More Things To Do indoors in and around York in Stay Home Lockdown 3. List No 24, courtesy of The Press, York

A Long night: Josie Long will be performing for the Your Place Comedy live-stream from her living room on January 24

AS LOCKDOWN 3 urges everyone to “stay home”, Charles Hutchinson takes that advice in selecting entertainment for the dark days and nights ahead.

Somewhere over the pandemic horizon, he highlights a couple of shows in the diary for the autumn.

Ahir Shah: Joining Josie Long in a remote double bill for Your Place Comedy

Live-stream lockdown humour from living room to living room: Josie Long and Ahir Shah, Your Place Comedy, January 24

LOCKDOWN 3 has brought another round of Your Place Comedy home entertainment. “As before, we’ll be broadcasting from comedians’ living rooms, kitchens and attics or, as was the case with Lucy Beaumont, her homemade pub,” says virtual comedy club organiser Chris Jones, Selby Town Council’s arts officer.

The format remains the same: two headline comedians, some stand-up and some chat, all juggled by regular compere Tim FitzHigham. First up will be Josie Long and Ahir Shah on January 24; line-ups are yet to be confirmed for February 28 and March 28.

The live-stream shows will be free to watch but with donations keenly encouraged at yourplacecomedy.co.uk.

Pea’s home; green: Story Craft Theatre storyteller Cassie Vallance looks forward to next week’s Crafty Tales session

Interactive stories for children: Story Craft Theatre’s Crafty Tales

CASSIE Vallance and Janet Bruce cannot hold their Crafty Tales sessions in person during Lockdown 3 but will continue to deliver sessions “directly to you via the power of Zoom”.

“Each 50-minute session is packed full of crafting, storytelling and educational fun with lots of activities to keep your little folk’s imagination alight,” says Cassie. “There are still a few spaces left for next week’s 10am sessions based around Julia Donaldson’s The Runaway Pea on January 20, 22 and 23.”

Coming up on January 27, 29 and 30 will be Elaine Wickson’s Super Stan. For more details and to book, go to storycrafttheatre.co.uk.

Parasols aplenty: A scene from the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company production of The Pirates Of Penzance at the 2019 International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, now available online. Picture: Jane Stokes

Operetta on screen: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, G&S Opera TV On-Line Streaming Service

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic put paid to the 2020 International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival at Harrogate Royal Hall, the festival launched its online streaming subscription service at gsoperatv.

“New content is being continually added,” says festival stalwart Bernard Lockett. “It features the very best of more than 26 years of the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, along with top amateur productions performed at our festival, G&S films and fascinating documentaries and interviews, and is the only place to experience so many outstanding Savoy operas.”

The subscription rates for general viewers is £9.99 per month or £99 annuallyThe 2021 festival is in the diary for August 8 to 22 in Harrogate, preceded by Buxton Opera House the week before.

Chelsey Gillard: Stephen Joseph Theatre associate director, hosting online script-reading sessions

Play for the day appraisal: Online script-reading sessions, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from January 20

RUNNING online on Wednesdays from 11.30am to 1.30pm for five weeks, the fun sessions will dive into five classic comedies: Aristophanes’s Lysistrata on January 20; Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, January 27; Moliere’s Tartuffe, February 3; Sheridan’s The Rivals, February 10, and Feydeau’s A Flea In Her Ear, February 17.

Participants will read sections of the plays aloud and work with SJT associate director Chelsey Gillard to consider their themes, stories, writing styles and historical context in a relaxed discussion. Session bookings can be made at sjt.uk.com.

Clowning around: Jon Marshall’s Ringmaster with Steve Collison’s Clown in Magic Carpet Theatre’s Magic Circus

Online children’s show of the month: Magic Carpet Theatre in Magic Carpet, Pocklington Arts Centre YouTube channel

HULL company Magic Carpet Theatre filmed their fun family-friendly show, Magic Carpet, behind closed doors at Pocklington Arts Centre last October. By public demand, its free streaming run is being extended to January 21 at: youtu.be/CNrUixTMWdQ.

Performed by director Jon Marshall and Steve Collison with magical illusions, comedy, circus skills and puppets, it tells the humorous tale of what happens to the ringmaster’s extravaganza plans after the artistes and elephants fail to arrive and everything has to be left in the calamitous hands of the clowns. Disaster!

His master’s voices: Alan Ayckbourn recorded his audio version of Haunting Julia at home. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Online ghost play of the season: Alan Ayckbourn’s Haunting Julia, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

ALAN Ayckbourn’s 2020 audio version of his ghost play Haunting Julia is being given an afterlife. Originally available at sjt.uk.com/event/1078/haunting_julia until January 5, the winter chiller now will be online until January 31.

Revisiting his 1994 play, Ayckbourn’s audio recording features the voice of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 81-year-old director emeritus. Or, rather, the three voices of Ayckbourn, who plays all three parts.

