REVIEW: Pick Me Up Theatre in Sunday In The Park With George, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday ****

Adam Price’s George and Natalie Walker’s Dot in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sunday In The Park With George. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

FRENCH post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat obsessed over every little last detail, making a point of everything.

The same applies to Robert Readman’s production of one of his favourite musical works, Stephen Sondheim and playwright-director James Lapine’s Sunday In The Park With George, a 1984 collaboration inspired by Seurat’s pointillist painting, Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte.

Two years in the making, that 1884-1886 work forms the wraparound artwork for Pick Me Up Theatre’s programme. Unfold it, and you find Sondheim’s lyrics to Finishing The Hat, the most significant song in capturing the artistic temperament and drive of Seurat and Sondheim alike.

Director-designer Readman has given Sunday In The Park With George a traverse setting within the black-box John Cooper Studio. At either end is a blank canvas for projections of such Seurat works as 1884’s Bathers At Asnières, an oil painting of a suburban, placid Parisian riverside on a monumental scale soon to be matched by Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of Grand Jatte.

Libby Greenhill’s Louise, left, Sanna Jeppsson’s Yvonne and Natalie Walker’s Dot in Sunday In The Park With George. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

Work-in-progress drawings by Kevin Greenhill (also the production’s photographer) depict Seurat’s sketches and character studies as Adam Price’s George (Seurat) is consumed by his craft of painting: a craft that brought him no monetary reward in a life curtailed by a fatal illness at 31, not one painting having sold before his death.

This is an exquisite directorial touch by Readman, happily and visibly restored to full throttle after “unforeseen circumstances” forced him to call off last autumn’s Halloween double bill of Young Frankenstein and The Worst Witch at the Grand Opera House.

In between the two canvas bookends runs another strip of blank canvas, a walkway or catwalk to be peopled by all the figures in Seurat’s painting coming to life in the imagination of Lapine and Sondheim (much like Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring doing likewise in Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction novel), as if the writers had eavesdropped on conversations in the park.

Host Readman has his audience seated to either side of the stage at circular tables topped with paper “tablecloths” decorated with dots. We feel like we are in the park too.

Adam Price’s George and Natalie Walker’s Marie in the American Act Two of Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sunday In The Park With George. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

Dots are everywhere. Even Seurat’s long-suffering mistress/lover/muse is called Dot, a made-up name, it would seem, but typical of the wit at work in this fictionalised account of the months leading up to the completion of Seurat’s painting.

In a canny piece of casting, Readman has brought together real-life husband and wife Adam Price and Natalie Walker as his leads. They have performed as a duo and sang together in Pick Me Up’s Dad’s Army but this is the first time they have taken roles together in a musical, and their natural chemistry shines through their performance as the damaged central couple.

Dot wants Seurat to express his love, especially once she is pregnant, but he is drawn only to the canvas, to shining his light on Parisian life, putting her only in the spotlight in the painting.

They sing beautifully, Walker especially in the ballads, Price in expressing his artistic modus operandi, his dot-dot-dot technique being matched at one point by the staccato notes emanating from musical director Matthew Peter Clare’s keyboard.

Pick Me Up Theatre’s cast representing figures in Seurat’s pointillist painting Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

As Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, snubs his fellow artists and neglects his lover, we meet all manner of Parisian folk in the park: an Old lady (Beryl Nairn), who turns out to be his oft-exasperated mother; his cigar-smoking agent Jules (James Willstrop), who behind his back shows no enthusiasm for his work; Yvonne (Sanna Jeppsson), who is even more snobbishly dismissive; and Craig Kirby and Rhian Wells’s befuddled American couple, Mr and Mrs.

Look out too for Mark Simmonds’s haughty, Germanic Franz; Ryan Richardson’s surly Boatman; Neil Foster’s self-righteous Soldier and Alexandra Mather (a late replacement for the indisposed Emma Louise Dickinson) and Nicola Holliday as a pair of anything but angelic Celestes. Tracey Rea’s Frieda, Michael Tattersall’s Louis, Libby Greenhill’s Louise and Logan Willstrop’s Boy cut a dash too.

After the interval, the musical takes a turn for the more personal for Sondheim in a parallel modern story where Price’s Seurat becomes George, a ‘chromolume’ American artist as underappreciated and fractious as Seurat was in his lifetime as Sondheim “explores the reverberations of Seurat’s actions over the next 100 years”.

At the time, Sondheim was increasingly dischuffed by the reaction to his musicals, just as Woody Allen had a fan say “I especially like your early, funny ones” to Allen’s character, film director Sandy Bates, in 1980’s Stardust Memories when weary of critics giving that verdict on his later works.

Nicola Holliday’s Celeste and Neil Foster’s Soldier. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

This is a somewhat overwrought piece of point-scoring by Sondheim amid all the pointillism of Seurat, but archly amusing all the same, adding to the enjoyment of a superb performance by leads and supporting players alike, responding to Readman’s relish for the musical.

Will Nicholson and Adam Coggin’s lighting and sound is top notch, and Matthew Peter Clare’s palpably energetic musical direction brings out the best in his seven-piece band.

Readman’s design skills are always a strong suit, but particularly so here, full of playfulness and artistry, such as in the cut-outs of dogs from Seurat’s painting, later matched by black-and-white full-size cut-outs of George part two in his suit, tie and pumps in the American gallery.

Do please spend Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday in the park with George. You’d be dotty to miss out.

Pick Me Up Theatre in Sunday In The Park With George, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York; 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte in the Pick Me Up Theatre show poster

Meet the real-life couple playing artist Seurat and his lover Dot in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sunday In The Park With George

Pick Me Up Theatre’s leading couple for Sunday In The Park With George: Husband and wife Adam Price and Natalie Walker at Moorlands Nature Reserve. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

PICK Me Up Theatre follow up last week’s Sondheim We Remember revue with a swift return to Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, in Sunday In The Park With George.

New York composer Stephen Sondheim’s 1984 collaboration with playwright and director James Lapine follows French post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat (played by Adam Price) in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte. 

Consumed by his need to “finish the hat”, the controversial Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists and neglects his long-suffering mistress Dot (Natalie Walker), not realising that his actions will reverberate through the next 100 years. 

Running from April 5 to 13, director and designer Robert Readman’s production also features Alexandra Mather and Nicola Holliday as Celeste, Mark Simmonds as Franz, James Willstrop as Jules, Neil Foster as Soldier, and Sanna Jeppsson as Yvonne, among others.

Pick Me Up Theatre present Sunday In The Park With George, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, April 5 to 13, 7.30pm except April 8; 2.30pm, April 6, 7 and 13.

Adam Price and Natalie Walker: the back story

ADAM grew up in Goole, where he has always had a keen interest in history and music.

His father was a gigging musician in a band and, as a result, Adam started playing guitar and singing as a teenager – joining several bands of his own.

He studied history at Lancaster University and Queen Mary’s College, University of London, and has a particular interest in the First World War, regularly visiting the battlefields to research.

He has run several tours of the battlefields as a guide and writes a blog about the servicemen of Goole.

As well as history, he has a keen interest in travel, working as a travel consultant for an independent travel company just outside York.

His interest in musical theatre came much later and he made his debut with Pick Me Up Theatre in My Fair Lady in 2017. He then played Young Buddy in Follies in 2018, followed by Dad’s Army in 2019, and the role of Marlowe in Shakespeare In Love in 2022.

Natalie Walker and musical director Matthew Clare in rehearsals for Sunday In The Park With George

NATALIE has been interested in music from an early age and started to play piano at the age of eight.

She studied music and theatre at Hull University and began working professionally as a musician in 2009. She runs two choirs in Goole, as well as managing Castaway

Goole with Pick Me Up Theatre’s Robert Readman: a charity that provides life- changing opportunities through the arts to adults and young people with disabilities and autism conditions.

Musical theatre has always been a passion, leading to her being the musical director for Pick Me Up’s production of Shakespeare In Love in 2022, using period instruments to support the score.

Since then, she has worked on Pick Me Up’s productions of The Sound Of Music, Oh What A Lovely War and Matilda. She has worked professionally with She Productions in Beverley, Snappy Operas and Middle Child in Hull.

ADAM and Natalie first met in 2009 when he joined a choir that she was accompanying.

They share a great love of music and first came together by singing as an acoustic duo. They still enjoy singing and playing together regularly and were married – after a long Covid delay! – in 2022.

They live in Bainton, near Driffield, after buying a derelict house and renovating it over several years.

“Sunday in the Park has been a lovely opportunity to spend time in the theatre together, being a pretend couple as well as a real one!” they say.

“Rehearsing together has been a genuinely lovely process,” say Adam and Natalie. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Here CharlesHutchPress interviews husband and wife Adam Price and Natalie Walker about playing painter Georges Seurat and his lover Dot

What attracted you to auditioning for the role of artist Georges Seurat, Adam?

“Seurat is such a fascinating character to explore. In some respects, he can be seen as a very simple character who is solely driven by his work to the exclusion of all others.

“Yet there are so many moments in the show when we see the conflict that is constantly playing out within him, how he struggles to manage his relationships with people around him, and even how he processes the criticism of his work and questions his vision.

“He is a character who struggles to connect with those closest to him and it is the challenge of communicating that struggle to an audience that attracted me to the role.”

What sparked your desire to perform in musical theatre, on top of your interest in history, the First World War, battlefield tours and travel?

“I grew up in a musical family and always enjoyed singing and playing music. I was first introduced to musicals through my grandad. He used to perform in dance bands and was always listening to jazz standards, including Gershwin and Cole Porter. “Later in life, I started watching the shows instead of just listening to the songs in isolation and it opened up a whole new world for me.

“My musical theatre knowledge was very limited and it was Natalie who really introduced me to the whole variety of the genre, including Sondheim, as well as singing show tunes in The Warblers.

“I always enjoyed singing but was not sure about the acting side of things until I did a theatre workshop a few years ago with Andy Reiss, who had directed the touring production of Les Miserables.

“I really enjoyed the whole experience and thought I would give performing a go. Performing in musicals is so much fun and rewarding and is a great way of giving you self-confidence.

“What I especially enjoy about performing is that it gives you the opportunity to step out of yourself and inhabit a completely different character for a time, getting under the skin of a character, finding out what motivates them, how they see the world; it can be revealing and rewarding.

What do you most enjoy about performing for Pick Me Up Theatre?

“York has a really rich amateur theatre scene, so it was natural to look to York when I was thinking about joining a company and Pick Me Up has such a good reputation for the quality of their shows.

“They were auditioning for My Fair Lady at the time, which was special for me as it was the first musical that I watched and enjoyed, so I gave it a go. I was very lucky because it was such a great cast, and I learned a lot; everyone was so welcoming and worked so hard to get the best out of their performance that I knew I had found a home there.

“Coming to amateur theatre later in life, I’d always been inhibited by the reputation it is has for being cliquey, but I’ve never experienced that in any shows I’ve done or when working with Pick Me Up.

“Robert is always willing to give people a chance, and if he thinks you’re right for a role then that is that. He always assembles a dedicated and talented cast and crew and always has a clear vision for what he wants to achieve.”

“We’ve had the benefit of being able to run lines and work on songs at home, so it’s been really nice to be fully immersed in the show as much as possible,” say Adam and Natalie. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

What are the characteristics of Sondheim’s composing skills that you most admire?

“Sondheim is a craftsman, pure and simple. Nothing is by chance and even the most seemingly frivolous throwaway musical phrases or lyrics have been carefully considered and backed up with an unrivalled ability and knowledge of his art, coupled with a deep psychological understanding of the human condition.

“What I love in particular is the relationship between the music and lyrics; they work together rather than one simply being laid on top of the other, as you often get with other composers. Ultimately, he was respectful of his audience and always wanted to give them the best of himself.”

Has growing up in Goole had an impact on you?

“I think we are all affected by where we grew up. Goole has had its share of problems, but its people are friendly, caring, decent and down to earth. No matter where else I’ve ended up in my life, growing up in a community like that, you realise that qualities like that are the most important.”

What would be your perfect Sunday in the park? Spent where? With whom? Food? Drink?

“I aspire to be a real epicurean so there is nothing I would like more than spending Sunday in a park with friends, talking about everything: life, art, music, philosophy.  Laughter and conversation are the best music in life. I honestly wouldn’t need anything else.”

