Greatest hits of digital York Early Music Festival picked for video by director Delma

The home service: York Early Music Festival’s opening online concert, featuring Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies, mid-stream last Thursday

YORK Early Music Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin is compiling a video of “personal favourites” from last week’s online event.

“We had a blast,” she says, reflecting on the success of the three-day virtual festival of four pre-recorded and two live concerts, streamed from the National Centre for Early Music from July 9 to 11.

“It was fabulous to be able to host musicians at the NCEM from across England – and to welcome online audiences from as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States.”

Concert recordings were in the hands of digital producer Ben Pugh, filming the socially distant musicians at an otherwise empty St Margaret’s Church, the NCEM’s home in Walmgate.

Artists and audiences alike have given positive feedback to a digital event arranged once the Covid-19 lockdown enforced the cancellation of the Method & Madness-themed live festival from July 3 to 11.

“It was such a success that we’re now pulling together a compilation video of my personal favourites from 2020 Online. Details very soon!” promises Delma.

“We had a blast,” said administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin after the inaugural digital York Early Music Festival, held last week

The revised remote festival of concerts and talks was headlined on July 9 by York countertenor Iestyn Davies – lockdown hair in need of a cut, by his own later admission – and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny.

Streamed live last Thursday, they presented A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain, among others.

In a surprise encore, they mined the modern-day melancholia of a Mancunian man, Morrissey, digging deep into the pit of The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Performances recorded over ten days ensued, by lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine and lyra viol player Richard Boothby last Friday and BBC New Generation artists Consone Quartet last Saturday afternoon.

Vocal ensemble Stile Antico closed the festival with a live streamed concert, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, that evening.

“We’d purchased more video and sound equipment, so it was more like a TV studio environment for the recordings,” says Delma. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which helped with social distancing.”

The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

Lari the Seagull and Jan Bee Brown lead Scarborough museums’ seaside adventures

Jan Bee Brown: Writing weekly audio story for Scarborough Museums Trust

SCARBOROUGH Museums Trust is to present a summer programme of seaside and animal-themed stories, crafts and activities with the help of Lari the Seagull.

From July 22 to August 20, the trust’s learning team will take over its social media pages to add family information and activities based around objects in the Scarborough Borough Collection.

On Wednesdays, from July 22 to August 19, families can enjoy Seaside Adventures, whether “meeting” rockpool creatures or magical selkies – those mythical seal folk – all inspired by paintings at Scarborough Art Gallery and designed by storyteller and artist Jan Bee Brown.

On Thursdays, from July 23 to August 20, Animal Antics will take participants on a journey across the world, inspired by animals in the SMT natural history collections. 

The highlight each week will be a new audio story written especially for Scarborough Museums Trust by Jan Bee Brown, released each Wednesday. The stories will bring paintings from the collections to life, weaving together folk tales and Scarborough characters and landmarks, from Dottie the Donkey to the Hispaniola.  

Are you ready for a Seaside Adventure, courtesy of Scarborough Museums Trust? Picture: Tony Bartholomew

A short video will be released each Thursday showing children how to make one of the art activities and each one will include voiceovers by children from the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Youth Theatre group. 

Families are invited to share pictures of their artworks with Scarborough Museums Trust, using the hashtag #SummerAdventures 

Scarborough Museums Trust’s learning manager, Christine Rostron, says: “We’re looking forward to welcoming families for some great summer fun online – and our friend Lari the Seagull will be on hand the whole time to help guide them through it. He’s even been taking selfies with some of the objects in our collections.” 

For families without printers, the trust will be providing free activity templates each week that can be collected from Scarborough Art Gallery in The Crescent. Please note, visiting the gallery will be “a little bit different” for a while: social-distancing rules mean only a limited number of families are allowed to visit at any one time and you may need to wait if the gallery is very busy.

The activities and videos will be available on the family learning page at: scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/learning/family-resources/.

Eastfield Choir forms for Zoom sessions and video recording in Scarborough

Eastfield Choir musical director Mark Gordon. Picture: Richard Maw, Infocus

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre has created a new choir for residents of Scarborough’s Eastfield area.

