T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, nothing was stirring, especially the vodka martinis which were obviously shaken. The name’s Graham – Stan Graham.
Do you know what I love most about Christmas – of course you don’t. Well, since you ask, it is the way in which everyone tries to include everyone else in the festivities. From the weird uncle who you spend the rest of the year trying to avoid to the postman who you go mad and tip.
Charity donations go up in December, see my article on Opera North – In Harmony should you be wondering where to send some dosh, and, even more impressive, acts of kindness also increase.
One way in which two of Leeds’ finest institutions are showing their concern for others is the Relaxed Performance of Peter and the Wolf and The Snowman by Opera North, to cater for those who would not otherwise be able to attend a concert, and The Night Before Christmas which enables D/deaf children and adults to be able to enjoy a Christmas show together with their hearing friends, some of which they haven’t met yet!
I am going to the Opera North event on Sunday and will review it early next week so for now I will concentrate on The Night Before Christmas. Sadly I couldn’t attend the press day but I have a transcript of an interview with the director of the show, Amy Leach, who is obviously far better placed to fill you in with the details.
When asked about this magical festive story Amy said, ‘The Night Before Christmas is the story of a lonely woman called Carol who has lost her love for Christmas. On Christmas Eve she discovers a lost Elf hiding in her very tidy house and has to return him to Father Christmas by midnight or else there will be terrible consequences. Carol and the Elf set off on a magical voyage around the city and the play is full of humour, fun and heart-warming storytelling.’
Amy was asked why she decided to bring the play back to Leeds Playhouse after its run in 2015 to which she replied that it is a perfect festive story about friendship, communication and finding joy. The script, by Robert Alan Evans is funny and engaging for children and adults alike and the design by Amelia Jane Hankin, James Whiteside and Dom Coyote is sumptuous to look at and to listen to. It’s a festive treat for the senses.
The difference between this version and the previous one is that:-
‘..there is a new cast and couple of extra festive treats, but the biggest difference is that, this time, the show has totally integrated British Sign Language (BSL) and is Deaf Friendly. When I thought about remaking the show I realised that the original was highly visual and featured two characters who have to communicate through gesture because one of them speaks Elvish. The show was already 80% Deaf Friendly so this time around Carol is deaf – she speaks and signs throughout the show. This means that when Elf learns to speak English he, along with the audience, learns sign language too. It adds a brilliant new layer to the show and means it is completely accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences.’
Amy went on to talk about the how important accessibility is to Leeds Playhouse and how they were the first champions of Relaxed and Dementia Friendly Performances. She said that recently they have been pioneering making integrated work, weaving BSL, captioning and audio descriptions into every single performance rather than the occasional one-off. She praised the support of Irwin Mitchell over the last ten years to make this happen. A new integrated team will be incorporated into Amy’s production of a new adaptation of Oliver Twist in early 2020 with creative BSL, captioning and audio description at every show.
Anyway, back to The Night Before Christmas. The Elf is played by Lladel Bryant, a member of the Ensemble during the recent Pop-up Season and who Amy describes as being ‘wonderfully open, charming, playful and hard-working. He makes me giggle so much and I know that audiences just love him.’
Alexandra James plays Carol. ‘She is is 22 and just out of drama school – but her maturity and the detail of her work are extraordinary. She’s so much fun to work with and, like Lladel, audiences fall in love with her. She goes on a huge journey during the show, from stern to beaming and she is an absolute delight to watch.’
Finally Amy was asked what she hoped audiences would take away fromThe Night Before Christmas. ‘I hope audiences will enjoy a magical family treat, experiencing highs and lows, lots of laughs and a few gasps of delight, while appreciating the power of communicating with others who aren’t like ourselves and jiving in the aisles.’
When that vodka martini arrives I will raise my glass and drink to your very good elf!
The Night Before Christmas is at the Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse until 28th December (except Christmas Day). Performances are in the mornings and afternoons. For full details please go to :-
All photographs by Anthony Robling