REVIEW: A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction, York Theatre Royal. Sustainable tour concept ****; production ***; play **

Cycling and recycling: Sustainable theatre at York Theatre Royal in A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction, starring Stephanie Hutchinson, centre. All pictures: James Drury

THE opening of this “bold experiment in eco theatre-making” coincided with the publication of the State Of Nature 2023 report into the UK’s biodiversity.

The headline news? One sixth of our species is under threat of extinction. Meanwhile, in the latest state of the nation report, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is turning the blue tide against green change: more oil fields, no 2030 deadline ojettisoning diesl and petrol cars. So much for leading the way at Cop26.

To top it all, a 16-year-old boy has been arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage in connection with the felling of the 300-year-old Sycamore Gap tree – the landmark one from Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves – at Hadrian’s Wall.

What a week to be staging the closing chapter of the groundbreaking zero-travel tour of American playwright Miranda Rose Hall’s “darkly humorous, life-affirming one-woman show” that confronts the world’s urgent ecological disaster.

It is billed as a “fiercely feminist off-grid production that is part ritual, part battle cry, in a moving exploration of what it means to be human in an era of man-made extinction”.

That tells only half the story because the concept behind the tour, mounted by Headlong and partners York Theatre Royal and the London Barbican, turns out to be more impactful than Hall’s 80-minute diatribe.

Since opening at the Barbican, the play has travelled with an original creative template by director Katie Mitchell and black-and-white design palette by Moi Tran, but neither materials, nor people have been sent to Coventry, Plymouth, Newcastle, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Prescot.

Stephanie Hutchinson: Playing a dramaturg forced into performing on stage in the absence of her company’s actors, then putting all her research into a plea for saving animals and humans from extinction

Instead, each venue has provided its own director and performer, in York’s case, Theatre Royal resident artist Mingyu Lin and Leeds actress Stephanie Hutchinson.

Stephanie delivers a monologue, but she is not alone on the boards. A sound engineer and lighting technician sit to either side and eight cyclists fill the stage, the whir of their steady, rhythmical, kinetic pedal power being turned into electricity for the sound and lighting by a mechanism to delight any scientists in the audience.

Recycling is as important as the cycling: only existing theatre stock – props and the microphone – can be used, along with clothing from charity shops; the bicycles being lent by Recycle York.

A typical main-house production uses 60,000 watts per performance for lighting, 10,000 for sound. A Play For The Living’s cyclists generated the necessary amount here; far, far less wattage in total.

All this is uplifting, and food for thought, a potential blueprint for eco-theatre touring, in the vein of Coldplay making their Music Of The Spheres world tour “as sustainable and low carbon as possible”.

All power to the sustainable concept, but Hall’s play is under-powered by comparison: bleak and apocalyptic, as to be expected in this age of the Sixth Extinction, but the “dark humour” is strained, with unnecessary swearing, and the doomsday scenario runs contrary to the claim of being life-affirming.

Apparently, the best we can seek is a “good death”, in a messianic finale that would not have been out of place delivered from a church pulpit, topped off by the York Theatre Royal Choir’s hymnal finale, delivered in funereal black, re-emphasising that message. Brecht & Weill would have loved it.

Saddling up to spark electricty: the cyclists from the cycling city of York doing their bit for “eco-theatre making”

Stephanie had talked in advance of being determined not to be preachy, but Hall’s tone ended up being exactly that. Rather than delivering a TED talk, “in a story like this, we need to care,” said Ming in her interview.

True, but we need to do more than care, amid so much dead talk. We need to act. Faced by footage of animal after animal facing extinction, it had the depressing, deadening air of futility. Not the intention surely, but where was the battle cry, the rallying call, rather than that hallelujah chorus of an incoming “good death”?

Lists can have an emotional impact – listen to Steve Earle’s mining disaster memorial It’s About Blood for proof – but the emotional elements of A Play For The Living are botched. The explanation of why Stephanie’s character, Zero Emissions Theatre Company dramaturg Naomi, is forced into being on stage for one night in an impromptu performance, after her fellow company founders are called away to a tragic emergency, is too around-the-houses.

We are here to care about extinction all around us, not a human accident. Likewise, we are not here to judge Naomi’s acting skills – or Stephanie being an actor playing someone who is not a natural actor, although she does just fine in that elaborately structured transition.

Later, Naomi talks of her dog disappearing, but again it is not the same as a creature’s extinction, so why include it here?

