THE fifth edition of the York International Shakespeare Festival will begin tomorrow after tonight’s opening show, a Right Here Right Now Shakespeare Special comedy improv night at the home of Riding Lights Theatre, was scuppered by unforeseen circumstances.
Running until May 1, the 11-day programme comprises more than 40 live events, and others online, featuring international, national and York-made performances, talks, workshops, exhibitions and discussions.
Look out too for tomorrow’s Shakespeare Sonnet Marathon in the York Theatre Royal garden (weather permitting!) from 11am; storytelling in libraries and schools, and the launch of a book celebrating the festival’s community placemaking project in lockdown, York Loves Shakespeare (Friargate Theatre, Sunday, 5pm)
“We are delighted that the Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre have accepted our invitation to showcase their dynamic and uplifting production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (York St John University Creative Arts Centre Auditorium, April 28, 8pm)” says festival director Philip Parr.
“The Ukrainian company will also offer workshops for students and the community and will talk about the current nature of theatre in Ukraine. We are thrilled to have this company in York to not only present the quality of their work but also to demonstrate the significant cultural connection that is created through international festivals.”
Selected by the European Shakespeare Festival network from an international call-out, festival highlight Flabbergast Theatre’s visceral and lucid The Tragedy Of Macbeth (York St John University Creative Centre Auditorium, April 26, 8pm) has garnered responses such as comedian Stewart Lee’s recommendation: “Everything you want – stuff being banged, terrifying puppets, polyphonic singing, mess, mud, noise, wine, party hats, and an amazingly talented international cast”.
The Stage critic Susan Elkin meanwhile enthused: “The term ‘physical theatre’ doesn’t actually do it justice. It’s an understatement.”
Bognor Regis-born experimental theatre maker, actor, writer and director Tim Crouch presents his Fringe First-winning Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel (York St John University Creative Centre Auditorium and Atrium, April 29, 8pm) fresh from seasons in Edinburgh New York and London. In this daring modern piece of storytelling and stand-up, he explores King Lear in a post-pandemic world as a virtual reality headset meets Shakespeare as Crouch ponders the essence of live performance.
Artists from Poland, Croatia and Romania join the festival for a series of staged play readings of European texts inspired or influenced by Shakespeare or by writers roughly contemporary to him. All are in new English translations, each receiving first performances, and all three will be heard in the UK for the first time in any language.
On the York front, York Shakespeare Project begins its second cycle with Dr Daniel Roy Connelly’s modern-day staging of Richard III, set in the House of Commons, at Friargate Theatre from April 26 to 29 and Elizabeth Elsworth’s innovative theatrical interpretation of Shakespeare’s long poem, here retitled Lucrece, at Friargate Theatre on Sunday and Monday.
“For 11 days, York will become the city of Shakespeare, but perhaps not the Shakespeare you might expect,” says Philip, artistic director of Parrabbola and chair of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network.
York International Shakespeare Festival: the back story
THE festival was established in 2014 and presented its first programme in 2015 with the aim of bringing exciting and innovative international productions to Great Britain and to showcase work from York and the North.
The festival is programmed and managed by Parrabbola, an arts organisation with many years’ experience in community arts and festivals.
Running every two years, the festival began as a partnership with Parrabbola, York Theatre Royal and the University of York, but has now broadened its reach to take in such York organisations as the National Centre for Early Music, Riding Lights Theatre Company, York Shakespeare Project, York Explore and Bronzehead, embedding the festival firmly in the city.
From 2023, YISF is working closely with York St John University in a new partnership designed to create a new opportunity for staff and students to produce this festival annually.
JASPER Carrott had decided his Stand Up & Rock gig with Brummie schoolmate and ELO drummer Bev Bevan in Barnstaple would be his last show.
June 6 2022. Age 77. Joke cracker Carrott and sticks basher Bevan in Devon. Exit the Queen’s Theatre stage left, the finale for the Lifetime Achievement winner in the 2008 British Comedy Awards. The Funky Moped now defunct.
But what’s this? An Evening Shared With Jasper Carrott & Alistair McGowan, heading to the Grand Opera House, York, on Sunday on their comedy and impressions double bill.
“I gave it up last year to see how I felt – and I missed it terribly,” says comedian, actor and television presenter Jasper, his nickname since the age of nine when growing up in Birmingham.
“I’m having a golden autumn. There’s an audience out there that’s not catered for and I cater for it. I get standing ovations, and these days I like to say it would be 100 per cent…if 100 per cent of the audience could still stand up!”
Carrott, 78, and Evesham-born McGowan, 58, who now lives in Ludlow, Shropshire, first shared a bill as a one-off at the 2017 Reading Festival. “They had a spare spot on the Sunday, and my agent asked if I’d like to do it, My first thought was, ‘Not on my own’,” recalls Jasper (real name Robert Norman Davis, by the way).
“I’d previously worked with Phil Cool for about three years [from 1992] on the Carrott & Cool tour shows, where the comedy nights felt different because of Phil’s impersonations. Anyway, my agent said Alistair would be interested in doing the festival with me, and it went really well.”
So much so, they went out on tour in 2018, playing York Barbican in their An Evening With Jasper Carrott & Alistair McGowan format on November 19. “That was one of the first shows I did with him.”
How did they settle on who would open the show? “Alistair really wanted to go on first. I think he thought it would be more difficult if he had to build on my energy. We first did it that way at Reading, and it worked, so, each half, Alistair does 20-25 minutes, then I come on and do 30,” says Jasper.
In a long, long career, Jasper has spread his wings to star in the television series The Detectives from 1993 to 1997; play Koko, the executioner, for the D’Oyly Carte Opera in a 96-show run of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado at the Savoy Theatre, London, in 2002, and host 300 episodes of the ITV daytime game show Golden Balls from 2007 to 2011.
Yet raconteur Jasper has always returned to performing stand-up, cracking quickfire gags, spinning yarns and singing ditties to guitar accompaniment solo on stage: the most exposed and exposing form of self-expression on stage.
“Now then, I’m going to paraphrase Bill Shankly [the legendary Liverpool football manager of the 1960s and ’70s],” says Jasper. “When he signed Kevin Keegan, he walked him on to the Anfield pitch and said, ‘you can run anywhere on this pitch, but you can’t hide’, and that’s the same for me, doing my comedy.”
Ten years away from the stand-up microphone had passed when best friend Bev Bevan said, ‘Let’s do some shows together. That’s when I rediscovered the essence of it, going eyeball to eyeball with an audience. It stirred up all the adrenaline again, which is a very addictive drug.”
Preferring that eyeball-to-eyeball experience to playing 5,000-seaters “where everyone just watches the screens”, Carrott and Bevan did shows together for more than eight years. Now he is back on the road with Alistair McGowan.
“Times have changed in comedy. You can’t talk about anything [because of political correctness], but it’s like you have to have Tourette’s to go on stage to talk. That’s comedy today, long, hard and woke. For ages I’ve been watching a lot of comedians, and with all the young stand-up comics, I don’t really laugh,” he says.
“Storytelling is an art and not many comedians now tell stories, but I do sets with machine-gunfire gags and three or four stories with jokes in them that are hidden, and that’s what I’ve always done.
“That’s because I was a product of the American style of comedy: Tom Lehrer, George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman. I still don’t swear on stage, but I talk about topics that need discussing, however awkward.”
Looking ahead, Jasper says: “Lots of comedians have performed into their 80s: George Burns, the Marx Brothers, Ken Dodd, and I’ll know when it’s time to stop,” he says. “I have no ego about it. I really enjoy it, and one of things now is the nostalgia, where I go on stage and I’m part of the audience’s lives. I feel their warmth.”
A comedian to the last, he ponders his final curtain. “When I get asked, ‘what do you want on your gravestone?’, I always say, ‘I never died in Glasgow’!”
An Evening Shared With Jasper Carrott & Alistair McGowan, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday, 7.30pm. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Jasper Carrott on playing Koko, the executioner, in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado for D’Oyly CarteOpera
“That was an experience and a half! I was a bit shaky at first as I had to learn so much. Someone said, ‘you can know it, but you don’t own it’, and remember sitting down and thinking ‘how do I go about doing this?’.
“I was a pain in the a**e for everyone on the staff, from the actors to the director, really trying to glean the essence of the part, which I then really got hold of.
“Why pick me for Koko? I suppose they looked at it and thought, ‘who can we get to front this?’, when people like Eric Idle had done it before. I said I’d be very interested, and they sent the director out to Spain, where I was playing golf, to play the piano to see if I could sing.”
Surely D’Oyly Carte must have heard Jasper’s 1975 hit single, Funky Moped? “My musical passport!” he says, with laughter in his voice.
Once Jasper received the OK, rather than KO, for playing Koko, “the rest was a long, hard slog, getting to learn the part…and learning never to do it again! I never realised how much work went into performing opera.”
Jasper Carrott on hosting the ITV game show Golden Balls
“I thought, ‘I’m a raconteur, not a game show host’, but I did the pilot and they liked it. When my agent said how much I’d be paid, I said, ‘is that in lira?’, but no, it wasn’t! I ended up doing 300 episodes.
“I learned so much about human nature in that show, about just how deceitful people are!”
Jasper Carrott on fellow comedian Stewart Lee
“Stewart left a couple of books for me at a gig after he’d played there a couple of days earlier, saying I’d inspired him. He’s not always funny but he is very interesting, and he’s probably the link between what I do and the young comedians of today.”
Jasper Carrott on the essence of comedy
“Comedy is the only measurable artform. People laugh or they don’t. You can’t tell me how much you enjoy a Rembrandt painting, but if there aren’t any laughs at a comedy gig, you won’t be performing again.”
THE return of Buddy, Stewart Lee and English Touring Opera, a dream of an exhibition and a vintage DJ night of song top Charles Hutchinson’s diary highlights for the week ahead.
Musical of the week: Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees
HOLLYLUJAH! Rock’n’roll musical Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story returns to York for the first time since 2017 with “The day the music died” tale of the bespectacled young man from Lubbock, Texas, whose meteoric rise from Southern rockabilly beginnings to international stardom ended in his death in a plane crash at only 22.
Christopher Weeks’s Buddy leads the cast of actor-musicians through two hours of music and drama, romance and tragedy, driven by all those hits, from That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and Rave On to Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba.Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Folk gig of the week: Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker & John Doyle, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm
THE Black Swan Folk Club and Please Please You present the powerhouse triumvirate of musical magpies McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle in a Sunday session of traditional, contemporary and original jigs, reels and ballads, as heard on their two albums, 2018’s The Wishing Tree and 2020’s The Reed That Bends In The Storm.
Their paths first crossing as teenagers before they joined separate bands (Lunasa, The Battlefield Band and Solas respectively), they line up with Mancunian McGoldrick on flute, whistles, Uileann pipes, bodhran, clarinet and congas; Glaswegian McCusker on fiddle, whistles and harmonium; Dubliner Doyle on vocals, guitar, bouzouki and mandola.
“The whole thing’s great fun,” says McCusker. “We have no agenda other than having a nice time and playing music. That’s the way we tour as well – we throw ourselves in a little car, instruments on our laps, and off we go. And the records? Well, I hope it’s the sound of three old friends, having a great time, making music together.” Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Comedy at the treble: Stewart Lee: Basic Lee, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Wednesday, 7.30pm
AFTER recording last May’s brace of Snowflake and Tornado gigs at York Theatre Royal for broadcast on the BBC, Stewart Lee returns for three nights of his Basic Lee show.
Following a decade of high-concept shows involving overarched, interlinked narratives, Lee enters the post-pandemic era in streamlined stand-up mode. One man, one microphone, and one microphone in the wings in case the one on stage breaks. Pure. Simple. Classic. Basic Lee – but sold out, alas.
Exhibition launch of the week: Navigators Art, Dream Time, City Screen Picturehouse, York, on show until April 21
YORK collective Navigators Art’s Dream Time exhibition takes inspiration from dreams, visions, surrealism and the mysteries and fantasies of the subconscious mind. The official launch event will be held tomorrow (19/3/2023) in the café bar from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
This mixed-media show features painting by Steve Beadle and Peter Roman; collage, prints and drawing by Richard Kitchen; photography and painting by Nick Walters and textiles by Katie Lewis.
Nostalgic show of the week: Tony Blackburn: Sound Of The 60s Live, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm
BBC Radio 2 disc jockey Tony Blackburn hosts an evening of 1960s’ classics, performed live by the Sound Of The 60s All Star Band and Singers.
Listen out for the hits of The Everly Brothers, Dusty Springfield, The Kinks, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Who and many more. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Liverpool lip of the week: Paul Smith: Joker, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm
JOKER is Paul Smith’s biggest and funniest tour show to date, wherein the Scouse humorist mixes his trademark audience interaction with true stories from his everyday life.
Resident compere at Liverpool’s Hot Water Club, Smith has made his mark online as well as on the gig circuit with his affable nature and savvy wit. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Indie gig of the week: Roddy Woomble, Selby Town Hall, Thursday, 8pm
RODDY Woomble, Scottish indie band Idlewild’s lead singer, is now a leading voice in the British contemporary indie folk scene. In Selby, he is joined by Idlewild band mate Andrew Wasylyk for a duo show of Idlewild favourites and solo works.
“This is a tour in between records, so a tour for exploring all the songs,” says Woomble. “Lo! Soul is going on two years old now, and although the songs still sound fresh to me when I play them, it’s time for something new – which there is. We’ll definitely be including some new material in the set.” Box office: selbytownhall.co.uk.
Two nights at the opera: English Touring Opera, York Theatre Royal, in Lucrezia Borgia, March 24, and Il Viaggio a Reims, March 25, both 7.30pm
LUCREZIA Borgia, Donizetti’s tragedy of a complex woman in a dangerous situation, is making its debut in the English Touring Opera repertoire in Eloise Lally’s ETO directorial debut production of this thrilling and moving meditation on power and motherhood.
Valentina Ceschi directs a cast of 27 in Il Viaggio a Reims, Rossini’s last Italian opera, in which intrigue, politics, romance and lost luggage all play their part as a group of entitled guests from all over Europe is stranded in a provincial hotel on the way to a great coronation. Period-instrument specialists The Old Street Band play for both operas. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Gig announcement of the week: Steve Earle, The Alone Again Tour, Grand Opera House, York, June 9
AS his tour title suggests, legendary Americana singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, novelist, short story writer and radio presenter Steve Earle will be performing solo and acoustic in York: the only Yorkshire gig of a ten-date itinerary without his band The Dukes that will take in the other Barbican, in London, and Glastonbury.
Born in Fort Monroae National Monument, Hampton, Virginia, Earle grew up in Texas and began his songwriting career in Nashville, releasing his first EP in 1982 and debut album Guitar Town in 1986, since when he has branched out from country music into rock, bluegrass, folk music and blues.
His colourful life prompted Lauren St John’s 2003 biography Hardcore Troubadour: The Life And Near Death Of Steve Earle, written with the rebel rocker’s exclusive and unfettered cooperation. “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself,” he once said.
Earle, 68, has been married seven times (including twice to the same woman) and been through drug addiction and run-ins with the law, serving a month in prison in 1994 for heroin possession. “Going to jail is what saved my life,” he said, after he was sent to rehab.
A protege of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, Earle is a masterful storytelling songwriter in his own right, with his songs being recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, The Proclaimers and The Pretenders, among others.
Since the Millennium, he has released such albums as the Grammy-awarded The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007) and Townes (2009).
Restlessly creative across artistic disciplines, Earle has published a collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses (2002) ; a novel, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (2011), and a memoir, I Can’t Remember If We said Goodbye (2015).
He has produced albums for Joan Baez and Lucinda Williams, acted in films and on television, notably in David Simon’s The Wire, and hosts a radio show for Sirius XM.
In 2009, Earle made his off-Broadway theatre debut in the play Samara, contributing the score too. In 2010, he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics in the drama series Treme.
In 2020, he wrote music for and appeared in Coal Country, a docu-play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen that shines a light on the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the most deadly mining disaster in United States history. A nomination for a Drama Desk Award came his way.
In 2020 too, Earle released the album Ghosts Of West Virginia and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His 21st studio album, J.T. in January 2021, was an homage to his late son, singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who had died from an accidental drug overdose in August 2020. In May 2022 came Jerry Jeff, Earle’s tribute to cowboy troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker.
Tickets go on sale on Thursday morning (23/3/2023) at atgtickets.com/york.
IT’S time for back-to-normal service to resume as Charles Hutchinson wipes the sleep from the eyes of his diary for 2023.
Exhibition launch of the week: Back To Normalism, by John Ledger, Micklegate Social, Micklegate, and Fossgate Social, Fossgate, York, January 13 to March 13
ON the portentous Friday the 13th, the preview of Barnsley artist John Ledger’s solo show Back To Normalism begins at 7pm at Micklegate Social.
Ledger looks at the uncanny reality that has unfolded since the pandemic started, along with the underlying weirdness of trying to patch up the black holes in our collective experience of time, in a show about cultures uprooted and disjointed by a series of disasters and distorted by the consequences of trying to repeatedly return to a “before” moment.
Apocalypse very soon: Ricky Gervais, Armageddon, York Barbican, Tuesday and Wednesday 7.30pm precisely
ARMAGEDDON is not the end of the world as we know it but the name of grouchy comedian, actor, screenwriter, director, singer, podcaster and awards ceremony host Ricky Gervais’s new tour show.
Gervais, 61, will be torching “woke over-earnestness and the contradictions of modern political correctness while imagining how it all might end for our ‘one species of narcissistic ape’,” according to the Guardian review of his Manchester Apollo gig. Box office? Oh dear, you’re too late for Armageddon; both nights have sold out.
Love Is The Law unto himself: Chris Helme, solo Do It Yourself 25th Anniversary Tour, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 14, 8pm
YORK singer-songwriter Chris Helme is marking the 25th anniversary of The Seahorses’ only album, Do It Yourself, released on May 26 1997 in guitarist John Squire’s short-lived post-Stone Roses project with Helme and fellow York musician Stuart Fletcher on bass.
Recorded in North Hollywood, California, the album was pipped to the number one spot by Gary Barlow while debut single Love Is The Law reached number three. A further highlight of Helme’s solo acoustic set will be Love Me And Leave Me, Liam Gallagher’s first songwriting credit, no less. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Better late than never: The Lonesome Ace Stringband, Selby Town Hall, January 18, 8pm
RE-SCHEDULED from January 20 2022, The Lonesome Ace Stringband’s gig features righteous folk and country music, played by an old-time band with bluegrass chops and a feel for deep grooves.
Band members Chris Coole, banjo, John Showman, fiddle, and Max Heineman, bass, are three Canadians lost in the weird and wonderful traditional country music of the American South, having served their time in New Country Rehab, The David Francey Band, The Foggy Hogtown Boys and Fiver. Box office: 01757 708449 or selbytownhall.co.uk.
Afternoon entertainment: Robert Gammon, Dementia Friendly Tea Concert, St Chad’s Church, Campleshon Road, York, January 19, 2.30pm
AT the first Dementia Friendly Tea Concert of 2023, pianist Robert Gammon plays J S Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B flat major K. 570 and Schubert’s serene Impromptu in A flat major, D. 935 No. 2.
As usual, 45 minutes of music will be followed by tea and homemade cakes in the church hall. Next up will be University of York Students (violin and piano) on February 16. No charge, but donations welcome for church funds and Alzheimer’s charities.
