Green light for The Wedding Present musical after “Gedge pledges” hit £10,000

David Gedge: Writing new material for Reception, a musical built around his songs of love and loss, break-ups and breakdowns for The Wedding Present and Cinerama

THE Crowdfunder appeal to kick-start work on The Wedding Present musical, Reception, has hit the initial £10,000 target with more than a day to spare.

You can still visit @crowdfunderuk where the @ReceptionSoon page welcomes further contributions today and tomorrow to aid York writer-director Matt Aston start crafting a story of “love, loss, break-ups and breakdowns – everything you’d expect really from a musical based on the songs of David Gedge”.

The Crowdfunder Gedge pledge will facilitate work on the first draft, artwork and branding of a show that will combine Gedge’s songs for his Leeds band The Wedding Present and Cinerama with new material by the 60-year-old songwriter, who now lives in Brighton.

Reception writer-director Matt Aston in his Wedding Present T-shirt when rehearsing Park Bench Theatre’s summer production of Samuel Beckett’s First Love with actor Chris Hannon. Picture: Northedge Photography

Aston and production partner Tony Ereira anticipate beginning research and development in early  2021 to road test their ideas – Covid-19 Government guidance permitting – with a group of actor-musicians, incorporating Gedge’s new songs. The premiere is pencilled in for Leeds in 2022, to be followed by a small tour that would take in Brighton.

Full details on Reception can be found in an earlier CharlesHutchPress article, filed on  September 15.

“The crowdfunding campaign is a chance for fans to get involved from the beginning with a bunch of rewards that are all exclusive to this production, including specially commissioned artwork from Lee Thacker,  illustrator of David’s autobiography, Tales From The Wedding Present,” says Matt, artistic director of Engine House Theatre, who staged the Park Bench Theatre season in the Friends Garden, Rowntree, Park, York, this summer.

To support the project, go to: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/reception-the-musical

Gedge pledge launched by York director to fund The Wedding Present musical UPDATED

David Gedge: Creative consultant for a new musical based around his songs for The Wedding Present

DO you have a gift for a Wedding Present project?

To explain, a crowdfunder campaign is being launched to support the creation of a musical based on the songs of David Gedge’s “semi-legendary“ Leeds group and John Peel favourites, The Wedding Present…with “some brand new material” from Gedge too.

The driving force behind Reception, The Wedding Present Musical, is York writer, theatre director and Engine House Theatre artistic director Matt Aston, fresh from mounting this summer’s season of Park Bench Theatre monologues in the Friends Garden at Rowntree Park.

“Reception will be a story of love…loss…break-ups…and breakdowns,” says Matt. “Everything you’d expect, really, from a musical based on the songs of David Gedge.”

Gedge, who turned 60 in April, will be the creative consultant for a show that will incorporate his songs for both The Wedding Present and Cinerama, plus the aforementioned new material, targeting 2022 for a Leeds premiere.

The Gedge pledge crowdfunder campaign “gives fans the opportunity to get involved at the very beginning of an exciting journey – and pick up a bunch of specially commissioned artwork and merchandise, only available here, in doing so”.

Reception is the story of a group of friends from Leeds University who keep in touch over two decades of trials, tribulations, and receptions. Their stories are rooted in Gedge’s songs and the title is inspired by the name of The Wedding Present’s original record label, Reception Records.

Matt Aston: Artistic director of this summer’s Park Bench Theatre season at Rowntree Park, York, now working on a musical play inspired by his favourite band The Wedding Present. Picture: Livy Potter

The idea of doing such a musical has been brewing for writer/director Aston for several years. When he met Tony Ereira, director of the Come Play With Me and Clue Records record labels – where else but at a Wedding Present gig, in Leeds in early 2019 – the concept was batted around still further.

The concept of the play started to take shape, with the documentary nature of Gedge’s candid, darkly humorous song-writing in the never-ending minefield of love and loss, lovers and losers, longing and lost opportunity suited to transferring those anguished stories and their quotidian protagonists onto the stage.

As Gedge himself said in Gigslutz on August 24 2015: “I’m interested in the minutiae of relationships. I like to write about what actually happens, rather than some imaginary situation cloaked in metaphor, hence the references to the everyday, though I have been known to decorate the songs with science fiction or comic book references!”

Aston first saw The Wedding Present at Confettis nightclub in Derby in 1988. “So, you could say this musical is over 30 years in the making,” he says. “I’ll always be grateful to my older brother and his mates for taking his little 15-year-old brother to his first ever gig. I got a T-shirt, a set of badges and a nosebleed. Not to mention a new favourite band.”

How come Aston suffered a nosebleed? “I remember standing there, when the support band were on, and everyone was being very polite…and then…The Wedding Present came on and there was this huge surge. That’s when I got the nosebleed!” he recalls.

Gedge’s songs “really struck a chord” in Aston’s teenage days. “They are those difficult 15 to 19 years, and his lyrics really connected with me; his songs have stuck with me ever since. They’re just good songs – they’ve never got the recognition they deserve. They’re down-to-earth stories of love gone wrong and they’ve been there for me in both good times and dark times.”

Writer-director Matt Aston in a Wedding Present T-shirt – not the one from 32 years ago! – in rehearsals with actor Chris Hannon for Park Bench Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s First Love. Picture: Northedge Photography

Aston elaborates on their suitability for a musical play: “I’ve always felt there was something very theatrical about David’s songs. The storytelling, the arrangements, the anguish,” he says. “And, as proven with Cinerama’s 2012 re-recording of The Wedding Present’s Valentina album, they have the flexibility to be arranged in a number of different, epic and dramatic ways. Although the show will, of course, still have plenty of fast guitars too!”

Attending a Cinerama concert five years ago affirmed that conviction. “They did this gig with a 15-piece orchestra and I thought, ‘these are musical theatre songs’; that’s what will work on stage,” says Matt. “‘The show will connect with fans, but people who are not Wedding Present fans will connect with the songs too, making for a good show, a new musical story rather than a typical jukebox musical’.”

Aston and Ereira put the idea to Gedge, along with an early synopsis for the story, and never one to shy away from a new medium to present his work, Gedge was equally excited to explore the idea further.

“With this crowdfunder campaign, we are looking to raise initial funding to get a first draft of the script written, some artwork and branding in place, and to start preparing for a period of research and development in early 2021 to road test our ideas – Covid-19 permitting – with a group of actors/musicians and some brand new material from David,” says Matt.

“Once I get down to writing the script in full, it will become clear whether and where new songs may be required. When we met up, David he said he’d be happy to get writing for the show, and it will be exciting to have new David Gedge work in there.”

Aston anticipates working on the script over the next six months. “There’s just huge potential for this show,” he enthuses. “The intention is to be in a position to premiere the musical in Leeds in 2022 and then do a small tour after that, hopefully taking it to Brighton, where David now lives.

“This crowdfunding campaign is a chance for fans to get involved from the beginning with a bunch of rewards that are all exclusive to this production, including specially commissioned artwork from Lee Thacker,  illustrator of David’s autobiography, Tales From The Wedding Present.”

To support the project, go to: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/reception-the-musical

How much hand sanitiser will Lady Macbeth get through? Take a seat for YSP’s Sit-down Sonnets in a churchyard for the answer

Mick Taylor, York Shakespeare Project’s director for Sit-down Sonnets, aptly takes a seat for last Saturday’s rehearsal at the Rowntree Park amphitheatre

YORK’S purveyors of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks are staging a sit-down, but not as an act of protest.

Instead, the mood will be celebratory as York Shakespeare Project present a special production of Shakespeare’s sonnets from Friday, allowing audiences to enjoy live theatre outdoors.

YSP’s Sit-down Sonnets can be seen at the Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, where the 45-minute production will feature Shakespearean characters responding to the pandemic, each sharing a famous Shakespeare sonnet as part of their monologue.

“The conceit this time is that the sonneteers are well-known Shakespeare characters in the present day, coping as best they can with lockdown,” says producer Maurice Crichton. “In what is now time-honoured fashion, each has a sonnet to tee up, the pairing of character and sonnet hopefully opening up some unknown sonnets in an accessible way and giving some well-known ones a new angle.

York Shakespeare Project cast members Shirley Williams, left, and Di Starr performing Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks in 2019 in the churchyard at Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, where Sit-down Sonnets will open on Friday

“Thinking of some of the characters I’ve played, I wondered how might they each be placed? Ulysses is no longer troubled that Achilles won’t come out of his tent because all the Greeks are stuck under canvas waiting for the latest R number estimates.

“Claudius is annoyed he’s had to postpone his marriage to Gertrude but is relieved there are no trains home from Wittenburg for Hamlet to catch; Feste can’t sing in public, so he’s planning an online concert from a willow cabin he’s constructing at Olivia’s gate…It’s a fun game to play and not just with Shakespeare.” 

Conceived and directed by Mick Taylor and produced by Crichton, the sonnets show will be performed by Frank Brogan; Nigel Evans; Emily Hansen; Sue Harris; Margaret Hillier; Judith Ireland; Emilie Knight; Mick Liversidge; Phyllis Carson-Smith; Di Starr; Mick Taylor himself and Helen Wilson, “sharpening up her Miss Jean Brodie act”.

As to who they will play, Maurice teases: “We are being coy about which Shakespeare characters you will see…but Mick has had some fun pulling a script together.”

Note the face mask: York Shakespeare Project’s topical poster for September’s Sit-down Sonnets

For the past few years, the York community theatre company has produced Sonnet Walks, a guided walk around York where the audience meets a range of connected characters with a story to tell and a Shakespearean sonnet to share.

Now comes the sit-down variation, under Taylor’s direction. “Like everyone involved with theatre, we’ve missed being able to enjoy and take part in live performance,” he says. “Having staged the Sonnet Walks previously, we knew that, as a format, it could be adapted in a way that would allow us to perform to a seated audience outdoors. And Holy Trinity is a beautiful place to do it: a leafy sanctuary in the centre of the city.”

Explaining the 2020 format, Mick says: “In these Sit-down Sonnets, we’ve taken some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters and written new monologues for them as they find themselves in the middle of this pandemic.

“How might things have turned out for them if they’d been stuck in lockdown? How can Brutus get near to Caesar to put his knife in when all the senate meetings are on Zoom? Where can Romeo get his fateful poison if the apothecary’s on furlough? And how much hand sanitiser will Lady Macbeth get through? They’ll share their thoughts on a world of lockdowns, masks and social distancing, along with a sonnet that reflects their feelings.”

How prescient: York Shakespeare Project founder Frank Brogan predicts the end of the world in last summer’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks. Cue Covid-19…

Making an historical link, Mick points out: “Shakespeare himself was no stranger to the impact a pandemic can have on theatre. Between 1603 and 1613, the theatres were closed for a total of six and a half years. Thankfully, we can return in performances like this a little sooner!”

York Shakespeare Project were just over a week away from the opening night for their spring production of Macbeth when lockdown began in late-March, stalling the 20-year mission to produce all of Shakespeare’s known plays by 2021 on the home straight, when only two big hitters, Macbeth and The Tempest, were left to perform.

Committee member Tony Froud says: “We were obviously very disappointed to have to postpone Macbeth and, like other companies, we are waiting to see how and when indoor live performance can safely return before deciding when we can prepare to stage the plays again.

“That’s why we’re so pleased to be able to perform Shakespeare in front of an audience in this way. Mick and Maurice have done a tremendous job in a short amount of time to prepare a production that audiences can enjoy safely and that brings the beauty of the sonnets to life in new ways.

Take a seat: York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets cast members listen to director Mick Taylor, fourth from right, when rehearsing in Rowntree Park, York, last weekend

“We hope that people will be able to join us for what should be a fun and unique performance, and a long-overdue chance to watch live theatre.”

YSP pass on their thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust and the volunteers at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, for accommodating Sit-Down Sonnets this summer.

“We looked at Dean’s Park and the Museum Gardens but in both cases that would have involved opening late specially for us,” says Maurice. “Last year, Ed van der Molen at Holy Trinity Church was very responsive to our idea of bringing our Sonnet Walks through the churchyard and this year even more so: he could not have been more welcoming.

“The review in The Press last year said: ‘What can be more lovely than a marriage of Shakespeare’s golden verse and York’s heritage’. Holy Trinity is a jewel in York’s heritage and its churchyard a haven in the city centre. It was our first choice for trying out this new format.”

Frank Brogan in rehearsal for the Sit-down Sonnets

The Covid-secure Sit-down Sonnets will be presented from September 4 to 12 (except September 7) at 5.45pm and 7pm nightly, bolstered each Saturday by a 4.15pm matinee.

“The audience capacity is ten social bubbles or 20 souls, whichever maximum we reach first,” says Maurice. “We don’t really know how it will feel to have a static show rather than a walk, but the sonnets will come thicker and faster and it will be colder, so dress warmly.

“There are five park benches in the churchyard, which we will be using, so a cushion would be a useful thing to bring, as would a rug and a camp chair. Maybe a flask and a packet of biscuits too.

“We’re delighted to see that the latest weather forecast for this week’s opening performances is: Friday, 16C, 5% chance of rain, 11mph breeze; Saturday, 15C, 6% chance of rain, 9mph breeze.” 

Tickets are available at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk, priced at £7 for adults, £4 for 14-17 year olds, and two under-14s may accompany each adult for free. To find out more about dates, tickets and the production, go to: yorkshakespeareproject.org.

More Things To Do out and about, indoors, in and around York, and back home, courtesy of The Press, York. List No. 12

Good to be back: Musician Phil Grainger and writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill for their At The Mill week of shows. Now they will pop down to the Pop-Up On The Patio festival.
Picture: Charlotte Graham

MUSEUMS, galleries and cinemas are welcoming you in, but in the summertime, when the weather is surprisingly fine, now is the chance to capitalise on the great outdoors, from pop-up patio shows to musical theatre in an amphitheatre.

In the interests of balance, Charles Hutchinson’s recommendations also take in a new exhibition indoors and a night in that drags on and on…in spectacular vocal and visual fashion.

Balloons, magic, jokes: Josh Benson in his Just Josh show for Pop-Up On The Patio at York Theatre Royal

Outdoors entertainment number one: Pop-Up On The Patio, at York Theatre Royal, August 14 to 29

TAKING part in a Covid-secure summer season of outdoor performances, on a terrace stage designed by Yorkshire theatre designer Hannah Sibai, will be “Yorkshire’s finest theatre and dance makers”.

Step forward York Dance Space’s Dance//Shorts; Mud Pie Arts; Story Craft Theatre for Crafty Tales; Paul Birch’s Fool(ish) Improv; The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus and Eurydice and puppeteer Freddie Hayes in Fred’s Microbrewery.

Look out, too, for Cosmic Collective Theatre in the cult show Heaven’s Gate; York performance poet Henry Raby in Apps & Austerity; Say Owt, the York outlet for slam poets, word-weavers and “gobheads”; magician, juggler and children’s entertainer Josh Benson in Just Josh and pop, soul and blues singer Jess Gardham.

One hat, one coat, one monologue: Chris Hannon in rehearsal for Park Bench Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s First Love at Rowntree Park, York. Picture: Northedge Photography

Theatre in a summer’s garden: Engine House Theatre’s Park Bench Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, until September 5

ROLL up, roll up, for Samuel Beckett’s rarely performed monologue, First Love, artistic director Matt Aston’s new play, Every Time A Bell Rings, and a family show inspired by a classic song, Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Each production is presented in Covid-secure, carefully laid out and spacious gardens, allowing audience members to keep socially distanced from each other. Chris Hannon performs the Beckett piece; Lisa Howard, the play premiere; Aston’s co-creator, Cassie Vallance, the new children’s show.

Headphones or earphones will be required to hear the dialogue, sound effects and music in performances. All audience members will be given a receiver on entry; takeaway headphones cost £1 when booking a ticket online. Bring blankets or chairs.

Richard Upton as Stacee Jaxx in York Stage Musicals’ Rock Of Ages: Now he will be rocking up at Rowntree Park. Picture: Robin May

Musical celebration of the month: York Stage at Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, August 23 to 25

YORK Stage are bringing musical theatre back to life this summer with their first ever outdoor show, taking over the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre for three nights.

Songs from Grease, Hairspray, Cats, Cabaret, The Greatest Showman, West Side Story and many more will be sung by Emily Ramsden, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Joanna Theaker and Richard Upton under the musical direction of Jessica Douglas.

“We wanted to keep it light, with singers of great quality and a band of great quality performing songs we all know so well, presented as a concert rather than as a staged performance, so it’s very much about the music,” says producer and director Nik Briggs.

Out on the moors: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director, founder and cellist Jamie Walton.
Picture: Paul Ingram

Outdoor festival of the month: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, Welburn Abbey, Ryedale, until August 22

AN evolution as a much as a Revolution, the 2020 North York Moors Chamber Music Festival has swapped the indoors for the outdoors, now taking place in an open marquee sited in the grounds of Welburn Abbey, Welburn Manor Farms (YO62 7HH), between Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside, in Ryedale.

For its theme of Revolution! in the festival’s 12th year of celebrating chamber works, the focus is on and around the music of Beethoven – the “revolutionary” – and beyond to mark the 250th anniversary of the German composer’s birth in Bonn.

Full details can be found at northyorkmoorsfestival.com. Season tickets have sold out, but do check if tickets remain available for individual concerts on 07722 038990.

Under the spell of the fell: North Eastern artist Jill Campbell, inspired by her walks on Cockfield Fell

York exhibition of the week: Jill Campbell, Featured Artist, Blue Tree Gallery, Bootham, York, until September 19

BLUE Tree Gallery, York, is marking the opening of North Eastern artist Jill Campbell’s exhibition of intuitive and soulful landscape paintings by introducing temporary new opening hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11am to 4pm.

“Most of my work is based on an ancient mining landscape called Cockfield Fell, where I walk nearly every day,” says Jill. “I use elements of what I see and combine these with my imagination to create my paintings.

“I’m fascinated by the fell’s strange, other worldly, abstract shapes defined by the morning shadows and framed by big dramatic skies. Its pools, pathways, mounds, dips and curves are my motifs.”

Showtime, darlings: Velma Celli in a late-summer night’s stream

Drag show of the week: Velma Celli in A Night  At The Musicals, tomorrow, 8pm

YORK drag diva supreme Velma Celli has embraced the world of the live stream through lockdown and beyond.

Velma’s satellite nights from her Bishopthorpe kitchen started in quarantine, back home in York after her Australian travels, and now she has vowed to keep these glamorous, if remote, gatherings going.

“I’m thrilled to be doing another live streamed show on August 14,” says Velma, the exotic cabaret creation of Ian Stroughair. “As venues are now closing up again in London, I will be doing more of these again! Bring on the fun! Watch out for news of special guests.”

For tickets for the live stream from Case de Velma Celli, go to: ticketweb.uk/event/velma-cellis-a-live-stream-tickets/. Tickets come off sale at 5pm tomorrow (14/08/2020); the stream link arrives via email just after 5pm for the 8pm start.

Marilyn (2009/2011, by Joana Vasconcelos: Iconic oversized silver stilettos made from stainless-steel saucepans, on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Trip out of the week: Joana Vasconcelos, Beyond, Underground Gallery and open air, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, on show until January 3 2021

PORTUGUESE artist Joana Vasconcelos creates vibrant, often monumental sculpture, using fabric, needlework and crochet alongside everyday objects, from saucepans to wheel hubs.

She frequently uses items associated with domestic work and craft to comment from a feminist perspective on national and collective identity, cultural tradition and women’s roles in society.

Crack pot: Your host standing betwixt a crockery tree sculpture at the Himalayan Gardens at Grewelthorpe. Picture: Celestine Dubruel

And what about…

LIGHTS out, sit back and enjoy the big-screen experience anew at City Screen, York, and Cineworld, York, now with masks compulsory.

Discovering Barnsley folk siren Kate Rusby’s new album of unexpected cover versions, from Manic Monday to Friday I’m In Love to Shake It Off, out tomorrow.

Walking among the flowers and sculptures at the Himalayan Gardens, Grewelthorpe, near Ripon, a gem of design all round.

After allotment gardening in lockdown, Lisa Howard turns her hand to solace-seeking monologue in Rowntree Park garden

Green Howard: Lisa Howard has enjoyed time spent on her allotment in lockdown before returning to performing in the Friends Garden in Rowntree Park, York, in Every Time A Bell Rings. Picture: Northedge Photography

LISA Howard will be spending the weeks ahead performing in the Friends Garden in Rowntree Park, York, but she has been no stranger to the world of gardens in lockdown.

“I went ‘allotmenting’, growing stuff and trying to feed the world from my allotment,” says Lisa, who will be playing Cathy in the Park Bench Theatre premiere of Matt Aston’s Every Time A Bell Rings from August 26 to September 5.

“I was imagining the worst, that there would be no fresh food in the shops. I wanted to provide my own food. I had already started hoarding last year because of the fear of Brexit. I’d already gathered toilet rolls. I got a bit paranoid.

“I didn’t do what a lot of actors did and make a sound studio or practise getting on to Zoom. I thought I’d never work again. I did get a bit down about it, so I buried myself with getting mucky hands in the allotment. Something that felt real and connected to the earth.”

