I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, say Alex and Phil in their five-pronged art attack

Oh, you are Orpheus: Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, one notebook, one guitar, shoes off (out of picture) are here to entertain you “on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens”

LIVE theatre is back, all over North Yorkshire, at your invitation.

Step forward York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, who are finding new ways of telling stories and creating art and theatre this summer.

As part of the duo’s five-pronged art attack under the banner I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, they are presenting Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour, a show whose 325 two-hander performances before the Covid curse had taken Alex and Phil across the globe, let alone to Castle Howard.

As of today, announced by Culture Secretary at the Downing Street briefing on Thursday, outdoor performances can return, whether socially distanced theatre, opera, dance or music.

Alex and Phil have been ahead of the Government curve, however, setting I’ll Try And See You Sometimes in motion in mid-June.

“We’re taking Orpheus on an outdoor tour around North Yorkshire’s local lanes, villages, and towns, performing with social distancing in place and abiding by Government guidelines on how many people can meet at any one time,” says Alex.

“The shows can take place on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens,” says Phil. “Instead of announcing a show that the public can book tickets for, we’re asking for people to pop on to flanagancollective.com and book a suitable slot and the whole show will be brought to them.”

The I’ll Try And See You Sometimes season is bringing together Wright’s company The Flanagan Collective, Grainger’s Gobbledigook Theatre and industry friends.

“We’re taking theatre and the arts to the people of Yorkshire, keeping spirits up and people connected during these times of social distancing to help combat loneliness, something needed more than ever in the Covid-19 climate,” they say.

“Some of it is hyper local, some of it is spread far further afield, some of it is music, some of it is stories, none of it is digital.”  

All the world’s a stage for Orpheus, whether in New York, on the Ouse Cruise boat in York or out in Australia

The duo’s five-hand of analogue works are: Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour; Oh, To Be So Lonely – A Pen Pal Project; This Story Is For You – A New Story With Guest Illustrators; Half Man, Half Bull – Two Myths Over A Double Album and The Odyssey – An International Adaptation.

Both theatre-makers attended school in rural North Yorkshire, and still live there, five miles apart, Alexander at a converted 17th century mill in Stillington, Phil in Easingwold.

Usually, however, they spend most of their time away from home, touring theatre across the globe, but Covid-19 and the lockdown has brought them back to Yorkshire, where they are pooling their skills, experience and creativity.

“When the lockdown hit, we were touring in Australia and about to head to New Zealand,” says Alex. “We’ve been touring our adaptation of Orpheus for a few years now, taking it across the UK, around Australia, New Zealand, Bali and over to New York.”

Alex and Phil made a sister show, Eurydice, created with performers Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews, and this year added The Gods The Gods The Gods to their repertoire, premiered in Australia.

“All three shows were lined up for UK and international touring for the next 18 months or so, including a season at the Edinburgh Fringe. But obviously that has all changed now,” says Alex.

“I’ve been keeping up with the wider industry conversations – the difficulty in using auditoriums, the need for government assistance, the huge case for our industry to be saved – and we agree with all of it and we’ve also been aware of the need to do something.”

Hence the launch of I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, showing initiative, imagination, an eye for innovation and a need for adventure that marked out writer, director, musician and performer Alex’s best-known work: the Guild of Misrule’s immersive, jazz-age hit show The Great Gatsby that began at a closed York pub.

In a nutshell, he and musician, singer, composer, actor, director and sound designer Phil make and deliver work outside of the usual physical four walls. “We have shaped, created, railed against, built, torn down, raised and radicalised perceptions of what theatre, narrative, storytelling and a relationship with an audience can be,” says Alex.

“We’re now finding ways to keep telling stories. It’s not about re-imagining shows we wanted to do live, in rooms full of hundreds of people and, instead, try and fit them on Zoom.

Phil Grainger in a performance of Orpheus in pre-Coronavirus times

“There are wonderful digital storytellers and artists in the world, but we’re not one of them. So, we’ve come up with a season of analogue work: a season of work where you get tangible things, which seeks to connect people, deliver narratives, and tell stories.”

The quintet of works can be booked in North Yorkshire and accessed regionally, nationally and internationally as the season plays across a various outdoor spaces and will be available to download.

Run by Alex and his sister Abbigail Ollive’s Lonely Arts Club, Oh, To Be So Lonely is a pen pal project, whereby those who sign up will receive a letter saying hello, with a bit of chat and reading, listening and watching recommendations.

“Those who wish for their contact details to be shared with others in the group will have the opportunity to write and share their lockdown experiences with others wanting to reconnect with the community,” says Alex. 

This Story Is For You is a “typically sad” new story written by Alex with a soundtrack by Phil and artwork by guest illustrators. “We’ve teamed up with a bunch of pals and asked them to turn the story into a book, and to create unique artworks to go alongside the story,” says Phil. “Audiences will then get the story, the artwork, and the music to keep.”

For the Half Man, Half Bull double album, Alex and Phil have linked up with Ollie Tilney, from The Great Gatsby cast, and Streatham Space Project to retell two ancient Greek myths.

“We’re writing the story of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedelus & Icarus as a double album release on vinyl, CD and for digital download,” says Phil. “Two stories, told together, made to be listened to.”

The Odyssey – An International Adaptation involves Alex and Phil teaming up with friends in the north, London, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Wellington to create an adaptation of Homer’s Greek epic poem, told through a series of one-on-one/small-scale encounters.

Those who book a ticket will be told to meet in a certain place at a certain time, to be joined there by a storyteller and or a musician

Details of the full season are available at theflanagancollective.com, where bookings can be made too.

Has notebook, will take bookings: Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Orpheus