Meet the 22 artists putting the Love Bites into York Theatre Royal’s May reopening

THE Love Season will soon set hearts pulsing at York Theatre Royal, where the Step 3 reopening will make its mark with Love Bites: a love letter to live performance and a toast to the city’s creative talent.

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged on May 17 – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and May 18.

The 22 short pieces selected will be performed each night at 8pm under the overall direction of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster, who says: “Love Bites is really a love letter to live performance, put together by York artists. It’s a celebration of what we have been missing for over a year now: the chance to come together under one roof and share our stories and experiences. 

“There was no one single theatre production that felt enough to mark the reopening of theatres, the lifting of restrictions, so we decided that we needed multiple ones.”

Shortlisting from 200-plus proposals was both extremely difficult and inspiring, according to Juliet. “There are so many talented, inventive, creative people in York – we could have filled the night several times over,” she says. 

“The selection of short pieces that you will see on our stage represent a wide range of voices, artforms and approaches to the theme of love, created by both well-established artists and those who are newer to the scene. We hope Love Bites will turn out to be ‘a many-splendored thing’.”

Hosted by York  broadcaster Harry Gration, Love Bites will herald the start of The Love Season, wherein Ralph Fiennes will present T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh will perform husband Ian Kershaw’s one-woman show The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…and perma-cycling Shakespeare enthusiasts The HandleBards will ride riotously through Romeo & Juliet.

The Love Bites line-up

Vanessa Simmons: Reverie

Vanessa is a composer, pianist and piano teacher who lives just outside York, drawing inspiration from the countryside. Reverie is the retelling of a dream that captures falling in love, the soaring emotions of being in love and remembering a love that is lost.

“It’s a rejoicing of the beauty, sorrow and power of real love in musical form, using some elements of the classic piano sonata with added impressionist colours and tones,” says Vanessa. “Reverie is a journey, one that is universal and timeless.” 

James Lewis-Knight: Staying Connected

James is an actor and the artistic director of Clown Space, a York company specialising in clowning, mask work and physical theatre. “As a clown, I’ve missed the joy that comes from connecting with a live audience and I can’t wait to find that again with Staying Connected,” he says.

Richard Kay

Richard Kay: For The Love Of Singing

Richard is an actor and writer, creating shows for festivals and attractions, such as the York Maze, as well as writing, directing and performing for Badapple Theatre, the Green Hammerton “theatre on your doorstep” company.

Over the past year, he has led four choirs over Zoom and has composed new music, as well as creating “virtual choir” tracks. 

Kitty Greenbrown, Robert Powell, Ben Pugh: The Angels Of Lendal Bridge

Kitty, Robert and Ben are a York trio of artist-producers. The ubiquitous Ben is a creative practitioner with more than 25 years’ experience in working across disciplines, not least for the Covid digital age. Robert has published four collections of poetry, an artist’s book and two short films. Kitty – also known as Katie – is a spoken-word performance poet interested in telling stories and collaborating with artists and musicians.

Story Craft Theatre’s Janet-Emily Bruce and Cassie Vallance

Story Craft Theatre: She Can Go Anywhere

Story Craft Theatre is a children’s theatre company created in York by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce. After setting up in 2018, they have hosted parties, events and classes throughout the UK. Partnerships have been forged with the National Trust, Goose of Harrogate, Rural Arts in Thirsk, Castle Howard, Rowntree Park in York and York Theatre Royal. 

Bridget Foreman: 5 Minute Call

Bridget has written more than 30 plays, ranging from one-person shows to large-scale community productions. Among recent works are Clay Fever for York Theatre Royal, Surprise Ending for York company Riding Lights, and York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s co-production of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes. Her new play, My Place, will tour…sometime soon! She also lectures in playwriting at the University of York.

Claire Spooner and Richard Stephenson: Mise en aby-me

Passionate about theatre and costume, Claire works creatively across several arts sectors as a freelance life model, milliner, costumier for York Theatre Royal and occasional background artist for film and television. In each role, Claire explores and develops ways to tell a story through the human form.

Richard is a professional illustrator, painter, storyteller and music writer living in Leeds. He works predominantly in ink and considers himself more of an image maker, always searching creatively for the next happy accident. 

Gus Gowland: The Streets Of York

Gus is a musical theatre writer/composer based in York. For his first musical, Pieces Of String (Mercury Theatre, Colchester 2018), he won The Stage Debut Award for Best Composer/Lyricist. Other projects include Subway: an audio short, Copyright Christmas at the Barbican, London, and an upcoming EP of original songs, In Motion.

Hannah Davies: Love Song To Spring

Hannah is a York writer, theatre-maker and multi slam-winning poet. She is associate artist at Say Owt, York’s spoken-word night, and artistic director of Common Ground Theatre and teaches playwriting at the University of York.

Hannah Davies

Ashleigh J Mills: In Progress

Ashleigh [they/them] is a black, non-binary and unapologetically autistic creator. Politically and poetically minded, their work seeks to explore and digest their lived experience of life on the margins. They believe that within resistance lies creation. They are a work in progress.

Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope: A Love Letter To Female Friendship

Alice and Leanne trained together at the Northern Ballet School, worked together on cruise ships and have spent the past year creating/dancing in their living rooms/kitchen. Through their love letter, they hope to depict the power of female friendship – something they have relied on so heavily in pandemic times. 

Erika Noda: Ai

After graduating from East 15 Acting School, this Japanese English actor, from York, co-founded a theatre company that specialised in creating shows and workshops for children with complex needs. Ai is Erika’s first solo writing project; a semi-autobiographical account of what it can be like growing up dual heritage.  

Elena Skoreyko Wagner, James Cave and Bethan Ellis: Magic

Elena Skoreyko Wagner is a York illustrator and papercut artist, soon to take part in York Open Studios 2021. Her work seeks to find magic and uncover meaning in the mundane. York composer and singer James Cave sings in the York Minster choir and Gavin Bryars Ensemble. Bethan Ellis is a writer and editor; she works at University of York.

Butshilo Nleya: Ekhaya, Love Them Both? 

Butshilo is a Zimbabwean playwright, now living in York, whose work centres on place, home and the multiplicity of cultures. Since 2002, he has worked in Africa, Europe and the USA, using words, music and dance to explore the language of cultures, migration, identity and diversity.

Fladam (Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter): Love Bytes

York musical comedy duo’s heartfelt and humorous songs tackle the topical with witty wordplay, memorable melodies and a dash of the Carry On! Original songwriting guaranteed to make you smile.

Harri Marshall: I Often Think Of You

Harri is a deaf director based in York, who received training from the Young Vic, Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme and the Bristol Old Vic. She has an affinity for contemporary theatre, including new writing, adaptation and verbatim theatre, and has directed nine shows. She is an advocate for D/deaf and disabled creatives and is a self-proclaimed proactive busy-body!

Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles: The Art Of Losing 

Luella, Jamie and Isla are three emerging dance artists, studying dance full time at CAPA College, Wakefield, alongside creating their own dance films and works. The Art Of Losing portrays the loving relationships between them and what it means to have contact with one another. 

Paul Birch: Lost For Words

Writer/director Paul is artistic director of Out Of Character, a York company comprised of artists with experience of mental illness. Terence Stamp, Richard O’Brien and George Lazenby have been kind enough to speak his words in performance. In real life, his own words often fail him. 

Harri Marshall

Hannah Wintie-Hawkins: In The Beginning

Born and raised in York, Hannah moved to London to train professionally in dance. She then progressed her performance career and returned to York in 2016 to set up an independent dance organisation, York Dance Space. She now works as a dance artist and movement director in the city and across the UK.

Tom Nightingale: Elaine

Tom is a musician, performance writer and actor. “My motivation is a therapeutic outlet, in order to make sense of the life I’ve experienced, and my challenge is to shape my creations into something objectively understandable to the general public,” he says. 

One of his projects, Nightingales Game. Pretend To Be Like Me, was staged at Tang Hall Smart as a play in the community. He is “very excited” to be able to perform his song Elaine, written for his wife. 

Maurice Crichton: Where Are We Now, You and I? 

Maurice is an active member of York’s amateur theatre community, both on stage and as an organiser. Credits include: The Duchess Of Malfi, The Seagull (York Theatre Royal Studio); Colder Than Here (York Cemetery Chapel/St Nicks environment centre); Antony And Cleopatra (Theatre @41, Monkgate). During the pandemic, he produced York Shakespeare Project’s  Sit-down Sonnets in the churchyard at Holy Trinity, Goodramgate.

Toby Gordon: O Tell Me The Truth About Love by W H Auden

York actor Toby trained at LAMDA. Theatre credits include Two Planks & A Passion and As You Like It (York Theatre Royal and TakeOver), The Great Gatsby (Guild Of Misrule), The York Mystery Plays (York Minster, both as Satan and Jesus) and Antigone (Barbican, London).

Tickets cost Pay What You Feel at or on 01904 623568.