After the travelling Hero and Cinderella, now Faye Campbell confirms third York Theatre Royal pantomime role in a row

Campbell scoop: York Theatre Royal has booked Faye Campbell for her third pantomime

FAYE Campbell will complete a hattrick of York Theatre Royal pantomimes in successive years after signing up for All New Adventures Of Peter Pan.

She will play Elizabeth Darling from December 2 to January 2 in the third co-production with Evolution Productions after appearing in the title role in Cinderella last winter and as The Hero in Jack And The Beanstalk and Dick Whittington in 2020’s Travelling Pantomime tour of York wards.

Faye Campbell as The Hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime

Faye joins CBeebies’ Maddie Moate, already announced to shine as Tinkerbell in this swashbuckling adventure with an extra sprinkling of fairy dust magic. Laughter, music and family fun galore is promised in Paul Hendy’s fresh, fun take on J.M. Barrie’s story.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster, who will be directing All New Adventures of Peter Pan, says: “We are so pleased to welcome Faye back for this year’s pantomime. She has such talent and enthusiasm and was so popular with our audiences here as Cinderella last year and across the city in The Travelling Pantomime in 2020. We can’t wait to get her back on our stage!”

Further casting will be announced in coming months. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Faye Campbell as Cinderella in last winter’s York Theatre Royal pantomime

Introducing who will play The Coppergate Woman in York Theatre Royal’s summer community production

YORKSHIRE actress Kate Hampson will lead the community cast in The Coppergate Woman at York Theatre Royal, joining a 90-strong ensemble from July 30 to August 7.

“Having lived in York for more than half my life, I have enjoyed many a trip to learn about the Vikings in Coppergate,” says Kate, who trained at York St John University and The Utrecht School of Arts.

“I am therefore absolutely thrilled to be playing the part of the Coppergate Woman at the brilliant York Theatre Royal, only a short stroll across town! It’s an epic tale written by the multi-talented Maureen Lennon. I’m so excited to work with the wonderful community cast and can’t wait to get started!”

Welcoming Kate to the Theatre Royal, co-director Juliet Forster says: “I’m very excited to be working with Kate Hampson, who has come on to my radar only relatively recently, and I have been looking for the right project to work with her on ever since.

“I know she is going to make a brilliant Coppergate Woman.  It is wonderful to have discovered such a phenomenal acting talent right on our doorstep, and with Nordic ancestry to boot!”

“I’m so excited to work with the wonderful community cast and can’t wait to get started,” says Kate Hampson, an actress with Nordic ancestry who will play The Coppergate Woman

Born, brought up and still living in Yorkshire, Kate’s theatre credits include Tapestry (Northern Broadsides); Mary Barton (Alnwick Playhouse and tour); Trouble (West Yorkshire Playhouse); New Playwrights (York Theatre Royal); Gaudette (Obra Theatre Company), Mumsy (Hull Truck); Not Yours Mine (Oldham Coliseum) and Vignettes (Hope Mill Theatre). Last winter, she played Mother and Mrs Perks in Hull Truck Theatre’s The Railway Children.

Among her television credits are Happy Valley (BBC); Doctors (BBC); I’m With Stupid (BBC); Emmerdale (ITV); Eternal Law (Kudos/ITV); Hollyoaks (Channel 4); Where The Heart Is (ITV) and Coronation Street (ITV).

Now comes The Coppergate Woman, Hull playwright Maureen Lennon’s play inspired by the discovery in a shallow pit by the River Foss of the remains of an unknown woman, now displayed in a glass case in Jorvik Viking Centre in York as The Coppergate Woman.

Weaving Viking legends with the stories of modern-day York people, this epic new play draws on Norse myths and legends, focusing on the central figure of The Coppergate Woman.

Tickets for this main-house production are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Kate Hampson with the poster image for The Coppergate Woman, Maureen Lennon’s community play co-directed by Juliet Forster and John R Wilkinson

Cinderella resumes tomorrow at York Theatre Royal after Covid forced week off

CBeebies’ Andy Day as Dandini in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

YORK Theatre Royal’s pantomime resumes tomorrow for its final run of shows after a Covid-enforced week off.

Positive tests among cast members and understudies meant the management was seeking its fourth Cinderella when the decision was made to stop the revolving door of replacements and extra rehearsals.

Now, Cinderella will be going to the ball again, extra shows and all, until January 2, and among those returning to the stage will be Andy Day’s Dandini, Faye Campbell’s Cinderella, Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and ventriloquist Max Fulham’s Buttons (along with his dummy, the cheeky monkey Gordon).

CBeebies’ presenter Andy Day had already made one appearance in York this year before Cinderella…with his band, Andy And The Oddsocks. “We did nine festivals this year – we usually do loads of shows over the festival season – and among those getting in touch was York Balloon Fiesta, where we played in late-August,” he says.

“It was one of our favourites gigs, playing next to the racecourse. I’d been to York only a couple of times before, but my dad is a massive fan of York, so he’s coming to see the panto. He’s not bothered about seeing me, just seeing York!”

Andy is performing in his sixth panto for York Theatre Royal’s pantomime partners, Evolution Productions. “The first one I did for them was Cinderella: that was the last time I did Cinderella, playing Dandini that time too, in St Albans,” he says, going on to recall making his panto debut at 21 as the Genie in Aladdin in Ilford.

