Next Door But One plan ahead for 2023 and beyond after gaining National Portfolio Organisation funding status for first time

Next Door But One founder and artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle. Picture: Esme Mai

NEXT Door But One may be new to Art Council England’s National Portfolio, but this York community interest company (CIC) has been a familiar, welcoming face to many in the community for ten years.

When Arts Council England announced its £446 million investment in 990 organisations each year from 2023 to 2026, to “bring art, culture and creativity to more people in more place across the country”, six York organisations were given funding, alongside such big hitters as the Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company.

Maintaining their previous NPO status are York Theatre Royal, York Museums Trust, the National Centre for Early Music and Pilot Theatre, while Next Door But One (NDB1) and Explore York/York Explore Library and Archive both join for the first time.

“It might sound bizarre, but it’s OK if people haven’t heard of us yet,” says NDB1 founder and artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle. “We’ve been busy in residential settings, youth centres, pub courtyards and even the odd portable cabin or two – making sure that we get theatre to people who want it, in a way that is accessible, relevant and meaningful to them.

“People have always come first, and profile second. But now becoming an NPO allows us to shout louder about our work and reach out to even more people.”

Set up by Matt in 2013, the applied theatre company cum community arts collective began by using improvisation to tell the stories of women’s groups, Muslim families and people new to York.

“Soon our storytelling was being used to make research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and enabling City of York’s training programmes to be more engaging and accessible,” he says.

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

“Our original productions were then showcased at York Disability Pride, the Great Yorkshire Fringe and York’s Dead Good Festival. From 2016, we’d honed our model of co-production and created partnerships with Camphill Village Trust, The Snappy Trust, York Carers Centre and Converge, to name a few.

“In the last year, we engaged more than 600 participants and 2,000 audience members. Something that, as a part-time team of five, we’re incredibly proud of.”

At the height of the Covid pandemic, NDB1’s activity went up by 61 per cent. “This was due to our community partners turning to us and saying ‘Can you help keep our communities connected and creative?’,” says creative producer El Stannage.

“So, we made digital performances for neurodivergent young people, online Forum Theatre to support the wellbeing of adults with learning disabilities and ran three online theatre courses for adults accessing mental health services, LGBTQ+ teenagers and unpaid carers.

“The need for our work has not decreased, even once lockdown restrictions were lifted, and that’s why we applied to be an NPO; to sustain our increased programme and to reassure our community groups that we’re still going to be there for them.”

This work’s impact on the York community has been acknowledged with formal recognition and awards from the Lord Mayor of York, the Archbishop of York and as a finalist in the Visit York Tourism Awards for “Innovation and Resilience”.

Anne Stamp, service manager at The Snappy Trust, is delighted that NDB1 are to become an NPO, helping to continue their long-standing collaboration. “Next Door But One is a much-needed service in York: a great resource for many and a service that helps to provide children and young people with a wider range of experiences, enabling them to learn, grow and have fun,” she says.

NDB1 are finalising their plans for 2023 but are working already on revivals of performances that toured to their fellow NPO, York Explore, including The Firework-Maker’s Daughter and Operation Hummingbird, as well as expanding their professional development offer for local performing arts professionals that originally produced Yorkshire Trios at The Gillygate pub in April 2021; the first live, in-person performances that year in York once lockdown restrictions were lifted.

“All NPOs must go into a negotiation phase with Arts Council England until early 2023, but for now what Next Door But One are saying is, ‘We are here and we can’t wait to continue working with communities across York or meet new people for the first time, and create together,” says Matt.

Artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions on what lies ahead for Next Door But One, York’s community arts collective

Next Door But One artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle making a point in rehearsal as actress Emma Liversidge-Smith looks on

From Harrogate Theatre to Pocklington Arts Centre and English National Opera, venues and companies have suffered blows in Arts Council England’s National Portfolio awards for 2023-2026. What were the factors that meant Next Door But One NDB1) was selected as one of the new recipients in a climate where ACE talked of “levelling up” in its allocations?

“While we’re delighted to receive the NPO support, we are equally devastated for our peers across the industry who did not receive the support they had hoped for.

“We see us receiving the funding as validation for our community-driven approach, which makes our work inclusive and relevant to those we serve, while also taking on the responsibility to support our peers and create partnerships with those who aren’t part of the portfolio, so we can all continue to deliver our equally valuable work.”

