Theatre@41 combines the new and familiar in autumn and winter of theatre, music, comedy, cinema and pantomime rehearsals

Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Helen Bauer in Madam Good Tit at Theatre@41 in October

NEW partnerships, returning performers, comedy acts aplenty and community theatre regulars make up the autumn and winter season at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York.

One year on from throwing open its doors post-pandemic, the black-box studio will play host to Yorkshire and national companies and artists alike.

“We’re doing all right, whether by chance or design!” says chair Alan Park.  “In the year since we took over the programming, there’s been a nice balance between comedy, music and theatre, with a focus on new writing, as well as continuing our relationships with York Stage, Pick Me Up Theatre, White Rose Theatre, York Settlement Community Players and York Musical Theatre Company.

“The mailing list has gone up from 40 to 2,000 and we feel that people are invested in the building, our charity status, the work we present, and want us to do well. There are plenty of people who run theatres, but we want to run a ‘movement’ and we think we’re getting there.”

Colin Hoult in The Death Of Anna Mann. Picture: Linda Blacker

Looking ahead to the new season, one new partnership finds Theatre@41 linking up with York promoter Al Greaves’s well-established Burning Duck Comedy Club, complementing his programme at The Crescent (and previously at The Basement at City Screen Picturehouse).

“Maggie Smales, one of our trustees, reached out to Al,” says Alan.  “Initially, comedy promoters were contacting us directly, and we were doing maybe two comedy shows a season, but we got in touch with Al to say ‘we don’t want to tread on your toes, but we’d love to work with you’, and so now we have six shows this autumn through linking up with Al.”

Among those shows will be Lauren Pattinson’s It Is What It Is on September 16; Colin Hoult, from the Netflix series After Life, presenting The Death Of Anna Mann  on October 8; the returning Olga Koch, star of her own BBC Radio 4 series, in Just Friends on October 15 and fellow Edinburgh Festival Fringe Best Newcomer nominee Helen Bauer’s Madam Good Tit, on October 22. Look out too for Taskmaster winner Sophie Duker next April.

Returning to Theatre@41 will be Dyad Productions, following up the sold-out I, Elizabeth with Christmas Gothic, adapted and performed by Rebecca Vaughan, on November 26 and 27, and  Sarah-Louise Young, building on the sold-out success of Alan’s favourite show so far, An Evening Without Kate Bush, by presenting her charming yet cheeky West End and Off-Broadway cabaret hit Julie Madly Deeply, a tribute to Julie Andrews.

Sarah-Louise Young in her Julie Andrews tribute, Julie Madly Deeply. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Further returnees will be East Riding company Other Lives Theatre Productions in Landmarks, Nick Darke’s environmentally topical story of a farming family feud, and Nunkie Theatre’s Robert Lloyd Parry with two more gripping MR James ghost stories by candlelight in Oh, Whistle on November 25.

“We’ve had a lot of good feedback from artists, such as Olga Koch’s agent,” says Alan. “We know there’s paint peeling off walls, the roof is leaking, but we believe in making the artists welcome, like giving them a little York Gin pack on arrival. We try to be a friendly venue where everyone will want to come back.”

Endorsements for Theatre@41 are spreading, leading to debut visits by Mark Farrelly in his Quentin Crisp show, Naked Hope, on September 7 and Olivier Award-winning actor and director Guy Masterson, staging his one-man adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol on November 24.

Seven York companies and performers are booked in. Robert Readman’s Pick Me Up Theatre will stage Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical Jr from September 23 to October 2 and The Sound Of Music from December 16 to 30 in the Christmas slot. York Settlement Community Players will perform Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning Broadway comedy Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike from November 3 to 5.

Rebecca Vaughan in Dyad Productions’ Christmas Gothic. Picture: Ben Guest

White Rose Theatre will deliver The Last Five Years, an emotionally charged musical full of upbeat numbers and beautiful ballads by Jason Robert Brown that tells the story of two lovers over the course of five years, with Cathy starting her tale at the end of the relationship and Jamie telling his story from the beginning. Directed by Claire Pulpher, it will run from November 9 to 12.

Barnstorming country-rock band The Rusty Pegs will play Rumours (Again!) in a 45th anniversary celebration of the Fleetwood Mac nugget on October 9, after giving Theatre@41’s re-launch gig post-Covid; Jessa Liversidge will sing Some Enchanted Sondheim on October 9, and York Musical Theatre Company will mark their 120th anniversary with A Musical Celebration on October 13 and 14.

Spookologist and ghost-botherer Doctor Dorian Deathly, a winner in the 2022 Visit York Tourism Awards, will make his Theatre@41 debut with his Halloween show, A Night Of Face Melting Horror!, from October 26 to 31.

“Each night, Dorian will be hot-footing over here after doing his Deathly Dark ghost tour for a cabaret evening with a bar of the dead and cocktails,” says Alan. “He came to us with the idea, and we thought, ‘yeah, let’s do it’. He has a huge following, so we’re delighted he wanted to come here.”

The horror! The horror” The poster for Doctor Dorian Deathly’s Halloween show, A Night Of Face Melting Horror!

Paul Birch, one of the stand-outs in York Theatre Royal’s Green Shoots showcase for new work in June, will bring his improv group, Foolish, to Theatre@41 for the third time. On September 15, he will host a night of ad-hoc comedy improvised from suggestions written in chalk on the stage floor under the title of Cobbled Together.

Seeking to foster a growing relationship with The Groves community, Theatre@41 will play host to the inaugural Groves Community Cinema: a weekend of classic films old and new right on residents’ doorsteps when visitors will be invited to “pay what you feel”, with support from an ARG Events and Festivals Grant in partnership with Make It York and City of York Council.

“Historically, we’re on the edge of The Groves, and maybe The Groves has never quite felt this is The Groves’ theatre, but we hope that putting on a community cinema weekend will make it feel more like it’s part of their community, rather than people just walking past our doors,” says Alan.

Olga Koch: Returning to Theatre@41 to present Just Friends

September 10 will offer Encanto Singalong at 2.30pm and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind at 6pm; September 11, Kes at 2.30pm and Nomadland at 6.30pm.

Three more new additions add to the sense of momentum at Theatre@41. Firstly, £5,000 funding from City of York Council and the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation will ensure the lighting rig “no longer wobbles”; secondly, the theatre will resume being a polling station for elections.

Last, but not least, the Monkgate building will be turned into the rehearsal rooms for veteran dame Berwick Kaler’s Grand Opera House pantomime, Old Granny Goose. “We’re giving them multiple rooms, including the dance studio,” says Alan. “They’ll have the run of the building basically.”

For performance times and to book tickets for the new season, head to: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

Pantomime dame Berwick Kaler and daft-lad sidekick Martin Barrass will be rehearsing Old Granny Goose at Theatre@41 ahead of its run at the Grand Opera House, York

REVIEW: Love Bites, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, May 17 and 18

Send in the clown : James Lewis-Knight in his Love Bite, Staying Connected. Picture: Tom Arber

YORK Theatre Royal has reopened after 427 days. The longest, darkest hiatus since the Second World War at England’s longest-running theatre has ended with a declaration of love.

More precisely, 22 love letters to the power of theatre, a craving for freedom of movement, expression and identity and the need for human connection: a collective, anything-but-cautious hug that was as much a sigh of relief as a breath of fresh York air in the form of a fiesta of five-minute vignettes commissioned from 220 applicants.

Let’s repeat that. 22O applicants for £1,000 commissions from York’s diverse arts community that refuses to accept Rich Boy Risha Sunak’s slight that such talents are non-viable. A community that will laugh off the Beano comic’s laughable Hilarity Report finding that the average York resident laughs only 14 times a day, the second lowest in the country. Are you joking? Laugher aplenty could be heard on Monday night, alongside the joy, the sadness, the uncertainty but hope.

Indeed, The 22 would surely challenge York Mix e-letter writer John Wolfe’s scalding, agent-provocateur assertion that York is a city of “no real festivals or decent venues. No sports centres or entertainment for locals. No chance of change either. Why do you think all of the young people move away? Outside of its history it’s drab and bl**dy awful.”

Crying Wolfe? Well, John, in the city of the York Community Stadium, four state-of-the-art cinemas, myriad theatres, ever more restaurants, café bars, coffee houses, independent galleries and a rising tide of street art, perhaps you should go York Theatre Royal, one of the country’s great theatres, tonight (Tuesday) to see the spread of talent, both young and older.

