Exclusive photoshoot inside Harrogate Theatre under lockdown

It's a remarkable collaboration which could only have happened in these extraordinary times and the revealing pictures of a Harrogate arts hub under lockdown tell the story better than words.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 7:00 am
Harrogate Theatre's David Bown looks up from the stage in one of the revealing photos of an empty arts hub under lockdown. (Picture by Jude Palmer)
Harrogate Theatre's David Bown looks up from the stage in one of the revealing photos of an empty arts hub under lockdown. (Picture by Jude Palmer)

Renowned Harrogate photojournalist Jude Palmer has been documenting a ghostly Harrogate Theatre during lockdown with the help of Harrogate Theatre chief executive David Bown, the last man standing inside this celebrated Victorian arts venue.

Palmer has previously has documented the Tour Dr France, the Rugby World Cup, many high-profile musicians including Robert Plant and Linda Ronstadt, not to forget the building of the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate.

Jude told the Harrogate Advertiser: “I first worked with David ten years ago, documenting his version of Aladdin, that he had written and was producing.

A section from one of the revealing photos of an empty Harrogate Theatre under lockdown. (Picture by Jude Palmer)

"This was the start of my career in photojournalism. Ten years later I have returned.

"The new shoot highlighted themes of emptiness that we are all feeling at the moment. It also captures the stoicism of the arts and their ability to fight for survival.”

David Bown has been an actor, director, writer and a lecturer in drama in both the UK and America.

He was artistic director of The Castle Theatre in Northamptonshire and received The Sunday Times Playwriting Award for his piece Stand and the Peggy Ramsay PMA award for a play called Loaded.

For the past 11 years he has co-written the hugely popular annual pantomime at Harrogate Theatre with Phil Lowe.

David said: “Ten years on from when we first met, Jude and I were chatting, at distance, in the ornate splendour of this magnificent theatre, feeling like we were in a scene from the Titanic, waiting for the inevitable.

"Jude suggested a second shoot, which immediately felt like a creative and worthwhile thing to do, given these extraordinary circumstances.

"Aladdin was my first pantomime for Harrogate Theatre and that shoot launched Jude’s career as a successful photojournalist. It felt right and very poignant.”

As revenue dries up with the postponement of all its shows, Harrogate Theatre's Emergency Appeal to the public to help it survive lockdown has now moved past the £40,000 mark.

Jude Palmer said her original experience of Harrogate Theatre had been transformative with the results of that shoot forming her submission to Magnum, which instantly catapulted her career forward.

Jude said: "I instantly fell for Harrogate Theatre’s Pantomime, its traditions and rituals. It’s part of our family life and the life of the theatre.

"When I walked on to the theatre's fly tower platform this time it was very emotional.

"The ropes bleeding out onto the floor as they did ten years ago. The 100 years of graffiti voices scrawled and whispering across the backstage walls. Time seems suspended here.

"Can this empty building still reflect hope though? It’s still standing. I sense that it is waiting again to be filled with the laughter, drama and the wonder it gloriously and regularly held. It really is waiting."

David Bown said working alone in the empty Harrogate Theatre was almost unbearable.

David said: "I feel like I’m set in aspic at the moment. It’s unbearable.

"But I have always maintained what we fundamentally do as theatre makers is the absolute antithesis of current government advice.

"We invite the public to come and sit in a confined space for up to two hours or so, in a collective shared experience.

"This is not social distancing. I also believe that theatre, in the immediate future is not necessarily feasible. We have to wait until we can manage this illness.

"It’s difficult to see how Social Distancing will work in a theatre. Not only will the atmosphere be decimated, but financially the numbers don’t add up.

"The audience and the financial capacity will be reduced by over two-thirds.

"Jude’s photographs, for me capture a huge narrative in a single moment. She articulates in them that the tools of our trade have been put down and we are left to stare at empty stages away from each other.

But, we as buildings are still here. As Jude says, theatre will return."

How to support Harrogate Theatre's Emergency Appeal

Donate to the Emergency Appeal via www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk;

Join Harrogate Theatre’s membership scheme;

Buy tickets for future shows - or don’t claim a refund on tickets for cancelled shows.

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