Matt Aston: Artistic director of Engine House Theatre and Park Bench Theatre and writer of Every Time A Bell Rings. Picture: Livy Potter

In The Park Bench Theatre season that begins with Wakefield Theatre Royal pantomime dame Chris Hannon performing Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s short story First Love from Wednesday, Lisa will play a woman seeking solace as she emerges from isolation in lockdown on Easter Sunday 2020.

As Cathy sits on her favourite park bench in her favourite park, she reflects on her situation: a scenario that chimes with our Covid times in a play prompted by writer – and Park Bench Theatre artistic director – Matt Aston doing likewise on his regular exercise routine in Rowntree Park during lockdown.

Not that Lisa was aware of the script – a 45-minute monologue that takes a touching, humorous and poignant look at how the world is changing through the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 – before taking on the part. Asked to play the role by director Tom Bellerby, she agreed to do so without reading the script first. “Later that afternoon I did read it and was glad I’d said ‘yes’,” she says.

She has worked with Tom previously, firstly when he was a member of York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre. He was in the cast of artistic director Damian Cruden’s 2005 production of Macbeth, wherein Lisa played one of the three Witches, and later he was associate director for the Pilot Theatre/Slung Low/York Theatre Royal promenade production of Blood + Chocolate in York in 2013.

Lisa Howard and director Tom Bellerby on the first day of rehearsals for Every Time A Bell Rings. Picture:
Northedge Photography

“Every Time A Bell Rings is an inner monologue about a woman who is out of isolation after 14 days of not going anywhere or seeing anybody. Basically, it’s the story of her life. She’s a woman in her fifties who’s had a life full of ups and downs,” says Lisa.

“I’ve done my fair share of new writing. I enjoy creating characters and working through stuff that’s fresh and people haven’t seen before. It’s good to be working on something that’s so ground-breaking about a situation that none of us have experienced before.”

She is no newcomer to outdoor theatre or site-specific productions, especially for Alan Lane’s Leeds company Slung Low whose “sense of adventure” she so admires, typified by the epic promenade production of Blood + Chocolate, where the audience listened on headsets as they followed the cast around the centre of York and out to Clifford’s Tower. Blood and Chocolate was an epic promenade production around the city

Last year, Lisa appeared in Twelfth Night, The Borrowers and Henry V in Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, in Chester, but she is new to Rowntree Park, despite having worked and stayed in York many times.

Lisa Howard in Pilot Theatre’s Noughts And Crosses at York Theatre Royal in April 2019

She has only one worry. “I hope I don’t fidget too much sitting in one place on a park bench for a long time. I might have a cushion sewn into my trousers,” she says.

Her most recent appearances in York came at the Theatre Royal in Sabrina Mahfouz’s stage adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s novel Noughts And Crosses for Pilot Theatre in the main house in April 2019 and Joyce Branagh’s comedy bus-trip Ladies That Bus in the Studio in February this year before the world as we knew it was stopped in its tracks.

“Luckily we finished the tour of Ladies That Bus before lockdown happened. We were in our own little bubble on a rural tour with no concept of what was happening,” says Lisa.

“We mentioned it once when we were washing our hands and singing Happy Birthday. The tour ended and lockdown happened.”

Bus trip: Lisa Howard, left, with Helen Longworth and writer Joyce Branagh in Ladies That Bus at York Theatre Royal Studio in February 2020. Picture: Joel Chester Fildes

As well as more acting, she would love to see the return of Lula And The BeBops, dormant for far too long. “It feels like we’ve been scuppered at every turn,” says Lisa, the band’s lead singer. “The last gig we did was a couple of years ago. We’ve haven’t done anything recently mainly because I’ve been working away a lot with different tours.

“I’m desperate for us to get back together again. It’s wanting to perform with other people in groups. It’s great to be part of a band.”

Engine House Theatre present Matt Aston’s Every Time A Bell Rings, at Park Bench Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, August 26 to September 5, 7pm; August 29 and September 5, 4pm matinees. Running time: 45 minutes. Please note: contains very strong language.

Full details, including tickets and the audience use of headphones, can be found at: parkbenchtheatre.com. Box office: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/every-time-a-bell-rings-park-bench-theatre/.

“It’s good to be working on something that’s so ground-breaking about a situation that none of us have experienced before,” says Lisa Howard

PERFORMANCE AREA

The Friends Gardenis an enclosed lawn at Rowntree Park that will have socially distanced seating in an outdoor Covid-secure setting with clearly delineated areas/boxes marked on the grass – three metres square – for audience members to sit in.

Up to three or four people from the same household can sit in each box. Further individual seats will be spaced around the side of the lawn. 

You are encouraged to bring blankets if booking for the first few rows or chairs for the back few rows.

The capacity is 75 tickets for each performance.

More Things To Do in and around York, on a bench and at home, courtesy of The Press, York. List No. 11

One man and his bench: Director Matt Aston in place for the Park Bench Theatre summer season at Rowntree Park, York. Picture: Livy Potter

OUTDOOR theatre is taking to a park bench and a mill garden. Museums and galleries, and even car boots sales, are re-opening.

Spanish holidays may be off the Brexiteer Prime Minister’s list of To Do’s in August, but York is stretching its limbs, dusting off the cobwebs, and saying welcome back.

Maybe Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s Mayor, should test-drive his eyesight by paying a visit to “a part of the north that looks most like the south,” he says. Really, Andy?

As we all turn into masketeers, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these recommendations for days out and days in.

Cassie Vallance: Performing Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park’s Friends Garden

Outdoor theatre number one: Engine House Theatre’s Park Bench Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, August 12 to September 5

HERE come Samuel Beckett’s rarely performed monologue, First Love, artistic director Matt Aston’s brand new play, Every Time A Bell Rings, and something for all the family inspired by a classic song, Teddy Bears’ Picnic, all staged on and around a park bench in a Covid-secure outdoor theatre season in York.

Each production will be presented in carefully laid out and spacious gardens, allowing audiences to keep socially distanced from each other. Chris Hannon will perform the Beckett piece; Lisa Howard, the play premiere; Aston’s co-creator, Cassie Vallance, the new children’s show.

Headphones or earphones will be required to hear the dialogue, sound effects and music in performances. All audience members will be given a receiver on entry; takeaway headphones cost £1 when booking a ticket online. Bring blankets or chairs.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright, left, and Phil Grainger swap sunnier climes on the other side of the world for Stillington Mill for their At The Mill shows

Outdoor theatre number two: The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, “Six Days of Work”, Stillington Mill, near York, August 2 to 7, 7pm

“WE’RE doing some Orpheus, some Eurydice, and one night of New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before,” say Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, introducing their raft of At The Mill two-handers.

Performances will take place in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill to a maximum, socially distanced, audience of 30 per show.

The new work, on August 5, will be a reading of Alex’s This Story Is For You and a fresh set of songs by Clive (Phil’s name for his solo music, Clive being his middle name and his father’s name). Orpheus and Eurydice will be all Greek to you, but in a good way.

Train coming: National Railway Museum to re-open next week

York galleries, museums and attractions leaving Lockdown hibernation

THE York Dungeon has re-opened already; York Art Gallery and Castle Museum will do so from Saturday.

Back on track next will be the National Railway Museum, in Leeman Road, going full steam ahead from August 4.

“To manage visitor numbers, we are introducing free, timed and guided routes around the museum to ensure you have a relaxed visit and can maintain social distancing,” says the NRM. To book, go to: railwaymuseum.org.uk/visit.

Senior operations assistant Charlotte Mundey prepares for the re-opening of the Rotunda Museum. Picture:
Tony Bartholomew

Museum re-opening of the week ahead outside York: Rotunda Museum, Scarborough, from August 8

SCARBOROUGH’S Rotunda Museum will re-open with a new booking system that gives small groups exclusive access.

Visiting slots will be every half hour across the day, allowing groups – or social bubbles – of up to six people at a time to explore the museum without having to follow prescriptive routes.

In the Ancient Seas Gallery, visitors will come face to face with prehistoric creatures that once roamed this coastline. In the Rotunda Gallery are displays of fossils, taxidermy, fine art and ceramics. 

Crash, from a new wave of seascape works by Carolyn Coles, at Village Gallery, York

New exhibition of the week: Carolyn Coles, “Oh I Do Like To Be Besides The…”, Village Gallery, York, from August 4 to September 19

YORK seascape artist Carolyn Coles, once of The Press graphics department, should have been exhibiting at York Open Studios in April and the Staithes Festival of Art and Heritage in September. Enter Covid, exit Carolyn’s two big showcases of 2020.

Enter Simon Main at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, who says: “We saw Carolyn’s work at her first York Open Studios show back in 2019 and were so taken with her seascapes – many inspired by and maybe giving a different perspective of the Yorkshire coastline – that we started talking about a show.

“So, we’re delighted we have finally made it and are really looking forward to hanging Carolyn’s beautiful work. And who doesn’t love Filey?”

Joker: Closing film at Daisy Duke’s Drive-in Cinema at Knavesmire, York, this weekend

Open-air film experience of the week: Daisy Duke’s Drive-In Cinema, Knavesmire, York, Friday to Sunday

LATER than first trailed, Daisy Duke’s Drive-In Cinema will park up on Knavesmire for screenings of Grease, Rocketman, Toy Story, Mamma Mia!, 28 Days Later, Pulp Fiction, Shrek 2 and A Star Is Born.

Sunday’s closing film will be Joker. Tickets are selling fast so, no joke, prompt booking is recommended at dukescinema.epizy.com.

Interaction between staff and customers will be kept to a minimum, with cars parked two metres apart and those attending expected to remain within their vehicles for the duration of the screenings on LED screens with the sound transmitted to car radios.

Colin Moncrieff in Badapple Theatre’s 2014 production of The Daily Bread, a performance he now reprises for a podcast

Home entertainment of the week: Badapple Theatre’s The Daily Bread podcast

THE Daily Bread rises again as the latest free Podbean podcast from Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre.

Glaswegian actor, clown and raconteur Colin Moncrieff reprises his 2014 stage performance in artistic director Kate Bramley’s comedy about a master baker who is the talk of the tiny village of Bottledale, thanks to his sumptuous sponges and beautiful buns, this time giving a relaxed reading from home, accompanied by Jez Lowe’s songs.

Go to badappletheatreonyourdesktop.podbean.com to discover whether the baker’s cheery façade hides a dark secret.

Fishwife, Emma Stothard’s new scuplture, takes up residence by the harbour swing bridge in Whitby

And what about…

The rockumentary Rockfield: The Studio On The Farm on BBC iPlayer. New albums by Rufus Wainwright, Courtney Marie Andrews, Seasick Steve and The Psychedelic Furs, their first in 29 years. Emma Stothard’s new Whitby sculpture, Fishwife, Selling Cod, Mackerel and Crab, by the harbour swing bridge. A walk at Wheldrake Ings, followed by Sicilian flatbreads and piadini at the re-opened Caffé Valeria in Wheldrake. York Racecourse Saturday car boot sale, re-launching from August 8.

One park bench, three shows, prepare for outdoor theatre in Rowntree Park garden

Park Bench Theatre director Matt Aston on a park bench in Rowntree Park, York. Picture: Livy Potter

THREE monologues on a park bench in a Rowntree Park garden herald the return of theatre to York from the Glorious Twelfth onwards.

Engine House Theatre artistic director Matt Aston has assembled a summer season of open-air shows that will combine Samuel Beckett’s rarely-performed First Love with two premieres, Aston’s own new piece, Every Time A Bell Rings, and a new adaptation of the classic children’s song, Teddy Bears’ Picnic, co-created for all the family by Aston and Cassie Vallance.

The trio of productions will be presented from August 12 to September 5 in the Covid-secure setting of the carefully laid-out and spacious Friends Garden at Rowntree Park, allowing audiences of up to 75 to maintain social distance from each other in the park’s most enclosed space.

“Who’d have thought six months ago that we would be having such a stressful, terrifying, bizarre time since March,” says Matt, more heavily bearded in lockdown than when he co-directed York Theatre Royal’s somewhat stressful 2019-2020 pantomime, Sleeping Beauty.

“I first had idea of doing something this summer, running round Rowntree Park in the middle of lockdown on one of my Government-ordained bursts of daily exercise. Sitting on a bench [too late to tell him off now!], I was thinking about doing some socially distanced indoor theatre, but then someone suggested, ‘Why not do some outdoor theatre in Rowntree Park?’.”

The seeds for Park Bench Theatre were sewn. “The name Park Bench Theatre does what it says on the tin: performing theatre on or around a park bench, which I first did 20 years ago in Nottingham,” Matt says.

“The idea was always to keep it simple, having first started thinking about in April/May, knowing that it has to feel safe and secure but also feel ‘normal’, feeling like it would pre-Covid, but keeping the production costs basic.

The Park Bench Theatre production team: Ben Pugh, back left; directors Matt Aston and Tom Bellerby, seated; Luke James and Mike Redley; Harriet Marshall, front left, and Pauline Rourke. Picture: Livy Potter

“Theatre is social, sharing stories, and these shows will be a collective story-telling experience.”

His Rowntree Park exertions set the plays and their subject matter in motion. “I had the idea of someone sitting on a park bench and thinking about what they’re going through,” says Matt, explaining the trigger for Every Time A Bell Rings.

“I thought of the isolation and the fact that she might actually have been isolated for many years. I then remembered First Love was also set on a park bench and the idea rolled on from that.”

The first to open, running from August 12 to August 22, will be Matt’s production of First Love, Beckett’s 45-minute monologue about a man, a woman, a recollection, awash with the Irish playwright’s signature balancing of comedy and tragedy.

First Love was the last piece of the Park Bench Theatre jigsaw to fall into place. “I think the Beckett estate had a few questions about what we were doing, as it’s not a play, but it had been done at the Arcola Theatre [in London] as a learnt reading,” says Matt.

“For me, it reads as a monologue, but we’re being respectful to it as the short story it was written as. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, really accessible, really funny, and Chris is bringing out all the humour.”

The ‘Chris’ in question is Chris Hannon, best known for his CBeebies role as Dad in Topsy And Tim and as the pantomime dame at Wakefield Theatre Royal for more than a decade. “My first panto as director at Wakefield was his first panto as the dame there,” says Matt. “There was a tradition of never inviting anyone back, but he was so brilliant that he’s been going back ever since, and he writes it now as well.”

Tom Bellerby: Director of Every Time A Bell Rings

Next up, from August 26 to September 5, will be Aston’s 50-minute premiere of Every Time A Bell Rings, performed by Northern Broadsides and Slung Low regular Lisa Howard and directed by Tom Bellerby, back in York from London.

Tom had been resident assistant director at the Donmar Warehouse, London, after making his mark at York Theatre Royal as associate artist at Pilot Theatre and as associate director at Hull Truck Theatre from 2016 to 2018, taking in Hull’s year as the 2017 UK City of Culture. 

The play’s setting is Lockdown, Easter Sunday 2020, when Cathy searches for solace on her favourite park bench in her favourite park in Aston’s funny and poignant look at how the world is changing through these extraordinary times.

“I’ve written it in Lockdown, having had a vague notion some years ago of doing a piece revolving around a woman dealing with grief when I was dealing with the death of my stepfather,” says Matt.

“I started having a go at writing a piece in the spare hours between child-care and then felt it would be right for Park Bench Theatre once I felt confident that we were going to get the go-ahead.

“Then I had the idea that someone else should direct it, and though I hadn’t met Tom before, I knew he’d returned to York and it made sense for him to come on board.”

After two shows with “very strong language”, the third will be a complete contrast: Teddy Bears’ Picnic on August 19 to 22, 27 to 29 and 31 and September 1 to 5, based on an original idea by Julian Butler.

Cassie Vallance in The Storm Whale at the York Theatre Royal Studio last December. Picture: Northedge Photography

“I really hope they don’t come to the wrong show!” says Matt, who is renewing his creative partnership with Cassie Vallance after she starred in his adaptation of Benji Davies’s The Storm Whale in the Theatre Royal Studio last Christmas.

Suitable for everyone aged three and over, this 30-minute show carries the billing: “Every year, Jo’s family used to have a big family gathering – a teddy bears’ picnic – but then she got too old and too cool for that sort of thing. Now she’s grown up, she wishes she could have them all over again.”

“Julian Butler and I had the idea for this show when we were doing The Storm Whale, and Cassie and I are creating it over the next few weeks,” says Matt. “She was brilliant in The Storm Whale and has been doing fantastic work online with Crafty Tales, so I’m thrilled to be working with her again.”

Roll on, August 12, for the first Park Bench Theatre performance. “The relief is being able to talk about putting on shows, rather than all the other stuff that’s going on,” says Matt. “Loads of people have been doing creative things in lockdown, and it’s good that Park Bench Theatre has come about in that time.”

Yet Matt strikes a note of caution for the winter ahead for theatre and the arts at large, however. “As I’ve said for many weeks, any organisation that relies on anyone being indoors for any length of time faces a problematic situation,” he says.

“I think the Government will let one industry take a hit and I fear that industry will be the arts, despite arts and culture bringing so much to the national and local economy.”

Cassie Vallance in rehearsal for Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Picture: Northedge Photography

Full details on Park Bench Theatre, including tickets and the audience use of headphones, can be found at: parkbenchtheatre.com.

The monologues:

First Love by Samuel Beckett, August 12 to 22, 7pm; August 15 and 22, 4pm matinee.

A story of a man, a woman, a recollection, awash with Beckett’s signature balancing of comedy and tragedy. Performed by Chris Hannon, directed by Matt Aston. Running time: 70 minutes. Contains very strong language. 

Every Time A Bell Rings, premiere by Matt Aston, August 26 to September 5, 7pm; August 29 and September 5, 4pm matinee. 

Lockdown. Easter Sunday 2020. Cathy emerges from her own isolation to search for solace on her favourite park bench in her favourite park. Touching, funny, poignant look at how the world is changing through these extraordinary times. Performed by Lisa Howard, directed by Tom Bellerby. Contains very strong language. Running time: 50 minutes.

The Park Bench Theatre production team observing social distancing in Rowntree Park, York. Picture: Livy Potter

Teddy Bears’ Picnic, premiere, August 19 to 22, 27 to 29 and 31; September 1 to 5; 11.30am and 1.30pm. Co-created by Cassie Vallance and director Matt Aston.

Every year, Jo’s family had a big, brilliant family gathering – a teddy bears’ picnic. Then she grew too old and too cool for that sort of thing, so she stopped going. But now she’s grown up, she wishes she could have them all over again. Running time: 30 minutes. Suitable for everyone aged three and over. Bring your favourite teddy and a picnic.

A word from: Helen Apsey, head of culture and well-being at Make It York

“This is a fantastic initiative to bring live theatre back to York in the beautiful surroundings of Rowntree Park. It is a great addition to the city’s summer offering – providing a safe outdoor theatre experience designed for families and people of all ages.”

A word from: Abigail Gaines, Friends of Rowntree Park trustee

“We are thrilled to have open-air theatre in Rowntree Park. The park has been a lifeline to many during Lockdown, and hearing it inspired the writing of one of the plays makes hosting the performance even more meaningful.

“The park is a key place for families and we know they will love the family performances. The Friends of Rowntree Park always support arts in the park and are very much looking forward to the shows.”

ANY QUESTIONS?

Headphones?

Yes, headphones will be required to hear the dialogue, sound effects and music in performances. All audience members will be given a receiver on entry that headphones can be plugged into.

Audiences are encouraged to bring their own set, but no wireless or Bluetooth ones. Instead they must be plug-in headphones or earphones. You can buy takeaway headphones for £1 when you book your ticket online, for collection when you visit. 

Director Matt Aston on a Rowntree Park park bench. Audience members will be on blankets or chairs

Performance area?

The Friends Garden is an enclosed lawn at Rowntree Park that will have socially distanced seating in an outdoor Covid-secure setting with clearly delineated areas/boxes marked on the grass – three metres square – for audience members to sit in.

Up to three or four people from the same household can sit in each box. Further individual seats will be spaced around the side of the lawn. 

The capacity for First Love and Every Time A Bell Rings is 75 tickets; the maximum for Teddy Bears’ Picnic is 50 as boxes will be slightly bigger for up to four people from the same household.

Seating?

Audience members are encouraged to bring blankets for the first few rows and chairs for the back few rows.

Ticketing policy?

If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, have been diagnosed with the virus or have been in direct contact with a diagnosed individual in the past 14 days, you must not attend the event.

If unable to attend due to other illness, contact the box office to arrange a ticket transfer. Tickets can be refunded only if the booked performance has sold out.

HEALTH AND SAFETY MEASURES

IN conversation with City of York Council, and in line with Government guidance, Park Bench Theatre has implemented a range of measures to ensure the health and safety of audiences and staff. The measures are under constant review and apply across all performances throughout the season. 

Arriving: Gates will open an hour before the show start time to allow everyone to arrive at their leisure and avoid large queues. All tickets will be digital and checked without contact at a social distance at the entrance to the performance area. There will be a one-way system to enter and exit the performance area.

Social distancing: Each household or social, bubble will be seated at a safe distance from other households or social bubbles. Volunteer stewards will direct audience members to their designated bubble.

Food and refreshments: Bring your own food and drink to all performances but no alcohol is allowed. 

Departure: Stewards will manage the departure so large crowds do not all leave at the same time.

Loos. All performances take place without an interval. The Rowntree Park loos will be open before and after all performances.