Rufus Wainwright: Songs inspired by middle age, married life, fatherhood, friends, loss, London and Laurel Canyon

Baroque’n’roll gig of the autumn: Rufus Wainwright, York Barbican, October 13

LAUREL Canyon singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright’s October 27 2020 tour date at York Barbican has moved to October 13 2021. Tickets remain valid for the rearranged date with his new band.

Last July, Wainwright, 47, released his ninth studio album, Unfollow The Rules, his first since 2012. “I consider it my first fully mature album; it is like a bookend to the beginning of my career,” says Rufus, whose fearless, mischievous songs were inspired by middle age, married life, fatherhood, friends, loss, London and Laurel Canyon.

Taking the mic: Omid Djalili looks forward to letting the Good Times roll again

Ready for a laugh: Omid Djalili, The Good Times Tour, Grand Opera House, York, November 10

OMID Djalili cannot wait to be back where he belongs, on stage, after experimenting with a Zoom gig where he was muted by no fewer than 639 people and a drive-in gig when he witnessed one audience member leave his car, attach a hose pipe to his exhaust and feed it through the window.

The British-Iranian stand-up’s 2021 excursions could not have a more positive title: The Good Times Tour. Let’s hope he is right, although who can predict if his shows at Harrogate Theatre on May 6 and Hull City Hall on May 26 will be given the go-ahead.

In his diary too are: Platform Festival, The Old Station, Pocklington, July 22, and Masham Town Hall, September 18 and 19. Oh, and Leeds Town Hall on October 28 in faraway 2022.

Stephen Joseph Theatre to host online script-reading sessions on Wednesdays

Chelsey Gillard: Stephen Joseph Theatre associate director

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, is to run a series of online script-reading sessions from January 20.

“We do these regularly, with a different theme each time,” says press officer Jeannie Swales. “They have a devoted following and usually sell out really quickly.”

Running on Wednesdays from 11.30am to 1.30pm for five weeks, the fun sessions will dive into five classic comedies: Aristophanes’s Lysistrata on January 20; William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, January 27; Moliere’s Tartuffe, February 3; Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, February 10, and Georges Feydeau’s A Flea In Her Ear, February 17.

The sessions will look at how comedic theatre can pack a political punch, offer blistering satire and deliver a good night out. 

Participants will read sections of the plays aloud and work with Carne Trust associate director Chelsey Gillard to consider their themes, stories, writing styles and historical context in a relaxed discussion.

Digital copies of the plays will be provided. Participants will be given a Zoom link to join the online session each week once they have made a booking at sjt.uk.com.

The Snow Queen’s deep freeze stretches to the end of January for SJT film streaming

Polly Lister as the “silly Sorceress” in Nick Lane’s The Snow Queen, the SJT production available for streaming throughout January. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

LOCKDOWN 3 is enforcing a Stay Home policy that consigns theatres to hibernation through the winter chill and maybe beyond.

Until whenever, the arts must be a remote prospect for entertainment, and where better to start than the film version of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s five-star Christmas show, The Snow Queen.

A sell-out success in the Covid-secure, socially distanced Round auditorium last month, Nick Lane’s one-woman show for Polly Lister lost only its last day (December 31) to Scarborough’s move to Tier 3 status.

If you missed the live performances or want to re-live Lane’s magical, mischievous, moving show, The Snow Queen is available to rent until midnight on January 31. Tickets cost £12 at sjt.uk.com/SJTathome and allow online access for a week.

Lane, audacious inventor of winter wonderlands at the SJT since 2016, had been writing a five-hander version in the manner of past hits Pinocchio, A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol and Alice In Wonderland.

“Nick, could you change it to a one-hander,” asked SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, his regular partner in “sublime not-pantomime” shows for the child in all of us. Yes, he said.

Paul Robinson: Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director, who directed Polly Lister in Nick Lane’s The Snow Queen. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“Polly, could you do it as a solo show,” Robinson asked Polly Lister, so memorably “hyper, needy, overbearing, but funny and vulnerable” as Mari Hoff in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and “sporty and no-nonsense” as lesbian Di in Di And Viv And Rose in the SJT’s 2017 summer season.

“Yes,” said Polly, who now would be playing multitudinous characters – a Goth raven poet and a grumpy Brummie reindeer among them – rather than merely the icy blast of the Snow Queen.

On board once more too were SJT artistic associate Simon Slater, Scarborough-born composer, lyricist and sound designer; video and lighting wizard Paul Steer; movement and puppetry director Gemma Fairlie and Helen Coyston, the designer for A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol, who decided everything should go with a swing in The Snow Queen.

Nick recalls the Covid-enforced change of tack from a cast of five to a solo show. “I got the call from Paul, when I’d done two drafts of the five-hander, full bells and whistles,” he says.

“He’d already cut it to a cast of four. ‘No problem at all’, I said, but then he said, ‘I’ve had a re-think, we’re going to make it a one-woman show’.

“And while he was explaining his reasoning, having first thought he was joking, I thought, ‘I’ve done two or three one-man shows before; this can work’. But having now done a two-hander Snow Queen at Hull Truck and started on the five-hander for the SJT and now written this solo show version, I don’t want to do another Snow Queen for ten years!”

“You know the story of The Snow Queen. It’s bonkers,” says playwright Nick Lane

Nick revelled in his new task. “You know the story of The Snow Queen: it’s bonkers!” he says. “In order to make it a one-woman show, give it a strong narrative and make it locally relevant, I followed a plot that wasn’t in the play originally, as you don’t just adapt a five-hander into a one-hander, as that would be really lazy.

“It’s ended up being my furthest removed play from the source material. That’s not to say it doesn’t follow Hans Christian Andersen’s story beats, but one of the things about The Snow Queen story is that she’s not in it apart from the beginning and the end, and there’s no explanation about why she did what she did and why she isn’t in the story more, so I’ve found a way to do that.

“At Hull Truck, the two-hander show was all about following the narrative beat and being silly, whereas this version does follow the narrative path but it does meander too.”

A child’s imagination was the key to Nick’s structure. “What a child enjoys is storytelling, which is the first avenue that opens up in a child, but it has to be more imaginative to fill the stage when it’s only one performer,” he says. “It has to be high energy and it must keep pushing the narrative to make the show work.”

Nick recalled meeting up with Polly Lister in 2017 after a Theatre Mill performance of his play Frankenstein Revelations at the York Medical Society premises in Stonegate. “She was with Richard Keightley, who was playing Victor Frankenstein, and we all went to the pub down the street, when she told me she was working on a one-woman play, more serious than mine, about having been a wife.”

Polly says: “Yes, I have form with solo shows. I wrote that one in 2017 for The Dukes theatre in Lancaster. It was called I Was A Wife and was autobiographical – I was a wife but then got ‘sacked’ from that role. By the time I wrote it, I was getting divorced: I got told the locks had been changed.

Viktoria Kay and Zach Lee in Nick Lane’s Frankenstein Revelations, presented at York Medical Society by Theatre Mill in February and March 2017. Picture: Tom Jackson

“It was set in a dressing room and it interrogated my idea of roles, being cast in different roles, with the different characters I’d played taking on the roles in the play.”

Polly, from Didsbury, Manchester, was familiar with Nick’s work. “I’ve been a fan from seeing two of his Christmas shows at Scarborough and that three-hander version of Frankenstein with all his lightness of touch, but a darkness too,” she says.

“So, I’ve wanted to work with him for ages and I was thrilled to be given the chance with The Snow Queen. I love every word of his script!”

A script that takes in not only the Snow Queen and Kai and Gerda from the Hans Christian Andersen story, but the aforementioned Brummie reindeer, the poetic raven and the Snow Queen’s sister, a “silly Sorceress” with Steampunk glasses, in a transformative journey to “the Other Scarborough” that can end only in glory or grief.

“I was allowed to be involved in the show’s creation, workshopping the play with Nick, looking to bring the characters alive, seeing which ones landed and which ones would need to grow,” says Polly.

“Nick never goes for the obvious, and I love the way he creates moods. You will feel sympathy for a character, but he doesn’t spoon-feed you, so nothing is overdone and there’s real pathos.”

In the bleak midwinter: Polly Lister as the Snow Queen in the SJT’s The Snow Queen. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Once Paul Robinson had made his “brave, cavalier but sensible” decision to go with a solo show, Polly knew she would relish performing in The Round. “I’m familiar with that stage design from the New Vic and the Theatre by the Lake at Keswick, and it’s my favourite way to perform,” she says.

“It feels much more intimate; you are all going on the journey together, and as a performer every angle is on show. You have to live it, breathe it and embody it.

“The ethos goes that once you’ve performed in the round, you’ll never want to perform again in an end-on theatre. The ‘Round’ sets you free.”

One revelation came as a surprise. “Every bit of why I love what I do is because I love being part of a team, so I really don’t like being the centre of attention this much!” says Polly, whose stage career runs to 24 years.

“Having it all rest on me, I’ve not enjoyed previously. On your own on stage, it’s harder work, whereas I love that thrill of uncertainty of sharing a stage, where I know I’m one of those people who knows I can help someone fix it when something goes wrong, bridging the broken dam.

“I feel much freer when I can be the saviour for someone else, but, for The Snow Queen, I just have to save myself.”

You would never sense any such loneliness of the socially distanced actor in Polly’s performance, maybe because she moves so fast between so many characters.

Explosive impact: Polly Lister’s Brummie reindeer in The Snow Queen. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Polly had a couple of major roles lined up for 2020, in Theresa Hawkins’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s The Company Of Wolves at the New Vic Theatre and Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors at the Bolton Octagon. “Hopefully, they’ve just been postponed,” she says.

“Once we got over the ‘fear’, I went into a bubble with my parents and started painting, doing a lot of shelves and making wine racks in my flat in Didsbury. I did some little videos of what I’d been doing, and it was really nice to do some work on my flat, with it becoming a nest for the first time.”

2020 still elicited artistic output from Polly, such as an audiobook of The Snow Queen for Hello Out There Productions and playing Beatrice in a Zoom production of Much Ado About Nothing.

“We are the kings and queens of creation, and it’s just in our nature to be creative, whatever the circumstances” says Polly.

Those pandemic circumstances led to the SJT’s one-woman version of The Snow Queen, and you have until January 31 to enjoy actor Lister, director Robinson and writer Lane’s outstanding creativity in the home quiet of Lockdown 3.

Lister act: Polly Lister’s “silly Sorceress”, armed with her Flying Monkey Powder…and the magic dust of Nick Lane’s script for The Snow Queen. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Alan Ayckbourn’s ghost play Haunting Julia will keep you awake for an extra month

Alan Ayckbourn in his garden at his Scarborough home in May 2020. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

ALAN Ayckbourn’s 2020 audio version of his ghost play Haunting Julia is being given an afterlife.

Originally available through the Stephen Joseph Theatre website from December 1 to today (5/1/2021), the winter chiller now will be online until January 31.

Revisiting his 1994 play, Ayckbourn’s audio recording features the voice of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 81-year-old director emeritus. Or, rather, the three voices of Ayckbourn, who plays all three parts.

Directed by Ayckbourn, the “comic but scary” Haunting Julia was recorded at his Scarborough home studio, where he and his wife, Heather Stoney, had made his first ever audio play, his 84th premiere Anno Domino, in Lockdown 1.

Haunting Julia is set 12 years after the suicide of Otley-born musical prodigy Julia Lukin. Her father Joe, still struggling with her death, meets with former boyfriend Andy and psychic Ken to seek out the truth, but some questions are better left unanswered.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre artwork for the 2020 audio version of Haunting Julia, performed and directed by Alan Ayckbourn

Ayckbourn, who voiced characters ranging in age from teenage to septuagenarian in Anno Domino, here plays the parts of Joe, Andy and Ken, while “other voices” – previously off stage – are provided by Naomi Petersen.

The online version of Haunting Julia is going global, drawing bookings from the USA and beyond after a “really positive review” in New York City’s Wall Street Journal.

Bookings have come in from: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Torrevieja, Alicante; Tucson, Arizona; Victoria, British Columbia; Los Altos, Santa Barbara, Oakland, Eureka, Clovis, Los Angeles, Woodside, Los Osos and Palo Alto, California; Denver, Colorado, and Washington, District of Columbia.

Bookings also have been made from: Decatur, Georgia; Evanston, Warrenville, Oak Park, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana; Madison, Maine; Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, Maryland; Holliston, Wellfleet, Carlisle, Milford, East Falmouth, Boxford, North Brookfield, Massachusetts, and Walled Lake, Michigan.

Naomi Petersen: Voices from beyond in Haunting Julia

So too from: Winona, Minnesota; St Louis, Missouri; Morris Plains, Mountain Lakes, Jersey City, New Jersey; Corrales, New Mexico; Waccabuc, Brooklyn, Larchmont, Rochester and multiple New York addresses, New York; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Media, Easton, Pennsylvania, and Granbury, Texas.

Likewise from: Mission Hills, Kansas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Boca Raton, Sarasota, Jacksonville, Ocala, Belleair, Boynton Beach, California; Salt Lake City, Taylorsville, Utah; Glen Allen, Vienna, Virginia; Bainbridge Island, Seattle, Washington; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Nicosia, Cyprus, and Auckland, New Zealand.

How to listen to Alan Ayckbourn times three in Haunting Julia:

TICKETS for Haunting Julia can be booked any time up to and including January 31 2021, either via https://www.sjt.uk.com/event/1078/haunting_julia or on 01723 370541.

Once a £12 ticket has been bought, the buyer can access the audio show as often as they want between now and January 31, and as many people as are in their household or social bubble can listen in. Go to the website, sjt.uk.com, for more details.

Nick Lane’s The Snow Queen is in full swing as Polly Lister hits the multi-tasking heights

Ice on fire: Polly Lister’s extraordinary one-woman tour de force peaks with her Snow Queen in Nick Lane’s The Snow Queen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Pictures: Tony Bartholomew

REVIEW: The Snow Queen, The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, receiving anything but frosty receptions until December 31. Box office: sjt.uk.com *****

HELL would have had to freeze over before the ever-resilient Stephen Joseph Theatre gave up on presenting a Christmas show in Covid-quashed 2020.

Nick Lane, audacious inventor of winter wonderlands at the SJT since 2016, had been writing a five-hander version in the manner of past hits Pinocchio, A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol and Alice In Wonderland.

“Nick, could you change it to a one-hander,” asked SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, his regular partner in “sublime not-pantomime” shows for the child in all of us.

“Polly, could you do it as a solo show,” Robinson asked Polly Lister, so memorably “hyper, needy, overbearing, but funny and vulnerable” as Mari Hoff in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and “sporty and no-nonsense” as lesbian Di in Di And Viv And Rose in the SJT’s 2017 summer season.

Yes, said Polly, who now would be playing multitudinous characters – a Goth raven  poet and a grumpy Brummie deer among them – rather than merely the icy blast of the Snow Queen.

On board once more too are SJT artistic associate Simon Slater, Scarborough-born composer, lyricist and sound designer; video and lighting wizard Paul Steer; movement and puppetry director Gemma Fairlie and Helen Coyston, the designer for A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol, who decides everything should go with a swing in The Snow Queen.

Oh, and with a garden shed, bin, fencing, log, boxes, bench, and wonky wooden wheelbarrow; a video screen; a suspended branch and more besides in a circular design that retains the feel of the Round, albeit with the socially distanced, Covid-secure audience in three banks of seating, rather than the usual four.

For a familiar yet re-booted Hans Christian Andersen story that will “end in grief or glory”, our narrator – in striped leggings, gown and Steampunk glasses, coupled with a genial, garden-enthusiast, bonkers boffin manner – is the “silly Sorceress”, whose “problem sister” happens to be the titular ice block to Christmas joy.

Seamlessly, the ever-fantastical Lane introduces best friends Gerda and Kai, initially in puppet form on the swing, but of course polymath Polly adds them to her ever-expanding list of roles, adjusting body shape and expression, as well as voice, at every turn.

Lister act: Another role for Polly, this as the somewhat nutty narrator with the Flying Monkey Powder. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Best friends Gerda and Kai do what children do, sharing jokes, games and stories, especially tales of the mysterious Lady in the Sky with her faraway Palace Of Ice, but is she fantasy or reality? When Kai disappears from his Gran’s house in Scarborough, his eye and heart pierced by an icicle, Gerda knows the Snow Queen is no fake-news fable as she vows to rescue him.

A journey to a “world of weirdness and wonderment, known as the Other Scarborough” ensues as Lane lets his imagination off the leash again. We expect poo, wind and booby references from Nick, long attuned to what makes “children of Scarborough” laugh, and yes, he cannot resist once more, and nor should he.

This time, he conjures a raven who writes poo-ems in a typical cheeky Lane invention, and daftness takes the form of a huge travelling trunk that springs open to reveal a French DJ called Jean Claude, who happens to be a puppet hedgehog with prickly ego and attitude, downing tools until a certain popular foodstuff is delivered from the Golden Arches.

Then add the doleful reindeer, a bunch of talking flowers and unwise words from wisewomen, all topped off by Lister’s terrific haughty-and-ice Snow Queen and a glorious video send-up of influencer bloggers with hashtags by the dozen.

Storyteller, puppeteer, singer, woman of so many voices, humorous but scary, daft but caring, playful yet serious, what a performance director Robinson elicits from Lister, who makes a one-woman show the perfect way to experience The Snow Queen in these restricted times.

Slater’s witty, potent and dramatic songs, his way with both a tune and a lyric, are a delight too in a show sure to banish the Christmas 2020 blues with a sense of the ridiculous and the need to escape, to laugh, to be transported to another world: the other Scarborough for Scarborough and beyond to enjoy while we must endure the Covid Grinch.

SJT rules on Covid guidance for attendance:

1.You can’t visit with anyone who you don’t live with, or who isn’t part of your support bubble.
2. SJT, Scarborough, is in a Tier 2 area, so if you live in a Tier 3 area, don’t come.

3. Face coverings are mandatory throughout the building (unless exempt – this includes under 11s), except when eating or drinking. 

Remaining performances:

December 21 to 23, 1pm, 7pm; December 24, 1pm; December 24, 1pm; December 26, 6pm; December 27, 1pm; December 29, December 30, 1pm, 7pm; December 31, 1pm.

Age guidance: Five and upwards

Running time: One hour 45 minutes, including interval

Cast: Polly Lister or her alternate, Jacoba Williams, whose remaining performances will be on December 26, 6pm, and Decembger 27, 1pm.

TICKETS UPDATE 22/12/2020, 8am

All performances were sold out but now some returns have become available. Go to sjt.uk.com/booking?id=1015 for more details.

NEWSFLASH 24/12/2020

A BRAND new film of the SJT’s Christmas show, The Snow Queen, is available to rent from now until midnight on January 31. Tickets cost £12 and allow online access for a week at sjt.uk.com/SJTathome.

REVIEW: Haunting Julia, audio version, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, online at sjt.uk.com until January 5 2021

All in the voice: Alan Ayckbourn, in his garden in Scarborough in May, in the year when he has recorded two audio plays. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

ALAN Ayckbourn’s Haunting Julia was last mounted by the SJT in 2008 as part of The Things That Go Bump, his farewell season as artistic director that brought out the ghosts lurking in the dark corners of all our minds.

Richard Derrington guest-directed that revival of Ayckbourn’s claustrophic, ever chillier 1994 response to Woman In Black, the SJT hit that went international. This time, in the wake of SJT director emeritus Ayckbourn’s online premiere of his 84th play, Anno Domino, in the first pandemic lockdown, he becomes a triple threat again for Haunting Julia.

Make that quadruple threat, because the Scarborough knight, now 81, is the writer, director, performer and sound designer for his only all-male play…although “other voices” are added to his triptych of roles, courtesy of Naomi Petersen.

Three men, a father, a lover and a medium, are each struggling to fathom why Otley-born classical musical genius Julia Lukin died at only 19, the victim of an accident or maybe suicide, or perhaps murkier, sinister circumstances shrouded in drugs and alcohol.

The day the music died in 1982, her father’s life stopped in its tracks. Twelve years on and no nearer the truth, bewildered, bluff, big-in-industrial-fencing-supplies businessman Joe Lukin has opened the Julia Lukin Centre for Performing Studies in her former attic student digs and two adjoining houses as a tribute to “Little Miss Mozart”.

Joe has made alterations to the building and the actress voicing Julia’s story is too buoyant: symbols of how this caring, but over-bearing West Yorkshireman never quite struck the right note with her, applying stultifying parental pressure as she struggled with a gift that made her sick, its uncontrollable insistence on being let out being “like a great cloud in front of the sun”.

On the recording, Julia’s distressed real voice can be heard, not only by Joe, but also by her close college friend Andy Rollinson, whose ever more apparent discomfort at having to dig up old ground will be brought to the surface by the arrival of Ken Chase, an over-enthusiastic psychic, the Madame Arcati of Haunting Julia. The truth will out, ultimately willingly from Ken, less so from Andy, who goes from distracted awkwardness to confronting his shut-down past.

May your reviewer make a suggestion, dear reader? Despite the play’s afternoon setting, listen to this audio version in the still of the night, in candlelight or by fire light, or even in the dark, curtains drawn, no distractions, maximum concentration, in part to contrast with the collective experience of a theatre audience, in part too to enhance the new format.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre poster for Alan Ayckbourn’s audio version of Haunting Julia

The shards of humour, often released as a form of relief from the rising tension in a packed auditorium, are less forthcoming on a solo journey through an audio recording, but the psychological impact of Ayckbourn’s ghost story grows in the loneliness of the socially distanced listener.

Ghost stories are as much a part of Christmas as pantomime dames and carol services, and so whereas the 1994 premiere and subsequent SJT revivals were staged in the summer, this is the perfect time for Haunting Julia to start haunting all over again.

“I consider Julia Lukin to be among the most complex and intriguing of my characters never physically to appear,” Ayckbourn has said. “Although a male three-hander, the play definitely belongs to her.”

Yes, and no. Yes, she possesses the three men, and in turn the listener, but Haunting Julia very definitely belongs to Ayckbourn too, not only as the consummate story-telling writer, but also in now voicing his three troubled protagonists.

Just as it was a pleasure to discover his dormant acting skills, alongside his wife Heather Stoney, in Anno Domino’s tale of marital breakdown and toxic politics, so his trio of accents and characters here is as enjoyable for us as it must have been for Ayckbourn to record in a year when his rehearsal room has had to fall silent.

What’s more, former BBC sound engineer Ayckbourn’s sound design adds hugely to the immersive audio encounter, playing on your imagination’s worst fears, as a ghost tale should.

“You have to build up the audience’s confidence in the story first, and then scare them, which is not that different from a farce, where you’re trying to make them laugh by surprising them,” said Ayckbourn of his first ghost play. Sure enough, surprise follows surprise here, and Haunting Julia is even better in this re-incarnation.

How to listen to Alan Ayckbourn times three in Haunting Julia:

TICKETS for Haunting Julia can be booked any time up to and including January 5 2021, either via https://www.sjt.uk.com/event/1078/haunting_julia or on 01723 370541.

Once a £12 ticket has been bought, the buyer can access the audio show as often as they want between now and January 5, and as many people as are in their household or social bubble can listen in. Go to the website, sjt.uk.com, for more details.

Post-Lockdown 2, lights on for More Things To Do in and around York and at home. List No 20, courtesy of The Press, York

Travelling players: York Theatre Royal pantomime stars Robin Simpson’s dame, Faye Williams’ hero, Reuben Johnson’s villain, Anna Soden’s fairy and Josh Benson’s comic. Picture: Ant Robling

EXIT LOCKDOWN 2, enter Tier 2 for York and North Yorkshire, Tier 3 for next-door neighbours The Humber and West Yorkshire.

That means plenty of openings and re-openings for Charles Hutchinson to highlight, but no roads leading to Leeds, Hull or…Pocklington.

The pantomime season in York

NO Dame Berwick Kaler comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the still-closed Grand Opera House, alas, but after two nights at the Theatre Royal this week, York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will be making its way around York’s wards until December 23.

Dame for a laugh: Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Trott in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Audience members will vote for whether they want to see Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington or Snow White. All performances have sold out but more may yet be added.

Tickets are still available for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, directed by Nik Briggs and choreographed by West End hotshot Gary Lloyd at Theatre @41 Monkgate from December 11 to January 3. Fans of York drag diva Velma Celli should look out for creator Ian Stroughair’s transformation into baddie Flesh Creep.

The Marian Consort: Live at the NCEM for the York Early Music Christmas Festival and online for York Christmas At Home

Festival at the double for 2020: York Early Christmas Music Festival, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 4 to 12 and York Christmas At Home, December 11 to 13

THE 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival will be not one, but two festivals, one at the NCEM, the other online. Festive concerts will be performed with Covid-secure safety measures and cabaret-style seating at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, complemented by a new digital weekend festival.

York Christmas At Home will be streamed from December 11 to 13, with the Yuletide music concerts available on demand throughout the Christmas period until January 6 2021.

Performing live will be Palisander, The Marian Consort, Illyria Consort, Joglaresa, The York Waits and Bethany Seymour, Helen Charlston, Frederick Long and Peter Seymour. Add The Chiaroscuro Quartet, Matthew Wadsworth and Kate Bennett Wadsworth, Spiritato!, Steven Devine and Stile Antico to that list for the At Home programme.

On your mask, get set, go: Susan Bower’s Christmas Party 2020, newly on show at Kentmere House Gallery, York

Post-Lockdown 2 gallery re-opening: Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, from this evening (3/12/2020)

NEW work by Susan Bower, John Thornton and Rosie Dean has arrived at Kentmere House Gallery in good time for Christmas. Ann Petherick will re-open her home art-space tomorrow evening from 6pm to 9pm, followed by weekend opening each Saturday and Sunday until December 20 from 11am to 5pm.

Oils, watercolours, pastels and original prints by 70 British artists are on display, along with books, greetings cards and Christmas cards exclusive to the gallery.

Visits arranged by appointment will be resuming too, on 01904 656507 or 07801 810825 or by emailing ann@kentmerehouse.co.uk.

Climate change: Danny Mellor and Anastasia Benham in Badapple Theatre Company’s The Snow Dancer

Christmas snow: Badapple Theatre Company, in The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, December 5, 2.30pm, 7.30pm; December 6, 1pm, 6pm

GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre revive their 2019 Christmas hit, The Snow Dancer, for two days only at the Covid-secure JoRo Theatre, newly equipped with chair wraps to denote the socially distanced seating plan.

Last year’s cast of Anastasia Benham and Danny Mellor will re-assemble to perform writer-director Kate Bramley’s cautionary global-warming tale, set in the Great Wood, where something is awry.

Welcome back: Stu Freestone wants a word with you at Say Owt’s December 11 return to live performance

Owt and about again: Say Owt word weavers at The Crescent, York, December 11, 7pm

SAY Owt, York’s loveable gang of performance poets, are back in live action for the first time since the summer for a night of socially distanced spoken word at The Crescent, re-opening that night with Covid-secure measures and a seated capacity of 60.

Stepping up to the mic will be Say Owt’s A-team of Henry Raby, Hannah Davies, Stu Freestone and Dave Jarman, joined by special guest poets Katie Greenbrown and Ruth Awolola.

“The night will feature a set of banging poems, full of wit and humour to warm your soul this December,” says artistic director Raby. “Expect some brand-new pieces, improv poetry and a few silly surprises hiding up our spoken-word sleeves.”

A guided quest with Potions Professor, magical spells and afternoon tea add up to A Very Magical Christmas on the streets of York

New children’s attraction of the week in York: A Very Magical Christmas, York city centre, until January 5

FROM the creators of A Very Magical Adventure comes A Very Magical Christmas: a live interactive theatrical quest with magical spell-casting and a fun, festive afternoon tea with special effects to knock your socks off. Even a visit from old St Nicholas is promised.

The quest will begin at St Michael le Belfrey, where you will meet your guide, the Potions Professor from Old Jacob’s School of Magic, who will teach you how to cast spells and find clues that will lead you to the secret location of the wizard school. For more details, go to averymagicaladventure.co.uk.

A Peter Rabbit Winter Adventure Activity Trail: Solve clues at Beningbrough Hall on various dates in December

Children’s attraction of the week outside York: A Peter Rabbit Winter Adventure Activity Trail, Beninbrough Hall, Beningbrough, near York, December 5 and eight other open days, 10am to 3pm

GRAB a £2 goody bag per child while stocks last, complete with an activity sheet, pencil, certificate, badge and play pack, to embark on a family-friendly Peter Rabbit Winter Adventure Trail in the Beningbrough Hall gardens and grounds.

The task is to solve the clues to help Peter and his friends prepare for the winter ahead, while spotting nature in all its seasonal glory. Expect to find Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Jeremy Fisher, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail before having your photograph taken beside the Peter Rabbit board.

Do check availability of the goody bags before setting off at nationaltrust.org.uk/beningbrough-hall-gallery-and-gardens

Ghost story for Christmas: Alan Ayckbourn has voiced all the roles for the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s audio version of his 1994 play Haunting Julia. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

And what about?

TUNE into Alan Ayckbourn’s ghost story for a winter chill, his 1994 play Haunting Julia, in an audio version for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, with all three roles voiced by Ayckbourn, at  sjt.uk.com/event/1078/haunting_julia until January 5.

Don’t miss the SJT’s Christmas show, Nick Lane’s one-woman version of The Snow Queen, starring Polly Lister at some shows, Jacoba Williams at others, from December 7 to 31.

York Barbican has been busy booking shows for 2021: artist and TV presenter Grayson Perry’s existentialist distraction from the very meaningless of life, A Show For Normal People, September 6;  London indie-pop trio Scouting For Girls, October 10; astronaut Tim Peake’s Journey Into The Unknown, November 2, and comedian Sarah Millican’s Bobby Dazzler, November 12 and 13.

“You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” promises Grayson Perry

Stephen Joseph Theatre strikes gold with Arts and Culture win in White Rose Awards

Gold winners: The Stephen Joseph Theatre has taken home the Arts and Culture prize in the White Rose Awards. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre has won gold in Welcome To Yorkshire’s White Rose Awards.

The Scarborough theatre topped the Arts and Culture category, seeing off stiff competition from a shortlist of silver recipients Harewood House; bronze-placed Selby District Council (Selby 950); Hull’s Freedom Festival Arts Trust; Huddersfield Literature Festival; Hull Libraries (The Big Malarkey Festival), Bradford intercultural arts hub Kala Sangam and Yorkshire Sculpture International.

The judges said: “From their innovative approach to accessibility and inclusivity, the rave reviews and so much more, this business truly impressed the judges.

“The great online and social media presence, international profile and a real commitment to engaging the local community is what, for us, makes the Stephen Joseph Theatre such a worthy winner.'”

Caroline Routh, the SJT’s executive director Caroline Routh, says: “This has been a tough year for just about everyone, and it’s so nice to have something to celebrate for once.

“We were thrilled to win the White Rose Arts and Culture Award, and particularly to be shortlisted in such fantastic company. We’re now looking forward to bringing our Christmas show, The Snow Queen, to Scarborough, live on stage throughout December, as well as an online treat: an audio recording of Alan Ayckbourn’s Haunting Julia, performed by the writer himself.”

Held online on Monday evening, the annual White Rose Awards – Britain’s largest tourism awards ceremony – showcase the best and brightest Yorkshire has to offer.

To find out what’s on at the SJT, visitwww.sjt.uk.com.

Tier 2 status confirms the Stephen Joseph Theatre can reopen for The Snow Queen

Fancy learning about Gothic horror in fiction and film from Doctor Corstorphine? Here’s how on Halloween…

Whitby Abbey at fright-night: Beloved of Goths and devotees of Gothic fiction

ZOOM and doom combine in Exploring And Creating Gothic Fiction, a Halloween masterclass with Dr Kevin Corstorphine, run by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on October 31 at 11.30am.

“This two-hour online session for adults will introduce participants to some of the main ways of thinking about horror in fiction and film, including sections on cutting-edge research in the field,” says the University of Hull lecturer in American Studies.

“It will also be an inclusive discussion, with all views welcome, as well as a chance to talk about your favourite examples of the spooky and macabre. Creative writers will find useful tips to get the most out of the genre in their writing.”

Dr Corstorphine, who has lectured in English at the University of Hull’s Scarborough campus too, teaches undergraduate modules including American Gothic and has supervised several PhDs on the subject.

He is a researcher in horror, gothic, and “weird” fiction and has published widely in the field, latterly editing the 2018 Palgrave Handbook to Horror Literature.

To book for this £10 masterclass, go to:
https://www.sjt.uk.com/event/1105/exploring_and_creating_gothic_fiction

The SJT recommends: “It will help if you can find somewhere in your home with a good internet connection, and if you have some, use headphones, ideally with a built-in microphone, as this will help reduce feedback during the session.”