With all that travelling nous, do you have a favourite park you have visited, one you would recommend visiting, and one you most want to visit that you are yet to do so?

“That is a tough question. I will always have a soft spot for Regent’s Park, as that was my local park when I was living in London, and living in a big city, it was the place I could go for a bit of greenery.

“For people watching, the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris is wonderful and Central Park is an incredible place to just wander around and get lost in. Ultimately though, I don’t think you have to journey a long way; everyone should take time out to visit their local park every now and then. It’s always a good opportunity to get out and take a break, as well as a place to connect with your local community.”

Do you have a favourite hat? If so, why that one?

“I’ve always been a big fan of bobble hats. I have a bobble hat that I’ve had for about 14 years that is nice and warm, but it is also incredibly comfortable, so I tend to wear it all year round, not just in winter.”

Pick Me Up Theatre’s poster for Sondheim We Remember and Sunday In The P:ark With George

What attracted you to auditioning for the role of Dot, Natalie?

“Dot is a character that truly goes on a journey in this show. She can be feisty and fiery but at the heart of it just wants to be seen and loved. The role is a real challenge as, ironically, she’s not two-dimensional at all. I think that is what attracted me most to her character as there’s so much depth to be found.

Her relationship with George is also incredibly interesting to try and get right. Both need to be likeable enough that an audience will root for them, but also damaged enough that their relationship could never be conventional.

“The interesting thing for me is that Dot is the character who truly changes throughout the show, against the rigidity of George and his unwillingness to look away from his painting and truly look at her.”

When were you last on stage in a show, rather than taking the musical director’s role?

“I’ve been on stage singing/playing a fair amount, including performing as one of the on-stage singers in Dad’s Army in 2018, but actually doing a show with any sort of narrative or characters, I would take a guess that it’s been about ten years!

“I think the closest I’ve come is being on-stage musical director for two productions of Beverley Does Broadway with She Productions at East Riding Theatre in 2022 and 2023.

“There was a bit of acting and a couple of lines to learn, but I was very much playing a version of myself for those shows, so it’s quite a big switch for me to be on the stage in character rather than under/behind it!

“Performing in Sunday In The Park With George is a great opportunity to tread the boards again, after spending many hours in the pit!”

What first attracted you to work with Pick Me Up Theatre?

“I’ve always admired Pick Me Up for the high quality of the shows that they produce. The talent in the York area is astounding, and the vision for each show is always executed so beautifully. It was actually Adam that first worked with Pick Me Up after auditioning for My Fair Lady in 2017, and after seeing a few performances I couldn’t resist throwing my hat into the ring.

“Having been an audience member for several of their shows, I think the real joy is seeing that there is absolutely nothing amateur about the productions and everyone involved works so hard to make the best show possible.

Sanna Jeppsson’s Yvonne poses against the backdrop of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte

“I first started working with Pick Me Up as a singer in Dad’s Army but then went on to musically direct Shakespeare In Love (with full period costume and instruments!)

“I also think their choice of shows is really inspired, with genuinely out-of-the-box choices, rather than just the standard crowd pleasers in the amateur scene!”

What are the characteristics of Sondheim’s composing skills that you most admire?

“The thing that I love about Sondheim is that nothing is ever an accident. Every note has been placed very specifically for a reason, whether it’s a note for every magic bean in the Into The Woods theme, or the placement of a blob of paint in Sunday [In The Park With George].

“The same is true of Sondheim as a lyricist: every word has value and nothing is ever thrown away for the sake of a rhyme or rhythm. Everything about Sondheim’s work is truly crafted, and it makes it such a delight to delve into, as there are constantly new things to discover on each reading.”

What was the most important lesson you learnt for performing in your studies at Hull University?

“I think people often think that being successful in music or theatre means that you have to be some sort of diva or have a massive ego. During my degree, I actually found, quite reassuringly, that the opposite was the case. The ability to be supportive of other people and work well together, either as a cast or as a band makes not only a more pleasant experience, but also creates the best work.

“As boring as it sounds, I think just learning to work hard is a big part of it – there is no glory in being lazy and expecting everyone else around you to make allowances!”

Which choirs do you run in Goole? Where do they perform and how often?

“I run two choirs known as the Warblers – one sings pop music; the other sings show tunes. The choirs have been running since 2009 and have around 90 members. They’ve developed a really great reputation in Goole thanks to their twice-yearly concerts at Junction, often performing with other musicians – recently including West End performers, brass bands and stars of English National Opera.

They were also part of the Song For Us project over lockdown where they premiered a new piece by Goole-born composer Gavin Bryars virtually. The choirs are now going through some changes as, until 2023, it was a joint venture between myself and a colleague, who has now retired.

“This presented an exciting opportunity for me to continue the hard work of the last 15 years! We’re hoping to go from strength to strength and are working towards our next concert in July.”

Neil Foster’s Soldier and Mark Simmonds’s Franz blend into Georges Seurat’s painting

What does running Castaway Goole with Robert Readman involve?

“Castaway is a wonderful charity that provides life-changing opportunities through the arts to adults and young people with learning and physical disabilities, mental health difficulties and autism conditions.

“They provide weekly classes in music, singing, drama, art, craft, dance and musical theatre to approximately 50 members who may not be able to access these opportunities elsewhere.

“Castaway is actually where Robert and I met, when I was asked to play piano for their production of Just So in 2017. Since then, we’ve worked together on four full-scale musicals and a film version of David Copperfield, after the stage production was cancelled due to Covid.

“After the retirement of the charity’s founder in 2022, Robert and I were given the role of general manager and now oversee the running of the whole charity. Every day is completely different but incredibly rewarding in its own way!

“We stage a full-scale musical once a year, as well as co-ordinating staff in running the other classes throughout the week.

“I also run the Castaway Sing community choir, who perform regularly in the area at various events. We always say that we get far more back from the members than we could ever put in – it really is such a rewarding place to work, and the achievements of the members are absolutely huge.

“Robert often jokes that we’re ‘work husband and wife’ because we always seem to know what the other one is thinking, so it’s made for a very interesting process being directed as part of the on-stage cast, rather than working alongside one another!”

What have been the highlights of your career as a professional musician?

“It’s so difficult to pinpoint anything in particular as I genuinely love every job that I do. I wanted to be a professional musician from a young age but it’s such an uncertain field that I never 100 per cent believed that it would happen, particularly combined with my love of theatre.

“As soon as I started to work as an accompanist and musical director, I knew it was the job I wanted to do forever! The highlights for me are always those that involve making work with people who you really gel with and with whom you share a mutual respect.

“I’ve worked with a few theatre companies in the past couple of years where this has been the case, but none more-so than She Productions in Beverley, so I think working with them would be my highlight so far!”

What would be your perfect Sunday in the park? Spent where? With whom? Food? Drink?

“My perfect Sunday in the park would involve English springtime, music, friends, family and lots of food! I can’t think of anything better than a sunny day spent with the people I love most, and tons of homemade cake!

“I don’t actually drink but unlimited tea and coffee is the absolute dream. Peace and tranquillity is great, but I would also never say no to some sporting activity – you can’t beat a good game of rounders (as long as it’s followed by more cake!)

Do you have a favourite hat? If so, why that one?

“I’m not really much of a hat wearer! But there is something about the comfort of a woolly hat in winter that can’t be beaten – and if it’s got a bobble on top, all the better!”

Adam Price and Natalie Walker: “Sunday In The Park has been a lovely opportunity to spend time in the theatre together, being a pretend couple as well as a real one!” Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Joint questions for Adam and Natalie

Where did you marry?

“At St Michael’s Church in Eastrington, Natalie’s childhood village church, where she still plays organ for Sunday services. Natalie comes from a farming family, so we held the reception in her parents’ barn. Her parents are both incredibly creative and they made it look absolutely stunning – it was a dream come true!”

Have you performed in a musical together previously?

“We both performed as singers in Pick Me Up Theatre’s production of Dad’s Army in 2018. Aside from that, Adam performed in Oh What A Lovely War, for which Natalie was musical director, but that’s as close as we’ve got until now!”

How have you found the experience of rehearsing together?

“It’s been a genuinely lovely process, as usually one or the other of us is heading off to a rehearsal somewhere without the other one, so it’s been great to share the experience.

“We’ve also had the added benefit of being able to run lines and work on songs at home, so it’s been really nice to be fully immersed in the show as much as possible.

“Sometimes you do wonder if it’s going to affect your relationship if you constantly have to play tension between each other, but we’ve been pretty good at leaving the tension in the rehearsal room and going back to talking about what we’re having for dinner!”

How is the house renovation going?

“After buying a derelict house the week before the first national lockdown, it’s been a rather lengthy process but we now have a finished home that we absolutely love, and we’re just waiting on some nice weather to make the garden slightly less reminiscent of a swamp!”

Putting themselves in the picture: Sunday In The Park With George cast members James Willstrop (as Jules), left, Neil Foster (Soldier), Natalie Walker (Dot) and Sanna Jeppsson (Yvonne), front, pose with Georges Seurat’s painting

Pick Me Up Theatre to perform Stephen Sondheim shows at the double at Theatre@41, Monkgate in March and April

Sam Hird: Singing Sondheim with Pick Me Up Theatre

ROYAL College of Music student Sam Hird returns home to York to join his father Mark Hird in the Pick Me Up Theatre company for Sondheim We Remember at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from March 27 to 30.

Taking part too in this celebration of New York composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim will be director Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer, Susannah Baines, Emma Louise Dickinson, Alexandra Mather, Florence Poskitt, Andrew Roberts, Catherine Foster, Nick Sephton and Matthew Warry.

Planned originally for 2020 before Covid intervened – and Sondheim’s death on November 26 2021 at the age of 91 – Pick Me Up’s show features music from his Broadway shows, film scores and TV specials. Tickets for the 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday matinee are on sale at

Pick Me Up Theatre’s company of singers for Sondheim We Remember

Pick Me Up will make a swift return to Theatre@41 with a second Sondheim show, his 1984 musical collaboration with playwright and director James Lapine, Sunday In The Park With George, from April 5 to 13.

Inspired by Georges Seurat’s pointillist painting Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte, the musical follows Seurat (played by Adam Price) in the months leading up to the completion of that famous work.

Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists and neglects his lover Dot (Natalie Walker), not realising that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years.

Performances will start at 7.30pm on April 5, 6 and 9 to 13, plus 2.30pm on April 6, 7 and 13. Box office:

Picture pose: Pick Me Up Theatre’s Emma-Louise Dickinson, as Celeste, adds to the scene in Georges Seurat’s painting Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte, the inspiration for Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical Sunday In The Park With George

REVIEW: Pick Me Up Theatre in Oh! What A Lovely War, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York ***

Ian Giles, front, leading Adam Price and Joy Warner in Adieu La Vie in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Oh! What A Lovely War at Theatre@41, Monkgate

PICK Me Up Theatre are staging Oh! What A Lovely War to mark the 60th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop premiere at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

Why else Robert Readman and co-director Johnny Holbek are reviving this old stager is not so clear on encountering the veteran work of Sixties’ agit-prop; rather like the surfeit of voices that are sometimes a struggle to comprehend in the absence of head microphones.

Body mics do the hard-working company no favours, especially Ian Giles’s all-important master of ceremonies, whose deadpan punchlines fall flat when dying in the muffled air. In contrast, the regular toots on his whistle could not have been shriller.

Ironically, when your reviewer – seated up on the mezzanine level – couldn’t decipher what the drill sergeant was shouting, it turns out it was supposed to be gibberish, but the joke was lost after the uncertainty caused by the earlier encounters with the lack of clarity.

Alison Taylor, front left, and Beryl Nairn performing En Avant!

Oh! What A Lovely War, constructed as a searing satirical chronicle of the First World War, as told through songs and documents in the form of a seaside Pierrot entertainment, was a landmark in British theatre history, prompting the intrigue surrounding Pick Me Up’s revival.

Likewise, Richard Attenborough’s 1969 film account of the working-class Smith lads, Jack, Freddie, Harry and George, seeing initial hope swallowed up by the mud and stench of the trenches, resonated amid the Sixties’ vibe of Make Love, Not War.

From Blackadder Goes Forth to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse and Private Peaceful, Sam Mendes’s 1917 to this year’s BAFTA-winning All Quiet On The Western Front, the Great War continues to provoke eloquent, elegiac reflection across the arts and literature.  