York has come out of the NPO awards with tails up: York Theatre Royal, York Museums Trust, the National Centre for Early Music and Pilot Theatre retaining NPO status; Next Door But One and York Explore Library and Archive joining for the first time. What does that say about the health and diversity of arts provision in York?

“I think we’ve known for a long time just how much the city is steeped in arts a culture, and as you suggest, this goes towards celebrating that – and what a diversity of offerings York will have over the coming three years.

“From central building-based theatres, to touring companies, music, museums, libraries and a nimble participatory company like us, there really is going to be something for everyone, and we’re proud to be contributing to that collective.”

What are the benefits to NDB1 of acquiring NPO status?

“The main benefit for us is sustainability. Over the years, we’ve been able to do what we do by working hard on securing project grant funding, but this can become time consuming and resource heavy.

James Lewis Knight, left, as Jimmy and Matt Stradling as James in Next Door But One’s Operation Hummingbird. Picture: James Drury

“Knowing that we have our core funds secured for three years means we can really invest in current delivery while also having more headspace to think strategically about how we continue even further into the future.

“On the day we got the funding announcement [November 4], I phoned or emailed every partner we work with to tell them ‘We will still be here for you’ and that’s what it really means to us to become an NPO.”

Being a participatory arts and community-focused performance organisation gives you a different profile to other arts organisations in the city. All that with a part-time team of five. Discuss…

“It does, and I think that’s the real joy of the portfolio, particularly in York. We’re part of this great network of arts and culture creators, all approaching it from different angles, which should mean that everyone in York can access the things they want in a way that works for them.

“There can be a mistake when there are lots of organisations doing similar things into viewing it as ‘competition’, when it’s not. It’s complementary and collaborative. In fact, we’ve already had many discussions and meetings with fellow NPOs to see how we can support one another; how our work can go to their venue or how our participatory approach can strengthen a certain one of their projects.

“As for the part-time team, it’s great to have stability in our roles, which means we can grow both in terms of impact and by working with more York freelancers on upcoming projects.

“Even though it’s a full-time passion, we see our ‘part-timeness’ as a real strength; among our team we have those that in other areas of their working week are arts and mental health programme managers, music specialists, campaigners and directors of other theatre companies. All that additional skill and insight is really welcomed into NDB1.”

Is this the key: “Making sure that we get theatre to people who want it, in a way that is accessible, relevant and meaningful to them. People have always come first, and profile second”? 

“Yes, we pride ourselves on meeting people where they are, in terms of geography but also in terms of experience and aspiration. So, whether that is taking performances to community libraries or residential gardens, or workshops to children’s centres and support groups, we go to where we’re needed, connect and create together.

First orders: Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios reopened outdoor theatre in The Gillygate pub garden after lockdown restrictions were lifted. Picture: James Drury

“This can often mean we don’t inhabit large, prolific buildings or that our work has huge visibility, but as long as we remain meaningful to those we do engage, then that’s what counts to us. And being an NPO will enable us to sustain this work while also reaching out to new communities and asking them what they want from us.”

Within the York community, you involve people who would not otherwise participate in the arts. Discuss…

“Well, rather than saying ‘We have this thing and you need to get involved’, we approach it the other way around by saying ‘We know about theatre, you tell us how you want that to work for you’.

“For example, our programme of Forum Theatre came about through communities of people with learning disabilities, their support staff and family wanting safe yet productive ways of exploring independent living.

“So, we worked with members of The Snappy Trust and Camphill Village Trust to gather the tricky situations that they wanted to explore, trialled the format with them, evaluated together and now this has become an embedded process and programme of engagement.

“This has been the same with us using storytelling and performance skills to increase the self-confidence of unpaid carers wanting to apply for volunteering and employed work, or offering online creative writing sessions to keep LGBTQ+ young people connected and openly exploring topics important to them.

“Our approach is for the community to identify what they want, and then our responsibility is to shape the theatre with them to meet that goal.”

Lastly, Matt, put some flesh on the bones of what you have planned for next year…

“So, as every NPO now must do, we’re in a negotiation phase until the end of January 2023 to confirm the first year of plans with ACE, but in short, both programmes of Forum Theatre for people with disabilities will continue and increase, as will our training course in Playback Theatre for adults with mental ill health.

“We’ll also be remounting our 2021 production of Operation Hummingbird with York Explore, creating new audiences with our adaptation of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, building on our relationships with schools and universities with a new tour of She Was Walking Home and supporting a cohort of local performing arts professionals with a series of mentoring and skills-based workshops.”

She Was Walking Home: the back story

“We cannot let statistics dehumanise what’s actually happening or forget the real voices behind each lived experience,” says Kate Veysey, associate director of Next Door But One

PROMPTED by the kidnap and murder of York-born Sarah Everard in March 2021, Next Door But One mounted a city-centre audio walk last year, in response to “the reaction from women in our community and the unfortunate subsequent attacks and murders”.

Subsequently, it was expanded by Rachel Price into a live adaptation this spring, performed by a cast of four women at York Explore on May 5, Theatre@41, Monkgate, on May 20, The Gillygate pub, May 26, and University of York, June 14.

“She Was Walking Home aims to put the focus on the voices of local women, but not the responsibility or accountability for their safety,” says NDB1 associate director Kate Veysey.

Last year, for the first time, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data on how safe people feel in different public settings. One in two women felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home, or in a busy public place, and two out of three women aged 16 to 34 experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months.

Cast member Anna Johnston in the rehearsal room for She Was Walking Home

“Behind every one of these statistics is a true story of harassment, abuse, rape or even murder – a life changed forever,” says Kate. “We cannot let statistics dehumanise what’s actually happening or forget the real voices behind each lived experience.”

She Was Walking Home takes the form of a series of monologues created from the testimonies of women living, working and studying in York. “We created this production in response to the heart-breaking murder of Sarah Everard and the understandable shock and uncertainty it caused in our local community,” says Kate.

“We wanted to amplify the voices of local women, while also prompting conversations around where responsibility and accountability lies for their safety. Since the original audio walk, listened to by almost 800 people, there have been further attacks and murders of women, including Sabina Nessa and Ashling Murphy, and still the rhetoric seems to be skewed towards rape alarms, trackers, self-defence classes and dress codes being the solution. We needed to continue and challenge this conversation.” 

The 2022 tour to libraries, pubs, theatres and universities in May and June aimed to “bring this very real issue home with the experiences encountered on the very streets that make up York. “The invitation was to come and watch, listen, but also to think ‘What is it that I can do in making the women in our community safer?’,” says Kate.

Cast member Emma Liversisdge-Smith with Next Door But One artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle alongside her

Alongside the touring performance, Next Door But One have created a digital pack for schools and community groups, including a recording of the performance and a workbook containing prompts for debate and conversations that will lead to change.

“As a company, we want the theatre we make to be as useful as it can be; a tool that supports people in the ways they need,” says creative producer El Stannage.

“The tour reached different communities through the venues we visited, but equally the digital pack can be used to evoke conversations now, for change that will be seen into the future; empowering girls to report experiences of abuse and harassment and raising awareness of how boys and young men can be better allies in keeping women safe, for example.” 

Watch this space for details of the upcoming performances in 2023.

Next Door But One’s tour poster for She Was Walking Home

Once musical director for Berwick Kaler’s pantos, now James Pearson returns to York Theatre Royal with Ronnie Scott’s All Stars

James Pearson: Artistic director of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and musical director The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars…with a pantomime past in York

JAMES Pearson leads The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars on his return to York Theatre Royal tonight.

Artistic director at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, where his trio are the house band, he has worked with Paul McCartney, Dame Cleo Laine, Maria Ewing, Jeff Beck, Petula Clark, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Stewart, Buddy Greco, Richard Rodney Bennett, Ray Davies, Nigel Kennedy, Robbie Williams, Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter, Imelda May and…York pantomime dame Berwick Kaler.

“I’d left the Guildhall School of Music & Drama when Mick Foster, who was the York panto’s saxophone player, from Harrogate, and was at college with me, got me the chance to play keyboards for Mother Goose,” says pianist and composer James.

Subsequently he was the musical director for Aladdin in 1997-1998 and Beauty & The Beast the next winter. “I did enjoy Berwick’s ‘Me babbies, me bairns’ and the Wagon Wheel throwing,” he says. “The atmosphere was a riot! A lot of the music was scored, but you always had to have your wits about you because Berwick would go off-piste.

“The reason a lot of jazz musicians do panto is that you have to improvise. Like if someone walks across in a funny manner, it’s highlighted by the drummer doing a flip-flop sound.

“I particularly enjoyed it as I got to spend ten weeks in York each year. I’m from Hertfordshire but I know York well because my sister, Kate, lives in Sheriff Hutton, and went to the University of York, where she met her husband, Daniel. Now they both teach music there. I must have been coming to York on and off for 30 years.”

James began working at Ronnie Scott’s club in 2006, becoming the artistic director the following year. “I’m largely responsible for its output both in and out of the club,” he says.

Tonight, he is at the piano for The Ronnie Scott’s Story, whose two 45-minute sets by The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars combines live jazz, narration and rare archive photos of Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis and video footage from the 1960s and ’70s. “Putting the series of pictures and footage together really helps it become an accessible show,” says James.

Set among the dive bars and jazz jook joints of London’s Soho, the show recalls the desperate hand-to-mouth finances of the early years and the frequent police raids. 

You will hear how Ronnie Scott’s became neutral ground within rife gang territory and their scrapes with gangsters, not least the Krays, who were rumoured to have taken Ronnie and Pete “for a little drive”.

James Pearson, left, performing with The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars

“The Krays tried to take over the club in 1965 when they were looking to get a London venue before they became The Krays as we came to know them. They went to Earl’s Court instead and then tried to get a foothold in the West End. There was always a strange relationship with gangs with their links with the jazz world.”

Life at Ronnie Scott’s is reimagined through tales of the club’s past visitors, from pop stars, film stars and politicians to comedians and royalty, but above all, the musicians.

“The thing about Ronnie Scott’s is, firstly, its history and legacy. Even though no-one has smoked there for years, it still feels smoky.

“Then there’s the intimacy, where the audience are so close to the stage, three feet from Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder…Lady Gaga…Prince.

“When Stevie Wonder came, he was just in the audience and then got on stage to play with the house band. Sting has done that too. That’s one of the great things about jazz: it’s free style.

“After Lady Gaga’s second London show with Tony Bennett had to be cancelled, because she absolutely loves performing, she asked if there was any way she could play here.

“She parked her gold Rolls Royce outside the club, and because you can’t really do a Lady Gaga gig secretly, the press were there waiting for her.”

Tonight’s show is built around music from the jazz greats who have performed at Ronnie Scott’s over its 60 years and more, complemented by stories of old Soho and miscreant musicians.

Look out, in particular, for Natalie Williams performing the songs of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and saxophone player Alex Garnett, who likes to tell old Ronnie Scott jokes as the boss was famous for his humour.

James is delighted to be performing in York once more. “We loved doing the Ronnie Scott’s shows in the Parliament Street spiegeltent at the Great Yorkshire Fringe,” he says. “It was such a lovely festival and it’s sad it’s gone.”

The Ronnie Scott’s Story, York Theatre Royal, tonight at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

The poster for The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, featuring vocalist Natalie Williams and saxophonist Alex Garnett

Stilly Fringe takes over At The Mill for fiesta of theatre, comedy, music and metaphysics

Mouth-watering prospect: Holly Beasley-Garrigan in Opal Fruits on July 28

THE Great Yorkshire Fringe exited stage left from York in 2019 after five years, 1,200 shows, 9,000 performers and 110,000 visitors.

Frustrated by red tape, impresario Martin Witts pulled the plug on his fiesta of comedy, theatre, spoken word and children’s shows, since when the black hole in York’s summer entertainment calendar has never been filled.

In no way on the same scale, but occupying the same pre-Edinburgh Fringe slot, here comes the Stilly Fringe, out on the fringes of York at Stillington Mill, the home of the At The Mill arts hub, Saturday café and guest-chef supper club nights.

Running from tonight(July 22) until July 31, this is the latest enterprise from newly married Alexander Flanagan Wright, North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator, and Megan Drury, Australian actor, writer and creative artist.

Selkie myth making: Hannah Davies and Jack Woods in The Ballad Of Blea Wyke on Saturday and Sunday night

“It’s come about because a bunch of our dear pals said, ‘can we come and do this?’, like most of the things we do here come about,” says Alex. “There seemed to be a critical mass to make us think these weekends would be a good way to test things out.

“We thought, ‘let’s do it in a communal and convivial way’ with that bond between audiences and performers giving it a different vibe, seeing new work with a chance to chat with the artists. We love doing that here.”

Presented in the mill gardens, either on the open-air stage on the repurposed tennis court or under the cover of the café-bar, the Summer At The Mill programme takes in theatre and spoken-word premieres, comedy, children’s shows, concerts, Gary Stewart’s folk club bills, even silent disco dance nights.

The Stilly Fringe largely mirrors that format but with the added intrigue of giving an early opportunity to see shows bound for the Scottish capital in August. “Six out of nine are going to Edinburgh,” says Alex. “The Lovely Boys, The Gods The Gods The Gods, Invisible Mending, Opal Fruits and Casey Jay Andrews’ double bill, The Wild Unfeeling World and A Place That Belongs To Monsters, are all heading there.”

The Lovely Boys: Opening Stilly Fringe tonight

First up, tonight at 7pm, will be Joe Kent-Walters and Mikey Bligh-Smith’s absurd clown bonanza, The Lovely Boys, followed by Harrison Casswell & Friends, an 8.45pm set of electric spoken word and live music fronted by the Doncaster poet and writer, who Alex first saw on a Say Owt bill in York.

Next will be Say Owt leading light, York poet, actor, playwright and spoken-word slam champion Hannah Davies’s The Ballad Of Blea Wyke, a lyrical re-telling of the selkie myth, set against the Yorkshire coast, complemented by original live music by Jack Woods, in work-in-progress performances at 7pm on Saturday and Sunday.

On both those nights at 8.45pm, and on July 27 and 28 too, Alex and fellow Easingwold School old boy Phil Grainger will give their first Stillington performances of The Gods The Gods The Gods, the third in their trilogy of spoken-word and live music shows rooted in ancient myths after Orpheus and Eurydice.

“We first did the show in Australia in early 2020 before the pandemic forced us home, and we’re going to do a big, loud, bopping version in the garden, different from the indoor production that had a pretty massive lighting set-up,” says Alex.

Three is a magic number: Alexander Flanagan Wright, left, Phil Grainger and Megan Drury in The Gods The Gods The Gods on July 23, 24, 27 and 28. Picture: Tom Figgins

“We’re having to look at how to play it within this landscape and within the Mill’s vibe, rather than trying to pretend we’re in a black-box theatre design. We’re just really excited to be telling these stories that we’ve been living with for three years.

“We’ve been doing loads of work with Megan as our dramaturg, and Phil and Tom (Figgins) have been re-working the music, re-writing some parts and writing plenty of new pieces.

“It feels like a two-year hiatus that has allowed us to think about these different story-telling modes to tell it with greater clarity.”

Why call this Wright & Grainger show The Gods The Gods The Gods, rather than plain old The Gods, Alex? “A lot of things come in threes and a lot of things in this show fall naturally  into threes,” he reasons. “It’s one of those powerful numbers: a triad, with the three of us [Alex, Phil and Megan] telling the story.

Small acts of creativity: Yoshika Colwell combines metaphysics, music and verbatim material in Invisible Mending on July 31

“There are in fact four stories, three of them everyday stories and one story of the Gods. Most of those stories are told in three parts, and we repeat things three times in parts – and it’s just a good title!

“It’s also the third in the series of storytelling pieces we’ve done, taking a big jump on from the first two with a lot bigger soundtrack of Phil’s songs and Tom’s music production and a more complex narrative that we’ve weaved into it.”

The Stilly Fringe also will present Opal Fruits, Holly Beasley-Garrigan’s solo show about class, nostalgia and five generations of women from a South London council estate, on July 28 at 7pm; Casey Jay Andrews’ The Wild Unfeeling World, a tender, furious and fragile re-imagining of Moby Dick, and A Place That Belongs To Monsters, a re-imagining of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, on July 29 at 7pm and 8.45pm respectively.

Lucy Bird, originally from Ampleforth, will head back north with her Birmingham company Paperback Theatre for an “utterly Brummie” re-telling of The Wind In The Willows on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Yoshika Colwell will return to the Mill for the Stilly Fringe finale, Invisible Mending, her exploration of power in small acts of creativity through original music, metaphysics and verbatim material, presented in collaboration with Second Body’s Max Barton, on July 31 at 7pm.

For tickets, head to

Why Freddie Hayes is feeling chipper about her Faustian puppetry show Potatohead

Shed haven: Puppeteer Freddie Hayes contemplates life as a Potatohead

WHY is “gloriously bonkers” York performer, maker and writer Freddie Hayes a puppeteer?

“I’ve always made puppets from a young age,” she says. “But I lost in a puppet competition at Scarcroft School and it’s been revenge ever since.”

That act of revenge continues with the Edinburgh Fringe-bound Potatohead, her “starch-raving mad” solo adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s cautionary tale Doctor Faustus And The Seven Deadly Sins, directed by Sh!t Theatre.

Combining puppetry, stand-up comedy, physical theatre, film, singing, dancing and a sack of potato puns, Freddie’s hour-long “one-potato show” plays York Theatre Royal Studio on June 10, the McCarthy at the Stepehen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on June 14, and Seven Arts in her adopted home of Leeds on July 20.

“I’ve always been interested in puppets as objects and creating characters from everyday people you might see in everyday life,” says Freddie, whose absurdist work hovers between childish puppetry and late-night entertainment in its story of humble York spud Charlotte, who dreams of becoming a cabaret superstar but is blighted by a chip on her shoulder.

 “I have quite a dark sense of humour too, and there seems to be something haunting about puppets that intrigues me.

“Puppetry can be very violent, with dark stories like Punch & Judy, where he defeats the Devil and death itself with his powers – so that story has a vague connection with Faust.”

After introducing York and beyond to grouchy pub landlords Fred and Sharon, unhappily married guvnors of a dated York boozer, in Fred’s Microbewery at the 2019 Great Yorkshire Fringe and York Theatre Royal Pop-up Festival, now Freddie switches her attention to the Swiss Army knife of the vegetable world, the potato, in her “unadulterated celebration of silliness”.

Jacket potato! Freddie Hayes in her Potatohead costume on stage

Expect elements of kitsch cabaret and old-school entertainment in her blend of puppetry, clowning and surrealist comedy with room for sexual content and references to religion and the devil, hence the age guidance of 14+.

Why re-tell Faustus, Freddie? “I like the darkness and the idea of being in between life and death, that power struggle, as you try to get your dream to become reality – and in the case of Potatohead, it becomes the struggle of trying to become a stand-up comedian,” she says.

Would that struggle involve selling your soul to the devil? “I’m yet to do so myself! I don’t have to worry about comeuppance! But there is connection between potatoes and Faustus…”

…Really? “The year that the potato arrived in Europe was the same year that Marlowe’s play was premiered,” says Freddie. “Back then, potatoes were very glamorous. They were considered to be exotic and aphrodisiacs too!”

Yes, but why transform Faustus into a potato, or, rather, a couch potato with aspirations of becoming a golden wonder? “What’s great about potatoes is that they can be anything, and I feel like everyone has an inner potato in them. Some days everyone feels a bit like a potato,” says Freddie.

“On top of that, there was the idea that you can become great [not grate!] one day by taking a risk and being brave. That’s the moral of this story.”

Potatoes are even more chameleon than usual in Freddie’s show. “There’s actually a little bit of puppet potato nudity!” she reveals. “They can also fly and shape-shift, disappear and re-appear, so they’re quite magical!

“What’s great is that the potato puppets play these demon spirit characters and they do have this unworldly quality about them, which works well with the narrative of Faustus.”

Spud work: Freddie Hayes’s Potatohead gets digging in the garden. Picture: Amy D’Agorne

Seeking to capture the stupidity of life in her puppetry, she also reflects on her own life through her characters, scenarios and themes. “There’s a part of the show that’s slightly autobiographical in that I talk about my relationship with puppets and how they integrate with my life,” says Freddie, who studied for a BA in puppetry at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama from 2015 to 2018.

“I have this awareness of being dressed as a potato running around with these puppet potatoes, so I give a side-eyed look at the audience, as if to say ‘what am I doing here?’!”

Puppet potatoes abound in Potatohead. “You can probably guess there are seven potatoes for the seven demons [the ‘deadly sins’ in Faustus], and there’s obviously a Mephistopheles, played by Maurice Piper! Beelzebub is a big secret I can’t reveal, though it’s something to do with a popular potato brand,” says Freddie.

Summing up Potatohead’s comedic style, Freddie says: “It’s a very strange one! Imagine if Cilla Black collaborated with The League Of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh, all in a one-potato show. Old-school glamour meets general weirdness!” What a mash-up!

As for Freddie’s favourite potato dish, “I love chips,” she says. “Keep it simple. Cheesy chips. Or cheesy chips and gravy if you’re feeling really naughty.”

As part of her debut national tour, Freddie Hayes presents Potatohead at York Theatre Royal, June 10, 7.45pm; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, June 14, 7.45pm; Seven Arts, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, July 20, 8pm. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Scarborough, 01723 370541 or; Leeds, 0113 262 6777 or

Copyright of The Press, York

Question? What is Freddie’s favourite among the seven deadly sins in Doctor Faustus?

“Gluttony. I think I feel I don’t think it’s a terrible sin! It seems quite sweet,” she says.

Freddie Hayes, minus the Potatohead

Freddie Hayes Fact File

Born: York

Lives in: Leeds

Occupation: Performer, writer, puppeteer and maker, crafting bespoke puppets, props and costumes.

Studied for: BA in Puppetry at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, 2015 to 2018.

Since graduating: Created solo shows Fred’s Microbrewery and Potatohead, performing on UK comedy, festival and cabaret circuit for four years, playing Shambala Festival, Camden Fringe and Leeds International Festival.

Who’s the guvnor here? Puppeteer Freddie Hayes with Yorkshire’s grouchiest pub landlord, Fred, mean host of Fred’s Microbrewery

Home city works: Strut Club cabaret; former artist-in-residence at Southlands Studios; presented Fred’s Microbrewery at 2019 Great Yorkshire Fringe and York Theatre Royal Pop-up Festival; created and filmed short puppet film Fred And Sharon on York’s streets.

Projects: Artist-in-residence at Slung Low Theatre, working with Sh!t Theatre mentors, at The Holbeck, Holbeck, Leeds; associate artist of Slap York; resident puppeteer at Folkestone Puppet Festival.

Debut national PotaTour: Potatohead, May 19 to July 20, playing Leeds, Camden, Brighton Fringe Festival, Bristol, York, Scarborough, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival (July 14, 7pm, 9pm) and Leeds again (Seven Arts, July 20, 8pm).

Support: Started work on Potatohead project with Slap York in 2019. “They’re great at helping emerging artists,” says Freddie. “Without them, I don’t think I would have got going on this show.”

Mash of the day: Freddie Hayes in a Potatoheadshot

Funding: Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant to create Potatohead; Luke Rollason Memorial Bursary Award winner to programme show at Brighton Fringe Festival.

Performance style: Hovering between childish puppetry and late-night entertainment. Often autobiographical, reflecting on her life through relatable characters, scenarios or themes.

Pulling strings: Makes all her puppets, costumes and props. “I see it as a sort of sculpture, and I love making props,” says Freddie. “I do a lot of puppet-making commissions, making them for York Maze and Leeds City Varieties and working freelance for Leeds Playhouse for a while.”

Next up: Presenting Potatohead at Below, The Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, at 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 3 to 29, 2pm. Directed by Sh!t Theatre, Freddie’s production will be appearing as a York Theatre Royal supported show with Pleasance Edinburgh National Partnerships. Box office:

For captivating chemistry, phenomenal physics and bonkers biology, here come spiffing science chaps Morgan & West

Morgan & West: Magic meets science at York Theatre Royal

GREAT Yorkshire Fringe festival favourites Morgan & West present their new show Unbelievable Science at York Theatre Royal on Saturday afternoon.

After a decade of magic shows for young and old alike, their time-travelling conjuring act is well established on the UK touring circuit, but these spiffing chaps hide a dark secret beneath their prestidigitatory prowess.

Rhys Morgan and Robert West are Oxford graduates with degrees in physics and chemistry and fully qualified secondary school teachers to boot. 

Unbelievable Science: “A show to marvel and wonder at what science and nature has to offer us all”

Unbelievable Science combines the duo’s trademark showmanship and silliness with genuine scientific knowledge and a lifelong love of learning to create a fun science extravaganza for all ages.

After their nomination for a Primary Times Children’s Choice Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, science communicators Morgan & West are taking the show all over England, where audiences will experience captivating chemistry, phenomenal physics and bonkers biology.

Fires, explosions, lightning on stage, optical illusions, mass audience experiments and 3D shadow puppets await all those “wily enough to come along to be intrigued by science”.

Morgan & West: “Throwing out the jargon and making everything plain, simple, clear and enormously exciting”

“In the age of ‘so-called experts’, we felt it was time to bring families together to marvel and wonder at what science and nature has to offer us all, provoking questions and discussions as to how things work and what regular people themselves can learn from it,” say Morgan & West.

“It’s time to throw out the jargon and make everything plain, simple, clear and enormously exciting.”

Tickets to see these Penn & Teller: Fool Us winners on May 7 at 2.30pm are on sale on 01904 623568 or at

Morgan & West’s poster artwork for their new modus operandi as science communicators

Tony Burgess to top Wednesday’s Barbican bill for Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club

Headliner: Tony Burgess

LAUGH Out Loud Comedy Club hosts its final comedy night of 2021 at York Barbican on Wednesday, presenting Tony Burgess, Mike Newall and Sam Serrano, hosted by Damion Larkin.

Burgess has a starring role in BBC3 cult-comedy Ideal and pens jokes for fellow comedians Steve Coogan, Johnny Vegas and John Bishop.

He co-wrote the Sony Award-winning BBC Radio 4 comedy The Nightclass and featured among the writers for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.

“The real Magic Mike”: comedian Mike Newall

Mike Newall’s Nineties’ Britpop haircut gained him the nickname “the Real Magic Mike”, and when he appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, he impressed the judges so much that Simon Cowell said, “It was like an Oasis concert where the music ran out and Liam decides to tell a few jokes”.

Gender-fluid, dyspraxic comic Sam Serrano has been taking the comedy circuit by storm, not least in five shows at the online Hot Water Comedy Club. In 2018, Sam finished second in the Great Yorkshire Fringe Comedian of the Year Competition in York.

Host-promoter Damion Larkin likes to improvise his performance. Doors open at 7pm for the 8pm start in the Fishergate Bar. Tickets are on sale at

Sam Serrano: First caught the eye in York at the 2018 Great Yorkshire Fringe


Martin Witts in happier times at the Great Yorkshire Fringe. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

THE comedy is over for the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five summers in York, blaming “city-centre management” for the decision to exit stage left.

In a formal statement, founder and director Martin Witts said: “Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led to the conclusion that until a well-managed and efficient is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.”

Here Martin, who also runs the Leicester Square Theatre and Museum of Comedy in London, answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions.

1.What made you take this decision, Martin?

“My patience with all the red tape ran out of time. It was the same things every year, no matter what you try to do to address the most critical things on the Parliament Street village green site. Access. Drainage. The licence. Security.  What we were required to do changed every year.

“Right from the start, there were frustrations. We wanted to start the festival in 2014, but it took a year to get the licence from the city council for Parliament Street.”

2.What would constitute a “well-managed and efficient city-centre management”?

The City of York Council, Make It York and York BID are all involved in how the city centre is run. Everyone has great intentions, but there are too many chiefs, not enough Indians, and it’s got too complicated. That’s the frustration.”

3.Sean Bullick, managing director of Make It York, says he would “welcome the opportunity to discuss options with you to bring the event back”. Will you have that discussion?

“I had a meeting with Sean and Charlie Croft [assistant director of communities and culture at City of YorkCouncil] last year to say this needs to be resolved, but we still had problems at last summer’s festival with the drainage provision for the toilets.”

4. Last summer, some people said the ticket prices were high; some reckoned the quality of the newer acts had lowered; others felt the same names kept returning.  Your thoughts?

“We had no complaints about the festival content or the programming or the pricing. There were no negative comments from patrons on our social media and in the box-office day book. Indeed, only positives. The average ticket price remained the same.

“But there was a drop in audience numbers certainly, when the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, running at the same time at the Castle car park, had an impact.”

5. Do festivals have a natural cycle, especially when the fickle world of comedy is prone to “the new rock’n’roll” going in and out of fashion?

“No, I disagree with that. Comedy always has a new audience and new acts. You only have to see the popularity of the New Comedian of the Year award we ran each year.

“Comedy is always changing, but people like to keep seeing their favourite comedian too.”

6.Emotionally, how do you feel about calling a halt to the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five years?

“I’m incredibly disappointed to be having to do this. You should see the messages I’ve had from the volunteers who worked for the Fringe saying it was the highlight of their career. It was the highlight of my career too.

“In an ideal world, if it had been easier, if there wasn’t the problem of the structure of the city-centre management, we would like to have continued the festival, but your patience runs out in the end when you want things to run smoothly.”

7. What did you achieve?

”We were committed to running the festival for five years and you hope that after those five years, you’ve covered your costs, broken even, and established yourself, which we had – and we proved Parliament Street could be a village green with shows and all the food and drink stalls.”

8. Would you consider taking the Great Yorkshire Fringe to another great Yorkshire city?

“No, absolutely not. I’m not planning to move it to Leeds. This festival was always designed for the city of York, the city where my family is from. York is the capital city of Yorkshire; the second city of the world.”

9. You say you will “continue to invest in the cultural scene of York”. In what ways will you do this?

“We’ll continue to do events in York, but not hold the festival, but do them in the spirit of the Great Yorkshire Fringe. We’ll probably have a year off but we’ll support The Arts Barge by doing a couple of things with them in York this summer.”

10. What else is happening in the world of Witts right now?

“We’re opening a scenery workshop in Pocklington, and I’ve bought the contents of the Goole Waterways Museum after it went into liquidation. We might look at doing something with antiquities and artefacts there.”