Writer Ian Hallard and director Mark Gatiss team up for Abba tribute drag act play about friendship The Way Old Friends Do

The Way Old Friends Do writer and lead actor Ian Hallard and director Mark Gatiss. All pictures: Darren Bell

IN 1988, two school friends tentatively come out to one another: one as gay, the other – more shockingly – as an Abba fan. Nearly 30 years later, a chance meeting sets them on a new path, one where they decide to form the world’s first Abba tribute band – in drag.

So begins The Way Old Friends Do, Ian Hallard’s new comedy about devotion, desire and dancing queens, directed by his marital partner, Dr Who and Sherlock writer and producer and The League Of Gentlemen member Mark Gatiss, on tour at York Theatre Royal from June 6 to 10 in the itinerary’s closing week.

“I thought, if I’m going to write a play, there should be a bit of wish fulfilment with no-one to stop me,” says Ian.

Cue a play with an Abba drag act and questions of whether a revived friendship can survive the tribulations of a life on the road that embraces platform boots, fake beards and a distractingly attractive stranger.

Hallard himself will be joined in Gatiss’s cast by Donna Berlin,James Bradshaw, Sara Crowe, Rose Shalloo and Andrew Horton (understudied by Toby Holloway on June 6 and 7). The play also features the voice of Miriam Margolyes.

Here Gatiss and Hallard discuss The Way Old Friends Do, friendship, comedy and being Abba fans.

What appealed to you about this project, Mark?

“I knew Ian was up to something. I was away on holiday on the Isle of Wight with the rest of his family, and he was in a show in London and so couldn’t come. He told me, ‘I’ve been writing something’, and when I read it, I thought it was great.

“It was fully formed. It was very touching, very funny, very true. A delight really. Write what you know, as they say – it felt very authentic.”

[Editor’s note: The script was so “fully formed” that four years after that first draft, the finished version is “virtually unchanged”.]

After your online play Adventurous, produced by Jermyn Street Theatre, was premiered in March 2021, this is your first full-scale stage play, Ian. Discuss…

“I’d always thought it seemed to require a colossal amount of confidence, if not arrogance, to say, ‘there hasn’t been a play that’s sufficiently tackled this one particular topic, and I am uniquely placed to be the person to write this play’.

“Then I just got over myself, and once I’d decided to try and write something, it was motivated by what I myself wanted to be in. I thought, ‘well, if it’s the first thing I write, I’m going to write a part for myself. What would I be most excited about if my agent rang tomorrow with a script for me to read?

“It would be an offer to play Agnetha from Abba’. Then I just had to reverse engineer things and construct a storyline in which that could happen.”

What was the inspiration behind The Way Old Friends Do, Ian?

“It’s very easy to pitch in one line: two old school friends form the world’s first drag Abba tribute band. It does exactly what it says on the tin. When I told my friends, they got excited because, at first, they thought I was actually setting up a drag Abba tribute band.

“Then, once I’d had the idea, I did extensive Googling to see if such a thing already existed, and as far as I’m aware, it doesn’t. Who knows? It might give somebody else the idea now.”

Will The Way Old Friends Do provide much-needed escapism, Mark?

“Absolutely. It’s just the sort of play that people need right now. It’s extremely celebratory, it’s about friendship, about love, about fun. It’s also about life and about time and how it changes us. But principally, it’s just a really entertaining show.”

“I thought, if I’m going to write a play, there should be a bit of wish fulfilment with no-one to stop me,” says Ian Hallard

Is the play autobiographical, Ian?

“The background setting is autobiographical. It’s about a gay, middle-aged man from Birmingham who is a massive Abba fan. So that much is very much based on real life. But the actual events of the play are entirely fictitious.

“I was a teenager in the 1980s, a time of homophobia in the media; the rise of AIDS with that image of the tombstone in the advert, and Section 28 too. That’s all there in the background in this play and makes the lead characters what they are now.”

What can you reveal about Peter, your character in the play, Ian?

“He’s lived in Birmingham all his life. He’s 39; a big Abba fan, obviously. He got into them through his mum, who died when he was only a child. So, he was brought up by his grandmother, which mirrors the real life of Frida from Abba.

“Then a chance meeting via a gay dating app means he ends up running into the kid he was great friends with at school whom he’d lost touch with, and that sets the whole crazy series of events in motion.”

What about the rest of the characters, Ian?

“Well, they’re a pretty diverse bunch. There’s Peter’s old schoolfriend, Edward, who is played by James Bradshaw, best known for his role as Max DeBryn in Endeavour. Edward’s camp and waspish, but deeply insecure underneath it all.

“Jodie – as played by Rose Shalloo – is a young actress who you could say has more enthusiasm than talent. Then there’s the gorgeous Australian photographer Christian, played by Andrew Horton – who’s just finished playing a superhero in Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.”

Who else, Mark?

“The wonderful, Olivier-winning Sara Crowe is the eccentric Mrs Campbell, who among other quirks, has a deep-seated suspicion of Michael Palin. And finally, there’s their long-suffering, no-nonsense stage manager, Sally, played by Donna Berlin, who has to try and corral them all into some kind of order.”

What’s the result, Ian?

“A lot of the comedy in the show comes from flinging these six characters together and observing how they interact.

“As well as me and Mark, the producers had input into the casting and happily all our first choices said yes.”

How did Sara Crowe become involved in the production, Ian?

“Sara had done a couple of rehearsed readings with me in the past and is a friend of mine, so I was delighted when she agreed to be in the cast. The comic potential in that set-up – putting Olivier Award-winning Sara Crowe in a wig as the quirky Mrs Campbell – was not lost on me and now there’s a five-minute section that I can’t take any credit for that she improvised in the rehearsal room with Mark saying, ‘have fun with this’.”

Friendship is a major theme in the play. Why, Ian?

“I was interested in exploring friendship, as opposed to a romantic relationship between these two middle-aged, queer men. With The Way Old Friends Do, I had a ready-made title from Abba’s back catalogue, and I knew very early on that the final scene of the play would revolve around that song. So everything leads up to that.”

“Seeing each other for the five-week rehearsal period was a real luxury for us,” says Ian Hallard of working with husband Mark Gatiss

What’s it like working professionally with your husband?

Mark first: “We can compare notes at the end of the evening without having to organise a special notes session.”

Ian: “We’ve done it quite a few times before, but this has a slightly different dynamic because we haven’t worked together as director and writer, and certainly not on stage, so watch this space. But given past experiences, I have no cause for concern.”

Mark: “These things aren’t guaranteed to work, of course. A lot of couples never work together because they’d rather leave it at the door, but so far, so good!”

Ian: “Look at Abba. Romantic relationships kick-started the band, although admittedly it did all go awry subsequently.”

Mark: “Yes, we’d better not follow Abba down that line.”

Ian: “Ah well, if we do, we’ll just end up getting back together in 40 years’ time.”

Talk about your working relationship with Mark, Ian…

“We’ve collaborated on stuff before where I’ve been his sort of unofficial script editor. I’m the first person to read anything he writes.

“I trust him implicitly. We’ve acted on stage together, and everything went very happily in the rehearsal room this time. Seeing each other for the five-week rehearsal period was a real luxury for us.

“The very first draft of this play had a flashback to seeing the men as 15-year-old schoolboys and that was one of Mark’s biggest notes for script changes. He said, ‘that can be left as a back story’. We’ll leave adults playing schoolboys to Blood Brothers!”

Just checking, The Way Old Friends Do isn’t a musical, is it, Ian?

“That’s right, it’s a play rather than a musical. We’re not trying to compete with Mamma Mia! It’s a backstage play, very much in the vein of The Full Monty or Stepping Out: a bunch of plucky amateurs deciding to put on a show. It’s about those characters and their relationships.

“Although Abba is very much the setting, and it’s part of the show, it’s not a play about Abba, it’s a play about being an Abba fan.”

Did you acquire the approval of the Abba estate, Ian?

“Yes. They know about it and they’re happy for it to go ahead. I would have been devastated to be slapped down by my heroes because they didn’t want the play to happen. Happily, we do have their blessing!

“We have the rights to sing one Abba song. We’ll keep that as a bit of a secret but there may be a clue in the title of the play!”

Director Mark Gatiss and writer-actor Ian Hallard with The Way Old Friends Do cast members Donna Berlin, Rose Shalloo, Andrew Horton, Sara Crowe and James Bradshaw

Have both of you always been Abba fans?

Mark first: “Yes. They’ve had different phases of their existence which people can hop on at: Eurovision, the Abba Gold revival, Mamma Mia! and now Voyage! But they’re loved because they’re just so bl**dy good.

“Quality will out. They have just an astonishing range of hits and styles and genres. They’re both gloomy Swedes and insanely infectious disco-mongers.”

Ian: “My mother was pregnant with me when they won Eurovision in 1974. Although that makes it sound as if it was some kind of immaculate conception via the magic of Waterloo. I should add that I wasn’t actually conceived at that precise moment.

“But yes, it’s been a lifetime of devotion for me. I have an old university friend who I’ve known since I was 21. I hadn’t seen her for years, but just after the pandemic she came down to visit.

“We went for dinner and we were chatting about my play. I said, ‘I don’t know if you remember, but I’m a bit of an Abba fan’. And she just looked at me and said, ‘Ian, it’s literally the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about you’!”

So, Ian, why do you like Abba?

“I guess that’s the 64 million dollar question: why do you like a band or a football team? But there are certain things you can talk about objectively. The music has stood the test of time after 50 years, and though the songs are deceptively simple, there are flourishes you don’t notice on a cursory listen, but you would miss them if they weren’t there.

“Their ability to interpret the language of pop is almost second to none, writing in their second language, and they were quite experimental in going from glam rock to pure pop to disco and embracing digital technology in the early 1980s.”

What do you hope next week’s audiences in York will take away from the play?

Ian first: “Just a great night out. If you love Abba, there are plenty of little Easter eggs and moments for you. But if you don’t know anything about them, or don’t even like them – yes, there are such people out there! – it speaks about being a fan. We’re all a fan of something. That level of devotion and ownership is universal.

“But I also think the six characters are fun people that audiences will enjoy spending time with. I hope people will laugh and be touched – and then rebook!”

Mark: “It’s truthful, it’s moving and it’s joyous – that’s what I like to see in a play. Like Abba, it’s bittersweet, but ultimately very, very upbeat, and a joy to be around.”

Have we reached Abba saturation point yet, Ian?

“It was something I was aware of, that question, but I thought, write what you know, and it’s different. It’s a play, not a musical, and it’s not about Abba but about the characters in the play and the journey they’re going on.”

The Way Old Friends Do runs at York Theatre Royal from June 6 to 10, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Boom! Boom! Michael Lambourne and that voice is back up north, on the dark side in Harrogate’s panto, as Abbanazar in Aladdin

Abbanazar, Rock God: Michael Lambourne’s pantomime villain performing George Thorogood And The Destroyers’ Bad To The Bone… or Bad To The Boom in Michael’s stentorian growl

CASTING an eye over the cast list for Harrogate Theatre’s pantomime, Aladdin, what a delight to espy the name of one Michael Lambourne.

Once a mainstay of the York professional theatre scene, whether at York Theatre Royal or in Alexander Flanagan Wright’s work with The Flanagan Collective and the Guild of Misrule’s immersive The Great Gatsby during eight years of living in the city, he had since returned to his native Fenlands with wife Katie Posner, co-artistic director of Paines Plough, and daughter Heidi.

Now, at the behest of Harrogate Theatre pantomime director Marcus Romer (founder and former artistic director of York Theatre Royal company-in-residence Pilot Theatre), Michael’s unmistakable voice – the “Lam-boom” – can be heard across North Yorkshire as he takes on the villainous role of Abbanazar. Yes, you read that right, Abbanazar with a double B. More of that later.

But first, “I’d worked with Marcus on The Twits at Bolton Octagon and Fungus The Bogeyman at ArtsDepot in London, written while he was at Pilot,” recalls actor, director, teacher and writer Michael.

“That was the show where I met Katie, when I was painted green! Ebony [Feare] did both those productions with me as well, so Marcus has brought to Harrogate two people who he knows will thrive in the pantomime here.”

He first experienced pantomime as a child at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, and he has seen plenty since, but maybe surprisingly, given his outlandish stage presence and natural bond with young audiences, Aladdin will be only his third panto production.

“I did Alice In Wonderland at Darwen, near Blackburn, in the early 2000s, a loose pantomime, rather than a classic one, where I played the Mad Hatter. Later I was Igor, the evil henchman, and Daddy Bear in Goldilocks And The Three Bears at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond,” he recalls.

“Harrogate Theatre’s show is very much in the classic pantomime style, like the villain always entering from the left. There’s a sense of legacy too, after Phil Lowe, the long-time director and co-writer, died last year, and what you try to foster with your audience is a sense of community, as we did at York Theatre Royal.”

He is relishing the villain’s role. “I love playing the baddie, because the audience straightaway knows what you’re up to,” says Michael. “I have that sense of what they expect from me, want from me, and as a performer I can really play off that.

Michael Lambourne, centre, as another baddie, Chief Weasel, in The Wind In The Willows at York Theatre Royal in 2014 

“To already have that dialogue with the audience and to know how they’re going to respond is a wonderful feeling, whereas a comedian worries about how they’ll react. With the baddie, you know they’re going to boo, and it’s all the better if the booing gets louder and louder.

“I’m naturally positive, but Abbanazar is definitely not, so that means I can luxuriate in the boos, especially at the children’s shows, where I’ve just lapped up the wall of sound. The more they give, the more I’m going to give back!”

Michael “doesn’t really like insulting people”. “That’s why you insult the collective as the baddie, rather than picking on any individual,” he says. “It’s about them all being idiots, all being fools. Why take on one person? I’ll take on 500.”

Back to that name, Michael, Abbanazar with the double B. How come? “Well, he’s the brother of the Emperor of Peking, relocated to Scandinavia, and he’s now Abba’s number one fan,” he reveals.

“So there are ‘subtle’ references to Sweden’s best pop export, and there’s an Abba number in there that’s very appropriate to Abbanazar – Money, Money, Money – as he’s so materialistic.” No opportunity for a reference to an Abba song title is knowingly turned down in the script too.

This year, Michael has appeared in Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre and filmed his role as The Messenger in Warchief, Stuart Brennan’s fantasy feature film, made  in Bury St Edmunds and set for release next September.

For now, his acts of deception and the dark arts are focused on Abbanazar. “This is the longest I’ve ever grown my moustache! I’ve gone from the baddie [a Victorian whiskered Chief Weasel] in The Wind In The Willows at York Theatre Royal to now playing the ultimate panto baddie with more curl to the moustache, still using Captain Fawcett’s moustache wax to shape it!” says Michael.

“If you think of what a baddie should have, a curly moustache is a must. Twiddling a moustache in that vaudevillian way tells you ‘he must be the villain’!”

Looking ahead to next year, walking and cycling enthusiast Michael will be turning his attention to running. Running the London Marathon, more precisely, in aid of Lymphoma Action, having come successfully through chemotherapy and radiotherapy for the blood cancer at 40.

Donations can be made at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michael-lambourne3

Michael Lambourne is appearing in Aladdin at Harrogate Theatre until January 15 2023. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Colin Kiyani’s Aladdin, Stephanie Costi’s Pandora, Tim Stedman’s Wishee Washee and Howard Chadwick’s Widow Twankey in Harrogate Theatre’s Aladdin. All pictures: Karl Andre

REVIEW: Aladdin, Harrogate Theatre, until January 15 2023 *****

PANTOMIME matters to Harrogate Theatre, all the more so after the “disappointment” – I would have used a stronger word – of Arts Council England’s bewildering decision to drop this high-achieving theatre from National Portfolio funding status for 2023 to 2026 after many years.

This is the northern home of a comedy festival with headline names, the wonderful HT Rep season of three plays in three weeks, a big community play on a topical theme, concerts, touring shows, children’s theatre and performances by long-established Harrogate thespian troupes, overseen by the  canny management of chief executive David Bown and the increasing artistic input of ever-progressive Pilot Theatre founder Marcus Romer as associate producer.

Oh, and the pantomime, THE pantomime, the one that Bown and the late Phil Lowe have made so special with wit, inventiveness and the magic ingredient of daft lad Tim Stedman (who set the benchmark for fast-rising Pannal-raised comedian Maisie Adam, she says, never one to miss a show each Christmas, by the way). What more do you want, ACE?

Anyway, clear-headed thinking by the board is assured, as testified by chair Deborah Larwood’s November statement: “Following this news, the board and leadership team will take some time to reflect and reimagine our plans from April 2023, as we continue to support the Let’s Create agenda and ensure that Harrogate Theatre continues to deliver a vibrant cultural offer for people of all ages across the Harrogate district.”

In the meantime, Harrogate Theatre has been delivering the Harrogate Theatre pantomime at its best, 78 performances in all by the time it closes on January 15.

For the 2021-2022 season, experienced hand Joyce Branagh stepped in to direct Cinderella after the sudden death of long-time director and co-writer Phil Lowe, and did so with panache.

Tim Stedman: Not as daft as he looks in Aladdin!

This time, Marcus Romer is at the helm, steering a script that retains a credit for Phil Lowe alongside regular writing cohort David Bown. Romer, who has written additional material alongside Stedman, has made one decision that struck a false note, changing the walkdown song from the long-standing exhilaration of Let Me Entertain You to a reprise of the opening number.  Symmetry, yes, but finale impact lessened.

On the other hand, however, as soon as he heard Sam Ryder’s Eurovision galactic belter, Space Man, Romer knew he had found the song for Aladdin’s carpet-ride out into the Harrogate night sky.

Beautiful, magical and unexpected – your reviewer has seen no other panto use 2022’s most uplifting big number – it is sung with a lovely sense of wonder by Colin Kiyani, modern-day principal boy par excellence in his fifth Harrogate panto.

Christina Harris returns too for her third Harrogate show – “a place that feels like home,” she says – now playing a not-so-shy Princess So-Shy with plenty of principal girl pluck.

Romer has called on two trusted lieutenants from his past shows to make their Harrogate panto bows: Ebony Feare’s fun, high-energy Caribbean-accented Genie and A Line Of Duty-spoofing DCI Kate, and Michael Lambourne, he of the booming voice so cherished over the years by York audiences.

The “Lam-boom” is in mighty good form here, venturing deep into the dark side for a rumbustious, roaring Abbanazar, an Abba-loving, humanity-hating villain since his exile to Sweden.

Ebony Feare’s Genie and Colin Kiyani Aladdin in a song-and-dance number with the ensemble in Aladdin

Mamma mia, no chance to dig out an Abba song title is knowingly missed in the script (until the titles run out), and of course he sings Money, Money, Money, although his thunderous, rock-god rendition of George Thorogood & The Destroyers’ Bad To The Bone surpasses it.

In his 22nd Harrogate show – where have those years gone? – the clowning Tim Stedman’s Wishee Washee is anything but wishy-washy. From his strawberry cheeks to a voice that somehow combines a state of near-constant perplexity with the not-so-daft-after-all wit of a Shakespearean Fool, he is the crowd-pleasing, crowd-teasing lead yet totally the team player too.

The cracker jokes may be absent this time, but this is a crackerjack of a Stedman performance, all the better for being reunited for slapstick with Howard Chadwick, a stalwart actor with Richard III in his repertoire but so comfortable in the roly-poly guise of the unruly, frolicsome dame, Widow Twankey in his 11th Harrogate winter of panto contentment. His costumery, courtesy of costume designer Morgan Brind, is fab-u-lous throughout.

Look out too for topical Harrogate references, nods to I’m A Celebrity, dance captain Stephanie Costa’s lovable panda Pandora and David Kar-Hing Lee’s zesty choreography.

Roll on next winter when Dick Whittington and his cat will head to London from November 22 to January 14 2024. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Castle Howard’s weekend of music in the open air takes in Ibiza, the Proms and Abba

Wynne Evans: Vocal power at Castle Howard Proms

CASTLE Howard’s bumper weekend of music, dance and picnics begins with tonight’s Café Mambo Ibiza Classics.

Presented in the grounds of the North Yorkshire stately home by LPH Concerts & Events, the line-up of deck talent on dance anthem duty features NYC superstar DJ Armand Van Helden; Lola’s Theme hitmaker Shapeshifters, performing a new live show replete with vocalists; DJ and saxophone duo Lovely Laura & Ben Santiago and Café Mambo regular Erik Hagleton.

Tomorrow’s Castle Howard Proms marks the return to North Yorkshire of Welsh opera star, BBC Radio Wales presenter and car insurance advert regular Wynne Evans, performing with the London Gala Orchestra under conductor Stephen Bell.

Broadway and West End actress Marisha Wallace will be Evans’s fellow soloist in an evening of late-summer picnics, Proms classics, songs from the musicals, flag-waving favourites, a Spitfire flyover, laser displays and a firework finale. 

Closing out the weekend will be Sunday’s Abba Symphonic concert, when star performers from the West End production of Mamma Mia!, Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton among them, take to the stage, backed by a rock band and the Heart of England Orchestra.

Grammy Award winner Steve Sidwell has given epic-scaled arrangements to 25 Abba numbers, from Waterloo to Gimme Gimme Gimme, Fernando to SOS. Once more, concertgoers are welcome to bring picnics.

Tickets are still on sale from lph.live, as well as on the door (when prices increase). Parking will be available on site, free of charge. Visitors should follow the directional signage on arrival. Blue badge parking is available too. Camping chairs are allowed at all three events.

Gates open at 5pm each evening.

Who’s performing at Ryedale Festival and when in a July event full of Handel, Vaughan Williams and even an ABBA sing-song?

Baritone Roderick Wilson: Artist in residence at 2022 Ryedale Festival

THE 2022 Ryedale Festival will embrace 300 performers in 52 concerts from July 15 to 31, kicking of the event’s fifth decade of inspiring performances in beautiful North Yorkshire locations.

Under Christopher Glynn’s artistic directorship, the festival will find a special place for Handel’s music, including a pop-up production of his magical opera Acis And Galatea that will visit three churches.

The music and legacy of Ralph Vaughan Williams will be in focus too, as will the genre-blending elan of Errollyn Wallen and the 50th anniversary of Swedish supergroup Abba.

The Kanneh-Mason family will open the festival on July 15 with a concert by the seven brothers and sisters from Nottingham, aged between 11 and 24. On July 16, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason will be in conversation with Edward Seckerson in House of Music: Raising The Kanneh-Masonsa joyful celebration of this extraordinary musical story.

Six world premieres will take centre stage. Julian Philips will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vaughan Williams with Looking West, a new work inspired by the ancient stories and landscapes of northern England. 

Composer Julian Philips: World premiere of Looking West

Roxanna Panufnik’s Babylonia will go on an imaginative journey to the Middle East, while Errollyn Wallen and Tarik O’Regan will explore the myth of creation in their co-composed work Ancestor, to be premiered by Philharmonia Baroque. 

Joseph Howard’s community song cycle Seven Mercies celebrated the heritage and talent of Pickering on May 21; Robert Balanas will be debuting an ABBA medley for solo violin, and Callum Au will be bringing a new work co-commissioned with Spitalfields Festival.

A strong line-up of artists in residence will be in Ryedale for the festival. Baritone Roderick Williams will lead two of the four concerts marking Vaughan Williams’s anniversary with Christopher Glynn and fellow artists in residence the Maxwell Quartet, as well as leading a singing masterclass with talented young artists. The Gesualdo Six will perform two vibrant programmes in Ampleforth Abbey and Castle Howard.

The festival’s two ensembles in residence, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque (in their first UK tour for more than a decade), will present one of Handel’s Dixit Dominus, a tour-de-force of vocal and instrumental virtuosity that bubbles with the energy and exuberance of youth.

Ryedale Festival Young Artists will be in the spotlight too. Violinist Roberts Balanas will perform a late-night candlelit concert, while Scottish accordionist Ryan Corbett will set out on a “troubadour trail” across Ryedale, bringing music – from the grandeur of Bach to the romance of Tchaikovsky – to beautiful and little-known churches across the region.

The Maxwell Quartet: Artists in residence

Soprano Siân Dicker and pianist Krystal Tunnicliffe will create a relaxed, informal and interactive concert for people living with dementia, their friends, family and carers – and anyone else who would like to attend. Bassoonist Ashby Mayes will collaborate with Krystal Tunnicliffe in an enterprising programme at a coffee concert.

Further highlights will include the London Mozart Players with pianist conductor Martin James Bartlett; The National Youth Choir of Great Britain performing a programme on the theme of environment; Pete Long and Friends playing 100 Years Of Jazz In 99 Minutes and fast-rising soloists such as violinist Johan Dalene, cellist Bruno Phillipe, trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary, harpsichordist Richard Egarr and pianists Rebeca Omordia and Alim Beisembayev. Renaudin Vary will give a brass masterclass too.

Dame Janet Baker will be in conversation with Edward Seckerson and a visit from poet, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay will be among the literary events. Family concerts will include a musical version of the modern children’s classic Izzy Gizmo.

For the final gala concert, trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary will join the Royal Northern Sinfonia for a sunny-spirited concerto at the heart of an eclectic programme that will take in  lyricism of two English romantics, a Bach-inspired work by Errollyn Wallen and one of Haydn’s most rousing and witty symphonies.

A new partnership with the Richard Shephard Foundation is working in primary schools to transform the festival’s engagement with children across Yorkshire. Already this has supported Seven Mercies, a new Community Song Cycle by Joseph Howard and Emma Harding at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering, on May 21. Inspired by the church’s famous murals, this celebration of local heritage and talent took the theme of countering difficult times through small acts of kindness.

Dame Janet Baker: In conversation at Duncombe Park

Seven Mercies is one of two major elements of the festival taking place outside the main festival in July. Post festival, on October 29, the Hallé Orchestra and Chorus, Natalya Romaniw, Alice Coote, Thomas Atkins, James Platt and conductor Sir Mark Elder will perform Verdi’s mighty and dramatic Requiem in York Minster.

First-time ticket-buyers can attend selected events for £10, under-18s for £5. All are invited to watch the free-to-view additional content that will be shared on the digital platform RyeStream.

Artistic director Christopher Glynn says: “From legendary artists such as Dame Janet Baker to stars of the new generation like the Kanneh-Masons, we’ve brought together a line-up of international quality to perform in stunning locations across the beautiful area of Ryedale, from historic old churches to magnificent stately homes.

“As always, the festival is a celebration of music and place, and how they can enhance each other. I’m especially pleased that we are working with the Richard Shephard Music Foundation to bring musical opportunities to primary school children across Yorkshire, and that hundreds of tickets will be available from as little as £5 for under-18s and first-time attenders. We look forward to welcoming music-lovers from far and wide to Ryedale this summer.”

For full details, go to: ryedalefestival.com. Box office: 01751 475777; ryedalefestival.com; in person from Memorial Hall, Potter Hill, Pickering, second floor, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 9.30am to 2.30pm.

Opening concert: The Kanneh-Mason family of musicians

2022 Ryedale Festival programme

July 15, 7pm, St Peter’s Church, Norton

Opening Concert

Kanneh-Mason Family

July 16, 3pm, St Michael’s Church, Malton

House of Music: Raising the Kanneh-Masons

Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason

July 16, 8pm, St Mary’s Priory Church, Old Malton

Johan Dalene, violin

Charles Owen, piano

July 17, 3pm, Helmsley Arts Centre

Family Concert

July 17, 7pm, Duncombe Park

Pre-concert talk: Katy Hamilton

London Mozart Players: July 23 concert

July 17, 8pm, Duncombe Park

The Wanderer

Roderick Williams, baritone

Christopher Glynn, piano

July 18, 11am, Helmsley Arts Centre

Shakespeare’s Infinite Variety

Lucy Beckett, speaker

July 18, 3pm to 5pm, Helmsley Arts Centre

Roderick Williams, masterclass

July 18, 7pm, Sledmere House and Church

Double Concert

July 19, 11am, All Saints’ Church, Slingsby

The Maxwell Quartet

Christopher Glynn: Ryedale Festival artistic director

July 19, 2pm, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley

Pre-concert talk

Katy Hamilton

July 19, 3pm, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley

Acis And Galatea I

July 19, 9.30pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

Late-Night Folk

July 20, 11am, Birdsall House

Margaret Fingerhut, piano

July 20, 3pm, St Mary’s Church, Lastingham

Acis And Galatea II

July 20, 7pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Pre-concert talk

Katy Hamilton

Trumpet player Lucienne Renaudin Vary. Picture: Simon Fowler

July 20, 8pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Mystical Songs

Roderick Williams & The Maxwell Quartet

July 21, 11am, St Nicholas Church, Husthwaite

Troubadour Trail I

Ryan Corbett, accordion

July 21, 3pm, St Michael’s Church, Malton

Acis And Galatea III

July 21, 8pm, Birdsall House

Bruno Phillipe, cello

Tanguy de Williencourt, piano

July 22, 1pm, Church of St Martin-on-the-Hill, Scarborough

National Youth Choir

Poet Lemn Sissay:

July 22, 3pm, St Hilda’s Church, Sherburn

Troubadour Trail II

Ryan Corbett, accordion

July 22, 8pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

100 Years Of Jazz In 99 Minutes

Pete Long and Friends

July 23, 11am, Holy Cross Church, East Gilling

Troubadour Trail III

Ryan Corbett, accordion

July 23, 3pm to 5pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

Come and Sing ABBA!

July 23, 8pm, St Peter’s Church, Norton

London Mozart Players

July 24, 3pm, James Holt Concert Hall, Kirkbymoorside

Kirkbymoorside Town Brass Band

July 24, 6.30pm, All Saints’ Church, Kirkbymoorside

Alim Beisembayev, piano

July 24, 9.30pm, All Saints’ Church, Kirkbymoorside

Late-Night Candlelit Concert

Roberts Balanas, violin

July 25, 11am, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham

Rebeca Omordia,piano

July 25, 2pm, Hovingham Hall

National Youth Chamber Choir

Philharmonia Baroque

July 25, 7.30pm, Duncombe Park

Dame Janet Baker

In conversation with Edward Seckerson

The Gesualdo Six. Picture: Ash Mills

July 26, 11am, St Lawrence’s ’s Church, York

Music For A While

Rowan Pierce & Philharmonia Baroque

July 26, 8pm, Ampleforth Abbey

The Gesualdo Six

July 27, 11am, St Michael’s Church, Coxwold

Lucienne Renaudin Vary, trumpet

Félicien Brut, accordion

July 27, 7pm, Castle Howard

Triple Concert

July 28, 11am, St Oswald’s Church, Sowerby

Ashby Mayes, bassoon

Krystal Tunnicliffe, piano

July 28, 3pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

Dementia-friendly Concert

Siân Dicker, soprano

Krystal Tunnicliffe, piano

Harpsichordist Richard Egarr: A Byrde In The Hande candlelit concert

July 28, 7pm, Duncombe Park

Stephen Kovacevich, piano

July 28, 9.30pm, St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale

Late-Night Candlelit Concert

Richard Egarr, harpsichord

July 29, 11am, St Peter’s Church, Norton

Inner City Brass

July 29, 3pm to 5pm, James Holt Concert Hall, Kirkbymoorside

Brass masterclass

Lucienne Renaudin Vary

July 29, 7pm, St Peter’s Church, Norton

A Garden Of Good And Evil

Philharmonia Baroque

July 30, 11am, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham

Siân Dicker, soprano

Krystal Tunnicliffe, piano

July 30, 3pm, The Galtres Centre, Easingwold

Lemn Sissay

My Name Is Why

July 30, 6pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Pre-concert talk

July 30, 7.30pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Looking West

July 31, 3pm, The Worsley Arms, Hovingham

Jazz in the Garden

July 31, 5pm, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham

Festival Service

July 31, 6.30pm, Hovingham Hall

Final Gala Concert

Royal Northern Sinfonia

Lucienne Renaudin Vary, trumpet

Post-festival concert: October 29, 7.30pm, York Minster

Hallé Orchestra and Chorus

Verdi: Requiem

Natalya Romaniw, soprano

Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano

Thomas Atkins, tenor

James Platt, bass

Sir Mark Elder, conductor

In late-70s schooldays, no-one liked Abba, except Graham’s classmate, Guy Gibson

Forty years on: ABBA’s voyage back to the recording studio

NOW, even podcaster Graham Chalmers has bought into ABBA’s return after 40 years, buying comeback album Voyage.

Hear his verdict in Episode 65 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car, under questioning from Charles Hutchinson. Together they then recommend 2022 releases that could just be fabber than Abba.

Under discussion too are next January’s relaunch of bespoke Charm gigs in Harrogate; seeing/not seeing Soft Cell’s home-coming 40th anniversary show in Leeds…and Colin Firth’s hair in Eva Husson’s new upstairs/downstairs film Mothering Sunday.

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9570139

Is ABBA’s comeback an aberration or fabber than ever? Here’s Ian Sime’s verdict

ABBA’s artwork for Voyage, the long, long-awaited follow-up to The Visitors

ABBA,  Voyage (Polar) *****

WHAT were you doing 40 years ago?

While Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev ruled the world, we saw the opening of the Humber Bridge, the capture of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, the running of the first London Marathon, and we all celebrated the nuptials of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.  

Significantly, ABBA’s eighth studio album, The Visitors, was released on November 30 1981. At the time, we had no idea that this was to be their swansong as a collective.

For although both vocalists have sporadically returned to the main stage, and Benny & Bjorn have written for musical theatre and the occasional guest artist, nothing quite matched the glory of the real ABBA.

Only a handful of bands have caught the imagination of multiple generations. Certainly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Queen are in this category. So too are ABBA.

It is a testament to the power of the Swedes’ music that many a fan of the Mamma Mia! theatre production and movies were not even born when Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid first unveiled their music.  

So, 40 years on, Voyage is the album that many a fan never dared would happen, indeed the Holy Grail of Pop. With much fanfare, on September 2, the world was introduced to the opening track I Still Have Faith in You. Anni-Frid’s lead vocal lay down the mission statement in an overtly sentimental song about friendship, faith, doubt and determination.

Welcome back after 40 years: ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus, 76, Agnetha Fältskog, 71, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, 76, and Benny Andersson, 74

At the same press launch, we were introduced to Agnetha’s tour de force, Don’t Shut Me Down, featuring Benny’s heavy piano glissando, rich strings and a harp or two in a huge orchestral arrangement.

Now comes the rest: When You Danced With Me is a Celtic-themed jig that captures the joy of The Piper from Super Trouper, while Bumblebee is pure Fernando.  Meanwhile, Just A Notion sounds like a vintage classic that would not have been out of place on Arrival.

Lyrically, I Can Be That Woman and Keep An Eye On Dan showcase maturing couples in marital disharmony. The latter track embraces the sense of menace and tension Bjorn and Benny used to best effect on their Chess album.

The adult theme is best captured in the simply gorgeous, tender ballad Little Things. An unabashed Christmas song, this is a work of beauty, showcasing the pleasures of the season, as seen through the eyes of a child witnessed by the grandmother, albeit aided with a little inspiration from Mozart.

Likewise, the anthemic Ode To Freedom borrows from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and evokes Like An Angel Passing Through My Room. Both are destined to become classics by any standard. What a glorious return.  

Little surprise then that sales for Voyage in its first week eclipse those of the entire Top 40 combined. This may have been supported by no less than TWENTY physical versions of the album, available in limited quantities.

The best of the bunch are the two beautiful picture discs, but was it really necessary to churn out multiple coloured (green, white, yellow, orange, blue, black) albums, cassettes and CDs in various artwork versions to pump up sales? No wonder there is a global vinyl shortage!

Review by Ian Sime

Abba Mania makes voyage to Grand Opera House with all those superSwedish hits

Abba Mania: Thanking Abba for the music at Grand Opera House, York

ABBA Mania could not be playing the Grand Opera House, York, at a better time in light of Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid releasing Voyage, their first album in 39 years, last Friday.

Billed as “the world’s number one touring Abba tribute concert”, Abba Mania returns to York on November 20 in its quest to bring the Swedish supergroup’s songs to fans old and new.

Formed in 1999, Abba Mania has been selling out theatres and concert halls internationally ever since. In 2007, the show grossed more than one million Australian dollars at the box office in Sydney, Australia. 

Abba Mania has ventured to France, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States, South Korea and Australia, as well as touring the UK extensively.

Hands up who loves Abba. Step forward Abba Mania

Abba dominated the charts from 1974 to 1983, notching up nine UK number ones, from Waterloo to Super Trouper. At their height, they became Sweden’s highest export earners, even outselling Volvo cars. 

Abba Mania promise two hours of uplifting, dance-inducing, sometimes heart-breaking songs, “performed fully live with fantastic staging, lighting and effects, re-creating Abba’s sound not only perfectly but respectfully too”. 

Take a chance on Dancing Queen, Waterloo, SOS, Mamma Mia, The Winner Takes It All, Money, Money, Money, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Super Trouper, Fernando, Name Of The Game, Chiquitita, I Have A Dream, Thank You For The Music and Take A Chance On Me being rolled out once more.

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

For the official trailer, head to: wetransfer.com/downloads/644cc7b75204d05d6854df6b5f425c4620211110163807/40ceecdb2dce5ecd1984fdfe0ea086b420211110163830/a0d671

Are The Rolling Stones out of time?

TWO Big Egos In A Small Car arts podcasters Chalmers & Hutch ponder the impact of Charlie Watts RIP.

What else pops up in Episode 56? Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on dealing with sexism in the music industry; serious Britishness in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Cold War chiller-thriller The Courier and Sparks’ new music in Leos Carax’s Annette.

Covid passports and ABBAtars at Olympic Park: is this the future for gigs?

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9165828

Mamma Mia! Look which show is returning to Leeds Grand Theatre this autumn

Mamma Mia! is on its way to Leeds Grand Theatre on its 20th anniversary tour

MAMMA Mia! will return to Leeds Grand Theatre from November 24 to December 5 on the tour to mark 20 years since the Abba musical’s London premiere.

Tickets will go on general sale on January 29 on 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com.

Built around the music and lyrics of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus,Mamma Mia!revels in Judy Craymer’s vision of staging the story-telling magic of Abba’s songs with a sunny, funny tale of a mother, a daughter and three possible dads unfolding on a Greek island idyll. 

To date, Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 65 million people in 50 productions in 16 languages.  In 2011, it became the first Western musical to be staged in Mandarin in China.  

Mamma Mia!became the eighth longest-running show on Broadway, where it played a record-breaking run for 14 years and it continues to play in London’s West End at the Novello Theatre, where the 20th anniversary fell on April 6 2019.

The first British tour of Mamma Mia! visited Leeds Grand Theatre from May 30 to July 8 in 2017.