More Things To Do in York and beyond, as musicals abound, comedy turns angry and Madchester revives. List No. 58, courtesy of The Press, York

So frustrated: Paul Chowdhry has his say on Covid, fame, England’s football team and Tom Cruise’s chopper at the Grand Opera House, York, tonight

IMAGINE if you could have a busy week ahead? Let Charles Hutchinson fill your diary.

Angriest comedy gig of the week: Paul Chowdhry, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 8pm

AFTER barely surviving the pandemic, British-Asian stand-up Paul Chowdhry tackles the UK’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis and why the rules of six only worked for white people in Family-Friendly Comedian (No Children).

Two years of pent-up frustration go into this new tour show, where Londoner Chowdhry also discusses fame, England football fans and Tom Cruise landing his helicopter in someone’s garden. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Chesca Cholewa: Writer of Imagine If Theatre Company’s My Old Man

Studio play of the week: Imagine If Theatre Company in My Old Man, York Theatre Royal Studio, tonight, 8pm

IMAGINE If Theatre Company, from Leeds, is touring a part-theatre, part-film production of Chesca Cholewa’s humorous and heartfelt play My Old Man.

When Michal Piwowarski’s granddaughter, Tasha (played by Cholewa), finally moves out, his whole world changes. The school dinner-lady becomes his favourite person, a new neighbour moves on to the street, and Michal (Paul Shelley) has to face his biggest battle yet as My Old Man follows the trials and tribulations of this old, blind Polish soldier. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk.

Songs and Stables’ leadership: Kate Stables brings her band This Is The Kit to The Citadel tomorrow night

Experimental gig of the week: This Is The Kit, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

KATE Stables’ experimental folk quartet This Is The Kit return to York for a special show at The Citadel, the former Salvation Army HQ, presented by Please Please You, The Crescent and Brudenell Presents. Support comes from Nuala Honan and Pavey Ark. Box office: brudenellsocialclub.seetickets.com.

York artist Karen Winship, taking part in the Inspired Christmas event at York Cemetery Chapel

Christmas shopping? Opportunity presents itself at Inspired, York Cemetery Chapel, Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

INSPIRED, the annual Christmas show by York artist and designer makers, will be held at York Cemetery Chapel, in Cemetery Road, York, this weekend.

Taking part will be Jo Bagshaw and Richard Whitelegg, jewellery; Catherine Boyne-Whitelegg, pottery; Petra Bradley, textiles; Sally Clarke, collage printmaking; Angela Newdick, collage and surface pattern design; Adi French and Karen Winship, painting, and John Watts and Wilf Williams, furniture.

PQA York’s poster for Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr at the JoRo

Children’s show of the week: PQA Productions in Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tomorrow and Saturday, 7.30pm

PAULINE Quirke Academy (PQA) York journeys under the sea with Ariel and her aquatic friends in Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr, adapted from Disney’s Broadway show and film, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of sacrifices made for love and acceptance.

Young mermaid Ariel longs to leave her magical ocean home and fins behind for the world above. First, however, she must defy her father, King Triton, make a deal with evil sea witch Ursula and convince Prince Eric she is the girl whose enchanting voice he has been seeking. Separate casts perform the two shows. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Adam Sowter, Florence Poskitt, Alexandra Mather and Andrew Roberts in rehearsal for Saturday’s Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny

Witty and warm songs of the week: Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

FLADAM duo Florence Poskitt and pianist Adam Sowter take to the Theatre@41 stage with thespian friends Alexandra Mather, Andrew Roberts and Andrew Isherwood for two shows of musical comedy joy.

Fladam’s own topical witty ditties will be complemented by a celebration of Morecambe & Wise, Bernard Cribbins, Victoria Wood and more. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Scarlett Waugh, left, and Libby Anderson: Sharing the role of Dorothy in NE Musicals York’s production of The Wizard Of Oz

Sparkling slippers of the week: NE Musicals York in The Wizard Of Oz, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday (23/11/2021) to Saturday

DIRECTOR Steve Tearle has assembled a cast of 60 for NE Musicals York’s energetic staging of The Wizard Of Oz, led by Libby Anderson and Scarlett Waugh, who will alternate the role of Dorothy.

Further roles go to Maia Stroud as Glinda; YO1 presenter Chris Marsden, the Wizard of Oz; Perri Ann Barley, Wicked Witch of the West; Finley Butler, the Scarecrow; Kristian Barley, the Tin Man, and Tearle himself as the Cowardly Lion.

Expect an all-singing, all-dancing production with special effects by Adam Moore’s team at Tech247. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Phoenix rising again: Phoenix Dance Theatre celebrate their 40th anniversary this autumn, opening their tour at York Theatre Royal

Dance celebration of the week: Phoenix Dance Theatre in 40 Years Of Phoenix, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.30pm

PHOENIX Dance Theatre launch their milestone 40th birthday programme at York Theatre Royal, bringing together highlights from the Leeds company’s groundbreaking history.

Phoenix will combine celebration and reflection in a show featuring Lost Dog duo Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer’s Pave Up Paradise; former artistic director Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Heart Of Chaos; Henri Oguike’s Signal; Shapiro and Smith’s satirical piece Family and Jane Dudley’s 1938 masterpiece Harmonica Breakdown. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Director Nik Briggs, left, choreographer Emily Taylor and lead actors Sophie Hammond and Damien Poole at the launch of York Stage Musicals’ festive show, Elf! The Musical

Christmas musical of the week: York Stage Musicals in Elf! The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 25 to December 3

YORK Stage Musicals present the York premiere of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s Elf! The Musical, directed by artistic director Nik Briggs.

Based on Will Ferrell’s 2003 film, Elf! follows orphan child Buddy to Santa’s North Pole abode, where, unaware he is human, his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth.

Given Santa’s permission, Buddy (Damien Poole) heads to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity and help the Big Apple to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Amaka Okafor: Taking part in the staged readings of Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland at Friargate Theatre, York

Play readings of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company presents Maryland, Friargate Theatre, York, November 26, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

TWO staged readings of Lucy Kirkwood’s 30-minute protest play will feature Amaka Okafor, from the original Royal Court Theatre cast, Laura Pyper, Mark Holgate, Cassie Vallance, Kesiah Joseph, Patricia Jones and Meg Blowey.

Kirkwood wrote Maryland as a “passionate and furious act of resistance to draw attention to the shocking numbers of women who repeatedly suffer violent abuse throughout Britain. The play is not specific; it addresses issues of police behaviour and a culture of violence against women and girls”.

After sold-out performances in London, the Royal Court offered Maryland for free for theatre companies to perform in solidarity and protest. York company Riding Lights has taken up that opportunity, with associate director Bridget Foreman directing the readings. Box office: 01904 613000.

James: Teaming up with Happy Mondays for a Manchester night out in Leeds

Gig of the week ahead outside York: James and special guests Happy Mondays, Leeds First Direct Arena, November 25, doors, 6pm

ALL of 33 years ago, Factory label mates James and Happy Mondays first toured together. Now, two of Manchester’s champion bands reunite for a November and December arena tour.

 “Last played with them in 1988, hopefully this time they won’t steal our rider or try and spike my drink,” tweeted Tim Booth, James’s Clifford-born frontman, when announcing the dates with rapscallion rascals Shaun Ryder, Bez and co.

James, who played Scarborough Open Air Theatre this summer, will be showcasing their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June. Box office: firstdirectarena.com. Stage times: Happy Mondays, 7.30pm; James, 9pm.

Fladam and their friends are up for a Saturday musical comedy hootenanny

Fladam musical comedy duo Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter

PUT York actors Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter together and they become Fladam, a musical comedy duo with a regular radio slot and a live show coming up at Theatre@ 41, Monkgate, York.

Make that two shows: Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny! will be performed at 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday (20/11/2021).

Devotees of York’s musical theatre and theatre scene will be familiar with Florence, northern character actress, comic performer, singer, dancer and multi-instrumentalist, and Adam, character actor, comic performer, pianist, harmonica and ukulele player, singer, composer, comedy songwriter and cartoonist.

A couple both on and off stage, they have branched out into presenting their own heartfelt, humorous songs, tackling the topical with witty wordplay, uplifting melodies and a dash of the Carry On! comic spirit.

“After our (almost) live debut at York Theatre Royal in the Love Bites nights in May, we’re coming home to host our very own Musical Comedy Hootenanny,” they say. “Enjoy special guests, fabulous Fladam originals and comic classics from Morecambe & Wise, Bernard Cribbins and Victoria Wood. What are you waiting for? ‘Let’s do it’!”

Fladam has progressed from bedroom to stage. “This is our first full-scale live show,” says Adam. “We’ve gone from recording videos of songs on phones from the corner of our bedroom in lockdown to doing it live, first with one number at Love Bites and now this show with friends.”

“With nowhere to rehearse, we’re rehearsing in the kitchen, to my parents’ delight,” says Florence.

Each Saturday, at 12.45pm, Fladam can be heard on Harry Whittaker’s show on BBC Radio York. “The challenge is to write a topical new song each week, recording it with an introduction, and sending it in on an MP3,” says Adam. “Simple as that!”

Fladam’s poster for Saturday’s shows at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

When Fladam met up with CharlesHutchPress, Adam and Florence had just spent half-term at Eureka!, the National Children’s Museum, in Halifax. “We spent a week being pirates, playing Captain Jack and Polly Roger in our Pirate Adventure,” says Florence.

“It came about through the company I work with when I do cruise ships,” says Adam. “They have many pies in the oven, including at Eureka!, where last year I played a vampire, Count Dracula, and they asked me, ‘Do you want to do another show?’ for half-term week.”

Yes, he would, albeit with only one day’s rehearsal with Florence. “We did the show four times a day, half an hour each show, starting with me doing a monologue, and by the Thursday my voice  had gone, so Adam had to go on and improvise!” says Florence, who studied last year on a year-long “Project A” course, run through Newcastle Theatre Royal, that ended up being conducted largely on Zoom under Covid restrictions.

“Though we did also get a lot of lessons on the main stage, wearing masks, as no productions could take place on there, but we couldn’t put on a single live show during the course.”

Now, Florence has a new day job at York Gin’s shop in Pavement, as well as her Fladam commitments, joined by three friends for this weekend’s shows: Alexandra Mather, fresh from playing Pamina in York Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute; Andrew Isherwood, one of the Clowns in York Settlement Community Players’ illness-curtailed run of The 39 Steps last week, and Andrew Roberts, who starred in Rowntree Players’ modern account of Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web in late-September.

“When we were doing our little videos, we did a Dad’s Army section for VE Day, and had Andrew Roberts and Alex involved in that,” says Adam.

“Andrew Isherwood does a very good Tom Lehrer, as well as being like Eric Morecambe meets Rik Mayall.”

What’s in store on Saturday? “We’ll be doing plenty of comedy covers as well as our own songs, where we’ll plunder our archives and stuff we’ve done for Harry’s radio shows,” says Florence.

Adam Sowter, Florence Poskitt and Alexandra Mather in rehearsal for Saturday’s Fladam & Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny!

“We’ll be paying tribute to people who’ve inspired us, like Bernard Cribbins, Morecambe & Wise, George Formby, Victoria Wood and Monty Python…and maybe there’ll even be some puppets! Well, definitely a fish puppet, Mr Fish, for our spoof children’s show number.”

Adam adds: “One of the things we have to do is look at the old songs through 2021 eyes, acknowledging that a song is of its time, so we have to be a bit ‘woke’, like with Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song.

“Our set will be like a 1970s’ television special, with one side of the stage being like Eric and Ernie’s flat, and the show itself will be more like our little fantasy (as if you were watching Morecambe & Wise).

“Morecambe & Wise’s humour is so warm and lovely, and our style of humour is gentle too; we like to do songs that are clever and make you smile at the same time.”

Look out for a pantomime finale. “We’ll do a little pantomime from the songs we’d written for a panto last year that ended up being on a podcast, because of the Covid lockdown, after we were contacted to do a charity pantomime,” says Florence, who played Tommy the Cat, from Dick Whittington, while Adam played a full-of-beans Jack.

What is in the pipeline for Fladam in 2022? “We’ll see how this show goes and then look to develop it, possibly with a view to taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe next year, or maybe the year after, after we first planned to go to the Fringe two years ago, until Covid stopped that,” says Florence.

“We’re also looking to perform at At The Mill  at Stillington Mill, which we’d really love to do.”

Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny!, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, November 20, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Yorkshire’s Got Talent goes live on Sunday in fundraiser for Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Ed Atkin, winner of last year’s Yorkshire’s Got Talent competition, who will perform at Sunday’s showcase

YORKSHIRE’S Got Talent – Live! is NOT a contest, more a celebration of the best of the White Rose’s young dance, comedy and music performers, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on Sunday.

“This weekend’s show isn’t actually a competition,” explains Nathan Lodge. “The competition happened in 2020 throughout lockdown and concluded last September last year with Edward (Ed) Atkin as the overall winner.

“During the online contest, the group on Facebook reached more than 4,000 followers and the final public vote for the winner had 1,378 votes.” 

The competition was brought to life by York theatre student Hannah Wakelam, who wanted to raise money for the JoRo, where she first cut her performing teeth.

Nathan Lodge: One of the judges for last year’s contest, who will sing at Sunday’s show

“There were three judges throughout the process,” says Nathan, a West End regular and cruise-ship vocal captain, from York.  “Alongside me were Amelia Urukako, owner of Upstage Academy in Ripon, and Laura Pick, from Wakefield, who’s playing Elphaba in Wicked in the West End, all of us hailing from Yorkshire.”

The overall winner was decided by a combination of the judges, a public vote and a panel of theatre industry experts: Rachel Tucker, Kerry Ellis, Natalie Paris, Matthew Croke, Nicolas McClean and Paul Taylor-Mills.

“We promised the contestants who made the top 13 – the top ten plus three judges’ wildcards – that they could do a live show, so a year later, with a couple of date changes thanks to Covid!, we’re fulfilling our promise!”

2020 contestant Sam Rippon: In Sunday’s line-up for Yorkshire’s Got Talent – Live

Yorkshire’s Got Talent – Live features eight of the top ten acts from the competition: winner Ed Atkin, fellow finalists Fladam (Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter) and Jordan Wright, plus contestants Sam Rippon, Daisy Winbolt-Robertson, Harvey Stevens, Florence Taylor and Richard Bayton.

“The evening will feature an eclectic mix of musical theatre, opera, comedy and dance, and we promise a thoroughly entertaining show, bursting with joie de vivre, from these stars of the future,” says Nathan.

The event will be hosted by Jordan Langford, from Scarborough, who will sing too. He had a career in musical theatre before becoming a theatre creative and is soon to study for an MA in contemporary directing practice at Rose Bruford College, London. 

Hannah Wakelam: York theatre student set up last year’s Yorkshire’s Got Talent contest to raise funds for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

“Sadly, Laura Pick has a Sunday matinee schedule now in Wicked, post-Covid reopening, so she’s unable to perform with us but wishes she could,” says Nathan. “We’ll miss her!

“I’ll be performing in the evening, including singing a duet with winner Ed Atkin, who was my wildcard act to join the top ten of the competition. Just before the pandemic, I was the vocal captain performing on board M/S Color Fantasy.”

The band will be led by musical director Matthew Peter Clare on an evening when everyone will be giving their services for free. “Nobody is getting paid,” says Nathan. “Instead, all the profits from Sunday’s fundraiser will go to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre to add to the total raised by the competition last year.”

Tickets for the 7pm show are on sale on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

REVIEW: Love Bites, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, May 17 and 18

Send in the clown : James Lewis-Knight in his Love Bite, Staying Connected. Picture: Tom Arber

YORK Theatre Royal has reopened after 427 days. The longest, darkest hiatus since the Second World War at England’s longest-running theatre has ended with a declaration of love.

More precisely, 22 love letters to the power of theatre, a craving for freedom of movement, expression and identity and the need for human connection: a collective, anything-but-cautious hug that was as much a sigh of relief as a breath of fresh York air in the form of a fiesta of five-minute vignettes commissioned from 220 applicants.

Let’s repeat that. 22O applicants for £1,000 commissions from York’s diverse arts community that refuses to accept Rich Boy Risha Sunak’s slight that such talents are non-viable. A community that will laugh off the Beano comic’s laughable Hilarity Report finding that the average York resident laughs only 14 times a day, the second lowest in the country. Are you joking? Laugher aplenty could be heard on Monday night, alongside the joy, the sadness, the uncertainty but hope.

Indeed, The 22 would surely challenge York Mix e-letter writer John Wolfe’s scalding, agent-provocateur assertion that York is a city of “no real festivals or decent venues. No sports centres or entertainment for locals. No chance of change either. Why do you think all of the young people move away? Outside of its history it’s drab and bl**dy awful.”

Crying Wolfe? Well, John, in the city of the York Community Stadium, four state-of-the-art cinemas, myriad theatres, ever more restaurants, café bars, coffee houses, independent galleries and a rising tide of street art, perhaps you should go York Theatre Royal, one of the country’s great theatres, tonight (Tuesday) to see the spread of talent, both young and older.

Some were born in the city and are determined to stay here, when the arts are becoming less London-centric; others have been drawn to the city from, for example, Canada and Zimbabwe, and here they gathered under one rainbow umbrella to express their love for York and their place in it. 

Trouble is, John, you can’t buy a seat because, as with the first night, tonight’s Love Bites have sold out at the outset of a Love Season pulsing with life, vigour and, yes, love, topped off by Ralph Fiennes performing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in late-July.

In the words of chief executive Tom Bird, Love Bites and The Love Season are a chance to “experience again the electric excitement that only live performance can bring. This spring and summer, we’re putting on a season of brave, bold love stories to celebrate the return of human connection. We’re doing it with passion, fervour and heart, as you’d expect.”

Monday night began with the much-loved veteran BBC broadcaster Harry Gration in host mode, toasting his 50-year love affair with the Theatre Royal before making way for the flurry of short pieces.

The screen backdrop could and probably should have been used for announcing each show title, writer and performer, especially as flicking through the e-programme on your phone in the dark would have been distracting for others, even in the socially distanced seating with the capacity reduced from 750 to 340.

Actor Toby Gordon’s hair has grown to Dave Grohl length in locks-down lockdown, but the golden tongue that delivered both Satan and later Jesus’s lines in the York Minster Mystery Plays now glistened anew in the questing, vexed poetry of W H Auden’s O Tell Me The Truth About Love.

Film would feature on several occasions through the night, first in a cinematic riparian soundscape by Ben Pugh to accompany the poetic ebb and flow of Robert Powell and Kitty Greenbrown’s The Angels Of Lendal Bridge, imagining those painted “angels” conversing above the Ouse, recalling so much water that has passed under their iron bridge amid a rising tide of love.

Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles in The Art Of Losing. Picture: Tom Arber

CAPA College student trio Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles, in glowing green and pink socks to suit the occasion, were nevertheless in contemplative mood in The Art Of Losing, tempo slow, bodies graceful, in what they emphasised were three “non-love stories”, but instead felt more like a lament; a year’s absence making the heart grow fonder for “what it means to have contact with one another”.

Playwright, poet and slam champ Hannah Davies’s tweets at @davieswords have charted her enervating health frustrations, but no York shaper of words captures a sense, meaning and memory of place so movingly, so evocatively, and what a joy it was to see back on a stage for Love Song To Spring.

Accompanied by Jack “Pascallion” Woods’s exploratory guitar paths, her lockdown love story journeyed through the freshly discovered joys of city walking and spring renewal in York’s myriad green spaces. Listen to Hannah, and you will step into spring with added spring in your step.

New discovery of the night was much-travelled Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who “wondered if my pockets are big enough to carry home with me” as he moved to York.

Explosive bursts of drumming and film imagery by Sunnie Hsia of Butshilo on York streets, stairways and in the dank Leeman Road tunnel formed a triptych with his soliloquy, Ekhaya, Love Them Both?, as he mulled over place, love and self, with humour rooted in observation of York’s idiosyncrasies, but a deeper wish to find his place, wherever he plays his drum, whatever life throws at him. One to watch, definitely.

For aeons, a Nightingale’s nocturnal song has had writers reaching for metaphors for love and beauty. Musician, performance writer and actor Tom Nightingale’s song, Elaine, is to “show everyone my gratitude to the only lady who has ever helped me”, his wife.

In its cautious yet unguarded way it was a song of love and beauty suffused with unshaven, wry, deadpan frankness, delivered in the spirit of John Otway and Jonathan Richman beneath Martin Stephenson’s cocked hat. Nightingale writes as a “therapeutic outlet”, to make sense of life; on Monday, it worked for your reviewer; hopefully it does for Elaine too.

The name in the Love Bites e-programme and in her Q&A answers to CharlesHutchPress is Erika Noda, but the Japanese-English actor and East 15 graduate born in York introduced herself on Monday as Aiaka, the name that a teacher found so difficult, she called her ‘Ai’ and banished her from the classroom for insubordination in challenging her.

So began the journey to Ai, Erika/Aiaka’s semi-autobiographical debut solo-writing work, examining her dual heritage and encounters with racist “microaggression”, growing up in York, (a city once so white it was dubbed “Persil Town”). On the evidence of Ai, this quest for identity remains unresolved, a bumpy ride with such familiar stones in the road as “no, but where are you really from?”.

Even the inventor of Zoom apparently has had enough of all those enervating Zoom-and-gloom meetings, but loveable York musical-comedy double act Fladam (pianist-singer Adam Sowter and funny face-puller and singer Florence Poskitt) found the funny side of this digital bridge to connecting in lockdown-separation in the tartly topical Love Bytes. Aptly, the cheeky, witty, melodious encounter was long-distance, Adam on stage, Flo online, filling the screen with a squelchy face as ripe for comedy as Thora Hird or Victoria Wood.

Surprise of the night? Seeing Paul Birch on stage and then wondering why he does not frequent this space more often. Maybe he is just too busy writing and directing, and running Out Of Character, the York company for artists with experiences of mental illness.

His twisting-and-turning five-minute gem, Lost For Words, was a mind-game in motion as the quicksilver Birch fought to save his most precious relationship in a race against time where a killjoy voice from beyond kept stripping him of the right to use letters from the alphabet, letter by letter. You found yourself joining him in his mental exercise, smugly spotting him still using a ‘V’ when barred from doing so, but cheering him on as he tried to keep his head above water as the wds rn t. Could this be a game show in the making?

All around is frown time, but clown time is never over for the red-nosed James Lewis-Knight, actor and artistic director of Clown Space, purveyor of comical pandemonium amid a pandemic. After a year as the Clown in Lockdown, wandering the busking streets of York turned silent, James unlocked his dusty case to make his mimed plea for Staying Connected. He kept saying “Picnic”, but where Birch was lost for words, James was a little lost for meaning, one punchline short of his Picnic having more bite.

If you heard Dora Rubinstein’s perkily assertive rendition of Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York blind, you would swear it was from a musical. Sure enough, Gowland, latterly moved to York, is a musical theatre writer/composer with the award-winning Pieces Of String to his name. Gowland’s celebration of Gentleman Jack Anne Lister’s wedding vows in a York church will surely grow from a love letter to a full-blown show, a progression the Theatre Royal should encourage and activate.

Janet-Emily Bruce and Cassie Vallance in Story Craft Theatre’s She Can Go Anywhere. Picture: Tom Arber

In a night of storytelling, butter-rich with words, the shadow puppetry of children’s theatre company Story Craft Theatre silently spoke volumes to the accompaniment of Jonathan Glew’s beautiful score in She Can Go Anywhere. Who knew you could say so much with a sheet, folded and unfolded by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce as if a cotton version of origami, freeing imaginations when the pandemic has shrunk the world to the home, transforming life’s caterpillars into butterflies.

Hannah Wintie-Hawkins was a dancer at the double in her terpsichorean love letter In The Beginning, at once on stage and in digital artist Aaron Howell’s accompanying film, dancing with baby Mabel in her arms.  It was as though Hannah, like us, was watching in wonder at the joy of a new arrival: a beacon of hope amid the pandemic turbulence, only in her case it was moving her to break out into a dance. The dual focus, however, was not wholly satisfying, as she danced with herself, the one distracting from the other, rather than intertwining like mother and daughter on screen.

Richard Kay, actor, singer, pantomime writer and Zoom choir leader, asked his choir members two questions: how and why do you like singing? Whereupon he compiled the answers into the composition For The Love Of Singing, a song as nimble on its feet as Fred Astaire and wittily delivered in the crisply enunciated manner of a Richard Stilgoe, with digital choir backing and the projection of words dancing in and out of formation in David Todd’s playful animation. Clever, humorous, warm and briskly energetic, and tuneful to boot, it would sit well in a cabaret revue.

How did it feel to be back in the theatre after 427 days? Actor Maurice Crichton caught those feelings as he cast his net of observations in Where Are We Now, You And I?, and he looked in such a hurry to deliver his thoughts, it was as if he had come straight from a rehearsal room in tracksuit trousers and The Show Must Go On T-shirt, hair unkempt.

Not that he rushed through his sage counsel, instead understanding feelings of anger, advising a policy of gentleness with each other and not expecting too much too soon, while breathing in the wonder of theatre once more.  How right he was; how emotional too.

Canadian-born papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, countertenor and composer James Cave and libretto editor Bethan Ellis promised Magic and delivered it too in a four-minute mini-musical, set in a constantly evolving paper theatre that grew ever prettier under Elena’s delicate guidance.

Elena seeks to discover “magic and meaning in everyday, mundane experiences”, the transcendent magic rising through her imagery and the beauty of James’s singing, and in the stasis of the pandemic, a walk, birdsong, gardening, baking banana bread, have indeed taken on a heightened magical air.

On their Twitter account, non-binary, unapologetically autistic creator Ashleigh J Mills (they/them) calls themselves Angry Black Changeling. Identity and accessibility into theatre lay at the heart of In Progress, their spoken-word exploration of the “interplay between race, self-understanding and the shifting boundaries of gender over the span of a solitary year” when experiencing life on the margins.

Ashleigh has kept a Good Words List for four years, and on the screen behind them, the constant, measured flicking through a book revealed word after word standing proud from the text, each building a picture of Ashleigh’s questing, creative fascination with words.

Those words were knitted together to form their soliloquy, a still-evolving expression of Ashleigh as a work in progress in changing times, and only good words can be said of their poetic candour.

Of all the five minutes, nothing brought a broader smile than the sheer joy in dancing together of Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope, friends since Northern Ballet School days, who burst out of a restricted year of living-room creativity to revel in a Love Letter To Female Friendship on the dancefloor in the face of such trying times. They were so in their moment, they were in their own world, but one we all could recognise and wish to join in.

The title, Mise En Aby-Me, may have been baffling, but life model, milliner and costumier Claire Spooner made a fascinating body of work in her physical theatre piece that testified to her desire to tell a story through the human form, rather than words, in this case aided by Richard Stephenson’s artwork and LEMNIS’s music.

Claire turned herself into a Russian doll, peeling off layers, adding masks, revealing how she presented herself in relationships, love in different guises, until nothing could hide the constant persona within, beauty beyond the eye of the beholder.

Deaf director and “self-proclaimed proactive busy-body” Harri Marshall composed a semi-autobiographical love letter to oneself via cards and correspondence collected over the past year…and then handed over the task of interpreting them aloud to Sarah Huggett, accompanied by the exact wording on the screen behind.

I say “exact” because text and voice did not always say the same lines and you found yourself checking for differences as much as concentrating on Harri’s flow of meaning. What’s more, the rhythm of the language was broken too, screen and voice going in and out of synch. Hopefully, I Often Think Of You had a better second night.

Before Reverie came a nightmare, thankfully only briefly, as a flick of a switch belatedly awoke the somnambulant keyboard for composer, pianist and piano teacher Vanessa Simmons’s retelling of a dream in musical form. Ah, what peace, after the fizzing fireworks, as an unperturbed Vanessa rejoiced in “the beauty, sorrow and power of real love”.

Last, but anything but least and rightly chosen as the finale was 5 Minute Call, penned by esteemed York playwright Bridget Foreman, writer of 30 plays, both large and solo, with another, My Place, on the way.

Chief exec Tom Bird’s Irish-accented actor wife, Laura Pyper, took on the guise of a theatre “techie” five minutes before curtain-up, taking instruction on checking lighting for stage positions while capturing how the theatre itself felt about the return of life on its boards, warming up to the reunion with its lifeblood, both performers and audiences. The feeling of love was mutual, as the Pied Pyper led us back to our spiritual home.

These Love Bites left their mark, so much so, let’s hope York Theatre Royal can look to open further seasons with showcases for the city’s talents, £1,000 commissions et al.

Review written on May 18 with later additions

Who will win Yorkshire’s Got Talent? Find out at 8pm tonight after votes close at 7pm

Glittering prize: Today is judgement day for Yorkshire’s Got Talent

WHO will win Yorkshire’s Got Talent, the contest organised by York teenage musical actor Hannah Wakelam in aid of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

Today is the final of this online competition, and the choice lies between Fladam (the silly-song double act of Florence Poskitt and pianist Adam Sowter), Ed Atkin and Jordan Wright.

Hannah has created a poll for public votes that will be combined with the judges’ votes (each one classed as 25 votes) and guest panel votes (each worth 20 votes).

Judging the competition from the start have been Wicked star Laura Pick, cruise-ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and vocal coach Amelia Urukalo

Voting closes today at 7pm and the winner will be announced at 8pm. To vote, go to: https://www.facebook.com/.groups/.687590815139642/.permalink/.755696498329073/.