REVIEW: Adrian Lukis in Being Mr Wickham, Original Theatre Company, Haunted Season, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
TWO years ago, 25 years on from filming the BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, actor Adrian Lukis started thinking about still being Mr Wickham, having “defended his dubious reputation” for so long.
What would have become of Jane Austen’s Georgian rogue George, or “What happens to a rake when he can’t rake anymore,” as Lukis asked himself?
Harper Lee revisited the characters of To Kill A Mockingbird in Go Set A Watchman; Danny Boyle’s 2017 film T2: Trainspotting picked up the story of Mark Renton, Sick Boy and co 20 years on; in this instance, the writing falls to Lukis and Georgian storyteller Catherine Curzon.
Refracting Austen’s vilified character through their shared lens for a one-man character study set 30 years down the line of worn time, Lukis’s Wickham is now 60, still charming, with aching knees and wife Lydia waiting in the bedroom, as he tells his side of the story.
Lukis reimagined him living in reduced circumstances, having gambled his way through his £3,000 pay-off from Darcy, no longer reliant on his looks and his wits, having left behind the dissolute London life. Maybe he was residing in Yeovil, or maybe running a small business in Malmesbury, definitely he was looking out of the window for the tittle-tattle of life across the way, so he told Thursday’s audience in the Q&A after the 75-minute performance.
Lukis constructed an earlier version of this monologue but found his ageing Wickham too sleazy. Lockdown enabled him and Curzon to create Wickham mark two: a rake raking over the coals and setting the record straight. Actors must always empathise with whoever they play, runs the advice to those playing the villain of the piece, and Lukis warms to that task with relish as he reacquaints himself with “my old friend”.
Yes, Wickham was “a bit of player”, yes he behaved badly, even disgracefully on occasion, but as Lukis said afterwards, but wouldn’t you rather have a night out with gorgeous, affable George than Darcy?
Significantly, Lukis said he treated this Wickham as a new character when writing and playing him, rather than as the Austen rogue he played in Andrew Davies’s adaptation. What emerges is a story of loss, exits; his rueful reflections on Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy and Lord Byron; the blood, the smell, the gore, of the Waterloo battlefield. What has Wickham achieved at 60? He has survived, he says. He has survived, he repeated.
Being Mr Wickham is beautifully detailed, from the elaborate Georgian phrasing of Lukis and Curzon to Libby Watson’s faded drawing room design, to Guy Unsworth’s immaculately composed direction and Lukis’s eloquent, elegant performance.
Life with a scandalous scoundrel is never dull and it certainly still isn’t in Being Mr Wickham, even if the heat has gone out of the day and those knees are aching ever more.
One last story from the Q&A: when first meeting for filming, actress Susannah Harker (Jane Bennet) misheard Lukis, thinking he said he was the wig man and promptly asking him to make adjustments. No, he would be playing Mr Wickham, he corrected her, and he is still being Mr Wickham to charming effect all these years later.
BILL Ward and Wendi Peters, who shared four years together on Coronation Street, are reuniting for the Haunted Season at York Theatre Royal.
From tomorrow to Saturday, they will be taking prominent roles as Baltus Van Tassel and Mariette respectively in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, replete with illusions by Back To The Future Musical’s Filipe J Carvalho.
In Irving’s infamous story, Hallowmas celebrations are fast approaching, when the residents of Sleepy Hollow spin tall tales of legends and unsightly entities, but who can tell truth from nightmare?
Enter Ichabod Crane into an eerie world of secrets and unsettling tradition as he starts his teaching post. When disturbing events overwhelm the small town, however, he finds himself swept up in a dangerous mystery that leaves him doubting his own sanity.
Here Bill and Wendi discuss their present and past roles, horror stories and what scares them.
How would you describe the show and your character?
Bill: “The show is a high energy, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Part horror, part comedy. Very physical. Think Hammer House of Horror meets Kneehigh. We’re all multi-role playing, which will be great fun.
“My main character is Baltus Van Tassel, who’s the elder statesman of the village, who’s trying to keep the village together during some pretty tricky times.
“But I also get to play a naughty 90-year-old female cook, a hard-drinking coach driver and a crazy, delusional Dutch captain. What’s not to like?!”
Wendi: “It’s a folk horror: intriguing, scary, clever, witty with spectacular illusions. You’ll be on the edge of your seat! My main character, Mariette, is the strange widow of Sleepy Hollow.
“She lives on the outskirts of the village, alone, and has a few secrets that are revealed throughout the play. She takes Ichabod under her wing when he arrives and insists that he stay with her.”
What drew you to the play initially?
Bill: “The story – it’s a classic. I was particularly intrigued as to how they were going to do the Headless Horseman. There’s a fair amount of magic both in the story and also our telling of it. Putting that kind of a thing onto a stage is always good fun.
“Plus the physicality. I like doing plays where movement is an integral part of the show, and this is very much like that.”
Wendi: “I loved the script, it’s very clever, with multi-role playing, which is always great fun. I couldn’t put it down. I’d never seen the film but knew of the story. This is a completely new, and wonderful, adaptation by Philip Meeks. I’ve also never appeared in a horror piece, so was intrigued by that. It’s really exciting!”
Were you familiar with the original Washington Irving text, or had you seen other adaptations of the tale, and will you be drawing inspiration from them?
Bill: “It’s obviously a very famous tale – a classic – but actually I hadn’t read it till now. I loved it. It’s surprisingly short as a story, only 20 to 30 pages long. What’s interesting about that is that the shell of the story, the structure if you like, is there, but what each adaptation does is to fill in the considerable blanks for themselves.
“What the original story is big on is mystery and mood – so I’m sure we’ll be taking a fair bit of that and sprinkling it into our production.”
Wendi: “I wasn’t familiar with the text and I’d never seen the film. I knew the story and started watching the film but, 20 minutes in, I stopped it. It’s so very different from our adaptation, and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really enjoying it.
“Our production is so much more exciting and moves at such a fast pace. I’m seeing this as a whole new piece of writing and story, and I love the idea of creating something from scratch.”
Have you worked with any of the cast or creative team previously?
Bill: “Yes, I was lucky enough to work with Wendi [Peters] for four or so years, quite a few years ago now on Coronation Street. Great fun. I was playing a pretty nasty piece of work, Charlie Stubbs, and I remember the show would often cut from scenes involving my character wandering around being hugely unpleasant, to Wendi’s character, Cilla, mucking about in a bubble bath with the family dog.
“I also know the writer, Philip [Meeks], from panto among many other things. Not only is he a great playwright and screenwriter, he’s also a rather brilliant dame. We worked together up in Sunderland a few Christmases ago. Happy days.”
Wendi: “Most of the cast are a lot younger than me, so our paths haven’t crossed. It feels strange to now be the mother, sometimes grandmother, of the cast. I guess I’m getting old. However, Bill and I worked together at Corrie. We were there over the same four-year period but our characters were rarely in the same storyline. It’s going to be great to catch-up again after 14 years.”
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow promises to shock and scare audiences. What scares you the most?
Bill: “Heights. Can’t stand them. I’ll do anything to avoid them. Urgh!”
Wendi: “I’d say, on the whole, I’m quite a brave person, although I don’t like, or watch, many horror films. I don’t really believe in the paranormal. I once did a ghost-hunting programme and found it quite funny. Having said that, I don’t like the dark much, especially in the situations I’m unsure of.”
Why has The Headless Horseman – a legendary figure in the horror genre – stood the test of time?
Bill: “Because it plays to our imaginations and to one of our strongest emotions: fear. Fear of the dark. Of death. Of the fantastical. Of being caught in a chase you cannot possibly win – the stuff of nightmares the world over.
“The Headless Horseman was arguably one of the first true horror creations: larger than life and truly unforgettable.”
Wendi: “I think it was one of the first horror stories written and creates such a vivid image in people’s head. Hopefully, when people see our production, they’ll take away more than just an image in their heads.”
What do you want audiences to take away from this production?
Bill: “The thing that theatre does so well: that sense of being transported, for a couple of hours, toanother world entirely. It’ll be an energetic, enjoyable, scary, funny, night out. And I really think we’ve all missed that, as a country, and as a community over the last 18 months: that sense ofbeing out, together, having fun, sharing and telling stories.”
Wendi: “It’s been such a terrible 18 months for theatre, both for actors and audiences, that I think everyone will be thrilled to be there and just be entertained.
“As a piece, I’d like them to come away having been scared and on the edge of their seats, but also having relaxed and laughed. They will go away with a few questions too, hopefully.”
What is the biggest difference for you between performing on stage and screen?
Bill: “Rehearsals! They pretty much don’t exist in television anymore, certainly not in the serial dramas and soaps. That’s one of the things that makes TV so invigorating to do: bringing your performance in on the day, standing, and delivering, knowing you have 40 minutes to nail it.
“But I love the sense of exploration you get with theatre: that sense of looking at a piece of writing (particularly a new piece of writing like this) from a number of different angles, and directions, trying all sorts of things out on the rehearsal-room floor, and seeing what best serves the play.”
Wendi: “I’ve been so lucky, having worked in all aspects of theatre, TV and radio. I love that it never seems monotonous or boring and enjoy learning new things too.
“The main difference is the level of playing. On stage, you are performing to hundreds and have to make sure the back row is included. I love touring because you are in a new space each week to explore your performance.
“TV is much more intimate and held back. I love doing both but if I had to choose one for the rest of my career, it would definitely be theatre.”
What are you most looking forward to while on tour?
Bill: “I’ve always been a bit of a traveller at heart. I’ve been round the world with a backpack a couple of times. So, I love getting out and about around the country, especially to towns and cities, and theatres, I haven’t spent time in before. A real treat. Oh, and I’ll be taking my camera, as always.”
Wendi: “Seeing a couple of theatres that I haven’t worked at before, but mainly just being back on stage, entertaining audiences, and doing the job I love.”
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, York Theatre Royal, October 5 to 9, 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
New Adventures in Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season, tonight at 7.30pm; tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
THE last and only time the now knighted doyen of dandy dance Matthew Bourne was at York Theatre Royal, he vowed in a post-show Q&A that he would return, when possible, with another mid-scale touring show.
York had to wait 30 years for that first visit by the Londoner in March 2017, but this week his company is back, and so is Bourne, who agreed at short notice last night to do another question-and-answer session after tonight’s show. Do stay, o’ lucky ticket holder, because his words are as engrossing as his storytelling dance theatre shows.
After all, not a word is said in the world premiere of The Midnight Bell, but there is evocative 1930s’ music aplenty – dancers miming in character to the oh-so English Al Bowlly at the triple, Elisabeth Welch and Leslie A. “Hutch” Hutchinson’s male interpretation of George and Ira Gershwin’s The Man I Love – to complement Terry Davies’s nightlife score and Paul Groothuis’s superb sound design, ear-piercing tinnitus screeching, rain dancing on the roof, et al.
What’s more, inspired by the novels of Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton, Bourne’s storytelling through dance is so expressive that he creates a narrative language in visual form, where you find yourself drawn to each character’s path as seamlessly as that story moves from beautifully framed scene to beautifully framed scene on yet another wondrous set design by CharlesHutchPress’s favourite designer, Lez Brotherston, down to the ever-changing skyline that matches the mood of the scene.
Even the Magritte-style multitude of suspended window frames, the ever-populated bed and the pub bar move with the graceful swish of choreography, and there is wit too: a red telephone box is represented by only the Telephone neon sign and the top of the box; the phone itself is pulled discreetly from the jacket of waiter Bob (Paris Fitzpatrick).
As for Brotherston’s costume designs, there would surely be no Wintour of discontent from Dame Anna. Lines, contours, hats, correspondent brogues, here is such elegance to meet Bourne’s eloquence in sensuous movement.
