REVIEW: Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal *****

Flour power: Katy Federman as Mum and Giles Cooper as Nigel in Nigel Slater’s Toast. Picture: Piers Foley

Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, November 23. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

HERE is the challenge facing director Jonnie Riordan. “Think about how long it takes to actually make a piece of toast, and then how do you do that on stage when you’re trying to keep the audience engaged?” he says.

It brings a new meaning to pop-up theatre in York after the summer Elizabeth version at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, and Riordan and writer Henry Filloux-Bennett have made a wonderful job of adapting cookery writer Nigel Slater’s coming-of-age memoir for the stage.

Like Jonathan Watkins for Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, on tour at the Theatre Royal only two weeks ago, Riordan is both director and choreographer. However, whereas Watkins’s show took time to find its footing on a somewhat strange-looking set – was it a crater or a cracked cloud egg? – Toast is sure footed, even light on its feet from the start.

Nigel, meet Nigel!: Cookery writer Nigel Slater meets Giles Cooper, who plays his younger self on stage. Picture: Simon Annand

Nigel, our narrator, guides us through his story like Slater’s lovely writing leads you through his recipes and epicurean thoughts in his mellifluous books. Played by the delightful Giles Cooper in schoolboy tank top and short trousers, Nigel is nine and already drawn to the one cookery book in the Slaters’ Wolverhampton home: Marguerite Patten’s ground-breaking Cookery In Colour, a full-colour Sixties’ bolt out of the cordon bleu after the grey gravy of before.

From within the cream and brown Sixties’ kitchen of Libby Watson’s design, Cooper’s Nigel likes to orchestrate all the storytelling, stepping in and out of a scene to converse with the audience, but such is the skill of Filloux-Bennett’s writing that the events of his young life have a habit of pulling the rug from under him. At one point, his mother stops him in his tracks and tells him to re-trace his steps to relate the true, darker version of events.

There is abundant humour, absolutely true to Slater’s own tone in his books, but the darkness has to break through too, given what happened to Slater in his childhood and teenage years.

Table manners: Blair Plant’s Dad, left, Stefan Edwards’ waiter, Giles Cooper’s Nigel, Samantha Hopkins’ waitress and Katy Federman’s Mum in Toast

His love of food is omnipresent, and yes, we see toast popping up in real time and later Nigel making mushrooms on toast with a chef’s flair and precision in one so young. We enjoy the culinary sensations, and when Nigel is regaling us with the delights of sweets – amid his father’s insistence that certain sweets are for boys, others for girls – bags of sweets are passed around the audience. The real Nigel Slater had a bag by his feet as he sat in the dress circle, by the way!

Food is at the heart of Toast, glorious food and not so glorious food in the case of Nigel’s father’s first attempt at making spaghetti bolognaise, mountains of “sick-smelling” Parmesan dust et al. Part of the joy here  is having our own recollections of mishaps around our own kitchen tables.

Through food too, we see the difference between Nigel’s relationship with his Mum (Katy Federman), pretty much tied to the apron strings, such is their bond, and his abusive Dad (Blair Plant, back at his old Theatre Royal stamping ground).

What’s that on the plate? Nigel (Giles Cooper) nervously scans the spaghetti bolognaise served up by Dad (Blair Plant) as Mum (Katy Federman) looks on

Into the story comes the dreadful Joan (Samantha Hopkins) and assorted characters played by Stefan Edwards, as the first stirrings of Nigel’s sexuality play out.

Brilliant performances, a superb choice of soundtrack from La Mer to Dusty, and a finale as warm and toasty as toast make Toast a five-star treat, both measured and deeply flavoured like a Nigel Slater recipe.

Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

Discover the wicked side of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! star Vicki Michelle

“I make her a bit of fun to play with,” says Vicki Michelle of her role as the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison

‘ALLO, ‘Allo! sitcom star Vicki Michelle will spend her winter being booed at the Grand Opera House, York, even on her birthday.

Fondly remembered for a decade of waitress service as French dish Yvette Carte-Blanche in the BBC wartime comedy from 1982 to 1992, she will play the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs from December 12 to January 4 2020.

Her 69th birthday falls on December 14 as she settles into the Three Bears Productions’ pantomime run in a role she knows only too well. “I’ve done lots of wicked queens,” says Vicki, in full regal attire at the panto launch.

“I haven’t counted, but it’s probably 30 years now [in fact Snow White will be 27th panto]. I love it, because panto is magical for children, their parents and their grandparents, and it’s a genre where you think, ‘thank you, we still have this each year’…with people really believing in what they see on stage!”

Vicki relishes the audience interplay. “I’ll stamp my feet, I’ll react to them standing up to the Wicked Queen, not in a comical way, but I make her a bit of fun to play with,” she says

“I have to be evil ­- and the Wicked Queen is truly evil – but l love doing it. I just love performing. The audience have paid to see the show, they want to see you giving 200 per cent, and I know I’m working with people who can do that.”

Commercial pantomimes are never slow to remind audiences of their stars’ biggest successes. “Probably there’ll be a few lines about ‘Allo, ‘Allo!,” says Vicki, knowingly. “I was in this amazing series that’s still shown on TV and has been sold to 80 countries. South Africa. Bulgaria. Romania. Lithuania. Sweden…”

Even Germany? “The Germans said they would never buy it, but they did!” says Vicki with glee. “How amazing is that! ‘Allo, ‘Allo! Is still funny. It makes you laugh out loud and there aren’t many comedies that do that today.

“That’s the mark of good comedy: if they can make you laugh out loud. That should be revered.”

David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s long-running comedy, set in Rene’s Café in a German-occupied small French town, was recorded live to audiences of 200 to 300. “The laugh would come on the second line and grow on the third line. That’s what worked. Like in panto: audiences want the old jokes. I want the old jokes!” says Vicki. “But a lot of shows try to change things, and they don’t work.”

Louise Henry, left, Jonny Muir, Steve Wickenden, Vicki Michelle, martin Daniels and Mark Little in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison.

‘Allo, ‘Allo! gave Vicki the chance to say hello, hello to plenty more work. “It didn’t spoil things, because afterwards you’re typecast,” she says. “What I did was loads of theatre: playing Miss Hannigan in Annie; Salad Days; Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas; Don’t Dress For Dinner; loads of Ray Cooney farces.”

You can add to that list Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, a 2008 tour of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! and more television too, from playing Patricia Foster in the Yorkshire soap Emmerdale to competing in Celebrity Master Chef in 2009 and heading into the Aussie jungle for the 2014 series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!.

Vicki returns to the Grand Opera House after earlier appearances as Jacqueline in Marc Camoletti’s boulevard comedy Don’t Dress For Dinner and, in June this year, the humorous three-hander Hormonal Housewives, a no-holds barred romp through the joys of being a fabulous 21st century woman.

The tour schedule left room for only two days off in a 68-show run, but Vicki loved the script and ended up delighted she said yes to the invitation to join Hormonal Housewives co-writer Julie Coombe and Josephine Partridge on the road.

“It went fabulously well, doing a show, then a four to five-hour drive, but the show was such a joy to be in,” she says. “I’d never heard such howls of laughter.”

There was another benefit from Hormonal Housewives too. “People would come up afterwards and say they’d lost someone, and this was the first show they’d come out to since then as they wanted some laughter,” reveals Vicki.

Returning to York for a wicked winter in pantoland, Vicki has plans for Christmas Day. “I want to get home for Christmas, which is always at my place; three sisters and their families,” says the Essex-born actress, who has Snow White performances on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day either side of that family celebration. “Christmas morning is always something sparkly and a salmon and a smoked cheese bagel.”

What may 2020 bring Vicki? “There are a few things that are bubbling under, but first I’ve got this panto to enjoy,” she says.

Vicki Michelle stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

Charles Hutchinson

Did you know?

Vicki Michelle calls herself “Vix Mix” on her social media.

Hurry, hurry for last tickets for Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s Pock show

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage is heading for Pocklington Arts Centre

ONLY the last few tickets are left for An Evening With Simon Armitage, the new Poet Laureate, at Pocklington Arts Centre on November 28.

The Huddersfield-born poet, playwright and novelist, 56, was appointed to his post for ten years earlier this year, succeeding Carol Ann Duffy.

In October 2017, he became the first Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds; in 2018, he received The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and an Ivor Novello Award for song-writing in the BAFTA-winning film Feltham Sings.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to welcome the UK’s new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, to our stage,” says Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer.

“He’s such a celebrated poet of his times, so a chance to spend an evening in his company, within the intimate settings of our auditorium, to hear some of his live poetry and for a Q&A, is a unique opportunity for lovers of literature and poetry.  

“But tickets have almost sold out, so I would urge you to book yours quickly or risk missing out .”

After studying geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic and writing an MA thesis at the University of Manchester on the the effects of television violence on young offenders, Armitage gained a social work qualification and became a probation officer, like his father before him. He worked in the Greater Manchester probation service until 1994, apparently once being introduced with the words: “By day he reads them their rights, by night he writes them their reads.”

He has published 28 collections of poetry, his first entitled Human Geography in 1988 and his latest, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic. He writes extensively for television and radio, as well as penning three memoirs, All Points North, Walking Home and Walking Away, and he is the lead singer of The Scaremongers too.

Tickets for Armitage’s 7.30pm show in Pock cost £12.50 or £7 for under 21s on 01759 301547 or at He will be on hand to sign books in the foyer afterwards.

Iranian musicians join Northern Broadsides’ Christmas fundraiser for refugee support

Amir Beymanesh and Kamran Hoss: Iranian musicians now settled in Yorkshire . Picture: Jess Rooney

NORTHERN Broadsides will stage a festive fundraiser, Christmas Broadsides, at The Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough. Halifax, from December 13 to 15.

This concert is based around Broadside Ballads; song lyrics published from the 1600s onwards, featuring popular songs of scurrilous dealings, thwarted love and ginormous geese.

For this combination of folk song and storytelling, Amir Beymanesh and Kamran Hoss, two Iranian musicians who arrived in Yorkshire recently, will join Ripponden folk musician and multi-instrumentalist Alice Jones.

West Yorkshire actors Catherine Kinsella and Tom Shaw complete the Halifax company’s line-up for this celebration of festive cheer and reflection on Christmases past, present and future.

Alice Jones: taking part in Northern Broadsides’ festive fundraiser

Broadsides’ artistic director, Laurie Sansom, says: “We are thrilled to be celebrating this Christmas with old friends and new, welcoming Amir and Kamaran to Halifax in this extraordinary collaboration with the multi-talented Alice Jones.

“It’s a chance to share together ridiculous festive songs of comic extravagance, whilst also thinking of those who may be far from home this Christmas.

“We look forward to welcoming regular supporters and new friends who want to support the work of their local theatre company, and our collaborators at St Augustine’s Centre, who support refugees and asylum seekers.”

Looking ahead to 2020, Sansom’s debut production as Broadsides’ artistic director, a new take on J.M. Barrie’s regency romantic comedy Quality Street, will open at Dean Clough from February 14 to 22.

Catherine Kinsella: performing at Christmas Broadsides

Broadsides will collaborate with workers from the Halifax Quality Street chocolates factory by developing contemporary tales of hapless love that will frame the action of Barrie’s tale.

Barrie’s play was so popular in its day that it gave the chocolates their name. Its story revolves around Phoebe Throssel, who lives on Quality Street, the bustling hub of a quaint northern town where she runs a school for unruly children.

Ten years since a tearful goodbye, an old flame returns from fighting Napoleon, but the look of disappointment on Captain Valentine’s face when he greets a more mature, less glamorous Phoebe, spurs the determined heroine to action.

She becomes the wild and sparkling Miss Livy, a younger alter-ego who soon entraps the clueless Captain. As their romance is rekindled, can she juggle both personas? Or will her deception scandalise the town and wreck any future with the man she loves?

Tom Shaw: part of the company for Christmas Broadsides

Now, as well as providing a modern lens through which to view Barrie’s story, Broadsides also aims to build long-lasting relationships between the Halifax employees and their local theatre company.

Broadsides’ tour of Quality Street will take in Leeds Playhouse from April 21 to 25; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 12 to 16; Harrogate Theatre, May 19 to 23; Hull Truck Theatre, June 2 to 6, and last stop York Theatre Royal, June 9 to 13.

Christmas Broadsides will be performed at The Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough, Halifax, at 7pm on December 13 and 3pm and 6pm on December 14 and 15. Tickets are on sale on 01422 849227 or at

Charles Hutchinson

Schools step out for dance festival weekends in York

Uplifting: The Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival in York

THE second weekend of the 2019 Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival will be held at Central Hall, University of York, on Saturday and Sunday from 3pm.

As many as 1,200 children aged four to 19, from 57 primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and community dance groups, are taking part in this annual non-competitive event.

Spread over two weekends, the festival celebrates the region’s young creative talent and raises the profile of dance provision within schools and the wider community, while showcasing a range of abilities and dance styles. For the vast majority, this is the first time they will have danced in public.

For the four days of dancing, groups are travelling from as far afield as Ingleton, Hull, Thirsk and Barnsley to take part after developing their performances through after-school clubs, during curriculum time and as part of examination courses.

A festival theme is set each year, and for the past few months schools and groups have been deciding how best to interpret this year’s theme, Reflections. Performances vary from reinterpretations of the Snow White story, through to a consideration of the physics of reflection, to support work within science lessons.

Laura Brett, class teacher at Naburn CE Primary School, York, says: “Our dance piece tells the story of a Grandma and Grandad reflecting on their lives as children, watching as visions of their younger selves relive some of the happier days in their lives.

“The children have had great fun choreographing this – prompting some discussion about the lives we lead and the mark we want to make on the world.”

Taking part from Keighley, Emma Pease, Class 3 teacher at Cowling Primary School, says: “We thought about how social media affects us and our mental health. The group then modelled how we could reflect this negativity away from us, realising our strength together and becoming more resilient as a result.”

The festival is produced by York arts education specialists Creative Learning Partnerships, whose director, Colin Jackson, says: “Dance is an art form that is central to our heritage and culture. It’s celebrated increasingly on our TV screens through shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Britain’s Got Talent.

Let’s dance: Dancers enjoying the schools festival in York

“The sad state of affairs in schools, however, is that it is quickly disappearing from the curriculum, despite the overwhelming evidence of its positive impact on physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

“Dance is a collaborative process that develops teamwork, resilience, communication skills, creativity and a sense of pride. Why shouldn’t our children be afforded these opportunities?”

Across the two weekends, the 1,200 dancers will be performing to 2,000 people, who will see how schools have interpreted the theme in different ways.

In an extension to the 2019 festival, through funding from Arts Council England, Engage & Inspire will be giving participating children the chance to work with professional artists from Yorkshire and the North.

Northern Rascals and Hawk Dance Theatre are presenting specially commissioned performances, Casson & Friends and TenFoot Dance are hosting interactive workshops while Brink & Howl Creative are delivering an innovative digital dance installation combining music, dance and digital projections. Two hundred children will have the opportunity to achieve an Arts Award to reward their efforts.

Jon Beney, associate artist at Hull Truck Theatre and co-artistic director at TenFoot Dance, says: “The Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival is a great opportunity for the young dancers of Yorkshire to come together and celebrate everything dance.

As a kid, I was inspired by many people that shaped my journey and it feels nice to have stories and skills to help inspire others.”

Tickets are available at, priced at £7 for adults, £6 for children, plus a booking fee.

Charles Hutchinson

Taking part on November 16 were:

Burton Leonard CE Primary School, near Harrogate;

Clifton Green Primary School, York;

E.K Galaxy Cheer & Dance, Harrogate;

Gomersal Primary School, Cleckheaton;

Holy Trinity CE Junior School, Ripon;

Ingleton Primary School;

Ingleton Youth Dance;

Knavesmire Primary School, York;

Selby High School;

St John Fisher Catholic High School, Harrogate;

St Olave’s School, York;

The Snaith School, Goole;

Westfield Primary Community School, York;

York College Performing Arts.

November 17

CAPA College, Wakefield;

Cowling Primary School, Keighley;

Hall Cross Academy, Doncaster;

Naburn CE Primary School, York;

Osbaldwick Primary Academy, York;

Outwood Academy, Ripon;

Pannal Primary School, Harrogate;

Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy, York;

St Oswald’s CE Primary School, York;

Stamford Bridge Primary School;

The Rodillian Academy, Wakefield;

The Space Dance Studio, Hull;

Thirsk Youth Dance;

Tockwith CE Primary Academy.

Taking part on November 23 will be:

Barnsley Academy;

Bellfield Primary School, Hull;

Cast, York;

Greatwood Community Primary and Nursery;

Haxby Road Primary Academy, York;

Leavening Community Primary;

Platform, Hull;

Poppleton Road Primary School, York;

Ralph Butterfield Primary School, York;

Skipton Girls High School;

St Barnabas CE Primary School, York;

St Lawrence’s CE Primary School, York;

Trinity Academy, Halifax.

November 24

CAPA Juniors, Wakefield;

Dunnington CE Primary School, York;

Hempland Primary Academy, York;

Huntington Primary Academy, York;

Hymers College Junior School, Hull;

Lord Deramore’s Primary School, York;

Mechanics Performing Arts, Wakefield;

Melbourne Primary School, York;

Northern Dance Academy, York;

Ryburn Valley High School, Sowerby Bridge;

St Aelred’s RC Primary School, York;

St Paul’s CE Primary School, York;

St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School, York;

Staynor Hall Primary Academy, Selby;

 York Youth Dance.

Theatre Royal stalwart Blair Plant pops up in Toast

Blair Plant, centre, with Giles Cooper and Katy Federman in Nigel Slater’s Toast. Picture: Piers Foley

ACTOR Blair Plant is touring for the first time in 20 years in Nigel Slater’s Toast. By a happy coincidence, the show brings him back to a theatre he knows very well, York Theatre Royal, from tomorrow.

He first worked on the stage crew 34 years ago while studying at York St John College (as the university was called then). 

“I’ve done regional theatre but only in one specific theatre, not touring,” says Blair. “Over the last six or seven years I’ve done a lot of work in the West End.

“Now I’ve changed agents for the first time in 15 years and my new agent said I’ve got to put myself about a bit more and perhaps take less comfortable jobs than the West End work I’ve been doing. Basically, to get out and get back on the road and be seen by more people.”

Toast has been adapted for the stage from food writer Nigel Slater’s book recounting his childhood and cooking ambitions. Blair knew “nothing at all” about the show and Slater’s life before the job came along, although they do have one thing in common: both come from Wolverhampton.

He plays Nigel Slater’s father, so when Slater watches the play, that understandably adds to Blair’s nervousness. “He had a complicated relationship with his father,” he says. “His father makes the children laugh and is a nice dad sometimes but then just flips and switches. You never know when that’s going to happen. He’s not a violent man but is unpredictable, short tempered”

Slater attended rehearsals. “He’s lovely. He baked a cake and brought it in for us,” recalls Blair.

Blair Plant, left, with Stefan Edwards, Giles Cooper, Samantha Hopkins and Katy Federman in Nigel Slater’s Toast, at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow. Picture: Piers Foley

Talking of things to eat, the actor is required to demonstrate how to eat a Walnut Whip at every performance, but don’t ask why! When you see the play, you will understand.

After eating so many in rehearsal, Blair “went off” Walnut Whips. A similar thing happened during his student days in York when he was an ice cream seller:  he swiftly stopped wanting to eat ice cream.

The York St John course that young Blair took was billed as “dance, drama, movement, film and television”. His ambition was to act, but his parents, who were funding him through university, preferred him to take an academic degree.

However, he saw working on the Theatre Royal stage crew during his student days as a means of gaining entry into theatre. 

He began as a follow-spot operator and LX technician before joining the stage crew. His break came when the touring company run by actors Kate O’Mara and Peter Woodward opened a show in York and the Theatre Royal stage crew built the set.

“I persuaded them to take me on tour with them as their touring carpenter. I did that for 13 weeks and touring all over the country was a wonderful experience,” he says. 

He was back at York when the same company asked if he would like to return as an acting assistant stage manager, an opportunity that enabled him to gain the all-important Equity union card. He toured with the company for four years, each time bringing a production to York, where he lived for 15 years after falling in love with the city during his student days.

Blair Plant, centre, with Giles Cooper and Samantha Hopkins. Picture: Pierce Foley

He can also claim some responsibility for Damian Cruden becoming artistic director at York Theatre Royal. Blair had been directed by the Scotsman in John Godber’s Bouncers at Hull Truck Theatre and suggested him to theatre bosses.  The rest, as they say, is history. Damian was artistic director for 22 years until he left earlier this year.

Blair worked with him several more times, including in The Railway Children at both Waterloo and King’s Cross venues over a four-year period. “Damian sent me the script before it went on at the Railway Museum in York. I’m terrible at lifting a story off the page and didn’t get it at all and said it wasn’t for me. I didn’t realise how immense the show was going to be,” he recalls.

When the award-winning production, which featured a real steam train, transferred to London, Blair wanted to be part of it. He spent four years playing first the dissident Russian intellectual, Mr Szczepansky, then the Father in York playwright Mike Kenny’s adaptation of E. Nesbit’s book. “I really, really loved it. It was a really lovely job,” says Blair.

He names his most challenging role at York – and of his career – as Lenny in Alan Bleasdale’s comedy Having A Ball, where he had to strip on stage and perform a six-minute monologue totally naked. “That was difficult to do in the rehearsal room, but by the time we got on stage, I’d got over being naked and so had the other actors. It was the audience who had to get over it.”

The most fun he has had was in Bouncers. “The buzz from that gig – you couldn’t sleep until three in the morning because as an actor you are so high and very fit,” he says.

Now Blair is popping up in Toast on his latest return to York.

Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23, 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

By Raymond Crisp

REVIEW: When The Rain Stops Falling, Rigmarole Theatre Company ****

James Coldrick, left, Louise Henry, Adam Sowter, Stan Gaskell, Sally Mitcham, Beryl Nairn, Mick Liversidge, Maggie Smales and Florence Poskitt in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s When The Rain Stops Falling. Picture: Michael J Oakes,

When The Rain Stops Falling, Rigmarole Theatre Company, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

WHEN will the rain stop falling, you may well be asking amid Yorkshire’s November floods, burst banks and Army assistance in Fishlake.

Bad news. The answer, in Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic play, is 2039, and by then much water will have passed under the bridge in the two hours’ traffic of 41 Monkgate’s stage.

This week’s Yorkshire premiere of When The Rain Stops Falling marks the debut of Rigmarole Theatre Company, a new York venture led by artistic director and designer Maggie Smales, who directed York Shakespeare Project’s award-winning all-female production of Henry V, set at a “Canary Girls” munitions factory in the First World War.

In other words, she has pedigree for interesting directorial choices, and Smales shows astute judgement again in picking Bovell’s multi-layered mystery, spread across 80 years and four generations of one family in England and Australia, premiered in Adelaide 11 years ago.

Once described as a “poetic pretzel of a play”, it takes the form of an unbroken, non-linear staging of 22 scenes, in this case within the John Cooper Studio’s black-box design, with a back-wall montage of umbrellas, a drape of Aboriginal wall art, window frames and doorways painted white, ceiling lamps in different shades and a prominent fish mobile.

Within this framework, the cast of nine moves furniture on and off and occupants of rooms overlap as the years from 1969 to 2019 move backwards and forwards.

No money, no food, no shoes: Mick Liversidge as Gabriel York in When The Rain Stops Falling. Picture: Michael J Oakes

To help you work out who’s who, the one-sheet “programme” provides a pictorial family tree to distinguish between Gabriel and Gabriel and even a Gabrielle.

The play opens to the inevitable sound of falling rain…in the desert region of Alice Springs, Australia, in 2039, with Smales’s company standing in lines beneath umbrellas on the stage periphery and criss-crossing the floor in silent repetitive movements with soup bowls before making way for the first monologue by Mick Liversidge’s Gabriel York.

This drifting, eccentric wanderer is waiting for his long-estranged son, Andrew (Stan Gaskell), with no money, no socks and no food. As chance would have it, a fish suddenly falls out of the sky…manna from heaven in a play with downpours of biblical proportions.

Not till the end shall we see these two again, but as a lattice builds, fish, or more precisely, fish soup, will keep making an appearance, along with dining tables and references to rain in Bangladesh. This adds splashes of dark humour to the otherwise claustrophobically black, stormy days of betrayal, abandonment and destruction that unfold against a backdrop of climate change.

Bovell first heads back to a London flat in 1969, where we meet Gabriel York’s grandparents, James Coldrick’s Henry Law and Florence Poskitt’s Elizabeth, in younger days, their relationship problems heightened by the arrival of son Gabriel. Elizabeth is encountered again in 1988, still in the same flat, even more buttoned up, Gabriel (Adam Sowter) frustrated at her still declining to reveal why his father suddenly disappeared when he was only seven.

Sally Mitcham. left, and Louise Henry in When The Rain Stops Falling. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Sowter’s Gabriel duly heads to Australia to put the missing pieces together, whereupon he encounters a troubled roadhouse waitress in Coorong, Gabrielle York (Louise Henry, soon to play Snow White in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House).

Tragedy has struck her not once, but thrice, but you should see the play to find out how and why, as we learn still more from older Gabrielle (Sally Mitcham) and stoical husband Joe Ryan (Maggie Smales).

Smales chose Bovell’s poetic allegory ­- full of Australian culture, Greek myth, English awkwardness, French philosophy and meteorological turmoil – because it  addresses “the most important question of our times”: Are we prepared to pass on the damage from the past to our children or can we change to save ourselves?

Ultimately, in a prophetic play heavy with the weight of legacy and inheritance, Bovell calls on us to change before it is too late. Smales’s excellent cast, so skilled at storytelling and largely at Aussie accents too, certainly makes the case for him.

In the words of the director, “If you like a powerful story that has something to say about who we are and where we are going, this is the one to see.”

You are also assured of a warmer welcome than Boris Johnson in sodden South Yorkshire this week. Among the drinks that the convivial bar is serving is…water, naturally.

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: The Woman In Black, York Theatre Royal *****

“Scream the house down for a ticket” to see Daniel Easton, left, and Robert Goodale in The Woman In Black. Picture: Tristram Kenton

REVIEW: The Woman In Black, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

AFTER terrifying visits in 2013 and 2014, York Theatre Royal has gone back to Black for a wintry chill in 2019. Scream the house down for a ticket; this ghost story is still the best in the fright night business, although Gaslighting and the Grand Opera House-bound revival of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories are guaranteed to scare you witless too.

Stephen Mallatratt’s splendidly theatrical stage adaptation began life as a bonus Christmas show at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1987 in novelist Susan Hill’s hometown of Scarborough, and this latest touring production still retains its original director and designer, Robin Herford and Michael Holt. Well, if it ain’t broke, etc etc.

It is an old-fashioned piece, but delightfully so, with no hi-tech special effects. Instead, the programme states “harmless stage smoke and sudden loud effects are used in this production”. What matters is how they are used: the smoke gradually envelops you in a disorientating murk; the sound effects go off all around you, whether the approach of a horse’s hooves or jolting, silence-shattering screams. Cue shrieks, gasps and nervous audience laughter that ripple outwards through the stalls to the dress circle in waves.

The horror, the horror: Daniel Easton as The Actor, increasingly haunted, just like the audience, in The Woman In Black. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Mallatratt’s two-hander begins in a dusty theatre as elderly lawyer Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) employs a young actor (Daniel Easton) to help him exorcise the fear that has filled his soul for more than 50 years. “For my health, my reason,” he says, “It must be told. I cannot bear the burden any longer.”

That burden is a stultifying obsession with the curse that he believes a spectral woman in a black cape with a wasted face has placed on his family. The Actor is initially sceptical, his mood light and cocky, yet the depth of Kipps’s desire to recover his peace of mind starts to grip the thespian too, and in turn the audience…whether a newcomer or a returnee glutton for more spine shivers.

The terrifying tale with the terrible toll is told in a theatrical re-enactment rendered with only two chairs, a skip of papers, a hanging rail of costume props, dust sheets over the stage apron and a frayed curtain.

Behind this gauze partition are the stairwell, passages, rooms and contents of the haunted Eel Marsh House, as the Actor plays young Arthur Kipps and stage novice Mr Kipps adapts himself to all manner of other parts, while growing ever more paralysed by resurgent fears as the story unfolds of his ill-fated errand as a young solicitor.

“A celebration of the craft of acting”: Daniel Easton in The Woman In Black. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Sebastian Frost’s restless sound effects align with Kevin Sleep’s lighting design, where shadows and darkness wrestle with light for dominance, as Easton and Goodale re-create Kipps’s flesh-creeping journey to the eerie marshlands: an isolated place forever at odds with its wretched self.

As much as The Woman In Black is a ghost story first and foremost, in Mallatratt’s hands, it is also a celebration of the craft of acting, the power of storytelling and the role of the imagination.

Designed as a play within a play, the drama within takes over from the act of making it. You never see the horse and cart or a dog called Spider, but you feel their presence and you rise to applaud Easton and Goodale for having you wholly in their grip, as Hertford’s direction steers this eerie ghost ride with grave concern but dark humour too.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

What is the “most important question of our time”? Andrew Bovell’s play has the answer…

Director Maggie Smales in the role of Joe Ryan on the preview night of When The Rain Stops Falling. Picture: Michael J Oakes

YORK director and designer Maggie Smales is reviving a theatre company name from her Seventies’ student days to present Andrew Bovell’s When The Rain Stops Falling, a multi-layered mystery spread across 80 years and four generations of one family in England and Australia.

Smales chose this apocalyptic story of betrayal, abandonment and destruction for Rigmarole Theatre Company’s debut venture because it addresses “the most important question of our times”: Are we prepared to pass on the damage from the past to our children?

Ahead of this Yorkshire premiere opening at 41 Monkgate, tomorrow (November 14), Maggie answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions.

What prompted you to set up a theatre company now, Maggie?

“We’re lucky to have a lot of heritage theatre and musicals here in York. While that is wonderful, for both performers and audiences, I feel it’s important that there is contemporary work on offer.

“There’s such a lot of great work that offers a more direct connection to our lives today. TV dramas are often fantastic, but I don’t think you can beat live drama where the audience is in the room with the events playing out before them.”

Why make the link with your student past by reviving the name Rigmarole? 

“A bit frivolous, I suppose, but it is somewhat in the spirit of sustainability and re-use, which are part of Rigmarole’s ideals.

“Also, I’m constantly reminded while I work, whether directing or acting, that I’m still a student, and long may that last!

Why did you choose this play for your launch production? 

“Taking on a directing task is a large job, so when I take it on, it has to be for a text or project that matters to me.

“This play deals with the most pressing question of our times. Can we change to save ourselves? A question that is played out through the narratives of characters in the play and set in the context of a climate that’s changing and threatening our very existence.

“That sounds heavy, but like other great plays, it just uses great storytelling. I was completely blown away by it.

“Furthermore, it’s a play that offers fantastic opportunities for actors. It’s beautifully crafted and has a deliciously poetic text. As a director, it has a canvas that spans the globe and 80 years of time, so it offers the fantastic challenge of realising it all within a simple black box.”

Rigmarole Theatre Company’s cast for When The Rain Stops Falling: James Coldrick, left, Louise Henry, Adam Sowter, Stan Gaskell, Sally Mitcham, Beryl Nairn, Mick Liversidge, Maggie Smales and Florence Poskitt. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Where did you come across this play? Have you seen it?

“I haven’t seen it, but I read it before seeing Andrew Bovell’s other well-known piece, Things I Know To Be True, which he wrote for Frantic Assembly.

“His adaptation of The Secret River by Kate Grenville was recently at the Edinburgh Festival and at the National Theatre. I went to see it and was captivated by the way he uses personal narrative to convey the story of a nation and the crimes at the very heart of its growth.”

What resonates most with you about this play?

“Something that has emerged as an increasingly important feature is that of legacy and inheritance: that we live among the presence of our ancestors but also with them inside our hearts. This is something maybe the Australian aborigines understand much better than us.”

What do you read into the title?

“With the weather we’ve been having lately it’s become a bit of a sore point really! Or spookily prophetic.

“Our story as humans is of carrying on, of finding a way forward and sometimes of bearing the burden of our own and others’ crimes. The final year of the play is set at the brink of our possible extinction and leaves us wondering if we always will ‘carry on’.”

Do you believe we can change, as Bovell’s play calls on us to do?

“I don’t think we do change. I think it is more in our DNA to ‘carry on’ and adapt our behaviour to suit the demands around us as we find them.

“Our current crisis shows that some of us are more prepared to adapt sooner rather than later. Put differently, there are various types of self-interest at work in humankind, but I’m fairly optimistic because there’s a lot of goodness in most people.”

Have you had any discussions with Andrew Bovell?

“We’ve been in touch through his agent and received a fantastic and insightful reply regarding the recent development banning the ascents of Uluru. Such a climb is featured in the play but why a ‘fair-skinned Englishman’ went there in search of his father is something you’d have to come and find out!

“The play has been performed all around the world but this its first appearance in Yorkshire and he wished us good luck.

“Bovell uses Australian culture, Greek myth, French philosophy and meteorological events in history to create a powerful allegory, which can be appreciated as both high opera and as accessible soap opera.”

And finally, why should we see When The Rain Stops Falling?

“If you like to be moved by what you see, if you like to see a mystery unfold as the puzzle pieces come together, if you like a powerful story that has something to say about who we are and where we are going, this is one to see.”

Rigmarole Theatre Company presents When the Rain Stops Falling, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York, November 14 to 16, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568, or from the Theatre Royal box office in person.

REVIEW: The Boy Who Cried Wolf, York Theatre Royal Studio

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Tutti Frutti/York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal Studio, September 26 to October 12

RAIN, rain, rain, the River Ouse is in flood, but the weather is even worse at York Theatre Royal, where snow is falling and Tutti Frutti’s actors are covered from head to toe in wool.

Five years ago to the autumnal month, Leeds company Tutti Frutti first staged York playwright Mike Kenny’s re-spinning of Aesop’s wintery old yarn in new patterns and shades, as favoured by the contestants in the annual jumper-knitting competition that opens and closes this one-act show for three year olds and upwards.

Designer Hannah Sibai has cloaked the Studio stage in white, from the floor to the tree branches, set in place in upturned spools and wrapped in wool; from the lit-up miniature village houses at the front to the snow-peaked mountains that form the backdrop.

Colour comes from the suffusion of old-fashioned/Scandi-noir knitted clothing, scarves and hats worn by actor-musicians Alex Wingfield, Florence Russell and Guido Garcia Lueches, who add yet more woolly headgear when playing grouchy, unruly, hip-hop dancing sheep.

The play’s title carries a moralising tone, but Kenny, himself a father, prefers to encourage children to take on responsibility, rather than wave a scalding finger in their direction, in a story set over three winters in a bleak sheep-farming community.

Grandad (Garcia Lueches) now lacks the energy and spryness to guard the family’s flock from the predatory wolves high up in the mountains, handing over the duty to his grandson Silas (Wingfield), a very reluctant “bother of a boy”. “Everywhere, sheep, just sheep,” he bemoans. Not yet ten years old, he is far from thrilled by the honour of keeping his village safe as he quickly tires of the sheep’s irritating stubborn streak and decides to end his solitary sanctuary by lying that a wolf is in his midst. He will do so again the next winter, but each time his Mum (Russell) and Grandad caution him that “no-one trusts a liar, even when they’re telling the truth”. Only this way will he learn that he cannot pull the wool over their eyes.

Significantly, however, Kenny makes a point of Silas insisting he is not a “bad boy but occasionally does bad things”. Just give him time to grow up, embrace his responsibilities and even find his inner wolf.

Director Wendy Harris plays to Kenny’s storytelling strengths, bolstered by Dom Sales’s deeply daft folk songs, played on mandolin, guitar, flute, saxophone and cor anglais, in an enchanting, amusing and ever so slightly scary show when Joanne Bernard’s movement direction and the suitably named Mike Redley’s red lighting transform the cast into the prowling, sometimes howling wolves.

Kenny’s curmudgeonly but highly humorous sheep, with their bleating dialogue and wool-is-cool teenage demeanour, go down particularly well, providing the most fun for both the audience and the cast, who knit together so successfully they deserve to win the village jumper comp.

Cheeky of face, funny of expression, Wingfield captures the easily bored yet adventure-craving essence of Silas; ably backed up by Garcia Lueches’s wise, kindly Grandad and Russell’s often exasperated, always-knitting Mum.

Sheep fans, young mums and their lambs should escape the rain, embrace the snow and flock to this winter winner.

Charles Hutchinson

Review copyright of The Press, York