50 years ago, the campaign for Leeds to have its own Playhouse was heard before a public meeting held at the Leeds Town Hall. Today, West Yorkshire Playhouse stands as one of the leading producing houses in the country.
This significant moment in 1968 saw campaigner Doreen Newlyn at Leeds Town Hall claim Leeds needed a professional repertory theatre. Supported by Leeds born Hollywood legend Peter O’Toole, Hunslet-born Keith Waterhouse and, then Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse, John Neville, the group protested to the people of Leeds ‘a city without a theatre is a city without a heart’.
“May 5 was a day of triumph and delight,” says Doreen Newlyn. “It decisively established the campaign for all to see. This was about establishing a theatre for the community, to enrich the lives of all our citizens, old and young, for years to come. It was hard work and wasn’t without its turmoil and disappointment, but we were socially motivated and determined to succeed. It fills me with great pleasure to see the vision and ideals laid out at the Town Hall meeting are still being realised today.”
West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining: “It is wonderful that the core values of community and inclusivity that sparked a group of passionate and dedicated individuals over 50 years ago are still at the heart of the Playhouse today. We pride ourselves on our pioneering creative engagement work, our nurturing artist development programme and producing world-class theatre, from the large scale to the intimate. We’re constantly challenging perceptions on and off our stages, and are continuing to grow and strengthen the relationship this theatre has with the city of Leeds and beyond.”
This 50 year landmark moment marks a pivotal turning point in the Playhouse’s history. From July 2018 West Yorkshire Playhouse will embark on a major redevelopment project, with the current building on the Quarry Hill site being transformed and modernised, with changes including a new city-facing entrance, improved access in and around the theatre, and the addition of a new studio theatre space, the Bramall Rock Void.
Entertainment Focus recently described the Playhouse’s latest production, Sunshine on Leith, as “a straight-talking, feel-good folk-rock musical bursting with spectacle and song.”