It’s been a funny old day. A couple of years ago I went on a ghost walk around Leeds and one of the stops was the City Varieties Music Hall where someone hanged himself in the roof void during a performance of a play in the theatre and his likeness has been patrolling the place ever since. Not only did I come face to face with a spectre this morning at the same venue, but ran into three of them all at once!
None had met their demise in the theatre; one died from smoke inhalation when they fell asleep on the sofa after too much wine and slept whilst the place caught fire, one perished in a car accident and the third was murdered. Being a gentleman in my seventies I thought that talking to dead people might be good preparation for the next stage in my metamorphosis, which cannot be too far off.
Alright, it was not the actual people I met who had checked out, but the characters they played in Emmerdale. I have not kept up with soaps for many a long year so I still find it odd not to add the word Farm to its title.
I had been invited to attend City Varieties to interview the soap stars in attendance and get some photographs which seemed to be a brilliant way to pass a Friday morning. I thought that I would be able to blag my way through the experience by letting the soap experts who had also been invited ask the relevant questions and I would sit quietly taking notes and nodding sagely at their answers. Well, that plan went straight down the pan when I discovered that, due to the last-minute nature of the invitation, I was the only writer there. I feel that the word ’embarrassment’ barely touches on the way I felt. I had obviously done my homework by downloading a few old episodes last night but, hardly surprisingly, none of the actors I was due to meet had figured in them so that was that. It would not be the first time I had been made to look like a plonker and will probably not be the last.
I did the only thing possible and ‘fessed up to being less than an expert in the soap department, Dove and Imperial Leather being the exceptions. In the event it didn’t matter in the slightest, firstly because the actors were absolutely wonderful company and very understanding, and secondly, the reason for my invitation was to be briefed on the launch of a new stage production, Soap From The Box – LIVE, so an intimate knowledge of the storylines was not necessary.
Those of you who are fans of the various serials will probably have heard of the Soap From The Box podcast which is No.4 on the Apple chart, in fact I imagine that quite a few will be subscribers. As the name implies, the podcast is going ‘on the road’ with the first stop being the amazing City Varieties.
The news of my being the only writer in attendance was broken to me on arrival by Lee Salisbury who is a TV Director and creator of the podcast. He is a Leeds lad with connections to City Varieties which is why he decided begin the run here. The idea is a simple one; he will be on stage with various soap stars and, along with guest host Sheree Murphy, will get the guests to reveal behind the scenes secrets as well as taking questions from members of the audience and direct them to the appropriate actor. Having been to a few stand-up shows at the City Varieties where hecklers were much in evidence I am sure that the punters will not be backward in coming forward. I am also certain that Yorkshire ‘subtlety’ will make it a lot more entertaining than Question Time.
As we both arrived early, I got to have a lovely chat with the equally lovely Kelli Hollis who played car crash victim Ali Spencer in Emmerdale. She is from Leeds and told me that her family have lived in the same part of Beeston for about 200 years. Not only that but her grandfather played for Leeds United as one of the temporary players drafted onto the team during the Second World War. Her great uncle went one better by not only playing for the Peacocks, as they were then nicknamed, but also scoring a hat-trick.
Another Emmerdale stalwart, Deena Payne, Viv Hope, the smoke victim, was on hand for a chat. As well as her TV work she has appeared on stage in musicals and toured with Alan Price as a backing singer. I am sure that she will be a great asset to the live show as she is not without the odd anecdote – or several!
Before you run away with the idea that this is a stage version of Loose Women, fear not as Tom Lister, aka Karl King, again from Emmerdale, is also on the team. Not only is he tall, slim and good looking, I also hate him because he is really funny. I was witness to his social media recording of a trailer for the show and it was a sight to behold. He really threw himself into it which resulted in a couple of outtakes but I am too much of a gentleman to mention those.
It is not only Emmerdale represented on stage, there is the presence of Danniella Westbrook who has been in both Eastenders and Hollyoaks, managing to escape with her life from both of them. She is in the process of relocating to Leeds as she feels that this is where there are more opportunities in the entertainment and creative sector. You can’t get a bigger endorsement than that. By the way, Danniella, it is also a great place to live.
Soap From The Box – Live is at the Leeds City Varieties Music Hall on 27th and 28th June with shows at 2.00pm and 7.30pm each day. Tickets are on sale now at £25.50. Should you fancy getting up close and personal (Covid Restrictions permitting) then you can opt for a VIP Meet and Greet package for the 2.00pm shows for £60.60. To see the full cast list and make a booking please go to:
If only Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples were in the cast I would be first in the queue.
All photographs by Stan Graham however, I must credit the photographer from the Yorkshire Post whose brainwave it was to put the cast in a box. Soap From The Box – geddit?