Absolute turkey or totally gravy? 2019’s Christmas albums rated or roasted….

A Dickensian-clad Robbie Williams gives a thumbs-up to his 13th number one album

Robbie Williams, The Christmas Present (Columbia) *****

Wrapping: Robbie is one of the very few contemporary artists who truly embraces album artwork: pleasing to the eye, telling a story and setting the scene for a multitude of surprises. A Dickensian-clad Rob goes shopping on a street not dissimilar to York’s Shambles.

Gifts inside: Double disc features a cocktail of new and evergreen classics. Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, boxer Tyson Fury, Jamie Cullum, Helene Fisher and Mr Williams Senior, alias Poppa Pete, are guests across the 28 tracks. Tyson Fury? Really? Yes, on Bad Sharon. It’s a big hit. Of course.

Style: Mostly upbeat and certainly very jolly. A very content Robbie Williams is on top form.

’Tis the season to be jolly: Embrace this genuinely enjoyable album of good cheer, curated with love and affection.

Scrooge moan? Rob’s fabulous update of Let Me Entertain You, for Aldi’s Christmas campaign, and the rumoured cover of Fairytale Of New York with Britney Spears didn’t make the final cut. Maybe next year?

White Christmas? Not on this set, although you do get fabulous covers of I Believe In Father Christmas and a jazzed-up Merry Xmas Everybody with Cullum.

Blue Christmas? Absolutely not. Robbie’s gift is one of happiness!

Stocking or shocking? This is destined to become one of the greatest and most cherished Christmas albums of all time.

Ian Sime

Ex- Leeds United midfielder Chris Kamara tackles ten Christmas evergreens

Chris Kamara, Here’s To Christmas (So What/Silva Screen Records) ****

Wrapping:  – At 62, Chris Kamara is a very handsome fellow. The chromosome photograph is very becoming, yet not at all seasonal.

Gifts inside: The consummate Renaissance Man, this ex-Leeds United footballer is now a regular television presenter on Sky Sports. Who knew the former sailor and Bake Off finalist could also sing? Unbelievable, Jeff. The very talented crooner tackles ten glorious upbeat evergreen classics.

Style: Big Band, all day and night long.

’Tis the season to be jolly: …and singalonga with Mr Kamara to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.

Scrooge moan?  Don’t be so silly. This is a joyful swinging affair.

White Christmas? Absolutely not. We are, however, treated to Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow!

Blue Christmas? Christmas with Mr Karama is a very jolly event.

Stocking or shocking? Chris Kamara is number one on the Jazz chart. Good for him. This is a very happy album.

Ian Sime

Bing-go: White Christmas guaranteed for Crosby

Bing Crosby with the London Symphony Orchestra, At Christmas (Decca Records) ****  

Wrapping: Decca have done their best with a selection of period family photographs. The set is boxed in a handsome, rather snazzy, gold-embossed sleeve.

Gifts inside: Fourteen of Mr Crosby’s classic Christmas songs given a modern orchestral makeover, with special guests The Puppini Sisters, Pentatonix The Tenors and, from the archives, The Andrew Sisters and David Bowie.

Style: Bing Crosby invented the Christmas album. This album is Bing’s original iconic tones with a complementary lush orchestra.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: The chance to rediscover why we love secular Christmas music so much in the first place.

Scrooge moan? There’s no reason to be a Grinch when Bing sings.

White Christmas? Well, the best-selling Christmas single of all time had to be included. It’s the law.

Blue Christmas? No, this is an upbeat Easy Listening classic.

Stocking or shocking? If you’re tired of Bing, you’re tired of Christmas! Every stocking should have one.

Ian Sime

Christmas Day? Let’s play Michael Buble….again

Ian Sime’s top five Christmas albums of all time

Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas (Columbia, 1994)

Donna Summer, Christmas Spirit (Mercury, 1994)

Whitney Houston, One Wish – The Holiday Album (Columbia, 2003)

Olivia Newton-John & Friends, Christmas Wish (BMG, 2007)

Michael Buble, Christmas (Reprise, 2011)

We wish you a metal Christmas: Rob Halford “gives off some attitude”

Rob Halford with Family & Friends, Celestial (Sony) **

Wrapping: Halford, the metal god from Judas Priest, giving off some attitude as he is pasted on to wrapping paper. Inside we see his family and friends (his brother Nigel and his band Voodoo Sioux) smiling and giving the devil horns metal salute. Worth a second glance? No.

Gifts inside: Heavy metal, from a much outdated style, set awkwardly against the simple melodies of the eight Christmas chestnuts, with four new songs cleverly woven in.

Style: Imagine if buzz and noise music never happened. Imagine if the musical time clock was stuck in 1985. It’s old-school metal, full of tight-trousered screams and flashy guitar solos, with some great drumming too. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are ballads and a choir-like song too.

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: Deck The Halls and Hark The Herald Angels Sing rise above the rest, with a powerful punk-like attitude and some searing musicianship. Halford’s voice remains formidable. Lead track Donner And Blitzen should be big in Scandinavia and the Black Forest.

Scrooge moan: If you look for merry metal Christmas albums in the shops, you will probably only find this (although, perhaps for the most persistent, also Halford III: Winter Songs from 2009). There’s a good reason for that; putting the two styles together does neither any favours. It makes the tough looking and talented musicians sound daft, and would anyone into this type of music admit to owning a copy?

White Christmas? The only snow, in blue, is printed on the CD.

Blue Christmas? The mood is more defiant, but A Winter’s Tale is more sombre.

Stocking or shocking? Shocking, for the unreconstructed rocker in your life. who will enjoy it, just to be rebellious.

Paul Rhodes

“Piano settings really suit the monochromatic winter world in the songs” on Rick Wakeman’s Christmas album.

Rick Wakeman, Christmas Portraits (Sony) ****

Wrapping: A grand piano perched in front of a starlit Christmas tree in a wintry wood. A strange star is rising in the sky. The booklet has a few portraits of the great man, the credits and a simple message.

Gifts inside: 14 traditional tracks, including seven medleys, from the purveyor of The Grumpy Old Christmas Show Tour that visited Harrogate Royal Hall on December 10.

Style: This is the sound of one man and his piano (a Granary Steinway Model D), from .

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: The album is beautifully recorded, and the piano settings really suit the monochromatic winter world in the songs. Like Jan Johannson’s Jazz På Svenska, which timelessly dances with folk tunes, Wakeman’s variations on these age-old melodies are both graceful and fitting.

Scrooge moan: This is certainly more BBC Radio 3 than prog, so won’t please all of Wakeman’s admirers, and enjoyable while it is, it does all blur together.

White Christmas? No, this is a more traditional set aimed towards the classical fan rather than frequenter of supper clubs (you know who you are).

Blue Christmas? There is certainly melancholy, and a sense of bitter cold, but the melodies should cast sunlight into the gloomiest of moods.

Stocking or shocking? Stocking, for anyone who gets lost in their thoughts while pondering the frost through the kitchen window.

Paul Rhodes

Aimee Mann’s Christmas album: so good, she released it twice

Paul Rhodes’s top five Christmas albums of all time

The Staple Singers, The 25th Day Of December

Carols from Kings

Aimee Mann, One More Drifter In The Snow

The Louvin Brothers, Christmas With The Louvin Brothers

Christmas Greetings From Nashville – featuring Skeeter Davis

Flowering anew: Kate Rusby’s fifth Christmas album

Kate Rusby, Holly Head (Pure Records) ****

Wrapping: Barnsley nightingale Kate in snowy white with her very own Holly Head, a Christmas garland of wintry flowers, foliage, twigs and leaves atop her curls. A “Holly Head” loves Christmas music like a petrol head loves cars, she says.

Gifts inside: South Yorkshire pub carols, Yorkshire winter songs, one new Rusby composition and a couple of novelty numbers (John Rox’s Hippo For Christmas, from 1953, and a third rescue mission for Kate’s Yorkshire Tea-powered Barnsley superhero, Big Brave Bill).  

Style: Kate and her touring folk players, augmented as ever by the “Brass Boys”, on her fifth Christmas collection in 11 years. Songs merry, melancholic and daft, all to be found here.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Kate’s sixth version of While Shepherds Watched (only another 24 still to go, apparently!); the titles Yorkshire Three Ships and Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire); and Kate branching out into folk prog via Clannad with the beautifully frosty The Holly King.

Scrooge moan: Hip, hippo, but not hurray for The Hippo Song, despite Mike Levis’s pomp-pomp tuba. Bah Humbug to such jollification.

White Christmas? No, but Lu Lay (The Coventry Carol) is chillier than a Yorkshire moor in winter.

Blue Christmas? Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire); that title says it all.

Stocking or shocking? Christmas Is Merry, sings Kate, and Holly Heads and hippo devotees everywhere will love it.

Charles Hutchinson

Going on holiday: Josh Rouse’s Nashville Christmas album

Josh Rouse, The Holiday Sounds Of Josh Rouse (Yep Roc) ****

Wrapping: No hint of winter in a painting with warm red, pink and yellow hues. The opening song title, Mediterranean X-mas, explains it, as American singer-songwriter Rouse has only latterly moved to Nashville from Valencia after ten winters in Spain.

Gifts inside: Rouse’s first“ holiday concept album”, his 13th in all, contains nine originals, complemented by a bonus disc bearing the gifts of three demos and Rousing versions of trad holiday songs All I Want For Christmas, Up On The Housetop and Let It Snow.

Style: Breezy, warm, vintage folk, pop, country blues and jauntily jazzy rock, not too far removed from Nick Lowe’s 2013 seasonal selection, Quality Street. Indeed Basher urged him to make this record when touring together in 2015.  

Happy holidays: Josh Rouse raises a glass of bubbly to Christmas

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Lush, warmly reflective songs of childhood nostalgia and holidays spent away from home are the perfect accompaniment to the year’s glowing embers. Red Suit, New York Holiday, Lights Of Town and Christmas Songs are the pick.

Scrooge moan: None, unless you crave the absent sleigh bells, children’s choirs and Yuletide standards you won’t find in the Rouse house.

White Christmas? No. Presumably gone on holiday to somewhere colder.

Blue Christmas? Sadness seeps through Letters In The Mailbox and Heartbreak Holiday.

Stocking or shocking? Rouse should be in your house come Christmas Day.

Merry Cryptmas from The Cramps’ vinyl vaults

Merry Luxmas, It’s Christmas In Crampsville!, Season’s Gratings From The Cramps’ Vinyl Basement (Righteous/Cherry Red) *****

Wrapping: Family album photo from the Fifties, one woman, her glasses, her pearls, her dog and her overladen Christmas tree. What a swell party that looks.

Gifts inside: In the ghostly spirit of Christmas past, an original cassette compilation by the late Lux Interior of Sacramento psychobilly punks The Cramps, lovingly entitled Jeezus ****, It’s Christmas, is re-activated and re-mastered. Lux and Poison’s Ivy raves from the Christmas crypt add up to 31 of the “strangest Yuletide 45s ever”, now accompanied with ace sleeve notes by Mojo magazine’s Dave Henderson.

Style: Wild and weird rock’n’roll music and jumpin’ jive for beatniks, hipsters and swinging hep cats. Doo-wop ballads, novelty oddities, jailbird laments, mighty bluesmen, even skewed country (George Jones’s Eskimo Pie), are all Cramped in.

’Tis the season to be jolly: So many.Especially Tony Rodelle Larson’s impossibly cool Cool Yule; Louis Armstrong’s joyous Zat You, Santa Claus; Joan Shaw’s insistent I Want A Man For Christmas and Jimmy Butler’s innuendo-laden Trim Your Tree, culminating in the Reverend J M Gates’s fire-and-brimstone sermon, Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail.

Scrooge moan: Spike Jones and His City Slickers’ dogs launching a barking-mad assault on O Christmas Tree. Doggerel.

White Christmas? Anything but. Make way for The Marquees’ Christmas In The Congo, more like.

Blue Christmas? Too many to mention, but these will do for starters: Floyd Dixon’s Empty Stocking Blues, Little Esther & Mel Walker’s Far Away Christmas Blues; Julia Lee And Her Boy Friends’ Christmas Spirit, T-Bone Walker’s Cold, Cold Feeling and Washboard Pete’s Christmas Blues.

Stocking or shocking? Do you know someone who hates Christmas? Present incoming.

Charles Hutchinson

Great work: Emmy The Great and Ash’s Tim Wheeler do Christmas

Charles Hutchinson’s top five Christmas albums of all time to discover

Bruce Cockburn, Christmas (Columbia, 1993)

Glasvegas, A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss) (SonyBMG, 2008)

Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler Present…This Is Christmas (Infectious Music, 2011)

Smith & Burrows, Funny Looking Angels (Kitchenware/Play It Again Sam, 2011)

Tracey Thorn, Tinsel & Lights (Strange Feeling Records, 2012)

Oh, and everyone should have Christmas gifts for you from Phil Spector, Elvis Presley, Kate Rusby and Sufjan Stevens.


Kate Rusby wearing her Holly Head garland

CharlesHutchPress has five CDs of Kate Rusby’s Holly Head to be won, signed by Kate in festive green, courtesy of Pure Records.

Question:  Which tea-drinking Barnsley superhero has Kate invented for a series of songs?

Send your answer with your name and address by email to charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com, marked Kate Rusby Competition, by Tuesday, December 31.

REVIEW: The Storm Whale, York Theatre Royal Studio ****

Julian Hoult, Gehane Strehler and Cassie Vallance in The Storm Whale at York Theatre Royal Studio. Picture: Northedge Photography

The Storm Whale, York Theatre Royal Studio, doing swimmingly until January 4 2020. Box  office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

CHILDREN’S author Benji Davies was in the house on press night, travelling up from the south to see director Matt Aston’s second adaptation of one of his stories.

Or, rather, two stories. It takes only two and a half minutes each to read Davies’s enchanting, award-winning works The Storm Whale and its sequel The Storm Whale In Winter. Put them together in one show divided by an interval, and children aged four and upwards will indeed have a whale of a time, with a little “mild peril” thrown in for the second half.

After moving to York two years ago, Aston’s company Engine House brought Davies’s story Grandad’s Island to the Studio in February 2018, and The Storm Whale is better still.

This time, the show is an Engine House co-production with York Theatre Royal, The Marlowe in Canterbury and Little Angel Theatre, in London, where it will play next winter.

As you take your seat, you take care to walk around Lydia Denno’s typically delightful set: the wooden floor evokes a sandy sea front, with the froth of a wave making you want to dip your toe in.

Cassie Vallance’s Noi in The Storm Whale: her second outstanding performance of the year in York

On her stage are scaled-down versions of a lighthouse that does light up, and the island home where a little boy, Noi (a name pronounced in the way the Northern Irish say “now”), lives with his fisherman Dad.

So do their six cats with such town names as Deal and Sandwich, the latter represented by a puppet that likes to leap on to Dad’s shoulder. The other five are in picture frames, or more precisely, bursting out of the frames to give them life and evoke playfulness.

The house front seen in miniature is then replicated in full scale, with a washing line, fishing netting, steps, a boat and a porch, from which the endearingly awkward, thoughtful, restless Noi (Cassie Vallance) looks out, in need of company when hard-working Dad (Julian Hoult) is at sea.

Our narrator is Flo (Gehane Strehler), who looks back at this story from the distance of initially erratic adult memories as she recalls how she used to lick the strawberries and cream lighthouse in hope of a sweet flavour. Flo’s own story will flow in and out of Noi’s tale, and she too is often on her own.

“The Storm Whale stories are about loneliness, and we’re not shying away from that,” says Aston. “As Benji Davies says, ‘it’s OK to be on your own but not OK to be lonely’, and that’s absolutely true.”

Julian Hoult’s Dad and Cassie Vallance‘s Noi in a Christmas scene in The Storm Whale

Through a combination of storytelling, puppetry and Julian Butler’s acoustic songs (one with a hint of The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York, no less), we encounter the height of a  storm and Noi’s subsequent encounter with a little whale, washed up on the sand and soon to occupy the house bath (later doubling as Dad’s fishing boat) as they bond in friendship.   A simple story, you might say, but that’s why it goes to your heart.

Post-interval comes the aforementioned “mild peril” as Dad undertakes his last fishing trip but his boat becomes stuck in the frozen waters of deep winter. In his absence, Noi craves seeing the whale once more, and these two storylines overlap with a sense of wonder at the finale, enhanced by the puppetry.

Vallance was last seen in York stealing scenes over the summer in the supposedly minor role of gormless, goofy servant Fabian in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s jazz-age Twelfth Night, and she is a delight once more here. Her Noi is wide eyed, curious for knowledge at ten, often hunting for treasure by the sea , ready for experience and friendship, and full of love to give, coming to terms with the loss of his mother.

Hoult’s Dad is stout-hearted, kindly, jolly, but feeling the weight of responsibility of now being the sole guide for Noi. Strehler’s Flo is an engaging narrator, as she moves in and out of the storyline, in a magical, moving, beautiful show for Christmas, cotton wool snowy rooftops and all.

Meanwhile, the inaugural Aston Kaler pantomime partnership, Sleeping Beauty, runs aground in the main house until January 25, co-directed by Aston and Dame Berwick. In sole command for The Storm Whale, Aston makes a bigger splash here.

Charles Hutchinson   

Christmas at Castle Howard turns into masquerade as the carnival takes over

The tree in the Garden Hall, part of Castle Howard At Christmas: A Christmas Masquerade. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

THE decorative Christmas displays at Castle Howard, near York, are the most theatrical yet.

Running until January 5 2020, A Christmas Masquerade has taken over every public room in the historic Yorkshire house for this themed event.

Each one is dressed in ornate and elaborate feathers, sequins, baubles and twinkling lights as visitors join the Howard family in their preparations for a Venetian-themed Christmas Carnival, complete with masquerade ball and entertainment from Harlequin, Pierrot, Colombine and Puchinello, all  part of the Commedia dell’arte troupe.

Producer Charlotte Lloyd Webber and theatrical designer Bretta Gerecke once again have led the team of set dressers, florists, baublographers, artists and seamstresses to create the immersive masquerade experience.

 “Castle Howard is a house that was built with a sense of theatre and extravagance inspired by Venetian design – Vanbrugh was both an architect and a playwright – and at a time of year when glittering opulence makes its way into almost every home, we couldn’t think of a better opportunity to explore a tradition enjoyed by generations of the Howard family: the masquerade ball,” says Charlotte.

Lady Georgina’s dressing room, themed around clown Puchinello at Castle Howard

“Many of the themes, colours and styles that we have used to recreate a Venetian masquerade ball fit perfectly within the theatrical grandeur of each room.”

The experience opens with the grand staircase in the main hall, setting the scene for the lavish displays that follow.  Using the Venetian palate, the staircase is lavishly decorated with sapphire blue, magenta, purple and gold. 

At the top of the stairs, visitors gain a taste of the entertainment for the forthcoming ball:  multicoloured Harlequins, one of the characters in the Commedia dell’arte, the troupe of wandering artists that delighted 17th and 18th century audiences with a mix of pathos, romance and slapstick.

On the China Landing, an estate-cut twig tree has been painted in the Harlequin colours and hung with a plethora of ornaments following the Venetian theme, while two masks give a further hint of the ball’s lavish theme.

The following suite of four rooms highlights the four key characters for the Commedia dell’arte  visiting Castle Howard over the Christmas period.  Lady Georgiana’s bedroom is handed over to Colombine, a character who started life in the troupe as an elegant dancer, before joining the “Zannis” and becoming partner to both Harlequin and Pierrot. 

The Hon Nicholas Howard and Victoria Howard in the Turquoise Room, decorated entirely in scarlet

Pinks, golds and silvers fill the room to reflect the custom-made Colombine ballgown on display in the room, as if the mistress of the house were preparing her own costume for the ball.  The room also hosts the first of a special collection of masks, hand-created by Venetian master craftsmen for Christmas at Castle Howard: the Rosetta Mask.

The adjacent dressing room is a huge contrast, to reflect the first of the troupe’s clowns,  Puchinello, leader of the Zannis and inspiration for the modern English use of the word “zany”. This wacky room features an upside-down white Christmas tree, with a circus fairground feel.  The very British Punch and Judy explode out of a present in a nod to the seaside tradition that has its origins in these Venetian artists.

A popular contemporary vision of clown Pierrot finds him sitting in a moon, and this provides inspiration for the Castle Howard dressing room: a dreamlike and tranquil space decorated with a starry ceiling, gold, silver, black and white, with the character himself in a familiar pose at the back of the room.

Harlequin’s bedroom is one of the most lavish in the house: red, gold and green with a beautifully decorated tree, atop which sits another ornate Venetian mask.  This is the space where the Master of the House will prepare for the ball, his Harlequin costume awaiting on a mannequin.

The rich, bright colours of the theme inspired the Antiques Passage, an explosion of colour featuring a jewellery box of hues and shades presented through exotic birds and butterflies.

The 26ft Christmas tree in the Great Hall of Castle Howard, decorated with 3,500 baubles

The Castle Howard tradition of the enormous Christmas tree continues in the Great Hall, where a remarkable 26ft real tree is installed and covered with 3,500 baubles.  “As far as we’ve been able to tell, this is the largest Christmas tree in a stately home in the country,” says Abbigail. “It’s certainly several feet bigger than the trees in Buckingham Palace.”

However, the Masquerade theme is still very evident in the room; the view up to the balcony features acrobats on the handrail with a monochrome and a colourful Harlequin balancing there.

The influence of the Commedia dell’arte becomes even more prominent in the three rooms on the first floor that show the theatrical experience of masquerade and pantomime from both backstage and audience perspectives.  The display includes historic items from Castle Howard’s collections, featuring dresses, masques and fans that would have been worn and used by ancestors of the present custodian, the Hon. Nicholas Howard. 

On  display too are wigs, make-up and other accoutrements that would have helped the actors’ preparations for the stage.  The centrepiece of the High South is a life-size “paper theatre”, inspired by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, which uses the architectural features of Castle Howard in a colourful pantomime display.

Returning to the ground floor, visitors will have another behind-the-scenes peek in the room dedicated to the ruler of Venice.  The new library includes the Doge Tree, dedicated to the “Duke” of Venice ­– or in Castle Howard’s case, the master of the house – and laden with opulent Venetian glass ornaments and fabrics, with books on display all about the Venetian masquerade – essential for planning any authentic ball.

All set for Christmas at Castle Howard

The Garden Hall’s traditional bare twig tree returns, but this year features candle-lit decorations of brightly coloured Venetian Glass to create a kaleidoscope effect in the room.

A special model of Castle Howard created last year by artist Mark Bond returns to the Cabinet Room, now joined by a new model showing the exterior landscape down the Lime Avenue.  Tiny depictions of actors and their supporting crew from the Commedia dell’arte can be seen making their way with horses and carts on their way to the house in this tiny display, while ladies in their ballgowns can be found on the North Front of the main model, arriving for the ball to entertainment from a miniature Punch and Judy show.

In the music room, one of the paintings almost comes alive, as characters step out of Marco Ricci’s The Opera Rehearsal and don costumes ready for the ball.

The Crimson Dining Room is a glittering Venetian feast, the table set with a centrepiece of lions and exotic monkeys.  As Charlotte Lloyd Webber explains: “We have tried to amplify and reveal aspects of the house that you may not have noticed with the designs. A painting of the Grand Canal in the Crimson Dining Room, for example, is reflected in the gondola-themed decorations in the room.”

Crimson turns to scarlet for the drawing room – the only colour used in here – with two mannequins wearing bespoke garments created for the room and a Venetian Fraudis Jolly, a masquerade mask made of playing cards.

The China Landing at Castle Howard

Resuming the figurative flow of the water in the dining room picture, the Long Gallery –the epicentre and pinnacle of each year’s Christmas designs – recreates the glittering waterway as the setting for the Venetian Carnival that has been teased throughout the house. 

Visitors join the guests at the waterside Ball, its setting drawn from the imagination of Brette Gerecke, using artistic skills and set-dressing normally seen from afar on the theatrical stage. The “canal” itself is made from nearly 250 metres  of moulded aluminium foil, on which 4,300 customised iridescent sequins have been painstakingly glued in a task that took three people four days to complete.  

At the heart of the Long Gallery is a three-metre-wide suspended revolving Harlequin mask, one side multicoloured, the other covered in sequins of gold, silver and bronze.  One of the windows at the octagonal centre of the gallery has been replaced with a stained-glass window to shine coloured diamonds all over the space, even on darker winter days, when an artificial light provides the illumination!

A mask in the Crimson Dining Room at Castle Howard for Christmas

Leaving the Long Gallery, visitors descend to the chapel, which this year has been dressed by Slingsby School working with Castle Howard’s charity of the year, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  Alongside a traditional Nativity scene, children have created animal-themed decorations with hand-written eco-wishes.  Visitors are invited to swap real coins for chocolate ones in a donation box, with proceeds going to the charity.

Each weekend during the Christmas opening until January 5, those visiting will be joined by members of the Commedia dell’arte troupe for live entertainment around the house, while soundscapes and music arranged by the Hon. Nicholas Howard provide an additional sensory appeal to the proceedings.

Head of marketing Abbigail Ollive says: “Christmas at Castle Howard is an experience never to be forgotten, with many people returning year after year to get their festive ‘fix’, whether to take inspiration back for their own home designs, or simply just to marvel at how an already beautiful property can be transformed into this magical place – a veritable festive film set that you can walk through and admire!

“Each year’s designs are totally different, and the jewel-like sapphire blues, ruby reds and golden amber bring a whole new colour palette to this winter’s displays.”

Castle Howard: A Christmas Masquerade runs until Sunday, January 5 2020, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are on sale at castlehoward.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson

No rest for Matt Aston after Sleeping Beauty as The Storm Whale takes to sea

Julian Hoult as Dad, Gehane Strehler as Flo and Cassie Vallance as Noi in The Storm Whale at York Theatre Royal Studio. Picture: Northedge Photography

NO theatre director is busier in York this season than Matt Aston.

After moving to the city two years ago, he is directing his own adaptation of Benji Davies’s children’s stories, The Storm Whale, at the York Theatre Royal Studio and co-directing the main-house pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, with retired dame Berwick Kaler.

Matt, whose production of Davies’s Grandad’s Island played two seasons at the Theatre Royal, has been able to combine the two roles, directing rehearsals for The Storm Whale either side of overseeing rehearsals for the trademark panto mayhem with Dame Berwick.

“The Snow Whale was already in place for the Studio; I’d been in discussion with Damian and Juliet [now former artistic director Damian Cruden and associate director Juliet Forster], and then with Tom Bird [the Theatre Royal’s executive director],” recalls Matt.

“Then, when I had a meeting with Tom, just after Damian announced he was leaving and Berwick had confirmed he’d be writing the script, Tom said they needed a co-director for the panto and asked me if I would do it.

“I’d got around to writing The Storm Whale, and I’ve done this thing before of having to juggle with shows for Christmas, so as a way of organising it this time, I held five weeks of rehearsals for The Storm Whale, did the tech and got the show up and running for two performances at Pocklington Arts Centre on October 23, then put it into storage until the panto press night.

The Storm Whale director Matt Aston. Picture: Alan Fletcher

“Sometimes it can work better, going back to a show  after time off, so that’s what we’ve done, going into tech on December 12 and 13, dress-rehearsing on December 14, with the press night on December 17…and then I’m going to bed!”

Julian Hoult, Gehane Strehler and Cassie Vallance are performing Davies’s story of Noi, who lives with his Dad and their six cats by the sea. One winter, while his fisherman Dad was busy at work, Noi rescued a little whale that washed up on the beach during a storm.

A friendship began that night that would change their lives forever. The following winter, Noi’s Dad takes one last trip in his fishing boat. Noi is alone once more and longs to see his friend again, but will it take another winter storm to bring them back together again?

“Benji Davies’s The Storm Whale and The Storm Whale in Winter are two books very close to my heart as they’re firm favourites with my two children,” says Matt. “It’s beyond fantastic to get the chance to adapt both Benji’s books into one show for young people and their families.  

“And to do it again at York Theatre Royal – after having such a brilliant time on last year’s Grandad’s Island – has made these past few weeks and months even more exciting.”

The Storm Whale is targeted at children aged four to seven. “But oldies will enjoy it too,” he says. “When we did the show to a class of four to nine year olds in Pocklington, you could hear a pin drop at times because they were so caught up in it.”

Cassie Vallance’s Noi with a Christmas decoration in The Storm Whale. Picture: Northedge Photography

The Storm Whale is told with a combination of storytelling, song and puppetry. Is there a big whale, Matt? “Big enough!” he says.

Writer Benji Davies paid Matt the compliment of coming up from London to attend Tuesday evening’s performance. “I’d met Benji through first doing Grandad’s Island two years ago, when his publishers really liked that show and wanted me to do another one,” he says.

“After Grandad’s Island, The Storm Whale became the obvious thing to do, but it’s always a struggle with only one short book. The Storm Whale takes only two and a half minutes to read, but luckily Benji had brought out another Storm Whale book, which made it ideal to combine them as one show.

“I think it’s actually better than Grandad’s Island in many ways, because it really feels like a proper children’s play with two halves.”

To transform those stories from page to stage, “you have to remember it’s a show for everyone and you must not be frightened to have moments of mild peril in it, but first you have to gain the children’s trust in the first half, then introduce that ‘mild peril’, and then everything is OK at the end,” says Matt.

“The Storm Whale stories are about loneliness, and we’re not shying away from that. As Benji says, ‘it’s OK to be on your own but not OK to be lonely’, and that’s absolutely true.”

Staged by York Theatre Royal, Little Angel Theatre and Matt’s company Engine House, The Storm Whale will play the Little Angel Theatre, London, next Christmas and Matt is hoping to mount a tour too in between, subject to gaining Arts Council funding.

Meanwhile, after 14 years as a freelance director, Matt has notched up his first experience of working on a York Theatre Royal pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, after directing three rock’n’roll pantos at Leeds City Varieties and one at Theatre Clwyd, as well as two traditional pantos at Wakefield’s Theatre Royal, Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin.

He has worked too with another pantomime legend, Kenneth Alan Taylor, the Berwick Kaler of Nottingham Playhouse, where Taylor continues to write and direct the show after retiring from the dame’s role.

“York is my home town now and directing the pantomime was an opportunity too good to miss,” says Matt. “I know how important the Theatre Royal pantomime is to city, where it’s an institution, and it’s an honour to be involved.”

Sleeping Beauty runs at York Theatre Royal until January 25, The Storm Whale takes a bath at York Theatre Royal Studio until January 4. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

York Festival seeks charity partners for next summer. Here’s how to apply…

Madness: June 19 headliners at the first York Festival

YORK Festival, next summer’s three-day music event headlined by Madness, Westlife and Lionel Richie, wants to raise thousands of pounds for good causes by supporting York charities.

The organisers, concert promoters Cuffe and Taylor, are seeking three charity partners, who will benefit from the June 19 to 21 concerts at York Sports Club, in Clifton Park, Shipton Road.

Charities in and around York are asked to send an email to hello@york-festival.com to “find out how York Festival can help you” and register their interest in becoming a partner.

Cuffe and Taylor director Peter Taylor said: “We are incredibly excited about York Festival. This is going to be three amazing days of live music in this wonderful and historic city, headlined by a host of global stars.

“York Festival is going to be something really special,” says Cuffe and Taylor director Peter Taylor. “What will make it extra special is if we can help good causes in the city.”

“We want to help raise funds and exposure for local good causes. Over the past decade, we have worked with a number of fantastic charity partners at our events right across the UK. Through these partnerships we have helped raise more than £100,000 and we are now looking for charities based in and around York who we can work with.

“York Festival is going to be something really special. What will make it extra special is if we can help good causes in the city.”

Cuffe and Taylor promote the summer concert seasons at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, bringing Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Lionel Richie to the Yorkshire coast.

They also staged Rod Stewart’s sold-out York Racecourse concert this year, drawing 35,000 people to a specially constructed pop-up amphitheatre in the centre of the Knavesmire course on June 1.

All night long: Lionel Richie has the York Festival stage to himself on June 21

Cuffe and Taylor previously set up Lytham Festival, a Lancashire event that has worked with various charities over the past decade.

Trinity Hospice and Brian House Children’s Hospice in Blackpool, for example, have benefited to the tune of £50,000.

Trinity Hospice Community fundraising manager Michelle Lonican said: “We feel very honoured to have worked with Cuffe and Taylor on a number of their high-profile events.

“Their support for both Trinity Hospice and Brian House has been phenomenal, and not only have we been able to raise thousands of pounds, but also every event has always been a fantastic opportunity for us to increase our profile and attract new supporters.

Westlife: Playing York Festival on Summer Solstice night

“It is great to see Cuffe and Taylor launching a new festival in York and we would urge charities there to apply to become a partner and get involved in what will no doubt be a very successful event.”

York Festival’s debut line-up brings together headliners Madness, those Nutty Boys from Camden Town, Lightning Seeds,funk and soul DJ Craig Charles, Leeds indie rockers Apollo Junction and York’s Violet Contours on June 19.

Irish boy band Westlife top the Saturday bill – next year’s Summer Solstice night – as part of their Stadiums In The Summer Tour, joined by All Saints, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Scouting for Girls and Take That’s Howard Donald for a DJ set.

The Sunday night focus falls on American soul and funk legend Lionel Richie for a set of Commodores and solo hits.

For more York Festival information and tickets, go to York-festival.com.

Dogs invited to friendly encounter with Cats at City Screen on December 29

Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy in Cats

CATS and dogs will be in harmony on December 29 when City Screen, York, plays host to a dog-friendly screening of the new musical fantasy film.

“We’re offering dog-lovers the chance to bring their canine friends to the cinema that morning at 11am,” says marketing manager Dave Taylor.

“A dog is not just for Christmas, but it’s Christmas for dogs too, so this is a special treat for dog-owners and their pets. 

“They’ll be issued with a fleece blanket to cover the seat used by the dog or to use as a rug if the dog sits on the floor. During the screening, we’ll provide bowls of water around the screen, and we’ll also leave lighting levels a little higher than usual during the screening and lower the volume of the soundtrack.

“Please be aware that we reduce capacity for such screenings, so there may be fewer tickets than usual. We also have a limit of one dog per adult so that people can keep control of their dog.”

City Screen has arranged dog-friendly screenings in the past. “They’ve been well received by dog-owners and have gone off without incident, though cinema staff undertake a thorough ‘deep-clean’ of the auditorium before the next film is shown,” says Dave.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, one of the most successful stage musicals of all time, has been adapted for the big screen by director Tom Hooper, who directed The Damned United in 2009, The King’s Speech in 2010, Les Misérables in 2012 and The Danish Girl in 2015.

Now he “reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology and dance ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, street dance and tap”.

Released this Friday, its cast of star actors and dancers includes Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy; Idris Elba stars as Macavity, the mystery cat; Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots; Ray Winston, Growltiger; James Corden, Bustopher Jones; Jennifer Hudson, Grizabella; cat lover Taylor Swift, Bombalurina; Jason Derulo,  Rum Tum Tigger, and Sir Ian McKellen, Gus the Theatre Cat.

Oscar winner Hooper wrote the script with Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, based on T.S. Elliot’s whimsical Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.

Tickets for Cats (U) on December 29 are on sale on 0871 902 5747, at picturehouses.com or in person from the City Screen box office. “You’re also welcome without a dog,” says Dave.

The York Waits lay down the rules for Twelve Days of Christmas revels at NCEM

The York Waits: festive songs, carols and celebratory music at the NCEM

THE York Waits celebrate Christmas in tomorrow’s concert at the National Centre for Early Music, York, when they will be joined by singer Deborah Catterall.

The start of Christmas was traditionally announced at the entrances to York on December 21, St Thomas’s  Day, with the reading by the Sheriffs of the Yoole-girthol, with the Waits’ shawm band in attendance.

This proclamation declared “an amnesty to all nere-do-wells and unthrifty folk” and invited 12 days of merriment in the city.

The York Waits recreate this atmosphere with festive songs, carols and celebratory music from across mediaeval and Renaissance England and Europe, performed on loud and quiet wind consorts, bowed and plucked strings, the rustic bagpipes and vielle.

The York Waits will be in conversation at the NCEM at 7pm before their 7.30pm concert programme. Tickets cost £23, concessions £21, on 01904 658338 or at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Sun hits the Scarborough sky for Supergrass on comeback trail

Going out: Supergrass have a run of gigs next summer

EVERYTHING has aligned for Supergrass on the “improbable comeback” trail.

The Oxford four-piece of Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey, Rob Coombes and Mick Quinn will head to Scarborough Open Air Theatre on June 20 next summer, with tickets going on sale at 9am on Friday.

Coming first will be Supergrass: The Strange Ones 1994-2008, released on BMG on January 24 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of their chart-topping debut album I Should Coco.

This box set stacks up their six albums on picture-disc LP and CD; bonus CDs of unreleased live material; B-sides; remixes; rarities; studio out-takes; demos; acoustic versions; oddities, new mixes; a deluxe book, posters and button badges.

Supergrass made their comeback in September in a bold manner, taking to the stage unannounced at Glastonbury Pilton Party to rip through a greatest hits set, embracing Richard III, Moving, Alright, Lenny, Going Out, Caught By The Fuzz, Sun Hits The Sky, Pumping On Your Stereo and Grace.

Supergrass are back after a decade away? I should coco

“Everything aligned for us to make this happen for 2020,” says drummer Goffey, recalling September’s re-launch. “It was the first time that we collectively felt the buzz to get back in a room together and play the songs. We’re extremely excited to get out there and bring a bit of Supergrass joy to all our fans… and their extended families.”

Formed in 1993, the Oxford band released the Mercury Prize-nominated I Should Coco in 1995; In It For The Money in 1997; Supergrass, 1999; Life On Other Planets, 2002; Road To Rouen, 2005, and Diamond Hoo Ha, 2008, plus the 2004 compilation Supergrass Is 10.

After the BRIT, NME, Ivor Novello and Q award-winning band split in 2010, Gaz Coombes released his solo albums Here Come The Bombs in 2012, Matador in 2015 and World’s Strongest Man last year.

Quinn has been playing with his own group, DB Band, and has been a member of Swervedriver since 2015; Goffey’s album Schtick came out in 2018.

From Friday (December 20), tickets can be booked on 01723 818111 or 01723 383636; at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com or in person from Scarborough OAT, in Burniston Road, or the Discover Yorkshire Coast Tourism Bureau, Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street.

Did you know?

Supergrass’s I Should Coco in 1995 was the Parlophone label’s biggest-selling debut since The Beatles’ Please Please Me in March 1963.

Heather Findlay at the double for Christmas at NCEM and in York library

Shining light: Heather Findlay in angelic pose for her Christmas show

HEATHER Findlay will play York concerts on successive nights this week, the first with Friends in her Christmas Show at the National Centre for Early Music on Friday.

The next night, the York singer joins fellow composer Simon Snaize for a “pre-Christmas solstice spectacular” in the last of four concerts in the inaugural Live In Libraries York season in York Explore’s wood-panelled Marriot Room.

“I love making my Christmas show really magical, nostalgic and unique,” says Heather. “So, there’s a slightly different line-up, with Sarah Dean joining us on harp and special guest Annie Donaghy on vocals, and a couple of unannounced guests too.”

On Saturday, Findlay accompanies Snaize as he showcases his new album, A Song Of Bones, and his 2012 recording The Structure Of Recollection, in an intimate performance to a capacity audience of 50. CDs of the new record will be on sale on the night before the official release in January.

Wrapping up for winter: Heather Findlay heads to the NCEM for her Christmas show

Heather Findlay and Friends’ Christmas Show, plus Annie Donaghy, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, Friday, 8pm; Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize, Live In Libraries York, York Explore, Saturday, doors 7pm. Box office: NCEM, 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk; Live in Libraries, exploreyork.eventbrite.co.uk

WHISPER it abroad, the inaugural Live In Libraries York season of intimate concerts in York Explore Library and Archive’s Marriott Room, in Library Square, concludes this weekend.

East Yorkshire folk-Americana singer-songwriter Edwina Hayes was first up in September, followed by hotly tipped York band Bonneville And The Bailers on October 25; Bradford songwriter Bella Gaffney on November 21, and Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize in a rare duo gig on Saturday.

The season has been curated by York busker David Ward Maclean in tandem with Dave Fleming, Explore York’s inclusive arts and media co-ordinator.

Simon Snaize and Heather Findlay: performing in a rare duo format at York Explore

Here Charles Hutchinson puts questions to David and Dave.

What prompted you to set up this series of concerts and how long has it taken to arrange the season, David? 

“It started from a chat with York Explore manager Barbara Swinn and Explore York’s Dave Fleming about the feasibility of the Marriott Room as a regular venue. Although we settled on a short series of just four concerts, it’s still taken a while to work out the logistics of both the requirements for staging the events and York Explore’s very busy timetable as a working library.”

How did Live In Libraries York come to fruition, Dave?

“Barbara and I thought it was a great idea to approach David to help curate, advise and develop the concept and the season of concerts.

“I’ve known Dave for years, both on the music scene and working together many years ago when I worked for City of York Council’s Arts & Culture service as community arts officer and working as part of the Illuminating York team.

“I coordinated a series of live short cultural performances in some of the city-centre churches called Inspire York and Dave created a soundscape in one of the churches. Barbara came across Dave performing in York and was captivated by him, so I suggested a chat and for Dave to check out the space and see what he thought.It’s fair to say he was blown away by its potential for live intimate performances.”

Bonnie Milnes of Bonneville And The Bailers, who played Live In Libraries York in October

What attracted you the Marriott Room, David?

“The first thing that struck me was the sound: astonishingly clear acoustics, requiring no more than the minimum amplification, if any. That’s probably down to the wood panelling and the wooden floor, combined with a fairly high ceiling.

“Also, due to its location at the rear of the library, it’s a very quiet location, making it the perfect small listening venue. We’ve limited seating to about 50, so that there’s plenty of room, and that also makes for a great intimate atmosphere. It looks gorgeous too.

“There are very good Green Room facilities behind the Marriott Room, and the performer accesses the venue from a different door, which I always think enhances an event. Everything I’ve ever looked for in a small venue. I’m hoping to book in myself next year sometime.”

What are the Marriott Room’s attributes as a concert setting, Dave?

“There’s nowhere else like it in York! Everyone who has popped down to check out the space wants to perform in the space. The interest has taken us by surprise. 

“We did a test concert a few months back with two internationally renowned harpists. It was sold out and both the performers and audience were captivated by the experience and were so impressed with the space.

“We dress the space beautifully and it will make you re-imagine what libraries can offer.”

What does a library setting bring to live music, David? After all, libraries are associated with hush, contemplation, study and solo concentration!

“I definitely think that when you walk in, the beautiful main entrance to the library instils a certain focus, ideal for listening events. I think we’re going for communication and attentiveness, rather than heads bowed in reverence.”

When curating the acts for these performances, how and why did you choose each one and what have they each brought to Live In Libraries York, David?

“When I was first asked for acts, Edwina Hayes was an instant choice. She’s incredible, a world-class act and a big favourite in York, and I’m so pleased she started the series.

“I also wanted to get two local organisations involved – Dan Webster of Green Chili Promotions and Dave Greenbrown from Young Thugs Records – and they put forward two fantastic up-and-coming York artists, Bella Gaffney and Bonneville And The Wailers.

David Ward Maclean: Curator of the Live In Libraries York season

“I’d always wanted to hear Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize as a duo again after they bowled me over with a set some years back. It’s an extraordinary sound, they truly complement each other and I’m so happy to finish the season on a high with them, on Winter Solstice no less!”

As a musician yourself, David, what makes for your perfect gig setting? 

“This one.”

What sort of contrasting places have you played in your long career? 

“Pretty much everything, from Sheffield City Hall to playing for a couple in their home while they had dinner. Probably the strangest was back in 1984, hitchhiking to Bremen, playing for some German policemen in a motorway service station to prove I was on my way to play some concerts. I passed the audition.”

Would you like to see a further season of such shows taking place in the Marrott Room, David? Or is this a special one-off?

“I would love to see more concerts here in the future.”

What would be your ideal song for a library setting, David?

“(What A) Wonderful World by Sam Cooke.”

How about yours, Dave?

“My word, this is a tricky one to answer! Struggling to think of one because there are so many. So, I’m going to say one of David Ward Maclean’s original songs as he is such a brilliant songwriter and local legend. Oh, and he sounds incredible in the Marriott Room!”

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York

The Seven Dwarfs and Muddles (Martin Daniels, right) attend to the poison apple-drugged Snow White (Louise Henry) in the Grand Opera House pantomime. Picture: David Harrison.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, until January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

THIS is Three Bears Productions’ fourth Grand Opera House pantomime, written, directed and co-produced by Chris Moreno, a canny veteran of commercial theatre.

He has made two significant additions this year, bringing a York flavour to his familiar panto template of a serviceable script and set design. First, “York’s very own” Louise Henry, 22, from Knaresborough, was picked from more than 30 hopefuls for the title role, in a year when she has impressed as Liesl in York Stage Musicals’ The Sound Of Music at the same theatre  and in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s apocalyptic When The Rain Stops Falling last month.

Playing Snow White marks her professional debut, a step up she handles with aplomb and poise, in song, dance and bonding with fellow York panto debutant Jonny Muir’s upstanding Prince Rudolph and the Seven Dwarfs (played by two alternating teams of children, the Magic Mirrors and Magic Apples). Louise Henry will be back, for sure.

The second smart move was to invite one of York’s most familiar voices, Minster FM breakfast show co-host Ben Fry, to reprise his official role as York’s Town Crier, ringing his bell and making proclamations, as he has since May, but this time on stage. “Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,” he says. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” comes the audience’s reply without hesitation or invitation.

Fry, spoiler alert, also pops up as the ageing King and has plenty of fun with North Eastern entertainer and magician Martin Daniels’ Muddles in the time-honoured Busy Bee water slapstick scene: one of those moments that can be played off the cuff by two performers tuned into quick thinking.

There is room for more such impromptu outbreaks, in particular for Steve Wickenden’s southern dame, Nurse Brexit, a divisive name but never a divisive character in his fourth Grand Opera House panto. The Brexit joke gets done once and then disappears even more quickly than Boris Johnson hopes to conclude his oven-ready deal.

Last year, after Ken Morley was taken ill in the very first performance of Cinderella, Wickenden turned himself into both Ugly Sisters, a solo double act that was twice the pleasure. This time, by comparison, he is a little underused, although his version of Avenue Q’s I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today is an inspired, unexpected choice, delivered with panache, and his wardrobe is as peachy as ever.

Getting Nurse Brexit done: Steve Wickenden’s dame in: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison.

Rather than topical satirical comment, big names are occasionally dropped in, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, Donald Trump and Gordon Ramsay, for example. Much of the comedy is rooted in traditional pantomime routines, putdowns and daft one-liners, although Daniels’ Muddles, the show’s very reliable glue in his jester’s hat, has room to roam into adlibs while being the children’s favourite. His magic ingredient is his cheeky nous, but he has magic tricks up his sleeve too.

Daniels and Wickenden have become important to the Grand Opera House panto, continuity being the third factor in establishing the Three Bears brand.

Star names always play their part too. Say ’Allo, ’Allo! to Vicki Michelle as the vampy, vain Wicked Queen Titania (“You can call me Titty,” she says) and comedian and presenter Mark Little, once of Neighbours, now her Australian sidekick in the land of Much Piddling.

Little had been expecting to play the Evil Sorcerer when the cast first gathered for the press launch but he is now billed as Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville, one of those evil, but actually not evil roles that inevitably loses some of his bite. Little and not so larger than life, in other words. That said, his duet of Elvis Presley’s Trouble with Michelle is one of the musical high spots.

Musical director Aaron Nice has chosen the ballads and cheesy pop hits well, from the opening ensemble number Nicest Kids In Town; through the Dwarfs’ signature song, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and the Snow White-led Whistle Whistle; to the crowd pleasers, Live While We’re Young and especially Shutup And Dance.

Emily Taylor’s choreography is bright and bubbly, driven by dynamic bursts of movement, amusingly so when the Dwarfs join in. Played in the past by dwarves from the actors’ union, the roles now tend to go to puppets or, as is the case here, children with adult voiceovers and movement to give them character.

Strictly speaking, look out too for a familiar fairy face in the mirror, Debbie McGee, seeking out the fairest in the land, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

See the latest Grand Opera House pantomime trailer here: https://youtu.be/VlrxLhF09so