REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Parsifal, Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre, June 1

Katarina Karnéus as Kundry and Toby Spence as Parsifal in Opera North’s Parsifal. All pictures: Clive Barda

THERE is a point in Act 2 of Parsifal where Kundry, having failed to seduce Parsifal with her kiss and describing her reaction to witnessing the Crucifixion, lets out a blood-curdling ‘lachte’, attacking a high B natural and descending nearly two octaves to a low C sharp: she laughed.

Anyone not expecting it must have jumped out of their skin when Katarina Karnéus delivered it here. This spine-chilling moment, mentioned in his Parsifalkreuz by Wieland Wagner and helpfully recalled in a programme note by Neil Sorrell, is pivotal to understanding Kundry and thus to the success of the whole opera.

The scream revealed the anger, the anguish, the remorse, the manic personality of one who is not easy to read. But for all her faults, she has set Parsifal on the path to enlightenment: he is forced to shed his innocence, like Adam in the Garden of Eden. He begins to suffer – like Christ – and views the world differently, as does Kundry when baptised by him in Act 3.

Robert Hayward as Amfortas: “Sustained an admirably full-blooded howl but could have afforded to tone down the self-pity”

Since the whole work is a Bühnenweihfestspiel (stage festival consecration play), we are forced to take on board its religious significance: the very act of consecration implies holiness. It spoke well for Sam Brown’s production that these ideas came through so clearly.

Brown was working with a number of constraints, not least that the augmented orchestra was taking up most of the stage. This was partly overcome through a lower extension of the stage over part of the orchestra pit. But it still left precious little space for the principals.

The chorus appeared either ranged around the back of the stalls, as in Act 1, or on the extension, which allowed the knights to line up three-deep but forced the ladies into the upper stage boxes.

Toby Spence as Parsifal with the Orchestra and members of the Chorus of Opera North

Less easy to accommodate from an audience perspective was Bengt Gomér’s dark lighting, particularly the multiple small spots twinkling almost incessantly behind the orchestra. They cast the conductor into silhouette and when fully lit, as at the uncovering of the Grail on a rostrum downstage, shone straight into our eyes. They were a distraction, not to say a discomfort, whether deliberate or no.

There was no set to speak of, but Klingsor’s spear was lowered on a suspended platform, which reappeared later as Titurel’s bier, a good space-saving device.

Nevertheless, having Richard Farnes’s orchestra in full view was an inestimable benefit. His dozen years as music director here, which culminated in a full Ring cycle in 2016, meant he had no need to cajole his players; they followed him with near-religious devotion.

Opera North music director Richard Farnes : “No need to cajole his players; they followed him with near-religious devotion”

Textures were everywhere transparent, none more so than in the Good Friday music. There was a masterly crescendo at the healing of Amfortas’s wound, but it was the moments of calm, with magical swells and diminuendos, that really hit home. Farnes’s attention to detail was immaculate, each occurrence of the ‘Dresden Amen’, for example, seeming to carry slightly different significance.

Toby Spence made a powerful debut in the title role. His youthful features made his journey from innocence through trial to enlightenment all the more credible. He was a naïve, headstrong youth at the start, moving jerkily, but assumed a more adult poise after learning of his mother’s death when “confession turns guilt to remorse”.

Having sought solace with his head in Kundry’s lap, his now-pungent tone took on greater resonance. As he relaxes into the role, he may have yet more to give, but needed no more in this arena.

Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz and Toby Spence as Parsifal. “Sherratt’s German diction was faultless, matched by musicality that kept his narrative absorbing”

He had been set a frankly superb example by Brindley Sherratt’s Gurnemanz, whose German diction was faultless, matched by musicality that kept his narrative absorbing. Returning much aged in Act 3, his avuncular tone inspired renewed confidence.

Karnéus adapted fluently to the many facets of Kundry’s mysterious character, making her something close to sympathetic, even seeming relevant when having little to do in Act 3.

Derek Welton’s incisive baritone spat menace as Klingsor, looking devilish in wide slashes of red and grey, courtesy of Stephen Rodwell’s costuming. Robert Hayward’s wounded Amfortas sustained an admirably full-blooded howl but could have afforded to tone down the self-pity; Stephen Richardson fashioned a suitably hoary Titurel.

Toby Spence as Parsifal: “A powerful debut in the title role”

The six Flowermaidens were an oasis of pure delight, as if parachuted in from Gilbert & Sullivan. The chorus was typically forthright, taking every opportunity on offer and sustaining a keen blend.

The touring dates were due to be concert stagings. It was hard to imagine that this marginally reduced format, so successful in the company’s previous Wagner outings, would be any less gripping.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Further performance at Leeds Grand Theatre on June 10, 4pm, then on tour from June 12 to 26. Running time: Five hours 30 minutes, including two intervals. Full details at: operanorth.co.uk.

Robert Hayward’s Amfortas with the men of the Chorus of Opera North and the Orchestra of Opera North. “Augmented orchestra took up most of the stage. This was partly overcome through a lower extension of the stage over part of the orchestra pit”

REVIEW: York Stage in Calendar Girls, The Musical, Grand Opera House, York ****

Rosy Rowley’s Cora, centre, preparing to face her camera moment with Jo Theaker’s Annie and Julieann Smith’s Chris in York Stage’s Calendar Girls The Musical. All picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Calendar Girls, The Musical, York Stage, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Performances: 7.30pm, tonight to Thursday and Saturday; 4pm and 8pm, Friday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York

HAVE you been struggling to buy sunflowers in York since Friday?

The reason is simple: these sunworshippers have taken up residence at the Grand Opera House, spreading all over a teenage party dress and a gloriously OTT sofa in director-producer Nik Briggs’ scenic and costume design too.

Even in the dark of the orchestra pit, a sunflower can be spotted radiating nocturnal sunshine from musical director Jessica Douglas’s stand.

Touching moment: Jo Theaker’s Annie and Mick Liversidge’s John with their sunflower seeds

Calendar Girls The Musical began life as The Girls when premiered by sons of the Wirral Gary Barlow and Tim Firth at Leeds Grand Theatre in December 2015. Now the Yorkshire sunflower power has been restored for the York premiere by Briggs’s company.

If you missed the Leeds debut, jump at the chance to remedy that error! If you loved the film or the stage play, Barlow and Firth’s musical is even better, the format suiting what is already an opera-scaled human drama of ordinary women at the centre of an extraordinary story.

What’s more, as Briggs says: “Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theatre in York creates a real gravitas to the story. It could work anywhere, but it’s just a bit more special done here as it’s a proper Yorkshire tale.”

You surely know that story, the tragicomic one where gentle gent, National Park wall builder and sunflower grower John Clarke (Mick Liversidge) – spoiler alert – dies from leukaemia .

Julieann Smith’s Chris singing Sunflower in Calendar Girls The Musical

Whereupon his wife, Annie (Jo Theaker), teams up with Knapely Women’s Institute rebel Chris (Julieann Smith) to defy the new but old-school WI chair Marie (Maggie Smales) by posing with fellow members for a fund-raising nude calendar in John’s memory – and in his spirit of being inventive and not following the well-beaten track.

Firth and Barlow open with two big hitters, firstly the scene-setting ensemble anthem Yorkshire, then the character-establishing introduction to The Girls, the diverse members of the WI, in Mrs Conventional.

So, we meet not only Theaker’s grieving but resilient Annie and Smith’s agitated/aggrieved Celia, but also Rosy Rowley’s Cora, the vicar’s no-nonsense daughter; Tracey Rea’s reupholstered, flashy Celia, the former airhostess; Sandy Nicholson’s perma-knitting Jessie, the wise-owl ex-teacher, and Juliet Waters’ reserved dark horse Ruth.

One of the joys of ballad-king Barlow and witty-worded lyricist Firth’s musical structure is how every one of the Girls has a knock-out, character-revealing, storytelling solo number, each drawing cheers and bursts of clapping, especially Rowley’s rousing, big-band blast of Who Wants A Silent Night?, Smith’s assertive Flowers, Rea’s exuberantly humorous So I’ve Had A Little Work Done and Waters’ vodka-guzzling My Russian Friend And I.

Uplifting: Tracey Rea’s Celia revels in So I’ve Had A Little Work Done

Theaker, so consistently excellent in York Stage lead roles, plucks the heartstrings in the stand-out ballad Scarborough and later hits the emotional heights again in Kilimanjaro. Her chemistry with Liversidge is utterly lovely, touching too, making Clarkey’s loss all the harder to take. Likewise, Theaker and the feisty Smith capture the strains and stresses of friendship under the utmost duress.

Calendar Girls is not just about the Girls, but the men too, from Chris’s level-headed husband Rod (Andy Stone) to humorous cameos for the ever-reliable Craig Kirby (Denis) and Graham Smith (Colin), and Finn East’s how-about-we-do-it-this-way photographer, Lawrence, sensitively venturing into new territory as much as his subjects.  

Not only does Firth’s script strike the right balance of northern humour, pathos, sadness and bloody-minded defiance, but also he places the stripping-off photoshoot as the climax (mirroring The Full Monty) and brings three teenage children to the fore, both as outlets for awkward, growing-pains humour and to expose their parents in a different light.

Danny Western is lovably cheeky as deluded, cocky workshy Tommo; Izzie Norwood affirms why Mountview Academy of Theatre awaits her in September with an assured, eye-catching York Stage debut as Jenny, the WI chair’s daughter, expelled from her posh school, with her wild, rebellious outsider streak still untamed.

Izzie Norwood’s Jenny leads Sam Roberts’s Danny astray

No wonder Sam Roberts’s clean-cut, gilded path to being head boy takes a wayward turn as too-cool-for-school Jenny initiates his discovery of alcohol. Roberts’s understated performance contrasts joyfully with Western’s ebullience as the young lads eggs each other on.

Briggs’s lucid, fast-moving direction places equal stress on the potency of the dialogue and the emotional heft of the songs, while his stage design combines dry-stone walls and Dales greenery with open-plan interiors for WI meetings, homes and the hospital, thereby evoking the vast expanse of Yorkshire yet suited to intimate conversation too.

Jessica Douglas’s keyboard-led musical forces do Barlow’s compositions proud, with Robert Fisher’s guitar, Georgia Johnson’s double bass, Graeme Osborn’s trumpet and Anna Marshall’s trombone all given room to flourish.

A quick mention for Louie Theaker, who stepped in for the temporarily indisposed Danny Western for Friday’s first performance, rehearsing his part from 5pm to 6pm as he called on his experience of learning TV script re-writes pronto for his regular role as Jake in CBBC’s children’s drama series James Johnson.

Audiences have not been as big as expected, but what folly it would be to miss York Stage in sunflower full bloom in a Yorkshire story of tears and cheers, grief and loss, spirit and renewal, humour and humanity, ace songs and cracking performances.

Sunflower show: The finale to York Stage’s Calendar Girls The Musical

York Stage bring out the buns for city premiere of Calendar Girls The Musical

“We’re going to need considerably bigger buns”: York Stage’s promotional picture for Bun

THE true story of the Calendar Girls from Rylstone Women’s Institute has transferred from print to stage to screen.

Best of all is its latest conversion to a musical by composer Gary Barlow and writer and lyricist Tim Firth, two sons of a Wirral village who met as teenagers before Take That and Neville’s Island respectively shaped their career paths.

Premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in December 2015 under the title of The Girls, the show returns to Yorkshire from tomorrow (22/4/2022) for its York premiere, now restored to the Calendar Girls moniker that leaves no room for confusion.

Calendar Girls: The Musical will be staged by York Stage under the direction of company founder, producer and artistic director Nik Briggs. “I don’t honestly remember when we applied, but it must be over a year we’ve had the performing rights, I think,” he says. 

Jo Theaker and Mick Liversidge in rehearsal for York Stage’s Calendar Girls The Musical. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“It’s a very popular show, so companies across the country have been scheduling productions. It’s such a beautiful story that’s based on real life, so it’s a joy to explore and work on.”

That story, should you have been hiding behind sunflowers all these years, revolves around the death of a much-loved husband prompting members of a Yorkshire dales village Women’s Institute “to do things a little differently”, stripping off decoratively for their annual fundraising calendar, blissfully unaware their daring behaviour would trigger such an impact locally, nationally, even internationally.

“The story of the ‘Calendar Girls’ has always inspired me,” says Nik. “Being the only boy on my mum’s side of the family, I’ve grown up surrounded by strong women and have always enjoyed being in the rehearsal room with actresses, creating work that celebrates them and puts their stories front centre.”  

For Calendar Girls, he is doing so with a cast fronted by Jo Theaker (as Annie); Julieann Smith (Chris); Rosy Rowley (Cora); Tracey Rea (Celia), Sandy Nicholson (Jessie) and Juliet Waters (Ruth), alongside Mick Liversidge (John) and Andy Stone (Rod).

Here come the Girls: York Stage’s ‘Calendar Girls’ pose for a snap in the rehearsal room as Rosy Rowley points the phone camera. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Nik did not make it to the Leeds Grand premiere. “I actually missed it in Leeds and the West End, so I’ve not seen it before,” he says. “I was especially gutted to miss it as the original cast included York Stage’s very own Josh Benson, but work and travel commitments just kept getting in the way when it was on! That’s the one bad thing about working in theatre; you miss a lot of shows!”

Nevertheless, Nik’s York Stage work since 2014 has given York debuts to West End and Broadway hits aplenty, and he is delighted to be adding Calendar Girls to that list. “Gary Barlow and Tim Firth have created a stunning score,” he says.

“It’s filled with pop ballads as you’d expect, but they’ve also created rousing Yorkshire anthems and jazzy big band show pieces too. Their ability to tell a story through song is really beautiful. They keep things simple and allow the emotion and acting to speak volumes.

“They’ve made a show with storytelling at its heart: there’s no big choreography or special effects, just an extraordinary story about a group of ordinary women that goes from heart-warming to heart-wrenching in an instant.”

“Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theatre in York creates a real gravitas to the story,” says York Stage producer and director Nik Briggs

Calendar Girls wholly suits the musical format, Nik asserts. “It’s famously said, in musical theatre, ‘when it’s not enough to say it, you sing it’! The loss of a loved one creates some of the biggest emotions in a person, so it’s an ideal story to tell through the medium of musical theatre.

“The story is timeless too. Loss, grief and what huge life experiences like that can do to a person never changes, so audiences of all generations can relate to it.”

Nik, who is joined in the production team by musical director Jessica Douglas, has designed the set too. “It’s really evocative of Yorkshire and allows the production to move quickly and with pace, as intended,” he says.

The obligatory sunflowers will be omnipresent, but does Nik like this over-the-top flower? “I do. Who can say they don’t smile when they see one?! There must be close to 500 in this production, so it’s a good job I like them,” he says.

“The colour scheme of the marketing and the sunflowers connection to the story unintentionally now also evokes strong emotions, with the awful conflict we’re seeing in Ukraine, as the colours and flower are both national symbols of the country.”

Sandy Nicholson, left, Tracey Rea and Jo Theaker rehearsing Calendar Girls The Musical. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Staging a Yorkshire story on home soil definitely has an impact on its telling, posits Nik. “Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theatre in York creates a real gravitas to the story. It could work anywhere, but it’s just a bit more special done here as it’s a proper Yorkshire tale,” he says. 

“As a native Geordie, who has now lived ‘down south’ here in Yorkshire for nearly half of my life, I still find myself blown away by the beauty of the region. Whether I’m out in the Yorkshire countryside with the green hills and dry-stone walls, in the middle of a quaint village with babbling streams and chocolate-box houses, or in the beautiful towns and cities with their impressive, intricate architecture, I can’t help but be awestruck by the charm that surrounds me.”

Coming next for York Stage will be their York Theatre Royal debut in Little Shop Of Horrors from July 14 to 23, followed by Kinky Boots at the Grand Opera House from September 16 to 24.

“We’ll end the year with our annual youth show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre,” says Nik. “This year it’ll be Bring It On by Lin Manuel Miranda, so that’ll be very popular with the teens who all love Encanto and Hamilton!”

