More Things To Do in York and beyond when moments of laughter, sadness and reflection make List No. 66, from The Press

Beth Hutchinson in her monologue in Rowntree Players’ premiere of The Missing Peace. Picture: Duncan Lomax

FROM The Missing Peace to Shed Seven at the races, Charles Hutchinson finds the missing pieces to fill your diary

Premiere of the week: Rowntree Players in The Missing Peace, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 27 to 29, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

ROWNTREE Players director Gemma McDonald has adapted York author, singer, motivational conference speaker and charity champion Big Ian Donaghy’s book The Missing Peace, now billed as “One play…15 endings”.

On stage, Donaghy’s exploration of life after death takes the form of 15 Talking Heads-style monologues, many drawn from interviews he conducted in York. “It’s not a play about death, it’s a play about life,” he says. “There will be moments of laughter, sadness and reflection throughout.”

Look out for Mark Addy, who has recorded the narrator’s role as the Station Announcer. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes of The Shires: Acoustic show in their regular haunt of Pocklington

Country gig of the week: The Shires – Acoustic, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 26, 8pm

THE Shires, Britain’s best-selling country music act, bring their 2022 intimate acoustic tour to Pocklington on the back of working on their upcoming fifth album.

Award-winning duo Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes have made a habit of playing Pocklington since their Studio debut in 2014, appearing regularly at PAC and playing the Platform Festival at The Old Station in 2016 and 2019. To check ticket availability, go to pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk or call 01759 301547. 

Ross Noble: What is a Humournoid? Find out, or maybe not, in his new tour show

Comedy gig of the week: Ross Noble: Humournoid, Grand Opera House, York, January 29, 8pm

WHAT happens when a creature is created and bred to do stand up, asks Geordie comic Ross Noble in his Covid-delayed but finally here new tour show, Humournoid?

“Nobody knows because that isn’t a thing,” says his tour blurb. “What is a thing is Ross Noble doing a show. You can come and see it. This is it.”

As ever with this improviser supreme, it turns out Humournoid has no theme, says Noble, who promises a typically freewheeling performance on his return to one of his five favourite venues in the world. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.

Porridge Radio: Brighton band making waves at The Crescent in York. Picture: El Hardwick

If you discover one band this month, make it: Porridge Radio, The Crescent, York, January 31, 7.30pm

EVERY Bad, their 2020 album released by the super-cool Secretly Canadian label, has propelled Porridge Radio from a word-of-mouth gem of Brighton’s DIY scene to one of the country’s most exciting upcoming bands.

“Last here opening for BC Camplight, we’re very pleased to see them return,” say promoters Please Please You and Brudenell Presents. Pet Shimmers, a new supercharged seven-piece from Bristol, support. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Malaika Kegode: Guest poet at Say Owt Slam’s return to The Crescent

Word wars: Say Owt Slam with guest poet Malaika Kegode, The Crescent, York, February 5, 7.30pm

BRISTOL writer, performer and producer Malaika Kegode will be the special guest at York spoken-word hub Say Owt’s first Slam night for more than two years.

Kegode has appeared at WOMAD and Edinburgh Book Festival, published two poetry collections with Burning Eye Books and created Outlier, an autobiographical gig-theatre with prog-rock band Jakabol. Passionate about cinema, culture and race, her lyrical work journeys through lives and loves, exploring genre, form and the power of the written word made visual.

In the raucous poetry Slam, performers will have three minutes each to wow the audience. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Contrarian comedian Alfie Brown: Emotional moments in his Sensitive Man show

Moral dilemmas: Alfie Brown: Sensitive Man, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 10, 8pm

DOES emotion help us make moral judgments? In his new show, contrarian comedian Alfie Moore will address this question, using jokes.

These jokes will weave together to create something greater than the sum of their parts, answering a question about emotion and its complicated relationship with morality.

“I refute that I am saying things to plainly and wilfully disrupt social progress,” he says. “I am not. I might seem smug, I know, apologies, and I am often misunderstood. So, at this particular point in the unfolding history of meaning, intention, signs and signifiers, I am sometimes going to tell you what I mean.” Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Florence Odumosu as Nina Simone in Black Is The Color Of My Voice at the SJT, Scarborough

Nina’s blues: Black Is The Color Of My Voice, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, March 12, 7.30pm

FLORENCE Odumosu plays Nina Simone in Apphia Campbell’s story of the North Carolina-born jazz and blues singer and activist seeking redemption after the untimely death of her father. 

Simone reflects on the journey that took her from a young piano prodigy, destined for a life in the service of the church, to a renowned vocalist and pianist at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Chasing winners: Shed Seven to play after the May 14 race card at Doncaster Racecourse

Racing certainty…hopefully: Shed Seven, Live After Racing @Doncaster Racecourse, May 14, from 11.15am

YORK band Shed Seven’s day at the races should have taken place on May 15 2021, but Covid made it a non-runner. Now they are under starter’s orders at Doncaster Racecourse for a hit-laden live set after the May 15 race card this spring.

Among the Sheds’ runners and riders will be Going For Gold, Chasing Rainbows, She Left Me On Friday, Disco Down, Dolphin, Where Have You Been Tonight? and fan favourites from 2017’s comeback album Instant Pleasures, Room In My House and Better Days. For tickets for the race-day and concert package, go to: doncaster-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on.

Say Owt to spark up their winter spoken words at The Crescent in December return

Owt and about again: Say Owt artistic director Henry Raby, left, and co-founder and cheese trader Stu Freestone spark up the spoken word anew on December 11

SAY Owt, York’s loveable gang of performance poets, are back in live action for the first time since the summer for a night of socially distanced spoken word at The Crescent on December 11.

In start-stop-restart-stop again 2020, these loquacious hosts of high-energy bursts of words and verse have hosted live-streams in lockdowns, most recently Lovely Lockdown Lyricism last Friday, and pop-up poetry on York Theatre Royal’s patio in August.

Stepping up to the mic on December 11 will be Say Owt’s A-team of Henry Raby, Hannah Davies, Stu Freestone and Dave Jarman, joined by special guest poets Katie Greenbrown and Ruth Awolola. In a nutshell, here comes a slam-winning sextet of soulful poets with modern, relevant and upbeat verse.

Hannah Davies: Slam champ and word weaver

“The night will feature a set of banging poems, full of wit and humour to warm your soul this December,” says artistic director Henry. “Expect some brand-new pieces, improv poetry and a few silly surprises hiding up our spoken-word sleeves!

“Last Friday’s online gig was good: it’s just nice to keep connecting with our audience. Now Say Owt and The Crescent want to give you a night of energy and warmth after a tough year.”

The Crescent, in The Crescent, off Blossom Street, York, will have a Covid-secure, socially distanced seated capacity of 60. “The performers and the venue are following all regulations and guidelines to keep the audience as safe as possible,” says Henry.

Tickets for this 7pm gig cost £10, available in batches of one to four at: http://thecrescentyork.com/events/s-d-show-say-owt/

Special guest: Katie Greenbrown

Say Owt Showcase quartet want a word with you…at a social distance near you

They’ll say owt to entertain you: Stu Freestone, Henry Raby, Hannah Davies and Dave Jarman

DO you want an assortment of noisy, slam-winning York performance poets, word-weavers and gobheads to perform at a social distance near you?

If so, the Say Owt Showcase luminaries Henry Raby, Stu Freestone, Hannah Davies and Dave Jarman are the quartet to entertain you, being “ideal for socially distanced spaces and audiences”.

“We’re York’s lovable and raucous poetry gang and we’re available to programme and present high-energy, 60-minute showcases of the sharp, relevant, hilarious and engaging spoken word,” says Henry, director of the Say Owt’s “war of the words” slam nights.

Stu Freestone: “Cheekiest of rogues”

“Say Owt’s word-warriors have delighted in ripping up stages at the Great Yorkshire Fringe and the Arts Barge in York, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Ilkley Literature Festival, and last month we performed as part of York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, a bubbled and socially distanced event.

“Our Say Owt Showcase on August 28 sold out and played to a drizzly, but happy, audience.”

Performance poet in residence at the Deer Shed Festival, author, playwright and event organiser Raby is noted for his punk poetry being anarchic and raw, with a sharp political edge, much like his regular Tweets.

Taking the mic: Henry Raby in action

He has performed at Latitude Festival, Boomtown Fair and the Intentional Youth Arts Festival and toured with Creative Arts East and Apples and Snakes’ Public Address Tour.

His latest solo show, Apps And Austerity, looks back over the past decade of technology and stultifying, stringent political policies, as aired at the Pop-Up festival last Friday.

Freestone, Raby’s fellow co-founder of Say Owt, is the cheekiest of rogues with his devilish facial hair and a penchant for Hip-Hop. His work is blissful, engrossing and, above all, unflinchingly honest.

Hannah Davies: Addresses themes of young love, female identity and the small moments that makes us smile

An actor too, he has worked with various York companies and in 2015 was nominated for Best Spoken Word Artist at the Saboteur Awards. The only thing remotely cheesy about him is when he may have served you from behind the counter at The Cheese Trader in Grape Lane.

When playwright, actor, poet, writing course tutor and stage director Hannah Davies “isn’t trying to smash the patriarchy”, she is busy with her York theatre company Common Ground. 

Hannah has won slams across the UK and was a finalist in the BBC Fringe Slam 2017, and her work encapsulates themes of young love, female identity and the small moments that make us smile.

Dave Jarman: Plucking words out of the air like the ripest of fruit

Say Owt associate artist Dave Jarman describes himself as a “word-gobbing, ukulele-strumming, bodhran-abusing poet from t’North”.

Resident poet for the Great Yorkshire Fringe in 2017, playwright, actor and occasional Elf, he reflects on community, people, places and our national identity in his poetry and performances.

For more information on how to send for the four wordsmen of the apocalypse to do a show for you, email info@sayowt.co.uk.

Why Barber Shop Chronicles was “the hardest play” Inua Ellams had to write…

Inua Ellams: Writer of Barber Shop Chronicles

BARBER Shop Chronicles, the Leeds Playhouse co-production with the National Theatre, will be streamed on the National Theatre at Home’s YouTube channel from May 14.

Staged in the Courtyard at the Leeds theatre in July 2017 and filmed at the National Theatre’s Dorfman theatre in January 2018, Inua Ellams’ international hit play will be shown in a never-before-seen archive recording.

Barber Shop Chronicles tells the interwoven tales of black men from across the globe who, for generations, have gathered in barber shops, where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always cutting.

Co-produced with third partner Fuel, Bijan Sheibani’s production went on to play BAM in New York before a London return to the Roundhouse last summer and further performances at Leeds Playhouse last autumn.

The National Theatre at Home initiative takes NT Live into people’s homes during the Coronavirus shutdown of theatres and cinemas with free screenings, each production being shown on demand for seven days after the first 7pm show on Thursdays.

National Theatre at Home is free of charge but should viewers wish to make a donation, money donated via YouTube will be shared with the co-producing theatre organisations of each stream, including Leeds Playhouse, to help support the Playhouse through this period of closure and uncertainty.    

For more information, go to https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/at-home.

The Barber Shop Chronicles company on stage on the theatre-in-the-square set design. Production pictures: Marc Brenner

Here Nigerian playwright and performance poet Inua Ellams answers questions put to him before Barber Shop Chronicles’ return to Leeds Playhouse last November.

What inspired you to write Barber Shop Chronicles? 

“Back in 2010, someone gave me a flyer about a pilot project to teach barbers the very basics of counselling. I was surprised that conversations in barber shops were so intimate, that someone thought that barbers should be trained in counselling, and also that they wanted the counselling project sessions to happen in the barber shop.

“This meant that, on some level, the person who was organising this thought there was something sacred about barber shops.

“Initially, I wanted to create a sort of poetry and graphic art project where I would create illustrations or portraits of the men while they got their hair cut; writing poems based on the conversations I’d overhear.

“I failed to get that project off the ground but the idea just stayed with me for a couple of years, until I got talking to Kate McGrath from Fuel who liked the idea. Together we approached the National Theatre.”  

Cyril Nri as Emmanuel in Barber Shop Chronicles

You describe your plays as “failed poems”. Why was this idea better suited to a play? 

“The voices in my head just began to grow bigger and louder. When this happens, the poems become multi-voiced and turn into dialogue. Eventually this dialogue breaks away from the poetic form altogether.

“The idea of Barber Shop Chronicles was suited to a play because there were several voices feeding into the conversations within the sacred spaces that barber shops seemed to be.  

How did you create the show? 

“I began with a month-long residency at the National Theatre in London, then a week-long residency at Leeds Playhouse. I then had six weeks of research travelling through the African continent; in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana.

“I returned with about 60 hours of recordings, which I whittled down to a four-hour play and then, eventually, to an hour and forty-five minute show.”

Abdul Salis (Simon) and Patrice Naiambana (Paul) in Barber Shop Chronicles

How does it differ to write for other people to perform rather than yourself

“It’s not that different. I guess I just know from the get-go that I’m not going to be the performer of the text. The difference is when it comes to the rehearsal period. Up until then, when I’m writing, it’s just various shades of my voice speaking in my head, or various shades of me coming out in various voices in my head.

“Then, when I get into the rehearsal space and I see other actors take on the lines, it becomes something else. Initially there is just a story that I’m trying to find the best voices to articulate.

“Also, whenever I write poetry, I don’t always imagine I’m the one performing it because most people will first interrogate the poems in book form. They will read it with their own voices.” 

How does it feel to write the play and hand it over to others to bring to life? 

“It’s all about trust and that is mediated by the director. It can be very nerve-racking. It can also be very exposing for other people to take your words and do what they will with them.

“They can find that moments in the play are not as subtle as you imagined they were and critique and ask questions. But this is all conducive to creating better art. So, this has definitely been a positive experience with this play.” 

Peter Bankole and Anthony Walsh in a scene from Barber Shop Chronicles

Why is Barber Shop Chronicles so important today, and what do you hope people will take away from the play?

“In the past few years, images of black bodies being brutalised by law enforcement were everywhere. On Twitter. Shared in WhatsApp groups. On prime-time news. As a prequel to think pieces, from the New York Times to the Guardian. The images and stories were trending in the US and in the UK.

“I can’t speak about the importance of my work; that is an equation solved by an audience, but I can speak about the psychological violence those videos and images did, and the need for them to be countered somehow.

“Barber Shop Chronicles does that. It shows black men at rest. At play. Talking. Laughing. Joking. Not being statistics, targets, tragedies, spectres or spooks; just humans, breathing in a room.” 

The show has toured to Australia and New Zealand as well as having two sold-out runs at the National Theatre and playing Leeds Playhouse in 2017 and 2019. Did you envisage such success?

“No. Writing is an act of faith, a prayer. You sit before a sheet of paper or a laptop and pour into it your fears and wishes, conversations you have been having with yourself. At some point, you pass that on to the director and the actors and they have conversations with the script.

“You can feed into that and tweak things, but from that point on, it is largely out of your control. It is not a play until the audience have been invited into the room, until the lights go on.

“And every instance of the journey feels like a kamikaze mission or an impossible equation to hold in the mind, let alone arrive at some sort of suspicion of an answer. I could not have envisaged any of its success.”  

Patrice Naiambana as Simphiwe in Barber Shop Chronicles

What was the first play to make you want to write plays?

“It was a play called Something Dark written and performed by Lemn Sissay, who is also a poet, playwright and performer.”

What was your background to becoming a playwright?

“I began writing long poems, which I would perform myself with a little bit of theatrical language. I slowly began to write longer poems to be performed by other people, then for larger casts and from there I slid into writing radio plays and subsequently stage plays. Now I’m exploring screenplays.”

What was the hardest play for you to write?

“I think this one, the Barber Shop Chronicles. It’s been seven years in the making, 13 drafts. I had to travel to six different countries on the African continent and spend a lot of time in barber shops in London and in Leeds. I covered thousands and thousands of miles in order to write the play.”

Maynard Eziashi as Musa in Barber Shop Chronicles

Which playwrights have influenced you the most?

“I’m influenced mostly by poets, if I’m honest, more so than playwrights. William Shakespeare, Evan Boland, Elizabeth Bishop, Saul Williams, Major Jackson and Terence Hayes are my touchstones.”

What is your favourite line or scene from any play?

“I think it’s from Hamlet, the line,‘the substance of ambition is the shadow of a dream’Guildenstern says that in Hamlet; powerful, beautiful, delicate and barely there. Once you pry into that sentence, you realise how fragile it is.”

What’s been the biggest surprise to you since you have had your writing performed by actors?

“Seeing how much better they are at performing and delivering text than I am! Obviously, they’re actors, it’s their job. But as a poet and a performer of one-man shows, I thought I had a good and natural knack for things, but seeing the range, dynamism and depth they can bring to a single line, the humour, the intention, the discipline, the precision, the knowing; that has been incredible.”

Fisayo Akinade as Samuel in Barber Shop Chronicles

What has been your biggest setback as a writer?

“Time. More than anything else. I do a lot of different stuff, a lot of exciting stuff, and I’m excited by a lot of different kind of things and I want to do everything. Having only one of me is the problem, I wish I had a doppelganger.

“Money also plays a factor, but I’m a typical Nigerian: I make something out of nothing, and always figure out how to make things work.” 

 What is the hardest lesson you have had to learn?

“Something a lot of writers have to learn, which is to kill your babies. What works for you might not work for an audience or for someone else. You have to learn to be porous, to let go of things.” 

What would be your best piece of advice for writers who are starting out?

“Be yourself. Chase your own weird, multi-coloured, insecure, deranged, marginalised rabbits down the rabbit hole of your imagination and see what coughs up. See what you find. Enjoy what rabbit holes, what warrens, what mazes your own imagination and your idiosyncrasies lead you down and write yourself out of it.

“Your own world view, how your flesh and bones and blood enclose the machine of your mind, how it filters the world through your particular sense. These are the most precious things to you as a writer; you have to guard those things with your life because the longevity of your creative life relies on it. Be yourself, in a nutshell, that’s it.”

Anthony Welsh as Winston in Barber Shop Chronicles

Did you know?

INUA Ellams was the guest headliner at Say Owt Slam #22, York’s combative spoken-word forum, at The Basement, City Screen, in May 2019.