Blue Light Theatre Company match the weather in frosty fairytale pantomime adventure Nithered! at Acomb WMC

The Three Pigs in Blue Light Theatre Company’s Nithered!: Simon Moore, left, Kevin Bowes and Kristian Barley   

BLUE Light Theatre Company’s tenth anniversary pantomime, Nithered!, is a frosty fairytale adventure by regular writer Perri Ann Barley to match the wintry weather in York.

The ongoing run at Acomb Working Men’s Club, Front Street, Acomb, continues with a 1pm matinee today and 7.30pm performances from January 24 to 26.

Formed by Yorkshire Ambulance Service staff, they performed their debut pantomime in 2013. “It was supposed to be a ‘one-off’ production to raise funds for a colleague who had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease but was so successful that it’s still going to this day, and we’ve even branched out into performing plays too,” says Nithered! director Craig Barley.

“Since that first panto, more than £22,000 has been raised for our chosen charities: the Motor Neurone Disease Association (York) and York Against Cancer. Extra performances have been added over the years to accommodate more people, due to our shows’ ever-growing popularity, and there’s also a waiting list for people wanting to join the cast.

Acomb Working Men’s Club has housed the show since 2013. “It’s been our home for so long as they gave us the space for free for so many years, so we could maximise our charitable donations,” says Craig.

“We can seat 200 and offer use of the bar, meaning a relaxed performance which has received so much good feedback. New audience members are pleasantly surprised when they arrive and see the size, layout and the room all dressed up accordingly – putting them immediately at ease and into the panto spirit.”

All ten pantomimes have utilised the same production team: co-producers Perri and Craig, alongside choreographer Devon Wells and stage manager Dave Holiday. “Between us, so much has been achieved on the tiny stage at Acomb Working Men’s Club, from magic carpets to levitating witches!” says Craig.

The (Riding) Hoods in Nithered!: Kathryn Donley, left, Chelsea Hutchinson and Kalayna Barley

The cast still consists of Yorkshire Ambulance staff along with other talented performers from in and around York.

“We like to do things a little differently, creating a brand-new storyline every year, among other things,” says Craig. “But at the same time adding some traditional elements, such as the Dame, played by Steven Clark, who writes additional script material too, and the villain, Glen Gears, who has been with the company since the very beginning. Both of them are very much audience favourites.”

Introducing the storyline in Nithered!, Craig says: “The usually bright and happy village has been shrouded in a permanent frost by the evil Snow Queen (played by Perri Ann Barley), who has enlisted the Big Bad Wolf’ (Glen Gears) to govern the land on her behalf and to keep the population down.

“Mother Goose (Brenda Riley) and the villagers are struggling to cope with the never-ending winter and, with the Wolf around, they are living in constant fear for their safety. Things take a dramatic turn when one of the Three Pigs (Simon Moore, Kevin Bowes, Kristian Barley) is kidnapped by the Wolf.”

Whereupon the villagers decide to take matters into their own hands and head out on a very risky rescue mission. They enlist the help of the Fairy Godmother (Steven Clark), who finds herself in a face-off with the Snow Queen herself, but who will prove to be the most powerful?

“Will the villagers overcome the Big Bad Wolf? Will the everlasting winter come to an end? To find out, come join us and step right into the weird but wonderful world of Nithered!,” says Craig.

The Three Bears in Blue Light Theatre Company’s pantomime: Linden Horwood, left, Harry Martin and Richard Rogers

The cast also features Richard Rogers, Linden Horwood, Julie Shrimpton, Nicky Moore, Pat Mortimer, Zoe Paylor, Chelsea Hutchinson, Kalayna Barley, Kathryn Donley and Harry Martin, plus new members Aileen Stables and Audra Bryan.

“With this being our tenth anniversary, the team have really gone all out to give the audience an amazing experience and cannot wait for everyone to see it.”

Looking ahead, this summer Blue Light will present Murder At Reptilian Park, a new comedy murder mystery by Perri Ann Barley, to be staged in conjunction with the Galtres Centre in Easingwold. “It will run there from June 20 to 22, including a Saturday matinee, bringing us a whole new audience and new challenges,” says Craig. Tickets will be on sale soon on 01347 822472 or at galtrescentre.org.uk.

“Perri masterfully crafts our unique pantos, giving audiences new and interesting storylines featuring some familiar characters, which take them away from some of the other tired classic panto stories to give our audiences an experience like no other, ” says Craig. “That’s why so many return year after year.

“Perri is now working with London Playwrights [a resource for emerging playwrights] as she branches out to try and make her passion for writing a career. Not only this, but she’s also in talks with another professional theatre in Yorkshire, but more about that later.”

Blue Light Theatre Company in Nithered!, Acomb Working Men’s Club, Front Street, Acomb, York, January 20, 1pm; January 24 to 26, 7.30pm. Tickets: £12 adults, £10 concessions, £8 children. Box office: 07933 329654 or bluelight-theatre.co.uk. All proceeds go to Motor Neurone Disease Association York and York Against Cancer.

REVIEW: NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ***

Chain reaction: Steve Tearle’s Jacob Marley spooks Kit Stroud’s Ebenezer Scrooge in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

NE Theatre York – or NE Musicals York as they were back then – staged the York premiere of this all-singing version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the JoRo in November 2018.

More Christmas advert season than Advent season on that occasion, but the show’s return heralds Advent’s arrival on Sunday, and the festive mood is already alive and noisy, like the crisp and sweet packet scrunching that accompanied Tuesday’s opening night.

Scrooge moan over, some things have changed since 2018, some have not. More on the changes later, but first: the cast numbers 60 once more; Steve Tearle is directing and playing the ghost of Jacob Marley in white suit and face paint again, and the Sold Out signs will be greeting theatregoers again and again on the street scene on the JoRo forecourt. No tickets left, not one.

A roll of thunder announces the arrival of Tearle’s Marley on a London set familiar to audiences who saw his production of Oliver!. Temporarily, north easterner Steve turns Brummie to make the obligatory mobile phone pronouncement but with the impish humour that will mark a frenetic, fantastical, phantasmagorical production into which he will throw everything, magical books, bouncing balls and kitchen sink included (metaphorically speaking).

Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost of Christmas Past

Look out too for the misbehaving chairs and bed in Scrooge’s house, leaping into the air as if propelled by the handiwork of ghosts.

Written by Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, the musical began life as a film before being re-created for the Broadway stage, opening at Madison Square Garden.

Its driving force is the modern musical score under Scott Phillips’s enthusiastic direction,  but the dialogue fizzes along too – everything is home and hosed by 9.30pm – with Tearle’s Marley as host, ghost and timekeeper.

Changes afoot? The familiar tale of miserable, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemptive journey through Christmas Eve night still takes the form of encounters with Ghosts of the Past, Present and Yet To Be but Tearle has fortified the circus setting first evoked in 2018, while Melissa Boyd’s choreography nods to both 1856 and modern moves for ensemble numbers.

Once more the ghosts are first seen in their real-world guises as a lamplighter (Perri Ann Barley), Ring Master (Chris Hagyard, taking the circus theme further than James O’Neil’s charity show barker of 2018), and an Old Hag (John Mulholland). Note their Christmas colours of snow white, ivy green and holly berry red.

Chris Hagyard’s Ghost of Christmas Present

Tearle loves theatricality, spectacle in particular, and here he quite surpasses himself by having Marley wreathed in 100 metres of white fabric, stretched like waves across the stage as he urges Kit Stroud’s grouchy Scrooge to learn the error of his ways before it is too late. Marley’s trademark chains are more like a rapper’s bling adornments by comparison.

Graduating from his 2018 role as Young Ebenezer, Stroud’s Scrooge is mean of voice and demeanour at the outset, his lead performance being alive to both the humour and inhumanity the part demands.

Shocked by what he learns of himself, his Scrooge is pained by the recollections of his younger self, when guided by Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost Of Christmas Past with her coat of lights leading the way.

Ockrent and Ahrens’s book weaves one departure from Dickens’s novella into the plot: the story of Scrooge’s father, John William Scrooge, being sentenced to a debtors’ prison while his horrified wife’s family look on as they sing God Bless Us, Everyone.

Cowering into a ball, Stroud’s Scrooge screams “Mother” (as played by Rebecca Jackson), the stuff of a psychological thriller to counter the pantomimic comedy mayhem that subsequently permeates Mr Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball.

John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be

Hagyard, out of luck in October when Bev Jones Company’s Guys And Dolls had to be called off, puts that frustration behind him in a terrific performance,  pulling strings as Ring Master cum Ghost of Christmas Present.

Greg Roberts’s clown-wigged Mr Fezziwig and Ali Butler-Hind’s Mrs Fezziwig enjoy themselves too in that first-half climax, while Kristian Barley’s Bob Cratchit and Alice Atang’s Tiny Tim maximise their moments too.

Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be transforms from Old Hag to flame-maned heavy metal frontman, the shock of the new steering Stroud’s alarmed Scrooge towards the dawn of realisation and change.

Visually arresting, largely playful rather than psychological, A Christmas Carol is a typically vibrant, helter-skelter Tearle production, where the singing and musicianship is of varied quality, the dancing and acting being more assured by comparison.

NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday; 7.30pm nightly and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. SOLD OUT. Box office for returns only: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

REVIEW: NETheatre York in Grease The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday ***

Filling the stage: NETheatre York’s cast for Grease The Musical

IF a picture paints a thousand words, then look at the one above. It captures the essence of NETheatre York.

That stage looks busy, very busy, bursting with happy faces, everyone revelling in performing and being in a group whose love of entertaining York audiences is writ large in every buoyant show. Such is the sugar rush of a Steve Tearle production – he has become the P T Barnum of York – that the impact is almost giddying. No wonder the ‘E’ in NETheatre stands for ‘exciting’.

‘Excitable’ would be true too, maybe even over-excitable, in that desire to delight, with the opening night in too much of a rush at the start amid a few technical gremlins. No doubt those theatrical E numbers will settle down, but the sound balance with so many performers on stage – a cast of 60 – always will be a challenge.

Finley Butler’s Danny Zuko, centre, with Flynn Coultous’s Roger, left, and Calum Davis’s Kenickie

Tearle has found a formula that works at the box office, one that appeals to family, friends and stalwart supporters alike. If you build a production with a big cast, giving opportunities to young performers to cut their stage teeth, as well helping nascent talents to bloom and calling on a stock of regulars, they will come. In big numbers.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and the Saturday matinee have sold out already; Thursday and Saturday night are down to the last few tickets (box office, 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk).

Another factor is at play here: Grease, in a word. Everyone loves Grease, just as everyone loves Abba and Queen, don’t they. Don’t they?!  That film, those iconic John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John performances, those songs, are embedded in more than one generation, reflected in the wide age range attending on Tuesday.

Tough cookie: Melissa Boyd’s outstanding Rizzo

Sensibly, NETheatre York (the latest name for NE Musicals York) applied for the extra rights to be allowed to use the opening title song, You’re The One That I Want, Sandy and Hopelessly Devoted To You from the 1978 movie. Out go Drive In Movie, All Choked Up and It’s Raining On Prom Night. In come four songs that all made the UK top three, the John and Olivia duet topping the charts for nine weeks.

Tearle likes a night at the theatre to be a full experience for the audience from the moment of arrival, in this case running a glitter station for sparkling facial adornments. Aptly, your reviewer’s programme sparkled on the Creative Team page, from stray glitter particles as it turned out.

Scott Kendrew, in de rigueur spangly trousers, opens the show, fulfilling his dream to sing a solo song in a musical, performing Grease in the guise of Frankie Valli with an all-American swagger. Soon the stage is populated by the T-Birds greaser gang, the Pink Ladies, more and more Rydell High School pupils and the new, young 1959 intake, under the charge of Perri Ann Barley’s indefatigable head teacher Miss Lynch.

NETheatre York director/producer/co-choreographer Steve Tearle, centre, with co-choreographer Ellie Roberts and musical director Scott Phillips

It does provide a wow factor, such a full stage, but this staging comes with complications. The central focus of a scene is not always clear amid so many bodies; voices become muffled in dialogue on one occasion when two performers move beyond the stage apron into the auditorium; peripheral movement sometimes distracts from the principals, Maia Beatrice’s college newcomer Sandy Dumbrowski is too crowded in by the ensemble in that all-important Summer Nights duet with Finley Butler’s Danny Zuko.

The traffic is less heavy, indeed clear, for the confessional, heartfelt solo numbers, emphasising the song and its delivery, whether Butler’s Danny in Sandy; Beatrice’s Sandy in Hopelessly Devoted To You or, best of all, the stand-out Melissa Boyd’s cynical tough cookie Rizzo in There Are Worse Things (I Could Do).

Rizzo is her dream role and it shows. Sparks fly in the company of Calum Davis’s cocksure Kenickie, who revels in his big number, Greased Lightnin, the peak of Ellie Roberts’s choreography too.

Back to back: Maia Beatrice’s Sandy Dumbrowski and Finley Butler’s Danny Zuko

University of Hull theatre student Butler and Cleethorpes pantomime star Beatrice first performed together in York College days, re-sparking that chemistry as strutting Danny and a grittier-than-usual Sandy, culminating in the pent-up romantic release of You’re The One That I Want.

Broad humour courses through the somewhat graphic performances of T-Birds Roger (Flynn Coultous in his NETheatre debut), Sonny (Kristian Barley) and Doody (guitar-playing Matthew Clarke). Juliette Brenot’s Frenchy, Mo Kinnes’s Jan and Erin Greenley’s Marty, leader Rizzo’s fellow Pink Ladies, are not content to stay in the background.

Sam Richardson and Chloe Drake play the nerdy Eugene and goody-goody/irritating cheerleader Patty respectively with admirable enthusiasm for such uncool roles. Ellie Roberts’s Cha-Cha and Kit Stroud’s radio jock Vince Fontaine make the most of their cameos.

Mo Kinnes’s Jan and Flynn Coultous’s Roger

Musical director Scott Phillips pops out of the pit to transform into band leader Johnny Casino. Director/producer/co-choreographer Steve Tearle turns into Las Vegas Elvis – if Elvis had made it to his silver sixties – for the Teen Angel set-piece, Beauty School Dropout, all in white, tongue in cheek, lights flickering in his cape.

Phillips leads his band – two tenor sax, guitars, bass and drums – from the keyboards with exuberance and a dash of jazz swing. The ensemble, whether speeding through the aisles or giving their all in the routines, relishes every scene.

Some might want Tearle’s Grease to be a little calmer, less frenetic, to let scenes breathe, but just as the show’s Grease car sign was made and sent from China in only two weeks, so this Grease works flat out to deliver its thrills, right down to Phillips’s Grease Mega-Mix party finale, everyone up on their feet busting their John and Olivia moves.

NETheatre York presents Grease The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office for last few tickets: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatreyork.co.uk

Yes, You’re The One That I Want, NETheatre York style

REVIEW: NE in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 2.30pm and 7.30pm today ***

Steve Tearle: Director, Narrator and Mystery Man. All pictures: David Richardson

THIS is as much Stephen Tearle’s Into The Woods as Stephen Sondheim’s wickedly witty Broadway show in a fusion of York and New York imaginations.

Sondheim rooted his 1987 Broadway musical in a grown-up twist on the Brothers Grimm stories that casts a new light on such familiar fairy-tale frequenters as Cinderella (University of York student Rebecca Jackson); Beanstalk-climbing Jack (Jack Hambleton); a skipping Little Red Riding Hood (CAPA College and PQA York student Missy Barnes/Rowntree Players panto regular Mollie Surgenor); Rapunzel (Juliette Brenot); Snow White (Elizabeth Farrell) and The Wolf (Ryan Richardson, looking not unlike Sam Smith in their Gloria tour get-up).

James Lapine’s book for Sondheim’s songs centres on the plight of the Baker (Chris Hagyard) and the Baker’s Wife (Perri Ann Barley), a childless couple seeking to lift the curse placed on them by a once-beautiful Witch (a towering performance from Pascha Turnbull).

Flour power: Perri Ann Barley’s barren Baker’s Wife and Chris Hagyard’s Baker in NE’s Into The Woods

Venturing into the woods, they must search for the ingredients that will reverse the spell:  a milk-white cow (Erin Greenley, in white jeans and boots), hair as yellow as corn (from Rapunzel); a blood red cape (from Little Red Riding Hood) and a slipper of gold (from Cinderella).

Here they will encounter the fairy-tale folk, each on a quest to fulfil a wish, and into the story come the likes of Cinderella’s Prince (Sam Richardson), Rapunzel’s Prince (Kristian Barley), Cinderella’s Mother (Rebecca Warboys) and the Ugly Sisters, Florinda (Ali Butler-Hind) and Lucinda (Morag Kinnes).

Sondheim steers a path away from pantomime into terrain altogether darker, behaviour worsening, human foibles bursting through, enchantment turning to disenchantment, living unhappily ever after until the denouement. Steve Tearle nudges the playing style back towards panto, without changing the fruitier post-9pm-curfew content.

Missy Barnes’s Little Red Riding Hood: “Something of the Wednesday Addams about her”

He also introduces a young ensemble to swell the company ranks to 50, playing woodland birds and forest dwellers in pointy ears, who gather at Tearle’s feet in his role as string-pulling Narrator and Mystery Man too. He plays free and loose with the script, interjecting adlibs in his north-eastern accent in the manner of a Dame Berwick Kaler pantomime.

Sondheim’s style is deadpan, even noir, as well as being witheringly witty, as paraded in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street too. Tearle’s style is broader, tongue pushed into the cheek in pursuit of “highly camp fun”, typically expressed in the performances of Richardson and Barley’s Princes and Melissa Boyd as Jack’s Mother, although Missy Barnes’s Little Red Riding Hood on Thursday night had something of the Wednesday Addams about her.

In a “big” joke, Helen Greenley’s diminutive Giant’s Wife arrives in massive platforms and a startlingly deep, echoing, discordant voice – compared by one audience member to Mr Blobby – that brings to mind the Wizard Of Oz at the moment he is exposed as a fraud.

Hagyard and Perri Ann Barley play it closest to Sondheim’s tone, while Pascha Turnbull, regularly cast as “larger than life, formidable women”, takes on the bewitching role she has “yearned to play for many years”, combining the show’s most powerful singing with her suitably domineering presence. Not for the first time, Jack Hambleton stands out as one of York’s rising talents.

Bean there, done that: Jack Hambleton’s Jack of Beanstalk-climbing notoriety

Scott Phillips conducts his musical forces with glee and oomph aplenty; Adam Kirkwood’s rainbow palette of lighting complements Tearle and Faye Richarson’s woodland setting with its camouflage gauze and three rotating scaffolding towers, forever on the move, whether occupied by Jack or Rapunzel or whoever.

The fabulous costumes, designed by award-winning Ashington fashion designer Paul Shriek, go with the many shrieks that pierce the sylvan night air.

Experimental, experiential and wildly ambitious, amber-gambler Tearle’s Into The Woods heads deliriously into the weird. It certainly brings a smile, but would the late Sondheim take Tearle’s tribute as a compliment? We shall never know.

Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Steve Tearle leads NE’s cast of 50 into the woods for Sondheim musical adventure

Can they lift the curse? Perri Ann Barley and Chris Hagyard as the barren Baker’s Wife and Baker in NE’s Into The Woods. All pictures: David Richardson

INTO The Woods go York musical theatre company NE as they present Stephen Sondheim’s wickedly witty musical at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from April 25 to 29.

The New York composer and lyricist rooted his 1987 Broadway show in the Brothers Grimm stories, in a grown-up twist that cast a new light on such familiar fairy-tale frequenters as Cinderella, Jack of Beanstalk fame, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, but this is no time for pantomime.

Instead, with a book by James Lapine, the story is centred on the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, a childless couple seeking to lift the curse placed on them by a once-beautiful witch.

Rebecca Jackson’s Cinderella

Venturing into the woods three days before the rise of a blue moon, they must search for the ingredients that will reverse the spell: a milk-white cow, hair as yellow as corn, a blood red cape and a slipper of gold. Here they will encounter the fairy-tale folk, each on a quest to fulfil a wish.

The tale will be narrated by NE director Steve Tearle, who also takes on a second role as “the Mysterious Man”. “We chose to do Into The Woods as a tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim. It’s a very different show, which I was lucky enough to see on Broadway in the 1990s, though I missed the star turn, Bernadette Peters, as she was on her day off!” he says.

“I loved it! It was so, so funny. High camp comedy really! I put it on the backburner to do, but a couple of years ago we applied for it – before Sondheim died in November 2021 – and we were meant to be doing it last year.

Ali Butler Hind and Morag Kinnes as the Ugly Sisters, Florinda and Lucinda

“We’re so happy we now are as it’s a fantastic musical comedy for all ages with its wonderfully inventive re-telling of some of the Brothers Grimm stories, where Sondheim was thinking, ‘let’s bring out the child in the adult’. Being a family-driven company, it fits in perfectly with our actors from six years old.”

Steve’s New York trip has influenced his production. “When thinking about the set design, I took inspiration from the original Broadway version,” he says. “I wanted the audience to feel like they were also inside the woods, so we’re using rainbow colours and various styles to bring the woods to life.

“Befitting such an epic musical, we have an amazing set design and fabulous costumes, designed by award-winning Ashington fashion designer Paul Shriek, which we’ve managed to buy second-hand for our show. The finesse to Adam Kirkwood’s lighting is phenomenal too.”

Ready to climb the beanstalk: Jack Hambleton’s Jack

The cast plays its part in setting the scene. “We have more than 50 people in the show, and the ensemble really are the set, becoming the woods, so the woods are interactive. It’s a movable set that changes as the show moves through the three simultaneous stories that blend together,” says Steve.

“We’re making the set a lot more personable to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, making it ‘fit’ the theatre and more experiential, so that everyone there will feel part of the woods.”

Steve’s show will be knocking down theatre’s ‘fourth wall’, the imaginary barrier between cast and audience, several times. “The Narrator has his own posse of children in the ensemble, and they work with him in these fabulous break-out moments, like when we stop the show when he loses the book or he freezes everybody because he’s in control of everything.

Steve Tearle: Director, Narrator and Mystery Man

“That’s like pantomime, but it’s all done with more serious overtones as – spoiler alert! – the show does feature deaths, as well as blood pouring out of a slipper, a toe being cut off and a heel shaved off. We’ll use a sausage for the toe and ham for the heel!”.

Chris Hagyard and Perri Ann Barley lead the NE cast as the Baker and Baker’s Wife, while Pascha Turnbull casts a spell on the audience as the Witch whose curse is the cause of the culinary couple’s woes. Rebecca Jackson plays Cinderella with Sam Richardson as her Prince; Molly Surgenor and Missy Barnes share the role of Little Red Riding Hood; Juliette Brenot is Rapunzel, with Kristian Barley as her Prince.

Further principal roles go to Ryan Richardson as the Wolf; Jack Hambleton, aptly, as Jack; Melissa Boyd as Jack’s Mother; Effie Warboys as Sleeping Beauty and Elizabeth Farrell as Snow White Farrell. “Helen Greenley may be the smallest member of our NE team but she’s playing what you might say is the biggest role,” says Steve. “She’s the Giant’s wife, wearing these massive platforms.”

Missy Barnes’s Little Red Riding Hood

Steve is as proud of his cast as ever. “There are no professionals in the show; we do it for the love of theatre, and we just embrace people and what their capabilities are. We have cast members in the ensemble who have hearing difficulties and are partially sighted,” he says.

“I like to think we give opportunities that other companies wouldn’t give, and we love encouraging confidence among our young performers. We very much wanted to have them in the cast; some had never heard of Sondheim, but they definitely love him now!”

NE [once short for New Earswick, the company’s origins, but now denoting New & Exciting] present  Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 25 to 29, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

Who you gonna call when you need a voice for a Holy Snail in a York pantomime? Strictly between us, here’s the answer

The Blue Light Theatre Company cast members in rehearsal for The Legend Of The Holy Snail

THE voice of the National Lottery draws and Strictly Come Dancing will now be the voice of the Holy Snail in a York pantomime.

“Our dame and additional scriptwriter, Steven Clark, happens to know BBC announcer Alan ‘Voice of the Balls’ Dedicoat, so he approached him – and Alan very happily agreed to be our snail’s voice!” says a delighted Perri Ann Barley, of The Blue Light Theatre Company.

“He has already recorded the script we sent him and even put his own spin on it, with a slight nod to the Lottery and Strictly. We’re obviously thrilled about this and very grateful to him for giving up his time to help us out.”

Cast members being put through their paces – but not at snail’s pace! – for The Legend Of The Holy Snail

In the wake of their 2022 murder mystery comedy thriller, A Performance To Die For, raising £1,000 for charity, Blue Light will stage The Legend Of The Holy Snail at Acomb Working Men’s Club, Front Street, York, on January 20, 25, 26 and 27 2023 at 7.30pm, complemented by a 1pm matinee on January 21.

Perri’s new and original story is directed by Craig Barley and choreographed by Devon Wells, who are joined in the cast by Steven Clark, Glen Gears, Brenda Riley, Julie Shrimpton, Simon Moore, Kevin Bowes, Jorvik Kalicinski, Richard Rogers, Nicky Moore, Linden Horwood, Chelsea Frankling, Pat Mortimer, Kristian Barley, Sam Richardson, Kalayna Barley, Kathryn Donley, Harry Martin and Tim Horwood.

“What’s it about? Ariel is celebrating her birthday and as a gift has requested to replace her mermaid’s tail with legs, so she can go to the dance with the Prince,” says Perri. “The only being who has magic powerful enough to make this happen is The Holy Snail, but does it really exist or is it just legend?

The Blue Light Theatre Company poster for January 2023’s production of The Legend Of The Holy Snail

“The Mermaids and Islanders make it their mission to find out. Unfortunately, the incorrigible and evil Captain Hook and his crew have found themselves shipwrecked on the Island and they also want to find the mystical creature. Who will get there first?”

The Blue Light Theatre Company combines York area staff from the Yorkshire Ambulance Servive – hence the company name – with performers from the York actors’ circuit in their productions. This one will be “packed with amazing music that will have you singing and dancing along”.

As usual, all proceeds will go to the Motor Neurone Disease Association and York Against Cancer. Tickets cost £10, concessions £8, children £6, from bluelight-theatre.co.uk or on 07933 329654.

Another rehearsal scene for The Blue Light Theatre Company’s January pantomime

NE Musicals York to stage The Wizard Of Oz with orchestra, two Dorothys, two Totos, a cast of 60, 150 wigs and 200 costumes

They’re off to see the Wizard: Libby Anderson’s Dorothy, Kristian Barley’s Tin Man and Finley Butler’s Scarecrow in rehearsal for NE Musicals York’s The Wizard Of Oz

DIRECTOR Steve Tearle has assembled a cast of 60 for NE Musicals York’s energetic staging of The Wizard Of Oz at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from November 23 to 27.

The company will be led by Libby Anderson and Scarlett Waugh, who will alternate the role of Dorothy. “They are both amazing,” says Steve.

Further principal roles go to Maia Stroud as Glinda; YO1 presenter Chris Marsden, the Wizard of Oz; Perri Ann Barley, Wicked Witch of the West; Finley Butler, the Scarecrow; Kristian Barley, the Tin Man, and Tearle himself as the Cowardly Lion.

The Lollipop Guild welcomes Dorothy (out of picture) to Munchkinland:  Zachary Pickersgill, left, as Someri Munchkin, Jack Reed as Ginger Munchkin, Matthew Musk as Kikiaru Munchkin and Sam Reed as Henkle Munchkin

Expect an all-singing, all-dancing production with special effects by Adam Moore’s team at Tech247. “This amazing story is full of heart, knowledge, courage and love for our families,” says company chairman Steve.

“With more than 60 cast members and the youngest being just six years old, this truly is a theatre event. Our company is made up of families, with mums and dads on stage and their children or parents chaperoning backstage.”

In the familiar but updated story, when a tornado rips through present-day Kansas, Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are whisked away in their house to the magical land of Oz.

The Lullaby League: Sophia Cocker as Lullaby League teacher Amie-Amme Munchkin; Lexie Brooks as Mubba-Subba Munchkin; Aimee Dean-Hamilton as Bonnini-Pop Munchkin; Suraya Pickersgill as Pippy-Bay Munchkin; Abigail Ainley as Mulini Munchkin Graggity and Elizabeth Reese as Blinki-Bop Munchkin

There they meet a good witch called Glinda, who tells them they need to follow the Yellow Brick Road towards the Emerald City to meet the Wizard. Along the way, Dorothy and Toto befriend a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Cowardly Lion, who join them on her quest, but not all is as it seems, alas.

The Wicked Witch of the West is determined to stop them, but will she succeed, or will Dorothy prevail and return home safely, Toto in tow?

“We’ll have a full orchestra, 200 specially designed costumes and 150 wigs, and our amazing projections will only add to this being a truly magical musical adventure,” says Steve.

A group rehearsal for NE Musicals York’s production of The Wizard Of Oz

“Rehearsals are going well, and we go into the theatre from Sunday. Fingers crossed all goes to plan!  We’ve sold out the Friday evening show and Saturday matinee, with only seven seats left for the Saturday night and limited availability for the Tuesday and Thursday performances.

“Our opening night is dedicated to Millie May Wright, and the charities we’ll be supporting and collecting for are Candlelighters, Snappy and Stimul8.”

NE Musicals York in The Wizard Of Oz, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 23 to 27, 7,.30pm nightly and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Meet Dolly, one of two Totos, along with her brother Teddy, for NE Musicals York’s The Wizard Of Oz


Red light for Blue Light Theatre Company’s 2021 pantomime after Covid call-off

The Blue Light Theatre Company cast for Oh! What A Circus at Acomb Working Men’s Club in January 2021

THE Blue Light Theatre Company are now the ‘red light’ company after stopping their upcoming winter pantomime in response to the Coronavirus crisis.

In an official statement, the York performers explain: “Due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19, we regret that we are unable to bring you our annual pantomime in January 2021. We have not taken this decision lightly but the safety of our cast and audience must be our main concern.

“However, we do plan to return later in 2021/2022 with more great performances while raising money for our chosen charities. We would like to thank you all for your continued support. Stay safe and well and we look forward to seeing you next year.”

Regular writer and co-producer Perri Ann Barley is keeping the show’s title under wraps until Blue Light resume pantomime business, hopeful of being given the green light for performances at Acomb Working Men’s Club in January 2022.

Company member Mark Friend adds: “We’re also hoping to perform a play in Summer 2021, but no decision has been made yet as to what due to the uncertainty that lies before us.”

Blue Light Theatre Company are so named on account of being made up of paramedics, ambulance dispatchers and York Hospital staff, as well as members of York’s theatre scene.

Last January, they presented Oh! What A Circus, a show replete with fairy-tale characters such as Pinocchio, Geppetto, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Tinkerbell and Hansel and Gretel, in aid of York Against Cancer and Motor Neurone Disease (York).