REVIEW: Elf The Musical, York Stage, at Grand Opera House, York, until December 3

Sophie Hammond’s Jovie and Damien Poole’s Buddy leading a dance routine in York Stage’s Elf The Musical. All pictures: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YOU will be lucky if any tickets are still left for York Stage’s Christmas show, and luckier still if you do see Elf The Musical.

The Christmas spirit is alive in more than those irritatingly premature TV adverts; a neighbour has put up the Christmas tree already; pantomimes are underway; the weather has turned all Jack Frost on us, and Elf The Musical is packing out the Grand Opera House, with all manner of accompanying merchandise to tempt, and Christmas jumpers on their first outing of the new season.

On first thoughts, a run nearer Christmas might have been more ideal, but judging by Saturday’s matinee, full of excited young families, a festive trip to the theatre cannot come soon enough after the misery of multiple lockdowns.

Martin Rowley’s storytelling Santa

Under the limitations of social bubbles, York Stage went ahead with their debut musical pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, last Christmas, but Elf The Musical marks the return to shows on the scale of Shrek The Musical, a huge hit for Nik Briggs’s company at the Grand Opera House. The orchestra alone numbers 16 under musical director Stephen Hackshaw’s zestful charge, to complement the cast of 20-plus.                     

Artistic director Briggs, who played the title role in that show, swaps places with Shrek’s director (and choreographer to boot), Damien Poole. Somehow, despite running Damien Poole Theatre Arts in Harrogate and teaching musical theatre at Leeds Conservatoire, he has found time to rehearse and play Buddy – and make him his own one-man national elf service. Did anyone mention Will Ferrell? No! “Damien is Buddy,” said Briggs beforehand, and now you can see why.

Elf The Musical retains the jokes and the naïve charm of the 2003 film, with a witty, playful book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, then leaves out the impractical high-speed snowball fight, and adds all the song-and-dance razzmatazz of a Broadway musical, with music by Matthew Sklar big on winter brass and lyrics by Chad Beguelin full of humour, bold statements and big sentiments.

Get your skates on…but not even that may guarantee you a ticket for York Stage’s hot-selling winter warmer Elf The Musical

Emily Taylor, long associated with Grand Opera House pantomimes, brings her choreographic brio to York Stage’s Elf, excelling in the ensemble numbers, never more so than when a multitude of Santas are letting off their after-hours steam.

Should anyone miraculously have escaped the film, Elf The Musical has Martin Rowley’s old-school Santa introducing the story of how orphan boy Buddy crawls into Santa’s sack and ends up being brought up among all the elf toy makers on a sugar-rich diet with two visits a day to the North Pole dentist. 

In the opening scenes, all except Santa and Buddy are whizzing around on their knees playing elves, immediately establishing the magical yet daft fun of Briggs’s show.

Faateh Sohail as Michael and Jo Theaker as Emily Hobbs

Poole captures this tone perfectly, full of good cheer, love, innocence, cheekiness and a desire to please, like the silly billy/daft lad/Buttons roles we associate with pantomimes at this time of year. Then add boundless energy, delightful singing and nimble dance skills, plus natural stage “likeability” (to borrow a Berwick Kaler expression), and you have the ideal Buddy.

When Buddy learns that he is not an elf after all, despite being so elfish in his thinking, off to New York he must go to try to find his real father, children’s publishing-house manager Walter Hobbs (Stuart Piper), who never knew he had a son from a long-ago relationship. 

Perma-stressed Walter is now married to long-suffering Emily (Jo Theaker), with a son, Michael (Faateh Sohail at the matinee, sharing the role with Declan Childs and Ethan McDonald). 

Elf director Nik Briggs and choreographer Emily Taylor with lead actors Sophie Hammond and Damien Poole

Briggs has cast as well as ever, Piper’s Walter walking the tightrope of being unreasonable/reasonable in his behaviour, Theaker being as lovable as always and Sohail showing bags of confidence and promise.

Like Poole, professional actor Sophie Hammond, first cast by Briggs 11 years ago as Ariel in Footloose, has moved into teaching drama skills but she has jumped at the chance to play Jovie, Buddy’s slow-burn love interest.

Initially, her Jovie is typical of the New York cynicism to be found among the Macy’s department store staff, where Buddy finds himself working as he constantly corrects everyone’s misconceptions over Santa, the North Pole and Christmas. Like the rest of us, she cannot but warm to Buddy’s innocent enthusiasm, even for going on a date. Hammond captures this transmission with more subtlety than would be first apparent in the script’s broad strokes.  

Katie Melia’s Babs and Damien Poole’s Buddy

Strong support comes from Katie Melia’s Deb, Jack Hooper’s Chadwick, and especially Craig Kirby’s grouchy publishing boss, Greenway.

Hackshaw’s band are on ace form, not only the brass section, but with Sam Johnson, Barbara Chan and violinist Claire Jowett among the ranks, the quality is high indeed for the fantastic score.

The snowy icing on the cake is Briggs’s set design, big snowflakes, open North Pole skyline, bustling Macy’s store, finale snow machine et al, as he draws inspiration from Radio City Music Hall. Will there be a magical sleigh ride? Wait and see – if you have one of those oh-so-in-demand tickets of course.

Box office on the off chance: atgickets.com/York.

York Stage Musicals’ Elf on course to sell out as Buddy brings joyful early Christmas present to Grand Opera House from tonight

Sophie Hammond’s Jovie and Damien Poole’s Buddy go green for York Stage Musicals’ Elf

AFTER The Flint Street Nativity and last winter’s debut pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk, York Stage Musicals are serving up Christmas cheer again with Elf The Musical.

Such is the anticipation for this show that the Grand Opera House run from today until December 3 has all but sold out already. “Out of the 11 performances, we have around only ten tickets left for each show,” says delighted artistic director Nik Briggs.

York Stage Musicals are presenting the York premiere of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s musical, based on the 2003 film, the one with a goofing Will Ferrell.

Should Elf somehow have eluded you, the story follows orphan child Buddy as he mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus’s bag and ends up being transported to his North Pole abode.

Once there, unaware he is human, and not an elf, his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth.

Given Santa’s permission, Buddy (played by Damien Poole) must head to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity and help the Big Apple to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

“We love bringing big Broadway and West End musicals to York: we’ve done Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and Shrek The Musical, and I knew Elf would be perfect for the cast we have: high energy and full of fun,” says Nik.

Elf The Musical director Nik Briggs, left, choreographer Emily Taylor and lead actors Sophie Hammond and Damien Poole at York Stage Musicals’ press launch at Sotano, Little Stonegate, York

“With The Flint Street Nativity and our musical panto, Jack And The Beanstalk, we’ve started bringing alternative Christmas shows to York and Elf perfectly fits that bill.”

How does the musical differ from the film? “The songs, obviously! It’s got a stellar songbook to go will all the comedy that people love from the movie,” says Nik. “The beautiful score is accompanied by a big, brassy band: a 16-piece orchestra directed by the wonderful Stephen Hackshaw. It sounds amazing.”

As affirmed by the ticket sales, Elf has winter winner written all over it. “People love the film; it’s a title they know, and after the past 18 months we’ve all had, it’s the perfect show too see. Pure joy!” says Nik.

“Just as Buddy helps New York to find its Christmas spirit, so Damien and the cast will be helping York to do the same.”

Enthusing over his two leads, Damien Poole, as Buddy and Sophie Hammond, as Buddy’s love interest, Jovie, Nik says: “Damien IS Buddy! He loves Christmas, he’s so full of joy, so energetic, and with his ten years of West End credentials in such shows as Grease and Groundhog Day, he can sustain that throughout the run.

“Sophie is just the most beautiful performer. I remember when she first walked in to audition for Footloose, more than ten years ago, I was just blown away, casting her as Ariel, the preacher’s daughter with the looks and rebellious attitude of a bad girl. She really takes the audience on a journey when she performs.”

After mounting Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre@41, Monkgate, last Christmas with the requirement for social bubbles, a compact cast and the constant uncertainty over whether the show would have to be called off (only the finale was lost in the end), Nik is once more producing a show under the Covid cloud.

“After the past 18 months we’ve all had, Elf is the perfect show too see. Pure joy!” says director Nik Briggs

“We’ve kept our numbers to what would be the cast size for a tour – around 20 – and we’ve never stopped learning from the shows we’ve done since the pandemic forced changes, starting with the outdoor concerts at Rowntree Park in late-summer 2020 and the panto,” he says, as he attends to the Elf and safety requirements.

“That’s put us in a really good position to run a show like this, with all the requirements for Lateral Flow Tests and wearing masks when necessary.”

After the hit run of Shrek The Musical, directed and choreographed by Damien Poole after his return to Boston Spa from his West End work, York Stage Musicals are thrilled to be back at the Grand Opera House for Elf. “We love working with the team here, and we love the technical possibilities the stage affords us,” says Nik, who has done the set design on top of his directing duties.

“We’ve had the set built by companies and builders around the country for a brand new set design that works perfectly with the space, inspired by New York and Radio City Music Hall, in Midtown Manhattan, which I visited in 2019, shortly before Covid arrived.”

Looking ahead, York Stage Musicals will be returning to the Grand Opera House from April 22 to 30 next year for the York premiere of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls: The Musical. Write that one down on your 2022 calendar and be sure to book early.

York Stage Musicals in Elf The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, tonight (25/11/2021) until December 3. Box office: hurry, hurry to atgtickets.com/York or ring 0844 871 7615.

Copyright of The Press, York

Damien Poole and Sophie Hammond: Actors, teachers and stars of York Stage Musicals’ Elf The Musical

SOPHIE Hammond is completing a full circle as she returns to the Grand Opera House stage in York tonight in York Stage Musicals’ Elf The Musical.

“This is my first time back in a York Stage show since playing Ariel in 2010 in Footloose. I was blonde at the time,” recalls Sophie, her hair now darker, as she takes the role of Buddy’s love interest, Jovie, in Elf.

“That was my first show with York Stage Musicals, as after Footloose I went off to London to train in musical theatre at the American Musical Theatre Academy, where I managed to get myself an agent and went into performing jobs.”

Four years into the profession, Sophie made a career change. “I decided I wanted to teach performing arts at secondary school, and I’ve been teaching at Beckfoot School, in Bradford, for three years, which have whizzed by,” she says.

Sophie performed in the second of York Stage Musicals’ outdoor concerts in Rowntree Park in Summer 2020 and now she is treading the boards once more at the Grand Opera House. “It feels like it’s a nice circle being completed, being back there after 11 years,” she says.

LIKE Sophie Hammond, Damien Poole has left London behind to make a new start.

“I’d lived there for 15 years, working in the West End, but four years ago I decided to set up my theatre school, Damien Poole Theatre Arts, which I run in Harrogate, and I also work at the Leeds Conservatoire music school, working with musical theatre degree students,” he says.

After directing and choreographing York Stage Musicals’ September 2019 production of Shrek The Musical – “an amazing experience,” he says – Damien now faces the challenge of balancing his teaching duties with playing the lead character of Buddy in YSM’s Elf.

“I try to make time by changing my times at the theatre school and Leeds, so I can rehearse on Wednesdays and Sundays and have Thursdays off,” he says.

He is relishing taking on the role synonymous with Will Farrell. “Obviously I’m not going to be able to create what Will Farrell did in creating Buddy’s character in the film, but I get to sing and dance, and you get to see more layers to Buddy in the musical,” says Damien.

REVIEW: Big Ian Donaghy’s Boxing Day visit to York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Ian Stroughair’s Flesh Creep: “Joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 villain”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

MONKGATE magic!

Every year like clockwork, you wolf down the first clutch of chocolates from your Advent calendar, then panto arrives.

Men as women.

Women as men.

Two crew members as a horse.

Oh yes, it is!

Oh no, it isn’t!

Jack And The Beanstalk: “The healthy, bright-eyed and slim” bean feast of a York Stage pantomime, as promised by the newly appropriated Biles Beans sign

Children’s eyes agog.

But not in 2020.

The year that the show MUSTN’T go on.

Just watch the news.

Tisn’t the season to be jolly!

As theatres up and down the land spend Christmas in darkness, a shard of light could be seen down an alleyway off Monkgate.

It’ll never work.

How could it work?

Jack….and the beanstalk: Jordan Fox’s Jack with stage manager Lisa Cameron’s hand-made beanstalk in the York Stage pantomime. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

This needed ideas, creativity and the personnel to pull it off and even then one announcement could pull its plug at any moment.

This had failure written all over it.

As we walked past the finest piece of genius marketing on Boxing Night, extending the locals’ favourite landmark – the Bile Beans sign on Lord Mayor’s Walk – to read “Bile BeanSTALK”, we were smiling even before the first line.

“Where’s the Minster?”, people ask? “It’s just over the wall from the Bile Beans sign.”

After a balanced diet of cheese and Toblerones, could this be the panto to keep us “healthy, bright-eyed and slim?”.

Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nanna Trott: “Showing off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

As we walked through the door, greenery festooned every bannister and surface.

With a tiny capacity of only 60 to meet Covid safety requirements, this was not so much a family panto as a “bubble panto”.

Jack was played by the endearing Jordan Fox, who somehow managed to be both idiot and hero at once.

Flesh Creep was played by the joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 Ian Stroughair, who was nearly eight feet tall with hat!

A three-piece dance troupe featuring dance captains from both the Grand Opera House (Emily Taylor) and Theatre Royal (Danielle Mullan) felt like a luxury as did a small house band (Jessica Douglas, Sam Johnson and Clark Howard).

Corners could have easily been cut but weren’t. Quality clearly means everything to writer-director Nik Briggs.

“Top-tier entertainment”: May Tether as Jill Gallop (on the podium) with ensemble trio Emily Taylor (left), Danielle Mullan and Matthew Ives. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

The cast faced magnetic north as a convoy of beautiful original songs and production numbers ran through the show, choreographed by West Ender Gary Lloyd .

The harmonies as all the cast sang together were spellbinding, as the hairs on the backs of your arms acknowledged this wasn’t another panto re-heat -this was fresh.

I could listen to May Tether (who played Jill) sing the terms and conditions of an insurance policy and she’d make it sound like Carole King had penned it.

Where many pantos have actors, singers or dancers with on obvious ‘also ran’ in their skill set, every cast member was a Swiss Army knife of lethally sharp talent.

Rarely do you get soulful vocals from a panto fairy (Livvy Evans) and even the Dame, played by Alex Weatherhill, showed off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite.

Head’s gone: Writer-director Nik Briggs and stage manager Lisa Cameron in a revealing moment for the longer-than-usual pantomime cow, Daisy, in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Surprisingly, the cast showed no fatigue from the three-shows-a-day schedule but it begs the question why this wasn’t in a bigger venue with Covid measures in place. I can only imagine that the paperwork and risk assessments took more paper than the script in this impossible year. The audience were even guided to do hand gestures, as everybody desisted from shouting “Oh yes he is” all night.

Every ticket in this traverse set-up was a golden ticket as each group was separated into plastic booths. This is “in your face” theatre – but socially distanced of course – that you can feel, not just watch.

Featuring some of the most original gags I have ever heard in a panto to reflect the times, plus a couple of very well-known faces on screen who could grace any stage in the land, this is a show full of surprises: doing the same things differently. Proving that theatre can adapt to fit around the safety of its audience to give a Christmas to remember to a year many of us would like to forget.

“Soulful vocals”: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

In 2020, when Amazon have delivered everything to your doorstep, Briggs has delivered not just a panto, but also West End-quality musical theatre, while maintaining a safe distance, and NOBODY will be writing ‘Return to Sender’ on this triple threat-laden package.

York’s Tier 2 status meant that the doors could open, but there is nothing Tier 2 about this show in Monkgate. This is top-tier entertainment for all of your bubble.

Review by Ian Donaghy

Show times: December 29, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 30, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; New Year’s Eve, December 31, 12 noon (sold out); January 2, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; January 3, 1pm and 6pm.

Please visit yorkstagepanto.com for an update on performances once York’s new Tier status is confirmed in the Government briefing tomorrow (30/12/2020).

Name up in lights: The traverse stage for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, with the audience seated in Perspex-shielded bubbles. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

REVIEW: York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, the “musical with panto braces”

Wickedly bad, yet wickedly good: Ian Stroughair as “Fleshius Creepius” in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. All pictures: Kirkpatrick Photography

York Stage in Jack And The Beanstalk, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3 2021. Box office: yorkstagepanto.com

THIS is a York pantomime season like none before.

York Theatre Royal has, like a council politician, taken to the wards seeking votes, in this case for the audience choice of Travelling Pantomime. Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback on board Dick Turpin Rides Again, after his headline-making crosstown transfer to the Grand Opera House, has gone into Covid-enforced hibernation for a year. Likewise, Rowntree Players have taken the winter off.

Yet, what’s this? A newcomer bean-sprouting up at Theatre @41 Monkgate, courtesy of York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, a show stuffed with West End talent with York and wider Yorkshire roots, bedding in nicely with socially-distanced performances for maximum audiences of 55 at the Covid-secure heart of Monkgateshire.

May Tether as Jill Gallop: “Investing personality in every line”

Once temperature tested at the doors and hands cleansed, you are led up the beanstalk-clad stairway to your brightly-coloured seat in the John Cooper Studio, a black-box theatre here configured as a traverse stage, the bubble-compliant audience sitting to either side or upstairs on the mezzanine level.

Safety division comes in the form of screens, like on Have I Got News For You, giving a different Perspextive on watching a show, but in no way impeding the view. Actors are socially distanced – they exchange elbow greetings; romance is replaced by best friendships – and audience members are close to the stage in this intimate setting, but not too close. The dame does not dispense sweets and we are asked to refrain from shouting.

Not your normal panto, then, in this all-too abnormal year, except that writer-director Nik Briggs’s 2020 vision for pantomime still has all the elements: the song and dance; the puns and punchlines;  the slapstick and the transformation scene; the dame (Alex Weatherhill) and Daisy the cow; the drama-queen baddie (Ian Stroughair) and his narcissism; the topical and the local references; the daft wannabe superhero dreamer (Jordan Fox) and the fairy (Livvy Evans);  the principal girl (May Tether) and her plain-speaking principles.

Slapstuck: Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nancy Angelina Norma Nigella Alana Trott – Nanna for short – goes nuts in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Then add the all-action ensemble (Matthew Ives, Danielle Mullan and Emily Taylor) and the band, a trio of musical director Jessica Douglas, fellow keyboard player Sam Johnson and York’s premier league drummer, Clark Howard, parked upstairs but omnipresent and on the button, The Great British Bake Off theme tune et al.

Briggs has called his show “a musical with pantomime braces on”; his choreographer, Gary Lloyd, a big signing from the West End and tour circuit, has coined the term “pansical”. That may suggest a slightly awkward new hybrid, but like the cult rock’n’roll pantomime at Leeds City Varieties, the musical driving force here is a winning addition to the tradition.

Danielle Mullan lights up the transformation scene in Jack And The Beanstalk

Ninety minutes straight through – intervals are so last year – Jack And The Beanstalk is full of beans, lovely to look at and lively too, loud at times but rarely lewd (blame the dame for those “innocent but guilty” moments, met with knowing laughter).

