REVIEW: Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough ****

“Spatial continuum anomaly”: Naomi Petersen’s wartime Lily and Bill Champion’s pandemic-times Rob bridge the age gap in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until July 3. Box office: 01723 370541 and at sjt.uk.com

WHO else but director emeritus and Scarborough knighted playwright Alan Ayckbourn could be at the helm of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s first in-house production of 2021.

He has been chomping at the bit, as the racehorse saying goes, writing even more prolifically and recording and sound-editing two audio plays, Anno Domino and the reawakened ghost story Haunting Julia, as lockdown followed lockdown.

He has missed the interaction with actors and audience alike, as last summer’s premiere of Truth Will Out never did reveal its topical virus truths in The Round.

How joyful to see Sir Alan, 82 and stick in hand, taking his familiar back-row seat for the Tuesday’s press night performance. It was another sign of live theatre’s resurrection, even with the continuing need for face masks, social distancing and a reduced capacity.

The Girl Next Door is premiere number 85, and glory be, it is inventive, witty, poignant, moving and surprising in the best Ayckbourn tradition, with plenty of mischievous humour too, whether digging into politics, Zoom, love, war, English characteristics, our past and present, what has changed, what hasn’t.

All this is wrapped in a tale suffused with magic realism (or not, you decide!) and Ayckbourn’s familiar relish with playing with time. In this case, he applies the term “spatial continuum anomaly” for surely the first time, along with references to Doctor Who and Star Wars.

Standard attire for a Zoom meeting: Alexandra Mathie’s Westminster civil servant Alex at home in The Girl Next Door. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Ayckbourn’s frustration at his absence from the rehearsal room and stage since 2019 finds a messenger on stage in the form of actor Rob Hathaway (Ayckbourn stalwart Bill Champion), head in his hands, stuck at home in August 2020, sixty, sagging and sad.

He laments the hiatus from all that he loves about theatre, above all the connection, and no, Shakespeare sonnets being performed by glove puppets online is no substitute.

Bored with the prospect of watching yet another box set or daytime TV after losing his role, for disciplinary reasons, as the star of the nation’s favourite TV period drama, National Fire Service, he keeps re-living his past as George ‘Tiger’ Jennings, wartime hero and living firefighter legend, rather than living for the day or even having his morning Cornflakes.

Lockdown has been shared with his big sister, very sensible civil servant Alex (Ayckbourn regular Alexandra Mathie), who has just finished a Zoom meeting with the Chancellor (female, as it happens). We know the ever-sharp Ayckbourn is on the ball because she is wearing pyjamas beneath a jacket, as so many have!

Champion’s enervated Rob is suddenly perked up by the sight of a stranger, a young woman hanging out the washing in the next-door garden. Who is she, he wonders, as the owners, the Jessops, have chosen to isolate at their second home in the Dorset country.

She, we shall learn, is Lily (Naomi Petersen), and on her side of the hedge, it is August 1942, wartime London is under bombardment; the garden has been given over to growing vegetables, with an Anderson shelter beyond. Husband Alf (Linford Johnson) is away doing his bit for Blighty in a tank regiment in Africa; their two children, six and seven, are away too, out of contact, evacuated to somewhere in the country.

What’s it all about, Alfie? Linford Johnson’s 1942 soldier-on-leave Alf sips on a 21st century bottled beer in The Girl Next Door. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

We note the differences, beautifully drawn out by designer Kevin Jenkins: a hosepipe, security lights and characterless all mod cons in the Hathaway kitchen; a watering can, no outdoor lighting and a stove and hand-operated washing equipment for Lily. As ever in an Ayckbourn production, the doors are cut off at halfway but are used almost as regularly as in a farce.

For all the presence of Alex, Rob is adrift; Lily is alone, and through Ayckbourn’s aforementioned “spatial continuum anomaly”, their worlds meet, with all the bewildering confusions and misunderstandings that go with that.

Born in 1939, and so a wartime London child, Ayckbourn recalls a “sort of lockdown”  of that time, crowding into Anderson shelters and subway stations, and so he draws parallels with the pandemic lockdowns of 2020-2021. Rob keeps mentioning social distancing; Lily mistakes the security lighting for searchlights; Mathie’s Alex mentions she has a wife; Lily is unnerved by the machine-dominated kitchen. Ayckbourn revels in both the similarities and contrasts with the past.

He even plays with knowing about the past, and what  burden that may place on Rob if he were to try to change the course of history. Rather than Back To The Future fun and games, however, Ayckbourn keeps this thread – in the story of Alf – on a more serious trajectory, one of intrigue and mystery in the more melancholic yet still hopeful second half.

On top of it all, in his own words, The Girl Next Door is “an affirmation of love across the generations”, a love that stops feckless, twice divorced Rob in his tracks.

There is a second love story too here: Ayckbourn’s abiding love of theatre, its magic, mystery, wonder, profundity and possibilities, brought to life by a wonderful cast, with a typically brilliant Ayckbourn drinking scene to boot. How blessed we are to be sharing his vision, his playfulness, his wisdom, anew.

Review copyright of The Press, York

War and Peace as The Damned United plays out Clough’s hatred of Dirty Leeds

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson as embittered, embattled Leeds United manager Brian Clough in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

THERE is much hatred and not a whole lotta love in The Damned United, but nevertheless the story of Brian Clough’s splenetic 44 days as champions Leeds United’s manager in 1974 forms part of The Love Season at York Theatre Royal.

Why so? The truth, as explained by chief executive Tom Bird, is that Rod Dixon’s touring production for Red Ladder Theatre Company was booked in already when the reopening season’s theme took shape.

Enfant terrible Clough despised Don Revie’s “Dirty Leeds” and the feeling was mutual, drawing Dewsbury-born author David Peace to construct a psychodrama inside the life of Brian’s head: the biographical novel The Damned Utd, published in 2006.

Tom Hopper’s film, starring Michael Sheen, ensued in 2009 under the title The Damned United, and Leeds company Red Ladder have since presented various stage manifestations of Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation, built around the double act of Clough and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor.

Heading deep into the tortured mind of a flawed genius, slamming up against his limits, The Damned United brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles. 

The performing rights were donated by Peace to Red Ladder for all of £3.68 – a penny for each page in the novel – as a show of support for the Leeds company when it suffered a 100 per cent cut to Arts Council funding.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough – which lends itself brilliantly to theatre.

The book cover to David Peace’s The Damned Utd

“Anders’ adaptation captures the grit, poetry and darkness of David Peace’s writing, and by charting the fall of Brian Clough and exposing what made ‘Old Big ’Ea’ tick, audiences are given a fascinating insight into the troubled but brilliant mind of a flawed genius – who, to this day, remains one of the most controversial figures in sporting history.”

As Leeds actor Luke Dickson’s Clough and David Chafer’s Taylor head to York next Wednesday, joined by the multi role-playing Jamie Smelt, here comes a tale of War and Peace: a Q&A with author David Peace.

How did this stage adaptation of The Damned United come about?

“The original idea came up one afternoon in the Maypole pub in Ossett, back in the summer of 2014. When Red Ladder lost their Arts Council funding, the project became a bit more concrete and urgent.” 

How closely do you feel Anders Lustgarten’s stage adaptation of The Damned United captures your novel?

“Anders keeps the essential atmosphere and mood of the book, and obviously the plot itself, but he’s also made it something else, something new and something more, and which is what any great adaptation does.”

Double act: David Chafer’s Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough in The Damned United

What did you take from watching The Damned United as a stage play?

“More than anything else, for me, it was just a wonderful, humbling and exciting experience to see the original 2016 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse [now Leeds Playhouse], to see what so many talented people had brought to the work, and then how much the audience loved and appreciated it.”

Are there things that a theatre adaptation can do that a novel or film cannot?

“Very much so, and particularly in this case; football itself, at every level, is drama, theatre and spectacle played out before a living, breathing and usually very partisan audience. This is what I feel Anders, Rod and everybody involved brought to the story which neither the original book nor the film could do.”

What makes Brian Clough such a compelling figure?

“I think we simply recognise him, in ourselves, as human beings, with all his complexities and foibles, his good side and his bad, his triumphs and his defeats.”


Why do you think The Damned United holds so much appeal with non-football audiences as it does fans of the beautiful game? 

“Well, though few of us will sadly ever win the league or the European Cup, I think many of us have found ourselves in a new job with folk who were less than welcoming, and then perhaps not handled the situation as best we might. And then there’s always the mystery: why did Brian Clough put himself in that situation; ,why do we put ourselves in these situations?”

Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 16, kick-off at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

John Godber Company sets sail at Hull dry dock with filleted, better, topical Moby Dick

Director John Godber watching a rehearsal for Moby Dick at Stage @TheDock, Hull. Picture: Antony Robling

WHERE better to stage John Godber and Nick Lane’s radical reworking of Herman Melville’s maritime (mis)adventure Moby Dick than at Hull’s dry dock amphitheatre.

Welcome to Stage@TheDock – nearest car park, the new Fruit Market multi-storey – where the John Godber Company is presenting a 70-minute, no-interval, fast-paced, socially-distanced, physical production with a cast of eight until June 12.

“We are the first people to put a show on there for more than a couple of nights,” says director and co-director Godber.

What exactly is the Stage@TheDock? “The amphitheatre was established for Hull’s UK City Of Culture in 2017, up by The Deep. It’s what was called Hull’s dry dock and it’s now part of a new development of offices, digital spaces and restaurants,” says Godber.

“It’s also the HQ of the development company, Wykeland Property Group, who put money into setting up the venue and have given us financial support for this show: enough to put the production on in these times; enough to energise us all.

“We started talking with Wykeland in the middle of last year and then nothing developed, but now [with Step 3 of the Government’s roadmap] the opportunity has come up.”

Adhering to social-distancing rules is restricting the 350-seat amphitheatre to a Covid-secure capacity of around 90. “That meant we needed to do a story with a classical arc, one that would fill that space, but we knew that staging Moby Dick would not be possible without funding support,” says Godber.

Frazer Hammill, Sophie Bevan and Lamin Touray in rehearsal for Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

“That’s why, though we don’t normally seek Arts Council [England] funding, we put in a Culture Recovery Fund bid that’s given us more than a match for Wykeland, and we put some money in too.”

The revised adaptation by Yorkshire playwrights Godber and Lane transports audiences from what was the port’s central dry dock to the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship the Pequod in his catastrophic, deranged battle with the monster white whale, Moby Dick.

“It’s a show we first did at Hull Truck in 2002, and I was really pleased with it. We had a cast of only four: what were we thinking?! It was almost impossible,” recalls Godber.

“We’re delighted to have a cast of eight this time because the pandemic has been a crucifying time for anyone in the creative arts. They’re all local professionals, with two of them new to the professional stage, and we wanted actors with a relationship with this city and this coast.”

Godber’s cast duly draws on actors from Sproatley, Long Riston, Hornsea and Goole, alongside former Wyke College students and locally born actors who have appeared at the National Theatre in War Horse, Warner Bros films and BBC Radio Four soap opera The Archers.

Step forward Frazer Hammill as Frank; Nick Figgis as Rob; Tom Gibbons as Pat; Martha Godber as Lucy; Lamin Touray as Ant; Sophie Bevan as Kate; Caitlin Townend as Sue and Goole-born May Tether as Lily, following her appearance as Jill in the York Stage pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk.

“The Covid-compliance to put on this show is almost a show in itself. The actors are staying together in an Airbnb in Hull, doing Covid tests twice a week,” says Godber.

Once Hull’s central dry dock, now the home of Stage @The Dock, where the John Godber Company cast is seen in rehearsal. Picture: Antony Robling

“We’ve employed 20 people overall, from producer, production manager and company manager to front of house, stage manager and costume designer, to actors and outreach educators. We’ve all thought, ‘what would we have done without this?’. Not the finance, but the sense of purpose.”

After a couple of phone discussions with Lane, Godber was the one to put the new script together. “It’s a better show because we’ve filleted it. We didn’t want it to be longer than 70 minutes, because the book [written in 1851] is unwieldy to say the least!” he says.

“Our first version was told by four old soaks in a bar that was about to be knocked down, but now instead all eight characters have a relationship with this part of Hull, through their parents or grandparents, as a place for a sandwich and a chat.”

Significantly too, the script makes reference to Hull’s global importance as a port, its former prowess as a whaling centre and contemporary issues of conservation (that chime with Godber, wife Jane and daughter Martha becoming vegans).

“When I was at Hull Truck, I didn’t write about fishing and trawling at first as I didn’t believe it was my privilege, as I came from a mining family, not a fishing one,” recalls Godber.

“But then I thought, if we are going to do something about the fishing industry, it better be the biggest: Moby Dick!

“I like going to Bruges on the Hull Zeebrugge ferry, but that’s only 14 hours; The Prequod is setting off for three years!”

John, Martha and Jane Godber in their Stephen Joseph Theatre dressing room during last autumn’s run of Sunny Side Up

Godber smiles at the rise to the top of the charts of a certain former Aidrie postman with a sea shanty in the pandemic. “One of the weird things, in lockdown, was how Wellerman caught on on TikTok, when Nathan Evans said he wanted to do something to get him ‘out of lockdown’, with all the stoicism lockdown demanded,” he says.

Last autumn, the Godber family bubble of John, Jane, actor daughter Martha and company manager daughter Elizabeth premiered his play Sunny Side Up at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, between lockdowns, rehearsing at home. “It was the only way we could physically put on a new play that wasn’t a one-man show,” he says.

Now, Godber is at the forefront of the second wave of theatre’s return. “The fact you know, without funding, you’re not going to break even, you could think, ‘so what’s the point of it?’, but the point of it is that this is what we do,” says Godber. “Even if has to be a stab in the dark.

“I do believe there’s been a dissolving into Ground Zero for the arts. A survey said 31 per cent of people won’t go back to cultural activities in the same way. That’s a lot of people and they won’t return. I hope people will, but I don’t know if it will materialise.

“That’s why we’re doing this play in the open air for a number of reasons. It’s almost Covid-zero with social distancing, people in masks,  sanitisers, the space being wiped down regularly.”

John Godber Company in Moby Dick, Stage@The Dock, Hull, until June 12, 7pm nightly plus 4pm matinees on June 5, 9 and 12.

To maintain social distancing, tickets must be bought in groups of one, two or four; wheelchair spaces are available. Seating is unreserved, so early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment. Tickets cost £20 at Eventbrite.

John and Martha Godber in rehearsal for Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

‘It’s time,’ says Emma Rice as Wise Children’s long-promised Wuthering Heights is confirmed for York Theatre Royal

The first poster for Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights, starring Lucy McCormick as Cathy. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

YORK Theatre Royal will play host to the world premiere of Emma Rice’s long-touted adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights from November 8 to 20.

Rice’s company, Wise Children, is mounting the touring co-production with the Theatre Royal, the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic (in the city where Wise Children are based in Spike Island).

Lucy McCormick’s Cathy will lead artistic director Rice’s company of performers and musicians for an elemental stage adaptation that brings new life to the epic Yorkshire moorland story of love, revenge and redemption with Rice’s trademark musical and visual style.

Emma said today: “It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights. So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope – but there was no need!

“Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky. I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

“I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most,” says Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice

Should you need a reminder, this is the Brontë one where, rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights, finding a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw as a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

“Shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Emma Rice transforms Emily Brontë’s masterpiece into a powerful and uniquely theatrical experience,” the tour publicity states. “Lucy McCormick leads the company of performers and musicians in this intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time, with set and costume design by Vicki Mortimer; sound and video by Simon Baker; composition by Ian Ross; movement and choreography by Etta Murfitt and lighting design by Jai Morjaria.”

Rice’s production will open at Bristol Old Vic with previews from October 11 and livestreams to be confirmed for the first week in November. Before all that, this summer Rice directs her Wise Children adaptation of Percy and Eleonore Adlon’s Bagdad Cafe at The Old Vic, in London, from July 17 to August 21, with a livestream for Old Vic: In Camera 25 on August 28.

Wise Children – the company Rice formed when her artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe ended in acrimony in April 2018 after only two seasons – will be completing a hat-trick of visits to York Theatre Royal after staging Rice’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s Wise Children in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers in September that year in a co-production with the Theatre Royal.

On that visit came the promise of first news of “a third collaboration between Wise Children and York Theatre Royal, this one with a Yorkshire core and National significance in 2020. Watch this space,” as The Press, York, teased. In other words, after much more space watching than first planned, here comes Wuthering Heights and the National Theatre as co-producers.

In her 2016-2018 tenure at Shakespeare’s Globe, Rice directed Romantics Anonymous, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Little Matchgirl (and Other Happier Tales).

Class act: Wise Children’s stage adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal in September 2019

For the previous 20 years, she had worked for Kneehigh Theatre as an actor, director and artistic director, putting the company on the national map and becoming favourites at West Yorkshire Playhouse (now Leeds Playhouse) on regular sold-out visits to Yorkshire with bravura shows replete with magical storytelling, rumbustious music and circus daring.

However, in a tale of Rice and fall, the news of Wuthering Heights’ tour comes only a day after Kneehigh announced their exit stage left bereft after “changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward”.

In March, founding artistic director, actor, director and teacher Mike Shepherd announced his departure – “the end of this glorious book,” he said – after more than 40 years at Kneehigh. Only two months earlier, deputy artistic director Carl Grose had left too.

The company statement reads in full: “With sadness and regret, the trustees of Kneehigh are announcing the winding down of Kneehigh Theatre.

“While the last year has been a difficult time for many people, including those employed in the arts, performance and theatre, Kneehigh’s financial stability has enabled the company to continue to create work throughout the pandemic.

“Kneehigh is grateful to its principal funder, Arts Council England, and for the significant support received from the Culture Recovery Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Coastal Communities Fund, Cornwall Council and Garfield Weston Foundation.

“Recent changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward. The trustees and company reflected on a possible new future but concluded that it was better and more responsible to close Kneehigh and ensure an orderly wind-down.”

Farewell, Kneehigh

“The company wants to thank everyone who came to watch the performances, the artists they have had the pleasure to work alongside, the industry collaborators and partners, the volunteers and community groups who shared their time, knowledge and stories, as well as the funders and the friends – all of whom made the work possible.”

Hedda Archbold, chair of the board, said: “The board wants to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for the Kneehigh team. We want to thank them for the excellent work they have done and pay tribute to their passion and commitment to Kneehigh.

“Last Saturday, the brilliant Random Acts Of Art had its final performance. The project has been a high point on which to end. These bold, playful, humorous and thought-provoking creative works brought together dozens of collaborators all across Cornwall, and delighted audiences out and about as well as online.

“Eclectic, anarchic, inspiring and inclusive, it embodied the spirit of Kneehigh we have loved for the past 40 glorious years. Despite the challenges of the past year, it has been an incredible journey filled with joy and delight.”

Bless you, Kneehigh, for the treasured memories, whether at the Playhouse in Leeds or on a holiday visit to the Asylum at Heligan Gardens, Cornwall, in September 2018 for Fup: A Modern Fable. Thank you and goodnight after many a good night. Your work here is done: you changed the face, the reach, the possibilities, of theatre.

Rice’s snap, crackle and pop theatre goes on, however, and tickets are sure to sell fast for Wuthering Heights on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

CBeebies faves Twirlywoos are on their way to York Theatre Royal in the Big Red Boat

Twirlywoos Live!: Expect mischief, music and surprises aplenty at York Theatre Royal

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York next week on board the Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

These CBeebies TV favourites will be brought to life with inventive puppetry on stage from June 11 to 13 when mischief, music and plenty of surprises are in store for “little ones”.

For the uninitiated, the Twirlywoos are “four small, bird-like characters who are inquisitive, enthusiastic and always looking to learn something new about the world. Ever curious, they seek adventure and fun wherever they go. Whether in the real world or on their big red boat, they love to hide, imitate and be surprised as they discover fresh things”.

Twirlywoos was first broadcast on CBeebies in 2015 and celebrated its 100th episode in 2017. The series was co-created by Teletubbies devisor Anne Wood, and Steve Roberts, Wood’s co-creator of the BAFTA-winning CBeebies series Dipdap.

Inquisitive, enthusiastic and always looking to learn something new: the world of the Twirlywoos

Twirlywoos Live! is brought to the stage by MEI Theatrical, the producers behind  CBeebies favourite Sarah And Duck Live On Stage and the smash hit The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show

Written by by Zoe Bourn, whose stage-transfer credits include Thomas And Friends and Fireman Sam Live!, Twirlywoos Live! is recommended for ages 1+. Babes in arms are welcome.

Performances will be at 1.30pm and 4pm on June 11, then 10am and 2pm, June 12 and 13, with a running time of 55 minutes and no interval. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal goes global for Summer Of Love on playing fields and back indoors UPDATED 4/6/2021

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal creative director will be going around York in rather fewer than 80 days with Around The World In Days In 80 Days

MOVE over 1967. Here comes the new Summer Of Love at York Theatre Royal.

What’s more, after the success of last winter’s Travelling Pantomime tour to 16 York locations, the Theatre Royal will be on the move again, going global for a fresh adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days.

A soon-to-be confirmed further outdoor location for August 10 to 12 is to be added to the playing fields of Carr Junior School, August 6 to 8; Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14 to 16, and Joseph Rowntree School, August 18 to 21, before a main-stage indoors finale back at base from August 25 to 28.

The adaptation is by the Theatre Royal’s creative director, Juliet Forster, director of both the Travelling Pantomime and Love Bites, the love letter to live performance that launched The Love Season after Covid restrictions eased on May 17. 

“As one of the characters in the play says: ‘If you can’t travel to exciting parts of the globe this summer, don’t despair – we are here to bring the world to you!’That’s the spirit of this production really,” says Juliet, who will be working with Sara Perks, the designer of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes and Brideshead Revisited at the Theatre Royal.

“Many of us are feeling disappointed that there are still a lot of restrictions around travelling this summer, so this show is the perfect opportunity for some armchair tourism – or, rather, picnic blanket tourism.

“Jules Verne’s story is a lot of fun as the characters race against time to complete a full circuit of the Earth, and in this version, fact and fiction also go head to head as real-life investigative journalist Nellie Bly, puts in an appearance. It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story, delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best.”

Delighted by the ticket sales and audience response to the socially-distanced, Covid-secure Love Season so far, Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird has a similar policy in place for post-June 21, given the rising uncertainty surrounding “Freedom Day’s” removal of all strictures.

“We’re moving through the gears, one step at a time, one mini-season at a time,” says York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

“We’re moving through the gears, one step at a time, one mini-season at a time,” he says. “We knew we couldn’t do a Covid-safe community play this summer, though we’d really like to do one soon.

“But we got the bug for moving shows out and about around York with the Travelling Pantomime, and when it looked like there was a possibility of theatres still not reopening fully, we looked at doing an outdoor show and chose one with a wonderful sense of adventure and the spectacular, Around The World In 80 Days, where it will feel like a circus has parked in your nearby field.”

Juliet’s adaptation, co-created in rehearsal through July with a five-strong cast of circus performers and actors, will add a new layer to Verne’s story. “She got really interested in this amazing woman, Nellie Bly, who went around the world in only 72 days at the end of the 19th century,” says Tom.

“Juliet has interwoven Nellie Bly’s story with Phileas Fogg’s story to present one tale they may well not know inside one they probably do. It really hurtles along and is a very dynamic piece, where the framing device involves the circus performers deciding they want to tell Nellie’s story.

“Juliet is a really talented dramaturg, and that’s a skill it’s good for us to make use of, bringing a new voice to a classic novel.”

Looking further ahead, audiences can travel to Africa too in the Summer Of Love when Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me has its delayed world premiere from September 9 to 18. Theatre Royal artistic associate John R Wilkinson’s production was scheduled to debut in May 2020 but postponed under the Covid pandemic restrictions.

Presented by York Theatre Royal and English Touring Theatre, writer-performer Munyevu’s play charts the rise and fall of controversial Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father.

“We are so proud of this play, doing the world premiere, co-produced with English Touring Theatre,” says Tom. “It’s one for the lovers of politics and how it’s never quite as clear cut as you think it is: the way Mugabe moved from hero to villain and how that played out in millions of Zimbabweans’ lives.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me: World premiere at York Theatre Royal

“It’s such an interesting piece in the way that it looks at how one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter: the way that Mugabe broke the old system of rule but then ended up founding a new form of tyranny.  As well as that, the play is about being part of that new [Zimbabwean] diaspora.”

Tom is delighted to be linking up with Tonderai Munyevu once more. “I worked with him at Shakespeare’s Globe on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival,” he recalls. “He did a wonderful two-man version of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona and then he was in Black Men Walking when it toured the Theatre Royal in September 2019.

“Now, Mugabe, My Dad & Me will be rehearsed in York, made here, and will open here before going on the road, and it’s been made into an audio book so it will have a digital life too.”

Tom praises director John R Wilkinson too. “He’s a massive talent, now directing for the Young Vic as well as for the Theatre Royal, and it’s great to have him back after his production of Athol Fugard’s Hello And Goodbye in the Studio in November 2019.”

Broadening his thoughts, Tom says: “There was no good way to make the job cuts that we had to make last year [after the pandemic restrictions cast the theatre into the dark], but I’m pleased with the way we decided we’d cut a bit from each department, rather than closing a department.

“This way allowed us to continue to produce plays. I’ve always been passionate about that; despite all the pressures of, first, austerity and, then, the pandemic, it feels important to still do that.

“It gives us that agility, allowing us to make work that suits the venue, the city, the times, whereas if you cut it, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back because regional-producing theatre is very difficult to do under Arts Council funding.”

Tom continues: “To have two of our three Summer Of Love shows home produced is something we’re incredibly proud of, and it also allows us to use artists from York, like we did for the Love Bites shows when we reopened in May. If we can’t provide that opportunity, then we’re not doing our job right.

“I’ve worked in repertory theatre in Russia and Eastern Europe and there’s a lot to be said for it. You keep gazing at it longingly, but then you think, ‘how did they do that?’.”

Bookish and boozy: Stephen Tompkinson as university tutor Frank in Educating Rita

In between the two in-house productions will be David Pugh’s Theatre by the Lake touring production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, from August 31 to September 4.

Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980 and later made into an award-winning film with Julie Walters and Michael Caine, Russell’s heart-felt comedy drama follows married Liverpool hairdresser Rita and her encounters with heavy-boozing university tutor Frank while studying on an Open University course.

Max Roberts, emeritus artistic director at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, directs a production that bedded in at the cliff-edge Minack Theatre, Cornwall, last summer. “As it was outdoors, David Pugh was able to put on a long run there after the first lockdown ended,” says Tom.

“It’s great that Max is directing it because he’s directed lots of Lee Hall’s pieces, like The Pitmen Painters, and having Stephen Tompkinson in the cast keeps up our wish to bring big-name actors to York after Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in July.”

Education, education, education, plus humour, politics and life’s fateful twists make for a winning combination in Educating Rita.  “It’s entered folklore,” says Tom. “What’s interesting is we thought people would come because of Stephen’s popularity, but lots of people are saying they’re booking because they just love the story.”

Tickets for the Summer Of Love are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in York and beyond despite the rise of the “Delta” blues. List No. 35, courtesy of The Press, York

In suspense: Ockham’s Razor go aerial for This Time at York Theatre Royal

FROM circus at York Theatre Royal, to Moby Dock on a Hull dry dock, Benedetti in Pickering to Riding Lights on film, Charles Hutchinson enjoys his ever busier perch to spot what’s happening.

Circus in town: Ockham’s Razor in This Time, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 8 and 9, 8pm

CIRCUS theatre company Ockham’s Razor’s This Time is a show about time, age and the stories we tell ourselves, presented by a cast ranging in age from 13 to 60.

Circus and aerial skills, autobiographical storytelling and original equipment combine in a visual theatre piece that looks at love, support and struggle in families, alongside perceptions of strength and ability: how we are strong in different ways at different times in our lives.

Nicola Benedetti: Live and In Person for Ryedale Festival. Watch out for Martin Dreyer’s review for CharlesHutchPress

Festival residency of the summer: Nicola Benedetti: Live and In Person, Ryedale Festival 40th Anniversary Launch Concert, Pickering Parish Church, tomorrow (4/6/2021), 4pm and 8pm

TOMORROW, in-person music making returns to Ryedale Festival at Pickering Parish Church, when Scottish-Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti opens her 2021 festival residency by launching the Live and In Person series.

She will join her regular chamber music partners, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk, to perform one of Beethoven’s wittiest and most loveable works and an inspired piano trio by Brahms.

May Tether: Last seen in York as Jill in York Stage’s pantomime , Jack And The Beanstalk; now the Goole actor will appear as Lily in John Godber Company’s Moby Dick on Hull dry dock. Picture: Ant Robling

Outdoor play of the month: Moby Dick, John Godber Company, Stage@The Dock, next to The Deep, Hull, until June 12

JOHN Godber and Nick Lane’s radical reworking of Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby Dick, is being staged in Hull’s dry dock amphitheatre by an East Yorkshire cast of eight from the John Godber Company

Adhering to Covid-safe rules, and with a playing time of 70 minutes and no interval, this fast-paced physical production transports socially distanced audiences to the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship the Pequod in his catastrophic battle with the monster white whale, Moby Dick.

Godber’s production references Hull’s global importance as a port, its former prowess as a whaling centre and contemporary conservation issues of conservation.

Riding Lights’ poster for the York International Shakespeare Festival stream of the York’s company’s theatre-on-film performance of Pericles

“Film” of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company in Pericles, York International Shakespeare Festival, online, tomorrow (4/6/2021) to Sunday

YORK company Riding Lights present their sparkling, streamlined, 80-minute theatre-on-film performance of a lesser-known but still gripping  Shakespeare work, Pericles, The Prince Of Tyre, online.

In a “perilous voyage through the storms of life”, brave adventurer Pericles sets off to win the girl on everyone’s lips. Uncovering a sinister truth, he plunges into a rolling surge of events that leaves him broken, gasping for life.

Topical themes of abuse of power, desperate crossings of the Mediterranean and sex trafficking ensure this extraordinary saga sails uncomfortably close to home. For tickets, go to ridinglights.org/pericles.

Roger Taylor: New solo album, “surprise” solo tour, for Queen drummer. Picture: Lola Leng Taylor

York gig announcement of the week: Roger Taylor, Outsider Tour, York Barbican, October 5.

QUEEN legend Roget Taylor will play York Barbican as the only Yorkshire show of his “modest” 14-date Outsider tour this autumn.

In a “surprise announcement”, rock drummer Taylor, 71, confirmed he would be on the road from October 2 to 22. “This is my modest tour,” he says. “I just want it to be lots of fun, very good musically, and I want everybody to enjoy it. I’m really looking forward to it. Will I be playing Queen songs too? Absolutely!”

Outsider, his first solo album since 2013’s Fun On Earth, will be released on October 1 on Universal, dedicated to “all the outsiders, those who feel left on the sidelines”.

Put back in the Summer Of ’22: Bryan Adams moves his Scarborough Open Air Theatre and Harewood House concerts to July 2022

On the move: Changes afoot at Scarborough Open Air Theatre for 2021 and 2022

CANADIAN rocker Bryan Adams is moving his entire ten-date UK outdoor tour from 2021 to the summer of ’22, now playing Scarborough Open Air Theatre on July 1 and Harewood House, near Leeds, on July 10. Tickets remain valid for the new shows.

In further OAT changes, Kaiser Chiefs have moved to August 8; Keane, August 21; Olly Murs, August 27; UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro, August 28; Snow Patrol, September 10, and Duran Duran, September 17.  Westlife stick with August 17; Nile Rodgers & Chic with August 20.

For next summer’s line-up, Ru Paul’s Drag Race: Werq The World has changed to May 29 2022; Crowded House, June 11; Lionel Richie, July 2, and Lewis Capaldi, July 7.

Quiet Beech Wood, mixed media, by Janine Baldwin at Blue Tree Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week: Summer Eclectic, Blue Tree Gallery, Bootham, York, until July 3

SUMMER Eclectic marks the reopening of Blue Tree Gallery after a run of online shows.

“It’s good to see York open again for all to visit and enjoy, as we help to keep York culturally alive, safe and well,” say Gordon and Maria Giarchi and their gallery team. “We’ll be open to the public with this show and it’s available online too.”

On view are original paintings by Yorkshire artists Janine Baldwin, Colin Cook, Deborah Grice and Karen Turner.

Director Emilie Knight: Holding auditions for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar. Here she is pictured playing Covid Nurse in 2020’s Sit-Down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, Gillygate, York

Auditions of the week: York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar, Bar Convent, York, Friday and Saturday

YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret new location for its latest sonnet adventures, the secret garden of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York, for Sonnets At the Bar 2021 from July 30 to August 7.

Open-to-all auditions will be held at the Bar Convent tomorrow (4/6/2021) from 5pm and on Saturday from 10am. Those wanting to arrange an audition time should contact director Emilie Knight at emknight65@aol.com, putting ‘Sonnets’ in the heading and indicating a preference of day and time day and time.

“I will provide details of everything you need to prepare when confirming your audition time,” says Emilie, who performed in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets.

The circus is in town as Ockham’s Razor’s This Time goes aerial at York Theatre Royal

Ockham’s Razor performing This Time with a cast aged 13 to 60

ROLL up, roll up, for This Time, circus theatre company Ockham’s Razor’s show about time, age and the stories we tell ourselves, at York Theatre Royal on June 8 and 9.

The 8pm performances combine circus, autobiographical storytelling and original equipment in a visual theatre piece staged by a cast ranging in age from 13 to 60.

Presented as part of the Theatre Royal’s Love Season, This Time looks at love, support and struggle in families, alongside perceptions of strength and ability: how we are strong in different ways at different times in our lives.

Ockham’s Razor use a series of aerial frames, raised from floor to ceiling, wherein the four performers lift, push and cradle each other through thresholds and over ledges. Bodies are suspended high in the air and swung close to the ground in innovative new takes on trapeze and swinging cradle.

“Rather than paint the circus performer as a superhuman character capable of impressive feats, Ockham’s Razor make work that draws on the human and the real, where the characters go through recognisable experiences, emotions and conflicts with which the audience can identify,” say the company’s artistic directors, Alex Harvey and Charlotte Mooney, and director emerita, Tina Koch

Ockham’s Razor’s This Time “looks at love, support and struggle in families, alongside perceptions of strength and ability”

“Our shows are exciting and moving and we feel that we’ve achieved our aims when members of the audience have said to us, ‘I wanted to come on stage and do it with you’.”

After meeting while studying at Circomedia Academy of Circus Arts and Physical Performance in Bristol in Spring 2006, Ockham’s Razor premiered their first full evening programme at that year’s London International Mime Festival, with funding from Jeunes Talents Cirque (the first British company to receive such support).

Since then, the company has performed in theatres and at festivals in Britain, Europe, the United States and Australia, with their shows being produced by Turtle Key Arts.

The name Ockham’s Razor is derived from a logical principle, attributed to medieval philosopher William of Ockham, that states that between two plausible theories, the simpler is preferable. It is called a razor because it cuts out unnecessary elements. “As a company we work with this simple approach,” say Alex, Charlotte and Tina.

Tickets for next Tuesday and Wednesday’s performances can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

In suspense: Ockham’s Razor in This Time

REVIEW: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

Welcome with open arms: Julie Hesmondhalgh making you feel good to be back in a theatre at last

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, until Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12

NOTE the dots in that title. Ian Kershaw’s 70-minute one-woman show for his wife, Corrie star Julie Hesmondhalgh, does not lay claim to be the greatest play in the history of the world full stop.

However, like NASA’s Voyager probes, Kershaw aims for the stars, and as this most human and humane of love stories progresses, you accumulatively feel you are watching a great play with a sense of history and a grasp of what makes the messy world go round.

Kershaw’s focus is on the comings and goings of quiet, suburban Preston Road, and yet life in this northern town is universal too, such are his skills of observation and the beauty of his moving, witty turn of phrase.

Given the surfeit of solo shows to meet pandemic regulations in 2020 and 2021, you might have expected “Greatest Play” to have been purpose-built for now. Not so, Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumna Hesmondhalgh first performed Kershaw’s work in 2017.

Nevertheless, she has described the delayed 2021 tour as putting her back at Ground Zero, opening with a week-long sold-out run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Scarborough, from May 18, with the need to adapt to change, socially distanced circumstances, not least to no longer using audience members’ borrowed shoes to play assorted characters.

Boxed in: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

That night was the first time she had played to an audience in masks, an experience that John Godber said first felt like he was performing in an operating theatre, rather than a theatre, when premiering Sunny Side Up last autumn at the SJT.

Such is her popularity and versatility, Hesmondhalgh was “double-booked” all her SJT week, appearing simultaneously on screen in BBC1’s whodunit, The Pact. Such is her natural warmth, and ease with performing, whatever the circumstances, that any fear of disconnection between performer and spread-out audience dissolved immediately. Be assured, that will be the same in York from tonight and Hull next week.

Beneath bare light bulbs reminiscent of stars when lit and in front of shelf upon shelf of shoe boxes, stacked high, Hesmondhalgh immediately breaks theatre’s fourth wall to make everyone feel at home back in the theatre, then sets up the story of a man waking in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped at 04.40…precisely. He will keep doing so in Kershaw’s account, echoing, albeit distantly, Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day.

Through his bedroom curtains, he sees no signs of life, save for a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt is standing. She is looking back at him, just as bemused, just as unable to sleep, feeling just as isolated…

…So begins the love story of central characters Tom and Sara, and gradually Kershaw fills in the street life, Neighbourhood Watch scheme and characters of Preston Road and opens out his focus, moving between past and present and asking us to ponder who we are, what may be thrown at us, what judgements we may make of those around us.

Detail is all, typified by Hesmondhalgh observing the Latin tattoo on neighbour Mrs Forshaw’s arm that translates as “through hardship to the stars”: in a nutshell, the trajectory of Kershaw’s story.

Julie noted

What takes it to the heights is the way sci-fi enthusiast Kershaw weaves the Voyager probes  into the play, and more particularly the Golden Record taken on each mission with recordings that encapsulate the essence of life on Earth: “People having a good time. People cramming it all in,” as Hesmondhalgh puts it.

This sets both Kershaw and the audience to thinking about what we should include now in such a time-travel experiment, and after Hesmondhalgh has led everyone to both cheers and tears, she will have you smiling, exhilarated, at what makes everything worthwhile, even under the Covid cloud. Cue Here Comes The Sun and smiles all round, behind masks of course!

The solo show is a tough gig, be it for an actor or comedian, but directed by a Raz Shaw touch, Hesmondhalgh is wholly in control, often playful, using stairways as well as the stage, equally adept in a rising tide of emotion or in a moment of calm. She has the timing of a comic, yet the gravitas for tragedy too.

If you are seeking THE play to re-introduce you to the joy of theatre-going after pandemic hibernation, right now this is The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…for doing that. Full stop.

York Theatre Royal performances: evenings at 8pm, plus 3pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office, 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Hull Truck Theatre performances: evenings at 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 01482 323638 or at boxoffice@hulltruck.co.uk

All tour performances are socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.

Tragic news as York Shakespeare Project confirms Macbeth run. Auditions ahoy!

Emma Scott: Retaining her lead role in York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth, delayed by the pandemic until October 2021

SOMETHING wicked this way comes…at last.

The curse of “the Scottish Play” had struck again – in the form of a global pandemic, no less – to stop York Shakespeare Project’s penultimate production, Macbeth, only days before its opening night on March 30 2020 at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

Fifteen months later, however, committee member Tony Froud can confirm this morning: “Hot on the heels of announcing our reboot of our ever-popular Sonnet Walks for this summer’s Sonnets At The Bar, we are very pleased to confirm that our production of Macbeth is returning, with Leo Doulton continuing as director. Rehearsals will start in September for performances in the week commencing October 25.”

Rather than Lady Macbeth in her end-of-days fevers, the constant hand washing, over and over again, has been bestowed on the rest of us in these Hands-Face-Space times of Macbeth’s mothballing.

At the time of the postponement, Tony had said with the foresight of one of Macbeth’s Witches: “The ideal solution would be to pick it up again with the same company of actors later in the year, but there could yet be complications.”

How right he was. “After 15 months, circumstances have changed and sadly some actors are no longer available. However, this means there’s an opportunity for new actors to join the company,” says Tony, who will still play Ross in Shakespeare’s dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces.

“Many of the original cast will be continuing in the roles they had already worked hard bringing to life, but some roles, including Lady Macbeth, are open for audition.”

Director Leo Doulton: Setting his production of Macbeth in a dystopian “cyberpunk” future, to be performed in a promenade style

These roles are: Lady Macbeth, Duncan, Lennox, Lady Macduff and Third Witch/Third Murderer/Caithness/Seyton.

“The first round of auditions will be held over Zoom on the evenings of Thursday, June 17 and Friday, June 18 and during the day on Saturday, June 19, taking no more than ten minutes,” says Tony. 

“A small number of applicants will then be called back for in-person auditions on Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27.”

Actors interested in auditioning should contact yorkshakespeareproject@gmail.com with their availability on the above dates, indicating which role or roles they are interested in.

Emma Scott will still lead the cast in the title role in Doulton’s “cyberpunk”Macbeth; Clive Lyons will play Banquo/Siward; Rhiannon Griffiths, Fleance/Donalbain/Son/Young Siward; Harry Summers, MacDuff; Eleanor Frampton, Malcolm; Sarah-Jane Strong, Angus; Joy Warner, First Witch/First Murderer/Doctor, and Alexandra Logan, Second Witch/Second Murderer/Gentlewoman.

Amanda Dales (Lady Macbeth); Jim Paterson (Duncan, Lady Macduff, Menteith), Nick Jones (Lennox) and Chloe Payne (Third Witch, Third Murderer, Caithness, Seyton) are unavailable for this autumn’s run, hence this month’s auditions.

Out! Spot now available. The role of Lady Macbeth is up for grabs in York Shakespeare Project’s pandemic-delayed Macbeth after Amanda Dales left York for pastures new in Cambridge

Although Macbeth is play number 29 in Shakespeare’s chronology of 38 plays, YSP had held back the Bard’s tragedy big hitter until production number 36 of 37 as part of a grand finale to the 20-year project planned for 2020, with The Tempest as the final curtain last autumn.

Alas, theatre’s harbinger of bad luck and its Weird Sisters then delivered double, double toil and trouble to YSP. “We were six rehearsals short of the finishing line, when the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed.” says Tony.

When Macbeth and we hopefully more than three shall meet again, we shall encounter a Leo Doulton production set in a dystopian “cyberpunk” future and performed in a promenade style, with the action taking place on the move, around the audience.

“Macbeth is a magnificent tragedy about the earthly struggle between the forces of order and chaos, and how the world becomes corrupted by Macbeth’s strange bargains,” says Leo, who made his YSP directorial debut at the helm of October 2019’s stripped-back Antony And Cleopatra.

“Cyberpunk is an exciting genre for exploring, highlighting and visualising those ideas for a modern audience. We no longer fear witches, but we are still scared of our society being shaped by powers with no concern for those below them.”

The date for The Tempest to conclude YSP’s Shakespeare cycle is yet to be put in Prospero’s book, but the final production is more than likely to be accompanied by an exhibition charting YSP from 2001 formation to stormy finale. “The York Explore library is expressing an interest in presenting it, ideally to coincide with The Tempest’s run,” said Tony in March last year.