The funniest Nativity play in York this Christmas? Head to Flint Street

Florence Poskitt: Making her York Stage Musicals debut as Gabriel, the angel who covets the role of Mary in The Flint Street Nativity. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK Stage Musicals will bring an alternative festive offering to York this Christmas for the first time, staging The Flint Street Nativity at the John Cooper Studio @41Monkgate from December 12 to 22.

Tim Firth’s story was first performed as a television drama on ITV in 1999 with a cast featuring York actor Mark Addy, Frank Skinner, Neil Morrissey and Jane Horrocks.

Firth, the Frodsham-born writer of Neville’s Island, All Quiet On The Preston Front, Calendar Girls and the Madness musical Our House, then re-worked it for the Liverpool Playhouse stage premiere in 2006.

Firth’s show follows “Mizzis Horrocks’s” class of seven year olds as they prepare to perform their Nativity play at Flint Street Junior School for the proud mums and dads – and the occasional social worker.

Squabbles arise when Angel Gabriel wants to play Mary; the Star grumbles he isn’t a proper star like they have at NASA; Herod won’t stop waving to his parents and the subversive Innkeeper is determined to liven up the traditional script. Then the class stick insect escapes.

Leading the ensemble company as the ambitious Angel Gabriel will be blossoming York actress and comedienne Florence Poskitt, making her York Stage debut alongside Fiona Baistow in the coveted role of Mary. Look out too for YSM debutant Conor Wilkinson, playing both Herod and Joseph.

The York Stage Musicals’ show poster for The Flint Street Nativity

Here, Charles Hutchinson asks York Stage Musicals artistic director Nik Briggs to come forth on Firth by answering a Christmas sack-load of questions.

What made you choose this Tim Firth piece as your debut Christmas production?

“York is the ultimate Christmas destination, and many people ask us each year what we’re staging at Christmas but it hasn’t been something we’ve ventured into before. But then Jim Welsman [chairman at the time] asked us if we’d be interested in bringing a Christmas offering to 41 Monkgate, so I jumped at the chance and knew what show would be the perfect choice.

“I was looking for one that really would provide the city with an alternative theatrical offering. It needed to be a show that suited York Stage and the 41Monkgate venue. Flint Street was the perfect choice. It’s not saccharine; it’s fun, energetic and a tad off the wall.

“So, come join us as we alter your perspective on not only the art and politics of the humble Nativity, but the John Cooper Studio as a whole!”

What makes The Flint Street Nativity so humorous?

“This festive play really is one of the funniest observations I’ve come across based on the Christmas holidays. Everyone knows the traditions surrounding the institution of the school Nativity, tea towels tied to the head and tinsel-clad Angels everywhere, but Tim Firth has created a brilliant script, set in the build-up to the much-anticipated show filled with laughs and pathos in an oversized classroom where adults play the children in Mrs Horrocks’s class.”

What do you most enjoy about Tim Firth’s writing?

“The detail in the observation of the people he writes about is just brilliant; it really is all on the page. Like in Calendar Girls, you can relate to and recognise the characters. The seven year olds just come to life through the writing.

“I work with children of this age quite regularly and, as I read the script, I could see the children he was talking about and describing. It seems far-fetched to some, but it really isn’t! Then, the twist in the final scenes and his ability to inject just the right amount of pathos into a riotous comedy is what clinches it for me.”

What are the particular challenges of this piece for director and cast?

“The key to the whole show, for me, comes in getting the final part of the show just right, when – spoiler alert! – the actors who’ve been playing the children throughout then turn to play the respective parents and we see what’s made the children the way they are.

“It’s been fairly easy to work on the scenes with the brilliant actors where they’re playing around and having lots of fun playing the seven year olds, but actually getting that to tie in with the adults is where the magic is, so we started the rehearsals with the adult scenes and got to know them before we then worked on creating their children, as it’s the adults who nurture.”

What is Tim Firth’s Christmas message?

“The final line in the play is ‘I’m in a Nativity. Yeah, it’s great…really brings it home’, and I think that sums it up. In the fast-paced world we live in, the simplest, purest things can really make you slow down and take stock.”

Assistant director Jonny Holbek with Florence Poskitt’s despondent Angel Gabriel

What are your recollections of Nativity plays when you were nobbut a lad?

“Absolute terror! Every year, I’d come in from school and tell my mother that I’d been cast as a lead role in the show. Every year, she’d then have to go in and tell that year’s teacher that they should be prepared that come the day of the show, I’d just cry and refuse to go on as I suffered from crippling stage fright!

“They would assure her I’d been fine in class rehearsing and that I was doing brilliantly with it. Then every year she’d turn up and sit in the hall expectantly, to be hauled out by the teacher and informed I was having a meltdown. This happened every year until I was ten!”

Why are Nativity plays still important?

“Purity! It’s plain and simple to see in any Nativity the purity in the children and the performances they give. Sadly, it’s not a quality we always see in society and on stage nowadays. so let’s cling on to it in Nativity plays! 

What have been your highlights of the York Stage Musicals year in 2019?

“2019 really has been a dream. We had the opportunity to produce a classic musical in The Sound Of Music; have worked on new writing with Twilight Robbery; created magic with our acclaimed youth production of Disney’s Aladdin, but I think the cherry on the top has to be Shrek The Musical at the Grand Opera House in September.

“The buzz around the production, from auditions through to the closing night, were just electric. The reviews and comments were just sensational. It really did raise our bar yet again and will really be a cherished production for us for a very long time.”

What’s coming next for York Stage Musicals?

“We have a bit of a bumper year planned already actually. An Eighties’ classic, a York premiere, a birthday celebration and what is set to be possibly the biggest and messiest youth show the city has ever seen!

“We start in February with Robert Haring’s Steel Magnolias at 41 Monkgate. We then head across town to the Grand Opera House with a brand-new production of Bugsy Malone in April.

Chris Knight’s perennially enthusiastic Donkey in York Stage Musicals’ “monster hit”, Shrek The Musical, at the Grand Opera House, York, in September

“Then it’s a return to Monkgate in May to present the York premiere of Sondheim On Sondheim to mark Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday [on March 22 2020].

“We’re still firming up plans for our big autumn show, but things are looking exciting, and we’ll again end the year back at 41 Monkgate with another Christmas alternative!” 

And finally, Nik, what would be your Christmas Day message to the nation?

“People of the United Kingdom, it seems that the country truly is in the… No, in all seriousness, we are in a transition, whether we want to be or not.

“In times of transition and change, we have to really look out for each other as not everyone will move at the same pace or be able to keep up. Stay genuine and be kind to those around us and trust that love will always win. 

“Sadly nowadays, there are too many people in the world who like to over-promise and oversell themselves for personal gain. This can only lead to disappointment as we can see everywhere. “Know yourself, know your limits, don’t compare yourself to others and work hard to run your own race. Celebrate successes briefly, remain humble and learn from your mistakes.”

York Stage Musicals present The Flint Street Nativity, John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate, York, December 12 to 22, 7.30pm except Sundays at 6pm. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorkstagemusicals.com or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office.

Creative Team

Director and designer: Nik Briggs 

Assistant director: Jonny Holbek 

Musical director: Jessica Douglas

Cast 

Mary: Fiona Baistow 

Wise Gold: Verity Carr

Star: Matthew Clarke

Wise Frankincense: Jack Hooper 

Angel: Louise Leaf 

Innkeeper: Paul Mason 

Angel Gabriel: Florence Poskitt

Narrator: Andrew Roberts 

Shepherd: Chloe Shipley

Herod/Joseph: Conor Wilkinson 

All rise for Martin Barrass, new queen of York Theatre Royal’s pantomime

Putting the Royal into York Theatre Royal: Martin Barrass as Queen Ariadne in Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Anthony Robling

HE ain’t nothing like a dame. Instead, Martin Barrass, perennial pantomime soft lad, comic stooge and sidekick punchbag, will not so much step into Berwick Kaler’s big boots at York Theatre Royal as reinvent himself in regal mode for Sleeping Beauty.

All rise for Barrass’s Queen Ariadne as the Hull-born actor adds to his repertoire in his 33rd panto, performing once more alongside David Leonard’s villainous Evil Diva, Suzy Cooper’s Princess Beauty and AJ Powell’s Darth Diva.

Dame Berwick may have left the stage after 40 years of pantomayhem, but he has not left the building, writing the script once more and directing the morning rehearsal sessions, as he works in tandem with new co-director Matt Aston for the first time.

Kaler has not been available for interviews, concentrating his energies elsewhere at 73 and leaving the spotlight to Barrass and others, although the betting odds are shorter than for Frankel at York Racecourse in 2012 that the departed dame will make an appearance on screen.

He’s still with stupid! “There’s still a bit there that’s my familiar character, so it has shades of the idiot,” says Martin Barrass. Picture: Anthony Robling

“My Queen will be like a duck,” says 63-year-old Barrass. “Looking serene on the surface but paddling away frantically beneath the water.

“This year, it sounds very much like I’ll be in a transitional place, where the dame would have been. My Queen will be ‘alpha and unputdownable’, but there’s still a bit there that’s my familiar character, so it still has shades of the idiot.”

Rather than anyone filling the black hole of pandemonium left by Kaler, the Panto Four will share the challenge, although the most intriguing progression is Barrass’s switch. “I’m aware it’s an enormous undertaking because people stop you in the street to ask, ‘So, Martin, are you the dame this year?’, and I have to say, ‘No, I’m the Queen of all her subjects’.

“I know I’m following in the footsteps of a master, the greatest ad-libber ever, and what you have to be in this role is slightly above it, aware of what’s going on around you, being prepared for any audience heckles.

Re-united: The Panto Four, now minus retired Dame Berwick Kaler,, in familiar pose, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard, Martin Barrass and A J Powell

“Comedy like this always has to be flexible, always switched on for the unexpected, the chance to be anarchistic.

”It will be a case of calming myself down for what lies ahead, but I’m lucky to have watched a genius in operation at close hand.”

You can sense that far from being intimidated by the task, Barrass is rising to it, just as he did when playing the deformed Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man or Stan Laurel in Laurel And Hardy at the Theatre Royal; station porter Albert Perks in E Nesbit’s The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum; or the 87-year-old waiter in Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors for the National Theatre at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Or, earlier this year, excelling as band conductor Danny Ormondroyd, “the Peter Postlethwaite role”, in Brassed Off at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Bounce back: Martin Barrass in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Anthony Robling

“I loved playing Perks, blowing the whistle, controlling the engines, just as I loved playing Danny, conducting a band of 36. I don’t know how we crammed them all in!” says Martin. “Being tone deaf, I had to learn everything about conducting. Playing Danny, he’s the king of his fiefdom, his colliery brass band, and he’s to be feared in some way, when you really make people listen to you.

“So now, playing Queen Ariadne, she won’t be afraid to throw her weight around, but in a nice way, as I’m only eight and a half stone.”

Over his 33 years as the stooge, Barrass has played all manner of animals, a giant carrot, a goofy archbishop and a twist on his hapless One Man, Two Guvnors character, the venerable, if physically vulnerable Chinese philosopher Wisehopper. The Queen will be different again. “Don’t expect to see a scrap of make-up because it’s in the tradition of Old Mother and Berwick’s dame: you know it’s played by a bloke,” he says.

“But how you play it is a tonal thing: you can have a lot of fun with the ‘bunchness’ of the voice, for example. Berwick always said, ‘I don’t want to offend the men in the room’, so I won’t be veering into the realms of drag and camp. I’ll leave that to David Leonard!”

Exit the dame: An emotional Martin Barrass, for so long his comic stooge, embraces Berwick Kaler at the close of the veteran dame’s last performance in The Grand Old Dame Of York on February 2.. Pictures: Anthony Robling

Placing his Queen, as opposed to a dame, Martin says: “Normally the role is someone like a washer woman of lower status, but you don’t get any bigger than the Queen! I’ll be playing her as a cross between Eric Morecambe and Fanny Craddock.

“As Berwick would be the first to say, you should do whatever suits you, whatever you’re at ease with, though there’ll still be traces of Hull in my Queen.

“So this Queen will be as common as muck, and that’s how you have fun with it, along with assuming Berwick’s role of always having the last say.”

He’s just had it!

Martin Barrass stars in Sleeping Beauty, York Theatre Royal, December 7 to January 25. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

By Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

Philip Parr gives fresh refugee perspective to Nativity for York at Spurriergate Centre

Angels in town: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust cast members for A Nativity for York stand outside the Spurriergate Centre, York. Picture: John Saunders

A NATIVITY for York is in its final week of rehearsals before premiering from December 12 to 15 at the Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York.

Directed by Philip Parr and produced by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust (YMPST), this hour-long production with live music is based on the surviving manuscript of the medieval York Mystery Plays in the British Library, while being infused with a contemporary resonance to “remind us that this story is not so very far from our own modern-day experience”.

From the 14th to 16th centuries, episodes from the Bible were presented on wagons pulled through the streets of York by the City Guilds of Craftsmen, celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi in early summer. Next week’s show draws text from eight of the 48 short plays, presented in a modernised version of a northern dialect of Middle English, so audiences can follow the action while retaining the all-important sounds of the language.

Ged Murray and Jenna Drury in rehearsal for A Nativity for York. Picture: Nick Ansell

Telling the biblical story from the creation of the world, through the life of Jesus Christ, to the Day of Judgement, and grounded in human experience, the Mystery Plays were “made by the people for the people”. In next week’s new Nativity for York, the celebration of the birth of Jesus – the Christmas miracle – is juxtaposed with the story of an ordinary couple caught up in events beyond their control that will change their lives forever.

 “The Nativity is probably a story that much of our audience will know, but we wanted to give it a fresh, new and contemporary perspective,” says Parr. “Joseph, Mary and their baby are really no different from any other refugees: fleeing their country, persecution and the threat of death. 

“To tell the story within this setting, and to ask questions of what happens now, we hope will engage audiences to take that question away with them.”

Parr’s production – his first as artistic director for YMPST – draws on the long Mystery Plays tradition of community performance and storytelling, utilising York actors, singers and musicians.

In elevated company: The Angels ascend to the heights in a York shop as they promote A Nativity for York. Picture: John Saunders

YMPST chair Linda Terry says: “Our community cast bring a wealth of experiences, commitment and talent to the work, which has made creating this production incredibly powerful.

“As we move into the Spurriergate Centre, we’re looking forward to presenting our first Nativity for York to residents and visitors. It’s moving, thought provoking and full of beautiful music.”

Director Philip Parr is a widely experienced director of theatre, opera and festivals who has worked both in Britain and internationally, establishing a reputation for directing large-scale community productions, chiefly working as artistic director of Parrabbola, collaborating with communities across Europe.

His theatre work has ranged from main-house productions to small-scale rural touring shows, including working at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Bayerisches Staatsoper and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as well as being founder and artistic director of Spitalfields Opera.

A Nativity for York cast members gather at a rehearsal at Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, York. Picture: John Saunders

A founding member of the European Shakespeare Festivals network, he has directed the Swaledale Festival and Bath Shakespeare Festival and is director of the York International Shakespeare Festival.

Directing YMPST’s first solo production, Parr says: “Creating a new Nativity cycle for York is both a wonderful artistic challenge and an enormous responsibility. I’m excited to have been given that responsibility.”

Performances start at 6.30pm on December 12 and 13; 12 noon, 2pm and 6.30pm, December 14, and 12 noon and 2pm, December 15. Tickets cost £10, under 16s £6, on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Charles Hutchinson

Badapple tackle global warming in Christmas show The Snow Dancer

Badapple Theatre Company cast member Danny Mellor

BADAPPLE Theatre Company set out on the road tomorrow with their Christmas show, The Snow Dancer, a tale to perk the interest of teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Written and directed by the Green Hammerton company’s artistic director, Kate Bramley, the setting is The Great Wood, where something is awry. The animals are desperate for sleep, but with the onset of global warming and climate change, the weather is just too warm.

The show’s intrepid heroes, played by Anastasia Benham and Danny Mellor, decide they must seek out the mysterious Snow Dancer if there is any chance of ever making it snow for Christmas.

Ahead of tomorrow’s preview show at Hunsingore Village Hall, Charles Hutchinson puts director Kate Bramley in the hot seat.

What prompted you to write The Snow Dancer, Kate? 

“I started work on this show in 2017 with composer Jez Lowe. There are many stories of indigenous peoples around the globe who had the tradition of dancing to bring on the snow for the season, but as far as we know there are no surviving stories of actual Snow Dancers!”

Were you inspired by any existing Christmas stories?

“I’ve worked on a lot of Christmas stories in the past, so even though this one is completely original and doesn’t follow an existing story, there are still recognisable elements.

“We have Ida the March Hare, who is a meddling villain, for example. But, if anything, it’s a classic ‘quest’ story, where the children head off through the woods to save the world and encounter a few setbacks on the way.”

Does writing a Christmas story make different demands of you as a writer, given certain audience expectations?

“I suppose over the years we have created a Badapple style of storytelling that is open to audiences of all ages, so for the family Christmas shows I just have to make sure that the structure is suitable for younger viewers, with lots of things going on.

“We have some beautiful – and very cheeky – woodland puppets in this one, so hopefully that will help keep the kids entertained!

“I think there’s a Pixar animation and commercial pantomime expectation nowadays that tells Christmas stories on a grand scale, which we can’t necessarily do! But I work for a number of months with our designer, Catherine Dawn, to create little ‘magic moments’ of theatre that run throughout the story. There may be some surprises for audiences!”

Global warming is the political issue of our day, even if Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s place was taken by a dripping block of ice on the Leaders’ debate on Channel 4. What impact can a play make at this time? 

“I’m not sure that any one play can make an impact. But it’s about contributing to a conversation, I think. As a company, we often re-use sets and costume; rarely buy anything new and have our power from renewable sources; actively recycle and try to avoid wastage.

“But we’re realising that we just do all that quietly and don’t particularly discuss the issues with our audiences.

“What has changed over the past couple of years since I started work on this project is that it is young people globally who are at the forefront of the campaign for change. And it feels like we should all take them seriously. And that’s why the heroes in our story, Sol and Aurora, are 17…and they save the world! Simple!”

Anastasia Benham: playing an intrepid hero in Badapple Theatre Company’s Christmas show The Snow Dancer

As a company that travels by road, from village to village, to provide “theatre on your doorstep”, how do you go eco?

“As part of our ambition for this project, I asked Catherine and John [Badapple stage and lighting designer John Bramley] to create an eco-set that was made from re-claimed materials, using partners like the Community Furniture Store and Community RePaint among others.

“But, more than that, Catherine has created a forest setting out of ‘human junk’! It’s an incredibly beautiful and atmospheric design with donated ladders as trees, broken umbrella canopies and much more. So not only is it a recycled set but it also makes a statement about re-cycling or up-cycling. She’s very clever!

“The final piece of our funding for this project was for our team to assess our sustainability as an organisation and create a report as to what we might do in the future to further decrease our carbon footprint.”

What did that report involve?

“We collected some data last year that showed the percentages of audiences that came to our shows on foot, from under a mile radius, and it’s a pretty high number. So, the next part of our process is to look at our touring (driving) footprint as well as the audiences (lower) footprint and see how much further we can go.

“John has already started to explore electric vehicles but there isn’t currently a vehicle that would fit our needs and run on electric. So, we could run two electric vehicles but, of course, there is a carbon cost in the production of those vehicles.

“Anyway, it’s an ongoing debate, but we’re delighted that we’re having the chance to discuss these elements in detail and hopefully by next summer we’ll have an even more effective strategy! It’s a work in progress for everyone, I think.” 

How do you balance humour and a more serious message in the play?

“For anyone who knows my writing, they’ve probably cottoned on to the fact that I’m usually delivering social politics by stealth! It’s humour first and then perhaps at the end of the show the audiences will think over the story and maybe ask some questions of themselves at a later stage.”

Who is the Snow Dancer and why is the Snow Dancer mysterious, or had that better remain a mystery?!

“The Snow Dancer is one of four spirit dancers that, back before the dawn of time, was responsible for dancing to bring in the winter season. Over the centuries the other dancers have retired, and only the Snow Dancer remains.

“But with the weather so unseasonably warm in the Great Wood, we can only conclude he’s gone on strike! But he’s hiding somewhere and our heroes must find him and persuade him to dance to get the weather back to normal, so that all the animals can get some sleep. That’s an old Badapple legend, by the way!”

What would be your Christmas Day message to the nation in 2019?

Choose love. Try to scale down the wastage on the un-necessary a bit and focus on supporting your loved ones and those in need in the community. Our Christmas charities this year are Safe Passage where we are founder members and also The Woodland Trust. Maybe some of our audiences might choose to support them as well. 

What are your New Year wishes for Badapple?

I want to congratulate my team really. We’ve worked through a difficult couple of years financially with some great shows under our belts and everyone is still smiling! We’re 21 in 2020 so we’re officially a grown-up company now! Hopefully we’ll keep entertaining and inspiring the communities who so kindly invite us into their midst.

Badapple Theatre Company present The Snow Dancer from December 5 to 29.

Tour dates for December 2019:

December 5, Hunsingore Village Hall, LS22 5HY, preview show; box office, 01423 339168.

6, Harpham & Lowthorpe Village Hall. YO25 4QZ; 07867 692616.

7, Bempton & Buckton Community Hall, YO15 1HS; 0844 500 5121/07849 639650

8, Sand Hutton & Claxton Village Hall YO41 1LL; 01904 468525 / 468001

10, Danby Wiske Village Hall, DL7 0LY; 01609 771117.

11, Skipsea Village Hall, YO25 8TJ; 01262 469714.

12, Dalton le Dale Parish Hall, SR7 8QP; 0191 581 3726.

13, Biddulph Moor Village Hall, ST8 7HP; 01782 523573.

14, Fairfield Village Hall, B61 9LZ; 07762 749943.

15, Bubbenhall Village Hall, CV8 3BD; 02476 305931.

17, Appletreewick Village Hall, BD23 6DD; 01423 339168.

18, Stillingfleet Village Institute, YO19 6SJ; 01423 339168.

19, Portholme Church, Selby, YO8 4QH; 01423 339168 or tickets@portholmechurch.org.uk.

20, Green Hammerton Village Hall, YO26 8AB; 01423 339168.

21, Bingley Arts Centre, BD16 2LZ; 01274 567983 or bingleyartscentre.co.uk.

22, Campsall Village Hall, to be confirmed.

27, Markington War Memorial Institute, HG3 3NR; 01423 771748 or 01423 339168.

28, St Alban’s Church, Hull, HU6 8SA; 07401 179 927.

29, Yarm Fellowship Hall, TS15 9BT; 01642 888786.

Santa’s in love and Aladdin’s wishing for magic at Pocklington Arts Centre

Talegate Theatre’s Widow Twankey in Aladdin at Pocklington Arts Centre

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre is staging two Christmas shows with the emphasis on “fantastic festive family fun”.

First up, The People’s Theatre Company present Steven Lee’s Santa In Love on Saturday afternoon, promising to unveil magical secrets for audiences aged four and over at 2.30pm.

If you have ever wanted to know from where the fairy on top of the Christmas tree comes, why you never see a Christmas elf, or maybe the answer to the greatest secret of them all – the one about Santa Claus and the thing he secretly loves best – then this is the show for you. 

Santa will be available to meet little ones after the show and each child will receive a gift. 

Next, Talegate Theatre’s Aladdin on December 14 brings you “the pantomime you have always wished for”.

Follow the heroic Aladdin and his troublesome mum, Widow Twankey, to see if they can beat the evil Abanazar to the magic lamp in time for Aladdin to win the hand of Princess Jasmine. 

Talegate Theatre’s 2.30pm show will be packed with songs, slapstick, silliness and fairy-tale magic.

Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer says: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when our auditorium is filled with audiences of all ages enjoying some fantastic festive family fun. 

“Our Christmas stage shows enhance our year-round family theatre offering and really mark the start of the build-up to Christmas and the New Year, but they always prove hugely popular, so I would recommend buying tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.”

Tickets for Santa In Love cost £9 each or £34 for a family ticket; Aladdin, £10, under 21s £8, family £33, on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

York poet Carole Bromley to perform at Scarborough’s Christmas Rotunda Night

Headliner: York poet Carole Bromley will perform at Scarborough’s Rotunda Muaeum this Christmas. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

YORK poet Carole Bromley is the headline act for the Christmas Rotunda Night at Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum on December 21.

She will be joined at this 6.30pm to 9pm festive celebration by the Scarborough-told Tales storytellers and Whitby a cappella group The Windmill Girls.

Carole’s work has appeared in many journals and compilations and she has three collections to her name: A Guide Tour Of The Ice House,The Stonegate Devil and Blast Off!, a book for children. She has won such prizes as the Bridport Prize for Poetry, Brontë Society Literary Award and 2019 Hamish Canham Award from the Poetry Society.

The Windmill Girls: a cappella carols

Scarborough-told Tales brings together storytellers who have graduated from a Rotunda workshop course, now making a return visit after their performance in July.

The all-female choir The Windmill Girls sing acapella carols, many drawn from the rich tradition of “village” carols, some dating from the18th century and boasting exuberant choruses.

Scarborough-told Tales: stories for Christmas. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Simon Hedges, head of curation, collections and exhibitions at Scarborough Museums Trust, which runs the Rotunda Museum and Scarborough Art Gallery, says: “This promises to be a brilliant festive treat, with poetry, great stories and seasonal music – just right for getting into the Christmas spirit.”

Tickets for this Rotunda Night cost £7.50 including a glass of wine, beer, Christmas punch or soft drink. Places are limited, so advance booking is recommended on 01723 353665.

Charles Hutchinson

Hannah Davies and Hannah Bruce launch Conflux audio walk at Castle Gateway

Conflux: “a lyrical audio collage bursting with voice and music “. Image: Katie Allen

COMMON Ground Theatre and Hannah Bruce and Company present Conflux, a lyrical audio collage bursting with voice and music in the heart of York this weekend.

It will be launched by private invitation only to previews at 4pm, 4.30pm and 5pm today and tomorrow at Piccadilly Bridge, on the Foss, next to Tesco Express, before being made available to the public as a download from Monday, December 2, for one year.

The Conflux audio walk is an hour of stories, imaginings and musings inspired by the Castle Gateway area. Accessed via an app on personal devices, the rich sound world guides listeners on a journey through York’s oldest site of stronghold, power and resistance.

“It’s part podcast, part poem, part accidental car park,” says Conflux host Hannah Davies, the York writer, poet, performer and Common Ground artistic director, who has worked with sound designer and composer Jonathan Eato and director Hannah Bruce. 

“Conflux takes listeners on a trip to find the often forgotten and mostly ignored, the stories that lurk on street corners and under the tarmac. Starting by the river Foss on Piccadilly, listeners follow the in-audio instructions to explore one of the city’s most fascinating and iconic sites in a captivating and irreverent blend of past and present, with contributions from 36 York residents.” 

Using art to reference the past while looking to the future of the iconic city-centre site, this free outdoor audio experience is the second of a trio of art commissions to be presented as part of City of York Council’s consultation on Castle Gateway.

Conflux is funded through Leeds City Region Business Rates Pool, which allows local authorities to retain growth in business rates for local investment. It is supported with public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, as well as supported by City of York Council and York Mediale, York’s digital media arts enterprise. The University of York Music Department has provided support for this project too. 

Writer Hannah says: As someone who lives and works in this city, it was great to spend time in a part of town that I usually only use as a short cut. Our city is full of history but that’s not everything that’s important about it.

“We wanted to capture a sense of now, brushing up against the past. The fragmented messy layers of it all. History is not neat. Nor is everyday life.

“We spent a lot of time on the site at different times of day and met and spoke to some really interesting people whose voices appear in Conflux. I know so much about the site now, I’ll never see it in the same light again. And I’ve definitely developed a thing for Clifford’s Tower, such an iconic part of York I used to take for granted. Now I do a little inner wave to it every time I pass.”

Those attending this weekend’s previews will need a smartphone, earbuds or headphones and details of the event code for the app. “Please dress for the weather and be prepared for an outdoor walk,” advises Hannah. 

Details regarding the app and the event code for specific time slots have been sent in advance to the audio walkers, who will start out from Piccadilly Bridge, having met at Spark York for information and support.

For full download instructions, visit the Common Ground website, cgtheatre.co.uk/portfolio/conflux, from Monday, December 2.

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar, York Musical Theatre Company ****

Meet the new Whitney with the powerful voice: John Whitney as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar, York Musical Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

REJECTED as a theatre show, Jesus Christ Superstar began life as that very 1970s’ thing, a rock concept album, or double album to be precise.

The year was 1970; Tim Rice was 25, Andrew Lloyd Webber, 21. By 1972, it had resurrected miraculously as a rock opera, so successfully that it played the West End for eight years initially.

Paul Laidlaw’s glorious new revival in York could not be more Seventies in spirit: hippie hair; kaftans; flared jeans; Bjorn Borg headbands; big beards; cop-show moustaches. Only the patchouli oil and stinky Afghan coats are missing, and no-one misses them.

The dawn of Advent might seem the wrong time to tell the story of the last seven days of Jesus Christ’s life, as seen through Judas’s burning eyes, but in fact its impact is all the greater before thoughts turn towards celebrating the innocent child’s arrival.

John Whitney has long cherished his dream role of Jesus, through his days of studying musical theatre at York St John University and growing a tribute beard. Now, at 28, the Middlesbrough-born actor realises that dream, with York Musical Theatre Company as his “new source to get his awesome musicals fix,” he says in the programme, coming over all retro Seventies.

Through a mutual connection, your reviewer had been hearing of what a powerhouse voice Whitney had. He was right. Wow! The new Whitney sings with a stunning range, sensitivity, emotion, drama, soul, and did he hit that famous Everest-high top note in I Only Want To Say (Gethsemane)? Of course, he did.

At his lowest ebb: Chris Mooney’s Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar

He was but one of many superb casting decisions by Laidlaw. Liverpudlian Chris Mooney is making his YMTC debut as the traitorous Judas, the narrator’s role, standing out from his fellow disciples with cropped hair and autumnal, military colours, his manner as intense and deceiving as Shakespeare’s Iago. His singing voice is full of fire and angst, but sometimes tender too, although he needs to work on the clarity of his diction in moments of heightened vocal stress.

Marlena Kellie, a jazz singer with appearances at Ronnie Scott’s and Pride to her name, makes I Don’t Know How To Love Him sound freshly minted, heartbreaking anew.

More than a decade after his appearance in York Light’s chorus line for this musical, Peter Wookie has his YMTC bow as an austere Pilate, and he is another to make a heavyweight impact, both with his voice and imposing physicality.

Jesus Christ Superstar, like Lloyd Webber and Rice’s fellow fledgling work Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat, loves to show off myriad song styles, whether a rock anthem, a ballad, or a slice of Weimar cabaret in King Herod’s Song (a twinkling, camp John Haigh and his dancing ladies in red, contrasting with the men in black representing authority around him).

For this well paced sung-through musical, musical director John Atkin has a superb band under his command, wherein Paul McArthur and Neil Morgan’s guitars particularly shine out, while Laidlaw’s ensemble more than play their part too. Simon Spencer’s set and especially his lighting hit the mark too.

There is something of a Nativity play, Elvis Vegas show or even Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert about Jesus Christ Superstar, with its hip “Hey JC” lingo, but at the same time Laidlaw’s production wholly captures its deeper, darker aspects, played out on a bare scaffolding set provided by Brian Farrell Scaffolding. Namely, that it is a psychological study of a man alone, or rather two men alone: Jesus, on his pre-ordained journey to the cross, and Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, whose name has been dirt ever since.

This makes both their death scenes – spoiler alert! – devastating, albeit in their different ways. The solemn finale, no song, no music, only Jesus’s final words on the cross, reduces one and all to tears as the curtain falls. Oh, and that’s why it is apt to stage this musical now, when eyes are on a mendacious General Election, full of ill will and false prophets, and the Christmas tat commercials are starting to irritate already. Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus Christ Supershow.

Charles Hutchinson

Strictly’s strict Craig Revel Horwood to direct Strictly Ballroom

Love is in the air…a year from now in Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York

YOU will have to wait a year, but it will be well worth it to see Strictly Ballroom The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York.

Directed by acerbic Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, the show will be foxtrotting around Britain and Ireland from next September, visiting York from November 23 to 28 2020.

Revel Horwood, the Australian-born dancer, choreographer and director, will assemble a cast of more than 20 for the musical based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 Australian film.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical follows arrogant, rebellious young ballroom dancer Scott Hastings, whose radical and daring dance style rubs against the strict conventions of the Australian Dance Federation.

So much so that he is banished, forcing him to start all over again with a beginner, Fran. Together they find the courage to defy tradition and discover that to win, your steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom.

More than 30 hits will be performed on stage, such as Time After Time, Let’s Dance, I’m So Excited, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Sway, Mambo No. 5, Dancing With Myself, Sugar Sugar, It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, Teardrops and Love Is In The Air.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in December 2016 before making its West End debut at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, in March 2018.

Tickets for the York run are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Charles Hutchinson

A fete worse than death on the way in Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table

The Classic Comedy Theatre Company in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, next year. Picture: Pamela Raith

ALAN Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, the debut production by the Classic Comedy Theatre Company, will play the Grand Opera House, York, from February 10 to 15 next year.

This touring show is produced by impresario Bill Kenwright and his team behind the Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen To Stage theatre companies for more than 15 years.

Premiered in January 1977, Ten Times Table is “the one with the committee from hell and a fete worse than death”. 

In the long-since grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel, a most miscellaneous assemblage gathers to conduct the business of the Pendon Folk Festival.

A tense moment in the Classic Comedy Theatre Company’s Ten Times Table. Picture: Pamela Raith

Unfortunately for excitable chairman Ray, his calamitous committee quickly divides as his wife, Helen, has a bone to pick.

Add a Marxist schoolteacher, a military dog breeder and an octogenarian secretary, and the table is set for a tumultuous comedy by committee.

In the cast will be Robert Dawes, Deborah Grant, Mark Curry, Robert Duncan, Elizabeth Powers, Gemma Oaten and Craig Glazey.

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.