IN August 2014, Yorkshire had the honour of staging the British regional premiere of DreamWorks Theatricals’ Shrek The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre, when 2023 Strictly Come Dancing quarter finalist Nigel Harman was the director, incidentally.
Now the latest tour plays York, with co-directors Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston at the helm and 2016 Strictly champion Joanne Clifton playing the Grand Opera House for the fourth time, after The Rocky Horror Show in 2019, preceded by Flashdance and Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2017, here revelling in the role of Princess Fiona.
Nik Briggs’s presence in Monday night’s audience was a reminder that Shrek The Musical has turned this theatre green once before: he played the not-so-jolly ogre in York Stage’s production in 2019.
Holmes and choreographer Winston oversee a 2023-2024 touring production big on video, sound and lighting design, bigger still on big numbers, and biggest of all on big, big love. All that and a particularly towering Shrek as played by the lovably lumpen, grumpy Antony Lawrence.
You will surely know the iconoclastic story and characters from the first DreamWorks animated Shrek film in 2001, but the book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and persistently perky music by Jeanine Tesori were new to the 2008 musical.
Their songs, more forceful than overtly melodic, match the bright and bouncy tone of the trademark irreverent humour that adds playful send-ups of The Lion King and Les Miserables to the original film template of satirising and redefining the fairytale pecking order established by Grimm and Disney.
Hence the presence of myriad fairytale characters, in the manner of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, all in rebellious mood, from Georgie Buckland’s Gingy, who takes the biscuit, to Scotty Armstrong’s Big Bad Wolf, Mark D’arcy’s Pinocchio to Jonathan David Dudley’s Pied Piper.
All have their moments in song and dance, less so in dialogue, dominated instead by the big four of Lawrence’s Shrek, Clifton’s Princess Fiona, Brandon Lee Sears’ Donkey and James Gillan’s foppish Lord Farquaad.
Not forgetting a terrific turn by blues-belting Cherece Richards as the power-vocal front of the love-sick Dragon, hot on guarding Princess Fiona in the tower (as well as a second role as the Wicked Witch).
Early days in her professional career after leaving the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts this summer, keep an eye and ear on this BA Musical Theatre 2023 graduate, who more than makes the grade in Shrek, even with a huge dragon puppet design by Jimmy Grimes behind her.
Shrek The Musical’s naturally solitary, swamp-dwelling Shrek is even ruder, definitely windier, than his film version, still irascible, still wary, but nevertheless teaming up with Sears’ irrepressible Donkey to extract Clifton’s temperamental, bored, probably bipolar Princess Fiona from her tower to deliver her to Lord Farquaad for her fairytale nuptials.
Lawrence’s Shrek makes being glum a joy, his warts-and-all unconventional hero experiencing the highs and lows, the frictions and fallouts of buddy movie relationships with Sears’ jive-talking, ever-excitable Donkey, a hoofer with hooves and a Little Richard meets Prince lip.
Lawrence’s big Scottish fella warms to Clifton’s equally unconventional Princess Fiona: her favourite role, she says, one that testifies to the creed of being who you want to be, rather than living up to other people’s expectations. Clifton is the triple threat writ large: stirring singer, swish dancer and humorous actress.
The show’s humour works on two levels: sometimes pantomimic for children, especially in the fairytale characters and in its love of raucous burps and bottom burps in Shrek and Fiona’s unbeatable party-piece duet, I Think I Got You Beat.
At other times, adult, smart and savvy, such as the observation that if you look grotesque, your life is “Kafka-esque”. Then stir in that British favourite, high camp, in the fruity form of Gillan’s big-headed but diminutive Lord Farquaad, with his curtain of silken hair, Shakespearean airs and Kylie hot pants.
Philip Witcomb’s set and costume designs echo pantomime; Winston’s choreography is full of individual swagger and ensemble electricity, and if the singing is often better than the songs, Shrek The Musical’s return to York, with its big, bright wonderful fairy world, fits the festive mood of shows at this time of year.
In the words of the closing I’m A Believer, if you thought love was only true in fairy tales, Lawrence and Clifton make it a good starting place.
Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
BEN Folds occupies his own unique space in the music firmament with his uncannily tuneful, wry and sarcastic tunes. Aged 56, he’s late in making his York debut but it was worth the wait. The future Folds could hardly wait for 30 years ago is now here, and he is wearing it well.
This has been a tour of highs and lows. The Grand Opera House sits on the same itinerary as the Royal Albert Hall but we very nearly didn’t see him. Tendinitis in his left arm has forced Folds to cancel his solo shows. This injury didn’t get a mention – and the energy levels on stage were high but may partly explain why the roof stayed on at the end.
When North Carolina pianist and songwriter Folds burst into our lives in the mid-1990s with the Ben Folds Five (ironically, a trio), his approach was a refreshing potpourri of punk, Jerry Lee Lewis piano and a White Stripes attitude.
