Rowntree Players seek the missing pieces – the cast – for The Missing Peace premiere

Director Gemma McDonald and writer Ian Donaghy at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre box office

NOBODY thought this morning when they turned the key in the door lock, “well, that’ll be the last time I’ll see you.”

So begins the book The Missing Peace: Creating A Life After Death, written by York musician, author, charity event organiser and motivational conference speaker Ian Donaghy, now adapted for the stage by Rowntree Players performer and York teacher Gemma McDonald and Ian himself.

Gemma loved the book and could not help but imagine it on stage, and so she and Rowntree Players pantomime co-writer and director Howard Ella approached Ian with the idea.

“The Missing Peace lends itself beautifully to the stage and also allows an opportunity for actors of all ages to highlight their talents with heart-breaking and heart-warming monologues,” she says. “It’s a very different, original and powerful production.”

Billed as “One play…fifteen endings”, The Missing Peace will be staged at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on April 17 and 18 with plans for further performances in Yorkshire.

Already confirmed is the recorded involvement of narrator Mark Addy, York star of The Full Monty, The Game Of Thrones and now the new ITV crime drama White House Farm.

Mark Addy: narrator for The Missing Peace

“Mark will be in New York when our play opens in April, playing Harry in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen at the Golden Theatre from March, so he’s very kindly recording the narration before he leaves for the United States,” says Ian.

Next, Gemma will hold an initial meeting for anyone interested in being involved in The Missing Piece on Monday (January 13) at 7.30pm at Door 84 Youth & Community Centre in Lowther Street.

“We’re looking for a variety of actors of all different ages; there really is something for everyone to audition for,” says Gemma. “This is a very exciting project and I can’t wait to start next week.”

Ian shares that excitement. “There’s a big buzz already about this very ambitious production of a truly thought-provoking look into people’s lives after they have lost a loved one.

“The Missing Peace will show audiences that they’re not alone, and I’m also delighted to say that we’re presenting the play as a fundraising event with all proceeds going to local bereavement and hospice charities.”

Rarely will York be so well represented in a production, reckons Ian. “York actors;  York production company;  York set designers; York play written by a man who has made York his home about people who live in York,” he says.

The poster for Rowntree Players’ premiere of The Missing Peace

“As the poster says, ‘One play…fifteen endings’, because it includes Talking Heads-style monologues of people who have survived losing loved ones, illustrating how the power of kindness, friends and family have helped them through.”

After reading numerous self-help books and “I know so much better than you” guides, Ian felt there was a need for a book that “doesn’t tell you how you should be feeling”.

Former teacher, host of A Night To Remember at York Barbican  and still the larger-than-life Big Ian frontman of York band Huge, Ian has branched out into writing about dementia and campaigning to combat loneliness in the elderly, whether at conferences or in a series of moving short films on social media that he shoots in black and white.

He has written as one reviewer called it, “a 200-page cuddle”: a book where people share experiences and “you decide what you get from hearing their emotional stories”.

“My aim is to provide a survival guide for people to find their own ‘Missing Peace’,” says the inspirational writer and speaker. “It’s not a morose bereavement book. It won’t tell you how you should be feeling. It’s a book about how to be a better friend when your friends lose someone.”

Ian continues: “As we all grow older, our favourite characters are written out of our lives and we have to, somehow, carry on without them.

“Friends often feel powerless, so terrified of saying the wrong thing that they may say nothing, leaving their friend bereft and isolated.”

Ian Donaghy with Sally Rasmussen from The Missing Peace premiere sponsors The Chocolate Works Care Village

Consequently, the book and the play highlight the power of kindness and offer some tried-and-tested maverick ideas.

“The book is a scrapbook of monologues and stories from interviews and conversations I’ve had with people all over the UK in my work with older people and children,” says Ian, whose research took in bereavement groups, hospices, nurses, doctors and parents.

“There are stories looking at loss from many different angles. Many may surprise you…there’s even a short story about my father’s special Parker pen that cleverly illustrates how to get the best out of people.

“I’ve been invited in by some of the most inspirational, wonderful people, who have shared their innermost thoughts and emotions to help others, so thank you to them.”

The play will deliver an optimistic boost in the opening scene, saying, “If you are watching this play you, already have a 100% survival record. Congratulations!” It will go on to listen, in particular, to the views of children and our oldest generation, who are often ignored, says Ian.

“Children haven’t made their minds up yet and so give you unedited ideas, without any spin, and older people realise they can reflect on their successes and failures, so they either have wonderful experience or a hard-earned wisdom,” he suggests.

Sarah Atkinson, of St Leonard’s Hospice, one of two York charities to benefit from ticket sales for April’s premiere

“The play isn’t a magic wand, a flow chart through the grieving process, and it won’t kiss it better, but it will start the conversation you may need to have between siblings, family or friends.”

Every scene, by the way, is named after a song, such as Everybody Hurts, I Don’t Wanna Talk About It, These Foolish Things and All You Need Is Love. 

Two York charities, St Leonard’s Hospice and Bereaved Children Support York, will share the profits from the premiere production.

Jo Cole, founder of Bereaved Children Support York, says: “Grief can be very lonely and isolating. This play gives so many examples of how different people have coped with the loss of a loved one that you’re bound to find something that makes you realise it’s not just you feeling the way you do. To have this play raise awareness will help so many families.”

Janet Bennett, left, Lisa Curtis and Jo Cole, of Bereaved Children Support York, the second charity to receive a donation from The Missing Peace’s run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Ian concludes: “The stories and monologues will make you smile, some will make you cry, but they will all make you think.

“We’re all broken biscuits when we lose someone. We can either dwell on the cracks or make the best cheesecake ever.”

Rowntree Players present The Missing Peace, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 17 at 7pm; April 18, 2.30pm and 7pm. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. This production is sponsored by The Chocolate Works Care Village.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Rowntree Players in Sinbad, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ****

Gourmet Graham: Rowntree Players’ dame, Graham Smith, in one of myriad guises in Sinbad

Sinbad, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.

If they are all at sea, it is only in a good way, because this writing team is so skilled and quick witted now that their sea-faring adventure/misadventure is plain sailing to a big success. Tickets are at a premium, so don’t delay. In fact, book now, then resume reading this review…

…Director Ella and his co-writer and Old Man of the Sea, Welch, have delved into The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights and then decided to give it a blast of bracing Yorkshire sea air: Whitby and Scarborough Harborough, as it seemed to be called at one point at Sunday’s raucous matinee.

It starts in olden storytelling mode, but Ella and Welch quickly establish they will be putting the naughty into nautical. That means Irreverent, rather than saucy, although Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad, will sail pretty close to the wind, without ever being as blue as the Scarbadian sea.

More of Graham later. First, there are a couple of Brexit jokes from narrator Welch that both Leave and Remain camps can enjoy (but maybe not after Thursday’s General Election result). Even climate change pops up.

Sinfully good: Laura White’s outstanding Abadun in Sinbad

Laura White’s villainous, spiteful Abadun is out to spoil everyone’s party, turning Geoff Walker’s King Olaf into the Monkey King (cue plenty of funny monkey business and cartwheels from Josh Roe).

Can the two Hannahs, Hannah King’s resolute Sinbad and Hannah Temple’s plucky Princess Talida, find the Old Man of The Sea to revoke the spell and defeat vainglorious Abadun and dogged dogsbody Neckbeard (Sian Walshaw)?

Who else could be on hand to help/hinder them but the redoubtable mother-and-son comedy double act of Hapless Smith and McDonald, Graham and Gemma’s very silly Tilly and Gilly Tinbad.

You surely remember Madonna’s iconic cone bra? Smith makes the dame’s entrance wearing squashed ice cream cones, an amusing Scarborough variation with another cone for a hat. This is but one of many fab-u-lous costumes assembled by Leni Ella, Pam Davies, Jackie Holmes and Heather King to complement Howard Ella, Paul Mantle and Lee Smith’s delightful sets, ship decks, ultraviolet submarine and psychedelic rocks.

