I went to see this production in sombre mood after having been out for lunch the previous day to what was my local pub when I lived at Candle House in Granary Wharf. It was 1.45pm on a Friday so I had booked a table but when I arrived I entered to the sound of my own footsteps, it was deserted. Being one of those irritating people who is always early for appointments I had already been to another of my favourite town centre watering holes for a coffee to kill half an hour or so, again there were only about half a dozen customers.

My mood was alleviated somewhat by the usual warm welcome from the Playhouse staff who made sure that I sanitised my hands before they took my temperature and informed me of the Covid-related rules. I was then directed to the Courtyard Theatre where I was amazed to see that we were seated on, what is normally, the stage. Once again the effect of the strange times in which we find ourselves was accentuated as, sitting in the twenty or so temporary stage chairs, the audience was gazing at the rows of empty seats on the three levels in front of them.

Two podia had been erected in the auditorium over the usual seating area, where the action was to take place. They were both sparsely furnished, one had a chair and a tall floor lamp with a globe shade, and the other had a chair with a desk housing a table lamp.

All of the house lights were turned off and the table lamp illuminated picking out guest musician, Alasdair Roberts, who began the proceedings with a piece of music using voices but no words. It was a kind of chant with four members of the Choir of Opera North answering the notes sung by Mr Roberts. It was very eerie as choir was not visible and the solo singer very dimly lit in the large, almost empty, theatre. The effect was stunningly beautiful.

Alastair Roberts Photograph by Anthony Robling

There followed a song called William-O described as a revenant ballad, or supernatural ‘night visiting song’, from the Ulster tradition, learned from the singing of Cathal McConnell. For this piece Alasdair Roberts accompanied himself on the electric guitar. He went straight into a new song which he had written called Hymn of Welcome.

After the solo session the quartet from the Opera North Choir, comprising Ivan Sharp and Tom Smith, tenors; and basses Paul Gibson and Richard Moseley Evans, who were now visible, sang Der Entfernten (To The Distant Beloved) by Franz Schubert. Fortunately there was a translation of the libretto on the information sheet supplied by Leeds Playhouse.

Robert Pickavance Photo by Alasdair Robling

There followed the only spoken words of the performance, there was no introduction to any of the sections, they just flowed from one to the next. A Piece of Monologue by Samuel Beckett was delivered by ‘Speaker’ Robert Pickavance. I had seen Mr Pickavance in Dr Korczak’s Example before lockdown and was impressed by the intensity of his performance. It was as nothing compared to his monologue here. Dressed in a long white shirt which, given the subject of the piece, I took to be a reference to a shroud, especially when paired with white stockings, he gave the most moving delivery of Samuel Beckett’s words. It was a treat to experience an actor give everything to a piece of work running the gamut of emotions from rage to sorrow. The monologue was concerned with reflections of a life and death, mirroring the theme of Krapp’s Last Tape by the same author. This was a true masterclass in acting.

The event finished with A Like Wake Dirge sung by Alasdair Roberts and the choir. It is ‘a sort of charm sung by the lower ranks of Roman Catholics in the north of England while watching a body, previous to interment.’ The text is based on Aubrey’s 1686 manuscript The Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme. The combination of voices was superb and it was a fitting finale to what was a most moving afternoon.

Alasdair Robling Photograph by Anthony Robling

Although the theme of the event was love, loss, reflection and death, as was the play on which this is a ‘reflection’, and was universally sombre, not a smile to be had, the most touching part was the clapping at the end. If there were any justice in the world at the moment there should have been the thunderous applause of a packed theatre but instead there were just the few of us doing the best we could to show our appreciation to those involved for a wonderful series of vignettes. I only hope that we managed to convey our appreciation adequately.

The Creative Team were Director, Matthew Eberhardt and Lighting Designer, Tigger Johnson and the Production Team; Stage Managers, Alison Best and Lucy Neale; Head of Sound, Martin Pickersgill; Deputy Head of Stage, Felix Beresford; Senior Lighting Technician, Joe Izzard, Deputy Head of Wardrobe; Kirsty Blades and Props Supervisor, James Thurson

The Connecting Voices Season runs until 17th October. For more details and to purchase tickets please go to:

https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/whats-on/

Feature photograph by Anthony Robling

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