REVIEW: Gus Gowland’s Mayflies, York Theatre Royal, flying until May 13 ****

Not always seeing eye to eye: Nuno Queimado’s May and Emma Thornett’s Fly in one version of Gus Gowland’s Mayflies at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Sam Taylor

OH, the app-hazard nature of modern love under Covid’s black cloud.

You shadow box tenderly, tentatively, expectantly, for two years online after dating app initiations, then finally meet for one fateful night in a seaside hotel, shedding skins as much as clothes, a knockout blow that turns the morning after into the mourning after. The chatter, then the shatter.

All this mirrors gone-in-24-hours life of the mayfly (the insect here making an appearance on the cover of May’s jigsaw, Mayfly On River, Germany).

What a brief breath of life in flight, after up to two years spent twiddling thumbs and knotting scarves in gestation underwater, only to crash and burn on impact.

York Theatre Royal artist-in-residence Gus Gowland’s musical world premiere has followed a similar path of anticipation. Already an award winner for Pieces Of String (Mercury Theatre, Colchester, 2018), he had tantalised York audiences with five-minute showcase contributions to Love Bites in 2021 and Green Shoots in 2022, and now the wait is over.

Be assured, Mayflies will not die after one day (or three if you choose to see all three configurations of Tania Azevedo’s flexible casting). An afterlife is deserved by Gowland’s concept, book and songs alike.

Gowland eschews burdening his putative lovers with defined gender, race, sexual orientation or age, further extending its potential shelf life.

For +Juliet director Azevedo’s premiere, two from three will perform in any show. It could be Nuno Queimado’s May with Emma Thornett’s Fly; Rumi Sutton’s Fly with Queimado’s May or Sutton’s May in a gay coupling with Thornett’s Fly. Clear so far?

Raising a glass: Rumi Sutton’s May and Emma Thornett’s Fly in a second configuration of Mayflies. Picture: Sam Taylor

It is not essential to see all three combinations, but the potential of both Gowland’s book and in particular his songs are better revealed the more pairings you meet, rather than only one match of the day. Both the idealistic Fly’s restless urges in Looking Back and realist May’s pile of relationship debris in Running On Empty will fly, whoever sings them. Queimado’s account of that heartrending ballad is especially affecting.

As much as the mayfly is Gowland’s motif for a love affair’s arc from joy to sorrow, matched by the mayfly hanging lamps’ choreographed movements in TK Hay’s design, equally significant is May’s love of jigsaw puzzles, one of the quirky revelations that builds a picture of a character.

The audience is invited to piece the jigsaw together, not without a picture, but with the extra challenge of Gowland detailing the relationship in both flashbacks and flashforwards.

As with jigsaw pieces, some scenes have jagged edges, others are rounded, and gradually the full picture emerges before the pieces are put back in the box for reassembling in different hands (as the magician’s flourish of a finale portends).

Just as the casting presents differing versions of the coupling, so Gowland highlights how we present differing versions of ourselves depending on the circumstances. Which is the truthful version: the one played out online, at a distance, or in the compression, the intensity, the heat of the moment, in that hotel hothouse?

Does May not want children, as is revealed at the hotel, or want them, as had been indicated in passing conversation online? Preferences on custard creams or shortbread, pizza consumption and more besides provoke doubts on what may have been said and whether it matters whose recollection is right.

Where goofy awkwardness has never blighted them behind the online shield, once May and Fly are together, in that room, wondering what to do next – whether and when to make a move, watch TV, eat a biscuit, order pizza – the sheer ordinariness of it all has the tea cup stain of familiarity that elicits both humour from cringy own goals  and vulnerable deeper emotions in Gowland’s dialogue as he walks the tightrope between warm-hearted romcom and angsty kitchen-sink drama.

The best speech – and the longest – goes to Fly, an epistle to love, to connection, to being a “defining feature in someone else’s story”, that signals the death knell to May and Fly and has you thinking, not for the first time, “Shut up, please shut up, you’re blowing this”, but also recognising the truths within the compulsive behaviour.

The juddering rhythms of the staccato scenes, a fusillade of snapshots that go to the heart, are countered by beautiful, choreographed scene changes where May and Fly entwine, flit flirtatiously or throw a prop from one to the other as if living their best life.

In the heat of the long-awaited moment: Nuno Queimado’s May and Rumi Sutton’s Fly in the third pairing of Mayflies. Picture: Sam Taylor

The songs, closer to Sondheim and Willy Russell than Lloyd Webber, contain wit, authorial wisdom and sometimes withering truths, ranging in content from conversational to confessionally dramatic, from playful, wishful or jousting duets to hopeful or wistful internal monologues.

Gowland doesn’t write OTT chart bangers, but consistently his storytelling songs – intelligent, incisive, funny or poignant – have an impact. Tellingly, Queimado, Sutton and Thornett find full expression in their nuances.

Azevedo’s direction is both musical and lyrical, orchestrating scenes as much as directing them, complemented by musical director’s Joseph Church’s lean, clean arrangements for his piano and Joel Benedict’s guitar.

This intricate but never ornate production is full of work of the highest standard, not only from the performances that can switch from charming to charmless, funny to foot in mouth, thoughtful to thoughtless in both characters, but also in Chris Whybrow’s sound designs and David Howe’s lighting, in turn transforming from warm to chill to match the ever-changing moods.

T K Hay’s breath-taking set design for Nick Payne’s multiverse in Constellations last November at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre whetted the appetite for his creativity for Mayflies. The profusion of ever-moving mayfly lamps delights, while he cleverly wraps a standard-fare hotel room inside multi-levelled building blocks, with a staircase leading to a balcony/kitchenette above.

This enhances the contrast between their online ‘connectivity’ in separate spaces – using the Theatre Royal stage to the full – and the sudden sardine-tin claustrophobia of the hotel.

Previously Gowland played with time, setting Pieces Of String simultaneously in the 1940s and present day (just as Alan Ayckbourn did in The Girl Next Door in 2021). Now he joins Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and University of York alumnus Payne’s Constellations in giving differing perspectives on the path and fragile nature of love, the greater truths emerging from the writer rather than his players on life’s stage. How wonderful if Mayflies could match their success.

What’s more, just as Fly says there is a difference between running and knowing when to leave, so Gowland judges his running time spot on at 90 minutes of longing, loss and love in its all ridiculous yet enriching madness.

Mayflies, York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm (Emma & Rumi); Thursday, 2pm (Nuno & Emma) and 7.30pm (Rumi & Nuno); Friday, 7.30pm (Emma & Rumi); Saturday, 2.30pm (Nuno & Emma) and 7.30pm (Rumi & Nuno). Box office: 01904 623568 or

Mayflies composer, lyricist and writer Gus Gowland, seated, with cast members Emma Thornett, left, Rumi Sutton and Nuno Queimado

Gus Gowland’s romantic musical Mayflies finds myriad ways to tell the same story in world premiere at York Theatre Royal

Mayflies lyricist, composer and writer Gus Gowland, seated with cast members Emma Thornett, left, Rumi Sutton and Nuno Queimado

DO not confuse York Theatre Royal resident artist Gus Gowland’s musical premiere, Mayflies, with Peter Mackie Burns’s 2022 television drama of the same name.

“That series was based on an Andrew O’Hagan’s novel that came out in 2017, but my title is taken from an insect that’s been around since before humanity!” says Gus, whose musical tracks the romantic relationship of May and Fly from first flourish to final goodbye.

“When I started this musical, I didn’t know that the TV series would be coming out when it did, but I did then read the synopsis – and it’s very different from mine! I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d been asked to change the title as the whole point was matching the characteristics of the mayfly,” says Gus.

“It is true that predominantly mayflies live for only 24 hours but they have a gestation period that can last for two years, and that felt like a good metaphor for meeting online, then meeting in person for one night, and then the morning after.

“What happens in Mayflies is that after swiping right, left, up and down across the dating apps, May and Fly begin a tentative conversation. Over time, their romance grows into something real, something special. Then they meet!”

Watching a documentary on riverbanks triggered the musical. “I love rivers for some reason,” says composer, lyricist, songwriter and playwright Gus, who moved to York in 2019 after his partner was appointed chief executive officer of Rural Arts in Thirsk.

“Anyway, there was a section on mayflies and that’s what piqued my interest. That incubation period, which I didn’t know about before then, struck me as really interesting when we only know about the mayfly’s fleeting life, but nothing about that earlier period. I watched it last summer, so the musical has been incredibly quick in arriving.

“It would be nice if I could invest Mayflies with a longer life than a mayfly has, and it’s been brilliant for me that York Theatre Royal has had faith in me to stage this premiere as it’s so important to support new work.”

Running at the Theatre Royal from April 28 to May 13 under the direction of Tania Azevedo, the world premiere of Mayflies will feature alternating configurations of three actors performing the two roles in each performance: Nuno Queimado playing May, Emma Thornett, Fly, and Rumi Sutton either May or Fly.

Another production could have a different gender balance, but however it plays, each pairing is designed to give a different perspective on the relationships within this contemporary love story.

“I was really excited by the challenge of writing something that could be played by pretty much anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality,” says Gus. 

“As an audience, we bring so much of ourselves and our understanding of the world to the things we see, so I wanted to explore what happens when we see the exact same love story told by different people – how would the dynamics change? Which moments would hit harder in each telling?

Mayflies designer T K Hay, left, musical director Joseph Church, cast members Nuno Queimado, Emma Thornett and Rumi Sutton, director Tania Azevedo and composer Gus Gowland at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“I know how much an actor brings to a role too and so I wanted to create people that the actors cast would be able to really imbue with their own sense of identity. We’ve seen some rotating casts before, but I really wanted to write the flexibility of casting into the material, rather than just have it as a production idea layered on top.”

Gus continues: “It’s a real challenge to avoid signifiers of characteristics, like age and gender, but I’ve adored finding ways to create rounded specific characters without those to lean back on. One way I’ve done that is to write the parts in different time signatures, which makes them musically very distinct.

“I’m over the moon with the extraordinary cast of actors we have for this first ever production of Mayflies and am so excited to see what they each bring to the characters.”

Gus, who lectures on the post-graduate musical theatre course at Leeds Conservatoire, has a two-year residency at York Theatre Royal, where his songs have been heard already in showcases for professional York talent.

For 2021’s Love Bites, he wrote a song for diarist Anne Lister (alias Gentleman Jack), performed by Dora Rubinstein, and for 2022’s Green Shoots, he used James Herriot quotes for I’ll Go T’Other, a song about the vet and his relationship with North Yorkshire, performed by Joe Douglass.

Settled into the city – he and his partner have bought a house here – Gus is aware of York’s love of musicals, whether staged by York companies or brought to the city on tour. “Mayflies’ Theatre Royal run is sandwiched between Strictly Ballroom and Heathers at the Grand Opera House: there is so much musical theatre staged here, so for me to have the opportunity to start a new musical’s life here is wonderful.

“So many people want to make their life is musical theatre, and it’s good for them to see that they don’t always have to go to London to be involved. There are theatres making musical theatre elsewhere.”

Brought up on watching Disney hits and classical musicals such as Kiss Me Kate, Gus had a love of musical theatre from the age of five, becoming obsessed with it, he says, whether Les Miserables or hearing the voices of Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga and Michael Ball.

“I just think it’s the best way to tell a story, though I know it’s certainly more complicated to get musical shows on because there are definitely more moving parts. They take more time to put on, which is the main challenge,” he says.

As with Gus’s Pieces Of String, winner of the 2018 Stage Debut Award for Best Composer or Lyricist and the UK Theatre Award for Best Musical Production for its Mercury Theatre, Colchester premiere, Mayflies has a book, lyrics and music by Gowland, a self-taught musician who composes on the piano.

“What’s rare is that both my main-house shows have been completely original, coming out of my brain and heart, rather than being an adaptation, where I’m more likely to be collaborative,” he says.

Gus had trained to be a classical actor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. “I didn’t do many musicals there, but I did write two songs for a new show called Spoon River that we did as our third-year show based on a book of poems from the late 1800s, where every poem told a person’s life story,” he recalls.

Mayflies composer Gus Gowland and director Tania Azevedo

“I did quite a lot of concert singing but I didn’t look after my voice, which I would have needed to do for musical theatre.”

Gus duly decided to focus on musical theatre writing after focusing initially on acting, going on to study for an MA in musical theatre writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and latterly a PhD in musical theatre, specifically looking at gay representation in the artform, using Pieces Of String as part of his studies.

As for his style of musicals, Gus says: “Being an actor, I’m familiar with text and though I love sung-through musicals, like Rent or Les Miserables, I consider myself more of a dramatist or storyteller. I like songs to be ‘real moments’ and I like them to be moments of transition in the story, with ten songs in all in Mayflies.”

He divides Mayflies into three stages, matching the life arc of the mayfly: Nymph online, Dun for the night together in a hotel room and Spinner for the morning after, but be warned, the story’s path is not chronological.

“We jump from one to another at a moment’s notice, with a lighting change or a sound effect. What’s interesting is people being different versions of themselves at different times, when the safety net of separate spaces is taken away in moving from online to in-person,” says Gus.

“We are contrary creatures, so we’ll say things that are the opposite of what we said before; sometimes that’s intentional, sometimes it’s because you’ve forgotten what you said, but for the other person it might have been memorable.

“In Pieces Of String I had two time frames, and now what I get to do in Mayflies is show whether someone said something or not and whether they meant it or not, and by being really free in the casting, over gender, age and race, I let audiences play with their own assumptions, because we assume things when we see people of a certain age or sexuality.

“The dynamics between each pairing can be totally different in its compact with a song taking on a different meaning, depending on who is singing it. Using different time registers for each character, which I’ve never done before, it’s interesting to see how different it makes them sound too. It’s all part of what I want to do, to really push myself as a writer.”

Gus is picking up Pieces Of String once more this year with a view to its further development. “I started writing it in 2011 as part of my MA and then developed it over many years before premiering it at Colchester in 2018 after the Mercury Theatre came to one of the workshops and decided to take it on.

“Now it’s being optioned by Global Music, who produced SIX The Musical, and by Alchemation in America, so I’ve done a new draft, making changes from the premiere. It could have happened sooner but for finishing my PhD and the pandemic, but we’ve now done a reading of it at the Vaudeville Theatre [in London] in January.”

How long is Pieces Of String’s future? Wait and see!

York Theatre Royal presents Gus Gowland’s Mayflies, April 28 to May 13, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Meet the three who will become two for each performance of Gus Gowland’s musical Mayflies at York Theatre Royal

Mayflies cast members Emma Thornett, left, Rumi Sutton and Nuno Queimado with composer, writer and lyricist Gus Gowland

THREE into two will go when York Theatre Royal stages the world premiere of resident artist Gus Gowland’s musical Mayflies from April 28 to May 13.

Three actors, Nuno Queimado (May), Rumi Sutton (May/Fly) and Emma Thornett (Fly), will alternate the roles of May and Fly, with each pairing offering a different perspective on the relationships within this contemporary love story.

Not to be confused with Peter Mackie Burns’s 2022 television drama of the same name based on Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Gowland’s Mayflies tracks the romantic relationship of May and Fly from first flourish to final goodbye.

After swiping right, left, up and down across the dating apps, they match, duly beginning a tentative conversation. Over time, their romance grows into something real, something special. Then they meet!

Award-winning composer, lyricist, songwriter and playwright Gowland’s musical explores the different versions of themselves that people become during relationships and how – in the blink of an eye – it can all come crashing down.

“I was really excited by the challenge of writing something that could be played by pretty much anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality,” says Gus. 

Nuno Queimado at a research & development session for Mayflies

“As an audience, we bring so much of ourselves and our understanding of the world to the things we see, so I wanted to explore what happens when we see the exact same love story told by different people – how would the dynamics change? Which moments would hit harder in each telling?

“I know how much an actor brings to a role too and so I wanted to create people that the actors cast would be able to really imbue with their own sense of identity. We’ve seen some rotating casts before, but I really wanted to write the flexibility of casting into the material, rather than just have it as a production idea layered on top.”

Gus adds:  “It’s a real challenge to avoid signifiers of characteristics, like age and gender, but I’ve adored finding ways to create rounded specific characters without those to lean back on. One way I’ve done that is to write the parts in different time signatures, which makes them musically very distinct.

“I’m over the moon with the extraordinary cast of actors we have for this first ever production of Mayfliesand am so excited to see what they each bring to the characters.”

Portuguese-born Nuno Queimado played the alternate Alexander Hamilton in the London West End production of Hamilton and has starred in Jesus Christ Superstar too. Rumi Sutton’s credits include Hex and Heathers; Emma Thornett has appeared in War Horse and Bedknobs And Broomsticks.

Directing this trio in rehearsals from the first week of April will be Tania Azevedo, who specialises in developing new work. Resident director on & Juliet in the West End, earlier she received best director nominations in the Off-West End Awards and Broadway World Awards for her work on Turbine Theatre’s world premiere of But I’m A Cheerleader, based on the cult LGBTQ+ film. The show won best Off-West End production at the What’s On Stage Awards.

Emma Thornett: Playing Fly in Mayflies

“When I first read Mayflies, one of the aspects of Gus’s work that immediately grabbed me was the flexibility with which May and Fly have been written,” says Tania. “It allows them to be played by any actor, regardless of age, gender or any other identifiers. This has led to a rich and thought-provoking casting process.

“It truly became about pairing actors and learning about their shared humour, approach to vulnerable conversations and chemistry with one another. Finding three actors who bring very different things to the table, and who have the craft to tackle this idea of ‘multiple configurations’, has been a joyous process and a unique approach to musical-theatre casting. We’re looking forward to making this piece with this incredible cast.”

Songs by Gowland, who lives in York, have been heard already on the Theatre Royal stage in showcases for professional York talent. For 2021’s Love Bites, he wrote a song for diarist Anne Lister (alias Gentleman Jack), performed by Dora Rubinstein, and for 2022’s Green Shoots, he used James Herriot quotes for I’ll Go T’Other, a song about the vet and his relationship with North Yorkshire, performed by Joe Douglass.

Before moving from London to York, Gowland enjoyed success with his first full-length musical Pieces Of String at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, named The Stage’s Best Regional Musical of the Year in 2018 and nominated for the UK Theatre Best Musical Production award. He won The Stage Debut Award for Best Composer/Lyricist and was nominated for the inaugural Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Musical Theatre Bookwriting.

Gowland has been commissioned previously by Theatre Royal Stratford East and has developed shows with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Leeds Conservatoire.

In 2021, with Craig Mather, he wrote and released an EP of pop songs focusing on mental health, In Motion. His musical short Subway was produced by MPTheatricals that year.

Rumi Sutton: Playing May/Fly in Mayflies

His short musical Sick! was performed at LOST Theatre, London, and his short play Clocks & Teapots was performed at RADA Studios and the London Transport Museum.

Gowland was commissioned by Olivier Award-winning theatre collective Duckie to write songs for Copyright Christmas (Barbican, London). He co-wrote and directed Barren and Love Love Love, which toured to Canada, and wrote and performed the one-man musical Tell Me On A Thursday at the Camden Fringe.

Joining Azevedo in the production team will be designer TK Hay, whose hi-tech creativity was last seen on a North Yorkshire stage in Nick Payne’s intricate Constellations at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, last November. Past credits include Making Of A Monster for Wales Millennium Centre and The Apology for New Earth Theatre. Musical direction, arrangement and orchestration will be by Joseph Church.

York Theatre Royal presents Gus Gowland’s Mayflies, April 28 to May 13, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or For a video introduction to Mayflies, visit:

Did you know?

IN 2014, Gus Gowland was on the UK Jury for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Gus Gowland and director Tania Azevedo at a research & development session for Mayflies

Tom Bird bids farewell to York Theatre Royal after 5 years of momentous change

Tom Bird: Goodbye York Theatre Royal, hello Sheffield Theatres. Picture: Esme Mai

CHIEF executive Tom Bird is leaving York Theatre Royal after five years on February 3 to take up the equivalent post at Sheffield Theatres, England’s largest producing theatre complex outside London.

Head hunted for a post he “just couldn’t turn down”, he will migrate southwards to replace Dan Bates, who exited Sheffield last year after 13 years to become executive director of Bradford’s UK City of Culture 2025 programme.

From February 6, North Easterner (and Newcastle United fan) Tom he will be in charge of the South Yorkshire trio of Sheffield’s Crucible, Lyceum and Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse (formerly the Studio), working closely with artistic director Robert Hastie and interim chief exec Bookey Oshin, who will stay on as deputy CEO, and the senior team.

He leaves behind a York Theatre Royal where he has overseen an emphasis on community productions and the showcasing of York talent; the departure of innovative artistic director Damian Cruden after 22 years and Britain’s longest-running pantomime dame, Berwick Kaler, after 41; the promotion of Juliet Forster to creative director with a programming team, and new partnerships with Emma Rice’s Wise Children company (and in turn the National Theatre) and Evolution Productions for the pantomime’s new chapter.

Such change could be planned, but then there was Covid, a shadow cast from March 2020, one that not only shut down the theatre in lockdown but led to redundancies and later the loss of £250,000 takings in a flash when the Christmas and New Year week of Cinderella last winter fell foul to a glut of positive tests.

York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, centre, with creative director Juliet Forster and Evolution Productions director and pantomime writer Paul Hendy

“We were on to our fourth Cinderella by then,” recalls Tom. “It was impossible to continue. It couldn’t have happened in a worse week. Losing those performances was awful, even though we  got going again for the last performances.”

