REVIEW: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Hello, Dolly! ***

Helen Spencer’s Dolly Levi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly!

Hello, Dolly!, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s fifth production as the JoRo’s in-house fundraising troupe since 2017 is their “most ambitious yet” and first to be directed by company regular Kathryn Lay.

She brings experience of directing for several Gilbert & Sullivan companies to the task, along with a familiar right-hand man for this bright and breezy production, husband Martin Lay, a figure in constant motion in white tie and tails as conductor and musical director in the dozen-strong orchestra pit.

Hello, Dolly!, with its book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, had its day as the longest-running show on Broadway after its 1964 debut, further buoyed by Gene Kelly’s 1969 film starring the irrepressible Barbra Streisand.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant Of Yonkers, re-written as The Matchmaker in 1954, it is a lightweight, gently amusing piece, not dissimilar in spirit to those works from the other side of the Big Pond, G&S’s light operas. Or, you could call it “an absolute hoot”, as the JoRo’s publicity puts it.

The setting is 1885 New York, where wily widow and meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi (Helen Spencer) has her eye on hooking tight-fisted half-a-millionaire Horace Vendergelder (Alex Schofield), a man short on joy and even shorter on humour.

Ever chirpy Dolly has calling cards for all manner of skills she claims to have, but resourcefulness is her primary asset, along with an ability to confuse all around her in pursuit of her goal. Spencer triumphs, both in song, especially her ballads, and as leading lady with an artful yet appealing air and bags of brio. Vandergelder is a stick in the mud, all the more so for Schofield playing him so straight.

The path to love may not run smoothly, but Hello, Dolly! is giddy with a supporting bill of billing and cooing involving Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Irene Molloy, alongside Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker and Jennifer Jones’s Minnie Fay. They make a swell foursome, amusing, smartly attired and characterful in their singing.

“Flouncing around in a feather boa”, Sophie Cooke is a good sport as Ernestina, the butt of Dolly’s meddling with a voice to launch a thousand cough lozenges.  Abigail Atkinson and Jonathan Wells make their mark too as artist Ambrose Kemper and young Ermengarde.

Supporting roles and ensemble players add to the jollification, particularly in the big numbers, whether beneath twirling brollies or on waiter duty in Lorna Newby’s lively choreography.

Tickets are in limited supply for tonight’s show and tomorrow’s matinee with better availability for tomorrow night’s finale. All proceeds go back to the JoRo in support of York’s community theatre and the chance to put on more big musicals with big casts to match.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly! will be their most ambitious show yet

Helen Spencer: Leading the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in the role of Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company are putting on their Sunday best from tonight until Saturday in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s Broadway classic Hello, Dolly!.

This 1964 musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant Of Yonkers will be staged by the JoRo’s in-house fundraising company with glitz, glamour and a troupe of tap-dancing waiters in their most ambitious performance to date.

Noted for such musical theatre favourites as It Only Takes A Moment, Put On Your Sunday Clothes and the title song, Hello, Dolly! follows strong-willed widow and self-proclaimed meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi in her wooing of wealthy but tight-fisted Horace Vandergelder, while she spreads joy and confusion among everyone she encounters in 1885 New York.

Premiering on Broadway on January 16 1964 with Carol Channing in the title role, Stewart and Herman’s show played for 2,844 performances, making it – at the time – the longest-running Broadway musical in history.

The show has been revived several times on the New York stage, most recently in 2017 with Bette Midler in the title role, while Barbra Streisand famously starred in Gene Kelly’s 1969 film version.

Playing Dolly for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company (JRTC) will be Helen Spencer, a regular in the company’s shows and on the wider York theatre scene, who works as a psychiatrist in the NHS.

Platform to entertain: Hello, Dolly! principals Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker, left, Helen Spencer’s Dolly Levi and Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl

Hello, Dolly! will be even more special for her, beyond the lead role, because she will be sharing the stage with her two children in their first theatrical performance.

This will be JRTC’s fifth full-scale production, following on from their flash, bang, walloping hit Kipps: The New Half A Sixpence Musical last February, with a continuing focus on producing high-quality, low-budget productions to maximise profits to give every penny straight back to the JoRo.

Taking the reins this time is Kathryn Lay, who steps off the stage to make her JRTC directing debut, alongside her husband Martin Lay as musical director. Both have been performing with the company since its inception in 2017.

“Hello, Dolly! perfectly showcases the company’s diverse and talented members,” says Kathryn. “There’s a large ensemble, which has allowed us to embrace our inclusive ethos, and the variation in roles really plays to everyone’s strengths. It’s a feel-good musical and the cast and creative team are having a wonderful time bringing it to life.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre is such a valuable asset for the York community, helping make theatre accessible for wider audiences. So, as well as being treated to a wonderful evening of entertainment, you’ll also be supporting a great cause and helping to play a part in keeping theatre alive in York.”

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Hello, Dolly!, at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 8 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee.Tickets: £15, under 18s, £13, on 01904 501935 or

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company cast members rehearsing the title number in Hello, Dolly!

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s cast for Hello, Dolly!

Dolly Levi: Helen Spencer

Horace Vandergelder: Alex Schofield

Cornelius Hackl: Stuart Sellens

Irene Molloy: Jennie Wogan-Wells

Barnaby Tucker: Jamie Benson

Minnie Fay: Jennifer Jones

Ambrose Kemper: Jonothan Wells

Ermengarde: Abigail Atkinson

Ernestina: Sophie Cooke

Rudolph: Nick Sephton

Mrs Rose/Ensemble: Vanessa Lee

Judge/Manny/Ensemble: Ben Huntley

Clerk/Ensemble: Lois Cross

Louis/Ensemble: Cameron O’Bryne

Harry/Ensemble: Gary Bateson

Hank/Ensemble: Jack James Fry

Ensemble: Michelle Atkinson; Helen Barugh; Victoria Beale; Pamela Bradley; Ashley Ginter; Lorna Newby; Jennifer Payne; Susanne Perkins; Zoe Sellens; Heather Stead and Jane Woolgar

Production team

Director: Kathryn Lay

Musical director: Martin Lay

Assistant director/choreographer: Lorna Newby

Assistant director: Rosy Rowley

Producer: Stuart Sellens

Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl, left, and Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker

York Literature Festival opens a new chapter today…

Sarah Hall: opening event at York Literature Festival

YORK Literature Festival’s celebration of the written and spoken word opens today.

More than 20 live events will be held at venues across the city centre, such as York St John University, St Peter’s School and York Explore Library and Archive. 

Running until March 27, the festival launches this evening when two-time Booker Prize nominee Sarah Hall will be in conversation with Professor Abi Curtis at the new York St John University Creative Centre at 7pm, discussing her latest novel, Burntcoat, set in the first pandemic lockdown.

Pioneering reformer and president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale will discuss her autobiography, Spider Woman, A Life, in a free event at The Mount School, Dalton Terrace, tomorrow at 11am. Tickets are required.

Northern Film School graduate, producer of low-budget British horror film Heretic and Saber Productions director Bethany Clift will talk about her debut novel, Last One At The Party, and dystopian fiction with festival chair Dr Rob O’Connor at York Explore, Museum Street, tomorrow at 11am.

To be closer to the Brontes, Michael Stewart began walking the historic paths they trod while writing their most famous works, leading to his book Walking The Invisible: Following In The Brontes’ Footsteps. He will be appearing at York Explore tomorrow at 2pm in the wake of releasing his latest novel, Ill Will: The Untold Story Of Heathcliff.

After a long career in archaeology in York, Sarah Maine has drawn on her knowledge of the city’s vibrant past for her fifth novel, The Awakenings, set in two timeframes, the 790s and 1890s. Written when she was confined to York in the lockdowns, it now forms the subject of her In Conversation event at St Peter’s School, Clifton, tomorrow at 7pm.

Amanda Owen: The Yorkshire Shepherdess will be in conversation on Sunday

Martin Figura and Helen Ivory will host the Try A Little Tenderness writing workshop at York Explore on Sunday from 2pm to 5pm, when they will explore how to write with feeling about those we care about without slipping into sentimentality.

The workshop price (£30) includes a ticket to writer-poet Figura and poet-artist Ivory’s poetry reading on Sunday at 7pm at the Hungate Reading Café, Hungate. The duo set up their Live From The Butchery online spoken-word series during lockdown.

The Yorkshire Shepherdess, Amanda Owen, from Channel 5’s Our Yorkshire Farm documentary series, will be in conversation with BBC Radio York’s Elly Fiorentini at St Peter’s School on Sunday at 7pm. The focus will be on her latest book, Celebrating The Seasons, part photography book, part recipe book and part family and farming memoir.

On Monday, at 7pm, St Peter’s School will play host to The Sunday Times’ Insight investigators Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott as they discuss Failures Of State, their exposé of the Conservative Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis: “one of the most scandalous failures of political leadership in British history”, they contend.

Female writers Jane Austin, Janet Dean Knight and Yvie Holder will explore ordinary lives against a backdrop of momentous global events, through poetry, fiction and memoir, in Encore Careers! Readings and Conversations on Tuesday at 7pm at Hungate Reading Café.

Creative writing students and staff at York St John University present Wednesday’s Beyond The Walls Student Showcase of readings at the Lord Mayor’s Walk campus in a free event at 7pm, but with tickets required via the festival website or at

This showcase celebrates the annual Beyond The Walls anthology project , hosted and organised by students.

Further details on York Literature Festival will follow. For tickets and the full programme, go to: