REVIEW: The Nutcracker, Northern Ballet, Leeds Grand Theatre, until January 7 2023

Northern Ballet in The Nutcracker. Picture: Emily Nuttall

NORTHERN Ballet may have opened a new chapter with the appointment of Federico Bonelli as artistic director, but the company shows typical Leeds savvy in not closing the book on predecessor David Nixon.

The tenth anniversary of his sensational, sensuous, sinuous, Charleston and tango-filled The Great Gatsby will be marked with a revival in Leeds, Sheffield and London next year.

This autumn and winter comes the return of his most performed work, the festive favourite The Nutcracker, first on tour and now back home in Leeds at the Grand.

It has become the custom for choreographer and costume designer Nixon’s decorative, delightful, dazzling 2007 Northern Ballet production to see out the old year and welcome in the new every few years, most recently in 2018.

This latest return is more welcome than ever, its sparkle and joy, bravura dancing and elegant attire such a counter to this desperately destructive year of hapless politics, financial trauma, international strife and war on European soil.

Magic dances through the air from the moment of arrival, twinkling snowflakes filling the stage front cloth as the seats fill too in readiness for Nixon’s Regency England setting of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous late-19th century Christmas ballet.

Vital to that magical spell too are Charles Cusick Smith’s designs, works of winter wonder on a grand scale that sweep up audience and dancers alike in the fantastical journey from castle drawing-room party to toy battlefield, snowy fairyland and a world above the clouds.

As in every house, Kirica Takahashi’s inquisitive Clara excitedly awaits the chance to unwrap the presents that lie behind the towering, closed doors on Christmas Eve night.

When the clock strikes midnight, Clara is transported to fantasia by George Liang’s noble Nutcracker Prince, her journey through the snow orchestrated exuberantly by Gavin McCaig’s luxuriously coiffured, nimble-footed Herr Drosselmeyer.

Andrew Tomlinson’s Mouse King shows dashing bravery in defeat in Act One, whose climax mirrors the traditions of pantomime in a transformation scene graced with the most beautiful imagery of all, lit exquisitely by Mark Jonathan.

Act Two is even more of a triumph, its tempo set by Saeka Shirai’s enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy, who receives the loudest cheers of all, in tandem with Joseph Taylor’s Cavalier.

A kaleidoscopically colourful pageant of national dances – Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French, Russian – ensues, showcasing company members in democratic spirit with a playfully competitive edge overseen by McCaig’s gleeful Drosselmeyer.  None surpasses Jin Ishii’s Spanish solo.

Throughout, Nixon complements Tchaikovsky’s joyous score with the poetic eloquence of his choreography, ever beautiful and charming, full of spectacle and heart, with room for mischievous humour too.

As ever, you would be crackers to miss The Nutcracker.

Northern Ballet in The Nutcracker, Leeds Grand Theatre, until January 7 2023. Performances: December 29, 7pm; December 30, 2pm, 7pm; December 31, 2pm; January 3 and 4, 7pm; January 5, 2pm, 7pm; January 6, 7pm; January 7, 2pm, 7pm. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or

More Things To Do in York and beyond for Christmas joys, but Armageddon is coming. Hutch’s List No. 110, courtesy of The Press

A mouse on skis at the Fairfax House exhibition A Townmouse Christmas

A MOUSE house invasion, Christmas concerts galore, a much-loved musical and a cracking ballet are Charles Hutchinson’s festive fancies.

Exhibition of the week: A Townmouse Christmas, Fairfax House, York, until December 23, 11am to 4pm, last entry, 3.30pm

‘TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring. Not true! In among the Georgian festive decor, hundreds of decorative town-mice have descended on Fairfax House.  

Stealing the cheese and biscuits, running up and down the clocks, even skiing down the banisters, the charming magical mousey scenes complement the 18th-century-style festive foliage that evoke a Fairfax family Christmas of a bygone era in York. Tickets:

Chapter House Choir: Candle-lit carol singing in the nave of York Minster

Christmas institution of the week in York: Chapter House Choir’s Carols By Candlelight, York Minster, tonight, 7.30pm; doors, 6.45pm

DIRECTED by Benjamin Morris, the Chapter House Choir will be joined in the central nave by the Chapter House Youth Choir, the choir’s Handbell Ringers and York organist William Campbell for a feast of festive music, combining familiar carols with new and exciting compositions.

Jesus Christ The Apple Tree, a carol composed for the choir by founder Andrew Carter, will be premiered. The 90-minute concert with no interval will be dedicated to the memory of Dr Alvan White, the choir’s Candlelighter-in-Chief for these concerts from 2003 to 2018, who died in August. Tickets: “Selling very well” at

Sanna Jeppsson’s Maria Rainer sings to the von Trapp children in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Sound Of Music

Musical of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in The Sound Of Music, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until December 30.

COMMONWEALTH Games squash gold medallist and Harrogate man of the musicals James Willstrop plays Captain von Tropp opposite Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson’s trainee nun turned free-spirited nanny, Maria Rainer, in Robert Readman’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s final collaboration.

Three teams of von Trapp children, Team Vienna, Team Graz and Team Linz, will share out the performances at 7.30pm tonight, then December 19, 21, 23, 27, 28 and 29, and at 2.30pm, today, tomorrow, then December 20, 22, 27, 29 and 30. Box office:

Holly head: Kate Rusby crowned in festive foliage for her Christmas celebrations

Festive folk concert of the week: Kate Rusby At Christmas, York Barbican, tomorrow, 7.30pm

AFTER marking her 30th anniversary in the folk fold with 30: Happy Returns, an album of collaborations with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Richard Hawley and KT Tunstall, Barnsley folk nightingale Kate Rusby ends the year with her customary Christmas tour.

