REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It ***

Joe Morrow’s drag queen Touchstone in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It

Northern Broadsides in As You Like It, York Theatre Royal, 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow, and on tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

COVID had kept Northern Broadsides away from York since 2019, rudely curtailing Quality Street’s travels before the Theatre Royal run in 2020.

York’s wait to see a Laurie Sansom production following his appointment as artistic director in 2019 finally ended on Wednesday, with the sight of Sansom himself on stage.

Always a nervous moment: a director standing on the boards. Would he be delivering last-minute bad news? Thankfully not, instead expressing his delight at Broadsides being back in York, before announcing a couple of Covid-enforced substitutions after last week’s positive tests scuppered the Stephen Joseph Theatre run.

Jo Patmore would be stepping up from Amiens and William duties to stand in for Isobel Coward as devoted cousin Celia. Robin Simpson, his Ugly Sisters double act with Paul Hawkyard still fresh in the mind from the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella pantomime, would play the melancholic Jacques, a still grave but more bookish figure with safety-net book in hand after filling in at short notice for Adam Kashmiry.

Ironically, Simpson almost missed out on his week under the lights, Sansom revealing that he had damaged his knee ahead of the first night and would take to the stage with a pronounced limp and a stick. Limp, yes, stick, no, as it turned out; the book being his more important crutch.

As You Like It was dismissed as a mere crowd-pleaser by George Bernard Shaw, a gibe that suggests it is an inferior work, made for laughs rather than weightier impact. In truth, aside from Jacques’ “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy, it has always been nothing more than an As You Only Quite Like It play, one that demands graft as much as craft from its cast.

What Laurie Sansom has done, however, is to make it a play for today, newly resonating with our pandemic-shadowed times in its celebration of (our return to) the joys of live performance; the right to work out who you are and who you want to be, and the heightened appreciation of the transformative power of the natural world. In a nutshell, what better time to go wild in the country in a tale of mistaken identities and changing attitudes.

From Sansom’s impromptu stage announcement onwards, his production is marked by informality, with a flexibility to the delivery of Shakespeare’s text to rival the gender fluidity.

Although the play’s initial tone is determined by the rigidity of Duke Frederick’s macho court, the mood is set by Joe Morrow’s drag-queen Touchstone, given freedom to roam, to improvise, as he would in his other lives as cabaret turn Joe Morose and Café de Paris master of ceremonies.

EM Williams’s Rosalind climbs a hatstand in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It

Sansom modernises the wrestling clash, bringing it into the WWF age with American- accented entries, Bailey Brook’s Charles becoming Chainsaw Charles and Shaban Dar’s Orlando adding ‘Dynamite’ to his moniker.

Morrow’s Broadsides debut is an utter joy, born for the centre stage, quick on the quips and asides, his voice a delicious tease throughout, playing the wise fool.

Elsewhere, this production revolves around an EM and an E.M.: namely non-binary actor EM Williams’s Rosalind, banished from the court, and duly taking the guise of a boy once in the Forest of Arden, and E.M. Parry, a designer who specialises in work that “centres Queer bodies and narratives”.

Parry delivers fabulous costumes, with a flourish reminiscent of Lez Brotherston, while the forest takes the form of hatstands, both a fashion statement and a bravura way to represent the wooded natural world and our roles as mere players going through the costume changes of life.

Williams’s Rosalind is teased in Morrow’s banter for being so serious, and indeed Williams’s performance is intense, earnest, yet lithely energetic and liberated too, before turning into Puck for the epilogue.

Reuben Johnson’s Oliver, Dar’s Orlando, Ali Gadema’s Duke Frederick and Patmore’s Celia keep the story moving; Simpson’s Jacques steps in with his glum commentary, breaking down the fourth wall once to acknowledge coming in too soon for his next line.

Morrow makes light of being the conductor for so much of the comedy, albeit aided by Brook’s Silvius and Gemma Dobson’s Phoebe. An out-of-the-blue cameo by three cast members as misbehaving sheep draws the biggest laughter, nudging towards pantomime in a scene orchestrated by Morrow seemingly on the hoof.

Tellingly, it is not the only moment where Morrow’s own wit is funnier to modern ears than Shakespeare’s script, although he is equally adept at spinning the Bard’s words like plates.

Robert Bentall’s music is industrial and harsh for the court, beautifully pastoral for the forest, adding to the contrast. Ultimately, Sansom’s As You Like It is more successful as a visual delight and as a piece of political theatre in tune with cultural and social issues in its diverse casting and sensibilities than as a comedy, Morrow aside. That makes it a better play for today. Job done.

Further Yorkshire performances will follow at Leeds Playhouse, May 17 to 21; The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, June 9 to 18; CAST, Doncaster, June 21 to 25, and Harrogate Theatre, June 28 to July 2. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or leedsplayhouse.org.uk; Halifax, 01422 849 227 or theviaducttheatre.co.uk; Doncaster, 01302 303959 or castindoncaster.com; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Reuben Johnson revels in natural world on and off stage as he returns to York Theatre Royal in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It

Feel the breeze: Reuben Johnson going wild in the country in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It

REUBEN Johnson will take to the York Theatre Royal stage tonight for the first time since the Travelling Pantomime camped there for a couple of shows on its city-wide tour in December 2020.

This time he will be part of a “diverse cast of 12 fabulous northern actors” in Halifax company Northern Broadsides’ 30th anniversary production, a bold, bracing take on Shakespeare’s most musical comedy, As You Like It.

In a court where executive powers are running rampant and machismo strength is championed over basic human decency, Johnson’s character, Oliver, is older brother to the brave, chivalrous, tender, modest, smart, handsome Orlando. What’s not to like?!

“He starts off by scheming against his brother. Oliver has inherited his father’s fortune, but he’s planning to kill his brother. Classic sibling rivalry,” says Reuben. “But as the chaos of the play unravels, Oliver has a reckoning and a bit of a ‘come to Jesus’ moment.”

Along with high-spirited Rosalind, her devoted cousin Celia and drag queen Touchstone, Johnson’s Oliver will head to the Forest of Arden, where they will encounter outlaws, the changing seasons and life unconfined by rigid codes.

Cue a sylvian world where gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their heads in director Laurie Sansom’s celebration of the crazy power of love to change the world and the sheer joy of live performance.

“It’s interesting to see how the court characters respond to the country. It’s quite humbling,” says Reuben. “I live in the city, but I’m an avid hiker and rambler, when your ego disappears, so I’ll try to find places to go when I’m on tour.

“It all started because of acting, when I was working in Scotland and had a bit of free time to explore while I was in Edinburgh. I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe loads of times, but it was when I was doing a play outside the festival chaos that I had a better chance to visit places. Living in Salford, the Peak District is nearby, which is great for me.”

Reuben is making his Northern Broadsides debut. “But, funnily enough, my brother Linford was in their production of Much Ado About Nothing, playing Claudio – but I’m not planning to kill him!

Reuben Johnson in the villain’s role in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 2020

“I have done tours before, doing Macbeth for the National Theatre, when I played the Doctor but had a good run as Banquo – two and a half weeks as the understudy – but that was a totally different tour, playing bigger theatres.

“I’ve worked a lot around the country but not previously at a lot of the venues on this tour, so that’s been enjoyable too.”

Reuben is working with director Laurie Sansom for the first time and with many of the company for the first time too, although one familiar face will be joining him on the Theatre Royal stage: his Travelling Pantomime co-star Robin Simpson, stepping into the role of melancholic Jacques for one week only.

“It’s always good to play with new people in a cast,” he says.  “It’s great to have relationships with certain theatres who will employ me regularly, and it’s also good for actors to have relationships with theatre companies, but it’s also good to get in new faces to freshen things up.

“What was needed for this show was to bring a young energy to it, and that’s what Laurie has done. In fact I’m one of the oldest in it, which is a first for me.”

The casting is marked by diversity. “A play like this is screaming out for it, with the gender swapping in the plot. Diversity is important in theatre and key to this play,” says Reuben. “I love seeing people from different experiences and different backgrounds on stage.

“We’re trying to tell a story as the very best we can and that’s done better with a more diverse cast. If you have 12 similar people on stage, you will only see things from one way, whereas there are so many different thoughts within this company.

“As an actor, I want to serve my character, but also as a brown, working-class man, it’s interesting to bring that perspective to it.”

Northern Broadsides’ gender-fluid As You Like It plays York Theatre Royal from tonight (23/3/2022) until Saturday at 7.30pm nightly plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Further Yorkshire performances will follow at Leeds Playhouse, May 17 to 21; The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, June 9 to 18; CAST, Doncaster, June 21 to 25, and Harrogate Theatre, June 28 to July 2. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700; Halifax, 01422 849 227; Doncaster, 01302 303959; Harrogate, 01423 502116.

All the world’s a stage for Robin Simpson in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It, but for one week only at York Theatre Royal

As You Like It: All the world’s a stage for Robin Simpson’s melancholic Jacques in Northern Broadsides’ touring production for one week only at York Theatre Royal

YORK Theatre Royal pantomime favourite Robin Simpson is “very pleased and slightly scared” to be stepping into the shoes of Jacques for this week and this week only in Northern Broadsides’ comedy As You Like It.

Last seen on the York stage as Manky in an Ugly Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard’s Mardy in Cinderella – more of which in a moment – storyteller, panto dame and actor Robin will be taking over from Adam Kashmiry, performer, experimental mover, drag artist, storyteller and queer activist.

“Come and watch me muck it up!” says Robin on his Twitter feed. “All the world’s stage etc…”

After a week when a Covic outbreak among the cast scuppered all the Broadsides performances at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, all the world will be Robin’s stage from tomorrow at York Theatre Royal.

In the Halifax company’s “diverse cast of 12 fabulous northern actors”, Simpson will be playing the melancholic, cynical Jacques, who is bestowed two of Shakespeare’s most celebrated soliloquies, including the aforementioned “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

Jacques’s sentiment leads to director Laurie Sansom’s exploration of the endless possibilities of a world where “gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in this celebration of the crazy power of love to change the world and the sheer joy of live performance”.

That sheer joy of live performance emanated from Simpson and Hawkyard’s riotous sisterly double act in Cinderella, co-produced by York Theatre Royal and partners in pantomime Evolution Productions, leading to their nomination for Best Ugly Sisters in the UK Pantomime Association’s Pantomime Awards 2022.

As you bike it: Robin Simpson’s Manky and Paul Hawkyard’s Mardy in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella, now nominated for Best Ugly Sisters in the UK Pantomime Association’s Pantomime Awards 2022

Directed by Juliet Forster and scripted by P:aul Hendy, Cinderella also has been nominated for Best Pantomime (500 to 900 seats).

Further nominations of CharlesHutchPress note go to York actor, magician and comedian Josh Benson for Best Comic for Joshin’ Josh in Imagine Theatre’s Jack And The Beanstalk at Halifax Victoria Theatre and to Joyce Branagh for Best Director for Harrogate Theatre’s Cinderella, after taking on the in-house production in the wake of regular director and co-writer Phil Lowe passing away unexpectedly last October.

During the 2021/2022 season, 46 judges saw 207 pantomimes across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, travelling from Aberdeen to Aylesbury, Belfast to Bognor and Cardiff to Canterbury.

The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday, April 19 at the Trafalgar Theatre in London’s West End,  hosted by veteran panto dame Christopher Biggins.

Meanwhile, Northern Broadsides’ gender-fluid As You Like It plays York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (23/3/2022) until Saturday at 7.30pm nightly plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Further Yorkshire performances will follow at Leeds Playhouse, May 17 to 21; The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, June 9 to 18; CAST, Doncaster, June 21 to 25, and Harrogate Theatre, June 28 to July 2. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700; Halifax, 01422 849 227; Doncaster, 01302 303959; Harrogate, 01423 502116.

Northern Broadsides imagine more playful, fluid, connected future in As You Like It

Joe Morrow as drag queen Touchstone in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It. Picture: Andrew Billington

FINGERS crossed that Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It can go ahead at York Theatre Royal from next Wednesday after the Covid curse struck Laurie Sansom’s cast this week.

Tuesday’s performance at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was cancelled, but one cover was in place for Wednesday, only for further positive tests to rule out all the Scarborough run.

Let’s hope for positive news but negative readings come next Wednesday when, all being well, and all 12 being well, artistic director Sansom’s multi-cultural, gender-diverse cast can resume performing Shakespeare’s flamboyant and joyous “play for our times”.

As You Like It is the Halifax company’s first full-scale production since the beginning of the pandemic. “I took over here three years ago, and we’d just got JM Barrie’s Quality Street out the door when Covid stopped the tour after only a month.  We lost four months of shows [including York Theatre Royal] but made the decision to pay the company for the full run as we had the money to do so,” says Laurie.

“Funding from the Culture Recovery Fund enabled us to survive, to set ourselves up on the digital platform – we’ll be filming As You Like It with the help of Pilot Theatre while we’re in York – and to future-proof ourselves, leading to us starting work on As You Like It.”

The Covid hiatus brought Northern Broadsides the chance for a re-think too. “It allowed us to step back and look to diversify our talent pool, and now we have such a diverse company on stage, in terms of gender identity, ethnicity and neuro-divergence,” says Laurie.

Taking to York Theatre Royal’s main stage in designer EM Parry’s high-fashion costumes will be “12 fabulous northern actors”, including non-binary and disabled performers, .

The Northern Broadsides company amid myriad hat stands in As You Like It. Picture: Andrew Billington

“The pandemic has thrown up a lot of challenges, but it’s certainly refreshed me and allowed the company to bring fresh eyes to Shakespeare, which Broadsides has always done, but now with a slightly different slant, where we’re also trying to expand our audience, appealing to younger people while still playing to our established audience, as we look to break down the perceived barriers about class and who goes to theatre.”

Billed as a world premiere, Sansom’s bold staging of As You Like It “challenges us to imagine a new future”, one that captures the joy of live performance and the crazy power of love to change the world while addressing Shakespeare’s timeless themes of gender, identity, power and romance.

When high-spirited Rosalind and devoted cousin Celia are no longer welcome in the ruthless Duke’s stylish but stifling court, where competitive machismo is championed over basic human decency, they escape from his toxic entertainment empire into the forest in disguise, accompanied by drag queen Touchstone.

As the seasons change and old hierarchies crumble in this magical place, normal roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in an elaborate game where gender, class and sexual desire are fluid.

“The Forest of Arden is a place where ‘if’ runs rampant,” says Laurie. “People adopt new names, new clothes and new lovers in this free-form forest with no rules.

“They experience new feelings and dive into them willy-nilly; they play many parts and make many entrances and exits. It’s as if everyone has stepped through the wardrobe into another world but not without taking a lot of fabulous clothes with them. 

“Our new production takes us deep into the joyful possibilities of ‘if’, and asks if all the world’s a stage, can all the men and women be whoever they want to be?”

Exit the court, enter the forest in Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It. Picture: Andrew Billington

Laurie’s desire was to make “something ambitious in terms of design, costume and casting, but with the clarity of the verse-speaking still there”. “That way we can be bold in how we present the play,” he reasons. “The baseline is that we work first to ensure that we understand everything in the text, taking out anything that’s obscure to modern audiences, because Shakespeare is so crystal clear when played with intention and clarity.”

The choice of As You Like It for Northern Broadsides’ return to live theatre reflected the impact of Covid lockdowns, turgid days and weeks of rules, prescribed lives and being allowed out of the house for only an hour’s exercise.

“This has been a time when people have had the chance to think about who they want to be, their identity, and have come to appreciate nature much more,” says Laurie.

“Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, this feels the most restorative, opening up the possibility of making a new world based on open-hearted acceptance of each other and living in harmony with the natural world. This feels like a play for our time, challenging us to imagine a new future that is more playful, accepting and connected.”

Key to this bravura new world production too is the set and costume design of EM Parry, who says: “In our version of Arden, when the characters escape to the forest, they go through the wardrobe, Narnia-like, into a giant dressing-up box of queer possibility, a place where time, gender, sexuality, love, class, and all the hierarchies and binaries of identity and power can be questioned and turned upside down.

“Expect a world where a blizzard blows out of a hatbox, dresses change colour with the seasons, coat stands turn into trees and flowers grow up between the floorboards. Expect a world where a god turns up to a wedding, and who you are and who you fall in love with today can change as winter changes to spring, or a coat turns inside out.” 

Over to you, Lateral Flow Tests. Watch this space for an update on next week’s run.

Northern Broadsides in As You Like It, York Theatre Royal, March 23 to 26, 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond the norm as horror shows and love stories beckon. List No. 73, courtesy of The Press

2,000 shows and counting: Kristian Lavercombe, as Riff Raff, far right, clocks up another milestone in The Rocky Horror Show on its return to York . Picture: David Freeman

LET’S do The Time Warp again? It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to right, to enjoy plenty more of Charles Hutchinson’s recommendations.

Fancy dress invitation of the week: Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday

KRISTIAN Lavercombe celebrates his 2,000th performance as Riff Raff as Richard O’Brien’s 1973 musical extravaganza enjoys yet another York run.

Alongside Lavercombe in Christopher Luscombe’s touring production will be 2016 Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba as preppy college nerd Brad Majors, Haley Flaherty as squeaky-clean fiancée Janet Weiss and Stephen Webb as castle-dwelling Transylvanian transsexual doctor Frank-N-Furter.

Cue fabulously camp fun and even camper costumes, shlock-horror comedy and science-fiction send-ups, audiences in fancy dress and sassy songs such as Sweet Transvestite, Science Fiction/Double Feature and The Time-Warp singalong. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

New Beverly Cinema, by Imogen Hawgood, at According To McGee, York

Exhibition launch of the week: Imogen Hawgood and Horace Panter, Hyperrealism in America and Japan, at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from 11am today until March 25

NEW According To McGee signing Imogen Hawgood, from County Durham, introduces her collection of realist paintings in a duo show with Pop artist and Ska legend Horace Panter, The Specials’ bassist.

Panter’s Edward Hopper-inspired depictions of Midwest motels, inner-lit Japanese kiosks and sun-warmed Coca-Cola crates complement Hawgood’s exploration of Americana icons and the idea of “the road” as a transitional landscape.

The vampire strikes back: Steve Steinman’s Baron von Rockula with his vampettes in Vampires Rock – Ghost Story

Rock horror show: Steve Steinman’s Vampires Rock – Ghost Train, Grand Opera House, York, tonight (12/3/2022), 7.30pm

NOTTINGHAM singer and producer Steve Steinman returns to York with his tongue-in-cheek show stacked high with rock anthems, guitar gods and vampy vampettes.

Steinman’s Baron von Rockula and his vampires take refuge in an old fairground’s ghost train as he seeks a new virginial wife after the death of his beloved Pandora. Ordering faithful sidekick Bosley to find him one, enter Roxy Honeybox.

Now in its 20th year, Vampires Rock sets a cast of singers, dancers and musicians loose on Queen, AC/DC, Bonnie Tyler, Meat Loaf, Bon Jovi, Journey and Guns N’ Roses chestnuts. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Glenn Tilbrook: Squeezing in hit after hit at The Crescent

York gig of the week: Glenn Tilbrook, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 7.30pm

THIS is a standing show…and an outstanding one too as endearing and enduring Deptford singer, songwriter, guitarist and troubadour Glenn Tilbrook makes his debut appearance at The Crescent.

More than 45 years after he first answered an ad placed by Chris Difford looking for like-minded sorts to form the band that became the evergreen Squeeze, an ending is nowhere in sight, even if he called his fourth solo album Happy Ending in 2014. Expect silver-tongued Squeeze and solo numbers, peppered with audience requests, tomorrow night.

Squeeze up, by the way, because this Gig Cartel-promoted gig has sold out. Fingers crossed for any returns (www.thecrescentyork.com), but otherwise you’re really up the junction for a ticket.

Alexander McCall Smith: Delving into his books at York Theatre Royal

Literary event of the week: Alexander McCall Smith, York Theatre Royal, Monday, 7.30pm

YORK Literature Festival plays host to Alexander McCall Smith as he discusses the new instalment in his long-running Scotland Street series, the warm-hearted, humorous and wise Love In The Time Of Bertie.

Fiona Lindsay pops the questions, intertwined with footage shot on location in Edinburgh, wherein McCall Smith invites guests into his study, where he writes surrounded by paintings and books, and visits key landmarks from the books.

The festival follows from March 18 to 27 with full details at yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

NOT Thu 17 March 2022 after all: It’s different for Joe Jackson now as York gig moves to the summer

Postponement of the week: Joe Jackson, Sing, You Sinners! Tour, York Barbican, moving from March 17 to July 29

BLAME Covid for this delay to only the second ever York concert of singer, songwriter and consummate arranger Joe Jackson’s 44-year career.

“After months of uncertainty, it finally became clear that continuing Covid restrictions (particularly on venue capacity) in certain countries, would make our Spring European Tour un-viable as planned,” says Jackson’s official statement. “We can’t tour at a loss, and the situation did not look like changing soon enough.”

Tickets remain valid for the new July 29 date when Jackson promises hits, songs not aired in years and new material. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Sam Freeman: Thirty years of love burst out of his storytelling show in Harrogate and York

Storytelling show of the week: Sam Freeman, Every Little Hope You Ever Dreamed (But Didn’t Want To Mention), Cold Bath Brewery Co Clubhouse, Harrogate, Monday, 7.30pm; York Theatre Royal Studio, Friday, 7.45pm

FORMER York Theatre Royal marketing officer and 2009 TakeOver Festival co-director Sam Freeman heads back to his old stamping ground with his solo rom-com for the lonely hearted and the loved-up, armed with a projector, a notebook, wonky spectacles and nods to Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill.

Freeman, marketeer, occasional writer, director and stand-up comedian, combines storytelling and whimsical northern comedy in his multi-layered story of a chance encounter between two soulmates, how they fall in love, then part but may meet again. Box office: Harrogate, harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

For Charles Hutchinson and Graham Chalmers’ interview with podcast special guest Sam Freeman, head to the Two Big Egos In A Small Car listening link at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10231399.

Off to the woods: Northern Broadsides in As You Like It

Shaking up Shakespeare: Northern Broadsides in As You Like It, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Tuesday to Saturday; York Theatre Royal, March 23 to 26

MARKING Northern Broadsides’ 30th anniversary, artistic director Laurie Sansom’s diverse cast of 12 northern actors captures the “sheer joy of live performance and the crazy power of love to change the world” in his bold, refreshing take on Shakespeare’s most musical comedy.

Exiled from the court, high-spirited Rosalind, devoted cousin Celia and drag queen Touchstone encounter outlaws, changing seasons and life unconfined by rigid codes in the forest.

Gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in a natural world of endless possibilities. Box office: Scarborough, 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Lola May as daughter Aramide, Oyi Oriya as mother Omotola and Anni Domingo as grandmother Agbeke in Utopia Theatre’s Here’s What She Said To Me

Touring show of the week: Utopia Theatre in Here’s What She Said To Me, York Theatre Royal Studio, Thursday and Friday, 7.45pm

MEET Agbeke, Omotola and Aramide, three generations of proud African women connecting with each other across two continents, time and space, in Oladipo Agboluaje’s distaff drama, conceived and directed by York St John University graduate Mojisola Elufowoju.

Together the women share their struggles, their joys, tragedies and broken dreams, in order to find healing in the present. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Bird’s eye view on the Spring! season ahead at York Theatre Royal after panto success

The Bone Sparrow: Pilot Theatre’s world premiere at York Theatre Royal

AFTER the Summer Of Love, the Haunted Season and the pantomime revolution, York Theatre Royal has a Spring! in its step for 2022’s diary of new beginnings.

“Our strategy is not middle of the road with our programming,” says chief executive Tom Bird. “We are either being ambitious commercially or ambitious artistically.

“When we make new work, we want it to resonate with the times; we want it to be relevant to York audiences and we want it to be experimental. We used to do a lot of plays that were ‘in the middle’, but where we are now, even though we do them rather well, we can’t do Chekhov and Ibsen, because no-one came.

“But we’re going to do loads of new work over the year ahead and we have to balance it with commercial work, because we want to have a full theatre that is a community-engaged theatre.”

In a nutshell that means accommodating Pilot Theatre’s The Bone Sparrow, York Light Opera Company’s Evita, Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre’s As You Like It, Dancing On Ice winner Jake Quickenden and Darren Day in the 1980s’ musical Footloose and Mischief and Penn & Teller’s Magic Goes Wrong in one season.

“As a creative theatre, we’re co-producing – and hosting rehearsals for – York company Pilot Theatre’s tour of The Bone Sparrow; we’ll be doing a community play, yet to be named, probably indoors in the summer,” says Tom.

“We’ll also be doing something at Easter and something about Guy Fawkes in November, so there’s plenty of new work in the pipeline. We’ll also continue to make ‘micro-community’ shows, like the Love Bites nights that reopened the theatre [after Lockdown 3] in May.” Watch this space as more details emerge.

Directed by artistic director Esther Richardson, Pilot Theatre’s world premiere of award-winning Australian playwright S. Shakthidaran’s adaptation of Zana Fraillon’s novel The Bone Sparrow will open at York Theatre Royal from February 25 to March 5 before touring to fellow co-producing houses Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Derby Playhouse.

Fraillon’s story of a Rohingya refugee boy who has spent his entire life living in a detention centre in Australia forms the third liaison between Pilot and the four theatres, who formed a new partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences. 

“The way this consortium has worked is that, over a four-year period, each theatre takes its turn to make a show with Pilot. Derby Playhouse made Noughts & Crosses, Coventry made Crongton Knights,” says Tom.

“This time, we’re producing The Bone Sparrow in York. It’s a brilliant time to be doing this play, as it’s set in a refugee camp, when sections of the media and certain politicians try to demonise refugees. This play pushes back against that really powerfully.

“It’s also super-exciting that Arun Ghosh is doing the music and sound. Arun is an incredible Indian musician who I worked with on a show called Lions And Tigers, by Tanika Gupta, at Shakespeare’s Globe.”

Just as York Theatre Royal and pantomime partners Evolution Productions were determined to draw a wider, younger audience to Cinderella – and did so with 65 per cent visiting the Theatre Royal for the first time – so Tom is passionate about attracting young audiences to other shows too.

“It’s great to do work for this [teenage] age group with Pilot. We were worried because Crongton Knights was a tough sell, as it did feel its experiences specifically spoke to South London, but this latest show has really taken off,” he says.

“It seems to be a story that everyone is relating to, even thought it’s set in Australia, but then Australia is a good place to set such a story because the way Australia handles refugees and asylum seekers is a bleak vision of how it could be in our country.” 

Politics lies at the heart of another centrepiece of the season: Nottingham Playhouse, Northern Stage (Newcastle) and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh’s co-production of Red Ellen, on tour in York from May 24 to 28.

Caroline Bird’s new play tells the inspiring and epic story of Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson “who was forever on the right side of history, forever on the wrong side of life”.

Caught between revolutionary and parliamentary politics, Ellen’s fight for a better world took in encounters with Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway; battling to save Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany; campaigning for Britain to aid the struggle against Franco’s Fascists in Spain; leading 200 petitioning workers on the Jarrow Crusade from Newcastle to London and serving in Churchill’s Cabinet – and she had affairs with Communist spies and government ministers alike.

“Caroline Bird, no relation, is an amazing new playwright, and this play is an absolute corker. It’s great to do that new work here, just as we were delighted to stage The Young’uns’ show The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff in the autumn,” says Tom.

“A new play by a female playwright, on a large theatrical scale, doesn’t happen that often and definitely not often enough.

“I just wanted to give it a stage in Yorkshire because it was already going to be performed in Scotland, the North East and the Midlands: places it should be seen in, but otherwise it wouldn’t be coming to Yorkshire.”

On March 17 and 18, Oladipo Agboluaje’s Here’s What She Said To Me follows three generations of proud African women, connecting with each other across two continents, across time and space.

First staged at Sheffield Crucible Theatre, the play was conceived and directed by Mojisola Elufowoju, who cut her theatrical teeth while studying at York St John University. “Moji did a lot of work at the Theatre Royal and has now put together this incredible company [Utopia Theatre] to tell the story of what happened to these Ugandan women,” says Tom.

“We have to keep going with tackling diversity in theatre; we’ve changed from being aware of the need to be diverse to reflect our community to a position of having to take a lead on this, going beyond reflecting diversity in our community to be always representing the contemporary world on our stage, because York is changing faster than we realise.”

In Michele Lee’s Rice, on April 13 and 14, two women form a powerful if unlikely bond:  Nisha is  a headstrong hotshot Indian executive working for Australia’s largest producer of rice and Yvette, an older Chinese migrant, is the cleaner with entrepreneurial ambitions of her own.

“Actors Touring Company are continuing our strand of Chinese and Asian theatre, which is becoming important to us because the largest community in York, aside from the white community, is Chinese,” says Tom.

“We’re trying to develop more work to reflect the city’s demographic, like when we did a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie set in Hong Kong. Over seven percent of the audience was Chinese/Asian, compared with one per cent normally.

“Matthew Zia is a brilliant directing talent and we’re really excited to be bringing this European premiere to York.”

York Light Opera Company follow up Oliver! and Grease with Andrew Loyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, the rags-to-riches story of Eva Person’s rise to First Lady of Argentina, from February 9 to 19.

“The last thing that would ever go from here would be shows like this, because work by York companies is so important to us,” says Tom. “It now fits in with Arts Council England’s new direction of travel, where it wants to encourage the chance for people to fulfil their creativity on our stage.”

Halifax company Northern Broadsides return to the Theatre Royal with their 30th anniversary production, Shakespeare’s sylvan comedy As You Like It, performed by a northern cast of 12 in the first visit to York under Laurence Sansom’s direction.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players as gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in this celebration of the transformative power of love and the natural world.

“Laurie is a great appointment as artistic director, and As You Like It is really on the nose as a choice of play with all the focus on climate change right now,” says Tom.

Many more shows tumble out of the brochure: The HandleBards pedalling into York with their all-female, bicycle-powered, irreverent Macbeth on January 25 and 26; Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens’ tribute to Eric & Ern on February 1 and 2, and Treasure Island, La Navet Bete’s follow-up to Dracula: The Bloody Truth, on March 10 to 12.

Among further returnees are York’s drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, with Me And My Divas, a celebration of Mariah, Celine, Whitney, Aretha, Cher and Britney, on March 19; English Touring Opera on April 8 and 9 with Puccini’s La Boheme and Rimsky Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel and Show Stopper, The Improvised Musical, on April 23.

For full Spring! season details and tickets, go to: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Box office: 01904 623568.

Copyright of The Press, York

Utterly Rutterly as Barrie returns to the stage in one-man show at The Holbeck

Symbol of the North: Actor-manager, artistic director and theatre pioneer Barrie Rutter

BARRIE Rutter OBE is to return to the stage for the first time since his successful treatment for throat cancer.

The Hull-born titan of northern theatre, now 73, will perform his one-man show, An Evening With Barrie Rutter, on November 7 at The Holbeck, Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, home to the Slung Low theatre company in Leeds.

The Saturday night of tall tales and anecdotes, poetry and prose will be a fundraiser for the installation of a new lift at the south Leeds community base, the oldest social club in the country.

Actor-manager and artistic director Rutter founded the pioneering touring company Northern Broadsides, based at Dean Clough in Halifax, from where they delivered stories in full-blooded, unapologetic northern dialect in non-traditional spaces across Britain.

A formidable, inspiring frontman, never afraid to be outspoken, Rutter stood down as Broadsides’ artistic director in 2018 after 25 years at the helm but, as this one-off fundraising performance will demonstrate, the irrepressible Yorkshireman has lost none of his fervour to have a good time with audiences.

Barrie Rutter as Lear in Northern Broadsides’ 2015 production of King Lear. Picture: Nobby Clark

The son of a Hull fishmonger, Rutter was given a part in the school play by an English teacher who thought he had “the gob for it”. He discovered he loved the stage, whereupon his career went from taking early steps with the National Youth Theatre to performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and onwards to making such an impact with the clog-wearing Broadsides. In 2015, he was awarded the OBE for services to drama.

Rutter – he always signed off his director’s notes in Broadsides’ programmes solely with his surname – says: “I am absolutely thrilled at the invitation from Alan Lane and his team at Slung Low to perform at The Holbeck. What goes on in there is truly inspirational and I’m delighted support this wonderful venue when I perform there on November 7.”

All proceeds will go towards the Slung Low’s fundraising campaign for a lift to make The Holbeck accessible to everyone who wishes to attend events and private functions. Generous supporters have gifted £60,000 already towards the £150,000 target.

Alan Lane, Slung Low’s artistic director, says:“Barrie Rutter is one of the reasons why there are so many amazing theatre companies in the greater north nowadays – he was a genuine trail blazer. It’s such an honour to have Barrie perform at the club and delighted to share with our audience the opportunity to see a world-class, one-of-a-kind performer here at The Holbeck.”

Tickets for the 7.15pm show are priced at Pay What You Decide. To book, visit:  https://www.slunglow.org/whats-on/

York Theatre Royal’s Community Drive scheme revs up for Quality Street return

York Theatre Royal’s Community Drive leaflet

YORK Theatre Royal’s Community Drive scheme is back on the road.

Under the scheme, older people – a group that can be at risk of isolation – can enjoy a trip to the theatre, and as many as 100 people will receive tickets and transport to matinee performances of Northern Broadsides’ play Quality Street in June.

Maisie Pearson, the Theatre Royal’s development and communications assistant, said: “A meaningful activity like attending a show can help people overcome isolation and reconnect with their community, something which is particularly important for our older audiences.”

The first Community Drive during Driving Miss Daisy last June brought 51 older people from York to the Theatre Royal. Otherwise unable to visit the theatre, they had a memorable afternoon, talking to staff about past visits to the St Leonard’s Place theatre, enjoying the show and taking away a programme as a memento of their visit.

The Theatre Royal worked with a taxi company to transport Community Drive participants to and from the theatre and also partnered with Age UK York to bring a group from their Thursday Club. For some, this was the first time in years they had returned to the theatre. 

Maurey Richards and Paula Wilcox in Driving Miss Daisy at York Theatre Royal last June. Picture: Sam Taylor

A Thursday Club member said: “It’s a really lovely thing to be able to come to the theatre and feel part of something… the community of the theatre. It’s so kind to have something done for older people – to be remembered.”

For Quality Street, the Theatre Royal is working with charities that support older people to offer tickets and transport to see Laurie Sansom’s production of J M Barrie’s play at 1.30pm on June 11 or 2.30pm on June 13.

Tickets and transport can be requested as part of a community group, such as a charity, care provider or day centre. To book tickets and discuss any transportation needs, charity/group organisers or individuals should call Maisie Pearson on 01904 550148 or email maisie.pearson@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

“We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us by donating to York Theatre Royal,” said Maisie. “Thank you for enabling us to offer invaluable opportunities like the Community Drive.”

Broadsides founder Barrie Rutter diagnosed with throat cancer. Treatment to start shortly

Barrie Rutter after receiving his OBE on June 25 2015 at Buckingham Palace. Picture: Nobby Clark

BARRIE Rutter, award-winning Yorkshire actor, director and founder of Northern Broadsides, has been diagnosed with throat cancer.

In an official statement, 73-year-old Rutter is “in the good care of the mighty NHS and will begin his treatment very shortly”. 

Born in 1946, the son of a Hull fish worker, Rutter grew up in a two-up, two-down in the fish dock area of Hull.

Barrie Rutter as Lear in King Lear in 2015. Picture: Nobby Clark

At school, an English teacher frogmarched him into the school play because he had “the gob for it”, and feeling at home on stage, Rutter chose his future direction.

There followed many years in the National Youth Theatre, culminating in The Apprentices, with a role written specially for him by Peter Terson: a  practice to be repeated later in his career.

Seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, London and Europe completed the 1970s. In 1980, he joined the National Theatre, a formative period when he met and worked closely with a poet who was to become his guru, Leeds writer Tony Harrison. 

Rutter performed in three of Harrison’s adaptations, all written for the Northern voice: The Mysteries, The Oresteia, and The Trackers Of Oxyrhynchus, wherein he played Silenus, a part penned for Rutter.

Barrie Rutter as flash banker Fuller in Northern Broadsides’ For Love Or Money in 2017. Picture: Nobby Clark

This experience was the spark for actor-manager Rutter setting up Northern Broadsides in 1992, the Halifax company noted for bringing the northern voice, song and clog dancing to Shakespeare, classical theatre and new works alike.

Frustrated by what he perceived to be inadequate Arts Council funding for Broadsides, he stepped  down from the artistic director’s post in April 2018. By then he had received the OBE for services to drama in 2015.

He last appeared on the York Theatre Royal stage in November 2017, when the quizzically eye-browed Rutter was at his most Rutter in his farewell Broadsides tour, For Love Or Money, a typically anarchic theatrical double act with Blake Morrison.