Andy is synonymous with CBeebies, not only as a presenter but as an actor too. “I was very fortunate to get into kids’ TV 16 years ago. I always wanted to do that; that was my aim when I was doing stuff at the Millennium Dome and theatre in education in Italy, which I really enjoyed.

“From there, I got an audition for CBeebies, and out of 2,000 applicants, I got down to the last 11, and it just so happened I was different to the others and so I was chosen.”

His wide-eyed expressions, affability, strong singing voice and bond with children make him a natural for pantomime. “The great thing about Evolution pantomimes – and I love Paul Hendy’s writing – is that they really are a show for everyone, making it my favourite form of family entertainment, because parents can enjoy it as much as their children,” Andy says. “Good comedy, good music, something for the adults, and then there’s the magic of it all, especially in Cinderella.”

Andy has worked with Cinderella director Juliet Forster previously, having appeared in her TV production of CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, premiered in April. “They’re always great fun to do,” he says. “I’d done The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, and though I don’t class myself as a Shakespearean actor, it’s really nice to do the roles and enjoy Shakespeare – and Juliet is a real joy to work with.

“I played Lord Capulet, after I was Caliban in The Tempest: I always seem to play the slightly nasty one, whether in CBeebies’ pantos or Shakespeare! Though I was Peter Quince, one of the Mechanicals, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so that was a humorous role.”

Luton-born Andy is making his York Theatre Royal debut at 40, but where might his pantomime ambitions lead him next? “I’d love to play Captain Hook [in Peter Pan] one day. That would be my dream panto role,” he says.

Faye Campbell’s “independent, modern-day” Cinderella

Faye Campbell tweeted her excitement at returning to York today to prepare for tomorrow afternoon’s resumption of stage business. Just as she had been excited at landing the title role. “I got a first taste of working with Juliet last year when I was in the Travelling Pantomime that we took around the city.

“We did a few performances on the main stage at the start and the end of the run, putting the Travelling Pantomime set on that stage, so I have been on a ‘stage’ on that stage before!”

Faye previously did a school tour of Snow White in late 2018, in the title role. “It was similar to the Travelling Pantomime, going to community centres and primary schools for hour-long performances,” she recalls. “Now, Cinderella is my first panto on a theatre main stage.”

As a child, Faye went to pantomimes at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre (and sometimes at Birmingham Hippodrome too). “We used to go every year, and it was my first experience of theatre, as it is for many families,” she says.

“That’s why panto is so special for everyone: they go to pantomimes, even if they don’t go to anything else. Pantomime is more accessible, which I think is important.”

When Faye does not have an acting commitment, she works at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre as an usher. “For a lot of people in the industry, we can’t pretend work has not been slow or hard to get, but it’s just exciting to see theatres re-opening – and it’s very emotional for theatres to be able to present pantomimes again,” she says.

Her Cinderella fits the 21st century style of the Theatre Royal and Evolution co-production. “I’m playing her more as an independent, modern-day woman,” says Faye. “I think it’s important to represent a strong, independent woman today, with the same themes as before but with an edge to her.”

Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

Benjamin Lafayette could not have had a more contrasting start to his professional career, first making his debut in the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello at The Mill Theatre, Dundrum, South Dublin, followed by his pantomime bow as Prince Charming in Cinderella.

“This is my first time in York, my first time working with Evolution Productions,” says Benjamin, continuing the theme of firsts. “It came about through my agent. I got the call in a busy period because I’d just found out I was going to do Othello in Dublin.

“I was already packing my bags, and then my agent said, ‘Oh, I have an audition for you for a pantomime’. I’d never done a panto, but I’m the kind of person who will give anything a shot’.”

His audition negotiated successfully, Benjamin headed off to Dublin, and then briefly to York. “The launch day for Cinderella was during my rehearsals for Othello, so I flew in and out on the same day,” he says. “I’d just rehearsed Othello’s final scene, and then had to fly in and be…charming at the Theatre Royal launch!”

What an experience was in store for him under the direction of Geoff O’Keefe in Dublin. “Safe to say, I was exhausted after every show, doing two performances a day after the intensive rehearsal period,” he recalls.

There was no hiding place; there was so much to do, but it was brilliant. I’m still quite young, and playing Othello so young, at 24, was really special to do so early in my career. It was a real learning experience and I’ve really grown as an actor, realising the importance of different stage crafts.”

Performing in a cast with seven Irish actors, alongside Michael Ford from Surrey, Birmingham-born Benjamin drew good reviews – or so he was told. “I really try not to read them at the time, but from what my family and friends said, it went really well,” he says.

Benjamin completed his Othello run on October 22, and when he began rehearsals in York in November, doing pantomime initially “felt really foreign”, but gradually “the glitter of it all” took over.

“Prince Charming is seen as one of the ‘straight’ panto characters but we’ve been given licence by Juliet to have fun with our characters, which is an actor’s dream,” he says. “There are definitely moments of wanting to be part of the joke.”

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his misbehaving monkey puppet, Gordon

Plenty of the humour in Cinderella emanates from Max Fulham and his irrepressible Monkey in the ventriloquist’s York Theatre Royal debut.