Bizarrely, a notice by the box office carrying myriad warnings of what lay in store included the sight of underwear, to go with the tinnitus sound, flashing lights, haze, cigarettes (of the non-nicotine variety) and more besides involving strangulation. Bourne could be spotted removing it at the interval, unhappy with the wording.
Well, it made a change from all those Covid notices and “feel free to wear masks” requests that pretty much everybody seems to be feeling free to ignore in theatres.
As for being alarmed by exposure to “underwear”, where would that leave designers for dance companies galore, let alone pop ingenue videos?
Anyway, your reviewer digresses, dear reader. The Midnight Bell, set in the pub of that name, the surrounding bedsitland, rooms to rent, gated park, members-only club and cinema seats of London, is billed as a “dance exploration of intoxicated tales from darkest Soho, delving into the underbelly of early 1930s’ London life”.
Devised and directed by Bourne, he peoples the tavern with a lonely hearts’ club of drinkers and staff; troubled souls more at the unhappy hour, rather than happy hour, stage of intoxication.
All have a drink in one hand, slammed down on tables at the outset. All are looking for a refill as much of the heart as the glass, or at least some form of connection, but will they be sated or are they destined for the loneliness of the lovelorn?
What couplings will end up in that bed in cleverly overlapping storylines involving a young prostitute, Jenny (Bryony Wood), the waiter, the barmaid Ella (Bryony Harrison) and the oddball regular Mr Eccles (Reece Causton)?
Then there’s the bespectacled lonely spinster Miss Roach (Michela Meazza); the pickpocket cad Ernest Ralph Gorse (Glenn Graham); the out-of-work actress Netta Longdon (Daisy May Kemp), and the schizophrenic, tinnitus-troubled George Harvey Bone (thickly bearded, heavy-suited Richard Winsor).
The forbidden The Man I Love storyline entwines West End chorus boy Albert (Liam Mower) with new customer Frank (Andrew Monaghan), taking risks in that repressed era, captured in the Bourne’s best, serpentine choreography of another extraordinary show.
He calls these stories of requited and more often unrequited love in restlessly on-edge London “bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption”. “Bitter comedies” is spot on, the humour being as dark as porter in this neon-lit world, but all life is here, sad, bad, mad, yet hopefully happy hereafter too, stamped with the exhilarating Bourne identity, panache and punch exercised in equal measure.
THE Headless Horseman is galloping apace towards York Theatre Royal for the Haunted Season.
Coronation Street alumni Wendi Peters and Bill Ward will lead the cast in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, on tour in ever-spooky York from October 5 to 9, replete with illusions by Back To The Future Musical’s Filipe J Carvalho.
In Irving’s infamous story, Hallowmas celebrations are fast approaching, when the residents of Sleepy Hollow spin tall tales of legends and unsightly entities. Who can tell truth from nightmare, however?
Enter Ichabod Crane into an eerie world of secrets and unsettling tradition as he arrives in Sleepy Hollow to become the town teacher. While quickly finding friendship with the town patriarch and his spirited daughter, his presence is not wholly welcome.
Not all is as it seems, for Ichabod Crane harbours his own dark secret. He is not in Sleepy Hollow by chance. When disturbing events overwhelm the small town, he finds himself swept up in a dangerous mystery that leaves him doubting his own sanity.
Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollowis undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The story has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good story. It’s an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.
“This production has allowed an incredible ensemble of actors to viscerally and inventively bring the Hollow to life. It’s a piece that shines on our actors’ athleticism, which is really exciting as we look to theatre returning. We look forward to transporting the audience through a quest of logic and illusion, creating fear and defying expectation.”
For Philip Meeks, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow follows the 2017 premiere of Murder Margaret And Me into York Theatre Royal, where earlier his play about the dying embers of a pantomime dame, Twinkle, Little Star, ran in the Studio in April 2008.
“I’m a huge horror fan; the history of Gothic, the history of horror; if I was going to do an MA, it would be on the horror medium,” says Philip, who shares an agent and indeed an imagination with director Jake Smith.
“The agent lives in a caravan in Marsden Grotto, next to Mam’s house in South Shields. There was a project I was working on where it looked like the director was going to drop out and I said, ‘what about Jake doing it?’, as I’d heard good things about him.
“Now, I like to think of us as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee! He’s got this great visual energy as a director and the work he’s done has all been fantastic.
“We think very much alike and sometimes it’s hard to know who’s the 50-year-old [Meeks] and who’s the 30-year-old [Smith]!”
Smith, who stayed with Meeks when he was holding auditions, has been drawn to horror previously, doing a “sort of Hound Of The Baskervilles before the current plethora of productions of that story”. “He does a lot of writing too, and we have the same sense of humour, laughing a lot even when we shouldn’t,” says Philip.
“As a result, I’ve been in rehearsals a lot, with me as the Richard Osman figure on Pointless, chipping in from the corner.”
What drew Meeks and Smith to The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow? “It’s a piece that’s not really been done a lot before, probably because it’s a short piece , but it’s a story that people turn to in times of existential fear,” says Philip.
“It’s not about blood and gore; it’s about people in society, exploring human nature, thinking, ‘My god, how would I cope?’.
“It came to the fore in the late 1970s/1980s when there was the last horror boom because of the fear of nuclear war and the apocalypse, and in 2021 what we’re afraid of is the breakdown of society. The most popular form now is folk horror, and Washington Irving’s story was the first example of that.
“America was not the home of horror but they certainly explored it there, and Washington Irving really did explore it, writing at a time when narrative fiction was quite new.
“He was a journalist and a factual writer who dabbled in fiction, but he wrote his factual pieces very buoyantly with a great prose style, and that’s why his writing captured the imagination, because it was very accessible.”
Meeks’s play is a “true act of adaptation, taking these characters and the story into a different medium”. “The legend is told to scare off Ichabod Crane, and we’ve kept that but we’re telling the story with a contemporary twist.
“I wanted to put a heart into it, using the device of a confidante for Ichabod, so I’ve created Mariette, played by Wendi Peters.”
Philip is hugely influenced by Hammer Horror, “even though people think of those films as being schlocky, especially with the Dracula franchise at the end”. “The story I’ve chosen to tell has a lot of elements from Hammer Horror, aside from its themes of corruption or belief or lack of belief.
“Ichabod only believes in science and technology; the rest believe in god knows what. The future is ichabod thinking he is God, so there’s the dawn of scientology.
“But with a monster you must bring an element of heart and humanity to them, like with Frankenstein’s monster.”
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow runs at York Theatre Royal from October 5 to 9, 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
ZIMBAMWEAN writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu’s new one-man show, Mugabe, My Dad & Me, appears in York Theatre Royal’s brochures for both the Summer Of Love and The Haunted Season.
“Which one suits it best, Tonderai?”, he is asked, when shown both. He smiles, then decides: “I think ‘Haunted’. It sounds longer lasting. ‘The Summer Of Love’ sounds impermanent.”
Tonderai is sitting by the first-floor bar at the Theatre Royal, ahead of his long-promised, pandemic-delayed world premiere opening tonight (9/9/2021), directed by Theatre Royal associate artist John R Wilkinson.
“I did a job in Bristol, then one week off, and we were going into rehearsals when everything stopped,” he says. “It’s just been postponed and postponed but I’m glad that John and the Theatre Royal have stuck with it.”
Mugabe, My Dad & Me, running until September 18 in the main house, charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century through the personal story of Tonderai’s Zimbabwean family and his relationship with his father, against the backdrop of the abiding legacy of British colonisation.
“Around the time when Robert Mugabe was deposed as president in 2017, I just felt like I needed to be back there,” he recalls. “At that point, I hadn’t been there for a few years, not for safety, but more for work and family. I found it was triggering a reaction in me, thinking, ‘I’m going to be in England, and not part of this amazing turnaround’, when I want to experience it’.”
Initially, Tonderai pondered doing a play based solely on freedom fighter-turned despot Mugabe’s speeches from 1962 to 2017, or “potentially to 2018, when he did that final press conference that was so telling”. “But then I thought, when I looked at my father’s story, being born in subjugated Rhodesia, I should tell that story too,” he says.
“I just knew my father’s basic story; I knew he was my dad; he drank too much; he womanised; he was fantastic, such fun, but he was a wife beater too. He lost his job as an accountant – I was about 11; he was in his 40s – and life just changed for him at that point.
“Just as Mugabe’s speeches changed from calling for equality and England knighting him to the speeches of the 1990s and his fall-out with [international development secretary] Clare Short and ‘Prime Minister] Tony Blair, going against the Lancaster Agreement, over how land was to be dealt with and how people would be compensated. That fall-out led to an impoverishment of Zimbabwe that was unparalleled.”
Based in London, Tonderai set to writing Mugabe, My Dad And Me. “I knew if I made it too political, we’d lose the sense of a story being told, but if we could see it through a family’s eyes, with the story of my father dying in an impoverished state, after I left for England with my mother when I was 12, that would work better,” he says.
“The story of Zimbabwe is the story of Mugabe and the story of my father’s generation, but also the story of my generation, who have moved away from home and are grappling with who they are, when you’re asked, ‘Where do you belong?’, and you know you are technically part of that culture but you’re not there anymore, so where do you belong?”
A quarter of Zimbabweans left southern Africa in the big exodus around 2003. “That happened once the economy tanked, the white farmers left and the land was not being cultivated. It started a very tragic downward turn,” says Tonderai.
What about his father losing his job? How come? “The issue involved my father and another accountant at work having a dispute. They said my father wouldn’t be fired if he offered an apology, but he felt hard done by and so he didn’t apologise.” Instead, he left the company.
“My mother and I then left [for London] before it got really bad for him, and I would keep in touch with letters, but not really knowing how things were for him. But then, when I went back, I learnt what really happened, with my uncle being killed when he was only 17 by white Rhodesians who had paraded his body as a warning to those who were guerrilla-fighting in the fields for freedom,” says Tonderai.
“My family was never offered the land that was promised to freedom fights, so Mugabe didn’t deliver on that promise. There’s no-one with moral authority in this story as you can’t defend Mugabe, but equally Blair had a superficiality about him.”
Learning more of his father and his family’s back story led Tonderai to feel more sympathetic towards him. “Though my mother says, ‘No, whatever happens in your life, it doesn’t justify you being a wife-beating, womanising drinker’.”
As for Tonderai’s own sense of identity as an African, Catholic, gay artist, he says: “It had always been connected with Mugabe’s long, long life, like his contemporaries, The Queen and Prince Philip. Now I had to grapple with the President no longer being on pictures everywhere, but also that joy that now we have a democracy, we can protest on the street.
“I started looking at things, about where I wanted to be, and I wanted to understand myself, and part of that was understanding my father. If you’re an artist, you’re an emotionally and intellectually mature person, and I want to investigate that.”
Nothing is simple in his assessment. “The colonisers were ostensibly a negative force in that land, but in some ways positive too, just as Mugabe was an icon of liberation but then tainted by his later actions, and my father was an amazing man, but he was violent too,” says Tonderai.
“In Africa, we have been colonised, but we have colonised ourselves too…some people think Zimbabwe is worse now [post-Mugabe]. I think it’s a very journey to having the opportunity for young people to have the choice of what happens in that country because Zimbabwe is still locked into that thing of ‘What war did you fight in? Why do you, as a young person, have the right to say what Zimbabwe should be?’.
“It does feel like we have to wait for a while to see what the future path will be for Zimbabwe. We have a military hold on religion. You feel despondency because you have hope, just like in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela’s presidency, so when we start looking at African culture, maybe it will be more attuned to Marxism, Socialism for sure, but not democracy as it stands now.
“What I have to do humbly in this story is to show how complex it is and to say there are no easy solutions.”
Tonderai ponders: “Is it more helpful to say that humans have always done it – subjugating people – but we don’t have to define ourselves now by the same standards, when we solve our problems by focusing on our resources, on education, to be fully human, without racism.
“Rather than having to be respected by a white person, or a white person having to admit that they did wrong, instead our priority is our children and our sense of worth that is not defined by subjugation or being considered lesser by another race.
“We move forward. The broader thing that has humbled me in doing Mugabe, My Dad & Me is I could write something where everything feels it’s about race, but instead in this play I’m writing about my culture, the complexities of that legacy and now not defining myself as a migrant in Britain. No-one is ever just a ‘migrant’.”
Tonderai, who last took to the Theatre Royal stage in Eclipse Theatre’s touring production of Testament’s Black Men Walking in September 2019, turns to discussing the “Me” in Mugabe, My Dad & Me. “There’s a point in this play when I say ‘I’m a gay man, I’ve just got engaged and I’m getting married next year’, and though there’s a necessity to say it, I’m a free man and I’m incredibly privileged to be supported,” he says.
“I think my father always liked me because I was confident, erudite, intelligent, fun, and for my father in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, he loved that about me, and I loved that about him. My parents were both bright people and I loved that about them.
“My father said, in the last conversation we ever had, ‘I know I don’t have to ask you if you have a wife’. My feeling is, I think he knew I was gay, rather than him saying I was too young to marry!”
Writing Mugabe, My Dad & Me has proved cathartic for Tonderai. “Yes, things have been resolved by writing it. I think I know who I am now because of writing it; I’m definitely a writer because, until I wrote this play, there were things that I’d never written about; things that were holding me hostage,” he says.
“I never had a straight answer about Zimbabwe, but to have the confidence to be able to talk to a white farmer, Ben, about his life there was important to me. He knew everything by the book and had a very clear argument as to what he thought.
“When I was doing my preparation for this play, I would say, ‘hey, I’m writing this play and I’d like a white man’s perspective on Zimbabwe’, and to have a conversation with such clarity about being Zimbabwean was fantastic. We’re friends now.
“Ironically, he stayed in Zimbabwe, unlike me, and his rhythms of life are dovetailed with the rhythms of nature.”
The pandemic lockdowns have held back the premiere of Mugabe, My Dad & Me, but that has worked to Tonderai’s advantage. “Originally, it was going to be in the Studio, but I’ve always wanted to be on the main stage with a piece like this because I believe it can hold the main stage and I can hold the main stage, and I’m really excited to be performing it on that stage,” he says.
Summing up his one-man show about three men, Tonderai says: “This play is not a raking-up of the past; it’s a play about the present. One of the things that the pandemic has made us realise is that a leader can **** up a country, and sometimes in Europe, we don’t realise how dangerous it is to put people in this position, taking you in a dangerous direction.”
Cue Mugabe, My Dad And Me, premiering from tonight in English Touring Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s co-production in York. For tickets: 01904 623568 or online at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
ONCE nights start to draw in, York Theatre Royal will fill its stage with spirits and shadows in The Haunted Season from September 9.
In the home of the restless ghost of the Grey Lady, world premieres by Emma Rice, Matthew Bourne and Tonderai Munyevu will be complemented by scary appearances by horror favourites Dracula, The Hound Of the Baskervilles and the Headless Horseman.
As trailered in CharlesHutchPress, Emma Rice’s Wise Children will complete a hattrick of Theatre Royal visits with Rice’s new adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a Theatre Royal co-production with the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic from November 9 to 20.
Lucy McCormick will play Cathy in this world premiere as Rice’s visual and musical style brings new life to this epic Yorkshire story of love, revenge and redemption.
“It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights,” says Rice, who presented Angela Carter’s Wise Children at the Theare Royal in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers that September.
“So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope but there was no need. Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.”
Earlier in the Haunted Season, from September 30 to October 2, will be the world premiere of celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, a dance exploration of “intoxicated tales from darkest Soho”, inspired by English novelist and Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton.
Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life, this New Adventures show invites audiences to step inside The Midnight Bell, a tavern where one particular lonely hearts club gathers to play out lovelorn affairs of the heart: bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.
The Theatre Royal had to wait for 30 years for Londoner Sir Matthew Bourne, doyen of dandy dance, to bring a show to York for the first time on his Early Adventures tour in March 2017 after he introduced mid-scale touring. The Theatre Royal promptly booked his next tour, Matthew Bourne’s Deadly Serious, but that visit never materialised. Now, however, Bourne is back with his Soho tales.
The season will open with another world premiere, Zimbabwean writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me from September 9 to 18. His high-voltage one-man show charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century, Robert Mugabe, through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father as he considers familial love, identity and what it means to be “home”.
Playwright (and pantomime dame to boot) Philip Meeks has history at York Theatre Royal in the form of Twinkle, Little Star, starring Nottingham Playhouse panto legend Kenneth Alan Taylor in the Studio in 2008 and the 2017 world premiere of Murder, Margaret and Me, his comedy-thriller of imagined meetings between crime novelist and playwright Agatha Christie and actress Margaret Rutherford.
Now Meeks will return with his stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale of the Headless Horseman, from October 5 to 9, when Wendi Peters, from Coronation Street, and Bill Ward, from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Before We Die, will lead the cast and Filipe J Carvalho will provide the stage illusions.
Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The production has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good ghost story. It is an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.”
Two familiar figures from the world of horror will put in appearances at the Haunted Season, albeit maybe not in the expected manner. Kings of comedy Le Navet Bete will sink their teeth into Dracula: The Bloody Truth on September 24 and 25, mixing slapstick with carefully crafted comedy and a healthy dose of things going wrong as the action moves from dark and sinister Transylvania to the “awkwardly charming seaside town of Whitby”.
From October 19 to 23, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective story The Hound Of The Baskervilles will be given a humorous overhaul in a Lotte Wakeham production where farce collides with theatrical invention and comic performances.
Pride And Prejudice’s most roguish gentleman, George Wickham, will seek to set the record straight when Adrian Lukis performs in Being Mr Wickham from October 14 to 16. Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the BBC TV adaptation, will reveal what really happened with Darcy, how he felt about Lizzie and, of course, what happened at Waterloo.
Two dance companies will return to the Theatre Royal stage: Ballet Black on October 26 and Phoenix Dance Theatre on November 23 and 24.
Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black Double Bill will feature Then And Now, wherein Will Tuckett blends classical ballet, poetry and music to explore ideas of home and belonging, and fellow Olivier Award-winning choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s contemplation of the purpose of life in The Waiting Game.
Leeds company Phoenix Dance Theatre will be celebrating 40 Years Of Phoenix with a birthday programme of work by international and award-winning choreographers, including former artistic directors and collaborators.
Lorne Campbell’s new theatrical version of The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff will be performed by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning trio The Young’uns – Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – from October 28 to 30.
This protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism features songs from the original album, alongside new material and animation, in the true story of a young anti-fascist’s journey from poverty and unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees through the hunger marches of the 1930s, the mass trespass movement and the Battle of Cable Street, to fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War.
On October 11 and 12, English Touring Opera will return to the Theatre Royal with Handel’s Amadigi, based on a chivalric romance about three young people imprisoned by a sorceress.
From November 2 to 6, York Opera will present The Magic Flute, Mozart’s magical and last great opera, sung in English with an orchestra.
For younger audiences, Rod Campbell’s lift-the-flap book will leap off the page in Dear Zoo Live!, a show packed full of puppetry, songs and all the animals from the zoo, on September 28 and 29.
After The Love Season and upcoming Summer Of Love, The Haunted Season will be the third of York Theatre Royal’s mini-seasons since reopening on May 17. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 and at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.