THE comedy is over for the Great Yorkshire Fringe
after five summers in York, blaming “city-centre management” for the decision
to exit stage left.
In a formal statement, founder and director
Martin Witts said: “Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing
an event in this small city of ours has led to the conclusion that until a
well-managed and efficient is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive
and does not have a place in York.”
Here Martin, who also runs the Leicester Square
Theatre and Museum of Comedy in London, answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions.
1.What made you take this decision, Martin?
“My patience with all the red tape ran out of time.
It was the same things every year, no matter what you try to do to address the
most critical things on the Parliament Street village green site. Access.
Drainage. The licence. Security. What we were required to do changed
“Right from the start, there were frustrations. We
wanted to start the festival in 2014, but it took a year to get the licence from
the city council for Parliament Street.”
2.What would constitute a “well-managed and
efficient city-centre management”?
of York Council, Make It York and York BID are all involved in how the city centre
is run. Everyone has great intentions, but there are too many chiefs, not
enough Indians, and it’s got too complicated. That’s the frustration.”
3.Sean Bullick, managing director of Make It York,
says he would “welcome the opportunity to discuss options with you to
bring the event back”. Will you have that discussion?
“I had a meeting with Sean and
Charlie Croft [assistant director of communities and culture at City of YorkCouncil] last year to say this needs to
be resolved, but we still had problems at last summer’s festival with the drainage
provision for the toilets.”
4. Last summer, some people said the ticket prices were high; some
reckoned the quality of the newer acts had lowered; others felt the same names
kept returning. Your thoughts?
“We had no complaints about the festival content or
the programming or the pricing. There were no negative comments from patrons on
our social media and in the box-office day book. Indeed, only positives. The
average ticket price remained the same.
“But there was a drop in audience numbers certainly,
when the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, running at the same time at the Castle car
park, had an impact.”
5. Do festivals have a natural cycle, especially
when the fickle world of comedy is prone to “the new rock’n’roll” going in and
out of fashion?
“No, I disagree with that. Comedy always has a new
audience and new acts. You only have to see the popularity of the New Comedian of
the Year award we ran each year.
“Comedy is always changing, but people like to keep
seeing their favourite comedian too.”
6.Emotionally, how do you feel about calling a halt
to the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five years?
“I’m incredibly disappointed to be having to do this. You should see the messages I’ve had from the volunteers who worked for the Fringe saying it was the highlight of their career. It was the highlight of my career too.
“In an ideal world, if it had been easier, if there
wasn’t the problem of the structure of the city-centre management, we would
like to have continued the festival, but your patience runs out in the end when
you want things to run smoothly.”
7. What did you achieve?
”We were committed to running the festival for five years and you hope
that after those five years, you’ve covered your costs, broken even, and
established yourself, which we had – and we proved Parliament Street could be a
village green with shows and all the food and drink stalls.”
8. Would you consider taking the Great Yorkshire
Fringe to another great Yorkshire city?
“No, absolutely not. I’m not planning to move it to
Leeds. This festival was always designed for the city of York, the city where
my family is from. York is the capital city of Yorkshire; the second city of
9. You say you will “continue to invest in the
cultural scene of York”. In what ways will you do this?
“We’ll continue to do events in York, but not hold
the festival, but do them in the spirit of the Great Yorkshire Fringe. We’ll
probably have a year off but we’ll support The Arts Barge by doing a couple of
things with them in York this summer.”
10. What else is happening in the world of Witts right now?
“We’re opening a scenery workshop in Pocklington, and I’ve bought the contents of the Goole Waterways Museum after it went into liquidation. We might look at doing something with antiquities and artefacts there.”
YORK’S Norse settlers will aim to be the most stylish
Vikings in the world when the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival runs from February 15
Event manager Gareth Henry explains how this might be achieved: “The Vikings cared about their appearance and personal hygiene. Combs to keep their hair and beards in order were prized possessions carved out of bone and sometimes beautifully decorated, while beautiful beads and jewellery were a sign of wealth and status,” he says.
“During the festival, you’ll see many superb examples
of adornments on the clothing of the re-enactors who come to take part.”
At next month’s nine-day festival, visitors can join costumed interpreters in showing off their Viking style with a number of events aimed at creating and expressing traditional Norse style:
Viking Costume Competition, St Sampson’s Square, February 15, 3pm. Open to the public, a judging panel will consider those who believe they are York’s best dressed, with Viking and Viking-inspired fashion welcome to take to the main stage for the ultimate Project Norseway. An expert panel of judges will share their views on the best male, female and children’s Viking attire in this free event.
Best Beard Competition, St Sampson’s Square, February 22, 3pm. A traditional favourite, where the audience chooses the best facial hair on show. Open to men, women, children and this year, for the first time, bearded canines, expect some genuine chin growth, re-purposed head tresses and even some man-made creations as competitors vie for the coveted trophies.
Trichinopoly. Not some kind of Viking board game, but the art of wire weaving to create jewellery and adornments by one of Jorvik Viking Centre’s team of historic educators. The workshops run on Tuesday, February 18, 2pm to 5pm, and Wednesday, February 19, 10am to 1pm, in the York Medical Society on Stonegate, priced at £30 per person, including all materials and refreshments.
An adult leather-working workshop. This will introduce participants to some of the skills required to make simple leather items inspired by archaeological finds from Coppergate. The session takes place on Tuesday, February 20 from 10am to 12 noon at the York Medical Society on Stonegate.
Home & Away: Fashion and identity in the Viking Age, Jorvik Viking Centre, Tuesday, February 18, 7pm to 8.30pm. Presented by Dr Gareth Williams, of the British Museum, whose talk will explore how fashion varied across the Viking world, including how it fused with other styles as the Vikings explored the globe. Tickets cost £25.
The use of
black jet in Viking jewellery will be explored by Sarah Steele, of Ebor
Jetworks, during the symposium that rounds off the festival on Sunday, February
23 with a series of talks and presentations on the latest Viking research
around the world.
For more information on events during the 2020 Jorvik Viking Festival, and to book tickets, visit jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk.
Vikings will make a nine-day stop in York next month for the 36th annual
celebration of all things Norse, the Jorvik Viking Festival.
largest event of its kind in Europe, drawing 45,000 people each year, this
winter’s festival will run from February 15 to 23, incorporating two weekends to
give even more visitors a chance to explore the lives of those who settled in
also can look at how Vikings were perceived by other cultures around the world
during their travels – sometimes trading, sometimes raiding.
mainstay living history encampment in Parliament Street will provide a constant
presence, with the smell of woodsmoke and fresh timber filling the air from
demonstrations of Viking woodturning and metal work.
manager Gareth Henry, from the festival organisers, the Jorvik Viking
Centre, says: “Weekends are by far the busiest time for the Jorvik Viking Festival, and incorporating two weekends
makes the festival accessible to any families whose half-term holidays don’t
align with those of York and North Yorkshire.
hoping that more people than ever before come along to experience a slice of
our proud Norse heritage and enjoy the vast range of events on offer this year.”
the nine days, a host of events, activities, demonstrations and talks are
available, many of them free of charge as part of the educational goals of York
Archaeological Trust, the Jorvik Viking Centre owners.
surrounded by all things Viking is a superb and fun way of learning about this
remarkable culture,” says marketing manager Beth Dawes.
you spend time chatting to the re-enactors who repopulate the Viking city for
us; attending lectures and expert talks; trying out new skills in a hands-on
workshop, or even just watching the magnificent March To Coppergate through the
city streets, everyone takes away something new when they visit.”
for 2020 will be a Viking costume competition, looking to find the best-dressed
Viking in York on Saturday, February 15 at 3pm on the festival’s St Sampson’s
too, a Trichinopoly workshop, teaching the art of Viking wire weaving on February
18, has sold out already.
route will be announced for the parade through the city centre, March to
Coppergate, on Saturday, February 22, giving new opportunities to photograph around
200 costumed re-enactors as they walk through the city streets.
details of all the 2020 festival events are available online at jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk,
where visitors can pre-book tickets for key events. Some events, including
the Viking Banquet on February 15 and the night-time son-et-lumiere Battle
Spectacular in the Land of Darkness, have sold out, so reservations for other
activities and the lecture programme are recommended strongly.
Veteran Yorkshire arts journalist CHARLES HUTCHINSON doffs his cap to the makers and shakers who made and shook the arts world in York and beyond in 2019.
of the year: Alan
Ayckbourn’s Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, at Stephen Joseph Theatre,
Scarborough, from September 4
Ayckbourn penned one play to mark his 80th birthday, then decided it
wasn’t the right one. Instead, writing more quickly than he had in years, he
constructed a piece around…birthdays. Still the master of comedy of awkward
Honourable mention: Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, November 28 to December 14.
Should Have Seen It production of the year: Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, York
Theatre Royal, September 20 to October 12.
