Team Titania or Team Oberon? Which side will you be on in Hoglets Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Mischief?

Hoglets Theatre’s poster for A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, playing York Theatre Royal Studio on March 8 and 9

THE fairies in the forest are starting a fight, but which side are you on? Team Titania or Team Oberon? Come on down! It’s all kicking off in the forest in Hoglets Theatre’s Shakespeare-loving children’s play A Midsummer Night’s Mischief at York Theatre Royal on March 8 and 9.

Based on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the York company’s interactive, larger-than-life, fun production is designed especially for five to 11-year-old children, but everyone is welcome.

Expect wild characters, raucous singalong songs, puppets, stunts, and some frankly ridiculous disco dancing,” says Hoglets Theatre founder, writer and performer Gemma Curry. “While we love the bard, no previous experience of Shakespeare is required!”

A Midsummer Night’s Mischief is the tenth Hoglets production, following on from their sell-out Yorkshire tours of Wood Owl And The Box Of Wonders and The Sleep Pirates and December 9’s two spectacular Christmas performances of The Nutcracker at York Minster, accompanied by the cathedral organ no less.

Writer Gemma will be joined in the cast at York Theatre Royal by Claire Morley and Becky Lennon, who replaces Charlotte Wood from earlier performances. Song lyrics are by Andy Curry and Lara Pattison; costumes by Julia Smith; set design by Andy Curry and choreography by Charlotte Wood.

Hoglets Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, York Theatre Royal Studio, March 8, 4.30pm; March 9, 10.30am. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Claire Morley, left, Charlotte Wood and Gemma Curry in an earlier performance of Hoglets Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

Hoglets Theatre CIC: the back story

Not-for-profit children’s theatre company and associate children’s theatre company of York Theatre Royal.

Stages original theatrical productions across the country, aimed at primary and preschool-aged children.

Runs interactive workshops for schools, libraries and groups.

Provides child-centric consultation and content creation for museums, organisations, apps and publications.

Mission statement: “Everything we do is centred around storytelling and the amazing impact that stories, imagination and creativity can have on young minds.”

Find out more at

REVIEW: Watford Palace Theatre in The Merchant Of Venice 1936, at York Theatre Royal until Saturday ***

Tracy-Ann Oberman’s East End pawnbroker and single mother Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice 1936, set in Cable Street, London, with Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts on the march

NOTHING will stop The Merchant Of Venice being a problem play, and that’s the problem. Especially against the backdrop of the hell of the Gaza Strip. Suella Braverman’s P45. The English Defence League on the attack. Peaceful Armistice Day protests in London and beyond, demanding a ceasefire, or was that antisemitism?

Amid this tempest, Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman and director Brigid Larmour’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s vituperative play arrives in York: a city with the darkest stain of history from the Jewish massacre at the site of Clifford’s Tower on March 16 1190, but with a new chapter opened after this autumn’s arrival of Rabbi Dr Elisheva Salamo as the spiritual leader of the York Liberal Jewish Community.

Is The Merchant Of Venice antisemitic, cursed by Shakespeare’s depiction of moneylender Shylock as English literature’s most archetypal Jewish character? “I think its legacy is antisemitic. So yes, I suppose it is an antisemitic play,” Oberman told the Guardian during rehearsals for this Watford Palace Theatre production in February.

Henry Goodman, who won an Olivier Award for his Shylock in Trevor Nunn’s 1999 National Theatre production, said in the same piece: “I think it depicts antisemitism, but is not antisemitic because it humanises.”

Abigail Graham, Jewish director of The Globe’s “radical” 2022 production, defined the play thus: “It’s not a play about antisemitism,” the Guardian quoted her. “It’s about the intersection between white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, antisemitism and racism”.  

Why this preamble? You could make a case for each assessment, but ultimately the argument over whether The Merchant Of Venice is antisemitic will never be decided by any one production.

Ultimately, Graham has it right in referring to the intersection, one that now defines British or, more to the point, English discomfort at our colonial past and its continuing impact.

Let’s call The Merchant Of Venice an “uncomfortable” play, one where Shakespeare has Portia destroy Shylock in court, for the moneylender to slink away never to be heard again, only for a jocund ending to follow with fun and games over wedding rings as if we had strayed into one of his summer-lit comedies.

Unlike Shylock, Oberman and Larmour are not content to let it end there, instead adding a coda to round off the 1936 setting amid the rising tide of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascist Blackshirts, on the march through Cable Street in London’s East End on October 4 that year.

All Larmour’s cast strip off glad rags and fascist appareil to stand with Oberman’s Shylock, behind her banner They Shall Not Pass “We are stronger, prouder and safer together,” is her message, as she urges all the audience to its feet. (Well, that’s one way to ensure a standing ovation as sems to be becoming increasingly obligatory at theatre shows.)

Not everyone obliged, perhaps uneasy that the problems highlighted by this problematic play are more complicated, more nuanced, than that.

Shakespeare’s play has “always fascinated and repulsed” Oberman. “I don’t like it. I’ve never liked it,” she said. Does anyone “like it”, however? It is not Hamlet, nor King Lear, more questions than answers, but she wanted to “reclaim Shylock”, not to play Shylock for sympathy, nor shy away from the villainy, but to show why Shylock “becomes the monster that they make her” in the face of Jewish persecution.

Traditionally a male role, Oberman has taken inspiration from her great-grandmother’s hardy, dignified East London generation to depict Shylock as a Cable Street pawnbroker and single mother with an errant daughter (Grainne Dromgoole’s Jessica), played as righteous, resolute, rigorous and wronged.

This adds gender and misogyny to the degradation of the spat-upon Shylock at the hands of Raymond Coulthard’s sneering Antonio, dressed all in Mosley black, as he mocks her demand for her pound of flesh on failing to meet the terms of his bond.

Liz Cooke’s design depicts Shylock’s Cable Street home in drab, brutalist grey brick. By contrast, Portia’s film-noir high society elegance is denoted by a marble floor, a white curtain and silk dresses; Antonio’s business world by a chandelier.

Greta Zabulyte’s matching black and white video design begins with Mosley mid-speech, to be followed by fascist posters, newspaper headlines and period footage, all leading up to the Battle of Cable Street. Sarah Weltman’s sound design of smashed windows and loud, threatening voices and Erran Baron Cohen’s piano compositions shadow what is unfolding with haunting inevitability. The Star of David is highlighted on the wall, but Jew Dog is scrawled on Shylock’s door.

As mentioned earlier, one problem in The Merchant Of Venice is the contrasting tones: the chortling comedy of Portia’s hapless suitors seeking to win  her hand, topped off by Gavin Fowler’s outwardly charming Bossanio, as if in a Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde comedy of manners, but the visceral, shocking hatred of Shylock, as exemplified by the thuggish excesses of Xavier Starr’s Gratiano. You can but choke on the comedy.

The transition of York-born Hannah Morrish’s Portia – my other character is a Portia too – typifies this dichotomy. Aloof but irresistibly attractive society belle, all-hours socialite, scheming aristocrat, as if she were the seventh Mitford sister, but then she becomes, as Oberman has indelicately put it, an effing bitch in her chilling courtroom humbling of Shylock.

This is a high-quality production, from design to vocal delivery, if fast-moving rather than moving, with well edited dialogue and a modernity to its theatricality and tone.

Does Obeman “reclaim Shylock” in what she calls her legacy heritage project? The play, the central character, Shakespeare’s motives, will still divide opinion, and new horrors will always inform them, but what Oberman and Larmour highlight is how unlikeable everyone is in The Merchant Of Venice. Until that unifying coda, but when will such a coda head over the horizon? Not any time soon.

Watford Palace Theatre in The Merchant Of Venice 1936, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly plus Box office: 01904 623568 or


EastEnders star Tracy-Ann Oberman plays Shylock in Fascist East End version of The Merchant Of Venice at York Theatre Royal

Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice 1936, on tour at York Theatre Royal . Picture: Mark Senior

EASTENDERS, Doctor Who and Friday Night Dinner star Tracy-Ann Oberman will play Shylock in a ground-breaking version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice on tour at York Theatre Royal from November 14 to 18.

Developed in association with HOME Manchester and with support from the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Merchant Of Venice 1936 has been 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. 

“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, 57, as she “takes this important, sharp, sexy and heartfelt production around the country”.

“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.”

In Watford Palace Theatre’s touring production, the capital city is on the brink of political unrest, fascism is sweeping across Europe and Mosley’s fascists are threatening a paramilitary march through the Jewish East End. Strong-willed single mother Shylock, Shakespeare’s anti-hero, runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street, where Mosley will march.

The poster for Watford Palace Theatre’s touring production of The Merchant Of Venice, starring Tracy-Ann Oberman as Shylock

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?

“The women in my family were as tough as nails,” says Tracy-Ann, recalling her great-grandmother and aunts, women with nicknames such as Machine-Gun Molly and Sarah Portugal, who arrived in London from anti-Semitic eastern Europe at the turn of the last century to build a life and make a living against the odds.

Oberman’s family history helped her to unlock Shakespeare’s most controversial play. Her relatives survived the Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End in 1936, when the Jewish community was targeted by Mosley’s Blackshirts, only to be confounded when the non-Jewish community stood by their Jewish neighbours.

In The Merchant Of Venice 1936, Oswald Mosley inspires Antonio (Raymond Coulthard), the sneering merchant who takes a loan from Shylock, while heiress Portia (Hannah Morrish) becomes “a beautiful glacial Mitford type – awful”, whose “quality of mercy” courtroom speech bears the mark of hypocrisy, not humanity.  

Oberman’s single mother Shylock is fiercely committed, both to her independence and to her daughter. “I have one daughter,” she says. “It’s an intense relationship!”

The Merchant Of Venice had always fascinated and repulsed her, and this production duly sat in her head for years as she researched, planned and waited for lockdowns to pass.

Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Shylock: “A woman backed into a corner by all these men, with the palpable hatred and misogyny”. Picture: Mark Senior

Now that her female Shylock has come face to face with audiences at last, she says: “The thing that surprised me most was the court case. Just how powerful it was to see this woman backed into a corner by all these men, with the palpable hatred and misogyny. It was electric. You could cut the atmosphere in the auditorium with a knife. That was a revelation.”

Playing Shylock as a woman does not soften the character, emphasises Oberman. “I didn’t want to make her a victim or change her role in the story,” she says, before adding: “Maybe I underestimated the impact of a female Shylock. There are a couple of very shocking moments that really upset audiences.

“In an early scene, Antonio comes to borrow money, and Shylock describes him spitting on her and kicking her like a dog. When that behaviour is directed at a woman, it heightens the anti-Semitism.

