AFTER 60 unbroken years, York Light Opera Company will NOT perform at York Theatre Royal in 2021.
The decision has been taken in response to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding when, how and in what form theatres will re-open as the Government conducts a phased easing of Covid-19 lockdown measures, with theatres expected to be at the back of the queue.
“We said, ‘let’s just bite the bullet’ and so we’ve scrapped our February 2021 show,” says leading player Rory Mulvihill, a York Light member for more than 35 years. “Given the present situation surrounding theatres, I’d be very surprised if we weren’t vindicated.”
Rory led the York Light cast as light-fingered gang boss Fagin in the late-February 2020 production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!. “We’re celebrating 60 consecutive years at the Theatre Royal this year and we were able to do that show, when this [Coronavirus] tsunami was coming but was still on the horizon,” he says.
York Light’s next show, Ali Kirkham’s June production of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago at Theatre @41 Monkgate, has been “cancelled until further notice”.
CLOSED. Closed. Closed. Closed. Closed. York’s theatres have shut down en masse in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Monday briefing on Black Monday to avoid unnecessary social contact at pubs, clubs and theatres.
One by one came the measured official statements in response to the rising Coronavirus pandemic, announced with regret, sadness and heavy hearts.
By way of contrast, a tide of anger rose ever higher on social media from the entertainment industry, feeling shafted by the PM not legislating closure, merely advising it.
In doing so, he placed the decision in the (no doubt frequently washed) hands of theatre managements, boards and trusts, whose sense of moral responsibility left no option but to announce closure until further notice as a precaution amid the Coronavirus crisis. When insurance effectively amounts to no insurance, hell by hand cart is the only journey in town.
The Grand National, the first post-Brexit Eurovision, the Chelsea Flower Show, Glastonbury Festival, the Euro 2020 football championships, are all scrapped for 2020. A tsunami of further announcements will follow, not least from theatre companies cancelling or postponing tours.
Keep Calm and Carry On may be the mantra, but the fear is that Keep Calm and Carry On may well turn to carrion on account of, well, the accounts.
York Theatre Royal, in St Leonard’s Place, Theatre @41 Monkgate, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, in Haxby Road, and Riding Lights Theatre Company’s Friargate Theatre, in Lower Friargate, have individual boards and managements addressing urgent, previously unimaginable requirements and strictures.
Likewise, the Ambassadors Theatre Group, owners of the Grand Opera House, is co-ordinating the Coronavirus-impacted strategy throughout ATG, making statements for the Cumberland Street theatre, whose staff are now working remotely from home.
These are unprecedented circumstances. Circumstances not even seen in wartime when theatres – some, not all – across the land stayed open through 1939 to 1945.
Circumstances where the new C-word has led to theatre after theatre – together with cinemas, music clubs, museums, galleries, visitor attractions, SparkYork, et al – to issue variations on: “It is with enormous sadness that we take these measures, but the safety of our audiences, staff and community is of utmost importance.”
So, where does each of these York theatres stand now, in a city where, like the rest, the theatre focus is turning to those of the medical variety? The best advice is to visit the theatre websites for information on the present closures, ticket refunds, and, in light of the harsh financial reality, Donate Today requests. “Your support is vital to our survival,” pleads York Theatre Royal bluntly.
A spokesman for the Theatre Royal – take it as read that it was executive director Tom Bird – said: “The closure of theatres in the UK puts York Theatre Royal, along with hundreds of other theatres, into a critical situation.”
Does that make it theatre’s version of the intensive care unit? Time will tell, but the arts have a way of defying the last rites, always have, always will, keeping the fat lady singer waiting, the final curtain up in the flies. What they will make of Richmond Rishi’s £330 billion loan scheme is another discussion point for the in-tray, however.
In a nutshell, York Theatre Royal’s shows and public events initially are cancelled until April 11, but there surely will be no miraculous resurrection on Easter Sunday. The York Theatre Royal building, box office and café remained open initially, but the building closed to the public today (March 19). The box office is still taking phone calls on 01904 623568; ticket refunds are underway.
Shows at the Grand Opera House, in common with all Ambassadors Theatre Group theatres, are “temporarily suspended with immediate effect”, with a policy of postponement and future re-arranged dates to be confirmed, rather than cancellations, at this stage.
“We are following government guidance which is currently ambiguous,” say ATG. “It is unclear how long theatres are to remain closed. We will reopen them once the government and medical authorities confirm that there is no risk to our audiences, performers and staff.
“We are working hard with our producers and performers to understand how this will play out, so we can’t confirm that at this time. We will try, wherever possible, to re-programme shows that have been suspended.”
The Joseph Rowntree Theatre will remain closed “until we receive further instruction that it is safe to reopen”. “We will be issuing further advice in the coming days on how we are going to manage ticket refunds and exchanges,” says trust chairman Dan Shrimpton. “We would ask that you please bear with us and wait for us to contact you.”
The Theatre @41 Monkgate website is yet to be updated following Monday’s Coronavirus ultimatum – the About Us section has Covid-19 Guidance from before – but Pick Me Up Theatre artistic director Robert Readman announced performances would cease after Tom’s Midnight Garden that evening.
He also cancelled Pick Me Up’s Sondheim 90 birthday concert this Sunday and the April 17 to 25 run of The Pirates Of Penzance. Be assured that Coronavirus has been the death of York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth from March 31 to April 4 too.
Riding Lights, York’s Christian theatre company based at Friargate Theatre, have cancelled their March 16 to April 11 tour of The Narrow Road. “We are very sorry not to be performing this Lent but wish you a happy and safe Easter,” their website says.
Meanwhile, prayers and thoughts go to all those working in the theatres at York Hospital and elsewhere, preparing for whatever is to come.
PICK Me Up Theatre will celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday in a night of song on March 22, the very day the New York composer and lyricist enters his tenth decade.
the York company has produced four of his musicals, Into The Woods, Assassins,
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street and Follies.
the evening of the great man’s 90th, we’ll be presenting an evening
of his finest music in his honour with a cast of 21, performing under musical
director Tim Selman on piano,” says artistic director Robert Readman, who will
be among those 21 voices at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.
“This will be one performance only of songs from every show, movie and TV special Sondheim has written the words and music to, from 1955 through to 2013.”
Group numbers will include Children Will Listen; Our Time; Not Getting Married Today; Bring Me My Bride and Sunday, alongside music from A Little Night Music; Dick Tracey; Sweeney Todd; Company; Roadshow; Follies; Into The Woods, Anyone Can Whistle and Sunday In The Park With George.
Performing with Readman at 7.30pm will be Andrew Isherwood; Alan Park; Jennie Wogan; Darren Lumby; Emma Louise Dickinson; David Radford; Susannah Baines; Andrew Roberts; Ed Atkin; Frankie Bounds; Natalie Walker; Adam Price; Mark Hird; Sam Hird; Catherine Foster; Alex Mather; Maya Tether; Flo Poskitt; Juliet Waters and Ryan Smith.
Tickets for Sondheim 90, A Birthday Concert, cost £15,
concessions £13, on 01904 523568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or pickmeuptheatre.com
or in person from York Gin, in Pavement, or the York Theatre Royal box office.
The full programme for Sondheim 90, A Birthday Concert:
INTRODUCTION – The Frogs – ANDREW ISHERWOOD & ALAN PARK
THE TWO OF YOU – Kukla, Fran & Ollie – JENNIE WOGAN
TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – Evening Primrose – DARREN LUMBY & EMMA
THEY ASK ME WHY I BELIEVE IN YOU – I Believe In You – DAVID RADFORD
EVERYBODY SAYS DON’T – Anyone Can Whistle – SUSANNAH BAINES
SATURDAY NIGHT – Saturday Night – ANDREW ROBERTS, ED ATKIN,
FRANKIE BOUNDS, ANDREW ISHERWOOD & COMPANY
SO MANY PEOPLE – Saturday Night – NATALIE WALKER & ADAM PRICE
THE BEST THING THAT HAS HAPPENED – Road Show – SAM HIRD & ADAM
LOVE I HEAR – A Funny Thing Happened On To The Way To The Forum –
BRING ME MY BRIDE – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum
– MARK HIRD
RAIN ON THE ROOF – Follies – ANDREW ROBERTS & CATHERINE FOSTER
YOU COULD DRIVE A PERSON CRAZY – Company – ALEX MATHER, EMMA
LOUISE DICKINSON & MAYA TETHER
GETTING MARRIED TODAY – Company – FLO POSKITT
AGONY – Into The Woods – DARREN LUMBY & SAM HIRD
MOVE ON – Sunday In The Park With George – EMMA LOUISE DICKINSON
& ADAM PRICE
THE LADIES WHO LUNCH – Company – JULIET WATERS
GOODBYE FOR NOW – Reds – DARREN LUMBY
LIVE ALONE AND LIKE IT – Dick Tracy – DAVID RADFORD
MORE – Dick Tracy – MAYA TETHER
NOT A DAY GOES BY – Merrily We Roll Along – ALEX MATHER
FEAR NO MORE – The Frogs – SAM HIRD
CHILDREN WILL LISTEN – Into The Woods – SUSANNAH BAINES &
OUR TIME – Merrily We Roll Along – FULL COMPANY
PRETTY LADY – Paciﬁc Overtures – DAVID RADFORD, ED ATKIN &
KISS ME/LADIES IN THEIR SENSITIVITIES – Sweeney Todd – ALEX
MATHER, SAM HIRD, MARK HIRD & RYAN SMITH
JOHANNA – Sweeney Todd – ED ATKIN
NOT WHILE I’M AROUND – Sweeney Todd – JENNIE WOGAN
A LITTLE PRIEST – Sweeney Todd – RYAN SMITH & SUSANNAH BAINES
GIANTS IN THE SKY – Into The Woods – FRANKIE BOUNDS
THE MILLER’S SONG – A Little Night Music – EMMA LOUISE DICKINSON
BROADWAY BABY – Follies – FLO POSKITT
LOVE WILL SEE US THROUGH/YOU’RE GONNA LOVE TOMORROW – Follies –
SAM HIRD, ADAM PRICE, EMMA LOUISE DICKINSON & NATALIE WALKER
THE BALLAD OF GUITEAU – Assassins – SAM HIRD & MARK HIRD
FRANKLIN SHEPARD INC. – Merrily We Roll Along – ALAN PARK
EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way
To The Forum – SAM HIRD, MARK HIRD, ROBERT READMAN & ANDREW ROBERTS
ANYONE CAN WHISTLE – Anyone Can Whistle – ALEX MATHER
NO ONE HAS EVER LOVED ME – Passion – ADAM PRICE
LOVING YOU – Passion – SUSANNAH BAINES
UNWORTHY OF YOUR LOVE – Assassins – ALAN PARK & CATHERINE
LOSING MY MIND – Follies – MAYA TETHER
WHAT CAN YOU LOSE – Dick Tracy – DARREN LUMBY
BEING ALIVE – Company – DAVID RADFORD
SEND IN THE CLOWNS – A Little Night Music – JULIET WATERS
BIRTHDAY CAKE SCENE – Company
SUNDAY – Sunday In The Park With George – FULL COMPANY.
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 pickmeuptheatre.com.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum
age of 15.
REVIEW: Steel Magnolias, York Stage, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorkstagemusicals.com
NOTE the shedding of “Musicals” from the York Stage name for this Nik Briggs production, although music from the Eighties still blares out from the radio at Truvy’s Beauty Spot, whenever it is tapped.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun, sings Cyndi Lauper, and the girls on stage want to have fun too, but the cycle of life has a habit of getting in the way.
Indeed just such a spanner in the works led to Louisiana playwright Robert Harling writing Steel Magnolias in 1987 as therapy after losing his sister to diabetes.
Once billed as “the funniest play ever to make you cry”, it takes the form of a bittersweet but sentimental comedy drama, delivered by an all-female cast.
Briggs assembles a fine array of York talent, all of whom have excelled in musicals previously and are now showing off their acting chops to the max, without recourse to the heightened dramatics of song.
Briggs and set builder Geoff Theaker have gone for a traverse stage design, a configuration that is under-utilised in theatre, but makes you aware of the audience reactions on the opposite side, and also has a way of intensifying drama in a story of triumph and tragedy, dyeing and dying.
Steel Magnolias’ setting is a bustling Louisiana hair salon, run by the ever-comforting Truvy (Kathryn Addison) in a converted garage, home to her little rural Southern town’s most successful shop for 15 years.
Pictures of the Eighties’ American hairstyles du jour are omnipresent, raising a smile of familiarity that is repeated with the assortment of hair-dos favoured by the women we meet. Bunting criss-crosses the salon, while magnolias tumble down the walls.
Significantly, men are never seen – and there were only four among the first-night full house – but they are often disparaged in conversation, one of the sources of humour in Harling’s script. What’s more, they are represented by the loud, intrusive blasts of a bird-scaring gun and the barking of big dogs. Enough said!
If the men are but a nuisance, the women seek comfort in each other, and where better to do that than in the haven of a salon as nails are painted and hair teased into pleasing shape.
At the epicentre is Addison’s perennially perky Truvy, whose mantra of “There’s no such thing as natural beauty” is passed on straightaway to quirky new asssistant Annelle (Carly Morton), whose God-fearing demeanour is coupled with mystery over her past.
One effervescent, the other quiet, together they must orchestrate the ever-hastening wedding-day preparations of plucky, resolute but physically fragile Shelby (Louise Henry), whose love of fashion and pink in profusion are emblems of her not giving in to diabetes.
She and her mother, the cautious but forceful matriarch M’Lynn (Joanne Theaker), do not have the easiest of relationships but their love is nevertheless unconditional.
The salon’s endless circle of gossip is joined regularly by the wise, good-humoured, football club-owning widow Clairee (a phlegmatic Sandy Nicholson) and the grouchy, erratic loose cannon Ouiser (Julie Ann Smith, with just the right dash of eccentricity).
Briggs’s direction is both well choreographed and well paced, with plenty of movement to counter all that sitting down in salons, as Harling’s tissue-box drama of marriage and motherhood, love and loss unfolds.
The never-easy Southern drawl is mastered by one and all in Briggs’s excellent cast, who are equally strong as an ensemble and in the solo spotlight. Theaker is particularly good, especially when M’Lynn is in the grip of grief, while Henry, last seen as Snow White in her professional debut in the Grand Opera House pantomime, is fast becoming one to watch with an admirable range already at 22.
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.