REVIEW: York Stage in Sweet Charity, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, till Sunday ****

The more, the Melia: “Triple threat” Kate Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine in York Stage’s Sweet Charity. All pictures: Charlie Kirkpatrick

ON Broadway, Sweet Charity would come with a 30-piece orchestra and all that jazz. In York, you can see it up close and personal, so close that Katie Melia’s fully flexed leg comes within an inch of connecting with your reviewer’s face, plonked by invitation at the centre of the front row. Well, that’s one way to secure a thumbs-up review!

Sweet Charity might equally have suited the Grand Opera House or Theatre Royal stage, but director-producer Nik Briggs foresaw the benefits of making Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ witty, waspish  1966 New York musical comedy a studio-sized production, just as he found a new way to present pantomime at Theatre@41, with West End choreographer Gary Lloyd’s song-and-dance numbers to the fore alongside the slapstick in the Covid winter of 2020 in Jack And The Beanstalk.

Briggs calls it a “dance-heavy musical but one where you can really get into the story, and seeing those scenes so intimately will be really rewarding”. Consequently, he delivers both glitz and grit, romanticism and realism, with the aid of two finger-clickin’ good lieutenants, musical director Jessica Viner, leading her four-piece on keys and violin on the mezzanine level, and choreographer Danielle Mullan-Hill.

On top of that, if Briggs could have chosen the perfect week to stage a musical with a lead character called Charity Hope Valentine, then a week front-loaded with St Valentine’s Day would be the one. The John Cooper Studio is suitably fitted out with heart shapes galore, balloons et al, while the end-on stage is fringed with glittering tinsel drapes and audience members are seated around tables.

Duet par excellence: Emily Ramsden’s Nickie, left, and Carly Morton’s Helene reflecting on life at the Fandango Ballroom

Briggs’s designs, topped off by the checkboard flooring for the Fandango Ballroom, give off an Austin Powers Sixties’ vibe, matched by the fabulous costumery, and vital to that look is the fantastic hair and make-up work of Phoebe Kilvington. All the better for being experienced within touching distance.

There is a sting in the tale to Sweet Charity, but the vibe is largely fun, breezy and very Sixties, and Briggs is in playful mood, replacing the lake of the film version with a bath filled with plastic balls for two scenes where Katie Melia’s ballroom taxi dancer – or dancehall hostess, to be more colloquial – ends up in both the opening and closing scenes.

Briggs refers to Melia as a “triple threat”, equally adept at singing, acting and dancing (including solo tap dancing here), and she has a goofy girl-next-door appeal to her too. Her heart-of-gold Charity is a dreamer, quirky and spirited, but too trusting, too generous, forever looking for love, but alas in the wrong places. Or, as fellow taxi dancer Nickie (sassy Emily Ramsden) puts it: “Your big problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time.”

Living in (dashed) hope, seeking escape, Melia’s plucky Charity goes from man to man, from Sam Roberts’s taciturn Charlie Dark Glasses, to Jack Hooper’s moustachioed movie idol Vittorio Vidal to Stuart Piper’s shy, neurotic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist.

Uplifting: Katie Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine and Stuart Piper’s Oscar Lindquist in Sweet Charity

Roberts’’s part is wham, bam, Sam, gone, but Hooper and Piper are both terrific. Hooper’s Italian accent and Latin romantic lead schtick are a joy, as his gorgeous singing, his debonair air served up with a dash of the tongue in cheek in Simon’s script.

Melia finds the comedy gold in both relationships, the first involving her hiding in the closet, chomping on olives and a sandwich as Vittorio’s high-maintenance lover, Ursula (York Stage debutant Mary Clare), arrives suddenly.

The second, spanning either side of the interval, begins in a malfunctioning lift, where Melia’s laissez-faire Charity contrasts with Piper’s hyperventilating Oscar, his performance combining physical comedy with aerated verbal expression.

Ramsden’s Nickie and Carly Morton’s Helene excel too, especially in their duet, while James Robert Ball shines as brightly as his silver suit in the stand-out Rhythm Of Life, everyone in green all around him.  

Putting it in black and white: The sensational Frug dance in York Stage’s Sweet Charity

Big Spender is an early come-hither taxi-dancer knockout, but better still in Mullan-Hill’s sensuous, sinuous and darn hot choreography is the Frug sequence of three ensemble dances, in black and white, each as groovy, baby, as Austin Powers could wish.

