REVIEW: Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal **

Tom Chambers’ Danny Sierra in Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

AFTER a five-and-a-half-hour slog from Norfolk that felt like one long detour,  your reviewer took to his Upper Circle seat last night just in time to be greeted by the sound of a car. A cruel joke, but one in keeping with the tone of Torben Betts’s ghost story.

“It’s fair to say that Murder In The Dark is something of a departure for me as regards genre,” says Betts in his programme notes. “If I am known for anything as a playwright, it’s for dark comedies of social embarrassment with a bit of political commentary thrown in.”

What is Murder In The Dark? Despite its title, this is not a modern twist on an Agatha Christie whodunit, thereby offering an immediate contrast with Original Theatre’s last Theatre Royal visit with The Mirror Crack’d last October. An immediate contrast too for Susie Blake, swapping Miss Marple for farmer’s wife/religious zealot Mrs Bateman.

Betts’s challenge from Original Theatre artistic director Alastair Whatley was to “write something that would, hopefully, both disturb and entertain”. The result is still a dark comedy of social embarrassment, but with a bit of moralising about the price of fame thrown in, in a supernatural psychological thriller cum dysfunctional family drama.

Rather than clever twists and turns, in the sleight-of-hand manner of The Woman In Black, thudding bumps in the road are administered in the style of a horror movie with a relish for shlock humour.

Betts enjoys pulling the rug from under your presumptions from the off, even setting up a routine thriller opening where washed-up pop star Danny Sierra (Tom Chambers) and his young girlfriend Sarah (Laura White) are led into a dingy, creepy rural cottage by the strange, eerie Mrs Bateman and her scary dog (heard but never seen) after a car crash .

It is New Year’s Eve: the nearest shop is 20 miles away, but the hostile weather means they are cut off anyway; the electricity is on the blink; the television keeps sparking into life with Three Blind Mice; there is no wi-fi connection; the loo and the shower are in a shed outside.

Car crash? Rescued by a frankly weird woman? How very Kathy Bates and Misery. Susie Blake will go on to give this chameleon play’s most enjoyable performance as someone who knows more from the past than she is letting on.

Tom Chambers, by contrast, has to wade through the quagmire of playing the deeply unlovable but once adored Danny Sierra (real name Nigel Carmichael,before pop stardom came his way with Dance Party Five and their chart-topping Murder In The Dark).  

Danny is a self-pitying alcoholic, and one by one, family members from the crash arrive at the cottage to paint the full picture, the day after his mother’s funeral. His more talented, songwriter brother William (Owen Oakeshott), discarded in pursuit of fame. His ex-wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles), discarded (but he still loves her, he protests). His songwriter son Jake (Jonny Green), neglected, drifting, resentful.

In truth, they are all unappealing, not great company on stage, the general nastiness turning scenes rancid, but not aiding Betts’s pursuit of comedy, which keeps changing its tack too, briefly farce at the start of the second half, but more often clunky.

Did Jake and later Danny see a young woman in a ballerina dancer’s costume or were they imagining it? Not telling!

Perhaps this supernatural undercurrent prompted director Philip Franks to say “we’ll see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true” in Betts’s play. Hence Betts’s moralistic tone.

Horror story, nightmare, fever dream, sometimes hammy comedy thriller, suffused with ugly family politics, Murder In The Dark never settles on one path, to the detriment of being as unsettling as it needs to be. What’s more, too clever by half in its trickery, it makes less sense the more the plot thickens but unravels as logic takes a hike.

Murder In The Dark? Left in the dark, more like. Definitely not a whodunit, it ultimately has you asking Betts, “whydunit?”.

When Torben Betts had one actor in mind to play a washed-up pop star, he wrote Murder In The Dark for Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers’ troubled pop star Danny Sierra in a scene from Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

TORBEN Betts first made his mark at a North Yorkshire theatre when Alan Ayckbourn talent-spotted the fledgling playwright and gave him a residency at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1999.

That year, the Scarborough theatre presented the premiere of his debut play, A Listening Heaven.  Now, Betts’s new thriller, the ghost story Murder In The Dark, is heading to York Theatre Royal from September 19 to 23 on Original Theatre Company’s tour, directed by Philip Franks.

“Horror films have been my guilty pleasure since I was a morbid child,” says Philip, who was at the helm of Original Theatre’s touring production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d at the Theatre Royal last October too.

“Now is the time to find out whether many years’ worth of jump scares and terrible nightmares can be put to good use. We’ll also see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true.”

Betts’s setting is a modern-day New Year’s Eve, when a car crash on a lonely road brings famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra and his extended family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England.  From the moment they arrive, a sequence of inexplicable events begins to occur…and then the lights go out!  

Susie Blake, Miss Marple in last year’s visit, will play farmer’s wife Mrs Bateman alongside 2008 Strictly Come Dancing champion, Top Hat leading man and Holby City, Waterloo Road and Father Brown star Tom Chambers as Danny, Rebecca Charles as Rebecca, Jonny Green as Jake, Owen Oakeshott as William and Laura White as Sarah. 

Tom Chambers: “One of these flattering moments,” he says, of Torben Betts writing the role of Danny Sierra expressly for him

When the Covid19 pandemic shut down his tour in Dial M For Murder overnight, Tom appeared in Original Theatre’s remotely recorded lockdown film of Torben Betts’s Apollo 13: The Dark Side Of The Moon and subsequently in Original Theatre artistic director Alastair Whatley’s online piece Into The Night.

“About a year later, out of the blue I got a text from Alastair saying he’d commissioned Torben to write a ghost story with me in mind for the lead role,” he recalls. “It was one of those flattering moments you dream of!”

Ten pages arrived, then the full draft, and now here Tom is, two weeks into the tour. “The Dark Side Of The Moon was only 50 minutes. This [rather longer] new play has been really fascinating but also extremely challenging because Torben has written it like machine gunfire, firing off in all directions, so you think ‘who’s line is it next?’!”

Working on the play in rehearsals and now in its early weeks on stage, 46-year-old Tom says: “It’s one of those pieces where, as we’ve gone along, we’ve all thought on our feet, with none of us quite sure at first what it was.

“With its dysfunctional family at odds in a psychological thriller, I knew it was an emotional piece, with all the humour in there too, but you don’t know what you’re dealing with, because it is scary, funny and emotional at the same time, and so you’re not sure how the audience will take it!

“On stage, it’s become more like a dark comedy, and it’s been really interesting listening to the audience reactions and realising they’re laughing from very early on. But there are really scary moments too and a couple of twists that we’re asking people not to give away afterwards.”

Learning his lines has found Tom thinking: “Torben is like Marmite! I sort of love him and hate him at the same time. His script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn.

Tom Chambers, seated, shares a lighthearted moment with director Philip Franks in the rehearsal room for Torben Betts’s thriller Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

“I haven’t talked to him about the part, though he did sit quietly in the corner at rehearsals on a few occasions, typing away, but not interfering. Torben has allowed Philip to shave, trim and manipulate the script, letting the production grow under his directorship.”

In turn, “Philip is one of the best directors I’ve worked with, always very patient” says Tom. “He’s an actor as well as a director, and so he really lets you play with it at first, and then he very carefully re-shapes it, inspiring you with his ideas. He’s like a wonderful conductor working with an orchestra, a fantastic maestro.”

Tom describes his lead role, Danny Sierra, as a “washed-up pop star from 20 years ago”. “To play his character, to be aware of his body language, I approach him as someone who’s been in the limelight, which I’ve experienced: the shiny bits, the pitfalls, the facades, the truth and reality of how jaded he is,” he says.

“I just try to make him human. Like all of us, he tries to justify the reasons things have happened in his life. He’s made mistakes, but he does have a heart, he’s not soulless, not completely selfish.”

Danny has headed to the isolated cottage for a family funeral and must communicate with his brother for the first time in years. “Everything unravels in this old farm cottage, which is like a deserted island with very few creature comforts. That initially turns the play into a comedy, but then it becomes twisted, warped, deranged and strange, so it’s very intriguing!” says Tom.

As for the ghost story…wait and see.

Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal, September 19 to 23, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or Age guidance: 14+. 

“Torben’s script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn,” says lead actor Tom Chambers. Picture: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal ****

Doing her research: Susie Blake’s Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Ali Wright

THIS is Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, but it is Rachel Wagstaff’s play.

For the stage, she has adapted Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (whose 2022 tour was cut short before its Grand Opera House run in York) and co-adapted Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train too.

An earlier version of her take on Christie’s 1962 mystery The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side toured the UK in 2019. Now comes another crack at it for the Original Theatre Company, one that has modern sensibilities to shake up its outwardly old-fashioned mien.

Self-harm, repressed homosexuality and child loss burst through the surface in Wagstaff’s multi-layered drama rooted in the turbulence of fracturing mental health. The thunderbolt is Jane Marple’s explanation of why she has remained unmarried, still consumed by grief at her young love being shot for cowardice when serving in the First World War.

Philip Franks’s production is stylish, sharply dressed, light on its feet, played out in rooms with almost an excess of glass, in reference to the mirror of the title, reflective but also see-through. There may be plenty to hide but it can’t be hidden from view.

Adrian Linford’s open-plan, rotating setting is two-fold, serving as the grand English manor house newly acquired by an unsettling presence, American film star Marina Gregg (Sophie Ward), and her film director sixth husband of eight years, Jason Rudd (Joe McFadden), and as the home of “spinster sleuth” Jane Marple (Susie Blake) too.

Housebound and frustrated by a sprained ankle, she either sits with her knitting or takes to crutches or a walking stick, ever restless both physically and mentally.

 A third, unseen setting plays its part, a new housing estate that “alarms the villagers as much as it intrigues them”. Miss Marple’s home help, Cherry Baker (Mara Allen), has moved in there, and there is more to her than first meets the eye. It was ever thus in Christie’s world.

The price of love? Joe McFadden’s Jason Rudd and Sophie Ward’s Marina Gregg in The Mirror Crack’d. Picture: Ali Wright

Marina and hubby are making her first film in 12 years at the manor house, bringing an entourage that includes loyal servant Giuseppe Renzo (Lorenzo Martelli) and production assistant Ella Zielensky (Sarah Lowrie). Young co-star Lola Brewster (Christine Symone) is acting even more oddly than they are, as the plot thickens.

The story unfolds in flashbacks as Oliver Boot’s Inspector Craddock, sorry Chief Inspector, as he keeps correcting, conducts a murder investigation. Blake’s Miss Marple nudges her way into the case, asking the better questions, frustrating Craddock, who delightfully refers to her as his aunt.

Putting her oar in too is Dolly Bantry, former owner of the manor house, exquisitely played by character actress supreme Veronica Roberts, a superb piece of casting by Ellie Collyer-Bristow, who happened to be watching Wednesday’s performance in the next seat.

Miss Marple’s relationships with both Boot’s exasperated Craddock and Roberts’s dabbling Dolly, forever calling by, are suffused with humour in Blake’s performance, but there is intelligence, a seriousness of purpose, to her marvellous Marple. Kindness, sadness, wit and wits about her too.

McFadden’s Rudd is fiery, protective, deeply concerned for Marina’s mental wellbeing, but what is his motive? Ward’s Marina is damaged, graceful, charming when the moment takes her, but capricious, cold, dismissive…and mysterious. Ice and fire, guilt and regret, where will it lead?

Franks’s direction skilfully balances the humour, the double-act to-and fro of both Marple & Dolly and Marple and Craddock, with the darkness of Marina’s troubles. The smoothly interjected yet jolting flashbacks intensify the intrigue, bringing super-fan Heather Leigh (Jules Melvin) into the plot, although Craddock keeps on blocking the attempts of her husband Cyril (David Partridge) to do likewise in a well-worked running gag.

Why do theatres – as well as TV – keep doing whodunits? A midweek packed auditorium would tell you why: we love a mystery to solve, trying to work it out before the sleuth, and when that story is told as adeptly as it is by Wagstaff with direction and performances to match, then crack on with The Mirror Crack’d.

Original Theatre Company in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal, Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Once she played Margaret Rutherford, now Susie Blake is the new Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d on tour at York Theatre Royal

Susie Blake’s Miss Marple in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, a play where she is on a chair, on crutches and on a stick. Picture: Ali Wright

SUSIE Blake returns to York Theatre Royal to play Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth Miss Marple in The Original Theatre Company’s touring production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d.

She last appeared there in February 2017 in the premiere of Murder, Margaret And Me, cast as Margaret Rutherford, such a memorable Miss Marple on the big screen, as recalled in a Philip Meeks drama that explored the relationship between the actress and queen of crime writers.

Now she stars in Rachel Wagstaff’s new adaptation of Christie’s 1962 novel The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side that aims to bring emotional depth and psychological insight to a story of secrets, loss and revenge, performing in a company with strong Yorkshire links.

Co-stars Sophie Ward and Joe McFadden had regular roles in the moorland series Heartbeat, as did director Philip Franks, last seen in York as the devilishly disdainful Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show at the Grand Opera House in March.

Susie Blake with The Mirror Crack’d co-star Sophie Ward. Picture: Ali Wright

“I’ve always wanted to play Miss Marple, since the 1960s when I saw Margaret Rutherford playing her. Her character performance immediately drew you in,” says Susie, who follows in the footsteps of Angela Lansbury in the 1980 film of The Mirror Crack’d and Joan Hickson and Julia McKenzie in television adaptations in 1992 and 2011 respectively.

