York company Pilot Theatre to stage premiere of Crongton Knights

Olisa Odele: cast as McKay in Pilot Theatre’s Crongton Knights

YORK company Pilot Theatre have assembled the cast for next year’s world premiere of Crongton Knights.

Adapted for the stage by Emteaz Hussain from Alex Wheatle’s award-winning novel, Corey Campbell and Esther Richardson’s co-production will be launched at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, from February 8 to 22 before playing York Theatre Royal from February 25 to 29.

In Crongton Knights, life isn’t easy on the Crongton Estate. McKay and his mates favour keeping their heads down, but when a friend finds herself in trouble, they set out on a mission that goes further than any of them imagined. 

Katie Donnachie: playing Bushkid in Crongton Knights

Pilot Theatre’s show will take you on a night of madcap adventure as McKay and his friends, The Magnificent Six, encounter the dangers and triumphs of a quest gone awry.

The pulse of the city will be alive on stage, propelled by a soundscape of beatboxing and vocals laid down by the cast and created by musician Conrad Murray.

Rehearsals will begin in Coventry on January 6 2020. Leading the cast will be Olisa Odele as McKay, having played Ola in Chewing Gum on E4 and PC Merrick in BBC1’s Scarborough, while Kate Donnachie will take the role of Bushkid; Simi Egbejumi-David, Festus; Aimee Powell, Venetia; Khai Shaw, Jonah; Marcel White, Nesta, and Nigar Yeva, Saira.

Khai Shaw: taking the role of Jonah in Crongton Knights

The production team is led by Corey Campbell, artistic director of Strictly Arts Theatre Company and co-artistic director of the Belgrade Theatre for 2021, and Esther Richardson, Pilot’s artistic director. The designer is Simon Kenny; lighting is by Richard G Jones, who lit The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum, York.

Crongton Knights will be the second of four co-productions between Pilot Theatre, Derby Theatre, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, and York Theatre Royal, who last year formed a partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences in tandem with the Mercury Theatre, Colchester.

Heather Agyepong as Sephy in Pilot Theatre’s Noughts & Crosses at York Theatre Royal in April 2019. Picture: Robert Day

From 2019 to 2022, the consortium will commission and co-produce an original mid-scale touring production each year. Each show will play in all the consortium venues, as well as touring nationally

The consortium’s first production, Noughts & Crosses, was seen by more than 30,000 people on tour this year, with 40 per cent of the audience being aged under 20.

After the Coventry and York runs, Crongton Knights will be on tour until May 9, with further Yorkshire performances at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, from March 31 to April 4. York tickets are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Charles Hutchinson

Mark Hird picks favourite Scrooge as Pick Me Up musical prepares to fly

Bah Humbug! Mark Hird as Scrooge in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical. Picture: David Harrison

WHO is your favourite Scrooge? Albert Finney? Tim Curry? Patrick Stewart? George C Scott? Lionel Barrymore on the radio?

Maybe Michael Caine in The Muppets’ Christmas Carol? Jim Carrey? Or how about Jim Backus as the voice of Mister Magoo in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, or even Bill Murray’s Frank Cross in Scrooged?

Mark Hird, who plays Scrooge from tomorrow (November 26) in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York, has no hesitation in picking Alastair Sim from Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1951 film, Scrooge.

“I loved his performance! He was unashamedly nasty, but there was something in his eyes, that glint, that made you think there’s something going on there,” says Mark, who is leading Robert Readman’s cast, fresh from directing this autumn’s Pick Me Up musical, Monster Makers, at 41 Monkgate.

He now adds Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge to a diverse Pick Me Up CV that includes Captain Mainwaring inDad’s Army, Colonel Pickering inMy Fair Lady and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, and he is particularly enjoying performing the songs in Leslie Bricusse’s musical.

“Maybe we need another Dickens for this age,,” says Mark Hird, who sees the abiding resonance in A Christmas Carol

“The songs really help in bringing out Scrooge’s thoughts, whether in the 1970 film musical with Albert Finney or the stage version with six extra songs. You discover new things every time you do it.” says Mark.

“I’ve had the chance to play some really cold, nasty characters: there’s nothing redeemable about Inspector Wormold in Betty Blue Eyes or The Beadle in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, but, on the other side, I also get to play all the ridiculously loveable characters, like Captain Mainwaring, Uncle Fester and Colonel Pickering.

“So, in many ways, Scrooge is more interesting because he goes on a journey from one to the other, and it’s really fun as an actor to make that transition, but also not to make him black and white. There are reasons in his past for some of the things he’s doing.”

Time for a quick refresher course: based on Dickens’s Victorian cautionary tale A Christmas Carol, Scrooge tells the tale of old miser Ebenezer Scrooge on the night he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. Here that tale is told in an “all-singing, all-dancing, all-flying” show.

“I haven’t flown on stage before, but I’m not scared of heights,” says Mark Hird

All-flying, Mark?  “Yes, we have some flying in this show. Scrooge has to fly with Rory Mulvihill’s Ghost of Christmas Present, and Tony Froud’s Jacob Marley will float above the stage to sing his big number,” says the Scotsman.

“I haven’t flown on stage before, but I’m not scared of heights. I love walking the hills in Scotland.”

Joining Mark in the company will be Alan Park’s Bob Cratchit. “The advantage we have doing the show at the Grand Opera House, rather than our other home at 41 Micklegate, is that you can put on a big spectacle, but you can also have intimate scenes too, such as Cratchit and Tiny Tim’s scenes,” says Alan.

“But the experience of performing at 41 Micklegate develops that intimate form of acting, which you can then take into the bigger theatre,” says Mark.

He and Park see the contemporary resonance in Dickens’s story. “It’s amazing to look back at the impact Dickens’s book had on politicians, as well as general readers, concerning the inequality of working conditions for the working classes, and the cruelty Cratchit faces. That strikes a chord today,” says Mark.

” it’s really fun as an actor to make Scrooge’s transition, but also not to make him black and white,” says Mark Hird

“Cratchit thinks ‘this is my lot; I will make the most of what I have’, and he sees Scrooge as alien to his world, because that’s how society is,” says Alan.

“No politician will change Scrooge, but the three Ghosts do have an impact, which makes him change himself.

“But what’s more depressing is that if A Christmas Carol were to be played out in modern times, I’m not sure there would be sympathy for the Bob Cratchits of this world.”

“Maybe we need another Dickens for this age,” says Mark. “If the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come brought Dickens to 2019, I think he would be horrified.”

“You could argue that we need the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come to visit some of our politicians right now,” says Alan, as the winter-of-discontent General Election fast approaches.

Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical runs from Tuesday, November 26 to Sunday, December 1 at Grand Opera House, York. Performances: 7.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday; 2.30pm, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Charles Hutchinson

Baron Productions pick The Rivals for winter laughs in Pickering and York

Dave Parkinson’s Sir Lucius O’Trigger gives Paul Toy’s Bob Acres a duelling lesson for Baron Productions’ The Rivals

YORK company Baron Productions are to stage Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Georgian comedy of manners, The Rivals, next month.

Premiered at Covent Garden Theatre, London, in January 1775, its latest York production is being directed by Paul Toy, who also will play bombastic rival suitor Bob Acres in 7.30pm performances at the Quaker Meeting House, Pickering, on December 7 and St Mary’s Church, Bishophill Junior, York, from December 12 to 14.

Company founder Daniel Wilmot says: “The story of Captain Jack Absolute’s clandestine courtship of the cynical, yet romantic, Lydia Languish, under the noses of their respective guardians, blustering Sir Anthony Absolute and hilarious Mrs Malaprop, is one that has made me smile from the first time I read it.

Baron Productions’ poster for next month’s production of The Rivals

“Given that it’s in keeping with our company’s tradition of theatre with a ‘thoroughly dashing edge’ – period settings, witty dialogue, lush costumes, occasional duelling, sometimes even in character – it seemed the perfect choice to bring a laugh or two to the winter months after our darker production of Hamlet this summer.”

Wilmot formed Baron Productions in 2015 to produce and direct the swashbuckling pirate romp Crossed Swords, since when they have performed Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray in 2016, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre in 2017 and a Yorkshire tour of Shakespeare’s Hamlet this year.

“The choice of The Rivals is a poignant one for me as well,” says Wilmot. “I did the show back in 2012 as a rehearsed reading at the York Theatre Royal Studio, under the direction of Edward Pearce, and lovely Ruth Ford was in the cast as well, playing Mrs Malaprop of course.

Touching moment: Meg Davies as Julia and Daniel Wilmot as Captain Jack Absolute in The Rivals

“Neither of them is still with us. I have a lot of happy memories of working with them, so aside from liking the show, I wanted to do a fully-fledged version dedicated to them and their memories.”

Toy’s cast features Steve Mawson as the domineering Sir Anthony Absolute; Margaret Davey as Mrs Malaprop; Daniel Wilmot as Captain Jack Absolute; Raffy Parker as Lydia Languish and Dave Parkinson as the argumentative Irish baronet Sir Lucius O’Trigger.

Fired up: Molly Ridley’s David panics as Paul Toy’s Bob Acres prepares his pistols in The Rivals

Tyler Cooke will play the hapless lovelorn Faulkland; Meg Davies, his long-suffering partner Julia; Zoe Glossop, pompous butler Fag; Molly Ridley, Acres’ terrified servant David, and Amy Fincham, conniving housemaid Lucy.  

Toy has set the piece at the turn of the 19th century. “This allows for lots of dashing Poldark-esque costumes, the occasional wig, and a healthy dose of swaggering and swashbuckling,” says Wilmot. “He’s also promised a little singing as well.” 

Tickets cost £10, concessions £8, under 18s £5, at ticketsource.co.uk/baron-productions or on the door from 7pm each night.

Charles Hutchinson

Meet the new Jesus in Superstar show

John Whitney as Jesus and Marlena Kelli as Mary Magdalene in York Musical Theatre Company’s Jesus Christ Superstar

YORK Musical Theatre Company will stage Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar from November 27 to 30 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.

Company newcomer John Whitney will lead director Paul Laidlaw’s cast for this 1972 rock opera, a “musical phenomenon” that follows the last week of Jesus’s life through the eyes of Judas Iscariot, exploring the struggles and personal relationships between his followers and disciples. 

For this gritty and touching emotional rollercoaster ride, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s score parades such favourites as Superstar, Everything’s Alright and I Don’t Know How To Love Him.

Laidlaw is joined in the creative team by musical director John Atkin, overseeing a cast led by Whitney’s Jesus, Marlena Kelli’s Mary Magdalene, Peter Wookie as Pilate and Chris Mooney as Judas.

“We were thrilled to have such a great response to auditions, particularly from so many new faces to the company,” says Laidlaw. “We’ve always been proud of the fact that we welcome any new people to join any show that we do, and if you’re new, you can walk into lead roles, and that’s what’s happened.

“Our actors playing Jesus, Judas, Pilate and Mary Magdalene are all new to the company and it’s really encouraging to see. The strength in the singing is staggering and is going to sound just fantastic on stage. We really can’t wait to show York audiences all our hard work.”

Further principal roles go to John Haigh as Herod; Chris Haygard as Simon Zealotes; Martin Harvey, Caiphas; Matthew Clare, Annas; Simon Trow and Malcolm Poole, Priests; David Martin, Apostle Peter, and Heather Richmond, Maid.

In the ensemble will be Helen Barugh; Victoria Hughes; Helen Goodwill; Samantha Hindman; Jane Holiday; Elly-Mai Mawson; Karen Mawson; Jennifer Page; Amie Stone; Holly Inch; Amy Lacy; Paula Stainton; Charlotte Wetherell; Matthew Ainsworth; Derek McMahon and Andrew Pilot.

