THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, the northern answer to the Notting Hill Carnival that locals will tell you is better than the southern summer street gathering.

West Yorkshire Playhouse, where Geraldine Connor’s wonderful Carnival Messiah was first staged more than a decade ago, is playing its part in the anniversary celebrations with Queen Of Chapeltown as the centrepiece.

Written by Jamaican-rooted playwright Colin Grant and curated by Burt Caesar, it draws on first-hand accounts of founding members of the carnival, and it packs plenty into its hour-long account of the event’s birth and the community that felt driven to start it.

Directed by Playhouse associate director Amy Leach with all the vibrancy, combustion and street energy she brought to her Romeo And Juliet, it combines community players with five tremendous lead performances from Elexi Walker, as Beverly, on her rocky road to becoming the carnival queen; Raphael Bushay, Benjamin Cawley and Gabriel Paul as three West Indian immigrants from different Caribbean islands who spar, argue over Charlie Williams, but pull together to launch the carnival, and Emily Butterfield as Hilary, the young white hairdresser who befriends Beverly.

Grant brings humour, candour and sometimes an undercurrent of hurt and anger, but exuberance too, to a fast-moving story that pulls no punches in depicting the Windrush experience, the stifling racism, the forbidding streets, the need for carnival.

The knowing humour is particularly potent in commenting on grey Leeds versus the primary-coloured Windies, Roundhay versus Chapeltown, white hair versus black hair, Jamaica versus Trinidad, permanent rain versus perennial sunshine, as everyone unites in the healing laughter of recognition of contrasts.

Queen Of Chapeltown, Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, 8pm tonight and tomorrow. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at