THERE’S something about anniversaries that triggers powerful memories.
OK, think me odd, but a note that landed on my desk telling me that the West Yorkshire Playhouse is about to hit 21 made me smile. And then I thought of tomato soup.
It’s not an indication that I’ve finally lost it, spent one too many evenings in a darkened theatre. But come to think about it, that’s just what I once did.
It’s not a long story, so here goes. I’ve mentioned before about the odd things journalists get sent to do.
Another that comes high on my “You cannot be serious” list is when I was told I’d be spending a night (a whole one) at the theatre.
It was training regime that cropped up regularly. Eight and a half hours in a theatre in Manchester watching back to back matinee and evening performances of the whole Dickens’ epic that is Nicholas Nickleby was a breeze..
A brilliant Royal Shakespeare Company production that whizzed past in a twinkle. Memorable performances from Roger Rees in the title role and David Threlfall as Smike.
Someone on the newsdesk thought marathons were my style and volunteered me for watching horror movies. All night.
One thing that you can’t say is that our news editor didn’t have a sense of humour. Which is when he was having his cocoa, I was settling down to watch a series of movies that would never have got on my must see list. Vampires, zombies and the classic The Pit And The Pendulum took a pretty full house at the old Leeds Playhouse through the twilight hours.
As theatregoers were streaming out into the night after that evening’s stage performance, other creatures of the dark were hovering, ready to settle into their just vacated seats ready for the sort of sit-in that I felt sure was about to give me nightmares.
And the five full length horror movies reeled on and on from 11pm until 8.15am with occasional breaks for tomato soup (what else in the middle of a gore fest).
I remember blinking out into the morning light and wondering whether there really was a more bizarre profession than mine. And, no, I’ve never looked at tomato soup in quite the same way again.
Strange that news of planned celebrations for the coming-of-age of the highly successful West Yorkshire Playhouse should first trigger memories of its predecessor.
But then, part of the excitement of theatre in the 1980s in this region was that so much regeneration and rebuilding was going on.
There was real vision from those determined to get the Playhouse complex we now have at Quarry Hill and a campaigning spirit grew in the city led by those adamant that a new venue was possible for Leeds.
The opening night of the West Yorkshire Playhouse was certainly glamorous but more exciting was the buzz, the electricity generated by a crowd who just knew theatre in the region was alive and kicking and ploughing on into the future.
In 21 years, the Playhouse has provided me, and thousands of others, with huge memories.
I’m lucky in that I’ve shared memorable moments in both its theatre spaces thanks to outstanding performances on stage.
But there are other memories which this milestone birthday has made me dig out and dust off.
Top of my personal milestones at the Playhouse has to be seeing Simon Armitage’s plays Mister Heracles and Jerusalem on stage with Simon and his family sitting just rows behind.
Christopher Eccleston on stage and off was another revelation.
I thought his Hamlet powerful and extraordinary. Ditto an earlier interview I did with the man who, thanks to a string of superlative TV and film roles, was on every casting director’s wish list.
His passion for words, for writers and for acting were as powerful as anything I was to see in his Hamlet and just as memorable.
A Town v Spurs match kicked off at the Playhouse when the theatre cast Huddersfield Town supporter Reece Dinsdale against Tottenham man Warren Mitchell.
These two were paired in Jeff Baron’s then new play Visiting Mr Green, an Odd Couple type of two-hander which this pair played to perfection on and off stage.
Trying to interview the pair of them was like refereeing a comedy contest.
I’d first chatted to Warren Mitchell when he came to the new Playhouse to play King Lear. He then looked like an Old Testament prophet and sounded like a stand up comic.
At the rematch, this time with Reece playing winger, only Warren’s white beard had gone. I tried to wave the flag for conversation in the middle of an all-out tussle for possession of what had become a comedy kick-about.
The two actors got on famously and it showed on stage where the razor sharp Mr Mitchell was on cue to tell an inconsiderate member of the audience to kindly switch off their phone.
During this 21st anniversary year, the Playhouse will hang an exhibition charting its history. There’s plenty of that.
Since 1990, the theatre has staged 286 of its own shows, hosted many more by touring companies and thrown opens its doors to the community with workshops for every age group, readings and showcases, often of new work.
On those foundations, building the next 21 years should be a winner.