Actor, musician and now sonneteer, Aran MacRae joins York Shakespeare Project for Sonnets At The Bar in ‘secret garden’

“Secret mission”: York actor Aran MacRae looks forward to making his York Shakespeare Project debut as a sonneteer in Sonnets At The Bar in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre

ARAN MacRae joins Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe in the four new sonneteers corralled for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 from this evening.

Not that Aran is “new” to the acting scene. Far from it, the York actor, singer, songwriter and self-taught guitarist and percussion player returned to his home city in March 2019 after building momentum in his career in London, Europe and beyond.

After training in musical theatre for three years at the Guildford School of Acting, post-graduation in 2017 he had originated the role of 14-year-old Tink in the West End premiere of the Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf musical Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum, following up with the Canadian run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.

“If you shave off your beard, you’ve got the part,” he was told at the last audition: a wonderful start to life on the professional boards.

“We did the show for 13 months and it gave me such an insight to musical theatre and to rock’n’roll too, going to Toronto and falling in love with a beautiful woman who’d just joined the cast there,” he says.

Aran then appeared in the immersive promenade production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent at the world’s oldest working paper mill, Frogmore Paper Mill in Apsley, Hertfordshire, in July 2018 and sang in Midas’s Twelve Tenors tour across Europe and South Korea in 2018 and early 2019.

His profile on Mandy states he is now “busking in my hometown of York, playing acoustic covers and putting together lyrics and music for solo material”.

Sonnets At The Bar brings him back to theatre work in the city where, in York College days, he had starred in York Stage Musicals’ The Flint Street Nativity and Mayhem, NUEMusic Theatre’s Bare, Bat Boy The Musical and Rent and Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita, Che Guevara beard et al. If memory serves, he was the singer in The Frizz too, in even younger days.

“I’d been living in Potters Bar in London, plying my trade as an actor, when I decided to come back to York in Spring 2019,” says Aran. “I was aware of York Shakespeare  Project and got in touch straightaway to join their mailing list because I knew that Macbeth and The Tempest were coming up and I was really up for directing The Tempest.  

“Then ‘the Cloud’, as I shall call it, came along and slowed things down; Macbeth was put back, but then I saw they were doing Sonnets At The Bar and I jumped on to it.

Aran MacRae originating the role of Tick in Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum in 2017

“I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s sonnets: not that  they need a lot of investigating, but they explore the concept of love in a manner full of thought and consideration, and what is very special about them is the answer that’s given to any Shakespeare question: they are timeless and you can find modern-day parallels in them.”

Directed by Emilie Knight and produced by fellow company regular Maurice Crichton, Sonnets At The Bar 2021 will be staged in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, from tonight to August 7.

Emilie, who played a Covid nurse in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard in Goodramgate, has come up with the conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities, some of them outdoors in the garden on account of Covid, with the sonneteers either hosting classes or groups or attending them, all under the watchful eye of the caretaker, Mr Barrowclough.

In YSP’s now time-honoured fashion, each character has a sonnet to set up, the pairing of character and sonnet opening up unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.

Aran will be performing Sonnet 25, Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars, in the role of Paul, clerk to the parish council in this age of new awareness of parish-council machinations after the explosive Jackie Weaver and Handworth shenanigans on Zoom went global.

“He’s a little bit righteous, I think,” he says. “He’s not got a point to prove but when he witnesses injustice, he takes it on his shoulders to deal with it, leaving him between a rock and a hard place.

“He has to have a lot of integrity and non-bias and that’s an incredibly lofty responsibility, when you’re dealing with care for the community and injustice, though what he’s witnessed is more to do with internal parish [council] matters, rather than the community.”

Analysing Sonnet 25, Aran says: “My sonnet is about idol worship, and I can certainly find modern-day resonances within it. I’m sure Shakespeare wasn’t thinking of me 420 years ago (!), but I’m thinking of him 420 years later, taking me to an emotional place. It’s like time travel.”

Aran has relished rehearsals under Emilie’s guidance. “It’s been really free spirited, and that freedom has been wonderful, especially in ‘the Cloud’,” he says. “Not only does everyone jump in and sound ideas off each other, but Emilie basically gave each of us a small piece of text to set up each sonnet and said, ‘if you’d like to ad-lib the lead-in to the sonnet, go for it, or if you’d like to add to it, do that’.

Che days: Aran MacRae’s Che Guevara with Robyn Grant’s Eva Peron in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in April 2013

“That was quite testing for me because I then had to look at the structure of what the character was going to say, working out how the parish clerk would communicate in a way that was more astute and level-headed than I would be in that situation!”

Initially, Aran had envisaged “just performing the sonnet and walking off with my chest out”. “But doing it this way, building up a character, allows me to test my writing skills too…because if I’m going to be in a film, I’m going to have to write it myself!” he says.

Where does Aran see his future? “Doing Bat Out Of Hell gave me an insight into where I want to direct my abilities. I loved being in a musical, with all that high energy and lots of post-teens diving around saying ‘this is it’, ‘it’s punk!’, but sometimes I wanted to be thinking more about the task in hand, when it was on stage.

“I want to pursue my career by continuing to work in musical theatre but also look to break into theatre, even though it’s such a closed circle.

“Coming back to the city where I’d lived from the age of three to 21, suddenly there was that ‘Cloud’ and a lot of solitary confinement, so I’ve been reading the classics after I’ve not had the time to read for years, in order to consider it as a career when it’s your heart that calls you to this profession.”

One classical role Aran will not be giving us is his Lady Macbeth in York Shakespeare Project’s promenade production of Macbeth in October, staged at Theatre@41 Monkgate by director Leo Doulton in a “corrupted world of moving forests, daggers from the dark and cyberpunk dystopia, falling from civilisation into a civil war between darkness and light”.

Lady Macbeth, Aran?. “I put my two-penneth in at the auditions to play her as I thought, ‘what better chance to play one of the great string-puller roles, like in The Hunger Games in a past of such apocalyptic brutality, with suave sophistication,” he says. “I gave it a good shot…”

The role has gone to Nell Frampton instead, but Aran can still apply to direct The Tempest, with no production dates set in place yet for York Shakespeare Project’s final play.

York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, today (30/7/2021) until August 7; no show on August 2. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm on both Saturdays. Tickets: 01904 623568, at or in person from the YTR box office.

More Things To Do in York, beyond and at home as Step 2 on the roadmap nears. List No. 30, courtesy of The Press, York

York actor-writer Anna Soden in rehearsal for Strawberry Lion’s streamed performance of E Nesbit’s Five Children And It

ROLL on Monday and Step 2 of the Government’s roadmap to recovery, when outdoor hospitality can resume and zoos, theme parks, drive-in cinemas and libraries can re-open.

Charles Hutchinson casts an eye over what’s on and what’s next.

Strawberry Lion’s show poster for Five Children And It

Children’s stream of the week: Strawberry Lion in Five Children And It, via Explore York libraries

YORK company Strawberry Lion’s streamed production of E Nesbit’s novel Five Children And It can be viewed for free on @YorkExplore’s YouTube channel daily until April 14 at 5pm.

Suitable for children aged five and over, the show is written and performed by York actor, musician, writer, theatre-maker and company founder Anna Soden, who has set Nesbit’s 1902 story with the grumpy magical creature on Scarborough beach.

Sailing Hopefully, by Jack Hellewell, from Jack’s Travels at Kentmere House Gallery, York, from next Monday

Exhibition launch of the week ahead: Jack Hellewell: Jack’s Travels, Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, from April 12

CURATOR Ann Kentmere is toasting Roadmap Step 2 Day by reopening Kentmere House Gallery on April 12 with Jack Travels, the first in a lockdown-delayed series of exhibitions to celebrate the centenary of the late Bradford artist Jack Hellewell.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Ann and David Petherick’s gallery in their York home, and Hellewell’s show will be open every day from April 12 to 17, 11am to 5pm, with extended opening to 9pm next Thursday, before Ann resumes her regular opening hours on the first weekend of each month and Thursdays from 6pm to 9pm. Or you can just ring the bell on the off-chance.

York Dungeon: Heading out into York’s haunted streets for a walking tour

Walking tour launch of the month ahead: The York Dungeon, from April 16

THE York Dungeon will spring its “frighteningly fun but family-friendly” walking tour on this socially distanced haunted city from next Friday.

Taking The York Dungeon above ground on Fridays to Sundays, guests will be led on a tour of hair-raising historic locations by two of the Clifford Street visitor attraction’s most/least loved characters, who will tell horrible tales of York’s murkiest, darkest history,  wrapped up in suspense and surprises. Start times will be throughout each day; tickets must be pre-booked at

Ela Bochenek, documentations assistant for Scarborough Museums Trust, with Bathers In Sunlight by Zdzislaw Ruszkowski , on show at Scarborough Art Gallery in Scarborough: Our Seaside Town, from next month

A day by the sea but inside a gallery: Scarborough: Our Seaside Town, Scarborough Art Gallery, May 18 to September 12

SCARBOROUGH Art Gallery’s summertime exhibition will look at life in a seaside town, as seen through the eyes of local people. 

Curator Esther Lockwood interviewed team members from Scarborough Museums Trust, asking for their personal views and recollections of life by the sea year-round before selecting items from the trust’s extensive collections.

These will include an early 20th century ice cream cart that once operated on Scarborough’s South Bay beach; the East Coast resort’s Pancake Bell, rung to signal the start of the unique tradition of skipping on the seafront on Shrove Tuesday, and other seaside ephemera, paintings, vintage photographs and postcards.

Kinky Sex, Grayson Perry’s first plate, now among the “lost pots” brought together for his Pre-Therapy Years exhibition at CoCA, York

Missing Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4 already? Head to Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years, York Art Gallery, May 28 to September 5

GRAYSON Perry’s lockdown-delayed “lost pots” exhibition at York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) will open at last next month.

This touring show is the first celebration of Perry’s earliest forays into the art world, re-assembling the explosive and creative works the Chelmsford-born artist, author and television presenter made between 1982 and 1994.

“It’s as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe,” says Perry.

SpongeBob The Musical: Pick Me Up Theatre have acquired the rights for a winter production in York

Audition opportunity: Pick Me Up Theatre, SpongeBob The Musical, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre are to stage SpongeBob The Musical from December 7 to 18 at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Director Robert Readman and musical director Sam Johnson will hold auditions there in July and August for performers aged 15 to 23 and actor-musicians for the Bikini Bottom Band.

Anyone interested is asked to email for an audition form.

Del Amitri: First album in 19 years and first York Barbican gig after the same hiatus

Gig announcement of the week in York: Del Amitri, York Barbican, September 18

DEL Amitri will follow up the May 28 release of their seventh studio album, Fatal Mistakes, with a September 18 gig at York Barbican.

Justin Currie’s Glaswegian band last played the Barbican in May 2002, the year they released their last album, Can You Do Me Good?.

Greatest hits and new material will combine in a set supported by The Bryson Family. Tickets will go on sale tomorrow (9/4/2021) at 9am at

John Spiers, left, and Jon Boden: Pocklington Arts Centre gig in October for the former Bellowhead cornerstones

Gig announcement of the week outside York: Spiers & Boden, Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC), October 20, 8pm

AFTER years of speculation, much-loved English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together and not only working on new material, but also bringing a live performance to Pock in the autumn. 

John Spiers, 46, and Jon Boden, 44, were the driving forces in big folk band Bellowhead, who played a glorious headline set at PAC’s Platform Festival at The Old Station, Pocklington, in July 2015. Tickets cost £20 at

Pick Me Up Theatre to stage American hit show SpongeBob The Musical in December UPDATED 8/4/2021

SpongeBob The Musical: Broadway hit to be staged in York by Pick Me Up Theatre in December

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre are to stage SpongeBob The Musical in the 2021 Christmas season at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Director Robert Readman and musical director Sam Johnson will present the musical originally called SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, from December 7 to 18.

“Pick Me Up are thrilled to have secured the rights to bring this intrepid, heroic sponge and his friends to York audiences when live theatre once more returns to the York stage,” says Robert.

“I was happily scrolling through the Concord Theatricals website late last year and there it was! I didn’t even know it had been released for performance. It took months to get permission from the rights holders though!

“Now, we’re looking forward to auditioning this summer for this joyful musical: a perfect choice to brighten everyone’s Christmas.”

Readman and Johnson will hold auditions at Theatre @41 Monkgate in July and August – exact dates to be confirmed – for performers aged 15 to 23 with one proviso. “If you are an actor-musician, you can be any age and we’d love you to audition for the Bikini Bottom Band,” says Sam.

Anyone interested is asked to email for an audition form to provide contact details including a photo, age and performance history.

“We’re also looking for costume makers, hair designers and prop builders to magically create the world of SpongeBob SquarePants,” says Robert, who saw the Broadway show live-streamed on Nickelodeon.

Based on the animated Nickelodeon series created by Stephen Hillenburg, the American musical has a book by Kyle Jarrow, with original songs by Yolanda Adams; Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, of Aerosmith; Sara Bareilles; Jonathan Coulton; Alexander Ebert, of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros; The Flaming Lips; Lady A; Cyndi Lauper; John Legend; Panic!  At the Disco; Plain White T’s, and They Might Be Giants and T.I.

Songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley feature too, along with additional lyrics by Jonathan Coultonand additional music by Tom Kitt.

“The show is whacky and very colourful, with plenty of scope for lots of varied performers, but mainly it has a terrific score written especially by some of the foremost pop composers from the last two decades,” says Robert.

Fans of the 21-year-old cartoon will delight in the mostly humanoid re-creations of favourite characters, such as Squidward; Patrick; Eugene Krabs; his daughter Pearl, who is inexplicably a whale; Larry the Lobster; Sandy Cheeks, the squirrel in a diving suit, and Sheldon J. Plankton, who functions as the villain, Gary.

What distinguishes the musical from Nickelodeon TV series? “A live-action re-imagining takes the cartoon into new territory, so it’s not slavishly copying the original but transforming it into a unique stage show for all the family,” says Robert.

“Plenty of crabbie laughs, lots of squid dancing, delicious pineapple ballads: what more could you ask than to be at the bottom of the sea for Christmas?!”

In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic put paid to no fewer than four Pick Me Up Theatre shows, the first three at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate: Stephen Sondheim 90: A Birthday Concert on March 22; The Pirates Of Penzance, the company’s first foray into the topsy-turvy world, April 17 to 25, and Alan Combes and Steve Cassidy’s musical drama Black Potatoes, September 18 to 26.

The fourth, the American musical 42nd Street, should have run at the Grand Opera House from November 6 to 14.

In the absence of being able to stage shows, Robert has nevertheless kept himself busy. “I have so loved the break, allowing me to catch up on decorating, extending the garden, eBaying props and costumes,” he says.

“I know it’s been hard for so many people, but I just thought it was a really great chance to take stock of life – theatre is only a small part of mine – and just remain as positive as possible. I still haven’t got around to tidying the insides of the sheds though…maybe next week??”

Those sheds, should you be wondering, are the former chicken shed warehouse at Bubwith that houses all manner of theatrical costumes, props and much more besides.

Maybe the tidying can wait; the return to working on shows beckons, and come December, SpongeBob The Musical will be making its York debut.

“Why should people see this musical? Because everyone wants to live in Bikini Bottom and this is your chance!” says Robert.

“Or, as Patchy the Pirate says: ‘This is one under-the-sea spectacular that you don’t want to miss’.”

Be a brick! Step up to the plate by signing fundraising support for Theatre @41

Emily Taylor, left, and Danielle Mullan demonstrate the bricks at the John Cooper Studio Theatre at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York. They will be performing there from December 11 to January 3 in York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

THEATRE @41 Monkgate is selling personalised bricks to create a new display at York’s black-box studio theatre.

Sales of the inscribed slates will help to make up some of the revenue shortfall created by the Coronavirus pandemic. Theatre @41’s new chairman, Alan Park, hopes theatre participants and supporters alike will show their fundraising backing by digging deep.

“Anyone who has been to Theatre @41 knows what a special place it is,” he says. “We have obviously lost revenue while having to close and we need to make sure we can keep going. Every donation we receive helps us continue to provide an accessible and affordable theatre space to the York community.

“These bricks are a great way for anyone who uses our space, or has been to a show they love, to help us achieve this. They will be able to see their words and messages every time they visit and know they have played a part in the heritage of Theatre @41.”

To buy a brick for £40 or two for £70, visit: Alternatively, email:

On message: Guy Wilson shows off a fundraising brick for Theatre @41 Monkgate. Guy has attended shows there regularly, takes LAMDA exams and performs for resident companies York Stage and Pick Me Up Theatre

Sam Johnson makes big Broadway video to raise funds for Theatre @41’s roof re-build

Banding and bonding: The Sam Johnson Big Band and and a galaxy of York musical theatre stars recording Broadway Baby to raise funds for Theatre @41’s roof renovation

TWENTY-ONE singers, 22 musicians and even four cats have come together – remotely, you can never herd cats – to make a fundraising video for Theatre @41 Monkgate’s roof renovation.

Under the musical direction and arranging skills of pianist Sam Johnson, they have recorded a big-band version of Broadway Baby, marking the 90th birthday year of composer Stephen Sondheim.

The video combines the Sam Johnson Big Band with cast members from the York musical theatre scene and you can see them in full swing on YouTube at:

Donations through JustGiving can be made at

York band leader, tutor, composer, performer, producer and now video maker Sam says: “I put the video together, getting in touch with all the singers, after having put together four or five other videos with the Big Band. I thought it would be a good video to wrap them all up and to include such a large number of people together for the cause!

“I also noted that everyone in the video has benefited in some way from the Monkgate venue, whether it be through a performance or rehearsal.”

“It’s a good, brassy Broadway big-band number to mix the two ensembles together in the smoothest way possible,” says band leader Sam Johnson of Sondheim’s Broadway Baby

Explaining his choice of musical-theatre song, with its apposite Covid-era lyric of “Waiting for that one big chance to be in a show”, Sam says: “I went for Sondheim’s Broadway Baby song-wise as it’s from one of the shows I’ve enjoyed most working on at Monkgate when Pick Me Up Theatre staged Follies’ last year.

“It’s a good, brassy Broadway big-band number to mix the two ensembles together in the smoothest way possible!”

Welcoming the fundraising boost of Broadway Baby, Theatre @41 board secretary Jo Hird – whose “dressing up is better than my vocals” on the video – says: “With Theatre @41 closed, we’re trying to crack on with as much decorating and renovating as we can, so as not to disrupt shows when we’re allowed to reopen.

“One of the shows we had to postpone was Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sondheim 90: A Birthday Concert to celebrate the New York composer’s 90th birthday. How brilliant of Sam Johnson to put Broadway Baby together. It took a lot of coordinating. 

Sam Johnson in rehearsal with his big band in pre-Covid days

“We’re really grateful to Sam for bringing this fundraiser to life because we need every penny we can get to repair our roof and keep our Monkgate building open.”

The cast taking part in the recording were: Susannah Baines; Emily Chattle; Emma-Louise Dickinson; Anna Hale; Iain Harvey; Sam Hird; Jo Hird; Darren Lumby; Sandy Nicholson; Adam Price; Emily Ramsden; Tracey Rea; Andrew Roberts; Rosy Rowley; Lauren Sheriston; Maggie Smales; Joanne Theaker; Dave Todd; Juliet Waters; Natalie Walker and Jennie Wogan.

Joining pianist, musical director and arranger Sam Johnson in the band were Katie Wood and Katie Maloney on alto sax; Richard Oakman and Stephen Donoghue on tenor sax; Nick Jones on baritone sax and a multitude of trumpet players, Connor McLean, Sam Rees, Charles Tomlinson, James Lolley, Daniel Dickson and Leo James Conroy.

So too did trombonists Anna Marshall, Lauren Ingham and Fliss Simpson; violinists Claire Jowett and Emily Jones, viola player Jess Douglas; cellist Lucy McLuckie; guitarist Tom Holmes; upright bassist Georgia Johnson and Andy Hayes on the drum kit.

Look out too for cameo appearances by a quartet of cats, Strummer, Misty, Paris and Bob.

Theatre@41 names rehearsal space in memory of access for all champion Sandra

Once Seen Theatre members at Theatre@41 Monkgate, York

THEATRE @41, Monkgate, York, is honouring the memory of Sandra Gilpin by re-naming its main rehearsal space after the late York philanthropist.

Room One will become The Gilpin Room in an homage to Sandra, whose life was dedicated to supporting and working with adults with learning or physical challenges.

Sandra, who died in April 2019, is remembered with great affection by Once Seen Theatre, a fully accessible theatre company, based at Theatre@41, that evolved from Sandra’s original project, York People First.

Carole and David Metcalf, who now run the company, praised Sandra as an inspirational woman who dedicated her whole career to supporting and working for others.

“We first met Sandra ten years ago and we have seen first hand what a wonderful person she was,” says Carole. “Sandra was passionate about making changes to the social system to make sure everyone was treated equally.

“As a disabled person, I feel it’s imperative to make theatre a place inclusive of people with learning and physical disabilities,” says comedian and Theatre@41 patron Rosie Jones

“All Once Seen members think about her with affection and we’re determined to keep going as a company in her memory. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can get back into the theatre. We look forward to working in The Gilpin Room: a very special place named after a very special woman.”

This will be the third name for this rehearsal and performance space that started life as the Infants Room when the building was used as a Sunday school.

Once Seen is one of three “associate companies” housed at the Monkgate theatre, along with Nik Briggs’s York Stage School and Robert Readman’s Pick Me Up Theatre. They help Theatre@41 to further its charitable objectives in education and accessibility in the arts.

Comedian, actress and scriptwriter Rosie Jones, settling into her new role as a Theatre@41 patron, is a firm believer in the objectives that Sandra heralded. “My main passion in life is to make media, and the arts in general, a place that is both accessible and representative of our brilliantly diverse society,” says the disability in the arts campaigner, who has cerebral palsy.

“As a disabled person, I feel it’s imperative to make theatre a place which is inclusive of people with learning and physical disabilities. Theare@41 does just that.”

REVIEW: Clocking Pick Me Up Theatre in Tom’s Midnight Garden

Tom Tom club: Olivia Caley’s Hattie with the two Toms, Jimmy Dalgleish, left, and Jack Hambleton, in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden. Pictures: Matthew Kitchen

REVIEW: Tom’s Midnight Garden, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568; at or in person from York Gin, 12, Pavement, and York Theatre Royal box office

IT is grimly impossible not to see everything anew in the context of the crippling Coronavirus.

Within moments of Tom’s Midnight Garden opening, the word “quarantine” is mentioned, and audience members turn to each other – keeping a certain distance, of course – in recognition of its heightened resonance.

Adapted for the stage by David Wood, the doyen of such transitions from print to boards, Philippa Pearce’s beloved novel is a testament to the power of imagination, perhaps the most precious gift of all in childhood, but one that dims through experience as we age.

Right now, we might all wish that the clock could strike 13 and take us to somewhere magical, as it does in Tom’s Midnight Garden, although George Orwell’s opening line to 1984, where the clocks en masse were doing exactly that, is contrastingly heavy with sinister forewarnings.

Pick Me Up director-designer Robert Readman sets up the black-box John Cooper Studio in a traverse configuration, the audience to either side of a stage book-ended by a door and lonely Tom’s bedroom away from home at one end and a door and bored brother Peter’s bedroom back home at the other, where he is quarantined with measles.

The setting is the dull 1950s, when Tom (a role shared by Pick Me Up debutant Jimmy Dalgleish, in action on press night, and Jack Hambleton) is staying with his kindly Aunt Gwen (Maggie Smales) and pipe-smoking, Daily Mail-reading Uncle Alan (Andrew Isherwood).

At Tom’s end too is the aforementioned grandfather clock, with its figure of an angel and an inscription, Time No Longer, taken from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 10, Verse 6, and still today the subject of much conjecture as to its possible meaning.

Even within Tom’s Midnight Garden, it draws a scoffing comment, but if instead it can been seen as advocating that the limitations, the boundaries, of time be removed, rather than as the end of time, then it becomes the doorway to limitless imagination.

Ed Atkin as Peter, left, Jimmy Dalgleish as Tom, Olivia Caley as Hatty, Jack Hambleton as Tom and Beryl Nairn as Aunt Grace in Tom’s Midnight Garden

On the John Cooper Studio’s mezzanine level are not only the bedrooms but also passageways to either side (not ideal, alas, as anyone moving above you on your side is out of sight, and Readman might need to re-block those moments to facilitate seeing them better).

Musical director Tim Selman, meanwhile, is positioned in clear view at his piano beside Atkin’s Peter. Behind him are cellist Lucy McLuckie and violinist Robert Bates, and together they perform a second string to Atkin’s bow: his newly composed score that accompanies scenes played out in the midnight garden of the title.

Occasionally on first night, the beautiful music impacted on the clarity of the dialogue but the sound balance can be remedied.

A chorus gathers, chiming the mantra “Time no longer”, as if bringing the clock to speaking life. Each day, that clock is wound up fastidiously by the mysterious Mrs Bartholomew (Beryl Nairn), so stern of face she unnerves Tom’s aunt and uncle.

When it strikes 11, 12, 13, pyjama-clad, inquisitive Tom leaves his bed, makes his way downstairs, across the hall and out of the door into a magical garden, initially depicted as a bright light. A garden that only he can enter. A Victorian garden, where he encounters Victorian orphan Hattie (Olivia Caley), the joyless Aunt Grace (Beryl Nairn, part two), Bible-reading gardener Abel (Isherwood, part two) and assorted playful Victorian children.

The garden scenes are played out on the empty expanse between the two doors. No flowers, no secret passageways, everything left to our imagination, save for chairs and gathered, elasticated black and white ribbon strands at all four corners through which cast members pass, not exactly with the greatest of ease.

Decide for yourself what they symbolise; maybe the erosion of time; maybe the imagination at work; maybe time travel; maybe they just look aesthetically pretty, matching the black and white of Readman’s overall design.

Here, across the time divide, Tom and Hattie can see each other when others cannot see him, and time passes at a different rate for each of them. This is a place of mystery and magic, but something darker if Abel’s biblical bent is to be believed, as if Tom were as meddlesome as Shakespeare’s Puck or J M Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Although imaginative, neither Readman’s direction, nor design, are as magical as his best work. Wood’s script, however, captures fully Pearce’s possibilities of make-believe, drawing you deep into Tom and Hattie’s world, where sweetness and sadness elide, brought to life so evocatively by the outstanding Caley, Dalgleish, Atkin, Smales and Nairn and Isherwood at the double.

Charles Hutchinson

Pick Me Up to mark Sondheim’s 90th birthday with a not so little night of music

90th birthday celebrations: Stephen Sondheim

PICK Me Up Theatre will celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday in a night of song on March 22, the very day the New York composer and lyricist enters his tenth decade.

Already the York company has produced four of his musicals, Into The Woods, Assassins, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street and Follies.

“So, on the evening of the great man’s 90th, we’ll be presenting an evening of his finest music in his honour with a cast of 21, performing under musical director Tim Selman on piano,” says artistic director Robert Readman, who will be among those 21 voices at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

“This will be one performance only of songs from every show, movie and TV special Sondheim has written the words and music to, from 1955 through to 2013.”

Group numbers will include Children Will Listen; Our Time; Not Getting Married Today; Bring Me My Bride and Sunday, alongside music from A Little Night Music; Dick Tracey; Sweeney Todd; Company; Roadshow; Follies; Into The Woods, Anyone Can Whistle and Sunday In The Park With George.

Performing with Readman at 7.30pm will be Andrew Isherwood; Alan Park; Jennie Wogan; Darren Lumby; Emma Louise Dickinson; David Radford; Susannah Baines; Andrew Roberts; Ed Atkin; Frankie Bounds; Natalie Walker; Adam Price; Mark Hird; Sam Hird; Catherine Foster; Alex Mather; Maya Tether; Flo Poskitt; Juliet Waters and Ryan Smith.

Tickets for Sondheim 90, A Birthday Concert, cost £15, concessions £13, on 01904 523568, at or or in person from York Gin, in Pavement, or the York Theatre Royal box office.

The full programme for Sondheim 90, A Birthday Concert:


THE TWO OF YOU – Kukla, Fran & Ollie – JENNIE WOGAN







LOVE I HEAR – A Funny Thing Happened On To The Way To The Forum – FRANKIE BOUNDS

BRING ME MY BRIDE – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum – MARK HIRD










NOT A DAY GOES BY – Merrily We Roll Along – ALEX MATHER



OUR TIME – Merrily We Roll Along – FULL COMPANY

Second half:



JOHANNA – Sweeney Todd – ED ATKIN



















SUNDAY – Sunday In The Park With George – FULL COMPANY.

When the clock strikes 13, Pick Me Up Theatre enter Tom’s magical garden

Tom Tom club: the two Toms in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, Jimmy Dalgleish, left, and Jack Hambleton, with Olivia Caley’s Hatty. All pictures: Matthew Kitchen

SPRING is on its way, gardens are perking up, good timing for Pick Me Up Theatre to stage Tom’s Midnight Garden from tomorrow at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Who better to direct David Wood’s adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s beloved book than the York company’s artistic director Robert Readman, a garden and gardening enthusiast, as a visit to his Bubwith abode would affirm.

In Pearce’s 1950s’ story, Tom is sent away sent to stay with his Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan in their upstairs flat in a big Victorian house after his brother Peter catches the measles and is now quarantined.

Lonely and bored, Tom has little to do until one night he hears the hallway grandfather clock strike 13. Creeping downstairs to investigate, he throws open the back door to…no longer a small yard but a large and beautiful garden instead.

Something strange is happening: every time the clock strikes 13, Tom is transported back in time to the secret garden. There he befriends an unhappy Victorian orphan, Hatty, and a series of adventures ensues, but what is behind the magical midnight garden?

“It’s such a magical story, all to do with time,” says Robert. “I love how it jumps between a young boy’s dull life in the 1950s, and his adventures with Hatty in the 1880s.”

“The lighting and sound will be vital to the transformation between the two times; the characters dress according to the era they’re from, and there’ll also be a lot of mime in the show, so it’ll be a mixture of the real and the unreal, with the cast doing roles from the two eras.”

Ed Atkin as Peter, left, Jimmy Dalgleish as Tom, Olivia Caley as Hatty, Jack Hambleton as Tom and Beryl Nairn as Aunt Grace in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden

To convey the two contrasting worlds with his black-box design, director-designer Readman has constructed two platforms, one at either end, one for Peter’s bedroom, one for Tom’s, with a doorway to each one and the hallway clock at Tom’s end.

“It’s nothing like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which was written in Victorian times, whereas Tom’s Midnight Garden is a tale of children stuck in the drabness of the 1950s creating an exciting world by travelling back to Victorian days, and that’s what we’re conveying in both the design and the performances.”

Reading the book as a child and now re-reading it in preparation for the Pick Me Up production, Robert says: “What struck me is that it’s all to do with children’s imaginations. It’s a piece about how children can conjure up adventures with make-believe.

“It’s a beautiful book that can be read by adults just as much as by children; it treats children as being intelligent in their own right, and I love how it takes you on a journey where there’s both sweetness and sadness, so everything is doubled.” 

Company regular Jack Hambleton and Pick Me Up newcomer Jimmy Dalgleish will share the role of Tom; Olivia Caley will play Hatty, and Ed Atkin, Peter.

“At the beginning, it’s quite hard to like Tom because he complains quite a lot and seems ungrateful, but then you can see that he was just feeling lonely and was missing his brother,” says Jack.

“His friendship with Hatty shows how caring and thoughtful he is, and he also shows his curiosity and intelligence when approaching the puzzle of how his time travel is possible.”

“All Hatty wants to do is have adventures and not grow up,” says Olivia Caley, pictured with Jimmy Dalgleish, left, and Jack Hambleton, who will share the role of Tom

Jimmy, similar in stature to Jack but differing in his interpretation of the role according to Readman, says: “Stuck inside at his aunt and uncle’s house, Tom is lonely and ‘longs for someone to play with’.

“Tom is very playful and somewhat cheeky! He’s intelligent, adventurous and loyal to his new friend Hatty. He’s very inquisitive and a logical thinker as he tries to work out that he’s somehow able to go back in time!”

Summing up Victorian Hatty’s character, Olivia says: “She’s a curious and playful young girl with a great imagination, despite her sad upbringing. All Hatty wants to do is have adventures and not grow up!”

Ed plays not only Peter, but Hubert and “Voice” too. “But I spend most of my time as Peter, who’s got measles, so he has to spend all his time in bed. The letters written by Tom are his only entertainment, which means he’s fascinated by the stories that are sent to him.”

Given that time travel is so central to Tom’s Midnight Garden, if they each could go back in time to one era to live in, what would it be and why? “Probably Ancient Egypt as I’m fascinated by how they lived and how much they achieved,” says Jack. “I would love to know how they really built the pyramids and how much influence the gods had on their lives.”

“The Tudor era because I would love to live among the people of the court of Henry VIII and experience the grandeur the scandal and politics of his life,” reckons Jimmy.

“I actually experienced what it was like to be a young girl in the Regency era in a short film called Mr Malcolm’s List,” reveals Olivia. “So, I’d probably want to travel back to that era. The dresses were beautiful, and I loved getting to wear them! Not so much the corsets!”

Pick Me Up Theatre’s poster for this month’s production of Tom’s Midnight Garden

Ed picks the 1960s. “This was such an exciting time in the development of the music industry,” he reasons. “I just think it would have been so fascinating to learn about music at a time when it was constantly changing and being upgraded.”

While on the subject of music, Ed has written a beautiful score for violin, cello and piano for musical director Tim Selman’s forces. “It definitely draws on the theme of ‘time no longer’,” he says.

“I took inspiration from the likes of Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, who wrote music that was modern at the time but also harked back to the Victorian Romantic styles.

“Additionally, I tried to incorporate the idea of childhood and playfulness into what I wrote, so lots of the music is fun and slightly quirky. However, it’s all shrouded in a sense of mystery.”

Not only director Readman has a love of gardens, so do his cast principals. “Some gardens are very magical,” says Jack. “I particularly like gardens with hidden corners and an air of mystery, such as Castle Howard and Beningbrough Hall.”

Jimmy concurs: “A garden is a place where anything can happen,” he says. “A garden inspires imagination and can subsequently transport you to a whole new world of your own creation away from the stresses and strains of ordinary life, and that in itself is magical!”

Olivia enthuses: “I absolutely think gardens are magical! There’s so much scope for the imagination. When I was little, I was always playing in my garden, so I can really relate to Hatty on that.”

Gardens can be magical, especially for a child, suggests Ed. “There’s a moment in the play where Tom and Hatty go through a ‘secret passage’. This feeling of exploring a new world is one I remember well from playing in such a garden when I was younger,” he says.

Let the clock strike 13. A garden awaits.

Pick Me Up Theatre in Tom’s Midnight Garden, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (March 13) until March 21. Box office: 01904 623568; at or in person from York Gin, 12, Pavement, and the York Theatre Royal box office.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Probably the most controversial play you will see in York this year…

Awkward moment for Martin (Bryan Bounds) and son Billy (Will Fealy) in The Goat. Pictures: Matthew Kitchen

REVIEW: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, dropping jaws until Saturday, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

WELL, you won’t see a play like this every day, but I dare you still to see it in Pick Me Up Theatre’s northern UK premiere.

Playwright Edward Albee, born in Virginia, but long associated with New York after moving to Greenwich Village at 18, is best known for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. The 1962 one, turned into a 1966 Mike Nichols film with the almighty verbal scrap between Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha and Richard Burton’s George.

Susannah Baines’s Stevie wonders what’s going on in The Goat

Albee wrote another play with a question mark in its title in 2002: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? The American agent provocateur of theatre of the absurd could pour 50 years of the even more absurd into it, but essentially it is a further study of the marital complexities of a middle-aged couple, in this case Martin and Stevie Gray.

Except that Albee’s Broadway premiere came with a plea from the writer: “Imagine what you can’t imagine… imagine being in love with something you can’t conceive of. The play is about love, loss, the limits of our tolerance and who, indeed, we really are.”

And there was more: “All I ask of an audience is that they leave their prejudices in the cloakroom and view the play objectively and later – at home – imagine themselves as being in the predicament the play examines and coming up with useful, if not necessarily comfortable, responses.”

Will Fealy as Billy: announcing a talent to watch as drama school beckons

Who could sense at the start what lies in store, how famous New York architect Martin Gray’s world would soon turn to rubble as the American Dream crumbles? Played by suave American actor Bryan Bounds, who recommended the play to director Mark Hird, Gray has just turned 50, won his latest prize and been given the ultimate commission to design the World City on Kansas’s wheat fields.

Hair immaculate, life immaculate, house immaculate in its monochrome trendiness (in Robert Readman’s design), he says he could not be more happily in love with wife Stevie (Susannah Baines). Son Billy (Will Fealy) is blossoming at 17, brightly questing and gay (like Albee, who knew it at 12 and a half).

Yet Martin seems distracted, playing at forgetfulness in banter with Stevie, and what’s that smell, she asks. When he is even more distracted while talking with best friend Ross (Mick Liversidge), fouling up a TV interview recording, the truth will out. Martin has fallen in love with Sylvia, a goat (hence the smell), and the feeling is mutual, and yes, without being graphic, the relationship is full on.

MIck Liversidge’s Ross: asking the searching questions in The Goat

Greek tragedies dive deep into the extremes of the human condition, as do plenty of Shakespeare’s plays, and, especially, Jacobean tragedies. The Goat puts the ‘eek’ into a modern Greek tragedy, although it is more of a tragicomedy. Yes, you read that right. There is a liquorice-dark humour to Albee’s brilliantly written confessions and confrontations, as well as moments that are excruciatingly uncomfortable, as The Goat turns from domestic situation comedy to Domestos-powerful situation tragedy.

What’s more, Hird’s thrust-stage setting, with the audience so close up on three sides, adds to that discomfort, and not because Baines’s Stevie starts smashing all the living-room pottery (courtesy of Fangfoss Pottery’s Gerry Grant). No, it is the fierce heat, the candour, of what is being said. Hird’s cast avoids histrionics; instead the rise and fall and rise again of anger, hurt, confusion, love, is far more skilfully played by one and all, pulling the audience this way and that.

Bounds urged Hird to cast Baines, and he was spot-on: his Martin is infuriatingly phlegmatic, unflustered; her Stevie is an ever-tightening coil in response, whose actions will speak louder than his words.

The Gray family: all smiles before the Sylvia storm

Son Billy is caught in the middle, and Will Fealy, such a burgeoning talent that he has just been offered an unconditional place at Arts.Ed in London, conveys all the confusions of illusions being shattered, certainties derailed, while dealing with his own sexual awakening.

Mick Liversidge’s bewildered, shocked Ross sort of represents the audience in his reactions, or does he, because the moral ambiguities are complex, and as Albee once said, “if you think this play is about bestiality, you’re either an idiot or a Republican”. Trump that!

Albee also said: “Never leave the audience the same way you found them”, and 90 unbroken minutes of The Goat – apart from the smashed bowls and vases – will leave you pondering relationships, family, love. As for goats, I’ll stick to loving goats’ cheese.

Please note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum age of 15.