REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Macbeth’s return to Leeds Playhouse *****

Jessica Baglow’s Lady Macbeth and Ash Hunter’s Macbeth

WHEN shall we meet Amy Leach’s Macbeth again? Only two years to the month since its Leeds Playhouse premiere.

Sixty-nine schools from across Yorkshire attended the 2022 run, “introducing more than 5,000 students to the excitement and lasting resonance of Macbeth – and giving some of them their first electrifying experience of live theatre,” as artistic director and chief executive James Brining recalls in his programme notes.

Even more school-friendly matinees have been fitted in for the return of GCSE Eng Lit set text Macbeth, supported by a programme of resources and activities to “bring additional depth and breadth to students’ appreciation of this incredible play”.

Striking up a pre-show conversation with the student in the neighbouring back-row seat at Thursday’s lunchtime matinee, she had first seen a version of Macbeth when she was ten and it had since become her favourite play. Now she is studying its psychology on her GCSE course.

And what a psychological thriller to be watching to elucidate those studies, in a theatre full to the brim with excited school uniforms, all enraptured from start to finish by Leach’s vision of all-inclusive theatre-making. Theatre for all the senses, all audiences, all performers, deaf, visually impaired, included. Each performance has integrated audio description.

Think of modern theatrical retellings of historical stories with nods to concert culture, and up pops SIX The Musical, the Spouse Girls’ revenge of Henry VIII’s wives. Another controversial king, Macbeth, is now framed in a setting that would not be out of place in a stadium rock show.

A huge drawbridge hangs heavy over Hayley Grindle’s stage. Searchlights scan the auditorium from metallic towers spread out like a forest. Fog enfolds. Deafening noise bursts through the air. For those about to rock, however, stop. You notice a puddle of water; muddy ground; grit too. Something witchy this way comes.

Enter the weather-watchful Witches (Charlotte Arrowsmith, Karina Jones and Elkanah Wilder, all from 2022), spinning opening words that are re-shaped, re-ordered, with rhythms afresh, their sound as important as their meaning.

What’s this? Macbeth (Ash Hunter, last seen on Yorkshire boards as Heathcliff in Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights at York Theatre Royal) and Lady Macbeth (the returning Jessica Baglow) are cradling a new-born baby, only for the bairn to die within a heartbeat.

In the Playhouse’s wish to “explore the damaging physical, spiritual and psychological effects of treachery on those who seek power at any cost”, Leach has put child loss, lineage and legacy at the heart of the Macbeths’ behaviour, the acts of murder, the need to eliminate all threats to their ill-gotten power.

Leach then takes it even further, Baglow’s Lady Macbeth being pregnant when she beseeches “unsex me here” and later suffering a miscarriage as blood seeps through her nightgown. Come the finale, Leach adds prescient text to give a foretaste of Banquo’s son, Fleance, becoming king as the Witches had prophesied.

Those Witches typify Leach and Brining’s “commitment to accessible and inclusive theatre-making”, as does the participation of the blind Benjamin Wilson as audio description consultant.

Supernatural soliciting: Elkanah Wilder, Karina Jones and Charlotte Arrowsmith’s Witches in Amy Leach’s Macbeth. Picture: Kirsten McTernan

Among the witches, Karina Jones is visually impaired and Charlotte Arrowsmith is profoundly deaf, while Elkanah Wilder “interrogates multifaceted sociopolitical oppressions from a queer and disabled lens”.

Here, Shakespeare’s “weird sisters” are neither weird, nor alien, in the way they are often played, but are as wild as the landscape instead.

Arrowsmith also plays Lady MacDuff, partnered once more by the profoundly deaf Hull actor Adam Bassett as MacDuff. Paul Brown’s Lennox vocally interprets the sign language, complementing the intensity of Bassett’s expressive face, hands and arms with the staccato rhythms of his speech.

Learning of, spoiler alert, his wife and children’s deaths is even more shocking, heart-rending, in this form of news delivery: theatre at its unique best, living and breathing in the rawness of the moment.

Not only do lighting designer Chris Davey’s searchlights induce a sense of paranoia (later turning from white to red after yet more murdering), but relentlessly oppressive natural elements prevail too, along with the sound and fury of machismo war.

These are all big, muscular, mud-and-blood splattered men, ready to rut like stags, except for Aosaf Afzal’s King Duncan; their physicality being emphasised by Georgina Lamb’s movement direction and Claire Lewellyn’s fight direction. Likewise, Nicola T Chang’s sound design adds to the cacophony.

Macbeth’s vaulting ambition may in part be represented by the drawbridge, crowned when on top of it, but broken beneath it, but Leach’s production is deeply human amid the technology.

In the relationship of Hunter’s reactionary Macbeth and Baglow’s more intuitive Lady Macbeth, the shifting sands become less about calculating mind games, controlled initially by her, more about brute physicality and brutal will, imposed by him, as intense love and mutual hopes are snuffed out in the face of ultimate destiny being beyond their control, whether shaped by supernatural witchcraft or the resurrection of natural order.

Hunter’s Macbeth is as physical in his language as in his pugilist’s body, his soliloquies carrying the force of punches amid the fevered actions of his bloody rise and fall. He is so spent – “Enough, enough, I am done” – that he lays down to let Macduff administer the final blow.

Above all, Leach puts Lady Macbeth’s motives under the spotlight, and if purists feel she has gone too far in doing so, the reality is that Baglow’s performance is all the better, more rounded, for it.  

Risk-taking change can be liberating, rather than be judged as taking liberties, as Leach’s emboldened Playhouse productions affirm, from Romeo And Juliet to Macbeth X 2.

What’s more, there is no damned spot to ‘out’ here. Leach’s Macbeth was already beyond blemish in 2022 and is even better in 2024.

Macbeth, Leeds Playhouse, today at 2pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or

More Things To Do in York and beyond from March 9 onwards. Hutch plays his cards for List No. 11 for 2024, from The Press

2023 Strictly champ Ellie Leach’s Miss Scarlett, front right, with her fellow colourful characters in the new whodunit comedy Cluedo 2, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Alastair Muir

A WHODUNIT comedy, mischievous theatre as a team game, a wicked return, cocktail-bar tales, political satire and one-liners and a very muddy pig are Charles Hutchinson’s clues to the best upcoming shows.

Whodunit, with what and where, of the week: Cluedo 2, York Theatre Royal, March 12 to 16, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

STRICTLY Come Dancing 2023 champion and Coronation Street star Ellie Leach is making her stage acting debut as Miss Scarlett in the world premiere British tour of Cluedo 2, marking the 75th anniversary of the Hasbro boardgame. Next stop, York.

This follow-up to the original play (based on Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film Clue) is an original comedy whodunit, set in the Swinging Sixties, with a script by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Birds Of A Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Dreamboats And Petticoats) and direction by Mark Bell (Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong). Box office: 01904 623568 or

Ash Hunter’s Macbeth and Jessica Baglow’s Lady Macbeth in Amy Leach’s revival of Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse. Picture: Kirsten McTernan

Something wicked this way comes…again: Macbeth, Leeds Playhouse, until March 23

AMY Leach reactivates her 2022 Leeds Playhouse production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a wickedly good cast, now led by Ash Hunter, who returns to Yorkshire after his terrific Heathcliff in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights at York Theatre Royal.

“Macbeth investigates the nature of belief, love, ambition and desire, asking us to root for two humans who drive each other to do utterly terrible things,” says Leach. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or   

Let the games begin: Gemma Curry, left, Claire Morley and Becky Lennon in Hoglets Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Mischief at York Theatre Royal Studio

Shakespeare shake-up of the week: Hoglets Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, York Theatre Royal Studio, March 9, 10.30am

EVERYTHING is kicking off as the fairies in the forest start a fight, but which side will you be on? Team Titania or Team Oberon? York company Hoglets Theatre presents an interactive, fun, larger-than-life production for young children, based on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Expect wild characters, raucous singalong songs, puppets, stunts and some frankly ridiculous disco dancing from director/writer Gemma Curry and fellow cast members Claire Morley and Becky Lennon. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Comedian Matt Green: “Trying to make sense of the world”. Picture: Karla Gowlett

Political satire of the week: Matt Green: That Guy, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March 10, 8pm

THE debut national tour by That Guy (@mattgreencomedy) is a stand-up show full of jokes both political and non-political after he achieved millions of views for his online satirical videos launched in lockdown.

Green is touring his first show “since the madness of Covid/Johnson/Truss/Lord-knows-what-else began”, trying to make sense of the world in another year of elections and culture wars. Box office:

Jake Bugg: Playing our city on his Your Town Tour

Singer-songwriter of the week: Jake Bugg, Your Town Tour 2024, York Barbican, Tuesday, doors 7pm

ON his 15-date tour, Nottingham singer-songwriter Jake Bugg is performing two sets per night, first acoustic, then electric, as he rattles through his biggest hits, plus songs from 2021’s top three-charting Saturday Night Sunday Morning.

Two nights earlier, founder member Graham Gouldman leads art pop and soft rock innovators 10cc on their Ultimate Ultimate Greatest Hits Tour 2024 at 7.30pm. Ticket availability is limited. Box office:

Peppa Pig’s Fun Day Out: Songs, muddy puddles and snorts at the Grand Opera House

Children’s show of the week: Peppa Pig’s Fun Day Out, Grand Opera House, York, Wednesday, 1pm and 4pm, and Thursday, 10am and 1pm

PEPPA Pig is joined by her family and friends as they head to the zoo and the beach for a special party, with the promise of a fun-packed day. Prepare to sing with colourful scarecrows, feed the penguins, build big sandcastles and even swim in the sea in a show packed with songs, dancing, muddy puddles, giggles and snorts. Box office:

Facing the shift from hell in the worst bar in town: Sophie Bullivant, Abi Carter, Holly Smith and Laura Castle in Rowntree Players’ Shakers

Comedy play of the week: Rowntree Players in Shakers, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, March 14 to 16, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

WELCOME to Shakers, the worst bar in town where everyone wants to be seen. Carol, Adele, Niki and Mel face the shift from hell. The lights are neon, the music is loud, and shoes must be smart. No trainers.

Jane Thornton and John Godber’s 1984 comedy exposes the sticky-floored world behind the bar on a busy Saturday night. Here come the girls, the lads, the yuppies and the luvvies, all played by Sophie Bullivant, Laura Castle, Abi Carter and Holly Smith under the direction of Jamie McKeller, who worked previously with Bullivant and Castle on Godber’s Teechers in 2023. Box office: 01904 501935 or

Rebecca Vaughan in Dyad Productions’ Austen’s Women: Lady Susan, scheming at Theatre@41 for two days

Solo show of the week: Dyad Productions in Austen’s Women: Lady Susan, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March 15, 7.30pm and March 16, 2.30pm

FROM the creators of I, Elizabeth, Female Gothic, Christmas Gothic and A Room Of One’s Own comes a new Austen’s Women show, based on Jane Austen’s first full-length work from 1794, performed by Rebecca Vaughan.

Created entirely from letters, this one features the devil-may-care Lady Susan, the coquettish, scheming black widow, hunting down not one, but two, fortunes. Then add oppressed, rebellious daughter Frederica; long-suffering sister-in-law Catherine; family matriarch Mrs De Courcy and insouciant best friend Alicia in this darkly comic tale of Georgian society and the women trapped within it. Box office:

Shock in shirts: Comedian Milton Jones will be displaying his sartorial eloquence in his Ha!Milton tour show

Gig announcement of the week: Milton Jones, Ha!Milton, Grand Opera House, York, September 7; Sheffield, City Hall, December 4; King’s Hall, Ilkley, December 8

MILTON Jones, the shock-haired master of the one-liner, will take his 2024 tour, Ha!Milton, on the road from September 3 to December 15. “This is not a musical,” says Jones, in a nod to the title.

“I am tone deaf and have no sense of rhythm, but at least I don’t make a song and dance about it. This is a whole new show of daftness. You know it makes sense.” Topics will include giraffes…“and there’s a bit about tomatoes”. Box office:; York,; Sheffield,; Ilkley,

In Focus: Navigators Art & Performance, GUNA: Views and Voices of Women, City Screen Picturehouse, York

Collaborative banner by Navigators Art workshop group, including first-time artist
s, for York International Women’s Week 2024

YORK collective Navigators Art & Performance presents GUNA: Views and Voices of Women, at City Screen Picturehouse, Coney Street, York, from March 10 to April 5.

Run in association with York International Women’s Week 2024, this exhibition explores and celebrates the creativity of women and non-binary artists.

On show in the cafe and the upstairs gallery is an array of paintings, textiles, collages, photographs and more by 20 emerging and established York makers, curated by York artist Katie Lewis.

Navigators Art & Performance’s poster for GUNA: Views and Voices of Women

“Women have used textiles as an art form to tell their stories and express views for centuries,” says Katie. “Many of the artists are using recycled fabrics that give further meaning to their work.”

The official launch night event on March 11 offers the chance to meet the artists over a complimentary drink from 6pm.  All are welcome, with no need to book; more details at

The exhibition is free to enter every day during cinema hours. City Screen is fully accessible.

Suffragette City, by Katie Lewis

NAVIGATORS Art & Performance will co-host GUNA: An Evening of Music, Spoken Word, Performance Art and Comedy to complement the exhibition and further celebrate the creativity of women and non-binary artists in The Basement at City Screen on March 23 from 7pm to 10.45pm.

GUNA is a version of the ancient Greek word for ‘woman’, leading to a line-up of
poets Danae, Olivia Mulligan and Rose Drew; performance artist Carrieanne Vivianette; global songs and percussion from Soundsphere; original music from Suzy Bradley; comedy from Aimee Moon; and a rousing appearance by the multi-faceted singer, author and artist Heather Findlay.

“The venue is small and our shows often sell out, so book soon,” advises Navigators’ organiser, Richard Kitchen. Full details and TicketSource booking are available at

More Things To Do in York and beyond as the Vikings take over. Hutch’s List No. 7 for February 10 onwards, from The Press

In with a shout: Jorvik Viking Festival returns to York

INVASION? Installation? Theatre innovation? Half-term challenges? Giants and dinosaurs? Yes, yes, yes. Charles Hutchinson signposts what to catch in the days and weeks ahead.

