Darker nights, ghostly tales and premieres stalk York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season

Let’s stalk: Will York Theatre Royal’s fabled ghost, The Grey Lady, make an appearance during The Haunted Season this autumn?

ONCE nights start to draw in, York Theatre Royal will fill its stage with spirits and shadows in The Haunted Season from September 9.

In the home of the restless ghost of the Grey Lady, world premieres by Emma Rice, Matthew Bourne and Tonderai Munyevu will be complemented by scary appearances by horror favourites Dracula, The Hound Of the Baskervilles and the Headless Horseman.

As trailered in CharlesHutchPress, Emma Rice’s Wise Children will complete a hattrick of Theatre Royal visits with Rice’s new adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a Theatre Royal co-production with the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic from November 9 to 20.

Lucy McCormick will play Cathy in this world premiere as Rice’s visual and musical style brings new life to this epic Yorkshire story of love, revenge and redemption.

“It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights,” says Rice, who presented Angela Carter’s Wise Children at the Theare Royal in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers that September.

Lucy McCormick’s Cathy in the poster for Wise Children’s world premiere of Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

“So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope but there was no need. Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.”

Earlier in the Haunted Season, from September 30 to October 2, will be the world premiere of celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, a dance exploration of “intoxicated tales from darkest Soho”, inspired by English novelist and Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton.

Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life, this New Adventures show invites audiences to step inside The Midnight Bell, a tavern where one particular lonely hearts club gathers to play out lovelorn affairs of the heart: bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.

The Theatre Royal had to wait for 30 years for Londoner Sir Matthew Bourne, doyen of dandy dance, to bring a show to York for the first time on his Early Adventures tour in March 2017 after he introduced mid-scale touring. The Theatre Royal promptly booked his next tour, Matthew Bourne’s Deadly Serious, but that visit never materialised. Now, however, Bourne is back with his Soho tales.

Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell: Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life in the New Adventures production from September 30 to October 2

The season will open with another world premiere, Zimbabwean writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me from September 9 to 18. His high-voltage one-man show charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century, Robert Mugabe, through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father as he considers familial love, identity and what it means to be “home”.

Playwright (and pantomime dame to boot) Philip Meeks has history at York Theatre Royal in the form of Twinkle, Little Star, starring Nottingham Playhouse panto legend Kenneth Alan Taylor in the Studio in 2008  and the 2017 world premiere of Murder, Margaret and Me, his comedy-thriller of imagined meetings between crime novelist and playwright Agatha Christie and actress Margaret Rutherford.

Now Meeks will return with his stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale of the Headless Horseman, from October 5 to 9, when Wendi Peters, from Coronation Street, and Bill Ward, from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Before We Die, will lead the cast and Filipe J Carvalho will provide the stage illusions.

Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The production has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good ghost story. It is an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.”

Coronation Street alumni Wendi Peters and Bill Ward will star in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Two familiar figures from the world of horror will put in appearances at the Haunted Season, albeit maybe not in the expected manner. Kings of comedy Le Navet Bete will sink their teeth into Dracula: The Bloody Truth on September 24 and 25, mixing slapstick with carefully crafted comedy and a healthy dose of things going wrong as the action moves from dark and sinister Transylvania to the “awkwardly charming seaside town of Whitby”.

From October 19 to 23, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective story The Hound Of The Baskervilles will be given a humorous overhaul in a Lotte Wakeham production where farce collides with theatrical invention and comic performances.

Pride And Prejudice’s most roguish gentleman, George Wickham, will seek to set the record straight when Adrian Lukis performs in Being Mr Wickham from October 14 to 16. Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the BBC TV adaptation, will reveal what really happened with Darcy, how he felt about Lizzie and, of course, what happened at Waterloo.

Two dance companies will return to the Theatre Royal stage: Ballet Black on October 26 and Phoenix Dance Theatre on November 23 and 24.

The poster for the world premiere of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me

Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black Double Bill will feature Then And Now, wherein Will Tuckett blends classical ballet, poetry and music to explore ideas of home and belonging, and fellow Olivier Award-winning choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s contemplation of the purpose of life in The Waiting Game.

Leeds company Phoenix Dance Theatre will be celebrating 40 Years Of Phoenix with a birthday programme of work by international and award-winning choreographers, including former artistic directors and collaborators.

Lorne Campbell’s new theatrical version of The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff will be performed by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning trio The Young’uns – Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – from October 28 to 30.

This protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism features songs from the original album, alongside new material and animation, in the true story of a young anti-fascist’s journey from poverty and unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees through the hunger marches of the 1930s, the mass trespass movement and the Battle of Cable Street, to fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism The Young’uns in The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff. Picture: Pamela Raith

On October 11 and 12, English Touring Opera will return to the Theatre Royal with Handel’s Amadigi, based on a chivalric romance about three young people imprisoned by a sorceress.

From November 2 to 6, York Opera will present The Magic Flute, Mozart’s magical and last great opera, sung in English with an orchestra.

For younger audiences, Rod Campbell’s lift-the-flap book will leap off the page in Dear Zoo Live!, a show packed full of puppetry, songs and all the animals from the zoo, on September 28 and 29.

After The Love Season and upcoming Summer Of Love, The Haunted Season will be the third of York Theatre Royal’s mini-seasons since reopening on May 17. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 and at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Phoenix Dance Theatre find hope in bleak Black Waters in Leeds Playhouse premiere

Phoenix Dance Theatre in Black Waters

PHOENIX Dance Theatre are exploring the long-lasting effects of British colonial forces in the world premiere of Black Waters at Leeds Playhouse this week.

Drawing inspiration from history, this emotionally evocative new production by the Leeds company combines two events.

Black Waters: Phoenix Dance Theatre’s exploration of place, worth and belonging

In the first, in the late-18th century, 130 slaves were thrown overboard from the Zong as the ship owners attempted to profit from their life insurance.

More than 100 years later, Indian freedom fighters were incarcerated in the Kala Pani prison for speaking out against the regime. 

Co-choreographer Sharon Watson during rehearsals for Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Black Waters

Black Waters reflects on these two colonial landmarks, showing how people can find value, inspiration and hope even in the bleakest of times.

The co-choreographers, Phoenix artistic director Sharon Watson and Shambik Ghose and Dr Mitul Sengupta, artistic directors of Rhythmosaic, from Kolkata, combine contemporary dance with Kathak dance: one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance, traditionally attributed to ancient travelling storytellers.

Black Waters co-choreographer Shambik Ghose

Sharon says: “Black Waters is not about recreating these two events through contemporary dance, but is an exploration of place, worth and belonging, which can often be conflicting for people of colour.”

Black Waters can be seen in the Quarry Theatre at 7.30pm tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.