Stilly Fringe takes over At The Mill for fiesta of theatre, comedy, music and metaphysics

Mouth-watering prospect: Holly Beasley-Garrigan in Opal Fruits on July 28

THE Great Yorkshire Fringe exited stage left from York in 2019 after five years, 1,200 shows, 9,000 performers and 110,000 visitors.

Frustrated by red tape, impresario Martin Witts pulled the plug on his fiesta of comedy, theatre, spoken word and children’s shows, since when the black hole in York’s summer entertainment calendar has never been filled.

In no way on the same scale, but occupying the same pre-Edinburgh Fringe slot, here comes the Stilly Fringe, out on the fringes of York at Stillington Mill, the home of the At The Mill arts hub, Saturday café and guest-chef supper club nights.

Running from tonight(July 22) until July 31, this is the latest enterprise from newly married Alexander Flanagan Wright, North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator, and Megan Drury, Australian actor, writer and creative artist.

Selkie myth making: Hannah Davies and Jack Woods in The Ballad Of Blea Wyke on Saturday and Sunday night

“It’s come about because a bunch of our dear pals said, ‘can we come and do this?’, like most of the things we do here come about,” says Alex. “There seemed to be a critical mass to make us think these weekends would be a good way to test things out.

“We thought, ‘let’s do it in a communal and convivial way’ with that bond between audiences and performers giving it a different vibe, seeing new work with a chance to chat with the artists. We love doing that here.”

Presented in the mill gardens, either on the open-air stage on the repurposed tennis court or under the cover of the café-bar, the Summer At The Mill programme takes in theatre and spoken-word premieres, comedy, children’s shows, concerts, Gary Stewart’s folk club bills, even silent disco dance nights.

The Stilly Fringe largely mirrors that format but with the added intrigue of giving an early opportunity to see shows bound for the Scottish capital in August. “Six out of nine are going to Edinburgh,” says Alex. “The Lovely Boys, The Gods The Gods The Gods, Invisible Mending, Opal Fruits and Casey Jay Andrews’ double bill, The Wild Unfeeling World and A Place That Belongs To Monsters, are all heading there.”

The Lovely Boys: Opening Stilly Fringe tonight

First up, tonight at 7pm, will be Joe Kent-Walters and Mikey Bligh-Smith’s absurd clown bonanza, The Lovely Boys, followed by Harrison Casswell & Friends, an 8.45pm set of electric spoken word and live music fronted by the Doncaster poet and writer, who Alex first saw on a Say Owt bill in York.

Next will be Say Owt leading light, York poet, actor, playwright and spoken-word slam champion Hannah Davies’s The Ballad Of Blea Wyke, a lyrical re-telling of the selkie myth, set against the Yorkshire coast, complemented by original live music by Jack Woods, in work-in-progress performances at 7pm on Saturday and Sunday.

On both those nights at 8.45pm, and on July 27 and 28 too, Alex and fellow Easingwold School old boy Phil Grainger will give their first Stillington performances of The Gods The Gods The Gods, the third in their trilogy of spoken-word and live music shows rooted in ancient myths after Orpheus and Eurydice.

“We first did the show in Australia in early 2020 before the pandemic forced us home, and we’re going to do a big, loud, bopping version in the garden, different from the indoor production that had a pretty massive lighting set-up,” says Alex.

Three is a magic number: Alexander Flanagan Wright, left, Phil Grainger and Megan Drury in The Gods The Gods The Gods on July 23, 24, 27 and 28. Picture: Tom Figgins

“We’re having to look at how to play it within this landscape and within the Mill’s vibe, rather than trying to pretend we’re in a black-box theatre design. We’re just really excited to be telling these stories that we’ve been living with for three years.

“We’ve been doing loads of work with Megan as our dramaturg, and Phil and Tom (Figgins) have been re-working the music, re-writing some parts and writing plenty of new pieces.

“It feels like a two-year hiatus that has allowed us to think about these different story-telling modes to tell it with greater clarity.”

Why call this Wright & Grainger show The Gods The Gods The Gods, rather than plain old The Gods, Alex? “A lot of things come in threes and a lot of things in this show fall naturally  into threes,” he reasons. “It’s one of those powerful numbers: a triad, with the three of us [Alex, Phil and Megan] telling the story.

Small acts of creativity: Yoshika Colwell combines metaphysics, music and verbatim material in Invisible Mending on July 31

“There are in fact four stories, three of them everyday stories and one story of the Gods. Most of those stories are told in three parts, and we repeat things three times in parts – and it’s just a good title!

“It’s also the third in the series of storytelling pieces we’ve done, taking a big jump on from the first two with a lot bigger soundtrack of Phil’s songs and Tom’s music production and a more complex narrative that we’ve weaved into it.”

The Stilly Fringe also will present Opal Fruits, Holly Beasley-Garrigan’s solo show about class, nostalgia and five generations of women from a South London council estate, on July 28 at 7pm; Casey Jay Andrews’ The Wild Unfeeling World, a tender, furious and fragile re-imagining of Moby Dick, and A Place That Belongs To Monsters, a re-imagining of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, on July 29 at 7pm and 8.45pm respectively.

Lucy Bird, originally from Ampleforth, will head back north with her Birmingham company Paperback Theatre for an “utterly Brummie” re-telling of The Wind In The Willows on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Yoshika Colwell will return to the Mill for the Stilly Fringe finale, Invisible Mending, her exploration of power in small acts of creativity through original music, metaphysics and verbatim material, presented in collaboration with Second Body’s Max Barton, on July 31 at 7pm.

For tickets, head to

‘Utterly Brummie’ take on The Wind In The Willows heads north to the wild wood of Stillington Mill for Silly Fringe shows

Paperback Theatre’s Mole (Charis McRoberts), left, Toad (Nathan Blyth), Rat (Carys Jones) and Badger (Lucy Bird) in their 2022 tour of The Wind In The Willows

PAPERBACK Theatre’s debut national tour of their “utterly Brummie” The Wind In The Willows will conclude with two Theatre At The Mill performances on July 30 at Stillington, near York.

On the road since June 4, the Birmingham company’s charming outdoor production will be heading to North Yorkshire for its only northern shows, directed by company co-founder Lucy Bird on her return to her roots.

Adapted for the stage from Kenneth Grahame’s book by fellow co-founder George Attwell Gerhards, Toad’s tale played to sell-out audiences at Paperback’s own arts festival, Little But LIVE! 2021, and in the Assembly Festival Gardens at Coventry City of Culture 2021 with Attwell Gerhards playing the irrepressible Toad.

Now Nathan Blyth is pooping Toad’s car horn on the tour, alongside Lucy Bird’s Badger, Charis McRoberts’ Mole and Carys Jones’s Rat.

Introducing the play, Lucy says: “Mole has been stuck inside for far too long. Finally escaping their underground home, they team up with good friends Ratty, Badger and the loveably roguish Toad on an adventure to blow away the quarantine cobwebs.

“Mole and the gang must go head-to-head with a motor car, Her Majesty’s Constabulary and, the greatest challenge of all, a legion of Weasels, Ferrets and Stoats, who have taken up residence in Toad Hall. Can our plucky band of heroes save the day?”

Lucy Bird: Director and Badger

Here, Lucy answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions on Toad and co, the company name and why Paperback Theatre are coming to Stillington.

Why call the company Paperback Theatre, Lucy? 

“As a company, we’re most interested in adaptations. Taking old stories and retelling them for a new age, re-examining them, or just bringing them back to life for modern audiences (as we do with The Wind In The Willows).

“The name Paperback relates to the idea of a well-worn paperback book that has been read again and again, with a bent spine and crinkled pages, because there’s something that keeps drawing us back to those stories.” 

What drew you to staging The Wind In The Willows?

“Pre-pandemic, Paperback made more indoor shows for older audiences, but during the pandemic we pivoted to working outdoors, for Covid safety reasons, and even started producing our own outdoor festival, Little But LIVE!.

“We found that outdoor work attracted more family audiences, and when we came to programming our second version of the festival The Wind In the Willows was touted as the perfect show for an outdoor family festival.

“Moreover, we were interested in the parallels in the tale to hibernation/isolation and our national journey out of lockdown. That said, The Wind In The Willows has always been thrown around our artistic discussions; it’s a book I loved as a child.”

Paperback Theatre take to the great outdoors in their debut national tour

What are your first memories of the story?

“My parents only had a VHS player and no TV licence, and one of the only video sets we had was the stop-motion series from back in the ’80s. Me and my brother watched it on repeat and routinely staged our own productions of it with other children in the village. 

“I’ve run with that memory a fair amount in our staging and tried to create a low-tech, playful production that children could go away and stage themselves if they wanted to. We have sock puppets for ferrets, coconuts for horses’ hooves and a great medley of kazoos to manage our sound effects.”

Outdoor story equals perfect show for performances in the great outdoors. Discuss…

“I think there’s a lot of truth to that; it makes locating the story easier. When we arrive at each venue on tour, we have to agree where the Wild Wood is, where Toad Hall is, or the Riverbank, so we know where to point when we refer to them.

“Normally there’s a copse of trees – or indeed quite often a manor house looming in the distance that we can locate – which brings an extra exciting energy to the show.

“The Wind In The Willows is also a story about exploration and connecting with your local habitats after a long time away from them, so if you’re telling it outside, it feels like a great way to get audiences to start that journey of reconnection themselves. 

“That said, I love the challenge of telling an indoor story outside: the harder you and the audience have to work to commit to imagining that you are in the middle of a palace, or a church, when you are in the pelting rain or blistering sun, the more fun you can have, I think.”

Paperback Theatre co-founder George Attwell Gerhards, who adapted Kenneth Grahame’s book for the stage, is pictured playing Toad in the 2021 production

What is distinctive about George’s adaptation?

“What’s different about this production to others I’ve seen is, firstly, its pace. George has compressed this well-loved tale into just an hour and, as a result, it has a really fast-paced, fluid energy to it, which also informs the great comedy and slapstick that we’ve discovered in the show.

“What’s particularly impressive and interesting is how much of the script has come straight from the book – which I think is really engaging for older audience members who may have a feeling of nostalgia for the original text – and yet how fresh and engaging it is for younger audiences.”

How do you involve the audience in the show?

“It’s an interactive show in the sense that we’re constantly talking directly to the audience, or pretending that they’re different characters in the show, but in a gentle way; we never get anyone up on stage or make them act out.

“We invite audiences to join in on our discoveries, to clap and cheer when the characters win something, or to groan in sympathy when we’re a bit sad. But if they aren’t feeling it that day, we just carry on…though we’ve yet to experience that!” 

Paperback Theatre use recycled materials and bits of rubbish – sock puppets et al – in their design and props for The Wind In The Willows

What is the message of The Wind In The Willows in 2022?

“There’s a message about valuing nature and the countryside. Mainly though, given the last few years, for us it’s about friendship and camaraderie in difficult times, about reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in a while and helping them through the fun times and the tough times.”  

What does an “utterly Brummie” interpretation bring to the show? 

“Accents, mainly! Our Rat and Toad are both from Birmingham originally so they play the characters with their home accents, and then we bring in a plethora of other ones to help distinguish our multi-rolling, also to reflect the diversity of a city like Birmingham.

“There are a few unique references to the city, like bits of dialect or items of costume that are specific to our local area (Rat has a Moseley Folk Festival T-shirt on). 

“Also, because the show was originally made for urban audiences, we’re looking at what urban wildlife is like. Our costumes and set are constructed out of recycled materials or bits of rubbish that we think the animals could have found hanging around to build their homes.

“I guess that also feeds into a message in our production of ecology and preserving the environment.” 

Bird transforms into Badger: Lucy at play in the natural world

You are playing Badger, but is Badger your favourite character?  If not, who is?!!

“Ooo, tricky! I do love Badger and their fieriness! But I think I’m coming round most to Rat. Bit of a curveball but they seem like an animal who’s just trying to be kind and do the right thing, even though they sometimes get it wrong, and I can empathise with that.” 

Finally, Lucy, how did the performances at At The Mill come about?

“I’m actually from North Yorkshire originally, just across the way from Stillington in Ampleforth. When we first started booking The Wind In The Willows on tour I was absolutely determined to book a show near to the home I grew up in.

“My journey into theatre very much started with going to see outdoor performances that were touring to the local area, and I was really keen to try and offer that to the children and families who are living there now. 

“I’d heard of Stillington Mill through family friends who said they had seen a few things there that were great and they felt it was a fab new venue, so I dropped the organisers, Alex [Flanagan Wright] and Megan [Drury], a line and they booked us in.”

Theatre At The Mill’s Silly Fringe presents Paperback Theatre in The Wind In The Willows at Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York, on July 30, 2.30pm and 7pm. Box office:  

Paperback Theatre’s tour poster for The Wind In The Willows

Paperback Theatre’s back story

* Formed at University of Warwick by Lucy Bird and George Attwell Gerhards, on the cusp of graduation in 2016. Now based in Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 

* Past work includes thought-provoking original plays We Need to Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders) and Me And My Doll, plus innovative adaptations of classics.

* In 2020, in response to Covid-19, they set up open-air arts festival called Little But LIVE! in Moseley Park, Birmingham, to give performing platform to Midlands artists who had lost work and to bring community together in period of isolation. Event now produced annually, entering third year in 2022.

* Debut tour of The Wind In The Willows is taking in Birmingham, Northampton, Lichfield, Stafford and Suffolk before Stillington finale.

Did you know?

LUCY Bird hails from the prodigiously artistic Bird family from Ampleforth. Brother Henry is an actor and musician; brother Conrad fronts the Newcastle band Holy Moly & The Crackers.

More Things To Do in and around York for Grayson Perry’s ‘normal people’. List No. 47, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s up Duck? The Dead Ducks sketch comedy troupe head for Theatre@41 Monkgate, York

CLOWNS, ominous things, Grayson, James, tango, chamber music, horrible British history and watercolours in teamwork add up to shows aplenty for Charles Hutchinson and normal people alike to check out.

Sketch comedy show of the week: The Dead Ducks: Ducks Out Of Water, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (3/9/2021), 8pm

UNIVERSITY of York Comedy Society sketch troupe The Dead Ducks make their Theatre@41 debut with Ducks Out Of Water as a cast of five serves up fun scenes that range from the relatable to the ridiculous.

Be prepared for completely original content in a humorous mix of parody and farce with a delectable side order of top-notch acting.

Look out for pirates, cowboys, clowns and assorted animals, alongside Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse “like you have never seen them before”. Box office:

Sunset Gazing, by Suzanne McQuade, on show at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York

Exhibition of the week: Suzanne McQuade, Touch Of Tranquillity, Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, until Octoger 23; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm

LEEDS watercolourist Suzanne McQuade quit her long-standing customer service job five years ago to take the plunge and become a full-time artist.

“Using watercolours is like teamwork; I have to allow the watercolour to move and merge, and utilise the patterns it creates,” says Suzanne, who loves how this medium’s translucency enables light to flood into her landscapes and seascapes.

Drawing inspiration from the British countryside and coastline, she paints what she finds captivating, from a dramatic sky to underwater rocks. “I try to make the scene in front of me to be as beautiful as possible,” she says.

Alexander Wright: Performing Small, Small Ominous Things with Megan Drury at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

Open-air theatre show of the week: Small Small Ominous Things, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday, 8pm

LOOK out for a tiny red gun hidden in the grass; a picture of a puppy eating a toy dinosaur; a dull feeling in the pit of your stomach; a bug burrowing into your skin.

Welcome to a late-night mix of stories, tales and unsettling considerations from partners Megan Drury and Alexander Wright, Australian actor, writer and creative artist and North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator respectively.

Gather around the fire as they collaborate for the first time live At The Mill, bringing small, small ominous things out into late-summer’s fading light. Box office:

Making a splash: The new Normal for artist Grayson Perry, performing on tour at York Barbican

Who-knows-what-to-expect gig of the week: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, York Barbican, Monday, 7.30pm

IN his own words, despite being an award-winning artist, Bafta-winning TV presenter, Reith lecturer and best-selling author, Grayson Perry is a normal person – and just like other normal people, he is “marginally aware that we’re all going to die”.

Cue Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, where Grayson takes you through an enlightening, eye-watering evening wherein this kind of existentialism descends from worthiness to silliness. “You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” his show patter promises.

Grayson asks, and possibly answers, these big questions in a show “sure to distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can.” Box office:

Home, James? Briefly, yes, when rehearsing at Broughton Hall, near Skipton. Scarborough Open Air Theatre awaits. Picture: Lewis Knaggs

Gig of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9, gates open at 6pm

WHERE better for James to play a summer show in the wake of releasing their 2021 single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

The Manchester legends will be combining myriad anthemic favourites with selections from their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June.

Fronted by Clifford-born Tim Booth, James are completing a hattrick of Scarborough OAT visits after shows in May 2015 and August 18. Box office:

Prima Vocal Ensemble artistic director Ewa Salecka with Misatango composer Martin Palmeri

Well worth the wait: Misatango: Prima’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration, Temple Hall, York St John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, September 11, 7.30pm

AFTER a year’s delay, Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka is thrilled to be holding the York choir’s tenth anniversary concert at last at a socially distanced Temple Hall.

At the concert’s core will be “the fabulous Misa a Buenos Aires, Misatango, an exhilarating fusion of Tango and Latin Mass”, by Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri, performed with the Mowbray Orchestra string quartet, bandoneon virtuoso Julian Rowlands, pianist Greg Birch and mezzo-soprano soloist Lucy Jubb. Box office:

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 16 to 18

CANADIAN pianist Angela Hewitt plays YCMF’s opening recital on September 16 and joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, for the closing gala concert on September 18, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.

Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the NCEM on September 17.

Festival director Lowe joins pianist John Paul Ekins for the first 1pm concert at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on September 17; on the next lunchtime, Ekins plays works that connect Beethoven and Liszt. Box office:

The Horrible Histories poke fun at Barmy Britain at the Grand Opera House, York, in October

History in the re-making: The Horrible Histories in Barmy Britain, Grand Opera House, York, October 21 to 24

CAN you beat battling Boudicca? What if a Viking moved in next door? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Can evil Elizabeth entertain England?

Will Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin? Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria?

So many questions for The Horrible Histories’ Live On Stage team to answer with the aid of the 3D illusions of Bogglevision as skulls hover, dams burst and missiles fly into the family audience. For tickets for Birmingham Stage Company’s eye-popping, gruesome, scary and unbelievable trip through British history, go to