Artists respond to impact of pandemic for In The Open show at Ryedale Folk Museum

Artist Amelia Baron with her thread on calico cotton work Connected at the In The Open exhibition at Ryedale Folk Museum

IN The Open explores the impact of the Covid-19 public health crisis on artists and their creative practice in an open exhibition at Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole, near Kirkbymoorside.

In 2021, in a desire to do something positive to support artists as the lockdown restrictions were lifted, the museum and artist Kane Cunningham came together to look at how artists were affected by the pandemic and how it changed their work.

The project finale is the exhibition of artistic responses to the northern landscape, on show in the art gallery and online via the museum’s website, ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk, until Sunday, November 14. 

Funded by Arts Council England and selected by a panel featuring photographer Joe Cornish, painter Kane Cunningham and ceramic artist Layla Khoo, In the Open assembles paintings, photographs, ceramics and textiles by more than 80 professional, amateur and hobby artists who have turned to the landscape for inspiration. 

Lockdown Feathers, monoprint, by Andrew Dalton

Museum director Jennifer Smith says: “We are absolutely delighted by the quality and variety of entries. It is encouraging to witness the broad range of people turning to art to express their feelings about landscape and countryside during the pandemic. It has been my great pleasure to bring these individual perspectives together.” 

Museum staff also invited entrants to submit an accompanying piece of writing, reflecting on the effects of the events of the past 18 months on their artistic practice. 

“Many artists have taken the opportunity to discuss the role that their art has played in their lives during this time, supporting them through the lockdowns in a range of really significant ways,” explains Jennifer. 

Message In A Bottle – Yellow Peril III, embroidered fabric and cement, by Nerissa Cargill Thompson

As well as showcasing art produced during lockdown, a central aim of In The Open was to provide a platform for artists to speak openly and share their experiences. 

“During the selection process, we had a strong sense of the therapeutic aspects of making art, as well as the benefits of spending time out of doors,” says Jennifer.

“It’s very moving to learn how much both their artwork and the countryside have meant to artists in these times. Some artists have contributed very personal reflections. Taken together, they are poignant, touching and capture a particular moment in time. 

Rievaulx Abbey, etching and collagraph, by Anna Matyus

Ryedale Folk Museum is open from 10am to 5pm in September, then 10am to 4pm in October and November. For more information, go to: ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk/art-gallery/

The In The Open artists:

Garth Bayley; Sandra Storey; Nerissa Cargill Thompson; Kevin Parker; Adele Froude; Gaby Lees; Jennifer Cottis; Diana Terry; Freya Horsley; Rebekah Staples; Andrew Dalton; Anna Matyus; Rachel Morrell; Margaret Geraghty.

A Moment On The Road, oil and acrylic on canvas, by Louise Ventris,

Emma Paragreen; Jane Wilson; Sarah Roberts; Tim Bos; Zara Browne-Gilbert; Debra Snow; Gigi Dyer; Jill Setterington; Susan Noble; Annie Louvaine; Diane Eagles; Heather Burton; Rebecca Hughes; Jane Walker.

Ernest Newton; David Hope; Louise Ventris; Katy Doncaster; Sue Slack; Jane Taylor; Tessa Bunney; Sarah Connell; Nick Walters; Iona Stock; Catherine Hill; Peter Hicks; Kirsty Davis; Francesca Simon; Janine Baldwin; Alice O’Neill.

Chris Carbro; Judith Pollock; Colin Culley; Sarah Cawthray; Alex McArthur; Sarah Billany; Angela Summerfield; Louise Gardner; Claire Castle; Marion Atkinson; Sandra Oakins; Teddi Coutts; Lucy Saggers; Christian Bailey.

The In The Open exhibition on display at Ryedale Folk Museum

Natalie McKeown; Stef Mitchell; Ken Clarry; Kimberli Werner; Louise Goult; Alina Savko; Louise Lorimer; Lesley Wood, Christine Heath; June Appleton; Joe Cornish; Joan Currie; Alison Britton; Susan Plover; Rob Moore.

Caroline Clarke Green; Simon Dobbs; Louise Harrison; Jean Stephenson; Simon Thurlow; Kane Cunningham; Lindsey Tyson; Judith Glover; Margaret Robson; Fran Brammer; Sally Lister; Amelia Baron and Wendy Tate.

Sea View From Coastal Path, papercut/collage by Alice O’Neill

REVIEW: Waitress, Leeds Grand Theatre, serving pie until tomorrow ***

The waitresses in Waitress: Sandra Marvin’s Becky, left, Lucie Jones’s Jenna and Evie Hoskins’s Dawn

SUGAR, spice, all things nice and not so nice make up the recipe for Waitress, the all-American musical based on the late writer-director Adrienne Shelly’s minor-key 2007 film. 

Flavoured with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles and book by Jessie Nelson, the show made its West End bow in 2019 and is now doing the regional rounds on its first tour.

Like Heathers: The Musical earlier this season, Waitress has drawn a predominantly female, young, highly enthusiastic audience, out to cheer on heroine Jenna Hunterson (Lucie Jones), waitress and ace pie-maker at Joe’s Pie Diner, a drudge of a cafe off-Highway 27 in small-town Indiana.

Going nowhere in an abusive relationship with layabout, wastrel husband Earl (Tamlyn Henderson), she dreams of escape by winning a prestigious $20,000 pie contest. What a time to discover she has a bun in her own oven.

Newly arrived in town is gynaecologist  Dr Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis, busting out from boy band Busted), whose bedside manner is more akin to bumbling Mr Bean but is nevertheless most agreeably attractive, and you know where this will lead, married though they may both be, once he tastes her pies.

In other hands, other stories, the tone would be more bittersweet, more stridently feminist too, but brutish, feckless Earl stays in the wings for much of Act Two, the story instead being rich with comedic interplay, especially in the burgeoning relationships of Jenna’s fellow waitresses, one older and very self-assured, the other younger and nervous.

No-nonsense, sassy Becky (Emmerdale’s Sandra Marvin) makes out with the ponytailed grump behind the counter, Cal (Christopher D Hunt), while geeky, kooky Dawn (Evie Hoskins) discovers more than a shared love of historical re-enactments with fellow oddball Oggy (scene-stealing George Crawford, who lifts Act One just when it needs an extra ingredient).

Lorin Latarro’s choreography peaks with all three waitresses having their cherry on the cake at the same time, a climactic scene that brings the house down.

It would be misleading to suggest the savvy-humoured Waitress is too saccharine, even if the sung single-word refrain “Sugar” introduces each scene, but friendship and support, the pursuit of love, the search for joy and the quest for the perfect pie prevail over the darkness cast by Earl.

This is a musical, after all, and not a Tennessee Williams play, and so Diane Paulus’s direction is never too heavy on the salt, although always alive to the drive for female empowerment at the entertaining story’s heart.

Lucie Jones (The X Factor finalist in 2009 and Eurovision: You Decide participant in 2017) reprises her lead role from the West End, singing beautifully, especially in the signature song, She Used To Be Mine. Nelson’s book makes Jenna too sweetly accepting at first, but Jones absolutely captures the change into a woman determined to overcome adversity her way, ultimately free of male constraint.

Marvin’s Becky packs a punch, Hoskins’s Dawn is a daffy delight, and an unrecognisable Michael Starke makes a fine Midwestern gent as seen-it-all businessman and proprietor Joe.

Paulus’s direction is brisk, often as sharp as lime juice, sometimes sentimental; Bareilles’s songs have better lyrics than tunes but are delivered with energy and conviction; Scott Pask’s wheel-on set evokes the bustle of a diner and the wide expanse of Indiana beyond; and Paulus’s ensemble deliver sterling support, along with the band to the side of the stage.

Waitress’s musical pie is multi-layered, not perfectly balanced, more salted caramel than lemon zest, but certainly enjoyable.

Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at leedsheritagetheatres.com.

York Musical Theatre Company say Hooray For Hollywood in escapist November show

Six of the best for Hooray For Hollywood: Paul Laidlaw’s cast for York Musical Theatre Company’s November show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

YORK Musical Theatre Company will head off to Hollywood in November with a desire for escapism from months of pandemic lockdowns.

Devised by director Paul Laidlaw, Hooray For Hollywood’s celebration of songs from Hollywood’s golden age was first performed by YMTC at the York Theatre Royal Studio in 2007. 

From November 8 to 10 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Laidlaw’s revival of his slick and sophisticated six-hander show will explore the musical masters of the classic Hollywood of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

Laidlaw’s cast is made up of four women and two men: Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs, Henrietta Linnemann and Helen Spencer, joined by Richard Bayton and John Haigh.

This nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of Hollywood is packed with love songs, torch songs, and comic numbers from the bygone days of  Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Director Laidlaw says: “We’ve actually performed the show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre before, as well as at the Theatre Royal Studio. As we head into our 120th year next year, it felt right to be a bit nostalgic and look back at some of our original pieces that audiences loved and revive them for new audiences.

“We loved performing The World Goes ’Round [a revue of Kander and Ebb’s songbook] a few years ago, and this show has a similar feel in that it’s a small cast and is fast paced and slick but will take the audience on a magical musical journey.”

Tickets for the three 7.30pm performances cost £15, £12 for age 18 and under, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or on 01904 501935.

John Godber’s B&B comedy Sunny Side Up! is up for a return to Stephen Joseph Theatre

John Godber and Jane Thornton premiering Sunny Side Up! at the Stephen Joseph Theatre last October. Picture: Martha Godber

THE John Godber Company returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre next month with Sunny Side Up!, the coastal comedy premiered by the Godbers in a family bubble at the Scarborough theatre last autumn.

Rehearsed at home, John Godber’s play played to socially distanced sell-out audiences at the end of October 2020, just before the start of the second pandemic lockdown. From October 7 to 9, it will be performed before a socially distanced audience once more in the Round.

Writer-director Godber will reprise his role as Barney alongside his wife, fellow writer Jane Thornton, and daughter, Martha Godber. Daughter Elizabeth completes the family line-up as company stage manager; Graham Kirk provides the design and lighting.

In Godber’s moving account of a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, down-to-earth proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina share stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy.

Jane Thornton and Martha Godber in a scene from last October’s premiere of John Godber’s Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Elizabeth Godber

“If you’re thinking of holidaying at home this year, why not book into the Sunny Side Boarding House soon,” invites Godber, whose seaside feel-good rollercoaster digs into the essence of “staycations”.

Godber’s play is told in his signature style, blending authenticity and pathos as he addresses the problems of levelling up, leaving home and never forgetting where you come from.

This John Godber Company and Theatre Royal, Wakefield production can be seen at the SJT on October 7 at 1.30pm and 7.30pm, October 8, 7.30pm, and October 9, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Tickets, priced from £10, are available on 01723 370541 and at sjt.uk.com.

Barney trouble: John Godber in the role of struggling B&B proprietor Barney in Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Martha Godber

Robert Hollingworth appointed musical director of University of York Choir

Robert Hollingworth: New musical director for University of York Choir. PIcture: Frances Marshall

ROBERT Hollingworth is the new musical director for University of York Choir, taking over from the long-standing Peter Seymour.

Peter has retired from the post after directing the choir through much of the large-scale choral repertoire for many years but will continue to direct the Yorkshire Bach Choir.

Hollingworth, who moved to York in 2012, is a member of the university’s music department and a vocal specialist, and he has a professional performing career too, leading the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini and directing the annual Stour Music Festival. 

He is keen to promote female conductors and composers, hence this term’s repertoire will include Pie Jesu by French composer Lili Boulanger, alongside Faure’s Requiem and other French music.

Peter Seymour: Retiring from director’s post for University of York Choir

For a flavour of Robert’s work, his entertaining and informative Sing The Score videos, produced during lockdown, are well worth exploring at youtu.be/ie7CSrBtbD0.

Membership of University of York Choir is open to students and staff, as well as by audition to those outside the university. Rehearsals are held on Mondays in term time from 7.30pm to 9.30pm in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Heslington, York.

Registration and auditions will be held on September 27, followed by the first rehearsal on October 4. The Faure concert is in the diary for December 1 at St Lawrence’s Church, Lawrence Street, York. For more details, contact membership secretary Catherine Duncan via university-choir@york.ac.uk.

University of York Choir performing at York Minster under Peter Seymour’s direction. Picture: Alexandru Ichim

Yoshika Colwell’s Invisible Mending show unravels at Theatre At The Mill tonight

Yoshika Colwell: Two shows for At The Mill’s residency week at Stillington Mill

AS part of At The Mill’s residency week at Stillington Mill, near York, Yoshika Colwell gives a work-in-progress performance of Invisible Mending tonight (16/9/2021).

At 8pm, the former University of York student explores creativity, knitting, the strange journey of grief and the transcendent act of swimming in the sea.

“In the summer of 2020, as a global pandemic raged, Yoshi was processing the unexpected dying and death of her beloved grandmother, Ann,” explains At The Mill programmer Alexander Wright. 

“A woman of few words, Ann’s one great creative outlet was knitting. And not just any knitting. Her projects were glorious, intricate, virtuosic works of art, which still adorn the wardrobes of her nearest and dearest.

“As she reached the end of her life, Ann started a new project. Too wide for a scarf, too narrow for a jumper, this project had no end goal. She was simply using up the last of her wool.”

