Pocklington Arts Centre opens debut in-house theatre show The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas tomorrow

The poster for Pocklington Arts Centre’s festive family show The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre’s debut in-house theatre production, The Elves & The Shoemaker Save Christmas, opens tomorrow with the Godber family at the helm.

Jane Thornton, actress and writer wife of playwright John Godber, directs daughter Elizabeth Godber’s original adaptation of the traditional tale of The Elves & The Shoemaker for Christmas 2023.

This 70-minute, family-friendly, fun, festive musical show will feature three cheeky elves, Jingle, Sparkle and Daredevil Dave, as they journey through a variety of well-known fairy tales with a cast of familiar characters, leading to plenty of comedy capers and mishaps along the way.

Put it this way: “‘Twas the night before Christmas and across East Yorkshire land/Excited children count sheep as three cheeky elves lend a hand/Yes, Jingle, Sparkle and Daredevil Dave have gingerbread to cook, peas to find and shoes to make But who gives the Elves their Christmas? Surely they too deserve a break?”

Jade Farnill: Starring as Jingle in The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas

Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) has committed to supporting East Yorkshire talent with early career creatives and emerging actors to the fore in this show. Alongside Jane and Elizabeth in the production team are Rick Kay, set design and build, Benjamin Wall, production manager and lighting designer, and Kate Noble, wardrobe and props supervisor, while PAC director Angela Stone has been working closely with crew and cast as producer.

Hull born and bred Jade Farnill will step into the role of Jingle. She is a 2023 graduate and Godber Theatre Foundation Award recipient from the Hammond School in Chester, where she completed a degree in musical theatre performance.

Dylan Allcock will play Daredevil Dave with “just the right balance of characterisation and comedy timing”. As an actor/musician, Dylan will be responsible for musical direction and the creation of an original composition for the show.

Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts graduate Matheea Ellerby will complete the cast in her professional debut as Sparkle.

Dylan Allcock: Playing Daredevil Dave

Writer Elizabeth Godber says: “I am so excited to be writing The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas for Pocklington Arts Centre. Being born and raised in East Yorkshire, I grew up visiting the arts centre to see shows and films and attend workshops as a kid, so now, getting to write their Christmas show for children and families, it really feels as if it has come full circle!

“I’ve had so much fun working on the script:  there’s going to be lots of laughs, lots of live music, lots of local references and lots of Christmas fun that can be enjoyed by everyone of all ages and really bring the community together this December.”

The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas will run for 15 performances, including two matinees for schools only. Schools interested in attending those performance should contact the box office on 01759 301547 or email boxoffice@pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk as they are not bookable online.

Matheea Ellerby: Making her professional debut as Sparkle

PAC is offering a relaxed performance on Sunday at 10.30am for families that require a more relaxed environment when going to the theatre. This will include house lights (rather than dark), a relaxed attitude to involuntary sounds and moving around the auditorium during the performance, a straight run through with no interval, and a quiet break-out space available.

For that show, a section of seats with social distancing is reserved to support those who may prefer some spaces between parties. Four blocks of four seats and one block of two seats can be pre-booked through the box office.

The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas, Pocklington Arts Centre, December 7 to 16. Performances: 7.30pm, December 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15 and 16; 1.30pm, December 9, 10, 15 and 16; 10.30am, December 10. Tickets (£12 adults, £9 under 25s, £35 family of four) can be booked at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk or on 01759 301547.

Elizabeth Godber

Elizabeth Godber: the back story

Hull-born writer. Studied BA in Creative Writing and English at University of Hull and MA in Writing for Performance and Publication at University of Leeds. Now PhD student at University of Hull.

Her 2023 adaptation of The Comedy of Errors (More Or Less), co-written with Nick Lane for Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Shakespeare North Playhouse, has been nominated for UK Theatre Award. 

Her 2023 play The Remarkable Tale of Dorothy Mackaill was premiered at East Riding Theatre, Beverley, in September.

Further writing credits: Ruby And The Vinyl (John Godber Company/tour); M&S: Dressed In Time (Leeds Playhouse); Three Emos (tour); The Remarkable Tale Of Dorothy (Hull New Theatre); Festive Spirits” (Hull City Hall/Burton Constable Hall).

Poetry and film/audio credits: Forget Me Not (BBC Radio 6 Music); The Way You Look Tonight (BBC Upload Festival/iplayer); Does This Make Sense?” (Random Acts for Channel 4); Restless Verse (online).

When Torben Betts had one actor in mind to play a washed-up pop star, he wrote Murder In The Dark for Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers’ troubled pop star Danny Sierra in a scene from Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

TORBEN Betts first made his mark at a North Yorkshire theatre when Alan Ayckbourn talent-spotted the fledgling playwright and gave him a residency at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1999.

That year, the Scarborough theatre presented the premiere of his debut play, A Listening Heaven.  Now, Betts’s new thriller, the ghost story Murder In The Dark, is heading to York Theatre Royal from September 19 to 23 on Original Theatre Company’s tour, directed by Philip Franks.

“Horror films have been my guilty pleasure since I was a morbid child,” says Philip, who was at the helm of Original Theatre’s touring production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d at the Theatre Royal last October too.

“Now is the time to find out whether many years’ worth of jump scares and terrible nightmares can be put to good use. We’ll also see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true.”

Betts’s setting is a modern-day New Year’s Eve, when a car crash on a lonely road brings famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra and his extended family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England.  From the moment they arrive, a sequence of inexplicable events begins to occur…and then the lights go out!  

Susie Blake, Miss Marple in last year’s visit, will play farmer’s wife Mrs Bateman alongside 2008 Strictly Come Dancing champion, Top Hat leading man and Holby City, Waterloo Road and Father Brown star Tom Chambers as Danny, Rebecca Charles as Rebecca, Jonny Green as Jake, Owen Oakeshott as William and Laura White as Sarah. 

Tom Chambers: “One of these flattering moments,” he says, of Torben Betts writing the role of Danny Sierra expressly for him

When the Covid19 pandemic shut down his tour in Dial M For Murder overnight, Tom appeared in Original Theatre’s remotely recorded lockdown film of Torben Betts’s Apollo 13: The Dark Side Of The Moon and subsequently in Original Theatre artistic director Alastair Whatley’s online piece Into The Night.

“About a year later, out of the blue I got a text from Alastair saying he’d commissioned Torben to write a ghost story with me in mind for the lead role,” he recalls. “It was one of those flattering moments you dream of!”

Ten pages arrived, then the full draft, and now here Tom is, two weeks into the tour. “The Dark Side Of The Moon was only 50 minutes. This [rather longer] new play has been really fascinating but also extremely challenging because Torben has written it like machine gunfire, firing off in all directions, so you think ‘who’s line is it next?’!”

Working on the play in rehearsals and now in its early weeks on stage, 46-year-old Tom says: “It’s one of those pieces where, as we’ve gone along, we’ve all thought on our feet, with none of us quite sure at first what it was.

“With its dysfunctional family at odds in a psychological thriller, I knew it was an emotional piece, with all the humour in there too, but you don’t know what you’re dealing with, because it is scary, funny and emotional at the same time, and so you’re not sure how the audience will take it!

“On stage, it’s become more like a dark comedy, and it’s been really interesting listening to the audience reactions and realising they’re laughing from very early on. But there are really scary moments too and a couple of twists that we’re asking people not to give away afterwards.”

Learning his lines has found Tom thinking: “Torben is like Marmite! I sort of love him and hate him at the same time. His script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn.