Festival of the week: Jorvik Viking Festival 2024, invading York from February 12 to 18

NOW in its 39th year, Europe’s largest annual Viking festival will be attracting up to 45,000 visitors of all ages over the week ahead. “We’d always advise booking in for some of the activities – including a visit to Jorvik Viking Centre and the Festival Finale – but many have booking slots available on the day too,” advises event manager Abigail Judge.

Family activities include Monday’s smelly, squelchy Poo Day! at DIG, St Saviourgate, from 11am to 3pm; daily Berserker Camp, family crafting and saga story-telling Arena! shows, and a new event, the Best Dressed Viking, Best Beast and Best Beard competitions, on February 18 at 12.30pm in St Sampson’s Square. For tickets and the full programme, visit:

Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyia in rehearsal for the Imitating The Dog and Leeds Playhouse co-production of Frankenstein. Picture: Ed Waring

Yorkshire theatre premiere of the week: Frankenstein, Leeds Playhouse Courtyard Theatre, February 15 to 24

PIONEERING Leeds company Imitating The Dog teams up with Leeds Playhouse for a “visually captivating and psychologically thrilling” multi-media exploration of Mary Shelley’s Gothic tale of fear and anxiety, posing the question “what is it to be human?”.

Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyia play all the roles across parallel narratives, threading together the late-18th century’ story of Frankenstein with a contemporary conversation between a pregnant young couple, fearful of what it means to bring life into the world. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or

Ironing 1924 style at Nunnington Hall over half-term. Picture: Arnhel de Serra

Half-term family activity of the week: Nunnington Hall, Nunnington, near Helmsley, February 10 to 18, 10.30am to 4pm, last entry at 3.15pm.

TRAVEL back to 1924 this half-term when families can enjoy being tasked with carrying out activities performed by household servants 100 years ago, from ironing to dusting bannisters, cross stitch to flower arranging.  

The National Trust property has created a fun, interactive trail around the manor house in the form of a CV that guides visitors through the various servant skills. Children can find out if they meet the requirements necessary to fulfil the responsibilities of the desired positions, and then decide which roles, if any, they would choose to accept. Tickets:

Going Wilde in the country: Tiny & Tall Productions and Soap Soup Theatre’s touring production of The Selfish Giant visits Helmsley

Children’s show of the week: Tiny & Tall Productions and Soap Soup Theatre in The Selfish Giant, Helmsley Arts Centre, February 11, 2.30pm

BRISTOL family theatre companies Tiny & Tall Productions and Soap Soup Theatre head north with their collaborative exploration of Oscar Wilde’s children’s story of an unusual friendship, The Selfish Giant.

In this version, the giant Grinter lives happily alone in her huge icy house, shutting out the world that long ago shut her out. Outside, very little greenery is left. One spring day, the children, tired of playing on hard roads and grey rooftops, climb through a chink in her garden walls, changing the course of their lives forever and Grinter’s too. Box office: 01439 771700 or

Jonathan Pie: Hero or villain? Time for a rant at York Barbican

York comedy gig(s) of the week: Jonathan Pie: Hero Or Villain?, York Barbican, February 14 and 15, 7.30pm

FOR the record, ranting political correspondent Jonathan Pie is a fictional character portrayed by British comedian Tom Walker, scripted by Walker and Irish comedian Andrew Doyle. In his latest slice of Pie, he hopes to answer the question: hero or villain?

Join him, on a St Valentine’s Day date or the night after, as he “celebrates the UK’s greatest heroes (nurses/Gary Lineker/24-hour off licence proprietors), takes a verbal blowtorch to its villains (the Tories/cyclists), kicks in the Establishment’s back doors and rifles through its kitchen cupboards”. Box office:

Jurassic Live: Dinosaur adventures on a musical journey at York Barbican

Swimming dinosaur alert: Jurassic Live, York Barbican, February 16, 5pm; February 17, 11am, 3pm; February 18, 1pm

NEW for 2024 in this interactive theatrical dinosaur show is the Tylosaurus, a genus of Mosasaur: the largest predatory marine reptile to ever grace our oceans and now the largest marine puppet ever made as it swims in its gigantic purpose-built Jurassic tank on stage. Be warned: if you sit near the front, you will get wet!

Family show Jurassic Live undertakes a musical journey as little Amber, Ranger Joe and Ranger Nora strive to save the day from an evil man determined to close the Jurassic facility. Box office:

Barrie and the Bard: Barrie Rutter discusses Shakespeare’s Royals at the SJT, Scarborough, Salts Mill, York Theatre Royal and Ripon Theatre Festival

Regal tour of the north: Barrie Rutter: Shakespeare’s Royals, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, March 1, 7.30pm; Arrival Of Spring Gallery, Salts Mill, Saltaire, April 13, 7.30pm; York Theatre Royal Studio, April 26, 7.45pm; Ripon Theatre Festival, Ripon Cathedral, July 4, 7.30pm

BARRIE Rutter, founder and former director of Northern Broadsides, celebrates the Bard’s kings and queens – their achievements, conquests and foibles – with tales, anecdotes and memories from a career of playing and directing Shakespeare’s Royals.

After being told he could never play a king on account of his Yorkshire accent, Hull-born Rutter, now 77, took the revolutionary step of creating his own theatre company in 1992 in Halifax to use the northern voice for Shakespeare’s kings, queens and emperors, not only the usual drunken porters, jesters or fools. As he says on X: “Lover of language. Awobopaloobopalopbamboom – everything else is Shakespeare”. Box office: Scarborough, 01723 370541 or; Salt’s Mill,;  York, 01904 623568 or; Ripon,

In Focus: Art installation Colour & Light, York Art Gallery, going full frontal until February 25

Colour & Light: Art from the York Art Gallery collection spreads over the gallery facade in Double Take Projections’ installation. Picture: York BID/Double Take Projections

YORK BID links up with York Museums Trust for the return of Colour & Light: an innovative project designed to warm up York Art Gallery’s facade in the cold winter with an art-filled light installation by David McConnachie’s Edinburgh company Double Take Projections.

This “high impact and large-scale visual arts project” uses 3D projection mapping to bring York’s iconic buildings to life, first York Minster last year, now York Art Gallery, where the projection will play every ten minutes from 6pm to 9pm daily in a non-ticketed free event. 

Highlighting York’s UNESCO Media Arts status, this outdoor projection is the work of Double Take Projections, who architecturally scanned the gallery facade to generate a 3D model.

This model served as the template for content application. From there, they used multiple projections to create one seamless image by projecting from different angles and wrapping content on the irregularly shaped frontage.

Viewers can notice something new at each viewing, such as York’s skyline being hidden in different mediums or artistic elements of the gallery’s façade that they may not have spotted previously.

The William Etty statue in front of the gallery, in Exhibition Square, has been brought to life too. Born in Feasegate and buried just around the corner from the gallery in Marygate, Etty is York’s most iconic artist.

Considered the first significant British painter of nudes and still lifes, Etty’s 19th century paintings were somewhat controversial at the time, but he also played a role in the conservation of the city walls.  His work Preparing For AFancy Dress Ball features in the Colour & Light display.

Not only York Art Gallery’s paintings are highlighted. Spot the reference to the extensive Centre of Ceramic Arts (CoCA) and the two tiled panels on the side of the building, Leonardo Expiring In The Arms Of Francis I and Michelangelo Showing His Moses

Viewers can pick up exclusive Colour & Light merchandise from the Sketch Box for £2 or less while watching the show, as well as churros, soft serve and hot drinks.

Carl Alsop, York BID’s operations manager, says: “This event is all about making world-class culture more accessible, and it’s been brilliant watching the show from Exhibition Square, traditionally a quiet and reserved space, with children playing, dancing and laughing, and people from all backgrounds enjoying the show together.

“It’s also been great to see people discovering some of the less obvious aspects of the projection on a second viewing. Audiences have enjoyed various buildings from York’s skyline reimagined in different mediums, as well as seeing elements of York Art Gallery, like the mosaics on each side of the building, brought to life.”

Richard Saward, York Museums Trust’s head of visitor experience and commercial, says: “We are thrilled to be involved with York BID’s Colour & Light show. This event kicks off a fantastic season at York Art Gallery, including The Aesthetica Art Prize 2024 exhibition and Claude Monet’s painting The Waterlily-Pond, which will be on display in York from May 10 to celebrate the 200th birthday of the National Gallery.” 

Review: Les Enfants Terribles in The House With Chicken Legs, York Theatre Royal and Leeds Playhouse ***

Eve de Leon Allen’s Marinka and Lisa Howard’s Baba in Les Enfants Terribles’ The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

TECHNICAL issues delayed the start of Wednesday’s opening night of Les Enfants Terribles’ tour of The House With Chicken Legs.

There would be further hitches during the performance. The house – divided into a revolving interior/exterior and a separate porch – was troublesome to manoeuvre. Something of an irony when Sophie Anderson’s story is all about the house’s tendency to up sticks without warning in the dark of night, keeping 12-year-old Marinka (Eve de Leo Allen) on the reluctant move.

No doubt such gremlins will be ironed out, and indeed it may have been better to hold back the press to later in the week (an opportunity that was indeed offered by the Theatre Royal’s marketing team on arrival).

Likewise, microphone levels will be adjusted to facilitate hearing the lyrics of Stephanie Levi-John’s big number as Yaga more clearly.

On first night, the teething problems took away from the “magically inventive” billing that Les Enfants Terribles’ premiere at HOME, Manchester, had elicited in 2022. 

Let’s look at its strengths instead, then. It is a technically demanding show, not only with the regular movement of Jasmine Swan’s set design, but also with the need to work in tandem with Nina Dunn’s video designs and composer Alexander Wolfe’s sound design. 

Those two elements are powerful forces at play, together with Samuel Wyer’s puppetry and costume design, supporting the two primary pistons: co-director Oliver Lansley’s script, rooted in storytelling, and Wolfe and Lansley’s songs that recall the Weimar cabaret of Weill and Brecht.

In Anderson’s tale, performed by an actor-musician cast, de Leon Allen’s 12-year-old orphan Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she can stay somewhere long enough to make friends. Yorkshire theatre regular Lisa Howard’s Baba has Marinka under her wing as her successor as the guardian of the gateway, guiding the souls of the dead into the afterlife. That gateway happens to be Baba’s house, and where the dead need their exit, with a last warming bowl of food and a star-lit sky, the house must move to meet those demands.

Howard’s Baba, with her Russian accent, grandmotherly garb, strict, cajoling airs and bon mots, chalks up another memorable turn for this ever-watchable northern favourite. De Leon Allen straddles appealing to younger audiences and adults alike with Marinka’s precocious manner, her wish to do her own thing when burdened with the responsibility of taking on a pre-ordained task.

The relationship with Howard’s Baba is played beautifully, as they tug in different directions, Baba answering always to duty; the rebellious, curious Marinka craving the space to grow her way, befriending football-loving, same-aged Ben (Michael Barker). Puppeteer Dan Willis’s jackdaw Jack is her constant companion, becoming amusingly ever more assertive.

The dead, represented by masks, skulls and candlelight, keep popping in, albeit that their first musical number goes on too long, but in keeping with Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the dead are not creepy or scary, but full of personality.

Stephanie Levi-John’s knowing, jive-talking Yaga adds momentum to the second half, leading the singing in the ensemble number Yaga’s Party, when dancing in chicken-legged boots goes down a storm.

By comparison, the key magical revelation, the first spouting of chicken legs by the house, is disappointingly flat, relying on the arm movements of de Leon Allen’s Marinka and Eloise Warboys’ Nina to power those legs. Would a mechanical device have been more effective? Over to Heath Robinson.

Les Enfants Terribles’ first visit to York Theatre Royal since The Trench in June 2013 had been keenly awaited; indeed Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster has wanted to explore the possibility of co-productions. If The House With Chicken Legs fell short of the highest expectations, it still has magic moments, and humour too, in its combination of a rites of passage and adult themes, young life and death, all the more resonant in Covid’s shadow.

Les Enfants Terribles in The House With Chicken Legs, York Theatre Royal, 7pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7pm, Saturday. Leeds Playhouse, September 13 to 16, 7pm plus 1.30pm Thursday and 2pm Saturday matinees. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or

The House With Chicken Legs sprouts touring wings in Les Enfants Terribles’ show

The power of puppetry in Les Enfants Terribles’ play with music The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

IMAGINE a house with chicken legs. Such an image will come to stage life in Les Enfants Terribles’ account of Sophie Anderson’s novel at York Theatre Royal from September 6 to 9.

First staged at HOME Manchester in 2022, Oliver Lansley’s adaptation is on its premiere tour, visiting Leeds Playhouse too from September 13 to 16.

Directed by Lansley and James Seager, with music and sound design by Alexander Wolfe and songs co-written by Wolfe and Lansley, The House With Chicken Legs transports audiences to a world inspired by Baba Yaga with the aid of puppets, live music, masks and magic. 

The story follows Marinka, a young girl who dreams of a normal life, where she can stay somewhere long enough to make friends, but she must surmount one problem: her house has chicken legs and is liable to move without warning.

The house with chicken legs in The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

Such propensity to movement mirrors Les Enfants Terribles. “We kind of go all over the place,” says director Oliver. “I’m based in London, but this production originated in Manchester last year with HOME as our partners, playing only in Manchester. This tour will be the first time everyone can see it, as we move around the country, which is very exciting.

“We brought The Trench to the Theatre Royal [for the TakeOver Festival in June 2013] and we’re delighted to be coming back to York.”

Since the Manchester run, Lansley and Seager have “tweaked bits here and there, trimmed bits here and there, and some of the cast have changed”. “But we still have our original Marinka and Baba, Eve de Leon Allen and Lisa Howard,” says Oliver.

Howard will need no introduction to York or Leeds audiences, whether from Park Bench Theatre’s Every Time A Bell Rings in the Rowntree Park Friends’ Garden or her Spirit Of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol at Leeds Playhouse.

Les Enfants Terribles director Oliver Lansley. Picture: Michael Carlo

“The book was written as a young adult novel, but the play is suitable for children aged nine upwards,” says Oliver. “It was inspired by the tale of Baba Yaga, who, in an old legend, did have a house with chicken legs. Her job is to guide the souls of the dead into the afterlife, so Sophie’s book is one of those stories that’s magical and is written for young readers but deals with adult themes, but in a really magical way.

“Marinka is the granddaughter of Baba Yaga and is destined to be the next of the guardians of the gate, but like most teenagers [or 12-year-old in her case], she’s rebelling and trying to find her own way in the world in that space.”

Marinka, played by an adult in Les Enfants Terribles’ production, is dreaming of leading a normal life. “But she doesn’t really know what that is, and there’s that thing of her being a fish out of water, pretending to be a normal child, but not knowing what the rules are or how she should behave,” says Oliver.

“But then she discovers that there’s no such thing as normal and that everyone has their own complications.”

Eve de Leon Allen’s Marinka and Lisa Howard’s Baba, right, in Les Enfants Terribles’ The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

Among those complications addressed by Anderson’s story is the impact on young people of moving home. “There is this idea at play of having to move around constantly, particularly for young people, whether changing school, moving house, moving from town to town, when they want security,” says Oliver.

“That security comes from family, and that’s what ‘home’ is, rather than a physical place that you call home.”

Be assured, audiences will see a house move on stage…on chicken legs. “That’s the sort of thing we love to do,” says Oliver. “And yes, we’ve managed to make it fun, after we looked at different ways of doing it and finally settled on one, because it has to be really magical.

“We try to make all these things part of the show as seamlessly as possible, looking at the best way to tell a story with the tools available, such as our video designs by Nina Dunn, who did the Jaws show, The Shark Is Broken, in the West End.”

Music and masks in Les Enfants Terribles’ The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: AB Photography

Crucially too, The House With Chicken Legs “deftly navigates the complexities of loss from a whole new perspective”. “The story explores how we look at death differently in different cultures: in our culture we don’t talk about it much, but other cultures celebrate it, like the Day of the Dead in Mexico,” says Oliver.

“But young people have had to confront death over the past few years with Covid in a way that they’ve not had to before that. Death doesn’t have to be a scary thing, but we do give it that ominous status in our country by not talking about it.” 

Les Enfants Terribles in The House With Chicken Legs, York Theatre Royal, September 6 to 9, 7pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee; Leeds Playhouse, September 13 to 16, 7pm plus 1.30pm Thursday and 2pm Saturday matinees. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Leeds Playhouse, Birmingham Rep and Fiery Angel in Of Mice And Men, Leeds Playhouse, until May 27 ****

William Young’s Lennie in Of Mice And Men at Leeds Playhouse. All pictures: Kris Askey

LIKE a hamster wheel, Of Mice And Men keeps coming round, chiming uncomfortably with our times once more with its themes of economic migration, racism, prejudice, misogyny and exclusion.

Last staged at the Playhouse in March 2014 in Mark Rosenblatt’s risk-taking production with a score by Avant-Americana composer, singer and musician Heather Christian, it returns in a powerhouse Leeds Playhouse collaboration with the Second City’s Birmingham Rep and London producers Fiery Angel.

What’s more, John Steinbeck’s novella of the Great American Depression, adapted into a three-act play by the American writer himself in 1937, is in the hands of last summer’s Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony director Iqbal Khan, Birmingham Rep’s associate director.

Maddy Hill as Curley’s Wife

He parades flair for theatre on a big scale to match the vast and dry American plains – and yet he achieves intimacy too, even in the expanses of the Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre, as the play’s first act charts the bond between two migrant workers, smart George (Tom McCall) and the towering, sweet-natured but dangerously strong Lennie (William Young).

They are men on the move, out of necessity, escaping Lennie’s latest unfortunate incident, desperately looking for work in straitened times and competing with other men to do so. Same story, more than 80 years later, only now men must travel farther against a tide of Brexit bellicosity and Stop The Boats posturing.

Yet, as the itinerant workers establish over a can of beans and a wood fire under the stars, this is a story of durable friendship and survival, one rooted in the hope, always on the horizon, of saving enough nickels to buy their own small farmstead with chickens and rabbits.

Of Mice And Men cast members, from left: Reece Pantry (Crooks), Maddy Hill (Curley’s Wife), William Young (Lennie), Tom McCall (George), Riad Richie (Curley) and Lee Ravitz (Candy)

This is the American Dream at its most primal, with a shared longing for a place they can call home for the protective, cautious, steely George and the innocent Lennie.

The problem is: fantasy always meets the reality of prejudices, in the tinderbox of the bunkhouse and barns of Curley’s Californian ranch, as hired hands George and Lennie start their latest shift of hard graft and hard bunks.

Curley (Riad Richie) is trigger happy, jumped up, restless over what his neglected, desperately lonely, unloved, Hollywood-fixated new wife – the never named Curley’s Wife (Maddy Hill) – may or may not be doing, in need of company and connection amid so much machismo. He has his eye on her roving eye. Trouble this way comes, tragedy too.

Tom McCall’s George

Under Khan’s direction (with resident director Laura Ryder overseeing the tour), the language is muscular, confrontational, enflamed too, carrying the greatest weight, for all the visual impact of Ciaran Bagnall’s set and dustbowl lighting, with its steel frameworks for bunkbeds and huge barns beneath wooden beams that lower as the play progresses to give a sense of compression.

Curley’s Wife is not alone in being subjected to exclusion. So too is Crooks (Reece Pantry), the blacksmith segregated on account of being black, with only his books for company.

McCall, Young, Hill and Pantry go to the heart in devastating, terrific central performances, alongside Lee Ravitz’s Candy, always keen to please as the ultimate team player.

Lee Ravitz’s Candy

As in 2014, music plays its part with dustbowl country songs on guitar and a dramatic soundscape by Elizabeth Purnell. Puppeteer Jake Benson’s work with Candy’s stinking old dog adds poignancy to that ruthless scene and Kay Wilton’s period costume designs are spot on, especially for Curley’s Wife.

Of Mice And Men will return, you know it will, because times move on but the problems do not. Steinbeck’s eloquence shames us and hope is crushed again, like a puppy in Lennie’s hands.  

Box office: 0113 213 7700 or

Reece Pantry’s Crooks in Of Mice And Men

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol, Hull Truck Theatre, until December 31 *****

Adam Bassett’s Bob Cratchit, Emma Prendergast’s Mrs Cratchit and the Cratchit children in the Christmas spirit in Hull Truck Theatre’s A Christmas Carol

DEBORAH McAndrew’s wondrous, thunderous adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella was first seen as part of Hull Truck’s 2017 Year of Exceptional Drama for Hull’s year as the UK’s City of Culture.

“Exceptional drama”? As brags go, it might have been up there with Liverpool lip Ian McCulloch proclaiming Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1984 opus Ocean Rain to be “the greatest record ever made”… before it even came out, but A Christmas Carol backed up that braggadocio.

It was indeed “exceptional”, going on to play West Yorkshire Playhouse the next winter, again under Amy Leach’s direction, and subsequently re-emerging like Marley’s ghost each winter in a variety of versions.

Deborah McAndrew: Playwright with the magic touch

When it came to artistic director Mark Babych contemplating Hull Truck’s 50th anniversary season, in his words, “it felt the perfect opportunity in a year of examining our past, present and future to combine the many different elements that evolved over the years to make this production”.

A Christmas Carol is duly revisited, in association with Leeds Playhouse, retaining McAndrew’s gilded script, Hayley Grindle’s set and costume design, Josh Carr’s lighting, Ed Clarke’s sound design and musical director John Biddle’s evocative music. Northern Broadsides stalwart Andrew Whitehead returns too as chain-rattling deceased business partner Jacob Marley and party-hosting Mr Fezziwig.

Sameena Hussain, associate director at Leeds Playhouse, takes over the director’s seat from Leach, having served as her associate on the Leeds production.

Emma Prendergast’s Mrs Cratchit, left, Adam Bassett’s Bob Cratchit, right, and Hull Truck Young Company cast members using British Sign Language in A Christmas Carol

She retains much of what made Leach-McAndrew’s exhilaratingly imaginative collaboration so spooky, humorous and magical, while adding two new elements: movement direction by Xolani Crabtree, at once full of vitality but haunting too, and British Sign Language, both within the cast and in the omnipresence of a BSL signer in Dickensian attire. Providing another layer of language, it is impactful physically, theatrically and emotionally too.

Hull-born Adam Bassett, who appeared as Macduff in Leeds Playhouse’s Macbeth earlier this year, plays Scrooge’s put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit, while fellow deaf actor Emma Prendergast’s Mrs Cratchit communicates in both BSL and spoken English.

Prendergast’s is the strongest Hull accent in this staging on the Hull dockside, whose atmosphere is set before the start and at the interval with the sound of lapping water and gulls, together with the Yorkshire catmint of brass-band carols.

Hayley Grindle’s Hull quayside for A Christmas Carol

Prompted by the Victorian warehouses still to be found around the East Riding city, McAndrew’s “uniquely Hull twist” to Dickens’s winter tale of second chances has transformed Ebenezer Scrooge (Jack Lord) into the money-counting owner of one such large dockside building. Sea shanties pepper Biddle’s score too.

As in 2017, Grindle’s highly detailed yet spacious set of the warehouse’s brick frontage, the dock bell, the ropes and sacks of the quayside, and fish crates stacked up for Scrooge and Cratchit’s desks, are complemented by Carr’s lighting, with a golden glow in the frosty windows and row upon row of candles that play to the air of ghostliness.

In the bleak, strike-struck midwinter of 2022, Babych’s highlighting of Dickens’s “comment on poverty, social deprivation, and the importance of giving people the opportunity to thrive” has resonance anew, and so this revival is even more moving, as well as being a delightfully musical and beautifully told piece of family theatre.

Tempus fugit for Jack Lord’s Ebenezer Scrooge

In a Hull divided between the haves and the have nothings, McAndrew’s urban nocturnal drama nods to the tradition of Victorian storytelling, full of richly evocative language that heightens scenes of sadness – never more so than in the young Scrooge’s (Mark Donald) terminated engagement to Belle (Prendergast) – yet it is theatrically bold too.

Scenes with the ghosts are presented with a magician’s flourish, Gothic frights and even the dark heart of the Grand Guignol, typified by Whitehead’s Marley amid graveyard ghosts galore.

Yet these ghosts can be playful too, especially when surrounding Scrooge in his nightgown, removing his night cap. Once he takes his first steps on the road to redemption, as Lord’s miserable miser swaps that cap symbolically for a Santa hat, his desire to learn, to make amends, is more immediately transformative than in some interpretations.

Lisa Howard’s Ghost of Christmas Present: Evoking music-hall acts

Nothing is more unconventional in McAndrew’s reinvention than the Ghost of Christmas Present (Lisa Howard) becoming a dapper circus act-cum-music hall turn, possessed of a line in Christmas gags cornier than a cracker punchline. Howard evokes the Good Old Days stars of yore at Leeds City Varieties yet captures the grave need to crack on too in an elegant, eloquent production that moves ever more briskly against the tides of time.

Welcome back Hull Truck’s A Christmas Carol, the most popular of Christmas ghost stories, told even better than before.

A Christmas Carol runs at Hull Truck Theatre until December 31. Performances: December 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30, 2pm and 7pm; December 24 and 31, 11am and 4pm. Low availability for all shows. Box office: 01482 323638 or

Did you know?

YORK playwright Mike Kenny is writing the script for Hull Truck Theatre’s 2023 family Christmas production, Pinocchio, as well as co-writing the lyrics with composer and musical director John Biddle. Tickets will go on sale next March. Watch this space for more details.

York playwright Mike Kenny

Looking for More Things To Do in York and beyond? I got you, babe. Time to share Hutch’s List No. 105, courtesy of The Press

Made for Chering: Millie O’Connell’s Babe, left, Debbie Kurup’s Star and Danielle Steers’ Lady in The Cher Show: A New Musical. Picture: Matt Crockett

FROM Cher times three and Charlie and that chocolate factory, to G&S and Oliver!, musical entertainment dominates Charles Hutchinson’s diary.

Cher, Cher and Cher alike: The Cher Show: A New Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday

TURNING back time, Millie O’Connell’s Babe, Danielle Steers’s Lady and Debbie Kurup’s Star share out the Cher role in The Cher Show, the story of the American singer, actress and television personality’s meteoric rise to fame as she flies in the face of convention at every turn.

This celebration of the “Goddess of Pop” and “Queen of Reinvention” packs in 35 hits, I Got You Babe, If I Could Turn Back Time, Strong Enough, The Shoop Shoop Song, Believe et al. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

Oliver at the double: Fin Walker, left, and Zachary Pickersgill will be sharing the title role in NE’s production of Oliver!

Community musical of the fortnight: NE in Oliver!, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 16 to 19 and 22 to 26, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Saturday matinees

NE, formerly NE Musicals York and soon to be renamed again, are performing a fortnight’s run for the first time, presenting Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! in a revised version that complements the familiar songs and characters with added scenes to “bring the story to life in more detail”. 

Two teams of performers will be undertaking alternate performances, led by Zachary Pickersgill and Fin Walker, sharing the role of Oliver Twist, and Henry Barker and Toby Jensen’s Artful Dodger. Director Steve Tearle plays Fagin for the fourth time, joined in the production team by musical director Scott Phillips and choreographer Ellie Roberts. Box office: 01904 501935 or

Exhibition of the week: Lesley Seeger & Katherine Bree, Pigment & Stone, Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, in collaboration until November 27

Jewellery designer Katherine Bree, left, and artist Lesley Seeger in the North Yorkshire countryside

LESLEY Seeger and Katherine Bree form Yorkshire-London collaboration for the painting and gemstone show Pigment & Stone at Pyramid Gallery.

In a celebration of form and colour with an earthy elemental twist, city jewellery designer Katherine has chosen paintings by Huttons Ambo landscape painter Lesley as inspiration for her new collection of gemstone treasures.

Katherine divides her collections into the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – and this provides a perfect complement to Lesley’s elemental paintings, which she describes as “talismans that will reveal themselves over time with their rich histories of place, layers and colour”.

Love-struck at sea: Jack Storey-Hunter’s sailor Ralph and Alexandra Mather’s Josephine, the Captain’s daughter, in York Opera’s HMS Pinafore

Light opera of the week: York Opera in HMS Pinafore, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm Saturday matinee

YORK Opera sets sail in Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore or The Lass That Loved A Sailor, steered by a new command of stage director Annabel van Griethuysen and conductor Tim Selman.

The story follows Ralph (society newcomer Jack Storey-Hunter), a lovesick sailor, and Josephine (Alexandra Mather), the Captain’s daughter, who are madly in love but kept apart by social hierarchy. All aboard for such G&S favourites as We Sail The Ocean Blue, Never Mind The Why And Wherefore and When I Was A Lad. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory cast members in the rehearsal room at Leeds Playhouse. Picture: Johan Persson

Yorkshire’s big opening of the week: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – The Musical, Leeds Playhouse, November 18 to January 28

CHOCK-A-BLOCK! Around 30,000 chocoholics have booked their golden ticket already for Leeds Playhouse’s winter musical spectacular, presented in association with Neal Street Productions and Playful Productions ahead of a British tour.

Songs such as The Candy Man and Pure Imagination from the film versions of Roald Dahl’s sweet-toothed adventure will be bolstered by new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Gareth Snook’s Willy Wonka, Kazmin Borrer’s Veruca Salt and Robin Simoes Da Silva’s Augustus Gloop lead James Brining’s cast; Amelia Minto, Isaac Sugden, Kayleen Nguema and Noah Walton share the role of Charlie Bucket. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or

Chloe Latchmore: York Musical Society’s mezzo-soprano soloist for The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace at York Minster

Classical concert of the week: York Musical Society, The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace, York Minster, November 19, 7.30pm

YORK Musical Society’s dramatic performance of Sir Karl Jenkins’s powerful work The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace features full orchestra and soloists soprano Ella Taylor, mezzo-soprano Chloe Latchmore, tenor Greg Tassell and baritone Thomas Humphreys.

Jenkins’s work will be complemented by Joseph Haydn’s lyrical 1796 Mass In Time Of War – Missa In Tempore Belli, also known as Paukenmesse (Kettle Drum Mass in German), on account of its kettle drum solo. Box office: 01904 623568, at and on the door.

The poster for South Bank Studios’ Art & Craft Winter Fair at Southlands Methodist Church

Looking for Christmas presents? South Bank Studios Art & Craft Winter Fair, Southlands Methodist Church, November 19, 10am to 5pm

SOUTH Bank Studios’ winter fair assembles 28 artists and crafters, who will be displaying and selling their original artwork and creations, targeted at the Christmas market.

Browers and buyers alike can tour the 18 studios within the church building’s upper floors with a chance to meet assorted artists in situ. Entry is free and refreshments are available throughout the day.

Julie Madly Deeply: Sarah-Louise Young celebrating the life and songs of Dame Julie Andrews at Theatre@41. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Truly scrumptious show of the week: Sarah-Louise Young in Julie Madly Deeply, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, November 20, 7.30pm

AFTER her glorious An Evening Without Kate Bush, Fringe favourite Sarah-Louise Young returns to York with her West End and Off-Broadway smash in celebration of “genuine showbiz icon” Dame Julie Andrews.

Fascinating Aida alumna Young’s charming yet cheeky cabaret takes a look at fame and fandom by intertwining Andrews’ songs from Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music and My Fair with stories and anecdotes of her life, from her beginnings as a child star to the challenges of losing her singing voice, in a humorous, candid love letter to a showbusiness survivor. Box office:

Strictly between them: Ten – yes ten, count’em – Strictly Come Dancing professionals will be sashaying their way to York Barbican next May

Hot ticket of the week: Get a move on for Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals, York Barbican, May 12 2023

 HURRY, hurry! The last few tickets are still on sale for a spectacular line-up of ten professional dancers from the hit BBC show: Strictly professionals Dianne Buswell; Vito Coppola; Carlos Gu; Karen Hauer; Neil Jones; Nikita Kuzmin; Gorka Marquez; Luba Mushtuk; Jowita Przystal and Nancy Xu.

“Don’t miss your chance to see these much-loved dancers coming together to perform in a theatrical ensemble that will simply take your breath away,” says the Barbican blurb. Box office:

Yorkshireman Joe Layton heads home as trouble-making Iago in Frantic Assembly’s Othello on tour at York Theatre Royal

What’s he plotting next? Joe Layton’s Iago in Frantic Assembly’s Othello, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Tristram Kenton

JOE Layton returns to his native Yorkshire from tonight to play Iago in Frantic Assembly’s electrifying reimagining of Shakespeare’s Othello at York Theatre Royal.

Once more he will confirming his English teacher’s hunch at a parents’ evening that Ilkley lad Joe “had some talent for acting”.

“He said, ‘I don’t say this very often, but I would encourage Joe to apply for drama school’,” he recalls.

He duly did so, supported by teacher Tony Johnson, who provided not only encouragement but help in preparing audition speeches. “I owe him a huge amount,” says Joe. “He came to see the last show I did in Leicester and hope he’s in the audience for Othello.”

This is Frantic Assembly’s third staging of their award-winning account of Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy of paranoia, sex and murder, set in a volatile 21st century wherein Othello’s passionate affair with Desdemona becomes the catalyst for jealousy, betrayal, revenge and the darkest intents.

Shakespeare’s muscular yet beautiful text combines with the touring company’s own bruising physicality in a world of broken glass and broken promises, malicious manipulation and explosive violence, previously staged in 2008 and 2014 and now updated for 2022.

On the wind-up: Joe Layton’s Iago has a word with Michael Akinsulire’s Othello. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Frantic Assembly have had a marked effect on his career and aspirations already, as he was part of their Ignition programme – a free nationwide talent development programme for young people aged 16 to 24 – in 2009 and later appeared in Frantic’s The Unreturning.

“It’s for all genders now but Ignition started out as an all-male programme and was a space where sensitivity and masculinity were explored in a non-toxic way, which I hadn’t experienced before,” says Joe, one of no fewer than five Ignition graduates involved in Othello this season.

He saw Frantic Assembly’s original production in 2008 but it was another of the company’s shows that was particularly influential: Bryony Lavery’s two-hander Stockholm. “I must have been 15 years old,” says Joe. “It was one of those mind-blowing moments that gave you goosebumps. That was the moment I said to myself, ‘I want to work with Frantic one day’.”

His professional debut came two years later in Nikolai Foster’s production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm at West Yorkshire Playhouse. As a 17-year-old schoolboy, he was given special dispensation to leave early several days a week to do the Leeds show.

Looking back at his first encounter with Frantic Assembly’s Othello, Joe recalls how “it really leapt off the page for me and made it accessible, especially for teenagers. It was real, visceral and immediate”.

Honest, Iago? Joe Layton keeps at arm’s length from the truth in Othello. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Now he is playing Iago, the poison-dripping baddie of the piece, or is he possibly misjudged? Psychopath or “a bit of a villain”, Joe must ask himself. “As an actor, you have to get inside them, understand them, what makes them tick, and do the things they do which, in Iago’s case, is hideous, unforgivable things,” he says.

Movement becomes as important as words in Frantic Assembly’s style book. “The way Frantic work, you are creating a physical sequence, finding a physical connection between characters. Then story and characters are layered in on top of that. You throw yourself in and trust the director [Scott Graham]. You have to give yourself and trust the process,” he says.

“We begin rehearsals with a one-hour workout and high intensity training. The rest of the morning is given over to movement sequences. Everything is really highly choreographed. There’s nothing that happens on stage that’s not choreographed.”

Joe grew up in Ilkley, moved to London for drama school, met his wife in New York and now lives in the United States, while working on both sides of the Atlantic.

He headed to America after being scouted by a top actors’ agency. “I don’t regret moving to Los Angeles because it was a really interesting period of my life, although challenging in a lot of ways. I moved away from family and friends and all that sort of stuff.

Turning the tables: Joe Layton’s Iago plays his mind games on Michael Akinsulire’s Othello as Chanel Waddock’s Desdemona looks on. Picture: Tristram Kenton

“I couldn’t work for six months because I was waiting for my work visa to come through. I was a 21-year-old with not much money just sitting around.”

One role to emerge from his USA move was Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. He was not picked for the role for which he auditioned but was offered a different one. He took part in the series for only a few weeks but found working in the Marvel superhero world to be “a whole different ballgame”.

“I have an agent in the US and the UK,” he says. “One of the things that really changed through the pandemic is that everything, including casting, went online, which means there’s even less need to be in London. It seems the industry is getting less London-centric. You can audition on film anywhere, read a scene and be cast off the tape. That’s been great for me in terms of quality of life and being able to live in America.”

During lockdown, Joe spent an enforced period back in Leeds while visiting family for Christmas celebrations. Unable to go home, he spent six months living in his grandmother’s cottage near Pateley Bridge.

He will return to the USA during a break in the Othello tour. “My wife is at home in America. She’s a writer and working on a new book, so she’s pleased to have me out of the house and have time for herself and her writing.”

Frantic Assembly’s Othello runs at York Theatre Royal from tonight until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Did you know?

Joe Layton (Iago), associate director David Gilbert, co-choreographer Perry Johnson, Oliver Baines (Montano) and Felipe Pacheco (Roderigo) have all taken part in Frantic Assembly’s Ignition programme.

All New Adventures Of Peter Pan brings faces familiar and fresh to York Theatre Royal panto with Evolution Productions

Putting the ‘new’ in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan: York Theatre Royal debutants Jason Battersby (Peter Pan) and Maddie Moate (Tinkerbell) on stage at the pantomime launch. Picture: Anthony Robling

REHEARSALS for All New Adventures Of Peter Pan will start on November 7 but already York Theatre Royal’s cast members have met up to launch the third pantomime collaboration with Evolution Productions.

In attendance for a photo-session and chat over sandwiches and brownies were Paul Hawkyard and Robin Simpson, last year’s award-nominated ugly sister double act Manky and Mardy; Faye Campbell, their fellow returnee from Cinderella, and two faces new to the Theatre Royal panto ranks, CBeebies’ Maddie Moate and Jason Battersby, promoted from Lead Shadow in Wendy And Peter at Leeds Playhouse last Christmas to Peter Pan this winter.

Absent that day was Jonny Weldon, a comedy video-making social media sensation with a “little part” in House Of The Dragon, who will play Starkey.

Hawkyard and Simpson had just finished Harrogate Theatre’s HT Rep season of three plays in three weeks, Simpson appearing in all three, Abigail’s Party, Gaslight and Men Of The World; Hawkyard in the first and last.

Caught on the hook: Paul Hawkyard’s Captain Hook, “the all-time best baddie”. Picture: Anthony Robling

“Robin and I have worked together before, for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York, sharing a dressing room from the day we started. We get on well, we have a laugh, and it’ll be great working with my mate again,” says Paul, who is delighted to be playing Captain Hook.

“As soon as I found out they were doing Peter Pan here, I really wanted the part because he’s one of the all-time best baddies.”

Tall, imposing, but naturally comedic too, Paul is playing around with ideas, probably not entirely seriously. “I’m going to switch the hook from arm to arm, to see if anyone notices!” he says.

Rather more definitely, he adds: “There’ll be lots of comedy opportunities together with Robin.”

Maddie chips in: “I think people just enjoy seeing friendships, partnerships, on stage. People like that familiarity in panto.” Faye concurs: “If we’re having fun, the audience will have fun too.”

“It’s Smee!”: Or, rather, it’s Mrs Smee, the specially created dame’s role for Robin Simpson in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan. Picture: Anthony Robling

Robin may have worked flat out on HT Rep, rehearsing the next play from Wednesday to Saturday in the daytime before performing in the evening, but he has had no time to rest. Already he is hitting his straps in rehearsals at the Central Methodist Church for David Reed’s play Guy Fawkes ahead of its York Theatre Royal premiere from October 28 to November 12.

Come panto-time, he will be playing Mrs Smee, effectively the dame’s role in these All New Adventures, written by Evolution’s Paul Hendy and directed by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster.

Not Mrs Darling, Robin? “As far as I’m aware, I’ll be Mrs Smee, though there’s still time to change that! The character is normally Smee, the pirate, Hook’s mate. Now it will be Mrs Smee and a sidekick, Starkey.”

Like Simpson, Faye Campbell will be completing a hattrick of Theatre Royal-Evolution pantos after her fairy in 2020’s Travelling Panto and title role in 2021’s Cinderella. “I’m playing Emily, who’s Wendy’s daughter, so it’s moved on in time from J M Barrie’s original story. Now it’s Emily who goes on the adventures, after hearing of the story of Peter Pan from her mother,” she says.

Maddie Moate, who follows Andy Day from the CBeebies team into the Theatre Royal panto, says: “For those who love the traditional story of Peter Pan, you will still meet Peter Pan, Hook, the Lost Boys, the crocodile. They won’t be disappointed. It will all be instantly recognisable,” she says.

Welcome back Faye Campbell: Returning to the York Theatre Royal pantomime for a third year, cast as Wendy Darling’s feistier daughter, Emily. Picture: Anthony Robling

“I’ll be playing Tinkerbell, after I played Fairy Phoenix, the good fairy, at Leicester De Montford Hall last year, who was a bit of a nerd, a fairy in training!”

Jason Battersby took a deep dive into JM Barrie’s world when researching his role as Lead Shadow at Leeds Playhouse. “I love the book and the way you can tell it’s written for children but from an intellectual viewpoint,” he says, as he turns his attention to leading the Theatre Royal show as Peter Pan. “It’s almost like it was written by an incredibly clever child.

“As I know from last year, there are so many different ways to tell the story, and it’s one of those stories where you can really bring your own thing to it. All New Adventures Of Peter Pan is completely different from Wendy And Peter. Different theatrical conventions. Different songs. Different characters.

“There’s a line in the book that says Peter Pan takes children who die to Neverland, so there are darker elements to him, but he’s never a character who’s set in stone. There are suggestions in the book, so you can play him dark, or you can play him for his childish, playful qualities, but, yes, he has some demons.

“Sometimes, some of those darker elements are not the ones you want to put in, and certainly I don’t want to play sad Peter Pan. That would be the wrong choice.”

All New Adventures Of Peter Pan will run at York Theatre Royal from December 2 to January 2 2023. Box office: 01904 623568 or