Why folk musician Grace Petrie has put down the guitar to take up stand-up comedy in Butch Ado About Nothing. UPDATED & EXTENDED 15/9/2023

Suits you, ‘”sir”: Grace Petrie in Butch Ado About Nothing, her debut stand-up comedy show

FOLK singer, lesbian and checked-shirt collector Grace Petrie has been incorrectly called “Sir” every day of her adult life, she says.

Now, after finally running out of subject matter for her “whiny songs”, she is putting down the guitar at the age of 36 to work out why in her debut stand-up show, Butch Ado About Nothing, as she returns to The Crescent in York on September 17.

Before then, her tour brings Grace to Old Woollen, in Farsley, Leeds, tonight (31/8/2023) and The Leadmill, Sheffield, on September 10.

“I’m definitely out of my comfort zone. Check in with me before the first show for how my nerves are!” she said on the eve of the tour kicking off. “The great thing with songs is that whether they’re good or not, people will clap, but if they don’t find a joke funny, they won’t laugh.

“I have to be honest and say that I’m bricking it much more than with my folk gigs, but it’s good to challenge myself.”

What’s more, Grace has “had a front-row seat for a masterclass in comedy”, from supporting comedians on tour. “I’ve learnt to develop that between-song patter, which I came to enjoy, and as those introductions got longer and longer, I thought, ‘well, I better put my money where my mouth is’ [by doing stand-up].

“Billy Bragg is a huge inspiration, and so was Billy Connolly, who set out to be a folk musician. Victoria Wood too.”

Finding herself mired in an age of incessantly and increasingly fraught gender politics, the Norwich-based Leicester native set about exploring what butch identity means in a world moving beyond labels, pondering where both that identity and she belong in the new frontline of queer liberation.

“I first did the show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and was really passionate that I wanted to do it in a different way, with no music, over a month of shows,” says Grace.

“I’ve been writing in the months since then because of the need to update it, though it’s basically an autobiographical show, so I guess the bare bones don’t change as it’s about my experiences as a butch woman moving in a patriarchal world and how it treats women who don’t fit into that world.”

In her suits, her hair cropped with a neat side parting, the daily occurrence of being called “Sir” troubled Grace when she was younger, but “I have got used to it,” she says. “It made a change being greeted with ‘monsieur’ at the airport when I was in Canada recently!” she says.

That put a smile on her face, and her show has been doing likewise for her audiences. “I would hope it’s a show for anybody. All kinds of people came to see it in Edinburgh, though there is the draw for queer audiences and especially butch audiences, but I’ve also had messages from straight blokes saying, ‘you gave me something to think about’,” says Grace,

“The best comedy is the comedy that stays with you and makes you think. That’s always what I want to do, whether in concerts or comedy, when you’re trying to put across ideas, you could lecture someone with facts, but if you move someone emotionally, that’s far more powerful.”

Freed from her guitar, reliant on the spoken word, Grace has found her performing style changing too after 15 years on the folk circuit in her transition to comedy. “It’s not only the voice, but also the body, and how you use it on stage, when you’re not playing the guitar,” she says.

“It’s funny how there are a million things that affect how a show will be before you’ve even set foot on stage – and it’s also been amazing how different comedy audiences are, just in terms of expectations, in terms of calling out.

“At a music show, you’re encouraging them to sing along, but at a comedy gig, noise can be derailing, so I have to think about how I use my body, how I use the microphone, and I’ve learned a huge amount being in front of audiences about to control the show.”

For the tour, Grace has chosen to play smaller rooms than she would for her concerts. “That’s deliberate, because comedy is a more intimate artform, where you need people to see your face and your mannerisms,” she reasons.

“Performing the Edinburgh shows last year, the biggest benefit was in facing my fear of doing stand-up. At the end of the day, the worst thing people can do is not laugh. That can happen and it can feel brutal, but you just have to get up and do it again. You just have to go back to the same room, the same stage, and do it again.”

John-Luke Roberts, Grace’s comedian friend, gave her a piece of advice. ” He said that making people laugh is an emotion and it’s no different to any other emotion in that way,” she says.

How Grace triggers that emotion, in a show directed by her partner, fellow performer and writer Molly Naylor, is through a combination of long-form stories and gag-heavy sections.

Over 15 years, she has enjoyed “many wonderful gigs in York”, from the smallest room at the Black Swan Inn to The Crescent and York Barbican. “I would say my favourite visit was when I did a tour of Labour marginal seats in 2019 and we did one for York Outer with York spoken-word performer Henry Raby at the Crescent,” says Grace. “That was was a really barnstorming, fist-pumping night!”

Butch Ado About Nothing presents her in a different guise on her return there, but looking ahead, she will not be putting her guitar to bed for good. Far from it. “I’ll be recording a new album in October,” she reveals.

Her transition to stand-up is not the only move that Grace has been making. “I’ve bought a house in Sheffield,” she says. “I love Sheffield! I managed one term of studying a course to do with youth work and counselling but it was a bit of Mickey Mouse degree, so I sacked it off, but got a job and stayed there for three years. Now I’m back.”

Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Grace Petrie: Butch Ado About Nothing, The Crescent, York, September 17, 7.30pm, SOLD OUT. Also plays Old Woollen, Farsley, Leeds, August 31, 8pm, and The Leadmill, Sheffield, September 10 7.30pm. Box office: gracepetrie.com; York, thecrescentyork.com; Leeds, oldwoollen.co.uk; Sheffield, leadmill.co.uk.

Grace Petrie’s trinity of checked shirt, guitar and sea

Did you know?

GRACE Petrie is a swimming enthusiast, swimming each day during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe run, for example. Her sea water publicity photos were shot at Happisburgh, on the Norfolk coast.

Did you know too?

GRACE appeared on The Guilty Feminist bill, a live offshoot from the irreverent podcast series, hosted by Deborah Frances-White at York Barbican in May 2022. Part comedy, part deep-dive discussion and part activism, the show “examined our noble goals as 21st-century feminists and our hypocrisies and insecurities that undermine those goals”.

More Things To Do in York & beyond, from musical mischief to hen night shenanigans. Here’s Hutch’s List No.32, from The Press

Bull: Headlining The Boatyard Festival at Bishopthorpe Marina today

SHAKESPEARE in gardens, music and magic by the riverside, an LGBTQ musical premiere and a riotous hen party on stage are among Charles Hutchinson’s eye-catchers for upcoming entertainment.

Festival of the week: The Boatyard Festival, The Boatyard, Bishopthorpe Marina, Ferry Lane, Bishopthorpe, York, today, 10am until late

THIS family-friendly music festival will be headlined by ebullient York band Bull. Look out too for Bonneville, Tymisha, London DJ Zee Hammer, Yorky Pud Street Band, The Plumber Drummer, City Snakes, Rum Doodle and Hutch.

Further attractions will be stilt walkers, a hula-hoop workshop, a giant bubble show, magic, face painting, fayre games, stalls, food and drink, with free admission for accompanied children. Box office: head to the-boatyard.co.uk/events/ for the QR code to book.

Four Wheel Drive director Alfie Howle and cast member Alison Gammon park up at the National Centre of Early Music for a garden of delights in A Midsummer Day’s Dream

Crazy chaos of the week: Four Wheel Drive presents A Midsummer Day’s Dream, National Centre for Early Music, York, today at 11am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm

FOUR Wheel Drive, producers of “off-road theatrical experiences” in York, invite children aged seven to 11 and their families to a musical, magical and mystical diurnal reimagining of William Shakespeare’s romcom in the NCEM gardens (or indoors if wet).

Four Athenians run away to the forest, only for the sylvan sprite Puck to make both the boys fall in love with the same girl while also helping his master play a trick on the fairy queen. Will all this crazy chaos have a happy ending? Anna Gallon and Alfie Howle’s interactive 45-minute adaptation will allow children to engage in the mischief-making Midsummer action, performed by Gallon, Katja Schiebeck and Esther Irving. Grab a boom-wacker and book tickets on 01904 658338 or necem.co.uk.

Three in one: Esk Valley Theatre writer, director and actor Mark Stratton

Debut of the week: Esk Valley Theatre in Deals And Deceptions, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, Whitby, until August 26

IN artistic director Mark Stratton’s first play for Esk Valley Theatre, Danny and Jen leave London and head to an isolated cottage in the North York Moors. City clashes with country, dark forces are at work and humorous situations arise.

“We may think we know the person we are married to, but do we?” asks Stratton, who is joined in the cast by Clare Darcy and Dominic Rye. “What someone chooses to show the world is not always who they are. If they trade in deals and deceptions, then a day of reckoning will surely come.” Box office: 01947 897587 or eskvalleytheatre.co.uk.

Is this the hen party from hell? Will best friends fall out in Bridesmaids Of Britain? Find out tomorrow night

Hen party comedy heads to hen party haven: Bridesmaids Of Britain, Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow, 7pm

BILLED as “the girls’ night out to remember”, welcome to Diana Doherty’s Bridesmaids Of Britain. Becky is the overly loyal maid-of-honour whose life unravels as she leads best friend Sarah on a wild ride down the road to matrimony.

Things go awry, however, as competition between Becky and Tiffany – Sarah new BFF (best friend forever, obvs) – over who is the bride’s bestie threatens to upend the wedding planning that has been in the making since primary school. Be prepared for dance-offs, sing-offs and eventually shout-offs at the “hen do of the year”, held in a caravan. Will this wedding story have a happy ending, or will these best friends rip each other apart? Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Dan Crawfurd-Porter’s Whizzer and Chris Mooney’s Marvin in rehearsal for Black Sheep Theatre Productions’ Falsettos, opening at the JoRo on Wednesday

York premiere of the week: Black Sheep Theatre Productions in Falsettos, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee.

YORK company Black Sheep Theatre Productions has been granted an exclusive British licence by Concord Theatricals and composer/lyricist William Finn to stage Finn and James Lapine’s “very gay, very Jewish” musical Falsettos, thanks to the persistence of director Matthew Clare.

In its late-Seventies, early-Eighties American story, set against the backdrop of the rise of Aids, Marvin has left his wife Trina and son Jason to be with his male lover Whizzer, whereupon he struggles to keep his Jewish family together in the way he has idealised. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Pennine Suite: Topping Friday’s bill of York bands at The Crescent

York music bill of the week: Northern Radar presents Pennine Suite, Sun King, Everything After Midnight and The Rosemaries, The Crescent, York, Friday, 7.30pm to 11pm

PENNINE Suite play their biggest headline gig to date in an all-York line-up on a rare 2023 appearance in their home city. The five-piece draws inspiration from the alternative rock movements of the 1980s and 1990s, interlaced with shoegaze and pop melodies, typified by the singles Far and Scottish Snow. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Garden secrets: Which character will York Shakespeare Project veteran Frank Brogan play in Sonnets At The Bar? It’s all hush-hush until August 11

Bard convention: York Shakespeare Project in Sonnets At The Bar, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Friday to August 19 (except August 14), 6pm and 7.30pm plus 4.30pm Saturday performances

YORK Shakespeare Project returns to the secret garden at Bar Convent for another season of Shakespeare sonnets, this time directed by Tony Froud. Reprising the familiar format, the show features a series of larger-than-life modern characters, each with a secret to reveal through a sonnet.

Inside writer Helen Wilson’s framework of the comings and goings of hotel staff and guests, the characters will be played by Diana Wyatt, Judith Ireland, Sarah Dixon, Frank Brogan, Maurice Crichton, Nigel Evans, Harold Mozley, Froud and Wilson. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Ceridwen Smith in Next Door But One’s The Firework-Maker’s Daughter . Picture: James Drury

Talking elephants of the week: Next Door But One in The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, York Theatre Royal patio, August 12, 11am and 2pm

YORK theatre-makers Next Door But One’s adventurous storyteller travels to Lila’s Firework Festival in this intimate, inclusive, accessible and fun stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel, replete with talking elephants, silly kings and magical creatures.

As Lila voyages across lakes and over mountains, she faces her biggest fears and learns everything she needs to know to become the person she has always wanted to be. Makaton signs and symbols, puppetry and audience participation play their part in Ceridwen Smith’s performance. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Grace Petrie: Switching from folk musician to stand-up comedy act on tour in York, Leeds and Sheffield

Change of tack: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Grace Petrie: Butch Ado About Nothing, The Crescent, York, September 17, 7.30pm

FOLK singer, lesbian and checked-shirt-collector Grace Petrie has been incorrectly called “Sir” every day of her adult life. Now, after finally running out of subject matter for her “whiny songs”, she is putting down the guitar to work out why in her debut stand-up show, Butch Ado About Nothing, on her return to The Crescent.

Finding herself mired in an age of incessantly and increasingly fraught gender politics, the Norwich-based Leicester native explores what butch identity means in a world moving beyond labels, pondering where both that identity and she belong in the new frontline of queer liberation. Petrie also plays Old Woollen, Leeds, on August 31 (8pm) and The Leadmill, Sheffield, on September 10 (7.30pm). Box office: gracepetrie.com; York, thecrescentyork.com; Leeds, oldwoollen.co.uk; Sheffield, leadmill.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Pinter’s pause and effect comes home to roost. List No 82, courtesy of The Press

Keith Allen: Homing in on The Homecoming arriving at York Theatre Royal on Monday

AVOIDING the “devastation of stag and hen parties” (copyright Rachael Maskell, York Central MP), Charles Hutchinson finds reasons aplenty to venture out.

Play of the week: Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Thursday, 2pm; Saturday, 2.30pm

GAVIN & Stacey star Mathew Horne and Keith Allen star in Jamie Glover’s new production of The Homecoming, Harold Pinter’s bleakly funny 1965 exploration of family and relationships.

University professor Teddy returns to his North London childhood home from America, accompanied by his wife Ruth, to find his father, uncle and brothers still living there. As life becomes a barely camouflaged battle for power and sexual supremacy, who will emerge victorious: poised and elegant Ruth or her husband’s dysfunctional family? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Tom Figgins: Introducing new material tonight at Stillington Mill. Picture: Daniel Harris

Outdoor gig of the week: Tom Figgins, Music At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, tonight, 7.30pm

SINGER-SONGWRITER Tom Figgins returns to At The Mill’s garden stage after last summer’s sold-out performance, with the promise of new material.

Figgins’ vocal range, guitar playing and compelling lyrics caught the ear of presenter Chris Evans, who hosted him on his BBC Radio 2 show and invited him to play the main stage at CarFest North & South.

His instrumental works have been heard on Countryfile and Panorama and he is the composer for the Benlunar podcast, now on its fourth series. Box office:  tickettailor.com/events/atthemill.

Martin Roscoe: Guest piano soloist for York Guildhall Orchestra

Classical concert of the week: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra’s final concert of their 2021-2022 season welcomes the long-awaited return of pianist Martin Roscoe, originally booked to perform in May 2020.

Retained from that Covid-cancelled programme are Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite, with its combination of cheeky jazz tunes and the Russian’s mastery of orchestration, and Dohnanyi’s mock-serious take on a children’s nursery rhyme. Leeds Festival Chorus join in for Elgar’s Music Makers. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Go West and Paul Young: Eighties’ revival at York Barbican

Eighties’ nostalgia of the week: Go West & Paul Young, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm

PETER Cox and Richard Drummer’s slick duo, Go West, and Luton soul singer Paul Young go north this weekend for a double bill of Eighties’ pop.

Expect We Close Our Eyes, Call Me, Don’t Look Down and King Of Wishful Thinking, from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, in Go West’s set. The chart-topping Wherever I Lay My Hat, Love Of The Common People, Everytime You Go Away and Everything Must Change will be on Young’s To Do list. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Wanting a word with you at the Grand Opera House

Fun and word games of the week: Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 8pm

HAVE I Got News For You regular and Comedy Store Players co-founder Paul Merton teams up with fellow seasoned improvisers Richard Vranch, Suki Webster and Mike McShane and accompanist Kirsty Newton to flex their off-the-cuff comedy muscles on their first antics roadshow travels since August 2019.

“What audiences like about what we do is that we haven’t lost our sense of play, our sense of fun, the sort of thing that gets knocked out of you because you have to get married or get a mortgage or find a job,” says Merton. Let the fun and games sparked by audience suggestions begin. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Hayley Ria Christian: All aboard her Midnight Train To Georgia for a night of Gladys Knight hits

Homage, not tribute show, of the week: Hayley Ria Christian in Midnight Train To Georgia, A Celebration Of Gladys Knight, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm

HAYLEY Ria Christian’s show is “definitely not a tribute, but a faithful portrayal that truly pays homage to the voice of a generation, the one and only Empress of Soul, Ms Gladys Knight”.

In the late Sixties and Seventies, Gladys Knight & The Pips enjoyed such hits as Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me, Help Me Make It Through The Night, Try To Remember/The Way We Were, Baby, Don’t Change Your Mind and her signature song Midnight Train To Georgia. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Milton Jones: International spy turned comedian in Milton: Impossible

Comedy gig of the week: Milton Jones in Milton: Impossible, Harrogate Theatre, May 21, 7.30pm

ONE man. One Mission. Is it possible? “No, not really,” says Kew comedian Milton Jones, the shock-haired matador of the piercing one-liner, as he reveals the truth behind having once been an international spy, but then being given a somewhat disappointing new identity that forced him to appear on Mock The Week.

“But this is also a love story with a twist, or at least a really bad sprain,” says Jones. “Is it all just gloriously daft nonsense, or is there a deeper meaning?”  Find out next weekend. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Grace Petrie: Carrying on the fight for a better tomorrow when every day you are told you have lost already

Protest gig of the week: Grace Petrie, The Crescent, York, May 23, 7.30pm

DIY protest singer Grace Petrie emerged from lockdown with Connectivity, her 2021 polemical folk album that reflects on what humanity means in a world struggling against division and destruction.

Petrie’s honest songs seek a way to carry on the fight for a better tomorrow when every day you are told you have lost already. Bad news: her York gig has sold out. Good news: she will be playing Social, Hull, too on May 18 at 8pm (box office, seetickets.com). On both nights, she will be accompanied by long-time collaborator, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Moss.