Joined by her regular folk band, led by husband Damien O’Kane, and her Brass Boys quintet, Rusby draws on South Yorkshire’s Sunday lunchtime pub tradition of singing carols once frowned on by Victorian churches for being too jolly, complemented by festive favourites and her own winter songs. Box office:

Merry Christmas from The Howl & The Hum

Christmas fancy dress of the week: Please Please You presents The Howl & The Hum, The Crescent, York, Monday and Tuesday, 7.30pm, both sold out

DEMAND was so high for York band The Howl & The Hum’s now traditional Yuletide celebration at The Crescent that a Monday show was added to the fully booked Tuesday gig. All tickets have gone for that night too.

What will frontman Sam Griffiths wear after raiding the Nativity Play dressing-up box for angel wings in 2019 and bedecking himself as a lit-up Christmas tree in 2021? And which Christmas classic will they reinvent in the wake of The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York last time when joined by fellow York combo Bull?

The New York Brass Band’s two Xmas Party gigs on December 22 and 23 at 7.30pm have sold out too.  

Christmas revival of the week: Northern Ballet in The Nutcracker, Leeds Grand Theatre, Tuesday to January 7 2023

The Nutcracker: Northern Ballet’s festive delight returns to Leeds Grand Theatre. Picture: Emily Nuttall

LEEDS company Northern Ballet’s touring revival of former artistic director David Nixon’s festive favourite heads home for a three-week finale at the Grand, replete with gorgeous Regency-style sets by Charles Cusick Smith.

“The Nutcracker is not just a ballet, it is a tradition for many families and generations, a way of having shared memories at a time of year when togetherness turns to the fore,” says Nixon. “I believe that The Nutcracker offers the perfect festive escapism for every generation, a chance to revel in the child-like magic of Christmas.” Box office: 0113 243 0808 or

The York Waits: Christmas music on shawms, sackbuts, curtals, crumhorns, bagpipes and more

The wait is almost over for…The York Waits’ Christmas concert: The Waits’ Wassail: Music for Advent and Christmas, National Centre for Early Music, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

THE York Waits, now in their 45th year of re-creating the historic city band, present Mirth & Melody Of Angels, music for Christmas and the festive season from medieval and renaissance Europe, performed by Tim Bayley, Lizzie Gutteridge, Anna Marshall, Susan Marshall and William Marshall with singer Deborah Catterall.

Angels abound, from the 1350’s Angelus ad Virginem to Orlando Gibbons’ Thus Angels Sung from the late-Elizabethan era. Familiar German chorales are followed by French Noels and Mediterranean folk songs, played on shawms, sackbuts, curtals, crumhorns, bagpipes, recorders, flutes, fiddles, rebec, guitar, hurdy gurdy and portative organ. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Baaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhbican frustration! Ricky Gervais’s brace of Armageddon dates at York Barbican sold out in 27 minutes

Apocalypse next month: Ricky Gervais, Armageddon, York Barbican, January 10 and 11 2023, 7.30pm precisely

ARMAGEDDON is not the end of the world as we know it but the name of grouchy comedian, actor, screenwriter, director, singer, podcaster and awards ceremony host Ricky Gervais’s new tour show.

Gervais, 61, will be torching “woke over-earnestness and the contradictions of modern political correctness while imagining how it all might end for our ‘one species of narcissistic ape’,” according to the Guardian review of his Manchester Apollo gig. Box office? Oh dear, you’re too late for Armageddon; both nights have sold out.

Also recommended but selling out fast: The Shepherd Group Brass Band Christmas Concert, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tonight, 7.30pm

ONLY the last few tickets remain for this Christmas concert featuring all the bands that make up the Shepherd Group Brass Band, from their Brass Roots absolute beginners to the championship section Senior Band, playing a variety of Christmas and seasonal music with plenty of audience participation. Box office:

More Things To Do in and around York as Wuthering Heights goes ‘camp folk musical’. List No. 56, courtesy of The Press

Carr double: Jimmy Carr to play both York Barbican and Grand Opera House

Charles Hutchinson fishes out No Such Thing As A Fish and plenty more besides to hook you in.

Two bites at the cherry of sceptical comedy: Jimmy Carr: Terribly Funny, York Barbican, tonight, 8pm; Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday, 8pm

JIMMY Carr will be playing York twice inside a week on his rescheduled Terribly Funny tour, visiting both the Barbican and Grand Opera House.

The host of Channel 4’s The Friday Night Project and 8 Out Of 10 Cats will be discussing terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love. “But they’re just jokes,” Carr says. “They are not the terrible things.” 

Having political correctness at a comedy show is like having health and safety at a rodeo, he asserts. Box office: or 

Jools Holland: Back at the piano with his orchestra in York and Harrogate

National treasure shows of the week: Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, York Barbican, tomorrow, 7.30pm; Harrogate Convention Centre, Saturday, doors, 7pm

PIANIST, bandleader and ringmaster Jools Holland is joined by his 19-piece orchestra for the 2021 autumn tour of his long-running celebration of ska, boogie-woogie and the blues.

The Later presenter, 63, will be welcoming regular vocalists Ruby Turner and Louise Marshall, plus special guest Chris Difford, his former compadre in Squeeze. Lulu is in with a Shout of a guest spot too. Box office: or

Bella Gaffney: Down by the river on new single Black Water. Picture: Esme Mai

Folk gig of the week: Bella Gaffney, York St John University Theatre, Saturday, 7.45pm

BORN in Bradford and educated in Nottingham, singer-songwriter Bella Gaffney now lives in York, performing both in The Magpies trio and solo.

Combining her folk-inspired compositions with her original arrangements of traditional pieces, Bella has a new album on its way in 2022 funded by Arts Council England and York charity Doing It For Liam.

Listen out for the single Black Water, a lockdown-inspired homage to the River Wharfe and its power to connect Bella to family and friends miles away. Katie Spencer supports on a bill promoted by The Crescent in a new venture with York St John. Box office:

Russell Watson: Delighted to be performing again after the lockdowns, singing in York on a Sunday afternoon

Matinee idol of the week: Russell Watson, 20th Anniversary Of The Voice, York Barbican, Sunday, 3pm

REARRANGED from October 9 2020, Salford tenor Russell Watson’s 20th anniversary celebration of his debut album The Voice will be a Sunday afternoon performance.

Watson will be joined by a choir for a matinee concert featuring such favourites as Caruso, O Sole Mio, Il Gladiatore, Nessun Dorma, You Are So Beautiful, Someone To Remember Me and Faith Of The Heart. Box office:

York Musical Theatre Company singers Cat Foster, left, Richard Bayton, Helen Spencer, John Haigh, Henrietta Linnemann and Rachel Higgs step out for Hooray For Hollywood

Escapist nostalgia of the week: York Musical Theatre in Hooray For Hollywood, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Monday to Wednesday, 7.30pm

DEVISED by director Paul Laidlaw, York Musical Theatre Company’s Hooray For Hollywood celebrates songs from Tinseltown’s golden age of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. No

Laidlaw’s slick and sophisticated six-hander show stars Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs, Henrietta Linnemann, Helen Spencer, Richard Bayton and John Haigh, who will be evoking the days of Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. Box office: or on 01904 501935.

The tour poster for No Such Thing As A Fish, full to the gills with facts at the Grand Opera House, York

Podcast transfer of the week: No Such Thing As A Fish, Nerd Immunity, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 8pm

SUITABLE for “anyone with a thirst for knowledge, a taste for puns and a need for belly-laughs”, the weekly British podcast series No Such Thing As A Fish is presented by the geeky researchers behind the BBC Two panel game QI: James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptaszynski and Dan Schreiber.

Now, “the QI elves” are on their first tour since 2019, revealing favourite unbelievable facts in their Nerd Immunity live show. Box office:

Ash Hunter as Heathcliff and Lucy McCormick as Cathy in Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights at York Theatre Royal

World premiere of the week in York: Emma Rice’s Wise Children in Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to November 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children teams up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and Bristol Old Vic for Rice’s folk musical, robustly visual account of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland novel.

Lucy McCormick plays Cathy in this epic story of love, revenge and redemption, now infused, according to the Guardian review, with “unfaithful storytelling”, pastiche, comedy and a “raging camp” tone. Interesting! Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Close, but no cigar: Omid Djalili takes the mic in The Good Times

What better time for The Good Times: Omid Djalili, Grand Opera House, York, Wednesday, 8pm

AFTER experimenting with a Zoom gig where he was muted by 639 people, British-Iranian comedian, actor, television producer, presenter, voice actor and writer Omid Djalili is back where he belongs:  bringing The Good Times to the stage.

Expect intelligent, provocative, fast-talking, boundlessly energetic comedic outbursts rooted in cultural observations, wherein Djalili explores the diversity of modern Britain. Box office:

Kristin Hersh: Electric lady lands in York next spring

Newly confirmed for 2022: Kristin Hersh Electric Trio, The Crescent, York, April 24, 7.30pm

THROWING Muses co-founder Kristin Hersh will return to The Crescent with her Electric Trio, featuring Throwing Muses bass player Fred Abong and drummer Rob Ahlers, from her other band, 50 Foot Wave.

In store is a loud, tight and intense set of material spread across singer and multi-instrumentalist Hersh’s 30-year career that saw Throwing Muses deliver their latest indie rock album, Sun Racket, in September 2020. Ahlers will open the gig in a solo showcase for his album Yellow Throat. Box office:

Hollie McNish: Sold-out Say Owt gig on Wednesday

Recommended but sold out already:

SOUL singer Gabrielle’s Rise Again Tour show at York Barbican on Wednesday; poet and author Hollie McNish, hosted by York’s spoken-word crew Say Owt, at The Crescent, York, on Wednesday.

Kevin Poeung as Merlin in Northern Ballet’s Merlin. Picture: Caroline Holden

World premiere of the week outside York: Northern Ballet in Merlin, Leeds Grand Theatre, Tuesday to November 20

OLIVIER Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie makes his Northern Ballet debut with the epic adventure of Merlin, the world’s most famous sorcerer, who must discover how to master his magic to unite a warring kingdom. Cue heartbreak, humour and more than a little magic. 

McOnie is working with the Leeds company after choreographing King Kong on Broadway and Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at

REVIEW, 10/11/2021: Northern Ballet in Merlin, Leeds Grand Theatre ***

DREW McOnie’s dazzling direction of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2016 whetted the appetite for his debut for fellow Leeds company Northern Ballet.

In his first full-length ballet, the Portsmouth-born Olivier Award winner applies his choreographic prowess to the world premiere of Merlin, an epic fantasy adventure, very definitely for a family audience, that would have benefited from being staged in the upcoming holiday season.

Merlin may be billed as “the world’s most famous sorcerer”, but the story that unfolds here needs recourse to Page 4 and 5 of the programme to peruse The Story – At A Glance to be assured wholly of who’s who and what’s what in what Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon calls “this magical tale with a heart-warming family narrative”.

In a nutshell, “an otherworldly ritual brings with it two mighty Gods. Their union creates an orb that falls to earth and reveals a baby within: Merlin. A young Blacksmith (Minju Kang) finds this helpless child, adopting him in as her own.”

Hence the family appeal of a coming-of-age story with fleet-footed, nimble Kevin Poeung in the role of blossoming wizard Merlin discovering how to use his magical powers to unite the warring kingdom.

The importance of family – in this case Merlin being raised by a strong, principled single mum – provides the everyday beating heart of McOnie’s Merlin, albeit that power struggles and romance are the more obvious headline-making material here.

Northern Ballet go for the epic scale to excite younger audiences drawn to Harry Potter, Star Wars and the Tolkien films: cue sword fights, puppets for a smoke-billowing dragon and wild dogs, and an Excalibur that lights up in the manner of a Jedi lightsabre.

Colin Richmond’s golden set designs are spectacular, even magical, and of course there is magic in the show, but CharlesHutchPress did not find McOnie’s production wholly magical, despite the performances of Antoinette Brooks-Daw’s Morgan, Javier Torres’s Vortigern and Abigail Prudames’ Lady of the Lake.

McOnie has made his name in musical theatre, an artform that comes with narrative in song and book, but dance must fill in the gaps, and the storytelling is not this Merlin’s strongest suit, for all the zest of Grant Olding’s music and the panache of McOnie’s modern choreography, allied to classical steps.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

More Things To Do in and around York before and after Johnson’s “Terminus Est”. List No. 37, courtesy of The Press, York

A fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night: Sophie Robinson as Julie in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal

FREEDOM Day is delayed but Boris Johnson has reached for the Latin dictionary again with his promise of “Terminus Est”.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, life goes on in Charles Hutchinson’s socially distanced diary.

Play of the week ahead: Miss Julie, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26

ON the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, the celebrations are in full swing when Julie, the daughter of the island’s British governor, crashes the servants’ party downstairs.

What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night in the Pearl River Delta in British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s adaptation of Strindberg’s psychological drama in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s new touring production. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Reopening today: Leeds Grand Theatre auditorium will be welcoming an audience for the first time in 15 months

Reopening of the day: Leeds Grand Theatre

WHEN Leeds Grand Theatre first opened its doors on Monday, November 18 1878, a playbill declared it would “Positively Open”. Now, after 15 months under wraps, it is “Positively Reopening” today (17/62021) for a socially distanced run of Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake until June 26.

In Northern Ballet‘s emotive retelling, Anthony’s life is haunted by guilt after the tragic loss of his brother. When he finds himself torn between two loves, he looks to the water for answers.

There he finds solace with the mysterious swan-like Odette as the story is beautifully reimagined by David Nixon, who will be leaving the Leeds company after 20 years as artistic director in December. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at boxoffice@leedsheritagetheatres

Abba Mania: Saying thank you for the superSwedes’ music at York Racecourse on June 26

Staying on track: Sounds In The Grounds, Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, June 25 to 27

JAMBOREE Entertainment presents three Covid safety-compliant Sounds In The Grounds concerts next weekend with socially distanced picnic patches at York Racecourse.

First up, next Friday, will be Beyond The Barricade, a musical theatre celebration starring former Les Miserables principals; followed by Abba Mania next Saturday and the country hits of A Country Night In Nashville next Sunday.

Opening each show will be York’s party, festival and wedding favourites, The New York Brass Band. Tickets are on sale at or at the gate for last-minute decision makers.

The poster for the return of the York River Art Market

Welcome back: York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, York, from June 26

AFTER the pandemic ruled out all last year’s live events, York River Art Market returns to its riverside railing perch at Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, for ten shows this summer in the wake of the winter’s online #YRAMAtHome, organised by Charlotte Dawson.

Free to browse and for sale will be work by socially distanced, indie emerging and established artists on June 26, July 3, 24, 25 and 31 and August 1, 7, 14, 21 and 28, from 10.30am to 5.30pm, when YRAM will be raising funds for York Rescue Boat.

On show will be landscape and abstract paintings; ink drawings, cards and prints; jewellery and glass mosaics; woodwork and metalwork; textiles and clothing and artisan candles and beauty products.

Alexander Wright: Contemplating his debut solo performance of poems, stories and new writing on July 10. Picture: Megan Drury

He’s nervous, but why? Alexander Wright: Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 10, 7.30pm

LET Alex tell the story: “In a potentially remarkable act of narcissism, I am doing a solo gig of my own work in a theatre I built (with Phil Grainger and dad Paul Wright) in my back garden. 

“It’s the first time I have ever done a solo gig. I write lots of stuff, direct lots of stuff, tour Orpheus, Eurydice & The Gods to hundreds of places. But I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it.”

Expect beautiful stories, beautiful poems and a few beautiful special guests; tickets via

Ringmaster and Dame Dolly Donut in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldilocks And The Three Bears at Pocklington Arts Centre

Summer “pantomime”? Yes, in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldlilocks And The Three Bears, Pocklington Arts Centre, August 12, 2.30pm

ALL the fun of live family theatre returns to Pocklington Arts Centre this summer with Doncaster company TaleGate Theatre’s big top pantomime extravaganza.

In Goldilocks And The Three Bears, pop songs, magic and puppets combine in a magical adventure where you are invited to help Goldilocks and her mum, Dame Dolly Donut, save their circus and rescue the three bears from the evil ringmaster. For tickets, go to:

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys: Headliners to be found at The Magpies Festival in Sutton-on-the-Forest in August

Festival alert: The Magpies Festival, Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest, near York, August 14, music on bar stage from 1.30pm; main stage, from 2.30pm

SAM Kelly & The Lost Boys will headline The Magpies Festival in the grounds of Sutton Park.

Confirmed for the folk-flavoured line-up too are: Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra; Blair Dunlop; fast-rising Katherine Priddy; The Magpies; York musician Dan Webster; East Yorkshire singer-songwriter Katie Spencer; the duo Roswell and The People Versus. Day tickets and camping tickets are available at   

A variation on Malvolio’s cross-gartered stocking theme: Yellow and black rugby socks for Luke Adamson’s version of Twelfth Night on the Selby RUFC pitch

Fun and games combined: JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm

“I’M just getting in touch to announce we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!” promises Luke Adamson, Selby-born actor, London theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, a raucous, musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play”, Twelfth Night, will be staged with Adamson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with Yorkshire acting talent.

Out go pantaloons and big fluffy collars, in come rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair. Box office:

Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks to bob along to Leeds Grand Theatre next winter

The magical musical is on its way: The poster for the Leeds-bound world premiere tour of Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks

IT is time to start believing. There WILL be a Christmas show at Leeds Grand Theatre next winter.

And what a show: the world premiere tour of Disney’s new stage musical, Bedknobs And Broomsticks, will be “bobbing along” to Yorkshire from December 8 2021 to January 9 2022 with its story of three orphaned children, evacuated ever so reluctantly from London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, a trainee witch.

Brought to stage life by Harry Potter And The Cursed Child illusionist Jamie Harrison and fellow award-winning theatre-maker Candice Edmunds, the show will feature songs by the legendary Sherman Brothers, of Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats fame.

Among them will be Portobello Road, The Age Of Not Believing and The Beautiful Briny, complemented by a new book by Brian Hill and new songs and additional music and lyrics by Neil Bartram.

The Leeds Grand Theatre auditorium: empty since March 14 in Covid-19 2020. Picture: Ant Robling

The show is based on the books The Magic Bedknob; Or, How To Become A Witch In Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires And Broomsticks (1947) by Highbury-born children’s author Mary Norton, and Disney’s 1971 Academy Award-winning film, Bedknobs And Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson.

Confirmation of this five-week Christmas run follows the announcement that Mamma Mia! will return to the Leeds Grand in…2023. Mamma Mia indeed.

The jukebox musical with a book by British playwright Catherine Johnson and the ABBA songs of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, had its 2020 run Covid-cancelled, but Leeds Grand audiences will be saying Thank You For The Music once more from April 4 to 15, almost 16 months from now. 

At the close of a year when the crushing pandemic brought the curtain down on the Leeds Grand stage after the March opening night of Northern Ballet’s world premiere of Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha, that stage will remain dark over Christmas for the first time in the New Briggate theatre’s 142-year history (bar the refurbishment of 2005-6). 

Ayama Miyata as Aiko and Minju Kang as Okichi in Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

As a result of this on-going Covid-cursed shutdown and inability to generate earned revenue through ticket and secondary sales, the Leeds Grand is asking patrons, if financially possible, to help support its long-term survival by donating to its Keep A Seat Warm This Christmas campaign, buying tickets to future shows or memberships, gift vouchers and merchandise.

Chief executive officer Chris Blythe says: “I know it is a huge ask, especially at Christmas, but I also know how much the Grand means to the people of Leeds and wider region.

“The support and generosity of our patrons this year has been overwhelming, both financially and emotionally. It is abundantly clear that arts and culture are needed now more than ever to help boost people’s mental health and build community through shared experience, as we all try to find some escapism from our day-to-day and ongoing concerns for our futures.”

Tickets for Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks and Mamma Mia! are on sale at or on 0113 243 0808. To support Leeds Heritage Theatres this Christmas, go to

Dracula strikes again as seductive Northern Ballet hit is shown on BBC Four on Sunday

Javier Torres as Dracula and Antoinette Brooks-Daw as Lucy in Northern Ballet’s 2019 production of David Nixon’s Dracula. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

NORTHERN Ballet’s Dracula will be shown on BBC Four on Sunday night in the television debut of artistic director David Nixon’s celebrated 2019 production.

After the 10pm screening, this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic story will be available on BBC iPlayer throughout June as part of the Leeds company’s Pay As You Feel Digital in its 50th anniversary year.

When theatres had to close suddenly under Covid-19 restrictions, Northern Ballet was obliged to cancel the spring tour of the 2020 premiere of Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha after only one performance at Leeds Grand Theatre on March 14. 

In response, the company pledged to “keep bringing world-class ballet to our audiences” through a Pay As You Feel Digital Season. 

One performance and goodnight: Ayama Miyata as Aiko and Minju Kang as Okichi in Northern Ballet’s Geisha in March. Picture: Guy Farrow

To date, the season has been watched by more than 200,000 people, attracting donations of  £20,000.

Northern Ballet’s latest statement reads: “The company is set to face a loss of over £1 million in box-office income due to Covid-19, which may impact its ability to continue to pay its workforce, many of whom are freelancers, as well as its ability to present new ballets.

“While theatres remain dark, the company aims to continue making its performances available online and on TV, encouraging audiences to donate when they watch, if they are able.”

Those who wish to support Northern Ballet can donate at

Dracula was recorded at Leeds Playhouse on Hallowe’en 2019 and streamed live to more than 10,000 viewers in cinemas across Europe. Choreographed by Nixon, it stars Northern Ballet premier dancer Javier Torres in the title role.

Jonadette Carpio in EGO, one of Northern Ballet’s Pay As You Feel Digital Season shows. Picture: Emily Nuttall

Northern Ballet’s Pay As You Feel Digital Season also includes Amaury Lebrun’s For An Instant; Kenneth Tindall’s original dance film EGO; Mariana Rodrigues’s Little Red Riding Hood; highlights from Northern Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala and extended scenes from Northern Ballet repertoire, including Tindall’s Geisha.

Premièred in 2019, Lebrun’s For An Instant was part of Northern Ballet’s Three Short Ballets programme and had only seven performances in Leeds and Doncaster. The full ballet, created, by the French contemporary dance maker with Northern Ballet’s versatile performers, can be viewed online until June 7.

Highlights from Northern Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala,performed at Leeds Grand Theatre in January, include scenes from Tindall’s Casanovawith music by Kerry Muzzey,and Nixon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

More will be released from this one-night-only spectacular, when Northern Ballet was joined by dancers from The Royal Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Leeds company Phoenix Dance Theatre and Scottish Ballet.

To learn more about Northern Ballet’s Pay As You Feel Digital Season, visit

Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary launches with Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha at Leeds Grand Theatre

Ayama Miyata as Aiko and Minju Kang as Okichi in Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

GEISHA, the first of two world premieres to mark Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary, opens tonight at Leeds Grand Theatre.

Telling the emotional story of two young women whose lives are torn apart in the midst of a collision between East and West, the ballet is choreographed and directed by Kenneth Tindall, creator of the Leeds company’s 2017 hit, Casanova, and short works such as The Shape Of Sound.

Running in Leeds from this weekend until March 21 before a national tour that sets off at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from March 24 to 28, Geisha is an original ballet inspired by true events.

Okichi and Aiko are two young geisha with an unshakeable bond who find themselves on different paths when their world is irrevocably changed after the first arrival of the Americans in Japan. While Aiko finds happiness in her new life, Okichi’s life is devastated and she returns as a ghostly apparition to wreak her revenge.

Geisha is performed to an original score by Alexandra Harwood, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Sets and costumes are designed by Christopher Oram, who designed Casanova too, with lighting by Alastair West. The scenario has been written by Kenneth Tindall in collaboration with TV and film writer Gwyneth Hughes; historical consultant Lesley Downer completes the creative team.

Leeds tickets are on sale on 0844 848 2700 or at; Sheffield, 0114 249 6000 or Age guidance: 12 plus.

Choreographer and director Kenneth Tindall in rehearsal for Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Emily Nuttall

Here, Kenneth Tindall, Northern Ballet dancer from 2003 to 2015, choreographer in residence and director of Geisha, answers questions on his new production.

What led you to choose Geisha for your second full-length ballet, Kenneth?

“When [artistic director] David Nixon invited me to create a new full-length ballet for Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary year, we had a lot of discussion about what the title should be.

“Of course you have to consider how the tour will work and the necessity for it to be successful at the box office, but we were also mindful of it being the 50th anniversary and choosing a title that could tie in with that.

“In Northern Ballet’s history, the company has staged two versions of Madame Butterfly, including one choreographed by David himself, which I’ve always been inspired by, but I didn’t want to recreate a ballet that he’d done so well and built a loyal audience for.

“Instead, we came up with the idea for an original ballet about geisha based on true events. I lived and worked in Japan for a year and it’s a culture that I’ve always been fascinated with. The mystery behind the world of geisha is a fantastic prospect for a creative and really sparks the imagination.”

When did you first become interested in the culture of geisha?

“My interest in geisha was first piqued many years ago when I read [Arthur Golden’s] Memoirs Of A Geisha. That was my first introduction to geisha and I quickly realised that there was so much more to it.

Ayama Miyata and Minju Kang in Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

“I found it to be a beautiful first source that captured my imagination and led me into much deeper research. I remember reading the book in the bath and just being fascinated by the way it was written: the colours, the landscape, the feeling, the weather, and just the honour in it all.

“It’s like a whole other world, so opposite to us in most ways that it’s almost hard for a western mind to get around.”

Why choose an original story for Geisha rather than an existing one?

“One of the things that I’m most proud of about Northern Ballet is that they continue to try to do new stories. Not tried and tested scenarios, but completely original and wholly new stories that the audience don’t know.

“I think that it’s incredibly brave of Northern Ballet because it’s a really difficult thing to market. I believe that through the years of doing original ballets like this and producing such great work, the company attracts people to the theatre and hopefully a new audience to the art form as well.”

What were your first steps in the creation of Geisha?

“The first thing I did was establish who was going to create the story with me. Every time I step into a new project, I’m also looking to push my creative process in at least one new direction, so that I can learn something and develop my own skills and ideas for future projects.

Northern Ballet in rehearsal in Leeds for Geisha

“On Casanova I worked with Ian Kelly to create the scenario and I loved that process. I thought it was really interesting to have a novelist and playwright involved and it led to quite a complex story.

“This time I decided I wanted a TV and film writer to help me edit the scenario and form the character arcs, but we also really needed a specialist in the subject to help us fully respect the culture.

“That led me to Gwyneth Hughes to actually write the scenario with, and Lesley Downer to oversee the process and make sure we were on the right track.”

How did you form the scenario for Geisha?

“Gwyneth Hughes and I came together and threw a hundred ideas into the air to see where they would land. We began to disregard ideas we thought wouldn’t make a ballet or that we felt weren’t interesting enough or were too westernised.

Then Gwyneth asked me if I knew the story of Okichi, which I didn’t. I don’t believe the story of Okichi is very well known in the west but, in her hometown of Shimoda, there’s a statue of her.

“I think it’s incredible that this woman, who had a sort of fall from grace and was perceived totally differently in the 19th century, now has a statue where people come to pray.

“You never know what the legacy will be of the choices you make. What makes Okichi’s story more interesting for me is that the legend is so vague, there are many versions of it, which leaves it open.

Minju Kang in Geisha. Picture:Guy Farrow

“This meant we had a structure for the story and then our imagination could run wild. That’s what excited me about Okichi’s story and one of the reasons we chose it. It then also allowed us to incorporate another aspect of Japanese culture with the Obon Festival of the dead.

The Obon Festival is visually stunning and quite overwhelming in some ways. If you take a moment to stop and think about life and death, the idea that you could meet the people that are no longer in your life, the thought is so powerful.

“It just seemed such a natural fit to include the Obon Festival. Over this three-day period, we are able to resolve the conflict that happened in the real world in the first act and then be able to sustain the point of view of Okichi in the second act through her spirit.”

What are the key themes of Geisha?

Above all, Geisha is about two young women who happen to be geisha, and the sisterhood they share. We see the lives of these two women turned upside down with the arrival of the Americans, which was really a turning point in the history of Japan.

“The geisha world as a backdrop is stunning and visual, and something that works really well in theatre, but the interest is actually in who the characters are beyond that.

“The ballet includes themes of life and death, love, loss, redemption and revenge, which are universal themes that any culture can understand.”

Minju Kang in rehearsal for Geisha. Picture: Emily Nuttall

What are the challenges of creating a ballet with an original scenario versus one based on an existing story?

“It has pros and cons. If you choose a story like Romeo & Juliet, you’ve got fantastic theatre. Everything is there for you. The duets, the death, the drama, the excitement, the love, the connection, the families – it’s Shakespeare, it is incredible.

“There’s the reason it’s survived for so long and there are so many reinterpretations of it, because at its foundation, it’s a masterclass of storytelling.

“Having said that, I feel that as a young choreographer it’s my job not to keep going back to these existing texts or resources and think about new stories instead. The pressure is coming up with a story that’s good enough. You’re effectively starting from the beginning, but it means you get to tailor-make work for ballet.”

What has it been like working with your creative team?

“I feel that honest collaboration is a key component to whether something will succeed or not. I like to have an idea but stay open-minded, so that it could go in a new direction.

“I chose my creative team for their incredible skills and I wanted them invested in the project and for them to challenge me. As I mentioned earlier, I chose Gwyneth Hughes to write the scenario with and Lesley Downer as our historical consultant.

“It’s fantastic to work with Christopher Oram on the designs again as we have a relationship from Casanova, and now we get to start again on a higher level and push this project even further.

Minju Kang during rehearsals for Geisha. Picture:Emily Nuttall

“It’s the same with our lighting designer Alastair West. We’ve worked together so often now that for Geisha we started lighting conversations very early and began visualising what could be possible.

“Our composer, Alexandra Harwood, has gone above and beyond. I’ve spent so many hours at her house going through ideas and she’s re-written many scenes; she has such a passion and energy for the project.”

What does it mean to you to create a new ballet for Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary year?

“My first performance with Northern Ballet was when I was eight years old. I was at Central School of Ballet and was picked out of the school to perform in Romeo & Juliet and A Christmas Carol. “When I later got a job at the company, it was a dream come true. I worked up to première dancer and honestly never thought past that. Now it’s the 50th anniversary and I’m choreographing the first première of the year, it’s a little overwhelming.

“When I was asked to do Casanova, I was just so delighted to be given the opportunity but now I’m making a second full-length [ballet], I appreciate what an absolute privilege it is. When I look at where the company is now and the dancers we have, it’s so humbling to think I’m being given the opportunity to work on this level.

“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and praying ‘long may it continue’ because there are a lot of stories I want to tell, and I just hope that people will allow me to tell them.”

How do you feel that your relationship with the company has evolved now that you have created multiple works for Northern Ballet?

“I’ve been choreographing work for Northern Ballet for almost a decade now and each time my relationship with the company just goes further. It’s like the dancers have learnt my language and are so well versed in it that everything is so much quicker and that it allows us time to go deeper into the process and try new things.

“I like to think that I’ve got a shed full of tools that are sharpened in the finest manner, with all my special handholds on them and I know exactly how to use them. So now, with that in mind, where do we go? And that’s both the terrifying and exhilarating part of it.”

Minju Kang in Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

Q and A with Northern Ballet first soloist Minju Kang, from Seoul, South Korea, who has created the lead role of Okichi in Geisha.

