Blue Light Theatre Company raise £3,000 for York Against Cancer and Motor Neurone Disease Association

The Blue Light Theatre Company members with representatives of York Against Cancer and the Motor Neurone Disease Association (York) at the cheque presentation at York’s Ambulance Station. All pictures:: Scott Atkinson

THE Blue Light Theatre Company took to the stage once again in January at Acomb Working Men’s Club, York, to raise money for York charities York Against Cancer and Motor Neurone Disease Association (York).

“We’re thrilled to announce that we managed to match last year’s amount of £3,000 – despite our production costs rising,” says cast member Mark Friend, who played Pinocchio in Oh! What A Circus on January 24, 25 and 29 to 31.

“The money raised has been split equally between the two charities. We’ve received fantastic support from many of North Yorkshire’s tourist attractions and businesses; without their generous support, we would not have been able to raise this amount.”

The Blue Light Theatre Company in Oh! What A Circus at Acomb Working Men’s Club

Oh! What A Circus was the seventh pantomime performed by The Blue Light Theatre Company, made up of paramedics, ambulance dispatchers, York Hospital staff and members of York’s theatre scene,  who have raised well over £10,000 over those years.

Writer and co-producer Perri Ann Barley says: “It’s great to see our audience come back year after year to support us, plus lots of new audience as the word gets around just how good our productions are.

“Work is already underway for Panto 2021 and the challenge is on to make it even bigger and better than the last. The title will be announced later in the year”.

Mark Friend, as Pinocchio, in Oh! What A Circus

Last Wednesday, the Blue Light company met representatives from York Against Cancer and Motor Neurone Disease Association (York) MNDA at York’s Ambulance Station to present them with their cheques.

Julie Russell, from York Against Cancer, says: “Thank you very much for this generous donation. It will help us make a difference to cancer patients and their families’ lives. The Blue Light Theatre Company really do know how to put ‘fun’ into fundraising. Thank you.”

In the cheque presentation picture are Julie Russell, from York Against Cancer; James Chambers, Jen Dodd, Colin Pearson and Val Corder, from MNDA (York) and The Blue Light Theatre Company’s Zoe Paylor, Perri Ann Barley, Christine Friend, Beth Waudby, Mark Friend, Devon Wells, Mick Waudby, Craig Barley and Glen Gears.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Opera North’s hellish The Turn Of The Screw

A scene from Opera North’s The Turn Of The Screw. Picture: Tristram Kenton

REVIEW: Opera North in The Turn Of The Screw, Leeds Grand Theatre, February 18. Further performances on February 21, 25 and 27, then touring until March 19. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com

PART of the fascination of any ghost story – and Henry James certainly intended The Turn Of The Screw to be one – is its dabbling with a world that we can never fully comprehend or understand.

We are frightened, as James was himself, by his own creation, by the horrors that our imaginations are led to conjure. The sky – or hell – is the limit.

Myfanwy Piper’s libretto retains most of James’s ambiguities, while Britten’s music wonderfully clarifies their existence but offers no definitive answers to the questions they pose.

We know of Britten’s own obsession with the corruption of innocence. We also have plenty of recent examples of the terrors that may befall children put into care, like Miles and Flora here. The question for a director of the opera is how unambiguous to be.

Alessandro Talevi’s production was certainly probing when it first appeared in the autumn of 2010. This time round, he opens up new possibilities: he hardly misses an opportunity to interpret and he has schooled all six of his cast into finely honed acting, without exception.

In Sarah Tynan’s Governess we have a minutely judged, sexually repressed ingénue: she is as surprised as we are by a lonely Mrs Grose’s fondling attentions. She is equally puzzled by Miles’s come-hither kiss, delivered just before he climbs into her bed: this boy may be in thrall to Quint, but is also prey to rampaging hormones.

So, which of these signals leads up an emotional cul-de-sac? Or are they merely figments of the governess’s fevered imagination? The fact that such questions need to be asked at all is a sure indication that Talevi knows exactly how to provoke.

He also views the tale from the children’s point of view. At one point, we are shown a Narnia-style, fairy-tale landscape – easily taken for a Victorian orangery stocked with exotic flowers – in which younger versions of Miles and Flora can be seen frolicking.

In Madeleine Boyd’s majestic set, Bly is a Victorian pile in need of more than a spring clean, with Quint glimpsed in the tower behind its tall, murky windows. The building itself is part of the oppression all its inmates feel, doubtless compelling them into aberration.

Her costumes are regulation late Victorian, shading into Edwardian, but her hair-styles are notable: the Pre-Raphaelite cast of Miss Jessel’s Titian tresses, Quint’s bright orange thatch and side-burns, Flora’s Alice-curls, all contrast firmly with the governess’s prim blonde bun.

The props are carefully selected too: a manic rocking-horse, a giant four-poster, from whose roof Flora dangles her puppets, a school desk, and a large horn above a turntable, on which Miles “plays” parody Mozart; all bask in Matthew Haskins’ shadow-laden lighting.

After an exceptionally clear prologue, Nicholas Watts fashions a menacing Quint, likely to cause many a nightmare, while Eleanor Dennis’s pregnant Miss Jessel finds an unearthly tone equally guaranteed to spook. Heather Shipp’s seemingly phlegmatic Mrs Grose flashes into emotion more than once. 

Tynan’s keenly-observed governess is a study in bafflement as she steadily loses her marbles to guilt and self-reproach. Jennifer Clark’s lively, mischievous Flora suggests someone much younger than she looked, while Tim Gasiorek’s well-tuned, light-voiced Miles acts his socks off.

All have reason to be grateful for the exceptional clarity with which Leo McFall’s orchestra paints their various motifs; one could hardly imagine their playing being more finely nuanced. Talevi’s revival may raise more questions than it answers, but it unquestionably held this audience in rapt appreciation.

Review by Martin Dreyer

James Swanton to tell M R James tale at York Ghost Merchants’ storytelling evening

Gothic York ghost storyteller James Swanton

THE York Ghost Merchants, at No. 6, Shambles, York, will hold their inaugural storytelling evening on March 1, hosted by the ghoulish James Swanton.

At 6pm (sold out), 7pm and 8pm, he will read M R James’s ghost story Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book, written in 1894 and published in his first collection, Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary Of 1904.

In James’s story, a scholar travels to a small French town for a kind of working vacation and there he discovers a small, rather dissolute old cathedral. On entering, he meets with the sacristan, who guides him around.

Eventually, they make their way to the church library where the sacristan shows him all sorts of old and antiquarian books that peak the scholar’s interest. One in particular, the sacristan seems especially eager to show off.

The York Ghost Merchants: “the world’s first spook shop”, set up by David Bloodworth and Snowhome’s Angus McArthur

The scholar is captivated by the book, the personal scrapbook of one Canon Alberic, and duly offers to buy it. The sacristan sells it to him for a pittance and his desperation to release it from his possession is palpable.

On his way out, the scholar is given another gift, a crucifix, by the sacristan’s daughter, who insists he takes it free of charge.

Later that same night, as the scholar is studying his new-found treasure, he encounters a page with a disturbing illustration that is central to the story’s suspenseful narrative.

Actor, writer and storyteller James Swanton was born in York, the ghost-infested city that informed his lifelong passion for the macabre. Winner of the 2018 York Culture Award for Outstanding Performing Artist, he has been described as “remarkable” by Simon Callow, as “extraordinary” by Miriam Margolyes and as a “horror star of the future” by Kim Newman.

Gateway to the ghoulish: James Swanton on the ghostly streets of York

Whether playing Dracula or Lucifer in The York Mystery Plays in the Shambles Market or performing his one-man shows Irving Undead and Charles Dickens’s winter stories at York Medical Society, Stonegate, he continues to drive his critics to raid their Thesaurus. In times past, they have dismissed him as “a tattily dressed raven”; “a young Boris Karloff”; “positively stunning in his grotesqueness”  and “lanky”.

The £25 ticket price includes the 45-minute storytelling session and a limited-edition Canon Alberic ghost. Please note, these ghosts are available only to those attending the event and not without the ticket.  

“Use the word COLLECT at checkout if you would like to collect your ghost and ticket, rather than having them posted to you,” says Angus McArthur, of The York Ghost Merchants.

Tickets can be booked at yorkghostmerchants.com or on 01904 896545. Opening hours for The York Ghost Merchants, sited in the former Via Vecchia and Pinder and Scott’s bakery shop, are Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm-ish, and Sundays, 11am to 5pm-ish.

What happened when a boy bit Pablo Picasso? Find out at York Theatre Royal

The Boy Who Bit Picasso: art and fun at York Theatre Royal Studio today and tomorrow. Picture: Geraint Lewis

WHEN Picasso comes to stay, anything can happen at York Theatre Royal Studio today and tomorrow.

Untied Artists invite four year olds and upwards to “come and play down on the farm with Tony and Picasso”.

“We’ll have loads of fun, make crazy pictures and tell the true story of how a young boy became friends with one of the greatest artists who ever lived,” they say.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso is an interactive piece of theatre with storytelling, music and chances to make your own art – whether mask-making, collages or drawings – in a hands-on, humorous family show that introduces the influential 20th-century Spanish artist through the eyes of a young boy.

Inspired by Antony Penrose’s book of the true story of how a boy became friends with Pablo Picasso, Untied Artists’ show is directed by Jake Oldershaw and originally was co-produced with Oxford Playhouse.

Tickets for today and tomorrow’s 11am and 2pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

REVIEW: York Stage in Steel Magnolias at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York

Joanne Theaker as M’Lynn in York Stage’s Steel Magnolias. All pictures: Kirkpatrick Photography

REVIEW: Steel Magnolias, York Stage, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorkstagemusicals.com

NOTE the shedding of “Musicals” from the York Stage name for this Nik Briggs production, although music from the Eighties still blares out from the radio at Truvy’s Beauty Spot, whenever it is tapped.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun, sings Cyndi Lauper, and the girls on stage want to have fun too, but the cycle of life has a habit of getting in the way.

Indeed just such a spanner in the works led to Louisiana playwright Robert Harling writing Steel Magnolias in 1987 as therapy after losing his sister to diabetes.

Louise Henry as Shelby in Steel Magnolias

Once billed as “the funniest play ever to make you cry”, it takes the form of a bittersweet but sentimental comedy drama, delivered by an all-female cast.

Briggs assembles a fine array of York talent, all of whom have excelled in musicals previously and are now showing off their acting chops to the max, without recourse to the heightened dramatics of song.

Briggs and set builder Geoff Theaker have gone for a traverse stage design, a configuration that is under-utilised in theatre, but makes you aware of the audience reactions on the opposite side, and also has a way of intensifying drama in a story of triumph and tragedy, dyeing and dying.

Steel Magnolias’ setting is a bustling Louisiana hair salon, run by the ever-comforting Truvy (Kathryn Addison) in a converted garage, home to her little rural Southern town’s most successful shop for 15 years.

Julie Ann Smith as Ouiser in Steel Magnolias

Pictures of the Eighties’ American hairstyles du jour are omnipresent, raising a smile of familiarity that is repeated with the assortment of hair-dos favoured by the women we meet. Bunting criss-crosses the salon, while magnolias tumble down the walls.

Significantly, men are never seen – and there were only four among the first-night full house – but they are often disparaged in conversation, one of the sources of humour in Harling’s script. What’s more, they are represented by the loud, intrusive blasts of a bird-scaring gun and the barking of big dogs. Enough said!

If the men are but a nuisance, the women seek comfort in each other, and where better to do that than in the haven of a salon as nails are painted and hair teased into pleasing shape.

At the epicentre is Addison’s perennially perky Truvy, whose mantra of “There’s no such thing as natural beauty” is passed on straightaway to quirky new asssistant Annelle (Carly Morton), whose God-fearing demeanour is coupled with mystery over her past.

Carly Morton’s Annelle and Louise Henry’s Shelby in Steel Magnolias

One effervescent, the other quiet, together they must orchestrate the ever-hastening wedding-day preparations of plucky, resolute but physically fragile Shelby (Louise Henry), whose love of fashion and pink in profusion are emblems of her not giving in to diabetes.

She and her mother, the cautious but forceful matriarch M’Lynn (Joanne Theaker), do not have the easiest of relationships but their love is nevertheless unconditional.

The salon’s endless circle of gossip is joined regularly by the wise, good-humoured, football club-owning widow Clairee (a phlegmatic Sandy Nicholson) and the grouchy, erratic loose cannon Ouiser (Julie Ann Smith, with just the right dash of eccentricity).

Briggs’s direction is both well choreographed and well paced, with plenty of movement to counter all that sitting down in salons, as Harling’s tissue-box drama of marriage and motherhood, love and loss unfolds.

The never-easy Southern drawl is mastered by one and all in Briggs’s excellent cast, who are equally strong as an ensemble and in the solo spotlight. Theaker is particularly good, especially when M’Lynn is in the grip of grief, while Henry, last seen as Snow White in her professional debut in the Grand Opera House pantomime, is fast becoming one to watch with an admirable range already at 22.

Carly Morton’s Annelle, left, Sandy Nicholson’s Clairee, Kathryn Addison’s Truvy and Louise Henry’s Shelby
in York Stage’s Steel Magnolias

Charles Hutchinson

Benedict and Livvy enjoy being all at sea as storms brew in Chekhov’s The Seagull

TORRID TIMES: Benedict Turvill as Konstantin and Livvy Potter as Nina in The Seagull. Picture: John Saunders

TUMULTUOUS passions and artistic egos collide in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio.

The February 26 to March 7 run completes director Helen Wilson’s ten-year project to stage all four of the Russian playwright’s major works in York, after Three Sisters in 2010, The Cherry Orchard in 2015 and Uncle Vanya in 2018.

Chekhov’s 1895 tragicomedy follows famous Russian actress Arkadina (played by Stephanie Hesp) as she brings her novelist lover Trigorin (Ben Sawyer) to spend the summer at her brother’s lakeside estate.

Arkadina’s son Konstantin (Benedict Turvill) is preparing for the premiere of his bold new play starring his girlfriend Nina (Livvy Potter). For the assembled audience of family and friends, the play’s first and only performance sets off a series of events that will alter the course of all their lives, forever.

Wilson’s multi-generational cast also features Maurice Crichton as Dr Dorn; Glyn Morrow, Sorin; Paul Joe Osbourne, Shamrayev; Elizabeth Elsworth, Polina; Lucy May Orange, Masha, and Sami Sok, Medvedenko.

Helen says: “Chekhov always wrote for an ensemble cast with wonderful parts for women. The Seagull is no exception. Actors love Chekhov and it’s my mission to bring the public round to him too.

“He is so often misunderstood. The Seagull is a comedy, as Chekhov describes it, and laughter and tears often spill over into each other.”

Taking principal roles for Helen for the first time will be Benedict Turvill, 22, last seen in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre in December, and Livvy Potter, 26, whose last role was “being blokey” in York Shakespeare Project’s Antony And Cleopatra at Theatre @41 Monkgate last autumn.

Benedict Turvill and Livvy Potter: performing for Settlement Players director Helen Wilson for the first time in The Seagull

“Playing Konstantin and his girlfriend Nina, they have such emotional journeys to go on,” says Helen. “They must go from being so in love in Act One to being in abject despair in Act Four. For young actors, The Seagull has everything in it for them.”

Livvy says: “The ‘realness’ of the language can sometimes take your breath away. You read it for the first time and then read it again later, after you’ve experienced something, and the humanness of those words is so affecting.”

Benedict says: “When I’ve read Chekhov in the past, I’ve always thought it was a rather rigid attempt at being natural, but once it comes off the page, as you rehearse it, it really works.”

“When you get to that point, you can really open your performance to it,” says Livvy, who will be performing at the theatre where she works as the marketing and press assistant.

“I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I’ve seen a lot of plays in that Studio space and I know what works and what doesn’t and that makes it an exciting prospect to be on that stage. It’s an awareness of how to use that space that is the key.”

Adapting to that space, Helen says: “I’ve learnt from the past productions not to have so much on stage, like having a piano and chaise longue previously. There’ll be a soundscape and lighting, but what really matters is that the play will be absorbing to watch in such an intimate space.”

Amid such intimacy, Chekhov’s comedy will blossom. “There’s such humour in the pretentious characters,” says Benedict. “Playing a funny character who’s not consciously funny, the audience will laugh at you, not with you.”

Roll on Wednesday, when The Seagull takes flight until March 7. Tickets for the 7.45pm evening performances and 2pm matinee on February 29 are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Emma Whitelock’s Epiphany, now featuring in the poster for York Settlement Community Players’ production of The Seagull

Did you know?

YORK artist Emma Whitelock has provided the promotional artwork for the Settlement Players’ production of The Seagull.

Describing her painting Epiphany, Emma says: “Its lone figure on the shore echoes perfectly Chekhov’s mood of longing in The Seagull. The piece was inspired by a misty winter sunrise on the Yorkshire coast and aims to capture a poignant moment; the outer world reflecting the inner.”

Emma’s artwork explores land, sea and solitude, her inspiration coming from the dramatic Yorkshire moors and coast, together with the exceptional light and vibrancy of Cornish summers.

Artist Emma Whitelock in her studio

Using acrylic with mixed media, she builds layers that evolve intuitively to create textured, semi-abstract works, marked by big skies, atmospheric colours and an expressive style. “I aim to transport the viewer to wild places, resonant with memories or possibilities,” she says.

The next chance to see Emma’s paintings will be at York Open Studios 2020 at Venue 43, 11 Trentholme Drive, The Mount, York, on April 18, 19, 25 and 26 from 10am to 5pm, preceded by a preview evening on April 17.

Joseph Marcell’s journey from what the Bel-Air butler saw to what the Gestapo inspector sees in Alone In Berlin

Denis Conway and Charlotte Emmerson as Otto and Anna Quangel and Joseph Marcell as Inspector Escherich in Alone In Berlin. Picture: Geraint Lewis

JOSEPH Marcell will be in York from March 3, appearing as a Gestapo inspector in the British premiere stage adaptation of Alone In Berlin at the Theatre Royal.

“As a non-white actor, I don’t get to play Nazis, so it’s a terrific boon to be playing Inspector Escherich,” he says, now settled into the second week of performances at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, York Theatre Royal’s co-producers of Alistair Beaton’s adaptation, directed by James Dacre.

Best known for his six seasons as the dry, sardonic butler in the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air from 1990 to 1996, the St Lucia-born, Peckham-raised Marcell has played Othello in 1984 and King Lear in 2014 in a career that has taken him to the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, the West End and Broadway.

Now, as Inspector Escherich, he must track his quarry through ever-narrowing circles of totalitarian hell in Fallada’s story set in Nazi-era Berlin in 1940, where factory foreman Otto Quangel (played by Denis Conway) and his wife Anna (Charlotte Emmerson) join the German Resistance after their son’s death.

Joseph Marcell’s Inspector Escherich with Clive Mendus as Enno Kluge and Jessica Walker as Golden Elsie in a scene from Alone In Berlin. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Based on true events, Alone In Berlin becomes a vividly theatrical study of how paranoia can warp a society gripped by the fear of the night-time knock on the door, as the quietly courageous dissident couple stand up to the brutal reality of the Nazi regime, defying Hitler’s rule with the smallest of acts. Such actions prompt Marcell’s meticulous, methodical Escherich to seek to catch them.

“I hadn’t been aware of the novel beforehand, though I’ve since read it after I landed the role,” says Joseph, 71. “It’s really difficult to get a German perspective on wartime life in a German city in the Second World War, but Fallada presents the story of the working ‘stiff’ who has to survive in Berlin.

“This is a story that’s not told: the story of an ordinary German in the war, when we usually hear of heroes and villains.”

Joseph continues: “People seeing the play so far have been a little surprised that it’s full of domestic drama rather than jackboot marching, but it’s the story of an ordinary man [Otto Quangel] who gets to breaking point, and regardless of what might happen, he has to take a stand.”

“For Escherich, it’s not just about survival but the quality of survival ,” says Joseph Marcell. Picture: Geraint Lewis

Escherich is fighting for his own survival as a policeman who has been made a member of the Gestapo. “Now he’s no longer a policeman, but paramilitary, and you find him almost succumbing to the violence of the Gestapo,” says Joseph of his flawed character.

“He’s the opposite of Otto, who has to stand up for what he believes in, whereas for Escherich it’s not just about survival but the quality of survival.”

Analysing Escherich’s character further, and in particular once he has to work for the Gestapo, Joseph says: “He’s in it, but he’s not of it,” he says. “He’s a survivor, who has integrity, and though he works for the Nazis, he doesn’t realise he’s a Nazi.”

As part of his research for the role of Escherich, Joseph met up with a friend who was a “bigwig” at the Imperial War Museum in London. “He explained to me that detectives who worked for the Gestapo were seen as [the equivalent of] rock stars,” he says.

Joseph Marcell in rehearsal for Alone In Berlin. Picture: Manuel Harlan

“But they saw themselves as detectives first, who dealt with facts, and handling facts was something they had been trained to use all their lives, rather than rounding up six chaps and beating them up for information.”

While a sense of impending doom hangs over Alone In Berlin from the first beat, says Joseph, “what makes the story special is that it’s not about kings and queens and admirals, but an ordinary man struggling for survival.

“It makes you ask yourself, ‘would I resist or simply survive?’. ‘What would I have done in that situation?’.”

Who is “alone in Berlin”, Joseph? “They are all alone. In the end, it’s Otto and Anna who are alone, but the inspector is alone too. He has no interaction with ordinary people, except in trying to solve a ‘crime’. They must each take their individual journey,” he says.

Joseph Marcell’s Inspector Escherich interrogating Denis Conway’s Otto Quangel in Alone In Berlin. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Joseph, who was raised in Peckham, South London, from the age of nine, and trained initially to be an electrical engineer, has played a multitude of roles in a distinguished career. One so distinguished that he has been made a cultural ambassador of St Lucia, his Caribbean homeland, and he sits on the American board for Shakespeare’s Globe.

“All the roles you play have to be distinctive, whether Inspector Escherich or Lear [in King Lear for Shakespeare’s Globe in 2014],” he says. “The wonderful thing about Lear is that it’s the story of king who degenerates into a state of hopelessness but then re-emerges, essaying on the nature of kingship.

“After two years of playing Lear, I was exhausted, but with age and exhaustion comes the knowledge that though you seek perfection, there’s no chance of it. Each role requires an honesty, a dedication, whether it’s Hamlet, Othello or Lear.”



Recalling his six years starring with a young Will Smith in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air in the 1990s, Joseph says: “The most important thing at that time was being a highly successful television star. I couldn’t go to an event without NBC having a word about what I could say, what I should wear, so it’s a completely different process.

Joseph Marcell in the role of Geoffrey Butler, the butler, in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

“I was employed to play a role and people say I played it successfully – and nothing succeeds like success in America.

“I didn’t go to ‘butler school’, but I did speak to someone in Britain and two in Los Angeles about what being a butler entailed. The role was written by satirists from the New Yorker magazine and it was up to me to make it truthful.”



Truthfulness in a role is always important to Joseph, as is the never-ending pursuit of perfection. “After a hit role like Geoffrey Butler, in many cases actors might retire and live on their hard-earned gains, but I am an actor and I want to act and I want to do it perfectly, and that’s what I want to continue to do,” he says.

“That TV role has afforded me choice and I have to say I do what I want to do and I’ve been lucky enough that people think I can do it. That’s why I get to make three films and do four stage roles each year.”

” All the roles you play have to be distinctive, whether Inspector Escherich or Lear ,” says Joseph Marcell. Picture: Manuel Harlan

On Monday this week, Joseph was taken to lunch at Claridge’s, in Mayfair, to discuss an upcoming movie role. “I’m going to be in my first Western, Trees In Texas, a film with a lot of African-American history in it,” he reveals.

“I’ve finished a film made in Mexico, an Hispanic production called The Exorcism Of God, directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, and there’s a BBC piece I might be doing, playing an exorcist.”

As for the stage, he has one Shakespearean role he would still love to play: Prospero, the protagonist with magical powers in The Tempest. That will surely come his way.

York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate, Northampton, present Alone In Berlin, York Theatre Royal, March 3 to 21. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

Aggers talks a load of balls – cricket, that is – at Theatre Royal charity fundraiser in April

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew presents his solo show, An Evening With Aggers, at York Theatre Royal on April 16.

The voice of summer on Test Match Special, Agnew, 59, is a key figure in the world of cricket, both as a former Leicestershire and England fast bowler and as a commentator on the game.

Last summer, he commentated on England’s World Cup victory in the most breath-taking 50-plus-one overs match of all time, followed by one of the most dramatic Test Match victories ever witnessed, at Headingley, Leeds, when Ben Stokes took on the Australians.

Now broadcaster Aggers will be regaling audiences with some of his special memories and amusing anecdotes.
 
Agnew learnt his craft under the tutelage of Brian Johnston, emerging from the notoriety of the gloriously funny “leg over” incident (yes, you will hear that on the night) to become BBC Radio’s voice of cricket .

Agnew’s solo show takes the audience on a trip down memory lane, waxing lyrical about his extensive and entertaining career on the cricket pitch, as well as his many years on TV screens and radio stations around the world. 

He also recalls encounters on his A View From The Boundary feature on Test Match Special, forwhich he has interviewed many a star of stage, screen and elsewhere, including two prime ministers, several rock stars, film legends, writers, comedians and a boy wizard.
 
Producer Simon Fielder says: “An Evening With Aggers will appeal to cricket fans and non-lovers of the game alike. You don’t have to be into the sport to enjoy the stories and humour. Aggers’s shows are always funny, charming and moving. They capture the essence of TMS, which has been a national institution for the past 60 years.”
 
As Aggers says: “It‘s not just cricket commentary, but friendly company for people at home, in the car, on the beach and even tucked up in bed.”
 
Audience members will have an opportunity to tweet Agnew on the night with questions and maybe even meet his beloved dog Tino.
 
The 7.30pm show will raise money for the Professional Cricketers’ Trust (PCT) and York Theatre Royal’s work in the community. Tickets cost £20 on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal’s Community Drive scheme revs up for Quality Street return

York Theatre Royal’s Community Drive leaflet

YORK Theatre Royal’s Community Drive scheme is back on the road.

Under the scheme, older people – a group that can be at risk of isolation – can enjoy a trip to the theatre, and as many as 100 people will receive tickets and transport to matinee performances of Northern Broadsides’ play Quality Street in June.

Maisie Pearson, the Theatre Royal’s development and communications assistant, said: “A meaningful activity like attending a show can help people overcome isolation and reconnect with their community, something which is particularly important for our older audiences.”

The first Community Drive during Driving Miss Daisy last June brought 51 older people from York to the Theatre Royal. Otherwise unable to visit the theatre, they had a memorable afternoon, talking to staff about past visits to the St Leonard’s Place theatre, enjoying the show and taking away a programme as a memento of their visit.

The Theatre Royal worked with a taxi company to transport Community Drive participants to and from the theatre and also partnered with Age UK York to bring a group from their Thursday Club. For some, this was the first time in years they had returned to the theatre. 

Maurey Richards and Paula Wilcox in Driving Miss Daisy at York Theatre Royal last June. Picture: Sam Taylor

A Thursday Club member said: “It’s a really lovely thing to be able to come to the theatre and feel part of something… the community of the theatre. It’s so kind to have something done for older people – to be remembered.”

For Quality Street, the Theatre Royal is working with charities that support older people to offer tickets and transport to see Laurie Sansom’s production of J M Barrie’s play at 1.30pm on June 11 or 2.30pm on June 13.

Tickets and transport can be requested as part of a community group, such as a charity, care provider or day centre. To book tickets and discuss any transportation needs, charity/group organisers or individuals should call Maisie Pearson on 01904 550148 or email maisie.pearson@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

“We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us by donating to York Theatre Royal,” said Maisie. “Thank you for enabling us to offer invaluable opportunities like the Community Drive.”

How Albee’s entertaining, disturbing, modern Greek tragedy The Goat could divide families

Family portrait: Bryan Bounds as Martin Gray, Will Fealy as his son Billy and Susannah Baines as his wife Stevie in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre are staging next week’s northern UK premiere of Edward Albee’s emotional, if controversial, rollercoaster of an American play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.

New York architect Martin Gray has it all as he turns 50: fame, fortune, a happy marriage to Stevie, and a wonderful, gay teenage son, Billy, but he is hiding a BIG secret. Everything changes when he admits to his best friend, Ross, that he is having an affair with…a goat.

The Goat caused a stir but nevertheless was a hit with audiences when it opened on Broadway in 2002, winning the Tony Award for Best Play 40 years after Albee took home the same prize for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? 

Playing at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, The Goat switches between comedy and full-blown tragedy as Stevie, Billy and Ross struggle to deal with Martin’s revelation.

“The play is about love and loss, the limits of our tolerance and who, indeed, we really are,” explained Virginia-born playwright Albee, who died in September 2016. “All I ask of an audience is that they leave their prejudices in the cloakroom … and later — at home — imagine themselves as being in the predicament the play examines and coming up with useful, if not necessarily comfortable, responses.”

Bryan Bounds, left, Mick Liversidge and Will Fealy in rehearsal for The Goat

Directed by Mark Hird and produced and designed by Robert Readman, Pick Me Up’s production casts American actor and tutor Bryan Bounds as Martin; Susannah Baines as Stevie; Mick Liversidge as Ross and Will Fealy, a student at CAPA College, the creative and performing arts college in Wakefield, as Billy.

Bryan Bounds, who runs the American School of Acting at Westcliffe Hall, off Cold Bath Road, in Harrogate, suggested The Goat to Mark, having first met him when his son Frankie played Pugsley in Pick Me Up’s production of The Addams Family at the Grand Opera House, York, in October 2015.

“I saw the original Broadway production in 2003 at The Booth Theatre with Sally Field and Bill Irwin leading the cast,” he recalls. “Like a lot of people, I was stunned, and afterwards I sat cogitating with an old chap, and we both said, ‘yes, it’s entirely possible that you could fall in love with goats’, but actually this play is nothing to do with goats.

“Albee’s work is all about using theatre to elevate the consciousness of the audience. He says, ‘never leave the audience the same way you found them’. This play really stays with you and you start to think more about intolerance. But the less the audience know before going, the better for having an impact on them.”

Bryan had been sitting on suggesting The Goat to Pick Me Up, “but then I saw Susannah [Baines] in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and thought she’d be perfect for Stevie because you need a very strong actor for that role,” he says.

“It will make you change how you think about everything, all in 90 minutes,” says Bryan Bounds, left, of Edward Albee’s play

“I asked Mark if he would like to direct it, and once he said ‘yes’, he suggested Mick Liversidge to play Ross, and I suggested Will Fealy for Billy. Will lives in Ossett and has been one of my students; he’s very talented and he’s off to the Leeds Conservatoire after he finishes at CAPA College.”

It was not a straightforward decision that Mark would direct The Goat. “When Bryan asked me, initially I sent a holding message saying I’d just agreed to direct Monster Makers, though I’m a reluctant director as acting is my passion,” he recalls.

“But then I read Albee’s play and thought, ‘oh my god, I have to do this’. I could see what Bryan could see in it.”

Playing Martin’s wife Stevie will be a “totally different direction” for Susannah. “I’m usually a bit more jazz hands; I rarely do straight plays; The Pitmen Painters in 2015 was the last one,” she says.

“Then I read the play without reading anything about it, and the impact of its fallout is quite extraordinary and scary for all four of them. You start with this happy, rich successful family who seem to have it all, but one bombshell changes it all.”

Mick Liversidge, back left, Bryan Bounds, Susannah Baines and Will Fealy: Mark Hird’s cast for The Goat

Susannah adds: “I wouldn’t have done this play if Mark wasn’t directing it, because he does everything with such care, such detailed research, and then works so collaboratively in the rehearsal room.”

Bryan has enjoyed the rehearsal process with Mark. “The first time we met up, he sat us down and we spent an hour just talking about the characters; who they are; what do they each want? That’s the luxury of how he works. Detail,” he says.

“I just believe we’re there to tell Albee’s story, and with Mark’s huge amount of research, we will tell this huge emotive story, not just do a play. I love the idea that it’s not all set in stone, so it will be different every night because the audience’s responses will change every night.”

Mark says: “The audience don’t need to see the research. It’s the result that counts. At first, audiences would swear they’re watching a situation comedy that’s very funny, but as the play goes on, what they’re watching is a situation tragedy.

“Albee gave the printed edition of the play a subtitle: Notes Towards A Definition Of Tragedy, but there’s not just a flow from comedy to tragedy with the consequences of a tragic flaw leading to a fall from a great height.

“Instead, there’ll be one line that has you in fits of laughter and then suddenly you choke on that laugh because of the line that comes next. It’s so well constructed and that’s what Albee is so good at.”

Mick Liversidge’s Ross confronts Bryan Bounds’ Martin in rehearsal for The Goat

Mark adds: “When you’re faced with moral ambiguities in a play, as with Greek tragedies, it makes you think about yourself and about society around you, and that’s what makes Albee’s play a modern version of a Greek tragedy.”

Bryan rejoins: “Albee wrote the play because he wanted audiences to conceive the inconceivable. Originally it was going to be about a man falling in love with another man, but then he thought, ‘No, I need to polarise people’s response to it’.

“I have the feeling it will be the most disturbing play people will ever have seen at 41 Monkgate.”

Albee once said, “if you think this play is about bestiality, you’re either an idiot or a Republican”. Mark says: “He also said, it’s no more about bestiality than it’s about flower arranging’ and both are in the play!”

Why should you see The Goat? “It’s a play that will make you laugh, shock you, and maybe even make you cry,” says Susannah. “It’s the most outrageously funny tragedy you could ever see, and above all it will make you think.”

Bryan concludes: “It will make you change how you think about everything, all in 90 minutes.”

Mark has the last word. “It will make you think about your relationships; how you treat your family, as Albee portrays relationships in a way that has a real impact on audiences.

“If you like theatre that’s entertaining and sends you home changed and thinking about some big themes, this is one of those nights for you.”   

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, runs at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, 7.30pm nightly. Box office: 01904 623568 or at pickmeuptheatre.com. Please note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum age of 15.