Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan to play Shirley Valentine for Esk Valley Theatre

Exit-the-kitchen-sink drama: Ashley Hope Allan as Shirley Valentine in Esk Valley Theatre’s Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

ESK Valley Theatre complete a hattrick of Willy Russell plays with Shirley Valentine at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, from Thursday to August 28.

In Russell’s one-woman show, Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan plays middle-aged, bored Liverpool housewife Shirley in a story of self-discovery as she takes off to Greece with a friend, who promptly abandons her for a holiday romance. Left alone, Shirley meets charming taverna owner Costas.

After a gap year brought on by the Covid lockdown, Esk Valley Theatre, a professional theatre company rooted in the North York Moors National Park, return with Russell’s 1986 play, the winner of two Olivier Awards and a Tony before its conversion into Lewis Gilbert’s 1989 film starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti.

Ashley Hope Allan in rehearsals for Esk Valley Theatre’s August production of Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Director Mark Stratton says: “Shirley Valentine is the third Willy Russell play we’ve produced after Educating Rita, with Amy Spencer as Rita and Ian Crowe as Frank in August 2016, and One For The Road, with Laura Bonnah, David Smith, Andrew Cryer and Joanne Heywood, in our tenth anniversary show in August 2014.

“It’s always a joy to direct his work. He has an economy of style and precision in his writing that always hits home and his ability to capture the wit and humour of Liverpudlians is second to none.”

Actor Ashley Hope Allan played the television medium Crystal Webber in Coronation Street, having appeared earlier in Emmerdale, The Crown and Nuzzle And Scratch.

Esk Valley Theatre’s Ian Crowe as Frank and Amy Spencer as Rita in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita in 2016. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Among her stage credits are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and As You Like It for the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival and Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

Director Stratton is joined in the production team by producer Sheila Carter, designer and lighting designer Graham Kirk and costume designer Christine Wall.

Mark, who set up Esk Valley Theatre with Sheila in 2005, has had a varied career in theatres across Britain, as well as appearing in numerous television shows and films, most notably with Anthony Hopkins in Across The Lake, as a guest detective opposite Felicity Kendall and Pam Ferris in Rosemary & Thyme and as an American professor opposite Vidya Balan in the Bollywood movie Shakuntala Devi, released in July 2020. 

The Esk Valley Theatre cast and production team for Willy Russell’s One For The Road in 2014

Mark has performed in more than 20 pantomimes and will add Widow Twankey in Aladdin at Cast, Doncaster, to that list this winter.

Sheila has choreographed for many of Britain’s leading theatre companies, enjoying a long association with Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, where she has worked on many of his premieres.

She choreographed By Jeeves, the Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that ran in London, played at several theatres in the United States and ended up on Broadway.

Valentine’s day: Ashley Hope Allen in an early scene in Esk Valley Theatre’s production of Shirley Valentine, in rehearsal for the Robinson Institute run in Glaisdale. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

She directed and choreographed Where Is Peter Rabbit? in its two London runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and has choreographed for film and TV too, including Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre in 1996.

Esk Valley Theatre’s Shirley Valentine can be seen at 7.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays, from August 5 to 28, complemented by 2.30pm matinees on August 7, 12, 14, 17, 19, 24, and 26. A post-show talkback will be held on August 18. 

Tickets cost £16, concessions £15, on 01947 897587 or at eskvalleytheatre.co.uk.

Kate Rusby to stream Hand Me Down lockdown covers concert tonight at 7.30pm

Kate Rusby: Hand Me Down concert will be streamed from Cast, Doncaster, tonight

FOR the first time, tonight Barnsley folk singer Kate Rusby will perform her lockdown covers’ album, Hand Me Down, in full on stage in a worldwide stream at 7.30pm BST.

Released on her Pure Records label on August 14 last summer after recording sessions with husband musician Damien O’Kane, the collection of her favourite songs brought Kate, 47, her highest-charting album to date.

Bar the odd part recorded remotely by a band member, Hand Me Down was made by Kate and Damien when dividing days between home studio and home schooling their daughters.

Tonight will be the first chance to hear the likes of Manic Monday, Friday I’m In Love, Shake It Off and Three Little Birds performed live by Kate and her regular band in a two-hour concert including an interval.

Kate Rusby with daughters Daisy and Phoebe making the Singy Songy Sessions home video recording of Manic Monday during Lockdown 1

Hand Me Down debuted at number 12 in the Official Album Charts – number three in the CD album chart and number four in the independent release chart – and a vinyl version followed on January 15.

Tickets are available at live.katerusby.com, from where Kate’s globally streamed concert will be available on demand until May 22, a date that would have been the last day of her cancelled spring tour.

As with her streamed Christmas concert, Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Day on December 12 last year, the location for tonight’s recording will be Cast in Doncaster.

To watch a trailer, go to: youtube.com/watch?v=7v7Ag1y­_OcM

The covers’ cover: Kate Rusby’s album artwork for Hand Me Down

Hand Me Down’s track listing:

  1. Manic Monday (written by Prince; a hit for The Bangles in 1986)
  2. Everglow (Coldplay)
  3. Days (The Kinks, covered by Kirsty MacColl, Elvis Costello)
  4. If I Had A Boat (Lyle Lovett)
  5. Maybe Tomorrow (from The Littlest Hobo, a Canadian TV series, performed by Terry Bush)
  6. The Show (theme song for TV series Connie, written by Willy Russell, performed by Rebecca Storm)
  7. Shake It Off (Taylor Swift)
  8. True Colours (written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly; a hit for Cyndi Lauper in 1986 )
  9. Carolina On My Mind (James Taylor)
  10. Love Of The Common People (written by written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkinsa hit for Paul Young in 1983)
  11. Friday I’m In Love (The Cure) 
  12. Three Little Birds (Bob Marley) 

Kate Rusby releases vinyl version of lockdown covers album Hand Me Down

The vinyl front ‘ere: Kate Rusby shows off the cover and orange discs for Hand Me Down

BARNSLEY folk nightingale Kate Rusby is to release her 2020 lockdown covers album, Hand Me Down, on vinyl tomorrow (22/1/2021) on her Pure Records label.

“Ooooooh it looks so beautiful,” says Kate on Instagram. “Gatefold, 180g double translucent orange discs. Very pretty! Sooo excited.”

Available in a limited edition at https://purerecords.net/collections/kate-rusby-vinyls, Hand Me Down had its roots in Kate’s rendition of Oasis’s Don’t Go Away on Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 2 show.

That wistful ballad later featured on her 2019 studio album, Philosophers, Poets And Kings, and became a concert favourite, whereupon a return visit to Whiley’s studio elicited a mournful reading of The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love, now one of the stand-outs on Hand Me Down.

Kate and her guitar and banjo-playing producer-husband, Damien O’Kane, set about completing an album of covers in Lockdown 1, recorded in their Penistone home studio. “As a folk singer, it’s what I do: reinterpret existing songs,” says Rusby. “The only difference is that usually the songs are much older.”

Some were chosen from childhood or teenage memories (The Kinks’ Days, but from Kirsty MacColl’s sublime version; Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours), two much-covered songs you might have predicted, rather more than Maybe Tomorrow (The Littlest Hobo theme song) or The Show, from family friend Willy Russell’s musical Connie.

The artwork for Kate Rusby’s live Christmas album, Happy Holly Day

Covering a song is as much about what you uncover as you cover, prime examples here being Coldplay’s Everglow, Lyle Lovett’s If I Had A Boat and in particular “role model to her children” Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, newly revelling in O’Kane’s swing-time banjo.

Nothing evokes lockdown more than the opening Manic Monday, Prince’s song for Kate’s teen favourites The Bangles, slowed and turned to acoustic melancholia for not-so-manic days of longing at home, away from the city buzz. Add South Yorkshire vowels, and who can resist.

The album closes with a ray of perennial summer sunshine, Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, as Hand Me Down becomes balm for fretful, fearful pandemic days. “I’ve always had overwhelming urges to cheer people up at times of sadness,” says Kate. “I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, but it’s always been part of my genetic make-up.”

A second winter release from Pure Records is Happy Holly Day, a live CD recording of Kate’s online Christmas concert of South Yorkshire pub carols and winter songs, streamed from Cast, Doncaster, on December 12.

That night, Kate’s folk band assembled for the first time since the March lockdown, joined by her “Brass Boys”, spread across a socially distanced stage shared with the Ruby, the fairy-lit reindeer.

As always with Kate Rusby At Christmas concerts, the two sets were followed by an encore in fancy dress, Kate in a halo and angel wings, recovered from her attic from the 2017 album cover photo-shoot for Angels And Men, as she sang Sweet Bells and Yorkshire Merry Christmas alongside Damien in Virgin Mary mode.

Tier 3 status knocks out Red Ladder’s tour of My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored

Red Ladder Theatre Company’s artwork for My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored

GONNA tier your playhouse down. Again.

West and South Yorkshire’s impending impediment of Tier 3 status from next Wednesday has put paid to Red Ladder Theatre Company’s December tour.

The Government’s latest Covid-19 restrictions have enforced the postponement – “with great sadness” – of performances of Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s debut play My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored at CAST in Doncaster, Cluntergate Centre in Horbury and The Holbeck social club in Leeds.

Already, earlier tour dates had been postponed at Leeds Playhouse, The Dukes, Lancaster, Grove Hall, South Kirkby, and Oldham Coliseum, having fallen foul of the second national lockdown stretch in November.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “While this is the news that none of us wanted, we are incredibly proud of our cast and creative team, company and freelance staff who have worked incredibly hard to create this new play. 

Rehearsing in Covid times: Red Ladder actors Misha Duncan-Barry and Jelani D’Aguilar

“Whether adapting to making this work in a Covid-secure rehearsal room or working remotely, everyone has put an incredible amount of time, passion, dedication and hard work into bringing Nana Kofi-Kufuor’s powerful debut play to life.”

Reflecting on the curse of Covid-19 2020 but looking ahead too, Dixon adds: “More than anything, we wish that circumstances were different and that we were welcoming our audiences on tour of our new production.

“We press on with hope and optimism to bring our show to the stage in 2021 – and Red Ladder stands in solidarity with all our fellow theatre-makers in these difficult times.”

Directed by Leeds actor, director, filmmaker, dramaturg, lecturer and teacher Dermot Daly, My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored would have played CAST, Doncaster, on December 4; Cluntergate Centre, Horbury (Red Ladder Local), December 6, and The Holbeck, Leeds, December 11 with a cast of Jelani D’Aguilar and Misha Duncan-Barry.

The first play by 29-year-old Ghanaian-English writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor is an urgent interrogation of black identity, wherein a question is posed: if you see something you do not agree with, do you intervene?

The cast and creative crew for Red Ladder’s My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored, left to right: artistic director Rod Dixon;, Jelani D’Aguilar (Reece, front row), director Dermot Daly (back row); Misha Duncan-Barry (Gillian) and writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor. Picture: Anthony Robling

What happens if you are a teacher, and the issue is with your student? What happens if you are outside of work and you see them being stopped and searched and manhandled by the police? Do you run over and stop the act, or do you watch, waiting to find out all the facts?

This is the case for Gillian Akwasi, a black twenty-something teacher who witnesses her student, Reece Ofori, 15, being accosted by the police outside M&S but does not question or intervene in the disturbing scene that plays out. The next day, Reece confronts her, locking them both in her classroom at the end of the school day.

For his writing, Kufuor draws influence from his experiences when growing up in Stockport with Ghanaian parents and then working in education with young people from a range of backgrounds.

Revealing the real-life situation that inspired his hard-hitting drama, Kufuor explains: “Working at a Pupil Referral Unit, I once had a student try to take a knife to stab another student. Once I’d calmed him down, we sat in the canteen and he explained to me he wasn’t going to go quietly.

“The police were outside and they took him. I saw him a few weeks later, and he asked why I didn’t help him? That rush of guilt changed to anger and quickly to sympathy as he saw me as his protector.

Red Ladder cast members Misha-Duncan Barry and Jelani D’Aguilar in rehearsal. Picture: Anthony Robling

“But I knew I couldn’t do anything. The crux of this play is how two people react to the same situation: they go on a journey; a journey a lot of people of colour go on – a realisation that where you are now isn’t necessarily where you come from.”   

My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored was developed as part of a year-long writing commission for Box Of Tricks and staged as a rehearsed reading at HOME, Manchester, in January 2020, where it was seen by Red Ladder’s Rod Dixon.

For five decades, Red Ladder has produced new writing by voices whose work often is unheard on our stages, and the Leeds touring theatre company has been thrilled to develop Kufuor’s play for its first tour.

Ahead of the now-postponed tour, Dixon said: “We’re very excited to be working with Nana-Kofi Kufuor. This important play addresses key issues about race and identity at a time when society needs to heal division and strife.

“We’ve brought together a fantastic creative team, including director Dermot Daly, and look forward to taking this new work on tour and welcoming back audiences in theatres and community venues in a safe way.”

Roll on that day.

Playwright Nana-Kofi Kufuor. Picture: Emma Bailey

Who is Nana-Kofi Kufuor?

NANA-KOFI Kufuor – or Kofi Kufuor, as he goes by to friends and family – is a 29-year-old Ghanaian-English writer from Stockport, North West England.

He attended the University of Cumbria, attaining a BA Hons in film and television production in 2014 and a master’s degree in screenwriting in film, television and radio in 2018.

Kofi won a BBC 1xtra monologue prize in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Theatre Uncut political playwriting prize in 2019.

He was attached to Box Of Tricks’ year-long writers’ commission, PlayBox Takeover, in 2019 that culminated in a reading of his play My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored at HOME, Manchester in January 2020.

Kofi is now working on a television project and focusing on writing two other plays before the year is out. Over this summer, he worked with Northern Broadsides on a lockdown project that was filmed and shown on the Halifax company’s as part of a collection of short plays. Kofi is a supported artist at Oldham Coliseum.

A Pilgrim’s Tale leads Seth Lakeman to Doncaster to mark Mayflower’s 400th anniversary

Seth Lakeman: telling A Pilgrim’s Tale to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail

DEVON folk musician Seth Lakeman heralds Friday’s release of his album A Pilgrim’s Tale with a tour that opens at Cast, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, tomorrow night (February 5).

This year marks 400 years since The Mayflower ship departed these shores for the Americas.

Lakeman was raised and still lives on Dartmoor, within sight of the sea at Plymouth, from where the Puritans sailed on The Mayflower in 1620.

His album tells the epic and soulful tale of the Pilgrim Fathers, and consequently, the ten tour dates are routed in a trail of towns and cities that, for various reasons, hold significance to the Mayflower journey.

Locations such as Immingham – where Separatists made a dangerous escape from England to Holland in their search for religious freedom – and Dartmouth, where the ship was anchored for repairs. Doncaster, Harwich, London and, of course, Plymouth feature too.

“If you’d never heard anything about The Mayflower and the birth of the modern USA, these words and music could be your primer,” says Seth, whose album is narrated by actor Paul McGann and features guest performers Cara Dillon, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls and Seth’s father, Geoff Lakeman.

The Mayflower carried British and Dutch passengers with hopes of fresh settlement, who were met by the Wampanoag first nation tribe on arrival. Bottling the spirit of the 17th century pilgrimage, Lakeman has written and performed a selection songs that shape a fictional narrative of the journey, informed by research from text, such as the journals of William Bradford; conversations with modern-day ancestors of the Wampanoag people at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, and information sourced at the national heritage sites that still exist in the UK. 

The artwork for Seth Lakeman’s album A Pilgrim’s Tale

Chronicling the voyage and early settlement in these songs, Lakeman has created a drama that celebrates the history but does not lose sight of the journey’s tribulations. It stays sensitive to important facets of the story; the religious liberation that passengers were trying to achieve, the nefarious deeds enacted on the Wampanoag, and the deaths that followed on both sides.

Lakeman feels linked intrinsically to the story. “I didn’t have far to go for inspiration,” he says. “The Mayflower Steps, on Plymouth’s cobbled Barbican streets, are 20 minutes away from me.

“I fished from this quay as a boy, sang songs on tall ships tied up here and played music in just about every old sailors’ pub in this Elizabethan quarter.” 

The stories in the songs are told from a variety of perspectives, from personal accounts, such as the opening number, Watch Out, detailing deadly premonitions of a Wampanoag girl, to tales of the collective travellers in songs such as Pilgrim Brother and Sailing Time, each marching at a hopeful cadence, reflecting their early optimism.

In an immersive tale of struggle, songs bring to life anew 17th century characters: a crewman wrestling to control the ship; a pilgrim celebrating in rapturous faith, or the solemn Wampanoag tribesmen forlornly surrendering to the new way of life thrust on them. 

Inspiration for the project came when Lakeman was on tour in Robert Plant’s band and paid a visit to the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts to talk to the Wampanoag that still reside in the area.

It did not take long for the songs to form on his return to England. “After I travelled home from the ‘New World’ to Plymouth, everything happened in a quite mystical way. The songs came together so speedily and with exactly the vibe I wanted, and we recorded in a very short time in my Crossways Studio at home on Dartmoor,” says Seth, who at present is hosting the BBC Radio 2 series Seth Lakeman’s Folk Map Of The British Isles on Saturday nights..

To supplement the recordings, a between-song narration was written by the associate director of Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, Nick Stimson, and read by Paul McGann, who Lakeman was elated to have on board.

“As we finished the album, another quite magical thing happened, when Paul agreed to voice the narration between the tracks on the record. He pitched it perfectly,” he says.

Released on BMG, the album track listing is: Watch Out; Pilgrim Brother; Westward Bound; A Pilgrim’s Warning; Sailing Time; The Great Iron Screw; Dear Isles Of England; Saints And Strangers; Foreign Man; Bury Nights; The Digging Song and Mayflower Waltz.

Tickets for Lakeman’s 7.30pm concert in Cast’s Main Space tomorrow (February 5) are on sale at castindoncaster.com or on 01302 303959.