Does too-cool-for-school Heathers The Musical make the grade at Leeds Grand Theatre? Here’s the school report

Hands up if you love Heathers The Musical. Picture: Pamela Raith

Heathers The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Saturday. Box office:  0113 243 0808 or at leedsheritagetheatres.com

LEEDS Grand Theatre is the first theatre in the world to host a touring production of Heathers The Musical.

No wonder the first-night audience was “super-excited” – everything has to be prefixed with “super” these days” – in a theatre so happy to be back to full capacity under Step 4 relaxation.

It was a predominantly young crowd, from late teens to twenties, and largely unmasked, for a show based on Michael Lehmann’s savagely satirical cult 1988 teen movie, an all-American high-school black comedy with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater appeal.

1988? Long before the stalls crowd were born, and yet the in-crowd knew the story, just as they knew the songs too – especially signature song Seventeen – from a musical premiered at Joe’s Pub, in New York City, in September 2010 but only brought over to London in 2018.

How come they cheer the first sight of the too-cool-for-school, ever-so-cruel trio of Heathers, the dead-mean clique with their croquet-mallet disdain at Westerberg High? Maybe they went down to London? Maybe they have the West End cast recording? More likely, they have tapped into the Heathers The Musical phenomenon on TikTok, apparently.

Here’s a quick refresher course for those new to class: Westerberg High pupil Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) is just another nobody dreaming of better days at school, until she joins the Heathers clique: leader Heather Chandler (Maddison Faith) and her acolytes Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah) and Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker).

Whereupon mysterious teen rebel Jason ‘JD’ Dean (Simon Gordon) – his outsider mystery denoted by always wearing black – arrives at Westerberg to teach her that “while it might kill to be a high-school nobody, it is murder being a somebody”. So begins a twisted teen relationship, sure to end more unhappily than a jaunty John Hughes movie.

Lehmann set his savvy, subversive, iconoclastic teen drama against Westerberg High’s tide of dangerously competitive, destructive, dysfunctional social rules, where you could drown in derision, potentially to the point of contemplating suicide, unless you showed the resolute spirit of a Veronica to break the monopoly of priapic sports jocks and hateful Heathers…with fatal consequences.

Now, in 2021, Heathers is darkly topical with teen suicides troubling headline writers, psychologists, parents and school heads alike, although here those suicides are being faked by a vengeful teen sociopath killer. The fact that the school principal and pupils believe they are suicides is arguably more disturbing: collateral damage amid the adolescent angst, turf wars, underdogs and bitches of the school room.

If you want everything to be heightened still more, turn a film into a musical, the opera of our times, and Heathers is duly blessed with top-grade lyrics and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, big on drama, cheese and heart-breaking balladry, for a macabre story of broken childhoods, eating disorders, bullying, lies, shootings and suicide. This is the stuff of opera indeed, but now with to-die-for snappy, cynical, yet sincere dialogue. 

Consequently, Heathers is an adrenaline shot of a show with the darkness, sharpness and sass – and the knockout tunes – to give it the allure of a Wicked The Musical or Hairspray, although maybe not quite the devoted following of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show.

Veteran impresario Bill Kenwright. who knows a winner when he sees one, is producing this tour in tandem with Paul Taylor-Mills, employing American screen and stage director Andy Frickman to steer a thrilling, dead-funny yet poignant production, one where plenty more than the two leads shine.

Wickes’s Veronica is a steely girl-next-door; Gordon’s magnetic, brooding outsider, JD, sparks love, scorn and fear in equal measure. Her voice stirs and yearns; his voice enchants and ensnares with its beauty.

Faith’s sharp-dressed Heather Chandler looks the natural, click-of-a-finger leader, venomous when provoked, but beneath the surface swagger lies needy insecurity and human frailty.

Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan’s dumb-and-dumber Kurt and Ram transform from jock jerks to lovable eye candy and camp-comedy double act once stripped to their underpants; Georgina Hagen’s teacher Ms Fleming and Mhairi Angus’s neglected Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock vie for Heathers’ outstanding vocal cameo; Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley bring bags of personality and humour to assorted school principal/dad/coach roles.

David Shields’ designs, colourful, impressively mobile, smart and very Eighties’ USA, delight too. Of York interest, Gary Lloyd, who choreographed York Stage’s 2020 pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, brings his West End panache to dance routines that fill the Leeds Grand stage with energy, slick movement and bravura style, especially when the Heathers strut to the fore.

He uses the chorus to the full too, and among the ranks is a face familiar to York audiences, May Tether, who must have caught Lloyd’s eye when starring as Jill in York Stage’s panto. Let’s hope the understudy opportunities come her way on tour because May has an exuberant talent for musical theatre that deserves to be untethered.

Dear Diary, please note a second Yorkshire chance to see Heathers The Musical comes at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from September 14 to 18. Box office: sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.

Marks: 8/10

NEWSFLASH: 27/8/2021

HERE comes May-hem!

CharlesHutchPress concluded the Heathers The Musical “school report” with the “hope that understudy opportunities come May Tether’s way on tour because she has an exuberant talent for musical theatre that deserves to be untethered”.

Sure enough, a tweet from the York Stage favourite of Goole roots confirms May has played the female lead, Westerburg High pupil Veronica Sawyer, at the Liverpool Empire.

At 9.43 this morning, May tweeted: “So I made my debut as Veronica Sawyer in the @HeathersMusical UK tour and stayed on for the following two-show day… what a thrill, I’m still in shock, you corn nuts are beautiful! In the wise words of @OfficialTracieB I let Liverpool AVVV ITTTTT.”

May Tether in her Liverpool Empire dressing room as she plays Veronica Sawyer for the first time on the Heathers The Musical tour

More Things To Do in York and beyond despite the rise of the “Delta” blues. List No. 35, courtesy of The Press, York

In suspense: Ockham’s Razor go aerial for This Time at York Theatre Royal

FROM circus at York Theatre Royal, to Moby Dock on a Hull dry dock, Benedetti in Pickering to Riding Lights on film, Charles Hutchinson enjoys his ever busier perch to spot what’s happening.

Circus in town: Ockham’s Razor in This Time, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 8 and 9, 8pm

CIRCUS theatre company Ockham’s Razor’s This Time is a show about time, age and the stories we tell ourselves, presented by a cast ranging in age from 13 to 60.

Circus and aerial skills, autobiographical storytelling and original equipment combine in a visual theatre piece that looks at love, support and struggle in families, alongside perceptions of strength and ability: how we are strong in different ways at different times in our lives.

Nicola Benedetti: Live and In Person for Ryedale Festival. Watch out for Martin Dreyer’s review for CharlesHutchPress

Festival residency of the summer: Nicola Benedetti: Live and In Person, Ryedale Festival 40th Anniversary Launch Concert, Pickering Parish Church, tomorrow (4/6/2021), 4pm and 8pm

TOMORROW, in-person music making returns to Ryedale Festival at Pickering Parish Church, when Scottish-Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti opens her 2021 festival residency by launching the Live and In Person series.

She will join her regular chamber music partners, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk, to perform one of Beethoven’s wittiest and most loveable works and an inspired piano trio by Brahms.

May Tether: Last seen in York as Jill in York Stage’s pantomime , Jack And The Beanstalk; now the Goole actor will appear as Lily in John Godber Company’s Moby Dick on Hull dry dock. Picture: Ant Robling

Outdoor play of the month: Moby Dick, John Godber Company, Stage@The Dock, next to The Deep, Hull, until June 12

JOHN Godber and Nick Lane’s radical reworking of Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby Dick, is being staged in Hull’s dry dock amphitheatre by an East Yorkshire cast of eight from the John Godber Company

Adhering to Covid-safe rules, and with a playing time of 70 minutes and no interval, this fast-paced physical production transports socially distanced audiences to the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship the Pequod in his catastrophic battle with the monster white whale, Moby Dick.

Godber’s production references Hull’s global importance as a port, its former prowess as a whaling centre and contemporary conservation issues of conservation.

Riding Lights’ poster for the York International Shakespeare Festival stream of the York’s company’s theatre-on-film performance of Pericles

“Film” of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company in Pericles, York International Shakespeare Festival, online, tomorrow (4/6/2021) to Sunday

YORK company Riding Lights present their sparkling, streamlined, 80-minute theatre-on-film performance of a lesser-known but still gripping  Shakespeare work, Pericles, The Prince Of Tyre, online.

In a “perilous voyage through the storms of life”, brave adventurer Pericles sets off to win the girl on everyone’s lips. Uncovering a sinister truth, he plunges into a rolling surge of events that leaves him broken, gasping for life.

Topical themes of abuse of power, desperate crossings of the Mediterranean and sex trafficking ensure this extraordinary saga sails uncomfortably close to home. For tickets, go to ridinglights.org/pericles.

Roger Taylor: New solo album, “surprise” solo tour, for Queen drummer. Picture: Lola Leng Taylor

York gig announcement of the week: Roger Taylor, Outsider Tour, York Barbican, October 5.

QUEEN legend Roget Taylor will play York Barbican as the only Yorkshire show of his “modest” 14-date Outsider tour this autumn.

In a “surprise announcement”, rock drummer Taylor, 71, confirmed he would be on the road from October 2 to 22. “This is my modest tour,” he says. “I just want it to be lots of fun, very good musically, and I want everybody to enjoy it. I’m really looking forward to it. Will I be playing Queen songs too? Absolutely!”

Outsider, his first solo album since 2013’s Fun On Earth, will be released on October 1 on Universal, dedicated to “all the outsiders, those who feel left on the sidelines”.

Put back in the Summer Of ’22: Bryan Adams moves his Scarborough Open Air Theatre and Harewood House concerts to July 2022

On the move: Changes afoot at Scarborough Open Air Theatre for 2021 and 2022

CANADIAN rocker Bryan Adams is moving his entire ten-date UK outdoor tour from 2021 to the summer of ’22, now playing Scarborough Open Air Theatre on July 1 and Harewood House, near Leeds, on July 10. Tickets remain valid for the new shows.

In further OAT changes, Kaiser Chiefs have moved to August 8; Keane, August 21; Olly Murs, August 27; UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro, August 28; Snow Patrol, September 10, and Duran Duran, September 17.  Westlife stick with August 17; Nile Rodgers & Chic with August 20.

For next summer’s line-up, Ru Paul’s Drag Race: Werq The World has changed to May 29 2022; Crowded House, June 11; Lionel Richie, July 2, and Lewis Capaldi, July 7.

Quiet Beech Wood, mixed media, by Janine Baldwin at Blue Tree Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week: Summer Eclectic, Blue Tree Gallery, Bootham, York, until July 3

SUMMER Eclectic marks the reopening of Blue Tree Gallery after a run of online shows.

“It’s good to see York open again for all to visit and enjoy, as we help to keep York culturally alive, safe and well,” say Gordon and Maria Giarchi and their gallery team. “We’ll be open to the public with this show and it’s available online too.”

On view are original paintings by Yorkshire artists Janine Baldwin, Colin Cook, Deborah Grice and Karen Turner.

Director Emilie Knight: Holding auditions for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar. Here she is pictured playing Covid Nurse in 2020’s Sit-Down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, Gillygate, York

Auditions of the week: York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar, Bar Convent, York, Friday and Saturday

YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret new location for its latest sonnet adventures, the secret garden of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York, for Sonnets At the Bar 2021 from July 30 to August 7.

Open-to-all auditions will be held at the Bar Convent tomorrow (4/6/2021) from 5pm and on Saturday from 10am. Those wanting to arrange an audition time should contact director Emilie Knight at emknight65@aol.com, putting ‘Sonnets’ in the heading and indicating a preference of day and time day and time.

“I will provide details of everything you need to prepare when confirming your audition time,” says Emilie, who performed in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets.

REVIEW: Big Ian Donaghy’s Boxing Day visit to York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Ian Stroughair’s Flesh Creep: “Joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 villain”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

MONKGATE magic!

Every year like clockwork, you wolf down the first clutch of chocolates from your Advent calendar, then panto arrives.

Men as women.

Women as men.

Two crew members as a horse.

Oh yes, it is!

Oh no, it isn’t!

Jack And The Beanstalk: “The healthy, bright-eyed and slim” bean feast of a York Stage pantomime, as promised by the newly appropriated Biles Beans sign

Children’s eyes agog.

But not in 2020.

The year that the show MUSTN’T go on.

Just watch the news.

Tisn’t the season to be jolly!

As theatres up and down the land spend Christmas in darkness, a shard of light could be seen down an alleyway off Monkgate.

It’ll never work.

How could it work?

Jack….and the beanstalk: Jordan Fox’s Jack with stage manager Lisa Cameron’s hand-made beanstalk in the York Stage pantomime. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

This needed ideas, creativity and the personnel to pull it off and even then one announcement could pull its plug at any moment.

This had failure written all over it.

As we walked past the finest piece of genius marketing on Boxing Night, extending the locals’ favourite landmark – the Bile Beans sign on Lord Mayor’s Walk – to read “Bile BeanSTALK”, we were smiling even before the first line.

“Where’s the Minster?”, people ask? “It’s just over the wall from the Bile Beans sign.”

After a balanced diet of cheese and Toblerones, could this be the panto to keep us “healthy, bright-eyed and slim?”.

Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nanna Trott: “Showing off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

As we walked through the door, greenery festooned every bannister and surface.

With a tiny capacity of only 60 to meet Covid safety requirements, this was not so much a family panto as a “bubble panto”.

Jack was played by the endearing Jordan Fox, who somehow managed to be both idiot and hero at once.

Flesh Creep was played by the joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 Ian Stroughair, who was nearly eight feet tall with hat!

A three-piece dance troupe featuring dance captains from both the Grand Opera House (Emily Taylor) and Theatre Royal (Danielle Mullan) felt like a luxury as did a small house band (Jessica Douglas, Sam Johnson and Clark Howard).

Corners could have easily been cut but weren’t. Quality clearly means everything to writer-director Nik Briggs.

“Top-tier entertainment”: May Tether as Jill Gallop (on the podium) with ensemble trio Emily Taylor (left), Danielle Mullan and Matthew Ives. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

The cast faced magnetic north as a convoy of beautiful original songs and production numbers ran through the show, choreographed by West Ender Gary Lloyd .

The harmonies as all the cast sang together were spellbinding, as the hairs on the backs of your arms acknowledged this wasn’t another panto re-heat -this was fresh.

I could listen to May Tether (who played Jill) sing the terms and conditions of an insurance policy and she’d make it sound like Carole King had penned it.

Where many pantos have actors, singers or dancers with on obvious ‘also ran’ in their skill set, every cast member was a Swiss Army knife of lethally sharp talent.

Rarely do you get soulful vocals from a panto fairy (Livvy Evans) and even the Dame, played by Alex Weatherhill, showed off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite.

Head’s gone: Writer-director Nik Briggs and stage manager Lisa Cameron in a revealing moment for the longer-than-usual pantomime cow, Daisy, in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Surprisingly, the cast showed no fatigue from the three-shows-a-day schedule but it begs the question why this wasn’t in a bigger venue with Covid measures in place. I can only imagine that the paperwork and risk assessments took more paper than the script in this impossible year. The audience were even guided to do hand gestures, as everybody desisted from shouting “Oh yes he is” all night.

Every ticket in this traverse set-up was a golden ticket as each group was separated into plastic booths. This is “in your face” theatre – but socially distanced of course – that you can feel, not just watch.

Featuring some of the most original gags I have ever heard in a panto to reflect the times, plus a couple of very well-known faces on screen who could grace any stage in the land, this is a show full of surprises: doing the same things differently. Proving that theatre can adapt to fit around the safety of its audience to give a Christmas to remember to a year many of us would like to forget.

“Soulful vocals”: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

In 2020, when Amazon have delivered everything to your doorstep, Briggs has delivered not just a panto, but also West End-quality musical theatre, while maintaining a safe distance, and NOBODY will be writing ‘Return to Sender’ on this triple threat-laden package.

York’s Tier 2 status meant that the doors could open, but there is nothing Tier 2 about this show in Monkgate. This is top-tier entertainment for all of your bubble.

Review by Ian Donaghy

Show times: December 29, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 30, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; New Year’s Eve, December 31, 12 noon (sold out); January 2, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; January 3, 1pm and 6pm.

Please visit yorkstagepanto.com for an update on performances once York’s new Tier status is confirmed in the Government briefing tomorrow (30/12/2020).

Name up in lights: The traverse stage for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, with the audience seated in Perspex-shielded bubbles. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Who should Boris Johnson play in a panto? Ask York Stage star May Tether…

May Tether in her walkdown costume in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

MAY TETHER is back home in Yorkshire after leaving Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, with first-class honours.

Now, the Goole musical actress is making her professional debut as Jill Gallop in Jack Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Here, May gallops her way through Charles Hutchinson’s questions during a hectic weekend of six performances.

What was the first pantomime you ever saw and what do you recall of it?

“Dick Whittington, when the Cat was a lady. She took me on stage and I remember being terrified.”

What was your first pantomime role?

“Jill in Jack And The Beanstalk when I was 14.”

What has been your favourite pantomime role?

“Well, since I’ve only ever played Jills, I have to say she’s rather fabulous!”

Who have you not yet played in pantomime that you would love to play?

“The baddie!!!!!!!”

Who is your favourite pantomime performer and why?

“The ensemble of any show but ours are insane! I don’t understand how they do it. They keep me going. If they can high kick and sing, I can find energy from somewhere too.”

This year’s pantomime will be an experience like no other…what are your expectations of performing a show in these strange circumstances?

“I don’t have much experience as I’ve only ever done one other panto, in the same role. But I just want to bring joy to people in a very dark time.”

Which pantomime role should Boris Johnson play and why?

“He would play the Giant…because ideally there wouldn’t be one.”

Who or what has been the villain of 2020?

“For me, Rishi Sunak…get the theatres open, pally!”

Who or what has been the fairy of 2020?

“Andrew Lloyd Webber. Saving the day trialling shows at the London Palladium and offering to trial the vaccine. What a joy.”

How would you sum up 2020 in five words?

“It’s not been for me.”

What are your wishes for 2021?

“Health, happiness, success, to everyone in the year ahead. I hope everyone gets the fire to get back to work, whatever it is they do, and to feel they are happy again.”

What are your hopes for the world of theatre in 2021?

“Let’s just get the theatres open and get these, cough, cough, ‘non-viable’ people high kicking and belting out highs Cs or dressing as cats, or whatever it is they do best, back where they belong. A STRANGE time, but it IS coming to an end!!!”

York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3. Box office: yorkstagepanto.com

REVIEW: York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, the “musical with panto braces”

Wickedly bad, yet wickedly good: Ian Stroughair as “Fleshius Creepius” in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. All pictures: Kirkpatrick Photography

York Stage in Jack And The Beanstalk, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3 2021. Box office: yorkstagepanto.com

THIS is a York pantomime season like none before.

York Theatre Royal has, like a council politician, taken to the wards seeking votes, in this case for the audience choice of Travelling Pantomime. Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback on board Dick Turpin Rides Again, after his headline-making crosstown transfer to the Grand Opera House, has gone into Covid-enforced hibernation for a year. Likewise, Rowntree Players have taken the winter off.

Yet, what’s this? A newcomer bean-sprouting up at Theatre @41 Monkgate, courtesy of York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, a show stuffed with West End talent with York and wider Yorkshire roots, bedding in nicely with socially-distanced performances for maximum audiences of 55 at the Covid-secure heart of Monkgateshire.

May Tether as Jill Gallop: “Investing personality in every line”

Once temperature tested at the doors and hands cleansed, you are led up the beanstalk-clad stairway to your brightly-coloured seat in the John Cooper Studio, a black-box theatre here configured as a traverse stage, the bubble-compliant audience sitting to either side or upstairs on the mezzanine level.

Safety division comes in the form of screens, like on Have I Got News For You, giving a different Perspextive on watching a show, but in no way impeding the view. Actors are socially distanced – they exchange elbow greetings; romance is replaced by best friendships – and audience members are close to the stage in this intimate setting, but not too close. The dame does not dispense sweets and we are asked to refrain from shouting.

Not your normal panto, then, in this all-too abnormal year, except that writer-director Nik Briggs’s 2020 vision for pantomime still has all the elements: the song and dance; the puns and punchlines;  the slapstick and the transformation scene; the dame (Alex Weatherhill) and Daisy the cow; the drama-queen baddie (Ian Stroughair) and his narcissism; the topical and the local references; the daft wannabe superhero dreamer (Jordan Fox) and the fairy (Livvy Evans);  the principal girl (May Tether) and her plain-speaking principles.

Slapstuck: Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nancy Angelina Norma Nigella Alana Trott – Nanna for short – goes nuts in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Then add the all-action ensemble (Matthew Ives, Danielle Mullan and Emily Taylor) and the band, a trio of musical director Jessica Douglas, fellow keyboard player Sam Johnson and York’s premier league drummer, Clark Howard, parked upstairs but omnipresent and on the button, The Great British Bake Off theme tune et al.

Briggs has called his show “a musical with pantomime braces on”; his choreographer, Gary Lloyd, a big signing from the West End and tour circuit, has coined the term “pansical”. That may suggest a slightly awkward new hybrid, but like the cult rock’n’roll pantomime at Leeds City Varieties, the musical driving force here is a winning addition to the tradition.

Danielle Mullan lights up the transformation scene in Jack And The Beanstalk

Ninety minutes straight through – intervals are so last year – Jack And The Beanstalk is full of beans, lovely to look at and lively too, loud at times but rarely lewd (blame the dame for those “innocent but guilty” moments, met with knowing laughter).

Surprise celebrity cameos pop up on video, and York Mix Radio’s morning team of Ben Fry and Laura Castle provide the pre-recorded countdown chat pre-show.

Briggs is breaking his duck as a pantomime writer, and his script is a little mannered by comparison with the highly experienced Paul Hendy’s way with words for the Travelling Pantomime, but he does know the notes, he does play them in the right order, and the jokes invariably hit home, especially those that play on the Covid conventions of 2020.

Making a cow’s head of himself: York Stage pantomime writer-director Nik Briggs steps out of character with stage manager Lisa Cameron as the socially distanced, elongated Daisy in Jack And The Beanstalk

His reinvention of the pantomime cow is a particular joy, even if the dame’s nutty slapstick routine is hampered by having to play safe.

Briggs’s characters, bold and playful and bright, will appeal to children and adults alike. The singing is the ace card. What voices, whether Weatherhill’s operatic entry; professional debutante Tether’s arrival as Yorkshire’s next Sheridan Smith with her gift for investing personality in every line or the appealing Fox’s top-notch prowess in big numbers and ballads alike.

Foxy, ladies! Jordan Fox in superhero mode as Jack Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk

Evans’s Fairy Mary is fun and feisty, especially in her battles with Stroughair’s long-fingered, stove-pipe top-hatted Flesh Creep, commanding the stage with that irrepressible swagger and spectacular singing we know from his drag diva, Velma Celli.

You will never have a better chance to see Gary Lloyd’s flamboyant, fab-u-lous choreography so close up it is almost personal, dazzlingly pretty in the transformation scene, bouncing madly on and off trampolines in Stroughair’s high point, Jump (the Van Halen anthem).

Bean there, done that? Not until you have seen this new brand of York pantomime.

Review by BARSTOW TEASDALE. Copyright of The Press, York

Fairy tale ending: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk

May is so at home with her Yorkshire accent in professional panto debut for York Stage

May Tether as Jill in her professional debut in York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

MAY Tether will make her professional stage debut in Jack And The Beanstalk back home in Yorkshire after her graduation from London drama school Trinity Laban in July with first class honours. 

From December 11, she will play Jill in York Stage’s debut pantomime at Theatre @41 Monnkgate, as she rejoins the company where she became a favourite in such roles as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical and office martinet Roz in 9 To 5: The Musical: American roles all.

Back then, May was known as Maya, studying musical theatre at York College before heading from Goole to London.

“Do you know what I’m loving about the panto script?” she says on the first day of rehearsals under writer-director Nik Briggs. “It reads really well in my own accent when I’m used to playing parts with heavy American accents or Cockney character roles as I’m a character actress, but for this, when people put on a Yorkshire accent, they sound like me!

“I’ve never had the chance to use my own accent, so this will be the first role in my native tongue, which is great.”

May Tether – in her earlier York Stage Musicals days as Maya – in the lead role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde The Musical

May, 23, has worked with Nik plenty of times previously, most recently when performing in York Stage Musicals’ first open-air concert to a socially distanced audience at the Rowntree Park amphitheatre in August post-Lockdown 1.

Exciting too is the rehearsal-room presence of West End choreographer Gary Lloyd, a Premier League signing to Briggs’s production team. “I’m thrilled to be working with Gary because doing  a show on this scale, with a cast of eight, rather than a big West End cast, gives a lovely insight into how he choreographs,” says May.

“When I was Trinity Laban, I did a piece for my dissertation about Gary’s choreography because some of his work is so abstract!”

In a year when the pandemic brought theatre to a stop, May is shaking off the dust from the quiet months. “What’s strange for me is that it does feel like riding a bike, acting again…though not the singing! With the acting, I was thinking, ‘I’m back and I’m really in my comfort zone!’,” she says.

May Tether performing in York Stage Musicals’ open-air concert in Rowntree Park, York, in August. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“I’m known as being quite ‘belty’ as a singer, and I couldn’t do it just straight out, so I had a bit of a panic attack, but actually then it was OK for the Rowntree Park concert.

”Singing in that tent in that field, I’ve never been so happy to see everyone there, watching a show in the rain. It was unbelievable to see how much people cared about going out to see a show after so long with no theatre.”

May is looking forward to performing on a traverse stage, a configuration with the audience on either side of the performance space. “I love traverse. It’s my favourite,” she says. “I just enjoy being able to look around and taking in everyone’s gaze. You’ve got to include everyone, be unselfish and keep moving. It’s very Shakespearean and I love Shakespeare.

“With the audience sitting in bubbles, we need to make the panto feel as inclusive as possible. Where normally you have a ‘fourth wall’ to break down, this show isn’t traditional. There’s a pandemic going on, audience sizes have to be reduced, but it’s very exciting to be doing a panto in such an intimate setting. Nik has a way of making everything he does a huge spectacle and this will be no exception.”

May in December is focusing fully on her return to the stage. “Now I’m back working in the theatre, I’m not thinking about Christmas. I just want to do my job again,” she says. “It’s really nice to be thinking, ‘I’m back on my feet, doing something I love so much’. My family haven’t thought about Christmas yet either because they just want to see the show. They can’t wait!”.

York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from December 11 to January 3; show times, Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve, 12 noon. Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Look who’s in the Bean team as York Stage announce panto at Theatre @41 Monkgate

Full of beans! The York Stage cast for Jack And The Beanstalk, from top left: Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan

CHRISTMAS in York would not be complete without a family outing to the pantomime, reckons York Stage producer Nik Briggs.

No wonder he is excited to announce his company will be  bringing a brand new professional staging of Jack And The Beanstalk to the city  this winter, billed as “a panto made in York for the people of York”. 

Running from December 11 2020 to January 3 2021 at Theatre @41  Monkgate, York, the 90-minute, Covid-secure show will feature Ian Stroughair, alias York’s  international drag diva Velma Celli, in wicked mode in the cast of eight laden with West  End talent from Yorkshire and the North East. 

Nik says: “Join us this December for some magical Christmas entertainment as we  present Jack And The Beanstalk in the Theatre @41 building in the heart of York on  Monkgate. 

York Stage’s poster for Jack And The Beanstalk, the pantomime where “giant magic can grow in the smallest places”

“Our traditional family pantomime will be performed in a traverse setting in the John  Cooper Studio, with the audience placed either side of a central stage with a capacity of 80 and no interval in the show.” 

“Covid-secure safety measures will be in place and, for the first time at a York Stage  show, Perspex safety screens will be placed between households and support bubbles  so that our audiences can safely enjoy the show.” 

Introducing his cast, Nik says: “We’re so excited to be bringing a sensational show to  York this Christmas with the most exciting casting!”  

Taking on the challenge of climbing the beanstalk will be West End actor Jordan Fox  (from Kinky Boot, Friendsical, Beautiful) as Jack, who must take on the evil Flesh Creep, played by Ian Stroughair (Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, as well as award-winning drag vocalist Velma Celli).  

Ian Stroughair, pictured here in Velma Celli drag diva mode, will switch to the dark side as the villainous Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk

Supporting Jack on his quest will be another York-born West End talent, Livvy Evans  (Tina, Motown, Soho Cinders), as Fairy Mary and Alex Weatherhill (Chicago, All Male  G&S) as Dame Trott.  

York Stage are thrilled to be giving May Tether, a favourite of past York Stage Musicals  shows, her first professional contract, playing Jill, following her graduation from London  drama school Trinity Laban in July. 

Completing the cast will be Matthew Ives (The Boyfriend, Closer to Heaven, La Cage Aux  Folles); Emily Taylor (Great British Pantomime Award nominee and regular choreographer  of the Grand Opera House pantomime) and Danielle Mullan, the North Easterner who  captained the dance team in Berwick Kaler’s York Theatre Royal pantomimes for  many years.   

Looking forward to York Stage adding a new string to their bow after this summer’s open-air musical theatre concerts in Rowntree Park, Theatre@41 board chairman Alan Park  says: “Christmas isn’t Christmas without panto. We’re delighted York Stage are taking full  advantage of Theatre@41’s flexible space to ensure York families will still be able to safely  enjoy a full all-singing and all-dancing pantomime.

May Tether: Signed her first professional contract after drama school to play Jill in Jack And The Beanstalk. Here she is pictured singing in York Stage Musicals’ first summer concert at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre in August. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“We can’t wait to welcome audiences  back and for the building to echo with music and laughter again.”  

Summing up what lies in store in Jack And The Beanstalk, Nik says: “With an exciting  cast filled with West End talent, all born and bred in Yorkshire, and a  creative team made up from those who brought shows such as Shrek, The Sound  Of Music and Hairspray to York, audiences can be assured of a show of true  panto magic!” 

“Expect glitzy sets and costumes, a show filled with singing and dancing, lots of laughs  and, of course, a huge beanstalk! Audiences can book now for a giant slice of traditional Christmas fun at one of the city’s most magical, bean-sized theatres for  all the family!” 

Tickets for the 40 performances are on sale at yorkstagepanto.com

Jack And The Beanstalk in a nutshell

Writer, director and producer Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

PANTOMIME: Jack And The Beanstalk, presented by York Stage Ltd.

WHERE: John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, YO31 7PB.  

WHEN: December 11 2020 to January 3 2021.  

SHOW TIMES: Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve,  12 noon.  

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes with no interval.   

AUDIENCE CAPACITY: 80, seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

PRICE: Ranging from £20 to £27.  

TICKETS: Available online only, via www.yorkstagepanto.com

Writer, director and producer for York Stage Ltd: NIK BRIGGS  

Musical director: JESSICA DOUGLAS 

Cast: JORDAN FOX as Jack; MAY TETHER as Jill; IAN STROUGHAIR as Flesh Creep; LIVVY  EVANS as Fairy Mary; ALEX WEATHERHILL as Dame Trott; EMILY TAYLOR,  MATTHEW IVES and DANIELLE MULLAN, Ensemble.  

REVIEW: York Stage Musicals venture outdoors for first time in Rowntree Park ****

Emily Ramsden, left, Joanne Theaker and May Tether performing at the Rowntree Theatre Amphitheatre in York on Sunday night. Pictures: Jess Main

REVIEW: York Stage Musicals At Rowntree Park, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Tickets update: Sold out.

NIK Briggs and Jessica Douglas were “so sick of bad news about the arts”, the York Stage Musicals duo decided they had to “do a thing…anything”.

Three weeks later, the director and musical director are staging three nights of open-air, socially distanced, family-favourite concerts of musical-movie hits at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre in YMS’s first ever outdoor show.

The three-night run that began last night sold out within a week. Quick work all round, not least by Adam Moore’s Tech 247, who set up the stage in only two hours yesterday afternoon.

Richard Upton stands out front in Sunday’s concert

“A huge thank you to our audience tonight!” tweeted producer Briggs afterwards. “We loved performing for you!!”

They did indeed. Emily Ramsden, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Joanna Theaker, Richard Upton and late addition Conor Mellor, professional performers all, with York Stage credits to their name, could not have looked more glad to be back on a stage when theatres remain in the dark but thankfully outdoor shows are on the rise.

Tonight and tomorrow, the singing six will take to the blow-up polytunnel stage again, attired in black, cocktail party dresses on one side, suits on the other, Upton and Standland in white shirts, Mellor more informal in a black T-shirt.

Joanne Theaker in the solo spotlight

Picnicking audience members sit in Covid-secure designated bubbles, arranged in a crescent on the grass hillside opposite the bandstand stage that could, indeed should, be used more often each York summer.

As evening turns to night over the unbroken 100-minute span of the concert, the light show within the tubing matches the songs’ subjects and moods, while also picking out keyboardist Douglas’s fellow musicians: drummer Andy Hayes, guitarist Neil Morgan, bassist Rosie Morris and keyboard player Sam Johnson.

Songs from Hairspray, Grease, Cats, Cabaret, West Side Story and The Greatest Showman are to the fore, and a selection on the theme of Green is particularly inspired. Likewise, the teasing introduction seeking a diva to sing Hopelessly Devoted You that settles on…Conor Mellor, who should have been away at sea this month, after returning to York from his Caribbean cruise-ship shows in April, but is still grounded by the pandemic.

As darkness descends, Emily Ramsden, left, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Richard Upton, Joanne Theaker and Conor Mellor bring Sunday’s concert to a close

Highlights are many, from Ramsden’s All That Jazz and Saving All My Love For You to Tether’s Memory and Theaker’s Cabaret; Upton’s Luck Be A Lady to Tether and Standland’s Summer Nights. Mellor hits the heights in Kinky Boots’ Soul Of A Man, while Upton and Theaker’s Elephant Love Medley, from Moulin Rouge, is the fast-moving arrangement of the night.

How else could the show end but with Dirty Dancing’s uplifting I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, although social distancing ruled out any attempt at the film’s infamous climactic lift.

If Covid-19’s social-distancing requirements have reinforced the suitability of the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre for open-air shows, then at least something good has come out of these killjoy times for the York musical theatre and live music scene.

Conor Mellor, back home in Bishopthorpe from the Caribbean, wins the Best Socks In Show award while singing Soul Of A Man

Delighted by the response of singers, musicians and audiences alike to these Rowntree Park shows, Briggs says: “It’s just been overwhelming. I knew us ‘Theatre Crew’ who work in it were desperate to get back, but we didn’t appreciate how much it meant to our audiences!! Here’s to Bravery going forward. Give us a space and York Stage will get a show on.”

Alas, that show will not be September’s Covid-scuppered production of Kinky Boots, but in mentioning “Bravery”, Briggs is echoing the sentiments of one of last night’s outstanding numbers, This Is Me from The Greatest Showman. “I am brave, I am bruised…And I’m marching on to the drum I beat, I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me,” the lyrics assert.

Such positivity, in the face of understandable Covid fear, is the way forward, step by step, drum beat by drum beat, for deeply bruised live entertainment. Not recklessness, no-one would suggest such a course so irresponsibly, but a combination of ambition and practicality, as shown by Briggs and Douglas.

York Stage Musicals producer/director Nik Briggs and musical director Jess Douglas