You will often hear that a play should not be expected to come up with answers, but what is the purpose of this one?  To encourage more responsible behaviour through its sustainable touring model, definitely, but where was the positivity that mankind can and will work together to save the planet and its endangered inhabitants, from the Little Brown Bat to the Kingfisher? Its absence spoke volumes. Maybe we really are all doomed as Private Frazer forecast in Dad’s Army.

The end.

Performances: 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow (30/9/2023). Box office: 01904 623568 or

When cycling meets recycling in York Theatre Royal sustainable show A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction

Pedal power: Cyclists at York Theatre Royal with the mechanism that turns their kinetic energy into electricity for the lighting and sound in A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction. Picture: James Drury

A PLAY For The Living In A Time Of Extinction is a darkly humorous, life-affirming one-woman show, written by American playwright Miranda Rose Hall and powered at each performance by cyclists.

Undertaking a “life-changing journey to confront the urgent ecological disaster unfolding around us”, this fiercely feminist off-grid production is part ritual, part battle cry in a moving exploration of what it means to be human in an era of man-made extinction.

Billed as a “bold experiment in eco theatre-making” on a groundbreaking zero-travel tour, Hall’s witty, ambitious 80-minute play has toured across the country under Headlong’s banner while the people and materials involved have not. 

After London, Coventry, Plymouth, Newcastle, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Prescot, the last stop is York Theatre Royal, where resident artist Mingyu Lin follows up co-directing the 100-strong company in the Theatre Royal’s summer community production of Sovereign by directing a cast of only one, Leeds actress Stephanie Hutchinson, in the role of Naomi from tonight to Saturday.

Stephanie will not be alone, however. Not only will she be accompanied by the York Theatre Royal Choir, last heard in Sovereign at King’s Manor, but also by eight cyclists, pedalling on specially adapted bikes that will power the lighting and sound.

“What’s been done is to find a way to be both sustainable and tour,” says Ming. “The concept of the play never changes but the talent working on it changes at each venue. Cyclists are recruited at each venue to power the show. The only thing that’s moved physically is the technology which transforms kinetic energy into electricity – and that all comes in one big box.”

In keeping with York’s status as a cycling city, more than 50 people have applied to be volunteer cyclists, including community cast members from Sovereign, members of York Theatre Royal’s Access All Areas Youth Theatre strand and participants celebrating International Day of Older People. Consequently, a different set of cyclists will saddle up at each of the five performances, with a maximum of eight putting in a shift each show, by comparison with a maximum of four elsewhere.

Coinciding with the start of rehearsals, York Theatre Royal has begun an environmental campaign encouraging staff and community members to pledge to do better for the environment in a manner that they choose.

“We are definitely at a turning point,” says Stephanie Hutchinson, who plays Naomi in A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction at York Theatre Royal. Picture: James Drury

This includes an opportunity for all to share their pledges with the chance to be featured in the digital programme for A Play For The Living. Pledges can be made on social media with the hashtag #IPledgeWithYTR or through a display in the York Theatre Royal foyer. 

Sharing learning from Europe and Katie Mitchell, director of a version of the play in Switzerland, Headlong’s innovative touring model is the first of its kind in Great Britain. The Barbican, in London, played host to the beginning of this journey, since when a blueprint of the show has been brought to life by a different team of theatre makers in each venue as part of an international experiment in reimagining theatre in a climate crisis.  

“There’s been a little bit of serendipity for me to be directing the York leg,” says former University of York Eng. Lit student Ming. “When I was working on programming for Headlong, when I was still living in London, during the pandemic we were looking at plays to put on after Covid, and I came across A Play For The Living because it was on the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize shortlist, an international playwriting prize with UK funding,” she recalls.

“On the short list were five plays and we really wanted a play by a female writer with a strong theme. All at Headlong decided they liked this one, and we had a meeting on Zoom with the writer, Miranda Rose Hall, who was very, very passionate about the risk of extinction and climate change, and you can really feel that in the play.

“We got an email from Katie Mitchell, who’d directed a smaller-scale production with two cyclists, and we decided we wanted the ethos of the production to reflect the ethos and energy of the play by having more cyclists.”

Ming knew she would be moving to York Theatre Royal as resident artist by the time the tour was put in place. “One of the reasons I wanted to leave London is that I really want plays to come out of London, and  I thought you could have local directors and actors for each tour venue, but also not spend loads of money on the set, with only the mechanism for converting pedal power into electricity and a LED neon flex lighting system going from venue to venue,” she says.

“Working from an original design and black-and-grey colour palette by Moi Tran, each theatre must provide the staging, the microphones, the bicycles and the cyclists, and the theatre is not allowed to use anything new. Everything has to be from the Theatre Royal’s existing stock or charity shops for costumes. The Recycle York shop is lending us the bikes.”

Reflecting on the tour’s zero-travel policy, Ming says: “It really makes you aware of the cost of touring theatre in terms of sustainability and the use of electricity in your artistic vision, but I think those challenges turn into opportunities. Too much freedom can make you lazy.”

Leeds actress Stephanie Hutchinson

Stephanie Hutchinson will be performing in a one-woman show for the first time. “The amount you have to learn is crazy,” she says. “I had to find a sense of what the play is about, and there’s a video by the writer, explaining the show and why she wanted to write it, that’s been really useful.

“I would say that rehearsals have been interesting and challenging but very positive and working with Ming has been nothing but positive. It’s a different experience because I’ve never done a monologue before, especially as it’s one this long and it’s just me speaking on stage.”

Stephanie’s character Naomi is “part of a theatre company that has made a play especially for you, those living through extinction, but the actors have not shown up yet. In the meantime, Naomi has a plan.”

“I keep thinking throughout, ‘I really want to get the audience thinking and talking about extinction’,” says Stephanie. “Naomi is asked if she’s read The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, a book by Elizabeth Kolbert [the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, university visiting fellow and environmental journalist for the New Yorker], because we’re going through the Sixth Extinction right now” …

…“We’re losing creatures at a quicker rate now than in the days of the dinosaurs,” points out Ming.

Hall’s play posits that “the difference between death and extinction is this: death is to cease to exist. Extinction is to extinguish. I think of death as individual. Extinction is collective”.

“We are definitely at a turning point,” says Stephanie. “Naomi is thinking, ‘we need to do something on this, a play, but she’s a dramaturg, not an actor, but when the actors who’d normally be doing it have an emergency, she has to go on stage. So it’s set up as a sort of improvised ‘gotta make a show’.”

Ming says: “It’s interesting for an actor to be playing someone who’s not an actor and wouldn’t normally be on stage, so that’s been fun.”

“It shouldn’t be preachy, and Naomi isn’t going to be preachy, but maybe provoke conversations,” says Stephanie. Picture: James Drury

Stephanie says: “I like how it’s educational, with Naomi learning as well as the audience, taking it in as if she’s learning it for the first time as she tells you all these facts.”

As Ming puts it, the playwright has created a story and character with emotional stakes at play, “not a TED talk”. “It stays engaging because there are parts that are so personal, so it to-and-fros  between Naomi’s story and the wider story,” says Stephanie.

“In a story like this, you need to care,” says Ming. “The stakes must be there from almost the top of a play, and that’s something that really works with this play, where you get to care about it and you invest in the conceit of the dramaturg telling it.”

Stephanie adds: “I find it easier to express that in the moments when Naomi is feeling vulnerable, and you can definitely play with the emotion there.”

Last question: why should we see A Play For The Living in this time of extinction? “I don’t think a  pedal-powered production on this scale has been done before, and a tour of this type has never been done,” says Ming.

“It’s definitely life affirming because, yes, ‘extinction’ is in the title, but so is ‘living’ and the sustenance of life is worth fighting for.”

For Stephanie, “it’s something new, something I’ve never come across before. It shouldn’t be preachy, and Naomi isn’t going to be preachy, but maybe provoke conversations,” she says. “She won’t have the answers, but we’re all going through this, and we must all go through it together.”

A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction  runs on pedal power at York Theatre Royal from tonight (27/9/2023) until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or 

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in York and beyond, from a remote island murder trail to science lessons. Hutch’s List No. 39, from The Press

Mark Simmonds, left, Martyn Hunter and Ian Giles rehearsing Pick Me Up Theatre’s And Then There Were None at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

AND then there were ten as Charles Hutchinson picks his cultural highlights, from Christie mystery to prints aplenty,  Wax words to science explosions, extinction fears to singers’ farewells.  

Thriller of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, running until September 30, 7.30pm (except tomorrow and Monday); 2.30pm, today, tomorrow and next Saturday

TEN strangers are summoned to a remote island. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they are unwilling to reveal and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder.

As the weather turns and the group is cut off from the mainland, the bloodbath begins and one by one they are brutally murdered in accordance with the lines of a sinister nursery rhyme in Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, directed for York company Pick Me Up Theatre by Andrew Isherwood, who will play retired Inspector William Blore too. Box office:

Michelle Hughes’s Kilburn White Horse, on show at York Printmakers Autumn Fair

Print deadline: York Printmakers Autumn Fair, York Cemetery Chapel and Harriet Room, today and tomorrow, 10am to 5pm

IN its sixth year, the York Printmakers Autumn Fair features work by 26 members exhibiting and selling hand-printed original prints, including Russell Hughes, Rachel Holborow, Michelle Hughes, Harriette Rymer and Jo Rodwell.

On display will be a variety of printmaking techniques, such as linocut, collagraphs, woodcut, screen printing, stencilling and etching. Artists will be on hand to discuss their working methods and to show the blocks, plates and tools they use.

Pulling a face: Comedian Phil Wang returns to York on his Wang In There, Baby! tour

Seriously silly: Phil Wang, Wang In There, Baby!, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm

AFTER his Netflix special, David Letterman appearance, role in Life & Beth with Amy Schumer and debut book Sidesplitter, Phil Wang discusses race, family, nipples and everything else going on in his Philly little life in his latest stand-up show, Wang In There, Baby! Box office:

Cinder Well: Songs of mystery at The Band Room, Low Mill. Picture: Georgia Zeavin

Gig of the week outside York: Cinder Well, The Band Room, Low Mill, Farndale, North York Moors, tonight, 7.30pm

CINDER Well, multi-instrumentalist Amelia Baker’s experimental American roots project, showcases her mysterious April 2023 album, Cadence.

The title refers to the cycles of our turbulent lives, to the uncertain tides that push us forward and back, as Cadence drifts between two far-flung seas: the hazy California coast where Baker grew up and the wind-torn swells of County Clare, western Ireland, that she has come to love. Box office:

Ministry of Science Live: Lighting the flame for experiments in Science Saved The World at Grand Opera House, York

Explosive children’s show of the week: Ministry of Science Live in Science Saved The World, Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow, 12.30pm and 4pm

MINISTRY of Science take an anarchic approach to science communication, looking at the scientists, engineers and inventors who have shaped the modern world, while proving that each and every one of us has the ability to change our world for the better.

Expect 20ft liquid nitrogen clouds, exploding oxygen and hydrogen balloons, fire tornados, hydrogen bottle rockets, ignited methane and even a self-built Hovercraft. Box office:

Confronting ecological disaster: Stephanie Hutchinson in A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction at York Theatre Royal. Picture: James Drury

Play of the week: A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

DIRECTED for York Theatre Royal by Mingyu Lin, Miranda Rose Hall’s play heads out on a life-changing journey to confront the urgent ecological disaster unfolding around us. Part ritual, part battle cry, this “fiercely feminist off-grid” one-woman show offers a moving evaluation of what it means to be human in an era of man-made extinction.

Leeds actress Stephanie Hutchinson will be joined at each performance by eight cyclists, who will ride specially adapted bicycles to power the electricity required for lighting and sound. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Ruby Wax: A search to find meaning on a series of life-changing journeys

Waxing lyrical: Ruby Wax: I’m Not As Well As I Thought, York Alive festival, Grand Opera House, York, Thursday, 7.30pm

IN 2022, American-British actress, comedian, writer, television personality and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax, 70, began a search to find meaning, booking a series of potentially life-changing journeys. Even greater change marked her inner journey, as charted in her book I’m Not As Well As I Thought and now in her “rawest, darkest, funniest show yet”. Box office:

The Manfreds: Last tour together for singers Paul Jones and Mike D’Abo on 60th anniversary itinerary

Nostalgia of the week…for the last time: Maximum Rhythm’n’Blues with The Manfreds, Grand Opera House, York, Friday

JOIN legendary pioneers of Sixties’ British rhythm & blues The Manfreds as they celebrate 60 years in the business. Vocalists Paul Jones, 81, and Mike D’Abo, 79, are touring together for the final time, alongside long-standing members Tom McGuinness, Rob Townsend, Marcus Cliffe and Simon Currie, to rejoice in Do Wah Diddy Diddy, If You Gotta Go, Go Now, Pretty Flamingo, My Name Is Jack and Mighty Quinn. Box office:

Daniel Martinez Flamenco Company: Three performances in one day at the NCEM

Dance at the treble: Daniel Martinez Flamenco Company, Art Of Believing Special Edition, National Centre for Early Music, York, October 1, 3.30pm, 6pm and 8.30pm

LAST at the NCEM in November 2022, the Daniel Martinez Flamenco Company returns to York for three performances in one day of Art Of Believing, a 90-minute show suffused with emotion, passion and grit.

Works from Martinez’s Herald Angel Award-winning production Art Of Believing will be complemented by previously unseen pieces performed by musicians, singers and dancer Gabriela Pouso. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Kenny Thomas: Rediscovered songs and big hits on the Him Tour 2024 at Grand Opera House, York

Looking ahead: Kenny Thomas, Him 2024 Tour, Grand Opera House, York, May 19 2024

ISLINGTON soul singer-songwriter Kenny Thomas will front his all-star band in York on his nine-leg British tour next spring, showcasing songs from his “lost” third album, the never-commercially-released Him, alongside his greatest hits.

“Over three decades on from when I first started out, this tour demonstrates that soul music is here to stay,” says Thomas, 55, whose Best Of compilation will be out on November 3. Box office:

In Focus: Stephanie Hutchinson on starring in a one-woman show for the first time in A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction

Stephanie Hutchinson: Starring in one-woman, whole-world drama A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction at York Theatre Royal

STEPHANIE Hutchinson had never imagined she would do a one-woman show.

Come Wednesday, however, the Leeds actress will be giving her solo turn for five performances in “a bold experiment in eco theatre-making” and a “fiercely feminist off-grid production” at York Theatre Royal.

The title, A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction, is an indication that this Headlong, London Barbican and York Theatre Royal co-production will be unlike anything you have seen before.

Hands up anyone who has witnessed a stage production powered by bicycles. Only The HandleBards on their open-air Shakespeare travels come to mind.

Strictly speaking, Stephanie will not be on her own. Eight cyclists per performance will be pedalling away to power lights and microphones, while the York Theatre Royal Choir will be participating too.

After a Barbican run, Miranda Rose Hall’s play is on a zero-travel tour using an eco-friendly blueprint. The rest of the production, from local actor to cyclists, is provided by the theatre hosting the show, culminating in York next week.

“I don’t want the audience to feel they’re just being talked at,” says Stephanie. Picture: James Drury

Stephanie sees it as a co-operative production, not only a one-woman show. “I’ve not seen A Play For The Living but heard a lot about it,” she says.

Her character, a dramaturg called Naomi, pressed into impromptu service as an actress, is fearful of death but is determined to confront fears about an impending ecological disaster.

“What caught my eye was just how sustainable the production is,” she says. “Naomi is described as a woman in her 20s who is scared of dying. She’s already had to go on stage and act in front of people. She’s confronted that fear. Now she’s facing her fear of dying and wants to have a conversation about it.

“I like how interactive it is. It’s not just me, not just a verbal splurge. She wants to know what others are thinking. I don’t want the audience to feel they’re just being talked at.”

Despite the subject, A Play For The Living is not all gloom and doom, emphasies Stephanie. There are funny moments. Gloomy and funny is her hope for the experience.

Stephanie Hutchinson in Badapple Theatre’s production of Elephant Rock, part of the TakeOver festival at York Theatre Royal in May last year

“I don’t think it’s just a message play,” she says. “Naomi’s having a conversation, making the audience aware of what she’s found during her research. It’s also like an ode to the Earth as well because the Earth has given us so much but in return we’re not treating it back very well. It’s almost like she’s blessing the Earth and thanking it. But we do need to be careful – if we keep going the way we’re going, future generations might not have it.”

Stephanie was last seen on York Theatre Royal’s main stage in Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre’s Elephant Rock during the TakeOver season in May 2022. Her other credits include Shake The City, based around the clothworkers’ strike in Leeds in 1970, staged at both Leeds Playhouse and Jermyn Street Theatre in London.

All this is something of a surprise for Stephanie who did not nurse acting ambitions from a young age. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was a teenager. Then when I was 15, 16, I was going to theatre classes where you’d do singing, dancing, acting and I was like, ‘I quite actually like this – can I do it at uni or go to a drama school?’.

“So, at 18, I went to Salford University and graduated with a BA (Hons) Performing Arts. I’ve managed to carry it on, although I’m not quite sure how I’ve done that. My ambition is just to keep on going because I can’t really see myself doing anything else. Even in my day job, I do role play and that’s acting on the side. Acting is getting paid for doing what I love.

“I thought I would never do a one-person show. I am feeling very happy where I am at the moment. Very happy.”

Cyclists needed to power Stephanie Hutchinson’s performance in climate crisis play at York Theatre Royal in September

Stephanie Hutchinson: Leeds actress will play Naomi in A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction at York Theatre Royal

CYCLISTS are needed to power radical new theatre show A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction at York Theatre Royal next month.

Miranda Rose Hall’s darkly humorous, life-affirming play uses energy generated by on-stage cyclists, who will ride specially adapted bicycles to power all the electricity required for lighting and sound.

Consequently, the Theatre Royal is seeking volunteers to saddle up to be part of this innovative production, co-produced with Headlong and the Barbican, London. Eight cyclists are needed for each 80-minute performance, outnumbering the solo performer by eight to one.

Anyone keen to be involved can find out more at The deadline for signing up is Monday, September 11.

Running in York from September 27 to 30, Miranda Rose Hall’s play heads out on a life-changing journey to confront the urgent ecological disaster unfolding around us. Part ritual, part battle cry, this “fiercely feminist off-grid” one-woman show offers a moving evaluation of what it means to be human in an era of man-made extinction.

Sharing learning from Europe and Katie Mitchell too, Headlong’s innovative touring model explores the idea of a play touring, but the people involved not doing so, in the first project of its kind in the UK.

The Barbican hosted the beginning of this journey and now each city on the tour will follow a blueprint for the show, brought to life by a different team of theatre makers at each venue as part of a ground-breaking international experiment in reimagining theatre in a climate crisis.

The York leg’s director, Mingyu Lin, resident artist at York Theatre Royal, says: “York is the final stop for this ground-breaking concept of sustainable touring and I’m so excited to be directing our own version of this ambitiously eco-conscious and witty show, which will be made (and powered!) by York talent.”

The role of Naomi will be played in York by Stephanie Hutchinson, from Leeds, who studied performing arts at Salford University. She previously appeared on the Theatre Royal stage in Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre’s haunted dance hall comedy, Elephant Rock, in May 2022.

Her further theatre credits include Shake The City (Jermyn Street Theatre), Wind In The Willows Library Theatre, Manchester), Mugabeland (Come As You Arts North West) and The Haunted Man (Kindred Theatre) and she has had television roles in Emmerdale, Without Sin and Coronation Street too.

A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction, York Theatre Royal, September 27 to 30, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Haunted happenings: Stephanie Hutchinson in Badapple Theatre Company’s Elephant Rock at York Theatre Royal in May last year

In Focus: A Play For The Living In A Time of Extinction director Mingyu Lin

DIRECTOR Mingyu Lin could be excused for feeling a little lonely as she prepares to bring an innovative show to the stage of York Theatre Royal. She has moved from rehearsing a community company of 100 for Sovereign to A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction with a cast of only one.

While cast numbers may be small, the idea and thoughts behind the project are big, not least the idea of generating power for the production using bicycles on a zero-travel tour. Or as the pre-show publicity puts it: “a bold experiment in eco theatre-making” that sees the play tour across the country while the people and materials do not.

York is the final stop, where Theatre Royal resident artist Ming, a regular director of Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, has been involved with the project from the start. She was working as a creative associate at Headlong when “the play passed my desk”, and she recalls that she and the rest of the team loved it.

A Zoom meeting was set up with the writer Miranda Rose Hall, who lives in America, and Katie Mitchell, director of a version of the play in Switzerland, to discuss how a play about sustainability could itself be sustainable. Pedal power, involving a team of cyclists generating electricity during the performance , was a big part of the answer.

“I’m passionate about touring theatre and Headlong tours outside London, so we knew we had to tour the play,” says Ming. “And if you have a play that looks at climate change, I’m against a play made in London going around the north telling us how to live our lives.

“What the tour does is use local talent and it doesn’t have all the things that are damaging where you spend lots of energy and resources when you move people from place to place, which you don’t actually need to do because where you’re moving to has got those things already.

“What’s been done is find a way to be both sustainable and tour. The concept of the play never changes but the talent working on it changes at each venue. Cyclists are recruited at each venue to power the show. The only thing that’s moved physically is the technology that transforms kinetic energy into electricity – and that all comes in one big box.”

When Headlong was planning the tour, Ming knew she was joining York Theatre Royal as a resident artist, so she snapped up the chance to direct the production. “I knew I really wanted the people of York to see it,” she says.

“I knew York would love it in a theatre that’s absolutely unique and gorgeous. The play and
the concept fits really well within the theatre and York itself is a cycling city.”

Ming needed to find an actor within commutable distance of York to play Naomi, the character in the one-woman play. That turned out to be Leeds-based Stephanie Hutchinson.

“With one-person shows it’s difficult to maintain the energy and the engagement. You are really banking on performance charisma. We had to look for a very strong performer and there are a lot of them in the area,” says Ming. “I hope that even if we don’t work with them now, we will work with them very shortly because those we saw were of a high calibre.”

Theatre was “always the dream” for Ming. “Growing up in Singapore, I was interested in stories and storytelling. I loved reading and in the world of literature everything is new writing,” she says. “I worked as a stage manager there during the holidays. When I started doing A-level drama, I realised theatre is a great way of telling stories.”

MIngyu LIn, front right, with fellow Sovereign directors Juliet Forster and John R Wilkinson, front left, writer Mike Kenny and central character Henry VIII at King’s Manor, York

She studied English Literature at the University of York, then trained as a director at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She now directs for stage and screen, as well as being a founder member of the BESEA (British East and Southeast Asian) advocacy group BEATS (Better Ethnic Access To Services).

Ming also is a [play] reader for Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre and the Brentwood Prize. “As a stage director, what I’m really passionate about is advocacy. I want to affect society change
with the work we do,” she says.

“I’m part of an advocacy group that campaigns for more South East Asian representation on stage, backstage, on screen and behind the camera. The genres I’m interested in
primarily are new writing and adaptation,” says Ming.

“One reason I was drawn to A Play For The Living was because it deals with an urgent issue,
something important, and features a wonderful way to get communities involved with the cycling. There’s also a volunteer choir involved.”

York Theatre Royal’s summertime large-scale production of Sovereign, staged outdoors at King’s Manor with a 100-strong community company led by two professional actors, was “great” for Ming because “I’m very, very, very up for working with the community. That’s very important. You can make change doing that,” she says.

Directing Sovereign – with co-directors Juliette Forster and John R Wilkinson – was definitely a challenge but, putting it in perspective, Ming refers to the scale of directing for television with a crew of 50 and cast of 20.

Not the most stressful artistically perhaps, but certainly in terms of the logistics and keeping on schedule. “There was a lot of joy in the uniqueness of a community production like Sovereign. It was a challenge because most of the performers had never been in that situation before,” she says.

“With rehearsals, they were learning new things and you were going on a journey with them, and that’s quite fun. There was a huge treasure trove of learning for me, especially working with Juliet [Forster, the Theatre Royal’s creative director], who has done so many large-scale community productions. That was really helpful, working with other directors.

“One thing I loved about coming here was that I knew there were other directors in the artistic planning team and you get to work together.”

She is now part of that community, as she and her husband, who comes from York, have
moved to the city.

Ming directing Hollyoaks coincided with the arrival of the first South East Asian family in a television soap: a continuing TV drama that reaches a younger audience than most theatre shows. “So you’re not preaching to the same audience as in the theatre. You’re widening your reach. The show also covers a lot of important storylines, which is what drew me to it,” she says.

Badapple Theatre are back at York Theatre Royal after a decade tonight with the haunted dance hall comedy Elephant Rock

Haunted happenings: Jessica Woodward, left, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in Badapple Theatre Company’s Elephant Rock

GREEN Hammerton theatre-on-your-doorstep purveyors Badapple Theatre Company return to York Theatre Royal for the first time in a decade tonight (10/5/2022).

At the invitation of TakeOver 2022, the arts festival run by York St John University, Kate Bramley’s travelling troupe will be presenting Elephant Rock, a “lighthearted comedy about finding your place in the world” set against the backdrop of environmental change.

“We were last at the Theatre Royal with Back To The Land Girls roughly ten years ago and it feels very exciting to be back. We’re delighted,” says writer-director Kate. “It’s come about through the York St John performing arts students, who, as part of their final-year work, have the chance to put together a week of performances in a festival.

“They came to us and asked if we could do Elephant Rock, so we juggled things around a bit on the tour, and here we are, on the main stage, which is lovely for us, having the chance to use more than the five lanterns we take on tour for the lighting!”

Badapple Theatre Company artistic director Kate Bramley: Delighted to be returning to York Theatre Royal

Set in a storm-battered seaside village, Kate’s upbeat play with original music and songs by Jez Lowe follows the fortunes of a family trying desperately to keep the struggling pier-front Palace Theatre open, come hell or high water.

“The heyday of the great British seaside holiday may have gone but the memories remain,” says Kate. “So too does the old Palace Theatre, once perched proudly on the pier in sight of the mighty Elephant Rock, and boasting its own fabulous attraction, The Amazing Mechanical Elephant.

“But the relentless tides have chipped away at the coast, and Elephant Rock and its mechanical counterpart are long gone, as if instinct and longing have lured them off to the land of their ancestors.

“Amid the comic yet heartfelt attempts of the mismatched team who are determined that the Palace doors stay open, they discover a surprising family history that stretches across a hundred years and five thousand miles, from the rocky coast of England to the sweeping grasslands of Sri Lanka.”

Jessica Woodward: Pink dress, pink umbrella, in Catherine Dawn’s typically colourful design for Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock’s subject matter was prompted by a family visit to Withernsea, the East Riding resort noted for its Pier Towers, sandy beach, Valley Gardens and lighthouse. “A few years back, we were staying there, and where there used to be a road, now there was just a drop with a sign saying ‘End’,” says Kate.

“It was partly that observation that set me thinking about erosion, and we’d also heard the story of the Elephant Rock, just off the coast at Hartlepool, standing there for many years and then ‘wandering off’, disappearing into the sea – though we’ve had sightings of ‘Elephant Rocks’ elsewhere: one was in Iceland and another off the Vietnamese coast.

“It seems to be a phenomenon to do with coastal erosion that leaves rock in the shape of an animal.”

While the Elephant Rock story was a “bit of trivia”, Kate noted how coastal communities were being hit by climate change and the impact of erosion. “I thought about how people need to move and migrate, and I wondered whether people had to come from a place to call it ‘home’, when the coast plays host to a fluctuating community, such as carnival troupes that come and go.”

Entertainment on the pier: Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in the vintage dance hall in Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is set in the present day while harking back to the past. “The three principal characters are stuck in a dance hall where these comedic hauntings happen to them as they try to decide what to do with a magical box,” explains Kate.

Those roles and no doubt more besides are played by Jessica Woodward, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson. “They’re a lovely bunch, all Yorkshire actors – quite by chance it’s fallen that way – and they’re having a lovely time together on what is our ‘comeback tour’ to full-scale touring after these past two years. Thankfully all these venues have stayed loyal to us,” says Kate.

“Robert worked with us in The Carlton Colliers and The Last Station Keeper before we lost him to Northern Broadsides and the West End, but now we’ve tempted him back to the north!

“Jess graduated from ALRA [Academy of Live and Recorded Arts] a couple of years ago and this is her first long tour. She’s a whiz, a classic ALRA all-rounder. Stephanie is a lovely actor from Leeds, who’s done some rural touring and telly and does the bulk of the singing in the show.”

Look out for new compositions by Jez Lowe that are set within the action of the play, recounting what happened to Elephant Rock, and he has delivered some fun Fifties’ jive numbers too.

Stephanie Hutchinson: Making her Badapple Theatre Company debut

Kate has been delighted at the response to the show that opened on April 22 and will be on the road until June 19 in Badapple’s 24th year of touring original productions with professional actors to the “most unexpected of places”: the smallest and hardest-to-reach rural venues and village halls in Yorkshire and beyond.

“It seems people are resting more easily around the Covid situation, and it feels like a transitional show, reminding people that they can go out,” she says. “We’ve had people saying ‘I’ve really missed it’ – and that is our role, to go out there on rural tours, bringing joy to communities.

“There’s still some generation caution about going out, with older people proving to be more cautious, but that said, equally some people feel far safer going to their village hall than going into town to see a show.”

Should you miss tonight’s 7.30pm show, Badapple’s spring and summer tour has plenty more performances in the York vicinity: May 17, Green Hammerton Village Hall (box office, 01423 331304); May 18, Terrington Village Hall, 8pm (01653 648394); May 20, Sutton upon Derwent Village Hall (01904 608524); June 10, Low Catton Village Hall (07837 330421); June 12, Skipsea Village Hall (01262 469714), and June 15, Galtres Centre, Easingwold (01347 822472, Monday to Friday, 9am, to 5pm). Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

Tickets for tonight and all the TakeOver 2022 festival events are on sale on 01904 623568 or at