York Stage in Calendar Girls: The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, April 22 to 30.  Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Copyright of The Press, York

‘You must realise as an actor you’re naturally ridiculous,’ a director told Barry Humphries. Cue Dame Edna and Sir Les

Hat’s off to Barry Humphries for revealing the man behind the mask at the Grand Opera House next Wednesday

BARRY Humphries will reveal The Man Behind The Mask at the Grand Opera House, York, on April 13.

This one-man show comes fully eight years after his supposedly valedictory Yorkshire visit in February 2014, when the creator of Dame Edna Everage presented Eat Pray Laugh!, Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour in a five-night run at Leeds Grand Theatre.

Now, in the only Yorkshire show of his 2022 tour, the veteran Australian actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of Dame Edna et al.

Peeling off his mask at the age of 88 to introduce the man behind the clown, Humphries says: “This is a show in which I am the principal character; it’s not Les [Sir Les Patterson], it’s not Edna, it’s not Sandy Stone. It is really about this character called ‘me’. I’m not in disguise.”

Superstar Melbourne housewife Dame Edna’s sequined frocks and uncouth Sydney cultural attaché Sir Les’s food-spattered ties may make cameo appearances – or “interruptions” – in film clips, but the primary focus will be on Humphries relating anecdotes and observations from life on and off stage.

“Frankly, I thought it would be a little easier. No need to dress up,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of extremely interesting, colourful, scary, joyous experiences in my life – and I’m quite good with audiences.”

Humphries premiered The Man Behind The Mask in Australia, where it was “very, very successful”. “In a way, it was my out-of-town try-out. Now I’m bringing it here,” he says. “I’ve written the whole show plus a new song called Alone At Last, which would bring a tear to a glass eye.’”

When he appears at the Grand Opera House next Wednesday, Humphries will be setting foot on stage for the first time in nearly three years. Is he scared? “Oh no, I’ll get back in the groove very quickly,” he asserts.

Reflecting on his stage renaissance at 88, Humphries says: “Yes, but it’s not as though I’m going to pass away mid-performance like poor Tommy Cooper. But is it brave? On the contrary, I’ve always thought of myself as quite cowardly. The sound of a cricket bat hitting a ball invariably causes me to duck.”

First and foremost, Humphries’ show is a comedy. “The most important thing is to get that first laugh. Then I’ll be back in my comfort zone,” he says.

Hello, possums! Barry Humphries in superstar Melbourne housewife Dame Edna Everage mode

It was ever thus. After working in the wholesale department at EMI in his native Melbourne for a year in his late teens, he was taken on by Australia’s only touring repertory theatre company and was cast as Prince Orsino in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night. “Or should I say miscast? I had to wear tights and, when I walked on stage, I thought I heard a titter running round the audience,” recalls Humphries.

“Immediately, I tried to disguise the bottom half of my body. After three performances, the director said that my entrance was terrible. Why was I skulking behind the furniture?

“I explained that I thought my legs were ruining this serious play. He assured me his wife was of the opinion that I had very good legs, but then he added: ‘You must realise as an actor that you’re naturally ridiculous’.”

“Naturally ridiculous”, Barry? “Now, some people might regard that as a bit of an insult. I was 18 at the time and it could have shaken my confidence, but it didn’t,” says Humphries. “What it made me realise was that I was in the wrong department of theatre. Whether I liked it or not, I belonged in comedy.”

At the time, he considered himself to be a painter, mostly of landscapes, but caricatures too. Once at university, however, he began writing sketches for revues in the style of Noel Coward or Terence Rattigan.

‘Later on, I tried my hand at writing about what was in front of me,” Humphries says. “No-one at the time wrote about Australia in general and the suburbs in particular.”

Come the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956, the repertory company director decided to present a revue and asked the 22-year-old Humphries to contribute material.

“There weren’t enough hotel rooms in the city, so people were encouraged to let international athletes stay in their spare rooms, so I wrote a sketch about a housewife called Edna who invited a muscular sportsman into her home,” he recalls.

In that first incarnation, Edna was “rather shy, very suburban, a little dowdy”. “But, in time, that changed. It was as though she started to assert herself,” says Humphries. “I’d wake up one day and she’d acquired those trademark glasses. Her confidence grew. Suddenly, there was an invalid husband, Norm; a gay son; a delinquent daughter, a silent bridesmaid, Madge.

“She took on a life of her own. It was as though she’d started writing her own script. I’d be on the side, observing with some admiration, Edna’s quips.”

Barry Humphries in ‘Early Edna’ days

Nevertheless, by the early 1960s, Humphries decided that Edna had run her course. “But no, she proved indestructible, and she’s turned out to be a very useful mouthpiece,” he reappraises. “She can say things, for instance, about political correctness that I couldn’t possibly express.”

The same freedom applies to Sir Les’s coarse outbursts. “Absolutely. For example, I never swear in real life,” says Humphries. “Both characters are wonderful outlets. I’m very careful myself about what I might say. Edna and Sir Les, on the other hand, can point to the nudity of the emperor.”

Off stage, Humphries has conducted a somewhat lively private life. Married four times and father to two daughters from his second marriage and two sons from his third, he and fourth wife, Lizzie, tied the knot in 1990. Why has marriage endured this time? “Oh, because I’m a bit smarter now,” he says.

“The truth is that I’m not a very easy person to be married to. For over ten years of my life, I had a serious alcoholic illness.” So much so, his out-of-control drinking culminated in Humphries being found unconscious in an Australian gutter.

“I’d been beaten up, almost certainly by two or three policemen who I’d been cheeky to – let us say – the previous day. They didn’t like that and took their revenge,” he says.

It was to prove a turning point. ‘If you’re dependent on alcohol for your happiness or your comfort or merely to function, it’s not only degrading but you head in one direction – and that’s downwards,” Humphries says.