“I think people also see a woman with her rage and anger. She loses her daughter, her money – she loses everything. And when you tell somebody that they’re a monster for long enough, they become that monster.”

The play speaks as much to the present as of the past. “At a time when we are looking at Britain’s involvement in colonialism and the slave trade, I think we also have to look at Britain’s flirtation with fascism,” says Tracy-Ann.

“Oswald Mosley and King Edward VIII, both great friends of Hitler, came close to power – we dodged a bullet. The great message of the play is about the pulling together of all communities. We’re better together, we’re stronger together, especially at times of huge financial and political insecurity. The past shows us what happens when we look inwards: we become very nationalistic and try to pit minorities against each other. We have to be vigilant.”

“We’re better together, we’re stronger together, especially at times of huge financial and political insecurity,” says Tracy-Ann Oberman as she tours the country in The Merchant Of Venice 1936. Picture: Mark Senior

Oberman dreams of the Battle of Cable Street being taught as part of the British civil rights movement. “Mosley had been sending his Blackshirts down into Cable Street, smashing doors, breaking windows, attacking synagogues and people on the streets, putting up the most horrific leaflets straight out of Hitler’s playbook,” she says,

“But my great grandmother always reminded me that their neighbours – their Irish neighbours, the Afro-Caribbean community, the dockers, the working classes – all stood together. That was a beautiful moment.”

Oberman acknowledges how personal this project is to her but audience reactions testify to common ground. “What has been very moving is how many people want to stay and talk at the end,” she says.

“A lot of people talk about their own family’s immigrant experience. Young political people want to talk about the Battle of Cable Street, and people who’d never seen a Shakespeare play about why they’d found it so accessible.

“One man came in with about 20 fascist newspapers from the 1930s that he’d found in his father’s loft, which we’ve used as part of our graphics. There were big conversations: is the play anti-Semitic? Was Shakespeare? Lots of really interesting conversations.”

One factor behind Oberman’s wish to stage The Merchant of Venice 1936 was teachers telling her of their anxiety over discussing this contentious play in their classrooms. This has led to the touring production being accompanied by educational work, mounted in tandem with the activist group Stand Up To Racism.

“At a time when we are looking at Britain’s involvement in colonialism and the slave trade, we also have to look at Britain’s flirtation with fascim,” says Tracy-Ann Oberman

The education team has not only visited schools and prepared a pack to support teachers, but “we’ve also created an online world which people can look at before or after seeing the play,” says Tracy-Ann. “It’s an incredible resource talking about the play, the 1930s, the history of anti-Semitism and racism, Oswald Mosley, everything you could want.”

After a diverse career on stage, taking in the RSC and National Theatre, iconic soap status as Dirty Den’s nemesis, Chrissie Watts, in EastEnders and TV comedy roles as Auntie Val in Friday Night Dinner and Mrs Purchase in Toast Of London, Oberman stands centre stage as the distaff Shylock.

“I can honestly say that when I went into this, it was never with an ego about playing Shylock, it was about wanting to tell the story. I just put my soul into it,” she says. “Every single bit of it has been a complete joy. It’s been more than a piece of theatre – for me, it’s been a mission. And it’s lived up to all my expectations.”

Audience tears and standing ovations have greeted The Merchant Of Venice 1936. “While they might not have liked my Shylock, they certainly understood why she wants that ‘pound of flesh’,” says Tracy-Ann.

“She stands in the courtroom with her handbag, with everything stacked against her. A lot of people know that feeling, believing the law is on their side, but discovering it’s only on the side of people that have power.”

The Merchant Of Venice 1936, York Theatre Royal, November 14 to 18; 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday, 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Copyright of The Press, York

Daniel Connelly launches new York Shakespeare Project era with Richard III in warring 21st century House of Commons

Harry Summers’s smiling assassin Richard III with Rosy Rowley’s Duke of Buckingham in rehearsal for York Shakespeare Project’s Richard III. Picture: John Saunders

THE first production of York Shakespeare Project’s second cycle of Shakespeare plays opens on Wednesday, directed by York newcomer Dr Daniel Roy Connelly.

As when YSP began its 20-year mission to present all the Bard’s works with John White’s Elizabethan production of Richard III at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in 2002, so “the York play” will be the opening act of a 25-year new project, this time at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival.

Dr Connelly, newly moved to the city, is at the helm, having acted and directed in places as diverse as Rome, the United States, the Edinburgh Festival and Shanghai, where his 2009 production of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly was forced to close by the Chinese secret police.

This is but one highlight from the diverse career of the former British diplomat (or “Foreign Office office boy” as he calls himself on his podcast). Step forward: theatre director. Actor. Poet. Author. Professor. Teacher. Prospective parliamentary candidate. That all adds up to a polymath.

Now, leading off YSP’s new era of staging Shakespeare’s First Folio and plays by his contemporaries, Dr Connelly is taking on “Shakespeare’s astonishing depiction of Richard III as both physically and mentally deformed, and, as a result, inherently evil”.

His modern-day makeover is set in a frenetic, calculating and brutal 21st century Westminster with its endless Machiavellian bloodletting and daily treacheries. In his contemporary vision, Richard and Buckingham excel as social-media manipulators within a world of warring political parties. “In the shadowy corridors of power, everyone is culpable,” he says.