At short notice, Nik Briggs has stepped in to take over the role of matchstick-chewing ballroom manager/pimp Herman, reminding us of his now rarely seen singing and acting prowess.

Melia’s finest hour, knockout dancing, superb band, a frenzy of fishnets, snazzy gear and snappy dialogue, Sweet Charity demands to be your Valentine, whichever night or day, this week.

Performances: 7.30pm, tonight tonight and Friday; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday; 2.30pm, Sunday. Box office:

Finding the Rhythm Of Life: James Robert Ball and the dance ensemble in silver and green unison in Sweet Charity

Happy Valentine’s day, all week, as York Stage’s Sweet Charity goes in search of love

Looking for love: Katie Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine in York Stage’s Sweet Charity

WHAT better character name could there be for a show opening on St Valentine’s Day than Charity Hope Valentine?!

Company regular Katie Melia will take that sweet, optimistic, indomitable, hopeful, romantic, trusting, naïve, quirky, charming, caring, irresistible role in York Stage’s production of Sweet Charity, the musical with the subtitle The Adventures Of A Girl Who Wanted To Be Loved.

From tomorrow to Sunday, the John Cooper Studio will be transformed into a seedily seductive Fandango Ballroom for the 1966 Broadway musical with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, decorated by such songs as Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Rhythm Of Life.

“I’ve wanted to do Sweet Charity for over a decade in York,” says director-producer Nik Briggs. “When I started York Stage, we had an Independent Woman season, with Hairspray, Sister Act and Legally Blonde, and Sweet Charity was in on the wish list.

Fandango Ballroom dancers: Emily Ramsden’s Nickie, back, Carly Morton’s Helene and Katie Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine

“I’ve always loved Neil Simon’s work, and considering it’s a dance-heavy musical, you can still really get into the story. What made him so special at that time is the realism in his work, where everyone recognises those situations, and to see those scenes so intimately at Theate@41 will be really rewarding.”

In the American musical comedy, Melia’s heart-of-gold New York City taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine fantasises about three things in life: romance, luxury and escaping the questionable ballroom clientele. Lovable, gullible and spirited, she longs to find a lover to sweep her off her feet but Charity keeps handing over her heart and earnings to the wrong man, whether Charlie, his name tattooed on her arm, movie star Vittorio Vidal or Oscar.

“Charity is billed as ‘the girl who wanted to be loved’. All she wants is true love,” says Nik. “But as [fellow dancer] Nickie tells her, ‘your big problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time’. She’s the kind of girl who falls in love too easily and just goes from guy to guy.

“Sweet Charity follows hostess Charity through the various men in her life, as she lives in hope through all of them, but deep down, we all know that we’ve seen it all before and heard it all before, and one of the reasons I love the piece is that it doesn’t give audiences the ending they expect.”

Nik Briggs: York Stage director-producer for Sweet Charity

Briggs has picked a cast of 15, led by Melia’s Charity, who is joined by Emily Ramsden and Carly Morton as dancers Nickie and Helene; Stuart Piper as Oscar; Jack Hooper as Vittorio Vidal; James Robert Ball as Daddy; Briggs himself as Fandango ballroom owner/pimp Herman and York Stage newcomer Mary Clare as Ursula and Rosie.

Amy Barrett, who played the female lead, assembly line worker Lauren, in York Stage’s Kinky Boots last September, will be Carmen, while supporting roles go to Verity Carr, Ilana Weets, Kelly Stocker, Sam Roberts, Stuart Hutchinson and debut-making Katherine Farr.

Rather than an orchestra of 30 for big Broadway productions of Sweet Charity, Briggs and musical director Jess Viner have “totally rearranged” the songs for a small band, stationed above the stage on the mezzanine level. “It’s almost like a jazz quartet,” says Nik. “We’ve created a production for the Theatre@41 space [a black box design] and that space is very much a 16th member of the cast.”

A further key factor is the choreography for a musical first choreographed by Bob Fosse for both the stage premiere and the 1969 film, his screen directorial debut. “You can’t move away from the Sixties, that very stylised choreography that is sensual and sexual,” says Nik.

Emily Ramsden’s Nickie and Carly Morton’s Helene in York Stage’s Sweet Charity

“Danielle Mullan-Hill has created really dynamic routines for us that’ll be very exciting to see in that space – and she knows that space and how to work it from doing our pandemic pantomime, [Jack And The Beanstalk, in December 2020]. It will feel really immersive.”

