Kneehigh mount Leeds Playhouse protest with Ubu party games and singalongs

Kneehigh’s Ubu!: party and protest rolled into one riotous show . Picture: Steve Tanner

ALFRED Jarry’s ground-breaking political parable Ubu Roi caused riots when first staged in Paris in 1896. Now, Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire promises an equally riotous night out at Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.

Conceived by Carl Grose, Charles Hazlewood and Mike Shepherd, it smashes together Jarry’s gleefully rude and deliberately childish script with a crowd-pleasing singalong, party games, inflatable animals and contemporary political satire.   

Kneehigh’s Ubu! is a punk-spirited, comedic study of power, protest and populism. “And what better form of popular culture to demonstrate this than mass karaoke?”, ask the Cornish company.

The show is led by Katy Owen’s tiny, tyrannical Pa Ubu and Mike Shepherd’s pouting, preening Ma Ubu, alongside the ever-versatile Kneehigh ensemble: a six-strong cast and the band The Sweaty Bureaucrats.  

Arranged by Hazlewood, the selection of songs is inventive and cannily chosen, ranging from Britney Spears’ Toxic and Edwin Starr’s War to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk and The Carpenters’ Close To You, as a festival atmosphere builds.

Writer and co-director Carl Grose explains how Ubu! came to fruition and why the petty protagonist still resonates with modern audiences. “When Alfred Jarry’s play received its premiere at the Théâtre de l’OEuvre in Paris on December 10 1896, there was, so the story goes, a full-on riot,” he says.

Winging it: Kneehigh’s singalong Ubu!. Picture: Steve Tanner

“Audiences and critics alike were confronted with sights and sounds of such outrageousness that pandemonium broke out and the production was shut down after only two performances.”

Grose continues: “Like all great artists, Alfred Jarry was a disrupter, and Ubu was his weapon of mass disruption. A personification of chaos, a lord of misrule, a howling, hysterical metaphor for greed, lies and corruption.

“The main character was designed to be both laughed at and despised, and that’s still the case. He is here to gather us together as his prisoners, his acolytes, his victims – or his potential usurpers.

“He is a reminder that those in power will do their damnedest to make their reality our normality. It’s up to us to collectively remember that there’s nothing normal about Ubu and his ilk.”

Ubu’s behaviour beggars belief, concludes Grose. “He is cruel, nonsensical, cowardly, aggressive and beyond vile in his actions,” he says. “Career mad, he looks totally ridiculous, puts money over humanity in a heartbeat and has a vocabulary that leaves a lot to be desired. What an absurd creation, eh?”

Prepare for a Kneehigh antidote to a divided world that makes a stand against divisiveness and brings audiences together through the joyful act of singing

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, February 4 to 8. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Opera North’s revival of The Marriage Of Figaro

Fflur Wyn as Susanna and Phillip Rhodes as Figaro in Opera North’s The Marriage Of Figaro. All pictures:. Robert Workman

Opera North in The Marriage Of Figaro, Leeds Grand Theatre, February 1 ****

Further Leeds performances on February 8, 14, 19, 22, 26 and 29, then on tour . More details at Leeds box office: 0844 848 2700 or at

IT is strange how operatic revivals can vary so much from their originals, even when the same director is on hand to oversee them. Jo Davies’s production of Mozart’s opera buffa dates from January 2015. That is before the Me Too movement really took off in October 2017, when the treatment of women in Hollywood began to come under the microscope.

 Its repercussions on this show are fascinating. The two leading men, Count Almaviva and Figaro himself, are by far the most charismatic here. That is partly down to the singers involved. But it also reflects the relative hardness of their ladies, the Countess and Susanna.

These men are having their very manhood challenged, even as they attempt their various conquests. It could help to explain why Quirijn de Lang’s relentlessly dim-witted Count (though the singer himself is clearly quite the opposite) comes across as a failed Don Giovanni, never quite achieving those desired notches on his cane. The man is libidinous beyond belief. Even at the end you wonder how long he can possibly remain faithful to his wife. He nevertheless sings with plenty of self-belief.

Heather Lowe as Cherubino

The New Zealand baritone Phillip Rhodes relaxes into the title role immediately, despite taking it on for the first time. The part could have been made for him. His Figaro retains unclouded optimism in the face of every setback, helped by warm, clear tone and a pair of eyebrows that crinkle with mirth at every excuse.

Opposite him, Fflur Wyn, also new to her role as Susanna, is a calculating creature – the gardener Antonio’s social-climbing niece – rather than a playful minx. Her soprano is light and clean, her diction less so. Nor is clarity Máire Flavin’s strong point as the Countess. Her first aria was too tense to excite sympathy, her second showed what might have been, with fluent control. But she moves beautifully and always has the moral high ground over her wayward husband.

The lower orders are well represented. It comes as no surprise to discover that Heather Lowe, the tousle-haired Cherubino, is a trained dancer. She is exceptionally nimble as well as vocally adept, not least as girl-plays-boy-playing girl.

Jonathan Best makes a diffident old fogey of Bartolo, well partnered by Gaynor Keeble’s earthy Marcellina. Joseph Shovelton is back with his oily Basilio, as is Jeremy Peaker’s rubicund Antonio. Alexandra Oomens is the peppy Barbarina. Even Warren Gillespie’s Curzio makes a mark, here as a censer-swinging priest. Real incense too.

Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva and Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva

 Antony Hermus makes his first appearance in the pit since being appointed Principal Guest Conductor. He is a mixed blessing. His rigid, hyperactive baton ensures taut ensemble, but allows his woodwinds little flexibility; the strength of his accents regularly swamps the singers’ words in ensemble. On the other hand, conducting from the harpsichord, his recitatives flow idiomatically.

 Leslie Travers’s mobile set shows both the downstairs and the upstairs of this society, the former doubling as the outside of the house for the garden scene. Peeling wallpaper and rickety staircases speak of genteel poverty. Gabrielle Dalton’s socially-layered costumes could be from almost any era.

In the wake of Me Too, we should expect certain aspects of the comedy to be soft-pedalled. But there is plenty of amusement at the expense of the men. And that is as it should be. 

Phillip Rhodes as Figaro

Review by Martin Dreyer

Six of the best to star in York Stage’s comedy drama Steel Magnolias

“Strong women”: Joanne Theaker, front left, Louise Henry, back left, Sandy Nicholson, Julie-Anne Smith and Kathryn Addison starring in Nik Briggs’s production of Steel Magnolias for York Stage

YORK Stage kick off their 2020 season with Robert Harling’s comedy-drama Steel Magnolias at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Running in the John Cooper Studio from February 19 to 22, this 1987 American play focuses on the camaraderie of six Southern women who talk, gossip, jest and harangue each other through the best of times and comfort and repair one another through the worst.

“Steel Magnolias is alternately hilarious and touching with six female characters that are all as delicate as magnolias yet as strong as steel,” says director Nik Briggs.

Joanne Theaker, Louise Henry, Sandy Nicholson and Julie-Anne Smith in York Stage’s Steel Magnolias

His cast comprises Joanne Theaker as M’Lynn; Louise Henry as Shelby; Julie-Anne Smith as Ousier; Sandy Nicholson as Clairee; Kathryn Addision as Truvy and Carly Morton as Annelle.

Yorkshire actress Joanne Theaker returns to the York Stage company, having led the cast as Maria in The Sound Of Music at the Grand Opera House last April.

Previously, Joanne has played Sister Mary Roberts in Sister Act; Diva in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – The Musical; Judy in Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 The Musical and Paulette in Legally Blonde. Elsewhere, she has performed at Hull Truck Theatre in the original casts of John Godber’s Thick As a Brick and Big Trouble In The Little Bedroom and at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song.

Julie-Anne Smith and Sandy Nicholson have a laugh in the photo-shoot for Steel Magnolias

Louise Henry joins rehearsals after making her professional debut as Snow White in this winter’s Grand Opera House pantomime, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Previously, for York Stage Musicals, she had performed in The Sound Of Music as Liesl last April and Twilight Robbery as Jayne in May. West End actress Julie-Anne Smith last appeared for York Stage Musicals as Violet in 9 To 5 in 2017.

Briggs says: “Bringing Steel Magnolias to the stage, and working with these six women especially, has been a joy. It’s no secret that I love working with strong women, especially in the rehearsal room and you don’t get much stronger than these six.

”Having previously directed many female-led shows – Sister Act, Legally Blonde, 9 To 5, The Sound Of Music, Be My Baby and Little Voice – Steel Magnolias has been on my ‘To Do’ list for a long time.”

Hair-larious: Louise Henry and Joanne Theaker

The women’s closeness drew Briggs to Harling’s piece. “It’s relatable, the salon is a world in itself and the six characters are an adopted family,” he says. “They laugh, cry, argue, support and challenge each other within this world and it really allows for the drama and comedy to flourish and soar.

“We’ve had tears of laughter and tears of sadness over the rehearsal period. This really is a show to see with your closest girl friends and family. Come, laugh and cry together, and if you want to wear pyjamas and bring a large carton of ice cream with you for the ultimate girly ‘night in-out’, we won’t judge!”

Harling was inspired to write Steel Magnolias, his first play, after his sister Susan died of complications from diabetes. Premiered off-Broadway at the WPA Theater in 1987, it quickly transferred to Broadway, where it became an instant sensation, running for three years and spawning the hit movie starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine.

Hair piece: York Stage’s poster image for Steel Magnolias

York Stage in Steel Magnolias, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, February 19 to 22, 7:30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets: £15, concessions £13, at, on 01904 623568 or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office. “We shall be supporting York and District Diabetes UK Group throughout the run,” says director Nik Briggs.

Pre-apocalyptic comedy alert!! But where will The Last Quiz Night On Earth be held?

Look at the pub name! Where else could The Last Quiz Night On Earth be held? Well, Pocklington Arts Centre, actually

QUICK question. Did you see Chip Shop Chips, Box Of Tricks Theatre Company’s show at Pocklington Arts Centre last year?

Yes? So, presumably you will want know when they will be returning to Pock and what in?

The answers are Friday, March 20 in The Last Quiz Night On Earth, an immersive, innovative new play by Alison Carr for theatre devotees and pub quiz enthusiasts alike, who are promised “a very different experience of live performance”.

PAC director Janet Farmer says: “The last time Box Of Tricks visited here, they wowed and wholly entertained us with Chip Shop Chips, an immersive theatre experience that our audiences still talk about. 

“So, we can’t wait to welcome them back to the venue with their brand new show. It looks set to be an absolute blast!”

In the Box Of Tricks locker already are the award-winning Manchester company’s shows SparkPlug, Narvik and Under Three Moons. Now they follow two sold-out tours of Chip Shop Chips with Carr’s pre-apocalyptic comedy, The Last Quiz Night On Earth. 

Next question. What happens? “It’s the final countdown. Landlady Kathy invites audiences to the last quiz night on earth with Quizmaster Rav. He is the host with the most,” say Box Of Tricks.

“But with time ticking, some unexpected guests turn up out of the blue. Bobby wants to settle old scores and Fran wants one last shot at love. Expect the unexpected to the bitter end and plenty of drama as the show gets quizzical.”

Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder directs the play, with design by Katie Scott. Pub landlady Kathy will be played by Meriel Scholfield, who has appeared in Coronation Street, Last Tango In Halifax, Holby City and Doctors, while Shaban Dar will take the role of pre-apocalyptic Quizmaster Rav.

Playwright Alison Carr’s past works include Caterpillar and Iris; her latest play, Tuesday, has been commissioned for the National Theatre’s 2020 Connections programme.

Next question. Why did she write The Last Quiz Night On Earth? “I wanted to combine the known and the unknown, the safe and the downright terrifying,” she answers. 

“My vision was to create something that audiences don’t just sit and watch but are part of – but not in a scary way. 

“Personally, the thought of audience participation makes me feel sick, but a quiz is something we can all do, whether we’re a general knowledge expert or the neatest so we can do the writing.” 

The play was “so much fun to research and write,” she says. “I have to admit, I know a lot about asteroids now, and the answers to a fair amount of quiz questions. I’m so excited to have Box Of Tricks bring it to life and to share it with audiences.”

Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder adds: “I’m really excited to be working with Alison Carr on her first play for Box Of Tricks. 

“Alison is a writer of real talent, crafting plays of depth, wit and real emotional warmth. The Last Quiz Night On Earth is a unique piece: a pre-apocalyptic comedy bringing people together through the power of trivia for a great night out.

“Following our success touring Chip Shop Chips to the heart of communities, I’m really looking forward to revisiting some wonderful places and spaces as well as discovering new locations with this play.” 

Last questions. Pocklington show time? 7.30pm. Ticket price? £12.50, under 21s, £10, and Friends Rates. Box office number? 01759 301547. Online?

