Taking trouble at At The Mill to build a community for the arts and the people

Daniel Kitson: Testing out new material in six Outside performances at Stillington Mill

SUMMER At The Mill is returning for a second season of creative, culinary and community events in the gardens of Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York.

“After the spectacular, gorgeous, fun, exciting, beautiful and heart-warming time we had throughout our inaugural summer last year – what a ride! – we’re over the moon to present the mixed bag of goodies that is Summer At The Mill 2.0,” says programmer, theatre director, writer and performer Alexander Flanagan-Wright.

“Until September 4, we’ll be hosting a load of wonderful events all about community, art, food and flipping good times. We’ll have a pop-up café and bar, community gatherings, theatre, music, comedy, supper clubs and special events.”

The “Wright stuff” is the work of outdoor theatre co-builder Alex, sister Abbigail Ollive (Saturday café cuisine queen and supper club supremo) and their retired headteacher parents Maggi and Paul Wright, together with partners Megan Drury and Paul Smith. That “stuff” also takes in weddings, events and shepherd’s hut accommodation: truly a village cottage industry, you could say, albeit somewhat larger than a cottage.

A Supper Club gathering at At The Mill

“We just had a blast summer,” says Alex. “It was kind of by accident. It felt very serendipitous or of its moment, saying, ‘here is a way we can gather safely, our local community and the arts community, post-lockdown’.

“So this summer is a chance to see if people still care, and so far the evidence is that they do, with the return of the busy Saturday café, the Crafty Tales show [The Case Of The Missing Bunny] that sold out, our Pizza & Cocktail Night and the Dance Dance Dance Big Bank Holiday Silent Disco.

“Last year felt like a huge rush of adrenaline, and then you think, ‘OK, where do we go forward this year for beautiful experiences together?’. Already this year, we’re meeting new people coming to the events and the café.”

Summing up the essence of At The Mill, Alex says: “We believe a feeling of community is so important when people want to have an evening out. Whereas commercial theatre can feel merely transactional, with us, the means is the art, but the end result is a sense of community, and that feels the right way round.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: At the heart of At The Mill

“On top of that, eating outside together, drinking outside together, is a lovely thing to do, and we have the space and setting to do that.”

Where once Stillington Mill’s 18th century mill would produce flour, now the At The Mill combines food with food for thought, new recipes at the Supper Club, new works on stage. “We’re very clear with the artists about that. Everyone we’ve asked, we’ve said, ‘we think you’re cool, we like your work, do you want to come and play with us?’,” says Alex.

“What we have in abundance is space and time, imagination and a community. What we don’t have in abundance is cash, but we find most performers end up walking away with cash in their pocket.

“We don’t say to them, bring a particular show. What you get instead is artists testing out new material, so it becomes a genuine relationship with the audience built around nurturing new work. We’re seeking an equal balance between the two communities, where they care about each other, and if we do our part well in bringing them together, then they will meet in a beautiful way, and hopefully that process is more valuable, than, say, a Q&A session in a theatre.”

The Saturday cafe at At The Mill, baked by Abbigail Ollive

Alex continues: “Hopefully too, we’re going to be able to sustain that culture of being able to welcome artists for whatever they want to try out, and of audiences being continually excited about seeing new work at such an early stage, performed by people they wouldn’t expect to be passing through their village.”

A case in point is Edinburgh Fringe favourite Daniel Kitson, the Denby Dale stand-up comedian, who asked to take part in the Theatre At The Mill programme after he was tipped off by storytelling performer Sam Freeman.

“Daniel got in touch to say hello, could he come and do a show? I don’t know what the show is about; I don’t know if Daniel does yet, but that feels a pretty exciting thing to be going on, and testament to our aim for brilliant performers to test out their work to our community,” says Alex.

“I’m also aware that there will be those who don’t know who Daniel Kitson is and would just see him as someone standing up in a garden! But it feels beautiful to know that his shows in May will be his first in two years and it’s great to be part of that work-in-progress experience.”

Chris Stokes: Storytelling comedy in Lockdown Detective at At The Mill on May 26

Clearly, plenty of people know exactly who Daniel Kitson is: his 8pm performances of Outside on May 23 to 25 have sold out already and his June 8 to 10 run looks close to following suit.

What’s in store from Kitson? Here’s the show blurb: “Daniel hasn’t been on stage for over two years. And, to be entirely honest, he’s not really missed it. It is, however, his actual job and everyone’s gone back to work now. So, he’s picked out a comfy pen, bought a new notebook and booked himself a summer’s worth of outdoor shows to find out whether he can still do his job and what, if anything, he has to say to large groups of people he doesn’t know.”

Given his performing hiatus and lack of practice, Kitson predicts the shows are “likely to be relatively rickety affairs”. “But Daniel’s already written the question ‘Do worms feel fear?’ in his new notebook, so we should be okay,” the blurb adds. “Also, if it gets boring – you can just use the time to look at the sky and feel small.”

At The Mill’s role in nurturing new work ties in with Alex’s own creativity as a writer and director, whether directing The Flanagan Collective, heading off to Australia with songwriter/musician/performer/magician Phil Grainger or spending last September to December in New York, making the immersive piece Tammany Hall for the Soho Playhouse.

Gary Stewart: Hosting regular Folk Club nights at At The Mill

“We meet loads of brilliant people when touring our work, and it’s great that they want to come here to test new pieces,” he says. “We’re delighted that people will hone shows here just before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, or will do shows here that aren’t going to Edinburgh but fit that vibe.”

Picking out upcoming highlights, singer-songwriterTom Figgins follows up last summer’s gig – his first in four years – with a return tomorrow; Chris Stokes’s storytelling comedy show, Lockdown Detective, is booked in for May 26, and Scottish musician Gary Stewart, now resident in nearby Easingwold, will host his regular Folk Club night on May 27, June 24 and July 8.

“For his first night, it’ll be just Gary and his guitar, performing Paul Simon songs solo rather than with his Graceland band. It’s lovely for us that a local musician, who’s internationally renowned, came here and said, ‘I want to play here every month and bring acts here regularly’,” says Alex.

At The Mill’s ERII Platinum Jubilee celebrations will take in Jubilee Jubilee, A Very Jubilant Cabaret, on June 3 and A Right Royal Knees Up, with live music and pizza, on June 5.

Maddie Morris: 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, playing a Music At The Mill gig for the first time

Leeds folk duo Maddie Morris & Lilian Grace will make their At The Mill debut on June 12, performing together as Death And The Daughter and playing solo works too. Their 2022 project, The Sticky Monsters, is influenced by the artwork of Swedish artist John Kenn and their compositions deal with childhood, poverty and more general reflections on culture and the idea of fear.

“I saw Maddie, the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, at The Courthouse, Rural Arts’ home in Thirsk, and she’s an absolute folk musician, studying folk music at Leeds University and looking at contemporary politics through the lens of the folk tradition,” says Alex.

Gemma Curry’s York company Hoglets Theatre will perform the children’s show The Sleep Pirates on June 19 (10am to 1pm); York spoken-word collective Say Owt will host a poetry-writing workshop on June 25 (5pm), followed by an evening showcase (7.30pm); Heady Conduct will combine physical storytelling with live music to tell the Greek myth of Tiresias on July 10, and Paperback Theatre will stage their charming account of roguish Toad’s misadventures, The Wind In The Willows, on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Alex himself has a couple of contributions to the season: Monster, a work-in-progress new story, on June 16 and 17, and The Gods The Gods The Gods, the Wright and Grainger show whose Australian premiere tour was curtailed by the pandemic, now making its British debut on July 23, 24, 27 and 28 at 8.45pm.

Gemma Curry in Hoglets Theatre’s The Sleep Pirates

“In its full iteration, it’s a big, heavy show, but this will be a lighter version before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” says Alex of the final work in Wright & Grainger’s trilogy of myths, after Orpheus and Eurydice, both sell-outs at last summer’s At The Mill season.

The Gods The Gods The Gods, with its four stories and 14 compositions, corals big beats, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken words as it “calls us to the crossroads where mythology meets real life”.

“The Gods are gathering and you’re invited,” says Alex. “We’re excited about testing it out here, to wrangle up the story, to see that all the text and music works, and then add lights for Edinburgh, where we’ll be doing it in the Assembly’s 200-seat spiegeltent.”

The Mill’s summer programme will continue to add new events, with full details, including tickets, at athemill.org. Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

The Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger staging Orpheus and Eurydice at At The Mill’s socially-distanced summer season in 2021. Picture: Charlotte Graham

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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

By Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Eurydice, Serena Manteghi & Phil Grainger, Theatre At The Mill, 7/8/2021

WRITER Alexander Wright and composer Phil Grainger presented Eurydice last summer, first as part of At The Mill’s six nights of six works, then at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival.

The sister piece to Wright and Grainger’s Orpheus had, however, been shaped on overseas duty by Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews to award-winning success at the Adelaide Fringe in 2019, and it was actor-singer Serena who headed to Stillington last week to reacquaint herself with Eurydice…and a live audience.

For her first stage appearance in a year, she was joined by pantalooned Phil, on electric guitar, occasional humorous interjections and vocals, under the shelter of At The Mill’s bar after the forecast of a deluge forced a late switch of location from the Mill’s open-air theatre.

The rain subsequently did play its part, but only for second-half cameo that complemented rather than ruined the top billing.

“It feels weird calling it a performance. It’s just us chatting,” said Serena, but she was underselling the performance’s combination of formality and informality, and the skills required to deliver its graceful ebb and flow, both in word and song in heightened moments.

In Serena’s hand throughout was a book, Alex’s book, containing both his Orpheus and Eurydice stories. Alex had performed that way too, not because he couldn’t be bothered with learning the lines, but because he loves the feel of the book in which he wrote those lines.

Serena broke off to explain the roots of her following the same performative practice – “a tradition,” she called it – and the book then became more of a comfort blanket, there for her to check a line in case she dried.

Eurydice is a spoken-word show, but one that is theatrical too, given how Serena moved around the café bar and interacted with Phil and his sympathetic, symbiotic guitar, especially when duetting instinctively on songs, whether Phil’s own compositions to Alex’s lyrics or interpretations of apposite Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper numbers.

Wright’s story is billed as a “tale about being a daily superhero and the need to let go of the stories we think define us”, prompted by his realisation that while Orpheus’s underworld story is familiar, we never hear Eurydice’s account, not even one word from her. History, even in myths, puts the ‘his’ into history, rather than telling her story.

Wright rights that wrong, creating Eurydice as her “untold story imagined and reimagined for the modern-day and told from her perspective”. All the more so last Saturday and Sunday, now that Serena was saying those words, while Alex restricted himself to electronica and sound duties to the side of the bar.

At the outset, Eurydice becomes Leni, five years old on the first day of the rest of her life in a one-parent household, when she wants to wear her superhero costume to school. Attentive listening is then required to follow the story’s path because Wright eschews reportage in favour of storytelling language more poetic, more affecting, more rhythmic, more heart-felt, in part torn from his own torrid back-story.

The story may be ancient, but Wright’s interpretation feeds into the modern world in its detail, although it also remains timeless, such is the universality of its themes of love, cheating, flash-flood romance and finally breaking free. “Hold me in a moment made of everything,” is an image we all want to hold, because we know it can only be impermanent.

In Manteghi’s performance, with Grainger a responsive musical radar to her side, Eurydice’s tale of love and loss, a bee tattoo and a bee sting became even more moving, still cathartic for Wright, but now truly Eurydice’s story, told her way.

REVIEW: Alexander Wright, Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism; Michael Lambourne, Black Shuck, at Theatre At The Mill

Alexander Wright: In a field of one in Stillington

Alexander Wright, Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism; Michael Lambourne, Black Shuck: How It Came For Me, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

THEY take the trouble at The Mill to be innovative.

From deciding no-one was for tennis on a pot-holed court to building an outdoor theatre in its stead; from unicorn ice cream to fairy-lit gardens; from Saturday morning pop-up cafés to supper club nights; from the green shoots of SeedBed try-outs for emerging talent to works in full bloom by Alexander Wright, Phil Grainger, York theatre-makers Anna Soden (Strawberry Lion Theatre) and Gemma Curry (Hoglets Theatre) and music events with Jessa Liversidge and Gary Stewart.

The Wright stuff, getting it right, as parents Paul and Maggi and son and daughter Alex and Abbigail oversee an arts enterprise with community at its heart. Make that two communities, those who live around there and those who work in the arts. Food, soul food and food for thought at the former corn mill.

Your reviewer has long championed the theatre work of both Alexander Wright and Michael Lambourne, sometimes in tandem (The Tempest and The Great Gatsby) or in their own projects. Summer At The Mill has brought an opportunity to see them both in a new light: Alex giving his debut solo performance (with guests) and Michael hatching his storytelling debut.

Alex is a writer, director, actor, musician, visionary, facilitator but… “I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it,” he said beforehand, natty for the night in suit, trainers and trilby.

In his hand was a brown envelope, as Alex’s eyes invited immediate interaction. Yours truly took it, and no, checking the content, it wasn’t a bribe. Inside was a poem, Narcissus. Alex had found his first guest to read aloud, and so the informality and unpredictability of Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism had begun, the one certainty being that Alex’s words would not be on his lips alone.

He was in salesman’s mode too. Not snake oil, but those alchemical Wright words bound in a slim volume,  Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism: a collection of poems and stories “put together for a gig I decided to do of my own writing in a theatre I built in my own garden”, with a title coined by Eurydice actor-musician Casey Jay Andrews.

“I’d like to be clear that no-one asked me to print this book, but it is cheaper to print £100’s worth and I have been unemployed for 18 months,” he said.

Unemployed? Building a theatre, writing, presenting and performing shows, more writing, organising Summer At The Mill, more writing. You know what they say, if you need something doing, always ask someone who’s busy.

So busy, in fact, that Alex had memorised only one piece, from his play The Gods The Gods The Gods; the rest of the two sets he would perform with book in hand: an excellent way to advertise its availability. Oh, did Alex tell you, he has a book for sale? Just checking.

Pink stickers marked the poems, short, very short and much longer, that Alex had picked out for the night, three written to his partner, Megan, to close the chasm of her being on the other side of the world in Australia.

“Stop taking notes, Charles,” he pleaded, but the memorable imagery kept coming: “Kissing snowflakes off each other”; “hand-me-down days, secondhand nights”.

Alex is wont to deflect attention from himself, often happy to play the ringmaster with acts to parade.  “I’m not that interested in poetry nights, if I’m honest”, he said, as he invited singer-songwriter Tom Figgins to reveal the fruits of the dormant songwriting gift he had resumed in lockdown for the first time since 2017. Beautiful, Tom, beautiful. He had arrived at 6.30pm, and already Alex had asked him to do the sound. That’s how these At The Mill shows work: off the cuff; heart on the sleeve; go with the flow. Just say ‘Yes’.

Abbigail, marketeer, baker, mother, puppet maker, pop-up café queen, had her party-piece cameo moment too, splitting an apple clean in two by applying just the right pressure. Pip pip.

“Logic and probability would suggest that someone here can play piano,” chanced Alex, knowing full well that childhood friend Jim Harbourne would oblige, already on site at the Mill for a week’s rehearsals to reactivate Beulah with fellow musician and composer Ed Wrenn for the first time in six years.

Alex went on to play drums, piano and guitar himself, but all the while, the words were to the fore, some from 2010/2011, “but most things are new – and I don’t mean that philosophically,” he said.

The interval brought a chance, you guessed it, to buy the book at the bar before a second half where Alex removed jacket and hat and informality reigned again. “**** knows why you get married in English and divorced in Latin,” he observed wryly.

His old school drama teacher joined him on stage; Harbourne and Wren reawakened two wonders from Beulah, Coffee In The Morning and Humans Fly; Abbigail was called on for another solo, this time vaulting a gate at the field’s edge, and no show would be complete without the Phil Grainger & Alex Wright double act.

On this occasion, Alex had written a poem for Megan, Phil, a song for his Aussie girlfriend Angie, and now they became one as Home, with Phil having learnt his closing guitar part on holiday in Cornwall. Alex sat cross-legged for the first time since primary school; crossed fingers might have been more apt, but they never freeze at a challenge, and one of the high points ensued, Damien Rice song references and all.

This night might never be repeated, but that’s the point. Words age on the page but they have their stage, their moment, as they come alive in unpredictable fashion when performed by Wright, his guest performers or audience volunteers. Writing can be solitary, lonely, but Wright writes to communicate with others for their joy, their sharing; their response in the moment. Narcissistic? Absolutely not! Plugging the book again one more time? Of course.

Michael Lambourne: Actor, writer and now storyteller

Wright had talked of pre-show nerves ahead of Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism. Michael Lambourne, on the other hand, radiates supreme confidence on stage, with a voice to set off earthquakes and the presence to draw you to him like a magnet.

He once played Prospero among the trees at Stillington Mill, but would joke in his York theatre days of his propensity to be cast in anthropomorphic roles. Animal magic, as it would always turn out.

Taking up Alex’s “call to arms” to test-drive a new piece at Theatre At The Mill, Michael headed north from the Cambridgeshire Fens with the ink barely dry on a ghost story based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia: a hound of unnatural size and omen of misfortune to those who encounter its stare.

And yes, he did play the hell hound, or rather he elicited its terrifying growl terrifically terrifyingly, because Michael was in “responsive storytelling experience” mode: a new venture for him and one that surely will be repeated.

He has lit the fire beneath the words of many others; likewise, others have performed his words, but for the first time, here he was giving breath to his own writing, to the manner born, in Black Shuck: How It Came For Me.

Like Alex’s show, Michael began with an air of informality, after a delightful set of transformative Scottish myths of travellers, selkies and winter and summer queens by former York Theatre Royal creative associate Shona Cowie.

In waistcoat and trilby, he explained why he wore his grandfather’s watch, despite it telling the correct time only twice a day, and how he had re-discovered his book of The World Of The Unknown Ghosts, with its scary picture of one-eyed black dog.

That image accompanied the tale of Black Shuck, “a story about the place I’m from”, one that Lowestoft lads The Darkness had highlighted on their debut album with the chorus “Black Shuck, Black Shuck, That dog don’t give a…”. You can fill in the rest.

“To be honest, I hope you don’t enjoy it,” said Michael, pulling the strings of an already rapt audience. He can rhyme with Ian Dury rhythm, spin a yarn with silken imagery, born of the “pancake-flat fields of the Fens”, and he is not averse to a political jibe. “Just like a lie on the side of a bus,” he observed.

Michael has never looked Black Shuck in the red eye, but his choice of Fenland folk tale and its portent of exit stage left or imminent change chimed with his own fate: his diagnosis at 40 with lymphoma, the blood cancer.

“My disease was a game but I couldn’t choose if I’d win or I’d lose…when Black Shuck found me,” he said at the finale. He is now in remission, back on stage, opening a new chapter rather than nearing The End. Long may Michael tell stories and have stories to tell in the voice with boom, not the voice of doom.

More Things To Do in and around York as deathly silence is broken at libraries. List No. 43, courtesy of The Press, York

James Lewis Knight, left, as Jimmy and Matt Stradling as James in Next Door But One’s library tour of Operation Hummingbird in York

GO forth and multiply the chance to see the summer spurt of theatre, musicals and outdoor shows, urges Charles Hutchinson, who also highlights big gig news for autumn and March 2022.

Breaking the library hush: Next Door But One in Operation Hummingbird, in York, today and August 12

YORK community arts collective Next Door But One are teaming up with Explore York for a library tour of Matt Harper-Harcastle’s 45-minute play Operation Hummingbird.

James Lewis Knight plays Jimmy and Matt Stradling, James, in a one-act two-hander that takes the form of a conversation across the decades about a sudden family death, realising an opportunity that we all wish we could do at some point in our life: to go back and talk to our younger self.

Today’s Covid-safe performances are at 3.30pm at New Earswick Folk Hall and 7pm, Dringhouses Library; August 12, York Explore, 2pm, and Hungate Reading Café, 7pm. Box office: nextdoorbutone.co.uk.

Exit-kitchen-sink drama: Ashley Hope Allan as bored Liverpool housewife Shirley, planning a holiday to Greece in Esk Valley Theatre’s production of Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Play launch of the week outside York: Esk Valley Theatre in Shirley Valentine, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, tonight until August 28

ESK Valley Theatre complete a hattrick of Willy Russell plays with Shirley Valentine from tonight, under the direction of artistic director Mark Stratton as usual.

In Russell’s one-woman show, Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan plays middle-aged, bored Liverpool housewife Shirley in a story of self-discovery as she takes a holiday to Greece with a friend, who promptly abandons her for a holiday romance. Left alone, Shirley meets charming taverna owner Costas. Box office: 01947 897587 or at eskvalleytheatre.co.uk.

It’s here at last! Heathers The Musical opens its delayed tour at Leeds Grand Theatre tonight. Picture: Pamela Raith

Musical of the week outside Leeds, Heathers The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, tonight until August 14

HEATHERS The Musical launches its touring production in Leeds from tonight with choreography by Gary Lloyd, who choreographed the debut York Stage pantomime last Christmas.

Produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills and directed by American screen and stage director Andy Fickman, this high-octane, dark-humoured rock musical is based on the Winona Ryder and Christian Slater cult teen movie.

The premise: Westerberg High pupil Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) is just another nobody dreaming of a better day, until she joins the impossibly cruel Heathers, whereupon mysterious teen rebel JD (Simon Gordon) teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at leedsheritagetheatres.co.uk.

Round To Low Horcum, by Sue Slack, one of the 33 artists and makers taking part in Ryedale Open Studios

Art event of the week: Ryedale Open Studios, Saturday and Sunday and next weekend, 10am to 5pm each day

THE newly formed Vault Arts Centre community interest company, in Kirkbymoorside, is coordinating this inaugural Ryedale Open Studios event, celebrating the creativity and artistic talent of Ryedale and the North York Moors.

Artists, makers and creators will be offering both an exclusive glimpse into their workplaces and the opportunity to buy art works directly. Full details of all 33 artists can be found at ryedaleopenstudios.com; a downloadable map at ryedaleopenstudios.com/map.

Serena Manteghi: Performing in Eurydice at Theatre At The Mill this weekend

Hit and myth show of the week: Eurydice, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday and Sunday, 7.30pm

THIS weekend, Serena Manteghi returns to the play she helped to create with writer Alexander Wright, composer Phil Grainger and fellow performer Casey Jane Andrews with Fringe award-winning success in Australia in 2019.

Manteghi, a tour de force in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Build A Rocket, will be joined by Grainger for the tale about being a daily superhero and not giving in to the stories we tell ourselves.

Woven from spoken word and soaring live music, Eurydice is the stand-alone sister show to Orpheus; her untold story imagined and reimagined for the modern-day and told from her perspective. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/.

Kaiser Chiefs: Yorkshire anthems galore at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on Sunday

Yorkshire gig of the week outside York: Kaiser Chiefs, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Sunday, gates open at 6pm

LEEDS lads Kaiser Chiefs promise a “no-holds-barred rock’n’roll celebration” on their much-requested return to Scarborough OAT after their May 27 2017 debut.

“We cannot wait to get back to playing live shows again and it will be great to return to this stunning Yorkshire venue,” says frontman Ricky Wilson. “We had a cracking night there in 2017, so roll on August 8!”

Expect a Sunday night of such Yorkshire anthems as Oh My God, I Predict A Riot, Everyday I Love You Less And Less, Ruby, Never Miss A Beat and Hole In My Soul. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.

Simon Amstell’s hippy-chic poster for his autumn tour show, Spirit Hole, visiting York, Sheffield and Leeds in the autumn

Comedy gig announcement of the week: Simon Amstell, Spirit Hole, Grand Opera House, York, September 25, 8pm

INTROSPECTIVE, abjectly honest comedian Simon Amstell will play the Grand Opera House, York, for the first time since 2012 on his 38-date Spirit Hole autumn tour.

Agent provocateur Amstell, 41, will deliver a “blissful, spiritual, sensational exploration of love, sex, shame mushrooms and more” on a tour with further Yorkshire gigs at The Leadmill, Sheffield, on September 12 and Leeds Town Hall on October 1.

York tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/venues/grand-opera-house-york/; York, Sheffield and Leeds at ticketmaster.com.

Look sharp! Tickets are on sale for Joe Jackson’s second-ever York concert…next March

York gig announcement of the week: Joe Jackson, York Barbican, March 17 2022

JOE Jackson will play York for only the second time in his 43-year career on his Sing, You Sinners! tour next year.

Jackson, who turns 67 on August 11, will perform both solo and with a band at York Barbican in the only Yorkshire show of his 29-date British and European tour, promising hits and new material.

“We’ve been dealing with two viruses over the past two years, and the worst – the one we really need to put behind us – is Fear,” he says. “Love is the opposite of fear, so if you love live music, come out and support it!” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Writer, director, musician, theatre maker, actor, but still Alex is nervous about tonight

In a field of one: Alexander Wright, playwright, poet, storyteller, musician, director, facilitator, theatre builder…and now solo performer

ALEXANDER Wright is nervous about tonight, but why?

Let Alex tell the story: “In a potentially remarkable act of narcissism, I am doing a solo gig of my own work in a theatre I built [with Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger and dad Paul Wright] in my back garden at 7.30pm. 

“It’s the first time I have ever done a solo gig. I write lots of stuff, direct lots of stuff, tour Orpheus, Eurydice & The Gods The Gods The Gods to hundreds of places.

“I’ve released Half Man//Half Bull, a double narrative-led album, with Phil and Olivier Tilney. My production of The Great Gatsby has been performed across the UK, in Belgium, Ireland, and Korea to hundreds and thousands of audience members.

“But I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it.”

Double at t’ Mill: Phil Grainger and Alexander Wright at Stillington Mill last August when performing a week of shows back on home turf in Alex’s “back garden”. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Expect beautiful stories, beautiful poems, a few beautiful special guests and hopefully a beautiful sunset under the sails of the At The Mill outdoor theatre on the re-appropriated disused tennis court at Stillington Mill, Mill Lane, Stillington, near York.

Tongue in cheek in its title, Alex’s Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism night is part of the anything but narcissistic inaugural Summer At The Mill season at At The Mill, the Wrights’ family-run business at the mid-18th century former corn mill.

Not only theatre, children’s shows, spoken word and concerts have found a home here but so too has a Saturday morning pop-up café with unicorn ice cream and blissful cakes spun from the culinary imagination of Alex’s sister, Abbigail, and a welcoming wood-burner in the corner.

Then add supper clubs (up next, Tom Smith, from Oxfordshire, cooking an entire lamb on July 17, tickets available); special events; community gatherings; weddings and accommodation in a fairy-lit woodland shepherd’s hut or the two-bedroom Mill Cottage in a converted cow byre.

The stage is set for a night of Theatre At The Mill

Stillington Mill’s pond-side grounds have housed magical performances in previous years, whether on the woodland grass or under canvas, but the outdoor theatre is new for 2021, all because of a vow witnessed one August night by CharlesHutchPress among others at a Grainger and Wright performance in the first socially distanced summer of Covid.

“Phil has a habit of saying what he’s thinking out loud in public, and then being beholden to it. I’m fine with that and so is Phil!”, says Alex, recalling how best friend Phil had announced that a massive pile of wood had just arrived at the mill from G H Brooks, the timber merchants up the road.

They would build a theatre, he promptly promised, with a boldness worthy of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald pronouncing he would construct an opera house in the middle of a jungle in Werner Herzog’s infamously trouble-beset 1982 film Fitzcarraldo. Thankfully, the task proved less arduous, and no-one behaved like loose-cannon prima-donna lead actor Klaus Kinski.

“I think it’s important to get on with stuff, whatever the circumstances you face, and we’ve always done that. If you wait for people to give you permission, it will never happen, but we had the space to create a theatre, so we have,” says Alex.

Alexander Wright performing Orpheus at At The Mill earlier this summer. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

“There’s something wonderful about an old tennis court making way for a stage, especially in a village where the mill has long been a focal point for the community. There’s been a mill here since being recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 and the house was built in 1754.

“It’s lovely to keep allowing these buildings to be central to the community, and even though it’s no longer flour, I hope it’s still some form of nourishment, whether it’s cake and sausage sandwiches or theatre and music. It’s good to have an industry of sorts still going on here.”

Phil built the wooden stage and the benches – in his own self-deprecating words “making good-quality wood look like palettes” – with help from his Australian partner Angie Alle, while Alex and father Paul did all the structures above, the pillars and posts and sails. “So, if you fall off the stage, it’s Phil’s fault; if something falls on you, it’s my dad’s and my fault,” Alex jokes.

“Some of it’s trial and error, like having to re-enforce the pillar structures, but we’re always trying to do something that’s beyond what we would normally do. Others might find that intimidating, but I like stretching my capacities.”

Courtly love: Out goes tennis, in comes a theatre, game set and match at Stillington Mill

Reflecting on changing times for theatre and performance under the cloud of Covid, changes that have seen Alex and Phil rooted in North Yorkshire, rather than travelling to New York and the Edinburgh Fringe after returning early from Australia last February, Alex says: “I’m sure lots of people have had the profound realisation in the past 16 months that theatre and the arts are a function or a means to the end,  rather than an end in themselves.

“We get tied up in theatre being something we consume, when in fact it is so much more valuable as a means for people to gather, to hear news, to share stories, to start conversations, and when we’ve not been gathering for 16 months, it’s such a vital tool for doing that – and I think it’s the gathering that’s most important.”

Alex continues: “I love meeting communities, meeting other people, and I feel that everywhere I go, we always leave having learned something. We always play by the same rules: performers and audience, we are together for two hours, and that sense of hanging out together is more important right now than what we see.

“But when we were setting up Summer At The Mill, I was very clear that it needed to serve the communities I care about: the local rural community and the wider, sprawling arts community.

“We’ve made what I hope is a very honest invitation to artists, to encourage them to ask if they want to come here and play, with either a new piece of work or an old piece that they’re getting back on its feet, or maybe for a collaboration, and it’s felt really nice to be able to do that.

A different writing task for playwright and poet Alexander Wright as he works a shift on At The Mill’s Saturday morning pop-up cafe (which turn into a bar for shows, by the way)

“Phil and I see loads of brilliant mates making work around the world, and we’ll hang around with them for a month. Then, six month later, there’ll be another festival, again with all these acclaimed international artists, and it’s kind of amazing when we say, ‘do you want to muck around in our back garden?’ and they’ll say ‘Yes, I’ll try out some new ideas’, and so they’ll play to a new audience, testing out new material. There’s a nice alchemy to it, and it’s a level playing field.

“We’re even talking to a couple of artists about the possibility of doing short residencies, for a week or a weekend, hosting them to let them road-test something new.”

Tonight, meanwhile, it will be Alex’s own turn to do that in a night of spoken word, storytelling and poetry…and, yes, he’s still nervous!

Alexander Wright: Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York, tonight (10/7/2021) at 7.30pm. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/538906.

REVIEW: Clive, alias Phil Grainger, Music At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, July 2

“The second cut is always the deepest when Phil Grainger sings”. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

BEST buddies since Easingwold schooldays, Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger reeled off a series of At The Mill double bills back home in North Yorkshire in the first summer of Covid after their Australian tour was aborted.

New York and Edinburgh Fringe plans were scuppered too, after old York called them home, and more than a year later, they are still here, making magical theatre, song and spoken word.

Oh, and building an outdoor theatre too on Stillington Mill’s disused tennis court, with Alex’s father, Paul, and mother, Maggi, playing a prominent role too in establishing the new and impressively diverse At The Mill enterprise (more of which in a CharlesHutchPress interview with Alex later this week).

Last August’s set finished with Phil announcing that wood had arrived for Alex and Phil to start work on converting that summer’s marquee into an outdoor theatre. “If they build it, we will come,” vowed CharlesHutchPress, and sure enough, this summer finds that theatre in full sail for concerts and theatre shows.

For one night, Phil and Alex teamed up with two friends in Foraged & Forged, a showcase of new material written specially for the occasion. Friday night put polymath Phil in the solo spotlight, in the guise of Clive, and while the pre-show rain enforced a late decision to abandon the plan to do one set from one stage, and a second from another, the format of an acoustic first half and electric second set was retained.

“It’s been a bit of an hour,” he said, putting on his bandana in readiness for adopting Clive mode. “It’s ‘look at how good this would have been. Now is what you’re getting’!”

What we were getting was the solo music project of singer, songwriter, musician, sound engineer, magician, actor, Gobbledigook Theatre director and event promoter Phil Grainger. Why Clive, you ask? Phil is not a name for a singer, he reasons. Er, Phil Collins? “Exactly,” said Easingwold Phil in a typical shard of attractively blunt Yorkshire wit that peppered his performance. “Clive is the name for the thing that’s me doing this.”

Phil Grainger, in Clive mode, performing Under The Sea from the Disney songbook. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

Clive is his middle name, and his father’s name too, so Clive it is, and tonight the Stillington Mill’s a-Clive with the sound of music. Beautiful, poignant, happy, sad, funny, heart-felt music, sung in one of those surging soul voices where the second cut is always the deepest when Phil, sorry, Clive, lets rip. One of these voices where you ache waiting for those transcendent moments.

Clive would divide his sets, he said, between songs he had been writing for a long time, others that were new, and some so new they were only half written. He would stop them at the point they were half-finished, with no pretence of finesse.

You cannot help but warm to such candour, or indeed to his off-the-cuff sporadic dips into a newly acquired Disney songbook. Or his seemingly rudimentary, yet deeply affecting guitar, that recalls Billy Bragg’s less-is-more playing.

Clive, his dad, was there, and so was his mum. “I didn’t know they were coming,” said Phil, promptly deciding to change his “emotional set-ender” to his “emotional opening number”. “This song is about my mum. It’s called My Mother,” he said, whereupon mum raised a knowing eyebrow.

Soon we learned she does better Sunday roasts than a Toby Carvery, she effing hates swearing and is no fan of tattoos either. Under Alex’s encouragement, Phil’s lyrics are coming on apace, matching his gift for melody, and built around a winning line in couplets and a desire to take the advice of The Streets’ Mike Skinner to always end with a memorable pay-off.

His hymn of praise to the lure of York’s welcoming arms, whenever he is away, is awaiting both completion and confirmation of its title – “it might be Angel Of The North,” he speculated – but already it is completely moving.

Alex and Phil had vowed never to return to the pieces they wrote in a day to perform to an audience that night, but promises are made to be broken, and so out came Home, the one with 14 houseplants acquired by Phil’s girlfriend Angie for their cottage nest and Alex’s poetic “tatty clattering” as a home is found inside a house. “With you I’m two-up; I was one down on my own,” finished Phil. Mike Skinner would surely approve.

Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan Wright last August, when they mounted a week of The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre shows at At The Mill, by the 18th century corn mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

After a pleasingly erratic stroll through Disney’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, the acoustic set concluded with two of Phil’s finest, Little Red and Colour Me In: one pulling at the frayed edges of a disintegrating relationship; the other, from Phil and Alex’s show Orpheus, a ballad that would fit perfectly on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6Music. “I’m drunk on colour and I’m drunk on soul,” Phil sang, and how we drunk it in.

Electricity was thankfully restricted to Phil’s switch of guitar and not lightning for the second half, introduced by storyteller Phil with his recollection of trying to pay the £600 required for the instrument in £2 coins gathered over time ten years ago. Bank the coins, he was told, but eventually the guitar was his.

A decade later, he finally chanced his arm at a guitar solo in Safe Travels, Hurry Back, words by Alex, title and soar-away tune by Phil. The solo? Grainger’s transition into Jimi Hendrix is on hold.

Best title of the night award went to Hallelujah For The Hell Of It, best couplet to: “I’m hard to read like a broadsheet; you’re hard to keep like the off-beat”.

That made it back from Australia in February 2020, as did another Alex and Phil composition, If Destroyed Still True, written late into the night after their last supper before the urgent flight home, this one composed with Aussie friend Jamie on laptop.

“Just to be clear, we’ve never done this one live, since we wrote it in an hour that night,” said Alex, duly doing his Kae Tempest-style spoken words live, interwoven with Phil’s yearning vocal part and Jamie’s infectious recorded instrumental refrain.

One-man band and his bandana: Phil Grainger performing his Clive show. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

It could have gone wrong at any moment, instead it went beautifully right, and it is in such unpredictable, knife-edge moments that Summer At The Mill is creating its distinctive alchemy.

Do check out the Aussie video at: facebook.com/orpheuseurydicethegods/videos/2254587891515753; the chorus will be your new earworm within minutes.

The Little Mermaid’s Under The Sea survived its Big Phil DIY – Does It Yorkshire – reinvention, and then it was time for Phil to revisit the “wise and gorgeous” recording of Easingwold Players’ stalwart Bronwyn Jennison, who passed away last year.

It had been a highlight of last summer’s Clive show and now, reactivated for the first time since then, Bronwyn’s rendition of Alex’s words had even greater weight after the year we’ve all had. “You carry on, wild child, and I’ll carry on,” said Bronwen through the ether, and Phil and Alex will indeed carry that flame.

Phil’s finale was a humdinger: an audience hum-along to the anything but humdrum Hum, “another song we said we’d never do again, but it’s too special not to!”.

Last August’s review ended with a call to Phil to record an album, and indeed the Half Man Half Bull download has since emerged, but that is a team creation, not the full Phil, and so, Phil, even more than last year, please head into the recording studio. Your mother, for one, would be chuffed.

“I’m so glad I could be here to sing to the benches I made,” he signed off. So we were, so we were.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

More Things To Do in and around York as ‘Byrne out’ strikes tonight’s comedy gig. List No. 39, courtesy of The Press, York

Shock of the new: Milton Jones looks startled at the prospect of replacing Ed Byrne at short notice for tonight’s comedy bill at York Theatre Royal

AWAY from all that football, Charles Hutchinson finds plenty of cause for cheer beyond chasing an inflated pig’s bladder, from a late-change comedy bill to Ayckbourn on film, York artists to a park bench premiere.

Late substitution of the week: Byrne out, Jones in, for Live At The Theatre Royal comedy night, York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm

ED Byrne will not top the Live At The Theatre Royal comedy bill tonight after all. “We are sorry to announce that due to circumstances beyond our control, Ed is now unable to appear,” says the official statement.

The whimsical Irish comedian subsequently has tweeted his “You Need To Self-Isolate” notification, running until 23.59pm on July 7.

Well equipped to take over at short notice is the quip-witted pun-slinger Milton Jones, joining Rhys James, Maisie Adam and host Arthur Smith. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Naomi Petersen and Bill Champion in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door at the SJT and now on film too. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“Film of the week”: Alan Ayckburn’s The Girl Next Door, from Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Sunday

THE SJT’s film of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest premiere, The Girl Next Door, is available on the Scarborough theatre’s website, sjt.uk.com.

Directed by Ayckbourn, his 85th play can be seen on stage in The Round until Saturday and now in a filmed recording in front of a live audience until midnight on Sunday.

One day in 2020 lockdown, veteran actor Rob spots a stranger hanging out the washing in the adjoining garden, but his neighbours have not been around for months. Who is the mysterious girl next door? And why is she wearing 1940s’ clothing?

Ray of sunshine: Edwin Ray as Tick/Mitzi in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert at Leeds Grand Theatre. Picture: Darren Bell

Musical of the week ahead: Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Leeds Grand Theatre, July 6 to 10

PRISCILLA Queen Of The Desert returns to Leeds for seven socially distanced performances in a new production produced by Mark Goucher and, for the first time, Jason Donovan, star of the original West End show and two UK tours.

Loaded up with glorious costumes, fabulous feathers and dance-floor classics, three friends hop aboard a battered old bus bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime.

Miles Western plays Bernadette, Nick Hayes, Adam/Felicia and Edwin Ray, Tick/Mitzi, in this heart-warming story of self-discovery, sassiness and acceptance. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com.

Solo show: Polymath Phil Grainger puts his songwriting in the spotlight in his Clive concert in Stillington

Gig of the week outside York: Clive, alias Phil Grainger, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

CLIVE is the solo music project of Easingwold singer, songwriter, musician, sound engineer, magician, actor, Gobbledigook Theatre director and event promoter Phil Grainger.

As the voice and the soul behind Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods, Clive finds the globe-trotting Grainger back home, turning his hand to a song-writing project marked by soaring vocal and soulful musicianship. Expect a magical evening wending through new work and old classics in two sets, one acoustic, the other electric. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/512182.

Emily Hansen’s Pilgrim 14 as Mary Magdalene in a rehearsal for A Resurrection For York at Dean’s Park. Picture: John Saunders

Open-air theatre event of the weekend: A Resurrection For York, Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York, Saturday and Sunday, 11am, 2pm, 4pm

THE wagons are in place for A Resurrection For York, presented by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster.

Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola, directs a community cast in an hour-long outdoor performance, scripted by Parr and 2018 York Mystery Plays director Tom Straszewski from the York Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed. Tickets are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/.

Autonomous, by Sharon McDonagh, from the Momentum Summer Show at Blossom Street Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week and beyond: Momentum Summer Show, Westside Artists, Blossom Street Gallery, by Micklegate Bar, York, until September 26

YORK art group Westside Artists, a coterie of artists from the city’s Holgate and West areas, are exhibiting paintings, portraits, photomontage, photography, metalwork, textiles, ceramics and mixed-media art at Blossom Street Gallery.

Taking part are Adele Karmazyn; Carolyn Coles; Donna Maria Taylor; Ealish Wilson; Fran Brammer; Jane Dignum; Jill Tattersall; Kate Akrill and Lucy McElroy. So too are Lucie Wake; Marc Godfrey-Murphy; Mark Druery; Michelle Hughes; Rich Rhodes; Robin Grover-Jaques, Sharon McDonagh and Simon Palmour.

The Park Keeper director Matt Aston, left, actor Sean McKenzie and writer Mike Kenny at Rowntree Park, York. Picture: Northedge Photography

Theatre premiere of the week ahead: Park Bench Theatre in The Park Keeper, The Friends’ Garden, Rowntree Park, York, July 7 to 17 (except July 11)

AFTER last summer’s trilogy of solo shows, Matt Aston’s Park Bench Theatre return to Rowntree Park with Olivier Award-winning York writer Mike Kenny’s new monologue to mark the park’s centenary.

Performed by Sean McKenzie, The Park Keeper is set in York in the summer of 1945, when Rowntree Park’s first, and so far only, park keeper, ‘Parky’ Bell, is about to retire. That can mean only one thing, a speech, but what can he say? How can he close this chapter on his life? Will he be able to lock the gates to his kingdom one last time? Box office: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or via parkbenchtheatre.com.

Andy Fairweather Low: Booked into Pocklington Arts Centre for next February

Gig announcement of the week outside York: Andy Fairweather Low, Pocklington Arts Centre, February 11 2022

ANDY Fairweather Low, the veteran Welsh guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and producer, will return to Pocklington next February.

Founder and cornerstone of Sixties’ hitmakers Amen Corner and later part of Eric Clapton and Roger Waters’ bands, Cardiff-born Fairweather Low, 72, will perform with The Low Riders: drummer Paul Beavis, bassist Dave Bronze and saxophonist Nick Pentelow. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Jane McDonald: Lighting up York Barbican in July 2022 rather than July 4 this summer

Rearranged gig announcement of the week in York: Jane McDonald, York Barbican, July 22 2022

WAKEFIELD cabaret singer and television personality Jane McDonald’s Let The Light In show is on the move to next summer.

For so long booked in as the chance to “Get The Lights Back On” at York Barbican on July 4, the Government’s postponement of “Freedom Day” from June 21 to July 19 at the earliest has enforced the date change for a show first booked in for 2020. Tickets remain valid; box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Jessa and Mick Liversidge to perform Fields & Lanes songs and poems at At The Mill

Mick and Jessa Liversidge on one of their lockdown strolls to perform poems and songs in the North Yorkshire fresh air

EASINGWOLD singer Jessa Liversidge and actor husband Mick are taking their lockdown show Fields & Lanes to At The Mill’s new outdoor theatre at Stillington, near York, on Saturday.

Devised by Jessa and Mick in 2020, the evening of music and verse was inspired by their outdoor performing adventures when leaving the house for exercise under Covid regulations.

Jessa started a weekly outdoor “field-sing” in March last year, while Mick began learning and reciting a new poem every other day. This weekend, they bring their collaboration to the At The Mill grounds to present songs, ranging from traditional folk to pop standards, such as In My Life and You’ve Got A Friend, and poetry from D. H. Lawrence to Spike Milligan.

Built over a tennis court by Alexander Flanagan Wright, Paul Wright and Phil Grainger, the new theatre is under cover but open to the garden and mill pond surrounds.

All Summer At The Mill events are organised and run in accordance with pandemic guidelines. “Please book in groups you can sit with, and we will arrange your seating at a safe distance from other parties,” advises Alexander.

Tickets for Saturday’s 7.30pm to 9.30pm event are on sale at tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/512172.

Alex Wright, Phil Grainger and Oliver Tilney combine on Half Man//Half Bull ancient myth songs to be experienced at home UPDATED 11/3/2021

On song: Phil Grainger in a recording session for Half Man//Half Bull

THE Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre had to cut short their 18-month international tour last March, the pandemic forcing Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger to fly back to North Yorkshire from Australasia.

A year later, however, a brand-new work, created in tandem with fellow theatre-maker Oliver Tilney, arrives in the form of Half Man//Half Bull, a narrative-led double album of two ancient myths and 20 original tracks to be “experienced at home”.

Fusing spoken word, electronica and soul, Half Man//Half Bull retells the interlinking myths of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedalus & Icarus, presented in a listening pack designed by Lydia Denno that will be sent out in the post.

“We wanted people to be able to hold a beautiful piece of art in their hand, like holding an album cover, so Lydia’s artwork is part of the whole experience,” says Alex. “We also want people to carve out a bit of proper time to really listen to the work, rather than listening to it for the first time when you’re doing the washing-up or while you’re cooking.

“We’re also asking you to reach out to connect with other people by sending out postcards, and there are four cards from the listening pack to hide around your community too. You could even give someone a call, knock on someone’s door and say hello.

“The two stories say a lot about isolation, so it feels good to do something that’s an antidote to that. We didn’t set out to tell a story about this time of Covid lockdowns, but it just seems to have seeped into it.”

Lydia Denno’s artwork for Half Man//Half Bull

Over the past few years, Alex and Phil, friends since Easingwold schooldays, have taken their international award-winning shows Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods to packed rooms across Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and New York, performing an enthralling, electrifying brand of spoken word and live music.

Once back home, they teamed up with long-time collaborator Oliver Tilney – he played Jay Gatsby in Wright’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby for the Guild Of Misrule at 41 Monkgate, York, in 2016 – to create Half Man//Half Bull.

“From the get-go, we wanted to make a new piece of work that wasn’t contingent on being performed live,” says Oliver, who first brought the idea to Alex and Phil last June. “We didn’t want a watered-down version of something to give to audiences; we wanted to create a new piece of work in its correct form. For us, that form is a double narrative-led album.”

Oliver set about reading various Greek myths, seeking a way to connect two together. “The ones we’ve chosen are about becoming a parent; one is about a father loving a son, the other about a son loving a father,” he says.

“Most people don’t carry any sympathy for Icarus, thinking he’s rather brash, but I thought, ‘no, let’s make these characters human’.”

Alex, Phil and Oliver began work on Half Man//Half Bull on Zoom, but lockdown easement then enabled work to develop in Covid-safe conditions, both in Stillington in Alex’s studio at The Mill last October and at Crooked Room Studio in Strensall, York.

Oliver Tilney at work on Half Man//Half Bull

“There was a moment I recall where Ollie’s daughter was in a push chair and I was writing these ditties, and Ollie’s lyrics were so clearly coming from his experience of being a dad,” says Phil.

“More than before, the writing was a mixture of all three of us. With Orpheus, it was very clear that I wrote the music and Alex, the lyrics, but for The Gods The Gods The Gods, there were a couple of songs where Alex came up with the melody.

“Whereas with this project, we’ve all stuck our noses into all of it. Ollie and Alex were writing the first drafts of ideas, while I was building some benches at Alex’s mill. Then I came up with a few bits of guitar, but once that had been done and they’d come up with the skeleton of the stories, we fleshed everything out, with everyone coming up with lyrics and me writing tunes. We all pushed ourselves more than ever.”

Alex rejoins: “We’re lucky that we’ve all known each other and worked together for so long, so it never felt like we needed to define who was doing what, or who was in charge. It just felt organic.”

The trio have partnered up with 15 organisations to bring the idea to life, among them the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds company Slung Low, Rural Arts, Thirsk, and The Barn Theatre, their involvement affirming the appetite for this type of work. 

Alex says: “We started talking with our brilliant pals at Streatham Space Project [a project that Oliver was involved in setting up], where we managed to bring a socially distanced version of Eurydice in September. It quickly became clear there would be an appetite for a theatre, or an organisation, to be able to deliver content to their audience while people couldn’t gather in a more traditional setting.”

Oliver adds: “Those 15 theatres and organisations around the country are helping us by each agreeing to distribute 100 copies, so that means we’ve pre-sold 1,500 copies, either to be given away to pockets of the community they want to contact through outreach work, or for some to be put on sale through the venues.”

Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger on their travels, cut short by the need to head home last March

An Arts Council Project Grant allowed the Half Man//Half Bull team to grow: the trio have collaborated with producers, designers and host of musicians to realise this project, alongside the family of theatres, venues and partner organisations.

After years of touring, lockdown has provided a longer opportunity to create and develop, says Phil. “Alex and I have been writing and touring shows for a while, with an ambition to grow our sound. This felt like a great opportunity to work with more people, collaborate with more artists and, crucially, create some work for as many freelancers as we could afford,” he explains.

That team includes Aminita Francis, from BAC BeatBox Collective, as Theseus; Zimbabwean-born musician Tendaii Sitima, as Daedalus; designer Lydia Denno; music producer Isaac McInnis and project producer Charlotte Bath.

“We were also able to spend a lot of time at Crooked Room Studio working with Isaac McInnis, which really helped grow the sound,” says Phil. “It’s crucial that as this is an audio project, that it sounds flipping great.”

Lockdown 3 was imposed just as Alex, Phil and Oliver were part-way through the last recording session. “But because we were already ‘bubbled up, we were already in the right place to allows us to continue,” says Alex.

“It was lucky that we could continue unimpeded,” says Phil. “Pretty much everyone else, apart from our producer Isaac, was able to send us their parts, recording in their own homes or on Zoom.”

Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan Wright last August when The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre presented a week of socially distanced shows in Alex’s back garden at The Mill, Stillington, including Orpheus and Eurydice

Billed as “an epic storytelling adventure for our time”, Half Man//Half Bull is designed expressly as an At-Home experience. “For a project that is an album, a listening experience, something you do with your ears, we were really clear we didn’t want to make a cast recording of something that already existed; it had to be something that stood in its own right,” says Alex.

“For the vast majority of musicians and creative people, they are hard-wired to connect with other people, preferably gathered in one room, but this had to be different – though it does feel odd that we can’t all be together to launch it!”

Instead, Half Man//Half Bull is a form of home service. “If you buy it, you’ll get a physical pack through your door with artwork, listening instructions and an invitation to step back out into the real world,” says Alex.

“Normally we would be thinking about the physical space we’re performing a show in, but this time it’s a listening experience designed for people’s homes.”

Yet might Half Man//Half Bull be turned into a live performance? “While we were writing the album, we had a catchphrase that we banned each other from saying: ‘When we do the live show’,” recalls Oliver. “Instead, we concentrated on the album, but having worked together for so many years, we all have ambitions to do it live.

“We haven’t had many conversations yet, just touched on a few ideas so far, because our focus has been on the album.”

For further information and to buy the albums, go to: halfmanhalfbull.com.

Alexander Flanagan Wright during the making of Half Man//Half Bull