FRIENDS, readers, Yorkshiremen, lend me your time; I come neither to bury Atri Banerjee’s Julius Caesar, nor to praise it.
Recruited to direct Shakespeare’s political thriller through the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Hire initiative “to improve transparency and access to freelance creative jobs in theatre”, Banerjee brings his South Asian heritage to a production of global scope, one where he plays with gender identity too, as well as playing with the artform of theatre.
A play is called a play because it is an act of play, one that gives free rein to artistic expression and interpretation refracted through present times. In our case, Covid, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Trump, the climate crisis, three Conservative Prime Ministers in a matter of months, and progression from LGBT to LGBTQIA+.
Some reactions have suggested that Banerjee is playing with his audience, from his warm-up exercise crowd-opening with all the opera-sized RSC cast running on the spot and howling, to casting Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira), Cassius (initially Kelly Gough, now the non-binary Annabel Baldwin) and Octavius Caesar (Ella Dacres) as women, to a ghostly Caesar (Nigel Barrett) waving insouciantly at Brutus.
You could argue that Banerjee is playing instead with audience expectations, in a case of when in Rome, don’t do as the Romans do, by taking on the po-faced antediluvians who think such a serious play should be taken more seriously, because politics is no laughing matter, although any number of political sketches by John Crace or Marina Hyde’s columns in the Guardian counter that view.
What’s more, Banerjee is being serious, very serious, if modish in his delivery, in asking the big question: how far would you go for your principles?
Presented as part of the RSC’s Power Shifts season, Julius Caesar reflects how political change appears to be happening ever faster, (although despotic leaders have a way of re-writing the rule books – or commandeering the ballot box – to allow themselves to stay in power).
This week alone, Italy has come to bury – and reappraise – the first of the modern wave of populist leaders, Silvio Berlusconi, while another, Boris Johnson, has had his political career buried underneath a stinking mound of lies about lying.
Julius Caesar was the populist ruler of his time, here played in casual shirt sleeves by Barrett with rather more commanding order to his delivery of the blank verse. His crime, as William Robinson’s Marc Antony ascribes four times to Brutus, is ambition. Yet Marc Antony calls Brutus “honourable”, just as Othello calls Iago “honest” and Macbeth is praised for his valour and worthiness. Vaulting ambition did for him too, of course.
Misjudgements may have proliferated in modern politics, our age of narcissistic frontmen, but this is no longer the age of lies, damn lies and statistics, or truths and half-truths, but “alternative truths” and “post-truths”.
Caesar was a “divisive ruler”: he surely would have thrived in our era of divide-and-rule leaders, nourished by an equally divisive media in print, on screen and on air. In his time, however, he was removed, despatched, without a plan of what might come next, other than a craving for a “better future”. (Don’t all politicians say that when first entering the House of Commons before the Whip-cracking and corruptive need to keep power take over?)
Death after death, as it turns out, is the result here, all gathered in what has become known flippantly as the “ghost bus” on Rosanna Vize’s revolving stage. At that point, they are restored to clean clothing, whereas those assassins still alive are still stained by Caesar’s blood, here black and sticky as newsprint rather than red.
Those death blows had been applied in smearing actions, rather than as 33 stab wounds, to be followed by a PAUSE, announced in big letters, accompanied by a two-minute countdown before Caesar’s exit, taking almost long as an opera death by aria. This would be one of those moments that has made Banerjee’s Julius Caesar as divisive as the ruler himself,
It finds its echo in the INTERVAL countdown on screen, 20 minutes ticking by to the mournful repetitive sound of a single trombone: in keeping with the sombre mood, or irritating, depending on how you reacted to the 90-minute first half. Or, maybe, a sonic tool that theatres could use in future to drive customers to the bar.
Banerjee’s “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” style of production is full of ideas: the Caesar wave; the rising multitude of ghosts, giving a sense of time running out; Joshua Dunn’s Cinna the Poet re-emerging all in ashen grey after his death; the use of a York community chorus (Hilary Conroy, Astrid Hanlon, Elaine Harvey, Stephanie Hesp, Anna Johnston and Frances Simon, under Jessa Liversidge’s musical direction), only to employ them rather less than a traditional Greek chorus role; not enough ill wind in their sails.
Better is the casting of the power seekers as young, like the Blair intake in 1997, still learning the political ropes and prone to mistakes and rash judgements. You will enjoy the nods to Dominic Cummings and Malcolm Tucker in Matthew Bulgo’s administrator, Casca.
Frustrations? Why does Teixeira’s Brutus not find her footing until deep in the mire? Why is Niamh Finlay playing the Soothsayer in red tracksuit bottoms with juddering, jagged dance movements like Happy Mondays’ Bez, as if three Macbeth witches trapped in one body?
Why, after making much of changing the gender dynamics of Julius Caesar’s world, does Antony’s eulogy to Brutus still conclude: “This was a man”? Ask Atri! He may be making a point about women having to mirror men to fit in, to succeed.
Ultimately, in the play for power, will we ever decide that Brutus was right: “Good words are better than bad strokes”?
Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm tonight plus 2pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
COMEDY aplenty, musical collaborations, dental mystery adventures and soul seekers make a convincing case for inclusion in Charles Hutchinson’s list.
Children’s show of the week: David Walliams’ Demon Dentist, Grand Opera House, York, Thursday, 1.30pm, 6.30pm; Friday, 10.30am, 6.30pm; Saturday, 11am, 3pm
CHILDREN’S author David Walliams has teamed up with Birmingham Stage Company for Demon Dentist, their third collaboration after Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy, aapted and directed by Neal Foster.
Join Alfie and Gabz as they investigate the strange events happening in their hometown, where children are leaving their teeth for the tooth fairy and waking up to find odd things under their pillows. No-one could have dreamed what Alfie and Gabz would discover on coming face to face with the demon dentist herself in this thrilling adventure story. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Therapy session of the week: Isabelle Farah: Ellipsis, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.45pm
STAND-UP is the outlet that keeps you sane, where the nature of the game is to turn everything into punchlines. But can you do it if you feel all-consuming sadness, ponders comedian/actor/writer/nightmare Isabelle Farah in Ellipsis.
“I wanted my therapist to come and watch me to see how hilarious I am, but I thought how odd it would be performing to someone who’s seen so far behind my mask,” she says. “Would he even find it funny or just sit there knowing what I was hiding?” Cue her exploration of grief, authenticity and being funny.
Classical concert of the week: Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony, York Minster, tonight, 7.30pm
YORK Musical Society and Philharmonischer Chor Münster from York’s twin city in Germany mark 30 years of concert collaborations with Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony, using text from Walt Whitman poems.
Toward The Unknown Region, another Whitman setting, takes a journey from darkness to light, followed by the beautiful orchestral work Serenade in A minor. Tonight’s soloists are soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson and bass Julian Tovey. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; on the door from 6.45pm.
Great Scot of the week: Frankie Boyle, Lap Of Shame, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday, 7.30pm
SCATHING Scottish comedian, surrealist, presenter and writer Frankie Boyle, 50, is on tour. “Buy a ticket, because by the time I arrive, the currency will be worthless and you and your neighbours part of a struggling militia that could probably use a few laughs,” advises the often-controversial Glaswegian.
Only a handful of tickets are still available at atgtickets.com/york. Please note: no latecomers, no readmittance.
Great Scott of the week: Scott Bennett, Selby Town Hall, Sunday, 7.30pm
SCOTT Bennett has been blazing a trail through the stand-up circuit for the best part of a decade, writing for Chris Ramsey and Jason Manford too.
After regular appearances on BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz and The Now Show and his debut on BBC One’s Live At The Apollo, he presents Great Scott! in Selby. Box office: selbytownhall.co.uk.
Rescheduled gig of the week: Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri, Helmsley Arts Centre, Sunday, 7.30pm
MOVED from March 3, Bradford soul singer Kiki Dee and guitarist Carmelo Luggeri head to Helmsley for an acoustic journey through stories and songs, from Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra covers to Kiki’s hits Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, I Got The Music In Me, Loving And Free and Amoureuse. Songs from 2022’s The Long Ride Home should feature too. Box office: 01439 771700 or helmsleyarts.co.uk.
Re-arranged show announcement: Neil Warnock, Are You With Me?, York Barbican, moving from June 15 to May 31 2024
ARE you with Neil Warnock on Thursday? Not any more, after “unforeseen circumstances” forced the former York City captain and Scarborough manager (and town chiropodist) to postpone his talk tour until next spring. Tickets remain valid.
After guiding Huddersfield Town to safety from the threat of relegation in the 2022-2023 season, Warnock, 74, was to have gone on the road to discuss his record number of games as a manager, 16 clubs and 8 promotions, from non-league to Premier League, and a thousand stories along the way that have never been told. Now those tales must wait…and whose season might he rescue in 2023-24 before then?! Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Discovery of the week: Kyshona, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm
UNRELENTING in her pursuit of the healing power of song, community connector Kyshona Armstrong has the background of a licensed music therapist, the curiosity of a writer, the resolve of an activist and the voice of a protest singer.
As witnessed on her 2020 album Listen, she blends roots, rock, R&B and folk with her lyrical clout. Past collaborators include Margo Price and Adia Victoria. Now comes her Pocklington debut. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Tribute show of the week: The Illegal Eagles, York Barbican, Friday, 8pm
THE Illegal Eagles celebrate the golden music of the legendary West Coast country rock band with musical prowess, attention to detail and showmanship. Expect to hear Hotel California, Desperado, Take It Easy, New Kid In Town, Life In The Fast Lane and many more. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Soul show of the week: Shalamar Friends 40th Anniversary Tour, York Barbican, June 17, 7.30pm
SHALAMAR mark the 40th anniversary of Friends, the platinum-selling album that housed four Top 20 singles, A Night To Remember, Friends, There It Is and I Can Make You Feel Good, outsold Abba, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Culture Club and Meat Loaf that year and spawned Jeffrey Daniels’ dance moves on Top of The Pops.
Further Shalamar hits Take That To The Bank, I Owe You One, Make That Move, Dead Giveaway and Disappearing Act feature too. Special guests are Jaki Graham and Cool Notes’ Lauraine McIntosh. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Celebrating England’s musical legacy: Academy of St Olave’s, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York, June 17, 8pm
THE Academy of St Olave’s chamber orchestra rounds off its 2022-23 season with a summer concert centred on England’s musical legacy, from symphonies written for London audiences by the great Austrian composers Mozart and Haydn, to works by English composers Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Paul Patterson.
The concert is book-ended by Mozart’s first symphony and Haydn’s hundredth, known as “The Military”. Mozart composed his work in London during his family’s Grand Tour of Europe in 1764, when the boy wonder was eight. Likewise, Haydn’s work was one of his 12 “London symphonies”, to be performed during his second visit to England in 1794-95. Box office: academyofstolaves.org.uk or on the door.
In Focus: Who are the York community chorus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar at York Theatre Royal?
SIX women – all inspirational leaders within the York and North Yorkshire community – will form the Chorus when the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production of Julius Caesar visits York Theatre Royal from June 13 to 17.
Step forward Hilary Conroy, Astrid Hanlon, Elaine Harvey, Stephanie Hesp, Anna Johnston and Frances Simon, under the musical direction of community choir leader Jessa Liversidge, from Easingwold, with Zoe Colven-Davies as chorus coordinator.
The women in next week’s chorus have roles in the community spanning activism and campaigning to charity and social work, lecturing, teaching and coaching. In their day-to-day lives they each make an impact on the York community, whether through fighting for social change, championing community voices, supporting vulnerable groups or encouraging engagement in the creative arts.
Between them, they lead and support a diverse range of groups and community causes, including supporting disabled and neurodivergent people, those impacted by dementia and mental health issues, people affected by loneliness and those suffering from domestic abuse. They empower others through the creative arts and performance and champion wellbeing in marginalised groups.
Leading the York group is music director Jessa Liversidge, calling on her wealth of experience with community choirs, inclusive singing groups and working with people of all ages to inspire them through music.
Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal’s creative director, says: “It’s a huge privilege for us to have these voices heard alongside the RSC’s actors, and we are so thankful for their input and commitment to the project.
“This production explores what makes a leader and asks questions about gender and power. Who better to take part than women who are already leaders in our community and in their workplace?
“The opportunity is exciting and empowering and is strong evidence of how committed the RSC is to meaningful collaboration with its regional theatre partners. We are incredibly proud to be able to contribute a local perspective into this nationwide conversation, and I can’t wait to see what our York women do.”
Explaining the role that the York community chorus will play, RSC director Atri Banerjee says: “Julius Caesar is a play about a nation in crisis, a play about the gulf between politicians and the people they are trying to rule.
“It just makes so much sense to me that this production would include ‘real’ people from where we are touring. So, alongside the professional acting company, we have found a way of integrating the communities from all the areas the show is playing.
“Community work has always been important to me, making work with non-professionals, whether that’s young people or non-professional adults.
“It’s not unusual for productions of Julius Caesar to have a chorus who come on to be the citizens of Rome and say ‘Read The Will’ and then you never see them again. But I wanted to include them to amplify the supernatural, apocalyptic terror within the play. They’ll be singing, using their voices, and will be present on stage for significant parts of the play. They will be something akin to the chorus you’d see in a Greek tragedy watching the action.
“Premonitions of death really. Premotions of figures who embody death in ways that go beyond these characters.”
Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 13 to 17, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
PRIDE is loud and proud this weekend in a city full of ideas, heated politics and apocalyptic music, as recommended by Charles Hutchinson.
Diverse celebration of the week: York Pride, city-centre parade at 12 noon, followed by festival until after-hours on Knavesmire
NORTH Yorkshire’s largest LGBT+ celebration sets out on a parade march from Duncombe Place, outside York Minster, processing along Bishopthorpe Road to the festival site on Knavesmire.
Hosted by Sordid Secret and Mamma Bear, the Main Stage welcomes Claire Richards, from Steps, Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, Union J’s Jaymi Hensley and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK finalist Kitty Scott-Claus. Plenty more acts take to the YOI Radio Stage and Family Area and the new Queer Arts Cabaret Tent (1.30pm to 7pm, headlined by York’s pink-attired Beth McCarthy). Full festival details at: yorkpride.org.uk.
Festival of the week and beyond: York Festival of Ideas 2023, until June 15
THIS University of York co-ordinated festival invites you to Rediscover, Reimagine, Rebuild in a programme of more than 150 free in-person and online events designed to educate, entertain and inspire.
Meet world-class speakers, experience performances, join entertaining family activities, explore York on guided tours and more! Topics range from archaeology to art, history to health and politics to psychology. Study the festival programme at yorkfestivalofideas.com.
Don’t myth it: The Flanagan Collective in The Gods The Gods The Gods, York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm; Slung Low at Temple, Water Lane, Holbeck, Leeds, tomorrow, 7.30pm (outdoor performance); Hull Truck Theatre, Stage One, June 29,7.30pm
WRIGHT & Grainger’s myth-making The Gods The Gods The Gods is performed as a 12-track album in an exhilarating weave of big beats, heavy basslines, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken word. In the absence of co-creators Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Megan Drury in New York and Australia respectively, Easingwold birthday boy Phil Grainger, 34 today, will be joined by Oliver Towse and Lucinda Turner from the West End original cast of Wright’s The Great Gatsby.
The 65-minute performance links stories of two youngsters who meet when out dancing, destined to fall hard; a woman on a beach, alone at night, looking at the stars, and a bloke on a bridge, thinking about jumping, just before dark, all at the crossroads where mythology meets real life. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Leeds, slunglow.org; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.
Comedy gig of the week: Patrick Monahan, Classy, Pocklington Arts Centre, tonight, 8pm
IN a world of groups, hierarchies and class systems, everyone tries so hard to fit in. What’s wrong with being a misfit? Be you, be proud!
From the caravan to the middle-class neighbourhood, Irish-Iranian comedian Patrick Monahan, 46, has taken four decades to realise this. Time for the Edinburgh Fringe regular to pass on his observations on living his contemporary life alongside stories of his upbringing. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Apocalypse now: Late Music presents Late Music Ensemble, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm
YORK Late Music concludes its 2022-23 season on a spectacular – if not entirely optimistic! – note tonight when the Late Music Ensemble, conducted by Nick Williams, opens up the End Of The World Jukebox.
Composers and players re-imagine the pop songs they would like to hear if Armageddon were nigh in arrangements of Imogen Heap’s Hide And Seek, David Bowie’s Warszawa, Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye and Bob Dylan’s Cat’s In The Well. The Beatles will be represented by The End from Abbey Road, alongside new works by Christopher Fox and Anthony Adams.
Williams’s nine-strong ensemble promises a broad musical spectrum through the presence of Edwina Smith (flute, piccolo), Jonathan Sage (clarinet, bass clarinet), Iain Harrison and Lucy Havelock (saxophones), Murphy McCaleb (bass trombone), Kate Ledger (piano, toy piano, voice), Tim Brooks (keyboards, piano), Catherine Strachan (cello) and Anna Snow (voice).
Due to unforeseen circumstances, today’s lunchtime concert by Stuart O’Hara has been postponed. It will, however, be rescheduled in the 2023-24 season, whose programme will be announced in the next few months.
While the End of the World cannot be avoided, York Late Music adminstrator Steve Crowther is an optimist who believes that, for now at least, the end is no nigher. A 6.45pm, pre-concert talk by Christopher Fox includes a complimentary glass of wine or fruit juice. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.
Folk gig of the week: Spiers & Boden, The Crescent, York, Wednesday, doors 7.30pm
THIS weekend the focus falls on the City of York Roland Walls Folk Weekend at the Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green. Meanwhile, the organisers, the Black Swan Folk Club, have teamed up with The Crescent to present Bellowhead big band cohorts Spiers & Boden in a seated concert next week.
John Spiers and Jon Boden re-formed their instrumental duo in 2021 after a seven-year hiatus to release the album Fallow Ground. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Defiant gig of the week: Mike Peters presents The Alarm (Acoustic), The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm
AFTER a year of health challenges, The Alarm leader Mike Peters returns to the stage this spring with a new album set for release in the summer.
Co-founder of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, the 64-year-old Welshman will be performing a one-man band electro-acoustic set list of songs from all four decades of The Alarm discography. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Troubadour of the week: Steve Earle, The Alone Again Tour, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm
AS his tour title suggests, legendary Americana singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, novelist, short story writer and radio presenter Steve Earle will be performing solo and acoustic in York: the only Yorkshire gig of a ten-date itinerary without his band The Dukes that will take in the other Barbican, in London, and Glastonbury.
Born in Fort Monroae National Monument, Hampton, Virginia, Earle grew up in Texas and began his songwriting career in Nashville, releasing his first EP in 1982 and debut album Guitar Town in 1986, since when he has branched out from country music into rock, bluegrass, folk music and blues. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
Brass at full blast: Shepherd Group Brass Band: Stage And Screen, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 10, 7pm
SHEPHERD Group Brass Band’s late-spring concert showcases music from across the repertoire of stage and screen, featuring five bands from the York organisation, ranging from beginners to championship groups, culminating with a grand finale from all the bands. Tickets update: only the last few are still available on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Power play: Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 13 to 17, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees
ATRI Banerjee directs this fast-paced political thriller on the RSC’s return to York Theatre Royal in a fresh interpretation of Julius Caesar with a female Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira) and non-binary Cassius (Annabel Baldwin) that asks: how far would we go for our principles?
Concerned that divisive leader Julius Caesar (Nigel Barrett) poses a threat to democracy, revolutionaries take the violent decision to murder him but without a plan for what happens next. As the world spins out of control, chaos, horror and superstition rush in to fill the void. Civil war erupts and a new leader must rise, but at what cost? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
HEAVYWEIGHT comedy, hardcore rock, reshaped Shakespeare and a ‘roarsome’ children’s show fire up Charles Hutchinson’s enthusiasm for the week ahead.
Resurrection of the week: Mr H presents RSJ, The Crescent, York, tonight, doors 7pm
YORK’S mightiest metalcore groovers reunite for a special one-off show, fronted once more by Dan Cook, now of Raging Speedhorn. “RSJ were/are one of the most intense groove and hardcore noise monsters, not just in York but across the UK. It’s no wonder they stormed stages at Bloodstock, Knebworth and Hellfire,” says promoter Tim Hornsby.
RSJ’s spine-rattling polyrhythms and huge guitars will be preceded by the return of much-missed melodic hardcore band Beyond All Reason and Disinfo. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Lancastrian in York of the week: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Justin Moorhouse, Stretch And Think, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 7.30pm
MANCHESTER stand-up, radio presenter and actor Justin Moorhouse is back, “still funny, yet middle aged” (he’s 52), in a new suit for a new show that may contain thoughts on yoga, growing older, Madonna, shoplifters, Labradoodles, cyclists, the menopause, running, hating football fans but loving football…
…not drinking, funerals, tapas, Captain Tom, Droylsden, the environment, self-improvement, horses, the odd advantages of fundamental religions, the gym and shop-door etiquette. “Come, it’ll be fun,” he says. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
School project of the week: York Theatre Royal and Royal Shakespeare Company presentYork Associate Schools Playmaking Festival of The Merchant Of Venice, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 6.30pm
SHAKESPEARE’S playis told in six sections by six schools each night, using choral and ensemble approaches to relate Shylock’s story through multiple bodies and voices in a celebration of the joy of performance that explores themes of prejudice, friendship and self-interest.
Participating schools on March 28: Acomb Primary, Applefields School, Millthorpe School, Vale of York Academy, St Barnabas CE Primary; March 29, Clifton Green Primary, Poppleton Road Primary, Brayton Academy, Scarcroft Primary, Fulford School and Joseph Rowntree School. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Shake-up of the week: The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Thursday to April 15
ORIGINALLY by Shakespeare, now messed around with by Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane, SJT director Paul Robinson’s vibrant new staging of the Bard’s most bonkers farce arrives in a co-production with Prescot’s Shakespeare North Playhouse.
The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less) is brought to life in neon-lit 1980s’ Scarborough. Cue mistaken identities, theatrical chaos and belting musical numbers from the era of big phones and even bigger shoulder pads. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.SEE REVIEW BELOW.
Revival of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Oh! What A Lovely War, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March 31 to April 8, 7.30pm, except April 2 and 3; 2.30pm, April 1, 2 and 8
PICK Me Up Theatre present a 60th anniversary production of Oh! What A Lovely War, a satirical chronicle of the First World War, told through songs and documents in the form of a seaside Pierrot entertainment.
Devised and presented by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1963 before being turned into a film by Richard Attenborough in 1969, now it is in the hands of Robert Readman’s York cast. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Children’s show of the week: Freckle Productions in Zog, York Theatre Royal, March 31, 4.30pm; April 1, 10.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm
JULIA Donaldson and Alex Scheffler’s Zog takes to the stage in a magical Freckle Productions show most suitable for age three upwards, although all ages are welcome. Zog is trying very hard to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school, perhaps too hard, as he bumps, burns and roars his way through Years 1, 2 and 3.
Luckily plucky Princess Pearl patches him up, ready to face his biggest challenge yet: a duel with knight Sir Gadabout the Great. Emma Kilbey directs; Joe Stilgoe provides the songs. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Still in rude health: Roy “Chubby” Brown, York Barbican, March 31, 7.30pm
ROY “Chubby” Brown – real name Royston Vasey, from Grangetown, Middlesbrough – is on the road again at 78, 50 years into a blue comedy career that carries the warning: “If easily offended, please stay away”.
Chubby may not be everyone’s cup of tea but a lot of people like tea, he says. Thirty DVDs in 30 years, thousands of shows worldwide and four books testify to the abiding popularity of a profane joker full of frank social commentary, forthright songs and contempt for political correctness. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Where there is despair, may they bring Hope: Ferocious Dog, supported by Mark Chadwick, York Barbican, April 1, 7pm
FEROCIOUS Dog, a Left-leaning six-piece from Warsop, Nottinghamshire, slot somewhere between Levellers and early Billy Bragg in their vibrant vein of Celtic folk-infused punk rock.
Fifth album Hope came out in 2021, charting at number 31 in the Official UK Charts. Special guest will be Levellers’ leader Mark Chadwick, joined by Ferocious Dog violinist Dan Booth for part of his 7pm set. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Early sighter of the week:York Open Studios 2023 Taster Exhibition, The Hospitium, Museum Gardens, York, April 1 and 2, 10am to 4pm
FOR the first time since 2019, York Open Studios will be launched with a taster exhibition next weekend featuring examples of work by most of the 150 artists and makers set to open their studio doors on April 15, 16, 22 and 23.
This free preview gives a flavour of what will be coming up at more than 100 venues next month. Full details of this year’s artists and locations can be found at yorkopenstudios.co.uk. Look out for booklets around York.
In Focus: Luke Wright, The Remains Of Logan Dankworth, Selby Town Hall, March 30, 8pm
PERFORMANCE poet Luke Wright returns to Selby Town Hall on Thursday to peform his 2022 Edinburgh Fringe political verse play The Remains Of Logan Dankworth.
Columnist and Twitter warrior Logan Dankworth grew up romanticising the political turmoil of the 1980s. Now, as the EU Referendum looms, he is determined to be in the fray of the biggest political battle for years.
Meanwhile, Logan’s wife Megan wants to leave London to better raise their daughter. As tensions rise at home and across the nation, something is set to be lost forever.
