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

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

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

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

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

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

A Supper Club gathering at At The Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gemma Curry in Hoglets Theatre’s The Sleep Pirates

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Clive, alias Phil Grainger, Music At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, July 2

“The second cut is always the deepest when Phil Grainger sings”. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

BEST buddies since Easingwold schooldays, Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger reeled off a series of At The Mill double bills back home in North Yorkshire in the first summer of Covid after their Australian tour was aborted.

New York and Edinburgh Fringe plans were scuppered too, after old York called them home, and more than a year later, they are still here, making magical theatre, song and spoken word.

Oh, and building an outdoor theatre too on Stillington Mill’s disused tennis court, with Alex’s father, Paul, and mother, Maggi, playing a prominent role too in establishing the new and impressively diverse At The Mill enterprise (more of which in a CharlesHutchPress interview with Alex later this week).

Last August’s set finished with Phil announcing that wood had arrived for Alex and Phil to start work on converting that summer’s marquee into an outdoor theatre. “If they build it, we will come,” vowed CharlesHutchPress, and sure enough, this summer finds that theatre in full sail for concerts and theatre shows.

For one night, Phil and Alex teamed up with two friends in Foraged & Forged, a showcase of new material written specially for the occasion. Friday night put polymath Phil in the solo spotlight, in the guise of Clive, and while the pre-show rain enforced a late decision to abandon the plan to do one set from one stage, and a second from another, the format of an acoustic first half and electric second set was retained.

“It’s been a bit of an hour,” he said, putting on his bandana in readiness for adopting Clive mode. “It’s ‘look at how good this would have been. Now is what you’re getting’!”

What we were getting was the solo music project of singer, songwriter, musician, sound engineer, magician, actor, Gobbledigook Theatre director and event promoter Phil Grainger. Why Clive, you ask? Phil is not a name for a singer, he reasons. Er, Phil Collins? “Exactly,” said Easingwold Phil in a typical shard of attractively blunt Yorkshire wit that peppered his performance. “Clive is the name for the thing that’s me doing this.”

Phil Grainger, in Clive mode, performing Under The Sea from the Disney songbook. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

Clive is his middle name, and his father’s name too, so Clive it is, and tonight the Stillington Mill’s a-Clive with the sound of music. Beautiful, poignant, happy, sad, funny, heart-felt music, sung in one of those surging soul voices where the second cut is always the deepest when Phil, sorry, Clive, lets rip. One of these voices where you ache waiting for those transcendent moments.

Clive would divide his sets, he said, between songs he had been writing for a long time, others that were new, and some so new they were only half written. He would stop them at the point they were half-finished, with no pretence of finesse.

You cannot help but warm to such candour, or indeed to his off-the-cuff sporadic dips into a newly acquired Disney songbook. Or his seemingly rudimentary, yet deeply affecting guitar, that recalls Billy Bragg’s less-is-more playing.

Clive, his dad, was there, and so was his mum. “I didn’t know they were coming,” said Phil, promptly deciding to change his “emotional set-ender” to his “emotional opening number”. “This song is about my mum. It’s called My Mother,” he said, whereupon mum raised a knowing eyebrow.

Soon we learned she does better Sunday roasts than a Toby Carvery, she effing hates swearing and is no fan of tattoos either. Under Alex’s encouragement, Phil’s lyrics are coming on apace, matching his gift for melody, and built around a winning line in couplets and a desire to take the advice of The Streets’ Mike Skinner to always end with a memorable pay-off.

His hymn of praise to the lure of York’s welcoming arms, whenever he is away, is awaiting both completion and confirmation of its title – “it might be Angel Of The North,” he speculated – but already it is completely moving.

Alex and Phil had vowed never to return to the pieces they wrote in a day to perform to an audience that night, but promises are made to be broken, and so out came Home, the one with 14 houseplants acquired by Phil’s girlfriend Angie for their cottage nest and Alex’s poetic “tatty clattering” as a home is found inside a house. “With you I’m two-up; I was one down on my own,” finished Phil. Mike Skinner would surely approve.

Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan Wright last August, when they mounted a week of The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre shows at At The Mill, by the 18th century corn mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

After a pleasingly erratic stroll through Disney’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, the acoustic set concluded with two of Phil’s finest, Little Red and Colour Me In: one pulling at the frayed edges of a disintegrating relationship; the other, from Phil and Alex’s show Orpheus, a ballad that would fit perfectly on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6Music. “I’m drunk on colour and I’m drunk on soul,” Phil sang, and how we drunk it in.

Electricity was thankfully restricted to Phil’s switch of guitar and not lightning for the second half, introduced by storyteller Phil with his recollection of trying to pay the £600 required for the instrument in £2 coins gathered over time ten years ago. Bank the coins, he was told, but eventually the guitar was his.

A decade later, he finally chanced his arm at a guitar solo in Safe Travels, Hurry Back, words by Alex, title and soar-away tune by Phil. The solo? Grainger’s transition into Jimi Hendrix is on hold.

Best title of the night award went to Hallelujah For The Hell Of It, best couplet to: “I’m hard to read like a broadsheet; you’re hard to keep like the off-beat”.

That made it back from Australia in February 2020, as did another Alex and Phil composition, If Destroyed Still True, written late into the night after their last supper before the urgent flight home, this one composed with Aussie friend Jamie on laptop.

“Just to be clear, we’ve never done this one live, since we wrote it in an hour that night,” said Alex, duly doing his Kae Tempest-style spoken words live, interwoven with Phil’s yearning vocal part and Jamie’s infectious recorded instrumental refrain.

One-man band and his bandana: Phil Grainger performing his Clive show. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

It could have gone wrong at any moment, instead it went beautifully right, and it is in such unpredictable, knife-edge moments that Summer At The Mill is creating its distinctive alchemy.

Do check out the Aussie video at: facebook.com/orpheuseurydicethegods/videos/2254587891515753; the chorus will be your new earworm within minutes.

The Little Mermaid’s Under The Sea survived its Big Phil DIY – Does It Yorkshire – reinvention, and then it was time for Phil to revisit the “wise and gorgeous” recording of Easingwold Players’ stalwart Bronwyn Jennison, who passed away last year.

It had been a highlight of last summer’s Clive show and now, reactivated for the first time since then, Bronwyn’s rendition of Alex’s words had even greater weight after the year we’ve all had. “You carry on, wild child, and I’ll carry on,” said Bronwen through the ether, and Phil and Alex will indeed carry that flame.

Phil’s finale was a humdinger: an audience hum-along to the anything but humdrum Hum, “another song we said we’d never do again, but it’s too special not to!”.

Last August’s review ended with a call to Phil to record an album, and indeed the Half Man Half Bull download has since emerged, but that is a team creation, not the full Phil, and so, Phil, even more than last year, please head into the recording studio. Your mother, for one, would be chuffed.

“I’m so glad I could be here to sing to the benches I made,” he signed off. So we were, so we were.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Alex Wright, Phil Grainger and Oliver Tilney combine on Half Man//Half Bull ancient myth songs to be experienced at home UPDATED 11/3/2021

On song: Phil Grainger in a recording session for Half Man//Half Bull

THE Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre had to cut short their 18-month international tour last March, the pandemic forcing Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger to fly back to North Yorkshire from Australasia.

A year later, however, a brand-new work, created in tandem with fellow theatre-maker Oliver Tilney, arrives in the form of Half Man//Half Bull, a narrative-led double album of two ancient myths and 20 original tracks to be “experienced at home”.

Fusing spoken word, electronica and soul, Half Man//Half Bull retells the interlinking myths of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedalus & Icarus, presented in a listening pack designed by Lydia Denno that will be sent out in the post.

“We wanted people to be able to hold a beautiful piece of art in their hand, like holding an album cover, so Lydia’s artwork is part of the whole experience,” says Alex. “We also want people to carve out a bit of proper time to really listen to the work, rather than listening to it for the first time when you’re doing the washing-up or while you’re cooking.

“We’re also asking you to reach out to connect with other people by sending out postcards, and there are four cards from the listening pack to hide around your community too. You could even give someone a call, knock on someone’s door and say hello.

“The two stories say a lot about isolation, so it feels good to do something that’s an antidote to that. We didn’t set out to tell a story about this time of Covid lockdowns, but it just seems to have seeped into it.”

Lydia Denno’s artwork for Half Man//Half Bull

Over the past few years, Alex and Phil, friends since Easingwold schooldays, have taken their international award-winning shows Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods to packed rooms across Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and New York, performing an enthralling, electrifying brand of spoken word and live music.

Once back home, they teamed up with long-time collaborator Oliver Tilney – he played Jay Gatsby in Wright’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby for the Guild Of Misrule at 41 Monkgate, York, in 2016 – to create Half Man//Half Bull.

“From the get-go, we wanted to make a new piece of work that wasn’t contingent on being performed live,” says Oliver, who first brought the idea to Alex and Phil last June. “We didn’t want a watered-down version of something to give to audiences; we wanted to create a new piece of work in its correct form. For us, that form is a double narrative-led album.”

Oliver set about reading various Greek myths, seeking a way to connect two together. “The ones we’ve chosen are about becoming a parent; one is about a father loving a son, the other about a son loving a father,” he says.

“Most people don’t carry any sympathy for Icarus, thinking he’s rather brash, but I thought, ‘no, let’s make these characters human’.”

Alex, Phil and Oliver began work on Half Man//Half Bull on Zoom, but lockdown easement then enabled work to develop in Covid-safe conditions, both in Stillington in Alex’s studio at The Mill last October and at Crooked Room Studio in Strensall, York.

Oliver Tilney at work on Half Man//Half Bull

“There was a moment I recall where Ollie’s daughter was in a push chair and I was writing these ditties, and Ollie’s lyrics were so clearly coming from his experience of being a dad,” says Phil.

“More than before, the writing was a mixture of all three of us. With Orpheus, it was very clear that I wrote the music and Alex, the lyrics, but for The Gods The Gods The Gods, there were a couple of songs where Alex came up with the melody.

“Whereas with this project, we’ve all stuck our noses into all of it. Ollie and Alex were writing the first drafts of ideas, while I was building some benches at Alex’s mill. Then I came up with a few bits of guitar, but once that had been done and they’d come up with the skeleton of the stories, we fleshed everything out, with everyone coming up with lyrics and me writing tunes. We all pushed ourselves more than ever.”

Alex rejoins: “We’re lucky that we’ve all known each other and worked together for so long, so it never felt like we needed to define who was doing what, or who was in charge. It just felt organic.”

The trio have partnered up with 15 organisations to bring the idea to life, among them the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds company Slung Low, Rural Arts, Thirsk, and The Barn Theatre, their involvement affirming the appetite for this type of work. 

Alex says: “We started talking with our brilliant pals at Streatham Space Project [a project that Oliver was involved in setting up], where we managed to bring a socially distanced version of Eurydice in September. It quickly became clear there would be an appetite for a theatre, or an organisation, to be able to deliver content to their audience while people couldn’t gather in a more traditional setting.”

Oliver adds: “Those 15 theatres and organisations around the country are helping us by each agreeing to distribute 100 copies, so that means we’ve pre-sold 1,500 copies, either to be given away to pockets of the community they want to contact through outreach work, or for some to be put on sale through the venues.”

Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger on their travels, cut short by the need to head home last March

An Arts Council Project Grant allowed the Half Man//Half Bull team to grow: the trio have collaborated with producers, designers and host of musicians to realise this project, alongside the family of theatres, venues and partner organisations.

After years of touring, lockdown has provided a longer opportunity to create and develop, says Phil. “Alex and I have been writing and touring shows for a while, with an ambition to grow our sound. This felt like a great opportunity to work with more people, collaborate with more artists and, crucially, create some work for as many freelancers as we could afford,” he explains.

That team includes Aminita Francis, from BAC BeatBox Collective, as Theseus; Zimbabwean-born musician Tendaii Sitima, as Daedalus; designer Lydia Denno; music producer Isaac McInnis and project producer Charlotte Bath.

“We were also able to spend a lot of time at Crooked Room Studio working with Isaac McInnis, which really helped grow the sound,” says Phil. “It’s crucial that as this is an audio project, that it sounds flipping great.”

Lockdown 3 was imposed just as Alex, Phil and Oliver were part-way through the last recording session. “But because we were already ‘bubbled up, we were already in the right place to allows us to continue,” says Alex.

“It was lucky that we could continue unimpeded,” says Phil. “Pretty much everyone else, apart from our producer Isaac, was able to send us their parts, recording in their own homes or on Zoom.”

Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan Wright last August when The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre presented a week of socially distanced shows in Alex’s back garden at The Mill, Stillington, including Orpheus and Eurydice

Billed as “an epic storytelling adventure for our time”, Half Man//Half Bull is designed expressly as an At-Home experience. “For a project that is an album, a listening experience, something you do with your ears, we were really clear we didn’t want to make a cast recording of something that already existed; it had to be something that stood in its own right,” says Alex.

“For the vast majority of musicians and creative people, they are hard-wired to connect with other people, preferably gathered in one room, but this had to be different – though it does feel odd that we can’t all be together to launch it!”

Instead, Half Man//Half Bull is a form of home service. “If you buy it, you’ll get a physical pack through your door with artwork, listening instructions and an invitation to step back out into the real world,” says Alex.

“Normally we would be thinking about the physical space we’re performing a show in, but this time it’s a listening experience designed for people’s homes.”

Yet might Half Man//Half Bull be turned into a live performance? “While we were writing the album, we had a catchphrase that we banned each other from saying: ‘When we do the live show’,” recalls Oliver. “Instead, we concentrated on the album, but having worked together for so many years, we all have ambitions to do it live.

“We haven’t had many conversations yet, just touched on a few ideas so far, because our focus has been on the album.”

For further information and to buy the albums, go to: halfmanhalfbull.com.

Alexander Flanagan Wright during the making of Half Man//Half Bull

Alex Wright, Phil Grainger and Oliver Tilney combine on Half Man//Half Bull ancient myth songs to be experienced at home

Phil Grainger in the studio, recording Half Man//Half Bull

THE Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre had to cut short their 18-month international tour last March, the pandemic forcing Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger to fly back to North Yorkshire from Australasia.

A year later, however, a brand-new work, created in tandem with fellow theatre-maker Oliver Tilney, will drop today in the global digital form of Half Man//Half Bull, a narrative-led double album of two ancient myths and 20 original songs to be “experienced at home”.

Fusing spoken word, electronica and soul, Half Man//Half Bull retells the interlinking myths of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedalus & Icarus, presented in a listening pack designed by Lydia Denno that will be sent out in the post.

Over the past few years, Alex and Phil, friends since Easingwold schooldays, have taken their international award-winning shows Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods to packed rooms across Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and New York, performing an enthralling, electrifying brand of spoken word and live music.

Artwork for Half Man//Half Bull

Once back home, they teamed up with long-time collaborator Oliver Tilney – he played Jay Gatsby in Wright’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby for the Guild Of Misrule at 41 Monkgate, York, in 2016 – to create Half Man//Half Bull.

“From the get-go, we wanted to make a new piece of work that wasn’t contingent on being performed live,” says Oliver, who first brought the idea to Alex and Phil last June. “We didn’t want a watered-down version of something to give to audiences; we wanted to create a new piece of work in its correct form. For us, that form is a double narrative-led album.”

The trio have partnered up with 15 organisations to bring the idea to life, among them the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds company Slung Low, Rural Arts, Thirsk, and The Barn Theatre, their involvement affirming the appetite for this type of work. 

Alex says: “We started talking with our brilliant pals at Streatham Space Project, where we managed to bring a socially distanced version of Eurydice in September. It quickly became clear there would be an appetite for a theatre, or an organisation, to be able to deliver content to their audience while people couldn’t gather in a more traditional setting.”

Alex Wright at a recording session for Half Man//Half Bull

An Arts Council Project Grant allowed the team to grow: the trio have collaborated with producers, designers and host of musicians to realise this project, alongside the family of theatres, venues and partner organisations.

After years of touring, lockdown has provided an opportunity to create and develop, says Phil. “Alex and I have been writing and touring shows for a while, with an ambition to grow our sound. This felt like a great opportunity to work with more people, collaborate with more artists and, crucially, create some work for as many freelancers as we could afford,” he explains.

That team includes Aminita Francis, from BAC BeatBox Collective; Zimbabwean-born musician Tendaii Sitima; designer Lydia Denno and project producer Charlotte Bath. “We were also able to spend a lot of time at Crooked Room studios working with Isaac McInnis, which really helped grow the sound,” says Phil. “It’s crucial that as this is an audio project, that it sounds flipping great.”

Billed as “an epic storytelling adventure for our time”, Half Man//Half Bull is designed expressly as an At-Home experience. “If you buy, you’ll get a physical pack through your door with artwork, listening instructions and an invitation to step back out into the real world,” says Alex.

For further information and to buy the albums, go to: HalfManHalfBull.com.

Half Man//Half Bull: A double narrative-led album to be experienced at home

The credits:

Created by Phil Grainger, Oliver Tilney and Alexander Wright.

Guest artists: Aminita Francis as Theseus; Tendaii Sitima as Daedalus.
Project producer: Charlie Bath; music producer, Isaac McInnis; designer, Lydia Denno. 


Recorded and mixed by Isaac McInnis at Crooked Room Studios; mastering by David Lawrie.

Additional music: Frances Bolley, Tom Figgins, Isaac McInnis, Emil Ryjoch and Gavin Whitworth.


Additional voices:  Angie Alle, Hille Auvenin, Joanna Bongowska, David Calvitto, Laura Darling, Megan Drury, Inês Sampaio Figueiredo, Peter Groom, Lucas Jones, James Lawrence, MJ Lee, Serena Manteghi, Iona McInnis, Marnie Silver and Jess Zilleson.

With thanks to: Angie Alle, Anikdote, Darren Lee Cole, James Dale, Megan Drury, Luke Langley, Helen Simpson, Michael Slater, Simon Victor and Paul & Maggi Wright.

Made with: At The Mill, Stillington; Birmingham Hippodrome; NEAT; November Club; Rural Arts, Slung Low; SoHo Playhouse; Stephen Joseph Theatre; Storyhouse; Streatham Space Project; The Barn Theatre; Theatr Clwyd; Theatre Deli; The Place and The Roses Theatre.

Oliver Tilney: First brought the idea for Half Man//Half Bull to Alex Wright and Phil Grainger last June

REVIEW: The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, At The Mill ****

Trouble at the Mill: Musician Phil Grainger and writer/storyteller Alexander Flanagan-Wright presenting Orpheus and Eurydice at Stillington Mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

REVIEW: The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, in At The Mill, Stillington Mill, and beyond

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger should have been in Edinburgh right now. Instead they will be popping up at the Pop-Up On The Patio festival at York Theatre Royal tomorrow.

On The Fringe up further north, they were all set to perform the North Yorkshire double act’s British premiere of The Gods The Gods The Gods, episode three of their spoken-word and soulful-song 21st century twist on ancient Greek tragedies in the year 2020BC…Before Covid.

The duo had been touring The Gods x 3 and its “brother and sister” predecessors, Orpheus and Eurydice, in Australia, with New Zealand next, when Covid-19 dropped in its unwelcome calling card, sending Alex back to Stillington Mill, his family’s converted 17th century corn mill, and Phil to Easingwold.

Eighteen months of UK and international tour plans have gone into the pending file, but Alex and Phil are not of the “so far, so furlough” lockdown mentality. Alex took to ‘writing’ while walking the dog, recording his rhythmic thoughts; Phil penned new songs on his unruly guitar, as well as shaping up on shifts in his father’s picture-framing business.

“You have to try to find round pegs to fit round holes,” said Alex, as he and Phil and their respective companies, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, set about launching their five-pronged art attack, I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, seeking new horizons in the year 2020BC. Beyond Covid and its killjoy claw in this new age of “Use your hand sanitiser but try not to lose your sanity”.

Definitely not Yorkshire! Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger on their global travels

Among this summer’s outward-thinking projects has been the Hyper Local Tour of Orpheus, taking the two-hander to people’s socially distanced back gardens at their invitation.

A small step, for small audience numbers, maybe, but nevertheless adding back gardens to Orpheus’s list of 325 shows in Oz, NZ, New York, Bali, let alone a boat on the River Ouse and a shoes-off night in the magnificence of Castle Howard.

Alex and Phil then decided to go even more Hyper Local for “six days of work” in Alex’s own back garden at Stillington Mill, 11 miles north of York.

This is no ordinary back garden with its mill pond, fairy-lit woodland, shepherd’s hut for holidays lets and open-air marquee for weddings and performances on what appears to have been a disused tennis court. Game on, nevertheless, for the artship enterprise.

Entering this magical arts hub is like leaving behind the Athenian court for Titania and Oberon’s woods in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Alex perhaps in the sprightly sprite role of Puck and big Phil as a keen-to-do-everything Nick Bottom but never quite making an ass of himself!

At The Mill ran for six shows in six nights with Covid-secure, social distancing measures in place, picnics optional, as the globe-trotting, back-home gents played to a maximum audience of 30 per 7pm gig from August 2 to 7. Total attendance: 175 out of a possible 180, making the low-key run a palpable hit, like the shows, whether old, nearly new or hot off the book and songbook presses.

Oh…you are Orpheus. The poster for The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre two-hander

“We’re doing some Orpheus, some Eurydice, and one night of New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before,” the duo had announced online, with the aid of an Instagram poll to decide whether Orpheus or Eurydice would win out on the Tuesday.

Eurydice had her day and her say that evening beneath the trees as Alex and Phil took on roles that had been shaped by Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews on overseas duty. Alex had a book in his hand, not because he couldn’t be bothered with learning the lines, but because he loves the feel of the book in which he wrote those lines.

It as if by touching the book, he connects directly to his heart, because his heart bleeds in these words. Without dwelling too much here on his own circumstances, it hurts…and this time it’s personal, cathartic, but beyond the dates he mentions, it is universal too.

Add Phil’s songwriting, guitar and electronica to Alex’s lyrics, and Eurydice’s torrid yet beautifully nuanced tale of love and loss, a bee tattoo and a bee sting, hits you with the force of a Bill Withers or Otis Redding song.

If Eurydice pulls off the trick of being both formal in structure yet informal, then Wednesday night’s New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before in the marquee was very much the latter.

Alex once more in jaunty trilby, jeans and T-shirt, Phil in baggy clown’s pantaloons, they introduced crossfire works from The Gods The Gods The Gods before Alex premiered his new piece penned in lockdown, This Story Is For You.

One guitar + one book + two hats + six shows = Phil Grainger and Alexander Wright’s At The Mill festival of two-handers at Stillington Mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Already available in assorted print forms decorated by guest illustrators for I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, now it tripped off the lucid tongue, as poetic, as timely, as insistent and surprising as a Kae Tempest (formerly Kate Tempest) album, as Alex recounted a female love story gone so right, then so wrong. Throughout, Phil accompanied on gentle waves of guitar, the tide coming in on the key of E.

The second half was given over to Phil, a storyteller without a script or book, as much as a soul-mining singer and songwriter, encouraged by Alex to grow more confident in his own candid, humorous, touching lyric-writing to match his ever-affecting way with a tune.

He even covered a teenage lament by a former Easingwold school colleague called Josh, who has long deserted his list-making song. Wrong, Josh, it’s a curio beauty, worthy of The Undertones’ first album.

Phil calls himself Clive, his middle name, his father’s name too, when performing solo (with occasional vocals and drum patterns from Alex), but this is Phil talking, this is the Phil sound, and it really is time he made an album.

And so, Orpheus and Eurydice, Alex and Phil, move on to the Theatre Royal patio for tomorrow’s double bill: another day, another garden.  

What comes next for the ever-busy double act? Wood has arrived at Stillington Mill for Alex and Phil to start work on converting the marquee into an outdoor theatre. If they build it, we will come.

In the swing of it: Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan-Wright at the outset of their six-pack of At The Mill shows at Stillington Mill. Now they switch to the more compact Pop-Up On The Patio garden at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus, Pop-Up On The Patio, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow, August 21, 6pm

WRITTEN by Alexander Flanagan-Wright, with incidental music and songs by Phil Grainger, Orpheus is a thoroughly modern, beautifully poetic re-telling of an ancient Greek myth.

Dave is single, stood at the bar; Eurydice is a tree nymph…and Bruce Springsteen is on the juke box in this tale of impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music, where Alex and Phil weave a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

Eurydice, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, Pop-Up On The Patio, August 21, 8pm

LENI is five years old, holding a Superman costume for her first day at school. Eurydice is five years into the rest of her life, sporting a bee tattoo on her wrist, in Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s story of someone defined by someone else’s myth.

This tale of making changes, taking leaps and being a daily superhero is billed as “a story about a woman told by women”. That was the case when performed by Alex and Phil Grainger’s co-creators, Serena Manteghi and Casey Jane Andrews, to 2019 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre award-winning success.

Now, Alex and Phil take over to weave a world of day-to-day power and beauty and goddesses, relayed through heart-stopping spoken word and live electronica. Watch out for the sting in the tale.

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and MUST be bought in advance.

Pop-Up On The Patio heralds return of live shows at York Theatre Royal…outdoors

Top of the Pop-ups: Musician Phil Grainger and writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill when performing Orpheus in a week of At The Mill shows. Now they head to Pop-Up On The Patio. Picture: Charlotte Graham

WHO will be popping up at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival from August 14 to 29?

Taking part in a Covid-secure summer season of outdoor performances, on a terrace stage designed by Yorkshire theatre designer Hannah Sibai, will be “Yorkshire’s finest theatre and dance makers”.

Step forward York Dance Space; Mud Pie Arts; Crafty Tales; Fool(ish) Improv; The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre; puppeteer Freddie Hayes; Cosmic Collective Theatre; performance poet Henry Raby; Say Owt, the York outlet for slam poets, word-weavers and “gobheads”; magician, juggler and children’s entertainer Josh Benson and singer Jess Gardham.

They will perform at one end of the patio, decorated with “Glastonbury-style bunting”, performing to audiences of a maximum of 35 in demarcated bubbles.

“We’re so excited to have been able to bring live theatre back to our city this summer,” says Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth, who has co-ordinated the festival programme of theatre, dance, music, magic, puppetry, improvised comedy, storytelling and slam poetry.

“Our building may still be closed, but we didn’t want that to stand in the way of entertaining the people of York during this difficult time. Pop-Up On The Patio gives us the opportunity to showcase the work of brilliant home-grown performers, many of whom are part of our freelance family, who have been disproportionally affected by this pandemic.”

“We wanted to go hyper-local with the festival to give a platform to York artists,” says York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird

Looking forward to staging the first shows on the Theatre Royal premises since March 17, executive director Tom Bird says: “It’s been a short but intense preparation period: we wanted to go hyper-local with the festival, to give a platform to York artists, and we’re absolutely delighted at getting a very local, highly skilled bunch across so many genres.”

Explaining the decision to focus the festival on Friday evenings and Saturdays, Bird says: “We are easing our way back from a total stop, turning everything off in March, so we’re feeling our way in, and we want to make sure that everything is safe, for the audience, performers and staff.

“The world is changing all the time, so we wanted to give ourselves breathing space in what we’re doing by restricting ourselves to three weekends for the festival, but  who’s to say we won’t do more patio shows.”

The Theatre Royal management has implemented extra safety measures to keep visitors and staff safe during the three festival weekends, reconfiguring the patio to allow for a socially distanced audience and stage. These measures will be under constant review and apply to all the performances.

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and must be bought in advance.

THE FESTIVAL PROGRAMME:

Dance steps: Dance // Shorts launches the Pop-Up On The Patio festival

Dance // Shorts, August 14, 7pm

CURATED by York Dance Space, this evening of live contemporary dance theatre in an outdoor, intimate setting will be a compilation of bite-size solos and duets from “some of the most interesting and exciting young artists from across Yorkshire and the Humber”.

Performances include solo work from Alethia Antonia, from the James Wilton Dance Company; Coalesce Dance Theatre; Daisy Howell, from Brink Dance Company, and Namiuki Dance.

Look out too for a selection of Doorstep Dances from Hull artists Tamar and Jo, spanning contemporary, Northern Soul, jazz dance and physical theatre styles. Suitable for age 12 upwards.

Mud, glorious Mud: Mud Pie Arts duo Nicolette Hobson, left, and Jenna Drury

Mud Pie Arts, August 15, 22 and 29, 11am, for age 4 to 11

“WHAT is easy to get into but hard to get out of?” askMud Pie Arts drama practitioners Jenna Drury and Nicolette Hobson. “The answer? Trouble, of course!

“So, join us for Saturday elevenses in our Silly Summer Stories show. There’ll be interactive storytelling, riddles, games and all kinds of family tomfoolery.”

Have you heard the one about the old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle, or the farmer who fished for sausages? Now is the chance to enjoy those stories. “Come and find us on the patio every Saturday this month to celebrate all things daft,” say Jenna and Nicolette.

Crafty: Story Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce, left, and Cassie Vallance

Crafty Tales, August 15 and 22, 1pm, for two to six year olds

YORK Theatre Royal’s Story Craft Theatre return with an outdoor version of Crafty Tales, presented by Cassie Vallance and Janet Bruce.

“As always, there’ll be a story to tell plus songs, games and dancing, all designed around a brilliant picture book with interactive and imaginative play,” they say. “Although Crafty Tales is aimed at two to six year olds, all children are welcome.”

Made up: Fool(ish) Improv’s poster since 1793

Fool(ish) Improv, August 15, 4pm 

FOOL(ISH) Improv is a bite-sized comedy show with absolutely no plan or permission, created by York writer and director Paul Birch.

Strap in for 60 minutes of improvised mayhem where you, the audience, provide the suggestions for the actors to make stuff happen. Instantly.

“Taking nothing seriously – and everything for granted – our merry band of charlatans and misfits will bring music, comedy and appalling levels of acting to give you a delightful hour of spontaneous comedy,” says Paul.

“You bring the ideas, we’ll bring the performance, and together we’ll make a joyous family show that has no business being indoors. Now, you have to come. We couldn’t do it without you.”

The poster for The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Orpheus

Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus, August 21, 6pm

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger should have been heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe to present the British premiere of The Gods, The Gods, The Gods this month after its Antipodean premiere before Covid-19 intervened.

Instead, they have been presenting Orpheus in socially distanced performances in back gardens and a week of At The Mill shows in Alex’s own back garden at Stillington Mill, near York, last week.

Written by Alex, with incidental music and songs by Phil, the international award-winning Orpheus is a thoroughly modern, beautifully poetic re-telling of an ancient Greek myth.

Dave is single, stood at the bar; Eurydice is a tree nymph, and Bruce Springsteen is on the juke box in this tale of impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music, where Alex and Phil weave a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

Eurydice: “A story about a woman” with a Superman costume, a bee tattoo and a sting in the tale

Eurydice, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, August 21, 8pm

LENI is five years old, holding a Superman costume for her first day at school. Eurydice is five years into the rest of her life, sporting a bee tattoo on her wrist, in Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s story of someone defined by someone else’s myth.

This tale of making changes, taking leaps and being a daily superhero is billed as “a story about a woman told by women”.

That was the case when performed by Alex and Phil Grainger’s co-creators, Serena Manteghi and Casey Jane Andrews, to 2019 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre award-winning success. Now, Alex and Phil take over to weave a world of day-to-day power and beauty and goddesses, told through heart-stopping spoken word and live electronica.

Flat caps at the double: Freddie Does Puppets puppeteer Freddie Hayes with grumpy pub landlord Fred in Fred’s Microbrewery

Freddie Does Puppets in Fred’s Microbrewery, August 22, 4pm

FRED’S Microbrewery is the world’s first Puppet-in-a-Pub theatrical experience, a modern-day Punch and Judy story courtesy of York puppeteer Freddie Hayes.

Grouchy Fred and his bitter and twisted wife Sharon are two very grumpy Yorkshire puppets cum pub landlord and landlady of the Fred’s Microbrewery, where the frank, fractious duo serve beer-infused banter to adult audiences in an afternoon of debauchery and puppet profanities. 

Fred and Sharon have sparred at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe and had plenty to say at the Edinburgh Fringe, Shambala Festival, Moving Parts Festival and Folkestone Puppet Festival too.  

In lockdown and beyond, Fred and Sharon have been living inside a laundry bag in Freddie’s attic. Now, bag unzipped, she is ready to unleash them once more in a show with an age guide of 15-plus on account of the strong language and adult themes.

Heaven’s above: Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate, Cosmic Collective Theatre, August 28, 4pm

FOUR cups of apple sauce. Four canvas camp beds. One comet. Heaven’s Gate is closing and the Away Team are ready for graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word.  ‘C’ for ‘cult’, that is.

Presented by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre – satirical writer Joe Feeney, Anna Soden, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell – Heaven’s Gate imagines the final hour of four fictionalised members of the real-life UFO-theistic group.

As they prepare for their “graduation” to the “Kingdom of Heaven”, the excitement is palpable, but all too soon the cracks appear. Is the Heavenly Father really waiting for them on a Spaceship? Is Planet Earth soon to be recycled? Is castration compulsory? Isn’t Turkey Potpie an underwhelming last supper?

Cosmic Collective Theatre’s intergalactic pitch-black comedy comes with adult themes and strong language – but no C-word, of course – to give it a 15-plus age guide

Taking the mic: York punk performance poet Henry Raby

Henry Raby: Apps & Austerity, August 28, 6.30pm

“2010-2019. What was going on?” asks York-grown punk performance poet, activist and Say Owt artistic director Henry Raby as puts the word into sword to slice up the past decade.

From the memes and scenes, from riots to Royal Weddings to Referendums, Henry sums up a decade of technology and austerity with attitude, humour and insight.

Slam champ and Deer Shed resident poet Henry has performed across the UK, from festivals front rooms. “This is my fifth solo show, so I must have got something right by now,” he says.

Say Owt Showcase, August 28, 8pm

YORK’S lovable and raucous poetry gang proudly present an assortment of noisy slam-winning performance poets, word-weavers, and gobheads. “Spice up your Friday night with a glass-raising toast to the spoken word,” says host Henry Raby.

Say Owt word-warriors have delighted in ripping up stages at the Great Yorkshire Fringe and the Arts Barge in York, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Manic magic: All-action York magician Just Josh

Josh Benson in Just Josh’s Ultimate Family Show, August 29, 1pm

CALLING all families! Just Josh is “hugely excited” to be back performing live with his family magic, juggling and balloon show!

If you have encountered Josh Benson previously, you will know that he is one of Yorkshire and indeed the UK’s “biggest kids”, noted for his boundless energy and shameless attempts to do absolutely anything in pursuit of a laugh from a crowd.

Josh, Corntroller of Entertainments at York Maze and regular pantomime silly billy, has taken his magic all over the UK and beyond, returning home from his P&O Cruises stint in February.

“My show is suitable for kids from four to 104, with laughs and, all being well, amazement for the whole family” says Josh.

All roads lead Jess Gardham to…the Pop-Up On The Patio stage at York Theatre Royal

Jess Gardham, August 29, 4pm

YORK pop, soul, blues and acoustic singer-songwriter, musical actress and 2018 MasterChef quarter finalist Jess Gardham closes Pop-Up On The Patio with an afternoon set.

Jess has performed all over Britain, the United States, Europe and Canada and supported the likes of Paul Carrack, KT Tunstall, The Shires, Wilko Johnson and Martin Simpson.

Her songs have been played regularly on BBC Introducing and her debut album, Beyond Belief, was picked up by BBC Radio 2.

Jess has taken lead roles in theatre productions such as Hairspray, Ghost The Musical and Rock Of Ages. “I hope to perform in theatre again when they’re open again,” she says.

SAFETY MEASURES

Arriving
YORK Theatre Royal will open the entrance to the Pop-Up patio a quarter of an hour before every performance starts.

“There will likely be some queueing, but we will do everything we can to keep this to a minimum,” says the festival website. “Please arrive in good time for any performance.”

All tickets will be digital and checked without contact at a social distance at the entrance to the patio area, where refreshments will be available.

Departing
STAFF will be managing the departure from the performance area “so that we don’t have large crowds all leaving at the same time”.

Loos
THE loos in De Grey House next to the patio will be open throughout. All loos will be stocked with anti-bacterial hand soap and stringent hand-washing guidelines are in place.

Social distancing
EACH household or social bubble will be seated at a safe distance from other households or social bubbles, in line with Government guidance at the time of the performance.

“You will be directed to a designated ‘social bubble spot’ by our staff,” says the website. “Please be patient with them and sit where they direct – they know best!”

Food and refreshments
A LIMITED range of soft and alcoholic drinks will be on sale, alongside ice creams and chocolate.

Ticketing policy
IF you have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been diagnosed with the virus or have been in direct contact with a diagnosed individual in the past 14 days, you must not attend the event.

If you are unable to attend as a result of illness, please email boxoffice@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and a ticket transfer can be arranged. Tickets can only be refunded if the booked performance has sold out.

Additional cleaning
THE patio area will be thoroughly cleaned between each performance. “Our already high cleaning standards have been enhanced by a cleaning programme designed to clean and sanitise the high touch points,” assures the website.

More information can be found at: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/be-part-of-it/collective-acts/pop-up-on-the-patio/. 

Garden of delights: Hannah Sibai’s design for Pop-Up On The Patio at York Theatre Royal

Garden of delights as Alex and Phil stage Orpheus, Eurydice and more at the mill

Definitely not Yorkshire: Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, when taking Orpheus to the other side of the world. Now they will stage it in Alexander’s back garden near York

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger are heading home with their I’ll Try And See You Sometimes art attack for lockdown-eased times.

This summer’s already Hyper Local Tour of their international touring show Orpheus will become even more hyper local for “six days of work” in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill, Stillington, north of York.

The one with the mill pond and wooded backdrop, now with social-distancing measures in place for Covid-secure At The Mill shows from August 2 to 7 to a maximum audience of 30 per 7pm show.

“We’re doing some Orpheus, some Eurydice, and one night of New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before,” say the duo.

York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger take the applause after a performance of their international hit Orpheus. Picture: Hartstone Kitney

Presented by York theatre makers Alex and Phil’s companies, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, the duo will stage:

Sunday, August 2: Orpheus, £12;

Monday, August 3: Eurydice, Orpheus’s sister show, £12;

Tuesday, August 4: Either Orpheus or Eurydice, decided via an Instagram poll, £12;

Wednesday, August 5: New work from Alex and Phil, a reading of This Story Is For You and a gig by Clive (Phil’s name for his solo music, Clive being his middle name and his father’s name). A new story from Alex, a new series of songs from Phil, £9;

Thursday, August 6: Double bill of Orpheus and Eurydice. Both shows, back to back, Orpheus first, £16.

Friday, August 7: Double bill of Orpheus and Eurydice. Both shows, back to back, Eurydice first, £16.

Hat, notebook, guitar: Tools of the trade for Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger when performing Orpheus

“All tickets types will show up when you book. Please select the correct price for whatever day/show you are booking,” say Alex and Phil. “It’s pretty obvious, it says on the ticket.

“There are only 30 tickets per event. We will lay out the seats each day depending on what group sizes have booked. However many tickets you book, we’ll lay out that many chairs for your group with a nice table in the garden, socially distanced from other groups.

“There won’t be a bar or refreshments, so feel free to bring your own drinks/ picnic along. There will be a wet-weather option, but it‘s not an indoor option, so if it‘s chilly, please do wrap up.”

To book tickets, go to: theflanagancollective.com/LiveShows.html.

I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, say Alex and Phil in their five-pronged art attack

Oh, you are Orpheus: Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, one notebook, one guitar, shoes off (out of picture) are here to entertain you “on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens”

LIVE theatre is back, all over North Yorkshire, at your invitation.

Step forward York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, who are finding new ways of telling stories and creating art and theatre this summer.

As part of the duo’s five-pronged art attack under the banner I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, they are presenting Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour, a show whose 325 two-hander performances before the Covid curse had taken Alex and Phil across the globe, let alone to Castle Howard.

As of today, announced by Culture Secretary at the Downing Street briefing on Thursday, outdoor performances can return, whether socially distanced theatre, opera, dance or music.

Alex and Phil have been ahead of the Government curve, however, setting I’ll Try And See You Sometimes in motion in mid-June.

“We’re taking Orpheus on an outdoor tour around North Yorkshire’s local lanes, villages, and towns, performing with social distancing in place and abiding by Government guidelines on how many people can meet at any one time,” says Alex.

“The shows can take place on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens,” says Phil. “Instead of announcing a show that the public can book tickets for, we’re asking for people to pop on to flanagancollective.com and book a suitable slot and the whole show will be brought to them.”

The I’ll Try And See You Sometimes season is bringing together Wright’s company The Flanagan Collective, Grainger’s Gobbledigook Theatre and industry friends.

“We’re taking theatre and the arts to the people of Yorkshire, keeping spirits up and people connected during these times of social distancing to help combat loneliness, something needed more than ever in the Covid-19 climate,” they say.

“Some of it is hyper local, some of it is spread far further afield, some of it is music, some of it is stories, none of it is digital.”  

All the world’s a stage for Orpheus, whether in New York, on the Ouse Cruise boat in York or out in Australia

The duo’s five-hand of analogue works are: Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour; Oh, To Be So Lonely – A Pen Pal Project; This Story Is For You – A New Story With Guest Illustrators; Half Man, Half Bull – Two Myths Over A Double Album and The Odyssey – An International Adaptation.

Both theatre-makers attended school in rural North Yorkshire, and still live there, five miles apart, Alexander at a converted 17th century corn mill in Stillington, Phil in Easingwold.

Usually, however, they spend most of their time away from home, touring theatre across the globe, but Covid-19 and the lockdown has brought them back to Yorkshire, where they are pooling their skills, experience and creativity.

“When the lockdown hit, we were touring in Australia and about to head to New Zealand,” says Alex. “We’ve been touring our adaptation of Orpheus for a few years now, taking it across the UK, around Australia, New Zealand, Bali and over to New York.”

Alex and Phil made a sister show, Eurydice, created with performers Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews, and this year added The Gods The Gods The Gods to their repertoire, premiered in Australia.

“All three shows were lined up for UK and international touring for the next 18 months or so, including a season at the Edinburgh Fringe. But obviously that has all changed now,” says Alex.

“I’ve been keeping up with the wider industry conversations – the difficulty in using auditoriums, the need for government assistance, the huge case for our industry to be saved – and we agree with all of it and we’ve also been aware of the need to do something.”

Hence the launch of I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, showing initiative, imagination, an eye for innovation and a need for adventure that marked out writer, director, musician and performer Alex’s best-known work: the Guild of Misrule’s immersive, jazz-age hit show The Great Gatsby that began at a closed York pub.

In a nutshell, he and musician, singer, composer, actor, director and sound designer Phil make and deliver work outside of the usual physical four walls. “We have shaped, created, railed against, built, torn down, raised and radicalised perceptions of what theatre, narrative, storytelling and a relationship with an audience can be,” says Alex.

“We’re now finding ways to keep telling stories. It’s not about re-imagining shows we wanted to do live, in rooms full of hundreds of people and, instead, try and fit them on Zoom.

Phil Grainger in a performance of Orpheus in pre-Coronavirus times

“There are wonderful digital storytellers and artists in the world, but we’re not one of them. So, we’ve come up with a season of analogue work: a season of work where you get tangible things, which seeks to connect people, deliver narratives, and tell stories.”

The quintet of works can be booked in North Yorkshire and accessed regionally, nationally and internationally as the season plays across a various outdoor spaces and will be available to download.

Run by Alex and his sister Abbigail Ollive’s Lonely Arts Club, Oh, To Be So Lonely is a pen pal project, whereby those who sign up will receive a letter saying hello, with a bit of chat and reading, listening and watching recommendations.

“Those who wish for their contact details to be shared with others in the group will have the opportunity to write and share their lockdown experiences with others wanting to reconnect with the community,” says Alex. 

This Story Is For You is a “typically sad” new story written by Alex with a soundtrack by Phil and artwork by guest illustrators. “We’ve teamed up with a bunch of pals and asked them to turn the story into a book, and to create unique artworks to go alongside the story,” says Phil. “Audiences will then get the story, the artwork, and the music to keep.”

For the Half Man, Half Bull double album, Alex and Phil have linked up with Ollie Tilney, from The Great Gatsby cast, and Streatham Space Project to retell two ancient Greek myths.

“We’re writing the story of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedelus & Icarus as a double album release on vinyl, CD and for digital download,” says Phil. “Two stories, told together, made to be listened to.”

The Odyssey – An International Adaptation involves Alex and Phil teaming up with friends in the north, London, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Wellington to create an adaptation of Homer’s Greek epic poem, told through a series of one-on-one/small-scale encounters.

Those who book a ticket will be told to meet in a certain place at a certain time, to be joined there by a storyteller and or a musician

Details of the full season are available at theflanagancollective.com, where bookings can be made too.

Has notebook, will take bookings: Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Orpheus