JULIET Forster has cut it as a director of Romeo And Juliet many times. Now she has sliced Shakespeare’s “two the two hours’ traffic of our stage” to 45 minutes, maybe 50, for CBeebies’ show tomorrow morning.
“I did joke about that at rehearsals because my previous production, at Blenheim Palace, ran to three hours and 15 minutes,” says Juliet, York Theatre Royal’s creative director.
She had been lined up for the children’s television production as long ago as December 2019. “Anna Perowne, who has produced the performance, had newly taken over BBC Shakespeare, having worked previously for the Royal Shakespeare Company,” says Juliet.
“It was partly that thing of a new producer looking at it in a new way, wanting to work with a director who would allow more input from the actors.
“She’d found the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre production of Romeo And Juliet I’d just done at Blenheim that summer, and when we met, we got on immediately. Then, put that together with the fact I’ve done a lot of children’s theatre and plenty of Shakespeare.”
The list runs deep for Romeo And Juliet alone. “In 2005, I did a Family Day at the RSC with children and parents taking part in a Shakespeare workshop,” says Juliet. “I’ve done an interactive version of Romeo And Juliet with some very young children and a youth theatre version at York Theatre Royal.
“I’ve adapted it for five to seven year olds in a way for them to tell the story; I adapted it for a Pilot Theatre production and I’ve directed it with a teenage cast in a play-in-a-week school project I ran with my old company years and years ago in the Midlands.”
Who better, then, to direct yet another variation on Shakespeare’s tragic story of young love and feuding families than Juliet? “We were supposed to record it last May, but the pandemic delayed it until we could kick off working on it again in December,” she says.
CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet combines Shakespeare’s characters with the additional roles of William Shakespeare himself and a librarian. “What the producer wanted was a good cohort of recognised CBeebies faces and actors, so I watched the other two CBeebies’ Shakespeare shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, to see how they were done,” says Juliet.
“We talked about ‘why do a complicated play for such little ones?’, but then we talked about the positive messages in there: the families putting an end to their feud and the importance of not giving in to bad things too easily, instead looking to live in peace and to put a stop to the fighting.
“That made it a show very much for the CBeebies audience, in this case for two to seven year olds…though lots of older children watch it too; they just don’t admit it!”
Juliet worked with Nathan Cockerill on the script, calling on her past experiences of adapting the text. “I looked back at what I’d left in and taken out for the five to seven-year-olds’ script I wrote and fleshed it out from there, also looking at my Pilot Theatre script to see how I’d edited it down for that show,” she says.
“Nathan was someone who’d worked with CBeebies before, and we worked on a script knowing that Shakespeare and a companion or companions always feature in a CBeebies Shakespeare show. This time Shakespeare is much more involved.”
Juliet has directed a cast of 15, featuring such CBeebies names as Andy Day, Chris Jarvis, Jennie Dale, Gemma Hunt, Rebecca Keatley and Justin Fletcher, of Mr Tumble fame, as Peter the Clown. Zach Wyatt, from Shakespeare’s Globe, will play Romeo; Evie Pickerill, Juliet.
“We rehearsed it and filmed it at Leeds Playhouse, all done and dusted two weeks ago, with just one day of filming with three runs of the show, making it like a piece of live theatre, though we couldn’t have an audience, of course,” says Juliet.
Joining Forster in the production team were designer Rhys Jarman, renewing their creative partnership from A View From The Bridge and The Machine Stops at York Theatre Royal, choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, lighting designer Will Evans and costume designer Mary Lamb.
“We then rehearsed from March 9, five days, then four days of tech and rehearsals, then filming,” says Juliet. “It was absolutely joyful because we were always keeping the young television audience in mind, how to carry them through such a tricky story.
“To have those experienced CBeebies performers and Shakespeare actors was invaluable. They set the tone. That was part of what was interesting for me as I’ve never made anything specifically for the telly before, but at the same time thinking about making something for a live audience, though that wasn’t the case!
“What we had to do was to get the best ‘blocking’ [the cast’s positions on stage], trying to make it as right as possible for the camera, but still making it very theatrical as Shakespeare is theatre.”
CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet will be shown on CBeebies tomorrow (2/4/2021) at 9.30am and soon after on BBC iPlayer.
FROM Penny Arcadia To Pocklington Arts Centre, the story behind the historic Market Place venue, will be told by magician and performer Jon Marshall in an online event on May 4.
Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) has been staging events for more than 20 years, but should you be wondering what the Grade II listed building was once used for and how it came to be the award-winning arts hub it is today, Jon has the answers.
Tales of fire-eaters, magicians and amusements all will feature in the 7.30pm illustrated talk as Jon, director and performer with Hull company Magic Carpet Theatre, takes his audience on a trip down memory lane, delving into the origins of the building formerly known as Oak House, dating back to the 1700s.
“The talk promises to be a fascinating and entertaining online event unveiling the story behind the building from doctor’s house, to cinema, and museum housing Europe’s largest collection of amusement machines, to East Yorkshire’s premier arts venue,” says PAC director Janet Farmer.
Jon, a member of the Inner Magic Circle with Gold Star, promises a fascinating and entertaining evening, replete with tales of former owners of the building Jon and Pat Gresham.
“They were larger-than-life local characters, cinema proprietors and museum curators,” he says. “All will be revealed about the exploits and colourful adventures of Jon, who was once a magician, fire-eater, pantomime promoter and sideshow showman.
“The audience will also hear about Pat, who was determined that when the Penny Arcadia closed, the building should not become yet another retail unit but instead should provide entertainment and a service to the people of Pocklington and the surrounding area.
“I had the privilege of knowing the Gresham family for over 50 years, so participants will be able to see many previously unpublished photographs and images from over the years.”
Jon’s company Magic Carpet Theatre are regular performers at PAC and last October they recorded two shows there for streaming for free on PAC’s YouTube channel: Magic Circus from January 7 to 21 and The Wizard Of Castle Magic from February 18 to March 4, both with financial assistance from the I Am Fund and Smile Foundation.
From Penny Arcadia To Pocklington Arts Centre will take place live on Zoom. Tickets go on sale at £5 each at 10am tomorrow (1/4/2021) at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
To keep up to date with all of PAC’s planned online and live events, follow PAC on Facebook @pocklingtonartscentre, Instagram @pocklingtonartscentre and twitter @PocklingtonArts.
BBC Radio York will broadcast two more instalments of the York Radio Mystery Plays in collaboration with York Theatre Royal.
While the Theatre Royal has been closed in Lockdown 3, actors and creatives have been working behind the scenes to record The Crucifixion for Good Friday and The Resurrection for Easter Sunday.
The plays have been adapted by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and writer husband Kelvin Goodspeed from excerpts from the York Mystery Plays, dating back to the 1300s, for recording by a combination of community and professional actors.
These latest recordings follow on from the audio versions of Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, broadcast on BBC Radio York last June.
“I’m delighted to have returned to the York Radio Mystery Plays series this Easter,” says Juliet. “The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city. They belong to the people of York and have brought people together to create, perform, watch, laugh and cry since the 14th century.
“The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is and has always been to human beings, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.”
The sourcing of the scripts, recruitment of actors and provision of music has been conducted by the Theatre Royal. In keeping with the social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to rehearse remotely on Zoom, then record their lines on a smart phone from home, whereupon the recordings were sent to BBC Radio York for mixing and collating into finished crafted instalments.
Acting assistant editor Allan Watkiss says: “We’re excited to be working with York Theatre Royal once again to keep the centuries-old tradition of the Mystery Plays alive during the pandemic.”
The York Mystery Radio Plays project is part of the Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of creative community engagement taking place while the building is closed under Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Joining director Juliet in the production team are Edwin Gray, composition, foley and sound design, and Madeleine Hudson, Theatre Royal Choir musical director, songs.
The cast for The Crucifixion is: Andrew Isherwood, as John; Daniel Poyser, 1st Soldier; Toby Gordon, 2nd Soldier; Adam Kane, 3rd Soldier; Ged Murray, 4th Soldier; Stephanie Wood, Mary, mother of Jesus; Joe Osborne, Pilate; Jared More, Jesus; Elizabeth Elsworth, Mary Cleophas; Maria Gray, 1st Thief on the cross, and Kelvin Goodspeed, 2nd Thief on the cross.
Poyser, Gordon, Kane, Murray, Wood, Osborne, More and Elsworth reprise their roles in The Resurrection, performing alongside Sarah Woodmansey as Angel, Dora Rubinstein as Mary Magdalene and Maggie Smales as Caiaphas.
“Like we did before, we’ve gone for a mix of professionals and community actors, but everyone is new for this production as we’ve moved from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and I wanted to reflect that by using new voices,” says Juliet.
BBC Radio York will air The Crucifixion on Good Friday, April 2, at 6.30am and 1.30pm; The Resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 4, 6.30am and 9.30am. They will be available too on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/radioyork
Elizabeth Elsworth performed in the York Mystery Plays 2012 and the Wagons Festivals in 2014 and 2018. She appeared in York Theatre Royal’s community productionsBlood + Chocolate, In Fog and Falling Snow and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, as well as several productions for York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players.
Toby Gordon appeared in the York Mystery Plays 2012 as Workman, in the 2016 York Minster Mystery Plays as Lucifer and in Two Planks & A Passion as Edward Young. Other credits include Antigone (Barbican, London) and The Great Gatsby(Guild of Misrule).
Maria Gray trained at East 15 Drama School (BA Acting) and Flic Circus School in Turin, Italy. She works as an actor, voice-over artist and movement director. Credits include Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre); The Machine Stops (York Theatre Royal/Pilot Theatre); The Beggars Opera(York Theatre Royal) and The Girl Next Door (Teatro Regio). Shewas movement director for A Midsummer Night’sDream and Macbeth (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre) and Elves And The Shoe Makers (York Theatre Royal).
Andrew Isherwood has been performing on York stages since the York Mystery Plays in 2012, taking on leading roles in classical and musical productions for Pick Me Up Theatre, the York Shakespeare Project and at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre. He regards playing Max Bialystock in The Producers as his career highlight so far.
Jared More trained at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, graduating from the Project A actor training programme in 2019. He is a creative associate of York company Riding Lights, where his credits include Roughshod Deliver, The Selfish Giant and The Kaleidoscope Tour, as well as writing and editing on various projects.
Ged Murray’s first role in the Mystery Plays was as Joseph in the 1992 production at York Theatre Royal. He has since been in the cast in 1996, 2000 (again as Joseph), 2012 and 2016, along with being involved in the Wagon Plays since their resurrection in 1994. He last appeared in the Plays in December 2019 as Shepherd One in the Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s Nativity. His wider acting roles range from Shylock in York Shakespeare Project’s The Merchant Of Venice to the Dame in village pantomimes.
PaulJoe Osborne featured in the 2012 York Mystery Plays 2012 but that time at the other end of the Bible, starring as Noah in the Potters Cast. He has played assorted characters at York Theatre Royal Studio in The Seagull, Twelfth Night, Breathing Corpses and Waiting For Godot and Sgt Drummond in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Privates On Parade at Theatre @41 Monkgate. He has also explored TV and film opportunities too in Peaky Blinders, Coronation Street, Ghost Stories and the York comedy horror Chestersberg.
Daniel Poyser trained at Arden School of Theatre. He has played multiple roles for the National Theatre, as well as appearing in The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess Theatre, London); The Crucible (West Yorkshire Playhouse); The Island and The Three Musketeers (Young Vic, London); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Les Blancs (Royal Exchange, Manchester); An Enemy Of The People (Sheffield Crucible); Blue/Orange(nominated for MEN Best Actor Award), The Merchant of Venice and The BFG (Bolton Octagon), and Strangers On A Train, Arms And The Man and Blue/Orange (Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria). He has myriad television and radio credits too.
Dora Rubinstein trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Credits include A Page A Day (Northern Stage), Cinderella (Cast, Doncaster), Digital Ghost Hunt (York Theatre Royal), Peter Pan and Aladdin (The Dukes, Lancaster), The Wizard Of Oz (Leicester Square Theatre), Romeo And Juliet and Macbeth (Young Shakespeare Company) and The Ballad Of Robin Hood (Southwark Playhouse). She performs and teaches circus skills, such as contortion and acrobatics, and is developing an interactive circus/theatre show for families in partnership with Dance City, Newcastle.
Maggie Smales is a York theatre maker with both directing and acting credits. She has directed The Stepmother; an all-female Henry V; Blue Stockings and When The Rain Stops Falling. Among her acting roles: York Mystery Plays, A Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, Follies, Legacy, Twilight Robbery and Tom’s Midnight Garden.
Stephanie Wood trained at the Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art and worked professionally for several years, most notably appearing in the cult TV show Knightmare as Elita the Cavern Elf.She has been involved in many of York Theatre Royal’s community shows and was last seen as Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, whose run in the Theatre Royal Studio concluded shortly before the first lockdown.
Sarah Woodmansey is training at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, on the contemporary performance practices course. She has acted in York Theatre Royal productions of In Fog And Falling Snow, Dick Whittington (And His Meerkat), The Beggar’s Opera and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes.
ONLINE entertainment is still ruling the Stay Home world, but more promoters are announcing shows for the summer as the recovery roadmap begins to twitch our cultural satnav. Charles Hutchinson reaches for his diary.
Last chance to see: Michael Lyons’ Ancient And Modern sculptures, York Art Gallery Artists Garden and Edible Wood
THE free display of large-scale works by late Cawood sculptor Michael Lyons behind York Art Gallery will close on April 11.
On show in his biggest ever exhibition on York soil are nine sculptures created between 1982 and 2000, inspired by nature, myth and ancient cultures, with the central space dominated by Amphitrite, a large painted steel structure evoking the sea that he fashioned in 1993.
Opened in late-May 2019, Ancient And Modern originally was booked to run until May 2020, but has remained in place through these pandemic times.
Recommended resonant webcast of the week and beyond: The Machine Stops online
YORK Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s 2016 co-production of The Machine Stops can be watched at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/the-machine-stops-webcast/ until April 5.
Adapted for the stage by Neil Duffield, E M Forster’s 1909 short story is set in a futuristic, dystopian world where humans have retreated far underground and individuals live in isolation in “cells”, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine.
Director Juliet Forster says: “It’s even more striking today than it was at the time we staged it: things like human contact and human touch becoming something that’s almost taboo, things that didn’t seem relevant back in 2016 but are really, really striking and even more relevant now.”
Springtime celebration of music online: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music, York, Saturday and Sunday
THE NCEM’s Awaken weekend will present York countertenor Iestyn Davies and Fretwork, the all-male vocal group The Gesualdo Six, I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Ensemble Augelletti and The Consone Quartet.
The six-pack of online festivities will celebrate the sublime sounds of spring, recorded in a range of historic venues to mark “the unique association between the City of York and the exquisite beauty of the music of the past”.
Among the architectural gems will be Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall and the NCEM. Full details can be found at ncem.co.uk/awaken.
Online youth theatre opportunity: Thunk-It Theatre sessions with Pocklington Arts Centre
POCKLINGTON Arts Centre’s youth theatre partnership with York company Thunk-It Theatre is to continue for a second series of online drama classes.
Becky Lennon and Jules Risingham’s all-levels drama sessions for children aged six to 11 will be held on Zoom every Sunday during term-time from April 25 to May 30.
The 10am to 11am sessions for Years 2 to 6 children will include fun games, exercises and storytelling, aiming to encourage confidence building, life and social skills, creativity and positivity. Participants will work collaboratively to create a short performance that will explore storytelling. To book, go to pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Live music returns to Knavesmire: Sounds In The Grounds at Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, June 25 to 27
NORTH Yorkshire impresario James Cundall’s Sounds In The Grounds is adding a new location to its picnic-concert portfolio for summer 2021.
Complying with Covid-19 guidelines, the Clocktower Enclosure of York Racecourse will play host to the Beyond The Barricade celebration of musicals on June 25, Abba Mania on June 26 and A Country Night In Nashville on June 27.
The capacity will be capped at 1,400 for the fully staged productions with LED screens on either side of the stage. Tickets are on sale at: soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com.
Here comes a dose of the blues: York Blues Festival, July 24, 12.30pm to 11pm
THE 2nd York Blues Festival will be held on Saturday, July 24 at The Crescent Community Venue, York, organised by Paul Winn and Ben Darwin.
No strangers to the British Blues scene, they present Blues From The Ouse on Jorvik Radio and are members of York band DC Blues.
Winn and Darwin have booked a bill of Robbie Reay; The Swamp Hoppers; Dori & The Outlaws; John Carroll; Dr Bob & The Bluesmakers; DC Blues and Nick Steed Five. Tickets are on sale at yorkbluesfestival.co.uk, thecrescentyork.com and earwormrecords.co.uk.
Sheds on the move…again: Shed Seven, Live After Racing, Doncaster Racecourse, May 14 2022
YORK heroes Shed Seven’s twice-postponed post-racing gig at Doncaster Racecourse will come under starter’s orders on May 14 202.
First diarised for August 15 2020, then May 15 this spring, each show was declared a non-runner under the Government’s pandemic lockdown restrictions.
Let Donny Races wax lyrical: “So don’t have your friends asking ‘where have you been tonight?’ We have ‘high hopes’ that ‘the heroes’ Shed Seven will deliver an outstanding night of music. ‘It’s not easy’ but you’d be stuck to find a ‘better days’ entertainment in Doncaster next summer.” To book raceday tickets, go to: doncaster-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on/
Gig announcement of the week: 10cc, York Barbican, March 26 2022
10cc will play York Barbican next spring in the only Yorkshire show of their 13-date Ultimate Greatest Hits Tour.
“It’s difficult to express just how much we have missed playing live and how much we want to be back playing concerts for you,” says Graham Gouldman, the one group founder still in the touring line-up. “We look forward to seeing you all again in 2022.”
Tickets are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk and ticketline.co.uk.
POCKLINGTON Arts Centre’s youth theatre partnership with York company Thunk-It Theatre is to continue for a second series of online drama classes.
In response to popular demand, Becky Lennon and Jules Risingham’s all-levels drama sessions for children aged six to 11 will be held on Zoom every Sunday during term-time from April 25 to May 30.
The 10am to 11am classes for Years 2 to 6 children will include fun games, exercises and storytelling, aiming to encourage confidence building, life and social skills, creativity and positivity by giving children a space to express themselves openly and develop connections with other young people.
During the six-week term, participants will work collaboratively to devise and create a short performance designed to explore storytelling.
Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) director Janet Farmer says: “We’re delighted to be continuing our partnership with Thunk-It Theatre to bring the joy and fun of the performing arts to children at this time.
“The classes delivered so far have proved to be really popular, so we’re really looking forward to building on this success and eventually welcoming young performers through our doors for their classes, just as soon as it is safe for us to do so.”
The youth theatre was born out of a free project run by Thunk-It in January and February, delivering similar sessions online to alleviate the stress of home schooling for young people and their parents and carers.
Becky and Jules hosted the inaugural series of youth theatre classes from February 28. “We’re so excited to continue building on the success of our first block of online drama classes and seeing this fantastic youth theatre partnership with PAC continue go from strength to strength.”
Series Two tickets are on sale at £35 per child with a sibling discount at £30. To find out more and to book a place, go to: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Alternatively, for further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
TODAY marks the first anniversary of the imposition of Lockdown, a year when killjoy Covid has cast the arts into darkness, but the artbeat refused to stop.
Here CharlesHutchPress doffs its cap to those who kept the flame alive in the 2020-2021 Hutch Awards, while scowling at a few irritations too.
Uplifting experience of the year? The first socially distanced live theatre enterprise, Park Bench Theatre, mounted by Matt Aston’s Engine House company in the Friends Garden at Rowntree Park, York.
Three solo shows, Chris Hannon in Samuel Beckett’s First Love, Cassie Vallance in Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Lisa Howard in Aston’s lockdown play Every Time A Bell Rings, were all first class, and this venture surely will be rolled out again in Summer 2021.
Summer ventures that reminded you why culture matters, dear Rishi: Badapple Theatre’s tour of back gardens with Danny Mellor’s Suffer Fools Gladly; Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger’s week of two-handers, full of music and poetic magic at Stillington Mill; the collaboration between the NCEM, Fulford Arms and The Crescent for a series of acoustic double bills in St Margaret’s churchyard in Walmgate; York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate.
York is still the home of pantomime, part one: Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House had to be stabled for a year, but his former home, York Theatre Royal, took panto to the people with the Travelling Pantomime, the first venture with new partners Evolution Productions, full of wit, energy, fun and mischief.
York is still the home of pantomime, part two: York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate. Nik Briggs, director turned debutant writer, assembled a cast of fabulous Yorkshire talents and West End choreographer Gary Lloyd for a slick slice of “musical theatre with pantomime braces on”. The Biles Beanstalk publicity campaign was a gem too.
Family show of the year: John Godber and his family bubble of wife Jane, actress daughter Martha and stage manager daughter Elizabeth staged his Sunny Side Up! premiere at the socially distanced Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. “Seeing all those masks, at first it felt more like being in an operating theatre, not a theatre,” said John.
Solo stage performance of the year outside York: Polymath Polly Lister, playing everyone and everything, from Gerda and Kai and a “silly Sorceress” to a Goth raven poet and a grumpy Brummie deer, in Nick Lane’s Christmas show for the SJT, The Snow Queen, transformed from a five-hander to a one-woman show under Covid restrictions and all the better for it.
Lockdown audio show of the year: Alan Ayckbourn x 2, first recording new play Anno Domino with his wife, Heather Stoney, for the summer and then continuing the multiple role-playing in a ghost story for winter nights as he revisited his 1994 play Haunting Julia, both for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. His master’s voice, as you have not heard him before, at 81.
Television art show of the year: Grayson Perry and wife Philippa hosting Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4, championing people’s art with such empathy, wisdom, wit and love.
Festivals that would not lie down but embraced the virtual instead: York Early Music Festival and Christmas Festival; York Festival of Ideas; Aesthetica Short Film Festival, much lengthened online.
Reinvention of a festival at short notice for Covid times: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, revamped by artistic director Jamie Walton to still go ahead with socially distanced audiences in a Welburn Abbey marquee with the apt theme of Revolution in August.
Comedy innovation of the year: Your Place Comedy livestreams, wherein a monthly double bill of comedians performed from their living rooms into yours.
Organiser Chris Jones, Selby Town Council’s arts officer, rounded up ten, then a dozen, independent Yorkshire and Humber venues to support three series of remote gigs by the likes of Mark Watson & Lucy Beaumont, Shappi Khorsandi & Justin Moorhouse and Hal Cruttenden & Rosie Jones.
Resilient spirits of the year: Chris Sherrington, Fulford Arms; Delma Tomlin, NCEM; Joe Coates and Harkirit Boparai, The Crescent; Cherie Federico, Aesthetica; Greg and Ails McGee, According To McGee; Kate Bramley, Badapple Theatre.
Statement-of-pandemic-times exhibition of the year: Karen Winship’s portraits of NHS frontline workers, first at York Art Gallery, then on the railings at All Saints Church, Pocklington. Harrowing yet life-affirming too.
Gallery launch of the year: Photographer Duncan Lomax’s Holgate Gallery in his front room in York.
Kitchen-synch drama of the year: York drag diva Velma Celli’s chic cabaret shows online from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and a riverside abode with flood water lapping at the door. Alter ego Ian Stroughair also had a ball as Flesh Creep in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.
Sign of the times: York Theatre Royal’s morale-boosting, we’re-all-in-this-together retro lockdown poster, in Keep Calm And Carry On wartime mode, designed by marketing manager Olivia Potter
Most irritating words of the year: Ramp up; pivot; baked-in; granular; lockdown…again; uptick; Stay Alert; postponed; cancelled; closed; non-viable.
Song of the year: Bird song, although Bonnie & The Bailers’ Baby Drive ran it close.
Album of the year: the always-touched-by-your-prescience-dear Human Contact by The Howl & The Hum.
Good news of the year: The ebullient Bull becoming the first York band to sign to a major record label since Shed Seven. Raise a glass to Tom Beer and co, whose album, Discover Effortless Living, will be out on Virgin EMI Records on Friday (26/3/2021).
Frustration of the year: The much improved second iteration of the York Mediale, the festival of digital media arts, defied budget cuts only to be cut short by Lockdown 2, meaning many missed out on the Kit Monkman-led art installation People We Love at York Minster and the Human Nature triptych of installations at York Art Gallery. It must be hoped People We Love can be revived.
Missed most: Interaction; connection; communication; banter; bursts of cheers and applause and…spontaneity.
Gone but not forgotten: Martin Witts’s Great Yorkshire Fringe; poet, writer, storyteller, blogger and performer Adrian Spendlow; Café Concerto, in High Petergate, York; York City at Bootham Crescent.
YORK Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s co-production of The Machine Stops will be available to watch online from tomorrow (23/3/2021) to April 5.
E M Forster’s 1909 short story is set in a futuristic, dystopian world where humans have retreated far underground and individuals live in isolation in “cells”, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine.
Adapted by Neil Duffield, The Machine Stops premiered in the York Theatre Royal Studio in May and June 2016 at the outset of a three-venue run and was revived there in February 2017 before embarking on a national tour of nine venues.
Forster’s stage premiere won the Stage Production of the Year in the 2016 Hutch Awards. “In the year when Phillip Breen directed the York Minster Mystery Plays on the grandest scale and York Theatre Royal re-opened with Bryony Lavery’s new adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, it wasn’t the expected big hitters that left the deepest impression,” Hutchinson said in The Press, York.
“Instead, an obscure EM Forster sci-fi work, The Machine Stops, became a play for our times in the hands of the Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and Pilot Theatre in the Theatre Royal Studio.
“Amid the stench of Brexit and Trump intolerance, here was a cautionary story of science friction and human heart told superbly artistically by a cast of four, writer Neil Duffield and electronic composers John Foxx and Benge with humanity’s worst and best attributes thrust against each other.”
Move forward to 2021, to the reflective words of director Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal’s creative director, who says: “Over this last year, I have thought about this piece many times as the world around us seemed to grow more and more like the incredible world that E M Forster imagined.
“And it’s even more striking today than it was at the time: things like human contact and human touch becoming something that’s almost taboo, things that didn’t seem relevant back in 2016 but are really, really striking and even more relevant now.”
Esther Richardson, Pilot Theatre’s artistic director, says: “When we produced The Machine Stops in 2016, it already seemed an eerily prescient piece of work. A story-world in which humans have become isolated from one another and living underground, communicating only through screens, offered an engaging space for reflection on perhaps the pitfalls of how our relationship with technology had been evolving.
“To be able to explore this in a live theatre space with an audience gathered together in person and with their technology switched off made it all the more dynamic a tale.
“It’s fantastic that, having spent the last year in different forms of isolation and on screens, we have the opportunity to share this great production, which will now sing with new meaning, meeting a new audience in a new context.”
The Machine Stops features a soundtrack composed by John Foxx, electronic music pioneer and founder of Ultravox, and analogue synth specialist Benge. The production was directed by Forster and designed by Rhys Jarman, with lighting design by Tom Smith and movement direction by Philippa Vafadari.
It stars Caroline Gruber as Vashti, Karl Queensborough as Kuno, Maria Gray as Machine/Attendant and Gareth Aled as Machine/Passenger.
The filmed recording was edited by Ben Pugh and will be released online with kind permission granted by the E M Forster estate.
Analysing the reasons why The Machine Stops transferred so convincingly to the stage, Juliet suggested in 2017: “When you use human beings to the height of their potential, theatre is at its most interesting; when you realise the incredible ability of human body; but at the same time, you can’t shoehorn that into a play. Here, though, to represent the Machine through movement, it absolutely suited it.
“It also helped that we had the finest soundtrack for a play in living memory, composed by John Foxx and Benge.”
That soundtrack went on to form much of the music on the John Foxx And The Maths album, The Machine, released in 2017 on the Metamatic Records label with artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, the designer for David Bowie’s last two studio albums, 2013’s The Next Day and 2016’s Blackstar.
The Machine Stops will be available to view for free at pilot-theatre.com/webcast, kick-started by the online premiere at 7pm tomorrow. York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre welcome donations from viewers, with all contributions being split equally.
What was Charles Hutchinson’s verdict in May 2016?
The Machine Stops, York Theatre Royal/Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal Studio
IN between those two pillars of early 20th century English literature, A Room With A View in 1908 and Howards End in 1910, E M Forster wrote a science-fiction short story, apparently in response to the outpourings of H G Wells.
It was pretty much ignored until being included in an anthology in the 1930s, but now it should take its rightful place alongside the prescient works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.
York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster has cherished wishes to present it since 1999, and at last everything has fallen into place in a brilliant re-opening show in The Studio.
Forster and Forster makes for a perfect combination, assisted by her choice of writer, the experienced Neil Duffield; electronic musicians John Foxx and Benge in their first theatre commission, and designer Rhys Jarman, whose metallic climbing frame stage and hexagonal floor tiles could not be more fitting.
Centre stage is Vashti (Caroline Gruber), soft-boned, struggling to walk and wrapped in grey swaddling wraps, as she embraces her new, post-apocalyptic, virtual life run by The Machine, in the wake of humans being forced underground to self-contained cells where everything is brought to you: food, ambient music; lectures; overlapping messages.
No windows; no natural day and night; no physical communication; all you need is at the touch of the screen beside you as technology rules in this dystopian regime. It is the age of the internet, conference calls and Skype, the age of isolation (and the teenage life), foretold so alarmingly accurately by Forster.
In the best decision by Juliet Forster and the writer, they have decided to represent the omnipresent Machine in human form, cogent cogs that slither and slide and twist and turn acrobatically, responding to Vashti’s every request, with an urgent physicality that has you worrying for the health and safety of Maria Gray and Gareth Aled.
Not that The Machine is merely compliant. Just as Winston Smith rebels in Orwell’s 1984, Vashti’s son Kuno (Karl Queensborough), on the other side of the underground world, craves breaking out into the old world above the artificial one, to breathe real air, see the sky, feel the sun on his face, but The Machine will do its utmost to prevent him.
Queensborough’s physical performance, as the desperate Kuno puts himself at risk, is even more remarkable than the gymnastic Machine double act, as he hurls himself around the frames.
Forster’s production has bags of tension, drama, intrigue, and plenty of humour too, especially when Gray and Aled transform into a plane attendant and passenger. Throughout, the Foxx and Benge soundtrack hits the right note, futuristic and mysterious, yet noble too when Kuno makes his move.
Nothing stops The Machine Stops: it is 90 minutes straight through, a story of science friction told superbly artistically with humanity’s worst and best attributes thrust against each other.
YORK Shakespeare Project has appointed Emilie Knight to direct the 2021 Sonnet Walks in a plan to resume open-air theatre in York as soon as conditions allow.
Anticipating the granting of Government permission for outdoor events, but awaiting confirmation on what level of social distancing will be required, YSP is delighted to make the appointment.
“We want to hit the ground running just as soon as we’re permitted to,” says York Shakespeare Project (YSP) committee member Tony Froud.
YSP will make an announcement on performance dates and the audition process for Emilie’s production later in the spring.
Emilie is well acquainted with the Sonnet Walks, having appeared in three productions. First performing as a Sting-obsessed sonneteer in 2018 an d as Mother of the Bride and guide the following year, she found playing Covid Nurse in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, was “one of the most affecting roles I’ve ever played”.
York resident Emilie has made regular appearances with the Knaresborough Players and was involved in the York community projects Blood + Chocolate on the city streets in 2013 and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes at York Theatre Royal in 2017.
Interested in all aspects of theatre, not least costume and tech, Emilie says it was only a matter of time before she would turn her attention to directing: “This is a new adventure for me and I’m thrilled to have been chosen to direct this year’s Sonnets production.
“I’m very grateful to the YSP committee for entrusting me with this important feature of the canon. I look forward to the challenge and hard work involved as I know it will be hugely rewarding.
“I was made so welcome when I joined YSP, have learnt so much and have had so much fun. I want others to share that experience too.”
The Sonnet Walks were first performed by YSP in 2014, and since their revival in 2017 they have become an annual event. Until 2020, they took the form of a walk around the streets and snickelways of York, allowing audience members to meet a series of colourful local characters, each with a lively tale to tell and a Shakespearean sonnet to recite.
Last September, Covid-safe restrictions saw the format adapted to the Sit-Down Sonnets, with audience and cast members all socially distanced in the atmospheric setting of the Holy Trinity churchyard.
YSP is confident York audiences are crying out for the resumption of live theatre. “With theatres closed since March, last September’s Sit-Down Sonnets were hugely welcomed by actors and audience members alike,” says Tony Froud.
“We’re hoping for the same response for live performance this year. By appointing Emilie now, we’re making sure that it will happen immediately guidance permits.”
Meanwhile, YSP is “hoping to revive” its production of Macbeth, postponed by Lockdown 1 ten days short of its first night in March 2020. Watch this space for any updates.
GREAT news on The Greatest Play In The History Of The World for York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre audiences: revised dates are in place for Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show.
The debut tour of Ian Kershaw’s multi award-winning play should have opened at Hull Truck from January 29 and played York from February 16 to 20 as part of The Love Season. Lockdown 3 forced a delay, however, but now History will be made at York Theatre Royal from June 1 to 5 and at Hull Truck from June 7 to 12.
Tickets will go on sale in April at yorktheatreroyal.co,uk or 01904 623568 and at hulltruck.co.uk or 01482 323638, with the release dates yet to be announced.
Produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Hull Truck Theatre, the tour will begin at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from May 18 to 22. All tour performances will be socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.
Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…takes a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumnus Julie narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love.
Premiered at the Traverse Theatre at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, the debut production transferred to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Studio in September 2018 and to London’s West End in December 2019. Now, the show has been adapted for the 2021 tour in light of these Covid times and performances will be housed in the larger performance spaces of each theatre.
The show is written by Julie’s husband, the Bruntwood Award-winning Ian Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless, and reunites her with award-winning director Raz Shaw after working together on Margaret Edison’s Wit at the Royal Exchange in 2016.
Explaining the play’s genesis, Julie says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that Ian should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).
“A couple of Christmases ago, he kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing: a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark.”
Let the show begin: a man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped. Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him. Over to you, Julie, from May 18.
Tickets for the SJT run are available at sjt.uk.com.
Yorkshire performance dates:
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 18 to 22, 7.30pm; 1.30pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday.
York Theatre Royal, June 1 to 5, 8pm; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday.
Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday.
EASINGWOLD singer Jessa Liversidge and husband actor Mick Liversidge will present the Fields & Lanes Livestream show from Helmsley Arts Centre tomorrow night (13/3/2021).
“Mick and I have been working on a collaborative project with the arts centre all about engaging communities creatively,” says community singing leader and music tutor Jessa. “Now, we’ve recruited some more field singers and outdoor performers to join us virtually for our performance at 7.30pm.”
Since the first Coronavirus pandemic lockdown in March 2020, Jessa and Mick have taken to performing outside to lift spirits and cheer those stuck inside. While Jessa sings in fields, Mick recites poetry down country lanes, and together they have devised Fields & Lanes, a celebration of poetry and song as well a celebration of the great outdoors.
Mick and Jessa perform with no accompaniment, their sincere and heartfelt delivery letting the poems and songs speak for themselves.
Last Saturday, Jessa notched her 50th “field sing”: a Saturday morning routine for the past 50 weeks wherein she “gets up and performs a song outdoors”.
“I might delay the field sing a bit if it’s snowing or raining, or I’ll shelter under a tree, but I find doing these songs really beneficial for me; doing it every week, having that fixed in my diary, knowing I need to do it on a Saturday morning,” Jessa says.
Mick, a professional actor on stage and screen for six years, and Jessa also performed a socially distanced Fields & Lanes Under The Willow Tree at Easingwold Community Library on a September Sunday afternoon and for Joseph Rowntree Theatre volunteers when testing the York theatre’s Covid-safety regime last October.
Buoyed by the response to their outdoor pursuits, Jessa and Mick teamed up with Helmsley Arts Centre (HAC) to offer the Ryedale and wider community the chance to join the Fields & Lanes family in remote workshops.
“You will have the chance to develop singing or recitation skills and work towards your own pre-recorded performance, which will be featured in the livestream Fields & Lanes show on March 13,” read the invitation to recruits on the HAC website.
Places were strictly limited, enabling Jessa and Mick to work with both small groups and individuals on February 27 and March 6. Participants also received support, feedback and guidance from Jessa or Mick in between sessions and they are entitled to a gratis ticket for tomorrow’s livestream.
“We’ve found that singing and performing poetry outside has been both therapeutic and uplifting during these challenging times,” says Jessa. “We’ve enjoyed everything that comes with performing in the open air: the bird song, the fields, the winds, and we wanted to help others take part and feel the benefits.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Helmsley Arts Centre, who have provided the funding for a project to demonstrate how music and poetry can connect the community through creativity, and we’re delighted with the wide range of performers who have joined us, from seasoned professional performers to hobby singers and poets.
“In the workshops and individual sessions over the two weekends, we’ve worked on field singing and outdoor recitation techniques and created some collaborative performances. As a result, members of these groups will be appearing with us in the livestream via pre-recorded video.”
Tomorrow’s livestream viewers can expect a wide-ranging show featuring poetry from William Wordsworth to Spike Milligan, Lord Byron to D H Lawrence, and songs from folk standards to pop favourites and gospel classics, The Beatles to Bill Withers, Cilla Black to Carole King.
Poetry collaborators in tomorrow’s livestream are Bill Laverick, Helen Wilson and Maurice Crichton, from York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players, and Ted Naisbitt, from Sowerby, near Thirsk, performing one of his own poems, My Lakes, inspired by Wordsworth.
Mick worked with Bill, Helen, Maurice and Ted, each taking a verse from Wordsworth’s Daffodils and Sir John Betjeman’s Business Girls, reciting both on Zoom and in the open air.
New field singers taking part are Sinead Livingston, Mary Bourne, Madeleine Cordes, Gary Cordes, Cat Ellis, Caitlin Ellis, Sarah Boyle and Bill Laverick.
“They’re spread across the country from Essex to the North East,” says Jessa. “One of the positives of these times has been being able to work with people from all over the place!
“Sinead, Mary and Madeleine are all singing leaders, who I’ve been liaising with over the past year, all liking the idea of singing outside, and it’s been really great to have such high-quality people to work with.
“Mary runs choirs in Kingston and writes songs, and she’s been a friend for a couple of years. We’ve recorded a duet called My Call, where I recorded my part outside and as she’s ‘Choir Leader In A Kayak’, she’s done her part from a kayak.”
Introducing more of tomorrow’s remote singers, Jessa says: “Cat and Caitlin are a mother and daughter from Easingwold; Cat is in one of my choirs and I teach Caitlin. Sarah Boyle is a ‘hobby singer’ from York who’s joined one of my choirs, and Madeleine and Gary Cordes run a talent agency in Essex.
“In the first workshop, we did Stand By Me and The Water Is Wide, with me editing the virtual performances together and then last Saturday we worked on individual song choices.”
For tomorrow’s livestream, “bubble couple” Mick and Jessa will be performing live and alone in Helmsley Arts Centre, where the pre-recorded songs and poems will be projected on a screen.
The 7.30pm show marks a return to Helmsley Arts Centre for Jessa, after performing three of her one-woman shows there: ’Til The Boys Come Home, Some Enchanted Sondheim and Songbirds.
She has been a freelance singer and singing leader for the past 12 years, completing high-level training on performance, singing teaching and musical direction with Vocal Process and qualifying as a Vocal Health First Aider.
“From youth choirs and dementia-friendly groups to community choirs and private lessons, my sessions all have an encouraging atmosphere and a positive, inclusive ethos,” she says.
“I’m continuing to run my singing groups online – Singing For All and Community Singers Online, as well as the live YMHSing sessions for the York Music Hub – and I’m always looking for more singers of all abilities to join in.
“One new singer recently said, ‘you fill the screen with fun and enjoyment’ and I’d love to reach a few more of these people.”
As testament to her teaching skills, Jessa has been nominated for two 2021 Music and Drama Education awards on March 24 for her inspiring work with singers of all ages in the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Quite an honour and a big surprise!” she says. “I’ve no expectations of winning but will glam up and tune into the ceremony on the 24th anyway!”
Jessa is shortlisted for the #goldstars Award, for any teacher who has shown particular flair, creativity or compassion during this past year, and the Francesca Honley Inspiration Award, which honours an individual who has had a hugely inspirational impact on students of any age in their music-making.
“The person who nominated me mentioned the wide range of ways I have adapted and created different ways of inspiring people of all ages through singing, including the live sings and Zoom choirs for York Music Hub, song and music videos, live singing for all and field sings,” says Jessa, as she looks forward to listening to the 6pm online ceremony at https://www.musicdramaedawards.com/.
Looking ahead, Jessa says: “I’m definitely going to continue with the choirs online. I even have participants from Milton Keynes, Rochdale, Bedfordshire, and I’ve been able to engage in various ways, along with continuing my ‘real’ groups.
“I feel loyal to them all, so when lockdown eases under the Government ‘roadmap’, I’ll do hybrid ‘Room and Zoom’ sessions. I did one in October, which I enjoyed, though it is quite exhausting trying to do two things at once!”
Reflecting on 12 months under the pandemic cloud, Jessa says: “I’m really happy with the way I’ve managed to grow and create this past year despite everything, or actually out of necessity due to everything.
“I’ve developed a lot of skills, like a lot of people like me have. I’ve really enjoyed it, picking up technical skills, such as learning how to synch up people singing separately for streaming. It’s quite time consuming but I think it’s worth it, recording people standing alone in a field but then seeing themselves in a group online.”
Jessa is proof positive that singing is good for the soul, for physical health, for mental wellbeing. “Singing just lifts you and takes you somewhere else,” she says in her break from her online “three hat day” for this interview.
“Singing keeps me going. Today [8/3/2021] I’m running a Singing For All session; teaching a couple of pupils and doing a York Music Hub session at four o’clock, so I’ll be buoyant all day!”