“I loved her Lady Bracknell in [Oscar Wilde’s] The Importance Of Being Earnest, her Madame Arcati in [Noel Coward’s] Blithe Spirit. I loved her so much. I know she’s not fashionable any more as Miss Marple but I was drawn in as a child, seeing her as this safe, cuddly lady who would work things out for you.

“I thought ‘that’s what I want to do with my life’ – to tell stories and be part of mysteries because every play is a mystery, isn’t it? You don’t know what’s going to happen until the end.”

Playing Rutherford in Murder, Margaret And Me has “not really” influenced Susie’s own performance as Miss Marple. “Philip, our director, said, ‘This is your interpretation now, Susie, no-one else’s. We’ve got to find your interpretation’.

Susie Blake’s Miss Marple, on the phone and on her stick in a scene from The Original Theatre Company’s The Mirror Crack’d. Picture: Ali Wright

“Miss Marple is from a certain period. Her boyfriend, whom she talks about, was in the First World War, so she goes back quite a long way. My mum was born in 1917, and she and her friends were, you know, ‘good eggs’. They had a certain turn of phrase. So, I met some quite useful people growing up.”

Revisiting Christie’s books has helped Susie to put her stamp on a beloved fictional character. “I’ve been re-reading Pocketful Of Rye and there are some very good descriptions of her in there. I go back to that rather than watching other people playing her to find out what makes Miss Marple tick.

“I’m absolutely loving re-reading the books. The people are so clearly drawn. Reading them all together, like I’m doing, you think: these are a multitude of people that she’s observed. Agatha Christie is a Miss Marple herself in order to work these intricate stories through.”

Asked to summarise Miss Marple’s character, Susie says: “She’s fascinated by people, she’s obsessed with finding out the truth and she’ll go on nitpicking until she gets it. She hates evil and injustice, and she hunts it down. She’s relentless in her pursuit of the truth and will go on digging away and digging away.

Susie Blake’s Miss Marple in her “rather lovely suit” and string of pearls. Picture: Michael Wharley

“Rachel Wagstaff has written a very good script and she’s made Miss Marple a much clearer character: someone who wants to find out the truth. Not in an unkind way but she will go on at somebody, go on delving until she gets what she wants.

“Rachel is a wonderful writer, like how she gives Miss Marple a bit of history, so you get to know why she’s alone. This is her first Christie adaptation; she’s very in with the family and I hope she does more of them.”

In Christie’s story, a wind of change is blowing through 1960s’ England, even reaching the sleepy village of St Mary Mead, where a new housing estate is alarming the villagers as much as it intrigues them. Still more unsettling, a rich American film star has bought the manor house. Jane Marple, confined to a chair after an accident, is wondering if life has passed her by, but a shocking murder demands she must unravel a web of lies, danger and tragedy. 

“Rachel’s adaptation is not what you’re expecting. It worried me at first: are people expecting an old-fashioned Agatha Christie repertory production? But it’s not like that at all! Philip has really brought out the characters, with 12 actors on stage. That’s a lot to deal with and he’s made them very likeable and individual and you kind of don’t want any of them to have done the crime.”

Susie Blake’s Miss Marple sharing a sofa with Oliver Boot’s Detective Inspector Craddock. “It’s like a very good granny and grandson relationship: we bicker!” says Susie. “She’s sitting at home feeling very alone, and then in comes Craddock with this murder. Up she steps, much to his dissatisfaction!” Picture: Ali Wright

Susie’s Miss Marple will spend much of The Mirror Crack’d walking on crutches. “She’s sprained her ankle, right at the top of the show,” she reveals. “I start in a chair, then crutches, then finally a stick. They’re not easy to use, these old wooden crutches – I think they might be museum pieces, beautifully shaped – so I’ve had to learn how to use them.

“I must try not to limp because at my age [72] that could be disastrous. But being on crutches is a good ruse for slowing things down to allow her to work things out!”

Over a long career, “I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t ever had a theatre injury,” reflects Susie. Keeping herself fit, during the tour’s Eastbourne run, she went swimming in the sea each day, chatting with the regulars at the beach huts. Next week, she heads to York, sketch book by her side. “That way you get a good memory of a town,” she reasons.

Susie is working with director Philip Franks for a second time. “We did [Alan Bennett’s play] Kafka’s Dick at Nottingham Playhouse in 1998 with Alistair McGowan in the cast,” she recalls.

“For The Mirror Crack’d, he said, ‘I’ll bring the education, you bring the talent!’, as I’m not well read but I went to [Elmhurst] ballet school, Arts Educational and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art,” says Londoner Susie.