Tom Chambers, seated, shares a lighthearted moment with director Philip Franks in the rehearsal room for Torben Betts’s thriller Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

“I haven’t talked to him about the part, though he did sit quietly in the corner at rehearsals on a few occasions, typing away, but not interfering. Torben has allowed Philip to shave, trim and manipulate the script, letting the production grow under his directorship.”

In turn, “Philip is one of the best directors I’ve worked with, always very patient” says Tom. “He’s an actor as well as a director, and so he really lets you play with it at first, and then he very carefully re-shapes it, inspiring you with his ideas. He’s like a wonderful conductor working with an orchestra, a fantastic maestro.”

Tom describes his lead role, Danny Sierra, as a “washed-up pop star from 20 years ago”. “To play his character, to be aware of his body language, I approach him as someone who’s been in the limelight, which I’ve experienced: the shiny bits, the pitfalls, the facades, the truth and reality of how jaded he is,” he says.

“I just try to make him human. Like all of us, he tries to justify the reasons things have happened in his life. He’s made mistakes, but he does have a heart, he’s not soulless, not completely selfish.”

Danny has headed to the isolated cottage for a family funeral and must communicate with his brother for the first time in years. “Everything unravels in this old farm cottage, which is like a deserted island with very few creature comforts. That initially turns the play into a comedy, but then it becomes twisted, warped, deranged and strange, so it’s very intriguing!” says Tom.

As for the ghost story…wait and see.

Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal, September 19 to 23, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age guidance: 14+. 

“Torben’s script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn,” says lead actor Tom Chambers. Picture: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: The 39 Steps, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until July 29 ****

Niall Ransome, left, Olivia Onyehara, Dave Hearn and Lucy Keirl in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s even better 2023 revival of The 39 Steps. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE 39 Steps has enjoyed a happy association with Yorkshire, first in North Country Theatre founder Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble’s initial stage concept of taut thriller and comic release.

Next came Patrick Barlow’s frantically fast-moving yet unflappable West Yorkshire Playhouse adventure with seeds sown in the earlier show.

Barlow’s spiffing version has since played here, there and everywhere, first given Stephen Joseph Theatre comedic top spin by artistic director Paul Robinson in June 2018.

Five summers on, Robinson revisits that slick, playful jaffa of a show, with the promise of 39 new gags, one for each step, to supplement the elegance, eloquence and elasticity of this dapper and dastardly clever whodunit.

Niall Ransome is back from 2018, in the same role (make that multiple roles) but now called Clown 1, rather than Man. Significantly, he teams up with fellow Mischief maker Dave Hearn, duly mining the hugely popular Mischief brand for dextrous feats of physical comedy rooted in a battle of wits and will against chaos and catastrophe.

York audiences have experienced Hearn’s manic craft already this year in Original Theatre’s three-hander account of HG Wells’s The Time Machine, another comedy vehicle steered by a short-handed cast in a race against time.

On that occasion, in a play within a play conceit, his assertive, egotistical Dave Wells was in such a hurry, he wore tracksuit trousers and trainers.

This time, in a play with a novel and a film within it, Hearn is playing more of an old-fashioned, cigarette-card matinee idol, Richard Hannay, side-parting in his immaculate haircut, side splitting in his comic clambering on the Forth Bridge, reminiscent of a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton. Suspense in suspension.

This is but one of a series of scenes that re-creates setpieces from The Master’s movies, complemented by pastiches and references to other Hitchcock classics, with new additions among those 39 new jokes.

The novel is John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps; the film is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 British spy thriller, based loosely on Buchan’s serialised 1915 work. Barlow and in turn Robinson marry the two together, gravely serious in replicating the tone and dramatic peaks of both against all logical odds, while finding comedy at every opportunity without turning everything into a stiff upped-lipped send-up.

This is Hearn’s skill too, serving Hannay’s dispirited mien first and foremost before the John Cleese school of alarm-bell comedy bursts through. Dashing and upright, yes, with pipe and pencil-slim moustache, but newly returned to his lonely Portland Place abode, he is tired of life and its mounting pile of problems. Felling anything but alive in 1935. Suicidal even. 

What he needs is…a night at the theatre (don’t we all, especially one like this!), only for a much bigger problem to ensue once there. Not only must he navigate his way through hairpin bends of Buchan’s book and Hitchcock’s film, but now too he finds himself  murder suspect number one when a mysterious German woman, Annabelle Schmidt (Olivia Onyehara), dies in his arms after insisting on leaving the London Palladium by his side, desperate to impart vital information.

In a moment typical of the comic invention in Hearn’s performance, he extricates himself from beneath the dead weight of the woman’s body by using the knife in her back as a lever.

Hannay must hot-foot it to Scotland by train. On his fluttering jacket tail are policemen, secret agents and assorted women, all delivered with elan by Ransome and Lucy Keirl’s Clown combo, parading accents and exaggerated characters stride by stride, sometimes side by side.

What cracking casting in Ransome making his return in tandem with Keirl, who is as delightful as she was in Nick Lane’s Cinderella at the SJT last winter.  

Onyehara, a familiar name to Yorkshire credits lists from her work with Pilot Theatre, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, Hull Truck and York Theatre Royal, is terrific too. Not only as anguished Annabelle, but also as femme fatale Pamela and shy but far from retiring Scottish farmer’s wife Margaret, each drawn to the cut of Hannay’s jib.

Ever straight as Geoffrey Boycott’s bat at North Marine Road, Hearn’s narrator Hannay takes on whatever is thrown at him, defying the need to lead the story-telling with such limited resources, improvising emergency props and scenery, chalking up those extra gags amid the comic carnage.

Robinson’s 2023 company applies even quicker sleight of hand to Barlow’s spinning plates of verbal wit, theatrical anarchy, satirical savvy and visual panache, somehow pulling off their Hitchcock homage without a hitch.

Simon Slater’s sound design, compositions and nods to swing tunes play their part too, as do Helen Coyston’s fabulous, fun costumes and set design, stretched by Robinson’s direction beyond the SJT stage to the aisles and director’s box too.

Look out for the ushers blocking the exits at one particularly urgent moment. Even the theatre is against Hannay! Make sure you too are trapped in his breathless, befuddled world before this month is out. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.

REVIEW: Northern Broadsides/New Vic Theatre in Quality Street, York Theatre Royal, plenty in the tin until Saturday ****

Jamie Smelt’s Recruiting Officer, Paula Lane’s Phoebe Throssel, Aron Julius’s Captain Valentine Brown and Alex Moran’s Ensign Blades in Northern Broadsides’ Quality Street

EVERYONE has a favourite Quality Street – purple, green…orange, not so keen – but there is only one Quality Street play to bite into.

Nevertheless, Northern Broadsides artistic director Laurie Sansom gives it a new wrapper, “stirring in a good helping of Yorkshire wit” from the retired workers of Halifax’s Mackintosh factory, makers of Quality Street.

And so a work from Toffee Town heads to Chocolate City this week, much later than first planned. Sansom’s Broadsides debut had to be put back in the sweetie cupboard after only four weeks when Covid put a red line through theatre shows in March 2020.

This spring he picks up the mantle with plenty of new flavours in the cast, only two of the originals still making the selection for the revived co-production with Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic Theatre.

Here is the history bit. Quality Street is a “delicious Regency rom-com” from the 1901 pen of J M Barrie, pre-dating the better known Peter Pan but a huge hit on Broadway in its own right.

Come 1936, Mackintosh’s management hit on the idea of assembling beautifully wrapped toffees, chocolates and sweets in a tin encased in a picture of Quality Street’s principal characters, Phoebe Throssel and Captain Valentine Brown.

Cue Sansom’s idea to weave verbatim recollections from the Quality Street factory floor into Barrie’s play, the red-hatted workers serving as a Greek chorus cum collective narrator, passing comment on the play’s unfolding dramas, recalling their working days and their own romances, and reflecting on how courting has changed.

The to-and-fro format takes a while to settle, not least because the ‘Mack’ workforce open the play with their fourth wall-breaking gossip and nostalgia. They are never more than convivial commentators by comparison with the fateful scene-setting of the Witches in the thunder and lightning prologue to Macbeth and their subsequent encounters with the murderous Macbeth .

Something sweet and nutty this way comes as Barrie introduces his Regency romp with Paula Lane (once Kylie Platt in a different cobbled street, of the Coronation  soap variety) in the role of Phoebe Throssel, a woman scandalised by having allowed Captain Valentine Brown (Aron Julius) to kiss her on the cheek. Ten years ago.

Aron Julius’s Captain Valentine Brown and Paula Lane’s Phoebe Throssel in Quality Street: Picture: Andrew Billington

Ten years when he has been away fighting Napoleon, while Phoebe and sister Susan (Louisa-May Parker) have had to make a living, running a school for unruly children. They look exhausted, enervated, contemplating the prospect of having to add algebra to the curriculum without any enthusiasm. Understandable caution, you might say, in spite of PM Rishi Sunak’s enthusiasm for adding more Maths to the curriculum.

At this juncture, aside from Gilly Tompkins’ blunt-speaking maid Patty, more humour has been mined from the factory workers’ chatter than Barrie’s story, as supporting cast members switch between tea-break comment and rom-com roles. But once Julius’s Captain reacts so negatively to the older-looking Phoebe, still only 30, the play finds its sweet spot.

For a lavish ball, Phoebe transforms herself into lively, vivacious, flirty, flighty Miss Livvy, her “niece”, an alter-ego that will soon require her to be in two places at once in one of comedy’s favourite devices, from Shakespeare comedies of mistaken identity to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, chaotic Mischief capers to myriad pantomimes.

Not before Jessica Worrall’s witty design has served up the gorgeous spectacle of all the ladies in Quality Street wrapper dresses, Miss Livvy in the most popular purple, of course.

Not only Captain Brown is smitten, so too are Jamie Smelt’s Recruiting Sergeant and Alex Moran’s Ensign Blades as the comedy picks up pace and impact. Cross-dressing Jelani D’Aguilar’s Fanny Willoughby adds to the fun, and Parker’s Susan, forced to play a straight bat to keep Phoebe/Livvy one step ahead, personifies resourceful understatement.

At first you may wonder – as your reviewer did when watching a performance at Leeds Playhouse – why Quality Street made Barrie a fortune, but as should always be the case, the second half is better than the first, In particular in the all-important frank discussions between Phoebe and Captain Brown, where Barrie’s writing, suddenly more serious, goes to the heart of a woman’s woes, mistreatment and frustrations.

From the brief appearances of puppets to Ben Wright’s choreography for the ball, the design’s colour palette and the cast’s colourful northern vowels to Sansom’s beautifully judged direction, Quality Street ends up being a tin of purple and green ones.

Lane’s performance, especially when she has to have a filling of Phoebe within a chocolate coating of Miss Livvy, is top Quality too.

Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre present Quality Street at York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Also: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, May 25 to 27; Hull Truck Theatre, May 31 to June 3; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, June 6 to 10; Victoria Theatre, Halifax, July 4 to 7. Box office: Sheffield,  0114 249 6000 or sheffieldtheatres.co.uk; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk; Scarborough, 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com; Halifax, 01422 351158 or victoriatheatre.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond for those about to rock…or put Spring in their step. Hutch’s List No. 13, from The Press

The return of RSJ: York metalcore band reconvene for one -off reunion at The Crescent

HEAVYWEIGHT comedy, hardcore rock, reshaped Shakespeare and a ‘roarsome’ children’s show fire up Charles Hutchinson’s enthusiasm for the week ahead.

Resurrection of the week: Mr H presents RSJ, The Crescent, York, tonight, doors 7pm

YORK’S mightiest metalcore groovers reunite for a special one-off show, fronted once more by Dan Cook, now of Raging Speedhorn. “RSJ were/are one of the most intense groove and hardcore noise monsters, not just in York but across the UK. It’s no wonder they stormed stages at Bloodstock, Knebworth and Hellfire,” says promoter Tim Hornsby.

RSJ’s spine-rattling polyrhythms and huge guitars will be preceded by the return of much-missed melodic hardcore band Beyond All Reason and Disinfo. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Justin Moorhouse: Plenty on his plate to get off his chest at Burning Duck Comedy Club night

Lancastrian in York of the week: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Justin Moorhouse, Stretch And Think, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 7.30pm

MANCHESTER stand-up, radio presenter and actor Justin Moorhouse is back, “still funny, yet middle aged” (he’s 52), in a new suit for a new show that may contain thoughts on yoga, growing older, Madonna, shoplifters, Labradoodles, cyclists, the menopause, running, hating football fans but loving football…

…not drinking, funerals, tapas, Captain Tom, Droylsden, the environment, self-improvement,  horses, the odd advantages of fundamental religions, the gym and shop-door etiquette. “Come, it’ll be fun,” he says. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Royal Shakespeare Company: Linking up with York Theatre Royal for York Associate Schools Playmaking Festival

School project of the week: York Theatre Royal and Royal Shakespeare Company present York Associate Schools Playmaking Festival of The Merchant Of Venice, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 6.30pm

SHAKESPEARE’S play is told in six sections by six schools each night, using choral and ensemble approaches to relate Shylock’s story through multiple bodies and voices in a celebration of the joy of performance that explores themes of prejudice, friendship and self-interest.

Participating schools on March 28: Acomb Primary, Applefields School, Millthorpe School, Vale of York Academy, St Barnabas CE Primary; March 29, Clifton Green Primary, Poppleton Road Primary, Brayton Academy, Scarcroft Primary, Fulford School and Joseph Rowntree School. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Big in the Eighties: Andy Cryer in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less) at the SJT, Scarborough. Picture: Patch Dolan

Shake-up of the week: The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Thursday to April 15

ORIGINALLY by Shakespeare, now messed around with by Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane, SJT director Paul Robinson’s vibrant new staging of the Bard’s most bonkers farce arrives  in a co-production with Prescot’s Shakespeare North Playhouse.  

The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less) is brought to life in neon-lit 1980s’ Scarborough. Cue mistaken identities, theatrical chaos and belting musical numbers from the era of big phones and even bigger shoulder pads. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com. SEE REVIEW BELOW.

The poster artwork for Pick Me Up Theatre Company’s Oh! What A Lovely War

Revival of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Oh! What A Lovely War, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March 31 to April 8, 7.30pm, except April 2 and 3; 2.30pm, April 1, 2 and 8

PICK Me Up Theatre present a 60th anniversary production of Oh! What A Lovely War, a satirical chronicle of the First World War, told through songs and documents in the form of a seaside Pierrot entertainment.

Devised and presented by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1963 before being turned into a film by Richard Attenborough in 1969, now it is in the hands of Robert Readman’s York cast. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Feeling hot, hot, hot: Zog is on fire in Freckle Productions’ show at York Theatre Royal

Children’s show of the week: Freckle Productions in Zog, York Theatre Royal, March 31, 4.30pm;  April 1,  10.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm 

JULIA Donaldson and Alex Scheffler’s Zog takes to the stage in a magical Freckle Productions show most suitable for age three upwards, although all ages are welcome. Zog is trying very hard to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school, perhaps too hard, as he bumps, burns and roars his way through Years 1, 2 and 3.

Luckily plucky Princess Pearl patches him up, ready to face his biggest challenge yet: a duel with knight Sir Gadabout the Great. Emma Kilbey directs; Joe Stilgoe provides the songs. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Roy “Chubby” Brown: Bluer than Stilton at York Barbican

Still in rude health: Roy “Chubby” Brown, York Barbican, March 31, 7.30pm

ROY “Chubby” Brown – real name Royston Vasey, from Grangetown, Middlesbrough – is on the road again at 78, 50 years into a blue comedy career that carries the warning: “If easily offended, please stay away”.

Chubby may not be everyone’s cup of tea but a lot of people like tea, he says. Thirty DVDs in 30 years, thousands of shows worldwide and four books testify to the abiding popularity of a profane joker full of frank social commentary, forthright songs and contempt for political correctness. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

In the doghouse: Ferocious Dog attack songs with bite at York Barbican

Where there is despair, may they bring Hope: Ferocious Dog, supported by Mark Chadwick, York Barbican, April 1, 7pm

FEROCIOUS Dog, a Left-leaning six-piece from Warsop, Nottinghamshire, slot somewhere between Levellers and early Billy Bragg in their vibrant vein of Celtic folk-infused punk rock.

Fifth album Hope came out in 2021, charting at number 31 in the Official UK Charts. Special guest will be Levellers’ leader Mark Chadwick, joined by Ferocious Dog violinist Dan Booth for part of his 7pm set. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Artwork by Cuban painter Leo Morey, one of the new artists taking part in York Open Studios 2023

Early sighter of the week: York Open Studios 2023 Taster Exhibition, The Hospitium, Museum Gardens, York, April 1 and 2, 10am to 4pm

FOR the first time since 2019, York Open Studios will be launched with a taster exhibition next weekend featuring examples of work by most of the 150 artists and makers set to open their studio doors on April 15, 16, 22 and 23.

This free preview gives a flavour of what will be coming up at more than 100 venues next month.  Full details of this year’s artists and locations can be found at yorkopenstudios.co.uk. Look out for booklets around York.

In Focus: Luke Wright, The Remains Of Logan Dankworth, Selby Town Hall, March 30, 8pm

In the Wright place: Luke Wright making his political point in The Remains Of Logan Dankworth

PERFORMANCE poet Luke Wright returns to Selby Town Hall on Thursday to peform his 2022 Edinburgh Fringe political verse play The Remains Of Logan Dankworth.

Columnist and Twitter warrior Logan Dankworth grew up romanticising the political turmoil of the 1980s. Now, as the EU Referendum looms, he is determined to be in the fray of the biggest political battle for years.

Meanwhile, Logan’s wife Megan wants to leave London to better raise their daughter. As tensions rise at home and across the nation, something is set to be lost forever.

The third in Wright’s trilogy of lyrically rich plays looks at trust, fatherhood and family in the age of Brexit. Winner of The Saboteur Award for Best Show, it picked up four and five-star from the Telegraph, the Scotsman, the Stage and British Theatre Guide.

Wright was a founder member of poetry collective Aisle16, who shook up the spoken-word scene in the 2000s, helping to kick-start a British renaissance of the form. He is the regular tour support for John Cooper Clarke and often hosts shows for The Libertines.

He is a frequent guest on BBC Radio 4, a Fringe First winner for writing and a Stage Award winner for performance.

“Luke Wright is an astonishing performer and one of the best political writers around today, whose wonderful, lyrical writing translates really well to full-length plays,” says Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones.

“I was lucky enough to see The Remains Of Logan Dankworth in Edinburgh last summer and made sure I booked it for Selby Town Hall straight away. It’s a brilliantly told story by a powerhouse poet.”

For tickets: ring 01757 708449 or book online at selbytownhall.co.uk.

REVIEW: The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough *****

David Kirkbride’s Antipholus of Scarborough in a headlock with Claire Eden’s Big Sandra in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less). All pictures: Patch Dolan

Stephen Joseph Theatre and Shakespeare North Playhouse in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until April 15, 7.30pm plus 1.30pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com

THIS Comedy Of Errors gets everything right. Not more or less. Just right. Full stop.

Shakespeare’s “most bonkers farce” has been entrusted to Nick Lane, madly inventive writer of the SJT’s equally bonkers pantomime, and Elizabeth Godber, a blossoming writing talent from the East Yorkshire theatrical family.  

How does this new partnership work? In a nutshell, Lane has penned the men’s lines, Godber, the female ones, before the duo moulded the finale in tandem.

SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, meanwhile, selected a criminally good play list of Eighties’ guilty pleasures, from Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again to Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, Nik Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It Be Good to Toni Basil’s Mickey, Cher’s Just Like Jesse James to Kenny Loggins’ Footloose, to be sung in character or as an ensemble with Northern Chorus oomph.

Oh, Dromio, Dromio, wherefore art thy other Dromio? Oliver Mawdsley’s Dromio of Prescot in the SJT’s The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less)

Aptly, the opening number is an ensemble rendition of Dream Academy’s one-hit wonder, Life In A Northern Town, that town being 1980s’ Scarborough, just as Lane always roots his pantomimes in the Yorkshire resort.

From an original idea by Robinson, Lane and Godber’s reinvention of Shakespeare’s comedy is not too far-fetched but far enough removed to take on its own personality and, frankly, be much, much funnier as a result. To the point where one woman in the front row was in the grip of a fit of giggles. Yes, that joyous.

For Ephesus, a city on the Ionian coast with a busy port, read Scarborough, a town on the Yorkshire coast with a fishing harbour, although all the fish and chip cafés were shut without explanation on the evening of the press night. Was something fishy going on?

Ephesus was governed by Duke Solinus; Scarborough is run by Andy Cryer’s oleaginous Solinus. Still the merry-go-round action is spun around outdoor public spaces on Jessica Curtis’s set, where protagonists bump into each other like dodgem cars. Just as Syracusans were subject to strict rules in the original play, now Lancastrians are given the Yorkshire cold shoulder in a new war of the roses, besmirched Eccles Cakes et al.

In with a shout: Claire Eden, right, meets a Scarborough greeting from Alyce Liburd, left, Valerie Antwi and Ida Regan in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less)

So begins a tale of two rival states and two sets of mismatched twins (Antipholus and Dromio times two) on one nutty day at the seaside. Cue a mishmash of mistaken identities, mayhem agogo, and merriment to the manic max, conducted at an ever more frenetic lick.

It worked wonders for Richard Bean in One Man, Two Guvnors, his Swinging Sixties’ revamp of Goldoni’s 1743 Italian Commedia dell’arte farce, The Servant Of Two Masters, setting his gloriously chaotic caper, as chance would have it, in another English resort: Brighton. Now The Comedy Of Errors evens up the mathematical equation for two plus two to equal comedy nirvana from so much division.

One ‘guvnor’, Lancastrian comic actor Antipholus of Prescot (Peter Kirkbride) crosses the Pennine divide to perform his one-man show. Trouble is, everyone has booked tickets for the talent show across the bay, starring t’other ‘guvnor’, the twin brother he has never met, Antipholus of Scarborough (David Kirkbride, different first name, but same actor, giving licence for amusing parallel biographies in the programme).

The two ‘servants’ of the piece, Dromio of Prescot and Scarborough respectively (Oliver/Zach  Mawdsley), are equally unaware of the other’s presence, compounding a trail of confusion rooted in Scarborough’s Antipholus owing money everywhere but still promising his wife a gold chain. He needs to win the contest to appease Scarborough’s more unsavoury sorts.

Comedy gold: Andy Cryer in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less)

Kirkbride takes the acting honours in his hyperactive double act with himself, Mawdsley a deux  is a picture of perplexity; Cryer, in his 40th year of SJT productions, is comedy gold as ever in chameleon roles; likewise, Claire Eden fills the stage with diverse riotous, no-nonsense character, whether from Lancashire or Yorkshire.

Valerie Antwi, Alyce Liburd and Ida Regan, each required to put up with the maelstrom of male malarkey, add so much to the comedic commotion, on song throughout too.

Under Robinson’s zesty, witty direction, everything in Scarborough must be all at sea and yet somehow emerge as comic plain sailing, breaking down theatre’s fourth wall to forewarn with a knowing wink of the need to suspend disbelief when seeing how the company will play the two sets of twins once, spoiler alert, they finally meet.

Who knew shaken-and-stirred Shakespeare could be this much fun, enjoying life in the fast Lane with Godber gumption galore too. Add the Yorkshire-Lancashire spat and those Eighties’ pop bangers, Wayne Parsons’ choreography and the fabulous costumes, and this is the best Bard comedy bar none since Joyce Branagh’s Jazz Age Twelfth Night for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2019.

When The Comedy Of Errors meets the 1980s, the laughs are even bigger than the shoulder pads. A case of more, not less.

Review by Charles Hutchinson




More Things To Do in York and beyond as 2023’s shoots start to poke through. Hutch’s List No. 3, courtesy of The Press

Linus Karp: Invitation to join Diana in heaven as she shares the untold and untrue tale of her extraordinary life at Theatre@41. Picture: Dave Bird

FROM a drag Diana to a DIY staging of Harry Potter, synth pop turned symphonic to a long-running Agatha Christie mystery, Charles Hutchinson goes in search of entertainment new and old.

Royal verité show? Probably not! Linus Karp in Diana: The Untold And Untrue Story, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 3 and 4, 7.30pm

DO you know the story of Diana? Probably. But do you know writer-performer Linus Karp’s  story of Diana? “We very much doubt it,” say Awkward Productions, the harbingers of theatrical chaos responsible for this humorous, if tasteless, celebration of the people’s princess.

Join Diana in heaven as she shares the untold and untrue tale of her extraordinary life through a combination of drag, multimedia, audience interaction, puppetry and “a lot of queer joy”. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Sketch of Lendal and street in progress by Steve Beadle, one of the Navigators Art artists exhibiting at Helmsley Arts Centre

Exhibition of the week: Navigators Art, Moving Pictures II, at Helmsley Arts Centre, until March 3; Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 10am to 3pm; Thursdays, 11am to 3pm, and during event opening times

YORK collective Navigators Art are represented by seven artists at Helmsley: Kai Amafé, prints and 3D work; Steve Beadle, paintings and drawings; Michael Dawson, paintings; Richard Kitchen, prints and collages; Katie Lewis, textiles and paintings; Timothy Morrison, constructions, and Peter Roman, paintings.

“The title Moving Pictures is deliberately open to interpretation by the audience as well as the artists,” says co-founder Richard Kitchen, who will be stewarding an 11am to 3pm open day tomorrow (15/1/2023). Exhibition entry is free.

Textile art by Katie Lewis, another of the Navigators Art artists on show in Moving Pictures II at Helmsley Arts Centre

Fundraiser of the week: White Rose Theatre in A Gala Night (and day) Of Musical Theatre, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

THE Katie Ventress School of Dance, York Musical Theatre Company and guest soloists will be accompanied by a band under the musical direction of John Atkin in these uplifting gala concerts to blow away the post-Christmas blues.

Favourites from Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar and Anything Goes are promised. All proceeds will go to the JoRo’s Raise The Roof campaign. Box office for the last few tickets: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Electrifying Eighties: Calling Planet Earth gives a symphonic coating to Duran Duran and co

Nostalgia of the week: Calling Planet Earth, A New Romantic Symphony, York Barbican, January 21, 8pm

A NEW Romantic Symphony heads out on a journey through the electrifying Eighties to revisit the songs of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, The Human League, Ultravox, Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode, Japan, ABC, Soft Cell and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

Symphonic arrangements combine with “stunning vocals” in a parade of hits that defined a decade. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Pottervision: Lukas Kirkby and Tom Lawrinson re-create first film Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone with DIY props, wigs and charity-shop costumes

Magic with mayhem? Pottervision, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, February 10, 7.45pm

LUKAS Kirkby and Tom Lawrinson gather up DIY props, charity-shop costumes and wizarding wigs for their “ridiculous re-creation” of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, staged with multiple role-playing and limited resources after two fellow performers drop out.

What could possibly go wrong?! Find out in Pottervision, a fantastical spectacular for casual fan and avid squib alike. Please note: suitable for age 16 upwards on account of adult language and dark humour. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.

Miles & The Chain Gang: New single to promote at Alne Village Hall

Back on the Chain Gang: Alne Music Club presents Miles & The Chain Gang, Alne Village Hall, Main  Street, Alne, February 11, 7.30pm

YORK band Miles & The Chain Gang head to their first gig of the year with an imminent new single in their locker, Charlie. Recorded last September at Young Thugs Studio in York, it features Miles Salter, guitar and vocals, Tim Bruce, bass, Daniel Bowater, keyboards, Steve Purton, drums, and Mat Watt, guitar.

“We’re filming the video in the next few days with our video guru Dave Thorp,” says Salter. Tickets: from  d.lepper27@btinternet.com or on 01347 838114. 

Dimitra Ananiadou: Violinist to peform recital with pianist Richard Whalley at NCEM

Take a bow: Dimitra Ananiadou & Richard Whalley, A Travel Through Time, National Centre for Early Music, York, February 25, 7pm

DIMITRA Ananiadou returns to York to travel back in time for a violin recital that explores the creation of Baroque, classical and 20th century music with the aid of her special bows.

Composer and pianist Richard Whalley will be accompanying her on the journey through JS Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor (Ciaccona), Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice for Solo Violin No. 24 Op. 1, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op. 30 No. 2 and Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Gaetano Pugnani. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Todd Carty: Playing Major Metcalf in 70th anniversary tour of The Mousetrap

Mystery play in York:The Mousetrap, Grand Opera House, March 6 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees

AGATHA Christie’s mystery The Mousetrap, “the longest running play in the world”, takes in more than 70 venues on its 70th anniversary tour, including a return to York’s Grand Opera House.

EastEnders’ duo Todd Carty, as Major Metcalf, and Gwyneth Strong, as Mrs Boyle, feature in Ian Talbot’s cast for this tale of intrigue and suspense set at Monkswell Manor, a stately countryside guesthouse where seven strangers find themselves snowed in as news spreads of a murder in London. When a police sergeant arrives, the guests discover – to their horror – that a killer is in their midst. Whodunnit? Box office: atgtickets.com/York.

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Constellations at SJT, Scarborough ****; The Last Five Years, Theatre@41, York ***

Infinite possibilities, finite world: Emilio Iannucci’s Roland and Carla Harrison-Hodge’s Marianne in Constellations at the SJT. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Nick Payne’s Constellations, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, written in the stars, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly, 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com

White Rose Theatre in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, in the tunnel of love until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly; 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

HERE is a brace of award-garlanded boy-meets-girl one-act two-handers, each playing with time and space with all the elan of Alan Ayckbourn’s playful works of this ilk.

First up, Constellations, University of York alumnus Nick Payne’s multiverse play already staged in York this year by Black Treacle Theatre’s Andrew Isherwood and Jess Murray at Theatre@41 in February.

Named as one of the 50 best plays of the 21st century by the London Evening Standard, now it is in the supple hands of Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson, whose cast features Emilio Iannucci, an actor whose thrilling combination of mental agility and physical alacrity has delighted York Theatre Royal and Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre audiences alike.

In Payne’s exploration of the myriad paths one love story can take from one meeting, Iannucci plays beekeeper Roland – with more than one sting in the tale – opposite Carla Harrison-Hodge’s scientist Marianne. “The action takes place (sort of) chronologically,” the programme forewarns. “A change of scene indicates a change of universe”.

“Emilio Iannucci and Carla Harrison-Hodge jump from universe to parallel universe with dazzling speed”. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

To avoid any consternation over Constellations, in a nutshell, each scene – the first meeting, the first date and – spoiler alert – the break-up – unfurls in several different ways, as Iannucci and Harrison-Hodge jump from universe to parallel universe with dazzling speed over 70 minutes in a world of What Ifs and endless possibilities, the next leap dependent on the decision each makes.

Comparisons have been made with the films Sliding Doors and Groundhog Day and, more pertinently, with York-born author Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life. Sliding Doors keeps offering two possibilities; Groundhog Day replays the same day over and over; Life After Life posits alternative possible lives for Ursula Todd after death after death.

Bolder still, yet shadowed by the finite nature of life, Constellations combines science and art, physics and chemistry, romance and alternative realities, in an otherwise simple love story.

All life is here within these Constellations: happiness and sadness; honey sweetness and ill health; devotion and cheating; certainty and uncertainty; tremors of the heart and traumas of the mind; the everyday and the extraordinary; decisions big and small; questions and more question; connection and disconnection. A day in the life and the life in a day. The roll of the dice; the truth and the lies.

On a breathtaking set by TK Hay of wooden blocks within a geometric carapace of one and a half miles of fibre-optic cable lighting, Iannucci and Harrison-Hodge talk and move equally nimbly, in response to Payne’s text, Robinson’s direction and Jennifer Kay’s movement direction alike. Sign language speaks volumes too.

Like the sky-at-night lighting’s evocation of drawing lines from star to star, the multifarious stories travel up and down lines of humour and heartbreak, light and darkness, exhilaration and loss, warmth and sudden chill, to the point where you care deeply about Roland and Marianne, whatever direction their paths take. What’s more, you ponder what alternative routes your own life could have followed.

As Robinson puts it, Constellations is “deeply human, deeply moving, genuinely tilting the world for you”. In his notes, he challenges anyone not to leave the theatre “just a bit more aware of what a fragile and remarkable thing life is”. Job done, Mr Robinson. Fragile, remarkable, and always better for a trip to the theatre to appreciate that.

Close together and drifting apart: Simon Radford’s Jamie and Claire Pulpher’s Cathy in a montage for The Last Five Years

YORK Stage director Nik Briggs has long wanted to bring Jason Robert Brown’s emotionally charged 2001 American musical The Last Five Years to York, but his ideal couplings to play Cathy and Jamie have never been in York at the same time.

The York premiere instead falls to White Rose Theatre, the city’s newest stage company, in a passion project for director Claire Pulpher and fellow actor Simon Radford, who both name it as their favourite musical.

Brown drew on the trials and tribulations of his own failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill. So much so that she sued him on the grounds of the musical’s story violating non-disparagement and non-disclosure agreements within their divorce decree by representing her relationship with Brown too closely.

For Brown, read successful young novelist Jamie Wellerstein, Random House’s rising poster boy. For, well, let’s not say O’Neill, but any struggling actress, read Cathy Hiatt, from Ohio.

Brown’s sung-through musical has the novel structure of Cathy telling her side of the story from the end of the relationship backwards, while, at the other end of the stage, Jamie does so from the start forwards, as he lands a publishing deal at 23.

The songs take the form of internal monologues, alongside the occasional phone call, usually delivered with the other partner having left the stage, save for a duet where they touch for the first time, exchange marriage vows and swap ends to continue on the same trajectory. There is to be no middle ground in this relationship, no alternative paths, unlike in Constellations.

Simon Radford and Claire Pulpher in rehearsal for The Last Five Years

The singing brings to mind the work of Stephen Sondheim, melody playing second fiddle to recitative, (the form of accompanied solo song that mirrors the rhythms and accents of spoken language), whether upbeat when courting or for broken-hearted ballads.

The accompaniment, however, under the musical direction of Jon Atkin, is often beautiful as he leads a six-piece band with the strings to the fore: Marcus Bousfield on violin and Rachel Brown and Lucy McLuckie on sublime cello. Paul McArthur on guitar and Christian Topman provide the electricity.

The balance in the relationship can be played in different ways, more often with Jamie trying everything to save the relationship, to stimulate Cathy, in a gentler interpretation of the role. In song, Radford’s Jamie is intense, hyper, rising to the point of anger and shouting, uncompromising, in your face, over-confident, deceitful too.

Pulpher’s Cathy tunes into a different wavelength, more controlled, one where she experiences flights of happiness, frustration rather than embitterment with failed auditions, but moments of humour too before loss of confidence, insularity and loneliness take over.

Done this way, where Jamie is the one who is unreasonable, you wonder whether these two would ever have lasted five years or whether they were polar opposites never meant to travel in the same direction.

Nevertheless, the structure is engaging; the songs draw you in; the simple set of two chairs and one table at each end is well chosen, complemented by the regular changes of attire that match the two stories in one’s progress.

After the last two years in Covid’s shadow, seeing a new company of established York talents take its first steps in The Last Five Years is another reason to celebrate Theatre@41’s upward curve under chair Alan Park.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Award-winning TK Hay lights up the SJT with fibre-optic design ‘unlike anything ever seen in a theatre production before’

Only connect: Cast members Carla Harrison-Hodge and Emilio Iannucci on TK Hay’s ground-breaking set design for Constellations. All pictures: Tony Bartholomew

HOTSHOT young designer TK Hay has created a dazzling and innovative set design for the multiverse story world of Nick Payne’s Constellations at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Crowned Best Designer in the Stage Debut Awards 2022, Hay has used over one-and-a-half miles of glowing fibre optic cable to create a web of light that  surrounds actors Carla Harrison-Hodge and Emilio Iannucci.

Payne’s play looks at the ‘What Ifs’ that arise from a single meeting, following the crazy paving of the couple’s path through a multitude of possibilities depending on the decisions they make.

Shining light: Designer TK Hay

Hay was inspired by two installation artists to create a set “that is believed to be unlike anything ever seen in a theatre production before”: Chiharu Shiota from Japan, who makes huge and intricate networks of thread and yarn, and Italian “artist of pure light” Carlo Bernardini, who uses fibre optics, prisms and sculptural elements to form laser-like geometric installations.

“What we wanted was a design that responded to the action of the play, so the direction from the start was very visually focused,” says Hay.

“I was thinking about the connection between the two protagonists and how across all these different realities they are somehow managing to connect with one another.

Illuminating: TK Hay’s fibre-optic design for the SJT’s production of Constellations

“I pitched to Paul Robinson, the director, that we took Shiota’s and Bernadini’s work and fused it together – I thought it would look incredible!”

Robinson says: “TK’s design is absolutely remarkable: we’re pushing at not just what this play can do, but also what theatre form can do with what he’s come up with.”

The set design has created its own challenges for SJT’s production manager Denzil Hebditch, and technical manager Tigger Johnson.

Denzil says: “Working with fibre optics in this way wasn’t something we had done before, and we were concerned that we would struggle to achieve TK’s vision, but the results have been pretty spectacular!”

A floor-level view of TK Hay’s design in the Round at the SJT

More Things To Do in York and beyond as clocks go back for longer nights and festival shorts. Hutch’s List No. 104, from The Press

Filip Fredrik’s Elements: Showing at Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2022

A FILM festival with international pedigree, poetry clashes, comedy aplenty and Constellations shine out for Charles Hutchinson.

Festival of the week: Aesthetica Short Film Festival, across York, Tuesday to Sunday

AESTHETICA Short Film Festival returns for 300 films in 15 venues over six days in York in its 12th edition. The BAFTA-Qualifying event will have a hybrid format, combining the live festival with a selection of screenings, masterclasses and events on the digital platform until November 30.

New for 2022 will be York Days, a discount scheme with the chance to save 50 per cent on prices on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday programmes. Comedies, dramas, thrillers, animation, family-friendly films and documentaries all feature, complemented by workshops, the Virtual Reality Lab, installations and the festival fringe. Box office: asff.co.uk/tickets.

Malaika Kegode: Guest appearance at Say Owt Slam’s birthday party. Picture: Jon Aitken

Birthday party of the week: Say Owt Slam’s 8th Birthday Special, with Malaika Kegode, The Crescent, York, tonight (29/10/2022), 7.30pm

SAY Owt, York’s loveable gang of performance poets, Stu Freestone, Henry Raby, Hannah Davies and David Jarman, welcome special-guest Bristol poet Malaika Kegode to a high-energy night of words and verse, humour and poet-versus-poet fun.

“It started as a one-off gig! I can’t believe we’re still slamming eight years later,” says artistic director and host Raby. “Whether you’re a veteran or looking for something new, everyone is welcome at a Say Owt Slam, where each poet has a maximum of three minutes to wow randomly selected judges with their poetry.” Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

David O’Doherty: Change of date for York gig

On the move: David O’Doherty: Whoa Is Me, Grand Opera House, York, changing from Monday to February 5 2023, 8pm

HERE he comes again, albeit later than first planned, trotting on stage with all of the misplaced confidence of a waiter with no pad.

“There’ll be lots of talking, some apologising and some songs on a glued-together plastic keyboard from 1986,” promises David O’Doherty, comedian, author, musician, actor and playwright, 1990 East Leinster under-14 triple jump bronze medallist and son of jazz pianist Jim Doherty. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Flo & Joan: Musical comedy duo offer thoughts on topics of the day

Musical comedy of the week: Flo & Joan, Sweet Release, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday, 7.3pm

FLO & Joan, the British musical comedy duo of sisters Nicola and Rosie Dempsey, play York as one of 30 additional dates on their 2022 tour after their return to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Climbing back out of their pits, armed with a piano and percussion, they poke around the  classic topics of the day with their fusion of comedy and song with a dark undertow.

The sisters have penned five numbers for the West End musical Death Drop and have written and performed songs for Horrible Histories (CBBC), Rob Delaney’s Stand Up Central (Comedy Central) and BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Emilio Iannucci: Starring in Nick Payne’s romantic two-hander Constellations at the SJT

Play of the week outside York: Constellations, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, running until November 12

WHEN beekeeper Roland meets scientist Marianne, anything could happen in University of York alumnus Nick Payne’s romantic and revealing exploration of the many possibilities that can result from a single meeting. Reminiscent of Sliding Doors and Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, this two-hander starring Carla Harrison-Hodge and Emilio Iannucci ponders “What if?”.

“Constellations plays with time and space in the most brilliant way,” says director Paul Robinson. “Deeply human, deeply moving, it genuinely tilts the world for you. I challenge anyone not to leave the theatre just a bit more aware of what a fragile and remarkable thing life is.” Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.

Bring It On: “The thrill of extreme competition”

Backflip of the week: York Stage in Bring It On: The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Saturday matinee, 2.30pm

THE York premiere of Bring It On backflips into the JoRo in a youth theatre production directed by Nik Briggs. Inspired by the film of the same name, this story of the challenges and surprising bonds forged through the thrill of extreme competition is packed with vibrant characters, electrifying contemporary songs and explosive choreography.

This Broadway hit is the energy-fuelled work of Tony Award winners Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and Tom Kitt (Grease: Live). Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Humour on hand: Harry Hill promises Pedigree Fun on his first tour since 2013

Very silly show of the week: Harry Hill, Pedigree Fun!, Grand Opera House, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

COMEDIAN, writer, actor, artist and former doctor Harry Hill and his big shirt collars take to the stage for an all-singing, all-dancing surrealist spectacular in his long-awaited return to the live arena for the fist time since 2013’s Sausage Time tour.

“I hadn’t realised how much I missed performing live until lockdown stopped me from doing it,” he says. “The good news is I’m planning a very silly show.” Full of pop-culture spoofs, no doubt.

Audiences will meet Harry’s new baby elephant, Sarah, along with regular sidekick Stouffer the Cat. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

John McCusker: Fiddler supreme on 30th anniversary tour

Fiddler on the road: The John McCusker Band 30th Anniversary Tour, National Centre for Early Music, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

SCOTTISH fiddle player John McCusker will be joined by Ian Carr, Sam Kelly, Helen McCabe and Toby Shaer for his concert series in celebration of 30 years as a professional folk musician since cutting his teeth in The Battlefield Band at 17.

To coincide with this landmark, McCusker has released a Best Of album featuring tracks from his solo records and television and film soundtracks, alongside a book of 100 original compositions, John McCusker: The Collection.

“I’m delighted to be able to get this special show on the road and celebrate 30 years as a professional musician,” says McCusker. “I’m looking forward to performing the highlights from my back catalogue and revisiting memories associated with those tracks.

“It’s brilliant that I’ve been able to make music and perform for 30 years and I’ve worked with so many incredible people in that time. I’ve never had a plan; good things have just
happened and, so far, it’s worked out as well as I could possibly have dreamed of. I can’t
wait to play with my friends again.” Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

York Settlement Community Players’ cast for Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike: Mick Liversidge (Vanya), top left, Victoria Delaney (Sonia) and Susannah Baines (Sasha); Andrew Roberts (Spike), bottom left, Sanna Jeppsson (Cassandra) and Livy Potter

York premiere of the week: York Settlement Community Players in Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Thursday, Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm, 7.30pm

VANYA and his sister Sonia live a quiet life in the Pennsylvania farmhouse where they grew up, but when their famous film-star sister, Masha, makes an impromptu visit with her dashing, twenty-something boyfriend, Spike, a chaotic weekend ensues.

Resentment, rivalry and revealing premonitions begin to boil over as the three siblings battle to be heard in Christopher Durang’s comedy, winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best New Play with its blend of Chekhovian ennui, modern-day concerns of celebrity, social networking and the troubling onset of middle age. Jim Paterson directs Settlement Players’ production. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Plastic Mermaids: “Emotional exploration of the many facets of heartbreak”

Time to discover…Plastic Mermaids, The Crescent, York, November 10; Oporto, Leeds, February 2 2023

AFTER playing Glastonbury and Camp Bestival in the summertime, Isle of Wight five-piece Plastic Mermaids are off on an 11-date tour to promote their second album, It’s Not Comfortable To Grow, out now on Sunday Best.

Led by brothers Douglas and Jamie Richards, who approach life like an art project, they face up to their dark side in an emotional exploration of the many facets of heartbreak on such psych-rock and electronica numbers as Girl Boy Girl, Disposable Love, Something Better and Elastic Time. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Did you ever think you might not direct Guy Fawkes because of your pregnancy? ‘Absolutely not!’, says Gemma Fairlie

Gemma Fairlie directing a rehearsal for York Theatre Royal’s stage premiere of David Reed’s Guy Fawkes

DIRECTOR Gemma Fairlie is directing two productions this season, all while pregnant with a Christmas delivery on the way.

A driving force behind bringing York writer-performer David Reed’s play Guy Fawkes to the stage ever since Reed’s sketch comedy company The Penny Dreadfuls’ radio play more than a decade ago,  Gemma is overseeing rehearsals at the Central Methodist Church, St Saviourgate, for the stage world premiere at York Theatre Royal from October 28 to November 12.

Next, this director of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Henry V at the Castle car park in York in Summer 2019 will return to the Stephen Joseph Theatre Christmas show in Scarborough. After Jack And The Beanstalk last winter, she will be at the helm of Nick Lane’s Cinderella from December 2 to 31.

Here she discusses Guy Fawkes, Reed’s explosive comedy about York’s traitorous trigger man with its devilishly dangerous mix of Blackadder and Upstart Crow.

How did you become involved with the Guy Fawkes project, Gemma?

“The Penny Dreadfuls wrote the radio play about Guy Fawkes in 2009, which I heard and thought would work brilliantly as a theatre piece. So, in 2010, I approached the guys and we started to have conversations.

“It always takes time to get everybody in the room and start to figure out how it might work, but I knew David [writer David Reed] was excited about making it theatrical and exploring the journey of the characters in a different medium.”

 What intrigued you about the play?

“Guy Fawkes gets caught. Everyone knows that. But how can you shift an audience’s perception about a story they think they know? Are there moments where we hope he doesn’t get caught? Are there moments when we are on his side and want to blow up Parliament?

“It’s like Hamlet or King Lear. Everyone knows they die but you want the audience to have that moment where they don’t want that to happen, where they want a different ending. Can we have Guy as a hero and an anti-hero? And can a story that is so clearly a tragedy about a man that fails actually work as a comedy that makes us question that failure?”

When did York Theatre Royal first come on board?

“That was around ten years ago when we brought the play to York with the idea of the theatre being a co-producer or partner. I came to a programme meeting at the Theatre Royal and pitched the idea. They were really excited.

“Of course, it absolutely is a York-originated story although it’s set in London, and that’s a vital part of it. The North-South divide, particularly what that meant in the 1600s and how that relates to the characters and their experiences, is vital to the story.

“Then Covid happened and the planned York production was postponed, but what’s great is that this is absolutely the right time to put it on. What put Parliament back between 1604 and 1605 was the plague. What kept stymying them was this awful medical emergency and in the same way Covid has shifted our perspectives and our timescale over the last three years. It feels very prescient in that way.

“I think there’s disappointment and frustration with our current political system and a great deal of tribalism happening. It’s obviously very different to the persecution of Protestants and the Catholics, and what was happening politically in Guy Fawkes’ time, but there is a parallel in terms of the underlying tension and fear, with nobody knowing if they’re safe or quite knowing what’s going to happen next, what the next government will bring. Now is the perfect time to be doing this play.”

David’s play is billed as a comedy but the Gunpowder Plot – an attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605 – was a serious matter. Discuss…

“What we’re brilliant at in the UK is satire. This comes from a long tradition going back to pamphlets about the Whigs and political cartoons in general all the way through Monty Python, The Fast Show, even Spitting Image, which has recently had a renaissance.

“We love to skewer our political leaders; we love to question and cause trouble with humour. That’s absolutely what the arts should be doing: questioning our society and our values and what we hold dear as humans. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“For us, as a team, it’s about finding the right tone for the play – between comedy and the ultimate tragedy. So, sometimes there’s slapstick and it’s very silly but there’s an underlying truth and passion to this story and a real darkness to Guy’s fervour.” 

What should Theatre Royal audiences expect?

“We want people to discover the story of Guy Fawkes afresh. It’s really important people come in knowing it’s a comedy, so that doesn’t freak them out, but I think of it a bit like Blackadder Goes Forth. The end of the last series where they have to go over the top is a really heart-breaking moment.

“You have a bunch of clowns and they’ve been ridiculous; you’ve laughed at them a lot but you’ve also invested in them and grown to love them. That’s so important. The moment at the end where you think they’re all going to die, that’s incredibly moving, and that’s what comedy can do.

“If you laugh at someone, you start to care about them and really invest in their journey. We want our audience to laugh, laugh, laugh and then hopefully cry at the end.” 

You held the casting auditions in Yorkshire. How important was that?

“It was absolutely essential we represented York in the show and we have that authentic voice. We wanted to put York actors in front of York audiences and celebrate local talent. Also, having the right mix of people in the room that (a) an audience would love and (b) who would have comedy bones was key.

“You have to know very clearly who they are as characters and they’ve also got to work together as a team. We’re very lucky to have found a wonderfully talented bunch and it’s a total joy for David (Reed) and I to see it come to life, and see what the cast bring to it [including Reed in the title role].”

Did you ever think you might not direct Guy Fawkes because of your pregnancy?

“Absolutely not! I was always aiming to direct it, whether it was with a babe in arms or the day before being induced in hospital. Guy Fawkes has been my baby for so long, so what’s really lovely for me is to see this theatre baby come to life while my son grows in utero. 

“It’s kind of crazy to know they are both finally going to be out there in the world as both babies have taken me quite a long time to bring to life. Plus, laughter is really good for you in pregnancy and I’m getting lots of that in the rehearsal room!”

Next up?

“Directing Cinderella at the Stephen Joseph Theatre this Christmas. I’m very lucky I get to have this time in the rehearsal room at two incredible theatres, doing the thing I absolutely love, before I meet my son.” 

What sort of theatre work are you attracted to?

“I do a lot of Shakespeare, new work, and I come from a physical theatre background so I do movement and choreography within that, and occasionally a bit of circus as well. The pieces that I’m drawn to tend to have an epic edge to them, and they always have to have heart. Generally, they will have moments of big physicality and lots of comedy.

“When I go to Scarborough, I’ll be directing and choreographing five actors playing the whole story of Cinderella, playing multi-roles and singing their hearts out. I love that I go from Guy Fawkes with a stage revolve, pyrotechnics and sword fights to Scarborough, to work in the round with lots of Strictly Come Dancing moves and glitter. That’s the real joy of being a freelance director.”

Guy Fawkes runs at York Theatre Royal from October 28 to November 12, 7.30pm, except October 30 and November 6; 2pm, November 3 and 10; 2.30pm, November 5 and 12. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Cinderella, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, December 2 to 31. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.