Veteran Yorkshire arts journalist CHARLES HUTCHINSON doffs his cap to the makers and shakers who made and shook the arts world in York and beyond in 2019.
New play of the year: Alan Ayckbourn’s Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from September 4
Sir Alan Ayckbourn penned one play to mark his 80th birthday, then decided it wasn’t the right one. Instead, writing more quickly than he had in years, he constructed a piece around…birthdays. Still the master of comedy of awkward truths.
Honourable mention: Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, November 28 to December 14.
You Should Have Seen It production of the year: Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, York Theatre Royal, September 20 to October 12.
Once more, the sage Arthur Miller bafflingly did not draw the crowds – a Bridge too far? – but Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster found resonance anew for this age of rising intolerance in Trumped-Up America and Brexit Britain.
York’s home-grown show of the year: York Stage Musicals in Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, September 12 to 21
Nik Briggs swapped directing for his stage return after five years in the wind-assisted title role and stunk the place out in Shrek tradition in a good way. Jacqueline Bell‘s Princess Fiona and Chris Knight’s Donkey were terrific too.
Honourable mention: Pick Me Up Theatre in Monster Makers, 41 Monkgate, October 23 to 27
Company launch of the year: Rigmarole Theatre in When The Rain Stops Falling, 41 Monkgate, York, November 14 to 16
MAGGIE Smales, a previous Hutch Award winner for her all-female Henry V for York Shakespeare Project, set up Rigmarole to mount Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic Anglo-Aussie family drama. More please.
Touring play of the year: The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Grand Opera House, York, February 5 to 12
Crime pays for Mischief Theatre with a riotous show, so diamond-cutter sharp, so rewarding, in its comedy, that it is even better than the original botched masterplan, The Play That Goes Wrong.
Honourable mention: Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23
Political play of the year: Handbagged, York Theatre Royal, April 24 to May 11
In a play of wit, brio and intelligence, Moira Buffini presents a double double act of 20th century titans, Margaret Thatcher and The Queen, one from when both ruled, the other looking back at those days, as they talk but don’t actually engage in a conversation.
Director of the year: Emma Rice for Wise Children’s Wise Children, in March, and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, in September, both at York Theatre Royal
Emma Rice, once of Cornwall’s pioneering Kneehigh Theatre and somewhat briefly of Shakespeare’s Globe, has found her mojo again with her new company Wise Children, forming a fruitful relationship with York Theatre Royal to boot. Watch out for Wuthering Heights in 2021.
York director of the year: John R Wilkinson, Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, November
Theatre Royal associate artist John R Wilkinson had long called for the return of in-house productions in the Studio and what he called “the blue magic of that space”. He duly delivered a superb reading of Athol Fugard’s apartheid-era South African work starring Jo Mousley and Emilio Iannucci.
Comedy show of the year: Sir Ian McKellen in Ian McKellen On Stage With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others…And You, Grand Opera House, York, June 17
A delightful variation on the An Evening With…format, wherein Sir Ian McKellen celebrated his 80th birthday with a tour through his past. His guide to Shakespeare’s 37 plays was a particular joy.
Honourable mention: John Osborne in John Peel’s Shed/Circled In The Radio Times, Pocklington Arts Centre bar, March 27
Event launch of the year: Live In Libraries York, York Explore, autumn
In the wood-panelled Marriott Room, veteran busker David Ward Maclean and Explore York mounted a series of four intimate, low-key concerts, the pick of them being Bonnieville And The Bailers’ magical set on October 25. Along with The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths, Bonnie Milnes is the blossoming York songwriter to watch in 2020.
Festival of the Year: The Arts Barge’s Riverside Festival, by the Ouse, July and August
Under the umbrella of Martin Witts’s Great Yorkshire Fringe, but celebrating its own identity too, The Arts Barge found firm footing with two locations, an ever-busy tent and, hurrah, the newly docked, freshly painted barge, the Selby Tony. The Young Thugs showcase, Henry Raby, Rory Motion, Katie Greenbrown, jazz gigs, a naked Theo Mason Wood; so many highs.
Honourable mentions: York Festival of Ideas, June; Aesthetica Short Film Festival, November.
York Barbican gig of the year: The Specials, May 9
Still The Specials, still special, on their 40th anniversary world tour, as the Coventry ska veterans promoted their first studio album in 39 years, Encore, still hitting the political nail on the head as assuredly as ever.
Honourable mentions: David Gray, March 30; Art Garfunkel, April 18; Kelly Jones, September 14.
Happiest nights of the year: Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Twelfth Night, Castle car park, York, July 4 and September 1
JOYCE Branagh, Kenneth’s sister, set Shakespeare’s comedy in the Jazz Age, serving up “Comedy Glamour” with a Charleston dash and double acts at the double. “Why, this is very midsummer madness,” the play exhorts, and it was, gloriously so, especially on the last night, when no-one knew what lay just around the corner for the doomed Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.
Most moving night of the year: Glory Dazed, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, January 26
Cat Jones’s play, starring York actor Samuel Edward Cook, brings to light issues surrounding the mental health of ex-servicemen as they seek to re-integrate into civilian society while struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The post-show discussion with ex-soldiers from Hull spoke even louder.
Solo show of the year: Serena Manteghi in Build A Rocket, autumn tour
NO sooner had she finished playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Hamlet than Serena Manteghi revived her remarkable role as a seaside resort teenage single mum in Christopher York’s award-winning coruscating play.
Honourable mention: James Swanton in Irving Undead, York Medical Society, October 10 to 12.
Favourite interview of the year: Brian Blessed, giving oxygen to his An Evening With Brian Blessed show at Grand Opera House, York, in August
The exuberance for life in Brian – Yorkshire man mountain, actor, mountaineer and space travel enthusiast – at the age of 83 would inspire anyone to climb Everest or reach for the stars.
Gig of the year: John Newman, The Out Of The Blue Tour, The Crescent, York, June 30
THE unsettled Settle sound of soul, John Newman, and his soul mates parked their old camper van outside the almost unbearably hot Crescent, threw caution to the wind and burnt the house down on a night that must have been like watching Joe Cocker or Otis Redding on the rise in the Sixties.
Honourable mentions: Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock’n’Roll Revue, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 25; The Howl & The Hum, The Crescent, York, December 14
Exhibition of the year: Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, York St Mary’s, York, now extended to April 2020
This 360-degree digital art installation uses technology to create a constantly moving projected gallery of 200 of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous 19th century works in the former church. Breathtaking, innovative, and, yes, worth the admission charge.
Honourable mention: Ruskin, Turner and The Storm Cloud, Watercolours and Drawings, York Art Gallery, from March 28
Christmas production of the year: The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25
AFTER its £15.8 million transformation from the West Yorkshire Playhouse to Leeds Playhouse, artistic director James Brining gave West Yorkshire’s premier theatre the grandest, dandiest of re-opening hits. Still time to travel down the Yellow Brick Road with Agatha Meehan, 12, from York, as Dorothy.
Exit stage left: Berwick Kaler, retiring on February 2 after 40 years as York Theatre Royal’s pantomime dame; Tim Hornsby, bowing out from booking acts for Fibbers on June 29, after 27 years and 7,500 shows in York; Damian Cruden, leaving the Theatre Royal on July 26 after 22 years as artistic director; James Cundall’s Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, in September, after hitting the financial icebergs .
Gone but not forgotten: York Musical Theatre Company leading man, director, teacher, chairman, bon viveur and pub guvnor Richard Bainbridge, who died on July 6.