More Things To Do in Ryedale, York and beyond when comedy bites. Here’s Hutch’s List No 3, from Gazette and Herald

Deaf comedian Steve Day: Playing on the Hilarity Bites bill at Milton Rooms, Malton

A DEAF comedian and history-charting musicians, a classic thriller and a feminist fairytale, a community choir festival and a prog-rock legend make Charles Hutchinson’s list of upcoming cultural highlights.

Ryedale comedy gig of the week: Hilarity Bites Comedy Club, Steve Day, Ashley Frieze and Carl Jones, Milton Rooms, Malton, Friday (23/02/2024), 8pm

THE first Hilarity Bites bill of 2024 will be headlined by Steve Day, who describes himself as “Britain’s only deaf comedian and if there are any others he hasn’t heard them”! Actually, a couple of others have started since he wrote that joke, but it is only a joke after all.

On the bill too are guitar-toting funny man Ashley Frieze, with his charming, daft and warm brand of music-infused stand-up, and Midlands storytelling comedian Carl Jones, a football fanatic who interviews comedy cohorts for his ​Premier League nostalgia podcast When Football Began Again. Box office: 01653 696240 or themiltonrooms.com.

Chris Green and Sophie Matthews: 600 years of music crammed into 90 minutes at Pocklington Arts Centre

Musical tour of the week: Green Matthews: A Brief History Of Music, Pocklington Arts Centre, Friday, 8pm

STRING player Chris Green and woodwind player Sophie Matthews take in 600 years of musical history in 90 minutes, spanning the Middle Ages to the 20th century in a whistle-stop tour of Western music.

Featuring long-forgotten songs, tunes and jokes too, Green and Matthews paint a vibrant and vivid picture of our musical DNA, mixing the familiar and the obscure, the raucous and the reflective and the courtly and the commonplace. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Skylights: Lighting up York Barbican in November

Gig announcement of the week: Skylights, York Barbican, November 2

YORK band Skylights will play their biggest home-city show yet this autumn, with tickets going on sale on Friday at 10am at ticketmaster.co.uk in a week when latest release Time To Let Things Go has risen to number two in the Official Vinyl Singles Chart.

Guitarist Turnbull Smith says: ‘We’re absolutely over the moon to be headlining the biggest venue in our home city of York, the Barbican. It’s always been a dream of ours to play here, so to headline will be the perfect way to finish what’s going to be a great year. Thanks to everyone for the support. It means the world and we’ll see you all there.”

Rick Wakeman: Return Of The Caped Crusader at York Barbican

Catch him while you can: Rick Wakeman, Return Of The Caped Crusader, York Barbican, Saturday, 7.30pm

PROG-ROCK icon and Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, 76, is to call time on his one-man shows to concentrate on composing, recording and collaborating, but not before playing York. “I always planned to stop touring by my 77th birthday,” he says. “For those of you who wish to send me a card, it’s 18th May!”

Saturday’s show opens with Wakeman’s new arrangements of Yes material for band and vocalists, followed after the interval by his epic work Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Box office for returns only: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Jessa Liversidge: Directing Easingwold Community Singers’ performance at the York Community Choir Festival

Choirs galore: York Community Choir Festival 2024, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 25, 6pm; February 26 to March 1, 7.30pm; March 2, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

THE 8th York Community Choir Festival spreads 31 choirs across eight concerts over six days at the JoRo. On the opening evening, Easingwold Community Singers will be premiering director Jessa Liversidge’s arrangement of The Secret Of Happiness  from the American musical Daddy Long Legs, with permission of composer and lyricist Paul Gordon.

Choirs range from York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir to The Rolling Tones, Sounds Fun Singers to York Military Wives Choir, Selby Youth Choir to Track 29 Ladies Close Harmony Chorus. Six choirs from Huntington School perform next Friday, taking up all the first-half programme. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Todd Boyce, left, and Neil McDermott in Sleuth, on tour at Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

Thriller of the week: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday

TODD Boyce, best known for playing Coronation Street’s notorious baddie Stephen Reid, will be joined by EastEnders soap star Neil McDermott in Anthony Shaffer’s dark psychological thriller about thrillers, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh.

What happens? A young man arrives at the impressive home of a famous mystery writer, only to be unwittingly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and gamesmanship, where nothing is quite as it seems. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Emma Rice: Writer-director of Wise Children’s Blue Beard, playing York Theatre Royal from next Tuesday

Play of the week: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Blue Beard, York Theatre Royal, February 27 to March 9, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

BLUE Beard meets his match when his young bride discovers his dark and murderous secret. She summons all her rage, all her smarts and all her sisters to bring the curtain down on his tyrannous reign as writer-director Emma Rice brings her own brand of theatrical wonder to this beguiling, disturbing tale.

Applying Rice’s signature sleight of hand, Blue Beard explores curiosity and consent, violence and vengeance, all through an intoxicating lens of music, wit and tender truth. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Rob Auton: Star of The Rob Auton Show, full of firsts, from memories to girlfriends to jobs

Comedy gig(s) of the week: Rob Auton, The Rob Auton Show, Burning Duck Comedy Club, The Crescent, York, February 28, 7.30pm; Mortimer Suite, Hull City Hall, February 29, 7.30pm; The Wardrobe, Leeds, March 1, 7.30pm

ROB Auton, Pocklington-raised stand-up comedian, writer, podcaster, actor, illustrator and former Glastonbury festival poet-in-residence, returns north from London with his self-titled tenth themed solo show.

After the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleep, hair, talking, time and crowds, Auton turns the spotlight on himself, exploring the memories and feelings that create his life on a daily basis. Box office: York, thecrescentyork.seetickets.com; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk; Leeds, brudenellsocialclub.seetickets.com.

More Things To Do in York & beyond, when skies are dark or lights are bright. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 6 for 2024, from The Press

Neil Vincent, left, Clare Halliday, Chris Pomfrett, Victoria Delaney and Mick Liversidge in rehearsal for York Actors Collective’s Beyond Caring

A GLUT of York theatre companies, a nocturnal sky festival, a Yorkshire musical and a colourful installation light up the dark nights of February for culture guide Charles Hutchinson.

Social drama of the week: York Actors Collective in Beyond Caring, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday to Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 5.30pm

DEVISED by Alexander Zeldin and the original Yard Theatre cast in London, this 90-minute play highlighting the social damage inflicted by zero-hours contracts forms York Actors Collective’s second production, directed by founder Angie Millard.

Performed by Victoria Delaney, Clare Halliday, Mick Liversidge, Chris Pomfrett and Neil Vincent, Beyond Caring follows meat-packing factory cleaners Becky, Grace and Sam on the night shift as they confront the reality of low wage employment, never sure whether their ‘job’ will continue. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Robert Rice: Recital at Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate tonight


Late Music at the double: Steve Bingham, violin and electronics, 1pm today; Robert Rice, baritone, and William Vann, piano, 7.30pm tonight, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York

PET Shop Boys’ It’s A Sin chills with Bach’s Allemande in D minor, while a tango from Piazzolla is thrown in for good measure, as Steve Bingham explores four centuries of solo violin music this afternoon. World premieres of David Power’s Miniatures, Wayne Siegel’s Salamander (violin and electronics) and Rowan Alfred’s Cuckoo Phase will be performed too.

York composer David Power has curated Robert Rice and William Vann’s evening recital, featuring the first complete performance of Power’s Three Char Songs (1985 and 2016). Works by Gerald Finzi, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Herbert Howells, Robert Walker, William Rhys Meek, Charlotte Marlow, Liz Dilnot Johnson, David Lancaster, Hannah Garton, Ruth Lee, Hayley Jenkins and Phillip Cooke. Power gives a pre-concert talk at 6.45pm with a complimentary glass of wine or juice. Tickets: latemusic.org or on the door.

Jonny Holbek as Sebastian in York Light Opera Company’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Nautical adventure of the week: York Light Opera Company in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, York Theatre Royal, February 7 to 17, except February 12

BASED on the classic 1989 Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid tells the enchanting story of Ariel, a mermaid who dreams of trading her tail for legs and exploring the human world. Aided by her mischievous sidekick, Flounder, and the cunning Ursula, Ariel strikes a bargain that will change her life forever.

Martyn Knight’s production for York Light features stunning projection, dazzling costumes, unforgettable musical numbers, such as Under The Sea and Kiss The Girl, and choreography by Rachael Whitehead. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

The poster for Colour & Light, soon to illuminate the facade of York Art Gallery

Installation launch of the week: Colour & Light, York Art Gallery, February 7 to 25

YORK BID is linking up with York Museums Trust for the return of Colour & Light: an innovative project that will transform the facade of York Art Gallery to counter the cold winter with a vibrant light installation.

This “high impact and large-scale visual arts project” uses 3D projection mapping to bring York’s iconic buildings to life, first York Minster last year, now York Art Gallery, where the projection will play every ten minutes from 6pm to 9pm daily in a non-ticketed free event.

Watching the detective: Steven Jobson’s Lieutenant Frank Cioffi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Curtains. Picture: Jennifer Jones

It’s Curtains for…Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

WHEN the leading lady of a new musical mysteriously dies on stage, a plucky local detective must solve this 1959 case at Boston’s Colonial Theatre, where the entire cast and crew are suspects in Kander & Ebb’s musical with a book by Rupert Holmes.

Cue delightful characters, a witty and charming script and glorious tunes in the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s staging of Curtains. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Sunflower power: The Calendar Girls cast on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday to Saturday

Touring musical of the week: Calendar Girls The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees

YOU know the story, the one where a husband’s death to leukaemia prompts a group of ordinary women in a small Yorkshire Women’s Institute to do an extraordinary thing, whereupon they set about creating a nude calendar to raise money for charity.

Premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2015, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical is now touring with a cast of music, stage and television stars. Baring all will be Laurie Brett as Annie; Liz Carney as Marie; Helen Pearson as Celia; Samantha Seager as Chris; Maureen Nolan as Ruth; Lyn Paul as Jessie and Honeysuckle Weeks as Cora. Once more the tour supports Blood Cancer UK. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

 Nicola Holliday (as Jean Tanner) and James Lee (as Charles Stratton) in rehearsal for Settlement Players’ Separate Tables. Picture: John Saunders

English manners of the week: York Settlement Community Players in Separate Tables, York Theatre Royal Studio, February 8 to 17, 7.45pm except Sunday and Monday, plus 2pm Saturday matinees

AFTER directing four Russian plays by Chekhov, Helen Wilson turns her attention to Separate Tables, two very English Terence Rattigan tales of love and loss, set in a shabby Bournemouth hotel in the 1950s.

Guests, both permanent and transient, sit on separate tables, a formality that underlines the loneliness of these characters in a play about class, secrets and repressed emotions. Chris Meadley, Paul French, Molly Kay, Jess Murray, Marie-Louise Feeley, Caroline Greenwood and Linda Fletcher are among the Settlement cast. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Festival of the month: North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales Dark Skies Festival, February 9 to 25

TEAMING up for the ninth time since 2016, the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park authorities celebrate the jewels of God’s Own Country’s night sky this month.

Discover nocturnal activities to heighten the senses such as the Dark Skies Experience (February 9 to 25) night navigation (February 16); trail run and yoga (February 17, sold out); canoeing; planet trail and constellation trail at Aysgarth Falls (February 9 to 25); astrophotography workshops at Castle Howard (February 22), stargazing safaris, children’s daytime trails, art workshops and mindful experiences. More details: darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk; yorkshiredales.org.uk/things-to-do/whats-on/shows/dark-skies-festival/.

Richard Ashcroft: Heading to the woods for Forest Live at Dalby Forest in June. Picture: Dean Chalkley

Outdoor gig announcement of the week: Richard Ashcroft, Forest Live, Dalby Forest, near Pickering, June 23

FORESTRY England completes its Forest Live return to Dalby Forest for the first time since 2019 with Richard Ashcroft, the two-time Ivor Novello Award-winning Wigan singer, songwriter and frontman of The Verve.

Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and disco icons Nile Rodgers & CHIC were confirmed already for June 21 and 22 respectively. New addition Ashcroft’s set list will draw on his five solo albums, along with The Verve’s anthems Bittersweet Symphony, The Drugs Don’t Work, Lucky Man and Sonnet. Leeds band Apollo Junction will be supporting. Box office: forestlive.com.

In Focus: York Ice Trail, City of Dreams, York city centre, today and tomorrow, from 10am

York Ice Trail: City of Dreams this weekend

THE theme for York Ice Trail 2024 transforms York into the City of Dreams, inviting visitors to dream big.

The last York Ice Trail, in February 2023, drew 40,000 visitors to York to view 36 sculptures. Organised by Make It York, the 2024 event again sees the “coolest” sculptures line the streets of York, each conceived and sponsored by businesses and designed and created by ice specialist Icebox.

Sarah Loftus, Make It York managing director, says: “York Ice Trail is one of the most-loved events in the city for residents and visitors alike, and we’re excited to be bringing it back for another year in 2024. 

“It’s a huge celebration of our city and businesses, and the concept will inspire everyone’s inner child, encouraging people to let their imagination run wild.” 

Icebox managing director Greg Pittard says: “Returning to York for the 2024 Ice Trail is a true honour for us. The York Ice Trail holds a special place in our hearts, and we are thrilled to bring this year’s theme to life.

“Our talented team of ice carvers pour their passion into crafting magnificent ice sculptures that will transport visitors to a world of wonder and delight.”

The 2024 ice sculptures:

Our City Of Dreams, provided by Make It York, Parliament Street.

A Field Of Dreams, Murton Park, Parliament Street.

A Journey In ice, Grand Central, Parliament Street.

City Of Trees, Dalby Forest, Parliament Street.

Chasing Rainbows, in celebration of York band Shed Seven topping the UK official album chart in January, York Mix Radio, Parliament Street.

