REVIEW: Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal **

Tom Chambers’ Danny Sierra in Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

AFTER a five-and-a-half-hour slog from Norfolk that felt like one long detour,  your reviewer took to his Upper Circle seat last night just in time to be greeted by the sound of a car. A cruel joke, but one in keeping with the tone of Torben Betts’s ghost story.

“It’s fair to say that Murder In The Dark is something of a departure for me as regards genre,” says Betts in his programme notes. “If I am known for anything as a playwright, it’s for dark comedies of social embarrassment with a bit of political commentary thrown in.”

What is Murder In The Dark? Despite its title, this is not a modern twist on an Agatha Christie whodunit, thereby offering an immediate contrast with Original Theatre’s last Theatre Royal visit with The Mirror Crack’d last October. An immediate contrast too for Susie Blake, swapping Miss Marple for farmer’s wife/religious zealot Mrs Bateman.

Betts’s challenge from Original Theatre artistic director Alastair Whatley was to “write something that would, hopefully, both disturb and entertain”. The result is still a dark comedy of social embarrassment, but with a bit of moralising about the price of fame thrown in, in a supernatural psychological thriller cum dysfunctional family drama.

Rather than clever twists and turns, in the sleight-of-hand manner of The Woman In Black, thudding bumps in the road are administered in the style of a horror movie with a relish for shlock humour.

Betts enjoys pulling the rug from under your presumptions from the off, even setting up a routine thriller opening where washed-up pop star Danny Sierra (Tom Chambers) and his young girlfriend Sarah (Laura White) are led into a dingy, creepy rural cottage by the strange, eerie Mrs Bateman and her scary dog (heard but never seen) after a car crash .

It is New Year’s Eve: the nearest shop is 20 miles away, but the hostile weather means they are cut off anyway; the electricity is on the blink; the television keeps sparking into life with Three Blind Mice; there is no wi-fi connection; the loo and the shower are in a shed outside.

Car crash? Rescued by a frankly weird woman? How very Kathy Bates and Misery. Susie Blake will go on to give this chameleon play’s most enjoyable performance as someone who knows more from the past than she is letting on.

Tom Chambers, by contrast, has to wade through the quagmire of playing the deeply unlovable but once adored Danny Sierra (real name Nigel Carmichael,before pop stardom came his way with Dance Party Five and their chart-topping Murder In The Dark).  

Danny is a self-pitying alcoholic, and one by one, family members from the crash arrive at the cottage to paint the full picture, the day after his mother’s funeral. His more talented, songwriter brother William (Owen Oakeshott), discarded in pursuit of fame. His ex-wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles), discarded (but he still loves her, he protests). His songwriter son Jake (Jonny Green), neglected, drifting, resentful.

In truth, they are all unappealing, not great company on stage, the general nastiness turning scenes rancid, but not aiding Betts’s pursuit of comedy, which keeps changing its tack too, briefly farce at the start of the second half, but more often clunky.

Did Jake and later Danny see a young woman in a ballerina dancer’s costume or were they imagining it? Not telling!

Perhaps this supernatural undercurrent prompted director Philip Franks to say “we’ll see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true” in Betts’s play. Hence Betts’s moralistic tone.

Horror story, nightmare, fever dream, sometimes hammy comedy thriller, suffused with ugly family politics, Murder In The Dark never settles on one path, to the detriment of being as unsettling as it needs to be. What’s more, too clever by half in its trickery, it makes less sense the more the plot thickens but unravels as logic takes a hike.

Murder In The Dark? Left in the dark, more like. Definitely not a whodunit, it ultimately has you asking Betts, “whydunit?”.

More Things To Do in York and beyond when truth will out for tips for trips on days ahead. Hutch’s List No. 38, from The Press

Dawn French: Frank confessions of a comedian at York Barbican

FRENCH comedy, a very English murder thriller, state-of-the-nation politics and police procedures stir Charles Hutchinson into action for the week ahead.

Comedy gigs of the week: Dawn French Is A Huge Twat, York Barbican, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm

HER show is so named because, unfortunately, it is horribly accurate, says self-mocking comedian and actress Dawn French. “There have been far too many times I have made stupid mistakes or misunderstood something vital or jumped the gun in a spectacular display of twattery,” she explains. 

“I thought I might tell some of these buttock-clenching embarrassing stories to give the audience a peek behind the scenes of my work life.” Tickets update: Limited availability at

Tonight, meanwhile, Sarah Millican plays a Work In Progress gig at Pocklington Arts Centre at 8pm. Sold out already alas.

A scene from Original Theatre Company’s touring production of Torben Betts’s new play, Murder In The Dark, starring Tom Chambers and Susie Blake. Picture: Pamela Raith

Thriller of the week: Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

TOM Chambers and Susie Blake star in Torben Betts’s new ghost story chiller cum psychological thriller, set on New Year’s Eve, when a crash on a deserted road brings washed-up singer Danny Sierra and his dysfunctional family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England.

From the moment they arrive, inexplicable events begin to occur…and then the lights go out, whereupon deeply buried secrets come to light. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Robin Simpson: Pantomime dame and storyteller, bringing Magic, Monsters and Mayhem to York tomorrow afternoon. Picture: Joel Rowbottom

Children’s show of the week: Magic, Monsters and Mayhem with Robin Simpson, Bluebird Bakery, Acomb Road, Acomb, tomorrow, 4.30pm

YORK Theatre Royal pantomime dame Robin Simpson – he will be playing Dame Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk this winter – switches to storyteller mode to journey back to magic school on Sunday afternoon.

He will be telling stories of wonderful creatures, exciting adventures and “more magic than you can wave a wand” as he places the audience in charge of an interactive show ideal for Harry Potter fans.  Suitable for Key Stage 2, but smaller siblings are welcome too, along with Potter-potty grown-ups. Box office:

Hannah Baker, left, Harvey Badger, Eddie Ahrens and Rachel Hammond in Mikron Theatre’s A Force To Be Reckoned With. Picture: Anthony Robling

Police spotted operating in the vicinity: Mikron Theatre in A Force To Be Reckoned With, Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York, tomorrow, 4pm

IN Amanda Whittington’s new play for Marsden travelling players Mikron Theatre, fresh from police training school, WPC Iris Armstrong is ready for whatever the mean streets of a 1950s’ northern market town can throw at her.

Joining forces with fellow WPC Ruby Weston, they make an unlikely partnership, a two-woman department, called to any case involving women and children, from troublesome teens to fraudulent fortune tellers. Box office: 07974 867301 or 01904 466086, or in person from Pextons, Bishopthorpe Road, York.

Kathryn Williams and Polly Paulusma: Songwriters at the double at Pocklington Arts Centre

Songwriting bond of the week: Kathryn Williams & Polly Paulusma: The Big Sky Tour, Pocklington Arts Centre, Tuesday, 8pm

AS label buddies on One Little Independent Records, Kathryn Williams and Polly Paulusma met on a song-writing retreat. They wrote songs together and tutored courses at Arvon Foundation and as their friendship developed and strengthened, they supported each other over lockdown.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that they would tour together at some point. Finally, those Thelma and Louise dreams – hopefully without the killing or the cliff finale – come true on a month-long itinerary, playing solo sets and uniting for a few songs. Box office:

Mike Skinner: The Streets’ composer-turned-filmmaker discusses his debut film in Q&A appearances at Everyman Leeds and Everyman York

Streets ahead: Mike Skinner’s film The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light and Q&A, Everyman Leeds, September 21, 8pm; Everyman York, September 25, 7pm

THE Streets’ Mike Skinner presents his debut feature film, the “neo-noir” clubland thriller The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light, in an exclusive Q&A tour to Everyman cinemas.

Birmingham multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Skinner funded, wrote, directed, filmed, edited and scored his cinematic account of the seemingly mundane life of a DJ whose journey through London’s nightclubs turns into a tripped-out modern-day murder mystery. Each screening will be followed by a live question-and-answer session with Skinner, giving an insight into the music and story behind the film. Box office:

Mark Thomas: Comedian stars in Ed Edwards’s one-man play England And Son at York Theatre Royal Studio

Political drama of the week: Mark Thomas in England And Son, York Theatre Royal Studio, September 22, 7.45pm; September 23, 2pm and 7.45pm

POLITICAL comedian Mark Thomas stars in this one-man play, set when The Great Devouring comes home: the first he has performed not written by the polemicist himself but by playwright Ed Edwards.

Edinburgh Fringe award winner England And Son has emerged from characters Thomas knew in his childhood and from Edwards’s lived experience in jail. Promising deep, dark laughs and deep, dark love, Thomas undertakes a kaleidoscopic odyssey where disaster capitalism, Thatcherite politics and stolen wealth merge into the simple tale of a working-class boy who just wants his dad to smile at him. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Rowntree Park, by Jo Rodwell, one of 26 printmakers taking part in the York Printmakers Autumn Fair

Print deadline: York Printmakers Autumn Fair, York Cemetery Chapel and Harriet Room, September 23 and 24, 10am to 5pm

IN its sixth year, the York Printmakers Autumn Fair features work by 26 members, exhibiting and selling hand-printed original prints, including Russell Hughes, Rachel Holborow, Michelle Hughes, Harriette Rymer and Jo Rodwell.

On display will be a variety of printmaking techniques, such as linocut, collagraphs, woodcut, screen printing, stencilling and etching. Artists will be on hand to discuss their working methods and to show the blocks, plates and tools they use.

Sir Alan Ayckbourn: The truth will out when he takes to the SJT stage tomorrow afternoon. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

In Focus: Theatre event of the week: Alan Ayckbourn’s Truth Will Out, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, tomorrow, 2.30pm

IN a rare stage appearance, Sir Alan Ayckbourn plays Jim in a rehearsed reading of his Covic-crocked 2020 SJT premiere Truth Will Out, joined by John Branwell, Frances Marshall and the cast of his 89th play, Constant Companions.

Truth Will Out is an up-to-the-minute satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation, wherein everyone has secrets. Certainly former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy and senior civil servant Sefton do.

Enter a tech-savvy, chippy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down, and maybe everyone else’s along with them, in Ayckbourn’s own “virus” storyline, written before Coronavirus stopped play.

“It’s ‘the one that got away’, with most of the cast in place, and we even did a season launch,” says Sir Alan. “The play was one of my ‘What ifs’: what if a teenager invented a virus that brought the whole thing down. A ‘virus’ play, like Covid, with the virus escaping and the play ending in the dark, waiting till dawn.”

Racism, trade unionism and infidelity all play their part in Truth Will Out too. “It’s a melting pot of wrongdoings,” says Sir Alan. Tickets update: limited availability on 01723 370541 or

When Torben Betts had one actor in mind to play a washed-up pop star, he wrote Murder In The Dark for Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers’ troubled pop star Danny Sierra in a scene from Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

TORBEN Betts first made his mark at a North Yorkshire theatre when Alan Ayckbourn talent-spotted the fledgling playwright and gave him a residency at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1999.

That year, the Scarborough theatre presented the premiere of his debut play, A Listening Heaven.  Now, Betts’s new thriller, the ghost story Murder In The Dark, is heading to York Theatre Royal from September 19 to 23 on Original Theatre Company’s tour, directed by Philip Franks.

“Horror films have been my guilty pleasure since I was a morbid child,” says Philip, who was at the helm of Original Theatre’s touring production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d at the Theatre Royal last October too.

“Now is the time to find out whether many years’ worth of jump scares and terrible nightmares can be put to good use. We’ll also see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true.”

Betts’s setting is a modern-day New Year’s Eve, when a car crash on a lonely road brings famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra and his extended family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England.  From the moment they arrive, a sequence of inexplicable events begins to occur…and then the lights go out!  

Susie Blake, Miss Marple in last year’s visit, will play farmer’s wife Mrs Bateman alongside 2008 Strictly Come Dancing champion, Top Hat leading man and Holby City, Waterloo Road and Father Brown star Tom Chambers as Danny, Rebecca Charles as Rebecca, Jonny Green as Jake, Owen Oakeshott as William and Laura White as Sarah. 

Tom Chambers: “One of these flattering moments,” he says, of Torben Betts writing the role of Danny Sierra expressly for him

When the Covid19 pandemic shut down his tour in Dial M For Murder overnight, Tom appeared in Original Theatre’s remotely recorded lockdown film of Torben Betts’s Apollo 13: The Dark Side Of The Moon and subsequently in Original Theatre artistic director Alastair Whatley’s online piece Into The Night.

“About a year later, out of the blue I got a text from Alastair saying he’d commissioned Torben to write a ghost story with me in mind for the lead role,” he recalls. “It was one of those flattering moments you dream of!”

Ten pages arrived, then the full draft, and now here Tom is, two weeks into the tour. “The Dark Side Of The Moon was only 50 minutes. This [rather longer] new play has been really fascinating but also extremely challenging because Torben has written it like machine gunfire, firing off in all directions, so you think ‘who’s line is it next?’!”

Working on the play in rehearsals and now in its early weeks on stage, 46-year-old Tom says: “It’s one of those pieces where, as we’ve gone along, we’ve all thought on our feet, with none of us quite sure at first what it was.

“With its dysfunctional family at odds in a psychological thriller, I knew it was an emotional piece, with all the humour in there too, but you don’t know what you’re dealing with, because it is scary, funny and emotional at the same time, and so you’re not sure how the audience will take it!

“On stage, it’s become more like a dark comedy, and it’s been really interesting listening to the audience reactions and realising they’re laughing from very early on. But there are really scary moments too and a couple of twists that we’re asking people not to give away afterwards.”

Learning his lines has found Tom thinking: “Torben is like Marmite! I sort of love him and hate him at the same time. His script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn.

Tom Chambers, seated, shares a lighthearted moment with director Philip Franks in the rehearsal room for Torben Betts’s thriller Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

“I haven’t talked to him about the part, though he did sit quietly in the corner at rehearsals on a few occasions, typing away, but not interfering. Torben has allowed Philip to shave, trim and manipulate the script, letting the production grow under his directorship.”

In turn, “Philip is one of the best directors I’ve worked with, always very patient” says Tom. “He’s an actor as well as a director, and so he really lets you play with it at first, and then he very carefully re-shapes it, inspiring you with his ideas. He’s like a wonderful conductor working with an orchestra, a fantastic maestro.”

Tom describes his lead role, Danny Sierra, as a “washed-up pop star from 20 years ago”. “To play his character, to be aware of his body language, I approach him as someone who’s been in the limelight, which I’ve experienced: the shiny bits, the pitfalls, the facades, the truth and reality of how jaded he is,” he says.

“I just try to make him human. Like all of us, he tries to justify the reasons things have happened in his life. He’s made mistakes, but he does have a heart, he’s not soulless, not completely selfish.”

Danny has headed to the isolated cottage for a family funeral and must communicate with his brother for the first time in years. “Everything unravels in this old farm cottage, which is like a deserted island with very few creature comforts. That initially turns the play into a comedy, but then it becomes twisted, warped, deranged and strange, so it’s very intriguing!” says Tom.

As for the ghost story…wait and see.

Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal, September 19 to 23, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or Age guidance: 14+. 

“Torben’s script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn,” says lead actor Tom Chambers. Picture: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal ****

Doing her research: Susie Blake’s Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Ali Wright

THIS is Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, but it is Rachel Wagstaff’s play.

For the stage, she has adapted Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (whose 2022 tour was cut short before its Grand Opera House run in York) and co-adapted Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train too.

An earlier version of her take on Christie’s 1962 mystery The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side toured the UK in 2019. Now comes another crack at it for the Original Theatre Company, one that has modern sensibilities to shake up its outwardly old-fashioned mien.

Self-harm, repressed homosexuality and child loss burst through the surface in Wagstaff’s multi-layered drama rooted in the turbulence of fracturing mental health. The thunderbolt is Jane Marple’s explanation of why she has remained unmarried, still consumed by grief at her young love being shot for cowardice when serving in the First World War.

Philip Franks’s production is stylish, sharply dressed, light on its feet, played out in rooms with almost an excess of glass, in reference to the mirror of the title, reflective but also see-through. There may be plenty to hide but it can’t be hidden from view.

Adrian Linford’s open-plan, rotating setting is two-fold, serving as the grand English manor house newly acquired by an unsettling presence, American film star Marina Gregg (Sophie Ward), and her film director sixth husband of eight years, Jason Rudd (Joe McFadden), and as the home of “spinster sleuth” Jane Marple (Susie Blake) too.

Housebound and frustrated by a sprained ankle, she either sits with her knitting or takes to crutches or a walking stick, ever restless both physically and mentally.

 A third, unseen setting plays its part, a new housing estate that “alarms the villagers as much as it intrigues them”. Miss Marple’s home help, Cherry Baker (Mara Allen), has moved in there, and there is more to her than first meets the eye. It was ever thus in Christie’s world.

The price of love? Joe McFadden’s Jason Rudd and Sophie Ward’s Marina Gregg in The Mirror Crack’d. Picture: Ali Wright

Marina and hubby are making her first film in 12 years at the manor house, bringing an entourage that includes loyal servant Giuseppe Renzo (Lorenzo Martelli) and production assistant Ella Zielensky (Sarah Lowrie). Young co-star Lola Brewster (Christine Symone) is acting even more oddly than they are, as the plot thickens.

The story unfolds in flashbacks as Oliver Boot’s Inspector Craddock, sorry Chief Inspector, as he keeps correcting, conducts a murder investigation. Blake’s Miss Marple nudges her way into the case, asking the better questions, frustrating Craddock, who delightfully refers to her as his aunt.

Putting her oar in too is Dolly Bantry, former owner of the manor house, exquisitely played by character actress supreme Veronica Roberts, a superb piece of casting by Ellie Collyer-Bristow, who happened to be watching Wednesday’s performance in the next seat.

Miss Marple’s relationships with both Boot’s exasperated Craddock and Roberts’s dabbling Dolly, forever calling by, are suffused with humour in Blake’s performance, but there is intelligence, a seriousness of purpose, to her marvellous Marple. Kindness, sadness, wit and wits about her too.

McFadden’s Rudd is fiery, protective, deeply concerned for Marina’s mental wellbeing, but what is his motive? Ward’s Marina is damaged, graceful, charming when the moment takes her, but capricious, cold, dismissive…and mysterious. Ice and fire, guilt and regret, where will it lead?

Franks’s direction skilfully balances the humour, the double-act to-and fro of both Marple & Dolly and Marple and Craddock, with the darkness of Marina’s troubles. The smoothly interjected yet jolting flashbacks intensify the intrigue, bringing super-fan Heather Leigh (Jules Melvin) into the plot, although Craddock keeps on blocking the attempts of her husband Cyril (David Partridge) to do likewise in a well-worked running gag.

Why do theatres – as well as TV – keep doing whodunits? A midweek packed auditorium would tell you why: we love a mystery to solve, trying to work it out before the sleuth, and when that story is told as adeptly as it is by Wagstaff with direction and performances to match, then crack on with The Mirror Crack’d.

Original Theatre Company in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal, Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

As Strictly returns, champion Joe McFadden plays film director in Agatha Christie thriller The Mirror Crack’d at York Theatre Royal

Joe McFadden’s Jason Rudd and Sophie Ward’s Marina Gregg in the Original Theatre Company’s production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d. Picture: Ali Wright

2017 Strictly champion Joe McFadden is appearing in his first Agatha Christie mystery, The Mirror Crack’d, on tour at York Theatre Royal all this week in the role of Jason Rudd.

Joining Glasgow-born Joe, 46, in Rachel Wagstaff’s stage adaptation of Christie’s 1962 psychological thriller will be Susie Blake’s Miss Marple and Sophie Ward’s Hollywood star Marina Gregg for a story of revenge and the dark secrets that we all hide, presented by the Original Theatre Company.

In the sleepy village of St Mary Mead, a new housing estate is making villagers curious and fearful. Even stranger, a rich American film star [Gregg] has bought the Manor House. Cue a vicious murder; cue Jane Marple defying a sprained ankle to unravel a web of lies, tragedy and danger.

Here Joe answers questions, but not those posed by Miss Marple.

Who is Jason Rudd?

“He’s a film director who put his career on the back burner because his wife, Hollywood star Marina Gregg, is going through a hard time. Now he’s going to make a film about Henry Vlll and his wives with Marina as Catherine Aragon.

“He manages to tempt her back with a script that he’s been working on for quite a long time. You’re suspicious of his motives. There are so many people circling around Marina, this Hollywood star from a bygone era and you ask yourself: why are they so interested in her? What are they getting out of it?”

Cast an eye over your CV…theatre, TV, Strictly…

“I feel very lucky that I get to do musicals and to do plays – and to do the odd bit of telly now and again. It’s really an actor’s dream in that I’m not stuck doing the one thing. The usual thing is that you either do plays or you do musicals or you do TV, and it becomes hard to break into the others. I feel very fortunate I get to do all of them.”

Joe McFadden in the role of film director Jason Rudd in The Mirror Crack’d. Picture: Ali Wright

What have been your favourite roles?

“I couldn’t pick a favourite, honestly. It’s brilliant doing a play because you get a lot of time to sit down, as we have during The Mirror Crack’d rehearsals, and talk about the story. Working on something like Agatha Christie, it’s absolutely necessary because it’s so textured, so layered and there’s so much in there. On the face of it, it seems a simple whodunit but they’re all such complex characters. Nobody is really what they first appear to be.”

What’s the enduring appeal of Agatha Christie stories?

“They’re so rich, there’s so much in there and it really keeps you guessing. It’s not so much a whodunnit as a social commentary. The Mirror Crack’d is, as I’ve discovered, about mental health. At the time it was written, Agatha Christie was very much ahead of the curve.

“It’s a real examination of this movie star, Marina, and how, when you get to a certain age, you’re not in the running for the parts and you’re cast aside. It’s about the tragedy and unfairness of that. My character adores Marina and will do anything to protect her.

“We discover he’s been there for her in the past but you’re not sure what his motives are and, as is the way with Christie, discover he’s not all he seems to be by the end of the evening. So, it’s really great charting how much you show to an audience and who the red herrings are. Quite exhausting mentally”.

Have you gone back to the book, the TV versions or the film?

“I haven’t really read the book because some details have changed. Rachel Wagstaff has done a wonderful adaptation. It’s kind of confusing for me because I’ve watched the Julia McKenzie TV version and the Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor film version and they’re all slightly different.

“What you do get from them is a feel for the period, the style and the characters. It’s difficult when you’re so familiar with the other source material because you’re torn between what you’re doing and what they’re doing.

“I feel like I don’t need to read the book or watch the films again. Not at the moment. Perhaps when we’re all finished I will.”

2017 Strictly champion Joe McFadden in a waltz with Sophie Ward in The Mirror Crack’d. “I’m trying to dredge up from the corner of my mind how to do it,” he says. Picture: Ali Wright

You are appearing in your first Agatha Christie thriller…

“Absolutely my first. My mother was a massive mystery fan. She loved a sleuth, Murder She Wrote, Poirot, all the detective shows, so I was brought up watching these films and TV shows. I do have a real fondness for them because they get you involved.

“You’re not passive when watching, you’re actually trying to work out whodunit. And while you’re working it out, you’re being entertained and getting a real insight into these human beings and their particular circumstances.”

The Mirror Crack’d brings together three regulars from ITV’s Yorkshire series Heartbeat: you, Sophie Ward and director Philip Franks. Plenty of conversation points, no doubt?

“We’re having a great time reminiscing and comparing experiences. I’ve done a number of long-running series and there’s something to be said for knowing the other actors and knowing the crew. It’s nice with a job like Heartbeat or Holby City, where you have a shorthand with people and a relationship with people. Those were particularly lovely jobs to do.

“I was happy to do them for as long as I did: two years of doing Heartbeat and five years in Holby. I’m sure every job is not as happy as those but I was very happy to do them for so long.”

What made you sign up for Strictly Come Dancing in 2017?

“I did agonise over the decision to do it because back in the day, 20 years ago, actors didn’t really do reality TV shows. It was a new thing. I thought long and hard about it and took advice from various people, friends in the industry, but ultimately my reason for doing it was I wanted to learn how to dance. I wanted to have this world champion teach me to dance. That opportunity only comes along once in a lifetime. I felt it would be silly not to grab it with both hands.”

It could not have worked out better: you won!

 “I’m so glad I did it, not because I won but because it was such a brilliant experience. It was about saying yes to things and not being afraid of the unknown. As human beings we like the familiar, the same thing, and that’s a dangerous place for an artist to be because you want to challenge yourself and challenge people’s perceptions of you. Strictly was good for that.”

Champion Joe McFadden’s advice to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing contestants: “Get as much sleep as you possibly can because the tiredness is like nothing you will have experienced in your life”

What was the hardest part of doing Strictly?

“Being myself on screen, which I hadn’t really done before. The most daunting thing was all the speaking and the live television but even that stuff ended up being massively enjoyable. Talking to Zoe Ball on It Takes Two became one of my favourite parts of the week because she made it so lovely. The fans are so appreciative and so warm that you feel the love everyone has for that show, something I perhaps wasn’t aware of going into it.”

What’s your advice to celebrities taking part in the new series of Strictly?

“Just to enjoy every moment, because you never know when it’s going to end, and get as much sleep as you possibly can because the tiredness is like nothing you will have experienced in your life. Just enjoy it because it will be over in a flash. It goes so quickly. Don’t take it too seriously, throw yourself into it and do exactly as your partner tells you.”

Will there be any dancing in The Mirror Crack’d?

“We do a bit of a waltz. I’m trying to dredge up from the corner of my mind how to do it.”

How do you feel about touring?

“I toured with Priscilla Queen Of The Desert for seven months and toured with two different Ghost Stories before that. I love touring. As an actor, you either love it or hate it. I try to get out to see places and not stay in my digs all the time.

“The great thing for Priscilla is that I didn’t drink for the whole time I did the show, which meant I got up in the morning, went to the beach, did the museums. I love how we get to go to these places that you never would at any other time.”

Joe McFadden fact file

Television credits include: Raffaello Di Lucca in Holby City from 2014 to 2020; Alistair in Casualty in 2009; PC Joe Mason in Heartbeat, 2007 to 2009; Jack Marshland in Cranford; Dallas in Sex, Chips & Rock’n’roll; Prentice McHoan in The Crow Road and Gary McDonald in The High Road.

Theatre includes: Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical; Torch Song Trilogy (Menier Chocolate Factory); She Loves Me (Chichester Festival Theatre); Rainbow Kiss (Royal Court Theatre); How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (Chichester Festival Theatre); Aladdin (Old Vic Theatre) and Rent (Shaftesbury Theatre, London).

Joe won BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing glitter ball with partner Katya Jones in 2017.  

Sophie Ward: Cast as Hollywood star Marina Gregg in The Mirror Crack’d. Picture: Ali Wright

Questions for Sophie Ward, an actor playing an actor in The Mirror Crack’d

SOPHIE Ward returns to the York stage this week for the first time since playing the lead role of Eunice in the Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s staging of Ruth Rendell’s tale of murder, A Judgement In Stone, at the Grand Opera House in October 2017.

In the Original Theatre Company touring production of The Mirror Crack’d at York Theatre Royal, Sophie, 57, is cast as Hollywood star Marina Gregg.

Is The Mirror Crack’d your first experience of performing an Agatha Christie story?

“No, I did a television version of A Caribbean Mystery with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple and also Go Back For Murder, which was a play by Agatha Christie.

Is Marina Gregg based on anyone in the movie world?

“There was a star called Gene Tierney who was the inspiration for this character, and quite famously Elizabeth Taylor played the character in a film, when Angela Lansbury was Miss Marple. Marina is entering a new chapter in her life, a bit more peaceful. She’s doing films she likes with her husband and finding some respite in buying this big house in an English country village. It’s a new start for her.”

Marina is an actor, as are you, do you identify with her in any way?

“There are lots of things that I understand and I’ve worked in a lot of productions from that period. So, it’s a world I know a little bit about but I hope it’s not too close to my own life.”

Did you experience Hollywood when you were commuting between England and America?

“I did quite a lot of television in various shows but not films in the US. I met my wife [Rena Brennan] in Los Angeles so we like to spend time there. I’d like to get over there more, but my mother-in-law lives in Florida, my mother is in London, and I have grandchildren in England. With work and family, it’s not been easy to get over there in the past few years. A small matter of the pandemic.”

Sophie Ward’s Marina Gregg and Susie Blake’s Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d. Picture Ali Wright

Have you and The Mirror Crack’d co-star Joe McFadden comparrd experiences working on Heartbeat?

“Joe was in the series after my era on Heartbeat, but we have that in common, which is really nice to be able to talk about. I was on the show for two years, quite a big chunk of time to do one job when you’re an actor. We’ve been catching up on our time in Heartbeat.”

How was lockdown for you?

“When we had our first lockdown, I was quite happy doing a lot of gardening for a while. But I think we all had thoughts of a reassessment of life and of what we were doing. I had time to ask myself, ‘Am I going to carry on with acting when this situation finishes’.

“As it turns out, I do want to carry on and I did miss it during lockdown, but it was really great to have that time to think about things. You’re on a wheel, which you get on and keep going round and round. It was good to think ‘I’m choosing to do this and not just carrying on’.”

Where does Marina Gregg fit into the kind of roles you play these days?

“I’ve had the opportunity to do lots of different parts. Marina is very much a movie star with all the charm and challenges that can bring. I’m thrilled to be playing her.”

What are the strengths of Rachel Wagstaff’s new adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d?

“This is one of Christie’s later books and things are changing in society and in St Mary Mead. Rachel’s version shows that they’re quite conscious of that in the village. The characters aren’t stock characters; they are all interesting, three-dimensional people and Rachel has managed to include all their stories.

“As an audience we need to care about them. You want to understand people and not just see another character murdered. Every character is valuable to the story.”

Sophie Ward in the role of misfit Eunice in Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement In Stone at the Grand Opera House, York, in October 2017. Picture: Geraint Lewis

Have you returned to the book or film and TV versions?

“Obviously what we’re doing is our version. Rachel has done an amazing job so that’s what we work on and that’s where my imaginative world is: in Rachel’s world. But I’m really interested to see other versions and find out more about that world. Then you have to focus on Rachel’s version.”

You have written two novels, the first one, Love And Other Thought Experiments, being longlisted for the Booker Prize. Is a third book on the horizon?

“My second book [The Schoolhouse] came out in May and I’m hard at work on the third one. It takes me about five years to write a book.”

What prompted you to ‘go back to school’?

“First I did an undergraduate degree part time, then I did an MA, and I’ve just finished my doctorate at Goldsmiths. There’s a lot of waiting around in our job and I left school after my A-levels, didn’t go to university, just carried on working.

“I really wanted to go back to school. I knew my children would be coming up to that age soon and wanted to be able to talk with them about going to uni, what it meant and what it was. I studied, it took me about 15 years, and out of that came the idea for my first novel, which was a mixture of the things I’d been studying.”

You are an advocate for gay and lesbian rights…

“I try to be supportive and feel open about my life. I did write about equal marriage for the Guardian. I felt very strongly about it, about everyone being able to have that option to get married. I am involved to that extent but there are people whose whole careers are seriously applied to gaining our rights. I’m a very small part of that.

“There have been a lot of changes, changes in the law and people’s attitudes, which has been amazing to see and experience. But I never take it for granted because, as we see in other countries, either things don’t progress in the same way or they’re going backwards. You can’t be complacent.”

Sophie Ward: Actor, gay rights advocate and novelist

What’s coming next for you after The Mirror Crack’d tour?

“I have a research trip for my next book.”

Somewhere exotic?

“I can’t really say as I’m still developing the ideas and immersing myself in a new world. Let’s just say ‘travelling’!”

Sophie Ward fact file

Her first acting role was at the age of ten.

Now playing Rachel Johnson, opposite Kenneth Branagh’s Boris Johnson, in This Scepred Isle on Sky Atlantic/Now TV.

Appeared opposite Claire Foy and Paul Bettany in A Very British Scandal (BBC); starred in Troubled Blood (BBC/HBO), an adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel.

For the past four years, Sophie has hosted the European Diversity Awards and she works closely alongside Stonewall.

Original Theatre Company in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or

REVIEW: The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Original Theatre Company/Bolton Octagon Theatre, at York Theatre Royal, until 23/10

Double act: Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson and Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes shake up The Hound Of The Baskervilles

MYSTERY and murk have abounded in York Theatre Royal’s hit and mist Haunted Season.

That mist descends once more, over a desolate Dartmoor of spectral trees and a grand house, looming in the distance, where the lights seem to twitch nervously. Except, this time, the foggy haze is emanating from Sir Charles Baskerville’s newly lit cigar in the country air, his face matching the contentment of a bygone Hamlet advert.

A bewhiskered, elegantly dressed Serena Manteghi has entered David Woodhead’s nocturnal set in the first guise of a hatful of such roles – putting the ‘Man’ into Manteghi as it were – on a fright-night when she will be playing men only.

Just as we are appreciating her miming – with immaculate timing to the sound-effect accompaniment of the opening and closing of gates and striking of a match – suddenly a ghastly howl quickens the heart.

Taking on 20 roles? Bring it on, say Niall Ransome, Jake Ferretti and Serena Manteghi

A look of terror, a futile attempt to escape, and Sir Charles and his cigar have snuffed it.

So far, so scary, albeit in the exaggerated manner of a silent film, in a startling start where the titular hound is but a sound. Spooky, melodramatic, beyond immediate explanation: this is the perfect Conan Doyle recipe for the arrival of Holmes and Watson.

On bound Jake Ferretti’s superior Sherlock and Niall Ransome’s hearty doctor, promptly shattering theatre’s fourth wall as they demand applause for Serena’s miming, then introduce themselves and how the show will work.

Here comes the “howlarious” version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles penned in 2007 for comedy clowns Peepolykus by John Nicholson and Steven Canny and now, 150 productions down the line, picked up by Bolton Octagon Theatre artistic director Lotte Wakeham and the Original Theatre Company.

In the frame: Jake Ferretti, Niall Ransome and Serena Manteghi in The Hound Of The Baskervilles

It still carries its original health warning for “anyone suffering from a heart condition, a nervous disorder, low self-esteem or a general inability to tell fact from fiction”. In truth, the cast and indeed the characters are most at risk. The audience, by comparison, needs only sit back, laugh loudly and burst regularly into applause.

The facts are that Ferretti, Ransome and Manteghi must play 20 characters between them, multifarious accents et al. Isn’t the heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, supposed to be Canadian, Serena is asked. “Yes, but I can’t do that accent,” she replies.

In the original, the cast of three were all men and Holmes suddenly turned Spanish in the handsome form of Javier Marzan. Such is the strength yet flexibility of Canny and Nicholson’s format that we now have the added pleasure of watching Serena Manteghi as she deepens her voice, mirrors male movements and tropes, breaks out of character under emotional duress at the first act’s finale, and once more confirms what an outstanding talent this former University of York student is.

This time it is Ferretti’s Costa Rican Miss Stapleton who brings an Hispanic flourish to the production, directed crisply and crunchily for the tour by Tim Jackson.

Funny business: Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson, Serena Manteghi’s Sir Henry Baskerville and Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes make light of tackling the mystery

Comedy, yes, but send-up or spoof, no. Canny and Nicholson are true to Conan Doyle’s story, re-imagining scenes rather than inventing new ones, but always with the fourth wall in danger of needing new bricks again.

“We wanted to be as faithful as possible to the drama and intrigue of Conan Doyle’s masterpiece, while setting about discovering how to use a company of three actors to tell the story as inventively as we could,” said the writers.

“It became clear very quickly that simple props, rapid costume and scene changes, precision comic timing and a determined commitment to stupidity were going to play a significant part in our version.”

Think of the works of Lip Service’s Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, Nobby Dimon’s North Country Theatre and Mikron Theatre, or Patrick Barlow’s “touching up” of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, or Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, as Ferretti, Ransome and Manteghi keep veering off the straight and narrow but somehow still reach their intended destination.

Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson has a blast in The Hound Of The Baskervilles

In this case, this is the art of making a drama out of staff-shortage crisis – how very 2021 – but not needing to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear because the source material is from the top drawer.

Canny and Nicholson have it right in saying the “determined commitment to stupidity” is crucial too: a characteristic that benefits from Ferretti’s Holmes, in particular, taking everything so seriously, or the pathos in Ransome’s even straighter-faced Watson having a propensity to draw his pistol on anyone and anything, especially woodland animals.

This peaks at the outset of the second act after a Tweet “complaint” from an audience member – it was a letter in the original! – about Holmes’s lack of commitment to solving the crime prompts Ferretti to demand the right to re-enact the entire first half. A breathless snapshot replay ensues.

Someone so bright acting so dumb and supercilious is but one of the delights of seeing the Holmes and Watson partnership being poked out of its comfort zone, a shift as rewarding in its comedic interplay as Morecambe and Wise’s jousting.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles goes barking mad in this amiably daft comedy, at the cost of Woman In Black or Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories scares, but that sacrifice of bite is a price well worth paying. Howlarious indeed.

Performances: 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Review by Charles Hutchinson

What happens to a rake when he can’t rake anymore? Here is the answer…

Setting the record straight: Adrian Lukis as George Wickham 30 years after Pride And Prejudice in Being Mr Wickham

REVIEW: Adrian Lukis in Being Mr Wickham, Original Theatre Company, Haunted Season, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

TWO years ago, 25 years on from filming the BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, actor Adrian Lukis started thinking about still being Mr Wickham, having “defended his dubious reputation” for so long.

What would have become of Jane Austen’s Georgian rogue George, or “What happens to a rake when he can’t rake anymore,” as Lukis asked himself?

Harper Lee revisited the characters of To Kill A Mockingbird in Go Set A Watchman; Danny Boyle’s 2017 film T2: Trainspotting picked up the story of Mark Renton, Sick Boy and co 20 years on; in this instance, the writing falls to Lukis and Georgian storyteller Catherine Curzon.

Refracting Austen’s vilified character through their shared lens for a one-man character study set 30 years down the line of worn time, Lukis’s Wickham is now 60, still charming, with aching knees and wife Lydia waiting in the bedroom, as he tells his side of the story.

Lukis reimagined him living in reduced circumstances, having gambled his way through his £3,000 pay-off from Darcy, no longer reliant on his looks and his wits, having left behind the dissolute London life. Maybe he was residing in Yeovil, or maybe running a small business in Malmesbury, definitely he was looking out of the window for the tittle-tattle of life across the way, so he told Thursday’s audience in the Q&A after the 75-minute performance.

Wouldn’t you rather spend a night out with Mr Wickham than Mr Darcy, speculated Adrian Lukis in his post-show question-and-answer session

Lukis constructed an earlier version of this monologue but found his ageing Wickham too sleazy. Lockdown enabled him and Curzon to create Wickham mark two: a rake raking over the coals and setting the record straight. Actors must always empathise with whoever they play, runs the advice to those playing the villain of the piece, and Lukis warms to that task with relish as he reacquaints himself with “my old friend”.

Yes, Wickham was “a bit of player”, yes he behaved badly, even disgracefully on occasion, but as Lukis said afterwards, but wouldn’t you rather have a night out with gorgeous, affable George than Darcy?

Significantly, Lukis said he treated this Wickham as a new character when writing and playing him, rather than as the Austen rogue he played in Andrew Davies’s adaptation. What emerges is a story of loss, exits; his rueful reflections on Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy and Lord Byron; the blood, the smell, the gore, of the Waterloo battlefield. What has Wickham achieved at 60? He has survived, he says. He has survived, he repeated.

Being Mr Wickham is beautifully detailed, from the elaborate Georgian phrasing of Lukis and Curzon to Libby Watson’s faded drawing room design, to Guy Unsworth’s immaculately composed direction and Lukis’s eloquent, elegant performance.

Life with a scandalous scoundrel is never dull and it certainly still isn’t in Being Mr Wickham, even if the heat has gone out of the day and those knees are aching ever more.

One last story from the Q&A: when first meeting for filming, actress Susannah Harker (Jane Bennet) misheard Lukis, thinking he said he was the wig man and promptly asking him to make adjustments. No, he would be playing Mr Wickham, he corrected her, and he is still being Mr Wickham to charming effect all these years later.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

George Wickham, the survivor, in Adrian Lukis’s characterisation in Being Mr Wickham

Why Serena is playing only men in farcical overhaul of The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Niall Ransome as Dr Watson, Jake Ferretti as Sherlock Holmes and Serena Manteghi as Henry Baskerville in The Hound Of The Baskervilles, on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday

THE Hound Of The Baskervilles is at loose this Haunted Season at York Theatre Royal, returning Serena Manteghi to the city where she cut her acting teeth.

“I studied [at the University of York] and lived in York for many years and still work there often,” she says, ahead of the October 19 to 23 run. “It’s my spiritual home and I’ve been assured I can now call myself an honorary Yorkshire lass, so I’m very much looking forward to heading back there.”

Although based in London, Serena has spent plenty of time up north this summer, performing in early August in Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger’s Eurydice at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, and later that month in the Harrogate Theatre community play Our Gate in and around the Wesley Centre, Harrogate.

Now she is part of a fast-moving cast of three in Lotte Wakeham’s production of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated detective tale as it receives a farcical overhaul, with Serena playing only men in Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation, first staged by Peepolykus in 2007 with West End success.

The story is as familiar as ever: world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes and his colleague Dr Watson are asked to unravel the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Amid rumours of a cursed giant hound loose on the moors, they must act fast in order to save the Baskerville family’s last remaining heir.

“Yes, they’re all male characters that I’m playing, but I’ve not really thought about their gender; you just play the character – and I have played men before,” says Serena Manteghi, as she shares a laugh with Niall Ransome. left, and Jake Ferretti

What ensues, however, is an exhilarating collision of farce, ingenious theatrical invention and comic performances to “offer a brand-new twist on the greatest detective story of all time”, in the hands of the multi role-playing Serena, Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes and Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson.

“I play a whole host of colourful characters, including Sir Charles Baskerville, Dr Mortimer, a helpful London cabbie, three ‘yokels’ (one wise, two less so) and last but not least, the romantic lead (after Dr Watson, of course) and newest Squire of Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry Baskerville,” says Serena, who heads to York after breaking in the Bolton Octagon Theatre and Original Theatre Company production on the road under tour director Tim Jackson following rehearsals in London.

“Yes, they’re all male characters that I’m playing, but I’ve not really thought about their gender; you just play the character – and I have played men before.

“There were male characters in Build A Rocket, Christopher York’s one-woman play I did for the Stephen Joseph Theatre [Scarborough], and I played Rene Magritte in Belt Up Theatre’s Lorca Is Dead [York Theatre Royal, May 2010].

“And there are female characters in this show, played by Jake Ferretti, just as they were played by men when it was created by three wonderful performers [Javier Marzan, John Nicholson and Jason Thorpe]. I predominantly play Sir Henry, in the spirit of that original production.”

Serena Manteghi as LV in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2017. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

One consequence has come from the four weeks of shows so far, demanding more than “Olympian dexterity” from Serena, Jack and Niall. “It’s been quite hard on my voice because I’m having to use a much lower register all the time, so I have to work hard on my warm-ups,” says Serena, who is no stranger to challenging her vocal cords, having played LV, with all her singing voices, in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at the SJT in 2017.

Likewise, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, and indeed myriad Sherlock Holmes stories have been stretched in multiple ways. “I think the books are woven so deeply and lovingly into our cultural vocabulary that, growing up in the UK, you feel the infamous Holmes and Watson are just a part of the literary furniture, as it were. Like Father Christmas,” says Serena.

“That said, I absolutely loved the recent BBC adaptations [starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman] and would tune in as soon as they were aired for fear of someone spoiling the mystery.

“I think the diverse versions work because the Holmes and Watson partnership is so iconic; the performers and the audience begin from such a familiar starting point and that means you can take them on a slightly unexpected journey.”

Holmes and Watson are embedded in our cultural psyche as much as Morecambe & Wise, suggests Serena. “They’re loved just as much, and that dynamic is beautifully honoured by Jack and Niall; that joy Holmes and Watson have in each other’s company, which is so apparent in Conan Doyle’s writing,” she says.

“It’s an utter pleasure to perform ,” says Serena Manteghi of Peepolykus duo Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s stage adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, as she teams up with Jake Ferretti and Niall Ransome

“Any literary die-hard fanatics of Conan Doyle will be pleasantly surprised by our show: it’s a comedy retelling,  written by a well-established comedy partnership in Steven Canny and John Nicholson – we met John when he came to see it in Exeter – and it’s an utter pleasure to perform. You’d be very hard-pressed not to enjoy yourself watching this play.”

Ah, but  is it still scary, Serena? “There are some scares, but it leans heavily on the humour, less so on scariness,” she says. “Every spooky note is buttoned with a gag, but it’s not a send-up. It never mocks the story; it’s more an affectionate take on it.

“Very often, when you have farcical versions of the classics, you have to leave behind the story, but here you do get the whole story, just laden with joy and fun.”

Look out for David Woodhead’s set and costume designs too. “They’re beautiful. That’s another reason to see the show,” says Serena. “The set is just gorgeous to behold, elevated and malleable for multiple uses, and everything we wear is beautifully made.” In other words, no tat, Sherlock!

Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre Bolton present The Hound Of The Baskervilles, York Theatre Royal, October 19 to 23, 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Age guidance: eight upwards. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

By Charles Hutchinson

Oh, the scandal! Adrian Lukis plays Pride And Prejudice’s Mr Wickham again, 30 years on from Jane Austen’s novel

Adrian Lukis: Being Mr Wickham again, 30 years on from Jane Austen’s novel

ADRIAN Lukis played George Wickham in the BBC’s television adaptation of Pride And Prejudice 26 years ago this very month.

Time, he says, to set the record straight about Jane Austen’s most charmingly roguish character in his one-man play Being Mr Wickham, co-written with Catherine Curzon.

This is the chance to discover the vilified Wickham’s version of some very famous literary events. Such as? What really happened with Darcy? What did he feel about Lizzie? What went on at Waterloo? Not to mention Byron.

Directed by Guy Unsworth and designed by Libby Watson, the Original Theatre Company’s 75-minute touring production visits York Theatre Royal from Thursday (14/10/2021) to Saturday.

From the company that brought Ben Brown’s political drama A Splinter Of Ice to the Theatre Royal in July comes Being Mr Wickham, wherein Lukis’s Mr Wickham is on the eve of his 60th birthday and wants to lift the sheets on exactly what happened 30 years on from where Jane Austen left him. 

“I’m thrilled to be reunited with my old friend, George Wickham,” says Lukis, who starred with Colin Firth’s headline-grabbing Mr Darcy in Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Austen’s 1813 novel.

 “Having spent years defending Wickham’s dubious reputation, I look forward to finally setting the record straight, with the assistance of the immensely talented Original Theatre Company.”

Rarely off the small screen, Lukis’s TV credits take in Channel 4’s Feel Good, the 2019 mini-series A Christmas Carol, Vera, Poldark, Bulletproof, Collateral, The Crown, Red Dwarf, Grantchester, Black Mirror, Blair Toast in Toast Of London, Downton Abbey, New Tricks and Death In Paradise.  

He also stars in the new Netflix series Anatomy Of A Scandal, set to be streamed this year, and has had film roles in Judy, Dolittle, City Slacker and Bertie & Dickie.

“I’ve made up stories based on the historical facts and imagined an entire life for Wickham above and beyond the book,” says Adrian Lukis

Now he is touring Being Mr Wickham after theatre parts inThe Price(Theatre Royal Bath), The Seagull (Chichester Festival Theatre/ National Theatre) and Versailles (Donmar Warehouse).

Here, Adrian Lukis gives CharlesHutchPress the inside track on Being Mr Wickham.

What inspired you to revisit the character of Mr Wickham?

“When I turned 60 a few years ago, I started to wonder what it would be like for a man such as Wickham, who has been a rake and a ne’er-do-well, surviving on his looks and his wits, to have to deal with getting older.

“I started to look at it with Catherine Curzon, who is an expert on the historical side of things, and read everything about Wickham and Pride And Prejudice I could get hold of. I found myself discovering how much I enjoyed the process of researching and writing. Once I started, it just went like a storm.”

Given that the details of Wickham’s life are sketchy in the novel, how did you fill in the blanks?

“Firstly, I looked at the way he is described. For example, Darcy says he has led a dissolute life in London, so I thought, ‘well what really happened?’. I’ve also made up stories based on the historical facts and imagined an entire life for him above and beyond the book.

“At one stage, he enters a private club and gets into a punch-up, but it’s based on a real place called Watier’s Club in St James’s [London]. I also wanted to explore things such as what he really thinks of Elizabeth Bennet; what he really thinks of Lydia. These questions were really interesting to me.”

” I was 17 I wrote my first play. At the time I thought I might be a playwright, so it’s nice I’m finally getting a chance to do it at 64,” says Adrian Lukis, actor and now writer too

Austen depicts him as such a rogue, was it therefore important to fight his corner in the play?

“Absolutely. My premise was that people don’t tend to see themselves through a bad lens, and there are always two sides to a story. I could have written him like Flashman – an out-and-out bounder who just doesn’t care – but something I took very strongly from the book was that Wickham is plausibly a nice man.

“He is always described as being charming and amiable, rather than someone who’s constantly plotting and twirling his moustache. He admits he does some bad things, but turns it on the audience and asks, ‘have you led a blameless life?’.

“Also, he makes the point that life would be very dull without any rogues. I’d much rather spend an evening with him than with Darcy!”

How would Wickham be thought of in today’s society?

“It’s an interesting question. He would probably be labelled in contemporary terminology a bit of a ‘player’, and I think we all know men like that, but you have to view him in the context of his time. In Austen’s day, men who were not the first son had to set their cap at a wealthy heiress.

“That was a social pressure that we don’t really have today, so for a man with looks and charm, like Wickham, it made sense to try his luck with women, rather than going into the clergy.

“It would certainly be different today, although I think we are living through a very moral period, much more so than when I was growing up in the 1970s. So perhaps he would still be considered a scoundrel.”

What are your memories of playing Wickham first time round? Did you have any idea that the BBC series would become such a phenomenon?

“No idea at all; I don’t think any of us did. We knew it was a big production, and I thought the script was terrific, but we had no inkling of whether it would be a success. In that sense it was just another job.

“We are living through a very moral period, much more so than when I was growing up in the 1970s,” says Adrian Lukis. “So perhaps Wickham would still be considered a scoundrel”

“I remember writing to Colin Firth shortly after it came out, when he’d gone off to do some filming in South America, and saying words to the effect of ‘you have no idea what’s going on back home, this series has gone through the roof and you’re famous’.

“That being said, a few weeks later we went for a pint together in London, and I thought we would get absolutely mobbed – Darcy and Wickham out together -but nobody recognised us!”

Were you always drawn to acting and what about writing?

“My father was in the Royal Marines and I was initially brought up in Australia, where I didn’t have much chance to try it out, but when I came to England in the 1960s and was sent to public school, suddenly theatre was available to me and it was like being struck by a thunderbolt.

“I fell in love with it. My whole life soon became about being in school productions and when I was 17 I wrote my first play. At the time I thought I might be a playwright, so it’s nice I’m finally getting a chance to do it at 64!”

While on the subject of writers, what might Jane Austen have made of your reimagining of George Wickham?

“That depends on how you view her politics. She has been called all sorts of things, from a radical feminist to a staunch Methodist, but I think it’s safer to assume she was something of a small ‘c’ conservative.

“So, she probably would have disapproved of Wickham and seen him as being a rather weak and vapid young man, but I hope if she were to see this production, she would say, ‘good for you, you haven’t consigned him to the scrapheap and have found mitigating factors for his behaviour’.

Original Theatre Company presents Being Mr Wickham, York Theatre Royal, Thursday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Thursday’s performance will be followed by a 15 to 20-minute question-and-answer session. Box office: 01904 623568 or at