Any Suggestions Improv’s Louise Jones to run improv beginners couse at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York. How do you apply?

Louise Jones: Tutor for Beginners Improv course at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

EVER wanted to learn improv comedy? Whether you are a seasoned performer or have never stepped on a stage, Louise Jones’s improv course at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, is for you.

“Please note this beginners’ course is for performers and non-performers who identify as female, non-binary or trans,” says comedy tutor Louise.

“The six to eight-week course has been designed to welcome people with any experience, including no experience whatsoever, to learn improvised comedy. From spontaneity to building outrageous characters, exploring unknown rooms, and working with others, it’s guaranteed to put a huge smile on your face and increase your confidence on stage.

The poster for Beginners Improv, now beginning on April 15

“There’ll be a showcase at the end of the course for you to show the world your new fantastic skills and enjoy the fun of performing with your fellow improvisers.”

After running a free workshop during York International Women’s Week, Louise will roll out the course from April 15 on Monday evenings, excluding May 20, from 7pm to 9pm.

Sessions cost £10 each or £64 for the full course. If you are interested, please email promptly. “We’d love to see you there,” she says.

Louise Jones performing with Any Suggestions Improv

Louise is an improviser and co-founder of Any Suggestions Improv, the team behind Any Suggestions, Doctor?, An Improvised Adventure in Space and Time, a show nominated for Best Improv Show at Leicester Comedy Festival 2023.

Latest show Suggestions Of The Unexpected will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

Louise also has appeared in The Silliad and performs with Right Here Right Now, Riding Lights Theatre Company’s short-form improv night at Friargate Theatre, York.

Anna Thomas combines storytelling and wine tasting in Fringe hit at Stillington Mill

Anna Thomas, sommelier and storyteller. Picture: Matt Turner

CHEERS! After a sold-out run at the Adelaide Fringe and a summer season at the Edinburgh Fringe, Australian storyteller and sommelier Anna Thomas heads to Stillington Mill, near York, tonight for a Theatre At The Mill night on the vino.

Thomas’s show, How To Drink Like A Wa**er, is an occasionally emotional, mostly ridiculous, always delightful story of a fabulous tasting flight of South Australian wines and 12 months of sobering self-discovery.

Thomas’s 8pm comedy monologue follows one woman’s accidental journey from corporate highflyer and shallow wine novice to full-blown wa**ker where, with a little rudimentary knowledge to accompany her game face, voila, she became so much more (co-owning  the Treasury 1860 wine bar in Adelaide by the way).

Part performance, part storytelling, part wine-tasting, this Fringe hit comes with a full-bodied narrative and a moreish finish at 9.30pm. Tickets update: sold out.

Footsbarn Theatre’s travelling troupe heads to Botton Village with La Petite Gerda

Footsbarn Theatre in La Petite Gerda. Picture: Jean-Pierre Estournet

AFTER playing the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in 15 years, travelling troupe Footsbarn Theatre heads to Danby, North Yorkshire for one afternoon only on August 17.

An international cast will be performing the world premiere production of an English version of La Petite Gerda, the classic fairytale of The Snow Queen, with a combination of masks, puppetry, music and mayhem.

Adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story, La Petite Gerda follows one girl’s quest to save her best friend, Kay, from the Snow Queen’s clutches. On Gerda’s epic journey, she meets a real princess, is attacked by robbers and rides on the back of a talking reindeer and a singing crow, as she discovers courage that she never knew she had.

Footsbarn Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 and has been based in France for 25 years. Showing no sign of slowing down in its passion for groundbreaking theatre, the company has appointed singer, songwriter, musical director and theatre director Sadie Jemmett as its artistic director with a brief to reach new audiences with its community-based theatre.

Footsbarn Theatre artistic director Sadie Jemmett. Picture: Molly Hughes

“Taking the reins of Footsbarn is an incredible privilege and a considerable responsibility,” she says. “I first saw Footsbarn in Berlin just after the wall came down. They blew my young mind! Their adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was like nothing I had ever seen before.

“Since becoming artistic director, the number of people from all over the world that have contacted me to wish me luck, and to tell me how Footsbarn had changed their perception of theatre, is a testament to the company’s legacy and legendary status in the theatre world.

“I am eternally grateful and so happy to be bringing the company back to the UK. It will be a wonderful show in the best Footsbarn tradition.”

Thursday’s performance takes place at Joan of Arc Hall, Esk Valley Camphill Community, Botton Village, Danby, in the North York Moors National Park. Box office:

Music is a key component in Footsbarn Theatre’s La Petite Gerda. Picture: Footsbarn Theatre

30 characters, one Star Stone show, asking questions with gender violence on the agenda in #MeToo at Theatre@41

Star Stone in the guises of Rosey Colored-Glasses, Young Star and Rebel-Punzel in #MeToo. Picture: Abby Ballin

AHEAD of her Edinburgh Fringe run, American artist Star Stone previews her groundbreaking one-woman show #MeToo at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow night.

In a true story centred on her real-life experiences with sexual assault and gender-based violence on her journey from childhood to adulthood, Star flips the script for survivor-led narratives in her hour-long “edu-tainment comedy”.

“This is not a show focused on a single perpetrator, it’s a show focused on organisations and systems that function to uphold rape culture,” says Star. “From pretend shamans and sex cults to Tinder **** boys and Burning Man, I find humour in otherwise challenging situations, investigating how we can learn from these types of experiences and explore why these events all happened in the first place.”

In witnessing Star’s journey, tomorrow’s York audience will see “how culture raises female-identified youth to have body insecurities and lack of information regarding sex”.

“It further implies that our first glimpse of sexual violations can begin as children, that our boundaries begin their tests in primary school, and how all of this only intensifies as an adult,” says Star, who also will address the need for urgency in the fight for safe access to women’s health care in the United States since the historic overturning of Roe v Wade,” she says.

“We in the United States have a tendency to exploit people’s pain and experiences. We have a term for it: it’s called ‘trauma porn’. So when you watch the news in the USA, a lot of it is about the violence that’s happened that day, especially on the local TV stations.  Often that violence is at the expense of a minority group.”

Star grew up loving comedy, first doing improv and sketches and now progressing into using comedy in a solo show. “But #MeToo is not a stand-up show. It’s a solo show that uses solo theatre techniques. It’s a natural progression for me,” she says.

“It’s not a monologue. It’s a show with 30 different characters, and I take those characters into scenes with each other, with a narrator character introducing it and breaking the show into character scenes. Some are real-life characters; others are personifications.”

Post Los Angeles beginnings in 2018-2019, Star had intended to take the show to New York City but Covid sent it into hibernation until now. “York will be the first performance since 2019,” she says.

Why York, not New York, Star? “I do everything for myself and I was hunting down where I could do a preview for Edinburgh, reaching out to a lot of theatres. I got in touch with Alan [Park] at Theatre@41 and luckily he had a space for it. It’ll be my first time in York.”

Tomorrow, York, then the Edinburgh Fringe, are important steps for Star as she seeks to spread her wings internationally. “The topic of gendered violence is universal, and I’m interested in sharing this work with audiences across Europe and engaging in discussions with other survivors in the audience through a talk-back at future shows,” she says.

“It’s a crucial part of this journey. To only share my show with USA audiences wouldn’t make sense. It’s a global issue, regardless of where you live, so it’s important to hear responses in the UK and hopefully in Europe as an indicator of why this subject needs discussing.”

Star Stone in #MeToo: A One-Woman Show, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, August 3, 7.30pm. Box office: Edinburgh Fringe: Venue 21, C Arts, C Venues, C Aquila, August 14 to 20 at 3.55pm; Age suitability: 16 plus. Show directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson.

“My work aims to share the humanity in the unreasonable, the gross, the unthinkable, and the wild,” says Star Stone. Picture: Abby Ballin

Star Stone: the back story

WRITER, creator and performer of #MeToo; actress, producer, playwright and poet with background in yoga teaching for ten years.

Graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and UCB LA’s Improv School.

Graduate of Community Word Project’s Teaching Artist Project, New York City-based social justice-orientated programme. Worked within New York City school system and in Zoom classrooms as theatre educator.  

Teaching artist for Marquis Studios in Coney Island and Wingspan Arts in Brooklyn.

Worked with New York City Mayor’s Office in 2022 to end gender-based violence. Hosted Voices: Survivor’s Speak, an evening of healing and transforming through the arts in collaboration with ArtTransforms.

Worked with Neo-Political Cowgirls for Girl Gaze programmme, supporting teenage girls to develop stories for film.

Former member of Oakland Slam Poetry team, creating poems as act of resistance to rape culture.

Former host of League of Professional Theatre Women’s online open-mic series, focusing on works in progress by New York City female-identified theatre creatives.

Performed #MeToo at Hollywood Fringe Festival and SoloFest, Los Angeles. Next up: York and Edinburgh.

Star Stone: “Particularly interested in the intersection of education and entertainment”. Picture: Abby Ballin

Artist statement, from website

“I AM particularly interested in the intersection of education and entertainment, where the theatre is a classroom and an audience is left with a desire for self-inquiry and to engage in public discourse.

“My work aims to uplift survivors and normalise conversations around subjects like body image and mental health. I use comedy as a tool to tackle challenging subjects. 

“I create as a reminder that we cannot shy away from vulnerability, from honesty, and from revealing our humanity. If anything, my work aims to share the humanity in the unreasonable, the gross, the unthinkable, and the wild, because my life has been each of these things. It has also been full of magic and joy. 

“With each new play or poem, my approach is always to find the ‘Lila’ – the divine play of it all.” 

How Sarah-Louise Young finds her voice, stronger than ever, in The Silent Treatment

Sarah-Louise Young: “I have made this show from a place of strength and recovery,” she says. “It is ultimately a very positive story of resilience and healing”. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

WARNING: Sarah-Louise Young’s show in York tomorrow night, The Silent Treatment, includes themes of trauma and sexual violence.

After her celebrations of Kate Bush (An Evening Without…) and Julie Andrews (Julie Madly Deeply), the Canterbury-born writer-performer returns to Theatre@41, Monkgate, with the highly personal true story of a singer who loses her voice and embarks on an unexpected journey of self-revelation and vocal healing.

In a career as a musical theatre actress, singer, writer, director, Showstopper! improviser and cabaret performer with Fascinating Aida, Sarah-Louise had “always known something wasn’t right with my voice but, like many singers, I assumed it was my fault,” as she revealed to the Guardian in June last year, ahead of the show’s Edinburgh Fringe run. “When a singer loses their voice we question their technique, their lifestyle, even their commitment.”

She had to hide how, every few months, her soprano voice would disappear, inducing a paralysing shame until it returned after few days’ rest. Then, after 11 years of ceaseless performing, “secret collapse and hidden recovery”, she lost her voice on stage mid-performance. “I was mortified,” she told the Guardian.

A consultant discovered cysts, probably there since childhood, he suggested, prompting him to ask Sarah-Louise if anything in her childhood – expressly before she was ten – could have traumatised her voice.

The answer was yes; she was sexually attacked at the age of seven, in daylight. “After the initial distress, I never gave it much thought. But the hand on my mouth, the stifled scream…what the mind forgets, the body remembers,” she wrote in her Guardian piece.

Self-care was advised, coffee became a no-no, work flowed, but after three years, her surgeon deemed an operation was necessary after her cysts burst when performing Julie Madly Deeply through bronchitis for six weeks.

Now there was something else to hide: she would be considered “damaged goods” if it became known she had undergone surgery, or so the “industry gatekeepers” forewarned. Stay silent? No, vowed Sarah-Louise, and nine years on, The Silent Treatment is her story, her voice found anew and her diary busier than ever at 47.

Sarah-Louise Young: “The first time I sang after the operation it was like night and day from singing pre-surgery”. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Here Sarah-Louise discusses singing, healing and dealing with what life throws at you with CharlesHutchPress.

What has been the reaction to The Silent Treatment, especially to your revelations about the sexual attack you suffered aged seven?

“The audience and critical response has been overwhelmingly positive. Whenever I make a new show, especially one which is autobiographical, I ask myself the same question: why should anyone care?

“So although the details of the story are personal to me, it connects with many other people’s lived experiences of being silenced, singers and non-singers alike.

“In terms of the sexual attack, my brilliant director Sioned Jones and I spent a lot of time discussing how best to portray it without sensationalising it or traumatising anyone watching.

“Close friends who didn’t know about it were understandably moved or concerned when they watched it but I have made this show from a place of strength and recovery. It is ultimately a very positive story of resilience and healing.” 

How do you structure this show?

“Without giving too much away about the piece, I play several different characters, ranging from my suave surgeon to a fruity diaphragm. It’s part quest, part journey into the past. It’s definitely not a conventional linear narrative but you’ll have to come along and see it to find out more.” 

Where do songs fit in?

“Music is important and I was lucky enough to work with a fabulous composer called Chris Ash who I knew from Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. He created beautiful soundscapes for the different worlds of the piece, including scenes which take place inside the human body. He even sampled my voice electronically to add to the mix.

“I write the lyrics and we worked together on the songs, which were all created originally for the show to serve different moments. For example, the cysts get their own big solo number, which is great fun.” 

An Evening Without Kate Bush and Julie Madly Deeply both had personal elements within them, but this is your most personal show. How does that feel when you perform it?

“I love connecting with an audience and have found with both of those shows that the more generous and open hearted I am, the more the audience will join me. It’s always a privilege to perform for people who have chosen to spend their time with you and the fact that they are invested in my journey is of course very rewarding for me.

“Most importantly, I want them to see themselves reflected back and find a universal meaning within the story.” 

Both the Bush and Andrews shows were joyous. What is the tone of The Silent Treatment?

“It’s funny, surreal, intimate and heartfelt, incorporating songs, stories, characterisation, puppetry, movement and mime. There’s a lot going on and while I’m required to give the show a trigger warning due to its sensitive thematic content, I hope I have created a piece of cabaret which is uplifting and entertaining.” 

Will there be any audience participation?

“Much less than in my other shows! I chat to the audience as they enter the space and collect tongue-twisters from them. The show is very much performed to them without a fourth wall, but I don’t invite anyone up onto the stage. Well, not yet anyway!” 

I believe it’s a story which needed to be told and I know I’m not alone in this,” says Sarah-Louise

When did you first find your voice, not the prescribed musical theatre voice?

“I think I found my voice as a child, before I was aware of training. It was free and playful. It took many years later on in life to re-discover that sense of play. I had a fantastic singing teacher, Maureen Scott, who guided me through my surgery and a wonderful vocal therapist called Dr Rehab afterwards.

“Our voices change and develop as we age and making this show has really empowered me to sing with my own authentic voice. I love singing Kate Bush and Julie Andrews’ songs too and enjoy the vocal gymnastics of switching between styles.” 

Did you have to re-find your voice after the operation for the cysts?

“I did a month of vocal therapy six times a day. The minimum recovery time from surgery is four weeks and I only had four weeks and a day before opening in Julie Madly Deeply in Toronto, so I had to focus entirely on getting match fit.

“The first time I sang after the operation it was like night and day from singing pre-surgery. My voice has been strong and happy since then and I’ve never looked back.” 

Describe a singer’s fear of being treated as damaged goods after an operation…

“At the time I felt vulnerable and also very angry because I knew it wasn’t true. It was someone else’s idea which I had absorbed. Singers get injuries just like athletes and there was no reason for me to feel any different.

“What happens to us is not our shame and I should never have been made to feel embarrassed or that I needed to hide the truth. The Silent Treatment is my response to being told I needed to stay quiet about my experience. I believe it’s a story which needed to be told and I know I’m not alone in this.” 

“What the mind forgets, the body remembers,” you say. How have you dealt with that psychologically and physically?

“I’ve been through talking therapy and practice movement as part of my creative process. Our bodies have an incredible higher wisdom and if we listen to them, they will often guide us in the right direction.

“I’ve been mentoring a number of other artists recently and one of the things we explore is readiness to tell your story. Although the rehearsal room can feel therapeutic at times, the performer must be on the right side of therapy before they share that work with a paying audience.

“It must be safe for them and their public to perform the show. If it isn’t, in my opinion, then you might not be ready yet.”

The voice is the most vulnerable, personal, unpredictable instrument, even by comparison with a highly-strung guitar or piano. The only human instrument too.

Why are we not more understanding of its delicate nature for performers, who often pray to “Dr Theatre” to continue performing, as you did for so many years?

“Unless you are fortunate enough to have a laryngoscopy, the voice remains invisible to most people. It is a mysterious instrument and everyone’s voice is unique to them.

“I hope for the next generation of performers there will be more compassion and understanding moving forward,” says Sarah-Louise. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

“Some singers swear by gargling with cider vinegar, others smoke 20 cigarettes a day and still sing like an angel (although this isn’t a behaviour I endorse for obvious reasons).

“History also has fetishised singers who push themselves to the edge: Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Amy Winehouse, for example. How can these incredible voices come from such damaged people?

“We love watching people on the edge, on a tightrope, and when they fall, we make them martyrs for their art.

“It’s getting better for performers now, partly thanks to high-profile artists like Adele going public with their vocal challenges and partly, I think, because in general we’re waking up to the importance of looking after our mental health.

“Our voices and our well-being are intrinsically linked, and I hope for the next generation of performers there will be more compassion and understanding moving forward.

“I was chatting to the principal of an Australian musical theatre course recently and he told me they get all their students scoped in the first term, so not only do they see and understand their voices, but they also have a visual record for the rest of their careers to refer back to if they run into any difficulties.

“Had that been available to me all those years ago, I might have discovered my issue decades earlier.” 

Did your voice change after the cysts were removed?

“The tone and sound was the same, but it was much stronger and I don’t have any breathiness any more, even when I’m tired.” 

How does your voice behave now?

“It’s a joy to sing and I have no concerns whatsoever.” 

How do you take care of your voice on tour, at the Fringe etc?

“Out of habit from so many years of looking after myself, I tend not to drink alcohol when I’m working but that is as much about mental clarity as vocal care. I used to have acid reflux but I don’t any more, so I mainly focus on getting good sleep, staying hydrated and warming down after a show as well as warming up.” 

Are you off to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer?

“I’ll be there for the first week to bed-in two shows I’ve directed: Gertrude Lawrence – A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening, with Lucy Stevens, and Kravitz, Cohen, Bernstein And Me with Deb Filler. I’ll also be running a drop-in for solo performers on August 7, offering solidarity and support to artists on their own.” 

Sarah-Louise Young in The Silent Treatment, Theatre@41, Monkgate, tomorrow (16/7/2023), 7pm. Box office:

One love affair, two accounts, told from opposite directions, make up The Last Five Years in White Rose Theatre’s musical

Simon Radford and Claire Pulpher in rhearsal for White Rose Theatre’s York premiere of The Last Five Years

GIVE a round of applause to actor Simon Radford, who has been travelling back and forth from Edinburgh to rehearse with director and fellow cast member Claire Pulpher for York company White Rose Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years.

One week of crossing and re-crossing the border has been followed by a further week of rehearsals, now in situ in North Yorkshire, but still involving plenty of movement, taking in Our Lady’s Church Hall in Acomb, a day at Ripon Arts Hub, in All Hallowgate, Ripon, followed by two performances there last Thursday and Friday, and a day of rehearsing and filming a promotional video at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York.

From tomorrow until Saturday, Simon and Claire will perform Jason Robert Brown’s emotionally charged American musical there with a six-piece band led by musical director John Atkin, who accompanied the duo on piano in Ripon.

Joining Atkin will be Marcus Bousfield on violin; Rachel Brown and Lucy McLuckie on cello; Paul McArthur on guitar and the ubiquitous Christian Topman on bass.

Claire Pulpher: Actress, director and debutant producer

“It’s been pretty intensive in rehearsal, more like a professional process, crammed into a short time,” says Claire, who plays struggling Ohio actress Cathy Hiatt opposite Simon’s rising novelist, Jamie Wellerstein, as Brown charts the path of two lovers over the course of five years of courting and marriage, trials and tribulations.

She is delighted to be working with Simon as they unite for York’s newest theatre company. “We first met when doing Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods with Pick Me Up Theatre at the Grand Opera House in 2014,” recalls Claire. “The Last Five Years is my favourite show and Simon’s favourite show, and ever since I met Jon Atkin, when he was the musical director for Chess in 2019, we’d wanted to do the show together.

“We thought, ‘let’s make it happen’, and we’ve all put ideas together and it’s somehow happened!”

She first saw the show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008/2009. “But we’ve never seen it done locally, so I set about organising the licence. I’ve directed shows, choreographed shows, but I’ve never produced a show before, so that was a new challenge, me being a novice!

Close together and drifting apart: Simon Radford’s Jamie and Claire Pulpher’s Cathy in a montage of their five-year relationship in Jason Robert Brown’s American musical

“But as a two-person, one-act show, it was affordable, and we didn’t have to panic about getting the rights as no-one else around here was after it,” she says.

“It’s over an hour long, more like 90 minutes with no interval, and when I saw it at the Fringe, it was staged in a pub off the beaten track, and it’s stayed with me as a show ever since.

“The way I saw it presented, the band was on stage and they became immersed in the performance, with each performer singing alone, Cathy to an imaginary Jamie, and vice versa, except in the duets. We’re doing the same.”

In Brown’s theatrical structure, Cathy’s side of the story starts at the end of the relationship; Jamie tells his tale from the beginning, but will they ever meet in the middle in a musical full of laughter, tears and everything in between, played out to a score of upbeat songs and beautiful ballads?

“It’s a rom-com but so relatable as it’s a bit more naturalistic, maybe even uncomfortable,” says Claire Pulpher of The Last Five Years

“It’s a rom-com but so relatable as it’s a bit more naturalistic, maybe even uncomfortable, because we’ve all been through those trials and tribulations,” says Claire. “It’s showing things the creative arts don’t normally show.

“The relationship is seen from each perspective, presented as internal monologues rather than discussions, as they go in opposite directions on the time line with each song.

“Jamie is 23 at the start when he gets his first book deal, and he’s hugely successful from a young age with everything moving so fast that gradually everything spirals out of control. Cathy is struggling in her acting work, and so their career paths are contrasting and are not aligning.”

The Last Five Years will be staged over the next four days with a sound design by Ollie Nash and lighting by Ruth Symington. Tickets for tomorrow to Saturday’s 7.30pm performances and Saturday’s 2.30pm matinee are on sale at

Mark Thomas isn’t mucking about as he puts the need for change in black and white

No hidden meanings: Everything is in black and white in Mark Thomas’s new show. Picture: Tony Pletts

MARK Thomas, the grouchy godfather of British political comedy, is taking down politicians, mucking about, offering new ideas and finding hope in his new tour show, Black And White.

At Leeds City Varieties Music Hall tomorrow night (3/11/2022) and The Crescent, York, on Tuesday, he asks: How did we get here? What are we going to do about it? Who’s up for a sing-song?

“After lockdowns and isolation, this is a show about the simple act of being in a room together and toppling international capitalism,” says Londoner Mark, veteran alternative comedian, television and radio presenter, satirist, journalist and purveyor of political stunts on Channel 4’s The Mark Thomas Comedy Product.

He is heading out on the road after this summer’s sold-out Edinburgh Fringe run at The Stand Comedy Club elicited such reviews as: “seething, righteous and largely evidenced anger”… “incandescent critique of UK and world politics”… “his ire is something to behold”.

Here comes doubting Thomas, putting everything in Black And White in a turbulent world, but why give the tour that tagline? “Because it matches the tour poster!” he reasons. “A mate of mine took the photo, and then an artist called Tracey Mobley put it through a computer that turned it into a drawing. It looked amazing!

“So, when they said you need a name for the show – where I’m just going to muck about – I thought, let’s call it ‘Black And White’. But if you want to go for an ideological understanding of it, I guess it’s got to the point where it’s all of us against the one per cent, where this economic Ponzi scheme isn’t working for us and it’s got to change.”

Mark is up and running now. “Liz Truss espoused the free market, as a willing supporter of the Tufton Street think tanks, which means big responsibilities for human beings, but no responsibilities for businesses. Now she’s gone, Sunak is in, but it’s not even a U-turn.

“It’s like, ‘how much s**t do you want to take? 100 per cent or 99 per cent?’, then 99 per cent is what it will be. What communities need to do is build up resistance.”

How, Mark? “I wouldn’t want to tell people how to do it because they’re the ones doing it,” he says. “There are loads of people doling stuff. Some are doing food banks. There’s a brilliant centre in Sheffield that helps asylum seekers and refugees, The Sanctuary.

“They do English classes, IT classes, help with legal matters, as well as hot meals and advice. It’s a fantastic place just doing its best to help the community.

The poster image of Mark Thomas that prompted his tour title, Black And White

“Then there are community pubs. They’re the things that’ll keep going. That’s the kind of stuff I love, that really excites me. Like my football club, AFC Wimbledon, winning the community club of the year award, making sure it’s embedded in the club. Trade unions, communities, that’s what we have to support.”

In past shows, Mark has discussed visiting the West Bank and Jenin; lobbying Parliament; walking in the footsteps of the highest NHS officials; playing at the Royal Opera House; “making stuff” for TV, radio and newspapers and going undercover.

Black And White promises “creative fun”, or mucking about, if you prefer. “My favourite playwright is Bertolt Brecht, dear old Bertolt Brecht [the 20th century German theatre practitioner, playwright and poet]. I went to his house…he wasn’t in,” says Mark.

“What was fascinating about him, I remember seeing his play The Caucasian Chalk Circle at 15, and it changed my mind, which is one of the cornerstones of theatre, that you can go to a show and have your mind changed.

“Brecht always talked about creative fun, creative dissent, like those climate protestors throwing soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting at the National Gallery. The point being that people were really, really shocked by it, and it was only afterwards that they realised nothing was destroyed.

“It led to more thinking about how we need to have discussions about climate change, how we discuss it and how we may bring about change. In 100 years, no-one will remember a petition, but they will remember dangerous and creative acts because that’s the stuff that’s genuinely upsetting.

”Look at the Suffragettes. They burnt buildings, smashed windows, went on hunger strike. It was a mass movement with masses of acts of defiance. Women were being force-fed when they were on hunger strike. They brought about change.”

What new ideas for change is Mark proposing. “Nationalising the banks,” he says off the cuff. Unlikely, surely? “It doesn’t matter if it’s likely now. It’s about starting the conversation and then it might become reality,” Mark asserts.

“We need to have much more devolved power, given to communities. Proportional representation. Voting at 16. Why shouldn’t someone of 16 have the right to vote? Politics and history are the things that give people agency.”

Mark Thomas: Putting forward new ideas and finding hope in his new comedy tour de force. Picture: Tony Pletts

Where might we find hope, Mark? “Hope is a precious commodity, but there’s a difference between optimism and hope. Just don’t give me false optimism,” he says. “Defiance is the bedrock of hope.

“If you destroy a statue, you can get ten years in jail. That means a statue has more rights of protection than women. That’s nuts.”

Mark is on a roll again. “I voted Remain for one reason, and that’s because I thought a vote for Leave would increase racism and I won’t vote for that,” he says. “But once the vote has happened, that’s the vote, that’s it. Now we need to have a conversation about Brexit, how it’s working out , and what we might do about it in the future.

“Now everyone is feeling the pinch of stagnation and austerity, but all Brexiteers will stand up to say is they’re for sovereignty.

“I hope what we’re going through is the high water mark and this is our time for change. It might not be the high water mark, but one thing is for sure: I love that Bob Crow quote: ‘If you fight, you won’t always win, but if you don’t fight, you will always lose’.”

That fighting spirit permeates through Black And White: “The show is about being rude,” says Mark. “Shouting, mucking about, looking at what communities can do, celebrating us and defiance.”

As ever, Mark Thomas promises “I’ll be around, I’ll help” with his political ire, his zeal for change. How will he mark turning 60 on April 11 next year. “I’ll get my London bus pass and go on the longest route I can,” he says.  

Mark Thomas: Black And White, Leeds City Varieties Music Hall, tomorrow, 8pm; The Crescent, York, November 8, 8pm; King’s Hall and Winter Gardens, Ilkley, November 9, 8pm. Box office: Leeds,; York,; Ilkley, Age guidance: 16 plus.

Rob Ward’s play The MP, Aunty Mandy And Me looks at gay grooming in political world

Writer-performer Rob Ward explores consent, coercion and grooming within the gay male community in The MP, Aunty Mandy And Me

THE MP, Aunty Mandy And Me’s bittersweet tale of political campaigns, sexual consent and steam trains plays out at York Theatre Royal Studio on Saturday night. 

Written and performed by Manchester-based Rob Ward, who brought Gypsy Queen’s unconventional love story between two fighters to the Studio in 2019, this 2022 Edinburgh Fringe show relates the story of young gay Dom, who craves being an #instagay #influencer.

The problem is, no-one likes his posts, he cannot find a bloke who shares his love of steam trains and he lives with his MDMA-popping, Simply Red-loving mum in the small, sleepy northern village, where he grew up, five miles from the nearest gay.

“He’d love a fabulous life with the A-Gays in a swanky city-centre apartment, but his crippling social anxiety prevents this from being a reality. It’s all a bit of an effort,” says Rob.

“Then, one day, a chance encounter with his local MP, Peter Edwards, leads to a job, turning everything upside down, but in pursuit of the life he thinks he wants, just how much does Dom have to give up?

“There are many more conversations to be had,” says Rob Ward as he turns the spotlight on gay grooming

The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me – the “Aunty Mandy” refers to Dom’s mum’s MDMA habit – explores consent, coercion and grooming within the gay male community through Ward’s combination of jagged humour and contemporary social commentary. 

Rob’s play should have been touring in 2020, but the pandemic put paid to that after only two performances at Curve, Leicester. Yet the 2022 summer run in Edinburgh and autumn tour could not be better timed. “At one point this year, there were 56 MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct, and when there are 650 MPs, that’s a high proportion,” says Rob.

“The play started as a reflection of personal experiences. I saw a play by a friend of mine, Tom Ratcliffe, called Velvet [about a young actor with a #metoo-style story to tell], and I had a conversation with him about how this behaviour [of coercion] can manifest itself, and I drew on that for my play.

“It’s that very careful planning, almost plotting, that takes place where the abuser gets you in a situation where you’re vulnerable or feel in need of them and then they move on.”

Rob’s research involved reading articles to learn of people’s experiences and having conversations with Duncan Craig OBE, the chief executive officer of Survivors, a Manchester charity for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Rob Ward on the stage set for The MP, Aunty Mandy And Me

“The roots of the play probably go back to the #metoo movement in 2017, listening to those stories, thinking about those power dynamics, and then realising that there probably wasn’t a male gay voice being heard in that movement, though of course it was quite right that the focus was on women with #metoo.

“But then you start hearing about theatre and film directors exploiting gay men, and I started talking with other gay men about how this happens within their community.”

Rob felt driven to highlight how such coercive abuse can prevail. “It’s an issue in society, where we’re coming to terms with it, but there are many more conversations to be had. I thought, ‘let’s open it out beyond the world of theatre’, and as I’m interested in politics, I decided I’d look at gay grooming in that world.

“Frequently, the power imbalance is a key part of it; what you face when you first step on to the gay scene, who you meet.”

Rob does not write with a didactic or polemical tone. “I try to avoid that,” he says. “I’m much more keen on asking questions and seeing what answers the audiences come up with. I prefer to steer clear of polemic. Instead, I like people to say, ‘oh, I hadn’t thought about that before’.

Rob Ward in his publicity picture for “the play about a Labour MP with a fetish”

“It’s essentially an exploration of ideas, rather than coming down on one side or the other, and hopefully people will then want to reflect on it and look into it further.”

Rob writes of the social-media world of the #instagay #influencer in his play. “I’m not a social influencer on Instagram, but it’s important that theatre addresses these issues and keeps our voices being heard in the wider community. As increasingly right-wing governments start to form, you have to be wary that liberties that have been fought for, for so long, can be taken away very quickly.”

After 17 Pleasance Dome performances at the Edinburgh Fringe,” trying it out, seeing what works, what needs working on, like a comedian testing gags, or being in a laboratory”, Rob is on tour, taking in both York and Harrogate in October.

“It’s been going down really well,” he says of an 80-minute eye-opener quickly becoming known as “the play about a Labour MP with a fetish”.

Emmerson & Ward Productions and Curve, Leicester present Rob Ward in The MP, Auntie Mandy And Me, York Theatre Royal Studio, Saturday (October 1), 7.45pm; Harrogate Theatre Studio, October 20, 8pm. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or

Fringe First winner Happy Meal to serve up Millennial meets Gen X rom-com story of transition at York Theatre Royal Studio

Sam Crerar in the Fringe First-winning Happy Meal

FRESH from winning a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe, Tabby Lamb’s joyful trans romantic comedy Happy Meal visits the York Theatre Royal Studio from tonight to Saturday.

Lamb invites the audience to “travel back to the quaint days of dial-up and MSN, where you’ll follow two strangers on their journeys to become who they always were, in a funny, moving and nostalgic story of transition: from teen to adult, from My Space to TikTok, from cis to trans”.

Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel reprise their roles from the Traverse Theatre run in Edinburgh, directed by Jamie Fletcher, whose 2022 production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch drew five-star reviews at Leeds Playhouse.

