REVIEW: Clocking Pick Me Up Theatre in Tom’s Midnight Garden

Tom Tom club: Olivia Caley’s Hattie with the two Toms, Jimmy Dalgleish, left, and Jack Hambleton, in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden. Pictures: Matthew Kitchen

REVIEW: Tom’s Midnight Garden, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568; at or in person from York Gin, 12, Pavement, and York Theatre Royal box office

IT is grimly impossible not to see everything anew in the context of the crippling Coronavirus.

Within moments of Tom’s Midnight Garden opening, the word “quarantine” is mentioned, and audience members turn to each other – keeping a certain distance, of course – in recognition of its heightened resonance.

Adapted for the stage by David Wood, the doyen of such transitions from print to boards, Philippa Pearce’s beloved novel is a testament to the power of imagination, perhaps the most precious gift of all in childhood, but one that dims through experience as we age.

Right now, we might all wish that the clock could strike 13 and take us to somewhere magical, as it does in Tom’s Midnight Garden, although George Orwell’s opening line to 1984, where the clocks en masse were doing exactly that, is contrastingly heavy with sinister forewarnings.

Pick Me Up director-designer Robert Readman sets up the black-box John Cooper Studio in a traverse configuration, the audience to either side of a stage book-ended by a door and lonely Tom’s bedroom away from home at one end and a door and bored brother Peter’s bedroom back home at the other, where he is quarantined with measles.

The setting is the dull 1950s, when Tom (a role shared by Pick Me Up debutant Jimmy Dalgleish, in action on press night, and Jack Hambleton) is staying with his kindly Aunt Gwen (Maggie Smales) and pipe-smoking, Daily Mail-reading Uncle Alan (Andrew Isherwood).

At Tom’s end too is the aforementioned grandfather clock, with its figure of an angel and an inscription, Time No Longer, taken from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 10, Verse 6, and still today the subject of much conjecture as to its possible meaning.

Even within Tom’s Midnight Garden, it draws a scoffing comment, but if instead it can been seen as advocating that the limitations, the boundaries, of time be removed, rather than as the end of time, then it becomes the doorway to limitless imagination.

Ed Atkin as Peter, left, Jimmy Dalgleish as Tom, Olivia Caley as Hatty, Jack Hambleton as Tom and Beryl Nairn as Aunt Grace in Tom’s Midnight Garden

On the John Cooper Studio’s mezzanine level are not only the bedrooms but also passageways to either side (not ideal, alas, as anyone moving above you on your side is out of sight, and Readman might need to re-block those moments to facilitate seeing them better).

Musical director Tim Selman, meanwhile, is positioned in clear view at his piano beside Atkin’s Peter. Behind him are cellist Lucy McLuckie and violinist Robert Bates, and together they perform a second string to Atkin’s bow: his newly composed score that accompanies scenes played out in the midnight garden of the title.

Occasionally on first night, the beautiful music impacted on the clarity of the dialogue but the sound balance can be remedied.

A chorus gathers, chiming the mantra “Time no longer”, as if bringing the clock to speaking life. Each day, that clock is wound up fastidiously by the mysterious Mrs Bartholomew (Beryl Nairn), so stern of face she unnerves Tom’s aunt and uncle.

When it strikes 11, 12, 13, pyjama-clad, inquisitive Tom leaves his bed, makes his way downstairs, across the hall and out of the door into a magical garden, initially depicted as a bright light. A garden that only he can enter. A Victorian garden, where he encounters Victorian orphan Hattie (Olivia Caley), the joyless Aunt Grace (Beryl Nairn, part two), Bible-reading gardener Abel (Isherwood, part two) and assorted playful Victorian children.

The garden scenes are played out on the empty expanse between the two doors. No flowers, no secret passageways, everything left to our imagination, save for chairs and gathered, elasticated black and white ribbon strands at all four corners through which cast members pass, not exactly with the greatest of ease.

Decide for yourself what they symbolise; maybe the erosion of time; maybe the imagination at work; maybe time travel; maybe they just look aesthetically pretty, matching the black and white of Readman’s overall design.

Here, across the time divide, Tom and Hattie can see each other when others cannot see him, and time passes at a different rate for each of them. This is a place of mystery and magic, but something darker if Abel’s biblical bent is to be believed, as if Tom were as meddlesome as Shakespeare’s Puck or J M Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Although imaginative, neither Readman’s direction, nor design, are as magical as his best work. Wood’s script, however, captures fully Pearce’s possibilities of make-believe, drawing you deep into Tom and Hattie’s world, where sweetness and sadness elide, brought to life so evocatively by the outstanding Caley, Dalgleish, Atkin, Smales and Nairn and Isherwood at the double.

Charles Hutchinson

Could you ever fall for a goat? Let Pick Me Up’s next show take that question further

Mick Liversidge, back left, Bryan Bounds, back right, Susannah Baines and Will Fealy in the rehearsal room for Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre will stage the northern UK premiere of Edward Albee’s emotional rollercoaster of an American play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, next month.

World-famous New York architect Martin Gray has it all: fame, fortune, a happy marriage to Stevie, and a wonderful son, Billy, but he is hiding a BIG secret. Everything changes when he admits to his best friend, Ross, that he is having an affair with…a goat.

Bryan Bounds, left, Mick Liversidge and Will Fealy in rehearsal for The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?

The Goat caused controversy but was a hit with audiences when it opened on Broadway in 2002, going on to win the Tony Award for Best Play, 40 years after Albee took home the same award for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? 

The tone switches between laugh-out-loud comedy and full-blown tragedy as Stevie, Billy and Ross struggle to deal with Martin’s revelation.

Albee said: “The play is about love and loss, the limits of our tolerance and who, indeed, we really are. All I ask of an audience is that they leave their prejudices in the cloakroom … and later — at home — imagine themselves as being in the predicament the play examines and coming up with useful, if not necessarily comfortable, responses.”

Pick Me Up Theatre cast members Bryan Bounds, left, Will Fealy and Susannah Baines. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

​Directed by Mark Hird and produced and designed by Robert Readman, Pick Me Up’s production features Bryan Bounds as Martin; Susannah Baines as Stevie; Mick Liversidge as Ross and Will Fealy, a student at CAPA College, the creative and performing arts college in Wakefield, as Billy.

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, will run at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, 7.30pm nightly. Box office: 01904 623568 or at Please note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum age of 15.

The funniest Nativity play in York this Christmas? Head to Flint Street

Florence Poskitt: Making her York Stage Musicals debut as Gabriel, the angel who covets the role of Mary in The Flint Street Nativity. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK Stage Musicals will bring an alternative festive offering to York this Christmas for the first time, staging The Flint Street Nativity at the John Cooper Studio @41Monkgate from December 12 to 22.

Tim Firth’s story was first performed as a television drama on ITV in 1999 with a cast featuring York actor Mark Addy, Frank Skinner, Neil Morrissey and Jane Horrocks.

Firth, the Frodsham-born writer of Neville’s Island, All Quiet On The Preston Front, Calendar Girls and the Madness musical Our House, then re-worked it for the Liverpool Playhouse stage premiere in 2006.

Firth’s show follows “Mizzis Horrocks’s” class of seven year olds as they prepare to perform their Nativity play at Flint Street Junior School for the proud mums and dads – and the occasional social worker.

Squabbles arise when Angel Gabriel wants to play Mary; the Star grumbles he isn’t a proper star like they have at NASA; Herod won’t stop waving to his parents and the subversive Innkeeper is determined to liven up the traditional script. Then the class stick insect escapes.

Leading the ensemble company as the ambitious Angel Gabriel will be blossoming York actress and comedienne Florence Poskitt, making her York Stage debut alongside Fiona Baistow in the coveted role of Mary. Look out too for YSM debutant Conor Wilkinson, playing both Herod and Joseph.

The York Stage Musicals’ show poster for The Flint Street Nativity

Here, Charles Hutchinson asks York Stage Musicals artistic director Nik Briggs to come forth on Firth by answering a Christmas sack-load of questions.

What made you choose this Tim Firth piece as your debut Christmas production?

“York is the ultimate Christmas destination, and many people ask us each year what we’re staging at Christmas but it hasn’t been something we’ve ventured into before. But then Jim Welsman [chairman at the time] asked us if we’d be interested in bringing a Christmas offering to 41 Monkgate, so I jumped at the chance and knew what show would be the perfect choice.

“I was looking for one that really would provide the city with an alternative theatrical offering. It needed to be a show that suited York Stage and the 41Monkgate venue. Flint Street was the perfect choice. It’s not saccharine; it’s fun, energetic and a tad off the wall.

“So, come join us as we alter your perspective on not only the art and politics of the humble Nativity, but the John Cooper Studio as a whole!”

What makes The Flint Street Nativity so humorous?

“This festive play really is one of the funniest observations I’ve come across based on the Christmas holidays. Everyone knows the traditions surrounding the institution of the school Nativity, tea towels tied to the head and tinsel-clad Angels everywhere, but Tim Firth has created a brilliant script, set in the build-up to the much-anticipated show filled with laughs and pathos in an oversized classroom where adults play the children in Mrs Horrocks’s class.”

What do you most enjoy about Tim Firth’s writing?

“The detail in the observation of the people he writes about is just brilliant; it really is all on the page. Like in Calendar Girls, you can relate to and recognise the characters. The seven year olds just come to life through the writing.

“I work with children of this age quite regularly and, as I read the script, I could see the children he was talking about and describing. It seems far-fetched to some, but it really isn’t! Then, the twist in the final scenes and his ability to inject just the right amount of pathos into a riotous comedy is what clinches it for me.”

What are the particular challenges of this piece for director and cast?

“The key to the whole show, for me, comes in getting the final part of the show just right, when – spoiler alert! – the actors who’ve been playing the children throughout then turn to play the respective parents and we see what’s made the children the way they are.

“It’s been fairly easy to work on the scenes with the brilliant actors where they’re playing around and having lots of fun playing the seven year olds, but actually getting that to tie in with the adults is where the magic is, so we started the rehearsals with the adult scenes and got to know them before we then worked on creating their children, as it’s the adults who nurture.”

What is Tim Firth’s Christmas message?

“The final line in the play is ‘I’m in a Nativity. Yeah, it’s great…really brings it home’, and I think that sums it up. In the fast-paced world we live in, the simplest, purest things can really make you slow down and take stock.”

Assistant director Jonny Holbek with Florence Poskitt’s despondent Angel Gabriel

What are your recollections of Nativity plays when you were nobbut a lad?

“Absolute terror! Every year, I’d come in from school and tell my mother that I’d been cast as a lead role in the show. Every year, she’d then have to go in and tell that year’s teacher that they should be prepared that come the day of the show, I’d just cry and refuse to go on as I suffered from crippling stage fright!

“They would assure her I’d been fine in class rehearsing and that I was doing brilliantly with it. Then every year she’d turn up and sit in the hall expectantly, to be hauled out by the teacher and informed I was having a meltdown. This happened every year until I was ten!”

Why are Nativity plays still important?

“Purity! It’s plain and simple to see in any Nativity the purity in the children and the performances they give. Sadly, it’s not a quality we always see in society and on stage nowadays. so let’s cling on to it in Nativity plays! 

What have been your highlights of the York Stage Musicals year in 2019?

“2019 really has been a dream. We had the opportunity to produce a classic musical in The Sound Of Music; have worked on new writing with Twilight Robbery; created magic with our acclaimed youth production of Disney’s Aladdin, but I think the cherry on the top has to be Shrek The Musical at the Grand Opera House in September.

“The buzz around the production, from auditions through to the closing night, were just electric. The reviews and comments were just sensational. It really did raise our bar yet again and will really be a cherished production for us for a very long time.”

What’s coming next for York Stage Musicals?

“We have a bit of a bumper year planned already actually. An Eighties’ classic, a York premiere, a birthday celebration and what is set to be possibly the biggest and messiest youth show the city has ever seen!

“We start in February with Robert Haring’s Steel Magnolias at 41 Monkgate. We then head across town to the Grand Opera House with a brand-new production of Bugsy Malone in April.

Chris Knight’s perennially enthusiastic Donkey in York Stage Musicals’ “monster hit”, Shrek The Musical, at the Grand Opera House, York, in September

“Then it’s a return to Monkgate in May to present the York premiere of Sondheim On Sondheim to mark Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday [on March 22 2020].

“We’re still firming up plans for our big autumn show, but things are looking exciting, and we’ll again end the year back at 41 Monkgate with another Christmas alternative!” 

And finally, Nik, what would be your Christmas Day message to the nation?

“People of the United Kingdom, it seems that the country truly is in the… No, in all seriousness, we are in a transition, whether we want to be or not.

“In times of transition and change, we have to really look out for each other as not everyone will move at the same pace or be able to keep up. Stay genuine and be kind to those around us and trust that love will always win. 

“Sadly nowadays, there are too many people in the world who like to over-promise and oversell themselves for personal gain. This can only lead to disappointment as we can see everywhere. “Know yourself, know your limits, don’t compare yourself to others and work hard to run your own race. Celebrate successes briefly, remain humble and learn from your mistakes.”

York Stage Musicals present The Flint Street Nativity, John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate, York, December 12 to 22, 7.30pm except Sundays at 6pm. Box office: 01904 623568, at or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office.

Creative Team

Director and designer: Nik Briggs 

Assistant director: Jonny Holbek 

Musical director: Jessica Douglas


Mary: Fiona Baistow 

Wise Gold: Verity Carr

Star: Matthew Clarke

Wise Frankincense: Jack Hooper 

Angel: Louise Leaf 

Innkeeper: Paul Mason 

Angel Gabriel: Florence Poskitt

Narrator: Andrew Roberts 

Shepherd: Chloe Shipley

Herod/Joseph: Conor Wilkinson