REVIEW: Be Amazing Arts in A Christmas Carol, Malton Market Place, until Dec 24 ****

Quinn Richards, in top hat, and Jack Downey outside the former Green Man Inn in a scene from Be Amazing Arts’ A Christmas Carol in Malton Market Place

WHAT should lead off reasons to be cheerful for Malton’s inclusion in the Guardian’s guide to Twinkle Towns: Eight Great Places In The UK For A Festive Getaway but Charles Dickens’s 19th century connection with the North Yorkshire market town.

Dickens would visit his friend, lawyer Charles Smithson, whose Chancery Lane offices were the template for Ebenezer Scrooge’s counting room. He performed at Malton’s old theatre on his reading tours too, and Smithson’s widow received an 1844 signed copy of Dickens’s novel on Smithson’s untimely death at 39.

A plaque in Chancery Lane is all that remains of the now closed Scrooge and Marley Counting House/Dickens Museum, but characters based on Malton residents live on in assorted Dickens novels.

The Malton Dickensian Festival, Miriam Margolyes et al, celebrated Dickens’s books, and this winter Malton company Be Amazing Arts is mounting its third season of immersive promenade performances of A Christmas Carol, as highlighted in that Guardian feature on December 2 too.

Roxanna Klimaszewska, once of York company Six Lips Theatre, now creative director of Be Amazing Arts, has freshened up her adaptation, as she did last year, working in tandem with producer James Aconley once more.

Dropping into CharlesHutchPress’s email basket at 7.01am yesterday morning was a letter to “my dearest most valued reader” from the desk of Charles Dickens.

He wrote of his “great anticipation” of presenting a personal reading of his most recently published works: a felicitous visit that would serve as a festive event to “satisfy your hunger for a literary feast (or platter)”.

 It would be his last reading of the season, he wrote, “as I endeavour to direct my attention to my next creation”.  “Tonight, expect theatricals, as only an author who frequents  the theatre as much as I do, can offer,” he promised.

The Cratchit family playing Christmas games at The Cook’s Place in Be Amazing Arts’ A Christmas Carol

And so a full house – as will be the case for the rest of the run – gathered at Kemps Books, arriving early to avoid Dickens’s threat that “latecomers will be treated with disdain and hostility”.

It should be recorded that the welcome, from bookshop to The Cook’s Place, could not have been more civil. There to meet the night’s promenaders was Quinn Richards, resuming his role as Charles Dickens, narrator and guide, striking up a conversation with Jack Downey’s ever-enthusiastic Charles Smithson.

Rather than the expected reading from Martin Chuzzlewit, Richards’ red-suited Dickens finds himself compelled to introduce the story, theme and characters of his new Christmas ghost story”. “Another ghost story?”, questioned Smithson.  

Ah, but this one is A Christmas Carol, a story whose ghostly chill unfolds as if for the first time before our very eyes, countered by the reviving warmth of mulled wine (non-alcoholic, dear readers) part way through perambulations around the Market Place.

In the manner of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Richards will shape-shift between two distinct characters, but without reaching for the mind-altering medication, of course.

His Dickens is upright, loquacious, gregarious company, as he leads the way from shop to street to assorted empty premises. He even stops the two charity collectors (Beth Wright and Daisy Conlan) mid-sentence to re-write, improve, their words in an amusing interjection typical of Klimaszewska’s love of detail in the storytelling.

Later, Dickens will explain why he made the Ghost of Christmas Past a child (played by Team B’s blue-lit Ada Kirk last night in a role shared with Team A’s India Duffy).

Richards’ Scrooge is pinched of facial disposition, mannerism and vocal inflection, his demeanour stooped, his mien bleak midwinter bitter, sending away carol singers gathered outside Kemps.

Downey, meanwhile, is kept busy as Smithson; long-suffering but never-complaining office clerk Bob Cratchit; party host Fezziwig and the chain-clad spectre of former business Jacob Marley, dead these past seven years.

Roxanna Klimaszewska: Creative director of Be Amazing Arts

Marley is introduced in Klimaszewska’s adaptation as the face in the door knocker of what used to be the Green Man Inn. Once inside, the promenaders line the walls in the cold blue light as the chains rattle to herald the arrival of Downey’s Marley.

Children, selected from auditions but many associated already with Be Amazing Arts’ site-specific shows, accompany Marley’s words of foreboding with ghostly voices, then crawl across the floor on their knees in veils. Such haunting imagery will linger long in the memory.

Children are vital to this production, whether popping up in street cameos, serving drinks, or playing Cratchit’s children as the audience nibbles away at a platter of pies and cheese on a stick and sips a soupcon of soup at The Cook’s Place cookery school in Market Street.

Charlotte Wood, a familiar face from the York theatre circuit, makes her mark too, bursting into life in the welcome at Kemps, then delivering her stern Ghost of Christmas Present and feisty Mrs Cratchit.

From an empty shop to an opened upstairs window, Be Amazing Arts uses the street furniture of Malton to maximum impact, not least outside St Michael’s Church, where Tiny Tim and Scrooge’s gravestones of the imminent future are lit up: hazard warning lights, you could say.

All the while, the hooded, towering Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come hovers, disturbingly deathly and deadly silent, as the tick-tock of time signifies the rising urgency of Scrooge’s race against time to change from dark dyspepsia to enlightened benefactor by Christmas Day morning.

Klimaszewska rightly draws attention to Dickens’s symbolic children by the names of Ignorance and Want, resonating anew in our age of social ills, strikers’ dissent but shameful indifference from the suits, rising destitution and fathomless wealth, life-threatening health service waiting lists and cost-of-living despair.

The ending, as Dickens takes over once more from Scrooge at the Cratchits’ Christmas table, elicits a call for compassion and social responsibility: a sobering conclusion to a night of bracing, haunting, uplifting yet chilling theatre, at once moving and forever on the move, mince pie final boost et al.  

Be Amazing Arts in A Christmas Carol, Malton Market Place, December 21 and 23, 7pm; December 24, 5pm; all sold out. Box office to check last-minute ticket availability: 01653 917271 or

Darkness before the light: The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come arrives at the door with a nocturnal mission to be completed

Cast list for the night attended by CharlesHutchPress

Quinn Richards: Charles Dickens/Ebenezer Scrooge

Jack Downey:  Smithson/Bob Cratchit/Jacob Marley/Fezziwig

Charlotte Wood:  Mrs Cratchit/Ghost of Christmas Present

Noah Ashton:  Fred/Young Scrooge

Annie Dunbar: Belle

Jess Middlewood:  Belle’s Sister/Clara (role shared with Kathryn Thompson)

Dom Walker, Gentleman 2/Pawn Broker/Peter Cratchit

Beth Wright, Charity Collector 1; Daisy Conlan, Charity Collector 2

Amalie Waite: Woman 1/Belinda Cratchit/Gentleman 1 (role shared with Emily Brooksby)

Kelly Appleby: Woman 2/Martha Cratchit/Wife

Ada Kirk:  Ghost of Christmas Past (role shared with India Duffy)

Edward: Husband/Suit 3

Daisy May Davies, Matilda Grimmond and Celia Brass are sharing performances as Fanny/Belle’s Child/Want; Reuben Baines and Stan Richardson as Young Cratchit/Boy/Beggar/Carol Singer; Teddy Alexander and Jeremy Walker, Tiny Tim, and Isla Norry and Angelica O’Dwyer, Belle’s Child/Ignorance.

How Sarah-Louise Young finds her voice, stronger than ever, in The Silent Treatment

Sarah-Louise Young: “I have made this show from a place of strength and recovery,” she says. “It is ultimately a very positive story of resilience and healing”. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

WARNING: Sarah-Louise Young’s show in York tomorrow night, The Silent Treatment, includes themes of trauma and sexual violence.

After her celebrations of Kate Bush (An Evening Without…) and Julie Andrews (Julie Madly Deeply), the Canterbury-born writer-performer returns to Theatre@41, Monkgate, with the highly personal true story of a singer who loses her voice and embarks on an unexpected journey of self-revelation and vocal healing.

In a career as a musical theatre actress, singer, writer, director, Showstopper! improviser and cabaret performer with Fascinating Aida, Sarah-Louise had “always known something wasn’t right with my voice but, like many singers, I assumed it was my fault,” as she revealed to the Guardian in June last year, ahead of the show’s Edinburgh Fringe run. “When a singer loses their voice we question their technique, their lifestyle, even their commitment.”

She had to hide how, every few months, her soprano voice would disappear, inducing a paralysing shame until it returned after few days’ rest. Then, after 11 years of ceaseless performing, “secret collapse and hidden recovery”, she lost her voice on stage mid-performance. “I was mortified,” she told the Guardian.

A consultant discovered cysts, probably there since childhood, he suggested, prompting him to ask Sarah-Louise if anything in her childhood – expressly before she was ten – could have traumatised her voice.

The answer was yes; she was sexually attacked at the age of seven, in daylight. “After the initial distress, I never gave it much thought. But the hand on my mouth, the stifled scream…what the mind forgets, the body remembers,” she wrote in her Guardian piece.

Self-care was advised, coffee became a no-no, work flowed, but after three years, her surgeon deemed an operation was necessary after her cysts burst when performing Julie Madly Deeply through bronchitis for six weeks.

Now there was something else to hide: she would be considered “damaged goods” if it became known she had undergone surgery, or so the “industry gatekeepers” forewarned. Stay silent? No, vowed Sarah-Louise, and nine years on, The Silent Treatment is her story, her voice found anew and her diary busier than ever at 47.

Sarah-Louise Young: “The first time I sang after the operation it was like night and day from singing pre-surgery”. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Here Sarah-Louise discusses singing, healing and dealing with what life throws at you with CharlesHutchPress.

What has been the reaction to The Silent Treatment, especially to your revelations about the sexual attack you suffered aged seven?

“The audience and critical response has been overwhelmingly positive. Whenever I make a new show, especially one which is autobiographical, I ask myself the same question: why should anyone care?

“So although the details of the story are personal to me, it connects with many other people’s lived experiences of being silenced, singers and non-singers alike.

“In terms of the sexual attack, my brilliant director Sioned Jones and I spent a lot of time discussing how best to portray it without sensationalising it or traumatising anyone watching.

“Close friends who didn’t know about it were understandably moved or concerned when they watched it but I have made this show from a place of strength and recovery. It is ultimately a very positive story of resilience and healing.” 

How do you structure this show?

“Without giving too much away about the piece, I play several different characters, ranging from my suave surgeon to a fruity diaphragm. It’s part quest, part journey into the past. It’s definitely not a conventional linear narrative but you’ll have to come along and see it to find out more.” 

Where do songs fit in?

“Music is important and I was lucky enough to work with a fabulous composer called Chris Ash who I knew from Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. He created beautiful soundscapes for the different worlds of the piece, including scenes which take place inside the human body. He even sampled my voice electronically to add to the mix.

“I write the lyrics and we worked together on the songs, which were all created originally for the show to serve different moments. For example, the cysts get their own big solo number, which is great fun.” 

An Evening Without Kate Bush and Julie Madly Deeply both had personal elements within them, but this is your most personal show. How does that feel when you perform it?

“I love connecting with an audience and have found with both of those shows that the more generous and open hearted I am, the more the audience will join me. It’s always a privilege to perform for people who have chosen to spend their time with you and the fact that they are invested in my journey is of course very rewarding for me.

“Most importantly, I want them to see themselves reflected back and find a universal meaning within the story.” 

Both the Bush and Andrews shows were joyous. What is the tone of The Silent Treatment?

“It’s funny, surreal, intimate and heartfelt, incorporating songs, stories, characterisation, puppetry, movement and mime. There’s a lot going on and while I’m required to give the show a trigger warning due to its sensitive thematic content, I hope I have created a piece of cabaret which is uplifting and entertaining.” 

Will there be any audience participation?

“Much less than in my other shows! I chat to the audience as they enter the space and collect tongue-twisters from them. The show is very much performed to them without a fourth wall, but I don’t invite anyone up onto the stage. Well, not yet anyway!” 

I believe it’s a story which needed to be told and I know I’m not alone in this,” says Sarah-Louise

When did you first find your voice, not the prescribed musical theatre voice?

“I think I found my voice as a child, before I was aware of training. It was free and playful. It took many years later on in life to re-discover that sense of play. I had a fantastic singing teacher, Maureen Scott, who guided me through my surgery and a wonderful vocal therapist called Dr Rehab afterwards.

“Our voices change and develop as we age and making this show has really empowered me to sing with my own authentic voice. I love singing Kate Bush and Julie Andrews’ songs too and enjoy the vocal gymnastics of switching between styles.” 

Did you have to re-find your voice after the operation for the cysts?

“I did a month of vocal therapy six times a day. The minimum recovery time from surgery is four weeks and I only had four weeks and a day before opening in Julie Madly Deeply in Toronto, so I had to focus entirely on getting match fit.

“The first time I sang after the operation it was like night and day from singing pre-surgery. My voice has been strong and happy since then and I’ve never looked back.” 

Describe a singer’s fear of being treated as damaged goods after an operation…

“At the time I felt vulnerable and also very angry because I knew it wasn’t true. It was someone else’s idea which I had absorbed. Singers get injuries just like athletes and there was no reason for me to feel any different.

“What happens to us is not our shame and I should never have been made to feel embarrassed or that I needed to hide the truth. The Silent Treatment is my response to being told I needed to stay quiet about my experience. I believe it’s a story which needed to be told and I know I’m not alone in this.” 

“What the mind forgets, the body remembers,” you say. How have you dealt with that psychologically and physically?

“I’ve been through talking therapy and practice movement as part of my creative process. Our bodies have an incredible higher wisdom and if we listen to them, they will often guide us in the right direction.

“I’ve been mentoring a number of other artists recently and one of the things we explore is readiness to tell your story. Although the rehearsal room can feel therapeutic at times, the performer must be on the right side of therapy before they share that work with a paying audience.

“It must be safe for them and their public to perform the show. If it isn’t, in my opinion, then you might not be ready yet.”

The voice is the most vulnerable, personal, unpredictable instrument, even by comparison with a highly-strung guitar or piano. The only human instrument too.

Why are we not more understanding of its delicate nature for performers, who often pray to “Dr Theatre” to continue performing, as you did for so many years?

“Unless you are fortunate enough to have a laryngoscopy, the voice remains invisible to most people. It is a mysterious instrument and everyone’s voice is unique to them.

“I hope for the next generation of performers there will be more compassion and understanding moving forward,” says Sarah-Louise. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

“Some singers swear by gargling with cider vinegar, others smoke 20 cigarettes a day and still sing like an angel (although this isn’t a behaviour I endorse for obvious reasons).

“History also has fetishised singers who push themselves to the edge: Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Amy Winehouse, for example. How can these incredible voices come from such damaged people?

“We love watching people on the edge, on a tightrope, and when they fall, we make them martyrs for their art.

“It’s getting better for performers now, partly thanks to high-profile artists like Adele going public with their vocal challenges and partly, I think, because in general we’re waking up to the importance of looking after our mental health.

“Our voices and our well-being are intrinsically linked, and I hope for the next generation of performers there will be more compassion and understanding moving forward.

“I was chatting to the principal of an Australian musical theatre course recently and he told me they get all their students scoped in the first term, so not only do they see and understand their voices, but they also have a visual record for the rest of their careers to refer back to if they run into any difficulties.

“Had that been available to me all those years ago, I might have discovered my issue decades earlier.” 

Did your voice change after the cysts were removed?

“The tone and sound was the same, but it was much stronger and I don’t have any breathiness any more, even when I’m tired.” 

How does your voice behave now?

“It’s a joy to sing and I have no concerns whatsoever.” 

How do you take care of your voice on tour, at the Fringe etc?

“Out of habit from so many years of looking after myself, I tend not to drink alcohol when I’m working but that is as much about mental clarity as vocal care. I used to have acid reflux but I don’t any more, so I mainly focus on getting good sleep, staying hydrated and warming down after a show as well as warming up.” 

Are you off to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer?

“I’ll be there for the first week to bed-in two shows I’ve directed: Gertrude Lawrence – A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening, with Lucy Stevens, and Kravitz, Cohen, Bernstein And Me with Deb Filler. I’ll also be running a drop-in for solo performers on August 7, offering solidarity and support to artists on their own.” 

Sarah-Louise Young in The Silent Treatment, Theatre@41, Monkgate, tomorrow (16/7/2023), 7pm. Box office:

The last idea of the day at 2020 York Festival of Ideas: Tales From My Shed, Tim Dowling’s talk, 7pm, 14/6/2020

Tim Dowling: Shed tales in lockdown

THE Guardian writer Tim Dowling closes the door on the 2020 York Festival of Ideas by shedding light on shed life in lockdown.

In this evening’s closing online talk, he asks: “What happens when a global pandemic shrinks life to a claustrophobic domestic sphere? Some of us adapt, some of us protest, some of us reassess our goals…”

…and some of us, like Tim Dowling, “barely notice the difference”. How come?

For 12 years, Dowling has chronicled a life of small nothings in his Guardian column. Suddenly, in these Covid-19 times, he finds the rest of the world is taking to the bunker too.

Who better to explore life in lockdown at a festival brimful of isolation ideas than this “leading expert in never going anywhere if he can help it”.  

Dowling did make one big move, however: he first came to Britain from the United States at the age of 27. Now, in addition to his column in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, he is the author of such books as How To Be A Husband and Dad You Suck.

Happy to be joining that CV is How To Be Happy All The Time, his audiobook on the subject of cynicism. Cynics will not be surprised to learn the audiobook is short. Happiness never lasts, as we cynics know.

You can, nevertheless, find it from 7pm to 8pm this evening when joining Dowling, albeit remotely, in his shed world. Online admission is free, but booking is required at:

Brought to you virtually by the University of York, York Festival of Ideas concludes today. Visit for full details of this afternoon and evening’s programme.

Will the last one out tonight, please turn off the virtual festival light. See you next June.