As Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott gallops to the finishing line, coming up in 2024: Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Aladdin

Robin Simpson: The dame with the golden pun, confirmed for fifth successive York Theatre Royal pantomime

ACTOR and storyteller Robin Simpson’s diary for 2024 is filling up already.

Now playing Dame Trott in castellated Clifford’s Tower and afternoon tea dresses in Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal until January 7, he will return for dame duty for a fifth York winter in succession in Aladdin from December 3 to January 5 2025, once more co-produced with Evolution Productions, written by Paul Hendy and directed by Juliet Forster.

“It’s always lovely to be the first to be announced for the cast, and to be coming back again,” he says. “It’s nice to be wanted!”

On top of that, via social media ahead of official confirmation from Scotland, the Yorkshireman has revealed his audition success to be part of Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s company for the 2024 Summer Season from May 31 to September 26.

In the meantime, Robin, who lives near Huddersfield, is revelling in his latest turn at the Theatre Royal. “I’ve been performing here for nearly 20 years now in all sorts of shows,” he says. “My first-ever show in 2005 was Mike Kenny’s The Little Mermaid, which we performed in the Studio.”

After his flexible Dame at the double in a choice of shows on The Travelling Pantomime tour of community venues under Covid restrictions in 2020, followed by his Ugly Sister Manky opposite Paul Hawkyard’s Mardy in Cinderella in 2021 and Mrs Smee in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan last winter, his Dame Trott is the classic dame per se.

Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime under Covid reglations in 2020

“Jack And The Beanstalk is one of the more traditional stories that a pantomime can be based on, being an old English folktale. This is the first year at York Theatre Royal – apart from the Travelling Pantomime in 2020 – that I’m playing a traditional dame character,” says Robin.

“She’s my first ‘proper’ dame here: working class, with a couple of kids. The Sisters in Cinderella are a different concept and Mrs Smee was a henchman for Captain Hook, as Peter Pan doesn’t have a traditional dame, and instead I shared the comic role with Jonny Weldon’s Starkey! Dame Trott is the mother to the title character and that’s a very traditional role for the dame to play.”

Reflecting on the gradual progression of the Theatre Royal partnership with Evolution, Robin says: “You never want to get stale with what you do, and it’s lovely to have new people in the cast. Apart from the one-off Travelling Panto, we’re only in our third year, so it’s still quite a new partnership, and though there’s a house style developing, it will be a while before we fully find our own style.

“The pantomimes have been great, the scripts are excellent and I never worry about the changes in the cast because they’re always cast really well. It’s a joy to work with them.”

This season is not the first time that Robin has Trotted out his Dame Trott in York. How does she differ in 2023-2024 from the simpler version in the 70-minute Travelling Pantomime? “She has a different costume on. Otherwise, she’s very similar as I’m a one-trick pony. She’s slightly older,” he says.

Robin Simpson in storytelling mode

How did Robin spend his 2023? “I did a season of plays in Eastbourne over the summer and I filmed a couple of episodes of Coronation Street,” he says. “I play the vet and I put Maureen Lipman’s dog, Cerberus, to sleep [Note  of clarification: Lipman plays Evelyn Plummer]. A few years ago, I put Ken Barlow’s dog, Eccles, to sleep as well. Every few years they ring me up to put a dog out of its misery and make the nation cry. 

“I’ve also had my busiest year with regard to my storytelling. I performed at Blenheim Palace and Sledmere House [near Driffield], and over the summer I had a busy time with the Summer Reading Challenge in libraries all over England. I also performed Magic, Monsters & Mayhem at Rise@Bluebird Bakery in Acomb in September, with magical stories of monsters, lots of comedy and audience interaction. The storytelling side of things is getting bigger all the time, which is nice.”

Robin has been cruising too. Work or pleasure? “Oh, work, but only just,” he says. “Classic is a show I did at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022 and I thought that that was that, but it was booked by Cunard Cruises for their Mediterranean trip, leaving from Naples, visiting places like Barcelona. Written by Peter Kerry and Lyndsay Williams, it’s very funny and fast paced, racing through the 42 greatest works of literature in one hour. It’s a crazy show but a lot of fun.”

Crazy show? Fun? That would sum up Jack And The Beanstalk too, a show marked by Robin’s skills of comedic interaction and improvisation. “You need to leave your ego at the door, be willing to play and not take yourself too seriously,” he says of the art of playing pantomime.

“It’s a balance between childishness and professionalism. Improvising is a really tricky thing but if you listen to your fellow actor, accept their suggestions and be willing to go with the flow, you shouldn’t go wrong. It keeps things fresh.”

Jack And The Beanstalk runs wild at York Theatre Royal until January 7; Aladdin, December 3 to January 5 2025. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Aladdin tickets are available from £15; family tickets for the best seats are £81 for a family of three and £108 for a family of four.

Robin Simpson’s Ugly Sister Manky, in the sidecar, and Paul Hawkyard’s Ugly Sister Mardy, at the wheel, in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella in 2021

One final question for Robin

Are you hot to Trott?

“You’d have to ask my wife.”

Did you know?

ROBIN Simpson has played three roles in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street.

1. Chartered surveyor Graeme Lewis, June 2004.

2. The Surgeon, operating on pregnant Kylie Platt’s ruptured spleen, February 2013.

3. The Vet, putting Ken Barlow’s dog, Eccles, to sleep in April 2020, followed by Evelyn Plummer’s canine, Cerberus, in March 2023.

Did you know too?

PAUL Hawkyard, Robin Simpson’s fellow Ugly Sister in Cinderella and Captain Hook to his Mrs Smee in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan last winter, has painted a picture for an 80th birthday present for Robin’s mother, featuring a portrait of her dogs.

In Focus: Matthew Curnier on playing Billy Trott and his past careers as a marine biologist and science teacher

Matthew Curnier’s Billy Trott, front, left, with Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott and Mia Overfield’s Jack Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: S R Taylor Photography

How did you land the role of dim-witted Billy Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk?

“I’d actually met Juliet [director Juliet Forster] already for an audition for the UK tour of Around The World In 80 Days that she was directing. It may have been in January, and what I then didn’t realise was that Juliet worked at York Theatre Royal.

“It was only later that I learnt that Juliet had asked for my self-tape for the pantomime audition, and not the co-producers, Evolution Productions. I feel very honoured to have been chosen.”

What other roles have you played in pantomime?

“I’ve been doing panto comic for ten years now and love it every time.  I’ve always played the panto comic, because I just love being able to play the fool, especially around Christmas when you get to just be a Silly Billy! 

“When I’m a little older and a little wiser, I hope that I’ll be able to move onto playing Dame. In the meantime, I’m watching and learning, and only time will tell.”

What are the characteristics of your panto role?

“Hopefully I’m able to bring a lot of silliness and dimwittedness, and there’s the lovely relationship between the comic and the dame too. There’s something wonderful about being the comic, where you can work with the dame, and each time the dynamic is different, depending on who you play opposite. With every dame, there’s not been a single year gone by where I’ve not learned something from them.

“What I tend to do in my performance is a lot of physical comedy, falling over, slapstick, being stupid! That really plays to the kids, and with all that energy, you can bring a lot of competitiveness to the song-sheet too.  

“The ‘cleverer’ stuff can grow out of the partnership with the dame. That’s the two-tiered levels of comedy in panto: the children’s stuff and then all those double-entendres that go over the kids’ heads, and the one-liners, but I always lean to the over-exuberant, hapless dimwit.”

Where and when did you see your first pantomime and what was your reaction?

“I remember going to the theatre from time to time as a child. I think we went to see Gilbert & Sullivan shows (because I had an aunt who loved them and often performed in them) and the local village panto.  It just always looked like the actors were having a lot of fun.  And so I knew pretty early on that I wanted in.”

You were born in Paris, moved to this country at a young age and grew up bilingually. Do you do much work in France/French?

“I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to work in both countries. While most of my work is here in the UK, the last project I did in France was the recording of a beautiful audiobook; an epic novel written in Alexandrine verse – a little bit like Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter but instead of ten beats in a phrase, there are 12, which suits Latin-rooted languages a little better. It was so wonderful.

