Secret is out as Pick Me Up Theatre return with amateur premiere of Adrian Mole

Pick Me Up Theatre’s cast members: back row, Toni Feetenby, left, Alan Park, Ian Giles, Andrew Isherwood and Emily Halstead. Middle row: Adam Sowter, left, Flynn Coultas, Jack Hambleton, Florence Poskitt, Freddie Adams, Guy Wilson and Alexandra Mather. Front row: Sandy Nicholson, left, Flynn Baistow, Benedict Wood and Dotty Davies. All pictures: Matthew Kitchen Photography

DIARY entry, April 6th 2021. Robert Readman announces Pick Me Up Theatre’s Christmas show for 2021 will be the Broadway hit SpongeBob The Musical.

Diary entry, December 5 2021. No, it won’t be. Robert is directing Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ The Musical instead, booked into Theatre@41, Monkgate, York from December 8 to 18,

SpongeBob The Musical may yet re-emerge down the line in winter 2023 (CORRECT), but Robert made the call to pick up Pick Me Up’s theatre-making for the first time since March 2020’s Covid-curtailed run of Tom’s Midnight Garden with the musical version of the trials and tribulations of Sue Townsend’s teenage diarist.

“It’s my kind of show,” says Robert. “I love British musicals; I loved the TV series and I loved Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books.

“Pick Me Up will be doing a season of works by British writers in spring 2022, with George Stagnell starring in both Billy in March and Shakespeare In Love in April, and when we got the chance to do Adrian Mole, I knew we had to do that as this winter’s show – though I didn’t actually know it would be the British amateur premiere until the writer [Pippa Cleary] told me.

Toni Feetenby’s Pauline Mole and Jack Hambleton’s Adrian Mole from Pick Me Up Theatre’s Team Townsend

“But it’s perfect timing for us to do the show now because the story runs from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve.”

Robert and musical director Tim Selman are working with a cast of experienced York hands such as Sandy Nicholson, Andrew Isherwood, Adam Sowter, Florence Poskitt, Alan Park and Alexandra Mather and two sets of teen talents, rather sweetly designated as Team Sue and Team Townsend.

“They’re all aged either 13, early-14 or late-14, but they’re different in height, so what I did was to match each team to Adrian’s height. Team Sue – Flynn Baistow’s Adrian, Benedict Wood’s Nigel, Dotty Davies’ Pandora and Freddie Adams’ Barry – all turned out to be from Lancashire, apart from Benedict,” says Robert.

“Team Townsend – the taller Jack Hambleton’s Adrian, Flynn Coultas’s Nigel, Emily Halstead’s Pandora and Guy Wilson’s Barry – happen to be all from Yorkshire.

“Although Sue Townsend was a Leicester writer, and set her stories there, we’ll be using northern accents, which suits the characters just as well.”

Team Townsend’s Flynn Coultas as Nigel and Emily Halstead as Pandora in The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾

In the cast too is veteran actor and drama teacher Ian Giles, who played his part in Sue Townsend’s rise as a writer. “In the summer of 1977, I was appointed artistic director of the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, and one of my innovations was to create a writers’ group for local people,” he recalls.

“The then unknown Leicester housewife Sue Townsend was among those who came along. She was in her thirties, from a council estate, had worked as a factory worker and shop assistant, and was very shy. She only attended because her partner, Colin [Broadway], told her to give it a go, though she used to love reading the likes of Dostoevsky.”

Ian put Sue forward for a Thames Television Writer’s Bursary and her manuscript for Womberang duly won the Thames Television Playwright Award, setting her on the path to writing plays for the Royal Court and the Adrian Mole series of books.

Coming full circle, Ian, now 72, will play grumpy old Bert Baxter in the Mole musical. “He’s an 89-year-old curmudgeon, so that should be easy for me!” he says, delighted to be reconnecting with his Townsend past.

“I’m surprised the Adrian Mole books aren’t on the school curriculum, because the issues raised are still so pertinent. The first book is 40 years old now, and the books were like the Harry Potter books of their time. Only the Bible and Shakespeare outsold them!”

Toni Feetenby’s Pauline Mole and Flynn Baistow’s Adrian Mole from Team Sue

Re-joining the discussion, Robert says: “We love Adrian Mole because it’s a boy expressing how awful life is when you’re going through puberty. The young cast find it very funny, but it’s interesting to see how differently they interpret their characters, especially the two Adrians.

“What works best is the fun Sue had in having all the characters being seen through Adrian’s lens.”

“And with a working-class ethic to it,” says Ian. “Sue was writing from council-estate  experience, growing up not far from where playwright Joe Orton grew up. There’s a lot of Sue in the character of the mother, Pauline.

“It’s all pertinent to the 1980s when it was written, but it also resonates with all teenage experiences that people go through.”

Robert adds: “Because of the ‘80s’ retro culture that’s going on now, young people are wise to that, which makes it a good time to do this show.

Time to brush up: Ian Giles’s curmudgeonly Bert Baxter makes his point to Jack Hambleton’s Adrian Mole

“But what’s nice about the music is that Jake and Pippa have not pastiched the Eighties’ pop style. They’ve made their own style of music, so you will enjoy the story being in a musical structure, with some lovely balladry, and a lot of sadness and heartbreak in there, and the parents and classmates being given good songs as well as the leads.”

The John Cooper Studio will be set up as a traverse stage with the audience in raked seating to either side and on the mezzanine level above. “The set design will feature two houses, one to either side, with everything going on in between,” says Robert.

“The reason I’ve done that is because all the scenes are quite short and it moves at a pace, so you can’t have lots of scenery to move around, slowing it down.”

Now make a date in your diary to see Adrian Mole, Pandora and co at Theatre@41.

Pick Me Up Theatre present Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, The Musical, John Cooper StudioTheatre@41, Monkgate, York, December 8 to 18, 7.30pm, except December 11 and 12; 2.30pm matinees, December 11, 12 and 18. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as the grand old dame is ready to frock’n’roll. List No 59, courtesy of The Pess, York

The boys and gal are back in town: AJ Powell, left, Suzy Cooper, Berwick Kaler, David Leonard and Martin Barrass return to the pantomime stage in Dick Turpin Rides Again at their new home of the Grand Opera House, York. Picture by David Harrison

DAME Berwick rides again, Adrian Mole surfaces, carol concerts abound and contrasting comedy cracks on, all demanding a place in Charles Hutchinson’s diary

Comeback of the week: Berwick Kaler and co in Dick Turpin Rides Again, Grand Opera House, York, December 11 to January 9

DAME Berwick Kaler last took to the pantomime stage in his 40th anniversary show, The Grand Old Dame Of York, on February 2 2019, having announced his retirement. Subsequently, he decided it was the “worst decision he had ever made”, a feeling only compounded by writing and co-directing Sleeping Beauty.

In the tradition of Clive Sullivan and Denis Law, he then switched to the other side in the same city, leaving York Theatre Royal to sign up with the Grand Opera House, along with panto teammates Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell.

Delayed by a year, Dame Berwick now resumes panto business at 75, writing, directing and starring in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Hannah King’s Dick Whittington is ready to stride out from York to London in Rowntree Players’ pantomime, Dick Whittington, from today

Community pantomime of the week: Rowntree Players in Dick Whittington, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today until December 11

ROWNTREE Players should have presented Dick Whittington last year, but director Howard Ella and co-writer Andy Welch have now dusted off their script written by satellite in lockdown, freshening it up for 2021.

Martyn Hunter returns to the Players’ panto ranks as King Rat, as does Bernie Calpin as Kit The Cat, joining Hannah King’s Dick Whittington, Graham Smith’s Dame Dora, Gemma McDonald’s Duncan, Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Ratatouille, Geoff Walker’s Alderman Fitzwarren and Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Native Harrow’s Stephen Harms and Devin Tuel will be airing songs from their fourth album, Closeness, at the Fulford Arms

American gig of the week in York: Native Harrow, Fulford Arms, York, Tuesday, 8pm 

PENNSYLVANIAN folk/rock duo Native Harrow are on the final leg of their tour travels showcasing their beautiful fourth album, Closeness.

Now re-located to Brighton, guitarist-singer Devin Tuel and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Harms have a new single too, Do It Again, one of six songs recorded when they elected to return to the studio where they had made Closeness to continue living in that world, if only for a few more days. Box office: seetickets.com/event/native-harrow/the-fulford-arms/1471604.

The secret is out: Jack Hambleton will be one of two Adrian Moles in Pick Me Up Theatre’s musical premiere. Picture: Matthew Kitchen Photography

Musical premiere of the week in York: Pick Me Up Theatre in The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, The Musical, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday to December 18

PICK Me Up Theatre are returning to the Theatre@41 Monkgate stage for the first time since Covid’s first lockdown curtailed Tom’s Midnight Garden in March 2020.

In a change from the initially announced SpongeBob The Musical, director Robert Readman has jumped at the chance to present the British amateur premiere of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s musical version of Sue Townsend’s 1982 story of teenage diarist Adrian Mole. Ignore the official poster, there will be a 2pm Sunday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.  

Ryan’s laughter: Canada’s dry-humoured comic, Katherine Ryan, discusses life as a Missus at York Barbican

Comedy gig of the week: Katherine Ryan, Missus, York Barbican, Thursday, 8pm

CANADIAN comedian, writer, presenter and actress Katherine Ryan, 38, previously denounced partnerships but has since married her first love, accidentally.

A lot has changed for everyone, and now the London-based creator and star of Netflix series The Duchess and host of All That Glitters will be offering new perspectives on life, love and what it means to be Missus. Box office: yorkbarbicancentre.co.uk.

Ewa Salecka: Directing Prima Vocal Ensemble at Selby Abbey

Reunion of the week: Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band, Christmas Classics for Voices and Brass, Selby Abbey, December 11, 7.30pm

YORK choir Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band are uniting for a Christmas concert at Selby Abbey for the first time since 2018.

The choir will sing classical pieces by Morten Lauridsen, Gabriel Faure and John Rutter, while the band’s festive music will include Shepherd’s Song and Eric Bell’s Kingdom Triumphant.

Choir and band will join together for a finale of Gordon Langford’s joyous Christmas Fantasy. Tickets: on 07921 568826, from Selby Abbey or at primachoralartists.com.

York singer Steve Cassidy: Performing at the York Community Carol Concert at York Barbican

Welcome back: York Community Carol Concert, York Barbican, December 12, 2pm

YORK’S Community Carol Concert returns after last year’s Covid-enforced cancellation, with all the participants who missed out in 2020 taking up the invitation to take part in 2021.

In the Sunday afternoon line-up will be the Shepherd Group Concert Brass Band, Dringhouses Primary School Choir, Clifton Green Primary School Choir, Stamford Bridge Community Choir and York singer Steve Cassidy, hosted by the Reverend Andrew Foster and BBC Radio York presenter Adam Tomlinson. Plenty of tickets are still available but online only at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Holly head: Kate Rusby, who coined that term for a Christmas tradition enthusiast, will be in festive mood in both Harrogate and York. Picture: David Lindsay

Carol concert with a difference: Kate Rusby At Christmas, Harrogate Royal Hall, December 12, and York Barbican, December 20, 7.30pm

BARNSLEY folk singer Kate Rusby, her regular band and “the brass boys” have created a Christmas tradition of their own, celebrating South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire pub carols, punctuated by her own winter songs.

For more than 200 years, from late-November to New Year’s Day, these carols have been sung on Sunday lunchtimes in pubs, having been frowned on in Victorian times for being too happy. Not for the first time, the Victorians were wrong. Box office: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Nothing to smile about? Jimmy Carr takes a Terribly Funny turn for a third time in York

Looking ahead to a “terrible” 2022: Jimmy Carr, Terribly Funny, York Barbican, April 15, doors, 7pm

CYNICAL comedian Jimmy Carr will complete a hattrick of York performances of his Terribly Funny tour show next spring.

After playing sold-out gigs at York Barbican on November 4 and the Grand Opera House five nights later, he will return to the Barbican on April 15 with the promise of “all-new material for 2022”.

Carr will be discussing terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love. “But they’re just jokes,” he says. “Political correctness at a comedy show is like having health and safety at a rodeo.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk

How actor Ian Giles played his part in the rise of Adrian Mole writer Sue Townsend

Ian Giles’s Bert Baxter and Jack Hambleton’s Adrian Mole in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, The Musical. Picture: Matthew Kitchen Photography

YORK actor and drama teacher Ian Giles played his part in the rise of writer Sue Townsend in his days in Leicester.

Now, 72-year-old Ian is to play grumpy old Bert Baxter in Townsend’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ in Pick Me Up Theatre’s musical production at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from December 8 to 18.

“In the summer of 1977, I was appointed artistic director of the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, and one of my innovations was to create a writers’ group for local people,” he recalls.

“The then- unknown Leicester housewife Sue Townsend was among those who came along. She was in her thirties, from a council estate, had worked as a factory worker and shop assistant, and was very shy. She only attended because her partner, Colin [Broadway], told her to give it a go, though she used to love reading the likes of Dostoevsky.”

What happened next, Ian? “The chairman of the group managed to get hold of a manuscript off her for Womberang, and on the strength of that first play, I put Sue up for a Thames Television Writer’s Bursary, and she got it,” he says.

“Michael Billington [the esteemed Guardian theatre critic], who was on the panel, told me it was the funniest thing he had read in years.”

Womberang won the Thames Television Playwright Award, and Townsend was on her way, writing Bazaar And Rummage (1982) and The Great Celestial Cow (1984) for the Royal Court Theatre, Chelsea.

Townsend first penned what became The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ as a one-man show: a workshop production starring Nigel Barnett as Nigel, rather than Adrian, Mole, recounting the diary he had written when he was aged 13 and three quarters.

“We think we then changed it to Adrian, because Nigel Mole sounded too like Nigel Molesworth [the subject of Geoffrey Willans’s series of books about life in English prep school St Custard’s], but the BBC say they changed it!” says Ian.

Either way, Adrian became the name when Sue was invited to convert the play into a novel. “She was a dramatist first and was very happy to write the novel as it meant she could use only one voice, Adrian’s, to tell his story,” says Ian.

“Published by Methuen in 1982, it went stratospheric,” says Ian. So much so, The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ and its 1984 sequel, The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole, made Townsend the best-selling British author of the 1980s. A further six books in the series took sales worldwide past the 20 million mark.

Inevitably, the books were adapted for the radio, television and theatre. “Sue worked on the first musical version, which was a play with songs, and then came the first West End theatre version,” says Ian.

Robert Readman’s York company, Pick Me Up Theatre, will be presenting the latest musical adaptation by Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics), premiered at the Leicester Curve in March 2015.

“They’d formed a partnership while studying music and contacted Sue about doing a musical, but sadly she died [on April 10 2014) before the premiere,” says Ian.

Now the story comes full circle for him as he takes to the stage as Sue’s character, the 89-year-old curmudgeon Bert Baxter. “Sue became resident writer at the Phoenix, and I moved on, and now the theatre is called the Sue Townsend Theatre in the place where I worked for four years, when  she took her first step into writing plays.”

Pick Me Up Theatre present Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, The Musical, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, December 8 to 18, 7.30pm, except December 11 and 12; 2.30pm matinees, December 11, 12 and 18. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

‘Excited isn’t the word!’ says director Howard Ella as Rowntree Players prepare to open Dick Whittington on panto return

Rowntree Players’ principal cast members: Gemma McDonald’s Duncan, left, Hannah King’s Dick Whittington, Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren, Graham Smith’s Dame Dora and Martyn Hunter’s King Rat

DICK Whittington had to turn round and rest up for a year when Rowntree Players’ 2020 show was cancelled by Covid.

Now, however, Dick and his cat  will be on the road from York to London from Saturday (4/12/2021), when the Players take to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre stage with director Howard Ella and co-writer Andy Welch’s pantomime.

Joining Hannah King’s Dick Whittington in the cast will be Graham Smith’s Dame Dora; Gemma McDonald’s Duncan; Martyn Hunter’s King Rat; Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Ratatouille; Geoff Walker’s Alderman Fitzwarren; Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren and Bernie Calpin’s Kit The Cat.

Howard and Andy first wrote the script remotely, via a satellite link, before the 2020 show was called off. “Socially distanced writing – that was a challenge,” says Howard. “I work away a lot so there had always been an element of remote collaboration, but this was full on.

“What was missing was the ability to read and act as we wrote without a satellite delay. That one-second delay kills humour stone dead, so there was a lot of writing on instinct. Then we had to shelve the script. Totally gutting.”

Roll on a year and out came the script again. “What was great was to lift it out a year later, read it with fresh eyes and still enjoy it,” says Howard. “What’s most strange is that it really demonstrated the stasis we have been in.  It still felt relevant, if only because so much of our world of Covid and politics did not change.

“Of course, once we start blocking with the cast, then the gags change and everyone throws in their bit.”

Comedy writing as a duo, in the tradition of Galton & Simpson and Le Frenais & Clement, works well for the Players’ pantos. “I’ve written on my own and with both Barry [former dame Barry Benson] and Andy on different panto years,” says Howard.

“It’s exciting as you can bounce off each other and try things out before anyone else ever sees the script. The trick in making that writing partnership work is honesty and trust. When you don’t find something funny, when it’s not quite good enough, you have to say so and in a clear way.

Hannah King’s Dick Whittington is ready to set off from York to London in Rowntree Players’ Dick Whittington

“If you’re on the other end of the criticism, that’s where the trust kicks in. You trust you partner’s judgement and screw up the page. Sometimes tough, but you have to see it as collaboration, not compromise.”

This year’s cast is down in size by a couple of principals. “But that was story driven,” reasons Howard. “We wrote the script in early 2020 assuming Covid would drift past, so, in reality, there’s no compromises there. The script has the cast it always needed.

“That said, our chorus numbers are slightly lower to facilitate sensible spacing in dressing rooms and to deal with the [pandemic-enforced] practicalities, like not being able to share costumes between teams.”

Adapting to Covid restrictions has created extra challenges both in rehearsal and at the JoRo theatre. “We’ve had mask wearing and sanitising and spacing where we can,” says Howard.

“Everyone has been on different testing regimes through work and school, and they have been ever changing. Also, there’s double jabs where possible (and some of us oldies are boosted too!)

“What’s great is that the Joseph Rowntree Theatre is aligned with all the guidelines and so we’ve worked together, more than ever, to make it as safe as possible for everyone, both backstage and in the audience.

“But in reality we’re in the lap of the gods. From here on in, we put on a great show and hope that we all stay healthy. Otherwise, I’ll be picking up a script and donning a frock!”

As the first night approaches, what’s the mood in the camp?  “Excited isn’t the word!  We have missed the community aspect so much – and you only realise the strength of bond between the Rowntree Players company when it hasn’t been there and we all get back together.

“Stepping into the theatre on Sunday for the get-in, seeing all those familiar, yet strangely masked, faces was a delight. We haven’t done this for two years but it’s all come flooding back.

Rowntree Players’ Gemma McDonald, Hannah King, Ellie Watson, Martyn Hunter and Graham Smith dress in pantomime character on a day out at Murton Park, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, near York

“In the company, we have a lot of returning cast and chorus, which has really helped us to short-cut through both Covid and a slightly curtailed rehearsal period because we slotted in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web in September, having delayed that production three times.

“Martyn Hunter has returned to the panto fold after a few years away and he’s done so with gusto, as has Bernie Calpin as Kit the Cat.”

Balancing work commitments with rehearsals, Howard is delighted to be bringing Dick Whittington to the stage. “At its heart, Dick Whittington has traditional pantomime roots. That’s what I love. We try and make every pantomime relevant, recognise how the world is changing and represent it in our own way.  

“But underneath all good pantomimes is a tale of right and wrong with a love story in the background and the freedom to be silly in between.

“I’ve also always liked the reminder that nowhere’s streets are paved with gold and that generally you have to work hard and you get out what you put in,” he says, “channelling his inner Yorkshireman”.

Saturday’s opening show will be emotional for cast and audience alike, given the sense of community at the core of all the Players’ work. “Everything we do at Rowntree Players aims to be inclusive of anyone who wants to take part,” says Howard, who is presenting Dick Whittington in tandem with choreographer Ami Carter, musical director Jess Douglas and production manager Helen Woodall.

“There’s a real commitment, there’s a pride in being involved with such an old society returning to the theatre where they started.

“The joy for any audience comes from the cast and their joy in being part of a production. We get so much pleasure from our hobby, we laugh an enormous amount, and I think that enjoyment flows over the pit and into the auditorium in everything we do.”

Rowntree Players present Dick Whittington at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, December 4 to 11. Performances: 7.30pm, except Sunday; 2pm matinees, Saturday, Sunday and next Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal and Evolution panto team raring to go with dynamic Cinderella

York Theatre Royal’s pantomime cast and ensemble arrive for the first day of rehearsals for Cinderella

AFTER last winter’s resourceful response to Covid restrictions with the Travelling Pantomime, York Theatre Royal’s panto returns to the main house for Cinderella from tomorrow (3/12/2021).

This will be the second co-production with the award-garlanded Evolution Productions, whose director and producer, Paul Hendy, has again written the script for Juliet Forster’s cast.

In the company will be CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini); Faye Campell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister) from the Travelling Pantomime cast; Paul Hawkyard (the other ugly Sister); comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham (Buttons); Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother).

“We’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time now,” says creative director Juliet Forster. “It feels very emotional to be working with a full cast, rehearsing back in the De Grey Rooms.

“We had a great time taking the Travelling Pantomime around the city last Christmas, but, oh my word, it’s just lovely to be back inside the theatre and to give a massive Theatre Royal welcome to Evolution.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolutions Productions’ Paul Hendy

After the exit of the gang of five, Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper, Martin Barrass and A J Powell, to the Grand Opera House, Forster’s pantomime cast has more of a diverse look, typical of her work. “I’ve almost always been able to do that with my casting because, in a lot of ways, I like to reflect the world we live in.

“For me, it’s more dynamic that way, and it was a policy with me before it became an Arts Council thing.”

Juliet believes the new Theatre Royal pantomime will appeal to a family audience and be marked by warmth. “That warmth will come from the performers, Paul’s script and from myself directing it,” she says.

“That’s not something you can manufacture. You have to feel it and encourage it, and the number one thing I learned from doing the Travelling Pantomime was the need to work with a cast that’s really funny and warm. When you get that mixture, you have a wonderful bond with the audience.”

Juliet adds: “I learned a lot from last year’s show being my first panto. Even though I’d done a lot of children’s shows, comedies and farces, pantomime is very much its own form, and I acquired a lot of respect for Paul’s panto-writing skills.

Andy Day: From CBeebies to Cinderella . Picture: Ant Robling

“The other thing I learned, and another big reason for wanting to do it again, was Hayley Del Harrison’s choreography, which was so playful and individual. I loved how she worked with each cast member really individually to bring out their character in their dancing.

“Hayley is back this year, and we’re doing more of that way of working – and we have the ensemble back too. Again, it was a big learning curve for me that dance can not only be beautiful and spectacular in panto but playful and fun too, and that’s something Hayley really brings out.”

Writer-producer Paul Hendy is delighted by the casting too. “It’s not by accident,” he says. “It’s done with this in mind: more than anything we want to appeal to a family audience. That’s my driving force.

“The cast must have that appeal; they must be talented, and they have to have that youthful energy to make the audience go, ‘wow, this is a great show, a different show from the norm’, mixing those qualities with spectacle and comedy. They’re all the ingredients that make a good panto.”

Paul acknowledges the “big reputation” of York Theatre Royal’s pantomime built up over Berwick Kaler’s four-decade damehood. “It’s very significant. Berwick helped to really establish York as a pantomime city, and we will carry that on but with a different flavour. I have every confidence in what we do, and we think people will say, ‘oh yes, we love this show too’,” he says.

York Theatre Royal’s pantomime cast members at the September launch day for Cinderella. Picture: Ant Robling

“There is definitely room for two large-scale pantomimes in this city. People will come and see this show for what it is, done with a lot of love and care, done in a bespoke way for York audiences. If people want high quality, they will enjoy this show.”

After the positive response to the Travelling Pantomime, audiences can expect more of the same, but more of it!  “I was so pleased and proud to be associated with last year’s show. Cinderella will be in that style but on a much bigger scale, with that humour, that spirit, that connectivity with the audience.

“It’s also ‘meta-theatre’ with a knowing awareness to it: it’s that thing of everyone knowing it’s not just Andy Day playing Dandini, but it’s Andy Day from CBeebies playing Dandini. It works better when everyone knows it.”

The last word goes to Juliet, who says: “It feels right to start the new era at the Theatre Royal with Evolution with Cinderella, the best known of all pantomimes, but also a pantomime without a dame, to give the transition time, not wanting someone to have to step into Berwick’s shoes straightaway, out of respect for him, but with a gradual progression to the future in mind.”

Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (3/12/2021) to January 2. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Elf The Musical, York Stage, at Grand Opera House, York, until December 3

Sophie Hammond’s Jovie and Damien Poole’s Buddy leading a dance routine in York Stage’s Elf The Musical. All pictures: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YOU will be lucky if any tickets are still left for York Stage’s Christmas show, and luckier still if you do see Elf The Musical.

The Christmas spirit is alive in more than those irritatingly premature TV adverts; a neighbour has put up the Christmas tree already; pantomimes are underway; the weather has turned all Jack Frost on us, and Elf The Musical is packing out the Grand Opera House, with all manner of accompanying merchandise to tempt, and Christmas jumpers on their first outing of the new season.

On first thoughts, a run nearer Christmas might have been more ideal, but judging by Saturday’s matinee, full of excited young families, a festive trip to the theatre cannot come soon enough after the misery of multiple lockdowns.

Martin Rowley’s storytelling Santa

Under the limitations of social bubbles, York Stage went ahead with their debut musical pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, last Christmas, but Elf The Musical marks the return to shows on the scale of Shrek The Musical, a huge hit for Nik Briggs’s company at the Grand Opera House. The orchestra alone numbers 16 under musical director Stephen Hackshaw’s zestful charge, to complement the cast of 20-plus.                     

Artistic director Briggs, who played the title role in that show, swaps places with Shrek’s director (and choreographer to boot), Damien Poole. Somehow, despite running Damien Poole Theatre Arts in Harrogate and teaching musical theatre at Leeds Conservatoire, he has found time to rehearse and play Buddy – and make him his own one-man national elf service. Did anyone mention Will Ferrell? No! “Damien is Buddy,” said Briggs beforehand, and now you can see why.

Elf The Musical retains the jokes and the naïve charm of the 2003 film, with a witty, playful book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, then leaves out the impractical high-speed snowball fight, and adds all the song-and-dance razzmatazz of a Broadway musical, with music by Matthew Sklar big on winter brass and lyrics by Chad Beguelin full of humour, bold statements and big sentiments.

Get your skates on…but not even that may guarantee you a ticket for York Stage’s hot-selling winter warmer Elf The Musical

Emily Taylor, long associated with Grand Opera House pantomimes, brings her choreographic brio to York Stage’s Elf, excelling in the ensemble numbers, never more so than when a multitude of Santas are letting off their after-hours steam.

Should anyone miraculously have escaped the film, Elf The Musical has Martin Rowley’s old-school Santa introducing the story of how orphan boy Buddy crawls into Santa’s sack and ends up being brought up among all the elf toy makers on a sugar-rich diet with two visits a day to the North Pole dentist. 

In the opening scenes, all except Santa and Buddy are whizzing around on their knees playing elves, immediately establishing the magical yet daft fun of Briggs’s show.

Faateh Sohail as Michael and Jo Theaker as Emily Hobbs

Poole captures this tone perfectly, full of good cheer, love, innocence, cheekiness and a desire to please, like the silly billy/daft lad/Buttons roles we associate with pantomimes at this time of year. Then add boundless energy, delightful singing and nimble dance skills, plus natural stage “likeability” (to borrow a Berwick Kaler expression), and you have the ideal Buddy.

When Buddy learns that he is not an elf after all, despite being so elfish in his thinking, off to New York he must go to try to find his real father, children’s publishing-house manager Walter Hobbs (Stuart Piper), who never knew he had a son from a long-ago relationship. 

Perma-stressed Walter is now married to long-suffering Emily (Jo Theaker), with a son, Michael (Faateh Sohail at the matinee, sharing the role with Declan Childs and Ethan McDonald). 

Elf director Nik Briggs and choreographer Emily Taylor with lead actors Sophie Hammond and Damien Poole

Briggs has cast as well as ever, Piper’s Walter walking the tightrope of being unreasonable/reasonable in his behaviour, Theaker being as lovable as always and Sohail showing bags of confidence and promise.

Like Poole, professional actor Sophie Hammond, first cast by Briggs 11 years ago as Ariel in Footloose, has moved into teaching drama skills but she has jumped at the chance to play Jovie, Buddy’s slow-burn love interest.

Initially, her Jovie is typical of the New York cynicism to be found among the Macy’s department store staff, where Buddy finds himself working as he constantly corrects everyone’s misconceptions over Santa, the North Pole and Christmas. Like the rest of us, she cannot but warm to Buddy’s innocent enthusiasm, even for going on a date. Hammond captures this transmission with more subtlety than would be first apparent in the script’s broad strokes.  

Katie Melia’s Babs and Damien Poole’s Buddy

Strong support comes from Katie Melia’s Deb, Jack Hooper’s Chadwick, and especially Craig Kirby’s grouchy publishing boss, Greenway.

Hackshaw’s band are on ace form, not only the brass section, but with Sam Johnson, Barbara Chan and violinist Claire Jowett among the ranks, the quality is high indeed for the fantastic score.

The snowy icing on the cake is Briggs’s set design, big snowflakes, open North Pole skyline, bustling Macy’s store, finale snow machine et al, as he draws inspiration from Radio City Music Hall. Will there be a magical sleigh ride? Wait and see – if you have one of those oh-so-in-demand tickets of course.

Box office on the off chance: atgickets.com/York.

John Barrowman celebrates his musical theatre journey from West End to Broadway at York Barbican next May

“I’ve lived my dreams,” says John Barrowman. “My new show is a celebration of that wonderful journey”

MUSICAL theatre star John Barrowman will bring his new show I Am What I Am – West End To Broadway to York Barbican on May 20 2022.

Tickets go on sale on Friday, December 3 at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk for Barrowman’s return to the Barbican for the first time since May 2015.

“From the West End to Broadway, this has been the amazing journey of my musical theatre career,” says Barrowman. “I’ve worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Cameron Mackintosh, to name a few.

“I’ve performed at the National Theatre and on Broadway. I’ve lived my dreams. My new show is a celebration of that wonderful journey. I’ll perform songs from the biggest musicals I’ve starred in and perhaps one or two that I haven’t.

“Mix in a couple of duets. Sprinkle in a few surprises. This will be a show to remember. This has been a difficult time for many, so join me for a night of laughter and love and the best of musical theatre.”

John Barrowman is “the ultimate crossover artist”: he can sing, dance, act, present and on occasion he judges too.

The poster for John Barrowman’s I Am What I Am 2022 Tour

His journey to success on both sides of the Atlantic began in 1989 in musical theatre, making his West End debut as Billy Cocker opposite Elaine Paige in Cole Porter’s musical Anything Goes.

Leading West End roles ensued in Matador, Miss Saigon, The Phantom Of  The Opera and Sunset Boulevard, one he reprised in New York.

His other musical theatre credits include Putting It Together on Broadway and The Fix at London’s Donmar Warehouse, bringing him an Olivier nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.

The National Theatre revival of Anything Goes transferred to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, but better still his performance – one of his favourites – as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles won him the What’s On Stage Best Takeover Role Award.

From that show, I Am What I Am has become his signature tune, always his choice to close his concert shows.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Dickens tales, dames and Damon drop in. List No. 59, courtesy of The Press, York

What the Dickens? Yes, James Swanton is reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas at York Medical Society

FROM boyish Boris to Dame Edna, Christmas concerts to panto dames, Dickensian ghost stories to solo Damon, Charles Hutchinson has highlights aplenty to recommend.   

Dickensian Christmas in York: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, on various dates between December 2 and 13, 7pm

AFTER the silent nights of last December, York gothic actor supreme James Swanton is gleefully reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas performances of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Haunted Man and The Chimes.

“I’ve scheduled extra performances of A Christmas Carol: the perfect cheering antidote, I feel, to the misery we’ve all been through,” says Swanton. “But the two lesser-known stories are also very relevant to our times.”

A reduced capacity is operating for Covid safety, meaning that tickets are at a premium on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Boris: World King, under debate at Theatre@41

Political debate of the week: Boris: World King, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE year is 1985 and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has plenty going for him, being young, posh and really rather blond. However, his efforts to become President of the Oxford Union debating society have been thwarted.

Never fear. Boris always has a cunning plan up his sleeve. Cue time travel, classical allusions and good clean banter in Boris: World King, Tom Crawshaw’s comedic exploration of a young man’s ambition and humanity explored as a half-hour one-man show. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Richard Kay: Co-directing York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir’s Christmas concerts

Harmony at Christmas: York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Citadel Singers, Christmas Traditions 2021, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, Tuesday to Friday, doors 7pm

AFTER delivering an online Christmas concert via Zoom to an international audience in 2020, York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir return to live concerts for Christmas Traditions 2021.

The Citadel allows room for cabaret seating downstairs and balcony seating that can ensure safe distancing is maintained, while the show retains its format of carols old and new, Christmas songs, festive readings and sketches. Box office: arkevent.co.uk/christmastraditions2021.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s night at the double at York Minster

York gig(s) of the week: Damon Albarn, York Minster, Thursday, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

DAMON Albarn quickly added a second special intimate album-launch show at York Minster after the first was fully booked in a flash.

The Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader now plays two sold-out concerts in one night in his first ever York performances, marking the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Albarn, 53, has been on a “dark journey” making this album in lockdown, exploring themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Martyn Joseph: Lockdown reflections on landmark birthday on new album, showcased in concert at Pocklington Arts Centre concert

Gig of the week outside York: Martyn Joseph, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

“THE Welsh Springsteen”, singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, will be showcasing his 23rd studio album, 1960, a “coming of age” record with a difference, in Pocklington.

Last year, amid the isolation of the pandemic, Penarth-born Joseph turned 60 on July 15, a landmark birthday, a time of self-reflection, that shaped his songs of despair and sadness, gratitude and wonder, and gave the album its title. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Alistair Griffin: Series of Big Christmas Concerts in York

Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 3 (sold out) and December 10, 8pm; Alistair Griffin’s Candlelit Christmas, Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, December 11, 8pm

ON December 3 and 10, a brass band greets revellers, then York singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert takes a musical journey from acoustic traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues. “Sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York,” says Griffin’s invitation.

On December 11, he switches from St Michael-le-Belfrey to a candle-lit Holy Trinity Church. “Take a seat, or in this case, a medieval pew and soak in the festive atmosphere,” he says. Cue mulled wine, Christmas tunes, acoustic festive numbers and a Christmas carol singalong. Box office: alistairgriffin.com.

York playwright Mike Kenny: New production of The Railway Children with his award-winning script at Hull Truck

On the right track show of the week outside York: The Railway Children, Hull Truck Theatre, running until January 2

YORK playwright Mike Kenny has revisited his award-winning adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children – first staged so memorably by York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum – for Hull Truck’s Christmas musical.

Directed by artistic director Mark Babych in the manner of his Oliver Twist and Peter Pan shows of Christmases past, original music and dance routines complement Kenny’s storytelling in this warm-hearted, uplifting tale of hope, friendship and family, set in Yorkshire. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

Faye Campbell: Brushing up on playing Cinderella in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, opening on Friday

Evolution, not revolution, in pantoland: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, December 3 to January 2

YORK Theatre Royal’s post-Berwick era began last year with the Travelling Pantomime, establishing the partnership of Evolution Pantomimes’ man with the Midas touch, Paul Hendy, as writer and Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster as director.

After the 2020 road show, here comes the full-scale return to the main house for Cinderella, starring CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini), last winter’s stars Faye Campbell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister), Paul Hawkyard (the other Sister), ventriloquist comedian Max Fulham (Buttons), Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Unmasked: Barry Humphries tells all at the Grand Opera House, York next April

Hottest ticket launch of the week: Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask, Grand Opera House, York, April 13 2022

AUSTRALIAN actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure Barry Humphries will play only one Yorkshire show on his 2022 tour, here in York.

Set to turn 88 on February 17, he will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of alter egos Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. Hurry, hurry, for tickets on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

York Theatre Royal awarded £294,952 in third round of Cultural Recovery Fund

York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird: “Delighted and grateful”

YORK Theatre Royal is to receive £294,952 from the Government’s third round of Culture Recovery Fund grants.

This award will support the St Leonard’s Place theatre’s community-focused winter programme.

Chief executive Tom Bird said: “We are delighted and grateful for this grant from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, which supports our recovery and underpins a hugely exciting winter programme at York Theatre Royal. This award allows us to continue to help the people of York enjoy the benefits of a creative life.”

The Theatre Royal is among 925 recipients to benefit, with more than £100 million being awarded to cultural organisations across the country as they deal with ongoing reopening challenges, ensuring they can thrive in better times ahead. 

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Culture is for everyone and should therefore be accessible to everyone, no matter who they are and where they’re from.

“Through unprecedented Government financial support, the Culture Recovery Fund is supporting arts and cultural organisations so they can continue to bring culture to communities the length and breadth of the country, supporting jobs, boosting local economies and inspiring people.” 

More than £1.2 billion already has been awarded from the Culture Recovery Fund, supporting around 5,000 individual organisations and sites across the country, ranging from museums to West End theatres, grassroots music venues to festivals, plus organisations in the cultural and heritage supply chains. 

Darren Henley, Arts Council England’s chief executive, said: “This continued investment from the Government on an unprecedented scale means our theatres, galleries, music venues, museums and arts centres can carry on playing their part in bringing visitors back to our high streets, helping to drive economic growth, boosting community pride and promoting good health.

“It’s a massive vote of confidence in the role our cultural organisations play in helping us all to lead happier lives.” 

In the first response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Arts Council developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90 per cent coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support.

Barry Humphries unmasks for confessional show at Grand Opera House, possums

The man behind the mask: Barry Humphries, Australian actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure

BARRY Humphries will reveal The Man Behind The Mask on his new 2022 tour, visiting the Grand Opera House for his only Yorkshire show on April 13.

The Australian actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure, who is set to turn 88 on February 17, will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of Dame Edna Everage et al.

Tickets for the 7.30pm performance go on sale at £46.50 upwards at 10am tomorrow morning on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

The Brits welcomed housewife and talk-show host Dame Edna with open arms as Humphries’ premier alter ego immediately became a household favourite, later joined by obese, lecherous and offensive Australian cultural attaché, the Honourable Sir Les Patterson and the elderly, childless Sandy Stone, “Australia’s most boring man”, as Humphries has called him.

Side by side: Barry Humphries and alter ego Dame Edna Everage promoting his 2014 show Eat Pray Laugh!, Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour – not true as it now turns out!

Peeling off his mask to introduce the man behind the clown, Humphries says: “This is a show in which I am the principal character; it’s not Les, it’s not Edna, it’s not Sandy Stone. It is really about this character called ‘me’. I’m not in disguise.”

His York audience can expect a virtuoso comic solo performance filled with laughter, drama and surprise. “There will be an opportunity to ask questions and the magic of technology may even allow appearances – or interruptions – by unexpected guests,” Humphries’ press release teases.

Prompt booking is advised for his return to Yorkshire, where he presented Eat Pray Laugh!, Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour at Leeds Grand Theatre from February 25 to March 1 2014.