To mark St Valentine’s Day, York Stage are advertising the first night as “Galentine’s Night”. “Traditionally, it’s a night for all the gals without a Valentine date, when they get all the girls round,” says Nik. “There’s a glass of fizz included in the ticket for Valentine’s night for gals…and guys.”

Coming next from York Stage will be Ian Fleming’s fantasmagorical musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, flying car et al, at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 6 to 15. Principal roles will go to Carly Morton as Truly Scrumptious; Ned Sprouston as inventor Caractacus Potts; Finn East as Baron Bomburst; Richard Barker as the evil Childcatcher and Mick Liversidge as Grandpa Potts. Adam Tomlinson will be the musical director.

York Stage in Sweet Charity, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow (14/2/2023) until Sunday, 7.30pm, except Sunday; , 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office:

York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, April 6 to 15, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, April 7, 8, 12 and 15; no shows on April 9. Box office:

The poster for York Stage’s spring production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at the Grand Opera House, York

More Things To Do in York and beyond when Vikings and young rebels rise up. Hutch’s List No.7 for 2023, from The Press

A fierce-faced warrior at Jorvik Viking Festival, back in York from today

THOSE pesky Vikings are invading again, promising battles and big beards, as Charles Hutchinson wrestles with what to do in half-term week.

Festival of the week: Jorvik Viking Festival 2023, today until February 19

SWORDS and seaxes are being sharpened, shields reinforced, beards groomed and tents prepared as York braces itself for the annual invasion of 9th century raiders, Norse warriors, craftspeople and traders in half-term week.

Welcoming 40,000 visitors each year, Europe’s largest Viking festival takes over the city centre with living history encampments, a combat-and-display arena and a Battle Spectacular on February 18, inspired by Arab writer Ibn Fadlan’s accounts of Viking traders.  

Among further highlights will be the Best Beard Competition, today, 11am; Strongest Viking Competition, February 18, 11.15am; March To Coppergate, February 18, 1.30pm, from Dean’s Park; talks and lectures; crafting workshops and a traders’ market. Full details at: 

Melanie Watson in Mythos: Ragnarok: Making its York Barbican debut on the Jorvik Viking Festival Fringe

Festival Fringe event of the week: Mythos: Ragnarok, Jorvik Viking Festival, York Barbican, Friday, 7.30pm

MYTHOS: Ragnarok retells mythical tales of the apocalypse through wrestling, yes, wrestling, in a Fringe event new to the 2023 Viking festival programme, presented by Mythological Theatre and Phil McIntyre Live.

Half-brothers Odin and Loki must overcome primordial giants, rivals gods and goddesses and their own ambitions in their quest to seize power over the Nine Worlds through the grappling sport in Mythos’s York Barbican debut. Warning:  Contains strobe lighting, scenes of violence, references to death, indirect sexual references, occasional bad language and actors specialising in professional wrestling skills. Box office:

A chance to dress up as rebel: One of the activities at the Marvellous And Mischievous, Literature’s Young Rebels exhibition at York Art Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Exhibition of the week: Marvellous And Mischievous, Literature’s Young Rebels, York Art Gallery, until June 4

OPENING just in time for half-term week, York Art Gallery presents the British Library’s touring exhibition of memorable characters from children’s literature.

Favourites such as Pippi Longstocking, Jane Eyre, Matilda, Dirty Bertie, Zog, Tracey Beaker, Peter Pan and Dennis the Menace feature in this exploration of characters who break the rules and defy conventions. Around 40 books, manuscripts and original artwork from 300 years of literary rebels, outsiders and spirited survivors will be complemented by an activity room with a busy programme of workshops and events.

Anastasia Bevan: Soprano soloist at York Guildhall Orchestra’s all-Beethoven concert tonight

Classical concert of the week: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra will be joined by Leeds Festival Chorus for the Angels’ Hallelujah Chorus, from the oratorio Christ On The Mount Of Olives in a wholly Beethoven night.

The Egmont Overture and Fidelio Overture and the Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt setting of two Goethe poems feature too before the climactic, gloriously melodious Symphony No. 9, “The Choral”, billed as “a real work out for orchestra, choir, and soloists” Anastasia Bevan, Sarah Winn, Sam Knock and Matthew Kellett. Box office:

Dnipro Opera take to the York Barbican stage in Carmen

Ukrainians in York: Dnipro Opera in Carmen, York Barbican, Sunday, 7pm

DNIPRO Opera, from Ukraine, perform Georges Bizet’s opera of fiery passion, jealousy and violence in 19th century Seville in French with English surtitles (CORRECT), to the accompaniment of a 30-strong orchestra.

Carmen charts the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who falls head over heels in love with Carmen, a seductive, free-spirited femme fatale, abandoning his childhood sweetheart and neglecting his military duties, only to lose the fickle firebrand to the glamorous toreador Escamillo. Box office:

The double act that nearly was…and now is: Danielle Reid’s Charlie Chaplin and Jerone Marsh-Reid’s Stan Laurel in Told By An Idiot’s Charlie & Stan

Double act of the week: Told By An Idiot in Charlie & Stan, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday and 2,30pm, Saturday

IN 1910 the unknown Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel set sail for New York on a voyage of discovery as part of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe, sharing a cabin and then spending two years together touring North America, with Stan as Charlie’s understudy.

In a fantastical reimagining that plays fast and loose with the facts, Told By An Idiot tells the story of “the greatest comedy double act that nearly was” in Paul Hunter’s homage to the English comedy legends pre-fame, played out by Danielle (CORRECT) Bird’s Chaplin and Jerone (CORRECT) Marsh-Reid’s Laurel in the style of a silent comedy to a Zoe Rahman piano score. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Katie Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine in York Stage’s Sweet Charity

Musical of the week: York Stage in Sweet Charity, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday to Sunday, 7.30pm, except Sunday; 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees

THE John Cooper Studio will be transformed into a seedily seductive Fandango Ballroom from St Valentine’s Day for Sweet Charity, the 1966 Broadway musical with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

Played by Katie Melia, Charity Hope Valentine fantasises about three things in life: romance, luxury and escaping the questionable ballroom clientele. Lovable, gullible and spirited, she longs to find a lover who can sweep her off her feet but Charity keeps handing over her heart and earnings to the wrong man. Hey big spender, box office:

Velma Celli: On song in a night of drag diva belters at Pocklington Arts Centre

Drag show of the week: Velma Celli, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

YORK drag queen supreme Velma Celli, alias West End musical actor Ian Stroughair, promises an overindulgent diva fiesta in celebration of the  songs, mannerisms and behaviour of Mariah, Whitney, Aretha, Cher, Britney and many more.

Cue cheeky impressions, belting singing and saucy banter from the international star and creator of A Brief History Of Drag, Me And My Divas, Equinox and Irreplaceable (in praise of David Bowie). Box office: 01759 301547 or

The Forest Awakens: The new hole at The Hole In Wand York magical golf course

In Focus: The Hole In Wand York on course for more magic at wizard visitor attraction

FORE! Watch out, The Hole In Wand York, the “World’s Most Magical Golf Course”, has a new woodland hole at the Potions Cauldron visitor attraction in the Coppergate Shopping Centre, York.

In a magical makeover, wands have been raised and spells cast to create The Forest Awakens hole and several additions for wizards to enjoy, including a new quest.

Opened last May, the award-winning mini golf venue also has upgraded the tavern area to help with the visitor flow and journey.

For The Forest Awakens, a hole based on the North York Moors National Park’s Dalby Forest, near Pickering, a new scent and soundtrack have been added to the room to create an immersive experience.

The hole places wizards among the trees as they aim for a hole in one, looked on by magical creatures of the darkened and mythical forest.

Chief Wizard Oliver Brayshaw says: “‘We’re excited to reveal the new holes; we know that our visitors are really going to enjoy them. Both Hole 6 and 7 are quite eerie but great fun.

“We have designed and built the holes and upgraded the tavern with the visitor journey in mind to ensure that everyone that visits has a fantastic experience.”

At The Hole In Wand York, in Coppergate Walk, wizard players take on nine magical golf holes. Along the “course” are bubbling cauldrons, magical portals and a giant picture frame where they become part of the painting. Visitors can do cast a Light Spell to illuminate the way in the dark hole and awaken the spirits.

At the end of the adventure, players will find out if they have the magical powers of a Serpent, Basilisk, Unicorn or Wizard. Every player will receive a magic potion gift to take home and hopefully find Grobblenook.

Wizard golf with a potion drink costs from £6.99 per person. The minimum age for players is three and the maximum group size is six wizards with wands. To book tickets, go to: