REVIEW: York Light Opera Company in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, York Theatre Royal, making waves until Saturday ****

Pascha Turnbull’s Ursula, James Dickinson’s Flotsam and Adam Gill’s Jetsam in York Light Opera Company’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid. All pictures: Matthew Kitchen Photography

THREE matinees this week are testament to the family appeal of Disney’s aquatic adventure The Little Mermaid, a show ideal for half-term week.

Across the city from February 16 to 18 at York Barbican, a Tylosaurus, the largest predatory marine reptile to ever grace our oceans and now the largest marine puppet ever made, will be making a big splash in a purpose-built tank in Jurassic Live. “If you sit near the front, you will get wet,” comes the safety alert.

No such warning is necessary at the Theatre Royal, but in the absence of water, everything else is thrown at director/choreographer Martyn Knight’s hi-tech production: an LED screen by AV Matrix; flying by Blue Chilli Flying; images and animations by Broadway Media Distribution and additional scenic elements by Scenic Projects, Lowestoft, and Curtain Call Productions, Crewe.

Bon appetit: Zander Fick’s Chef Louis

The tentacle costume for 6ft tall Pascha Turnbull’s evil sea witch, the giant squid Ursula, has been made specially by Caroline Guy, to go with a spectacular array of sea-world costumes by Spotlight Costume Hire and additional costumes created by York Light.

Wardrobe coordinator Carly Price has overseen a sewing team of ten, complemented by 21 dressers at the theatre; ten people in Ellie Ryder’s wig, hair and make-up team; ten more in the stage crew, all serving a cast of 43. Set building took 14 people; Paul Laidlaw conducts an excellent nine-strong orchestra, three of them on keyboards.

Those numbers tell you this is a big, expensive show to mount, taking on the challenge of staging a musical produced originally by Disney Theatrical Productions, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale and John Musker and Ron Clements’s animated 1989 film for Disney.

Monica Frost’s Ariel in mermaid mode in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Built on a book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater, this is every inch a Disney show, in style, content and philosophy, but Knight’s cast still brings a York Light air to it too.

This is helped by the experienced presence of not only Turnbull’s terrific villain, Ursula, but also Neil Wood’s mandarin Grimsby, Martin Lay’s bird-brained Scuttle and in particular Rory Mulvihill’s stern King Triton, ruler of the underworld.

Turnbull’s Ursula and her henchmen with the flashing footwear, James Dickinson’s Flotsam and Adam Gill’s Jetsam, savour the dark side with more than a hint of pantomime villainy, and Turnbull’s rendition of Poor Unfortunate Souls is a formidable finale to Act One.

Neil Wood’s Grimsby and James Horsman’s Prince Eric

Jonny Holbek’s Caribbean crustacean, Sebastian the crab, carries the heaviest comedy load, and although painting a face red to deliver a calypso caricature in Under The Sea might not be on a par with a white actor blacking up as Othello in 2024, the Jamaican jive could sit awkwardly for those who cringed at Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Nevertheless, Holbek is such a personable presence on stage – witness his Dewey Finn lead turn in School Of Rock last November – that his Sebastian goes down well, breaking down theatre’s fourth wall in the style of a panto daft lad.

Under The Sea, by the way, is as big and bright and fun as the big ensemble number should be, while Monica Frost’s Ariel, the mermaid who makes a deal with Ursula to take on human form (at the cost of her voice), relishes her spotlight in Part Of Your World in a resolute lead performance.

Rory Mulvihill’s King Triton

Lay’s Scuttle and the Seagulls could not be more positive in Positoovity, danced to tap choreography by Rachel Whitehead, and if you want an actor to maximise a cameo with comic flair and French drama, step forward Zander Fick’s Chef Louis  in Les Poissons in the palace kitchen.

Roller-skating is all the rage under the sea for Triton’s daughters (Frost’s Ariel, Annabel Van Griethuysen’s Aquata, Helen Miller’s Andrina, Madeleine Hicks’s Arista, Chloe Chapman’s Atina, Sophie Cunningham’s Adella and Sarah Craggs’s Allana), who swish hither and thither and sing siren-style.

James Horsman’s Prince Eric, the royal who would prefer to be a sailor, is played as straight as a ruler, fitting the Disney tropes of dark hair, slim frame and mono-focus on his one – find his bride – task in hand.

Jonny Holbek’s Sebastian the crab and Ryan Addyman’s Flounder performing Under The Sea

Ryan Addyman, who had everyone talking about his Jamie New in York Stage’s  Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Teen Edition last June, was promptly head-hunted to play Flounder, and he anything but flounders as Ariel’s fabulous fish sidekick here. One to watch, definitely.

Dial M for Mermaid if you enjoy Disney with a York Light touch, colours galore, fairytale fantasy, Turnbull terrors and Mulvihill regal authority

Performances:  7.30pm nightly, plus 2.30pm, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Martin Lay’s Scuttle, front, and the Gulls dancing Positoovity in York Light’s tap number in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Squid’s in! Pascha Turnbull can’t wait for the sea-witching hour as underwaterworld villain Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Pashca Turnbull in full regalia as Ursula, the sea witch, in York Light Opera Company’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

WHY is the seaweed always greener in someone else’s lake? Find out in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the spectacular finale to York Light Opera Company’s 70th celebrations that opens tonight (7/2/2024) at York Theatre Royal to coincide with half-term week.

Director Martyn Knight and musical director Paul Laidlaw are at the wheel for this underwater adventure with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale and John Musker & Ron Clements’s 1989 animated film.

York Light bring LED projection, dazzling costumes and choreography by Rachel Whitehead to the timeless enchanting tale of Ariel, a mermaid who dreams of trading her tail for legs to explore the human world. Aided by mischievous sidekick Flounder and the cunning Ursula, Ariel strikes a bargain that will change her life forever, but all is not what it seems.

Ariel will be portrayed by Monica Frost, Flounder by Ryan Addyman, Sebastian the crab by Jonny Holbek, Prince Eric by James Horsman and King Triton by the York stage stalwart Rory Mulvihill.

Billed as “the now renowned witch performer”, Pascha Turnbull will play sea witch Ursula, the greedy squid with powers of dark magic that, spoiler alert, will lead to her banishment.

“I haven’t seen the live action re-make [Rob Marshall’s 2023 film] – on purpose! Melissa McCarthy plays Ursula in that version. No pressure there then!” says Pascha.

How would she describe Ursula? “I think she’s more than cunning. She’s sly, devious, manipulative…she’s just awesome! Some little girls dream of being princesses, but some dream of playing villains – like me! Baddies absolutely have more fun – and you don’t have to kiss anybody!

“The big powerful woman, the larger-than-life character, is just something I’ve always enjoyed. On top of that, my natural singing voice is alto –they tend to play villains – and I’m 6ft tall.”

Pascha Turnbull being made up for the role of evil squid Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Armed with “lots of tentacles I have to co-ordinate”, Pascha forms a new York Light team with James Dickinson’s Flotsam and Adam Gill’s Jetsam. “We’re Team Evil, as we call ourselves. James and Adam are even taller than me, so we’re a formidable team when we’re on stage together!” she says.

“I’ve seen James and Adam in other shows, like Joseph And The Mazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and James happens to work in the print industry, like me.”

Should you be wondering, Pascha and her brother Nick – even taller at 6ft 5ins – run Inc Dot Design & Print, in Seafire Close, York, a print and graphic design company set up by their father, John Turnbull, in 1980.

“I’ve always said it’s great to be tall because you always get served at the bar,” says Pascha, who will be part of a cast of 40 in York Light’s show, performing a suitably big solo number, Poor Unfortunate Souls, to boot. “That song sums up her manipulative nature. She’ll help people to live out their dreams, but there’s always a payment required!”

Looking forward to playing the York Theatre Royal stage, Pascha says: “York Light have always done their February shows there. It’s a heck of a feeling performing in such an iconic theatre building, and just having that professional experience around you is fantastic. Being back in that theatre makes you feel giddy,

“The fact that we’re doing this show over half-term means so many more people can see it, especially with all the matinees, and anything that encourages people into the theatre is a good thing. I’m very excited!”

York Light Opera Company in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, York Theatre Royal, tonight 7/2/2024) until February 17, except February 12. Box office: 01904 623568 or

York Light Opera Company’s cast for Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Monica Frost’s Ariel

Ariel: Monica Frost
Ursula: Pascha Turnbull
Mersister Aquata: Annabel Van Griethuysen
Mersister Andrina: Helen Miller
Mersister Arista: Madeleine Hicks
Mersister Atina: Chloë Chapman
Mersister Adella: Sophie Cunningham
Mersister Allana: Sarah Craggs
Prince Eric: James Horsman

York Light debutant Ryan Adamson in the role of Flounder

Grimsby: Neil Wood
Flounder: Ryan Addyman
Sebastian: Jonny Holbek
Scuttle: Martin Lay
King Triton: Rory Mulvihill
Flotsam: James Dickinson
Jetsam: Adam Gill
Chef Louis: Zander Fick

Annabel van Griethuysen’s Mersister Aquata, “Ariel’s mean, ambitious and devious big sister”. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

REVIEW: York Light Opera Company in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, York Theatre Royal, until March 4 ****

Razor sharp: Neil Wood’s Sweeney Todd conducting his sharp practice as Julie Anne Smith’s Mrs Lovett hovers in York Light’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. All pictures: Matthew Kitchen

LIGHT and dark combine for the tale of Sweeney Todd, York Light’s heavyweight production to mark both the company’s 70th anniversary and last November’s passing of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim at 91.

In 2016, Robert Readman favoured going dangerously up close at 41, Monkgate. In 2023, director-choreographer Martyn Knight returns Sondheim’s knife-edge musical thriller to a gothic grand scale, large ensemble et al, while adjusting the setting from venal Victorian to gory Georgian at York Theatre Royal.

Costume designers Suzanne Ayers and Jean Wilkinson and wardrobe co-ordinator Carly Price pull out all the stops, aided by Ellie Ryder’s wigs, hair and make-up, and sewing, wardrobe and make-up teams in big numbers. Fantastic work all round.

Full of foreboding: Clare Meadley’s harrowing Beggar Woman

Under conductor Paul Laidlaw, keyboardist Simon Kelly’s organ swells to unnerving, edge-of-the-seat effect, forewarning of the terrible deeds to come in an opening that establishes how important the 30-strong ensemble will be throughout this murder-is-meat musical, whether as feral harbingers, boozy pie eaters or mental asylum incumbents.

The grave mien and embittered baritone of Neil Wood’s ponytailed Sweeney Todd further concentrates the mind on the serious business ahead as he flees Australia to return to East London after 15 years of wrongful exile at Botany Bay, vowing vengeance on the corrupt Judge Turpin (Craig Kirby, reprising his Pick Me Up role with even more insufferable judicial arrogance).

The self-flagellating Judge is the abusive ward to Sweeney’s daughter Johanna (Madeleine Hicks), keeping her like a caged bird: a revelation that brings even more of a cutting edge to Sweeney’s resumption of his demon barbershop business above the worst pie gaff in London town.

Clinging on to love amid the wreckage: Maximus Mawle’s Anthony Hope and Madeleine Hicks’s Johanna

Mrs Lovett (Julie Anne Smith) needs an upgrade from the grit and gristle in her pies; Sweeney is up for a slice of the action, when she turns out to be as manipulative as Lady Macbeth.

Mrs Lovett may be devoid of humanity, but now that there is 100 per cent humanity in her pies, they turn out to be bloody good, celebrated heartily in God, That’s Good, the ensemble high point of a consistently impactful performance as London’s exposed underbelly.

Behind dark eyes and a bustling air, add Smith’s humour, love-a-duck London accent and top-notch singing, and hers is a best-in-show performance, relishing Sondheim’s devilish wit and snappy turn of phrase.

Pie high: Jonny Holbek’s Tobias Ragg, furthest forward to the right, leads the euphoric singing in God, That’s Good!

As the bodies pile up, deposited down the shoot from Sweeney’s barber’s chair with a rumble in the tumble each time he shortens life rather than hair, gradually a macabre darkness of humour permeates the audience response, all the more so for Wood’s Sweeney not changing his countenance . And yet vulnerability courses through his inner turmoil.

Praise too for Maximus Mawle’s Anthony Hope and Hicks’s Johanna in the young love roles, as up against it as Romeo and Juliet, plus a treat of a camply comic turn from Richard Bayton as henchman Beadle Bamford and Clare Meadley’s damaged bird of a harrowing prophetess, the homeless Beggar Woman. Martin Lay has great fun with his faux Italian accent as preposterous, twinkling rival barber Adolfo Pirelli.

Any York production is always better for the presence of Jonny Holbek, and his Tobias Ragg, assistant first to Pirelli then kitchen aid to Mrs Lovett, is a scene stealer here: humour and tragedy, light and darkness, hope and desperation, naivety and madness, all at play in his performance.

Gritty encounter: Julie Anne Smith’s Mrs Lovett entreats Neil Wood’s Sweeney Todd to try the worst pie in London town

Paul Laidlaw’s wind and brass players, together with Kelly’s keyboards and Francesca Rochester and Laurie Gunson’s percussion, bring out all the drama and rich musicality in Sondheim’s score, sometimes luscious, other times juddering and jagged.   

Martin Knight’s choreography matches that musical diversity, adding to the deliciously dark delights of this juicy psychological drama. Make sure to grab a bite of this very tasty pie.

Performances: 7.30pm,  tonight (27/02/2023) until Saturday plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee.  Box  office: 01904 623 568 or

By Charles Hutchinson

York Light mark 70th year with cutting-edge Sweeney Todd in Georgian setting

Neil Wood’s Sweeney Todd and Julie-Anne Smith’s Mrs Lovett with their hot-selling new pie in York Light Opera Company’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. Picture:Matthew Kitchen

LIGHT meets dark when York Light Opera Company return to York Theatre Royal from Wednesday in “one of the darkest musicals ever written”, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

Steered by the familiar hands on the tiller of director Martyn Knight and musical director Paul Laidlaw, the show is set in the Georgian era, rather than the usual Victorian London murk.

In York Light’s 70th anniversary production, Neil Wood takes the title role of the misanthropic barber who returns home to the Big Smoke after 15 years in exile, seeking vengeance on the corrupt judge (Craig Kirby) who ruined his life.

The road to revenge leads to him to open new tonsorial premises above the failing pie shop run by Mrs Lovett (Julie-Anne Smith). Cue a very tasty meaty new ingredient to boost sales in this now cutthroat business.

“Yes, it’s dark and gruesome, but it’s so funny too,” says Neil. “One moment the audience are bent double with laughter; the next they’re in tears. A lot of it comes down to the patter style that’s reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.”

Richard Bayton, by day in charge of ticket sales for Sweeney Todd as York Theatre Royal’s box office manager, will be playing Beadle Bamford. “Two months into rehearsals, I’m thinking, ‘who is this man? There has to be more to him than how than how he ends up’, so I’ve built up the character, when he’s often seen as comic relief but I’ve looked to make him darker,” he says.

A cut above: Neil Wood’s Sweeney Todd in the doorway of his Fleet Street upstairs premises. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

“I’ve really enjoyed it because it’s always fun to play a bit of a baddie, though the real baddie is definitely Judge Turpin.”

Julie-Anne Smith’s Mrs Lovett occupies the dark side too with her surprisingly delicious but morally dodgy pie contents. “Everyone is damaged in this piece, all except Anthony Hope [played by Maximus Mawle],” she says. “Even Johanna [Madeleine Hicks] is extremely damaged – and living with the Judge, she would be! Everyone else represents the underbelly of London.”

Neil rejoins: “Whether you’re playing Shakespeare’s Richard III or Sweeney Todd, you have to find something you understand in the character. It’s not until he meets the damaged Mrs Lovett, who has her own agenda, that he changes course after being wrongly exiled for a crime he didn’t commit.

“Through fate, he has found his way back home to London to find his wife dead and discover what the judge has done, with his daughter now in the judge’s hands. In that moment, Mrs Lovett manipulates him, and it’s like a puppet being played with, on a knife edge.”

 Julie-Anne says: “You have to push that notion that they’re only human; you have to make that connection with the character you’re playing. At the end of the day, she’s human, she’s damaged. She just wants a cottage by the sea and will do anything to get it.

“That’s why she’s interesting to play because people can never believe the horrific deeds that humans can do, but particularly if it’s a woman perpetrating such horrific crimes, but her humour endears her to the audience – and they’re laughing with her rather than at her. That’s why I like playing the anti-hero, because they’re more complex.”

“People can never believe the horrific deeds that humans can do, but particularly if it’s a woman perpetrating such horrific crimes,” Julie-Anne Smith, York Light’s Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

From the maniacal Sweeney Todd to Titus Andronicus, such characters “have always been more interesting, with the best lines”, notes Neil. “We’re just really lucky to have the chance to be doing such roles,” he says.

“It’s also the right time to be staging Sweeney Todd, especially with Stephen Sondheim passing away last year. There’s lots of interest in him again, with Sweeney Todd running on Broadway and the Sondheim concert, Old Friends, with Bernadette Peters in the company, that’ll be on in London at the Prince Edward Theatre for 16 weeks.”

Richard is savouring the meatiness of Sondheim’s lyrics in a show where 80 per cent of Sweeney Todd is set to music, either sung or underscoring dialogue. “They’re so rich in meaning,” he says. “I’ve been able to find new interpretations and new meanings in every rehearsal because you  can read so much into them.”

Neil adds: “It’s such a complete show; the orchestrations are wonderful, and Martyn Knight and Paul Laidlaw have been a joy to work with as they really appreciate what a challenge Sondheim is. That’s why we started in early October on the music, and then Martin came up for a first block of rehearsals from November and has back since January after a Christmas break. You can’t start working on the detail until the words are embedded in you.”

Julie-Anne is thrilled to be putting flesh on Sondheim bones in Sweeney Todd. “I was in a professional group, Lucky 4 You, that performed Sondheim songs all around Yorkshire, and I’d always wanted to do the big duet from Sweeney within the context of the show. Now I can do that with Neil.”

York Light Opera Company in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday (22/2/2023) to March 4, 7.30pm, except February 26; 2.30pm, February 25 and March 4. Box office: 01904 623568 or

York Light enjoy musicals old and new in A Night With The Light at Friargate Theatre

York Light Opera Company performers and production team for A Night With The Light. From the left, musical director Martin Lay, producer Helen Eckersall and director Jonny Holbek are pictured in the centre

YORK Light Opera Company’s summer show, A Night With The Light, runs at Friargate Theatre, Friargate, York, from tomorrow until Saturday.

In the wake of York Light’s production of Evita, directed by Martyn Knight at York Theatre Royal in February, the amateur company presents a feel-good programme of powerful, funny, emotive and irreverent numbers from favourite musicals and new ones too.

Under the direction of Jonny Holbek and musical direction of Martin Lay, the show features songs from Hamilton, Waitress, Wicked, Chicago, Chess, Avenue Q, The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables, The Sound Of Music and plenty more.

Jonny Holbek: Directing York Light Opera Company in A Night With The Light

Taking part will be: Abby Wild; Alexa Chaplin; Al Elmes; Annabel van Griethuysen; Chloe Chapman; Clare Meadley; Emily Hardy; Emma Louise Dickinson; Grace Harper; Helen Eckersall; Henry Fairnington; Kathryn Tinson; Kirsten Griffiths; Matt Tapp; Pascha Turnbull; Paul Hampshire; Pippa Elmes; Rachael Cawte; Ruth Symington; Ryan Richardson; Tom Menarry and Victoria Rimmington. The producer is Helen Eckersall.

“Come join us as we have Magic To Do!” say Jonny and Martin ahead of this week’s 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday matinee.

Tickets cost £10 upwards on 01904 655317 or at

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Light’s Evita at York Theatre Royal

Emma-Louise Dickinson’s Eva Perón and Jonny Holbek’s Che in York Light’s Evita. All pictures: Tom Arber

York Light in Evita, York Theatre Royal, until February 19, including Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

IT’S no fun being out of action for two years. So there was relief and pleasure on all the faces of York Light – the musical theatre company formerly known as York Light Opera Company – when they returned to their rightful home base in a rousing Martyn Knight production of Evita.

The company is sensibly alternating two groups of principals over its 12 performances. On this second night (10/2/2022) it was Team Blue’s turn.

Eva Perón, familiarly known as Evita, and even Santa Evita to diehard fans, still excites
controversy today, even in Argentina. She was both an ambitious social climber who slept her way to the top but also a benefactress, a figurehead who spent lavishly on herself, a unifying icon for some and a uniquely self-seeking politico for others.

Neil Wood as Juan Perón : “His baritone serves him well over a wide range”

None of which makes it easy for the actress playing her. How likeable should she be?
Emma-Louise Dickinson’s response is bravely sassy, which comes close to being a warts-and-all exposé. It is the right approach. Nobody wants a prissy heroine. Tim Rice’s lyrics don’t allow her to be.

Much of her singing is stridently assertive, which doesn’t always make for the prettiest of sounds. For those we have to wait till Act 2 and in particular the scenes surrounding her illness and death.

Like all true operatic heroines, Evita takes a long time to die but Dickinson uses it to show us that she has a pleasing soprano. She is the main reason why Act 2 generates such pathos. Buenos Aires and You Must Love Me are poles apart but her versatility is more than equal to both.

Jonny Holbek’s Che: “Brings a folk-singing style to the role”

Juan Perón may have been twice Eva’s age when he married her, but their personalities were well-matched. He strong-armed his way to power and was just as ruthless. His police state is echoed here with several shows of repressive policing. But Neil Wood plays him with sensitivity as well as strength and his passion for his young wife is never in doubt. His baritone serves him well over a wide range.

Jonny Holbek brings a folk-singing style to the role of Che, the narrator and social conscience of the unfolding events, which makes him an engaging man of the people, even if he sometimes strays from the notes that are actually in the score. He is mainly dressed in camouflage pants which verge on the paramilitary. He leads And The Money Kept Rolling In superbly.

Two other roles deserve special mention. Richard Weatherill’s big number as Magaldi, Eva’s
home-town boyfriend, comes early but he is more than ready. So too is Hannah Witcomb as Peron’s glamorous bit on the side, neatly crystallised in Another Suitcase In Another Hall.

Melanie Groom and Tom Menarry: “Dancing a succulent tango”

A word, too, for the top brass in the musical chairs of The Art Of The Possible: good fun. There is also a succulent tango danced by Melanie Groom and Tom Menarry. Considering the importance of tango in Argentinian music, we could stand to see a lot more of them.

The chorus shows a marvellous mix of voices and ages, with plenty of young blood among several company veterans. All its numbers are danced, which means that a huge amount of choreography – also by Martyn Knight – has had to be memorised, an incredible feat considering they barely put a foot wrong.

Chorus delivery is occasionally on the shouty side but the opening Requiem is beautifully sustained and there is some lovely quiet singing in Act 2. The ladies look especially appealing in vintage hats and dresses.

