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The City’s Statues Have Been Given a Voice

· Joseph Sheerin · Culture

The Black Prince, City Square

Talking Statues brings the city’s statues to life creating a conversation that will see you interacting with art in new ways.

One of the highlights of this year’s Yorkshire Festival is set to give life to some of Leeds’ most iconic landmarks, as Sing London bring their renowned Talking Statues project to the city, after successful stints in Manchester, London and Chicago.

Talking Statues is exactly what it sounds like – 10 of Leeds’ most recognisable statues will be given a voice from Thursday 16th June to Sunday 3rd July 2016. All you have to do to get involved in it, is swipe your phone across the sign next to participating statues, and boom, your phone rings. You could find yourself speaking to anything from a lion to a prince, for free, with each one voiced by celebrities, artists or even local people.

Leeds Town Hall Lion

In a little bit of a shake up from their previous shows, they’ve joined forces with West Yorkshire Playhouse to make Talking Statues happen, and to make it a little bit different from those they’ve done before. The Playhouse have drawn up the monologues that you’ll be listening to, with an aim to change people’s perceptions of the art they’re looking at.

“Most of us hardly notice the statues around us. Talking Statues Leeds aims to change this,” Sing London Director Colette Hiller told us. “We have gathered a stellar line-up of writers and actors ready to put themselves in the shoes – or in some cases the paws – of Leeds’ statues.”

So where can you speak to a statue? Let’s start off in City Square, as The Black Prince comes to life courtesy of words by Kelly O’Reilly and comedian Vic Reeves, who can’t work out he’s on a horse or even why he’s in Leeds in the first place. Across the square, actress Gemma Whelan lends her voice to the Drury Dame, as she reveals all about how she became so famous (or infamous, perhaps) with the help of writer Elizabeth Dearnely.

Gemma Whelan, Talking Statues, Leeds

It’s a project local lass, Whelan, known for her role as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, is excited to get involved in, “I’m from Leeds and I know City Square very well. To be given the opportunity to voice one of the Dames was a dream project. I have a bit of the inner dame myself!”

Over in Bond Court, off Park Row, The Petanque Player breaks out of its metal shell courtesy of Barnsley playwright and poet Ian McMillan who has written his own monologue – it ponders what a Frenchman is doing in the middle of Leeds playing a traditional French game. Further up the road at the Town Hall, the bombastic personality of Brian Blessed finds itself in one of the lions that sit outside the venue, as he tells of their life guarding it.

As part of the partnership with West Yorkshire Playhouse, the theatre have commissioned three artists who have ties with the theatre to give a voice to statues in the city. West Yorkshire Playhouse Associate Producer Gilly Roche explained, ”It is crucial to us to find and tell stories that are about the city we live in and to allow these stories to be heard by as wide and diverse an audience as possible. For this reason, Talking Statues Leeds is a perfect project for us to champion.”

James Watt, City Square

Again at City Square, the statue of James Watt will tell of the man’s great inventorial mind, through the words of Ben Tagoe and the voice of Coronation Street’s Drew Cain. Just in front of the Civic Hall in Millennium Square, a Leeds icon will speak of its surveying of the city for nearly 100 years, as poet Khadijah Ibrahim and Poppy Shakespeare’s Claire Benedict offer up a phone call from one of the Golden Owls. On the other side of town, Daniel Bye, a playwright known for the show Going Vital, and Shameless actor Lee Toomes tell the story of World War II pilot Arthur Aaron from his statue at the Eastgate Roundabout.

The final three statues are yet to be given a voice, however. That’s because Sing London, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Yorkshire Festival are looking for the city’s best creative writers to win the opportunity to voice their own statue. The three remaining are the Talbot Hound, a Victorian stray dog in Trevelyan Square, John Harrison, a cat-loving wool merchant in City Square and Equus Altus, the imposing metal horse above Trinity Leeds.


For the chance to win, all you’ll have to do is visit the Talking Statues website from Thursday 16th June 2016, and enter in your own monologue for one of the statues, with winning entries to be recorded by known actors ready for people to discover come in the autumn

Yorkshire Festival Artistic Director, Matt Burman, told us, “Talking Statues is a fantastic project; mixing culture, technology, a little bit of history and a lot of fun. We walk past these statues every day but by bringing them to life with some well-known voices, not only will locals and visitors to the city be entertained, they will also learn something about the historical figures who inspired each of these long-standing works of art.”

Talking Statues takes place across Leeds from Thursday 16th June until Sunday 3rd July 2016. Free entry.