Who’s taking part in York Theatre Royal’s Green Shoots showcase of new works?

Bolshee trio Paula Clark, left, Megan Bailey and Lizzy Whynes: Premiering Boss B***h at Green Shoots

NEW work commissioned by York Theatre Royal from dozens of York and North Yorkshire professional artists will be premiered in Green Shoots on June 7 and 8.

Poets, performers, singers, dancers and digital artists will take part in this sequel to Love Bites, last May’s two-night showcase that marked the Theatre Royal’s reopening after the lifting of Covid lockdown restrictions.

Forming part of the Rumours & Rebels season, Green Shoots’s diverse bite-sized performances will be focused on “rebooting post-pandemic and looking to the future of the planet”.

Twenty commissions have been selected by the Theatre Royal from the call-out for submissions for a scheme that offers £1,000 per commission plus £150 each time they are performed.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster says: “Love Bites last year was a joyous event that will live long in my mind, not just because we were re-opening after 14 months of enforced closure, but also because our stage was filled to overflowing with the tremendous talent and ingenuity of local artists.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster

“It was moving, spectacular, surprising, thought-provoking and funny in equal measures. We have created this new opportunity with Green Shoots because we are excited to see what they will do next.”

Those who were commissioned have been asked to respond to the title Green Shoots in any way that it can be interpreted. “Pieces might be about hope, recovery, new beginnings, revolution, new life, growth, the environment or anything else that can be imagined as a response,” says Juliet.

Participating next month will be Hayley Del Harrison; Dora Rubinstein; Sam Bond; Fladam; Bolshee; Butshilo Nleya; Ana Silverio; Esther Irving; Gus Gowland; Nettle Soup and Polychrome Studios; Paul Birch and Sam Conway.

So too will be Ella Portnoy; Kate Bramley/Badapple Theatre Company; Robert Powell, Ben Pugh and Kitty Greenbrown; Libby Pearson and Emily Chattle; Alexander Flanagan-Wright; Hannah Davies and Jack Woods; Joe Feeney and Carey Simon.

Hayley Del Harrison: Choreographer and theatre-maker

Hang On Little Tomato, Hayley Del Harrison.

HANG On Little Tomato is about a young woman, growing her very first tomato plant. Some people believe that plants respond emotionally when you talk to them but our novice gardener takes this to the next level. It turns out the shared experience delivers mutual support, faithful companionship and that tiny bit of vibrancy they both needed to feel a little less alone. 

Spring In My Step!, Dora Rubinstein

THIS contortion and acro-dance piece is a physical exploration of how it feels when the sun shines again after a long winter. The feeling of sunlight on your skin; the smell of freshly cut grass; the sight of daffodils. The feeling that light, connection, joy, is back, and the dark days are over.

All The World Is Green, Sam Bond

LONELY retirees Jamie and Clara meet by chance at a concert in their Yorkshire Dales village, bringing love unexpectedly back into their lives. A story of new beginnings, All The World Is Green blends live performance and film to look at the power of memories, life after loss and finding love again in old age.

Greenfingers, Fladam

DID you ever hear the tale of Greenfingers? The wicked boy born with unsightly green hands, who spoils all he touches. But has history misjudged this green-fingered boy? Is he even a boy at all? Find out in this deliciously Dahl-esq treat from madcap musical duo Fladam, alias Adam Sowter and Florence Poskitt.

BOSS B***H, Bolshee

BOSS B***H explores the infamous statement made by influencer Molly-Mae Hague and celebrity media personality Kim Kardashian that we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce. Cue five minutes of female voices, beats and moves. “Let’s challenge the toxic boss bitch narrative,” say Paula Clark, Lizzie Whynes and Megan Bailey.

Butshilo Nleya: Healing stories

Tatu Dances: Stories Of Healers, Butshilo Nleya

A PLAY with dances, songs, poetry about healing the mind, the body and the spirit celebrated by three generations of displaced, dejected, denigrated and defiant African healers. 

Green Shoots, Ana Silverio (Terpsichoring)

ANA’S solo dance piece, specially created for the Green Shoots commission, explores the processes and emotions of starting over again after an unexpected interruption. This work is about perseverance and the search for possibilities.

Her Face/My Face, Esther Irving

WHAT do you do when you no longer recognise the face that looks back at you in the mirror? How can you re-connect the life you had with the one you live now?

Your Own Road, Gus Gowland

THIS original song takes its inspiration from a quote from James Herriot’s memoir All Creatures Great And Small: “When all t’world goes one road, I go t’other”. Performed by Joe Douglass, this uplifting and empowering anthem encourages you to follow your own path and see hope in the world around you.

Stones On The Riverbed! Nettle Soup and Polychrome Studios

HAVE you ever heard of the legend of the five white stones? This piece of verbatim theatre explores what the residents of York are looking forward to in the future, unearthing their hearts’ truest desires.

Gus Gowland: Uplifting and empowering anthem

Beanstalk, Paul Birch

FOR hundreds of years, you have been telling the story of Jack And The Beanstalk completely wrong.  Beanstalk is the recently discovered true account of the tale, told from the Giant’s point of view. Any similarities to any persons now living, lying or misusing public funds is entirely coincidental. 

‘Don’t Mow, Let it Grow!’, Sam Conway (Little Leaf Theatre)

THIS piece extols the benefits of letting the grass in your garden grow throughout spring. Incorporating dance, music and video, Little Leaf Theatre endeavour to bring a serious message to the stage in a light-hearted and engaging way.

Baby Bird, Ella Portnoy

A MONOLOGUE about breaking out of an egg and feeling new-born after lockdown – being a gosling and pottering around in the world, full of curiosity.

The Three Allotmenteers, Kate Bramley/Badapple Theatre Company

A CURIOUS late-night game takes place at The Gardener’s Arms as The Three Allotmenteers play for what was left after the sudden death of their friend. An unexpected discovery sows the seeds of a joyous outcome to their current situation

Beckon, Robert Powell, Ben Pugh and Kitty Greenbrown

THIS five-minute performance and film-poem drew initial inspiration from a remarkable medieval church window in York. Beckon invites its audience on a brief but powerful journey through a landscape of shared memory, confusion, fear and wonder towards a sense of hope.

The dramatic collage of spoken word, film and sound conjures both past and present times to address our current situation – a world at once treasured and threatened.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: “Just words, and a little bit of music”

The Sapling!, Libby Pearson and Emily Chattle

SASHA’S history has bonded her to nature in general and to trees in particular, and she knows that sometimes even the smallest of gestures can have the biggest of impacts. Meet Sasha as she tells her personal story of discovery and making a difference.

If There Was Ever Anything Worth Hoping For Then I Hope, Alexander Flanagan-Wright

“THIS is a story. It’s a short story. It’s only five minutes long. But it’s about loads of stuff. It’s about everyone, I guess,” says Alex. “It’s about everything that got each of us to here and it’s about what we do next and, importantly, what we hope will happen after that.

“It’s just words, and a little bit of music. But it’s come from your yesterday, your week before, the years that got you here. And it’s about tomorrow, or next week, or next year. If you’re after a fresh start, they perhaps don’t exist. But tomorrow does, so let’s pin some of our hope on that, shall we?”

The Ballad Of Blea Wyke!, Hannah Davies and Jack Woods

THE traditional selkie myth is reworked for the Yorkshire East Coast, set against the dramatic landscape of Ravenscar. Here the ancient story of the seal-people is re-imagined, placing it in a world not too far off from our own, where cliffs are crumbling and some people have never seen the sea, despite the rising water levels.

Green Man!, Joe Feeney

AT the end of his tether witnessing the climate emergency’s destructive charge towards certain oblivion, and feeling utter powerlessness, an ordinary man calls on the mythical Green Man of yore to save the world.

Ocean/Jura, Carey Simon

PRESENTING two poems with a backdrop of classical music. Ocean focuses on the seething fury of the mighty unabashed ocean, the passion and the volatility of its rolling motion that conceals its briny, gloom-shrouded depths from frail eyes above.

Jura is an elixir that transcends the bounds of the spirit-taste divide. Smoothness, translucence overflowing the senses into something more. Deliciousness, a notion leading to Nirvana’s devotion.

Tickets for the two 7.30pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal opens applications for Green Shoots commissions for June shows

A montage of Love Bites performances at York Theatre Royal in May 2021

YORK Theatre Royal is to commission new work from dozens of York and North Yorkshire professional artists in a variety of art forms for performances in June.

The Green Shoots project is the follow-up to Love Bites, the showcase of 20 bite-sized works that marked the re-opening of the St Leonard’s Place theatre on May 17 and 18 2021 after the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Replicating that format as the green shoots of recovery are given the chance to bloom, now comes Green Shoots, two nights of new theatre centred around “rebooting post-pandemic and looking to the future of the planet”.

From the call-out for applications that starts this week with a deadline of March 24, York Theatre Royal will select 20 commissions, offering £1,000 per commission, plus £150 each time they are performed.

Juliet Forster, the Theatre Royal’s creative director, says: “Love Bites last year was a joyous event that will live long in my mind, not just because we were re-opening after 14 months of enforced closure, but also because our stage was filled to overflowing with the tremendous talent and ingenuity of local artists.

“It was moving, spectacular, surprising, thought provoking and funny in equal measures. Now we’ve created this opportunity with Green Shoots because we’re excited to see what they will do next.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster

The work celebrating York and Yorkshire talent and live performance will be performed on the main stage on June 7 and 8 as part of the Theatre Royal’s Rumours & Rebels summer season.

“More than 2,000 artists across a variety of art forms applied for Love Bites and they ranged from spoken word to circus,” says Juliet. “The 2022 commissions should respond to the title Green Shoots in any way that can be interpreted.

“Pieces might be about hope, recovery, new beginnings, revolution, new life, growth, the environment or anything else that can be imagined as a response. The work should be able to be performed or shared both live and in a digital form and have a duration of up to five minutes.”

Artists may apply as individuals and/or as part of a collective. The Theatre Royal is keen to incorporate as wide a mix of art forms and interpretations of the theme as possible, welcoming submissions from artists working in any medium.

Interested artists are being asked to write a short proposal for their piece, how it might be performed live and how it would translate into a digital form. Submissions should be sent to commissions@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk by midday on March 24.

For more information on Green Shoots and how to apply, go to:  yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Will Daniel Craig’s James Bond requiem feature in Two Big Egos In A Small Car’s review of the cultural year just gone?

Exit Daniel Craig’s 007

NO time like the present to discover no-nonsense arts podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson’s look back to the year of No Time To Die, Ralph Fiennes in York, Grayson Perry’s Pre-Therapy Years and Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights.

For shooting from the hip with a quip, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9817663

Fladam and their friends are up for a Saturday musical comedy hootenanny

Fladam musical comedy duo Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter

PUT York actors Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter together and they become Fladam, a musical comedy duo with a regular radio slot and a live show coming up at Theatre@ 41, Monkgate, York.

Make that two shows: Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny! will be performed at 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday (20/11/2021).

Devotees of York’s musical theatre and theatre scene will be familiar with Florence, northern character actress, comic performer, singer, dancer and multi-instrumentalist, and Adam, character actor, comic performer, pianist, harmonica and ukulele player, singer, composer, comedy songwriter and cartoonist.

A couple both on and off stage, they have branched out into presenting their own heartfelt, humorous songs, tackling the topical with witty wordplay, uplifting melodies and a dash of the Carry On! comic spirit.

“After our (almost) live debut at York Theatre Royal in the Love Bites nights in May, we’re coming home to host our very own Musical Comedy Hootenanny,” they say. “Enjoy special guests, fabulous Fladam originals and comic classics from Morecambe & Wise, Bernard Cribbins and Victoria Wood. What are you waiting for? ‘Let’s do it’!”

Fladam has progressed from bedroom to stage. “This is our first full-scale live show,” says Adam. “We’ve gone from recording videos of songs on phones from the corner of our bedroom in lockdown to doing it live, first with one number at Love Bites and now this show with friends.”

“With nowhere to rehearse, we’re rehearsing in the kitchen, to my parents’ delight,” says Florence.

Each Saturday, at 12.45pm, Fladam can be heard on Harry Whittaker’s show on BBC Radio York. “The challenge is to write a topical new song each week, recording it with an introduction, and sending it in on an MP3,” says Adam. “Simple as that!”

Fladam’s poster for Saturday’s shows at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

When Fladam met up with CharlesHutchPress, Adam and Florence had just spent half-term at Eureka!, the National Children’s Museum, in Halifax. “We spent a week being pirates, playing Captain Jack and Polly Roger in our Pirate Adventure,” says Florence.

“It came about through the company I work with when I do cruise ships,” says Adam. “They have many pies in the oven, including at Eureka!, where last year I played a vampire, Count Dracula, and they asked me, ‘Do you want to do another show?’ for half-term week.”

Yes, he would, albeit with only one day’s rehearsal with Florence. “We did the show four times a day, half an hour each show, starting with me doing a monologue, and by the Thursday my voice  had gone, so Adam had to go on and improvise!” says Florence, who studied last year on a year-long “Project A” course, run through Newcastle Theatre Royal, that ended up being conducted largely on Zoom under Covid restrictions.

“Though we did also get a lot of lessons on the main stage, wearing masks, as no productions could take place on there, but we couldn’t put on a single live show during the course.”

Now, Florence has a new day job at York Gin’s shop in Pavement, as well as her Fladam commitments, joined by three friends for this weekend’s shows: Alexandra Mather, fresh from playing Pamina in York Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute; Andrew Isherwood, one of the Clowns in York Settlement Community Players’ illness-curtailed run of The 39 Steps last week, and Andrew Roberts, who starred in Rowntree Players’ modern account of Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web in late-September.

“When we were doing our little videos, we did a Dad’s Army section for VE Day, and had Andrew Roberts and Alex involved in that,” says Adam.

“Andrew Isherwood does a very good Tom Lehrer, as well as being like Eric Morecambe meets Rik Mayall.”

What’s in store on Saturday? “We’ll be doing plenty of comedy covers as well as our own songs, where we’ll plunder our archives and stuff we’ve done for Harry’s radio shows,” says Florence.

Adam Sowter, Florence Poskitt and Alexandra Mather in rehearsal for Saturday’s Fladam & Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny!

“We’ll be paying tribute to people who’ve inspired us, like Bernard Cribbins, Morecambe & Wise, George Formby, Victoria Wood and Monty Python…and maybe there’ll even be some puppets! Well, definitely a fish puppet, Mr Fish, for our spoof children’s show number.”

Adam adds: “One of the things we have to do is look at the old songs through 2021 eyes, acknowledging that a song is of its time, so we have to be a bit ‘woke’, like with Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song.

“Our set will be like a 1970s’ television special, with one side of the stage being like Eric and Ernie’s flat, and the show itself will be more like our little fantasy (as if you were watching Morecambe & Wise).

“Morecambe & Wise’s humour is so warm and lovely, and our style of humour is gentle too; we like to do songs that are clever and make you smile at the same time.”

Look out for a pantomime finale. “We’ll do a little pantomime from the songs we’d written for a panto last year that ended up being on a podcast, because of the Covid lockdown, after we were contacted to do a charity pantomime,” says Florence, who played Tommy the Cat, from Dick Whittington, while Adam played a full-of-beans Jack.

What is in the pipeline for Fladam in 2022? “We’ll see how this show goes and then look to develop it, possibly with a view to taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe next year, or maybe the year after, after we first planned to go to the Fringe two years ago, until Covid stopped that,” says Florence.

“We’re also looking to perform at At The Mill  at Stillington Mill, which we’d really love to do.”

Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny!, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, November 20, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Manic Street Preachers…pretentious or what? Up for Chalmers & Hutch debate in Two Big Egos In A Small Car episode 43

WHAT’s up with chatty art podcast duo Chalmers & Hutch? We need to talk about two steps forward, but Step 3 stumble? Deer Shed at Base Camp. LIVE theatre at last! Marc Bolan & T Rex: 21st Century Boy. Street art & what makes a “hero” fit for a mural?

Oh, and yes, Manic Street Preachers…pretentious or what?

Here’s the link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/8550398

REVIEW: Love Bites, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, May 17 and 18

Send in the clown : James Lewis-Knight in his Love Bite, Staying Connected. Picture: Tom Arber

YORK Theatre Royal has reopened after 427 days. The longest, darkest hiatus since the Second World War at England’s longest-running theatre has ended with a declaration of love.

More precisely, 22 love letters to the power of theatre, a craving for freedom of movement, expression and identity and the need for human connection: a collective, anything-but-cautious hug that was as much a sigh of relief as a breath of fresh York air in the form of a fiesta of five-minute vignettes commissioned from 220 applicants.

Let’s repeat that. 22O applicants for £1,000 commissions from York’s diverse arts community that refuses to accept Rich Boy Risha Sunak’s slight that such talents are non-viable. A community that will laugh off the Beano comic’s laughable Hilarity Report finding that the average York resident laughs only 14 times a day, the second lowest in the country. Are you joking? Laugher aplenty could be heard on Monday night, alongside the joy, the sadness, the uncertainty but hope.

Indeed, The 22 would surely challenge York Mix e-letter writer John Wolfe’s scalding, agent-provocateur assertion that York is a city of “no real festivals or decent venues. No sports centres or entertainment for locals. No chance of change either. Why do you think all of the young people move away? Outside of its history it’s drab and bl**dy awful.”

Crying Wolfe? Well, John, in the city of the York Community Stadium, four state-of-the-art cinemas, myriad theatres, ever more restaurants, café bars, coffee houses, independent galleries and a rising tide of street art, perhaps you should go York Theatre Royal, one of the country’s great theatres, tonight (Tuesday) to see the spread of talent, both young and older.

Some were born in the city and are determined to stay here, when the arts are becoming less London-centric; others have been drawn to the city from, for example, Canada and Zimbabwe, and here they gathered under one rainbow umbrella to express their love for York and their place in it. 

Trouble is, John, you can’t buy a seat because, as with the first night, tonight’s Love Bites have sold out at the outset of a Love Season pulsing with life, vigour and, yes, love, topped off by Ralph Fiennes performing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in late-July.

In the words of chief executive Tom Bird, Love Bites and The Love Season are a chance to “experience again the electric excitement that only live performance can bring. This spring and summer, we’re putting on a season of brave, bold love stories to celebrate the return of human connection. We’re doing it with passion, fervour and heart, as you’d expect.”

Monday night began with the much-loved veteran BBC broadcaster Harry Gration in host mode, toasting his 50-year love affair with the Theatre Royal before making way for the flurry of short pieces.

The screen backdrop could and probably should have been used for announcing each show title, writer and performer, especially as flicking through the e-programme on your phone in the dark would have been distracting for others, even in the socially distanced seating with the capacity reduced from 750 to 340.

Actor Toby Gordon’s hair has grown to Dave Grohl length in locks-down lockdown, but the golden tongue that delivered both Satan and later Jesus’s lines in the York Minster Mystery Plays now glistened anew in the questing, vexed poetry of W H Auden’s O Tell Me The Truth About Love.

Film would feature on several occasions through the night, first in a cinematic riparian soundscape by Ben Pugh to accompany the poetic ebb and flow of Robert Powell and Kitty Greenbrown’s The Angels Of Lendal Bridge, imagining those painted “angels” conversing above the Ouse, recalling so much water that has passed under their iron bridge amid a rising tide of love.

Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles in The Art Of Losing. Picture: Tom Arber

CAPA College student trio Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles, in glowing green and pink socks to suit the occasion, were nevertheless in contemplative mood in The Art Of Losing, tempo slow, bodies graceful, in what they emphasised were three “non-love stories”, but instead felt more like a lament; a year’s absence making the heart grow fonder for “what it means to have contact with one another”.

Playwright, poet and slam champ Hannah Davies’s tweets at @davieswords have charted her enervating health frustrations, but no York shaper of words captures a sense, meaning and memory of place so movingly, so evocatively, and what a joy it was to see back on a stage for Love Song To Spring.

Accompanied by Jack “Pascallion” Woods’s exploratory guitar paths, her lockdown love story journeyed through the freshly discovered joys of city walking and spring renewal in York’s myriad green spaces. Listen to Hannah, and you will step into spring with added spring in your step.

New discovery of the night was much-travelled Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who “wondered if my pockets are big enough to carry home with me” as he moved to York.

Explosive bursts of drumming and film imagery by Sunnie Hsia of Butshilo on York streets, stairways and in the dank Leeman Road tunnel formed a triptych with his soliloquy, Ekhaya, Love Them Both?, as he mulled over place, love and self, with humour rooted in observation of York’s idiosyncrasies, but a deeper wish to find his place, wherever he plays his drum, whatever life throws at him. One to watch, definitely.

For aeons, a Nightingale’s nocturnal song has had writers reaching for metaphors for love and beauty. Musician, performance writer and actor Tom Nightingale’s song, Elaine, is to “show everyone my gratitude to the only lady who has ever helped me”, his wife.

In its cautious yet unguarded way it was a song of love and beauty suffused with unshaven, wry, deadpan frankness, delivered in the spirit of John Otway and Jonathan Richman beneath Martin Stephenson’s cocked hat. Nightingale writes as a “therapeutic outlet”, to make sense of life; on Monday, it worked for your reviewer; hopefully it does for Elaine too.

The name in the Love Bites e-programme and in her Q&A answers to CharlesHutchPress is Erika Noda, but the Japanese-English actor and East 15 graduate born in York introduced herself on Monday as Aiaka, the name that a teacher found so difficult, she called her ‘Ai’ and banished her from the classroom for insubordination in challenging her.

So began the journey to Ai, Erika/Aiaka’s semi-autobiographical debut solo-writing work, examining her dual heritage and encounters with racist “microaggression”, growing up in York, (a city once so white it was dubbed “Persil Town”). On the evidence of Ai, this quest for identity remains unresolved, a bumpy ride with such familiar stones in the road as “no, but where are you really from?”.

Even the inventor of Zoom apparently has had enough of all those enervating Zoom-and-gloom meetings, but loveable York musical-comedy double act Fladam (pianist-singer Adam Sowter and funny face-puller and singer Florence Poskitt) found the funny side of this digital bridge to connecting in lockdown-separation in the tartly topical Love Bytes. Aptly, the cheeky, witty, melodious encounter was long-distance, Adam on stage, Flo online, filling the screen with a squelchy face as ripe for comedy as Thora Hird or Victoria Wood.

Surprise of the night? Seeing Paul Birch on stage and then wondering why he does not frequent this space more often. Maybe he is just too busy writing and directing, and running Out Of Character, the York company for artists with experiences of mental illness.

His twisting-and-turning five-minute gem, Lost For Words, was a mind-game in motion as the quicksilver Birch fought to save his most precious relationship in a race against time where a killjoy voice from beyond kept stripping him of the right to use letters from the alphabet, letter by letter. You found yourself joining him in his mental exercise, smugly spotting him still using a ‘V’ when barred from doing so, but cheering him on as he tried to keep his head above water as the wds rn t. Could this be a game show in the making?

All around is frown time, but clown time is never over for the red-nosed James Lewis-Knight, actor and artistic director of Clown Space, purveyor of comical pandemonium amid a pandemic. After a year as the Clown in Lockdown, wandering the busking streets of York turned silent, James unlocked his dusty case to make his mimed plea for Staying Connected. He kept saying “Picnic”, but where Birch was lost for words, James was a little lost for meaning, one punchline short of his Picnic having more bite.

If you heard Dora Rubinstein’s perkily assertive rendition of Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York blind, you would swear it was from a musical. Sure enough, Gowland, latterly moved to York, is a musical theatre writer/composer with the award-winning Pieces Of String to his name. Gowland’s celebration of Gentleman Jack Anne Lister’s wedding vows in a York church will surely grow from a love letter to a full-blown show, a progression the Theatre Royal should encourage and activate.

Janet-Emily Bruce and Cassie Vallance in Story Craft Theatre’s She Can Go Anywhere. Picture: Tom Arber

In a night of storytelling, butter-rich with words, the shadow puppetry of children’s theatre company Story Craft Theatre silently spoke volumes to the accompaniment of Jonathan Glew’s beautiful score in She Can Go Anywhere. Who knew you could say so much with a sheet, folded and unfolded by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce as if a cotton version of origami, freeing imaginations when the pandemic has shrunk the world to the home, transforming life’s caterpillars into butterflies.

Hannah Wintie-Hawkins was a dancer at the double in her terpsichorean love letter In The Beginning, at once on stage and in digital artist Aaron Howell’s accompanying film, dancing with baby Mabel in her arms.  It was as though Hannah, like us, was watching in wonder at the joy of a new arrival: a beacon of hope amid the pandemic turbulence, only in her case it was moving her to break out into a dance. The dual focus, however, was not wholly satisfying, as she danced with herself, the one distracting from the other, rather than intertwining like mother and daughter on screen.

Richard Kay, actor, singer, pantomime writer and Zoom choir leader, asked his choir members two questions: how and why do you like singing? Whereupon he compiled the answers into the composition For The Love Of Singing, a song as nimble on its feet as Fred Astaire and wittily delivered in the crisply enunciated manner of a Richard Stilgoe, with digital choir backing and the projection of words dancing in and out of formation in David Todd’s playful animation. Clever, humorous, warm and briskly energetic, and tuneful to boot, it would sit well in a cabaret revue.

How did it feel to be back in the theatre after 427 days? Actor Maurice Crichton caught those feelings as he cast his net of observations in Where Are We Now, You And I?, and he looked in such a hurry to deliver his thoughts, it was as if he had come straight from a rehearsal room in tracksuit trousers and The Show Must Go On T-shirt, hair unkempt.

Not that he rushed through his sage counsel, instead understanding feelings of anger, advising a policy of gentleness with each other and not expecting too much too soon, while breathing in the wonder of theatre once more.  How right he was; how emotional too.

Canadian-born papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, countertenor and composer James Cave and libretto editor Bethan Ellis promised Magic and delivered it too in a four-minute mini-musical, set in a constantly evolving paper theatre that grew ever prettier under Elena’s delicate guidance.

Elena seeks to discover “magic and meaning in everyday, mundane experiences”, the transcendent magic rising through her imagery and the beauty of James’s singing, and in the stasis of the pandemic, a walk, birdsong, gardening, baking banana bread, have indeed taken on a heightened magical air.

On their Twitter account, non-binary, unapologetically autistic creator Ashleigh J Mills (they/them) calls themselves Angry Black Changeling. Identity and accessibility into theatre lay at the heart of In Progress, their spoken-word exploration of the “interplay between race, self-understanding and the shifting boundaries of gender over the span of a solitary year” when experiencing life on the margins.

Ashleigh has kept a Good Words List for four years, and on the screen behind them, the constant, measured flicking through a book revealed word after word standing proud from the text, each building a picture of Ashleigh’s questing, creative fascination with words.

Those words were knitted together to form their soliloquy, a still-evolving expression of Ashleigh as a work in progress in changing times, and only good words can be said of their poetic candour.

Of all the five minutes, nothing brought a broader smile than the sheer joy in dancing together of Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope, friends since Northern Ballet School days, who burst out of a restricted year of living-room creativity to revel in a Love Letter To Female Friendship on the dancefloor in the face of such trying times. They were so in their moment, they were in their own world, but one we all could recognise and wish to join in.

The title, Mise En Aby-Me, may have been baffling, but life model, milliner and costumier Claire Spooner made a fascinating body of work in her physical theatre piece that testified to her desire to tell a story through the human form, rather than words, in this case aided by Richard Stephenson’s artwork and LEMNIS’s music.

Claire turned herself into a Russian doll, peeling off layers, adding masks, revealing how she presented herself in relationships, love in different guises, until nothing could hide the constant persona within, beauty beyond the eye of the beholder.

Deaf director and “self-proclaimed proactive busy-body” Harri Marshall composed a semi-autobiographical love letter to oneself via cards and correspondence collected over the past year…and then handed over the task of interpreting them aloud to Sarah Huggett, accompanied by the exact wording on the screen behind.

I say “exact” because text and voice did not always say the same lines and you found yourself checking for differences as much as concentrating on Harri’s flow of meaning. What’s more, the rhythm of the language was broken too, screen and voice going in and out of synch. Hopefully, I Often Think Of You had a better second night.

Before Reverie came a nightmare, thankfully only briefly, as a flick of a switch belatedly awoke the somnambulant keyboard for composer, pianist and piano teacher Vanessa Simmons’s retelling of a dream in musical form. Ah, what peace, after the fizzing fireworks, as an unperturbed Vanessa rejoiced in “the beauty, sorrow and power of real love”.

Last, but anything but least and rightly chosen as the finale was 5 Minute Call, penned by esteemed York playwright Bridget Foreman, writer of 30 plays, both large and solo, with another, My Place, on the way.

Chief exec Tom Bird’s Irish-accented actor wife, Laura Pyper, took on the guise of a theatre “techie” five minutes before curtain-up, taking instruction on checking lighting for stage positions while capturing how the theatre itself felt about the return of life on its boards, warming up to the reunion with its lifeblood, both performers and audiences. The feeling of love was mutual, as the Pied Pyper led us back to our spiritual home.

These Love Bites left their mark, so much so, let’s hope York Theatre Royal can look to open further seasons with showcases for the city’s talents, £1,000 commissions et al.

Review written on May 18 with later additions

‘A year ago, I couldn’t have looked you in the eye and said, ‘this is going to be OK’,’ says York Theatre Royal chief exec Tom Bird

Tom Bird: Looking forward to tonight’s reopening of York Theatre Royal after 15 months like no other

YORK Theatre Royal will re-open tonight after 427 days, but chief executive Tom Bird feared this day might never have come.

Aside from two preview performances of December’s Travelling Pantomime tour, the main house stage has been in Covid-enforced hibernation since March 14’s performance of Alone In Berlin.

In the ensuing months, shorn of 89 per cent of its annual income being generated through selling tickets and associated revenue streams, the Theatre Royal had to cut its permanent staff by one third – seven voluntary redundancies and nine staff made redundant – after extensive consultations against a grim national picture where an estimated 40 per cent of theatre workers have lost jobs over the past 15 months.

Last September too, the Theatre Royal’s divorce was announced from the neighbouring De Grey Rooms, home to the theatre’s leased rehearsal rooms, workshops, offices and below-stairs costume department, as well as weddings, parties, award ceremonies and performances in the glorious ballroom.

Had Tom ever thought that the pandemic might be the final curtain for the Theatre Royal, England’s longest-running theatre outside London?  “Yes, as early as last May, I started wondering. I remember it well because the weather was gorgeous, but the outlook was bleak, though it was at that stage that Arts Council England were brilliant, in that they moved very quickly to provide £160 million Emergency Funding to theatres like us,” he recalls.

Josh Benson: The comic turn in York Theatre Royal’s upturn with The Travelling Pantomime last December

The Theatre Royal received £196,493 to help to cover costs in the fallow months from last July to September 30. “The ACE grant was about ‘What do you need right now not to collapse?’,” said Tom at the time.

“But when 89 per cent of your income revolves around ticket sales, you’re looking at that situation thinking, ‘that’s 89 per cent of our revenue gone, a turnover of £4.5 million; what business survives that?’.”

What’s more, Tom and the theatre faced the problem of running an old, if recently refurbished, building that is both huge and hard to heat, “so much so that it costs £475,000 a year just to keep it open, without staffing, to cover heating, lighting, water and safety,” he reveals.

“At that point, we didn’t know that Culture Recovery Funding would be made available by the Government, though there was a lot of noise, and we didn’t know if the pantomime [Cinderella, in the Theatre Royal’s first collaboration with Evolution Productions] could go ahead.

“What we did was to get brave at that point, making big decisions, giving up the lease of De Grey House and the De Grey Rooms, going back into our old offices in the gorgeous, ramshackle Tate Wilkinson House.

“Then there’s the decision you never want to have to make: having to lose staff, and that decision still haunts me. But in a way, the need to make savings was pretty black and white; it wasn’t a case of looking to be a bit more efficient. We had to take steps now, and last summer was pretty tough.”

The Pop Up On The Patio festival stage on the York Theatre Royal terracing last August

A Pop Up On The Patio festival season on the theatre terracing ran from August 14 to 29, a positive step in showcasing York and Yorkshire talent, but through the huge glass panes of the Theatre Royal could be seen the dormant foyer, box office and closed doorways to the main house and Studio: out of reach and shrouded in uncertainty.

Once the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund was announced, the Theatre Royal was awarded £230,000 to assist the theatre until March 31, but the pandemic’s grip put paid to any chance of Cinderella going to the ball at the Theatre Royal.

“What picked us up was deciding to do the Travelling Pantomime that we took round York’s wards: it gave us something to focus on, not just thinking ‘is the Theatre Royal going to survive?’,” says Tom.

“It energised us all, and it was such a great show to do, but the truth is, a year ago, I couldn’t have looked you in the eye and said, ‘this is going to be OK’.

“We didn’t even know what was going to happen through that year ahead, but I have to say that the Yorkshire producing theatres have been brilliant. York, Hull [Hull Truck], Leeds [Playhouse], Scarborough [Stephen Joseph Theatre] and Sheffield [Sheffield Theatres] have got together each week on Zoom, which has been a really good case of peers supporting each other…

“…and we are where we are now, reopening to coincide with Step 3 of the roadmap. Love is in the air at the Theatre Royal!”

Clown time: James Lewis-Knight’s in rehearsal for Staying Connected, one of the Love Bites at York Theatre Royal tonight and tomorrow. Picture: Tom Arber

Tom is referring to The Love Season, already trailered in CharlesHutchPress [April 29 2021], that opens with Love Bites: two nights of two nights of letters from the heart tonight and tomorrow at 8pm that have both sold out.

The Love Season should have opened on St Valentine’s Day, February 14, but Lockdown 3 put yet another red line through diary plans. However, a second round of the Cultural Recovering Fund grants has put a £324,289 spring in the Theatre Royal’s step, coupled with the third stage of lockdown loosening from today.

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

Introduced by Look North alumnus Harry Gration, Love Bites will explore the idea of love letters, dedicated to people, places, things, actions, occupations and more besides in five-minute specially commissioned bite-sized chunks.

The Love Season’s focus on human connection, the live experience and a sense of togetherness will embrace solo shows by stage and screen luminary Ralph Fiennes and Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh (The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…); a new Ben Brown political drama about writer Graham Greene and spy Kim Philby, A Splinter Of Ice, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, transposed to 1940s’ Hong Kong by writer Amy Ng and director Dadiow Lin.

Ralph Fiennes in rehearsal for T S Eliot’s Four Quartets

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

Tom says: “Ralph is rehearsing in London, opening at the Theatre Royal, Bath, from May 25 and then touring. We’re so chuffed to have Ralph coming to York. We can’t believe it!

“We’re thrilled that Ralph’s show became a possibility for us, and it’s a huge credit to him to recognise the need to support theatre around the country at this time. Let’s say it, it’s rare for an actor of his profile and standing to do a regional tour, but he’s seen that he can help to save some incredibly important producing houses, like this one, by doing a tour – and it’s not an act of charity; it’s an important and really exciting piece of work.”

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

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

In the name of love: York Theatre Royal’s reopening season

Bite-sized Q & A with…Elena Skoreyko Wagner on Magic, her Love Bites collaboration at York Theatre Royal

Magic trio Elena Skoreyko Wagner, Bethan Ellis and James Cave

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

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged tomorrow (17/5/2021) – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and on Tuesday.

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

In the sixth in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As, papercut artist and illustrator Elena Skoreyko Wagner has five minutes to discuss Magic, her Love Bite collaboration with composer and singer James Cave and writer Bethan Ellis.

How did you hear about Love Bites, Elena?

“My collaborator, James Cave, caught wind of the project and got in touch.  We had discussed collaborating before, during one of the intense, hour-long “work” conversations we would have while our daughters took gymnastics together, but I think it was Bethan’s idea to adapt one of my poems.” 

What is your connection with York?

“York is our home! I honestly didn’t know if I would ever have a place that felt as much like home as York does. I am Canadian, and my husband, Achim, is German, and our first child was born in Canada; our second in Germany.

“We spent the first few years of our relationship in Toronto and the next five in Bonn, Germany, but really had no idea where we would settle. Achim ended up getting a job here in York, and we moved here knowing nearly nothing of the place. I had only ever been to the UK once, when I visited London for a weekend!

“But we encountered so much warmth and kindness, we feel like we got very lucky to randomly end up here! We intend to stay for a good while.” 

“These little things. Thank goodness for these things,” says Elena, as she seeks out magic and meaning in the mundane

What will feature in your Love Bite, Magic, and why?

“Our Love Bite is a miniature musical theatre piece, adapted from a poem I wrote during the first lockdown. The poem starts, ‘If ever you worry that magic is not real, remember how music can make you feel’, and continues with a list of little moments, small experiences of wonder and magic. If you are able to see them, recognise them in that way.

“James has composed a piece of music that he’ll be performing live, while I operate a miniature paper theatre I’ve constructed. The theatre is actually a re-creation of our allotment! 

“I think I largely coped with this past year by mining for these small sparkling bits, just catching hold of moments of beauty and connection during a very anxious time. It carried me through in a lot of ways.

“So, this piece is a sort of love letter to that, I suppose. To my allotment, in one sense, but only as a stand-in for that experience anywhere…For the house plant that I was able to propagate after months of trying! For watching my kids develop an entire fantasy world while lying on a hammock together in our tiny backyard for hours upon end…These little things. Thank goodness for these things!”

Your work “seeks to find magic and uncover meaning in the mundane”. What makes York a good place to do that?

“York is a beautiful city, which in many ways makes it easier to find magic. There are snickelways that look straight out of Tolkien, and crumbling walls, climbing with vines, straight from The Secret Garden! But really, York is just as good a place as any.

“I think that’s the discipline of it… It’s an approach to moving through the world. One of the lines in the poem is, ‘how we can have conversations with nothing but glances’. That is magical too, in my mind.

“Just these slow observations; noticing these truly amazing things, allowing ourselves to get caught in them, for just a second even, to help carry us through the rest of life, which can be on the heavier side.”

Elena Skoreyko Wagner will be making her York Open Studios debut at The Drey Studio in July

In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre?

“I’ve missed that sense of occasion, of all of these people coming together in this perfect storm of creative energy to create something to move and touch others.

“When I go and see a performance, I feel that, and that proximity to people creating, putting this thing out into the world together, it’s inspiring in the most literal sense. I walk away feeling energised to make more, to kind of continue that current of electricity! I have missed that.” 

What’s coming next for you?

“After this, I will be illustrating a book about mums’ having feelings! I’m really excited about that. I also have some animated projects and I’m working up to taking part in York Open Studios in July.

“I opened a small studio on Heslington Road, The Drey Studio, in September and we haven’t really been able to properly get it running yet, given the restrictions, so I’m also looking forward to breathing some life into that space as well!” 

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

“It’s possible that, over the past year, my vision for an ideal five minutes has gotten smaller, but maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. The happiest five minutes I’ve had in recent months was digging in my allotment, sun on my face, to the sound of bird song and my kids laughing their way through some make-believe game about a dragon named Tiny, while they shared the swing we hung up in the apple tree. 

“I would like to note, I’m not a good or experienced gardener, but it does not matter. Just being able to find peace and beauty in this small way…I could not have felt happier in that moment.”

Tomorrow’s show has sold out. Tickets for Tuesday cost Pay What You Feel at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

Bite-sized Q & A with…Ashleigh J Mills on their Love Bites piece at York Theatre Royal

Ashleigh J Mills: Exploring and digesting lived experience of life on the margins

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

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

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

In the fifth in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As, Ashleigh J Mills [they/them] has five minutes to discuss their  Love Bite, In Progress.

ASHLEIGH [they/them] is a Black, non-binary and unapologetically autistic creator, calling themselves Angry Black Changeling on their Twitter account. Politically and poetically minded, their work seeks to explore and digest their lived experience of life on the margins. They believe that within resistance lies creation. They are a work in progress.

How did you hear about Love Bites, Ashleigh?

“Henry Raby, York’s resident punk poet, tagged me in the call out on Twitter. As someone who dips in and out of York’s poetry scene, he probably recognised that it’d be definitely something I’d be interested in! And I was!”

What is your connection with York?

“I moved to York almost eight years ago now. Initially for university, I’ve attended both York St John and the Uni of York in the past. But really, I’ve made my home there. I’ve got partners and a cat and everything!”

What will feature in your Love Bite, In Progress, and why? 

“In Progress is a poem I’ve created as a love letter to words and to the complex and tricksy process of learning who you are and who you’re going to be. I’ve kept a Good Words List for over four years now: a list of words I don’t know, learn and don’t want to forget. Using those words, I’ve created a piece about lockdown-inflicted self-reflections.”

You believe that “within resistance lies creation”.  Discuss further…

“We live in a world of oppressive power structures. I’m a person who is Black, queer, trans, autistic, and disabled. As such, my existence will always function as a form of resistance – whether or not I opt into that.
“I think there are a myriad of ways to navigate straddling so many intersections, but for me, poetry and art is my primary outlet and communication tool. It helps me filter and process my own experiences and find similar community, which is an endlesssly important thing when any one of those facets of my identity can implicitly result in isolation. I believe, as Audre Lorde once wrote, “poetry is not a luxury”.

In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre?

“I’ve been quite privileged in terms of lockdown and theatre. I’m studying a professional acting MA at ALRA North [Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, in Wigan, Manchester]. While lockdown has undoubtedly impacted us, it’s also been sprinkled with times I’ve been able to get into a (Covid-safe) room and create with my small cohort. It’s been a relief, an adventure and a very stressful time all in one!

“I’ve missed being able to explore new places and theatres and see new experimental and exciting ways of working! However, I’m pleased that accessibility within theatre has come into the mainstream awareness and contention.

“I hope the trend for more accessible theatre continues as more venues begin to reopen their doors. Like poetry, theatre and art should not be a luxury! I hope the future holds a new way of doing things that doesn’t negate the widened access lockdown has inspired!”

What’s coming next for you?

“I’m heading into my final seven months of my actor training. So hopefully I’ll finish that and get a certificate to prove it!

“More seriously, I hope to unearth a way of making art that I can access holistically. I often receive feedback that I’m too intellectual or academic. But really, I feel that this is a symptom of existing as I do. When your existence is politicised, people often assume that when you speak from experience, you’re trying to root a social theory or make it accessible. I’m not. I’m just expressing myself as best I know how.

“In summary, I want to work with new people and find new ways of accessing creativity. I want to act. I want to write. I want to continue exploring this new-found joy of play. There’s much I want to do! So we shall see what the future holds when we get to it.”

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

“My dream five minutes would be being inside on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with my cat, Franklin, on my lap. I’d have a coffee from the local fancy coffee shop, soft music would play in the background, and I’d be able to just sit, and be, and read a book from my books-to-read shelf without thinking about work, or deadlines, or ‘being productive’.”

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