Allie Daniel and Sam Crerar: “Capturing the intensity of the onlife life of 21st century teenagers”

In a story where Millennial meets Gen Z and change is all around, transgender teenagers Alex and Bette find one another on the internet, become close friends, but then experience whole worlds of estrangement, as relatively middle-class Alex makes a transition to student life as Alec, while Bette struggles to come out as trans to anyone except her online best friend.

As described by the Fringe First judges, Happy Meal “fully captures the intensity of the online life of 21st century teenagers in a simple one-hour tale of young love made complicated by society’s attitudes to shifting gender, but now free enough to find a true happy ending”.

Played out on a witty Ben Stones set, this Roots and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production in association with English Touring Theatre (ETT) and Oxford Playhouse is suitable for age 12 upwards. Tickets for the 7.45pm evening performances and 2.45pm Saturday matinee are on sale on 01904 623568 or at

Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel in Tabby Lamb’s funny, moving and nostalgic story of transition

Taking trouble at At The Mill to build a community for the arts and the people

Daniel Kitson: Testing out new material in six Outside performances at Stillington Mill

SUMMER At The Mill is returning for a second season of creative, culinary and community events in the gardens of Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York.

“After the spectacular, gorgeous, fun, exciting, beautiful and heart-warming time we had throughout our inaugural summer last year – what a ride! – we’re over the moon to present the mixed bag of goodies that is Summer At The Mill 2.0,” says programmer, theatre director, writer and performer Alexander Flanagan-Wright.

“Until September 4, we’ll be hosting a load of wonderful events all about community, art, food and flipping good times. We’ll have a pop-up café and bar, community gatherings, theatre, music, comedy, supper clubs and special events.”

The “Wright stuff” is the work of outdoor theatre co-builder Alex, sister Abbigail Ollive (Saturday café cuisine queen and supper club supremo) and their retired headteacher parents Maggi and Paul Wright, together with partners Megan Drury and Paul Smith. That “stuff” also takes in weddings, events and shepherd’s hut accommodation: truly a village cottage industry, you could say, albeit somewhat larger than a cottage.

A Supper Club gathering at At The Mill

“We just had a blast summer,” says Alex. “It was kind of by accident. It felt very serendipitous or of its moment, saying, ‘here is a way we can gather safely, our local community and the arts community, post-lockdown’.

“So this summer is a chance to see if people still care, and so far the evidence is that they do, with the return of the busy Saturday café, the Crafty Tales show [The Case Of The Missing Bunny] that sold out, our Pizza & Cocktail Night and the Dance Dance Dance Big Bank Holiday Silent Disco.

“Last year felt like a huge rush of adrenaline, and then you think, ‘OK, where do we go forward this year for beautiful experiences together?’. Already this year, we’re meeting new people coming to the events and the café.”

Summing up the essence of At The Mill, Alex says: “We believe a feeling of community is so important when people want to have an evening out. Whereas commercial theatre can feel merely transactional, with us, the means is the art, but the end result is a sense of community, and that feels the right way round.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: At the heart of At The Mill

“On top of that, eating outside together, drinking outside together, is a lovely thing to do, and we have the space and setting to do that.”

Where once Stillington Mill’s 18th century mill would produce flour, now the At The Mill combines food with food for thought, new recipes at the Supper Club, new works on stage. “We’re very clear with the artists about that. Everyone we’ve asked, we’ve said, ‘we think you’re cool, we like your work, do you want to come and play with us?’,” says Alex.

“What we have in abundance is space and time, imagination and a community. What we don’t have in abundance is cash, but we find most performers end up walking away with cash in their pocket.

“We don’t say to them, bring a particular show. What you get instead is artists testing out new material, so it becomes a genuine relationship with the audience built around nurturing new work. We’re seeking an equal balance between the two communities, where they care about each other, and if we do our part well in bringing them together, then they will meet in a beautiful way, and hopefully that process is more valuable, than, say, a Q&A session in a theatre.”

The Saturday cafe at At The Mill, baked by Abbigail Ollive

Alex continues: “Hopefully too, we’re going to be able to sustain that culture of being able to welcome artists for whatever they want to try out, and of audiences being continually excited about seeing new work at such an early stage, performed by people they wouldn’t expect to be passing through their village.”

A case in point is Edinburgh Fringe favourite Daniel Kitson, the Denby Dale stand-up comedian, who asked to take part in the Theatre At The Mill programme after he was tipped off by storytelling performer Sam Freeman.

“Daniel got in touch to say hello, could he come and do a show? I don’t know what the show is about; I don’t know if Daniel does yet, but that feels a pretty exciting thing to be going on, and testament to our aim for brilliant performers to test out their work to our community,” says Alex.

“I’m also aware that there will be those who don’t know who Daniel Kitson is and would just see him as someone standing up in a garden! But it feels beautiful to know that his shows in May will be his first in two years and it’s great to be part of that work-in-progress experience.”

Chris Stokes: Storytelling comedy in Lockdown Detective at At The Mill on May 26

Clearly, plenty of people know exactly who Daniel Kitson is: his 8pm performances of Outside on May 23 to 25 have sold out already and his June 8 to 10 run looks close to following suit.

What’s in store from Kitson? Here’s the show blurb: “Daniel hasn’t been on stage for over two years. And, to be entirely honest, he’s not really missed it. It is, however, his actual job and everyone’s gone back to work now. So, he’s picked out a comfy pen, bought a new notebook and booked himself a summer’s worth of outdoor shows to find out whether he can still do his job and what, if anything, he has to say to large groups of people he doesn’t know.”

Given his performing hiatus and lack of practice, Kitson predicts the shows are “likely to be relatively rickety affairs”. “But Daniel’s already written the question ‘Do worms feel fear?’ in his new notebook, so we should be okay,” the blurb adds. “Also, if it gets boring – you can just use the time to look at the sky and feel small.”

At The Mill’s role in nurturing new work ties in with Alex’s own creativity as a writer and director, whether directing The Flanagan Collective, heading off to Australia with songwriter/musician/performer/magician Phil Grainger or spending last September to December in New York, making the immersive piece Tammany Hall for the Soho Playhouse.

Gary Stewart: Hosting regular Folk Club nights at At The Mill

“We meet loads of brilliant people when touring our work, and it’s great that they want to come here to test new pieces,” he says. “We’re delighted that people will hone shows here just before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, or will do shows here that aren’t going to Edinburgh but fit that vibe.”

Picking out upcoming highlights, singer-songwriterTom Figgins follows up last summer’s gig – his first in four years – with a return tomorrow; Chris Stokes’s storytelling comedy show, Lockdown Detective, is booked in for May 26, and Scottish musician Gary Stewart, now resident in nearby Easingwold, will host his regular Folk Club night on May 27, June 24 and July 8.

“For his first night, it’ll be just Gary and his guitar, performing Paul Simon songs solo rather than with his Graceland band. It’s lovely for us that a local musician, who’s internationally renowned, came here and said, ‘I want to play here every month and bring acts here regularly’,” says Alex.

At The Mill’s ERII Platinum Jubilee celebrations will take in Jubilee Jubilee, A Very Jubilant Cabaret, on June 3 and A Right Royal Knees Up, with live music and pizza, on June 5.

Maddie Morris: 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, playing a Music At The Mill gig for the first time

Leeds folk duo Maddie Morris & Lilian Grace will make their At The Mill debut on June 12, performing together as Death And The Daughter and playing solo works too. Their 2022 project, The Sticky Monsters, is influenced by the artwork of Swedish artist John Kenn and their compositions deal with childhood, poverty and more general reflections on culture and the idea of fear.

“I saw Maddie, the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, at The Courthouse, Rural Arts’ home in Thirsk, and she’s an absolute folk musician, studying folk music at Leeds University and looking at contemporary politics through the lens of the folk tradition,” says Alex.

Gemma Curry’s York company Hoglets Theatre will perform the children’s show The Sleep Pirates on June 19 (10am to 1pm); York spoken-word collective Say Owt will host a poetry-writing workshop on June 25 (5pm), followed by an evening showcase (7.30pm); Heady Conduct Theatre will combine physical storytelling with live music to tell the Greek myth of Tiresias on July 10, and Paperback Theatre will stage their charming account of roguish Toad’s misadventures, The Wind In The Willows, on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Alex himself has a couple of contributions to the season: Monster, a work-in-progress new story, on June 16 and 17, and The Gods The Gods The Gods, the Wright and Grainger show whose Australian premiere tour was curtailed by the pandemic, now making its British debut on July 23, 24, 27 and 28 at 8.45pm.

Gemma Curry in Hoglets Theatre’s The Sleep Pirates

“In its full iteration, it’s a big, heavy show, but this will be a lighter version before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” says Alex of the final work in Wright & Grainger’s trilogy of myths, after Orpheus and Eurydice, both sell-outs at last summer’s At The Mill season.

The Gods The Gods The Gods, with its four stories and 14 compositions, corals big beats, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken words as it “calls us to the crossroads where mythology meets real life”.

“The Gods are gathering and you’re invited,” says Alex. “We’re excited about testing it out here, to wrangle up the story, to see that all the text and music works, and then add lights for Edinburgh, where we’ll be doing it in the Assembly’s 200-seat spiegeltent.”

The Mill’s summer programme will continue to add new events, with full details, including tickets, at Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

The Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger staging Orpheus and Eurydice at At The Mill’s socially-distanced summer season in 2021. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Heady Conduct view the world differently to rejuvenate Greek myths of blind prophet Tiresias in At The Mill show at Stillington

Simon Rodda in Heady Conduct Theatre’s Tiresias

HEADY Conduct Theatre conclude the short tour of Tiresias, their storytelling show of rejuvenated Greek myths and legends, in July 10’s At The Mill performance at Stillington, near York.

“Tiresias is the 600-year-old blind prophet who pops up in a lot of Greek myths but hasn’t a story of their own,” says co-artistic director Beck Rogers. “We were fascinated by them; a blind prophet, who walks with royalty and rejects, contends with some of the heavyweights of the ancient Greek world and lives as both a man and woman.

“At the heart of our play we ask the audience, ‘if you could choose to know your future, would you want to?’.” 

Last performed pre-pandemic on the other side of the world in New Zealand, the show is told by one actor, co-artistic director Simon Rodda, and one musician, Rachel Barnes, who have played Brighton, Penzance, Suffolk and St Albans before their tour finale in North Yorkshire.

Rodda plays Tiresias, the blind prophet given the gift to predict Zeus’s future. In 600 years of life, Tiresias has incredible encounters with royalty, rejects, heroes, murderers and a snake-wrangling baby, as well as becoming the first person to be transformed from a man into a woman.

Barnes accompanies his performance with singing and a live score played on guitar and cello in Heady Conduct’s intoxicating theatre piece about the extraordinary ability of humans to face adversity, often with mischief, humour and acts of rebellion.

Rodda says: “I can’t wait to perform these ancient stories in this beautiful, hand-crafted hidden gem of a theatre venue. The stories surrounding Tiresias’s life offer a unique and unrivalled perspective.

“Beck and I are neurodiverse and are advocates for those who view the world differently. To enhance the storytelling experience for the audience, we use language, live music, physical movement and sensory atmospheres to tell Tiresias’s tale.”

Tickets are on sale at: