Michael Lambourne contemplates mortality after cancer treatment in Black Shuck, How It Came For Me at Theatre At The Mill

Michael Lambourne: Researching the story of Black Shuck, the Demon Dog of East Anglia

“NEVER look into the eye of Black Shuck,” warns actor, director, teacher and now writer Michael  Lambourne, a familiar face and booming voice to York theatregoers.

Now relocated to his Fenland roots, he returns north this weekend to present the Theatre At The Mill premiere of Black Shuck: How It Came For Me, his “responsive storytelling experience” based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia: a hound of unnatural size and omen of misfortune to those who encounter its stare.

“According to the folklore tale of the black dog, if you see its eyes, it foretells your demise,” says Michael, who is yet to have such a creepy canine experience but has come across myriad versions of the story, whether of the scratch on the Blythburgh church door, or from Bungay, Blakeney Point or Chatteris Fen.

“The Darkness have a song called Black Shuck on their first album, Permission To Land, as they’re Lowestoft boys,” he continues. “Originally it’s a story from Norse mythology, from the Danes who took over East Anglia, telling of life and death, about everyone’s mortality.”

He is speaking en route to Southend-on-Sea earlier this week to teach his theatre students before setting off to North Yorkshire to perform Black Shuck on Saturday evening (24/7/2021) under the sails of At The Mill’s outdoor theatre at Stillington Mill, near York, where he played Prospero in The Flanagan Collective’s production of The Tempest by the mill pond in June 2016.

“I’ve been wanting to tell stories about where I’m from, and I thought, ‘what better way to tell East Anglia’s story than with a ghost story’, as I look to create art myself, stepping to the fore doing my own work, writing it, creating it and performing it, and hopefully it will appeal!” he says.

“Saturday will be the first airing of the new piece, and this performance came from a kind of call to arms that Alex [At The Mill co-founder, playwright, storyteller, musician and director Alexander Wright] made two to three months ago.

Michael Lambourne with fellow Flanagan Collective cast members Amie Burns Walker, back, and Holly Beasley-Garrigan in the grounds of Stillington Mill when performing The Tempest in June 2016

“I thought, ‘what better time than the present to do that?’, and for this first show, I’m just going to use the ambience of the beautiful garden and my vocal timbre. By the time dusk comes around, there’ll be the hoots of owls.”

Exploring the enduring effect that Black Shuck has on Fenland folklore, Michael’s performance will offer a personal account of how a rural myth can become a chilling part of the present day.

The choice of folklore tale and its portent of exit stage left chimed with his own experience. “I went from a happy 40 year old to being in hospital with the doctor telling me my symptoms could signal my demise,” recalls Michael, husband of Paines Plough co-artistic director Katie Posner (formerly associate director of Pilot Theatre in York) and father of Heidi.

In the doctor’s hand was the scan that would signify whether Michael had cancer that would need an operation and “could shuffle me off my mortal coil”.

“I’d had a biting pain in my leg for months, where it got to the point I couldn’t walk – it was almost like a dog had bitten me in the leg. I was still way off from thinking of going for an MRI scan, but then I heeded Katie’s advice.”

Scans at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge revealed a black hole in his spine, where his number two vertebrae should have been. Five days of being prodded and poked in hospital followed.

Michael was diagnosed with lymphoma, the blood cancer. “It had manifested itself in my back, apparently after I fractured my spine, though I can’t think of any time in my life when my back has caused me problems,” says the walking and cycling enthusiast.

The poster for Michael Lambourne’s new show, Black Shuck: How It Came For Me at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions were necessary, but not an operation. “As well as ‘demise’, the Black Shuck folklore signifies your life is about to change, and how you respond to it is up to you. I embraced it, but not that thing where people talk of ‘fighting’ cancer,” says Michael.

“I want to build my body back into balance, using art as catharsis. It just so happens that ball was passed to me and I handled it this way.

“At the final session of chemotherapy, I was overcome with emotion; the nurse would have loved to have given me a hug, but she couldn’t because of the Covid situation, so she just took me by the hand. But by then it wasn’t even a sense of relief. It was just emotion.”

Happily, Michael conducting this interview and performing Black Shuck would indicate his ongoing recovery. “I’m in remission now and hopefully I’ll be able to tell this story for many years to come,” he says.

“I don’t dwell on it in Black Shuck, though it’s an inherent part of the story. The piece is 95 per cent there and now I’m confronting that thing of deciding ‘what is the real message?’.”

Push him further, and Michael urges: “Time is precious and we need to spend it well. Rather than waiting for things to happen, you must actively change it yourself.”

What better way to do that tomorrow night than to experience the stare of Michael Lambourne as he relates the story of Black Shuck. “I’ll be telling the tale in my natural Fens accent, connecting with the place I come from, as my family are truly from the Fens. That’s my heritage,” he says. “It’s not a great stretch to think my forefathers knew about Black Shuck and talked about the demon dog in the pub.”

Shona Cowie: Scottish storyteller of visionary tales

SCOTTISH storyteller Shona Cowie will open the evening with her tale of Bruadarach (noun: dreamer/visionary) at 7.30pm.

Once a creative associate at York Theatre Royal, Shona presents myths of re-imagining and transformation from the Scottish oral tradition, myths called on for centuries as guides through times of change.

A highly physical performer, who brings mime and song to the traditional Celtic style, she is dedicated to bringing front and centre those who have too often been pushed to the margins of stories.

“I worked with Shona at the Theatre Royal, and now we’ll both be doing our ‘fireside chats’ at Stillington,” says Michael Lambourne. “Her work is very lyrical and spiritual, told with a wonderful Scottish lilt.”

In addition, on Sunday at 2pm, Shona will present Beware The Beasts, a show for families (age five upwards), where she will provide case studies from leading monster evaders and offer instruction on the most effective ways to avoid being squashed, eaten or turned into a nugget.

For tickets for tomorrow or Sunday, go to: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/. 

Did you know?

Here is the opening verse to Black Shuck by The Darkness:

“In a town in the east
The parishioners were visited upon
By a curious beast
And his eyes numbered but one and shone like the sun
And a glance beckoned the immediate loss
Of a cherished one
It was the coming of the… Black Shuck”

More Things To Do in and around York as 145 artists and makers open studio doors. List No. 40, courtesy Of The Press, York

Minster, by textile artist Carol Coleman, who is taking part in York Open Studios at 1 Carlton Cottages, Wigginton

AHEAD of Monday’s already trailered Step 4 pronouncement, Charles Hutchinson unmasks events aplenty, from Open Studios to heavy metal heaven, theatre comedy to theatre tragi-comedy, musical celebrations to  a triple exhibition.

Big art event of the next two weekends: York Open Studios 2021, preview night tomorrow, 6pm to 9pm; July 10/11 and 17/18, 10am to 5pm

AFTER the Covid-enforced fallow year of 2020, York Open Studios returns this weekend for its 20th parade of the city’s creative talent.

The event sees 145 artists and makers open 95 studios, homes and workplaces, and among them will be 43 debutants, with full details at yorkopenstudios.co.uk.

York’s biggest annual art showcase spans ceramics, collages, digital art, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, printmaking, photography, furniture, sculpture and textiles.

Still feeling their Old Selves after lockdown easement: Yorkshire four-piece look overjoyed at the prospect of headlining tomorrow’s very heavy metal bill at The Fulford Arms

Hardcore gig of the week: Old Selves, Blight Town, Cast Out and Realms at The Fulford Arms, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm.

“WHAT at an absolute heavy metal treat,” enthuses Fulford Arms supremo Chris Sherrington, ahead of tomorrow’s headbanger fiesta, headlined by fiery Yorkshire four-piece Old Selves.

Playing loud too will be Nottingham progressive post-hardcore/math rock quintet Blight Town, York punk’n’roll/metalcore crossover band Cast Out and Yorkshire post-hardcore act Realms, who “make music for people who never grew out of their emo phase”. Tickets: thefulfordarms.bigcartel.com/ or on the door.

Lead actors Sandy Foster and Tom Kanji in rehearsal for Laura Wade’s comedy of domestic bliss turned to blister, Home, I’m Darling. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

Make a trip to Scarborough for: Home, I’m Darling, Stephen Joseph Theatre, July 9 to August 14

SWEET peas in the garden; homemade lemon curd in the kitchen; marital bliss in the bedroom, Judy and Johnny seem to be the perfect couple. Sickeningly happy, in fact, in Laura Wade’s domestic comedy-drama. 

Is their marriage everything it seems, however? Are there cracks in their happiness? What happens when the 1950s’ family values they love so much stop working in the 21st century as the couple discovers that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. 

Liz Stevenson directs this co-production between Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and the SJT. Box office: thesjt.uk.com.

Back together in Beulah: Actor-musicians Jim Harbourne and Ed Wren reunite next week, having first performed the show for The Flanagan Collective in 2012

Theatre resurrection of the week ahead: The Flanagan Collective in Beulah, Summer At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 14 to 16, 8pm to 10pm

AN island sets sail into the sunset; a boy watches a lion running out of the sky, and an old man is sleeping as Alexander Wright’s Beulah reawakens in Stillington.

Inspired by William Blake’s world of a “mild and pleasant rest”, Wright plays with  notions of reality, of the permeable times of day and liminal states of being, in a show woven with storytelling, puppetry and soaring live music, first staged at York Theatre Royal in the bygone summer of 2012.

Directed by Tom Bellerby, Beulah is performed by actor-musicians and composers Jim Harbourne and Ed Wren. Box office: atthemill.org.

Father Of The Flowers, by York artist Linda Combi, from her exhibition The Last Gardener Of Aleppo at Pyramid Gallery, York

Exhibition launch of the week times three: Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, Friday to September 5

ERUM Aamir, Debbie Loane and Linda Combi form the suitably triangular structure of Pyramid Gallery’s summer show. Not one, but three exhibitions will run in two upstairs rooms.

For Celestial Garden, Manchester ceramic artist Erum Aamir has made intricate porcelain sculptures that fuse her scientific research and artistic imaginations, complemented in the front room by seascape and landscape paintings by Easingwold artist Debbie Loane under the title of The Peace Of Wild Places.

York artist Linda Combi presents The Last Gardener Of Aleppo, a series of original collages and mixed-media artworks and giclee prints that form a moving tribute to Abu Waad in aid of The Lemon Tree Trust and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson as doomed Leeds United manager Brian Clough in The Damned United at York Theatre Royal

Second time lucky: The Damned United, Red Ladder Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal, July 15, kick-off 7.30pm

THE Damned Pandemic curse struck again when June 16’s performance of The Damned United was postponed after one of the actors had an inconclusive lateral flow test. Tickets remain valid for the post-Euro 2020 new date.

Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation of David Peace’s book about Brian Clough’s 44 days in purgatory as Leeds United’s manager is built around the double act of tortured genius Clough (Luke Dickson) and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor (David Chafer).

The beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, bursts out of a story of sweat and booze, fury and power battles. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

No, that’s not England manager Gareth Southgate, second from left, front row, in Black Sheep Theatre’s line-up

Raise the roof booster:  Black Sheep Theatre, For The Love Of Musicals, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 24, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

MUSICAL director Matthew Clare and his merry band, plus a heap of York singers, present a concert programme packed with musical delights as they seek to prove that “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.

The song list for this Black Sheep Theatre fundraiser for the Joseph Rowntree York, spans Annie Get Your Gun, the classics and more recent shows, such as Dear Evan Hansen. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: Live At Forty Five gig in August. Picture: Stewart Baxter

Intimate gig announcement of the week: Joshua Burnell, Live At Forty Five, Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, August 14, 7.30pm

JOSHUA Burnell, progressive York purveyor of folk-fused baroque’n’roll for the modern world, performs in a three-piece line-up, including Frances Sladen, at Forty Five Vinyl Café next month.

Expect a showcase for latest album Flowers Where The Horses Sleep and his new EP, Storm Cogs, featuring songs about a folk singer who went missing for 30 years (Shelagh McDonald), a storm-chasing flying machine and a childhood memory, “written and recorded in lockdown and released as the world recovers”.

Elsie Franklin supports. Tickets are on sale at fortyfiveuk.com/events/joshua-burnell-live-at-fortyfive.

REVIEW: Clive, alias Phil Grainger, Music At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, July 2

“The second cut is always the deepest when Phil Grainger sings”. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

BEST buddies since Easingwold schooldays, Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger reeled off a series of At The Mill double bills back home in North Yorkshire in the first summer of Covid after their Australian tour was aborted.

New York and Edinburgh Fringe plans were scuppered too, after old York called them home, and more than a year later, they are still here, making magical theatre, song and spoken word.

Oh, and building an outdoor theatre too on Stillington Mill’s disused tennis court, with Alex’s father, Paul, and mother, Maggi, playing a prominent role too in establishing the new and impressively diverse At The Mill enterprise (more of which in a CharlesHutchPress interview with Alex later this week).

Last August’s set finished with Phil announcing that wood had arrived for Alex and Phil to start work on converting that summer’s marquee into an outdoor theatre. “If they build it, we will come,” vowed CharlesHutchPress, and sure enough, this summer finds that theatre in full sail for concerts and theatre shows.

For one night, Phil and Alex teamed up with two friends in Foraged & Forged, a showcase of new material written specially for the occasion. Friday night put polymath Phil in the solo spotlight, in the guise of Clive, and while the pre-show rain enforced a late decision to abandon the plan to do one set from one stage, and a second from another, the format of an acoustic first half and electric second set was retained.

“It’s been a bit of an hour,” he said, putting on his bandana in readiness for adopting Clive mode. “It’s ‘look at how good this would have been. Now is what you’re getting’!”

What we were getting was the solo music project of singer, songwriter, musician, sound engineer, magician, actor, Gobbledigook Theatre director and event promoter Phil Grainger. Why Clive, you ask? Phil is not a name for a singer, he reasons. Er, Phil Collins? “Exactly,” said Easingwold Phil in a typical shard of attractively blunt Yorkshire wit that peppered his performance. “Clive is the name for the thing that’s me doing this.”

Phil Grainger, in Clive mode, performing Under The Sea from the Disney songbook. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

Clive is his middle name, and his father’s name too, so Clive it is, and tonight the Stillington Mill’s a-Clive with the sound of music. Beautiful, poignant, happy, sad, funny, heart-felt music, sung in one of those surging soul voices where the second cut is always the deepest when Phil, sorry, Clive, lets rip. One of these voices where you ache waiting for those transcendent moments.

Clive would divide his sets, he said, between songs he had been writing for a long time, others that were new, and some so new they were only half written. He would stop them at the point they were half-finished, with no pretence of finesse.

You cannot help but warm to such candour, or indeed to his off-the-cuff sporadic dips into a newly acquired Disney songbook. Or his seemingly rudimentary, yet deeply affecting guitar, that recalls Billy Bragg’s less-is-more playing.

Clive, his dad, was there, and so was his mum. “I didn’t know they were coming,” said Phil, promptly deciding to change his “emotional set-ender” to his “emotional opening number”. “This song is about my mum. It’s called My Mother,” he said, whereupon mum raised a knowing eyebrow.

Soon we learned she does better Sunday roasts than a Toby Carvery, she effing hates swearing and is no fan of tattoos either. Under Alex’s encouragement, Phil’s lyrics are coming on apace, matching his gift for melody, and built around a winning line in couplets and a desire to take the advice of The Streets’ Mike Skinner to always end with a memorable pay-off.

His hymn of praise to the lure of York’s welcoming arms, whenever he is away, is awaiting both completion and confirmation of its title – “it might be Angel Of The North,” he speculated – but already it is completely moving.

Alex and Phil had vowed never to return to the pieces they wrote in a day to perform to an audience that night, but promises are made to be broken, and so out came Home, the one with 14 houseplants acquired by Phil’s girlfriend Angie for their cottage nest and Alex’s poetic “tatty clattering” as a home is found inside a house. “With you I’m two-up; I was one down on my own,” finished Phil. Mike Skinner would surely approve.

Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan Wright last August, when they mounted a week of The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre shows at At The Mill, by the 18th century corn mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

After a pleasingly erratic stroll through Disney’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, the acoustic set concluded with two of Phil’s finest, Little Red and Colour Me In: one pulling at the frayed edges of a disintegrating relationship; the other, from Phil and Alex’s show Orpheus, a ballad that would fit perfectly on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6Music. “I’m drunk on colour and I’m drunk on soul,” Phil sang, and how we drunk it in.

Electricity was thankfully restricted to Phil’s switch of guitar and not lightning for the second half, introduced by storyteller Phil with his recollection of trying to pay the £600 required for the instrument in £2 coins gathered over time ten years ago. Bank the coins, he was told, but eventually the guitar was his.

A decade later, he finally chanced his arm at a guitar solo in Safe Travels, Hurry Back, words by Alex, title and soar-away tune by Phil. The solo? Grainger’s transition into Jimi Hendrix is on hold.

Best title of the night award went to Hallelujah For The Hell Of It, best couplet to: “I’m hard to read like a broadsheet; you’re hard to keep like the off-beat”.

That made it back from Australia in February 2020, as did another Alex and Phil composition, If Destroyed Still True, written late into the night after their last supper before the urgent flight home, this one composed with Aussie friend Jamie on laptop.

“Just to be clear, we’ve never done this one live, since we wrote it in an hour that night,” said Alex, duly doing his Kae Tempest-style spoken words live, interwoven with Phil’s yearning vocal part and Jamie’s infectious recorded instrumental refrain.

One-man band and his bandana: Phil Grainger performing his Clive show. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

It could have gone wrong at any moment, instead it went beautifully right, and it is in such unpredictable, knife-edge moments that Summer At The Mill is creating its distinctive alchemy.

Do check out the Aussie video at: facebook.com/orpheuseurydicethegods/videos/2254587891515753; the chorus will be your new earworm within minutes.

The Little Mermaid’s Under The Sea survived its Big Phil DIY – Does It Yorkshire – reinvention, and then it was time for Phil to revisit the “wise and gorgeous” recording of Easingwold Players’ stalwart Bronwyn Jennison, who passed away last year.

It had been a highlight of last summer’s Clive show and now, reactivated for the first time since then, Bronwyn’s rendition of Alex’s words had even greater weight after the year we’ve all had. “You carry on, wild child, and I’ll carry on,” said Bronwen through the ether, and Phil and Alex will indeed carry that flame.

Phil’s finale was a humdinger: an audience hum-along to the anything but humdrum Hum, “another song we said we’d never do again, but it’s too special not to!”.

Last August’s review ended with a call to Phil to record an album, and indeed the Half Man Half Bull download has since emerged, but that is a team creation, not the full Phil, and so, Phil, even more than last year, please head into the recording studio. Your mother, for one, would be chuffed.

“I’m so glad I could be here to sing to the benches I made,” he signed off. So we were, so we were.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Alex Wright, Phil Grainger and Oliver Tilney combine on Half Man//Half Bull ancient myth songs to be experienced at home UPDATED 11/3/2021

On song: Phil Grainger in a recording session for Half Man//Half Bull

THE Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre had to cut short their 18-month international tour last March, the pandemic forcing Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger to fly back to North Yorkshire from Australasia.

A year later, however, a brand-new work, created in tandem with fellow theatre-maker Oliver Tilney, arrives in the form of Half Man//Half Bull, a narrative-led double album of two ancient myths and 20 original tracks to be “experienced at home”.

Fusing spoken word, electronica and soul, Half Man//Half Bull retells the interlinking myths of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedalus & Icarus, presented in a listening pack designed by Lydia Denno that will be sent out in the post.

“We wanted people to be able to hold a beautiful piece of art in their hand, like holding an album cover, so Lydia’s artwork is part of the whole experience,” says Alex. “We also want people to carve out a bit of proper time to really listen to the work, rather than listening to it for the first time when you’re doing the washing-up or while you’re cooking.

“We’re also asking you to reach out to connect with other people by sending out postcards, and there are four cards from the listening pack to hide around your community too. You could even give someone a call, knock on someone’s door and say hello.

“The two stories say a lot about isolation, so it feels good to do something that’s an antidote to that. We didn’t set out to tell a story about this time of Covid lockdowns, but it just seems to have seeped into it.”

Lydia Denno’s artwork for Half Man//Half Bull

Over the past few years, Alex and Phil, friends since Easingwold schooldays, have taken their international award-winning shows Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods to packed rooms across Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and New York, performing an enthralling, electrifying brand of spoken word and live music.

Once back home, they teamed up with long-time collaborator Oliver Tilney – he played Jay Gatsby in Wright’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby for the Guild Of Misrule at 41 Monkgate, York, in 2016 – to create Half Man//Half Bull.

“From the get-go, we wanted to make a new piece of work that wasn’t contingent on being performed live,” says Oliver, who first brought the idea to Alex and Phil last June. “We didn’t want a watered-down version of something to give to audiences; we wanted to create a new piece of work in its correct form. For us, that form is a double narrative-led album.”

Oliver set about reading various Greek myths, seeking a way to connect two together. “The ones we’ve chosen are about becoming a parent; one is about a father loving a son, the other about a son loving a father,” he says.

“Most people don’t carry any sympathy for Icarus, thinking he’s rather brash, but I thought, ‘no, let’s make these characters human’.”

Alex, Phil and Oliver began work on Half Man//Half Bull on Zoom, but lockdown easement then enabled work to develop in Covid-safe conditions, both in Stillington in Alex’s studio at The Mill last October and at Crooked Room Studio in Strensall, York.

Oliver Tilney at work on Half Man//Half Bull

“There was a moment I recall where Ollie’s daughter was in a push chair and I was writing these ditties, and Ollie’s lyrics were so clearly coming from his experience of being a dad,” says Phil.

“More than before, the writing was a mixture of all three of us. With Orpheus, it was very clear that I wrote the music and Alex, the lyrics, but for The Gods The Gods The Gods, there were a couple of songs where Alex came up with the melody.

“Whereas with this project, we’ve all stuck our noses into all of it. Ollie and Alex were writing the first drafts of ideas, while I was building some benches at Alex’s mill. Then I came up with a few bits of guitar, but once that had been done and they’d come up with the skeleton of the stories, we fleshed everything out, with everyone coming up with lyrics and me writing tunes. We all pushed ourselves more than ever.”

Alex rejoins: “We’re lucky that we’ve all known each other and worked together for so long, so it never felt like we needed to define who was doing what, or who was in charge. It just felt organic.”

The trio have partnered up with 15 organisations to bring the idea to life, among them the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds company Slung Low, Rural Arts, Thirsk, and The Barn Theatre, their involvement affirming the appetite for this type of work. 

Alex says: “We started talking with our brilliant pals at Streatham Space Project [a project that Oliver was involved in setting up], where we managed to bring a socially distanced version of Eurydice in September. It quickly became clear there would be an appetite for a theatre, or an organisation, to be able to deliver content to their audience while people couldn’t gather in a more traditional setting.”

Oliver adds: “Those 15 theatres and organisations around the country are helping us by each agreeing to distribute 100 copies, so that means we’ve pre-sold 1,500 copies, either to be given away to pockets of the community they want to contact through outreach work, or for some to be put on sale through the venues.”

Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger on their travels, cut short by the need to head home last March

An Arts Council Project Grant allowed the Half Man//Half Bull team to grow: the trio have collaborated with producers, designers and host of musicians to realise this project, alongside the family of theatres, venues and partner organisations.

After years of touring, lockdown has provided a longer opportunity to create and develop, says Phil. “Alex and I have been writing and touring shows for a while, with an ambition to grow our sound. This felt like a great opportunity to work with more people, collaborate with more artists and, crucially, create some work for as many freelancers as we could afford,” he explains.

That team includes Aminita Francis, from BAC BeatBox Collective, as Theseus; Zimbabwean-born musician Tendaii Sitima, as Daedalus; designer Lydia Denno; music producer Isaac McInnis and project producer Charlotte Bath.

“We were also able to spend a lot of time at Crooked Room Studio working with Isaac McInnis, which really helped grow the sound,” says Phil. “It’s crucial that as this is an audio project, that it sounds flipping great.”

Lockdown 3 was imposed just as Alex, Phil and Oliver were part-way through the last recording session. “But because we were already ‘bubbled up, we were already in the right place to allows us to continue,” says Alex.

“It was lucky that we could continue unimpeded,” says Phil. “Pretty much everyone else, apart from our producer Isaac, was able to send us their parts, recording in their own homes or on Zoom.”

Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan Wright last August when The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre presented a week of socially distanced shows in Alex’s back garden at The Mill, Stillington, including Orpheus and Eurydice

Billed as “an epic storytelling adventure for our time”, Half Man//Half Bull is designed expressly as an At-Home experience. “For a project that is an album, a listening experience, something you do with your ears, we were really clear we didn’t want to make a cast recording of something that already existed; it had to be something that stood in its own right,” says Alex.

“For the vast majority of musicians and creative people, they are hard-wired to connect with other people, preferably gathered in one room, but this had to be different – though it does feel odd that we can’t all be together to launch it!”

Instead, Half Man//Half Bull is a form of home service. “If you buy it, you’ll get a physical pack through your door with artwork, listening instructions and an invitation to step back out into the real world,” says Alex.

“Normally we would be thinking about the physical space we’re performing a show in, but this time it’s a listening experience designed for people’s homes.”

Yet might Half Man//Half Bull be turned into a live performance? “While we were writing the album, we had a catchphrase that we banned each other from saying: ‘When we do the live show’,” recalls Oliver. “Instead, we concentrated on the album, but having worked together for so many years, we all have ambitions to do it live.

“We haven’t had many conversations yet, just touched on a few ideas so far, because our focus has been on the album.”

For further information and to buy the albums, go to: halfmanhalfbull.com.

Alexander Flanagan Wright during the making of Half Man//Half Bull

Alex Wright, Phil Grainger and Oliver Tilney combine on Half Man//Half Bull ancient myth songs to be experienced at home

Phil Grainger in the studio, recording Half Man//Half Bull

THE Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre had to cut short their 18-month international tour last March, the pandemic forcing Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger to fly back to North Yorkshire from Australasia.

A year later, however, a brand-new work, created in tandem with fellow theatre-maker Oliver Tilney, will drop today in the global digital form of Half Man//Half Bull, a narrative-led double album of two ancient myths and 20 original songs to be “experienced at home”.

Fusing spoken word, electronica and soul, Half Man//Half Bull retells the interlinking myths of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedalus & Icarus, presented in a listening pack designed by Lydia Denno that will be sent out in the post.

Over the past few years, Alex and Phil, friends since Easingwold schooldays, have taken their international award-winning shows Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods to packed rooms across Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and New York, performing an enthralling, electrifying brand of spoken word and live music.

Artwork for Half Man//Half Bull

Once back home, they teamed up with long-time collaborator Oliver Tilney – he played Jay Gatsby in Wright’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby for the Guild Of Misrule at 41 Monkgate, York, in 2016 – to create Half Man//Half Bull.

“From the get-go, we wanted to make a new piece of work that wasn’t contingent on being performed live,” says Oliver, who first brought the idea to Alex and Phil last June. “We didn’t want a watered-down version of something to give to audiences; we wanted to create a new piece of work in its correct form. For us, that form is a double narrative-led album.”

The trio have partnered up with 15 organisations to bring the idea to life, among them the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds company Slung Low, Rural Arts, Thirsk, and The Barn Theatre, their involvement affirming the appetite for this type of work. 

Alex says: “We started talking with our brilliant pals at Streatham Space Project, where we managed to bring a socially distanced version of Eurydice in September. It quickly became clear there would be an appetite for a theatre, or an organisation, to be able to deliver content to their audience while people couldn’t gather in a more traditional setting.”

Alex Wright at a recording session for Half Man//Half Bull

An Arts Council Project Grant allowed the team to grow: the trio have collaborated with producers, designers and host of musicians to realise this project, alongside the family of theatres, venues and partner organisations.

After years of touring, lockdown has provided an opportunity to create and develop, says Phil. “Alex and I have been writing and touring shows for a while, with an ambition to grow our sound. This felt like a great opportunity to work with more people, collaborate with more artists and, crucially, create some work for as many freelancers as we could afford,” he explains.

That team includes Aminita Francis, from BAC BeatBox Collective; Zimbabwean-born musician Tendaii Sitima; designer Lydia Denno and project producer Charlotte Bath. “We were also able to spend a lot of time at Crooked Room studios working with Isaac McInnis, which really helped grow the sound,” says Phil. “It’s crucial that as this is an audio project, that it sounds flipping great.”

Billed as “an epic storytelling adventure for our time”, Half Man//Half Bull is designed expressly as an At-Home experience. “If you buy, you’ll get a physical pack through your door with artwork, listening instructions and an invitation to step back out into the real world,” says Alex.

For further information and to buy the albums, go to: HalfManHalfBull.com.

Half Man//Half Bull: A double narrative-led album to be experienced at home

The credits:

Created by Phil Grainger, Oliver Tilney and Alexander Wright.

Guest artists: Aminita Francis as Theseus; Tendaii Sitima as Daedalus.
Project producer: Charlie Bath; music producer, Isaac McInnis; designer, Lydia Denno. 


Recorded and mixed by Isaac McInnis at Crooked Room Studios; mastering by David Lawrie.

Additional music: Frances Bolley, Tom Figgins, Isaac McInnis, Emil Ryjoch and Gavin Whitworth.


Additional voices:  Angie Alle, Hille Auvenin, Joanna Bongowska, David Calvitto, Laura Darling, Megan Drury, Inês Sampaio Figueiredo, Peter Groom, Lucas Jones, James Lawrence, MJ Lee, Serena Manteghi, Iona McInnis, Marnie Silver and Jess Zilleson.

With thanks to: Angie Alle, Anikdote, Darren Lee Cole, James Dale, Megan Drury, Luke Langley, Helen Simpson, Michael Slater, Simon Victor and Paul & Maggi Wright.

Made with: At The Mill, Stillington; Birmingham Hippodrome; NEAT; November Club; Rural Arts, Slung Low; SoHo Playhouse; Stephen Joseph Theatre; Storyhouse; Streatham Space Project; The Barn Theatre; Theatr Clwyd; Theatre Deli; The Place and The Roses Theatre.

Oliver Tilney: First brought the idea for Half Man//Half Bull to Alex Wright and Phil Grainger last June

REVIEW: The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, At The Mill ****

Trouble at the Mill: Musician Phil Grainger and writer/storyteller Alexander Flanagan-Wright presenting Orpheus and Eurydice at Stillington Mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

REVIEW: The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, in At The Mill, Stillington Mill, and beyond

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger should have been in Edinburgh right now. Instead they will be popping up at the Pop-Up On The Patio festival at York Theatre Royal tomorrow.

On The Fringe up further north, they were all set to perform the North Yorkshire double act’s British premiere of The Gods The Gods The Gods, episode three of their spoken-word and soulful-song 21st century twist on ancient Greek tragedies in the year 2020BC…Before Covid.

The duo had been touring The Gods x 3 and its “brother and sister” predecessors, Orpheus and Eurydice, in Australia, with New Zealand next, when Covid-19 dropped in its unwelcome calling card, sending Alex back to Stillington Mill, his family’s converted 17th century corn mill, and Phil to Easingwold.

Eighteen months of UK and international tour plans have gone into the pending file, but Alex and Phil are not of the “so far, so furlough” lockdown mentality. Alex took to ‘writing’ while walking the dog, recording his rhythmic thoughts; Phil penned new songs on his unruly guitar, as well as shaping up on shifts in his father’s picture-framing business.

“You have to try to find round pegs to fit round holes,” said Alex, as he and Phil and their respective companies, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, set about launching their five-pronged art attack, I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, seeking new horizons in the year 2020BC. Beyond Covid and its killjoy claw in this new age of “Use your hand sanitiser but try not to lose your sanity”.

Definitely not Yorkshire! Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger on their global travels

Among this summer’s outward-thinking projects has been the Hyper Local Tour of Orpheus, taking the two-hander to people’s socially distanced back gardens at their invitation.

A small step, for small audience numbers, maybe, but nevertheless adding back gardens to Orpheus’s list of 325 shows in Oz, NZ, New York, Bali, let alone a boat on the River Ouse and a shoes-off night in the magnificence of Castle Howard.

Alex and Phil then decided to go even more Hyper Local for “six days of work” in Alex’s own back garden at Stillington Mill, 11 miles north of York.

This is no ordinary back garden with its mill pond, fairy-lit woodland, shepherd’s hut for holidays lets and open-air marquee for weddings and performances on what appears to have been a disused tennis court. Game on, nevertheless, for the artship enterprise.

Entering this magical arts hub is like leaving behind the Athenian court for Titania and Oberon’s woods in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Alex perhaps in the sprightly sprite role of Puck and big Phil as a keen-to-do-everything Nick Bottom but never quite making an ass of himself!

At The Mill ran for six shows in six nights with Covid-secure, social distancing measures in place, picnics optional, as the globe-trotting, back-home gents played to a maximum audience of 30 per 7pm gig from August 2 to 7. Total attendance: 175 out of a possible 180, making the low-key run a palpable hit, like the shows, whether old, nearly new or hot off the book and songbook presses.

Oh…you are Orpheus. The poster for The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre two-hander

“We’re doing some Orpheus, some Eurydice, and one night of New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before,” the duo had announced online, with the aid of an Instagram poll to decide whether Orpheus or Eurydice would win out on the Tuesday.

Eurydice had her day and her say that evening beneath the trees as Alex and Phil took on roles that had been shaped by Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews on overseas duty. Alex had a book in his hand, not because he couldn’t be bothered with learning the lines, but because he loves the feel of the book in which he wrote those lines.

It as if by touching the book, he connects directly to his heart, because his heart bleeds in these words. Without dwelling too much here on his own circumstances, it hurts…and this time it’s personal, cathartic, but beyond the dates he mentions, it is universal too.

Add Phil’s songwriting, guitar and electronica to Alex’s lyrics, and Eurydice’s torrid yet beautifully nuanced tale of love and loss, a bee tattoo and a bee sting, hits you with the force of a Bill Withers or Otis Redding song.

If Eurydice pulls off the trick of being both formal in structure yet informal, then Wednesday night’s New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before in the marquee was very much the latter.

Alex once more in jaunty trilby, jeans and T-shirt, Phil in baggy clown’s pantaloons, they introduced crossfire works from The Gods The Gods The Gods before Alex premiered his new piece penned in lockdown, This Story Is For You.

One guitar + one book + two hats + six shows = Phil Grainger and Alexander Wright’s At The Mill festival of two-handers at Stillington Mill. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Already available in assorted print forms decorated by guest illustrators for I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, now it tripped off the lucid tongue, as poetic, as timely, as insistent and surprising as a Kae Tempest (formerly Kate Tempest) album, as Alex recounted a female love story gone so right, then so wrong. Throughout, Phil accompanied on gentle waves of guitar, the tide coming in on the key of E.

The second half was given over to Phil, a storyteller without a script or book, as much as a soul-mining singer and songwriter, encouraged by Alex to grow more confident in his own candid, humorous, touching lyric-writing to match his ever-affecting way with a tune.

He even covered a teenage lament by a former Easingwold school colleague called Josh, who has long deserted his list-making song. Wrong, Josh, it’s a curio beauty, worthy of The Undertones’ first album.

Phil calls himself Clive, his middle name, his father’s name too, when performing solo (with occasional vocals and drum patterns from Alex), but this is Phil talking, this is the Phil sound, and it really is time he made an album.

And so, Orpheus and Eurydice, Alex and Phil, move on to the Theatre Royal patio for tomorrow’s double bill: another day, another garden.  

What comes next for the ever-busy double act? Wood has arrived at Stillington Mill for Alex and Phil to start work on converting the marquee into an outdoor theatre. If they build it, we will come.

In the swing of it: Phil Grainger and Alexander Flanagan-Wright at the outset of their six-pack of At The Mill shows at Stillington Mill. Now they switch to the more compact Pop-Up On The Patio garden at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus, Pop-Up On The Patio, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow, August 21, 6pm

WRITTEN by Alexander Flanagan-Wright, with incidental music and songs by Phil Grainger, Orpheus is a thoroughly modern, beautifully poetic re-telling of an ancient Greek myth.

Dave is single, stood at the bar; Eurydice is a tree nymph…and Bruce Springsteen is on the juke box in this tale of impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music, where Alex and Phil weave a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

Eurydice, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, Pop-Up On The Patio, August 21, 8pm

LENI is five years old, holding a Superman costume for her first day at school. Eurydice is five years into the rest of her life, sporting a bee tattoo on her wrist, in Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s story of someone defined by someone else’s myth.

This tale of making changes, taking leaps and being a daily superhero is billed as “a story about a woman told by women”. That was the case when performed by Alex and Phil Grainger’s co-creators, Serena Manteghi and Casey Jane Andrews, to 2019 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre award-winning success.

Now, Alex and Phil take over to weave a world of day-to-day power and beauty and goddesses, relayed through heart-stopping spoken word and live electronica. Watch out for the sting in the tale.

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and MUST be bought in advance.

Pop-Up On The Patio heralds return of live shows at York Theatre Royal…outdoors

Top of the Pop-ups: Musician Phil Grainger and writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill when performing Orpheus in a week of At The Mill shows. Now they head to Pop-Up On The Patio. Picture: Charlotte Graham

WHO will be popping up at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival from August 14 to 29?

Taking part in a Covid-secure summer season of outdoor performances, on a terrace stage designed by Yorkshire theatre designer Hannah Sibai, will be “Yorkshire’s finest theatre and dance makers”.

Step forward York Dance Space; Mud Pie Arts; Crafty Tales; Fool(ish) Improv; The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre; puppeteer Freddie Hayes; Cosmic Collective Theatre; performance poet Henry Raby; Say Owt, the York outlet for slam poets, word-weavers and “gobheads”; magician, juggler and children’s entertainer Josh Benson and singer Jess Gardham.

They will perform at one end of the patio, decorated with “Glastonbury-style bunting”, performing to audiences of a maximum of 35 in demarcated bubbles.

“We’re so excited to have been able to bring live theatre back to our city this summer,” says Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth, who has co-ordinated the festival programme of theatre, dance, music, magic, puppetry, improvised comedy, storytelling and slam poetry.

“Our building may still be closed, but we didn’t want that to stand in the way of entertaining the people of York during this difficult time. Pop-Up On The Patio gives us the opportunity to showcase the work of brilliant home-grown performers, many of whom are part of our freelance family, who have been disproportionally affected by this pandemic.”

“We wanted to go hyper-local with the festival to give a platform to York artists,” says York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird

Looking forward to staging the first shows on the Theatre Royal premises since March 17, executive director Tom Bird says: “It’s been a short but intense preparation period: we wanted to go hyper-local with the festival, to give a platform to York artists, and we’re absolutely delighted at getting a very local, highly skilled bunch across so many genres.”

Explaining the decision to focus the festival on Friday evenings and Saturdays, Bird says: “We are easing our way back from a total stop, turning everything off in March, so we’re feeling our way in, and we want to make sure that everything is safe, for the audience, performers and staff.

“The world is changing all the time, so we wanted to give ourselves breathing space in what we’re doing by restricting ourselves to three weekends for the festival, but  who’s to say we won’t do more patio shows.”

The Theatre Royal management has implemented extra safety measures to keep visitors and staff safe during the three festival weekends, reconfiguring the patio to allow for a socially distanced audience and stage. These measures will be under constant review and apply to all the performances.

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and must be bought in advance.

THE FESTIVAL PROGRAMME:

Dance steps: Dance // Shorts launches the Pop-Up On The Patio festival

Dance // Shorts, August 14, 7pm

CURATED by York Dance Space, this evening of live contemporary dance theatre in an outdoor, intimate setting will be a compilation of bite-size solos and duets from “some of the most interesting and exciting young artists from across Yorkshire and the Humber”.

Performances include solo work from Alethia Antonia, from the James Wilton Dance Company; Coalesce Dance Theatre; Daisy Howell, from Brink Dance Company, and Namiuki Dance.

Look out too for a selection of Doorstep Dances from Hull artists Tamar and Jo, spanning contemporary, Northern Soul, jazz dance and physical theatre styles. Suitable for age 12 upwards.

Mud, glorious Mud: Mud Pie Arts duo Nicolette Hobson, left, and Jenna Drury

Mud Pie Arts, August 15, 22 and 29, 11am, for age 4 to 11

“WHAT is easy to get into but hard to get out of?” askMud Pie Arts drama practitioners Jenna Drury and Nicolette Hobson. “The answer? Trouble, of course!

“So, join us for Saturday elevenses in our Silly Summer Stories show. There’ll be interactive storytelling, riddles, games and all kinds of family tomfoolery.”

Have you heard the one about the old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle, or the farmer who fished for sausages? Now is the chance to enjoy those stories. “Come and find us on the patio every Saturday this month to celebrate all things daft,” say Jenna and Nicolette.

Crafty: Story Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce, left, and Cassie Vallance

Crafty Tales, August 15 and 22, 1pm, for two to six year olds

YORK Theatre Royal’s Story Craft Theatre return with an outdoor version of Crafty Tales, presented by Cassie Vallance and Janet Bruce.

“As always, there’ll be a story to tell plus songs, games and dancing, all designed around a brilliant picture book with interactive and imaginative play,” they say. “Although Crafty Tales is aimed at two to six year olds, all children are welcome.”

Made up: Fool(ish) Improv’s poster since 1793

Fool(ish) Improv, August 15, 4pm 

FOOL(ISH) Improv is a bite-sized comedy show with absolutely no plan or permission, created by York writer and director Paul Birch.

Strap in for 60 minutes of improvised mayhem where you, the audience, provide the suggestions for the actors to make stuff happen. Instantly.

“Taking nothing seriously – and everything for granted – our merry band of charlatans and misfits will bring music, comedy and appalling levels of acting to give you a delightful hour of spontaneous comedy,” says Paul.

“You bring the ideas, we’ll bring the performance, and together we’ll make a joyous family show that has no business being indoors. Now, you have to come. We couldn’t do it without you.”

The poster for The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Orpheus

Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus, August 21, 6pm

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger should have been heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe to present the British premiere of The Gods, The Gods, The Gods this month after its Antipodean premiere before Covid-19 intervened.

Instead, they have been presenting Orpheus in socially distanced performances in back gardens and a week of At The Mill shows in Alex’s own back garden at Stillington Mill, near York, last week.

Written by Alex, with incidental music and songs by Phil, the international award-winning Orpheus is a thoroughly modern, beautifully poetic re-telling of an ancient Greek myth.

Dave is single, stood at the bar; Eurydice is a tree nymph, and Bruce Springsteen is on the juke box in this tale of impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music, where Alex and Phil weave a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

Eurydice: “A story about a woman” with a Superman costume, a bee tattoo and a sting in the tale

Eurydice, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, August 21, 8pm

LENI is five years old, holding a Superman costume for her first day at school. Eurydice is five years into the rest of her life, sporting a bee tattoo on her wrist, in Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s story of someone defined by someone else’s myth.

This tale of making changes, taking leaps and being a daily superhero is billed as “a story about a woman told by women”.

That was the case when performed by Alex and Phil Grainger’s co-creators, Serena Manteghi and Casey Jane Andrews, to 2019 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre award-winning success. Now, Alex and Phil take over to weave a world of day-to-day power and beauty and goddesses, told through heart-stopping spoken word and live electronica.

Flat caps at the double: Freddie Does Puppets puppeteer Freddie Hayes with grumpy pub landlord Fred in Fred’s Microbrewery

Freddie Does Puppets in Fred’s Microbrewery, August 22, 4pm

FRED’S Microbrewery is the world’s first Puppet-in-a-Pub theatrical experience, a modern-day Punch and Judy story courtesy of York puppeteer Freddie Hayes.

Grouchy Fred and his bitter and twisted wife Sharon are two very grumpy Yorkshire puppets cum pub landlord and landlady of the Fred’s Microbrewery, where the frank, fractious duo serve beer-infused banter to adult audiences in an afternoon of debauchery and puppet profanities. 

Fred and Sharon have sparred at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe and had plenty to say at the Edinburgh Fringe, Shambala Festival, Moving Parts Festival and Folkestone Puppet Festival too.  

In lockdown and beyond, Fred and Sharon have been living inside a laundry bag in Freddie’s attic. Now, bag unzipped, she is ready to unleash them once more in a show with an age guide of 15-plus on account of the strong language and adult themes.

Heaven’s above: Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate, Cosmic Collective Theatre, August 28, 4pm

FOUR cups of apple sauce. Four canvas camp beds. One comet. Heaven’s Gate is closing and the Away Team are ready for graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word.  ‘C’ for ‘cult’, that is.

Presented by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre – satirical writer Joe Feeney, Anna Soden, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell – Heaven’s Gate imagines the final hour of four fictionalised members of the real-life UFO-theistic group.

As they prepare for their “graduation” to the “Kingdom of Heaven”, the excitement is palpable, but all too soon the cracks appear. Is the Heavenly Father really waiting for them on a Spaceship? Is Planet Earth soon to be recycled? Is castration compulsory? Isn’t Turkey Potpie an underwhelming last supper?

Cosmic Collective Theatre’s intergalactic pitch-black comedy comes with adult themes and strong language – but no C-word, of course – to give it a 15-plus age guide

Taking the mic: York punk performance poet Henry Raby

Henry Raby: Apps & Austerity, August 28, 6.30pm

“2010-2019. What was going on?” asks York-grown punk performance poet, activist and Say Owt artistic director Henry Raby as puts the word into sword to slice up the past decade.

From the memes and scenes, from riots to Royal Weddings to Referendums, Henry sums up a decade of technology and austerity with attitude, humour and insight.

Slam champ and Deer Shed resident poet Henry has performed across the UK, from festivals front rooms. “This is my fifth solo show, so I must have got something right by now,” he says.

Say Owt Showcase, August 28, 8pm

YORK’S lovable and raucous poetry gang proudly present an assortment of noisy slam-winning performance poets, word-weavers, and gobheads. “Spice up your Friday night with a glass-raising toast to the spoken word,” says host Henry Raby.

Say Owt word-warriors have delighted in ripping up stages at the Great Yorkshire Fringe and the Arts Barge in York, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Manic magic: All-action York magician Just Josh

Josh Benson in Just Josh’s Ultimate Family Show, August 29, 1pm

CALLING all families! Just Josh is “hugely excited” to be back performing live with his family magic, juggling and balloon show!

If you have encountered Josh Benson previously, you will know that he is one of Yorkshire and indeed the UK’s “biggest kids”, noted for his boundless energy and shameless attempts to do absolutely anything in pursuit of a laugh from a crowd.

Josh, Corntroller of Entertainments at York Maze and regular pantomime silly billy, has taken his magic all over the UK and beyond, returning home from his P&O Cruises stint in February.

“My show is suitable for kids from four to 104, with laughs and, all being well, amazement for the whole family” says Josh.

All roads lead Jess Gardham to…the Pop-Up On The Patio stage at York Theatre Royal

Jess Gardham, August 29, 4pm

YORK pop, soul, blues and acoustic singer-songwriter, musical actress and 2018 MasterChef quarter finalist Jess Gardham closes Pop-Up On The Patio with an afternoon set.

Jess has performed all over Britain, the United States, Europe and Canada and supported the likes of Paul Carrack, KT Tunstall, The Shires, Wilko Johnson and Martin Simpson.

Her songs have been played regularly on BBC Introducing and her debut album, Beyond Belief, was picked up by BBC Radio 2.

Jess has taken lead roles in theatre productions such as Hairspray, Ghost The Musical and Rock Of Ages. “I hope to perform in theatre again when they’re open again,” she says.

SAFETY MEASURES

Arriving
YORK Theatre Royal will open the entrance to the Pop-Up patio a quarter of an hour before every performance starts.

“There will likely be some queueing, but we will do everything we can to keep this to a minimum,” says the festival website. “Please arrive in good time for any performance.”

All tickets will be digital and checked without contact at a social distance at the entrance to the patio area, where refreshments will be available.

Departing
STAFF will be managing the departure from the performance area “so that we don’t have large crowds all leaving at the same time”.

Loos
THE loos in De Grey House next to the patio will be open throughout. All loos will be stocked with anti-bacterial hand soap and stringent hand-washing guidelines are in place.

Social distancing
EACH household or social bubble will be seated at a safe distance from other households or social bubbles, in line with Government guidance at the time of the performance.

“You will be directed to a designated ‘social bubble spot’ by our staff,” says the website. “Please be patient with them and sit where they direct – they know best!”

Food and refreshments
A LIMITED range of soft and alcoholic drinks will be on sale, alongside ice creams and chocolate.

Ticketing policy
IF you have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been diagnosed with the virus or have been in direct contact with a diagnosed individual in the past 14 days, you must not attend the event.

If you are unable to attend as a result of illness, please email boxoffice@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and a ticket transfer can be arranged. Tickets can only be refunded if the booked performance has sold out.

Additional cleaning
THE patio area will be thoroughly cleaned between each performance. “Our already high cleaning standards have been enhanced by a cleaning programme designed to clean and sanitise the high touch points,” assures the website.

More information can be found at: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/be-part-of-it/collective-acts/pop-up-on-the-patio/. 

Garden of delights: Hannah Sibai’s design for Pop-Up On The Patio at York Theatre Royal

Garden of delights as Alex and Phil stage Orpheus, Eurydice and more at the mill

Definitely not Yorkshire: Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, when taking Orpheus to the other side of the world. Now they will stage it in Alexander’s back garden near York

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger are heading home with their I’ll Try And See You Sometimes art attack for lockdown-eased times.

This summer’s already Hyper Local Tour of their international touring show Orpheus will become even more hyper local for “six days of work” in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill, Stillington, north of York.

The one with the mill pond and wooded backdrop, now with social-distancing measures in place for Covid-secure At The Mill shows from August 2 to 7 to a maximum audience of 30 per 7pm show.

“We’re doing some Orpheus, some Eurydice, and one night of New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before,” say the duo.

York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger take the applause after a performance of their international hit Orpheus. Picture: Hartstone Kitney

Presented by York theatre makers Alex and Phil’s companies, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, the duo will stage:

Sunday, August 2: Orpheus, £12;

Monday, August 3: Eurydice, Orpheus’s sister show, £12;

Tuesday, August 4: Either Orpheus or Eurydice, decided via an Instagram poll, £12;

Wednesday, August 5: New work from Alex and Phil, a reading of This Story Is For You and a gig by Clive (Phil’s name for his solo music, Clive being his middle name and his father’s name). A new story from Alex, a new series of songs from Phil, £9;

Thursday, August 6: Double bill of Orpheus and Eurydice. Both shows, back to back, Orpheus first, £16.

Friday, August 7: Double bill of Orpheus and Eurydice. Both shows, back to back, Eurydice first, £16.

Hat, notebook, guitar: Tools of the trade for Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger when performing Orpheus

“All tickets types will show up when you book. Please select the correct price for whatever day/show you are booking,” say Alex and Phil. “It’s pretty obvious, it says on the ticket.

“There are only 30 tickets per event. We will lay out the seats each day depending on what group sizes have booked. However many tickets you book, we’ll lay out that many chairs for your group with a nice table in the garden, socially distanced from other groups.

“There won’t be a bar or refreshments, so feel free to bring your own drinks/ picnic along. There will be a wet-weather option, but it‘s not an indoor option, so if it‘s chilly, please do wrap up.”

To book tickets, go to: theflanagancollective.com/LiveShows.html.

I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, say Alex and Phil in their five-pronged art attack

Oh, you are Orpheus: Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, one notebook, one guitar, shoes off (out of picture) are here to entertain you “on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens”

LIVE theatre is back, all over North Yorkshire, at your invitation.

Step forward York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, who are finding new ways of telling stories and creating art and theatre this summer.

As part of the duo’s five-pronged art attack under the banner I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, they are presenting Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour, a show whose 325 two-hander performances before the Covid curse had taken Alex and Phil across the globe, let alone to Castle Howard.

As of today, announced by Culture Secretary at the Downing Street briefing on Thursday, outdoor performances can return, whether socially distanced theatre, opera, dance or music.

Alex and Phil have been ahead of the Government curve, however, setting I’ll Try And See You Sometimes in motion in mid-June.

“We’re taking Orpheus on an outdoor tour around North Yorkshire’s local lanes, villages, and towns, performing with social distancing in place and abiding by Government guidelines on how many people can meet at any one time,” says Alex.

“The shows can take place on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens,” says Phil. “Instead of announcing a show that the public can book tickets for, we’re asking for people to pop on to flanagancollective.com and book a suitable slot and the whole show will be brought to them.”

The I’ll Try And See You Sometimes season is bringing together Wright’s company The Flanagan Collective, Grainger’s Gobbledigook Theatre and industry friends.

“We’re taking theatre and the arts to the people of Yorkshire, keeping spirits up and people connected during these times of social distancing to help combat loneliness, something needed more than ever in the Covid-19 climate,” they say.

“Some of it is hyper local, some of it is spread far further afield, some of it is music, some of it is stories, none of it is digital.”  

All the world’s a stage for Orpheus, whether in New York, on the Ouse Cruise boat in York or out in Australia

The duo’s five-hand of analogue works are: Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour; Oh, To Be So Lonely – A Pen Pal Project; This Story Is For You – A New Story With Guest Illustrators; Half Man, Half Bull – Two Myths Over A Double Album and The Odyssey – An International Adaptation.

Both theatre-makers attended school in rural North Yorkshire, and still live there, five miles apart, Alexander at a converted 17th century corn mill in Stillington, Phil in Easingwold.

Usually, however, they spend most of their time away from home, touring theatre across the globe, but Covid-19 and the lockdown has brought them back to Yorkshire, where they are pooling their skills, experience and creativity.

“When the lockdown hit, we were touring in Australia and about to head to New Zealand,” says Alex. “We’ve been touring our adaptation of Orpheus for a few years now, taking it across the UK, around Australia, New Zealand, Bali and over to New York.”

Alex and Phil made a sister show, Eurydice, created with performers Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews, and this year added The Gods The Gods The Gods to their repertoire, premiered in Australia.

“All three shows were lined up for UK and international touring for the next 18 months or so, including a season at the Edinburgh Fringe. But obviously that has all changed now,” says Alex.

“I’ve been keeping up with the wider industry conversations – the difficulty in using auditoriums, the need for government assistance, the huge case for our industry to be saved – and we agree with all of it and we’ve also been aware of the need to do something.”

Hence the launch of I’ll Try And See You Sometimes, showing initiative, imagination, an eye for innovation and a need for adventure that marked out writer, director, musician and performer Alex’s best-known work: the Guild of Misrule’s immersive, jazz-age hit show The Great Gatsby that began at a closed York pub.

In a nutshell, he and musician, singer, composer, actor, director and sound designer Phil make and deliver work outside of the usual physical four walls. “We have shaped, created, railed against, built, torn down, raised and radicalised perceptions of what theatre, narrative, storytelling and a relationship with an audience can be,” says Alex.

“We’re now finding ways to keep telling stories. It’s not about re-imagining shows we wanted to do live, in rooms full of hundreds of people and, instead, try and fit them on Zoom.

Phil Grainger in a performance of Orpheus in pre-Coronavirus times

“There are wonderful digital storytellers and artists in the world, but we’re not one of them. So, we’ve come up with a season of analogue work: a season of work where you get tangible things, which seeks to connect people, deliver narratives, and tell stories.”

The quintet of works can be booked in North Yorkshire and accessed regionally, nationally and internationally as the season plays across a various outdoor spaces and will be available to download.

Run by Alex and his sister Abbigail Ollive’s Lonely Arts Club, Oh, To Be So Lonely is a pen pal project, whereby those who sign up will receive a letter saying hello, with a bit of chat and reading, listening and watching recommendations.

“Those who wish for their contact details to be shared with others in the group will have the opportunity to write and share their lockdown experiences with others wanting to reconnect with the community,” says Alex. 

This Story Is For You is a “typically sad” new story written by Alex with a soundtrack by Phil and artwork by guest illustrators. “We’ve teamed up with a bunch of pals and asked them to turn the story into a book, and to create unique artworks to go alongside the story,” says Phil. “Audiences will then get the story, the artwork, and the music to keep.”

For the Half Man, Half Bull double album, Alex and Phil have linked up with Ollie Tilney, from The Great Gatsby cast, and Streatham Space Project to retell two ancient Greek myths.

“We’re writing the story of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedelus & Icarus as a double album release on vinyl, CD and for digital download,” says Phil. “Two stories, told together, made to be listened to.”

The Odyssey – An International Adaptation involves Alex and Phil teaming up with friends in the north, London, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Wellington to create an adaptation of Homer’s Greek epic poem, told through a series of one-on-one/small-scale encounters.

Those who book a ticket will be told to meet in a certain place at a certain time, to be joined there by a storyteller and or a musician

Details of the full season are available at theflanagancollective.com, where bookings can be made too.

Has notebook, will take bookings: Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Orpheus