REVIEW: John Godber’s seaside last resort comedy, Sunny Side Up! ****

John Godber as taciturn B&B owner Barney in Godber’s coastal comedy Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Martha Godber

John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, tonight, 7.30pm; Hull Truck Theatre, November 1 to 6; 7.30pm; 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office: Scarborough, 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk

WHEN the Godber family presented last October’s premiere of Sunny Side Up! in their isolated North Sea bubble at Scarborough, the first sighting of the SJT audience in face masks prompted John Godber to say he thought he was in an operating theatre, not a theatre.

Unlike at many theatres, socially distanced seating prevails at the SJT, where wearing a mask is still the expectation, rather than the exception.

The Godbers, writer-director-actor John, wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha Godber, remains the cast; her elder sister, Elizabeth, now studying at Hull University for a PhD in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, still finds time to be the company stage manager. Both sisters took the production pictures too.

What has changed? Sunny Side Up! is even better than it was a year ago – and longer too, with an interval inserted, more political grit, more comic interplay to go with the self-analysis and class wars, but still fast moving.

Godber has always been at his best when he is riled, questioning the status quo with Yorkshire frankness, shaking his head but finding humour as he observes British characteristics with befuddlement but a dart’s player’s accuracy, driven by a desire both for mischief making and for change.

Above all, an even stronger sense emerges of Godber commenting, not on the deathly march of Covid, nor the Government’s handling of the pandemic, but on its impact on our behaviour, our appreciation of people and nature around us, our re-evaluation of our neglected, suffering towns and forgotten, left-behind villages amid the expedient rise of the staycation.

Sunny Side Up! is billed as a “hilarious and moving account of a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it: down-to-earth proprietors Barney, Tina and daughter Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy” in Godber’s familiar conversational, pull-up-a-chair story-telling style.

Martha Godber’s affronted holiday-maker confronts John Godber’s retired academic in Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Elizabeth Godber

The focus, however, falls more on one of those “snooty relatives”, the fish-out-of-water Graham, Tina’s brother, who has taken up her invitation to bring his wife for a short break back at his roots, now that a foreign trip has been ruled out.

It is not so much that Graham was a big fish in a small pool, so much as that his academic prowess led him to other pools, culminating in his becoming a professor and university pro-vice chancellor, who wanted his own success to be a template for other working-class children to follow suit on a social-mobility conveyor belt. He has not been “back home” to this East Coast last resort for ages.

Graham (John Godber) has the big black car with tinted windows, the expensive shoes and the expensive food tastes; his wife (Thornton) has an MBE for her work in the public cause. She is invariably happy, wanting to stop for a sandwich break on a lay-by after only four miles; Graham is perennially unhappy; he would not be going at all, if it came down to choice rather than a sense of family duty.

Brexiteer Barney, who largely takes a back seat, out on errands, is no fan of Graham, while daughter Cath (Martha’s main role) has the bloody-minded, mischievous streak that Godber himself loves.

Consequently, she, more so than Tina and Barney, breaks down theatre’s fourth wall to engage directly with the audience, putting them on her side as she makes sure Graham’s visit is anything but easy over and comments on his wife always calling her “Catherine”, a name she has grown to dislike for its unnecessary floweriness.

There are echoes of September In The Rain and Happy Jack as Graham revisits his past, going fishing in one beautiful, tender scene, but there is no whiff of nostalgia here. Initially, he had laughed scornfully at the cramped, antiquated top-floor bedroom Tina had provided, but the more he sees, the more it sets off his frustration at such places being forgotten, under-funded, under-appreciated, in need of watering.

Yet he himself had left Sunny Side, forgotten it, and so Godber does not let that pathos go unchallenged, nor Graham’s despair at a pair of holidaying old miners spouting Yorkshire cliches (in a cameo by John and Jane not far removed from the old Four Yorkshiremen sketch from The At Last The 1948 Show and Monty Python).

Jane Thornton’s Tina and Martha Godber’s Cath in Sunny Side Up! Picture: Elizabeth Godber

In the defining scene, Martha Godber’s second principal character, a blunt, no-nonsense holiday-maker no longer able to afford Zante, confronts Graham as to why he did not come home to try to make a difference – to do his own version of levelling up – rather than preach from his academic high tower, out of touch and out of reach.

Godber and Graham are both over 65; both have aching knees, both are bright working-class lads with teaching in their locker; both always vote Labour; both want better for what is already there or once was there until the oxygen was switched off.

Graham has retired, Godber is anything but retired, and Sunny Side Up! is up there with his radical environmental satire Crown Prince and his post-mining drama Shafted! as the best of his 21st century writing. Godber at his most humane and touching but b****y funny too.

There is even magic realism in an encounter between Graham and his late mother (Martha again), her memory eroded by dementia, and moments of physical comedy in the Bouncers tradition as Graham, his wife and Cath climb the endless stairs without a stairwell in sight.

Four chairs and a suitcase, a miniature lighthouse, some rocks and a plastic seagull make up Graham Kirk’s set with familiar Godber economy. In that open space, with room to breathe in that sea air, the performances are terrific. Godber doing a Godber play, with innate comic timing, is always a joy; likewise, his stage partnership with wife Jane makes for a wonderfully forthright double act but one grounded in truthfulness as much as playfulness.

Martha, meanwhile, continues a run of stand-out performances this year in Godber’s Moby Dick at Stage@The Dock, Hull; as Olivia in Luke Adamson’s Twelfth Night at Selby RUFC and now her multi-roles in Sunny Side Up!, full of humour but poignant too. Never better than when the grounded Cath, unlike Graham in younger days, says she will not move on but will look to make Sunny Side a better B&B.

Godber is on such good form here, he even weaves his and Jane’s conversion to “sort-of veganism” into the play with a running in-joke where Cath offers up eggs sunny side up as the vegan breakfast option. Think about it!

Review by Charles Hutchinson

John Godber and Jane Thornton: “A wonderfully forthright double act but grounded in truthfulness as much as playfulness”. Picture: Martha Godber

REVIEW: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull

Kissing by the dock: Laura Elsworthy’s Juliet and Jordan Metcalfe’s Romeo in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Stage@The Dock, Hull

Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, until August 7. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

CHATTING with an actor the other day, the question arose: how did you decide to play your Romeo?

“I’ve seen so many bad productions of Romeo & Juliet where I can’t wait for them to die, because they’re not very likeable!” he said. “I still truly believe that!

“I knew the approach I had to take was, I didn’t need the audience to fall in love with me, I just needed Juliet to fall in love with me. As soon as you worry about what the audience thinks of you, then Romeo is guaranteed to be unlikeable.”

Interesting, then, that Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet really do love each other. So much so, Hull-born duo Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy are real-life husband and wife, marrying in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite in Hull’s year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

Thankfully, they have survived rather longer than Shakespeare’s tragic star-cross’d young lovers to tell the tale. Thankfully too, this is not an R&J where you “can’t wait for them to die, because they’re not very likeable”.

Strangely, however, the coupling does not have the same chemistry on stage as off. Chemistry should lead to biology, but Metcalfe’s wet-behind-the-ears Romeo comes over more as the fifth member of a boy band, one for the shadows, not a natural lead. Crucially, kissing by the dock, the sparks do not fly with Elsworthy’s Juliet and nor do the sudden flare-ups of fury that lead to murder carry conviction.

Elsworthy is better by far: more assured in her restless performance, spoilt, temperamental, teenage to the max, not averse to blunt northern humour, and she makes Shakespeare’s language catch fire with her Hull vowels. Pre-notoriety Amy Winehouse to his Summer Holiday Cliff Richard, at a stretch.

Sitting on the dock: The audience watching Mark Babych’s cast members in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet

Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych’s two hours’ traffic on the R&J stage is not unlikeable but nor is it is loveable, either.

In the rudimentary amphitheatre of Hull’s converted former dry dock, he sets up a traverse stage to emphasise the antipathy between the warring Capulets and Montagues, with a tent at either end for props and instruments.

Those costume designs, by Sian Thomas, are a star turn on the otherwise bare wooden stage: a catwalk for 1950s’ Italian and American college fashion that inevitably echo West Side Story, Bernstein and Sondheim’s American spin on R&J.

One American voice pops over the Atlantic in the dapper form of Reno-born, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama-trained Richard McIver’s hat-tilting Mercutio, every inch the scene stealer he should be. (Back in 1977, in an English Literature class, your reviewer was told Shakespeare killed off Mercutio prematurely because he was pinching the play from an under-par Romeo!).

McIver’s Guys And Dolls panache is typical of the knowing, bite-your-thumb irreverence that permeates Babych’s interpretation, where all manner of accents and acting styles prevail.

Multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Goode’s Prince Escalus and Friar John could have popped out of a Kneehigh Theatre show; Laurie Jamieson’s double bill of fiery Tybalt and fixer Friar Lawrence would suit a Shane Meadows film or Shameless; EM Williams’s bleached Benvolio is part Puck, part punk.

Lady and Lord Capulet fuse into Carolyn Backhouse’s Capulet, a Cruella de Vil figure, while Amanda Gordon’s Nurse is suitably irritating, irrational, contradictory yet kind all at once.

Babych has fun with a colourful, impassioned Romeo And Juliet, rather than finding the aching poetry and doomed love at this time of a plague on all our houses. Playing broader strokes is a gamble, one that leads to less rather than “more woe”, but the get-up-and-go suits the setting, distracting from regrets over not bringing cushions to soften the seating.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: John Godber Company in Moby Dick, Stage @TheDock, Hull, until Saturday

 Caitlin Townend and Martha Godber in rehearsal for Moby Dick at the former Hull dry dock. Picture: Antony Robling

Moby Dick, John Godber Company, Stage @TheDock, Hull, until Saturday, 7pm and 4pm Saturday matinee. Box office: Eventbrite via thejohngodbercompany.co.uk

HULL was once among the world’s busiest whaling ports. At its peak, 68 whaling ships were registered to the East Riding dock and whale-processing oil and blubber factories spread over the Greenland yards on the River Hull.

In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Hull had as many theatres as any city, and sometimes the stench from the factories’ pots of boiling blubber was so malodorous, theatres had to cancel performances as the pong was so overpowering.

The processing plants and ships have gone, the docks and Fruit Market have undergone a new industrial revolution, now housing solicitors’ offices, digital spaces, bars and restaurants and a gallery, under a vision realised by the Wykeland Group, triggered in part by Hull’s year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

In the shadow of The Deep visitor attraction, Stage@TheDock took over the shell of the central Hull dry dock at that time, and now John Godber, who has done so much to keep theatre open, alive and kicking in Hull, brings whaling, theatre and the amphitheatre together with support from Wykeland and an Arts Council England grant from the Culture Recovery Fund.

John Godber and The Whalers: The co-writer and director in rehearsal at Hull dry dock for Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

The John Godber Company’s Moby Dick is billed as a “new radical adaptation” of Herman Melville’s epic 1851 American novel. More precisely, it is a radical reworking of Godber and co-writer Nick Lane’s original, no less radical script for Hull Truck Theatre in 2002, a revision/reinvention that Godber describes as “filleted, better and topical”.

The first version was told by four old soaks in a bar on its own last orders; this time, an East Yorkshire professional cast plays eight modern-day characters, each with a relationship with this part of Hull through their parents or grandparents, whose stories they recount as the play dips in and out of the novel’s Godber-gutted story, like a ship’s passage through waves.

2002’s four-hander – “What were we thinking?! Four! It was almost impossible,” recalls Godber – was different in other ways: staged indoors at the old, compact, 150-seat Hull Truck. 2021’s John Godber and The Whalers’ show fits Step 3 times: a 70-minute performance with no interval, staged outdoors to a socially distanced audience, spread out over seating reduced in capacity from 350 to just shy of 90.

Covid-safety measures prevail too: staff in masks, tick; hand sanitiser, tick; surface cleaning, tick; cast Covid-testing regularly and staying together in a B&B social bubble, tick.

MayTether’s Lily in the John Godber Company’s Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

Within the cavernous dock’s stone walling is the wooden-floored stage that here becomes the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, in his catastrophic, deranged, self-destructive battle with the monstrous white whale, Moby Dick.

Props are wooden too in the form of myriad pallets for constant rearrangement into different shapes to evoke, for example, the bow and to create a percussive sound when thrown down or knocked over. A rudimentary ship’s wheel is ever present and loose pieces of wood serve as harpoons. The bike ridden by Martha Godber’s impassioned narrator, Lucy, is the one concession to modernity.

Given the 7pm start, no lighting or special effect is needed for a back-to-basics yet epic production that, in Godber tradition, is driven by storytelling, physical theatre and teamwork (or should that be crew work?) as much as by individual performance.

This remains a dry dock in every way, no water to be seen throughout, and yet this Moby Dick still conjures the dangers, the rhythms, the vastness, of the sea through the cast’s movement and sound effects.

Blue-eyed soul searching: Frazer Hammill as Frank/Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

Sea shanties pepper the performance too, not least the newly ubiquitous chart-topper Wellerman, and it will come as no surprise to devotees of York Stage that Goole-born May Tether’s singing stands out.

Frazer Hammill’s Captain Ahab has the air of the blue-eyed cult-leader about him, a law unto himself that no-one dares to stop. Madness, misadventure and death this way lies in a tale as grave as an obsessive Greek tragedy.

Moby Dick finds Godber, who scripted the revised version after discussions with Lane, far removed from the agitated humour of many of his plays.

Instead, in a collective year in the shadow of an elusive enemy, devastating disease, mental anguish, constant uncertainty and ever greater division, there is no bigger fish to fry than a story of timeless human failings in command, set against the context of a modern-day discourse on Hull’s global importance as a port, its whaling past and the rising need for conservation.

Come Hull or high water, you will have a wail, rather than a whale, of a time as the Godber harpoon hits home hard.

The John Godber Company cast on stage at Stage @The Dock, the converted Hull dry dock, with The Deep behind. Picture: Antony Robling

More Things To Do in York and beyond that Euro football tournament. It’s all kicking off in List No. 36, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s the pecking order here? Twirlywoos Live! at York Theatre Royal

EUROS 2020? What Euro 2020? The sun is out and so is Charles Hutchinson’s diary as he points you in the direction of curious CBeebies favourites, acoustic concerts, a dockyard Romeo & Juliet, a large painting, Clough v Leeds United and more ideas aplenty. 

Children’s show of the week: Twirlywoos Live!, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow at 1.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am and 2pm

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York on board their Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

Curious, inquisitive and eager to learn about the world, these small, bird-like characters from the CBeebies television factory will be brought to life with inventive puppetry, mischief, music and plenty of surprises.

