Back in Five Minutes, York Eighties’ band re-unite after 30 years for one night only

Five Minutes back together in 2020: from left to right: Nigel Dennis, Sean Rochester, Mark Pearson and Chris Turnbull. Fellow member Matthew “Duck” Hardy took the picture on February 22..

A BAND called Five Minutes had their 15 minutes in York in the late 1980s. Now they are re-uniting for a one-off gig at the Victoria Vaults, in Nunnery Lane, on February 29.

The reason? “The singer and youngest member of the band still living here will be the last of us to turn 50 in February and in his words, ‘Let’s do it before one of us dies’,” reveals trumpet player Matthew “Duck” Hardy, now 50 and a professional musician.

“Our last gig was in January 1989 and most of us haven’t seen each other for 30 years. Now we want to get as many people from York’s late ‘80s music scene down to the gig for a huge reunion.”


In the soul and funk line-up on February 29 will be Hardy; business development manager Chris Turnbull, newly turned 50 next month, on vocals and guitar; IT consultant Sean Rochester, 53, on bass; cinema owner Nigel Dennis, 52, on drums, and retired police officer turned Criminology MSc mature student Mark Pearson, 52, on saxophone.

Not there, but there by the wonder of a video link, will be ex-pat trombonist and urban dog trainer Paul Shelbourne, 49, from his home in Brisbane.

Five Minutes in the 1980s, when they were four, before they became six, although they were never five!
From left to right: Nigel Dennis, Sean Rochester, Mark Pearson and Chris Turnbull. Matthew “Duck” Hardy and Paul Shelbourne joined later.

“We’ll be playing original, danceable, driving Northern Soul-esque music with hard- hitting catchy brass riffs and a couple of covers thrown in near the end,” says Matthew, .introducing a set list featuring The Party; Smile; Sequels; Merry-go-round; Bridge In Time; Happy Home; Casanova; Could It Be; This Innocent Kiss; Only A Fool; Soul On Fire; Cornflake Packet; Time Will Tell; B Derdela; All The Daughters and Heatwave.

Back in their day, Five Minutes played York Arts Centre and Harry’s Bar, in Micklegate; Temple Hall, York campus of the College of Ripon and York St John; Central Hall, University of York; the Gimcrack pub (now flats), in Fulford Road, and Bretton Hall (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), near Wakefield.

Come February 29, Five Minutes will be back in action for rather more than five minutes, preceded by a DJ set by Rocky from Sweatbox, but why were/are they called Five Minutes?

“I’ve absolutely no idea why, as it started off as a four-piece and ended up as a six-piece!” says Matthew. “When Paul joined, the Evening Press photographer took a photo of us in the courtyard of Ye Olde Starre Inn, on Stonegate, and the paper did a write-up under the headline ‘Six appeal for Five Minutes’.”

What’s in a name?

Five Minutes start their set or encore with the instrumental B Derdela, so named after saxophonist Mark Pearson asked how singer Chris Turnbull wanted him to play the sax line. Chris gave him the note and the rhythm: B…derdela!

Only one question for York tragicomic Pop artist Harland Miller…

York artist Harland Miller stands by his York, So Good They Named It Once mock book cover at York Art Gallery on Friday morning. Picture: Charlotte Graham

AS his biggest-ever solo show, Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, opens in his home city at York Art Gallery, what is Harland saying about York in that picture title on a retro book cover, now replicated on posters, mugs, key rings, fridge magnets and tote bags?

“People have thought ‘York, So Good They Named It Once’ must be satirical, comparing York to New York, whereas I thought I was riffing on York being first; being very important way before New York – and a Roman capital.

“It was also a place of so many firsts for me; where I did my first paper round, and through these streets I can go and remember things that happened to me. Like my first kiss on same old wasteland on Taddy Road [Tadcaster Road], that’s now a Tesco.

Back to front: Harland Miller walks towards his Pelican Books spoof cover York, So Good They Named It Once. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“And just round the corner from here, behind the library, I smoked my first joint. That’s why I got hooked on books…because I was by the library!

“This gallery is where I first saw paintings. Is it a dream to be back here? The answer is ‘No’, because, as a boy, it would have been foolish to dream of such a thing.

“But unless I’m about to wake up back behind the library, I sense this is the moment to thank so many people. I certainly wouldn’t be here without my mum [now 95], who’s travelled all the way from Dringhouses to be here tonight, but I want to thank everyone not once, but twice.”

Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, featuring his Penguin Book Covers, Pelican Bad Weather Paintings and Letter Paintings and Recent Work, runs at York Art Gallery until May 31.

York Community Choir Festival on song to celebrate friendship and harmony in March

Stagecoach Academy Senior Choir: taking part in the fifth York Community Choir Festival. Picture: Michael Oakes

THE fifth York Community Choir Festival will raise the roof at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from March 7 to 14

This annual event “celebrates the inclusivity of making music in groups of all ages and friendship across the generations” by bringing people together to share the joy of singing in seven concerts, each featuring at least four different choirs.

“Choirs will be coming from Easingwold in the north, Garrowby and Stamford Bridge in the east and Knaresborough and Tadcaster in the west and south, as well as from York itself,” says festival organiser Graham Mitchell, the JoRo’s company secretary, fundraising and events director and trustee. 

York charity Musical Connections combats loneliness and isolation in older people by running regular music sessions in community locations across York, and their 40-strong pensioners’ choir, The Rolling Tones,will be taking part for the first time.

Performing too will be choirs from Wigginton Primary School, Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy,the secondary-age choir of Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate, and the “younger” adults of Dunnington Community Choir in a special matinee on March 14.

Another group of primary-school age, appropriately named Starlings, from the Hempland area of York, will sing in the Friday (March 13) concert. Secondary school-age choirs taking part will be Tutti Amici and Stagecoach Academy Choir, who have both excelled in previous festivals, and two Huntington School choirs will appear for the first time.

Dunnington Community Choir: emotion in motion in the joy of singing. Picture: Michael Oakes

York singer and tutor Jessa Liversidge, who runs her Singing For All sessions every week in Clements Hall, South Bank, York, and in Easingwold, says: “Many singers who attend my groups testify that their lives have been transformed by our weekly sessions of informal singing, tea, cake and good company.

“Looking around the room at the happy faces and seeing everyone leave afterwards with a spring in their step is evidence enough for me of the wonderful power of a good old sing.”

York has workplaces with choirs that employers encourage as being good for morale, among them Aviva’s Vivace! Choir and York Hospital’s Wellbeing Choir, which combines staff, volunteers and patients in one lively group in weekly sessions. Vivace! will open the festival and the hospital choir will appear on the last night.

Graham says: “I’m particularly pleased that we can include both young and old and bring the generations together in the same concerts. The benefits of singing have been widely researched and findings show that communal singing has far-reaching benefits for health, happiness and general wellbeing.

“We’re so lucky to have such a variety of choirs in and around York, most of which welcome new members with open arms. No need to be able to read music; just a desire to join in and sing!”

Concerts will take place on March 7, 11, 12, 13 and 14 at 7.30pm; March 8, 4pm, and March 14, 2pm. The full list of who will be singing when can be found at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Tickets are on sale on 01904 501935, via josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or in person from the JoRo box office in Haxby Road, with savings if buying five or more tickets. All proceeds will be donated to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre charity to help to maintain and improve facilities at this community venue.

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.

All you need is extra tickets and a new venue for music film-maker Tony Palmer’s Harrogate Film Festival event

Film-maker Tony Palmer with The Beatles’ John Lennon

A RUSH of ticket sales has prompted a change of venue for The Rock Goes To The Movies evening with BAFTA-winning filmmaker Tony Palmer next month in Harrogate.

This exclusive Harrogate Film Festival event on March 12 will switch from RedHouse Originals art gallery to The Clubhouse at Cold Bath Brewing Co, on Kings Road, only five minutes from the original location on Cheltenham Mount.

“The evening sold out all its stickers at £12 a pop so quickly that we’ve have had to move to a bigger location,” says Harrogate Advertiser journalist and Charm event promoter Graham Chalmers, a stalwart of the Harrogate music scene, who will be hosting the Q&A with the legendary film-maker, now 77.

“That means extra tickets have been put on sale and are available via the box office at Harrogate Theatre.”

All existing tickets are still valid for the new venue for the 7pm event that will combine a film screening with the Q&A session about Palmer’s work with The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Rory Gallagher, Cream, Frank Zappa, The Who, Donovan and many more.

The London-born film-maker and cultural critic has more than 100 films to his name, ranging from early works with The Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher (Irish Tour ’74) and Frank Zappa (200 Motels), to his classical profiles of Maria Callas, Margot Fonteyn, John Osborne, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Wagner, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams and more besides.

Over the past 50 years, Palmer has received more than 40 international prizes, including 12 gold medals from the New York Film Festival, along with numerous BAFTAs and Emmy Awards.

The Beatles: rare screening of Tony Palmer’s film of the Fab Four will be a highlight of the Harrogate Film Festival event on March 12

Palmer, who served an apprenticeship with Ken Russell and Jonathan Miller, made the landmark film All My Loving, the first ever about pop music history, first broadcast in 1968.

He was responsible too for the iconic live film Cream Farewell Concert, shot at the supergroup’s last-ever show at the Royal Albert Hall: a memorable night with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in 1968.

Harrogate Film Festival founder Adam Chandler says: “Tony Palmer’s glittering career deserves such an event, so we can’t wait to welcome him. We’re delighted this film-making legend is so popular and are grateful to our venue partners, Cold Bath Brewing Co and RedHouse Originals, for enabling this exciting event to happen.”

Host Chalmers says: “Palmer is the greatest arts documentary filmmaker Britain has produced in the past 50 years and personally knew most of the greatest figures in the classical music world, as well as rock music.

“The fact he’s making the journey to Harrogate as a stand-alone event shows how highly regarded Harrogate Film Festival is nationally and shows that Harrogate, despite appearances, is a town with a genuine rock’n’roll pedigree.”

RedHouse Originals gallery previously has played host to Pop Art doyen Sir Peter Blake and still will be involved in next month’s event, hanging classic 1960s’ artwork and photography at The Clubhouse and curating the music playlist for the after-show party.

The sleeve artwork for All You Need Is Love, Tony Palmer’s 1977-1978 series on The Story Of Popular Music

Presented by Chalmers in conjunction with Harrogate Film Society, Rock Goes To The Movies will feature a rare screening of Palmer’s film about The Beatles that featured in his All You Need Is Love TV series, with a script by Fab Four insider Derek Taylor, plus clips from Palmer’s Cream Farewell Concert film.

Tickets available from harrogatetheatre.co.uk, on 01423 502116 or in person from the Harrogate Theatre box office. More information on the 2020 Harrogate Film Festival at harrogatefilm.co.uk.

Any profits from the evening will go to Harrogate Film Society and Harrogate Film Festival.



Tony Palmer’s ten music films
1. All You Need Is Love,1975-1976,17-part series on the history of American Popular Music from Bing Crosby to The Beatles.
2. Bird On A Wire, 1972, featuring Leonard.
3. All My Loving,1968, including The Who, The Beatles and more.
4. Cream Farewell Concert 1968.        
5. 200 Motels – Frank Zappa,1971.
6. Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour,1974.        
7. A Time There Was, 1979, profile of composer Benjamin Britten.
8. Tangerine Dream – Live In Coventry Cathedral,1975.
9. Ginger Baker In Africa,1971.
10. Wagner – By Charles Wood, music conducted by Georg Solti, photographed by Vittorio Storaro; with Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Laurence Olivier,1983.

Singer, PhD sociology student and artist, Alice Wilson has no time for slacking

Alice Wilson: Slack Habits finale tomorrow; solo album next month

YORK singer, artist and Ph.D student Alice Wilson will sing with Slack Habits for the last time at their Old White Swan debut in Goodramgate, York, tomorrow before focusing on her solo album.

For the February 22 gig, she steps in for departed lead singer, Marsha Knight, re-joining bassist Iain Marchant, drummer Martin Wilson, guitarist Andy Elmslie and keyboards player Josh Hill, with whom Alice used to perform in an earlier incarnation of the York band.

Alice and songwriter, guitarist and producer Andy Wilson – no relation – are progressing quickly with the album’s recording sessions at his home studio in Holgate, with Andy aiming to have it fully mixed and mastered in time for a March launch.

Alice, nearing 30, says she has “looked to music for escapism for even longer than she has looked to books or alcohol”.

I was heavily tricked into thinking theatre was not a career,” says Alice Wilson

“My first forays were into musical theatre when I was at Millthorpe School, then Fulford Sixth Form,” she reveals, recalling her favourite role being Tallulah in Bugsy Malone when she was 16.

“I did theatre through GCSE to A-level but was heavily tricked into thinking theatre was not a career.”

Instead, Alice has pursued a scholarly path, starting with joint degree honours in anthropology and sociology at Durham University, “so that I could do both science and arts,” she says.

Next came an MA in urban sociology at the University of York, specialising in housing. “I’ve blagged my way into pretty good educational institutions as a result of being a working-class queer,” she says.

Writing her thesis, creating her art, singing: all in a day’s passage for Alice Wilson

“I’m now doing a Ph.D over the next three years, again at the University of York, where I’m trying to make radically affordable houses available for the people who need them.”

As part of her Ph.D in sociology with “heavy fraternisation with environmental science”, Alice is building a tiny house in the garden of her Heslington home, 30 square metres in size.

“You might think it’s a glorified shed, but it’s not that glorified,” she says. “It’s a timber-framed structure with super-insulation made from re-claims from demolition sites.

“Ideally it does inform my Ph.D, so I want to film it in progress, as well as writing a thesis, doing my art and singing all the while – though it all leaves minimal time for singing.”

Alice Wilson “hopes you enjoy the ear feel of her voice”

The tiny house, once complete, will have three rooms downstairs – a main living room, a tiny kitchen and tiny bathroom – and a stepladder will lead to the mezzanine level above: a crawl floor where you can sleep, says Alice. “It qualifies for recreational use, like a summerhouse, so I’ll use it mainly for painting in.”

As her official profile says: “Alice draws and paints @neither.both.illustrations and post pictures of herself at the gym @neither.both. Alice recycles, votes left, and worries about how productive she is being, like all other millennial snowflakes. She hopes you enjoy the ear feel of her voice.”

As Slack Habits’ songwriter, Andy most certainly enjoys that “ear feel of her voice”. “Alice sang with Slack Habits for a while, playing the Blues Bar in Harrogate, the National Harley Davidson Convention, pubs, festivals, Lendal Cellars and the Little Festival of Live Music in York,  and being featured on BBC Introducing, before abandoning us to go into academia,” he says.

“But I didn’t want to let her talent go, so ten months ago we started working together again.”

Andy Wilson and Alice Wilson working on Alice’s album at his Holgate studio in York

The result is such songs as The Other Woman, Put That Down and Cabaret Queen. “There’s also a mash-up of Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love that turns into Whole Lotta Last Waltz,” says Alice. “That turns it into being a song about domestic violence.”

Andy adds: “I’ve happened to write and produce for three or four female singers in recent years and the songs on Alice’s album tell stories about all kinds of different fictional women,  good, happy, sad or bad.

“When I started working with Alice, I was stunned by her talents and charisma but I was also excited by her ability to ‘become’ the characters she sings about.  So, it was obvious that she would be the perfect musical partner in an album project that had been brewing for a while.

“Luckily she agreed and now it’s nearly ready. I hope people are going to be moved and entertained by Alice’s ‘other women’.”

All being well, that opportunity should come next month. In the meantime, watch her singing Slack Habits’ “absolute bangers”, ranging from rock and electric blues to smoky ballads, reggae and funk, from 9pm tomorrow (February 22) at the Old White Swan, Goodramgate, York.

City Screen to celebrate Federico Fellini’s films with Vintage Sundays season

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita

ITALIAN film director Federico Fellini will be the focus of a Vintage Sundays retrospective season at City Screen, York, from March 8.

Dave Taylor, City Screen’s marketing manager, says: “We’re delighted to present five films from the maestro of Italian cinema on Sundays at midday throughout March and stretching into April.”

First up, on March 8, will be Fellini’s first international success, 1953’s I Vitelloni (PG), a nakedly autobiographical film, set in his hometown of Rimini, that follows the lives of five young vitelloni, or layabouts.

1956’s Night Of Cabira (PG), on March 15, bridges the transition between Fellini’s early neo-realist period and his later more fantastical works. His bittersweet and eloquent glimpse into the life and dreams of an eternally optimistic prostitute in Rome later provided the inspiration for the musical Sweet Charity.

La Dolce Vita (12A), from 1960, is an era-defining sensation that chronicles seven nights and seven dawns in the life of gossip journalist Marcello in a vast widescreen fresco of the glitterati of Rome at the height of Italy’s post-war economic boom. Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg star.

Fellini’s 1963 film, 8½ (15), on March 29, is a semi-autobiographical portrait of creative block and one of the great films about film-making. Beleaguered auteur Guido is unable to finish the film he has planned, luxuriating in his inner conflicts.

The Fellini finale will be 1965’s Juliet Of The Spirits (15) on April 5. His first colour feature is an exercise in the neuroses and fantasies of a woman, played by Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina, who suspects that her husband is betraying her.

All the films will start at 12 noon. Bookings can be made on 0871 902 5747, at picturehouses.com or in person at the Coney Street Picturehouse cinema. 

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.

York gig of the week? Stand up for Portico Quartet at The Crescent on Tuesday

Portico Quartet: The Crescent looms on Tuesday

PORTICO Quartet play a standing show at The Crescent, off Blossom Street, York, on Tuesday night.

Sending out echoes of jazz, electronica, ambient music and minimalism since forming in London in 2005, these Mercury Prize nominees have created their own singular, cinematic sound over the course of five studio albums and one EP.

In the line-up are Duncan Bellamy, drums and electronics; Milo Fitzpatrick, bass; Taz Modi, hang drums and keys, and Jack Wylie, saxophone.

Portico Quartet made their breakthrough with 2007’s Knee-Deep In The North Sea, followed by the John Leckie-produced Isla in 2010, the self-titled Portico Quartet in 2012 and Art In The Age Of Automation in August 2017, plus its companion EP, Untitled, in April 2018.

Each album has seen Bellamy, Fitzpatrick, Modi and Wylie expand their palette or explore new trajectories, a modus operandi continued with last October’s Memory Streams, released on Gondwana Records.

Ouroboros presents Portico Quartet at The Crescent, York, on Tuesday (February 25). Tickets cost £18.50 from The Crescent or Earworm Records, in Powells Yard, Goodramgate or at seetickets.com or more on the door from 7.30pm.

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.

Destiny calling! James to headline Deer Shed Festival’s Saturday line-up on July 25

James, fronted by Tim Booth, centre, will play Deer Shed Festival this summer

JAMES will be the Saturday night headliners at July’s Deer Shed Festival at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, near Thirsk.

The Manchester band, led by Boston Spa singer Tim Booth, will top the July 25 bill, following in the footsteps of Johnny Marr, Goldfrapp, John Grant and Richard Hawley.

Deer Shed Festival’s delighted director, Oliver Jones, says: “There’s no doubt James are one of the biggest bands we’ve ever booked for Deer Shed.

“Their back catalogue is astonishing, with track after track of excellent guitar anthems, and their most recent album [August 2018’s Living In Extraordinary Times] confirmed that they’re still at the absolute top of their game. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a band that can pack out Leeds First Direct Arena before.

“Curating a line-up of artists that we personally love every year is always a source of much pride for our team, and James now sit on top of what we think is both the best and most star-studded music bill we’ve ever put together.” 

Formed in 1982, James have charted with such singles as Sit Down, Destiny Calling, Laid, Sound, Born Of Frustration, Sometimes, Come Home, Tomorrow, She’s A Star, Just Like Fred Astaire and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), as well as releasing 15 studio albums.

James, who headlined Scarborough Open Air Theatre in 2015 and 2018, join Stereolab, on July 24, and Baxter Dury, on July 26, to complete Deer Shed 11’s trio of main-stage headliners.

Meanwhile, the family-friendly festival’s latest additions, announced today, are The Soft Cavalry, the new project from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and her husband, Steve Clarke, on the Lodge Stage on July 25, before DIY supergroup Shopping take up the late-night party slot on the same stage.

French-Caribbean act Dowdelin, indie-rock band Marthagunn and Hullensian post-punk outfit Low Hummer all join Deer Shed’s In The Dock stage bill.  Elsewhere, David Thomas Broughton and Andrew Cushin strengthen the festival’s north eastern contingent, alongside Marsicans, Life and Ruthie. 

Manchester club night DJs Across The Tracks and Leeds DJ and production duo Baba&Ganoush join Happy Mondays’ Bez on the late-night silent disco line-up. 

Deer Shed’s tenth anniversary event last summer sold out with record audience numbers. Tickets for Deer Shed 11 are on sale at deershedfestival.com, where further festival information can be found too.

Kate Tempest: playing Deer Shed 11 on July 26

Deer Shed Festival 11’s confirmed acts:

James; Stereolab; Baxter Dury; Ghostpoet; Cate Le Bon; Kate Tempest (Telling Poems); Tim Burgess; The Twilight Sad; Warmduscher; Boy Azooga; Sinkane; Dream Wife; Roddy Woomble; Jesca Hoop; The Soft Cavalry; Snapped Ankles; Melt Yourself Down.

Liz Lawrence; LIFE; Marsicans; Erland Cooper; Dry Cleaning; Admiral Fallow; W.H. Lung; Ren Harvieu; Shopping; International Teachers of Pop; Avalanche Party; I See Rivers; Kitt Philippa; Rachael Dadd; Native Harrow; Kate Davis; Big Joanie; Do Nothing; Egyptian Blue; Rina Mushonga; Dowdelin; Friedberg; Heidi Talbot & Boo Hewerdine; Ruthie.

Serious Sam Barrett; Eve Owen; Low Hummer; Irish Mythen; Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band; Tom Joshua; Brigid Mae Power; David Thomas Broughton; Conchur White; Gary Stewart; Beccy Owen; Morrissey & Marshall present Dublin Calling; Steo Wall; The Magpies; Padraig Jack; Andrew Cushin; Bez (DJ); Rory Hoy (DJ); Meg Ward (DJ); Across The Tracks (DJ); Baba&Ganoush (DJ). 

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.

Sisters are seeing it for themselves on day out at Anita Bowerman’s Dove Tree gallery

Sister Agnes and Sister Julian enjoy a tour of the Dove Tree Art Gallery and working studio with Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman

EVER since Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman held an art class for nuns at a Yorkshire monastery, the Sisters have been vowing to pay a visit to her Dove Tree studio.

The Sisters come from a closed order of Benedictine nuns at Stanbrook Abbey in Wass, near The White Horse at Kilburn.

Rules mean they do not venture out from the monastery in the North York Moors National Park, unless an urgent errand calls, and they are allowed only one day’s holiday a year.

The Sisters spend their time praying and carrying out other religious and household duties within the monastery. 

While visiting one of the Sisters at a care home in Harrogate, the nuns decided to fulfil their promise and call in to Anita’s Dove Tree Art Gallery and studio in Back Granville Road, behind the Cardamom Black restaurant.

Sister Julian beside the “Eiffel Tower” white piano at Anita Bowerman’s Harrogate gallery and studio

Anita was delighted to welcome the excited visitors and show them around. “It’s not every day you get a visit from two nuns. I was delighted to see Sister Julian and Sister Agnes and they loved my artwork.

“Sister Julian played my white mini grand piano, which was said to have been used during the official opening of the Eiffel Tower.”

Anita, artist-in-residence at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, has visited Stanbrook Abbey three times in the past few years. The nuns invited her to teach them how to make paper-cut artworks, so they could revive this ancient art in their spare time.

She is especially close to Sister Julian, who loves art, and the two have been painting together just outside the monastery.

“I love visiting Stanbrook Abbey; it’s so peaceful and fills you with tranquillity and inspiration,” says Anita. “Sister Julian is working on some amazing gold-leaf art illustrations and I’ve been able to gather together some art materials for her.”

Anita Bowerman showing Sister Julian and and Sister Agnes around her Dove Tree gallery and studio

Sister Julian and Sister Agnes were in raptures over this part of their day out beyond the monastery walls. Sister Julian says: “It was a rare opportunity for us to do this and it had to coincide with a visit to one of our Sisters in a care home nearby.

“As soon as we stepped through the door, large and small paintings and marvellously intricate cut-out work adorned the walls and a profusion of colour and variety of scene were a delight to see. Anita welcomed us warmly and told us about her work as artist-in-residence at the RHS Garden Harlow Carr. 

“Anita’s love of nature and gardens was evident in the paintings she had of scenes throughout the year, painted ‘en plein air’ using anything she can find, such as twigs, feathers, pebbles, leaves and grass.

“This gives an unusual quality to her work, not seen elsewhere, and makes her work down to earth and original. It’s a small gallery but bursting with life and I would recommend a visit if at all possible.”

What’s on the horizon at York’s National Centre for Early Music this spring?

Richard Durrant: cycling from concert to concert en route from Orkney to Sussex. York awaits on June 14

THE National Centre for Early Music’s 20th anniversary spring season in York opens not with the raising of a glass of champagne, but with a Cuppa & A Chorus.

Led by community musician Chris Bartram, the 2pm to 4pm session on February 24 is an opportunity to sing in a relaxed environment and enjoy a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a friendly chat.

Up to 50 singers attend each monthly gathering to sing “songs you know and love and explore new ones from around the world”, and further sessions of “Connecting Through Singing” will follow on March 30, April 20, May 18 and June 22. The charge is £3.50 each time; booking is recommended and more details can be found at ncem.co.uk/cuppachorus.

Helen Charlston: taking part in the University of York Song Day on February 29. Picture: Ben McKee

2020’s concert programme opens with the University of York Song Day, an afternoon and evening of three concerts under the title The Year of Song on Leap Year Saturday, February 29. The focus falls on romantic lieder in the 19th century company of Robert Schumann at 12.30pm; Robert and Clare Schumann at 3pm and their protégé Johannes Brahms, along with Robert, at 7pm.

Soprano Bethany Seympour, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, tenor Gwilym Bowen and fortepiano player Peter Seymour perform the first and last concerts; soprano Emily Tindall, bass Jonty Ward and fortepiano player Nicky Losseff, the middle one.

Silent Films At The NCEM return with Franz Osten’s 1928 epic Shiraz: A Romance Of India (cert U) on March 8 at 7.30pm, telling the story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal, screened in a BFI restoration with a score by Anoushka Shankar.

Acoustic Triangle: blurring the boundaries between classical, jazz music and the avant-garde on June 23

As part of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, running from May 5 to 17 with live music in village halls, theatres, cinemas and the NCEM, a double bill of Funny Business (U) at 4pm and The Woman  One Longs For (PG) at 7pm will be shown on May 10.

Jonny Best’s piano accompanies Laurel & Hardy and comedy’s greatest female clown, Mabel Normand, in Funny Business; Best is joined by violinist  Irine Rosnes for Curtis Bernhardt’s 1929’s German film, The Woman One Longs For, wherein Marlene Dietrich shines in her first starring role as a mysterious femme fatale in a steamy tale of erotic obsession.

Folk At The NCEM has two concerts to be presented in association with York’s Black Swan Folk Club: Urban Folk Quartet, supported by Stan Graham, on March 9 and Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman’s On Reflection show on April 22.

Jazz drummer Jeff Williams: in Bloom at the NCEM. Picture: Bob Hewson

Urban Folk Quartet’s high-energy, multi-instrumental virtuosos Joe Broughton, Paloma Trigas, Tom Chapman and Dan Walsh combine Celtic tunes and traditional song with Afrobeat, Indian classical, funk and rock.

2020 marks 25 years of husband-and-wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman making music together. To celebrate this anniversary, they take a whistle-stop tour through their past, revisiting and reinterpreting songs from the early days of folk supergroup Equation to latest album Personae, via a nod or two to their extra-curricular musical adventures.

Scottish traditional folk duo Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, who have toured together since 1986, play on March 29 and folk guitarist, composer and ukulele player Richard Durrant returns to the NCEM on June 14 as part of his Music For Midsummer tour that will take him 860 miles by bicycle from Orkney to Sussex.

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman: whistle-stop tour through 25 years of making folk music

On his fourth and longest Cycling Music adventure, travelling with his guitar and ukulele, he will be showcasing his new album Weald Barrows. “I’ll be cycling down from Orkney alone this year and this will, for me at least, introduce a magic and a concentration to the music,” says Durrant, whose 7.30pm concert will be featured in the York Festival of Ideas.

On May 25, the NCEM plays host to Youth Sampler Day from 11am to 4pm, a chance for 12 to 18-year-old musicians to play by ear, develop their creativity and discover more about the National Youth Folk Ensemble.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for young musicians to learn from inspiring professional musicians, with no experience of folk music necessary, and there’ll be opportunities to take part in a short audition for the ensemble too,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin.

Antonio Forcione: return visit to the National Centre for Early Music

Jazz At The NCEM presents the returning Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione on April 26; legendary London and New York drummer Jeff Williams’ Bloom trio, featuring pianist Carmen Staaf and bass guitarist Michael Formanek, on May 17, and University of York Jazz Orchestra, directed by James Mainwaring, with composer John Low on piano,  in a May 29 programme spanning quasi-classical textures to full-on big band sounds.

The jazz line-up continues with innovative trumpet player and composer Byron Wallen’s Four Corners, with Rob Luft, on guitar, Paul Michael on bass and Rod Young on drums, on June 10, when they will be taking part in the York Music Forum Showcase too.

In a concert embraced by the York Festival of Ideas, Wallen will be putting his new album Portrait in the spotlight, conceived when sitting in the central square in Woolwich and being struck by the community around him with its mixture of ages and nationalities. Wallen last played at the NCEM last October as a member of Cleveland Watkiss’s band.

Trumpet player Byron Wallen: leading Four Corners at the NCEM. Picture: Urszula Tarasiewicz

Acoustic Triangle blur the boundaries between classical, jazz music and the avant-garde on their return to the NCEM on June 23 with their adventurous repertoire of compositions by band members Tim Garland (saxophone, bass clarinet) and Gwilym Simcock (piano), plus Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Bill Evans, Olivier Messiaen and Maurice Ravel. Double bassist Malcolm Creese completes their line-up.

World Sound At The NCEM welcomes more returnees, Scottish combo Moishe’s Bagel, on March 27 with their cutting-edge, intoxicating, life-affirming Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk and klezmer music.

Everything stops for tea at 7.30pm on June 9 in the second World Sound event, Manasamitra’s Tea Houses: Camellia Sinensis, a show that tells the story of tea as new live music mixes with lighting and soundscapes, participatory tea rituals and ambisonic technology that captures the audience’s emotional responses in the performance space.

Teatime at the NCEM in Manasamitra’s Tea Houses: Camellia Sinensis

Creator Supriya Nagarajan uses her experience of synaesthesia to explore the interplay between sight, sound, taste and smell in a multi-media show that directly engages the 7.30pm audience in a musical interpretation of a tea ceremony that now forms part of the York Festival of Ideas.

Early Music At The NCEM has two highlights: the Early Music Day on March 21 and the University of York Baroque Day on May 2.

Three concerts in one day make up the Early Music Day, featuring harpsichordist playing JS Bach’s 48 Preludes & Fugues Part 1 at 1pm at the NCEM; recorder ensemble Palisander, with the NCEM’s Minster Minstrels, presenting Double, Double Toil And Trouble at 3.30pm at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, and The Brabant Ensemble’s Cloistered Voices at 6pm at the NCEM. Previously known as the European Day of Music, the Early Music Day will be streamed across Europe.

Trumpet player Crispian Steele Perkins: performing at the University of York Baroque Day

The University of York Baroque Day is likewise divided into three concerts, taking the theme of Airs and Graces: A Musical Miscellany. At 12.30pm, trumpeter Crispian Steele Perkins joins Yorkshire Baroque Soloists for theatre music by Purcell and a flamboyant arrangement of Vivaldi’s La Follia; at 3pm, harpsichordist Masumi Yamamoto plays works by Handel, Scarlatti and Aime; the University Baroque Ensemble rounds off the day at 7pm with Scottish airs arranged by James Oswald and Geminiani.

Families At The NCEM brings Leeds company Opera North to York for 11.30am and 2pm performances of Dr Seuss’s Green Ham And Eggs in an introduction to opera for four to seven-year-old children and their families.

Two opera singers and a nine-piece orchestra begin their short performance with an interactive workshop introducing families to the music, instruments and themes within the piece, before they bring to musical life Dr Seuss’s tale of the persistent Sam-I-Am’s mission to persuade a grumpy grouch to try a delicious plate of green eggs and ham.

Sam Sweeney: playing the NCEM in the autumn

Looking ahead to the autumn, concerts in the NCEM diary already are folk trio Faustus (Benji Kirkpatrick, Saul Rose, Paul Sartin) on October 13; Chiaroscuro Quartet’s Mozart String Quartets, November 18; Unearth Repeat, with Sam Sweeney, Jack Rutter, Louis Campbell and Ben Nicholls, November 23, and Lady Maisery: Awake Arise, A Christmas Show For Our Times, with Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, December 18.

In this 20th anniversary year, “this spring we are undertaking an essential refurbishment programme, in part to upgrade some of the facilities that are showing the strain of so much usage,” says Delma, as new loos and a kitchen take shape.

“We’ll be celebrating the anniversary fully in the autumn, especially with a commission that will engage Early music with digital technology and field recordings from Askham Bog. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will be involved, as will gamba player Liam Byrne this autumn.”

Tickets for the NCEM spring season are on sale on 01904 658338 and at ncem.co.uk.

George Thorogood’s Good To Be Bad tour is looking good for York Barbican in July

George Thorogood: Good To Be Bad tour date at York Barbican

GEORGE Thorogood & The Destroyers will play York Barbican on July 22 on their Good To Be Bad: 45 Years Of Rock tour, their first in more than seven years.

“Ever since our first shows there in 1978, the UK has been one of our favourite places to play,” says boogie-blues guitarist Thorogood, from Wilmington, Delaware, who will turn 70 on February 24.

“We’re talking great venues, great energy and truly great audiences, and we’re looking forward to coming back for it all. Expect our best, because that’s what you’re gonna get.”

Since 1975, Thorogood & The Destroyers have sold more than 15 million albums and played more than 8,000 ferocious live shows, built around Who Do You Love, I Drink Alone, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, Move It On Over and his definitive badass anthem, Bad To The Bone.

“To hear George Thorogood flail his slide up and down his guitar,” wrote Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone magazine, “you might have thought he was Ben Franklin – that he’d discovered not the blues, but electricity.” 

In the Destroyers’ line-up alongside Thorogood will be Jeff Simon on percussion, Bill Blough on bass, Jim Suhler on guitar and Buddy Leach on saxophone.”

Tickets can be booked from Friday (February 21) at 10am on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Right Hand Theatre celebrate blind 18th century Yorkshire scientist in No Horizon

Adam Martyn in rehearsal for his role as Nicholas Saunderson in No Horizon

RIGHT Hand Theatre’s No Horizon, a musical about a Yorkshire science and maths genius, is on the horizon at York Theatre Royal.

Staged at 7.30pm on April 9 and 2.30pm and 7.30pm on April 11 – there will be no performance on Good Friday – the show is inspired by the life of Nicholas Saunderson, a blind scientist and mathematician from Thurlstone, West Riding, who overcame impossible odds to become a Cambridge professor and friend of royalty.

Often described as an 18th century Stephen Hawking, Saunderson was born on January 20 1682, losing his sight through smallpox when around a year old. This did not prevent him, however, from acquiring a knowledge of Latin and Greek and studying mathematics.

As a child, he learnt to read by tracing the engravings on tombstones around St John the Baptist Church in Penistone, near Barnsley, with his fingers.

No Horizon premiered at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, going on to draw an enthusiastic response from BBC Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans, who called it a “Yorkshire Les Mis”.

Now, the musical has been adapted for a 2020 northern tour by Right Hand Theatre, a company passionate about diversity and inclusivity within theatre. The cast has a 50/50 male/female balance, delivering the show in a gender-blind way with a female Isaac Newton, for example. Both the director and lead actor are visually impaired.

The role of Saunderson is played by the partially sighted Adam Martyn, from Doncaster, who trained at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). The female lead role of Abigail goes to Yorkshire born-and-bred, Rose Bruford College-trained Larissa Teale.

The cast is completed by Tom Vercnocke as Joshua Dunn; Louise Willoughby as Anne Saunderson; Matthew Bugg as John Saunderson; Ruarí Kelsey as Reverend Fox; Katie Donoghue and Olivia Smith as Company.

The musical will be staged with a fresh look by director Andrew Loretto; vocal coach Sally Egan; movement directors Lucy Cullingford and Maria Clarke; costume designer Lydia Denno; costume maker Sophie Roberts; lighting designer David Phillips and tour musical director David Osmond.

No Horizon’s 2020 northern tour is funded by Arts Council England and Foyle Foundation, co-commissioned by Cast, Doncaster and The Civic, Barnsley, and supported by Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind.

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; April 9’s performance will be audio described, a Q&A will follow that night’s show.

BalletBoyz go Deluxe for spring show of new works at Grand Opera House

Deluxe dancers: Ballet Boyz on tour with a new show in the spring

BALLETBOYZ are celebrating their 20th anniversary with a spring tour of Deluxe, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, on April 28.

This new show fuses beautiful dance with original music, including collaborations from “some of the world’s most inventive and thought-provoking choreographers and composers”, in a co-production with Sadler’s Wells. 

Shanghai dancer and choreographer Xie Xin, artistic director of Xiexin Dance Theatre, will make her British debut choreographing a new piece set to an original electronic score by Jiang Shaofeng.

Punchdrunk associate director Maxine Doyle will present work to live jazz music by composer Cassie Kinoshi, of the Mercury Prize-nominated SEED Ensemble.

BalletBoyz artistic directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt say: “Deluxe is going to be a night of entertaining and thought-provoking theatre that’s been 20 years in the making. The beauty of our job has always been about finding and pursuing extraordinary talent and sharing that with as many people as we can. It’s that simple.”

Over the past 20 years. BalletBoyz have made 38 pieces of new work for the stage, won 13 international awards and collaborated with 25 choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon, Akram Khan, Kristen McNally, Matthew Bourne and Liv Lorent among them.

In the BalletBoyz line-up will be Joseph Barton, Benjamin Knapper, Harry Price, Liam Riddick, Matthew Sandiford, Will Thompson and apprentice Dan Baines.

Looking ahead, in the autumn BalletBoyz will undertake a new digital project in the wake of their award-winning dance films Young Men and Romeo And Juliet.

Tickets for April 28’s 7.30pm show are on sale at £13 upwards on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Potter Gerry Grant has just taken his most bizarre commission…and it’s a smash hit

Gerry Grant making one of the pots for smashing at Fangfoss Pottery

IT sounds potty, but Fangfoss potter Gerry Grant is making pots expressly to be broken.

“I’ve just landed my most unusual job yet,” he says. “I’ve been commissioned by York company Pick Me Up Theatre to make some props for next week’s production of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.

“What’s so unusual about this request is that they’ve asked me to make a selection of very large pots that will be smashed to pieces on the stage.”

These pots are made for breaking: Gerry Grant with the pottery that Pick Me Up Theatre’s cast will pick up to smash at next week’s performances

Presented by Pick Me Up at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, Edward Albee’s American play centres around Martin Gray, a successful, middle-aged architect who has just turned 50 and leads an ostensibly ideal life with his loving wife, Stevie, and gay teenage son, Billy.

However, when he confides to his best friend that he also is in love with a goat named Sylvia, he sets in motion events that will destroy his family and leave his life in tatters.

Albee’s domestic drama ponders the limits of an ostensibly liberal society, showing a family in crisis to challenge audience members to question their own moral judgment of social taboos.

The Goat cast members Bryan Bounds, Will Fealy and Susannah Baines

Director Mark Hird says: “The pottery plates, vases and bowls are an integral part of the show. They represent wealth, prosperity and order in a seemingly perfect household.

“They are expensive works of art collected by world-famous architect Martin Gray to furnish the living room of the family’s New York home – and they’re smashed when Stevie confronts Martin after discovering his affair with Sylvia, the goat.”

Gerry has run Fangfoss Pottery for 43 years with wife Lyn Grant at The Old School, Fangfoss, near York, and never before has he received such a destructive commission.

“The pots have been specially made and fired to break easily,” says potter Gerry Grant. “I do hope they perform the task well”

“I’ve tried for more than 40 years to produce pots that are sturdy and not easily broken. Now I’ve been asked to do the opposite! The pots have been specially made and fired to break easily. I do hope they perform the task well.”

The Goat caused controversy but was a big hit – much like the pottery breaking – with Broadway audiences when it opened in 2002. So much so, it won the Tony Award for best play, 40 years after writer Albee won the same prize for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.

Next week marks its York premiere, when Gerry will witness his pots being broken on the 41 Monkgate stage. “I’m looking forward to seeing the play,” he says. “I’m sure it will be a smashing production”.

Tickets for the 7.30pm performances are on sale at pickmeuptheatre.com and on 01904 623568.

Alfie Boe to climax Armed Forces Day with Scarborough Open Air Theatre concert

Alfie Boe: performing at Scarborough Open Air Theatre for a fourth time

CHART-TOPPING tenor Alfie Boe will bring Armed Forces Day to a climax on June 27 with a 6pm concert at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

The East Coast resort has the honour of hosting this year’s Armed Forces Day National Event that day.

Around 200,000 people, including members of the Royal Family and prominent politicians, are expected to head to Scarborough for a series of events to honour the dedication and sacrifice of the nation’s servicemen and women.

Boe says: “It is an amazing honour, as well as a huge thrill, for me to be back at this wonderful venue to perform on Armed Forces Day.

“I’ve played there many times and I’ve always received such a warm welcome from the good people of Yorkshire. The fact I will be performing as part of Scarborough’s hosting of Armed Forces Day’s National Event will make it even more special. I cannot wait for June 27; it will be an amazing evening.”

Mezzo-soprano Laura Wright, who has performed at major events around the world, will be among those to join Boe on stage.

Boe, who has starred in stellar productions of Les Misérables and La Bohème, will be appearing at Scarborough OAT for the fourth time. He headlined Armed Forces Day concerts there in 2015 and 2018 and performed alongside his friend and collaborator in song, Michael Ball, in 2017.

He and Ball will next sing in Yorkshire at Leeds First Direct Arena on February 25. On his return in June, he will combine familiar favourites with selections from last November’s celebration of songs of the 1930s and 1940s, As Time Goes By, his first solo record since 2015.

Mezzo-soprano Laura Wright: joining Alfie Boe at the Armed Forces Day concert

Recorded with Grammy award winner Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band, the album journeyed through the defining songs of that golden era, from the full force of Sing Sing Sing to the smooth The Way You Look Tonight and title track.

Laura Wright, who topped the classical album chart with her debut, The Last Rose, is writing and recording her seventh album. At 24, she composed the Invictus Games anthem, Invincible, for Prince Harry and two years later wrote Heroes, the first official anthem for England Women’s Cricket, and then Brave for the Military Wives.

She became the first ever official singer of the England Rugby Union team and has sung at the Rugby Union World Cup, the NFL series, the Grand National at Aintree, Royal Ascot and the FA Cup Final. 

Looking forward to presenting Boe on June 27, Peter Taylor, director of Scarborough OAT concert promoters Cuffe and Taylor, says: “Alfie is massively popular and is someone we are asked to bring back every year, so we are delighted to be welcoming him back to Scarborough OAT this summer.

“June 27 will be an extra-special night as the nation’s focus will be on Scarborough. It is such an honour to host the Armed Forces Day National Event and so we really could not think of anyone better to headline this concert than Alfie, who will be joined by the wonderful Laura Wright.

“It will undoubtedly be an incredibly moving and special concert and, we feel, the perfect climax to a day that celebrates the dedication and sacrifice of our Armed Forces.”

Stuart Clark, Scarborough OAT venue manager and event manager for the Armed Forces Day National Event, says: “Alfie Boe is a firm favourite here and we are delighted to welcome him back in 2020. His show will be a highlight of the prestigious Armed Forces Day National Event in Scarborough and a wonderful musical celebration dedicated to our Armed Forces.”

Tickets will go on general sale on Friday (February 21) at 9am at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com; on 01723 818111 and 01723 383636, or in person from the Scarborough OAT box office, in Burniston Road, or the Discover Yorkshire Coast Tourism Bureau, at Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street.

For more information and a full list of Armed Forces Day 2020 events in Scarborough, go to scarborougharmedforcesday.co.uk.

Alfie Boe: lighting up Scarborough Open Air Theatre on June 27

SCARBOROUGH OPEN AIR THEATRE’s 2020 LINE-UP

Tuesday, June 9, Lionel Richie

Wednesday, June 17, Westlife

Saturday, June 20, Supergrass

Saturday, June 27, Alfie Boe 

Saturday, July 4,Snow Patrol

Friday, July 10,Mixtape, starring Marc Almond, Heaven 17 and Living In A Box featuring Kenny Thomas

Friday, July 17, Keane

Tuesday, July 21,  Little Mix

Friday, August 14,McFly

Saturday, August 15, Louis Tomlinson

More artists are to be announced.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Albany Piano Trio at the Lyons, York, 14/2/2020

The Albany Piano Trio

REVIEW: Albany Piano Trio, British Music Society of York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, February 14 ***

GHOSTS are not generally associated with St Valentine’s Day, but orchids certainly could be. We had both in the Albany Piano Trio’s outing for the British Music Society of York, with the headily perfumed trio by Ravel and some romantic seasoning by Bloch thrown in for good measure.

The “Ghost” arrived courtesy of Beethoven’s Trio, Op 70 No 1, whose nickname it is (though conferred by Czerny, not by the composer). There was plenty of violence, as there should be, in the opening movement. But the players seemed to be ploughing their own furrows and ensemble was not always as exact as it might have been.

It was just as well that Philippa Harrison kept her piano lid on the short stick rather than wide open: she was in forceful mood all evening. Indeed, she was regularly more characterful than her colleagues, who laboured very competently but with intermittent ardour. But all three found the requisite ferocity for the coda.

The unnerving variations of the eerie slow movement were a little apologetic. Beethoven does not hold back here, neither should performers. But its demons were revived in the finale, thanks to the piano’s strong accents. They were finally driven out by high cello and low violin – after some skeletal pizzicatos – as the composer’s sardonic humour turned friendly at the close.

Victorian “orchidelirium” – a mania for discovering and collecting orchids – inspired Judith Bingham’s The Orchid And Its Hunters, an Albany commission that the trio premiered in 2016. Its five brief sections are vignettes evoking dangerous journeys to garner these exotic flowers from remote locations worldwide.

Their diffuse colourings suggested impressionistic water-colours rather than full-blown oils. They became gradually brisker as wide intervals and splashy piano chords became smoother and, eventually, more urgent, as if the flowers were under threat. The Albany were surefooted throughout, taking the changes in their stride.

Swiss by birth, Bloch wrote his only work for piano trio in 1924, the year he became an American citizen. His Three Nocturnes proved rather engaging, largely romantic and lyrical, though the percussive syncopation of the last one hinted at modernity.

The first movement of Ravel’s Piano Trio was the Albany’s best moment, its jumpy rhythms clean and its acceleration finely calibrated. Pantoum, which follows, became a volatile, piano-drive harlequinade, sharply contrasted with the chorale-like Passacaille. Vigorous piano in the finale suggested fountains spraying wildly in a gusty wind. This was all but a full-blown piano concerto.

The Albany did enough to show that they are capable of considerable finesse. Not enough of it was on show here, however. And they would be well advised to let their fingers do the talking in place of under-prepared, under-projected spoken intros. The Lyons is not a good place for speech.   

Review by Martin Dreyer                                                               

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Guildhall Orchestra’s 40th Anniversary

Cellist Jamie Walton: “skill of a practised magician”. Picture: Wolf Marloh

REVIEW: York Guildhall Orchestra, 40th Anniversary Concert, York Barbican, February 15 *****

HAD I not been there myself, I would have hardly believed that the Guildhall Orchestra (as it was then known and is still popularly described) first saw the light of day 40 years ago.

It has been a marvellous four decades. And still there is a sense of excited anticipation before its every performance. We know we are in for something special.

Saturday’s celebration, conducted by Simon Wright, was no exception. A Ravel suite, an Elgar concerto and a Brahms symphony were leavened by a birthday cake of Celebratory Fantasy Variations baked by the founder himself, John Hastie.

His tasty pastiche wove myriad musical allusions – including Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Britten, even a samba – into variations on Happy Birthda’. As the piece finished, the audience even got to join in with the song’s last line (wisely, after a rehearsal). Good fun.

Ravel’s Mother Goose featured on the opening night in 1980. Here it was again in all its gentle finery, giving us a chance to admire again the nicely controlled talents of the woodwinds: sinuous oboe for Tom Thumb’s walk, for example, and clarinet and contrabassoon representing Beauty and the Beast, not forgetting nifty xylophone (Janet Fulton) and rippling harp (Georgina Wells).

We are fortunate indeed to have a cellist of international standing living right on the edge of the North York Moors. Jamie Walton must have played Elgar’s concerto countless times, but surely never as spellbindingly as this.

He achieved his intensity, paradoxically, through subtle understatement, drawing in his audience with the skill of a practised magician. The opening was steeped in a very English melancholy. The jagged figure at the start of the Allegro spoke volumes about the scherzo to come and Walton’s clarity at the top of his range was startling.

The slow movement was beautifully, mouth-wateringly, spacious. Every rest was made to count, delicately caressed. This kind of playing is risky: it can easily backfire. Not here. Walton was exactly on Elgar’s wavelength, finding solace in an elegant cantilena.

Fireworks, such as they were, came in the finale, but nostalgia was never far from the surface, not least when the work’s opening motto was rekindled just before the close. All the while, the orchestra kept in very crisp attendance, typified by the brass interjections in the finale. I have heard this work dozens of times, but was never quite persuaded of its logic. Until now. The conjunction of two such intelligent musicians as Simon Wright and Jamie Walton delivered an intricate precision that is extremely rare. It will live in the memory.

Inevitably, perhaps, Brahms’s Second Symphony was not going to reach quite this level. But it brought catharsis of a kind, while showcasing the orchestra’s three choirs: strings, winds and brass. Violin ensemble in the first movement had a wonderful sweep, conjuring pastoral moods; they were enhanced by Jonny Hunter’s solo horn. The cumulative effect of this huge movement was majestic. Not to be outdone the cellos, who are in equally fine fettle, took centre stage in an introspective Adagio.

The paint-box of the orchestra, the woodwinds, enjoyed their moment in the spotlight in the Allegretto, sparkling into a sunlit momentum and recapturing it again at the finish after several distractions. Showing admirable stamina, the whole orchestra combined for a finale of exuberant brilliance, reaching a peak when the trombones returned in the coda.

This orchestra is one of the treasures that makes living in York such a delight. Roll on its half century!

Review by Martin Dreyer

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore Stod-art thou playing solo tomorrow night in York?

Romeo Stodart

ROMEO Stodart, lead singer and principal songwriter for The Magic Numbers, will play as a one-man band at The Basement, City Screen, York, tomorrow night (February 17).

“I’ve decided to do a few solo shows mainly because I’ve never done them before, so it’ll be a very different and new experience for me,” says Romeo, 43.

“I’ve got so many pieces of music that haven’t yet found a home, as they’re not necessarily Magic Numbers songs, and I think it’d be a great opportunity to play them and bring them to life in front of people.”

Romeo wants his solo gigs to be unique, liberating, intimate and engaging. “I need you to be there for them with an open mind and open heart,” he says. “There’s nothing to fear as our band is forever, but I’m really excited by these dates. Hope you are too.

You can hear what some of our songs sound like in the way that they were first conceived or a new interpretation, but the main emphasis will be on the new and the journey of the night.”

Formed in Ealing in 2002, The Magic Numbers have five albums to their name: 2005’s million-selling, Mercury Music Prize-nominated, self-titled debut; 2006’s Those The Brokes; 2010’s The Runaway, 2014’s Alias and 2018’s Outsiders.

Making up the Numbers are two pairs of brothers and sisters: Sean and Angela Gannon and Romeo and Michele Stodart, who were born to Scottish father and Portuguese mother on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago, where their mother was an opera singer with her own TV show.

Tomorrow’s 8pm concert is presented by York promoters Under The Influence; tickets for An Evening With Romeo Stodart cost £14 on 0871 902 5726, at thebasementyork.co.uk/romeo-stodart or on the door.

REVIEW: The Ballad Of Maria Marten, SJT, Scarborough *****

Playwright Beth Flintoff

REVIEW: The Ballad Of Maria Marten, Eastern Angles/Matthew Linley Creative Projects, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, today at 7.30pm. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com

INCREASINGLY, touring theatre needs the support of partners to sustain companies. Productions as extraordinary, brilliant and powerful as this one are the vindication for encouraging more such partnerships.

Scarborough’s SJT has the “in association” role in The Ballad Of Maria Marten, and any company would be delighted to play in The Round, the 360-degree theatre experience that adds so much to each Alan Ayckbourn premiere every Scarborough summer season. Eastern Angles thrive.

Elizabeth Crarer emerges from the side as the lights are still up, cutting across the hum of audience chatter. She is holding a decayed, fraying umbrella, her clothes are worn and masculine; blood and bruises are on her face.. We take all this in slowly and are instantly riveted.

We learn she is Maria Marten, the besmirched murder victim at the heart of Beth Flintoff’s play about the notorious Red Barn Murder. The defence case of the murderer, disreputable squire, William Corder, has oft been told, but not Maria’s.

How do you solve a problem like Maria’s void? By telling her story, and more particularly her back story from childhood, and as we all know there are two sides to every story, but not always in the courtrooms of a male-dominated society, such as the one that ruled Polstead in rural Suffolk in the summer of 1827, where a woman’s sole goal was to marry.


Elizabeth Crarer in rehearsal for The Ballad Of Maria Marten. Picture: Giorgis Media

The rest of Hal Chambers’ cast – Suzanne Ahmet, Emma Denly, Jessica Dives, Sarah Goddard and Susanna Jennings – descend from the auditorium stairways, one by one, all female (although two will go on to play men), and the ensemble nature of Flintoff’s storytelling is quickly established.

All the ingredients are outstanding: Flintoff’s prescient and engrossing writing; Luke Potter’s enveloping score; the cast’s compelling performing and beautiful singing, so individual yet collective; Zoe Spurr’s superb lighting; Verity Quinn’s minimalist set design, with the cast briskly moving whatever needs moving from scene to scene. In particular, Rebecca Randall’s movement direction is so key to the drama, using The Round to its maximum.

The title, changed from the original and too plain Polstead when this play premiered in 2018, is apt. The piece does indeed have the character of a ballad, being more of a folk play, even a Mummer’s Play, than the melodrama that usually prevails in Red Barn Murder re-tellings.

We know from the start that Maria is dead, and so The Ballad Of Maria Marten is a resurrection of sorts, like in Mummer’s Plays and in the depiction of fellow murder victim Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood last year. Note, too, how Maria now has her name in the title.

Rather than a manhunt detective story, piecing together the evidence from Maria’s body being found a year after she went missing, Flintoff fills the stage with the intricacies of her life story, with humour and darkness, joys and sadness, hopes and dashed dreams, in equal measure, the childhood shaping the adulthood that follows.

“I didn’t want her to be a victim any more. Maria emerged as intelligent,
brave and wryly funny,” said Flintoff beforehand. “How are we going to let women speak for themselves when there is so much history of being ignored?”

By writing such a ground-breaking play in changing times certainly helps. Maria is indeed no longer a victim, and Flintoff’s sense of optimism for the future is the closing emotion of a ballad play that truly sings.

Charles Hutchinson

Food for thought as bite-sized theatre is on the menu in a Taste Of SLAP at York Theatre Royal

Messy Eaters: on the menu at Taste Of SLAP at York Theatre Royal

TWO reasons lie behind the title of Taste Of SLAP, the “alternative Valentine’s Day treat” at York Theatre Royal tomorrow.

Organised by SLAP founders and co-directors Lydia Cottrell and Sophie Unwin, the last SLAP festival in 2019 ran for four days. This one, by contrast, is more concentrated: one day and evening’s tasty assortment of pay-what-you-can theatre and performance in different locations in the Theatre Royal.

Bite sized, in other words, and bite is apposite for the second reason. Taste Of SLAP’s day of cabaret, theatre, dinner dating, tea drinking, canape art and more besides takes the theme of food. Even a participating company carries the name of Teastain Theatre.

“After last year’s festival, the idea was to have a year off and then do the festival every two years,” says Lydia. “But that’s not the case now, as we believe it’s better to have a presence each year, so we’re doing a day of events at various locations, ending with the return of the DryHump Queer Cabaret.”

Sophie says: “The idea is to have a taster menu of everything you would have in a four-day SLAP festival. Everything has the theme of food, what with it being held the day after Valentine’s Day and coinciding with the musical Oliver! [Food Glorious Food et al] in the main house!”

Levantes Dance Theatre’s Canape Art

Lydia rejoins: “It’s always a dream to have something for everyone at our SLAP events but I really believe we have this time: some that are family friendly and some that are very definitely not.”

Should you be wondering what the acronym SLAP stands for, the answer is Social Live Art Performance. “As a company our aim is to create a fun and supportive environment for audiences to experience live performance,” says Lydia.

“It is part of the SLAP ethos that everyone that comes to SLAP is treated equally in the belief that everyone has the right to experience art, no matter their background.”

Sophie adds: “SLAP are passionate about supporting local talent, as well as bringing international artists to the city. This year, we’ve collaborated with Drama Soc at the University of York to commission a brand new play, the quirky, rhyming Messy Eaters, written by student Aisling Lally that will be performed by York company Teastain Theatre.

“It’s directed by Jesse Roberts, who is a past artistic director of the Theatre Royal’s TakeOverFestival, and I reckon that Aisling, who’s an English Literature student, is definitely the next big thing.

“We’re also programming York St John University graduate Siara Illing Ahmed with her work I Am Mixed, where she’ll be feeding you food from her British, Pakistani and Irish background, telling the story of her life through food and discussing her heritage as an empowered woman.

Binaural Dinner Date: finding the “perfect date”

“We also have York puppeteer Freddie Does Puppets – Freddie Hayes – presenting her new show in her Mrs Potatohead costume as part of the cabaret event Dry Hump, with Fred serving Buckfast as everyone arrives.”

Access is at the heart of SLAP too, the organisers always using venues that have flat or ramped access from the street, elevators and accessible bathrooms. “We also believe income should not be a barrier to accessing performance and that’s why we’ve made all events as part of the festival either free or pay-what-you-can,” says Lydia.

“Being artist led, our main aims are to provide a supportive environment for artists to create new work. Our main aim for audiences is for them to experience new contemporary performance in an accessible and non-exclusionary way.

“A big part of the ethos is that art is for everyone and we want everyone to feel welcome during all of our events. We’ve worked very hard to ensure that SLAP provides a safe environment and is a great opportunity to experience live art for the first time.”

Sophie says: “Taste of SLAP involves eclectic performances from artists working all over the country and beyond. We’re really excited to have the opportunity to programme such a variety of celebrated artists, most of whom have never performed here in York.

“We continue to offer an alternative to the City of York’s cultural offering while also ensuring there’s something in the programme for everyone. From family-friendly performance, intimate experiences to conversations and cabaret.”

Siara Illing Ahmed in I Am Mixed

Taste Of SLAP performance menu for Saturday, February 15

Tea & Tolerance, Café, 3pm to 6pm; free.

A roaming tea trolley delivers piping hot topics, not tea, and dishes out dialogue rather than digestives, with a board game involving the topics being rolled up inside the tea pots to facilitate conversations.

This show by a Leeds company was inspired by the York Mosque inviting the English Defence League in for a cup of tea and a chat.

I Am Mixed, Keregan Room, 3pm and 5pm; booking required.

A ‘Cefil’, a mixture of Celtic Ceilidh and Indian Mafill, is presented by Siara Illing Ahmed in an intimate storytelling experience. This autobiographical performance details the experience of growing up “mixed race” in Bradford.

Levantes Dance Theatre’s Canape Art, Café, 4pm and 6pm; free.

Dressed to impress, Levantes Dance Theatre’s delightful duo serve up a glittery and unexpected twist on hors d’oeuvres, creating beautiful, unique edible tattoos on the hands, arms and faces with everyone they come across. Suitable for everyone from curious adults to inquisitive tots.

Tea & Tolerance: board games leading to conversations

Binaural Dinner Date, Café, 3pm, 5pm and 7.45pm. Booking required.

Co-ordinated by the Brazilian-London partnership of ZU-UK, this is a post-Valentine’s Day alternative chance to find romance as a voice in your ear – courtesy of headphones – guides you through the perfect date. Come with your own date, or we can find one for you.

Messy Eaters, Studio, 7pm, sold out.

Everyone’s making a mess. Newlyweds Charles and Mabel spend Christmas with the in-laws, God, and a deadly secret. Shirley and Kevin reach boiling point, while stressed student Emma gains a keen tea guest who forgets his table manners.

Meanwhile, Ryan just doesn’t understand how girlfriend Abby likes her eggs in the morning. With five interlinking short plays on the menu, Messy Eaters is jam packed with current, juicy chaos.

DryHump, De Grey Rooms, 8pm. Booking required.

A sumptuous feast of Queer Cabaret delights, with small plates of performance, porky party games and delicious dancing. Freddie Does Puppets, Rich Tea and Rocky Road and DJ Nik Nak all feature.

SLAP’s ticket policy: Taste Of Slap’s ticket brackets are £3, £6, £9 and £12. Choose the amount you would like to pay.

“We will never ask you to prove your financial situation; just pick the amount that feels best for you. If you would like to know more about any of the events, please email info@slapyork.co.uk,” say the organisers.

DryHump Queer Cabaret: the finale to Taste Of SLAP

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk, on 01904 623568 or in person at the Theatre Royal box office.

Welcome to the new stage of Berwick Kaler pantomimes…but not everyone was welcome to ride again

New home: AJ Powell, Berwick Kaler, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and Martin Barrass settle into the Grand Opera House auditorium. PIcture: David Harrison

THIS morning was the official launch for Berwick Kaler’s comeback pantomime, Dick Turpin Rides Again, as the resurrected York dame handed over the first tickets to queueing fans at his new home, the Grand Opera House.

Joining him were villain David Leonard, stalwart stooge Martin Barrass, ageless principal girl Suzy Cooper and luverly Brummie A J Powell after their controversial exit and crosstown switch from the York Theatre Royal, signing on the dotted line for pantomime powerhouse producers Qdos Entertainment and the Cumberland Street theatre’s owners, the Ambassador Theatre Group.

Not joining them, however, was CharlesHutchPress, barred from the launch and the morning’s media interviews at the request of the Panto Five in a move from the Dominic Cummings rule book for Number 10 press briefings .

This has to stop.

It is time to re-build bridges, and Valentine’s Day would have been a good start, rather than continuing this Charles Hutchinson Derides Again contretemps .

Jimmy Carr to make York Barbican debut in Terribly Funny show in the autumn

Jimmy Carr: York Barbican debut

JOKER Jimmy Carr is Terribly Funny. Or at least that’s the title the dry-witted British-Irish comedian, presenter and writer has behest on this year’s York-bound travels.

Isleworth-born Carr, 47, has just added a York Barbican date on October 25, in doing so making a crosstown switch for the first time from his regular York stamping ground, the Grand Opera House.

Not that the urbane stand-up putdown specialist is not booked into the Opera House too on his 2020 tour. He is. Carr will be Terribly Funny there first, on June 21.

Arch cynic Carr first played York in 2003 at the inaugural York Comedy Festival and The Other Side Comedy Club at The Basement, City Screen, making his Grand Opera House debut with Public Displays Of Affection in November 2004.

He returned in October 2006 and April 2007 with Gag Reflex; a one-off Repeat Offender in March 2008; two nights of Joke Technician in September 2008, one in April 2009, and a brace of Rapier Wit dates in September 2009, another in March 2010 and yet another two months later.

Jimmy Carr will be Terribly Funny twice over in York

Laughter Therapy brought Carr back for two shows in October 2010 and one the next April; next came four performances of Gagging Order, one in June 2012, two that December, one more in September 2013, and two Funny Business gigs in October 2014. The Best Of, Ultimate, Greatest Hits Tour sent him north in September 2016, October 2016 and June 2017.

His last public appearance in York was as a guest at the York Minster wedding ceremony of pop star Ellie Goulding and North Yorkshire-born art dealer Casper Jopling last August.

Terribly Funny contains jokes about all kinds of terrible things, says Carr: “Terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love. But they’re just jokes – they are not the terrible things. Having political correctness at a comedy show is like having health and safety at a rodeo. Now you’ve been warned, buy a ticket.”

York Barbican tickets for Carr, the Channel 4 host of The Friday Night Project, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year, are on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the box office. Grand Opera House tickets, 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.  

REVIEW: York Light’s 60th anniversary Oliver! at York Theatre Royal

Food Glorious Food: the Young People’s Ensemble give it plenty in Oliver!. All pictures: Tom Arber

REVIEW: Oliver!, York Light Opera Company, York Theatre Royal, until February 22. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

DAME Berwick Kaler’s 41 years at York Theatre Royal have come to an end, but one company with an even longer run there is still rolling out the productions after 60 years.

York Light have chosen to mark another 60th anniversary by staging Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, first performed in the West End in 1960.

This latest revival of a perennial favourite utilises David Merrick and Donald Albert’s Broadway stage version, here directed and choreographed by Martyn Knight on an expansive set with walkways, bustling London streets, the drab workhouse, smart townhouse and the underworld of Fagin’s dingy den.

The show opens with a death outside the workhouse, and the dead woman being promptly stripped of her necklace by an older woman: welcome to dark Dickensian London.

Rory Mulvihill’s Fagin and Jonny Holbek’s Bill Sikes in York Light’s Oliver!

Once inside, Food Glorious Food bursts into life, the first of so many familiar Lionel Bart songs, choreography well drilled, the young people’s ensemble lapping up their first big moment (even if their bowls are empty already!).

The directorial polish in Hunter’s show is established immediately; likewise, the playing of John Atkin’s orchestra is rich and in turn warm and dramatic. These will be the cornerstones throughout in a show so heavy on songs, with bursts of dialogue in between that sometimes do not catch fire by comparison with the fantastic singing.

This review was of the first night, leaving time aplenty for the acting to raise to the level of the songs, but there really does need to be more drama, for example, from all the adults in Oliver and Dodger’s pickpocketing scene. Likewise, spoiler alert, Nancy’s death scene fails to shock, although Jonny Holbek elsewhere has the menace in voice and demeanour for Bill Sikes. Even his dog Bullseye looks scared of him.

Playing the nefarious Fagin for a second time, with a stoop, straggly hair and wispy beard, stalwart Rory Mulvihill has both the twinkle in his eye and the awareness of the fading of the light, characteristics he brings to the contrasting ensemble numbers You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two and Be Back Soon and the reflective, sombre solo Reviewing The Situation.

Jonathan Wells’s Mr Sowerberry and Annabel Van Griethuysen’s Mrs Sowerberry with Matthew Warry’s Oliver (alternating the role with Alex Edmondson)

Overall, the company could take a lead from Neil Wood’s Mr Bumble and Pascha Turnbull’s Widow Twankey in their hanky-panky I Shall Scream scene, full of humour, sauce and pleasing characterisation.

Alex Edmondson’s truculent Oliver and Jack Hambleton’s chipper Dodger bond well, especially in Consider Yourself; Jonathan Wells’s Mr Sowerberry and Annabel Van Griethuysen’s Mrs Sowerberry are in fine voice. Her singing is even better, creamier you might say, for the Milkmaid, when joined by Sarah Craggs’s Rose Seller, Helen Eckersall’s Strawberry Seller, Richard Bayton’s Knife Grinder and Edmondson’s Oliver for Who Will Buy?, always beautiful and deeply so here.

Emma Louise Dickinson’s Nancy gives Act Two opener Oom-Pah-Pah plenty of oomph, and although As Long As He Needs Me sits uncomfortably on modern ears with its seeming tolerance of domestic abuse, she gives that bruised ballad everything twice over.

Reviewing the present situation, the singing is strong, moving and fun when it should be, but, please sir, your reviewer wants some more from the non-singing scenes, and then he might be back soon.

Charles Hutchinson

Waiter, DJ, headphones, rules, games: could this be York’s perfect Valentine’s date?

Binaural Dinner Date: the alternative Valentine’s Day date, so alternative that the date will be on the day after Valentine’s Day

PAY attention hopeful singletons and curious couples seeking an alternative Valentine’s Day date with a difference.

York’s Taste of SLAP Saturday curators and directors Lydia Cottrell and Sophie Unwin are bringing immersive and digital performance innovators ZU-UK to York Theatre Royal this weekend to set up the post-Valentine Binaural Dinner Date.

On the traditional sporting match day of the week, matches of a different kind will be taking place in the Theatre Royal café at 3pm, 5pm and 7.45pm, when ZU-UK will be asking “audiences to swipe right and join them for an experiential dating experience”.

“Come with your own date, or we can find one for you,” they say, emphasising that booking is required as soon as possible on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person at the Theatre Royal box office.

What will happen on Saturday? “Using binaural sound, participants will be guided by a voice in their ears to ask each other questions, offer answers, and consider the dos and don’ts of what we say, and what we would like to say, to each other on a date,” say ZU-UK, a company with its art and its heart in both London and Brazil.

“What are we really thinking when we meet for the first time? How much are we prepared to confess? And are the questions we ask each other the questions that will help us find love?” 

Binaural Dinner Date is “part interactive performance, part dating agency” for individuals looking for love, or existing couples who simply want a “very different” dating encounter

It will take place at nine tables simultaneously, where the aforementioned voice in the ear of every participant will steer them through a “perfect” date. Wearing headphones, two participants per table will be hosted by a waiter/facilitator/DJ, complemented by “interactively mixed binaural audio” with suggestions and comments on dating “rules”, as well as games pushing social expectations and “acceptable” table-talk topics. 

Jorge Lopes Ramos, ZU-UK’s co-artistic director, says: “ZU-UK’s artistic work has never shied away from engaging with urgent, problematic and at times depressing aspects of the contemporary human condition.

“This is a time to question mainstream narratives and to consider our role in shaping communities and relationships between strangers. Dating seemed like a contemporary human ritual worth exploring.”

Formerly known as Zecora Ura and Para Active, ZU-UK is an independent theatre and digital arts company based in East London and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, since 2001. Driven by an artistic partnership between Ramos and Persis Jadé Maravala, ZU-UK creates interactive experiences, using games, performance and technology, that can happen anywhere, whether on the phone, in the house, on a stage, in a shopping mall or a field. 

Binaural Dinner Date is the first instalment in ZU-UK’s ten-part series Decalogy of Loneliness. After ZU’s Hotel Medea in 2009 to 2012 and the interactive technology exhibition Humble Market in 2012 to 2014, they have been developing ten artworks as part of this project.

Since 2015, they have worked with Canadian research institute TAG (Technoculture, Arts and Games), using game-design to deepen ZU’s work with immersive, participatory and interactive performance. 

Over the next three years, ZU will develop the remaining parts of the Decalogy, focusing on the relationship between strangers in public and private spaces. The company also will  present two digital artworks using public phones, #RioFoneHackand How Mad Are You? , and a binaural prototype, Small Data Mining.

Suitable for age 16 plus, Binaural Dinner Date is part of SLAP organisers Lydia Cottrell and Sophie Unwin’s Taste Of SLAP, a day of food-themed shows under their Social Live Art Performance banner (although, if memory serves right, SLAP initially stood for Salacious Live Alternative Performance when the festival was first set up!).

Full details of Taste of SLAP can be found at slapyork.co.uk and a further preview will appear online at charleshutchpress.co.uk. Tickets for this weekend’s taster carry a “Pay What You Can” price tag.

Gangland teens find voice in Pilot Theatre’s inner-city drama Crongton Knights

The Magnificent Six in Crongton Knights at York Theatre Royal from February 25 to 29. Pictures: Robert Day

YORK Theatre Royal resident company Pilot Theatre are following up last year’s powerful adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses with another topical collaboration.

Pilot have teamed up with Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre to present Emteaz Hussain’s new staging of Alex Wheatle’s award-winning young adult novel Crongton Knights.

Co-directed by Corey Campbell, artistic director of Strictly Arts Theatre Company, and Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson, the touring world premiere will play the Theatre Royal from February 25 to 29.

Wheatle’s story depicts how life is not easy on the Crongton Estate and for McKay and his mates what matters is keeping their heads down. When a friend finds herself in trouble, however, they set out on a mission that goes further than any of them imagined.

Crongton Knights will “take you on a night of madcap adventure as McKay and his friends, The Magnificent Six, encounter the dangers and triumphs of a mission gone awry”.

Esther Richardson: Crongton Knights co-director and Pilot Theatre artistic director

In this story of how lessons learned the hard way can bring you closer together, the pulse of the city will be brought to life on stage with a Conrad Murray soundscape of beatboxing and vocals laid down by the cast of Kate Donnachie; Zak Douglas; Simi Egbejumi-David; Nigar Yeva; Olisa Odele; Aimee Powell; Khai Shaw and Marcel White.

Wheatle, a writer born in London to Jamaican parents, says: “I’m very proud that Pilot Theatre are adapting my novel, Crongton Knights, for the stage. It’s a modern quest story where, on their journey, the young diverse lead characters have to confront debt, poverty, blackmail, loss, fear, the trauma of a flight from a foreign land and the omnipresent threat of gangland violence.

“The dialogue I created for this award-winning novel deserves a platform and I, for one, can’t wait to see the characters that have lived in my head for a number of years leap out of my mind and on to a stage near you.”

Co-director Esther Richardson says of the teen quest story: “For us, this play is a lens through which to explore the complexity of young people’s lives, open a platform for those concerns and show what they have to try to navigate fairly invisibly to other members of society. It’s the context in which they live that creates the problem, and these kids go under the radar.

“Alex is writing about how the world is stacked against teenagers; how young people have been thrown to the dogs; how they to negotiate this No Man’s Land they live in, when their places have been closed down; their spaces to express themselves.

On the wall: The Crongton Knights cast

“They have been victims of austerity – as have disabled people – so it’s no surprise that there’s been a rise in knife crime, with kids on the streets and no youth workers to go to, to talk about their feelings.”

Esther notes how they have no access to the arts either. “That’s why our job becomes very important, especially the work we do with theatres around the country, such as the Young and Talented theatre workshops, working with kids in inner-city London who otherwise would have no involvement in the arts,” she says.

“It’s a very heavily subsidised actor-training scheme for children aged five or six upwards, and cast members for plays like Crongton Knights can come through the scheme.”

Esther is concerned, however, by the cuts in arts funding and the potential negative impact of Brexit too. “Theatre is not seen as an opportunity to thrive in, especially in this post-Brexit landscape where it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she predicts.

“That’s why we will further shift into co-creating pieces, Pilot creating work with communities, Pilot co-creating with teens, which we do already do, but we can do it better and do it more.”

On yer bike: A tense scene in Crongton Knights

Significantly, Crongton Knights is the second of four co-productions between Pilot Theatre, Derby Theatre, the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, and York Theatre Royal, who last year formed – together with the Mercury Theatre in Colchester – a new new partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences.

From 2019-2022, the consortium will commission and co-produce an original mid-scale touring production each year that will play in all the consortium venues as well as touring nationally.  The consortium’s debut production, Noughts & Crosses, was seen by more than 30,000 people on tour with 40 per cent of the audience being aged under 20.

To reflect the diversity of the consortium partners and the universality of Crongton Knights’ theme, Esther says: “Although there’s an estate in London called Notre Dame, which features in the book and the play, we have very much created a fictionalised inner city in the play, as Corey and I felt we wanted regional as well as London voices in the cast.

“So, our inner-city world is neither London, nor Birmingham, nor Coventry; it’s everywhere from the perspective of teenagers.”

Pilot Theatre and partners present Crongton Knights, York Theatre Royal, February 25 to 29, 7.30pm nightly plus 2pm, Thursday and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age guidance: 11 plus; show contains strong language.

Copyright of The Press, York

English Touring Opera to perform three operas in two days at York Theatre Royal

Hail Caesar: English Touring Opera are bringing Giulio Cesare to York Theatre Royal in early April. Picture: Oliver Rosser

ENGLISH Touring Opera will be performing in both the main house and Studio on their return to York Theatre Royal this spring.

Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte will be staged on April 3 and Handel’s Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) on April 4, both at 7.30pm, in the bigger space; next door will be The Extraordinary Adventures Of You And Me, for young children, at 11am and 2pm on the Saturday.

Directed by Laura Attridge, conducted by Holly Mathieson and sung in English, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte is a story of young love and fidelity that combines glorious music and farcical comedy in his  third collaboration with librettist Da Ponte after The Marriage Of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Giulio Cesare, Handel’s epic opera of passion and revenge, is built on “a treasure trove of great arias with immense dramatic intensity”, set in the wake of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Egypt as his uneasy alliance and romance with fabled Egyptian queen Cleopatra unfurls.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles, ETO’s touring show is an adapted revival of their 2017 production, led by artistic director James Conway and conductorJonathan Peter Kenny, who will lead the Old Street Band. Both ETO’s April 3 and 4 performances will be preceded by a 6.30pm pre-show talk.

The Extraordinary Adventures Of You And Me is the latest instalment of fun, engaging and interactive operas for children and young audiences, after Laika The Spacedog, Waxwings, Paradise Planet, Shackelton’s Cat and This Is My Bed.

The 11am and 2pm audiences will meet the hero, Mackenzie, as they prepare to travel through time and space.  On a school trip to a museum, Mackenzie discovers that a pencil case is full of magical worlds.  “Who knows who you will meet and where you will visit along the way, so take a deep breath and expect the unexpected” say ETO of a show created by composer Omar Shahryar and writer/director Ruth Mariner.

ETO’s performance is suitable for Key Stage 1 and SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) audiences. The story features five performers, including singers and players, an ingenious set, interactive songs and sound technology and is recommended for two to five-year-old children.

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Here’s a potty idea for Valentine’s Day couples to mess around at Cineworld York

Happy Valentine’s Clay: time to mess around at Cineworld York

LOVERS going potty for each other on Valentine’s Day are invited to bond over romantic pottery classes at Cineworld York, Kathryn Avenue, Huntington, York, tomorrow.

Happy Valentine’s Clay can be enjoyed by dating duos who book for the 6pm ViP screening of Ghost on the 30th anniversary of the 1990 American movie.

This will be the chance for courting couples or pairs of just friends to channel their inner Patrick Swayze or Demi Moore by re-creating Ghost’s iconic pottery scene – soundtracked to The Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody, as in the film – in the exclusive ViP lounge before sitting down to a romantic three-course meal. Ticket holders will then watch Ghost in luxury reclining seats.

That moment in Ghost

Ghost’s pottery moment sees the shirtless Swayze’s Sam Wheat sitting behind Moore’s Molly Jensen as she carefully sculpts the wet clay. He reaches out and ruins her vase, so they begin a new one together, his hands interlaced with hers, before abandoning the wheel in favour of a loving embrace.

Those who want to avoid messy pottery-making a deux still can partake in the ViP Valentine’s Day screening experience in the intimate screening room, with access to the ViP Lounge private bar 45 minutes before the show and complimentary dining and unlimited nachos, hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks, all included in the ticket price.

Ghost guests should arrive an hour before the 6pm screen time for their romantic pottery and dinner date.Tickets cost £32 at cineworld.com.vip.

Phoenix Dance Theatre find hope in bleak Black Waters in Leeds Playhouse premiere

Phoenix Dance Theatre in Black Waters

PHOENIX Dance Theatre are exploring the long-lasting effects of British colonial forces in the world premiere of Black Waters at Leeds Playhouse this week.

Drawing inspiration from history, this emotionally evocative new production by the Leeds company combines two events.

Black Waters: Phoenix Dance Theatre’s exploration of place, worth and belonging

In the first, in the late-18th century, 130 slaves were thrown overboard from the Zong as the ship owners attempted to profit from their life insurance.

More than 100 years later, Indian freedom fighters were incarcerated in the Kala Pani prison for speaking out against the regime. 

Co-choreographer Sharon Watson during rehearsals for Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Black Waters

Black Waters reflects on these two colonial landmarks, showing how people can find value, inspiration and hope even in the bleakest of times.

The co-choreographers, Phoenix artistic director Sharon Watson and Shambik Ghose and Dr Mitul Sengupta, artistic directors of Rhythmosaic, from Kolkata, combine contemporary dance with Kathak dance: one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance, traditionally attributed to ancient travelling storytellers.

Black Waters co-choreographer Shambik Ghose

Sharon says: “Black Waters is not about recreating these two events through contemporary dance, but is an exploration of place, worth and belonging, which can often be conflicting for people of colour.”

Black Waters can be seen in the Quarry Theatre at 7.30pm tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.

Ronan Keating’s Twenty Twenty vision is to release album and play York Barbican

The album artwork for Ronan Keating’s new album, released this spring

TWENTY years since releasing his chart-topping debut solo album, Boyzone’s Ronan Keating will mark the anniversary with a new record and tour, taking in York Barbican on June 19.

That night, the Irish boy band graduate will be promoting an album perfectly entitled for this year, Twenty Twenty, out on May 1 on the Decca Records label.

Tickets go on sale on February 21 at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk, on 0203 356 5441 or in person from the Barbican box office.

Dubliner Keating, who will turn 43 on March 3, describes Twenty Twenty as “a greatest hits of brand new music”To help him celebrate the 20th anniversary of his self-titled debut, he made two inspired choices: to dive into his back catalogue torevisit three of his biggest hits and, for some new numbers, call in some friends.

Ronan Keating’s 20th anniversary solo album will be “a greatest hits of brand new music”

First single One Of A Kind, despite its title is a duet, wherein the Irishman is joined by Emeli Sandé. “I guess I’ve been known for those first dance songs at weddings and this has me written all over it,” says Keating. “It’s all about the night before the wedding, the day of the wedding and spending the rest of your life together.”

He decided the song demanded a duet partner, and for Ronan there was only one choice: the Sunderland-born, Scottish-raised Sandé.“I was completely honoured when Emeli said she’d love to do it,” he says. “I was just blown away by her vocal. She’s obviously got a brilliant voice, and she’s a lovely, warm person, so the personality she’s brought to the song is just incredible.”

Two of a kind: the single cover for One Of A Kind replicates Twenty Twenty except for the addition of Emeli Sande

For Twenty Twenty, Keating had production assistance from his longstanding wingman, Steve Lipson, who has worked with such big hitters as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox, Simple Minds, and Whitney Houston. Names of further collaborators and track titles will be revealed in due course, but Keating teases by revealing those collaborators comprise some of his closest musical and chart-topping friends.

Over the past 20 years, Keating has chalked up 30 consecutive Top Ten solo singles, ten studio albums, multiple tours and 20 million records sales on top of 25 million sold with Boyzone, as well as judging on The X Factor and The Voice in Australia; acting in television drama and film; playing Guy in the romantic Irish hit, Once The Musical, in the West End and co-hosting Magic FM’s breakfast show.

Over the past 12 months, he has worked tirelessly on an album that celebrates a longevity he does not take for granted. “There’s not a lot of artists that have been lucky enough to do 20 years and still be here,” he says, appreciative too of sustaining solo and band careers. “I’m very honoured to have had that, so I wanted to mark it with an album like this.”

Ronan Keating last played a York concert in July 2018 with Boyzone at the York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend

In York, Keating last performed with Boyzone at a York Racecourse Music Showcase post-racing show on July 28 2018 on their 25th anniversary tour. His last solo appearance in the city was at York Barbican on September 21 2016. Last summer, the dangers posed by a massive thunderstorm led to his open-air solo concert at Castle Howard, near York, on August 4 being cut short.

Anyone for Dennis? Jorvik Viking Festival makes plans with storm sequel brewing

Storm brewing but the Vikings can handle a little disturbance at the upcoming festival

JORVIK Viking Festival is to launch on Saturday with new venues to avoid Storm Dennis, the all-too-soon sequel to Storm Ciara nightly, daily and nightly again.

In keeping with the Vikings knowing where and when to anchor their boats and pitch their tents on their world travels, this weekend’s Norse invaders of York will be tweaking their plans slightly in the face of Storm Dennis being expected to unleash its fury over the next few days.

Festival manager Gareth Henry, of York Archaeological Trust, says: “We breathed a sigh of relief when Storm Ciara missed us, but it seems that Thor has taken a leaf out of his trickster brother’s repertoire and is throwing Dennis our way for our opening weekend.

“Thankfully, the Vikings are a hardy and adaptable bunch, so we’ve managed to rearrange most of the most exposed parts of the festival to alternative, sheltered and indoor locations for the first few days, and we hope to have everything back to normal from Tuesday or Wednesday, weather permitting.”

The biggest changes will be to the Viking encampment, normally sited in Parliament Street.  From Saturday to Monday, however, it will be relocated to the Undercroft at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, where entry will be free on all three days. (Usual admission applies to other parts of Merchant Adventurers’ Hall.) 

Many events planned for the St Sampson’s Square stage and Parliament Street marquee temporarily will be relocated to Spark: York – the venue for Viking Crafting for Kids – on Piccadilly on Saturday and Sunday, including Saga Storytelling and the festival’s newest event, the Viking Costume Competition, on Saturday at 3pm.

Have-a-go Sword Workshops will take place in DIG: An Archaeological Adventure on St Saviourgate from Saturday to Monday, hopefully returning to St Sampson’s Square on Tuesday, February 18 for the rest of the festival run. 

The Nine Realms Bar will operate as normal in Parliament Street for the festival’s duration, within the Parliament Street Tent that also will host Viking Crafting for Kids during the weekdays. The Festival Information Stand can be found in the Parliament Street Tent on Saturday to Monday but should move outdoors to St Sampson’s Square on Tuesday. 

At this stage, the only events to have been cancelled are the city tours, taking place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, starting instead on Tuesday.  Thankfully, flooding has only affected riverside areas accustomed to high water levels each year, and the vast majority of the city remains unaffected and open for business, including the Jorvik Viking Centre in Coppergate. 

“We’re confident that visitors can still enjoy an amazing Viking experience despite these changes,” says Gareth. “But we hope that the good people of York will consider offering a poem or two to Thor – as Norse explorer Thorhall did in the Saga of Erik the Red – to bring this weather chaos to an end ahead of our second festival weekend, when hordes of warriors will once again descend on the city and march through our historic streets.”

Festival visitors are advised to keep an eye on social media and the festival website, jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk, for the latest news and any other scheduling changes.

Violinist Paul Milhau to play relaxed Dementia Friendly Tea Concert at St Chad’s

York violinist Paul Milhau: music, coffee, tea and a chat on a relaxed afternoon

YORK professional violinist Paul Milhau will perform February 20’s Dementia Friendly Tea Concert at St Chad’s Church, Campleshon Road, York.

His 45-minute classical concert of solo violin pieces will be followed by tea, coffee, homemade cakes and a chance to chat.

Milhau’s 2.30pm programme will combine two partitas by J S Bach with Eugène Ysaye’s lovely second sonata in a relaxed atmosphere suitable for anyone who might not feel able to attend a formal classical event.

No admission charge applies but donations are welcome. Please note, there is a small car park at the church, along with street parking on Campleshon Road. Disabled access is via the hall.

York artist Sharon McDonagh finds beauty in decay in a city where buildings are losing their soul

Shades Of Decay 1, by Sharon McDonagh

SHARON McDonagh cannot recall any past Urban Decay exhibition in the historic city of York.

“So, this show will be quite unique and probably a tad controversial for York,” she says, introducing her Fragments artwork as lead artist in the Urban Decay winter show at Blossom Street Gallery, in the shadow of Micklegate Bar, York.

“With the new development plans being released late last year for Piccadilly and the public view on the design of the new hotel, especially the Banana Warehouse façade, I’m exhibiting my paintings of these buildings, as well as a new one of the lovely derelict ‘Malthouse’ building in The Crescent that was, up until recently, taken over by Space Invaders as a pop-up arts, craft, food and drink space until its demolition.”  

Sharon is drawn to painting the “darker side” to York, in particular to its derelict buildings, against the backdrop of her high-profile past career as a police forensic artist. That work required her to draw dead bodies, creating artist’s impressions of unidentified fatalities from mortuary photographs and crime-scene information, and you can make the psychologist’s leap between death and decay if that is your Freudian wont.

“It might seem mad going from being a forensic artist depicting bodies to doing paintings of decay, but I suppose it’s all an organic path of death and destruction,” she says.

Driven by a passion for a nostalgia and a fascination with urban decay, the Holgate artist sees both dereliction in York and now dereliction of duty among the city’s architects and developers.

Switched on but empty: one of Sharon McDonagh’s Fragments at Blossom Street Gallery

“Redevelopment, if it’s done in the right way, is fine, but I don’t think they’re empathetic with what the building was originally. They’re too consumed by money, not by aesthetics, which is ironic when we’re living in a beautiful city like York.”

Sharon took part in York Open Studios for the first time last spring – and will do so again at Venue 57 in April – when her exhibition of derelict buildings had the title of Transition. “What’s been lost in York’s buildings is soul,” she says.

“Like when Space Invaders took over the ‘Malthouse’, different organic communities came together and gave it soul – it was always busy, it had such a good vibe, and because it was off the beaten track, you didn’t get stag and hen party groups going there – and it makes me mad that other places in York are not doing the same.

“So, when I saw the plans for Piccadilly, I thought ‘here we go again’. It’s not about being radical; it’s about being in tune with how York was.

“I think of all of York’s forgotten buildings that people walk past but don’t give a thought to, but people worked in those buildings, lived in those buildings, had businesses in them, and we need to utilise what’s been left derelict. But, as I said before, it seems to be York is becoming soulless.

The Front Elevation, The Malthouse, by Sharon McDonagh, the latest addition to her Transitions series of derelict York buildings

“The opportunity to make something of York’s old buildings is wasted by lack of creativity and empathy for what was there before, and I just don’t know what designers, planners and architects are going to do with the city next.”

You will not be surprised that Sharon is a supporter of the somewhat contentious Spark:York small business enterprise in 23 “upcycled” shipping containers in Piccadilly. “I love it! People who don’t go there are the ones who criticise it, saying it’s an eyesore, but there was nothing there before, and yes, four of the businesses that started there have moved to bigger premises,” she says.

Sharon has another reason for “always loving” derelict buildings, she reveals. “I enjoyed the rave scene of the late Eighties and early Nineties that took over derelict places, though I was more intent on looking around the buildings than dancing!” she says. “I know it was illegal, but you could walk around these amazing old buildings, which was fantastic.”

For her Fragments show, she has complemented her 2019 Transition buildings with new paintings inspired by her work in end-of-life care, personal experience and working with dementia patients.

“The Fragments series is an exploration into the fragility of life,” she says of her tactile paintings that evoke emotion, nostalgia and intrigue. “The vintage light switches and sockets symbolise the person, while their last moments and memories are represented by the fragments of wallpaper and tiles. The last glimpses of life, the last remaining fragments before they die.

“I thought of light switches and sockets, because of the act of switching on and off lights and then life finally being switched off.”

In her artwork, she creates highly textured acrylic and multi-media paintings that examine “the beauty that nature makes through decay”. Basing her Fragments designs on vintage wallpaper, she makes and hand paints all the pieces of wallpaper and tiles separately. She then distresses them to look old and decayed before adding them to her paintings.

“When you see a derelict house, there are so many levels of paint and wallpaper, so many different lives have been lived there, so many layers to those lives, that it’s akin to your own life, which has many layers,” she says

Analysing her subject matter, Sharon notes: “I always have a bit of a dark side, don’t I? People think I must have a broom and cauldron at home and fly around at night! But I love how natural decay can cause beauty.

“It’s about change; urban decay is about natural change, but we don’t like change, or people or things dying, but we can’t shy away from it.

Miss You, by Sharon McDonagh, dedicated to her late father. Note the receiver, dislodged off the hook

“It’s that simple. We’re here and then we’re gone, but people don’t like to talk about death – but it’s been in my working life for a long time, first as a police forensic artist and then at the hospital.”

Her artistic outpourings have helped Sharon deal with her own grief. “When a parent goes – my dad had cancer – that grief changes you forever, you feel it every day, but you grasp at what keeps them alive in your thoughts, you grasp at what reminds you of them. That’s why there’s nostalgia in my paintings,” she says.

“I’ve dedicated the painting of a telephone in the Fragments series to my father, so I’ve called it Miss You, and symbolically the receiver is off the hook to signify the last missed call.”

Sharon always paints “from the heart, not from the bank balance”. “That’s the right way. If someone stands in front of one of my paintings and gets an emotional response, that means more to me than money in the bank,” she says.

Shades Of Decay 2, by Sharon McDonagh, at Blossom Street Gallery

“When I’m painting, it has to mean something to me, or it won’t mean something to someone else when they look at it.

“I also like my paintings to be tactile. If you can touch something, it evokes memories, and that’s why I like doing 3D pieces and collages, so you can touch them and all your senses are working at once. I love touching paintings, though I once got chucked out of a gallery for doing that!”

From paintings, to prints and cards, Sharon’s Fragments are in touching distance at Blossom Street Gallery until the end of February. “It’s great to be invited to do an exhibition on Urban Decay, which I don’t think has been done in York before, and it’s been really good to get  feedback on it,” she says.

What would York’s planners, designers and architects make of it, you wonder.

York artist Sharon McDonagh, standing by her Fragments artwork at Blossom Street Gallery’s Urban Decay exhibition in York

Did you know?

FOR many years, Sharon McDonagh created artist’s impressions of unidentified fatalities from mortuary photographs and crime-scene information.

She gained recognition for her work within this field on television, as well as in the media, on account of her unusual work and experiences.

She was commissioned as an artist by the BBC to produce the drawing of a late relative of footballer-turned-television-presenter Gary Lineker for BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?. 

She has been involved in community art projects with disadvantaged young people and now works with teenagers from challenging backgrounds, promoting art as a way to express themselves. 

At York Hospital, she is delivering a unique project on the dementia ward, using art as a way to encourage patient interaction and alleviate anxiety. 

The Banana Warehouse, Piccadilly, one of Sharon McDonagh’s Transitions series, to be exhibited at City Screen, York, in May and June

Sharon McDonagh’s exhibitions

Urban Decay, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street Gallery, York, until February 29. Joint show with Fran Brammer, Linda Harvey, Simon Sugden and Jill Tattersall.

York Open Studios “Taster” Exhibition, Central Methodist Church, St Saviourgate, York, April 3 (private virew), 4 and 5.

York Open Studios, Venue 57, Holgate, York, April 17, preview evening 7pm to 9pm; April 18, 19, 25 and 26, 10am to 5pm.

City Screen café bar, Coney Street, York, May 19 to June 15, featuring six Piccadilly paintings. “The café has soul,” she says. “The wall is exposed brickwork, which is a perfect backdrop for my work.”

Resonate solo exhibition, Basement Arts Project, Beeston, Leeds, June 22 to July 21. “It really will be in a basement,” she says.

REVIEW: Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table does not add up to riotous comedy, alas

Robert Daws’ committee chairman Ray, left, and Mark Curry’s pedantic Councillor Donald Evans in Ten Times Table. Pictures: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, The Classic Comedy Theatre Company, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or atgtickets.com/york

IMPRESARIO and prolific producer Bill Kenwright has his name on multiple shows that frequent the Grand Opera House, from musicals to the Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen To Stage companies.

Now add The Classic Comedy Theatre Company to that list, making their debut tour either side of Christmas with Ten Times Table, Alan Ayckbourn’s “calamitous comedy by committee” from 1977, the year when committees popped up everywhere to mark HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Those stellar names of British theatre, Kenwright and Ayckbourn, are complemented by a third: Robin Herford, perennial director of The Woman In Black and much else, not least past productions of Ayckbourn’s Just Between Ourselves at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Relatively Speaking, Confusions, Bedroom Farce and Season’s Greetings elsewhere.

What’s more, Ayckbourn cast him as pedantic, punctilious, punctuation and procedure-obsessed Councillor Donald Evans in his SJT premiere of Ten Times Table in January 1977.

Everything sounded so promising for Herford’s touring production, not least a cast starring Robert Daws, Robert Duncan, Mark Curry and Deborah Grant. Certainly, more promising than the gloomy forecast that the River Ouse floodwaters could be seeping beneath the Grand Opera House doors by 6am, prompting senior management to stay on watchful guard through the night.

Thankfully, such concerns turned out to be a false dawn. Alas, Ten Times Table proved to be a damp squib too: that rare occasion when an Ayckbourn play just isn’t very funny any more.

Maybe we are spoilt by Sir Alan’s revivals of his classics at the Stephen Joseph Theatre each summer season; maybe they better suit the bear-pit setting of the SJT’s theatre in the round: more intimate, more inclusive, more apt for the combative nature of his vintage comedies. Maybe it is significant that Ten Times Table has never been among those revivals.

Misfiring: Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Ten Times Table fires blanks in Robin Herford’s touring production

Here in York, on a proscenium-arch stage, as with the body of a giraffe, Ten Times Table feels like the work of a committee. Or the work of a committee like the one we are watching as they assemble maybe ten times around the table (although your reviewer lost count).

Welcome to the “miscellaneous assemblage” of the Pendon Folk Festival committee, gathering beneath the erratic lights of the faded grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel, as Seventies as hotel grey gravy and over-boiled veg and as tired as the comedy in Michael Holt’s design.

The pathway to the Pendon Pageant will be a bumpy one, all the more so for the irascible, over-excitable disposition of chairman Ray (Robert Daws), who bores everyone, audience included unfortunately, as he recounts Pendon’s most dramatic news story of the past.

Now the 18th century army massacre of the radical Pendon Twelve agricultural agitators is to be re-enacted on pageant day. Ayckbourn duly sets up matching class warfare: middle-class conservatism on one side, represented by smug Ray; his constantly peeved, overbearing wife Helen (Deborah Grant); a mad, revolver-toting military dog-breeder, Tim (Harry Gostelow), and ineffectual dullard Councillor Evans (Mark Curry).

Always accompanying Evans is his octogenarian mum Audrey (Elizabeth Power), the minute-taking but pretty much deaf committee secretary who never delivers the minutes, dithering dottily except when a drink or the chance to play the piano comes her way.

On the other side, representing the agitators, is the truculent Marxist martyr, comprehensive schoolteacher Eric (Craig Gazey), and his acolytes, the ever-underwhelming Sophie (Gemma Oaten), even a disappointment to herself, and the almost impossibly quietly spoken costume maker Philippa (Rhiannon Handy).

No idea where he is, the sozzled Laurence (Robert Duncan) stumbles from marital crisis to the next marital crisis.

Ayckbourn depicts the minutiae of committee conduct with trademark mischief making but somehow this Ten Times Table does not add up amid the personality and ideological clashes. The power-driven Ray is as irritating as the banging on the floor above; plenty of others follow suit, and, especially in the long first half, the comedy feels too slow, too forced, the timing……..off.

Charles Hutchinson

Silver lining guaranteed as Jeff Beck announces York Barbican debut in May

Jeff Beck: playing York Barbican for the first time this spring

GUITAR great Jeff Beck will play York Barbican on May 19 on his nine-date British tour.

Tickets for the two-time Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductee and serial Grammy Award winner will go on sale on Friday, February 14 at 10am.

Joining blues, rock and jazz guitarist Beck on tour will be Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass and Vanessa Freebairn-Smith on cello.  

Beck’s tour will begin on May 17, taking in a second Yorkshire show at Sheffield City Hall on May 23 and climaxing with a London finale at the Royal Albert Hall on May 26 and 27.

Over the course of a career stretching beyond 50 years, Beck has won eight Grammy awards; been ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and  been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, both with The Yardbirds and solo.

Beck replaced Eric Clapton as The Yardbirds’ lead guitarist in 1965, going on to form The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass. So much has followed and, now 75, the Wallington-born guitarist is working on new music for release in 2020 on Rhino/Warner Records.

From Friday, tickets for Beck’s York Barbican debut will be available at yorkbarbican.co.uk and myticket.co.uk, on 0203 356 5441 or in person at the Barbican box office. Sheffield tickets:  sheffieldcityhall.co.uk, myticket.co.uk or 0114 278 9789.

John Osborne reflects on dementia, music, age and memory in You’re In A Bad Way

John Osborne: storyteller and poet

STORYTELLER, poet and BBC Radio 4 regular John Osborne returns to Pocklington Arts Centre on Thursday to present his beautiful, funny and uplifting new theatre show about music and dementia. 

Last March, he performed a quietly spoken double bill of John Peel’s Shed and Circled In The Radio Times in the bar; intimate, convivial storytelling in an intimate, convivial space.

Now, inspired by seeing a friend’s father face a dementia diagnosis and the feelings of warmth and positivity and unexpected twists and turns the family went through, he has put together You’re In A Bad Way.

“This is the fifth theatre show I’ve made and it’s definitely my favourite,” says Osborne.  “That’s because I never planned to write about something as personal as dementia, and I’d never written about such a big topic before, which I felt was intimidating and other writers would do it.

“But I was faced with this dilemma when my friend’s father was diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago. It was a really interesting thing to observe, because though it was horrible and terrifying and sad, it was also beautiful and magical with special moments.

“It felt like such a beautiful story that I wanted to tell. Just because you’ve been diagnosed with something, it doesn’t mean it’s the end.” 

Osborne recalls the circumstances behind his friend’s revelation. “My friend and I go to Glastonbury every summer. We started at 21 and we’ve been going for 17 years now and we never miss a year,” he says.

“So, it was one of those sweet things we like to do, but it was at Glastonbury she told me about her father. Glastonbury is kind of where these things do happen, when you’re spending so much time together.

“I was saying I felt I was getting too old for Glastonbury, for putting up tents and the like, and it was then she suddenly told me about her dad’s dementia, and I thought, ‘what’s happening to us?’. But everyone has these stories, don’t they?”

This set in motion You’re In A Bad Way. “I started thinking about my relationships, friendships; growing up and now not being as young as you used to be, but also about having the luxury of growing old, and then my friend’s father dementia diagnosis,” says Osborne. “I also found myself thinking about how music plays an important part in our lives.”

Gradually, music and dementia joined in union as Osborne wrote the show. “Initially, I was looking at music from my own point of view, but the more I researched dementia, sport and music were two things that were so important to dementia patients,” he says.

“Like hearing an old commentary from a cup final their favourite team won. Someone who has been unresponsive to any stimulus can suddenly go back to where they first heard that commentary.

“It’s the same with music, where they can remember the lyrics from years ago, but can’t now remember who anyone is.”

Before he went ahead with You’re In A Bad Way, Osborne sought his friend’s approval for him to talk about her family’s story on stage. “She works in theatre and said she was happy if a theatre show did discuss these things,” he recalls.

The poster artwork for John Osborne’s dementia-and-music show You’re In A Bad Way

When premiering the show at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe, Osborne spent time at a dementia care centre in the Scottish capital to ensure he was fully informed about the experience of caring for someone with dementia.

“I met these fantastic women at LifeCare Edinburgh, and we talked about what they do and how they wanted to raise awareness of what they do,” says Osborne. “We raised money at the end of every performance to give to LifeCare.

“It was really good to get information and stories from them and to be able to repay them by mentioning LifeCare at each show.”

Osborne says that every time he performs You’re In A Bad Way, he learns new things about dementia. For example, the feeling of isolation when confronted by  loved one falling into the black hole of dementia. “If you’ve got a parent with dementia, it can be very hard to communicate about it with your friends, as your relationship with your family is so specific to you,” he says.

“In the case of my friend, her response was to drop everything to support her father, whereas her sister couldn’t deal with it at all and wasn’t there for him. She ran away from it.

“But whatever your reaction, there are thousands of reasons for why people do what they do in those circumstances.

“That’s why I wanted to do my research and not be out of my comfort zone when people tell me their own stories at the shows. I’ve met people who have stayed and supported; I’ve met people who ran away.”

Looking forward to Thursday’s Pock performance, what tone can the audience expect? “As it’s such a big topic, I’ve tried to make the show funny and life affirming and relatable,” says Osborne. 

“I don’t want it to be sad or serious; I think it’s important for it to be a good story to someone who has no association with dementia, as well as being sensitive to those who live surrounded by the illness.”

Osborne is busy writing his next show for this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe. “After two serious shows, You’re In A Bad Way, and before that, Circled In The Radio Times, which was also about getting older, I thought, ‘I really want to write something fun’,” he says, introducing My Car Plays Tapes.

“I’d had my first car for years, but it broke down. I did my John Peel’s Shed tour in it, and that’s partly why it broke down, when a little Fiesta isn’t meant to do that many miles, with a box of records in the back.

“So, I got the cheapest replacement car possible, with no electric windows, no CD player, but it’s got a tape player. Suddenly I was re-united with the tapes I made when I was 16, when I would have had no reason to listen to them again otherwise.

“That’s set me off writing about being forced to re-visit your past.” Hopefully, the resulting show will make its way to Pocklington post-Edinburgh Fringe.

In the meantime, tickets for Thursday’s 7.30pm performance of You’re In A Bad Way are on sale at £10 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk or £12 on the door, with a special price of £9 for a carer of someone with dementia. 

Hislop and Newman’s comedy A Bunch Of Amateurs to play York Theatre Royal

A Bunch Of Amateurs writers Ian Hislop, left, and Nick Newman

PRIVATE Eye editor and Have I Got News For You team captain Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s comedy A Bunch Of Amateurs will play York Theatre Royal from June 2 to 6.

What happens in this play? Keen to boost his flagging career, fading Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steele arrives in England to play King Lear in Stratford, only to find that he is not in the birthplace of Shakespeare, but in a sleepy Suffolk village.

Instead of starring alongside Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, the cast members are a bunch of amateurs trying to save their theatre from ruthless developers.

Jefferson’s monstrous ego, vanity and insecurity are tested to the limit by the enthusiastic am-dram thespians who share his spotlight. As acting worlds collide and Jefferson’s career implodes, he discovers some truths about himself and his inner Lear.

After tours of Hislop and Newman’s The Wipers Times and Trial By Laughter, Trademark Touring, Karl Sydow and Anthology Theatre, in association with The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, will be taking A Bunch Of Amateurs on the road from April 23 to July 4.

Hislop and Newman say: “Following successful national tours of The Wipers Times and Trial By Laughter, we are thrilled to be touring the very first play we wrote, A Bunch Of Amateurs:  a love letter to the world of amateur theatre and a celebration of the overweening absurdity of Hollywood stardom.”

A Bunch Of Amateurs will be directed by Robin Herford, whose production of Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Ten Times Table for impresario Bill Kenwright’s Classic Comedy Theatre Company is running at the Grand Opera House, York, this week.

Herford is best known for directing The Woman In Black, the Stephen Mallatratt stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel that he commissioned in 1987 when artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. The  Woman In Black has been running in the West End for 30 years, always directed by Herford, along with the regular tours.

Tickets for A Bunch Of Amateurs are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

If the world were about to end, would you take part in a final quiz night. Yes? Read on

Note the name of the pub: the perfect prescient setting for The Last Quiz Night On Earth

QUICK question. Did you see Chip Shop Chips, Box Of Tricks Theatre Company’s show at Pocklington Arts Centre last year?

Yes? So, presumably you will want know when they will be returning to Pock and what in?

The answers are Friday, March 20 in The Last Quiz Night On Earth, an immersive, innovative new play by Alison Carr for theatre devotees and pub quiz enthusiasts alike, who are promised “a very different experience of live performance”, set in a pub.

In the Box Of Tricks locker already are the award-winning Manchester company’s shows SparkPlug, Narvik and Under Three Moons. Now they follow two sold-out tours of Chip Shop Chips with Carr’s pre-apocalyptic comedy, The Last Quiz Night On Earth, as an asteroid heads to Earth in a tour that also visits the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, for performances in the bar on March 24 and 25. 

Writer Alison Carr and assistant director Kitty Ball in the rehearsal room for The Last Quiz Night On Earth. Picture: Alex Mead

Next question. What happens? “It’s the final countdown. Landlady Kathy invites audiences to the last quiz night on earth with Quizmaster Rav. He is the host with the most,” say Box Of Tricks, an associate company at the SJT, by the way.

“But with time ticking, some unexpected guests turn up out of the blue. Bobby wants to settle old scores and Fran wants one last shot at love. Expect the unexpected to the bitter end and plenty of drama as the show gets quizzical.”

Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder directs the play, with design by Katie Scott. Pub landlady Kathy will be played by Meriel Scholfield, who has appeared in Coronation Street, Last Tango In Halifax, Holby City and Doctors, while Shaban Dar will take the role of pre-apocalyptic Quizmaster Rav.

Playwright Alison Carr’s past works include Caterpillar and Iris; her latest play, Tuesday, has been commissioned for the National Theatre’s 2020 Connections programme, to be performed by 40 groups from across the country. The Last Quiz Night On Earth is her first for Box Of Tricks.

Box Of Tricks director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder

Next question. Why did she write The Last Quiz Night On Earth? “I started two other ideas before this one but they wouldn’t take hold. The idea of a quiz night kept popping into my head but I’d dismiss it because I was worried it’d been done too often before.

“So, I kept plugging away and overcomplicating things, until eventually I thought ‘okay, lean into it – a quiz night and what? A quiz night AND the world is about to end. It all opened up from there and a quiz night became the only way to tell this story.

“It brings so much to explore like togetherness and community, camaraderie, competitiveness. Throw into the mix an asteroid heading straight for us, and the stakes get higher. It’s the final chance to say the unsaid, heal rifts, get the last word, make peace with regrets or try to do something about them.” 

Alison wanted to combine the known and the unknown, the safe and the downright terrifying. “My vision was to create something that audiences don’t just sit and watch but are part of – but not in a scary way,” she says. 

Meriel Schofield as pub landlady Kathy in The Last Quiz Night On Earth. Picture: Alex Mead

“Personally, the thought of audience participation makes me feel sick, but a quiz is something we can all do, whether we’re a general knowledge expert or the neatest so we can do the writing.”

Comparing The Last Quiz Night On Earth with her past work, Alison says: “There are elements there like a fractious sibling relationship, and having something quite extreme or unexpected going on.

“But, overall, it’s quite a departure, especially the characters’ interaction with the audience. My jumping- off point was to write something fun. A play about an imminent apocalypse might not sound like larks and giggles, but around the time I got the call, I’d been researching a lot of serious, dark material for other plays I was writing.

“It takes its toll. So, when Hannah got in touch, my first thoughts were ‘yes please’ and ‘for my own well-being, it’s got to be fun’. Plus, I always want to be challenging myself, not trotting out the same-old, same-old. And just like ‘dark’ doesn’t mean humourless or hard-going, ‘fun’ certainly doesn’t equal something fluffy or meaningless. It is the end of the world, after all.” 

Shaban Dar as pre-apocalyptic Quizmaster Rav

Alison names Victoria Wood as her biggest inspiration. “She was, is, and always will be,” she says. “Her voice is so distinctive and so northern. She’s why I tried writing anything in the first place. She brought joy to so many and achieved so much, she was a grafter.  

“I’ll always try and see any Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams plays I can: they’re so big and fearless. Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane is one of my favourite plays. Lee Hall, Bryony Lavery, Zinnie Harris. I recently saw and read some Annie Baker plays and I’m in awe of her.

“Having said all that, I’m not so much a fan of particular playwrights as I am plays and theatre in general. I try and see as much theatre as I can in the North East and beyond.”

Last question, Alison, why should the good people of Pocklington and Scarborough seeThe Last Quiz Night On Earth? “Well, there’s a quiz – a real one. Real questions, real teams, real swapping of answer sheets to mark,” she says. “You don’t have to be good at quizzes (I’m not) or, if you are, great, come and show off.

Chris Jack as Bobby in Box Of Tricks’ production

“And when you’re not trying to remember which British city hosted the 1970 Commonwealth Games, there’s a story unfolding around you about family and regrets and last chances. About making your mark, about grabbing the bull by the horns and not waiting until it’s too late to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I’ve never liked that colour on you’.

“I wouldn’t want anyone other than Box of Tricks making The Last Quiz Night On Earth. Their work is never pretentious or intimidating, it’s welcoming and warm and a good night out. What better way to meet our fiery demise?”  

Box Of Tricks present The Last Quiz Night On Earth, Pocklington Arts Centre, March 20, 7.30pm, and Stephen Joseph Theatre bar, Scarborough, March 24, 1.30pm (Dementia Friendly performance) and 7.30pm; March 25, 7.30pm. Box office: Pocklington, 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk; Scarborough, 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.

Linda Combi’s garden exhibition finds the power in flowers in the face of war

Artist Linda Combi at work in her York studio

YORK artist Linda Combi was so struck by a Channel 4 News story on The Last Gardener Of Aleppo that she has responded with an exhibition of the same title.

“This work is a new departure for me and it’s taken some time to complete, but at last it’s nearly ready,” she says.

Linda’s artwork will be on show from February 25 to April 6 at The Angel on the Green café bar – “where the footfall is huge,” she says – in Bishopthorpe Road, York.

“The news story featured Abu Waad, who ran a garden centre in the besieged city Syrian city of Aleppo, assisted by his 12-year-old son Ibrahim,” she recalls.

“Throughout the film, Abu Waad – his name means ‘Father of the Flowers’ – described his love and admiration for flowers and plants. This last remaining garden centre was an oasis of calm and beauty for the citizens of Aleppo, who were experiencing death and destruction all around them.”

Not long after the film was made in 2016, Abu Waad was tragically killed by a bomb that fell nearby.

Father Of The Flowers, in memory of Abu Waad, The Last Gardener of Aleppo, by Linda Combi

“His garden centre was closed and his son Ibrahim was left fatherless.  I wanted to commemorate Abu Waad’s life and work through art and decided to hold an exhibition where 80 per cent of any proceeds from the exhibition and card sales would be divided between the charities UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust,” says Linda. 

“Because of the continuing horrors being endured by the Syrian people, it feels important to celebrate life and beauty at this time.”

Many of Linda’s pieces in the exhibition are illustrations inspired by the words of Abu Waad and based on Syrian carpet designs found in her research. All the work is mixed media, incorporating painted papers, drawing, and stencil.  

As well as work directly relating to the story of Abu Waad, further pieces take the theme of The Oasis in celebration of secure and beautiful places, such as gardens, set in harsh environments.

“The Lemon Tree Trust is involved in helping refugees create gardens in their strange new surroundings, and so I’ve included an artwork about the journeys made by refugees who often travel carrying seeds from home,” says Linda.

“Both the UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust have responded positively to this exhibition, offering materials for display and distribution. I’m grateful for the good work that they do.”

Linda’s The Last Gardener Of Aleppo will be launched on February 25 from 8.30pm.

Hazelnut, by Linda Combi

Here, Charles Hutchinson interviews Linda Combi ahead of The Last Gardener Of Aleppo opening.

What form did your research take, Linda?

“I watched the Channel 4 News story The Last Gardener Of Aleppo over and over again on YouTube, drawing Abu Waad and his son Ibrahim, and taking down the words of Abu Waad about his love of flowers and plants.

“I then found images of Syrian carpets on the net, but also visited the Islamic Room of the British Museum to draw from their decorative tiles.

“I needed images of drones, of bombers, and of destruction from bombing, sadly too often available on the news.

“Finally, I downloaded a map of Aleppo, which I then used for my collages.  York Central MP Rachael Maskell’s talk at a public meeting a few years ago, about how events in Syria have unfolded, was really informative, and I thank her for that.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, can art be mightier than the bomb (in the long run)? 

“I’ve been very inspired by the works of Banksy, particularly his public art on The Wall in Palestine, and his Bethlehem ‘Walled Off Hotel’.

Desert Flower, by Linda Combi

“Political cartoons are powerful instruments for highlighting hypocrisy and dictatorship.  Picasso’s Guernica is horribly relevant today.

“OK, these art forms haven’t stopped the bombing, but they have shone a light on the atrocities. As well as enriching our lives and reminding us of joy, art can be critical and informative and have the power to undermine those in power.  

“I’ve been hugely impressed by the creativity shown in the placards seen on the streets during protests during the past few years.” 

Poppies are so evocative of the First World War. Your art is embracing flower power too. What makes them such a potent symbol in the face of human atrocities?

“As a San Francisco hippie who discovered the joys of gardening on arriving in the UK, I do believe in flower power.

“Abu Waad’s flowers brought moments of joy to the citizens of Aleppo during the destruction of that city, and who saw death all around them. He believed that flowers could ‘nourish the soul’.

Despite Everything, by Linda Combi

“I’ve always been impressed by how flowers and their ’seasons’ are so important to the British. The arrival of snowdrops, then the daffodils, followed by bluebells and tulips: all herald the end of a long and dark winter. So, in an extreme situation like war, flowers bring a sense of the life force even more powerfully.”

What work do the charities UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust do?

“The UNHCR is the global United Nations Refugee Agency, which aims to save lives, protect rights and help refugees to work for a peaceful and productive future.

“They also help displaced communities and stateless people, and they believe everybody has the right to seek asylum from violence and persecution, war or disaster. “Their work is varied, involving education, providing shelter, protecting migrants at risk, and highlighting the desperate plight of migrants around the world.

“The Lemon Tree Trust believe that ‘gardening has the power to positively address issues of isolation and mental health’.

“They help to create community gardens in refugee camps by working with those refugees who are so very far from home.

The Flower Is The Essence Of The World, by Linda Combi

“The Refugee Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show was a moving example of how important this can be for refugees. One woman said, ‘We had so many flowers in Syria. This garden makes me happy’.”

What materials have the two charities offered for display and distribution?

“They’ve been very enthusiastic about the exhibition and have offered posters, leaflets, T-shirts and stickers, as well as publicising the exhibition on their social media.”

What are you working on next?

“The next project will be work with Refugee Action York on some teaching materials. I’d also love to do more T-shirt designs for the Good Organisation, who work with the homeless in York.

“As for personal work, I’ll be continuing the theme of migration, but this time the emphasis will be on borders.

“I’ve lived in San Diego for a time and have witnessed migrants being sent back over the border to Mexico after attempts trying to get into the USA.

“We walked along part of The Wall dividing Mexico and the USA and talked to border patrol officers there.

This Tree Will Live – Despite Everything, by Linda Combi

“My time in Israel also fed into my preoccupation with walls and divisiveness. My Sicilian ancestors came to the USA not knowing what the future held for them, but they were made welcome and did create a good life and a large family.

“I was welcomed to the UK many years ago, and so the issue of immigration has been central to my life.”

Will you be creating one of your humorous York calendars for 2021?

“It’s too late for a 2021 calendar but I’d love to create one for a charity.  

“As for the York calendars, I feel that though the tourist boom in York might have boosted the economy, luxury flats and new cafes and restaurants aren’t inspiring to draw!

“However, I can imagine being enticed by the prospect of a calendar that would celebrate quirky, lesser-known pubs hidden away in York.”

Linda Combi’s poster for her Angel on the Green exhibition

Linda Combi: The Last Gardener Of Aleppo exhibition, Angel on the Green, Bishopthorpe Road, York, February 25 to April 6.

Next Thursday’s gig will be “feminist, sexy and straight from heart”, vows Bonneville

Bonnie Milnes of Bonneville And The Bailers

BONNEVILLE And The Bailers, the York band du jour you just have to see, will play The Crescent in York on February 20.

“This show is what I’ve been working towards for the past six months with my fabulous new band The Bailers,” says Bonnie Milnes, the fast-rising York combo’s singer and country-noir songwriter. “I’ve loved smashing out hits with these world-class musicians and can’t wait to take it to the stage at a venue I’ve always dreamed of headlining. 

“Next Thursday’s audience can expect a mix of heart break and full-frontal sass as I write material on some tough times with some kickass comeback songs. I’d describe the show as feminist, sexy and straight from heart.”

Before then, on Wednesday, Bonnie is “so excited to be sharing a new single, Baby Drive, with an absolutely beautiful video shot by Luke Downing on a beautiful day at Rufforth Airfield, starring myself and my best friend and bass player Jack Garry”. “The song’s about thinking you’re in love with your best friend,” she says.

Bonnie Milnes and Jack Garry in a still from Luke Downing’s video for Baby Drive, Bonneville And The Bailers’ new single. View the video at https://youtu.be/h6H9Va9RNjA

Looking ahead, Bonnie says: “We don’t have any other York shows lined up but we have got an exciting little tour of gigs that kicks off tomorrow (February 11) in Hull [at 9.15pm at The Sesh at The Polar Bear, in Spring Bank] and we’ll be supporting York’s own Benjamin Francis Leftwich at Komedia, Brighton, on February 26.”

Meanwhile, Bonnie has been building a rehearsal studio with Young Thugs’ sound technician Matt Woollons. “Called Boom, this has been my base for writing, rehearsing and – before long – recording something new,” she says.

Tickets for February 20 cost £8 at eventbrite.co.uk/e/bonnie-and-the-bailers or seetickets.com, or in person from Earworm Records, in Powells Yard, Goodramgate, or The Crescent, off Blossom Street. Alternatively, pay more on the door from 7.30pm.

Saxon frontman Bill Byford goes solo with album and Leeds City Varieties gig

Solo mission: Saxon singer Biff Byford

SAXON frontman Biff Byford will release his debut solo album, School Of Hard Knocks, on February 21, backed up by his first ever solo tour in the spring.

Among the ten British dates for the 69-year-old West Yorkshireman will be Leeds City Varieties Music Hall on April 21.

In a show of two halves in ”An Evening With…” format, Honley-born Byford will be in conversation with American comedian Don Jamieson in the first, discussing his life and career with the That Metal Show star. After the break, Byford and his band will perform new tracks, covers and maybe a sprinkling of Saxon gold dust.

The tour poster for Bill Byford’s ten spring dates

“It’s a show I’ve wanted to do for a long time and one which I don’t think has been done in hard rock before. It’s going to be something a little bit different, it will be very cool and a lot of fun,” says Byford, who played bass for assorted Barnsley bands as a teenager by night while working at a colliery by day.

“The second half will consist of some old songs, some new songs, some cover versions and some songs off the solo album. It’s going to be great and I’m really looking forward to it. So, I’ll see you there.”

The album artwork for Bill Byford’s School Of Hard Knocks

Produced by Byford at Brighton Electric Studios, School Of Hard Knocks reflects the personality of this “Heavy Metal Bard of the North”, his loves and musical versatility. Fulfilling his long-standing wish to explore rock’n’roll a little more, the album takes a personal journey, highlighting his life and his passionate interests, from growing up in the industrial north to the history of the Middle Ages.

Byford’s old-school British hard rock album embraces a variety of musical genres, taking in the Yorkshire folk classic Scarborough Fair, most famously covered in the 1960s by Simon & Garfunkel and now given a new arrangement by Byford and guitarist Fredrik Åkesson.

Tickets for April 21 are on sale at myticket.co.uk, cityvarieties.co.uk or on 0113 243 0808.

Louis Tomlinson’s one direction on August 15 will be Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Louis Tomlinson: set fair for Scarborough this summer

LOUIS Tomlinson is extending his debut solo world tour to take in Scarborough Open Air Theatre on August 15.

Tickets for the chart-topping Yorkshire singer-songwriter go on general sale at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com on Friday at 9am.

One fifth of One Direction, Doncaster-born Tomlinson, 28, released his debut album Walls on January 31.

“I feel like this is the start of my career, with so much to look forward to and all the plans in place,” he says. “Honestly, I’ve been through every emotion possible in the past few years and come out the other side stronger and more confident than I’ve ever been.

“I know I’ve made an album that my fans will like, one that sounds like me and has its own identity. There were times I wasn’t sure if this was what I should be doing. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Opening in Barcelona on March 9, Tomlinson’s world tour will play Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Sydney, Tokyo, Rio De Janeiro and five sold-out British dates nights before heading to North America. 

Peter Taylor, director of Scarborough OAT promoters Cuffe & Taylor, is delighted to be bringing Tomlinson to the East Coast. “Louis was an integral part of the biggest global pop phenomenon of the past 20 years and is also a proud Yorkshireman, so this is going to be a must-see date for his fans.

“His debut album is brilliant and demand for tickets for his World Tour has been immense. We cannot wait to welcome Louis and his fans to this special arena for what will be a fantastic night.”

Post One Direction, Tomlinson began his solo days with two collaborations, Just Hold On with Steve Aoki and the brooding duet Back To You with Bebe Rexha. Last year, the singles flowed: the raucous Kill My Mind; the heartfelt Two Of Us; the reflective We Made It and the soaring Don’t Let It Break Your Heart.

Now comes Walls, an album with a nod to his love of indie-rock and lyrics “rooted in real life that dig deep on subjects ranging from relationships and family to the folly of youth and days of self-doubt”.

Tomlinson’s August 15 tickets also will be available from Friday on 01723 818111 and 01723 383636 or in person from the Scarborough Open Air Theatre box office, in Burniston Road, and the Discover Yorkshire Coast Tourism Bureau, Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street.

OBITUARY: Roy Gittins, 1929-2020, York Opera director and chairman

Roy Gittins, York Opera director and chairman

YORK Opera members past and present have been saddened to hear of the death of founder member, director and chairman Roy Gittins.

A chemistry teacher – indeed head of chemistry at Tadcaster Grammar School until his retirement – Roy also had a lifelong love of theatre.

Initially, this was as an amateur actor in roles ranging from William Shakespeare to Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, before he was introduced by teaching colleague John Warburton to a group of young singers on the cusp of “graduating” from the York Youth Operatic and Choral Society.

Not finding a company in York to suit their love of opera and operetta, instead they formed City Opera Group in 1966, Roy joining as their mentor and first chairman.

Over a 25-year span, he directed around 40 operas, including Verdi’s Nabucco and Macbeth, Rossini’s William Tell and Vaughan Williams’s unjustly neglected English folk opera Hugh The Drover, a production highly praised by the composer’s widow, Ursula Vaughan Williams, who came to see it.

After working for many years in the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Roy oversaw the move of major shows to York Theatre Royal with his production of Puccini’s Turandot in 1986, when the company became known as York Opera.

His contribution to York Opera and the musical and artistic life of York has been immense and he will be remembered with great affection and gratitude. Roy leaves a daughter, Rachel Morgan, and son, Paul Gittins, to whom York Opera send their love and deepest sympathy.

Lives of military wives left behind are nothing to sing about in Kevin Dyer’s play

The poster artwork for Farnham Maltings’ tour of Kevin Dyer’s The Man Who Left Is Not The Man Who Came Home

HELMSLEY Arts Centre will be the only Yorkshire stop for Kevin Dyer’s new play on the lives of military wives, The Man Who Left Is Not The Man Who Came Home.

“Britain has armed forces in many countries. Their partners are waiting at home for them to come back,” says writer-director Dyer, ahead of the March 14 performance by the Farnham Maltings company. “Some listen to the news, some don’t. Some have affairs, some don’t. Some sing in choirs and put on a brave face, some don’t. All of them find a way to get on with it.”

Dyer began his research by chatting to women who had been married to men who had gone to war. “Most of us with partners say goodbye to them when they go to work, but we know that they’re going to come back. Not so, if you’re a ‘military wife’,” he says.

“It soon became clear in my conversations that the pressures on the pair of them – the wife and her man – were immense, extraordinary and not at all like civvy street.”

Dyer knew quickly that he had no wish to write about the experience of being “over there”. “There are lots of documentaries and pieces of semi-fiction that have covered that,” he reasons. “But the stories of the women who watched their man go, spent time thinking, wondering, hoping, coping whilst he was away, then experienced him coming back home, were vivid, inspiring, and largely untold.”

He had a few “basic questions” for the women whose men went to war. “What was it like before he went? What was it like saying goodbye? What was it like once he’d gone? What was it like the moment he came back? What was it like after the first buzz of his return had passed?” he asked.

“I heard stories of love, hate, betrayal, uselessness, kids, mates, denial, madness,” says Dyer. “The stories are varied and never simple.”

The Man Who Left Is Not the Man Who Came Home is the product of more than 100 one-to-one interviews with soldiers and their wives, where secrets, regrets and experiences have been shared for the first time.

The resulting play tells the story of Ashley, a young British soldier, and his wife Chloe just before, during and after he is posted to serve in Afghanistan.

“Chloé’s future hopes come with imminent challenges,” says Dyer. “Being married to the military means facing deployment. Behind closed doors, there is tenderness and humour too, but as the day of Ashley’s departure comes ever closer, anxiety and confrontations multiply.

Dyer’s story of resilience, hope and change – and knowing that the man you love, who is going to war, might not come back ­– will be performed by Stephanie Greer and Sam C Wilson with military wife Sam Trussler. An open conversation on the themes of the play and the country we live in will follow the 7.30pm performance.

Dyer’s play, both innovative and emotional, carries this warning: “Though we hope that the experience of the play will be moving, relatable or cathartic, and there’s no intention to shock, there’s a chance that, for some audience members, it could incite emotions and memories that are upsetting or strong feelings about war.”

Tickets are on sale on 01439 771700 or at helmsleyartscentre.co.uk. Age guidance: 14+ only.


The Red Barn Murder as it has never been told before…from the victim’s viewpoint

The Ballad Of Maria Marten playwright Beth Flintoff

GOODBYE Polstead, say hello to The Ballad Of Maria Marten, the new name for
Beth Flintoff’s captivating drama that first toured in 2018.

Directed by Hal Chambers in tandem with Ivan Cutting, an all-female cast
will embark on a spring tour from Tuesday at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph
Theatre, led by Elizabeth Crarer, who returns to the title role for Flintoff’s
re-telling of a real-life Suffolk murder mystery in Summer 1827.

In a red barn, Maria Marten awaits her lover. A year later, her body is
found under the floor of the barn in a grain sack, barely identifiable, and the
manhunt begins.

Maria’s story sent shock waves throughout the country. The Red Barn Murder,
as it became known, was national news, inspiring writers and filmmakers down
the ages.

Here was the sort of gruesome tale that had all the hallmarks of a classic
crime drama: a missing body, a country location, a disreputable squire and a
village stuck in its age-old traditions.

However, amid all the hysteria, Maria’s own story has become lost – until this
play. Chambers and Flintoff’s spine-tingling rediscovery of her tale brings it
back to vivid, urgent life.

Flintoff, a freelance playwright and theatre director from Hampshire, was asked
by co-director Cutting to write the play.

She was immediately intrigued, not only because she had never heard of the
murder, but also because she then learnt how the story previously had been
told.

“Ivan approached me after seeing another play that I’d written, which was
set in the early 12
th century,” she recalls. “We met in Polstead,
Suffolk, to walk through the village, and I was fascinated. In particular, Ivan
wanted the story to focus on Maria because so many versions of this tale are
centred around William Corder.” 

Beth continues: “From the moment of the trial, the focus was on the
murderer, not Maria. No-one seemed to be looking carefully at the intricacies
of her life, beyond the basics. So, I wanted to tell the story entirely from
her point of view.

“We are often presented with stories of women as ‘victims’, rather than as
interesting, complicated people who had hopes and dreams, friends and lives of
their own.”

For her research, Flintoff stayed in Ipswich for a while and walked around Polstead
to gain a sense of how she lived her life. “I visited all the locations of
Maria’s life that I thought would be mentioned in the play: Layham, Sudbury,
Hadleigh. I went to the Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds, which has
relics relating to the murder, and the Records Office in Ipswich to look at
newspaper reports,” she says.

“I talked to local people to try and understand what everyone thinks now
(the answer: everyone that knows of it has a different version!). Then I spent
a lot of time in libraries: the University of Sussex Library, the British
Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford.” 

Flintoff notes that amid the profusion of accounts of the story, whether from the time of the murder or much more recent, they are all very different. “Some are truly horrible about Maria, others make her out to be an angelic village maiden, and some offer some pretty bizarre theories about Ann,” she says.

“One offered ‘hints to the ladies’ on how to avoid marrying a murderer in
the future. Several anxiously urged women not to be so promiscuous, to avoid
being murdered themselves. None suggested that men stop murdering. Needless to
say, I could not find any contemporary accounts written by a woman. 

“Then I put all the research aside and tried to think about Maria as a person.
Who does she love, what do they talk about, what does she do when she’s having
fun? I didn’t want her to be a victim any more. Maria emerged as intelligent,
brave and wryly funny, just like the survivors I had met.” 

What does Flintoff anticipate this week’s SJT audience will take away from The Ballad Of Maria Marten? “First of all, I hope they enjoy
themselves! That’s my number one job really. It’s not a laugh-a-minute sort of
play but you can still enjoy a story, even if it’s full of sadness.

“But also I hope they enjoy watching these actresses, as I have, working
together to tell this story about a woman who has somehow got lost in the
retelling of her own murder.” 

Secondly, she hopes they feel the story is still relevant. “On average, two
women are killed every week by their partner or ex-partner in this country,”
Beth says. “I feel increasingly that this story is not about the past but the
present: how are we going to let women speak for themselves when there is so
much history of being ignored?

“I feel very optimistic for the future. I think things are going to change,
and it’s wonderful to be living in that change, but it’s going to take work.”

The Ballad Of Maria Marten will run in the Round at the Stephen
Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from Tuesday,February 11 to 15 at 7.30pm nightly,
plus matinees at 1.30pm on February 13 and 2.30pm on February 15. Tickets,
priced from £10, are on sale on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: VERY  SORRY THE TEXT IS MISBEHAVING. NO IDEA WHY IT IS, BUT HOPEFULLY THIS DOES NOT SPOIL ANY ENJOYMENT OF READING THE STORY. CH

REVIEW: Kneehigh’s Ubu! The Sing Along Satire. Who knew politics could be this much fun?

Riotous: Ubu (Katy Owen) and Mrs Ubu (Mike Shepherd) in Ubu! The Sing Along Satire

REVIEW: Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, tonight at 7.30pm. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk

ALEX, the woodsman-bearded drama teacher from York, won’t forget his afternoon visit to Leeds Playhouse, thrashed by a Leeds boy in a daft party game in Kneehigh’s promenade musical.

He loved it! We loved it! You’ll love it! Yet again, Cornwall’s Kneehigh send you home dizzy and delirious with the joys and jolts, the thrilling rock’n’rollercoaster ride, of theatre that aptly comes with an exclamation mark in its show title.

Ubu! A Sing Along Satire has politics, a big flushing loo, cheers and boos, inflatable animals, songs, more politics, more songs, competitive audience participation and a giant bear with poor vision in a chaotic, kinetic, karaoke cabaret circus of derailed life under a deranged dictator.

First, house lights up, Delycia Belgrave and the soul house band The Sweaty Bureaucrats set the boisterous mood from up on high with party anthems.

Enter our convivial, dry-witted host in vest, tie and striped trousers, Jeremy Wardle (Niall Ashdown), commenting on the state of the British nation as he introduces the land of Lovelyville and the campaign trail of sleek, sloganeering President Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote), his woke daughter Bobbi (Kyla Goodey) and their Russian security boss Captain Shittabrique (Adam Sopp). Shitt-a-brique. Geddit. There are plenty more risqué gags like that to follow.

Where’s Ubu? Here’s Ubu! Tiny yet hugely impactful Katy Owen’s unhinged, petulant, crude and cruel soon-to-be-dictator Ubu. Potty mouthed, bespectacled, dreadlocked, Welsh voiced, and in the words of Kneehigh: “impossibly greedy, unstoppably rude, inexorably daft and hell-bent on making the country great again! Sound familiar?”

Familiar, yes, but told so gleefully afresh, as Alfred Jarry’s famously riot-inducing shot of anarchy from 1896 Paris kicks up a song and dance in the manipulative era of Trump, Johnson and Putin.

Conceived by writer Carl Grose, his co-director Mike Shepherd (the show’s ribald, preening Mrs Ubu) and musical director Charles Hazlewood, Ubu! is a punk-spirited, twisted vaudeville study of power, protest and populism that could not be better timed.

Boos for Katie Hopkins, Boris and Trump; Britney’s Toxic, The Carpenters’ Close To You and Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk re-invented so joyfully; wonderful performances all round, audience included; crazily energetic choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves and a constantly busy, circular rostrum set by Michael Vale all make for another Kneehigh knees-up high.

Cause a riot, if needs must, to secure a ticket for this petty, power-mad protagonist’s panto of pandemonium.

Misbehaviour encouraged in Hungate Clearances show at York library tonight

Not sorry to be a nuisance at York Explore tonight

WHISPER it loudly, the word is out that history will misbehave tonight at York Explore Library, Library Square, York, from 7.30pm to 9pm.

Why? Because the air will be thick with Paul Birch’s live audio drama The Nuisance Inspector, wherein a sinister slice of York’s past, the Hungate Clearances, will be re-told.

Birch travels back to the 1930s when York’s newest Health Inspector encounters more than he bargains for in the mysterious and extraordinary alleys and yards of Hungate.

A strange body in the Foss, ghostly goings-on in Carmelite Street and an unlikely romance all feature in this moving tale of love, loss and community spirit.

Based on real events and inspired by letters, maps, books and photographs from the civic archives, The Nuisance Inspector uses drama, comedy and live music to transport the audience into a powerful and poignant past.

Tonight’s immersive performance comes in the wake of two sold-out shows in December. Doors open at 7pm for the 7.30pm start and tickets are FREE. Be sure to arrive in good time for start.

Fiona Shaw to talk at LGBT History Month show of Tell It To The Bees at City Screen

Anna Paquin and Holly Grainger in Tell It To The Bees

YORK author Fiona Shaw will discuss the screen adaptation of her novel Tell It To The Bees after the 6.30pm screening of Annabel Jankel’s film at City Screen, York, on March 4.

This live question-and-answer session will mark the conclusion of LGBT History Month, when Fiona will be interviewed by Dr Hannah Roche, lecturer in 20th century literature and culture at the University of York.

Under discussion will be Fiona’s 2009 book and its ten-year journey from page to screen, and the audience will have the chance to ask questions.

Tell It To The Bees is set in small-town 1950s’ Britain as a doctor develops a relationship with her young patient’s mother. Lydia Weekes (played by Holliday Grainger) is distraught at the break-up of her marriage, but when her young son, Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), makes friends with the local doctor, Jean Markham (Anna Paquin), her life is turned upside down. 

York author Fiona Shaw: Q and A at City Screen, York, on March 4

Charlie tells his secrets to no-one but the bees, but even he cannot keep his mother’s friendship to himself. In the claustrophobic 1950s, however, the locals do not like things done differently.  As Lydia and the doctor become closer, rumours start to fly, threatening to shatter Charlie’s world. 

Fiona will be selling and signing copies of Tell It To The Bees after the screening, along with copies of her most recent novel, 2018’s Outwalkers. 

In addition, she has volunteered to visit book groups in York and the surrounding area. If interested, please contact Fiona via her website, fiona-shaw.com.

Tickets for March 4’s event are on sale on 0871 902 5726 or at picturehouse.com.

REVIEW: Made In Dagenham, re-made in York, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company

Jennie Wogan as Rita O’Grady in Made In Dagenham

REVIEW: Made In Dagenham, The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office:  01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

MADE In Dagenham, re-made in York, is the third production by the Jospeh Rowntree Theatre Company, formed to raise funds for the Haxby Road community theatre.

A good cause, in other words, and the more companies that use this ever-welcoming theatre, the better. The more companies that rise up to tread its boards, the better, too, because York is suffused with musical theatre talent and also with audiences always keen to support such productions.

This week represents the chance to see the York premiere of Made In Dagenham, transferred from screen to stage by composer David Arnold, lyricist Richard Thomas and Richard Bean, the Hull playwright whose comedy dramas revel in confrontations, spats and politics on stage (witness One Man, Two Guvnors and Toast, for example).

Bean re-tells the true 1968 story of the women in the stitching room of Ford’s Dagenham car plant being stitched up by both management and corrupt union, bluntly told their pay is to be dropped to an “unskilled” grade. What follows is a fight for equal pay, standing up against an American corporation, and if the battle is less well known than the Suffragette movement of the 1900s, it is a women’s rights landmark nonetheless.

From the off, once an ensemble number loosens limb and voice alike for Kayleigh Oliver’s cast, the banter amid the graft of the sewing machinists is boisterously established, the humour full of double entendres and sexual bravado, as characters are drawn pleasingly quickly. So too are their interactions with the men at the car plant, and in the case of Rita O’Grady (Jennie Wogan), working wife and mother of two, her home life with husband Eddie (Nick Sephton).

Rita, together with Rosy Rowley’s Connie Riley, become the protagonists of the struggle, but at a cost: for one, her relationship, for the other, her health. Wogan and Rowley are both tremendous in the drama’s grittier scenes and knock the hell out of their big numbers.

Bean writes with more sentimentality than usual, charting the fracturing of Rita and Eddie’s relationship, but it suits the heightened tone of a musical. Sephton handles his ballad lament particularly well.

Jennifer Jones’s Sandra, Izzy Betts’ Clare and, in particular, Helen Singhateh’s lewd Beryl add to the car plant fun and games, as does Chris Gibson’s ghastly American management guy, Tooley. All your worst Stetson-hatted American nightmares in one, and post-Brexit, there’ll soon be more where he came from!

You will enjoy Martyn Hunter’s pipe-smoking caricature of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and director Kayleigh Oliver’s no-nonsense Barbara Castle too. Richard Goodall is good all round as the machinists’ hard-pressed union rep.

Supporting roles and ensemble serve the show well too, and if sometimes the sound balance means lines are hard to hear when the Timothy Selman’s orchestra is playing beneath them, it is a minor problem. Selman’s players, Jessica Douglas and Sam Johnson among them, are on good form throughout.

Lorna Newby’s choreography could be given a little more oomph but with so many on stage at times, space is tight. One routine, where the women move in circles one way, and the men do likewise the other way, outside them, works wonderfully, however.

Made In Dagenham may be a car plant story, but its factory politics resonate loudly nanew in York, the industrial city of chocolate and trains.

Please note, Made In Dagenham features some very strong language and may be unsuitable for children.

Cosmic Collective on course to make out of this world theatre with Heaven’s Gate

Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

FOUR‌ ‌cups‌ ‌of‌ ‌Apple‌ ‌Sauce.‌ ‌Four‌ ‌canvas‌ ‌camp‌ ‌beds.‌ ‌One‌ ‌Comet.‌ ‌Heaven’s‌ ‌Gate‌ ‌is‌ ‌closing‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Away‌ ‌Team‌ ‌are‌ ‌ready‌ ‌for‌ ‌Graduation, but whatever you do, don’t mention the C-word. Cult.

Premiered by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre at last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York, ‌‌the 55-minute Heaven’s Gate is orbiting Yorkshire on its first tour, playing the Visionari community programming group’s Studio Discoveries season at the York Theatre Royal Studio tonight (February 7) at 7.45pm.

Written by company co-founder Joe Feeney, this ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy ‌imagines‌ ‌the‌ ‌final‌ ‌hour‌ ‌of‌ ‌four‌ ‌fictionalised‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌real-life ‌ ‌‌UFO-theistic‌ ‌group, Heaven’s Gate.‌ ‌

“As‌ ‌they‌ ‌prepare‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‘Graduation’‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘Kingdom‌ ‌of Heaven’, initially the excitement is palpable, but soon the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear,” says Joe, an alumnus of York Theatre Royal Youth, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.‌

Is‌ ‌the Heavenly‌ ‌Father‌ ‌really‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌spaceship?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌actually‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌recycled?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌castration‌ ‌obligatory‌ ‌or‌ ‌not?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌Turkey‌ ‌Potpie‌ ‌an‌ ‌underwhelming‌ ‌last‌ ‌supper?‌ ‌ ‌

“I’ve always been interested in slightly unusual stories, like the paranormal,” says Joe. “I remember reading about the Heaven’s Gate cult, a real-life cult in San Diego, California, who believed God was an alien in a space ship and they were aliens too but wearing the bodies of humans, but actually being versions who would be beamed up to heaven.

“A lot of their religious mantras were from Star Trek and Star Wars, and they all had matching hair-dos and tracksuit clothing.”

Joe was not aware of any previous fictionalised works telling the Heaven’s Gate story. “About 18 months ago, I was watching this BBC Four documentary about meteorites, and it got to 1997 and they started talking about the Comet Hale-Bopp in the sky in March that year,” he recalls.”

“They mentioned an American cult who said it was a calling from God and they could see a UFO in the trail that would take them to heaven.”

These are the facts: On March 26, 1997, the San Diego County Sheriff’s department discovered 39 bodies of Heaven’s Gate members in a house in the suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.  They had participated in a mass suicide, co-ordinated in ritual suicides, in the belief they would reach the aforementioned extraterrestrial space craft trailing in Comet Hale-Bopp’s slipstream.

“Learning about this, the story quickly went from humour to thinking that, ‘oh my god, people need to hear this story and the terrible things they all went through,” says Joe.

“That’s why I’ve written about the fictionalised last hour of four members, drawing on the iconography and ideology of other cults, as well as Heaven’s Gate, in the play.”

Joe has created four “relatable characters”. “They are everyday people who found themselves in the right or wrong place and who felt themselves being swept up in it,” he says.

His writing tone is humorous but darkly so. “The play is a comedy, albeit a black comedy that takes the subject seriously but in a satirical way, managing to find a critique within that satire,” he says.

In the publicity material, Cosmic Collective Theatre make a point of saying “Don’t say the C-word. Cult!”. Why not, Joe?

“The word ‘cult’ always has a stigma to it, but a lot of people in cults don’t know they’re in a cult. They think that they’re in a religion. I don’t want to stigmatise it,” he says. “What’s the difference between God being in a UFO and God being someone with a white beard?

“We hope there are 39 people in a spaceship on the other side of the world. That’s a lovely thought, but the reality is those people are buried somewhere in America.”

Joe was keen to address another subject in the play, amid the rising tide of intolerance and division in the 21st century. “Heaven’s Gate is also about identity, how we make our journey through the world, when we’re now living in a polarised world where we all pin our beliefs to the mast,” he says.

Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre‌, who enjoyed a sold-out run at the‌ ‌Drayton‌ ‌Arms‌ ‌Theatre‌, ‌London, after the York premiere, have so far played Harrogate Theatre Studio and The Carriageworks, Leeds, on tour. Still to come are Hull Truck Theatre Studio, on February 14 at 8pm and Slung Low at Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, on February 16 at 5pm.

‌Joining Joe and Anna in the cast are ‌Lewes‌ ‌Roberts‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Cresswell‌. “The four of us all went to Mountview [Academy of Theatre Arts]. Myself, Lewes and Kate were there from 2015 to 2018; Anna was in the year above – and we’d already been part of the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre together and worked backstage there too,” says Joe.

“We started the company with a punk ethos, and this time last year I wrote Heaven’s Gate and we managed to get it into the Great Yorkshire Fringe festival last summer. On the back of that, we got a London run, and now we’ve booked this winter tour, stopping off at venues all four of us have admired or performed in,

“We kind of shot for the moon with all the venues we wanted to do, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We had a bucket list of ideal locations and virtually all of them said ‘yes’. Doing the tour at the start of the year is great too, as we can then plan the rest of the year, like going back to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

Performing at York Theatre Royal has particular resonance for Joe and Anna. “This‌ ‌is‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌special‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,” says Joe. “I’ve been ‌‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌for‌ ‌more than‌ ‌20‌ ‌years. I was a ‌Youth‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌member‌ ‌for‌ ten-plus years and‌ ‌have worked‌ ‌as‌ ‌crew‌ ‌backstage‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌off‌ ‌since‌ ‌2010.‌

“‌As‌ ‌an‌ ‌actor, I’ve ‌ ‌performed‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌internationally, but‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌will‌ ‌compare‌ ‌to‌ ‌performing‌ ‌at‌ ‌home‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌wonderful‌ ‌theatre. It’s honestly‌ ‌a‌ ‌dream‌ ‌come‌ ‌true.”‌ ‌

Anna‌‌ ‌agrees: ‌‌“I‌ ‌wouldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌working‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌industry‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌for‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre Royal Youth‌ ‌Theatre,‌ ‌which‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌greatest‌ ‌youth‌ ‌theatre‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌country!” she says. “‌To‌ ‌return‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌years‌ ‌later‌ ‌and‌ ‌perform‌ ‌here‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌professional‌ ‌actor‌ ‌is‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌privilege.”‌

Explaining why Cosmic Collective Theatre  are so named, Joe says: “First of all, we were a collective, with our own individual strengths, but given that our first play is ‘astronomical’, ‌and we want to make theatre that is out of this world, we settled on that name and we’ve gone from strength to strength.

“It was our first goal to do the Great Yorkshire Fringe and we had the honour of doing the first play on The Arts Barge’s new home, the Selby Tony barge on the Ouse, so we can always say we had our world premiere on water and then our world premiere on land in the Basement at City Screen a couple of days later…on two days that happened to be the hottest two days of the year!

“Me and Anna have been involved with Arts Barge for ten years, with Anna’s mum performing in the Bargestra, and so it felt like a homecoming doing the first show. As does this return now, performing as professional actors at the Theatre Royal for the first time.”

York tickets for Heaven’s Gate can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk; The Holbeck, slunglow.org/event/heavens-gate.  ‌

Please note: Heaven’s Gate ‌contains‌ ‌references‌ ‌to‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and‌ ‌suicide and has ‌mild swearing.‌ ‌Age recommendation: 15 plus.

Preacherman in One Foot In The Rave, the closing show of Visionari’s Studio Discoveries programme

DO mention the C-word. Cult!

The Visionari community programming group’s final choice for this week’s Studio Discoveries season is One Foot In The Rave, the debut verse play by writer and performance poet Alexander Rhodes at the York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow (February 8) at 7.45pm.

Rhodes relates the story of a disillusioned 23-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, who breaks free free from the cult and lands on the Ecstasy-fuelled dance floors of Nineties’ clubland. Shunned by everyone he knows, he is not prepared for what lies ahead.

“In 1976, Sean’s world changes for ever. Dragged into a doomsday cult, by parents who are struggling to find their own identities, the family are brainwashed into believing the end of the world is nigh. But the route to salvation is not as it seems,” says Rhodes, introducing his his verse play.

Billed as “an energetic mix of agony and total Ecstasy”, One Foot In The Rave is set to a backdrop of club classics as Rhodes moves hypnotically between the characters and scenes to deliver the chemical highs and pitiful lows. Expect wry observations, chemically induced inspirations and twisted logic in a warmly witty, soulful, self-aware story of survival.

Who Is Alexander Rhodes?

“Alexander Rhodes” is just an idea…says “Alexander Rhodes”.

This idea is, in fact, the third incarnation of a career as a DJ and producer spanning 18 years. Having moved through three different genres, each with its own stage name and distinctive sound, the Alexander Rhodes music project became a spoken-word and performance art project in early 2015.

“If you look hard enough you will find a few house music mixes here, the odd chill out track there, echoing in the digital ether,” he says.

Since 2015, “Alexander” has written and performed spoken word all over the UK. He started Plymouth’s Pucker Poets, hosts of a regular poetry slam for cash competition.

Rhodes has taken part in numerous poetry slams and will take One Foot In The Rave on tour in April and May 2020.

Visionari Studio Discoveries presents Alexander Rhodes: One Foot In The Rave, York Theatre Royal Studio, tomorrow (February 8), 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or atyorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age guide: 16+; show contains drug and alcohol references.

Beatles filmmaker Tony Palmer to give talk at Harrogate Film Festival. Fab Four footage to be shown too

Film-maker Tony Palmer with The Beatles’ John Lennon

TONY Palmer, one of Britain’s greatest-ever music film-makers, will make a rare appearance at an exclusive event at next month’s Harrogate Film Festival.


The BAFTA-winning director, now 77, will reflect on working with a glittering array of Sixties and Seventies musicians in their heyday in Rock Goes To The Movies at the RedHouse Originals Gallery, Cheltenham Mount, Harrogate, on March 12.

Under discussion at 7pm will be The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Rory Gallagher, Cream, Frank Zappa, The Who, Donovan and many more, complemented by a special screening of rarely-seen footage of The Beatles, shot at the height of the 1960s by the influential and ground-breaking Palmer.


The festival event will be hosted by stalwart Harrogate Advertiser journalist Graham Chalmers, promoter of Charm events in Harrogate, in conjunction with Harrogate Film Society.

The sleeve artwork for All You Need Is Love, Tony Palmer’s series on The Story Of Popular Music


The London-born film-maker and cultural critic has more than 100 films to his name, ranging from early works with The Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher (Irish Tour ’74) and Frank Zappa (200 Motels), to his classical profiles of Maria Callas, Margot Fonteyn, John Osborne, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Wagner, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams and more besides.

Palmer, who served an apprenticeship with Ken Russell and Jonathan Miller, made the landmark film All My Loving, the first ever about pop music history, first broadcast in 1968.


He was responsible too for the iconic live film Cream Farewell Concert, shot at the supergroup’s last-ever show at the Royal Albert Hall: a memorable night with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in 1968.


All You Need Is Love, Palmer’s prime-time, 17-part TV series documenting popular music in the 20th century, was hailed as “the best and most important television survey of popular music ever” when first shown in 1977.

The Beatles: rare screening of Tony Palmer’s film of the Fab Four will be a highlight of the Harrogate Film Festival event on March 12

Among more than 40 international prizes Palmer has won over the past 50 years are 12 gold medals from the New York Film Festival, along with numerous BAFTAs and Emmy Awards.


Rock music aficionado Graham Chalmers will conduct a question-and-answer session with Palmer, and all eyes will be on the rare screening of Palmer’s Beatles film, featuring All You Need Is Love and a script by Fab Four insider Derek Taylor. Clips from Cream Farewell Concert 1968 will be shown too.


Rock Goes To The Movies with Tony Palmer is the latest in an ever-expanding line of contemporary culture events at the independent RedHouse Originals gallery, home to original artwork and limited-edition prints by international artists since 2010.  Pop artist Sir Peter Blake, rock music photographer Gered Mankowitz (of The Rolling Stones and Hendrix fame) and Wirral rock band The Coral have made appearances there.


Tickets are on sale at harrogatefilm.co.uk, on 01423 502116 or in person from Harrogate Theatre. More information on the 2020 Harrogate Film Festival at harrogatefilm.co.uk.

Lesley Birch marks the moment with Musical Abstract show at Partisan

Flurry, mixed media on canvas, one of the pieces from Lesley Birch’s new Musical Abstract Collection at Partisan, York

LESLEY Birch’s exhibition Marks & Moments at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, is a feast of colour and imagination. 

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, from Lesley’s  Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

Reverie, mixed media, by Lesley Birch, who says: “Ethereal energy in expressive brush marks – another from the Musical Abstract Collection”

Lesley’s paintings capture an atmosphere of place and moment with her own personal language of mark-making, whether on paper or on canvas, and this newly opened display showcases it all.

“When Florencia Clifford at Partisan invited me to have a show, I thought it was a grand opportunity to bring a lot of paintings into a buzzy space, where food and art are key,” says Lesley, who works out of PICA Studios, an artist collective space in Grape Lane, York.

The Old Town, oil on canvas, by Lesley Birch: scratches and atmosphere from Lesley’s Italian Collection

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low.”

Divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs, the marks and moments of Lesley’s artistic journey can be seen at Partisan until March 31. All paintings are for sale.

For more details, go to lesleybirchart.com.

REVIEW: Night of The Living Dead – Remix and Dr Korczak’s Example at Leeds Playhouse

Night Of The Living Dead – Remix: theatre and film in synchronicity

REVIEW: Night Of The Living Dead – Remix, Leeds Playhouse/Imitating The Dog, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, until February 15; Dr Korczak’s Example, Leeds Playhouse, Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse, until February 15. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk

FIRSTLY, apologies for the tardy reviewing, but there is still time aplenty to see these two contrasting yet equally impactful productions at the restructured Leeds Playhouse.

The human condition, what we do to each other, lies at the heart of both pieces, and at a time when the divisive aspects and little island mentality of Brexit are coming home to roost after cutting the umbilical cord with Europe on January 31, they are even more resonant.

American film-maker George A Romero, from The Bronx, New York,  would have turned 80 on Tuesday, making Leeds Playhouse and cutting-edge Leeds company Imitating The Dog’s co-production timely.

Romero’s trademark was gruesome horror movies, satirical in tone yet serious in their message, delivered as it was through depicting variations on a zombie apocalypse. Night Of The Living Dead, from 1968, set the template and here comes a Remix that is at once theatrical and filmic.

In a city where football coach Marcelo Bielsa preaches the value of repetition, yet still with unpredictable results, the Playhouse/Imitating The Dog company sets itself the challenge of mirroring Romero’s film, frame by frame. The two are shown side by side on screen, synchronised in motion with actors saying the lines.

Your gaze goes from screen to screen but also you watch the actors in the act of re-making the film, switching between performing and working the cameras, and defying the odds in pulling off the feat when seemingly always up against the clock with the need for improvisation, confronted  by limited resources. Round of applause, please, to Laura Atherton, Morgan Bailey, Luke Bigg, Will Holstead, Morven Macbeth, Matt Prendergast and Adela Rajnovic.

You find yourself appreciating a “dance” show as much as a theatre and film one, because the movement across, on, off, and around the stage has the ebb and flow of choreography. Another round of applause, then, to co-directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks; projection and video designer Simon Wainwright; lighting designer Andrew Crofts; composer James Hamilton and on-stage model creator and operator Matthew Tully. Laura Hopkins’s set and costume designs are a show in themselves too.

Night Of The Living Dead – Remix is not a mere tribute act of breath-taking invention and bravura humour. Instead, it seeks to give 1960s’ American social and political context to Romero’s message by bleeding in film and sound of John F Kennedy, Senator brother Robert and Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speeches and the cast’s re-enactment of coverage of their assassinations. The words echo down the years, haunting and disturbing, all the more so when matched with a zombie apocalypse.

Robert Pickavance as Dr Korczak and Gemma Barnett as Stepanie in Dr Korczak’s Example

The Playhouse’s new third performance space, the Bramall Rock Void studio, made its autumn debut with Charley Miles’s all-female Yorkshire Ripper drama There Are No Beginnings, giving voice to a blossoming North Yorkshire writer.

Now it turns the spotlight on the Holocaust in a Playhouse production timed to mark Holocaust Memorial Day(January 27) in a city with both Jewish and Polish communities. Playhouse artistic director James Brining had commissioned David Greig to write Dr Korczak’s Example when working in young people’s theatre in Scotland 20 years ago for performances in school halls, and on moving to Leeds he read it with the Playhouse youth theatre “a year or so ago”.

That prompted Brining to direct this winter’s production, turning the spotlight anew on the Polish Jewish doctor, children’s author, storyteller, broadcaster and educator Janusz Korczak, who brought liberal and progressive ideals to running a ghetto orphanage for 200 children in Warsaw.

His principles live on, becoming the basis for the United Nations Convention on the Rights Of Children that still prevails. That is the history and the present of a story that Greig turns into a play set in 1942 that is at once grim and yet hopeful because of the example of the title that Dr Korczak set.

Brining’s production is supported by the Linbury Prize for Stage Design, a prize for emerging designers that sees set and costume designer Rose Revitt turn the new studio back to rubble, with piles of bricks, dusty furniture and desks.

Greig’s play is a three hander, wherein Playhouse regular Rob Pickavance brings gravitas, warmth and sensitivity to Dr Korczak, while Danny Sykes and Gemma Barnett announce talents to watch.

Sykes plays Adzio, brittle, brutalised and psychologically damaged at the hands of adults, his 16 years of childhood stolen from him, as he becomes the latest child to be taken in by Korczak. Barnett’s Stepanie is a beacon, benefiting from Korczak’s care already and drawn to trying to help the deeply bruised Adzio.

David Shrubsole’s sound deigns and compositions complement the tone, Rachel Wise’s movement direction is as important as Brining’s direction, and the actors’ use of models (the size of Action Man, without being glib) to play out several scenes has a powerful impact too.

Having a recording of Leeds children reading Dr Korczak’s principles for children’s rights to freedom, respect and love at the play’s close is a fitting finale, one that echoes into the Leeds night air.

Charles Hutchinson    

The best things in Viking life are free at Jorvik Viking Festival. Here’s why…

Best Beard Competition: men, women, children and even dogs can compete at the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival

WHAT are the best ways to see the Vikings for free at the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival from February 15 to 23?

Families on a budget visiting the York festival can enjoy a taste of Viking life without breaking the bank, say the organisers, who are providing a host of events throughout the nine days free of charge.

Run by the York Archaeological Trust charity, the celebration of all things Norse takes over the city centre for the February half-term holiday.

Accessibility and education are at the heart of the trust’s aims, prompting festival manager Gareth Henry to explain the importance of having a mix of free and priced events. “Sharing stories about York’s past has been a huge part of what the trust has done over the past four decades,” he says.

“While we have to charge to off-set the costs for some of our events, we’re always keen to make sure there’s plenty to see and do that is completely free of charge, including the most impressive annual parade in York.”

Eric Bloodaxe catches up on the history of the Vikings in a book-reading session

The 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival free events are:

  • The Viking Encampment in Parliament Street, running daily throughout the festival from 10am to 4pm. Meet re-enactors, historic interpreters and traditional craftspeople in their living history encampment at the heart of the city.  Everyone has their own tale to tell, so take time to watch them working and listen to them sharing stories of their lives and wares.
  • Sagas on the St Sampson’s Square Stage at regular intervals each day; times will be published on a blackboard each day. Listen to heroes, explorers and settlers as they relate their stories and watch them demonstrate the battle techniques that helped to create their reputation as fearsome warriors.
  • Inaugural Viking Costume Competition, open to the public to take part at St Sampson’s Square Stage, February 15, from 3pm.The Vikings were clean, well groomed and often well dressed as a display of wealth and status.  Don’t merely watch the Vikings strut their stuff; join in!  Fashion a Viking throw or tunic out of an old blanket, scarf or top, make a cardboard shield and, hey presto, the Viking catwalk awaits.
  • The Annual Strongest Viking Competition, St Sampson’s Square Stage, February 22, 11am. Feats of endurance and strength abound as Viking competes against Viking to be proclaimed the strongest of York’s warriors.  Choose your champion and cheer them on.
Vikings on the march through York
  • The Bloodaxe Reading Challenge. Particularly good for local children, the challenge to read as many books as you can before the festival has been set up in association with Explore Libraries.  It gives the chance to win tickets to meet award-winning author Hilary Robinson as she launches her new book Jasper: Viking Dog at York Explore on February 12.
  • The Best Beard Competition, St Sampson’s Square Stage, February 22, 3pm. Beards of all description are welcome, from naturally grown to man-made, in a competition open to men, women, children and even dogs. Free entry, plus the chance to win prizes.
  • March to Coppergate, leaving from Dean’s Park, by York Minster, on February 22 at 1.30pm, when the city streets will be filled with Vikings of all ages, social status and profession as their war cries echo around the city centre. More than 200 Vikings are expected to march down to Coppergate, finishing at the Eye of York in a display of costume, weaponry and Viking style.  

Details of all the events at this year’s Jorvik Viking Festival can be found at jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk.

Ten Times Table adds up to three times in Ayckbourn committee comedy for Curry

Mark Curry’s pedantic Donald, right, with Robert Daws’ hapless committee chairman, Ray, in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, presented by Bill Kenwright’s Classic Comedy Theatre Company. All pictures: Pamela Raith

ALAN Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table is the one with “the committee from hell and a fete worse than death”.

Premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1977, when inspired by the myriad committees that formed for The Queen’s Silver Jubilee that year, Ayckbourn’s calamitous comedy by committee now forms the inaugural production by the Classic Comedy Theatre Company, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, from Monday.

This is the latest theatrical enterprise from impresario Bill Kenwright, whose Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen to Stage companies are familiar to York audiences over the past 15 years in shows replete with star names.

Among the company, alongside the likes of Robert Daws, Robert Duncan and Deborah Grant, is Mark Curry, the former Blue Peter presenter, now 57.

Taking on the role of pedantic Donald brings back memories of his own encounter with Ayckbourn, artistic director of the SJT at the time, when Mark was pretty much straight out of drama school.

“Apart from auditioning for Alan back in the day, I’ve never met him since then, but I’d love to do as he’s such a brilliant man, and I’d love to sit him down and ask him about the characters in Ten Times Table,” he says.

What did Ayckbourn say when he did audition you, Mark? “He said, ‘you’re not quite ready yet, but you have such energy’.” As perceptive as ever in his people-watching, Ayckbourn highlighted a characteristic that Curry has since brought to his career, whether on Blue Peter, in theatre roles or as a radio presenter.

As chance would have it, Ayckbourn still did play his part in Mark’s milk-teeth days as a professional actor. “I was in rep [repertory theatre] for about three years at Harrogate Theatre, when Mark Piper was the artistic director, and one of the parts I did was a non-speaking role in, ironically, Ten Times Table,” he recalls.

You’re fired! The Pendon Folk Festival committee meeting reaches crisis point in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table

“I played Max Kirkov, a really strange character who walks on and carries off the leading lady, played in that production by Jean Fergusson, who went on to be Marina in Last Of The Summer Wine for so many years.”

In fact, Mark knows Ayckbourn’s comedy very well, for this latest tour is his third encounter with Ten Times Table, a “predominantly sedentary farce” – the Scarborough playwright’s own description – set in the long-since grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel.

Here, a most miscellaneous assemblage has gathered to conduct the business of the Pendon Folk Festival, led by excitable chairman Ray. Unfortunately for Ray, his committee quickly divides as his wife Helen has a bone to pick.

Then add a nitpicking councillor, a Marxist schoolteacher, a military dog-breeder and an octogenarian secretary, and turbulence is on its way.

Second time around, Mark played Ray, the fulcrum of all the chaos, on a six-week tour. Now, director Robin Herford has cast him as Councillor Donald Evans, a character whose pen portrait for auditionees describes him as “a professional committee man who likes nothing better than a good agenda. A glasses-wearing pedant who is precise to the point of obsession; always accompanied by his mother, Audrey.”

“What made me do it this time was that Robin was directing. He was the first person to play Donald for Alan Ayckbourn in 1977, by the way, and I’d done Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre in London, with Robin directing, as he always does with that play, in 1994.  

“I remember saying to him, ‘I want to play the older guy [in Woman In Black]; I’m really ready for it’.”

Instead, Mark played The Actor, the younger role in Stephen Mallatratt’s play, but perhaps he could work on Herford during the Ten Times Table run to suggest he is even more ready now, 26 years on, to be cast as Arthur Kipps.

That’s all, folk. Another moment of despair at the Pendon Folk Festival committee meeting in the Classic Comedy Theatre Company production of Ten Times Table

Mark is no stranger to Ayckbourn plays, having appeared in Bedroom Farce, How The Other Half Loves, Season’s Greetings and Joking Apart too, and after resuming the Ten Times Table tour in late-January that began with six weeks of shows before Christmas, he is greatly enjoying the role of Donald.

“He’s described as ‘grey man’. Well, I’m grey now! He’s this pedantic, boring little man and it really bothers him when there’s a spelling mistake or grammatical error! Apparently, Alan had encountered someone like that in a committee meeting!

“Anyway, Donald, who still lives with his mum, is really obsessed with details. It’s a role as real as you could make it, and there’s so much more to this part than just being a boring little man.”

Mark is rather less enamoured by committee meetings. “I remember being on a tennis club committee at a lovely club in Horsforth. I volunteered and was very enthusiastic, but what I soon realised was that while we all had one thing in common – we all loved tennis – we were all different characters who’d end up arguing, even though we all wanted the club to thrive,” he recalls.

“You think, if this is what happens with a small-scale committee, imagine what it must be like when it matters on a world scale!” 

What next might come Mark’s way? Would he, for example, fancy playing dame in pantomime, now that such a vacancy exists at a theatre not far from the Grand Opera House? “The dame is the only role I could do in pantomime now,” he says. “It would be lovely to do it.” Watch this space!

The Classic Comedy Theatre Company in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Copyright of The Press, York

How Qdos signed up Berwick Kaler to be the Grand’s new dame in panto comeback

Putting his big boots back on: York pantomime dame Berwick Kaler, pictured here in his last Theatre Royal show, The Grand Old Dame Of York, before retiring. Now the Grand Opera House beckons. Picture: Anthony Robling

BERWICK Kaler is back, as the Grand Old Dame of York transforms into the Grand’s new dame.

Now that the Grand Opera House will be the home of his latest dame after 41 years at York Theatre Royal, both Dame Berwick and Dick Turpin will ride again from December 12 to January 10 2021.

Kaler pulled on his big boots at the Theatre Royal for the last time on February 2 2019 after announcing his retirement from Britain’s longest-running panto damehood.

Giving that retirement its P45, in favour of a re-boot, he will write and direct as well as star in Dick Turpin Rides Again, as he takes back control [to borrow a Dominic Cummings mantra]. What’s more, he will be re-uniting on stage with sidekick stooge Martin Barrass, villain David Leonard, ageless principal girl Suzy Cooper and luverly Brummie AJ Powell.

This time, the re-formed Panto Five will be on new terrain as the Grand Opera House owners, Ambassador Theatre Group, team up with Qdos Entertainment, the most powerful pantomime brand in the land.

Here Charles Hutchinson puts the questions to prolific theatre producer, director and Qdos Entertainment (Pantomimes) managing director Michael Harrison, Kaler’s fellow north easterner, who stands at number eight in The Stage’s Top 100 most influential people in theatre, no less.

Michael Harrison: managing director of Qdos Entertainment (Pantomimes), the panto powerhouse bringing Berwick Kaler’s dame out of retirement. Picture: Simon Hadley

Why bring back Berwick, Michael?

“The best things fall out of the sky and I wasn’t expecting this opportunity.

“I’m from Newcastle and I travelled all over the place to see pantomimes; first Newcastle and Sunderland, then Darlington, and then I started venturing to York and further, and I loved York Theatre Royal’s show.

“If you see all the pantos everywhere, they can become like wallpaper, but stumbling across Berwick in York was like a breath of fresh air. I’d never seen anything like it. Stepping out of the script, as he does, I just loved it.

“I never really thought there was a place for it in what I did but was more than happy to see it in Berwick’s pantos, and I did try to put some of that madness in my shows, like I have for 16 years at Newcastle Theatre Royal.”

What struck you most about Berwick’s pantos?

“I like the way he has catchphrases that you don’t have to spend three minutes introducing to the audience because they already know them.

“I like how he returns to things from previous shows, how he uses wild titles and how he has cast members returning every year.

“It’s no secret that our most successful pantos are where the stars keep returning: Allan Stewart, 20-plus years at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh; Billy Pearce, more than 20 years at the Bradford Alhambra; Danny Adams and Clive Webb, 16 years at Newcastle Theatre Royal; Matt Slack at Birmingham Hippodrome.

“It’s true that pantomime is a celebration of local culture and that’s why Berwick had that long run at the Theatre Royal.”

The final curtain for Berwick Kaler’s dame in The Grand Old Dame Of York on February 2 2019 at York Theatre Royal has turned out to be au revoir, not adieu. Picture: Anthony Robling

How did you feel when Berwick retired?

“The day after The Grand Old Dame Of York finished, and I was very tired after directing three pantomimes and producing 30 shows that winter, I got very emotional, thinking ‘this is the end of an era’. But I was also thinking ‘why does Berwick want to retire in his early seventies, when he doesn’t have to travel to do the show, he can go home every night?’”

How did Berwick’s dame resurrection at the Grand Opera House come to fruition?

“Mark Walters, the designer who Qdos have signed up for the London Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal pantomimes and who used to design Berwick’s pantos in York, got in touch on January 11 to say ‘Have you heard what’s happening to the Theatre Royal panto?’ [with the news of a new creative team being put in place].

“I woke up the next morning thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is over’. ‘Why is Berwick not coming back? One year off, now he should come back refreshed.

“I wrote to Berwick and said ‘you don’t know who I am, but I put on pantomimes and lots of other shows and I’m a massive fan of your pantos. If I can get the Grand Opera House, would you do it? Would you talk?’.”

What happened next?

“Berwick’s agent contacted me the following day and it developed very quickly from there.

“I just felt that Berwick’s panto was a little bit of pantomime history that should continue.

“Qdos produce all the other Ambassador Theatre Group pantomimes, and I was aware that Three Bears Productions’ contract was not being renewed. Normally it’s about ‘big’ casting, but this was different. There was Berwick and all his regulars.

“It happened quickly with Berwick and then we approached the other four [Barrass, Leonard, Cooper and Powell], and there just seemed to be a passion to make it happen.”

Re-uniting: villain David Leonard and perennial principal girl Suzy Cooper, pictured here in Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal, will be back on stage with Berwick Kaler from December 12

Will you want more of “the same old rubbish” as Berwick calls it, or will you be seeking fresh elements to appeal to the regular Grand Opera House panto audience, who like plot, plenty for children to enjoy and popular songs?

“We want to make it a York pantomime. We have to grasp all the best bits that have really worked for Berwick, and we also have to work out what’s the best recipe for this opportunity to move forward in a different way.

“I remember the advice of a member of the audience in Newcastle, who said: ‘Don’t ever change it, but keep surprising me’, and that’s what we have to discover each time; how to do that.

“But Berwick’s panto format is very unique, and I feel that while he wants to do it, and they all want to do it, and there’s an audience that wants him to do it, then let’s continue doing it.

“What I do know is that more people still saw David, Martin, Suzy and AJ in Sleeping Beauty than went to Snow White at the Opera House, by a considerable margin, and by adding Berwick to the mix again, it will be interesting to be in York next winter.”

Does the feisty side of Berwick, such as his “I’m b****y furious” outburst at the finale to the last night of Sleeping Beauty, worry you?

“Anybody that is passionate about what they do can have a reputation for being demanding, but that goes with the territory.

“You expect anyone with a mind like that is going to challenge, always wanting things to be better. I’m sure he only does it with the audience in mind. It’s just about doing the best job for them.”

The new pantomime team at York Theatre Royal: associate director Juliet Forster, who will direct Cinderella, executive director Tom Bird and Evolution Productions producer Paul Hendy

Will there be a rivalry with the York Theatre Royal panto, now to be co-produced with Evolution Productions’ Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, presenting Cinderella for 2020-2021?

“I know Paul and Emily well. They’ve sat in my house. We might all be panto producers but there’s no rivalry there, though I’d love to know why a repertory theatre is teaming up with a pantomime company.

“Picking the Theatre Royal cast now, it will have to be star-driven, otherwise who will go? But Paul is a very clever panto man, so he won’t be going into it to get it wrong.

“Besides, there are more important things going on in the world than a panto ‘rivalry. It’s really not worth falling out when it’s only four of five weeks a year.”

Could the two theatres potentially be swapping their pantomime audiences?

“If there were 31,000 who saw Sleeping Beauty without Berwick – and there’s no surprise that ticket sales fell when someone who’s an institution isn’t there on stage anymore – then there’ll be those 31,000 here. I think there’s no reason why we won’t have 40,000 people coming.

“It would be great to keep some of the regular Grand Opera House panto audience too, if they’ve never experienced a Berwick Kaler pantomime. But I also understand those who want something more traditional, though I think the York audience is still stronger for a Berwick Kaler pantomime than a normal storyline-driven, fairy-tale panto.

“In year one, people might go and see both.”

Will you be looking to inject young talent into the Grand Opera House pantomime, alongside the established team?

“I’m always mindful of who are the pantomime stars of tomorrow because we’re not breeding them as we once were, like when they used to do a Blackpool summer season or a sitcom.

“Today’s comedy stars do Radio 2 and Radio 4 shows and bypass panto, so we have to find the new stars through other ways.”

Valentine’s Day engagement: Berwick Kaler will meet the box-office queues at the Grand Opera House panto ticket launch on February 14

Is there a chance that Mark Walters might design the Grand Opera House show, now that the ex-York Theatre Royal panto designer has signed to the Qdos stable?

“I’m talking to Mark about it now. If it wasn’t for Mark, I wouldn’t have put that request in to Berwick to play dame again.

“We’ve met already about Humpty Dumpty for Newcastle Theatre Royal…and we’ll discuss Dick Turpin Rides Again too.”

As a hugely successful pantomime producer and director yourself, with the London Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal to your name, what makes a good panto?

“Two things, I would say: comedy and magic. Not magic tricks, but that sense of wonderment that you can’t put your finger on.

“The best pantomimes are the funniest ones. We can get terribly criticised for not having as much plot as we could, but the best received shows have always been more focused on comedy, set pieces and routines.

“The plot has to be there but the show must be funny and it has to have a wow factor about it.”

Qdos Entertainment present Berwick Kaler in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House, York, from December 12 to January 10 2021. Dame Berwick and his co-stars will launch ticket sales on February 14 from 10am at the box office. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

REVIEW: Seeing Stars, An Evening With Simon Armitage, York Theatre Royal, 4/2/2020

WITHOUT York Theatre Royal, Simon Armitage may never have become Poet Laureate.

Let the Huddersfield writer explain, as he did last night on the first of two fund-raising nights for the Theatre Royal’s community fund.

As a boy, Armitage’s first experience of poetry in performance – poetry in motion, as it were – was attending a double bill of fellow Yorkshiremen Ted Hughes and Tony Harrison at the York theatre.

Last night, he was on that stage himself, marking the tenth anniversary of Seeing Stars, his “very theatrical, very dramatic” book of dramatic monologues, allegories and absurdist tall tales.

Curated by Scarborough-born theatre director Nick Bagnall, who made the briefest of appearances at the start, the show combined Armitage, standing to one side, with four actors, beret-hatted Richard Bremmer, Charlotte Mills, Tom Kanji and Kacey Ainsworth.

Sometimes seated in a row, sometimes leaping to their feet, if the lines demanded it, they took their lead from the dry-witted, deadpan Armitage, who orchestrated the show’s rhythms from beneath his still boyish fringe at 56 with a stand-up’s sense of timing.

In a show of two halves, there was a sense of mischief and playfulness throughout, as well as more serious observations, even bleak horror, that the thespian quartet revelled in as much as Armitage.

So much so, at one point he cut across Ainsworth, not rudely, but because he could not resist the sudden urge to read out more of his favourite opening lines from the poems, such was his enjoyment of the audience response.

I say “poems”, but at the outset Armitage recalled how reviewers had been unsure of exactly what these works were. “Not poetry,” said one. “Crazy, slightly surreal,” was Armitage’s own description last night, as the likes of The English Astronaut and Last Day On Planet Earth spun their modern-day fairytale magic.

Behind Armitage and co was a large print of the book cover: a hybrid of a horse and a pooch that captured this storytelling fusion of prose and poems. Prosems, if you like. It is a perfect choice of image, like Armitage chooses his words so cannily.

There is another story here too. Proceeds will go to the Theatre Royal’s community work that facilitates bringing people to the theatre who would not otherwise be able to visit. Later this year too, there are plans to “embed” people with dementia in youth theatre sessions in a union of old and young. Fantastic idea.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s 7.30pm performance, when you can savour a night of surprises, satire and surrealism from a Yorkshireman with a darker vision than Alan Bennett crossed with Ripping Yarns. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson  

These singing roles really are the pits…but in a good way. Gary Clarke’s Wasteland awaits at York Theatre Royal

A scene from Gary Clarke’s Wasteland, heading for York Theatre Royal next month

THE search is on for singing pitmen to take part in Gary Clarke’s Wasteland, a new dance event at York Theatre Royal next month.

Four non-professional singers are being sought to join the cast for the 7.30pm performances on March 27 and 28.

Wasteland was created to mark the 25th anniversary of the demolition of Grimethorpe Colliery in South Yorkshire and 30 years since the rise of UK rave culture.

Now the Gary Clarke Company is seeking four singers aged over 40 with experience of singing in a group setting or community choir to play the roles of ex-coal miners.

No professional experience is necessary but applicants should have experience of learning songs from memory and singing in unison. The role will involve “some moving on and around the stage and interacting with other members of the company”.

Down the mines: Another scene from Gary Clarke’s Wasteland

Singers will be supported throughout the process by musical director Steven Roberts, assistant musical director Charlie Rhodes, choreographer and artistic director Gary Clarke and company associate Alistair Goldsmith, who will work with everyone’s individual needs and abilities. 

Each participant will receive a food and travel allowance to help cover the cost of rehearsals and performances. 

For any enquiries or to register interest, send an email to engagementgcc@gmail.com or call engagement manager Laura Barber on 07391 621966.

Neil Abdy, who grew up in the mining community of South Yorkshire and whose father was a miner, was one of the team of volunteers who took part in a special preview at Cast Doncaster in 2018. 

“Being given the opportunity to be part of this excellent work was unbelievable,” he says. “Everyone made us feel special and the friendship and camaraderie was excellent. I have a new spring in my step. If you have the opportunity to take part, definitely give it a go. It’s one of the best experiences you will ever have working with this wonderful team.”

Tickets for Gary Clarke’s Wasteland are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Phoenix rising anew in Joker as you have never seen it before…with an orchestra at York Barbican

Out of step with all around him: Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker

JOKER – Live In Concert will bring Todd Phillips’s award-laden film to York Barbican with live orchestral accompaniment of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score on May 17 at 7.30pm.

Preceded by the world premiere at the Eventim Apollo, London, on April 30, the international tour has further Yorkshire shows at Hull Bonus Arena on May 16 and Sheffield City Hall on June 24.

Central to the emotional journey Joaquin Phoenix’s character Arthur Fleck takes through Phillips’s film is Guðnadóttir’s beautifully haunting, BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning and Academy Award- nominated score.

The fusion of looming industrial soundscapes with raw, emotive string-led melodies – led  by a lone cello – creates a melancholic shroud marked with moments of hope, unfolding gradually to become a fever pitch of disquieting tension. 

Phillips’s music will be brought to life by a full orchestra to build a “vivid, visceral and entirely new Joker viewing experience”.

The London premiere will be conducted by Jeff Atmajian, the conductor and orchestrator of the original soundtrack; Senbla’s Dave Mahoney will take over for the UK tour dates, including York Barbican.

The poster artwork for Joker – Live In Concert

Hildur Guðnadóttir, the first-ever solo female winner of the Golden Globe for Best Original Score, also won a Grammy for her score for HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl. “I’m thrilled to get to see and hear Joker in the cinema with a live orchestra,” she says.

“When we recorded the music, the orchestra brought such depth and detailed attention to the performances that we were all literally holding our breaths during most of the recording sessions. It was a beautiful trip. I’m so happy to get to go there again and for an audience to experience that too.” 

Director Todd Phillips says: “I speak for the entire Joker team when I say how thrilled we are to be working with Senbla and Ollie Rosenblatt on JokerLive In Concert. I think it’s a wonderful way for audiences to experience Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s haunting and immersive score, while bearing witness to Joaquin Phoenix’s descent into madness as Arthur.”

Joker already has won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critics’ Choice awards for Best Actor and Best Original Score and is nominated for 11 Academy Awards, more than any other film. Those nominations for the Oscars awards ceremony include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Music/Score.

Tickets for Joker – Live In Concert at York Barbican go on sale at Friday at 10am on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office; Hull, 0844 858 5025 or bonusarenahull.com; Sheffield, 0114 278 9789 or sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.

HIV+ queer artist Nathaniel Hall tells all as he recalls the first time at York Theatre Royal’s Studio Discoveries

Heart-breaking: Nathaniel Hall in his one-man show First Time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Pictures: Andrew Perry

DAY three in the Studio Discoveries festival house, and York Theatre Royal’s Visionari community programme group will be presenting Nathaniel Hall’s First Time tomorrow night.

Can you remember your first time? Nathaniel can’t seem to forget his. To be fair, he has had it playing on repeat for the last 15 years, and now he is telling all in his one-man show on tour in North Yorkshire this month.

After playing the VAULT Festival in London, Hall has embarked on his travels, taking in the McCarthy at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre last night, Harrogate Theatre’s Studio Theatre tonight and York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow as part of Studio Discoveries, a week of new theatre chosen by Visionari.

The party is over, the balloons have all burst and Nathaniel is left living his best queer life: brunching on pills and Googling ancient condoms and human cesspits on a weekday morning…or is he?

“Join me as I blow the lid on the secret I’ve been keeping all these years,” says Nathaniel Hall

After playing the Edinburgh Fringe for four weeks last summer, HIV+ queer artist and theatre-maker Hall takes First Time on the road as he strives to stay positive in a negative world. “Join me as I blow the lid on the secret I’ve been keeping all these years,” he says.

Conceived, written and performed by HIV activist Hall, this humorous but heart-breaking 75-minute autobiographical show is based on his personal experience of living with HIV after contracting the virus from his first sexual encounter at 16.

“Narratives of HIV often portray people living with the virus as the victim. First Time doesn’t accept this stance,” says Hall. “It not only transforms audiences into HIV allies, but also helps them rid toxic shame from their own lives.”

First Time takes up Hall’s story after an all-night party, when “he hasn’t been to bed and he hasn’t prepared anything for the show. He’s only had 12 months and a grant from the Arts Council, but he can’t avoid the spotlight anymore and is forced to revisit his troubled past”.

“First Time not only transforms audiences into HIV allies, but also helps them rid toxic shame from their own lives ,” says Nathaniel Hall

His path leads from sharing a stolen chicken and stuffing sandwich with a Will Young lookalike aged 16, through receiving the devastating news aged 17 and heart-breaking scenes devouring pills and powder for breakfast, to a candlelit vigil and finally a surprising ending full of reconciliation, hope…and a houseplant from Mum.

Commissioned by Waterside Arts and Creative industries Trafford and developed with Dibby Theatre, the original production led the Borough of Trafford’s 30th World AIDS Day commemorations in 2018.

Directed by Chris Hoyle and designed by Irene Jade, with music and sound design by Hall, First Time will be staged at 7.45pm at each location. Tickets: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Visionari’s Studio Discoveries festival runs until Saturday. For full details, visit the Theatre Royal website.

A Pilgrim’s Tale leads Seth Lakeman to Doncaster to mark Mayflower’s 400th anniversary

Seth Lakeman: telling A Pilgrim’s Tale to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail

DEVON folk musician Seth Lakeman heralds Friday’s release of his album A Pilgrim’s Tale with a tour that opens at Cast, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, tomorrow night (February 5).

This year marks 400 years since The Mayflower ship departed these shores for the Americas.

Lakeman was raised and still lives on Dartmoor, within sight of the sea at Plymouth, from where the Puritans sailed on The Mayflower in 1620.

His album tells the epic and soulful tale of the Pilgrim Fathers, and consequently, the ten tour dates are routed in a trail of towns and cities that, for various reasons, hold significance to the Mayflower journey.

Locations such as Immingham – where Separatists made a dangerous escape from England to Holland in their search for religious freedom – and Dartmouth, where the ship was anchored for repairs. Doncaster, Harwich, London and, of course, Plymouth feature too.

“If you’d never heard anything about The Mayflower and the birth of the modern USA, these words and music could be your primer,” says Seth, whose album is narrated by actor Paul McGann and features guest performers Cara Dillon, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls and Seth’s father, Geoff Lakeman.

The Mayflower carried British and Dutch passengers with hopes of fresh settlement, who were met by the Wampanoag first nation tribe on arrival. Bottling the spirit of the 17th century pilgrimage, Lakeman has written and performed a selection songs that shape a fictional narrative of the journey, informed by research from text, such as the journals of William Bradford; conversations with modern-day ancestors of the Wampanoag people at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, and information sourced at the national heritage sites that still exist in the UK. 

The artwork for Seth Lakeman’s album A Pilgrim’s Tale

Chronicling the voyage and early settlement in these songs, Lakeman has created a drama that celebrates the history but does not lose sight of the journey’s tribulations. It stays sensitive to important facets of the story; the religious liberation that passengers were trying to achieve, the nefarious deeds enacted on the Wampanoag, and the deaths that followed on both sides.

Lakeman feels linked intrinsically to the story. “I didn’t have far to go for inspiration,” he says. “The Mayflower Steps, on Plymouth’s cobbled Barbican streets, are 20 minutes away from me.

“I fished from this quay as a boy, sang songs on tall ships tied up here and played music in just about every old sailors’ pub in this Elizabethan quarter.” 

The stories in the songs are told from a variety of perspectives, from personal accounts, such as the opening number, Watch Out, detailing deadly premonitions of a Wampanoag girl, to tales of the collective travellers in songs such as Pilgrim Brother and Sailing Time, each marching at a hopeful cadence, reflecting their early optimism.

In an immersive tale of struggle, songs bring to life anew 17th century characters: a crewman wrestling to control the ship; a pilgrim celebrating in rapturous faith, or the solemn Wampanoag tribesmen forlornly surrendering to the new way of life thrust on them. 

Inspiration for the project came when Lakeman was on tour in Robert Plant’s band and paid a visit to the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts to talk to the Wampanoag that still reside in the area.

It did not take long for the songs to form on his return to England. “After I travelled home from the ‘New World’ to Plymouth, everything happened in a quite mystical way. The songs came together so speedily and with exactly the vibe I wanted, and we recorded in a very short time in my Crossways Studio at home on Dartmoor,” says Seth, who at present is hosting the BBC Radio 2 series Seth Lakeman’s Folk Map Of The British Isles on Saturday nights..

To supplement the recordings, a between-song narration was written by the associate director of Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, Nick Stimson, and read by Paul McGann, who Lakeman was elated to have on board.

“As we finished the album, another quite magical thing happened, when Paul agreed to voice the narration between the tracks on the record. He pitched it perfectly,” he says.

Released on BMG, the album track listing is: Watch Out; Pilgrim Brother; Westward Bound; A Pilgrim’s Warning; Sailing Time; The Great Iron Screw; Dear Isles Of England; Saints And Strangers; Foreign Man; Bury Nights; The Digging Song and Mayflower Waltz.

Tickets for Lakeman’s 7.30pm concert in Cast’s Main Space tomorrow (February 5) are on sale at castindoncaster.com or on 01302 303959.

REVIEW: Once, The Musical, is so good, why not see it twice this week? *****

Feel the chemistry Emma Lucia’s Girl and Daniel Healy’s Guy in Once , The Musical

Once, The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/York

THREE weeks into rehearsals at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End, the media were invited to a press day where director Peter Rowe and musical supervisor Ben Goddard put their 16-strong cast through their paces in exhilarating fashion.

Sometimes you can feel the magic in the air as early as that, sensing the chemistry between leads Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia and the bonding of the company of actor-musicians as they turned a rehearsal room into an Irish pub full of lusty singing and joyful playing.

You just knew the show was going to be good, but, glory be, it is even better than that. Having cherished John Carney’s micro-budgeted cult romantic Irish film starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova since 2007, yet aware that many still don’t know that charming movie, save maybe for its multi-award-winning song Falling Slowly, your reviewer urges you to fall immediately for this touring musical version. No time for slowness here.

Broadway, the West End and Dublin have all had a go at doing Once The Musical. Rowe and regular musical partner Goddard first united Scotsman Healy and Durham-born Lucia as Guy and Girl, jilted Dublin busker/vacuum cleaner repairman and immigrant Czech odd-jobs worker and musician, for shows in Ipswich and Hornchurch in 2018, and now they have found the  perfect format for a touring version.

What a Guy: Daniel Healy in Once, The Musical

Designed by Libby Watson, the setting is an Irish pub, crammed with pictures and chattering life, where the cast rally the audience with songs familiar from The Pogues, Chieftains and Dubliners to set the Dublin craic.

Scenes are played out against this backdrop, the musicians fading in and out of scenes, sometimes acting like a Greek chorus as they lean in, in response to what is unfolding between Healy’s Guy and Lucia’s Girl.

They are first encountered as she watches him busking in the chill streets, singing to his ex, now moved to New York, but still the subject of each pained song, although he is on the cusp of giving up on those songs too.

Girl is open, frank, funny for being so serious; Guy is taciturn, guarded, but the shared love of music speaks volumes and she needs her vacuum cleaner mending. It duly arrives as if out of thin air, shooting across the stage in one of the show’s many humorous moments.

Big-hitting Falling Slowly is not held back. Instead, it forms their first song together in Billy’s unruly music shop, tentative at first as she picks out the piano lines, to accompany his singing, then joining in, their voices entwining and overlapping beautifully. Gradually, one by one, the musicians join in too: fiddle, guitars, mandolin, cello, squeezebox and more, in union, in sympathy.

Emma Lucia’s Girl saying hello to the piano – which musicians should always do, she says

Here, in a nutshell, is why Once works wonders as a musical, being as much a celebration of the power of music in Dublin’s fair city as a love story of ebb and flow, rise and fall, surprise and revelation, over five all too short days.

The path of love is never smooth, as we all know, but for those who have never seen Once, it would be wrong to issue spoiler alerts of what ensues. Except to say, on the way home you will want to discuss how the open-ended story might progress, if you have any romantic bones in your body!

Healy and Lucia are terrific leads: who would not fall for either of them?! His Guy is generous, kind, a blue-eyed soul man of song and acoustic guitar playing; her Girl, his new Czech mate, is feisty, fearless in the face of adversity in her adopted city, and plays the piano exquisitely too.

Dan Bottomley’s hapless, bandy-legged, hopelessly romantic, fiery Billy pickpockets plenty of scenes and Ellen Chivers, last seen in York last summer in the Theatre Royal’s Swallows & Amazons, is even better as wild-spirited Czech Reza.

From Enda Walsh’s witty, whimsical, love-struck script to Hansard and Irglova’s impassioned songs, you must see Once, a wonderful show that blows away weeks of panto wars and politics, to herald a new year of theatre in York. In fact, it is so enjoyable, you could go not once, but twice…and make sure to arrive early to see York buskers Rachel Makena, Florence Taylor, Owen Gibson and Peter Wookie taking turns pre-show and in the interval in the foyer bar.

Charles Hutchinson

Leo Sayer and Squeeze’s Chris Difford to join Jools Holland for York Barbican gig

Jools Holland: on tour for 32 autumn and winter dates

BOOGIE WOOGIE pianist Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra will be joined on tour for the first time by veteran singer Leo Sayer, as well as original Squeeze compadre Chris Difford.

Both Sayer and Difford will perform at York Barbican on November 11, Harrogate International Centre on November 27 and Leeds First Direct Arena on the 32-date itinerary’s closing night, December 20. Sayer, but not Difford, will be a guest at Holland’s Sheffield City Hall show on December 3.

Tickets for Holland’s 24th autumn and winter tour will go on sale at 10am on Friday (February 7) via Ticketmaster, See Tickets, Ticketline and Stargreen, as well as the venues.

Leo Sayer: touring with Jools Holland’s orchestra for the first time in 2020

Joining jaunty Jools too will be two long-term participants, gospel, blues and soul singer Ruby Turner, who has written songs with Holland, and original Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis. Regular vocalist Louise Marshall will be there each show too.

Sayer, 71, who became an Australian citizen in 2009 after moving to Sydney, New South Wales, in 2005, charted in the Top Ten with all of his first seven hits between 1973 and 1978: The Show Must Go On, One Man Band, Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance), Moonlighting, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, the chart-topping When I Need You and How Much Love.

Further success followed with I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try) and More Than I Can Say in 1978, Have You Ever Been In Love in 1982 and Thunder In My Heart, contributing vocals to Meck’s number one in 2006.

Chris Difford: Squeezing in autumn and winter dates with Jools Holland

Difford, Holland’s fellow Squeeze co-founder, has worked through the years with Glen Tilbrook, also writing with Elton John, Paul Carrack, Lisa Stansfield, Bryan Ferry, Helen Shapiro, Elvis Costello and Holland too, who calls him “the John Lennon of London, the John Betjeman of Blackheath and the Alain Delon of Deptford”.

Holland and his orchestra have performed previously with Eddi Reader, Lulu, Joss Stone, Fine Young Cannibals’ Roland Gift, Spice Girl Melanie C and Marc Almond. For his 2020 tour, UB40 featuring Ali and Astro will join him for three November gigs in Guildford and London.  

Jools is recording his next album, whose focus will be on piano stylings, duets and collaborations with top instrumentalists, for autumn release.

Tickets for York Barbican, where Holland last played on October 31 2019, will be on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk; Leeds, firstdirectarena.com; Sheffield, 0114 278 9789 or sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.

A Green Knight and painter Pablo’s women take over Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow

What if the story of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight were to be retold by the woman at its heart ? Debbie Cannon does exactly that in Green Knight

STUDIO Disoveries, a week of new theatre chosen by the Visionari community programming group, continues tomorrow with a brace of shows at the York Theatre Royal Studio.

Writer and performer Debbie Cannon’s Green Knight, at 6.30pm, is a one-woman version of the medieval poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.

The setting is Christmas at Camelot, where a monstrous green warrior issues an unwinnable challenge to Arthur’s finest knight, but what if the story were to be retold by the woman at its heart?

Flying Elephant’s premiere production, Picasso’s Women, delivers a unique look at Picasso’s life through the voices of his wives, mistresses and muses at 8.30pm.

One of three of Picasso’s Women at York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow

Written by Brian McAvera, directed by Marcia Carr and performed by Judith Paris, Colette Redgrave and Lucy Hunt, it takes the form of three monologues featuring French model Fernande, Russian ballerina Olga and 17-year-old mistress Marie-Therese.

Originally produced for the National Theatre and BBC Radio 3, the women’s stories provide an insight into the influence these women had on Picasso’s life and art.

The full programme for Visionari’s second Studio Discoveries season can be found at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. The festival begins today (February 4) with Not Now Collective’s Pepper & Honey, a new play with live Croatian pepper biscuit-baking, at 11am and 2pm. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

A word with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage before his York Theatre Royal shows

Power of the pen: Poet Laureate Simon Armitage

YORKSHIREMAN Simon Armitage performs in York tonight and tomorrow for the first time since being appointed Poet Laureate last May.

The 56-year-old Huddersfield poet is presenting Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage at York Theatre Royal in two fundraising shows to support the theatre’s community work.

Confirmed to be joining Armitage for the 7.30pm shows are actors Kacey Ainsworth (best known for playing Little Mo in EastEnders), Richard Bremmer, Charlotte Mills and Tom Kanji.

Curated by Scarborough-born theatre director Nick Bagnall, Seeing Stars features readings from Armitage’s works inspired by Sir Gawain And The Green Knight and The Death Of King Arthur on the tenth anniversary of Seeing Stars, his “very dramatic, very theatrical” book of dramatic monologues, allegories and absurdist tall tales.

Nine months into his Poet Laureateship, how would Armitage, the first Professor of Poetry at Leeds University, define poetry? “I’ve always taken the view that poetry is not just one thing,” he says.

“There have been recent times when people think it’s just words in a book, but performance has always been important and that has come back into fashion and been re-imagined too with spoken-word slams. There is room for everybody creating the language.”

Armitage continues: “One of the roles of the Poet Laureate, as I see it, is to promote poetry and speak up for the arts.

” I know it can have a strange effect on people when you say you’re a poet,” says Poet Laureate Simon Armitage

“My feeling is, if you’re involved with the arts, you’re more comfortable with yourself and you bring that to the inner universe you exist in, even if it’s only being more comfortable about language and how you think.”

At a time of cutbacks in arts funding and schools putting science before the arts in the curriculum, Armitage says: “You stifle creativity at your peril because, if you don’t offer an outlet, if you antagonise, it will still find a way out.”

Where does Armitage see sitting poets sitting in the public’s perception in 2020? As minstrels? Prophets? Commentators? Outsiders? “I know it can have a strange effect on people when you say you’re a poet. Definitely there’s something of the outside, the alternative, about it,” he says.

“It’s been a ‘peculiar’, not ever a mainstream, artform but I think people have a soft spot in their heart for poetry, especially at moments in their life, happy or sad, whether reading it or even writing it in those moments, so I still don’t think it’s a remote artform.”

As for his aims in his ten-year tenure as Poet Laureate, Armitage says: “By the end of those ten years, I would like to have seen my projects come to fruition [such as the newly founded Laurel Prize for nature poems and the establishing of a National Centre for Poetry].

“I’d also like to be judged for my writing, either myself seeking to maintain standards, or writing in a communicative, engaging way, and my Poet Laureate poems have to satisfy me too.”

Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage, York Theatre Royal, tonight and tomorrow, February 4 and 5, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

York Guildhall Orchestra marks 40th anniversary with special Barbican concert

Cello soloist Jamie Walton. Picture: Wolf Marloh

YORK Guildhall Orchestra will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a special York Barbican concert on February 15.

Almost 40 years to the day from when the orchestra was founded by John Hastie and played in a “one-off” in the York Guildhall in February 1980, the anniversary will be marked with a 7.30pm programme of works and composers from that first concert.

Who could have foretold the amazing journey, reputation, critical acclaim and popularity of the Guildhall group that has developed in the intervening years?

The anniversary concert will begin with the first piece the orchestra played in 1980: Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite (Mere L’Oye), a showpiece for glorious orchestral tunes featuring the talents of the wind section.

This will be followed by the return of soloist Jamie Walton, founder of the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, for Elgar’s evergreen Cello Concerto.  A celebratory orchestral work by John Hastie will open the second half that will conclude with Brahms’s Symphony No 2 (Symphony In Norahms).

This finale will call on the whole orchestra to do what it loves doing best: play a luxurious, full orchestral work of the Romantic period of classical music.

Tickets cost £6.30 to £17.55 on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Evolution, not revolution, heralds new age of pantomime at York Theatre Royal

New pantomime partnership: York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and executive director Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer Paul Hendy,

THE new age of pantomime at York Theatre Royal will involve Evolution rather than revolution.

For the first panto of the post-Berwick Kaler era, the Theatre Royal is teaming up with award-winning pantomime producers Evolution to present Cinderella.

The show dates will be December 4 to January 10 2021, an earlier start and finish than the December 7 to January 25 run for Sleeping Beauty, Dame Berwick’s last pantomime as co-director and writer after a 41-year association with the Theatre Royal.

Cinderella will be directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster, who directed Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2018 and Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge in the Theatre Royal main house last September, as well as children’s shows aplenty.

Juliet Forster, who will direct York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

The script will be written by Evolution co-founder and producer Paul Hendy in tandem with York-born comedy writer and podcaster David Reed, who has returned to his home city and will provide additional material.

The cast is yet to be announced but will not be a star vehicle, with variety acts and blossoming pantomime talent and a “York flavour” likely to be to the fore instead. The set designer, not confirmed yet, will be charged with creating magical transformations and glittering sets to complement the “stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Formed in 2005 by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, Evolution Productions present “bespoke pantomimes of epic spectacle and hilarity” for the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; The Hawth Theatre, Crawley; Garrick Theatre, Lichfield; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury; Alban Arena, St Albans; Octagon Theatre, Yeovil, and Grove Theatre, Dunstable, now joined in a co-producing partnership by York Theatre Royal.

Juliet Forster and Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird were exhilarated by Evolution’s 2019-2020 pantomime for Sheffield Theatres, starring long-running dame Damian Williams in Cinderella at the Lyceum.

Paul Hendy’s script from that hit show will provide an early template for Reed to set to work on giving it a York branding, with Cinderella’s rags-to-riches story being switched to this historic city in a “new pantomime for everyone”.

Evolution producer Paul Hendy: co-writer of Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

Executive director Bird says: “We are over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York: one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much. 

“Our recipe includes two of the most exciting voices in our city, David Reed and Juliet Forster, together with Emily Wood and Paul Hendy, the finest makers of pantomime in the country – a fairytale combination.”

Bird continues: “This phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella. It’s a pantomime for the new decade, set with pride in our amazing city.”

Evolution Productions has built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and funny scripts, twice winning Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards.

Producer and writer Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on this year’s pantomime. We are huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast, and a genuinely funny script.”

Ticket prices will remain the same as for 2019-2020. Family tickets and Sunday shows are being introduced, as well as schools and groups discounts so that “everyone can go to the ball”.

Theatre Royal members’ ten-day priority booking opened today; members’ five-day priority booking on February 8; 9am in person at the box office, 10am online and phone booking. General booking opens on February 13; same times as above. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Meanwhile, Berwick Kaler’s first pantomime at his new York home, the Grand Opera House, will be Dick Turpin Rides Again, with writer, director and revived dame Kaler being joined by regular cohorts Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell for Qdos Entertainment’s panto partnership with the Ambassador Theatre Group.

Kaiser Chiefs are off to the woods this summer for Dalby Forest return gig

Kaiser Chiefs: striding out for Dalby Forest on June 26

KAISER Chiefs are to return to Dalby Forest, near Pickering, for a Forest Live open-air gig on June 26.

The Leeds band played there previously in 2016, and once more Forestry England’s conservation projects will benefit from the concert takings, as they will from Will Young and James Morrison’s Dalby double-header on June 27.

Tickets go on sale from 9am on Friday (February 7) on 03000 680400 or at forestryengland.uk/music. 

Frontman Ricky Wilson says: “We’re chuffed to be playing a home-county gig in Dalby Forest this summer. We last played there in 2016 as part of Forest Live series and it’s an amazing location to perform deep in the woods, so we hope you can join us on this escapade.”

Chief hits Oh My God, I Predict A Riot, Everyday I Love You Less And Less, the chart-topping Ruby and Never Miss A Beat will be complemented by album selections off Employment; Yours Truly, Angry Mob; Off With Their Heads; The Future Is Medieval; Education, Education, Education; Stay Together and last July’s Duck.

Kaiser Chiefs previously took to the Yorkshire great outdoors to play York Racecourse in July 2016 and Scarborough Open Air Theatre in May 2017.

From December 2018 to March 2019, they brought a new meaning to Pop Art when curating When All Is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs In Conversation With York Art Gallery. Exploring the boundaries between art and music in this experimental exhibition, they used their position as pop musicians to rethink sound as an art medium.

Did you know?

More than 1.9 million people have attended Forest Live concerts in the past 19 years. Ticket-sale income goes towards Forestry England looking after the nation’s forests sustainably, helping to create beautiful places for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and trees to grow.

Pussycat Dolls are playing York Racecourse this summer, don’t cha know, but when?

Pussycat Dolls: prepare for Doll Domination at York Racecourse in July

REVIVED American girl group Pussycat Dolls will perform York Racecourse’s first 2020 Music Showcase Weekend show after the evening race card on July 24.

Eighties’ soul-pop icon Rick Astley was confirmed already for the weekend, signed up to play after the afternoon racing on the Knavesmire course on July 25.

Pussycat Dolls sold more than 54 million records in a run of hits from 2003 to 2010 and returned to the live platform after a nine-year hiatus at last year’s final of The X Factor: Celebrity: familiar territory for band member Nicole Scherzinger, a long-standing judge on the ITV talent show.

Scherzinger is joined in the Pussycat song-and-dance line-up by Ashley Roberts, Kimberly Wyatt, Jessica Sutta and Carmit Bachar. Expect them to sing the chart-topping Don’t Cha and Stickwitu, Beep, Buttons, I Don’t Need A Man, When I Grow Up, Whatcha Think About That and more besides, all coupled with dance routines.

Rick Astley: July 25 concert at York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend

James Brennan, head of marketing and sponsorship at York Racecourse, said: “Announcements don’t come much bigger than being able to say that Pussycat Dolls will be bringing their Doll Domination to York Racecourse for a special Friday night performance to open the Music Showcase Weekend.

“Performances on a Friday evening have always had a special atmosphere with the excitement of the stars on the turf and the stars on the stage combining to make this an event to put in your diary now.”

To book, visit yorkracecourse.co.uk; no booking fee applies and car parking will be free. On the race track that evening, the European Breeders Fund Lyric York Stakes will be the centrepiece of a six-race card.

One York race-day concert is yet to be announced: the Summer Music Saturday on June 27. Watch this space.

Pepper & Honey show about home takes the biscuit as Visionari festival opens

Pepper & Honey: Not Now Collective’s play with live baking opens Visionari’s Studio Discoveries festival at the York Theatre Royal Studio

WHAT happens when the audience selects the shows? Find out at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow in the Studio Discoveries festival of theatre chosen by the Visionari community programming group.

The first of six picks in Visionari’s second season really takes the biscuit when Not Now Collective’s new play of love, loss, heritage and new beginnings, Pepper & Honey,is told through the baking of Croatian pepper biscuits.

Known as paprenjaci, they will be baked live in front of the 11am and 2pm audiences as the story of Ana’s preparations to start a new life in the UK unfolds. Babes-in-arms are welcome at the 11am and 2pm shows – and biscuits are included.

So, what is “home”, ask Not Now Collective. Now that the era of post-Brexit Britain is under way, that question has never been more pertinent, in this case for Ana, a young Croatian woman, as she settles in the UK.

Determined to make it home, she focuses on life in this new land, but she is haunted by the voice of her Grandma, calling for her to stay true to national identity and yearning for Ana to come home.  

Grandma bakes her traditional Croatian pepper biscuits – believed  to bring a loved one back home – but will this be enough to be reunited with her granddaughter? What is “home” to Ana now?

Written by a Croatian playwright and performed by a Croatian actor, Pepper & Honey is a poignant, subtle and timely play about the journey of change, cultural differences, trying not to feel like a foreigner in your adopted country, and the conflict between upholding the traditions of the “old country” and embracing those of the new.

As trailered earlier, Pepper & Honey will be “timed to perfection to deliver a perfect Croatian pepper biscuit, baked live with the help of the audience”. Tickets for all the Visionari Studio Discoveries plays are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. The price is £10 per show or £8 when two or more Studio Discoveries shows are booked.

Kneehigh mount Leeds Playhouse protest with Ubu party games and singalongs

Kneehigh’s Ubu!: party and protest rolled into one riotous show . Picture: Steve Tanner

ALFRED Jarry’s ground-breaking political parable Ubu Roi caused riots when first staged in Paris in 1896. Now, Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire promises an equally riotous night out at Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.

Conceived by Carl Grose, Charles Hazlewood and Mike Shepherd, it smashes together Jarry’s gleefully rude and deliberately childish script with a crowd-pleasing singalong, party games, inflatable animals and contemporary political satire.   

Kneehigh’s Ubu! is a punk-spirited, comedic study of power, protest and populism. “And what better form of popular culture to demonstrate this than mass karaoke?”, ask the Cornish company.

The show is led by Katy Owen’s tiny, tyrannical Pa Ubu and Mike Shepherd’s pouting, preening Ma Ubu, alongside the ever-versatile Kneehigh ensemble: a six-strong cast and the band The Sweaty Bureaucrats.  

Arranged by Hazlewood, the selection of songs is inventive and cannily chosen, ranging from Britney Spears’ Toxic and Edwin Starr’s War to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk and The Carpenters’ Close To You, as a festival atmosphere builds.

Writer and co-director Carl Grose explains how Ubu! came to fruition and why the petty protagonist still resonates with modern audiences. “When Alfred Jarry’s play received its premiere at the Théâtre de l’OEuvre in Paris on December 10 1896, there was, so the story goes, a full-on riot,” he says.

Winging it: Kneehigh’s singalong Ubu!. Picture: Steve Tanner

“Audiences and critics alike were confronted with sights and sounds of such outrageousness that pandemonium broke out and the production was shut down after only two performances.”

Grose continues: “Like all great artists, Alfred Jarry was a disrupter, and Ubu was his weapon of mass disruption. A personification of chaos, a lord of misrule, a howling, hysterical metaphor for greed, lies and corruption.

“The main character was designed to be both laughed at and despised, and that’s still the case. He is here to gather us together as his prisoners, his acolytes, his victims – or his potential usurpers.

“He is a reminder that those in power will do their damnedest to make their reality our normality. It’s up to us to collectively remember that there’s nothing normal about Ubu and his ilk.”

Ubu’s behaviour beggars belief, concludes Grose. “He is cruel, nonsensical, cowardly, aggressive and beyond vile in his actions,” he says. “Career mad, he looks totally ridiculous, puts money over humanity in a heartbeat and has a vocabulary that leaves a lot to be desired. What an absurd creation, eh?”

Prepare for a Kneehigh antidote to a divided world that makes a stand against divisiveness and brings audiences together through the joyful act of singing

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, February 4 to 8. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Opera North’s revival of The Marriage Of Figaro

Fflur Wyn as Susanna and Phillip Rhodes as Figaro in Opera North’s The Marriage Of Figaro. All pictures:. Robert Workman

Opera North in The Marriage Of Figaro, Leeds Grand Theatre, February 1 ****

Further Leeds performances on February 8, 14, 19, 22, 26 and 29, then on tour . More details at operanorth.co.uk. Leeds box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com

IT is strange how operatic revivals can vary so much from their originals, even when the same director is on hand to oversee them. Jo Davies’s production of Mozart’s opera buffa dates from January 2015. That is before the Me Too movement really took off in October 2017, when the treatment of women in Hollywood began to come under the microscope.

 Its repercussions on this show are fascinating. The two leading men, Count Almaviva and Figaro himself, are by far the most charismatic here. That is partly down to the singers involved. But it also reflects the relative hardness of their ladies, the Countess and Susanna.

These men are having their very manhood challenged, even as they attempt their various conquests. It could help to explain why Quirijn de Lang’s relentlessly dim-witted Count (though the singer himself is clearly quite the opposite) comes across as a failed Don Giovanni, never quite achieving those desired notches on his cane. The man is libidinous beyond belief. Even at the end you wonder how long he can possibly remain faithful to his wife. He nevertheless sings with plenty of self-belief.

Heather Lowe as Cherubino

The New Zealand baritone Phillip Rhodes relaxes into the title role immediately, despite taking it on for the first time. The part could have been made for him. His Figaro retains unclouded optimism in the face of every setback, helped by warm, clear tone and a pair of eyebrows that crinkle with mirth at every excuse.

Opposite him, Fflur Wyn, also new to her role as Susanna, is a calculating creature – the gardener Antonio’s social-climbing niece – rather than a playful minx. Her soprano is light and clean, her diction less so. Nor is clarity Máire Flavin’s strong point as the Countess. Her first aria was too tense to excite sympathy, her second showed what might have been, with fluent control. But she moves beautifully and always has the moral high ground over her wayward husband.

The lower orders are well represented. It comes as no surprise to discover that Heather Lowe, the tousle-haired Cherubino, is a trained dancer. She is exceptionally nimble as well as vocally adept, not least as girl-plays-boy-playing girl.

Jonathan Best makes a diffident old fogey of Bartolo, well partnered by Gaynor Keeble’s earthy Marcellina. Joseph Shovelton is back with his oily Basilio, as is Jeremy Peaker’s rubicund Antonio. Alexandra Oomens is the peppy Barbarina. Even Warren Gillespie’s Curzio makes a mark, here as a censer-swinging priest. Real incense too.

Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva and Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva

 Antony Hermus makes his first appearance in the pit since being appointed Principal Guest Conductor. He is a mixed blessing. His rigid, hyperactive baton ensures taut ensemble, but allows his woodwinds little flexibility; the strength of his accents regularly swamps the singers’ words in ensemble. On the other hand, conducting from the harpsichord, his recitatives flow idiomatically.

 Leslie Travers’s mobile set shows both the downstairs and the upstairs of this society, the former doubling as the outside of the house for the garden scene. Peeling wallpaper and rickety staircases speak of genteel poverty. Gabrielle Dalton’s socially-layered costumes could be from almost any era.

In the wake of Me Too, we should expect certain aspects of the comedy to be soft-pedalled. But there is plenty of amusement at the expense of the men. And that is as it should be. 

Phillip Rhodes as Figaro

Review by Martin Dreyer

Six of the best to star in York Stage’s comedy drama Steel Magnolias

“Strong women”: Joanne Theaker, front left, Louise Henry, back left, Sandy Nicholson, Julie-Anne Smith and Kathryn Addison starring in Nik Briggs’s production of Steel Magnolias for York Stage

YORK Stage kick off their 2020 season with Robert Harling’s comedy-drama Steel Magnolias at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Running in the John Cooper Studio from February 19 to 22, this 1987 American play focuses on the camaraderie of six Southern women who talk, gossip, jest and harangue each other through the best of times and comfort and repair one another through the worst.

“Steel Magnolias is alternately hilarious and touching with six female characters that are all as delicate as magnolias yet as strong as steel,” says director Nik Briggs.

Joanne Theaker, Louise Henry, Sandy Nicholson and Julie-Anne Smith in York Stage’s Steel Magnolias

His cast comprises Joanne Theaker as M’Lynn; Louise Henry as Shelby; Julie-Anne Smith as Ousier; Sandy Nicholson as Clairee; Kathryn Addision as Truvy and Carly Morton as Annelle.

Yorkshire actress Joanne Theaker returns to the York Stage company, having led the cast as Maria in The Sound Of Music at the Grand Opera House last April.

Previously, Joanne has played Sister Mary Roberts in Sister Act; Diva in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – The Musical; Judy in Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 The Musical and Paulette in Legally Blonde. Elsewhere, she has performed at Hull Truck Theatre in the original casts of John Godber’s Thick As a Brick and Big Trouble In The Little Bedroom and at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song.

Julie-Anne Smith and Sandy Nicholson have a laugh in the photo-shoot for Steel Magnolias

Louise Henry joins rehearsals after making her professional debut as Snow White in this winter’s Grand Opera House pantomime, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Previously, for York Stage Musicals, she had performed in The Sound Of Music as Liesl last April and Twilight Robbery as Jayne in May. West End actress Julie-Anne Smith last appeared for York Stage Musicals as Violet in 9 To 5 in 2017.

Briggs says: “Bringing Steel Magnolias to the stage, and working with these six women especially, has been a joy. It’s no secret that I love working with strong women, especially in the rehearsal room and you don’t get much stronger than these six.

”Having previously directed many female-led shows – Sister Act, Legally Blonde, 9 To 5, The Sound Of Music, Be My Baby and Little Voice – Steel Magnolias has been on my ‘To Do’ list for a long time.”

Hair-larious: Louise Henry and Joanne Theaker

The women’s closeness drew Briggs to Harling’s piece. “It’s relatable, the salon is a world in itself and the six characters are an adopted family,” he says. “They laugh, cry, argue, support and challenge each other within this world and it really allows for the drama and comedy to flourish and soar.

“We’ve had tears of laughter and tears of sadness over the rehearsal period. This really is a show to see with your closest girl friends and family. Come, laugh and cry together, and if you want to wear pyjamas and bring a large carton of ice cream with you for the ultimate girly ‘night in-out’, we won’t judge!”

Harling was inspired to write Steel Magnolias, his first play, after his sister Susan died of complications from diabetes. Premiered off-Broadway at the WPA Theater in 1987, it quickly transferred to Broadway, where it became an instant sensation, running for three years and spawning the hit movie starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine.

Hair piece: York Stage’s poster image for Steel Magnolias

York Stage in Steel Magnolias, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, February 19 to 22, 7:30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets: £15, concessions £13, at yorkstagemusicals.com, on 01904 623568 or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office. “We shall be supporting York and District Diabetes UK Group throughout the run,” says director Nik Briggs.

Pre-apocalyptic comedy alert!! But where will The Last Quiz Night On Earth be held?

Look at the pub name! Where else could The Last Quiz Night On Earth be held? Well, Pocklington Arts Centre, actually

QUICK question. Did you see Chip Shop Chips, Box Of Tricks Theatre Company’s show at Pocklington Arts Centre last year?

Yes? So, presumably you will want know when they will be returning to Pock and what in?

The answers are Friday, March 20 in The Last Quiz Night On Earth, an immersive, innovative new play by Alison Carr for theatre devotees and pub quiz enthusiasts alike, who are promised “a very different experience of live performance”.

PAC director Janet Farmer says: “The last time Box Of Tricks visited here, they wowed and wholly entertained us with Chip Shop Chips, an immersive theatre experience that our audiences still talk about. 

“So, we can’t wait to welcome them back to the venue with their brand new show. It looks set to be an absolute blast!”

In the Box Of Tricks locker already are the award-winning Manchester company’s shows SparkPlug, Narvik and Under Three Moons. Now they follow two sold-out tours of Chip Shop Chips with Carr’s pre-apocalyptic comedy, The Last Quiz Night On Earth. 

Next question. What happens? “It’s the final countdown. Landlady Kathy invites audiences to the last quiz night on earth with Quizmaster Rav. He is the host with the most,” say Box Of Tricks.

“But with time ticking, some unexpected guests turn up out of the blue. Bobby wants to settle old scores and Fran wants one last shot at love. Expect the unexpected to the bitter end and plenty of drama as the show gets quizzical.”

Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder directs the play, with design by Katie Scott. Pub landlady Kathy will be played by Meriel Scholfield, who has appeared in Coronation Street, Last Tango In Halifax, Holby City and Doctors, while Shaban Dar will take the role of pre-apocalyptic Quizmaster Rav.

Playwright Alison Carr’s past works include Caterpillar and Iris; her latest play, Tuesday, has been commissioned for the National Theatre’s 2020 Connections programme.

Next question. Why did she write The Last Quiz Night On Earth? “I wanted to combine the known and the unknown, the safe and the downright terrifying,” she answers. 

“My vision was to create something that audiences don’t just sit and watch but are part of – but not in a scary way. 

“Personally, the thought of audience participation makes me feel sick, but a quiz is something we can all do, whether we’re a general knowledge expert or the neatest so we can do the writing.” 

The play was “so much fun to research and write,” she says. “I have to admit, I know a lot about asteroids now, and the answers to a fair amount of quiz questions. I’m so excited to have Box Of Tricks bring it to life and to share it with audiences.”

Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder adds: “I’m really excited to be working with Alison Carr on her first play for Box Of Tricks. 

“Alison is a writer of real talent, crafting plays of depth, wit and real emotional warmth. The Last Quiz Night On Earth is a unique piece: a pre-apocalyptic comedy bringing people together through the power of trivia for a great night out.

“Following our success touring Chip Shop Chips to the heart of communities, I’m really looking forward to revisiting some wonderful places and spaces as well as discovering new locations with this play.” 

Last questions. Pocklington show time? 7.30pm. Ticket price? £12.50, under 21s, £10, and Friends Rates. Box office number? 01759 301547. Online? pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

“Fourth funniest” comedy duo Max & Ivan to fulfil Commitment at Selby Town Hall

Max & Ivan: Commitment to Selby

THE Guardian’s fourth best comedy show of 2019, Max & Ivan’s Commitment, will play Selby Town Hall on February 7.

“I’m delighted that Selby is the only Yorkshire date on their UK tour and am genuinely very excited to see the show in our little venue,” says Chris Jones, Selby Town Council’s arts officer.

“It’s one of the most talked-about comedy shows of last year, receiving a slew of four and five-star reviews for its Edinburgh Fringe debut, and an agent for an entirely different comedian told me last week that it was one of the best things she’d seen…and that doesn’t happen very often.”

Performed by comedy duo Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez, Commitment is the true story of how Max, as Ivan’s Best Man, attempted to reunite Ivan’s teenage band – Voodoo 7:2, the premier “art rock post-punk funk” group in mid-Noughties Liverpool – for one final gig.

“It’s a show about dreaming big, growing up, and trying – but ultimately very much failing – to make it in the band,” says Chris.

“Directed by multiple Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Kieran Hodgson, it melds fast-paced visuals – including a wealth of embarrassing adolescent photos – with razor-sharp gag writing, classic double-act dynamics and a smattering of virtuoso multi-character performances.

“At its heart, the show is a storytelling hour about Max & Ivan’s real-life friendship and the lengths Max will go to in order to pull off the best night of Ivan’s life.” 

Olesker and Gonzalez have performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival; the SXSW (South By Southwest) festival in Austin, Texas; UCB Sunset in Los Angeles and Brooklyn’s Union Hall in New York, as well as touring throughout Britain.

Among their past work is the super-show The Wrestling, where the world’s best comedians step into the ring and wrestle alongside enormous professional wrestlers in Edinburgh and Melbourne.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, they debuted Max & Ivan’s Prom Night, an anarchic, interactive, 1950s’ high-school prom show-cum-party, to a sell-out, thousand-strong crowd in Assembly High, a purpose-designed location. 

Max & Ivan created, wrote and starred in the BBC Radio 4 sitcom The Casebook Of Max & Ivan, attracting such guest stars as Matt Lucas, June Whitfield, Reece Shearsmith and Jessica Hynes, as well as appearing in BBC Two comedy W1A as Ben and Jerry.

“Max & Ivan’s Commitment tour is one of The Times’s picks of 2020,” says Chris. “I’m aware that Max & Ivan are not yet household names, but I would love as many people as possible to catch this 8pm show.”

Tickets cost £14 on 01757 708449 or at selbytownhall.co.uk or £16 on the door from 7.30pm.

Cosmic Collective open Heaven’s Gate to imagine UFO worshippers’ final hour

 ‌

Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Heaven’s Gate

FOUR‌ ‌cups‌ ‌of‌ ‌Apple‌ ‌Sauce.‌ ‌Four‌ ‌canvas‌ ‌camp‌ ‌beds.‌ ‌One‌ ‌Comet.‌ ‌Heaven’s‌ ‌Gate‌ ‌is‌ ‌closing‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Away‌ ‌Team‌ ‌are‌ ‌ready‌ ‌for‌ ‌Graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word. Cult.

Premiered by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre at last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York, ‌ ‌the 55-minute Heaven’s Gate opens its debut Yorkshire tour at Harrogate Theatre’s Studio Theatre tonight.

Written by company co-founder Joe Feeney, this ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy ‌imagines‌ ‌the‌ ‌final‌ ‌hour‌ ‌of‌ ‌four‌ ‌fictionalised‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌real-life ‌ ‌‌UFO-theistic‌ ‌group, Heaven’s Gate.‌ ‌

“As‌ ‌they‌ ‌prepare‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‘Graduation’‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘Kingdom‌ ‌of Heaven’, initially the excitement is palpable, but soon the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear,” says Joe, an alumnus of York Theatre Royal Youth, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.‌

“Is‌ ‌Heavenly‌ ‌Father‌ ‌really‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌spaceship?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌actually‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌recycled?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌castration‌ ‌obligatory‌ ‌or‌ ‌not?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌Turkey‌ ‌Potpie‌ ‌an‌ ‌underwhelming‌ ‌last‌ ‌supper?‌” ‌ ‌

Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre‌, who enjoyed a sold-out run at the‌ ‌Drayton‌ ‌Arms‌ ‌Theatre‌, ‌London, after the York premiere, will follow up today and tomorrow’s 8pm Harrogate performances with shows at The‌ ‌Carriageworks,‌ ‌Leeds, on February 5 and 6 at 7.30pm; York Theatre Royal Studio, February 7, 7.45pm; Hull Truck Theatre Studio, February 14,  8pm, and Slung Low at Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, February 16, 5pm.

‌They‌ ‌will be‌ ‌playing ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌as‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Visionari Studio Discoveries festival, a week of shows put together by the theatre’s community programming group.‌ ‌

Performing there ‌has‌ ‌particular‌ ‌resonance‌ ‌for‌ ‌‌Joe‌ and Anna. “This‌ ‌is‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌special‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,” says Joe. “I’ve been ‌‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌for‌ ‌more than‌ ‌20‌ ‌years. I was a ‌Youth‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌member‌ ‌for‌ ten-plus years and‌ ‌have worked‌ ‌as‌ ‌crew‌ ‌backstage‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌off‌ ‌since‌ ‌2010.‌

Cosmic Collective Theatre in rehearsal for Heaven’s Gate

“‌As‌ ‌an‌ ‌actor, I’ve ‌ ‌performed‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌internationally, but‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌will‌ ‌compare‌ ‌to‌ ‌performing‌ ‌at‌ ‌home‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌wonderful‌ ‌theatre. It’s honestly‌ ‌a‌ ‌dream‌ ‌come‌ ‌true.”‌ ‌

Anna‌‌ ‌agrees: ‌‌“I‌ ‌wouldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌working‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌industry‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌for‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre Royal Youth‌ ‌Theatre,‌ ‌which‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌greatest‌ ‌youth‌ ‌theatre‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌country!” she says. “‌To‌ ‌return‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌years‌ ‌later‌ ‌and‌ ‌perform‌ ‌here‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌professional‌ ‌actor‌ ‌is‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌privilege.”‌ ‌ ‌

Cast‌ ‌members‌ ‌Lewes‌ ‌Roberts‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Cresswell‌ ‌share‌ ‌this‌ ‌excitement‌.  “We‌ ‌met‌ ‌Joe‌ ‌and‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌when‌ ‌we‌ ‌trained‌ ‌together‌ ‌at‌ ‌Mountview and‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌visiting‌ ‌York‌ ‌ever‌ ‌since.

“We ‌may‌ ‌not‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌born‌ ‌here‌ ‌but‌ ‌we’re ‌honorary‌ ‌citizens; it’s our‌ ‌home‌ ‌from‌ home. Performing‌ ‌at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe ‌last‌ ‌summer‌ ‌was‌ ‌brilliant,‌ ‌and‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌this‌ ‌year‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌next‌ ‌level.” ‌

‌Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre’s cast‌ ‌boast‌s ‌impressive‌ ‌credits. ‌Feeney‌ ‌has‌ ‌returned‌ ‌home from‌ ‌Belgium‌, ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌played‌ ‌Captain‌ ‌Stanhope‌ ‌in‌ ‌MESH‌ ‌Theatre’s‌‌ ‌revival‌ ‌of‌ ‌Journey’s‌ ‌End.‌ ‌ 

Soden played ‌Fairy‌ ‌Poppins in this winter’s‌ ‌Liverpool‌ ‌Everyman‌ ‌pantomime, Sleeping‌ ‌Beauty; Roberts‌ ‌can‌ ‌‌be‌ ‌seen in‌ ‌BBC One’s‌ ‌The‌ ‌Tuckers; ‌Cresswell‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌treading‌ ‌the‌ London boards‌ ‌in‌ Hansel‌ ‌And‌ ‌Gretel‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌Opera‌ ‌House,‌ ‌Covent‌ ‌Garden.

‌Harrogate tickets are on sale on 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk; Carriageworks, 0113 376 0318 or carriageworkstheatre.co.uk; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk; The Holbeck, slunglow.org/event/heavens-gate/.  ‌

 Please note: Heaven’s Gate ‌contains‌ ‌references‌ ‌to‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and‌ ‌suicide and has ‌mild swearing.‌ ‌Age recommendation: 15 plus.

What, again, Alan? Yes, Not Again, Alan! tour books third night at York Carrbican

Loud hailer ! Alan Carr announces a third night at York Barbican

WHAT, again, Alan? Tickets have sold so quickly for Alan Carr’s first tour in four years, that Not Again, Alan!, is now, Yes, Again and Again and…Again, Alan, at York Barbican.

Carr, ever-chatty son of former York City footballer Graham Carr, will play three successive Christmas nights in York, newly adding December 17 to December 18 and 19.

Tickets are on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Since his last comedy travels, chat-show host Carr has “managed to find himself in all sorts of dramas”, apparently. Such as? “Between his star-studded wedding day and becoming an accidental anarchist, from fearing for his life at border control to becoming a reluctant farmer, three words spring to mind…Not again, Alan!” says his tour publicity. “Join Alan on tour as he muses upon the things that make his life weird and wonderful.”

Carr pile-up: Alan Carr to play York Barbican again and again and again

Not Again, Alan! will be Carr’s fourth UK solo show in four-year cycles in the wake of Yap, Yap, Yap’s 200 dates in 2015 and 2016, Spexy Beast in 2011 and Tooth Fairy in 2007. He last brought his chat, chat, chat to York on the Yap, Yap, Yap! itinerary on July 11 2015 at the Barbican.

Later this year, Carr will host Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow on ITV, wherein five all-time favourite game shows will be supersized and reinvigorated for a new audience: Play Your Cards Right, Take Your Pick, Strike It Lucky, Bullseye and The Price Is Right. In 2020 too, Carr will return to the judges’ panel on the second BBC series of RuPaul’s DragRace UK.

Here come one baguette, one dodgy steed, Three Musketeers… and four bicycles

Re-cycling a familiar French adventure: Le Navet Bete in The Three Musketeers. Picture: Mark Dawson

AFTER Dracula: The Bloody Truth and Dick Tracy, travelling players Le Navet Bete come armed only with a baguette and a questionable steed on their latest adventure.

The award-winning Essex physical comedy troupe ride into York Theatre Royal on February 7 and 8 with The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure.

The main-house stage transforms into the French countryside as hot-headed D’Artagnan travels to Paris full of childish excitement and misplaced bravado to become a Musketeer. Will things go to plan? Unlikely, but at least this chaotic caper will be in the hands of four actors wholly assured in taking on more than 30 character portrayals.

“Sorry, I’m tied up for February 7 and 8 already. I’ll be at York Theatre Royal”. Picture: Matt Austin

Billed as their biggest and most riotous show to date, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure is the sixth time Le Navet Bete have worked with comedy director John Nicholson, co-artistic director of Peepolykus and regular comedy writer for television and radio.

“This time we’ve collaborated on a comedy version of Alexander Dumas’s classic French tale, turning it on its head,” say Le Navet Bete, who have worked on the show with choreographer Lea Anderson and set designer Ti Green too. “Expect all the main characters from the book, but in ways you wouldn’t expect to see them,” they tease.

Le Navet Bete and Exeter Northcott Theatre present The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure, York Theatre Royal, February 7 and 8, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Suitable for age seven upwards.

What’s in a name?

La Navet Bete means “the daft turnip”.

Back in Five Minutes, York Eighties’ band re-unite after 30 years for one night only

Five Minutes in the 1980s, when they were four, before they became six, although they were never five!
From left to right: Nigel Dennis, Sean Rochester, Mark Pearson and Chris Turnbull. Matthew “Duck” Hardy and Paul Shelbourne joined later.

A BAND called Five Minutes had their 15 minutes in York in the late 1980s. Now they are re-uniting for a one-off gig at the Victoria Vaults, in Nunnery Lane, on February 29.

The reason? “The singer and youngest member of the band still living here will be the last of us to turn 50 in February and in his words, ‘Let’s do it before one of us dies’,” reveals trumpet player Matthew “Duck” Hardy, now 50 and a professional musician.

“Our last gig was in January 1989 and most of us haven’t seen each other for 30 years. Now we want to get as many people from York’s late ‘80s music scene down to the gig for a huge reunion.”

In the soul and funk line-up on February 29 will be Hardy; business development manager Chris Turnbull, newly turned 50 next month, on vocals and guitar; IT consultant Sean Rochester, 53, on bass; cinema owner Nigel Dennis, 52, on drums, and retired police officer turned Criminology MSc mature student Mark Pearson, 52, on saxophone.

Not there, but there by the wonder of a video link, will be ex-pat trombonist and urban dog trainer Paul Shelbourne, 49, from his home in Brisbane.

“We’ll be playing original, danceable, driving Northern Soul-esque music with hard- hitting catchy brass riffs and a couple of covers thrown in near the end,” says Matthew, .introducing a set list featuring The Party; Smile; Sequels; Merry-go-round; Bridge In Time; Happy Home; Casanova; Could It Be; This Innocent Kiss; Only A Fool; Soul On Fire; Cornflake Packet; Time Will Tell; B Derdela; All The Daughters and Heatwave.

Back in their day, Five Minutes played York Arts Centre and Harry’s Bar, in Micklegate; Temple Hall, York campus of the College of Ripon and York St John; Central Hall, University of York; the Gimcrack pub (now flats), in Fulford Road, and Bretton Hall (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), near Wakefield.

Come February 29, Five Minutes will be back in action for rather more than five minutes, preceded by a DJ set by Rocky from Sweatbox, but why were/are they called Five Minutes?

“I’ve absolutely no idea why, as it started off as a four-piece and ended up as a six-piece!” says Matthew. “When Paul joined, the Evening Press photographer took a photo of us in the courtyard of Ye Olde Starre Inn, on Stonegate, and the paper did a write-up under the headline ‘Six appeal for Five Minutes’.”

What’s in a name?

Five Minutes start their set or encore with the instrumental B Derdela, so named after saxophonist Mark Pearson asked how singer Chris Turnbull wanted him to play the sax line. Chris gave him the note and the rhythm: B…derdela!

Broadsides founder Barrie Rutter diagnosed with throat cancer. Treatment to start shortly

Barrie Rutter after receiving his OBE on June 25 2015 at Buckingham Palace. Picture: Nobby Clark

BARRIE Rutter, award-winning Yorkshire actor, director and founder of Northern Broadsides, has been diagnosed with throat cancer.

In an official statement, 73-year-old Rutter is “in the good care of the mighty NHS and will begin his treatment very shortly”. 

Born in 1946, the son of a Hull fish worker, Rutter grew up in a two-up, two-down in the fish dock area of Hull.

Barrie Rutter as Lear in King Lear in 2015. Picture: Nobby Clark

At school, an English teacher frogmarched him into the school play because he had “the gob for it”, and feeling at home on stage, Rutter chose his future direction.

There followed many years in the National Youth Theatre, culminating in The Apprentices, with a role written specially for him by Peter Terson: a  practice to be repeated later in his career.

Seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, London and Europe completed the 1970s. In 1980, he joined the National Theatre, a formative period when he met and worked closely with a poet who was to become his guru, Leeds writer Tony Harrison. 

Rutter performed in three of Harrison’s adaptations, all written for the Northern voice: The Mysteries, The Oresteia, and The Trackers Of Oxyrhynchus, wherein he played Silenus, a part penned for Rutter.

Barrie Rutter as flash banker Fuller in Northern Broadsides’ For Love Or Money in 2017. Picture: Nobby Clark

This experience was the spark for actor-manager Rutter setting up Northern Broadsides in 1992, the Halifax company noted for bringing the northern voice, song and clog dancing to Shakespeare, classical theatre and new works alike.

Frustrated by what he perceived to be inadequate Arts Council funding for Broadsides, he stepped  down from the artistic director’s post in April 2018. By then he had received the OBE for services to drama in 2015.

He last appeared on the York Theatre Royal stage in November 2017, when the quizzically eye-browed Rutter was at his most Rutter in his farewell Broadsides tour, For Love Or Money, a typically anarchic theatrical double act with Blake Morrison.

BERWICK’S BACK! York’s grand old dame to ride again but you won’t believe where!

Berwick’s back: dame for a laugh once more

YORK’S grand old dame, Berwick Kaler, is back in panto. Oh yes, he is.

At York Theatre Royal, his “beloved home” for 41 years? Oh, no he isn’t.

Dame Berwick is switching to the other side, the Grand Opera House, to become the Grand’s old dame. What’s more, he will be bringing the rest of the Not Famous But Famous In York Five along for the ride in Dick Turpin Rides Again: villain David Leonard; sidekick stooge Martin Barrass; ageless principal girl Suzy Cooper and luverly Brummie A J Powell.

Tickets for the December 12 to January 10 run will go on general sale on February 14, Valentine’s Day, when fans can have a love-in with Dame Berwick in the box office, when he sells the first tickets at 10am.

 A delighted Kaler says: “Qdos Entertainment have come to the rescue of the most lauded pantomime in the country, having found us a new home at the Grand Opera House in our beloved City of York.

“To make this a success we need you – the most articulate and loyal audience in the entire country. We can go forth with a management that believes we have enhanced the reputation of a local pantomime that has caught the imagination of young and old, from all walks of life.”

Qdos Entertainment’s managing director Michael Harrison enthuses: “We are absolutely delighted to be embarking on an all-new pantomime partnership with our colleagues at the Ambassador Theatre Group, Grand Opera House and, of course, Berwick and the gang.

“Berwick is an undeniable master in the world of pantomime, with his own inimitable style and approach and we are delighted to be working closely with him and the cast to bring back the magic for which they are best known.”

Kaler, 73, retired from playing the Theatre Royal’s dame after 40 years last February, but has signed a three-year contract with Qdos Entertainment, the pantomime powerhouse of British theatre, who are taking over the Grand Opera House panto from Three Bears Productions from Winter 2020.

Dame Berwick will write and direct the show, as well as pulling on his trademark big boots, unruly wig and spectacular frocks again, after regretting his decision to retire, breaking his run as Britain’s longest-running dame, from the moment he announced it.

Fully recovered from his double heart bypass in the summer of 2018, It was a sentiment he repeated regularly, not least on the last night of The Grand Old Dame Of York on February 2 last year, saying he “would be back like a shot” if asked.

Now the veteran dame does return, but across the city, where he has chosen Dick Turpin Rides Again for his first Grand Opera House pantomime, revisiting a show that brought him his highest ever audience figures at the Theatre Royal: 54,000 for Dick Turpin in 2008-2009.

He last appeared on the Opera House stage as fey drag artist Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’ Privates On Parade in 1996.

Kaler made an emotional, provocative speech at the finale to last Saturday’s final night of Sleeping Beauty, the troubled Theatre Royal pantomime he had written and co-directed this winter, but whose progress was jolted by executive director Tom Bird’s confirmation, with a fortnight still to run, that Dame Berwick would not be back, as writer or director, let alone as dame.

BERWICKXIT: Berwick Kaler playing the dame in his last York Theatre Royal pantomime, The Grand Old Dame Of York, last winter. Picture: Anthony Robling

Suzy Cooper and Kaler in The Press splash had called for the dame to return, David Leonard later backed that campaign, while Martin Barrass addressed the audience at each show post-announcement to say “this cast and this band” would not be returning. A public petition was launched too.

“I’m b****y furious,” said the dame, back on his old stamping ground, in a highly charged Saturday atmosphere, full of cheers for Kaler and boos for new panto villain Bird.

Kaler could not reveal “the truth”, but said Bird – or “one man” as he called him throughout without naming him once – was “wrong” in his decision to move on to a new creative team when the Theatre Royal pantomime “didn’t need fixing”.

“I’ll give them three days,” he said in a cryptic ultimatum that set tongues wagging that Kaler must have something up his sleeve, while Barrass rubbed his hands when reading out  a letter in the shout-outs that suggested the Panto Five should move to “the Grand”.

Those three days passed, but now Dame Berwick rises again, linking up with Qdos Entertainment, whose production  facilities are based in Scarborough and Beverley, 100,000 costumes et al. Billed as “the world’s biggest pantomime producer”, with 37 years behind them, they present such big-hitting pantos as the London Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal shows, as well as, closer to York, Hull New Theatre.

Welcoming the new partnership of Qdos and the Kaler crew, Grand Opera House theatre director Rachel Crocombe-Lane says: “Qdos bring both world-class expertise and also a Yorkshire heart, being based in Scarborough; the perfect combination together with this talented cast.

“As a venue team, pantomime is our favourite time of year because of the friendship with the company and also the joy and devotion of our audience. We are proud of these new partnerships, excited for the future of our pantomime and will be ready altogether to really blow your Christmas socks off!’

Qdos Entertainment chairman, Nick Thomas, from Scarborough, is excited too. “I am thrilled to welcome Berwick, a true Yorkshire theatre legend, to the Qdos family. Qdos Entertainment has had a long association with Yorkshire, it is my home county, and with our production and wardrobe teams based in Scarborough and Beverley, forming this new relationship with Berwick and the Grand Opera House is especially exciting.”

Meanwhile, York Theatre Royal will be launching its 2020-2021 pantomime on Monday at high noon. Rather than declaring a pantomime civil war in York, executive director Bird says: “We wish the Grand Opera House the very best of luck. As we’ve always said, we’ll be announcing our new pantomime on Monday”.

On Tuesday this week, Bird told a City of York Council meeting that no performance of Sleeping Beauty had sold out, save for the traditional last night pandemonium, compounding a decline in attendances that had started 11 years ago.

He said the Theatre Royal would “build a new pantomime for the city that to some extent doesn’t rely on you having been to the pantomime for 30 years in order to get it”.

“I know how much affection there is for our pantomime in the city. What’s prompted us to make this change is that that affection isn’t necessarily translating into popularity,” he added. “It’s with a very heavy heart that we make changes but it’s not something we can leave.”

Tickets for Dick Turpin Rides Again will be on general sale from February 14 on 0844 871 3024, at atgtickets.com/york and in person from the Cumberland Street theatre’s box office. ATG Theatre Card holders can buy from February 11.

From Essex house to Nunnington Hall country pile for Grayson Perry’s tapestries

The Essex Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) , by Grayson Perry, on the drawing room wall of Nunnington Hall from February 8

GRAYSON Perry will be Stitching The Past Together with his tapestries at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, from February 8.

Out go the National Trust country house’s 17th century Verdure tapestries for conservation work; in come the Essex transvestite artist, potter, broadcaster and writer’s typically colourful and thought-provoking pair of Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015).

Hanging in an historic setting for the first time in the drawing room, this brace of large-scale, striking works tells the story of Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman” created by the irreverent Chelmsford-born 2003 Turner Prize winner.

The tapestries illustrate the key events in the heroine’s journey from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on a Colchester street.

Rich in cultural and architectural details, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that “everyone can relate to”. 

These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’.

In Its Familiarity Golden: a close-up of one of Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015)

Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors. Perry, by contrast, however, has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with contemporary concerns of class, social aspiration and taste.

To write Julie’s biography, he looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual. 

Laura Kennedy, Nunnington Hall’s visitor experience manager, says: “It’s extremely exciting to have The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope Tapestries on the walls that would usually display the hall’s Verdure tapestries.

“The tapestries will hang in the drawing room amongst the historic collection, and nearby to the hall’s remaining 17th century Flemish tapestries telling the story of Achilles.”

Laura continues: “The genuine and relatable stories told through Grayson Perry’s artworks are a rich contrast to the demonstration of wealth and status reflected through many historic tapestries, including our own at Nunnington Hall.

“We’ve worked closely with the Crafts Council to bring the hangings to Nunnington and observe how these contrasting sets of tapestries are a beautiful contradiction in design, colour palette, storytelling and manufacture, illustrating the evolution of tapestries over the past four hundred years. It will also be the first time that The Essex House Tapestries have been hung in a historic setting.” 

One of the Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015), by Grayson Perry

Nunnington’s three Verdure tapestries were brought to Nunnington Hall more than 350 years ago by the 1st  Viscount Preston, Richard Graham, following his time as Charles II’s ambassador at the Court of Versailles.

Graham was appointed by King James II as the Master of the Royal Wardrobe because of his style and knowledge of Parisian fashions. He would have used these tapestries to demonstrate his good taste, wealth and status in society.

Welcoming Perry’s works to Nunnington Hall, Jonathan Wallis, curator for the National Trust, says: “It’s great to be able to show these wonderful tapestries at Nunnington. It continues our aim of bringing thought-provoking art to rural Yorkshire.

“The Life of Julie Cope is a story that we can all relate to and one which will delight, surprise and engage people. Digital devises accompany the tapestries exploring Julie’s life experiences and the reveal much of Perry’s inspirations.”

This is the first of two opportunities to see work by Grayson Perry in North Yorkshire in 2020. His earliest works and “lost pots” will be showcased in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years from June 12 to September 20 at York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).

The touring exhibition, developed by the Holburne Museum in Bath, is the first to celebrate Perry’s early forays into the art world and will re-introduce the explosive and creative works he made between 1982 and 1994.

The 70 works have been crowd-sourced through a national public appeal, leading to the “lost pots” being on display together for the first time since they were made.

Cocktail Party, 1989, by Grayson Perry, on show in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years at CoCA, York Art Gallery, from June 12

The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition begins with Perry’s early collaged sketchbooks, experimental films and sculptures, capturing his move into using ceramics as his primary medium.

From his first plate, Kinky Sex (1983), to his early vases made in the mid-1980s, Perry riffed on British vernacular traditions to create a language of his own.

The themes of his later work – fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex, and the vagaries of the art world – appear in works of kinetic energy.

Although the majority of his output consisted of vases and plates, Perry’s early experiments with form demonstrate the variety of shapes he produced: Toby jugs, perfume bottles, porringers, funeral urns and gargoyle heads.

Perry says: “This show has been such a joy to put together. I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties. It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”

Grayson Perry’s The Essex House Tapestries: Life of Julie Cope (2015) will be on display at Nunnington Hall, Nunnington, Helmsley, from February 8 to December 20. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30am to 4pm.

Nunnington Hall’s Verdure Tapestries: away for conservation work; back on display from January 2021

What’s happening to the Nunnington Hall Verdure tapestries? 

ALL three tapestries at Nunnington Hall have been taken off the walls. At various times they were sent to Belgium to be cleaned and each is being worked on by a selected conservator.

At each studio, the tapestries have been placed on to a frame with a linen scrim. The conservators are working across each tapestry, undertaking conservation stitching.

This includes closing the gaps that have appeared and replacing worn historic threads and previous conservation repairs. These stiches are placed through both the tapestry and the linen to provide extra support.

One of the conservators has estimated this work will take 740 hours. The work should be completed in the middle of 2020 to be placed back on the drawing room wall in January 2021.

Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) at Nunnington Hall

The story behind Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries

THE Essex House Tapestries were made for A House for Essex, designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture, as featured on the Channel 4 programme Grayson Perry’s Dream House.

The house was conceived as a mausoleum to Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman”, who was inspired by the people Perry grew up among.

The tapestries are the only pair in a public collection, acquired by the Craft Council.

Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate, Yorkshireman, sherry drinker and York Theatre Royal performer

Lips’ ink: Poet Laureate Simon Armitage with a pen for his thoughts

SIMON Armitage is the fourth Yorkshireman to be appointed Poet Laureate, in the wake of Laurence Eusden, Alfred Austin and the rather better-known Ted Hughes.

“I know bits and pieces of the other two,” says the 56-year-old Huddersfield poet, who succeeded Carol Ann Duffy as the 21st incumbent of the prestigious ten-year post last May.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday (February 4 and 5), he will be performing in York for the first time since his appointment, presenting Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage at York Theatre Royal in two fundraising shows to support the theatre’s community work.

“But I don’t see myself as someone who speaks for the county,” says Simon, “Though I’m obviously from here and speak with the voice I grew up with, the noises and dialect I grew up with, and I certainly use Yorkshire in my poetry.”

Historically, the payment for the laureateship was a gift of wine until Henry Pye chanced his arm by asking for a salary in 1790 in the reign of George III. That all changed again when Ted Hughes became Poet Laureate, whereupon Graham Hines, director of the Sherry Institute of Spain, invited him to Jerez in 1986, and the traditional gift was re-constituted.

“They invited me over to Spain last year, and I did my tasting, educating my palate and getting to choose my sherry, and then effectively they send over a barrel every year.”

Do you like sherry, Simon? “I do now!” he says.

Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to his shows in York next week when Simon will be joined by “well-known actors” for the Seeing Stars poetry readings. “The performance is devised around the shows we did at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse [at Shakespeare’s Globe in London], maybe four years ago, when Tom Bird [now York Theatre Royal’s executive director] was at the Glob,” says Simon.

“In fact, the first performance was just when Dominic Dromgoole was leaving the artistic director’s post, and we did Sir Gawain And The Green Knight and The Death Of King Arthur poems, and it will be something along those lines with four actors in York.”

As the show’s title indicates, Seeing Stars will feature selections from Armitage’s book of dramatic monologues, allegories and absurdist tall tales of that title. “That book is ten years old this year: it’s very dramatic, very theatrical,” he says.

The York show is being curated by Scarborough-born theatre director Nick Bagnall, with the actors involved yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press.

“I first met Nick when he was playing a monkey trapped in a bathroom in Huddersfield!” Simon reveals. What? “It was a promenade event in a house in Huddersfield in an area called The Yards that was being knocked down,” he explains.

“I’ve since done a couple of my plays with him directing them: first my dramatisation of Homer’s The Iliad, The Last Days Of Troy, at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Shakespeare’s Globe.

“There are no rules really, no written spec, so it’s a question for each incumbent to decide how they will interpret it,” says Simon Armitage of his post as Poet Laureate

“Then the Liverpool Everyman did The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead, which ended up at the Globe.”

Looking beyond next week to Simon’s decade-long tenure as Poet Laureate, what does the role entail?

“There are no rules really, no written spec, so it’s a question for each incumbent to decide how they will interpret it,” he says.

“I’ve decided to do several projects: one of them will be The Laurel Prize: a prize for poems on the theme of the environment and nature and all that goes with that.

“It’s very prevalent in poetry now, and I’m delighted that the Yorkshire Sculpture Park [near Wakefield] will host the prize ceremony in May.

“I’m also making tours of public libraries this year,[The Laureate’s Library Tour], doing a week of eight readings from March 16 to 21 of A and B places: Aberdeen, Belfast, the British Library, Bacup, and several others.” A tour of C and D locations will follow in the autumn.

“This is to give some support to the pretty beleaguered library service because I believe it to be a really important institution,” says Simon.

His greatest wish is to introduce a National Centre of Poetry. “Not in London,” he says. “Poetry is one of our proudest traditions, and hopefully a national centre can be a place of writing, reading, research and residencies.

“It’s a huge capital funding project, a kind of legacy idea, not a one-year pop-up space but something that becomes part of the landscape.”

You may not know, but “there is no writing obligation associated with the role of Poet Laureate,” says Simon. “Wordsworth never wrote one poem in the post!”

The ever-prolific Simon, however, will be writing as prolifically as ever, having been appointed Poet Laureate by Her Majesty The Queen and the Prime Minister.

“The call came from Theresa May a week before she resigned,” recalls Simon. What did that involve? “It was a private call.”

What did the Prime Minister say? “It was a private call!” Simon says again.

Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage, York Theatre Royal, February 4 and 5, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Copyright of The Press, York

Grand Opera House donates £8,765 in bucket collections to York Hospital charity

Customer experience manager Lauren Atkins, left, deputy customer experience manager Laura Castle, ticketing and sales manager Beth Scott and York Teaching Hospital Charity community fundraiser Joe Fenton with the Grand Opera House bucket collection cheque in the York theatre’s auditorium.  Picture: David Harrison

THE Grand Opera House, York, is to donate £8,765 to the York Teaching Hospital Charity from bucket collections held at performances in 2019.

The donation will go towards “helping to fund the extras to improve healthcare facilities above and beyond the NHS making patients feel better”. 

Joe Fenton, the hospital charity’s community fundraiser, said: “We’d like to say a huge thank-you to the Grand Opera House and to everyone who generously donated at the bucket collections held across 2019.

“The incredible amount that has been raised is truly inspiring and will go a long way in improving the staff and patient experience across our hospitals. 

“The money will be used benefit a number of wards, including the Children’s Ward, Dementia, the Renal Unit and our Maternity Bereavement Suite, so thank you for your fantastic support.”

Clare O’Connor, theatre manager at the Cumberland Street theatre, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have contributed nearly £9,000 (£8765.17) to numerous departments – Renal  Unit, Children’s Ward, Dementia Appeal and Butterfly Appeal – in the hospital over the past 12 months, in conjunction with the wonderful York Teaching Hospital Charity.

“Without the very generous donations of our audience members, and the time kindly given by volunteers for collections, we wouldn’t have achieved so great a figure, which means so much to all the staff at the Grand Opera House.”

Clare continued: “The patients and relatives who use these departments at York Hospital will benefit greatly from these funds, which will improve their experience during a difficult time, and we look forward to more successful fundraising over the next 12 months. Thank you.”

Pianist Joe Alexander Shepherd to perform at NCEM in aid of Charlie Gard Foundation

York contemporary classical composer Joe Alexander Shepherd

YORK pianist Joe Alexander Shepherd will play in aid of the Charlie Gard Foundation at the National Centre for Early Music, York, on March 7.

Joe studied at Bootham School, where he learnt to play the piano from a young age, before moving on to Paul McCartney’s Academy of Music in Liverpool as a teenager.

He composes and performs intricate, minimalist contemporary classical music with subtle touches of atmospheric melancholy, in the vein of Ludovico Einaudi, Michael Nyman, Dustin O’Halloron and beyond.

The poster for Joe Alexander Shepherd’s March 7 concert

Writing since the age of 15, piano has always been in the heart of Joe’s songs, adding his own twist with textural synths to bring the simplistic melodies to life.

After signing a worldwide record deal with the Vancouver label Nettwerk, he launched his five-track debut EP, Time, in an intimate concert at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, in September 2018.

Recorded at his York home over a two-year period, it compromised the title track, One Day, Opus 266, Amore and Love Me Like You Did Before. “I’m now working towards my second EP and there’ll be an album to follow in the near future, released through Nettwerk, whose roster includes the likes of Passenger, Fun, Stereophonics, to name a few,” he said at the time.

The artwork for Joe Alexander Shepherd’s debut EP, Time, in 2018

Joe will showcase new material alongside special guest cellist Isaac Collier at his March 7 concert. Maybe an indication that recordings could be on their way?

Reflecting on his career so far as a performer and in-demand composer, he says: “I was lucky to compose the soundtrack for UEFA’s World War One Truce video, starring footballers Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Sir Bobby Charlton, and I’ve also written pieces for the Rugby Football Union, BBC One, BBC Two and Land Rover. My dream is to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London, playing my own original material to fans across the globe.”

Support act Rachel Croft. Picture: Jono

Joe’s support act at his 7.30pm charity concert will be York singer-songwriter Rachel Croft. Tickets cost £15 on 07853 070201 or by email to stephanie@thecharliegardfoundation.org.

The Charlie Gard Foundation charity supports children, adults and their families affected by mitochondrial disease. 

Helen Wilson completes her Chekhov big four with The Seagull, but what next?

York Settlement Community Players director Helen Wilson bonding with Cliff, the seagull from Dotty’s Vintage Tearoom in Staithes, ahead of her production pf The Seagull

CHEKHOV devotee Helen Wilson set herself the challenge of directing the 19th century Russian’s four greatest plays for York Settlement Community Players in ten years.

Next month, the project will be completed with his 1895 tragicomedy The Seagull, his most famous work, as Settlement celebrate their centenary by returning to the York Theatre Royal Studio.

First, however, Helen will give a library talk tomorrow (January 29) from 6pm to 8pm at York Explore to mark Anton Chekhov’s 160th birthday, under the title of Adventures In The Cherry Orchard: Chekhov And Me. 

“Why is Anton Chekhov so beloved and called ‘the father of the modern theatre’,” Helen will ask herself. “I’ll seek to explain why through anecdotes and a little biography; casting a light on why he called his plays ‘comedies’.

“So, come and toast Chekhov’s 160th birthday with a glass of vodka or wine and be entertained by extracts of his work from The Seagull cast. As I direct the fourth of his major plays, I’ll share my enthusiasm for a great Russian dramatist.”

Chekhov And Me: Helen Wilson’s talk at York Explore

This will be York tutor, theatre director and actor Helen’s final Chekhov production as Settlement tackle the late 19th century work that heralded the birth of modern theatre with its story of unrequited love, the generation gap and how life can turn on a kopek: a raw tragicomedy of poignancy yet sometimes absurd playfulness.

She had not envisaged doing all the Chekhov quartet when she set out in March 2010. “I did Three Sisters in the Theatre Royal Studio, and I thought that would be that, as it was my ambition to do that play,” recalls Helen.

“But then I did The Cherry Orchard at Riding Lights’ Friargate Theatre in September 2015, and I was on a roll, so we did Uncle Vanya in the Theatre Royal Studio in March 2018 and now The Seagull in the Studio again. Two actors have been in all of them: Maurice Crichton and Ben Sawyer. They just keep auditioning!”

Helen can see patterns in Chkhov’s work when putting the four side by side. “Chekhov has both ensemble text and ‘duo-logue’, where there’s so much going on and so much subtext too,” she says.

“So for The Seagull, I’m having to hold both ensemble rehearsals and separate rehearsals for the main characters.

Helen Wilson and seagull Cliff in Staithes

“And having done the three other plays, I can point to the pattern where Act One is always a souffle, with plenty of laughing at these slightly inept characters thinking they are something they’re not, and the audience having that delicious moment of thinking, ‘well, actually that’s not going to happen’. Then Chekhov likes to lob a bomb into the room in Act Three.”

Helen has “always felt that The Seagull has never fully made sense on stage” when she has seen past productions. “Like Irina Arkadina has always been seen as a monster, when she’s not,” she says.

“It’s important to show what’s beneath that, and Chekhov always gives you the opportunity to see the other side of the character. That’s what I want to explore and exploit.

“They’re all vulnerable, every one of them…but when I went to see Vanessa Redgrave in the play when I was nine, I wasn’t very impressed! Her speech at the end wasn’t very good!

“In this production, I want there to be vulnerability, but also warmth, in every character, for the audience to be able to laugh and cry with them.”

Settlement regular Maurice Crichton (Vanya) and Amanda Dales (Yelena) in rehearsal for York Settlement Community Players’ Uncle Vanya in 2018

Helen sees a difference between The Seagull and the other three plays. “It isn’t like the others in that the ending is very abrupt,” she says. “Chekhov was very influenced by Ibsen, and this is more of an Ibsen ending than elegiac, but the play is also a great deal funnier than people realise, especially in Act One.

“As with Ibsen and Shakespeare, you can be too reverent in how you present it, but I want people to find the characters recognisable types that they know.

“All life is there; you don’t have to hit people over the head with it. All the resonance is there. It’s all going on in someone’s home and that’s how it should feel.”

What has Helen learned from her earlier productions? “Not to have so much on stage, like having a chaise longue previously! The costumes will be period, there’ll be a soundscape and lighting, but what matters is to make it absorbing to watch, so it’s going to be very intimate.”

Settlement’s production, by the way, will be carrying the best wishes of writer/translator Michael Frayn, who has sent the York company a message of gratitude. “It’s a wonderful achievement for YSCP to have performed all of Chekhov’s four last great plays – and I can’t help being pleased, of course, that they have chosen to use my translations,” he wrote.

Helen Wilson standing by cherry blossom when directing The Cherry Orchard in 2015

“Most productions of the plays these days seem to be ‘versions,’ with the period, location, genders, and politics changed to make them more relevant to audiences who might otherwise not be up to understanding them.  

“People in York, though, are evidently made of tougher stuff, because the simple intention of my translations is to get as close to the original Russian as I can.  Just occasionally, perhaps, it’s worth trying to catch the sense and feel of what Chekhov actually intended. So, thank you, YSCP!”

Helen has stated this will be her last Chekhov, but out of the blue she says: “Having done the other three, in some ways I’d like to do Three Sisters again. Having learned things since I did it, I’d do it differently but more or less with the same cast.

“You get into a rhythm of what these plays are like, and they still move me every time. It’s like a labour of love doing them.

“But when I finish this one, I’d love to do an Arthur Miller one next. The thing about Chekhov and Miller is that they’re universal. You don’t have to modernise them for resonance. They will always resonate in their own period.”

A word in your shell like by the sea at Staithes: Cliff and The Seagull director Helen Wilson

York Settlement Community Players in Chekhov’s The Seagull, York Theatre Royal Studio, February 26 to March 7, 7.45pm plus 2pm matinee on February 29; no Sunday or Monday performances. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Tickets for Helen Wilson’s Chekhov talk at 6pm tomorrow (January 29) at York Explore, Library Square, Museum Street, York, cost £5 at yorkexplore.org.

Quick question:

What’s the story behind seagull Cliff, Helen?

“He’s called Cliff and he lives in the window of the much frequented Dotty’s Vintage Tearoom in Staithes, collecting coins for the RNLI. He was allowed to commune with me for an hour or two and seemed to enjoy it!”

Wig, beard, green coat, Rory Mulvihill is ready to steal the show again as Fagin

Rory Mulvihill, donning beard, wig and iconic green coat, to play Fagin for a second time. Pictures: Anthony Robling

YORK Light Opera Company mark 60 consecutive years of performing at York Theatre Royal by presenting Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, 60 years after the musical’s West End debut.

Running from February 12 to 22 in a revival directed by Martyn Knight, with musical direction by John Atkin, the show is based on Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist and revels in such songs as Food, Glorious Food, Oom-Pah-Pah, Consider Yourself and You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two.

Leading the cast of 40 will be Rory Mulvihill, a veteran of the York theatre scene, who will be playing Fagin after a career with York Light that does not quite stretch back 60 years but does run to 35. “I started in 1985 with the summer show Songs From The Shows, which was a cabaret-style show, where I remember I was part of Three Wheels On My Wagon as a cowboy,” he says.

Reflecting on his subsequent myriad York Light roles, he says: “I’ve enjoyed all of them, but the one I’m most proud of is Barnum. It was a tremendous show. Every member of the cast had to learn a circus skill and perform it to full houses. I spent four months going to a circus school three days a week learning how to tight rope walk.”

Rory Mulvihill in the rehearsal room for York Light Opera Company’s production of Oliver!

Rory is playing Fagin for the second time, so he is well qualified to analyse the musical’s portrait of the trickster who runs a den of nimble young thieves in Victorian London’s murky underworld.

“The character is written very differently in the musical from the novel, in a way that makes you feel for him. You know fundamentally he’s a bad person but there’s always something that redeems him,” he says. 

“If I had to describe him in three words, I remember there was an advert for creme cakes about 40 years ago and the slogan was ‘naughty but nice’, so I’m going to go with that one. 

“I don’t do anything specific to get into character. Someone once said their character builds as they dress up as them and that certainly applies to Fagin as I’ll be having a beard, wig and the iconic long green coat. It certainly helps wearing the costumes to get into character.”  

Rory Mulvihille’s Fagin with his two Artful Dodgers, Jack Hambleton and Sam Piercy

Picking out the differences between the first and second times he has portrayed Fagin, Rory says: “The children involved give Oliver! its dynamic. It’s a different set of kids and crew of course.

“We only have one set of kids this time instead of two. Having done it once, I’m not starting again, I’m building on what I’ve done before. Hopefully I’ll not stumble over the lines and give a better performance.”

A key part of his role is leading the young cast around him. “Whenever you work with kids, it’s difficult to begin with because they’re scoping you out to see what they can/can’t get away with, but once you get over that, it’s a joy.

Jonny Holbek as Bill Sikes with Roy as Bullseye in York Light Opera Company’s Oliver!

“They’re now quite relaxed in the company of the adult cast and I’m getting to know them – maybe a bit too cheeky at times. Theatre is the best gift you can give a kid to carry through their life.”

That sentiment takes him back to Leeds-born Rory’s first steps in theatre. “Funnily enough Oliver! was the very first show I was ever in. I played the Artful Dodger in a school production at St Michael’s in Leeds in 1968. It was just by accident really. I was just asked to do the part by the director. That was my introduction to theatre and I’ve been doing it ever since. Now I’ve come full circle with Oliver!”

Rory, who has lived in York since the mid-1980s, worked as a lawyer for more than 30 years, at Spencer Ewin Mulvihill and latterly Richardson Mulvihill in Harrogate, before retraining as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, but he has always found time for a parallel stage career.

In doing so, he has been not only a leading man in multiple musicals but also has played both Jesus and Satan in the York Mystery Plays; York lawyer and railway protagonist George Leeman in In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum, and lately Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army and the outrageous Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’s Privates On Parade for Pick Me Up Theatre.

Rory Mulvihill, centre, as the flamboyant Captain Terri Dennis in Privates On Parade

Last summer, he set up a new York company, Stephenson & Leema Productions, with fellow actor and tutor Ian Giles, making their June debut with Harold Pinter’s ticklishly difficult 1975 play No Man’s Land.

Now his focus is on Oliver!, performing alongside Alex Edmondson and Matthew Warry as Oliver; Jack Hambleton and Sam Piercy as the Artful Dodger; Emma-Louise Dickinson as Nancy and Jonny Holbeck as the villainous Bill Sikes.

Rory looks forward particularly to singing the climactic Reviewing The Situation. “It’s a tour de force,” he reasons. “You can’t really go wrong with it. It’s a fantastically written song with a beautiful tune, comedy and pathos.

“Please sir, I want some more…and more”: Matthew Warry and Alex Edmondson, sharing the role of Oliver in York Light Opera Company’s Oliver!

“Lionel Bart clearly thought ‘I’m just going to take the audience’s emotions and put them through the ringer’. So, at the end, they don’t know whether to laugh or cry. A wonderful piece of work.”

As the first night looms on the horizon, will Rory experience first-night nerves, even after all these years? “For me, rehearsals can be more worrisome than being on stage,” he says.

“Performing in front of your peers, certainly for the first time, can be very nerve racking, and it’s getting over that that prepares you for being on stage. By the time you get on stage, you have butterflies of course, but you know you can do it.”

York Light Opera Company present Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, York Theatre Royal, February 12 to 22, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm matinee on both Saturdays. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Who are the new additions to the Deer Shed 11 festival this summer?

Cate le Bon: Deer Shed 11 this way

DEER Shed Festival’s second wave of acts for July 24 to 26 at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, near Thirsk, is confirmed today.

Ghostpoet, Cate Le Bon, Tim Burgess and Warmduscher are among more than 30 new additions, complementing a bill that already features Stereolab and Baxter Dury among its headliners.

Two-time Mercury nominee Ghostpoet will join headliners Stereolab on the Friday Main Stage line-up, while Welsh avant-pop singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon will play before Deer Shed’s yet-to-be-revealed Saturday night Main Stage headliner. 

Tim Burgess, frontman of Madchester icons The Charlatans, will headline In The Dock, Deer Shed’s second of four live music stages, on the Friday, followed by The Twilight Sad and Kate Tempest on the Saturday and Sunday respectively. 

Boy Azooga, Dream Wife and Jesca Hoop are all artists familiar with performing at Baldersby Park, 100 acres of North Yorkshire parkland, woodland, lakes and rivers that Deer Shed calls home. Boy Azooga will be on the Main Stage on the Sunday, Dream Wife have been elevated to In The Dock headliners on the Friday and Jesca Hoop will join Roddy Woomble as a Lodge stage headliner on the Saturday. 

Warmduscher will play at Deer Shed on the Saturday, bringing their industrial post-punk sounds to the Main Stage after Tainted Lunch was named among BBC 6 Music’s 2019 Albums of the Year. 

As is Deer Shed tradition, Yorkshire and North East acts will be well represented: step forward Hull punks LIFE; Leeds indie bands Marsicans and Ruthie; Sheffield nerd disco trio International Teachers Of Pop; North York Moors alt rock band Avalanche Party; Leeds folk singers Serious Sam Barrett and Gary Stewart and north easterners Mt. Misery, Tom Joshua and Beccy Owen. 

A wealth of folk-influenced artists have been added too, among them Erland Cooper, Admiral Fallow; I See Rivers; Kitt Philipa; Rachael Dadd; Eve Owen; Irish Mythen; Conchúr White and The Magpies. 

The alternative rock contingent is bolstered by the additions of hotly tipped bands W.H. Lung, Do Nothing, Egyptian Blue, Kate Davis and Friedberg. 

Irish folk duo Morrissey & Marshall will present their Dublin Calling radio show live from Balderbsy Park, featuring live performances by Steo Wall, Brigid Mae Power and Padraig Jack. 

Harrogate Big Beat producer Rory Hoy and Newcastle producer Meg Ward will be Deer Shed’s first DJs, spinning tunes back to back at the Friday late-night silent disco, while Happy Mondays’ Bez will take to the decks and dancefloor for Sunday’s closing party. 

The festival team still has a handful of high-profile names left to reveal, but cards will be kept close to the chest for the time being. 

Festival director Oliver Jones says: “There has yet to be a year at Deer Shed where we haven’t significantly expanded the music offering. The day may eventually come where we decide we have enough amazing bands, but that year certainly isn’t 2020. 

“Ghostpoet, Cate Le Bon, Tim Burgess and Warmduscher, joining headliners Stereolab and Baxter Dury, plus a mass of artists ready to break the big time in 2020, are all ensuring the music line-up is once again brimming with world-class talent, and we still have an ace up our sleeve for the Saturday headline slot.” 

The second tier of tickets for Deer Shed’s 11th summer festival are expected to sell out at midnight on Friday, January 31. Tier 3 tickets will be available from Saturday at an increase of £10 per adult ticket. For tickets and more information, go to deershedfestival.com.

Full list of artists confirmed for Deer Shed Festival 11 (additions in bold):

Stereolab (headline); Baxter Dury (headline); Ghostpoet, Cate Le Bon; Kate Tempest (Telling Poems); Tim Burgess; The Twilight Sad; Sinkane; Warmduscher; Boy Azooga; Dream Wife; Roddy Woomble; Jesca Hoop; Snapped Ankles; Melt Yourself Down; Liz Lawrence; LIFE; Marsicans; Erland Cooper; Dry Cleaning.

Admiral Fallow; W.H. Lung; Ren Harvieu; International Teachers of Pop; Avalanche Party; I See Rivers; Kitt Philippa; Rachael Dadd; Native Harrow; Kate Davis; Big Joanie; Do Nothing; Egyptian Blue; Rina Mushonga; Friedberg; Heidi Talbot & Boo Hewerdine; Ruthie; Serious Sam Barrett; Eve Owen.

Irish Mythen; Tom Joshua; Brigid Mae Power; Conchúr White; Gary Stewart; Beccy Owen; Mt. Misery; Morrissey & Marshall present Dublin Calling; Steo Wall; The Magpies; Padraig Jack; Bez (DJ); Rory Hoy (DJ); Meg Ward (DJ)

2020 Jorvik Viking Festival is all talk in York next month. Here come the experts

Viking reproduction gold rings at the Jorvik Viking Festival

HORDES of Norse academics will descend on York during the 36th Jorvik Viking Festival, armed with fresh news of the Viking world.

During the February 15 to 23 festival run, lectures and talks will explore the concept of a single common European-wide market enjoyed by the Vikings, the remarkable voyage of replica ship The Viking and the latest discoveries at Trondheim.

The programme of talks has been compiled by Dr Chris Tuckley, head of interpretation for York Archaeological Trust.  “Jorvik Viking Festival is attended by Norse enthusiasts from around the world, from children getting their first taste of Viking culture, to academics who have devoted their lives to learning more about our Scandinavian ancestors,” he says.

“So, alongside the colourful hands-on events and presentations, we always host a series of talks and lectures that are accessible to a wide range of people, from enthusiastic amateur historians to leading names in the worlds of archaeology and research.”

Talks for 2020 include:

  • Home & Away: Fashion and identity in the Viking Age, presented by Dr Gareth Williams, of the British Museum, on February 18 at 7pm at the Jorvik Viking Centre.

This talk will explore how fashion varied across the Viking world, including how it fused with other styles as the Vikings explored the globe.  Tickets cost £25.

Here come the Vikings
  • The Helen Thirza Addyman Lecture by Chris McLees, archaeologist and researcher at Trondheim, a 10th century Viking trading settlement, on February 19 at 7pm at Fountains Lecture Theatre, York St John University. 

 This lecture will present the archaeology of this important place on the northern periphery of the Viking and medieval worlds, including the results of excavations at sites associated with the renowned late-Viking kings Olav Haraldsson (St Olav) and Harald Hardrada. Tickets are £10 for adults, £8 for concessions.

  • Looking for Jet in A Dark Place,  by Sarah Steele, consultant geologist for Whitby Museum, who explores the trade in black jet around the Viking world at the Jorvik Viking Centre on February 20 at 7pm.

The mineral of jet, which requires extreme global warming to form, was traded as far afield as Greenland, yet remains notoriously difficult to identify in the archaeological record.  Attendees will learn how modern technology may soon appreciate fully  the scope of Whitby Jet’s trade during the medieval period.  Tickets cost £25.

All of these events build up to the Richard Hall Symposium, closing the festival on February 23 in the De Grey Lecture Theatre at York St John University.

The theme of that day’s talks will be A Single Market for Goods and Services? , Travel and Trade in the Viking World, with experts including Professor Lesley Abrams, of Oxford University, Dr Gareth Williams, from the British Museum, Dr Jane Kershaw, of the School of Archaeology at Oxford University, and Maria Nørgaard, project leader at Vikinger på Rejse, Denmark. 

For more details on all the talks and presentations at the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival, visit jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk.

The Stranglers call time on big tours with autumn gigs. Leeds and Sheffield beckon

The Stranglers: last full-scale tour in 2020

THE Stranglers, still going strong after 46 years, have decided their 21 October and November dates will be their final “extensive full production UK tour”.

“This is the last time we intend to play together in this way,” they say, after announcing Yorkshire gigs at Sheffield City Hall on October 30 and Leeds O2 Academy on November 12. “While we may not be checking out completely just yet, this will be the last opportunity to see us playing together in a comprehensive touring format.”

No more heroes on the road on full UK tours post 2020, autumn’s shows are a chance to enjoy peaches from a back catalogue of 24 Top 40 singles and 18 Top 40 albums before they walk on by to other ways of still gigging.

Responding to “overwhelming demand” from Stranglers fans, the invitation went out to Ruts DC to be this autumn’s special guests, so, yes, they will be Staring At The Rude Boys.

Meanwhile, The Stranglers – The Movie, a crowd-funded documentary that “attempts to cram the band’s complex story, full of wild anecdotes, into one film”, will be released imminently.

Tour tickets go on sale on Friday at gigsandtour.com and ticketmaster.co.uk.

Made In Dagenham cast made up by meeting with Rachael Maskell MP and West End actor Scott Garnham

Councillor Robert Webb, Kayleigh Oliver (playing Barbara Castle), Rachael Maskell MP, Martyn Hunter (playing Harold Wilson) and Councillor Anna Perrett at Sunday’s rehearsal run of Made In Dagenham

YORK Central MP Rachael Maskell and West End musical theatre star Scott Garnham, from Malton, popped along to Sunday’s rehearsal run of Made In Dagenham.

The session was open to York Residents Festival visitors as the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company prepared for their fundraising musical production in aid of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

Presented by the JoRo’s in-house company, Made In Dagenham tells the true story of the beginning of the equal pay for women movement, focusing on the Ford strike at Dagenham in the 1960s.

The choice of show could not be more relevant because the York performances coincide with the 50th anniversary of the passing of Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act of 1970.

The Cortina girls and Buddy Cortina, from the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company show, with Malton actor Scott Garnham, from the original West End production. of Made In Dagenham. Left to right: Lucy Plimmer, Jenny Jones, Ben Huntley, Scott Garnham, Karen Brunyee and Ashley Ginter.

The subject of equal pay and discrimination is close to Rachael Maskell’s heart, as the Labour MP spent many years as a union rep campaigning for equal rights. Re-elected at the December 12 General Election, she has been appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights. 

Addressing the company on the Rowntree Theatre stage, Ms Maskell said: “This is an inspirational story you are telling, and it remains a story of women at work today. If we don’t speak out, how do we expect things to change?”

She described the women of Dagenham as “sparky women who would not take no for an answer”, and urged the JoRo company to “go out there and keep fighting”.

Scott Garnham, who has performed many times on the Rowntree Theatre stage, appeared  in the original London production of Made in Dagenham in the role of Buddy Cortina.

The Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s fabulous machinists of Dagenham meet York Central MP Rachael Maskell and York councillors Robert Webb and Anna Perrett

In York last week for Friday’s tribute show The Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons at the Grand Opera House, on Sunday Scott said: “To come and support this local community theatre is really important to me. I learned a lot of my stagecraft here in this building.

“The venue is a real hub for performers of all ages and backgrounds, and theatre is a very unifying experience. I’m so pleased that the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company have chosen to do this show as their annual fundraiser.  It’s the story of a truly inspirational group of women, many of whom I had the great pleasure to meet.”

Despite its gritty subject matter, Made In Dagenham is described as a heart-warming story, full of humour, coupled with wonderful music. Although the show is not suitable for young children, on account of “some very strong language”, the company hopes to introduce a wide new audience to the sparky women of Dagenham.

Next week’s production runs from February 5 to 8 at 7.30pm nightly plus a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets are available on 01904 501935, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or in person from the Haxby Road theatre’s box office.

Morrissey, Leeds and a dog chain combine in arena gig and album release

The album artwork for Morrissey’s March 20 album, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain

MORRISSEY will preview his new album, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, at Leeds First Direct Arena on March 6.

This will be the northern marrow to his one southern gig, The SSE Arena, Wembley, London on March 14.

Released on March 20 on BMG, the album will be preceded by the single Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, featuring guest vocals by Seventies’ Motown legend Thelma Houston.

“One of the biggest joys for me in this business is getting the opportunity to collaborate with other top artists,” says Thelma, now 73. “I love the challenge to see if what I do can work with what they’re doing.

“Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think the blend of what Morrissey is singing and what I’m singing really works on ‘Bobby’. And it was a lot of fun working with Morrissey in the studio too!”

Produced by Joe Chicarelli, whose credits include Beck, The Strokes and The Killers, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain was recorded at Studio La Fabrique in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, and Sunset Sound in Hollywood, California.

“I’ve now produced four studio albums for Morrissey,” says Chicarelli. “This is his boldest and most adventurous album yet. He has pushed the boundaries yet again, both musically and lyrically. And once again proving that as a songwriter and singer, he is in his own category. In truth, no one can be Morrissey but… Morrissey.”

I Am Not A Dog On A Chain followslast May’sCalifornia Son, a covers album that featured Ed Droste, of Grizzly Bear, Billie Joe Armstrong, of Green Day, LP (aka Laura Pergolizzi), Broken Social Scene’s Ariel Engle, Petra Haden and Young The Giant’s Sameer Gadhia.

Morrissey’s last album of original compositions was Low In High School in 2017. The new one has a track listing of Jim Jim Falls; Love Is On Its Way Out; Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?; I Am Not A Dog On A Chain; What Kind Of People Live In These Houses?; Knockabout World; Darling, I Hug A Pillow; Once I Saw The River Clean; The Truth About Ruth; The Secret Of Music and My Hurling Days Are Done.

I Am Not A Dog On A Chain arrives against the backdrop of The Smiths’ former frontman, 60, sparking controversy with his latter-day political views.

Tickets for his Morrissey Live In Concert 2020 gig in Leeds are on sale at gigsandtours.com, ticketmaster.co.uk and axscom/uk.

Kacy & Clayton open new year of gigs at Lonely Planet’s seventh quirkiest venue”

Kacy & Clayton: cosmic alt-country on the North York Moors at The Band Room on Friday

KACY & Clayton are the first act to be confirmed for The Band Room’s 2020 concert programme at Low Mill, Farndale, near Kirkbymoorside, on the North York Moors.

Promoter Nigel Burnham has announced a 7.30pm shows for Friday, when the Canadian duo will be supported by Arborist. Given the capacity of only 100, he recommends booking at thebandroom.co.uk/gigs or on 01751 432900.

“I think our gig on January 31 – Brexit night! – could be the alternative double bill of the year,” says Nigel. “Kacy & Clayton brought the house down when they played here last March and we’ll be rolling out the red carpet for their return, this time with a full band line-up.

“Support act Arborist, from Belfast, are getting fantastic reviews for their debut album, Home Burial, too.”

Kacy & Clayton, from Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, are returning to Low Mill after releasing their fifth album, Carrying On, last October. “In the band are Kacy Anderson – alias the missing link between Sandy Denny and Emmylou Harris – and her second cousin Clayton Linthicum, a multi-talented guitarist who could have played on The Byrds’ Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album if he’d been around at the time,” says Nigel.

“Some call them ‘folk roots’, others ‘psychedelic folk’ or ‘cosmic alt-country’. Honestly! They’re destined for great things. Their fourth album, 2017’s The Siren’s Song, was produced by Americana icon Jeff Tweedy; they’ve toured with Wilco and The Decemberists and been mentioned in the same hallowed breath as Grievous Angel-era Gram Parsons and country rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield.”

Singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich,outside York MInster. Picture: Esme Mai

The next date in the Band Room diary is York troubadour Benjamin Francis Leftwich on March 6: his first North Yorkshire gig since the very contrasting York Minster nave on March 29 last year.

“We’re delighted that Ben, such a peerless super-cool singer-songwriter, will be making his long-awaited debut here,” says Nigel, who will welcome Wounded Bear as the support act.

Leftwich, who lives in North London these days, released his third album, Gratitude, on March 15 last year with a launch gig that night at an even more intimate solo show, playing to 50 at FortyFive Vinyl Café, in Micklegate, York.

The Band Room will kick off a new year buoyed by the Lonely Planet travel guide placing the moorland hall at number seven in its survey of Britain’s Quirkiest Music Venues. To discover where else made the list, go to lonelyplanet.com/articles/quirkiest-music-venues-uk.

“People travel from across the world to see gigs in this picture-perfect Yorkshire hut,” writes Lonely Planet’s Lucy Lovell. “The wood-panelled Band Room was originally built as a brass band practice room in the 1920s, and aside from new management and a well-curated line-up of bands, little has changed since then.

“There’s still no bar, so don’t forget to bring your own drinks, and enjoy chatting with others who made the journey across the North York Moors.” All very true, except that the pedant police would point out the Band Room used to house silver band practice sessions, not brass band ones.

Not again, Alan? Very much again, Alan, as comic Carr confirms York Barbican gigs

Loudhailer! Alan Carr announces a brace of York Barbican gigs for December

HOW does joker Alan Carr feel news of his first tour in four years will be received?

By calling it Not Again, Alan!, the son of former York City footballer Graham Carr supplies his own answer as he announces York Barbican gigs on December 18 and 19.

Since his last comedy travels, chat-show host Carr has “managed to find himself in all sorts of dramas”, apparently. Such as? “Between his star-studded wedding day and becoming an accidental anarchist, from fearing for his life at border control to becoming a reluctant farmer, three words spring to mind…Not again, Alan!” says his tour publicity. “Join Alan on tour as he muses upon the things that make his life weird and wonderful.”

Tickets go on sale on Wednesday at 10am on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Not Again, Alan! will be Carr’s fourth UK solo show in four-year cycles in the wake of Yap, Yap, Yap’s 200 dates in 2015 and 2016, Spexy Beast in 2011 and Tooth Fairy in 2007. He last brought his chat, chat, chat to York on the Yap, Yap, Yap! itinerary on July 11 2015 at the Barbican.

Later this year Carr will host Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow on ITV, wherein five all-time favourite game shows will be supersized and reinvigorated for a new audience: Play Your Cards Right, Take Your Pick, Strike It Lucky, Bullseye and The Price Is Right. In 2020 too, Carr will return to the judges’ panel on the second BBC series of RuPaul’s DragRace UK.

Viva La Divas is next step for Strictly stars Katya, Nadiya and Janette in York show

The tour poster for Viva La Divas starring Katya Jones, Nadiya Bychkova and Janette Manrara. Picture: Colin Thomas

STRICTLY Come Dancing professional trio Janette Manrara, Katya Jones and Nadiya Bychkova will be on tour this summer, making a song and dance of Viva La Divas at the Grand Opera House, York, on June 16.

Collaborating with the original producers of Viva La Diva, first performed in 2007 with dancer Darcey Bussell and singer Katherine Jenkins, this glamorous show will pay tribute to stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Broadway and West End musical theatre, modern pop divas and female icons with the greatest impact on the Strictly dancers.

In this all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza, Katya, Nadiya and Janette will star with a cast of dancers and singers as they celebrate Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Beyonce, Judy Garland, Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez and many more.

Running from June 14 to July 16, the tour has further Yorkshire dates at Halifax Victoria Hall on June 23 and Bridlington Spa on the last night.

Miami-born Janette Manrara became a Strictly professional in 2013 after performing at the 2009 Academy Awards, appearing in season five of the American version of So You Think You Can Dance, being a principal dancer on Glee and starring in the stage show Burn The Floor for three years.


Among her Strictly highlights was lifting the Christmas Glitter Ball trophy twice with celebrity partners Aston Merrygold and Melvin Odoom.
Looking ahead to the summer tour, Janette says: “I’m so excited to be touring the UK with two of my best friends, Katya and Nadiya – and what a show it’s going to be.

“We’ll be celebrating the glitz, the glamour and style of the greatest divas in showbiz. We’re going to have so much fun bringing this show to audiences across the UK and I can’t wait. It’s going to be a blast.”

Before making her Strictly debut in 2016 , Russian dancer Katya Jones and her dance partner Neil Jones won the WDC World Show Dance Championships and three titles at the World Amateur Latin Championship.


After her Strictly partnership with politician Ed Balls in 2016, for her second series Katya was partnered with actor Joe McMadden, the pair duly lifting the  Glitterball Ball trophy as 2017 champions.


“To tour Viva La Divas across this beautiful country this summer with two incredible dancers, who happen to be my very close friends, is a dream come true,” says Katya.

“How the three of us managed to keep everything a secret for so long I’ll never know. Finally, we can shout it from the roof tops: girls on tour! It’s going to be epic.”

Ukrainian-born Nadiya Bychkova made her Strictly debut in 2017 as a two-time world champion and European champion in ballroom and Latin ‘10’ Dance, partnering former England goalkeeper David James in the 2019 series.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the Viva La Divas tour this summer,” she says. “We have an incredible team working on what will be a dazzling show that I can’t wait for audiences everywhere to see.

“It’s going to be a stunning spectacle full of the elegance, style and attitude, befitting of the greatest divas’ legacies. And to be touring with two incredible friends in Janette and Katya is simply the dream team.”

Tickets for the tour go on general sale at 10am on Friday at ticketmaster.co.uk and vivaladivasshow.com; York tickets on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Keane’s second wave rolls into Scarborough Open Air Theatre for seaside summer show

Keaner than ever: Keane are back after a six-year hiatus

KEANE, the rejuvenated East Sussex chart toppers, are off to the East Coast for a  Friday night out at Scarborough Open Air Theatre this summer.

Tickets for their July 17 gig go on general sale on Friday at 9am at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.

Singer Tom Chaplin, sparring partner Tim Rice-Oxley, bassist Jesse Quin and drummer Richard Hughes returned from a six-year hiatus last September with the album Cause And Effect.

The birth of their fifth studio album came as a surprise even to the band from Battle. Chaplin had released two solo albums, 2016’s The Wave and 2017’s Twelve Tales Of Christmas, but nevertheless missed working with Rice-Oxley. 

So, when Chaplin, Quin and Hughes heard the songs Rice-Oxley had been composing, they were immediately drawn to them, both sonically and lyrically, and Keane were reborn. “We’re not some heritage act,” says Rice-Oxley. “We’ve got a lot of great music in us.”

Ahead of Cause And Effect’s release, Keane returned to the stage last summer with a string of live shows, not least two nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

The comeback album peaked at number two last autumn, adding to the success of a career that had chalked up 13 million album sales, four number one albums, two BRIT awards and one Ivor Novello award before coming to a halt in 2013 with The Best Of Keane compilation.

Their 2004 debut, Hopes And Fears, elicited the hits Somewhere Only We Know, Everybody’s Changing, This Is The Last Time and Bedshaped en route to being ranked among Britain’s 40 best-selling albums of all time. Next came Under The Iron Sea in 2006, Perfect Symmetry in 2008 and Strangeland in 2012.

Promoters Cuffe and Taylor are delighted to have added Keane to this summer’s Scarborough OAT programme. “As soon as Keane announced last year they were back and ready to take to the stage again, we knew we had to bring them to Scarborough,” says director Peter Taylor.

“This special arena was created for artists like Keane. Their songs are beautiful, anthemic, the soundtrack to many people’s lives over the last 20 years, and I’m sure their army of fans cannot wait to see these songs played live here. I know I certainly can’t.

“Keane are an incredible live band and this is unquestionably going to be one of the gigs of the summer.” 

Tickets for this summer’s shows can be booked in person from the Scarborough Open Air Theatre box office, Burniston Road, and the Discover Yorkshire Coast Tourism Bureau, Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street; on 01723 818111 and 01723 383636, as well as at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com. 

SCARBOROUGH OPEN AIR THEATRE: 2020 LINE-UP

  • Tuesday June 9 – Lionel Richie 
  • Wednesday June 17 – Westlife
  • Saturday June 20 – Supergrass
  • Saturday July 4 – Snow Patrol
  • Friday July 10 – Mixtape (starring Marc Almond, Heaven 17 and Living in a Box featuring Kenny Thomas)
  • Friday July 17 – Keane
  • Tuesday July 21 – Little Mix
  • Friday August 14 – McFly 

More artists are to be announced.

“I don’t want to be political or anything,” says Dame Berwick as he takes to the stage again at York Theatre Royal. Who did he give the Bird last night?

Berwick Kaler, playing the dame in his last York Theatre Royal pantomime, The Grand Old Dame Of York, last winter. Picture: Anthony Robling

IT ended, as it only could, with the dame’s return to the stage. In civvies, this final time, but not in civil mood as he wouldn’t let it rest on the final night of Sleeping Beauty.

More like civil war. Us and them. Pantomime’s version of Brexit, except with a different result, the majority, if not all, in the house, wanting them to remain, not leave, when “one man” and “the board” have decided it is time to move on. Get panto done, differently, with a new 2020 vision.

Dame Berwick didn’t name the “one man” who went to mow them down, but he was referring to York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird, newly cast as the panto villain. “I’ll give them three days” [to change their minds], the grand dame vowed in a tone harking back to the Scargill and Red Robbo days of union versus management.

“I don’t want to do him any harm…but he’s wrong”, said Mr Kaler, surrounded by “the family”, the rest of the Panto Five, Martin, Suzy, David and AJ, their fellow cast members and the crew, buoyed at each unscripted but barbed line by an adoring home crowd, who cheered and booed his rallying speech like they had throughout the show.

He even kissed the wall to express how much he loved this theatre, getting down on his knees at one point too, arms outstretched, in appreciation of his loyal subjects.

“A house does not make a home. A family does,” read one letter read out earlier by the panto Queen, Martin Barrass, in his Bile Beans can regalia in the shout-outs. “Please, Mr Bird, reconsider. Save our panto,” pleaded a second, and there were plenty more.

“Yah boo to York Theatre Royal. We won’t be back,” hissed one, read by the luverly Brummie AJ Powell.

Emotions were running high, as they had been for Martin Barrass, breaking down theatre’s fourth wall to speak from the heart at every performance since news broke a fortnight ago that Berwick Kaler, already retired from playing the dame, would not be asked to co-direct or write the 2020 show. “This cast and this band” would not be back either, said Barrass. “A decision that is nothing to do with us. If it was, we would be back each year until we drop.”

Martin Barrass in his role as Queen Ariadne in Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Anthony Robling

Back to Dame Berwick, who found himself feeling “more emotional” now, in this house of York winter of discontent, than in his valedictory speech at The Grand Old Dame Of York last February. Not for himself, he said, but for all those on stage with him who had given so many years – “some for half their lives” – to the Theatre Royal.

“I’ve been told I can’t tell you the truth, so I can’t say the truth…but I want to because…I’m b****y furious,” he said. “I don’t want to be political or anything…but someone tell the management that this wonderful, wonderful theatre has been a repertory theatre for 275 years.

“It’s a repertory theatre and that means we put on our own shows for the local population. It’s York’s theatre.”

After reading a letter of support sent that morning to “Berwick Kaler, Acomb”, he resumed: “I just can’t understand that someone can do this to something that does not need fixing…

…We have made money for this theatre for years. How can one man do this to us? I don’t understand it.”

“Anyway, they’ve got three days,” he repeated, before leading company and audience through “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

The final curtain fell, as it always must, but where and when might that sunny day reunion take place? What will happen to Dame Berwick’s three-day deadline? Will he rise again on the third day, and if so, to say or do what amid this collateral dame-age? Watch this space, as newspapers are wont to say.

As for that “one man”, Tom Bird, he and the York Theatre Royal management will announce next winter’s show on February 3. The end and the new beginning all in one.

Robert Vincent to play with The Buffalo Skinners at Pocklington Arts Centre

Robert Vincent: new album, Pocklington return

LIVERPOOL singer-songwriter Robert Vincent will showcase his new album In This Town You’re Owned at Pocklington Arts Centre on February 7, one week before its release on Thirty Tigers.

For this return visit, he will be accompanied on stage by PAC favourites The Buffalo Skinners in his 8pm set.

“My last visit to Pocklington Arts Centre, supporting Beth Nielsen Chapman, was such a great night with a lovely music-loving crowd. So, I’m looking forward to being back and playing for the lovely folk of Pocklington,” he says.

Vincent has been hailed by veteran BBC presenter “Whispering” Bob Harris as “the real deal” for his Americana music. On seeing him play in the Bluebird Café at the Bluecoat, Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the legendary broadcaster immediately invited him, to record an Under The Apple Tree Session in his home studio for his BBC Radio 2 country show, describing his performance as “absolutely magnetic”.

Vincent duly received the inaugural Emerging Artist Award from Harris in 2016 and the UK Americana Music Association’s UK Album of The Year in 2018 for 2017’s sophomore work I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins, recorded in his hometown and mixed in Nashville by Grammy Award-winning producer Ray Kennedy.

The Buffalo Skinners: playing with Robert Vincent at Pocklington Arts Centre

His 2013 debut, Life In Easy Steps, drew BBC airplay for its title track on Janice Long and Radcliffe & Maconie’s shows.

He has since toured the UK supporting Paul Carrack, James Blunt and Squeeze and The Pretenders at the Royal Albert Hall. Last spring, he opened for Beth Nielsen Chapman on her Hearts Of Glass tour, including the aforementioned Pocklington show.

Last summer, Vincent was on the supporting bill for his hero, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, in Hyde Park at British Summer Time and joined “the Titan of Twang”, guitarist Duane Eddy, across the UK on his 80th birthday tour.

Now comes third album In This Town You’re Owned, produced by BRIT Award-winning Ethan Johns.

Tickets for Vincent’s Pock gig are on sale at £13.50 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk. Vincent has further Yorkshire gigs coming up at The Greystones, Sheffield, on March 25, and Leeds Lending Room the next night.

10 QUESTIONS FOR GREAT YORKSHIRE FRINGE DIRECTOR MARTIN WITTS

Martin Witts in happier times at the Great Yorkshire Fringe. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

THE comedy is over for the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five summers in York, blaming “city-centre management” for the decision to exit stage left.

In a formal statement, founder and director Martin Witts said: “Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led to the conclusion that until a well-managed and efficient is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.”

Here Martin, who also runs the Leicester Square Theatre and Museum of Comedy in London, answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions.

1.What made you take this decision, Martin?

“My patience with all the red tape ran out of time. It was the same things every year, no matter what you try to do to address the most critical things on the Parliament Street village green site. Access. Drainage. The licence. Security.  What we were required to do changed every year.

“Right from the start, there were frustrations. We wanted to start the festival in 2014, but it took a year to get the licence from the city council for Parliament Street.”

2.What would constitute a “well-managed and efficient city-centre management”?

The City of York Council, Make It York and York BID are all involved in how the city centre is run. Everyone has great intentions, but there are too many chiefs, not enough Indians, and it’s got too complicated. That’s the frustration.”

3.Sean Bullick, managing director of Make It York, says he would “welcome the opportunity to discuss options with you to bring the event back”. Will you have that discussion?

“I had a meeting with Sean and Charlie Croft [assistant director of communities and culture at City of YorkCouncil] last year to say this needs to be resolved, but we still had problems at last summer’s festival with the drainage provision for the toilets.”

4. Last summer, some people said the ticket prices were high; some reckoned the quality of the newer acts had lowered; others felt the same names kept returning.  Your thoughts?

“We had no complaints about the festival content or the programming or the pricing. There were no negative comments from patrons on our social media and in the box-office day book. Indeed, only positives. The average ticket price remained the same.

“But there was a drop in audience numbers certainly, when the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, running at the same time at the Castle car park, had an impact.”

5. Do festivals have a natural cycle, especially when the fickle world of comedy is prone to “the new rock’n’roll” going in and out of fashion?

“No, I disagree with that. Comedy always has a new audience and new acts. You only have to see the popularity of the New Comedian of the Year award we ran each year.

“Comedy is always changing, but people like to keep seeing their favourite comedian too.”

6.Emotionally, how do you feel about calling a halt to the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five years?

“I’m incredibly disappointed to be having to do this. You should see the messages I’ve had from the volunteers who worked for the Fringe saying it was the highlight of their career. It was the highlight of my career too.

“In an ideal world, if it had been easier, if there wasn’t the problem of the structure of the city-centre management, we would like to have continued the festival, but your patience runs out in the end when you want things to run smoothly.”

7. What did you achieve?

”We were committed to running the festival for five years and you hope that after those five years, you’ve covered your costs, broken even, and established yourself, which we had – and we proved Parliament Street could be a village green with shows and all the food and drink stalls.”

8. Would you consider taking the Great Yorkshire Fringe to another great Yorkshire city?

“No, absolutely not. I’m not planning to move it to Leeds. This festival was always designed for the city of York, the city where my family is from. York is the capital city of Yorkshire; the second city of the world.”

9. You say you will “continue to invest in the cultural scene of York”. In what ways will you do this?

“We’ll continue to do events in York, but not hold the festival, but do them in the spirit of the Great Yorkshire Fringe. We’ll probably have a year off but we’ll support The Arts Barge by doing a couple of things with them in York this summer.”

10. What else is happening in the world of Witts right now?

“We’re opening a scenery workshop in Pocklington, and I’ve bought the contents of the Goole Waterways Museum after it went into liquidation. We might look at doing something with antiquities and artefacts there.”

The Felice Brothers to play Pocklington Arts Centre summer gig

The Felice Brothers: two brothers, Ian and James Felice, and two friends, Will Lawrence and Jesske Hume

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre has snapped up The Felice Brothers for a summer gig after director Janet Farmer saw the Americana band at Willie Nelson’s ranch.

Brothers Ian and James Felice and their friends, drummer Will Lawrence and bass player Jesske Hume, have crossed the Big Pond this month for a winter tour that visits Leeds Brudenell Social Club on Monday.

They will return to these shores for more dates in a summer of American and European gigs, among them Pocklington Arts Centre on June 23.

A delighted Janet Farmer says: “I was privileged to see them at Luck Reunion, held at Willie Nelson’s ranch, and can highly recommend their unique brand of American folk rock. Expect a raucous and energetic performance that will be something to truly treasure.

“Tickets for this show will sell fast, so I would encourage you to get yours soon or risk missing out on what will be a sublime show.”

Ian and James Felice grew up in the Hudson valley of upstate New York. Self-taught musicians, inspired as much by Hart Crane and Slim Whitman as by Woody Guthrie and Chuck Berry, they began in 2006 by playing subway platforms and sidewalks in New York City.  

They have gone on to release nine albums of original songs, drawing comparison with Neil Young and Bob Dylan for their song-writing and lawless sound. Last year they returned from a three-year hiatus with Undress, whose songs will be complemented by a selection from their back catalogue on June 23.

Tickets for their 8pm Pock gig cost £20 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Did you know?

The Felice Brothers served as the backing band for Conor Oberst’s 2017 album Salutations and subsequent tour. 

How did the York Dungeon celebrate notching up five million visitors?

York Town Crier Ben Fry hails the York Dungeon’s five millionth visitor, Denise Pitts, and her mother, Jeanette

THE York Dungeon is celebrating its five millionth visitor since opening its doors in Clifford Street, York, in 1986.

Denise Pitts hit the jackpot as the landmark intrepid visitor when she took her mother, Jeanette, to York for her birthday celebrations and accusations of naked dancing!

Their trip to the theatrical dungeon attraction made that day extra special when they were given VIP treatment: coffee and cake while they waited for their tour to begin, free pictures and goody bags.

“The experience was great,” said Denise. “We loved that the show was informative with a dash of terror and a hint of humour; also some unexpected surprises along the way! Thoroughly enjoyable.

“My mum was put into a cage for pleading insanity when accused of naked dancing and she found this absolutely hilarious. The actors were great and really got into their characters.

“We would highly recommend this attraction when visiting York and would like to thank everyone for making us feel so special.”

Dungeon manager Stuart Jarman said: “The York Dungeon has been a must-see since opening in 1986 and over the past 34 years we have welcomed, scared and provided amazing immersive experiences to five million visitors.

“This is a significant milestone in the history of the York Dungeon and it was great to surprise Denise and Jeanette as the visitors that hit the milestone, particularly with the help of York Town Crier Ben Fry.”

Looking ahead to 2020’s attractions, Stuart said: “2020 is another exciting year for the York Dungeon with a new show for the February half-term, War Of The Roses: The Bloody Battle, Guy Fawkes in May and Séance in October for Halloween.”

The Printmakers Council to exhibit at Scarborough Art Gallery for second time

A Walk In The Snow, by Tim Southall

THE second selection from a nationally important collection of new prints will go on show at Scarborough Art Gallery next month.

Running from February 8 to April 26, the Printmakers Council 1992-2019 exhibition will feature work by leading printmakers, including prize winners from the council’s biannual competition.

Beach Bodies by Theresa Pateman

The new show follows on last summer’s PmC Mini Prints display. Once more, all the work has been donated to Scarborough Art Gallery by the prestigious Printmakers Council, marking the start of an ongoing relationship between the gallery and the PmC.

This will involve regular donations of work to create an important national archive of fine art printmaking in Scarborough.

Meteor Storm Over St Ives by Graham Cooke

The PmC, a national association for the promotion and encouragement of printmaking in all its forms, was founded in 1965. One of its founding objectives was the creation of a comprehensive national print archive of contemporary printmaking.

The work for The Printmakers Council 1992-2019 has been selected from PmC members, with one print from each participating member. No restrictions were placed on subject matter, method or date, except that the artist must have been a member of the PmC when the print was produced.

The Ancestral Heritage Emporium by Trevor Dance

Simon Hedges, head of curation, collections and exhibitions at Scarborough Museums Trust, says: “The exhibition will include a wide and rich variety of contemporary prints showcasing many different print processes.”

The Printmakers Council 1992-2019, Scarborough Art Gallery, February 8 to April 26. Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm. Entry is free with an Annual Pass, which costs £3 and gives the bearer unlimited access to both Scarborough Art Gallery and the Rotunda Museum for a year.

John Osborne’s dementia and music show You’re In A Bad Way heads to Pocklington

Storyteller John Osborne performing You’re In A Bad Way

STORYTELLER, poet and BBC Radio 4 regular John Osborne returns to Pocklington Arts Centre on February 13 to present his beautiful, funny and uplifting new show about music and dementia. 

Last March, he performed a double bill of John Peel’s Shed and Circled In The Radio Times in Pocklington. Now, inspired by seeing a friend’s father face a dementia diagnosis and the warmth, positivity and unexpected twists and turns the family went through, he has put together You’re In A Bad Way.

“This is the fifth theatre show I’ve made and it’s definitely my favourite,” says Osborne. “I loved performing it every day at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, and I’m really excited to be taking it on tour. 

“For the past few years, I’ve made storytelling theatre shows that are funny, true stories of things that I feel are important to people. This one is a story about what happened to my friend’s dad when he was diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago.” 

Osborne continues: “It was a really interesting thing to observe, because although it was horrific and terrifying and sad, there was so much warmth and positivity and unexpected twists and turns. 

“As soon as I started writing the show, it came together so beautifully and audience members who have had their own personal experiences of caring for people with dementia have been incredibly positive about the show having been to see it.”

The poster for John Osborne’s show You’re In A Bad Way

Osborne spent time at a dementia care centre in Edinburgh to ensure he was fully informed about the experience of caring for someone with dementia.

 “I never planned to write about something as personal as dementia, and have never written about a big topic before, but this felt like such a beautiful story that I wanted to tell,” he explains. “Just because you’ve been diagnosed with something, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. 

“The things we know about dementia are so sad, but within that there are some special moments. Every time I perform the show, I feel like I learn new things about dementia.”

Describing the tone of You’re In A Bad Way, Osborne says: “As it’s such a big topic, I’ve tried to make the show funny and life affirming and relatable. 

“I don’t want it to be sad or serious; I think it’s important for it to be a good story to someone who has no association with dementia, as well as being sensitive to those who live surrounded by the illness.”

Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer says: “I was fortunate to see this show at the Edinburgh Fringe last August and thought it was just so beautifully written and truly uplifting, I knew we had to bring it to Pocklington. It tackles a tough topic with such humour and warmth, it really is a must-see.”

Tickets cost £10 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk or £12 on the door, with a special price of £9 for a carer of someone with dementia. 

Mamma Mia! Look which show is returning to Leeds Grand Theatre this autumn

Mamma Mia! is on its way to Leeds Grand Theatre on its 20th anniversary tour

MAMMA Mia! will return to Leeds Grand Theatre from November 24 to December 5 on the tour to mark 20 years since the Abba musical’s London premiere.

Tickets will go on general sale on January 29 on 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com.

Built around the music and lyrics of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus,Mamma Mia!revels in Judy Craymer’s vision of staging the story-telling magic of Abba’s songs with a sunny, funny tale of a mother, a daughter and three possible dads unfolding on a Greek island idyll. 

To date, Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 65 million people in 50 productions in 16 languages.  In 2011, it became the first Western musical to be staged in Mandarin in China.  

Mamma Mia!became the eighth longest-running show on Broadway, where it played a record-breaking run for 14 years and it continues to play in London’s West End at the Novello Theatre, where the 20th anniversary fell on April 6 2019.

The first British tour of Mamma Mia! visited Leeds Grand Theatre from May 30 to July 8 in 2017. 

Could York’s 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival be the most stylish ever? Here’s why…

Close-up of Viking clasps being worn at the Jorvik Viking Festival in York

YORK’S Norse settlers will aim to be the most stylish Vikings in the world when the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival runs from February 15 to 23.

Event manager Gareth Henry explains how this might be achieved: “The Vikings cared about their appearance and personal hygiene. Combs to keep their hair and beards in order were prized possessions carved out of bone and sometimes beautifully decorated, while beautiful beads and jewellery were a sign of wealth and status,” he says.

“During the festival, you’ll see many superb examples of adornments on the clothing of the re-enactors who come to take part.”

At next month’s nine-day festival, visitors can join costumed interpreters in showing off their Viking style with a number of events aimed at creating and expressing traditional Norse style:

  • Viking Costume Competition, St Sampson’s Square, February 15, 3pm. Open to the public, a judging panel will consider those who believe they are York’s best dressed, with Viking and Viking-inspired fashion welcome to take to the main stage for the ultimate Project Norseway. An expert panel of judges will share their views on the best male, female and children’s Viking attire in this free event.
  • Best Beard Competition, St Sampson’s Square, February 22, 3pm. A traditional favourite, where the audience chooses the best facial hair on show.  Open to men, women, children and this year, for the first time, bearded canines, expect some genuine chin growth, re-purposed head tresses and even some man-made creations as competitors vie for the coveted trophies.
  • Trichinopoly. Not some kind of Viking board game, but the art of wire weaving to create jewellery and adornments by one of Jorvik Viking Centre’s team of historic educators.  The workshops run on Tuesday,  February 18, 2pm to 5pm, and Wednesday, February 19, 10am to 1pm, in the York Medical Society on Stonegate, priced at £30 per person, including all materials and refreshments.
  • An adult leather-working workshop. This will introduce participants to some of the skills required to make simple leather items inspired by archaeological finds from Coppergate.  The session takes place on Tuesday, February 20 from 10am to 12 noon at the York Medical Society on Stonegate.
  • Home & Away: Fashion and identity in the Viking Age, Jorvik Viking Centre, Tuesday, February 18, 7pm to 8.30pm. Presented by Dr Gareth Williams, of the British Museum, whose talk will explore how fashion varied across the Viking world, including how it fused with other styles as the Vikings explored the globe.  Tickets cost £25.

The use of black jet in Viking jewellery will be explored by Sarah Steele, of Ebor Jetworks, during the symposium that rounds off the festival on Sunday, February 23 with a series of talks and presentations on the latest Viking research around the world.

For more information on events during the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival, and to book tickets, visit jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk.

Visionari pick six of the best for Studio Discoveries week at York Theatre Royal

Pepper & Honey: opening Visionari’s Studio Discoveries season on February 4

WHAT happens if the audience selects the shows? Find out when York Theatre Royal presents a week of theatre in the Studio chosen by the Visionari community programming group. 

This will be Visionari’s second such season of Studio Discoveries, this one featuring six shows from February 4 to 8.

“What if the story was retold by the woman at its heart? ” asks Debbie Cannon in her version of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

Pepper & Honey, on February 4 at 11am and 2pm, is a new play from Not Now Collective, told through the baking of Croatian pepper biscuits – known as paprenjaci – that will be baked live in front of the Studio audience as the story of Ana’s preparations to start a new life in the UK unfolds. Babes-in-arms are welcome and biscuits are included.

Debbie Cannon is both writer and performer of Green Knight, on February 5 at 6.30pm, a one-woman version of the medieval poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. “It’s Christmas at Camelot and a monstrous green warrior issues an unwinnable challenge to Arthur’s finest knight. But what if the story was retold by the woman at its heart?” asks Debbie.

One of Picasso’s women in Picasso’s Women on February 5

Picasso’s Women, on February 5 at 8.30pm, looks at Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s life through the voices of his wives, mistresses and muses. The three monologues feature French model Fernande, Russian ballerina Olga and 17-year-old mistress Marie-Therese.

Originally produced for the National Theatre and BBC Radio 3, the women’s stories provide an insight into the influence these women had on Picasso’s life and art.

Nathaniel Hall in First Time: humorous but heart-breaking

After last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe debut, HIV+ theatre-maker and activist Nathaniel Hall is on tour, presenting a humorous but heart-breaking show about growing up with HIV in First Time on February 6 at 7.45pm.

The show is based on Nathaniel’s personal experience of living with HIV after contracting the virus from his first sexual encounter aged only 16. First Time accompanies Hall’s on-going activism to break down the stigma associated with the disease through talks, participatory projects, education and outreach.

York company Cosmic Collective Theatre in Heaven’s Gate

Inspired by true events, Heaven’s Gate, on February 7 at 7.45pm, is an intergalactic new show from Cosmic Collective Theatre that imagines the final hour of four members of a real-life religious UFO group.

The excitement is palpable as they prepare for their graduation into the Kingdom of Heaven but soon the cracks begin to appear. “Whatever you do, don’t say the C-word – ‘Cult’,” says writer, director and performer Joe Feeney, a York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre alumnus, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.

Preacherman in One Foot In The Rave, the closing show of Visionari’s Studio Discoveries programme

Visionari’s final choice is One Foot In The Rave, on February 8 at 7.45pm. Written and performed by Alexander Rhodes, it follows a disillusioned Jehovah’s Witness as he breaks free from the cult and lands on the ecstasy-fuelled floors of 1990s’ clubland. Shunned by everyone he knows, he is not prepared for what lies ahead.

Looking forward to the season ahead, York Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth says: “It’s been amazing working with Visionari over the past few months to select and bring together a really impressive line-up of unique Studio shows. The group have chosen shows that will undoubtedly appeal to regular theatregoers and new audiences alike. 

Cyberdog in One Foot In The Rave

“We’re pleased to be showing award-winning work as part of the week, alongside work by an exciting new York company, Cosmic Collective Theatre. Whether you’re out to sample the intensity of Nineties’ clubland, gain an insight into the life of Picasso or just enjoy a complimentary Croatian biscuit, we think you’ll have a fantastic experience in our intimate Studio theatre.”

Tickets for Studio Discoveries shows are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the box office. The price is £10 per show or £8 each if booking for two or more shows.

Be good to see Jonny Hannah’s Valentine artwork in York, wouldn’t it? Now you can in his Songs For Darktown Lovers shows at FortyFive Vinyl Cafe and Lotte Inch Gallery. UPDATED

Dead Men’s Suits, 2019, by Jonny Hannah

CULTURE vulture artist Jonny Hannah is teaming up with Lotte Inch Gallery and FortyFive Vinyl Café to bring “a unique Valentine” bond of music and love to York.

Songs For Darktown Lovers, his exhibition of Double A-sides, will be split between the two independent York businesses, on show from February 8 to March 7.

Having exhibited with Lotte Inch Gallery, in Bootham, over the years, one-of-a-kind Scottish artist, designer, illustrator and all-round creative spark Hannah is returning to York for his music-inspired collaboration with gallery curator Lotte Inch and her friends Dan Kentley and Dom White at FortyFive Vinyl Café in Micklegate.

Shoe by Jonny Hannah

“Songs For Darktown Lovers roots itself in all things music, and of course, love,” says Lotte. “With Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers playing in the background, this exhibition is an alternative Valentine for the creatively minded.

“It’s also a love letter to ‘Darktown’, a fictional place that Jonny refers to when modern life becomes too much, a place with countless retreats, all revealed in his book Greetings From Darktown, published by Merrell Publishers in 2014.”

The exhibition in two places will combine newly reinterpreted vinyl sleeves on display at FortyFive Vinyl Café with prints and hand-painted wooden cut-outs at both venues.

Harmonium by Jonny Hannah

“This will be a rich double-exhibition of work by a highly respected and totally unique artist,” says Lotte, curator of both displays. “It will definitely not be your usual Valentine’s cliché,” she promises.

BAFTA award-winning Jonny Hannah was born and raised in Dunfermline, Scotland, and studied at the Cowdenbeath College of Knowledge, Liverpool Art School and then the Royal College of Art in London. 

Pepe Le Moko by Jonny Hannah

Since graduation in 1998, he has worked both as a commercial designer and an illustrator and printmaker. He lives by the sea in Southampton, where he is a senior lecturer in illustration at Southampton Solent University.

Hannah boasts an impressive list of exhibitions, advertising projects and clients, such as Royal Mail, the New York Times, the Guardian and Conde Nast, and he has published a series of “undeniably Hannah-esque” books with Merrell Publishers, Mainstone Press and Design For Today.

“Many local visitors to next month’s York shows will recall Jonny’s Darktown Turbo Taxi solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, in 2018,” says Lotte.

Shoe by Jonny Hannah

“For those curious to find out more, we recommend looking out for the Darktown Turbo Taxi  – a must see, even if only in retrospect, through the website for his London and New York illustration agency, Heart Agency.”

A preview evening to launch Songs For Darktown Lovers will be held from 6pm to 9pm on February 7 at FortyFive Vinyl Café. “You can join Jonny, who will perform an acoustic set with friend, artist and illustrator Jonathan Gibbs before taking to the decks to celebrate our exciting collaboration,” says Lotte.

“It’s a chance to get lost in a world filled with art, music and just plain lovely people, with tickets available at jonnyhannahpreview.eventbrite.com.”

Confederacy Of Dunces by Jonny Hannah

The exhibition’s Double A-side opens on February 8 at Lotte Inch Gallery, now moved to the first floor at 14 Bootham. “With coffee for those with sore heads, and art to further soothe the soul, the gallery will be offering up a selection of new and recently produced work from Jonny’s abounding studio in Southampton,” says Lotte.

“Coffee by FortyFive will be available that morning from 10am at the gallery for those needing some solace from the previous night’s escapades! Jonny Hannah will be in residence for the morning too, so be sure to drop by.”

Lotte Inch Gallery is open Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, or by appointment on 01904 848660. FortyFive Vinyl Café’s opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

Why Once The Musical is a not Once but twice in a lifetime opportunity for Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia

Emma Lucia’s Girl and Daniel Healy’s Guy performing Falling Slowly in Once The Musical. Pictures: Mark Senior

DANIEL Healy and Emma Lucia are playing the lead roles together in Once The Musical not once, but twice.

They first did so in the regional premiere in Autumn 2018 at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

Now, that production’s director and musical director, the regular team of Peter Rowe and Ben Goddard, have reunited the duo for the first British tour that opened this month (January) and will play the Grand Opera House, York, from February 3 to 8.

First a cult, micro-budget Irish film written and directed by John Carney in 2007, then a Broadway, West End and Dublin show, Once The Musical tells the uplifting yet yearning story of the hopes and dreams of two lost souls, a jilted Dublin street busker and a more positive Czech musician, who unexpectedly fall in love across five short days in the Southern Irish capital city.

“I’ve managed to fool a few people with my Irish accent, thinking I really must be from Dublin,” says Scotsman Daniel Healy:

The touring cast of 16 will be led by Scotsman Healy as Guy and Lucia, from Durham, as Girl, whose chemistry was apparent immediately when press and media were invited to meet the company three weeks into rehearsal at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End: a question-and-answer session introduced with rousing renditions of Irish pub and ceilidh songs and the show’s opening scene.

This peaked with Healy and Lucia’s performance of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s Oscar-winning signature song Falling Slowly, with all the actor-musician cast playing their part around them, “leaning into the story” in the pub setting.

Daniel’s relationship with Once goes back to “a long time ago”. “My first run-in with the show was when I was doing a show in LA [Los Angeles] called Backbeat and I had an audition for the Broadway version of Once but couldn’t do it because of various reasons,” he recalls.

“But then I understudied the lead and played one of the main characters, Eamon [the music studio manager where Guy and Girl record their album] in the London production, when I understudied Ronan Keating.”

Daniel Healy’s Guy, Emma Lucia’s Girl and Samuel Martin’s Bank Manager in Once The Musical

Daniel is a singer-songwriter in his own right, and friendship with the Boyzone singer turned into a co-writing partnership that elicited Keating’s single Breathe. “After he heard one of my songs, Ronan said, ‘I’d really like to write with you’, so I ended up writing six songs with him and touring with him in his band,” he says.

Emma saw Daniel in Once in the London production. “I was still at Mountview drama school, and doing Beautiful, the Carole King musical, on tour at the time [making her professional debut as Marilyn and understudying the lead role],” she says.

“Then I heard there was going to be a production of Once in Ipswich, and I know the musical director, Ben Goddard, from doing a couple of classes led by him at Mountview.

“You’d do all the songs you’d thought of doing for auditions and he’d give you tips and advice.”

Emma landed the role of Girl after two auditions, and it was only then that she met Daniel for the first time for rehearsals.

” I’ve always loved theatre,” says Emma Lucia. “My dad used to do a lot of am-dram and I knew it was something in my life I always wanted to do”

“Peter and Ben auditioned us separately and they must have felt we would have chemistry once we were put together,” she says. The partnership worked a treat – “we get on really well” – and there was immediate talk of a tour.

“But we needed a producer,” says Emma. “I didn’t think it was going to happen, so it was a quite a surprise when it did, but we’re so pleased,” says Daniel.

“The producers have given Peter and Ben complete control as they loved the show as it was in Ipswich.”

Hearing Emma’s Czech accent on stage in the rehearsal room and then her North Eastern one in the interview reveals how much work she put into preparing for the role. “I’d only met one person from the Czech Republic in my life, and briefly at that, so I contacted the Czech Embassy and they put me in touch with two Czech girls who were here for six months and loved the show!” she says.

It’s not like I’m playing Titus Andronicus, but I do empathise more with the human struggle than the musical one,” says Daniel Healy

“So, we met for a cup of coffee and talked about the show, and I recorded their voices and asked any questions that I felt I needed answering.”

Likewise, Daniel’s Dublin accent sounds spot on. “I think, without being big-headed, I’ve got an ear for accents,” he says. “I’d ask Irish friends too, and it’s all about not being afraid to ask.

“Though being Scottish doesn’t make it easier to learn because, when accents are close to each other, like these two, they’re actually more difficult to separate…but I’ve managed to fool a few people with my Irish accent, thinking I really must be from Dublin!”

Daniel and Emma’s instrumental skills are as important to their roles as their singing and acting. “My dad’s a guitarist, and I did musical theatre from the age of five, and TV dramas and films too, and I’ve now got a parallel career as a singer-songwriter,” says Daniel.

Emma Lucia as Girl in Once The Musical, playing the Grand Opera House, York, in early February

“I could never call myself a busker, but I have busked in the past, but I sympathise more with Guy’s struggle with not having the courage to follow through with his dreams when you hope you can make it as a singer-songwriter.

“It’s not like I’m playing Titus Andronicus, but I do empathise more with the human struggle than the musical one.”

Emma’s path to Once began with an itch to dance from the age of three. “I just couldn’t stand still,” she recalls. “Then I picked up on playing the piano [the instrument she plays in Once] at five years old.

“I’ve always loved theatre. My dad used to do a lot of am-dram [amateur dramatics] and I knew it was something in my life I always wanted to do.”

Exuding an air of positivity, she feels a strong connection with her role as Girl. “She sees it as her mission to help other people, and I empathise with that as I love to do that myself,” says Emma.

Once The Musical runs at Grand Opera House, York, from February 3 to 8. Box office: 0844 871 3024, at atgtickets.com/York or in person from the Cumberland Street theatre.

Pianist Kieran White to “break the silents” at Helmsley Arts Centre screening of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr

Buster Keaton, right, in Steamboat Bill, Jr

YORK composer, pianist, busker, tutor and Buster Keaton aficionado Kieran White will be Breaking The Silents at Helmsley Arts Centre on February 1.

Accompanied by White’s expressive, playful, gag-driven piano score, the Stoneface silent classic Steamboat Bill, Jr, will be shown at 7.30pm “as it was originally intended to be seen in an authentic re-creation of the early cinema experience in the picture houses of the 1920s”.

Let Kieran make his case for why someone would want to see a black-and white, silent 1928 Buster Keaton film in 2020, the age of endless reheated Disney classics and myriad Marvel movies.

“We live in an instant world. A world governed by consumerism and technology. What we want, we can get just by clicking a mouse. We have forgotten how to slow down. How to breathe,” he says.

“But Buster takes us back to a time when time itself was a different thing entirely. A time when moments were savoured, rather than squandered.”

York pianist Kieran White

From past experience of his Breaking The Silents shows, White anticipates a largely middle-aged and older audience, but he believes Keaton’s comedic elan should appeal to “anyone with a love of history, a nostalgia for days of yore and an unfettered imagination”.

“Breaking The Silents offers a wonderful evening for all the family,” he says. “A lot of belly laughs. An appreciation of Buster’s incredible athleticism and craftmanship but, most of all, a reawakening of that state of wonderment that children have but never know they have.”

The relentless pace of Keaton’s comedy on screen leaves no gap, no rest, no breath, in White’s score, but still he finds room for quickfire references to the Steptoe And Son theme music, Porridge and The Barber Of Seville.

“The joy of Steamboat Bill, Jr is the raw energy,” says Kieran. “You know that if the stunts went wrong then would be no take two.”

White’s piano has accompanied screenings of Keaton’s 1927 film The General at locations as diverse as Helmsley Arts Centre, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park and City Screen, Fairfax House and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York.

Last September, he presented a Breaking The Silents double bill of The General in the afternoon and Steamboat Bill, Jr in the evening at the JoRo. White’s labours of love had necessitated 11 days of writing for The General, a little longer for Steamboat Bill, Jr, drawing on his love of both Keaton’s comic craft and the piano.

Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr’s never-to-be-forgotten stunt scene

“I was very inspired by my grandfather,” he says, explaining why piano was his instrument of choice. “He was a superb pianist and made the most complex music sound effortless.

“Ever since a very early age, I’ve been fascinated by puzzles too, particularly chess. Watching Pop play was like sitting inside a gigantic engine, seeing gears mesh, listening to the sound of tiny hammers. Music chose me!”

Where next might Breaking The Silents venture? “I think what I do is unique. Ultimately, I’d love to perform all over the world,” says Kieran.

In the meantime, here is a recommendation from York filmmaker Mark Herman, director of Brassed Off and Little Voice, to head to Helmsley Arts Centre on February 1 for the Keaton and White double act.

“Kieran White’s score and his live accompaniment raises an already almost perfect film to fresh heights,” he said after seeing The General. “It’s a shame that Buster Keaton never knew that his flawless performance could actually be enhanced.”

The next film to receive the White piano touch will be Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger. “It’s another silent but not laugh dependent!” says Kieran. Watch this space for updates on its progress to a screen near you.

Tickets cost £12, under 18s £6, on 01439 771700 or at helmsleyarts.co.uk.

The Red Barn Murder case is re-opened as Maria Marten tells her side of story at SJT

Elizabeth Crarer in rehearsal for the lead role in The Ballad Of Maria Marten. All pictures: Giorgis Media

GOODBYE Polstead, say hello to The Ballad Of Maria Marten, the new name for Beth Flintoff’s captivating drama that first toured in 2018.

Directed by Hal Chambers in tandem with Ivan Cutting, an all-female cast will embark on a spring tour next month, starting off at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre before touring to Ipswich and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Elizabeth Crarer returns to the title role for this re-telling of a real-life Suffolk murder mystery in Summer 1827.

In a red barn, Maria Marten awaits her lover. A year later, her body is found under the floor of the barn in a grain sack, barely identifiable, and the manhunt begins.

Suzanne Ahmet and Emma Denly during rehearsals

Maria’s story sent shock waves throughout the country. The Red Barn Murder, as it became known, was national news, inspiring writers and filmmakers down the ages.

Here was the sort of gruesome tale that had all the hallmarks of a classic crime drama: a missing body, a country location, a disreputable squire and a village stuck in its age-old traditions.

However, amid all the hysteria, Maria’s own story becomes lost – until now. Chambers and Flintoff’s spine-tingling re-telling rediscovers her tale, bringing it back to vivid, urgent life.

Joining Crarer’s Maria in the cast will be Suzanne Ahmet, who SJT audiences may remember from her appearances there with Northern Broadsides in Hard Times and They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, together with Emma Denly, Jessica Dives, Sarah Goddard, and Susanna Jennings.

Cast members Jessica Dives and Sarah Goddard

Flintoff, a freelance playwright and theatre director from Hampshire, says: “As soon as I was approached to write the story of Maria Marten, I was intrigued. I hadn’t heard about her murder but was fascinated to hear about not just the story itself, but how it has been told to us.

“From the moment of the trial, the focus was on the murderer, not Maria. No-one seemed to be looking carefully at the intricacies of her life, beyond the basics. So, I wanted to tell the story entirely from her point of view.

“We are often presented with stories of women as ‘victims’, rather than as interesting, complicated people who had hopes and dreams, friends and lives of their own.”

Suzanne Ahmet and Elizabeth Crarer rehearsing The Ballas Of Maria Marten

The 2020 production is produced by Eastern Angles Theatre Company and Matthew Linley Creative Projects, in association with the SJT. Producer Matthew Linley says: “This thrilling true-life tale is as joyful as it is murderous. I’m delighted to be working with Eastern Angles and the Stephen Joseph Theatre to bring Polstead back to life as The Ballad Of Maria Marten.”

Eastern Angles specialise in combining heritage with theatre to make regional stories and hidden histories come to life on stage.

The Ballad Of Maria Marten will run in the Round at the SJT from February 11 to 15 at 7.30pm nightly, plus matinees at 1.30pm on February 13 and 2.30pm on February 15. Tickets, priced from £10, are on sale on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.





Folk guitarist and singer John Smith confirmed for Pocklington spring gig

John Smith: Pocklington Arts Centre awaits

ANYTHING but plain John Smith, “the future of folk music”, will play Pocklington Arts Centre on May 21, fresh from a string of Australian dates.

Raised by the Devon seaside, guitarist, singer and songwriter Smith cut his folk teeth in the bars and clubs of Liverpool and has since released six albums, attracted 23 million Spotify streams and played to audiences in living rooms, festival tents and concert halls the world over. 

Steeped in the lineage of British folk, taking his cue from Richard Thompson and John Martyn in particular, Smith has evolved an innovative transatlantic blend of fingerstyle and slide guitar techniques to frame his songs of love, loss and the journeys we make.

On stage, Smith has opened for Iron and Wine, Tinariwen and Ben Howard and guested with Jackson Browne, Martin Carthy, Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker, Jerry Douglas, Glen Hansard and Rodney Crowell. 

In his occasional role as sideman, he has played guitar for David Gray, Lisa Hannigan, Lianne La Havas, Joe Henry and Joan Baez.

Welcoming Smith to Pocklington Arts Centre, director Janet Farmer says: “With his honey-on-gravel voice and mesmerising blend of fingerstyle and slide guitar techniques, John is without doubt the perfect addition to our live music programme for 2020. 


“He has quickly amassed a huge following of loyal fans and has opened for folk greats John Martyn, Davy Graham and John Renbourn, who described him as ‘the future of folk music’, and now we have the privilege of welcoming him to our stage.”

Smith has made six albums across 12 years: The Fox And The Monk in 2006; Map Or Direction in 2009; Eavesdropping in 2011; Great Lakes in 2013; Headlong in 2017 and  Hummingbird in 2018. Last year came two October singles, Burden Of The Road and Killing The Blues.

Tickets for his 8pm Pocklington gig are on sale at £15 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Jorvik Viking Festival organisers seek record crowds with two weekends to enjoy

The Vikings are coming as the largest festival of its kind returns to York next month. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

VOYAGING Vikings will make a nine-day stop in York next month for the 36th annual celebration of all things Norse, the Jorvik Viking Festival.

The largest event of its kind in Europe, drawing 45,000 people each year, this winter’s festival will run from February 15 to 23, incorporating two weekends to give even more visitors a chance to explore the lives of those who settled in the city.

Festival-goers also can look at how Vikings were perceived by other cultures around the world during their travels – sometimes trading, sometimes raiding. 

Shield Maidens at the 2019 Jorvik Viking Festival

The mainstay living history encampment in Parliament Street will provide a constant presence, with the smell of woodsmoke and fresh timber filling the air from demonstrations of Viking woodturning and metal work.

Event manager Gareth Henry, from the festival organisers, the Jorvik Viking Centre, says: “Weekends are by far the busiest time for the Jorvik Viking Festival, and incorporating two weekends makes the festival accessible to any families whose half-term holidays don’t align with those of York and North Yorkshire.

“We’re hoping that more people than ever before come along to experience a slice of our proud Norse heritage and enjoy the vast range of events on offer this year.”

Strong Viking women at last year’s Jorvik Viking Festival

Across the nine days, a host of events, activities, demonstrations and talks are available, many of them free of charge as part of the educational goals of York Archaeological Trust, the Jorvik Viking Centre owners.

“Being surrounded by all things Viking is a superb and fun way of learning about this remarkable culture,” says marketing manager Beth Dawes.

“Whether you spend time chatting to the re-enactors who repopulate the Viking city for us; attending lectures and expert talks; trying out new skills in a hands-on workshop, or even just watching the magnificent March To Coppergate through the city streets, everyone takes away something new when they visit.”

Voyaging Vikings ahoy: the 36th Jorvik Viking Festival in York is fast approaching

New for 2020 will be a Viking costume competition, looking to find the best-dressed Viking in York on Saturday, February 15 at 3pm on the festival’s St Sampson’s Square stage.

New too, a Trichinopoly workshop, teaching the art of Viking wire weaving on February 18, has sold out already.

A new route will be announced for the parade through the city centre, March to Coppergate, on Saturday, February 22, giving new opportunities to photograph around 200 costumed re-enactors as they walk through the city streets.

Full details of all the 2020 festival events are available online at jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk, where visitors can pre-book tickets for key events.  Some events, including the Viking Banquet on February 15 and the night-time son-et-lumiere Battle Spectacular in the Land of Darkness, have sold out, so reservations for other activities and the lecture programme are recommended strongly.

Ayckbourn’s 84th play will be a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation at Scarborough’s SJT

Alan Ayckbourn: 84th full-length play Truth Will Out will be premiered this summer at the SJT. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE truth is out. Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th full-length play will be premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer.

Truth Will Out, Ayckbourn’s up-to-the-minute satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation, will run on various dates in the SJT programme between August 20 and October 3.

Written and directed by the former SJT artistic director, it follows hot on the heels of Ayckbourn’s 80th birthday play, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, in 2019.

“Everyone has secrets,” entices the new play’s synopsis. “Certainly, former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy, and senior civil servant Sefton, do.

“And 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…”

Jemma Churchill and Naomi Petersen in Alan Ayckbourn’s 80th birthday play, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, at the SJT in September 2019. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

As is customary in the SJT summer season, Ayckbourn also will direct an Ayckbourn revival, this time his 20th play, the very dark Just Between Ourselves, premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on January 28 1976, followed by its London premiere at the Queen’s Theatre on April 20 1977.

Ayckbourn calls it one of his “winter” plays, written in the winter months, like Ten Times Table and Joking Apart, wherein he attributed their darkness to being penned at this time of year.

Booked into the SJT diary for performances on various dates from June 18 to October 3, Just Between Ourselves dissects man’s inadvertent inhumanity to woman.

Dennis thinks he is a master at DIY and a perfect husband. In reality, he is neither of those things. When he decides to sell his car, Neil turns up as a potential buyer, wanting it for his wife Pam’s birthday.

The two couples become unlikely friends, aided and abetted by Dennis’s meddling live-in mother, Marjorie. A collision course is inevitable in “the one with the car”, set in a garage and a garden over four successive birthdays.

Northern Broadsides head from Halifax to Scarborough with Quality Street in May

SJT artistic director Paul Robinson will direct The Ladykillers, Graham Linehan’s spin on the 1955 Ealing comedy motion picture screenplay by William Rose, by special arrangement with StudioCanal and Fiery Angel, London.

This in-house production, playing on various dates between July 9 and August 15, will re-tell the story of the sweetest of sweet little old ladies, alone at home but for a parrot with a mystery illness. Both of them are at the mercy of a ruthless gang of criminal misfits, who will stop at nothing to achieve what they want. Surely there can only be one possible outcome?

Linehan’s writing credits include Father Ted, Black Books, The IT Crowd, Count Arthur Strong and Motherland. Now comes The Ladykillers, to be directed by Robinson with the stylish madcap humour that he brought to The 39 Steps in 2018.

Meanwhile, the SJT has confirmed South Yorkshireman Nick Lane will write the winter show for The Round for the fifth year in a row after his off-the-wall Christmas adaptations of Pinocchio, A Christmas Carol, Alice In Wonderland and Treasure Island.

Lane’s idiosyncratic take on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Snow Queen will be directed by Robinson, with music and lyrics once more by Simon Slater, for a run from December 3 to 30. 

Katie Arnstein in Sexy Lamp: playing the SJT on May 26

The SJT’s own productions will be complemented by a busy season of visiting shows, such as The Canary And The Crow on May 7 and 8, Middle Child’s grime and hip hop-inspired gig theatre show about the journey of a working-class black child accepted into a prestigious grammar school.

In Where There’s Muck There’s Bras, on May 7, North Yorkshire stand-up poet Kate Fox offers a comical and thought-provoking insight into “the real Northern Powerhouse: Northern Women – the sung and the unsung”.

On May 9, Roald Dahl And The Imagination Seekers presents a thrilling story told through performance, games and creative play that explores such extraordinary Dahl tales as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The BFG and The Twits.

Quality Street, new artistic director Laurie Sansom’s directorial debut for Halifax company Northern Broadsides, will be on tour at the SJT from May 12 to 16. This Broadsides production is a rare revival of Peter Pan author JM Barrie’s delicious farce, a play so well known in its day that it gave its name to the ever-popular British chocolates, made in Halifax since 1936.

Key date for Alistair McGowan: piano and comedy on May 21 at SJT

Alistair McGowan: The Piano Show on May 21 combines the satirical Evesham comedian’s impressionist skills with his new-found prowess on the piano.

In It’s Miss Hope Springs, on May 23, self-confessed “blonde bombsite” Ty Jeffries plays the piano and sings mind-bogglingly catchy numbers from her all-original self-penned repertoire.

Scarborough’s Elvis tribute act, Tony Skingle, presents ElvisThe ’68 Comeback on May 24. Two nights later, Sexy Lamp asks: “Have you ever been treated like an inanimate object?” in Katie Arnstein’s show that combines comedy, original songs and storytelling to “shed a bright light on how ridiculous the industry can be and why Katie is refusing to stay in the dark”.

Sexy Lamp is pitched “somewhere between the comedy of Victoria Wood, the comfort of going for a drink with your best mate, and the high drama of Hamlet (although it is nothing like Hamlet”.

Hope springs eternal : It’s Miss Hope Springs plays SJT on May 23

Anglo-Japanese theatre company A Thousand Cranes visit Scarborough with The Great Race! on May 29 and 30. This thrilling story of how the Eastern Zodiac calendar was created is billed as “the perfect show for children in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics”.

Forged Line Dance Company’s Treasure, on June 3, will be a fearless and physical dance performance that explores “our innate human fascination with our seas and coastlines”.

In Chores on June 20, two brothers must hurry to clean their room before their mum comes back. What could possibly go wrong in a circus-comedy for the whole family, all the way from Australia?

Great Yorkshire Fringe favourites Morgan & West serve up Unbelievable Science on September 19, when they combine captivating chemistry, phenomenal physics and bonkers biology in a fun-for-all-the-family science extravaganza.

Mischievous magical science double act Morgan & West in Unbelievable Science on September 19

Tickets for all shows are priced from £10 and will go on general sale from Friday, March 13, preceded by priority booking for the theatre’s membership scheme, The Circle, from March 6, on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Musical double act Michael Ball and Alfie Boe on their way to Leeds for February gig

Back together at Leeds First Direct Arena: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe

CHART-TOPPING duo Michael Ball and Alfie Boe will play Leeds First Direct Arena on February 25 on their Back Together tour.

The singing double act will be on an arena tour from February 22 to March 7 for ten dates in the wake of the November 2019 release of their third album, Back Together, on Decca Records.

The album of duets features The Greatest Show; Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again; Sunrise, Sunset; Circle Of Life; Come Fly With Me; Queen Medley; My Way; Something Inside So Strong; I Will Always Believe; Let It Be Me; Somethings Gotten Hold Of My Heart; Army and Brothers In Arms.

Back Together follows the success of Ball and Boe’s debut, Together, Britain’s best-selling album of 2016, and 2017 number one Together Again, the latest addition peaking at number two in the charts en route to achieving gold sales.

After decorated careers in theatre and opera, Ball and Boe have  sold more than one million albums in the UK, received two Classic BRIT awards and presented two ITV specials.

Last August Ball and Boe returned to Boublil and Schoenberg’s musical Les Miserables for a 16-week run at the Gielgud Theatre, London.

For ticket availability for February 25, go to firstdirectarena.com/events/.

How the Music Works for Opera North as new redevelopment is named the Howard Opera Centre

Architect’s visualisation of the redeveloped Opera North estate, showing the Howard Assembly Room, new restaurant, box office and atrium on the left and the Howard Opera Centre on the right.

OPERA North’s redeveloped headquarters in Leeds will bear the name of philanthropist Dr Keith Howard OBE.

The Howard Opera Centre will take on this title in recognition of the Yorkshire benefactor’s personal gift of £11.25 million towards the opera company’s redevelopment project, Music Works.

It is thought to be among the largest private donations ever made to a British arts company outside of London.

Dr Howard, a lifelong opera lover and cricket fan, is the founder of Emerald Group Publishing and president of Opera North.

The Howard Opera Centre will house Opera North’s rehearsal studios, costume and wigs workshop and administrative offices.

The redevelopment work on New Briggate and Harrison Street will create a world-class facility to make opera; a new education studio and additional rehearsal spaces, including a new rehearsal room for Opera North’s orchestra and chorus and a suite of music coaching rooms.

The Howard Opera Centre will join another space named ten years earlier in recognition of Dr Howard’s support for the company, the Howard Assembly Room, a 300-seat performance venue offering a diverse calendar of jazz, world music, folk, classical concerts, children’s opera, talks, film and installations.

Originally opened in 2009 after extensive restoration, the Howard Assembly Room is closed during the Music Works redevelopment project. It will reopen in 2021 with a new dedicated and fully accessible entrance and atrium, an increased number of performances and a new restaurant and bar, replacing a row of previously vacant shop units on New Briggate.

The redevelopment project began on site last summer and is being delivered by Henry Boot Construction, a Sheffield regional construction contractor with a commitment to reducing environment impacts.

The overall target for the Music Works fundraising campaign is £18 million.  Opera North has raised £15.6 million to date, including the £11.25 million gift that combines £9 million with £2.25 million in Gift Aid.  Leeds City Council has contributed £750,000, together with the lease of the vacant shops on New Briggate, and funding of £499,999 has been awarded by Arts Council England.

The balance of the funds raised so far has come from private donors, trusts and supporters, including a £1 million donation from the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, as well as a significant contribution from Mrs Maureen Pettman and major gifts from private individuals.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, from Leeds City Council, left, Dr Keith Howard, and Opera North’s general director, Richard Mantle, attending the <Leeds company’s 2019/20 season launch at Harewood House. Picture: Justin Slee

In addition, gifts have been pledged by the Wolfson Foundation, Backstage Trust, the Kirby Laing Foundation, the Foyle Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Although 87 per cent of the target has been raised, there remains a funding gap of £2.4 million to close. Opera North is  looking to patrons, Friends and audiences to play their part in the success of the redevelopment at many different levels. Work also continues to attract funding from further charitable trusts and foundations and the business community in Leeds.

Richard Mantle, Opera North’s general director, said: ““Opera North is delighted to be able to recognise the extraordinary generosity of our longstanding supporter and friend, Dr Keith Howard, whose contribution to this project means that we are able to create a new artistic home for the company, as well as improving the infrastructure, access and visitor experience for the Howard Assembly Room.

“The Howard Opera Centre will be a true centre of excellence, bringing together rehearsal spaces for world-class opera productions with coaching rooms, where singers can develop their vocal expertise, and specialist costume workshop spaces.

“A new hub for our education work will create an inclusive space for our work with young people from across the city, bringing children and young people right to the heart of our creative community.”

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “We are pleased to see this significant redevelopment now taking shape, creating a vastly improved artistic and educational hub for one of Leeds’s leading cultural assets.

“Opera North makes a huge contribution to the city, both in terms of the vitality and diversity of work seen on stage, and also through its work with children, young people and communities throughout our region.

“Through the revitalisation of a neglected section of New Briggate, the improved facilities for the Howard Assembly Room will work in tandem with our wider aspirations for the area as part of the Heritage Action Zones and Connecting Leeds programmes, creating a vibrant destination and supporting our plans for a better-connected city.” 

Opera North employs more than 250 people, such as costume makers, stage managers, electricians, stage technicians, props makers, sound and lighting technicians, educators, designers and musicians, in addition to working with around 370 freelance performers, creatives and artists each year.

Opera North’s opera productions are created and premiered in Leeds, where the company performs at Leeds Grand Theatre each season before touring its opera productions to theatres across the country.

The Music Works redevelopment is scheduled to be completed in phases, with the Howard Opera Centre opening in late 2020, and the Howard Assembly Room, restaurant and atrium scheduled for completion in 2021.

Watch a short film about Music Works at https://youtu.be/4xQU4q0xFD4

Work to replace the vacant shop units on New Briggate, Leeds, with a new restaurant and bar, December 2019. Picture: Tom Arber

MUSIC WORKS

“More live music, for everyone”.

 More performances in the Howard Assembly Room every year;

 A dedicated entrance for the Howard Assembly Room;

 An open, welcoming building that is fully accessible at all levels;

 New public spaces and an atrium.

Music Works will enable Opera North to host a full year-round programme of performances, workshops and small-scale productions in the Howard Assembly Room, increasing the number of performances given at the venue.

The best global musicians and artists will be brought to Leeds each year, creating a

diverse calendar of jazz, world music, folk, classical concerts, children’s opera, talks, film and installations.

 A new restaurant and bar, open to everyone all day;

 A refurbished Opera North box office and reception for Leeds Grand Theatre

 Restoration of a Grade II listed building

A crane moves steel on to the construction site at the top of the new Howard Opera Centre, looking east towards the Quarry House government offices, January 2020. Picture: Tom Arber

Music Works will regenerate a row of vacant shops directly beneath the Howard Assembly Room to

create a new restaurant and bar alongside a refurbished box office. A new dedicated “front door” will be established for Opera North and the Howard Assembly Room; the building will be open to everyone from morning until late at night for coffee, lunch, dinner and drinks.

Cutting-edge facilities for making opera: The Howard Opera Centre:

 A new purpose-built Music Rehearsal Studio;

 Three new music practice rooms;

 Refurbished Costume Workshop and Dye Room;

 A new artist and Company green room.

A home for Opera North Education:

 A new, flexible Education Studio;

 A new music coaching room for students;

 Break-out spaces and “secret garden” for school groups;

 A shared entrance for students, artists and staff, placing young people at the heart of the company.

An environmentally sustainable cultural flagship for Leeds:

 An environmentally sustainable and efficient estate;

 Photovoltaic panels to generate energy;

 A significant contribution to the New Briggate public realm;

 A major capital investment in the run up to 2023 Leeds cultural celebrations;

 Investment in digital infrastructure to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

The Sandy Denny Project to open new season at Selby Town Hall with rare show

The Sandy Denny Project: rare treat at Selby Town Hall. Picture: Paul Michael Hughes

SELBY Town Hall’s spring season opens on February 1 with an 8pm performance by folk-rock supergroup The Sandy Denny Project, paying homage to the late Fairport Convention folk-rock singer.

“Featuring, among others, Sally Barker, a former finalist on BBC One’s The Voice, they don’t play a great many gigs together,” says Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones. “This is one of only a couple of shows announced for 2020 – a rare treat.”

In a tragically short career – she died at the age of 31 – Sandy Denny sealed her place among the most influential and best-loved singer-songwriters of the past 50 years.

Britain’s pre-eminent folk-rock singer, she began her performing career with The Strawbs, then joined Fairport Convention, formed Fotheringay and released four solo albums.

Her song Who Knows Where The Time Goes? has been recorded by Judy Collins, Eva Cassidy, Nina Simone and Cat Power, while her wider work has been the subject of numerous reissues, documentaries and high-profile tribute concerts.

Sally Barker, from The Poozies, and fellow former Fotheringay MkII member PJ Wright, from The Dylan Project, are joined in The Sandy Denny Project by frequent Fairport Convention guest Anna Ryder, fast-rising singer, fiddler and guitarist Marion Fleetwood and a rhythm section of bassist Mat Davies and drummer Mark Stevens, from the now-defunct folk-rock group Little Johnny England.

Sandy Denny’s writing is approached not in the manner of a tribute band slavishly copying the records, but as an interpretation of her work by six musicians who share a folk-rock pedigree.

“Although Sandy died in 1978, her songs remain as fresh, poignant and as beautiful today as the time that they were penned, and with every year her reputation as a songwriter and interpreter of traditional material continues to grow,” says Chris.

“The repertoire of The Sandy Denny Project reflects the amazing legacy left behind by Sandy, through her work with the early incarnations of Fairport Convention, the sublime Fotheringay and her incredible solo songs.

“February 1 is a rare chance to see these six fantastic musicians perform their pitch-perfect tribute. The band really are of the highest folk-rock calibre and this is an opportunity no folk fan will want to miss.”

Tickets cost £19 on 01757 708449 or at selbytownhall.co.uk or £21 on the door from 7.30pm.

The world’s first Tourette’s superhero to spend half term at Scarborough Art Gallery

Jess Thomas: artist, play worker and comedian , hosting Heroes Of The Imagination

THE world’s first Tourette’s superhero lands in Scarborough Art Gallery this February half-term with a free “interactive, inclusive and incredible” superhero-themed experience.

Heroes Of The Imagination, from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, February 22, invites disabled and non-disabled children to discover their own powers, create a superhero identity and use their imagination to change the world. 

Touretteshero herself will be there with her team to help children make masks, create capes, perfect their moves and launch their new superheroes in a magical photo studio.

Touretteshero was founded by Matthew Pountney and Jess Thom, an artist, play worker and comedian who has Tourette’s syndrome and finds her tics are a source of imaginative creativity. She has never been seen in the same room as Touretteshero, by the way!

Children taking part in a previous Touretteshero event

“Touretteshero needs you!” says Jess. “Bring your ideas, excitement and energy to celebrate difference and save the world from dullness.”

Scarborough Museums Trust chief executive Andrew Clay says: “We’re excited to host internationally acclaimed company Touretteshero to inspire and energise us in our journey towards becoming more accessible and inclusive.

“We have some way to go but we’re committed to radically improving access over the next few years, particularly at Scarborough Art Gallery, including installing a lift.”

Taking place on the ground floor of the gallery, in The Crescent, this celebration of creativity, imagination and neurodiversity will allow children to choose and move between activities.

Another Touretteshero event in Scarborough

There will be a chill-out area, quiet and busy spaces and plenty of staff and helpers on hand, plus a Mobiloo outside the gallery on The Crescent: a Changing Places accessible loo with an adult-size changing bed and ceiling hoist.

The fully accessible, multi-sensory drop-in activities for disabled and non-disabled children and their grown-up sidekicks are free, but places are limited and booking is essential. The event is recommended particularly for children aged five to 13.

Further free half-term events being run by Scarborough Museums Trust include:

  • Fabulous Fossils, Rotunda Museum, Tuesday, February 18, 10.30am to 12 noon and 1.30pm to 3pm;
  • Superheroes of Science, Rotunda Museum, Thursday, February 20, 10am to 12 noon and 1pm to 3pm;
  • Explorer Backpacks and Trails, Rotunda Museum, Scarborough Art Gallery and Woodend, available every day.

To book for Heroes Of The Imagination, and for more information on all the half-term events, call 01723 374753 (Scarborough Art Gallery) or 01723 353665 (Rotunda) or visit scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/whats-on/.

Damien Jurado in a rush as he storms into Leeds City Varieties for February gig

“It just felt like it was time,” says Damien Jurado of recording a solo acoustic album last year

SEATTLE singer-songwriter Damien Jurado will showcase his acoustic album In The Shape Of A Storm in a solo show at Leeds City Varieties Music Hall on February 25.

The 47-year-old American will be playing ten dates on his European February and March tour after releasing his 14th studio album on April 12 last year.

Jurado always likes to work fast, but In the Shape Of A Storm came together with unprecedented speed, even by his standards, being recorded over the course of two hours one California afternoon.

On his sparsest album to date, gone are the thundering drums and psychedelic arrangements that defined the trilogy of concept albums he made with his long-time collaborator and close friend Richard Swift.

Gone too is the atmospheric air that hovered above his early albums for Sub Pop. Here, instead, there is only Jurado’s voice, acoustic guitar, and occasional accompaniment from Josh Gordon, playing a high-strung guitar tuned Nashville style, rendering its sound spooky and celestial.

Although his fans have long requested a solo acoustic album, the prospect never made sense to Jurado, until one day it simply did. “It just felt like it was time,” Jurado says.

“There is nothing left to hide,” Jurado sings on the opening Lincoln, where everything is clear and laid bare, two tone, like the drawing he crafted for the record’s cover.

Originally written for 2000’s The Ghost Of David, Lincoln was shelved and forgotten until Jurado rediscovered it on an old cassette tape, inspiring him to gather up compositions that had never found proper homes. As a result, In The Shape Of A Storm became an archive of previously abandoned songs.

Jurado’s discography is filled with songs written as miniature movies, cinematic vignettes that capture people, the places they are from, and where they are going. By contrast, In The Shape Of A Storm is his first black and white picture, both a snapshot of two hours in a California recording studio and a document spanning 19 years and a life of music.

“I believe songs have their own time and place,” Jurado says. For these ten, that time has finally come on album number 14.

Tickets for Jurado’s 8pm Leeds gig, when he will be supported by Dana Gavanski, are on sale on 0113 243 0808 or at cityvarieties.co.uk.

This is why Castle car park in York will be closed on Saturday…

The poster image for Eye Project, the short film for the Castle Gateway project, being shown on Clifford’s Tower, York, on Saturday

EYE Project, a new short film made by four York artists, will be shown in a free outdoor screening on Clifford’s Tower, Tower Street, York, on Saturday evening.

Created as part of the Castle Gateway consultation project, the film recalls the history of the Castle Gateway, where the River Ouse and River Foss meet, while also celebrating its future possibilities. 

Emanating from the site of the former York Castle, the area covers the length of Piccadilly, the Coppergate shopping centre, Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of Yorkshire and runs through to St George’s Field and the Foss Basin.

Artists Rich Corrigan, Jade Blood, Julia Davis Nosko and Mat Lazenby worked with hundreds of young York people and InkBlot Films to “explore the ways we can shape and influence the future of Castle Gateway through a major development of the site”. 

Overseen by Kaizen Arts Agency and English Heritage, Eye Projectwill be shown from the Castle car park between 5.30pm and 8.30pm on Saturday as part of this weekend’s York Residents Festival.

The public will have an opportunity to have a say about the area’s future during the screening by using #eyeprojectyork. 

Andrea Selley, historic properties director at English Heritage, says: “Any consultation process is interesting but this one has been particularly so: listening to the views that young people have about that the Castle Gateway space and seeing the passion and creativity of their ideas has been fascinating and insightful.

“Clifford’s Tower, centred so prominently in the city centre, is an apt place to project such a creative community-led project and we’re pleased that the tower has been part of this.” 

The poster for Conflux, one of three Castle Gateway project commissions

Rebecca Carr, Kaizen Arts Agency’s artistic director, says: “We aim to bring York residents into this conversation who wouldn’t usually engage in a traditional consultation. This project is presenting different ways to share ideas; it creates another way to explore the place, while at the same time activating the site, and beginning to shape it into the place we might want it to be.

“People sometimes feel as if their voice isn’t heard, or their opinion is not valued, so we’re really excited to be part of a team that aims to change that.”

Eye Projectis the third in a trio of art commissions to be presented as part of City of York Council’s consultation on Castle Gateway, using art to reference the past while looking to the future of the iconic city-centre site. 

Another of the commissions, Conflux, an hour-long audio walk collaboration between Hannah Davies’s Common Ground Theatre and Hannah Bruce & Company, can be downloaded and experienced until December 2020, with more details at cgtheatre.co.uk/portfolio/conflux/.

Councillor Darryl Smalley, City of York Council’s executive member for culture, leisure and communities,says: “Throughout the My Castle Gateway project, we’ve looked to innovate and bring fresh ideas to capture the views of residents, businesses and visitors about how the area can be regenerated for the next generation. 

“It’s fitting that the car park will be closed for the day [Saturday, January 25] to showcase these ideas from York’s young people, along with local artists, because one of the key features of the masterplan is to relocate Castle car park to St George’s Field with a new purpose-built multi-storey car park. 

“I would urge people to come along and see the short film to discover the heritage behind the Castle Gateway site and the ambitious opportunities that lie ahead for the area.” 

The project is funded through Leeds City Region Business Rates Pool, a scheme that allows local authorities to retain growth in business rates for local investment. Public funding comes from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with further support from City of York Council, York Mediale and the University of York music department.

Please note: Castle car park will be closed on January 25 for the Eye Project event.

Hyde Family Jam celebrate Burns Night with a bonanza bash @41 Monkgate

Jam packed: Hyde Family Jam cram in the hits in their Burns Night Bonanza

YORK busking kings Hyde Family Jam present a Burns Night Bonanza at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, on Saturday at 7.30pm.

“Huzzah!” says frontman and guitarist John Holt-Roberts. “We’re back, playing a gig in York to celebrate Burns Night and help you shake off the January blues. Come and stomp, dance and sing along with us.”

Hyde Family Jam, winners of the Outstanding Busker prize in the 2018 York Culture Awards, are likely to sell out. “So, get your tickets early to avoid disappointment,” urges John. Box office: eventbrite.co.uk.

Tribute shows at the double as Frankie Valli and Simon & Garfunkel celebrations play Grand Opera House

The Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

THE Grand Opera House, York, plays host to two tribute shows this week, first hitting the high notes with The Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons on Friday.

The Simon & Garfunkel Story follows on Saturday in a return visit to the Cumberland Street theatre.

From the creators of The Barricade Boys comes the Frankie Valli show, a high-pitched celebration of the career of four New Jersey boys, who started singing under a streetlamp.

Sherry, My Eyes Adored You, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man and December 1963 (Oh, What A Night) all feature in a show performed by cast members from Jersey Boys and other West End shows.

The Simon & Garfunkel Story

After a run at London’s Vaudeville Theatre and a worldwide tour, the tribute show to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is back on the road with Adam Dickinson’s Simon and Cameron Potts’s Garfunkel.

Using projection photos and original film footage, the 50th anniversary celebration features a full band performing Cecilia, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs Robinson et al.

Tickets for the two 7.30pm performances are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Big Ian’s A Night To Remember leaps into action for charities at York Barbican

Annie Donaghy, Big Ian Donaghy, Beth McCarthy, Heather Findlay and Jess Steel at A Night To Remember in 2019 at York Barbican. Picture: Karen Boyes

AS New Year’s resolutions wane and gym memberships become a direct debit, a group of York musicians start their boot camp of rehearsals for A Night To Remember.

Now in its eighth year, the annual fundraising event helps good causes in the city to make a difference.

Organiser and host Big Ian Donaghy brings together “the finest musicians and singers for a gang show like no other” at York Barbican.

“This year’s show is so jam packed with quality that we’ve had to create another day to fit it in: Saturday, February 29, in the leap year of 2020!”” says Big Ian.

Heather Findlay performing at last year’s A Night To Remember fundraiser. Picture: David Harrison

Unlike other shows, A Night To Remember has all the singers performing as an ensemble exceeding all of its constituent parts.

“When you have a dream team on the stage, it seems a shame to not use them, so everybody sings on everybody else’s songs,” says Big Ian.

“It’s become a big musical family – and there’s some range on stage! For example, festival superstar Kieran O’Malley, on fiddle, could power the entire night with his energetic performance leading the crowd like a pied piper,” says Big Ian.

A Night To Remember lets singers take on their favourite songs. “In previous years, no song has been off limits. Last year saw the cast rise to the challenge of Bohemian Rhapsody in its entirety, something not even Queen tackled!

Jess Steel: taking on “near-impossible demanding songs” at York Barbican. Picture: David Harrison

“Soulful Jess Steel will take on a Dusty Springfield classic, as well as other near-impossible demanding songs that she’ll deliver in the manner she’s now well known for.

“Heather Findlay, fresh back from a sell-out UK tour, brings her class into the mix,  performing two of her favourite songs.

“Overall, you should expect showbiz, expect boundless energy, expect the unexpected.”

The gig’s house band will be led by York music stalwart George Hall, joined by powerhouse duo Rob Wilson and Simon Snaize on guitar duty.

The poster for A Night To Remember 2020

Look out for Beth McCarthy, who made her debut at the Mount School when Big Ian ran a School of Rock concert there. “I still call him ‘Mr D’ as he was my teacher,” says Beth, who will be stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations.

Graham Hodge will “venture into very different areas as he celebrates his 70th birthday”. Gravel-voiced Boss Caine, alias Dan Lucas, will tackle a country favourite that nobody would ever guess.

Hope & Social’s Gary Stewart will play the congas, as well as singing a Paul Simon rouser.

York singer Jessa Liversidge will bring  her fully inclusive Singing For All choir, a group with members aged up to 98.

Beth McCarthy: “Stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations”

“This choir is all about bringing people together to combat loneliness and celebrate a love of music with rehearsals that are very tea and cake heavy,” says Jessa.

“I love Jessa’s passionate, positive approach to bringing the community together, so it was an obvious fit to raise the choir’s profile and show the city just how fantastic they are,” says Big Ian.

“So much, so we’ll have them singing The New Seekers’ I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.”

Annie Donaghy will put her spin on a George Michael classic on a night when the set list will feature covers of Dusty Springfield, Shania Twain, Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Michael Buble, Guns N’ Roses, Barbra Streisand, Peter Gabriel, Elton John and Marvin Gaye classics, as well as a few surprises.

Oh, what A Night To Remember as singers and musicians gather at the finale of last year’s fund-raising concert at York Barbican. Picture: Ravage

“This year, the show has a bigger, brassier feel with a 12-piece brass section, made up of Kempy, Pete, Stu and Chalky from my band Huge, being joined by funk horns and brass players from York Music Forum, ranging in age from 13 to 18, led by Ian Chalk,” says Big Ian.

“We’re celebrating the young talent in the city within the brass section and putting them alongside singers up to 98 years old. Music has no age limit. It is for all of us!”

Possibly the most important man on the night will be sound engineer Craig Rothery, who has the unenviable task of mixing this leviathan of a line-up.

“Craigy is a phenomenal sound engineer, who mixed the launch event for the Tour de France at Leeds First Direct Arena that was viewed by millions. Craig is so much more than a safe pair of hands; he’s the cement that holds us together,” says Big Ian.

Graham Hodge in action at last year’s A Night To Remember concert

He also promises “ground-breaking, heart-warming and heart-breaking films” to raise dementia awareness. “Watch out for surprise appearances, as previous years have included messages from Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, The Hairy Bikers, Rick Astley, Nick Knowles, Anton du Beke and Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson,” he says.

“But the real reason these musicians come together is to help St Leonard’s Hospice, Dementia Projects in York, Bereaved Children Support York and Accessible Arts & Media.”

Jo Cole, of Bereaved Children Support, says: “As well as helping us fund one-to-one counselling, A Night To Remember has raised our profile, so families who desperately needed us to help now know where we are.”

Working the crowd: A Night To Remember host Ian Donaghy

Emma Johnson, of St Leonard’s Hospice, says: “Big Ian and the team have provided invaluable help for years, making such a difference in the city.”

Big Ian, who speaks all over Europe about dementia care, concludes: “Dementia awareness and the difference we can make by bringing community together is the envy of many cities around the UK.

“We throw everything into this evening. It takes months of hard work and phenomenally talented people working tirelessly. I’m so proud to be part of this team.”

Tickets are available at £17.55 and £15 on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

The 7.30pm show is being sponsored by Haxby Group and Care Shop.

Singers, musicians and the York Barbican audience pose for a group selfie after last year’s concert

Leeds Playhouse marks Holocaust Memorial Day with David Greig’s ghetto play Dr Korczak’s Example

Robert Pickavance as Dr Janusz Korcza in rehearsals for Dr Korczak’s Example. All pictures: Zoe Martin

LEEDS Playhouse regular Robert Pickavance, Gemma Barnett and newcomer Danny Sykes will star in Dr Korczak’s Example, the first 2020 production in the new Bramall Rock Void.

Artistic director James Brining directs David Greig’s powerful and moving play in a Leeds premiere timed to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.

Set in the shadows of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in 1942, Dr Korczak’s Example examines life in an orphanage where escapism is key to survival, and where the children’s shared sense of community is the only barrier against the wave of hatred approaching their haven of solidarity.

Director James Brining at work in the Leeds Playhouse rehearsal rooms

Greig’s play highlights the work of Polish educator and children’s author Dr Janusz Korczak, who championed the voices of young people and whose influence led to the creation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

Director James Brining says: “Dr Janusz Korczak was an incredible individual whose beliefs and teachings helped to redefine how we think about the way we bring up our own children and the part we have to play within society to achieve that.

“I commissioned the play and first directed it in 2001. It’s such a powerful, moving and timely story and I’m so looking forward to returning to it in the new Bramall Rock Void and particularly to working with Hebden Bridge designer Rose Revitt, winner of the Linbury Prize for theatre design.”

Gemma Barnett rehearsing her role as Stephanie in Dr Korczak’s Example

The Bramall Rock Void forms part of the £15.8 million redevelopment of Leeds Playhouse, completed last autumn. “What we have already discovered about our new theatre is that its raw intimacy can create a powerful environment for powerful stories and Rose’s vision for Dr Korczak’s Example does just that,” says James. ”I’m  honoured to be directing this [play] again with such a brilliant company.”

Brining commissioned Greig to write the play 20 years ago when he was running TAG, a children’s theatre company in Glasgow, Scotland. Now looking forward to introducing it to a new audience in his home city of Leeds, he says:“I’ve done quite a few things more than once, but I never intended to go back to this piece again.

“I was really happy with the original production. Then, a year or so ago, I came across a statistic that showed quite a high number of people – maybe 18 to 20 per cent – thought the Nazi holocaust was exaggerated, with a slightly smaller number saying it was completely fabricated. I was really struck and shocked by that because when I grew up it was a very present thing.”

Leeds actor Robert Pickavance during rehearsals for Dr Korczak’s Example

Brining continues: “On a very personal level, revisiting the play has made me ask if I’m the same person I was 20 years ago. Having children has changed the way I see the play and, perhaps, explains why I was so moved when I read it again. I’m not saying that having children gives you more of a profound understanding, but it does give you a different perspective. And I’m just older, so I can now align myself quite strongly with Korczak.

“I think that’s the measure of a really great piece of theatre: it speaks to you differently according to who you are and where you are. Having children, being older, the world being a slightly different place, even having more distance from 1942, all of these things affect the way you engage with it. But as I’ve watched rehearsals, I’ve been really moved. The power of the play is still very potent.”

The role of Dr Janusz Korczak will be played by Leeds actor Robert Pickavance, who starred as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Sava in David Greig’s Europe as part of the Leeds Playhouse Ensemble during its Pop-Up Season.

Newcomer Danny Sykes rehearsing his role as Adzio

He will be joined by Gemma Barnett, fresh from starring as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare In The Squares, as well as Rory in A Hundred Words For Snow at Trafalgar Studios and Lola in Lola at The Vaults, both in London.

Danny Sykes will make his first professional stage appearance after graduating with a BA in Acting from Arts Ed in 2019.

This Playhouse production is supported by the Linbury Prize for Stage Design, funded by the Linbury Trust. This biennial prize, the most important of its kind in Britain, brings together the best early career designers with professional theatre, dance and opera companies.

Joining Brining and Revitt in the creative team are lighting designer Jane Lalljee, sound designer and composer David Shrubsole, movement designerRachel Wise.

Dr Korczak’s Example runs at Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse, January 25 to February 15. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.

York artist Gerard Hobson enjoys winter walk on the wild side at Beningbrough Hall. UPDATED

York artist Gerard Hobson with his wren installation beneath the Clock Tower at Beningbrough Hall, near York. Pictures: Sue Jordan

YORK linocut artist Gerard Hobson is exhibiting for the first time at Beningbrough Hall, Beningbrough, near York.

His Winter Wildlife In Print show at the National Trust property combines prints for sale in the Hayloft gallery with 14 sculptural scenes in the outbuildings, gardens, grounds and parkland, inspired by creatures that make Beningbrough their winter home.

Throughout winter until March 1, they can be seen only on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am to 3.30pm, and additionally during the February half term.

Hedgehog in winter, by Gerard Hobson,

Created out of linoprints, cut out and mounted to make Hobson’s 3D installations, birds are swooping, climbing or nesting among the trees, from owls and robins to cuckoos, wrens and swifts.

Eyes should be kept peeled for the naughty magpies with their stolen ring. Do look out, too, beyond the ha-ha to the parkland to spot a pair of boxing hares, better seen close-up should anyone be carrying binoculars.

Bang goes the common knowledge, by the way, that boxing hares are a brace of males scrapping over a female. Apparently, as a sign reveals, the fights involve a male and a female, not welcoming his persistent attention. Who knew, the lady hares are effectively saying “Do one” or “Get yourself a better chat-up line”!

Hare, by Gerard Hobson, one of the linoprints in the Hayloft gallery at Beningbrough Hall

These outdoor installations are the first time Gerard Hobson has used his work in this way, and in creating the exhibition, he has made many new pieces especially for the Beningbrough garden.

Not only birds, but other animals too make an appearance in unexpected places, searching for food and preparing to hibernate or sleep, whether bats, mice, stoats or a hedgehog.

Make sure to head upstairs in the stables to the Hayloft for an indoor exhibition showcasing more of Gerard’s printed work, all for sale. Visitors also can create a feeder in the bothy and pick up one of the special colouring-in sheets in the walled garden restaurant, while in the laurel den a dawn chorus soundscape is a reminder of warmer days to come.

Here Charles Hutchinson puts the questions on the art of the matter to artist Gerard Hobson.

You have a background as a zoologist and botanist. What draws you to depicting nature and wildlife, Gerard?

“One of my earliest recollections was collecting a set of bird cards given away with PG Tips tea (I would love to do a set for Yorkshire Tea).

“This moved on to sets of animals both native and around the world, which then grew into a love of nature.

A bird collage by Gerard Hobson

“At the age of about 16, I had a ten-minute chat with a careers adviser, who asked me what my interests were. I said ‘nature and art’ and he said ‘there’s no money in art, go down the science route’, hence the zoology.

“My first job after graduating was with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and this is where my knowledge of plants developed.” 

In this age of climate change concern and the extinction of creatures, your art can make a powerful statement …but at the same time, in the short film shown in the Beningbrough Hall bothy, you talk of your art being fun. Discuss…

“People who buy my prints tell me they’re bright and cheerful and have a sense of fun about them. I’m pleased they get that response but I also hope that my images might create a greater interest in wildlife.

“I think most people are aware of the loss of habitat and species and the impact of global warming on our environment, but people feel the problem is so great that their small contribution isn’t going to make any difference.

“I hope my art may stir people to become more interested in the wildlife around them, to feed the birds and join their local wildlife trust. To share this with their children and their children’s children and hopefully generations of young people will become more interested in the birds and woodlands around them. Maybe some will go on to be environmental campaigners – who knows!”

Gerard Hobson at work in his York studio

Your past work often has been of individual creatures. How did you come up with the idea of doing installations and sculptural scenes for the Beningbrough exhibition?

“When I was asked to do an exhibition at Beningbrough, they told me they wanted me to do something outdoors but they wanted me to use my linocuts. However, I knew this was going to create several problems.

“Life-size birds outside would just disappear into the great outdoors, so I had to do everything twice its normal size.

“I wanted the work to be original because somehow, once you reproduce art, it seems to lose its essence, but trying to make my paper linocuts waterproof also proved challenging.

“I felt each installation needed some sort of narrative.  So, my vision for the exhibition was not just about the art but for each one to be linked with some related fact or folklore.”

How does the impact of a group of birds/hibernating animals/etc contrast with those past works?

“I think the outdoor display at Beningbrough challenged me artistically as I have never done an outside exhibition before and I wanted to come up with something a little bit different and quirky: a seek and find concept.

Pheasant, one of the linoprints by Gerard Hobson, at Beningbrough Hall’s Hayloft gallery

“As an artist you are looking at ways to develop, but not lose your style. Before the offer at Beningbrough came about, I’d been considering doing some framed images of my linocuts in naturalistic settings using fake plants, branches, mosses etc.

“When I was about 12, I started collecting taxidermy and had quite a large collection, but over the years it has become less fashionable. However, taxidermy still interests me as an art form, hence the thought of putting my linocuts in cases.”

What influence did the Beningbrough Hall outbuildings and grounds have on your work. Furthermore, did the task of creating work for the outdoors present different challenges?

“When I was asked to do the exhibition, the brief was very broad and they basically gave me carte blanche on the spaces around the grounds, which was fantastic!

“I obviously wanted to do something that was on a circuit so I  around a few times, identifying my favourite trees and possible places to put things.

“Many of the themes for the installations came from the spaces themselves. The stumpery led to the creation of a group of mushrooms and the tool shed looked like a good setting to put animals and birds for sheltering away from the cold winter weather.”

A close-up of the wrens, one of 14 sculptural scenes by Gerard Hobson at Beningbrough Hall this winter

What impact did the winter season have on the work?

“The winter weather has created a few problems. When we were installing the exhibition, it seemed to be constantly raining, which made the installation a very cold and wet experience!

“Once the exhibition was up, we had a couple of weeks where various pieces were coming away from their metal dowel. (I’m not sure if it was the persistent rain or the wrong sort of glue being used.)

“Added to which, very high winds brought down the swallow installation twice and the boxing hares were blown over. There has also been a problem with the thrush installation being attacked by what we think is the resident jackdaw population! “However, through it all, the gardeners and volunteers at Beningbrough have been fantastic at helping put things right.”

What will happen to the installation pieces after the exhibition ends on March 1?

“Good question, no idea. Some of the pieces have weathered, which gives them a look of an old loved toy. I don’t think they’ll last outdoors permanently. I’m open to suggestions.”

Bird And Mistletoe, a winter linoprint by Gerard Hobson

What do you like most about linocuts as an artform?

“I went on a printmaking course at York College about ten years ago and I was particularly taken with producing linocuts.

“Carving away on lino has a very therapeutic feel to it, and it was through this medium that I developed my own style. Prior to this, I’d been quite good at art technically, but didn’t have a particular look to my art, so this technique seemed to release me into something I’d been trying to do for years.

“When you produce a piece of art, you can feel quite attached to it, and it can be quite difficult to part with. With a linocut, because it’s one of a limited edition, you can always hold one back for yourself or a loved one.” 

What are you working on next? York Open Studios 2020 on April 18, 19, 25 and 26, perhaps?

“My exhibition in the Hayloft gallery at Beningbrough is running until the beginning of March, with the sales from this keeping me quite busy at the moment, and I want to keep refreshing this part of the show, so that returning visitors get to see something a little different each time.

“Also, I need to crack on with some new work for York Open Studios, which I’m very excited about this April.” 

Gerard Hobson’s Winter Wildlife In Print exhibition and installations are on show at Beningbrough Hall, Beningbrough, near York, until March 1. To plan a visit, go to nationaltrust.org.uk/beningbrough for more information.

Hare leap: one of Gerard Hobson’s linocut prints at Beningbrough Hall

Did you know?

SINCE childhood, Gerard Hobson has had a love for birds, animals and art. His fascination with wildlife saw him qualify as a zoologist from Bangor University in 1984 and he then worked for a couple of years for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust as a botanist. Later he became an illustrator for the trust, working on leaflets and sign boards.

After relocating up north, Gerard worked for Yorkshire Wildlife and continued to develop his work on a freelance basis. In more recent years, he has turned his hand to woodcarving and these days focuses his attentions on print making, having studied the art form in York. 

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company to stage York premiere of Made In Dagenham

Standing up against a huge corporation: Jennie Wogan as Rita O’Grady in Made In Dagenham. All pictures: Simon Charles

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company will present the York premiere of Made In Dagenham from February 5 to 8 to raise funds for the community theatre in Haxby Road, York.

Directed by Kayleigh Oliver, this will be the third such musical production after Mel Brooks’s The Producers in 2018 and Cole Porter and Bella and Samuel Spewack’s Kiss Me, Kate in 2019.

David Arnold, Richard Thomas and Hull playwright Richard Bean’s Made In Dagenham is inspired by the remarkable true story of a group of women, working in Ford’s Dagenham car plant, that stood tall against a huge corporation and won the fight for equal pay, a battle still raging all over the world.

Jenny Jones as Sandra in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Made In Dagenham

Rita O’Grady, a working wife and mother, has her life changed forever when the girls in Ford’s stitching room are told their pay is to be dropped to an “unskilled” grade. It falls to Rita to lead her friends in the fight against Ford and the corruption of the union.

Along the way in their inspiring journey, they learn the value of friendship, solidarity and the importance of fighting for what’s right, as told in a funny, touching and timeless musical that remains as relevant today as ever.

Jennie Wogan, latterly seen in Scrooge, King Lear and Kiss Me, Kate, takes the role of Rita, joined by talent from the York amateur theatre scene, such as Helen Singhateh, from Little Shop Of Horrorsand the UK/European tour of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change!, as Beryl; Nick Sephton, from Patience and Pirates Of Penzance, as Eddie O’Grady, and Martyn Hunter, from Brassed Off and Calendar Girls, as Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Jennie Wogan in rehearsal for her lead role as Rita O;Grady

Malton actor, singer and now producer Scott Garnham starred in the original West End production. “It’s a great show and I’m delighted that someone is presenting it in York, where I started my career,” he says.

“The York premiere really is an event,” says lead actress Jennie Wogan. “It’s a story about love, family and doing what’s right, all told with humour, honesty and some wonderfully written songs.”

Oliver is joined in the production team by assistant director Alex Schofield, producer Tom Diar Davey=Rogerson, musical director Tim Selman, choreographer Lorna Newby and costume designer Karen Brunyee.

Tickets for the 7.30pm evening performances and 2.30pm Saturday matinee are on sale on 01904 501935, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or in person from the JoRo box office. Please note, Made In Dagenham features some very strong language and may be unsuitable for children.

The Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s poster for next month’s Made In Dagenham

Cast List
Rita O’Grady – Jennie Wogan
Beryl – Helen Singhateh
Sandra – Jennifer Jones
Clare – Izzy Betts
Cass – Riffat Rizvi
Rachel/Club Singer  – Clare Meadley
MC – Hannah Ainscough
Connie Riley – Rosy Rowley
Lisa Hopkins – Karen Brunyee
Barbara Castle – Kayleigh Oliver
Sharon O’Grady – Ella Meadley

Helen Singhateh as Beryl in Made In Dagenham

Eddie O’Grady – Nick Sephton
Graham O’Grady – Ben Wood
Sid/Stan – Tom Diar Davey-Rogerson
Bill/Stan – Cam O’Byrne
Monty – Richard Goodall
Barry – Joe Hesketh
Mr Hopkins – Mark Simmonds
Chubby Chuff – Ben Huntley
Tooley – Chris Gibson
Mr Hubble – Nick Jackson
Mr Macer – Gary Bateson
Wilson’s Aide 1 – Alastair Bush

Wilson’s Aide 2 – Cam O’Byrne
Wilson’s Aide 3 – Ben Huntley
Harold Wilson – Martyn Hunter
Mr Buckton – Gary Bateson
Buddy Cortina – Ben Huntley

Chris Gibson as Tooley in rehearsal for Made In Dagenham

Ensemble
Ruth Chapman
Hannah Ainscough
Ashley Ginter
Pamela Bradley
Leon Evangeliou
Lorna Newby
Abigail Atkinson
Michelle Atkinson
Jane Woolgar
Lucy Plimmer

Production team

Kayleigh Oliver – director

Alex Schofield – assistant director

Tom Diar Davey-Rogerson – producer

Hannah Ainscough – tech manager

Tim Selman – musical director

Lorna Newby – choreography

Karen Brunyee – costume

Ben Huntley – publicity

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Opera North’s Street Scene, Leeds Grand Theatre, 18/1/2020

Gillene Butterfield as Rose Maurrant and Alex Banfield as Sam Kaplan in Opera North’s Street Scene. All pictures: Clive Barda

Opera North in Street Scene; Leeds Grand Theatre. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com

KURT Weill’s “American opera” is actually a hotchpotch of styles from both sides of the pond. Opera, both serious and light, musicals, jazz, and dance all jostle in song, speech and melodrama to reflect a cosmopolitan tenement in Manhattan.

It is also an ensemble piece, with a multiplicity of small roles that offer an ideal opportunity to showcase in depth the talents of Opera North’s chorus. It requires a director with wide-reaching experience, prepared for painstaking attention to detail. Though set in stifling heat, Matthew Eberhardt’s production is so far only luke-warm; it may yet come to the boil.

Francis O’Connor’s network of metal stairs and walkways in the midst of a beehive of apartments augments the bustle of life, allowing just enough space for dance. There is only a single exit from this ghetto on ground level, compounding the claustrophobia. So far, so good.

Giselle Allen as Anna Maurrant in Street Scene

His costumes are more debatable. Most of the cast are wearing far too much for the alleged heat – T-shirts, anyone? – nor is it likely that pantsuits would have been common currency in a down-at-heel 1940s neighbourhood.

There are two main story-lines to Elmer Price’s book, which is based on his 1929 play of the same name: the adultery and eventual death of Anna Maurrant, and the ultimately doomed, cross-faith puppy love between her daughter Rose and studious Sam Kaplan. Everything else is atmosphere.

Eberhardt does little to elucidate Anna’s dalliances with the milkman – admittedly Weill is not much help here – so that when her husband shoots them both, we are left relatively unmoved. Similarly, so little electricity illuminates the friendship between Rose and Sam that it seems bound to remain platonic from the word go.

Claire Pascoe as Emma Jones, Byron Jackson as Henry Davis, Amy J Payne as Olga Olsen, Richard Mosley-Evans as George Jones, Miranda Bevin as Greta Fiorentino, John Savournin as Carl Olsen, Christopher Turner as Lippo Fiorentino and Robert Hayward as Frank Maurrant, with children in Opera North’s Street Scene

The evening has plenty of compensations, however. There are several self-contained numbers that show Weill at his best. The Ice-Cream Sextet joyously led by Italian airman Lippo (Christopher Turner); a song-and-dance jitterbug by Rodney Vubya and Michelle Andrews; the raucous children’s game to open Act 2, superbly danced (choreography by Gary Clarke); the trenchant wit of the Nursemaids’ Lullaby (Lorna James and Hazel Croft, pushing prams) – all these are beacons of humour and entertainment.

The orchestra under James Holmes is especially alive to jazz styles and the rhythm section has a field-day. Act 2 has its longueurs after the children’s game and some of his tempos here are on the sluggish side. But colour anyway seems temporarily to drain out of the action, as if Eberhardt’s inspiration is flagging.

Giselle Allan as Anna makes the most of the work’s biggest aria, Somehow I Could Never Believe, a vivid picture of marital frustration. Less three-dimensional is Robert Hayward as her abusive husband Frank, who rarely takes leave of drink and anger, though forceful enough in Let Things Be Like They Always Was.

Michelle Andrews as Mae Jones and Rodney Vubya as Dick McGann in Street Scene

Gillene Butterfield is an engaging Rose, ploughing a difficult furrow between distance and engagement with Sam, and fending off the unwanted attentions of her Lothario boss (Quirijn de Lang). Sam is persuasively drawn by Alex Banfield: we feel his pangs for Rose in We’ll Go Away Together.

Among any number of good cameos, two stand out: Claire Pascoe’s Bronx-accented Mrs Jones, the ghetto gossip, and Byron Jackson as the janitor. Both are vivid and distinctive. American accents come and go, mirroring the way the action fades in and out of focus. There is much potential here. Things may well settle down as the run progresses. 

Further performances on January 25, February 12, 20 and 28, then on tour.

Review by Martin Dreyer 

Iconic Hyde Park Picture House redevelopment work to start soon. On The Road screenings launched

Architects Page Park’s redevelopment design for the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds

THE Hyde Park Picture House, Britain’s last remaining gas-lit cinema, is to close its doors next month for a major redevelopment of the Grade II listed cinema in Brudenell Road, Leeds.

Work will begin at the end of February after a £2.3 million National Lottery Heritage Fund grant was secured for the Picture House Project, enabling the iconic building to undergo essential repair and restoration work, alongside the creation of new accessible facilities and a second screen.

From mid-February, the cinema will go On The Road for a film programme that will run throughout 2020, presenting screenings of new independent films, documentaries, cult classics and family favourites, working in tandem with such Leeds venues as Leeds University Union, Heart in Headingley, The Brunswick and the Brudenell Social Club.

On Tuesday this week, Hyde Park’s head of cinema, Wendy Cook, and Mark Johnston, of project architects Page Park, delivered an update to partners and stakeholders, detailing the ways in which the cinema’s unique heritage features will be repaired, most significantly the  nine gas lights.

Architects Page Park’s design for the new second screen in the Hyde Park Picture House basement

Wendy Cook said: “Hyde Park Picture House’s story has been over 100 years in the making, shaped by hundreds of thousands of film lovers. Having the opportunity to safeguard the cinema for another 100 years is both a privilege and a pleasure.”  

At Tuesday’s event, Francis Lee, the BAFTA-nominated writer and director of the 2017 Yorkshire film God’s Own Country, was confirmed as the Hyde Park’s inaugural patron.

Lee, who grew up on his family’s farm at Soyland, Calderdale, is an avid supporter of the Leeds cinema. His new film, Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, is set for release later this year.

“I’m delighted to be the patron of Hyde Park Picture House,” he said. “It’s a huge honour. The Picture House team have been very supportive of me from the beginning of my career as a film maker; our association beginning in 2012 when they screened my very first short film.

How the Hyde Park Picture House entrance foyer will look after the Page Park redevelopment

“Hyde Park Picture House is a vital part of the cultural identity of not just Leeds, but the surrounding area too, offering an incredible mix of cinema, community involvement and support to local film makers. I’m very excited to see how the Picture House continues to evolve and grow.” 

Meanwhile, sponsors Kirkstall Brewery will brew an exclusive beer with the cinema this spring as part of the Hyde Park’s community fundraising campaign, with 20 per cent from all sales going towards the project.

Under the Picture House Project, the 1914 cinema will undergo essential conservation work to the façade and existing auditorium, alongside the creation of new facilities, including a larger foyer space and the aforementioned second screen, to be located in the basement.

The project will allow the cinema’s rich history to be explored and celebrated through archival screenings, heritage tours and educational workshops, helping to tell the story of film making and film watching in the region.

Hyde Park Picture Picture House at night in architects Page Park’s redevelopment designs

In addition to the National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, the project has received “significant backing” from Leeds City Council and the Garfield Weston Foundation, alongside funding support from Film Hub North, Leeds Inspired, the Pilgrim Trust, the Gwyneth Forrester Trust, the Co-op Community Fund and Friends of the Hyde Picture House.

The project continues to welcome match-funding contributions and will embark on a crowd-funding campaign when the redevelopment work begins. Individuals or businesses interested in sponsorship opportunities should contact Wendy Cook at wendy@hydeparkpictutrehouse.co.uk. 

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “The Picture House is a rare cultural gem in our city and Leeds City Council is delighted to play a vital part in securing its future. 

“With work on the Picture House Project set to coincide with Channel 4’s move to Leeds and the opening of Screen Yorkshire’s new film office, it has never been a more exciting time for film and television in our city.

How the ground-floor extension will look at the Hyde Park Picture House

“Collectively, this brings us another step closer to making Leeds a truly innovative city, one that uses culture to shine a light on what is possible.”

Paul Scholey, chairman of the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House board, said: “As custodians of three of Leeds’s most historic cultural venues [Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds City Varieties Music Hall and the Hyde Park Picture House], we’re very proud of the important role Hyde Park Picture House plays in making our city so special.

“Finding a way to preserve historic buildings, which is both true to the story of the building and of value to the community who enjoy it, is a challenge. But with the support of the many fantastic partners we’ve had on this project, we feel more confident than ever that we have found that way forward, and as a result, the future of this wonderful gas-lit cinema is secured at last.” 

The Hyde Park cinema will remain open as normal until the end of February with a programme of the latest independent releases, such asJojo Rabbit, 1917, Waves, The Lighthouse and Parasite.

The entrance to the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, built in 1914

Did you know?

OPENED in 1914, the Grade II listed Hyde Park Picture House, in Leeds, is one of Britain’s oldest cinemas.

Beginning its life shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, it gained popularity by screening patriotic dramas and newsreels to boost morale during the action.

The Picture House survived the advent of “talkies” in the 1920s and continues to screen independent, art house and classic films from around the world, as well as special live events with filmmakers, artists and academics.

The auditorium seating, from the stage, at the Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds

Did you know too?

The 12-month On The Road programme of pop-up screenings across Leeds from mid-February will have six strands, each linked with a specific venue:

New Indies at Leeds University Union (luu.org.uk);

Hyde & Seek at Heart and other venues (heartcentre.org.uk);

Creatures of the Night at The Brunswick (thebrunswick.co.uk);

Docs & Artists’ Moving Image at 42 New Briggate;

Memory Matinees at Heart. 

The full programme of screenings and events will be available to view from hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk in the coming days.

Hit Irish musical Once is on its way to the Grand Opera House in February

Daniel Healy, left, as Guy, Emma Lucia, as Girl, and Samuel Martin, as the Bank Manager, in Once The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, next month. Pictures: Mark Senior

ONCE seen, never forgotten, but you won’t have seen Once like this before, except in…Ipswich or Hornchurch.

First a cult, micro-budget Irish film written and directed by John Carney in 2007, then a Broadway, West End and Dublin show, Once The Musical embarks on its first British tour in January, playing the Grand Opera House, in York, from February 3 to 8.

Telling the uplifting yet yearning story of the hopes and dreams of two lost souls, a Dublin street busker and a Czech musician, who unexpectedly fall in love, Once is being directed by Peter Rowe with musical supervision by his regular cohort Ben Goddard.

The cast will be led by Scotsman Daniel Healy as Guy and Emma Lucia, from Durham, as Girl, reprising their roles from 2018’s premiere at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

The company invited press and media to meet them three weeks into rehearsal at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End: a question-and-answer session introduced with rousing performances of Irish ceilidh songs and the show’s opening scene, leading to Healy and Lucia’s performance of the Oscar-winning signature song Falling Slowly, with all the actor-musicians playing their part around them, “leaning into the story” in the pub setting.

“This production is very different to the West End,” says Ben. “We very much started, as we would do with any story, any musical, by taking it off the page and then basically trying to get as many people as possible into the story we present on stage.”

Peter says: “What’s particular about this production is that everyone on stage is telling the story and that gives it a real charge. We have skilled actor-musicians trying to re-create the acoustic sound of Irish pub songs, and rather than trying to make it a bigger razzmatazz production, we want to draw people in.”

Emma Lucia as Girl in Once The Musical

This reflects the song-writing of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová that frames Irish playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh’s story of the Guy and the Girl’s relationship across five short Dublin days.

“Glen is a singer-songwriter who writes thoughtful songs from the heart, and so our production is an extension of that,” says Ben. “That’s the difference from other musicals: the music really does the job for you.”

Peter says: “You can feel that the band are impressed by this man, his voice and his music, and they become part of the flowering of his songs.”

He and Ben have worked regularly in the actor-musician world of theatrical performance. “That’s pretty much what we done with all the work we’ve done together, but putting the band together for this show has been very challenging, bringing together the right collection of people,” says Ben.

“Not just how they each play, but how they play together and work together, so that we have a combination of people to make the story work.”

Peter concurs: “Seeing an ensemble of 16 with all that skill, swapping instruments, will be a pleasure for the audience.” Ben rejoins: “I think we’ve found a combination where the levels of performance are pretty much at a peak, which is hard to find, with everyone showing their powers of musicianship and their acting chops.”

Peter’s research took him to Dublin for the “terrible task” – said with his tongue in his cheek – of visiting as many pubs as possible, combining the pleasures of an Irish pint with taking photographs of the pub interiors and the musicians playing there, and now bringing that atmosphere to the stage.

“It’s an unrequited love story, the most painful of all love stories, and that’s why Once really gets to people,” says director Peter Rowe of Guy’s plight in the Irish musical

At its heart, Once is a love story. “But it’s also an unrequited love story, the most painful of all love stories, and that’s why Once really gets to people,” says Peter.

“It’s the lives that you don’t live that you think about: if only you had turned left rather than right, and everyone recognises that story in the songs. And these are not musical theatre songs where people get to the point where they can’t say anything more without bursting into song.

“Here it’s a different convention. The songs in Once stand alone; they’re mostly solo songs or duets that are being sung in the street or Billy’s music store, so they have a naturalistic place in the story.”

Ben adds: “The story in Once came from an already written collection of songs, and with those songs being strong, a very strong story followed. At the start, the Guy seems quite repressed when he talks to the Girl, but then all the passion he felt in his failed relationship comes pouring out in his songs.”

Working in tandem with their regular choreographer, Fran Jaynes, Peter and Ben have made a point of changing the way musicians were used in past productions of Once The Musical. “When we saw it in London, they were on stage, to the left and to the right, watching what was going on, but, for me, they never really felt part of it,” says Ben. “But we’ve been involved in actor-musician work for a long time, and we’ve found it really potent to take their involvement further.”

Peter adds: “We could see the show’s potential as an actor-musician piece, and we just felt we could do more with it, making the most of the ensemble.”

In what way? “Using everybody on stage at all times, it’s like a European troupe of actors, where they all tell the story,” says Ben.

“But we also spent a long time trying to get the right chemistry in the whole cast, though the two leads, Daniel and Emma, had to come first.”

Once The Musical runs at Grand Opera House, York, from February 3 to 8 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024, at atgtickets.com/York or in person from the Cumberland Street theatre.

Night Of The Living Dead has a horror remix for modern times at Leeds Playhouse

Night Of The Living Dead – Remix in rehearsal at Leeds Playhouse. All pictures: Ed Waring


INNOVATIVE Leeds company Imitating The Dog are linking up with Leeds Playhouse for a unique shot-for-shot stage re-creation of George A. Romero’s 1968 zombie movie Night Of The Living Dead™ “for today’s theatre audiences”. 

Directed by Imitating The Dog’s co-artistic directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, Night Of The Living DeadTM Remix will run in the Courtyard Theatre from January 24 to February 15 before a British tour. 

In 1968, Night Of The Living Dead started out as a low-budget, independent, politically charged horror movie, telling the story of seven strangers taking refuge from flesh-eating ghouls in an isolated farmhouse. As the night draws in, their situation becomes desperate, hope turns to despair and the picket-fence American dream is smashed apart.

Fifty years on, seven performers enter the Courtyard stage armed with cameras, a box of props and a rail of costumes. Can they recreate the ground-breaking film, shot-for-shot before our eyes, using whatever they can lay their hands on?

Meeting the challenge of 1,076 edits in 95 minutes will be a heroic struggle. “Success will require wit, skill and ingenuity and is by no means guaranteed” for the cast of Laura Atherton; Morgan Bailey; Luke Bigg; William James Holstead; Morven Macbeth; Matt Prendergast and Adela Rajnović.  

“Success will require wit, skill and ingenuity and is by no means guaranteed” : the challenge facing Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse

Playing a key role too will be Quick and Brooks’s production team of Imitating The Dog’s projection and video designer Simon Wainwright; designer Laura Hopkins; lighting designer Andrew Crofts and composer James Hamilton.

George A. Romero’s 1968 film presented an apocalyptic vision of paranoia, the breakdown of community and the end of the American dream. In 2020’s stage production, digital theatre practitioners Imitating The Dog compose a love-song to the cult movie in a re-make and remix that “attempts to understand the past in order not to have to repeat it”. 

The new Leeds-stamped version is in turns humorous, terrifying, thrilling, thought-provoking and joyous. Above all, in the retelling, it becomes a searing parable for our own complex times.

Imitating The Dog’s Andrew Quick says: “Looking at the state of the world today, it seems so appropriate that we are going back to this seminal story, the original zombie movie. Rehearsals have been great fun so far and it’s amazing how scary and relevant Romero’s Sixties’ vision still seems.”

“A searing parable for our own complex times”: Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse’s co-production of Night Of The Living Dead – Remix

Playhouse artistic director James Brining enthuses:“We’re thrilled to be working with Imitating The Dog for this momentous project. They’re a fantastic local company who brilliantly fuse together technology with live action. I can’t wait for us to work with them to be able to breathe new life into this well-known classic that has been celebrated for many years.”

Russ Streiner, who produced and appeared as Johnny in Romero’s film, says: “Before Night Of The Living Dead™ became the classic film it is, it started as a collection of ideas and story points; story points that are timeless in their reflection of the human condition.

“The common link between [film production company] Image Ten long ago and Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse today is a genuine love of the productions we present to the public, and we’re  absolutely thrilled that they have teamed up to present their own authorised fresh and exciting retelling of the story that began over 50 years ago for us.

“This retelling goes back to the roots of where ‘Night’ started with experimental ideas and a new imagining of the story – this time coupled with the dynamic of live actors performing to a live audience.”

Tickets are on sale on 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.

The horror, the horror: Imitating The Dog in Heart Of Darkness in 2019

Did you know?

LEEDS company Imitating The Dog have been making ground-breaking work for theatres and other spaces for 20 years, fusing live performance with digital technology. Among their past productions are A Farewell To Arms, Hotel Methuselah and Heart Of Darkness, the latter two playing York Theatre Royal in 2010 and 2019 respectively.

PLAY ON! Amanda Whittington takes fight for women’s football to dramatic climax in Mikron Theatre’s summer tour

Earning their stripes: Mikron Theatre Company’s poster for this summer’s tour of Amanda Whittington’s Atalanta Forever

MIKRON Theatre Company kick off their 2020 tour of Amanda Whittington’s new women’s football play, Atalanta Forever, on April 18.

Waiting in the wings is the Marsden company’s York performance at Scarcroft Allotments on June 2 at 6pm.

From the writer of Ladies Day, Ladies Day Down Under and Mighty Atoms for Hull Truck Theatre and Bollywood Jane for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Atalanta Forever tells the story of pioneering women footballers in 1920.

In post-war Britain, women’s football is big news. Across the country, all-girl teams are pulling huge crowds in fund-raising games for wounded soldiers.

Huddersfield amateurs Ethel and Annie take a shot at the big time. Teammates at Atalanta AFC, they are soon tackling new football skills, mastering the offside rule and kicking back at the doubters.

This summer’s audiences are invited to “come and cheer for Atalanta as our plucky underdogs learn how to play the game, take on the legendary teams of the era and find the toughest opponent of all is the Football Association”.

Whittington’s play is based on the true story of one of three women’s football teams in Huddersfield in post-war Britain. As told through the lives of two young women, Atalanta Ladies Football Club was formed in 1920 to “provide games for the women of Huddersfield, to foster a sporting spirit, and a love of honour among its members”.

During the Great War, several women’s football teams had sprung up around the country, usually based in factories or munitions works, and proved a great success in raising money for hospitals, war widows and so on. 

The popularity of the women’s game may be measured by the estimated 25,000 crowd that packed Hillsborough, Sheffield, for the Huddersfield team’s next game with the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC of Preston on May 4, when they lost 4-0 to their much more experienced opponents.

In the wider football world, the growing popularity of women’s football was now causing concern. The FA even saw it as taking support away from the men’s game and on December 5, 1921, they banned women’s teams from using FA affiliated grounds.

Before folding in 1924, the pioneering Huddersfield Atalanta Ladies FC had raised more than £2,000 for various charities.

“I still feel the injustice and the sense of shame for wanting to do something I wasn’t meant to,” says playwright Amanda Whittington, recalling her own experiences of playing football

Writer and co-lyricist Whittington says of her new play: “I was an 11-year-old footballer in the 1980s, the only girl who played in the boys’ village tournament, and I vividly remember being ‘advised’ to stop because it wasn’t appropriate. 

“I still feel the injustice and the sense of shame for wanting to do something I wasn’t meant to. 

“It brings joy to my heart to see football’s now the biggest team sport for girls in Britain.  I wanted to write about the battle the women’s game has fought to survive and prosper – and perhaps to tell the 11-year-old me she was right?”

Atalanta Forever is directed by Mikron artistic director Marianne McNamara, who is joined in the production team by composer and co-lyricist Kieran Buckeridge, musical director Rebekah Hughes and designer Celia Perkins. Casting will be announced in the coming months.

Explaining why Mikron chose to tackle the subject of the fight for women’s football, McNamara says: “Women’s football is making a comeback and not before time. We are thrilled to pay homage to the trailblazing Huddersfield women that paved the way against all odds.

“Just like the great game itself, this will be an action-packed play of two halves, full of live music, fun and laughter with no plans for extra time!”

Mikron’s 49th year of touring will open at the National Football Museum, Manchester, on April 18 and then travel nationally by road and canal on a vintage narrowboat until October 24.

Atalanta Forever will be touring alongside Poppy Hollman’s new play, A Dog’s Tale, a celebration of canines past and present that explores the enduring love between people and their dogs.

As ever, Mikron will be putting on their shows in “places that other theatre companies wouldn’t dream of”, whether a play about growing-your-own veg, presented in  allotments; one about bees performed next to hives; another about chips in a fish and chips restaurant, as well as plays about hostelling in YHA youth hostels and the RNLI at several lifeboat stations around the UK.

For more information and tour dates and locations for Atalanta Forever, go to mikron.org.uk/shows/atalanta-forever.

York Theatre Royal to co-produce world premiere of Alone In Berlin

Denis Otway, as Otto, Charlotte Emmerson, as Anna, and Joseph Marcell, as Inspector Escherich, in York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate Northampton’s Alone In Berlin. Picture: Geraint Lewis

REHEARSALS are under way for the York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate Northampton co-production of the world premiere of Alone In Berlin.

Charlotte Emmerson, Denis Conway and Joseph Marcell will lead an ensemble cast, directed by the Royal & Derngate artistic director, James Dacre, and rehearsed in Northampton, where the play will open next month before its York run from March 3 to 21.

Hans Fallada’s novel has been translated and adapted for the stage by Alistair Beaton. Furthermore, the premiere will feature illustrations 25 years in the making by graphic novelist Jason Lutes – from his book Berlin – who collaborates with designer Jonathan Fensom,video designerNina Dunn and lighting designer Charles Balfour. 

Cabaret singer Jessica Walker will perform original songs composed by Orlando Gough, complemented by composition and sound design by Donato Wharton.

Set in 1940, Alone In Berlin portrays life in wartime Berlin in a vividly theatrical study of how paranoia can warp a society gripped by the fear of the night-time knock on the door.

Based on true events, the storyline follows a quietly courageous couple who stand up to the brutal reality of the Nazi regime. Through the smallest of acts, they defy Hitler’s rule, facing the gravest of consequences. 

This timely story of the moral power of personal resistance tracks Otto and Anna as they negotiate the insidious effects of absolute power on every aspect of daily life. When they decide to make a stand in their unique way, the Gestapo launch a terrifying hunt for the perpetrators.

Otto and Anna find themselves players in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the forces of the state: a game that will eventually lead them down through ever-narrowing circles of totalitarian hell.

Described by Italian Jewish chemist, partisan, Holocaust survivor and writer Primo Levi as “the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis”, Alone In Berlin re-entered the bestseller list three years ago – almost unheard of for a 20th century literary classic – as its themes began to resonate across the world once more.

Although regularly adapted for stage productions across Europe, this York and Northampton co-production, presented in association with the Oxford Playhouse, will be the first time Fallada’s masterpiece has been seen on a British stage.

Dacre’s cast will be led by Denis Conway and Charlotte Emmerson as Otto and Anna Quangel and Joseph Marcell as Inspector Escherich. Conway played opposite Poldark leading man Aidan Turner in Michael Grandage’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore and is known for his extensive work at Dublin’s Gate Theatre and on screen in Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley, John Crowley’sBrooklyn and Oliver Stone’s Alexander.

Emmerson’s many credits include title roles in Marianne Elliot’s Therese Raquin (National Theatre) and Laurie Sansom’s The Duchess Of Malfi (Royal & Derngate) and leads in Chekhov’s major plays in productions directed by Peter Stein, Lucy Bailey and Trevor Nunn.

Best known for playing Geoffrey Butler, the butler, in the 1990s’  television series The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, British actor and comedian Marcell was last seen at Royal & Derngate in King John, while his numerous credits for Shakespeare’s Globe include the title role in King Lear.

York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate Northampton co-produced Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge last year, directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.

Tickets for the York run of Alone In Berlin are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

York artist Gerard Hobson turns Beningbrough Hall into a winter wildlife wonderland

York artist Gerard Hobson with his wren installation beneath the Clock Tower at Beningbrough Hall, near York. Picture: Sue Jordan

YORK artist Gerard Hobson will hold the first of three print-making workshops in the Hayloft gallery at Beningbrough Hall, Beningbrough, near York, on Saturday to tie in with his Winter Wildlife In Print exhibition and installations at the National Trust property.

Alas all three 10am sessions – using Beningbrough’s garden for inspiration – are fully booked: the first two, this weekend and on February 8, focusing on linoprint making; the third, on February 22, being a family printmaking session.

Hare, by Gerard Hobson, one of the linoprints in the Hayloft gallery at Beningbrough Hall

Hobson’s Hayloft print exhibition and 14 sculptural scenes in the outbuildings, gardens, grounds and parkland are inspired by creatures that make Beningbrough their winter home.

Throughout winter until March 1, they can be seen only on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am to 3.30pm, and additionally during the February half term. To plan a visit, go to nationaltrust.org.uk/beningbrough for more information.

A bird collage by Gerard Hobson

Created out of linoprints, cut out and mounted to make Hobson’s 3D installations, birds are swooping, climbing or nesting among the trees, from owls and robins to cuckoos, wrens and swifts.

Eyes should be kept peeled for the naughty magpies with their stolen ring. Do look out, too, beyond the ha-ha to the parkland to spot a pair of boxing hares, better seen close-up should anyone be carrying binoculars.

Gerard Hobson at work in his York studio

Bang goes the common knowledge, by the way, that boxing hares are a brace of males scrapping over a female. Apparently, as a sign reveals, the fights involve a male and a female, not welcoming his persistent attention. Who knew, the lady hares are effectively saying “Do one” or “Get yourself a better chat-up line”!

These installations are the first time Gerard Hobson has used his work in this way, and in creating the exhibition, he has made many new pieces especially for the Beningbrough garden. Not only birds, but other animals too make an appearance in unexpected places, searching for food and preparing to hibernate or sleep, whether bats, mice, stoats or a hedgehog.

Pheasant, one of the linoprints by Gerard Hobson, at Beningbrough Hall’s Hayloft gallery

Helen Osbond, exhibition manager for the National Trust, says: “We’re thrilled to host so much of Gerard’s work at Beningbrough this winter. In working towards the exhibition, it’s been a real insight to see how, as an artist, he draws on his botanist background in his designs, and there’s a short video in the bothy showing the process and steps taken in the intricate art of linoprinting.” 

Make sure to head upstairs in the stables to the Hayloft for an indoor exhibition showcasing more of Gerard’s printed work, all for sale.

A close-up of the wrens, one of 14 sculptural scenes by Gerard Hobson at Beningbrough Hall this winter

“It’s not only the chance to discover the series of sculptural scenes, we want the visit to be an immersive experience,” adds Helen. “Visitors can create a feeder in the bothy and pick up one of the special colouring-in sheets in the walled garden restaurant, while in the laurel den there’s a dawn chorus soundscape; a reminder of warmer days to come.”

Did you know?

SINCE childhood, Gerard Hobson has had a love for birds, animals and art. His fascination with wildlife saw him qualify as a zoologist from Bangor University in 1984 and he then worked for a couple of years for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust as a botanist. Later he became an illustrator for the trust, working on leaflets and sign boards.

Artist Gerard Hobson surveys his wren work at Beningbrough Hall

After relocating up north, Gerard worked for Yorkshire Wildlife and continued to develop his work on a freelance basis.

In more recent years, he has turned his hand to woodcarving and these days focuses his attentions on print making, having studied the art form in York. 

Supergrass to play Doncaster Racecourse concert in May? I should coco.

Supergrass: on the run to play Doncaster Racecourse this summer

SUPERGRASS are heading to the super turf of Doncaster Racecourse for a Live After Racing concert on May 16.

Racegoers can enjoy the evening’s race card from 5.30pm, followed by a full set by the revived Oxford band, under starter’s orders at 9pm at the 17,000-capacity Town Moor track.

Tickets go on general sale tomorrow (January 17) at 10am at ticketmaster.co.uk, preceded by Artist + O2 customer pre-sales today.

Music Live’s poster for Supergrass Live After Racing

On the surprise comeback trail in 2020, Supergrass already had confirmed an outdoor show in Yorkshire, having signed up for the Scarborough Open Air Theatre summer season for June 20.

To mark the 25th anniversary of their chart-topping 1995 debut album, I Should Coco, the band are releasing a box set, Supergrass – The Strange Ones, 1994-2008, on BMG on January 24.

After their sixth studio album, Diamond Hoo Ha, in 2008, Gaz Coombes, Mick Quinn, Danny Goffey and Rob Coombes parted ways in 2010, concluding with a short farewell tour. A decade later, everything feels Alright to be Pumping On Your Stereo once more.

Racing certainty: Shed Seven will be having a day at the races at Doncaster Racecourse in August

Supergrass are the second revitalised Nineties’ act to be confirmed for a Live After Racing gig at Donny: York’s Shed Seven, who made a 1998 album called Let It Ride, will follow the runners and riders at 5.45pm on August 15.

Tickets for Supergrass’s Scarborough show are on sale on 01723 818111 and 01723 383636; at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com or in person from the Scarborough OAT box office, in Burniston Road, or the Discover Yorkshire Tourism Bureau, Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street.  

Brendan Cole calls time on big band song-and-dance shows but showman will return

Brendan Cole in Show Man, dancing its way to the Grand Opera House, York, next month

HEADING for York on February 25, ballroom dancer Brendan Cole’s Show Man will be his last big band production after ten years of touring five shows.

Just to be clear, the former Strictly Come Dancing star is not retiring but song-and-dance concert tours on such a theatrical scale will be consigned to the past after Live & Unjudged in 2010, 2011 and twice in 2012; Licence To Thrill in 2013 and 2014; A Night To Remember in 2015 and 2016; All Night Long in 2017 and 2018 and now Show Man in 2019 and 2020.

“This will be my last big band tour after touring for so many years,” says the 43-year-old New Zealander, who will be bringing Show Man to the Grand Opera House next month.

“I’ve loved every second of being on the stage with my friends, who have now become family. It’s time for something different and I’m honoured to be taking Show Man out for one last run.

Taking Show Man out for one last run: Brendan Cole launches the second leg of his 2019/2020 tour

“I’m so proud of this production and I’m going out on a high. If you love live music from one of the best touring bands and exciting and emotive dance, this is the show for you.”

Back on the road from February 19, Show Man draws its inspiration from the magic of theatre and the movies, combining Cole and his hand-picked championship dancers and eight-piece big band and singers with laughter and chat throughout.

Choreography will be high energy, up close and personal, complemented by the lighting and special effects. Expect a cheeky Charleston to Pencil Full Of Lead, a sexy Salsa to Despacito, music fromBeggin’ to Bublé, plus numbers from The Greatest Showman and La La Land.

‘I’m really excited to be bringing back Show Man, having toured this production early in 2019. This is my most exciting tour to date; it’s so dynamic and theatrical, much more so than any previous tour,” says Brendan, who you may remember lifted the very first Strictly Come Dancing glitterball trophy when partnering news presenter Natasha Kaplinsky in 2004.

” I’m particularly proud of Show Man because of its theatricality,” says Brendan Cole

“We have five male dancers, three female dancers, choirs, a violinist and brand new staging, which allows the choreography to be exciting and different; bigger and better lifts, some very strong theatrical numbers, as well as a new-look set. It really is something special. My aim is to wow the audience and give them everything they’d expect and much, much more.”

Why stop doing such big-scale shows now? “I’m giving myself options for the future,” says Brendan, who, by the way, spent the Christmas season in pantoland, playing the Spirit of the Ring in Aladdin at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. “My days of playing Aladdin are over!” he quips. “I’m not hired for my looks!”

Back to Show Man being his last tour on the grand scale. “The thing is, with these big band tours, I’ve been doing it for ten years now; it takes a year to put each one together and I don’t have the time to do that anymore.

“Since I left Strictly at the