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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright of The Press, York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

York Theatre Royal’s Community Drive leaflet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.