HOT on the heels of two work-in-progress performances of her climate-change cautionary tale The Ballad Of Blea Wyke at the Stilly Fringe last weekend, York theatre-maker, writer, spoken-word slam champion, university lecturer, poet and performer Hannah Davies is the associate artist for tonight and tomorrow’s performances of Bunker Of Zion in Bridlington.
Funded by Arts Council England, the first Collaborative Touring Network project with Arcade and The Old Courts brings a joyous and colourful celebration of Zimbabwean culture to St John’s Burlington Methodist Church at 7pm this evening and 2pm and 7pm tomorrow.
Musician, actor and performance artist John Pfumojena’s theatre piece will combine acrobatics and breakdance with a jazz and hip-hop vibe.
“Come and immerse yourself in something totally new at the Bunker; a taste of Zimbabwean theatre on your doorstep. Experience the artists’ stories through live music, dance and songs,” reads the invitation to a 60-minute performance devised by John with Kudzanai Chikowe, Tawanda Mapanda, Farai Nhakaniso and Niyi Akin. “Expect influences of jazz and hip-hop and the distinctive sounds of Zimbabwean instruments such as the mbire and marimba.”
Arcade’s Young Women’s Creative Company members have worked with the artists to share their individual stories and talents to make the show.
Introducing Bunker Of Zion in a blog, associate artist Hannah says: “Imagine a world without creativity; no stories, no dance, no music, no art. Self-expression is forbidden, on pain of death. Then imagine a secret bunker in that world. A place where people meet illicitly, to tell their tales, dance their passions, and save their souls.
“Bunker Of Zion is a performance experience created by John and his ensemble, rooted in the lived traditions and cultures of the Shona people, a vibrant explosion of music, storytelling, playfulness, and dance.”
When Hannah and the Collective met up with John, dancer Kudzanai Chikowe and musician Tawanda Mapanda for the first time, they spent time experiencing the Marimba music and learning the rhythms and dance that will define the show.
They were joined by Diana Logan, Arcade’s producer for the Bunker Of Zion project, who is a leader on Coventry University Scarborough’s Actor Training course in partnership with the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
“Diana brought some of the course’s first graduating students along with her to join us for the sessions with John and his team,” Hannah’s blog continues.
“We all spent a joyful weekend in workshops that brought us together, clapping and dancing the Shona people’s traditional Mhande rhythm – a tempo that is used to call on higher powers and to connect with the wisdom of ancestors.
“Led by John and his ensemble, we all had fun embedding this tempo into our bodies, and though we started out with shuffling, giggling and getting claps and steps all over the place, by the end of the weekend we were all able to hold time together and move as one through the sequence.
“John taught us how essential rhythm is to their culture and likened the very nature of being human to a drum, the heart within us beating our life force out with every step we take through life.”
They also played playground games, an important Zimbabwean tradition. “As John said, ‘we are serious about playing’! We all worked together swapping and sharing games with Tawanda and Kudzanai while John played live music to support our running, jumping, leaping and laughing,” Hannah says.
“When you commit with full-focused intent to playing and being silly, the joyful energy you get in return is threefold, and I cannot wait to see how we bring audiences together in Bridlington to remind them of the simple life-affirming power of play.”
Recognising and celebrating our lineage and passing on stories on our own terms are key themes in Bunker Of Zion. “There was time in the weekend to swap stories and consider the way that we tell them,” says Hannah.
“The Shona people’s culture is an oral tradition, which means that storytelling and narrative is truly sacred. When stories are oppressed and silenced, the culture is destroyed. Whose story we tell, how we tell it, when, how and why, are all important factors within the imagined world of the bunker.
“In the workshop we shared snapshots, fragments and moments from our own ancestry, and thinking about how we celebrate and engage with stories and traditions from other cultures was a powerful way to end the weekend.”
All three performances tonight and tomorrow have sold out.
GIG-GOING: Live Music and Literature Stories will be the focus of a York Literature Festival panel discussion at the Fulford Arms, Fulford Road, York, tomorrow (24/3/2022).
This discussion and celebration of music culture explores how we document live music and the power of stories and publishing to unite music scenes.
Billed as “a must for musicians, reviewers, bloggers, promoters, photographers or anyone who understands the importance of music culture”, this 7.30pm event features a panel of Harkirit Boparai, Sarah Williams and Amy McCarthy.
Harkirit is the venue manager and concert promoter (for Ouroboros) at The Crescent community venue and a vital cog in the Music Venue Trust; Sarah edits Shout Louder, a webzine dedicated to the modern punk scene, and Papercuts, an independently published series of anecdotes about DIY culture; Amy is a PhD student researching music memoirs as part of the York Music Stories project.
The panel discussion will be followed by a reading and interview with Newcastle author Lucy Nichol, whose debut novel, The Twenty Seven Club, explores mental health and the media through the 1990s’ music scene in Hull.