Written by Zoe Bourn, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages 1+; babes in arms are welcome too. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: York prog-folk musician will perform in a Songs Under Skies double bill on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

Outdoor gigs of the week ahead: Songs Under Skies 2, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, York June 14 to 16

SONGS Under Skies returns to the NCEM’s glorious gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, for acoustic double bills by Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell on June 14, Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe concerts is presented by the NCEM in tandem with The Crescent community venue, the Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates open at 6.30pm for each 7pm to 8.30pm concert with a 30-minute interval between sets. Tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Art at large: Subterranea Nostalgia, by Corrina Rothwell

Biggest painting of the week award: Corrina Rothwell’s Subterranea Nostalgia, in The Cacophany Of Ages at Pyramid Gallery, York, until July 1

CORRINA Rothwell’s exhibition of abstract works features the largest canvas painting in the near-30 years that Terry Brett has run Pyramid Gallery in York.

“Subterranea Nostalgia measures 1600mm by 1600mm. That was fun, getting it upstairs!” says Terry, whose gallery is housed in a National Trust-owned 15th century building in Stonegate. “The painting has a real impact. If you know anyone with really big walls, it would be perfect for them!”

Nottingham artist Corrina favours mixed media and acrylic on canvas for the paintings, on show at Pyramid and online at pyramidgallery.com.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough goes to hell and back in his 44 days in charge of Leeds United in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

Football, football, football, not on the box but in a theatre: Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, York Theatre Royal, June 16

THE choice is yours: Italy versus Switzerland at the Euro 2020 on ITV at 8pm or the inner workings of Brian Clough’s troubled mind at Elland Road in 1974 at York Theatre Royal, kick-off 7.30pm.

Adapted from Yorkshireman David Peace’s biographical novel by Anders Lustgarten, The Damned United is a psychodrama that deconstructs Old Big ‘Ead’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United, whose Don Revie-tutored players he despised as much as they loathed him.

The double act of Luke Dickson’s flawed Clough and David Chafer’s avuncular Peter Taylor are joined by Jamie Smelt as everyone else in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles, demons and defeats.

That’s a good idea…

Festival of the month: York Festival of Ideas 2021, running until June 20

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of York’s bright idea of a festival dedicated to educating, entertaining and inspiring.

Under the banner of Infinite Horizons to reflect the need to adapt to pandemic, the Festival of Ideas is presenting a diverse programme of more than 150 free online and in-person events.

The best idea, when needing more info on the world-class speakers, performances, family activities and walking trails, is to head to yorkfestivalofideas.com/2021/.

You kiss by the dock: Husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy as Romeo and Juliet in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Hull’s former dry dock

Outdoor play outside York announcement of the month: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, July 15 to August 7

AFTER John Godber Company’s Moby Dick completes its run at the converted Hull dry dockyard this Saturday, next comes Hull Truck Theatre’s al-fresco staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

The title roles in Romeo & Juliet will be played by Hull-born husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, who appeared in The Hypocrite and The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca in 2017 as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture celebrations.

Metcalfe and Elsworthy, who married in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite, will play a stage couple for the first time, performing on a traverse stage to emphasise Verona’s divided society. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

Hitting the Heights: Lucy McCormick’s wild-haired Cathy in the Wise Children poster for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, bound for York Theatre Royal

Looking ahead to the autumn: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, November 8 to 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children company is teaming up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and the Bristol Old Vic for her elemental stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland story of love, vengeance and redemption.

In an intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Rice’s company of performers and musicians will be led by Lucy McCormick’s Cathy.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky,” says Rice. “I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

An Evening With Julian Norton, vet, author and now show host, is booked in for Pocklington Arts Centre

Veterinary appointment in 2022: An Evening With Julian Norton, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 18

JULIAN Norton, author, veterinary surgeon and star of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, will share amusing anecdotes from his work with animals in North Yorkshire, bringing to life all the drama and humour in the daily routine of a rural vet.

Following in the footsteps of James Herriot author Alf Wight, Norton has spent most of his working life in Thirsk. His latest book, All Creatures: Heart-warming Tales From A Yorkshire Vet, was published in March. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

REVIEW: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

Welcome with open arms: Julie Hesmondhalgh making you feel good to be back in a theatre at last

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, until Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12

NOTE the dots in that title. Ian Kershaw’s 70-minute one-woman show for his wife, Corrie star Julie Hesmondhalgh, does not lay claim to be the greatest play in the history of the world full stop.

However, like NASA’s Voyager probes, Kershaw aims for the stars, and as this most human and humane of love stories progresses, you accumulatively feel you are watching a great play with a sense of history and a grasp of what makes the messy world go round.

Kershaw’s focus is on the comings and goings of quiet, suburban Preston Road, and yet life in this northern town is universal too, such are his skills of observation and the beauty of his moving, witty turn of phrase.

Given the surfeit of solo shows to meet pandemic regulations in 2020 and 2021, you might have expected “Greatest Play” to have been purpose-built for now. Not so, Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumna Hesmondhalgh first performed Kershaw’s work in 2017.

Nevertheless, she has described the delayed 2021 tour as putting her back at Ground Zero, opening with a week-long sold-out run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Scarborough, from May 18, with the need to adapt to change, socially distanced circumstances, not least to no longer using audience members’ borrowed shoes to play assorted characters.

Boxed in: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

That night was the first time she had played to an audience in masks, an experience that John Godber said first felt like he was performing in an operating theatre, rather than a theatre, when premiering Sunny Side Up last autumn at the SJT.

Such is her popularity and versatility, Hesmondhalgh was “double-booked” all her SJT week, appearing simultaneously on screen in BBC1’s whodunit, The Pact. Such is her natural warmth, and ease with performing, whatever the circumstances, that any fear of disconnection between performer and spread-out audience dissolved immediately. Be assured, that will be the same in York from tonight and Hull next week.

Beneath bare light bulbs reminiscent of stars when lit and in front of shelf upon shelf of shoe boxes, stacked high, Hesmondhalgh immediately breaks theatre’s fourth wall to make everyone feel at home back in the theatre, then sets up the story of a man waking in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped at 04.40…precisely. He will keep doing so in Kershaw’s account, echoing, albeit distantly, Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day.

Through his bedroom curtains, he sees no signs of life, save for a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt is standing. She is looking back at him, just as bemused, just as unable to sleep, feeling just as isolated…

…So begins the love story of central characters Tom and Sara, and gradually Kershaw fills in the street life, Neighbourhood Watch scheme and characters of Preston Road and opens out his focus, moving between past and present and asking us to ponder who we are, what may be thrown at us, what judgements we may make of those around us.

Detail is all, typified by Hesmondhalgh observing the Latin tattoo on neighbour Mrs Forshaw’s arm that translates as “through hardship to the stars”: in a nutshell, the trajectory of Kershaw’s story.

Julie noted

What takes it to the heights is the way sci-fi enthusiast Kershaw weaves the Voyager probes  into the play, and more particularly the Golden Record taken on each mission with recordings that encapsulate the essence of life on Earth: “People having a good time. People cramming it all in,” as Hesmondhalgh puts it.

This sets both Kershaw and the audience to thinking about what we should include now in such a time-travel experiment, and after Hesmondhalgh has led everyone to both cheers and tears, she will have you smiling, exhilarated, at what makes everything worthwhile, even under the Covid cloud. Cue Here Comes The Sun and smiles all round, behind masks of course!

The solo show is a tough gig, be it for an actor or comedian, but directed by a Raz Shaw touch, Hesmondhalgh is wholly in control, often playful, using stairways as well as the stage, equally adept in a rising tide of emotion or in a moment of calm. She has the timing of a comic, yet the gravitas for tragedy too.

If you are seeking THE play to re-introduce you to the joy of theatre-going after pandemic hibernation, right now this is The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…for doing that. Full stop.

York Theatre Royal performances: evenings at 8pm, plus 3pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office, 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Hull Truck Theatre performances: evenings at 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 01482 323638 or at boxoffice@hulltruck.co.uk

All tour performances are socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.

Julie’s journey from Corrie’s Hayley to The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

History maker: Julie Hesmondhalgh in the one-woman show The Greatest Play In The History Of The World

AT the heart of The Love Season when York Theatre Royal reopens from May 17 will be The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show.

Produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Hull Truck Theatre, the debut tour of Ian Kershaw’s multi award-winning play will open at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, from May 18 to 22 before History will be made at the Theatre Royal from June 1 to 5 and Hull Truck from June 7 to 12, with all tour performances being socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…takes a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumnus Julie Hesmondhalgh narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love.  

The show is penned by Accrington-born Julie’s husband, Ian Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless, and reunites her with award-winning director Raz Shaw after working together on Margaret Edison’s Wit at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in 2016.

The taming of the shoe: Under Covid-safe measures, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…can no longer make use of audience members’ shows during each show

Explaining the play’s genesis, Julie says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that Ian should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, he kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing: a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark.”

Let the show begin: a man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped. Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him. Over to you, Julie, from May 18.

Looking ahead to the tour starting at last, she says: “It doesn’t seem for real in some ways because it’s been put off so many times, but now I’m having to learn my lines again with proper commitment, and I’m so excited to be doing it, performing in theatres’ socially distanced bigger spaces. It’ll be a bit of a recalibration for people to get used to being back in a theatre.

“Though it’s completely not a play about lockdown, it is nevertheless about people living in isolation, connection, love, and all those things that have been writ large in this strange time,” says Julie Hesmondhalgh

“Previously, I was interacting with audiences in the show, using their shoes as a vital part of it, and though I’ll miss doing that, this way of doing it will bring something new to it.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s funny because there are a lot of people who just book everything that’s on at the Traverse, and they arrive and think, ‘right, what are we seeing now? Oh, she’s wearing jeans’, but with this tour, it’ll be the first thing people will have seen in a long time.”

Julie continues: “Though it’s completely not a play about lockdown, it is nevertheless about people living in isolation, connection, love, and all those things that have been writ large in this strange time, so I think it will now land with people in a really different way than ever before.

“The fact that it’s a play set on northern streets that we’ll be taking around northern theatres, I just think it’s going to be an amazing experience for me.”

“You can never second-guess how an audience will behave or react,” says Julie. “It’s so different every performance”

How does Julie, 51, re-acquaint herself with a play she knows so well? “I need to go into it almost at Ground Zero,” she says. “It’s quite a difficult play for me to do, as you can never second-guess how an audience will behave or react.

“It’s so different every performance. Some nights, they will roll around laughing at every line, and it’s a real rollercoaster, but it’s a play with so many twists and turns for the audience, so sometimes people will be thinking, ‘what’s this about? What’s going on here?’, because I’m speaking directly to them…

“And there can be something that feels innately sociopathic about me doing that for 70 minutes with some of them looking like they don’t want to be there! In real life, you’d go, ‘well, anyway’ and move on.

“On quiet nights, I’ve been quietly dying inside, but at the end, the lights go up and there’ll be tears in their eyes, and they really want to talk to you about the show afterwards.

“It’ll be a bit of a recalibration for people to get used to being back in a theatre,” says Julie, as The Greatest Play In The History Of The World begins its northern tour on May 18

“Now, playing to faces wearing masks for the first time, I’ll just have to remember that my job is to tell a story and yours is to sit there and listen!”

One last question, Julie, is The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…really what it says in the title? “Ian went away, wrote the play and came back with that name, but it’s really important to note that it does finish with three dots…

“We’re constantly apologising for it, but I don’t think Hamlet needs to be worried!”

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World… will play Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 18 to 22, 7.30pm; 1.30pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday; York Theatre Royal, June 1 to 5, 8pm; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: Scarborough, sjt.uk.com or 01723 370541; York, yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or 01904 623568; Hull, hulltruck.co.uk or 01482 323638.

Copyright of The Press, York

New dates confirmed for The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…at York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre

“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark,” says actor Julie Hesmondhalgh of husband Ian Kershaw’s The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

GREAT news on The Greatest Play In The History Of The World for York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre audiences: revised dates are in place for Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show.

The debut tour of Ian Kershaw’s multi award-winning play should have opened at Hull Truck from January 29 and played York from February 16 to 20 as part of The Love Season. Lockdown 3 forced a delay, however, but now History will be made at York Theatre Royal from June 1 to 5 and at Hull Truck from June 7 to 12.

Tickets will go on sale in April at yorktheatreroyal.co,uk or 01904 623568 and at hulltruck.co.uk or 01482 323638, with the release dates yet to be announced.

Produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Hull Truck Theatre, the tour will begin at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from May 18 to 22. All tour performances will be socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…takes a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumnus Julie narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love.  

Premiered at the Traverse Theatre at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, the debut production transferred to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Studio in September 2018 and to London’s West End in December 2019. Now, the show has been adapted for the 2021 tour in light of these Covid times and performances will be housed in the larger performance spaces of each theatre.  

Julie Hesmondhalgh: “Navigating her way through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love”

The show is written by Julie’s husband, the Bruntwood Award-winning Ian Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless, and reunites her with award-winning director Raz Shaw after working together on Margaret Edison’s Wit at the Royal Exchange in 2016.

Explaining the play’s genesis, Julie says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that Ian should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, he kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing: a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark.”

Let the show begin: a man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped. Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him. Over to you, Julie, from May 18.

Tickets for the SJT run are available at sjt.uk.com.

Yorkshire performance dates:

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 18 to 22, 7.30pm; 1.30pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday.

York Theatre Royal, June 1 to 5, 8pm; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday.

Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday.

Stephen Joseph Theatre to reopen with The Greatest Play In The History Of The World

Is this The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…? Yes it is! Catch Julie Hesmondhalgh’s one-woman show at the SJT from May 18. York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatres will follow

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre will reopen its doors to the public on May 17, with the first live show a day later.

Further ahead, the SJT summer season will begin with a new play by director emeritus Sir Alan Ayckbourn but the title and dates are yet to be confirmed.

Under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, pending the latest pandemic data, entertainment venues can play to Covid-secure limited capacities to allow for social distancing from May 17.

The reopening show, from May 18 to 22, will be the first dates of the debut UK tour of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, a one-woman show written by the Bruntwood Award-winning Ian Kershaw for his wife, the former Coronation Street and Broadchurch star Julie Hesmondhalgh.

The SJT programme of live theatre will be announced for the summer and autumn next month. The SJT cinema programme in The McCarthy will re-start from Tuesday, May 25; full details will be released shortly.

Having taken over the first-floor lounge bar last August, Eat Me Café will continue its residency until at least the autumn, open Mondays to Saturdays from 10am, with last orders at 6.30pm, Mondays to Wednesdays, and at 7.30pm, Thursdays to Saturdays. All the usual Covid restrictions will be in place.

The SJT’s joint chief executives, Paul Robinson and Caroline Routh, say: “We can’t wait to open our doors again to our wonderful audiences. We know from their messages how much they’re missing being in the building for live theatre, films and the Eat Me Café.

“We’ll be keeping all the Covid security measures that made them feel so safe when we reopened briefly last year in place for quite some time. These will include temperature checks and hand sanitising on entry, social distancing everywhere in the building, and regular ‘fogging’, or safe disinfecting, of both auditoria in between shows or films.”

“We can’t wait to open our doors again to our wonderful audiences,” says SJT joint chief executives Paul Robinson and Caroline Routh. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Martyn Hyde and Stephen Dinardo, owners of Eat Me Café, say: “We’re absolutely delighted to continue our residence at the SJT. It’s a great space.”

Like all other British theatres, the SJT closed its doors suddenly when the first lockdown was announced last March, reopening in August with rigorous safety procedures in place.

After the second closure was imposed in November, the SJT was able to re-open in time to present its Christmas show, Nick Lane’s The Snow Queen, starring Polly Lister throughout December, but the doors have since remained shut throughout 2021.

Whet the lips for The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, set to be staged in the Round at 7.30pm from May 18 to 22, plus 1.30pm on May 20 and 2.30pm on May 22.  

After the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe premiere at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, the play transferred to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Studio in September 2018 and later to London’s West End.

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, Raz Shaw’s production has been adapted especially for the Covid-safe tour in light of these pandemic times and performances will be housed in the larger spaces of each theatre. 

Kershaw’s play heads out on a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Hesmondhalgh narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating the audience through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love. 

“A man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped,” explains Kershaw, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless. “Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him.”

“A beautiful play that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy,” says Julie Hesmondhalgh of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

Recalling the play’s roots, Hesmondhalgh says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that my husband, the writer Ian Kershaw, should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, Ian kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing. 

“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one – literally! – about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark on the world – and maybe beyond – that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy.

“It was the best present I ever got. In these dark and confusing times, it offers a bit of love and light as we enter 2021 with fresh hope.”

Dates for the rearranged tour will be announced for York Theatre Royal and Hull Truck Theatre too.

Chief executive Tom Bird had pencilled in announcing the Theatre Royal’s reopening plans today or tomorrow, but the launch of The Love Season is on hold until further notice. The Theatre Royal will be applying for a grant from the £300 million third tranche of Culture Recovery Fund funding announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

Tickets for The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…at the SJT cost £10 upwards on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Socially distanced arrangement at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from May 17:

FOR the first show, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, regulations will be as they were in the autumn and for the Christmas show: the two-metre rule will apply and the nature of the show means the audience will be on three sides, with a capacity of 80.

The SJT is working on the way ahead, when Government regulations will allow audiences of up to 50 per cent of capacity: 202 in the full Round. “We will certainly be continuing to operate with social distancing for the foreseeable future,” says press officer Jeannie Swales.

Love’s labours lost for St Valentine’s Day at York Theatre Royal but love is still in the air

Love lost: The Love Season is on hold at York Theatre Royal

TODAY should have been a Happy St Valentine’s Day for York Theatre Royal, but Lockdown 3 postponed the love-match re-opening until further notice.

The Love Season launch was given the kiss-off by the third wave of Covid killjoy strictures that began on January 5, putting a red line through this evening’s York In Love special event and the February 16 to 20 run of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, starring Coronation Street soap alumnus Julie Hesmondhalgh.

When first announced, the season was to have run until April 21, presenting a series of plays from around the world. Socially distanced love will still out in the end, however, although no rearranged dates have yet been put in place for a season that would have a Covid-secure main-house capacity reduced from 750 to 345.

Indeed, the next show with a confirmed booking on the Theatre Royal website is for cookery writer Yotam Ottolenghi’s A Life In Flavour talk, presented by Penguin Live on April 14.

Amid the wait-and-see scenario until the Government’s February 22 update on Coronavirus containment measures, chief executive Tom Bird says: “We are committed to spreading the love and sharing the joy of live theatre with The Love Season as soon as we are able to do so safely. We’ll be announcing our revised plans and reopening date as soon as possible.

Julie Hesmondhalgh: Starring in the one-woman show The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

“The Love Season is designed to remind us that human connection – love, sympathy, kindness, mutual understanding, warmth, equality – is what makes us the wonderful human beings we are. In 2021 we want to celebrate humanity, our own community and a sense of togetherness.  

“We want to do that with words, music, dancing, film and even food! It’s going to be fun and we can’t wait.”

Aside from two previews of York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime on a pop-up stage on December 2 and 3, the Theatre Royal auditorium has remained dark since the March 2020 shutdown.

A revised itinerary for the debut tour of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World has been announced, with only York Theatre Royal yet to rubber-stamp its dates.

After the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe premiere at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, the play transferred to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Studio in September 2018 and to London’s West End in December 2019. Now, the show has been adapted especially for the tour in light of these pandemic times and performances will be housed in the larger spaces of each theatre. 

York Theatre Royal’s promotional artwork in situ for the Love Season

Winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018, Raz Shaw’s production will be on the road from May 7 to July 3, pencilling in the York run for the first week in June, after the scrapping of the original January 29 to March 3 tour.

The tour will open at Hull Truck Theatre from May 7 to 15 (7.30pm and 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday), followed by a second Yorkshire outing at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 18 to 22 (7.30pm, 1.30pm, Thursday and 2.30pm, Saturday).

Written by Julie’s husband, the Bruntwood Award-winning Ian Kershaw, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World heads out on a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road. Julie narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, as she navigates the audience through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love. 

“A man wakes in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped,” explains Ian, who has written for Coronation Street, Cold Feet and Shameless. “Through the crack in his bedroom curtains, he can see no signs of life at all, other than a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt stands, looking back at him.”

“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one,” says Julie Hesmondhalgh, introducing The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

Recalling the play’s roots, Julie says: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that my husband, the writer Ian Kershaw, should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).

“A couple of Christmases ago, Ian kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing. 

“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one – literally! – about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark on the world – and maybe beyond – that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy.

“It was the best present I ever got. In these dark and confusing times, it offers a bit of love and light as we enter 2021 with fresh hope.”

Tickets for Hull Truck Theatre are on sale at hulltruck.co.uk; Scarborough, sjt.uk.com.

Hull Truck Theatre launches online learning programme for home schooling in February

Until such a gathering can happen again, here comes the Hull Truck @ Home School online learning programme

HULL Truck Theatre has designed a city-wide learning programme to be launched on Tuesday (2/2/2021), in response to schools not reopening until March 8 at the earliest.

Recognising the mounting pressure on parents, carers and teachers to keep students engaged through home schooling, Hull Truck @ Home School will run throughout February, providing work for 20 freelance writers, composers and actors.

Introducing young audiences to drama and theatre-making with a glimpse “behind the scenes” of the creative industry, the specialist programmes will engage primary and secondary school learners, helping to harness both literacy and drama skills.

Key Stage 1 and 2 students – aged five to 11 – will have access to a twice-weekly “drop” of video content and downloadable printable learning resources, every Tuesday and Thursday, that can be accessed via a dedicated area on the Hull Truck website. 

The Create & Play primary learning programme of eight ten-minute online drama lessons has been written specially for each Key Stage audience. Available on-demand, the lessons can be accessed at any time after the publication date and incorporated into weekly lesson plans.

Key Stage 1 resources will include content, exercises and activities centred around famous children’s stories, such as The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Key Stage 2 will cover subjects ranging from storytelling to stand-up and poetry, and among those delivering the sessions will be Nicola Stephenson (Mrs Hubble, from the BBC’s The Worst Witch) and Hull Truck regular Amy Thompson (from Channel 5’s Milkshake!). 

Hull Truck also will be working with Hull secondary school pupils and teachers to produce an original soap opera, Consequences, set in Hull during lockdown.

Writers, actors and a Hull Truck director will work with students to generate ideas, write scripts and guide direction, culminating in the production of a 25-minute weekly episode to be aired on Hull Truck’s YouTube channel every Friday at 5pm.

The project will comprise of 12 sessions, with two-hour classes taking place every day from Monday to Thursday. Classes will consist of drama exercises, dramatic writing, coaching and directing actors. 

Janthi Mills-Ward, Hull Truck’s executive director, says:“We understand and empathise with the challenges facing teachers, parents and the city’s young people, which is why as a key cultural contributor within the local community we felt passionate about stepping up to offer our support, creating something relevant, creative and engaging.

“The grant we received from Arts Council England as part of the Cultural Recovery Fund in October 2020 has been instrumental in ensuring we can deliver a project of this nature, vitally keeping our local communities connected.”

Janthi adds: “Although we’re currently unable to reopen our doors to welcome audiences back to see work on-stage, we have been able to repurpose our creativity through designing a city-wide learning programme that will benefit Hull’s young people and teachers.

“The content builds on key skills such as literacy, with an injection of theatre and drama. We’re also proud that this project has enabled us to support the creative industry, as we’ve employed 20 freelancers to support the delivery of the project, including writers, composers and actors.

“Our Youth Theatre provision continues to be delivered weekly via the powers of Zoom. We have made these sessions free for participants for the rest of the term, using the donations kindly gifted by audiences who enjoyed Prince Charming’s Christmas Cracker. This creative platform offers young people a much-needed outlet for escapism and some fun with their peers.”

Among the Hull secondary schools that have signed up to take part in the soap opera project are Boulevard Academy, Sirius North Academy, Ron Dearing UTC and Archbishop Sentamu Academy. 

Annie Cooper, head of English at Boulevard Academy, says: “As a school, we are always looking for amazing opportunities for our students and so we jumped at the chance to be involved.

“Such an exciting project would always be a welcome addition to our English and creative arts curriculum, but it is especially important at the moment, when there are so few opportunities for students to be involved in creative activities in the wider world.

“This is a great chance for our students to experience the wonderful world of theatre and develop their writing and creative talents alongside professionals; I know they are going to find it immensely rewarding.”

If you are educating from home and want to use the Create & Play learning resources but have limited access to a computer or printing facilities, please contact Hull Truck Theatre via engagement@hulltruck.co.uk to arrange for printed copies to be sent directly to your home address.

For more information on Hull Truck @ Home School, go to hulltruck.co.uk/home-school