Once more, the
sage Arthur Miller bafflingly did not draw the crowds – a Bridge too far? – but
Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster found resonance anew for this
age of rising intolerance in Trumped-Up America and Brexit Britain.
home-grown show of the year: York Stage Musicals in Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, September
12 to 21
swapped directing for his stage return after five years in the wind-assisted
title role and stunk the place out in Shrek tradition in a good way. Jacqueline
Bell‘s Princess Fiona and Chris Knight’s Donkey were terrific too.
Honourable mention: Pick Me Up Theatre in Monster Makers, 41 Monkgate, October 23 to 27
launch of the year: Rigmarole
Theatre in When The Rain Stops Falling, 41 Monkgate, York, November 14 to 16
Smales, a previous Hutch Award winner for her all-female Henry V for York
Shakespeare Project, set up Rigmarole to mount Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic
Anglo-Aussie family drama. More please.
play of the year: The
Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Grand Opera House, York, February 5 to 12
for Mischief Theatre with a riotous show, so diamond-cutter sharp, so rewarding,
in its comedy, that it is even better than the original botched masterplan, The
Play That Goes Wrong.
Honourable mention: Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23
play of the year:
Handbagged, York Theatre Royal, April 24 to May 11
In a play of wit, brio and intelligence, Moira Buffini presents
a double double act of 20th century titans, Margaret Thatcher and
The Queen, one from when both ruled, the other looking back at those days, as
they talk but don’t actually engage in a conversation.
of the year: Emma Rice
for Wise Children’s Wise Children, in March, and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, in
September, both at York Theatre Royal
once of Cornwall’s pioneering Kneehigh Theatre and somewhat briefly of
Shakespeare’s Globe, has found her mojo again with her new company Wise
Children, forming a fruitful relationship with York Theatre Royal to boot.
Watch out for Wuthering Heights in 2021.
director of the year:
John R Wilkinson, Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, November
Theatre Royal associate artist John R Wilkinson had long called for the return of in-house productions in the Studio and what he called “the blue magic of that space”. He duly delivered a superb reading of Athol Fugard’s apartheid-era South African work starring Jo Mousley and Emilio Iannucci.
Comedy show of the year: Sir Ian McKellen in Ian McKellen On Stage With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others…And You, Grand Opera House, York, June 17
A delightful variation on the An Evening With…format, wherein Sir Ian McKellen celebrated his 80th birthday with a tour through his past. His guide to Shakespeare’s 37 plays was a particular joy.
Honourable mention: John Osborne in John Peel’s Shed/Circled In The Radio Times, Pocklington Arts Centre bar, March 27
of the year: Live
In Libraries York, York Explore, autumn
wood-panelled Marriott Room, veteran busker David Ward Maclean and Explore York
mounted a series of four intimate, low-key concerts, the pick of them being Bonnieville
And The Bailers’ magical set on October 25. Along with The Howl & The Hum’s
Sam Griffiths, Bonnie Milnes is the blossoming York songwriter to watch in
of the Year: The
Arts Barge’s Riverside Festival, by the Ouse, July and August
umbrella of Martin Witts’s Great Yorkshire Fringe, but celebrating its own identity
too, The Arts Barge found firm footing with two locations, an ever-busy tent
and, hurrah, the newly docked, freshly painted barge, the Selby Tony. The Young
Thugs showcase, Henry Raby, Rory Motion, Katie Greenbrown, jazz gigs, a naked Theo
Mason Wood; so many highs.
Honourable mentions: York Festival of Ideas, June; Aesthetica Short Film Festival, November.
York Barbican gig of the year: The Specials, May 9
Still The Specials, still special, on their 40th anniversary world tour, as the Coventry ska veterans promoted their first studio album in 39 years, Encore, still hitting the political nail on the head as assuredly as ever.
Honourable mentions: David Gray, March 30; Art Garfunkel, April 18; Kelly Jones, September 14.
Happiest nights of the year: Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Twelfth Night, Castle car park, York, July 4 and September 1
JOYCE Branagh, Kenneth’s sister, set Shakespeare’s comedy in the Jazz Age, serving up “Comedy Glamour” with a Charleston dash and double acts at the double. “Why, this is very midsummer madness,” the play exhorts, and it was, gloriously so, especially on the last night, when no-one knew what lay just around the corner for the doomed Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.
Most moving night of the year: Glory
Dazed, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, January 26
Cat Jones’s play, starring York actor Samuel Edward Cook, brings
to light issues surrounding the mental health of ex-servicemen as they seek to
re-integrate into civilian society while struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder. The post-show discussion with ex-soldiers from Hull spoke even
Solo show of the year: Serena
Manteghi in Build A Rocket, autumn tour
NO sooner had she finished playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s
Rose Theatre’s Hamlet than Serena Manteghi revived her remarkable role as a seaside
resort teenage single mum in Christopher York’s award-winning coruscating play.
Honourable mention: James Swanton in Irving Undead, York Medical Society, October 10 to 12.
Favourite interview of the year: Brian Blessed, giving oxygen to his An Evening With Brian Blessed show at Grand Opera House, York, in August
The exuberance for life in Brian – Yorkshire man mountain, actor, mountaineer and space travel enthusiast – at the age of 83 would inspire anyone to climb Everest or reach for the stars.
the year: John
Newman, The Out Of The Blue Tour, The Crescent, York, June 30
Settle sound of soul, John Newman, and his soul mates parked their old camper van
outside the almost unbearably hot Crescent, threw caution to the wind and burnt
the house down on a night that must
have been like watching Joe Cocker or Otis Redding on the rise in the Sixties.
Honourable mentions: Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock’n’Roll Revue, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 25; The Howl & The Hum, The Crescent, York, December 14
of the year: Van
Gogh: The Immersive Experience, York St Mary’s, York, now extended to April 2020
This 360-degree digital art installation uses technology to create
a constantly moving projected gallery of 200 of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous
19th century works in the former church. Breathtaking, innovative, and,
yes, worth the admission charge.
Honourable mention: Ruskin, Turner and The Storm Cloud, Watercolours and Drawings, York Art Gallery, from March 28
production of the year: The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25
£15.8 million transformation from the West Yorkshire Playhouse to Leeds
Playhouse, artistic director James Brining gave West Yorkshire’s premier
theatre the grandest, dandiest of re-opening hits. Still time to travel down
the Yellow Brick Road with Agatha Meehan, 12, from York, as Dorothy.
stage left: Berwick
Kaler, retiring on February 2 after 40 years as York Theatre Royal’s pantomime
dame; Tim Hornsby, bowing out from booking acts for Fibbers on June 29, after 27
years and 7,500 shows in York; Damian Cruden, leaving the Theatre Royal on July
26 after 22 years as artistic director; James Cundall’s Shakespeare’s Rose
Theatre, in September, after hitting the financial icebergs .
not forgotten: York Musical Theatre Company leading man,
director, teacher, chairman, bon viveur and pub guvnor Richard Bainbridge, who
died on July 6.
NOTHING special happened in the arts scene in 2019…or did it? Find out tomorrow when the Hutch Award winners are announced for what made the art beat race faster across YORKshire at charleshutchpress.co.uk.
THE second weekend of the 2019 Yorkshire Schools Dance
Festival will be held at Central Hall, University of York, on Saturday and
Sunday from 3pm.
As many as 1,200 children aged four to 19, from 57 primary
schools, secondary schools, colleges and community dance groups, are taking
part in this annual non-competitive event.
Spread over two weekends, the festival celebrates the
region’s young creative talent and raises the profile of dance provision within
schools and the wider community, while showcasing a range of abilities and
dance styles. For the vast majority, this is the first time they will have
danced in public.
For the four days of dancing, groups are travelling from as
far afield as Ingleton, Hull, Thirsk and Barnsley to take part after developing
their performances through after-school clubs, during curriculum time and as
part of examination courses.
A festival theme is set each year, and for the past few
months schools and groups have been deciding how best to interpret this year’s theme,
Reflections. Performances vary from reinterpretations of the Snow White story,
through to a consideration of the physics of reflection, to support work within
Laura Brett, class teacher at Naburn CE Primary School,
York, says: “Our dance piece tells the story of a Grandma and Grandad
reflecting on their lives as children, watching as visions of their younger
selves relive some of the happier days in their lives.
“The children have had great fun choreographing this –
prompting some discussion about the lives we lead and the mark we want to make
on the world.”
Taking part from Keighley, Emma Pease, Class 3 teacher at
Cowling Primary School, says: “We thought about how social media affects us and
our mental health. The group then modelled how we could reflect this negativity
away from us, realising our strength together and becoming more resilient as a
The festival is produced by York arts education specialists Creative Learning Partnerships, whose director, Colin Jackson, says: “Dance is an art form that is central to our heritage and culture. It’s celebrated increasingly on our TV screens through shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Britain’s Got Talent.
“The sad state of affairs in schools, however, is that it is
quickly disappearing from the curriculum, despite the overwhelming evidence of
its positive impact on physical, emotional and social wellbeing.
“Dance is a collaborative process that develops teamwork,
resilience, communication skills, creativity and a sense of pride. Why
shouldn’t our children be afforded these opportunities?”
Across the two weekends, the 1,200 dancers will be performing
to 2,000 people, who will see how schools have interpreted the theme in
In an extension to the 2019 festival, through funding from
Arts Council England, Engage & Inspire will be giving participating children
the chance to work with professional artists from Yorkshire and the North.
Northern Rascals and Hawk Dance Theatre are presenting
specially commissioned performances, Casson & Friends and TenFoot Dance are
hosting interactive workshops while Brink & Howl Creative are delivering an
innovative digital dance installation combining music, dance and digital
projections. Two hundred children will have the opportunity to achieve an Arts
Award to reward their efforts.
Jon Beney, associate artist at Hull Truck Theatre and co-artistic
director at TenFoot Dance, says: “The Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival is a
great opportunity for the young dancers of Yorkshire to come together and
celebrate everything dance.
As a kid, I was inspired by many people that shaped my
journey and it feels nice to have stories and skills to help inspire others.”
Tickets are available at yorkshireschoolsdancefestival.co.uk,
priced at £7 for adults, £6 for children, plus a booking fee.
SASHA Rainbow has won the Best Of Fest Award at the 2019 Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York.
More than 400 films competed in the Official Selection for the grand festival prize at the five-day event, which climaxed with Sunday’s awards ceremony at the Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens.
Rainbow’s documentary Kofi & Lartey tells the true story of a man who escaped Agbogbloshie, the electronic waste dump site near the centre of Accra, Ghana’s capital, dubbed one of the most toxic places on Earth. The 20-minute film follows him as he empowers two young boys to do the same.
New Zealander Rainbow’s film, along with all the category winners, becomes available for consideration for the 2020 BAFTA awards.
Kofi And Lartey was among the films selected by ASFF director Cherie Federico for the Opening Night Ceremony showcase that launched the festival last Wednesday night.
Iain Cunningham was awarded Best Featurefor Irene’s Ghost, his BIFA-nominated debut feature documentary account of his search for information about the mother he never knew, as Narrative and Documentary Features returned to the festival for a second year.
Delving into hard-hitting topics, the Drama strand provides the largest part of ASFF’s programme. Best Dramawas awarded to Thomas Vernay for Miss Chazelles,the story of two young rivals.
Best Thriller went to Madame, directed by Garth Jennings, best known for 2016’s Sing and 2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Norteños, directed by Grandmas, took home the award for Best Comedy; Leszek Mozga won Best Animation for Roadkill; Charby Ibrahim, Best Documentary for the animated Bright Lights – The Perils Of The Pokies, a reflection on the devastating consequences of gambling.
Tapping into the brand ethos, LEONE’s L’Incredibile, in partnership with Nike, was awarded Best Advertising; Best Fashion went to Lola’s Manifesto, directed by Gsus Lopez and Cristian Velasco.
Usurping the idea of convention, Best Artists’ Filmwas presented to Rhea Storr for A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message; Best Experimental was awarded to Samona Olanipekun for Kindred, a spirited interpretation of life in the 21st Century.
The Golden Age, directed by Eric Minh Cuong Castaing, won Best Dance, while Best Music Videowent to Emmanuel Adjei for Shahmaran – Sevdaliza.
Introducing new digital playgrounds, ASFF welcomed Virtual Reality and Immersive films into the competition for a second year. Best VR & Immersive was awarded to Virtual Viking – The Ambush, directed by Erik Gustavson, who used 106 cameras to capture Norway’s west coast, marking one of the first techniques in scripted VR drama.
New for 2019, the Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award recognises directors with exceptional vision and a unique cinematic voice, with the prize going to Ellie Rogers for They FoundHer In A Field.
The Polaris Award celebrates the achievements of filmmakers in the North of England, with sponsorship from Film Hub North and BFI Network, and this year’s award was received by Charlene Jones for Henceforth, an honest and raw project highlighting the grief of three siblings after the loss of their parents.
Across the five-day run, festival-goers were invited to vote for their favourite film from the Official Selection for the People’s Choice Award, won by Garry Crystal for Down, from the Drama category. This claustrophobic short about two strangers trapped in a lift stars Amanda Donohoe, James Eeles and Paul Barber.
Chosen by students at the Youth Engagement programme, the Youth Awardwas given to Lasagne, directed by Hannah Hill.
This year’s festival drew entries from 53 countries and welcomed thousands of visitors, including industry professionals, students, tourists and film enthusiasts, some travelling from as far afield as Canada, Norway, Germany. Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
Entries for the tenth anniversary festival open on December 1, with the 2020 festival dates confirmed for November 4 to 8.