Ryedale Youth Theatre to stage Matilda Jr, The Musical with two casts next month

Ryedale Youth Theatre’s two casts for Matilda Jr, The Musical in the rehearsal room

RYEDALE Youth Theatre members are loving every moment of rehearsals for their Easter production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda Jr, The Musical.

Under the guidance of director/choreographer Chloe Shipley and musical director Rachael Clarke, they will perform the show at the Milton Rooms, Malton, from Aril 12 to 16.

Chloe is joined once again in the production team by another former Ryedale Youth Theatre leading light, professional West End actress and singer Lauren Hood, as assistant director/choreographer.

Ryedale Youth Theatre principals in rehearsal

Lauren, who is living in Spain at present, flew over for the February half-term rehearsal, held at Malton School.

Matilda Jr will be Ryedale Youth Theatre’s 30th annual show, a milestone that should have been marked by their production of Oliver!, until Covid-19 forced its cancellation.

Scripted by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, Matilda Jr is packed with multiple featured roles. “Blessed with so many talented and enthusiastic young people within the company, it was decided to double cast the show to give everyone who auditioned the opportunity to perform in the principal roles,” says publicist Barbara Wood.

Ryedale Youth Theatre’s poster for Matilda J, The Musical at the Milton Rooms, Malton

Ryedale Youth Theatre has added two extra performances to allow both teams four performances each of a show that runs to just over one hour with no interval.

In Dahl’s story, Matilda is born with a genius mind and a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, her less-than-brilliant family fails to value the qualities that make the unloved Matilda so special. 

Whereupon she is sent to an abysmal school led by the monstrous headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Buoyed by the help of her friends and the kind Miss Honey, Matilda starts a revolution and proves that everyone has the power to change their own story.

Tickets for the 7pm evening shows and 3pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday matinees cost £12, concessions £10, at yourboxoffice.co.uk.

Ryedale Youth Theatre cast members being put through their paces

How cabbage soup, David Walliams and a Crown Jewels-thieving Gangsta Granny became a recipe for stage show success

Oh, no, cabbage soup again: Granny (Isabel Ford) serves up another spoonful to 11-year-old grandson Ben (Justin Davies) in Birmingham Stage Company’s Gangsta Grammy. Picture: Mark Douet
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WHEN actor, humorist, author, talent-show judge, Channel swimmer and activist David Walliams was a child he spent time aplenty with his grandmas.

So began his odyssey to writing Gangsta Granny, his book for children that has since transferred to the stage in Birmingham Stage Company’s touring production, whose latest itinerary takes in the Grand Opera House from February 3 to 6, having first played the York theatre in September 2016.

“Sometimes I would selfishly think spending time with my grannies could be boring,” he says. “But when I got them on a subject like living in London during World War II, when bombs were raining down, they would become very animated and I would be enthralled. I realised everyone has a story to tell.”

In Walliams’s tale, Friday night means only one thing for Ben: staying with Granny, where he must put up with cabbage soup, cabbage pie and cabbage cake. Ben knows one thing for sure – it will be so, so boring – but what Ben doesn’t know is that Granny has a secret.

Soon Friday nights will be more exciting than he could ever imagine, as he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with his very own Gangsta Granny.

“I realised everyone has a story to tell,” says David Walliams, who drew on childhood memories of his grandmothers for Gangsta Granny

“There was definitely a smell of cabbages in one of my grandmas’ houses,” recalls Walliams, giving an insight into his inspiration for Gangsta Granny. “The other did break wind like a duck quacking when she walked across the room.”

Walliams acknowledges the special bond between children and their grandparents. “I think grandparents love being grandparents because they get to give the children back to the parents!” says the 50-year-old Little Britain and Partners In Crime television star.

“Children love spending time with their grandparents because they love hearing their stories and being allowed to stay up past their bedtime.”

He is delighted that Gangsta Granny has become a stage show. “It’s a huge thrill seeing Gangsta Granny have this whole new life on the stage. It’s already been a TV film. People seem to really like the story,” says Walliams. “In fact Gangsta Granny is my best-selling book by far, and the stage show is brilliant – better than the book.”

Assessing the potential challenges or difficulties in staging Gangsta Granny, he says: “There is lots of action, especially when they try to steal the Crown Jewels. It’s quite a challenge for Birmingham Stage Company to bring those scenes to life but they do it so well,” he says. “Shows for children need to be fun and fast paced, which Gangsta Granny certainly is.”

Birmingham Stage Company cast members in Gangsta Granny. Picture: Mark Douet

“The great thing about seeing Gangsta Granny on stage is you will get to share it with an audience. So hopefully you will laugh and cry along with everyone else. That’s what makes theatre so special.”

What does Walliams hope children will take away from watching Gangsta Granny in York next month? “The moral of the story is, ‘don’t assume old people are boring just because they are old’,” he advises. “In fact, they are likely to have had a much more interesting life than yours. Talk to old folk, listen to their stories. They are bound to be full of magic and wonder.”

Wise words indeed from Walliams, who took up writing children’s fiction 15 years ago. “I had an idea for a story: what if a boy went to school dressed as a girl? I thought it would be a thought-provoking children’s book. That became The Boy In The Dress, my first of many children’s novels,” he says.

“The only limitation in a children’s book is your imagination. You can take children on magical journeys in books that many adults would be reluctant to go on.”

Walliams highlights the challenges presented by writing for children? “Children love to be scared but it can’t be too horrifying. Children love to laugh but it can’t be too rude. You always have to be the right side of the line,” he says.

He admires the work of Roald Dahl, arguably the 20th century doyen of children’s authors. “I think Dahl’s books always feel a little bit forbidden. He manages to balance the humour and scary elements in his stories perfectly,” says Walliams, who picks The Twits as his favourite Dahl story. “It’s utterly hilarious and I love that it’s a children’s book with no child characters.”

Birmingham Stage Company actor-manager Neal Foster, who has adapted and directed Gangsta Granny

He recalls enjoying other writers, such as Dr Seuss, in his childhood days. “I loved Dr Seuss books as a child, especially Green Eggs And Ham. His books are like nightmares come to life. They are rich and strange and utterly unlike anybody else’s work,” says Walliams.

David Walliams has become popular in his own right as a children’s author and ticket sales for Gangsta Granny testify to that popularity. “I imagine children like the humour and that I don’t patronise them,” he says, summing up his appeal as a storyteller. “I deal with quite big topics, cross-dressing, homelessness, grief. I know children are a lot smarter than most grown-ups think.”

Premiered in 2015, Gangsta Granny has become a West End hit twice over, prompting stage adaptations of Walliams’s books Awful Auntie and Billionaire Boy too. Now Birmingham Stage Company actor-manager Neal Foster’s adaptation returns to York for a second Grand Opera House run, full of Walliams’s humorous home truths wrapped inside family relationships. 

Birmingham Stage Company in Gangsta Granny, Grand Opera House, York, February 3 to 6; Thursday to Saturday, 2.30pm and 7pm, Sunday, 11am and 3pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york. Suitable for age 5+.

Did you know?

SINCE the 2008 publication of his first novel, The Boy In The Dress, David Walliams’s  books have sold  44 million copies worldwide and been translated into 55 languages.

Isabel Ford’s Granny and Justin Davies’s Ben in the Crown Jewels scene in Gangsta Granny. Picture: Mark Douet

More Things To Do in and around York as records are set straight and dark nights lit up. List No. 53, courtesy of The Press, York

Setting the record straight: Adrian Lukis’s roguish George Wickham in Being Mr Wickham at York Theatre Royal

AUTUMN’S fruits are ripe and ready for Charles Hutchinson to pick with no worries about shortages.

Scandal of the week: Being Mr Wickham, Original Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal, tonight until Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Saturday

ADRIAN Lukis played the vilified George Wickham in the BBC’s television adaptation of Pride And Prejudice 26 years ago this very month.

Time, he says, to set the record straight about Jane Austen’s most charmingly roguish character in his one-man play Being Mr Wickham, co-written with Catherine Curzon.

This is the chance to discover Wickham’s version of famous literary events. What really happened with Mr Darcy? What did he feel about Lizzie? What went on at Waterloo? Not to mention Byron. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Cate Hamer in rehearsal for the SJT and Live Theatre, Newcastle co-production of The Offing. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Play of the week outside York: The Offing, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until October 30

IN a Britain still reeling from the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on an adventure at 16: to walk from his home in Durham to Scarborough, where he hopes to find work, but he never arrives there. 

Instead, up the coast at Robin Hood’s Bay, a chance encounter with the bohemian, eccentric Dulcie Piper leads to a lifelong, defining friendship. She introduces him to the joys of good food and wine, art and literature; he helps her lay to rest a ghost in Janice Okoh’s adaptation of Benjamin Myers’s novel for the SJT and Live Theatre, Newcastle. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.  

Simon Wright: Conducting York Guildhall Orchestra at York Barbican

Classic comeback: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, Saturday, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra return to the concert stage this weekend after the pandemic hiatus with a programme of operatic favourites, conducted by Simon Wright.

The York musicians will be joined by Leeds Festival Chorus and two soloists, soprano Jenny Stafford, and tenor Oliver Johnston, to perform overtures, arias and choruses by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Rossini, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Adam Kay: Medic, author and comedian, on visiting hours at Grand Opera House, York, on Sunday

Medical drama of the week: Adam Kay, This Is Going To Hurt, Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor, Grand Opera House, Sunday, 8pm

ADAM Kay, medic turned comic, shares entries from his diaries as a junior doctor in his evening of horror stories from the NHS frontline, savvy stand-up, witty wordplay and spoof songs.

His award-winning show, This Going To Hurt, has drawn 200,000 people to sell-out tours, the Edinburgh Fringe and West End runs, and the book of the same name topped the best sellers list for more than a year and is soon to be a BBC drama. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Boyzlife: Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden unite in Boyzone and Westlife songs at York Barbican

Irish night of the week: Boyzlife, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm; doors, 6.30pm

PUT Irish boy band graduates Brian McFadden, from Westlife, and Keith Duffy, from Boyzone, together and they become Boyzlife, as heard on the July 2020 album Strings Attached, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

On tour with a full band, but not the ‘Phil’, they choose songs from a joint back catalogue of 18 number one singles and nine chart-topping albums.

So many to squeeze in…or not: No Matter What, Flying Without Wings, World Of Our Own, Queen Of My Heart, Picture Of You, Uptown Girl, You Raise Me Up, Going Gets Tough, Swear It Again, Father And Son, Love Me For A Reason and My Love. Find out on Sunday. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk

Thumper: Dublin band play Ad Nauseam and much more at Fulford Arms, York, on Tuesday

 Loudest gig of the week: Thumper, Fulford Arms, York, Tuesday, 8pm

THUMPER, the cult Dublin band with two thumping drummers, are back on the road after you know what, promoting a 2021 mix of their single Ad Nauseam: a cautionary tale of repetition, vanity and becoming too close to what you know will eat you.

From the Irish city of the equally visceral Fontaines DC and The Murder Capital, Thumper have emerged with their ragged guitars and “bratty, frenetic punk rock” (Q magazine).

Now their debut album is taking shape after the band were holed up in their home studio for months on end. The Adelphi, Hull, awaits on Wednesday.

At the fourth time of planning: Mary Coughlan, Pocklington Arts Centre, Tuesday, 8pm

Mary Coughlan: Life Stories in song at Pocklington Arts Centre

GALWAY jazz and blues chanteuse Mary Coughlan had to move her Pocklington show three times in response to the stultifying pandemic.

“Ireland’s Billie Holliday” twice rearranged the gig during 2020, and did so again this year in a switch from April 23 to October 19.

At the heart of Mary’s concert, fourth time lucky, will still be Life Stories, her 15th album, released on the wonderfully named Hail Mary Records last September. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Spiers & Boden: Resurrected folk duo head to Pocklington on Wednesday

Double act of the week ahead: Spiers & Boden, Pocklington Arts Centre, Wednesday, 7.30pm

AFTER years of speculation, much-loved English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together, releasing the album Fallow Ground and bringing a live show to Pocklington this autumn with special guests. 

First forming a duo in 2001, John Spiers, now 46, and Jon Boden, 44, became leading lights in big folk band Bellowhead, resting the duo in 2014, before Bellowhead headed into the sunset in 2016. Solo endeavours ensued but now Spiers & Boden return. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Matilda takes on Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical Jr

Musical of the week: Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, October 20 to 24, 7.30pm; 2pm, 4.30pm, Saturday; 2pm, Sunday.

ONLY the last few tickets are still available for York Stage Musicals’ York premiere of the Broadway Junior version of Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story.

Matilda has astonishing wit, intelligence, imagination…and special powers! Unloved by her cruel parents, she nevertheless impresses teacher Miss Honey, but mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull hates children and just loves thinking up new punishments for those who fail to abide by her rules. Hurry, hurry to the box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntheatre.co.uk.

People We Love: Curtailed by the second Covid lockdown, the York Mediale exhibition has a second life at York Minster from this weekend

Worth noting too:

PEOPLE We Love, the York Mediale exhibition, reopening at York Minster from Saturday. York Design Week, full of ideas, October 20 to 26, at yorkdesign week.com; Light Night Leeds 2021, with a Back To Nature theme for this art and lights festival tonight and tomorrow, at whatson.leeds.gov.uk; Live At Leeds gigs across 20 venues with Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Sports Team, The Night Café, The Big Moon, Dream Wife, Poppy Adjuda, The Orielles and Thumper, at liveatleeds.com.