Lucy’s story begins with Emma hearing of the tragic death of Kurt Cobain, prompting her to ask why so many musicians died aged 27 [bluesman Robert Johnson, Rolling Stone Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse among them].
Lucy, author, freelance writer, PR and marketing consultant, mental health campaigner, flunked punk and addiction stigma buster, will be discussing her novel’s darkly comic journey of self-discovery, friendship, fandom and hope in conversation with Amy McCarthy.
On the bill too will be spoken-word contributions from Hannah Davies and live music from Jack Woods. Tickets are on sale at yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk or at thefulfordarms.com.
YORK poets, teachers and actor-directors Anna Rose James and Elizabeth Chadwick Pywell launch Unknown, a joint collection inspired by forgotten women from myth and history, online tonight (26/8/2021) at 7.30pm.
To “attend” the livestreaming, head to: eventbrite.co.uk/e/unknown-the-book-launch-tickets-166073970717?aff=eand
“Our publishers, Stairwell Books, have booked an online launch for us, as the in-person venue options weren’t entirely Covid-comfortable, so we’re potentially putting that off now until next year,” says Anna, a queer, bisexual writer, performer, translator and theatre critic of mixed British and Asian heritage, who writes flash fiction, auto-fiction, memoir and scripts for stage and screen, as well as poetry.
“I’ve been pretty much hibernating since March last year, but I co-wrote this collection with Liz last summer and it’s something we’ve created that we’re very proud of.”
Among those impressed already by Anna and Liz’s 27 poems on “women whose names should be on your lips” is Yorkshire poet and comedian Kate Fox, whose endorsement on the back cover reads: “Unknown introduces and re-introduces us to women who might otherwise slip through history and culture’s ever-widening female-shaped holes.
“These are brisk and beautiful poems. Works of reclamation like this are ongoingly necessary – which is frustrating – but when they’re done so well, they are a pleasure and a joy.”
Professor Emeritus Graham Mort enthuses: “Linguistically charged, rhythmically and technically assured, theatrically daring, this collection restores mythical and historical female figures to the human imagination.
“The poems are robust, playful, tender and compassionate and the work as a whole forms an unsentimental and richly detailed testament to women’s resistance.”
Unknown is a coming-together between two York women over a “shared love of women, inspired by those from history and legend who have touched our lives, or the world, and left us changed”.
“We first met at the Queer Book Club in York,” says Liz, a Welsh-born poet and writer of short stories and flash fiction, who provides private tuition in English, drama, and creative writing, runs creative writing groups for children and performs occasionally at open-mic nights in York during non-lockdown times.
“When I had Covid, Anna put some of her zines through my door, which was lovely as I was very bored and very ill, and though I’d always written, I’d never published my work, but that was the starting point for Unknown.”
Anna recalls: “I was furloughed from work at Macmillan Cancer Support and was palming off these zines on people who couldn’t escape from their homes! I got a call from Liz within ten minutes.”
They settled quickly on a theme for their collaboration. “Just women to begin with, but then it became women who are under-represented in myth and history,” says Liz.
“We set ourselves the challenge of researching these women and then writing about poems about them.”
Anna, co-founder of Sonnet Sisters, Six Lips Theatre and The Podvangelist, says: “Some of the women are a lot more unknown than others, so that’s why the research expanded into taking in both misrepresented and under-represented women…
… “And we also considered how these stories might have been told if they’d not been told by men,” says Liz. “These are her-stories, not his-story.”
Helpfully, the collection includes an index of the subjects to facilitate readers reading more about the featured women, among them Medusa; Persephone; Ceridwen the witch; pirate captain Ching Shih; Gentleman Jack (Anne Lister); revolutionary pilots Bessie Colman and Major Marina Raskova; tennis champion Althea Gibson and characters from Norwegian folklore, Shakespeare and Tarot.
“We bashed out the first body of poems really early on, each writing a poem in a day, for an immediate response and then editing them later,” says Anna “Getting an instant reaction was lovely as normally writing poetry is solitary.”
Anna was drawn more to history, Liz more to myth. “I would always call myself a dreamer, but I think Liz pulls out all the vagaries of myths, whereas I respond to pulling out all the details of historical figures,” says Anna. “Liz responds to the lack of detail or basic plot lines when she engages with myths.”
Liz observes: “I think we write in really different ways but that works really well together, and the project has been really collaborative. It’s been great to have someone to bounce ideas off, whereas often I write with total autonomy.”
Happy to be a “figure of mystery” when performing at open-mic nights, Liz has a pamphlet on its way called Breaking (Out), published by Selcouth Station. “It’s about coming out as a lesbian when you’re married to a man, which is not a typical life journey but had to be done,” she says.
Meanwhile, tonight she and Anna will read poems at the 7.30pm livestreamed launch, as will fellow writers Hannah Davies and Kali Richmond.
Who are Stairwell Books?
This York small press, based in Lowther Street, publishes the works of Yorkshire poets and writers, plus the international literary and arts journal, Dream Catcher.
Unknown can be bought at stairwellbooks.co.uk for £8 plus postage and packing.
CharlesHutchPress loves this “acid” alternative cover and ponders whether Stairwell Books would consider doing a print run, should Anna and Liz plan to do any readings at summer festivals.
“That’s absolutely something Liz and I had floated with Stairwell too,” says Anna. “We love the idea of limited-edition variants; we actually found it a bit difficult to choose our favourite from the options artist Lisa Findlay Shaw sent through.”
You are very welcome to send your support for such a variant to founder Rose Drew at email@example.com.
Lisa Findlay Shaw can be found on Instagram at @thiscronecreates.
YORK Theatre Royal has reopened after 427 days. The longest, darkest hiatus since the Second World War at England’s longest-running theatre has ended with a declaration of love.
More precisely, 22 love letters to the power of theatre, a craving for freedom of movement, expression and identity and the need for human connection: a collective, anything-but-cautious hug that was as much a sigh of relief as a breath of fresh York air in the form of a fiesta of five-minute vignettes commissioned from 220 applicants.
Let’s repeat that. 22O applicants for £1,000 commissions from York’s diverse arts community that refuses to accept Rich Boy Risha Sunak’s slight that such talents are non-viable. A community that will laugh off the Beano comic’s laughable Hilarity Report finding that the average York resident laughs only 14 times a day, the second lowest in the country. Are you joking? Laugher aplenty could be heard on Monday night, alongside the joy, the sadness, the uncertainty but hope.
Indeed, The 22 would surely challenge York Mix e-letter writer John Wolfe’s scalding, agent-provocateur assertion that York is a city of “no real festivals or decent venues. No sports centres or entertainment for locals. No chance of change either. Why do you think all of the young people move away? Outside of its history it’s drab and bl**dy awful.”
Crying Wolfe? Well, John, in the city of the York Community Stadium, four state-of-the-art cinemas, myriad theatres, ever more restaurants, café bars, coffee houses, independent galleries and a rising tide of street art, perhaps you should go York Theatre Royal, one of the country’s great theatres, tonight (Tuesday) to see the spread of talent, both young and older.
Some were born in the city and are determined to stay here, when the arts are becoming less London-centric; others have been drawn to the city from, for example, Canada and Zimbabwe, and here they gathered under one rainbow umbrella to express their love for York and their place in it.
Trouble is, John, you can’t buy a seat because, as with the first night, tonight’s Love Bites have sold out at the outset of a Love Season pulsing with life, vigour and, yes, love, topped off by Ralph Fiennes performing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in late-July.
In the words of chief executive Tom Bird, Love Bites and The Love Season are a chance to “experience again the electric excitement that only live performance can bring. This spring and summer, we’re putting on a season of brave, bold love stories to celebrate the return of human connection. We’re doing it with passion, fervour and heart, as you’d expect.”
Monday night began with the much-loved veteran BBC broadcaster Harry Gration in host mode, toasting his 50-year love affair with the Theatre Royal before making way for the flurry of short pieces.
The screen backdrop could and probably should have been used for announcing each show title, writer and performer, especially as flicking through the e-programme on your phone in the dark would have been distracting for others, even in the socially distanced seating with the capacity reduced from 750 to 340.
Actor Toby Gordon’s hair has grown to Dave Grohl length in locks-down lockdown, but the golden tongue that delivered both Satan and later Jesus’s lines in the York Minster Mystery Plays now glistened anew in the questing, vexed poetry of W H Auden’s O Tell Me The Truth About Love.
Film would feature on several occasions through the night, first in a cinematic riparian soundscape by Ben Pugh to accompany the poetic ebb and flow of Robert Powell and Kitty Greenbrown’s The Angels Of Lendal Bridge, imagining those painted “angels” conversing above the Ouse, recalling so much water that has passed under their iron bridge amid a rising tide of love.
CAPA College student trio Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles, in glowing green and pink socks to suit the occasion, were nevertheless in contemplative mood in The Art Of Losing, tempo slow, bodies graceful, in what they emphasised were three “non-love stories”, but instead felt more like a lament; a year’s absence making the heart grow fonder for “what it means to have contact with one another”.
Playwright, poet and slam champ Hannah Davies’s tweets at @davieswords have charted her enervating health frustrations, but no York shaper of words captures a sense, meaning and memory of place so movingly, so evocatively, and what a joy it was to see back on a stage for Love Song To Spring.
Accompanied by Jack “Pascallion” Woods’s exploratory guitar paths, her lockdown love story journeyed through the freshly discovered joys of city walking and spring renewal in York’s myriad green spaces. Listen to Hannah, and you will step into spring with added spring in your step.
New discovery of the night was much-travelled Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who “wondered if my pockets are big enough to carry home with me” as he moved to York.