I’m Late, I’m Late! For A Very Important Date!, Ate O’Clock, High Ousegate.

Sewing Like A Dream, Gillies Fabrics, Peter Lane.

Mythical Beasts: The Yeti, York BID, Walmgate.

Hop On Your Bike, Spark:York, Piccadilly (Spark:York will be open from 12 noon).

Belle Of The Ball, York Castle Museum, Eye of York.

Brolly Walks, The Coppergate Centre.

Supporting Our Armed Forces, Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors, Clifford Street.

Mythical Beasts: The Kraken, York BID, Micklegate (moved from King’s Staith on account of high river levels).

The Slithering Serpent, The Potions Cauldron, Middletons, Skeldergate.

Oompa Loompas, York’s Chocolate Story, Middletons, Skeldergate.

Wonkavision, City Cruises, Middletons, Skeldergate.

The Golden Ticket, filled with Terry’s Chocolate Oranges, Middletons, at Middletons, Skeldergate.

Mythical Beasts: The Phoenix, York BID, Micklegate.

Throne Of Dreams, Storage King, Station Road.

York Principal, The Principal York, Principal Gardens.

A Hat Full Of Dreams, The Grand, York, Station Rise.

Judges And Dragons, The Judge’s Lodging, Lendal.

Your Key To The National Park, North York Moors National Park, Exhibition Square.

Mythical Beasts: The Unicorn, York BID, Gillygate.

Mythical Beasts, The Hydra, York BID, Goodramgate.

The Big Bad Wolf, York Minster, Minster Piazza.

Train Of Dreams, National Railway Museum, High Petergate.

Bradley’s Jewellers’ Christmas Robin Egg, Bradley’s Jewellers, Low Petergate.

Floating Dreams, Lucia Bar, Grape Lane.

Fly Into York With P&R, York Park & Ride, St Helen’s Square.

RMS Queen Mary, Betts, Davygate.

Dreaming Of Cut And Craft, Cut And Craft, St Sampson’s Square.

Live Carving, Make It York, St Sampson’s Square.

Alex Schofield directs Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company for the first time in Kander & Ebb’s musical whodunit Curtains

Alex Schofield directing a rehearsal for Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Curtains. Picture: Mike Darley

IT’S curtain up for Curtains, the Kander & Ebb musical comedy whodunnit to be staged by the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in York from February 7 to 10.

After playing grouchy feed-store proprietor Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly! last year and assistant-directing The Producers in 2018, Kiss Me Kate in 2019, Made In Dagenham in 2020 and Kipps (The Half A Sixpence Musical) in 2022, Alex Schofield steps up to direct a JRTC show for the first time.

“By the time I did Hello, Dolly!,I’d already pitched to direct Curtains, after we secured the rights in spring 2022,” says Alex, who works in human resources at York Minster. “Initially, we’d looked at doing it last September but that couldn’t happen, and it’s one of those situations where it still won’t feel real until the opening night as I’ve been planning it for so long.

“I became aware of the show just before the pandemic when Jason Manford was leading the touring company in 2019 and then transferred into the West End. It came more into my provenance when it was one of those productions that could be streamed during lockdown with donations to arts funding, and that’s when I first saw it.”

Whodunit? All the cast members are suspects in Kander & Ebb’s musical Curtains. Picture: Jennifer Jones

This 2007 American musical, with glorious songs by Kander & Ebb and a witty and charming book by Rupert Holmes, is set in 1959 at Boston’s Colonial Theatre, where the entire cast and crew are suspects in a plucky local detective’s investigation into why the leading lady of a new musical mysteriously dropped dead on stage.

“It’s a really funny show, sending up murder mysteries and theatre groups, so that’s all three of my boxes ticked: I love comedy, I love musical theatre and I love whodunits!” says Alex, who first directed a show, The Pirates Of Penzance, for the now-defunct Jorvik Gilbert & Sullivan Company seven years ago.

“I think people should be attracted to Curtains by Kander & Ebb’s involvement. It’ll have the appeal of a classic musical; it’s very fast paced and very funny, but it has loads of tension as well, with all these characters who have different motives for murder.”

Steven Jobson as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Curtains. Picture: Jennifer Jones

Scripted by Rupert Holmes, who was brought in after Peter Stone, the writer of the original concept and book, died in 2003, Curtains features a play within a play. A Western, cowboy accents and all, by the name of Robbin’ Hood.

“You think, ‘how extreme can I make it from real life?’, with the auditions needing to see if people could do both a generic American accent and Southwestern [American frontier] accent so that the audience can distinguish between characters in the play and characters in the play within the play,” says Alex.

Comedy is a key element in Curtains. “It doesn’t take itself seriously and in some ways it speaks more to the English sense of humour, in how it sends itself up, but what separates it from English humour is that what they say is much more direct, whereas in England, it’s all about what’s not being said!” says Alex.

Curtain call for a “show about theatre”

“Mind you, the director of the play within the play [Christopher Belling] is English and he’s very flamboyant, never holding back with his criticisms. I don’t think that if I took his approach there would be many people left in the company! I take a more compromising position.

“The director will be played by Ben Huntley, who’s been in our shows since Kiss Me Kate in smaller roles, so to give him this opportunity and see him shine in this principal role has been fantastic.”

Set up to raise funds for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, JRTC has raised £23,000 from its productions so far, and once more proceeds will go the Haxby Road community theatre. “One of the advantages of this show, especially when we’re fundraising for the Rowntree Theatre, is that it’s a show about theatre, so we’ve made the theatre itself the set, with pretty minimal staging required for the play within the play,” says Alex.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Curtains, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 7 to 10, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in rehearsal for Curtains. Picture: Mike Darley

Squash champ James Willstrop tackles ‘mad scientist’ role in Mel Brooks’s spoof horror musical Young Frankenstein in York

Following the science? James Willstrop as Dr Frederick Frankenstein, creator of the Creature in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Young Frankenstein. Picture: Jennifer Jones

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre’s delayed northern premiere of Mel Brooks’s comedy horror musical Young Frankenstein opens at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre next Wednesday.

Unforeseen circumstances had forced the late postponement of last autumn’s run at the Grand Opera House, but rehearsals re-started in York in early December under the direction of Andrew Isherwood.

All the original principal cast chosen by Pick Me Up artistic director and designer Robert Readman was still available, not least former squash world number one James Willstrop in the lead role of mad scientist Dr Frederick Frankenstein, first played by Gene Wilder in Brooks’s 1974 horror-movie spoof of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein.

“You hear of other shows where it’s happened, but it was a really sad feeling when we couldn’t do it as were just about to start our run,” recalls James.

“I was feeling pretty depressed afterwards, thinking ‘this show isn’t going to happen’ – and when people ask, ‘how are you feeling?’, it’s unusual to have to explain to anyone as it’s not ‘real life’, but you do feel really deflated.

