THE curse of Macbeth combined with Lockdown 1’s imposition to put a stop to York Shakespeare Project’s Scottish Play just one week before its March 2020 opening.
Rising like the ghost of Banquo, but sure to be better received, Leo Doulton’s resurrected production will run at Theatre@41, Monkgate, from October 26 to 30 as the 37th play in the York charity’s mission to perform all Shakespeare’s known plays in a 20-year span.
Doulton is casting Macbeth into a dystopian cyberpunk future, using a dramatic new staging to bring to life this dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces.
“This production has had an unusually long journey, and I’m grateful to everyone involved for their wonderful creativity and resilience over the years, whether they’re a veteran of the original production or a newcomer,” he says.
“It would be impossible to present Macbeth in the same way as when we started work on it before the pandemic. We’ve moved from a world where we fear quite specific things to one where we fear more pervasive, invisible ones, such as the pandemic and the climate crisis.
“Cyberpunk is an exciting genre for Macbeth, allowing us to explore Shakespeare’s ideas of lurking corruption, a disintegrating reality, and the search for some moral certainty. It is a magnificent play, and I look forward to sharing this production at long last.”
YSP secretary Tony Froud says: “We were all disappointed not to see Macbeth take place last year, when we were so close to the finish line, especially after the hard work of Leo and the cast and crew.
“During lockdowns and restrictions on performance, we’ve done our best to stay engaged with our community with online play readings and two successful outdoor productions of Sit Down Sonnets, but we’ve always been planning to return to this play and the resumption of our 20-year mission.
“We’re really pleased that Leo and so many of the cast have been able to return, and we can’t wait to share this production with a wider audience.”
York Shakespeare Project in Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 26 to 30, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Tickets cost £15; £5 for students, means-tested benefit recipients and under-18s. The October 26 performance is an open dress rehearsal with tickets at £5.
YSP’s plot summary
MACBETH receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become king. Torn between duty and the chance of greatness, Macbeth and his devoted wife murder King Duncan and take the throne for themselves. Macbeth slowly turns into a tyrant, as corrupt as the strange witches. Meanwhile, the forces of virtue realise what Macbeth has become and a civil war begins.
Macbeth: Emma Scott
The Lady: Nell Frampton
Banquo, Siward: Clive Lyons
Fleance, Donalbain, Son, Young Siward: Meredith Stewart
Macduff: Frank Brogan
Duncan, Lady Macduff, Menteith: Elizabeth Elsworth
Malcolm: Rhiannon Griffiths
Lennox: Andrea Mitchell
Ross: Tony Froud
Angus: Sarah-Jane Strong
First Witch, First Murderer, Doctor: Joy Warner
Second Witch, Second Murderer, Gentlewoman: Diana Wyatt
Third Witch, Third Murderer, Caithness, Seyton: Xandra Logan
Director: Leo Doulton
Set and costume designer: Charley Ipsen
Lighting designer: Neil Wood
Sound designer: Jim Paterson
Poster design: Charles Keusters
Company back story
YORK Shakespeare Project (YSP) was established in 2001 with a commitment to perform all of Shakespeare’s known plays in York over 20 years.
Debut production Richard III took place in 2002, since when YSP has staged 35 productions, covering 36 of Shakespeare’s plays. Despite the pandemic-enforced delays, YSP still plans to complete the project in 2022.
For more information, go to: yorkshakespeareproject.org.
Coming up at CharlesHutchPress: Director Leo Doulton discusses his dystopian, cyberpunk Macbeth.
MOOR, Moor, Moor is in store when Ben Moor takes over Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, for a mini-season of offbeat comedy with Joanna Neary from October 21 to 23.
Ben presents Pronoun Trouble, A Comedy Lecture, on Thursday at 8pm; then he and fellow writer-performer Joanna team up for an unconventional comedy double bill on Friday at 7.30pm.
Neary’s Wife On Earth, a multi-character sketch show with songs and impersonations, will be followed by Moor’s Who Here’s Lost?, his dream-like tale of a road trip of the soul taken by two outsiders, a melancholy, uninspired artist and a mute architect, as they seek an understanding of what they have made with their lives while visiting some quirky landmarks.
Saturday opens at 3pm with Joanna’s debut children’s puppet show, Stinky McFish And The World’s Worst Wish, and concludes at 7pm with the two-hander BookTalkBookTalkBook, a “silly author event parody show” wherein Moor and Neary portray a pair of writers trapped inside a book festival. As the event spins beyond their control, it degenerates into an absurdist comedy about authorship, artificial intelligence and washing-up.
In the first of the 55-minute, Edinburgh Fringe-length shows, Pronoun Trouble, a lecturer takes to the stage and begins an analysis of The Hunting Trilogy at a symposium on the subject of Looney Tunes.
This series of Chuck Jones shorts features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, and their ongoing argument as to whether it is now Duck Season or Rabbit Season. “As she delves deeper into the alternate reality of the characters’ world, her talk goes off the rails and into the woods,” says Ben.
“Meanwhile, an attendee makes notes, not just on the subject matter but also on the lecturer, on things he sees in the room, and the other students. His favourite words, his favourite mugs and T-shirts, and the schism on London’s high streets between the spellings of launderette and laundrette, all cross his mind.”
Eventually the two strands of thought twist together, and the piece concludes with a contemplation of performance, friendship and regret.
“Pronoun Trouble is a lecture about lectures, the intricacies of passion, and how we should be there for each other. The Powerpoint uses the cartoons to go into ridiculously unnecessary depth – and a swathe of invented academia – to dissect hidden meanings, secret stories and unconsidered relationships with other works,” says Ben. “Likewise and concurrently, the audience member scrutinises parts of his own life and output.”
Pronoun Trouble is typical of Moor’s “stand-up theatre” pieces wherein he places universal themes in bizarre and funny landscapes, with his writing drawing comparisons with authors as diverse as Lewis Carroll and Thomas Pynchon.
“First performed in 2017, the response to Pronoun Trouble has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “Audience members have described it variously as brilliant, hilarious, wonderful, clever, surreal and very, very, very silly. It is, hopefully, all of those things.”
In Neary’s Wife On Earth, Brief Encounter-inspired Fantasist-housewife Celia and friends take their Cosmic Shambles Network podcast on the road with their wife-based gang show.
“They’ll be asking ‘what on earth is a wife? And why?’,” says Joanna, who creates character comedy shows in the vein of Victoria Wood and Vic Reeves.
“From the history of wifery, to the wiles and wherefores of when to wife; a dozen wives (ex-wives, future wives, non-wives and anti-wives) wait in the wings at a village hall near you, ready to share their startling stories, while bickering and drinking wine out of a teapot. Please note, some non-wives and wives will be expressing themselves in dance form.”
Summing up Wife On Earth, Ben says: “Joanna performs her brilliant buffet of characters as a gang of wives and non-wives go on tour to raise funds to re-lead the church roof with lead-free lead. New faces (wigs) plus old favourites such as Bjork, Kate Bush on sexy housework and Celia hosting and dancing.”
In the cryptic, melancholic, surreal, mind-expanding and heart-felt Who Here’s Lost?, Moor asks: “What do we make with our lives? An artist worries his work has lost its way. An architect wants to see her buildings for a final time. A changing landscape searches for itself.
“This is a story about what we value as we go along, and how we present it to others. It features bubble-wrap, party games, museums, ants and ice cream – and a gorgeous score by Suns Of The Tundra – so so if you’re lost, just think about the ice cream.”
Neary’s 40-minute puppet show, Stinky McFish And The World’s Worst Wish, is suitable for ages four to eight but is accessible to all. “Stinky The Crab longs to be human; Lucy would love her very own pet. Can they make each other’s dreams come true? Or should Stinky be careful what he wishes for?” asks Joanna.
“With original music and a cast of colourful characters, Marina Fishwife tells the tale of how the tiny brave creatures of the rock pools work together to make life in the rock pools good again for everyone.”
BookTalkBookTalkBook’s send-up of a very serious author talk going bizarrely off the rails introduces Jenny Nibbingley and Burton Mastrick, who need no introduction. As two of Britain’s most published – although least read and most widely ignored – novelists, it is no surprise they have been invited to today’s book festival.
Their event’s moderator, Tim Timminey, likewise significant, should be turning up soon, but until then, Jenny and Burt agree to read sections from their books, Wretched Lawns and The Exceptions. Bad decision.
“As an ex-couple, their writing seems mainly to consist of ongoing digs at the other’s character and work,” says Ben. “But is that all that is going on? Might this all be a reading from another book about a book talk going horribly wrong? Or is that also part of something else?
“BookTalkBookTalkBook combines a parody of awkward live author events, an exploration of artificial intelligence and the creative process, a Beckettian live theatre experience and an experiment in the limits of patience regarding card tricks.”
Layer folds into layer; story reflects story in a piece that changes direction constantly, challenging the audience while still being entertaining.
“If you’ve ever been to a literary event and thought somehow it needed to be even more awkward, hoped for confusing card tricks and/or wondered why the writers aren’t obsessed with washing up, this basically might just be the show for you,” says Ben.
Tickets for Ben Moor and Joanna Neary’s mini-season of shows are on sale at 41monkgate.co.uk.
AFTER all that info, here is a burst of CharlesHutchPress quick questions for quick answers from Ben Moor.
How did the York run of shows come about and when did you and Joanna hit on the idea of sharing such blocks of performances?
“I’d worked with Alan Park [Theatre@41 chair] on a mentoring project in London called Scene and Heard, and when he said he was looking for shows for Theatre@41, I got in touch.
“All the shows were originally planned for the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe, but when that was cancelled, they were put into storage and now seems a good time to get them up and running again.”
Should more performers combine to mount shows this way?
“Of course! It’s a good way to present a mini-season and spend time in lovely York.”
How do you and Joanna know each other and what makes for a good combination of shows on the road?
“We first worked together on a project at the National Theatre Studio in 2005 and I’ve long been a fan of Joanna’s writing and performances. Neither of us fits particularly easily into the stand-up circuit and it’s great to learn that there’s a comedy audience who want something a bit out of the mainstream.”
You call your offbeat comedy “nonsense”. That seems very harsh on yourself, especially as comedian, author and newspaper columnist Stewart Lee says: “Ben Moor, for my money, is the Ken Campbell/Spalding Gray of my generation, a natural storyteller who blurs the boundaries between comedy, theatre and performance art”. Discuss…
“All comedy is nonsense to some degree. My work doesn’t discuss the world as it is, it’s a glimpse into a universe a step or two either side of ours. I love theatre of the absurd and surreal humour too.”
Do you enjoy lectures?
“I do. Pronoun Trouble was partly inspired by a day of interesting talks and it was fascinating to watch the speakers “perform” and get their enthusiasm across to their audiences.”
Why are author events just so awkward and as stiff as an old green room sofa?
“There is a certain way of doing them that confines them – and in fact that is what appeals to their audience. They expect a reading or two, some questions from a moderator, questions from the audience and a signing.
“BookTalkBookTalkBook plays with those expectations and undermines them constantly.”
The tour of your latest piece, Who Here’s Lost?, was delayed by the accursed pandemic. Did the piece change over those months that found many of us on “a road trip of the soul” as we couldn’t go anywhere and felt lost and disconnected?
“I first presented it at the Port Eliot Festival in Summer 2019 and it hasn’t changed much since. I’m sure there are going to be lots of shows about the last couple of years and they’ll be great, but no, it’s very much a piece in its own world.”
Apparently “Ben Moor’s shows aren’t easy to describe, but are impossible to forget”. Explain yourself, please!
“My work mixes comedy with storytelling and theatre and while that sounds like it’s caught between stools, I find the freedom to explore the space between the stools very liberating.
“I mix lines that are meant to be funny with ones that are poetic with others that are melancholy and it’s the task of an audience to follow all the threads to create their own pictures.”
What gets you up in the morning?
“The delight of sharing this wonderful world and the adventure of what might come next.”
After Moor, Moor, Moor in York, what might come next for you?
“Joanna and I are performing our Comedy Double Bill again in Aldershot in December, and we hope to have the other shows on the road next year too.”
Did you know?
BEN Moor has been producing offbeat solo comedy shows for nearly three decades, winning a Herald Angel Award for his show Coelacanth. As an actor, he has appeared in The Queen’s Gambit, A Very English Scandal and The IT Crowd. He created the series Undone and Elastic Planet for BBC Radio and is the author of More Trees To Climb.
JOANNA Neary produces character comedy shows such as Inbox – The Art Of Now and Before The Room Next Door, with Michael Spicer, both for BBC Radio 4.She has TV and film credits for Darkest Hour, Miranda, Ideal and Man Down and played Miss Jones in CBBC’s So Awkward. Wife On Earth is a live version of her podcast for the Cosmic Shambles Network.
THE No Such Thing As A Fish podcast is back on the road with its first tour since 2019, bringing Nerd Immunity to the Grand Opera House, York, on November 8.
Suitable for “anyone with a thirst for knowledge, a taste for puns and a need for belly-laughs”, the weekly British podcast series is produced and presented by the researchers behind the BBC Two panel game QI: James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptaszynski and Dan Schreiber.
In the podcast, each researcher, collectively known as “The QI Elves”, presents a favourite fact they have come across that week.
Since being launched, the podcast has attracted 700,000 subscribers. In 2014, it was named by Apple as that year’s Best New Podcast; in 2015 and 2016, it won the Internet Award in the Chortle Awards; in 2018, the Heinz Oberhummer Award for Science Communication.
The No Such Thing As A Fish team says: “We’re so glad to be not only getting out of the house but going all over the country, spreading the word of unbelievable facts wherever we go. Subject to Government guidelines, there’s no stopping us.”
Tickets for the 8pm show are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.
AFTER years of speculation, English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together.
Last month came the album Fallow Ground on the Yorkshire label Hudson Records: the herald to a 23-date autumn tour that visits Pocklington Arts Centre for a sold-out 8pm show on Wednesday.
First forming the duo in 2001, melodeon and concertina player John Spiers, now 46, and singer, fiddler and guitarist Jon Boden, 44, became leading lights in pioneering big folk band Bellowhead, resting their “double act” in 2014 before the Bellowhead juggernaut roared off into the sunset in 2016.
“We always thought of it as a hiatus rather than us ending the duo in 2014,” says Boden. “We stopped because Bellowhead were taking over. We were fighting against the tide in terms of time being available and media attention.
“It felt like the right time to focus on Bellowhead, but that said, since Bellowhead’s finale, we seem to have taken it in turns to be busy. When I was busy, working with The Remnant Kings, John wasn’t; when he was, I was twiddling my thumbs, and then along came the pandemic.”
Boden duly completed his post-apocalyptic trilogy with his fifth solo album, Last Mile Home, recorded in Spring and Summer 2020 at home and in a Sheffield industrial unit for release in March with its theme of a walk through wasteland to a mystical coastal destination with messages of hope and renewal en route.
“The last album in the climate-change concept trilogy, set a few years’ hence, is more nature focused, describing an older couple who have lived in the wild by themselves for years and are now making a valedictory journey from moor to coast,” he says.
“Certainly, in my mind, it’s about walking from Sheffield to the Lincolnshire coast, but I’m also interested in the idea that if you’re using an album as a format for telling a story, you can leave a lot more gaps for people to fill in the story for themselves.”
Once Boden’s trilogy was complete, Boden & Spiers set to work on resuming their fiddle and melodeon partnership. “The last time we were seriously putting original material together, before Vagabond [their fifth album, released in 2008], we were both living in Oxford, meeting once a week,” says Boden.
“This time, we decided pre-pandemic to start up again, and then had to come up with slightly more thought-out suggestions before taking it further, at first meeting up in a strictly distanced format.”
Recording sessions subsequently took place between lockdowns. “We decided it shouldn’t be a radical departure from before, but traditional or in the tradition. We wouldn’t be doing a thrash metal rock opera or anything like that. It would be in a familiar vein,” says Boden.
“It’s such a long time since we came up with anything new that it’s just exciting to be working together again.”
They settled on a combination of rambunctious melodies and contemplative ballads, mixing Morris tunes with tunes brought to the 21st century from dusty manuscripts, bolstered by their own gift for conjuring tunes.
Spiers “used his intuition” to finish off Bampton fiddler William Henry Giles’s incomplete Funney Eye, discovered in a 19th century manuscript; Bluey Brink finds the duo dipping into the Australian folk world for the first time, from the repertoire of Peter Bellamy, complemented by Bellamy’s Butter And Cheese in a version by Sam Larner known as The Greasy Cook, The Cook’s Choice or, more intriguingly, Cupboard Love.
The title track, also known as As I Stood Under My Love’s Window, or more prosaically The Cock, is an unusual traditional love song, neither boasting of conquest, nor lamenting betrayal or abandonment.
Original composition Bailey Hill/Wittenham Clumps combines a tune by Boden with one by Spiers, both parts taking a name from a hill with significance for the duo, while Giant’s Waltz/The Ironing Board Hornpipe was inspired by the Giant’s Causeway. Spiers contributed The Fog too.
The Fallow Ground title refers not only to Spiers & Boden’s 2014 decision to put the duo to one side but also to the pandemic’s impact, drawing a red line through concerts for months on end.
Nevertheless, the album strikes a positive tone. “I guess we were looking for songs during lockdown with a sense of fun and light relief,” says Boden. “I realise that there are zero songs about death on Fallow Ground, which is probably a first and may get us expelled from the English Folk Dance & Song Society. Yes, these are traditional songs with a joyous edge.”
Such positivity mirrors Boden’s tone on his climate-change trilogy. “I started off by assuming the first album [2009’s Songs From The Floodplain] might be quite dark and dystopian, but half way through I found I was being drawn to an almost utopian ideal of existing in the moment, existing within nature,” he says.
“It ended up being, not celebratory, but more optimistic, not about climate change, but for the human possibilities of adapting and finding positive solutions.”
Now, a mood of celebration does apply as Spiers & Boden return to the road, but how would Boden define the two-decade chemistry that has sparked up once more? “It’s such a subtle thing with folk-tune playing, particularly with English tunes, where it’s about swing but not too much swing,” he says.
“You think about how other melodeon players might play, but with us, it’s all about how much swing to put in, and that’s because I learned to play English tunes with John, where previously I played Irish tunes.
“There’s a thing about the melodeon and fiddle in that each instrument does what the other can’t do, so there’s no fighting over territory because they do such different jobs, and that’s why they are the perfect match – and why there have been so many fiddle and box duos.
“The reason we clicked together from the beginning is that we recognised something in each other’s approach; something I was doing with songs and he was doing with tunes, though I’ve now got more involved with the tunes and John with the songwriting.”
Meanwhile, should you be wondering whether Bellowhead will ever play together again, keep up! They already have for a one-off concert streamed worldwide by Stabal TV in December 2020, marking the tenth anniversary of their third album, Hedonism.
The live session recording at a mansion house near London has now been released this summer as an album, Reassembled, on double LP vinyl , CD and digital formats.
“Andy Mellon, our trumpet player, was busy writing for the BBC so he felt he wouldn’t be able to get match-fit to play together again, but the rest of us managed to squeeze in the concert between lockdowns, and it was great to play again,” says Boden.
“I was a bit worried, thinking, ‘how will it feel when we’re having to keep two metres apart and there’ll be no-audience’, but it was absolutely brilliant. Just such a joy, after nine months, to be able to play music with people in the same room and especially with people who hadn’t played together for five years.
“We just had to remember not to stand too close to each other, and the remarkable thing was just how well we played, maybe because we were all nervous about it, so we all worked really hard in preparation.”
Spiers & Boden play Pocklington Arts Centre on Wednesday at 8pm; doors, 7.30pm. Sold out.
One final question for Jon Boden:
You composed the scores for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of The Merchant Of Venice in 2011 and The Winter’s Tale in 2013 (toured to the Grand Opera House, York, that March). Will there be further theatrical collaborations, Jon?
“I’ve done bits and bobs of theatre since then, most recently for Goat & Monkey’s national tour of Toby Hulse’s play The Pirate Cruncher in 2019. That was great fun, and I’m still in touch with theatre friends, but nothing ever quite happens, even though we say, ‘oh, we must do something’.
“The problem has always been – and a lot of musicians find this difficult – the time scale involved because, surprisingly, theatre is done within a much smaller time frame, bringing the cast and creative team together only three months before the production, sometimes less, whereas bands book gigs 18 months in advance, so there’s often an unavoidable clash of commitments.”
THE Fylingdales Group of Artists is exhibiting at Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street, York, until November 30.
Formed in 1925 in Denton Hawley’s studio in Robin Hood’s Bay with eight members and a mission to exhibit Yorkshire pictures: a modus operandi that prevails to this day.
Through the decades, members included Algernon Newton, Roland Hill, Florence Hess, Albert Pile, Fred Williams, Will Taylor, William Dealtry and many more.
Twelve members are contributing 31 works to the Blossom Street Gallery exhibition, consisting mainly of paintings in oils, acrylics, gouache and limonite.
Two pieces by Paul Blackwell are in pastel; Angie McCall has incorporated collage in her mixed-media work and linocut, wood engraving, etching and aquatint printmaker Michael Atkin features too.
On show alongside them are works by David Allen, fellow Royal Society of Marine Artists member and past president David Howell, Kane Cunningham, John Freeman, Linda Lupton, Don Micklethwaite, Bruce Mulcahy, Sue Slack and Ann Thornhill.
Gallery opening hours are 10am to 4pm, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
REVIEW: Adrian Lukis in Being Mr Wickham, Original Theatre Company, Haunted Season, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
TWO years ago, 25 years on from filming the BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, actor Adrian Lukis started thinking about still being Mr Wickham, having “defended his dubious reputation” for so long.
What would have become of Jane Austen’s Georgian rogue George, or “What happens to a rake when he can’t rake anymore,” as Lukis asked himself?
Harper Lee revisited the characters of To Kill A Mockingbird in Go Set A Watchman; Danny Boyle’s 2017 film T2: Trainspotting picked up the story of Mark Renton, Sick Boy and co 20 years on; in this instance, the writing falls to Lukis and Georgian storyteller Catherine Curzon.
Refracting Austen’s vilified character through their shared lens for a one-man character study set 30 years down the line of worn time, Lukis’s Wickham is now 60, still charming, with aching knees and wife Lydia waiting in the bedroom, as he tells his side of the story.
Lukis reimagined him living in reduced circumstances, having gambled his way through his £3,000 pay-off from Darcy, no longer reliant on his looks and his wits, having left behind the dissolute London life. Maybe he was residing in Yeovil, or maybe running a small business in Malmesbury, definitely he was looking out of the window for the tittle-tattle of life across the way, so he told Thursday’s audience in the Q&A after the 75-minute performance.
Lukis constructed an earlier version of this monologue but found his ageing Wickham too sleazy. Lockdown enabled him and Curzon to create Wickham mark two: a rake raking over the coals and setting the record straight. Actors must always empathise with whoever they play, runs the advice to those playing the villain of the piece, and Lukis warms to that task with relish as he reacquaints himself with “my old friend”.
Yes, Wickham was “a bit of player”, yes he behaved badly, even disgracefully on occasion, but as Lukis said afterwards, but wouldn’t you rather have a night out with gorgeous, affable George than Darcy?
Significantly, Lukis said he treated this Wickham as a new character when writing and playing him, rather than as the Austen rogue he played in Andrew Davies’s adaptation. What emerges is a story of loss, exits; his rueful reflections on Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy and Lord Byron; the blood, the smell, the gore, of the Waterloo battlefield. What has Wickham achieved at 60? He has survived, he says. He has survived, he repeated.
Being Mr Wickham is beautifully detailed, from the elaborate Georgian phrasing of Lukis and Curzon to Libby Watson’s faded drawing room design, to Guy Unsworth’s immaculately composed direction and Lukis’s eloquent, elegant performance.
Life with a scandalous scoundrel is never dull and it certainly still isn’t in Being Mr Wickham, even if the heat has gone out of the day and those knees are aching ever more.
One last story from the Q&A: when first meeting for filming, actress Susannah Harker (Jane Bennet) misheard Lukis, thinking he said he was the wig man and promptly asking him to make adjustments. No, he would be playing Mr Wickham, he corrected her, and he is still being Mr Wickham to charming effect all these years later.
INTERVIEWS done for the day, or so they thought as Brian McFadden and Keith Duffy headed off to The Belfry for a fundraising Parkinson’s Disease golf day, representing Ireland on the morrow.
5pm, Tuesday, no response was forthcoming to CharlesHutchPress’s prearranged phone-call to the Boyzlife boyz.
Messages and phone number left; PR company contacted. No problem, Team Boyzlife would be in touch, and sure enough, at 5.30pm, the interview that had slipped off the bottom of the page was back on, Brian and Keith talking ten to the dozen, voices often overlapping as they travelled towards Sutton Coldfield for the Four Nations tournament.
Apologies for the confusion, they said, offering their explanation, as Team Boyzlife clicked into gear, as they would at The Belfry. “Put the two of us together on the golf course and we become one professional golfer,” jokes Brian.
Likewise, two into one will go on Sunday night at York Barbican in the show where Boyzone and Westlife become one as “the Nineties boyband superstars bring you all of the hits of both bands in one evening”.
Brian, 41, and Keith, 47, first took the Boyzlife show on the road in February and March 2020, selling 35,000 tickets. “But we couldn’t finish the tour because of the first Covid lockdown,” says Brian. “We got through 22 of the 40 shows, and 18 months later we’ve started up again [playing King George’s Hall, Blackburn on October 6].
“For us, it was a break we’d never had before. My fiancée Danielle and I ended up having a baby girl [Ruby, born in May 2021] and starting a family again, and Boyzlife got to write our first original album, which comes out next year. The first single is The One and the second one is ready to go too. We’ve all been fighting which one should go first, so maybe around Christmas for the release.”
Boyzlife have released one album already, July 2020’s Strings Attached, following in the footsteps of the late Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison in being teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO). One difference, Brian and Keith could provide new vocals to nine songs cherry-picked from the catalogue of 18 number one singles shared between Westlife and Boyzone.
“In actual fact,” says Keith, “it was Brian recording his last solo album [February 2019’s Otis] in a tribute to Otis Redding that led to our album. Some of the producers and engineers on that album had been working with the RPO, and they suggested, ‘why don’t you do an album with the RPO too?’.
“The two of us wanted to write an original album but we realised we needed a closing of the past and those Boyzone and Westlife songs are made for an orchestra. We were very lucky to work with them and very pleased with the results.
“Now, within the live show, we have a special section where we’ve recorded songs with the orchestra and we sing them to playbacks. We’ve done that many times in our careers, but never to the accompaniment of 84 musicians in an orchestra with two idiots out front.”
Brian has released five solo albums since leaving Westlife in March 2004, while Keith has completed Boyzone’s Thank You And Goodnight farewell tour, but how and when did they first work together? “I’ll be completely honest with you. It was kind of just getting into a room with a lot of the show being autobiographical and singing only six or seven songs,” recalls Brian.
“We’d never sung together, never worked together, and we picked the easiest songs to sing. Now, when we’re doing the set list, it comes down to tempo and what songs will go together well, and we have to leave out about seven or eight songs, but we still have options as to what to include.
“But we always have to do the biggest-selling songs, like No Matter What, and whenever we sing that song we can’t help but think of Stephen Gately puckering up to sing it.”
So many choices: World Of Our Own; Mandy; Queen Of My Heart; Picture Of You; Words; No Matter What; Uptown Girl; Flying Without Wings; You Raise Me Up; Going Gets Tough; Swear It Again; Father And Son; Love Me For A Reason and My Love.
“But between us we only had six songs that were uptempo!” says Brian. Why? “I guess, if ain’t broke, why fix it? The proof is in the pudding; all those number ones. Everyone else was making up-tempo records when we were the two bands with slow songs.”
Westlife became well known for singing songs sitting down, in the tradition of fellow Irishman Val Doonican in his rocking chair. “That was my nickname from day one. I was ‘Val’ because I wore a red sweater!” admits Brian.
Look at the tour itinerary and you will see the tour dates are divided into clusters between October 6 and December 14. “That’s the difference with the earlier days,” says Keith. “We’re better able to balance our music and family life.
“We both had children when we were young; I have a 21-year-old daughter, Mia, and 25-year-old son, Jay, [Brian has two teenage daughters, Molly and Lilly, with ex-wife Kerry Katona] but Boyzone didn’t get a lot of time off or holiday time.
“We just had to keep cracking on, going to wherever we were having hits, because we were so successful, but now we have a proper balance where we’ll do two or three shows, have some time off, then do some more shows.”
Boyzlife play York Barbican on October 17, 7.30pm, and Hull City Hall on November 5, 7.30pm. Box office: York, at yorkbarbican.co.uk; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk.
Did you know?
MUSICIAN, singer, songwriter, actor, dancer, drummer and television presenter Keith Duffy’s full name is Keith Peter Thomas Francis John Duffy.
NO sooner has removing masks become the norm than Nina Conti wants you to put them back on, all in the cause of her pioneering new dating game.
After a four-year hiatus since her In Your Face travels, the London ventriloquist-comedian will be embarking on The Dating Show tour on October 31, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, on November 12 with 14 robust masks made by a fellow ventriloquist in the Philippines.
“She’ll be like Cilla Black with masks. Derailed. Not so much a Blind Date as a re-voiced one,” promises the show spiel.
“Before this Armageddon hit, I was developing a dating show where I would connive for audience members to fall in love wearing masks,” says Nina. “Post-Covid, I can’t think of anything more fitting. I think we all need to get in a room together and laugh our heads off, and if the subject can be love, so much the better.”
There you have it: a comedy show for 2021 with elaborate latex masks, Nina’s cheeky monkey sidekick Monkey, a return to human connection and the possibility of romance in the air.
As it happens, the matchmaking format of The Dating Show has emerged through happenstance from In Your Face’s earlier use of masks. “When I did masks before with an audience, I often ended up with love matches,” Nina recalls.
“The audience members often took it there with their body language. They could be a bit friendly and a bit flirty, and I remember thinking, ‘I have to stop things going like this or people will think I’m a sex maniac! What’s the matter with me!?’
“But then I thought that maybe it’s not me forcing it because it’s simply happening every time, so why resist? And why not do something called The Dating Show?”
After Nina experimented with the new show in trial runs pre-pandemic at London’s Soho Theatre, lockdown has allowed her to settle on the best way forward. “To avoid it becoming this hetero-normative thing, you want to get everyone involved,” she has decided.
“In the Soho shows, I opened with Monkey interviewing a bunch of people in the audience, and whoever elicited the most warmth was the person I went with. I’m not after eccentrics, just likeability. Hopefully those we get up could be any kind of person and not just the Cilla Black demographic.”
What happens next? “I just get a feel for it from the banter, to put two people together up there on stage, put masks on them, then have a low-key chat about their past relationships and what they’re looking for next.
“Let’s see who bonds and where it goes. It might even be two straight men trying to work it out. As long as it’s funny, great. I just want it to be funny.”
CharlesHutchPress spoke to Nina on September 27, two weeks ahead of her starting her test run for the autumn tour. “All my shows are unscripted, so really what I’m searching for is to put the scaffolding and structure in place.
“What I’ll definitely do is return to the audience with Monkey after each stage encounter and one person might stay on stage for the next encounter,” she says.
“It’s just a comedy show! It’s kind of nonsense, getting people on stage and asking them to ‘sing a musical number to each other’, or they might ‘go skiing’ or ‘go up in a hot air balloon’! Each vignette will be something crazy.
“They won’t have a grand script or anything. I put masks on them, covering them from below their eyes to their jaw line, then I speak for them, turning them into puppets, where I respond to their body language in the moment.”
Nina, 47, loves interacting with audience members on stage. “I find people very loveable when they’re up there. It’s a mixture of celebration and their own bafflement. They feel safe because I don’t ask awkward questions and it’s liberating for them with the mask on because they don’t feel like themselves,” she says.
“Maybe someone’s shyness is the real self but sometimes the mask frees them up. Most people wear a mask of some kind anyway: I know I do, being different in different contexts, but Monkey is great for me because he says things where I don’t need to antagonise!”
There’s the rub! Monkey is free to be the quick-thinking agent provocateur in the partnership between ventriloquist and dummy: the one with the smart mouth. “Yes, absolutely! The dummy is the ‘bright one’ in the ventriloquist act!” says Nina, who was approached originally by her old mentor, Ken Campbell, to try out the ventriloquist’s art, one that pretty much had been consigned to the suitcase in comedy’s attic.
“I’m lucky to have found it, because I never thought that ventriloquism was a skill worth having,” she admits. “I would never have gone to a ventriloquism show, and when it was suggested to me by Ken I was so uninterested in it. I thought he was mad!
“I don’t know if I’ve enhanced it for nostalgia, but there was a definite lightbulb moment. I had been practising with those awful mannequins, and it was so end-of-the-pier and saucy: I didn’t like it. But then I remembered this monkey puppet that I stole off a mate, but I didn’t know if his mouth could operate. He was more like Sooty; your hand isn’t meant to go in his head.
“But like all things that end up fitting and going well, most creativity doesn’t work like you expect Once I had taken the squeak and some stuffing out, I found that his mouth could work!
“I’d done a bit of ventriloquism already, but thought it was bit spooky, but when I put my hand into his face, as soon as he started to talk, I thought, ‘Woah! Everything you’re saying is coming from a wider place than my own head’.
“He has such gravitas.” Monkey, gravitas, Nina? Really?! “He wouldn’t agree! He’d say, ‘Get over it, you’re delusional’, but then he’d say, ‘Who’s to say who’s being delusional here?’. I say things that surprise me through him, and I try to keep myself out of it when I’m speaking as him, thinking, ‘I’ll have to get out of this situation later, but for now we’ll just let Monkey say what he says’.”
Where does Nina keep Monkey when not performing? “He’s sort of kept about the house. I travel lightly with him in my handbag, and I just toss him to one side when I need to put something in there. Like something you’re familiar with, you stop treating him with reverence, but I would never do that on stage,” she says.
In fact, Nina has more than one Monkey. “It’s like The Matrix, growing those embryos! I’ve got loads, and I tend to use them for a period of time. Maybe six Monkeys in 20 years. Each new one, I have to scrub his face because I need him to look a bit worn. I’ve just started a new Monkey in the last few months, using hair putty to dampen him to age him!” she reveals.
For the record, Nina is not seeking to be the new Cilla with The Dating Show . “I’m not really match-making,” she says. “Anything that then happens off-stage afterwards is beyond my control!”
Nina Conti, The Dating Show, Grand Opera House, York, November 12, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york
FEISTY, flame-haired Royal Family favourite La Voix is on tour, taking on the big divas and making them her own in The UK’s Funniest Redhead show in York on November 13.
Billed as her “most glamorous show yet”, the 2014 Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist will be combining stellar songs and saucy gags, high energy and diva impersonations, glamour and gowns – eight of them – in her Grand Opera House debut.
Expect her to switch between the vocal trademarks of Tina Turner, Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland and Cher at the click of a finger.
La Voix, the drag artiste creation of Chris Dennis, played Leeds City Varieties Music Hall two nights ago. She hosts a talk show on BBC Radio Three Counties, appeared in Absolutely Fabulous The Movie, has twice entertained Prince William and Prince Harry at New Year’s Eve parties and has worked with Mickey Rooney, Cilla Black, Pamela Anderson, Brigitte Nielsen and Ruby Wax.
When she topped the bill at Sir Ian McKellan’s 80th birthday bash, she was commended lavishly by the venerable actor, who said: “La Voix’s impersonations are surpassed only by her own cheekily entertaining personality.”
Tickets for La Voix and her band’s 7.30pm show are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.
PHIL Lowe, “irreplaceable” director and co-writer of Harrogate Theatre’s pantomime since 2007, has died.
The “devastated” theatre has announced: “Our friend, associate director, pantomime director and co-writer passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday, October 13.
“Phil was an integral part of what makes Harrogate Theatre special, both to work at and visit. Our pantomime has truly sparkled since he came to the helm in 2007. He is irreplaceable.”
In his memory, this winter’s production of Cinderella will go ahead, running from November 24 to January 16. “No-one wanted to bring the party back to Harrogate Theatre more than him,” the statement said.
Phil Lowe and chief executive David Bown first combined on a Harrogate Theatre pantomime in 2007, co-writing Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with Mr Lowe directing a cast led, as ever, by “daft lad” Tim Stedman.
In an interview ahead of the first night, Mr Lowe defined the Harrogate Theatre pantomime experience that would prevail on his watch. “The thing is that we need to cater for four-year-olds to 94-year olds, and you need to have every panto element for everyone, so you don’t alienate anyone,” he said.
“The set, the music, the costumes, the script, they have to appeal to everyone, and it just has to be magical. I just hope I bring a bit of magic to it, and not in David Blaine or Paul Daniels way.
“Harrogate’s show is a traditional panto, where it’s all about the story. Hopefully, children will say ‘it was just like the fairytale’ they read.
“So, we keep it genuine, but with corny gags and little tricks too – and if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. The cast need to keep it rolling, be on the same wavelength with the audience, and have an abnormal passion for panto, like me.”
Thank you, Phil Lowe, for delivering year after year on that brief, in tandem with David Bown.
Harrogate Theatre has set up a Just Giving page for donations in Mr Lowe’s memory, in aid of Harrogate District Hospital’s cardiac care unit, with a £1,000 target that has been surpassed already. To donate, go to: justgiving.com/fundraising/harrogate-theatre1.
“Our thoughts are with Phil’s wife, Caroline, their beloved boys, family and friends,” the theatre statement concluded.