Hannah Witcomb as “Juan Perón s glamorous bit on the side”

Mike Thompson conducts an 11-piece orchestra with plenty of pizzazz. Its feel for Latin
American rhythms is consistently excellent. The balance is not always quite right. The bass is too boomy in Act 1, which means that several delicate phrases from keyboard or guitar do not get the prominence they deserve. In general the amplification could be turned down a notch to good effect.

The show is well served by its permanent set (from Lowestoft, but otherwise uncredited), which casts a presidential aura. It is absolutely heart-warming to have York Light back in action and in such amazing shape. The company’s enthusiasm is infectious. You daren’t miss it.

For the record, the Yellow Team principals are Alexa Chaplin as Eva, John Hall as Perón and Dale Vaughan as Che. All are seasoned performers.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Alexa Chaplin, centre, as Team Yellow’s Eva Perón with the ensemble in in York Light’s Evita

York Light Opera Company rise to Evita challenge at the double in Knight’s move to combat pandemic toil and trouble

Making Light work of it: John Hall (Juan Peron), Alexa Chaplin (Eva Peron) and Dale Vaughan (Che) as one principal trio for York Light’s Evita at York Theatre Royal

WHY will York Light Opera Company have two Evas, two Juan Perons and two Ches in Evita?

Director Martyn Knight has decided to use double casting for the main roles in the February 9 to 19 production at York Theatre Royal in response to Covid-19’s ongoing impact.

“For the five principal roles, they’re all double cast, because we’re still in a pandemic and we wanted to protect ourselves,” he says. “We’ve kept the principal casts separate, which has required us to double the rehearsal time and rehearse in separate rooms.

“But we’ve had cast members drop out with Covid; we’ve had cast members drop out with long Covid; we’ve had cast members suffer injuries. We are on our 18th cast list due to people having to pull out. It’s been a nightmare but it’s also been a labour of love.”

Explaining his reasoning behind “doing the double”,  he says: “It’s a fully sung show and double casting provides each team with sufficient rest. The main character parts are huge and it would be a colossal ‘ask’ of any understudy to learn and have to perform those roles without significant rehearsal.

“Double casting provides the best possible cover, which is needed more than ever when putting on the production during a pandemic.”

All the while, Martyn had his annual pantomime commitment – for the 18th year –from November to January as the resident dame at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre, playing Nellie Nightnurse in Sleeping Beauty.

Martyn Knight in the poster for this winter’s Eastbourne pantomime role as Dame Nellie Nightnurse

“The gutting thing for me is that I’d never missed a performance, in all those years, working through shingles, ear, nose and throat issues and stomach problems, but then I tested positive for Covid on New Year’s Eve,” he says.  “Out of 13, ten of us went down with it during the run; at one point, we had no ensemble and the baddie [Carli Norris’s Carabosse] had to use the stage crew as her minions.

“But I managed to return for the last day, and it was a very powerful, emotional feeling doing the panto this winter, playing to 25,000 people. They needed it, the joy of seeing a show, and that’s why we’re so determined to get theatre back on.”

Hence the precautions taken by York Light for Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical account of the rags-to-riches life story of Eva Peron as she goes from poor provincial child to First Lady of Argentina on her “Rainbow Tour”, using popularity and politics to serve both her people and herself.

For this musical of people, power and politics, Alexa Chaplin and Emma-Louise Dickinson will share the lead role of Eva Peron; Dale Vaughan and Jonny Holbek will play Che; John Hall and Neil Wood, Juan Peron; Dave Copley-Martin and Richard Weatherill, Agustin Maglidi, and Fiona Phillips and Hannah Witcomb, Peron’s Mistress.

Since initial rehearsals last autumn, Alexa and Emma-Louise had not seen each other until their paths crossed in the car park at last Sunday’s rehearsals.

“It’s been a very different experience, where we were only together early in the process, when Martyn was blocking the show, but that was a long time ago,” says Alexa. “It feels very odd not knowing what the other set of principals will be like, but doing it this way, dividing the performances,  has meant I could do a show I couldn’t otherwise do, with childcare requirements.

“It will be interesting to see if each night off will feel restful or whether we’ll be chomping at the bit to get back on stage.”

Double act: Neil Wood (Juan Peron), Emma-Louise Dickinson (Eva Peron) and Jonny Holbek (Che) as the other principal trio for York Light Opera Company’s Evita

In preparing for the lead role, Alexa says: “I’m quite a nerd, when it comes to research, reading biographies, finding out about the character, but then, what writers do to a character in a musical is not fully true to life, and you have to bridge that gap of how they interpret her.

“But I feel whatever you think about her politics, Eva’s absolute tenacity and drive and endless energy is incredible – and the musical demands that you match that energy, with it being such a ‘big sing’.”

Emma-Louise was last on stage in a musical in February 2020, playing Nancy in Oliver! at York Theatre Royal, in the weeks before the first Covid lockdown. “The only thing I’ve done since then was the Raise The Roof fundraiser for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre with everyone spaced out and a restricted audience capacity,” she says.

“If someone had said you won’t do a musical for two years…but at least I’ve been fortunate in being able to engage in singing online as a music teacher. It’s such a discipline, performing, and after such a long time off, it’s been a challenge building up the stamina again since we started rehearsals in September.”

Contemplating playing Eva Peron, Emma-Louise says: “Whenever you’re playing a real-life character, there’s an added pressure to make it accurate, so there’s not as much room for interpretation.

“I’ve learned how fascinating it is that someone can be so adored but so reviled, and the only thing I can liken it to is the story of Princess Diana. They were both controversial figures, but when Diana died there was this huge devastation, and her legacy has grown and grown, just as it has for Eva Peron.”

York Light Opera Company in Evita, York Theatre Royal, February 9 to 19, 7.30pm (except February 13); 2.30pm matinees, February 12 and 19. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Copyright of The Press, York

Why York Light Opera Company have two Evas, two Ches and two Juan Perons in Evita

Neil Wood (Juan Peron), Emma-Louise Dickinson (Eva Peron) and Jonny Holbek (Che): principal trio from one of York Light’s casts for Evita

YORK Light Opera Company is using double casting for the main roles in Martyn Knight’s production of Evita in response to the pandemic’s abiding impact.

“We are on our 18th cast list, with casting and rehearsals affected by Covid, long Covid and physical injuries,” says Martyn. “We’ve kept the principal casts separate, which has required us to double the number of rehearsals.”

Running at York Theatre Royal from February 9 to 19, Evita tells the story of Eva Peron’s rags-to-riches life as she goes from poor provincial child to First Lady of Argentina on her “Rainbow Tour”. A champion of working-class descamisados (otherwise known as “the shirtless”), she uses popularity and politics to serve her people and herself.

For Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical of people, power and politics, Alexa Chaplin and Emma-Louise Dickinson will share the lead role of Eva Peron; Dale Vaughan and Jonny Holbek will play Che; John Hall and Neil Wood, Juan Peron; Dave Copley-Martin and Richard Weatherill, Agustin Maglidi, and Fiona Phillips and Hannah Witcomb, Peron’s Mistress.

John Hall (Juan Peron), Alexa Chaplin (Eva Peron) and Dale Vaughan (Che): the other principal trio for York Light’s Evita at York Theatre Royal

“It’s a fully sung show and double casting provides each team with sufficient rest,” says Martyn. “The main character parts are huge and it would be a colossal ‘ask’ of any understudy to learn and have to perform those roles without significant rehearsal.

“Double casting provides the best possible cover, which is needed more than ever when putting on the production during a pandemic.”

Knight is joined in the production team by musical director Mike Thompson for a Tony Award-winning musical that features the pop chart hits Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Oh! What A Circus and  Another Suitcase In Another Hall.

Tickets for the 7.30pm evening performances (no show on February 13) and 2.30pm matinees on February 12 and 19 are on sale on 01904 623568 or at

Jonny Holbek as Che in rehearsal for York Light Opera Company’s Evita