Hannah King’s Sinbad, front left, Hannah Temple’s Princess Talida, centre, and Laura White’s Abadun in the climactic sword fight on deck

Smith’s ever-so-slightly tetchy brand of Les Dawson dame and McDonald’s cartoon-esque sidekick in a shrunk Annie wig, daft voice and all, are comedy gold, rich with quickfire interchanges, whether reeling off every fish name under the sea or a series of words that rhyme with “sailor”. Here’s one: “he retired from the panto but didn’t leave…Berwick Kaler!”

The marriage of Ella and Welch’s waspish wit and Smith and McDonald’s irrepressible playfulness grows ever more fulfilling by the year. As promised by Welch too, the duo’s slosh scene below deck is their best yet, so well timed in its physical clowning.

Smith’s running gag of playing a heap of helpful aunts ­– with terrible accents, as McDonald teases him ­­– is another joy, but please don’t think this is merely their show.

Far from it. King, Temple and Walshaw thrive in action and song; Welch has his moment in Old Man beard, wig and cape, leading the ever-responsive ensemble like Wizzard’s Roy Wood in one of the show’s best set-piece numbers, Light At The End Of Tunnel.

Better still is White’s Abadun, to the villainous manner born, with a dash of panache in song and dance, an eye for humour and a singing voice that keeps hitting new peaks in The Smell Of Rebellion.

Musical director Jessica Douglas is on top form with her band, and when they combine with Ami Carter’s choreography for the likes of Pretty Little Gangplank (as in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Blondie’s One Or Way, in the climactic fight scene, the results are both spectacular and fun.

If you still haven’t bought a ticket, despite the earlier advice, do so NOW for this ridiculous, but ridiculously good Rowntree riot of a pantomime.

Charles Hutchinson

Rowntree Players’ Sinbad set sails from “Scarbados” for rollicking panto romp

Mop-handed: Laura White’s villainous Abadun demands her crew polish up their act in Rowntree Players’ Sinbad

HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.

All at sea – in a good way – at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday (December 14), this rollicking romp finds the co-writers returning to The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights, or 1,001 Scarbadian Nights, more precisely, as Welch’ storyline gives the seafaring adventure a Yorkshire shake-up.

Director Ella and co-writer Welch put the naughty into nautical by telling the story with significant artistic licence, especially for Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad.

“In honesty, the seven voyages of Sinbad are invariably a disaster,” notes Welch. “They tend to end with the ship sunk and the crew lost.  Not so many laughs in that!”

Enter the humour of Ella and Welch. “We’ve taken the bare bones of the stories – a young and eager sailor with a good heart and a taste for adventure – and we’ve set him on a course to fight pirates, rescue royalty and search for sunken treasure…”

“…But with plenty of silliness in between,” says Welch. “There’s the regular environmentally friendly, recycled comedy material, brilliant song and dance and what, we hope, is the biggest and best slosh scene we’ve ever done!

Hannah King’s Sinbad in Sinbad at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

“I don’t want to give too much away, but needless to say the band in the pit are bringing brollies!”

In the sixth year of their writing partnership, Ella and Welch are confident that time is not jading them. “We’ve really started to find our rhythm as writers and know what bits we each sparkle at!” says Ella.

“Basically, unless we both laugh at a gag, it doesn’t make it; unless we both love a song, it doesn’t go in, but that’s become an instinctive filter that really helps us hone the script. 

“It’s that need to appeal to every age and humour that remains the challenge, but I think we’re getting the hang of it.”

“Definitely,” decides Welch.  “This year is an absolute belter: fast paced, great fun and totally ridiculous. What more do you expect from panto?!”

Rowntree Players present Sinbad, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Haxby Road, York, until Saturday, December 14. Performances: 7.30pm plus 2pm Saturday matinee (sold out).  Ticket availability is limited for the remaining shows, especially for Friday (only a few left). Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson