REVIEW: Rowntree Players in Sinbad, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ****

Gourmet Graham: Rowntree Players’ dame, Graham Smith, in one of myriad guises in Sinbad

Sinbad, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at

HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.

If they are all at sea, it is only in a good way, because this writing team is so skilled and quick witted now that their sea-faring adventure/misadventure is plain sailing to a big success. Tickets are at a premium, so don’t delay. In fact, book now, then resume reading this review…

…Director Ella and his co-writer and Old Man of the Sea, Welch, have delved into The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights and then decided to give it a blast of bracing Yorkshire sea air: Whitby and Scarborough Harborough, as it seemed to be called at one point at Sunday’s raucous matinee.

It starts in olden storytelling mode, but Ella and Welch quickly establish they will be putting the naughty into nautical. That means Irreverent, rather than saucy, although Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad, will sail pretty close to the wind, without ever being as blue as the Scarbadian sea.

More of Graham later. First, there are a couple of Brexit jokes from narrator Welch that both Leave and Remain camps can enjoy (but maybe not after Thursday’s General Election result). Even climate change pops up.

Sinfully good: Laura White’s outstanding Abadun in Sinbad

Laura White’s villainous, spiteful Abadun is out to spoil everyone’s party, turning Geoff Walker’s King Olaf into the Monkey King (cue plenty of funny monkey business and cartwheels from Josh Roe).

Can the two Hannahs, Hannah King’s resolute Sinbad and Hannah Temple’s plucky Princess Talida, find the Old Man of The Sea to revoke the spell and defeat vainglorious Abadun and dogged dogsbody Neckbeard (Sian Walshaw)?

Who else could be on hand to help/hinder them but the redoubtable mother-and-son comedy double act of Hapless Smith and McDonald, Graham and Gemma’s very silly Tilly and Gilly Tinbad.

You surely remember Madonna’s iconic cone bra? Smith makes the dame’s entrance wearing squashed ice cream cones, an amusing Scarborough variation with another cone for a hat. This is but one of many fab-u-lous costumes assembled by Leni Ella, Pam Davies, Jackie Holmes and Heather King to complement Howard Ella, Paul Mantle and Lee Smith’s delightful sets, ship decks, ultraviolet submarine and psychedelic rocks.

Hannah King’s Sinbad, front left, Hannah Temple’s Princess Talida, centre, and Laura White’s Abadun in the climactic sword fight on deck

Smith’s ever-so-slightly tetchy brand of Les Dawson dame and McDonald’s cartoon-esque sidekick in a shrunk Annie wig, daft voice and all, are comedy gold, rich with quickfire interchanges, whether reeling off every fish name under the sea or a series of words that rhyme with “sailor”. Here’s one: “he retired from the panto but didn’t leave…Berwick Kaler!”

The marriage of Ella and Welch’s waspish wit and Smith and McDonald’s irrepressible playfulness grows ever more fulfilling by the year. As promised by Welch too, the duo’s slosh scene below deck is their best yet, so well timed in its physical clowning.

Smith’s running gag of playing a heap of helpful aunts ­– with terrible accents, as McDonald teases him ­­– is another joy, but please don’t think this is merely their show.

Far from it. King, Temple and Walshaw thrive in action and song; Welch has his moment in Old Man beard, wig and cape, leading the ever-responsive ensemble like Wizzard’s Roy Wood in one of the show’s best set-piece numbers, Light At The End Of Tunnel.

Better still is White’s Abadun, to the villainous manner born, with a dash of panache in song and dance, an eye for humour and a singing voice that keeps hitting new peaks in The Smell Of Rebellion.

Musical director Jessica Douglas is on top form with her band, and when they combine with Ami Carter’s choreography for the likes of Pretty Little Gangplank (as in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Blondie’s One Or Way, in the climactic fight scene, the results are both spectacular and fun.

If you still haven’t bought a ticket, despite the earlier advice, do so NOW for this ridiculous, but ridiculously good Rowntree riot of a pantomime.

Charles Hutchinson

Rowntree Players’ Sinbad set sails from “Scarbados” for rollicking panto romp

Mop-handed: Laura White’s villainous Abadun demands her crew polish up their act in Rowntree Players’ Sinbad

HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.

All at sea – in a good way – at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday (December 14), this rollicking romp finds the co-writers returning to The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights, or 1,001 Scarbadian Nights, more precisely, as Welch’ storyline gives the seafaring adventure a Yorkshire shake-up.

Director Ella and co-writer Welch put the naughty into nautical by telling the story with significant artistic licence, especially for Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad.

“In honesty, the seven voyages of Sinbad are invariably a disaster,” notes Welch. “They tend to end with the ship sunk and the crew lost.  Not so many laughs in that!”

Enter the humour of Ella and Welch. “We’ve taken the bare bones of the stories – a young and eager sailor with a good heart and a taste for adventure – and we’ve set him on a course to fight pirates, rescue royalty and search for sunken treasure…”

“…But with plenty of silliness in between,” says Welch. “There’s the regular environmentally friendly, recycled comedy material, brilliant song and dance and what, we hope, is the biggest and best slosh scene we’ve ever done!

Hannah King’s Sinbad in Sinbad at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

“I don’t want to give too much away, but needless to say the band in the pit are bringing brollies!”

In the sixth year of their writing partnership, Ella and Welch are confident that time is not jading them. “We’ve really started to find our rhythm as writers and know what bits we each sparkle at!” says Ella.

“Basically, unless we both laugh at a gag, it doesn’t make it; unless we both love a song, it doesn’t go in, but that’s become an instinctive filter that really helps us hone the script. 

“It’s that need to appeal to every age and humour that remains the challenge, but I think we’re getting the hang of it.”

“Definitely,” decides Welch.  “This year is an absolute belter: fast paced, great fun and totally ridiculous. What more do you expect from panto?!”

Rowntree Players present Sinbad, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Haxby Road, York, until Saturday, December 14. Performances: 7.30pm plus 2pm Saturday matinee (sold out).  Ticket availability is limited for the remaining shows, especially for Friday (only a few left). Box office: 01904 501935 or at

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar, York Musical Theatre Company ****

Meet the new Whitney with the powerful voice: John Whitney as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar, York Musical Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or at

REJECTED as a theatre show, Jesus Christ Superstar began life as that very 1970s’ thing, a rock concept album, or double album to be precise.

The year was 1970; Tim Rice was 25, Andrew Lloyd Webber, 21. By 1972, it had resurrected miraculously as a rock opera, so successfully that it played the West End for eight years initially.

Paul Laidlaw’s glorious new revival in York could not be more Seventies in spirit: hippie hair; kaftans; flared jeans; Bjorn Borg headbands; big beards; cop-show moustaches. Only the patchouli oil and stinky Afghan coats are missing, and no-one misses them.

The dawn of Advent might seem the wrong time to tell the story of the last seven days of Jesus Christ’s life, as seen through Judas’s burning eyes, but in fact its impact is all the greater before thoughts turn towards celebrating the innocent child’s arrival.

John Whitney has long cherished his dream role of Jesus, through his days of studying musical theatre at York St John University and growing a tribute beard. Now, at 28, the Middlesbrough-born actor realises that dream, with York Musical Theatre Company as his “new source to get his awesome musicals fix,” he says in the programme, coming over all retro Seventies.

Through a mutual connection, your reviewer had been hearing of what a powerhouse voice Whitney had. He was right. Wow! The new Whitney sings with a stunning range, sensitivity, emotion, drama, soul, and did he hit that famous Everest-high top note in I Only Want To Say (Gethsemane)? Of course, he did.

At his lowest ebb: Chris Mooney’s Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar

He was but one of many superb casting decisions by Laidlaw. Liverpudlian Chris Mooney is making his YMTC debut as the traitorous Judas, the narrator’s role, standing out from his fellow disciples with cropped hair and autumnal, military colours, his manner as intense and deceiving as Shakespeare’s Iago. His singing voice is full of fire and angst, but sometimes tender too, although he needs to work on the clarity of his diction in moments of heightened vocal stress.

Marlena Kellie, a jazz singer with appearances at Ronnie Scott’s and Pride to her name, makes I Don’t Know How To Love Him sound freshly minted, heartbreaking anew.

More than a decade after his appearance in York Light’s chorus line for this musical, Peter Wookie has his YMTC bow as an austere Pilate, and he is another to make a heavyweight impact, both with his voice and imposing physicality.

Jesus Christ Superstar, like Lloyd Webber and Rice’s fellow fledgling work Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat, loves to show off myriad song styles, whether a rock anthem, a ballad, or a slice of Weimar cabaret in King Herod’s Song (a twinkling, camp John Haigh and his dancing ladies in red, contrasting with the men in black representing authority around him).

For this well paced sung-through musical, musical director John Atkin has a superb band under his command, wherein Paul McArthur and Neil Morgan’s guitars particularly shine out, while Laidlaw’s ensemble more than play their part too. Simon Spencer’s set and especially his lighting hit the mark too.

There is something of a Nativity play, Elvis Vegas show or even Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert about Jesus Christ Superstar, with its hip “Hey JC” lingo, but at the same time Laidlaw’s production wholly captures its deeper, darker aspects, played out on a bare scaffolding set provided by Brian Farrell Scaffolding. Namely, that it is a psychological study of a man alone, or rather two men alone: Jesus, on his pre-ordained journey to the cross, and Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, whose name has been dirt ever since.

This makes both their death scenes – spoiler alert! – devastating, albeit in their different ways. The solemn finale, no song, no music, only Jesus’s final words on the cross, reduces one and all to tears as the curtain falls. Oh, and that’s why it is apt to stage this musical now, when eyes are on a mendacious General Election, full of ill will and false prophets, and the Christmas tat commercials are starting to irritate already. Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus Christ Supershow.

Charles Hutchinson