Lockdown 2: Will it end in tiers? Meanwhile, More Things To Do in and around York and at home. List No. 19, courtesy of The Press

Here comes the flood: Rowntree Park viewed from the Reading Cafe balcony in sodden November. Now we wait for the vaccine dove but meanwhile the arts will not be beaten into retreat

LOCKDOWN 2 wears the mask of uncertainty for another fortnight until the next Government proclamation on whether it will all end in tiers or not.

Leaving predictions to the betting shops, this column will state the facts as they stand now on what – definitely or hopefully – will be happening in the weeks and months ahead as we wait for a prick to make a difference.

Charles Hutchinson consults his diary, written in pencil just in case, to help to fill yours.

Look who’s taking part in the first #yramathome on November 22

Virtual shopping goes arty for Christmas: York River Art Market online

AFTER summer stalls by the Ouse were Covid-cancelled, York River Art Market will host a series of online markets in the lead-up to Christmas.

The #yramathome Virtual Winter Art Markets will run from 10am to 5pm each Sunday from November 22 to December 20, plus the last Saturday before Christmas Day, December 19.

Online shoppers can browse and buy artworks from a selection of 20-plus different “indie makers” at each market day via Instagram. Information on each weekend’s makers, along with instructions on how to shop, will be shared via the York River Art Market (YRAM) Facebook page.

Snowfall In The Woods, mixed media on board, by Sharon Winter at Blue Tree Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week: The Christmas Show, Blue Tree Gallery, York, online initially

ORIGINAL paintings by Colin Cook, Giuliana Lazzerini, Nikki Monaghan and Sharon Winter feature in The Christmas Show, the latest Blue Tree Gallery exhibition in York until January 16 2021.

Lockdown 2 means the show is starting online only at bluetreegallery.co.uk/christmas-show-2020, but the Bootham gallery will re-open in December, subject to the new Government rules and regulations.

Driftwood sculptures by Natalie Parr, Christmas-themed ceramics by Kath Cooper and oxidised steel hanging decorations by David Mayne will be tempting Christmas buyers too.

Say Owt alumni Stu Freestone, left, Henry Raby, Hannah Davies and Dave Jarman in pre-Covid days. Now they head online for a live-stream tomorrow

Live-stream of the Week: Say Owt’s Lovely Lockdown Lyricism, Friday (20/11/20200), 7pm to 7.45pm

SAY Owt, York’s battleground for warring wordsmiths in slam clashes and regular host to spoken-word artists du jour, switches to online transmission for a night of alliteratively entitled Lovely Lockdown Lyricism.

Whirling wisps of wordy wonder in Livestream 2: In Owt/Shake It All About, will be Say Owt’s A-team of anarchic administrator Henry Raby, co-founder Stu Freestone, associate artist Dave Jarman and playwright, tutor, theatre director and slam champ Hannah Davies.

Tune in for “good Friday vibes” at facebook.com/events/283791622875447. Looking ahead, Say Owt hopes to re-convene in socially distanced mode at The Crescent, York, on December 11.

Danny Mellor and Anastasia Benham in Badapple Theatre Company’s The Snow Dancer

Let it snow in York: Badapple Theatre Company, The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, December 5, 2.30pm, 7.30pm; December 6, 1pm, 6pm

GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre are to revive their 2019 Christmas show, The Snow Dancer, for two days only at the Covid-secure JoRo Theatre, newly equipped with chair wraps to denote the socially distanced seating plan.

Last year’s cast of Anastasia Benham and Danny Mellor will re-assemble to perform writer-director Kate Bramley’s cautionary global-warming tale, set in the Great Wood, where something is awry.

The animals are desperate for sleep, but with the onset of climate change, the weather is just too warm. Step in Mellor and Benham’s intrepid heroes, who decide they must seek out the mysterious Snow Dancer if there is to be any chance of ever making it snow for Christmas.

Kate Rusby wishes you a Happy Holly Day in her streamed Carol concert after having to cancel her Christmas tour

Christmas concert at home: Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Day, December 12, 7.30pm

THE 2020 Kate Rusby At Christmas tour will not be happening, ruling out her South Yorkshire pub carol concert at York Barbican on December 20.

However, in response to the Covid restrictions, the Barnsley folk nightingale has decided to go online instead, presenting Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Day on December 12.

At this special concert, streamed worldwide, expect all the usual Rusby Christmas ingredients: familiar Carols but set to unfamiliar tunes; wintry Rusby songs; sparkly dress, twinkling lights; her regular folk band and brass quintet; Ruby Reindeer and a fancy-dress finale. For tickets, go to: katerusby.com/happy-holly-day/

Elf and safety measures: Christmas films lined up for Covid-secure Daisy Dukes Drive-in Cinema: Winter Wonderland at Elvington Airfield

Drive-in home for Christmas: Daisy Dukes Winter Wonderland, Elvington Airfield, near York, December 18 to 20

AFTER Knavesmire in July and Rufforth Airfield for Halloween, the apostrophe-shy Daisy Dukes Drive-in Cinema finds a new Covid-secure home for Christmas: Elvington Airfield. Father Christmas, elves and screen characters will be driving by too.

December 18 will offer Frozen 2, Home Alone, Edward Scissorhands and Die Hard; December 19, Elf, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Gremlins and Bad Santa; December 20, The Polar Express, Home Alone 2, Batman Returns and Love Actually.

The Friday and Saturday programmes will start at 12 noon; the Sunday shows at 11am. Audio will be transmitted via a specially assigned FM frequency direct to vehicles’ radios and food can be delivered to customers’ cars.

Come Home, Tim: Yorkshireman Tim Booth will lead James to Leeds First Direct Arena next autumn

Looking ahead to 2021: Red Rose stalwarts James and Happy Mondays to invade the White Rose

JAMES have had to forego their traditional winter tour in 2020. Moving on, however, they will play Leeds First Direct Arena on November 25 2021, supported by fellow Manchester mavericks Happy Mondays.

“Feels like a new dawn to trumpet a celebratory tour, a week after the first news of hope,” said Clifford-raised frontman Tim Booth on Twitter. ”So looking forward to seeing you.” 

Tickets will go on general sale from 9.30am tomorrow with more details on the Live page at wearejames.com. Look out for a new James live double album and DVD, Live In An Extraordinary World, on December 11.

York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime cast members Anna Soden, left, Faye Campbell, Josh Benson, Robin Simpson and Reuben Johnson in rehearsal on Tuesday

And what about?

As trailered previously, York has two upcoming pantomimes. York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will be making its way around all 21 wards from early December with a choice of three shows, Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Snow White.

York Stage will be full of beans from December 11 to January 3 at Theatre @41 Monkgate with writer-director Nik Briggs’s production of Jack And The Beanstalk, choreographed by West End hotshot Gary Lloyd.

At home, TV is in the crowning season: The Crown season four and The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and the crowning of The Great British Bake Off champion on Channel 4 on Tuesday night.

Albums to discover: Elvis Costello’s Hey Clockface; Fleet Foxes’ Shore, This Is The Kit’s Off Off On and, what joy, Songhoy Blues’ Optimisme.

May Tether as Jill in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk

Happy 85th birthday to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre today…

The logo for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s 85th anniversary in York

TODAY is the 85th anniversary of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York, aptly on #LoveTheatreDay.

The theatre was opened on Monday, November 18 1935 by Mr Seebohm Rowntree, then chairman of  Rowntree & Co Limited, with the aim of “providing a hall which may be a fitting centre for those recreational and educational activities that make for a full and happy life”.

Under Lockdown 2 restrictions, the Haxby Road community theatre cannot hold an actual birthday party, but its social media channels will be full of stories, anecdotes and photographs.

