PAC director Janet Farmer says: “This is a really special moment in our history, so we wanted to present an exhibition that reflects this. Artworks can be inspired by any aspect of Her Majesty’s 70-year reign and the subject matter is open to creative interpretation.
“Our open exhibitions are always really popular with artists and visitors alike, and with so many local talented artists, we’re very much looking forward to unveiling this very special commemorative exhibition.”
Artworks should be framed or on canvas with D rings attached. Selected works will then be featured in this spring’s show in PAC’s studio, where a preview will be held on May 3 from 5pm to 7pm.
Everingham illustrator Simon Cooper has submitted his jubilee artwork already. This comes in the wake of his Art, Illustration & Prints exhibition, held at PAC last November to January, featuring his work for NME, Time Out, the Radio Times and Punch magazines alongside new works.
WE Will Rock You is “intriguing, challenging, achingly romantic, brutally cynical and at once both sad and hilarious,” says the futuristic Queen “rock theatrical’s” writer-director, Ben Elton.
It is also probably the daftest musical you will ever see. Even dafter on reacquaintance than when the flamboyant show visited Leeds Grand Theatre in 2011, the year it won the Most Popular Show prize at the Olivier Awards.
Thirty years since Freddie Mercury passed away at 45 – “too beautiful, too wild,” as Elton puts in his script – Queen still rule. On press night, there was not a spare seat to be had, setting the box-office pattern for the busy week ahead.
For its 20th anniversary touring production, Elton is back at the helm as director, adding changes and updates here and there to a plot that has gone from “science fiction to science fact” and is “more relevant than ever”, in the judgement of Queen guitarist Brian May.
A pre-show Elton recorded plea to “live in the freakin’ moment” (by putting away mobile phones) and two references to Covid go down particularly well, while the renaming of Planet Earth has moved on from Planet Mall to iPlanet in the age of Internet Gaga.
Astutely, musical advisor May had suggested: “The show needs to work in a theatrical context and retain the rock, while also incorporating the spectacle, uniqueness and humour embodied by Queen.”
This prompted Elton to consider how “legendary rock music should have a legendary context” as he riffed on tales from King Arthur to The Terminator: “heroic myths in which brave individuals take on the vast monolithic force of evil systems”.
Elton’s nutty narrative is duly set in a distant, dystopian, globalised future where iPlanet’s inhabitants dress and think identically and exist in a brain-dead cyberspace haze, like the Gaga High School pupils encouraged to spend day after day on the online drip-feed.
Rock music is banned, prompting a rebellious cluster, the tartan and leather-clad Bohemians, to fight against the all-powerful Global Soft company, its pantomime-baddie boss, the Killer Queen (Jenny O’Leary) and her henchman, Khashoggi (Adam Strong), the Malvolio party-pooper of the piece.
Two school outsiders, boy dreamer Galileo Figaro (Ian McKintosh) and bad-ass girl Scaramouche (Elena Skye), want to break free from all this bleak conformity, to join the Bohemian cause to restore freedom of expression and individuality (except for the audience, who are asked to refrain from singing except when instructed).
We Will Rock You builds that Orwellian story around a framework of readymade hits, like the Madness musical vehicle, Our House. In other words, it applies a back-to-front process, songs first, story second, as satirical humorist Elton sticks his tongue firmly in Queen’s already saucy cheek.
Combining lampoon and harpoon, he revels in a hoary plotline that sends up Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Sir Cliff Richard, Meat Loaf and corporate control of pop, throws in a love story and sexual innuendo, while finding endless routes/excuses to sing another of those Queen monoliths: 24 in total.
May’s fellow musical advisor, Queen drummer Roger Taylor, defines the musical as being silly, funny but making “quite a lot of serious points”. True, but Elton’s show rightly refuses to take itself seriously when making those points.
His dialogue is deliberately as clunky as a B-movie script and his knowing, debunking humour, full of in-jokes and Queen and rock-history references bounces off his characters, just as it does in Blackadder, The Young Ones and Upstart Crow.
Tim Blazdell’s set design and Stufish Entertainment Architects & Willie Williams’s video production bring a state-of the-art pizzazz to the Queen hit parade, while also evoking the spirit of Flash Gordon and Return To The Forbidden Planet, aided by Kentaur’s costume and wig designs.
Zachary Flis’s band, up on the mezzanine level, relish the mock-operatic drama and sheer diversity of the Queen songbook, sung spectacularly by Elton’s company of colourful characters, as much in the tradition of Meat Loaf as Mercury.
No-one is afraid to throw the kitchen sink into shamelessly over-the-top performances, especially O’Leary’s belting Killer Queen and David Michael Johnson’s Brit, or to be hammy in the case of Strong’s Khashoggi.
Michael McKell’s motor-biking dude, Cliff, is the scene stealer; McIntosh’s Freddie and the dreamer combination of gorgeous voice and naivety are a joy throughout and Skye’s drop-dead goth attitude as Scaramouche is a killer.
Ultimately, silly and funny as it may be, We Will Rock You is all about those oh-so familiar songs being brought to fresh life by myriad knock-out voices, Far better to be done this way than in yet another tribute show.
P.S. Make sure to stay for the end, not the false end, to experience the fandango of a finale.
To join the ticket rush: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York
FROM Queen’s “rock theatrical” to Britney fandom, a café’s mug exhibition to folk’s witching hour, outlaw cabaret with gin to confronting digital intrusiveness, Charles Hutchinson finds diversity aplenty to enjoy.
Musical of the week: We Will Rock You, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday
WRITER and comedian Ben Elton directs the 20th anniversary of We Will Rock You, the “guaranteed-to-blow-your-mind” Queen musical built around his dystopian futuristic storyline.
In a system that bans rock music, a handful of rebels, the Bohemians, vows to fight against an all-powerful global company and its boss, the Killer Queen.
Musical advisor Brian May says “the world’s first true Rock Theatrical” now has a state-of-the-art new look, with a story of breaking free from conformity more relevant than ever. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.
Cracking (or hopefully not) exhibition of the week: Cups and Such…or, A Hug In A Mug, FortyFive Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, until March 6
“A HUG for you, or for someone else, Cups and Such is an exhibition of beautiful, handmade drinking vessels that promises to offer comfort and solace for all,” says curator Lotte Inch.
Working in tandem with FortyFive Vinyl Café, that welcoming haven of music, coffee and comfort food, Lotte Inch Gallery has selected cups, mugs, beakers, tea bowls and more, made by hand by Rebecca Callis, Reiko Kaneko, Ali Tomlin and the Leach Studios to “offer someone a moment of warmth, a sense of connection and an opportunity to embrace”.
Topical comedy gig of the outside York: Mark Watson, This Can’t Be It, Pocklington Arts Centre, tonight, 8pm
AMID so much pandemic pondering about the fragility of life recently, don’t worry, comedian Mark Watson has it covered. At 41 – he turns 42 tomorrow – he is halfway through his days on Earth, according to the life expectancy calculator app that cost him all of £1.49.
That life is in the best shape in living memory but one problem remains. A huge one. Spiritual enquiry meets high-octane observational comedy as the No More Jockeys cult leader strives to cram two years of pathological overthinking into an evening of stand-up. “Maybe we’ll even solve the huge problem,” says Watson. “Doubt it, though.” Box office for returns only: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Noughties’ nostalgia of the week: Saving Britney, John Cooper Studio, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (13/2/2022) at 8pm
MILLENNIALS such as Jean grew up with Britney Spears. Saving Britney recounts how the Princess of Pop influenced Jean’s life and how the connections shared between them led to an unbelievable moment of self-discovery.
Inspired by the #FreeBritney movement, Shereen Roushbaiani takes a humorous yet heart-breaking look at celebrity obsession, sexuality and growing up in the early Noughties. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Folk concert of the week: Heal & Harrow, National Centre for Early Music, York, Monday, 7.30pm
HEAL & Harrow are folk musicians Rachel Newton, from The Shee, The Furrow Collective and Spell Songs, and Lauren MacColl, of Rant and Salt House.
Working as duo for the first time, they combine newly composed music and accompanying visuals in a tribute to those persecuted in the 16th and 17th century Scottish Witch Trials, 80 per cent of them women.
The project also explores historical beliefs in the supernatural and modern-day parallels, each piece being based on commissioned works by author Mairi Kidd. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.
Premiere of the week: Theatre Space North-East in Girl In The Machine, John Cooper Studio, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, February 17, 7.30pm
STEF Smith’s ground-breaking play Girl In The Machine explores our unease over digital intrusiveness, then pushes it a step into the future in Jamie Brown’s touring production.
In brief: Owen (Lawrence Neale) and Polly (Corinne Kilvington) are in successful careers and wildly in love, feeling ready to take on the world, but when a mysterious new technology, promising a break from the daily grind, creeps into everyone’s phones, their world is turned upside down.
As the line between physical and digital dissipates, Owen and Polly are forced to question whether their definitions of reality and freedom are the same. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Meet the new Gang: Miles And The Chain Gang, The Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, February 19, 8pm to 11.30pm
YORK writer, musician and storyteller Miles Salter is back with a new Chain Gang for a headline show at the Black Swan.
“This is the first gig with the new line-up and it’s sounding great,” says Salter, introducing Daniel Bowater on keyboards, Steve Purton on drums, Mat Watt on bass and Mark Hawkins on lead guitar.
Miles And The Chain Gang will be supported by Sarah Louise Boyle, Lee Moore and Monkey Paw. “It’ll be a diverse and fun evening, so do come along,” says Salter. Tickets: at prime4.bandcamp.com/merch/miles or on the door.
Sax to the max: Sax Forte, York Unitarians Friday Lunchtime Concerts, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, March 11, 12.30pm
CELEBRATING their 350th anniversary in 2022, York Unitarians open their 11th season of Friday lunchtime concerts with the return of York saxophone quartet Sax Forte.
Playing together since 2016, Chris Hayes, Keith Schooling, Jane Parkin and David Badcock all have extensive experience with other quartets, bands and orchestras. They are equally at home playing programmes of serious and light classical music or jazz and swing standards. Tickets cost £6 (cash) on the door.
Not just the tonic: Velma Celli and York Gin’s Outlaw Live cabaret night, National Centre for Early Music, York, March 25, 8pm to 10.30pm
YORK drag diva Velma Celli invites you to “celebrate your inner outlaw” at York Gin’s cabaret soiree at the NCEM.
For one night only, glamorous Velma and friends will be celebrating all that’s naughty, villainous and defiantly outrageous about York and its outlaws, from Guy Fawkes to Dick Turpin, with a combination of song, laughter and York Gin.
Tickets are on sale at tickettailor.com/events/yorkgin/590817/ and admission includes a gin cocktail on arrival.
WE Will Rock You, “the Queen musical”, will rock up at the Grand Opera House, York, from February 14 to 19 2022.
“The show is live, dangerous and more than anything else: it rocks,” says guitarist Brian May of the futurist comedy musical that combines Queen’s songbook with a book by Ben Elton, of The Young Ones, Blackadder and Upstart Crow fame.
Since 2002 more than 15 million theatregoers in 17 countries have seen a show fashioned by Elton around 24 Queen numbers, such as We Are The Champions, Radio Ga Ga, I Want To Break Free, Somebody To Love, Killer Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now, Under Pressure, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust and the title song.
We Will Rock You tells the story of a globalized future without musical instruments where a handful of rock rebels, the Bohemians, fight against the all-powerful Global soft company and its boss, the Killer Queen, in the cause of freedom, individuality and the rebirth of the age of rock.
Scaramouche and Galileo, two young outsiders, cannot come to terms with the bleak conformist reality, joining the Bohemians to embark on the search to find the unlimited power of freedom, love and rock.
The idea for the musical emerged from a meeting between Hollywood actor Robert De Niro and Queen musicians May and Roger Taylor in Venice in 1996. De Niro’s daughter was a fan of the ubiquitous British band, prompting De Niro to ask if the rock legends had ever thought of creating a musical based on their songs.
We Will Rock You was born, with May and Taylor on board as musical advisors. Tickets for next February’s run are on sale at 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.
Velma Celli, Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, 29/5/2021; Velma Celli’s Impossible Drag Brunch, Impossible Wonderbar, Impossible, York, 5/6/2021
IT takes balls to be a drag act.
Velma Celli knows it, shows it and indeed sometimes them too in a leg-crossing, leg-uncrossing, let’s-sit-and-chat-on-the-stage-lip moment at York Theatre Royal.
In York drag diva deluxe Velma’s case, it takes more than balls, however. Pointedly, the fabulous, fruity, funny creation of musical actor Ian Stroughair bills herself as “the queen of vocal drag”.
“I can sing,” says Velma, throwing a ta-da shoulder shrug as she calls out the parade of kitch’n’synch acts that strut and pout on RuPaul’s Drag Race conveyor belt.
Velma, or rather Ian, first sang on his home-city Theatre Royal stage in a musical version of Kes – that sounds camp! – at the age of 14. Twenty-four years later, coinciding with theatre’s return from a long Covid quarantine, Ian/Velma is back on this stage at last, and not before time, bitches, as Velma is wont to address the throng.
“Can I just say, it must be such a privilege for you to be here tonight,” says Velma, who has wrapped a clingy, plunging little black number over his very tall, leggy frame. Although this night is not all glamour: off come the false eyelashes when they start playing up in the stinging heat.
The drag persona of Velma Celli emerged 13 years ago when Ian was playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago in the West End. Wednesday was meet-up night for the boys from Chicago, Priscilla etc at Madame Jojo’s, the legendary Soho home of burlesque and cabaret, dressing up glam to sing.
Ian went as Chicago’s nightclub star and murderess Velma Kelly, slurped on his vermacilli dish, and took to the stage. Velma Celli was born, or rather, “unleashed”, as Ian puts it.
This is but one story from A Brief History Of Drag, a show that Ian put together when stuck in Tanzania and has since taken to Australia and the USA, as he celebrates “burlesque, debauchery, defiance and…shoes”. Velma duly points to a silvery pair that glisten even more than Dorothy’s heel-clickers in The Wizard Of Oz.
“Unleashed” is exactly the right word for a Velma Celli performance: a tornado, a toreador in vocal form, here stirred to ever greater heights by super-talented musical director Ben Papworth, high-heeled boots tucked beneath his keyboards.
This is a proper, proper show: Velma, up front and out there; three-piece band (Papworth, keys, Clark Howard, drums and gold lamé jacket; Al Morrison, guitar); two backing singers, Kimberley Ensor and rising York talent Grace Lancaster; two guests, soul queen Jessica Steel, York partner in lockdown streamed concerts, and musical actor Jordan Fox, partner in pantomime for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.
When Velma takes the stand beneath a rockabilly quiff, she can not only sing the sing and dance the dance, she can talk the talk too, witty and waspish, as we learn of drag’s history, Velma and Ian’s past, her staging posts, the abiding influence of unloving mothers and the importance of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, New York in 1969 and the Stonewall LGBT charity over here.
For the Theatre Royal’s Love Season, love is in the air and in the one-off prefix to the show title: Love Is Love. Omnipresent is the love of song and those who take risks: for example, Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Show’s Sweet Transvestite); Freddie Mercury and David Bowie – the latter, Velma’s astute choice for her next show – for a spectacular Under Pressure and La Cage Aux Folles’ Albin for the climactic I Am What I Am.
Mind you, Velma can be picky, not liking Culture Club’s hits, but loving Boy George’s musical, Taboo, and its signature number, Stranger In This World. Gorgeous, Georgeous.
Velma loves a duet too, taking a seat side by side with Jess for a stand-out Always Remember Us This Way (from Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born), accompanied on guitar by Stuart Allan. Later, in the latest update to the show in a nod to the impact of Russell T Davies’s devastating series It’s A Sin, Velma is joined by Fox for the Pet Shop Boys’ anthem, poignant yet celebratory too.
Velma’s voice warms, expands, stretches and strengthens as the show progresses, shown off to the max in a set-piece send up of lip-synching acts on RuPaul’s Drag Race, mimicking their physical impersonations while accentuating the vocal tics and mannerisms of Britney, Bjork, Bassey, Gabrielle, Cher et al.
Ending with an encore medley from Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Velma/Ian will surely not have to wait for another 24 years to return to the Theatre Royal.
In the meantime, Velma is bedding in a new monthly residency for The Velma Celli Show in the big-windowed first-floor Wonderbar at Impossible, York, and last Saturday afternoon Velma Celli’s Drag Brunch was launched there too. Covid-safe; socially distanced; no masks needed when seated, but yes if you want to stand to dance around.
Judging by the support for the two sittings at 12.30pm and 2.30pm, it is likely to become a monthly fixture too as part of Impossible’s cabaret and comedy portfolio.
The show is fast-moving, fizzy and fun, with “bottomless cocktails, small plates and a side order” (Halloumi Bites and Truffle Chips for CH) and two sets by Velma, introduced by DJ Zoe on afternoon release from Funny Girls in Blackpool, armed with a potty mouth, party-igniting disco classics and the backing tracks for Velma’s vocal tour de force.
It may not surprise you to learn that, looking around, the debut Drag Brunch partygoers are predominantly female, but the smattering of men are having a fab time too (but need to be willing to be the butt of DJ Zoe’s bawdy humour).
The Wonderbar, with its profusion of plants, wood and glass, recalls the conservatories and cocktail bars of the 1930s and makes for a fabulous cabaret setting. The cocktails list embraces the classics and the up to date (Salted Caramel Espresso), the Mojito and the No-jito (for the mocktail option).
General manager Stephanie Powell’s staff are everywhere, busy, busy, busy with their table service of drinks and choice of Chicken Skewers/Halloumi Bites/Cauliflower Wings/Hotdog (mini-version) with Skinny Salted Fries/Truffle Chips/Salad.
Gliding down the stairs, Velma is in sparkly black and silver, topped off in the second set with a shimmering silvery bob wig, and as she promises: “When you’re good to Velma, Velma’s good to you”. From Feeling Good to the obligatory Divas-meets-Drag Acts setpiece, I Want To Break Free to “torches out” for Bowie’s Starman and a ruder lyric for Queen’s Somebody To Love, Velma walks the room as she works the crowd. Everything is drag, nothing drags.
Girls, and boys, make sure to be in Velma’s camp for your Saturday afternoon pleasure.
QUEEN legend Roger Taylor will play York Barbican on October 5 as the only Yorkshire show of his “modest” 14-date Outsider tour this autumn.
In a “surprise announcement” today, rock drummer Taylor, 71, confirmed he would be on the road from October 2 to 22.
“This is my modest tour,” he says. “I just want it to be lots of fun, very good musically, and I want everybody to enjoy it. I’m really looking forward to it. Will I be playing Queen songs too? Absolutely!”
Taylor’s solo travels will combine new material from his October 1 lockdown album, Outsider, with solo material down the years and an “enthusiastic foray” into the Queen back catalogue.
Prompted by the pandemic pressing the pause button on Queen + Adam Lambert’s UK and European tour until 2022, Taylor has decided to give his first live performances outside Queen in more than two decades.
This autumn’s intimate concerts will “showcase his distinctive percussive, vocal and songwriting talents that have been integral to Queen’s live and recorded output since 1970”.
Taylor penned such Queen favourites as A Kind of Magic, Radio Ga Ga, I’m In Love With My Car, Sheer Heart Attack and These Are the Days of Our Lives, complemented by five albums under the name of Roger Meddows Taylor: Fun In Space, 1981; Strange Frontier, 1984; Happiness, 1994; Electric Fire, 1998, and Fun On Earth, 2013.
He also made three albums with the band The Cross, releasing Shove It in 1988, Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know in 1990 and Blue Rock in 1991.
Over the past decade, Taylor has recorded the occasional solo number, reflecting on his worldview and observations in such songs Journey’s End, Gangsters Are Running and, last year, the aptly named Isolation, written in response to the first lockdown.
Now comes Outsider, the multi-instrumentalist’s first studio set of new material since 2013’s Fun On Earth, much of it penned and recorded during lockdown in a reflective mood. Conveying a sense of seclusion and concern over the passing of time, tellingly he dedicates the album to “all the outsiders, those who feel left on the sidelines”.
Giving the inside track on recording Outsider in the wake of Isolation, Taylor says: “I’ve had a bit of a creative spurt and suddenly found myself with an album, which was lovely. It was a surprise! I just found myself in the studio and they came out one after the other. It was a pleasure really.”
Under lockdown conditions, a highly personal project evolved, wherein Outsider’s instrumentation was performed almost entirely by Taylor, with his largely restrained vocals matching the predominantly contemplative ambience, although he did cut loose for a burst of hard-riffing blues-rock and an adrenaline-fuelled re-tread of a classic 1965 novelty song. Wait and see which one, when Outsider surfaces on October 1 on Universal.
Tickets go on pre-sale from 10am on June 8 at shop.emi.com/rogertaylor/.