Community show of the year: Sovereign, King’s Manor, York, July
YORK Theatre Royal’s best show of the year was not at the Theatre Royal, but across Exhibition Square in the courtard of King’s Manor, the setting for C J Sansom’s Tudor sleuth yarn, adapted typically adroitly by the golden pen of York playwright Mike Kenny.
Henry VIII was given the Yorkshire cold shoulder by a cast of 100 led by Fergus Rattigan and Sam Thorpe-Spinks, complemented by Madeleine Hudson’s choir.
Solo performance of the year: Livy Potter in Black Treacle Theatre’s Iphigenia In Splott, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March
GREEK myth is smacked in the chops by modern reality in Gary Owen’s scabrous, “horribly relevant” one-woman drama Iphigenia In Splott, a stark, dark 75-minute play, played out on a single blue chair, with no props, under Jim Paterson’s direction.
Livy Potter kept meeting you in the eye, telling you the bruised, devastating tale of Cardiff wastrel Effie, and her downward spiral through a mess of drink, drugs and drama every night, with shards of jagged humour and shattering blows to the heart.
Comedy show of the year: Rob Auton in The Crowd Show, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 24
COMEDIANS tend to play to a room full of strangers, hence the subject matter of Rob Auton’s The Crowd Show, with its discussions of crowds, people and connection.
Except that the crowd for this (London-based) York comedian, born in Barmby Moor and educated in Pocklington, was made up of friends, family, extended family, and loyal local enthusiasts. The home crowd, rather than the in-crowd, as it were. Auton revelled in a unique performing experience, even more surreal than usual.
Honourable mention: Stewart Lee, Basic Lee, York Theatre Royal, March 20. Serious yet seriously amusing dissection of the rotten state of the nation and comedy itself.
Exhibition of the year: Christmas In Neverland, Castle Howard, near York, running until January 7
IS it a Christmas event, an installation or an exhibition? All three, in that Charlotte Lloyd Webber Event Design makes an exhibit of the 300-year-old stately home at Castle Howard each winter.
This time, the theme is a Peter Pan-inspired festive experience, transforming rooms and corridors alike with floristry, installations, props, soundscapes, and projections, conjuring a Mermaid’s Lagoon, Captain Hook’s Cabin and the Jolly Roger with new innovations from Leeds company imitating the dog.
Honourable mention: Austrian artist Erwin Wurm’s absurdist sculptures in Trap Of The Truth, his first UK museum show, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, bringing a whimsical smile until April 28 2024.
Favourite gigs of the year?
SPOILT for choice. At York Barbican: Suzanne Vega, vowing I Never Wear White in droll delight on February 22; James, bolstered by orchestra and gospel choir, hitting heavenly heights, April 28; Dexys’ two sets, one new and theatrical, the other laden with soul-powered hits, September 5; Lloyd Cole’s two sets, one ostensibly acoustic, the other electric, both eclectic, on October 22.
At The Crescent: The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster, performing with his son; March 14; Lawrence, once of Felt and Denim, now channelling Mark E Smith and the Velvet Underground in Mozart Estate, October 7; The Howl And The Hum’s extraordinary, deeply emotional three-night farewell to the York band’s original line-up in December.
Outdoor experience of the year: Pulp, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 9
THE rain swept in on the Eighties’ electronic nostalgia of Being Boiled at the Human League’s Music Showcase Weekend at York Racecourse on July 28 too, but that was a mere watering can by comparison with the deluge that befell the Open Air Theatre half an hour before fellow Sheffield legends Pulp took to the Scarborough stage. “Has it been raining?”, teased Jarvis Cocker, but huddled beneath hastily purchased sheeting, the night was still plastic fantastic.
Driving force of the year in York: Cherie Federico, Aesthetica
2023 marked the 20th anniversary of Aesthetica, the international art magazine set up in York by New Yorker and York St John University alumna Cherie Federico. The Aesthetica Art Prize was as innovative and stimulating as ever at York Art Gallery; the 13th Aesthetica Short Film Festival, spanning five days in November, was the biggest yet. On top of that came the Future Now Symposium in March and the launch of Reignite to bolster York’s focus on being a fulcrum for the arts, media arts and gaming industry innovations of the future.
Best Shakespeare of the year: The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, April
THE SJT teamed up with Shakespeare North Playhouse, Nick Lane paired up with co-writer Elizabeth Godber, and Eighties’ pop guilty pleasures rubbed shoulders with Shakespeare’s rebooted comedy as Yorkshire clashed with Lancashire and everyone won. This Comedy Of Errors got everything right. Not more or less. Just right. Full stop.
New musical of the year in York: Mayflies, York Theatre Royal, May
YORK Theatre Royal resident artist Gus Gowland deserved far bigger audiences for the premiere of the intriguing Mayflies, as confirmed by no fewer than nine nominations in the BroadwayWorldUK Awards.
O, the app-hazard nature of modern love under Covid’s black cloud, as two people meet up after two years of tentative communication online. In Tania Azevedo’s flexible casting, you could pick any configuration of Rumi Sutton, Nuno Queimado or Emma Thornett for the couple of your choice. Better still, you should have seen all three; the songs, the nuances, the humour, grew with familiarity.
Still delivering the goods in Yorkshire
ALAN Ayckbourn’s visions of AI in Constant Companions, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough; John Godber’s Northern Soul-powered Do I Love You?, on tour into 2024; Barnsley bard Ian McMillan’s Yorkshire take on The Barber Of Seville, St George’s Hall, Bradford; Robin Simpson’s dame in Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal.
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