Already he has a prestigious award to his name: Best Speciality Act at the Great British Pantomime Awards from his 2019-2020 season in Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. “Because of lockdown, I received that award at home, eating crisps, getting a nice little trophy,” says Max. “I was in such esteemed company: I think we beat Sooty and a dance group.”

He began doing ventriloquism – talking with his mouth closed – at the age of nine. “The puppet came first. I’ve always loved puppets, and I’m from the era where it’s not like I saw someone doing a ventriloquist act at a theatre. No, I saw a video on YouTube,” says Max.

“I typed in ‘puppet’, watched a ventriloquist, watched some more, old and new, and I became obsessed with everything, from Paul Zerdin and Jeff Dunham to the earlier talents of Arthur Worsley and Ray Alan, who was the master technique-wise. Phenomenal.”

Max first acquired a monkey puppet when he was ten. “I named him Gordon and he stayed with  me as I developed routines, starting to do children’s parties when I was 12/13, in Farnham, after we’d moved from Scotland, where I’d lived from when I was four to 11,” he says.

“I grew up there watching acts at the Edinburgh Fringe every summer, which made me think ‘I could do this’. I used to do shows for my grandmother when my parents were out at work, and I did my first paid gig for £25 when I was 12 for old people in a hall at a New Year’s party.”

Max performed his ventriloquist act throughout his school years. “Yes, of course I was seen as an oddball as I was talking to myself, though comedy is a social survival mechanism for us oddballs,” he says.

“It meant I could entertain people and I’ve always loved making people laugh. Now I can be a professional oddball, and a professional twit is a good thing to be. I like being unusual!”

Max was still in the sixth form when he did his first pantomime in 2017. “I was just turning 18, and I’d just learned to drive and had to drive from Surrey to Lincolnshire, so that was a baptism of fire, as was doing pantomime, because it’s so full-on. It’s great fun but it demands a lot of hard work,” he says.

He has performed in panto each winter since that Spalding debut, taking him to Cambridge, Bromley and the Garrick Theatre in Lichfield last year. “We managed to do our rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk, but saw what was developing, so we did a film version that was then streamed online when the performances were cancelled,” Max says.

Thankfully, this winter, Fulham has been able to perform to the Max in Cinderella…until the Covid outbreak in the cast intervened, but now the show can go on again in the finishing straight.

Cinderella’s remaining performances at York Theatre Royal: Thursday, 2.30pm, 7pm; Friday, 11am, 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1pm, 5.30pm. Tickets are available for all shows on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

UPDATE at 1.55pm on December 30

EVERYONE from the Cinderella principal cast is back on stage today except for Sarah Leatherbarrow. Amy Hammond, from the ensemble, will deputise as the Fairy.

Guitarist and bass player Luke Gaul is the musical director in place of Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price. Christian Mortimer, from the ensemble, is missing too. All three absences are Covid-related.

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Cinderella at York Theatre Royal ****

Rev-olution: Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s ugly, brash, “aren’t-we-brilliant” sisters, Manky and Mardy, herald the new dawn for pantomime at York Theatre Royal. Oh, and yes, they are brilliant!

Cinderella, York Theatre Royal/Evolution Productions, runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THIS is a new age for the York Theatre Royal pantomime, both an Evolution and a revolution, and the earlier start and finish to the shorter production run is only part of the story.

On Tom Bird’s watch as chief executive, the Theatre Royal has decided to look to the future with a new pantomime broom ushered in by (kitchen maid) Cinderella after last year’s Covid-enforced detour into a Travelling Pantomime around the city wards.

Enough has been said of the toxic finale to Dame Berwick Kaler’s unique, unrepeatable era. Let’s focus, instead, on what’s rosy in the new panto garden, cultivated by the award-laden Evolution Productions’ partnership with the Theatre Royal.

Faye Campbell’s Cinderella and the ensemble in Cinderella

The seeds were sown with last winter’s witty, snappy, pretty, compact Travelling Pantomime, written by Evolution’s astute director, Paul Hendy, directed by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and choreographed with bags of character by Hayley Del Harrison.

This team re-assembles for Cinderella, bringing along two of last winter’s panto players, Faye Campbell, for the title role, and Robin Simpson, who switches from dame to a rumbustious double act with big, boisterous Paul Hawkyard as scary-bikers Ugly Sisters Manky and Mardy. The beards may have gone since the press launch day, but they are still unmistakably two blokes in shock-frocks.

Forster knew they had chemistry from playing two of the Rude Mechanicals – Hawkyard was Bottom, by the way – in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s riotous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream in York. Now they form a rouge-and-ready, rowdy partnership, each as funny as the other, with fabulously over-the-top couture, and their Strictly Come Dancing send-up of clunky, hair-in-their-eyes hosts Tess and Claudia is a scream.

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his very cheeky monkey, Gordon

Campbell, meanwhile, looks even more at home on the big stage than she did in the community halls and sports centres last December, with her radiant smile, family audience appeal, sassiness, dance moves and soulful voice for Cinderella.

Appealing to families has been put at the forefront of the Theatre Royal’s panto mission, and while that might seem obvious, given pantomime’s traditional audience, it does need bolstering to build a new following. Producer Hendy and director Forster have dipped into commercial panto’s usual resources, but not in a cloying way.

Ever-so-amiable Andy Day, from CBeebies, is a canny pick for Dandini, often a straight-bat role, but here full of fizz, playful humour and natural rapport. Likewise, ventriloquist Max Fulham arrives in York with a 2020 Great British Pantomime Award in his pocket for Best Speciality Act and a very cheeky monkey called Gordon on his arm, who says everything that Fulham is thinking but wouldn’t get away with uttering.

A shoe? Bless you. CBeebies’ Andy Day, centre, with Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and Max Fulham’s Buttons

Fulham, as fresh faced and dimple cheeked as Michael McIntyre, is a music-hall classicist yet inventive in his ventriloquism partners (not only Gordon, but a fly and a pedal bin too), and he is both quick thinking and dexterous, juggling four skills at once at one point. His Buttons shines from start to finish; a big future lies ahead of him.

Benjamin Lafayette has just made his professional bow after Mountview Academy as Othello at the Mill Theatre, Dublin. From such a heavyweight tragedy, he switches with handsome grace and charm to Prince Charming, a very contrasting role but one he plays with a lovely lightness of touch, matched by his singing.

Sarah Leatherbarrow’s forever-enthusiastic Fairy Godmother gleefully overcomes the impediment of her left leg being in a protective boot, with her rapper’s delight in her rhyming couplets, to complete a strong principal cast, highly individual yet good team players too.

Hop to it: Sarah Leatherbarrow’s Fairy Godmother, defying her protective boot

Hendy and Forster introduce a second speciality act, the Duo Fusion aerialists, to accompany Campbell and Lafayette’s romantic ballad to breathtaking effect; the climactic first-half transformation scene is spectacular, and only the opening and closing screen presence of an animal-loving, BBC Radio 2 presenter from Liverpool feels like an unnecessary concession to glitzy modern pantoland. The novel variation on the time-honoured ghost scene is far more rewarding.

Even with a running time of two hours 35 minutes (including the interval), there is not a wasted moment in Hendy’s script, with its combination of puns, social comment, romance, slapstick, knowing nods to panto tropes, crisp storytelling and sheer love of making you laugh. 

Forster’s direction enhances all these winning ingredients, full of pace, energy, visual delight and verbal dexterity, while Harrison’s choreography bursts with life, fun and even funkiness in a series of familiar pop songs, with the ensemble playing their part to the full.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions’ producer, director and writer Paul Hendy

Musical director Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price enjoys plenty of interplay with the cast, while guitarist Luke Gaul has his moment in the solo spotlight. Helga Wood’s costumes are at their best for the Ugly Sisters, except for the wobbly hats; Phil Daniels and Michelle Marden’s set designs are solidly reliable, rather than full of inventive originality or beauty, but that is mere background detail. 

Typified by the glorious chaos of Fulham, Simpson and Hawkyard’s Disney-picture slapstick routine,  everyone is having a ball in Cinderella, setting a high benchmark for 21st century pantomime at its best.

In another break with last-night tradition, we even know the name of next year’s Theatre Royal & Evolution panto collaboration already: Peter Pan. That one will surely fly too.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Romantic pursuit: Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming, accompanied by the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

York Theatre Royal and Evolution panto team raring to go with dynamic Cinderella

York Theatre Royal’s pantomime cast and ensemble arrive for the first day of rehearsals for Cinderella

AFTER last winter’s resourceful response to Covid restrictions with the Travelling Pantomime, York Theatre Royal’s panto returns to the main house for Cinderella from tomorrow (3/12/2021).

This will be the second co-production with the award-garlanded Evolution Productions, whose director and producer, Paul Hendy, has again written the script for Juliet Forster’s cast.

In the company will be CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini); Faye Campell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister) from the Travelling Pantomime cast; Paul Hawkyard (the other ugly Sister); comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham (Buttons); Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother).

“We’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time now,” says creative director Juliet Forster. “It feels very emotional to be working with a full cast, rehearsing back in the De Grey Rooms.

“We had a great time taking the Travelling Pantomime around the city last Christmas, but, oh my word, it’s just lovely to be back inside the theatre and to give a massive Theatre Royal welcome to Evolution.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolutions Productions’ Paul Hendy

After the exit of the gang of five, Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper, Martin Barrass and A J Powell, to the Grand Opera House, Forster’s pantomime cast has more of a diverse look, typical of her work. “I’ve almost always been able to do that with my casting because, in a lot of ways, I like to reflect the world we live in.

“For me, it’s more dynamic that way, and it was a policy with me before it became an Arts Council thing.”

Juliet believes the new Theatre Royal pantomime will appeal to a family audience and be marked by warmth. “That warmth will come from the performers, Paul’s script and from myself directing it,” she says.

“That’s not something you can manufacture. You have to feel it and encourage it, and the number one thing I learned from doing the Travelling Pantomime was the need to work with a cast that’s really funny and warm. When you get that mixture, you have a wonderful bond with the audience.”

Juliet adds: “I learned a lot from last year’s show being my first panto. Even though I’d done a lot of children’s shows, comedies and farces, pantomime is very much its own form, and I acquired a lot of respect for Paul’s panto-writing skills.

Andy Day: From CBeebies to Cinderella . Picture: Ant Robling

“The other thing I learned, and another big reason for wanting to do it again, was Hayley Del Harrison’s choreography, which was so playful and individual. I loved how she worked with each cast member really individually to bring out their character in their dancing.

“Hayley is back this year, and we’re doing more of that way of working – and we have the ensemble back too. Again, it was a big learning curve for me that dance can not only be beautiful and spectacular in panto but playful and fun too, and that’s something Hayley really brings out.”

Writer-producer Paul Hendy is delighted by the casting too. “It’s not by accident,” he says. “It’s done with this in mind: more than anything we want to appeal to a family audience. That’s my driving force.

“The cast must have that appeal; they must be talented, and they have to have that youthful energy to make the audience go, ‘wow, this is a great show, a different show from the norm’, mixing those qualities with spectacle and comedy. They’re all the ingredients that make a good panto.”

Paul acknowledges the “big reputation” of York Theatre Royal’s pantomime built up over Berwick Kaler’s four-decade damehood. “It’s very significant. Berwick helped to really establish York as a pantomime city, and we will carry that on but with a different flavour. I have every confidence in what we do, and we think people will say, ‘oh yes, we love this show too’,” he says.

York Theatre Royal’s pantomime cast members at the September launch day for Cinderella. Picture: Ant Robling

“There is definitely room for two large-scale pantomimes in this city. People will come and see this show for what it is, done with a lot of love and care, done in a bespoke way for York audiences. If people want high quality, they will enjoy this show.”

After the positive response to the Travelling Pantomime, audiences can expect more of the same, but more of it!  “I was so pleased and proud to be associated with last year’s show. Cinderella will be in that style but on a much bigger scale, with that humour, that spirit, that connectivity with the audience.

“It’s also ‘meta-theatre’ with a knowing awareness to it: it’s that thing of everyone knowing it’s not just Andy Day playing Dandini, but it’s Andy Day from CBeebies playing Dandini. It works better when everyone knows it.”

The last word goes to Juliet, who says: “It feels right to start the new era at the Theatre Royal with Evolution with Cinderella, the best known of all pantomimes, but also a pantomime without a dame, to give the transition time, not wanting someone to have to step into Berwick’s shoes straightaway, out of respect for him, but with a gradual progression to the future in mind.”

Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (3/12/2021) to January 2. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Dickens tales, dames and Damon drop in. List No. 59, courtesy of The Press, York

What the Dickens? Yes, James Swanton is reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas at York Medical Society

FROM boyish Boris to Dame Edna, Christmas concerts to panto dames, Dickensian ghost stories to solo Damon, Charles Hutchinson has highlights aplenty to recommend.   

Dickensian Christmas in York: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, on various dates between December 2 and 13, 7pm

AFTER the silent nights of last December, York gothic actor supreme James Swanton is gleefully reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas performances of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Haunted Man and The Chimes.

“I’ve scheduled extra performances of A Christmas Carol: the perfect cheering antidote, I feel, to the misery we’ve all been through,” says Swanton. “But the two lesser-known stories are also very relevant to our times.”

A reduced capacity is operating for Covid safety, meaning that tickets are at a premium on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Boris: World King, under debate at Theatre@41

Political debate of the week: Boris: World King, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE year is 1985 and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has plenty going for him, being young, posh and really rather blond. However, his efforts to become President of the Oxford Union debating society have been thwarted.

Never fear. Boris always has a cunning plan up his sleeve. Cue time travel, classical allusions and good clean banter in Boris: World King, Tom Crawshaw’s comedic exploration of a young man’s ambition and humanity explored as a half-hour one-man show. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Richard Kay: Co-directing York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir’s Christmas concerts

Harmony at Christmas: York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Citadel Singers, Christmas Traditions 2021, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, Tuesday to Friday, doors 7pm

AFTER delivering an online Christmas concert via Zoom to an international audience in 2020, York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir return to live concerts for Christmas Traditions 2021.

The Citadel allows room for cabaret seating downstairs and balcony seating that can ensure safe distancing is maintained, while the show retains its format of carols old and new, Christmas songs, festive readings and sketches. Box office: arkevent.co.uk/christmastraditions2021.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s night at the double at York Minster

York gig(s) of the week: Damon Albarn, York Minster, Thursday, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

DAMON Albarn quickly added a second special intimate album-launch show at York Minster after the first was fully booked in a flash.

The Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader now plays two sold-out concerts in one night in his first ever York performances, marking the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Albarn, 53, has been on a “dark journey” making this album in lockdown, exploring themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Martyn Joseph: Lockdown reflections on landmark birthday on new album, showcased in concert at Pocklington Arts Centre concert

Gig of the week outside York: Martyn Joseph, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

“THE Welsh Springsteen”, singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, will be showcasing his 23rd studio album, 1960, a “coming of age” record with a difference, in Pocklington.

Last year, amid the isolation of the pandemic, Penarth-born Joseph turned 60 on July 15, a landmark birthday, a time of self-reflection, that shaped his songs of despair and sadness, gratitude and wonder, and gave the album its title. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Alistair Griffin: Series of Big Christmas Concerts in York

Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 3 (sold out) and December 10, 8pm; Alistair Griffin’s Candlelit Christmas, Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, December 11, 8pm

ON December 3 and 10, a brass band greets revellers, then York singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert takes a musical journey from acoustic traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues. “Sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York,” says Griffin’s invitation.

On December 11, he switches from St Michael-le-Belfrey to a candle-lit Holy Trinity Church. “Take a seat, or in this case, a medieval pew and soak in the festive atmosphere,” he says. Cue mulled wine, Christmas tunes, acoustic festive numbers and a Christmas carol singalong. Box office: alistairgriffin.com.

York playwright Mike Kenny: New production of The Railway Children with his award-winning script at Hull Truck

On the right track show of the week outside York: The Railway Children, Hull Truck Theatre, running until January 2

YORK playwright Mike Kenny has revisited his award-winning adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children – first staged so memorably by York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum – for Hull Truck’s Christmas musical.

Directed by artistic director Mark Babych in the manner of his Oliver Twist and Peter Pan shows of Christmases past, original music and dance routines complement Kenny’s storytelling in this warm-hearted, uplifting tale of hope, friendship and family, set in Yorkshire. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

Faye Campbell: Brushing up on playing Cinderella in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, opening on Friday

Evolution, not revolution, in pantoland: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, December 3 to January 2

YORK Theatre Royal’s post-Berwick era began last year with the Travelling Pantomime, establishing the partnership of Evolution Pantomimes’ man with the Midas touch, Paul Hendy, as writer and Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster as director.

After the 2020 road show, here comes the full-scale return to the main house for Cinderella, starring CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini), last winter’s stars Faye Campbell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister), Paul Hawkyard (the other Sister), ventriloquist comedian Max Fulham (Buttons), Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Unmasked: Barry Humphries tells all at the Grand Opera House, York next April

Hottest ticket launch of the week: Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask, Grand Opera House, York, April 13 2022

AUSTRALIAN actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure Barry Humphries will play only one Yorkshire show on his 2022 tour, here in York.

Set to turn 88 on February 17, he will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of alter egos Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. Hurry, hurry, for tickets on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Who’s who in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Cinderella? Meet the cast…

O, happy Day: CBeebies presenter Andy Day will play Dandini in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

CBEEBIES presenter Andy Day will be joined by Travelling Pantomime familiar faces Robin Simpson and Faye Campbell for York Theatre Royal’s homecoming pantomime, Cinderella.

Presented in tandem with perennial panto award winners Evolution Productions, creative director Juliet Forster’s production will run from December 3 to January 2: an earlier start, shorter run and much earlier last night than past main-house pantos.

Day, who will play Dandini, joined CBeebies in 2007, since when he has presented animal and nature programmes, whether tackling dinosaurs, investigating baby animals and going on safari.

Sister act: After his Dame Trott in the Travelling Pantomime, Robin Simpson will be back in York as one of the sourpuss Sisters

Nominated for a Children’s BAFTA award for best presenter in 2009, he has pantomime history, appearing in the CBeebies annual televised panto, as well as playing the Genie in Aladdin, Dandini in Cinderella, Muddles in Snow White and Billy Goose in Mother Goose.

Day is no stranger to director Forster, by the way, having been in the cast for her 50-minute CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, screened on April 2 and available subsequently on BBC iPlayer.

Day fronts his own live band, Andy And The Odd Socks, who once again will be launching Odd Socks Day for Anti-Bullying Week in schools up and down the country alongside the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a charity for whom Andy is a patron.

Look who’s back: Faye Campbell moves on from The Hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime to the title role in Cinderella this winter

Faye Campbell will take the title role in Cinderella after playing The Hero in Jack And The Beanstalk and Dick Whittington in the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 16 York wardslast December.

Actor-storyteller Robin Simpson will be returning too, following up his Dame Trott last winter on the back of a three-year damehood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. For Cinderella, he will form an (Ugly) Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard.

Comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham, set to shine as Buttons, has played leading comedy roles in pantomimes throughout the UK, being voted Best Speciality Act in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards for his Washee in Aladdin at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. 

Award-winning ventriloquist Max Fulham: Making his York Theatre Royal debut as Buttons

Fulham has created his own comedy series, Drivel Pedlar, for his You Tube channel. Next summer, he will head to Australia to play Muddles in Snow White at the new Sydney Coliseum.

Forster’s cast for the first main-house Theatre Royal pantomime since the Dame Berwick Kaler reign will be completed by Benjamin Lafayette’sPrince Charming and Sarah Leatherbarrow’sFairy Godmother.

Written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy, the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella will relocate the timeless rags-to-riches story to York, as the stage “comes to sparkling life with magical transformations, glittering sets, stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Sister double act: Paul Hawkyard as the other Sister, teaming up with Robin Simpson in Cinderella

Audiences should expect a ”brand-new pantomime for everyone with the promise of a truly epic spectacle and heaps of hilarity”, directed by Forster, who was at the helm of both the Travelling Pantomime’s tour of community venues and this summer’s Around The World The World In 80 Days, her circus-themed adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel that visited four York school playing fields in 16 days before a Theatre Royal finale last week.

Chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’re over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York – one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much.

“The phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella, set with pride in our amazing city.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer and writer Paul Hendy

Evolution Productions, started by Emily Wood and Hendy in 2005, have built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and highly humorous scripts. Two-time winners of Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards, they are the team behind Sheffield Theatres’ “extraordinarily successful” panto at the Lyceum Theatre.

Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on Cinderella. We’re huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast and a genuinely funny script.”

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

What did we learn from York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime roadshow?

Robin Simpson’s dame and Reuben Johnson’s villain in far-from-subtle disguise in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Ant Robling

YORK Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime has been brought to a sudden stop by the Spectre of Christmas Present: the rapid rise in Covid cases in York.

Nevertheless, despite the loss of four post-Christmas shows this week, the decision to go on the road to as many of York’s 21 wards as possible has been vindicated.

Creative director Juliet Forster’s cast of Josh Benson’s rubber-bodied comic turn, Reuben Johnson’s Meerkat-accented villain, Anna Soden’s bass-playing funky fairy, Faye Campbell’s assertive hero and Robin Simpson’s droll dame played to full house after full house.

Despite no recorded transmission of the virus at any performance from December 2 to 23, the Theatre Royal has ruled the show must not go on, foregoing the resumption of its 70-minutes-straight-through, socially distanced touring production, having initially added a handful of post-Christmas shows.

Exit stage left too early, but we still learnt that Josh “Just Joshing” Benson, pocket-dynamo York magician, clown, comic, actor and children’s entertainer, is a natural fit for the silly billy/daft lad role. No magic tricks this time, but that skill is up his sleeve for the future.

Likewise, Robin Simpson’s dame, less outwardly demonstrative but more subtly sophisticated than the average panto man in a dress, is utterly comfortable, cheekily conspiratorial and joyful in the most revered of all pantomime parts.

Victory: Faye Campbell’s hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Ant Robling

So far, so good, but the still-blossoming Josh is tied into a contract as the Viaduct Theatre’s pantomime comic turn in Halifax, after making his debut there in Beauty And The Beast last winter, while Robin lives in Huddersfield, where he is bedded in as the Lawrence Batley Theatre’s dame. Both are set to return to fruitful past pastures next winter.

Johnson, York actor Soden and Campbell all made their mark too in shows blessed with terrific scripts by Paul Hendy, the award-winning co-founder of Evolution Productions, the Theatre Royal’s new partner in pantomime.

The handing-over of the panto baton after last winter’s toxic severance from Berwick Kaler’s 41-year venerated damehood should have seen the triumvirate of Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, creative director Juliet Forster and Evolution director, producer and writer Paul Hendy presenting Cinderella on the main-house stage.

However, the pestilent Coronavirus pandemic cancelled invitations to the ball, after the St Leonard’s Place building was cast into darkness on March 16. Lockdown 1 and ever-changing rules ensued but in mid-September, the panto trio made the decision to take theatre to the people in the form of the pop-up Travelling Pantomime.

Each location, ranging from church halls to community centres, the Theatre Royal pop-up stage to social clubs and sports halls, had to be Covid-secure, adhering to Government guidance for staging socially distanced performances with capacities ranging from 35 to 50.

At each show, the audience members could vote for whether they wanted to see Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk or Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

“The one thing I always want to do is bring joy,” says Evolution Productions’ Paul Hendy, writer of York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Ant Robling

Hendy switched smoothly to this new writing task, for a cast of five, with no dance ensemble and no house band: just another challenge faced by Evolution Productions, who have still been involved in seven pantomime productions in this Covid-compromised year.

“In a strange way, I quite enjoyed Lockdown, time with the kids, and not the constant pressure of putting on shows; just the contrast of going out and listening to the birds,” says Paul.

Once the path ahead became clearer, although still shrouded in uncertainty, he and Evolution set to work on co-producing six shows, along with Paul providing the York scripts and directing Dick Whittington, The Pompey Panto at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth.

From Operation Sleeping Beauty to Nurse Nanny Saves Panto to Damian Saves Panto, Paul penned a series of one-off new shows attuned to Covid times, while his York scripts sought to bottle and preserve the essence of pantomime.

“Awaiting the Government pandemic update on December 16, all we could do was roll with it, go ahead and start rehearsals – which qualified as ‘going to work’ and set about our aim to save pantomime,” says Paul.

“It doesn’t feel fair that the Government can say, ‘No, you can’t go ahead’, when there’s no evidence there’s been an outburst of Covid after theatres reopened with social distancing, especially as a lot of theatres have spent a lot of money on the infrastructure to make theatres a safe place to go, but what can we do?

Travelling players: Robin Simpson’s dame, Faye Campbell’s hero, Reuben Johnson’s villain, Anna Soden’s fairy and Josh Benson’s comic in the York Theatre Royal pantomime roadshow

“But then the pandemic is not fair on anyone in all sorts of industries, and that’s why, at this time, people needed pantomime more than ever.”

Thankfully, York’s Tier 2 status ensured that the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime could roll out across York with Hendy’s scripts built around the baddie trying to steal the essence of pantomime. “The shows had to be full of laughter, community spirit and topical gags, as there’s so much material there this year,” he says.

Paul relished the opportunity to take pantomime into all manner of venues. “I’ve always said that pantomime can work in a black-box setting with just five actors because of that compact configuration and connection with the audience, and this year that’s what’s happened,” he says.

“It still works because pantomime is an interactive theatre genre – and how many other forms of theatre can you say appeal to five year olds and 95 year olds alike?”

One emotion above all others permeated through Paul’s pantos. “The one thing I always want to do is bring joy, make it funny of course, but ultimately make it a show driven by joy – and we did that,” he says. 

Josh Benson and Robin Simpson may not be back in Theatre Royal colours next winter, but Paul Hendy most definitely will, when Cinderella and York alike will have a ball.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Theatre Royal’s travelling show for the people rescues the essence of panto

Switched on at all times: Robin Simpson’s joke-generation dame lights up York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime. All pictures: Ant Robling

REVIEW: York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, New Earswick Folk Hall, York, 5/12/2020

NO Rolling Stones show goes by without rock’n’roll’s greatest paleontological survivor, Keith Richards, leaning into his microphone to mumble: “It’s good to be here…it’s good to be anywhere”.

Lo and behold, “It’s great to be here…it’s kind of great to be anywhere,” says York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime’s comic turn, Josh “Just Joshing” Benson, at the outset of Saturday evening’s Covid-secure, socially distanced, temperature-tested, bubble-seated pantomime.

How right he is. Saturday was day four of the new dawn of the York Theatre Royal pantomime, the  first after 40 years in the wildness of the Dame Berwick Kaler era. Until Covid-19 became the joyless new villain, out to destroy the land of theatre, Cinderella was to have marked the transition from Kaler capers to a new partnership with regular Great British Pantomime Award winners Evolution Productions.

On his knees but not for long: York Theatre Royal’s inexhaustible pantomime comic turn Josh Benson

When invitations to the ball turned to cinders, chief executive Tom Bird, creative director Juliet Forster and Evolution writer-director Paul Hendy decided to tear up the script and compose three new ones instead to take the panto to the people.

Hence it is indeed great to be here, there and everywhere, because, while the Theatre Royal main stage awaits resuscitation in 2021, the Travelling Pantomime will definitely be pitching up at 16 of York’s 21 wards, possibly more if Covid-safe passage can yet be guaranteed to others. At least four more shows are being lined up for after Christmas and a recording of the second-night preview will be made available for streaming soon too.

On Saturday, New Earswick Folk Hall was transformed into a theatre for the first time, creating an impromptu stage with Hannah Sibai’s red-curtained, green-framed travelling theatre frontage and a traditional pantomime backdrop.

It’s all about the bass: York Theatre Royal’s multi-tasking fairy, singing captain and musician Anna Soden

Everything is slimmed down – a cast of five, no ensemble, no live band, no interval, no panto cow, but less just means being more inventive and cramming so much into what we are told will be an hour but stretches gladly well beyond.

Edinburgh Fringe shows work to tight running times, and quality, not quantity, rules here too. To Paul Hendy, that means bottling up the “the essence of panto” and right now, in Covid-19 2020, that essence is Joy.

Once we are introduced not just to Just Josh’s rubber-bodied comic, but also Robin Simpson’s classic dame, Faye Campbell’s modern hero, super-tall Reuben Johnson’s villain and Anna Soden’s trumpet/guitar/bass-playing fairy, we must vote for our choice of show: Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk or Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Seven dwarves, note; there is a knock-out joke a’coming.

Hitting the Jack-pot: Faye Campbell’s super hero in Jack And The Beanstalk

Jack won out on Saturday: Josh becoming, well, Josh, with the daftest streak of blond in his hair since Kevin Petersen pummelled 158 against Australia with a skunk plonked on his bonce in 2005. He is a lovably daft ball of energy, cheeky but not saucy, and if he kept his magic tricks up his sleeve this time, what an asset for the future.

Simpson, on loan from Huddersfield’s  Lawrence Batley Theatre, is the penniless but pun-full, mirthful Dame Trott, reaching for both a cuppa and the gin; Johnson, all in black with a dash of red to match his Russian accent, is a Flesh Creep with an amusingly dismissive air and a mischievous hint of Borat.

Campbell’s Jack must fight the old prejudices against girls being fit for purpose for heroic tasks while keeping the name Jack. Soden’s rapping, funky, blue and pink-haired Fairy is more likely to hit the bass line than wave a wand, as flashy as her lit-up boots.

Kill-joy: Reuben Johnson’s Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk

Juliet Forster directs with momentum, brio and thrills rather than frills, complemented by Hayley Del Harrison’s fun, compact choreography and musical director James Harrison’s rapid-fire bursts of high-energy songs.

Yes, there is a beanstalk and a Giant called Pundemic. Above all, York Theatre Royal have hit the jackpot with Paul Hendy’s script-writing prowess, love of a double-act routine and a knowingly contrived, convoluted path to a pay-off line.

He handles the pandemic crisis with a success rate to make the Government jealous, throwing in topical references galore with witty, often unpredictable Pandemime punchlines, but nothing insensitive in such traumatic times.

Writer Paul Hendy: Bottling the essence of pantomime, labelled with joy

A magazine title slapstick to-and-fro between Benson and Simpson is already a contender for panto scene of the year, and if there are jokes for adults, Hendy favours a Gilbert O’Sullivan song title, rather than adult material or in-jokes.

Pantomime 1, Pandemic 0, the Travelling Pantomime triumphs on its already sold-out run to December 23. Hendy will be back next winter for the full Evolution to roll out; Benson is due to return to the Victoria Theatre panto in Halifax next Christmas, alas, but his Theatre Royal day will surely come, even if he can’t magic his way out of that one.

Review by Charles Hutchinson