Anna Soden turns love of grumpy magical creature into streamed Five Children And It show on Explore York’s YouTube channel

Anna Soden in rehearsal for her children’s show Five Children And It

YORK company Strawberry Lion will premiere its streamed production of E Nesbit’s Five Children And It on Explore York libraries’  YouTube channel on Wednesday (7/4/2021) at 6pm.

Written and performed by York actor, musician, writer, theatre-maker and company founder Anna Soden, the show will be available online for free until 5pm on April 14.

Directed by Theatre Royal youth theatre director Kate Veysey, with music and lyrics by Jim Harbourne, the show is presented in association with Scarborough community producing company Arcade.

Suitable for family audiences aged five and upwards, this adaptation of Nesbit’s 1902 children’s novel is set on a Scarborough beach, as Anna invites you to “join Anthea as she tells her magical story through music, story-telling and puppetry,” promising that “sometimes the best adventures can happen on your doorstep”.

Anna was last seen on a York stage, or, rather, myriad stages in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, touring the city wards as a rapping, funky, blue and pink-haired, multi-tasking Fairy, more likely to hit the bass line than wave a wand, as flashy as her lit-up boots, with guitar in hand or trumpet between her lips.

In the summer, she had popped up in the Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio season in York company Cosmic Collective Theatre’s rain-sodden afternoon performance of Heaven’s Gate, Joe Feeney’s ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy.

Strawberry Lion’s show poster for Five Children And It

There is no need to book for Strawberry Lion’s Five Children And It; simply head to @yorkexplore’s YouTube channel.

Here, Anna answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions on Strawberry Lion, E Nesbit’s book, Scarborough beach, Cosmic Collective Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime.

When and why did you form Strawberry Lion?

“I made Strawberry Lion in September 2020. I’d had a great time re-staging Heaven’s Gate with Cosmic Collective Theatre over the summer, and was keen to continue making my own work, and expand my practice outside of just acting into writing/making.

“I’d never had time to do it before, but when theatres shut and acting work dried up last year, I knew that was my opportunity.”

Why did you choose the name Strawberry Lion?

“I remember a conversation with a friend when I was really young about words that shouldn’t go together, but when they do, they evoke a really strong tactile taste/ texture/mood, like Strawberry, Lion.

Strawberry Lion’s logo

“That’s always stuck in my brain. I essentially love those two words together, and it somehow represents the work I want to make quite well.”

Who else is involved in the company?

“Kate Veysey, from York Theatre Royal, is directing this project, and Sophie Drury Bradey, of Arcade, has been a monumental help as a consultant producer.”

What shows have you done so far?
“My play Mad For Our Daughters is being developed with [York-born, Manchester-based] singer-songwriter Harriet Forgan, and we performed an extract of the piece at the Belgrade Music Hall in Leeds in September, but Five Children and It will be Strawberry Lion’s first full-length show.”

Why adapt Five Children And It? Was this a story you read as a child?
“Yes! My mum introduced me to it. I had a very, very old, battered copy as a child that I used to take on holidays and read.

“So, when I was on the look-out for the perfect family story to adapt, I couldn’t believe Five Children And It wasn’t more widely done. It’s such a magical story, and I love how the magical creature in it is so grumpy. There’s a lot of fun in that!”

“I couldn’t believe Five Children And It wasn’t more widely done,” says Anna. “It’s such a magical story, and I love how the magical creature in it is so grumpy”

What age group will you be aiming the show at?
“It’s billed as ‘5+’, but I hope there’s something there for every age!”

Why set the story on Scarborough beach?
“Despite living in London for six years, I feel like Yorkshire and the North is always present in my writing, so I really wanted to embrace that. I love Scarborough – Scarbados!

“A huge theme in my adaptation is about finding adventure where you are: a reflection of what we all have to do while we can’t travel outside of our local area. It’s also about learning to appreciate your home, and we certainly are lucky to have a prehistoric coastline here in North Yorkshire.”

Where and how did you record the streamed performance?

“We recorded the performance in February in York Theatre Royal’s Billiard Room, with a fantastic team: filmed by Wayne Sables and Stan Gaskell and audio mixed by Oliver Ibbotson.”

How did Kate Veysey become involved as director?  Does your link go back to York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre days?
“Yes, I grew up in the youth theatre and adored my time there. I worked closely with Kate when I was playing Lyra in His Dark Materials as a teenager, and Kate also gave me support watching my audition speeches for drama school.

Director Kate Veysey in rehearsal for Five Children And It

“I’ve always come back to see the main-house shows and am constantly in awe of her Theatre Royal Youth Theatre productions. I think she’s an absolutely fantastic director, and I needed someone who knows theatre for young audiences inside out, so it was a no-brainer for me to ask her to direct. It’s a lovely full circle to be working with her as an adult.”

Jim Harbourne has written the music and lyrics. Have you worked with him before?
“No, I met Jim in the Summerhall courtyard in Edinburgh in 2018. I was in a Fringe show there, and Jim’s show, Myth Of A Singular Moment, was on in the same venue.

“I went to see it and adored it, and I couldn’t get over how gorgeous his music was. I’ve been itching to work with him ever since. I’m so thrilled he said ‘yes’ as his work in Five Children And It is MAGICAL.”

How did Explore York Libraries become involved?
“I approached them when I was putting in my Arts Council England project grant bid last autumn. Since it’s such a classic book, I felt the library was the perfect home for the show.”

Joe Feeney and Anna Soden in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

Any news on upcoming Cosmic Collective Theatre projects?
“I know Joe [Feeney] has been writing non-stop over lockdown, so we’ll be looking forward to starting new projects once the world gets a bit safer.”

The ground-breaking Travelling Pantomime went so well. What did you learn from that performance experience?

“It was a glorious experience! I guess I learnt that we can find a safe way through all this: live theatre is possible, and can be super safe, even at the height of the pandemic!

“It was also a nice reminder to not take performing for granted. When it’s your job, and I’ve been lucky to have worked quite consistently, there’s a danger you can get into a routine – but with this scenario, and restrictions changing all the time, we were performing every show like it could have been our last!”

When and where might you perform Five Children And It once live performances are feasible?

“It hasn’t been announced yet, so I don’t think I can say, but there will be a performance next month.” [A cursory inspection of the Strawberry Lion website reveals a show date of May 29 at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, but watch this space for confirmation of the exact details.]  

26/5/2021 UPDATE

ANNA Soden has added a 3pm performance at the At The Mill pop-up theatre at Stillington, near York, on Sunday, May 30. SOLD OUT.

It’s all about the bass: Anna Soden’s funky Fairy in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime last December

Stephen Joseph Theatre to run the rule over six new plays in autumn season of readings

Sarah Gordon: Her Brontë story The Underdog will open the play-reading season at the SJT

FROM the Brontë sisters to Morris dancing, happiness to self-help, Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre will present a themed season of play readings this autumn.

The six 7.15pm readings by professional actors will take place in front of a socially distanced audience, who can join in a discussion with the writer, director and actors at the end, potentially contributing to each play’s development.

Artistic director Paul Robinson says: “These readings give our audiences a sneak preview of some shows that may go on to have a full production at the SJT. One of our biggest successes in recent years, Christopher York’s Build A Rocket, started out this way.”

Cosmic Collective Theatre company members Joe Feeney and Anna Soden, here pictured performing Heaven’s Gate, will be among the readers for The Underdog

The first reading, Sarah Gordon’s The Underdog on October 7, will be performed by York actors Joe Feeney and Anna Soden, from Cosmic Collective Theatre, Houmi Miura and Monica Sagar. Casts for the other play readings will be announced soon.

Peeling back the legend of the Brontë sisters, The Underdog tells the story of the sibling power dynamics that shaped their uneven rise to fame from The Parsonage at Haworth, West Riding.

“Individual ambition and differing levels of success collide increasingly with the desire for group empowerment – which, let’s face it, is awkward. Especially when you’re the underdog, a.k.a Anne Brontë,” says Sarah, whose play The Edit played the SJT in Spring 2019.

Full of Joy: Adam Hughes contemplates what it means to be happy in his new play

On October 13, in Adam Hughes’s Joy, Joy is a never without a smile and always looks on the bright side of life, but when her son, Ryan, returns home following a messy break-up, she finds herself questioning what it really means to be happy.

In Tapped, Katie Redford’s comedy drama on November 3, three Co-op colleagues attend a failing self-help group in Stapleford, Nottingham. 

Every Tuesday evening, Gavi holds motivational meetings in his garage, hoping to inspire his community, but when only bickering mother and daughter Denise and Jen turn up, clearly he has his work cut out.

Katie Radford: What happens when a self-help group leader needs help himself in Tapped?

Both wounded by tragedy, an Iraqi-Welsh Muslim woman and an ex-soldier, who live in multicultural Canton in Cardiff, find unexpected solace in each other’s company in Rebecca Jade Hammond’s Canton on November 10.

Hammond explores those rare fleeting relationships between two strangers of different backgrounds, living side by side in the same community, and how their interactions can be a catalyst for change.

Rebecca Jade Hammond: Fleeting relationships as a catalyst for change in Canton

In Worldly, on November 17, Jess knows she will survive Armageddon in Rachel Horner’s one-woman show about religion, family and unlearning everything you once knew.

She has done the training and read all the books and already she is planning what to name her pet panda on Paradise Earth. However, Jess realises that with organised religion comes unorganised chaos and not everyone is as faithful as they think they are. 

Rachel Horner: Contemplating Armageddon, religion, family and unlearning everything you once knew in her play Worldly

Yorkshire actor Chris Chilton’s touching comedy With Bells On! concludes the season on November 24 with its story of salesman Morris, friendships and a passion for Morris dancing.

By day, Morris sells rubber valves but come nighttime, he is the Lord of the Dance, leading an unlikely group of friends on the road to the Morris Ring Regional Dance-Off.

The six readings will take place in the Round, except for Canton, booked instead into the McCarthy auditorium.

Chris Chilton: Morris leads a merry dance in With Bells On!

Tickets for individual play readings cost £5 each at or by calling the box office on 01723 370541,  open Thursdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for phone calls and in-person bookings.

The SJT has introduced comprehensive measures for the safety and comfort of its audiences and has been awarded the VisitEngland We’re Good To Go industry standard mark, signifying its adherence to Government and public health guidance. For more details, go to:

Serena Manteghi in Build A Rocket, Christopher York’s debut play that was first aired in a reading at the SJT. Picture: Sam Taylor

Pop-Up On The Patio heralds return of live shows at York Theatre Royal…outdoors

Top of the Pop-ups: Musician Phil Grainger and writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill when performing Orpheus in a week of At The Mill shows. Now they head to Pop-Up On The Patio. Picture: Charlotte Graham

WHO will be popping up at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival from August 14 to 29?

Taking part in a Covid-secure summer season of outdoor performances, on a terrace stage designed by Yorkshire theatre designer Hannah Sibai, will be “Yorkshire’s finest theatre and dance makers”.

Step forward York Dance Space; Mud Pie Arts; Crafty Tales; Fool(ish) Improv; The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre; puppeteer Freddie Hayes; Cosmic Collective Theatre; performance poet Henry Raby; Say Owt, the York outlet for slam poets, word-weavers and “gobheads”; magician, juggler and children’s entertainer Josh Benson and singer Jess Gardham.

They will perform at one end of the patio, decorated with “Glastonbury-style bunting”, performing to audiences of a maximum of 35 in demarcated bubbles.

“We’re so excited to have been able to bring live theatre back to our city this summer,” says Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth, who has co-ordinated the festival programme of theatre, dance, music, magic, puppetry, improvised comedy, storytelling and slam poetry.

“Our building may still be closed, but we didn’t want that to stand in the way of entertaining the people of York during this difficult time. Pop-Up On The Patio gives us the opportunity to showcase the work of brilliant home-grown performers, many of whom are part of our freelance family, who have been disproportionally affected by this pandemic.”

“We wanted to go hyper-local with the festival to give a platform to York artists,” says York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird

Looking forward to staging the first shows on the Theatre Royal premises since March 17, executive director Tom Bird says: “It’s been a short but intense preparation period: we wanted to go hyper-local with the festival, to give a platform to York artists, and we’re absolutely delighted at getting a very local, highly skilled bunch across so many genres.”

Explaining the decision to focus the festival on Friday evenings and Saturdays, Bird says: “We are easing our way back from a total stop, turning everything off in March, so we’re feeling our way in, and we want to make sure that everything is safe, for the audience, performers and staff.

“The world is changing all the time, so we wanted to give ourselves breathing space in what we’re doing by restricting ourselves to three weekends for the festival, but  who’s to say we won’t do more patio shows.”

The Theatre Royal management has implemented extra safety measures to keep visitors and staff safe during the three festival weekends, reconfiguring the patio to allow for a socially distanced audience and stage. These measures will be under constant review and apply to all the performances.

Tickets are on sale at and must be bought in advance.


Dance steps: Dance // Shorts launches the Pop-Up On The Patio festival

Dance // Shorts, August 14, 7pm

CURATED by York Dance Space, this evening of live contemporary dance theatre in an outdoor, intimate setting will be a compilation of bite-size solos and duets from “some of the most interesting and exciting young artists from across Yorkshire and the Humber”.

Performances include solo work from Alethia Antonia, from the James Wilton Dance Company; Coalesce Dance Theatre; Daisy Howell, from Brink Dance Company, and Namiuki Dance.

Look out too for a selection of Doorstep Dances from Hull artists Tamar and Jo, spanning contemporary, Northern Soul, jazz dance and physical theatre styles. Suitable for age 12 upwards.

Mud, glorious Mud: Mud Pie Arts duo Nicolette Hobson, left, and Jenna Drury

Mud Pie Arts, August 15, 22 and 29, 11am, for age 4 to 11

“WHAT is easy to get into but hard to get out of?” askMud Pie Arts drama practitioners Jenna Drury and Nicolette Hobson. “The answer? Trouble, of course!

“So, join us for Saturday elevenses in our Silly Summer Stories show. There’ll be interactive storytelling, riddles, games and all kinds of family tomfoolery.”

Have you heard the one about the old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle, or the farmer who fished for sausages? Now is the chance to enjoy those stories. “Come and find us on the patio every Saturday this month to celebrate all things daft,” say Jenna and Nicolette.

Crafty: Story Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce, left, and Cassie Vallance

Crafty Tales, August 15 and 22, 1pm, for two to six year olds

YORK Theatre Royal’s Story Craft Theatre return with an outdoor version of Crafty Tales, presented by Cassie Vallance and Janet Bruce.

“As always, there’ll be a story to tell plus songs, games and dancing, all designed around a brilliant picture book with interactive and imaginative play,” they say. “Although Crafty Tales is aimed at two to six year olds, all children are welcome.”

Made up: Fool(ish) Improv’s poster since 1793

Fool(ish) Improv, August 15, 4pm 

FOOL(ISH) Improv is a bite-sized comedy show with absolutely no plan or permission, created by York writer and director Paul Birch.

Strap in for 60 minutes of improvised mayhem where you, the audience, provide the suggestions for the actors to make stuff happen. Instantly.

“Taking nothing seriously – and everything for granted – our merry band of charlatans and misfits will bring music, comedy and appalling levels of acting to give you a delightful hour of spontaneous comedy,” says Paul.

“You bring the ideas, we’ll bring the performance, and together we’ll make a joyous family show that has no business being indoors. Now, you have to come. We couldn’t do it without you.”

The poster for The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Orpheus

Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus, August 21, 6pm

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger should have been heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe to present the British premiere of The Gods, The Gods, The Gods this month after its Antipodean premiere before Covid-19 intervened.

Instead, they have been presenting Orpheus in socially distanced performances in back gardens and a week of At The Mill shows in Alex’s own back garden at Stillington Mill, near York, last week.

Written by Alex, with incidental music and songs by Phil, the international award-winning Orpheus is a thoroughly modern, beautifully poetic re-telling of an ancient Greek myth.

Dave is single, stood at the bar; Eurydice is a tree nymph, and Bruce Springsteen is on the juke box in this tale of impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music, where Alex and Phil weave a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

Eurydice: “A story about a woman” with a Superman costume, a bee tattoo and a sting in the tale

Eurydice, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, August 21, 8pm

LENI is five years old, holding a Superman costume for her first day at school. Eurydice is five years into the rest of her life, sporting a bee tattoo on her wrist, in Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s story of someone defined by someone else’s myth.

This tale of making changes, taking leaps and being a daily superhero is billed as “a story about a woman told by women”.

That was the case when performed by Alex and Phil Grainger’s co-creators, Serena Manteghi and Casey Jane Andrews, to 2019 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre award-winning success. Now, Alex and Phil take over to weave a world of day-to-day power and beauty and goddesses, told through heart-stopping spoken word and live electronica.

Flat caps at the double: Freddie Does Puppets puppeteer Freddie Hayes with grumpy pub landlord Fred in Fred’s Microbrewery

Freddie Does Puppets in Fred’s Microbrewery, August 22, 4pm

FRED’S Microbrewery is the world’s first Puppet-in-a-Pub theatrical experience, a modern-day Punch and Judy story courtesy of York puppeteer Freddie Hayes.

Grouchy Fred and his bitter and twisted wife Sharon are two very grumpy Yorkshire puppets cum pub landlord and landlady of the Fred’s Microbrewery, where the frank, fractious duo serve beer-infused banter to adult audiences in an afternoon of debauchery and puppet profanities. 

Fred and Sharon have sparred at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe and had plenty to say at the Edinburgh Fringe, Shambala Festival, Moving Parts Festival and Folkestone Puppet Festival too.  

In lockdown and beyond, Fred and Sharon have been living inside a laundry bag in Freddie’s attic. Now, bag unzipped, she is ready to unleash them once more in a show with an age guide of 15-plus on account of the strong language and adult themes.

Heaven’s above: Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate, Cosmic Collective Theatre, August 28, 4pm

FOUR cups of apple sauce. Four canvas camp beds. One comet. Heaven’s Gate is closing and the Away Team are ready for graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word.  ‘C’ for ‘cult’, that is.

Presented by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre – satirical writer Joe Feeney, Anna Soden, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell – Heaven’s Gate imagines the final hour of four fictionalised members of the real-life UFO-theistic group.

As they prepare for their “graduation” to the “Kingdom of Heaven”, the excitement is palpable, but all too soon the cracks appear. Is the Heavenly Father really waiting for them on a Spaceship? Is Planet Earth soon to be recycled? Is castration compulsory? Isn’t Turkey Potpie an underwhelming last supper?

Cosmic Collective Theatre’s intergalactic pitch-black comedy comes with adult themes and strong language – but no C-word, of course – to give it a 15-plus age guide

Taking the mic: York punk performance poet Henry Raby

Henry Raby: Apps & Austerity, August 28, 6.30pm

“2010-2019. What was going on?” asks York-grown punk performance poet, activist and Say Owt artistic director Henry Raby as puts the word into sword to slice up the past decade.

From the memes and scenes, from riots to Royal Weddings to Referendums, Henry sums up a decade of technology and austerity with attitude, humour and insight.

Slam champ and Deer Shed resident poet Henry has performed across the UK, from festivals front rooms. “This is my fifth solo show, so I must have got something right by now,” he says.

Say Owt Showcase, August 28, 8pm

YORK’S lovable and raucous poetry gang proudly present an assortment of noisy slam-winning performance poets, word-weavers, and gobheads. “Spice up your Friday night with a glass-raising toast to the spoken word,” says host Henry Raby.

Say Owt word-warriors have delighted in ripping up stages at the Great Yorkshire Fringe and the Arts Barge in York, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Manic magic: All-action York magician Just Josh

Josh Benson in Just Josh’s Ultimate Family Show, August 29, 1pm

CALLING all families! Just Josh is “hugely excited” to be back performing live with his family magic, juggling and balloon show!

If you have encountered Josh Benson previously, you will know that he is one of Yorkshire and indeed the UK’s “biggest kids”, noted for his boundless energy and shameless attempts to do absolutely anything in pursuit of a laugh from a crowd.

Josh, Corntroller of Entertainments at York Maze and regular pantomime silly billy, has taken his magic all over the UK and beyond, returning home from his P&O Cruises stint in February.

“My show is suitable for kids from four to 104, with laughs and, all being well, amazement for the whole family” says Josh.

All roads lead Jess Gardham to…the Pop-Up On The Patio stage at York Theatre Royal

Jess Gardham, August 29, 4pm

YORK pop, soul, blues and acoustic singer-songwriter, musical actress and 2018 MasterChef quarter finalist Jess Gardham closes Pop-Up On The Patio with an afternoon set.

Jess has performed all over Britain, the United States, Europe and Canada and supported the likes of Paul Carrack, KT Tunstall, The Shires, Wilko Johnson and Martin Simpson.

Her songs have been played regularly on BBC Introducing and her debut album, Beyond Belief, was picked up by BBC Radio 2.

Jess has taken lead roles in theatre productions such as Hairspray, Ghost The Musical and Rock Of Ages. “I hope to perform in theatre again when they’re open again,” she says.


YORK Theatre Royal will open the entrance to the Pop-Up patio a quarter of an hour before every performance starts.

“There will likely be some queueing, but we will do everything we can to keep this to a minimum,” says the festival website. “Please arrive in good time for any performance.”

All tickets will be digital and checked without contact at a social distance at the entrance to the patio area, where refreshments will be available.

STAFF will be managing the departure from the performance area “so that we don’t have large crowds all leaving at the same time”.

THE loos in De Grey House next to the patio will be open throughout. All loos will be stocked with anti-bacterial hand soap and stringent hand-washing guidelines are in place.

Social distancing
EACH household or social bubble will be seated at a safe distance from other households or social bubbles, in line with Government guidance at the time of the performance.

“You will be directed to a designated ‘social bubble spot’ by our staff,” says the website. “Please be patient with them and sit where they direct – they know best!”

Food and refreshments
A LIMITED range of soft and alcoholic drinks will be on sale, alongside ice creams and chocolate.

Ticketing policy
IF you have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been diagnosed with the virus or have been in direct contact with a diagnosed individual in the past 14 days, you must not attend the event.

If you are unable to attend as a result of illness, please email and a ticket transfer can be arranged. Tickets can only be refunded if the booked performance has sold out.

Additional cleaning
THE patio area will be thoroughly cleaned between each performance. “Our already high cleaning standards have been enhanced by a cleaning programme designed to clean and sanitise the high touch points,” assures the website.

More information can be found at: 

Garden of delights: Hannah Sibai’s design for Pop-Up On The Patio at York Theatre Royal

Cosmic Collective on course to make out of this world theatre with Heaven’s Gate

Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

FOUR‌ ‌cups‌ ‌of‌ ‌Apple‌ ‌Sauce.‌ ‌Four‌ ‌canvas‌ ‌camp‌ ‌beds.‌ ‌One‌ ‌Comet.‌ ‌Heaven’s‌ ‌Gate‌ ‌is‌ ‌closing‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Away‌ ‌Team‌ ‌are‌ ‌ready‌ ‌for‌ ‌Graduation, but whatever you do, don’t mention the C-word. Cult, that is.

Premiered by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre at last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York, ‌‌the 55-minute Heaven’s Gate is orbiting Yorkshire on its first tour, playing the Visionari community programming group’s Studio Discoveries season at the York Theatre Royal Studio tonight (February 7) at 7.45pm.

Written by company co-founder Joe Feeney, this ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy ‌imagines‌ ‌the‌ ‌final‌ ‌hour‌ ‌of‌ ‌four‌ ‌fictionalised‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌real-life ‌ ‌‌UFO-theistic‌ ‌group, Heaven’s Gate.‌ ‌

“As‌ ‌they‌ ‌prepare‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‘Graduation’‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘Kingdom‌ ‌of Heaven’, initially the excitement is palpable, but soon the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear,” says Joe, an alumnus of York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.‌

Is‌ ‌the Heavenly‌ ‌Father‌ ‌really‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌spaceship?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌actually‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌recycled?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌castration‌ ‌obligatory‌ ‌or‌ ‌not?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌Turkey‌ ‌Potpie‌ ‌an‌ ‌underwhelming‌ ‌last‌ ‌supper?‌ ‌ ‌

“I’ve always been interested in slightly unusual stories, like the paranormal,” says Joe. “I remember reading about the Heaven’s Gate cult, a real-life cult in San Diego, California, who believed God was an alien in a space ship and they were aliens too but wearing the bodies of humans, but actually being versions who would be beamed up to heaven.

“A lot of their religious mantras were from Star Trek and Star Wars, and they all had matching hair-dos and tracksuit clothing.”

Joe was not aware of any previous fictionalised works telling the Heaven’s Gate story. “About 18 months ago, I was watching this BBC Four documentary about meteorites, and it got to 1997 and they started talking about the Comet Hale-Bopp in the sky in March that year,” he recalls.”

“They mentioned an American cult who said it was a calling from God and they could see a UFO in the trail that would take them to heaven.”

These are the facts: On March 26, 1997, the San Diego County Sheriff’s department discovered 39 bodies of Heaven’s Gate members in a house in the suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.  They had participated in a mass suicide, co-ordinated in ritual suicides, in the belief they would reach the aforementioned extraterrestrial space craft trailing in Comet Hale-Bopp’s slipstream.

“Learning about this, the story quickly went from humour to thinking that, ‘oh my god, people need to hear this story and the terrible things they all went through,” says Joe.

“That’s why I’ve written about the fictionalised last hour of four members, drawing on the iconography and ideology of other cults, as well as Heaven’s Gate, in the play.”

Joe has created four “relatable characters”. “They are everyday people who found themselves in the right or wrong place and who felt themselves being swept up in it,” he says.

His writing tone is humorous but darkly so. “The play is a comedy, albeit a black comedy that takes the subject seriously but in a satirical way, managing to find a critique within that satire,” he says.

In the publicity material, Cosmic Collective Theatre make a point of saying “Don’t say the C-word. Cult!”. Why not, Joe?

“The word ‘cult’ always has a stigma to it, but a lot of people in cults don’t know they’re in a cult. They think that they’re in a religion. I don’t want to stigmatise it,” he says. “What’s the difference between God being in a UFO and God being someone with a white beard?

“We hope there are 39 people in a spaceship on the other side of the world. That’s a lovely thought, but the reality is those people are buried somewhere in America.”

Joe was keen to address another subject in the play, amid the rising tide of intolerance and division in the 21st century. “Heaven’s Gate is also about identity, how we make our journey through the world, when we’re now living in a polarised world where we all pin our beliefs to the mast,” he says.

Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre‌, who enjoyed a sold-out run at the‌ ‌Drayton‌ ‌Arms‌ ‌Theatre‌, ‌London, after the York premiere, have so far played Harrogate Theatre Studio and The Carriageworks, Leeds, on tour. Still to come are Hull Truck Theatre Studio, on February 14 at 8pm and Slung Low at Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, on February 16 at 5pm.

‌Joining Joe and Anna in the cast are ‌Lewes‌ ‌Roberts‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Cresswell‌. “The four of us all went to Mountview [Academy of Theatre Arts]. Myself, Lewes and Kate were there from 2015 to 2018; Anna was in the year above – and we’d already been part of the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre together and worked backstage there too,” says Joe.

“We started the company with a punk ethos, and this time last year I wrote Heaven’s Gate and we managed to get it into the Great Yorkshire Fringe festival last summer. On the back of that, we got a London run, and now we’ve booked this winter tour, stopping off at venues all four of us have admired or performed in,

“We kind of shot for the moon with all the venues we wanted to do, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We had a bucket list of ideal locations and virtually all of them said ‘yes’. Doing the tour at the start of the year is great too, as we can then plan the rest of the year, like going back to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

Performing at York Theatre Royal has particular resonance for Joe and Anna. “This‌ ‌is‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌special‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,” says Joe. “I’ve been ‌‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌for‌ ‌more than‌ ‌20‌ ‌years. I was a ‌Youth‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌member‌ ‌for‌ ten-plus years and‌ ‌have worked‌ ‌as‌ ‌crew‌ ‌backstage‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌off‌ ‌since‌ ‌2010.‌

“‌As‌ ‌an‌ ‌actor, I’ve ‌ ‌performed‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌internationally, but‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌will‌ ‌compare‌ ‌to‌ ‌performing‌ ‌at‌ ‌home‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌wonderful‌ ‌theatre. It’s honestly‌ ‌a‌ ‌dream‌ ‌come‌ ‌true.”‌ ‌

Anna‌‌ ‌agrees: ‌‌“I‌ ‌wouldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌working‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌industry‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌for‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre Royal Youth‌ ‌Theatre,‌ ‌which‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌greatest‌ ‌youth‌ ‌theatre‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌country!” she says. “‌To‌ ‌return‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌years‌ ‌later‌ ‌and‌ ‌perform‌ ‌here‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌professional‌ ‌actor‌ ‌is‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌privilege.”‌

Explaining why Cosmic Collective Theatre  are so named, Joe says: “First of all, we were a collective, with our own individual strengths, but given that our first play is ‘astronomical’, ‌and we want to make theatre that is out of this world, we settled on that name and we’ve gone from strength to strength.

“It was our first goal to do the Great Yorkshire Fringe and we had the honour of doing the first play on The Arts Barge’s new home, the Selby Tony barge on the Ouse, so we can always say we had our world premiere on water and then our world premiere on land in the Basement at City Screen a couple of days later…on two days that happened to be the hottest two days of the year!

“Me and Anna have been involved with Arts Barge for ten years, with Anna’s mum performing in the Bargestra, and so it felt like a homecoming doing the first show. As does this return now, performing as professional actors at the Theatre Royal for the first time.”

York tickets for Heaven’s Gate can be booked on 01904 623568 or at; Hull, 01482 323638 or; The Holbeck,  ‌

Please note: Heaven’s Gate ‌contains‌ ‌references‌ ‌to‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and‌ ‌suicide and has ‌mild swearing.‌ ‌Age recommendation: 15 plus.

Preacherman in One Foot In The Rave, the closing show of Visionari’s Studio Discoveries programme

DO mention the C-word. Cult!

The Visionari community programming group’s final choice for this week’s Studio Discoveries season is One Foot In The Rave, the debut verse play by writer and performance poet Alexander Rhodes at the York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow (February 8) at 7.45pm.

Rhodes relates the story of a disillusioned 23-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, who breaks free free from the cult and lands on the Ecstasy-fuelled dance floors of Nineties’ clubland. Shunned by everyone he knows, he is not prepared for what lies ahead.

“In 1976, Sean’s world changes for ever. Dragged into a doomsday cult, by parents who are struggling to find their own identities, the family are brainwashed into believing the end of the world is nigh. But the route to salvation is not as it seems,” says Rhodes, introducing his his verse play.

Billed as “an energetic mix of agony and total Ecstasy”, One Foot In The Rave is set to a backdrop of club classics as Rhodes moves hypnotically between the characters and scenes to deliver the chemical highs and pitiful lows. Expect wry observations, chemically induced inspirations and twisted logic in a warmly witty, soulful, self-aware story of survival.

Who Is Alexander Rhodes?

“Alexander Rhodes” is just an idea…says “Alexander Rhodes”.

This idea is, in fact, the third incarnation of a career as a DJ and producer spanning 18 years. Having moved through three different genres, each with its own stage name and distinctive sound, the Alexander Rhodes music project became a spoken-word and performance art project in early 2015.

“If you look hard enough you will find a few house music mixes here, the odd chill out track there, echoing in the digital ether,” he says.

Since 2015, “Alexander” has written and performed spoken word all over the UK. He started Plymouth’s Pucker Poets, hosts of a regular poetry slam for cash competition.

Rhodes has taken part in numerous poetry slams and will take One Foot In The Rave on tour in April and May 2020.

Visionari Studio Discoveries presents Alexander Rhodes: One Foot In The Rave, York Theatre Royal Studio, tomorrow (February 8), 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or Age guide: 16+; show contains drug and alcohol references.

Cosmic Collective open Heaven’s Gate to imagine UFO worshippers’ final hour


Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Heaven’s Gate

FOUR‌ ‌cups‌ ‌of‌ ‌Apple‌ ‌Sauce.‌ ‌Four‌ ‌canvas‌ ‌camp‌ ‌beds.‌ ‌One‌ ‌Comet.‌ ‌Heaven’s‌ ‌Gate‌ ‌is‌ ‌closing‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Away‌ ‌Team‌ ‌are‌ ‌ready‌ ‌for‌ ‌Graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word. Cult.

Premiered by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre at last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York, ‌ ‌the 55-minute Heaven’s Gate opens its debut Yorkshire tour at Harrogate Theatre’s Studio Theatre tonight.

Written by company co-founder Joe Feeney, this ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy ‌imagines‌ ‌the‌ ‌final‌ ‌hour‌ ‌of‌ ‌four‌ ‌fictionalised‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌real-life ‌ ‌‌UFO-theistic‌ ‌group, Heaven’s Gate.‌ ‌

“As‌ ‌they‌ ‌prepare‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‘Graduation’‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘Kingdom‌ ‌of Heaven’, initially the excitement is palpable, but soon the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear,” says Joe, an alumnus of York Theatre Royal Youth, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.‌

“Is‌ ‌Heavenly‌ ‌Father‌ ‌really‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌spaceship?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌actually‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌recycled?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌castration‌ ‌obligatory‌ ‌or‌ ‌not?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌Turkey‌ ‌Potpie‌ ‌an‌ ‌underwhelming‌ ‌last‌ ‌supper?‌” ‌ ‌

Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre‌, who enjoyed a sold-out run at the‌ ‌Drayton‌ ‌Arms‌ ‌Theatre‌, ‌London, after the York premiere, will follow up today and tomorrow’s 8pm Harrogate performances with shows at The‌ ‌Carriageworks,‌ ‌Leeds, on February 5 and 6 at 7.30pm; York Theatre Royal Studio, February 7, 7.45pm; Hull Truck Theatre Studio, February 14,  8pm, and Slung Low at Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, February 16, 5pm.

‌They‌ ‌will be‌ ‌playing ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌as‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Visionari Studio Discoveries festival, a week of shows put together by the theatre’s community programming group.‌ ‌

Performing there ‌has‌ ‌particular‌ ‌resonance‌ ‌for‌ ‌‌Joe‌ and Anna. “This‌ ‌is‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌special‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,” says Joe. “I’ve been ‌‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌for‌ ‌more than‌ ‌20‌ ‌years. I was a ‌Youth‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌member‌ ‌for‌ ten-plus years and‌ ‌have worked‌ ‌as‌ ‌crew‌ ‌backstage‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌off‌ ‌since‌ ‌2010.‌

Cosmic Collective Theatre in rehearsal for Heaven’s Gate

“‌As‌ ‌an‌ ‌actor, I’ve ‌ ‌performed‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌internationally, but‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌will‌ ‌compare‌ ‌to‌ ‌performing‌ ‌at‌ ‌home‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌wonderful‌ ‌theatre. It’s honestly‌ ‌a‌ ‌dream‌ ‌come‌ ‌true.”‌ ‌

Anna‌‌ ‌agrees: ‌‌“I‌ ‌wouldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌working‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌industry‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌for‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre Royal Youth‌ ‌Theatre,‌ ‌which‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌greatest‌ ‌youth‌ ‌theatre‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌country!” she says. “‌To‌ ‌return‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌years‌ ‌later‌ ‌and‌ ‌perform‌ ‌here‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌professional‌ ‌actor‌ ‌is‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌privilege.”‌ ‌ ‌

Cast‌ ‌members‌ ‌Lewes‌ ‌Roberts‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Cresswell‌ ‌share‌ ‌this‌ ‌excitement‌.  “We‌ ‌met‌ ‌Joe‌ ‌and‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌when‌ ‌we‌ ‌trained‌ ‌together‌ ‌at‌ ‌Mountview and‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌visiting‌ ‌York‌ ‌ever‌ ‌since.

“We ‌may‌ ‌not‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌born‌ ‌here‌ ‌but‌ ‌we’re ‌honorary‌ ‌citizens; it’s our‌ ‌home‌ ‌from‌ home. Performing‌ ‌at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe ‌last‌ ‌summer‌ ‌was‌ ‌brilliant,‌ ‌and‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌this‌ ‌year‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌next‌ ‌level.” ‌

‌Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre’s cast‌ ‌boast‌s ‌impressive‌ ‌credits. ‌Feeney‌ ‌has‌ ‌returned‌ ‌home from‌ ‌Belgium‌, ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌played‌ ‌Captain‌ ‌Stanhope‌ ‌in‌ ‌MESH‌ ‌Theatre’s‌‌ ‌revival‌ ‌of‌ ‌Journey’s‌ ‌End.‌ ‌ 

Soden played ‌Fairy‌ ‌Poppins in this winter’s‌ ‌Liverpool‌ ‌Everyman‌ ‌pantomime, Sleeping‌ ‌Beauty; Roberts‌ ‌can‌ ‌‌be‌ ‌seen in‌ ‌BBC One’s‌ ‌The‌ ‌Tuckers; ‌Cresswell‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌treading‌ ‌the‌ London boards‌ ‌in‌ Hansel‌ ‌And‌ ‌Gretel‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌Opera‌ ‌House,‌ ‌Covent‌ ‌Garden.

‌Harrogate tickets are on sale on 01423 502116 or at; Carriageworks, 0113 376 0318 or; York, 01904 623568 or; Hull, 01482 323638 or; The Holbeck,  ‌

 Please note: Heaven’s Gate ‌contains‌ ‌references‌ ‌to‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and‌ ‌suicide and has ‌mild swearing.‌ ‌Age recommendation: 15 plus.

Visionari pick six of the best for Studio Discoveries week at York Theatre Royal

Pepper & Honey: opening Visionari’s Studio Discoveries season on February 4

WHAT happens if the audience selects the shows? Find out when York Theatre Royal presents a week of theatre in the Studio chosen by the Visionari community programming group. 

This will be Visionari’s second such season of Studio Discoveries, this one featuring six shows from February 4 to 8.

“What if the story was retold by the woman at its heart? ” asks Debbie Cannon in her version of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

Pepper & Honey, on February 4 at 11am and 2pm, is a new play from Not Now Collective, told through the baking of Croatian pepper biscuits – known as paprenjaci – that will be baked live in front of the Studio audience as the story of Ana’s preparations to start a new life in the UK unfolds. Babes-in-arms are welcome and biscuits are included.

Debbie Cannon is both writer and performer of Green Knight, on February 5 at 6.30pm, a one-woman version of the medieval poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. “It’s Christmas at Camelot and a monstrous green warrior issues an unwinnable challenge to Arthur’s finest knight. But what if the story was retold by the woman at its heart?” asks Debbie.

One of Picasso’s women in Picasso’s Women on February 5

Picasso’s Women, on February 5 at 8.30pm, looks at Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s life through the voices of his wives, mistresses and muses. The three monologues feature French model Fernande, Russian ballerina Olga and 17-year-old mistress Marie-Therese.

Originally produced for the National Theatre and BBC Radio 3, the women’s stories provide an insight into the influence these women had on Picasso’s life and art.

Nathaniel Hall in First Time: humorous but heart-breaking

After last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe debut, HIV+ theatre-maker and activist Nathaniel Hall is on tour, presenting a humorous but heart-breaking show about growing up with HIV in First Time on February 6 at 7.45pm.

The show is based on Nathaniel’s personal experience of living with HIV after contracting the virus from his first sexual encounter aged only 16. First Time accompanies Hall’s on-going activism to break down the stigma associated with the disease through talks, participatory projects, education and outreach.

York company Cosmic Collective Theatre in Heaven’s Gate

Inspired by true events, Heaven’s Gate, on February 7 at 7.45pm, is an intergalactic new show from Cosmic Collective Theatre that imagines the final hour of four members of a real-life religious UFO group.

The excitement is palpable as they prepare for their graduation into the Kingdom of Heaven but soon the cracks begin to appear. “Whatever you do, don’t say the C-word – ‘Cult’,” says writer, director and performer Joe Feeney, a York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre alumnus, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.

Preacherman in One Foot In The Rave, the closing show of Visionari’s Studio Discoveries programme

Visionari’s final choice is One Foot In The Rave, on February 8 at 7.45pm. Written and performed by Alexander Rhodes, it follows a disillusioned Jehovah’s Witness as he breaks free from the cult and lands on the ecstasy-fuelled floors of 1990s’ clubland. Shunned by everyone he knows, he is not prepared for what lies ahead.

Looking forward to the season ahead, York Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth says: “It’s been amazing working with Visionari over the past few months to select and bring together a really impressive line-up of unique Studio shows. The group have chosen shows that will undoubtedly appeal to regular theatregoers and new audiences alike. 

Cyberdog in One Foot In The Rave

“We’re pleased to be showing award-winning work as part of the week, alongside work by an exciting new York company, Cosmic Collective Theatre. Whether you’re out to sample the intensity of Nineties’ clubland, gain an insight into the life of Picasso or just enjoy a complimentary Croatian biscuit, we think you’ll have a fantastic experience in our intimate Studio theatre.”

Tickets for Studio Discoveries shows are on sale on 01904 623568, at or in person from the box office. The price is £10 per show or £8 each if booking for two or more shows.