Some were born in the city and are determined to stay here, when the arts are becoming less London-centric; others have been drawn to the city from, for example, Canada and Zimbabwe, and here they gathered under one rainbow umbrella to express their love for York and their place in it. 

Trouble is, John, you can’t buy a seat because, as with the first night, tonight’s Love Bites have sold out at the outset of a Love Season pulsing with life, vigour and, yes, love, topped off by Ralph Fiennes performing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in late-July.

In the words of chief executive Tom Bird, Love Bites and The Love Season are a chance to “experience again the electric excitement that only live performance can bring. This spring and summer, we’re putting on a season of brave, bold love stories to celebrate the return of human connection. We’re doing it with passion, fervour and heart, as you’d expect.”

Monday night began with the much-loved veteran BBC broadcaster Harry Gration in host mode, toasting his 50-year love affair with the Theatre Royal before making way for the flurry of short pieces.

The screen backdrop could and probably should have been used for announcing each show title, writer and performer, especially as flicking through the e-programme on your phone in the dark would have been distracting for others, even in the socially distanced seating with the capacity reduced from 750 to 340.

Actor Toby Gordon’s hair has grown to Dave Grohl length in locks-down lockdown, but the golden tongue that delivered both Satan and later Jesus’s lines in the York Minster Mystery Plays now glistened anew in the questing, vexed poetry of W H Auden’s O Tell Me The Truth About Love.

Film would feature on several occasions through the night, first in a cinematic riparian soundscape by Ben Pugh to accompany the poetic ebb and flow of Robert Powell and Kitty Greenbrown’s The Angels Of Lendal Bridge, imagining those painted “angels” conversing above the Ouse, recalling so much water that has passed under their iron bridge amid a rising tide of love.

Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles in The Art Of Losing. Picture: Tom Arber

CAPA College student trio Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles, in glowing green and pink socks to suit the occasion, were nevertheless in contemplative mood in The Art Of Losing, tempo slow, bodies graceful, in what they emphasised were three “non-love stories”, but instead felt more like a lament; a year’s absence making the heart grow fonder for “what it means to have contact with one another”.

Playwright, poet and slam champ Hannah Davies’s tweets at @davieswords have charted her enervating health frustrations, but no York shaper of words captures a sense, meaning and memory of place so movingly, so evocatively, and what a joy it was to see back on a stage for Love Song To Spring.

Accompanied by Jack “Pascallion” Woods’s exploratory guitar paths, her lockdown love story journeyed through the freshly discovered joys of city walking and spring renewal in York’s myriad green spaces. Listen to Hannah, and you will step into spring with added spring in your step.

New discovery of the night was much-travelled Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who “wondered if my pockets are big enough to carry home with me” as he moved to York.

Explosive bursts of drumming and film imagery by Sunnie Hsia of Butshilo on York streets, stairways and in the dank Leeman Road tunnel formed a triptych with his soliloquy, Ekhaya, Love Them Both?, as he mulled over place, love and self, with humour rooted in observation of York’s idiosyncrasies, but a deeper wish to find his place, wherever he plays his drum, whatever life throws at him. One to watch, definitely.

For aeons, a Nightingale’s nocturnal song has had writers reaching for metaphors for love and beauty. Musician, performance writer and actor Tom Nightingale’s song, Elaine, is to “show everyone my gratitude to the only lady who has ever helped me”, his wife.

In its cautious yet unguarded way it was a song of love and beauty suffused with unshaven, wry, deadpan frankness, delivered in the spirit of John Otway and Jonathan Richman beneath Martin Stephenson’s cocked hat. Nightingale writes as a “therapeutic outlet”, to make sense of life; on Monday, it worked for your reviewer; hopefully it does for Elaine too.

The name in the Love Bites e-programme and in her Q&A answers to CharlesHutchPress is Erika Noda, but the Japanese-English actor and East 15 graduate born in York introduced herself on Monday as Aiaka, the name that a teacher found so difficult, she called her ‘Ai’ and banished her from the classroom for insubordination in challenging her.

So began the journey to Ai, Erika/Aiaka’s semi-autobiographical debut solo-writing work, examining her dual heritage and encounters with racist “microaggression”, growing up in York, (a city once so white it was dubbed “Persil Town”). On the evidence of Ai, this quest for identity remains unresolved, a bumpy ride with such familiar stones in the road as “no, but where are you really from?”.

Even the inventor of Zoom apparently has had enough of all those enervating Zoom-and-gloom meetings, but loveable York musical-comedy double act Fladam (pianist-singer Adam Sowter and funny face-puller and singer Florence Poskitt) found the funny side of this digital bridge to connecting in lockdown-separation in the tartly topical Love Bytes. Aptly, the cheeky, witty, melodious encounter was long-distance, Adam on stage, Flo online, filling the screen with a squelchy face as ripe for comedy as Thora Hird or Victoria Wood.

Surprise of the night? Seeing Paul Birch on stage and then wondering why he does not frequent this space more often. Maybe he is just too busy writing and directing, and running Out Of Character, the York company for artists with experiences of mental illness.

His twisting-and-turning five-minute gem, Lost For Words, was a mind-game in motion as the quicksilver Birch fought to save his most precious relationship in a race against time where a killjoy voice from beyond kept stripping him of the right to use letters from the alphabet, letter by letter. You found yourself joining him in his mental exercise, smugly spotting him still using a ‘V’ when barred from doing so, but cheering him on as he tried to keep his head above water as the wds rn t. Could this be a game show in the making?

All around is frown time, but clown time is never over for the red-nosed James Lewis-Knight, actor and artistic director of Clown Space, purveyor of comical pandemonium amid a pandemic. After a year as the Clown in Lockdown, wandering the busking streets of York turned silent, James unlocked his dusty case to make his mimed plea for Staying Connected. He kept saying “Picnic”, but where Birch was lost for words, James was a little lost for meaning, one punchline short of his Picnic having more bite.

If you heard Dora Rubinstein’s perkily assertive rendition of Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York blind, you would swear it was from a musical. Sure enough, Gowland, latterly moved to York, is a musical theatre writer/composer with the award-winning Pieces Of String to his name. Gowland’s celebration of Gentleman Jack Anne Lister’s wedding vows in a York church will surely grow from a love letter to a full-blown show, a progression the Theatre Royal should encourage and activate.

Janet-Emily Bruce and Cassie Vallance in Story Craft Theatre’s She Can Go Anywhere. Picture: Tom Arber

In a night of storytelling, butter-rich with words, the shadow puppetry of children’s theatre company Story Craft Theatre silently spoke volumes to the accompaniment of Jonathan Glew’s beautiful score in She Can Go Anywhere. Who knew you could say so much with a sheet, folded and unfolded by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce as if a cotton version of origami, freeing imaginations when the pandemic has shrunk the world to the home, transforming life’s caterpillars into butterflies.

Hannah Wintie-Hawkins was a dancer at the double in her terpsichorean love letter In The Beginning, at once on stage and in digital artist Aaron Howell’s accompanying film, dancing with baby Mabel in her arms.  It was as though Hannah, like us, was watching in wonder at the joy of a new arrival: a beacon of hope amid the pandemic turbulence, only in her case it was moving her to break out into a dance. The dual focus, however, was not wholly satisfying, as she danced with herself, the one distracting from the other, rather than intertwining like mother and daughter on screen.

Richard Kay, actor, singer, pantomime writer and Zoom choir leader, asked his choir members two questions: how and why do you like singing? Whereupon he compiled the answers into the composition For The Love Of Singing, a song as nimble on its feet as Fred Astaire and wittily delivered in the crisply enunciated manner of a Richard Stilgoe, with digital choir backing and the projection of words dancing in and out of formation in David Todd’s playful animation. Clever, humorous, warm and briskly energetic, and tuneful to boot, it would sit well in a cabaret revue.

How did it feel to be back in the theatre after 427 days? Actor Maurice Crichton caught those feelings as he cast his net of observations in Where Are We Now, You And I?, and he looked in such a hurry to deliver his thoughts, it was as if he had come straight from a rehearsal room in tracksuit trousers and The Show Must Go On T-shirt, hair unkempt.

Not that he rushed through his sage counsel, instead understanding feelings of anger, advising a policy of gentleness with each other and not expecting too much too soon, while breathing in the wonder of theatre once more.  How right he was; how emotional too.

Canadian-born papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, countertenor and composer James Cave and libretto editor Bethan Ellis promised Magic and delivered it too in a four-minute mini-musical, set in a constantly evolving paper theatre that grew ever prettier under Elena’s delicate guidance.

Elena seeks to discover “magic and meaning in everyday, mundane experiences”, the transcendent magic rising through her imagery and the beauty of James’s singing, and in the stasis of the pandemic, a walk, birdsong, gardening, baking banana bread, have indeed taken on a heightened magical air.

On their Twitter account, non-binary, unapologetically autistic creator Ashleigh J Mills (they/them) calls themselves Angry Black Changeling. Identity and accessibility into theatre lay at the heart of In Progress, their spoken-word exploration of the “interplay between race, self-understanding and the shifting boundaries of gender over the span of a solitary year” when experiencing life on the margins.

Ashleigh has kept a Good Words List for four years, and on the screen behind them, the constant, measured flicking through a book revealed word after word standing proud from the text, each building a picture of Ashleigh’s questing, creative fascination with words.

Those words were knitted together to form their soliloquy, a still-evolving expression of Ashleigh as a work in progress in changing times, and only good words can be said of their poetic candour.

Of all the five minutes, nothing brought a broader smile than the sheer joy in dancing together of Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope, friends since Northern Ballet School days, who burst out of a restricted year of living-room creativity to revel in a Love Letter To Female Friendship on the dancefloor in the face of such trying times. They were so in their moment, they were in their own world, but one we all could recognise and wish to join in.

The title, Mise En Aby-Me, may have been baffling, but life model, milliner and costumier Claire Spooner made a fascinating body of work in her physical theatre piece that testified to her desire to tell a story through the human form, rather than words, in this case aided by Richard Stephenson’s artwork and LEMNIS’s music.

Claire turned herself into a Russian doll, peeling off layers, adding masks, revealing how she presented herself in relationships, love in different guises, until nothing could hide the constant persona within, beauty beyond the eye of the beholder.

Deaf director and “self-proclaimed proactive busy-body” Harri Marshall composed a semi-autobiographical love letter to oneself via cards and correspondence collected over the past year…and then handed over the task of interpreting them aloud to Sarah Huggett, accompanied by the exact wording on the screen behind.

I say “exact” because text and voice did not always say the same lines and you found yourself checking for differences as much as concentrating on Harri’s flow of meaning. What’s more, the rhythm of the language was broken too, screen and voice going in and out of synch. Hopefully, I Often Think Of You had a better second night.

Before Reverie came a nightmare, thankfully only briefly, as a flick of a switch belatedly awoke the somnambulant keyboard for composer, pianist and piano teacher Vanessa Simmons’s retelling of a dream in musical form. Ah, what peace, after the fizzing fireworks, as an unperturbed Vanessa rejoiced in “the beauty, sorrow and power of real love”.

Last, but anything but least and rightly chosen as the finale was 5 Minute Call, penned by esteemed York playwright Bridget Foreman, writer of 30 plays, both large and solo, with another, My Place, on the way.

Chief exec Tom Bird’s Irish-accented actor wife, Laura Pyper, took on the guise of a theatre “techie” five minutes before curtain-up, taking instruction on checking lighting for stage positions while capturing how the theatre itself felt about the return of life on its boards, warming up to the reunion with its lifeblood, both performers and audiences. The feeling of love was mutual, as the Pied Pyper led us back to our spiritual home.

These Love Bites left their mark, so much so, let’s hope York Theatre Royal can look to open further seasons with showcases for the city’s talents, £1,000 commissions et al.

Review written on May 18 with later additions

Misbehaviour encouraged in Hungate Clearances show at York library tonight

Not sorry to be a nuisance at York Explore tonight

WHISPER it loudly, the word is out that history will misbehave tonight at York Explore Library, Library Square, York, from 7.30pm to 9pm.

Why? Because the air will be thick with Paul Birch’s live audio drama The Nuisance Inspector, wherein a sinister slice of York’s past, the Hungate Clearances, will be re-told.

Birch travels back to the 1930s when York’s newest Health Inspector encounters more than he bargains for in the mysterious and extraordinary alleys and yards of Hungate.

A strange body in the Foss, ghostly goings-on in Carmelite Street and an unlikely romance all feature in this moving tale of love, loss and community spirit.

Based on real events and inspired by letters, maps, books and photographs from the civic archives, The Nuisance Inspector uses drama, comedy and live music to transport the audience into a powerful and poignant past.

Tonight’s immersive performance comes in the wake of two sold-out shows in December. Doors open at 7pm for the 7.30pm start and tickets are FREE. Be sure to arrive in good time for start.