Explosive bursts of drumming and film imagery by Sunnie Hsia of Butshilo on York streets, stairways and in the dank Leeman Road tunnel formed a triptych with his soliloquy, Ekhaya, Love Them Both?, as he mulled over place, love and self, with humour rooted in observation of York’s idiosyncrasies, but a deeper wish to find his place, wherever he plays his drum, whatever life throws at him. One to watch, definitely.
For aeons, a Nightingale’s nocturnal song has had writers reaching for metaphors for love and beauty. Musician, performance writer and actor Tom Nightingale’s song, Elaine, is to “show everyone my gratitude to the only lady who has ever helped me”, his wife.
In its cautious yet unguarded way it was a song of love and beauty suffused with unshaven, wry, deadpan frankness, delivered in the spirit of John Otway and Jonathan Richman beneath Martin Stephenson’s cocked hat. Nightingale writes as a “therapeutic outlet”, to make sense of life; on Monday, it worked for your reviewer; hopefully it does for Elaine too.
The name in the Love Bites e-programme and in her Q&A answers to CharlesHutchPress is Erika Noda, but the Japanese-English actor and East 15 graduate born in York introduced herself on Monday as Aiaka, the name that a teacher found so difficult, she called her ‘Ai’ and banished her from the classroom for insubordination in challenging her.
So began the journey to Ai, Erika/Aiaka’s semi-autobiographical debut solo-writing work, examining her dual heritage and encounters with racist “microaggression”, growing up in York, (a city once so white it was dubbed “Persil Town”). On the evidence of Ai, this quest for identity remains unresolved, a bumpy ride with such familiar stones in the road as “no, but where are you really from?”.
Even the inventor of Zoom apparently has had enough of all those enervating Zoom-and-gloom meetings, but loveable York musical-comedy double act Fladam (pianist-singer Adam Sowter and funny face-puller and singer Florence Poskitt) found the funny side of this digital bridge to connecting in lockdown-separation in the tartly topical Love Bytes. Aptly, the cheeky, witty, melodious encounter was long-distance, Adam on stage, Flo online, filling the screen with a squelchy face as ripe for comedy as Thora Hird or Victoria Wood.
Surprise of the night? Seeing Paul Birch on stage and then wondering why he does not frequent this space more often. Maybe he is just too busy writing and directing, and running Out Of Character, the York company for artists with experiences of mental illness.
His twisting-and-turning five-minute gem, Lost For Words, was a mind-game in motion as the quicksilver Birch fought to save his most precious relationship in a race against time where a killjoy voice from beyond kept stripping him of the right to use letters from the alphabet, letter by letter. You found yourself joining him in his mental exercise, smugly spotting him still using a ‘V’ when barred from doing so, but cheering him on as he tried to keep his head above water as the wds rn t. Could this be a game show in the making?
All around is frown time, but clown time is never over for the red-nosed James Lewis-Knight, actor and artistic director of Clown Space, purveyor of comical pandemonium amid a pandemic. After a year as the Clown in Lockdown, wandering the busking streets of York turned silent, James unlocked his dusty case to make his mimed plea for Staying Connected. He kept saying “Picnic”, but where Birch was lost for words, James was a little lost for meaning, one punchline short of his Picnic having more bite.
If you heard Dora Rubinstein’s perkily assertive rendition of Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York blind, you would swear it was from a musical. Sure enough, Gowland, latterly moved to York, is a musical theatre writer/composer with the award-winning Pieces Of String to his name. Gowland’s celebration of Gentleman Jack Anne Lister’s wedding vows in a York church will surely grow from a love letter to a full-blown show, a progression the Theatre Royal should encourage and activate.
In a night of storytelling, butter-rich with words, the shadow puppetry of children’s theatre company Story Craft Theatre silently spoke volumes to the accompaniment of Jonathan Glew’s beautiful score in She Can Go Anywhere. Who knew you could say so much with a sheet, folded and unfolded by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce as if a cotton version of origami, freeing imaginations when the pandemic has shrunk the world to the home, transforming life’s caterpillars into butterflies.
Hannah Wintie-Hawkins was a dancer at the double in her terpsichorean love letter In The Beginning, at once on stage and in digital artist Aaron Howell’s accompanying film, dancing with baby Mabel in her arms. It was as though Hannah, like us, was watching in wonder at the joy of a new arrival: a beacon of hope amid the pandemic turbulence, only in her case it was moving her to break out into a dance. The dual focus, however, was not wholly satisfying, as she danced with herself, the one distracting from the other, rather than intertwining like mother and daughter on screen.
Richard Kay, actor, singer, pantomime writer and Zoom choir leader, asked his choir members two questions: how and why do you like singing? Whereupon he compiled the answers into the composition For The Love Of Singing, a song as nimble on its feet as Fred Astaire and wittily delivered in the crisply enunciated manner of a Richard Stilgoe, with digital choir backing and the projection of words dancing in and out of formation in David Todd’s playful animation. Clever, humorous, warm and briskly energetic, and tuneful to boot, it would sit well in a cabaret revue.