Oh! What A Lovely War is closest in spirit to Blackadder in the trenches, in its sense of futility, chiming with Winston Churchill’s maxim in favour of dialogue over destruction. “Jaw Jaw is better than War War,” he forewarned, and in turn Oh! What A Lovely War has plenty of jaw jaw about war war, while making a song and dance of it with familiar music-hall songs from the Great War period and hymns fitted out with new lyrics to give them a satirical snap.

Florence Poskitt, left, Maggie Smales and Marlena Kelli in the Kamerad! Kamerad! vignette in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Oh! What A Lovely War

Against the John Cooper Studio’s back wall, ever more damning statistics of the body count are typed out across the screen, the factual counter to the officers’ cavalier attitude to so many wasteful deaths of the working-class cannon fodder.

They have the show’s most shuddering impact, ensuring that a sense of righteous anger prevails, as does a haunting sorrow, further enhanced by the presence of a junior ensemble.

However, the strident tones of surrealism, in part set by the Pierrot costumes with their out-of-period elasticated waists, always feels one step removed from connecting. Likewise, you can see the ever-willing cast having to push too hard to make the satire amusing in a show that starts to drag on, like the war itself.

Readman and Holbek’s period-piece production seeks to break down theatre’s fourth wall, often through Giles’s conspiratorial asides, sometimes through music-hall repartee, but the best scenes are self-contained, most notably for the Christmas Day exchange of gifts in No Man’s Land and the grotesque grouse moor shooting-party bluster among those making money out of the war (in a haunting forerunner of Covic contracts).

James Willstrop and Sanna Jeppsson, front, with the Pick Me Up Theatre ensemble performing Row Row Row

Inspired by Charles Chiltern’s radio series that combined First World war statistics with songs, Littlewood’s piece was constructed through improvisation and credited to the company of performers. In the spirit of that gestation, Pick Me Up’s multi role-playing troupe of troops is credited by a list of cast names and not by character, and it is very much an ensemble piece, teamwork to the fore, although James Willstrop, Florence Poskett, Alison Taylor and in particular Craig Kirby stand out.

Accompanied by Natalie Walker’s piano-led band, the songs transition from hope to despair, from perky to poignant, from Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser to I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier.

Reviving Oh! What A Lovely War does not evoke nostalgia and nor should it. Instead, it feels and looks out of its time, like Richard Lester’s 1967 film How I Won The War. Some vignettes still work, elsewhere the satire has tired or lost coherence over 60 years.

What hasn’t changed? War, huh, yeah, what is good for? Absolutely nothing. Except anti-war songs.  

Pick Me Up Theatre in Oh! What A Lovely War, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight (6/4/2023) and tomorrow, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office:

Pick Me Up Theatre’s poster artwork for Oh! What A Lovely War

REVIEW: The Sound Of Music, Pick Me Up Theatre, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York ****

Sanna Jeppsson’s Maria Rainer with the von Trapp children in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Sound Of Music. All pictures: Helen Spencer

Pick Me Up Theatre in The Sound Of Music, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until December 30. Performances: 7.30pm, December 19, 21, 23, 27, 28 and 29; 2.30pm, December 20, 22, 27, 29 and 30. Box office:

THIS is Theatre@41’s Christmas show, as signified by the seven fairy-lit fir trees on director-designer Robert Readman’s end-on stage.

Those trees evoke both the hills, alive with the sound of music, and the home, one for each von Trapp child.

However, although it may Christmastide, just as with 1938’s rising tide of Nazism in Austria, the hills and the cities in 2022 are all too alive with intolerance, extremism and anything but music.

James Willstropp: A commanding presence as Captain von Trapp

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical was last staged in York by Nik Briggs’s York Stage Musicals in April 2019 at the Grand Opera House on a grander scale. Readman has gone for a more intimate performance, the audience around the perimeter settling into deeply comfy chairs more normally to be found in smart houses, but being confronted by unsettling Nazi insignia, from uniforms to Swastika flags and armbands and a hale of heils. 

This heightens the beauty of the mountain setting, the purity and devotion of the nuns, the love among the children, the goodness of Maria and the resolute political convictions of Austrian naval captain Georg von Trapp, when countered by the strangling grip of Nazism.

It also enhances the pleasure of watching the performers, when so close up, all the better for facial expressions in a musical where song and dance numbers are never more than gather-round family sized in Jessica Sias Wilson’s choreography.

Led by Helen Spencer’s Mother Abbess, the choral singing of the Nonnberg Abbey nuns has a haunting stillness, and even the beloved How Do We Solve A Problem Like Maria? is more driven by the singing than movement. Sister Act, it aint!

Alexandra Mather’s haughty-but-ice Elsa Schraeder

Spencer’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain, once taken to the chart peak by Shirley Bassey, is sung with heart and matriarchal concern, in keeping with the character, rather than as a showstopper, but is all the more moving for that interpretation.

The two leads could not have been better cast. Since making her York debut  in The 39 Steps in November 2021, Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson has rapidly ascended the York theatrical circuit, showing diversity, equally adept in comedy and drama, and now revealing her talent for musicals too.

A radiant stage presence, she shines as Maria Rainer, the unsure trainee nun who finds her true calling with the von Trapp children, as the young nanny with nonconformist ideas, bursting with love and kindness, independent, strong-willed thinking, a zeal for nurturing, and a delight in bringing joy, yet we are always aware too that she is learning, as much as they are learning from her.

Her Maria is full of good humour too, her singing uplifting in The Sound Of Music, light, bright and playful in the set-pieces with the von Trapp children, My Favourite Things and Do-Re-Mi.

Sanna Jeppsson’s Maria: “Bursting with love, kindness and independent, strong-willed thinking”

James Willstrop has been making the headlines this year…for his sporting prowess, swishing all before him on the squash doubles court as world champion and Commonwealth games gold medallist, but he has another string to his bow as an actor on the stages of Harrogate and West Yorkshire.

Now he makes his York debut as widowed Captain von Trapp. Tall, commanding, carrying off a suit with an air about him, he begins with righteous austere authority, issuing orders to staff and children alike on his whistle, but warming under Maria’s influence, while never wavering from his bold stance against Nazism.

He has a lovely tenor too, best expressed in Edelweiss, and is handy with strings too, this time the guitar, not the squash racket. Word has it, he is keen to do more with Pick Me Up next year.

Elsa Schraeder might be seen as the female short-straw role, but Alexandra Mather brings more than Viennese airs and graces to the sometime sourpuss, the children’s putative “new mother”. There is ice but shards of haughty humour too, and her operatic voice has crystalline clarity.

Sam Steel’s naïve delivery boy Rolf Gruber

Andrew Isherwood’s “political cockroach” Max Detweiler is dextrous rather than sinister, dapper, flamboyant, peppering his performance with a comic edge more usually to be found in the Emcee in Cabaret.

Daisy Winbolt-Robertson impresses as wilful Liesl von Trapp (a role shared with Emily Halstead), as does Sam Steel as Rolf Gruber, the naïve delivery boy who takes up the Nazi cause (in a role share with Jack Hambleton).

Readman has assembled three sets of von Trapp children (Teams Linz, Graz and Vienna). Saturday night was Team Linz’s turn, and how they excelled, working so delightfully with Jeppsson’s Maria, yet blossoming individually too, especially Poppy Kay’s Brigitta.

Sanna Jeppsson’s Maria dancing with James Willstrop’s Captain von Trapp

Natalie Walker’s five-piece band may be out of sight, behind a screen, but they play their part to the full, those so-familiar songs flying high on flute, trumpet, clarinet, keys and percussion.

Readman and Carolyne Jensen’s costumes are top drawer, from Von Trapp and Detweiler’s suits to Schraeder’s dresses. Look out too for the children’s clothes made out of curtains.

Readman surrounds the audience with tied-back drapes and floral decorations, a typically theatrical flourish to his design, to go with those glittering trees and steps. The lighting signifies each change of tone too.

Plenty of matinees as well as evening performances affords ample opportunity to visit Theatre@41 over the festive season for the best of Readman’s three productions in quick succession (after Matilda The Musical Jr and Nativity! The Musical).

Andrew Isherwood’s Max Detweiler and Alexandra Mather’s Elsa Schraeder