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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.”
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.
YORK Theatre Royal will re-open tonight after 427 days, but chief executive Tom Bird feared this day might never have come.
Aside from two preview performances of December’s Travelling Pantomime tour, the main house stage has been in Covid-enforced hibernation since March 14’s performance of Alone In Berlin.
In the ensuing months, shorn of 89 per cent of its annual income being generated through selling tickets and associated revenue streams, the Theatre Royal had to cut its permanent staff by one third – seven voluntary redundancies and nine staff made redundant – after extensive consultations against a grim national picture where an estimated 40 per cent of theatre workers have lost jobs over the past 15 months.
Last September too, the Theatre Royal’s divorce was announced from the neighbouring De Grey Rooms, home to the theatre’s leased rehearsal rooms, workshops, offices and below-stairs costume department, as well as weddings, parties, award ceremonies and performances in the glorious ballroom.
Had Tom ever thought that the pandemic might be the final curtain for the Theatre Royal, England’s longest-running theatre outside London? “Yes, as early as last May, I started wondering. I remember it well because the weather was gorgeous, but the outlook was bleak, though it was at that stage that Arts Council England were brilliant, in that they moved very quickly to provide £160 million Emergency Funding to theatres like us,” he recalls.
The Theatre Royal received £196,493 to help to cover costs in the fallow months from last July to September 30. “The ACE grant was about ‘What do you need right now not to collapse?’,” said Tom at the time.
“But when 89 per cent of your income revolves around ticket sales, you’re looking at that situation thinking, ‘that’s 89 per cent of our revenue gone, a turnover of £4.5 million; what business survives that?’.”
What’s more, Tom and the theatre faced the problem of running an old, if recently refurbished, building that is both huge and hard to heat, “so much so that it costs £475,000 a year just to keep it open, without staffing, to cover heating, lighting, water and safety,” he reveals.
“At that point, we didn’t know that Culture Recovery Funding would be made available by the Government, though there was a lot of noise, and we didn’t know if the pantomime [Cinderella, in the Theatre Royal’s first collaboration with Evolution Productions] could go ahead.
“What we did was to get brave at that point, making big decisions, giving up the lease of De Grey House and the De Grey Rooms, going back into our old offices in the gorgeous, ramshackle Tate Wilkinson House.
“Then there’s the decision you never want to have to make: having to lose staff, and that decision still haunts me. But in a way, the need to make savings was pretty black and white; it wasn’t a case of looking to be a bit more efficient. We had to take steps now, and last summer was pretty tough.”
A Pop Up On The Patio festival season on the theatre terracing ran from August 14 to 29, a positive step in showcasing York and Yorkshire talent, but through the huge glass panes of the Theatre Royal could be seen the dormant foyer, box office and closed doorways to the main house and Studio: out of reach and shrouded in uncertainty.
Once the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund was announced, the Theatre Royal was awarded £230,000 to assist the theatre until March 31, but the pandemic’s grip put paid to any chance of Cinderella going to the ball at the Theatre Royal.
“What picked us up was deciding to do the Travelling Pantomime that we took round York’s wards: it gave us something to focus on, not just thinking ‘is the Theatre Royal going to survive?’,” says Tom.
“It energised us all, and it was such a great show to do, but the truth is, a year ago, I couldn’t have looked you in the eye and said, ‘this is going to be OK’.
“We didn’t even know what was going to happen through that year ahead, but I have to say that the Yorkshire producing theatres have been brilliant. York, Hull [Hull Truck], Leeds [Playhouse], Scarborough [Stephen Joseph Theatre] and Sheffield [Sheffield Theatres] have got together each week on Zoom, which has been a really good case of peers supporting each other…
“…and we are where we are now, reopening to coincide with Step 3 of the roadmap. Love is in the air at the Theatre Royal!”
Tom is referring to The Love Season, already trailered in CharlesHutchPress [April 29 2021], that opens with Love Bites: two nights of two nights of letters from the heart tonight and tomorrow at 8pm that have both sold out.
The Love Season should have opened on St Valentine’s Day, February 14, but Lockdown 3 put yet another red line through diary plans. However, a second round of the Cultural Recovering Fund grants has put a £324,289 spring in the Theatre Royal’s step, coupled with the third stage of lockdown loosening from today.
Love Bites will turn the spotlight on the creativity of artists from in and around York, whether poets, performers, singers, dancers or digital artists, who have been commissioned to write love letters celebrating the return to live performances after the easing of the Government’s pandemic restrictions.
Introduced by Look North alumnus Harry Gration, Love Biteswill explore the idea of love letters, dedicated to people, places, things, actions, occupations and more besides in five-minute specially commissioned bite-sized chunks.
The Love Season’s focus on human connection, the live experience and a sense of togetherness will embrace solo shows by stage and screen luminary Ralph Fiennes and Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh (The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…); a new Ben Brown political drama about writer Graham Greene and spy Kim Philby, A Splinter Of Ice, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Miss Julie,transposed to 1940s’ Hong Kong by writer Amy Ng and director Dadiow Lin.
The number one talking point is Ralph Fiennes’s Theatre Royal debut, in six performances from July 26 to 31, directing himself in the world-premiere tour of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets: a solo theatre adaptation of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Giddings, a set of poems first published together in 1943 on the themes of time, nature and the elements, faith and spirituality, war and mortality.
Tom says: “Ralph is rehearsing in London, opening at the Theatre Royal, Bath, from May 25 and then touring. We’re so chuffed to have Ralph coming to York. We can’t believe it!
“We’re thrilled that Ralph’s show became a possibility for us, and it’s a huge credit to him to recognise the need to support theatre around the country at this time. Let’s say it, it’s rare for an actor of his profile and standing to do a regional tour, but he’s seen that he can help to save some incredibly important producing houses, like this one, by doing a tour – and it’s not an act of charity; it’s an important and really exciting piece of work.”
Performances in The Love Season will be presented to socially distanced audiences, adhering to the latest Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and audiences with a reduced capacity of 344, but should Step 4 of the roadmap roll-out go ahead as planned on June 21, there is scope for more seats to go on sale for shows later in the season. Over to you, Mr Johnson and the Indian Variant fly in the ointment.
For full details of The Love Season, go to: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Tickets can be booked at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; on 01904 623568, Monday to Saturday, 12 noon to 3pm, and in person, Thursday to Saturday, 12 noon to 3pm.
YORK Theatre Royal is launching Pledge Ahead, an initiative that asks audiences and the wider community for financial support, seven deeply wounding months into the Coronavirus arts crisis.
The pledge will take the form of buying vouchers that can be exchanged later for theatre tickets once the still-closed building re-opens. More details can be found at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Launching the scheme, executive director Tom Bird said: “Lots of people have been asking what they can do to help the theatre at this critical time.
“By pledging ahead, our audiences can continue to support us while our building is closed and look forward to using their vouchers as soon as we are able to re-open our doors and welcome everyone back.”
The plea comes “at this critical time” when the Theatre Royal has revealed it has cut its permanent staff by one third – seven voluntary redundancies and nine staff made redundant – after extensive consultations.
In a further cost-cutting measure, the Theatre Royal also has confirmed it will not be renewing its lease of the neighbouring De Grey Rooms, home to rehearsals, workshops, staff offices and the below-stairs costume store, as well as weddings, parties, award ceremonies and performances in the glorious ballroom.
The “hand-back” will be completed this week after 11 years of renting the Grade 2-listed neo-classical Victorian building from York Conservation Trust.
The costume hire business will be re-located and will re-open in January; further announcements are awaited on exactly where, along with long-term plans for rehearsals, workshops and staff rooms once the Theatre Royal can re-open.
Bird said: “We have been forced to take some very difficult cost-saving decisions. It has been a devastating time for everyone involved but the theatre will survive and we are now looking ahead and planning for the future.”
Along with the redundancies, many more staff have taken cuts in hours and wages, to ensure the theatre survives, and the Government’s soon-to-disappear furlough scheme has played its supportive part too.
However, 89 per cent of York Theatre Royal’s annual income is generated through selling tickets and from associated revenue streams, such as the bars and café, from the tens of thousands of people who come through the doors of a theatre that underwent a £6.1 million redevelopment completed in 2016.
The Theatre Royal – the longest-running theatre in England outside London – reopened on April 22 that year with a new roof, an extended and re-modelled front-of-house area and a refurbished, reconfigured and redecorated main auditorium, with major improvements to access and environmental impact too.
Since the Covid-enforced closure in March, the Theatre Royal has reduced its costs “significantly”, the redundancies being the most draconian step so far.
“Like almost everywhere in British theatre, we have sadly had to reduce our team in order for the Theatre Royal to survive and provide a theatre for the community.
“There was zero ambiguity that it might have to happen, but all theatres are in this situation and I’m pleased that we have not closed any department, so we maintain producing expertise across the staff.”
Since lockdown, performances have been restricted to a Pop-Up On The Patio festival of 12 shows by diverse York performers on the Theatre Royal terracing from August 14 to 29, with a maximum audience of 35 at each show.
Cinderella shall not go to the ball this winter on the main stage, but instead the Theatre Royal and new pantomime partners Evolution Productions have announced the Travelling Pantomime, starring York magician, panto comic turn, actor and children’s entertainer Josh Benson.
The dates are yet to be announced, but the small-scale tour will visit sports centres, social clubs, halls and community centres in all 21 wards in York in December and January.
At each socially-distanced, Covid-secure performance, the audience will vote whether to watch Aladdin, Jack And The Beanstalk or Dick Whittington, all scripted by Evolution director and producer Paul Hendy and directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.
Meanwhile, the Theatre Royal expects to learn on Monday (October 5) whether its bid for a grant from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund has been successful…or not.
The theatre received £196,493 from Arts Council England’s Emergency Fund to help to cover July to September 30’s costs, and the latest grant application is “not a million miles from that figure,” confirmed Bird.
“The problem with an old building that’s so huge and hard to heat is that it costs £475,000 a year just to keep it open, without staffing, to cover heating, lighting, water and safety.
“Under Covid restrictions, things like the patio season and Travelling Pantomime are our direction of travel right now.
“It’s been brilliant to have done the patio shows and we’re totally over the moon with how that went; it was terrific giving local artists the chance to perform. Now we’re looking at further options for outdoor shows in York until it’s viable and safe to be back indoors.
“But we’re always mindful of the risk of a local lockdown, and the main task is to safeguard the future of the theatre and that’s going well but it’s a big fight.”
The Culture Recovery Fund grant, if approved, would cover October to March 31. “It’s a little bit more about recovery this time,” says Bird. “Last time, the ACE grant was about ‘What do you need right now not to collapse?’.
“We have interpreted the guidance for a grant in the best way we can and we hope the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Arts Council will see fit to support us in the best manner possible.”
Today, by the way, is Creative Performance Protest Day, a rallying call to “to highlight the Government’s failure to support the performing arts sector throughout the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Trafalgar Square, London, at midday will be among the focal points of a campaign whose urgency has been heightened by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new Job Retention Scheme not accommodating freelance arts workers in its definition of “viable” jobs.
CINDERELLA, you shall not go to the ball, because no pantomime will run at York Theatre Royal this Christmas. There will, however, be three Theatre Royal pantomimes this winter instead. Yes, three.
Rather than the traditional transformation scene of pumpkin and mice into carriage and horses, this Covid-enforced conversion will be a switch from the still-shut St Leonard’s Place building to the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime.
In tandem with new pantomime partners Evolution Productions, this pop-up enterprise will take the Theatre Royal on the road to every neighbourhood in York – all 21 wards – during December and January.
Each location, ranging from community halls to social clubs and sports centres, will be Covid-secure, adhering to Government guidance for staging socially distanced performances with capacities ranging from 35 to 50, and at each show, the audience members can vote for whether they want to see Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk or Aladdin.
The Travelling Pantomime retains the previously announced Cinderella triumvirate of Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird, who oversaw the breaking of the chain from 41 years of Dame Berwick Kaler pantomimes, associate director Juliet Forster as director and award-winning Evolution director and producer Paul Hendy as the writer, who will pen three scripts with York references aplenty.
Their first big signing is the pocket-sized bundle of York energy Josh Benson, magician, children’s entertainer, actor and Corntroller of Entertainment at York Maze, who had signed up for a further two years as the daft-lad comedy turn in the Halifax Victoria Theatre pantomime after his debut in Beauty And The Beast last winter.
Once confirmed that Victoria devotees would not be amused by Jack And The Beanstalk this winter, however, Josh was available to play his home city, and fresh from performing his Just Josh magic show at the Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, he quickly came on board for the panto road show.
‘I’m so chuffed to be able to play a part keeping York’s panto tradition alive, in a year where it feels like the majority of traditions have pretty much gone out the window,” says Benson. “What’s really special for me personally is the ‘full circle’ that’s happened, having actually started my professional career with York Theatre Royal, aged ten, in their 2007 panto Sinbad The Sailor.
“It’ll be so great to be back home for Christmas this year, finding a way to spread some panto joy amongst the current craziness.”
Details of venues, performance times and further casting – possibly a cast of five, but more likely four, local actors – will be released in the coming weeks.
Tom Bird, who has experience of mounting travelling shows when executive producer at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, says: “Our Travelling Pantomime will be a rip-roaring Christmas treat for the whole family. Audiences can expect hilarity and chaos, music and magic as our amazing actors visit every corner of York.
“It’s called the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime because it does exactly what it says on the tin and will travel to every York neighbourhood. It’ll be a small-scale show with a cast of four or five, where we’ll do whatever we need to do to meet the Government guidance at that time.
“We want it to be this generous offer to each community, where the audience gets to choose between three pantomimes, which gives scope for even more comedy. It’s quite a challenge for the designer [yet to be confirmed], having to design a set for three shows, but still having to taking the audience into another world.”
Bird is delighted that the Travelling Pantomime will still mark the debut of the new Theatre Royal and Evolution partnership. “We believe that Evolution are the most exciting pantomime company in the country right now: they won the Best Panto award again [for750 to 1,500-seat theatres] for Cinderella at Sheffield Lyceum in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards,” he says.
“Their pantomimes are dynamic, they’re electric, they’re funny and fabulous, and they’re not snooty, and Evolution are a belting company. I remain convinced that we’ll have one of the best pantomimes in the country when we do Cinderella in 2021 and, in the meantime, we have this exciting opportunity this winter.
“It’s great that Paul is writing the three scripts: his writing for pantomimes is graceful and funny and his shows are not blue, just good fun, and they’ll have a local flavour too.”
Bird is quick to stress that the Travelling Pantomime shows should not be seen as a Covid-necessitated compromise. “It’s a massive logistical enterprise, taking a show to all 21 York wards,” he says. “I have a history of doing shows like this, taking small-scale projects around the world for Shakespeare’s Globe.
“It really does give a project an artistic energy when you face logistical challenges, like we are in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Taking the Travelling Pantomime into the York communities is very direct, I hope it’s very democratic and it acknowledges the virus because there may be people that might not want to go into town on a bus but will go round the corner from their home to see a show.”
Bird is delighted to have snapped up the comedic, mischievous nuttiness of Josh Benson. “We’re very excited to have Josh in the show. When we saw him on the patio doing his Just Josh show, we thought, ‘this is exactly what we need’. He’s warm, he’s very engaging, he’s local and he’s loved by people in York, and he’ll help to shape the shows.
“It’s also important, coming out of the old panto into the new era, that we should make our pantomime a show for families and Josh helps us to do that.”
Looking forward to leading the Theatre Royal pantomime in his home city, Benson says: “It’s been said of me, ‘if you turn Josh upside down, it says ‘Made In York’, and it’ll be lovely to be in York this winter because I don’t really want to be anywhere else in this strange year.
“I’d signed for one year for the Victoria Theatre panto in Halifax and they then offered me for four more in the comic role, effectively taking over from Neil Hurst, who’d done it for five years before me, and I said, ‘let me do another two’, but when Jack And The Beanstalk had to be postponed, the Travelling Pantomime feels a lovely thing to be able to do and a real honour too.
“It’s nice to be part of a new beginning for the Theatre Royal pantomime, which I think will be great. What’s good for me is that I can dip my toe in a York panto and they can do the same with me.”
He believes it is important to spread his talent wherever possible when still on a learning curve at 22. “This summer aside, I usually do the whole season at York Maze, so you could have too much of a good thing if I do the winter season as well in panto, doing the same jokes and routines!” he reasons. “I’m very much playing the long game, working up to going to the Edinburgh Fringe with a solo show.”
Benson will have to learn not one, but three pantomime scripts. “But that’s a hugely exciting thing to be doing: a choice of three shows each performance. Tom [Bird] did that at the Globe too, and what’s clever about it is that it’ll have a rough-and ready-feel to it, like a village-hall panto, but as Tom has said, it’ll still be a York Theatre Royal panto, with the award-winning Paul Hendy writing it.
“As a pop-up panto, you can open it in that rough-and-ready style, in a conversational tone, so it’s different from the very start, with me going out there as Josh, just like with the kids’ parties I do, jumping up on stage and just talking, whereas normally with a panto in a theatre, the audience are looking at the stage, thinking, ‘Go on, impress me’.”
Doing three shows throws up extra comedic possibilities too for the comic turn with the potential for daft-lad confusion. “I love the idea that I can go, ‘Right, Dick…Jack…I mean, Aladdin’, so suddenly you’re doing that ‘times three’ thing,” he says.
Benson is restlessly creative – he had written and prepared a drive-in show for York Maze, should owner “Farmer Tom” Pearcy have decided to re-open his attraction this summer post-lockdown – and so he will not merely be turning up to rehearsals for the Travelling Pantomime.
“I would really love to be involved in suggesting ‘how about this or how about that?’ for the shows, so I’m going to meet Juliet [director Juliet Forster] in September to talk about it,” he says.
In the meantime, he will keep busy with children’s party magic shows in gardens – whatever the “Rule of Six” permits – after a multitude of lockdown shows on Zoom and Facebook.
Tickets for York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will go on sale in November. Oh, and Cinderella, you shall still go to the ball, the glittering party merely postponed from 2020/2021 to 2021/2022.
The box-office team will be in touch with ticket holders with the option of moving tickets to next year, cancelling the booking or donating some or all of ticket cost to York Theatre Royal. Ticket holders are being asked NOT to contact the box office, whose reduced team will contact them as quickly as possible in coming weeks.
Just Josh? Just who is Josh Benson? Let him introduce himself:
“HAVING not conventionally trained in anything, 22-year-old ‘Josh of All Trades, Master of None’ is winging his way through the entertainment industry. But don’t tell his mum…she thinks he’s at university studying for a proper job!
As an actor, Josh’s credits include playing Little Ernie in the award-winning BBC Morecambe and Wise biopic Eric & Ernie; being hit by a car in BBC1’s Casualtyand a cameo in Monroefor ITV. He played Tommo in Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls musical The Girls from 2015 to 2017, both in the world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre and The Lowry, Salford, and at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End.
A huge part of Josh’s work is at York Maze, where he is the Corntroller of Entertainments – genuine job title – for the summer season. There, he writes, manages and co-hosts three live-action experiences: a stage show, tractor trailer ride and pig racing. This role has sprung from Josh being a professional children’s and family entertainer for the past seven years, having proudly entertained at hundreds of children’s parties and events, on cruises and in shows.
He is a professional close-up/stage magician and comedian, having performed four seasons of The Good Old Daysat Leeds City Varieties Music Hall, later taking his act down to the Big Smoke for Players Music Hall and the Cockney Sing-Alongat Charing Cross Theatre and Brick Lane Music Hall respectively.
As a “grown-up”entertainer, Josh last year debuted his first one-man cabaret evening, It’s Not The Joshua Benson Show/Josh Of All Trades, a two-act show of all his “pointless yet entertaining” skills. This show tours the UK constantly, “whenever it can fit in between everything else”!
In pantomime, Josh’s career began in 2007, at the tender age of ten, among the babbies and bairns in York Theatre Royal’s Sinbad The Sailor. He was lucky enough to more festive fun in 2008 for Dick Turpin and in 2011 returned to York Theatre Royal as John Darling in Peter Pan,part of the In The Round summer season.
Christmas 2018 saw Josh’s panto comic debut as Buttons in Cinderellaat the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, and last year he took over as comic at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax, for Beauty And The Beast.
He was due to return there this year for Jack And The Beanstalk, now postponed until 2021. He is delighted – and feels incredibly lucky! – to have been offered the fantastic alternative of York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime for the winter season.”
YORK Theatre Royal is to make “some redundancies”, faced by the need to reduce costs significantly in the Coronavirus blight.
A statement headlined “York Theatre Royal takes steps to ensure its future” was released today, announcing that, “like so many theatres around the country”, the St Leonard’s Place theatre would be entering into consultations with staff that would “regrettably lead to some redundancies due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic”.
“The theatre has been unable to open its doors for performances since March 17 and, despite Government allowing the return of socially distanced performances from August 1, the theatre’s survival will depend on it reducing costs significantly,” the statement continued.
Eighty-nine per cent of the Theatre Royal’s annual income is generated through ticket sales and from revenue streams associated with welcoming audiences. A £196,493 grant from the Arts Council England Emergency Fund, announced on July 7, will support the theatre, but only to September 30, and crucially details are yet to be announced as to how the much vaunted £1.57 billion Government relief package for cultural institutions will be distributed.
The “crown jewels” of British culture are expected to be at the top of the pecking order, although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has talked of the need to protect small-scale theatre enterprises too.
In the statement, Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird said: “Since 1744, the people of York have enjoyed, supported and celebrated this theatre. It is our job, as custodians of this great community asset, to do whatever we can to ensure its survival for the people of our city.
“All of the leadership team have taken big pay cuts, and we have maximised our use of government [furlough] schemes.
“It is devastating to me that in the coming weeks we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions. But the theatre can survive this and we will make sure that, when we are able to re-open our doors, York Theatre Royal will come roaring back with an epic programme to help re-energise our community’s creativity.”
Tom added: “I want to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of people who are donating to the theatre at this time, as a result of our heightened fundraising messages. This is making a real difference.” Donations can be made online via yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Vicky Biles, the Theatre Royal director of communications and development, said: “We’re not going to add anything else at this time.”
That leaves questions aplenty. How many redundancies? When will the Theatre Royal learn if any slice of the £1.57 billion aid package is bound for York? Will Cinderella still be going to the ball in the Theatre Royal’s first pantomime collaboration with Evolution Productions from December 4 to January 10 2021? Watch this space for the answers, whenever they may come.
THE new age of pantomime at York
Theatre Royal will involve Evolution rather than revolution.
For the first panto of the post-Berwick
Kaler era, the Theatre Royal is teaming up with award-winning pantomime producers
Evolution to present Cinderella.
The show dates will be December 4 to
January 10 2021, an earlier start and finish than the December 7 to January 25
run for Sleeping Beauty, Dame Berwick’s last pantomime as co-director and writer
after a 41-year association with the Theatre Royal.
Cinderella will be directed by Theatre
Royal associate director Juliet Forster, who directed Shakespeare’s comedy A
Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2018 and Arthur
Miller’s A View From The Bridge in the Theatre Royal main house last September,
as well as children’s shows aplenty.
The script will be written by Evolution
co-founder and producer Paul Hendy in tandem with York-born comedy writer and
podcaster David Reed, who has returned to his home city and will provide
The cast is yet to be announced but
will not be a star vehicle, with variety acts and blossoming pantomime talent
and a “York flavour” likely to be to the fore instead. The set designer, not
confirmed yet, will be charged with creating magical transformations and glittering
sets to complement the “stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.
Formed in 2005 by Paul Hendy and Emily
Wood, Evolution Productions present “bespoke pantomimes of epic spectacle and
hilarity” for the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; The
Hawth Theatre, Crawley; Garrick Theatre, Lichfield; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury;
Alban Arena, St Albans; Octagon Theatre, Yeovil, and Grove Theatre, Dunstable,
now joined in a co-producing partnership by York Theatre Royal.
Juliet Forster and Theatre Royal
executive director Tom Bird were exhilarated by Evolution’s 2019-2020 pantomime
for Sheffield Theatres, starring long-running dame Damian Williams in
Cinderella at the Lyceum.
Paul Hendy’s script from that hit show will
provide an early template for Reed to set to work on giving it a York branding,
with Cinderella’s rags-to-riches story being switched to this historic city in
a “new pantomime for everyone”.
director Bird says: “We are
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.
“Our recipe includes two of the most
exciting voices in our city, David Reed and Juliet Forster, together with Emily
Wood and Paul Hendy, the finest makers of pantomime in the country – a
Bird continues: “This 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. It’s a
pantomime for the new decade, set with pride in our amazing city.”
Evolution Productions has built a
reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality
production values, strong casting and funny scripts, twice winning Pantomime of
the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards.
Producer and writer Hendy says: “Emily
and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on this
year’s pantomime. We are 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.”
Ticket prices will remain the same as
for 2019-2020. Family tickets and Sunday shows are being introduced, as well as
schools and groups discounts so that “everyone can go to the ball”.
Theatre Royal members’ ten-day priority booking opened today; members’ five-day priority booking on February 8; 9am in person at the box office, 10am online and phone booking. General booking opens on February 13; same times as above. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Meanwhile, Berwick Kaler’s first pantomime
at his new York home, the Grand Opera House, will be Dick Turpin Rides Again, with
writer, director and revived dame Kaler being joined by regular cohorts Martin
Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell for Qdos Entertainment’s
panto partnership with the Ambassador Theatre Group.
Northern Ballet in Cinderella, Leeds Grand Theatre, until January 2 2020. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com
FOR the most magical
Christmas show of this winter, look no further than Northern Ballet’s revival
of Cinderella, first staged at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2013.
The prettiest, most breath-taking
transformation of Yorkshire’s winter theatre wonderland is back, three bounding
huskies et al.
The Cinderella story exists in myriad
forms across the world and through the ages, our British pantomimes being the
most familiar but also the most misleading when presented with the Eastern
mysticism of Canadian artistic director, choreographer and costume designer
David Nixon and his associate director Patricia Doyle’s beautiful, painfully romantic
Set in Imperial Russia at a time when
“superstitious people believe in the possibility of magic” and the repressive
authorities believe in the power of gun rule and constantly barking dogs,
Northern Ballet’s oriental fairy-tale production opens in a burst of yellow
flowers beneath the deepest blue sky on the hottest of days, far removed from
pantomime’s glitter and chintz.
Out go the Fairy Godmother and Buttons, pumpkins and
cross-dressing Ugly Sisters. In come acrobats and a towering stilt walker, a
bear and huskies, a kindly Easter magician (the wonderful Ashley Dixon); a
servant who ends up being shot for helping Cinderella and skaters sashaying
across a frosted lake.
Cinderella’s anything but ugly
stepsisters, Natasha and Sophia (Kyungka Kwak and Rachael Gillespie) are not
wild cards but wholly subservient to the despicably wicked yet immaculately
fashionable step-mother, Countess Serbrenska (Minju Kang, roundly booed but soon
cheered at the end after her fabulously theatrical performance).
Duncan Hayler’s set design has the sleight of hand of a
magician, not only in the transformation scene where the kitchen comes alive
but also when the invitation envelope to the royal ball is peeled open to
reveal a dazzling, white ballroom. Philip Feeney’s compositions, gorgeous
throughout, bring even more of a flourish to Hayler’s works of wonder.
Yet the designs never out-dazzle Sarah Chun’s put-upon but
blossoming Cinderella or Jonathan Hanks’s powerful Prince Mikhail.
A glorious show in a well-deserved return,
Cinderella is Northern Ballet at Nixon’s very best.
NORTHERN Ballet return home from December 17 for the festive season in Leeds with artistic director David Nixon’s enchanting adaptation of Cinderella at the Grand Theatre.
In the Canadian-born choreographer’s
account of “the world’s most famous rags-to-riches fairy tale”, he combines
dance with magic and circus skills, as seen on tour already at Nottingham Theatre
Royal and Norwich Theatre Royal last month.
In Northern Ballet’s Cinderella,a tragic end to a perfect summer’s day leaves Cinderella with no choice but
to accept a desolate life of servitude. At the mercy of her wicked Stepmother,
Cinderella seeks joy where she can but, after encountering the handsome
carefree Prince skating on a glistening lake of ice, she yearns for another
Despite her sadness,
Cinderella never forgets to be kind and her generosity is repaid when a chance
encounter with a mysterious magician changes her destiny forever.
Cinderella is not
only choreographed and directed by Nixon, but he has designed the opulent
costumes too. The ballet is performed to an original score by Philip Feeney, played
live each performance by Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Duncan Hayler has designed the
transformative sets, complemented by Tim Mitchell’s lighting design.
Nixon says: “This
production of Cinderella, while being immediately recognisable as the famous
fairy tale, offers something different to other traditional ballet adaptations.
“We have staged our
ballet in the winter wonderland of Imperial Russia, opening up the
possibilities of this colourful world as a new setting for Cinderella to make
her journey. “Audiences will see the dancers skate on a glistening lake of ice,
stilt walkers entertaining in a marketplace and the fateful Ball held in a
He concludes: “Cinderellais ultimately the story of a young woman who must travel a challenging road
to achieve happiness and our ballet is a joyful adaptation filled with action,
magic and fun.”
Northern Ballet’s Cinderella runs at Leeds Grand Theatre, December 17 to January 2 2020, 7pm (not December 24 or 31); 2pm matinees, December 18, 21, 24, 27, 28 and 31, January 2; Sunday shows at 4pm, December 22 and 29; no Sunday evening shows. No performances on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com.
Cinderella production credits
Choreography, Direction and Costume