Now in his mid-50s, Folds’ music has evolved. The wit in his lyrics is still very much there, but that sophistication is more clearly reflected musically too; with his tunes full of interesting twists and arrangements, like an alt-pop Bacharach or the realisation of where Elliot Smith may have been heading (particularly striking on Annie Waits).
Fortunately, Folds had an absolutely crack band for this tour; visually and musically at the top of their game. Folds sat stage left, while to the right bass player Mandy Clarke was a black-and-white pulsing thrum of energy, contrasting with multi-instrumentalist Ross Garron with his salt-and-pepper beard.
Behind Folds were the Tall Trees (Tim Harrington and Paul Wright), who provided many of the musical highlights in the 18-song setlist. On guitar and cello, they also sang superlative harmonies.
Showcasing tunes from June’s What Matters Most, Folds’ fifth studio album, this was not some Nineties’ nostalgia greatest hits show. The new album was chipped out of Covid, when Folds taught songwriting online (at least two of his students were in the audience).
Where many artists resist explaining their songs, Folds was the opposite, providing a fascinating glimpse into how his leftfield creative juices work. Kristina From The Seventh Grade was a standout although Exhausting Lover pitched for midlife Beck and fell short.
What Matters Most sounded a little workmanlike, not achieving the heft the title demands. The introduction to the song was exemplary, taking us from laughs to pathos with perfect timing.
Well-chosen forays into his back catalogue also gave the audience a chance to shine, on the money as Regina Spektor on You Don’t Know Me, as well as three-part harmonies on Zak And Sarah that made Folds smile (I think kindly, rather than in sympathy).
As we filed happily out afterwards, the Tall Trees continued to play in the street with the flooded River Ouse to one side – an original touch to put the cap on a fine evening’s entertainment.
’TIS the season for Dickens shows to begin, from solo shows to a musical, and to venture into Neverland too as Charles Hutchinson gets his festive skates on.
Fantastical adventure of the week and beyond: Christmas In Neverland, Castle Howard, near York, extended until January 7
CASTLE Howard is transformed with floristry, installations, props, soundscapes and projections to create an enchanting festive experience inspired by J M Barrie’s Peter Pan in Charlotte Lloyd Webber Event Design’s sixth magical installations inside the 300-year-old country house.
Look out for the Darling children’s London bedroom, Mermaid’s Lagoon, Captain Hook’s Cabin and the Jolly Roger as the design team prioritises sustainability and recycled materials, such as paper and glass, and teams up with Leeds theatre company Imitating The Dog, whose immersive projections and soundscapes feature for the first time. Tickets: castlehoward.co.uk.
Thriller of the week: Nunkie Theatre Company in Casting The Runes, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Sunday (26/11/2023), 7.30pm
M R James wrote his ghost stories to perform to friends in the years leading up to the First World War. Today they have lost none of their power to terrify and amuse in the hands of Nunkie Theatre Company, presenting two tales in a one-man show.
Casting The Runes’ story of the unforgettable Mr Karswell, magic lanternist, occult historian and scourge of academics, is partnered by James’s most neglected masterpiece, The Residence At Whitminster, wherein a dark shadow looms over the precinct of a peaceful English church. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Comedy gig of the week: Bridget Christie: Who Am I?, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday (26/11/2023), 7.30pm
BRIDGET Christie is hot, but not in a good way, she says, in her menopause comedy, where she is confused, furious, sweaty and annoyed by everything. At 52, she leaks blood, sweats, thinks Chris Rock is the same person as The Rock and cannot ride the motorbike she bought to combat her mid-life crisis because of early osteoarthritis in her hips and RSI in her wrist.
In Who Am I? Christie wonders why there are so many films, made by men, about young women discovering their sexuality, but none about middle-aged women forgetting theirs. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Dickens of a good storyteller: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, select dates from November 27 to December 11, 7pm
SOON to be seen in Lot No. 249, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Christmas ghost story for the BBC, gothic York storyteller and actor James Swanton revives his seasonal Charles Dickens trilogy: A Christmas Carol (six performances), on the book’s 180th anniversary, The Haunted Man and The Chimes (two each).
“‘All three stories are richly rewarding,” says James. “They brim with Dickens’s eye for capturing the weird, the strange and the odd, from human eccentricities to full blown phantoms. Dickens’s anger at social injustice also aligns sharply with our own – and of course, there’s a lot to be angry about at the moment.” Box office and performance details: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
American musical of the week: Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinee
LEAVE winter troubles far, far away to join the musical adventure as ogre Shrek (Antony Lawrence) and his buddy Donkey (Brandon Lee Sears) endeavour to complete their quest to defeat the dragon and save Princess Fiona (2016 Strictly champ Joanne Clifton). Look out for James Gillan’s Lord Farquaad too.
Based on the first animated Shrek film, DreamWorks’ musical features such David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori songs as Big Bright Beautiful World and I Know It’s Today alongside Neil Diamond’s climactic I’m A Believer. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Festive musical of the week: NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee
STEVE Tearle first staged Alan Menken’s musical version of Charles Dickens’s heart-warming story A Christmas Carol for NE Musicals five years ago. Once more he will combine directing a cast of 60 with playing the chain-clanking Jacob Marley.
Kit Stroud plays Ebenezer Scrooge, whose deep dislike of mankind is interrupted on Christmas Eve by three ghosts who, one by one, warn him of the consequences of the suffering he has caused. Will he join them, or will he mend his ways? Tickets update: all but the first two performances have sold out; last few tickets for Tuesday and Wednesday, 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Solo play of the week: Mark Farrelly’s Jarman, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm
MARK Farrelly, the writer-performer behind Quention Crisp: Naked Hope and Howerd’s End, turns his attention to Derek Jarman, iconoclastic filmmaker, painter, Prospect Cottage gardener, gay rights activist and writer.
“His influence remains as strong as it was on the day AIDS killed him in 1994, but his story, one of the most extraordinary lives ever lived, has never been told. Until now,” says Farrelly, whose passionate, daring reminder of the courage it takes to truly live when alive takes Jarman from Dungeness to deepest, brightest Soho. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Gig announcement of the week: Paul Weller, York Barbican, April 17 2024
THE Modfather Paul Weller will head back to York Barbican next spring after kicking off 2024 with a long-awaited January return to Japan and a trip to Australia, highlighted by three nights at the Sydney Opera House. He last performed at the Barbican in April 2022.
In 2023, Weller has played around Europe, performed a handful of Forest Live shows and had a special guest slot to Blur at Wembley Stadium. Next spring’s 14-date tour also takes in Sheffield City Hall on April 11. Tickets go on sale from Friday, December 1 at 10am at ticketmaster.co.uk, seetickets.com, gigantic.com and paulweller.com.
JOANNE Clifton loves the Grand Opera House, York, and not only for theatrical reasons.
“I’ve done three musicals there but it’s also where I signed off on my first house in Dressing Room 2,” says the 2016 Strictly Come Dancing champion.
From Monday, Joanne returns to the Cumberland Street theatre to play Princess Fiona alongside Antony Lawrence’s Shrek, James Gillan’s Lord Farquaad and Brandon Lee Sears’ Donkey in Sam Holmes and Nick Winston’s “Shrektacular” 2023-2024 touring production of David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeannie Tesori’s musical.
“We’re on the road from the end of July to April next year: a long tour, I know, but it’s my favourite role I’ve ever done, so I’m happy to do it as long as possible,” says the 2013 World Ballroom Showdance champion, who turned 40 on October 26.
“Fiona’s someone I really relate to. I know she’s a cartoon character, but if ever there was a princess I should play, it would be Fiona, as I’m not your typical princess. Maybe that’s because I’m from Grimsby.
“I’m never going to be the same as Cameron Diaz [who voiced Fiona in the Shrek films]. I’m told I’m more feisty. I shout a lot, especially at Shrek in my first few scenes where I want him to rescue me right now from the tower.”
Joanne loved the original Shrek animated film that spawned this official Dreamworks Theatricals musical. “Everyone knows the film, and how the film wasn’t the same as other cartoon films,” she says. “It’s a feelgood, funny musical, and of course it’s for kids but there are lots of jokes for adults too that go over kids’ heads.
“There are some important messages behind it too: be who you want to be, rather than living up to other people’s expectations. Princess Fiona starts out trying to be like how people expect a princess to be but ends up fighting and burping, falling for an ogre and getting on with a donkey!”
Summing up the humour, Joanne says: “It’s a very, very funny show, especially Lord Farquaad, and all that trumping that Shrek does and Fiona does. The kids absolutely love that! So there’s adult humour and toilet humour – at the end of the day trumps are just funny!”
Nick Winston’s choreography includes a big tap number for the former Strictly winner at the opening to Act Two. “I’m tap dancing with loads of rats as I’ve met the Pied Piper, who’s being followed by all these rats,” she says. “Especially as I’m 40 now, it’s one of the most demanding parts of the show – apart from the quick chase with the ogre at the end – because I’m singing, then I’m tap dancing and then have to finish by singing these big notes.”
The song in question is Morning Person. “I’m absolutely not a morning person!” says Joanne. “I’m very much an evening person. I’ll stay up until 2am, and if I could, I’d stay in bed all day.”
Nevertheless, the weekly performance schedule demands plenty of matinees. “We’ve recently done two weeks where we’ve had ‘double doubles’, matinees and evening shows on Wednesday and Thursday and then two shows on Saturday too. Sometimes we do eight shows in five days, but we just have to make it fun, and this cast is really good fun.
“On those matinee days, we’ll get breakfast, do the show, where we’re all buzzing after doing I’m A Believer at the end, and then everyone’s in the green room, having fun, some cast members doing jigsaws, and we have a Lego club too.”
Neil Diamond’s I’m A Believer – best known for The Monkees’ 1966 hit version – is joined by original songs aplenty in the musical. “There are extra bits to the story too that make it better,” says Joanne. “Like my first song, I Know It’s Today, where Fiona goes through the stages of her life in the tower, from the age of seven, reading books, then teenage Fiona, older and brasher, and then I come on as Fiona as she is now, going out of her mind stuck in the tower.”
Joanne will be appearing in an American musical for the fourth time at the Grand Opera House after playing prim and proper college student Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Show in June 2019 and starring twice in 2017, first as demure Kansas flapper girl Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie in February, then combustible Pittsburgh steel mill welder Alex Owens in Flashdance in November.
“It’s one of my favourite theatres,” she says. “I love old, traditional theatres, and York has such happy memories for me.”
Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 27 to December 2, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
AND then there were thrillers, music, spoken word and comedy gigs, a cricket legend show and smooth crooner tribute for Charles Hutchinson to recommend.
Thriller of the week: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Grand Opera House, York, November 22 to 25, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees
AFTER Pick Me Up Theatre’s September staging at Theatre@41, Monkgate, here comes Lucy Bailey’s “genuinely terrifying” touring production of Agatha Christie’s best-selling 1939 crime novel, starring, among others, Andrew Lancel as William Blore, David Yelland as Judge Wargrave and Sophie Walter as Vera Claythorne.
Ten strangers – eight guests and a butler and his housekeeper wife – are lured to a solitary mansion off the coast of Devon. When a storm cuts them off from the mainland, the true reason for their presence on Soldier Island becomes horribly clear. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Spanish sarcasm of the week: Ignacio Lopez, YO1 Live Lounge, York Barbican, November 18, 8pm
SPANISH export Ignacio Lopez, from Live At The Apollo, The Now Show and Stand-Up Sesh, scrutinises his immigrant upbringing and family tree in a show about clashing cultures and never fitting in.
Sharing his biggest failures with a globe-trotting story of music, comedy and admin cock-ups, exotic outsider comedian Ignacio skewers Britain and Spain with an armada of stand-up sarcasm, silliness and songs. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Comedy times two at Grand Opera House, York: Simon Brodkin, Screwed Up, November 18, 8pm; Lucy Beaumont, The Trouble & Strife, November 19, 8pm
THE most viewed British comedian of all time on TikTok, notorious prankster and Lee Nelson creator Simon Brodkin rips into celebrity culture, social media, the police, Putin, Prince Andrew and Jesus in his new stand-up show, Screwed Up. Nothing is off limits, from his mental health to his five arrests and his family.
An award-winning stand-up (and actress) before she met Leeds comedian and now husband Jon Richardson, Hull-born Lucy Beaumont lets slip on her rollercoaster world through a surrealist lens. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Chat show of the week: An Audience With Henry Blofeld, York Theatre Royal, November 20, 7.30pm
TEST Match Special alumnus Henry Blofeld, 84, will discuss rather more than the art of cricket commentary. “If you think you’re going to learn how to play a forward defensive, you’ll be sadly disappointed,” he forewarns.
Instead, expect his colourful life story in a tongue-in-cheek show, full of after-dinner anecdotes and meandering digressions where Blowers pokes fun at himself and his TMS gaffes and his subjects veer from intergalactic travel to horticulture to mountaineering. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Folk gig of the week: The Trials Of Cato, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm
2019 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Trials Of Cato pay homage to the folk tradition while twisting old bones into something febrile and modern, combining stomping tunes and captivating stories.
Formed in Beirut, Lebanon, the Welsh/English band have been based in Britain since 2016, releasing the albums Hide And Hair in 2018 and Gog Magog, named after the mythical giant of Arthurian legend and a Cambridgeshire hilltop, last year. Mandolin player and vocalist Polly Bolton has joined the trio after leaving The Magpies. Support act will be Annie Dressner, once of New York City, now of Cambridgeshire. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk
Underground movement of the week: Navigators Art & Performance, The Basement Sessions, The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York, November 25, doors, 7pm
YORK creative hub Navigators Art & Performance launches the Basement Sessions series of Music, Spoken Word and Comedy – Live, Local and Loud! with a bill of performers from the York area and “a few surprises up the sleeve”.
In the line-up are punk/post-punk/alt. rock/indie band What Fresh Hell, playing their farewell gig; pop, soul and acoustic singer-songwriter Jess Gardham; comedian John Pease; performance artist Carrieanne Vivianette, exploring the legacies of radical women through voice, movement and improvisation, and jazz-turned-punk Battle of the Bands finalists Attacker TV. Box office: bit.ly/nav-base-1 or on the door.
Tribute show of the week: Atila Huseyin in King For A Day: The Nat King Cole Story, National Centre for Early Music, York, November 26, 7pm
ATILA Huseyin combines live music, narration and projected archive images and footage in his concert celebration of one the 20th century’s greatest vocalists and entertainers, Nat King Cole. of the Twentieth Century: Nat King Cole.
