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

Rowntree Players freshen up cast and writing team for hot-ticket panto Cinderella

Laura Castle’s Fairy Flo, left, Gemma McDonald’s Buttons, Hannah King’s Prince Charming, Sara Howlett’s Cinderella, Jamie McKeller’s Cassandra, Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Wicked Queen and Michael Cornell’s Miranda in Rowntree Players’ Cinderella

ROWNTREE Players are heading for a sold-out pantomime run of Cinderella with only ‘limited availability’ or ‘last few tickets’ notices for each performance.

Co-written by regular writer-director Howard Ella and delightfully daft comedy dipstick Gemma McDonald in a new creative partnership, this rollicking panto romp will run from Saturday to December 16 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Haxby Road, York.

“When we launched our panto tickets in August, we had record-breaking sales on the first day,” says Gemma, who will be playing Buttons. “We sold the equivalent of a whole show within the first two days and they’ve just kept on selling.”

“I’ve been learning from the best,” she says of her experience of teaming up with Howard on script duties. “It’s hard work to get a script right, and you don’t realise the processes you have to go through to achieve that until you face them.”

Howard says: “For me, that awareness comes from doing repertory panto all those years ago in Harrogate when it was a traditional family show,” he says. “Writing a panto now, I want to keep the innocence for children but with those cheeky double entendres for parents and adults in the audience.

“How do you do that in 2023, keeping it relevant and challenging without it being too challenging, because you do have to get the balance right between being challenging and getting bums on seats? That’s not an easy line to tread, but we’ve managed to do it.

Picture this: Rowntree Players’ pantomime cast members face the camera in the rehearsal room

“Not forgetting that by making our panto profitable, we support Rowntree Players’ ability to put on plays each year that are challenging, rather than just doing the same old plays, and we’re proud to follow that fading principle in theatre.

“We’ve pretty much doubled our audiences over the past 12 years, and hopefully that’s down to the quality and wide appeal of our pantos, but you can never rest on your laurels, and we all know that the York panto landscape has changed over the past few years [with veteran dame Berwick Kaler’s transfer to the Grand Opera House and Evolution Productions teaming up with York Theatre Royal].”

Howard notes how York theatregoers are very supportive of community and amateur productions. “People go to all see all sorts of groups putting on all sorts of shows, which feels like a really healthy eco-system,” he says.

“For Rowntree Players, we’re lucky to have a theatre like the Rowntree Theatre with a decent capacity and good stage facilities, so we have a professional structure for staging shows, building a relationship with the theatre where we can push ourselves to the limit with the support of the theatre and all those volunteers who make it so special.”

Gemma adds:  “Over the years, we’ve built a diverse team with diverse skills to run our panto, who work so hard together, such as our engineer Lee Smith, who has welding skills to help us to design things like a magic carpet rig, which everyone else would hire in. We couldn’t do that, but with Lee, we can make things, and so our imagination grows as to what we can do.”

Cinderella has proved “the most difficult” of Howard’s pantomimes for him to write. “Coming from York and having watched Berwick Kaler’s pantos, we all like to mess with the plot, but Cinderella has so many plot points you have to cover, and culturally accepted norms you have to cover, that when you try to have fun with it, there’s not much room to do that when you have to get all that in.

Howard Ella: Rowntree Players’ pantomime director and co-writer

“In pantomime, the easiest comedy flows between the dame and the comic, but in Cinderella it’s harder to work out where the humour flows when the dame is replaced by two baddies, the Ugly Sisters. It’s the most demanding of all pantomime writing experiences but when you get there, it’s the most rewarding.”

Regular dame Graham Smith is taking a year out, and instead Ugly Sisters Cassandra and Miranda will be a partnership of last year’s villain, Jamie McKellar, alias York ghost-walk guide and spookologist Dr Dorian Deathly, and Michael Cornell. “They know each other of old,” says Howard. “That’s not why they’ve been cast together, but it clearly helped in the auditions.

“When we learned that Jamie, who’s a very experienced actor, was properly up for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Babes In The Wood last year, we were delighted. Panto is fun to do but it’s hard work too, where you can break the fourth wall as the villain, but you can’t be too funny, and he was clearly right for the role.

“This year it will be different again, as Graham wanted a year out, and we’ll see Jamie in a new guise as Ugly Sister.”

Sara Howlett’s Cinderella, Hannah King’s Prince Charming, Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Wicked Queen and Jeanette Hunter’s Queen of Hearts need no introduction to Rowntree Players panto regulars.

Graham Smith’s Dame Harmony Humperdinck and Gemma McDonald’s Kurt Jester in 2022’s Babes In The Wood. Graham is taking a year’s break from panto; Gemma is adding co-writing duties to her familiar role as comic in Cinderella

Look out too for Sophie Bullivant and radio presenter Laura Castle, such a hit together in Rowntree Players’ March production of John Godber’s Teechers, now playing Dandini and Fairy Flo respectively.

“What’s interesting is that everyone read the script in a way I hadn’t thought of at the first readthrough, which really shook the script up and made me look at it in a different way,” says Howard of a show also featuring 12 numbers under James Robert Ball’s musical direction and a dozen dance routines choreographed by Ami Carter.

“We’re conscious that we have a regular gang in the panto but that we always have to make sure to give others an opportunity, both in the ensemble and with two Ugly Sisters giving us an ‘extra dame’ this year, it’s been the perfect opportunity to open it up,” says Howard.

“If you just work with familiar relationships within the cast, it can make you lazy, so having new faces makes you up your game, particularly when directing.”

Gemma concludes: “We have a mixture of old and new faces in the cast this year, which is really nice,” says Gemma. “It’s a really strong ensemble and that’s exactly what Cinderella needs.”

Rowntree Players present Cinderella, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, December 9 to 16, except December 11. Performances: December 9, 2pm and 7.30pm; December 10, 2pm and 6pm; December 12 to 15, 7.30pm; December 16, 2pm (sold out) and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501395 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Rowntree Players pantomime players in rehearsal for Cinderella

Who is in Rowntree Players’ principal cast for Cinderella?

Cinderella: Sara Howlett

Buttons: Gemma McDonald

Baron Hardup:  Barry Johnson

Wicked Queen: Marie-Louise Surgenor

Cassandra: Jamie McKeller

Miranda: Michael Cornell

Fairy Flo: Laura Castle

Queen of Hearts: Jeanette Hunter

Prince Charming: Hannah King

Dandini: Sophie Bullivant

Flunkit: Geoff Walker

Head Fairy – Bernie Calpin

Production team

Director: Howard Ella

Choreographer: Ami Carter

Musical director: James Robert Ball

Writers: Howard Ella and Gemma McDonald

Shoe-in for success: Rowntree Players’ poster for Cinderella, heading for full houses

REVIEW: NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ***

Chain reaction: Steve Tearle’s Jacob Marley spooks Kit Stroud’s Ebenezer Scrooge in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

NE Theatre York – or NE Musicals York as they were back then – staged the York premiere of this all-singing version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the JoRo in November 2018.

More Christmas advert season than Advent season on that occasion, but the show’s return heralds Advent’s arrival on Sunday, and the festive mood is already alive and noisy, like the crisp and sweet packet scrunching that accompanied Tuesday’s opening night.

Scrooge moan over, some things have changed since 2018, some have not. More on the changes later, but first: the cast numbers 60 once more; Steve Tearle is directing and playing the ghost of Jacob Marley in white suit and face paint again, and the Sold Out signs will be greeting theatregoers again and again on the street scene on the JoRo forecourt. No tickets left, not one.

A roll of thunder announces the arrival of Tearle’s Marley on a London set familiar to audiences who saw his production of Oliver!. Temporarily, north easterner Steve turns Brummie to make the obligatory mobile phone pronouncement but with the impish humour that will mark a frenetic, fantastical, phantasmagorical production into which he will throw everything, magical books, bouncing balls and kitchen sink included (metaphorically speaking).

Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost of Christmas Past

Look out too for the misbehaving chairs and bed in Scrooge’s house, leaping into the air as if propelled by the handiwork of ghosts.

Written by Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, the musical began life as a film before being re-created for the Broadway stage, opening at Madison Square Garden.

Its driving force is the modern musical score under Scott Phillips’s enthusiastic direction,  but the dialogue fizzes along too – everything is home and hosed by 9.30pm – with Tearle’s Marley as host, ghost and timekeeper.

Changes afoot? The familiar tale of miserable, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemptive journey through Christmas Eve night still takes the form of encounters with Ghosts of the Past, Present and Yet To Be but Tearle has fortified the circus setting first evoked in 2018, while Melissa Boyd’s choreography nods to both 1856 and modern moves for ensemble numbers.

Once more the ghosts are first seen in their real-world guises as a lamplighter (Perri Ann Barley), Ring Master (Chris Hagyard, taking the circus theme further than James O’Neil’s charity show barker of 2018), and an Old Hag (John Mulholland). Note their Christmas colours of snow white, ivy green and holly berry red.

Chris Hagyard’s Ghost of Christmas Present

Tearle loves theatricality, spectacle in particular, and here he quite surpasses himself by having Marley wreathed in 100 metres of white fabric, stretched like waves across the stage as he urges Kit Stroud’s grouchy Scrooge to learn the error of his ways before it is too late. Marley’s trademark chains are more like a rapper’s bling adornments by comparison.

Graduating from his 2018 role as Young Ebenezer, Stroud’s Scrooge is mean of voice and demeanour at the outset, his lead performance being alive to both the humour and inhumanity the part demands.

Shocked by what he learns of himself, his Scrooge is pained by the recollections of his younger self, when guided by Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost Of Christmas Past with her coat of lights leading the way.

Ockrent and Ahrens’s book weaves one departure from Dickens’s novella into the plot: the story of Scrooge’s father, John William Scrooge, being sentenced to a debtors’ prison while his horrified wife’s family look on as they sing God Bless Us, Everyone.

Cowering into a ball, Stroud’s Scrooge screams “Mother” (as played by Rebecca Jackson), the stuff of a psychological thriller to counter the pantomimic comedy mayhem that subsequently permeates Mr Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball.

John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be

Hagyard, out of luck in October when Bev Jones Company’s Guys And Dolls had to be called off, puts that frustration behind him in a terrific performance,  pulling strings as Ring Master cum Ghost of Christmas Present.

Greg Roberts’s clown-wigged Mr Fezziwig and Ali Butler-Hind’s Mrs Fezziwig enjoy themselves too in that first-half climax, while Kristian Barley’s Bob Cratchit and Alice Atang’s Tiny Tim maximise their moments too.

Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be transforms from Old Hag to flame-maned heavy metal frontman, the shock of the new steering Stroud’s alarmed Scrooge towards the dawn of realisation and change.

Visually arresting, largely playful rather than psychological, A Christmas Carol is a typically vibrant, helter-skelter Tearle production, where the singing and musicianship is of varied quality, the dancing and acting being more assured by comparison.

NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday; 7.30pm nightly and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. SOLD OUT. Box office for returns only: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Hooray for the Hollywood Sisters as they raise funds for York Mind at Friday concert with musical friends at Theatre@41

The Hollywood Sisters: Cat Foster, left, Rachel Higgs, Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer and Henrietta Linnemann

THE Hollywood Sisters will be joined by friends for a night of musical cabaret in aid of York Mind at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on Friday at 7.30pm.

The luscious close harmonies of the Hollywood Sisters will be complemented by guest appearances from “the finest talent York has to offer”: The Rusty Pegs, Jennie Wogan-Wells, Richard Bayton, Nicola Holliday, Matthew Clare, Connie Howcroft, John Haigh and Mark Lovell.

“Expect an evening of music, song and sprinkle of festive cheer to kick off December,” says Hollywood Sister Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer. “All profits from the evening will go to mental health charity York Mind.”

Richard Bayton, left, and John Haigh: Guest singers at the Hollywood Sisters And Friends charity concert

The Hollywood Sisters, Cat Foster, Henrietta Linnemann, Rachel Higgs and Bells, met in 2020 when they were cast together in York Musical Theatre Company’s Hooray For Hollywood, Paul Laidlaw’s nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of a bygone era from the MGM, Warner Bros, RKO and Universal studios, staged that November at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

“We instantly forged a special bond and after the show finished, we kept in close contact,” says Bells. “Many meet-ups over tea and cake later, the Hollywood Sisters were devised.

“In honour of the show we met on, and because we all have a shared love of vintage glamour, we kept the Hollywood part of our name and style as a group. Now we’re delighted to be welcoming back John Haigh and Richard Bayton, who were also in Hooray For Hollywood. We can’t wait to all be singing together again!

“Added to these crooners, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have guest appearances from three phenomenal female vocalists, Jennie, Connie and Nicola, and we’ll all be accompanied by the brilliant Rusty Pegs, Matthew Clare on piano and Mark Lovell on double bass.”

“We instantly forged a special bond,” says Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer, left, one that led to the Hollywood Sisters’ formation

Friday promises a relaxed cabaret-style event with the bar open throughout. “There’ll be music from across genres but always featuring gorgeous harmonies and a few festive numbers to get December started with some cheer!” says Bells.

“We also have a raffle with some amazing prizes to be won: £100 meal voucher, Tea for Two in Malton, art prints, Prosecco and much more. If you can’t make the gig but would like to buy a raffle ticket to support York Mind, please head to our just giving page and leave your email address.”

https://www.justgiving.com/page/hollywoodsisters-1700920962362?utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=page%2Fhollywoodsisters-1700920962362&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=pfp-share

“Due to popular demand, we’ve added a few extra tickets, so grab them before they’re gone,” advises Bells. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

The poster artwork for Hollywood Sisters And Friends at Theatre@41, Monkgate on Friday night

NE Theatre York to go to the circus in Steve Tearle’s “very different” staging of A Christmas Carol musical at JoRo Theatre

Kit Stroud’s Ebenezer Scrooge in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

NE Theatre York revisit Alan Menken’s musical take on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from tomorrow to Saturday.

“We first performed this version of the show in 2018, when it was such a fantastic experience and so successful that it’s been our most requested show to perform again,” says director Steve Tearle. “We were even asked if we could tour with the show.”

In Dickens’s harrowing yet redemptive tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean man with a dislike for mankind, he will be clanking his chains for a second time as Scrooge’s late business partner Jacob Marley. “I’ve only played Marley in A Christmas Carol as he’s such a brilliant character that it’s a joy to play,” he reasons.

Director Steve Tearle and lead actor Kit Stroud in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol

“Five years ago, we staged it very differently to our new production. While still referencing the traditional dance moves of 1856, we’ve added a lot more contemporary moves into the show.

“Marley’s appearance will be very different, using 100 metres of fabric, plus we’re adding a circus. On top of that, the audience experience will start outside: as they walk up to the theatre, they will be treated to a typical London street in 1856.

“Once inside the auditorium, they’ll see we’re using a very similar set to our award-winning Oliver! as both Dickens stories are set in exactly the same place and time.”

John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Be in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol features music by Alan Menken, best known for such Disney musicals as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast and Newsies, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Ahrens.

From 1994 to 2003, the show was staged annually at New York City’s Theatre at Madison Square, where Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, Jim Dale, The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Frank Langella were among those to play Scrooge.

The London run in 2020 featured Brian Conley as Scrooge and now Kit Stroud takes the role for NE Theatre York as the miser is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Tearle’s Marley, who died seven years previously.

Ghosts galore: clockwise, Chris Hagyard’s Ghost of Christmas Past, John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Be, Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost of Christmas Present and Steve Tearle’s Jacob Marley

“Scrooge is a very challenging role as he only leaves the stage for a couple of moments in Act One; he is on stage for the rest of the time, and we’re delighted to have Kit playing him,” says Steve. 

Marley forewarns Scrooge to expect a visit from three ghosts – the Ghost of Christmas Past (Perri Ann Barley), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Chris Hagyard) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Be (John Mulholland) – who urge him to mend his ways if he is to avoid the horrible consequences of treating people badly.

“With more than 60 people in the cast, this show will be a true Christmas spectacular featuring  hilarious comedy characters such as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig (Ali Butler Hind and Greg Roberts) in a festive musical story that will definitely kickstart your Christmas,” says Steve.

Greg Roberts and Ali Butler Hind as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig

“It’s going to be magical, with books that light up, ghosts that appear out of nowhere and time travel, which is always exciting, and the ending, when Scrooge becomes good, is such a heartwarming moment.” 

Any newcomers to look out for in the company? “Rebecca Jackson, who plays Scrooge’s Mother as we are transported to the past,” highlights Steve. “She has a beautiful stand-out song.”

Naming his favourite character, he picks Tiny Tim, to be played by Alice Atang. “She brings such innocence to the role, and when she sings her solo song, it’s so touching.”

NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 28 to December 2, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets update: last few tickets still available for Friday and Saturday night; the rest, sold out. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

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NE Theatre York ensemble members in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol

REVIEW: York Light Youth in School Of Rock, The Musical, The Next Generation, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ****

Emma Louise Dickinson and Jonny Holbek in rehearsal with York Light Youth company members for School Of Rock The Musical

YORK Light Youth’s tenth anniversary show is the York premiere of The Next Generation Edition of School Of Rock, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame.

This all-American celebration of music, friendship and the power of self-expression is described as “technically and musically challenging”.  “Technically” because it features not one, but two bands, an adult one in the pit and a group of whippersnapper talents ready to knock rock into shape on stage.

“Musically” because Lloyd Webber’s rock songs do rock out, not to the level of screeching heavy metal pyrotechnics, but demanding muscular singing from Jonny Holbek’s lead character, substitute teacher Dewey Finn, especially in When I Climb To The Top Of Mt. Rock and Jack Black’s In The End Of Time.

“Any York production is always better for the presence of Jonny Holbek,” CharlesHutchPress opined when reviewing his scene-stealing Tobias Ragg in York Light Opera Company’s Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber Of Fleet Street in February.

That York Theatre Royal performance was marked by “humour and tragedy, light and darkness, hope and desperation, naivety and madness”. Move forward to School Of Rock, where Holbek brings buckets of humour and a dab of sadness, light and shade, hope and desperation, naivety and madcap mayhem to Dewey Finn.

A musician as well as an actor, here’s Jonny lapping up a well-deserved lead role, such fun to watch as he interacts brilliantly with the young company (aged ten to 17), the big kid among a bunch of them. Dewey is a ckeeky chappie role he was born to play, and he is indeed the Finnished article here.

Based on Mike White’s storyline for the  2003 film, Holbek’s Dewey is a failed wannabe rock star, who passes himself off as teacher flatmate Ned Schneebly (Flynn Coultous) to raise the rent by becoming the  substitute teacher to a class of prep school students.

What can he teach them? Not history but the history of rock and how to play, so they can take on his old band No Vacancy in the Battle Of The Bands. They learn, he learns, and there is something of the vibe and spirit of both John Godber’s Teechers and Willy Russell’s Our Day Out in looking outside the box to stimulate children’s minds and actions.

Prominent among the adults in the story is Emma Louise Dickinson’s headteacher, Rosalie Mullins, repressed and orderly until Dewey brings out the Stevie Nicks butterfly from her dowdy chrysalis. She sings as beautifully as ever, best in show once more.

Multiple performers delight among the young company: whether Flynn Coultous revelling in the bossed-about adult role of Ned Schneebly; Georgia Foster as the insufferable Patty Di Marco; Olivia Swales’s precocious, bossy Summer Hathaway or Iris Wragg’s reserved Tomika Spencer-Williams, brought out of her shell by Dewey to reveal her singing talent. Look out for Isaac Patterson’s fashion-obsessed Billy Sandford too.

You will love the talented young musicians: Sam Brophy’s keyboard wizard Lawrence Turner, a Rick Wakeman in the making; Bella Smith’s too-cool-for-school bass player Katie Travis; Ollie Lee’s putative guitar god and Finley Walters’ all-action drummer Freddie Hamilton.

The first half is too long, with so many songs to fit in, but Sue Hawksworth’s direction elicits the best from individual and ensemble performances alike; musical director Martin Lay and his band power the songs to the max, and David Pumfrey’s set design ensures quick scene changes.

York Light Youth’s exuberant production really does Stick It To The Man, right down to an in-joke putdown at Lloyd Webber’s expense when Holkbek’s Dewey disses his lordship’s ballad Memory.

York Light Youth in School Of Rock, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 2.30pm and 7.30pm today. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

York Musical Theatre Company to hold introductory evening ahead of auditions for May 2024 production of The Wizard Of Oz

York Musical Theatre Company in the May 2023 production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

YORK Musical Theatre Company will follow up May’s sold-out run of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with The Wizard Of Oz at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from May 22 to 25 2024.