Pick Me Up Theatre principals in Young Frankenstein: back row, from left, James Willstrop’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Helen Spencer’s Frau Blucher and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Elizabeth Benning; front row, Jack Hooper’s Igor and Sanna Jeppsson’s Inga. Picture: Jennifer Jones

“But then we got this text from Bells [production management assistant and actress Helen Spencer] asking, ‘Can you do these dates?’, as Robert said we could go ahead with a new run.”

Out went Pick Me Up’s planned production of Chicago at the JoRo, replaced by Young Frankenstein. Rehearsals have been a matter of “going again”. “We had the best part of a month off when the last thing I was thinking of doing was listening to the soundtrack!” says James.

“It’s been a case of getting into the scenes again, with the choreography kept largely the same. Andrew has been really great on the detail, which actors love, and that’s been good. He’s trusted our instincts and he’s been very alive to the comedy.”

James, who made his Pick Me Up debut as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music in December 2022, has enjoyed becoming acquainted with Brooks’s parody songs.

“Going into the audition, I didn’t know a lot about the show, but I love Pick Me  Up and working with Robert, and I loved the opening number, The Brain, which I decided to learn for the audition.

James Willstrop: Men’s doubles squash gold medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, his fifth Games

“A week out from the audition, I hadn’t been sure about the show, but by the time I did the audition, I was thinking, ‘this part is great, I’ve got to do it’!

“The first few times, listening to the soundtrack, it took me a while to get a feel for the songs, but then you realise they’re just great, simple songs. I love the tunes, they have a vaudeville quality, and the humour is always there.”

James, now 40, had first performed in “serious dramas” before branching out into musicals, and last year found him heading to the Cornish coast to play deluded mystery novel writer Charles Considine in Ilkley Playhouse’s production of Noel Coward’s supernatural comedy Blithe Spirit at the Minack Theatre.

“Doing that humorous role, and being tall [James is 6ft 4ins], with all the physicality that goes with that, just seemed to link perfectly to then playing Frederick Frankenstein,” he says.

. “It’s not subtle but it’s a great comedy genre,” says James Willstrop of Mel Brooks’s humour. Picture: Jennifer Jones

In Brooks’s spoof, the grandson of infamous scientist Victor Frankenstein, Dr Frederick Frankenstein, has inherited his family’s castle estate in Transylvania. Aided and hindered by hunchbacked sidekick Igor, Scandinavian lab assistant Inga, stern German Frau Blucher and needy fiancée Elizabeth, he strives to fulfil his grandfather’s legacy by bringing a corpse back to life.

Cue comedy in the bold Brooks style. “It’s lovely to be doing something silly, full of innuendos and jokes that some people might hate but are just daft,” says James. “It’s not subtle but it’s a great comedy genre,” 

James, whose father grew up in York, lives in Harrogate and now divides his time between coaching squash – and “still playing a bit” – at the Pontefract Squash and Leisure Club and performing on stage.

Coming next will be his role as recovering alcoholic Harry in Bingley Little Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company at Bingley Arts Centre, West Yorkshire, from July 1 to 6.

Pick Me Up Theatre in Young Frankenstein, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 31 to February 3 2024, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

Bev Jones Music Company branches out into classic rock with Steve Coates’s jukebox hits at Joseph Rowntree Theatre

The poster artwork for One Night Of Classic Rock at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

THE BJMC [Bev Jones Music Company] is going into partnership with the newly formed Steve Coates Music Productions. First up will be January 20’s performance of One Night Of Classic Rock at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.

“Steve is entering York’s amateur music scene with a sell-out show,” says delighted BJMC producer Lesley Jones. “The show has a waiting list for return tickets, such is its popularity. I think Steve simply came up with a brand new idea and it’s worked!”

Lesley first met Steve six years ago. “He’s not a music theatre fan, but after going to a show he said, ‘why can’t I do a rock show from my jukebox?’. After a few drinks he says I convinced him he could and the rest is history,” she says. “The next show is in the diary already and Steve is now contacting other venues in other towns.” 

Billed as a “one-of-a-kind production designed for true rock fans, featuring a passionate cast of singers and six-piece band, all paying tribute to their favourite rock heroes”, the 7.30pm show combines “an impressive sound and light show with thunderous anthems from everyone’s favourite rock bands”.

“Get ready to have your mind blown with the familiar classic riffs everyone remembers,” says Lesley. “The sound will be phenomenal with perfect harmonies, solid rock accompaniment and fabulous vocals.

For those about to rock: BJMC cast members in rehearsal

“All the songs are taken from Steve’s own jukebox – a real original – that includes AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Meat Loaf, Tina Turner, Status Quo, Queen, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, plus many more.”

The One Night Of Classic Rock band will be led by Mickey Moran, joined by fellow guitarists Eddie Oktay Stock and Liam Stevenson, keyboard player James Rodgers, saxophonist Sam Lightwing and drummer Jez Smith.

Moran will be among the lead vocalists too, alongside York Opera singer and dietician Annabel Van Griethuysen, Clare Meadley, Jack Storey-Hunter and Chris Hagyard, restored to full health after illness forced the last-minute cancellation of the BJMC’s Guy And Dolls last October.

The sixth principal vocalist will be former York Light Opera Company leading lady Ruth McNeil, who is a “massive rock performer” in her home city of Nottingham.

The backing singers will be Adele Barlow, Alison Laver, Linsey Dawn, Rosie King, James Noble and Sam Lightwing, when not on his saxophone. 

Annabel Van Griethuysen: Switching from opera to classic rock

Looking ahead, the BJMC’s partnership with Steve Coates will lead to performance programmes spanning a variety of music genres, from West End musicals to opera, jazz to cabaret, as well as this month’s newcomer: rock.

“Steve has also offered to produce our Les Miserables Youth Edition next January, which I’m looking forward to staging as a one-off youth production, open to all young singers in the North Yorkshire area, with no financial commitments required,” says Lesley.

The next BJMC classic rock night is booked for January 11 2025 at 7.30pm at the JoRo. “As this month’s show is holding a waiting list for any return tickets, maybe next January we’ll do a matinee as well or two nights,” says Lesley.

“Steve says that with the level of interest we’ve had, we must definitely consider extra dates. It’s a shame to have a list of disappointed potential audience members. However, he hopes to stage another show mid-year in another venue elsewhere in Yorkshire.” Watch this space.

As for January 20, ticketholders should “dig out those leathers and boots, grab a glass of beer or wine, and let’s rock the aisles,” says Lesley.

Pick Me Up Theatre to stage revived Young Frankenstein, now on the move to Joseph Rowntree Theatre after November call-off

Pick Me Up Theatre principals in Young Frankenstein: back row, from left, James Willstrop’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Helen Spencer’s Frau Blucher and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Elizabeth Benning; front row, Jack Hooper’s Igor and Sanna Jeppsson’s Inga. All pictures: Jennifer Jones

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre will stage the northern premiere of Mel Brooks’s musical Young Frankenstein  in the New Year after the late postponement of last autumn’s run at the Grand Opera House.

Andrew Isherwood has picked up the directorial reins for this stage conversion of Brooks’s comedy horror movie, produced in York by artistic director and designer Robert Readman.

Rehearsals re-started in early December for the January 31 to February 3 run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, with the original principal cast still in place and Helen Spencer assisting with production management.

“This show is by the creators of the record-breaking Broadway sensation The Producers,” says Robert. “The comedy genius Mel Brooks has adapted his legendary comedy film from 1974 into a brilliant stage show of Young Frankenstein. I saw the West End production and loved it.

Following the science: James Willstrop’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

“Every bit as relevant to audience members who will remember the original as it will be to newcomers, the musical has all the of panache of the screen sensation with a little extra theatrical flair added. Young Frankenstein is scientifically proven, monstrously good entertainment.”

In Brooks’s spoof, the grandson of infamous scientist Victor Frankenstein, Dr Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”, he insists), has inherited his family’s castle estate in Transylvania.

Aided and hindered by hunchbacked sidekick Igor (pronounced “Eye-gore”), leggy lab assistant Inga (pronounced normally), devilishly sexy Frau Blucher (“Neigh”!) and needy fiancée Elizabeth (“Surprise”!), Frederick finds himself filling the mad scientist shoes of his ancestor.

After initial reluctance, his mission will be to strive to fulfil his grandfather’s legacy by bringing a corpse back to life. “It’s alive!”, he exclaims as his experiment yields a creature to rival his grandfather’s monster. Eventually, and inevitably, this new monster escapes.

Working in tandem with Thomas Meehan, Brooks gleefully reanimates his horror-movie send-up of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, with even more jokes, set-pieces and barnstorming parody songs that stick a pitchfork into good taste. Among those songs will be Puttin’ On The Ritz, Please Don’t Touch Me, He Vas My Boyfriend, The Transylvania Mania and There Is Nothing Like A Brain!, among many more Transylvanian smash hits.

Helen Spencer’s Frau Blucher and Jack Hooper’s Igor

Leading Pick Me Up’s cast will be former world squash champion James Willstrop, continuing his transfer from court to stage player as Dr Frankenstein after his Captain Von Trapp in Pick Me Up’s The Sound Of Music at Theatre@41, Monkgate, last Christmas.

Starring opposite him again will be Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson (Maria in The Sound Of Music), here cast as Inga, while Jack Hooper, Mr Poppy in York Stage’s Nativity! The Musical in November 2022, will be Dr Frankenstein’s puppy dog of an assistant, Igor, “the classic Hammer Horror sidekick with a hump that keeps moving around”.

Helen Spencer (Mother Abbess in The Sound Of Music and Dolly Levi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly!) will play Frau Blucher, “the very stern housekeeper with surprising hidden depths”; Jennie Wogan-Wells, the Narrator in York Musical Theatre Company’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last May, will be ingenue Elizabeth Benning, Frankenstein’s fiancée from America. “Think Legally Blonde,” says Helen. “Very conscious of her image; very high maintenance, throwing a spanner in the works when she turns up.”

Craig Kirby (Tom Oakley in Pick Me Up’s Goodnight Mr Tom) will be in Monster mode and further roles will go to Tom Riddolls as Sgt Kemp, Sam Steel as Bertram Bartam and Andrew Isherwood, fresh from directing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for Pick Me Up last September, can be spotted as The Hermit as well as directing.

Rivals for Dr Frankenstein’s affections: Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Elizabeth Benning, left, and Sanna Jeppsson’s Inga

A supporting ensemble will play Transylvanians, students and more besides. Choreography is by Ilana Weets and the orchestra will be led by musical maestro Sam Johnson.

Readman had to call off Pick Me Up’s Halloween double bill of Emma Reeves and Lucy Potter’s The Worst Witch and Young Frankenstein at the Grand Opera House due to unforeseen circumstances. It has not been possible to re-mount Rosy Rowley’s production of The Worst Witch, featuring a young cast, but Young Frankenstein will take over the JoRo slot allocated originally to Pick Me Up’s now jettisoned production of Chicago, whose principal casting was in place, but whose rehearsals were yet to start.

Helen Spencer is relishing the resumption of rehearsals for Young Frankenstein. “Ilana had already put us through a huge amount of tap-dancing work:  a very delayed return to tap in my case, having not done it since school, and she’s been very patient,” she says. “We’re having such fun again.

“Young Frankenstein is very silly with some brilliant numbers and really vibrant comedy, and we’re very lucky to have such amazing actors. Robert says it’s the best principal cast he could have wished for, such a safe pair of hands and so skilled that it would have been such a shame not to have done it. Thankfully we’re going ahead in January.”

Pick Me Up Theatre in Young Frankenstein, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 31 to February 3 2024, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

NEWSFLASHES…Curtains…The Hollywood Sisters…Joseph Rowntree Theatre Musical Theatre Awards…Musicals In The Multiverse…

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company cast members for Curtains poke their heads out from beneath the JoRo curtain, which will fom part of the musical mystery whodunit’s set in February, along with the auditorium at large

JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s next show will be Curtains, the 2007 Broadway musical mystery comedy with a book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander and additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes.

What’s the plot? Boston’s Colonial Theatre is host to the opening night performance of a new musical in 1959. When the leading lady – a fading Hollywood star and diva, who has no right to be one – dies mysteriously on stage, the entire cast and crew are suspects.

Enter a local detective – and musical theatre fan to boot – who tries to save the show, solve the case, and maybe even find love before the show reopens, all without being killed.

Delightful characters, a witty and charming script and glorious tunes await you from February 7 to 10 at 7.30pm nightly plus a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. In the cast will be Steven Jobson, Jennifer Jones, Jennie Wogan-Wells, Rosy Rowley, Jonathan Wells, Paul Blenkiron, Ben Huntley, Jennifer Payne, Anthony Gardner, Chris Gibson and Jamie Benson, among others.

Proceeds from ticket sales on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk will go to the JoRo.

The Hollywood Sisters: from left, Helen Spencer, Henrietta Linnemann, Rachel Higgs and Cat Foster

AFTER raising £1,000 for York Mind at their sold-out December 1 concert at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York close-harmony quartet The Hollywood Sisters – Helen Spencer, Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs and Henrietta Linnemann – will return there for another charity Christmas show with special guests next December. Watch this space for further details.

THE inaugural Joseph Rowntree Theatre Musical Theatre Awards will be launched formally in January. Watch this space.

Set up by the JoRo, the awards will run annually. “We’ve put out requests to all the companies that do full-book musicals in York, not specifically at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre,” says York actress, singer and director Helen Spencer, who is helping to run the awards with co-founder Nick Sephton. “At least seven companies have said they want to be involved.

“The way it works, each company nominates a judge; the judges will get together at the end of the year to decide who the winners are, with such categories as Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Choreographer, and then the awards ceremony will be held at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Oscars style, in January.”

Explaining the concept behind the awards, Helen says: “The idea is to celebrate the amazing musical theatre scene we have in York and the amazing community we have that puts on these shows. This is a chance to celebrate all that creativity in our city.”

Scarlett Rowley in the first edition of Musicals In The Multverse at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in June 2023

TO quote CharlesHutchPress, from the June 30 review,Musicals In The Multiverse turns out to be out of this world. A sequel will surely follow.”

Happy to report that this Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company revue will return to the JoRo in June 2024, dates yet to be confirmed.

Directed by Helen Spencer, the show’s modus operandi is “playful, radical too, and has the potential to be rolled out again,” as CharlesHutchPress wrote of June’s inaugural two-night run.

“Imagine alternative worlds – a multiverse – where musical favourites take on a new life with a change of gender, era, key or musical style, arranged with glee, joy and flourish after flourish by musical director Matthew Peter Clare for his smart band”. More details of the sequel will follow.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as the bells ring out 2023 and ring in 2024. Hutch’s List No. 52, from The Press, York

Jake Lindsay’s Robinson Crusoe and Berwick Kaler’s dame, Dotty Dullaly, in Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse at the Grand Opera House. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

HEADING out of 2023 into 2024, Charles Hutchinson’s recommendations are not out with the old just yet, but definitely in with the new too.  

Still time for pantomime: Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse, Grand Opera House, York, until January 6; Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until January 7

DOWAGER dame Berwick Kaler goes nautical in Robinson Crusoe for the first time in his 43rd York panto and third at the Grand Opera House. Jake Lindsay takes the title role alongside the Ouse crew’s regulars, Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott, in Clifford’s Tower attire, takes centre stage in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: S R Taylor Photography

Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap waves a magical artichoke wand over York Theatre Royal’s fourth collaboration with Evolution Productions, wherein CBeebies’ James Mackenzie’s villainous Luke Backinanger takes on returnee Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott, Anna Soden’s Dave the Cow, Mia Overfield’s Jack and Matthew Curnier’s very silly Billy in Jack And The Beanstalk. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chapple, a teddy bear and a Dickensian ghost in Badapple Theatre Company’s tour of Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol. Picture: Karl Andre

Last chance to see: Badapple Theatre Company in Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol, Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe Village Hall, near Sutton Bank, Hambleton, December 27, 4.30pm; East Cottingwith Village Hall, near YorkDecember 29, 4pm

A GRUMPY farmer? From Yorkshire? Surely not! Welcome to Kate Bramley’s rural revision of Dickens’s festive favourite, A Christmas Carol, now set on Farmer Scrooge’s farm and in his bed in 1959 as Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre put the culture into agriculture.

York actors James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chattle play multiple roles in a tale replete with local stories and carols, puppets and mayhem, original songs by Jez Lowe and a whacking great dose of seasonal bonhomie. Tickets: Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe, 01423 331304; East Cottingwith, 07866 024009 or 07973 699145.

Navigators Art & Performance’s poster for A Feast Of Fools at the Black Swan Inn

Twelfth Night celebrations: Navigators Art & Performance, A Feast Of Fools, Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, January 6, 7.30pm

DEVISED by York arts collective Navigators Art & Performance with White Sail, A Feast Of Fools: Folk Music and Words to Celebrate Old Christmas & Twelfth Night is billed as “the final festivity, when lords become servants, beggars rule and convention goes to the dogs. Summon the Green Man! Hail the Lord of Misrule!”

Taking part in this “seriously different and seriously good” gathering will be: Wiccan singer-songwriter Cai Moriarty; experimental neo-folk band Wire Worms; leftfield story and song dispensers Adderstone; poet, architect and musician Thomas Pearson and multi-instrumental alt-folk legends White Sail. Box office: TicketSource at bit.ly/nav-feast or on the door if available.

Roxanna Klimaszewska: Creative director of Be Amazing Arts

Audition time: Be Amazing Arts, Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, for staging at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 11 to 13, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

MALTON company Be Amazing Arts will hold open auditions for the spring production of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast at Huntington School, Huntington Road, York, on Thursday, January 11 from 5.30pm to 9.15pm, when performers aged seven to 18 are invited to attend.

For more information or to book your child’s place, visit beamazingarts.co.uk. “We can’t wait to bring this tale as old as time to life with some of the best young talent in York and beyond,” says creative director Roxanna Klimaszewska. Box office for April tickets: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Album showcase: One Iota, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 13, 7pm

YORK indie band One Iota return to the JoRo to showcase new album Shadows In The Shade. Expect strong melodies, rich harmonies, soaring guitars and epic soundscapes from a full band line-up, including a string section, topped off with a light show. James Merlin supports. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

John Otway, right, and Wild Willy Barrett: Reuniting at The Crescent

50th anniversary cartwheels: Mr H Presents John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, The Crescent, York, January 13, 7.30pm

TWO “unlikely lads” from Aylesbury reunite for John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett’s Half A Sentry Tour, sure to feature Cor Baby That’s Really Free and Beware Of The Flowers (Cause I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You Yeh), number seven in a poll of the best lyrics ever, one place behind Paul McCartney’s Yesterday.

Barrett, 73, will be equipped with acoustic and electric guitars, fiddle, balalaika and brown wheelie bin; singer and somersault enthusiast Otway, 71, will still be scampering around like an untrained puppy. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Robert Gammon: Playing at three Dementia Friendly Tea Concerts in 2024

New season: Dementia Friendly Tea Concerts, St Chad’s Church, Campleshon Road, York, January to December 2024

AFTER raising £2,159 for the Alzheimer’s Society in 2023, the dates for next year’s 45-minute Dementia Friendly Tea Concerts are in place, beginning with organist Chantal Berry on January 18 at 2.30pm.

Further dates are: February 15, Isobel Thompson, trumpet, and Grace Harman, piano; March 21, James Sanderson, piano, and Friends; April 18, Alison Gammon, clarinet, Maria Marshall, cello, and Robert Gammon, piano; May 23, Flaute Felice, flute ensemble; June 20, David Hammond, piano.

Then come: July 18, Hannah Feehan, guitar; August 15, Robert Gammon, piano; September 19, Lucinda Taylor, harp; October 17, Billy Marshall, French horn, and Robert Gammon, piano; November 21, Giocoso Wind Ensemble, and December 12, Ripon Resound Choir. No charge but donations are welcome.  Organiser Alison Gammon will be trying out new cake recipes alongside old favourites.

Ben Elton: Warning of the dangers of Authentic Stupidity at York Barbican

Looking ahead: Ben Elton, Authentic Stupidity, York Barbican, September 1, 7.30pm

BEN Elton returned to the live comedy circuit in 2019 after a 15-year hiatus, playing York Barbican that October. Next year, the godfather of modern stand-up will return with his new show, Authentic Stupidity.

“Since my last live tour, a whole new existential threat has emerged to threaten humanity! Apparently Artificial Intelligence is going to destroy us all!” he says. “Well, I reckon our real problem isn’t Artificial Intelligence, it’s good old-fashioned Authentic Stupidity! Forget AI! It’s AS we need to be worrying about.” Box office: ticketmaster.co.uk.

In Focus: Kestrel Investigates, Christmas Eve episode of online paranormal comedy with York connection

O Holy Fright: The Christmas Eve episode of Kestrel Investigates

YORK filmmaker Miles Watts, of Zomlogalypse zombie movie fame, is producing the Christmas Eve episode of paranormal comedy Kestrel Investigates.

Entitled O Holy Fright, this festive special edition of the cult web series will feature a guest appearance by Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, himself a cult icon from Channel 4’s 1990s’ show Fortean TV.

“The web series began screening online in 2018 and is now between its second and third season,” says Watts. “It follows inept paranormal investigator Agravain Kestrel (Stephen Mosley) and his reluctant documentarian, Mike, played by writer-director Oliver Semple.”

The pair worked previously on the fantasy comedy film Kenneth, directed and co-written by Peter Anthony Farren, now streaming on Amazon.

Reverend Fanthorpe, now aged 88 and retired, became involved after the idea of A Christmas Carol-style story was pitched to him by the creators. “Filming with the Kestrel team brought me as much fun and excitement as working on Fortean TV – and it made me feel 20 years younger!” says Fanthorpe, who hosted Fortean TV from January 29 1997 to March 6 1998 on Channel 4.

Filmmaker Semple and producer Watts – whose own web series Zomblogalypse has just been given the film treatment – will release online teasers ahead of the Christmas Eve episode that follows  Kestrel and cameraman Mike as they are dragged unwillingly through a series of Scrooge-like visions.

Kestrel Investigates on Shambles in York

Semple says: “Kestrel is thinking about quitting his paranormal investigations until he is visited by three ghosts, kicked off by a zoom call from Lionel Fanthorpe in place of Marley’s ghost, with each ghost trying to convince Kestrel that for the good of mankind, he must not give up.

“Kestrel Investigates is very British in that it follows in the footsteps of classic sitcoms like Steptoe & Son or Only Fools And Horses: humour mixed with working-class misery and pathos. I’m also a huge fan of Christmas, so this is our take on the classic Dickens tale.

“Working with the Rev Lionel Fanthorpe has been a dream come true for us, as we were all huge fans of Fortean TV back in the day – and he was an absolute gentleman to work with.”

Both filmmakers have written a slate of feature film scripts and created a new film company, Outward Films, joining forces with producers to pitch a number of film projects for production from 2024 onwards. These include an action-horror, a creature feature and eventually a Kestrel movie.

Reverend Fanthorpe lauds the show’s blend of humour and the paranormal. “It has the same consequences as putting a drop of rum in a mince pie: it produces pleasure and excitement,” he says. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Kestrel – and the very talented team who created him!”

Watts concludes with a piece of advice: “You can subscribe to watch the episode on the Kestrel Investigates YouTube channel, and by searching for Kestrel Investigates on all social media outlets.”

More Things To Do in York and beyond, deep amid the Christmas show-storm. Hutch’s List No. 51, from The Press

The York Waits: In Dulci Jubilo at the double in Beverley and York this weekend

CHRISTMAS, Christmas and more Christmas events stop Charles Hutchinson from staying by a winter fire as writing cards must wait.

Christmas collaboration of the week: The York Waits & Ebor Singers, In Dulci Jubilo, St Mary’s Church, Beverley, today, 12 noon; St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

SEASONAL music from Renaissance Europe for choir and period instruments, celebrating the Christmas story in the grand works of Michael Praetoius, Schutz, Eccard, Lassus and William Byrd.

Twenty voices of the Ebor Singers combine with the sackbuts, curtals, recorders, flutes and violin of The York Waits. Additional religious and secular instrumental items will afeature the Waits’ Noyse of Shawms, crumhorns, bagpipes and hurdy gurdy. Box office: ncem.ticketsolve.com.

100 snowmen – count them! – created by Slingsby Primary School pupils for the Oak Bedroom at Nunnington Hall

Last chance to see: Christmas Through The Ages, Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, today and tomorrow, 10.30am to 4pm; last entry at 3.15pm

NUNNINGTON Hall plays host to Christmases past on a Yuletide journey through the ages, immersed in the rich tapestry of festive traditions. Step into the opulence of the Georgian era, savour the splendour of the Victorian golden age, see a Tudor feast fit for a king, or relive the exuberant 1980s’ parties. Tomorrow, carol-singing sessions start at 12 noon and 2pm.

Younger visitors can discover a riddle trail in the garden and a new 1940s’ display in the West Bedroom details the story of a rationed Christmas. Slingsby Primary School has created a winter wonderland of 100 snowmen in the Oak Bedroom. Normal admission applies. Tickets: nationaltrust.org.uk/nunnington-hall.

Richard Kay: Perfoming at Showtime With Don Pears At Christmas

Pears, but no partridge, for Christmas: Showtime With Don Pears At Christmas, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tomorrow , 7pm

NOW a JoRo Christmas tradition, legendary York musician Don Pears performs an evening full of cheer in his Christmas Showtime Concert. Celebrating 30 years of making music and fundraising for the Haxby Road theatre, Pears will be joined by regular cohorts Arnold Durham, Graham and Richard Kay, John Hall, Steve Cassidy, Carol Richardson and Beth Winteringham.

York choir Singphonia make a guest appearance, along with The Tuesday Singers and York Ladies. Sweet Caroline, Memory and You Raise Me Up join multiple festive favourites on the set list. Meanwhile, Shepherd Group Brass Band’s 7.30pm concerts on December 22 and 23 have sold out. Box office: 01904 501395 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Two shows in one day for Steve Cassidy: Performing at both York’s Annual Christmas Carol Concert at York Barbican and Showtime With Don Pears At Christmas at Joseph Rowntree Theatre tomorrow

Long-running festive fixture: York’s Annual Community Carol Concert, York Barbican, tomorrow (17/12/2023), 2pm

FOR 65 years, this concert has heralded York’s festive season with favourite Christmas carols and songs. Join Shepherd Group Youth Band, Badger Hill School Choir, Track 29 Ladies Harmony Chorus, York Stage School and Steve Cassidy for a Christmas singalong under the baton of musical director Mike Pratt.

Community Carol Concert favourites Adam Tomlinson and Rev Andrew Foster return as hosts. Proceeds go to the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of York’s Christmas Cheer Fund and The Press’s nominated charity. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk

The Howl & The Hum: Last hurrah for the York band’s original line-up in three-night Christmas run at The Crescent

Ho-ho homecoming for Christmas of the week: The Howl & The Hum, supported by Fiona Lee, tomorrow, Before Breakfast, Monday, and Bar Pandora, Tuesday, The Crescent, York. Doors: 7.30pm. Stage times: support acts, 8.15pm; headliners, 9.15pm

YORK’S supreme swoony rockers return to The Crescent for three festive shows with the original line-up of Sam Griffiths, vocals and guitar, Bradley Blackwell, bass, Conor Hirons, guitar, and Jack Williams, drums, who play together for the last time.

“The Howl & The Hum are a band who we grew up with; their shows here at The Crescent have always been special since our – and their – early days through to the way-pro Christmas gigs they’ve played here more recently,” says the website. “Cheers guys, look forward to what is next!”. Sold out, alas. For returns only: thecrescent.co.uk.

Green Matthews: Returning to the NCEM for A Christmas Carol In Concert on Tuesday night

Dickens of a good idea for a Christmas folk concert: Green Matthews: A Christmas Carol In Concert, National Centre for Early Music, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

CHRIS Green and Sophie Matthews are joined by Jude Rees for a retelling of Charles Dickens’s redemptive Christmas tale exclusively through song with voices and traditional and modern instruments in authentic musical arrangements.

Modern-day balladeers Green Matthews take this nocturnal festive adventure back to its Victorian fireside roots with a magical blend of new lyrics, midwinter English folk tunes and carol melodies to illustrate the transformation of flint-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge into the epitome of the Christmas spirit:  warm hearted, generous and loving. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

The Carpenters Story At Christmas at York Barbican

Tribute show of the week: The Carpenters Story At Christmas, York Barbican, Tuesday, 7.30pm

IN this special festive show, Carpenters’ classics such as Top Of The World, Close To You and We’ve Only Just Begun are paired with festive selections from Richard and Karen Carpenter’s  1978 album Christmas Portrait, from Merry Christmas Darling to The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Jools Holland: Back at York Barbican for his traditional winter appearance on Wednesday

Recommended but sold out already: Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

BOOGIE-WOOGIE piano maestro Jools Holland and his big band will be joined by special guests Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrick, from The Selecter. “This magnificent addition will amplify our Ska music credentials and bring an extra razzy dazzy spasm to our dance capabilities,” reckons Jools.

Boogie queen and enchantress Ruby Turner and Louise Marshall will be singing too, as will Sumudu Jayatilaka, who joined Jools for the first time in 2022.

REVIEW: Rowntree Players, Cinderella, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, ‘romping rollickingly’ until Saturday ****

Jamie McKeller’s Cassandra, Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Fairy Carabosse and Michael Cornell’s Miranda performing I Know Him So Well in Rowntree Players’ Cinderella. Picturee: Angela Shaw, York Camera Club

UNLIKE Cinders, you will not go to the ball…unless you have acquired a ticket already. Cinderella has sold out, reward for the ever-rising pantomime pizzazz of Howard Ella’s community capers.

Cinderella may be the most popular of all pantos, but it is the most difficult to write, he contends, on account of the need to fit in so much. “The story is so loved, so full of plot points and favourite moments, it’s very hard to put your own spin on things,” Ella says in the programme notes.

Then add “the breaking of panto norms”: the dame making way for two Ugly Sisters, baddies rather than goodies to boot. Regular dame Graham Smith decided to take a year’s sabbatical, and in his stead comes the new double act of Jamie McKeller, last winter’s Sheriff of Nottingham, re-booted as Cassandra, and Michael Cornell as Miranda, both shaving off their beards but still with a hint of stubble to go with their trouble-making in matching costumes.

Gemma McDonald: Even busier as co-writer as well as show-steering Buttons in Cinderella. Picture: Angela Shaw, York Camera Club

They know each other from bygone days, and they work in step as pleasingly as Layton and Nikita’s Strictly Charleston last Saturday.

Typically spot-on casting by Ella, who has a new writing partner by his side too in Gemma McDonald, the Players’ long-serving daft lass with the auburn bubble-perm clown’s hair and rouge cheeks.

Still on delightfully dimwit duty as Buttons, she carries the heaviest comedy load as usual, leading the slapstick shenanigans in tandem with the Ugly Sisters in the hotel spa, breaking down the fourth wall to bond with the audience, ragging them when they are too slow to respond.

Ella suggests that Buttons is “really the story lead”, and McDonald’s ever-energetic, ever-cheeky performance backs that up.

Sara Howlett’s Cinderella and Laura Castle’s wave-wanding Fairy Flo in Cinderella

The writers were keen to avoid the danger of Cinderella’s traditional story feeling dated while wanting to be respectful to tradition too: hence Prince Charming and Dandini still being played by women, on the one hand, but Barry Johnson’s Baron Hardup owning the rundown Hotel Windy End (cue bottom burp gags from Buttons and corrections on the pronunciation), on the updated other.

This is very much a Yorkshire Cinderella, playing to its York setting at every opportunity. Radio presenter Laura Castle, so impressive in John Godber’s Teechers at the JoRo in March, makes for a feisty, no-nonsense Fairy Flo, while Teechers’ co-star Sophie Bullivant brings personality to the often dry role of Dandini, especially enjoying her switch with Hannah King’s thigh-slapping Prince Charming.

King’s singing is as strong as ever, not least in partnership with Sara Howlett’s resolute Cinderella in the ensemble number Omigod (a splendid lift from Legally Blonde The Musical). Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Fairy Carabosse takes the singing honours, first in It’s All About Me, then in Three Evil Dames with McKeller and Cornell.

Fill that stage! Rowntree Players in an ensemble routine from Cinderella. Note the pun-named plumber on the backdrop. Picture: Angela Shaw, York Camera Club

Johnson’s Baron, Geoff Walker’s lackey Flunkit and Jeanette Hunter’s Queen of Hearts, the Prince’s mother, bring bags of experience and panto panache to these support roles; Bernie Calpin completes a trinity of fairies, and Ami Carter’s exuberant choreography finds the principal dancers, senior chorus and young teams in boisterous form.

Highlights? Cinderella’s transformation scene with Fairy Flo, unicorn-powered carriage et al, is a picture indeed, and what better way to open Act Two than with McDonald leading the show’s best ensemble routine, Flash Bang Wallop What A Picture, followed by Cinderella, Prince Charming and the ensemble revelling in Shut Up And Dance. The hits keep coming with Fairy Carabosse, Cassandra and Miranda sending up I Know Him So Well.

Ella gained Tommy Cannon’s permission to reprise a Cannon & Ball slapstick classic, as Cinderella, Cassandra and Miranda push, pull and drag each other off a wall while striving to sing a romantic ballad. Howlett, McKeller and Cornell look exhausted from all their exertions, the audience cheers rising with each tussle.

Spot the difference: Jamie McKeller’s Cassandra and Michael Cornell’s Miranda in matching costumes as things turn Ugly for the shopaholic sisters in Rowntree Players’ Cinderella. Picture: Angela Shaw, York Camera Club

The costume team of coordinator Leni Ella, Andrea Dillon, Jackie Holmes and Claire Newbald adds fun and flair to the finery, while set designers Howard Ella, Anna Jones, Paul Mantle and Lee Smith turn their hands to all manner of scenes with aplomb.

Musical director James Robert Ball’s band fires up pop hits and musical favourites alike with dynamic delivery, aided by fellow keyboard player Jessica Viner providing the musical orchestrations with her customary zest.

Difficult to write? Maybe, but Ella and McDonald’s setpiece-driven Cinderella is a joyous, riotous start to the York pantomime season. 

Performances: 7.30pm plus 2pm Saturday matinee, all sold out. Box office for returns only: 01904 501935.

Travelling by unicorn: Sara Howlett’s Cinderella, aboard her carriage, heads for Prince Charming’s ball