REVIEW: Is resistance futile in Alone In Berlin at York Theatre Royal?

Denis Conway’s Otto Quangel and Jay Taylor’s SS Officer Prall in Alone In Berlin

Review: Alone In Berlin, York Theatre Royal/Royal & Derngate Northampton, at York Theatre Royal, until March 21. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

IT is rare to have a perspective on the Second World War from within Germany itself, presented on stage or screen.

What’s more, Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret was a Broadway musical rooted in Anglo-American Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical 1945 novel The Berlin Stories, set in Weimar Republic Berlin in 1931 with the Nazi Party on the rise. There could be no more cynical voice than that of the nightclub Emcee; entertainment at any price.

This year, New Zealander Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, a satirical account of the last year of World War Two, as seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old Hitler Youth enthusiast in a German town, garlanded nominations aplenty in the Hollywood awards season but opprobrium in equal measure. How did it end? With the boy and a newly free Jewish girl dancing to David Bowie’s Heroes, sung in Deutsche.

Joseph Marcell’s Inspector Escherich, Clive Mendus’s Benno Kluge and Jessica Walker’s Golden Elsie in Alone In Berlin

Alone In Berlin is a different beast altogether, still with songs (more of which later), but far removed from the powder and paint, mirage and murk of Weimar cabaret or a small-town boy’s loss of innocence. The source novel, based on a true story, was written by a German, the maverick Hans Fallada, responsible for Little Man, What Now? too.

Also known aptly as Every Man Dies Alone, it was published in 1947 – the year Fallada died of a morphine overdose – but not in English until 2009.

Since then, there has been Vincent Perez’s 2016 film with Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson and now this York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate Northampton co-production, translated and adapted by playwright and political satirist Alistair Beaton and directed by James Dacre, the Northampton theatre’s artistic director.

We watch it through the 2020 filter of grim, vulnerable times, in a year of floods, storms, immigration intolerance, Brexit’s cold shoulder, myopic political leaders, and now the creeping spread of Coronavirus. “This is war,” an exhausted Italian doctor said yesterday.

Resistance movement: Charlotte Emmerson’s Anna and Denis Conway’s Otto Quangel in Alone In Berlin

On the one hand, there is heightened awareness of the need for collective responsibility, but, on the other, a fear that other factors may over-power it, and where does that leave individual action as we wash our hands ever more feverishly? We are indeed, as everyone is in Fallada’s book, very much alone, and seemingly not in control of our destiny.

Such a feeling prevails in Alone In Berlin, where the central question is whether an individual can make a difference through courageous acts of protest when standing up against the drowning tide of Nazism.

Hard-working carpenter Otto Quangel (Denis Conway) and worn housewife spouse Anna (Charlotte Emmerson) have just learnt that their only son, Marcus, has died in action, honourably serving the fatherland, the letter says, but they see no honour in it. Nor does his fiancée Trudi (Abiola Ogunbiyi), who joins the Resistance movement, although the subsequent arc of her story shows how ultimately alone everyone is under duress.

Yes, they had voted for Hitler – more precisely Otto told Anna which way to vote, she says – with Hitler’s promise of jobs to end the Depression, but they had since grown disillusioned. Their boorish, bragging bully of a neighbour Borkhausen (Julius D’Silva), feels empowered to persecute the Jewish woman next door; he and petty criminal Benno Kluge (Clive Mendus) are exploiting the vulture opportunities of Nazism’s tyrannical grip.

Jessica Walker’s Golden Elsie, centre, with Charlotte Emmerson’s Anna and Denis Conway’s Otto Quangel in the shadows

What would you do in such testing circumstances? Keep your head down? Keep making coffins as carpenter Otto now is? Or start a campaign of civil disobedience, as Otto decides he must, no matter how small the defiant act, prompting him and then Anna to write to write messages on postcards he stealthily distributes across Berlin, calling on fellow Germans to resist?

Most fall into the hands of the authorities, represented in Fallada’s suffocating story by Gestapo officer Inspector Escherich (Joseph Marcell), a veteran policeman, adapting to do what he must do to survive, and his superior, SS Officer Prall (Jay Taylor), ambitious, merciless, the embodiment of all the very worst Nazi stereotypes.

Once the trail leads to Otto – spoiler alert – the most telling scene has Otto confronting Escherich’s expediency. “You don’t believe in anything,” he scolds him. That shocks Escherich to the core, and in turn it challenges us too, to cling to our beliefs, to cling to hope for the better path, to defy, to resist, if necessary, and to go it alone as the starting point, but with conviction that others will follow.

Dacre’s meticulous, methodical production is one of very high production values, and devastating performances by Conway, Emmerson and Marcell in particular, but it is not wholly successful.

Omnipresent angelic statue: Jessica Walker’s Golden Elsie

Beaton’s script sometimes sails close to the prosaic, and Jessica Walker’s omnipresent angelic statue Golden Elsie, matching the black and white of Jonathan Fensom’s stark set and Nina Dunn’s video designs, will be a divisive figure for audiences.

Essentially a one-woman Greek chorus, she is more reporter than commentator, and while she may echo Weimar cabaret in style, Orlando Gough has given her dissonant, flatlining operatic songs, always eluding a tune and relentless as toothache. This is probably deliberate, but the sheer number of songs is a drag on the play’s momentum.

Jason Lutes’s illustrations from his graphic novel Berlin are used brilliantly, Charles Balfour’s lighting is in turn dazzling, oppressively dark and intimidating; Donato Wharton’s sound design is exemplary.

Ultimately, Alone In Berlin, will have an impact beyond those fault lines in its telling. It will make you think, reflect, whether alone, or better still, together in the bar afterwards. Hopefully, too, it will make you want to make a difference, to push back against the crush, to be the first flutter of the butterfly’s wing.

Charles Hutchinson

Curtain up on art deco Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s upgrade after £10,000 award

Joseph Rowntree Theatre charity chairman Dan Shrimpton, centre, receives the £10,000 award from the J&C Joel workforce at the York theatre

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, has won £10,000 in a nationwide competition run by the Theatres Trust and international stage equipment company J & C Joel.

The Sowerby Bridge company has replaced all the stage curtains and upgraded the scenery-moving equipment to facilitate “even bigger and better” shows at the Art Deco community theatre in Haxby Road.

Graham Mitchell, the JoRo theatre’s company secretary, fundraising and events director and charity trustee says: “We’re very grateful to everyone at J & C Joel and at the Theatres Trust for the work done. The award’s timing could not be better, as we’re expanding the range and number of shows we host. Coming just after being voted York’s Best Entertainment Venue in Minster FM’s Listener Choice awards, this is an immense boost.”

Dan Shrimpton, the JoRo charity’s chairman, believes the award will make a huge difference to operating the theatre. “Our audiences will be able to see ever more imaginative settings for plays and musicals, and, of course, the annual Rowntree Players pantomime,” he says.

“The theatre was built in 1935 by Rowntrees for the benefit of their employees and the citizens of York, so that everyone could experience a wide variety of affordable entertainment, either by taking part or by just coming to watch shows, concerts and films.

“We have big plans to improve our facilities over the next few years to make the theatre a truly vibrant asset for York, as originally intended by Seebohm and Joseph Rowntree. It really is a community asset run for the people of York, by the people of York”.

J&C Joel employees assessing the task in hand at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

James Wheelwright, J & C Joel’s chief executive, says: “We celebrated our 40th anniversary last year and we wanted to mark it in a special way. We worked with the Theatres Trust, the national organisation protecting and advising theatres, to create the competition.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre won from a very wide field of theatres from up and down the country because we loved what they are doing as a community run theatre, providing affordable entertainment to the people of York and beyond – and who also have big plans for the theatre’s future.”

Tom Stickland, theatres adviser at the Theatres Trust, says: “The Joseph Rowntree Theatre is a great example of the transformational effect that committed community groups can have on theatres. The Theatres Trust is pleased to be in a position to link up generous industry specialists like J & C Joel with community theatres, so that they can offer this vital support.”

Run entirely by volunteers, the JoRo welcomed 50 hirers last year, who staged 135 performances. The theatre is used by more than 35 York groups, as well as several professional touring companies and performers.

This week, the JoRo is playing host to the York Community Choir Festival until Saturday.

Jessa Liversidge: performing her Songbirds show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre on April 5

York St John University Musical Production Society will present Guys & Dolls, March 19 to 21; Bev Jones Music Company, Calamity Jane, March 25 to 28; Flying Ducks Youth Theatre, Crush The Musical, April 2 to 4; Jessa Liversidge, Songbirds, a celebration of female singing icons, April 5.

For tickets and more details of upcoming shows, go to Box office:  01904 501935.

Did you know?

J&C Joel was established in 1978 in Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax, founded by John Wheelwright whose family had been involved in the textile industry for more than 150 years.

The business exports to more than 80 countries worldwide, providing products such as front-of-house theatre curtains, stage backdrops, cycloramas, gauzes, acoustic drapes, projection screens and stage engineering solutions. J&C Joel has offices in the UK, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia.

The Theatres Trust is the national advisory public body for theatres, championing the future of live performance by protecting and supporting theatre buildings that meet the needs of their communities.

The trust provides advice on the design, planning, development and sustainability of theatres, campaigning on behalf of theatres old and new and offering financial assistance through grants.

Are some lives worth more than others, ask Out Of Character in new play Less Than Human at York Theatre Royal Studio

Juliet Forster, left, directing rehearsals for Out Of Character’s Less Than Human

SOMETHING strange is happening, something disturbing, say York company Out Of Character in Less Than Human, this week’s production at the York Theatre Royal Studio.

After their sold-out November 2017 show about Victorian freak shows and mad doctors, Objects Of Terror, they are collaborating once more with the Theatre Royal, whose associate director, Juliet Forster, again directs the new piece.

Out Of Character’s publicity artwork for Less Than Human

Less Than Human plays out against the backdrop of Planet Earth having less to give but its inhabitants taking more. In this struggling world of diminishing resources, humanity is forced to wrestle with the true cost of survival.  What does it mean to be truly human? Are some lives worth more than others? Who decides who lives and dies? A question that suddenly has a new urgency and prescience amid the rise of Coronavirus.

As evolving technologies offer new forms of “human being”, is there still hope for a bright future…or do some people have to pay the price, the play asks.

Out Of Character in rehearsal for Less Than Human

Out Of Character’s company of artists and performers brings together people who use or have used mental health services. Their bold, creative and darkly comedic approach to making theatre aims to stir both the mind and the heart.

The company won the Excellence in Equality and Cultural Diversity Prize at the 2018 York Culture Awards. Audiences on social media have described their work as compelling, deeply affecting, intense, beautiful, clever, articulate, challenging, powerful, poignant and thought-provoking.  

Out Of Character cast members in a tug-of-war scene in Less Than Human

Out Of Character’s previous shows included Tales From Kafka in July 2010, Henry IV in May 2012 and More Tales From Kafka in November 2014.

Less Than Human runs from Thursday to Saturday (March 12 to 14) at 7.45pm nightly. Tickets cost £10, concessions £8, on 01904 623568 or at

The strife of Brian as Clough clashes with Dirty Leeds again in The Damned United

Making his point: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough clashes with David Chafer’s Peter Taylor in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

DOWN the stairs, along the corridor, round the corner, into the dressing room. His dressing room. Hateful, hateful place. Spiteful, spiteful place. Dirty, dirty Leeds.

Here comes The Damned United, the story of Brian Clough’s ill-fated, fetid 44 days as reigning champions Leeds United’s manager in the summer of 1974.

Adapted for the stage from West Yorkshire author David Peace’s book The Damned Utd, Anders Lustgarten’s play is presented by Leeds’s Red Ladder Theatre Company at York Theatre Royal on April 17 at the familiar kick-off time of 7.30pm.

The strife of Brian: The poster for Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

The Damned United invites you to enter the obsessed head of Brian Clough, already the enfant terrible of English football management after his exit from Derby County, who arrives at Elland Road in 1974, seeking to redeem his reputation by winning the European Cup with his new club, Division One champions Leeds United.

This is the team he has despised for years, the team he hates and that hates him no less. Don Revie’s Leeds, the greatest but most grating team of its era.

Let playwright and political activist Lustgarten’s abrasive play take you inside the tortured, drink-befuddled mind of a north-eastern genius slamming up against his limits, as The Damned United “brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet”. 

Falling out with the chairman: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough has another fractious encounter in The Damned United

Directed by Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon and originally co-produced with West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2015, this latter-day Greek tragedy adapts Peace’s fictionalised, first-person account to focus more on the flawed Clough’s fractious relationship down the years with Peter Taylor, his sage and stoical regular right-hand man, who did not accompany him to Elland Road.

This bullish character study of bravado, loyalty and strained friendship is performed by Luke Dickson as Clough, David Chafer as Taylor and Jamie Smelt as everyone else, while Dixon is joined in the production team dug-out by set and projection designer Nina Dunn, lighting designer Tim Skelly and sound designer Ed Heaton.

Tickets are on sale at, on 01904 623568 or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Pilot Theatre to revive Noughts & Crosses at York Theatre Royal and on autumn tour

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

YORK company Pilot Theatre will revive their award-winning 2019 production of Noughts & Crosses for an autumn tour.

This announcement comes amid the blaze of publicity for BBC One’s six-part adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s young adult novel, filmed in South Africa, that began earlier this week.

Sabrina Mahfouz’s stage version of a modern-day Romeo & Juliet tale of first love in a dangerous fictional dystopia will be directed once more by Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson, whose co-production of Crongton Knights played York Theatre Royal from February 25 to 29 on Pilot’s latest tour.

“We’re delighted that this show, which was nominated for best show for children and young people at UK Theatre Awards, is returning later this year,” says Esther. “It’s wonderful that even more young people can experience this production and that Pilot will be able to tour to areas of England that we haven’t visited, thanks to the support of Arts Council England.”

Class act: more than school friends Sephy (Heather Agyepong) and Callum (Billy Harris) in Noughts And Crosses last year.

Noughts & Crosses will open at the York theatre in a September 11 to 19 run before embarking on a national tour until late-November.   

Told from the perspectives of two teenagers, Sephy and Callum, Blackman’s love story set in a volatile, racially segregated society, where black (the Crosses) rules over white (the Noughts), as she explores the powerful themes of love, revolution and what it means to grow up in a divided world. 

Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation for teenagers is based on Blackman’s first book in the Noughts & Crosses series for young adults, winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Fantastic Fiction Award, among other accolades. 

Noughts & Crosses was produced by Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal, Derby Theatre, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, and the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, as the first show in a new partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences. This is the consortium behind the aforementioned tour of  Emteaz Hussain’s adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s Crongton Knights.

Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson

Last year, Noughts & Crosses won the Excellence in Touring award at the UK Theatre Awards, when also nominated for Best Show for Children and Young People. 

As with Crongton Knights, schools workshops and outreach projects, along with free digital learning resources, will be available alongside the autumn production of Noughts & Crosses

Casting will be announced in the coming months. Tickets for the York run are on sale on 01904 623568, at or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Here is a precis of Charles Hutchinson’s review of Pilot Theatre’s Noughts & Crosses at York Theatre Royal, printed in The Press, York, in April 2019.

“ESTHER Richardson proposed Noughts & Crosses when pitching for Pilot’s artistic directorship after Marcus Romer headed south, and her passion for Malorie Blackman’s twist on a Romeo & Juliet story is writ large in her telling of Sabrina Mahfouz’s electrifying adaptation.

Heather Agyepong’s Sephy in Noughts & Crosses last year

“In Blackman’s Britain, Noughts are the white underlings; no orange juice; milk only on Fridays; no mobile phones; second-rate secondary education. Crosses are the black ruling class; apartheid divisions turned on their head.

“Never the twain shall meet on equal terms, except that Nought Callum (Billy Harris), 15, and Cross Sephy (Heather Agyepong), 14, have been friends throughout childhood, meeting secretly on her family’s private beach.

Sephy’s father, Kamal Hadley (Chris Jack), is the Home Secretary; Callum’s mum, Meggie (Lisa Howard), is the Hadley family’s housekeeper. When Callum is one of three Nought teens granted a place at Sephy’s Crosses-only school, how will it affect their relationship?

“Blackman depicts a fractious, tinderbox world: Sephy’s mum Jasmine (Doreene Blackstock) is an alcoholic, neglected by her preoccupied husband; Callum’s dad Ryan (Daniel Copeland) and brother Jude (Jack Condon) are Liberation Militia freedom fighters. Callum’s sister, so damaged in an assault, has curled up in a ball ever since.

Pilot Theatre cast members in a scene in Noughts & Crosses

“As with Pilot’s first hit, Lord Of The Flies, our ability to destroy rather than create bonds, to repeatedly take the wrong turn, lies at the heart of Blackman’s damning, bleak vision that haunts us still more in intolerant Brexit Britain.

“Sephy and Callum express a wish for a better world, one where we rub along with each other, but this is a rotten Britain of death sentences, an intransigent Home Secretary, thwarted love across the divide.

“Given the bold imagination of Blackman’s novel for young adults with its heroine figure of a bright black teenage girl, you might wish she had come up with a similarly bold answer to so many ultimately familiar woes.

“Alas not, but this is nevertheless a superb production with good performances all round, plenty of punch in the direction, and high-quality set, lighting, sound, music and video design.”

Diversity to connect with York Barbican next April in new Ashley Banjo show

Diversity: ready to connect on their 2021 tour

DANCE troupe Diversity will play York Barbican on April 25 2021 on their Connected tour.

Last year marked ten years since Diversity won the third series of Britain’s Got Talent, an anniversary celebrated on the sold-out 48-date Born Ready tour.

At those shows, Diversity promised to continue into a second decade and, true to their word, founder and choreographer Ashley Banjo has created Connected, a show that centres around the world of social media, the internet and the digital era we now live in, but, more importantly, how this connects us all.

Banjo says: “Every year that goes by, and every time we get to create a new touring show, I cannot believe we are still lucky enough to get to do this. 

“But even after all this time, we are still growing, and this new decade and new chapter for Diversity is sure to be something even more special than the last. I truly do believe that we are all connected in more ways than one and I cannot wait to bring this to life on stage.”

Banjo has returned to the judging panel for his third series of ITV’s Dancing On Ice, whose final on Sunday will feature fellow Diversity member Perri Kiely competing for the winner’s trophy.

He also has hosted, choreographed and starred in the BAFTA-nominated The Real Full Monty from 2017 to 2019 and the International Emmy Award, Broadcast Award and Royal Television Society Award-winning The Real Full Monty: Ladies Night in 2018-2019. His Channel 4 show, Flirty Dancing, completed it second series last December.

Diversity’s nine tours have sold more than 600,000 tickets. Tickets for next spring’s Connected show at York Barbican are on sale on 0203 356 5441, at or in person from the Barbican box office.

Running from March 19 to May 29 2021, the Connected tour also will visit Harrogate Convention Centre on March 20; Victoria Theatre, Halifax, March 21; Hull Bonus Arena, April 3, and Sheffield City Hall, April 4. Box office: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or; Hull, 0844 858 5025 or;  Halifax, 01422 351158 or; Sheffield, 0114 278 9789 or

Harry Baker makes 10,000 days count in words and numbers at York’s Say Owt

Harry Baker: thank you for the 10,000 days

HARRY Baker, mathematician-turned-world-slam champion, marks turning 10,000 days old by celebrating numbers, words and life itself at The Crescent, York, on March 15.

Making a plus out of everything, Baker will be at the latest gathering of Say Owt, the spoken-word fulcrum hosted by York performance poet Henry Raby.

Amy King: finding words to sum up sexuality and feminism

“From winning his school’s Battle of the Bands competition with a Jay-Z maths homage, to his prime number poetry TED talk being watched by millions online, Harry’s love of language and logic has got him through literal marathons, seen him rap battle in front of Ice Cube, and now has him analysing the technical accuracy of So Solid Crew’s 21 Seconds,” says Henry. “He’s got 99 problems but maths ain’t one.”

Support comes from Amy King and Robert Steventon. “Amy won Say Owt Slam #23 last September. She’s a queer, northern, spoken-word artist, co-founder of the Sheffield spoken-word night All Mic Long, and her poetry tackles topics such as sexuality, feminism and her unwavering love for Wetherspoons,” says Henry.

Robert Steventon: gut-grabbing honesty

“Robert. who won Say Owt Slam #24 in February, is the maestro of Manchester’s Punk In Drublic poetry/comedy night. His poetry is 50 per cent heartfelt gut-grabbing honesty, 50 per cent honorary gobby northern nuance.” 

Doors open at 7pm for the 7.30pm performance of Harry Baker: I Am 10,000. Tickets cost £10, concessions £8, from Earworm Records, in Powells Yard, off Goodramgate, or The Crescent, off Blossom Street, or at or £12 on the door.

REVIEW: Settlement Players in The Seagull, York Theatre Royal Studio

Benedict Turvill’s troubled playwright Konstantin and The Seagull of the title in York Settlement Community Players’ production. All pictures: John Saunders

REVIEW: The Seagull, York Settlement Community Players, York Theatre Royal Studio, until March 7, 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

IT didn’t end well for the goat in Edward Albee’s The Goat at Theatre @41 Monkgate last week. It doesn’t end well for the seagull – borrowed from the National Theatre, no less – in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Theatre Royal Studio, but there is awkward comedy aplenty in both plays.

Absurd comedy in Albee’s jaw-dropping 2002 piece; tragicomedy in Chekhov’s 1895 dysfunctional family drama, as Helen Wilson completes her ten-year project to direct all four of the Russian playwright’s major works for Settlement Players in the York company’s centenary year.

As with Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters, the adaptation is by Michael Frayn, who has praised Settlement, and by implication Wilson, for not tampering with period, location, genders and politics to “make them more relevant” for modern audiences.

Livy Potter’s Nina performs Konstantin’s radical but mannered new play in The Seagull

“People in York are evidently made of sterner stuff,” Frayn said. “Just occasionally, perhaps, it’s worth trying to catch the sense and feel of what Chekhov actually intended.”

Wilson has pursued the same directorial policy once more, placing her trust in Frayn’s dialogue, replete with dramatic and comic irony, complemented by an uncluttered set design by Graham Sanderson, with a plain backdrop, chairs and a mini-stage, bedecked with flowers, for Konstantin’s play within a play.

Frayn knows that territory from his own 1982 backstage comedy Noises Off, a classic English unruly farce, but like Frayn’s appraisal of York audiences, The Seagull is made of sterner stuff.

Forlorn love: Lucy May Orange in black, playing Masha, destined to be forever ignored by Konstantin (Benedict Turvill)

“They’re all vulnerable, every one of them,” says Wilson of Chekhov’s characters, and she has made a spot-on judgement call in wanting vulnerability and warmth in equal measure in her staging. Enter Lucy May Orange’s Masha, dressed in black to match her forlorn conviction that her love for troubled young playwright Konstantin (Benedict Turvill) will be forever unrequited.

At this point we laugh in recognition, not least because she is saying this to smitten teacher Medvedenko (Samithi Sok), seemingly oblivious to her indifference towards him, and soon we shall find Turvill’s over-sensitive Konstantin in torment at putative girlfriend Nina (Livy Potter), his muse and actress for his “ground-breaking” play, not worshipping him the same way her worships her.

Turvill’s radical theatre-maker Konstantin has an even more troubled relationship with his mother, faded actress Arkadina (Stephanie Hesp), than Hamlet had with Gertrude, merciless in her dismissal of his writing talent, so insensitive in stealing attention away from Nina’s performance of his bold but admittedly dreadful play at Sorin’s increasingly anguished house party one lakeside summer evening.

Clinging on: Stephanie Hesp’s Arkadina losing the attention and affections of her lover, Ben Sawyer’s Trigorin

Sorin (Glyn Morrow), Arkadina’s ageing brother, wants the next generation to thrive, to blossom; so too does Maurice Crichton’s Scottish-accented doctor, Dorn. Paul Joe Osborne’s retired lieutenant, Shamrayev, now Sorin’s steward, loves a story, and Osborne has a splendid night in his mimicry and comic timing; wife Polina (Elizabeth Elsworth) is his best audience.

The Seagull is a play with a generation gap that grows wider the more the drama unfolds, It goes from what Wilson calls the “comic souffle” of the playful Act One, when we can “laugh at these slightly inept, sometimes pretentious characters thinking they’re something they’re not”, to the painful, poignant consequences of such ineptitude and self-deception, when youthful dreams are dashed and unfulfilled ambitions turn bitter amid the fractious artistic egos.

Chekhov “likes to lob a bomb into the room in Act Three” in his plays, as Wilson puts it, and here the incendiary device is Arkadina’s lover, vainglorious novelist Trigorin (Ben Sawyer, suitably smug), under whose spell the impressionable Nina falls.

Twinkle in the wry: Maurice Crichton as Dorn, the doctor

In a naturalistic play with theatre and writing and creativity at its heart, but ennui and abject despair eating away at the tumultuous edges, Wilson’s company extract the ironic, perverse comedy to the full, then bring out all the damaging familiar failings of those prone to so much sterile philosophising.

Frayn would be delighted with the performances of Settlement’s experienced hands, while both Turvill and Potter (by day York Theatre Royal’s marketing and press assistant) impress in their first principal roles for Wilson in the intimacy of the Studio space.

Yes, the seagull dies, but not before The Seagull flies high, full of art and too much hurt heart.  

Win tickets for Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever! in York at the Grand Opera House

Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever is just around the corner. All pictures: Dan Tsantilis

PEPPA Pig is celebrating ten years of live shows with a new adventure, Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever!, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, on March 4 and 5.

Performances start at 1pm and 4pm on the first day; 10am and 1pm on the second, and courtesy of the Cumberland Street theatre, CharlesHutchPress has one family ticket (four seats) to be won for the 4pm Wednesday performance.

Based on the Entertainment One animated television series, this is Peppa Pig’s sixth touring production, rooted as ever in songs, games and laughter as Peppa and friends make a big splash when they jump in puddles.

Peppa Pig Live has been enjoyed by more than 1.5 million people in Britain, playing eight consecutive West End seasons, as well as touring the United States and Australia.

In the wake of directing and adapting the stage shows Peppa Pig’s Adventure, Peppa Pig’s Party, Peppa Pig’s Treasure Hunt, Peppa Pig’s Big Splash and Peppa Pig’s Surprise, Richard Lewis is doing likewise for Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever, working with BAFTA award-winning composer Mani Svavarsson.

Family travels in Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever!

Produced by children’s theatre team Fierylight, in tandem with eOne, the new adventure finds Peppa Pig excited to be going on a special day out with George, Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig.

Peppa’s best day ever will involve a road‐trip full of fun adventures. From castles to caves, dragons to dinosaurs and ice‐creams to the muddy puddles, there will be something for all Peppa’s family and their friends Mr Bull, Suzy Sheep, Gerald Giraffe and very busy newcomer Miss Rabbit to enjoy.

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at

Competition question:

Who has written the music for Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever!?

Send your answer with your name, address and daytime phone number, to, marked Peppa Pig Competition, by 1pm on Monday, March 2.

Let’s go.! Time to head out on Peppa Pig’s best day ever

Quickfire questions for Peppa Pig to answer as York beckons.

Are you excited about your road trip with your family and friends?

Yes. Oink! Oink! Hee! Hee! Hee! I’m very excited to visit loads of new places and I hope to make some more nice friends. I think it’s going to be the best ever!”

What makes your best day ever?

Lots of adventure! I like it when we get to drive around in our camper van and eat lots of ice cream and explore castles. And jump in muddy puddles of course.” 

What are you most looking forward to on your road trip?

Jumping in muddy puddles. Hee! Hee!” 

Who is your favourite person to travel with?

My little brother, George. Oink! Oink! But he has to bring Mr Dinosaur everywhere with him!”

Who else will join you at the theatre?

Mummy, Daddy, Mr Bull, Suzy Sheep, Gerald Giraffe and some of our other friends. Even Miss Rabbit is coming. She is always so busy with all her jobs, so it’s extra special she can come with us.” 

REVIEW: Probably the most controversial play you will see in York this year…

Awkward moment for Martin (Bryan Bounds) and son Billy (Will Fealy) in The Goat. Pictures: Matthew Kitchen

REVIEW: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, dropping jaws until Saturday, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

WELL, you won’t see a play like this every day, but I dare you still to see it in Pick Me Up Theatre’s northern UK premiere.

Playwright Edward Albee, born in Virginia, but long associated with New York after moving to Greenwich Village at 18, is best known for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. The 1962 one, turned into a 1966 Mike Nichols film with the almighty verbal scrap between Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha and Richard Burton’s George.

Susannah Baines’s Stevie wonders what’s going on in The Goat

Albee wrote another play with a question mark in its title in 2002: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? The American agent provocateur of theatre of the absurd could pour 50 years of the even more absurd into it, but essentially it is a further study of the marital complexities of a middle-aged couple, in this case Martin and Stevie Gray.

Except that Albee’s Broadway premiere came with a plea from the writer: “Imagine what you can’t imagine… imagine being in love with something you can’t conceive of. The play is about love, loss, the limits of our tolerance and who, indeed, we really are.”

And there was more: “All I ask of an audience is that they leave their prejudices in the cloakroom and view the play objectively and later – at home – imagine themselves as being in the predicament the play examines and coming up with useful, if not necessarily comfortable, responses.”

Will Fealy as Billy: announcing a talent to watch as drama school beckons

Who could sense at the start what lies in store, how famous New York architect Martin Gray’s world would soon turn to rubble as the American Dream crumbles? Played by suave American actor Bryan Bounds, who recommended the play to director Mark Hird, Gray has just turned 50, won his latest prize and been given the ultimate commission to design the World City on Kansas’s wheat fields.

Hair immaculate, life immaculate, house immaculate in its monochrome trendiness (in Robert Readman’s design), he says he could not be more happily in love with wife Stevie (Susannah Baines). Son Billy (Will Fealy) is blossoming at 17, brightly questing and gay (like Albee, who knew it at 12 and a half).

Yet Martin seems distracted, playing at forgetfulness in banter with Stevie, and what’s that smell, she asks. When he is even more distracted while talking with best friend Ross (Mick Liversidge), fouling up a TV interview recording, the truth will out. Martin has fallen in love with Sylvia, a goat (hence the smell), and the feeling is mutual, and yes, without being graphic, the relationship is full on.

MIck Liversidge’s Ross: asking the searching questions in The Goat

Greek tragedies dive deep into the extremes of the human condition, as do plenty of Shakespeare’s plays, and, especially, Jacobean tragedies. The Goat puts the ‘eek’ into a modern Greek tragedy, although it is more of a tragicomedy. Yes, you read that right. There is a liquorice-dark humour to Albee’s brilliantly written confessions and confrontations, as well as moments that are excruciatingly uncomfortable, as The Goat turns from domestic situation comedy to Domestos-powerful situation tragedy.

What’s more, Hird’s thrust-stage setting, with the audience so close up on three sides, adds to that discomfort, and not because Baines’s Stevie starts smashing all the living-room pottery (courtesy of Fangfoss Pottery’s Gerry Grant). No, it is the fierce heat, the candour, of what is being said. Hird’s cast avoids histrionics; instead the rise and fall and rise again of anger, hurt, confusion, love, is far more skilfully played by one and all, pulling the audience this way and that.

Bounds urged Hird to cast Baines, and he was spot-on: his Martin is infuriatingly phlegmatic, unflustered; her Stevie is an ever-tightening coil in response, whose actions will speak louder than his words.

The Gray family: all smiles before the Sylvia storm

Son Billy is caught in the middle, and Will Fealy, such a burgeoning talent that he has just been offered an unconditional place at Arts.Ed in London, conveys all the confusions of illusions being shattered, certainties derailed, while dealing with his own sexual awakening.

Mick Liversidge’s bewildered, shocked Ross sort of represents the audience in his reactions, or does he, because the moral ambiguities are complex, and as Albee once said, “if you think this play is about bestiality, you’re either an idiot or a Republican”. Trump that!

Albee also said: “Never leave the audience the same way you found them”, and 90 unbroken minutes of The Goat – apart from the smashed bowls and vases – will leave you pondering relationships, family, love. As for goats, I’ll stick to loving goats’ cheese.

Please note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum age of 15.