“I finally put the cork in the bottle when I was 38 and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol from that day to this. But I know many alcoholics who have chastening experiences and yet carry on drinking.”

His long-held philosophy is to live in the present. “That’s a very hard thing to do but a very good spiritual exercise,” Humphries says. “I’m happier since the arrival of my grandchildren. I’m relating to them in a way I didn’t get round to doing with my own children. That’s a major regret. I’m trying to make up for the years lost to alcoholism.”

Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask, Grand Opera House, York, April 13, 7.30pm, with an opportunity for audience questions. Tickets update: Still available on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

By Charles Hutchinson and Richard Barber. Copyright of The Press, York

Ore Oduba in fishnets and high heels? Oh yes, as Strictly champ plays college nerd Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show

Ore Oduba strikes a pose in the obligatory dress code for playing Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show. Fishnets? Tick? High heels? Tick. Picture: Shaun Webb

ACTOR, presenter and 2016 Strictly winner Ore Oduba will be donning his fishnets in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show at the Grand Opera House, York, from March 14 to 19.

Delighted to be resuming his role as squeaky clean Brad Majors in Christopher Luscombe’s touring production from January to June, he says: “I’m so excited to be extending my stay with our amazing Rocky family. Truth is, when you know how it feels to wear a corset and heels, it’s very hard to take them off – at least it is in my case!

“It’s been a wild ride so far. This show is the perfect remedy to everything we’ve all been through. People want to laugh and be uplifted and to be able to forget about everything for a couple of hours. It’s all about ‘Leave your inhibitions at the door – we haven’t got time for that’.”

In O’Brien’s risqué and riotous 1973 sci-fi musical sextravaganaza, Oduba’s preppy Texas student Brad Majors and his college-sweetheart fiancée Janet Weiss (Haley Flaherty) inadvertently cross paths with mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter (Stephen Webb) and his outrageous Transylvanian coterie.

“I think there’s a lot of Brad in me and in a lot of people, ” says Ore Oduba

In a shock’n’roll sugar-rush of fruity frolics, frocks, frights and frivolity, Ore ends up in assorted states of undress. Previously seen on a Yorkshire musical theatre stage as swoon-inducing crooner Teen Angel in Grease, The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre in July 2019, he signed up to play Brad from last summer, but not before he checked with his wife, television researcher Portia.

“It’s such an iconic show and so well loved, but I thought, ‘I wonder what my wife is going to say about audiences seeing me in stockings?’. I needn’t have worried because what I’d forgotten is that Rocky Horror is one of her and her family’s favourite shows of all time. She was beside herself!

“Then she started chuckling at the idea of me being on stage in just my briefs for the early part of the show, then coming out later in stockings and high heels.”

Ore’s nerdy Brad undergoes a spectacular shedding of inhibitions at the hands of Frank-N-Furter, “just a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania” as he calls himself. 

Given how Ore has gone from studying sports and social sciences at Loughborough University to presenting on Newsround, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live and The One Show, to dancing  to Glitterball success with Joanne Clifton on Strictly Come Dancing, to musical theatre roles as Teen Angel and songwriter Aaron Fox in Curtains in the West End, he can connect with Brad’s transformation.

Ore Oduba as Teen Angel in Grease at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2019. Picture: Antony Robling

“I think there’s a lot of Brad in me and in a lot of people,” he says. “It’s the idea of being kind of caged animals, because we all have a lot of reservations and inhibitions and things we hold back. We’re just waiting to be unleashed.”

Not that his Strictly sparkle and burst of musical theatre roles came out of the blue. At 13, he won the school drama prize for his performance in the musical Seven Golden Dragons. “Then at secondary school I did every production under the sun,” recalls Ore, now 36. “It was only when I went to university that I turned my attention to broadcasting, but Strictly reminded me ‘Oh my gosh, I love being on stage’.

“On the surface, doing musical theatre now might seem like a big change-up but when I look back to where I felt happiest and most comfortable when I was younger, it was always on stage. In many ways it’s kind of what I always wanted to do. After Grease and Curtains, Rocky Horror is another step up in my so-far short musical theatre career and a lovely chance for me to do something liberating, fun and a little bit different.”

Ore has taken performing the signature song-and-dance routine The Time Warp in his stride, after continuing to dance since his Strictly triumph, both in the BBC show’s tours and in musicals. “I took up tap dancing too, although my wife and I then decided to renovate the house and turn the garage I was practising in into a kitchen,” he says.

Preppy but unprepared for what lies in store at deliciously, devilishly deviant Dr Frank-N-Furter’s castle: Ore Oduba’s Brad Majors and Haley Flaherty’s Janet Weiss. Picture: David Freeman

“So, I no longer have my tap space. Blame it on the kitchen! But every time I get to do something involving choreography, it gets me as excited as I was when I did Strictly. I love it.”

Wearing fishnets and high heels is altogether more over the top than anything he sported in tandem with Joanne Clifton on Strictly. “We did wear Latin heels but they’re not as high as the ones I have to wear in Rocky Horror,” says Ore.

“I remember the first time I was asked to wear something a little bit sheer on Strictly and I thought, ‘I don’t want to be too much of a show pony, I want it to be about dancing’. But by the time it came to the end, I was like, ‘You can put me in whatever you want’.”

Cue Frank-N-Furter doing exactly that to Ore’s Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show.

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show runs riot at Grand Opera House, York, from March 14 to 19; Monday to Thursday, 8pm; Friday, Saturday, 5.30pm and 8.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615. Fancy dress encouraged.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Opera North’s Alcina, Leeds Grand Theatre

Máire Flavin as Alcina in Opera North’s production of Alcina at Leeds Grand Theatre. Picture: James Glossop

Opera North in Alcina, Leeds Grand Theatre, further performances tonight and Thursday, 7pm, then on tour until March 24. Leeds box office: operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/alcina. Also live-streamed on www.operavision.eu

HANDEL’S operatic audiences must have had stamina. Alcina, his most popular success at the box-office, clocks in at over three and a half hours, when given complete.

Nowadays we seem unable to treat Handel’s operas with the same reverence we extend to the parts of Wagner’s Ring, by giving them in full. Hence in Tim Albery’s new production – Opera North’s first attempt at Alcina – the dance music is omitted and the role of Oberto excised altogether. Both contain some top-class Handel.

Covid constraints are doubtless to blame, although not for the conversion of Melisso from bass to mezzo – henceforward Melissa – on the grounds that this was how she originally appeared in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, two removes distant from the anonymous libretto Handel actually preferred.

Other considerations apart, the presence of a bass helps to provide a better balance between upper and lower voices.

There was one other constraint. The general manager was at pains to point out in his introductory note that this was the company’s first sustainable production, en route to full Carbon Neutrality (his capitals) by 2030. This was not so much virtue-signalling as a smokescreen smudging the reality that décor and costumes would be ultra-low budget.

So Alcina’s island was experienced only via a video cooked up by Ian William Galloway. It mainly provided a jungle backdrop to the ten armchairs that were virtually the only props in Hannah Clark’s set, barring a bear rug that Alcina briefly ‘wore’, as if joining the ex-suitors she had turned into animals.

That was virtually the only magic on display. There was no sign of her palace. Clark’s costumes, recycled of course, were more appropriate to a 1950s’ nightclub than a desert island, a deliberate excursion into vintage. All of which suited the budget and was doubtless easy to believe if you had worked through it in rehearsal, less credible for someone encountering Alcina for the first time.

These reservations apart, Albery’s particular achievement is to fill the arias with plenty of action, even bringing on stage characters who are merely in the minds of the singers rather than intended to be present. So, there is never a dull moment.

Máire Flavin’s handling of the title role is a work in progress and promises much. But at the moment she has not quite assumed its full potential. The notes are all there and she looks determined enough, but there is not much emotion behind them and her affair with Ruggiero is short of electricity.

Her Act 2 scena, where she fights conflicting emotions, carries theatrical conviction but not the musical punch to match.

Ruggiero is played by the American countertenor Patrick Terry, making his company debut. His best effort is his departure aria, ‘Verdi prati’, where he relaxes into its cantabile line. Elsewhere, there are too many occasions where he tries to produce more sound than suits his voice and pushes himself out of tune. He is persuasive as Alcina’s puppy-dog, but less so thereafter.

The Norwegian mezzo Mari Askvik, another company debutant, delivers the purest Handelian style as Bradamente, the fiancée of Ruggiero who spends much of the show disguised as her brother. Her height and blonde bob reinforce this impression and her coloratura is splendidly clean.

Fflur Wyn is marvellously fiery as Morgana, Alcina’s sister, and tears into her big aria, ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, with relish. Her on-off affair with Oronte, sung by tenor Nick Pritchard, is the crowning glory of Act 2, underlining what we have been missing from the other principals. Pritchard matches her fervour to a tee. Claire Pascoe makes the most of the shadowy role of Melissa, another enchantress.

Laurence Cummings is stylish in his conducting of a slightly thinned-down orchestra from the harpsichord, with two theorbos adding extra spice. This is a show that will probably mature as the run progresses, but presently does not compensate for its lack of magic.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York theatres join National Lottery’s Love Your Local Theatre ticket offer campaign

Ore Oduba as Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show, one of the shows at the Grand Opera House, York (from March 14 to 19) for which National Lottery players can acquire two tickets for the price of one

YORK Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House, York, are joining more than 100 theatres in UK Theatre’s Love Your Local Theatre campaign.

The National Lottery is providing up to £2 million to subsidise 150,000 tickets nationwide in the biggest-ever 2-for-1 ticket offer, open to National Lottery players who attend a show during March, whether musicals, plays, family shows, comedy or dance.

Tickets are available to buy from 10am today via loveyourlocaltheatre.com in a campaign run by theatre membership body UK Theatre, designed to encourage the public to support their local theatres as they begin to recover from the impact of Covid.

Supported by Girls Aloud singer, television presenter and stage star Kimberley Walsh, Love Your Local Theatre is a thank-you for the £30 million National Lottery players raise every week for good causes, including support for the performing arts and theatres during the pandemic.

Walsh says: “We are so privileged to have so many incredible theatres and entertainment venues across the UK. I have been lucky enough to perform in many of them. Without our local theatres, the face of UK entertainment would look very different and it’s amazing the National Lottery is providing £2 million to support them.

“The entertainment industry was particularly impacted by the pandemic, and that’s why the Love Your Local Theatre campaign is so important in supporting their recovery.

York Theatre Royal: Participating in the National Lottery-funded Love Your Local Theatre campaign

Stephanie Sirr, president of UK Theatre, says: “We are delighted to be working with the National Lottery on Love Your Local Theatre, the first time UK Theatre members across the country have united for a ticket promotion of this scale.

“We should be hugely proud in this country to have such an extensive, vibrant and diverse range of regional theatres, all of which play a vital role in the theatre landscape of the UK and beyond. After such a turbulent two years, we want to shout about the fact that theatres are open and ready to reward audiences for their patience and loyalty – please visit your local theatre and help them continue to make brilliant creative work!”

Nigel Railton, chief executive officer of National Lottery operator Camelot, adds: “The UK’s entertainment industry is world class, thanks to the huge variety of venues and projects across the four nations.

“National Lottery players raise £30 million a week to help fund good causes, many of which lie in the entertainment industry. The National Lottery is proud to have teamed up with UK Theatre to launch the Love Your Local Theatrecampaign, giving local theatres the support they need to get on the road to recovery following the pandemic, while saying thank you to National Lottery players who have helped support many theatres during the last two years.”

Among other Yorkshire theatres taking part are: Bradford Alhambra Theatre; Harrogate Theatre; Hull New Theatre; Hull Truck Theatre; Leeds City Varieties Music Hall; Leeds Grand Theatre; Leeds Playhouse; Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Sheffield Theatres (Lyceum and Crucible).

The Love Your Local Theatre promotion is available to anyone who is a National Lottery player and possesses a National Lottery ticket. From today, players can purchase tickets at available performances taking place during March.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Opera North’s Rigoletto, Leeds Grand Theatre

Sir Willard White as Monterone in Rigoletto, his first Opera North role since 1984. Picture: Clive Barda

EXPECTATION ran high in advance of this new Rigoletto from theatre director Femi Elufowoju Jr, not least because it marked his first venture into the world of opera.

Opera North’s last skirmish with Giuseppe Verdi’s piece was a grubby gangland affair in 2007 that eliminated aristocratic titles along with Giovanna. This time, according to an interview in the programme, the setting was present-day ‘Mantua, UK’, adding racism to the work’s already heavy load of problems in society.

There was absolutely nothing wrong in choosing black singers for all the “outsider” roles, headed by Rigoletto, Gilda and Count Monterone, and including Countess Ceprano and Marullo, but it became a dodgy move.

During the prelude, we saw Rigoletto being primped in a dressing-room, for what seemed like a play within a play; there was a purfling of lighting round the proscenium. Attendees at the Duke’s orgy were a scruffy lot, mainly in everyday clothes, with men in paint-splattered overalls as if they had accidentally strayed in from backstage workshops. So far, so egalitarian.

Rigoletto’s moanings about his deformity (supposedly a hunchback) fell on deaf ears: here was the tallest man in the cast, a striking figure, standing tall, albeit occasionally writhing and twitching as if having an epileptic fit.

Sharp-eyed programme-readers might have gleaned that his was mental disfigurement caused by Monterone’s curse – hard to believe. To everyone else, it looked dangerously as if skin colour was the cause of the scorn he endured, quite the opposite of the intended effect. In any case, directors should not rely on programme notes to explain what they put on stage.

Jasmine Habersham as Gilda and Eric Greene as Rigoletto. Picture: Clive Barda

There were further difficulties. The whole kidnapping episode had an aura of farce. The (mainly white) thugs were far from menacing in their vermillion onesies, brandishing electric torches in synchronisation like Keystone Cops.

Retreating, they reappeared in Coco the Clown masks. It was hard to tell whether they were intended to be figures of fun or if this was simply a directorial misjudgement. Either way, it had little to do with Verdi, still less his librettist Piave.

Gilda had to be clumsily kidnapped from astride the life-size zebra in her bedroom (her menagerie also included a toucan). Like the duke’s palace, it was gaudily decorated in red and gold designs by Rae Smith more redolent of Bollywood than Brentwood.

Rigoletto’s arrest by two heavily-armed British constables was doubtless intended to evoke the law’s use of excessive force based on colour. Uncomfortable, of course – but also irrelevant here. Indeed, so many superimposed details seemed to cloud the director’s intentions.

Eric Greene carried the title role with surprising grace, given the wide spectrum of attitudes he was supposed to strike. In mid-range, his baritone was flexible and clean, less so higher up where his focus was more diffuse.

His duet with Gilda was touching. She was Jasmine Habersham, who made a virtue of her light soprano in a poignant, delicately ornamented ‘Caro nome’. She also looked every bit the ingénue, kept apart and therefore out of her depth, even if she needed to soar more in ensemble.

Alyona Abramova as Maddalena in Opera North’s Rigoletto. Picture: Clive Barda

Roman Arndt’s self-regarding Duke seemed bent on Italianate tone at all costs, attractive enough but also mannered. Sir Willard White, returning to Leeds for the first time since 1984, injected authority as a stentorian Monterone. Callum Thorpe’s tattooed Sparafucile looked and sounded ruthless, pleasingly complemented by Alyona Abramova’s statuesque Maddalena.

They were certainly masters of the squalid landscape of Act III, with its corpse of a car, assorted detritus and shadowy lighting (Howard Hudson), a stylistic improvement on the tasteless décor earlier.

Despite the upheavals on stage, Garry Walker maintained a cool head and a decisive beat in the pit, and his orchestra reacted with discipline and confidence; the chorus was typically ebullient, if not quite as taut an ensemble as the orchestra.

But sight and sound were rarely synchronised: the director might have paid more attention to what is actually in the score. Opera audiences enjoy and understand history, even – given the chance – that of 16th century Mantua. They do not react well to having modern precepts constantly forced down their throats, especially when these have little or nothing to do with the original opera.

We still await the arrival of a director with the courage to be traditional in this work.

Martin Dreyer

Further performances: January 29, February 4, 11 and 19, then on tour until April 1. Box office: operanorth.co.uk

Zebra crossing stage: part of a Rae Smith design landscape “more redolent of Bollywood than Brentwood”. Picture: Clive Barda

The film flopped but can Rachel Wagstaff’s play crack The Da Vinci Code? Find out at Grand Opera House, York, this spring

Hannah Rose Caton, in character as Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code, at The Temple Church, London,  a location featured in Dan Brown’s story. Picture: Oliver Rosser

THE world-premiere stage adaptation of Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code will play the Grand Opera House, York, from May 30 to June 4.

Directed by Luke Sheppard, who was at the helm of the award-winning West End musical & Juliet, the debut tour from January 10 to November 12 will take in further Yorkshire dates in Sheffield, Hull, Leeds and Bradford.

Producer Simon Friend says: “We have a truly stellar cast and creative team bringing The Da Vinci Code to life on stage for the first time, and with Dan Brown’s full endorsement of the show and the talented director Luke Sheppard at the helm, we’re confident that we’ll please devoted fans as well as newcomers to this magnificent story.

“Dan Brown’s epic thriller has been read by millions worldwide and seen by millions worldwide on the big screen, and we’re all looking forward to taking our brand-new stage version to audiences all over the UK.”

Writer Dan Brown says: “I’m thrilled that The Da Vinci Code is being adapted for the stage and excited to see the unique potential of live theatre enhance this story.

Hannah Rose Caton’s Sophie Neveu, Nigel Harman’s Robert Langdon and Danny John-Jules’s Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code. Picture: Oliver Rosser

“The team making the production has been faithful to the book, but will also bring something new for the audience, in what is certain to be a gripping, fast-paced stage thriller and a thoroughly entertaining show.”

Nigel Harman and Danny John-Jules will be performing the roles of Robert Langdon and Sir Leigh Teabing up to April 16 in Newcastle, taking in Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from January 25 to 29 and Hull New Theatre from March 1 to 5.

Harman will re-join the tour from the August 30 to September 3 dates at Leeds Grand Theatre until the Swindon run in late-October.

The casting for Robert Langdon and Sir Leigh Teabing for the York performances and Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre from November 8 to 12 is yet to be announced.

Other roles go to Hannah Rose Caton, in her British theatre debut, as Sophie Neveu; Joshua Lacy, Silas; Basienka Blake, Vernet; Alasdair Buchan, Remy; Alpha Kargbo, Fache; Leigh Lothian, Collet; Andrew Lewis, Saunière, and Debra Michaels, Sister Sandrine/Marie.

Nigel Harman in character as Robert Langdon: Appearing in Sheffield, Hull and Leeds, but not York and Bradford, in The Da Vinci Code

Should you need a quick refresher course on The Da Vinci Code’s plot, the curator of the Louvre, in Paris, has been brutally murdered. Alongside his body is a series of baffling codes.

Professor Robert Langdon and fellow cryptologist Sophie Neveu attempt to solve the riddles, leading to the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and beyond as they delve deep into the vault of history. In a breathless race through the streets of Europe, Langdon and Neveu must decipher the labyrinthine code before a shocking historical secret is lost forever.

The Da Vinci Code has been adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff (Flowers For Mrs Harris, Birdsong) and Duncan Abel (The Girl On The Train). Director Luke Sheppard, who directed What’s New Pussycatat Birmingham Rep, is joined in the creative team by set and costume designer David Woodhead, video designer Andrzej Goulding,the composition and sound design team of Ben and Max Ringham and lighting designer Lizzie Powell.

Sheppard says: “Cracking The Da Vinci Code open for the stage reveals an epic thriller steeped in theatrical potential, rich in suspense and surprising at every turn. Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s brilliant adaptation leaps off the page and demands us to push the limits of our imagination, creating a production that champions dynamic theatrical storytelling and places the audience up close in the heat of this gripping mystery.”

York tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/york; Sheffield, sheffieldtheatres.co.uk; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk; Leeds, leedsheritagetheatres.com; Bradford, bradford-theatres.co.uk.

Barry Humphries unmasks for confessional show at Grand Opera House, possums

The man behind the mask: Barry Humphries, Australian actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure

BARRY Humphries will reveal The Man Behind The Mask on his new 2022 tour, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, for his only Yorkshire show on April 13.

The Australian actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure, who is set to turn 88 on February 17, will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of Dame Edna Everage et al.

Tickets for the 7.30pm performance go on sale at £46.50 upwards at 10am tomorrow morning on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

The Brits welcomed housewife and talk-show host Dame Edna with open arms as Humphries’ premier alter ego immediately became a household favourite, later joined by obese, lecherous and offensive Australian cultural attaché, the Honourable Sir Les Patterson and the elderly, childless Sandy Stone, “Australia’s most boring man”, as Humphries has called him.

Side by side: Barry Humphries and alter ego Dame Edna Everage promoting his 2014 show Eat Pray Laugh!, Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour – not true as it now turns out!

Peeling off his mask to introduce the man behind the clown, Humphries says: “This is a show in which I am the principal character; it’s not Les, it’s not Edna, it’s not Sandy Stone. It is really about this character called ‘me’. I’m not in disguise.”

His York audience can expect a virtuoso comic solo performance filled with laughter, drama and surprise. “There will be an opportunity to ask questions and the magic of technology may even allow appearances – or interruptions – by unexpected guests,” Humphries’ press release teases.

Prompt booking is advised for his return to Yorkshire, where he presented Eat Pray Laugh!, Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour at Leeds Grand Theatre from February 25 to March 1 2014.