Children’s show of the month: Tales From Acorn Wood, York Theatre Royal, January 26, 4pm; January 27, 11am and 2pm
NLP’s world premiere staging of Tales From Acorn Wood is based on favourite stories from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s lift-the flap books for pre-school children, featuring the sock-losing old Fox, the tired Rabbit, Postman Bear’s special surprise and Pig and Hen’s game of hide-and-seek.
Suitable for one-year-olds and upwards or anyone who loves books, this 50-minute touring show is full of songs, puppetry, projection and flap-lifting technology. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Crowd pleaser: Rob Auton, The Crowd Show, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 24, 8pm; Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds, February 25, 7.30pm
CHARMINGLY eccentric, uplifting and poetic writer, comedian, actor and podcaster Rob Auton returns home to York on the 2023 leg of The Crowd Show tour.
After his philosophical observations on the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleep, hair, talking and time, now he discusses crowds, people and connection in a night of comedy and theatre “suitable for anyone who wants to be in the crowd for this show”. Box office: York, tickets.41monkgate.co.uk; Leeds, hydeparkbookclub.co.uk.
Too late for tickets already:Stewart Lee, Basic Lee, York Theatre Royal, March 20 to 22, 7.30pm
AFTER filming last May’s three-night run of his Snowflake/Tornado double bill for broadcast on the BBC, spiky comedian Stewart Lee returns to York with his back-to-basics new show.
Following a decade of ground-breaking high-concept gigs involving overarched interlinked narratives, Lee enters the post-pandemic era in streamlined solo stand-up mode: one man, one microphone, and one microphone in the wings in case the one on stage breaks. Tickets update: Sold out, basically.
Too cool for school: Heathers The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, May 9 to 13
WELCOME to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another nobody dreaming of a better day. When she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, however, her craving for popularity may finally come true, whereupon mysterious teen rebel JD teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.
Winner of the What’sOnStage Award for Best New Musical, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s black comedy rock musical, based on the 1988 cult film, makes its York debut, produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills, directed by Andy Fickman and choreographed by Gary Lloyd. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.
DELAYED by lockdowns, Stewart Lee’s Snowflake/Tornado double bill at last blows into York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (3/5/2022) until Thursday.
Bolstered by new material for 2022, the brace of 60-minute sets will be performed back to back nightly from 7.30pm. Good luck trying to acquire a ticket on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk at this late stage.
Heavily rewritten in the light of two pandemic-enforced dormant years, Snowflake looks at how the Covid-Brexit era has influenced the culture war between lovely snowflakes and horrible people.
Tornado questions Lee’s position in the comedy marketplace after Netflix mistakenly listed his show as “reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe.”
Is the material still topical after a two-year layoff during the pandemic? “Well, believe it or not, the stuff in Snowflake making fun of Jimmy Carr for doing jokes about ‘gypsies’ has been in my show since 2019, as it’s the sort of thing he always does.
“So it’s just an indication of how he tends to hit the same shock buttons every time,” says Lee, in reference to the show discussing Carr’s ongoing use of material about the Traveller and Roma communities that saw calls for the 8 Out Of 10 Cats host to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred. “That’s a step too far, especially when he’s being condemned by members of the current government.
“The weird thing is that, because of the two-year downtime, lots of the material that was a bit ahead of the curve came into focus and goes down even better now. For example, everyone’s thought a lot more about the supposedly ‘woke’ ideas I endorse, what with Black Lives Matter and those leaked police e-mails about hating women. And Boris Johnson’s dishonesty and hypocrisy, which I discuss on stage, is undeniable now.”
Tornado takes the form of a long shaggy dog story about how Lee saw loads of rotisserie chickens being delivered to American comedian Dave Chapelle’s dressing room in London in 2018.
“More people know who he is now because he got in trouble with transgender people last year,” he says.
“But some material had to be ditched from Tornado after lockdown. I had 20 minutes in 2019 about what I imagined the new James Bond film would be like, but it’s out now.
“That said, dropping that bit and switching in some new stuff tightened the second half, which is largely about attempts by the right to weaponise a ‘culture war’ against liberals and minorities.”
Lee’s comedic schtick may be defined as “people paying to see a miserable and frustrated middle-aged man wind himself up into a frenzy about everything”, but to counter that perception, he says: “The funny thing with this tour is that my obvious delight at being back on the boards can’t help but infect the audience. I’m just an old-fashioned entertainer at heart! Like Vera Lynn. Or that Emu.”
Lee, 54, will be touring Snowflake/Tornado until July. His new show, Basic Lee, will be fine-tuned in Edinburgh Fringe work-in-progress shows at The Stand in August before playing the Leicester Square Theatre, London, from September 20 to December 17. A national tour will follow from January 26 2023 with full details at stewartlee.co.uk.
SEEKING Divine inspiration? Here comes Charles Hutchinson with his guide to what’s hot, from topical comedy to charming songwriters, a steamy thriller to intense jazz.
Charmer of the week: The Divine Comedy, York Barbican, tonight, 7.45pm
THE Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon plays York this weekend for the first time since the Irish chamber-pop leprechaun’s Minster concert in May 2011.
Hannon will be showcasing his 2022 compilation, Charmed Life – The Best Of The Divine Comedy, marking the completion of the 51-year-old songwriter, musical score composer and cricket enthusiast’s third decade as a recording artist
“I’ve been luckier than most,” Hannon says. “I get to sing songs to people for a living and they almost always applaud.” Hence that Charmed Life title. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Outdoor dance vibes of the long weekend: Dance Dance Dance, A Damn Big Dance Party, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Sunday, 6pm to 11pm
HEADPHONES on as At The Mill plays host to a three-channel Silent Disco with a bunch of very cool guest DJs, a live set from Flatcap Carnival and the pizza oven fired up for orders.
Organiser Alexander Flanagan Wright says: “We got Joshua Pulleyn coming. We got Bolshee taking over a channel. We got Sarah Rorke blasting out some Northern Soul vibes. Tom Figgins is metaphorically spinning a track or two.
“Paul Smith has some new punk and old-school hip hop heading your way. Abbi Ollive has a solid hour of girl power. And I’m lining up a lot of Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and Beyoncé as I can. Come dance. It’s gotta be mega. There’s a handful of tickets left at atthemill.org.”
Homecoming of the week: Beth McCarthy, The Crescent, York, Monday, doors 7.30pm
BETH McCarthy, now living in London, heads home to play her first York gig since March 2019.
Singer-songwriter Beth has been buoyed by the online response to her singles and videos, drawing 4.8 million likes and 300,000 followers on TikTok and attracting 465,000 monthly listeners and nine million plays of her She Gets The Flowers on Spotify. Box office: myticket.co.uk/artists/beth-mccarthy.
Comedy gigs of the week: Stewart Lee, Snowflake/Tornado, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Thursday, 7.30pm
DELAYED by lockdowns, Stewart Lee finally brings Snowflake/Tornado – a double bill of two 60-minute sets, back-to-back nightly – to York with new material for 2022.
Heavily rewritten in the light of two pandemic-enforced dormant years, Snowflake looks at how the Covid/Brexit era has influenced the culture war between lovely snowflakes and horrible people.
Tornadoquestions Lee’s position in the comedy marketplace after Netflix mistakenly listed his show as “reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe.” Good luck trying to acquire a ticket on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Psychological thriller of the week: Fatal Attraction, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm matinees, Wednesday and Saturday
JAMES Dearden, screenwriter for Adrian Lyne’s 1987 “bunny boiler” American psycho thriller, has written a new stage version of Fatal Attraction for 21st century audiences, mobile phones et al.
The plot remains the same: happily married New York attorney Dan Gallagher (Oliver Farnworth) has a night on the town with editor Alex Forrest (Susie Amy) that boils up into passion.
Dan returns home to wife Beth (Louise Redknapp), trying to forget what happened, but Alex has only one rule: you play fair with her and she’ll play fair with you. If not…! Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Smile of the week: Marti Pellow, Greatest Hits Tour, York Barbican, Tuesday, 7.30pm
LET Marti Pellow introduce his Greatest Hits Tour show. “It’s about finally being able to come together to celebrate love, life, and remember those we may have lost along the way. Most of all, it’s about enjoyment and celebrating the here and now. Get your dancing shoes on: it’s time to party with Marti.”
Expect songs from his Wet Wet Wet and solo catalogues up to 2021’s Stargazer album, cover versions too, plus reflective chat as he sits on the edge of the stage. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Jazz gig of the week: Trish Clowes: My Iris, National Centre for Early Music, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm
SAXOPHONIST Trish Clowes leads her jazz band My Iris in their York debut, providing pianist Ross Stanley, guitarist Chris Montague and drummer James Maddren with a high-intensity platform for individual expression and improvisation.
Driving grooves and lingering melodic lines combine as they “seamlessly morph between earthy restlessness and futuristic dreamscapes”. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.
Indoor dance show of the week: Terpsichoring Dance Company in Me, Myself And Misha, York Theatre Royal Studio, Friday, 7.45pm
TERPSICHORING Dance Company’s Me, Myself & Misha is a heartfelt, autobiographical 40-minute show devised and performed by award-winning dance artist Ana Silverio, who explores the physical and emotional journey, full of challenges and joys, that one woman undertakes to become a mother.
Universal themes of pregnancy and labour are presented, using a mix of physical theatre and dance alongside an original and moving musical score. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Fundraiser alert: Yorkraine, for DEC Ukraine Appeal, Grand Opera House, York, May 24, 7.30pm
YORKRAINE’s benefit concert combines four of York’s finest cover bands, The Supermodels, The Mothers, The Y Street Band and Sister Madly, plus acoustic slots from Alex Victoria and Mal Fry and guest speakers.
The evening of pop and rock classics from the past six decades will raise funds for the British Red Cross DEC appeal to aid Ukrainian refugees who find themselves in dire circumstances. All artists, hosts, sound tech and crew have donated their time free of charge. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.
Gig announcement of the week: Gary Barlow, A Different Stage, Grand Opera House, York, June 10 and 11
TAKE That legend, singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author Gary Barlow is adding a theatrical one-man show to his repertoire.
“I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” says Barlow. “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.
“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.” Now the bad news: tickets went on sale at 9.30am yesterday and sold out by 10am, but Pray there could yet be a silver lining…
MOOR, Moor, Moor is in store when Ben Moor takes over Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, for a mini-season of offbeat comedy with Joanna Neary from October 21 to 23.
Ben presents Pronoun Trouble, A Comedy Lecture, on Thursday at 8pm; then he and fellow writer-performer Joanna team up for an unconventional comedy double bill on Friday at 7.30pm.
Neary’s Wife On Earth, a multi-character sketch show with songs and impersonations, will be followed by Moor’s Who Here’s Lost?, his dream-like tale of a road trip of the soul taken by two outsiders, a melancholy, uninspired artist and a mute architect, as they seek an understanding of what they have made with their lives while visiting some quirky landmarks.
Saturday opens at 3pm with Joanna’s debut children’s puppet show, Stinky McFish And The World’s Worst Wish, and concludes at 7pm with the two-hander BookTalkBookTalkBook, a “silly author event parody show” wherein Moor and Neary portray a pair of writers trapped inside a book festival. As the event spins beyond their control, it degenerates into an absurdist comedy about authorship, artificial intelligence and washing-up.
In the first of the 55-minute, Edinburgh Fringe-length shows, Pronoun Trouble, a lecturer takes to the stage and begins an analysis of The Hunting Trilogy at a symposium on the subject of Looney Tunes.
This series of Chuck Jones shorts features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, and their ongoing argument as to whether it is now Duck Season or Rabbit Season. “As she delves deeper into the alternate reality of the characters’ world, her talk goes off the rails and into the woods,” says Ben.
“Meanwhile, an attendee makes notes, not just on the subject matter but also on the lecturer, on things he sees in the room, and the other students. His favourite words, his favourite mugs and T-shirts, and the schism on London’s high streets between the spellings of launderette and laundrette, all cross his mind.”
Eventually the two strands of thought twist together, and the piece concludes with a contemplation of performance, friendship and regret.
“Pronoun Trouble is a lecture about lectures, the intricacies of passion, and how we should be there for each other. The Powerpoint uses the cartoons to go into ridiculously unnecessary depth – and a swathe of invented academia – to dissect hidden meanings, secret stories and unconsidered relationships with other works,” says Ben. “Likewise and concurrently, the audience member scrutinises parts of his own life and output.”
Pronoun Trouble is typical of Moor’s “stand-up theatre” pieces wherein he places universal themes in bizarre and funny landscapes, with his writing drawing comparisons with authors as diverse as Lewis Carroll and Thomas Pynchon.
“First performed in 2017, the response to Pronoun Trouble has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “Audience members have described it variously as brilliant, hilarious, wonderful, clever, surreal and very, very, very silly. It is, hopefully, all of those things.”
In Neary’s Wife On Earth, Brief Encounter-inspired Fantasist-housewife Celia and friends take their Cosmic Shambles Network podcast on the road with their wife-based gang show.
“They’ll be asking ‘what on earth is a wife? And why?’,” says Joanna, who creates character comedy shows in the vein of Victoria Wood and Vic Reeves.
“From the history of wifery, to the wiles and wherefores of when to wife; a dozen wives (ex-wives, future wives, non-wives and anti-wives) wait in the wings at a village hall near you, ready to share their startling stories, while bickering and drinking wine out of a teapot. Please note, some non-wives and wives will be expressing themselves in dance form.”
Summing up Wife On Earth, Ben says: “Joanna performs her brilliant buffet of characters as a gang of wives and non-wives go on tour to raise funds to re-lead the church roof with lead-free lead. New faces (wigs) plus old favourites such as Bjork, Kate Bush on sexy housework and Celia hosting and dancing.”
In the cryptic, melancholic, surreal, mind-expanding and heart-felt Who Here’s Lost?, Moor asks: “What do we make with our lives? An artist worries his work has lost its way. An architect wants to see her buildings for a final time. A changing landscape searches for itself.
“This is a story about what we value as we go along, and how we present it to others. It features bubble-wrap, party games, museums, ants and ice cream – and a gorgeous score by Suns Of The Tundra – so so if you’re lost, just think about the ice cream.”
Neary’s 40-minute puppet show, Stinky McFish And The World’s Worst Wish, is suitable for ages four to eight but is accessible to all. “Stinky The Crab longs to be human; Lucy would love her very own pet. Can they make each other’s dreams come true? Or should Stinky be careful what he wishes for?” asks Joanna.
“With original music and a cast of colourful characters, Marina Fishwife tells the tale of how the tiny brave creatures of the rock pools work together to make life in the rock pools good again for everyone.”
BookTalkBookTalkBook’s send-up of a very serious author talk going bizarrely off the rails introduces Jenny Nibbingley and Burton Mastrick, who need no introduction. As two of Britain’s most published – although least read and most widely ignored – novelists, it is no surprise they have been invited to today’s book festival.
Their event’s moderator, Tim Timminey, likewise significant, should be turning up soon, but until then, Jenny and Burt agree to read sections from their books, Wretched Lawns and The Exceptions. Bad decision.
“As an ex-couple, their writing seems mainly to consist of ongoing digs at the other’s character and work,” says Ben. “But is that all that is going on? Might this all be a reading from another book about a book talk going horribly wrong? Or is that also part of something else?
“BookTalkBookTalkBook combines a parody of awkward live author events, an exploration of artificial intelligence and the creative process, a Beckettian live theatre experience and an experiment in the limits of patience regarding card tricks.”
Layer folds into layer; story reflects story in a piece that changes direction constantly, challenging the audience while still being entertaining.
“If you’ve ever been to a literary event and thought somehow it needed to be even more awkward, hoped for confusing card tricks and/or wondered why the writers aren’t obsessed with washing up, this basically might just be the show for you,” says Ben.
Tickets for Ben Moor and Joanna Neary’s mini-season of shows are on sale at 41monkgate.co.uk.
AFTER all that info, here is a burst of CharlesHutchPress quick questions for quick answers from Ben Moor.
How did the York run of shows come about and when did you and Joanna hit on the idea of sharing such blocks of performances?
“I’d worked with Alan Park [Theatre@41 chair] on a mentoring project in London called Scene and Heard, and when he said he was looking for shows for Theatre@41, I got in touch.
“All the shows were originally planned for the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe, but when that was cancelled, they were put into storage and now seems a good time to get them up and running again.”
Should more performers combine to mount shows this way?
“Of course! It’s a good way to present a mini-season and spend time in lovely York.”
How do you and Joanna know each other and what makes for a good combination of shows on the road?
“We first worked together on a project at the National Theatre Studio in 2005 and I’ve long been a fan of Joanna’s writing and performances. Neither of us fits particularly easily into the stand-up circuit and it’s great to learn that there’s a comedy audience who want something a bit out of the mainstream.”
You call your offbeat comedy “nonsense”. That seems very harsh on yourself, especially as comedian, author and newspaper columnist Stewart Lee says: “Ben Moor, for my money, is the Ken Campbell/Spalding Gray of my generation, a natural storyteller who blurs the boundaries between comedy, theatre and performance art”. Discuss…
“All comedy is nonsense to some degree. My work doesn’t discuss the world as it is, it’s a glimpse into a universe a step or two either side of ours. I love theatre of the absurd and surreal humour too.”
Do you enjoy lectures?
“I do. Pronoun Trouble was partly inspired by a day of interesting talks and it was fascinating to watch the speakers “perform” and get their enthusiasm across to their audiences.”
Why are author events just so awkward and as stiff as an old green room sofa?
“There is a certain way of doing them that confines them – and in fact that is what appeals to their audience. They expect a reading or two, some questions from a moderator, questions from the audience and a signing.
“BookTalkBookTalkBook plays with those expectations and undermines them constantly.”
The tour of your latest piece, Who Here’s Lost?, was delayed by the accursed pandemic. Did the piece change over those months that found many of us on “a road trip of the soul” as we couldn’t go anywhere and felt lost and disconnected?
“I first presented it at the Port Eliot Festival in Summer 2019 and it hasn’t changed much since. I’m sure there are going to be lots of shows about the last couple of years and they’ll be great, but no, it’s very much a piece in its own world.”
Apparently “Ben Moor’s shows aren’t easy to describe, but are impossible to forget”. Explain yourself, please!
“My work mixes comedy with storytelling and theatre and while that sounds like it’s caught between stools, I find the freedom to explore the space between the stools very liberating.
“I mix lines that are meant to be funny with ones that are poetic with others that are melancholy and it’s the task of an audience to follow all the threads to create their own pictures.”
What gets you up in the morning?
“The delight of sharing this wonderful world and the adventure of what might come next.”
After Moor, Moor, Moor in York, what might come next for you?
“Joanna and I are performing our Comedy Double Bill again in Aldershot in December, and we hope to have the other shows on the road next year too.”
Did you know?
BEN Moor has been producing offbeat solo comedy shows for nearly three decades, winning a Herald Angel Award for his show Coelacanth. As an actor, he has appeared in The Queen’s Gambit, A Very English Scandal and The IT Crowd. He created the series Undone and Elastic Planet for BBC Radio and is the author of More Trees To Climb.
JOANNA Neary produces character comedy shows such as Inbox – The Art Of Now and Before The Room Next Door, with Michael Spicer, both for BBC Radio 4.She has TV and film credits for Darkest Hour, Miranda, Ideal and Man Down and played Miss Jones in CBBC’s So Awkward. Wife On Earth is a live version of her podcast for the Cosmic Shambles Network.