While on the subject of politics, Dr Connelly will be the prospective parliamentary candidate for the True & Fair Party for York Outer at the next General Election.

To catch a flavour of his philosophy on life, head to The Anarchist Monastery, the podcast he co-presents with Hugh Bernays, the York artist and craftsman who believes “it is better to work under-cover”, although he does surface to do a weekly show.

Here Dr Connelly discusses Richard III, the play, the rotten reputation and relationship with York, York Shakespeare Project, York International Shakespeare Festival, diplomacy, 21st century politics and podcasting with CharlesHutchPress.

“The best remedy would be for the pro-Richard camp to write the play they believe Richard deserves,” says Dr Daniel Roy Connelly in the face of York’s antipathy to Shakespeare’s play

What brought you to York after such an itinerant career, Daniel?

“My son moved here from Rome four years ago. I miss him enormously and it was time to pack up and follow him substantively. And what a beautiful city to find myself in…”

Why did Shakespeare give Richard such a sour portrait when York and the Richard III Society view him much more favourably and therefore feel antipathy towards the Bard’s characterisation? 

“Thirty years after Richard’s death, Sir Thomas More, the Tudor statesman and Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, described Richard as ‘malicious, wrathfull, envious, and from afore his birth, ever frowarde’.  He was also ‘close and secrete, a deepe dissimuler’. Hardly a glowing reference.

“Elizabeth I – the last of the Tudors – was the granddaughter of Henry VII, who vanquished Richard at Bosworth Field. Politically, Richard’s characterisation had for long been warped and Shakespeare wrote in line with the various 16th-century mythologies.

“His portrait of Richard III may not serve the interests of history, but then that’s hardly the concern of a master storyteller on the stage. So, while I have some sympathy for the Ricardians and the people of York over Shakespeare’s unsubtle appropriation of Richard’s character, drama loves conflict and the best dramatists, put simply, make stuff up to enable it.

“The best remedy, then, would be for the pro-Richard camp to write the play they believe Richard deserves.”

As a former diplomat yourself, how do you think Shakespeare’s Richard III would have fared in the diplomatic services. Would his skill set be suitable or unsuitable?

“It’s said that a diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip. As such, and in the service of government, diplomacy is a career that upholds dissimulation.

“In Shakespeare’s Richard we see a master of guile, no more so than when he speaks of clothing his naked villainy in order to ‘seem a saint, when most I play the devil’. ‘Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,’ he says in the immediately prior play Henry VI, Part 3. With that kind of skill set, he’d be an absolute high-flyer in the Diplomatic Service.”

Dr Daniel Roy Connelly, right, rehearsing Richard III with his York Shakespeare Project cast. Picture John Saunders

What attracted you to working with York Shakespeare Project, as the outset of the 25-year phase two?

“The opportunity to re-boot YSP’s cycle of the canon was very attractive to me. I’m someone who always wants to go either first or last, to set the bar high or to leave everyone with something to go home with.

“YSP have been very supportive of my attempts to bring a contemporary Richard to the stage – I have a stellar cast and crew – and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a partnership that has worked very well. I have nothing but enthusiasm for YSP’s commitment to producing Shakespeare’s remarkable output.”

Discuss how Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen’s screen portraits – 40 years apart – of Richard as “a petty, narcissistic and vengeful psychopath” have prompted you to stage a modern-day Richard III in the House of Commons to highlight parallels with the politics and politicians of today.

“If the above clutch of adjectives sounds familiar, we need look no further than contemporary British politics, which is why I have decided to set my version in our parliament.

“Telling Shakespeare’s Richard through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the country, the play – and I hope my interpretation of it – explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown.

“I believe that a parliamentary production of Richard III is not only long overdue, it’s also bang on time. Prepare, then, for British politics as played out, murderously, on the floor of the house.”

This production forms part of the York International Shakespeare Festival, and you have experienced an international career as a diplomat and theatre director. What makes Shakespeare’s work so universal?

“I’ve seen Shakespeare performed across the globe in many cultures and languages. I’ve also taught his work in America, Europe and Asia. Actors and students well know there’s never been a storyteller like him.

“Shakespeare takes our humanity, creates recognisable conflict in recognisable people, which often – in tragedy at least – leads to dire consequences. He also shows us what love is and what love isn’t, hate too, and what loss means and how joy and comedy can elevate our lives. In doing so, he expands our understanding of what makes us human and offers us ready advice as to how we can survive such a troubling condition.

Miranda Mufema’s Lady Anne in rehearsal for Richard III. Picture: John Saunders

“In 2012, Shakespeare’s Globe in London produced 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 languages, including Maori, Swahili, Pashto and Mandarin. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals 140 Shakespeare festivals in the United States alone. It’s hard to argue against that kind of reach and durability. He’s doing something right for sure.”

What are the tenets of the True and Fair Party, for whom you are the prospective parliamentary candidate for York Outer?

“There’s no point in continuing to drink from the well if the water is poisoned. Essentially, Gina Miller’s True & Fair Party came into being to clean up the UK’s polluted politics and to propel national governance into the 21st century, with more accountability, openness, and a focus on a kinder, more empathic way of doing business.

“The party also has a broad swath of unique and compelling manifesto commitments, such as introducing legally binding contracts for MPs, switching to the proportional representation the country is crying out for, or banning the sale of alcohol on the parliamentary estate.

“But first and foremost, the party is committed to disinfecting our country’s political slurries and to showing the electorate that not all politicians are in it for themselves; that there is desire and energy for meaningful change.

“These are the tenets that drew me to True & Fair, and so I’d like to show the voters of York Outer that a better, more compassionate and caring way is possible.”

Find out more at:

What topics do you discuss with Hugh Bernays in a typical episode of your made-in-York weekly podcast The Anarchist Monastery?

“Hugh and I have just started our podcasting journey in a place we call The Anarchist Monastery, where we have a weekly discussion of our lives here in York – both of us as outsiders, one long-standing and one newbie.

“We also chat about my many global travels, our mental health and our lives as lovers of history, theatre and literature. All in all, it’s an interrogation of wayfaring. We’re learning all the time about what’s needed to make a successful podcast and we’re having a blast doing it.”

York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, April 26 to 29, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: Box office:

Introducing: The Anarchist Monastery podcast

Dr Daniel Roy Connelly: “Ascertaining who we are and how we got here” in his podcast with Hugh Bernays

THE Anarchist Monastery is not so much a building, more a state of mind, one shared by craftsman and resident Hugh Bernays and Dr Daniel Roy Connelly, a visitor, teacher, theatre director and author.

From the 2000-year-old-city of York, Hugh and Daniel interrogate each another to try to ascertain who we are and how we got here, probing little known histories of this beautiful city in search of where ‘here’ really is.

“If you’re the kind of person who values the use of the imagination and likes to take the road less travelled in coming to an understanding of the world, The Anarchist Monastery is the podcast for you. Don’t be late – join the siblinghood,” they say.

Available on all major podcast platforms. Head to:

Last chance to see beside the sea: The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough *****

Andy Cryer’s slimy Solinus in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less) at the SJT, Scarborough. Picture: Patch Dolan

REVIEW: Stephen Joseph Theatre and Shakespeare North Playhouse in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01723 370541 or

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 vainglorious Solinus. Still the merry-go-round action is spun around mainly 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.

Sing when you’re twinning: David Kirkbride’s Antipholus of Scarborough and Oliver Mawdsley’s Dromio of Prescot in the SJT’s highly musical The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less). Picture: Patch Dolan

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.

EastEnders star Tracy-Ann Oberman to play Shylock in Fascist-era The Merchant Of Venice 1936 at York Theatre Royal

Tracy-Ann Oberman: From EastEnders to Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice set in London’s East End in 1936

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?

“I look forward to sparking debate and enlightening people about a pivotal but largely forgotten part of British history,” says actress Tracy-Ann Oberman

“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

REVIEW: Frantic Assembly in Othello, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday ****

Michael Akinsulire’s Othello in a street clash in Frantic Assembly’s 21st century Othello. Picture: Tristram Kenton

HOW reassuring to see packed houses for theatre shows in York this autumn, whether for Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d at the Theatre Royal or SIX The Musical at the Grand Opera House.

Sitting next to Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird on Tuesday night, he revealed that 60 schools – yes, 60 – had booked for Frantic Assembly’s combustible 21st century reimagining of Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy of paranoia, sex and murder.

“That’s the draw of Frantic Assembly, not Othello,” he said. Maybe, but you don’t have one without the other.

The crackle of excitement in the air, the cheers that greeted the company’s arrival on stage, brought to mind the electric surge triggered by the visits of Emma Rice’s Wise Children company, most recently for Wuthering Heights, that again drew young audiences in abundance.

Drink it all in: Joe Layton’s Iago, left, Tom Gill’s Cassio, Felipe Pacheco’s Roderigo, Oliver Baines’s Montano and Matthew Trevannion’s Brabantio (right) in a scene from Frantic Assembly’s Othello. Picture: Tristram Kenton

You could draw comparisons between the two companies: the importance of choreography; the almost dangerous physicality of the performances; the unexpected moments of humour; the chemistry and one-for-all and all-for-one commitment between actors; the instant bond with the audience; the drive to bring text to thrilling life; the propulsive power of thunderous music.

Yorkshireman Joe Layton, who plays an incorrigible Iago, puts it this way: “The way Frantic work, you are creating a physical sequence, finding a physical connection between characters,” he says. “Then story and characters are layered in on top of that. You throw yourself in and trust the director. You have to give yourself and trust the process,” he says.

From the off, that working practice is borne out in a fast, furious and, yes, frantic Othello, adapted, directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steve Hoggett, newly updated for the 2022 tour co-produced with Curve, Leicester.

That opening feels like plugging into the powerlines of The Prodigy’s Firestarter in a wordless, breathless scene-setter that introduces characters (Shakespeare), setting (Laura Hopkins) and soundscape (Hybrid) all at once.

Michael Akinsulire’s Othello listens to Joe Layton’s poison-dripping Iago as Chanel Waddock’s Desdemona looks on. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Think Shameless or This England; a bar with a pool table and a slot machine; bottled beers; everyone off their heads or on a short fuse in high-street zip tops, trainers, hoodies, stretchy sportswear and joggers.

One long Friday night, full of broken glass, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and the darkest intents; a darker brew of John Godber’s Bouncers, where the booze meets the bruise.

Let Frantic Assembly light the fuse, then stand well back, but feel the fierce heat from all that brutal physicality as Layton’s mendacious manipulator Iago winds up Michael Akinsulire’s Othello, the Moor, who is as muscular with Shakespeare’s words as he is physically, his eyes bursting, his mind mangled, his baseball bat never far away.

This is an Othello of myriad street accents, making it universal, from Tom Gill’s Scouse Cassio to Akinsulire’s North London Othello; Chanel Waddock’s Essex Desdemona to Kirsty Stuart’s Scottish Emilia.

Luck’s out: Chantel Waddock’s wronged Desdemona in Othello. Picture: Tristram Kenton

The pace is relentless, the dialogue hot on the tongue, the choreography dazzling, sometimes beautiful and sensuous, as in Akinsulire and Waddock’s pas de deux spread across the pool table, later to be repeated in such contrasting circumstances at the finale.

Frantic’s trademark physicality extends even to Hopkins’ design, suddenly coming to life in wave-like motions, first when a drunken Cassio staggers along the wall, and later when Othello is overcome with shock at what he has done, wishing it might swallow him.

Nothing sums up this Othello better than Iago’s prophetic T-shirt, Just Do It. Let’s hope Frantic Assembly will be back to “just do it” again, whatever the play, because Shakespeare all shook up this way demands a follow-up with more of this full-on brand of theatre.

Frantic Assembly’s Othello, York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm tonight until Saturday; 2pm, Thursday; 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office:  01904 623568 or

Fifty years on from first making his mark at York Theatre Royal, Richard Digby Day reflects on a life in the changing arts world

Richard Digby Day: Theatre director, professor and lecturer

RICHARD Digby Day, artistic director of York Theatre Royal from 1971 to 1976, will talk about his life and work in the theatre world at a fundraising event there tonight at 7pm.

Now 80, this esteemed stage director, international professor and lecturer in Britain and the United States is credited with discovering actors Hugh Grant and Ralph Fiennes in a career where he served as artistic director of Bournemouth Theatre Company, New Shakespeare Company at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, Welsh National Theatre Company, Nottingham Playhouse and Northcott Theatre, Exeter.

He is well-known for his work in classical theatre, notably the plays of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. He is vice president of the Shaw Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and has staged more productions of Shaw’s work than any other living director.

Richard is noted for his productions of Stephen Sondheim musicals too, and his work has been seen in the West End and on tour extensively throughout the UK, Canada, Denmark and Ireland. 

He has worked with many of the theatre greats, not least bringing Dame Judi Dench to the Theatre Royal stage, and he is a contemporary of Sir Ian McKellen, the two having begun their professional careers working on many of the same productions with Digby Day serving as assistant director.

He came back to York three times to direct waggon plays from the York Mystery Plays with the York Settlement Community Players for the Merchant Adventurers’ Guild, presenting The Last Judgement  in 1998, 2002 and 2006. “The last one was the most modern, and I wouldn’t have done it twice more after the first time if it wasn’t so rewarding,” he says.

“There was a great stock of actors, like Ruth Ford, who was not just a wonderful actor but a wonderful person.”

Now Richard returns to the city for 50 Years On: Richard Digby Day In Conversation in the Theatre Royal Studio tonight when creative director Juliet Forster will host the event to raise funds to support ongoing work at the St Leonard’s Place theatre.

“I look back on my days as York Theatre Royal as a time of great excitement, a very good time,” says Richard. “What those days meant to my career and showed to other people was that I could run a theatre, because I was not just the artistic director but also director of the whole thing. I really had the final say in relation to whatever the board wanted.

“I was thinking about this, how the Sixties and Seventies were a wonderful time for the theatre in a way that has not been replicated since. I was in the right place at the right time, as I was at Exeter too. I’d just finished working for the Welsh National Theatre Company at the Casson Studio, in a very rough street in Cardiff: Ruby Street in Splott. I’d founded the company and started it but couldn’t cope with the Welsh politics, so I left.”

What happened next? “There was as an advertisement in The Stage saying York Theatre Royal was looking for a new artistic director, when Donald Bodley was leaving, having made that wonderful addition to the building [the foyer],” Richard recalls.

“I was interviewed in September 1971 and all the candidates were told to hang around…and then it was announced that I’d got the job, in front of all these disappointed-looking other people.”

Richard can reel off the productions that came thick and fast under his artistic direction: “We did The Circle, by Somerset Maugham, starring Jessie Matthews, who appeared twice in the first year. In York Minster was Murder In The Cathedral by T S Eliot, and because there was no studio at the Theatre Royal at that time, we did two plays at York Arts Centre [in Micklegate], Tiny Alice by Edward Albee and Old Times by Harold Pinter. There was an extraordinary range of performances going on,” he says.

“That’s the difference when you compare it with today’s theatre. That time was the flowering of theatre, whereas today money is short and very rarely do actors stay together for more than one play.”

More work comes to Richard’s mind. “We did some work at the University of York; two plays in the De Grey Rooms and a whole series of poetry readings at York Art Gallery,” he says.

He settled in quickly. “York Theatre Royal was well set up: long before I arrived there, it was a working regional theatre with its wardrobe and carpentry departments, and York always tended to have actors that stayed for more than one production,” he says.

“For the second season in Spring 1973, Phyllis Calvert [the English film actress], who’d been in the company before the Second World War, began a long association with me directing her in five plays. The first Shakespeare I did here was The Tempest, in association with the New Shakespeare Company at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre, in London, where I was artistic director for a long time.

“A city without the arts will never be a complete place,” says Richard Digby Day

“We had Michael Dennison playing Prospero, and the production began in York, went on a little tour,  then played Regents Park.”

Judi Dench would return to her home city with Michael Williams to appear in a new play, Content To Whisper, adapted by television writer Alan Melville from a French work. “I can tell you this now, because Judi and I often laugh about it: we knew on the first day of rehearsals that we shouldn’t be doing it, but we did the best we could with it and it packed the theatre! I don’t know if people liked it or not, but they were just content to see Judi back home,” says Richard.

“Looking back, I was able to do a lot of interesting productions and the seasons were a lot more classically based than they are now: Strindberg, Ibsen, Chekhov, but a lot of modern plays too, like the first out-of-London production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus. The National Theatre offered us the rights for it, so we said yes, and then followed it with Hamlet, starring the Scarborough-born Frank Barrie as Hamlet.

“That was the third time I’d directed Hamlet and the nearest one I felt to getting it right. Frank’s father died in the middle of the run and he had to keep going, with all that connection with Hamlet’s father dying.”

Just as Damian Cruden would do later during his 22-year tenure as artistic director, Richard enjoyed using the theatre space in different ways. “We had all the seats taken out and did a promenade production of The Two Noble Kinsmen [Shakespeare’s play co-written with John Fletcher]: the first time it had been done for many years, for York Festival in 1973,” he says.

“In my last season, we had seven plays by Samuel Beckett to celebrate his 70th birthday and we did them on the stage with the safety curtain down and the audience seated on the stage too, and we did this in a repertory season where we closed the main-house auditorium one night a week for the Beckett plays.”

Typical of Richard enjoying the challenge of “making theatre in places that aren’t necessarily theatres” was his production of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf in the Assembly Rooms, “I had the belief that wherever there was an audience, wherever there were actors, that could be a theatre,” he says.

As he heads back to York once more, where he once lived on Tadcaster Road in a “dear little cottage and courtyard” overlooking the racecourse, Richard says: “The city has provided many memories, 50 years of history, but it’s not the place I came to in 1971. I don’t say it in an entirely negative way but any city that has its manufacturing heart taken away can never be as interesting as it was.

“I used to get up at six in the morning and walk down to the shop to buy a paper, and you would see all these workers bicycling to work. You could smell that work. I find what’s happened to Britain so sad, though of course York has so many attractions that it’s made an industry out of tourism.

“There were always tourists but it was completely a working, industrial city, where under all that history was the industry that was supporting it.”

From 1980 to 1984, Richard was at the helm of Nottingham Playhouse. “That was not a happy time,” he says. “I would have to say that Mrs Thatcher interfered in the arts. In particular, William Rees Mogg wrote a ghastly report on the arts when he was made chairman of the Arts Council: a most unsuitable person for the post.

“It was not an easy period and eventually I thought, ‘I just don’t want to go on running a theatre’, so I left and I’ve never really run a theatre since then, but I’ve done lots of other things, like being the director of the National Theatre Institute, in Waterford, in Connecticut, for eight years.”

Richard directed plays aplenty at the Lyric in Belfast. “It was at the height of the troubles, which was a very interesting experience,” he says. “Where I was staying, one night the windows were shattered by an explosion nearby, but on the whole, you learned to get on with things and not be distracted by the divisions.”

Richard has directed star names in one-person shows, from Edward Fox to Eileen Atkins, Margaret Wolfit to Geraldine McEwan. “Most recently, Eileen Atkins put me in touch with Dame Joan Plowright for a show where I interviewed her:  it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a wonderful person, doing the shows at the National Theatre and Chichester,” he says.

Reflecting on the contrast between now and 50 years ago, Richard says: “Theatre is not funded properly, with very few exceptions. The most worrying thing is the lack of performances of classic plays, and often when they’re done now, they’re very badly spoken, even at places where there’s no excuse, like the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“By comparison with Peter Hall’s days, what the National Theatre is doing now is not what it should be. So, I am concerned. I say this as an old man, but one who tries try not to have too many set ideas, but if you look at the list of what was playing in the West End 30 years ago and what’s on there now, I’m deeply concerned.”

His passion for theatre, his conviction in its importance, remains unbowed, however. “A city without the arts will never be a complete place,” he says.

50 Years On: Richard Digby Day In Conversation, York Theatre Royal Studio, tonight at 7pm. Tickets cost £20 plus an optional additional donation to York Theatre Royal. Box office: 01904 623568 or

The Fool has the last word in Paul Morel’s solo King Lear at Helmsley Arts Centre

Told by a Fool: Paul Morel in his one-man King Lear

ARMED with only a drum, a guitar, a knife and a chair, Oddbodies’ inventive, irreverent one-man account of Shakespeare’s King Lear is told from The Fool’s point of view at Helmsley Arts Centre on June 18.

Writer and performer Paul Morel brings all the characters from this sad and sorry tale to glorious life, from the bipolar Lear to the bastard Edmund, haughty Goneril to poor deluded Gloucester, oily Oswald to sweet Cordelia and mad Tom, in a fast, funny, poignant and ultimately heart-breaking production.

Directed by John Mowat with Oddbodies’ trademark physical ingenuity and visual flair, this “simple but deeply complex” reworking of Shakespeare’s tragedy is “something of a miniature masterpiece; a brilliantly entertaining and frequently astonishing evening; a tour de force of physical theatre,” says poet Christopher James.

Tickets for the 7.30pm performance are on sale on 01439 771700 or at

Why Luke Adamson’s Twelfth Night will be at sixes and sevens on a Selby rugby field

Director Luke Adamson and actor Martha Godber in rehearsal at Selby RUFC for JLA Productions’ Twelfth Night

“I’M just getting in touch to announce that we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!”, teases the email from Luke Adamson.

The Selby actor, writer, London pub theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray Adamson will be returning to the scene of his “greatest triumphs” – two times winner of Selby Rugby Club’s Stars in Their Eyes competition, no less – to present Twelfth Night on August 20 and 21.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, his raucous musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play” will be staged on Selby RUFC turf by JLA Productions with Adamson as the foppish comic foil Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with acting talent from York, Selby, Leeds and Hull, who began rehearsals at the rugby club on Monday this week.

Luke’s good friend from York youth theatre days, John Holt-Roberts, frontman of boisterous York band Hyde Family Jam, will play Sir Toby Belch; Millie Gaston, Maria; Martha Godber, playwrights John and Jane’s daughter, Olivia, and Imogen Ruby Little, Viola.

Emilio Encinoso-Gil and Imogen Ruby Little in a tender scene in rehearsal for Twelfth Night

Double-barrelled Emilio Encinoso-Gil will be on double duty as Feste and Orsino; likewise Aidan Thompson-Coates, for Sebastian and Malvolio.

Twelfth Night is the Shakespeare one where identical twins Sebastian and Viola are separated at sea after their ship sinks. When Viola washes up on the shores of Illyria, she must disguise herself as a man to gain employment with the local Duke, Orsino.

In a nutshell, as Luke puts it: “Orsino is in love with Olivia; Olivia is in love with Viola (who she thinks is a man called Cesario); Malvolio thinks Olivia is in love with him; Viola is in love with Orsino (who also thinks she is a man called Cesario).

“Antonia is in love with Sebastian; Sir Andrew is trying to woo Olivia; Feste is stirring the pot and Sir Toby Belch and Maria are getting drunk and making mischief.”

Millie Gaston, as Maria, and John Holt-Roberts, as Sir Toby Belch, in rehearsal for Twelfth Night

Ah, yes, that one! “Out go pantaloons, cross garters and big fluffy collars,” says Luke. “In come yellow and black rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair for a fast, funny, family-friendly show filled with slapstick comedy, famous songs and more than a few modern references.”

Luke, artistic director of JLA Productions and The Bridge House Theatre, in London SE20, is no stranger to the Selby RUFC pitches. He once played scrum half alongside his formidable fly-half father Ray, who toured Australia and Fiji as part of England’s squad in 1988.

“It was for Selby fifth team,” recalls Luke, who later returned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon in July 2017 as part of the squad for Leeds company Slung Low’s free Selby Arts Festival performance of Lisa Holdsworth’s Rugby Songs: the show with headsets for the crowd, first staged at assorted Yorkshire grounds during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Ray reached the rugby heights, not only as a player for Wakefied but also as a referee, and Luke showed promise too. “I played in the North Yorkshire squad for one season in my age group, but by then I was starting to go to youth theatre in York and I knew that was the route I wanted to go down, but I did still play that season with the Selby fifths with my dad in 2006-2007,” he recalls.

Ray Adamson, Wakefield and Selby fly half, 1988 England squad member and actor Luke’s father, in his playing days

Now he will return to Selby RUFC for all the fun and games of Twelfth Night. “Initially I was contacted by Selby rugby club because they were looking at diversifying their programme after recent events,” says Luke.

“During the lockdowns, the bar couldn’t open for hospitality, and there was no rugby being played, but they still had to support the clubhouse, the ground staff, so they were looking at fundraising.

“They asked me if I’d be interested in doing a show and I said, ‘Absolutely! Yes!’. My mind went straight back to when I’d done Permanently Bard pub theatre in collaboration with Fullers.”

Over three years, Permanently Bard took Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night to pubs in London and the south. “I just thought it was a very informal, very relaxed and anarchic way to perform, giving the opportunity to play with people, when normally they would never go to their local theatre, but hopefully they would go to their local pub, and if something was on, they’d happily pay for it,” recalls Luke. “They loved it!”

Aidan Thompson-Coates having a Malvolio moment during rehearsals for Twelfth Night

Rather than performing in the Selby clubhouse, Luke and his company will be taking to the grass, entering the pitch from exactly where the first XV does. “The outdoor show will suit all ages,” he says. “There’ll be stuff for older ages, and stuff that children will like as Twelfth Night is the perfect starter play with a lovely plot and fun characters.

“We’re trimming it down to 90 minutes plus interval, and we’ll be performing with our native accents, but the key thing is to do it with clarity, cutting out the things that may have been clever wordplay in Shakespeare’s time but don’t work now.

“There’s room for adlibbing with the audience too, certainly for Feste; we’ll be adding original music by Stefan Galt to complement Shakespeare’s songs, and the scale of the show will be epic but simultaneously intimate!”

As for giving a nod to the rugby setting, “We might even have some tackle shields as part of the set,” promises Luke.

JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, kick-off, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale at with discounts available for family bookings.

Perfect pitch! Luke Adamson, left, and fellow Slung Low cast members Sally Ann Staunton, Nadia Imam and Tyron Maynard for Rugby Songs, performed at Selby RUFC in July 2017

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