All the world’s a stage for Robin Simpson in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It, but for one week only at York Theatre Royal

As You Like It: All the world’s a stage for Robin Simpson’s melancholic Jacques in Northern Broadsides’ touring production for one week only at York Theatre Royal

YORK Theatre Royal pantomime favourite Robin Simpson is “very pleased and slightly scared” to be stepping into the shoes of Jacques for this week and this week only in Northern Broadsides’ comedy As You Like It.

Last seen on the York stage as Manky in an Ugly Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard’s Mardy in Cinderella – more of which in a moment – storyteller, panto dame and actor Robin will be taking over from Adam Kashmiry, performer, experimental mover, drag artist, storyteller and queer activist.

“Come and watch me muck it up!” says Robin on his Twitter feed. “All the world’s stage etc…”

After a week when a Covic outbreak among the cast scuppered all the Broadsides performances at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, all the world will be Robin’s stage from tomorrow at York Theatre Royal.

In the Halifax company’s “diverse cast of 12 fabulous northern actors”, Simpson will be playing the melancholic, cynical Jacques, who is bestowed two of Shakespeare’s most celebrated soliloquies, including the aforementioned “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

Jacques’s sentiment leads to director Laurie Sansom’s exploration of the endless possibilities of a world where “gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in this celebration of the crazy power of love to change the world and the sheer joy of live performance”.

That sheer joy of live performance emanated from Simpson and Hawkyard’s riotous sisterly double act in Cinderella, co-produced by York Theatre Royal and partners in pantomime Evolution Productions, leading to their nomination for Best Ugly Sisters in the UK Pantomime Association’s Pantomime Awards 2022.

As you bike it: Robin Simpson’s Manky and Paul Hawkyard’s Mardy in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella, now nominated for Best Ugly Sisters in the UK Pantomime Association’s Pantomime Awards 2022

Directed by Juliet Forster and scripted by P:aul Hendy, Cinderella also has been nominated for Best Pantomime (500 to 900 seats).

Further nominations of CharlesHutchPress note go to York actor, magician and comedian Josh Benson for Best Comic for Joshin’ Josh in Imagine Theatre’s Jack And The Beanstalk at Halifax Victoria Theatre and to Joyce Branagh for Best Director for Harrogate Theatre’s Cinderella, after taking on the in-house production in the wake of regular director and co-writer Phil Lowe passing away unexpectedly last October.

During the 2021/2022 season, 46 judges saw 207 pantomimes across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, travelling from Aberdeen to Aylesbury, Belfast to Bognor and Cardiff to Canterbury.

The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday, April 19 at the Trafalgar Theatre in London’s West End,  hosted by veteran panto dame Christopher Biggins.

Meanwhile, Northern Broadsides’ gender-fluid As You Like It plays York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (23/3/2022) until Saturday at 7.30pm nightly plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Further Yorkshire performances will follow at Leeds Playhouse, May 17 to 21; The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, June 9 to 18; CAST, Doncaster, June 21 to 25, and Harrogate Theatre, June 28 to July 2. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700; Halifax, 01422 849 227; Doncaster, 01302 303959; Harrogate, 01423 502116.

Cinderella resumes tomorrow at York Theatre Royal after Covid forced week off

CBeebies’ Andy Day as Dandini in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

YORK Theatre Royal’s pantomime resumes tomorrow for its final run of shows after a Covid-enforced week off.

Positive tests among cast members and understudies meant the management was seeking its fourth Cinderella when the decision was made to stop the revolving door of replacements and extra rehearsals.

Now, Cinderella will be going to the ball again, extra shows and all, until January 2, and among those returning to the stage will be Andy Day’s Dandini, Faye Campbell’s Cinderella, Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and ventriloquist Max Fulham’s Buttons (along with his dummy, the cheeky monkey Gordon).

CBeebies’ presenter Andy Day had already made one appearance in York this year before Cinderella…with his band, Andy And The Oddsocks. “We did nine festivals this year – we usually do loads of shows over the festival season – and among those getting in touch was York Balloon Fiesta, where we played in late-August,” he says.

“It was one of our favourites gigs, playing next to the racecourse. I’d been to York only a couple of times before, but my dad is a massive fan of York, so he’s coming to see the panto. He’s not bothered about seeing me, just seeing York!”

Andy is performing in his sixth panto for York Theatre Royal’s pantomime partners, Evolution Productions. “The first one I did for them was Cinderella: that was the last time I did Cinderella, playing Dandini that time too, in St Albans,” he says, going on to recall making his panto debut at 21 as the Genie in Aladdin in Ilford.

Andy is synonymous with CBeebies, not only as a presenter but as an actor too. “I was very fortunate to get into kids’ TV 16 years ago. I always wanted to do that; that was my aim when I was doing stuff at the Millennium Dome and theatre in education in Italy, which I really enjoyed.

“From there, I got an audition for CBeebies, and out of 2,000 applicants, I got down to the last 11, and it just so happened I was different to the others and so I was chosen.”

His wide-eyed expressions, affability, strong singing voice and bond with children make him a natural for pantomime. “The great thing about Evolution pantomimes – and I love Paul Hendy’s writing – is that they really are a show for everyone, making it my favourite form of family entertainment, because parents can enjoy it as much as their children,” Andy says. “Good comedy, good music, something for the adults, and then there’s the magic of it all, especially in Cinderella.”

Andy has worked with Cinderella director Juliet Forster previously, having appeared in her TV production of CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, premiered in April. “They’re always great fun to do,” he says. “I’d done The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, and though I don’t class myself as a Shakespearean actor, it’s really nice to do the roles and enjoy Shakespeare – and Juliet is a real joy to work with.

“I played Lord Capulet, after I was Caliban in The Tempest: I always seem to play the slightly nasty one, whether in CBeebies’ pantos or Shakespeare! Though I was Peter Quince, one of the Mechanicals, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so that was a humorous role.”

Luton-born Andy is making his York Theatre Royal debut at 40, but where might his pantomime ambitions lead him next? “I’d love to play Captain Hook [in Peter Pan] one day. That would be my dream panto role,” he says.

Faye Campbell’s “independent, modern-day” Cinderella

Faye Campbell tweeted her excitement at returning to York today to prepare for tomorrow afternoon’s resumption of stage business. Just as she had been excited at landing the title role. “I got a first taste of working with Juliet last year when I was in the Travelling Pantomime that we took around the city.

“We did a few performances on the main stage at the start and the end of the run, putting the Travelling Pantomime set on that stage, so I have been on a ‘stage’ on that stage before!”

Faye previously did a school tour of Snow White in late 2018, in the title role. “It was similar to the Travelling Pantomime, going to community centres and primary schools for hour-long performances,” she recalls. “Now, Cinderella is my first panto on a theatre main stage.”

As a child, Faye went to pantomimes at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre (and sometimes at Birmingham Hippodrome too). “We used to go every year, and it was my first experience of theatre, as it is for many families,” she says.

“That’s why panto is so special for everyone: they go to pantomimes, even if they don’t go to anything else. Pantomime is more accessible, which I think is important.”

When Faye does not have an acting commitment, she works at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre as an usher. “For a lot of people in the industry, we can’t pretend work has not been slow or hard to get, but it’s just exciting to see theatres re-opening – and it’s very emotional for theatres to be able to present pantomimes again,” she says.

Her Cinderella fits the 21st century style of the Theatre Royal and Evolution co-production. “I’m playing her more as an independent, modern-day woman,” says Faye. “I think it’s important to represent a strong, independent woman today, with the same themes as before but with an edge to her.”

Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

Benjamin Lafayette could not have had a more contrasting start to his professional career, first making his debut in the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello at The Mill Theatre, Dundrum, South Dublin, followed by his pantomime bow as Prince Charming in Cinderella.

“This is my first time in York, my first time working with Evolution Productions,” says Benjamin, continuing the theme of firsts. “It came about through my agent. I got the call in a busy period because I’d just found out I was going to do Othello in Dublin.

“I was already packing my bags, and then my agent said, ‘Oh, I have an audition for you for a pantomime’. I’d never done a panto, but I’m the kind of person who will give anything a shot’.”

His audition negotiated successfully, Benjamin headed off to Dublin, and then briefly to York. “The launch day for Cinderella was during my rehearsals for Othello, so I flew in and out on the same day,” he says. “I’d just rehearsed Othello’s final scene, and then had to fly in and be…charming at the Theatre Royal launch!”

What an experience was in store for him under the direction of Geoff O’Keefe in Dublin. “Safe to say, I was exhausted after every show, doing two performances a day after the intensive rehearsal period,” he recalls.

There was no hiding place; there was so much to do, but it was brilliant. I’m still quite young, and playing Othello so young, at 24, was really special to do so early in my career. It was a real learning experience and I’ve really grown as an actor, realising the importance of different stage crafts.”

Performing in a cast with seven Irish actors, alongside Michael Ford from Surrey, Birmingham-born Benjamin drew good reviews – or so he was told. “I really try not to read them at the time, but from what my family and friends said, it went really well,” he says.

Benjamin completed his Othello run on October 22, and when he began rehearsals in York in November, doing pantomime initially “felt really foreign”, but gradually “the glitter of it all” took over.

“Prince Charming is seen as one of the ‘straight’ panto characters but we’ve been given licence by Juliet to have fun with our characters, which is an actor’s dream,” he says. “There are definitely moments of wanting to be part of the joke.”

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his misbehaving monkey puppet, Gordon

Plenty of the humour in Cinderella emanates from Max Fulham and his irrepressible Monkey in the ventriloquist’s York Theatre Royal debut.

Already he has a prestigious award to his name: Best Speciality Act at the Great British Pantomime Awards from his 2019-2020 season in Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. “Because of lockdown, I received that award at home, eating crisps, getting a nice little trophy,” says Max. “I was in such esteemed company: I think we beat Sooty and a dance group.”

He began doing ventriloquism – talking with his mouth closed – at the age of nine. “The puppet came first. I’ve always loved puppets, and I’m from the era where it’s not like I saw someone doing a ventriloquist act at a theatre. No, I saw a video on YouTube,” says Max.

“I typed in ‘puppet’, watched a ventriloquist, watched some more, old and new, and I became obsessed with everything, from Paul Zerdin and Jeff Dunham to the earlier talents of Arthur Worsley and Ray Alan, who was the master technique-wise. Phenomenal.”

Max first acquired a monkey puppet when he was ten. “I named him Gordon and he stayed with  me as I developed routines, starting to do children’s parties when I was 12/13, in Farnham, after we’d moved from Scotland, where I’d lived from when I was four to 11,” he says.

“I grew up there watching acts at the Edinburgh Fringe every summer, which made me think ‘I could do this’. I used to do shows for my grandmother when my parents were out at work, and I did my first paid gig for £25 when I was 12 for old people in a hall at a New Year’s party.”

Max performed his ventriloquist act throughout his school years. “Yes, of course I was seen as an oddball as I was talking to myself, though comedy is a social survival mechanism for us oddballs,” he says.

“It meant I could entertain people and I’ve always loved making people laugh. Now I can be a professional oddball, and a professional twit is a good thing to be. I like being unusual!”

Max was still in the sixth form when he did his first pantomime in 2017. “I was just turning 18, and I’d just learned to drive and had to drive from Surrey to Lincolnshire, so that was a baptism of fire, as was doing pantomime, because it’s so full-on. It’s great fun but it demands a lot of hard work,” he says.

He has performed in panto each winter since that Spalding debut, taking him to Cambridge, Bromley and the Garrick Theatre in Lichfield last year. “We managed to do our rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk, but saw what was developing, so we did a film version that was then streamed online when the performances were cancelled,” Max says.

Thankfully, this winter, Fulham has been able to perform to the Max in Cinderella…until the Covid outbreak in the cast intervened, but now the show can go on again in the finishing straight.

Cinderella’s remaining performances at York Theatre Royal: Thursday, 2.30pm, 7pm; Friday, 11am, 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1pm, 5.30pm. Tickets are available for all shows on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

UPDATE at 1.55pm on December 30

EVERYONE from the Cinderella principal cast is back on stage today except for Sarah Leatherbarrow. Amy Hammond, from the ensemble, will deputise as the Fairy.

Guitarist and bass player Luke Gaul is the musical director in place of Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price. Christian Mortimer, from the ensemble, is missing too. All three absences are Covid-related.

You won’t go to the ball as Covid becomes the Ugly Sister of the pantomime season

Faye Campbell’s Cinderella in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal, where a Covid outbreak in the cast has shut down performances until December 30

YORKSHIRE culture podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson discuss the impact of Covid on the busiest time of the theatre year in Episode 70 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Under discussion too are Don’t Look Up, Andy McKay’s follow-up film to The Big Short; filming The Witcher in Harrogate; farewell to the Uthink Piccadilly Pop-Up art studios in York, and World Party’s neglected forewarning of climate change decades ago.

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9786685

Cinderella cancelled for a week at York Theatre Royal after Covid floors cast

Stopped in their tracks: CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini) and the ensemble in York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions’ Cinderella

CINDERELLA and you will not be going to the ball for a week at York Theatre Royal after Covid-19 – re-cast as the Ugly Sister of the panto world – forced “an increasing number” of the company to self-isolate from today.

All being well, Juliet Forster’s production will be back on stage on Thursday, December 30 with two performances that day at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Chief executive Tom Bird tweeted: “We tried so hard. We got to our fourth Cinderella. But it was too much to carry on. See you on the 30th.” The rehearsal room needed a revolving door, it was so hectic this week.

The Theatre Royal’s statement advises: “Our box office will be in touch with ticket holders as quickly as they can to make alternative arrangements. We want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding at this difficult time”.

Understudies already had stepped into roles at some performances this week after several cast members tested positive for Covid. A new actress was drafted in to play Cinderella, arriving in York last night, but when several more cast members tested positive today (23/12/2021), it was decided the show could not be performed over Christmas, given the uncertainty surrounding cast availability.

“We’ve tried really hard to ensure the show goes on, but the increasing number of the company having to self-isolate has meant that we can’t continue,” the statement continues. “We are offering several options to our audiences: to book for another performance of Cinderella from December 30; to transfer their tickets to Peter Pan next winter; to have a credit or voucher to book for another show, or the offer of a full refund”. 

Extra performances are being added to the schedule to make up for the lost shows. Cinderella will not go into extra time; the show will still end on January 2…unless the Government imposes prohibitive new restrictions in its next Covid briefing before then. Wait and see.

What’s on the menu? More Things To Do in York and beyond, hopefully, but check for updates. List No. 62, from The Press, York

Waiter! David Leonard’s Vermin the Destroyer, left, and A J Powell’s Luvlie Limpit survey what’s left of the Ye Olde Whippet Inn menu as Martin Barrass’s Dunkin Donut offers advice in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Picture: David Harrison

GIVEN the ever-changing Omicron briefings, Charles Hutchinson has a rubber as well as a pencil in his hand as he highlights what to see now and further ahead.

Still time for pantomime unless Omicron measures intervene part one: Dick Turpin Rides Again, Grand Opera House, York, until January 9

BACK on stage for the first time since February 2 2019, grand dame Berwick Kaler reunites with long-standing partners in panto Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and A J Powell.

After his crosstown switch to the Grand Opera House, Kaler steps out of retirement to write, direct and lead his first show for Crossroads Pantomimes, playing Dotty Donut, with Daniel Conway as the company’s new face in the Essex lad title role amid the familiar Kaler traditions. Look out for the flying horse. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.

Come join the rev-olution: Stepsisters Manky (Robin Simpson), left, and Mardy (Paul Hawkyard) make a raucous entrance in Cinderella. Alas, the Theatre Royal panto is now on hold until December 30 after a Covid outbreak

Still time for pantomime but only after a week in self-isolation: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, ending on January 2 2022

COVID has struck three cast members and understudies too, leading to the decision to cancel performances of Cinderella from today until December 30.

Fingers crossed, you can still enjoy Evolution Productions writer Paul Hendy and York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s panto custom-built for 21st century audiences.

Targeted at drawing in children with magical storytelling, silliness aplenty and pop songs, Cinderella has a thoroughly modern cast, ranging from CBeebies’ Andy Day as Dandini to Faye Campbell as Cinders and ventriloquist Max Fulham as Buttons, with his Monkey on hand for cheekiness.

Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s riotous step-sisters Manky and Mardy and puns galore add to the fun. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

A wintry landscape by Julia Borodina, on show at Blossom Street Gallery, York

Buy now before her prices go up! Julia Borodina, Into The Light, Blossom Street Gallery, York, until January 31

JULIA Borodina will be competing in Sky’ Arts’ 2022 Landscape Artist of the Year, set for screening in January and February. Perfect timing for her York exhibition, Into The Light, on show until the end of next month.

Bretta Gerecke, part of the design team behind Castle Howard’s Christmas In Narnia displays, stands by the 28ft decorated tree in the Great Hall. Picture: Charlotte Graham

THE Christmas tree of the season: Christmas In Narnia at Castle Howard, near York, until January 2

CASTLE Howard has topped past peaks by installing a 28ft spruce tree from Scotland in the Great Hall as part of the Christmas In Narnia displays and decorations.

 “We believe that this is the largest real indoor Christmas tree in the country, standing around eight feet higher than the impressive tree normally installed in Buckingham Palace,” says the Hon Nicholas Howard, guardian of Castle Howard. 

“It’s certainly the largest we have had, both in terms of height and width at the base, which has a huge footprint in the Great Hall – but thankfully leaves a gap on either side for visitors to walk right around it.” Tickets for Christmas In Narnia must be booked before arrival at castlehoward.co.uk.

York Community Choir Festival: Eight diverse concerts at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

Choirs galore: York Community Choir Festival, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 27 to March 5 2022

EIGHT shows, different every night, will be the format for this choral celebration of how and why people come together to make music and have fun.

At least four choirs will be on stage in every concert in a festival featuring show tunes, pop and folk songs, world music, classical music, gospel songs, close harmonies, blues and jazz.

From primary-school choirs through to teenage, young adult and adult choirs, the choral configurations span male groups, female groups and mixed-voice choirs. Proceeds will go to the JoRo theatre from ticket sales on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

David Ford’s poster for his Interesting Times tour, visiting Pocklington Arts Centre in March

If you see one sage and rage singer-songwriter next year, make it: David Ford, Interesting Times Tour 22, Pocklington Arts Centre, March 10 2022, 8pm

EASTBOURNE troubadour David Ford will return to the road with an album of songs documenting the tumultuous year that was 2020.

May You Live In Interesting Times, his sixth studio set, charts the rise of Covid alongside the decline of President Trump. Recorded at home during various stages of lockdown, the album captures the moment with Ford’s trademark emotional eloquence and dark irony.

After the imposed hiatus times three (and maybe four, wait and see), the new incarnation of Ford’s innovative, incendiary live show promises to demonstrate just what happens when you shut such a creative force in a room for two years. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Sir Tom Jones: Playing Scarborough Open Air Theatre for a third time next summer

Amid the winter uncertainty, look to next summer’s knight to remember: Sir Tom Jones at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 26 2022

SIR Tom Jones will complete a hattrick of Scarborough Open Air Theatre concerts after his 2015 and 2017 gigs with his July return.

In April, the Welsh wonder released his 41st studio album, the chart-topping Surrounded By Time, featuring the singles Talking Reality Television Blues, No Hole in My Head, One More Cup of Coffee and Pop Star.

Sir Tom, 81, will play a second outdoor Yorkshire concert in 2022, at The Piece Hall, Halifax, on July 10. Box office for both shows: ticketmaster.co.uk.

Flying dreamers: Elbow showcase their ninth studio album in Scarborough next July

Deep in the bleak midwinter, think of days out on the Yorkshire coast part two: Elbow, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 9 2022

MAKE Elbow room in your diary to join Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Mark Potter and Pete Turner on the East Coast in July.

Formed in 1997 in Bury, Greater Manchester, BBC 6 Music Sunday afternoon presenter Garvey and co chalked up their seventh top ten album in 2021 with Flying Dream 1.

Released on November 19, Elbow’s ninth studio album was written remotely in home studios before the lifelong friends met up at the empty Brighton Theatre Royal to perfect, perform, and record the songs. Box office: ticketmaster.co.uk.

Ain’t nothing like their dames? Now Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard team up as lovably hateful stepsisters in Cinderella

All revved up to read the riot act: Robin Simpson’s Manky, left, and Paul Hawkyard’s Mardy know how to make an entrance in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

DIRECTOR Juliet Forster first noted Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s stage chemistry when they played two of the Rude Mechanicals in her Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in York in July 2018.

Now York Theatre Royal’s creative director has cast them us unruly stepsisters Manky and Mardy in Cinderella.

Both have dame roles in their panto locker, Robin last year donning the frocks for the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, having appeared in the Lawrence Batley Theatre panto in Huddersfield in the past few years.

“I was never under contract though; it was always just a case of them giving me a call early in the year, so it was a very free and easy arrangement,” he says.

Last Christmas, the Huddersfield panto was cancelled, and so Robin was able to continue an association with York Theatre Royal that began with The Little Mermaid in 2005 by appearing in Juliet and Evolution Productions’ writer-producer Paul Hendy’s first collaboration, the Travelling Pantomime. 

Robin Simpson in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime last winter

“It was a lovely script and such a lovely show to do, when we were all so happy to be in that situation of being able to perform when so many places were in Tier 3, but there we were in Tier 2, taking every day as a blessing, testing every other day, but still worrying that it would be shut down or that someone would test positive,” he says.

“We were always living on a knife edge, but we got through most of the run and we had such a blast because people were delighted they could see a show again and were so happy to see their children enjoying themselves.”

Lawrence Batley Theatre’s creative team changed with a new chief exec coming in; likewise, York Theatre Royal was looking to move on from Berwick Kaler’s 40-year damehood.  

“Both theatres were starting afresh, and with me facing a choice, I thought it would be a good time for me to move on, as they could start with a clean slate at Huddersfield, and performing in York always feels like coming home,” says Robin, who lives in Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield.

“York Theare Royal is such a wonderful theatre and I’ve done so many shows on that stage. I think York is the city I’ve worked in the most, playing at the National Railway Museum and Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre as well.”

Paul Hawkyard, standing somewhat taller and wider than Robin at 6ft 2, was born and raised in Leeds, and, as chance would have had it, he had just moved back to Yorkshire after many years of living down south when the opportunity to appear alongside him in Cinderella came about.

Paul Hawkyard as Bottom in Juliet Forster’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2019

“We’d loved being in the Scottish play [Macbeth] and A Midsummer Night’s Dream together in 2018,” he recalls. “Robin played the Wall in ‘the Wall Play’, I played Bottom, and we’d bring the show to a stop on numerous occasions, getting told to stop doing that!

“We were neighbours in the dressing room and got on so well, putting the world to rights, waiting for our cues, scrambling to the stage, so it’s lovely to be doing this show together.”

Actor and wildlife artist Paul has shed four stones since first playing Bottom. “I got diabetes and I packed in everything after that. I started the Blenheim Palace production in 2019 at one size and ended it at another. I don’t think the costume lady was very pleased!” he says of his fitness regime. “I started doing boxing workouts again and I’m no longer in the diabetic range.”

Paul subsequently left behind Bordon, Hampshire, for a new beginning in Selby. “Covid kicked in hard, and that was a big factor in deciding to return north. It meant I could come back because a lot of auditions are done on Zoom now, so you’re in a position where you don’t have to live in or near to London,” he says.

“I had a look around a lot of areas in Yorkshire and settled on Selby. I’d only been there once before, but I just wanted to be somewhere near York, as I love the place, and Selby is just down the road. I saw the house and that was it!”

Weight loss, house move, and now Paul has become engaged too, to Nicola Filshie. “I decided to marry the girl I’ve known for 26 years, who lives in Glasgow, so I spend a time a lot of time going up there. We’ve worked together a few times, and now we’ll be marrying next October,” he says.

Double trouble act: Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s comic tour de force as things turn ugly for Cinderella’s stepsisters at York Theatre Royal

Paul contacted Juliet Forster before making the move to Selby. “I said I was moving to Yorkshire and it would be lovely to see her, asking her to keep me in mind if anything came up.” 

Lo and behold, up came the Ugly Stepsister partnership with Simpson in Cinderella. “We are very different,” says Paul. “He’s quietly brilliant and I’m very loud!” 

Making his professional debut in pantomime, he first played Simple Simon in a Pantoni Productions show in his early 20s and has since appeared as Buttons, assorted dames and even the villainous Abanazar out in Dubai.

By comparison, Robin has always played dame. “Maybe a lot of dames see themselves as appealing to the adults, with the comedian turn for the children, but I’ve never thought of it like that. You have to appeal to everyone. I don’t want to alienate children,” he says.

Somehow, this even applies when playing the outwardly unappealing, antagonistic stepsisters Manky and Mardy. Robin and Paul may enter each time to ever more raucous jeering, but they are lovably absurd, boastful villains, mean but funny. “Aren’t we brilliant?” they jest. They are, as it happens!

COVID UPDATE 23/12/2021

NO performances of Cinderella from December 23 for a week after a Covid outbreak among cast members. Provisionally, the production will resume on December 30, with two extra performances being added to the run that ends on January 2. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

How Hayley Del Harrison brought the dance to CBeebies’ Christmas show and York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

Cinderella choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, front, with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble: middle row, dance captain Ella Guest, left, Thomas Yeomans and Lauren Richardson; back row, Christian Mortimer, Amy Hammond and Luke Lucas

YORK freelance choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison’s creativity can be seen at the double this festive season.

Not only has she choreographed York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions’ effervescent pantomime Cinderella, up and running until January 2, but also CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas.

Already this CBeebies Christmas show has made its cinema debut on November 28, and the TV launch on the Beeb will come rather sooner than the night before Christmas: Saturday, December 11 to be precise.

This is her second CBeebies project of the year, having worked with York Theatre Royal creative director (and Cinderella director) Juliet Forster on CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, filmed at Leeds Playhouse.

More on the Theatre Royal pantomime later, but first, Hayley, 50, recalls working on the CBeebies Christmas show from late-September through to October 10 in Plymouth, working under pandemic constraints that meant the company had to be put up in a hotel in social bubbles.

“We had the whole of the Plymouth Theatre Royal building to ourselves and the TR2 rehearsal room too,” she says.

“No-one else was allowed into the space because we knew the risk was too great. We had only that short window to rehearse it, a short window to film it, and that’s why we were so strict.

“We did it all in two weeks; the first week in the rehearsal space, and then in the second week we moved into the theatre, we teched it, and did two shows to invited audiences of schoolchildren and one without one for the couple of days of filming.”

York choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison

Hayley worked with director Chris Jarvis, a “CBeebies legend” with a theatre background, who had played Lord Montague in Forster’s CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet and has 25 years’ experience of directing, producing, writing and performing in pantomimes. This winter he is playing the dame, Betty Bonbon, in Beauty And The Beast at Poole’s Lighthouse, in Dorset.

Again the creative process was influenced by Covid strictures. “I got the songs [by Banks and Wag] and script in advance, and with everyone being so far away, we had the readthrough online, chats online with Chris Banks and a long Zoom meeting with Chris Jarvis about where my input would be, and I remember at one point jumping to my feet and saying, ‘I’m thinking of doing this’!” says Hayley.

“As the show is for young children, a lot of the choreography is designed so that they can copy it. It’s big on storytelling and simple to replicate because, once the show is on BBC iPlayer, they can watch it over and over again. These CBeebies shows are big on participation.”

Hayley worked with a CBeebies cast of 16. “I’d worked with eight of them before on Romeo And Juliet. It’s different from a theatre pantomime because it’s not like you have an ensemble,” she says.

“Everyone has their role, their unique selling point and their chance to shine, but they’re also brilliant at what they do whether as presenters or actors.  it’s been nice to get to know them over the two projects, getting an understanding of how they work and then wrapping the show around their characters to present Clement Clarke Moore’s beautiful poem.

“You’re working with characters who are much loved, so, for example, the character playing the villain has to be silly, rather than frightening, because it’s a show for two to six year olds. It means you have to be very careful; everything is more gentle but really funny.”

Looking back on her two CBeebies’ shows in 2021, Hayley says: “I feel I’ve built up a really good relationship and would love to do more of this work. Fingers crossed. 

“It already feels like being part of a family, similar to working at the Theatre Royal. When it feels right, it feels really collaborative and there’s a mutual understanding. I know how they work and they know how I work.”

CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini) with the ensemble in a song-and-dance routine from York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella, choreographed by Hayley Del Harrison

York-born Hayley’s focus then switched to Cinderella, working once more for York Theatre Royal after last year’s Travelling Pantomime (directed by Forster) and such previous productions as The Storm Whale and A View From The Bridge in 2019, For The Fallen in 2018 and In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum in 2015.

She received Paul Hendy’s script in October, when most of the music was signed off by musical supervisor James Harrison by the end of that month. “For this kind of show, the more information I have up front, the better I do my job,” says Hayley.

“I can start getting my head around it, though I do like creating in the room too. I’m up for being flexible, but I like to have a clear vision, and that’s what’s great about working with Juliet.

“Yes, she likes being creative in the rehearsal room but her vision is always clear, and because it’s clear, it gives me freedom. I understand where she’s coming from, and she trusts me.”

For Cinderella, Hayley has worked with the seven principals, a six-strong ensemble and two aerial artists, Connor and Tiffany of Duo Fusion, who take part in some of the dancing too.

“We did the auditions for the ensemble just before I went off to Plymouth, and I’ve been delighted to find such versatile performers,” she says.

“They have to do three separate dance styles: lyrical pieces; fun, comedic, highly technical jazz and tap, and work with the text.

“ I wanted everyone to bring something different to the table to ensure there were different characters within the ensemble, and we’re really happy with them. It’s not, ‘here come the dancers’; they’re very much part of the story.”

Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas premieres on December 11 and will then be available on BBC iPlayer.

CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas, choreographed by Hayley Del Harrison. Picture copyright : BBC

Theatre Royal’s fun-filled panto ensemble makes a song and dance of Cinderella

CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini), left, and the ensemble’s Christian Mortimer, Ella Guest, Luke Lucas, Amy Hammond and Thomas Yeomans in a song-and-dance routine in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

YORK Theatre Royal pantomime choreographer Hayley Del Harrison was determined to employ dancers from the north when casting for Cinderella.

She succeeded in her aim: five of the six-strong team of dancers are from Yorkshire, two of them from York.

“There’s a lot of talk about supporting regional artists in theatres across the country but it’s rarely implemented,” says York-born Hayley, who danced professionally in the West End and Europe as well as teaching dance and choreographing for 30 years.

“There was no way we were going to do a London audition before we put out a casting call in Yorkshire. Dancers from the north spend a fortune travelling to London for auditions, ironically and far too often, for jobs in the north.

Cinderella choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, front, with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble: middle row, dance captain Ella Guest, left, Thomas Yeomans and Lauren Richardson; back row, Christian Mortimer, Amy Hammond and Luke Lucas

“As it happened, we didn’t even need to do a London audition because we found exactly what we were looking for on home grown soil. And they’re absolutely fantastic.”

Hayley trained at the Northern Ballet School in Manchester,  where two of the ensemble, Tom Yeomans, from York, and Lauren Richardson, from Helmsley, also trained. Cinderella marks the professional debut of both performers.

Tom appeared in youth roles with amateur companies York Light Opera Company and York Stage  while taking lessons at the Patricia Veale School of Dancing, in Holgate.

At Northern Ballet School, he studied all forms of dance, not only ballet and although he wants a career in musical theatre, he was thankful for such a broad training “because I got such a strong classical technique, which means we’re versatile in everything we do”.

Faye Campbell (Cinderella) and Max Fulham (Buttons) in rehearsal with Thomas Yeomans, back left, Amy Hammond and Luke Lucas

“I’m loving doing pantomime,” says Tom. “It’s such a fun thing and good experience – and I get to stay at home with my family at Christmas too.”

Lauren is relishing the opportunity too, having graduated in July. “I’m fed up with Zoom and dancing in my own bedroom. That’s not the best but we had to do it,” she says.

As a youngster, she danced in pantomimes as an amateur. Cinderella marks her first professional contract. “I used to watch pantomime when I was a little girl and think, ‘I’d like to be one of those dancers’. My passion just grew and grew,” she said.

“I’m more musical theatre than ballet but I wouldn’t be the dancer I am without learning ballet technique. Ballet is amazing but I prefer the more glitzy, showbiz sort of dance.”

Front row: Dance captain Ella Guest, left, Thomas Yeomans and Lauren Richardson; back row: Christian Mortimer, left, Amy Hammond and Luke Lucas

Another making her professional bow is the second debutant from York, Ella Guest. She began dancing as a child, going on to study performing arts at CAPA College, Wakefield, and Bird College Conservatoire of Dance and Musical Theatre, London.

“I started when I was young and absolutely loved dancing and singing and acting,” she says. “Acting gives you a chance to express yourself and have fun,” she says.

Ella has seen pantomimes at both York Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House, and she has even appeared in one: Cinderella at York Barbican a decade ago.

“It’s such a change of lifestyle after graduating, and Cinderella at the Theatre Royal fitted perfectly,” she says. “It’s really nice to have a job and to be at home to spend time with my family.”

Luke Lucas in the rehearsal room at the De Grey Rooms

Making her professional debut is Hull-born Amy Hammond, who grew up in Driffield. She graduated this year from SLP College, in Leeds, where her credits during training included the role of Nikki Wade in the Bad Girls musical and ensemble work in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Don’t Stop Me Now. She was also in dance shows featuring routines from big musicals such as Cats, 42nd Street and Fosse.

“My goal is to go into West End musicals, touring shows and things like that,” says Amy. “I’ve been dancing since I was very young and just love performing. “I saw pantos when I was younger and it’s really nice to see pantos move with the times, keeping up to date and adding modern touches as well as the more traditional things.”

Christian Mortimer is back in the city where he studied singing, acting and dancing for four years at York College – and back living at home with his parents in Harrogate.

Although he has been “singing all my life”, he does not know where the performing bug came from. “As I went into the sixth form, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he says. “I was doing science, sport and music for A-levels. Then I came across a musical theatre course at York College. I saw shows like Les Miserables and Billy Elliot and thought, ‘I’d love to do that’. It seemed more thrilling than going into the music industry.”

Luke Lucas, left, Christian Mortimer and Thomas Yeomans reach for the sky during rehearsals for Cinderella

His first professional job was in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the Isle of Man, while his further theatre credits include playing Issachar in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The sixth – and only non-Yorkshire – member of the ensemble, Luke Lucas, trained at Liverpool Theatre School in his home city. York Theatre Royal is not his first panto as his credits include the ensemble for Cinderella at Norwich Theatre Royal.

“I love panto and used to go to see it with my family. It was something to look forward to all year. I have four older brothers so you can imagine trips to the panto with five boys and my poor mother,” he says.

“I come from a family of movie fanatics and wanted to be an actor until I fell in love with dance. Since graduating, Luke has worked as a professional dancer, including the European tour of The Andrew Lloyd Webber Gala, and on cruise ships in the Mediterranean and Caribbean., as well as playing Abram in Romeo & Juliet and Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Liverpool Epstein Theatre.

Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming with the ensemble in a scene from York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

Choreographer Hayley spent loads of time with the dancers at the Cinderella auditions. “We ran quite a comprehensive casting process, exploring their skills by throwing an array of dance styles into the day, as well as their vocal abilities, acting experience, how they work with a script, how they interact as a group and their individual personalities,” she says.

“Auditions for dancers are often rushed and somewhat impersonal but it’s worth putting in the time to get the best out of people. We were absolutely spoilt for choice with so much talent in the room. They are really strong, playful performers, with a youthful energy and a fantastic work ethic.

“Plus they have funny bones, which is a joy and just up my street as I really don’t like to see a dance ensemble used as attractive decorations on the stage. They are an integral part of the show, establishing their characters, furthering the plot and intensifying the mood and style of the show.”

Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

By Steve Pratt

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Cinderella at York Theatre Royal ****

Rev-olution: Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s ugly, brash, “aren’t-we-brilliant” sisters, Manky and Mardy, herald the new dawn for pantomime at York Theatre Royal. Oh, and yes, they are brilliant!

Cinderella, York Theatre Royal/Evolution Productions, runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THIS is a new age for the York Theatre Royal pantomime, both an Evolution and a revolution, and the earlier start and finish to the shorter production run is only part of the story.

On Tom Bird’s watch as chief executive, the Theatre Royal has decided to look to the future with a new pantomime broom ushered in by (kitchen maid) Cinderella after last year’s Covid-enforced detour into a Travelling Pantomime around the city wards.

Enough has been said of the toxic finale to Dame Berwick Kaler’s unique, unrepeatable era. Let’s focus, instead, on what’s rosy in the new panto garden, cultivated by the award-laden Evolution Productions’ partnership with the Theatre Royal.

Faye Campbell’s Cinderella and the ensemble in Cinderella

The seeds were sown with last winter’s witty, snappy, pretty, compact Travelling Pantomime, written by Evolution’s astute director, Paul Hendy, directed by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and choreographed with bags of character by Hayley Del Harrison.

This team re-assembles for Cinderella, bringing along two of last winter’s panto players, Faye Campbell, for the title role, and Robin Simpson, who switches from dame to a rumbustious double act with big, boisterous Paul Hawkyard as scary-bikers Ugly Sisters Manky and Mardy. The beards may have gone since the press launch day, but they are still unmistakably two blokes in shock-frocks.

Forster knew they had chemistry from playing two of the Rude Mechanicals – Hawkyard was Bottom, by the way – in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s riotous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream in York. Now they form a rouge-and-ready, rowdy partnership, each as funny as the other, with fabulously over-the-top couture, and their Strictly Come Dancing send-up of clunky, hair-in-their-eyes hosts Tess and Claudia is a scream.

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his very cheeky monkey, Gordon

Campbell, meanwhile, looks even more at home on the big stage than she did in the community halls and sports centres last December, with her radiant smile, family audience appeal, sassiness, dance moves and soulful voice for Cinderella.

Appealing to families has been put at the forefront of the Theatre Royal’s panto mission, and while that might seem obvious, given pantomime’s traditional audience, it does need bolstering to build a new following. Producer Hendy and director Forster have dipped into commercial panto’s usual resources, but not in a cloying way.

Ever-so-amiable Andy Day, from CBeebies, is a canny pick for Dandini, often a straight-bat role, but here full of fizz, playful humour and natural rapport. Likewise, ventriloquist Max Fulham arrives in York with a 2020 Great British Pantomime Award in his pocket for Best Speciality Act and a very cheeky monkey called Gordon on his arm, who says everything that Fulham is thinking but wouldn’t get away with uttering.

A shoe? Bless you. CBeebies’ Andy Day, centre, with Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and Max Fulham’s Buttons

Fulham, as fresh faced and dimple cheeked as Michael McIntyre, is a music-hall classicist yet inventive in his ventriloquism partners (not only Gordon, but a fly and a pedal bin too), and he is both quick thinking and dexterous, juggling four skills at once at one point. His Buttons shines from start to finish; a big future lies ahead of him.

Benjamin Lafayette has just made his professional bow after Mountview Academy as Othello at the Mill Theatre, Dublin. From such a heavyweight tragedy, he switches with handsome grace and charm to Prince Charming, a very contrasting role but one he plays with a lovely lightness of touch, matched by his singing.

Sarah Leatherbarrow’s forever-enthusiastic Fairy Godmother gleefully overcomes the impediment of her left leg being in a protective boot, with her rapper’s delight in her rhyming couplets, to complete a strong principal cast, highly individual yet good team players too.

Hop to it: Sarah Leatherbarrow’s Fairy Godmother, defying her protective boot

Hendy and Forster introduce a second speciality act, the Duo Fusion aerialists, to accompany Campbell and Lafayette’s romantic ballad to breathtaking effect; the climactic first-half transformation scene is spectacular, and only the opening and closing screen presence of an animal-loving, BBC Radio 2 presenter from Liverpool feels like an unnecessary concession to glitzy modern pantoland. The novel variation on the time-honoured ghost scene is far more rewarding.

Even with a running time of two hours 35 minutes (including the interval), there is not a wasted moment in Hendy’s script, with its combination of puns, social comment, romance, slapstick, knowing nods to panto tropes, crisp storytelling and sheer love of making you laugh. 

Forster’s direction enhances all these winning ingredients, full of pace, energy, visual delight and verbal dexterity, while Harrison’s choreography bursts with life, fun and even funkiness in a series of familiar pop songs, with the ensemble playing their part to the full.

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

Musical director Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price enjoys plenty of interplay with the cast, while guitarist Luke Gaul has his moment in the solo spotlight. Helga Wood’s costumes are at their best for the Ugly Sisters, except for the wobbly hats; Phil Daniels and Michelle Marden’s set designs are solidly reliable, rather than full of inventive originality or beauty, but that is mere background detail. 

Typified by the glorious chaos of Fulham, Simpson and Hawkyard’s Disney-picture slapstick routine,  everyone is having a ball in Cinderella, setting a high benchmark for 21st century pantomime at its best.

In another break with last-night tradition, we even know the name of next year’s Theatre Royal & Evolution panto collaboration already: Peter Pan. That one will surely fly too.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Romantic pursuit: Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming, accompanied by the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

Where do you stand on Adele’s No Shuffle dictum in the age of constant change?

Adele’s album sleeve for 30

TWO Big Egos In A Small Car culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch have their say in Episode 67.

Also under discussion are Blood Youth, heavy metal and heady beer; James & Happy Mondays’ Manchester night in Leeds; Harrogate Theatre’s sublime pantomime, Cinderella; Mick Jagger’s dedication to the blues and House Of Gucci’s style versus content.

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9652018