Surprise celebrity cameos pop up on video, and York Mix Radio’s morning team of Ben Fry and Laura Castle provide the pre-recorded countdown chat pre-show.

Briggs is breaking his duck as a pantomime writer, and his script is a little mannered by comparison with the highly experienced Paul Hendy’s way with words for the Travelling Pantomime, but he does know the notes, he does play them in the right order, and the jokes invariably hit home, especially those that play on the Covid conventions of 2020.

Making a cow’s head of himself: York Stage pantomime writer-director Nik Briggs steps out of character with stage manager Lisa Cameron as the socially distanced, elongated Daisy in Jack And The Beanstalk

His reinvention of the pantomime cow is a particular joy, even if the dame’s nutty slapstick routine is hampered by having to play safe.

Briggs’s characters, bold and playful and bright, will appeal to children and adults alike. The singing is the ace card. What voices, whether Weatherhill’s operatic entry; professional debutante Tether’s arrival as Yorkshire’s next Sheridan Smith with her gift for investing personality in every line or the appealing Fox’s top-notch prowess in big numbers and ballads alike.

Foxy, ladies! Jordan Fox in superhero mode as Jack Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk

Evans’s Fairy Mary is fun and feisty, especially in her battles with Stroughair’s long-fingered, stove-pipe top-hatted Flesh Creep, commanding the stage with that irrepressible swagger and spectacular singing we know from his drag diva, Velma Celli.

You will never have a better chance to see Gary Lloyd’s flamboyant, fab-u-lous choreography so close up it is almost personal, dazzlingly pretty in the transformation scene, bouncing madly on and off trampolines in Stroughair’s high point, Jump (the Van Halen anthem).

Bean there, done that? Not until you have seen this new brand of York pantomime.

Review by BARSTOW TEASDALE. Copyright of The Press, York

Fairy tale ending: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk

Taylor-made for panto stage from Emily’s scene-stealing impromptu debut at five

Emily Taylor: Lighting up the York Stage pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, in the transformation scene. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

EMILY Taylor was cut out for the stage from her first moment in the spotlight at the age of five.

Now the York dance tutor, regular dance captain and choreographer for myriad Grand Opera House pantomimes is starring in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk.

She forms part of the all-action ensemble with Danielle Mullan and Matthew Ives in writer-director Nik Briggs’s production at the Covid-secure, socially distanced, beanstalk-staired Theatre @41 Monkgate.

Here Emily answers Charles Hutchinson’s scattergun questions on pantomimes past, present and future, heroes, villains and fairies, 2020 and 2021.

What was the first pantomime you ever saw and what do you recall of it?

“Cinderella at the Grand Opera House, York. Frazer Hines was Buttons and I was about five years old. We were seated in a box closest to the stage and in the song sheet, when they asked for children to go up on stage, my Dad lifted me over the edge so I could run up.

“We did I Am The Music Man and they kept me up as the last child to finish it by myself. That was my first ever panto experience and my first ever time on stage.” 

What was your first pantomime role?

“Grumpy the dwarf in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.”

What has been your favourite pantomime role?

“I’ve LOVED all of my years as a dancer. However, I think covering for Debbie McGee as Fairy in Beauty And The Beast when she was doing Strictly, and getting to work alongside the lovely Lynne McGranger, was a highlight. I really enjoy the acting part of things.”

Who have you not yet played in pantomime that you would love to play and why?

“I’d love to actually play the  Fairy for a full run, or at the other end of the scale, an evil queen/baddie role.” 

Who is your favourite pantomime performer and why?

“I’ve worked with so many people whose talent I admire and have learnt so much from watching how different people work. As a teenager, I worked with Michael Starke, as the Emperor of China, who was totally professional, hard working, and just a genuinely lovely person. Although, after this show, I feel like I may have some new favourites!”

This year’s pantomime will be an experience like no other…what are your expectations of performing a show in these strange circumstances?

“This year’s show is already filled with so much joy and appreciation from us all as a cast. I’m hoping the audience will share that joy with us – everyone will just be so happy to see live theatre again.

“The performance space is much more intimate here, which brings a whole new element to it.”

Emily Taylor in the York Stage pantomime slapstick scene with Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nanna Trott. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography


Which pantomime role should Boris Johnson play and why?

“Hmmmmm…maybe the Genie of the Ring. They often have a lot of power but are not quite sure how to use it in the best way. A difficult situation to be in!”

Who or what has been the villain of 2020?

“Covid-19.”

Who or what has been the fairy of 2020? 

“Nik Briggs. 100 per cent!!!!!”

How would you sum up 2020 in five words?

“Enlightening. Chance to re-evaluate priorities.”

What are your wishes for 2021?

“For Covid to be under control or, even better, be gone completely, so that I can give my Mum and Dad a hug! I also want to perform as much as possible if I can. 2020 has certainly cemented just how much I love the theatre.”

What are your hopes for the world of theatre in 2021?

“For theatre to return quickly and safely and things to get back to normal, but with a whole new level of appreciation, as soon as possible.”

York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3 2021.

Show times: December 15 and 16, 7pm; December 18, 7pm (sold out); December 19, 11am, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 20, 11am, 1pm (sold out) and 6pm; December 21, 7pm; December 22, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 23, 11am, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; Christmas Eve, December 24, 11am, 1pm (sold out) and 5pm (sold out).

Boxing Day, December 26, 11am, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 27, 11am, 1pm (sold out) and 6pm; December 28, 11am, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 29 and 30, 2pm and 7pm; New Year’s Eve, December 31, 12 noon. 

Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Be a brick! Step up to the plate by signing fundraising support for Theatre @41

Emily Taylor, left, and Danielle Mullan demonstrate the bricks at the John Cooper Studio Theatre at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York. They will be performing there from December 11 to January 3 in York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

THEATRE @41 Monkgate is selling personalised bricks to create a new display at York’s black-box studio theatre.

Sales of the inscribed slates will help to make up some of the revenue shortfall created by the Coronavirus pandemic. Theatre @41’s new chairman, Alan Park, hopes theatre participants and supporters alike will show their fundraising backing by digging deep.

“Anyone who has been to Theatre @41 knows what a special place it is,” he says. “We have obviously lost revenue while having to close and we need to make sure we can keep going. Every donation we receive helps us continue to provide an accessible and affordable theatre space to the York community.

“These bricks are a great way for anyone who uses our space, or has been to a show they love, to help us achieve this. They will be able to see their words and messages every time they visit and know they have played a part in the heritage of Theatre @41.”

To buy a brick for £40 or two for £70, visit: 41monkgate.co.uk/bricks. Alternatively, email: info@41monkgate.co.uk.

On message: Guy Wilson shows off a fundraising brick for Theatre @41 Monkgate. Guy has attended shows there regularly, takes LAMDA exams and performs for resident companies York Stage and Pick Me Up Theatre


Look who’s in the Bean team as York Stage announce panto at Theatre @41 Monkgate

Full of beans! The York Stage cast for Jack And The Beanstalk, from top left: Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan

CHRISTMAS in York would not be complete without a family outing to the pantomime, reckons York Stage producer Nik Briggs.

No wonder he is excited to announce his company will be  bringing a brand new professional staging of Jack And The Beanstalk to the city  this winter, billed as “a panto made in York for the people of York”. 

Running from December 11 2020 to January 3 2021 at Theatre @41  Monkgate, York, the 90-minute, Covid-secure show will feature Ian Stroughair, alias York’s  international drag diva Velma Celli, in wicked mode in the cast of eight laden with West  End talent from Yorkshire and the North East. 

Nik says: “Join us this December for some magical Christmas entertainment as we  present Jack And The Beanstalk in the Theatre @41 building in the heart of York on  Monkgate. 

York Stage’s poster for Jack And The Beanstalk, the pantomime where “giant magic can grow in the smallest places”

“Our traditional family pantomime will be performed in a traverse setting in the John  Cooper Studio, with the audience placed either side of a central stage with a capacity of 80 and no interval in the show.” 

“Covid-secure safety measures will be in place and, for the first time at a York Stage  show, Perspex safety screens will be placed between households and support bubbles  so that our audiences can safely enjoy the show.” 

Introducing his cast, Nik says: “We’re so excited to be bringing a sensational show to  York this Christmas with the most exciting casting!”  

Taking on the challenge of climbing the beanstalk will be West End actor Jordan Fox  (from Kinky Boot, Friendsical, Beautiful) as Jack, who must take on the evil Flesh Creep, played by Ian Stroughair (Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, as well as award-winning drag vocalist Velma Celli).  

Ian Stroughair, pictured here in Velma Celli drag diva mode, will switch to the dark side as the villainous Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk

Supporting Jack on his quest will be another York-born West End talent, Livvy Evans  (Tina, Motown, Soho Cinders), as Fairy Mary and Alex Weatherhill (Chicago, All Male  G&S) as Dame Trott.  

York Stage are thrilled to be giving May Tether, a favourite of past York Stage Musicals  shows, her first professional contract, playing Jill, following her graduation from London  drama school Trinity Laban in July. 

Completing the cast will be Matthew Ives (The Boyfriend, Closer to Heaven, La Cage Aux  Folles); Emily Taylor (Great British Pantomime Award nominee and regular choreographer  of the Grand Opera House pantomime) and Danielle Mullan, the North Easterner who  captained the dance team in Berwick Kaler’s York Theatre Royal pantomimes for  many years.   

Looking forward to York Stage adding a new string to their bow after this summer’s open-air musical theatre concerts in Rowntree Park, Theatre@41 board chairman Alan Park  says: “Christmas isn’t Christmas without panto. We’re delighted York Stage are taking full  advantage of Theatre@41’s flexible space to ensure York families will still be able to safely  enjoy a full all-singing and all-dancing pantomime.

May Tether: Signed her first professional contract after drama school to play Jill in Jack And The Beanstalk. Here she is pictured singing in York Stage Musicals’ first summer concert at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre in August. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“We can’t wait to welcome audiences  back and for the building to echo with music and laughter again.”  

Summing up what lies in store in Jack And The Beanstalk, Nik says: “With an exciting  cast filled with West End talent, all born and bred in Yorkshire, and a  creative team made up from those who brought shows such as Shrek, The Sound  Of Music and Hairspray to York, audiences can be assured of a show of true  panto magic!” 

“Expect glitzy sets and costumes, a show filled with singing and dancing, lots of laughs  and, of course, a huge beanstalk! Audiences can book now for a giant slice of traditional Christmas fun at one of the city’s most magical, bean-sized theatres for  all the family!” 

Tickets for the 40 performances are on sale at yorkstagepanto.com

Jack And The Beanstalk in a nutshell

Writer, director and producer Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

PANTOMIME: Jack And The Beanstalk, presented by York Stage Ltd.

WHERE: John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, YO31 7PB.  

WHEN: December 11 2020 to January 3 2021.  

SHOW TIMES: Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve,  12 noon.  

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes with no interval.   

AUDIENCE CAPACITY: 80, seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

PRICE: Ranging from £20 to £27.  

TICKETS: Available online only, via www.yorkstagepanto.com

Writer, director and producer for York Stage Ltd: NIK BRIGGS  

Musical director: JESSICA DOUGLAS 

Cast: JORDAN FOX as Jack; MAY TETHER as Jill; IAN STROUGHAIR as Flesh Creep; LIVVY  EVANS as Fairy Mary; ALEX WEATHERHILL as Dame Trott; EMILY TAYLOR,  MATTHEW IVES and DANIELLE MULLAN, Ensemble.