REVIEW: Live theatre at last in a York pub garden after a long winter of disconnection

Mandy Newby: Stand-out turn in Weirdo in Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios. Picture: James Drury

Review: Next Door But One in Yorkshire Trios, The Gillygate pub, Gillygate, York, April 23 and 24 2021

LIVE theatre has returned to York. Yes, you read that right.

For the first time since York Stage brought a Covid-enforced early end to their pantomime run of Jack And The Beanstalk on December 30 at Theatre @41, Monkgate, actors have taken to a York stage for two nights of pub theatre…in the spring open air.

Where once a tent would suffice for shows by Alexander Flanagan Wright’s company, now The Gillygate publican Brian Furey has installed a wooden-framed outdoor performance area in the beer garden.

Socially distanced tables with allocated seating and an outdoor bar were complemented by Covid-secure measures: pub staff in face masks to take and deliver drink and food orders; Next Doors But One organisers in black and red masks designed in company livery; the programme in e-programme mode, available online only.

Next Door But One, the York community arts collective directed by Matt Harper-Hardcastle, with input from associate and project manager Kate Veysey and creative producer El Stannage, originally hoped to present Yorkshire Trios: 15 Local Creatives, 5 Short Performances, 1 City, inside The Gillygate in early January until Lockdown 3 put a red pen through those plans.

Instead, backed by Arts Council England funding, NDB1 kept the creatives busy with two months of online professional skill- development sessions and mentoring until the Step 2 reopening of pubs’ outdoor hospitality provided the opportunity to perform.

Project manager Kate Veysey, Next Door But One director Matt Harper-Hardcastle and creative producer El Stannage at the Friday night performance of Yorkshire Trios

A day’s warm weather added to the weekend mood as the Friday audience settled in. Behind them were those who were only here for the beer, but rather than putting up a To Beer Or Not To Beer dividing line, and asking anyone to pipe down, everyone just raised a glass to being allowed to gather in a pub garden after the long winter’s hibernation.

Today, Next Door But One have issued a Let Us Know What You Thought email, asking attendees for Audience Feedback by “sparing a few minutes to complete our short survey so we can build and improve on the event”.

CharlesHutchPress is happy to oblige in the analysis of an evening “themed around Moments Yet To Happen, wherein trios of actors, directors and writers brought theatre-starved York a fistful of short stories of laughter, strength, dreams and everything in between: an optimistic carousel operator; a neighbour with a secret; a poet inviting us into her world; a Jane McDonald fan on a soapbox, and a delivery driver full of wanderlust;.

Taking part were the quintet of trios: actor Miles Kinsley, director Nicolette Hobson and writer, Anna Johnston, staging One More Time We Go; Christie Barnes, Fiona Baistow and Jenna Drury, unmasking Kelly Unmasked; Mandy Newby, Joe Feeney and Dan Norman presenting Weirdo; Emily Chattle, Libby Pearson and Lydia Crosland, making a point in Motormouth, and Nicki Davy, Becky Lennon and Rachel Price, asking And How Are Your Goats Keeping?.

On Friday night, one actor, Nicki Davy, from Leeds, had to be elsewhere (for acting work reasons, hurrah), meaning we missed out on answering the goat welfare question.

The poster for Yorkshire Trios at The Gillygate pub as live theatre sparked into life again

Anyway, here is the survey. Question 1: What did you think of the quality of the performances you saw? Rate from 1 for Poor to 5 for Excellent.

One play, Weirdo, was indeed excellent in darkly humorous, unpredictable, intriguing writing by Norman (the discovery of Yorkshire Trios), offbeat direction by Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Brighton-bound Feeney and deadpan execution by Mandy Newby, the most experienced actor on view, as the weird woman with the even weirder smell emanating from her home.

Kingsley, newly back north from completing his training at the Central School of Speech and Drama, had the difficult task of opening the show, not as the warm-up act but straight in at the deep end, side on under a flat cap, in Johnston’s lingering memory play, One More Time We Go, that demanded more assertiveness in performance under Hobson’s direction.

The most resonant piece in Covid times was Kelly Unmasked, Drury’s study of a woman, newly diagnosed in her 30s as autistic, trying to come to her own terms with a lockdown being experienced by unaware, socially distanced others all around her. It was stressful, as much as distressing watching Barnes’s on-the-wire poet Kelly, when director Baistow needed to extract more variety in her acting tropes.

Friday night ended with Abba dance moves, Jane McDonald cheerleading, a very northern no-nonsense feminist ultra and a soapbox that just didn’t quite wash. Not Macbeth’s tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, so much as a torrid tale told by a “Motormouth” devoid of self-awareness and an off-switch, signifying not enough, for all the energy of writer Crosland, director Pearson and actor Chattle.

In a nutshell, this was a night that swung erratically between 2 and 5 on the scorecard, but with consistently good-quality sound and lighting.

Kinsley amiss: Miles KInsley needed more assertiveness in his show-opening performance. Picture: James Drury

Question 2. Did you enjoy the performances being outdoors in a pub setting? Rate from 1 for Not At All to 5 for Very Much.

Yes and no. It was good to feel alive again in the company of actors, but noises off from the tables at the back, while entirely tolerable under present circumstances of outdoors being the only place to drink right now, would be distracting at future performances if the beer garden is to become a garden of artistic delights. So, 3 out of five for now.

Question 3: Do you feel the bitesize performance pieces suited the pub setting? Again, 1 for Not At All; 5 for Very Much.

Yes, because, like the next round, there was always another one coming down the line pretty pronto. That said, the original idea of promenade performances around the interior of the pub would have worked that much better. So, another 3 out of 5.

Question 4: How did you find the quality of the food and drink available during the performance. Same score grades.

Excellent, attentive service. Genial welcomes from Brian and Matt. White wine for the ladies went down very well. Blackcurrant cordial for the teetotal reviewer was totally entente cordial indeed. Didn’t nibble, so no quibble on that score. 5/5

Poet cornered: Christie Barnes as Kelly in Kelly Unmasked. Picture: James Drury

How did you find the COVID safety measures put in place for the performance? Same score grades.

As with last summer’s Park Bench Theatre at Rowntree Park, last autumn’s socially distanced shows in The Round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, York Stage’s pantomime at Theatre @41, Monkgate, and York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, the Covid-safety measures were meticulously carried out. 

As before, the message to the Government is, yes, the arts needs your support, but you should trust the arts to run events with the utmost professionalism, whatever the circumstances. The Gillygate, 5/5. The Government: could do better.

Would you be interested in attending a similar performance to Yorkshire Trios in the future?

Outdoors? Yes, but with the provisos mentioned above. Indoors, yes. The Gillygate has always been a good home to theatre.

As for the content, there is promise here and further opportunities should be encouraged.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your experience that might help us shape future events?

This review has run to 1,207 words already. Enough said, surely?!

Plenty to say for herself: Emily Chattle’s Motormouth in Yorkshire Trios at The Gillygate pub beer garden. Picture: James Drury

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