TELL Vanessa Brooks that the best things happen by chance and she might agree.
It may not have seemed like that when she broke bones in her foot working a little too hard at a theatre role as a disturbed and violent teenager. The kicking that she gave a chest of drawers on set landed her with feet up at home. But it also gave Vanessa the chance to try her hand at writing plays.
With a father who was a Fleet Street journalist with a passion for poetry, it’s little wonder that Vanessa has an affinity with words.
She began as an actor. Her contemporaries at the Central School in London were Jimmy Nesbitt, Stephen Tompkinson and Graham Norton.
But when she fell foul of that piece of stage furniture during her acting career, Vanessa found herself at home full of performance energy and poured it all into writing.
That first play enjoyed a critically acclaimed sell-out production in London and caught the eye of Alan Ayckbourn. She found herself commissioned to write a number of main house plays for the Scarborough-based playwright’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, where she later became Ayckbourn’s first Arts Council Writer in Residence.
With a literary agent on board and TV sketch work as well as many published and frequently produced plays under her belt, which could well have been Vanessa’s career mapped out in theatre. But she decided that she wanted the chance to direct some of her own work and follow other opportunities including working more closely with actors and looking at the whole performance process.
Fate seemed to step in again when Vanessa worked on a short term project with the pioneering Huddersfield-based theatre company Full Body and The Voice. Vanessa has now returned both to the town and to the company, as its artistic leader.
“It’s a privilege to lead a company that has produced some high quality work and which has a sound financial bedrock,” said Vanessa.
Certainly she has not wasted any time in coming up with a clutch of planned productions for this innovative company whose work with learning disabled actors has been hailed as a model on how to further inclusiveness both in the arts and in society in general.
“My background is very much mainstream theatre and other media. I think that Full Body deserves a higher profile than it has now. The work that we can do is of great value – artistically and professionally – Šand I want us to develop work that is ground-breaking and challenging which attracts a new, broader audience.”
Vanessa first FBATV production is a tour of a show starring six of the company’s actors which will take a close-look at local history and at the role of photography in recording that history.
From old cine film to the first Polaroids and shots taken on Instamatics, you can expect a flood of nostalgia and something too about how history defines people and places.
Production work on that will begin later in the year with performances in February and if you want to contribute your photograph – snapshots of Kirklees from the past are needed for the production – then do send them in to Vanessa.
Then comes an exciting premiere production based around a play written by Vanessa called Hypothermia which looks at the controversial and emotive subject of eugenics and Nazi Germany.
Vanessa plans for the performance to open here at the Lawrence Batley, to go on to next year’s Edinburgh Festival and then be toured to other high profile theatres such as the New Vic.
Project three is a co-production with Hull Truck Theatre Company, regular visitors to the LBT and a hugely successful company led by playwright John Godber. ŠThis co-production, which you can expect to have an experimental feel, is expected to open in the main house at Hull Truck’s home base in Hull.