York Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York team up for York Radio Mystery Plays

A rehearsal on Zoom for the York Radio Mystery Plays

YORK Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York are collaborating in lockdown to bring the York Mystery Plays to life on the radio next month.

Four instalments will be presented as audio versions on the Sunday Breakfast Show with Jonathan Cowap on successive Sundays from June 7, the Sunday before Corpus Christi Day on June 11: the day when the plays were performed on wagons on the city streets from dawn until dusk since mediaeval times.

Working remotely from home, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the instalments, Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.

Juliet, incidentally, previously co-directed Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion at the Theatre Royal in July 2011, a play set around a performance of the York Mystery Plays on Corpus Christi Day in midsummer 1392.

She and husband Kelvin Goodspeed have adapted Mystery Play texts for the radio series, drawing on material dating back to the 1300s that was resurrected after a long, long hiatus initially for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Ed Beesley, who would have been working on Juliet’s postponed production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, has provided composition, sound design and foley artist effects.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal associate director and director of the York Radio Mystery Plays

Margaret Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, has given the choir and cast songs to perform.

“The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city,” says Juliet. “They belong to the people of York and have brought people together to create, perform, watch, laugh and cry since the 14th century.

“The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is and has always been to human beings, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.

“We’re determined to keep doing this in spite of the Coronavirus lockdown. So, these plays seem exactly the right choice to pick up, find a new way to create, communicate afresh and encourage one another with.”

Under the partnership between the Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York, the sourcing of the scripts, recruitment of actors and provision of music has been done by the theatre.

In keeping with the social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

Juliet then selected the recordings to be sent to the radio station for mixing and pulling together into finished crafted instalments. 

BBC Radio York’s acting editor, Anna Evans, says: “It’s a privilege to work with York Theatre Royal and members of the city’s community to retain the tradition of the York Mystery Plays. During such uncertain times, it’s important that we can help maintain this cultural experience in a different way and I am so proud of what the teams have achieved in such difficult times.” 

The York Mystery Radio Plays form part of York Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of “creative community engagement” taking place while the St Leonard’s Place building is closed under the Covid-19 strictures.

Special thanks are extended to the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust and the Guild of Media Arts for supporting this project. 

In addition to the broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show, the York Radio Mystery Plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

Christie Barnes recording her part as Angel in Adam & Eve

The cast for Adam & Eve is:

God: Paul Stonehouse

Eve: Taj Atwal

Adam: Kane Hutchinson

Satan: Rory Mulvihill

Angel: Christie Barnes

The Flood Parts 1 & 2:

God: Paul Stonehouse

Noah: Mark Holgate

Noah’s wife: Rosy Rowley

1st Son: Joe Feeney

2nd Son: Stan Gaskell

3rd Son: Matthew Dangerfield

1st Daughter: Charlotte Wood

2nd Daughter: Fiona Baistow

3rd Daughter: Taj Atwal

Moses & Pharaoh:

Pharaoh: Paul Mason

1st Counsellor: Maurice Crichton

2nd Counsellor: Claire Norman

Moses: Andrew Squires

God: Paul Stonehouse

1st Youth: Christie Barnes

2nd Youth: Oliver Joseph Brooke

1st Egyptian: Matt Simpson

2nd Egyptian: Rachel Price

Rory Mulvihill experiments with recording his role as Satan in his shower cubicle by torchlight with his script pinned to the wall

Actors

Paul Stonehouse (God): Credits include Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, Blenheim Palace.

 Rory Mulvihill (Satan): Credits include many leading roles for York Light Opera Company in more than 35 years as a member; a long association as a performer in the York Cycle of Mystery Plays; York Theatre Royal community productions including Two Planks And A Passion, In Fog And Falling Snow and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes.

Christie Barnes (Angel): A core member of Out Of Character Theatre Company.  Recently performed in Less Than Human and A View From The Bridge at York Theatre Royal, directed by Juliet Forster.

Andrew Squires (Moses). Actor and musician based in York, recently at York Theatre Royal in A View From The Bridge. Other theatre credits include: Uneasy Dreamers at Greenwich Theatre, Mr Brown’s Directions at Burton Constable, Time Out Of Mind at Greenwich Theatre, Democracy Of Oaks at The Fan Museum, London.

Mark Holgate (Noah). Credits include Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s DreamShakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

Rosy Rowley (Noah’s wife). Reprising the role of Noah’s Wife from the 2012 production of the York Mystery Plays. Other credits include Blood + Chocolate, In Fog And Falling Snow, Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes,York Theatre Royal.

Joe Feeney (1st Son). Credits include Heaven’s Gate, Cosmic Collective Theatre.

Charlotte Wood (1st Daughter). Credits include For the Fallen, Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, In Fog And Falling Snow, York Theatre Royal; Kiss Me Kate, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company.

Maurice Crichton (1st Councillor). Came to York as a student, qualifying as a solicitor in the city. He has been performing in amateur productions here for ten years, mostly with York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players.

He has strong links with the York Mystery Plays and played Pilate in The York Mystery Plays, 2012, Herod in York Minster Mystery Plays, 2016, and Soldier 1 in The Crucifixion on the Butchers’ wagon in 2018. He is secretary of the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust.

SJT and National Literacy Trust unite for young writers’ online project Your Stories

Author Saviour Pirotta. Online story creation adventure. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre and the National Literacy Trust are calling on young writers across North Yorkshire to tell Your Stories.

Children’s author Saviour Pirotta, actor and poet Nadia Emam and illustrator Simon Whittaker are on the team for this new project: an online story creation adventure for five to 12 year olds.

For six weeks from Monday, June 1, daily content will be released via the National Literacy Trust’s local Facebook page to encourage creativity through story creation and reading for young people along the North Yorkshire coast.

This will include exercises on how to create characters and settings, such as storytelling bingo, role-playing, drawing comic strips and sound recording, and using all kinds of everyday things to create the adventure.

There will be short vlogs from Saviour Pirotta, writer of children’s novels The Orchard Book Of First Greek Myths, The Ancient Greek Mysteries Series and The Unicorn Prince, and Nadia Emam, who has worked extensively at the SJT and with Slung Low Theatre Company, including playing Gloriana in the BBC’s televised version of the Leeds company’s Flood: Part 2.

The pair also will give dramatic readings of some of the submitted stories and recommended books in the form of accessible e-books and audiobooks.

Nadia Emam: Dramatic readings

At the end of each week, illustrator Simon Whittaker, from House Of Deadleg, will create drawings based on stories submitted. He also will give video tutorials on creating illustrations.

The SJT’s associate director, Chelsey Gillard, says: “Participants can choose to engage every day, or just dip in and out as they like. By the end of the six weeks, they will have all they need to create an exciting adventure set in their hometown.

“Our artist will create illustrations of the characters and settings of the stories, as well as drawing elements from them to create one brilliant mega story curated by Saviour Pirotta.”

Liz Dyer, Our Stories manager, says: “We can’t wait to hear your stories. We’re thrilled to be partnering with the Stephen Joseph Theatre on this project. Having the tools to tell your own story builds confidence in young people that supports them at school, at home and in the future.”

To take part in Your Stories, simply visit the Our Stories website.

The National Literacy Trust’s local Facebook page is: facebook.com/Our-Stories-Whitby-Scarborough-Filey-115012336805179/.

“I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus,” says Alan Ayckbourn after Corona crisis puts paid to Truth Will Out

ALAN Ayckbourn’s play number 83, Truth Will Out, will not be out this summer after Covid-19 intervened, but spookily another virus struck the Stephen Joseph Theatre world premiere. From within.

Let Ayckbourn explain. “Truth Will Out is concerned with another type of virus, a virulent computer virus, though, which brings the country to a standstill.

“A type of doomsday scenario piece and perhaps not too cheering in these darker days. Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus.”

Truth Will Out may yet have its day at the Scarborough theatre. “I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten,” says Ayckbourn. “The SJT have agreed that this was merely a postponement. Shame to lose it as it’s a lot of fun. Watch this space, as they say.”

Truth Won’t Out, but a new lockdown Ayckbourn play will, and he’s acting in it. UPDATED WITH INTERVIEW

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Re-uniting as performers for the first time in 56 years in Anno Domino. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic decreed Truth Will Out would not be out this summer in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn responded by unlocking a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

Not only has he written it, but he is performing in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage, no less.

What’s more, the 81-year-old playwright has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show, his 84th play.

Billed as a Stephen Joseph Theatre production, the world premiere of Anno Domino will be streaming for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday (May 25) to noon on June 25. 

Ayckbourn had been due to direct the world premiere of Truth Will Out, from August 20 to October 3, alongside his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, in an SJT summer season completed by artistic director Paul Robinson’s production of The Ladykillers.

The domino effect: The Stephen Joseph Theatre poster for Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th play, Anno Domino, streaming from May 25

However, once the SJT’s summer was scuppered by the Corona crisis, former radio producer Ayckbourn and Robinson hatched a plan to create a play that Ayckbourn and Stoney could record and present online.

Hey presto, Anno Domino, Ayckbourn’s audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration for Anno Domino came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”  

Anno Domino marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and starred in one of his own plays, even providing the sound effects too. Performed by Ayckbourn and Stoney, with a final mix by Paul Steer, it requires the duo to play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s: Ayckbourn adjusting the pitch of his voice to denote Ben, Sam, Craig and Raz; Stoney, likewise, for Ella, Milly, Martha and Cinny.

This SJT audio recording is the first occasion they have acted together since Ayckbourn’s stage exit left in William Gibson’s two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964.

Multi-tasking: Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: are playing four characters each in Anno Domino

Ayckbourn subsequently has pursued a prolific, glittering writing and directing career, all the way to Olivier Award and Tony Award success and a knighthood; Stoney continued to act, appearing in many Ayckbourn world premieres. Her last full season as an actress was at the SJT in 1985, when she appeared in the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind. 

Now they renew their performing partnership, enjoying “just mucking about in our sitting room,” as Ayckbourn put it.

Here Charles Hutchinson puts questions to writer, director, sound-effects foley artist and performer in lockdown, Alan Ayckbourn

What prompted you to respond to such dark times with a “lighter” piece?

“It was written long before this virus decided to rear its ugly head! Actually, before the SJT new play Truth Will Out. But the latter was an altogether darker piece and was concerned with another type of virus, a virulent computer virus, though, which brings the country to a standstill. A type of doomsday scenario piece and perhaps not too cheering in these darker days.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre poster for this season’s postponed world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s 83rd play, Truth Will Out

“Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus. Anno Domino, though, is altogether lighter and more optimistic. (Though, knowing me, it still has its dark corners!)  

You are well accustomed to the discipline of working in isolation, but has it been in any way different under the present circumstances?

“No, the past couple of months has been no different to any other year, really. Though the past few days, I have suddenly felt the difference as this was the week when I was scheduled to start for this season’s AA revival, Just Between Ourselves, which I had not directed since I premiered it back in the ’70s in our first home at The Library Theatre. I was really looking forward to revisiting that.” 

There’s ring rusty and then there’s you returning to performing after 56 years! How’s the “muscle memory” after all those years?! 

“Well, I’ve been writing and directing throughout the intervening years. When I’m writing, I tend to say everything out loud, in character; when directing, I tend to say everything silently, under my breath but, of course, NEVER out loud! Most off-putting that would be for the actors, poor things.”  

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in William Gibson’s American two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964. “We were both totally unsuitable,” recalls Ayckbourn

What do you recall of your last stage appearance in 1964, again with Heather and again in a two-hander?

“It was a production of an American two-hander by William Gibson, in which we were both totally unsuitable. I played, whilst still in my twenties, a middle-aged businessman from Omaha, Nebraska, originally played by Henry Fonda. Heather did her version of Anne Bancroft’s performance as a young Jewish dancer from the Bronx. Hallo and goodnight Rotherham, Yorkshire!” 

What are the plus points of an audio recording, as opposed to a stage performance? What possibilities does it open up?

“Interestingly, audio and in-the-round stage performance are very similar. People always say with radio plays, that they enjoy them ‘because they ask you to use your imagination’. People say similar things when watching plays in-the-round. The only difference is that audio has no pictures!”

Any thoughts on what may now happen to Truth Will Out?

“I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten. The SJT have agreed that this was merely a postponement. Shame to lose it as it’s a lot of fun. Watch this space, as they say.”

Lastly, how would you interpret the instruction to Stay Alert?

“Keep your eyes peeled, your head down and look both ways before sneezing!”

Game Of Thrones star David Bradley and comedian Rosie Jones become patrons for Theatre @41’s exciting plans post-Covid

York actor David Bradley: New patron at Theatre @41, Monkgate, York

GAME Of Thrones and Harry Potter actor David Bradley is among a host of new patrons pledging their support to Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

York-born Bradley, 78, who also starred in Broadchurch and played Jesus Christ in the 1976 York Mystery Plays, is joined by Bridlington-born Rosie Jones, a comedian, actress and scriptwriter, from 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Mock The Week, who has cerebral palsy, and New York playwright/composer Stephen Dolginoff, whose shows Thrill Me: The Leopold And Loeb Story and Monster Makers played in York in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Comedian Rosie Jones: Supporting Theatre @41’s plans for the future

Further names to wade in with their backing are actors Karen Henthorn, from the National Theatre’s War Horse, In The Flesh and The Trouble With Maggie Cole, and John McArdle, from Brookside, Emmerdale and Frantic Assembly’s Things I Know To Be True at York Theatre Royal in November 2017.

The board also welcomes Felicity Cooper, daughter of the theatre’s founder, the late John Cooper, and former chairman Jim Welsman, who worked tirelessly within the York arts scene, first as chairman of York Musical Theatre Company, then as founder and director of the York New Musical Festival, before retiring from the Monkgate theatre’s board last year.

New patron Karen Henthorn. Picture: Neilson Reeves

“Our new patrons have agreed to ensure this intimate venue not only survives but thrives through the challenges of Covid-19 and beyond,” says Joe Wawrzyniak, who succeeded Jim in the chairman’s post last autumn.

“The charity’s board of trustees approached them as part of an exciting development plan for Theatre @41, enlisting a host of patrons to get people talking about this hidden gem as we make ambitious plans for post-lockdown.”

Actor John McArdle: Pledging support to Theatre @41

Theatre @41 opened in 1998, under the inspirational leadership of John Cooper, who transformed the Victiorian building from scratch into a black-box theatre. Now, the venue, with rehearsal rooms and a dance studio to boot, plays host to York Stage Musicals, Pick Me Up Theatre, Once Seen Theatre Company, York Shakespeare Project and Rigmarole Theatre, among others.

Alexander Flanagan Wright’s cult-hit immersive jazz-age production of The Great Gatsby had a swell time there too, staged by The Guild Of Misrule in winter 2016 and 2018.

From New York to York: Playwright and composer Steven Dolginoff backs the way ahead for Theatre @41 from across the Pond

“Theatre @41 gives York an intimate performance space alongside bigger venues such as the York Theatre Royal and Grand Opera House, in much the same way London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and Southwark Playhouse are as vital to the capital’s arts scene as the big West End theatres,” says Joe.

“Looking ahead, we have a great vision for Theatre@41 and we want to shout it from the rafters. What better way to get started than to involve a high-profile group of patrons who are all passionate about the arts? Everyone is keen to get involved: we’re very lucky to have this wonderful new group on board.”

Jim Welsman: former chairman, now patron

Joe adds: “We’re home to Nik Briggs’s York Stage School, which encourages young people to get involved in performance; Robert Readman’s Pick Me Up Theatre, who regularly present new writing and premieres, and Once Seen Theatre Company, who specialise in working with adults with learning and physical disabilities. We can now boast patrons who represent some of the areas of the arts that we work in.

“It’s our mission to keep the vibrant, inclusive spirit of Theatre@41 going, and for this fabulous, versatile venue to continue to grow.  Our new patrons will be there to help us all the way.”

Nothing happening in these slightly loosened Lockdown limbo days. Everything called off. Here are More Things To Do on the home front, courtesy of The Press, York. LIST No. 6

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 in Stay Alert, but still sort-of-inert, Baby-Step Britannia. Make do with home entertainment, wherever you may be, in whatever configuration that you interpret the Government’s green-for-go rules now permits in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. From behind his door ajar, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these suggestions.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Arts event of the week ahead and beyond: Alan Ayckbourn’s Anno Domino, online from May 25 to June 25

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic meant Truth Will Out would not be out this summer at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn responded by writing a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

And not only write and direct it, but perform in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage.

What’s more, former radio producer Ayckbourn, 81, has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show.

His 84th play takes the form of an audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends, Ayckbourn and Stoney playing four characters each, aged 18 to 75. “We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says Ayckbourn, who also supplied the sound effects.

The world premiere of Anno Domino will be available for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday, May 25 to noon on June 25. 

York Musical Theatre Company in Off-Stage But Online 2, Sunday, 7.30pm

AFTER the success of the inaugural Off-Stage But Online! concert on April 26, York Musical Theatre Company return with a second digital performance on Sunday, live on the company’s YouTube channel from 7.30pm.

This weekend’s programme is compiled by musical director Paul Laidlaw again and features 25 numbers performed at home by Matthew Ainsworth, Jessa & Mick Liversidge, John Haigh, Eleanor Leaper, Chris Hagyard and Florence Taylor, among others.

Expect video recordings of numbers from Rent, Les Miserables, Heathers, A Chorus Line, Follies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Company and Showboat.

Fieri Consort: Online concert from the National Centre for Early Music archives

National Centre for Early Music streamed concerts, May 30 and June 13

THE NCEM, in Walmgate, York, continues to share concerts from its archive on Facebook and online. The next will be on Saturday, May 30, featuring one of the last concerts by the European Union Baroque Orchestra, captured in March 2017.

On June 13 comes the chance to enjoy music by past winners of the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, a double bill featuring Fieri Consort from 2017 and last year’s winners L’Apothéose.

To view these concerts for free at 1pm, follow https://www.facebook.com/yorkearlymusic/ or log on to the NCEM website, ncem.co.uk.

Barbara Marten in the role of Heworth housewife and suffragette Annie Seymour Pearson in York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s community production Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes

Still streaming: Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, York Theatre Royal Collective Arts programme

YORK Theatre Royal is streaming the 2017 community play Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes for free on its YouTube channel until May 31.

Co-produced with Pilot Theatre, this outdoor and indoor production was performed by a community cast of 150 and a choir of 80, taking the form of a protest play that recalled how women in York ran safe houses, organised meetings, smashed windows and fire-bombed pillar boxes as part of the early 20th century Suffragette movement.

“Now the stage is dark and the streets are empty, but looking back to the way in which that show brought people together, inspiring them in so many ways, is a wonderful reminder of the power of theatre and community,” says playwright Bridget Foreman.

York artist Sue Clayton’s stairs, newly painted in rainbow-coloured trim

Activity of the week: Decorating your house in the bright spring light

BE inspired by York portrait artist Sue Clayton, whose painting of Sainsbury’s trolley attendant Andrew Fair, from her York Heroes series in 2018, appeared on the first episode of Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 show Grayson’s Art Club.

“The urge to paint left me temporarily, which frightened me, but home decorating began instead and my creativity was encouraged this way, from ripping up the stairs carpet and painting the stairs in rainbow colours to remember this period, through to painting a cupboard with a Chinese heron/crane,” she says.

Maybe a Chinese heron would be too ambitious as a starting point, but painting the stairs in rainbow colours…?

 Jeff Beck: New date for York Barbican show in 2021

Still keep trying to find good news

LEEDS Festival in late-August, cancelled. York Early Music Festival’s summer of Method & Madness in July, off. Jeff Beck at York Barbican this week, not now. The list of cancellations shows no sign of coming to an end, but always look on the bright side of strife by seeking out updates on websites.

Leeds Festival at Bramham Park will return in 2021; so too will York Early Music Festival. As for Jeff Beck: there is a hi-ho silver lining there too. The legendary Wallington guitarist and two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, now 75, has re-arranged his gig for April 22 2021.

Jonathan Williams’s stained-glass artwork for our Corona crisis times 

Clap for Carers

STAND by your doors, bang a gong, at 8pm every Thursday, no excuses. Theatre-goers, concert-goers, save your hand-clapping for our NHS doctors, hospital staff, carers, volunteers and key workers.

If one work of art encapsulates a city in gratitude, and in prayer, step forward Jonathan Williams’s stained glass window of York Minster and York Hospital in rainbow union.

Lips/ink: A pensive Simon Armitage, Yorkshireman of words, both spoken and written

And what about…

NEW albums by Badly Drawn Boy, The 1975 and The Dears. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s new series of interviews on BBC Sounds and his appearance and musical choices on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Channel 4’s Gogglebox for weekly political insight. Going to a garden centre, where plant salvation awaits.

 

Mad Alice takes Bloody York Gin Tour online for nightmare nights in York shockdown

Gin up: Mad Alice may have vacated the streets of York in Coronavirus lockdown but now she is going online. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

AWARD-WINNING York tour guide Mad Alice is going online from Friday to offer free nightmares to people already suffering the torture of lockdown in Europe’s most haunted city.

Mad Alice’s Bloody York Gin Tour revels in stories of hangings, beheadings and poisonings, but comes with the antidote of being interspersed with gin tastings of York Gin’s Navy Strength Outlaw and the like in between her accounts of the horrible histories of York’s baddies, Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin et al.

Mad Alice – the alias of Alicia Stabler – won Best Experience at Visit York’s Tourism Awards last month and has decided to move her tour online to Facebook and YouTube while the city’s tourism industry is on hold.

“I’m normally run off my feet by this stage in the year but the Coronavirus pandemic has put paid to tourism for a while, so we’re going online,” she says. “I’ve been a tour guide in York for years and there’s not much horrible history I don’t know.

“History buffs, people with a morbid fascination with gruesome deaths, as well as gin lovers and people who just want to be entertained, love my tour. I hope they’ll enjoy it online. I know it’s not the same as actually being here, but you’ll definitely get a feel for York’s bloody awful history. And if you have a glass of gin in your hand, your nerves shouldn’t be too shot at the end.”

Ah, gin. That’s the tonic. Those who want the full experience, with gin tasting included, can buy a York Gin tasting collection, with free UK delivery, at https://www.yorkgin.com/product/tasting-collection-of-5-miniatures

York Gin directors and York tour guide Mad Alice Alicia Stabler at the York Gin Outlaw photo-shoot in bygone days before social distancing. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Looking forward to Mad Alice’s online shows, Emma Godivala, of York Gin, says: “The Mad Alice tour is legendary in York. It’s insightful, entertaining and ghastly but mostly lots of fun.

“York is an amazing place and we hope the Bloody York Gin Online Tour will give people a taste of what tourists can expect to experience when we’re back up and running.”

The first Bloody York Gin Online Tour takes place on Facebook at 6pm on Friday (May 22) with a recording available afterwards on YouTube. To register for the free tour, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1165414407136334/.

For a one-minute preview of Mad Alice’s tour, head to this YouTube link: https://youtu.be/Bd80ZWpxNR0

Did you know?

THE York Gin shop occupies the ground floor of a 16th-century Tudor building with links to Charles I in Pavement, York. Voted the city’s best shop at the 2020 Visit York Tourism Awards, the premises are closed under the lockdown prohibitions.

York Gin makes such gins as Best English Old Tom, featured at the World Gin Awards held in January this year.

York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust seeks director for December’s A Nativity for York

Babe in arms: Raqhael Harte’s Mary with the infant Jesus in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity for York at the Spurriergate Centre, York, last December. All pictures: John Saunders

YORK Mystery Plays Supporters Trust is seeking a director for its second production of A Nativity for York, planned for December 2020.

The launch follows the trust’s decision to keep the York Mystery Plays’ tradition alive by staging an annual nativity play.

The YMPST organisation has issued a briefing notice, asking potential candidates to apply before midnight on Saturday, May 30, sending initial ideas for the play on one side of A4 plus a CV.

Wise move: Stephanie Walker’s King seeks the infant Jesus in 2019’s A Nativity for York

In keeping with the existing performance traditions, the mission is to look at medieval nativity plays as a source for the production. 

An information pack is available and applicants are asked to send emails to the YMPST chair at linda.terry@ympst.co.uk. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview, probably via video link, on Tuesday, June 16.

Chair Linda Terry says: “Last year we achieved our aim to make the production both visible and accessible. We were delighted that A Nativity for York at the Spurriergate Centre appealed to so many in the community, to both residents and visitors to the city.

Stable relationship: Raqhael Harte’s Mary and Chris Pomfrett’s Joseph with the new-born Jesus in last December’s A Nativity for York

“The trust believes that we can build on the success of 2019 with another innovative production as part of the city of York’s Christmas festival.”

As demonstrated by last December’s debut, directed by Philip Parr, the objective is to keep alive the skills, support and enthusiasm generated through the many productions of the York Mystery Plays over the years.

The trust has confirmed that the Spurriergate Centre, in Spurriergate, will host the 2020 performances, starting in mid-December.

“In the event that this cannot take place because of the pandemic restrictions, all initial work will be rolled over to 2021 or an alternative medium for performance will be considered,” says Linda.

Truth Won’t Out, but a new lockdown Ayckbourn play will, and he’s acting in it

Alan Ayckbourn and his wife Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic meant Truth Will Out would not be out this summer in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn responded by unlocking a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

And not only has he written it, but he is performing in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage.

What’s more, the 81-year-old Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show, his 84th play.

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in his last professional stage appearance in Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964

The world premiere of Anno Domino will be available for free exclusively on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday, May 25 to noon on June 25. 

Ayckbourn had been due to direct the world premiere of Truth Will Out, from August 20 to October 3, alongside his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, in an SJT summer season completed by artistic director Paul Robinson’s production of The Ladykillers.

However, after the SJT’s summer was scuppered by the Corona crisis, former radio producer Ayckbourn and Robinson hatched a plan to create a new play that Ayckbourn and Stoney could record and present online: “just mucking about in our sitting room,” as Ayckbourn put it.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Re-united in a production for the first time in 56 years. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Hey presto, Anno Domino, Ayckbourn’s audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration for Anno Domino came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”  

Anno Domino marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and starred in one of his own plays – and even done the sound effects too. Performed by Ayckbourn and Stoney, with a final mix by Paul Steer, it requires the duo to  play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s. This Stephen Joseph Theatre audio recording is the first occasion they have acted together since Ayckbourn’s stage exit left in William Gibson’s two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964.

“We can’t wait for our audiences to hear Anno Domino,” says Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson. “It’s one of Alan’s ‘lighter’ plays, a hopeful and rather joyous piece”

Ayckbourn subsequently pursued a prolific, glittering writing and directing career, while Stoney continued to act, appearing in many Ayckbourn world premieres. Her last full season as an actress was at the SJT in 1985, when she appeared in the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind. 

Robinson enthuses: “We can’t wait for our audiences to hear Anno Domino. We were all hugely disappointed to have to suspend our summer season. We were so looking forward to seeing the brilliant Just Between Ourselves – ‘the one with the car on stage’ – and the world premiere of Alan’s up-to-the-minute satire, Truth Will Out.

“Anno Domino is one of Alan’s ‘lighter’ plays, a hopeful and rather joyous piece, which will provide perfect entertainment in these troubled times. This is a hugely exciting and very contemporary response to the current situation and shows yet again how Alan has always moved with the times.”

“All relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand,” says Alan Ayckbourn . How apt for a play written in Scarborough.

The now mothballed Truth Will Out was written by Ayckbourn in late-2019 as a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation.

“Everyone has secrets,” says the tantalising synopsis in the SJT summer-season brochure. “Certainly, former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy, and senior civil servant Sefton, do.

“All it’s going to take is one tech-savvy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down – and maybe everyone else’s along with them. A storm is brewing.”

The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s artwork for this summer’s now-postponed world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s Truth Will Out

When that storm will now break cannot be forecast. Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website states: “It is not known what the future holds for Truth Will Out…”, but the truth will out on its path forward in due course.

Courtney Marie adds to Pocklington Arts Centre’s raft of rearranged shows

Courtney Marie Andrews: June date at Pocklington Arts Centre put back by a year

AMERICAN country singer Courtney Marie Andrews is moving her June 17 2020 concert at Pocklington Arts Centre to…June 17 2021.

“All customers are being contacted this week to offer them a transfer or refund,” says venue manager James Duffy, whose 30th birthday falls today, by the way.

Courtney’s now postponed date next month with a full band was to have been a showcase for her new album, Old Flowers, originally set for release on June 5 on Loose/Fat Possum Records.

Phoenix-born Courtney, 29, is now rescheduling the album launch too, again in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Hello dear ones,” she says on the Loose website. “Unfortunately, I must push back the release to July 24th. In order to protect the safety of its workers, the vinyl manufacturing plant producing my record is temporarily closed for the time being, meaning it won’t be possible to meet the original release date.

“During these strange times, I think it’s important we work together, rather than trudge ahead alone and abandon those who have helped artists along the way. I can’t explain to you how much this record means to me personally, and I am so incredibly excited for it to reach your ears soon. It’s just showing up fashionably late, 2020 style.”

John Smith: November 3 date at Pocklington Arts Centre

Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) continues to update its list of rescheduled shows for 2020/21, with the prospect of more being added in the coming weeks and months.

Inquisitive folk truth seeker John Smith has switched from May 21 to November 3; American singer-songwriter Jesse Malin, from June 27 to February 2 2021; retro country soul band The Delines, from July 28 to February 23 2021, and BBC Radio 2 and Channel 5 presenter Jeremy Vine will now ask “What the hell is going on?” on February 26 2021, rather than May 1 2020.

Billy Bremner & Me, comedian Phil Differ’s comedy-drama recounting his dream of eclipsing the fiery Leeds United and Scotland captain’s footballing deeds, has moved from June 5 to March 11 2021; Herman’s Hermits will re-emerge on April 22 next spring, and Mock The Week comedian Andy Parsons’ sold-out April 28 gig is re-booked for April 24 2021.

Led as ever by vocalist Maddy Prior, folk favourites Steeleye Span’s 50th anniversary celebrations of debut album Hark The Village Wait will have to wait until its 51st anniversary, their show now moved from May 3 2020 to May 7 2021.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Catrin Finch, from Wales, and Seckou Keita, from Senegal, will be joined by Canadian multi-instrumental trio Vishten on June 10 next summer, rather than June 13 2020 as first planned.

The Felice Brothers, from the Catskill Mountains, New York State, will be playing almost a year to the day later than their original booking. Ian and James Felice, joined by drummer Will Lawrence and bass Jesske Hume, are in the PAC diary for June 22 2021, replacing June 23 this summer.

Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer

The spotlight would have been on their 2019 album Undress, as well as their back catalogue from 2006 onwards, but now there should be new material too. .

All existing tickets holders for the rescheduled shows are being contacted by the PAC box office for ticket transfers or refunds.

PAC director Janet Farmer says the public response to the East Yorkshire venue’s prolonged closure, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been “wonderful both in terms of financial support and well wishing”.

“To date, we have raised £8,660 from crowdfunding and customer ticket refund donations, a total well beyond our original target,” she reveals.

“We have been working with artists and agents to reschedule the whole of the venue’s spring and summer 20th anniversary season and most, if not all, shows are being transferred to late 2020 and into 2021.”

Shed Seven guitarist Paul Banks and singer Rick Witter: Acoustic headline set at Platform Festival 2020 at The Old Station cancelled. Hopefully they will be Chasing Rainbows next summer instead

July’s Platform Festival, organised by Pocklington Arts Centre, with a line-up including Robert Plant’s Saving Grace, Shed Seven’s Rick Witter & Paul Banks, Richard Thompson and Omid Djalili at The Old Station, has been called off too, Again negotiations are on-going to feature as many of the 2020 artists as possible in the 2021 festival’s run from July 21 to 27. More details will be announced in the coming weeks.

“It was heart-breaking to have to postpone the majority of the venue’s 20th anniversary celebrations but the safety of our audience members, performers, staff, volunteers and wider community has to come first. We intend to turn these events into 21st anniversary celebrations next year,” says Janet.

“During this period, we believe it is critically important that PAC continues to support its staff, artists and creative partners. We are working closely with our peers, across the region and indeed the country, on collaborative projects during the closure and we hope to announce a series of online events very soon.

“While we will be increasing the venue’s online artistic output, we are very aware there is no substitute to watching a live performance and sharing this experience with fellow audience members. We, like all of our customers, look forward to the time when this can resume.”

Pocklington Arts Centre remains in regular contact with Arts Council England, the Music Venues Trust and the Cinema Exhibitors Association. “All have been very supportive with advice and support,” says Janet. “PAC is determined to weather this storm and emerge from this challenge stronger and more vibrant than ever.”

“We are all braving this crazy storm, in different ships, but together,” says Courtney Marie Andrews

The last word, for now, goes to Courtney Marie Andrews: “We are all braving this crazy storm, in different ships, but together,” she says. “I am continuously inspired by everyone coming together, in so many ways, during this unprecedented time.”