The Eastfield Choir is meeting via Zoom on Mondays from 11.30am to 12.30pm for five weeks from July 13 in a virtual venture supported by Scarborough company McCain Foods and residents’ group EAST.

They will work towards filming a song chosen by Eastfield residents from Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’; The Zutons and Amy Winehouse’s hit Valerie; George Ezra’s Budapest; Abba’s Mamma Mia and Ben E King’s Stand By Me. 

Voting will take place on the Eastfield Past and Present Facebook page during the week beginning July 29. 

Helpful guide music tracks and videos will be sent to choir members to assist them in preparing for  the film recording.

The SJT’s associate director for children and young people and Funky Choir member Cheryl Govan says: “This is a fantastic intergenerational project with a strong emphasis on creating new social links. Anyone can take part, whatever their age and ranging from whole families to those living on their own.

“The first term of the project will result in a video using footage captured by the residents and edited together. This will be a lovely record for everyone involved.

“If you have a smart phone, an iPad or a laptop you can access Zoom and we can help you if you need some support. And don’t worry if you don’t like the first song – a choir has to start somewhere, and it could be your choice next time.”

Cheryl adds: “Don’t be put off if you think you can’t sing: this is about having a good time. The best bit about Zoom choirs is only the people in your own house can hear you…

“…And thanks to the generous support of McCain, membership of the Eastfield Choir is free!”

Choir members can access the videos on private Facebook groups that they are invited to join at the start of the project.

Charlotte Pick, communications business partner at McCain, says: “We’re delighted to support the Eastfield Choir through our partnership with the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

“McCain has been a part of the Scarborough community for over 50 years and is proud to play a role in the communities where we live and work. This uplifting project will help reduce feelings of isolation and allow residents to feel part of the community again.”

The SJT team already has worked with residents’ group EAST on various projects, such as helping to clear up The Dell, the area’s nature reserve.

“We’re really excited about the choir,” says EAST’s Adele Armstrong Jackson. “When we first met with Cheryl Govan, we spoke about what we would like to do in Eastfield: clearing the rubbish from The Dell was one project, and an inter-generational activity like this choir was another.” 

The new choir is led by musical director Mark Gordon, who says: “I’m absolutely delighted to be involved in this project. I love running choirs and generally having fun singing, so it’s good to meet (well, virtually meet!) a lot of like-minded people. Singing is fantastic for lifting the spirits and putting a smile on the face of both the singer and the listener. 

“I’m also excited to see the end product: the idea that a bunch of people who don’t know each other are going to come together and do something fabulous and community based like this is such a wonderful concept. I hope loads of people will get involved – the more the merrier! And remember, it’s not about having the world’s best voice, it’s about enjoying singing, being prepared to give it a go and having some fun!”

A prominent figure on the Scarborough music scene for more than 30 years, Mark performs regularly with many bands and acts as musical director for several theatre shows. He teaches music at Scarborough schools and runs youth orchestras, jazz bands, rock workshops and choirs, as well as being a private piano teacher. 

For more information on the Eastfield Choir, go to:  sjt.uk.com/event/1047/eastfield_zoom_choir

Artist Anita and Yorkshire Cancer Research vow to Give Cancer The Boot with Tree of Life welly installation at Castle Howard

All’s welly that starts welly: Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman launches her Give Cancer The Boot installation at Castle Howard

BOOTIFUL. Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman has launched a wellington boot-themed art installation at Castle Howard to highlight Yorkshire Cancer Research’s annual fundraising campaign, Give it Some Welly.

The 191 stainless-steel wellies, shimmering in the sunlight in a Lime Walk tree to the side of the Atlas Fountain, represent the 191,000 Yorkshire people who have “given the cancer the boot” over the past 25 years or live with it.

The mission of the independent charity is to save lives in Yorkshire, helping people to avoid and survive the disease by improving the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the region.  

Anita’s “Tree of Life” sculpture on the South Front of the Castle Howard grounds will be open to the public until July 22, drawing attention to the charity’s aim to raise £10 million this year to “help more people give cancer the boot for good”.

In particular, Yorkshire Cancer Research is urging people across Yorkshire to hold fundraising events on Yorkshire Day, Saturday, August 1, whether by wanging wellies, wearing them or baking welly-themed cakes.

Anita, the paper-cut designer and painter who runs the Dove Tree Art Gallery and studio in Harrogate, is honoured to be involved in this “very worthwhile project”.

“I hope the piece helps people consider the work that still needs to be done to continue to increase cancer survival rates in Yorkshire,” says artist Anita Bowerman

“I felt instantly inspired to create this boot design, cut out from stainless-steel and featuring Yorkshire Cancer Research’s logo of a rose,” she says. “I love the idea of 191 shiny boots on this ‘tree of life’, glinting in the light on a fir tree in the grounds in front of the majestic, iconic Castle Howard, and I hope it brings lots of joy to those that see it. 

“I would like it to celebrate all the people in Yorkshire who have survived cancer in the past 25 years, and the people that will continue to survive in the years to come.”

The work of Yorkshire Cancer Research has resonance for Anita. “My engineer brother, Mason Small, has helped me create these 15cm-high boots – which took three men three days to polish by hand at his Guiseley head office – and finding a cure for cancer is particularly relevant to us as both our parents were diagnosed with it. Our dad had breast and skin cancer; our mum had ovarian cancer, from which she died,” she says.

“I hope the piece helps people consider the work that still needs to be done to continue to increase survival rates in Yorkshire and will help Yorkshire Cancer Research to continue its great work across the region.”

She is delighted by the choice of tree for the welly installation. “I was approached by Yorkshire Cancer Research to do a piece of ‘land art’ for the Give it Some Welly campaign, and I’m so pleased the wellies are hanging in a Cedrus Deodara, a divine tree from the Himalayas, worshipped by Hindus,” says Anita. “I love how it is now decorated for summer, with the stainless-steel boots glistening like mobiles in the summer light.

Dr Kathryn Scott, chief executive of Yorkshire Cancer Research, left, artist Anita Bowerman and the Hon Nicholas Howard, owner of Castle Howard, at the Give Cancer The Boot launch

“They look stunning in this beautiful environment, where I wanted to reflect such a high-quality house and the high quality of the work done by Yorkshire Cancer Research.”

Anita’s “Tree of Life” has personal significance too for the Hon. Nicholas Howard, owner of Castle Howard. “I have a connection with it in that I’ve had prostate cancer myself and I’m in the middle of booting it out’. I’ve had targeted radiotherapy and I’m now having hormone treatment, with my readings now being very low, so it really rang a bell with me when Yorkshire Cancer Research contacted me,” he says.

Castle Howard presents spectacular Christmas tree decorations each winter and puts up a tree at Easter too decorated with hand-painted eggs from Salzburg. Now, Anita’s summer tree complements those annual festive celebrations. “It’s always lovely to see an artist reflecting something real in their work, which these 191 boots do, and I love how the tree can be seen from afar to draw people to it because it’s glinting in the sun,” says Nicholas.

“The wellies are just the right size too, when sometimes these things can be strident, but these are lovely objects.”

Given his own experience, Nicholas is keen that the welly installation should play its part in generating much-needed funds for Yorkshire Cancer Research”. “Research is so important, and it would also help if people would get tested early; that would help with treating cancer and that’s something that everyone can do, particularly as they get older,” he says.

“It’s so important that regular testing and inspections go on, and it’s so important to get that message across, especially when men sometimes have that macho attitude that it won’t happen to them, but it’s far better to be tested regularly. They do that with a car, so why not with themselves?”

“Too many people are still having their lives cut short by cancer,” says Dr Kathryn Scott, pictured with artist Anita Bowerman

Also attending the launch was Dr Kathryn Scott, chief executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, who says: “While it’s positive that survival rates are improving, too many people are still having their lives cut short by cancer. Delays in diagnosis and treatment during the Coronavirus pandemic means we need to do all we can to minimise the impact for people in Yorkshire.

“In the past few months, life has come with increasing challenges and apprehension about what the future might hold, so the continued support of people in Yorkshire means more to us than ever before.

“With our ambitious target to fund £10 million of world-leading research to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer every year, we need the people of Yorkshire to join us in raising life-changing funds, so we can continue our work in helping more people give cancer the boot for good.”

Kathryn says that in these Covid-19 times, delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancer are inevitable. “There will be people with worrying signs that will not have contacted their GP at this time, but early diagnosis is always our message, because cancer is predominantly easier to treat, the earlier the diagnosis,” she stresses.

“We can have a 90 per cent success rate with treating some cancers when diagnosed early, but less than ten per cent when it’s diagnosed late on.”

Yorkshire Cancer Research wants to fund more research and more clinical trials. “They’re shown to give people a better quality of life and improve survival rates, and we want to make Yorkshire a beacon of success in treating cancer,” says Kathryn.

Shining example: A close-up of the Yorkshire Cancer Research rose on one of Anita Bowerman’s 191 wellies

“In clinical trials, we’re rising fast in the national statistics: 9,000 people participated in clinical trials last year funded by Yorkshire and Humber clinical research networks, putting us second on the list.”

To support Give It Some Welly, you can download a free fundraising pack at: ycr.org.uk/welly.

Yorkshire Cancer Research and Castle Howard request you follow UK Government guidelines to stay safe when visiting the installation or organising any fundraising activities. Those guidelines can be found at: gov.uk/coronavirus.

Did you know?

Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England.

In Yorkshire, 594 people are diagnosed with cancer every week.

Yorkshire Cancer Research’s mission is for 2,000 more people to survive cancer every year in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire Cancer Research works in partnership with researchers, clinicians, the NHS, public health bodies and other charities to fund innovative work in prevention, early diagnosis and treatment.

Based at Grove Park Court, off Skipton Road, Harrogate, Yorkshire Cancer Research provides research funding for the University of York, University of Leeds, University of Sheffield and Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust.

For more information, visit yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk.

Review: York Early Music Festival Online, Stile Antico; Consone Quartet, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 11

Stile Antico: First concert since lockdown. Picture: Marco Borggreve

CAN it be as long as 15 years ago that Stile Antico burst onto the scene by copping the audience prize at this festival’s international competition? Indeed it can.

This crack group of 12 singers, without a conductor, seems to have been part of the festival’s fabric ever since. Certainly it was the perfect choice to bring this year’s online festival to a stunning close.

Breaking The Habit was the punning title of a programme exploring Renaissance music by and for women, many of the former being nuns. Since most belonged to closed orders, there was some affinity between them and our own recent isolation.

The choir stood in a wide circle, facing inwards and exactly distanced, apparently performing for the first time together since lockdown, after a series of Zoom-style rehearsals. Remarkably, the singers went straight into full stride; it was as if they were simply in the middle of the season. Impeccable tuning and a blend that never faltered marked music that showed remarkable breadth of character, both sacred and secular.

Raffaella Aleotti, daughter of the court architect in Ferrara, revealed notable rhythmic flair in two motets she published in 1593, while in her mid-twenties. Two eight-voice motets showing equally nimble counterpoint were the work of Sulpitia Cesis, a nun in Modena, who published them in 1619.

Maddalena Casulana, though not a nun, was the first woman to have madrigals printed; working out of Vicenza, she produced three books – 66 madrigals in all – between 1568 and 1583. Her word-painting and daring harmony combine infectiously: Stile Antico had their measure, in fact a mere two madrigals left us wanting more.

Consone Quartet recording their concert at the empty National Centre for Early Music for the online York Early Music Festival

Finally, another nun from Ferrara, Leonora d’Este, tested the group’s high sopranos in three motets for five female voices. Needless to say, discipline was maintained, to thrilling effect.

The remainder of the programme explored music written for female rulers. Margaret of Austria, who governed the duchy of Burgundy in the early 16th century, commissioned an exceptionally dark, mysterious motet from Pierre de la Rue to commemorate her brother’s death, while herself writing a three-voice piece in both French and Latin.

Music for Queen Mary included John Sheppard’s mighty Gaude, Gaude, Gaude Maria, with several wordless plainsong interludes, delivered with exceptional smoothness. Byrd’s motet for Elizabeth I, O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth, boasted an exquisitely controlled Amen, kept prayerful. Two madrigals from The Triumphs of Oriana illuminated the spicier side of the Elizabethan court.

Finally, Dialogo and Quodlibet, written last year by Joanna Marsh, contrasted scholarly theorising by the six men with the flightier disruption intended by the six ladies, until finally they agreed to unite and entertain. The style harked back to the Renaissance and fitted wittily into this context.

A lunchtime concert by the Consone Quartet included two of Beethoven’s Op 18 quartets, Nos 1 and 3. I cannot comment on the first since it was disfigured by transmission problems, except to say that it was tackled cautiously and with introspection. The group appeared to abandon this approach in No 3, which was altogether more relaxed, reaching a peak in a finale full of energy and joie de vivre.

The online festival has not been without technical difficulties, but we may be extremely grateful for the huge effort put into it both by the performers and by the Early Music Centre staff. It has lightened everyone’s mood to be able to see music “live” again at long last.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Review: York Early Music Festival Online, July 9, Iestyn Davies & Elizabeth Kenny; July 10, Matthew Wadsworth; Steven Devine; Richard Boothby

How it looked when watching from home: Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and countertenor Iestyn Davies performing at the National Centre for Early Music, York, in Thursday’s live streamed concert

IF, like me, you enjoy the arts and sport, you will have rejoiced in a bumper week. First, we had the

Government giving an unprecedented £1.57 billion fillip to the arts, thereby drawing a graceless murmur of thanks from the generally Tory-hating lefties that populate the arts sector.

Then, the cricket season resumed, to the familiar sound of England wickets tumbling. Finally, one of the world’s top three early music festivals, has returned, albeit online and in much-shortened form.

But we must be grateful for small mercies these days. Here we had a bunch of stalwart pros who refused to roll over and succumb to a mere virus. All had travelled to York and recorded musical offerings on the theme of Method and Madness; eight events – three of them talks – over three days.

First out of the blocks, on July 9, was York’s own countertenor Iestyn Davies, partnered by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, a world-class pairing if ever there were. Their programme was devoted to that master of melancholy, John Dowland. If you want to be modern about it, you can class melancholia as an aspect of mental health. The Elizabethans called it a disease but made light of it too.

Melancholy was something to be enjoyed, even revelled in, and not excluding self-pity. We all know the feeling. Melancholy has been the counterpart in English song – though not the same – to the German Sehnsucht (yearning). Think of all those aching pastorals lamenting the passing of rural idylls, most of which were figments of the imagination anyway. We all enjoy a little angst.

We need not explore the many facets of Dowland’s melancholic psyche any further. Here we were reminded – by a letter he wrote from Nuremberg in 1595 – of his early exile, separated from the country, the queen and the family he loved by having to earn a living abroad, because his Catholic faith disqualified him from acceptance at court. Davies read this and other illuminating texts, mainly of the period, but including Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain too, to amplify Dowland’s many moods.

The music was not without technical shortcomings, not by the performers, but the technology: pictures that moved jerkily and occasional breaks in the sound. But a CD would not have been more satisfying.

It was a joy to get back to seeing live performers revelling in their art. Davies delivered reams of easy, liquid tone that underlined Dowland’s incomparable skill as a songwriter. His words were not especially clear, even with a text to hand, but that may have been due to insufficient ‘miking’.

Harpsichord player Steven Devine recording his 2020 York Early Music Festival concert at a deserted National Centre for Early Music in York

Kenny’s pluckings not merely supplied a rhythmic foundation. She improvised magically in her intros and in the space between verses (ritornellos); she also contributed several mood-lightening dances.

It was hard not to feel that we were experiencing Dowland’s songs exactly as they would have sounded 400 years ago, not in a dusty, ancient way, but as a living art as relevant today as Shakespeare. We may remember that Dowland’s Third and Last Booke of Songs was published in 1603, the same year as Hamlet – that arch-melancholic – was first printed.

The last word goes to Dowland himself, from his dedication to Lachrimae, a book of dances: “Pleasant are the tears which music weeps”. Indeed.

Matthew Wadsworth continued the Dowland theme on lute and theorbo at lunchtime on Friday, alongside the music of other contemporaries. There was as a wide a range of moods here as there had been in the songs, with bolder declamation from the long-necked theorbo with its deeper resonance.

Wadsworth flowed fluently over the strings and the close camera work emphasised the music’s intimacy.

During the afternoon, Steven Devine played the second half of Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the preludes and fugues Nos 13-24, on a two-manual Michael Johnson harpsichord built in Fontmell Magna in 1997. He proved a deft exponent, though on such a bright-toned instrument he might not have coupled the manuals quite so frequently. But at least we were able to marvel anew at the breadth of Bach’s ingenuity.

The evening brought in Richard Boothby playing a lyra viol, the smallest of the three kinds of bass viol. He began both halves with music by Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger, an Englishman of Italian descent who was especially prominent at the Jacobean court. Pairs of dances amply contrasted the gentler alman with the altogether friskier coranto, with its skipping rhythms.

Similar pairings from William Lawes and John Jenkins led into two brilliantly virtuosic variations by the little-known William Corkine and ‘divisions’ (variations) on Dowland’s famous Lachrime melody. Boothby introduced his music, which made the whole presentation much more personal.

We may be grateful to all these musicians for their labours in front of an unseen audience. The festival concluded with the ace choral group Stile Antico on Saturday evening. Watch this space for the review.

Review by Martin Dreyer

I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, say Alex and Phil in their five-pronged art attack

Oh, you are Orpheus: Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, one notebook, one guitar, shoes off (out of picture) are here to entertain you “on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens”

LIVE theatre is back, all over North Yorkshire, at your invitation.

Step forward York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, who are finding new ways of telling stories and creating art and theatre this summer.

As part of the duo’s five-pronged art attack under the banner I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, they are presenting Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour, a show whose 325 two-hander performances before the Covid curse had taken Alex and Phil across the globe, let alone to Castle Howard.

As of today, announced by Culture Secretary at the Downing Street briefing on Thursday, outdoor performances can return, whether socially distanced theatre, opera, dance or music.

Alex and Phil have been ahead of the Government curve, however, setting I’ll Try And See You Sometimes in motion in mid-June.

“We’re taking Orpheus on an outdoor tour around North Yorkshire’s local lanes, villages, and towns, performing with social distancing in place and abiding by Government guidelines on how many people can meet at any one time,” says Alex.

“The shows can take place on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens,” says Phil. “Instead of announcing a show that the public can book tickets for, we’re asking for people to pop on to flanagancollective.com and book a suitable slot and the whole show will be brought to them.”

The I’ll Try And See You Sometimes season is bringing together Wright’s company The Flanagan Collective, Grainger’s Gobbledigook Theatre and industry friends.

“We’re taking theatre and the arts to the people of Yorkshire, keeping spirits up and people connected during these times of social distancing to help combat loneliness, something needed more than ever in the Covid-19 climate,” they say.

“Some of it is hyper local, some of it is spread far further afield, some of it is music, some of it is stories, none of it is digital.”  

All the world’s a stage for Orpheus, whether in New York, on the Ouse Cruise boat in York or out in Australia

The duo’s five-hand of analogue works are: Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour; Oh, To Be So Lonely – A Pen Pal Project; This Story Is For You – A New Story With Guest Illustrators; Half Man, Half Bull – Two Myths Over A Double Album and The Odyssey – An International Adaptation.

Both theatre-makers attended school in rural North Yorkshire, and still live there, five miles apart, Alexander at a converted 17th century mill in Stillington, Phil in Easingwold.

Usually, however, they spend most of their time away from home, touring theatre across the globe, but Covid-19 and the lockdown has brought them back to Yorkshire, where they are pooling their skills, experience and creativity.

“When the lockdown hit, we were touring in Australia and about to head to New Zealand,” says Alex. “We’ve been touring our adaptation of Orpheus for a few years now, taking it across the UK, around Australia, New Zealand, Bali and over to New York.”

Alex and Phil made a sister show, Eurydice, created with performers Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews, and this year added The Gods The Gods The Gods to their repertoire, premiered in Australia.

“All three shows were lined up for UK and international touring for the next 18 months or so, including a season at the Edinburgh Fringe. But obviously that has all changed now,” says Alex.

“I’ve been keeping up with the wider industry conversations – the difficulty in using auditoriums, the need for government assistance, the huge case for our industry to be saved – and we agree with all of it and we’ve also been aware of the need to do something.”

Hence the launch of I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, showing initiative, imagination, an eye for innovation and a need for adventure that marked out writer, director, musician and performer Alex’s best-known work: the Guild of Misrule’s immersive, jazz-age hit show The Great Gatsby that began at a closed York pub.

In a nutshell, he and musician, singer, composer, actor, director and sound designer Phil make and deliver work outside of the usual physical four walls. “We have shaped, created, railed against, built, torn down, raised and radicalised perceptions of what theatre, narrative, storytelling and a relationship with an audience can be,” says Alex.

“We’re now finding ways to keep telling stories. It’s not about re-imagining shows we wanted to do live, in rooms full of hundreds of people and, instead, try and fit them on Zoom.

Phil Grainger in a performance of Orpheus in pre-Coronavirus times

“There are wonderful digital storytellers and artists in the world, but we’re not one of them. So, we’ve come up with a season of analogue work: a season of work where you get tangible things, which seeks to connect people, deliver narratives, and tell stories.”

The quintet of works can be booked in North Yorkshire and accessed regionally, nationally and internationally as the season plays across a various outdoor spaces and will be available to download.

Run by Alex and his sister Abbigail Ollive’s Lonely Arts Club, Oh, To Be So Lonely is a pen pal project, whereby those who sign up will receive a letter saying hello, with a bit of chat and reading, listening and watching recommendations.

“Those who wish for their contact details to be shared with others in the group will have the opportunity to write and share their lockdown experiences with others wanting to reconnect with the community,” says Alex. 

This Story Is For You is a “typically sad” new story written by Alex with a soundtrack by Phil and artwork by guest illustrators. “We’ve teamed up with a bunch of pals and asked them to turn the story into a book, and to create unique artworks to go alongside the story,” says Phil. “Audiences will then get the story, the artwork, and the music to keep.”

For the Half Man, Half Bull double album, Alex and Phil have linked up with Ollie Tilney, from The Great Gatsby cast, and Streatham Space Project to retell two ancient Greek myths.

“We’re writing the story of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedelus & Icarus as a double album release on vinyl, CD and for digital download,” says Phil. “Two stories, told together, made to be listened to.”

The Odyssey – An International Adaptation involves Alex and Phil teaming up with friends in the north, London, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Wellington to create an adaptation of Homer’s Greek epic poem, told through a series of one-on-one/small-scale encounters.

Those who book a ticket will be told to meet in a certain place at a certain time, to be joined there by a storyteller and or a musician

Details of the full season are available at theflanagancollective.com, where bookings can be made too.

Has notebook, will take bookings: Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Orpheus

York Theatre Royal boosted by emergency funding from Arts Council England

York Theatre Royal’s stage and auditorium bathed in “emergency red” when taking part in the #LightItInRed campaign on Monday night

YORK Theatre Royal is to receive £196,493 from Arts Council England’s emergency response fund.

Executive director Tom Bird tweeted: “We’re massively grateful for the @ace_national support from their emergency fund. It keeps us going so we can keep supporting & developing creativity in this wondrous city. Thanks @ace_thenorth. Back to it.”

Bird told CharlesHutchPress: “We received the sum we requested, and it was strictly done on the basis of ‘what do you need to get you through to September 30’.

“But I must stress it is only a sum to take us to that point, when the reality is that we’re a venue usually with an annual turnover of £4 million.”

From Arts Council England’s £33 million pot for National Portfolio and Creative People & Places Organisations, York Museums Trust has received £362,000; Harrogate Theatre, £395,000; Leeds Playhouse (Leeds Theatre Trust), £669,326; Northern Ballet, Leeds, £500,000 and Sheffield Theatres Trust, £675,569.

York poet Robert Powell’s new pamphlet to be launched at Explore York online event

Robert Powell’s new pamphlet, Notes From A Border

EXPLORE York is taking its events programme online, hosting the launch of York poet Robert Powell’s new pamphlet on Zoom on July 20 at 7pm.

Notes From A Border River was created as part of Voicing The Bridge, a collaborative arts project on the theme of freedom of movement that focused on the Northern Irish border during Brexit negotiations in 2019.

The project took place on the River Finn that forms part of the border and, in particular, the remarkable 17th century bridge that crosses the river at the village of Clady.

Robert will read from his pamphlet, with its creative mix of poetry, diary, research and photography, and will discuss how half-planned and accidental meetings, encounters, discoveries, walks and musings eventually assumed the form of finished poems.

Zoom launch: York poet Robert Powell

In addition, there will be a question-and-answer session and a showing of Voicing The Bridge, the film made as part of the border project by Jan-Erik Andersson.

The event is free, but you need to book online on York Explore’s Eventbrite page to receive a link to attend. To buy a copy of Notes From A Border River for £7.50, go to rjpowell.org/?page_id=303.

This pamphlet launch is the first in a series of online events planned by Explore York Libraries and Archives over the summer and into autumn and winter.

Grand Opera House confirms no shows until after September 20 at the earliest

Kevin Clifton in his dream role as Scott Hastings in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom: Now running at the Grand Opera House, York, in November 2021, rather than November 23 to 28 this autumn, directed by Craig Revel Horwood

ALL performances at the Grand Opera House, York, are suspended until September 20 at the earliest “in order to help contain the spread of Covid-19”.

A statement from the Cumberland Street theatre’s owners, the Ambassador Theatre Group, said today: “We apologise for the inconvenience caused but hope you understand, given the exceptional circumstances.”

“We were encouraged to see the Government’s intervention to protect UK culture this week,” it went on. “We continue to work closely with health authorities and look forward to the wonderful re-opening of the Grand Opera House as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.

“To this end, we are sorry to confirm that all performances at Ambassador Theatre Group venues have been suspended until Saturday, September 20.

“If you have a booking that has been affected by this suspension, you do not need to do anything. Over the coming weeks, we will contact you directly and will be able to handle your requests and enquiries.”

Shows aplenty have been rearranged, such as Strictly Ballroom, starring Strictly Come Dancing old boy Kevin Clifton (November 15 to 20 2021) and comedy gigs by Ross Noble (Humournoid, January 21 2021) and Jimmy Case (Terribly Funny, April 28 2021).

“We are working with producers to re-schedule as many postponed shows as possible, so please do bear with us,” ATG’s statement said. “If your performance is re-scheduled, your tickets will be automatically moved to the new dates and you will be informed accordingly.

Jimmy Carr: Grand Opera House show moving to next spring

“We have also recently announced new performances, such as The Rolling Stones Story on January 22 2021 and The Simon & Garfunkel Story on April 29. Please book with confidence, knowing that if there are any further suspensions, your new tickets will remain fully valid for further exchanges or refunds.”

ATG added: “Customers booked for performances between August 3 and September 6 will be contacted in the week commencing July 13. Customers booked for remaining performances will be contacted in the week commencing July 20.”

Full credit vouchers valid until December 31 2021, including all fees, or refunds, are available for all cancelled shows. For further details, go to  ATGtickets.com/corona.

Nationwide, over the past few months, ATGtickets Customer Service Teams up and down the country have handled the re-scheduling of more than 15,000 performances of plays, musicals, comedy and live music.

“From November 2020 and throughout 2021, we have a wonderful array of productions on sale, everything from pantomime to The Book Of Mormon, Disney’s The Lion King to Jimmy Carr and Derren Brown to We Will Rock You,” said ATG.

“On behalf of all our staff, backstage crews, front-of-house teams, actors, dancers, musicians and the entire British theatre industry, we want to thank you for your support and understanding as we work together to ensure the future success of our industry.

“All of us at ATG are enormously proud to be a small part of British theatre, renowned as the greatest in the world. The arts has inspired, educated, entertained and enriched the lives of audiences for hundreds of years but has never been challenged like this. With your on-going commitment, we believe we can come back faster and stronger than ever before.”