Life and death, monologues and music in Big Ian’s The Missing Peace at the JoRo. Watch out for narrator Mark Addy too

The Missing Peace director Gemma McDonald and writer Ian Donaghy outside the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

NOBODY thought this morning when they turned the key in the door lock, “well, that’ll be the last time I’ll see you.”

So begins the book The Missing Peace: Creating A Life After Death, written by York musician, author, charity event organiser and motivational conference speaker Ian Donaghy, now adapted for the stage by Rowntree Players performer and York teacher Gemma McDonald and Big Ian himself.

Gemma could not help but imagine a book she loved so much transferring to the stage, and so she and Rowntree Players pantomime co-writer and director Howard Ella approached Ian with the idea.

“The Missing Peace lends itself beautifully to the stage and also allows an opportunity for actors of all ages to highlight their talents with heart-breaking and heart-warming monologues,” she says. “It’s a very different, original and powerful production.”

Billed as “One play…fifteen endings”, The Missing Peace will run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from January 27 to 29, after the first Covid lockdown ruled out its original run last April, since when half the cast has changed.

Graham Smith in rehearsal for The Missing Peace. Picture: Duncan Lomax

Thankfully, Mark Addy, York star of The Full Monty, Game Of Thrones and White House Farm, had recorded his part as the Station Announcer narrator, ahead of heading to New York last year to appear in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s Hangman.

Taking part on stage will be Mandy Newby; Sarah Howlett; Mark McDonald; Gemma McDonald; Joseph Paul; Beth Hutchinson; Alison Taylor; Hannah Wood; Graham Smith; Liam Godfrey; Caitlin Banks; Maggie Smales and busker Pete Hyndman, who will weave all the monologues together.

Big Ian recalls the original reason for writing The Missing Peace. “So many friends were losing grandparents, parents, siblings, friends and even children and I realised people did not know how to help or support them,” he says.

“People would say things like, ‘Don’t call Paul…his Mum’s just died’. Surely that’s exactly why you should call or at least send a text to say you are there any time for him.

“Based on real-life stories, many of them from interviews conducted in York, the book was written to show how people can somehow survive losing the people they love the most and how they can support others – and don’t underestimate the impact of losing a family pet, either. Expect the unexpected. The shared experience of short stories of survival and monologues are there to spark the conversation and show that you are not alone.”

Mark Addy: Recorded narrator for The Missing Peace

Big Ian and Gemma cherry-picked 15 of the monologues. “We chose a mixture of length, style, with different messages for the audience to take away: some heart-breaking, some heart-warming and a couple, light-hearted,” he says.

“Gemma came up with a brilliant idea to set it in York railway station. From the start to the finish of the one-act play, it flows from one voice in a crowd to another. Mark’s narration and Pete performing original songs will glue the monologues together.”

Gemma says: “I read the book back in 2019 and found it encapsulating. I was engrossed in each story and went through a series of emotions while reading it. I realised I’d never thought about grieving in the way in which some of the monologues suggested and I felt that it really helped me to consider others’ perspectives and the different way people deal with death.”

The stories have “adapted easily” to the stage, she says. “I wanted to create the feeling that we are all in our own world and living our own lives and very rarely do we really look closely at others’ lives, especially in relation to life after death and the grieving process that we have all been through at some stage in our lives,” reflects Gemma.

Explaining the choice of monologues, Big Ian says: “We wanted to get a mix. It’s not a play about dying; it’s about living and celebrating life, so we chose the ones to best reflect that.

Mark McDonald and Gemma McDonald in the rehearsal room. Picture: Duncan Lomax

“The overarching theme is that we should be there for one another. We are all broken biscuits. We can either dwell on our cracks alone or make the best cheesecake in the world together.

“On stage, The Missing Peace is not so much a play as a patchwork of friendship and survival. Bring tissues but you will also laugh in places as humour can be found in the darkest of places.”

Donaghy’s writing, whether in The Missing Peace or his lockdown follow-up, A Pocketful Of Kindness, has drawn praise from Barnsley bard Ian McMillan; Emmerdale actor and regular tweeter Reece Dinsdale; York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, who loves the “northern heartbeat” in his his fellow North Easterner’s stories, and The League Of Gentlemen co-creator Mark Gatiis, who devoured the “wonderful and inspirational” book
in a night without going to bed.

“If you’ve lost someone and have felt alone – as many do – these ‘talking heads’ monologues look at loss from so many viewpoints to help you help you and others when grieving,” says Big Ian.

Mandy Newby, who will be performing one of the monologues in The Missing Peace. Picture: Duncan Lomax

“To have The Missing Peace go from page to stage is going to challenge people’s thinking and start conversations. On opening night, I will have a dream come true that I never realised I had. Writing has opened up some many new doors.”

Gemma adds: “I hope the audience will get an insight into the different ways people grieve and how to deal with certain situations. There are moments of sadness, laughter and reflection throughout, and the actors capture this beautifully.”

The pandemic toll has added even more resonance to The Missing Peace. “It was never the hope to make this play more and more relevant,” says Big Ian. “But during the pandemic, families have had loved ones vanish, not die. Gone without a goodbye. Gone without holding a hand. A story with the last pages ripped out, denied by a virus.”

What is the best piece of wisdom Big Ian has been given to deal with grief? “Be strong for no-one,” he says. “Do whatever you need to do at any point to get you through the hardest challenges life can throw at you. Remember that you are made of bits of the person you have lost.”

Beth Hutchinson rehearsing her monologue. Picture: Duncan Lomax

As rehearsals progress, he takes pride in Made In York running through the core of The Missing Peace. “It’s a big deal! It’s not the merry-go-round of same old plays. It’s not Fiddler On The  Roof or Annie. It isn’t a musical, though it features four original songs,” says Big Ian.

“Rarely will York be so well represented in a production: York actors; York production company; York set designers; York play written by a man who has made York his home about people who live in York.”

What might happen next to The Missing Peace? “I can’t say just yet but it is very exciting,” he promises. Watch this space.

Rowntree Players in The Missing Peace, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 27 to 29, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. All profits will be split between St Leonard’s Hospice and Bereaved Children Support York.

Copyright of The Press, York

Review: Rowntree Players in Dick Whittington, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday

“Let’s remember what it feels like to come together to sing, to dance, to perform, to laugh,” enthuses Rowntree Players’ pantomime director, Howard Ella

FIRST came the announcement: “In the interests of everyone’s safety, please ensure masks are worn at all times”.

“Ensure”. Good word, that one, stopping all the wishee-washeeness that has prevailed so far, when there is a new variant in town.

Major London theatres are making masks compulsory (for all but children); York theatres really should be singing from the same panto song-sheet too. Anything that helps to keeps theatres open is not an unreasonable request to make.

Hannah King’s Dick Whittington and the ensemble in Rowntree Players’ Dick Whittington

Rant over. If masks are one emblem of pantomime-in-pandemic times, it is comforting to have familiarity too. Look at the sign in Rowntree Theatre’s London street scene: Ivor Leak, Plumber. Ho, ho.

Or look at the cubs and brownies filling row after row at the JoRo, bouncing up and down on their seats on a Monday night. It was ever thus at this community show.

“Let’s make the most of it and remember what it feels like to come together to sing, to dance, to perform, to laugh,” says director Howard Ella in his programme notes. How right he is.

Belting performance: Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren

Perish the thought that any theatre should ever rehash an old pantomime script – no names, no pack drill – but Rowntree Players have every right to revisit Ella and regular co-writer Andy Welch’s Dick Whittington, last year’s cancelled panto. Now it is the equivalent of a Christmas pudding becoming all the richer for having had to be put back in the larder for a year.

Hannah King’s resourceful, sprightly Dick Whittington and the ensemble set the tone with the opening Here I Am, establishing the Yorkshireman abroad in London Town vibe, grappling with a strange place of rhyming slang and “Oy, oy, Saveloy”.

Ami Carter’s choreography is superb throughout, knitting principal actors, principal dancers and the young team together so assuredly, and she hits her stride early in Money, marking Martyn Hunter’s return to the Rowntree panto ranks as mayoral candidate and rodent villain King Rat as he leads this irresistible number from Cabaret with panache.

In the pit: Musical director Jessica Douglas, centre, and guitarist Georgia Johnson

The song-and-dance list will go on to draw heavily on musicals, some well-known, some rather less so (Love Is Your Legs, from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, for example), but all well chosen and delivered with musical-theatre oomph by musical director Jessica Douglas’s band.

Pantomimes need to combine the tried and tested with the fresh, and here Ella’s regular trouble-making comedy double act of Graham Smith’s saucy, head-strong, sometimes brusque dame, Dora Di Sorderlie, and Gemma McDonald’s daft, accident-prone, lovable, ginger-nutted Duncan Di Sorderlie, must play hapless security guards at Alderman Fitzwarren’s bank. 

Their verbal interplay is always a joy, their physical slapstick peaking as they are drenched in coins, but to be pernickety, on occasion they could pick up the pace a tad, especially in the long first half.

Rat-a-tat-tat: Martyn Hunter’s King Rat and Mary-Louise Surgenor’s Ratatouille in a musical number in Dick Whittington

One stretched-out discussion between Hunter’s King Rat and Mary-Louise Surgenor’s sidekick Ratatouille had the cubs and brownies fidgeting, but otherwise this is a second partnership of highly experienced principals that clicks, albeit Hunter could have had a more poisonous bite to his ratty demeanour.

Company stalwart Geoff Walker’s Alderman Fitzwarren is suitably avuncular and the show’s knockout vocal award goes to singing teacher Ellie Watson for a belting My Hero in the role of Alice Fitzwarren.

Bernie Calpin’s sassy Kit the Cat is an unusually chatty moggie and all the better for it, when so often Dick’s companion merely meows.

Gemma McDonald’s Duncan Di Sorderlie and Mary-Louise Surgenor’s Daisy duetting on Love Is Your Legs

Adding to the pleasure are the uncredited set designs, and even more so the costumes, especially for Smith’s dame (look out for the Chocolate Whip!).

Smith relishes one joke in particular. When McDonald’s Duncan talks of “not making a scene” after losing a job as a set builder, the dame waspishly adds: “Unlike someone”. Who could Graham possibly mean?!

Rowntree Players present Dick Whittington at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until December 11, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Saturday. Ticket availability: tonight and Friday, widest choice; Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday night, limited; Saturday matinee, last few. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. 

Shocking pink: Graham Smith in saucy mode as Dame Dora Di Sorderlie

Review by Charles Hutchinson

‘Excited isn’t the word!’ says director Howard Ella as Rowntree Players prepare to open Dick Whittington on panto return

Rowntree Players’ principal cast members: Gemma McDonald’s Duncan, left, Hannah King’s Dick Whittington, Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren, Graham Smith’s Dame Dora and Martyn Hunter’s King Rat

DICK Whittington had to turn round and rest up for a year when Rowntree Players’ 2020 show was cancelled by Covid.

Now, however, Dick and his cat  will be on the road from York to London from Saturday (4/12/2021), when the Players take to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre stage with director Howard Ella and co-writer Andy Welch’s pantomime.

Joining Hannah King’s Dick Whittington in the cast will be Graham Smith’s Dame Dora; Gemma McDonald’s Duncan; Martyn Hunter’s King Rat; Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Ratatouille; Geoff Walker’s Alderman Fitzwarren; Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren and Bernie Calpin’s Kit The Cat.

Howard and Andy first wrote the script remotely, via a satellite link, before the 2020 show was called off. “Socially distanced writing – that was a challenge,” says Howard. “I work away a lot so there had always been an element of remote collaboration, but this was full on.

“What was missing was the ability to read and act as we wrote without a satellite delay. That one-second delay kills humour stone dead, so there was a lot of writing on instinct. Then we had to shelve the script. Totally gutting.”

Roll on a year and out came the script again. “What was great was to lift it out a year later, read it with fresh eyes and still enjoy it,” says Howard. “What’s most strange is that it really demonstrated the stasis we have been in.  It still felt relevant, if only because so much of our world of Covid and politics did not change.

“Of course, once we start blocking with the cast, then the gags change and everyone throws in their bit.”

Comedy writing as a duo, in the tradition of Galton & Simpson and Le Frenais & Clement, works well for the Players’ pantos. “I’ve written on my own and with both Barry [former dame Barry Benson] and Andy on different panto years,” says Howard.

“It’s exciting as you can bounce off each other and try things out before anyone else ever sees the script. The trick in making that writing partnership work is honesty and trust. When you don’t find something funny, when it’s not quite good enough, you have to say so and in a clear way.

Hannah King’s Dick Whittington is ready to set off from York to London in Rowntree Players’ Dick Whittington

“If you’re on the other end of the criticism, that’s where the trust kicks in. You trust you partner’s judgement and screw up the page. Sometimes tough, but you have to see it as collaboration, not compromise.”

This year’s cast is down in size by a couple of principals. “But that was story driven,” reasons Howard. “We wrote the script in early 2020 assuming Covid would drift past, so, in reality, there’s no compromises there. The script has the cast it always needed.

“That said, our chorus numbers are slightly lower to facilitate sensible spacing in dressing rooms and to deal with the [pandemic-enforced] practicalities, like not being able to share costumes between teams.”

Adapting to Covid restrictions has created extra challenges both in rehearsal and at the JoRo theatre. “We’ve had mask wearing and sanitising and spacing where we can,” says Howard.

“Everyone has been on different testing regimes through work and school, and they have been ever changing. Also, there’s double jabs where possible (and some of us oldies are boosted too!)

“What’s great is that the Joseph Rowntree Theatre is aligned with all the guidelines and so we’ve worked together, more than ever, to make it as safe as possible for everyone, both backstage and in the audience.

“But in reality we’re in the lap of the gods. From here on in, we put on a great show and hope that we all stay healthy. Otherwise, I’ll be picking up a script and donning a frock!”

As the first night approaches, what’s the mood in the camp?  “Excited isn’t the word!  We have missed the community aspect so much – and you only realise the strength of bond between the Rowntree Players company when it hasn’t been there and we all get back together.

“Stepping into the theatre on Sunday for the get-in, seeing all those familiar, yet strangely masked, faces was a delight. We haven’t done this for two years but it’s all come flooding back.

Rowntree Players’ Gemma McDonald, Hannah King, Ellie Watson, Martyn Hunter and Graham Smith dress in pantomime character on a day out at Murton Park, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, near York

“In the company, we have a lot of returning cast and chorus, which has really helped us to short-cut through both Covid and a slightly curtailed rehearsal period because we slotted in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web in September, having delayed that production three times.

“Martyn Hunter has returned to the panto fold after a few years away and he’s done so with gusto, as has Bernie Calpin as Kit the Cat.”

Balancing work commitments with rehearsals, Howard is delighted to be bringing Dick Whittington to the stage. “At its heart, Dick Whittington has traditional pantomime roots. That’s what I love. We try and make every pantomime relevant, recognise how the world is changing and represent it in our own way.  

“But underneath all good pantomimes is a tale of right and wrong with a love story in the background and the freedom to be silly in between.

“I’ve also always liked the reminder that nowhere’s streets are paved with gold and that generally you have to work hard and you get out what you put in,” he says, “channelling his inner Yorkshireman”.

Saturday’s opening show will be emotional for cast and audience alike, given the sense of community at the core of all the Players’ work. “Everything we do at Rowntree Players aims to be inclusive of anyone who wants to take part,” says Howard, who is presenting Dick Whittington in tandem with choreographer Ami Carter, musical director Jess Douglas and production manager Helen Woodall.

“There’s a real commitment, there’s a pride in being involved with such an old society returning to the theatre where they started.

“The joy for any audience comes from the cast and their joy in being part of a production. We get so much pleasure from our hobby, we laugh an enormous amount, and I think that enjoyment flows over the pit and into the auditorium in everything we do.”

Rowntree Players present Dick Whittington at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, December 4 to 11. Performances: 7.30pm, except Sunday; 2pm matinees, Saturday, Sunday and next Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

REVIEW: : Rowntree Players in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, ends tomorrow

Jake Botterell as Oliver Costello in Rowntree Players’ modern-day account of Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web

Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

AGATHA Christie wrote Spider’s Web at the request of its star turn, Margaret Lockwood, during West End rehearsals for Witness For The Prosecution.

Now, director Howard Ella has “re-written” Christie’s 1954 murder mystery for Rowntree Players’ return to the stage after the pandemic hiatus.

More accurately, he has updated Christie’s manor-house setting of Copplestone Court to 2021, with cultural references to Harry Syles, Daniel Radcliffe and the local Aldi, a Nike bag and trainers for dodgy Oliver Costello and a photographic portrait of lady of the house Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, rather than an austere oil painting.

At the same time, a butler in formal attire, a rather old-school child with hair clips, a protective guardian, an eccentric gardener and games of bridge evoke the earlier era, while Graham Smith’s Hugo Birch appears to be dressed for a shooting party.

There are worse crimes – often in a Christie story – than tampering with a text, and Ella’s decision is born as much out of necessity as in the spirit of fun that pervades Agatha’s second most-performed play.

Ella’s production ends up with a foot in both camps, rather than in no man’s land, as do his cast’s accents, but the dialogue stubbornly betrays its Fifties’ roots, like that tell-tale tramline of black in bleached blonde hair.

In the absence of programme notes and indeed a programme – another concession to Covid times, with only a cast list available – Ella explained his reasoning afterwards in response to a late-night CharlesHutchPress email question: “Was there a reason for the modern setting? Was it to do with costume non-availability after the Rowntree Players’ store fire?”

Martyn Hunter’s permanently concerned guardian, Sir Rowland Delahaye

“It was less about the store fire but more about Covid and costumes and control,” Ella responded. “Both from a costume and a propping point of view. Very dull but a necessary evil in these times.     

“It actually was a decision when we thought we could perform in early 2021. But it pushed and pushed.   

“I like the idea of playing it contemporary, although, of course, the challenge sits in balancing that against how faithful you should be to the original dialogue.”

So that clears that up. Now, to the play, wherein diplomat’s wife Clarissa (Gemma McDonald) is spinning tales of adventure and stepdaughter Pippa (Katelyn Banks) is permanently hungry and restless but tired.

Guardian Sir Rowland Delahaye (Martyn Hunter), fellow old sport Hugo Birch (Smith) and young buck Jeremy Warrender (Andrew Roberts) are passing the time, trying to identity different glasses of port in a taste test, waiting for dinner at the nearby golf club, although Warrender looks strangely interested in trying locate a drawer in the desk.

Craig Kirby’s sonorous, stone-faced butler, Elgin, is doing what impenetrable butlers used to do; Jeannette Hunter’s perky, if mysterious, Mildred Peake keeps traipsing in from the garden.

Clarissa’s husband, the something-hush-hush-at-the-Foreign-Office Henry (Rory Mulvihill), has to pop out to a meeting. In pops Jake Botterell’s malevolent Oliver Costello, up to no good with a vow to take Pippa away to her flaky mother.

Spinning stories like a spider’s web: Gemma McDonald’s Clarissa Hailsham-Brown

Suddenly, there’s murder on the drawing-room floor, but whodunit and how does far-fetched fantasist Clarissa cover it up? Desperate to dispose of the body before Henry arrives with a very important politician, she enlists the help/hindrance of her house guests .

Enter the detective, in this particular case Mark McDonald’s heavily-bearded, somewhat heavy-handed Inspector Lord, a wry, if blunter, instrument of interrogation than Christie’s Poirot, assisted by the frank Constable Jones (Sara Howlett, lovely Welsh accent et al).

Christie revels in a “conscious parody of the detective thriller”, leavening all the familiar tropes with knowing humour, while still tightening the suspense ever tauter, albeit over a long stretch of nearly three hours, replete with dropped clues and plot contrivances aplenty.

Add drug addiction, ham sandwiches, invisible ink, a very valuable rare stamp, a secret drawer, a hidden doorway and an unusual corner-turn for a second stage entrance, and Ella oversees a spirited production full of heightened drama, humorous confrontations and murky mystery.

Hunter, Mulvihill, Smith and Kirby are the ballast; Hunter is comedy gold; McDonald and Howlett form a resourceful double act; Roberts could have escaped from a Noel Coward comedy, and the menacing Botterell and precocious Banks bring freshness to the Players’ ranks.

In the lead role, Gemma McDonald’s Clarissa is full of fun and games, but has a few hiccups with her mountain of intricately-spun lines that hopefully will not repeat on her tonight and tomorrow.

Suffused with surprises, some new to Christie’s story, this modern-day yet retro Spider’s Web makes for an enjoyable evening’s entanglement.

Rowntree Players return from lockdown and fire with Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web

Rowntree Players in rehearsal for Agatha Christie’s A Spider’s Web, directed by Howard Ella

AGATHA Christie’s Spider’s Web opens at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre tonight in the first of three Rowntree Players’ productions in four months after the long pandemic hiatus.

Coming next, from December 4 to 11, will be Howard Ella and Andy Welch’s pantomime Dick Whittington, followed by the January 27 to 29 world premiere of The Missing Peace, adapted by director Gemma McDonald from York author, musician and public speaker Ian Donaghy’s book on bereavement and life after death.

Howard Ella, who has taken up a director of productions role for original Netflix series in the UK, is somehow finding time to direct Christie’s murder mystery.

