Review: Signal Fires Festival, Northern Girls, Pilot Theatre and Arcade, YMCA Theatre Car Park, St Thomas Street, Scarborough, October 27 and 28
ALAS, we are confined to keeping only the home fires burning as Lockdown 2: The Sequel beds in from Thursday, putting live theatre back in its box for at least a month.
Yet in this desperate year, nights such as the Northern Girls showcase for female voices have risen from the ashes of 2020 to make the Signal Fires Festival a heart-warming herald of how theatre can diversify to survive the stultifying Covid strictures that have left the industry under threat.
Over the years, CharlesHutchPress has reviewed productions staged in York in an echoey multi-storey car park and at a pop-up Elizabethan theatre built on a car park. Now, the Tarmac surface of the Scarborough YMCA Theatre car park can be added to that list, on a Tuesday night of numbing exposure to the autumn elements that made the glowing presence of four fire pits so welcome to complement scarves and the now de rigueur masks.
Ben Cowens’ silvery lighting of a lonely tree added magic to the setting and provided a point of focus for the performers brought together by pioneering York company Pilot Theatre and Arcade, the new Scarborough community producers
The time-honoured tradition of telling stories at the fireside lies at the heart of Signal Fires, albeit that everyone was keeping their social distance, sitting in pods of two, rather than huddling around the heat, all wearing a headset for clarity of sound, as is the norm at outdoor performances this year.
Each commissioned vignette was a solo piece – a concentrated artform but practical for Covid times – setting free eight stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline, as Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson did when growing up in Redcar until the age of 11. Linking them altogether was the theme of what mattered most to writers and performers alike in 2020.
Here was a chance to see a quickfire new work by fast-rising High Kilburn playwright Charley Miles, setting the bar high with the opening Erosion, performed by professional debutante Holly Surtees-Smith, who returned for Rant, by Amy-May Pell, one of four new writing talents nurtured for Northern Girls by York theatre-maker, playwright and tutor Hannah Davies.
Richardson and Arcade’s Rach Drew spread the net wide along the coastline to fish out stories from Zoe Cooper, from Newcastle (Kat/Cassie, performed by Laura Elsworthy) and Maureen Lennon, from Hull, whose rousing The Scarborough Porpoise marked Northern Girls’ second professional stage debut by the bravura Laura Boughen.
This frank, fearless, funny and fiery feminist tale was chosen for the finale, such was its potency and desire for freedom, riding the waves amid the porpoises.
British-Sudanese spoken-word artist (and basketball player) Asma Elbadawi performed her own work, The Girl Next Door, reflecting on growing up as a hijab-wearing girl in Bradford.
Lighting the torch for breaking barriers and finding liberation, Northern Girls also introduced new works by Shannon Barker, from Scarborough (First Date), and York College A-level student Ariel Hebditch (Yin And Yang), both performed by Siu-See Hung.
Claire Edwards, writer of the past five Scarborough YMCA Theatre pantomimes, here changed tack to make waves with Waves in a second monologue for the outstanding Laura Elsworthy.
Good news too, Signal Fires will not merely turn to ash. Suitably fired up by Northern Girls, Esther Richardson is keen to roll out this pioneering writing project in other communities too.
TELLING stories around a fire is an early form of theatre, one that is to be celebrated in the nationwide Signal Fires Festival this autumn.
Among those taking part are York company Pilot Theatre and new Scarborough community producing company Arcade, who are collaborating on Northern Girls, an hour-long, socially distanced, fire-lit outdoor performance on October 27 and 28 in the YMCA Theatre Car Park, St Thomas Street, Scarborough YO11 1DY.
At 7pm each night, Pilot and Arcade will set freethe stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline and were encouraged to write and present tales that matter to them most in 2020.
Next week’s performances will feature short commissioned pieces from Asma Elbadawi, Zoe Cooper, Maureen Lennon and Charley Miles, complemented by work created with York spoken-word artist and tutor Hannah Davies and a group of young women from Scarborough, .
A signal fire is defined as “a fire or light set up in a prominent position as a warning, signal, or celebration”, now re-purposed amid the Coronavirus crisis for the arts to “signal the vibrancy of touring theatre and the threat our industry continues to face”.
“This whole Covid situation has made it important to create theatre support networks across the country, with the issues faced by smaller companies, mid-scale companies and larger companies,” says Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson.
“If there has been any upside, it is that the theatre network across the country is far stronger now.”
The idea for the Signal Fires Festival came from English Touring Theatre and Headlong Theatre, building on the original desire to highlight the work of companies who do not have their own theatre base. “We were also thinking about ‘what can we do for freelancers in theatre’ and, most important of all, ‘how can we send out a fire signal that we want to bring back theatre stronger than ever?’,” says Esther.
Pilot’s link-up with Arcade is rooted in Rach Drew and Sophie Drury-Bradey running the Scarborough company. “We knew Rach from her work at York Mediale and I’ve known Sophie for a long time from when she was at the Albany, when she asked me to develop some work with new writers, 15 years ago,” says Esther.
“It was then a coincidence that Sophie had come to Scarborough, but when this project came about, to amplify northern women as leaders as well as writers, it was just a natural progression to say, ‘What do you think, guys, about doing this project together?’.”
The theme of Northern Girls resonated with Esther not only because “Pilot has always been about helping those who are disadvantaged in the community”, but also because of her childhood on the North East coast.
“I lived in Redcar from the age of three to 11, so I’d always had this tug to do something on the coast. I’m someone who left there and has had a career in theatre but I keep in touch with people who live there,” she says.
“I’m aware of the lack of investment in those places, and the direct effect that has on young people and women in particular. So, this project was about creating an opportunity to unlock what people can do when they set their hearts and minds to it.”
Esther was keen to achieve a geographical spread of four female writers, all still in the process of establishing themselves. “Maureen Lennon is from Hull and I was aware of her work for Middle Child Theatre that is full of insight into working-class lives,” she says.
“Asma Elbadawi is a spoken-word artist and professional basketball player Bradford, and she’s someone we’ve been excited about for a while but we hadn’t found a project for her.
“Northern Girls was perfect for her to bring her perspective of growing up as a hijab-wearing girl in West Yorkshire.”
Zoe Cooper is an award-winning playwright from Newcastle. “Again, I’d been aware of her for a while, but if you think about women playwrights from the North, there’s Middle Child’s work in Hull, Charley Miles at Leeds Playhouse, but in the North East, there seems to be a dearth of female writers, so we’re delighted to be featuring Zoe’s work,” says Esther.
Charley Miles, from the Hambleton village of High Kilburn, first came to attention with her lyrical moorland village drama Blackthorn at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2016, and her all-female Yorkshire Ripper play, There Are No Beginnings, was the first to be staged when the Leeds Playhouse re-opened last October.
“We wanted writers from different places because we want to continue this process, to explore how we might take this writing project to other communities to develop new works,” says Esther.
She is pleased too by the impact of York writer Hannah Davies on the four women she has been working with in Scarborough: Amy-Kay Pell, Shannon Barker, Ariel Hebditch and Claire Edwards.
“Hannah is not just a wonderful writer but also she’s wonderful at working with young writers,” says Esther. “She has a really special gift for inspiring new writers, nurturing them and getting them to nurture themselves, in this case Amy, Shannon, Ariel and Claire.”
Asma Elbadawi will present her own work, while Laura Boughen, Laura Elsworthy, Siu-See Hung and Holly Surtees-Smith will perform the others, working with directors Esther Richardson, Gitika Buttoo, Oliver O’Shea and Maria Crocker.
All the short pieces address the barriers that women face, with each story being “in some sense an act of liberation”. “With everyone writing to the same theme, straight from the heart, some plays are more political, but they all make you think about things you might not have thought about otherwise,” says Esther.
The “fire” setting will be fire pits in the car park. “At first we wanted to do it by the sea, but there are loads of problems doing a show with a fire on the beach, not least the tides!” says Esther.
Pilot Theatre and Arcade present Northern Girls for the Signal Fires Festival, at YMCA Theatre Car Park, St Thomas Street, Scarborough YO11 1DY, on October 27 and 28, 7pm to 8pm.
The recommended age is 14 plus. Please bring headphones. Each £10 ticket is sold for a clearly marked bubble that can seat one or two people. Audience members must wear a mask on arrival and throughout the performance.
WE may be beset by tiers before bedtime, but the arts world will not lie down meekly in the face of the pandemic’s second wave. Instead, Charles Hutchinson highlights events on-going, on the horizon and online.
The rule of six, over and out: Robin Ince and Laura Lexx, Your Place Comedy, live-streaming on Sunday, 8pm
YOUR Place Comedy, the virtual comedy club launched in lockdown by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones and ten independent Yorkshire and Humber arts venues, concludes with its sixth line-up this weekend.
The last laugh will go to The Infinite Monkey Cage co-host Robin Ince and Jurgen Klopp’s number one fan, Laura Lexx, introduced by remotely by regular host Tim FitzHigham, alias Pittancer of Selby, as they perform from their living rooms into yours. The show is free to watch on YouTube and Twitch via yourplacecomedy.co.uk, with donations welcome afterwards.
Online literary event of the week: Matt Haig, The Midnight Library, Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, streaming from 8am tomorrow (October 23)
MATT Haig, the award-winning author with the York past, discusses his latest novel, The Midnight Library, a tale of regret, hope and forgiveness set in the strangest of libraries, one that houses second chances.
Exhibition of the week and beyond: Human Nature, York Mediale/York Museums Trust, at Madsen Galleries, York Art Gallery, until January 24 2021
THIS triptych of installations under the banner of Human Nature combines the British premiere of Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson’s sensory woodland short film Embers And The Giants with two York Mediale commissions.
London immersive art collection Marshmallow Laser Feast look at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echo the ecosystem in nature inThe Tides Within Us.
Manchester artist and animator Rachel Goodyear’s Limina combines a surrealist, Freudian and Jungian series of animations and intricate drawings, responding to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection as she offers glimpses into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.
Fired-up event of the week: Northern Girls, Pilot Theatre and Arcade, at Scarborough YMCA Car Park, for Signal Fires Festival, October 27 and 28, 7pm to 8pm
YORK company Pilot Theatre team up with new Scarborough arts makers Arcade to present Northern Girls by firelight for the nationwide Signal Fires Festival.
The one-hour performance sets free the stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline, encouraging them to write and present tales that matter most to them in 2020.
Short pieces commissioned from Asma Elbadawi, Zoe Cooper, Maureen Lennon and Charley Miles will be complemented by York spoken-word artist Hannah Davies’s work with a group of young women from Scarborough.
Both eyes on the future festival of the week ahead: York Design Week, October 26 to November 1
SUPPORTED by York’s Guild of Media Arts, the York Design Week festival will seek to design a positive future for the city under five themes: Re-Wild, Play, Share, Make Space and Trust.
In Covid-19 2020, the festival will combine in-person events with social-distancing measures in place, and a wide range of online workshops, exhibition seminars and talks.
Look out for workshops bringing together homeless people and architects to work on solutions for housing; sessions on innovation and rule-breaking; an exhibition inspired by a York printing firm; discussions on community art and planning and city trails designed by individual York citizens. Go to yorkdesignweek.com for full details.
Barrie’s back: An Evening With Barrie Rutter, The Holbeck, Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, Leeds, November 7, 7.15pm
BARRIE Rutter OBE is to return to the stage for the first time since his successful treatment for throat cancer.
The Hull-born titan of northern theatre, now 73, will perform his one-man show at The Holbeck, home to the Slung Low theatre company in Leeds. The Saturday night of tall tales and anecdotes, poetry and prose will be a fundraiser for the installation of a new lift at the south Leeds community base, the oldest social club in the country.
“I’m absolutely thrilled at the invitation from Alan Lane and his team at Slung Low to perform at The Holbeck,” says Rutter. “What goes on in there is truly inspirational and I’m delighted support this wonderful venue.”
Family business of the autumn: John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 28 to 31; Hull Truck Theatre, November 17 to 22
THE waiting for Godber’s new play is over. The world premiere of the ground-breaking former Hull Truck artistic director’s Sunny Side Up! will be a family affair, starring John Godber, his wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha, while daughter Elizabeth will be doing the stage management.
Written and directed by Godber, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! depicts a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it. “Join proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in this seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about,” invites John.
Looking ahead to 2021/2022: Dance shows at the treble at York Barbican
STRICTLY Come Dancing’s glittering weekend return to BBC One was a reminder that regular professionals Anton du Beke, Giovanni Pernice, Graziano di Prima, Aljaz Škorjanec and Janette Manrara are all booked to play York Barbican sometime over the rainbow, Killjoy Covid permitting.
Ballroom couple Anton & Erin’s: Showtime celebration of Astaire, Rogers, Sinatra, Garland, Chaplin, Minnelli, Bassey, Tom Jones and Elton John has moved from February 19 2021 to February 18 2022.
Aljaz and Graziano’s Here Comes The Boys show with former Strictly pro Pasha Kovalev has switched to June 30 2021; Aljaz and Janette’s Remembering The Oscars is now booked in for April 21 2021, and Giovanni’s This Is Me! is in the diary for March 17 next year.
News just in: Rob Brydon in An Evening Of Song & Laughter, York Barbican, April 14 2021
WOULD I lie to you? Actor, comedian, impressionist, presenter and holiday-advert enthusiast Rob Brydon is to play with a band in York. It’s…true!
Yes, Brydon and his eight-piece band will take to the road next year for 20 dates with his new show, Rob Brydon: A Night of Songs & Laughter, visiting York Barbican on April 14 on his second tour to combine songs and music with his trademark wit and comedy. Expect Brydon interpretations varying from fellow Welshman Tom Jones to Tom Waits, Guys And Dolls to Elvis Presley.
The 5ft 7inch Brydon last appeared at York Barbican for two nights of his improvised stand-up show, I Am Standing Up, in October 2017. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
And what about….?
HEADING out on the Indie York Medieval & Magical Treasure Trail, running from October 24 to November 1 for half-term entertainment, with full details at indieyork.co.uk.
Likewise, taking up the York Ghost Merchants’ cordial invitation to be spooked by the first annual Ghost Week on the same dates. Among the highlights in “the city of a thousand ghosts” are The Little York Ghost Hunt and The Ghost Parade (also part of the Indie York trail). Discover more at yorkghostmerchants.com.