THE Play That Goes Wrong keeps getting it right, an Olivier Award winner from the Mischief makers that has chalked up productions across every continent, aside from being given the cold shoulder by Antarctica.
The West End’s longest-running comedy is spreading chaos and calamity across the Duchess Theatre for a seventh year and the fourth major British tour brings the show back to the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday after an earlier run there on tour number three in May 2018.
For those yet to encounter the thrills, spills and comedy mayhem of The Play That Goes Wrong, how would co-writer Jonathan Sayer sum it up? “It’s a comedy all about a drama university group who are putting on a play and everything that could possibly go wrong…goes wrong,” he says. “There’s a big cast, there’s lots of jokes and it pretty much does what it says on the tin.
“The three writers [artistic director Henry Lewis, company director Sayer and Henry Shields] have all worked in theatre and have experiences of things going awry in shows we’ve been in.
“Some of my favourite moments watching theatre have been where things have gone dreadfully wrong and the actors are forced to deal with the mistake and try to keep the show on track.
“On top of that, a huge influence for us is Michael Green, who wrote The Art Of Coarse Acting and actually taught Henry Lewis at youth theatre. Then there’s a huge amount of physical comedy, which is definitely a nod to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.”
Mischief began in 2008 as a group that specialised in improvised comedy in London and Edinburgh but now creates new comedy for theatre, such as Magic That Goes Wrong, on tour at Leeds Grand Theatre earlier this month, and for television, with the new six-part series of The Goes Wrong Show beginning on BBC One on September 27.
“We created the script for The Play That Goes Wrong when the three of us were living together in a pretty run-down flat in Gunnersbury,” says Jonathan. “We were all working in bars and call centres and restaurants, and in the evenings we’d come home and we’d write until the early hours.
“The initial script took about a month to put together and we then workshopped the script with the rest of the Mischief team. Everyone’s done a lot of improv, so we try and take those principles into the writing room and into rehearsal where, if someone has an idea, you accept it and you build on it.”
From playing to 60 people in pub theatres, Mischief have gone on to take productions to 35 countries, none more successfully than The Play That Goes Wrong.
Back for a second tour of bumps and bruises is Huddersfield actor Gabriel Paul, last seen in York in 2018 playing Trevor, the sound engineer pressed into an emergency role on stage.
“There’s just me from the 2018 tour among the 2021 principals, but all eight of us have been in the principal cast on a previous tour, so we’re like the Avengers being reassembled as they needed people to do it who were already familiar with the challenges involved, all up to speed, because of the Covid situation,” he says.
“It was my agent who first put me up for an audition in November 2017 – when I was really embarrassed because I didn’t know anything about the show at all! – and that process involved a lot of improvisation because the director and writers had devised the show around a lot of improvising.
“Initially I auditioned on my own but I ended up doing five auditions, going down to London from Huddersfield each time. They don’t mess about! They really put you through your paces as they want to see how you work with other actors.”
Teamwork is vital, as Gabriel has found on tour in 2018 and 2021 and in the West End in 2019. “One hundred per cent that’s the case. There’s a certain skill in trying to make things look bad or that they’re going wrong, and you have to really be in tune with your fellow actors because otherwise you could get hurt if things go even more wrong than the title would suggest!” he says.
“Being a physical show, it’s not just the stunts we do, but there are strains you can get, so we do group physiotherapy sessions with Carl Heaton, a sports physiotherapist from Manchester, once a month.”
The fourth tour should have run from December 2020 to April 2021 but after the opening day’s two shows, Lockdown 3 put paid to those dates. Instead, Gabriel and co have been on the road since July 13, relishing a return to playing to audiences.
“We have a saying, because there are 12 characters, we always say the 13th character is Nigel Hook’s award-winning set, but the 14th character is the audience because we do encourage them to participate and even to call out sometimes,” he says.
“It’s the audience’s reaction that I most enjoy about this show; being in a room where you hear people crying with laughter. Hearing that joy all around the country is wonderful.
“I’ve done plays with heavy subject matters and they’re important to do, but it’s great to hear laughter again after the 18 months we’ve had.”
Comedy or tragedy, serious or light, Gabriel has enjoyed myriad stage roles, whether in Northern Broadsides’ Quality Street, The Queen Of Chapeltown at Leeds Playhouse, Bouncers for Esk Valley Theatre or Othello for Demi-paradise Productions.
“I wish I was in that position of being able to choose roles, but that’s not the reality, but I’ve had the chance to work with fantastic people in fantastic shows,” he says. “I like to do something funny or something conversational, like Everything I Own, the Daniel Ward play I did when Hull Truck Theatre reopened in June with a trio of monologues.
“It was about Errol, a man of Jamaican descent, who grew up in Hull and has just lost his father to Covid. He’s organising his father’s house, and it’s a play with universal themes about loss and grief, fathers and sons, family stories and a love of music.”
Now, “having hoped he had done enough never be asked back, Gabriel is contractually obliged to say he’s extremely honoured to be reprising the role of Trevor and getting the chance to go wronger for a little bit longer”, or so his The Play That Goes Wrong biog jokingly says.
The truth is, half way through a tour that runs until the end of November, Gabriel is loving every minute of being in the Wrong place at the right time again.
Mischief present The Play That Goes Wrong, Grand Opera House, York, September 28 to October 3, 7.30pm and 2.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.
AGENT provocateur Simon Amstell will deliver a “blissful, spiritual, sensational exploration of love, sex, shame, mushrooms and more” at the Grand Opera House, York, on September 25.
That night’s 8pm show forms part of the introspective, awkwardly honest comedian, television host, actor, writer and filmmaker’s 38-date Spirit Hole autumn tour, where the former saucy host of cult BBC2 pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks contemplates turning 40.
“A lot of the show is about getting older and not knowing what to do about it,” says the still cherubic-faced Essex-born wit. “I’m 41 now, and even when people say ‘you don’t look 41, what they’re saying is, when you do, that will be disgusting.”
The mushrooms he mentions in his show trailer are…? “Magic mushrooms,” he says of the “shrooms” or “blue meanies” with psychedelic, hallucinogenic properties. “One of the ways that I found it possible to cope with the fact that I was going to age and eventually die was taking magic mushrooms in the last two years.
“I take it quite seriously, with the whole ceremony aspect, using them for their healing qualities, trying to figure out who I am and what’s wrong with me, with all the wisdom that’s come my way.”
A doctor or scientist might point out the common side effects of magic mushrooms: nausea, yawning, feeling relaxed or drowsy, introspection, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucinations and psychosis.
Simon, on the other hand, has learned: “The real fear of getting old is that I die alone in a desert,” he says. “I had a vision on magic mushrooms of dying as a very old wizard, hunched over, sitting alone and dying.
“I felt myself decomposing, which was sad at first, but not unbearable, but this is what happens. We are all animals; we all end up back in the ground.
“You just have to surrender to it now. When I feel lonely, I just think, ‘well, I died in the desert last year!’”
Put in touch with a lady who “sort of puts magic mushrooms in chocolate”, after a recommendation from a Ayahuasca healing retreat, Simon has laid great store in his ritualistic ceremonies.
“Rather than something you’re messing around with, it’s better to have a sense of gratitude to be working with the mushrooms and then surrendering to whatever they tell you…and then after four hours you close it down by saying, ‘I have finished the ceremony’,” he says.
“The danger is that you end the ceremony by writing down what feels profound in the moment, so there’s a whole section of the show where I translate what I did write down.
“They’re a mix, a strange combination of the most profound and the most obvious things that I came up with at the same time. That’s not to say those nuggets are not profound, but it took a mushroom ceremony to release them.”
Where does shame fit into the show, Simon? “When I was at the retreat, trying to figure out how to grow older, what the medicine seemed to reveal was that my body is full of trauma and shame, and I ended up dancing around naked…
“…Maybe I should do that on the last night of the tour, though I don’t know if it would make it less funny or more funny!” he says.
As for the show’s title, “Part of the reason it’s called ‘Spirit Hole’, is the hole in our culture; the depression we feel is because of the lack of spirit, and we really need to find that spirit to reconnect with joy,” he urges.
“Also, a finger entered a new hole in my body.” Stop, stop, Simon. What new hole? “The perineum. Look it up! The only way I could describe it was as a ‘spirit hole’.
“I think it would be difficult to experience it without a shaman,” he cautions.
Moving swiftly along, let’s talk about sex and love, Simon. “I’ve been in a relationship for ten years; the longest relationship I’ve ever been in, and there’s loads of stuff about that in the show, whereas I used to talk about loneliness, but I can’t talk about that any more, now that I have a brilliant boyfriend,” he says.
“I talk about getting a house together, and how my tiny adult mind can’t cope with that adult thing, as I go through a midlife crisis, dyeing my hair blond, going to New York, and going to a Berlin sex club that turned out to be much too hardcore for me.”
It may be hard to believe that Simon Amstell – once the youngest finalist in the BBC New Comedy Awards in 1998 – has turned 40, but the years have flown by since he last played the Grand Opera House on his Numb tour in May 2012.
Not that he has fallen silent, more that he has diversified, writing, directing and narrating Carnage, a 2017 film about veganism, set in utopian 2067, where animals live equally among humans; releasing his debut bittersweet comedy-drama film, Benjamin, written and directed by Amstell, and making his soul-searching 2019 Netflix stand-up special, Set Free, both in 2019.
There has been a book too: Help, subtitled Comedy. Tragedy. Therapy., published in January 2019, armed with Amstell’s aim of “telling the truth so it can’t hurt me anymore”, driven by compulsion to reveal his entire self on stage. Loneliness, anxiety, depression feature prominently, he forewarned, but you will “then feel happier than you have ever been”.
Roll on to 2021 and Amstell is back on stage, surely his happy place. Asked to sum up Spirit Hole in five words as the strictly 20-minute interview clock counts down, he ventures: “Simon Amstell coming to York.” And no magic mushrooms were necessary for the making of that profound statement.
Simon Amstell: Spirit Hole, on tour at Grand Opera House, York, September 25, 8pm, and Leeds Town Hall, October 1, 8pm.York tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/ york; Leeds, ticketmaster.com.
AFTER 547 barren nights, the Grand Opera House, York, reopened on Monday as a ghost story blew away the cobwebs of pandemic-enforced closure at last.
Jennet Humphrey, the “Woman” in the title of The Woman In Black, has a habit of returning to this already crowded city of ghosts onregular occasions, such is the abiding popularity of Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation that began life at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in novelist Susan Hill’s home town of Scarborough in December 1987.
From that premiere, Robin Herford is still directing the award-garlanded fright-night and Michael Holt’s brilliantly atmospheric set is still adding to the chill factor with its clever use of gauze, a shadowy stairwell, passages, a mysteriously locked door and the faded grandeur of a disused theatre.
No matter how often you see the show, Rod Mead’s original sound design, now realised on tour by Sebastian Frost, unfailingly will tantalise, taunt, tease and terrify you. Every time!
Likewise, cast members Robert Goodale and Antony Eden are back in Black, albeit working in partnership for the first time on this revived tour of Mallatratt’s two-hander. Goodale was in the company for the last York visit, in November 2019, at the Theatre Royal, one of myriad old haunts for Eden too, who played there in February-March 2013 en route to notching up more than 1,000 performances.
Familiar faces were in the dress circle too. Not the Grand Opera House’s resident ghost, but the ghosts of Theatre Royal pantomimes past, now first-night guests in their new home, as Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell gathered ahead of this winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again.
First, however, it was time for The Woman In Black’s pony and trap to be ridden again. I say ‘pony and trap’, but it is in fact a wicker trunk. Goodale’s Arthur Kipps, the haunted old solicitor seeking to exorcise the fear that has filled his soul for more than 50 years, looks puzzled.
Use your imagination, advises Eden’s now not-so-young Actor, employed by Kipps to help him turn his rambling book of notes into…well, don’t call it a performance, he says. “I’m not Olivier.”
However, “for my health, for reason”, his story must be told. “I cannot bear the burden any longer,” he says desperate to put his stultifying obsession to bed, to find a peace of mind at last, to end the curse on his family.
At this point, as Kipps and the Actor meet in a dusty old theatre, the tone is lightly humorous, Kipps’ lack of acting talent and sense of drama amusingly apparent; the Actor, sceptical and cocky.
And yet, as if the stage were made of quicksand, we are drawn into what becomes a celebration of the possibilities of theatre and the craft of acting, as much as a superbly executed, drip-drip telling of a ghost story.
In Mallatratt’s play within a play, the drama within takes over from the act of making it. Gradually, by now taking Kipps gravely seriously, Eden’s Actor becomes the young Kipps; Goodale’s stage novice Kipps becomes everyone else, from a convivial hotel manager to a taciturn pony-and-trap driver and an old lawyer, hollowed out by past encounters with the spectral woman in a black cape with a wasted face.
All the while, in his narrator’s role, old Kipps grows ever more paralysed by resurgent fears as the story unfolds of his ill-fated errand as a young solicitor to the haunted Eel Marsh House: an isolated place forever at odds with its wretched self.
The Woman In Black is old-fashioned, storytelling theatre-making, where not only Kipps, but we too, must engage our imaginations, as Herford eschews high-tech special effects. For example, Spider, a dog, is conjured simply with a click of a finger, a push of a stick, a hand stroke in mid-air, with no need for the distracting presence of a real mutt or puppet.
The terrifying theatrical re-enactment is rendered with only two chairs, a trunk of papers, a hanging rail of costume props, dust sheets over the stage apron and a frayed theatre curtain.
Then add smoke to create a disorientating murk that spreads over the auditorium, transforming the stalls into the eerie marshlands, allied to the restless, intrusive sound effects that thrive on surprise and sudden bursts of noise, from horse’s hooves to piercing screams. All the while, in Kevin Sleep’s lighting design, shadows and darkness wrestle with light for dominance, guaranteeing a sleepless night.
After month after month of silence, the Grand Opera House was being reawakened from its slumber with gasps, shrieks and nervous audience laughter, and we loved it. Goodale and Eden, wonderfully in control of delivering a storyline that is spinning beyond control, maybe forever, clearly love it too.
The Woman In Black will not be vanishing any time soon; the empty rocking chair will keep on rocking to big audiences, newcomers and veteran devotees alike
AS the Grand Opera House reopens, diaries are starting to fill to pre-pandemic levels, much to the delight of a post self-isolating Charles Hutchinson.
Film world premiere of the week: Getting Away With Murder(s); Everyman York, Blossom Street, York, tonight, 6.30pm to 10.30pm
IT has taken 18 years for Yorkshire filmmaker David Wilkinson to bring his documentary, Getting Away With Murder(s), to the big screen.
Exploring an overlooked aspect of the Holocaust, he reveals that “almost one million people in 22 countries willingly carried out the unprovoked murder of 11 million innocent men, women and children but 99 per cent of those responsible were never prosecuted”.
Wilkinson, who examines the reasons behind the disregard for justice, will take part in a post-screening Q&A. Box office: everymancinema.com.
They inspired a film and now they are back: Fisherman’s Friends: Unlocked & Unleashed, York Barbican, tomorrow, 7pm
CORNISH “buoy band” Fisherman’s Friends – combined aged 401 – re-emerge from lockdown for their Unlocked & Unleashed tour.
As celebrated in the film that shares their name, for 40 years they have met on the Platt of Port Isaac’s harbour to sing the songs of the sea.
In the line-up are lobster fisherman Jeremy Brown; writer, shopkeeper and master of ceremonies Jon Cleave; smallholder and engineer John ‘Lefty’ Lethbridge; Yorkshire-born builder John McDonnell; Padstow fisherman Jason Nicholas; filmmaker Toby Lobb and the new boy, former ambulance driver Pete Hicks. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Irish gig/jig of the week: One Night In Dublin, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Saturday, 7.30pm
SATURDAY night is the chance to spend One Night In Dublin – in York – when “Murphy’s Irish Pub” opens its doors at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.
Join in the craic as the lively Irish tribute band covers such Irish staples as Galway Girl, Tell Me Ma, Dirty Old Town, Irish Rover, Seven Drunken Nights and Whiskey In The Jar. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
This experience really is “Surreal”: Gary Meikle: Surreal, York Barbican, Sunday, 8pm
DELAYED from April 8 to this weekend, playfully dark cheeky-chappie Scottish comedian and “viral sensation” Gary Meikel presents his second tour show in York.
Looking to “get away with talking about anything that will have you laughing at things you probably shouldn’t be”, punchy storyteller Meikle draws material from his own experiences, not least his unique family dynamic.
New show Surreal covers such topics as evolution, social media, how to deal with burglars, single mums, bee sex and small-man syndrome. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Residency of the week: Second Body in Styx, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Sunday and Tuesday, 8pm
SECOND Body duo Max Barton and Jethro Cooke present their theatre-concert exploration of family, myth, memory loss and Max’s grandma, now with remixed music and bearing wounds wrought by 18 months of disrupted human connectivity.
“What does it mean to lose the memories that make us who we are?” they ask. “How can we continue to be ourselves when we are separated from our loved ones.” Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill.
Re-opening of the week: Grand Opera House, York, for The Woman In Black, Monday to Saturday
AFTER 547 days, the Grand Opera House, York, steps out of the darkness and into The Woman In Black from Monday.
In PW Productions’ latest tour of Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story, Robert Goodale plays Arthur Kipps, an elderly lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a “Woman in Black” for 50 years now.
Antony Eden is the young Actor he engages to help him tell that story and exorcise his fears, but soon reality begins to blur and the flesh begins to creep. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
Community concert of the week: You Can’t Stop The Beat, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm
GENERATION Groove and Community Chorus are joined by special guest Henry Bird, the well-travelled York singer and guitarist for Tuesday’s fundraiser.
“Concerts and performances have been on hold for well over a year and we’re all delighted to be back getting you singing and even dancing and raising money to help the wonderful Joseph Rowntree Theatre go from strength to strength,” say the organisers. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Musical of the week outside York: Waitress, Leeds Grand Theatre, September 14 to 18
MEET Jenna, a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of some joy in her life. When a hot new doctor arrives in town, life turns more complicated and challenging, but with the support of her workmates Becky and Dawn, she finds that laughter, love and friendship can provide the perfect recipe for happiness.
Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson’s comedy musical stars Lucie Jones as Jenna, Emmerdale’s Sandra Marvin as Becky, Evelyn Hoskins as Dawn and Busted’s Matt Willis as Dr Pomatter. For tickets: 0113 243 0808 or at leedsheritagetheatres.com.
Cult band you really should see: Spear Of Destiny, The Crescent, York, September 19
LEADING Spear Of Destiny for 38 years now, Kirk Brandon heads out on their Worldservice@35 tour on the back of releasing last November’s lockdown album.
Brandon’s post-punk band – featuring Adrian Portas (New Model Army/Sex Gang Children), Craig Adams (Sisters Of Mercy/The Cult /The Mission), Phil Martini (Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind) and saxophonist Clive Osborne – re-recorded 1985’s WorldService album during 2020.
The WorldService@35 tour features the album and B-sides in full plus an extended career-spanning encore at three Yorkshire shows: York, then Leeds Brudenell Social Club on September 21 and The Welly, Hull, September 25.
Angriest man of the month award: Jonathan Pie, Fake News (The Corona Remix), Grand Opera House, York, September 19, 7.30pm
JONATHAN Pie, the no-holds-barred fictitious political broadcaster alter-ego of Tom Walker, is resuming his Fake News tour that began in 2019 and had to twiddle its agitated thumbs through lockdown.
In that hiatus, Walker continued to post Jonathan Pie content to his social-media channels, whether commenting on the global reaction to the 2020 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement or woke culture.
Now he unleashes his righteous rage once more on stage. Tickets for the York slice of Pie are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.
STRICTLY champ Kevin Clifton will return to the Grand Opera House, York, in the hot hit ballroom dance show Burn The Floor on January 21 2022.
“Kevin from Grimsby”, who left BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing professional roster after seven seasons at the end of 2019, last scorched the Opera House boards in May 2019.
After announcing his Strictly exit to make a full-time move into the world of musical theatre, he was set to play there too on the 2020/2021 UK and Ireland tour of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical, directed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood, but the Covid pandemic put paid to the York run from November 23 to 28.
Clifton should have been on tour from September 26 2020 to June 26 2021 in his “dream role” of Scott Hastings, having been inspired by watching Luhrmann’s 1992 Australian film at the age of ten.
He is thrilled to be rejoining his “dance family” once again for next January and February’s tour of Burn The Floor, a show with a “mix of eclectic live music, jaw-dropping choreography and ground-breaking moves, performed by an international ballroom dance company with an abundance of infectious, rebellious energy and passion”.
Clifton, 38, enthuses: “Burn The Floor is the show that ignited a spark in me and changed me forever as a performer. Through Broadway, West End and touring all over the world, this show has ripped apart the rule book, revolutionised our genre and inspired and shaped me as the dancer I am today.”
Billed as a “fiery, energetic and revolutionary ballroom production”, Burn The Floor has been packing a punch for more than two decades with its combination of Tango, Waltz and Rhumba routines.
The 2022 tour has been rescheduled from spring last year, when it was only a week away from opening until Lockdown 1 cast theatres into darkness.
Clifton joined Strictly Come Dancing in 2013, performing in the final five times, missing out only in 2017 and 2019, and was crowned Strictly champion in 2018 with celebrity partner Stacey Dooley, the BBC documentary filmmaker, presenter and journalist.
A former youth world number one and four-time British Latin Champion, Clifton has won international open titles all over the world. After making his West End musical theatre debut in 2010 in Dirty Dancing, he starred as Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer at Wembley Troubadour Park Theatre and as rock demigod Stacie Jaxx in the satirical Eighties’ poodle-rock musical Rock Of Ages in the West End, a role that also brought him to Leeds Grand Theatre in August 2019.
Tickets for Burn The Floor are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.
AFTER 547 days, the Grand Opera House, York, will step out of the darkness and into The Woman In Black from September 13.
Robert Goodale will play lawyer Arthur Kipps opposite Antony Eden as The Actor in PW Productions’ latest tour of Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story.
Neither is a stranger to performing the torrid tale of an elderly lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a “Woman in Black” for 50 years now.
“That is true,” says Antony. “You could say, I’m a bit of an old hand! I actually first did it when I was 14 after I saw it in the West End. I was already acting, and we wrote to PW Productions , director Robin Herford and Susan Hill to ask if we could put it on in the school theatre at Winchester.”
The answer was affirmative. “James Orr was my co-star…and in fact he came to see me in the show in Cambridge this summer with his son. I’d played The Actor when I was 14, and when we met up afterwards, I said, ‘I’m still playing the same part I was at 14, so I haven’t progressed much’!”
Antony first performed in Robert Herford’s West End production in 2010, followed by a couple of tours, visiting York Theatre Royal in February 2013, a return to the West End in 2016 and a tour of Asia and Singapore. Now both he and The Woman In Black are back on the road again.
Such is his perennial association with PW Productions’ production that he has become associate director Of The Woman In Black. “I’ve worked with Robert Goodale before because, when he and Danny Easton were doing the last tour, part of my job was to go and see them every six weeks or so,” he says.
That tour spooked out York Theatre Royal in November 2019, but after the lockdown hiatus, Easton has gone west. “He decided not to come back into the tour. He does a running podcast now,” says Antony.
And so, while Danny keeps on running, Antony has resumed the role of The Actor from June 21 at Cambridge Arts Theatre, once more under the direction of the ubiquitous Herford, who directed the premiere of Mallatratt’s splendidly theatrical stage adaptation when it began life as a bonus Christmas show at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1987 in novelist Susan Hill’s hometown of Scarborough.
“We started working together for The Woman In Black and have done many things together since,” says Antony. “I think we have a shared philosophy of theatre, rooted in that Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn, Robin Herford mould. I love that small-scale way of making theatre.
“I’ve been a theatre fan since I was nine and I have to say that The Woman In Black is my favourite play. This piece is all about the audience, just as it is for Alan Ayckbourn, who sees the writing as only part of the process: the blueprint for the performance.”
Antony had the joy of performing in writer-director Ayckbourn’s company for the SJT premiere of A Brief History Of Women and revival of Taking Steps in summer 2018. “I was doing a tour of Relatively Speaking with Liza Goddard and Robert Powell that Alan came to see, and then did Kay Mellor’s A Passionate Woman with Liza and Russell Dixon, one of Alan’s regulars, at Cheltenham,” he recalls.
“When it then came to working with Alan, I’d already got a fair way along that path, as I was in that mindset from working with Robin and I’m naturally inclined to that style of theatre.
“Alan would apply the philosophy of painting to setting scenes, with the most details for the central character and then the others would fill in the background. My favourite piece of advice from him was: ‘Do as little as you can and then do even less’.”
“Less is more” applies equally to The Woman In Black, where a cast of only two must do everything and yet Mallatratt’s play and Herford’s direction are rich in detail, drawing in the audience hook by hook.
“You really feel they are connected: the performers and the audience,” says Antony. “This play is a drama, a mystery, a whodunit, even a comedy at times; there’s so much to it and it plays to theatre’s strengths.
“To me, what’s important and fun about theatre is that it’s all about empathy the actors have for each other and the audience, and likewise the audience have for the actors. That’s what makes it special. This circle of empathy is what theatre specialises in; there’s no other artform like it for empathy.”
Antony had been playing Ron in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child in the West End when Covid shutdown theatres, with 12 weeks still to go on his contract at the Palace Theatre.
“It’s a totally different experience from doing A Woman In Black. You have a staff director re-creating John Tiffany’s original direction, whereas Robin Herford is still directing The Woman In Black, and that’s why actors really want to do it because it’s a different partnership each time, two actors, one script, that’s all.
“Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is 50 actors, a script, pyrotechnics, special effects. It’s filmic in its scope, and that’s different from the theatricality that The Woman In Black is all about.
“I’ve done this play more than 1,000 times now and I’ve never once got bored with it.”
The Woman In Black, Grand Opera House, York, September 13 to 18, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
CLOWNS, ominous things, Grayson, James, tango, chamber music, horrible British history and watercolours in teamwork add up to shows aplenty for Charles Hutchinson and normal people alike to check out.
Sketch comedy show of the week: The Dead Ducks: Ducks Out Of Water, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (3/9/2021), 8pm
UNIVERSITY of York Comedy Society sketch troupe The Dead Ducks make their Theatre@41 debut with Ducks Out Of Water as a cast of five serves up fun scenes that range from the relatable to the ridiculous.
Be prepared for completely original content in a humorous mix of parody and farce with a delectable side order of top-notch acting.
Look out for pirates, cowboys, clowns and assorted animals, alongside Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse “like you have never seen them before”. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk/events/.
Exhibition of the week: Suzanne McQuade, Touch Of Tranquillity, Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, until Octoger 23; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm
LEEDS watercolourist Suzanne McQuade quit her long-standing customer service job five years ago to take the plunge and become a full-time artist.
“Using watercolours is like teamwork; I have to allow the watercolour to move and merge, and utilise the patterns it creates,” says Suzanne, who loves how this medium’s translucency enables light to flood into her landscapes and seascapes.
Drawing inspiration from the British countryside and coastline, she paints what she finds captivating, from a dramatic sky to underwater rocks. “I try to make the scene in front of me to be as beautiful as possible,” she says.
Open-air theatre show of the week: Small Small Ominous Things, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday, 8pm
LOOK out for a tiny red gun hidden in the grass; a picture of a puppy eating a toy dinosaur; a dull feeling in the pit of your stomach; a bug burrowing into your skin.
Welcome to a late-night mix of stories, tales and unsettling considerations from partners Megan Drury and Alexander Wright, Australian actor, writer and creative artist and North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator respectively.
Gather around the fire as they collaborate for the first time live At The Mill, bringing small, small ominous things out into late-summer’s fading light. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/
Who-knows-what-to-expect gig of the week: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, York Barbican, Monday, 7.30pm
IN his own words, despite being an award-winning artist, Bafta-winning TV presenter, Reith lecturer and best-selling author, Grayson Perry is a normal person – and just like other normal people, he is “marginally aware that we’re all going to die”.
Cue Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, where Grayson takes you through an enlightening, eye-watering evening wherein this kind of existentialism descends from worthiness to silliness. “You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” his show patter promises.
Grayson asks, and possibly answers, these big questions in a show “sure to distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Gig of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9, gates open at 6pm
WHERE better for James to play a summer show in the wake of releasing their 2021 single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.
The Manchester legends will be combining myriad anthemic favourites with selections from their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June.
Fronted by Clifford-born Tim Booth, James are completing a hattrick of Scarborough OAT visits after shows in May 2015 and August 18. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com
Well worth the wait: Misatango: Prima’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration, Temple Hall, York St John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, September 11, 7.30pm
AFTER a year’s delay, Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka is thrilled to be holding the York choir’s tenth anniversary concert at last at a socially distanced Temple Hall.
At the concert’s core will be “the fabulous Misa a Buenos Aires, Misatango, an exhilarating fusion of Tango and Latin Mass”, by Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri, performed with the Mowbray Orchestra string quartet, bandoneon virtuoso Julian Rowlands, pianist Greg Birch and mezzo-soprano soloist Lucy Jubb. Box office: primavocalensemble.com.
Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 16 to 18
CANADIAN pianist Angela Hewitt plays YCMF’s opening recital on September 16 and joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, for the closing gala concert on September 18, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.
Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the NCEM on September 17.
Festival director Lowe joins pianist John Paul Ekins for the first 1pm concert at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on September 17; on the next lunchtime, Ekins plays works that connect Beethoven and Liszt. Box office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
History in the re-making: The Horrible Histories in Barmy Britain, Grand Opera House, York, October 21 to 24
CAN you beat battling Boudicca? What if a Viking moved in next door? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Can evil Elizabeth entertain England?
Will Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin? Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria?
So many questions for The Horrible Histories’ Live On Stage team to answer with the aid of the 3D illusions of Bogglevision as skulls hover, dams burst and missiles fly into the family audience. For tickets for Birmingham Stage Company’s eye-popping, gruesome, scary and unbelievable trip through British history, go to atgtickets.com/york.
DISASTER strikes again as Mischief’s calamitous comedy The Play That Goes Wrong hits York this autumn.
The Olivier Award and Tony Award winner, now in its seventh year in the West End, will wreak havoc at the Grand Opera House, York, from September 28 to October 3 on its fourth tour.
The show began life on the London fringe when four friends from drama school set up a company under the name “Mischief” on graduating.
After enticing only four paying customers on the first night, The Play That Goes Wrong has since played to two million people worldwide, taking home an Olivier for Best New Comedy in 2015 and a Tony for its subsequent Broadway transfer.
Mischief have enjoyed further West End success with Peter Pan Goes Wrong, A Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Groan Ups, Mischief Movie Night and Magic Goes Wrong, while their debut six-part television series, The Goes Wrong Show, aired on BBC One. The 2020 commission of a Christmas special, Nativity, will be followed by a second series, now in production.
In The Play That Goes Wrong, the (fictional) Cornley Drama Society are putting on a 1920s’ murder mystery, The Murder At Haversham Manor, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong … does! The accident-prone thesps must battle against all the odds to reach their final curtain call, alas for them with ever-more humorous results.
In the 2021 touring cast will be Tom Babbage as Max; Tom Bulpett as Chris; Seán Carey as Jonathan; Leonard Cook as Robert; Edward Howells as Dennis; April Hughes as Sandra; Laura Kirman as Annie and Gabriel Paul as Trevor. Understudies will be Katie Hitchcock, Damien James, Edi De Melo and Aisha Numah.
Co-written by Mischief company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the tour production is directed by Sean Turner, with set designs by Nigel Hook, costumes by Roberto Surace, lighting by Ric Mountjoy and sound design by Andrew Johnson.
The Play That Goes Wrong will be completing a hattrick of York visits after playing the Theatre Royal in April 2014 and the Grand Opera House in May 2018. Mischief’s “criminally good” A Comedy About A Bank Robbery made its York debut at the Opera House in February 2019, with soon-to-return Sean Carey as the ace scene stealer.
Tickets for next month’s 7.30pm evening performances and 2.30pm Thursday, Saturday and Sunday matinees are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.
AFTER 547 days, the Grand Opera House, York, will step out of the darkness and into The Woman In Black from September 13.
Robert Goodale will star as lawyer Arthur Kipps and Antony Eden as The Actor in PW Productions’ tour of Stephen Mallatratt’s 1987 adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story.
The Woman In Black tells the tale of an elderly lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a “Woman in Black” for 50 years now.
“For my health, my reason,” he says, “The story must be told. I cannot bear the burden any longer.”
He duly engages a young actor to help him tell that story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul, but although it begins innocently enough, the deeper they delve into his darkest memories, the more the borders between make-believe and reality begin to blur and the flesh starts to creep.
The Woman In Black last spooked York audiences at the Theatre Royal in November 2019, after earlier runs there in February 2013 and November 2014. Hill’s ghost is no stranger to the Grand Opera House’s boards either.
Mallatratt’s splendidly theatrical stage adaptation had begun life as a bonus Christmas show at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1987 in novelist Susan Hill’s hometown of Scarborough, and this latest touring production still retains its original director and designer, Robin Herford and Michael Holt. Well, if it ain’t broke, etc etc.
Likewise, Goodale is returning to the role he played at the Theatre Royal in 2019 for a tour that takes in Bath, Guilford, Oxford, Malvern, Shrewsbury, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, York, Blackpool, Stoke and Edinburgh.
Tickets for the Grand Opera House’s September 13 to 18 run are on sale at atgtickets.com/venues/grand-opera-house-york.
One final thought: as much as The Woman In Black is a ghost story first and foremost, in Mallatratt’s hands, it is also a celebration of the craft of acting, the power of storytelling and the role of the imagination. All the more reason to welcome the reopening of the Grand Opera House, a theatre with a ghost of its own.
Did you know?
THE show that ran the week before darkness descended on the Grand Opera House under the Covid cloud was…Ghost Stories, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s “supernatural sensation”, from March 10 to 14 2020.