COVID cancelled last winter’s edition of A Nativity for York and did its worst to scupper this year’s return after a two-year absence.
Nine out of 16 cast members had tested positive during rehearsals, one actor’s all-important negative reading on the day of the dress rehearsal ensuring clearance for take-off.
Divine intervention, you might say, and the arrival of this new-born production under the guiding light of Alan Heaven’s direction is indeed something of a miraculous conception. The very subject of A Nativity, of course.
Note the title: A Nativity for York. Heaven’s production is the essence of community theatre, rooted in York’s unrivalled mediaeval Cycle of Mystery Plays. From the streets, those plays move indoors, onto the stone slabs of the ever-convivial Spurriergate Centre, where mulled wine and mince pies spice up the arrival scene.
Writer, director and designer Heaven has constructed a backdrop as if from a builders’ guild – ladders, a plank, dust sheets, work bench – affording a mezzanine level for the Angel Gabriel, and providing the edifice for drapes of changing colours: blue to signify Anastasia Crook’s Mary; red for Nick Jones’s ruthless Herod; black for the hellish scene of Herod’s slaughter of the babes.
Even a clothes line pops up to emphasise the Mystery Plays’ meeting point between the utilitarian and the work of the Lord.
Storytelling theatre lies at the heart of Heaven’s Nativity, a familiar story but here told with fresh imagination, shards of humour, especially for Michael Maybridge’s disbelieving, weary Joseph and the shepherds, peppered with bursts of traditional song and communal dance, to the accompaniment of arrangements by The Bertie Set, played by Diane Heaven (keyboards) and Petra Wade (recorders).
Alice Melton’s all-in-flowing-white Angel Gabriel has a shimmering radiance and even a hint of Shakespeare’s Puck when she rouses Joseph from his slumbers with a nudge in the back.
Crook’s Mary – the role every (competitive) girl wanted to play in the school Nativity Play – is played with virtue, calm purpose and awe-struck duty by Crook, with Sally Maybridge’s Anna often by her side.
Mark Comer’s Symeon is central to the lovely opening scene under an umbrella as the company spins around him in a whirl of ribbons. Harold Mozley, Daniiel Zavalniuk and Rachel Curnow’s earnest Kings contrast with the country-bumpkin airs of James Tyler and Effie Warboys, sheep under her arm, as they lead the audience in a participatory folk song that needed more clarity on Wednesday to make out what exactly chorus line was when urged to join in.
Jones’s Herod, dapper in his waistcoat and coat but devil-red in his butchery, has a sparring relationship with his truculent son (Tristan Heaven), in the tradition of theatrical fraternal frictions. Their scenes heighten the drama with a Shakespearean edge.
In keeping with Heaven’s renderings of the Last Judgement in wagon plays on the streets of York, the visual peak is the Massacre of the Innocents under Herod’s orders, a scene of terror and horror as the mothers’ screams pierce the night chill. Where earlier the ribbons signified joyful news, now they represent the guts of slaughtered children.
As Alan Heaven puts it: “Our production is built on juxtapositions of light and dark, joy and despair, community and isolation as we witness the depths of human suffering alongside the hope brough by the birth of Jesus.”
Words that echo through the streets of today, Christmas lights shining out against a backdrop of financial struggles, strikes, freezing temperatures and an ever greater need for hope and re-birth.
Tickets are on sale at £10, students and under 18s £6, on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.
A NATIVITY for York returns to the Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, on Thursday after a two-year enforced break, under the direction of the divinely named Alan Heaven.
Mounted by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust (YMPST), the production will run for eight performances, preceded by an open dress rehearsal at 7.30pm on Wednesday.
After directing the Last Judgement plays in the York Mystery Plays Wagon cycles on the city streets in 2018 and 2022, Heaven has created a new interpretation of the Nativity, combining “music, dance, sorrows and joys and some audience participation”.
Billed as a fresh, vibrant and magical retelling of the Nativity, based on the York Cycle of Mystery Plays, A Nativity for York features actors, dancers and musicians drawn from a wide range of community volunteers, in keeping with the YMPST productions of A Nativity for York in 2019 and A Resurrection for York in 2021.
Work began on the production in October, and although Covid among nine of the 16-strong cast has disrupted rehearsals in recent weeks, preparations are almost complete for the hour-long performances on Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm, then Saturday and Sunday at 3pm, 5pm and 7.30pm.
