places they inhabited.

For the best part of 150 minutes of performance time, I was gripped, listening for those references that had real meaning for me: the Majestyk nightclub in Leeds, the terror of Peter Sutcliffe’s reign as the Yorkshire Ripper, communal squatters and, more recently, asylum seekers billeted in Leeds in their quest for a better life.

The Playhouse commissioned a number of Northern writers, including Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, household favourite, Maxine Peak and musician turned writer, Alice Nutter, to each take a particular decade from across the Playhouse’s 50-year lifespan, and pen their best.

And it showed.

Isobel Coward (Loz). Nicer Than Orange Squash (80s) by Alice Nutter. Dir Evie Manning. Photo Sharron Wallace
Isobel Coward (Loz). Nicer Than Orange Squash (80s) by Alice Nutter. Dir Evie Manning. Photo Sharron Wallace
Each piece had been carefully crafted, each from a totally different perspective but all of them rooted in the North. Loz was the Human League humming squatter who discovers that her all knowing icon, ‘Joshua Gaz’ is in fact an up market toff taking time out from the high life. The world he adopted was only ever going to be a ‘phase’ in his privileged, mixed up life and, in many ways, she was the real victim.

Connor Elliott (Wilf). The BodyGuard (70s) by Simon Armitage. Dir. James Brining. Photo Zoe Martin
Connor Elliott (Wilf). The BodyGuard (70s) by Simon Armitage. Dir. James Brining. Photo Zoe Martin
Fifteen year old Connor Elliott was the young man who had to collect his mum from the bus stop every night during the reign of Peter Sutcliffe – lots of lads in the 70’s looked out for their womenfolk – whilst Sophia, played by Nicole Botha, was the ‘2000’s’ offering. She was in her 30’s but clearly very ill – possibly Multiple Sclerosis? - with a life less lived.

Nicole Botha (Sophia), The Unknown (00s) by Leanna Benjamin. Dir Amanda Huxtable. Photo Sharron Wallace
Nicole Botha (Sophia), The Unknown (00s) by Leanna Benjamin. Dir Amanda Huxtable. Photo Sharron Wallace
Akiel Dowe (Jamie), Pie in the Bus Stop (20s) by Stan Owens. Dir Tess Seddon. Photo Sharron Wallace
Akiel Dowe (Jamie), Pie in the Bus Stop (20s) by Stan Owens. Dir Tess Seddon. Photo Sharron Wallace
This entire production was a snapshot of life in the North over half a century. It spoke of The Clash, Phil Oakey, love, loss, dilemmas. Did Jamie move in with his pal or stay with his ‘needy’ mum.

Cassie Layton (Layla). And after we sailed a thousand skies (10s) by Kamal Kaan. Dir.Sameena Hussain. Photo Sharron Wallace
Cassie Layton (Layla). And after we sailed a thousand skies (10s) by Kamal Kaan. Dir.Sameena Hussain. Photo Sharron Wallace
Who did Layla, the asylum seeker trust?

This was a truly meaningful production. It felt real and it was both funny, evocative and hard-hitting. I have been variously critical of Leeds Playhouse’s penchant for driving too politically correct an agenda. This time they got it right. It was bang on James Brining and Amy Leach: good choice and welcome back from the lockdown!

Decades: Stories From The City
Leeds Playhouse & Online
Until Sat 5th June