Cosmic Collective open Heaven’s Gate to imagine UFO worshippers’ final hour


Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Heaven’s Gate

FOUR‌ ‌cups‌ ‌of‌ ‌Apple‌ ‌Sauce.‌ ‌Four‌ ‌canvas‌ ‌camp‌ ‌beds.‌ ‌One‌ ‌Comet.‌ ‌Heaven’s‌ ‌Gate‌ ‌is‌ ‌closing‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Away‌ ‌Team‌ ‌are‌ ‌ready‌ ‌for‌ ‌Graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word. Cult.

Premiered by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre at last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York, ‌ ‌the 55-minute Heaven’s Gate opens its debut Yorkshire tour at Harrogate Theatre’s Studio Theatre tonight.

Written by company co-founder Joe Feeney, this ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy ‌imagines‌ ‌the‌ ‌final‌ ‌hour‌ ‌of‌ ‌four‌ ‌fictionalised‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌real-life ‌ ‌‌UFO-theistic‌ ‌group, Heaven’s Gate.‌ ‌

“As‌ ‌they‌ ‌prepare‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‘Graduation’‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘Kingdom‌ ‌of Heaven’, initially the excitement is palpable, but soon the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear,” says Joe, an alumnus of York Theatre Royal Youth, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.‌

“Is‌ ‌Heavenly‌ ‌Father‌ ‌really‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌spaceship?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌actually‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌recycled?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌castration‌ ‌obligatory‌ ‌or‌ ‌not?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌Turkey‌ ‌Potpie‌ ‌an‌ ‌underwhelming‌ ‌last‌ ‌supper?‌” ‌ ‌

Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre‌, who enjoyed a sold-out run at the‌ ‌Drayton‌ ‌Arms‌ ‌Theatre‌, ‌London, after the York premiere, will follow up today and tomorrow’s 8pm Harrogate performances with shows at The‌ ‌Carriageworks,‌ ‌Leeds, on February 5 and 6 at 7.30pm; York Theatre Royal Studio, February 7, 7.45pm; Hull Truck Theatre Studio, February 14,  8pm, and Slung Low at Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, February 16, 5pm.

‌They‌ ‌will be‌ ‌playing ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌as‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Visionari Studio Discoveries festival, a week of shows put together by the theatre’s community programming group.‌ ‌

Performing there ‌has‌ ‌particular‌ ‌resonance‌ ‌for‌ ‌‌Joe‌ and Anna. “This‌ ‌is‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌special‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,” says Joe. “I’ve been ‌‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌for‌ ‌more than‌ ‌20‌ ‌years. I was a ‌Youth‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌member‌ ‌for‌ ten-plus years and‌ ‌have worked‌ ‌as‌ ‌crew‌ ‌backstage‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌off‌ ‌since‌ ‌2010.‌

Cosmic Collective Theatre in rehearsal for Heaven’s Gate

“‌As‌ ‌an‌ ‌actor, I’ve ‌ ‌performed‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌internationally, but‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌will‌ ‌compare‌ ‌to‌ ‌performing‌ ‌at‌ ‌home‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌wonderful‌ ‌theatre. It’s honestly‌ ‌a‌ ‌dream‌ ‌come‌ ‌true.”‌ ‌

Anna‌‌ ‌agrees: ‌‌“I‌ ‌wouldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌working‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌industry‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌for‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre Royal Youth‌ ‌Theatre,‌ ‌which‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌greatest‌ ‌youth‌ ‌theatre‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌country!” she says. “‌To‌ ‌return‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌years‌ ‌later‌ ‌and‌ ‌perform‌ ‌here‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌professional‌ ‌actor‌ ‌is‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌privilege.”‌ ‌ ‌

Cast‌ ‌members‌ ‌Lewes‌ ‌Roberts‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Cresswell‌ ‌share‌ ‌this‌ ‌excitement‌.  “We‌ ‌met‌ ‌Joe‌ ‌and‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌when‌ ‌we‌ ‌trained‌ ‌together‌ ‌at‌ ‌Mountview and‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌visiting‌ ‌York‌ ‌ever‌ ‌since.

“We ‌may‌ ‌not‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌born‌ ‌here‌ ‌but‌ ‌we’re ‌honorary‌ ‌citizens; it’s our‌ ‌home‌ ‌from‌ home. Performing‌ ‌at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe ‌last‌ ‌summer‌ ‌was‌ ‌brilliant,‌ ‌and‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌this‌ ‌year‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌next‌ ‌level.” ‌

‌Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre’s cast‌ ‌boast‌s ‌impressive‌ ‌credits. ‌Feeney‌ ‌has‌ ‌returned‌ ‌home from‌ ‌Belgium‌, ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌played‌ ‌Captain‌ ‌Stanhope‌ ‌in‌ ‌MESH‌ ‌Theatre’s‌‌ ‌revival‌ ‌of‌ ‌Journey’s‌ ‌End.‌ ‌ 

Soden played ‌Fairy‌ ‌Poppins in this winter’s‌ ‌Liverpool‌ ‌Everyman‌ ‌pantomime, Sleeping‌ ‌Beauty; Roberts‌ ‌can‌ ‌‌be‌ ‌seen in‌ ‌BBC One’s‌ ‌The‌ ‌Tuckers; ‌Cresswell‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌treading‌ ‌the‌ London boards‌ ‌in‌ Hansel‌ ‌And‌ ‌Gretel‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌Opera‌ ‌House,‌ ‌Covent‌ ‌Garden.

‌Harrogate tickets are on sale on 01423 502116 or at; Carriageworks, 0113 376 0318 or; York, 01904 623568 or; Hull, 01482 323638 or; The Holbeck,  ‌

 Please note: Heaven’s Gate ‌contains‌ ‌references‌ ‌to‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and‌ ‌suicide and has ‌mild swearing.‌ ‌Age recommendation: 15 plus.

Here come one baguette, one dodgy steed, Three Musketeers… and four bicycles

Re-cycling a familiar French adventure: Le Navet Bete in The Three Musketeers. Picture: Mark Dawson

AFTER Dracula: The Bloody Truth and Dick Tracy, travelling players Le Navet Bete come armed only with a baguette and a questionable steed on their latest adventure.

The award-winning Essex physical comedy troupe ride into York Theatre Royal on February 7 and 8 with The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure.

The main-house stage transforms into the French countryside as hot-headed D’Artagnan travels to Paris full of childish excitement and misplaced bravado to become a Musketeer. Will things go to plan? Unlikely, but at least this chaotic caper will be in the hands of four actors wholly assured in taking on more than 30 character portrayals.

“Sorry, I’m tied up for February 7 and 8 already. I’ll be at York Theatre Royal”. Picture: Matt Austin

Billed as their biggest and most riotous show to date, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure is the sixth time Le Navet Bete have worked with comedy director John Nicholson, co-artistic director of Peepolykus and regular comedy writer for television and radio.

“This time we’ve collaborated on a comedy version of Alexander Dumas’s classic French tale, turning it on its head,” say Le Navet Bete, who have worked on the show with choreographer Lea Anderson and set designer Ti Green too. “Expect all the main characters from the book, but in ways you wouldn’t expect to see them,” they tease.

Le Navet Bete and Exeter Northcott Theatre present The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure, York Theatre Royal, February 7 and 8, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at Suitable for age seven upwards.

What’s in a name?

La Navet Bete means “the daft turnip”.

Broadsides founder Barrie Rutter diagnosed with throat cancer. Treatment to start shortly

Barrie Rutter after receiving his OBE on June 25 2015 at Buckingham Palace. Picture: Nobby Clark

BARRIE Rutter, award-winning Yorkshire actor, director and founder of Northern Broadsides, has been diagnosed with throat cancer.

In an official statement, 73-year-old Rutter is “in the good care of the mighty NHS and will begin his treatment very shortly”. 

Born in 1946, the son of a Hull fish worker, Rutter grew up in a two-up, two-down in the fish dock area of Hull.

Barrie Rutter as Lear in King Lear in 2015. Picture: Nobby Clark

At school, an English teacher frogmarched him into the school play because he had “the gob for it”, and feeling at home on stage, Rutter chose his future direction.

There followed many years in the National Youth Theatre, culminating in The Apprentices, with a role written specially for him by Peter Terson: a  practice to be repeated later in his career.

Seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, London and Europe completed the 1970s. In 1980, he joined the National Theatre, a formative period when he met and worked closely with a poet who was to become his guru, Leeds writer Tony Harrison. 

Rutter performed in three of Harrison’s adaptations, all written for the Northern voice: The Mysteries, The Oresteia, and The Trackers Of Oxyrhynchus, wherein he played Silenus, a part penned for Rutter.

Barrie Rutter as flash banker Fuller in Northern Broadsides’ For Love Or Money in 2017. Picture: Nobby Clark

This experience was the spark for actor-manager Rutter setting up Northern Broadsides in 1992, the Halifax company noted for bringing the northern voice, song and clog dancing to Shakespeare, classical theatre and new works alike.

Frustrated by what he perceived to be inadequate Arts Council funding for Broadsides, he stepped  down from the artistic director’s post in April 2018. By then he had received the OBE for services to drama in 2015.

He last appeared on the York Theatre Royal stage in November 2017, when the quizzically eye-browed Rutter was at his most Rutter in his farewell Broadsides tour, For Love Or Money, a typically anarchic theatrical double act with Blake Morrison.

BERWICK’S BACK! York’s grand old dame to ride again but you won’t believe where!

Berwick’s back: dame for a laugh once more

YORK’S grand old dame, Berwick Kaler, is back in panto. Oh yes, he is.

At York Theatre Royal, his “beloved home” for 41 years? Oh, no he isn’t.

Dame Berwick is switching to the other side, the Grand Opera House, to become the Grand’s old dame. What’s more, he will be bringing the rest of the Not Famous But Famous In York Five along for the ride in Dick Turpin Rides Again: villain David Leonard; sidekick stooge Martin Barrass; ageless principal girl Suzy Cooper and luverly Brummie A J Powell.

Tickets for the December 12 to January 10 run will go on general sale on February 14, Valentine’s Day, when fans can have a love-in with Dame Berwick in the box office, when he sells the first tickets at 10am.

 A delighted Kaler says: “Qdos Entertainment have come to the rescue of the most lauded pantomime in the country, having found us a new home at the Grand Opera House in our beloved City of York.

“To make this a success we need you – the most articulate and loyal audience in the entire country. We can go forth with a management that believes we have enhanced the reputation of a local pantomime that has caught the imagination of young and old, from all walks of life.”

Qdos Entertainment’s managing director Michael Harrison enthuses: “We are absolutely delighted to be embarking on an all-new pantomime partnership with our colleagues at the Ambassador Theatre Group, Grand Opera House and, of course, Berwick and the gang.

“Berwick is an undeniable master in the world of pantomime, with his own inimitable style and approach and we are delighted to be working closely with him and the cast to bring back the magic for which they are best known.”

Kaler, 73, retired from playing the Theatre Royal’s dame after 40 years last February, but has signed a three-year contract with Qdos Entertainment, the pantomime powerhouse of British theatre, who are taking over the Grand Opera House panto from Three Bears Productions from Winter 2020.

Dame Berwick will write and direct the show, as well as pulling on his trademark big boots, unruly wig and spectacular frocks again, after regretting his decision to retire, breaking his run as Britain’s longest-running dame, from the moment he announced it.

Fully recovered from his double heart bypass in the summer of 2018, It was a sentiment he repeated regularly, not least on the last night of The Grand Old Dame Of York on February 2 last year, saying he “would be back like a shot” if asked.

Now the veteran dame does return, but across the city, where he has chosen Dick Turpin Rides Again for his first Grand Opera House pantomime, revisiting a show that brought him his highest ever audience figures at the Theatre Royal: 54,000 for Dick Turpin in 2008-2009.

He last appeared on the Opera House stage as fey drag artist Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’ Privates On Parade in 1996.

Kaler made an emotional, provocative speech at the finale to last Saturday’s final night of Sleeping Beauty, the troubled Theatre Royal pantomime he had written and co-directed this winter, but whose progress was jolted by executive director Tom Bird’s confirmation, with a fortnight still to run, that Dame Berwick would not be back, as writer or director, let alone as dame.

BERWICKXIT: Berwick Kaler playing the dame in his last York Theatre Royal pantomime, The Grand Old Dame Of York, last winter. Picture: Anthony Robling

Suzy Cooper and Kaler in The Press splash had called for the dame to return, David Leonard later backed that campaign, while Martin Barrass addressed the audience at each show post-announcement to say “this cast and this band” would not be returning. A public petition was launched too.

“I’m b****y furious,” said the dame, back on his old stamping ground, in a highly charged Saturday atmosphere, full of cheers for Kaler and boos for new panto villain Bird.

Kaler could not reveal “the truth”, but said Bird – or “one man” as he called him throughout without naming him once – was “wrong” in his decision to move on to a new creative team when the Theatre Royal pantomime “didn’t need fixing”.

“I’ll give them three days,” he said in a cryptic ultimatum that set tongues wagging that Kaler must have something up his sleeve, while Barrass rubbed his hands when reading out  a letter in the shout-outs that suggested the Panto Five should move to “the Grand”.

Those three days passed, but now Dame Berwick rises again, linking up with Qdos Entertainment, whose production  facilities are based in Scarborough and Beverley, 100,000 costumes et al. Billed as “the world’s biggest pantomime producer”, with 37 years behind them, they present such big-hitting pantos as the London Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal shows, as well as, closer to York, Hull New Theatre.

Welcoming the new partnership of Qdos and the Kaler crew, Grand Opera House theatre director Rachel Crocombe-Lane says: “Qdos bring both world-class expertise and also a Yorkshire heart, being based in Scarborough; the perfect combination together with this talented cast.

“As a venue team, pantomime is our favourite time of year because of the friendship with the company and also the joy and devotion of our audience. We are proud of these new partnerships, excited for the future of our pantomime and will be ready altogether to really blow your Christmas socks off!’

Qdos Entertainment chairman, Nick Thomas, from Scarborough, is excited too. “I am thrilled to welcome Berwick, a true Yorkshire theatre legend, to the Qdos family. Qdos Entertainment has had a long association with Yorkshire, it is my home county, and with our production and wardrobe teams based in Scarborough and Beverley, forming this new relationship with Berwick and the Grand Opera House is especially exciting.”

Meanwhile, York Theatre Royal will be launching its 2020-2021 pantomime on Monday at high noon. Rather than declaring a pantomime civil war in York, executive director Bird says: “We wish the Grand Opera House the very best of luck. As we’ve always said, we’ll be announcing our new pantomime on Monday”.

On Tuesday this week, Bird told a City of York Council meeting that no performance of Sleeping Beauty had sold out, save for the traditional last night pandemonium, compounding a decline in attendances that had started 11 years ago.

He said the Theatre Royal would “build a new pantomime for the city that to some extent doesn’t rely on you having been to the pantomime for 30 years in order to get it”.

“I know how much affection there is for our pantomime in the city. What’s prompted us to make this change is that that affection isn’t necessarily translating into popularity,” he added. “It’s with a very heavy heart that we make changes but it’s not something we can leave.”

Tickets for Dick Turpin Rides Again will be on general sale from February 14 on 0844 871 3024, at and in person from the Cumberland Street theatre’s box office. ATG Theatre Card holders can buy from February 11.

Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate, Yorkshireman, sherry drinker and York Theatre Royal performer

Lips’ ink: Poet Laureate Simon Armitage with a pen for his thoughts

SIMON Armitage is the fourth Yorkshireman to be appointed Poet Laureate, in the wake of Laurence Eusden, Alfred Austin and the rather better-known Ted Hughes.

“I know bits and pieces of the other two,” says the 56-year-old Huddersfield poet, who succeeded Carol Ann Duffy as the 21st incumbent of the prestigious ten-year post last May.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday (February 4 and 5), he will be performing in York for the first time since his appointment, presenting Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage at York Theatre Royal in two fundraising shows to support the theatre’s community work.

“But I don’t see myself as someone who speaks for the county,” says Simon, “Though I’m obviously from here and speak with the voice I grew up with, the noises and dialect I grew up with, and I certainly use Yorkshire in my poetry.”

Historically, the payment for the laureateship was a gift of wine until Henry Pye chanced his arm by asking for a salary in 1790 in the reign of George III. That all changed again when Ted Hughes became Poet Laureate, whereupon Graham Hines, director of the Sherry Institute of Spain, invited him to Jerez in 1986, and the traditional gift was re-constituted.

“They invited me over to Spain last year, and I did my tasting, educating my palate and getting to choose my sherry, and then effectively they send over a barrel every year.”

Do you like sherry, Simon? “I do now!” he says.

Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to his shows in York next week when Simon will be joined by “well-known actors” for the Seeing Stars poetry readings. “The performance is devised around the shows we did at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse [at Shakespeare’s Globe in London], maybe four years ago, when Tom Bird [now York Theatre Royal’s executive director] was at the Glob,” says Simon.

“In fact, the first performance was just when Dominic Dromgoole was leaving the artistic director’s post, and we did Sir Gawain And The Green Knight and The Death Of King Arthur poems, and it will be something along those lines with four actors in York.”

As the show’s title indicates, Seeing Stars will feature selections from Armitage’s book of dramatic monologues, allegories and absurdist tall tales of that title. “That book is ten years old this year: it’s very dramatic, very theatrical,” he says.

The York show is being curated by Scarborough-born theatre director Nick Bagnall, with the actors involved yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press.

“I first met Nick when he was playing a monkey trapped in a bathroom in Huddersfield!” Simon reveals. What? “It was a promenade event in a house in Huddersfield in an area called The Yards that was being knocked down,” he explains.

“I’ve since done a couple of my plays with him directing them: first my dramatisation of Homer’s The Iliad, The Last Days Of Troy, at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Shakespeare’s Globe.

“There are no rules really, no written spec, so it’s a question for each incumbent to decide how they will interpret it,” says Simon Armitage of his post as Poet Laureate

“Then the Liverpool Everyman did The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead, which ended up at the Globe.”

Looking beyond next week to Simon’s decade-long tenure as Poet Laureate, what does the role entail?

“There are no rules really, no written spec, so it’s a question for each incumbent to decide how they will interpret it,” he says.

“I’ve decided to do several projects: one of them will be The Laurel Prize: a prize for poems on the theme of the environment and nature and all that goes with that.

“It’s very prevalent in poetry now, and I’m delighted that the Yorkshire Sculpture Park [near Wakefield] will host the prize ceremony in May.

“I’m also making tours of public libraries this year,[The Laureate’s Library Tour], doing a week of eight readings from March 16 to 21 of A and B places: Aberdeen, Belfast, the British Library, Bacup, and several others.” A tour of C and D locations will follow in the autumn.

“This is to give some support to the pretty beleaguered library service because I believe it to be a really important institution,” says Simon.

His greatest wish is to introduce a National Centre of Poetry. “Not in London,” he says. “Poetry is one of our proudest traditions, and hopefully a national centre can be a place of writing, reading, research and residencies.

“It’s a huge capital funding project, a kind of legacy idea, not a one-year pop-up space but something that becomes part of the landscape.”

You may not know, but “there is no writing obligation associated with the role of Poet Laureate,” says Simon. “Wordsworth never wrote one poem in the post!”

The ever-prolific Simon, however, will be writing as prolifically as ever, having been appointed Poet Laureate by Her Majesty The Queen and the Prime Minister.

“The call came from Theresa May a week before she resigned,” recalls Simon. What did that involve? “It was a private call.”

What did the Prime Minister say? “It was a private call!” Simon says again.

Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage, York Theatre Royal, February 4 and 5, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Copyright of The Press, York

Grand Opera House donates £8,765 in bucket collections to York Hospital charity

Customer experience manager Lauren Atkins, left, deputy customer experience manager Laura Castle, ticketing and sales manager Beth Scott and York Teaching Hospital Charity community fundraiser Joe Fenton with the Grand Opera House bucket collection cheque in the York theatre’s auditorium.  Picture: David Harrison

THE Grand Opera House, York, is to donate £8,765 to the York Teaching Hospital Charity from bucket collections held at performances in 2019.

The donation will go towards “helping to fund the extras to improve healthcare facilities above and beyond the NHS making patients feel better”. 

Joe Fenton, the hospital charity’s community fundraiser, said: “We’d like to say a huge thank-you to the Grand Opera House and to everyone who generously donated at the bucket collections held across 2019.

“The incredible amount that has been raised is truly inspiring and will go a long way in improving the staff and patient experience across our hospitals. 

“The money will be used benefit a number of wards, including the Children’s Ward, Dementia, the Renal Unit and our Maternity Bereavement Suite, so thank you for your fantastic support.”

Clare O’Connor, theatre manager at the Cumberland Street theatre, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have contributed nearly £9,000 (£8765.17) to numerous departments – Renal  Unit, Children’s Ward, Dementia Appeal and Butterfly Appeal – in the hospital over the past 12 months, in conjunction with the wonderful York Teaching Hospital Charity.

“Without the very generous donations of our audience members, and the time kindly given by volunteers for collections, we wouldn’t have achieved so great a figure, which means so much to all the staff at the Grand Opera House.”

Clare continued: “The patients and relatives who use these departments at York Hospital will benefit greatly from these funds, which will improve their experience during a difficult time, and we look forward to more successful fundraising over the next 12 months. Thank you.”