What happens? Diplomat’s wife Clarissa Hailsham-Brown is adept at spinning tales of adventure, but when a murder takes place in her drawing room, she finds live drama much harder to cope with.

Desperate to dispose of the body before husband Henry arrives with an important politician, she enlists the help of her guests. 

“In a conscious parody of the detective thriller, Christie delivers a unique blend of suspense and humour,” says Howard. “There is tension and laughter in equal parts in an intricate plot of murder, police, hidden doorways and secret drawers.”

Explaining the choice of play for Rowntree Players’ return to the stage, Howard says: “For a few years we’ve talked about doing a murder mystery, having done Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit and John Godber plays.

Jeanette Hunter in the role of Mildred Peake in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web

“For me, I need a comic bent to find my way through a play, and because Spider’s Web has an element of tongue in cheek about it, you could almost argue that Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong is based on Spider’s Web and not on The Mousetrap.

“It’s funny, it’s heightened drama; it does the mystery bit that it brings out with a smile, and it lets Rowntree Players find our feet again after two years, with a cast of 11 taking part, some of them new to the Players.

“It’s also a proper set-build for us, now we have a roof back on our store and all our kit has been replaced after the fire that tore through our sets and props at Moor Farm in Murton in January 2020.”

The fire destroyed half of Rowntree Players’ stock. “Smoke and water damage made most of the rest of it useless, and then because of the Covid lockdowns, it took eight months to get the roof back on,” says Howard.

“That Biblical plague meant no-one could achieve anything for a year; it was such a crazy year, where you could not imagine a worldwide pandemic would stop everything in its tracks for so long.”

The 2020 Rowntree Players’ pantomime fell by the wayside and The Missing Peace premiere was put on hold, but the Players are returning at “hopefully full pelt”.

“Andy Welch and I wrote the Dick Whittington panto script for last year, so we’re a year ahead of ourselves!” says Howard. “We’ve done a read-through to road-test it, having written it remotely, with screen shares for me and Andy.

The Rowntree Players’ poster for Dick Whittington, Covid-cancelled last year but now taking to the road to London this December

“That was challenging to do, never hearing it out loud, so we got together in my garden once we were allowed to do so, to give it a run, and we’ve since done a couple of tweaks.

“We’re hoping to be able to do the show as we always would have done it, with children and a chorus, but we’ll react to any Covid restrictions if we have to.”

The Missing Peace premiere will complete the trilogy of Rowntree Players’ comeback shows in the form of one play with 15 endings. “I’ve picked out 15 of the monologues from Ian Donaghy’s book, putting them together to be told on a station platform in a collective narrative, with piano accompaniment, maybe a busker” says director Gemma McDonald.

“The play is a series of talking head-style monologues that have been brought together to explore life after death, with each character stepping out to tell their tale. It’s not a play about death, it’s a play about life, so there’ll be moments of laughter, sadness and reflection throughout.”

Out of necessity, Gemma is adapting the monologues anew because some of the original cast members have headed off to university, while others have moved on from York.

Looking ahead, Gemma says: “We would love to have the publicity of doing an extra show at York Theatre Royal, if the run goes well and we raise the money. If that could come off, it would raise the profile of Rowntree Players and we’d have more people coming to our plays.”

Howard adds: “We have to plan for bankrolling plays through our pantomimes, which always sell out, and that allows us to do plays that people have not always heard of.”

Or indeed are new, like The Missing Peace.

The Missing Peace: Missed out on its planned premiere in the lockdown lull but will go ahead in early 2022

Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web will be performed at 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday. For tickets for Rowntree Players’ productions, ring 01904 501935 or book online at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Who’s who in the Rowntree Players cast for Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web:

Sir Rowland Delahaye: played by Martyn Hunter;

Hugo Birch: Graham Smith;

Jeremy Warrender: Andrew Roberts;

Clarissa Hailsham-Brown: Gemma McDonald;

Pippa Hailsham-Brown: Katelyn Banks;

Mildred Peake: Jeanette Hunter;

Elgin: Craig Kirby;

Oliver Costello: Jake Botterell;

Henry Hailsham-Brown: Rory Mulvihill;

Inspector Lord: Mark McDonald;

Constable Jones: Sara Howlett.

Did he or didn’t he? All will be revealed when Craig Kirby plays Elgin in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web from tonight until Saturday at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York