Accompanied by world-class musicians, Huseyin performs such favourites as Nature Boy, Unforgettable and When I Fall in Love alongside stylish reworkings of his lesser-known gems. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.
Looking ahead: Chris McCausland, Yonks!, Grand Opera House, York, November 10 2024
LIVERPUDLIAN comedian Chris McCausland will follow up his 140-date Speaky Blinder tour with 104 shows on his Yonks! travels in January to May and September to December 2024. Why Yonks? “I’ve been called an ‘overnight success’, even though I’ve been doing this for yonks,” he reasons after more than two decades on the stand-up circuit.
This year, McCausland, 46, has hosted his own travel series, Wonders Of The World I Can’t See, on Channel 4. His Work In Progress show at Selby Town Hall on Wednesday (8pm) has sold out. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
A WELL-TOLD story doesn’t lose its power to capture the imagination. Agatha Christie’s work continues to be enjoyed decades later. Times change, our love of a good murder mystery does not. While the original venue for the play was bombed out during the Second World War, this York performance looked sold out and deservedly so.
And Then There Were None is the story of ten strangers, lured to an island by various deceits in order to reveal their past sins and receive their comeuppance. The opening scenes play out leisurely, perhaps too leisurely, as we are introduced to the locked-down guests. In lesser hands, these characters could easily come across as dated clichés, but the longer they live, the more depths we see.
Blessed with director Lucy Bailey at the helm and a top-flight cast, you are in for an enjoyable tense evening. Bailey has wisely not deconstructed Christie’s bomb-proof plot. The updates are mostly to bring depth and nuance. Modern tastes are thrown a bone with a slow-motion sequence here, a memory there.
Most of the deaths thankfully still take place off stage and the social order remains implacably fixed. The same-sex kiss between Lucy Tregear as George Rogers (updating the original male butler) and Jane Pinchbeck (Nicola May-Taylor) drew gasps in Cambridge but barely raise an eyebrow in York.
This is an ensemble piece and now mid-tour is operating at its peak. Once the thrilling machinery of murder is running, each comes to the fore. Movement director Ayse Tashkiran has cleverly arranged the characters’ comings and goings so that each is both inquisitor and “inquisited” upon.
Joseph Beatie as adventurer Philip Lombard keeps his head more than others, and his performance is commendably textured. Bob Barrett, once the rumpled doctor Sacha Levy in Holby City, is again a rumpled doctor. He clearly relishes his character’s dark night of the soul after the interval.
David Yelland is more debonair than ice as Judge Wargrave; suavely seeking to control proceedings as he once did in court; hiding his steel beneath an impeccably unruffled exterior. He could have made mincemeat of General MacKenzie, played with refreshing humanity and without bombast by Jeffery Kissoon.
The female members of the cast struck different notes; Treagar brings both resolve and enough drunken tenderness to her butler, while Katy Stephens is a formidably trenchant force as religious Emily Brent. The minor roles remain more one dimensional: callow, nervy or late with the milk as the plot demands.
Mike Britton’s set functions on a number of levels, a concave beach/sky in the background to represent Soldier Island, minimalist furniture (ageless but for the rug) and employing layers (both physical and psychological) seen through see through curtains. Bailey makes good, if sparing use of these layers to give us flashbacks into what ails the characters. The audience are the faces watching safely in the dark.
The suspense becomes irresistible. It’s hard to imagine a modern thriller without Christie’s contributions to the final twist and this one does not disappoint, pulling no punches.
This is a play where the characters watch each other closely. There is no let-up in the second act. Chris Davey’s lighting becomes more stark; up lit to really accentuate the faces and their claustrophobia. The red lighting for the scene reminiscent of A Midsummer’s Night Dream is effective, but the tableau itself is drawn in too broad strokes. The sound from Elizabeth Purnell is gentle, distant and understated – quietly drawing you in.
Without giving too much away, Andrew Lancel’s William Blore and Sophie Walter’s Vera Claythorne really stand out as the play rolls mercilessly on. Retired police inspector Blore is a very welcome guest, with many of the best lines, most of the laughs, and the biscuits. Lancel performs with assured timing and a depth and subtlety to his gradual breakdown.
You really don’t know what to believe about Vera Claythorne, thanks to Walter’s ability to convince you of anything she pleases. By turns modern and strong, damaged and vulnerable, Walter is arguably the most, perhaps only, sympathetic character. Or is that Christie playing tricks again? Guilty or not, her performance is unmissable.
Low numbers of tickets remain for the rest of this week’s run, but time is running out to work out whodunnit. Performances: tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Box office: atgtickets.com/york. Age guidance: 12 plus.
THE most viewed British comedian of all time on TikTok, infamous prankster and Lee Nelson creator Simon Brodkin is all Screwed Up at the Grand Opera House, York, on Saturday.
That night he will rip into celebrity culture, social media, the police, Putin, Prince Andrew and Jesus in his new stand-up show, where nothing is off limits, from his mental health to his five arrests and his family.
Star of Channel 4’s Britain’s Greatest Hoaxer, Brodkin has pulled off headline-making stunts, from handing Theresa May a P45 during her Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference to showering disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter with bank notes.
From surrounding Donald Trump at the opening of his golf course with 60 swastika-emblazoned golf balls to attaching a 25ft sign to the side of Sir Philip Green’s super yacht, and going on Britain’s Got Talent as the ultra-orthodox Jewish rapper Steven Goldblatt – fooling Simon Cowell and the other judges to win four Yes votes.
“I have performed in York before,” says the 46-year-old Londoner. “It might well have been as my alter ego Lee Nelson and that’s why it’s exciting to be going to the big-time Grand Opera where you can’t just turn up. You have to bring your A-game. I might even sing.”
Lee Nelson was a “very useful” suit of armour for Simon. “It was the only way I could see myself being funny. That was my comedy, pretending to be him or pretending to be multiple characters, including for sketch shows for the BBC,” he says.
“It’s not brave, being a comedian, not like being a firefighter, but it did feel personally brave because I felt it was the most difficult thing I could do.”
Dropping the Lee Nelson front, the real Simon Brodkin will stand up at the Grand Opera House at 8pm on Saturday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
ANDREW Lancel returns to the Grand Opera House stage in York next week in Lucy Bailey’s “genuinely terrifying” touring production of Agatha Christie’s most successful thriller And Then There Were None.
“I think I first played there [in October 2014] in The Small Hand, a Susan Hill play produced by Bill Kenwright, the first of 14 I did with Bill, who became a great friend,” says Andrew. “He meant so much to me.”
Andrew, best known for his villainous role as Frank Foster in Coronation Street, has since appeared at the Grand Opera House as a jury member in Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men in December 2014 and manager Brian Epstein in Cilla The Musical in January 2018.
Now he is eight weeks into the first leg of a nationwide tour that will take a break after the York run before resuming from January to April 2024 and later travelling all over the world. “It’s been doing very well,” he says. “We’re rammed in every town, with standing ovations after every performance. Agatha Christie plays are going to last as long as Shakespeare will be done. She’s a genre in herself.”
Christie’s stage version of her best-selling 1939 crime novel revolves around ten strangers – eight guests, a butler and housekeeper – being lured to a solitary mansion off the coast of Devon. When a storm cuts them off from the mainland, the true reason for their presence on Soldier Island becomes horribly clear. One death at a time.
“People are getting bumped off. I don’t recommend anyone going near the stage!” jokes Andrew. “It’s a very timely production, with that thing of strangers going off to an island together. Look at TV shows, people going off to places and being eliminated one by one.
“In the hands of Lucy Bailey, who’s the reason I’m doing this show, she brings layers and textures of theatricality and darkness to this good old-fashioned thriller that starts very traditionally but then goes to another level. It’s shocking, but there’s also humour and the familiar characteristics of Agatha Christie.”
Christie has written more than one ending to And Then There Were None, but Andrew will not reveal the outcome in Bailey’s “reinvention for the 21st century”, except to say: “It’s very true to the novel, but what people are going to see at the Grand Opera House, as they are seeing up and down the country, is something unique, shocking. Our base line is the novel…but I ain’t gonna give anything away!”
Andrew continues: “Even if you know the play, you’ll see it in a new light in the way Lucy has done it. Its appeal spans the generations and it’s great to see some schools coming to it as their first piece of theatre. You hope they will pick up the Christie novels and come back to the theatre.”
Andrew plays William Blore, the retired police inspector summoned to Soldier Island, as it turns out, to answer belatedly to the crime of gaining promotion for himself by sending an innocent man named Landor to a penal colony, where he died.
“There are many sides to Blore. Everyone arrives on the island, lured there by an invitation where their curiosity and greed has got the better of them, but with a history of guilt in a crime for reasons that are revealed one by one,” he says.
“But Blore starts from a very different place [of authority] and it’s fascinating to see him gradually breaking down. Learning everyone’s back story is so revealing.
“The 1939 setting means the shadow of war hangs over them too, and it’s incredible what a harbinger this play is, given what’s going on around us now.”
Andrew is “really enjoying” playing Blore in Bailey’s production. “It’s a very physical part and a very physical play, from fights to montages to almost dances,” he says.
The death toll keeps rising, “but it’s very much an ensemble piece, and without giving too much away, they are there throughout”. Another intriguing reason to dive into the murk of And Then There Were None but be aware that tickets are selling fast.
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday (21/11/2023) to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
POLITICAL dramas, a heap of big comedy names, a newly revived Eighties’ band and a belated American debut will keep Charles Hutchinson out and about.
Controversial play of the week: The Merchant Of Venice 1936, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees
WATFORD Palace Theatre’s ground-breaking touring production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice has been adapted and directed by Brigid Larmour from an original idea by co-creator and actress Tracy-Ann Oberman.
As the tide of fascism swells in 1936, Oberman’s Shylock is a strong-willed single mother who runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street, where Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts will soon march. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Comedy at the treble at Grand Opera House, York: Dave Gorman, Monday, 7.30pm; Ross Noble, Wednesday, 8pm; Paul Smith, 7.30pm
DAVE Gorman’s Powerpoint To The People show aims to demonstrate that a powerpoint presentation need not involve a man in a grey suit standing behind a lectern and saying “next slide please”. Far more important things demand analysis, he urges.
Geordie surrealist Ross Noble returns to York on his 21st tour, Jibber Jabber Jamboree, for another journey into inspired, improvised nonsensical comedy with detours galore. Paul Smith’s Joker gig, full of audience interaction and everyday true stories, has sold out. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Exhibition launch of the week: Not Black Friday But Colour Friday!, Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, until December 22
ORIGINAL art by more than 70 artists features in the Christmas exhibition at Kentmere House Gallery. “Among them is Jonathan Hooper, a Leeds painter deservedly becoming recognised, winning awards and now showing in London and at the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield,” says gallery owner and curator Ann Petherick.
“Then there’s Susan Bower, a Marmite painter – most love her, a few don’t! Look out for Andrew Morris’s delightful view of Knaresborough’s marketplace. We have new work arriving all the time.” Open any day, 11am to 5pm; ring 01904 656507 or 07801 810825 or take pot luck.
Tribute show of the week: The Chicago Blues Brothers, Cruisin’ For A Bluesin’ Tour, Grand Opera House, York, November 12, 7.30pm
JOIN Jake and Elwood, The Sweet Soul Sisters and the amazing CBB Band for a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, hard-hitting night of soul, rhythm & blues, country and Motown. Expect exuberant spirit, irresistible energy and even a few surprises. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Premiere of the week: Lumar Productions in Sea Stones, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee
AFTER eight novels and a regular column in The York Press, Tim Murgatroyd has written his debut play, an emotional, suspenseful night of the soul when four people are brought together in a lonely house by the sea.
Two fathers. Two daughters. Each confronted with the consequences of the past as a high tide is turning and tests to their relationships are escalating. Tests that might cost them not only their dearest hopes and loves, but their very lives. “The truth can set you free. Or drown you,” says Murgatroyd. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Double act of the week:Wright & Grainger in Orpheus, Rise@Bluebird Bakery, Acomb, York, Wednesday, 7pm to 9pm
ALEXANDER Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger’s Greek myth adaptation in spoken word and song heads to Rise after Adelaide Fringe award-winning success in Australia and at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as back home at Stillington Mill.
Dave is turning 30. Eurydice is a tree nymph. Bruce Springsteen is on the karaoke. Cue a tale of dive bars, side streets, ancient gods and how far you would go for love. Box office: bluebirdbakery.co.uk/rise.
Gig of the week: Ben Folds, What Matters Most Tour, Grand Opera House, York, Thursday,7.30pm
AT 57, North Carolina pianist, songwriter, author and podcast host Ben Folds plays his debut York show in support of What Matters Most, his first studio album since 2015.
At the only Yorkshire gig of his nine-date British and Irish tour, Folds will be combining his new material with songs from his 35-year career. Guitarist and singer Lau Noah, from Catalonia via New York, is the support act. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Jazz gig of the week: Snake Davis & Friends, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm
JAZZ At PAC presents Snake Davis, saxophonist to the stars, from Paul McCartney, James Brown, Tina Turner and Eurythmics to Take That, Amy Winehouse, M-People and Lisa Stansfield.
First making his mark in York band Zoot & The Roots, Davis plays not only the saxophone family, but flutes, whistles and an ancient Japanese wind instrument, the Shakuhachi, too. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Fantastic day to see: Haircut 100, York Barbican, Friday, 8pm
NICK Heyward’s short-lived Brit-funk band Haircut 100 are back together after more than 40 years, following up May’s Pelican West 40th anniversary shows in London and Oxford with the 15-date Haircut 100% Live tour that ends in York, their only Yorkshire location.
“We are coming back with a tour to beat all tours this autumn,” says Beckenham-born Heyward, now 62. “All the hits that you love [Favourite Shirts (Boys And Girls), Love Plus One, Fantastic Day et al] and new tracks that we are bursting to share with you.” The support act will be Brighton band of brothers Barbara. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Lovely jubbly look-ahead: Only Fools And Horses The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 5 to 9 2024
DIRECT from a four-year sold-out West End run, Only Fools And Horses The Musical is heading to York in Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan’s show, based on John Sullivan’s record-breaking 1980s’ BBC comedy.
Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger, it features a script and original score by John’s son and Whitehouse, bringing Peckham rogues Del Boy, Rodney, Grandad, Cassandra, Raquel, Boycie, Marlene, Trigger, Denzil, Mickey Pearce, Mike the Barman and the Driscoll Brothers to the stage with wide-boy humour and 20 songs. Bonnet de douche! Box office: atgtickets.co.uk.
Recommended but sold out already
THREE nights, three sell-outs for South Shields humorist Sarah Millican at York Barbican from November 14 to 16 on her Late Bloomer tour, where she discusses Sarah then and now, dinners and lady gardens at 8pm nightly. Come along, laugh at her, with her, beside her, reads the invitation.
In Focus: Best dog in show: Zeus the collie collars role in Jack And The Beanstalk
YOUNG Kennel Club Crufts trophy winner Zeus has won a lead role in this winter’s pantomime at York Theatre Royal.
The six-year-old Border Collie, from York, will make his stage debut alongside EastEnders star Nina Wadia, returnee panto dame Robin Simpson and CBBC’s Raven star James Mackenzie in Jack And The Beanstalk from December 8 to January 7 2024.
A theatre spokesperson says: “Zeus’s amazing audition gave us all paws for thought. He’s a natural stage performer whose dogged determination to win the role was a real tail-wagging moment.”
Already Zeus is a winner on the canine stage with three Young Kennel Club Crufts trophies to his credit. Those closest to him say he is very agile and loves to play but has an “off switch”and likes to wind down too.
Pantomime director Juliet Forster was delighted to hear that Zeus is “very eager to please, playful and up for learning” as she will be training him for his acting debut.
Zeus loves cream cheese, squeezy cheese too, and sometimes has carrots for breakfast. He eats at the table and even has his own chair. His favourite toys are balls and he has a collection of soft toys.
Zeus enjoys rounding up horses but not, as you might expect from a Border Collie, rounding up sheep. He is, however, best friends with two sheep, Maisie Midnight Fluffington and Wallace.
He is yet to meet cows but will have his first close encounter with the bovine world in the rehearsal room as one of his co-stars will be Dave the Cow.
Dave is a rare breed of pantomime cow. “You’d almost think Dave is human,” says York actor and musician Anna Soden, who will inhabit the role on her own, rather than the usual two people squeezed uncomfortably into a cow costume.
Writer Paul Hendy, director of York Theatre Royal’s producing partner Evolution Productions, says: “In 19 years of writing and producing pantomimes, we’ve never had a human cow before. We wanted to do something different and director Juliet Forster was very open to that. It makes more opportunities in the show for the cow. It’s a much bigger part than usual. Dave is very much one of the gang.
“Our company is called Evolution for a reason: we are constantly evolving. One of the reasons pantomime has survived for 150 years or more is that it changes. There has to be a formula but within that you have to be original.”
Evolution is producing three Jack And The Beanstalk pantomimes around the country this winter. York has Dave; the shows at The Grove, Dunstable (starring EastEnders’ Steve McFadden, by the way), and Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, will have a more traditional cow.
Meanwhile, the Theatre Royal’s legendary pantomime cow Patrica is heading for pastures new this Christmas with a role in Bridlington Spa Theatre’s pantomime, Beauty And The Beast.
Patricia’s career has taken in television appearances in The Crystal Maze with pantomime stalwart Christopher Biggins and Bargain Hunt, as well as starring in her own series of moo-vies on You Tube.
York Theatre Royal presents Jack And The Beanstalk, December 8 to January 7 2024. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
THE Grand Opera Houseand Ate O’clock are joining forces to “bring York’s theatregoers an entertaining night out”.
This new partnership combines the pre-show meal setting of the High Ousegate restaurant and bistro for food and drinks with a show afterwards at the Cumberland Street theatre.
Offers will be shared directly with Grand Opera House theatregoers, who are advised to keep their eyes peeled for the theatre’s pre-show emails and newsletters, sharing Ate O’Clock money-saving offers in the coming months.
Twelve months on since its refurbishment, Ate O’Clock has expanded its offering with new dishes on its a la carte and set menus, including steaks, burgers, and traditional dishes, all locally sourced. Cocktails are served up in Ate O’Clock’s new Social8 Lounge.
Laura McMillan, Grand Opera House theatre director, says: “We want to deliver memorable experiences for our guests, and by working with Ate O’Clock we are able to combine the best food in York with the best live entertainment in the city.”
Emily Crampton, Ate O’Clock and Social8 Lounge restaurant manager, says: “As theatre lovers ourselves, and given that we are only a stone’s throw away, partnering with the Grand Opera House is a great opportunity and one that we are so excited about.
“We cannot wait to do our bit in creating a fun and memorable evening out for all theatregoers, whether that be a pre-theatre meal or post-theatre drinks.”
Laura adds: “Whether you’re planning festive celebrations, a catch-up with your friends or a night out with your partner, we have you covered, giving you the chance to enjoy great food and fantastic shows. We have a packed programme of shows that you can attend after your exquisite pre-theatre dinner from Calendar Girls to Pretty Woman.”