“It’s helpful being able to speak French and sound French. It also seems to get me seen for some nice projects here in the UK. For example, I often do voice work in French and play French characters. This year I had a role as a French sommelier in Industry series three for the BBC. Mais oui, mais oui!”

Before becoming an actor, you studied marine zoology and marine mammalogy. which took you all over the world. Why make the switch to acting?

“It’s true, my very first career was in marine zoology and mammology. I became a marine biologist and was able to conduct research, primarily in whales and dolphins in fabulous places like Canada, Scotland, Kenya.  The results of the research were often for conservation purposes. I absolutely loved doing this work and saw some breathtaking nature. 

“After a few years, my other burning passion – which was theatre and acting – started calling very strongly. From the age of 12, I knew that I wanted to be an actor but it never seemed ‘possible’ or ‘realistic’.

“I think I found out a little later than other people that it is, actually, a job and so once I found out that I could go to drama school and get an agent, I thought I would chance my luck, going to drama school at the age of 30.

“I trained at the London Centre, and post-drama school, I did quite a lot at the Actors Class with the wonderful Mary Doherty, who I would consider as my acting mentor, teaching young actors the professional side of being an actor: how to market yourself, how to do auditions, etc. She’s been a real guide to me.”

What prompted you to become a qualified secondary science teacher?

“Well, a very wise person (hiya Mum!) once told me that I could do whatever job I pleased in life, but it did have to permit me to stand on my own two feet financially speaking. I was living in Kenya at the time, working on a marine biology conservation project, when I had an epiphany: I just knew that I had to come home and try to be an actor. 

“But as everyone knows, there are no guarantees in finding work as an actor.  So, repeating my mum’s words in my mind, I decided to become a secondary science specialist teacher (and use my marine biology background) so that in between acting work, I could earn enough money with supply teaching and/or private tuition. 

“I planned to do two years as a teacher; the first would be my teacher-training year, the second would be my probationary year before I became fully qualified. Teaching in secondary schools was utterly fantastic; every day was a rollercoaster and I eventually ended up leaving the classroom after five years.”

Do you have any unusual interests or activities, apart from marine zoology and teaching, away from acting?

“Yes, I love doing algebra. (This is obviously untrue: I’m actually rubbish at maths). This is a great question to ask…and I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and haven’t yet found the time or courage to do this…and so stating it here will commit me…it will force me to do it…one day I’m going to get my paraglider’s licence. Because why not?.There, I’ve said it out loud now!”

Do you have any York or Yorkshire connections?

“Well, not really. Although, having said that, my English grandparents were Yorkshire folk.  My Grandad grew up in Huddersfield and my Gran was a Sheffield lass, so maybe there are a few drops of Yorkshire blood in me after all. It’s a pleasure to become acquainted with it this year.

“The panto press launch in September was my first time in York. I walked from York station to the theatre and though I was told it would take 11 minutes, looking at all the sights on the way, it took me half an hour, on such a beautiful day too.”

Did you know?

MATTHEW Curnier’s brother is a ballet dancer.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Quality Street comes to chocolate city. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 20, from The Press

Jamie Smelt’s Recruiting Sergeant, Paula Lane’s Phoebe Throssel, Aron Julius’s Captain Valentine Brown and Alex Moran’s Ensign Blades in Northern Broadsides’ romp through J M Barrie’s Regency rom-com Quality Street at York Theatre Royal

LOOKING to make a list of every brilliant thing you could do? Here are Charles Hutchinson’s suggestions for the week ahead.

Play of the week: Northern Broadsides in Quality Street, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees 

NORTHERN Broadsides, from Halifax, the home of Quality Street chocs, heads to the chocolate city of York with this delicious J M Barrie farce, whose lead characters featured on the first tin to take the Regency rom-com’s title in 1936.

Artistic director Laurie Sansom stirs a good helping of Yorkshire wit from retired workers at the Halifax factory into Barrie’s story of determined heroine Phoebe Throssel, who runs a school for unruly children, and Captain Valentine, who needs teaching a lesson in love. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

The poster for Lisa Cortés’s documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything, showing at City Screen Picturehouse

Film event of the week: Little Richard: I Am Everything, City Screen Picturehouse, York, Tuesday, 8pm

DIRECTOR Lisa Cortés’s documentary tells the story of “the black queer origins of rock’n’roll, exploding the whitewashed canon of American pop music to reveal the innovator – the originator – Richard Penniman”.

Delving into Little Richard’s complicated inner world, with its switchbacks and contradictions and service to both God and music, Cortés conducts interviews with family, musicians and scholars to reveals how he created an art form for ultimate self-expression, and yet what he gave to the world he was never able to give to himself. Box office: picturehouses.com.

Park life: Alan Park enlists for performing list-making solo show Every Brilliant Thing, Shared Space’s debut production

List of the week: Shared Space presents Every Brilliant Thing, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee  

THEATRE@41 chair Alan Park swaps off-stage duties for on when appearing in Every Brilliant Thing, an hour-long show built around a list that spans a lifetime spent trying to prove life is beautiful, written by Duncan Macmillan with input from Jonny Donahoe.

Based on both true and untrue stories, this play about depression and the lengths we go to for those we love is staged by new York theatre company Shared Space, directed by Maggie Smales. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Morgan Wade: Making her York Barbican debut on Thursday

Country gig of the week: Morgan Wade, Crossing State Lines (And Oceans!) Acoustic Tour, York Barbican, Thursday, 8pm

MORGAN Wade, the 28-year-old country singer from Floyd, Virginia, plays York on the back of her “once-in-a-decade debut”, 2021’s Reckless, first released through Thirty Tigers and later picked up by Sony Music Nashville.

Wade wrote or co-wrote a song cycle that addressed the reality facing teens and 20-somethings, embracing raw desire, the reality of getting high and getting sober and the realm of crawling through the wreckage, with tough vulnerability and hurt in her voice. Kat Hasty supports. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk (limited availability).

Jamie Stapleton’s Cap’n Billy Bones, left, Jack McAdam’s Dirk, Lee Gemmell’s Long John Silver and Paul Toy’s Doctor Livesey in Baron Productions’ Treasure Island

Adventure of the week: Baron Productions in Treasure Island, St Mary’s Church, Bishophill Junior, York, Thursday to Saturday, 7.30pm

YORK company Baron Productions stages Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 coming-of-age adventure story of buccaneers and buried gold, wherein 12-year-old Jim Hawkins finds a treasure map that belonged to the pirate Captain Flint. On board the Hispaniola, he and his friends Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey duly set off to a faraway island.

Daniel Wilmot’s thoroughly dashing cast includes Lee Gemmell’s Long John Silver, Paul Toy’s Doctor Livesey, Ellie Guffick’s Dick Johnson, Jamie Stapleton’s Cap’n Billy Bones, Molly Barton-Howe’s Morgan and Jack McAdam’s Dirk. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/baron-productions.

The agony and the Ecstasy: Octopus Dream in I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die at York Theatre Royal Studio

Studio show of the week: Octopus Dream in I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die, York Theatre Royal Studio, Friday, 7.45pm, and Saturday, 4pm and 7.45pm

MARK Wheeller’s fast-moving, emotionally charged play tells the true story of the tragic death of Dan, a cool, creative and talented South London schoolboy, who took a lethal dose of Ecstasy at an illegal rave.

At 16, he had plans, plenty of them, but losing his life was not one of them. Directed by Elliot Montgomery, Cobie Scott-Ward, Amy Zoldan, Alex Colley and Sean Radford use Dan’s own words to describe the choices he made and the impact on his family and friends in a journey from tragedy to redemption. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Nicholas Wright: Violin soloist at York Guildhall Orchestra concert at York Barbican

Classical concert of the week: York Guildhall Orchestra, Bernstein, Korngold & Rachmaninoff, York Barbican, May 20, 7.30pm

VIOLINIST Nicholas Wright heads back to York from his Vancouver home to play Hollywood film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D with the York Guildhall Orchestra.

Conducted by Simon Wright, the orchestra’s final concert of the 2022-2023 season also features Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No 2, written nine years after his first. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Sarabeth Tucek: Re-emerging as SBT at STH, as in Selby Town Hall

Long-awaited return of the week: Sarabeth Tucek, Selby Town Hall, May 20, 8pm

AMERICAN singer-songwriter Sarabeth Tucek has re-emerged from a decade in hibernation – or more precisely “concentrating on other creative endeavours” – with a May 19 double album, Joan Of All, and a new moniker, SBT, her long-time nickname.

On her first British itinerary since 2011, she will be joined by her band for 18 dates. Support slots go to Kiran Leonard and dbh. Box office: 01757 708449 or selbytownhall.co.uk.

In Focus: Ben Fogle: Wild, York Barbican, May 19, 7pm and Harrogate Royal Hall, May 21, 7.30pm

Ben Fogle: Helping to find “the ocean of possibility” in his Wild show

BROADCASTER and adventurer Ben Fogle’s latest walk on the wild side is a 22-date tour full of hair-raising and uplifting stories from a life of amazing encounters.

Taking in Yorkshire trips to York and Harrogate next week, the Animal Park, Lost Worlds and New Lives In The Wild presenter will be sharing stories of hope, possibility and positivity and offering tips on “finding your ocean of possibility”.

Lessons learned from a career that has taken the 49-year-old Londoner to some of the most extreme locations in the world, whether filming for documentaries or tackling some of mankind’s greatest physical challenges.

A former Reservist in the Royal Navy, Ben embarked on the BBC’s ground-breaking Castaway series in 2000, when 36 adventurous souls ditched the rat race for a year-long social experiment, marooned on the remote Scottish island of Taransay in the Outer Hebrides.

“I think it’s all luck, but you make a bit of that yourself,” he says, reflecting on the past 23 years. “I have always loved travel, nature, the outdoors – that’s why I did Castaway. But it was a much more intense experience than anything I could have had under normal circumstances.

“I get asked about Castaway a lot and will be talking about it on the tour, as it’s a big part of me and relative to so much of what I do and have done.”

“Y2K” was “a definitive time”, Ben says. “It was pre-mobile phones, social media didn’t exist, so many things were very, very different. Now things have changed so profoundly, it would be difficult to go back to that innocence and simplicity.

“A [television] channel might try it again one day but no one has replicated it so far. Partly due to the fact nothing like it existed at that time, and people went for very pure and innocent reasons. The landscape has changed, people go on TV now for fame and fortune and that naturally changes the dynamic.

“Heading off to spend a year on an island with a load of strangers gave me a real grounding and a foundation of what it takes to make a simple, off-grid life.”

Those foundations allowed Ben to build his career and stood him in perfect stead for his many varied TV projects. Perhaps none more so than the 12 years of global travel for New Lives In The Wild, wherein he meets people living extreme, off-grid lives in a world now dominated by ease of communication and all too often dictated by being on-grid.

“Castaway definitely gave me the qualifications to be able to do a series like New Lives – to spend time with people living their whole life the way I did for 12 months,” he says. “I have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows, the benefits and sacrifices they make.

“The more people I have spent time with over 12 years of making that show, the more I understand what goes into making a sustainable, off-grid life like that. A lot of these people are quite reserved, not anti-social necessarily, but they perhaps don’t enjoy being round other people. But as I have experienced it, they can open up with me – there’s almost a mutual respect between us.”

Ben’s experience of meeting those who live in some of the world’s most diverse environments forms the basis of his Wild tour as he takes audiences on a journey to relive inspiring and uplifting tales he has encountered on his travels to the wilderness of northern Sweden, the jungles of Honduras, the hostility of Chernobyl and the mountains of Nepal.

Having previously filmed in Chernobyl, when he met those who returned to live there as it continues to recover from the 1986 nuclear disaster, Ben made a private visit in September after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Early in the conflict, Russian armed forces seized the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – and soldiers were later reported to have radiation poisoning following their operations in the highly contaminated area.

More than a year after the invasion, he does not foresee the conflict ending soon. “I fear this is in for the long run, decades and decades of unrest in that part of the world,” he says. “I can’t see a quick resolution unfortunately.

“It’s another thing the tour will look at: the effects that war and disaster can have on places, not just the landscape but the people too. It seems harsh to say, but war is part of what happens in a world where seven billion people live. It’s another way that man destroys the environment around us, but can also provide examples of how a place can bounce back.”

Ben’s love of the great outdoors reaches back to his own childhood, where his time was divided between rural Dorset and central London, complemented by extended school holiday trips to the Canadian wilderness to visit his paternal grandparents.

Could he ever step fully out of modern life and would he take his family, wife Marina and children Ludo and Iona, along for the adventure?

“I’m incredibly lucky that I get to straddle two worlds, being in the urban world with all it offers, then going off to the wilderness – and that gives me perspective, which is so important in life,” he says.

“There’s definitely something about that kind of life that appeals to me, but not right now. Ludo and Iona are 14 and 12 this year and are very much involved in urban living.

“They are very well travelled. They have spent time in the jungle, in remote islands, wood cabins, the Norwegian wilderness. But then they go to school and are very much engaged with ‘normal’ society, and love researching on computers, having pizza or going to the cinema.”

Ben’s family lives outside London now. “That helps,” he says. “We ride horses, go wild swimming, long dog walks. But it’s balance; I want them to be street savvy as well as being able in bush craft skills. I want my children to be able to wire a plug and start a fire, to make a bed and to put up a tent. They’re all skills for life and don’t need to be exclusive.

“It’s one of the biggest lessons I think I’ve learnt from meeting hundreds of people all over the world – that too many people follow a prescription for life and don’t think about how you can change that.

“Yes, on one hand I live a prescriptive life with two children, a couple of dogs, paying taxes, being very much part of society. But on the other hand, I have a pretty alternative life, spending the majority of the year away from home because of what I do for a living.

“People ask why I’m not living in a cabin in the woods, but there are sacrifices to make for that life – and I love those great cultural events, arts, cinema, books, so what I have realised is that the search for a perfect balance is what is more important.

“My life is not something everyone could have, not everyone could do it. But I hope that after joining me on the Wild tour, people will consider what kind of things they can do in their own life, the small changes to make to find that balance.”

“Too many people follow a prescription for life and don’t think about how you can change that,” says Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle: the back story

FORMER Royal Navy Reservist Ben appeared on the BBC series Castaway in 2000, marooned on an island in the Outer Hebrides for a year.

He has since presented Animal Park, Countryfile, Wild In Africa, Wild On The West Coast, Crufts, One Man And His Dog, Country Tracks Extreme Dreams, A Year Of Adventures, Storm City, Harbour Lives, Countrywise, Trawlermen’s Lives and New Lives In The Wild.

Hehas made documentaries on Prince William in Africa, disease in Ethiopia, Captain Scott in Antarctica and crocodiles in Botswana.

He has travelled extensively in South and Central America and has toured the world for various broadcasting assignments to more than 200 places including Tristan Da Cunha, Pitcairn, St Helena, East Timor, Nepal, Namibia, Kenya, the Arctic Circle, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Libya, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Tahiti, Maldives, Tanzania and Morocco.

He has worked as a special correspondent for NBC News and has published more than 15 books, including The Teatime Islands, Offshore, The Crossing, Race To The Pole, The Accidental Adventurer, The Accidental Naturalist, Labrador, Land Rover and English.

He has run the Marathon Des Sables, swum from Alcatraz to San Francisco, and is a keen sailor, marathon runner, boxer and cyclist.

Ben married Marina in 2006 after meeting her in the park while walking their dogs, Inca and Maggi. They have two children, Ludo and Iona.

For Wild tickets: York, yorkbarbican.co.uk; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

The elephant in the room: Around The World In 80 Days at Hull Truck Theatre

REVIEW: Hull Truck Theatre/Theatre By The Lake, Hull Truck Theatre, until May 20 ***

AROUND The World In 80 Days is a race against time, a race that involves cramming in so much that ironically Laura Eason’s play runs the risk of feeling like it is taking too long.

Such a challenge faces both American writer Eason and director Hal Chambers, although designer Louie Whitemore definitely has the right idea in utilising a revolving stage to build the sensation of constant movement.

Whitemore’s basic set is bare: a set of the imagination on which anything can happen, anything can arrive: an elephant, a sledge, a train, a trading vessel, even a circus to start the second half.

Naomi Oppenheim’s puppetry, Jess Williams’s movement direction and Claire Llewellyn’s fight direction all add to the visual spectacle in a production rooted in physical theatre and dextrous feats as much as symbols of English Victoriana and colonialism.

French novelist Jules Verne’s story finds eccentric Victorian English gent Phileas Fogg (Stefan Adegbola) placing a wager with his stuffy Reform Club cronies that he can traverse the globe in 80 days. His entire fortune is at risk.

Adegbola’s immaculate, precise, tea-drinking, unflappable but not-always scrupulous Fogg takes on his challenge with the help, sometimes hindrance, of French valet Passepartout ( a clowning, Chaplinesque little tramp of a comic turn from Miriam O’Brien).

On his trail and on his tail is Dyfrig Morris’s Inspector Fix, who has convinced himself Fogg is a thief and will go to the ends of the world to prove it. He plays the buffooning fall guy in comic tradition.

As Fogg races from Italy to India, skips ship in Hong Kong and heads into dustbowl America, into the story are woven Tricia Adele-Turner’s Captain Speedy, Purvi Parmar’s Captain Blossom, Nicholas Prasad’s Mr Naidu and Niall Ransome’s scene-stealing, all-American Colonel Stamp Proctor when Chambers’ production hits its stride in the more inventive, more thrilling second half.

The danger rises and suddenly romance is in the air. Saba Shiraz’s Mrs Aouda, joining the protective Fogg from India onwards, has the measure of the Englishman, challenging him in a discussion on Britain’s colonial acquisitions, not least because Adegbola’s Fogg carries himself with an air of arrogant assumption of superiority.

Amid the chaotic humour, the playful music, the crazy commotions reminiscent of a Mischief caper, and the celebration of Britain’s age of invention, that more serious note gives Eason’s script a topical resonance.

Box office: 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.

After CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet, Alex Phelps and Juliet Forster reunite for Around The World In 80 Days circus escapades

On your bike: Alex Phelps, front, in rehearsal for his dual roles as the Ringmaster and Phileas Fogg in Around The World In 80 Days

TILTED Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days – in 171 days, to be precise – after a month of rehearsals in York.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s first toured all four corners of York in August 23 days in 2021, not in a hot-air balloon, but on a trailer, in the tradition of travelling players going from town to town.

Forster’s circus-themed production played four York playing fields – Carr Junior School, Copmanthorpe Primary School, Archbishop Holgate’s School and Joseph Rowntree School – followed by a last stop, back indoors, at the Theatre Royal, where producers Tilted Wig’s new tour of England, Scotland and Wales will open from Thursday to Saturday.

In Forster’s version, Verne’s original characters are transformed, embracing different modes of transport in Phileas Fogg’s fictional frantic race to travel around the world in 80 days.

One original cast member, New Zealander Eddie Mann’s sharp-witted Knife Thrower and Detective Fix, will be joined by Alex Phelps’s resolute Ringmaster and unscrupulous Fogg; actor-puppeteer Katriona Brown’s Acrobat and real-life globe-traveller Nellie Bly; Wilson Benedito’s Clown and Passepartout and Genevieve Sabherwal’s Trick Rider and Aouda.

Around The World In 80 Days director Juliet Forster

Phelps had first made an impression on Forster when playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek with such brio in Joyce Branagh’s Jazz Age take on Twelfth Night for Shakespeare Rose Theatre in York in June 2019.

“That was the first time I’d seen Alex performing, though we’d met at Theatre By The Lake, and I was really keen to consider Alex for the role of Phileas Fogg last time around in 2021, when there were only two names I wanted on my list: Alex and Emilio (Iannucci), but Alex was already committed to doing Justin’s House for CBeebies.”

This time around, Emilio decided not to do the tour, much as he would have like to do so, opening the door for Alex.

“I was doing the CBeebies’ Christmas show when Juliet contacted me, and had a Zoom meeting with her while I was in the dressing room for Dick Whittington And His Cat,” he recalls. “I managed to find a quiet little corner where the wi-fi worked, while everyone wondered what was going on!”

And so, as fate would decree, Juliet has ended up working with both her preferred picks for Fogg.  “It does feel like it was meant to happen this way,” she says. “It’s not that you have to typecast a particular role, but there is something about the essential nature, or spirit, of a person that sits right with the role, and that was the case with both Emilio and Alex.

Alex Phelps: Actor noted for his comic skills of physicality and playfulness

“One of my strengths as a director is how I cast and I do a lot of work through the casting process, where interpretation of a character is a big part of that, and if someone is not quite aligned with my thinking…

“But Alex is completely right for it. Playfulness is really important in this role, and I would find it hard to work with someone who didn’t want to be playful, which also brings out the truthfulness.”

Alex concurs: “It’s an important element that can be overlooked, but you’re putting on a play that’s all about ‘playing’. Like two people playing tennis, you’re on either side of the net, and the other person has to hit it back.

“The audience are ahead of the cast – the circus performers playing Verne’s characters – where they know the goal is to complete the journey in 80 days, so the excitement is: how will they get there in that time?

“It’s a comedy, and I really believe great comedy has to tread the razor’s edge of great tragedy, as it does in Aguecheek’s case too, where’s it all very tragic for Aguecheek but very funny for the audience.”

Alex has been studying Buster Keaton for his latest role. “I’ve gone back to his films for Fogg because what he’s so good at is how his face never changes, but all his physical expression comes through his body and that tells the audience everything they need to know,” he says.

Alex Phelps’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek, back row, centre, with Cassie Vallance’s Fabian and Fine Time Fontayne’s Sir Toby Belch, winding up Claire Storey’s Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Twelfth Night in York in 2019. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Juliet and Alex have worked together before, joining forces when she directed CBeebies’ version of Romeo And Juliet, recorded under lockdown restrictions. “Having seen how funny he is physically as an actor and knowing what a genuinely lovely person he is, I kept nagging the CBeebies’ producer to cast Alex as Mercutio, which was going to be a small role but needed someone who would fill it with personality immediately,” she says.

“Under Covid conditions, we had proximity devices to stop you getting within two metres of each other, lunch was at separate tables; everyone had to be completely separate  at the hotel.

“It was difficult not to want to direct close-up, and you could only be close to someone for a maximum of 15 minutes in a day, but none of us got Covid, so maybe it was the best way to work, even if it was a bizarre experience.”

Alex would go on to do more CBeebies’ shows, not least being asked to join Justin Fletcher’s Mr Tumble in Justin’s House and making Christmas specials.

Now it is time for his playful Phileas Fogg to fly under Juliet’s direction.

Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal present Around The World In 80 Days at York Theatre Royal on Thursday, 2pm and 7.30pm, Friday, 7.30pm, and Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Also: Cast, Doncaster, July 5 to 8; castdoncaster.com. Age guidance: five plus.

More Things To Do in York when a Yorkshireman’s favourite price is on offer. Hutch List No. 5 for 2023, from The Press

Hannah Davies: Poetic monologues at York Explore Library in Pilot Theatre’s Monoliths for York Residents’ Festival

THE best things in life are not always free, but plenty are this weekend for York residents. Charles Hutchinson also highlights the best value in theatre, music, art and comedy.  

Event of the week: York Residents’ Festival 2023, today and tomorrow

ORGANISED by Make It York, York Residents’ Festival 2023 combines more than 100 attractions, events and offers this weekend. Historical attractions such as York Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre, Fairfax House, York Castle Museum, Barley Hall and The Guildhall will be opening their doors for free to residents.   

Further highlights include wizard golf at The Hole In Wand; free river cruises with City Cruises; chocolate tours at York’s Chocolate Story; behind-the-scenes tours of York Theatre Royal and a virtual reality experience with Pilot Theatre’s Monoliths, featuring poetic monologues on city, country and coastal northern landscapes by Hannah Davies, Carmen Marcus and Asma Elbadawi  at York Explore Library. Restaurants, cafés and shops are taking part too. For full details, go to: visityork.org/resfest.

Fat chance…to see Sofie Hagen in her Fat Jokes show at Theatre@41

Comedy gig of the week: Sofie Hagen: Fat Jokes, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday, 8pm

EDINBURGH Fringe comedy award winner Sofie Hagen presents Fat Jokes, a storytelling show bursting with big jokes, fat punchlines and unforgettable moments. “Come as you are and enjoy an actual fat person at the top of her game,” says the Danish-born, London-based comedian’s publicity blurb. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Travelogue of the week: Around The World In 80 Days, York Theatre Royal, Thursday, 2pm and 7.30pm; Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

PRODUCERS Tilted Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days in creative director Juliet Forster’s circus-themed version of Jules Verne’s story, first staged on York playing fields in 2021.

Original cast member Eddie Mann will be joined by Alex Phelps, Katriona Brown, Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal, who each multi-role as the rag-tag band of travelling big-top performers embarks on a daring mission to recreate Phileas Fogg’s fictitious journey, interwoven with the true story of Nellie Bly’s globe-travelling deeds. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Anna Meredith: Genre-crossing composer and musician heading for The Crescent in Independent Venue Week. Picture: Gem Harris

Innovators of the week: Please Please You presents Rozi Plain and Mayshe-Mayshe, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm; Anna Meredith and Elsa Hewitt, The Crescent, York, Friday, 7.30pm

WINCHESTER singer-songwriter Rozi Plain showcases her fifth album, Prize, released on Memphis Industries on January 13. Highlights among its ten tracks include the blissful single Agreeing For Two, the synth explorations of Painted The Room and the woozy jazz inflections of Spot Thirteen.

Later in the week, in a special show for Independent Venue Week, The Crescent welcomes Anna Meredith MBE, the genre-crossing composer and producer whose work straddles contemporary classical, art pop, electronica and experimental rock. Guitar, drums, cello and tuba feature in her band. Box office:  thecrescentyork.com.

Liam Brennan’s Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Political thriller returns: An Inspector Calls, Grand Opera House, York, February 7 to 11, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Thursday matinees

PREMIERED at the Theatre Royal in 1989, Stephen Daldry’s radical take on Yorkshireman J B Priestley’s thriller An Inspector Calls returns to York next month with tour regular Liam Brennan once more in the role of Inspector Goole.

Written at the end of the Second World War and set before the First, Priestley’s time play opens with the Birling family’s peaceful dinner party being shattered by the inspector’s call and subsequent investigations into the death of a young woman as the dangers of casual capitalism’s cruelty, complacency and hypocrisy are highlighted. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Leroy Virgil: Teaming up with York band The Black Skies at The Crescent

Country gig of the week: Hellbound Glory & The Black Skies, The Crescent, York, February 7, 7.30pm

RENO resident and Hellbound Glory main man Leroy Virgil has single-handedly invented an outlaw country music sub-genre he affectionately calls “Scumbag Country”.

His stories from the seedy underbelly of the place he calls home in sunny Nevada are full of character observations and introspection, set to a soundtrack of folk and blues-laced Americana. His York gig will be one of only three on his debut British tour to promote latest long player The Immortal Hellbound Glory: Nobody Knows You.

Young York alt/rock band The Black Skies will be his backing band as well as playing their own set at this double bill of whisky-drenched, low-slung country and rock’n’roll from the American mid-west and Yorkshire. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

The poster for York Ceramics Fair 2023

Going potty for pottery: York Ceramics Fair, York Racecourse, March 4, 10am to 5pm, and March 5, 10am to 4pm

AFTER a short break to find a new venue, York Ceramics Fair makes a March return indoors at York Racecourse for a fourth instalment with an “impressive line-up of ceramicists”, complemented by activities, events, talks and more besides.

A free shuttle bus will be running between York Racecourse, on Kavesmire Road, and the Memorial Gardens Coach Park, in Station Road, York. Tickets: via Eventbrite at yorkceramicsfair.com/ticket-info.

Nik Briggs: Directing York Stage in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: Teen Edition

Looking ahead: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, May 29 to June 3

YORK Stage will be holding the first round of auditions for the Teen Edition of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie today, seeking black, Asian and mixed-race performers aged 13-19 to fulfil Nik Briggs’s company’s commitment to represent the diverse community of Sheffield, the show’s setting, through his casting. A second audition day follows on February 4.

Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s coming-of-age musical follows the true-life story of 16-year-old Sheffield schoolboy Jamie Campbell as he overcomes prejudice and bullying to step out of the darkness to become a drag queen. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

More Things To Do in and around York in the jaws of a Jurassic invasion. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 4, courtesy of The Press, York

FROM giant dinosaurs to a heavyweight comedian, hardcore songs to a royal reading, Charles Hutchinson seeks to make life eventful.

Dinosaurs make a comeback: Jurassic Earth, Grand Opera House, York, January 28, 1pm and 4pm

JURASSIC Earth’s “live dinosaur show” roams York in an immersive, interactive, 75-minute, storytelling experience for all ages with state-of-the-art, animatronic, life-like creatures.

Audiences are invited to “bring your biggest roar and your fastest feet as you take Ranger Danger’s masterclass to become an Official Dinosaur Ranger – gaining the skills you need to come face-to-face with the world’s largest walking T Rex, a big-hearted Brontosaurus, tricky Triceratops, uncontrollable Carnotaurus, vicious Velociraptors and sneaky Spinosaurus”. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Tim Lowe: Cellist and York Chamber Music Festival director, performing Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time at York Minster

 Holocaust memorial concert of the week: York Chamber Music Festival, Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time, York Minster, Tuesday, 7pm

YORK Chamber Music Festival marks Holocaust Memorial Week – and the start of the festival’s tenth anniversary – with a performance of “one of the greatest pieces of music from the 20th century”, written and premiered in the German prisoner-of-war camp at Stalag VIIIa, Gorlitz, in 1941.

Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time will be played by John Lenehan, piano, Sacha Rattle, clarinet, John Mills, violin, and festival director Tim Lowe, cello, in York Minster’s Lady Chapel under John Thornton’s restored 15th century Great East Window (the “Apocalypse Window”). Box office: tickets.yorkminster.org.

Lloyd Griffith: Comedy measured out as One Tonne Of Fun at The Crescent, York. Picture: Matt Crockett

Comedy gig of the week: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Lloyd Griffith, One Tonne Of Fun, The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm

AFTER Covid stretched Lloyd Griffith’s last tour to “eight years or so”, he returns with his biggest itinerary to date, One Tonne Of Fun.

Since school, he has always been a show-off, and 20-odd years later, nothing’s changed, so expect stand-up, dubious impressions and a sprinkling of his (incredible) singing from the comic with Ted Lasso, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Soccer AM, Question Of Sport, Not Going Out and House Of Games credits. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Ewa Salecka: Directing Prima Vocal Ensemble at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Choral concert of the week: Prima Vocal Ensemble, Lift Every Voice, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 29, 7.30pm

EWA Salecka directs Prima Vocal Ensemble in a life-affirming concert that weaves its way through diverse generations and genres with live accompaniment.

Living composers Lauridsen, Gjeilo, Whitacre and Jenkins sit alongside favourite numbers from Les Misérables and The Greatest Showman, complemented by songs by Annie Lennox, Elbow, the Gershwins and Cole Porter and a tribute to the people of Ukraine. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls: Playing York Barbican at the end of January

Hardcore York gig of the month: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, York Barbican, January 31, 8pm

FRANK Turner, punk and folk singer-songwriter from Meonstoke, Hampshire, will be accompanied by The Sleeping Souls in York as he draws on his nine studio albums from a 17-year solo career.

Last year, the former Million Dead frontman, 41, topped the UK Official Album Chart for the first time with FTHC (his anagram for Frank Turner Hardcore) after his previous four all made the top three. Support slots go to Lottery Winners & Wilswood Buoys. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Rosemary Brown: Author gives an insight into the remarkable life of Nellie Bly at York Theatre Royal

Who was Nellie Bly? In Conversation With Rosemary Brown, York Theatre Royal, February 4, 5.15pm, free admission

YORK Theatre Royal and Tilted Wig’s touring adaptation of Jules Verne’s madcap adventure Around The World In 80 days features not only the fictional feats of Phileas Fogg but also the real-life story of Nellie Bly, American journalist, industrialist, inventor, charity worker and globe-crossing record breaker.

In a free talk, director and adaptor Juliet Forster will be in conversation with Rosemary Brown, author of Following Nellie Bly, Her Record-Breaking Race Around The World, a book inspired by this human rights and environmental campaigner’s aim to put female adventurers back on the map. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Tony Froud: Directing York Shakespeare Project’s rehearsed reading of Edward II

The second coming of…York Shakespeare Project, Edward III, rehearsed reading, upstairs at Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, February 7, 7.30pm

PHASE Two of York Shakespeare Project begins with a staged rehearsed reading of Edward III, the rarely performed 1592 history play now widely accepted as a collaboration between William Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, replete with its celebration of Edward’s victories over the French, depiction of the Black Prince and satirical digs at the Scots.

Rehearsed readings in February will be a regular part of YSP’s revamped remit to include work by the best of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Tony Froud’s cast includes Liz Elsworth, Emma Scott and Mark Hird, best known for his work with Pick Me Up Theatre. Tickets: on the door or via eventbrite.com.

Home work: Sara Howlett, Sophie Bullivant and Laura Castle in rehearsal for Rowntree Players’ spring production of Teachers Leavers ’22

Spring term school play: Rowntree Players in Teechers Leavers ’22, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, March 16 to 18, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee  

REHEARSALS are underway for Rowntree Players’ production of Teechers Leavers ’22, former teacher John Godber’s update of his state-of-education play, commissioned for £100 by Hull Truck Theatre in 1984.

Actor Jamie McKeller, familiar to York ghost-walk enthusiasts as Deathly Dark Tours spookologist Doctor Dorian Deathly, is working with a cast of Sara Howlett, Sophie Bullivant and Laura Castle as they “put in the hard work needed for this very physically demanding play”. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal teams up with Tilted Wig for second Around The World In 80 Days travels, this time going nationwide

The cast for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

TILTED Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days from February 2 to July 22 2023. Rehearsals will begin in York next Monday.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story first toured all four corners of York in August 23 days in 2021, not in a hot-air balloon, but on a trailer, whose sides could be dropped down for the set to be built around, in the tradition of travelling players going from town to town.

Forster’s circus-themed production played four York playing fields – Carr Junior School, Copmanthorpe Primary School, Archbishop Holgate’s School and Joseph Rowntree School – followed by a last stop, back indoors, at the Theatre Royal, where Tilted Wig’s new tour of England, Scotland and Wales will open from February 2 to 4.

In Forster’s version, Verne’s original characters are transformed, embracing different modes of transport in the frantic race to travel around the world in 80 Days. Original cast member Eddie Mann will be joined by Alex Phelps, Katriona Brown, Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal, who each multi-role as the rag-tag band of travelling circus performers embarks on a daring mission to recreate Phileas Fogg’s journey.

Eddie Mann: Returning to the roles of the Knife Thrower and Detective Fix

Phelps will play the determined Ringmaster and Fogg, having appeared in As You Like It for Shakespeare’s Globe/CBeebies, When Darkness Falls for Park Theatre and Hamlet for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Actor and puppeteer Brown will be the Acrobat and Nellie Bly; Sabherwal, the Trick Rider and Aouda; Wilson Benedito, the Clown and Passepartout, and New Zealander Mann, the sharp-witted Knife Thrower and Detective Fix.

Writer-director Forster said in 2021: ““There was a risk that a show would have a stuffy gentlemen’s club, outdated feel to it because it’s a male-dominated story, so I thought, ‘how do we make it a play for today?’. That’s when I decided to put Nellie Bly’s story in there too.”

For the uninitiated, Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, an American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker, who made her own record-breaking trip around the world – and did so with more alacrity than the fictional Fogg.

The original York Theatre Royal cast for Around The World In 80 Days in August 2021, including Eddie Mann, centre. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“I read her book about going around the world: a beautiful piece of travel journalism with such lovely detail, and I thought, ‘maybe we should just do her story’, but then I decided, ‘no, let’s look at finding a form for a play that fits bit both stories in’,” Juliet said.

Move forward to 2023’s revival, and the director says: “I was amazed that we generally know more about Jules Verne’s fictional characters than we do about Nellie Bly. I knew I had to tell her story. I found that this approach allowed interesting themes to emerge around whose stories get told, whose stories dominate and who should stand aside to give space to the untold ones.”

Tour producer Tilted Wig Productions was formed in 2017 by Katherine Senior and Matthew Parish, who have more than 15 years of experience producing and touring plays throughout the UK, taking 20-plus productions on the road, such as Philip Meeks’s Murder, Margaret, and Me, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Picture Of Dorian Gray.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster: Writer-director of Around The World In 80 Days

“Our shows now tour around some of the biggest theatres in the UK, yet our original ethos has always remained the same: whether Titled Wig are producing a classic play or a vibrant new adaptation, we always aim to inspire a bright and innovative creative team to take our stories UK-wide,” they say.

Juliet is joined in the production team by set designer Sara Perks; lighting designer Alexandra Stafford; composer and sound designer Ed Gray; movement director Asha Jennings-Grant and fight director Jonathan Holby.

Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal present Around The World In 80 Days at York Theatre Royal on February 2, 2pm and 7.30pm, February 3, 7.30pm, and February 4, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Also: Cast, Doncaster, July 5 to 8; castdoncaster.com. Age guidance: seven plus.

The tour poster for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

UPDATE 9/1/2023

REHEARSALS have begun today for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s six-month tour of Around The World In 80 Days.

Gathering for the first time were Wilson Benedito, left, Katrina Brown, Genevieve Sabherwal and Alex Phelps. Missing was fifth cast member memberEddie Mann, who will join rehearsals later. Picture by Anthony Robling.

Who’s who in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Cinderella? Meet the cast…

O, happy Day: CBeebies presenter Andy Day will play Dandini in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

CBEEBIES presenter Andy Day will be joined by Travelling Pantomime familiar faces Robin Simpson and Faye Campbell for York Theatre Royal’s homecoming pantomime, Cinderella.

Presented in tandem with perennial panto award winners Evolution Productions, creative director Juliet Forster’s production will run from December 3 to January 2: an earlier start, shorter run and much earlier last night than past main-house pantos.

Day, who will play Dandini, joined CBeebies in 2007, since when he has presented animal and nature programmes, whether tackling dinosaurs, investigating baby animals and going on safari.

Sister act: After his Dame Trott in the Travelling Pantomime, Robin Simpson will be back in York as one of the sourpuss Sisters

Nominated for a Children’s BAFTA award for best presenter in 2009, he has pantomime history, appearing in the CBeebies annual televised panto, as well as playing the Genie in Aladdin, Dandini in Cinderella, Muddles in Snow White and Billy Goose in Mother Goose.

Day is no stranger to director Forster, by the way, having been in the cast for her 50-minute CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, screened on April 2 and available subsequently on BBC iPlayer.

Day fronts his own live band, Andy And The Odd Socks, who once again will be launching Odd Socks Day for Anti-Bullying Week in schools up and down the country alongside the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a charity for whom Andy is a patron.

Look who’s back: Faye Campbell moves on from The Hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime to the title role in Cinderella this winter

Faye Campbell will take the title role in Cinderella after playing The Hero in Jack And The Beanstalk and Dick Whittington in the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 16 York wardslast December.

Actor-storyteller Robin Simpson will be returning too, following up his Dame Trott last winter on the back of a three-year damehood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. For Cinderella, he will form an (Ugly) Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard.

Comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham, set to shine as Buttons, has played leading comedy roles in pantomimes throughout the UK, being voted Best Speciality Act in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards for his Washee in Aladdin at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. 

Award-winning ventriloquist Max Fulham: Making his York Theatre Royal debut as Buttons

Fulham has created his own comedy series, Drivel Pedlar, for his You Tube channel. Next summer, he will head to Australia to play Muddles in Snow White at the new Sydney Coliseum.

Forster’s cast for the first main-house Theatre Royal pantomime since the Dame Berwick Kaler reign will be completed by Benjamin Lafayette’sPrince Charming and Sarah Leatherbarrow’sFairy Godmother.

Written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy, the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella will relocate the timeless rags-to-riches story to York, as the stage “comes to sparkling life with magical transformations, glittering sets, stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Sister double act: Paul Hawkyard as the other Sister, teaming up with Robin Simpson in Cinderella

Audiences should expect a ”brand-new pantomime for everyone with the promise of a truly epic spectacle and heaps of hilarity”, directed by Forster, who was at the helm of both the Travelling Pantomime’s tour of community venues and this summer’s Around The World The World In 80 Days, her circus-themed adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel that visited four York school playing fields in 16 days before a Theatre Royal finale last week.

Chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’re over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York – one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much.

“The phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella, set with pride in our amazing city.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer and writer Paul Hendy

Evolution Productions, started by Emily Wood and Hendy in 2005, have built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and highly humorous scripts. Two-time winners of Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards, they are the team behind Sheffield Theatres’ “extraordinarily successful” panto at the Lyceum Theatre.

Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on Cinderella. We’re huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast and a genuinely funny script.”

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Roll up, roll up, for circus double act Emilio and Ali in Around The World In 80 Days

The circus-themed stage taking shape at York Theatre Royal for this afternoon’s performance of Around The World In 80 Days

“IT’S been a few years coming, but finally getting to flail around on the @YorkTheatre main stage today. We’re here till the 28th.”

So reads actor Emilio Iannucci’s tweet, accompanying a photo of the circus-themed set in situ for this afternoon’s 2pm performance of Around The World In 80 Days.

“Flailing around” were not words that tipped off the keyboard keys for CharlesHutchPress’s review when watching Iannucci racing against time with elegant aplomb as globe-traversing Phileas Fogg in an outdoor performance on the Copmanthorpe Primary School playing fields.

From today to Saturday, creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel moves indoors for a York Theatre Royal homecoming finale led by Iannucci’s dual lead role of Ringmaster and Fogg.

On the back of eye-catching turns for the Theatre Royal in The Book Of Dragons and Hello And Goodbye and for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre Romeo & Juliet, Richard lll, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2018/2019, he was always Forster’s pick to have fun with Fogg. “That’s very flattering to hear, though I’m sure there are other people who could do the role!” says Emilio.

“I’ve been recovering from long Covid, so in a way I’ve been having a race against time myself to do this show. It’s not like I’m missing a physical bit of me, but there are still ups and downs, though they’re now further apart and less intense – and drawing on the energy of my fellow cast members has been very helpful.”

Phileas Fogg is noted for his efficiency and managing his life very carefully, a philosophy that Iannucci has applied to his recuperation and return to performing. “Long Covid has been a horrible thing to go through but it’s challenged me to approach things in new ways, rather than my usual process, now trying to achieve the same things but in a different way,” he says.

Emilio Iannucci in a scene from York Theatre Royal’s Around The World in 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Iannucci’s main inspiration for his characterisation of Phileas Fogg is Verne’s novel. “That’s because the Ringmaster is adamant that we have to be faithful to the book, not the films. He’s determined to tell the story by the book, though whether that’s for budgetary reasons, like explaining why there’ll be no hot-air balloon…!” he says.

“The first part is all about telling you who Fogg wasn’t, what he wasn’t, not judging him too quickly, because he’s a strange character in that he’s not very likeable at the start and not wholly likeable by the end, but gradually you do come round to his side.

“He’s the opposite of the Ringmaster, who’s stroppy, flustered and always trying to herd cats.”

Dame Berwick Kaler has often talked of the need for actors to be “likeable” in his pantomime companies, and Iannucci has displayed such likeability in buckets in myriad stage roles but says: “I’d counter that by saying I don’t try to be likeable; I try to be honest…and Fogg is very honest. He can be a bit an a**e – he may or may not be guilty of theft – so I’m just trying to stay to what’s honest to that character and let the audience judge.

“I’m more used to playing low-status characters, who have to move props and help people, but Fogg is calling the tune here.”

In this energetically humorous account of Around The World In 80 Days, Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg is sort of a double act with his servant, French-Moroccan actor Ali Azhar’s Passepartout.

Azhar made his mark previously in York in the second summer of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre at the Eye of York, appearing as a Spirit in The Tempest (“moving a tree around!”) and as the Dauphin (“a delicious part”) in 2019.

Ali Azhar, left, with Eddie Mann, Dora Rubinstein and Ulrika Krishnamurti, playing Victorian gents at the Reform Club in Around The World in 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“It was a rewarding adventure: four months of Shakespeare, the best bootcamp an actor can have,” says Ali. “And I love York! To wake up in this city with all that lovely fresh air and beautiful sites is bliss.”

Parisian Azhar plays not only the put-upon yet resourceful Passepartout but also The Clown, part of the circus company charged with telling Verne’s tale, as well as juggling or forming human pyramids or balancing on a seesaw with fellow actor Eddie Mann.

“That’s really helpful for the play because it means the cast can tell you about British colonisation and imperialism in Victorian times [Fogg made his journey in 1871], where we can all join in the debate without schooling everyone when it’s a story and we want everyone to have fun, so it’s joyful ride.”

Introducing The Clown, Ali says: “He’s recently been hired by the Ringmaster and has no idea about Jules Verne and doesn’t know the novel. He’s wild, a joker, but when he’s told he has to play the part of Passepartout, he tries not to take too much of the attention, whereas a clown usually does that.

“I think he must be the quietest clown I’ve ever played – and he seems to be always late or trying to catch up!”

Around The World In 80 Days is at York Theatre Royal for four days, August 25 to 28; performances at 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm. Suitable for age seven upwards. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Why acrobat Dora is so happy to be at full stretch in Around The World In 80 Days

Dora Rubinstein, right, as Nellie Bly with Eddie Mann, top, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti in York Theatre Royal’s circus-themed Around The World In 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

AFTER traversing the city on a trailer for 16 days, the York Theatre Royal circus pitches up back home in St Leonard’s Place from Wednesday for the final run of Around The World In 80 Days.

Among the travelling players for creative director Juliet Forster’ stage adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel is actor, singer, acrobatic and yoga teacher Dora Rubinstein, a North Easterner, originally from Newcastle, who has settled in York.

She has history with Forster, having voiced Mary Magdalene in the York Mystery Plays audio plays for the Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York during lockdown, under Forster’s direction, and then taken on the guise of pioneering Anne Lister, alias Gentleman Jack, for musical theatre composer Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York at the Theatre Royal’s re-opening show, Love Bites, overseen by Forster in May.

“It was so different doing that short piece for Love Bites,” says Dora. “I was approached by Gus, as we had lots of mutual friends who work in musical theatre, and Suranne Jones, who plays Anne Lister in the Gentleman Jack TV series, is not too far away from me in terms of my looks.

“It was lovely to be back in the theatre, as though most of my recent work has been circus based, I still love singing.”

Although Dora had worked with Juliet on the Radio Mystery Plays, Covid restrictions had limited the rehearsals and recordings to being conducted remotely. “That’s why I wasn’t sure if she knew about my circus skills, so I sent her an email, but it turned out she was aware, though I don’t know how, but I’m just happy she did,” she says.

Dora, who runs workshops in acrobalance, handstands, flexibility, contortion and aerial skills in York and Leeds, is now playing The Acrobat and American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker Nellie Bly, who, like the fictional Phileas Fogg in Verne’s story, made a race-against-time trip around the world. 

“I grew up seeing plays at York Theatre Royal,” says Dora Rubinstein. “So it’s always felt like home”

“At the auditions, I had to do an American accent for Nellie Bly; I used a Geordie accent for The Acrobat – my choice – and I also have to play two ship captains, one from Hull, the other, a salty old sea dog,” she says.

All those acrobatic and contortionist skills naturally come in handy for The Acrobat in Around The World In 80 Days, but how come the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts graduate has developed those skills?

“My mum is a visual artist, who makes community pieces, and she was fascinated by how close the circus community was. As part of her research, she went to a trapeze class in Newcastle, and she said she felt like she’d come home,” says Dora, taking the country route in her explanation.

“She was so at home with it, whereas most people, when they first try it, find it incredibly hard. When I came back home from Arts Ed [her musical theatre diploma course in London], she knew how much I’d enjoyed the physical side of it and so she introduced me to circus culture, where I felt I really fitted into that world, the acrobatic world, rather than dance.

“Then, when I later left Mountview, I kept it up even more, doing aerial classes, and it’s since fed into my other work, with more to play with from the devising perspective.”

Dora teaches a “really wide range of people”, whether leading workshops for children and young families or teaching York burlesque performer Freida Nipples flexibility tricks to integrate into her routines.

Emilio Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg, left, with Dora Rubinstein, Eddie Mann, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti‘s scoffing Reform Club members in a scene from Around The World In 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Even during rehearsals, she has continued to hold workshops at weekends, such as the acro-yoga sessions she leads at The Stables, in Nunmill Street, just off Bishopthorpe Road.

“My mum [Jane Park] is coming down to teach with me; we’re the first mother-and-daughter acro-yoga instructors,” she says.

Dora moved to York two years ago after living in London for a decade. “I felt that was long enough down there,” she says. “A lot of my work was in the north, and though you are fed this idea that you have to be based in London to make a career as a performer, I met this amazing actress, Helen Longworth, when I did two pantomimes at Lancaster.

“She was also doing TV parts and radio in The Archers, had a young child and was living in a village outside Morecambe, and I just thought, ‘why should I spend £1,300 a month on a flat in London?’.”

Why settle on York? “My boyfriend loves taking photographs, so we wanted a city that was beautiful to walk around, with good rail connections, and York really was the only one! We’ve now bought a house, so it looks like we’re staying!

“My grandfather lived in Portland Street, and I grew up seeing plays at York Theatre Royal, when I came here every two or three months. He loved the theatre too, so it’s always felt like home.”

This week will find Dora performing on that Theatre Royal stage, bringing Nellie Bly’s story to the fore as Phileas Fogg’s race against the clock to complete a full circuit of the Earth is interwoven with investigative journalist Nellie’s own record-breaking journey.

Not one to be boxed in: Dora Rubinstein in the lead-up to playing The Acrobat, a role that writer-director Juliet Forster first contemplated calling “The Contortionist” but doubted she could find one. Ironically, Dora is as equally adept at contortionism as acrobatics!

“I hadn’t heard of Nellie until I got the audition, though it’s incredible all the amazing things she did leading up to her going around the world,” she says.

“I remember being taught about Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria and Grace Darling [the English lighthouse keeper’s daughter, who risked her life to rescue the stranded survivors of the wrecked steamship Forfarshire in 1838], but not about Nellie Bly’s achievements.

“When she submitted an anonymous response to a newspaper article that said women should be in the kitchen, it was so well written that the editor put out a call to discover who it was.

“She became an investigative journalist, going undercover into a mental institution, putting her life on the line to make a difference for others. She had such chutzpah.”

As for Dora’s other principal role as The Acrobat, “Funnily enough, Juliet almost called her ‘The Contortionist’, but she didn’t think she would find one, but there I was all along, doing partner-acrobatic work and some contortion work in Japan, and performing contortion acts at the Durham Juggling Festival and Play Festival in North Wales!” she says .

Looking ahead, after undertaking research work with her mother at Dance City, Newcastle, and working with mentor and dramaturg Sarah Puncheon, Dora is creating her first acrobatics-based piece, Hold Your Own, built around family relationships. “Hopefully we’ll start doing it next year and tour it later in 2022,” she says.

Around The World In 80 Days races around York Theatre Royal from August 25 to 28; performances at 2pm and 7pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Suitable for age seven upwards.

‘Still haven’t the Foggiest idea what family show to see this summer? This is the one’

Playing his hand: Emilio Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg with the scoffing gentlemen of the Reform Club (as played with bristling moustaches by Dora Rubinstein, Eddie Mann, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti) in York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 days. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

REVIEW: York Theatre Royal in Around The World In 80 Days, Copmanthorpe Primary School Playing Fields, York

NO foreign holiday this summer? Let York Theatre Royal take you there, off the back of a trailer at a school playing field, transformed into a circus.

Wednesday, 7pm, Copmanthorpe Primary School: the yellow and red striped flags are fluttering in the night air in a circular formation to denote Vernes Circus is in town. Bobbing balloons and the persistently perky sound of a fairground organ add to the atmosphere.

Rather than inside a pop-up big top, we are in the open air, wrapped up for the English weather (last Friday evening’s show at Carr Junior School had to be called off after a thunderstorm warning). Safety first too, everyone is still mindful of social distancing, maintaining gaps between fold-up chairs. 

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster has form for such theatrical enterprises, rolling out last winter’s Travelling Pantomime to 16 city wards. A case of taking theatre to the people, rather than expecting them to take themselves to the Theatre Royal, although this summer’s production will end with four days of indoor shows there after going around  four York schools in 16 days.

Dora Rubinstein’s resolute, irrepressible Nellie Bly, right, with Eddie Mann, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti’s circus performers in Around The World In 80 Days

She also repeats the panto template of a cast of five with multiple talents, while this time adding the writer’s credit to her directorial duties, just as she did when adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet for CBeebies earlier this year.

We think we know French novelist Jules Verne’s story of a somewhat prickly English Victorian gentleman, Phileas Fogg, going around the globe in a hot air balloon. Stop right there. No sooner has Ali Azhar’s Clown started to blow up a balloon than he is told no such form of transportation was used by Fogg in the book; only in the myriad screen adaptations.

Financial constraints would prevent any balloon rides here, cautions Emilio Iannucci’s snappy Ringmaster.

Clown? Ringmaster? Surely, they were not in Verne’s story either? Indeed not, but Forster frames her adaptation around circus performers telling the tale, all her company taking on two main roles and more besides.

To complement the upstanding, moustachioed Iannucci’s Ringmaster/Fogg and French-Moroccan Azhar’s Clown/servant Passepartout, here come Ulrika Krishnamurti’s Trick Rider/Indian princess Aouda, New Zealander Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower/spiv Detective Fox and Dora Rubinstein’s Acrobat/Nellie Bly.

The circus comes to town, or more specifically to four York school playing fields, as York Theatre Royal stages Around The World In 80 Days around York in 16 days, plus four days indoors at the Theatre Royal with Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti as part of Juliet Forster’s cast of five

Mann will work his way through London, Liverpool, Scottish and American Deep South accents; the ultra-flexible Rubinstein, through Geordie, refined American, English South West and, a particular favourite, Hull, for a blunt sea captain.

Up against the clock, everything moves at pace, whether scene or character changes, storyline or the revolving signage that denotes arrival at the next destination. 

Hold that thought. Not quite everything moves so quickly. Fogg is always in too much of a rush to bother with describing where he is, but Nellie Bly is a groundbreaking American journalist whose travelogues are a joy to behold whenever Rubinstein’s resolute character settles for a restorative breather in a brilliant directorial decision by Forster .

Unlike Verne’s Fogg and his wager with his Reform Club cronies, Bly is not mere fiction. She really did traverse the world in a flight that knocked days off Fogg’s total, and yet her history-making story is not well known.  Forster puts that right, interweaving the tales in a way that both compliments and complements each other.

Forster’s production brings to mind the elasticity and stage electricity, the physical and mental fun and games, the deftness and daftness, of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and Mischief’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Like those two West End hits, the more the show the progresses, the better it is, the more impressive the cast becomes, using props in unexpected ways, whether straw bales or bicycle wheels, or circus equipment that turns into a cell for Fogg.

Holed up: Emilio Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg in one of his myriad challenging scrapes in Around The World In 80 Days

One heavy-drinking scene with Mann’s Fix and Azhar’s Passepartout trying to balance but constantly on the move on a seesaw will live long in the memory.

Not only Forster and her livewire, fun, funny international company are on top form here: so too are Sara Perks’s evocative circus set and dapper costume designs; Asha Jennings-Grant’s dashing movement direction, circus acrobatics and smart choreography, and Ed Gray’s music and especially his 360-degree sound design that adds spectacularly to the rip-roaring drama.

Still haven’t the Foggiest idea of what family show to see this summer? This is the one. Roll up! Roll up!

Tickets can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Suitable for age seven upwards.

Around The World In 80 Days performances still to come:

Copmanthorpe Primary School, tonight, 7pm.

Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14, 7pm; August 15, 2pm and 6pm; Aug 16, 3pm and 7pm.

Joseph Rowntree School, August 18, 7pm; August 19, 3pm and 7pm; August 20, 7pm; August 21, 2pm and 6pm.

York Theatre Royal, August 25 to 28, 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm.

Roll up! Roll up! Emilio Iannucci’s Ringmaster offers his welcome to Vernes Circus in York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days. On stage too are circus performers Ali Azhar, Dora Rubinstein, Eddie Mann and Ulrika Krishnamurti