How did it feel to be back in the theatre after 427 days? Actor Maurice Crichton caught those feelings as he cast his net of observations in Where Are We Now, You And I?, and he looked in such a hurry to deliver his thoughts, it was as if he had come straight from a rehearsal room in tracksuit trousers and The Show Must Go On T-shirt, hair unkempt.
Not that he rushed through his sage counsel, instead understanding feelings of anger, advising a policy of gentleness with each other and not expecting too much too soon, while breathing in the wonder of theatre once more. How right he was; how emotional too.
Canadian-born papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, countertenor and composer James Cave and libretto editor Bethan Ellis promised Magic and delivered it too in a four-minute mini-musical, set in a constantly evolving paper theatre that grew ever prettier under Elena’s delicate guidance.
Elena seeks to discover “magic and meaning in everyday, mundane experiences”, the transcendent magic rising through her imagery and the beauty of James’s singing, and in the stasis of the pandemic, a walk, birdsong, gardening, baking banana bread, have indeed taken on a heightened magical air.
On their Twitter account, non-binary, unapologetically autistic creator Ashleigh J Mills (they/them) calls themselves Angry Black Changeling. Identity and accessibility into theatre lay at the heart of In Progress, their spoken-word exploration of the “interplay between race, self-understanding and the shifting boundaries of gender over the span of a solitary year” when experiencing life on the margins.
Ashleigh has kept a Good Words List for four years, and on the screen behind them, the constant, measured flicking through a book revealed word after word standing proud from the text, each building a picture of Ashleigh’s questing, creative fascination with words.
Those words were knitted together to form their soliloquy, a still-evolving expression of Ashleigh as a work in progress in changing times, and only good words can be said of their poetic candour.
Of all the five minutes, nothing brought a broader smile than the sheer joy in dancing together of Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope, friends since Northern Ballet School days, who burst out of a restricted year of living-room creativity to revel in a Love Letter To Female Friendship on the dancefloor in the face of such trying times. They were so in their moment, they were in their own world, but one we all could recognise and wish to join in.
The title, Mise En Aby-Me, may have been baffling, but life model, milliner and costumier Claire Spooner made a fascinating body of work in her physical theatre piece that testified to her desire to tell a story through the human form, rather than words, in this case aided by Richard Stephenson’s artwork and LEMNIS’s music.
Claire turned herself into a Russian doll, peeling off layers, adding masks, revealing how she presented herself in relationships, love in different guises, until nothing could hide the constant persona within, beauty beyond the eye of the beholder.
Deaf director and “self-proclaimed proactive busy-body” Harri Marshall composed a semi-autobiographical love letter to oneself via cards and correspondence collected over the past year…and then handed over the task of interpreting them aloud to Sarah Huggett, accompanied by the exact wording on the screen behind.
I say “exact” because text and voice did not always say the same lines and you found yourself checking for differences as much as concentrating on Harri’s flow of meaning. What’s more, the rhythm of the language was broken too, screen and voice going in and out of synch. Hopefully, I Often Think Of You had a better second night.
Before Reverie came a nightmare, thankfully only briefly, as a flick of a switch belatedly awoke the somnambulant keyboard for composer, pianist and piano teacher Vanessa Simmons’s retelling of a dream in musical form. Ah, what peace, after the fizzing fireworks, as an unperturbed Vanessa rejoiced in “the beauty, sorrow and power of real love”.
Last, but anything but least and rightly chosen as the finale was 5 Minute Call, penned by esteemed York playwright Bridget Foreman, writer of 30 plays, both large and solo, with another, My Place, on the way.
Chief exec Tom Bird’s Irish-accented actor wife, Laura Pyper, took on the guise of a theatre “techie” five minutes before curtain-up, taking instruction on checking lighting for stage positions while capturing how the theatre itself felt about the return of life on its boards, warming up to the reunion with its lifeblood, both performers and audiences. The feeling of love was mutual, as the Pied Pyper led us back to our spiritual home.
These Love Bites left their mark, so much so, let’s hope York Theatre Royal can look to open further seasons with showcases for the city’s talents, £1,000 commissions et al.
SAY Owt, York’s loveable gang of performance poets, are back in live action for the first time since the summer for a night of socially distanced spoken word at The Crescent on December 11.
In start-stop-restart-stop again 2020, these loquacious hosts of high-energy bursts of words and verse have hosted live-streams in lockdowns, most recently Lovely Lockdown Lyricism last Friday, and pop-up poetry on York Theatre Royal’s patio in August.
Stepping up to the mic on December 11 will be Say Owt’s A-team of Henry Raby, Hannah Davies, Stu Freestone and Dave Jarman, joined by special guest poets Katie Greenbrown and Ruth Awolola. In a nutshell, here comes a slam-winning sextet of soulful poets with modern, relevant and upbeat verse.
“The night will feature a set of banging poems, full of wit and humour to warm your soul this December,” says artistic director Henry. “Expect some brand-new pieces, improv poetry and a few silly surprises hiding up our spoken-word sleeves!
“Last Friday’s online gig was good: it’s just nice to keep connecting with our audience. Now Say Owt and The Crescent want to give you a night of energy and warmth after a tough year.”
The Crescent, in The Crescent, off Blossom Street, York, will have a Covid-secure, socially distanced seated capacity of 60. “The performers and the venue are following all regulations and guidelines to keep the audience as safe as possible,” says Henry.
TELLING stories around a fire is an early form of theatre, one that is to be celebrated in the nationwide Signal Fires Festival this autumn.
Among those taking part are York company Pilot Theatre and new Scarborough community producing company Arcade, who are collaborating on Northern Girls, an hour-long, socially distanced, fire-lit outdoor performance on October 27 and 28 in the YMCA Theatre Car Park, St Thomas Street, Scarborough YO11 1DY.
At 7pm each night, Pilot and Arcade will set freethe stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline and were encouraged to write and present tales that matter to them most in 2020.
Next week’s performances will feature short commissioned pieces from Asma Elbadawi, Zoe Cooper, Maureen Lennon and Charley Miles, complemented by work created with York spoken-word artist and tutor Hannah Davies and a group of young women from Scarborough, .
A signal fire is defined as “a fire or light set up in a prominent position as a warning, signal, or celebration”, now re-purposed amid the Coronavirus crisis for the arts to “signal the vibrancy of touring theatre and the threat our industry continues to face”.
“This whole Covid situation has made it important to create theatre support networks across the country, with the issues faced by smaller companies, mid-scale companies and larger companies,” says Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson.
“If there has been any upside, it is that the theatre network across the country is far stronger now.”
The idea for the Signal Fires Festival came from English Touring Theatre and Headlong Theatre, building on the original desire to highlight the work of companies who do not have their own theatre base. “We were also thinking about ‘what can we do for freelancers in theatre’ and, most important of all, ‘how can we send out a fire signal that we want to bring back theatre stronger than ever?’,” says Esther.
Pilot’s link-up with Arcade is rooted in Rach Drew and Sophie Drury-Bradey running the Scarborough company. “We knew Rach from her work at York Mediale and I’ve known Sophie for a long time from when she was at the Albany, when she asked me to develop some work with new writers, 15 years ago,” says Esther.
“It was then a coincidence that Sophie had come to Scarborough, but when this project came about, to amplify northern women as leaders as well as writers, it was just a natural progression to say, ‘What do you think, guys, about doing this project together?’.”
The theme of Northern Girls resonated with Esther not only because “Pilot has always been about helping those who are disadvantaged in the community”, but also because of her childhood on the North East coast.
“I lived in Redcar from the age of three to 11, so I’d always had this tug to do something on the coast. I’m someone who left there and has had a career in theatre but I keep in touch with people who live there,” she says.
“I’m aware of the lack of investment in those places, and the direct effect that has on young people and women in particular. So, this project was about creating an opportunity to unlock what people can do when they set their hearts and minds to it.”
Esther was keen to achieve a geographical spread of four female writers, all still in the process of establishing themselves. “Maureen Lennon is from Hull and I was aware of her work for Middle Child Theatre that is full of insight into working-class lives,” she says.
“Asma Elbadawi is a spoken-word artist and professional basketball player Bradford, and she’s someone we’ve been excited about for a while but we hadn’t found a project for her.
“Northern Girls was perfect for her to bring her perspective of growing up as a hijab-wearing girl in West Yorkshire.”
Zoe Cooper is an award-winning playwright from Newcastle. “Again, I’d been aware of her for a while, but if you think about women playwrights from the North, there’s Middle Child’s work in Hull, Charley Miles at Leeds Playhouse, but in the North East, there seems to be a dearth of female writers, so we’re delighted to be featuring Zoe’s work,” says Esther.
Charley Miles, from the Hambleton village of High Kilburn, first came to attention with her lyrical moorland village drama Blackthorn at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2016, and her all-female Yorkshire Ripper play, There Are No Beginnings, was the first to be staged when the Leeds Playhouse re-opened last October.
“We wanted writers from different places because we want to continue this process, to explore how we might take this writing project to other communities to develop new works,” says Esther.
She is pleased too by the impact of York writer Hannah Davies on the four women she has been working with in Scarborough: Amy-Kay Pell, Shannon Barker, Ariel Hebditch and Claire Edwards.
“Hannah is not just a wonderful writer but also she’s wonderful at working with young writers,” says Esther. “She has a really special gift for inspiring new writers, nurturing them and getting them to nurture themselves, in this case Amy, Shannon, Ariel and Claire.”
Asma Elbadawi will present her own work, while Laura Boughen, Laura Elsworthy, Siu-See Hung and Holly Surtees-Smith will perform the others, working with directors Esther Richardson, Gitika Buttoo, Oliver O’Shea and Maria Crocker.
All the short pieces address the barriers that women face, with each story being “in some sense an act of liberation”. “With everyone writing to the same theme, straight from the heart, some plays are more political, but they all make you think about things you might not have thought about otherwise,” says Esther.
The “fire” setting will be fire pits in the car park. “At first we wanted to do it by the sea, but there are loads of problems doing a show with a fire on the beach, not least the tides!” says Esther.
Pilot Theatre and Arcade present Northern Girls for the Signal Fires Festival, at YMCA Theatre Car Park, St Thomas Street, Scarborough YO11 1DY, on October 27 and 28, 7pm to 8pm.
The recommended age is 14 plus. Please bring headphones. Each £10 ticket is sold for a clearly marked bubble that can seat one or two people. Audience members must wear a mask on arrival and throughout the performance.
WE may be beset by tiers before bedtime, but the arts world will not lie down meekly in the face of the pandemic’s second wave. Instead, Charles Hutchinson highlights events on-going, on the horizon and online.
The rule of six, over and out: Robin Ince and Laura Lexx, Your Place Comedy, live-streaming on Sunday, 8pm
YOUR Place Comedy, the virtual comedy club launched in lockdown by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones and ten independent Yorkshire and Humber arts venues, concludes with its sixth line-up this weekend.
The last laugh will go to The Infinite Monkey Cage co-host Robin Ince and Jurgen Klopp’s number one fan, Laura Lexx, introduced by remotely by regular host Tim FitzHigham, alias Pittancer of Selby, as they perform from their living rooms into yours. The show is free to watch on YouTube and Twitch via yourplacecomedy.co.uk, with donations welcome afterwards.
Online literary event of the week: Matt Haig, The Midnight Library, Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, streaming from 8am tomorrow (October 23)
MATT Haig, the award-winning author with the York past, discusses his latest novel, The Midnight Library, a tale of regret, hope and forgiveness set in the strangest of libraries, one that houses second chances.
Exhibition of the week and beyond: Human Nature, York Mediale/York Museums Trust, at Madsen Galleries, York Art Gallery, until January 24 2021
THIS triptych of installations under the banner of Human Nature combines the British premiere of Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson’s sensory woodland short film Embers And The Giants with two York Mediale commissions.
London immersive art collection Marshmallow Laser Feast look at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echo the ecosystem in nature inThe Tides Within Us.
Manchester artist and animator Rachel Goodyear’s Limina combines a surrealist, Freudian and Jungian series of animations and intricate drawings, responding to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection as she offers glimpses into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.
Fired-up event of the week: Northern Girls, Pilot Theatre and Arcade, at Scarborough YMCA Car Park, for Signal Fires Festival, October 27 and 28, 7pm to 8pm
YORK company Pilot Theatre team up with new Scarborough arts makers Arcade to present Northern Girls by firelight for the nationwide Signal Fires Festival.
The one-hour performance sets free the stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline, encouraging them to write and present tales that matter most to them in 2020.
Short pieces commissioned from Asma Elbadawi, Zoe Cooper, Maureen Lennon and Charley Miles will be complemented by York spoken-word artist Hannah Davies’s work with a group of young women from Scarborough.
Both eyes on the future festival of the week ahead: York Design Week, October 26 to November 1
SUPPORTED by York’s Guild of Media Arts, the York Design Week festival will seek to design a positive future for the city under five themes: Re-Wild, Play, Share, Make Space and Trust.
In Covid-19 2020, the festival will combine in-person events with social-distancing measures in place, and a wide range of online workshops, exhibition seminars and talks.
Look out for workshops bringing together homeless people and architects to work on solutions for housing; sessions on innovation and rule-breaking; an exhibition inspired by a York printing firm; discussions on community art and planning and city trails designed by individual York citizens. Go to yorkdesignweek.com for full details.
Barrie’s back: An Evening With Barrie Rutter, The Holbeck, Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, Leeds, November 7, 7.15pm
BARRIE Rutter OBE is to return to the stage for the first time since his successful treatment for throat cancer.
The Hull-born titan of northern theatre, now 73, will perform his one-man show at The Holbeck, home to the Slung Low theatre company in Leeds. The Saturday night of tall tales and anecdotes, poetry and prose will be a fundraiser for the installation of a new lift at the south Leeds community base, the oldest social club in the country.
“I’m absolutely thrilled at the invitation from Alan Lane and his team at Slung Low to perform at The Holbeck,” says Rutter. “What goes on in there is truly inspirational and I’m delighted support this wonderful venue.”
Family business of the autumn: John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 28 to 31; Hull Truck Theatre, November 17 to 22
THE waiting for Godber’s new play is over. The world premiere of the ground-breaking former Hull Truck artistic director’s Sunny Side Up! will be a family affair, starring John Godber, his wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha, while daughter Elizabeth will be doing the stage management.
Written and directed by Godber, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! depicts a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it. “Join proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in this seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about,” invites John.
Looking ahead to 2021/2022: Dance shows at the treble at York Barbican
STRICTLY Come Dancing’s glittering weekend return to BBC One was a reminder that regular professionals Anton du Beke, Giovanni Pernice, Graziano di Prima, Aljaz Škorjanec and Janette Manrara are all booked to play York Barbican sometime over the rainbow, Killjoy Covid permitting.
Ballroom couple Anton & Erin’s: Showtime celebration of Astaire, Rogers, Sinatra, Garland, Chaplin, Minnelli, Bassey, Tom Jones and Elton John has moved from February 19 2021 to February 18 2022.
Aljaz and Graziano’s Here Comes The Boys show with former Strictly pro Pasha Kovalev has switched to June 30 2021; Aljaz and Janette’s Remembering The Oscars is now booked in for April 21 2021, and Giovanni’s This Is Me! is in the diary for March 17 next year.
News just in: Rob Brydon in An Evening Of Song & Laughter, York Barbican, April 14 2021
WOULD I lie to you? Actor, comedian, impressionist, presenter and holiday-advert enthusiast Rob Brydon is to play with a band in York. It’s…true!
Yes, Brydon and his eight-piece band will take to the road next year for 20 dates with his new show, Rob Brydon: A Night of Songs & Laughter, visiting York Barbican on April 14 on his second tour to combine songs and music with his trademark wit and comedy. Expect Brydon interpretations varying from fellow Welshman Tom Jones to Tom Waits, Guys And Dolls to Elvis Presley.
The 5ft 7inch Brydon last appeared at York Barbican for two nights of his improvised stand-up show, I Am Standing Up, in October 2017. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
And what about….?
HEADING out on the Indie York Medieval & Magical Treasure Trail, running from October 24 to November 1 for half-term entertainment, with full details at indieyork.co.uk.
Likewise, taking up the York Ghost Merchants’ cordial invitation to be spooked by the first annual Ghost Week on the same dates. Among the highlights in “the city of a thousand ghosts” are The Little York Ghost Hunt and The Ghost Parade (also part of the Indie York trail). Discover more at yorkghostmerchants.com.
DO you want an assortment of noisy, slam-winning York performance poets, word-weavers and gobheads to perform at a social distance near you?
If so, the Say Owt Showcase luminaries Henry Raby, Stu Freestone, Hannah Davies and Dave Jarman are the quartet to entertain you, being “ideal for socially distanced spaces and audiences”.
“We’re York’s lovable and raucous poetry gang and we’re available to programme and present high-energy, 60-minute showcases of the sharp, relevant, hilarious and engaging spoken word,” says Henry, director of the Say Owt’s “war of the words” slam nights.
“Say Owt’s word-warriors have delighted in ripping up stages at the Great Yorkshire Fringe and the Arts Barge in York, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Ilkley Literature Festival, and last month we performed as part of York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, a bubbled and socially distanced event.
“Our Say Owt Showcase on August 28 sold out and played to a drizzly, but happy, audience.”
Performance poet in residence at the Deer Shed Festival, author, playwright and event organiser Raby is noted for his punk poetry being anarchic and raw, with a sharp political edge, much like his regular Tweets.
He has performed at Latitude Festival, Boomtown Fair and the Intentional Youth Arts Festival and toured with Creative Arts East and Apples and Snakes’ Public Address Tour.
His latest solo show, Apps And Austerity, looks back over the past decade of technology and stultifying, stringent political policies, as aired at the Pop-Up festival last Friday.
Freestone, Raby’s fellow co-founder of Say Owt, is the cheekiest of rogues with his devilish facial hair and a penchant for Hip-Hop. His work is blissful, engrossing and, above all, unflinchingly honest.
An actor too, he has worked with various York companies and in 2015 was nominated for Best Spoken Word Artist at the Saboteur Awards. The only thing remotely cheesy about him is when he may have served you from behind the counter at The Cheese Trader in Grape Lane.
When playwright, actor, poet, writing course tutor and stage director Hannah Davies “isn’t trying to smash the patriarchy”, she is busy with her York theatre company Common Ground.
Hannah has won slams across the UK and was a finalist in the BBC Fringe Slam 2017, and her work encapsulates themes of young love, female identity and the small moments that make us smile.
Say Owt associate artist Dave Jarman describes himself as a “word-gobbing, ukulele-strumming, bodhran-abusing poet from t’North”.
Resident poet for the Great Yorkshire Fringe in 2017, playwright, actor and occasional Elf, he reflects on community, people, places and our national identity in his poetry and performances.
For more information on how to send for the four wordsmen of the apocalypse to do a show for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org.