Guest blog post from Amy Letman, Associate Producer West Yorkshire Playhouse

I’ve recently moved from Peckham to Leeds. Back there I spent plenty of time in grimy pubs having conversation after conversation with visual arts and music followers who felt that theatre wasn’t for, or didn’t relate to them. Peckham is an area in south east London where buses take longer to get to places than they should, and with cheap-er rent and plenty of studio space available, it’s become a close knit community of avid visual arts and music followers. For these lot, theatre isn’t so much on the agenda, and the act of watching scenarios played out on stage not an experience to be contemplated for one’s weekend. What they envisage a show to be doesn’t come close to the thrill of seeing a living, breathing entity thrashing one’s guts out on stage, belting over synths and drums, or the experience of a white-box gallery where you can soak up something relevant, urgent and delicately pieced together – something that feels like it was made, edited, sculpted for you. It’s far less nerve-racking than watching a 2-hour story talked-out on a stage. And of course, there’s the Thursday night private view booze; the experience of feeling exasperated and conned, sitting numb-assed through a Miller or a Shakespeare just doesn’t quite cut it for them.

The conversations I had in Peckham were often ones along the lines of me attempting to cajole and tease people to try something new. Describing such events they could try sometimes along the lines of… ‘there’s a bunch of shows by a bunch of really exciting people (insert) and then there’s films and bands and DJ’s in the bar…and cheap booze?’ or… ‘it happens across a building, it incorporates (insert) and (insert)’ or, ‘we take you on a bus out of the city on an hour long journey, you wont know where you’re going, but when you get there it’s amazing… and there’s free champagne..?’ or… ‘I’ll get you a free ticket?” Sometimes I convinced people through such persuasions, sometimes they came along and were convinced that YES; theatre can be as relevant, exciting, and as breathtaking as music, as visual art, as the things that we go to and usually experience on a Friday night. Yes it can.

I’m new to Leeds and the act of coming here in itself is one of discovery. Over the last few months I’ve made new friends, struck up new conversations, discovered gold mines of places, bars and events where exciting things are exchanged; from the Adelphi to the quickly growing hub of Munro House. These are places where people gather to talk and to do and to make things happen. I moved here to do things, and in a way, to continue to convince people as I was in Peckham, as I would be anywhere, that the act of experiencing theatre can be something altogether different, quite extraordinary, than anything you might ordinarily engage with on a Friday night.

Wau Wau Girls
Wau Wau Girls

The first thing is Transform, a season of work at the Playhouse curated by Alan Lane and Kully Thiarai that plays out over the next couple of weeks. And it’s the same vibes, less talking, more action, more ways of being able to convince people that theatre isn’t just about watching dialogue play out on stage; that it’s urgently worth your Friday. For two weeks, you can catch stolen moments with soldiers in boxes, sing karaoke, encounter the smallest music venue in Britain and be invited to engage. You might see twisted tales unfold through music and film, acrobatics, poetry and lyrics, burlesque shipped over from NYC or brilliant and beguiling theatre made right at home in Leeds. You might come along to a final grandiose Cabaret night or visit throughout the week for a one-man show, or be invited to enter a space where a bunch of collaborators invite you to be part of their process. It might not be what you’d expect to see at the Playhouse, but as a newcomer to Leeds, I wouldn’t expect any less.

Theatre must be about how we engage with things, how we talk about it in pubs, how we persuade and tell people to go or not to go. So must any art form. For me, Transform is about testing new ideas out in a new city and in a new building, about new people, about new ways of seeing and engaging in theatre. For you, not being a newcomer to Leeds, it’s about something else entirely. Can we have a conversation about it?

To whet your appetite for starting that conversation….

We have two sets of 3 Transform wristbands available to win – a wristband admits you to all the shows on that day and you can come along on a day of your choice.


Win a pair of tickets to Smoke&Mirrors cabaret night on the 18th June, which features the Wau Wau Sisters, Bourgeois and Maurice, Company FZ and many more.

Just tell us your views on ‘Theatre’ good, bad or indifferent & we’ll pick the winner by this Saturday 4th June. Obviously don’t enter if you don’t want to win, and we do welcome the open minded!

Transform Monday 6th -18th June, West Yorkshire Playhouse. Box Office


  1. Most people in Leeds wouldn’t know culture if it kicked them in the arse. It’s about time this city had something progressive and challenging to kick people out of there stupor. I’m skeptical that the locals will be able to drag themselves away from the X Factor, but who knows, hopefully some of them will prove me wrong. Good luck to you Amy, I wish you every success, and I really hope you can bring something fresh to the city.

    1. Hi Luke

      Thanks for your response, a lovely support of Amy and a little cynical about the good folk of Leeds. Care to elaborate? Is that a Leeds thing or people across the UK in your experience?

      We always love to hear from people with strong views, especially if you feel your cultural tastes are not being catered for…we do have a nice guest blog spot called ‘Speakers Corner’ for balanced debate about the stuff we feel impassioned about. Fancy a shot at it?

      It’s interesting to see the place we live through fresh eyes, and for people like Amy, not jaded by old historie, come along and have a go.

  2. And we’re still open for entries to win a few Transform wristbands or pair of Smoke&Mirrors tickets, so if anyone would like to rival Luke’s comment, with thoughts about theatre in Leeds or beyond, would be interested to hear your thoughts..!

  3. I’m not sure whether theatre can simple be described as ‘good’ or bad’; I think it reduces it’s size and complexity to do such a thing.

    I’ll admit, I don’t know much about theatre. I don’t attend as much as I’d like but I’ve seen some really great stuff both within Leeds, the UK and overseas.

    As someone who sees themselves as very much in touch with my city’s ‘culture’, I find it odd that some people can dismiss Leeds as nothing more than it’s northern stereotype – that we’re all just thick, unsophisticated and anti-anything that isn’t local, or is intellectual.

    Often, as I find in Leeds, we’re often too busy just getting on with, or being excited about, our artistic output that it doesn’t occur to us to publicise it more widely. There’s been more than one occasion that I’ve been to a really amazing event with the room half empty, and it’s a shame.

    I think that to continue to discuss theatre as a general concept is to do an injustice to it’s complexity and variety, but also, contrastingly, we must improve the way in which we communicate our offerings so that the rich bounty of what theatre can produce can be enjoyed by more.

    Transform looks like a great example of both of these things – a diverse range of theatrical offerings presented in an accessible but not condescending or sweeping way.

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