How Hayley Del Harrison brought the dance to CBeebies’ Christmas show and York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

Cinderella choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, front, with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble: middle row, dance captain Ella Guest, left, Thomas Yeomans and Lauren Richardson; back row, Christian Mortimer, Amy Hammond and Luke Lucas

YORK freelance choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison’s creativity can be seen at the double this festive season.

Not only has she choreographed York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions’ effervescent pantomime Cinderella, up and running until January 2, but also CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas.

Already this CBeebies Christmas show has made its cinema debut on November 28, and the TV launch on the Beeb will come rather sooner than the night before Christmas: Saturday, December 11 to be precise.

This is her second CBeebies project of the year, having worked with York Theatre Royal creative director (and Cinderella director) Juliet Forster on CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, filmed at Leeds Playhouse.

More on the Theatre Royal pantomime later, but first, Hayley, 50, recalls working on the CBeebies Christmas show from late-September through to October 10 in Plymouth, working under pandemic constraints that meant the company had to be put up in a hotel in social bubbles.

“We had the whole of the Plymouth Theatre Royal building to ourselves and the TR2 rehearsal room too,” she says.

“No-one else was allowed into the space because we knew the risk was too great. We had only that short window to rehearse it, a short window to film it, and that’s why we were so strict.

“We did it all in two weeks; the first week in the rehearsal space, and then in the second week we moved into the theatre, we teched it, and did two shows to invited audiences of schoolchildren and one without one for the couple of days of filming.”

York choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison

Hayley worked with director Chris Jarvis, a “CBeebies legend” with a theatre background, who had played Lord Montague in Forster’s CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet and has 25 years’ experience of directing, producing, writing and performing in pantomimes. This winter he is playing the dame, Betty Bonbon, in Beauty And The Beast at Poole’s Lighthouse, in Dorset.

Again the creative process was influenced by Covid strictures. “I got the songs [by Banks and Wag] and script in advance, and with everyone being so far away, we had the readthrough online, chats online with Chris Banks and a long Zoom meeting with Chris Jarvis about where my input would be, and I remember at one point jumping to my feet and saying, ‘I’m thinking of doing this’!” says Hayley.

“As the show is for young children, a lot of the choreography is designed so that they can copy it. It’s big on storytelling and simple to replicate because, once the show is on BBC iPlayer, they can watch it over and over again. These CBeebies shows are big on participation.”

Hayley worked with a CBeebies cast of 16. “I’d worked with eight of them before on Romeo And Juliet. It’s different from a theatre pantomime because it’s not like you have an ensemble,” she says.

“Everyone has their role, their unique selling point and their chance to shine, but they’re also brilliant at what they do whether as presenters or actors.  it’s been nice to get to know them over the two projects, getting an understanding of how they work and then wrapping the show around their characters to present Clement Clarke Moore’s beautiful poem.

“You’re working with characters who are much loved, so, for example, the character playing the villain has to be silly, rather than frightening, because it’s a show for two to six year olds. It means you have to be very careful; everything is more gentle but really funny.”

Looking back on her two CBeebies’ shows in 2021, Hayley says: “I feel I’ve built up a really good relationship and would love to do more of this work. Fingers crossed. 

“It already feels like being part of a family, similar to working at the Theatre Royal. When it feels right, it feels really collaborative and there’s a mutual understanding. I know how they work and they know how I work.”

CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini) with the ensemble in a song-and-dance routine from York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella, choreographed by Hayley Del Harrison

York-born Hayley’s focus then switched to Cinderella, working once more for York Theatre Royal after last year’s Travelling Pantomime (directed by Forster) and such previous productions as The Storm Whale and A View From The Bridge in 2019, For The Fallen in 2018 and In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum in 2015.

She received Paul Hendy’s script in October, when most of the music was signed off by musical supervisor James Harrison by the end of that month. “For this kind of show, the more information I have up front, the better I do my job,” says Hayley.

“I can start getting my head around it, though I do like creating in the room too. I’m up for being flexible, but I like to have a clear vision, and that’s what’s great about working with Juliet.

“Yes, she likes being creative in the rehearsal room but her vision is always clear, and because it’s clear, it gives me freedom. I understand where she’s coming from, and she trusts me.”

For Cinderella, Hayley has worked with the seven principals, a six-strong ensemble and two aerial artists, Connor and Tiffany of Duo Fusion, who take part in some of the dancing too.

“We did the auditions for the ensemble just before I went off to Plymouth, and I’ve been delighted to find such versatile performers,” she says.

“They have to do three separate dance styles: lyrical pieces; fun, comedic, highly technical jazz and tap, and work with the text.

“ I wanted everyone to bring something different to the table to ensure there were different characters within the ensemble, and we’re really happy with them. It’s not, ‘here come the dancers’; they’re very much part of the story.”

Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas premieres on December 11 and will then be available on BBC iPlayer.

CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas, choreographed by Hayley Del Harrison. Picture copyright : BBC

Red Ladder Theatre Company stage My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored at Pocklington Arts Centre tonight

Red Ladder Theatre Company’s My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored

RED Ladder Theatre Company present emerging playwright Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s gripping drama My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored at Pocklington Arts Centre tonight (25/11/2021).

Supported by Leeds Playhouse and Oldham Coliseum Theatre, Dermot Dal’s thought-provoking production tells the story of 15-year-old Reece, who is roughly accosted by the police outside M&S. 

His young, Black teacher, Gillian, witnesses it all but she does not question or intervene in the disturbing scene that plays out. The events that unfold will change both their lives forever in a tussle for power and an urgent exploration of racial identity.

Tickets for Leeds company Red Ladder’s 7.30pm performance are on sale on 01759 301547 or at

Playwright Nana-Kofi Kufuor. Picture: Emma Bailey

Phoenix Dance Theatre launch 40th anniversary tour at York Theatre Royal

Phoenix Dance Theatre’s 40 Years Of Phoenix

PHOENIX Dance Theatre launch their 40th anniversary celebrations at York Theatre Royal this week after completing their Bernstein Double Bill travels with Opera North.

The 40 Years Of Pheonix birthday programme, presented at 7.30pm tomorrow (23/11/2021) and Wednesday, brings together diverse work from the groundbreaking Leeds company’s past, selected by artistic director Dane Hurst.

“This year marks an extraordinary milestone, and in honour of 40 years since Phoenix’s founding, we’re excited to bring back these iconic pieces, each of which has a unique place in the company’s history,” he says.

“It’s been an honour and a joy to welcome these choreographers and creatives back into the studio – either or in person – and see the works come to life, which together demonstrate the breadth and range that the company’s repertoire has explored over the last four decades.

“On taking up this role earlier this year, I wanted to use the milestone of the anniversary to recognise the spirit and urgency out of which the company was created in 1981. I’m confident that this programme, alongside additional celebratory activities, will achieve just that.”

Combining celebration and reflection, 40 Years Of Phoenix comprises Lost Dog duo Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer’s sensual and confrontational duet Pave Up Paradise; Henri Oguike’s unflinching and thrilling Signal; Shapiro and Smith’s satirical Family; Jane Dudley’s 1938 masterpiece Harmonica Breakdown and Darshan Singh Bhuller’s revamped Heart Of Chaos, inspired by the story of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion;.

“After I became artistic director in January, when the country was in lockdown, I began researching the Phoenix archive. I wasn’t in Leeds at the time – I was in London – and had no access to the VHS tapes of many of the older works,” says Dane.

“But it was exciting to look through photographs, read the write-ups, and to discover the works that were symbolic of the times under my seven predecessors. 

“I learned that a lot of the archive is at Leeds University, but the early years under David Hamilton, Phoenix’s founder and first artistic director, are not well documented, so many of those works are now lost.”

Nevertheless, Dane has responded to the challenge of capturing the essence of 40 years of Pheonix since its formation, initially as an all-black troupe, by three teenage friends from inner-city Leeds, Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, encouraged to do so by their tutors, Charles Gardener and John Auty at Intake High School and Nadine Senior at Harehills Middle School.

“After 40 years, in which perhaps three to six new pieces have been created each year, there were still many works to choose from,” Dane says. “It’s been a challenge to distil the full breadth and depth and richness of the company’s achievement into just five pieces; I only wish we could perform multiple birthday programmes!

“But I feel that the final selection is of five essential works that display something of the scope and reach of what dance can achieve. The pieces challenge the dancers technically and they’re all very different musically.”

Lost Dog’s Pave Up Paradise revisits Adam and Eve after their fall from grace, tracking the pair as they squabble over who was to blame for their loss of paradise in a witty and irreverent examination of guilt, innocence and lust for forbidden fruit, accompanied by acoustic arrangements of Jeff Buckley and The Strokes.

“Adam and Eve is the story that keeps replaying generation after generation,” says Dane. “Pave Up Paradise is the universal story of a man meeting a woman, having an encounter, going too deep, and then realising the consequences of their actions. Both characters are equally strong.

“It’s a beautiful, funny, theatrical piece, with a musician live on stage and spoken text for the dancers. Created by male/female choreographic duo Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer, they give both a male and a female perspective on one of the oldest stories in the world.” 

Half-Nigerian, half-Welsh choreographer Henri Oguike was raised in a “blighted former steel town in Wales,” as he puts it. His high-octane work, Signal, first stunned Phoenix audiences in 2004 with its frenzy of the battlefield yet sense of calm at the centre of the storm.

“It’s an exhibition of pure physicality, performed to Japanese Taiko drumming, with real live flames on stage and heavy percussive music,” says Dane. “There is a reason why the music has to be loud: you need to feel it in the chest.  

“The beating of the drum sends a vibration through the air and the dancers need to feel that vibration and embody a physicality that’s rooted in a primal instinct: of hearing the drumbeat/heartbeat in the womb. This is pure dance: a physical, abstract, virtuoso, powerhouse of a piece.” 

Ordinary passions, dramas and tensions that define the complexities of family life and human interaction are transformed into an acrobatic spectacle in Family, a satirical, fly-on-the-wall dance choreographed by husband-and-wife American duo Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith, premiered by Phoenix in 1982.

“It’s a deeply comic look at dysfunctional relationships, whether between husband and wife, mother and daughter, brother and sister, boyfriend and uncle, with music that’s quite circus-like, and it’s interesting for a dance company to do, because you’re like a family of dancers as you travel around, and it all depends on who’s in the company at the time,” says Dane.

Jane Dudley’s Harmonica Breakdown, choreographed in 1938 in response to the Depression in America and the forced migration of workers, features a lone female dancer creating a poetic representation of an individual’s struggle to gain self-respect and dignity in a cruel, volatile world.

“In just three and a half minutes, it encapsulates not only the role of a woman in society at that time, but also the experience of African-American people and the white working class in America in the 1920s and ’30s,” says Dane.

“Starting from a broken-winged position, the woman leans forward against a force that abruptly stops her. Defiantly, she keeps moving. It’s a piece that says so much about how particular groups of people were held back, economically and socially. 

“It’s been a very special experience for Yuma Sylla, our newest dancer, to be taught this masterpiece by  Dr S Ama Wray, associate professor of dance at the University of California, who studied with Jane Dudley.” 

When Dane asked former Phoenix artistic director Darshan Singh Bhuller if he could include Heart Of Chaos, a piece he had created in 1993 when a young choreographer, Darshan would only agree on one condition.

“He said, ‘I will only let you have this work if I can revisit it and place it in the context of the Jack Johnson story’,” recalls Dane. “He told me about the ‘Galveston Giant’, the African-American boxer who became heavyweight champion of the world in 1908. Jack Johnson was a larger-than-life, volatile figure, whose success brought him riches and fame, much to the dismay of white America at the time, who hated him.

“He owned cars, he owned nightclubs, he broke the taboo of black men consorting with white women and married three white women, one of whom was Etta Duryea, who took her life in 1912 because he was abusive.”

Against the modern-day Leeds backdrop of Azeem Rafiq highlighting “institutional racism” at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Dane says: “For me, Heart Of Chaos is the jewel in the crown of this 40th anniversary programme: a piece from the Phoenix archive that has been re- worked for our times.  

“Although it’s rooted in history, this is a story for the present day, when we’re still dealing with the issue of racism and inequality in sport and in wider society.”

Challenging segregated sport and white America in the era of Jim Crow and the Jazz Age, with music by Wynton Marsalis, Dane describes Darshan’s Heart of Chaos as being filmic in style. “That’s because he’s a filmmaker as well as a choreographer,” he says.

Phoenix Dance Theatre – or Phoenix Dance Company as the company was first called after Charles Gardener first suggested using ‘Phoenix’ – have been true to the meaning of that word. “I think there’s a magic that lies within this company, and it comes from how it was founded by three teenagers against the odds, with a love for dance and their community, telling their stories, and that humbleness, that humanity, still underpins the company.

“Phoenix has risen to the heights, then fallen, then risen again. I was a young member of the company in 2009, when everyone was sent packing for a mixture of artistic differences and personal and financial reasons at that time.

“What has happened to Phoenix is true to the myth; it reaches great heights, then burns out, and to keep going, it then has to reinvent itself as a new troupe, completing a cycle again and then starting anew again.”

Phoenix’s dancers have diversified over 40 years too. “The thing is, the world is changing and more and more countries are becoming diverse because of people’s ability to travel,” says Dane. “Phoenix represents that melting pot of culture and the company will grow and develop with everything that is strong about what makes Britain Britain now, multiculturally, and we must celebrate that as a company, reaching out to people from every background.

“Dance transcends all barriers of language, race, sexuality and religion. When the body moves in its symmetry, you can only feel the beauty of the body moving in space – and that is the one thing we all identify with: being able to move.”

Broadening out this point, Dane says: “Dance moves us emotionally; it challenges us intellectually; it transports us in fantasy. In dance, the human body reaches incredible heights of sheer physicality and precision of execution, in unison, to music.

“Without a word being uttered, dance can communicate across so many different barriers: barriers of language, barriers of culture, and also barriers of ingrained perceptions. Culturally, we are all shaped according to where we live and the structures of our society, so we see the world very differently from each other. But when the body moves to music and a particular story is told without recourse to language, it can reach and touch everybody.” 

Looking ahead, Dane says: “My hope is that the company will nurture its legacy over the next 40 years and continue to make amazing new work, because when we let the heart speak through the art, we can make a connection with everyone. If we can continue to do that, it will be a job well done.”

It will, however, be a job done without Dane, who will be leaving Phoenix to return to his native South Africa on December 4. “I don’t think we’ve been able to take stock yet of how much the pandemic has affected us. My family in South Africa is going through its own horrible times: I have lost three relatives to Covid.

“Since the pandemic, everything we do is being looked at again and re-evaluated. In my case, I left my family in 2003 to chase my dream of being an international artist, but now I need to go home to take care of my family.

“The company has put together a good vision for the future, with the tour running until next May and a programme in place until 2023. Even though I am leaving, it is with a heavy heart, and I will not lose my connection with the company. I’ll be only 12 hours away!”

What’s more, Dane will travel from South Africa for Phoenix’s celebration gala at Leeds Playhouse on February 12 next year, when nine companies will take part in the 40th anniversary event. “I’m coming over specially for that to cheer everyone one,” he says.

Phoenix Dance Theatre in 40 Years Of Phoenix, York Theatre Royal, November 23 and 24, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Horror at the double: Dracula: The Untold Story and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Rhian Duce as Mina Harker in Imitating The Dog’s Dracula: The Untold Story. Picture: Ed Waring

REVIEW: Dracula: The Untold Story, Imitating The Dog/Leeds Playhouse, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, until Saturday, then touring until November 13; The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Tilted Wig Productions, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, then touring into 2022. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or at; York, 01904 623568 or

THE horror! The horror! O’ the contrasting horror of two new accounts of vintage horror stories, as re-envisioned respectively by perennially cutting-edge Leeds company Imitating The Dog and Philip Meeks, life-long fan of horror and the weird, prolific playwright and pantomime dame.

Last time out, forever in pursuit of marrying technology and theatre in inventive, ingenious harmony, Imitating The Dog set themselves the digital task of re-creating George A Romero’s cult 1968 Zombie movie Night Of The Living Dead – Remix, frame for frame, on stage and screen in synch with the original footage being shown simultaneously. Breathless, breath-taking, dead brilliant.

From one restless story of the undead to another: the Victorian gothic horror of Dracula, here presented as The Untold Story, the story as re-told from Mina Harker’s viewpoint on New Year’s Eve 1965 at a London police station, as she turns herself in, the last surviving witness of Count Dracula’s destruction 70 years earlier.

Not seen since 1901, she should be 90, but as she confesses to a murder spree over those intervening years, Riane Duce’s Mina looks young, in her 20s. No wonder, Adela Rajnović and Matt Prendergast’s midnight-shift police officers appear so sceptical, even more so when vigilante Mina reveals her supernaturally powered capacity for self-healing and clairvoyance have sustained her through terminating the likes of Mussolini and Hitler before they could wreak their havoc.

All this is delivered with both verbal and visual wit by directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, the outstanding Duce and the multi-role playing Imitating The Dog veterans Rajnovic and Prendergast, with an economy of words to fit into the bubble spaces that graphic novels use.

Ah, the graphic novel: the pop-culture artform that fuels the latest hi-tech innovation of Imitating The Dog’s co-production with Leeds Playhouse. Just as Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s neo-noir thriller Sin City brought the graphic form to cinematic life, so Dracula: The Untold Story is now staged as a live graphic novel cum detective thriller.

Mixed-media theatre took a long time to settle, whether in the pioneering work of Imitating The Dog or York company Pilot Theatre, with words prone to playing second fiddle to the tricksy technology.

Now, however, the sight of actors working cameras on stage, or bending into unusual positions in front of blue screens to appear together, as if by magic, in the graphic novel in motion, no longer has any sense of distraction or gimmickry compromising the live performance.

This is live theatre-making gloriously embracing new possibilities in a constant flow between 2D and 3D, as the cast performs to both camera lens and audience, the visual experience further enhanced by the use of face-recognition technology for the characters being projected on screen.

Dracula: The Untold Story is thrillingly bravura, yet entirely coherent 21st century storytelling, at once pulp fiction in style yet deeply psychological too, still gothic but ultra-modern, humorous yet haunting. Sinking their ever-sharper teeth into Dracula, Imitating The Dog keep on breaking new ground.

Bill Ward and Wendi Peters in The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Philip Meeks’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow is a horror story too, but not of the kind intended. Washington Irving’s gothic story from 1820 runs to only 24 pages and should take the average reader 86 minutes to consume at 250 words per minute. Meeks’s play stretches to over two and a quarter hours, and when town teacher Ichabod Crane (Sam Jackson) mocks the legend for being boring, alas audience heads could be seen nodding in agreement.

At the interval, bewildered expressions were commonplace, as first-night attendees sought mutual guidance as to what was going on, a failing of storytelling amid Meeks’ proliferation of florid words and fanciful ideas.

Neither he nor director Jake Smith has settled on a tone or style, caught in a no man’s land between the earnest, the arch, the knowing, and the quagmire of strangely unfunny schlock-horror comedy ripped from the Hammer House playbook, with sporadic folk-dance stomping and religion-bashing to boot. Imagine a cross between Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, topped off with a gay love story.

The acting is uneven; Wendi Peters’ Widow Mariette Papenfuss, with her gobby parrot, surpasses all around her; fellow Coronation Street big-name Bill Ward hams up Baltus Van Tassel; Jackson’s Ichabod is like a man under water forever trying to reach for the surface; Lewis Cope’s buff blacksmith Brom Van Brunt keeps removing his shirt, as if he has escaped from Heathers The Musical; Tommy Sim’aan’s Joost De Groot and Rose Quentin’s Katrina Van Tassel need better material.

Amy Watts’s set design could be a Bruegel painting but feels lifeless by comparison, while you wish for more of Filipe J Carvalho’s illusions amid the overall delusion and want of suspense.

In the desire to be magical and monstrous, spunky and spooky, everything has the feel of running around like a headless horseman, although “running” is not the right word.

“Don’t pass by. Stay Forever,” comes the never-to-be-repeated invitation to Sleepy Hollow. But what is the Legend of Sleepy Hollow? You better ask Philip, although on second thoughts…

Imitating The Dog tell Dracula: The Untold Story, via Mina Harker in 1965 London

She did it her way: Mina Harker recounts her version of events in Imitating The Dog’s Dracula: The Untold Story

IMITATING The Dog directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks are staging their production of Dracula: The Untold Story as a live graphic novel.

Their new high-tech hybrid play is inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror novel but, in an interesting twist, is told from the perspective of Mina Harker: “in many ways an archetypal late-Victorian woman in the book, but a modern heroine –  some might even say vigilante – on stage,” they suggest.

Running at Leeds Playhouse until October 9 at the outset of a tour to November 13, the co-production with the Playhouse combines cutting-edge digital technology with live performance.

Leeds company Imitating The Dog have made this theatre technique their own, not least in Night Of The Living Dead – Remix,  their 2020 co-production with Leeds Playhouse wherein they lovingly recreated George A Romero’s cult zombie film frame-by-frame live on stage. 

Graphic novels have always influenced Imitating The Dog’s work, where the pulp narratives of detective, sci-fi and horror fiction has provided rich source material for their big screen projections and live camera work.

For Dracula: The Untold Story, they also are utilising the latest face recognition technology to create live, large-scale graphic novel layouts that switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D as the pages turn and the three-strong cast explores – and updates – the classic yarn.  

No longer a 19th century gothic tale, Imitating The Dog’s brash, vivid and fast-moving play is set in Sixties’ London, with pared-back dialogue and bursts of action that will “grab audiences by the throat and not let go”. 

Head back to New Year’s Eve, 1965, London, England. Just before midnight, as revellers celebrate the beginning of another year, a young woman enters Marylebone Police Station and confesses to a brutal murder.  

She claims to be Mina Harker, the last living survivor of the intrepid group that witnessed Count Dracula’s destruction 70 years before. But Mina Harker has not been seen since 1901.  And if she was alive, she would be ninety years old.

As Mina confesses to events that are much more terrifying than in the original, she retells the events of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. She claims it is the true story. The untold story. And she must tell it now, before sunrise, before it’s too late, before…October 9, if you want to see it in Leeds. 

Tickets are on sale on 0113 213 7700 or at

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on A Little Night Music, Opera North/Leeds Playhouse

Old flames reunited at Opera North: Stephanie Corley as Desirée and Quirijn de Lang as Fredrik in A Little Night Music at Leeds Playhouse

A Little Night Music, Opera North and Leeds Playhouse, Leeds Playhouse, until July 17. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at

THE collaboration between Opera North and Leeds Playhouse has finally resumed 13 months after originally intended. It has been a long wait but has picked up very fruitfully.

A bitter-sweet musical by the grand old man of bitter-sweet, Stephen Sondheim, is the perfect vehicle, reflecting on the fall-out from amatory accidents in European operetta just as we all contemplate a newly changed cultural scenario.

James Brining’s new production, updated to mid-20th century and hand in glove with Madeleine Boyd’s flexible set, is everywhere imaginative and often heart-warming, reaping the very best from a widely talented cast.

On the Playhouse’s apron stage – no proscenium arch (except briefly an improvised one for a Baroque throwback in The Glamorous Life – there is virtually no scenery. All is movable furniture: two clothes-rails, a grandfather clock, a doll’s house, a toiletry dresser, a double bed, a half-submerged piano. The only fixed point comes in Act 2, where the centrepiece is a fountain surmounted by a cherub, which is probably Eros.

James Holmes’s theatre orchestra – using the original and incomparable Jonathan Tunick orchestration – is placed at the back, stage right and blacked out for Act 2. Lighting designer Chris Davey’s discreet spots gently guide us to the next focal point, so that we are duped into feeling the action is continuous, the scene-changes happening magically.

Although much of the music moves in triple time, reflecting the triangular relationships of the story, its character evolves with the scenes. Holmes is masterful at these changing colours and accents, while remaining in close touch with his singers.

The Scandinavian twilight of Act 2, with alto flute, cor anglais, celesta and harp, is positively fragrant. He can equally easily find a lament in a waltz, as in Henrik’s Later, or pomposity in a polonaise, in the Count’s In Praise Of Women. His orchestra is the unsung hero of the evening.

There are some pretty splendid singers too. Heading the list has to be Josephine Barstow’s Madame Arnfeldt, the grande dame of the tale who has seen it all before, as she sardonically reminds us from her wheelchair in Liaisons. She exudes effortless authority through her commanding mezzo and diction that is a paragon of clarity.

As her actress daughter Desirée, Stephanie Corley brings a lovely soprano to her vacillating emotions; in Send In The Clowns, against a backdrop of slow choreography, her pacing and rubato is wondrous.

Opposite her – and incidentally rekindling their double act from Kiss Me, Kate with Opera North – is Quirijn de Lang as her erstwhile lover Fredrik, the lawyer caught in a mid-life crisis, whose firm baritone fires You Must Meet My Wife. His fall into the fountain is straight out of P G Wodehouse. Together their ambivalent emotions are cleverly cloaked.

Christopher Nairne brings an incisive baritone to his poker-faced Count, while Helen Évora’s Countess has charm to burn, notably in Every Day A Little Death. A word too for the Petra of Amy J. Payne, who brings both pizzazz and pathos to The Miller’s Son, a marvellous piece. Corinne Cowling’s Anne, Fredrik’s virginal second wife, and Laurence Kilsby’s high-strung Henrik merge neatly into elopement, while Agatha Meehan makes an engaging young daughter to Desirée (her alternate is Lucy Sherman).

The Quintet, five chorus members from Opera North acting like a Greek chorus, seem to me to sum up the whole show: they blend superbly, proving that good teamwork will always win the day. Congratulations to all, especially James Brining for pulling it all together.                                                                                                        

Review by Martin Dreyer   

Romeo and Juliet Forster as York Theatre Royal creative director makes Shakespeare show with Justin Fletcher for CBeebies

From Mr Tumble to…Peter the Clown in Romeo And Juliet: Justin Fletcher does Shakespeare for CBeebies. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

JULIET Forster has cut it as a director of Romeo And Juliet many times. Now she has sliced Shakespeare’s “two the two hours’ traffic of our stage” to 45 minutes, maybe 50, for CBeebies’ show tomorrow morning.

“I did joke about that at rehearsals because my previous production, at Blenheim Palace, ran to three hours and 15 minutes,” says Juliet, York Theatre Royal’s creative director.

She had been lined up for the children’s television production as long ago as December 2019. “Anna Perowne, who has produced the performance, had newly taken over BBC Shakespeare, having worked previously for the Royal Shakespeare Company,” says Juliet.

“It was partly that thing of a new producer looking at it in a new way, wanting to work with a director who would allow more input from the actors.

Evie Pickerill as Juliet in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet, Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

“She’d found the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre production of Romeo And Juliet I’d just done at Blenheim that summer, and when we met, we got on immediately. Then, put that together with the fact I’ve done a lot of children’s theatre and plenty of Shakespeare.”

The list runs deep for Romeo And Juliet alone. “In 2005, I did a Family Day at the RSC with children and parents taking part in a Shakespeare workshop,” says Juliet. “I’ve done an interactive version of Romeo And Juliet with some very young children and a youth theatre version at York Theatre Royal.

“I’ve adapted it for five to seven year olds in a way for them to tell the story; I adapted it for a Pilot Theatre production and I’ve directed it with a teenage cast in a play-in-a-week school project I ran with my old company years and years ago in the Midlands.”

Who better, then, to direct yet another variation on Shakespeare’s tragic story of young love and feuding families than Juliet? “We were supposed to record it last May, but the pandemic delayed it until we could kick off working on it again in December,” she says.

Zach Wyatt as Romeo in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet combines Shakespeare’s characters with the additional roles of William Shakespeare himself and a librarian. “What the producer wanted was a good cohort of recognised CBeebies faces and actors, so I watched the other two CBeebies’ Shakespeare shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, to see how they were done,” says Juliet.

“We talked about ‘why do a complicated play for such little ones?’, but then we talked about the positive messages in there: the families putting an end to their feud and the importance of not giving in to bad things too easily, instead looking to live in peace and to put a stop to the fighting.

“That made it a show very much for the CBeebies audience, in this case for two to seven year olds…though lots of older children watch it too; they just don’t admit it!”

Juliet worked with Nathan Cockerill on the script, calling on her past experiences of adapting the text. “I looked back at what I’d left in and taken out for the five to seven-year-olds’ script I wrote and fleshed it out from there, also looking at my Pilot Theatre script to see how I’d edited it down for that show,” she says.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal creative director and director of CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

“Nathan was someone who’d worked with CBeebies before, and we worked on a script knowing that Shakespeare and a companion or companions always feature in a CBeebies Shakespeare show. This time Shakespeare is much more involved.”

Juliet has directed a cast of 15, featuring such CBeebies names as Andy Day, Chris Jarvis, Jennie Dale, Gemma Hunt, Rebecca Keatley and Justin Fletcher, of Mr Tumble fame, as Peter the Clown. Zach Wyatt, from Shakespeare’s Globe, will play Romeo; Evie Pickerill, Juliet.

“We rehearsed it and filmed it at Leeds Playhouse, all done and dusted two weeks ago, with just one day of filming with three runs of the show, making it like a piece of live theatre, though we couldn’t have an audience, of course,” says Juliet.

Joining Forster in the production team were designer Rhys Jarman, renewing their creative partnership from A View From The Bridge and The Machine Stops at York Theatre Royal, choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, lighting designer Will Evans and costume designer Mary Lamb.

The Librarian and William Shakespeare in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

“We then rehearsed from March 9, five days, then four days of tech and rehearsals, then filming,” says Juliet. “It was absolutely joyful because we were always keeping the young television audience in mind, how to carry them through such a tricky story.

“To have those experienced CBeebies performers and Shakespeare actors was invaluable. They set the tone. That was part of what was interesting for me as I’ve never made anything specifically for the telly before, but at the same time thinking about making something for a live audience, though that wasn’t the case!

“What we had to do was to get the best ‘blocking’ [the cast’s positions on stage], trying to make it as right as possible for the camera, but still making it very theatrical as Shakespeare is theatre.”

CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet will be shown on CBeebies tomorrow (2/4/2021) at 9.30am and soon after on BBC iPlayer.

Copyright of The Press, York

Jennie Dale as the Nurse in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

Leeds Playhouse goes digital with A Christmas Carol after Tier 3 renewal rules out performances 3 days before opening

Chain reaction: Everal A. Walsh’s Jacob Marley will set Ebenezer Scrooge on his path to redemption in A Christmas Carol. Picture: Anthony Robling

BAH, Tier 3 Humbug. A Christmas Carol should have been opening at Leeds Playhouse tomorrow for a run until January 9, but then came the Government’s latest killjoy message for much of the north.

The Playhouse’s response is to go ahead anyway…but for five special online performances only, from December 21 to 23.

“Just as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future try to instil in Scrooge some seasonal spirit, Leeds Playhouse remains committed to spreading much-needed festive cheer across the city and beyond this year, with ‘as live’ digital screenings of its sensational family show A Christmas Carol,” says the Playhouse statement.

“As Leeds remains in Tier 3, the Playhouse is sadly unable to welcome people into its Quarry Theatre to enjoy the production in person, but we remain determined that audiences will be able to experience the spirit, fun, music and magic of A Christmas Carol in the run-up to the big day.” 

Leeds Playhouse has worked with Pilot Theatre, resident company at York Theatre Royal, to film the production and share it for free with care homes, schools and hospitals in Leeds.

“It’s brilliant to be working in a new partnership with Leeds Playhouse on Playhouse At Home,” says Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson. “We know how disappointing it is for everyone this Christmas in Leeds not to be able to attend theatre performances, but if you access the show via your television, or the largest screen you have at home, it’s amazing how close our team are able to make you feel to the actors and the magic of this enduring Christmas story.” 

Dan Parr in Leeds Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Carol. Picture: Anthony Robling

Now, tickets are being made available to the wider public for online performances at 7pm on December 21, then 2pm and 7pm on December 22 and 23. Prices start at £10, but be warned, numbers are limited, so early booking is advised to avoid disappointment.

Charles Dickens’s winter evergreen can be enjoyed in the comfort and safety of homes – whether in Tier 3 across West Yorkshire or Tier 2 in York and North Yorkshire – in Huddersfield-born Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation, premiered at Hull Truck Theatre in December 2017, when directed by Amy Leach.

Now associate director at Leeds Playhouse, Leach is directing this season’s production too, wherein the spirits of theatre past, present and future emerge from ghost lights centre stage to share with miser Ebenezer Scrooge the true meaning of this festive time of year.

On Christmas Eve in Victorian Leeds, the cold-hearted Scrooge has not spread an ounce of festive cheer. As the cold night draws in, first Jacob Marley, then the ghostly spirits, take Scrooge on his frightening but enlightening magical journey, hoping to show him the error of his ways.

“Our vivid retelling of one of the best-loved stories in English literature was inspired by the evocative beauty and intrinsic hope of the ghost lights that continued to burn bright while theatres across the land were forced to go dark when the pandemic hit,” says Leach.

“Our aim now with Playhouse At Home is to share that same light and hope with people in their own homes, giving them the best seats in the house for a story infused with goodwill, festive spirit and optimism. What a way to kick off Christmas week!”

Playwright Deborah McAndrew

As part of the Playhouse’s on-going commitment to supporting the Leeds community, the Quarry Hill theatre is gifting a free screening to closed wards of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, so patients can enjoy the on-stage magic even while they are in hospital over the festive period.

The offer is being extended to the Playhouse’s Burberry Inspire partner schools, residents in three care homes and to two day-service settings for adults with a learning disability.

Ticket holders who booked for cancelled shows will be sent the digital version for free. In addition, the Playhouse will bring A Christmas Carol to 1,000 NHS key workers and their families as part of the #LeedsSaysThanks scheme.

Playhouse artistic director James Brining says: “It feels more important than ever that we should honour our ongoing commitment to the wider Playhouse community in Leeds, the city region and beyond, giving our more vulnerable neighbours the chance to experience the life-enhancing joy of live theatre at Christmas in the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings.” 

Reflecting on “undoubtedly an incredibly challenging year”, Brining says: “With challenge comes innovation. We launched Playhouse Connect during lockdown to stay creatively engaged with more than 4,000 people across Leeds.

Jack Lord’s Ebenezer Scrooge, centre, has his measly meal interrupted by the nightcap-bothering Lladel Bryant in Leeds Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol. Picture: Anthony Robling

“This resulted in a collated series of dynamic online projects that we were able to successfully share with a much wider digital audience. We have also previously partnered with the National Theatre and Curve on lockdown screenings of Barber Shop Chronicles and  My Beautiful Laundrette.

“Playhouse At Home is the next logical step, giving us a vital outlet for the incredible work we are continuing to produce, and audiences an essential opportunity to experience inspiring and energising theatre at home.”

Jack Lord will play Ebenezer Scrooge; Stephen Collins and Nadia Nadarajah, Bob and Mrs Cratchit; Dan Parr, Young Scrooge and Fred; Tessa Parr, Christmas Past; Lladel Bryant, Dick Wilkins and Topper, and Everal A. Walsh, Marley and Fezziwig.

Lisa Howard, last seen in York in Park Bench Theatre’s late-summer premiere of Matt Aston’s lockdown play Every Time A Bell Rings in Rowntree Park, will take the roles of Christmas Present and Mrs Fezziwig.

Leach, who directed Oliver Twist at Leeds Playhouse in February, is joined in the creative team by designer Hayley Grindle; lighting designer Chris Davey; Leeds composer and music director John Biddle; Otley sound designer Ed Clarke; Leeds BSL consultant Adam Bassett; choreographer Lucy Cullingford; puppet designer Rachael Canning and puppet director Elisa De Grey.

The socially distanced Leeds Playhouse company in A Christmas Carol. Picture: Anthony Robling

Tickets (£10/£12/£150 can be booked at or 0113 213 7700 with access for 48 hours from the ticket time. All performances include integrated British Sign Language (BSL), captioning and features creative audio description, courtesy of Hear The Picture.

REVIEW: The Seven Deadly Sins, Opera North at Leeds Playhouse, livestream, November 21 to 23

Dancer Shelley Eva Haden’s Anna II and mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta’s Anna I in Gary Clarke’s Opera North production of The Seven Deadly Sins. Picture: Tristram Kenton

TWO weeks before this Gary Clarke production of Weill’s ballet chanté was due to go into rehearsal, the second Lockdown was announced, making the planned live performance – in a double bill with Acis And Galatea– an impossibility.

So, Acis was quickly dropped and a new physically distanced livestream became the order of the day. Without the normal lead-times, this was a tall order. Clarke rapidly conceived Anna (Anna I, the singer and Anna II, the dancer) and her family as German immigrants fleeing Hitler and thus displaced from the start.

George Johnson-Leigh’s set, imagined as an abandoned film studio, assigned a separate dais or “box” for each sin, with the family displaced into the no-man’s land between the boxes every time the two Annas changed city.

A large Hollywood sign at the back of the set thus pointed the contrast between that promised land, still booming in the 1930s, and the privations of the Depression – and, of course, current stringencies.

The contrast between the two Annas was not quite as strong as it might have been, partly because their roles were filled by two equally fetching performers. Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta’s Anna I, supposedly the thinker and practical half of her personality, seemed to be enjoying, almost revelling, in the travelogue.

“Wallis Giunta is an actress of many hues and, when her tone is as focused as this, irresistible”. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Whereas a deeper pain was etched into the features of dancer Shelley Eva Haden’s Anna II, as she learnt to moderate her wilfulness to suit the paying customers on their tour.

But the paradox at the heart of this morality tale, about what you need to do to accumulate wealth, could not have been clearer: “Conquer your weaker self to conquer the world”, in Michael Feingold’s translation, sung under a shower of dollar bills. Only the temptations themselves might have been writ larger, although that would be hard to envisage in present conditions.

Giunta was on top form, forthright, even bossy, when need be but able to mine a deep nostalgia in the epilogue. She is an actress of many hues and, when her tone is as focused as this, irresistible.

Haden was no less versatile and utterly tireless. To Clarke’s choreography, she ranged the whole spectrum of dance, from the extravagance of Busby Berkeley (in a splendid, giant-sized feather headdress) in Anger, to Pavlova’s tutu-clad Dying Swan immediately afterwards in Gluttony.

She reached a manic peak parodying punk anarchist dancer Valeska Gert. Her brief spoken interjections were pleasingly clear.

Nicholas Butterfield as Brother and Dean Robinson as Mother in Opera North’s The Seven Deadly Sins. Picture: Tristram Kenton

The family quartet – tenors Nicholas Butterfield and Stuart Laing, baritone Dean Robinson and bass Campbell Russell – carried off their solo work as well as they blended, notably in the Sloth motet and the prayerful strictures of Lust. The ending was suitably ambivalent.

James Holmes, editor of the critical edition of Weill’s orchestral works and former Head of Music at this company, could not have been a better choice as conductor. The differentiation in styles was masterly and the playing, by 15 instruments in a reduced version by H K Gruber and Christian Muthspiel, had a succulent clarity.

It was just a pity that the low camera angles precluded much sight of the orchestra, although it was on stage. This is a minor reservation in the face of such an admirable achievement against near-impossible odds.

Finally, my special thanks to two patient members of the press office, Elizabeth Simmonds and Rowland Thomas, for bailing me out of a technological nightmare. Bring back live performance …                                                                                   

Review by Martin Dreyer