Who’s who in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Cinderella? Meet the cast…

O, happy Day: CBeebies presenter Andy Day will play Dandini in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

CBEEBIES presenter Andy Day will be joined by Travelling Pantomime familiar faces Robin Simpson and Faye Campbell for York Theatre Royal’s homecoming pantomime, Cinderella.

Presented in tandem with perennial panto award winners Evolution Productions, creative director Juliet Forster’s production will run from December 3 to January 2: an earlier start, shorter run and much earlier last night than past main-house pantos.

Day, who will play Dandini, joined CBeebies in 2007, since when he has presented animal and nature programmes, whether tackling dinosaurs, investigating baby animals and going on safari.

Sister act: After his Dame Trott in the Travelling Pantomime, Robin Simpson will be back in York as one of the sourpuss Sisters

Nominated for a Children’s BAFTA award for best presenter in 2009, he has pantomime history, appearing in the CBeebies annual televised panto, as well as playing the Genie in Aladdin, Dandini in Cinderella, Muddles in Snow White and Billy Goose in Mother Goose.

Day is no stranger to director Forster, by the way, having been in the cast for her 50-minute CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, screened on April 2 and available subsequently on BBC iPlayer.

Day fronts his own live band, Andy And The Odd Socks, who once again will be launching Odd Socks Day for Anti-Bullying Week in schools up and down the country alongside the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a charity for whom Andy is a patron.

Look who’s back: Faye Campbell moves on from The Hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime to the title role in Cinderella this winter

Faye Campbell will take the title role in Cinderella after playing The Hero in Jack And The Beanstalk and Dick Whittington in the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 16 York wardslast December.

Actor-storyteller Robin Simpson will be returning too, following up his Dame Trott last winter on the back of a three-year damehood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. For Cinderella, he will form an (Ugly) Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard.

Comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham, set to shine as Buttons, has played leading comedy roles in pantomimes throughout the UK, being voted Best Speciality Act in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards for his Washee in Aladdin at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. 

Award-winning ventriloquist Max Fulham: Making his York Theatre Royal debut as Buttons

Fulham has created his own comedy series, Drivel Pedlar, for his You Tube channel. Next summer, he will head to Australia to play Muddles in Snow White at the new Sydney Coliseum.

Forster’s cast for the first main-house Theatre Royal pantomime since the Dame Berwick Kaler reign will be completed by Benjamin Lafayette’sPrince Charming and Sarah Leatherbarrow’sFairy Godmother.

Written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy, the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella will relocate the timeless rags-to-riches story to York, as the stage “comes to sparkling life with magical transformations, glittering sets, stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Sister double act: Paul Hawkyard as the other Sister, teaming up with Robin Simpson in Cinderella

Audiences should expect a ”brand-new pantomime for everyone with the promise of a truly epic spectacle and heaps of hilarity”, directed by Forster, who was at the helm of both the Travelling Pantomime’s tour of community venues and this summer’s Around The World The World In 80 Days, her circus-themed adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel that visited four York school playing fields in 16 days before a Theatre Royal finale last week.

Chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’re over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York – one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much.

“The phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella, set with pride in our amazing city.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer and writer Paul Hendy

Evolution Productions, started by Emily Wood and Hendy in 2005, have built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and highly humorous scripts. Two-time winners of Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards, they are the team behind Sheffield Theatres’ “extraordinarily successful” panto at the Lyceum Theatre.

Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on Cinderella. We’re huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast and a genuinely funny script.”

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Roll up, roll up, for circus double act Emilio and Ali in Around The World In 80 Days

The circus-themed stage taking shape at York Theatre Royal for this afternoon’s performance of Around The World In 80 Days

“IT’S been a few years coming, but finally getting to flail around on the @YorkTheatre main stage today. We’re here till the 28th.”

So reads actor Emilio Iannucci’s tweet, accompanying a photo of the circus-themed set in situ for this afternoon’s 2pm performance of Around The World In 80 Days.

“Flailing around” were not words that tipped off the keyboard keys for CharlesHutchPress’s review when watching Iannucci racing against time with elegant aplomb as globe-traversing Phileas Fogg in an outdoor performance on the Copmanthorpe Primary School playing fields.

From today to Saturday, creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel moves indoors for a York Theatre Royal homecoming finale led by Iannucci’s dual lead role of Ringmaster and Fogg.

On the back of eye-catching turns for the Theatre Royal in The Book Of Dragons and Hello And Goodbye and for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre Romeo & Juliet, Richard lll, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2018/2019, he was always Forster’s pick to have fun with Fogg. “That’s very flattering to hear, though I’m sure there are other people who could do the role!” says Emilio.

“I’ve been recovering from long Covid, so in a way I’ve been having a race against time myself to do this show. It’s not like I’m missing a physical bit of me, but there are still ups and downs, though they’re now further apart and less intense – and drawing on the energy of my fellow cast members has been very helpful.”

Phileas Fogg is noted for his efficiency and managing his life very carefully, a philosophy that Iannucci has applied to his recuperation and return to performing. “Long Covid has been a horrible thing to go through but it’s challenged me to approach things in new ways, rather than my usual process, now trying to achieve the same things but in a different way,” he says.

Emilio Iannucci in a scene from York Theatre Royal’s Around The World in 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Iannucci’s main inspiration for his characterisation of Phileas Fogg is Verne’s novel. “That’s because the Ringmaster is adamant that we have to be faithful to the book, not the films. He’s determined to tell the story by the book, though whether that’s for budgetary reasons, like explaining why there’ll be no hot-air balloon…!” he says.

“The first part is all about telling you who Fogg wasn’t, what he wasn’t, not judging him too quickly, because he’s a strange character in that he’s not very likeable at the start and not wholly likeable by the end, but gradually you do come round to his side.

“He’s the opposite of the Ringmaster, who’s stroppy, flustered and always trying to herd cats.”

Dame Berwick Kaler has often talked of the need for actors to be “likeable” in his pantomime companies, and Iannucci has displayed such likeability in buckets in myriad stage roles but says: “I’d counter that by saying I don’t try to be likeable; I try to be honest…and Fogg is very honest. He can be a bit an a**e – he may or may not be guilty of theft – so I’m just trying to stay to what’s honest to that character and let the audience judge.

“I’m more used to playing low-status characters, who have to move props and help people, but Fogg is calling the tune here.”

In this energetically humorous account of Around The World In 80 Days, Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg is sort of a double act with his servant, French-Moroccan actor Ali Azhar’s Passepartout.

Azhar made his mark previously in York in the second summer of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre at the Eye of York, appearing as a Spirit in The Tempest (“moving a tree around!”) and as the Dauphin (“a delicious part”) in 2019.

Ali Azhar, left, with Eddie Mann, Dora Rubinstein and Ulrika Krishnamurti, playing Victorian gents at the Reform Club in Around The World in 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“It was a rewarding adventure: four months of Shakespeare, the best bootcamp an actor can have,” says Ali. “And I love York! To wake up in this city with all that lovely fresh air and beautiful sites is bliss.”

Parisian Azhar plays not only the put-upon yet resourceful Passepartout but also The Clown, part of the circus company charged with telling Verne’s tale, as well as juggling or forming human pyramids or balancing on a seesaw with fellow actor Eddie Mann.

“That’s really helpful for the play because it means the cast can tell you about British colonisation and imperialism in Victorian times [Fogg made his journey in 1871], where we can all join in the debate without schooling everyone when it’s a story and we want everyone to have fun, so it’s joyful ride.”

Introducing The Clown, Ali says: “He’s recently been hired by the Ringmaster and has no idea about Jules Verne and doesn’t know the novel. He’s wild, a joker, but when he’s told he has to play the part of Passepartout, he tries not to take too much of the attention, whereas a clown usually does that.

“I think he must be the quietest clown I’ve ever played – and he seems to be always late or trying to catch up!”

Around The World In 80 Days is at York Theatre Royal for four days, August 25 to 28; performances at 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm. Suitable for age seven upwards. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Why acrobat Dora is so happy to be at full stretch in Around The World In 80 Days

Dora Rubinstein, right, as Nellie Bly with Eddie Mann, top, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti in York Theatre Royal’s circus-themed Around The World In 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

AFTER traversing the city on a trailer for 16 days, the York Theatre Royal circus pitches up back home in St Leonard’s Place from Wednesday for the final run of Around The World In 80 Days.

Among the travelling players for creative director Juliet Forster’ stage adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel is actor, singer, acrobatic and yoga teacher Dora Rubinstein, a North Easterner, originally from Newcastle, who has settled in York.

She has history with Forster, having voiced Mary Magdalene in the York Mystery Plays audio plays for the Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York during lockdown, under Forster’s direction, and then taken on the guise of pioneering Anne Lister, alias Gentleman Jack, for musical theatre composer Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York at the Theatre Royal’s re-opening show, Love Bites, overseen by Forster in May.

“It was so different doing that short piece for Love Bites,” says Dora. “I was approached by Gus, as we had lots of mutual friends who work in musical theatre, and Suranne Jones, who plays Anne Lister in the Gentleman Jack TV series, is not too far away from me in terms of my looks.

“It was lovely to be back in the theatre, as though most of my recent work has been circus based, I still love singing.”

Although Dora had worked with Juliet on the Radio Mystery Plays, Covid restrictions had limited the rehearsals and recordings to being conducted remotely. “That’s why I wasn’t sure if she knew about my circus skills, so I sent her an email, but it turned out she was aware, though I don’t know how, but I’m just happy she did,” she says.

Dora, who runs workshops in acrobalance, handstands, flexibility, contortion and aerial skills in York and Leeds, is now playing The Acrobat and American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker Nellie Bly, who, like the fictional Phileas Fogg in Verne’s story, made a race-against-time trip around the world. 

“I grew up seeing plays at York Theatre Royal,” says Dora Rubinstein. “So it’s always felt like home”

“At the auditions, I had to do an American accent for Nellie Bly; I used a Geordie accent for The Acrobat – my choice – and I also have to play two ship captains, one from Hull, the other, a salty old sea dog,” she says.

All those acrobatic and contortionist skills naturally come in handy for The Acrobat in Around The World In 80 Days, but how come the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts graduate has developed those skills?

“My mum is a visual artist, who makes community pieces, and she was fascinated by how close the circus community was. As part of her research, she went to a trapeze class in Newcastle, and she said she felt like she’d come home,” says Dora, taking the country route in her explanation.

“She was so at home with it, whereas most people, when they first try it, find it incredibly hard. When I came back home from Arts Ed [her musical theatre diploma course in London], she knew how much I’d enjoyed the physical side of it and so she introduced me to circus culture, where I felt I really fitted into that world, the acrobatic world, rather than dance.

“Then, when I later left Mountview, I kept it up even more, doing aerial classes, and it’s since fed into my other work, with more to play with from the devising perspective.”

Dora teaches a “really wide range of people”, whether leading workshops for children and young families or teaching York burlesque performer Freida Nipples flexibility tricks to integrate into her routines.

Emilio Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg, left, with Dora Rubinstein, Eddie Mann, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti‘s scoffing Reform Club members in a scene from Around The World In 80 Days. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Even during rehearsals, she has continued to hold workshops at weekends, such as the acro-yoga sessions she leads at The Stables, in Nunmill Street, just off Bishopthorpe Road.

“My mum [Jane Park] is coming down to teach with me; we’re the first mother-and-daughter acro-yoga instructors,” she says.

Dora moved to York two years ago after living in London for a decade. “I felt that was long enough down there,” she says. “A lot of my work was in the north, and though you are fed this idea that you have to be based in London to make a career as a performer, I met this amazing actress, Helen Longworth, when I did two pantomimes at Lancaster.

“She was also doing TV parts and radio in The Archers, had a young child and was living in a village outside Morecambe, and I just thought, ‘why should I spend £1,300 a month on a flat in London?’.”

Why settle on York? “My boyfriend loves taking photographs, so we wanted a city that was beautiful to walk around, with good rail connections, and York really was the only one! We’ve now bought a house, so it looks like we’re staying!

“My grandfather lived in Portland Street, and I grew up seeing plays at York Theatre Royal, when I came here every two or three months. He loved the theatre too, so it’s always felt like home.”

This week will find Dora performing on that Theatre Royal stage, bringing Nellie Bly’s story to the fore as Phileas Fogg’s race against the clock to complete a full circuit of the Earth is interwoven with investigative journalist Nellie’s own record-breaking journey.

Not one to be boxed in: Dora Rubinstein in the lead-up to playing The Acrobat, a role that writer-director Juliet Forster first contemplated calling “The Contortionist” but doubted she could find one. Ironically, Dora is as equally adept at contortionism as acrobatics!

“I hadn’t heard of Nellie until I got the audition, though it’s incredible all the amazing things she did leading up to her going around the world,” she says.

“I remember being taught about Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria and Grace Darling [the English lighthouse keeper’s daughter, who risked her life to rescue the stranded survivors of the wrecked steamship Forfarshire in 1838], but not about Nellie Bly’s achievements.

“When she submitted an anonymous response to a newspaper article that said women should be in the kitchen, it was so well written that the editor put out a call to discover who it was.

“She became an investigative journalist, going undercover into a mental institution, putting her life on the line to make a difference for others. She had such chutzpah.”

As for Dora’s other principal role as The Acrobat, “Funnily enough, Juliet almost called her ‘The Contortionist’, but she didn’t think she would find one, but there I was all along, doing partner-acrobatic work and some contortion work in Japan, and performing contortion acts at the Durham Juggling Festival and Play Festival in North Wales!” she says .

Looking ahead, after undertaking research work with her mother at Dance City, Newcastle, and working with mentor and dramaturg Sarah Puncheon, Dora is creating her first acrobatics-based piece, Hold Your Own, built around family relationships. “Hopefully we’ll start doing it next year and tour it later in 2022,” she says.

Around The World In 80 Days races around York Theatre Royal from August 25 to 28; performances at 2pm and 7pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Suitable for age seven upwards.

‘Still haven’t the Foggiest idea what family show to see this summer? This is the one’

Playing his hand: Emilio Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg with the scoffing gentlemen of the Reform Club (as played with bristling moustaches by Dora Rubinstein, Eddie Mann, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti) in York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 days. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

REVIEW: York Theatre Royal in Around The World In 80 Days, Copmanthorpe Primary School Playing Fields, York

NO foreign holiday this summer? Let York Theatre Royal take you there, off the back of a trailer at a school playing field, transformed into a circus.

Wednesday, 7pm, Copmanthorpe Primary School: the yellow and red striped flags are fluttering in the night air in a circular formation to denote Vernes Circus is in town. Bobbing balloons and the persistently perky sound of a fairground organ add to the atmosphere.

Rather than inside a pop-up big top, we are in the open air, wrapped up for the English weather (last Friday evening’s show at Carr Junior School had to be called off after a thunderstorm warning). Safety first too, everyone is still mindful of social distancing, maintaining gaps between fold-up chairs. 

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster has form for such theatrical enterprises, rolling out last winter’s Travelling Pantomime to 16 city wards. A case of taking theatre to the people, rather than expecting them to take themselves to the Theatre Royal, although this summer’s production will end with four days of indoor shows there after going around  four York schools in 16 days.

Dora Rubinstein’s resolute, irrepressible Nellie Bly, right, with Eddie Mann, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti’s circus performers in Around The World In 80 Days

She also repeats the panto template of a cast of five with multiple talents, while this time adding the writer’s credit to her directorial duties, just as she did when adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet for CBeebies earlier this year.

We think we know French novelist Jules Verne’s story of a somewhat prickly English Victorian gentleman, Phileas Fogg, going around the globe in a hot air balloon. Stop right there. No sooner has Ali Azhar’s Clown started to blow up a balloon than he is told no such form of transportation was used by Fogg in the book; only in the myriad screen adaptations.

Financial constraints would prevent any balloon rides here, cautions Emilio Iannucci’s snappy Ringmaster.

Clown? Ringmaster? Surely, they were not in Verne’s story either? Indeed not, but Forster frames her adaptation around circus performers telling the tale, all her company taking on two main roles and more besides.

To complement the upstanding, moustachioed Iannucci’s Ringmaster/Fogg and French-Moroccan Azhar’s Clown/servant Passepartout, here come Ulrika Krishnamurti’s Trick Rider/Indian princess Aouda, New Zealander Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower/spiv Detective Fox and Dora Rubinstein’s Acrobat/Nellie Bly.

The circus comes to town, or more specifically to four York school playing fields, as York Theatre Royal stages Around The World In 80 Days around York in 16 days, plus four days indoors at the Theatre Royal with Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti as part of Juliet Forster’s cast of five

Mann will work his way through London, Liverpool, Scottish and American Deep South accents; the ultra-flexible Rubinstein, through Geordie, refined American, English South West and, a particular favourite, Hull, for a blunt sea captain.

Up against the clock, everything moves at pace, whether scene or character changes, storyline or the revolving signage that denotes arrival at the next destination. 

Hold that thought. Not quite everything moves so quickly. Fogg is always in too much of a rush to bother with describing where he is, but Nellie Bly is a groundbreaking American journalist whose travelogues are a joy to behold whenever Rubinstein’s resolute character settles for a restorative breather in a brilliant directorial decision by Forster .

Unlike Verne’s Fogg and his wager with his Reform Club cronies, Bly is not mere fiction. She really did traverse the world in a flight that knocked days off Fogg’s total, and yet her history-making story is not well known.  Forster puts that right, interweaving the tales in a way that both compliments and complements each other.

Forster’s production brings to mind the elasticity and stage electricity, the physical and mental fun and games, the deftness and daftness, of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and Mischief’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Like those two West End hits, the more the show the progresses, the better it is, the more impressive the cast becomes, using props in unexpected ways, whether straw bales or bicycle wheels, or circus equipment that turns into a cell for Fogg.

Holed up: Emilio Iannucci’s Phileas Fogg in one of his myriad challenging scrapes in Around The World In 80 Days

One heavy-drinking scene with Mann’s Fix and Azhar’s Passepartout trying to balance but constantly on the move on a seesaw will live long in the memory.

Not only Forster and her livewire, fun, funny international company are on top form here: so too are Sara Perks’s evocative circus set and dapper costume designs; Asha Jennings-Grant’s dashing movement direction, circus acrobatics and smart choreography, and Ed Gray’s music and especially his 360-degree sound design that adds spectacularly to the rip-roaring drama.

Still haven’t the Foggiest idea of what family show to see this summer? This is the one. Roll up! Roll up!

Tickets can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Suitable for age seven upwards.

Around The World In 80 Days performances still to come:

Copmanthorpe Primary School, tonight, 7pm.

Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14, 7pm; August 15, 2pm and 6pm; Aug 16, 3pm and 7pm.

Joseph Rowntree School, August 18, 7pm; August 19, 3pm and 7pm; August 20, 7pm; August 21, 2pm and 6pm.

York Theatre Royal, August 25 to 28, 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm.

Roll up! Roll up! Emilio Iannucci’s Ringmaster offers his welcome to Vernes Circus in York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days. On stage too are circus performers Ali Azhar, Dora Rubinstein, Eddie Mann and Ulrika Krishnamurti

Roll up, roll up for York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days on circus trailer parked on school playing fields

Emilio Iannucci, who will switch between The Ringmaster and Phileas Fogg, in rehearsal for York Theatre Royal’s circus-themed production of Around The World In 80 Days

YORK Theatre Royal is going global, visiting all four corners of York in 23 days with its summer family show Around The World In 80 Days.

Not in a hot-air balloon, but on a trailer, whose sides can be dropped down for the set to be built around, in the tradition of travelling players going from town to town.

“It’s not quite a pop-up theatre, but we can certainly taking everything around in the trailer,” says writer-director Juliet Forster.

After overseeing last winter’s debut Travelling Pantomime on its tour of 16 of York’s 21 wards, Theatre Royal creative director Juliet is taking her circus-themed adaptation of the Jules Verne novel to four York playing fields from tomorrow (August 6) to August 21. The last stop will be back at York Theatre Royal from August 25 to 28.

“Around The World In 80 Days is one of those titles that I’d had in the back of my mind, because it’s familiar, and such shows have worked well for us in the summertime,” says Juliet.

“Then, with all the disappointment of restrictions around travelling abroad still affecting plans for holidays, the story came back into my mind, possibly ironically, because we couldn’t go to all these places, but we could do so in a play.

Juggling roles: New Zealander Eddie Mann, who will play The Knife Thrower and Detective Fox in Juliet Forster’s production of Around The World In 80 Days

“Though it still took a little longer to make a final decision on it because none of the existing adaptations appealed.”

She took the matter into her hand: not only would she direct the show, but she would provide the new adaptation herself too in a “perfect opportunity for some armchair tourism – or, rather, picnic-blanket tourism”.

“I did the first draft in April, spending pretty much every day on it, and then did the second and third drafts over the next two months, in bits and pieces, when time allowed,” says Juliet, who also was at the helm of York Theatre Royal’s reopening show, Love Bites, on May 17 and 18.

She promises a “joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the Verne’s adventure of Reform Club gentleman traveller Phileas Fogg, delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best”, but that tells only half the story in the new two-hour version.

“Jules Verne’s tale is a lot of fun as the characters race against time to complete a full circuit of the Earth, but now fact and fiction go head to head as real-life investigative journalist Nellie Bly puts in an appearance,” says Juliet.

How come? “One of the things I felt with Verne’s text was that although it was a fun idea  – I’d seen the film, but I’d never read the book – when I did come to read it, it didn’t sum up the atmosphere of each place as much as I’d expected, because Fogg was whizzing around the world, so it didn’t give as much detail as I would have liked.

Roll up, roll up for Ulrika Krishnamurti’s circus skills as The Trick Rider in Around The World In 80 Days

“There was a risk that a show would have a stuffy gentlemen’s club, outdated feel to because it’s a male-dominated story, so I thought, ‘how do we make it a play for today?’. That’s when I decided to put Nellie Bly’s story in there too.”

For the uninitiated, Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, an American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker, who made her own record-breaking trip around the world – and did so with more alacrity than the fictional Fogg.

“When I worked with the Out Of Character company on Objects Of Terror, set in a Victorian cellar, the journalist character was based on Nellie, who had got herself committed to an asylum to blow the lid on what went on inside,” says Juliet.

“Nellie set the record for the fastest crossing of land and sea, and how ironic that we all know the fictional story of Phileas Fogg, and yet we don’t know about the real-life woman who did the same journey and did it quicker!

“So, I read her book about going around the world: a beautiful piece of travel journalism with such lovely detail, and I thought, ‘maybe we should just do her story’, but then I decided, ‘no, let’s look at finding a form for a play that fits bit both stories in’.

“Jules Verne’s story is out of copyright, so there were no complications over doing that.”

Balancing act: Ali Azhar preparing to play The Clown, as well as Passepartout, in Around The World In 80 Days

Juliet never settles for the easy option. “I can’t do a play without going, ‘why am I doing it now?’. I have to ask myself, ‘what is the relevance to today?’, and I think this adaptation brings a whole new perspective to it, but the Jules Verne story is very much still in there,” she says.

She has given the story a circus setting, a manoeuvre that frees up the imagination and removes the need for a big West End-style or silver screen budget. “It’s an opportunity to do it in an ultra-theatrical way,” says Juliet.

“We can use some of the skills we have in the cast to capture the essence of movement, as it’s story full of the joy of being on the move, so it stretches the limits of what we can do and it takes us to all these places, with sounds and music tipping our imagination into visualising each of them.”

One surprise will be the lack of hot-air balloon, but wait… “There is no hot-air balloon in the book! They put one in the 1956 film, the one with David Niven as Phileas Fogg, and it’s been in every version since,” says Juliet. “It’s even on the book cover now! We’ll make a sly reference to it, so watch out!

“I think the other reason the balloon is embedded in our heads because Jules Verne’s first successful book was called Five Weeks In A Balloon.”

Fittingly for a story rooted in international travel, Juliet’s cast has an international flavour: Emilio Iannucci, who will play The Ringmaster and Phileas Fogg, is of Italian heritage; French-Moroccan actor Ali Azhar, born in Paris, will be The Clown and Passepartout; Ulrika Krishnamurti, a singer of Indian classical music, will be The Trick Rider and Aouda, and Eddie Mann, in the roles of The Knife Thrower and Detective Fox, is a New Zealander who moved over here a decade ago.

In the basket: Contortionist Dora Rubinstein fits in some practice for playing The Acrobat in Around The World In 80 Days

“Although I wanted to have an international flavour to the show, I wasn’t sure I’d get it,” reveals Juliet. “But I knew Ali had a great French accent, as well as being a good mover, from seeing him in Shakespeare Rose Theatre’s Henry V in 2019, and so he was ideal for Passepartout.

“I’d seen Ulrika in Katie Posner’s production of Made In India when it came to the Theatre Royal Studio, where she really stood out as being fun and very playful.

“With Eddie, I’d actually forgotten he was a New Zealander until we spoke on Zoom, but that’s what circus is: international. It shouldn’t just be British voices!”

York Theatre Royal in Around The World In 80 Days:

Carr Junior School, August 6, 7pm;  August 7,  3pm and 7pm; August 8, 2pm and 6pm.

Copmanthorpe Primary School, August 10, 7pm; August 11 and 12, 3pm and 7pm.

Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14, 7pm; August 15, 2pm and 6pm; Aug 16, 3pm and 7pm.

Joseph Rowntree School, August 18, 7pm; August 19, 3pm and 7pm; August 20, 7pm; August 21, 2pm and 6pm.

York Theatre Royal, August 25 to 28, 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm.

Suitable for age 7+. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Writer-director Juliet Forster: “Delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best”

Copyright of The Press, York

York Theatre Royal to go all around York in 23 days in All Around The World In 80 Days

Travelling players: top row, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti; bottom row, Eddie Mann, left, Dora Rubinstein and Emilio Iannucci, the cast for Around The World In 80 Days

YORK Theatre Royal is going global, visiting all four corners of York in 23 days with its family show Around The World In 80 Days.

After taking the Theatre Royal’s debut Travelling Pantomime to 16 of York’s 21 wards at Christmas, creative director Juliet Forster will be at the helm once more for this summer spectacular.

Juliet’s new circus-themed adaptation of the Jules Verne novel will play four York playing fields from August 6 to 21 before heading home for a finale at York Theatre Royal from August 25 to 28.

“As one of the characters in the play says: ‘If you can’t travel to exciting parts of the globe this summer, don’t despair, we are here to bring the world to you!’,” says Juliet. “That’s the spirit of this production really. 

“Many of us are feeling disappointed that there are still a lot of restrictions around travelling this summer, so this show is the perfect opportunity for some armchair tourism – or, rather, picnic-blanket tourism.”

Juliet continues: “Jules Verne’s story is a lot of fun as the characters race against time to complete a full circuit of the Earth, and in this version, fact and fiction also go head to head as real-life investigative journalist Nellie Bly puts in an appearance. It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story, delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best.”

“It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story,” promises Juliet Forster, director of York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

Forster, who also directed Love Bites, the love letter to live performance that re-opened the Theatre Royal after Covid restrictions eased on May 17, will be joined in the outdoor production team by Sara Perks, designer of the Theatre Royal productions of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes and Brideshead Revisited; movement director Asha Jennings-Grant; composer and sound designer Ed Gray; lighting and sound engineer Mike Redley and assistant director Sam Bond.

Around The World In 80 Days will be staged outdoors on school playing fields at Carr Junior School, August 6 to 8; Copmanthorpe Primary School, August 10 to 12; Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14 to 16, and Joseph Rowntree School, August 18 to 21, followed by the Theatre Royal home run.

Tree-climbing enthusiast Emilio Iannucci, previously seen at York Theatre Royal in The Book Of Dragons and Hello And Goodbye and at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Richard lll, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2018/2019, will lead the cast as the Ringmaster and Phileas Fogg.

Ali Azhar will play The Clown and Passepartout; Ulrika Krishnamurti, The Trick Rider and Aouda; Eddie Mann, The Knife Thrower and Detective Fox, and York actor Dora Rubinstein, The Acrobat and Nellie Bly.

To add to the international flavour of Forster’s production, Ali Azharis a French-Moroccan actor born in Paris, where he studied classical theatre before further training at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London, and Broadway Dance Centre in New York.

Emilio Iannucci, the son of satirist, writer, director and radio producer Armando Iannucci, is of Italian heritage; Ulrika Krishnamurti is a singer of Indian classical music and this summer Eddie Mann celebrates his tenth year of traveling around the world in 24 hours to settle in Britain after leaving his native New Zealand.  

Who’s playing which roles?

As a member of post-punk trio Circus Of Bones, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mann has toured Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Cyprus, as well as Britain five times, and had a residency at Cafe de Paris in, er, London.

Stretching things a little, Dora Rubinstein runs workshops in flexibility, contortion, acrobalance, handstands, and aerial adroitness in York and Leeds.

Looking forward to a summer of globe-trotting in York, Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird says: “Following the success of our hugely popular indoors family summer shows, including Swallows And Amazons and The Wind In The Willows, we’re excited to be going outdoors and to all four corners of York with Around The World In 80 Days. This madcap adventure, full of fun and frivolity, is just what we need right now. Enjoy!”

York Theatre Royal in Around The World In 80 Days:

Carr Junior School, August 6, 7pm;  August 7,  3pm and 7pm; August 8, 2pm and 6pm.

Copmanthorpe Primary School, August 10, 7pm; August 11 and 12, 3pm and 7pm.

Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14, 7pm; August 15, 2pm and 6pm; Aug 16, 3pm and 7pm.

Joseph Rowntree School, August 18, 7pm; August 19, 3pm and 7pm; August 20, 7pm; August 21, 2pm and 6pm.

York Theatre Royal, August 25 to 28, 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm.

Suitable for age 7+. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Bite-sized Q & A with…Maurice Crichton on his Love Bites piece at York Theatre Royal

Maurice Crichton, as Dorn, with Elizabeth Elsworth, as Polina, in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio in February-March 2020. Picture: John Saunders

THE Love Season will soon set hearts pulsing at York Theatre Royal, where the Step 3 reopening will make its mark with Love Bites: a love letter to live performance and a toast to the city’s creative talent.

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged on May 17 – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and May 18.

The 22 short pieces selected will be performed each night at 8pm under the overall direction of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster. Each “bite” will take hold for five minutes.

In the first in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As, York actor Maurice Crichton has five minutes to discuss his work, Where Are You Now, You And I?

How did you hear about Love Bites, Maurice?

“I reckon I saw it come up on Facebook and of course via charleshutchpress.”

What is your connection with York?

“I came south from the Glasgow area to university here in the early 1980s and have been here ever since. My three children grew up here. Then in 2009 I got involved in the York amateur theatre scene and theatrical pursuits are now a big part of my life.”

Helen Wilson: Directing Maurice Crichton in Where Are We Now, You And I?. Here she is pictured performing in York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets in the Holy Trinity Church open air in Goodramgate, York

What will feature in your Love Bite, Where Are We Now, You and I?, and why? 

“I can tell you it is a solo piece which I have written and that my partner Helen Wilson is going to bring to bear her considerable directing expertise to try to make sure I don’t make a complete fool of myself. 

“The brief was simple and clear for a very special occasion. A love letter to light up the YTR stage after such a long period of darkness. I had an immediate and personal response to the brief, which I hope will do justice to the opportunity. 

“I was in Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion in 2011 in the main house when it was reconfigured in the round. I did a slightly daunting read-through as Pilate for the 2012 Mystery Plays from the main stage to a big audience the following year. But nothing else in that space. So, for lots of reasons, even though it is only five minutes, for me personally it’s going to be a big five minutes.”

So, where are we now, you and I and the rest of us?

“I hope just about OK. I have been very lucky. With any unexpected trauma, it doesn’t really hit home until the danger is past. What has it cost us all? It’s too early to say.”

In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre? 

“Being able to take for granted that it’s alive and well in our city and has a future.”

“What has it cost us all? It’s too early to say,” says Maurice Crichton of living through these pandemic times

What’s coming next for you?

“I’ve done some filming work on a piece called The Whispering House with Damian Cruden (director) and Bridget Foreman (writer), about the Census in Tang Hall and Heworth, in which I play a Swedish immigrant completing the 1911 census.

“His name is Enoch Stanhope, a real person. He lived at Yew Villa, Heworth Village, and had a jewellery shop on Coney Street. I hope the fruits of that work will be released soon.”

“I’m producing another Sonnets production – the sixth – this summer for York Shakespeare Project. Emilie Knight is going to direct and we hope to able to announce dates for this year in an exciting new outdoor venue very soon. 

“I’m also working on a little project for York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to take a guided walk along the route of the medieval Mystery Plays. (YMPST, along with York Festival Trust are staging A Resurrection For York on wagons in the Residence Garden, Dean’s Park, beside the Minster Library on July 3 and 4, directed by Philip Parr.)

What would be the best way to spend five minutes if you had a choice?

“Right now, it would be to ring my Mum’s doorbell in Fife and give her a hug or to make a surprise second visit to my new granddaughter (aged four weeks) in Bath and to bounce little Emma on my knee.”

Tickets for Love Bites cost Pay What You Feel at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

Feel the love as York Theatre Royal marks May reopening with season from the heart

Love letter to theatre: The reopening season at York Theatre Royal

MUCH ado about nothing but love is promised when York Theatre Royal reopens with two nights of letters from the heart from May 17.

Love Bites will turn the spotlight on the creativity of artists from in and around York, whether poets, performers, singers, dancers or digital artists, who have been commissioned to write love letters celebrating the return to live performances after the easing of the Government’s pandemic restrictions.

More names will be announced nearer the time for the 8pm performances on May 17 and 18, but confirmed already from 200 proposals are Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope’s piece, A Love Letter To Female Friendship, and Japanese-English actor Erika Noda’s semi-autobiographical account of growing up dual heritage, entitled Ai.

Magic trio: writer Bethan Ellis, illustrator Elena Skoreyko Wagner and composer James Cave

Contributing too will be the Magic combination of illustrator and papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, composer and York Minster choir member James Cave and writer and editor Bethan Ellis, finding magic and meaning in the mundane, and York-based Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who combines words, music and dance in works centred on place, home and the multiplicity of cultures, this time presenting Ekhaya, Love Them Both?.

Juliet Forster, the Theatre Royal’s creative director, says: “Love Bites is really a love letter to live performance, put together by York artists. It’s a celebration of what we have been missing for over a year now: the chance to come together under one roof and share our stories and experiences. There was no one single theatre production that felt enough to mark the reopening of theatres, the lifting of restrictions, so we decided that we needed multiple ones.”

Selecting 20 commissions from more than 200 proposals was “extremely difficult, but really inspiring too,” she reveals. “There are so many talented, inventive, creative people in York – we could have filled the night several times over. The selection of short pieces that you will see on our stage represent a wide range of voices, artforms and approaches to the theme of love, created by both well-established artists and those who are newer to the scene,” she says.

“We hope Love Bites will turn out to be ‘a many-splendored thing’,” says York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster

“Love Bites will explore the idea of love letters, dedicated to people, places, things, actions, occupations and much, much more in a multitude of ways, all presented in five-minute specially commissioned bite-sized chunks. We hope Love Bites will turn out to be ‘a many-splendored thing’”.

After these two nights introduced by Look North alumnus Harry Gration with a Pay What You Feel ticket policy, The Love Season’s focus on human connection, the live experience and a sense of togetherness will embrace solo shows by stage and screen luminary Ralph Fiennes [Four Quartets} and Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh [The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…]; a new Ben Brown political drama about writer Graham Greene and spy Kim Philby, A Splinter Of Ice,  and Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, transposed to 1940s’ Hong Kong by writer Amy Ng and director Dadiow Lin.

Performances will be presented to socially distanced audiences, adhering to the latest Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and audiences with a reduced capacity of 344, but should Step 4 of the roadmap roll-out go ahead as planned on June 21, there is scope for more seats to go on sale for shows later in the season. Over to you, Mr Johnson.

“We’re so chuffed to have Ralph Fiennes coming to York. We can’t believe it,” says Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird says: “The last thing we want to do, given our mission and the trouble in keeping theatre alive, is to put up more barriers to people coming, but we have to be Covid-safe, and that’s the bottom line. We did it for the Travelling Pantomime we took around York wards, and we will do it again from May 17.’”

The number one talking point is Ralph Fiennes’s Theatre Royal debut, in six performances from July 26 to 31, directing himself in the world-premiere tour of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets: a solo theatre adaptation of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Giddings, a set of poems first published together in 1943 on the themes of time, nature and the elements, faith and spirituality, war and mortality.

Tom says: “The link to bring the show here is James Dacre, artistic director of Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatres, who co-produced A View From The Bridge with the Theatre Royal in 2019.

Ralph Fiennes rehearsing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets

“He’s co-producing this tour, helping Ralph put the show together. Ralph is rehearsing in London, opening at the Theatre Royal, Bath, from May 25 and then touring. We’re so chuffed to have Ralph coming to York. We can’t believe it!

“We’re thrilled that Ralph’s show became a possibility for us, and it’s a huge credit to him to recognise the need to support theatre around the country at this time.

“Let’s say it, it’s rare for an actor of his profile and standing to do a regional tour, but he’s seen that he can help to save some incredibly important producing houses, like this one, by doing a tour – and it’s not an act of charity; it’s an important and really exciting piece of work.”

“It’s a huge credit to him to recognise the need to support theatre around the country at this time,” says Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

Tom is delighted by Fiennes’s choice of material too. “There’s a massive tradition of actors doing Eliot poems, like Fiona Shaw doing The Waste Land,” he says. “They lend themselves to performance, and it’s really telling that Ralph has chosen to take Four Quartets on tour at this moment because they’re rooted in life and death; the past and the future; human relationships and a love of place.

“For that reason, it fits into our programme for a season built around love, connection and being rooted in a place. As an American coming to England, Eliot was trying to root himself here by looking for his ancestors in Somerset.”

For full details of The Love Season, go to: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Tickets can be booked at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; on 01904 623568, Monday to Saturday, 12 noon to 3pm, and in person, Thursday to Saturday, 12 noon to 3pm.

Ready for love at York Theatre Royal

Copyright of The Press, York

Only One Question for…Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal creative director

Juliet Forster: Leading York Theatre Royal’s creative work and community work

IN the re-shuffle of job titles at the Theatre Royal since the onset of the pandemic, you have upgraded from associate director to creative director. What is the significance of this change, Juliet?

“I’ve taken a shift in responsibilities. As associate director, I was part of the creative team overseeing all the programming, both in-house and touring, as well as heading up our creative work with young people.

“Now I’m focusing specifically on what we create ourselves. We’ve been looking at models of working that have been emerging in other theatres, since Damian [Cruden] left his post as artistic director in July 2019.

“The programme here used to be so much built around our own work with a bit of touring. Now, there are more co-productions and we spread out who’s directing the shows, like they do at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, for example.

“No longer having an artistic director, under chief executive Tom Bird, we now have a theatre maker as part of the bigger programming team, with producer Tom Freeth and associate artist John R Wilkinson, collaborating together, and I now lead our creative work and our community work.”

Forster and Forster’s The Machine Stops starts again, now online from York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre UPDATED 1/4/2021

Caroline Gruber (Vashti), Maria Gray (Machine 2) and Gareth Aled (Machine 1) in The Machine Stops. Picture: Ben Bentley

AS Covid-19 took its relentless grip, Juliet Forster kept finding her thoughts returning to E M Forster’s The Machine Stops, the stage adaptation she first directed for York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre in 2016.

“What was in my head was how we would be struck by it even more under Covid,” she says.

“Over this last year, I have thought about this piece many times as the world around us seemed to grow more and more like the incredible world that E M Forster imagined.

“And it’s even more striking today than it was at the time: things like human contact and human touch becoming something that’s almost taboo, things that didn’t seem relevant back in 2016 but are really, really striking and even more relevant now.”

This spring, The Machine Stops is starting up all over again, available to watch on a Theatre Royal webcast until April 5. Reactions so far have affirmed Juliet’s own feelings. “People are saying how eerily relevant it is,” she says.

“No windows; no natural day and night; no physical communication”: the life that Kuno (Karl Queensborough) wants to escape in The Machine Stops. Picture: Ben Bentley

E M Forster’s 1909 short story is set in a futuristic, dystopian world where humans have retreated far underground and individuals live in isolation in “cells”, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. 

“That’s what has felt very strange, particularly the lack of human contact: the things that we laughed at in 2016, but now we’re all having to try to avoid each other,” says Juliet.

Adapted by Neil Duffield, The Machine Stops premiered in the York Theatre Royal Studio in  May and June 2016 at the outset of a three-venue run and was revived there in February 2017 before embarking on a national tour of nine venues. 

Juliet’s stage premiere won the Stage Production of the Year in the 2016 Hutch Awards. “In the year when Phillip Breen directed the York Minster Mystery Plays on the grandest scale and York Theatre Royal re-opened with Bryony Lavery’s new adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, it wasn’t the expected big hitters that left the deepest impression,” Hutchinson said in The Press, York.

“Instead, an obscure EM Forster sci-fi work, The Machine Stops, became a play for our times in the hands of the Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and Pilot Theatre in the Theatre Royal Studio.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster

“Amid the stench of Brexit and Trump intolerance, here was a cautionary story of science friction and human heart told superbly artistically by a cast of four, writer Neil Duffield and electronic composers John Foxx and Benge with humanity’s worst and best attributes thrust against each other.”

Esther Richardson, Pilot Theatre’s artistic director, shares Juliet’s thoughts on The Machine Stops’ rising resonance: “When we produced The Machine Stops in 2016, it already seemed an eerily prescient piece of work. A story-world in which humans have become isolated from one another and living underground, communicating only through screens, offered an engaging space for reflection on perhaps the pitfalls of how our relationship with technology had been evolving,” she says.

“To be able to explore this in a live theatre space with an audience gathered together in person and with their technology switched off made it all the more dynamic a tale.

“It’s fantastic that, having spent the last year in different forms of isolation and on screens, we have the opportunity to share this great production, which will now sing with new meaning, meeting a new audience in a new context.”

The Machine Stops features a soundtrack composed by John Foxx, electronic music pioneer and founder of Ultravox, and analogue synth specialist Benge. The production was directed by Forster and designed by Rhys Jarman, with lighting design by Tom Smith and movement direction by Philippa Vafadari.

Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson. Picture: Robert Day

It stars Caroline Gruber as Vashti, Karl Queensborough as Kuno, Maria Gray as Machine/Attendant and Gareth Aled as Machine/Passenger.

Analysing the reasons why The Machine Stops transferred so convincingly to the stage, Juliet suggested in 2017: “When you use human beings to the height of their potential, theatre is at its most interesting; when you realise the incredible ability of human body; but at the same time, you can’t shoehorn that into a play. Here, though, to represent the Machine through movement, it absolutely suited it.

“It also helped that we had the finest soundtrack for a play in living memory, composed by John Foxx and Benge.”

That soundtrack went on to form much of the music on the John Foxx And The Maths album, The Machine, released in 2017 on the Metamatic Records label with artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, the designer for David Bowie’s last two studio albums, 2013’s The Next Day and 2016’s Blackstar.

Caroline Gruber as Vashti in The Machine Stops. Picture: Ben Bentley

The filmed recording was edited by digital wiz Ben Pugh for its release online, with kind permission granted by the E M Forster estate. “We had taken a three-camera capture of the show in 2016 in the Theatre Royal Studio, when we were thinking of doing a streaming, but we didn’t have permission at the time, but now we do,” says Juliet.

“I asked Ben to do the editing because he’s fantastic at pulling digital theatre shows together, and it works really well on screen.”

The Machine Stops is available to view for free at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PW5yk2G5pE, although York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre are asking for donations from viewers, with all contributions being split equally between them.

What was Charles Hutchinson’s verdict in May 2016?

Gareth Aled as Machine 1 in The Machine Stops. Picture: Ben Bentley

The Machine Stops, York Theatre Royal/Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal Studio

IN between those two pillars of early 20th century English literature, A Room With A View in 1908 and Howards End in 1910, E M Forster wrote a science-fiction short story, apparently in response to the outpourings of H G Wells.

It was pretty much ignored until being included in an anthology in the 1930s, but now it should take its rightful place alongside the prescient works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster has cherished wishes to present it since 1999, and at last everything has fallen into place in a brilliant re-opening show in The Studio.

Forster and Forster makes for a perfect combination, assisted by her choice of writer, the experienced Neil Duffield; electronic musicians John Foxx and Benge in their first theatre commission, and designer Rhys Jarman, whose metallic climbing frame stage and hexagonal floor tiles could not be more fitting.

Centre stage is Vashti (Caroline Gruber), soft-boned, struggling to walk and wrapped in grey swaddling wraps, as she embraces her new, post-apocalyptic, virtual life run by The Machine, in the wake of humans being forced underground to self-contained cells where everything is brought to you: food, ambient music; lectures; overlapping messages.

John Foxx: Soundtrack hits the right note

No windows; no natural day and night; no physical communication; all you need is at the touch of the screen beside you as technology rules in this dystopian regime. It is the age of the internet, conference calls and Skype, the age of isolation (and the teenage life), foretold so alarmingly accurately by Forster.

In the best decision by Juliet Forster and the writer, they have decided to represent the omnipresent Machine in human form, cogent cogs that slither and slide and twist and turn acrobatically, responding to Vashti’s every request, with an urgent physicality that has you worrying for the health and safety of Maria Gray and Gareth Aled.

Not that The Machine is merely compliant. Just as Winston Smith rebels in Orwell’s 1984, Vashti’s son Kuno (Karl Queensborough), on the other side of the underground world, craves breaking out into the old world above the artificial one, to breathe real air, see the sky, feel the sun on his face, but The Machine will do its utmost to prevent him.

Queensborough’s physical performance, as the desperate Kuno puts himself at risk, is even more remarkable than the gymnastic Machine double act, as he hurls himself around the frames.

Forster’s production has bags of tension, drama, intrigue, and plenty of humour too, especially when Gray and Aled transform into a plane attendant and passenger. Throughout, the Foxx and Benge soundtrack hits the right note, futuristic and mysterious, yet noble too when Kuno makes his move.

Nothing stops The Machine Stops: it is 90 minutes straight through, a story of science friction told superbly artistically with humanity’s worst and best attributes thrust against each other.

Review: Copyright of The Press, York