Honor Blackman, Bond Girl, Avengers star… and York Theatre Royal repertory player

Honor Blackman as Amanda Wingfield with Helen Grace as disabled daughter Laura in The Glass Menagerie at York Theatre Royal in November 1999

HOW did Honor Blackman come to star in a repertory play at York Theatre Royal in 1999?

As news broke on Sunday of her peaceful passing at 94, thoughts turned back to when The Avengers’ Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, the “Bond girl” – a term she never liked – played American southern belle Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’s Depression-era play The Glass Menagerie.

Seventy-four at the time, it was a role the London-born actress had long craved, as Damian Cruden, the artistic director in his second year of cutting a swathe through the Theatre Royal, discovered.

“It all came about because I knew Honor’s agent,” Damian recalled this week. “We had a conversation about the agent’s clients. Various names came up, one of them, Honor Blackman.

“I’d been thinking about doing The Glass Menagerie, and so I said, ‘What about Honor playing Amanda? Would she be interested?’.”

The answer was affirmative, whereupon arrangements were made for Damian to meet Miss Blackman at her London abode. “I can remember going to see Honor at some place in Mayfair, and her instructions were very particular.

“She said, ‘you’ll need to ring the bell, I’ll buzz you in. Then, when you get in the lift, you’ll arrive at what it says is the top floor. The doors will open…but don’t get out. They’ll close again and the lift will bring you up to my flat’.”

What happened? “Exactly that! When the doors opened, I found I was inside her flat! Getting there was just like something out of a Bond movie!” Damian said. “It was a beautiful apartment too.”

Before rehearsals started in the Theatre Royal’s old Walmgate rehearsal rooms – now home to Brew York ­– Damian had another memorable Honor experience. “I went to see her in her one-woman show, Dishonourable Ladies, in Wales on the Sunday night before we were due to begin, and the deal was I would drive her to York…as it turned out, in her sports car, me driving, while she enjoyed a bottle of champagne! Glorious!”

Damian has fond memories of Miss Blackman’s time in York in autumn 1999. “She was enormously gracious and generous. She had friends coming to her dressing room each night, and liked to have a bottle of champagne in the fridge, but that dressing room didn’t have a fridge until she bought one for it and then gifted it to the theatre. It’s still there in dressing room one, as far as I know!”

As was his custom in his 22 years as artistic director, Damian liked to host meals for his casts at his home. “I cooked a meal on a couple of evenings when The Glass Menagerie cast came round,” he said. “Honor was very straightforward. There were no airs and graces to her.

Damian Cruden: York Theatre Royal artistic director drove Honor Blackman to York in her sports car; Honor sipping champagne by his side

“I can recall her sitting by the window with my son Felix, who was only three at the time. “My neighbour was standing watching, and I remember him saying, ‘Was that Pussy Galore in your window?’. ‘Yes’, I said. ‘My god, a Bond girl next door,’ he said.”

Damian spoke highly of Miss Blackman’s working relationship with The Glass Menagerie company. “She was great fun and very supportive of young actors, and there were a lot of young cast members in that company,” he said.

“Her performance was great too. Very intelligent, sensitive, mature. There was none of that ‘being starry’ thing about her. She wasn’t aloof. Instead, she enjoyed being part of a group. That was important to her.”

Honor Blackman would return to the York stage in February 2005 in the surprise guest role in The Play What I Wrote, The Right Size comic duo Sean Foley and Hamish McColl’s celebration of Morecambe and Wise. The Press review recorded how Honor’s role was “to be subjected glamorously and good humouredly to humiliation and mockery” at the hands of both the script and comic interjections in the playful Morecambe tradition. She handled it all with elan, of course.

Miss Blackman will forever be remembered for Pussy Galore, from the 1964 James Bond film, Goldfinger. “It is extraordinary. The damned film goes on marching, it doesn’t go out of fashion,” she told the Northern Echo in June 2004, going on to distance her role from the Bond girl stereotype.

“I hate being a Bond girl, because Pussy Galore was a character you would like to play in anything. She was not one of those who fall on their backs straight-away.

“But it was just a part I played, and that is all it was, and it queers your pitch in lots of ways, because people think of you as some sort of femme fatale; they don’t see you as a Shakespearean actress.”

Before Pussy Galore, there was Cathy Gale in The Avengers, and there was more of her in Cathy than in many of her other roles, she suggested.

“When we started, I was the first woman who had ever dared to be equal to a man, intellectually and physically, and the guys who wrote the script were used to writing about women waiting by the kitchen sink or wicked women in black satin,” she said.

“I couldn’t help but be aware of the impact it was having from the fan mail, because women loved it – at last a woman was standing there doing it all herself ­– and men loved it from quite a different point of view.”

Raise a glass to those memories, whether of Cathy Gale, Pussy Galore or cut-glass Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie in York in 1999.

Copyright of The Press, York

WHAT DID THE PRESS, YORK REVIEW SAY OF HONOR BLACKMAN’S PERFORMANCE IN 1999?

The Glass Menagerie, York Theatre Royal, until December 4

IN the long, distinguished, purring career of Honor Blackman, Amanda Wingfield was a role she still craved. Likewise, Roger Roger star Helen Grace believed The Glass Menagerie to be the best Tennessee Williams play and she “just can’t tell you” how much she desired to be cast as Amanda’s disabled daughter, Laura.

The Glass Menagerie, a memory play as subtle as silk, absorbing as cotton wool, unexpected as a midnight phonecall, has a habit of hooking you like that, such is its sentimental enchantment: an enchantment that masks a sting as potent as a drowsy wasp in autumn. Williams called it truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

The Glass Menagerie, inspired by Williams’ own circumstances, is set in the Depression era St Louis of the 1930s, where former southern belle Amanda is the domineering matriarch, smothering as much as mothering her son Tom (Keith Merrill) and Laura.

Deserted 15 years earlier by her telephone-salesman husband, she clamps her children in the past with her suffocating memories, her fantasies, her anachronistic belief in the tradition of the gentleman caller (Douglas Cockle) and her impossibly romantic hopes of perfect marriages.

Her husband had sought his escape, so too her children – they are in their 20s – but with very different routes in mind. Tom, the narrator and effectively the mouthpiece for Williams himself, is the dreamer, the poet who goes to the movies and drinks “for adventure” and plans a Merchant Marine passage out of working at the dead-end shoe warehouse. Shy Laura, more emotionally crippled than physically disabled (she has a limp), seeks an inward path to safe, fairytale isolation, locking herself away at home with her glass menagerie to avoid the judgement of others.

Theirs is a claustrophobic, unreal world out of step with the times, a contrast emphasised in the superb jagged score of cellist Christopher Madin who juxtaposes the neon brightness of the jazz age with the dimly-lit mournful cello he plays to the side of Liam Doona’s revolving, spinning stage.

Doona’s design adds to the all pervasive presence of Amanda Wingfield, with its see-through walls of muslin drapes allowing you to see into the next room, enhancing the sense of there being no escape from her stifling ways.

Where Sonia Fraser’s Cherry Orchard dragged last month, when there should have been the sense of the sands of time tumbling ever faster, Damian Cruden’s beautifully weighted production captures slow movement, emphasising each nuance of Williams’s subtly shifting writing. He is blessed too with superlative performances: Honor Blackman, a picture of grand illusion; Helen Grace, frail, pale and shyly expressive; Keith Merrill suitably poetic yet pent-up; Douglas Cockle, charming and too worldly for their world.

The finest cut glass indeed.

Charles Hutchinson, November 16 1999

Copyright of The Press, York

Exit Bake Off, re-enter Sandi Toksvig in tour two of National Trevor at York Barbican

Goodbye to Bake Off but back on the road for Sandi Toksvig on her National Trevor travels

AFTER her back-out from Bake Off to “focus on other work projects”, Sandi Toksvig will return to York Barbican on September 22 on her second National Trevor tour.

In January, the Danish-born presenter, 61, announced she would be leaving The Great British Bake Off after three years of co-hosting Channel 4’s cookery contest with The Mighty Boosh comedian Noel Fielding.

Filmed last September, Sandi’s last episode of The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer was broadcast on Tuesday night.

She first performed National Trevor at York Barbican on January 28 2019 as part of a sold-out winter tour, when the News Quiz, QI and Bake Off host brought her trademark warmth, grounded nous and authority to a show that was part stand-up, part lecture as she discussed what unites us in a Toksvigian celebration of all that is weird and wonderful in the everyday.

Back on the road this autumn, the show’s publicity talks of “Sandi realising some people harbour an ambition to be a National Treasure, but following a misunderstanding with a friend, she has decided to become a National Trevor: half misprint, half Danish comedian”.

“Expect tall stories, fascinating and funny facts, silly jokes, a quick-fire Q&A and even a little quiz,” says Sandi of a show that embraces anecdotes, potted histories, family connections and darker topics handled with levity. “You certainly won’t be getting tap-dancing, leotards or a forward roll,” she promises.

Sandi launched her career in 1982 on Number 73, a long-running children’s Saturday morning show, since when her CV has taken in such shows as Call My Bluff and Whose Line Is It Anyway? and hosting BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz.

In 2016, she took over Stephen Fry’s seat as host of BBC2 quiz show QI, followed by her joining The Great British Bake Off team on its switch to Channel 4 in 2017.

Exit Sandi from Bake Off. Re-enter Sandi Toksvig: The National Trevor Tour, a show whose parting wisdom last time was a plea to “enjoy life and seize the day”. Oh, and to seize the biscuit too. “Did you know eating biscuits was dangerous,” she said. “And you still do it, you wonderful risk-takers.”

Tickets for September 22 are newly on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

No York Open Studios in April, but all that art still needs a new home, so look here…DAY ELEVEN

Closed doors, but open windows: the way forward for York Open Studios 2020

YORK Open Studios 2020, the chance to meet 144 artists at 100 locations over two April weekends, has been cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, with doors sadly shut for the April 17 to 19 and April 25 to 26 event, CharlesHutchPress wants to champion the creativity of York’s artists and makers, who would have been showcasing their ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, print, photography, sculpture and textiles skills.

Each day, in brochure order, five artists who now miss out on the exposure of Open Studios will be given a pen portrait on these pages, because so much art and craft will have been created for the event and still needs a new home. Addresses will not be included at this time.

Meanwhile, York Open Studios artists are finding their own way to respond to the shutdown by filling their windows with their work instead.  Look for #openwindowsyork2020 to locate them. “If you see one in your area while taking your daily exercise, take a picture and let us know,” they say.

Cushions by Rosie Waring

Rosie Waring, textiles

ROSIE creates handwoven textiles using fine yarns and intricate patterns to produce interior products for the home and personal accessories with a natural colour palette.

She specialised in handwoven textiles for fashion and interiors in her studies at Bath Spa University, graduating in 2013, since when she has made handwoven cushions, lampshades and other small woven items.

Rosie often takes her inspiration for colour, texture and structure from nature and her surroundings: the rich and varied Yorkshire landscapes of the dales, the North York Moors and the coastline.

“Weaving in fine cotton yarns and moving into my wool collection, I create vibrant fabrics to brighten up the home, bringing the outside inside,” she says. 

” I create vibrant fabrics to brighten up the home, bringing the outside inside,” says Rosie Waring

Rosie knew early on that her strength was working with colour. “When I discovered weaving during my studies, I saw the potential to work directly with colour on the loom,” she says. “I found I could express myself through colour and texture, creating cloth from the individual yarns.”

She is interested in how weaving can affect mental health positively and has studied its benefits on mood and a general sense of well-being.

As well as York Open Studios, she has exhibited at Art In The Pen, Danby Christmas Market and the summertime York River Art Market. Find out more at rosiewaring.co.uk.

A mixed-media work by Colin Black

Colin Black, mixed media

COLIN’S mixed-media work has varied from a series focusing on York Minster at night to national identity and the refugee crisis.

He describes his art as being primarily landscape based, always enjoying the use of colour to convey mood.

His last two exhibitions used the landscape motif in very different ways. The first, Imagined Landscapes, conveyed a seemingly idyllic beauty; the second, We Have Chosen A One-Way Road, saw landscape as “a place across which refugees made their escape and away from the place they called home”.

Colin Black: Moved to York in 2018 to set up Seek Art School

“The work was about borders, boundaries and restrictions,” says Colin. “They were a response to Britain’s dilemma about Brexit, hard or soft, independence and interdependence, Trump’s wall. We seem to be becoming insular in our thinking as a fearful means of self-preservation. How do we square our fears of invasion with humanitarian aid?”

Colin studied visual communication at Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London and taught for many years in further education in London and Edinburgh.

In 2018, he moved to York to set up Seek Art School, in Haxby Road, to teach  people “the fundamentals of looking and the development of your own visual voice through personal ideas”. Courses include day and evening classes and Saturday workshops.

Discover more via colin@seekartschool.co.uk.

Apothecary Jar, graphite on newsprint, by Nicola Lee

Nicola Lee, drawing

NICOLA’S work on paper combines drawing, folding and photography.

“My visual interest lies beyond the object,” she says. “I’m drawn to line, pattern and shape occurring in peripheral space. A space that is fluid, ambiguous and lacking in definition. A space in which the peripheral becomes the object.

“My work uses photography, drawing and folding to record and respond to my observations of this suggestive space. I use process and material to play with ideas of repetition, reduction and abstraction in order to explore my encounter with the space in between.”  

Nicola Lee: “Encounters with the space in between “

Nicola studied art and design at York St John University, then gained an MA in textiles at Huddersfield University and now an MA in creative practice from Leeds Arts University.

She is enjoying being part of the South Bank Studios community; this year would have marked her York Open Studios debut. Head to ofsorts.space for more info.

Elephant Festival Fun, by Rebecca Mason

Rebecca Mason, textiles

FIRST inspired by Batik while in Malaysia, Rebecca has practised Batik art for more than 30 years.

Since attending workshops and evening classes to learn the dye-resist technique that uses wax, she has made silk scarves, ties, framed pictures, brooches, cards and wall hangings, using both traditional Indonesian and modern methods.

“I specialise in doing Batik on cotton and silk, including velour, and I particularly enjoy the fluidity, flexibility, unpredictability and crackle effect of the wax,” says Rebecca.

Batik artist Rebecca Mason in her studio

“I also love to be creative with colour and the freedom of abstract designs. Much of my Batik is influenced and inspired by the shapes and hues of the Yorkshire countryside and by the changing seasons too.

“My cotton pictures are varied in design and theme and use a range of Batik techniques, and I also make Batik ties and scarves that are each uniquely designed.”

Rebecca, who would have been a York Open Studios 2020 debutante, sells her work by appointment from her studio and at Simon Main’s Village Gallery, in Colliergate, York. She has exhibited too at York River Art Market and South Bank Studios and welcomes special commissions. Take a look at batik-art.co.uk.

Clifford’s Tower, York, by Donna Maria Taylor

Donna Maria Taylor, mixed media

DONNA’S website, donnamariataylor.com, introduces her as designer, maker, teacher, with more than 25 years’ experience of working in the arts.

Her mixed-media work spans a range of disciplines, all inspired by the world around her, and although her York Open Studios show has been cancelled, she has upcoming exhibitions in the diary at Osbornes at 68 Gillygate, from August to October, and Angel On The Green, Bishopthorpe Road, from November 3 to December 15.

Donna Maria Taylor: designer, maker, teacher

In the theatre world, Yorkshire-born Donna has designed shows, painted scenery and made props and costumes for many companies, including York Theatre Royal, the Grand Opera House, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre and the York Mystery Plays in York Minster, West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, English Touring Theatre, Sheffield Theatres, Hull Truck Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

She is an adult education senior tutor and observer for York Learning and is involved regularly in community art projects at York community centres, children’s centres, schools, church halls and a prison.

She has taught in a wide variety of settings, such as York Art Gallery, Explore York libraries and York museums, as well as at colleges and universities, and runs workshops and art holidays, although these have been postponed until further notice during the Covid-19 pandemic.

To find out more, go to donnamariataylor.com.

TOMORROW: Caroline Utterson; Marcus Jacka; Ruth King; Elaine Hughes and Mick Leach.

Nothing happening in these long lockdown days. Everything off. Here are 10 Things To Do on the home front, courtesy of The Press, York. WEEK THREE

Nothing happening full stop. Now, with time on your frequently washed hands, home is where the art is and plenty else besides

EXIT 10 Things To See Next Week in York and beyond for the unforeseeable future. Enter home entertainment, wherever you may be, whether together or in self-isolation, in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. From behind his closed door, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these suggestions.

Lockdown Legends Challenge, set by York Theatre Royal

EACH Monday morning, York Theatre Royal will post a theatrical #LockdownLegendsChallenge on its Twitter and Facebook pages for the whole family to take part in, just for fun. Even the participation of pets is “actively encouraged”.

York Theatre Royal: ideas for creating your own theatre magic at home in the Lockdown Legends Challenge

This week’s challenge is to make a one-minute play. “Send us your responses to lockdownlegends@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and we’ll share these on our social media pages throughout the week,” says the Theatre Royal. “Remember to keep safe – and stay creative.”

Setting up a film reviewers’ club online

ARE you missing discussing the latest hit films at City Screen, Everyman York, Vue York and Cineworld? If so, why not start or join a film reviewers’ club online on WhatsApp, with the group having a name.

One group member chooses a film, old, recent, cult, blockbuster, world, British, American, whatever; gives a brief synopsis and initial thoughts behind the choice; sets a start and finishing date for viewing (whether on DVD, Netflix, etc), and then everyone gathers for a chat online to give their short reviews.

Explore York’s library and archive at York Explore, Museum Street, York

Explore York’s Libraries From Home

THE Explore York library and archive service will be developing online activities such as a Virtual Book Group, while updating regularly as “new things” come on stream and sharing them on social media, using #LibrariesFromHome.

Up and running now: 5,000 Ebooks and audio books for adults and children, free to borrow from exploreyork.org.uk/digital/e-books/; a new York Images site for exploring the city’s history through photographs, illustrations, maps and archival documents at exploreyork.org.uk/digital/york-images/; and the chance to start your family tree using Ancestry and Find My Past, for free, at exploreyork.org.uk/digital/online-reference/.

The Queen show must go on: We Will Rock You will rock you in 2021

Keep trying to find good news

DALBY Forest concerts, chopped. The first four classics of the flat racing season, all non-runners. Wimbledon tennis, out. Harrogate International Festivals summer season, off. York Festival, gone. Scarborough Open Air Theatre, shut. The list of cancellations keeps growing, but against that backdrop, theatres, music venues and festivals are busy re-booking acts and shows for later in the year or next year.

Keep visiting websites for updates, whether York Barbican, York Theatre Royal, the Grand Opera House, The Crescent, wherever. We Will Rock You has just been confirmed for the Grand Opera House for March 22 to 27 next year.

Look out too for the streaming of past hit shows. More and more theatres and arts companies are doing this…

Breath of fresh Eyre: The National Theatre’s innovative Jane Eyre, directed by Sally Cookson. This picture features the 2017 touring cast at the Grand Opera House, York

…For example, National Theatre At Home on YouTube

HULL playwright Richard Bean’s comic romp One Man, Two Guvnors has drawn more than two million viewers since being launched on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel last Thursday.

Next up, available for free from 7pm this evening for a week, will be Sally Cookson’s innovative, dynamic, remarkable stage adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Yorkshire novel, Jane Eyre. You may recall the NT’s touring production from its week-long run at the Grand Opera House, York, in May 2017. Truly worth staying in for…but you will be doing that anyway, won’t you.

Window of opportunity : Cancelled York Open Studios finds a way still to showcase art

Venturing outdoors…to spot #openwindowsyork2020 

AMID the strict Government strictures, when allowed out to walk the dog or take that one burst of mentally and physically beneficial exercise a day, you can discover a new form of “window dressing” and maybe even “window shopping” near you.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shut the doors on York Open Studios 2020, when 144 artists and makers would have been welcoming visitors on April 17 to 19 and 25 and 26. Enterprising as ever, they now say: “We can’t open our doors, but we can show you our work through our windows”, as they launch #openwindowsyork2020. “If you see one, let us know,” they add.

Welcome back Backgammon

Vintage game of the week: Backgammon

LOCKDOWN is the perfect chance to dust off faithful old games consigned to gathering dust on top shelves.

Bring back Backgammon, one of the oldest known board games, whose history can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia. In this quick-thinking two-player game, each player has 15 pieces that move between 24 triangles, according to the roll of two dice. You gotta roll with it, as Oasis once sang.

Easter egg hunt

EASTER Day celebrations demand an Easter egg hunt, whether indoors or in the garden, if that is possible.

Two customs spring to mind: firstly, wrapping eggs in ribbon for boiling that will then leave a pretty decorative pattern on the eggs.

Secondly, writing poetic ditties as clues for the Easter egg hunter to find the hidden chocolate goodies. Happy hunting, happy Easter, dear readers.

Clap for Carers

YES, we miss the sound of applause bursting through our theatre walls, but for now, save your hand-clapping for showing support every Thursday at 8pm for our NHS doctors, hospital staff, carers, rising tide of volunteers and key workers. God bless them all.

Paul Merton: Welcome back Have I Got News For You for series number 59

And what about…

BOOKS on pandemics and plagues. Cookbooks. The return of BBC One’s Have I Got News For You on Fridays, albeit in compromised social-distancing-from-home form. The shockumentary series Tiger King:  Murder, Mayhem And Madness on Netflix. Writing a 10 Things list like this one.

Reading the regular Tweets from Reece Dinsdale, Emmerdale actor full of nous, and Alan Lane, Slung Low artistic director and man of action around Leeds. Keep drinking hot drinks and gargling regularly, as well as all that hand-washing.

OFF: York Festival cancelled. OFF TOO: Scarborough Open Air Theatre season shut

Goodbye, not Hello: Lionel Richie’s York Festival and Scarborough Open Air Theatre concerts have been cancelled

THE inaugural York Festival with Lionel Richie, Madness and Westlife in June is off.  The entire Scarborough Open Air Theatre summer season has been cancelled too.

The “unavoidable” double blow for promoters Cuffe and Taylor was confirmed in a brief statement at high noon, enforced by the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We are sad to announce both York Festival and the 2020 programme at Scarborough Open Air Theatre will not go ahead,” they said. “We did not want to take this step, but it was unavoidable. The health and safety of concertgoers, artists, staff and community will always be our top priority.

Grey Day for Madness: no House Of Fun after all at York Festival on June 19

“We are working with our ticketing partners and they will contact customers very soon to process refunds. Peace, love, kindness and thanks.”

So, alas, this means goodbye to Hello and Lionel Richie at York Sports Club, Clifton Park, Shipton Road, on June 21, when the American soul legend, now 70, would have been supported by Grammy Award winner Macy Gray and Newcastle soul-pop duo Lighthouse Family.

