Badapple Theatre are back at York Theatre Royal after a decade tonight with the haunted dance hall comedy Elephant Rock

Haunted happenings: Jessica Woodward, left, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in Badapple Theatre Company’s Elephant Rock

GREEN Hammerton theatre-on-your-doorstep purveyors Badapple Theatre Company return to York Theatre Royal for the first time in a decade tonight (10/5/2022).

At the invitation of TakeOver 2022, the arts festival run by York St John University, Kate Bramley’s travelling troupe will be presenting Elephant Rock, a “lighthearted comedy about finding your place in the world” set against the backdrop of environmental change.

“We were last at the Theatre Royal with Back To The Land Girls roughly ten years ago and it feels very exciting to be back. We’re delighted,” says writer-director Kate. “It’s come about through the York St John performing arts students, who, as part of their final-year work, have the chance to put together a week of performances in a festival.

“They came to us and asked if we could do Elephant Rock, so we juggled things around a bit on the tour, and here we are, on the main stage, which is lovely for us, having the chance to use more than the five lanterns we take on tour for the lighting!”

Badapple Theatre Company artistic director Kate Bramley: Delighted to be returning to York Theatre Royal

Set in a storm-battered seaside village, Kate’s upbeat play with original music and songs by Jez Lowe follows the fortunes of a family trying desperately to keep the struggling pier-front Palace Theatre open, come hell or high water.

“The heyday of the great British seaside holiday may have gone but the memories remain,” says Kate. “So too does the old Palace Theatre, once perched proudly on the pier in sight of the mighty Elephant Rock, and boasting its own fabulous attraction, The Amazing Mechanical Elephant.

“But the relentless tides have chipped away at the coast, and Elephant Rock and its mechanical counterpart are long gone, as if instinct and longing have lured them off to the land of their ancestors.

“Amid the comic yet heartfelt attempts of the mismatched team who are determined that the Palace doors stay open, they discover a surprising family history that stretches across a hundred years and five thousand miles, from the rocky coast of England to the sweeping grasslands of Sri Lanka.”

Jessica Woodward: Pink dress, pink umbrella, in Catherine Dawn’s typically colourful design for Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock’s subject matter was prompted by a family visit to Withernsea, the East Riding resort noted for its Pier Towers, sandy beach, Valley Gardens and lighthouse. “A few years back, we were staying there, and where there used to be a road, now there was just a drop with a sign saying ‘End’,” says Kate.

“It was partly that observation that set me thinking about erosion, and we’d also heard the story of the Elephant Rock, just off the coast at Hartlepool, standing there for many years and then ‘wandering off’, disappearing into the sea – though we’ve had sightings of ‘Elephant Rocks’ elsewhere: one was in Iceland and another off the Vietnamese coast.

“It seems to be a phenomenon to do with coastal erosion that leaves rock in the shape of an animal.”

While the Elephant Rock story was a “bit of trivia”, Kate noted how coastal communities were being hit by climate change and the impact of erosion. “I thought about how people need to move and migrate, and I wondered whether people had to come from a place to call it ‘home’, when the coast plays host to a fluctuating community, such as carnival troupes that come and go.”

Entertainment on the pier: Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in the vintage dance hall in Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is set in the present day while harking back to the past. “The three principal characters are stuck in a dance hall where these comedic hauntings happen to them as they try to decide what to do with a magical box,” explains Kate.

Those roles and no doubt more besides are played by Jessica Woodward, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson. “They’re a lovely bunch, all Yorkshire actors – quite by chance it’s fallen that way – and they’re having a lovely time together on what is our ‘comeback tour’ to full-scale touring after these past two years. Thankfully all these venues have stayed loyal to us,” says Kate.

“Robert worked with us in The Carlton Colliers and The Last Station Keeper before we lost him to Northern Broadsides and the West End, but now we’ve tempted him back to the north!

“Jess graduated from ALRA [Academy of Live and Recorded Arts] a couple of years ago and this is her first long tour. She’s a whiz, a classic ALRA all-rounder. Stephanie is a lovely actor from Leeds, who’s done some rural touring and telly and does the bulk of the singing in the show.”

Look out for new compositions by Jez Lowe that are set within the action of the play, recounting what happened to Elephant Rock, and he has delivered some fun Fifties’ jive numbers too.

Stephanie Hutchinson: Making her Badapple Theatre Company debut

Kate has been delighted at the response to the show that opened on April 22 and will be on the road until June 19 in Badapple’s 24th year of touring original productions with professional actors to the “most unexpected of places”: the smallest and hardest-to-reach rural venues and village halls in Yorkshire and beyond.

“It seems people are resting more easily around the Covid situation, and it feels like a transitional show, reminding people that they can go out,” she says. “We’ve had people saying ‘I’ve really missed it’ – and that is our role, to go out there on rural tours, bringing joy to communities.

“There’s still some generation caution about going out, with older people proving to be more cautious, but that said, equally some people feel far safer going to their village hall than going into town to see a show.”

Should you miss tonight’s 7.30pm show, Badapple’s spring and summer tour has plenty more performances in the York vicinity: May 17, Green Hammerton Village Hall (box office, 01423 331304); May 18, Terrington Village Hall, 8pm (01653 648394); May 20, Sutton upon Derwent Village Hall (01904 608524); June 10, Low Catton Village Hall (07837 330421); June 12, Skipsea Village Hall (01262 469714), and June 15, Galtres Centre, Easingwold (01347 822472, Monday to Friday, 9am, to 5pm). Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

Tickets for tonight and all the TakeOver 2022 festival events are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Badapple Theatre hare down to Joseph Rowntree Theatre with eco-conscious adventure Tales From The Great Wood

York actor Richard Kay with Hetty The Hare in Badapple Theatre Company’s Tales From The Great Wood

BADAPPLE Theatre Company return to live performances this evening with Tales From The Great Wood at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.

“This is a new short play for children and grandparents – and everyone else – to enjoy together that can be performed indoor or outdoor,” says writer-director Kate Bramley, founder of the Green Hammerton theatre-on-your-doorstep proponents, as she introduces her interactive storytelling eco-adventure.

“Listen! Can you hear the whispering in the trees? The Great Wood is full of stories. It’s a hot summer’s day, perfect for basking in the sun, but instead of resting, Hetty the hare is investigating because someone is missing.

“As she unravels a tall tale that stretches from end to end of The Great Wood, Hetty realises that every creature – no matter how small – can have a huge part to play in the world of the forest.”

One of those “creatures” is the exotic Hoopoe bird from Africa that is blown off course en route to Spain and ends up in Bramley’s British woodland story.

“Although I write daft stuff, the facts behind it are always real,” says Kate. “So this bird with a long beak and a liking for ants really does occasionally turn up in Britain, sometimes Scotland, or the south west of England…and now in The Great Wood!”

Starring York actor Richard Kay, Danny Mellor and a host of puppets made by designer Catherine Dawn, this show for ages five to 95 will be performed at the Covid-secure JoRo tonight at 7.30pm and tomorrow at 11am, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

“We’ll also be playing Skipsea Village Hall on Sunday afternoon, and we’re looking to do some outdoor performances too, such as at stately homes, with Annabelle Polito working on that for us at the moment,” says Kate.

“I’m trying to create a show that is ‘omni-everything’: suitable for outdoor spaces and for indoors, so it’s not only a play for all seasons, but a play for all eventualities.”

“We want to carry on telling stories; to carry on spreading joy and to make sure we are always eco-conscious,” says Badapple artistic director Kate Bramley

In the spirit of an eco-adventure, Badapple Theatre’s have recycled the set and puppets for use in Tales From The Great Wood. “At a time when all businesses great and small are recognising the need to look at how live events come about, what we want to do is threefold: to carry on telling stories; to carry on spreading joy and to make sure we are always eco-conscious,” says Kate.

“I’ve had 22 years with Badapple since founding the company to bring theatre to your doorstep, and I’ve been thinking, ‘what would I like to do for the next 22 years’?

“I’d now be happy to split my time between telling stories and digging and growing things in the garden.”

In addition to rehearsing Tales From The Great Wood at Hunsingore Village Hall, Badapple have held a puppet day with Haxby primary schoolchildren, combining puppets and poems. “They were just such a beautiful set of children, who were so excited to get involved, making puppets and then working with all the puppets we’d made,” says Kate.

“It was interesting to see just how instinctive it was for them to adopt puppet characters. Right now, they should just be having fun, playing with theatre skills and enjoying storytelling.”

Badapple Theatre Company in Tales From The Great Wood, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 2, 7.30pm, and July 3, 11am, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501935. Also: Skipsea Village Hall, July 4, 2pm; tickets, 01262 469714 or 01262 468640.

Can you provide a home for Badapple Theatre’s new play Suffer Fools Gladly or live film Eddie And The Gold Tops? Urgently

Kate Bramley: Badapple Theatre artistic director is looking to launch two autumn shows, one outdoors, the other indoors

WANTED! Badapple Theatre, the Green Hammerton company that takes shows to your doorstep, needs your urgent help to secure funding for two autumn projects.

Urgent really does mean urgent, as company founder and artistic director Kate Bramley explains: “We’ve just been offered a new grant from Arts Council England to cover our interim work between now and December 2020. They have set a deadline of Monday, August 31 for us to have six outdoor performances and six film events confirmed, so please do get in touch as soon as possible if you would like to be included.”

To put flesh on those bones: “As part of that, we’re looking to find a small number of outdoor spaces that would be willing to host a performance of Danny Mellor’s new play, Suffer Fools Gladly, between September 16 and 23,” says Kate, who commissioned Danny in the spring to write the piece for Badapple’s Lockdown Podcast series.

“It’s an extremely inventive and witty short comedy that at its core simply looks at the perils and perks if you had to tell the truth…all the time!” says Kate.

“Appealing to young and old audiences alike, this upbeat tale narrates the comic fall from grace of Ozzy, the court jester who is exiled from the magical kingdom of Marillion. It takes an unlikely friendship with a cynical 17-year old Earth girl, Stevie, to bring the joy back to both of their worlds.

Danny Mellor: Actor and writer for Badapple Theatre’s September play, Suffer Fools Gladly

“Danny’s play has a hint of political comment for the times but is really just meant to be a fun hour of upbeat storytelling to give people a bit of a lift.”

Danny has signed up to perform in next month’s mini-tour with Anastasia Berham, his co-star in last year’s Badapple Christmas show, Bramley’s warming winter play The Snow Dancer.

“They’re two great young actors who’ll be taking on the many voices and parts in a show with costume and puppetry design by Catherine Dawn,” says Kate, who will co-direct next month’s production.  “So, I’m now hoping to find a few hosts/ venues – we need six in mid-September – to make it work and we’re moving swiftly to do this.”

Badapple’s second putative autumn project has been prompted by an “overwhelming response from halls” [village and community halls] to a survey, expressing an interest in high-quality filmed versions of theatre shows.

“We’re looking at late October to early November for bookings for film-live screenings of Eddie And The Gold Tops,” reveals Kate. “To this end, we are again seeking a minimum of six venues to take part.

Last Christmas: Danny Mellor and Anastasia Berham in Badapple Theatre’s 2019 tour of The Snow Dancer.
Picture: Karl Andre

“When we started looking for the ultimate ‘feel-good’ show from the Badapple back catalogue, there was no contest! Eddie And The Gold Tops is our 1960s’ comedy about the unexpected and meteoric rise to stardom of Eddie, the local Bottledale milkman.

“With award-winning design by Charlie Cridlan and catchy and comic 1960s-style songs from our Sony Award-winning resident composer Jez Lowe, this show has delighted our audiences since 2012.”

In the Eddie And The Gold Tops storyline, Eddie inherited the family milk round from his father and has fulfilled his deathbed promise to never miss a delivery to the good people of Bottledale. Suddenly things are on the up: his songs are heading up the charts and if he can turn up by tonight, he will be on Top Of The Pops…so, get ready, Eddie, go! When things take a churn for the worse, however, will he arrive back in time for the morning milk round?

“Arts Council England have accepted our programme to make Eddie And The Gold Tops the first of these live-film featured events,” says Kate. “Our ambition is to create a new style of filmed performance – the ‘hybrid-live’ – that captures the energy, theatricality and immediacy of our live theatre shows while providing a quality of filmed entertainment that modern audiences have come to expect.

“The filmed show will feature a cast of three versatile performers leaping swiftly through a multitude of roles and songs, for audiences of all ages to tap their feet and laugh along to. We’re therefore looking for a small number of organisers to screen these pilot Theatre Film Night performances for socially distanced audiences at indoor venues in late October. Even better, make it a Sixties’ themed night with fancy dress and Bring Your Own.”

Anastasia Berham: Signed up to co-star with Danny Mellor in Suffer Fools Gladly

Summing up Badapple’s aims in an open letter headlined “Badapple Theatre: To Boldy Go… “,  administrator and company director Claire Jeffrey says: “As you all know, the Coronavirus pandemic has meant the closure of all live events for a prolonged period and we are hoping to now work in partnership with Arts Council England to safely deliver a small number of live events between September 2020 and January 2021.

“Our project ambition is simply to offer a series of pure feel-good events that are open to all ages and are just about local people having the confidence to gather safely with friends and neighbours at our ultra-small-scale Theatre On Your Doorstep events.

“We will, of course, be preparing a full Covid-19 risk assessment in line with Government guidelines for both of these projects that have been specifically designed to build audience confidence for live events by offering reduced capacity/ socially distanced showings.”

Claire’s letter concludes: “We would be delighted to answer any questions that you may have about the details, including finances and being Covid-19 safe. I’m working from home at the moment and can be reached on 01423 331304 or by email to clairebadappletheatre@gmail.com if you have any questions or wish to talk anything through.”

Hurry, hurry, with that phone call or email as Badapple need six of the best twice over…venues, that is. “We have to get them confirmed for Eddie And The Gold Tops before we can get the money to do the filming,” urges Claire.


The poster for Badapple Theatre’s first tour of Eddie And The Gold Tops, or Eddie & The Gold Tops as it was billed in 2012

Badapple Theatre’s slice of bakery comedy The Daily Bread to be served up at home

Scottish actor, clown, raconteur and cake business boss Colin Moncrieff in Badapple Theatre’s 2014 production of The Daily Bread, a play he now revives for the Podbean podcast

THE Daily Bread rises again as the latest free Podbean podcast from Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre.

Glaswegian actor, clown and raconteur Colin Moncrieff reprises his 2014 stage performance in artistic director Kate Bramley’s comedy about a master baker who is the talk of the tiny village of Bottledale, thanks to his sumptuous sponges and beautiful buns, this time giving a relaxed reading from home, accompanied by songs by Sony Award-winning singer-songwriter Jez Lowe.

Go to badappletheatreonyourdesktop.podbean.com to discover whether the baker’s cheery façade hides a dark secret. How come his name is so uncannily similar to that of disgraced media magnate August de Ville, who hid the truth behind the Bottledale bank crash?

For the villagers, is it a case of better the de Ville you don’t know, or will the truth come out, as Bramley adds more and more ingredients to her play recipe, ranging from a Women’s Institute narrator and a dour Yorkshireman to a Nigella Awesome send-up, a Mafia boss and a lumbering thug?

When toured in 2014, The Daily Bread was delivered to each village doorstep with “live baking” in a working oven. The one-man show was bread and butter to Moncrieff, who once worked with a French baker in New York and later ran his own cake business in Scotland.

Moncrieff’s prowess with flour, water, salt and yeast had come to light as he toured with Badapple in Laurel & Charlie, prompting writer-director Bramley to see the potential in writing a play that would combine all his skills.

What ensued was a nimble show of Machiavellian subterfuge, comedy, multiple role-playing, physical clowning as dextrous as Keaton and Chaplin, the aforementioned live baking, banking, and “a little bit of politics”, as Ben Elton once was wont to say too often.

A second Badapple show, audience favourite The Carlton Colliers, is available for free too at badappletheatreonyourdesktop.podbean.com. Bramley’s comic tale of an amateur football team saved from an eternal losing streak by a stroke of allotment magic is read from home by Thomas Frere, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson, again complemented by songs by Lowe.

Badapple Theatre writer-director Kate Bramley

“This is a story about a village, a story about love, optimism and yes, sometimes a story about football,” says Bramley.

She sets that story in Carlton Flatts, a northern place where “nobody notices you’re doing nothing, ’cause there’s nothing for anyone to do” since the village pit closed: a stasis captured in Lowe’s evocative folk music.

“But you have to dream, don’t you,” reckons the playwright, who gives the dreamer role, the escape route, to Jemmy, the sharp-shooter of the hapless Carlton Colliers football team, whose quality left foot could land him a contract with a League side. First, however, he must lead the Colliers out of trouble, Roy Of The Rovers style, while keeping both feet out of his mouth in the presence of Nina.

Frank, no-nonsense, ever efficient, she hates football but doggedly runs her Zumba classes and hopes her bit-part as a dancer on Coronation Street could be her ticket to bigger opportunities elsewhere.

Meanwhile, taciturn Chris has withdrawn to a barge but when he is left an allotment by a man to whom he has not spoken for 15 years, change beckons.

In Bramley’s head, The Carlton Colliers was always a love story. “Whether the love affairs with friends, football or hometown ever work out quite the way you expect is another story – but the love remains, just the same,” she says.

Without giving the plot away, the world does alter for each of her protagonists in a play where they bloom as much as the allotment at the back of the football pitch does.

Although the allotment is sited on Carlton Roadends, as one road ends, new paths begin, poetically symbolised by the presence of a plethora of parrots in Bramley’s storyline.

So, sit back at home and enjoy the nuggety northern humour, the borrowed football sayings – courtesy of the likes of late Liverpool gaffer Bill Shankly – and love in its myriad forms in this hymn to village life.

Only one question for…Badapple Theatre Company artistic director Kate Bramley

Kate Bramley: artistic director of Green Hammerton touring troupe Badapple Theatre Company

Question: In her opinion piece in The Stage, esteemed theatre critic Lyn Gardner speculated on whether rural touring shows would be the first to be released from the lockdown prohibitions. Could Badapple’s Theatre On Your Doorstep shows be back soonest, Kate?

“Unfortunately, I think Lyn has overlooked the [often older] age of the hall organisers and their community audiences and the latent fear factor, which I believe will make them unlikely to want to socialise in groups at all.

“I think she’s right about the flexibility of the seats, i.e. seats can be spaced apart to give social distance, and arts events that are ultra-local must be safer. But audiences would still have to move to and from the venue safely and, of course, the performers would have to be safe.”

“It’s just as complex for a small hall as for an arena when you start to break down the variables. Venues would still have to operate at 30 per cent of capacity for people to move around within them safely and certainly, for us, it doesn’t seem economically viable on that basis.”