The third in Wright’s trilogy of lyrically rich plays looks at trust, fatherhood and family in the age of Brexit. Winner of The Saboteur Award for Best Show, it picked up four and five-star from the Telegraph, the Scotsman, the Stage and British Theatre Guide.
Wright was a founder member of poetry collective Aisle16, who shook up the spoken-word scene in the 2000s, helping to kick-start a British renaissance of the form. He is the regular tour support for John Cooper Clarke and often hosts shows for The Libertines.
He is a frequent guest on BBC Radio 4, a Fringe First winner for writing and a Stage Award winner for performance.
“Luke Wright is an astonishing performer and one of the best political writers around today, whose wonderful, lyrical writing translates really well to full-length plays,” says Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones.
“I was lucky enough to see The Remains Of Logan Dankworth in Edinburgh last summer and made sure I booked it for Selby Town Hall straight away. It’s a brilliantly told story by a powerhouse poet.”
For tickets: ring 01757 708449 or book online at selbytownhall.co.uk.
REVIEW: The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough *****
Stephen Joseph Theatre and Shakespeare North Playhouse in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until April 15, 7.30pm plus 1.30pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com
THIS Comedy Of Errors gets everything right. Not more or less. Just right. Full stop.
Shakespeare’s “most bonkers farce” has been entrusted to Nick Lane, madly inventive writer of the SJT’s equally bonkers pantomime, and Elizabeth Godber, a blossoming writing talent from the East Yorkshire theatrical family.
How does this new partnership work? In a nutshell, Lane has penned the men’s lines, Godber, the female ones, before the duo moulded the finale in tandem.
SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, meanwhile, selected a criminally good play list of Eighties’ guilty pleasures, from Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again to Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, Nik Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It Be Good to Toni Basil’s Mickey, Cher’s Just Like Jesse James to Kenny Loggins’ Footloose, to be sung in character or as an ensemble with Northern Chorus oomph.
Aptly, the opening number is an ensemble rendition of Dream Academy’s one-hit wonder, Life In A Northern Town, that town being 1980s’ Scarborough, just as Lane always roots his pantomimes in the Yorkshire resort.
From an original idea by Robinson, Lane and Godber’s reinvention of Shakespeare’s comedy is not too far-fetched but far enough removed to take on its own personality and, frankly, be much, much funnier as a result. To the point where one woman in the front row was in the grip of a fit of giggles. Yes, that joyous.
For Ephesus, a city on the Ionian coast with a busy port, read Scarborough, a town on the Yorkshire coast with a fishing harbour, although all the fish and chip cafés were shut without explanation on the evening of the press night. Was something fishy going on?
Ephesus was governed by Duke Solinus; Scarborough is run by Andy Cryer’s oleaginous Solinus. Still the merry-go-round action is spun around outdoor public spaces on Jessica Curtis’s set, where protagonists bump into each other like dodgem cars. Just as Syracusans were subject to strict rules in the original play, now Lancastrians are given the Yorkshire cold shoulder in a new war of the roses, besmirched Eccles Cakes et al.
So begins a tale of two rival states and two sets of mismatched twins (Antipholus and Dromio times two) on one nutty day at the seaside. Cue a mishmash of mistaken identities, mayhem agogo, and merriment to the manic max, conducted at an ever more frenetic lick.
It worked wonders for Richard Bean in One Man, Two Guvnors, his Swinging Sixties’ revamp of Goldoni’s 1743 Italian Commedia dell’arte farce, The Servant Of Two Masters, setting his gloriously chaotic caper, as chance would have it, in another English resort: Brighton. Now The Comedy Of Errors evens up the mathematical equation for two plus two to equal comedy nirvana from so much division.
One ‘guvnor’, Lancastrian comic actor Antipholus of Prescot (Peter Kirkbride) crosses the Pennine divide to perform his one-man show. Trouble is, everyone has booked tickets for the talent show across the bay, starring t’other ‘guvnor’, the twin brother he has never met, Antipholus of Scarborough (David Kirkbride, different first name, but same actor, giving licence for amusing parallel biographies in the programme).
The two ‘servants’ of the piece, Dromio of Prescot and Scarborough respectively (Oliver/Zach Mawdsley), are equally unaware of the other’s presence, compounding a trail of confusion rooted in Scarborough’s Antipholus owing money everywhere but still promising his wife a gold chain. He needs to win the contest to appease Scarborough’s more unsavoury sorts.
Kirkbride takes the acting honours in his hyperactive double act with himself, Mawdsley a deux is a picture of perplexity; Cryer, in his 40th year of SJT productions, is comedy gold as ever in chameleon roles; likewise, Claire Eden fills the stage with diverse riotous, no-nonsense character, whether from Lancashire or Yorkshire.
Valerie Antwi, Alyce Liburd and Ida Regan, each required to put up with the maelstrom of male malarkey, add so much to the comedic commotion, on song throughout too.
Under Robinson’s zesty, witty direction, everything in Scarborough must be all at sea and yet somehow emerge as comic plain sailing, breaking down theatre’s fourth wall to forewarn with a knowing wink of the need to suspend disbelief when seeing how the company will play the two sets of twins once, spoiler alert, they finally meet.
Who knew shaken-and-stirred Shakespeare could be this much fun, enjoying life in the fast Lane with Godber gumption galore too. Add the Yorkshire-Lancashire spat and those Eighties’ pop bangers, Wayne Parsons’ choreography and the fabulous costumes, and this is the best Bard comedy bar none since Joyce Branagh’s Jazz Age Twelfth Night for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2019.
When The Comedy Of Errors meets the 1980s, the laughs are even bigger than the shoulder pads. A case of more, not less.
WATFORD Palace Theatre’s ground-breaking new production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice will visit York Theatre Royal on tour from November 14 to 18.
Tracy-Ann Oberman, from EastEnders, Doctor Who and Friday Night Dinner, will play Shylock on an autumn itinerary that will open at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from September 21 to October 7.
Developed in association with HOME Manchester and with support from the RSC, The Merchant Of Venice 1936 is adapted and directed by Brigid Larmour from an idea by co-creator Oberman. Their thought-provoking and timely reimagining relocates the action to an electrifying new setting: London in 1936.
The capital city is on the brink of political unrest, fascism is sweeping across Europe and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists is threatening a paramilitary march through the Jewish East End. Strong-willed single mother Shylock runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street, where Mosley will march.
When charismatic, anti-Semitic aristocrat Antonio comes to her for a loan, a high-stakes deal is struck. Will Shylock take her revenge? Who will pay the ultimate price?
“It has a been a lifelong dream of mine to bring this play to the stage in a new way, reimagining Shylock as one of the tough, no-nonsense Jewish matriarchs I grew up around in Brent,” says London-born actress, playwright and narrator Oberman, 56.
“I’m delighted this project is finally happening and look forward to sparking debate and enlightening people about a pivotal but largely forgotten part of British history – just how close the establishment were to Oswald Mosley and his British Union Of Fascists. I cannot wait to take this important, sharp, sexy and heartfelt production to theatres around the country.”
Oberman played Chrissie Watts in the BBC One soap opera EastEnders from 2004 to 2005; Yvonne Hartman in a two-part Doctor Who story, Army Of Ghosts/Doomsday, and Valerie Lewis or “Auntie Val” in the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner from 2011 to 2020.
Larmour’s production will open at Watford Palace Theatre on February 27 before transferring to HOME Manchester from March 15. Joining her in the production team will be costume and set designer Liz Cooke, lighting designer Rory Beaton, sound design Sarah Weltman and composer Erran Baron Cohen (yes, actor/comedian Sacha’s older brother).
Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Eilene Davidson Productions are producing the tour in association with the RSC, HOME Manchester and Watford Palace Theatre.
Tickets for the York run can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
LAURA McMillan is the new theatre director of the Grand Opera House, York, taking over from the short-lived appointment of JJ Almond.
She is relocating from Coventry, where she was director of audience strategy at Coventry City Culture Trust, the charity responsible for the delivery of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture 2021.
Laura aims to “ensure the Grand Opera House is rooted in the wider city of York and is seen as a welcoming place where locals and visitors can spend quality time”. Her ambitious programming, following this summer and autumn’s refurbishment of the Cumberland Street building, will “continue to bring world-class, high-quality shows to the heart of York”, including music, comedy, theatre and dance.
Laura also wants to build on the Grand Opera House legacy of providing a stage for the very best of York talent.
“Our new creative learning producer, Kelly Culver, will help us open up behind the scenes at the theatre more than ever before,” she says. “We will also work with local schools and colleges to provide incredible experiences and introduce them to the world of working in a theatre.”
Laura adds: “The theatre’s new Ambassador Theatre Lounge will help us provide that next level of VIP exclusive experiences for our audiences joining us to celebrate a special occasion, or just treating themselves.
“In the short term, I’m so excited to welcome Berwick Kaler back for a season of hilarious family fun [in the pantomime The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose from December 10 to January 8 2023].”
In Coventry, Laura was the first employee of the Coventry City of Culture Trust in October 2015, becoming responsible for overseeing all aspects of the bidding process, including the coordination of writing the bids, managing multiple stakeholders across the region and presenting to the judges.
In her last role at the trust, Laura was in charge of the marketing, communications, ticketing, digital content and monitoring and evaluation departments and was part of the senior management team.
She oversaw the trust’s audience development and tourism strategies and was a member of the West Midlands Combined Authority Regional Tourism Board and Destination Management Organisation Board.
In The Queen’s Birthday Honours 2022, Laura was awarded an MBE for services to culture and the community in Coventry. Before joining the trust, she had worked in the sales and marketing department of Warwick Castle, then moved to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s marketing department for four years in Stratford-upon-Avon.
SIR David Suchet will retrace his steps as a young actor when he visits 20 theatres with Poirot And More, A Retrospective, playing York Theatre Royal twice on October 13.
After touring the show to Australia and New Zealand in early 2020, the autumn tour will mark his return to the British stage.
Suchet says: “Regional theatre has always been very close to my heart as it’s where my career started and was nurtured. To visit so many places that have meant so much to me during my 52-year career is wonderful.
“This show is my way of connecting and saying hello to people across the country after this terrible period and welcoming them back into the theatre. I am looking forward to sharing my memories, stories and favourite moments.”
In Poirot And More, A Retrospective, 75-year-old Suchet looks back fondly on his illustrious five-decade career, shedding new, intimate light on his most beloved performances in conversation with Geoffrey Wansell, journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of Poirot And Me, as they discuss the actor behind the detective and the many characters Suchet has portrayed on stage and screen
For more than 25 years, Suchet has captivated millions worldwide as Agatha Christie’s dapper Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Elsewhere, he has graced the world’s stages performing Shakespeare, Wilde, Albee and Miller and is celebrated for his portrayals of iconic roles such as Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, Cardinal Benelli in The Last Confession, Joe Keller in All My Sons and Gregory Solomon in The Price.
Suchet spent 13 years in the Royal Shakespeare Company and remains an associate artist. He is an Emmy award winner and seven-time Olivier Award nominee (for The Merchant Of Venice, Separation, Oleanna, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Amadeus, All My Sons and The Price). In 2020, he was knighted for services to drama and charity.
Tickets for Suchet’s 3pm and 8pm shows on October 13 are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
JULIET Forster has cut it as a director of Romeo And Juliet many times. Now she has sliced Shakespeare’s “two the two hours’ traffic of our stage” to 45 minutes, maybe 50, for CBeebies’ show tomorrow morning.
“I did joke about that at rehearsals because my previous production, at Blenheim Palace, ran to three hours and 15 minutes,” says Juliet, York Theatre Royal’s creative director.
She had been lined up for the children’s television production as long ago as December 2019. “Anna Perowne, who has produced the performance, had newly taken over BBC Shakespeare, having worked previously for the Royal Shakespeare Company,” says Juliet.
“It was partly that thing of a new producer looking at it in a new way, wanting to work with a director who would allow more input from the actors.
“She’d found the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre production of Romeo And Juliet I’d just done at Blenheim that summer, and when we met, we got on immediately. Then, put that together with the fact I’ve done a lot of children’s theatre and plenty of Shakespeare.”
The list runs deep for Romeo And Juliet alone. “In 2005, I did a Family Day at the RSC with children and parents taking part in a Shakespeare workshop,” says Juliet. “I’ve done an interactive version of Romeo And Juliet with some very young children and a youth theatre version at York Theatre Royal.
“I’ve adapted it for five to seven year olds in a way for them to tell the story; I adapted it for a Pilot Theatre production and I’ve directed it with a teenage cast in a play-in-a-week school project I ran with my old company years and years ago in the Midlands.”
Who better, then, to direct yet another variation on Shakespeare’s tragic story of young love and feuding families than Juliet? “We were supposed to record it last May, but the pandemic delayed it until we could kick off working on it again in December,” she says.
CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet combines Shakespeare’s characters with the additional roles of William Shakespeare himself and a librarian. “What the producer wanted was a good cohort of recognised CBeebies faces and actors, so I watched the other two CBeebies’ Shakespeare shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, to see how they were done,” says Juliet.
“We talked about ‘why do a complicated play for such little ones?’, but then we talked about the positive messages in there: the families putting an end to their feud and the importance of not giving in to bad things too easily, instead looking to live in peace and to put a stop to the fighting.
“That made it a show very much for the CBeebies audience, in this case for two to seven year olds…though lots of older children watch it too; they just don’t admit it!”
Juliet worked with Nathan Cockerill on the script, calling on her past experiences of adapting the text. “I looked back at what I’d left in and taken out for the five to seven-year-olds’ script I wrote and fleshed it out from there, also looking at my Pilot Theatre script to see how I’d edited it down for that show,” she says.
“Nathan was someone who’d worked with CBeebies before, and we worked on a script knowing that Shakespeare and a companion or companions always feature in a CBeebies Shakespeare show. This time Shakespeare is much more involved.”
Juliet has directed a cast of 15, featuring such CBeebies names as Andy Day, Chris Jarvis, Jennie Dale, Gemma Hunt, Rebecca Keatley and Justin Fletcher, of Mr Tumble fame, as Peter the Clown. Zach Wyatt, from Shakespeare’s Globe, will play Romeo; Evie Pickerill, Juliet.
“We rehearsed it and filmed it at Leeds Playhouse, all done and dusted two weeks ago, with just one day of filming with three runs of the show, making it like a piece of live theatre, though we couldn’t have an audience, of course,” says Juliet.
Joining Forster in the production team were designer Rhys Jarman, renewing their creative partnership from A View From The Bridge and The Machine Stops at York Theatre Royal, choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, lighting designer Will Evans and costume designer Mary Lamb.
“We then rehearsed from March 9, five days, then four days of tech and rehearsals, then filming,” says Juliet. “It was absolutely joyful because we were always keeping the young television audience in mind, how to carry them through such a tricky story.
“To have those experienced CBeebies performers and Shakespeare actors was invaluable. They set the tone. That was part of what was interesting for me as I’ve never made anything specifically for the telly before, but at the same time thinking about making something for a live audience, though that wasn’t the case!
“What we had to do was to get the best ‘blocking’ [the cast’s positions on stage], trying to make it as right as possible for the camera, but still making it very theatrical as Shakespeare is theatre.”
CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet will be shown on CBeebies tomorrow (2/4/2021) at 9.30am and soon after on BBC iPlayer.