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LBT comes of age and announces new season's programme

Celebrating its 21st birthday, the Lawrence Batley Theatre looks forward to a stunning season of shows.

Snow White by Tell Tale Hearts, at the LBT this winter

From classic Shakespeare to Snow White with a Yorkshire twist, Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre’s new season, starting next month, promises a feast of entertainment - drama, dance, circus skills, comedy, musicals, and a handful of experimental ‘pay-what-you-decide’ shows.

In its 21st birthday season, the theatre is upping the ante, providing a programme to tempt even reluctant theatre-goers away from their televisions and out of their living rooms.

It opens on Monday, September 7, with a free preview evening (tickets need to be booked at the box office), which offers a sample of what’s to come and includes a drinks reception.

And then on Friday, September 25, the LBT’s Grand 21st Birthday Gala has guest performances by a number of the theatre’s favourites, including Phoenix Dance, Opera North, Bolton Octagon and Tell Tale Hearts.

All the artists are donating their time and proceeds from the evening will go to the LBT 21st birthday campaign fund to support the building, future programming and work with young people at the theatre.

The forthcoming season is packed with highlights, including Northern Broadsides’ production of The Winter’s Tale, a five-night run in October. As LBT press office Laura Rodwell says: “Northern Broadsides could come to the theatre with a completely unknown play and people would book to see them because they love what they do – the company has a real fan base.”

Comedy is always a hit with LBT audiences, so from September to the end of January no fewer than 10 stand-up shows have been booked - from the biggest-selling comic of the Edinburgh Fringe, Jason Byrne, and his namesake Ed Byrne (so popular that tickets for his show have nearly sold out already) to hapless hospital DJ Ivan Brackenbury and Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Jack Carroll.

While there’s plenty of mainstream and high-octane entertainment, theatre director Victoria Firth is always keen to support emerging talent and so the LBT is hosting four new shows on an experimental basis.

Audiences can book tickets but only pay what they feel the performance is worth after they’ve seen the show. Laura believes this is the first time a small regional theatre such as the LBT has taken part in such a scheme.

The shows will include the story of Manuela Saenz, the South American revolutionary and early feminist who died in poverty.

Manuelita, by Popelei Theatre, features music by award-winning Columbian guitarist Camilo Menjura. Also in this series will be Handheld Arts with Gated Community, a twisted cautionary tale inspired by The Wicker Man; Electric Dreams by Dumbshow Theatre, a story of political intrigue and forgotten memories; and Me and Mr C, in which comedian Gary Kitching uses a ventriloquist’s dummy to explore the workings of his critical inner voice.

Another coup for the theatre will be two performances in November of Maxine Peake’s charming and witty play Beryl, written for last year’s Yorkshire Festival and the Grand Depart. It tells the tale of one of Yorkshire’s unsung sporting heroines, the cyclist Beryl Burton, and is produced by West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Last season the LBT showcased the work of Bromance, a contemporary circus skills trio who wowed audiences with their audacious and acrobatic stunts. Their shows were a sell out. The new season brings Circus Mayhem, from the same producers of Bromance.

Circus Mayhem, appearing at the LBT this autumn

And, once again, the theatre is hosting Phoenix Dance, a company that always draws the crowds, attracting audiences from all over West Yorkshire and even further afield.

The Christmas season brings It’s a Wonderful Life, a period 1940s production based on Frank Capra’s iconic film and retold as a radio play. It premiered in London last year.

For children and families the theatre also has its usual festive show by resident company Tell Tale Hearts, this time the classic Snow White – but featuring a band of Yorkshire miners as the seven dwarves.

The show is in collaboration with Pif-Paf, a performance group specialising in aerial acrobatics and visual theatre.

As always, the LBT is being used by a number of the area’s amateur organisations, including Longwood Amateurs with Carousel, Huddersfield Thespians’ The Thrill of Love; and Huddersfield Musical Theatre Company with Hairspray – all before Christmas.

And while the programme focuses on theatre and visual spectacles, there are also a number of music gigs in both the main theatre and cellar, with jazz, gospel and folk.

English singer-songwriter Ralph McTell is back on the road and at the LBT celebrating 50 years in the music business.

However, perhaps one of the quirkiest events of this year will be the Hallowe’en Happening on October 31, an 18-plus evening of themed performances and spooky shows.

This will be the fourth time the theatre has resurrected such ghostly goings-on.

For details of all shows pick up a programme at the theatre or information centres or visit www.thelbt.org .

Call 01484 430528 for the box office.

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