Twelve months on, Tom bids farewell with the Theatre Royal in a healthy position. “There’s money in the bank; there’s a great team working here; the pantomime is reinvigorated; the programming is good; there are excellent partnerships in place. I’m really proud of everything we’ve done,” he says.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a mission as such as I guess I wanted to learn that mission as I went along, and I certainly think the Theatre Royal is in a strong position. The relationship with Arts Council England is so important, and to still be on the NPO scheme [for National Portfolio funding for £1.8 million for 2023-2026) is so important.

“If I have one regret – and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to run Sheffield – it is that it would have been nice to now have had two or three ‘normal’ years at York Theatre Royal as it’s such a wonderful place.”

Looking back on becoming the Theatre Royal’s executive director at 34 – he would later change the title to chief executive – after he and his family moved to York in December 2017, Tom says: “It was a massive change because my unofficial title at the Globe [Shakespeare’s Globe in London] was ‘Mr International’, producing a tour of Hamlet to 189 countries, but my personal circumstances had changed already.

A scene from The Coppergate Woman, York Theatre Royal’s 2022 community play. Picture: Jane Hobson

“We’d moved out to Kent; I’d been working as executive producer nationally and internationally, and though there was a lot of gloom about regional theatre at the time, I just thought, I’d love to get back north, to run a theatre.

“We’d co-produced plays to York, and there’s just something about the Theatre Royal, the building; the gorgeous auditorium.”

Nevertheless, Tom admits he was in for a surprise. “At first I thought, if you just transplanted London theatre here, it would work, but that was not the case,” he says. “York is a city of inequality, not the city that you would expect, and therefore not the theatre you would expect. You need to offer a cultural menu that caters for everyone. You have to fully fit in with the needs of the community, which is an exciting thing to do.

“After Damian left (in summer 2019), we wanted to make sure that we would be programming in a more collaborative way than we’d done before.  I think there’s since been the same amount of co-producing of shows, but we also said we wanted to do ‘very Yorkshire’ productions, like The Coppergate Woman community play and David Reed’s world premiere of Guy Fawkes last autumn.

“We’ve created the programming team, led by Juliet Forster, with associate director John R Wilkinson and resident artists, that naturally produces a wide range of voices and makes sure everything is rigorously tested as to what we will put on that stage and why.”

Wise Children’s co-production of Wuthering Heights with the National Theatre and York Theatre Royal

Community theatre is crucial, Tom says: “It’s what audiences want. It’s absolutely what people in the community say they want to see. The audiences for our community plays are phenomenal. July’s production of CJ Sansom’s Sovereign is already on track to sell out. York wants theatre shows that tell stories of the city and we’ve always tried to do that in an experimental way, which leads to us taking risks.”

For all the weight of its history, York needs to be averse to standing still. “The city has to make sure it’s always being dynamic in its culture and outlook, otherwise it will take on the profile of being frozen in aspic,” warns Tom.

“That’s why we did a hippy-trippy, Covid-influenced Viking story [The Coppergate Woman] and a dark comedy version of Guy Fawkes that people didn’t expect. You have to be ambitious and surprising. That’s a word we use all the time: the reward for York audiences is to be pleasantly surprised.”

As for the changing of the old guard in the pantomime, Tom says: “I’m conscious that it’s what I’ll be remembered for here, which is a shame. Bringing down the curtain on something is not what I want to be remembered for, but, to an extent, whoever had my job at the time, was going to have to deal with it in some way.

“Maybe someone else would have taken a different route, or taken it earlier, but I worked on three of Berwick’s pantomimes, so it wasn’t as though I didn’t know what I was dealing with, but there was an issue coming down the road in ten to 15 years’ time , maybe earlier: family audiences were not coming to the panto in2017-2018, so what was going to happen in future years?

“I’d grown an affinity with the company in those three years, as everyone does; you realise the exceptional quality of performers like David Leonard, but in all conscience, I could not responsibly leave the situation as it was.

Berwick Kaler playing Molly Motley in his last York Theatre Royal pantomime, The Grand Old Dame Of York, in 2018-2019. He co-directed and wrote the next year’s show, Sleeping Beauty, his last involvement with the Theatre Royal panto after 41 years

“I got a lot of public criticism – and a lot of private criticism too – and really there was a lack of understanding of what I was trying to achieve in making the change, which may have been my fault as I could have it explained it earlier, but everything I said at the time still stands.

“The audiences were declining and there was no obvious way of turning it around with that product still in place, and I would say that the decision to go into a partnership with Evolution Productions has been proved to be the right one.

“The new pantomime is still growing and we know there’s still work to do, but we’re really happy with how it’s going.”

After such highlights as The Travelling Pantomime’s socially distanced performances to York neighbourhoods in the first winter of Covid, the Love Bites and Green Shoots showcases for York professional theatre-makers, the Wise Children/National Theatre/York Theatre Royal co-production of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Tom’s groundwork for Kyiv City Ballet’s first ever British visit in June, he moves to Sheffield in the year he turns 40.

In the words of Lord Kerslake, chair of Sheffield Theatres Trust board: “We have appointed a driven, experienced and creative leader who will help shape the next chapter of this world-class organisation.”

Just as Tom Bird has shaped York Theatre Royal’s future too.

York musical comedy duo Fladam head to Edinburgh Festival Fringe for first time

“It’s been a long time coming,” say Fladam, as York musical comedy act make their Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut this summer

FLADAM, the York musical comedy duo of Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter, are making their Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut all this month.

At 4pm each day until August 29 – except August 16 – they will be performing A Musical Comedy Hootenanny! at The Pleasance at The EICC [Edinburgh International Conference Centre].

Followers of York’s musical theatre and theatre scene will be familiar with Florence, wide-eyed northern character actress, comic performer, singer, dancer and multi-instrumentalist, and Adam, face-pulling character actor, comic performer, pianist, harmonica and ukulele player, singer, composer, comedy songwriter and cartoonist.

A couple both on and off stage, they have branched out into presenting their own heartfelt, humorous songs and sketches, tackling the topical with witty wordplay, uplifting melodies, a dash of the Carry On! comic spirit, admiration for the craft of Morecambe & Wise, Bernard Cribbins and Victoria Wood, and an old-school sense of charity-shop comedic fashion.

You may have heard them in their regular slot on Harry Whittaker’s Saturday show on BBC Radio York; or seen an early taster of A Musical Comedy Hootenanny! in Fladam & Friends at Theatre@41, Monkgate, last November, or spotted them among the five-minute showcases at York Theatre Royal’s Love Bites in May 2021 and Green Shoots in June this year.

Topical yet nostalgic: York musical comedy duo Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Now comes the giant leap: heading to the Scottish capital to be among more than 3,000 shows at the 75th anniversary Fringe on its return from Covid hibernation.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says Adam. “We’d planned to perform there in 2020, before Covid struck. We were going to do a small-scale show at a venue we knew, Greenside, but now we’ve ended up at one of the Pleasance venues this year: a cabaret spot they’ve opened at the EICC called the Lammermuir Theatre.”

The two-year delay has worked out well. “Our plan was to go back to Greenside, but then we saw that a bursary scheme was available through York Theatre Royal in association with the Pleasance,” says Adam.

“We had an interview with Juliet [Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster], and though we weren’t selected, they said, ‘we really like you’, and the Pleasance offered us a slot.”

Better still, York Theatre Royal paid for Fladam’s Fringe registration and the Pleasance waivered a deposit. “We’ve been extremely lucky because from the first ticket onwards that we sell, we take 50 per cent,” says Florence.

Fladam’s official poster for the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Artwork design: Steph Pyne

“We’ve also had support from friends in York and we’ve received £400 from the Pleasance Debut Fund scheme to support debutant performers playing for more than a week in venues with fewer than 150 seats.”

Fladam’s Edinburgh bow is an introductory show that captures the spirit of their topical yet somehow nostalgic songs. “Our humour isn’t racy, but there’s a little hint of Carry On to it,” says Adam. “Well, there’s a dabbling of ‘racy’ in there,” interjects Florence.

“It’s sort of ‘Greatest Hits of Fladam’,” continues Adam. “We’re exploring different styles of performance, making sure it’s a varied hour, where we play lots of different characters, present familiar things in a new way and add new things.

“Like how we’ve re-written a country song that didn’t work as a country song. It now has new lyrics, which we’ll have to remember for a new version for the finale!

“I’m sure that the show we finish with on August 29 will be completely different from the first one as we’re still an evolving act and we’ll continue to evolve.”

Expect puppetry: Fladam add another dimension to their musical comedy act. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Fladam have progressed from bedroom beginnings to the stage. “We’ve gone from recording videos of songs on phones from the corner of our bedroom in lockdown to doing it live, first with one number at Love Bites and then last November’s show with friends, when we had to rehearse in the kitchen,” says Adam. “Now we’re developing again.

“Having a long run at the Fringe, we can try things out, playing to totally different audiences over so many performances – and with our shows being topical we may well have to update and re-write things. We’ve already adjusted our Boris Johnson song after what’s happened to him.”

Florence is relishing the Fringe experience. “What’s great is that so many people want to see musical comedy shows,” she says. “One of the joys of being here is that you never know who you might meet for future collaborations, which was one of the lovely things about doing Love Bites and Green Shoots at the Theatre Royal.”

Fladam will benefit from spreading their wings from York. “This is our first time playing to a ‘cold audience’ after playing mainly to our friends in York,” says Florence. “The advice from [York theatre director and actor] Maggie Smales was to talk to the audience to establish a connection with them, and I’ll be handing out biscuits and Adam will be playing the piano before we start.”

Spending a month in Edinburgh will be a learning curve for Adam and Florence. “We’re not producers, so we have to do our own publicity, organise the posters, build our props, do everything ourselves, and that’s where the Theatre Royal and the Pleasance have been really supportive when we’ve dropped them an email asking for their advice,” says Adam.

Whisking up gentle comedy: the comic craft of Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter

“That’s all helped us to mount an Edinburgh show for the first time, when you know you’re going to make mistakes and it’s not just an easy home run.”

What definitely has worked is their Fringe poster with its combination of photography by Charlie Kirkpatrick and a design by Steph Pyne. “It’s a bit retro, a bit Morecambe & Wise,” says Adam. “The first design played too much on being like a Seventies’ tribute, so we’ve dialled that down to still be a little nostalgic but above all quirky and colourful.”

Florence is chuffed. “We’ve had do many people tell us, ‘that really captures you and what you’re all about’,” she says. “Our style of humour is gentle, like Morecambe & Wise’s humour was so warm and lovely. We like to do songs that are clever and make you smile at the same time.”

Fladam: A Musical Comedy Hootenanny, Lammermuir Theatre, The Pleasance at Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EIFF),Venue 150, 4pm daily, until August 29, except August 16. Box office: 0113 556 6550 or

Fladam also will do six 20-minute street-busking spots at St Andrew’s Square and Cathedral Square from August 19.

Fladam: Making their Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut with backing from York Theatre Royal and the Pleasance

Meet the Bolshee trio, the York company behind female-driven creative projects

Driving forces: Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes, left, at the wheel, Megan Bailey, back seat, and Paula Clark, co-driver

BOLSHEE, the York company for creative projects set up by theatre practitioners Paula Clark, Megan Bailey and Lizzy Whynes, will be performing at Green Shoots tonight and tomorrow at York Theatre Royal.

One of 20 new commissions from York professional artists, Boss B***h will “explore the infamous statement made by influencer Molly-Mae Hague and ‘celebrity nightmare’ Kim Kardashian that we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce”.

“Let’s challenge the toxic boss bitch narrative,” proclaim the Bolshee trio, who will deliver five minutes of female voices, beats and moves.

“We set up Bolshee creative projects in lockdown after I decided to leave my job at York Theatre Royal,” says Paula, who is now a freelance creative director and artist and runs Paula Clark Co-Creative Projects.  

“There were loads of reasons why I left, but it’s important to say I’m still good friends with YTR! It’s where Megan, Lizzy and I all met and we still have a lot of love for it.

“But it was time for me to move on. Over that decade, I’d been a youth theatre practitioner, director (when cover for maternity leave), creative skills promoter, overseeing the TakeOver festival, and outreach director.

“There’s always a glass ceiling,” says Paula Clark after 20 years of working in theatre

“I found I enjoyed my job in the pandemic because I could do more than I would normally do, but there’s always a glass ceiling, and that’s not unique to York Theatre Royal. It’s across arts buildings.”

Coincidentally, Megan had left her job and so had Lizzy. “It wasn’t connected, but there were lots of similarities about our negative experiences of the arts industry,” says Paula.

“We’ve all experienced profound sexism in the arts industry and I’ve struggled, being from a working-class background, to make headway, be heard and create change in the way I wanted.

“It feels like there’s a holding on to power by people who are worried about a disruption of power, a sharing of power across the industry and all the talk of wider representation. People are frightened, so they’re holding on to the old way. It’s not a level playing field.”

Paula recalls “starting to feel like a tick box”. “I was tired of being called ‘authentic’ by patronising old men on boards. I wanted to be in charge of my own creative direction, and I want to do more for social justice,” she says.

Cue the arrival of Bolshee. “I have over 20 years’ experience in theatre and community arts and my dream is that Bolshee creates projects that promote social justice, lift people up and include everyone in a creative industry environment that still doesn’t value women enough,” says Paula.

“We have something to offer that isn’t quite like anyone else in York because we are not afraid to be Bolshie,” says Paula Clark, left, of her Bolshee partnership with Megan Bailey, centre, and Lizzy Whynes. Picture: Matthew Jopling

“It’s important that as a company we particularly support and encourage working-class women and girls. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Megan and Lizzy, both extremely talented young women. We feel like we have something to offer that isn’t quite like anyone else in York because we are not afraid to be Bolshie!”

The name Bolshee is a reclaiming of that word, ‘bolshie’ (definition: deliberately combative or uncooperative). “Assertive women have always been told they are Bolshie. We want to cast off the negative connotations. We’re ready and proud to be Bolshee women!” says Paula.

Megan is delighted that Bolshee is up and running. “It’s been a long while in the pipeline,” she says. “In those two years during lockdown, we’d sit on Zoom thinking about what we could do to be our own bosses on projects.

“There’s an elite that doesn’t want to let younger, bolshie women challenge what they’ve been doing, sitting in their leadership roles for a long time, but we want to find our space.”

Lizzy points out how the working environment in the arts world has changed. “Now you’re only employed for six months, a year at most,” she says. “All the jobs I went for were for three months; all short-term contracts.”

Paula rejoins: “People are holding on to the idea of arts buildings, but I don’t want to work in that structure. There’s all sorts of forms that can be brought together to involve people in culture. What’s brought the three of us together is that we’re more than just theatre makers.”

“We want to find our space,” says Megan Bailey

Megan, for example, has a background in set design from her theatre degree days at the University of York and has worked on websites too. “I also did an MA at Leeds University in culture, creativity and entrepreneurship because you need to have business acumen to run theatre and arts organisations.

“I definitely feel that can be lacking, particularly in human resources structures, where these things can get forgotten but it’s important to make your workforce happy, and important to learn how to make the arts sustainable financially.

“Because I worked for so long in buildings, doing funding applications and strategies, I’m very aware of what’s needed.”

Paula, 40, feels lucky to be working in tandem with Lizzy, 29, and Megan, 25. “The landscape has changed, and younger people have their finger on the pulse, understanding how things work,” she says. “It’s harder for older people in theatre to understand that, but we have the right mixture: Lizzy and Megan with their finger on the pulse and me with 20 years of experience.

“We don’t need a building, but we have a good understanding of theatre in York and we know that partnerships are a good way to work.”

Lizzy adds: “We want to be collaborative, rather than competitive, bringing some fun, bringing some culture, through the art we make.” Just as she did when she was artistic director of York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver Festival at the National Railway Museum in October 2015, picking up two awards to boot.

“We want to be collaborative, rather than competitive, bringing some fun, bringing some culture, through the art we make,” says Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes, left

Bolshee may have taken root when all three left their jobs at the time, “but I think it’s important to say, we all love the jobs we’re now doing,” says Paula. “I’ve worked on the York St John University Prison Partnership Project and also work with Stockton ARC as a freelance, as well as with the Listening Project for Pilot Theatre.”

Theatre maker, dance artist, director, movement director and facilitator Lizzy works for CAST’s youth theatre in Doncaster and as a freelance for York Dance Space and Phoenix Dance Theatre’s youth academy in Leeds.

Megan is a creative producer at Kaizen Arts Agency in York, working on York Design Week, the Drawsome Festival and the ArtBank at Spark:York. At the time of this interview, she had just been offered the job of community and participatory knowledge exchange co-ordinator at Leeds Arts University.

“One of the reasons why we think this makes us a little different is that we celebrate all the work we do in different areas,” says Paula. “That keeps us relevant and keeps us connected with different organisations, but Bolshee is what connects us all.”

Megan adds: “Bolshee empowers us in what we want to do and what we want to make, and I’m very much a believer that anyone can be an artist, from a child to someone who has retired and wants a new hobby. We want people to find their voices.

“It’s about wanting to celebrate who we are, what we do, in the city we love, with all the people we get to work with.”

“Because we have a diverse skill set, we can be varied in what we do,” says Lizzy Whynes

A feeling of wellbeing should be encouraged too, says Megan: “We believe in being kind to ourselves. That’s important at a time when we need to respect ourselves, when we all do jobs where contracts are short.”

Paula adds: “Our thing about championing women and girls is that it’s our time. I’m 40, and after all that grafting, I want to have some of the joy with people I like, sharing our imaginations.

“I was a young mum at 19, experienced childhood hardships on more than one occasion, things that make this artistic path a difficult one to choose, and because of that, I will work the hardest, stay the longest, always trying to prove to myself that if I work the hardest, I could be the next manager, working in that hierarchy…

“…but now I believe success is being comfortable with yourself, owning who you are and helping other people in similar circumstances see their opportunities come to fruition.”

Bolshee have already held a free workshop at Young Thugs Studios at the Drawsome Festival in York in May and have funding applications in place with universities, rather than Arts Council England, for future projects.

“Our work will be diverse,” says Lizzy. “It could be a Bolshee open-mic night; a participatory workshop in a school hall or a neighbourhood pop-up installation. You might find us working in a school with at-risk girls. Because we have a diverse skill set, we can be varied in what we do.”

Tuned in: Bolshee trio Paula Clark, left, Lizzy Whynes and Megan Bailey at Dance Dance Dance, A Damn Big Dance Party at At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York

Paula adds: “We want everyone to feel they belong because everyone is invited. It’s not about stepping into a cultural place; it’s about joining in.”

Megan concurs: “It’s about that connection with people; making work in that space, not putting work on in conventional arts spaces, which won’t be our ambition.”

Paula rejoins: “We want people to feel safe. We want to talk about what matters to women; urgent things that need addressing.”

Lizzy loves taking projects out of theatres, whether in her TakeOver days at the National Railway Museum, or doing community work with young people in informal settings for Harrogate Theatre, or now for a CAST youth theatre production at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum and a York Dance Space project at York Art Gallery. “I have loads of experience of site-specific work and I’m all about getting people together to do amazing things,” she says.

Exit “Bolshie” women; here comes Bolshee. “Being called ‘bolshie’ implies women don’t have a right to be assertive,” says Megan. “But it’s our prerogative to be how we want to be, and we want to be Bolshee,” says Paula.

Bolshee perform Boss B***h at Green Shoots, York Theatre, Royal, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

The logo for York creative projects trio Bolshee

More Things To Do in York and beyond as green shoots emerge and Johnny’s here. List No. 85, courtesy of The Press, York

Butshilo Nleya: Drums and drama at Green Shoots at York Theatre Royal

NOT only a certain platinum jubilee is cause for a party. Charles Hutchinson finds reasons aplenty to head out.

What can you say in five minutes? Green Shoots, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.30pm

NEW work commissioned by York Theatre Royal from 20 York and North Yorkshire professional artists will be premiered in Green Shoots.

Poets, performers, singers, dancers and digital artists will be presenting bite-sized performances focused on “rebooting post-pandemic and looking to the future of the planet”.

Among them will be Fladam; Bolshee; Alexander Flanagan-Wright; Paul Birch; Hayley Del Harrison; Butshilo Nleya; Hannah Davies and Jack Woods; Gus Gowland; Joe Feeney and Dora Rubinstein. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Miles And The Chain Gang: Miles Salter’s new line-up plays the City of York (Roland Walls) Folk Weekend

That’s all folk: City of York (Roland Walls) Folk Weekend, Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, today, 1pm to 11pm, and tomorrow, 1.30pm to 10.30pm

THE Black Swan Folk Club’s two days and nights of free music and song take in a marquee concert stage; rolling folk club; musicians’ sessions; singarounds; Japanese drumming; indoor concerts; the Poems & Pints hour and workshops.

Playing over the weekend will be Kaminari Taiko, The Ale Marys, The Duncan McFarlane Band, White Sail, Clurachan, Two Black Sheep And A Stallion, Holly Taymar, Blonde On Bob, Les Rustiques, Caramba, Miles And The Chain Gang, Tommy Coyle, Chechelele, Leather’O and more besides. Full programme:

Artwork by North Yorkshire Open Studios mixed-media artist Jo Yeates, who is inspired by the many possibilities of fabric, paper, paint and stitch, on show at South Bank Studios, Southlands Methodist Church, Bishopthorpe Road, York

Art event of the  month: North Yorkshire Open Studios 2022, today, tomorrow, then June 11 and 12, 10am to 5pm

FROM the rugged coastline near Whitby to the rolling Yorkshire Dales, 108 artists and makers invite you inside their studios and workshops.

Over four days, this is the chance to discover secret studio spaces and inspiring locations, watch artists at work, learn about their creative practices and buy contemporary art and design directly from the makers. To plan a route, visit to download a free brochure.

Jane McDonald: Headlining Yorkshire’s Platinum Jubilee Concert at Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Coastal party of the weekend: Yorkshire’s Platinum Jubilee Concert, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, today, 6pm

NATIONAL treasure Jane McDonald will be joined by musical theatre stars The Barricade Boys and drag artiste La Voix outdoors in Scarborough this evening.

“It’s going to be amazing,” says Wakefield singer and television presenter McDonald. “A really rousing night, full of song. It will be a real sing-along event, so bring your voices. I expect it’ll be emotional too, but above all else we’ll have a good old party.” Box office:

Beck beckons: More than a year later than first planned, Jeff Beck plays York Barbicanand here’s Johnny too

Guitar god of the week and his (in)famous friend: Jeff Beck, with Johnny Depp, York Barbican, Tuesday, 8pm, sold out

NEWS flash. Fresh from winning his US defamation lawsuit against former wife Amber Heard, Hollywood frontman Johnny Depp, 58, is doing an impromptu victory lap as the special guest of South London rock, blues and jazz guitarist and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Beck, 77, on a tour rearranged from April 2021. 

Beck will take to the York stage with Rhonda Smith, bass, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, cello, Anika Nilles, drums, Robert Adam Stevenson, keyboards, and Depp, riffing off his piratical Keith Richards vibe no doubt, on guitar. Box office for returns only:

Beware the Ides of March…in June: Shakespeare’s Globe bring Julius Caesar to York Theatre Royal next week. Picture: Helen Murray

Political drama of the week: Shakespeare’s Globe in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 10, 7.30pm; June 11, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

PREPARE to confront today’s political landscape as Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar takes on startlingly new relevance in Diane Page’s account of this brutal tale of ambition, incursion and revolution.

When Cassius (Charlotte Bate) and Brutus (Anna Crichton) decide Roman leader Julius Caesar (Dickson Tyrrell) poses a political threat to their beloved country, ancient Rome feels closer to home than ever amid the conspiracy to kill, the public broadcast of cunning rhetoric and a divisive fight for greatness. Box office: 01904 623568 or

She’s back to say farewell: Dionne Warwick makes a last visit to York Barbican next Friday

Soul legend of the week: Dionne Warwick, She’s Back: One Last Time, York Barbican, June 10, 8pm

DON’T walk on by. Dionne Warwick’s rescheduled She’s Back: One Last Time itinerary now carries the Farewell Tour tag too, making next Friday’s concert all the more a Must See event.

Now 81, the six-time Grammy Award-winning New Jersey singer, actress, television host and former United Nations Global Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture will be performing such Bacharach/David favourites as I Say A Little Prayer, Do You Know The Way To San Jose and Walk On By, plus material from her May 2019 album, She’s Back. Box office:

The poster for Gary Barlow’s one-man theatre show A Different Stage, visiting the Grand Opera House for four performances

Hottest ticket of the week: Gary Barlow: A Different Stage, Grand Opera House, York, June 9, 10 and 11, 7.30pm; June 12, 2.30pm

FIRST, Take That’s Gary Barlow announced Friday and Saturday solo shows, then he added a Sunday matinee, and, finally, Thursday too. Ticket availability is best for the opening night; barely a handful remain for the others.

“I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” says the Wirral singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author. “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.

“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.” Box office, without delay: 0844 871 7615 or

Getting mighty Crowded: Neil Finn’s band, Crowded House, head for the Yorkshire coast

Whatever the weather with you, Crowded House play Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 11; gates open at 6pm

CROWDED House are heading out on their first European tour in more than ten years with a line-up of founding members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, producer and keyboardist Mitchell Froom, guitarist and singer Liam Finn and drummer Elroy Finn, Neil’s sons.

Such favourites as Weather With You, Don’t Dream It’s Over, Distant Sun and Private Universe will be complemented by material from the Antipodeans’ seventh studio album, June 2021’s Dreamers Are Waiting, their first since 2010’s Intriguer. Box office:

Who’s taking part in York Theatre Royal’s Green Shoots showcase of new works?

Bolshee trio Paula Clark, left, Megan Bailey and Lizzy Whynes: Premiering Boss B***h at Green Shoots

NEW work commissioned by York Theatre Royal from dozens of York and North Yorkshire professional artists will be premiered in Green Shoots on June 7 and 8.

Poets, performers, singers, dancers and digital artists will take part in this sequel to Love Bites, last May’s two-night showcase that marked the Theatre Royal’s reopening after the lifting of Covid lockdown restrictions.

Forming part of the Rumours & Rebels season, Green Shoots’s diverse bite-sized performances will be focused on “rebooting post-pandemic and looking to the future of the planet”.

Twenty commissions have been selected by the Theatre Royal from the call-out for submissions for a scheme that offers £1,000 per commission plus £150 each time they are performed.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster says: “Love Bites last year was a joyous event that will live long in my mind, not just because we were re-opening after 14 months of enforced closure, but also because our stage was filled to overflowing with the tremendous talent and ingenuity of local artists.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster

“It was moving, spectacular, surprising, thought-provoking and funny in equal measures. We have created this new opportunity with Green Shoots because we are excited to see what they will do next.”

Those who were commissioned have been asked to respond to the title Green Shoots in any way that it can be interpreted. “Pieces might be about hope, recovery, new beginnings, revolution, new life, growth, the environment or anything else that can be imagined as a response,” says Juliet.

Participating next month will be Hayley Del Harrison; Dora Rubinstein; Sam Bond; Fladam; Bolshee; Butshilo Nleya; Ana Silverio; Esther Irving; Gus Gowland; Nettle Soup and Polychrome Studios; Paul Birch and Sam Conway.

So too will be Ella Portnoy; Kate Bramley/Badapple Theatre Company; Robert Powell, Ben Pugh and Kitty Greenbrown; Libby Pearson and Emily Chattle; Alexander Flanagan-Wright; Hannah Davies and Jack Woods; Joe Feeney and Carey Simon.

Hayley Del Harrison: Choreographer and theatre-maker

Hang On Little Tomato, Hayley Del Harrison.

HANG On Little Tomato is about a young woman, growing her very first tomato plant. Some people believe that plants respond emotionally when you talk to them but our novice gardener takes this to the next level. It turns out the shared experience delivers mutual support, faithful companionship and that tiny bit of vibrancy they both needed to feel a little less alone. 

Spring In My Step!, Dora Rubinstein

THIS contortion and acro-dance piece is a physical exploration of how it feels when the sun shines again after a long winter. The feeling of sunlight on your skin; the smell of freshly cut grass; the sight of daffodils. The feeling that light, connection, joy, is back, and the dark days are over.

All The World Is Green, Sam Bond

LONELY retirees Jamie and Clara meet by chance at a concert in their Yorkshire Dales village, bringing love unexpectedly back into their lives. A story of new beginnings, All The World Is Green blends live performance and film to look at the power of memories, life after loss and finding love again in old age.