What research have you done to prepare for this role, Minju?

“I did a lot of research online and was able to find information about the true story of Okichi. I looked at pictures of Shimoda, where she’s from, and saw the statue they have of her there.

“I also searched for information and images about geisha in general and their history. I watched the movie of Memoirs Of A Geisha and though the story in our ballet is very different, it was very interesting to see a visual representation of geisha on screen.”

How does Japanese culture compare to South Korean culture? Are there things you can relate to? “We’re neighbouring countries and while there are things that are similar, much is so different. I feel close to it because I am from an Asian culture, but as part of creating Geisha I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know that is different in Japan, like there is a certain way to bow and to kneel.

“For me, though, when I play a character, I completely forget about my nationality, my age and everything else and focus on my character’s journey.”

Does South Korea have anything like geisha?

“In South Korea we have kisaeng, which are very similar, so I already had an idea of what being a geisha was about. Kisaeng are basically entertainers trained in the arts and they dance and play instruments like geisha do.”

Minju Kang applying make-up for Guy Farrow’s photo-session for Northern Ballet’s Geisha

This is the first time you’ve had a role created on you. How has that experience been?

“At first it was overwhelming because you want to be good and it’s a big responsibility. It became really special, though, because I have been able to put something personal into the role.

“Working with Kenneth Tindall and the ballet staff has been real teamwork and we really trust each other, so it was easy for me to open up and not be afraid to give what I have. It’s been such a joy.”

Do you have a favourite scene in Geisha, or a favourite piece of choreography?

“I enjoyed creating the scene with Townsend Harris – although it isn’t a happy scene for my character! When we first began creating it, Kenny [Kenneth Tindall] showed us the movement he wanted, and we tried to copy it and build up from there.

“But it was so important to tell the story clearly we talked about it at length in the studio and focused on the small things. It was less about the movement, and more about a little look, or how I sit down, or the way he grabs me. I had no idea how much of a difference these little things make. When the scene was finished there was a real sense of achievement.”

How would you describe the really emotional journey your character has to go on?

“Okichi is a very supportive person. She feels she’s achieved what she wanted to achieve and now has a sister in Aiko who she fully supports. Because she’s been through it all herself, she can guide her better and is very protective in some ways.

Minju Kang at Northern Ballet’s Geisha photo shoot. Picture: Justin Slee

“She’s there for everyone but then, when she needs help after the Americans arrive, she feels that they are not there for her in return and she can’t share all she wants to share because she feels ashamed.

“She ends up in a very dark and lonely place. In the second act when she comes back as a ghost, she doesn’t even understand at first that she’s dead, she thinks it’s a nightmare.

“Imagine seeing your own dead body – she feels sick at first but then that turns into anger because she can’t reach the people she loves any more.

“Her anger is focused on the Americans and when she takes her revenge, she doesn’t even think about it. It’s only afterwards she realises the hurt she has done to Aiko, the person she loves the most.”

Is it hard for you to portray that range of emotions within a two-hour show?

“Yes definitely! The end of the first act is especially intense. It’s strange how emotion can affect your body, you feel really heavy. It doesn’t necessarily affect me off stage; I go home, I’m fine, I’m happy, but in that moment on stage, I’m so committed to that journey that Okichi is going through and I feel all the emotions.

Riku Ito and Minju Kang in Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

Do you enjoy the acting side of your job?

“I do really enjoy it because you get to create another version of yourself that you never knew existed and share that with the audience. The fact that you can find something inside of you to create that character, it’s just like magic.”

Do you like your costumes? Are they easy to dance in?

“They’re amazing. I have about five kimono and they’re all so beautiful, the colours and designs, but also how they’re made and so comfortable to dance in. I could wear them every day!

“It’s an amazing visual when you see the whole cast in their costumes, and the geisha have beautiful fans which have been sourced from Japan by [leading soloist] Ayami Miyata’s aunt.”

What is your process to prepare for a performance?

“I’m sure every dancer would say that they don’t want to be rushed. I give myself plenty of time, about two to three hours to get ready. I make sure I’ve gone out before to get some food, but I don’t like to eat a full meal before a show.

“I do get nervous and I use mindfulness to help with that. I talk to myself a lot in my head and get very quiet to save energy, stay calm and get focused on the performance. I even talk to myself when I’m on stage, encouraging and reassuring myself, and when something has gone well, I can’t hide it on my face.”

Minju Kang and Riku Ito in rehearsal for Geisha. Picture: Emily Nuttall

How important is live music to your performance?

“Music is so important for me, it’s half of the performance. Having a live orchestra is a collaboration and you can feel the connection between the dancers, the conductor and the orchestra, you can feel the support. You’re dancing with them.

“It’s like you’re on this journey together and it’s so special. It’s very different to performing to recorded music. Recorded music is around you but with live music, the music gets inside you.”

How does it feel to be part of Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary year?

“There are people who have been in the company longer, so, for me, it’s an honour to be part of it. When I learn about the history, I feel really proud of what this company has achieved and where they are now.

“You can feel the work people have put in to take this company to where we are and that’s really touching.”

Minju Kang’s back story

Minju, from Seoul, South Korea, trained at Seoul Arts High School, Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts and the Hamburg Ballet School.

She performed with Bundesjugendballett for two years before joining Northern Ballet in 2016. Her roles with the Leeds company have included Victoria in Victoria, Cinderella in Cinderella, Marilla in The Little Mermaid and Mina in Dracula.