The cutting from the Yorkshire Herald, reporting on the opening of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, or Joseph Rowntree Hall as it was first called. Founder Mr Seebohm Rowntree is second from the left in the line-up

Supporters and volunteers have come together to share their memories and their hopes for the future of the Art Deco venue.

Those wanting to join in the conversations should email any memories to publicity@jrtheatre.co.uk or contribute via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

In addition to the birthday celebrations, the JoRo is highlighting the support and encouragement of its three patrons: David Bradley, Ian Kelsey and Frances Simon.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years,” says patron David Bradley

Bradley, known to many older York residents from his time with the Rowntree Youth Theatre and from playing Jesus in the 1976 York Mystery Plays, has become a familiar face nationwide from his vast number of stage, film and television appearances over many decades. Latterly, those credits take in the Harry Potter franchise, Game Of Thrones and Broadchurch.

Although David, 78, has been a patron of the JoRo for “some time”, the 85th anniversary is the first time that the theatre has announced his patronage formally and celebrated his backing.

In support of the theatre’s Raise The Roof fundraising campaign, David said: “The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years. I know from personal experience that it has provided opportunities for so many young people, and I will always be grateful for that. I fully support the theatre’s appeal and wish it all the best.”

Ian Kelsey: New patron of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

The second, newly appointed patron is York-born actor Ian Kelsey, who honed his skills in many shows produced by Rowntree Youth Theatre. After a stint as an apprentice coach builder at the York railway carriage works, the acting bug drove him to follow his dreams by studying at Guildford School of Acting.

He has since been a regular on the nation’s TV screens in multiple drama series, from Blue Murder and Coronation Street to Doctors, Casualty and Emmerdale.

The third patron is actress and drama teacher Frances Simon, who moved to York with her family from London 14 years ago. She studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, and played the Angel Gabriel in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens.

Frances Simon: Actress, teacher and new patron of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Frances has been a great supporter of the JoRo, attending many shows and teaching many youngsters who have appeared on the theatre’s stage.

A passionate advocate of the benefits of theatre to young people, she is the director of Frances Simon Speech and Drama Coaching; teaches speech and drama at St Peter’s School, York, and is a LAMDA coach at York Theatre Royal and Stagecoach Performing Arts.

While the JoRo is looking back and toasting the successes of the past 85 years today, it must look to the future too. Hence the launch of the Raise The Roof campaign to raise £90,000 to fund the shortfall in savings available to meet the costs of repairing the roofs after more than eight  decades without needing any such major repairs.

Hannah Wakelam: Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s first Young Ambassador

During the course of this campaign, new volunteer Hannah Wakelam has taken on the role of the JoRo’s first Young Ambassador.

Musical theatre performer Hannah, 20, so far has helped to raise hundreds of pounds by initiating fundraising projects, most notably organising this autumn’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, won by York College actor-musician Ed Atkin, 17, in October. Now she is in the process of selling tickets for a grand Christmas raffle.

The JoRo trustees hope more young people will follow Hannah’s lead by coming forward to play their part, inspired by the opportunities that the theatre gives them, both on and off the stage.

Happy birthday: The Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s 85th anniversary teddy bear and York illustrator Elliot Harrison’s new retro card in the style of vintage railway posters

Badapple Theatre to revive The Snow Dancer at Joseph Rowntree Theatre with Crowdfunder backing…but await Covid restrictions update for the go-ahead

Anastasia Benham and Danny Mellor in Badapple Theatre’s December 2019 tour of The Snow Dancer

GREEN Hammerton company Badapple Theatre are to present their only indoor performances of 2020 at a socially distanced Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on December 5 and 6, subject to updated Covid-19 Government measures.

Danny Mellor and Anastasia Benham will resume their stage partnership in artistic director Kate Bramley’s The Snow Dancer, the Christmas show they toured last year, concluding at Yarm Fellowship Hall on December 29 2019.

In September, they teamed up again for outdoor performances of the premiere of Mellor’s play, Suffer Fools Gladly, as part of Badapple’s 21st anniversary celebrations.

Mellor’s quick-moving, quick-witted hour-long comedy delighted in testing and tracing the merits of always having to tell the truth: a compulsion from which our parliamentarians seem to be socially distanced, alas.

Anastasia Benham and Danny Mellor in Badapple Theatre’s open-air tour of Suffer Fools Gladly in September

Now, Badapple are fundraising to support the performers in the Covid-secure performances of The Snow Dancer through a Crowdfunder appeal that will run until November 30.

At the JoRo theatre, newly equipped with chair wraps to denote the socially-distanced seating plan, Mellor and Benham will stage writer-director Bramley’s cautionary global-warming tale, set in the Great Wood, where something is awry.

The animals are desperate for sleep, but with the onset of climate change, the weather is just too warm. Step in Mellor and Benham’s intrepid heroes, who decide they must seek out the mysterious Snow Dancer if there is to be any chance of ever making it snow for Christmas.

“I’ve worked on a lot of Christmas stories in the past, so even though this one is completely original and doesn’t follow an existing story, there are still recognisable elements,” says Kate.

“We have Ida the March Hare, who is a meddling villain, for example. But, if anything, it’s a classic ‘quest’ story, where the children head off through the woods to save the world and encounter a few setbacks on the way.”

Jonny McPherson in Badapple Theatre’s one-man show An Honorary Yorkshireman: The James Herriot Story

Among those to lend their support to the Crowdfunder appeal is Emmerdale actor Jonny McPherson, who plays Liam Cavanagh in the long-running Yorkshire soap, having appeared in two Badapple productions.

“My absolute pleasure. Least I could do for a wonderful company which has provided me with a some of the most memorable experiences of my life,” says Jonny, who has been tweeting his backing. “Wouldn’t be where I am today without you all. Good luck.”

McPherson toured with Badapple to some of the smallest venues in Yorkshire with the Theatre On Your Doorstep specialists, starring in the one-man show An Honorary Yorkshireman: The James Herriot Story and the original 2012 tour of Bramley’s hit musical Eddie And The Gold Tops.

For more information on the Crowdfunder appeal, head to https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/badapple-christmas-tour-un-cancelled.

Tickets for The Snow Dancer on December 5 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm and December 6 at 1pm and 6pm will go on sale on December 2 via josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk, pending the Government loosening Lockdown 2 restrictions.

Story Craft Theatre’s Janet and Cassie to raise funds for Shine21 charity for 21 hours

Lift-off: Story Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce, left, and Cassie Vallance are ready to Shine for York charity. Picture: Lucy Bedford Photography

STORY Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance are to provide 21 hours of craft and storytelling fun this month to raise vital funds for York charity Shine21.

Since Lockdown 1, the pair have moved their interactive storytelling sessions online, attracting audiences from all over the world to their creative and educational classes, held three times a week via Zoom. 

Now, Janet and Cassie will host classes for you to enjoy on Zoom on November 27 and 28, running all day each day from 7am. All the duo ask in return is a donation to Shine21.

Story Craft Theatre’s logo

“There are lots of storybook adventures to choose from: Going On A Bear Hunt, The Gruffalo, Hairy Maclary, Aliens Love Underpants and so many more,” says Cassie. “We’re even providing hour-long interactive craft classes.” 

All the sessions can be booked online at: www.bookwhen.com/storycrafttheatre. “As these classes are interactive, numbers are limited, so we advise you to book in advance to avoid disappointment,” says Janet. “Tickets are now on sale.

“This 21-hour storytelling event is an opportunity for you to help Shine21, where you don’t even need to attend the two-day event to donate. So, please feel free to donate whatever you can.”

Shine on: Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance will be spending 21 hours telling stories and doing interactive crafts for York charity Shine 21 on November 27 and 28. Picture: Lucy Bedford Photography

Donations can be made at: justgiving.com/fundraising/storycraft21. Please note, 100 per cent of the money raised through Story Craft will go directly to the charity. 

Story Craft Theatre is a York children’s theatre company run by professional actors and mums Janet Bruce, who appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street in the West End, and Cassie Vallance, part of the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre company at the Castle car park in 2019 and last seen in Park Bench Theatre’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park, York, this summer.

Together, Janet and Cassie have hosted sell-out shows at York Theatre Royal and Goose play centre, at Hornbeam Business Park, Harrogate, and this Christmas, Story Craft Theatre will team up with Matt Aston’s Engine House Theatre at Castle Howard, near York.

Ready, Teddy, go: Cassie Vallance performing in Park Bench Theatre’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park in August. Picture: Northedge Photography

From December 4, they will present Stories With Santa In The Courtyard Grotto. “Come and join us for a magical storytelling event here in the historic Courtyard,” they say. “Meet Santa’s helpers as they guide you through into our festive library, where children will get to meet Santa, make their Christmas wishes and settle down to hear a brand new, enchanting winter’s tale, The Snowflake, by popular children’s author Benji Davies.”

Last Christmas, Cassie performed in writer-director Aston’s stage adaptation of Davies’s The Storm Whale at the York Theatre Royal Studio.

The Shine21 charity helps to enhance the lives of children with Down Syndrome and their families. Janet Bruce’s second child was born with Down Syndrome and a heart condition, both being discovered after birth.

Whale meet again: Cassie Vallance in The Storm Whale at York Theatre Royal Studio last December. Picture: Northedge Photography

“The diagnosis was unexpected and at first, scary, but the support and advice offered by Shine21 was phenomenal,” says Janet. “Shine21 have supported me and my family every step of the way and introduced us to others who have been through a similar experience.  

“The charity does invaluable work to help children and their families, but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they have not been able to raise the vital funds they need this year. So, we’re providing this chance for you to help Shine21.”

For Castle Howard bookings, go to castlehoward.co.uk/whats-on/Christmas for more details.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre boosted by two grants to ensure Covid-safe reopening

Joseph Rowntree Theatre: Awarded grants from Heworth ward committee of City of York Council and the Theatre Trust

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, has received two grants to help to ensure it will meet Coronavirus recommendations and be Covid-secure with Good To Go status on reopening, whenever that may be.

The Heworth ward committee of City of York Council has donated £4,940; the Theatres Trust, £3,000.

As the JoRo theatre, in Haxby Road, started to make plans to reopen and reorganise the auditorium seating, the social distancing of patrons was of paramount importance.

The Heworth ward grant has facilitated the purchase of 260 Covid-19 distancing chair wraps to block off unavailable seats, ensuring that household bubbles will be kept a safe distance apart from each other. 

The wraps will allow for complete flexibility of seating layouts from one performance to the next as they can be repositioned easily.

Dan Shrimpton, chair of the JoRo’s board of trustees, says: “We understand the caution of some people about returning to live-entertainment venues.

The new Covid-19 distancing chair wraps at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

“These covers will mean our audience will be able to access their bubble area quickly and safely without coming into close contact with others. We’d like to say a very big thank-you to the ward committee from all of us at the theatre.”

The Theatre Trust grant will go towards reopening costs, helping to fund the acquisition of equipment such as sanitiser stations, signage and screens for backstage, to enable the JoRo’s safe return.

Fundraising and events director Graham Mitchell says: “We need to make sure that our venue is abiding by all of the current recommendations for theatres.

“The costs associated with reopening are significant and, of course, we haven’t had any income for many months. We are very grateful to the Theatres Trust for their continued support.”

Only last month, the JoRo announced it had exceeded its fundraising target of £10,000 in a national campaign being run by the Theatres Trust to support theatres nationwide.

This money will be used to fund day-to-day running costs, instead of using up cash savings earmarked previously for essential repair work.

21 wards, three shows, prepare for York Theatre Royal pantomime like no other

Just Joshing: York entertainer and magician Josh Benson larks around on the York Theatre Royal stage as rehearsals begin forThe Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Anthony Robling

REHEARSALS are underway for York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, the neighbourhood show that will tour to all 21 wards in York.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s confirmation that theatre rehearsals could continue behind closed doors during Lockdown 2, despite all entertainment venues being closed from November 5, has facilitated director Juliet Forster bringing the cast together for sessions in the Covid-secure billiards room in the De Grey Rooms.

“It was a huge relief,” says Juliet, the Theatre Royal’s associate director. “We anticipated he would because he’d said film and TV rehearsals wouldn’t stop, but he hadn’t mentioned theatre at that time, so there was that awful feeling of not knowing, but it was great when the news came out at 9pm that night.”

Welcoming the cast of Robin Simpson, entertainer and magician Josh Benson, actor-musician Anna Soden, Reuben Johnson and Faye Campbell, chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’ve put Covid safety measures in place and will be carefully following Government guidelines over the weeks ahead, but we’re thrilled that we can carry on with our plans to take our pantomime out to the people of York this year.”

Revised dates – moved to a later start after Lockdown 2 was announced – are now in place for a run from December 3, with more to be added. The preview night on a pop-up theatre on York Theatre Royal’s main stage on December 3 will be filmed for broadcast so anyone who misses out on a ticket can still enjoy the show, co-produced by York Theatre Royal and new pantomime partners Evolution Productions.

“Be assured, one way or another, York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will be coming to you,” says Tom.

“Panto really benefits from the input of the live audience, so that’s why it was always our intention to do the recording in front of an audience,” says Juliet.

York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Paul Hendy, producer of pantomime partners Evolution Productions

Joined in the production team by Pop-Up On The Patio designer Hannah Sibai, choreographer Hayley Del Harrison and musical director James Harrison, Juliet will be working on not one, but three 70-minute pantomimes written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy for each audience to vote whether to see Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington or Snow White.

Three pantomimes? Plenty to rehearse there, Juliet?! “It’s do-able, and thanks to the Government, we have a bit more rehearsal time now,” she says.

A cast of only five will help too. “Because we’re working on a small touring stage, it wouldn’t have made sense to do a big-sized show with a dance ensemble,” says Juliet. “You may lose some spectacle, but in terms of story-telling, chatting with Paul [writer Paul Hendy], we decided that having just the five key characters intensifies the story, investing in each character’s journey.”

Actor and writer Reuben Johnson will play Fleshcreep and Ratticus Flinch, the villain’s roles, after working previously with Juliet last year, appearing as the thoroughly decent Marco in the Theatre Royal’s autumn production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge.

“It was quite a different show from doing a panto!” he says. “We met on Skype to talk about it, and it’s a perfect chance to work on something fun in such dark times.”

“Reuben has such comedic funny bones, which you wouldn’t have seen in A View From The Bridge, but even there he mined a few comic moments,” says Juliet. “Sometimes you get someone in your head when you read a script, and they keep coming back into your head, like Reuben did, even though I think of him as a very serious actor. Some of my best casting has come that way.”

“I’m trying to find the humour and likeability of the villain, which really contradicts the audience’s thoughts and expectations,” says Reuben Johnson as he prepares to play Fleshcreep and Ratticus Flinch. Picture: Anthony Robling

Reuben may be a pantomime debutant but says: “I’m a theatre fan in general. I love Shakespeare, new plays, physical comedy, pantomime. Panto wouldn’t normally be number one, but I enjoy all theatre and we do need some big fun right now.”

Reflecting on taking on the villain’s role, he says: “I’ve played baddies quite a bit, and what I like to think I can bring to them, when playing stereotypical villains, is trying to find the humour and likeability of that character, which really contradicts the audience’s thoughts and expectations about that person.

“When I watched them as a child, I often thought that bad guys were hilarious to be around, very rowdy, exciting. Now I’ve got the chance to go to town with it in pantomime.”

One rule of acting asserts that you do not have to sympathise with the characters you play, but you should at least empathise with them. “As long as you know your motivation, it’s how you then go about playing the villain,” says Reuben.

“In pantomime, you’ll want to hear people both laughing at you and with you. It’s that love/hate thing.”

Robin Simpson was last seen on the Theatre Royal stage in Northern Broadsides’ Much Ado About Nothing in May 2019 and has Theatre Royal credits to his name in The Railway Children, The Wind In The Willows, Pinocchio and Pygmalion. 

This winter he returns in the juiciest of all pantomime parts, the Dame, a role he has played for the past three years at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield.  “This time feels very different because of the current situation and the nature of the show,” says Robin, who played Dame Dolly in Jack And The Beanstalk, Widow Twankey in Aladdin and Nanny Fanny in Sleeping Beauty.

“We didn’t mine that name for any humour, I can assure you! We were all very grown up about it, weren’t we!”

“It’s like being the best kind of party host,” says Robin Simpson, summing up the joy of playing the dame in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Anthony Robling

Defining the dame’s importance to pantomime, Robin says: “It’s like being the best kind of party host, being welcoming, over the top, ebullient, everyone’s friend, which is so nice to play.”

In dame tradition, from Dan Leno to Berwick Kaler, he has settled on his distinctive persona. “If you’ve got something that works, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Robin says of the upcoming prospect of playing three variations on Dame Dolly next month.

“My dame is like Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck rolled into one! There won’t be any variation, except trying to remember who I’m playing each time, with the different frocks denoting the character.

“It’s very much a case of the dame generally being a working-class single mother, with numerous children; hard working, straight talking and funny. I’m sort of basing it loosely on northern women when I was growing up. That Ena Sharples character [in Coronation Street], gossiping over the wall; that matriarch; that Les Dawson send-up with Roy Barraclough.

“There’s lots of love there, but she’s also as hard as nails, and you don’t see that much anymore, but hopefully it’s still recognisable. But ultimately with the dame, she comes on stage as a bloke in a dress who tells jokes.”

Lockdown in March turned the lights out on stages across the country but both Johnson and Simpson have sought to keep busy. “I’ve done OK,” says Reuben. “Fortuitously for me, I write as well, doing spoken-word, so I’ve got by on that, with a few little acting jobs as well, but I’ve been craving getting back to work on a stage and that’s not been possible until now. Returning to the rehearsal room has been like a dream.”

Robin, who is also a storyteller, working in schools, libraries and museums all over the country, says: “I don’t want to complain too much because I know people have been going through worse. I’ve worked online, recording stories, learning skills like how to record and creating little films and kids’ stories on Facebook Live for Oldham Libraries,” he says.

York actor-musician Anna Soden, who will play Fairy and Sea Captain and a multitude of musical instruments in The Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Anthony Robling

“I think there’s merit in recording shows as I can reach places I couldn’t do with live performances for the library service, though you’ll never beat the ‘liveness’ of a show.”

Juliet rejoins: “It all comes back to the shared experience.” “That’s what we’re all desperate for,” says Robin.

“That’s why we couldn’t let go of the need to do a Theatre Royal pantomime this Christmas, even when we knew we weren’t going to be able to open the theatre,” says Juliet. “The prospect of not doing a panto felt wrong.

“We’d talked about community touring and rural touring, and our research told us that audiences would feel more comfortable going to a show locally with their neighbours, rather than coming to the theatre with people from all over the place.

“That’s why we decided to take something so synonymous with Christmas out of the theatre into York’s community centres, church halls and schools for families to have some festive fun with Paul’s shows that are really warm, funny for all ages, packed full of good characters and not innuendo.”

For tickets, dates and more details for The Travelling Pantomime, go to yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Here, there and everywhere: York Theatre Royal’s poster for The Travelling Pantomime

YORK THEATRE ROYAL’S TRAVELLING PANTOMIME schedule of performances. Confirmed so far:

December 2: Members-only preview, York Theatre Royal (pop-up theatre on main stage).

December 3: Preview, York Theatre Royal (pop-up theatre on main stage).

December 4: Tang Hall Community Centre, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 5: New Earswick Folk Hall, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 8: The Reading Room, Dunnington, 7pm.

December 9: Wiggington Recreation Hall, 7pm.

December 10:  St Barnabas Primary School, Holgate. Afternoon school performance; public

Performance, 6pm.

December 11: Clifton Church Hall, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 12: Elvington Village Hall, Wheldrake, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 13: The Poppleton Centre, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 15: Acomb Parish Hall, 7pm.

December 16: Carr Junior School. Afternoon school performance; public performance, 6pm.

December 18: Copmanthorpe Methodist Church Hall, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 19:  Clifton Green Primary School, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 20: York Pavilion Hotel, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 22: Heworth Christ Church, 4.30pm and 7pm.

December 23: Archbishop Holgate’s School, 4.30pm and 7pm.

Additional venues to be confirmed.

Brushing up on his role: Josh Benson goes to work at York Theatre Royal

Tickets cost £10 for adults, £5 for children, with a maximum party size of six people in a household or support bubble.

Up to 25 per cent of tickets will be made free of charge to families in need this Christmas.

Capacity at some venues is small. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone living in a York city ward.

Did you know?

TRAVELLING Pantomime musical director James Harrison was musical supervisor/director for Evolution Productions’ award-winning 2019-2020 pantomime, Cinderella, at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre. He was awarded the Best Music prize at the Great British Pantomime Awards. 

 Please note:  York Theatre Royal’s planned 2020/21 pantomime, Cinderella, will not go to the ball until next winter.

York Stage bank on Lloyd’s choreography for Jack And The Beanstalk to hit heights UPDATED

“Pantomime is the perfect way to end the working year,” says choreographer Gary Lloyd. Picture: Michael Wharley

GARY Lloyd, choreographer to the stars and hit musicals galore, is to work his magic on the York Stage pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Further buoyed by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s affirmation that theatre rehearsals can continue during Lockdown 2, artistic director, writer and producer Nik Briggs says: “I’m ecstatic that the incomparable Gary Lloyd is joining us.

“To have a world-renowned choreographer like Gary coming to work with us really is something special. I’m such a fan of his work; the way he tells a story on stage really is something to behold.

“For those people who have seen Thriller Live, either in the West End or as part of its world tour, you will know how high energy and dynamic his dances are. He really does know how to stage a show-stopping number,” says Nik.

Lloyd has made his mark as director/choreographer of such shows as the aforementioned Thriller Live, the Michael Jackson tribute, and 20th Century Boy, the Marc Bolan jukebox musical, bringing both to the Grand Opera House, York, along with his production of Fame, The Musical and more besides.

Aside from musicals and theatre, his credits cover everything from choreographing American Idol, The X Factor, the Eurovision Song Contest and a Victoria Beckham commercial, to working with Sir Paul McCartney, Giorgio Moroder, Robbie Williams, Dame Shirley Bassey, P!nk and Sir Tom Jones.

Based down south, Grimsby-born Gary is no stranger to York. “My father Geoff [York Stage’s set builder Geoff Theaker] and my sister Jo [York Stage regular principal Joanne Theaker] live there,” he says. “Jo’s worked with Nik, on stage and at York Stage School too, and coming to the shows, I’ve seen the company grow and do wonderful things.”

The York Stage poster for Jack And The Beanstalk

Gary’s own shows are “all on this conveyor belt waiting to come out of hiding,” he says. “My biggest fear is that producers will want them all to re-open at the same time.” Under the never-ending Covid cloud, it would nevertheless be a nice problem to have.

Given the stasis inflicted on so many theatres and touring shows by the pandemic, Nik saw the opportunity to bring Lloyd north for Jack And The Beanstalk. “He approached me about a month ago, saying ‘would you like to come up and do our pantomime if you have nothing else on?’,” says Gary.

“I would normally have been doing panto as choreographer and director for Jonathan Kiley’s pantomimes, but then came the shutdown, which was a big blow. So, for any of us who can grab hold of one, like me doing Nik’s show, it’s a thing of joy at what will otherwise be a really dark time.”

Gary is a pantomime devotee. “I love it for many reasons,” he says. “I love it primarily because, for me, it is the perfect way to end the working year, walking into the rehearsal room to work very quickly on making a show where everyone is at the top of their game, resulting in pure joy for four generations of audiences.

“It’s pure entertainment, put on by people who really know what they’re doing, especially the comedians, putting together lavish shows with such wonderful content. When panto is done well, like QDOS spending all year on their scripts, getting the topical gags in there, it’s such a joy with big rewards.”

Gary attended a couple of socially distanced London shows once theatres reopened: Fanny And Stella at the Garden Theatre and his friend Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years at Southwark Playhouse, where Perspex screens protected audience members, just as they will at Theatre @41.

“Once the lights go down, you forget all of what’s going on outside, or being crammed in between Perspex screens, you forget all that, because the magic of theatre takes over,” says Gary.

Ian Stroughair, creator of drag diva cabaret sensation Velma Celli, will turn to the dark side to play Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk. He has worked previously with choreographer Gary Lloyd. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“Right now, we need that escape, that entertainment, and that won’t be any different with Nik’s show.

“I’m looking forward to working on a more immersive show, where we’ll really be able to pick on someone in the crowd, which will give panto a new life this year, when there’ll only be a comparative handful of people there [80 maximum], and they’ll have to play their part in creating a good atmosphere at each show.”

Broadening his thoughts, Gary says: “It’s a chance to show the Government that theatres can be a safe environment, and we need to be able to open theatres as soon as possible when we can show it’s safe.

“I don’t want to get political, but you go past pubs bursting with people, whereas theatres are places where people do behave and go there for more sophisticated reasons. Theatre managers and owners are the ones who know how theatre could work in this present environment.”

Working in the arts in Covid-19 2020 with ever-changing Government strictures has been a “daily one step forward, two steps back,” says Gary. “But we’re all in the same boat together. I’ve made it my mission to work with young people coming out of college, training for an industry that they may never be able to work in.

“I’ve been doing that on Zoom, as well as teaching a bit of choreography once a week at a studio, always having a chat, because taking care of your mental health is so important.”

Gary was last on a stage in March in London. “Before Lockdown, I was working on Heathers, The Musical; we’d had had three weeks of face-to-face rehearsals on the Thriller Live stage in the West End, but then it all came to a halt,” he says of a production that had been scheduled to run at Leeds Grand Theatre from November 3 to 7.

“Working for producer Bill Kenwright has been a saving grace at this time; he’s been very optimistic about getting back to work, not paying attention to the media circus, but building a very positive attitude.

Bean team: York Stage’s cast for Jack And The Beanstalk; back row, from left, Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans; front row, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan

“The Leeds Grand performances were a definite until they got wind that the second lockdown could happen, so we’re now waiting for the next bit of news. It’s a daily one step forward, two steps back.”

In his Zoom training sessions and choreography teaching, Gary has stressed the importance of keeping up the highest standards. “The industry will come back, and it will come back with a bang, and these kids don’t have any excuses not to keep up with their fitness, their CV, their singing,” he says. “They need to be disciplined as individuals, not just in a class, so that’s the tough love I’ve been giving out.”

Lockdown may have imposed a hiatus on the theatre world, but reflecting on a career crammed with so many shows, Gary says: “I don’t stop…and I’ve been very lucky. I started out training to go into the theatre; that was my passion; my first job was Cats at 18, for two years, and then I show-hopped for ten years.

“I was always the dance captain, I always did extra choreography and then stepped through the door to do the assistant directing for Kim Gavin’s original production for Oh! What A Night. That’s where my choreography and directing started.”

Plenty of television work ensued. “But after a while it all became very samey.The money’s fantastic but you end up doing the same thing over and over, and I found I really missed theatre,” says Gary.

“I was approached to direct The Genius Of Ray Charles, took it to Las Vegas and then the West End, and I’ve since been able to move between two mediums, theatre and musicals, by refusing to let the industry put a label on me…because there was a time when you couldn’t work with a pop artist. But Thriller Live was a perfect vehicle for me: part theatre show, part concert.”

Now, Gary is preparing to work with the York Stage company of Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan, who begin rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 on November 23.

Alex Weatherhill as Dame Trott in York Stage’s upcoming pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“Nik’s put together a fantastic cast and I’m really looking forward to working with these guys,” he says. “I know this pantomime is going to be an explosion of joy.”

Nik eagerly awaits Gary’s impact on his company and on audiences too. “The chance to see his work up close at Theatre @41 really is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for York,” he says. “We’re taking our West End-worthy panto to the next level with the addition of Gary to our company.”

York Stage present Jack And The Beanstalk at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from December 11 2020 to January 3 2021. Box office: online at yorkstagepanto.com.

Show times will be Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve, 12 noon. Tickets for the 40 performances range from £20 to £27 and are on sale online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

WHO IS GARY LLOYD?
Award-winning director/choreographer Gary Lloyd is known for his crossover from music to theatre.

He has worked as creative director with some of the world’s biggest artists on their live performances and arena tours, bringing his wealth of experience in the latest technology and sound, as well as his innate creative vision, to the theatrical stage.

Gary Lloyd: director, choreographer, author

Theatre
REFLECTIONS, The Holland-Dozier-Holland Story, Stage West, Calgary.

HEATHERS, The Musical, associate director and choreographer, The Other Palace and Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Winner, Best New Musical, WOS Awards 2018; Best Off West End Production, West End Wilma Awards 2018.

JNH 3 Decades of Music for Hollywood, James Newton Howard In Concert, European tour.

ONE NIGHT OF TINA, European tour.

WAR DANCE, workshop, Ventura, Carnival Cruise Lines.

THE KNIGHTS OF MUSIC, UK Tour.

CARRIE, The Musical, Southwark Playhouse. Winner, Best Off West End Production, WOS Awards 2016; Off West End Award nominee, Best Director, Best Choreographer.

GREASE, Silja Line/Belinda King Productions.

OUR HOUSE, The Madness Musical, 2016 GSA Company, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre,
Guildford.

THRILLER LIVE!, Lyric Theatre, West End. 2012/2013 Olivier Audience Award nominee
and 2010 What’s On Stage Nominee, Best New Musical and Best Choreographer). Also UK Tours and World Tour.

Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan in Gary Lloyd’s production of 20th Century Boy at the Grand Opera House, York, in May 2014. Picture: Robert Day

20TH CENTURY BOY, The Story of Marc Bolan, UK Tour. Broadway World winner for
Best New Touring Musical and nominee for Best Choreographer and Best Actor in a Musical.

SISTER ACT, 2015 GSA Company, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.

FAME, 25th Anniversary UK Tour.

THE TINA TURNER EXPERIENCE, Gelredome Stadium, Arnhem.

FOOTLOOSE, 2013 GSA Company, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford,

FLASH MOB, Peacock Theatre, London.

20TH CENTURY BOY, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.

HAIR The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, in support of Help For Heroes; Ahoy Arena, Rotterdam, and European Tour.

20th CENTURY BOY, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, 2011 What’s On Stage nominee for Best Regional Production.

THE GENIUS OF RAY CHARLES, Theatre Royal Haymarket, UK and North American
tours.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Scandinavian Tour.

SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS, Kodak Theatre Los Angeles.

WHAT A FEELING! , 2006 UK Tour.


As Choreographer/Movement Director
CRUEL INTENTIONS, Palais du Varieté, Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Winner, Best Fringe
Production, Broadway World Awards 2019.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, 50th Anniversary Touring Production.

THE LIFE, English Theatre, Frankfurt, Germany.

FAME THE MUSICAL, Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin, and Ireland Tour.

“ZIP”, Giant Olive Theatre, London.

ASPECTS OF LOVE, UK Tour starring David Essex.

AMADEUS, Sheffield Crucible Theatre.

ANIMAL FARM, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.

MY FAIR LADY, Larnaca Festival and South East Asia Tour.

CITY OF ANGELS, English Theatre, Frankfurt, Germany.

ZORRO The Musical, workshop.

OH! WHAT A NIGHT, associate director/choreographer;


TV, Film & Music
Gary has worked with: Giorgio Moroder; Kelly Clarkson; Leona Lewis; Robbie Williams; Pink; Anastasia; John Barrowman; Peter Andre; Stooshe; Macy Gray; NeYo; Joe McElderry; Victoria Beckham; Jennifer Hudson…

Sir Paul McCartney; Sir Cliff Richard; Dame Shirley Bassey; Sir Tom Jones; Robin Gibb; Ray Quinn; G4; Will Young; Gareth Gates; Emma Bunton; Lemar; Rachel Stevens; Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield; Girls Aloud…

Liberty X; Dani Harmer; All Angels, RyanDan; Blake; Faryl Smith; Ordinary
Boys; Blue; Atomic Kitten; Basement Jaxx; ABC; Soul II Soul and S Club 8.

Gary has acted as creative director and choreographer for these acts on international tours, single and album launches and music videos.

Television credits

Elizabeth, Michael And Marlon, movement coaching for Joseph Fiennes; American Idol, Seasons 1 to 3; Disney’s My Camp Rock; The X Factor, BBC’s Skate Nation and Jump Nation and The One And Only, all as choreographic expert and mentor.

Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Take Away; Brits 25; The Classical Brit Awards; The Royal Variety Performance; I DREAM; Eurovision Song Contest; Bump N Grind (Trouble TV); Comic Relief; ITV’s Avenue Of The Stars.


Commercials

Victoria Beckham VB Denim Range; Wispa, For The Love Of Wispa; Daz , I’m Too Sexy; Debenhams, Styling The Nation.

Anything else?

Two Royal Gala Performances at the London Palladium and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Artistic director for the BAFTA Awards.

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.

Stage director and choreographer on the 2005 Royal Variety Performance in the
presence of Her Majesty the Queen at the Wales Millennium Centre.

Gary’s first book, My Life With Michael, Ten Years Of Thriller Live, was published by The Book Guild in paperback in October 2019.

Review: Focus on female new writing in Northern Girls for Signal Fires Festival

The tree-lit setting for Northern Girls in the YMCA Theatre Car Park in Scarborough. Picture: Matthew Cooper, Msc1photography

Review: Signal Fires Festival, Northern Girls, Pilot Theatre and Arcade, YMCA Theatre Car Park, St Thomas Street, Scarborough, October 27 and 28

ALAS, we are confined to keeping only the home fires burning as Lockdown 2: The Sequel beds in from Thursday, putting live theatre back in its box for at least a month.

Yet in this desperate year, nights such as the Northern Girls showcase for female voices have risen from the ashes of 2020 to make the Signal Fires Festival a heart-warming herald of how theatre can diversify to survive the stultifying Covid strictures that have left the industry under threat.

Over the years, CharlesHutchPress has reviewed productions staged in York in an echoey multi-storey car park and at a pop-up Elizabethan theatre built on a car park. Now, the Tarmac surface of the Scarborough YMCA Theatre car park can be added to that list, on a Tuesday night of numbing exposure to the autumn elements that made the glowing presence of four fire pits so welcome to complement scarves and the now de rigueur masks.

Ben Cowens’ silvery lighting of a lonely tree added magic to the setting and provided a point of focus for the performers brought together by pioneering York company Pilot Theatre and Arcade, the new Scarborough community producers

Asma Elbadawi performing Girl Next Door for the Signal Fires Festival. Picture: Matthew Cooper, Msc1photography

The time-honoured tradition of telling stories at the fireside lies at the heart of Signal Fires, albeit that everyone was keeping their social distance, sitting in pods of two, rather than huddling around the heat, all wearing a headset for clarity of sound, as is the norm at outdoor performances this year.

Each commissioned vignette was a solo piece – a concentrated artform but practical for Covid times – setting free eight stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline, as Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson did when growing up in Redcar until the age of 11. Linking them altogether was the theme of what mattered most to writers and performers alike in 2020.

Here was a chance to see a quickfire new work by fast-rising High Kilburn playwright Charley Miles, setting the bar high with the opening Erosion, performed by professional debutante Holly Surtees-Smith, who returned for Rant, by Amy-May Pell, one of four new writing talents nurtured for Northern Girls by York theatre-maker, playwright and tutor Hannah Davies.

Richardson and Arcade’s Rach Drew spread the net wide along the coastline to fish out stories from Zoe Cooper, from Newcastle (Kat/Cassie, performed by Laura Elsworthy) and Maureen Lennon, from Hull, whose rousing The Scarborough Porpoise marked Northern Girls’ second professional stage debut by the bravura Laura Boughen.

Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson leading a rehearsal for Northern Girls. Picture: Matthew Cooper, Msc1photography

This frank, fearless, funny and fiery feminist tale was chosen for the finale, such was its potency and desire for freedom, riding the waves amid the porpoises.

British-Sudanese spoken-word artist (and basketball player) Asma Elbadawi performed her own work, The Girl Next Door, reflecting on growing up as a hijab-wearing girl in Bradford.

Lighting the torch for breaking barriers and finding liberation, Northern Girls also introduced new works by Shannon Barker, from Scarborough (First Date), and York College A-level student Ariel Hebditch (Yin And Yang), both performed by Siu-See Hung.

Claire Edwards, writer of the past five Scarborough YMCA Theatre pantomimes, here changed tack to make waves with Waves in a second monologue for the outstanding Laura Elsworthy.

Good news too, Signal Fires will not merely turn to ash. Suitably fired up by Northern Girls, Esther Richardson is keen to roll out this pioneering writing project in other communities too.

Holly Surtees-Smith making her professional debut in Northern Girls amid the smoke and fire of the Signal Fires Festival. Picture: Matthew Cooper, Msc1photograph

York Stage bank on Lloyd’s choreography for Jack And The Beanstalk to hit heights

“Pantomime is the perfect way to end the working year,” says choreographer Gary Lloyd. Picture: Michael Wharley

GARY Lloyd, choreographer to the stars and hit musicals galore, is to work his magic on the York Stage pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Further buoyed by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s affirmation that theatre rehearsals can continue during Lockdown 2, artistic director, writer and producer Nik Briggs says: “I’m ecstatic that the incomparable Gary Lloyd is joining us.

“To have a world-renowned choreographer like Gary coming to work with us really is something special. I’m such a fan of his work; the way he tells a story on stage really is something to behold.”

Lloyd has made his mark as director/choreographer of such shows as Thriller Live, the Michael Jackson tribute, and 20th Century Boy, the Marc Bolan jukebox musical, bringing both to the Grand Opera House, York, along with his production of Fame, The Musical and more besides.  

“For those people who have seen Thriller Live, either in the West End or as part of its world tour, you will know how high energy and dynamic his dances are. He really does know how to stage a show-stopping number,” says Nik.

Gary is no stranger to York. “My father Geoff [York Stage’s set builder Geoff Theaker] and my sister Jo [York Stage regular principal Joanne Theaker] live there,” he says. “Jo’s worked with Nik, on stage and at York Stage School too, and coming to the shows, I’ve seen the company grow and do wonderful things.”

Gary’s own shows are “all on this conveyor belt waiting to come out of hiding,” he says. “My biggest fear is that producers will want them all to re-open at the same time.” Under the never-ending Covid cloud, it would nevertheless be a nice problem to have.

The York Stage poster for Jack And The Beanstalk

Given the stasis inflicted on so many theatres and touring shows by the pandemic, Nik saw the opportunity to bring Lloyd north for Jack And The Beanstalk. “He approached me about a month ago, saying ‘would you like to come up and do our pantomime if you have nothing else on?’,” says Gary.

“I would normally have been doing panto as choreographer and director for Jonathan Kiley’s pantomimes, but then came the shutdown, which was a big blow. So, for any of us who can grab hold of one, like me doing Nik’s show, it’s a thing of joy at what will otherwise be a really dark time.”

Gary is a pantomime devotee. “I love it for many reasons,” he says. “I love it primarily because, for me, it is the perfect way to end the working year, walking into the rehearsal room to work very quickly on making a show where everyone is at the top of their game, resulting in pure joy for four generations of audiences.

“It’s pure entertainment, put on by people who really know what they’re doing, especially the comedians, putting together lavish shows with such wonderful content. When panto is done well, like QDOS spending all year on their scripts, getting the topical gags in there, it’s such a joy with big rewards.”

Gary attended a couple of socially distanced London shows once theatres reopened: Fanny And Stella at the Garden Theatre and his friend Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years at Southwark Playhouse, where Perspex screens protected audience members, just as they will at Theatre @41.

“Once the lights go down, you forget all of what’s going on outside, or being crammed in between Perspex screens, you forget all that, because the magic of theatre takes over,” says Gary.

“Right now, we need that escape, that entertainment, and that won’t be any different with Nik’s show.

Bean team: York Stage’s cast for Jack And The Beanstalk; back row, from left, Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans; front row, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan

“I’m looking forward to working on a more immersive show, where we’ll really be able to pick on someone in the crowd, which will give panto a new life this year, when there’ll only be a comparative handful of people there [80 maximum], and they’ll have to play their part in creating a good atmosphere at each show.”

Broadening his thoughts, Gary says: “It’s a chance to show the Government that theatres can be a safe environment, and we need to be able to open theatres as soon as possible when we can show it’s safe.

“I don’t want to get political, but you go past pubs bursting with people, whereas theatres are places where people do behave and go there for more sophisticated reasons. Theatre managers and owners are the ones who know how theatre could work in this present environment.”

Working in the arts in Covid-19 2020 with ever-changing Government strictures has been a “daily one step forward, two steps back,” says Gary. “But we’re all in the same boat together. I’ve made it my mission to work with young people coming out of college, training for an industry that they may never be able to work in.

“I’ve been doing that on Zoom, as well as teaching a bit of choreography once a week at a studio, always having a chat, because taking care of your mental health is so important.”

York Stage rehearsals are set to start on November 23 at Theatre @41 for a cast comprising Jordan Fox, May Tether, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Ian Stroughair, Danielle Mullan, Emily Taylor and Matthew Ives.

Nik eagerly awaits Gary Lloyd’s impact on his company and on audiences too. “The chance to see his work up close at Theatre @41 really is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for York,” he says. “We’re taking our West End-worthy panto to the next level with the addition of Gary to our company.”

York Stage present Jack And The Beanstalk at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from December 11 2020 to January 3 2021. Box office: online at yorkstagepanto.com.

WHO IS GARY LLOYD?
Award-winning director/choreographer Gary Lloyd is known for his crossover from music to theatre.

He has worked as creative director with some of the world’s biggest artists on their live performances and arena tours, bringing his wealth of experience in the latest technology and sound, as well as his innate creative vision, to the theatrical stage.

Theatre
REFLECTIONS, The Holland-Dozier-Holland Story, Stage West, Calgary.

HEATHERS, The Musical, associate director and choreographer, The Other Palace and Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Winner, Best New Musical, WOS Awards 2018; Best Off West End Production, West End Wilma Awards 2018.

JNH 3 Decades of Music for Hollywood, James Newton Howard In Concert, European tour.

ONE NIGHT OF TINA, European tour.

WAR DANCE, workshop, Ventura, Carnival Cruise Lines.

THE KNIGHTS OF MUSIC, UK Tour.

CARRIE, The Musical, Southwark Playhouse. Winner, Best Off West End Production, WOS Awards 2016; Off West End Award nominee, Best Director, Best Choreographer.

GREASE, Silja Line/Belinda King Productions.

OUR HOUSE, The Madness Musical, 2016 GSA Company, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre,
Guildford.

THRILLER LIVE!, Lyric Theatre, West End. 2012/2013 Olivier Audience Award nominee
and 2010 What’s On Stage Nominee, Best New Musical and Best Choreographer). Also UK Tours and World Tour.

20TH CENTURY BOY, The Story of Marc Bolan, UK Tour. Broadway World winner for
Best New Touring Musical and nominee for Best Choreographer and Best Actor in a Musical.

SISTER ACT, 2015 GSA Company, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.

FAME, 25th Anniversary UK Tour.

THE TINA TURNER EXPERIENCE, Gelredome Stadium, Arnhem.

FOOTLOOSE, 2013 GSA Company, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford,

FLASH MOB, Peacock Theatre, London.

20TH CENTURY BOY, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.

HAIR The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, in support of Help For Heroes; Ahoy Arena, Rotterdam, and European Tour.

20th CENTURY BOY, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, 2011 What’s On Stage nominee for Best Regional Production.

THE GENIUS OF RAY CHARLES, Theatre Royal Haymarket, UK and North American
tours.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Scandinavian Tour.

SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS, Kodak Theatre Los Angeles.

WHAT A FEELING! , 2006 UK Tour.


As Choreographer/Movement Director
CRUEL INTENTIONS, Palais du Varieté, Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Winner, Best Fringe
Production, Broadway World Awards 2019.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, 50th Anniversary Touring Production.

THE LIFE, English Theatre, Frankfurt, Germany.

FAME THE MUSICAL, Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin, and Ireland Tour.

“ZIP”, Giant Olive Theatre, London.

ASPECTS OF LOVE, UK Tour starring David Essex.

AMADEUS, Sheffield Crucible Theatre.

ANIMAL FARM, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.

MY FAIR LADY, Larnaca Festival and South East Asia Tour.

CITY OF ANGELS, English Theatre, Frankfurt, Germany.

ZORRO The Musical, workshop.

OH! WHAT A NIGHT, associate director/choreographer;


TV, Film & Music
Gary has worked with: Giorgio Moroder; Kelly Clarkson; Leona Lewis; Robbie Williams; Pink; Anastasia; John Barrowman; Peter Andre; Stooshe; Macy Gray; NeYo; Joe McElderry; Victoria Beckham; Jennifer Hudson…

Sir Paul McCartney; Sir Cliff Richard; Dame Shirley Bassey; Sir Tom Jones; Robin Gibb; Ray Quinn; G4; Will Young; Gareth Gates; Emma Bunton; Lemar; Rachel Stevens; Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield; Girls Aloud…

Liberty X; Dani Harmer; All Angels, RyanDan; Blake; Faryl Smith; Ordinary
Boys; Blue; Atomic Kitten; Basement Jaxx; ABC; Soul II Soul and S Club 8.

Gary has acted as creative director and choreographer for these acts on international tours, single and album launches and music videos.

Television credits

Elizabeth, Michael And Marlon, movement coaching for Joseph Fiennes; American Idol, Seasons 1 to 3; Disney’s My Camp Rock; The X Factor, BBC’s Skate Nation and Jump Nation and The One And Only, all as choreographic expert and mentor.

Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Take Away; Brits 25; The Classical Brit Awards; The Royal Variety Performance; I DREAM; Eurovision Song Contest; Bump N Grind (Trouble TV); Comic Relief; ITV’s Avenue Of The Stars.


Commercials

Victoria Beckham VB Denim Range; Wispa, For The Love Of Wispa; Daz , I’m Too Sexy; Debenhams, Styling The Nation.

Anything else?

Two Royal Gala Performances at the London Palladium and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Artistic director for the BAFTA Awards.

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.

Stage director and choreographer on the 2005 Royal Variety Performance in the
presence of Her Majesty the Queen at the Wales Millennium Centre.

Gary’s first book, My Life With Michael, Ten Years Of Thriller Live, was published by The Book Guild in paperback in October 2019.

Wish Upon A Frozen Star outdoor spectacle at Castle Howard frozen out by Covid

Cancelled: Wish Upon A Frozen Star at Castle Howard

WISH Upon A Frozen Star, this season’s illuminated Castle Howard Christmas event, has been cancelled “with great sadness”.

In response to the Government enforcing national Lockdown 2 from today until December 2, the senior team at the North Yorkshire country house has “spent a lot of time trying to find ways to make the light show event work”.

“However, the conclusion is that it is not logistically or financially viable to try to delay the get-in period and the opening of the event,” reads today’s official statement.

Wish Upon A Frozen Star would have combined a light-trail walk through the Walled Gardens, a performance of a 20-minute theatre piece by York playwright Mike Kenny, presented by Leeds children’s theatre company Tutti Frutti, and a light show projected onto the façade of the John Vanbrugh-designed late-17th century house by projection designer Ross Ashton’s company The Projection Studio, experts in delivering magical illuminated outdoor events.

When Wish Upon A Frozen Star was first announced, Ross said: “Castle Howard is a jewel of British architecture and a beautiful and inspiring place to work. I believe that this will be the largest projection mapping at any illuminated garden this year; the house alone will be covered with over eight million pixels.

“Creating the light trail and the projection in this year especially has been a challenge and we salute Castle Howard for having the vision to create something new.”

Billed as a “festive outdoor spectacle like no other”, the hour-long Christmas event would have run from November 27 to December 31, replacing the usual themed spectacular Christmas decoration tour through the house.

Playwright Mike Kenny

Castle Howard’s website says: “All bookers will be contacted by See Tickets to organise refunds and we thank you for your support and understand there will be many disappointed people.

“We are extremely disappointed ourselves not to be able to make this new magical event happen this year, but the safety of our staff, our visitors and the financial stability of the organisation have to take priority to ensure we can come back next year with another Christmas event that will once again surprise and delight our visitors.

“We’d like to say a huge thanks to our creative partners on these events, who have worked so hard alongside Castle Howard to explore every option during the past few months and particularly given the lockdown news we received at the weekend.”

What will Wish Upon A Frozen Star ticket holders now be missing? Picture the scene: Jack Frost has cast an icy spell, turning the Castle Howard Walled Gardens into a beautiful winter wonderland.

As twilight falls, you would journey through this enchanted world lit up by festive illuminations and immersive soundscapes. The only way to thaw the frosty spell and bring good cheer back in time for Christmas is to make a wish under Yorkshire’s starry skies and step out into a golden landscape of warmth, joy and wonder.

Your journey would climax with an epic story, projected as a light show by Sheffield-born Ross Ashton, who created the Northern Lights installation for York Minster in June 2018 and October 2019.

Working in tandem with audio artist and designer Karen Monid, whose layers of sounds enrich the sensory experience, he also has lit up the exterior of Buckingham Palace and Durham Cathedral and provided lighting extravaganzas for the 2012 London Olympics and the Edinburgh Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.

Tutti Frutti and writer Mike Kenny had been working with the creative lighting and sound team to bring to life the characters to be discovered as you adventure through the light trail.

The Projection Studio’s design for Wish Upon A Frozen Star on the Castle Howard facade. Picture: The Projection Studio

On your journey though Jack Frost’s frozen kingdom you would meet the live action animals who have fallen foul of the icy spell and would need you to wish for Christmas and warmth to return to their world.

The animal characters would interact with audiences on the walk through the Walled Gardens, in a socially distanced way, both keeping the flow of visitors moving and telling magical and humorous stories along the way. Olivier Award-winning Kenny was writing the live-action material to be performed by a cast of five, directed by Tutti Frutti artistic director Wendy Harris, with costumes designed by Catherine Chapman.

For the light show event, timed ticketing, limited capacity and careful management of the socially distanced visitor flow of parties of up to six to the large South Front lawn would have been the Covid-safe measures.

Mike Kenny says: “It all started with the visual idea for the big lighting show and we came on board later when Abbi [Castle Howard head of marketing Abbigail Ollive], with her theatre background, suggested adding actors and a narrative.”

He came up with a story rooted in Christmas in the shadow of Covid. “Jack Frost has frozen the gardens, so there’ll be no Christmas and Father Christmas is being kept out. Only a battle between Father Christmas and Jack Frost can resolve this.”

The conundrum faced by Mike was the need to keep the drama as well as the audience on the move, “rather than being rooted to the spot or creating a log jam”. “In the gardens, the actors would not be in touch with each other, not close enough to communicate, so the stories wouldn’t have too much narrative because it wouldn’t matter if the audience members didn’t catch everything when they were constantly on the move,” he says.

Mike would have worked further on the script in situ, discovering what would and would not have been possible, but he had settled on the story featuring animals that would have been most affected by a frozen winter.

“I learnt that in that situation, animals either migrate, hibernate or store food,” he says. “We chose animals you would find in the Castle Howard gardens, without going the full Enid Blyton on it, and we gave them human personas connected with the house.

Northern Lights at York Minster. Picture: The Projection Studio

“The Robin had the character of a steward or butler, greeting audience members as they went into the gardens. The Squirrel was the gardener; the Hedgehog, the housekeeper; the Peacock, the Lady’s maid, with a Cinderella vibe to her, dressing in her mistress’s posh clothes, and the Rabbit, the scullery maid.”

Mike does not hide his disappointment at Wish Upon A Frozen Star not going ahead. “To have pulled something out of the hat for Christmas was great, and we were all really fired up for doing a show,” he says. “The whole Covid situation has sapped the energy of the creative industries, but this Christmas event would have looked amazing.

“The Castle Howard architecture has its own theatricality, which was such a gift for us. You can tell that someone with a sense of theatre had his hand in it [playwright turned architect John Vanbrugh]!”

No-go for Wish Upon A Frozen Star, but Castle Howard is continuing to plan for both Father Christmas in the House and the Courtyard Grotto from Friday, December 4.

“We have had to cancel Father Christmas performances in the House from November 28 to December 3 due to lockdown restrictions,” the Castle Howard statement reads. “See Tickets will be in touch with bookers to offer refunds on these performances or try to get you into a later show.

“It is our sincere hope that performances from December 4 will be allowed to continue. For people who booked Father Christmas tickets in conjunction with the light show, we will be contacting you directly to refund a proportion of your ticket. 

“If you would like to cancel your Father Christmas tickets – either Enchanted Audience with Father Christmas or the Storytime with Santa Grotto – because you cannot now come to the light show, then this is fine and you will be offered a refund. Please bear with us while we work through all bookers with our partners at See Tickets.”

Wish Upon A Frozen Star may have been frozen out by the ongoing Corona crisis, but Castle Howard’s website affirms the possibility of revisiting the collaboration: “We certainly hope, and intend, to continue the partnership with The Projection Studio, Tutti Frutti and our associated production teams on future events,” it says.