“The story is quite familiar but, in order to keep the play dynamic, we have focused on the cast putting every ounce of their energy into their parts, so that they engage with the audience,” says Alan.
“Hopefully, as they work together – and most have multiple roles – through all 12 scenes, the result will be a positive and community-minded experience.”
Heaven, an experienced director specialising in Early Modern theatre practice, community theatre, street theatre, movement and puppetry, is also a playwright, actor, musician, artist, illustrator and film maker.
He first worked with the York Mystery Plays in 2008 and has done so regularly since then, as well as adapting and staging the entire York Mystery Plays corpus for families.
Delighted to be working with the YMPST on this week’s new Nativity, he says: “It’s a real honour to be entrusted with these texts, which are such a vital part of York`s heritage. I hope to deliver a production that develops the rich and vibrant contrasts of the originals.
“There’ll be comedy and celebrations along with music, dance and song, next to the savagery of Herod and the struggle to escape his reach. This is a wonderful and exciting journey that will involve the audience and thrill and delight everyone involved.”
Tickets are on sale at £10, students and under 18s £6, on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.
KALER on the loose, Christmas music, art and crafts and a stellar trio on the horizon have Charles Hutchinson hopping between diaries
Berwick’s back: The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Grand Opera House, York, December 10 to January 8
THE script is complete, as of 6am on Thursday morning, for writer, director and perennial York dame Berwick Kaler’s second year at his adopted panto home, presented in tandem with the Grand Opera House’s new partners in pantomime, UK Productions.
At 76, expect a greater emphasis on the verbal jousting from Dame Berwick, but still with slapstick aplenty in the familiar company of sidekick Martin Barrass, villain David Leonard, principal gal Suzy Cooper, luverly Brummie AJ Powell and ever-game dancer Jake Lindsay in his tenth Kaler panto, me babbies, me bairns. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Exhibition launch of the week: The Christmas Collection at Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, today until January 12, open daily
YORK ceramicist Ben Arnup opens The Christmas Collection, the last exhibition of Pyramid Gallery’s 40th anniversary celebrations, at midday today. He will be exhibiting 12 new trompe l’oeil ceramic sculptures too.
Gallery curator Terry Brett has invited London printmaker Anita Kelin to fill the walls with 15 large linocut original prints and two paintings in her 28th year of showing her depictions of family life at Pyramid. Exhibiting too will be printmaker Mychael Barratt, sculptors Christine Pike and Jennie McCall, ceramicist Katie Braida and glassmakers Rachel Elliott, Alison Vincent, Keith Cummings and David Reekie, plus 50 jewellery makers.
Return to York of the week: Craft Your Christmas with Sara Davies, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm
DRAGONS’ Den entrepreneur Sara Davies, who founded her Crafter’s Companion company in 2005 while studying at the University of York, offers practical demonstrations, creative ideas and a healthy slice of down-to-earth know-how.
Taking you from gifts to garlands, cards to crackers, via a peek into the Den and a sprinkling of Strictly Come Dancing sparkle, Sara will help you to create your own unique handmade Christmas. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Christmas concert of the week: The Ebor Singers, A Christmas Celebration By Candlelight, St Lawrence Parish Church, Lawrence Street, York, tonight, 7.30pm
PAUL Gameson directs The Ebor Singers in an evening of beautiful choral arrangements for Christmastide that also marks the launch of the York choir’s CD recording of Christmas music by contemporary American composers, Wishes And Candles.
Pieces from the disc, featuring works by Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, Dan Forrest, Abbie Bettinis and Matthew Culloton, will be complemented by festive compositions by John Rutter and Bob Chilcott. Expect audience participation in carol singing too. Tickets: eventbrite.co.uk and on the door.
Festive musical duo of the week: Aled Jones and Russell Watson, Christmas With Aled & Russell York Barbican, Tuesday, 8pm
ALED Jones and Russell Watson are reuniting for Christmas 2022, combining a new album and tour. Performing together again after a three-year hiatus, the classical singers will be promoting their November 4 release of Christmas With Aled And Russell.
The album features new recordings of traditional carols such as O Holy Night, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and In The Bleak Midwinter, alongside festive favourites White Christmas, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Little Drummer Boy and Mistletoe And Wine, complemented by a duet rendition of Walking In The Air. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk
Nativity play of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity for York, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, Thursday, Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, Sunday, 3pm, 5pm and 7.30pm
A NATIVITY for York returns to the Spurriergate Centre following a two-year enforced break, staged by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust (YMPST). After directing the Last Judgement plays on the city streets in 2018 and 2022, Alan Heaven has created a fresh, vibrant and magical retelling of the Nativity, combining “music, dance, sorrows and joys and some audience participation”.
Heaven’s company of actors, dancers and musicians is drawn from a wide range of community volunteers, in keeping with the YMPST productions of A Nativity for York in 2019 and A Resurrection for York in 2021. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.
Festival of the week: York Early Music Christmas Festival, mainly at NCEM, Walmgate, December 8 to 16; online box set, December 19 to January 31
MUSIC, minstrels, merriment, mulled wine and mince pies combine in York Early Music Christmas Festival 2022, to be complemented by an online box set of festival highlights post-festival.
Taking part will be La Palatine (Fiesta Galante); Ensemble Augelletti (Pick A Card!); Solomon’s Knot (Johann Kuhnau’s Christmas Cantatas); Spiritato and The Marion Consort (Inspiring Bach); Ensemble Moliere (Good Soup); Bojan Čičić (Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas); The Orlando Consort (Adieu) and Yorkshire Bach Choir & Yorkshire Baroque Soloists (Handel’s Brockes Passion). Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.
Homecoming of the week: Sam Hird and Tom Bennett, A Winter Night’s Recital, All Saints’ Church, North Street, York, Friday, 7pm to 9pm
YORK baritone Sam Hird and his fellow Royal College of Music graduate, guitarist Tom Bennett, perfrom classical songs from around the world, by Schubert, Faure and Britten, complemented by festive favourites such as Adeste Fideles, O Holy Night and A Cradle In Bethlehem to stir the Christmas spirit.
The 15th century All Saints’ Church will be the “perfect backdrop” to this candlelit concert, Hird’s professional solo debut. A glass of mulled wine and a mince pie is included in the ticket price of £10 plus booking fee, available from samhirdmusic.co.uk and on the door.
Big jumpers, big songs: Alistair Griffin presents The Big Christmas Concert, St Michael le Belfrey Church, York, December 9, 10 and 17, 8pm; doors, 7.30pm
BILLED as “the biggest Christmas concert in York”, singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s winter warmer returns with classic Christmas tunes, carols and bags of festive cheer, heralded by a brass band.
The Big Christmas Concert takes a festive musical journey from acoustic versions of traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues, as audiences sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York. Christmas jumpers and Christmas attire are encouraged; a prize will be given for the best costume. Box office: www.alistairgriffin.com.
Booking ahead: Blondie, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, June 22 2023
LOWER East Side New York trailblazers Blondie are off to the East Coast next summer to play Britain’s largest outdoor concert arena.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame icons will be led as ever by pioneering frontwoman/songwriter Debbie Harry, 77, guitarist/conceptual mastermind Chris Stein and powerhouse drummer Clem Burke, joined by former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, guitarist Tommy Kessler and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen.
Blondie join Sting, Pulp, rock supergroup Hollywood Vampires, N-Dubz, Olly Murs and Mamma Mia! among Scarborough OAT’s 2023 headliners, with plenty more to be added. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.
Booking ahead too: The Waterboys, York Barbican, October 12 2023, 7.30pm
GREAT, Scott will be back for yet another evening with The Waterboys at York Barbican, this time to mark the Scottish-founded folk, rock, soul and blues band’s 40th anniversary.
Mike Scott, 63, has made a habit of playing the Barbican, laying on the “Big Music” in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and October 2021, since when The Waterboys have released 15th studio album All Souls Hill in May. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
A brush with an artist: Grayson Perry: A Show All About You, Harrogate Convention Centre, October 1 2023, 7.30pm
ARTIST, iconoclast and TV presenter Grayson Perry follows up A Show For Normal People with A Show All About You, wherein he asks, “What makes you, you?”. Is there a part deep inside that no-one understands? Have you found your tribe or are you a unique human being? Or is it more complicated than that?
Perry, “white, male, heterosexual, able bodied, English, southerner, baby boomer and member of the establishment”, takes a mischievous look at the nature of identity, promising to make you laugh, shudder, and reassess who you really are. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
Also recommended but sold out: The Cure, The Lost World Tour 2022, Leeds First Direct Arena, Tuesday, doors, 6pm
ROBERT Smith’s ever-changing band play Leeds for the first time since September 21 1985 at the whatever-happened-to-the Queens Hall. Expect a long, long set of all the heavenly, hippy pop hits, the gloomier goth stalwarts and more than a glimpse of the long-promised 14th studio album, Songs Of A Lost World, pencilled in for 2023.
FOR the second year running, York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust has had to cancel A Nativity For York at Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York.
The decision has been taken “amid the growing threat from Omicron”, putting paid to performances at 7pm tonight and 2pm, 4pm and 6.30pm tomorrow of A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness, Terry Ram’s community production drawn from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays.
Trust chair Linda Terry says: “Due to the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the new variant, we have, with great regret, taken the decision to cancel our Nativity production on December 17 and 18.
“The cast, crew and the trust are extremely disappointed, but we feel it is a wise option under the circumstances. Ticket holders have been contacted by email and reimbursement of ticket costs are being made.
“We express our grateful thanks to everyone who supported the production in so many ways: our cast and crew; Terry Ram, our director; our sponsors; the Spurriergate team; Mark Comer, for the production image; John Saunders, for photography, and everyone who contributed to the fundraising efforts.
“We know this will be a disappointment to all involved. Let us hope that we can bring A Nativity for York back in 2022.”
CHRISTMAS shows, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, ‘tis the season for Charles Hutchinson’s diary to be jolly full.
Busy week for comedy: Jason Manford: Like Me, York Barbican, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm.
SALFORD’S Jason Manford revives his funny-bloke-next-door schtick for Like Me, his follow-up to “the fun we had on my last tour”, Muddle Class, a show about turning from working class to middle class that played York Barbican in February and October 2018.
“In these trying times, it’s always important to be able to get away for a couple of hours and exercise the old chuckle muscle,” reckons Manford, 40, who has tickets available for both nights at yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Meanwhile, Jack Dee’s Off The Telly gig, moved from April 25 2020 to tomorrow night, has sold out. So too have Alan Carr’s Regional Trinket shows on December 18 and 19.
Exhibition of the week: Rosie Dean, Seascapes, Village Gallery, Castlegate, York, until January 22, open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.
SEASCAPE artist Rosie Dean has taken part in York Open Studios for the past ten years. Now she is exhibiting at Simon Main’s Village Gallery through the winter months.
“I feel total peace breathing the ozone, staring out to sea and focusing on the horizon line, sensing all around me and feeling the elements around me, the sights and sounds, the salt in the air. Pure contentment,” says Rosie.
Curiosity concert of the week: The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert With The Weasleys, York Barbican, Monday 8pm.
POTTY about Potter? Then exit those Shambles shops and head to York Barbican for a night of music from Harry’s films and the West End musical, performed by the London Symphonic & Philharmonic Film Orchestra with the Weasley brothers in tow.
Original actors, magic, star soloists, a choir and the orchestra combine in the debut European tour’s programme of John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicolas Hooper and Alexander Desplat’s soundtrack magical moments, plus selections from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child score.
More music in York Barbican’s crammed pre-Christmas diary comes from Levellers, Brighton’s folk-rock stalwarts, tonight and Steve Steinman’s tribute show, Anything For Love: The Meat Loaf Story, on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
If you seek out one gig, make it: Steve Mason, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, Tuesday, doors, 8pm; start, 8.30pm.
STEVE Mason was the frontman of The Beta Band, cult Scottish exponents of folktronica, a blend of folk, psychedelia, electronica, experimental rock and trip hop.
He first dipped his toe into solo work on Black Gold, his mournful 2006 album under the guise of the short-lived King Biscuit Time and has since released Boys Outside in 2010, Ghosts Outside with Dennis Bovell in 2011, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time in 2013, Meet The Humans in 2016 and About The Light in 2019.
Presented by All Off The Beaten Track, Mason will play solo on Tuesday. Box office: seetickets.com/event/steve-mason/stockton-on-the-forest-village-hall.
Christmas jamboree of the week: The Arts Barge Christmas Party!, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm.
THREE York community musical groups, Bargestra, The Stonegate Singers and The Blind Tiger Dance Band, unite for the Arts Barge Christmas bash.
Bargestra, the 20-piece Arts Barge band skippered by Christian Topman, play jazz, swing, Beatles, ska and more. The Stonegate Singers, a community choir open to anyone, is directed by Jon Hughes, who teaches the music by ear, one part at a time, so that anyone can do it.
The Blind Tiger Dance Band, Arts Barge’s 16-piece Lindy Hop swing band with Rinkadon Dukeboy up front, brings together seasoned professionals and rising young instrumentalists. All three groups will join together to make a 50-piece ensemble for the festive finale.
Recommended but alas sold out already at The Crescent are Christmas shows by Mostly Autumn on Sunday and fellow York band The Howl & The Hum on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm.
Chapter House Choir at the double: Carols by Candlelight, York Minster, Wednesday; Festival of Carols, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 18, both at 7.30pm.
THE Chapter House Choir’s Carols by Candlelight at York Minster has sold out, but a second chance to hear the York choir and its bell ringers comes at St Michael-le-Belfrey.
Tickets for a Festival of Carols are available via Eventbrite, but do hurry because they are limited in number and selling fast.
Global warming alert of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Thursday, 7pm; Green Hammerton Village Hall, December 20, 2pm
GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre Company has revived artistic director Kate Bramley’s magical eco-fable, The Snow Dancer, for its latest rural tour.
Bramley’s original story blends festive family entertainment with an important eco-message and an original score by Jez Lowe, as actors Meg Matthews and Danny Mellor tell the story of the animals of The Great Wood, who are desperate for a long sleep, but find it too warm because something is awry.
The intrepid heroes in this fairy tale with a furry tail must search for the mysterious Snow Dancer to make it snow if they are ever to sleep. Box office: York, 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk; Green Hammerton, 01423 339168.
Christmas plays of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, December 17, 7pm; December 18, 2pm, 4pm, 6.30pm. A Christmas Carol, Mansion House, York, December 17 to 19, 7pm.
TERRY Ram directs the second York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust community production for Christmas, drawn from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays in the old church atmosphere of the Spurriergate Centre. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/york-mystery-plays-supporters-trust.
The Penny Magpie Theatre Company, from York, have sold out all three Mansion House performances of director Samantha Hindman’s adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a version seen through the eyes of modern-day schoolboy Jon, who is gradually welcomed into Scrooge’s redemptive tale. Carols, mince pies, mulled wine and a house tour complete the festive experience.
Leaping into 2022: Johannes Radebe, Freedom, Grand Opera House, York, April 12, 7.30pm.
MAKING swish waves with baker John Whaite in Strictly Come Dancing’s first all-male coupling, South African dancer Johannes Radebe has announced his debut tour, Freedom.
Radebe will lead a company of dancers in classic Ballroom and Latin arrangements, scorching South African rhythms and huge party anthems, as he takes you on his journey from growing up in Zamdela, to travelling the world, winning competitions and becoming a Strictly professional.
“Leave your inhibitions at the door and get ready for a night of energy, passion and freedom,” he says. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.
YORK Mystery Plays Supporters Trust is seeking a director for its second production of A Nativity for York, planned for December 2020.
The launch follows the trust’s decision to keep the York Mystery Plays’ tradition alive by staging an annual nativity play.
The YMPST organisation has issued a briefing notice, asking potential candidates to apply before midnight on Saturday, May 30, sending initial ideas for the play on one side of A4 plus a CV.
In keeping with the existing performance traditions, the mission is to look at medieval nativity plays as a source for the production.
An information pack is available and applicants are asked to send emails to the YMPST chair at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview, probably via video link, on Tuesday, June 16.
Chair Linda Terry says: “Last year we achieved our aim to make the production both visible and accessible. We were delighted that A Nativity for York at the Spurriergate Centre appealed to so many in the community, to both residents and visitors to the city.
“The trust believes that we can build on the success of 2019 with another innovative production as part of the city of York’s Christmas festival.”
As demonstrated by last December’s debut, directed by Philip Parr, the objective is to keep alive the skills, support and enthusiasm generated through the many productions of the York Mystery Plays over the years.
The trust has confirmed that the Spurriergate Centre, in Spurriergate, will host the 2020 performances, starting in mid-December.
“In the event that this cannot take place because of the pandemic restrictions, all initial work will be rolled over to 2021 or an alternative medium for performance will be considered,” says Linda.