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!”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.