Revealed: The romance at the heart of Harrogate Theatre's 122 Love Stories which launches tonight

At the heart of epic new community play 122 Love Stories, which is launched tonight, is a real-life romance which took place inside Harrogate Theatre more than 60 years ago.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 3:31 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th July 2022, 3:34 pm

Designed to mark this remarkable arts hub’s 122nd anniversary, this truly interactive production is inspired by a wealth of true stories submitted by theatre-goers.

But at the core of 122 Love Stories, which is set in the corridors, stairwells and stages of the theatre itself, is just one story.

Flashback to 1961 - Newly-weds Valerie Ribbands and Frank Graves outside Harrogate Theatre where they decided to have their wedding reception in the Circle Bar.

“The project was inspired by a friend of mine who showed me a picture of her parents’ wedding reception being held at the theatre back in 1961,” said Harrogate Theatre chief executive David Bown.

“This inspired our creative team of Rachael Halliwell and Amie Burns-Walker, to seek out other love stories related to the theatre.

“But it all goes back to that one picture.”

The writer of 122 Love Stories, Harrogate-based playwright Rachael Halliwell, said the photograph had had a great impact on herself and the new show’s director Amie Burns Walker.

The creative team behind 122 Love Stories at Harrogate Theatre - Playwright Rachael Halliwell and director Amie Burns-Walker.

“It’s an amazing picture and an amazing story,” she said. “It seems when two theatre fans Valerie Ribbands and Frank Graves got married at Christ Church in Harrogate in 1961, they decided to have their wedding reception in the Circle Bar at Harrogate Theatre. They arrived on Oxford Street by black cab with their friends and bridesmaids etc in tow.”

As the follow-up to last year’s hit community play Our Gate – which saw the team of Halliwell and Walker create a story which took audience and cast across Harrogate to a series of real-life locations – 122 Love Stories has ended up expanding far beyond its first thought.

“Inspired by the wonderful stories that the public have shared with us, I was determined to showcase as much of the living visceral history of our beautiful theatre as possible,” said Mrs Halliwell. “The four narratives are intertwined but all different - you really will see a different show every night.”

Weaving a narrative round different locations inside the rabbit warren of the beautiful interiors of Harrogate Theatre has not been easy.

But the results, as audiences will see from today, Thursday to Saturday, is both fun and poignant.

“‘Creating something with such an epic scale across an old building and synching up four concurrent narratives has been a challenge,” said Amie Burns Walker. “But it’s been a challenge that the cast and creatives are well up for.

Accessibility has been at the forefront of our minds, Emma Tugman acts as our Access Facilitator, on hand to support audiences throughout the performance and provide audio description.

“There is a specific access route suitable for audience members who need level access.”

As for the then-bride whose wedding on Saturday, September 16, 1961 unwittingly set the ball rolling on 122 Love Stories, she says she is delighted by the turn of events.

“We only chose the theatre because we went to see weekly rep there,” said Valerie Ribbands, pictured inset.

“I am very excited and intrigued to see the new play.”

What is 122 Love Stories about + How to get a ticket?

From the artistic partnership who created 2021’s epic community play Our Gate, new show 122 Love Stories invites audiences this weekend to join the ghosts of Harrogate Theatre on the ultimate quest to mend a broken heart.

Journey with the cast as they travel across time in a range of locations inside Harrogate Theatre’s unseen spaces to meet the owner of the theatre, Alex.

Overcome with grief, Alex is ready to sell up and move on.

But the theatre has other ideas.

Created with a community and professional cast and featuring storytelling, music and animation, the new production promises to be an unforgettable experience and a great way to mark 122 years of Harrogate Theatre.

Following a call out for real life love stories connected with the building and theatre going experience, 122 Love Stories is part installation combined with an immersive experience, which means the characters know that you’re there, they will be interacting with you and guiding you around the building.

Ticket holders are asked to arrive from 7pm for the evening show and 1.30pm for the matinee.

For tickets, visit www.harrogate