Greenfingers, Fladam

DID you ever hear the tale of Greenfingers? The wicked boy born with unsightly green hands, who spoils all he touches. But has history misjudged this green-fingered boy? Is he even a boy at all? Find out in this deliciously Dahl-esq treat from madcap musical duo Fladam, alias Adam Sowter and Florence Poskitt.

BOSS B***H, Bolshee

BOSS B***H explores the infamous statement made by influencer Molly-Mae Hague and celebrity media personality Kim Kardashian that we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce. Cue five minutes of female voices, beats and moves. “Let’s challenge the toxic boss bitch narrative,” say Paula Clark, Lizzie Whynes and Megan Bailey.

Butshilo Nleya: Healing stories

Tatu Dances: Stories Of Healers, Butshilo Nleya

A PLAY with dances, songs, poetry about healing the mind, the body and the spirit celebrated by three generations of displaced, dejected, denigrated and defiant African healers. 

Green Shoots, Ana Silverio (Terpsichoring)

ANA’S solo dance piece, specially created for the Green Shoots commission, explores the processes and emotions of starting over again after an unexpected interruption. This work is about perseverance and the search for possibilities.

Her Face/My Face, Esther Irving

WHAT do you do when you no longer recognise the face that looks back at you in the mirror? How can you re-connect the life you had with the one you live now?

Your Own Road, Gus Gowland

THIS original song takes its inspiration from a quote from James Herriot’s memoir All Creatures Great And Small: “When all t’world goes one road, I go t’other”. Performed by Joe Douglass, this uplifting and empowering anthem encourages you to follow your own path and see hope in the world around you.

Stones On The Riverbed! Nettle Soup and Polychrome Studios

HAVE you ever heard of the legend of the five white stones? This piece of verbatim theatre explores what the residents of York are looking forward to in the future, unearthing their hearts’ truest desires.

Gus Gowland: Uplifting and empowering anthem

Beanstalk, Paul Birch

FOR hundreds of years, you have been telling the story of Jack And The Beanstalk completely wrong.  Beanstalk is the recently discovered true account of the tale, told from the Giant’s point of view. Any similarities to any persons now living, lying or misusing public funds is entirely coincidental. 

‘Don’t Mow, Let it Grow!’, Sam Conway (Little Leaf Theatre)

THIS piece extols the benefits of letting the grass in your garden grow throughout spring. Incorporating dance, music and video, Little Leaf Theatre endeavour to bring a serious message to the stage in a light-hearted and engaging way.

Baby Bird, Ella Portnoy

A MONOLOGUE about breaking out of an egg and feeling new-born after lockdown – being a gosling and pottering around in the world, full of curiosity.

The Three Allotmenteers, Kate Bramley/Badapple Theatre Company

A CURIOUS late-night game takes place at The Gardener’s Arms as The Three Allotmenteers play for what was left after the sudden death of their friend. An unexpected discovery sows the seeds of a joyous outcome to their current situation

Beckon, Robert Powell, Ben Pugh and Kitty Greenbrown

THIS five-minute performance and film-poem drew initial inspiration from a remarkable medieval church window in York. Beckon invites its audience on a brief but powerful journey through a landscape of shared memory, confusion, fear and wonder towards a sense of hope.

The dramatic collage of spoken word, film and sound conjures both past and present times to address our current situation – a world at once treasured and threatened.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: “Just words, and a little bit of music”

The Sapling!, Libby Pearson and Emily Chattle

SASHA’S history has bonded her to nature in general and to trees in particular, and she knows that sometimes even the smallest of gestures can have the biggest of impacts. Meet Sasha as she tells her personal story of discovery and making a difference.

If There Was Ever Anything Worth Hoping For Then I Hope, Alexander Flanagan-Wright

“THIS is a story. It’s a short story. It’s only five minutes long. But it’s about loads of stuff. It’s about everyone, I guess,” says Alex. “It’s about everything that got each of us to here and it’s about what we do next and, importantly, what we hope will happen after that.

“It’s just words, and a little bit of music. But it’s come from your yesterday, your week before, the years that got you here. And it’s about tomorrow, or next week, or next year. If you’re after a fresh start, they perhaps don’t exist. But tomorrow does, so let’s pin some of our hope on that, shall we?”

The Ballad Of Blea Wyke!, Hannah Davies and Jack Woods

THE traditional selkie myth is reworked for the Yorkshire East Coast, set against the dramatic landscape of Ravenscar. Here the ancient story of the seal-people is re-imagined, placing it in a world not too far off from our own, where cliffs are crumbling and some people have never seen the sea, despite the rising water levels.

Green Man!, Joe Feeney

AT the end of his tether witnessing the climate emergency’s destructive charge towards certain oblivion, and feeling utter powerlessness, an ordinary man calls on the mythical Green Man of yore to save the world.

Ocean/Jura, Carey Simon

PRESENTING two poems with a backdrop of classical music. Ocean focuses on the seething fury of the mighty unabashed ocean, the passion and the volatility of its rolling motion that conceals its briny, gloom-shrouded depths from frail eyes above.

Jura is an elixir that transcends the bounds of the spirit-taste divide. Smoothness, translucence overflowing the senses into something more. Deliciousness, a notion leading to Nirvana’s devotion.

Tickets for the two 7.30pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568 or at

York Theatre Royal opens applications for Green Shoots commissions for June shows

A montage of Love Bites performances at York Theatre Royal in May 2021

YORK Theatre Royal is to commission new work from dozens of York and North Yorkshire professional artists in a variety of art forms for performances in June.

The Green Shoots project is the follow-up to Love Bites, the showcase of 20 bite-sized works that marked the re-opening of the St Leonard’s Place theatre on May 17 and 18 2021 after the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Replicating that format as the green shoots of recovery are given the chance to bloom, now comes Green Shoots, two nights of new theatre centred around “rebooting post-pandemic and looking to the future of the planet”.

From the call-out for applications that starts this week with a deadline of March 24, York Theatre Royal will select 20 commissions, offering £1,000 per commission, plus £150 each time they are performed.

Juliet Forster, the Theatre Royal’s creative director, says: “Love Bites last year was a joyous event that will live long in my mind, not just because we were re-opening after 14 months of enforced closure, but also because our stage was filled to overflowing with the tremendous talent and ingenuity of local artists.

“It was moving, spectacular, surprising, thought provoking and funny in equal measures. Now we’ve created this opportunity with Green Shoots because we’re excited to see what they will do next.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster

The work celebrating York and Yorkshire talent and live performance will be performed on the main stage on June 7 and 8 as part of the Theatre Royal’s Rumours & Rebels summer season.

“More than 2,000 artists across a variety of art forms applied for Love Bites and they ranged from spoken word to circus,” says Juliet. “The 2022 commissions should respond to the title Green Shoots in any way that can be interpreted.

“Pieces might be about hope, recovery, new beginnings, revolution, new life, growth, the environment or anything else that can be imagined as a response. The work should be able to be performed or shared both live and in a digital form and have a duration of up to five minutes.”

Artists may apply as individuals and/or as part of a collective. The Theatre Royal is keen to incorporate as wide a mix of art forms and interpretations of the theme as possible, welcoming submissions from artists working in any medium.

Interested artists are being asked to write a short proposal for their piece, how it might be performed live and how it would translate into a digital form. Submissions should be sent to by midday on March 24.

For more information on Green Shoots and how to apply, go to: