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Best of 2018: Yorkshire theatre


THE 70TH anniversary of the NHS was celebrated in humorously pointed style in Get Well Soon (Wetherby Whaler, Guiseley and touring) to which Mikron Theatre brought its usual combination of politics, live music and community.

A family drama that celebrated the service's achievements, it also sounded the warning bell for its future survival. Tracing the back-door privatisation of healthcare provision, it considered the invaluable contribution that overseas workers have made to the service from its very inception.

The production's message may have been heavily hammered home but it succeeded in instilling in the audience a renewed sense of pride in the NHS.

A Machine They're Secretly Building (Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds) was equally unsubtle in its powerful hour-long overview of government surveillance. Staged by Proto-type Theatre, a company of multi-disciplinary artists, it created a sense of menace and paranoia through hypnotic repetition of facts and figures.

Delivered by two women in Pussy Riot-style pink balaclavas, the amount of control that's been compliantly handed over to big business was repeatedly questioned, along with the machinations of the state in manufacturing fear of the “other” in this process.

The role of theatre in raising awareness and framing future debate was there too in Red Ladder's revival of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children (Albion Electric Warehouse, Leeds).

Staged as a promenade production, the audience became part of the titular anti-hero's travelling wagon as she moved from town to town selling wares from her canteen. The setting of a dusty, disused warehouse was an ideal location for this migration and its associated sense of dislocation.

The music, composed by Boff Whalley, picked up on the idea of human displacement by combining styles from across the globe, taking in Eastern European folk and music hall.  

Displacement was also a central theme of  The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds), a tender depiction of the relationship between artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella Rosenfeld.

The two-piece live band in the Kneehigh production conjured both Chagall's work and geography with a combination of klezmer and folk that was sung in Yiddish, Russian and French.

Framed by the fact that Chagall had lived through WWI, the Russian revolution and seen his home town of Vitebsk and much of its Jewish population decimated, the production was nonetheless playful and at times surreal.

More than anything, it used colour and language to vibrantly evoke the richness of the couple's abiding love.




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