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Dandy Dick, Grand Opera House, York, from August 14 to 18
FIRST the Grand Opera House announced a week-long run in York for the Theatre Royal Brighton revival of Arthur Wing Pinero’s horse-racing comedy Dandy Dick, with Patricia Hodge and Nicholas Le Prevost in the leading roles.
Then a second Brighton production was added to the York theatre’s autumn programme, Joe Penhall’s stinging satire on mental illness, racism and 21st century British life, Blue/Orange, a play already staged at York Theatre Royal only three months ago in the Studio highlight of the year so far.
This is a wholly unconnected production: a new version now being updated to 2012 by Penhall for Theatre Royal Brighton’s national tour and West End transfer with Cold Feet star Robert Bathurst as the poster name.
Both directed by the impeccably astute artistic director Christopher Luscombe, Dandy Dick and Blue/Orange are the first two cornerstones of Theatre Royal Brighton Productions, a newly-formed partnership between the Brighton theatre and the Ambassador Theatre Group, owners of the Grand Opera House.
Howard Panter, ATG’s co-founder and joint chief executive, will be producing all the partnership’s productions.
“There is a renaissance happening in regional theatre, and we have undoubtedly seen a shift from the centre of the theatrical landscape being London,” he says. “From Sussex to Scotland and everywhere in between, audiences are keen to see quality plays without travelling many miles for the pleasure.”
The knock-on effect is that the Grand Opera House will have an upsurge in “straight plays” to complement the musicals, comedy turns, pop and rock concerts and tribute acts that have held sway in the Cumberland Street theatre’s programming.
“I want to start building a reputation for quality drama at the Grand Opera House, so this is just a beginning,” says Howard, preparing the way for further Theatre Royal Brighton shows to head north.
“Different theatres under our ownership need different things, and in York we first strengthened the musicals programme with Legally Blonde and Monty Python’s Spamalot, which have done extremely well, but the Opera House had dropped off the radar for first-class drama.
“The idea we have is for Brighton, and other theatre initiatives we’re working on, to bring drama to York with the kind of cast and quality of production you would expect to see on the West End stage.
“It’s crazy that because it’s in York it shouldn’t get the best theatre it could.”
Howard acknowledges that building up support for “serious” drama at the Opera House will be a gradual process.
“I hope that over a period of time we can build audiences’ trust that we will put on better and better quality work, including theatre,” he says.
“ATG are not immune from the difficulties that theatres face, but I believe people do need the human contact and storytelling and feeling of community that theatre can provide so well, so we’re working on bringing the best work we can across different genres.”
• Dandy Dick will run at the Grand Opera House, York, from August 14 to 18; Blue/Orange, from October 9 to 13. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or atgtickets.com/york