An introduction evening will be held at Poppleton Methodist Church Hall (the old hall to the front of the building) on Wednesday, November 22 from 7.30pm to 9.30pm, with an “open invitation to all individuals aged 16 plus eager to participate in this extraordinary show”.

This event provides an opportunity to meet the creative team, gain insights into the show’s vision, audition process and rehearsal schedule, and even share in a song or two.

Adult auditions (16 plus) will be held on Saturday, December 2 from 2pm to 5pm at the same location. Members can request an audition pack by emailing Mick Liversidge at auditions@yorkmusicaltheatrecompany.org.uk. New members are encouraged to sign up at membermojo.co.uk/ymtcjoinus.

In addition, for little munchkins dreaming of joining the adventure, York Musical Theatre Company (YMTC) will be hosting children’s audition workshops on Saturday, November 25, from 2pm to 5.30pm at Haxby Memorial Hall. This event will feature singing and dancing workshops for children aged nine to 12 years (school years 5, 6 and 7). To register your child, visit: membermojo.co.uk/ymtcjoinus.

YMTC’s The Wizard Of Oz promises to be a “mesmerising, extraordinary journey into the land of magic and wonder”, with tickets going on sale soon at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk and on 01904 501395.

To stay updated on all YMTC’s developments and behind-the-scenes moments, follow YMTC on www.facebook.com/yorkmusicaltheatrecompany.

Did you know?

FOUNDED in 1902 by Janet Hayes Walker, York Musical Theatre Company is the longest-running amateur theatre company in York, presenting more than 970 full-scale musical productions over the years.

York Light Youth and York Light Opera Company principals team up for York premiere of School Of Rock next week

Emma Louise Dickinson’s headteacher Rosalie Mullins and Jonny Holbek’s Dewey Finn rehearsing with the ensemble for York Light Youth’s School Of Rock

YORK Light Youth’s tenth anniversary show will be the York amateur premiere of School Of Rock, ready to rock at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from November 8 to 11.

Directed by Sue Hawksworth, this technically and musically challenging musical – music by Andrew Lloyd Webbber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Julian Fellowes – will be performed by a cast combining young performers aged ten to 17 and adults from the York Light Opera Company in equal numbers: a unique occurrence for York Light.

Among the adult cast will be Megan Overton and Maddy Hicks, who both performed in York Light Youth’s first show, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in 2013 and are enjoying their return to the group.

Based on Richard Linklater’s 2003 American film, the storyline follows Jonny Holbek’s Dewey Finn, a failed wannabe rock star, who decides to make some cash by teaching at a prestigious prep school. Soon he discovers his students to be clueless about rock’n’roll, but he vows to mould them into a rock band to enter Battle of the Bands.

Bella Smith, Jonny Holbek, Finley Walters and Ollie Lee rehearsing a number in School Of Rock

Along the way, Dewey finds romance, self-worth and a proper job as he initiates the children and their parents in the beauty of rock.

Director Sue Hawksworth was formerly assistant director of York Light Opera Company for 18 years, working on diverse productions ranging from The Sound Of Music and Oliver! to South Pacific and The King & I, and she is no stranger to working with young people.

Assistant director Gavin Shaw has performed in many musical theatre productions, appearing as Officer Krupke in York Light Youth’s West Side Story in 2016. Martin Lay is the musical director, a post he has held for York Light Youth since 2019.

Playing opposite Jonny Holbek in his relentless lead role will be leading lady Emma Louise Dickinson’s formidable headteacher Rosalie Mullins. Jonny and Emma Louise last appeared together as Che and Eva Peron in York Light’s 2022 production of Evita.

For those about to rock: School Of Rock band members Ollie Lee, Finley Walters, Sam Brophy and Bella Smith

Flynn Coultous and Georgia Foster take on the roles of Ned Schneebly, Dewey’s long-suffering flatmate, and his girlfriend, Paty Di Marco. Best friends Flynn and Georgia have been performing together since they were seven and five respectively, ten years in total.

Flynn joined York Light Youth for Hairspray in 2019 and played a loud and comical Joe Vegas in last year’s production of Fame.

School Of Rock is unique among musicals because not one, but two bands play live on stage. The adult band, No Vacancy, features cast members and musicians Jonny Holbek, Mat Tapp, Ant Pengally and Kathryn Lay, along with musicians Ben Huntley on guitar and Mike Hampton on drums.

Jonny Holbek’s Dewey Finn rocks out with the ensemble in the School Of Rock rehearsal room

The young band, School Of Rock, comprises four highly talented musicians who have achieved great things already. On keys will be Sam Brophy, a 2022 finalist in the BBC’s Young Chorister of the Year competition. On guitar will be Ollie Lee, whose band Bangers And Thrash won Minster FM’s Battle of the Bands in 2019, when he was nine.

Double bassist Bella Smith took up playing bass guitar less than a year ago, very similar to the trajectory of her character, Kate, a cellist turned bass guitarist. Completing the line-up will be Finley Walters, already an accomplished drummer at the age of ten. Invited to perform at the RSL Virtual Music Festival in 2021, he opened with a solo drum performance.

“School Of Rock is a celebration of music, friendship and the power of self-expression,” says York Light chair and publicity officer Helen Eckersall. “We’re confident that audiences of all ages will thoroughly enjoy it. Don’t miss the York premiere of this amazing show.”

York Light Youth in School Of Rock, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 8 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

More Things To Do in and around York? Here come Halloween screams and Noises Off. Hutch’s List No. 44, from The Press

Noises Off: Michael Frayn’s on-stage and off-stage comedy on York Theatre Royal’s main stage from Tuesday. Picture: Pamela Raith

HALLOWEEN films and double bills, classic comedy and a time-travelling York legend, a Disney deep freeze and a punk/jazz collision help Charles Hutchinson leave behind October for November frights and delights.  

Play of the week: Noises Off, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

MATTHEW Kelly, Liza Goddard and Simon Shepherd lead the cast in Theatre Royal Bath’s touring revival of Michael Frayn’s riotous Noises Off, directed by Lindsay Posner, who staged Richard III and Romeo And Juliet for York’s first season of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre productions in 2018.

Structured as a play within a play, this cherished 1982 farce follows the on and off-stage antics of a touring theatre company stumbling its way through the fictional farce Nothing On, from shambolic final rehearsals to a disastrous matinee, seen silently from backstage, before the catastrophic final performance. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Nick Naidu and Imogen Wood in Punch Porteous – Lost In Time at All Saints North Street

York legend of the week: Punch Porteous – Lost In Time, All Saints North Street, York, tonight, 7pm.

HAVE you heard or indeed seen the eccentric, evasive York legend Punch Porteous: soldier, philosopher, worker (when absolutely unavoidable), husbandman, connoisseur of ale and now the subject of poet Robert Powell, creative practitioner Ben Pugh and producer John Beecroft’s “multi-media drama experience”?

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster directs Powell, Nick Naidu and Imogen Wood in Powell’s story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary predicament, lost in time in York. While the city shape-shifts around him, he is catapulted unpredictably into different eras of its history from c.70 to c.2023. Box office: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/punch-porteous-lost-in-time/.

The poster for Navigators Art & Performance’s Punk/Jazz explorations at The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York

Music, poetry and comedy bill of the week: Navigation Art & Performance present Punk Jazz: A Halloween Special, The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York, tonight, 7.30pm

COMPLEMENTING the ongoing Punk/Jazz: Contrasts and Connections exhibition at Micklegate & Fossgate Socials, Navigators Art & Performance bring together energetic York punk band The Bricks;  intense improvisers Teleost; the Neo Borgia Trio, formed for the occasion from a University of York big band; grunge-influenced Mike Ambler and the experimental Things Found And Made.

Taking part too will be firebrand polemical poet Rose Drew and comedians Isobel Wilson and Saeth Wheeler. Box office: https://bit.ly/nav-punkjazz.

The Gildas Quartet: Presenting the String! concerts at the NCEM

Children’s concerts of the week: MishMash presents String!, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, tomorrow, 11.30am and 2pm

THE Gildas Quartet lead tomorrow’s double celebration of the string quartet in informal 40-minute performances featuring a diverse programme from Haydn to Jessie Montgomery, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to Dvorak, and everything in between.

Staged creatively to bring the audience into the music, these fun concerts are suitable for ages seven to 11 and their families. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Community film event of the week: The Witches (PG), Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow, 2.30pm

MAKE It York and The Groves Community Centre team up for a Halloween screening of Robert Zemeckis’s visually innovative 2020 film The Witches. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel, it tells the darkly humorous, heartwarming tale of an orphaned boy who goes to live with his loving Grandma in late-1967 in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis, where they have an run-in with the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway). Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Emily Portman & Rob Harbron: Delving into folk traditions to emerge with a fresh sound

Folk concert of the week: Emily Portman & Rob Harbron, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

EMILY Portman, from The Furrow Collective, and Rob Harbron, who performs with Leveret, Fay Hield and Jon Boden, have formed an inspired collaboration to delve into English folk traditions with an intricately woven contemporary sound.

Portman (voice, banjo and piano) and fellow composer Harbron (concertina, guitar and voice) released their debut album, Time Was Away, last November, comprising eight English folk songs and two 20th century poems set to music. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Chris Green accompanying FW Murnau’s Nosferatu

Halloween screaming/screening of the week: Nosferatu: Live Silent Cinema, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

CHRIS Green’s score was commissioned by English Heritage for an outdoor screening of FW Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist vampire film at Dracula’s spiritual home of Whitby Abbey. Now the composer plays his haunting blend of electronic and acoustic instruments for the first time in York to accompany the first cinematic interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, one that gave birth to the horror movie. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Please Please You’s poster for Steve Gunn’s Rise solo concert

Double bill of the week: Please Please You presents Steve Gunn & Brigid Mae Power, Rise@Bluebird Bakery, Acomb, York, Wednesday, doors 7.30pm

EXPERIMENTAL Brooklyn guitarist and songwriter Steve Gunn’s “forward-thinking” songwriting draws on the blues, folk, ecstatic free jazz and psychedelia, suffused with a raga influence. His website says he is “currently somewhere working on new music”, although York will be the first of 12 solo gigs in Britian, Spain and Poland in November.

Wednesday’s gig will be opened by Irish singer-songwriter Brigid Mae Power, whose latest folk-tinged dreampop album, Dream From The Deep Well, arrived in March. Box office: seetickets.com/event/steve-gunn/rise-bluebird/.

Meet York Stage’s young princesses in Disney’s Frozen Jr

Musical of the week: York Stage in Disney’s Frozen Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

IN a story of true love and acceptance between sisters, Disney’s Frozen Jr follows the journey of Princesses Anna and Elsa, based on the 2018 Broadway and West End musical set in the magical land of Arendelle, with all the Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez songs from the animated film.

Producer Nik Briggs directs a cast led by Megan Pickard, Bea Charlton, Matilda Park and Esther de la Pena as the princesses. Malachi Collins plays the Duke of Weselton, Lottie Marshall, Bulda, and Oliver Lawery, King Agnarr. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

In Focus: Say Owt Slam, with special guest Polarbear, The Crescent, tonight, 7.45pm

Spoken word artist and writer Polarbear: Making an apperance at tonight’s Say Owt Slam at The Crescent, York

SAY Owt, York’s loveably gobby gang of performance  poets, take over The Crescent community venue twice a year for a raucous night of spoken word and poetry in the form of a stellar slam.

Fast, frantic and fun, a slam gives each poet three minutes to wow the audience. Regular host Henry Raby enthuses: “We love doing Say Owt on a Saturday night, because it’s a party! A poetry party!

“Although one poet will be crowned a Say Owt Slam Champion, this isn’t a bitter battle. It’s a celebration as poets bring a variety of styles and forms. In the past, we’ve had tender personal reflections, hilarious laugh-out-loud comedy poems and fiery political tirades.”

Special guest at tonight’s Say Owt Slam in York will be Polarbear. “The last time he graced our city, Polarbear (a.k.a Steven Camden) was supporting Scroobius Pip and Kae Tempest,” says Henry. “He’s an internationally acclaimed spoken word artist and award-winning writer from Birmingham, whose poetry drips with gorgeous storytelling.

“He talks about people and places with a unique ear for language: celebrating the tiny human characteristics.”

Since first stepping on stage in 2004, Polarbear has performed his work and led creative projects from Manchester to Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur to California, as well as featuring on BBC Radio1, 3 and 6Music, attracting 155,000 views on YouTube and releasing a live album on Scroobius Pip’s Speech Development record label.

A few surprises might be in store tonight too. Box office: thecrescentyork.com/events/say-owt-slam-featuring-polarbear/ or on the door.