The first play to open in Leeds Playhouse’s new Bramall Rock Void space explores the
lives of four women at a time when the Yorkshire Ripper was at large across the region.
First up, Charley Miles’s playbook categorically states that this is not a play about Peter Sutcliffe, nor the flailing police investigation which took six years to capture him.
Over two hours, There Are No Beginnings reveals the lives of women who saw their world change in the wake of a series of murders and attacks. No longer was it safe to walk alone at night. The official recommendation was that women stay indoors after dark. Women, it would seem, had become the problem…
The drama develops on a tiny traverse stage with the forensic feel of a crime scene. We’re introduced to four women who are intrinsically linked, with stories inspired by original testimonies of the time: June is a care worker who gives refuge to girls on the streets; her daughter Sharon is discovering sexuality at a time when freedom is capped; Helen is a girl who has fallen into the sex trade; and Fiona is an upcoming police officer trying to make her mark in a masculine world.
Rarely do all four appear together, so the play often feels like a composite of well-studied two-handers which carousel between mother and daughter; police offer and victim; state and individual. However, the roles and responsibilities of these women are all carefully explored, offering an intense insight into how people felt, and continue to feel, about the time.
Soundbites of male news reporters describing the violence also bracket the episodes with a smart gender contrast, and we observe how the women adapt as the Seventies gives way to the Eighties – with fearfulness of the night becoming an almost normalised and accepted way of life. It is only a matter of time before a rebellion ensues.
At times the writing feels wildly free-flowing and gloriously experimental, flourishing with sparkling Northen dialogue which is expertly delivered. Julie Hesmondhalgh is standout as Helen – sympathetic, absorbing and warm – and Tessa Parr demonstrates a tactile, funny childishness as a mid-teens schoolgirl.
Jesse Jones is equally fascinating as a police officer, presenting two versions of her character in uniform and out. Natalie Gavin’s tragic Helen is perhaps the most haunting and complex figure, brought to life in a distressing performance which feels intensely real through her pain and anguish.
There Are No Beginnings is an arresting, insightful and disturbing piece of investigative theatre which wholeheartedly refocuses its lens on the people who matter, whilst disarming the unseen evil who engineered so many fears. Despite its title, this is a bold and ambitious new beginning for an all-new performance space. Go see, and learn.
Cast: Julie Hesmondhalgh, Jesse Jones, Natalie Gavin, Tessa Parr. Director: Amy Leach Writer: Charley Miles Theatre: Leeds Playhouse Running time: 150 minutes Dates: 16th October to 2nd November 2019.