Musical Theatre Company will stage Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus
Christ Superstar from November 27 to 30 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.
newcomer John Whitney will lead director Paul Laidlaw’s cast for this 1972 rock
opera, a “musical phenomenon” that follows the last week of Jesus’s life through
the eyes of Judas Iscariot, exploring the struggles and personal relationships
between his followers and disciples.
gritty and touching emotional rollercoaster ride, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s score
parades such favourites as Superstar, Everything’s Alright and I Don’t Know How
To Love Him.
joined in the creative team by musical director John Atkin, overseeing a cast
led by Whitney’s Jesus, Marlena Kelli’s Mary Magdalene, Peter Wookie as Pilate
and Chris Mooney as Judas.
“We were thrilled
to have such a great response to auditions, particularly from so many new faces
to the company,” says Laidlaw. “We’ve always been proud of the fact that we
welcome any new people to join any show that we do, and if you’re new, you can
walk into lead roles, and that’s what’s happened.
actors playing Jesus, Judas, Pilate and Mary Magdalene are all new to the company
and it’s really encouraging to see. The strength in the singing is staggering
and is going to sound just fantastic on stage. We really can’t wait to show
York audiences all our hard work.”
principal roles go to John Haigh as Herod; Chris Haygard as Simon Zealotes;
Martin Harvey, Caiphas; Matthew Clare, Annas; Simon Trow and Malcolm Poole,
Priests; David Martin, Apostle Peter, and Heather Richmond, Maid.
In the ensemble will be Helen Barugh; Victoria Hughes; Helen Goodwill; Samantha Hindman; Jane Holiday; Elly-Mai Mawson; Karen Mawson; Jennifer Page; Amie Stone; Holly Inch; Amy Lacy; Paula Stainton; Charlotte Wetherell; Matthew Ainsworth; Derek McMahon and Andrew Pilot.
Tickets for the 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday matinee are on sale at £18, concessions £16, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or on 01904 501935.
Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, until November 30. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
to in-house productions in the York Theatre Royal Studio with this revival of
Athol Fugard’s 1965 South African play Hello And Goodbye.
John R Wilkinson had lamented the hiatus since the fading away of such Studio works
as Blackbird, Blue/Orange and The White Crow and his own show, Can’t Stand Up
For Falling Down, six years ago, as he spoke of the pride and spirit engendered
by this resurrection: the very last word uttered in Fugard’s “biting yet beautiful
parable”, by the way.
“The blue magic of
that space has always given rise to intense, intimate storytelling,” said Wilkinson,
whose production is exactly that: intense and intimate.
Hello And Goodbye
is a two-hander, albeit with the “presence” of a third family member, the
father to Johnnie (Emilio Iannucci) and Hester (Jo Mousley).
Hester is making
an unexpected, unannounced visit to the family home at 57A Valley Road, Port
Elizabeth, after an absence stretching back longer than the aforementioned Studio
already has delivered a restless, psychologically fevered monologue, one that
establishes both the dysfunctional state of the family and the unnerving dark,
even gothic, humour at play in Fugard’s writing.
with Iannucci, he said audiences had laughed at some performances, not at
others, but the play had worked both ways.
The way it goes may
well depend on how you react to Johnnie telling Hester that he and their
disabled Dad have been getting on well enough, but she cannot disturb him because
he is asleep in the room next door. Put bluntly, his sleep could not be deeper.
If Johnnie is
nervy, neurotic, repeatedly reaching for biblical quotes, Mousley’s Hester is
frenetic in her desperate search for the £500 that she believes their father has
squirrelled away somewhere in the house.
Johnnie can keep
the house if he lets her find and keep the money, a task that involves him
bringing through case after case that trigger traumatic memories of their past.
Their already fractured relationship only worsens as Fugard meditates on
family, selfishness and redemption, set against the social upheaval in South
Africa at large.
Hello And Goodbye brings to mind the discomfiting Sixties’ plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, not least in a set design that mirrors the frayed, wounded state of mind of the sparring siblings, as designer Laura Ann Price scatters the stage with debris from the crumbling, smashed-out back wall.
Wilkinson has cast
superbly: after his Studio debut in the children’s show E Nesbit’s The Book Of
Dragons in December 2017 and his Romeo in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Romeo
And Juliet at Blenheim Palace this summer, Iannucci has hit new heights here,
calling on his physical theatre skills, his feel for black comedy and his
relish for a surprise.
Mousley is a brilliant
pick too, making her Theatre Royal debut after a year of outstanding performances
in the Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Theatre Ensemble. Her Hester has the disruptive force
of an Ibsen, Chekhov or Greek tragedian female lead, and together with Iannucci,
they settle on a mutual South African accent that is another impressive feature
of Wilkinson’s intriguing, fascinating production.
he called Hello And Goodbye “weird”, smiling impishly as he said it. Make that
weird good, not weird bad.
BAH Humbug! The
Christmas spirit is taking over the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday and
not even Ebenezer Scrooge can stop it.
York company Pick Me
Up Theatre are presenting their big winter show, Scrooge The Musical, directed
by Robert Readman, with choreography by Iain Harvey and musical direction by
course: based on Charles Dickens’s Victorian cautionary tale A Christmas Carol,
Scrooge tells the tale of old miser Ebenezer Scrooge on the night he is visited
by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come.
Can he be turned
from sourpuss to saint? What will happen to Tiny Tim? Will everyone have a
merry Christmas after all? “Come and find out in this all-singing, all-dancing,
all-flying show,” invites Robert.
His cast will be led by Pick Me Up regular Mark Hird, fresh from directing this autumn’s musical, Monster Makers, at 41 Monkgate. He now adds Scrooge to a diverse CV that includes Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family.
roles go to Rory Mulvihill as the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present and Alan
Park as Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit.
“It started out as a film musical in
1970, adapted for the screen by Leslie Bricusse, with Albert Finney as
Scrooge,” recalls Mark. “But it was one of those musicals that landed at an
unlucky time just as film musicals went out of fashion.
“Everyone thought it was an absolute banker, but times and tastes change,
but now, when you go back to it, it’s actually a really good film.
“So, 22 years later, Leslie Bricusse decided to turn it into a stage
musical, wrote half a dozen new songs, written specially for Anthony Newley’s
Scrooge, and it went down incredibly well.”
Alan Park chips in: “Then it became a vehicle for Tommy Steele for many
years in Bill Kenwright’s productions. Each year, Robert Readman put in a
request for the performing rights, and at last, this year he got a ‘Yes’.
“So, this must be the first time it will have been done in a theatre of
this size without it being a Bill Kenwright show.”
Park and Hird believe that Bricusse’s songs are vital to the show’s success.
“They provide the vehicle for you to discover more about the characters beyond
Scrooge, like Bob, so that by the end of a song you know more about them,” says
“You get the inner
thoughts of the characters in the songs, so you get more than 2D characters,”
suggests Mark. “You really see Scrooge’s progression, through his songs, for
“You’re also quite
surprised by the sheer variety of the songs and the music, with some big
“There are some
proper Cockney knees-up songs,” says Alan.
“But also some
lovely ballads, like when Scrooge sees the only girl he ever loved as a young
man, Isabel, his fiancée,” rejoins Mark. You go back in time and you hear her singing this gorgeous ballad
with Young Scrooge called Happiness, as old Scrooge looks on.”
“The way Robert has
staged it, you have Young Scrooge and old Scrooge mirroring each other’s
actions, so you kind of feel like Isabel is singing it to old Scrooge,” says
Picking up his
earlier point about Scrooge’s character progression, Mark says: “Through his
songs, Scrooge goes from his position of denial, saying how he hates Christmas,
to feeling ‘it’s not my fault, fate has done this to me’, when confronted by
the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“Then, with the
Ghost Of Christmas Present, he starts to think, ‘Could there be a better
life?’, so it’s a fantastic story arc and a fantastic set of songs, with one of
the most perfect stories ever written to hang it all together.”
A Christmas Carol
has been interpreted in myriad ways on screen and stage, even by The Muppets
puppets in 1992 in The Muppet Christmas Carol “My five-year-old daughter is
still convinced I’m playing a frog in Scrooge, because her exposure to A
Christmas Carol is seeing Kermit playing Bob Cratchit in the Muppets’ movie!”
abiding popularity of Dickens’ tale, Alan says: “It’s not just about
redemption. We all reflect on moments in our life, wishing we could have done
things differently, and the story also taps into nostalgia and regret and
worrying about things.
“Watching this story
unfold, it can change your perspective on the world and who you are.”
Mark adds: “It also
says it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf and never too late to start
“The story is full
of joyful moments that are infectious, even infecting Scrooge, so I do feel
it’s a feelgood show,” says Alan. “If you’re looking at a wider point, we all
tend to focus on what’s getting us down, but this story lets us step out and
think about all the joyful things of Christmas.”
Mark concludes: “There’s probably no better show to put you in a good mood for Christmas.”
Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical runs from November 26 to December 1 at Grand Opera House, York. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.
Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, November 23. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
HERE is the
challenge facing director Jonnie Riordan. “Think about how long it takes to
actually make a piece of toast, and then how do you do that on stage when
you’re trying to keep the audience engaged?” he says.
It brings a new meaning to pop-up theatre in York after the summer Elizabeth version at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, and Riordan and writer Henry Filloux-Bennett have made a wonderful job of adapting cookery writer Nigel Slater’s coming-of-age memoir for the stage.
Watkins for Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, on tour at the Theatre Royal
only two weeks ago, Riordan is both director and choreographer. However, whereas
Watkins’s show took time to find its footing on a somewhat strange-looking set
– was it a crater or a cracked cloud egg? – Toast is sure footed, even light on
its feet from the start.
narrator, guides us through his story like Slater’s lovely writing leads you
through his recipes and epicurean thoughts in his mellifluous books. Played by
the delightful Giles Cooper in schoolboy tank top and short trousers, Nigel is
nine and already drawn to the one cookery book in the Slaters’ Wolverhampton
home: Marguerite Patten’s ground-breaking Cookery In Colour, a full-colour
Sixties’ bolt out of the cordon bleu after the grey gravy of before.
the cream and brown Sixties’ kitchen of Libby Watson’s design, Cooper’s Nigel
likes to orchestrate all the storytelling, stepping in and out of a scene to
converse with the audience, but such is the skill of Filloux-Bennett’s writing
that the events of his young life have a habit of pulling the rug from under
him. At one point, his mother stops him in his tracks and tells him to re-trace
his steps to relate the true, darker version of events.
abundant humour, absolutely true to Slater’s own tone in his books, but the
darkness has to break through too, given what happened to Slater in his childhood
and teenage years.
His love of
food is omnipresent, and yes, we see toast popping up in real time and later
Nigel making mushrooms on toast with a chef’s flair and precision in one so
young. We enjoy the culinary sensations, and when Nigel is regaling us with the
delights of sweets – amid his father’s insistence that certain sweets are for
boys, others for girls – bags of sweets are passed around the audience. The
real Nigel Slater had a bag by his feet as he sat in the dress circle, by the
Food is at
the heart of Toast, glorious food and not so glorious food in the case of
Nigel’s father’s first attempt at making spaghetti bolognaise, mountains of
“sick-smelling” Parmesan dust et al. Part of the joy here is having our own recollections of mishaps around
our own kitchen tables.
food too, we see the difference between Nigel’s relationship with his Mum (Katy
Federman), pretty much tied to the apron strings, such is their bond, and his
abusive Dad (Blair Plant, back at his old Theatre Royal stamping ground).
story comes the dreadful Joan (Samantha Hopkins) and assorted characters played
by Stefan Edwards, as the first stirrings of Nigel’s sexuality play out.
Brilliant performances, a superb choice of soundtrack from La Mer to Dusty, and a finale as warm and toasty as toast make Toast a five-star treat, both measured and deeply flavoured like a Nigel Slater recipe.
‘ALLO, ‘Allo! sitcom star Vicki Michelle will spend her
winter being booed at the Grand Opera House, York, even on her birthday.
Fondly remembered for a decade of waitress service as French
dish Yvette Carte-Blanche in the BBC wartime comedy from 1982 to 1992, she will
play the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs from December 12 to
January 4 2020.
Her 69th birthday falls on December 14 as she
settles into the Three Bears Productions’ pantomime run in a role she knows
only too well. “I’ve done lots of wicked queens,” says Vicki, in full regal
attire at the panto launch.
“I haven’t counted, but it’s probably 30 years now [in fact
Snow White will be 27th panto]. I love it, because panto is magical
for children, their parents and their grandparents, and it’s a genre where you
think, ‘thank you, we still have this each year’…with people really believing in
what they see on stage!”
Vicki relishes the audience interplay. “I’ll stamp my feet,
I’ll react to them standing up to the Wicked Queen, not in a comical way, but I
make her a bit of fun to play with,” she says
“I have to be evil - and the Wicked Queen is truly evil – but
l love doing it. I just love performing. The audience have paid to see the
show, they want to see you giving 200 per cent, and I know I’m working with
people who can do that.”
Commercial pantomimes are never slow to remind audiences of
their stars’ biggest successes. “Probably there’ll be a few lines about ‘Allo,
‘Allo!,” says Vicki, knowingly. “I was in this amazing series that’s still
shown on TV and has been sold to 80 countries. South Africa. Bulgaria. Romania.
Even Germany? “The Germans said they would never buy it, but
they did!” says Vicki with glee. “How amazing is that! ‘Allo, ‘Allo! Is still
funny. It makes you laugh out loud and there aren’t many comedies that do that
“That’s the mark of good comedy: if they can make you laugh
out loud. That should be revered.”
David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s long-running comedy, set in Rene’s Café in a German-occupied small French town, was recorded live to audiences of 200 to 300. “The laugh would come on the second line and grow on the third line. That’s what worked. Like in panto: audiences want the old jokes. I want the old jokes!” says Vicki. “But a lot of shows try to change things, and they don’t work.”
‘Allo, ‘Allo! gave Vicki the chance to say hello, hello to
plenty more work. “It didn’t spoil things, because afterwards you’re typecast,”
she says. “What I did was loads of theatre: playing Miss Hannigan in Annie; Salad
Days; Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas; Don’t Dress For Dinner;
loads of Ray Cooney farces.”
You can add to that list Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of
Being Earnest, a 2008 tour of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! and more television too, from
playing Patricia Foster in the Yorkshire soap Emmerdale to competing in
Celebrity Master Chef in 2009 and heading into the Aussie jungle for the 2014
series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!.
Vicki returns to the Grand Opera House after earlier
appearances as Jacqueline in Marc Camoletti’s
boulevard comedy Don’t Dress For Dinner and, in June this year, the
humorous three-hander Hormonal Housewives, a no-holds barred romp through the
joys of being a fabulous 21st century woman.
The tour schedule left room for only two days off in a
68-show run, but Vicki loved the script and ended up delighted she said yes to
the invitation to join Hormonal Housewives co-writer Julie Coombe and Josephine
Partridge on the road.
“It went fabulously well, doing a show, then a four to
five-hour drive, but the show was such a joy to be in,” she says. “I’d never heard
such howls of laughter.”
There was another benefit from Hormonal Housewives too. “People
would come up afterwards and say they’d lost someone, and this was the first
show they’d come out to since then as they wanted some laughter,” reveals Vicki.
Returning to York for a wicked winter in pantoland, Vicki
has plans for Christmas Day. “I want to get home for Christmas, which is always
at my place; three sisters and their families,” says the Essex-born actress,
who has Snow White performances on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day either side of that
family celebration. “Christmas morning is always something sparkly and a salmon
and a smoked cheese bagel.”
What may 2020 bring Vicki? “There are a few things that are
bubbling under, but first I’ve got this panto to enjoy,” she says.
Vicki Michelle stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs,
Grand Opera House, York, December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871
3024 or at atgtickets.com/York
Did you know?
Vicki Michelle calls herself “Vix Mix” on her social
ONLY the last few tickets are left for An Evening With Simon Armitage, the new Poet Laureate, at Pocklington Arts Centre on November 28.
The Huddersfield-born poet, playwright and novelist, 56, was appointed to his post for ten years earlier this year, succeeding Carol Ann Duffy.
In October 2017, he became the first Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds; in 2018, he received The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and an Ivor Novello Award for song-writing in the BAFTA-winning film Feltham Sings.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to welcome the UK’s new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, to our stage,” says Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer.
“He’s such a celebrated poet of his times, so a chance to spend an evening in his company, within the intimate settings of our auditorium, to hear some of his live poetry and for a Q&A, is a unique opportunity for lovers of literature and poetry.
“But tickets have almost sold out, so I would urge you to book yours quickly or risk missing out .”
After studying geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic and writing an MA thesis at the University of Manchester on the the effects of television violence on young offenders, Armitage gained a social work qualification and became a probation officer, like his father before him. He worked in the Greater Manchester probation service until 1994, apparently once being introduced with the words: “By day he reads them their rights, by night he writes them their reads.”
He has published 28 collections of poetry, his first entitled Human Geography in 1988 and his latest, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic. He writes extensively for television and radio, as well as penning three memoirs, All Points North, Walking Home and Walking Away, and he is the lead singer of The Scaremongers too.
Tickets for Armitage’s 7.30pm show in Pock cost £12.50 or £7 for under 21s on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk. He will be on hand to sign books in the foyer afterwards.
NORTHERN Broadsides will stage a festive fundraiser, Christmas
Broadsides, at The Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough. Halifax, from December 13 to
This concert is based around Broadside Ballads; song lyrics published
from the 1600s onwards, featuring popular songs of scurrilous dealings,
thwarted love and ginormous geese.
For this combination of folk song and storytelling, Amir Beymanesh and Kamran Hoss, two Iranian musicians who arrived in Yorkshire recently, will join Ripponden folk musician and multi-instrumentalist Alice Jones.
West Yorkshire actors Catherine Kinsella and Tom Shaw complete the Halifax company’s line-up for this celebration of festive cheer and reflection on Christmases past, present and future.
Broadsides’ artistic director, Laurie
Sansom, says: “We are thrilled to be celebrating this Christmas with old
friends and new, welcoming Amir and Kamaran to Halifax in this extraordinary
collaboration with the multi-talented Alice Jones.
“It’s a chance to share together ridiculous
festive songs of comic extravagance, whilst also thinking of those who may be
far from home this Christmas.
“We look forward to welcoming regular
supporters and new friends who want to support the work of their local theatre
company, and our collaborators at St Augustine’s Centre, who support refugees
and asylum seekers.”
Looking ahead to 2020, Sansom’s debut production as Broadsides’ artistic director, a new take on J.M. Barrie’s regency romantic comedy Quality Street, will open at Dean Clough from February 14 to 22.
Broadsides will collaborate with workers from the Halifax Quality Street
chocolates factory by developing contemporary
tales of hapless love that will frame the action
of Barrie’s tale.
Barrie’s play was so popular in its day that it gave the
chocolates their name. Its story revolves around Phoebe Throssel, who lives on
Quality Street, the bustling hub of a quaint northern town where she runs a
school for unruly children.
years since a tearful goodbye, an old flame returns from fighting Napoleon, but
the look of disappointment on Captain Valentine’s face when he greets a more
mature, less glamorous Phoebe, spurs the determined heroine to action.
She becomes the wild and sparkling Miss Livy, a younger alter-ego
who soon entraps the clueless Captain. As their romance is rekindled, can she
juggle both personas? Or will her deception scandalise the town and wreck any
future with the man she loves?
Now, as well as providing a modern lens through which to view Barrie’s
story, Broadsides also aims to build long-lasting relationships between the Halifax
employees and their local theatre company.
Broadsides’ tour of Quality Street will
take in Leeds Playhouse from April 21 to 25; Stephen Joseph Theatre,
Scarborough, May 12 to 16; Harrogate Theatre, May 19 to 23; Hull Truck Theatre,
June 2 to 6, and last stop York Theatre Royal, June 9 to 13.
Christmas Broadsides will be performed at The Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough, Halifax, at 7pm on December 13 and 3pm and 6pm on December 14 and 15. Tickets are on sale on 01422 849227 or at northern-broadsides.co.uk.
THE second weekend of the 2019 Yorkshire Schools Dance
Festival will be held at Central Hall, University of York, on Saturday and
Sunday from 3pm.
As many as 1,200 children aged four to 19, from 57 primary
schools, secondary schools, colleges and community dance groups, are taking
part in this annual non-competitive event.
Spread over two weekends, the festival celebrates the
region’s young creative talent and raises the profile of dance provision within
schools and the wider community, while showcasing a range of abilities and
dance styles. For the vast majority, this is the first time they will have
danced in public.
For the four days of dancing, groups are travelling from as
far afield as Ingleton, Hull, Thirsk and Barnsley to take part after developing
their performances through after-school clubs, during curriculum time and as
part of examination courses.
A festival theme is set each year, and for the past few
months schools and groups have been deciding how best to interpret this year’s theme,
Reflections. Performances vary from reinterpretations of the Snow White story,
through to a consideration of the physics of reflection, to support work within
Laura Brett, class teacher at Naburn CE Primary School,
York, says: “Our dance piece tells the story of a Grandma and Grandad
reflecting on their lives as children, watching as visions of their younger
selves relive some of the happier days in their lives.
“The children have had great fun choreographing this –
prompting some discussion about the lives we lead and the mark we want to make
on the world.”
Taking part from Keighley, Emma Pease, Class 3 teacher at
Cowling Primary School, says: “We thought about how social media affects us and
our mental health. The group then modelled how we could reflect this negativity
away from us, realising our strength together and becoming more resilient as a
The festival is produced by York arts education specialists Creative Learning Partnerships, whose director, Colin Jackson, says: “Dance is an art form that is central to our heritage and culture. It’s celebrated increasingly on our TV screens through shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Britain’s Got Talent.
“The sad state of affairs in schools, however, is that it is
quickly disappearing from the curriculum, despite the overwhelming evidence of
its positive impact on physical, emotional and social wellbeing.
“Dance is a collaborative process that develops teamwork,
resilience, communication skills, creativity and a sense of pride. Why
shouldn’t our children be afforded these opportunities?”
Across the two weekends, the 1,200 dancers will be performing
to 2,000 people, who will see how schools have interpreted the theme in
In an extension to the 2019 festival, through funding from
Arts Council England, Engage & Inspire will be giving participating children
the chance to work with professional artists from Yorkshire and the North.
Northern Rascals and Hawk Dance Theatre are presenting
specially commissioned performances, Casson & Friends and TenFoot Dance are
hosting interactive workshops while Brink & Howl Creative are delivering an
innovative digital dance installation combining music, dance and digital
projections. Two hundred children will have the opportunity to achieve an Arts
Award to reward their efforts.
Jon Beney, associate artist at Hull Truck Theatre and co-artistic
director at TenFoot Dance, says: “The Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival is a
great opportunity for the young dancers of Yorkshire to come together and
celebrate everything dance.
As a kid, I was inspired by many people that shaped my
journey and it feels nice to have stories and skills to help inspire others.”
Tickets are available at yorkshireschoolsdancefestival.co.uk,
priced at £7 for adults, £6 for children, plus a booking fee.
Plant is touring for the first time in 20 years in Nigel Slater’s Toast. By a happy coincidence, the show brings him back to a theatre he
knows very well, York Theatre Royal, from tomorrow.
He first worked
on the stage crew 34 years ago while studying at York St John College (as the
university was called then).
“I’ve done regional theatre but only in one specific theatre, not
touring,” says Blair. “Over the last six or seven years I’ve done a lot of work
in the West End.
changed agents for the first time in 15 years and my new agent said I’ve got to
put myself about a bit more and perhaps take less comfortable jobs than the
West End work I’ve been doing. Basically, to get out and get back on the road
and be seen by more people.”
Toast has been adapted for the stage from food writer Nigel
Slater’s book recounting his childhood and cooking ambitions. Blair knew
“nothing at all” about the show and Slater’s life before the job came along,
although they do have one thing in common: both come from Wolverhampton.
He plays Nigel Slater’s father, so when Slater watches the play,
that understandably adds to Blair’s nervousness. “He had a complicated
relationship with his father,” he says. “His father makes the children laugh
and is a nice dad sometimes but then just flips and switches. You never know
when that’s going to happen. He’s not a violent man but is unpredictable, short
Slater attended rehearsals. “He’s lovely. He baked a cake and
brought it in for us,” recalls Blair.
Talking of things to eat, the actor is required to demonstrate how
to eat a Walnut Whip at every performance, but don’t ask why! When you see the
play, you will understand.
After eating so
many in rehearsal, Blair “went off” Walnut Whips. A similar thing happened
during his student days in York when he was an ice cream seller: he swiftly stopped wanting to eat ice cream.
The York St John course that young Blair took was billed as
“dance, drama, movement, film and television”. His ambition was to act, but his
parents, who were funding him through university, preferred him to take an
However, he saw
working on the Theatre Royal stage crew during his student days as a means of
gaining entry into theatre.
He began as a follow-spot operator and LX technician before
joining the stage crew. His break came when the touring company run by actors
Kate O’Mara and Peter Woodward opened a show in York and the Theatre Royal
stage crew built the set.
them to take me on tour with them as their touring carpenter. I did that for 13
weeks and touring all over the country was a wonderful experience,” he says.
He was back at York when the same company asked if he would like to return as an acting assistant stage manager, an opportunity that enabled him to gain the all-important Equity union card. He toured with the company for four years, each time bringing a production to York, where he lived for 15 years after falling in love with the city during his student days.
He can also claim some responsibility for Damian Cruden becoming
artistic director at York Theatre Royal. Blair had been directed by the
Scotsman in John Godber’s Bouncers at Hull Truck Theatre and suggested him to
theatre bosses. The rest, as they say, is history. Damian was artistic
director for 22 years until he left earlier this year.
Blair worked with him several more times, including in The Railway
Children at both Waterloo and King’s Cross venues over a four-year period.
“Damian sent me the script before it went on at the Railway Museum in York. I’m
terrible at lifting a story off the page and didn’t get it at all and said it
wasn’t for me. I didn’t realise how immense the show was going to be,” he
When the award-winning production, which featured a real steam
train, transferred to London, Blair wanted to be part of it. He spent four
years playing first the dissident Russian intellectual, Mr
the Father in York playwright Mike Kenny’s adaptation of E. Nesbit’s book. “I
really, really loved it. It was a really lovely job,” says Blair.
He names his most challenging role at York – and of his career –
as Lenny in Alan Bleasdale’s comedy Having A Ball, where he had to strip on
stage and perform a six-minute monologue totally naked. “That was difficult to
do in the rehearsal room, but by the time we got on stage, I’d got over being
naked and so had the other actors. It was the audience who had to get over it.”
The most fun he has had was in Bouncers. “The buzz from that gig –
you couldn’t sleep until three in the morning because as an actor you are so
high and very fit,” he says.
Now Blair is
popping up in Toast on his latest return to York.
Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23,
7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or
When The Rain Stops Falling, Rigmarole Theatre Company, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
WHEN will the rain stop falling, you may well be asking amid
Yorkshire’s November floods, burst banks and Army assistance in Fishlake.
Bad news. The answer, in Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic play,
is 2039, and by then much water will have passed under the bridge in the two hours’
traffic of 41 Monkgate’s stage.
This week’s Yorkshire premiere of When The Rain Stops
Falling marks the debut of Rigmarole Theatre Company, a new York venture led by
artistic director and designer Maggie Smales, who directed York Shakespeare Project’s
award-winning all-female production of Henry V, set at a “Canary Girls” munitions
factory in the First World War.
In other words, she has pedigree for interesting directorial
choices, and Smales shows astute judgement again in picking Bovell’s multi-layered
mystery, spread across 80 years and four generations of one family in England
and Australia, premiered in Adelaide 11 years ago.
Once described as a “poetic pretzel of a play”, it takes the
form of an unbroken, non-linear staging of 22 scenes, in this case within the
John Cooper Studio’s black-box design, with a back-wall montage of umbrellas, a
drape of Aboriginal wall art, window frames and doorways painted white, ceiling
lamps in different shades and a prominent fish mobile.
Within this framework, the cast of nine moves furniture on
and off and occupants of rooms overlap as the years from 1969 to 2019 move backwards
To help you work out who’s who, the one-sheet “programme”
provides a pictorial family tree to distinguish between Gabriel and Gabriel and
even a Gabrielle.
The play opens to the inevitable sound of falling rain…in
the desert region of Alice Springs, Australia, in 2039, with Smales’s company standing
in lines beneath umbrellas on the stage periphery and criss-crossing the floor
in silent repetitive movements with soup bowls before making way for the first
monologue by Mick Liversidge’s Gabriel York.
This drifting, eccentric wanderer is waiting for his long-estranged
son, Andrew (Stan Gaskell), with no money, no socks and no food. As chance
would have it, a fish suddenly falls out of the sky…manna from heaven in a play
with downpours of biblical proportions.
Not till the end shall we see these two again, but as a
lattice builds, fish, or more precisely, fish soup, will keep making an appearance,
along with dining tables and references to rain in Bangladesh. This adds splashes
of dark humour to the otherwise claustrophobically black, stormy days of
betrayal, abandonment and destruction that unfold against a backdrop of climate
Bovell first heads back to a London flat in 1969, where we
meet Gabriel York’s grandparents, James Coldrick’s Henry Law and Florence
Poskitt’s Elizabeth, in younger days, their relationship problems heightened by
the arrival of son Gabriel. Elizabeth is encountered again in 1988, still in
the same flat, even more buttoned up, Gabriel (Adam Sowter) frustrated at her
still declining to reveal why his father suddenly disappeared when he was only
Sowter’s Gabriel duly heads to Australia to put the missing
pieces together, whereupon he encounters a troubled roadhouse waitress in
Coorong, Gabrielle York (Louise Henry, soon to play Snow White in Snow White
And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House).
Tragedy has struck her not once, but thrice, but you should see
the play to find out how and why, as we learn still more from older Gabrielle
(Sally Mitcham) and stoical husband Joe Ryan (Maggie Smales).
Smales chose Bovell’s poetic allegory - full of Australian
culture, Greek myth, English awkwardness, French philosophy and meteorological
turmoil – because it addresses “the most important
question of our times”: Are we prepared to pass on the damage from the past to
our children or can we change to save ourselves?
Ultimately, in a prophetic play heavy with the weight of
legacy and inheritance, Bovell calls on us to change before it is too late. Smales’s
excellent cast, so skilled at storytelling and largely at Aussie accents too,
certainly makes the case for him.
In the words of the director, “If you like a powerful story that
has something to say about who we are and where we are going, this is the one
You are also assured of a warmer welcome than Boris Johnson
in sodden South Yorkshire this week. Among the drinks that the convivial bar is
serving is…water, naturally.