Taking trouble at At The Mill to build a community for the arts and the people

Daniel Kitson: Testing out new material in six Outside performances at Stillington Mill

SUMMER At The Mill is returning for a second season of creative, culinary and community events in the gardens of Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York.

“After the spectacular, gorgeous, fun, exciting, beautiful and heart-warming time we had throughout our inaugural summer last year – what a ride! – we’re over the moon to present the mixed bag of goodies that is Summer At The Mill 2.0,” says programmer, theatre director, writer and performer Alexander Flanagan-Wright.

“Until September 4, we’ll be hosting a load of wonderful events all about community, art, food and flipping good times. We’ll have a pop-up café and bar, community gatherings, theatre, music, comedy, supper clubs and special events.”

The “Wright stuff” is the work of outdoor theatre co-builder Alex, sister Abbigail Ollive (Saturday café cuisine queen and supper club supremo) and their retired headteacher parents Maggi and Paul Wright, together with partners Megan Drury and Paul Smith. That “stuff” also takes in weddings, events and shepherd’s hut accommodation: truly a village cottage industry, you could say, albeit somewhat larger than a cottage.

A Supper Club gathering at At The Mill

“We just had a blast summer,” says Alex. “It was kind of by accident. It felt very serendipitous or of its moment, saying, ‘here is a way we can gather safely, our local community and the arts community, post-lockdown’.

“So this summer is a chance to see if people still care, and so far the evidence is that they do, with the return of the busy Saturday café, the Crafty Tales show [The Case Of The Missing Bunny] that sold out, our Pizza & Cocktail Night and the Dance Dance Dance Big Bank Holiday Silent Disco.

“Last year felt like a huge rush of adrenaline, and then you think, ‘OK, where do we go forward this year for beautiful experiences together?’. Already this year, we’re meeting new people coming to the events and the café.”

Summing up the essence of At The Mill, Alex says: “We believe a feeling of community is so important when people want to have an evening out. Whereas commercial theatre can feel merely transactional, with us, the means is the art, but the end result is a sense of community, and that feels the right way round.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: At the heart of At The Mill

“On top of that, eating outside together, drinking outside together, is a lovely thing to do, and we have the space and setting to do that.”

Where once Stillington Mill’s 18th century mill would produce flour, now the At The Mill combines food with food for thought, new recipes at the Supper Club, new works on stage. “We’re very clear with the artists about that. Everyone we’ve asked, we’ve said, ‘we think you’re cool, we like your work, do you want to come and play with us?’,” says Alex.

“What we have in abundance is space and time, imagination and a community. What we don’t have in abundance is cash, but we find most performers end up walking away with cash in their pocket.

“We don’t say to them, bring a particular show. What you get instead is artists testing out new material, so it becomes a genuine relationship with the audience built around nurturing new work. We’re seeking an equal balance between the two communities, where they care about each other, and if we do our part well in bringing them together, then they will meet in a beautiful way, and hopefully that process is more valuable, than, say, a Q&A session in a theatre.”

The Saturday cafe at At The Mill, baked by Abbigail Ollive

Alex continues: “Hopefully too, we’re going to be able to sustain that culture of being able to welcome artists for whatever they want to try out, and of audiences being continually excited about seeing new work at such an early stage, performed by people they wouldn’t expect to be passing through their village.”

A case in point is Edinburgh Fringe favourite Daniel Kitson, the Denby Dale stand-up comedian, who asked to take part in the Theatre At The Mill programme after he was tipped off by storytelling performer Sam Freeman.

“Daniel got in touch to say hello, could he come and do a show? I don’t know what the show is about; I don’t know if Daniel does yet, but that feels a pretty exciting thing to be going on, and testament to our aim for brilliant performers to test out their work to our community,” says Alex.

“I’m also aware that there will be those who don’t know who Daniel Kitson is and would just see him as someone standing up in a garden! But it feels beautiful to know that his shows in May will be his first in two years and it’s great to be part of that work-in-progress experience.”

Chris Stokes: Storytelling comedy in Lockdown Detective at At The Mill on May 26

Clearly, plenty of people know exactly who Daniel Kitson is: his 8pm performances of Outside on May 23 to 25 have sold out already and his June 8 to 10 run looks close to following suit.

What’s in store from Kitson? Here’s the show blurb: “Daniel hasn’t been on stage for over two years. And, to be entirely honest, he’s not really missed it. It is, however, his actual job and everyone’s gone back to work now. So, he’s picked out a comfy pen, bought a new notebook and booked himself a summer’s worth of outdoor shows to find out whether he can still do his job and what, if anything, he has to say to large groups of people he doesn’t know.”

Given his performing hiatus and lack of practice, Kitson predicts the shows are “likely to be relatively rickety affairs”. “But Daniel’s already written the question ‘Do worms feel fear?’ in his new notebook, so we should be okay,” the blurb adds. “Also, if it gets boring – you can just use the time to look at the sky and feel small.”

At The Mill’s role in nurturing new work ties in with Alex’s own creativity as a writer and director, whether directing The Flanagan Collective, heading off to Australia with songwriter/musician/performer/magician Phil Grainger or spending last September to December in New York, making the immersive piece Tammany Hall for the Soho Playhouse.

Gary Stewart: Hosting regular Folk Club nights at At The Mill

“We meet loads of brilliant people when touring our work, and it’s great that they want to come here to test new pieces,” he says. “We’re delighted that people will hone shows here just before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, or will do shows here that aren’t going to Edinburgh but fit that vibe.”

Picking out upcoming highlights, singer-songwriterTom Figgins follows up last summer’s gig – his first in four years – with a return tomorrow; Chris Stokes’s storytelling comedy show, Lockdown Detective, is booked in for May 26, and Scottish musician Gary Stewart, now resident in nearby Easingwold, will host his regular Folk Club night on May 27, June 24 and July 8.

“For his first night, it’ll be just Gary and his guitar, performing Paul Simon songs solo rather than with his Graceland band. It’s lovely for us that a local musician, who’s internationally renowned, came here and said, ‘I want to play here every month and bring acts here regularly’,” says Alex.

At The Mill’s ERII Platinum Jubilee celebrations will take in Jubilee Jubilee, A Very Jubilant Cabaret, on June 3 and A Right Royal Knees Up, with live music and pizza, on June 5.

Maddie Morris: 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, playing a Music At The Mill gig for the first time

Leeds folk duo Maddie Morris & Lilian Grace will make their At The Mill debut on June 12, performing together as Death And The Daughter and playing solo works too. Their 2022 project, The Sticky Monsters, is influenced by the artwork of Swedish artist John Kenn and their compositions deal with childhood, poverty and more general reflections on culture and the idea of fear.

“I saw Maddie, the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, at The Courthouse, Rural Arts’ home in Thirsk, and she’s an absolute folk musician, studying folk music at Leeds University and looking at contemporary politics through the lens of the folk tradition,” says Alex.

Gemma Curry’s York company Hoglets Theatre will perform the children’s show The Sleep Pirates on June 19 (10am to 1pm); York spoken-word collective Say Owt will host a poetry-writing workshop on June 25 (5pm), followed by an evening showcase (7.30pm); Heady Conduct will combine physical storytelling with live music to tell the Greek myth of Tiresias on July 10, and Paperback Theatre will stage their charming account of roguish Toad’s misadventures, The Wind In The Willows, on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Alex himself has a couple of contributions to the season: Monster, a work-in-progress new story, on June 16 and 17, and The Gods The Gods The Gods, the Wright and Grainger show whose Australian premiere tour was curtailed by the pandemic, now making its British debut on July 23, 24, 27 and 28 at 8.45pm.

Gemma Curry in Hoglets Theatre’s The Sleep Pirates

“In its full iteration, it’s a big, heavy show, but this will be a lighter version before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” says Alex of the final work in Wright & Grainger’s trilogy of myths, after Orpheus and Eurydice, both sell-outs at last summer’s At The Mill season.

The Gods The Gods The Gods, with its four stories and 14 compositions, corals big beats, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken words as it “calls us to the crossroads where mythology meets real life”.

“The Gods are gathering and you’re invited,” says Alex. “We’re excited about testing it out here, to wrangle up the story, to see that all the text and music works, and then add lights for Edinburgh, where we’ll be doing it in the Assembly’s 200-seat spiegeltent.”

The Mill’s summer programme will continue to add new events, with full details, including tickets, at athemill.org. Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

The Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger staging Orpheus and Eurydice at At The Mill’s socially-distanced summer season in 2021. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Writer, director, musician, theatre maker, actor, but still Alex is nervous about tonight

In a field of one: Alexander Wright, playwright, poet, storyteller, musician, director, facilitator, theatre builder…and now solo performer

ALEXANDER Wright is nervous about tonight, but why?

Let Alex tell the story: “In a potentially remarkable act of narcissism, I am doing a solo gig of my own work in a theatre I built [with Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger and dad Paul Wright] in my back garden at 7.30pm. 

“It’s the first time I have ever done a solo gig. I write lots of stuff, direct lots of stuff, tour Orpheus, Eurydice & The Gods The Gods The Gods to hundreds of places.

“I’ve released Half Man//Half Bull, a double narrative-led album, with Phil and Olivier Tilney. My production of The Great Gatsby has been performed across the UK, in Belgium, Ireland, and Korea to hundreds and thousands of audience members.

“But I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it.”

Double at t’ Mill: Phil Grainger and Alexander Wright at Stillington Mill last August when performing a week of shows back on home turf in Alex’s “back garden”. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Expect beautiful stories, beautiful poems, a few beautiful special guests and hopefully a beautiful sunset under the sails of the At The Mill outdoor theatre on the re-appropriated disused tennis court at Stillington Mill, Mill Lane, Stillington, near York.

Tongue in cheek in its title, Alex’s Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism night is part of the anything but narcissistic inaugural Summer At The Mill season at At The Mill, the Wrights’ family-run business at the mid-18th century former corn mill.

Not only theatre, children’s shows, spoken word and concerts have found a home here but so too has a Saturday morning pop-up café with unicorn ice cream and blissful cakes spun from the culinary imagination of Alex’s sister, Abbigail, and a welcoming wood-burner in the corner.

Then add supper clubs (up next, Tom Smith, from Oxfordshire, cooking an entire lamb on July 17, tickets available); special events; community gatherings; weddings and accommodation in a fairy-lit woodland shepherd’s hut or the two-bedroom Mill Cottage in a converted cow byre.

The stage is set for a night of Theatre At The Mill

Stillington Mill’s pond-side grounds have housed magical performances in previous years, whether on the woodland grass or under canvas, but the outdoor theatre is new for 2021, all because of a vow witnessed one August night by CharlesHutchPress among others at a Grainger and Wright performance in the first socially distanced summer of Covid.

“Phil has a habit of saying what he’s thinking out loud in public, and then being beholden to it. I’m fine with that and so is Phil!”, says Alex, recalling how best friend Phil had announced that a massive pile of wood had just arrived at the mill from G H Brooks, the timber merchants up the road.

They would build a theatre, he promptly promised, with a boldness worthy of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald pronouncing he would construct an opera house in the middle of a jungle in Werner Herzog’s infamously trouble-beset 1982 film Fitzcarraldo. Thankfully, the task proved less arduous, and no-one behaved like loose-cannon prima-donna lead actor Klaus Kinski.

“I think it’s important to get on with stuff, whatever the circumstances you face, and we’ve always done that. If you wait for people to give you permission, it will never happen, but we had the space to create a theatre, so we have,” says Alex.

Alexander Wright performing Orpheus at At The Mill earlier this summer. Picture: Fair Dinkum Film

“There’s something wonderful about an old tennis court making way for a stage, especially in a village where the mill has long been a focal point for the community. There’s been a mill here since being recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 and the house was built in 1754.

“It’s lovely to keep allowing these buildings to be central to the community, and even though it’s no longer flour, I hope it’s still some form of nourishment, whether it’s cake and sausage sandwiches or theatre and music. It’s good to have an industry of sorts still going on here.”

Phil built the wooden stage and the benches – in his own self-deprecating words “making good-quality wood look like palettes” – with help from his Australian partner Angie Alle, while Alex and father Paul did all the structures above, the pillars and posts and sails. “So, if you fall off the stage, it’s Phil’s fault; if something falls on you, it’s my dad’s and my fault,” Alex jokes.

“Some of it’s trial and error, like having to re-enforce the pillar structures, but we’re always trying to do something that’s beyond what we would normally do. Others might find that intimidating, but I like stretching my capacities.”

Courtly love: Out goes tennis, in comes a theatre, game set and match at Stillington Mill

Reflecting on changing times for theatre and performance under the cloud of Covid, changes that have seen Alex and Phil rooted in North Yorkshire, rather than travelling to New York and the Edinburgh Fringe after returning early from Australia last February, Alex says: “I’m sure lots of people have had the profound realisation in the past 16 months that theatre and the arts are a function or a means to the end,  rather than an end in themselves.

“We get tied up in theatre being something we consume, when in fact it is so much more valuable as a means for people to gather, to hear news, to share stories, to start conversations, and when we’ve not been gathering for 16 months, it’s such a vital tool for doing that – and I think it’s the gathering that’s most important.”

Alex continues: “I love meeting communities, meeting other people, and I feel that everywhere I go, we always leave having learned something. We always play by the same rules: performers and audience, we are together for two hours, and that sense of hanging out together is more important right now than what we see.

“But when we were setting up Summer At The Mill, I was very clear that it needed to serve the communities I care about: the local rural community and the wider, sprawling arts community.

“We’ve made what I hope is a very honest invitation to artists, to encourage them to ask if they want to come here and play, with either a new piece of work or an old piece that they’re getting back on its feet, or maybe for a collaboration, and it’s felt really nice to be able to do that.

A different writing task for playwright and poet Alexander Wright as he works a shift on At The Mill’s Saturday morning pop-up cafe (which turn into a bar for shows, by the way)

“Phil and I see loads of brilliant mates making work around the world, and we’ll hang around with them for a month. Then, six month later, there’ll be another festival, again with all these acclaimed international artists, and it’s kind of amazing when we say, ‘do you want to muck around in our back garden?’ and they’ll say ‘Yes, I’ll try out some new ideas’, and so they’ll play to a new audience, testing out new material. There’s a nice alchemy to it, and it’s a level playing field.

“We’re even talking to a couple of artists about the possibility of doing short residencies, for a week or a weekend, hosting them to let them road-test something new.”

Tonight, meanwhile, it will be Alex’s own turn to do that in a night of spoken word, storytelling and poetry…and, yes, he’s still nervous!

Alexander Wright: Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York, tonight (10/7/2021) at 7.30pm. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/538906.

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

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.