Tickets for the 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday matinee are on sale at £18, concessions £16, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or on 01904 501935.

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio ****

Family wreckage: Jo Mousley as Hester in Athol Fugard’s Hello And Goodbye at York Theatre Royal Studio. Picture: Jane Hobson

Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, until November 30. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

HELLO again to in-house productions in the York Theatre Royal Studio with this revival of Athol Fugard’s 1965 South African play Hello And Goodbye.

Associate artist John R Wilkinson had lamented the hiatus since the fading away of such Studio works as Blackbird, Blue/Orange and The White Crow and his own show, Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, six years ago, as he spoke of the pride and spirit engendered by this resurrection: the very last word uttered in Fugard’s “biting yet beautiful parable”, by the way.

“The blue magic of that space has always given rise to intense, intimate storytelling,” said Wilkinson, whose production is exactly that: intense and intimate.

Hello And Goodbye is a two-hander, albeit with the “presence” of a third family member, the father to Johnnie (Emilio Iannucci) and Hester (Jo Mousley).

God fearing: Emilio Iannucci’s Johnnie seeking resurrection in Hello And Goodbye, with Jo Mousley’s Hester in the doorway

Hester is making an unexpected, unannounced visit to the family home at 57A Valley Road, Port Elizabeth, after an absence stretching back longer than the aforementioned Studio hiatus.

Iannucci’s Johnnie already has delivered a restless, psychologically fevered monologue, one that establishes both the dysfunctional state of the family and the unnerving dark, even gothic, humour at play in Fugard’s writing.

Chatting afterwards with Iannucci, he said audiences had laughed at some performances, not at others, but the play had worked both ways.

The way it goes may well depend on how you react to Johnnie telling Hester that he and their disabled Dad have been getting on well enough, but she cannot disturb him because he is asleep in the room next door. Put bluntly, his sleep could not be deeper.

Director John R Wilkinson: re-awakening the “blue magic” of the Theatre Royal Studio space

If Johnnie is nervy, neurotic, repeatedly reaching for biblical quotes, Mousley’s Hester is frenetic in her desperate search for the £500 that she believes their father has squirrelled away somewhere in the house.

Johnnie can keep the house if he lets her find and keep the money, a task that involves him bringing through case after case that trigger traumatic memories of their past. Their already fractured relationship only worsens as Fugard meditates on family, selfishness and redemption, set against the social upheaval in South Africa at large.

Hello And Goodbye brings to mind the discomfiting Sixties’ plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, not least in a set design that mirrors the frayed, wounded state of mind of the sparring siblings, as designer Laura Ann Price scatters the stage with debris from the crumbling, smashed-out back wall.

Wilkinson has cast superbly: after his Studio debut in the children’s show E Nesbit’s The Book Of Dragons in December 2017 and his Romeo in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Romeo And Juliet at Blenheim Palace this summer, Iannucci has hit new heights here, calling on his physical theatre skills, his feel for black comedy and his relish for a surprise.

Mousley is a brilliant pick too, making her Theatre Royal debut after a year of outstanding performances in the Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Theatre Ensemble. Her Hester has the disruptive force of an Ibsen, Chekhov or Greek tragedian female lead, and together with Iannucci, they settle on a mutual South African accent that is another impressive feature of Wilkinson’s intriguing, fascinating production.

In conversation, he called Hello And Goodbye “weird”, smiling impishly as he said it. Make that weird good, not weird bad.

Charles Hutchinson

Scrooge heralds Christmas at Grand Opera House…in November

Bah Humbug: Mark Hird plays Ebenezer Scrooge in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical. Picture: David Harrison

BAH Humbug! The Christmas spirit is taking over the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday and not even Ebenezer Scrooge can stop it.

York company Pick Me Up Theatre are presenting their big winter show, Scrooge The Musical, directed by Robert Readman, with choreography by Iain Harvey and musical direction by Sam Johnson.

Quick refresher course: based on Charles Dickens’s Victorian cautionary tale A Christmas Carol, Scrooge tells the tale of old miser Ebenezer Scrooge on the night he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come.

Can he be turned from sourpuss to saint? What will happen to Tiny Tim? Will everyone have a merry Christmas after all? “Come and find out in this all-singing, all-dancing, all-flying show,” invites Robert.

His cast will be led by Pick Me Up regular Mark Hird, fresh from directing this autumn’s musical, Monster Makers, at 41 Monkgate. He now adds Scrooge to a diverse CV that includes Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family.

Further leading roles go to Rory Mulvihill as the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present and Alan Park as Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit.

“It started out as a film musical in 1970, adapted for the screen by Leslie Bricusse, with Albert Finney as Scrooge,” recalls Mark. “But it was one of those musicals that landed at an unlucky time just as film musicals went out of fashion.

“Everyone thought it was an absolute banker, but times and tastes change, but now, when you go back to it, it’s actually a really good film.

“So, 22 years later, Leslie Bricusse decided to turn it into a stage musical, wrote half a dozen new songs, written specially for Anthony Newley’s Scrooge, and it went down incredibly well.”

Alan Park chips in: “Then it became a vehicle for Tommy Steele for many years in Bill Kenwright’s productions. Each year, Robert Readman put in a request for the performing rights, and at last, this year he got a ‘Yes’.

“So, this must be the first time it will have been done in a theatre of this size without it being a Bill Kenwright show.”

Park and Hird believe that Bricusse’s songs are vital to the show’s success. “They provide the vehicle for you to discover more about the characters beyond Scrooge, like Bob, so that by the end of a song you know more about them,” says Alan.

“You get the inner thoughts of the characters in the songs, so you get more than 2D characters,” suggests Mark. “You really see Scrooge’s progression, through his songs, for example.

“There’s probably no better show to put you in a good mood for Christmas,” says Mark Hird

“You’re also quite surprised by the sheer variety of the songs and the music, with some big set-pieces.”

“There are some proper Cockney knees-up songs,” says Alan.

“But also some lovely ballads, like when Scrooge sees the only girl he ever loved as a young man, Isabel, his fiancée,” rejoins Mark. You go back in time   and you hear her singing this gorgeous ballad with Young Scrooge called Happiness, as old Scrooge looks on.”

“The way Robert has staged it, you have Young Scrooge and old Scrooge mirroring each other’s actions, so you kind of feel like Isabel is singing it to old Scrooge,” says Alan.

Picking up his earlier point about Scrooge’s character progression, Mark says: “Through his songs, Scrooge goes from his position of denial, saying how he hates Christmas, to feeling ‘it’s not my fault, fate has done this to me’, when confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“Then, with the Ghost Of Christmas Present, he starts to think, ‘Could there be a better life?’, so it’s a fantastic story arc and a fantastic set of songs, with one of the most perfect stories ever written to hang it all together.”

A Christmas Carol has been interpreted in myriad ways on screen and stage, even by The Muppets puppets in 1992 in The Muppet Christmas Carol “My five-year-old daughter is still convinced I’m playing a frog in Scrooge, because her exposure to A Christmas Carol is seeing Kermit playing Bob Cratchit in the Muppets’ movie!” says Alan.

Assessing the abiding popularity of Dickens’ tale, Alan says: “It’s not just about redemption. We all reflect on moments in our life, wishing we could have done things differently, and the story also taps into nostalgia and regret and worrying about things.

“Watching this story unfold, it can change your perspective on the world and who you are.”

Mark adds: “It also says it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf and never too late to start again.”

“The story is full of joyful moments that are infectious, even infecting Scrooge, so I do feel it’s a feelgood show,” says Alan. “If you’re looking at a wider point, we all tend to focus on what’s getting us down, but this story lets us step out and think about all the joyful things of Christmas.”

Mark concludes: “There’s probably no better show to put you in a good mood for Christmas.”

Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical runs from November 26 to December 1 at Grand Opera House, York. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Copyright of The Press, York

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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

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 atgtickets.com/York

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 pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk. 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 northern-broadsides.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson