Michael Greco relishes doing jury service in 70th anniversary tour of Twelve Angry Men

Gray O’Brien’s Juror 10, left, and Michael Greco’s Juror 7 in the 70th anniversary production of Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Jack Merriman

REGINALD Rose’s claustrophobic study of human nature, Twelve Angry Men, began as a teleplay, then transferred to the stage and finally to the screen in Sidney Lumet’s black-and-white 1957 film.

Now, after a record-breaking West End season, Rose’s courtroom thriller is back in session, on tour in its 70th year, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, from May 13 to 18.

The setting is not the courtroom but the jury deliberating room, where 12 men hold the fate of a young delinquent, accused of killing his father, in their hands. What looks an open-and-shut case, with an initial 11 to 1 guilty vote, becomes a fractious dilemma, where the jurors must each examine their self-image, personality, experiences and prejudices as the art of persuasion plays out.

Michael Greco, best known for his role as Beppe di Marco in EastEnders from 1998 to 2002, plays Juror 7 in Rose’s tableau of mid-20th century American angst.

‘I’d watched the film years ago and I loved it,” he recalls. “When I got a call to be in the show, a lot of my friends said, ‘oh my god, this is one of my favourite films, can’t wait to come’.

“It’s an amazing piece of writing, something that is for all ages, really from youngsters to older people who’ve known the show and have loved the film for years. People just love a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, seeing how it unfolds.”

Who is Juror 7, Michael? “In layman’s terms, I would describe him as ‘absolutely gagging to get to this huge basketball game’. It’s in three hours’ time and he can’t wait to go. He’s thinking, ‘yes, yes, yes, I can get there’, but then there’s a spanner in the works. I feel for him,” says the Chelsea fan. “He’s a funny character, a vexed character too.”

“He’s a funny character, a vexed character too,” says Michael Greco of Juror 7, his role in Twelve Angry Men

Preparing for a role, he says: “I think, as an actor, I always do my due diligence about what I would say about the character in the text, and then, secondly, you have to learn the subtext.

“Because he’s just called Juror 7, I give him a name and ask, ‘is he married?’; ‘is he an alcoholic?’; ‘has he been to prison?’, otherwise there’s no substance to him. Especially as I have to bring something new to him after that.”

Reflecting on Twelve Angry Men’s abiding impact in its depiction of men locking horns, Michael says: “It definitely resonates with today’s society. You will recognise some of the characters and the way that people are in their thinking and the way they are in their personalities.

“There are certain scenes where prejudices come out – and that’s still the case today. Like when a racist guy has a rant, he’s brought down very quickly.”

Michael, 53, looks back to his own family’s experiences in the 1950s. “I’m from an Italian immigrant family, who moved to London from Naples in the late-Fifties. They came to England without money, they didn’t speak any English, but they were welcomed with open arms. Prejudices were not so open.”

Michael’s character in Twelve Angry Men does have prejudices. “I decided to go over the top with this character because he’s someone people can associate with. The director [Christopher Haydon] just loved the comedy I brought to it and didn’t cut it back a bit. He’s just let me go with it,” he says.

Michael Greco

“You have to go on this journey with him where you try to get the audience on his side because you can see his frustration, and then he reaches that point where his prejudices come out. But I can play that with openness because, wherever it comes from, this character is a good guy, but the situation brings out the worst in him.”

Putting human behaviour under the microscope, Michael says: “Every human being is the same in that we all get intrusive thoughts, where you think, ‘where did that come from?’, but you then dismiss them.

“But any psychiatrist would tell you it’s natural to have these thoughts coming into your head and to reject them…but some people do act on them.”

Michael rules out changing the configuration of Twelve Angry Men to six men and six women. “It’s very difficult to know what to say, but I don’t think it would work because of the testosterone and the physical reactions in the writing, and because women are not built in the same way psychologically and physically. It would be a completely different play if you did that.

“You can do things with Shakespeare’s plays, but when you write a play called Twelve Angry Men, the clue is in the title. The thing is, we get it in all forms of society, not just in politics, but in the bragging rights of football, for example. I despise the ‘tragedy chanting’. I can’t believe people can sink so low.”

Twelve Angry Men, Grand Opera House, York, May 13 to 18, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york

REVIEW: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, playing mind games until Saturday ****

Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle, left, and Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s thriller Sleuth, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

AMID the multitude of musicals, concerts and comedians, the arrival of a ‘straight play’ is always welcome at the Grand Opera House, especially when it is such a gem.

Hidden gem, hopefully not, although Monday’s audience was not of the full variety, and word of mouth as much this review will be needed to spread the word.

Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 “thriller about thrillers”, received the Tony Award for Best Play, its Broadway stars, Anthony Quayle and Keith Baxter, picking up the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

The darkly psychological play was adapted for feature films in 1972 and 2007, the first starring Michael Caine as hairdresser Milo Tindle opposite Laurence Olivier’s detective novelist Andrew Wyke. Caine would then take on the older role in 2007, joined by Jude Law’s Tindle.

Star quality, in other words. Make that soap star quality in the case of the 2024 touring production under the Bill Kenwright umbrella. Todd Boyce, formerly “notorious” Coronation Street baddie Stephen Reid, plays Wyke opposite Neil McDermott, once EastEnders’ Ryan Molloy, as Tindle.

Todd Boyce as detective novelist and complex game player Andrew Wyke in Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

Twelve-year runs in the West End and on Broadway are testament to Sleuth’s appeal to theatregoers and devotees of the national pastime of amateur sleuthing alike. Add the directorial elan of Rachel Kavanaugh and it still works waspishly, wittily, wonderfully well.

In his grand Wiltshire manor house, Boyce’s wealthy, erudite, insufferable author Wyke is writing his latest St John Lord Merridew mystery. In country suit and tie, he looks and sounds very pleased with himself, awaiting the arrival of a young man of Italian parentage, McDermott’s Milo Tindle.

Ever the devious novelist keen to toy with his audience, Wyke is in the mood for point scoring/mischief making/playing games to match the automata, inventions and games that populate his study in Julie Godfrey’s classically English yet somewhat creepy design. Soon it transpires that Tindle wants to marry Wyke’s heavy-spending, lavish-lifestyle wife, Marguerite. Let the fun and gamesmanship begin in a battle of wills and wits.

McDermott’s Tindle appears to be drawn all too easily into the web of Boyce’s cynical Wyke, dressing up as a clown to stunt the burglary of Marguerite’s jewellery that will fund Marguerite’s expensive tastes and be covered by an insurance claim, but never judge a detective novel by its cover or indeed a novelist by his front.

The sudden appearance of Wyke’s gun changes the playful tone to deathly serious, but how can we be sure what is real and imaginary in his mind games or in what we are seeing?

Sleuth director Rachel Kavanaugh. Picture: United Agents

Rather than giving the game away, let’s say twists, turns and surprises plenty are in store in Act Two, after speculative interval chatter over what might ort might not be going on. Inspector Doppler will appear to make his uncoventional enquiries, later joined by the noises off of Detective Sergeant Tarrant and Police Constables.

Who is one step ahead: Wyke, Tindle or the audience? Not telling. Who’s bluffing? Not telling! Who’s on superb form? Director and cast alike, so too sound designer Andy Graham and lighting designer Tim Oliver.

Boyce and McDermott delight in Shaffer’s wit and authorial chicanery, his turn of phrase and unpredictable humour, his love of the thriller and the craft of writing. Do not let Sleuth slip by this week; it is one of those nights of clever, smart, stylish theatre that makes you love the artform.

The Jolly Jack Tar automata may have the last laugh on stage, but you will be the one wreathed in smiles as you leave the theatre, so glad to have experienced such an intriguing, criminally good drama.

Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

From Corrie villain to detective novelist for Todd Boyce in Shaffer’s dark psychological thriller Sleuth at Grand Opera House

Todd Boyce in the role of detective novelist Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

CORONATION Street villain Todd Boyce and ex-EastEnders soap star Neil McDermott team up in Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s “dark psychological thriller about thrillers”, at the Grand Opera House, York, from next Tuesday to Saturday.

Boyce’s character, wealthy, world-famous detective novelist Andrew Wyke, invites his wife’s lover and adversary (McDermott’s Milo Tindle) to his impressive English home for the deal of a lifetime.

Cue a jewellery heist, insurance fraud and the ultimate revenge as Milo finds himself unwittingly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and cat-and-mouse gamesmanship, where nothing is quite as it seems.

Directed on tour by Rachel Kavanaugh, who was once at the helm of such plays as Hapgood, His Dark Materials and The Madness Of George III at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Sleuth is a disorientating study of human conflict, jealousy and manipulation that promises to “baffle even the most proficient sleuth”.

Set to make his debut Grand Opera House appearance next week, Todd Boyce says Sleuth has been drawing a “terrific response” since opening at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, on January 31.

Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle, left, turning tables on Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke in Rachel Kavanaugh’s touring procuction of Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

“It’s being really well received; we’ve had ovations with people standing up. We even overheard one chap say, ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen at this theatre’. Neil took a bit of umbrage at that as he’d played there last year!”

Working with McDermott for the first time, Todd says: “We’ve got on really well through the rehearsals and now on stage, which is so important. It’s a play with humour in it and some shocking moments, and it becomes easier to play as you do it more and more, getting into the rhythm and musicality of the piece.

“Neil’s part requires quite a bit of physicality; he’s nearly 20 years younger than me [Todd is 62], so I’ve left that in his department, while I manage to hang on to the furniture!”

Todd is revelling in working with Rachel Kavanaugh. “She’s so bright, so intelligent, and what’s so reassuring for a play like Sleuth is her eye for clarity,” he says.

“She wanted it to be, not a dusted-off old piece, but really relevant to now. In terms of freshening it up, she wanted to make sure it was specific in its rhythm, with the phrasing being right in every line.”

Sleuth ran for 12 years in London and New York, winning the Tony Award for Best Play, and became the inspiration for the 1972 film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

At gun point: Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke makes his point to Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle in Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

Assessing its continuing appeal to audiences, Todd says: “The play is sophisticated, complex, and it turns darker than Wyke had bargained for, prompting Milo to seek retribution.

“Wyke is a guy with a lot of money and not a lot of empathy for those around him. The two-hour traffic on this stage changes from comfy to Wyke not knowing where he’s going in their interactions that turn everything on its head.”

Todd has his place in the record books for his role as bad guy Stephen Reid in Coronation Street, first in 1996-1997, next 2007 and latterly 2022-2023.

“I think I broke the record for the number of episodes in a one-year period, 193. That was extremely intensive,” he recalls. “Afterwards a lot of my colleagues said, go and have a break, but of course I did panto, didn’t I! Mother Goose at Derby Arena, a velodrome for cycling and concerts that switched into this amazing theatre within it.”

Who did Todd play? “Demon Vanity”. The baddie, of course!

Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, February 26 to March 2, 7.30pm nightly; Wednesday and Saturday, 2.30pm matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Nina Wadia finds the kooky in Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk pantomime at York Theatre Royal

Wanderful: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap with her arty joke of an artichoke wand in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

NINA Wadia was confused. Growing up in India and Hong Kong, pantomime was a foreign country to her.

“When I came to the UK from Honk Kong to study classical theatre at the London Theatre School in Wandsworth, I was new to this country,” recalls the EastEnders and Good Gracious Me star.

“I went for an audition for my first ever professional job in Robin Hood at Theatre Royal Stratford East, but I thought pantomime was some form of mime! I auditioned like all the other actors, and when they said, ‘have you got a song?’, I blagged it and said ‘of course’. ‘Do you dance?’. ‘Yes, I tap,’ I said, but I was thinking, ‘why do I need to do this when it’s a mime show?’, as I just didn’t know the pantomime tradition.”

Song and dance? “What kind of mime is that,” she asked. Explanation forthcoming, she was cast as Friar Tuck, and now, more than 30 years later, she will be making her York Theatre Royal tonight (8/12/2023) as the poster face of Jack And The Beanstalk, playing Fairy Sugarsnap.

In the box seating: Nina Wadia at York Theatre Royal

She is forever grateful to Theatre Royal Stratford East, in particular Philip Hedley, artistic director from 1979 to 2004, and his associate director, Jeff Teare. “It’s the most incredible theatre that opens the door for ethnic actors,” says Nina, who will turn 55 during the panto run on December 18.

“It was very hard being an ethnic actor, and if you think of pantomime, I don’t think you’d go to a brown actor in those days. I loved that it was such an open theatre to look at actors regardless of their colour and think if you have potential, they will help develop that.

“Jeff saw something in me, the kind of thing that has made my career: the kind of energy I have, but also the willingness to learn, which I still have, whereas a lot of young actors seem overly confident now.

“I really want to express that to young people coming into the business, where they can stand out at drama school and think they know it all, by I always find that by the end of playing a role I know more than when I started.”

Nina Wadia: Mother, actress, comedian, producer, presenter and charity campaigner

Nina points to her role as Zainab Masood in the BBC’s London soap opera EastEnders from 2007 to February 2013. “I never watched EastEnders before being in it,” she admits. “I signed up for six months but ended up staying on and on, and I got to knowZainab over those six and a half years – and I really liked her.

“They hired me to bring some comedy to EastEnders, and I was the first actor to win an award for best comedy performance in EastEnders. What was really interesting was I was told they wanted me to create a character like Wendy Richards’ Pauline Fowler but funny, so I watched her, and she was so grumpy that I found her funny! Anyway, I found the way to make Zainab funny was to make her very blunt.”

Nina’s gift for her comedy had marked her out from her pantomime bow as Friar Tuck, the beginning of a seven-year involvement with Theatre Royal Stratford East.  “The show was brilliant and the writer Patrick Prior was the real thing. Playing Friar Tuck, I was one of the four ‘merry men’, with a pillow at the front, a pillow at the back and a skull cap put on top of my very long hair. Very glamorous!” she says.

“I had the best actresses to work with straightaway, sharing the dressing room with all the ‘merry men’, all played by women.”

Fairy versus villain: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap with pantomime baddie James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger in Jack And The Beanstalk

She loved the pantomime humour. “I laughed so much, having grown up with British humour in Hong Kong: Blackadder, Morecambe & Wise and Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em. On. On the American side, there was the stand-up of Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, so I was drawn to the combination of crazy antics and really raw, rude comedy that I wasn’t supposed to watch but I loved, especially Eddie Murphy.”

Nina’s subsequent career has embraced everything, from radio drama company regular to soap opera , BBC Asian sketch comedy in Goodness Gracious Me to 2021 Strictly Come Dancing contestant, TV roles as Aunty Noor in Citizen Khan and Mrs Hussein in Still Open All Hours to video game voiceover artist and narrator for the animated series Tweedy And Fluff on Channel 5’s Milkshake. Charity campaigner too, honoured with an OBE.

Profiling herself on social media as Mother, Actress, Producer and Presenter, Nina loves to embrace every medium, her latest addition being her online satirical political character, the Conservative councillor and constituency candidate Annie Stone. “She’s a mixture of Suella Braverman and Priti Patel: vile but believable. She’s on TikTok, Instagram and X and she now has proper followers at #VoteAnnieStone!”

From tonight, Nina will be delivering rhymes, mirth and magic as Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk. “I was expecting a silly costume. I described it to my husband [Raimond Mirza] and said they’ve dressed me as an aubergine pretending to be an artichoke,” she says. “I’ve made her more kooky than usual, given her more depth, as much as you can give her depth!”

Nina Wadia waves a wand over Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal from today (8/12/2023) until January 7 2024. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

West Country comedian Charlie Baker gets stuck into 24 Hour Pasty People at Pocklington Arts Centre on Friday night

Pasty face: Comedian Charlie Baker at Pocklington Arts Centre on Friday

DEVON comedian, actor, tap dancer and talkSport radio presenter Charlie Baker brings an hour of stand-up drenched in manure, cider and clotted cream to Pocklington Arts Centre on Friday.

Expect comedy with a countryside accent in 24 Hour Pasty People. “Imagine Jethro and Jack Black had a son. Job’s a good’un. Proper job,” he says.

Baker has appeared on The Last Leg, House Of Games, Harry Hill’s Tea Time, Comedy Central at the Comedy Store, The Great British Bake-Off: An Extra Slice, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and Channel 4’s Comedy Gala.

He played Tim Reynolds in BBC One soap opera EastEnders in 2016 and took the title role in Harry Hill and Steve Brown’s satirical musical Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera at Park Theatre, north London, in 2022. 

Tickets for Friday’s 8pm gig are on sale on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

EastEnders star Tracy-Ann Oberman to play Shylock in Fascist-era The Merchant Of Venice 1936 at York Theatre Royal

Tracy-Ann Oberman: From EastEnders to Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice set in London’s East End in 1936

WATFORD Palace Theatre’s ground-breaking new production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice will visit York Theatre Royal on tour from November 14 to 18.

Tracy-Ann Oberman, from EastEnders, Doctor Who and Friday Night Dinner, will play Shylock on an autumn itinerary that will open at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from September 21 to October 7.

Developed in association with HOME Manchester and with support from the RSC, The Merchant Of Venice 1936 is adapted and directed by Brigid Larmour from an idea by co-creator Oberman. Their thought-provoking and timely reimagining relocates the action to an electrifying new setting: London in 1936. 

The capital city is on the brink of political unrest, fascism is sweeping across Europe and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists is threatening a paramilitary march through the Jewish East End. Strong-willed single mother Shylock runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street, where Mosley will march.

When charismatic, anti-Semitic aristocrat Antonio comes to her for a loan, a high-stakes deal is struck. Will Shylock take her revenge? Who will pay the ultimate price?

“I look forward to sparking debate and enlightening people about a pivotal but largely forgotten part of British history,” says actress Tracy-Ann Oberman

“It has a been a lifelong dream of mine to bring this play to the stage in a new way, reimagining Shylock as one of the tough, no-nonsense Jewish matriarchs I grew up around in Brent,” says London-born actress, playwright and narrator Oberman, 56.

“I’m delighted this project is finally happening and look forward to sparking debate and enlightening people about a pivotal but largely forgotten part of British history – just how close the establishment were to Oswald Mosley and his British Union Of Fascists. I cannot wait to take this important, sharp, sexy and heartfelt production to theatres around the country.”

Oberman played Chrissie Watts in the BBC One soap opera EastEnders from 2004 to 2005; Yvonne Hartman in a two-part Doctor Who story, Army Of Ghosts/Doomsday, and Valerie Lewis or “Auntie Val” in the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner from 2011 to 2020.

Larmour’s production will open at Watford Palace Theatre on February 27 before transferring to HOME Manchester from March 15. Joining her in the production team will be costume and set designer Liz Cooke, lighting designer Rory Beaton, sound design Sarah Weltman and composer Erran Baron Cohen (yes, actor/comedian Sacha’s older brother). 

Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Eilene Davidson Productions are producing the tour in association with the RSC, HOME Manchester and Watford Palace Theatre.

Tickets for the York run can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

EastEnders’ Carty, Strong and Altman confirmed for The Mousetrap on 70th anniversary tour at Grand Opera House

Todd Carty as Major Metcalf in the 70th anniversary tour of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, visiting York next March. Picture: Matt Crockett

THREE EastEnders’ alumni, Todd Carty, Gwyneth Strong and John Altman, will star in the 70th anniversary tour of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at the Grand Opera House, York, next year.

Billed as the world’s longest-running play, the genre-defining murder mystery will play York from March 6 to 11 2023.

The Mousetrap made its Grand Opera House debut in May 2013 on the 60th anniversary tour, returning in February 2016 and May 2019.

The poster for The Mousetrap’s 70th anniversary tour

In Christie’s puzzle of a play, as news spreads of a murder in London, seven strangers find themselves snowed in at Monkswell Manor, a remote countryside guesthouse.

When a police sergeant arrives, the guests discover – to their horror – that a killer is in their midst. One by one, the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts, but who is the murderer and who will be the next victim? Can you solve this notorious mystery for yourself?

From the pen of the world’s best-selling novelist of all time, the 70th anniversary tour of The Mousetrap will open on September 27 2022 at the Theatre Royal Nottingham, where the original world premiere tour began in 1952.

Strong casting: Gwyneth Strong, once Cassandra in Only Fools And Horses, now plays Mrs Boyle in The Mousetrap. Picture: Matt Crockett

Christie’s thriller will visit more 70 venues, including all the cities from that first tour, which was followed by the West End opening. To this day, The Mousetrap still plays St Martin’s Theatre, where 28,500 performances have drawn 10 million ticket sales.

Directed by Ian Talbot, the 70th anniversary tour will feature Todd Carty as Major Metcalf, Only Fools And Horses star Gwyneth Strong reprising her Christie role as Mrs Boyle and John Altman as Mr Paravicini.

Joelle Dyson, from Dreamgirls and Funny Girl, will play Mollie Ralston; Laurence Pears, from Magic Goes Wrong, will be Giles Ralston; Elliot Clay and Essie Brown, from The Mousetrap company in London, are confirmed for Christopher Wren and Miss Casewell respectively. Joseph Reed, from The Nobodies, will be leading the enquiries as Detective Sgt Trotter.

John Altman: Playing mysterious house guest Mr Paravicini on The Mousetrap’s 70th anniversary tour

Carty last appeared at the Grand Opera House in his long-running role as King Arthur’s sidekick, Patsy, in Monty Python’s Spamalot, in February 2015.

Altman played the villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham, in Robin Hood & The Babes In The Wood in the 1996-1997 Grand Opera House pantomime and hard-nut doorman Lucky Eric in John Godber’s Bouncers in September 2003 when nursing a broken wrist.

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

More Things To Do in York to celebrate losing an hour’s lie-in tonight. Clock in to List No. 75, courtesy of The Press, York

Quick step: Jake Quickenden as dancing cowboy Willard in Footloose The Musical at York Theatre Royal

FROM Holding Out For A Hero to Search For The Hero, Charles Hutchinson is on a quest to find heroic deeds and much else to entertain you.

Musical of the week: Footloose at York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday

DANCING On Ice champ Jake Quickenden rides into York as cowboy Willard and musicals stalwart Darren Day plays Reverend Moore in Racky Plews’s touring production of Footloose The Musical.

Reprising the 1984 film’s storyline, teenage city boy Ren is forced to move to the rural American backwater of Bomont, where dancing and rock music are banned. Taking matters into his own hands, soon he has all hell breaking loose around him and the whole town on its feet. 

The set design, by the way, is by Sara Perks, who designed York Theatre Royal’s open-air show Around The World In 80 Days last summer and Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre productions in York. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Reunited: EastEnders soap stars Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett in the chilling thriller Looking Good Dead

Thriller of the week: Looking Good Dead, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday

AFTER playing bickering husband and wife Ian and Jane Beale in EastEnders for years and years, Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett are re-uniting, this time on stage in Shaun McKenna’s stage adaptation of Peter James’s thriller Looking Good Dead.

No good deed goes unpunished in this story of Woodyatt’s Tom Bryce inadvertently witnessing a vicious murder, only hours after finding a discarded USB memory stick.

Reporting the crime to the police has disastrous consequences, placing him and his family in grave danger. When Detective Superintendent Roy Grace becomes involved, he has his own demons to face while he tries to crack the case in time to save the Bryces’ lives. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Writer, journalist and historian Simon Jenkins: Appearing at York Literature Festival

Festival event of the week: York Literature Festival presents Europe’s 100 Best Cathedrals with Simon Jenkins, St Peter’s School, Clifton, York, tonight, 7pm

FOR Europe’s 100 Best Cathedrals, former editor of the Evening Standard and The Times Simon Jenkins has travelled the continent, from Chartres to York, Cologne to Florence, Toledo to Moscow, to illuminate old favourites and highlight new discoveries.

Tonight he discusses the book’s exploration of Europe’s history, the central role of cathedrals in the European imagination and the stories behind these wonders. Box office: yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk.

That Old Devil Moon, by Richard Kitchen, from Navigators Art’s Moving Pictures exhibition at City Screen Picturehouse

Exhibition of the week: Navigators Art in Moving Pictures, City Screen Picturehouse café and first-floor gallery, until April 15

FROM December’s ashes of the Piccadilly Pop Up Collective studios and gallery in the old York tax office, Navigators Art have re-emerged for a spring exhibition at City Screen.

For their first post-lockdown project, founder Navigators Steve Beadle and Richard Kitchen have invited fellow artist and teacher Timothy Morrison to join them for Moving Pictures: From Fan Art To Fine Art.

“The title is deliberately ambiguous, and we’ve responded to it accordingly,” says Richard. “There are works that relate to cinema and other media but also many of which interpret ‘Moving’ in other ways.”

BC Camplight: Examining madness and loss at The Crescent, York

Rearranged York gig of the week: BC Camplight, supported by Wesley Gonzales, The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm

MOVED from March 10, BC Camplight’s gig in York highlights the final chapter of his “Manchester trilogy”, Shortly After Takeoff.

“This is an examination of madness and loss,” says BC, full name Brian Christinzio. “I hope it starts a long overdue conversation.”

Fired by his ongoing battle with mental illness, Shortly After Takeoff follows 2018’s Deportation Blues and 2015’s How To Die In The North in responding to BC’s move from his native Philadelphian to Manchester. Cue singer-songwriter classicism, gnarly synth-pop and Fifties’ rock’n’roll. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Sanna Jeppsson’s Viola de Lesseps and George Stagnell’s Will Shakespeare in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Shakespeare In Love. Picture: Matthew Kitchen Photography

York premiere of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Shakespeare In Love, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, April 1 to 9

LEE Hall’s 2014 stage adaptation of Shakespeare In Love, the Oscar-winning film written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, celebrates the joys of theatre in Pick Me Up’s first show of 2022.

Directed by Mark Hird, it recounts the love story of struggling young playwright Will Shakespeare (George Stagnell) and feisty, free-thinking noblewoman Viola de Lesseps (Sanna Jeppsson), who helps him overcome writer’s block and becomes his muse.

Against a bustling background of mistaken identity, ruthless scheming and backstage theatrics, Will’s love for Viola blossoms, inspiring him to write Romeo And Juliet. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Heather Small: Proud moment at York Barbican

Voice of the week: Heather Small, York Barbican, April 2, 7.30pm

BILLED as “The voice of M People”, soul singer Heather Small will be combining songs from her Nineties’ Manchester band with selections from her two solo albums.

As part of M People, she chalked up hits and awards with Moving On Up, One Night In Heaven and Search For The Hero and the albums Elegant Slumming, Bizarre Fruit and Fresco. The title track of her Proud album has since become a staple at multiple ceremonies.

At 57, she will never be one to rest on her laurels: “If you got the feeling I do when I sing, you’d understand,” she reasons. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Steven Jobson (Jekyll/Hyde) gets to grips with Matthew Ainsworth (Simon Stride) in rehearsals as York Musical Theatre Company director Matthew Clare looks on

Book early for: York Musical Theatre Company in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, May 25 to 28

FLOOR rehearsals are well under way for York Musical Theatre Company’s spring production under the direction of Matthew Clare, who is delighted by how the cast is responding and supporting each other.

The epic struggle between good and evil in Jekyll & Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of myth and mystery on London’s fog-bound streets, comes to stage life in Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s pop-rock musical, where love, betrayal and murder lurk at every chilling twist and turn.

YMTC are running an early bird discount ticket offer with the promo code of JEKYLL22HYDE when booking at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk by April 10.

To Beale or not to Beale? What Adam Woodyatt’s doing away from EastEnders

Re-united: Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett go from husband and wife in EastEnders to husband and wife in Looking Good Dead

SOAP icon Adam Woodyatt, EastEnders’ longest-serving cast member, has taken to the stage in a play for the first time in 40 years.

After playing Ian Beale in the BBC series since 1985 – or about 1748, as he jokes – Adam is starring as Tom Bryce in Shaun McKenna’s world-premiere stage adaptation of Peter James’s crime thriller Looking Good Dead.

His next port of call from Tuesday will be the Grand Opera House, in York, in the wake of earlier conversions from page to stage of James’s Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple.

Welcome to York, Adam. “I was there last April actually, because I came up to see a friend. First time I’d been there,” he says. “What a lovely city…but sort your roadworks out!

“I went and did some cycling up there on the trans-Pennine route, and I went out and found some lovely woods over to the east of York. Really enjoyed it.”

Adam, 53, is on the second leg of a tour that began last July. “It’s been a lot of fun and we’re still having a lot of laughs,” he says. “You do always get a lot of dark humour out of situations in thrillers!

“As we’ve discovered, people laugh at the weirdest things. We’ll be thinking we’ll get a laugh out of them for something, then we don’t, but then they’ll laugh at something else and you think, ‘they laughed at that?’.”

No good deed goes unpunished in Looking Good Dead, where, hours after finding a discarded USB memory stick, Woodyatt’s Tom Bryce inadvertently becomes a witness to a vicious murder.

Reporting the crime to the police has disastrous consequences, placing him and his family in grave danger. When Detective Superintendent Roy Grace becomes involved, he has his own demons to contend with, while he tries to crack the case in time to save the Bryce family’s lives.

“Tom is a husband, a father, a businessman. It’s a very normal family unit,” says Adam. “The rowing husband and wife! The stroppy teenager! Everyone will be able to identity with that!

“When Tom finds the USB memory stick and tries to do a good deed, it sets off a chain of trouble for him.”

Cue the combination of dark humour and Peter James’s trademark thriller tension. “If you’ve got a comic on stage, he looks for laughs. In this show we’re trying to get gasps, the shock factor, and we do that,” says Adam.

Touching moment: Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett in Looking Good Dead

One component has changed since the first leg: Woodyatt is now playing opposite Laurie Brett, who just happened to play wife Jane to his Ian in the bickering Beale couple in EastEnders. “Gaynor Faye did the first leg up until November, but then she had another gig booked, and so Laurie has come in and she’s been brilliant to have in the show,” says Adam.

“It was great working with Gaynor, but there’s no denying there’s a connection with Laurie [who played long-suffering wife Jane from 2004 to 2017 in EastEnders]. Like when she looked in my eyes on stage as if to say, ‘well, that isn’t in the script’ when I’ve said my line!”

Adam recalls last being in a stage play in 1981. “It was On The Razzle at the National Theatre. Yes, I did have a career before soap – though I did start so young in EastEnders. I joined Sylvia Young’s [theatre school] at the age of nine in 1972 and I worked constantly until joining EastEnders in 1984 before the show opened in February 1985,” he says.

Adam, who was honoured in 2013 with the Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2015 with Best Actor at the British Soap Awards, has not cut his ties with the soap. “I haven’t left yet!” he protests.

Ah, but will he be back? “Look, it’s too many things. It isn’t just my decision. It’s their decision too. But there was never a case of ‘I’m leaving’ or ‘You’re leaving’. I just wanted to go off and do this play,” Adam explains.

“I fancied doing something different. Shane Ritchie said how much he’d enjoyed doing Peter James’s Not Dead Enough and The Perfect Murder. I’d looked at the possibility of doing The House On Cold Hill, and then this opportunity came up.”

Adam notes one contrast between working on stage and the small screen. “If you work in TV, you won’t find out if people like it until later, whereas in the theatre, the reaction is immediate,” he says.

“You don’t have a second take, so every show is slightly different, like when someone walks off stage before you deliver a line, or they use a slightly different intonation, or you do. That’s what makes every show unique – and I must admit I love it.

“We’ve had understudies throughout the tour [the ebb and flow of the actor’s Lateral Flow Test life in Covid times], and each actor’s tone or pace can be slightly different, so you have to react to that. That’s live theatre!”

EastEnders may be infamous for its suspenseful finale to each episode but Looking Good Dead has far more! “There are various cliffhanger moments throughout this play.  Several you can see coming; some you can’t. It’s fast paced; it’s entertaining. It’s like watching telly for two hours, but on a much wider screen!” says Adam.

Does he have unfulfilled stage ambitions? “I’ve done panto – the last one was at Swindon in 2019 – and it tends to be the more comical baddie that I play, there to have a laugh,” he says. “I keep offering to play dame, and one of these days, I hope they say ‘yes’,” he says.

“Maybe I could play Ugly Sister first. I’ve got someone in mind to do it with before they retire!”

Looking Good Dead runs at Grand Opera House, York, from March 29 to April 2. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Copyright of The Press, York

Suzy and Martin delighted to be back on the York panto stage in Dick Turpin Rides Again

“To be given this opportunity at the Grand Opera is like receiving a transplant,” says Suzy Cooper. Picture: David Harrison

TONIGHT is press night for York pantomime stalwarts Suzy Cooper and Martin Barrass for the first time since December 2019.

They have reunited as part of the “Famous In York Five”, starring alongside grand dame Berwick Kaler, David Leonard and A J Powell in Dick Turpin Rides Again, their first pantomime for Crossroads Live since their switch to the Grand Opera House from York Theatre Royal.

“It’s a great stage for pantomime,” says principal girl Suzy, who plays Donna Donut this winter. “It’s a wonderful stage with a proscenium arch, stalls that go all the way back, a dress circle and upper circle, and it’s exciting to be back in a theatre with such a traditional auditorium.  Acoustically, it’s fantastic too.”

Delayed by a year by Covid enshrouding the Cumberland Street theatre in darkness last winter, Suzy is even keener to be back among friends. “We wanted to be back together, which was really important to do: we have a very loyal audience and it’s lovely to bring our pantomime to this city that we love, and not just for those that live here but also for the people from further afield whose tradition has been to come to our panto,” she says.

“I was devastated to lose the Theatre Royal, but to be given this opportunity at the Grand Opera is like receiving a transplant, allowing us to continue this tradition.”

Comic stooge Martin – son Dunkin Donut to Berwick’s mam Dotty Donut this time – is no less enthusiastic. “This place is fantastic,” he says. “It’s a bit like Dr Who’s Tardis; you stand outside and you have no idea how big it is, but it turns out to be a full 1,000-seat theatre inside.

“It’s lovely to have ended up here,  with all the legacy and longevity of Berwick Kaler’s pantomimes, and he’s been champing at the bit to get on stage again!”

Suzy is enjoying re-establishing the camaraderie of the long-running team, with Berwick restored to the fore after co-directing and writing Sleeping Beauty in the wake of his retirement from the pantomime stage in February 2019.

David Leonard’s Vermin the Destroyer, left, Martin Barrass’s Dunkin Donut, in waiter mode, and A J Powell’s Luvlie Lumpit making a meal of a scene in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Picture: David Harrison

“We have the added edge within us of knowing people want to see us doing pantomime together again,” she says. “We are blessed: it’s hard work doing panto but we know how teamwork is important and how we are the sum of our parts.

“When we did Sleeping Beauty, we missed Berwick on stage, the audience missed him, and now we have a second chance to be together again. We need him.

“There’s this awful ‘cancel culture’ going on, and yes, things have to develop and have to change, but the idea that a show like ours, that’s been going on for so long, shouldn’t continue is a travesty. We are not dead yet!

“I’m genuinely delighted to be here, in a city that means so much to me. Last year, it just wasn’t Christmas, because I wasn’t in York.”

Assessing what Grand Opera House audiences can expect from Dick Turpin Rides Again, with Berwick taking the rains once more as writer, director and dame, Suzy says: “We’ve always said that we’re a family pantomime but we are anarchic. There’s nothing that won’t delight children, but we are unruly.

“What’s our USP [unique selling point]? Our pantomime is anarchic, it’s crazy, it’s madcap!”

Did you know?

SUZY Cooper played a “lesbian office worker” in BBC One soap opera EastEnders this year, filming in lockdown in late-January and early February for episodes that went out in March/April. “It got me out of the house and into London for the first time in four months,” she says.

Did you know too?

Suzy, who lives in London, is a yoga teacher, teaching both in person and online on Zoom. “To share my yoga has been an amazing thing to do,” she says. “They are very tough, my classes!”