Yoshi now takes up this piece where Ann left off. “Like the fates who weave our destiny, like Penelope who works her wool all day and unpicks at night, and like the Lady of Shalott, who must keep weaving to remain alive, Yoshi explores what it means to pull loose threads together,” says Alexander.

“She weaves together live music, knitting, interviews, and diary entries into a tapestry that asks us what creativity is, and how it can help us as we navigate the inevitable journeys we must all take.”

Yoshi will complete her residency with Yoshika & Friends, Sunday’s 8pm concert of new music, showcasing her soul-searching debut solo EP, her first since Luuna’s 2016 EP, Moonflower. Fellow residency participants Max Barton and Jethro Cooke’s experimental outfit, Slowstepper, will perform too.

For tickets, go to: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill.

REVIEW: Tonderai Munyevu in Mugabe, My Dad & Me, York Theatre Royal

Tonderai Munyevu at the microphone stand in Mugabe, My Dad & Me on the York Theatre Royal stage. Picture: Jane Hobson

Mugabe, My Dad & Me, English Touring Theatre & York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

IT has been a long wait for Zimbabwean-born writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu to premiere Mugabe, My Dad & Me.

The English Touring Theatre & York Theatre Royal production has gone through two pandemic-imposed postponements, three workshops and a transfer into an audio dramatization for Audible.com.

The play had long been billed as a one-man show but the published text states the presence of an Mbira player is compulsory, and sure enough, after Tonderai’s introduction and back story,  the Theatre Royal curtain rose on actor-musician Millie Chapanda, in sun-bright African dress, with the Zimbabwean Shona people’s instrument by her side.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me has been in a state of flux, moving from its planned Studio baptism to the main house, growing in length from 70 minutes to an over-long 90 minutes, and switching from the Theatre Royal’s Summer Of Love programme to The Haunted Season.

Tonderai Munyevu with mriba musician Millie Chapanda in Mugabe, My Dad & Me. In the background is a Union Flag dress, associated with Tonderai’s favourite Spice Girl, Gerri Halliwell

Which would he prefer? “I think ‘Haunted’. It sounds longer lasting. ‘The Summer Of Love’ sounds impermanent,” Tonderai said in his interview with CharlesHutchPress.

As it turns out, the play suits both: there is love, for his late father and the motherland he left with his mother for a new life in London at the age of 12; and there is sex, Soho nights and all.

There is a haunting presence too: the figure of President Robert Mugabe, the freedom fighter turned despot, a permanent representation of Zimbabwe in Tonderai’s life until the barnacle president resigned at 93 in 2017.

Tonderai set himself the writing task of working out his identity, who he is, where he belongs, by constructing a memory play but one that does not stop in the past but informs the Tonderai of today, Tonderai at 39: a gay, Catholic, Zimbabwean writer and actor, who lives in London and will be marrying next year.

Tonderai Munyevu recalls experiencing snow for the first time in London in a scene from Mugabe, My Dad & Me. Picture: Jane Hobson

Taking to the stage in a white shirt, overlapping his blue jeans, microphone in hand as if for a stand-up comedy gig, he recalls being asked “Where are you from?”, as he poured a pint when working as a barman in one of those fallow times that actors grow accustomed to enduring.

It was this question that prompted him to look for answers in Mugabe, My Dad & Me. “I need to work things out, to understand – about my father, about Mugabe, about all these ghosts from the past,” he says in the prologue to Scene 2.

“I need to wrestle with where I stand in it all. With who I am today. This isn’t going to be an easy or straightforward story to tell,” he forewarns. It won’t all make sense, as much to him as to us, he cautions, but he turns out to be a highly coherent storyteller, shining a light on the chaos, chance and contradictions of life.

Set and costume designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen conjures memories and ghosts of Tonderai’s past by hanging row upon row of clothes above his head, a constant presence that is lowered or raised, depending on the scene.

Tonderai Munyevu and Millie Chapanda beneath the rows of clothes denoting people and stories from Tonderai’s past. Picture: Jane Hobson

The garments represent Tonderai, his mother, his father and Mugabe through the years, as well as uncles, aunts, his first lover, and Bob Marley at his famous Zimbabwe concert (although apparently Mugabe wanted Cliff Richard, considering Jamaican reggae icon Marley to be “too crude”).

Those clothes weigh heavy on the unfolding drama, like Banquo or the ghost of Hamlet’s father, but they rule out the need for any other means of evoking people or place, Tonderai’s words sufficing on their own.

The only “prop” is a chair for Millie Chapanda, as she changes position on the stage to suit the focus of each scene, under the concise yet poetic direction of Theatre Royal associate John R Wilkinson.

As the title suggests, Tonderai weaves together the impact of his father and Mugabe, the “father” of his homeland, and is unsparingly frank in his appraisal of both. 

His father, a bright and good looking “everyman”, was a womaniser, a wife-beater, a drinker, who died in desperate circumstances, as impoverished as the “bread basket of Africa” became in the later years of Mugabe’s presidency.

Tonderai Munyevu in “conversation” with the ghost of President Robert Mugabe at the climax to Mugabe, My Dad & Me. Picture: Jane Hobson

His father had worked at an accountancy firm, until a dispute with a white colleague ended with him punching him. Told he would not be fired if he apologised, he declined to do so, losing his job, setting a spiral of decline in motion.

Piece by piece, Tonderai puts the jigsaw together to explain his father’s incendiary character, recalling how belatedly he learned of the trauma that had shaped him.

As for Mugabe, in the climax to the play, Tonderai confronts the late President, by now represented in full regalia, as to why he turned from revolution to tyranny, failing those who had been promised a fruitful farming future after guerrilla service in the name of freedom and ending colonial rule.

Encountering the personable, forthright Tonderai over these 90 confessional, conversationalist minutes, this son of the Zimbabwean diaspora has his heart in his still-troubled southern African homeland, its culture and heritage, and yet he appreciates the freedoms brought to him by London life. Does that leave him in a no man’s land or a place of opportunity? Both, but roll on next year’s wedding, he will say.

One frustration in this male-dominated story: we learn next to nothing of his mother, but maybe Millie, her mriba and her calming presence can be read as testament to her influence. After all, Millie, not Tonderai, has the last word.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Millie Chapanda and her mriba in Mugabe, My Dad & Me. Picture: Jane Hobson

More Things To Do in and around York as creative night market launched. List No. 49, courtesy of The Press, York

Big news! York artist Freya Horsley, right, and gallery co-director Ails McGee with Freya’s paintings Turning Tide and Liquid Light at According To McGee, York

BIG paintings, a night market, thrillers at the double, cookery chat, an anniversary celebration, a long-awaited Scottish return and a brace of comedians are the diverse focus of Charles Hutchinson’s attention.

Exhibition of the week: Freya Horsley, Contemporary Seascapes, According To McGee, York, running until October 11

ACCORDING To McGee is playing host to the biggest paintings the Tower Street gallery has ever exhibited: Liquid Light and Turning Tide, two mixed-media works on canvas by Freya Horsley.

The York artist is displaying a new series of seascape paintings depicting the Cornish, Scottish and north east coastlines.

“Her art makes you look twice because it has a calming quality and, like a good sunrise, it makes you go ‘wow!’,” says co-director Greg McGee.

York Creatives Night Market: Debut night of arts, crafts, music, food and drink at Shambles Market tomorrow

York Creatives Night Market, Shambles Market, York, tomorrow, 7pm to 10.30pm

POSTPONED at short notice on August 20, the debut York Creatives Night Market goes ahead tomorrow in a chance to browse art and products by independent traders.

Street food, drinks and music all evening are on the menu too for this free event, open to all.

The Rusty Pegs: Tenth anniversary concert at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

Celebrating ten years on: The Rusty Pegs, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Saturday, 8pm

TEN years ago, York country band The Rusty Pegs formed, drawn from volunteers at the Monkgate theatre, who were asked to perform their debut gig there at a Raising The Roof fundraiser.

To mark a decade of making music together, the Pegs have decided to come full circle by performing an anniversary gig in the same place where it all started, this time launching the autumn season. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

No mistaking Justin Currie: Del Amitri return with Fatal Mistakes album for first York gig since 2002

Long time coming: Del Amitri, York Barbican, Saturday, 7.45pm

DEL Amitri follow up the May 28 release of their seventh studio album, Fatal Mistakes, with a return to York Barbican after a 19-year hiatus.

Justin Currie’s Glaswegian band last played there in May 2002, the year they released their last album, Can You Do Me Good?.

“It’s been nearly 20 years since we toured with a new album, lord knows what took us so long,” says Currie. “The prospect of sprinkling our set with a few choices from Fatal Mistakes fills us with the sort of excitement that, for some men of our age, might call for light medication. We think the adrenaline will see us through.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

No smoke without ire: Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss blows his top at York Barbican

Comedy gig of the week: Daniel Sloss: Hubris, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm

SUNDAY’S gig is third time lucky for Scotsman Daniel Sloss, whose October 3 2020 and May 8 2021 visits were ruled out by the accursed Covid.

Sloss, 30, has sold out six New York solo off-Broadway seasons, appeared on American television’s Conan show ten times and toured to more than 50 countries. Now, at last, comes his new show, with special guest Kai Humphries.

Look out for Sloss’s book, Everyone You Hate Is Going To Die (And Other Comforting Thoughts On Family, Friends, Sex, Love, And More Things That Ruin Your Life), from October 12. For tickets for Sunday, go to: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

What’s cooking? Cookbook writer Yotam Ottolenghi finds flavour at York Theatre Royal on Tuesday

Flavour of the month: Yotam Ottolenghi, A Life In Flavour, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday, 7.30pm

CHEF, restaurateur and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi reflects on A Life In Flavour, provides cooking inspiration and signs copies of his “flavour-forward, vegetable-based” cookbook, Ottolenghi Flavour, after the show on Tuesday.

West Jerusalem-born Ottolenghi will be discussing the tastes, ingredients and flavours that excite him and how he has created a career from cooking.

Expect “unique insights into how flavour is dialled up and why it works, from basic pairings fundamental to taste, to cooking methods that elevate ingredients to great heights”. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Dane Baptiste: Comedian with a chip on his shoulder at Burning Duck Comedy Club

The other comedy gig of the week: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Dane Baptiste: The Chocolate Chip, The Crescent, York, September 23, 7.30pm

IN his own words, Dane Baptiste is now a “grown ass black man, too old to be concerned with chicken or trainers, too young to be considered a peer of Trevor McDonald”.

Has he got a chip on his shoulder? “Yes. A chocolate one,” says Baptiste, a south east London stand-up who once worked in media sales.

Noted for his boldly provocative material, he hosts the podcasts Dane Baptiste Questions Everything and Quotas Full. Box office: thecrescentyork.com/events.

The Rowntree Players’ poster for next week’s production of Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web

Web of the week: Rowntree Players in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, September 23 to 25, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

DIPLOMAT’S wife Clarissa is adept at spinning tales of adventure, but when a murder takes place in her drawing room, she finds live drama much harder to cope with in Rowntree Players’ autumn return, directed by Howard Ella.

Desperate to dispose of the body before her husband arrives with an important politician, she enlists the help of her guests. 

In a conscious parody of the detective thriller, Christie’s Spider’s Web delivers suspense and humour in equal measure in an intricate plot of murder, police detection, hidden doorways and secret drawers. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

In the chair: Just Some Theatre in rehearsal for The Killer Question, heading to Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

Mystery of the week ahead: Just Some Theatre in The Killer Question, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, September 25, 7.30pm

THE Silence Of The Lambs meets Last Of The Summer Wine in Dave Payne’s dark comedy thriller The Killer Question, marking the York debut of Manchester company Just Some Theatre.

Did The Chair game show champion Walter Crump’s obsession with death ultimately lead to his own? Inspector Black believes so, and now Crump’s dopey widow, Margaret, finds herself accused of her husband’s murder. 

Faced by more than one deadly twist in the tale, can Inspector Black solve the mystery? Will Margaret be home in time for Countryfile? Just as important, which actor – Peter Stone, Jake Urry or Jordan Moore – will play which character? The audience decides. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Comedian Simon Amstell explores his Spirit Hole but what exactly does he find there?

Simon Amstell: Much room for mushrooms in his Spirit Hole tour show

AGENT provocateur Simon Amstell will deliver a “blissful, spiritual, sensational exploration of love, sex, shame, mushrooms and more” at the Grand Opera House, York, on September 25.

That night’s 8pm show forms part of the introspective, awkwardly honest comedian, television host, actor, writer and filmmaker’s 38-date Spirit Hole autumn tour, where the former saucy host of cult BBC2 pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks contemplates turning 40.

“A lot of the show is about getting older and not knowing what to do about it,” says the still cherubic-faced Essex-born wit. “I’m 41 now, and even when people say ‘you don’t look 41, what they’re saying is, when you do, that will be disgusting.”

The mushrooms he mentions in his show trailer are…? “Magic mushrooms,” he says of the “shrooms” or “blue meanies” with psychedelic, hallucinogenic properties. “One of the ways that I found it possible to cope with the fact that I was going to age and eventually die was taking magic mushrooms in the last two years.

“I take it quite seriously, with the whole ceremony aspect, using them for their healing qualities, trying to figure out who I am and what’s wrong with me, with all the wisdom that’s come my way.”

A doctor or scientist might point out the common side effects of magic mushrooms: nausea, yawning, feeling relaxed or drowsy, introspection, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucinations and psychosis.

“A lot of the show is about getting older and not knowing what to do about it,” says Simon Amstell, aged 41. Picture: David Levene

Simon, on the other hand, has learned: “The real fear of getting old is that I die alone in a desert,” he says. “I had a vision on magic mushrooms of dying as a very old wizard, hunched over, sitting alone and dying.

“I felt myself decomposing, which was sad at first, but not unbearable, but this is what happens. We are all animals; we all end up back in the ground.

“You just have to surrender to it now. When I feel lonely, I just think, ‘well, I died in the desert last year!’”

Put in touch with a lady who “sort of puts magic mushrooms in chocolate”, after a recommendation from a Ayahuasca healing retreat, Simon has laid great store in his ritualistic ceremonies.

“Rather than something you’re messing around with, it’s better to have a sense of gratitude to be working with the mushrooms and then surrendering to whatever they tell you…and then after four hours you close it down by saying, ‘I have finished the ceremony’,” he says.

“The danger is that you end the ceremony by writing down what feels profound in the moment, so there’s a whole section of the show where I translate what I did write down.

What is a Spirit Hole? Let Simon Amstell explore and explain at the Grand Opera House, York, on September 25

“They’re a mix, a strange combination of the most profound and the most obvious things that I came up with at the same time. That’s not to say those nuggets are not profound, but it took a mushroom ceremony to release them.”

Where does shame fit into the show, Simon? “When I was at the retreat, trying to figure out how to grow older, what the medicine seemed to reveal was that my body is full of trauma and shame, and I ended up dancing around naked…

“…Maybe I should do that on the last night of the tour, though I don’t know if it would make it less funny or more funny!” he says.

As for the show’s title, “Part of the reason it’s called ‘Spirit Hole’, is the hole in our culture; the depression we feel is because of the lack of spirit, and we really need to find that spirit to reconnect with joy,” he urges.

“Also, a finger entered a new hole in my body.” Stop, stop, Simon. What new hole? “The perineum. Look it up! The only way I could describe it was as a ‘spirit hole’.

“I think it would be difficult to experience it without a shaman,” he cautions.

Moving swiftly along, let’s talk about sex and love, Simon. “I’ve been in a relationship for ten years; the longest relationship I’ve ever been in, and there’s loads of stuff about that in the show, whereas I used to talk about loneliness, but I can’t talk about that any more, now that I have a brilliant boyfriend,” he says.

“I felt myself decomposing, which was sad at first, but not unbearable, but this is what happens. We are all animals; we all end up back in the ground,” says Simon, recalling one of his experiences on magic mushrooms

“I talk about getting a house together, and how my tiny adult mind can’t cope with that adult thing, as I go through a midlife crisis, dyeing my hair blond, going to New York, and going to a sex club that turned out to be much too hardcore for me.”

It may be hard to believe that Simon Amstell – once the youngest finalist in the BBC New Comedy Awards in 1998 – has turned 40, but the years have flown by since he last played the Grand Opera House on his Numb tour in May 2012.

Not that he has fallen silent, more that he has diversified, writing, directing and narrating Carnage, a 2017 film about veganism, set in utopian 2067, where animals live equally among humans; releasing his debut bittersweet comedy-drama film, Benjamin, written and directed by Amstell, and making his soul-searching 2019 Netflix stand-up special, Set Free, both in 2019.

There has been a book too: Help, subtitled Comedy. Tragedy. Therapy., published in January 2019, armed with Amstell’s aim of “telling the truth so it can’t hurt me anymore”, driven by compulsion to reveal his entire self on stage. Loneliness, anxiety, depression feature prominently, he forewarned, but you will “then feel happier than you have ever been”.

Roll on to 2021 and Amstell is back on stage, surely his happy place. Asked to sum up Spirit Hole in five words as the strictly 20-minute interview clock counts down, he ventures: “Simon Amstell coming to York.” And no magic mushrooms were necessary for the making of that profound statement.

Simon Amstell: Spirit Hole, on tour at Grand Opera House, York, September 25, 8pm, and Leeds Town Hall, October 1, 8pm.York tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/ york; Leeds, ticketmaster.com.  

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: The Woman In Black, PW Productions, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york

Pony and trapped: Robert Goodale, left, and Antony Eden in a scene from The Woman In Black. Picture: Tristram Kenton

AFTER 547 barren nights, the Grand Opera House, York, reopened on Monday as a ghost story blew away the cobwebs of pandemic-enforced closure at last.

Jennet Humphrey, the “Woman” in the title of The Woman In Black, has a habit of returning to this already crowded city of ghosts onregular occasions, such is the abiding popularity of Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation that began life at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in novelist Susan Hill’s home town of Scarborough in December 1987.

From that premiere, Robin Herford is still directing the award-garlanded fright-night and Michael Holt’s brilliantly atmospheric set is still adding to the chill factor with its clever use of gauze, a shadowy stairwell, passages, a mysteriously locked door and the faded grandeur of a disused theatre. 

No matter how often you see the show, Rod Mead’s original sound design, now realised on tour by Sebastian Frost, unfailingly will tantalise, taunt, tease and terrify you. Every time!

Likewise, cast members Robert Goodale and Antony Eden are back in Black, albeit working in partnership for the first time on this revived tour of Mallatratt’s two-hander. Goodale was in the company for the last York visit, in November 2019, at the Theatre Royal, one of myriad old haunts for Eden too, who played there in February-March 2013 en route to notching up more than 1,000 performances.

Familiar faces were in the dress circle too. Not the Grand Opera House’s resident ghost, but the ghosts of Theatre Royal pantomimes past, now first-night guests in their new home, as Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell gathered ahead of this winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again.

Robert Goodale, with Antony Eden in the shadows, in The Woman In Black. Picture: Tristram Kenton

First, however, it was time for The Woman In Black’s pony and trap to be ridden again. I say ‘pony and trap’, but it is in fact a wicker trunk. Goodale’s Arthur Kipps, the haunted old solicitor seeking to exorcise the fear that has filled his soul for more than 50 years, looks puzzled.

Use your imagination, advises Eden’s now not-so-young Actor, employed by Kipps to help him turn his rambling book of notes into…well, don’t call it a performance, he says. “I’m not Olivier.”

However, “for my health, for reason”, his story must be told. “I cannot bear the burden any longer,” he says desperate to put his stultifying obsession to bed, to find a peace of mind at last, to end the curse on his family.

At this point, as Kipps and the Actor meet in a dusty old theatre, the tone is lightly humorous, Kipps’ lack of acting talent and sense of drama amusingly apparent; the Actor, sceptical and cocky.

And yet, as if the stage were made of quicksand, we are drawn into what becomes a celebration of the possibilities of theatre and the craft of acting, as much as a superbly executed, drip-drip telling of a ghost story.

In Mallatratt’s play within a play, the drama within takes over from the act of making it. Gradually, by now taking Kipps gravely seriously, Eden’s Actor becomes the young Kipps; Goodale’s stage novice Kipps becomes everyone else, from a convivial hotel manager to a taciturn pony-and-trap driver and an old lawyer, hollowed out by past encounters with the spectral woman in a black cape with a wasted face.

Antony Eden: Adding to his 1,000-plus performances as the Actor in The Woman In Black this week at the reopened Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Tristram Kenton

All the while, in his narrator’s role, old Kipps grows ever more paralysed by resurgent fears as the story unfolds of his ill-fated errand as a young solicitor to the haunted Eel Marsh House: an isolated place forever at odds with its wretched self.

The Woman In Black is old-fashioned, storytelling theatre-making, where not only Kipps, but we too, must engage our imaginations, as Herford eschews high-tech special effects. For example, Spider, a dog, is conjured simply with a click of a finger, a push of a stick, a hand stroke in mid-air, with no need for the distracting presence of a real mutt or puppet.

The terrifying theatrical re-enactment is rendered with only two chairs, a trunk of papers, a hanging rail of costume props, dust sheets over the stage apron and a frayed theatre curtain.

Then add smoke to create a disorientating murk that spreads over the auditorium, transforming the stalls into the eerie marshlands, allied to the restless, intrusive sound effects that thrive on surprise and sudden bursts of noise, from horse’s hooves to piercing screams. All the while, in Kevin Sleep’s lighting design, shadows and darkness wrestle with light for dominance, guaranteeing a sleepless night.

After month after month of silence, the Grand Opera House was being reawakened from its slumber with gasps, shrieks and nervous audience laughter, and we loved it. Goodale and Eden, wonderfully in control of delivering a storyline that is spinning beyond control, maybe forever, clearly love it too.

The Woman In Black will not be vanishing any time soon; the empty rocking chair will keep on rocking to big audiences, newcomers and veteran devotees alike

Review by Charles Hutchinson