Corrie bad lad Nigel Pivaro to star in The Commitments at Grand Opera House

Nigel Pivaro: Committing to The Commitments for nine months

CORONATION Street legend Nigel Pivaro will play Da in the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, from November 7 to 12.

“I’m thrilled to be marking my return to the stage in this production,” he says. “It’s an iconic story that resonates across the years, about people who, though distant from the music’s origins, find communion and expression in the Motown style.

“A musical genre which was borne out of oppression and which the characters embrace as their own. The Motown Sound is as vibrant today as it was when it first burst through in the Sixties.”

Thirty-five years have passed since The Commitments first leapt from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel with its story of the hardest-working and most explosive soul band from the northside of Dublin.

Now comes a new stage production that will kick off a nine-month British and Irish tour in Bromley in September and run until July next summer, taking in more Yorkshire runs at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from October 17 to 2022 and Hull New Theatre from October 31 to November 5.

Doyle says: “I’m delighted that The Commitments are coming back in 2022 and 2023 and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Nigel Pivaro tackles the part of Jimmy Rabbitte’s Da.”

Pivaro, 62, who played lovable Corrie rogue Terry Duckworth from 1983 to 2012, will be directed by Andrew Linnie, whose West End debut came in the original production in 2013, playing the role of Dean, the band’s sax player. Linnie later starred in the lead role of Jimmy Rabbitte in the 2016/2017 UK tour.

Joining the cast as Deco will be Olivier Award nominee Ian McIntosh, no stranger to this role, having previously played Alternate Deco during the original West End run. His past credits include Galileo in the UK tour of We Will Rock You, Sid Worley in An Officer And A Gentleman and Barry in Beautiful – The Carole King, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in the Oliviers.

Further roles will go to James Killeen as Jimmy; Stuart Reid as Joey; Ciara Mackey, Imelda; Michael Mahony, Outspan; Ryan Kelly, Billy; Conor Litten, Dean; Guy Freeman, Derek; Stephen O’Riain, James; Ronnie Yorke, Mickah; Eve Kitchingman, Natalie, and Sarah Gardiner, Bernie.

Maryann Lynch, Alice Croft, James Deegan, Callum Martin, Joshua Barton, Ed Thorpe and Colm Gleeson will make up the ensemble.

Pivaro last appeared at the Grand Opera House in September 2003 in the role of hot-headed Judd in John Godber’s nightclub comedy Bouncers in a face-off with fellow soap bad boy, EastEnders’ John Altman, who played the pontificating yet pugilistic Lucky Eric.

York tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at; Shefield, 0114 249 6000 or; Hull, 01482 300306 or

A past production of The Commitments. Picture: Johan Persson

Back story of The Commitments

THE musical has been adapted from the novel by Booker prize-winning author Roddy Doyle, showcasing more than 20 soul classics performed live on stage.

Among them are Night Train; Try A Little Tenderness; River Deep, Mountain High; In The Midnight Hour; Papa Was A Rolling Stone; Save Me; Mustang Sally; I Heard It Through The Grapevine; Thin Line Between Love and Hate; Reach Out (I’ll Be There); Uptight; Knock On Wood and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

The Commitments tells the story of young, working-class music fan Jimmy Rabbitte, who transforms an unlikely bunch of amateur musicians into an amazing live act that becomes the finest soul band Dublin has ever produced.

Placing a classified advert in a music paper, Jimmy auditions a haphazard heap of wannabes before finalising the members of his new band, which he names The Commitments.

Humour kicks in as the band get to know each other and their instruments, grappling with inter-group differences when muddling their way through early rehearsals for the first gig. Just as they improve and begin to gain a name for themselves, they combust.

The backing singers are more interested in the middle-aged, horn-playing legend; the singer has entered Eurovision; the drummer has walked out mid-gig and the saxophone player has dangerous leanings towards a jazz career. How will it end?

Code breaker! The Da Vinci Code world premiere called off at Grand Opera House ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’

Danny John-Jules, left, Christopher Harper and Hannah Rose Caton in The Da Vinci Code

THE world-premiere stage adaptation of Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code will NOT be playing the Grand Opera House, York, from May 30 to June 4 after all.

Blame theatre’s perennial enemy – “unforeseen circumstances”- for the cancellation. “Grand Opera House, York, is sorry for any inconvenience,” the Cumberland Street theatre’s statement concludes.

Directed by Luke Sheppard, who was at the helm of the award-winning West End musical & Juliet, the debut tour was in the diary for January 10 to November 12.

However, the producers have decided: “Due to the current challenges of touring, we have made the difficult decision to conclude The Da Vinci Code earlier than expected. We are extremely proud of the work done by the cast and creative team who made this wonderful show, and we hope that it will be seen again before long.

“We apologise for any disappointment caused and ask that audiences continue to support theatre as the industry continues to recover.”

When announcing the tour, producer Simon Friend had said: “We have a truly stellar cast and creative team bringing The Da Vinci Code to life on stage for the first time, and with Dan Brown’s full endorsement of the show and the talented director Luke Sheppard at the helm, we’re confident that we’ll please devoted fans as well as newcomers to this magnificent story.”

Juilliard School’s Drama Division graduate Hannah Rose Caton in her British stage debut as Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code. Picture: Oliver Rosser

Should you need a quick refresher course on what now will not be unfolding in Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s stage adaptation in York, the curator of the Louvre, in Paris, has been brutally murdered. Alongside his body is a series of baffling codes.

Professor Robert Langdon and fellow cryptologist Sophie Neveu attempt to solve the riddles, leading to the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and beyond as they delve deep into the vault of history. In a breathless race through the streets of Europe, Langdon and Neveu must decipher the labyrinthine code before a shocking historical secret is lost forever.

Director Sheppard said of the stage adaptation: “Cracking The Da Vinci Code open for the stage reveals an epic thriller steeped in theatrical potential, rich in suspense and surprising at every turn.

“Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s brilliant adaptation leaps off the page and demands us to push the limits of our imagination, creating a production that champions dynamic theatrical storytelling and places the audience up close in the heat of this gripping mystery.”

In York, Coronation Street star Chris Harper would have played Robert Langdon alongside Danny John-Jules as Sir Leigh Teabing, Hannah Rose Caton, in her British stage debut as Sophie Neveu, and Joshua Lacey as Silas.

The Grand Opera House is contacting ticket holders.

Maggie Fox, York actress and LipService Theatre satirist, RIP. A tribute

Maggie Fox, left, and comedy partner Sue Ryding in Lip Service’s award-winning show Withering Looks

YORK actress Maggie Fox, one half of the long-running satirical comedy duo LipService Theatre, has died after a “catastrophic accident”.

In a statement on the company’s website, co-founder Sue Ryding says: “It is with great sadness that I have to announce the death of Maggie Fox, my comedy partner of 40 years and co-artistic director of LipService.

“Maggie passed away yesterday with her family around her. Consequently the Spring Tour of Chateau Ghoul has been cancelled. As you can imagine I am completely heartbroken.”

Maggie and Sue met when studying drama at Bristol University in the 1970s. “We were in a very serious production of Ibsen’s The Lady For The Sea but for some reason the audience was on the floor laughing,” recalls Sue.

“A tragedy for Ibsen – he was good at those – but the launch of an epic comedy partnership. Our theatre company LipService was officially launched in 1985 and we have written 22 original comedies, touring all over the world, managing to have children in between!

Maggie Fox, back, and Sue Ryding in LipService Theatre’s Scandi-noir spoof Inspector Norse

“It’s notoriously difficult to present new work in theatre and we are really proud that we managed to do so and to build an audience for it.”

LipService had been touring their latest two-hander, the haunted house thriller Chateau Ghoul, written, produced and performed by Maggie and Sue with a multi-media combination of on-stage live humour and digital projections.

Sue did give one performance with an understudy, but following Maggie’s death, the tour has been discontinued. “Maggie is irreplaceable and so, reluctantly, Sue Ryding and the rest of the company have decided we must cancel the remaining dates of the upcoming tour,” read LipService’s first announcement released to such venues Pocklington Arts Centre, where regular visitors Maggie and Sue had been booked to perform on March 26.

“We appreciate that this will come as a great shock to our wonderful and loyal followers. We would like to thank them for their understanding at this difficult time and for their valued and much cherished support over the years.

Sue’s LipService website statement continues: “We are still all in a state of shock as this was very sudden following an accident. We had planned a new digital version of Chateau Ghoul, which we had already filmed, which will be shared with you later in the year in memory of Maggie, plus some live events using the huge amount of digital footage we thankfully have archived. Details to be published when have a plan.

Maggie Fox, right, and Sue Ryding in their latest show, the haunted house thriller Chateau Ghoul

“Thank you for supporting us over all these years; we are so lucky to have such a loyal audience. We do hope you will join us to celebrate Maggie’s comedy genius later in the year.”

Janet Farmer, director of Pocklington Arts Centre, paid tribute to Maggie. “We have welcomed Maggie and Sue as LipService Theatre for 15-plus years; they have always been hugely popular with many sell-out performances of their wonderful spoof shows based on literary classics.

“I, along with my colleagues, am shocked and devastated to hear the tragic news of Maggie’s death. It is obviously a huge loss to Sue and to Maggie’s family but also to the touring theatre circuit. 

“Maggie and Sue were a unique duo presenting their laugh-out-loud shows. They even continued with on-line versions of their shows during the pandemic. We are very sad not to be presenting their Chateau Ghoul this Saturday.”

Maggie, the very tall one from Yorkshire, and Sue, the rather shorter one from the other side of the Pennines, toured nationally and internationally to the United States, Germany, Eastern Europe and Pakistan.

Maggie Fox, right, and Sue Ryding in LipService Theatre’s Strangers On A Train Set

An inseparable, instinctive, inventive, mischievous, less-is-more, only-us-against-the-odds double act, they presented such savvy, gently anarchic shows as their Bronte Sisters send-up Withering Looks; Strangers On A Train Set; Inspector Norse; Knit One Murder One; The Picture Of Doreen Gray; Mr Darcy Loses The Plot and Desperate To Be Doris (the musical comedy one they did with a 50-piece community choir in York).

Not forgetting Jane Bond, their James Bond satire in Live And Let’s Dye; Very Little Women; Horror For Wimps; Move Over Moriarty, Women On The Verger; King Arthur & The Knights Of The Occasional Table; B-Road Movie!, Tony & Twizzle, The Glory Years, and Margaret III Parts Two and Three, all subjected to their microscope of mirth.

York Theatre Royal was one of multiple collaborators, along with Oldham Coliseum; The Lowry, Salford; The Brindley, Runcorn; The New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme; Greenwich Theatre, London; Watford Palace and Barclays Stage Partner

Described as the “Laurel & Hardy of literary deconstruction” by the Guardian, “Britain’s favourite literary lunatics” by the Independent and “an unstoppable force for comic inventiveness” by Time Out magazine, Maggie and Sue won the Critics’ Award for Comedy for both Withering Looks and Knot One Murder One at the Edinburgh Fringe; the Manchester Theatre Awards Stage Door Award for Excellence in 2013 and the Manchester Evening News Award for Withering Looks.

LipService duo Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding with Darren Southworth in their Doris Day celebration, Desperate To Be Doris

To complement their mainstream theatre , Maggie and Sue worked with heritage organisations on site-specific events, such as  the Bronte Parsonage Museum, in Haworth; Elizabeth Gaskell’s House; the National Trust at Quarry Bank, Wilmslow, Cheshire; Manchester Histories Festival; European City of Science and Stockport Council.

LipService hosted series on BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4, made television appearances and were commissioned by the Bronte Parsonage to film Withering Looks, The Movie!, shot on location at the Brontes’ parsonage and on the wild and windswept moors with Arts Council England funding.

Maggie also appeared in four roles in Coronation Street (Ruth Audsley, Nurse, Judge Travers, Charmian Gray), between 1990 and 2010; six episodes of The Forsyte Saga, as Bilson, in 2002-2003; seven episodes of Soul Music as Ms Butts; Bob The Builder, as the voice of The Librarian and two episodes of How Do You Want Me?, as another Librarian.

In addition, she played Mrs Parke in the 2012 TV movie The Making Of A Lady and popped up in one episode each of Reckless (Woman With Dog), Shameless (Registrar), Accused (Defence Barrister) and South Riding (Matron).

Interviewed by The Press, York, on LipService’s 30th anniversary in February 2015, when presenting their walk on the Wilde side, The Picture Of Doreen Gray at Harrogate Theatre,  Maggie said: “Thirty years! I know, it’s ridiculous really. You just think, ‘could you not think of anything else to do?’.” Thankfully, the answer was always No, and so LipService have delighted so many with their “general silliness”, as Maggie called it.

Maggie Fox, right, and Sue Ryding sending up TV presenters in Tony & Twizzle, The Glory Years

“We were trying to work out the other day how many hours we must have spent on the road, on a train, in a rehearsal room or on stage,” said Maggie, as she reflected on a partnership that had begun in the Bristol University drama department.

“We hadn’t really come across each other until our third year when we both cast in Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea. At my height, I’m a dead ringer for Vanessa Redgrave, who’d just done the play at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, where she came on dripping in seaweed. So the image I had was of this queen of drama draped in a hell of a lot of green stuff.

“Anyway, Sue was playing my daughter in the university production, and we were just finding it very funny in rehearsal. The more it went on, the funnier we were finding it, but the others weren’t finding it funny and they weren’t finding it funny that we were finding it funny.

“We were doing that ‘looking into the distance’ acting for Ibsen, draped in seaweed, and it was so liberating to have found someone else who found it funny too, especially when no-one else did.”

Maggie and Sue then did the sound effects for another show, a radio play, to distractingly humorous effect as it turned out.

Maggie Fox, right, and Sue Ryding in their online performance of The Ghost Writer during the pandemic lockdowns

“We found the audience was watching us rather than the show. The director wasn’t happy,” said Maggie. “All I can remember is doing the noises for the clattering of teacups in the tea room and drowning out everyone else.”

Maggie had been born into a theatrical family: her father was on the board of York Theatre Royal; her uncle was a mainstay of the York Settlement Community Players.

“I knew I wanted to act; that was what I was going to do, so Sue and I got together and tried to do cabaret, going up to the Edinburgh Fringe, but no women were doing comedy, until Victoria Wood and Julie Walters became the trailblazers, but still the perception was that men were funnier than women,” said Maggie.

Not for long would she and Sue settle for doing “our flopsy bunny act between two aggressive comedians”. Lip Service would change all that, and how.

LipService double act Maggie Fox, the tall one, and Sue Ryding, the rather shorter one, in their Wilde satire, The Picture Of Doreen Gray

From cabaret roots, with a natural bent for impromptu interaction with the audience, the free flow of improvisation and the desire  to “do the impossible”, Maggie and Sue also established the improv company Comedy Express in the 1990s, taking it to the pubs and clubs of Manchester, where Steve Coogan and Caroline Aherne would come along.

“You can play a lot of the same games in improvised comedy but they work and the shows are different every time, and that’s what I want with Lip Service shows,” Maggie said.

“I want them to be different every night or to have elements of surprise because it’s a different audience each night. We like living on the edge.”

Thank you, Maggie. You brought us so much merry mayhem in slickly organised yet deliriously chaotic comedy; now you have been taken away by tragedy, theatre’s other face. God bless you and a fond farewell.

By Charles Hutchinson

Reece Dinsdale no longer shies away from talking about himself. Take a seat at the actor-director’s York Theatre Royal show

Reece Dinsdale: Actor, director, Twitter phenomenon and now raconteur

THURSDAY’S evening of conversation with Yorkshire actor/director Reece Dinsdale in the York Theatre Royal Studio is billed more simply as “Reece’s Pieces”.

Or, as he puts it, “just a bloke beginning to find his voice” in his anecdotes, revelations and stories, after his uncanny knack of finding voices on stage and screen since the age of 12, whether playing Shakespeare’s Richard III or fellow son of the West Riding Alan Bennett.

“It started in lockdown as a challenge to myself,” says Normanton-born Reece, 62. “As an actor I had never felt comfortable speaking publicly unless I was playing a role, so I thought I’d face a few demons by attempting to talk live online to my Twitter followers. 

“What I discovered was that when I got started…I couldn’t stop! Reaching the age of 60, I realised I might have a tale or two to tell.”

Indeed he does, having performed extensively in theatres across the country, as well as for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. He has starred in myriad TV dramas too, ranging from leading roles in the BAFTA Award-winning Threads and Jim Henson’s Storyteller, through Spooks, Minder, Silent Witness and Life On Mars, to Joe McIntyre in Coronation Street and the comedy series Home To Roost, playing opposite the late John Thaw when drawing 14 million viewers each week.

In 2020, he joined the cast of ITV’s Emmerdale, on the understanding his bad-lad character, Paul Ashdale, would be killed off in 2021, and he now directs episodes of the Yorkshire village soap.

Reece’s Pieces has brought about his return to the theatre spotlight but in a different format: as himself. “I’ve not been on stage in a play since (The Fall of) The Master Builder [at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in October 2017, playing predatory architect Alvard Solness in Zinnie Harris’s contemporary Yorkshire re-imagining of Henrik Ibsen’s play during his tenure as the Playhouse’s associate artist],” he says.

“I’ve been so busy doing other things, but I really miss theatre. What I can say is I’ll be doing something somewhere on stage in 2023. Whatever I do, acting on stage, acting on screen, directing, acting on stage is the last thing I’d want to stop doing.”

He might have returned to treading the boards sooner. “I was going to play Benedict [the ‘eternal bachelor’] in Much Ado About Nothing for Northern Broadsides. Conrad [director Conrad Nelson] had asked me if I’d do it, and my reaction was, ‘I’m far too old’, but he said, ‘No, you’re not’.

“But then we got to the first day’s rehearsal and I learned my father had three months to live, so I had to pull out. I can’t wait to get back to performing on stage again.”

Reece, who spent 24 years in London, but has since returned to Yorkshire and now lives in Harrogate, has made the stage his second home for 50 years. “I was press-ganged into being an actor at school when I was 12 and found it was the way to express myself without using my own emotions, and I’ve always been happy to be someone else on stage, rather than me,” says miner’s son Reece, who graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1980.

“But, as it happens, now I’m happy to talk as me, now I’m getting there, I’m happy to do Reece’s Pieces. It started with me taking to Twitter, and I’m now doing this for my dad, after he said ‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Go and show people what you’re about and what you can do’.

“I thought, ‘I’m 59, nearly 60, I’ve been around the block maybe 15 times; how do I go about doing this, being myself in a way that would be comfortable for me and for others?’. There’s this feature on Twitter called Periscope, where you go on there for ten minutes, asking people to ask you questions. Well, I did it and it ran to 45 minutes! After ten weeks it was up to an hour and three quarters with 30,000 people logging on.

Last stage role…until next year: Reece Dinsdale in (The Fall of) The Master Builder at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in 2017

“This was in lockdown, so I didn’t confine it talking about myself but also to talking about mental health, hopefully helping people through lockdown, and so many people connected with it…and as you can tell now, from this conversation, once I get started, I don’t shut up. In answering one question, it would be 25 minutes later before we’d finally go on to the next one.”

Cue Leeds Playhouse artistic director and great friend James Brining contacting Reece to say: “We need to re-open; will you do a show? I’ll host it for you.” And so, leaving behind the front room, the stage format was born for Reece’s Pieces, one where Reece invites an actor friend, presenter or journalist to anchor the evening, with radio presenter and writer Bob Fisher doing so in York tomorrow (3/2/20220, just as he did at Harrogate Theatre last Thursday.

No longer the reluctant raconteur, it is now a case of “Let’s just go with what happens,” says Reece, with his list of 1,000 potential questions from meeting a thousand wonderful people known and unknown in his work, from Peter Ustinov to David Bowie, Jack Lemmon to Alan Bennett. “Then we open it up to the audience; we have a laugh and a joke, so it’s both funny and touching.

“Some people have been to the show three or four times, and I say, ‘Look, I’ve only had one life’, but they say, ‘No, we love it; we’ve got something different out of it each time’. It’s extraordinary!”

As someone who admits to having been shy off stage, going on stage as himself, rather than in character, has been a chance to “face a few demons”. “It’s been very good for me, and because I’m a director, I remember when I started ten years ago, I was frightened because you need to be a master communicator, and my ability to do that needed to be addressed,” he says.

“That’s been really useful for Reece’s Pieces, and with the roundabout way these shows have been come about, it’s been fascinating bringing all these things together.”

Should you be wondering how Reece came to direct Emmerdale, he had directed dramas already for Jimmy McGovern and Ian Bevan, winning a Royal Television Society Award for Eighteen from McGovern’s Moving On series, and it was Bevan who facilitated the opportunity for him to direct a couple of episodes initially.

“I’m a good pupil, I listen, and on the last day I was shooting, I got word that the executive producers wanted to see me, and they showed me to the comfortable sofa, rather the hard chair, which was a good sign!” Reece recalls.

“They said, ‘We’d like you to direct…but in a year, because we want you to be in the show first’. It was meant to be for seven months, playing this bad guy, who would die at the end of it, but it turned to be for a year as Covid caused such havoc.

“They offered me a block to direct, and I said, ‘How about two blocks?’, and as soon I finished filming in March 2021, I started directing, from April. I’ve done three blocks of shows now, and I’ll be hotfooting it from the studio for the York show.”

From this spring, he will be swapping Yorkshire for Lancashire, or more precisely Emmerdale for Weatherfield, as he takes one the new challenge of directing Coronation Street. “I’m not sure there’s anyone who’s previously been in and directed both soaps,” he says.

“The advice for life I was given was ‘always keep coming out of different corners, always keep them guessing’, and I think I’ve kept them guessing for 40 years. I’ve lost that young man’s burning ambition; now all I want to be is creative every day, and long may that continue.

“I’m happy – and I’m just as passionate as I was when I was 20, leaving drama school.” And now, he is only too happy to talk about it in Reece’s Pieces.

Reece’s Pieces: An Evening of Conversation with Actor/Director Reece Dinsdale, York Theatre Royal Studio, tomorrow (3/2/2022), 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623 568 or at

Beware headless horseman as Corrie stars Bill Ward and Wendi Peters bring Sleepy Hollow horror story to York Theatre Royal

Wendi Peters and Bill Ward in the artwork for The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, touring York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (5/10/2021)

BILL Ward and Wendi Peters, who shared four years together on Coronation Street, are reuniting for the Haunted Season at York Theatre Royal.

From tomorrow to Saturday, they will be taking prominent roles as Baltus Van Tassel and Mariette respectively in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, replete with illusions by Back To The Future Musical’s Filipe J Carvalho.

In Irving’s infamous story, Hallowmas celebrations are fast approaching, when the residents of Sleepy Hollow spin tall tales of legends and unsightly entities, but who can tell truth from nightmare?

Enter Ichabod Crane into an eerie world of secrets and unsettling tradition as he starts his teaching post. When disturbing events overwhelm the small town, however, he finds himself swept up in a dangerous mystery that leaves him doubting his own sanity.

Here Bill and Wendi discuss their present and past roles, horror stories and what scares them.

How would you describe the show and your character?

Bill: “The show is a high energy, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Part horror, part comedy. Very physical. Think Hammer House of Horror meets Kneehigh. We’re all multi-role playing, which will be great fun.

“My main character is Baltus Van Tassel, who’s the elder statesman of the village, who’s trying to keep the village together during some pretty tricky times.

“But I also get to play a naughty 90-year-old female cook, a hard-drinking coach driver and a crazy, delusional Dutch captain. What’s not to like?!”

Bill Ward in rehearsals at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, for The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Wendi: “It’s a folk horror: intriguing, scary, clever, witty with spectacular illusions. You’ll be on the edge of your seat! My main character, Mariette, is the strange widow of Sleepy Hollow.

“She lives on the outskirts of the village, alone, and has a few secrets that are revealed throughout the play. She takes Ichabod under her wing when he arrives and insists that he stay with her.”

What drew you to the play initially?

Bill: “The story – it’s a classic. I was particularly intrigued as to how they were going to do the Headless Horseman. There’s a fair amount of magic both in the story and also our telling of it. Putting that kind of a thing onto a stage is always good fun.

“Plus the physicality. I like doing plays where movement is an integral part of the show, and this is very much like that.”

Wendi: “I loved the script, it’s very clever, with multi-role playing, which is always great fun. I couldn’t put it down. I’d never seen the film but knew of the story. This is a completely new, and wonderful, adaptation by Philip Meeks. I’ve also never appeared in a horror piece, so was intrigued by that. It’s really exciting!”

Were you familiar with the original Washington Irving text, or had you seen other adaptations of the tale, and will you be drawing inspiration from them?

Bill: “It’s obviously a very famous tale – a classic – but actually I hadn’t read it till now. I loved it. It’s surprisingly short as a story, only 20 to 30 pages long. What’s interesting about that is that the shell of the story, the structure if you like, is there, but what each adaptation does is to fill in the considerable blanks for themselves.

“What the original story is big on is mystery and mood – so I’m sure we’ll be taking a fair bit of that and sprinkling it into our production.”

Wendi Peters during rehearsals for her role as Mariette in The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Wendi: “I wasn’t familiar with the text and I’d never seen the film. I knew the story and started watching the film but, 20 minutes in, I stopped it. It’s so very different from our adaptation, and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really enjoying it.

“Our production is so much more exciting and moves at such a fast pace. I’m seeing this as a whole new piece of writing and story, and I love the idea of creating something from scratch.”

Have you worked with any of the cast or creative team previously?

Bill: “Yes, I was lucky enough to work with Wendi [Peters] for four or so years, quite a few years ago now on Coronation Street. Great fun. I was playing a pretty nasty piece of work, Charlie Stubbs, and I remember the show would often cut from scenes involving my character wandering around being hugely unpleasant, to Wendi’s character, Cilla, mucking about in a bubble bath with the family dog.

“I also know the writer, Philip [Meeks], from panto among many other things. Not only is he a great playwright and screenwriter, he’s also a rather brilliant dame. We worked together up in Sunderland a few Christmases ago. Happy days.”

Wendi: “Most of the cast are a lot younger than me, so our paths haven’t crossed. It feels strange to now be the mother, sometimes grandmother, of the cast. I guess I’m getting old. However, Bill and I worked together at Corrie. We were there over the same four-year period but our characters were rarely in the same storyline. It’s going to be great to catch-up again after 14 years.”

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow promises to shock and scare audiences. What scares you the most?

Bill: “Heights. Can’t stand them. I’ll do anything to avoid them. Urgh!”

Wendi: “I’d say, on the whole, I’m quite a brave person, although I don’t like, or watch, many horror films. I don’t really believe in the paranormal. I once did a ghost-hunting programme and found it quite funny. Having said that, I don’t like the dark much, especially in the situations I’m unsure of.”

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow playwright Philip Meeks

Why has The Headless Horseman – a legendary figure in the horror genre – stood the test of time?

Bill: “Because it plays to our imaginations and to one of our strongest emotions: fear. Fear of the dark. Of death. Of the fantastical. Of being caught in a chase you cannot possibly win – the stuff of nightmares the world over.

“The Headless Horseman was arguably one of the first true horror creations: larger than life and truly unforgettable.”

Wendi: “I think it was one of the first horror stories written and creates such a vivid image in people’s head. Hopefully, when people see our production, they’ll take away more than just an image in their heads.”

What do you want audiences to take away from this production? 

Bill: “The thing that theatre does so well: that sense of being transported, for a couple of hours, toanother world entirely. It’ll be an energetic, enjoyable, scary, funny, night out. And I really think we’ve all missed that, as a country, and as a community over the last 18 months: that sense ofbeing out, together, having fun, sharing and telling stories.”

Wendi: “It’s been such a terrible 18 months for theatre, both for actors and audiences, that I think everyone will be thrilled to be there and just be entertained.

“As a piece, I’d like them to come away having been scared and on the edge of their seats, but also having relaxed and laughed. They will go away with a few questions too, hopefully.”

What is the biggest difference for you between performing on stage and screen?   

Bill: “Rehearsals! They pretty much don’t exist in television anymore, certainly not in the serial dramas and soaps. That’s one of the things that makes TV so invigorating to do: bringing your performance in on the day, standing, and delivering, knowing you have 40 minutes to nail it.

“Hopefully, when people see our production, they’ll take away more than just an image in their heads,” says Wendi Peters

“But I love the sense of exploration you get with theatre: that sense of looking at a piece of writing (particularly a new piece of writing like this) from a number of different angles, and directions, trying all sorts of things out on the rehearsal-room floor, and seeing what best serves the play.”

Wendi: “I’ve been so lucky, having worked in all aspects of theatre, TV and radio. I love that it never seems monotonous or boring and enjoy learning new things too.

“The main difference is the level of playing. On stage, you are performing to hundreds and have to make sure the back row is included. I love touring because you are in a new space each week to explore your performance.

“TV is much more intimate and held back. I love doing both but if I had to choose one for the rest of my career, it would definitely be theatre.”

What are you most looking forward to while on tour?  

Bill: “I’ve always been a bit of a traveller at heart. I’ve been round the world with a backpack a couple of times. So, I love getting out and about around the country, especially to towns and cities, and theatres, I haven’t spent time in before. A real treat. Oh, and I’ll be taking my camera, as always.”

Wendi: “Seeing a couple of theatres that I haven’t worked at before, but mainly just being back on stage, entertaining audiences, and doing the job I love.”

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, York Theatre Royal, October 5 to 9, 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets cost £16, concessions £15, on 01947 897587 or at

Darker nights, ghostly tales and premieres stalk York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season

Let’s stalk: Will York Theatre Royal’s fabled ghost, The Grey Lady, make an appearance during The Haunted Season this autumn?

ONCE nights start to draw in, York Theatre Royal will fill its stage with spirits and shadows in The Haunted Season from September 9.

In the home of the restless ghost of the Grey Lady, world premieres by Emma Rice, Matthew Bourne and Tonderai Munyevu will be complemented by scary appearances by horror favourites Dracula, The Hound Of the Baskervilles and the Headless Horseman.

As trailered in CharlesHutchPress, Emma Rice’s Wise Children will complete a hattrick of Theatre Royal visits with Rice’s new adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a Theatre Royal co-production with the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic from November 9 to 20.

Lucy McCormick will play Cathy in this world premiere as Rice’s visual and musical style brings new life to this epic Yorkshire story of love, revenge and redemption.

“It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights,” says Rice, who presented Angela Carter’s Wise Children at the Theare Royal in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers that September.

Lucy McCormick’s Cathy in the poster for Wise Children’s world premiere of Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

“So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope but there was no need. Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.”

Earlier in the Haunted Season, from September 30 to October 2, will be the world premiere of celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, a dance exploration of “intoxicated tales from darkest Soho”, inspired by English novelist and Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton.

Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life, this New Adventures show invites audiences to step inside The Midnight Bell, a tavern where one particular lonely hearts club gathers to play out lovelorn affairs of the heart: bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.

The Theatre Royal had to wait for 30 years for Londoner Sir Matthew Bourne, doyen of dandy dance, to bring a show to York for the first time on his Early Adventures tour in March 2017 after he introduced mid-scale touring. The Theatre Royal promptly booked his next tour, Matthew Bourne’s Deadly Serious, but that visit never materialised. Now, however, Bourne is back with his Soho tales.

Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell: Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life in the New Adventures production from September 30 to October 2

The season will open with another world premiere, Zimbabwean writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me from September 9 to 18. His high-voltage one-man show charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century, Robert Mugabe, through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father as he considers familial love, identity and what it means to be “home”.

Playwright (and pantomime dame to boot) Philip Meeks has history at York Theatre Royal in the form of Twinkle, Little Star, starring Nottingham Playhouse panto legend Kenneth Alan Taylor in the Studio in 2008  and the 2017 world premiere of Murder, Margaret and Me, his comedy-thriller of imagined meetings between crime novelist and playwright Agatha Christie and actress Margaret Rutherford.

Now Meeks will return with his stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale of the Headless Horseman, from October 5 to 9, when Wendi Peters, from Coronation Street, and Bill Ward, from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Before We Die, will lead the cast and Filipe J Carvalho will provide the stage illusions.

Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The production has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good ghost story. It is an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.”

Coronation Street alumni Wendi Peters and Bill Ward will star in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Two familiar figures from the world of horror will put in appearances at the Haunted Season, albeit maybe not in the expected manner. Kings of comedy Le Navet Bete will sink their teeth into Dracula: The Bloody Truth on September 24 and 25, mixing slapstick with carefully crafted comedy and a healthy dose of things going wrong as the action moves from dark and sinister Transylvania to the “awkwardly charming seaside town of Whitby”.

From October 19 to 23, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective story The Hound Of The Baskervilles will be given a humorous overhaul in a Lotte Wakeham production where farce collides with theatrical invention and comic performances.

Pride And Prejudice’s most roguish gentleman, George Wickham, will seek to set the record straight when Adrian Lukis performs in Being Mr Wickham from October 14 to 16. Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the BBC TV adaptation, will reveal what really happened with Darcy, how he felt about Lizzie and, of course, what happened at Waterloo.

Two dance companies will return to the Theatre Royal stage: Ballet Black on October 26 and Phoenix Dance Theatre on November 23 and 24.

The poster for the world premiere of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me

Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black Double Bill will feature Then And Now, wherein Will Tuckett blends classical ballet, poetry and music to explore ideas of home and belonging, and fellow Olivier Award-winning choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s contemplation of the purpose of life in The Waiting Game.

Leeds company Phoenix Dance Theatre will be celebrating 40 Years Of Phoenix with a birthday programme of work by international and award-winning choreographers, including former artistic directors and collaborators.

Lorne Campbell’s new theatrical version of The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff will be performed by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning trio The Young’uns – Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – from October 28 to 30.

This protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism features songs from the original album, alongside new material and animation, in the true story of a young anti-fascist’s journey from poverty and unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees through the hunger marches of the 1930s, the mass trespass movement and the Battle of Cable Street, to fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism The Young’uns in The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff. Picture: Pamela Raith

On October 11 and 12, English Touring Opera will return to the Theatre Royal with Handel’s Amadigi, based on a chivalric romance about three young people imprisoned by a sorceress.

From November 2 to 6, York Opera will present The Magic Flute, Mozart’s magical and last great opera, sung in English with an orchestra.

For younger audiences, Rod Campbell’s lift-the-flap book will leap off the page in Dear Zoo Live!, a show packed full of puppetry, songs and all the animals from the zoo, on September 28 and 29.

After The Love Season and upcoming Summer Of Love, The Haunted Season will be the third of York Theatre Royal’s mini-seasons since reopening on May 17. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 and at

Julie’s journey from Corrie’s Hayley to The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

History maker: Julie Hesmondhalgh in the one-woman show The Greatest Play In The History Of The World

AT the heart of The Love Season when York Theatre Royal reopens from May 17 will be The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show.

Produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Hull Truck Theatre, the debut tour of Ian Kershaw’s multi award-winning play will open at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, from May 18 to 22 before History will be made at the Theatre Royal from June 1 to 5 and Hull Truck from June 7 to 12, with all tour performances being socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…takes a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumnus Julie Hesmondhalgh narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love.  

The show is penned by Accrington-born Julie’s husband, Ian Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless, and reunites her with award-winning director Raz Shaw after working together on Margaret Edison’s Wit at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in 2016.

The taming of the shoe: Under Covid-safe measures, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…can no longer make use of audience members’ shows during each show

Explaining the play’s genesis, Julie says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that Ian should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, he kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing: a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark.”

Let the show begin: a man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped. Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him. Over to you, Julie, from May 18.

Looking ahead to the tour starting at last, she says: “It doesn’t seem for real in some ways because it’s been put off so many times, but now I’m having to learn my lines again with proper commitment, and I’m so excited to be doing it, performing in theatres’ socially distanced bigger spaces. It’ll be a bit of a recalibration for people to get used to being back in a theatre.

“Though it’s completely not a play about lockdown, it is nevertheless about people living in isolation, connection, love, and all those things that have been writ large in this strange time,” says Julie Hesmondhalgh

“Previously, I was interacting with audiences in the show, using their shoes as a vital part of it, and though I’ll miss doing that, this way of doing it will bring something new to it.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s funny because there are a lot of people who just book everything that’s on at the Traverse, and they arrive and think, ‘right, what are we seeing now? Oh, she’s wearing jeans’, but with this tour, it’ll be the first thing people will have seen in a long time.”

Julie continues: “Though it’s completely not a play about lockdown, it is nevertheless about people living in isolation, connection, love, and all those things that have been writ large in this strange time, so I think it will now land with people in a really different way than ever before.

“The fact that it’s a play set on northern streets that we’ll be taking around northern theatres, I just think it’s going to be an amazing experience for me.”

“You can never second-guess how an audience will behave or react,” says Julie. “It’s so different every performance”

How does Julie, 51, re-acquaint herself with a play she knows so well? “I need to go into it almost at Ground Zero,” she says. “It’s quite a difficult play for me to do, as you can never second-guess how an audience will behave or react.

“It’s so different every performance. Some nights, they will roll around laughing at every line, and it’s a real rollercoaster, but it’s a play with so many twists and turns for the audience, so sometimes people will be thinking, ‘what’s this about? What’s going on here?’, because I’m speaking directly to them…

“And there can be something that feels innately sociopathic about me doing that for 70 minutes with some of them looking like they don’t want to be there! In real life, you’d go, ‘well, anyway’ and move on.

“On quiet nights, I’ve been quietly dying inside, but at the end, the lights go up and there’ll be tears in their eyes, and they really want to talk to you about the show afterwards.

“It’ll be a bit of a recalibration for people to get used to being back in a theatre,” says Julie, as The Greatest Play In The History Of The World begins its northern tour on May 18

“Now, playing to faces wearing masks for the first time, I’ll just have to remember that my job is to tell a story and yours is to sit there and listen!”

One last question, Julie, is The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…really what it says in the title? “Ian went away, wrote the play and came back with that name, but it’s really important to note that it does finish with three dots…

“We’re constantly apologising for it, but I don’t think Hamlet needs to be worried!”

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World… will play Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 18 to 22, 7.30pm; 1.30pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday; York Theatre Royal, June 1 to 5, 8pm; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: Scarborough, or 01723 370541; York, or 01904 623568; Hull, or 01482 323638.

Copyright of The Press, York

New dates confirmed for The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…at York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre

“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark,” says actor Julie Hesmondhalgh of husband Ian Kershaw’s The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

GREAT news on The Greatest Play In The History Of The World for York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre audiences: revised dates are in place for Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show.

The debut tour of Ian Kershaw’s multi award-winning play should have opened at Hull Truck from January 29 and played York from February 16 to 20 as part of The Love Season. Lockdown 3 forced a delay, however, but now History will be made at York Theatre Royal from June 1 to 5 and at Hull Truck from June 7 to 12.

Tickets will go on sale in April at,uk or 01904 623568 and at or 01482 323638, with the release dates yet to be announced.

Produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Hull Truck Theatre, the tour will begin at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from May 18 to 22. All tour performances will be socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…takes a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumnus Julie narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love.  

Premiered at the Traverse Theatre at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, the debut production transferred to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Studio in September 2018 and to London’s West End in December 2019. Now, the show has been adapted for the 2021 tour in light of these Covid times and performances will be housed in the larger performance spaces of each theatre.  

Julie Hesmondhalgh: “Navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love”

The show is written by Julie’s husband, the Bruntwood Award-winning Ian Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless, and reunites her with award-winning director Raz Shaw after working together on Margaret Edison’s Wit at the Royal Exchange in 2016.

Explaining the play’s genesis, Julie says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that Ian should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, he kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing: a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark.”

Let the show begin: a man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped. Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him. Over to you, Julie, from May 18.

Tickets for the SJT run are available at

Yorkshire performance dates:

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 18 to 22, 7.30pm; 1.30pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday.

York Theatre Royal, June 1 to 5, 8pm; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday.

Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday.

Stephen Joseph Theatre to reopen with The Greatest Play In The History Of The World

Is this The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…? Yes it is! Catch Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show at the SJT from May 18. York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatres will follow

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre will reopen its doors to the public on May 17, with the first live show a day later.

Further ahead, the SJT summer season will begin with a new play by director emeritus Sir Alan Ayckbourn but the title and dates are yet to be confirmed.

Under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, pending the latest pandemic data, entertainment venues can play to Covid-secure limited capacities to allow for social distancing from May 17.

The reopening show, from May 18 to 22, will be the first dates of the debut UK tour of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, a one-woman show written by the Bruntwood Award-winning Ian Kershaw for his wife, the former Coronation Street and Broadchurch star Julie Hesmondhalgh.

The SJT programme of live theatre will be announced for the summer and autumn next month. The SJT cinema programme in The McCarthy will re-start from Tuesday, May 25; full details will be released shortly.

Having taken over the first-floor lounge bar last August, Eat Me Café will continue its residency until at least the autumn, open Mondays to Saturdays from 10am, with last orders at 6.30pm, Mondays to Wednesdays, and at 7.30pm, Thursdays to Saturdays. All the usual Covid restrictions will be in place.

The SJT’s joint chief executives, Paul Robinson and Caroline Routh, say: “We can’t wait to open our doors again to our wonderful audiences. We know from their messages how much they’re missing being in the building for live theatre, films and the Eat Me Café.

“We’ll be keeping all the Covid security measures that made them feel so safe when we reopened briefly last year in place for quite some time. These will include temperature checks and hand sanitising on entry, social distancing everywhere in the building, and regular ‘fogging’, or safe disinfecting, of both auditoria in between shows or films.”

“We can’t wait to open our doors again to our wonderful audiences,” says SJT joint chief executives Paul Robinson and Caroline Routh. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Martyn Hyde and Stephen Dinardo, owners of Eat Me Café, say: “We’re absolutely delighted to continue our residence at the SJT. It’s a great space.”

Like all other British theatres, the SJT closed its doors suddenly when the first lockdown was announced last March, reopening in August with rigorous safety procedures in place.

After the second closure was imposed in November, the SJT was able to re-open in time to present its Christmas show, Nick Lane’s The Snow Queen, starring Polly Lister throughout December, but the doors have since remained shut throughout 2021.

Whet the lips for The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, set to be staged in the Round at 7.30pm from May 18 to 22, plus 1.30pm on May 20 and 2.30pm on May 22.  

After the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe premiere at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, the play transferred to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Studio in September 2018 and later to London’s West End.

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, Raz Shaw’s production has been adapted especially for the Covid-safe tour in light of these pandemic times and performances will be housed in the larger spaces of each theatre. 

Kershaw’s play heads out on a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Hesmondhalgh narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating the audience through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love. 

“A man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped,” explains Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless. “Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him.”

“A beautiful play that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy,” says Julie Hesmondhalgh of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

Recalling the play’s roots, Hesmondhalgh says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that my husband, the writer Ian Kershaw, should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, Ian kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing. 

“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one – literally! – about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark on the world – and maybe beyond – that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy.

“It was the best present I ever got. In these dark and confusing times, it offers a bit of love and light as we enter 2021 with fresh hope.”

Dates for the rearranged tour will be announced for York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre too.

Chief executive Tom Bird had pencilled in announcing the Theatre Royal’s reopening plans today or tomorrow, but the launch of The Love Season is on hold until further notice. The Theatre Royal will be applying for a grant from the £300 million third tranche of Culture Recovery Fund funding announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

Tickets for The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…at the SJT cost £10 upwards on 01723 370541 or at

Socially distanced arrangement at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from May 17:

FOR the first show, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, regulations will be as they were in the autumn and for the Christmas show: the two-metre rule will apply and the nature of the show means the audience will be on three sides, with a capacity of 80.

The SJT is working on the way ahead, when Government regulations will allow audiences of up to 50 per cent of capacity: 202 in the full Round. “We will certainly be continuing to operate with social distancing for the foreseeable future,” says press officer Jeannie Swales.