Tornado on its way to York for three days as Stewart Lee double bill hits Theatre Royal

Stewart Lee: Two shows each night for three days in 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.”

“I’m just an old-fashioned entertainer at heart,” says Stewart Lee

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.

Stewart Lee’s tour poster for his rearranged Snowflake/Tornado itinerary in 2022

“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.

More Things To Do in and around York as The Divine Comedy offer something for the weekend. List No. 80, courtesy of The Press

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon: Leading a Charmed Life at York Barbican tonight. Picture: Kevin Westerberg

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.

Alexander Flanagan Wright feels the Stillington dance vibes

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.”

Beth McCarthy: Heading back home to play The Crescent

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.

Double at the treble: Stewart Lee serves up his Snowflake and Tornado double bill on three nights at York Theatre Royal from May 3 to 5

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.

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.” Good luck trying to acquire a ticket on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Trouble brewing: Lift-off for Susie Amy’s Alex Forrest and Oliver Farnworth in Fatal Attraction. Picture: Tristram Kenton

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.

All smiles: Marti Pellow on his Greatest Hits Tour at York Barbican

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.

The good sax guide: Saxophonist Trish Clowes with her My Iris bandmates, promising earthy restlessness and futuristic dreamscapes at the NCEM

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.

Exploring motherhood: Ana Silverio in Me, Myself & Misha

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.

The poster for the Yorkraine benefit concert at the Grand Opera House, York

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.

Balancing act: Gary Barlow talks the talk as he walks the walk on his musical journey through A Different Stage

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…

The Moor the merrier as Ben books mini-season with Joanna Neary at Theatre@41

Ben Moor and Joanna Neary: Mini-season of comedy shows at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York. Picture: Natalie Shaw

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.

Ben Moor and Joanna Neary: Presenting their comedy double bill of Who Here’s Lost? and Wife On Earth

“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.”

The poster for Ben Moor and Joanna Neary’s comedy theatre double bill when presented in Farsley, West Yorkshire earlier in the tour

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.

Ben Moor: “A natural storyteller who blurs the boundaries between comedy, theatre and performance art,” says fellow humorist Stewart Lee

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 poster for Ben Moor and Joanna Neary’s BookTalkBookTalkBook, Saturday’s two-hander at Theatre@41

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.

Ben Moor in an episode of the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit