There Are No Beginnings, the first production in the Bramall Rock Void, a new theatre space created as part of the Playhouse’s £15.8m redevelopment, is now open at Leeds Playhouse and we had the pleasure of heading to see it this weekend.
The all-female cast including Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street, Broadchurch, ITV), Tessa Parr (Road, Hamlet, Leeds Playhouse) Natalie Gavin (Line of Duty, Gentleman Jack, BBC) and newcomer Jesse Jones combine on stage at Leeds Playhouse and deliver a powerful two hour show that resonated with many who were sat around me.
Playing until 2 November, the production tells of four women living and working in the Leeds City Region at the time when the so-called ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ dominated the news headlines. Written by Charley Miles (Blackthorn, Leeds Playhouse) and designed byCamilla Clarke(Frogman, Curious Detective; Bad Roads, Victory Condition, B and Human Animals, Royal Court Theatre), it features a Reclaim the Night march to empower women in the city in the 1970s.
Now, I wasn’t around in the 70s and 80s, but being form Yorkshire and being someone whose been on the unfortunate end of an attack in Leeds, I can empathise to an extent with a fear of the dark in the region. Whilst nowhere near the extent of the Yorkshire Ripper and the terror caused to women in the late 70s, Chelsey Miles highlights the parks and the streets as the most dangerous places and that still rings true today.
The difference here, and with Chelsey’s telling of these murders, is the fear that was created by just one man. What he did impacted every single female across the region, regardless of colour, background and age. The message that was put across to these women and girls, to not go out alone or at night, this curfew that should have been put on the men, is really pertinent in the narrative. Women are told to be vigilant, dress different, act different, all because of one man; even today, when a woman is attacked or raped, one of the first questions many ask is “what was she wearing”, as if the horrible crime was somehow their fault. This part of the show was demonstrated perfectly and was poignant.
The show itself, is full of both humour and genuine anger and pain. The four characters, two young women embarking on their lives, a police officer and mother of one of the young girls, all play off each other wonderfully and there isn’t a man in sight, except for the newss readers and detectives on the recorded snippets. These eports are played alongside music; they trip and skip on key pieces of audio and the use of sound to this effect adds real drama in the scene changes.
The teracotta box in the centre of the room plays host to the stage. During set changes, the four actors change at the side in a fast pace and There Are No Beginnings never seems to stop for a second, such it the way it’s produced.
There Are No Beginnings, as billed, is not about The Yorkshire Ripper. It’s a story of growth; the growth of friendships, the growth of two young women finding their feet in the real world, the growth of fear and protest. The production benefits from excellent writing but also a stunning cast, directed by the incredible Amy Letman. Tessa Parr and Natalie Gavin’s interplay is superb and intriguing to watch; Jesse Jones provides a passionate performance as a female police officer in this time; and the impeccable Julie Hesmondhalg offers the emotion and the raw energy of a mother in the late 70s. All four performances feel real, and as if the story of the Ripper were replaying before our eyes.
The first show at the Bramall Rock Void, is one to marvel at. Everything about it is superb and this theatre space is sure to become one of the favourites of actors, writers and directors, in the UK for years to come. There Are No Beginnings tells of a time in Yorkshire that many will want to forget, but is a period in our history that has a powerful message. Women in society are still not being empowered when these crimes are committed, they are still victims in name only in many situations and this play highlights the fact that in forty years, not much has changed. This is a play of real significance and hopefully a second run will come back in 2020!