Camden Town nutty boys Madness were to have headlined the opening night, June 19, joined by Ian Broudie’s Lightning SeedsCraig Charles, for a Funk and Soul Club DJ set, Leeds indie rockers Apollo Junction and York band Violet Contours.

Westlife: York and Scarborough shows grounded without wings

Irish matured boy band Westlife were booked to top the June 21 bill, backed up All Saints, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Scouting For Girls and Take That’s Howard Donald for a DJ set.

Over on the East Coast, Cuffe and Taylor had lined up big hitters galore for Scarborough Open Air Theatre’s 2020 season, opening with Lionel Richie on June 9, followed by Westlife on June 17.

Further bookings were: Supergrass, June 20; Alfie Boe, June 27; Snow Patrol, July 4; Mixtape, with Marc Almond, Heaven 17 and Living In A Box featuring Kenny Thomas, July 10; Keane, July 17; Little Mix, July 21; McFly, August 14; Louis Tomlinson, August 15, and Nile Rodgers & Chic, August 21. What’s more, further shows were to have been added. Not any more.

Leopard king: Rod Stewart at York Racecourse last June, promoted by Cuffe and Taylor

Last year, Cuffe and Taylor promoted Rod Stewart’s first ever York concert, erecting a pop-up amphitheatre in the centre of York Racecourse and duly drawing 35,000 people to Knavesmire on June 1. Ah, those were the days.

Earlier this spring, Cuffe and Taylor were given the City of York Council thumbs-up for a licence for their first York Festival, albeit with the proviso that the volume must be turned down. Now, there will only be silence.

Christmas? Yes, Christmas is on its way as Kate Rusby confirms York Barbican concert

Kate Rusby in her Holly Headwear. Picture: David Lindsay

WHAT a relief to be able to mention another C-word in these Coronavirus-clouded times.  Christmas. Kate Rusby at Christmas, to be precise.

Tickets for the Barnsley nightingale’s now traditional York Barbican Christmas concert on December 20 go on sale tomorrow morning (April 10) at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Kate’s sparkling Christmas shows draw on merry Christmas versions of carols, once banned from frowning Victorian churches for being too jolly, that instead found their home in the pubs of South Yorkshire (and North Derbyshire and Cornwall). 

“Christmas songs were seeping into our brains,” says Kate Rusby, recalling her childhood exposure to South Yorkshire ‘pub sings’. Picture: David Angel

For 200 years, those South Yorkshire communities have congregated on Sunday lunchtimes from late-November to belt out, for example, variations on While Shepherds Watched.

“The Christmas side of things began for me in the ‘pub sings’ around South Yorkshire,” Kate told CharlesHutchPress last winter ahead of her York Barbican concert with her regular folk band and “brass boys” quintet on December 18.

“We were taken along as kids; our parents would be in the main room singing away, while us kids were sat with the other kids in the tap room, colouring [pictures] and drinking pop, unaware that the carols and Christmas songs were seeping into our brains!

“I decided anyone who adores Christmas music is called a ‘Holly Head’, ” says Kate Rusby, explaining her album title

“They’re mostly songs thrown out of the churches by the Victorians as they were thought to be far too happy! Ha! Those who loved singing them took them to the pubs, where you could combine a good old sing with beer and a natter, and there the songs have remained and been kept alive, being passed down the generations.”

So much so, Kate has released five albums of carols and original winter songs on her own Pure Records label: 2008’s Sweet Bells, 2011’s While Mortals Sleep, 2015’s The Frost Is All Over, 2017’s Angels And Men and last year’s Holly Head

“Well, I decided anyone who adores Christmas music is called a ‘Holly Head’,” she said, explaining the title. “You know, like car fanatics are petrol heads. I thought it was the perfect title for such people, and I’m a fully paid-up member of the Holly Head club.”

The album artwork for Kate Rusby’s 2019 album, Holly Head

Songs on Holly Head ranged from the Rusby original The Holly King, to a cover of John Rox’s novelty Christmas number Hippo For Christmas, via the carol Salute The Morn, a brace of God’s Own Country variations, Yorkshire Three Ships and Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire) and Kate’s sixth iteration of While Shepherds Watched.

“There’s over 30 different versions of While Shepherds Watched that get sung in the pubs here in South Yorkshire, so I’ve still got a lot to go at,” said Kate last December. “This one is actually to the tune of a different song that I also love, but I wasn’t that keen on the words, then realised it went with the While Shepherds words, so yey, another has now been invented.” 

Picking the song most significant to her on Holly Head, Kate chose her own composition The Holly King. “It celebrates the more pagan side of Christmas. I wrote it after reading about the winter king, The Holly King, and the summer king, The Ivy King,” she said.

Kate Rusby: Writing for her next Christmas record. Picture: David Angel

“Legend has it that the two met twice a year and had almighty battles. Going into winter, the Holly King would win and reign for the winter months. Then the Ivy King would wake and overthrow the Holly King and reign through the summer months, and on they went in a perfect cycle.

“I just loved the images that it conjured up and a song came flowing out. I gave him a wife, The Queen of Frost, who creeps across the land to be with him for his time. In fact, I’m now writing her song, so she will appear on the next Christmas album, I’m sure.”

May The Queen of Frost glide her icy path to York Barbican come December 20.

No York Open Studios in April, but all that art still needs a new home, so look here…DAY TEN

A textile designer by Amy Stubbs

YORK Open Studios 2020, the chance to meet 144 artists at 100 locations over two April weekends, has been cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, with doors sadly shut for the April 17 to 19 and April 25 to 26 event, CharlesHutchPress wants to champion the creativity of York’s artists and makers, who would have been showcasing their ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, print, photography, sculpture and textiles skills.

Each day, in brochure order, five artists who now miss out on the exposure of Open Studios will be given a pen portrait on these pages, because so much art and craft will have been created for the event and still needs a new home. Addresses will not be included at this time.

Meanwhile, York Open Studios artists are finding their own way to respond to the shutdown by filling their windows with their work instead.  Look for #openwindowsyork2020 to locate them. “If you see one in your area while taking your daily exercise, take a picture and let us know,” they say.

Cielo, collage, by Gail Fox

Gail Fox, collage

AN artist for more than 40 years, London-born Gail co-founded York Open Studios in 2002 with Anne Hutchison.

For 30 years, she made and exhibited hand-built coil pots after gaining a first-class degree at Central School of Art in London in 1980, undertaking commissions for fashion designer Bruce Oldfield and Trisha Guild, of the Designers Guild, for Next Interiors.

Since a change of artistic tack, she has focused on painting and now 2D abstract collages: explorations of juxtapositions, composition and colour, made from painted or found papers.

York Open Studios co-founder Gail Fox

“The whole process is about tweaking and adjusting. It relies on intuition about what seems visually right,” says Gail. “It’s a process of adding to and taking away, a little more of this, a little less of that.

“It’s a bit like adjusting a recipe until you know the taste is right.  Hopefully, after the struggle, something emerges that has a beauty, a sense of resolution and balance.” Learn more at gailfox.co.uk.

Sculptural jewellery by Jane Atkin

Jane Atkin, jewellery

MODERN and sculptural in form, Jane’s functional jewellery incorporates unisex designs in predominantly one-of-a-kind pieces in silver and gold.

“I use cut, uncut semi-precious stones and jet, found by me on the Yorkshire coast, that are employed in modern and minimalist ways,” she says. “From growing up surrounded by good modern design and architecture, these influences filter through into my jewellery.”

Jane Atkin’s studio

Responding to the need to reduce single-use plastic, she has designed a silver drinking straw as an investment for the future. “Silver is naturally antibacterial and will last a lifetime, so this is perfect as a Christening gift as an example,” says Jane, who exhibited at Pyramid Gallery and Lotte Inch Gallery, in York, and the British Craft Trade Fair last year. For more info, head to janeatkinjewellery.com.

Amy Stubbs: heading back north

Amy Stubbs, textiles

RELOCATED to York in a return to her northern roots, pattern print designer  Amy now works from the PICA Studios artist hub in Grape Lane.

This textile design graduate from Falmouth University draws inspiration “from a wealth of experience brought to her by her strong Yorkshire family heritage and the opportunity to experience varying cultures”.

Consequently, Amy’s textile work combines manually drawn abstract elements with the aid of digital technology to create her surface pattern prints that feature strong mark-making motifs and collaging.

2020 would have marked her York Open Studios. Looking ahead, her new website, amystubbs.com, will be “coming soon”.

“Cheeky, bright and full of colour”: Emily Stubbs’s ceramics

Emily Stubbs, ceramics

EMILY creates hand-built sculptural ceramic vessels – cheeky, bright and full of life in character – that explore the relationship between colour, form and texture.

Born in Holmfirth, her first taste of clay was during her pre-BA foundation course at Batley School of Art and Design. Inspired by this medium, Emily studied ceramics at the University of Wales, Cardiff, graduating in 2007.

Emily Stubbs at work at PICA Studios, York

Moving to York in 2009, she has worked from PICA Studios, in Grape Lane, York, since 2017, taking Yorkshire and beyond by storm with her quirky ceramics in galleries and at art fairs, such as Ceramic Art London.  

Emily co-founded the Art& show at York Racecourse with Victoria Robinson and collaborated with Cooper King Distillery to create the artwork for their newly launched Herb Gin label last autumn. Head to emilystubbsceramics@gmail.com to learn more.

Inspired by 20th century travel posters: Elliot Harrison’s illustration of the York Odeon cinema building

Elliot Harrison, illustration

ELLIOT creates architectural illustrations, prints and posters showcasing iconic York buildings and views, favouring a vibrant colour palette inspired by Art Deco design and vintage 20th century travel posters.

His distinctive retro York portfolio has been catching the eye for the past few years, whether at Frankie & Johnny’s Cookshop, Blossom Street Gallery and Owl & Monkey or in exhibitions at York Hospital and the Rowntree Park Reading Café.

Among his most popular illustrations are Rowntree Park, Bishopthorpe Road, the Blossom Street Odeon cinema, the former Clifton Cinema, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre and York Minster.

Elliot Harrison surrounded by his evocative retro artwork

His commissions include illustrations for York Theatre Royal and The Piece Hall, in Halifax, and his repertoire has expanded to take in running medals, mugs, coasters, cards, Christmas cards and a 2020 York calendar that sold out.

Elliot, who gained a degree in art and design from York St John University, was selected for his York Open Studios in 2020. Check him out via elliot@york360.co.uk.

TOMORROW: Rosie Waring; Colin Black; Nicola Lee; Rebecca Mason and Donna Maria Taylor.

We Will Rock You will rock you in 2021 with rearranged tour and new York shows

We Will Still Rock You: The Queen and Ben Elton musical will rise again in 2021

THE 2020 tour of We Will Rock You bit the dust with the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, but the show must go on for the Queen and Ben Elton musical.

Not only have many of the original dates been re-scheduled for 2021, but several venues have been added too, not least the Grand Opera House, York, for a run from March 22 to 27.

“The producers did not want to disappoint fans who had bought tickets, so they have been working hard to reschedule as many of the shows as possible, giving people something to look forward to in these unsettling times,” says the official statement.

“We are delighted to announce the good news that the musical extravaganza will once again rock theatres across the UK from January next year, playing many of the original 2020 dates and several additional venues too.”

Kicking off in Cardiff on January 18 2021, the tour will then play Milton Keynes; Southend; Stoke; Bristol; Wimbledon; Bournemouth; Ipswich; Bromley; York; Newcastle; Northampton; Peterborough; Norwich; Reading; Liverpool; Birmingham and Southsea, with more dates to follow. Details of how to exchange tickets will follow in the coming weeks.

Queen guitarist Brian May said: “Happy to say our magnificent UK tour of We Will Rock You, the rock theatrical, will rise again. The Coronavirus has had us all on the run, but live theatre will win in the end. Keep hold of your bookings and the vibe will be yours in 2021.”

Drummer Roger Taylor added: “This is great news, I’m so pleased to see the show on the road again.”

Writer Ben Elton agreed: “I was so pleased to get the great news that We Will Rock You is to be remounted next year, after being forced to close mid-tour, and I hope Queen’s incredible music can help to make us feel like champions again.”

Tickets for the York run are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.

National Theatre At Home to screen Jane Eyre on YouTube for free from Thursday

The National Theatre’s Jane Eyre: on the NT’s YouTube channel

THE National Theatre’s celebrated production of Jane Eyre will be shown on the NT’s YouTube channel for free on Thursday at 7pm.

This will be the second in the two-month series of National Theatre At Home screenings that was launched with One Man, Two Guvnors last Thursday, since when more than two million people have watched Hull playwright Richard Bean’s comic romp.

Cookson’s re-imagining of Charlotte Brontë’s inspiring Yorkshire story of trailblazing Jane was first staged by Bristol Old Vic in 2015 and transferred to the National in the same year with a revival in 2017.

In May that year, the National Theatre’s touring production visited the Grand Opera House, York, for a week’s run, winning the “Stage Production of the Year in York Made outside York” award in the annual Hutch Awards in The Press, York.

Cookson’s bold, innovative and dynamic production uncovers one woman’s fight for freedom and fulfilment on her own terms. From her beginnings as a destitute orphan, spirited Jane Eyre faces life’s obstacles head on, surviving poverty, injustice and the discovery of bitter betrayal before taking the ultimate decision to follow her heart.

During this unprecedented time of the enforced shutdown of theatres, cinemas and schools in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, National Theatre At Home is providing access to content online to serve audiences in their homes.

Audiences around the world can stream NT Live productions for free via YouTube every Thursday at 7pm BST and each one will then be available on demand for seven days.

Coming next after Jane Eyre will be Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island from April 16 and Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, starring Tamsin Greig as Malvolio, from April 23. Further titles will be announced.

Alongside the streamed productions, National Theatre At Home will feature accompanying interactive content, such as question-and-answer sessions with cast and creative teams and post-stream talks. Further details of this programme will follow.

National Theatre Live turned ten on June 25 last year: the date of the first such broadcast in 2009, namely Phédre, starring Helen Mirren. Over those ten years, more than 80 theatre productions have been shown in 3,500 venues worldwide, reaching an overall audience of more than ten million.

NT Live now screens in 2,500 venues across 65 countries. Recent broadcasts include Cyrano de Bergerac with James McAvoy; Noel Coward’s Present Laughter with Andrew Scott; Fleabag with Phoebe Waller-Bridge; Arthur Miller’s All My Sons with Sally Field and Bill Pullman; All About Eve with Gillian Anderson and Lily James; Shakespeare’s Antony And Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo; Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with David Morrissey and Ben Whishaw and Tennessee Williams’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Sienna Miller.

Here is Charles Hutchinson’s review of the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre when it played the Grand Opera House, York, in May 2017, published in The Press, York. Please note, the cast differed from the one to be seen in the National Theatre Live performance on YouTube from Thursday.

Nadia Clifford as Jane Eyre in the National Theatre’s touring production of Jane Eyre at the Grand Opera House, York, in May 2017

YOU will not see a better theatre show in York this year, and you won’t have seen a better theatre show in York since The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

For those who want their National Theatre to be for everyone, and not only for London, then the Grand Opera House is doing a fine job of bringing the NT north, thanks to the pulling power of the GOH’s owners, the Ambassador Theatre Group.

Your reviewer cannot urge you enough to see Sally Cookson’s remarkable interpretation of Charlotte Bronte’s no less remarkable novel. Yes, some of the ticket prices are on a Premier League scale, but this is Premier League theatre. What’s more, Jane Eyre is a Yorkshire story, back on home turf after Cookson’s premiere at the Bristol Old Vic and subsequent transfer to the South Bank.

Rather than being adapted for the stage with a plodding narrator, this is a devised production of vivid, vital imagination. Michael Vale’s set is rough hewn, gutted to the minimum, with wooden flooring and walkways, a proliferation of ladders, a sofa, and yet it evokes everything of Bronte’s harsh world.

Cookson’s cast is multi role-playing, aside from Nadia Clifford’s Jane Eyre, who never once leaves the stage in three hours (interval aside), changing costumes in full view with the assistance of fellow cast members.

The story hurtles along so fast, the ensemble company runs on the spot between scenes to the accompaniment of thunderous drums, and they even take a mock piddle at one point in the rush to crack on: one of the comic elements to counter the grimness up north.

Energy, energy, energy! And that applies not only to Clifford’s feisty, fiery Jane Eyre, whose accent may curve towards her native North West, but that in no way lessens her performance.

The cast as a whole is magnificent, be it Tim Delap’s troubled Rochester, Evelyn Miller’s triptych of Bessie, Blanche Ingram and St John; Paul Mundell’s austere Mr Brocklehurst and tail-wagging Pilot the dog; Lynda Rooke’s chalk and cheese Mrs Reed and Mrs Fairfax or surely-too-good-to-be-an understudy Francesca Tomlinson’s five-hand of roles.

There is so much more that makes Cookson’s production so startling, movingly brilliant: the sound design of Dominic Bilkey, the inexhaustible movement direction of Dan Canham; the beautiful, haunting compositions of Benji Bower for the on-stage band of David Ridley, Alex Heane and Matthew Churcher, who join in ensemble scenes too and never take their gaze off the action.

Last, but very definitely not least, is Melanie Marshall, the diva voice of Bertha Mason, a one-woman Greek chorus whose versions of Mad About The Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy will linger like Jane Eyre in the memory.

May 2017

No York Open Studios in April, but all that art still needs a new home, so look here…DAY NINE

A screen-print collage by Kevin McNulty

YORK Open Studios 2020, the chance to meet 144 artists at 100 locations over two April weekends, has been cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, with doors sadly shut for the April 17 to 19 and April 25 to 26 event, CharlesHutchPress wants to champion the creativity of York’s artists and makers, who would have been showcasing their ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, print, photography, sculpture and textiles skills.

Each day, in brochure order, five artists who now miss out on the exposure of Open Studios will be given a pen portrait on these pages, because so much art and craft will have been created for the event and still needs a new home. Addresses will not be included at this time.

Meanwhile, York Open Studios artists are finding their own way to respond to the shutdown by filling windows with their work instead.  Look for #openwindowsyork2020 to locate them. “If you see one in your area while taking your daily exercise, take a picture and let us know,” they urge.

Jill Ford: Her ceramics mirror the seasons

Jill Ford, ceramics

JILL began working as a potter in 2002, converting her garage into a studio and establishing her company Jill Ford Ceramics.

Her contemporary white porcelain encompasses innovative textural wall pieces, vases and bowls thrown on the wheel and a range of candlesticks, her work marked by richly textured decoration inspired by mountains and coastal rock formations.

Jill’s ceramics mirror the seasons, both in the processes she uses and the changing nature of her landscapes, with winter’s extreme temperatures making for a particularly impactful time of year.

Jill Ford at work in her studio

A year spent trekking and sketching in the Scottish Highlands has provided inspiration for a range of Mountain Edge pots that gives a sense of exposure and drama.

Jill, who is a member of the Northern Potters Association and East Riding Artists, exhibits widely in galleries and shops around Britain and abroad, including New York, and she shows work at ceramics and craft fairs too. She also delivers masterclasses to potters’ groups and teaches ceramics in workshop sessions. Find out more at jillford.com.

Cafe scene: a documentary-style photograph by Danny Knight

Danny Knight, photography

AFTER participating in York Open Studios in 2017 with works from Berlin, documentary-style photographer Danny was all set to feature his street photography collated from New York and his home city of York in the 2020 event.

“Old York/New York is a series of still images documenting the mundane events of the people who walk the streets of these two famous cities, while contrasting their similarities/differences.”

Danny Knight: “Capturing the everyday moments in two amazing cities”, York and New York

His work seeks to capture “the everyday moments in these two amazing cities that are quite often missed due to the pace of life we live”.

As well as being a photographer, Danny works for the creative film production company Hewitt & Walker and is a city leader for Sofar Sounds York, the monthly venture that “reimagines live events through curated secret performances in intimate York settings”. For more info, seek out info@dannyknightphotography.co.uk.

Honesty, linocut, by Carrie Lyall

Carrie Lyall, printmaking

CARRIE is a self-taught printmaker, based in Stamford Bridge, from where she runs her Rose & Hen business.

Her linocut prints, illustrations and handmade books are inspired by nature. Using botanical themes, she creates delicate silhouettes and patterns in contrasting colours, employing oil-based inks. 

“I connect with nature while out walking, taking photographs or collecting subject matter, to be sketched and transformed into design ideas at home,” she says.

Carrie Lyall: Connecting with nature in her art…and her clothes

“My favourite part of the process is cutting the designs, and I often get completely immersed in creating marks and lines.”

Carrie is a member of York Printmakers and a volunteer team leader for Etsy Team York. 2020 would have been her first year as a York Open Studios artist. Check her out at roseandhen.etsy.com

Between You And Me And The Gate Post, needle felting, by Alison Spaven

Alison Spaven, textiles

ALISON’S passion for needle felting started six years ago during a chance encounter with the craft.

“I’ve been painting and drawing for a lifetime, and even flirted briefly with ceramics, before a day out with friends to a felting workshop on a canal barge changed my creative drive forever,” she recalls.

“I was inspired to create and work with wet and needle felted wool by some great tuition from friends and professional tutors. Needle felting, in particular, rapidly became an obsession and the husband indoors insisted that new homes had to be found for things, as falling over yet another hare is not his favourite pastime!”

Alison Spaven: hare today, gone today, when her work sells!

Alison’s experience with sculpting in clay gave her the initial skills to work in 3D, before developing her own textural technique when painting with wool. Created with rare breed wool, using a single felting needle, Alison’s pictures consequently have a sculptural quality, a deliberate carry-over from her initial 3D work.

Alison, who trades as The Crafty Wytch from her Wytchwood Gallery and Studio, is a familiar face around Malton and beyond from her work as a stalwart of The Press and Gazette and Herald advertising team. Head to thecraftywytch.co.uk to discover more.

Compulsive printmaker Kevin McNulty

Kevin McNulty, printmaking

KEVIN describes himself as a compulsive printmaker, who explores themes such as identity and the human condition in his bold limited-edition printed collages, wherein he combines photography, arbitrary images, texture and abstract pattern.

“Experimenting with process and technique, I interweave modernity with the absurd to build complex and captivating designs,” he says. “I find inspiration in the everyday. I build layers for my prints using anything I can lay my hands on, including found items.” Even mobile phone parts and discarded teabags.

Millennium Bridge, York, by Kevin McNulty

Kevin’s working practice is underpinned by a desire to make “pure prints by pulling each image by hand and embracing the fortuitous accidents that evolve each design as it transitions from laptop to ink and paper”.

Those prints were to have featured for the first time in this month’s now cancelled York Open Studios. Find his work at kevinmcnultyprints.com.

TOMORROW: Gail Fox; Jane Atkin; Amy Stubbs; Emily Stubbs and Elliot Harrison.