The Mirror Crack’d director Philip Franks: “This is your interpretation now, Susie, no-one else’s,” he advised. “We’ve got to find your interpretation”

“He’s so lovely with actors. He’s given me free rein but made suggestions like, ‘what about if she was at Bletchley Park, doing de-coding in the war, and so she’s intrinsically interested in wanting to work things out, being fascinated in solving things, rather than being ghoulish?’.”

Rather than woolly jumpers and pince-nez, her Jane Marple will be wearing a “rather lovely suit”. “Quite a nice look, with a big collar, a white blouse underneath, a string of pearls, sensible shoes obviously, and no hat because the play moves too fast for me to wear one – and nobody’s missed the hat,” says Susie. “She’s my age, in her seventies rather than in her eighties, in our production.”

Why does Miss Marple’s popularity show no signs of diminishing, Susie? “Almost everything on the telly is a mystery, whatever you’re watching. You want to be taken by the hand knowing that Miss Marple or Poirot will help you work it out,” she says.

“It’s like having a pal, going into a situation with someone by your side. With most shows, you don’t know whose side to be on, but with her you have a familiar friend. And you can read the books again and again and watch the stories again and again and always enjoy them.”

Susie Blake’s Miss Marple in an early publicity picture for The Mirror Crack’d. The hat has since gone. “The play moves too fast for me to wear one – and nobody’s missed the hat,” she says

Best known for her comedy break in Russ Abbot’s Madhouse, her Continuity Announcer in Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV and her regular roles as Bev Unwin in Coronation Street and Hillary Nicholson in Mrs Brown’s Boys, Susie has latterly appeared in series one and two of Kate & Koji (ITV), Not Going Out (BBC One) and The Real Marigold Hotel (BBC One).

Have her roles become more interesting as she has grown older, leading to Miss Marple? “Yes, I think they have – and I’ve probably got better too,” decides Susie. “I’ve never wanted to be a frontliner or a film star. That was never on the cards. Only when you look back, you think, ‘I’ve been busy in my career’. Splendid looks can be quite difficult when you have to do the changeover to middle age. For me, it’s gone seamlessly from girl next door to wives and mothers to grandmothers.”

As for the future, “I’d love to be the next Miss Marple on telly. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

The Original Theatre Company in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal, October 4 to 8, 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or

“I’ve never wanted to be a frontliner or a film star,” says Susie Blake. “That was never on the cards”

Did you know?

The Original Theatre Company’s past productions at York Theatre Royal: Alan Bennett’s Auden-Britten encounter The Habit Of Art, Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong and Ben Brown’s Cold War political drama A Splinter Of Ice.

Did you know too?

Susie Blake was born into famous acting stock. Her cousins are the actresses Juliet and Hayley Mills; her great-uncle was the late film star Sir John Mills, and her maternal grandmother was Annette Mills, who fronted the BBC TV children’s series Muffin The Mule from 1946 to 1955.

Just one other thing…

How do you think Miss Marple compares to Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Susie?

“They are so different. They both have the same interrogating mind, but her methods are very much to do with the fact that she’s a little old lady. She gets chatting to people and shows her vulnerability, all the better to hook into what she needs to know.

“It’s the knife edge quality of her mind whereas Poirot never shows any weakness. She, on the other hand, will knock on someone’s door and say, ‘ooh I feel a bit faint; can I sit down?’.”

Copyright of The Press, York

Rumours spread and rebellion rises as York Theatre Royal’s new season makes a stand

The Tragedy Of Guy Fawkes playwright David Reed outside the Guy Fawkes Inn in York. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

“THE theatre has always been a place where rebellion thrives,” says chief executive Tom Bird as York Theatre Royal sets its Rumours And Rebels season in commotion.

Two legendary York figures, Guy Fawkes and the Coppergate Woman, will come to life as the spotlight is turned on those who resist, rebel and stand up to injustice, corruption and persecution this summer and autumn.

“We wanted to talk about opposition and intrigue and how ‘sticking it to the man’ manifests itself, which is often in the form of rumours first,” says Tom. “We knew we were going to be doing this strand of work with rebellion shot through it, but we also wanted a nod to the fact that rebellion can start in a more subtle phase with rumour.

“We already had rebellion in the diary with Guy Fawkes, Julius Caesar and Red Ellen, which all start with ‘talk’, and I was thinking about how you’re naturally quite wary of making heroes of people who are seen as terrorists, so I didn’t want the season to be too on the nose in celebrating rebellion without also saying it’s a complicated business.

“Look at Guy Fawkes; we think of him as a York hero but actually he wanted to blow up hundreds of people.”

Long in the planning for its York Theatre Royal world premiere, York-born writer David Reed’s “explosive new comedy about York’s most infamous rebel”, The Tragedy Of Guy Fawkes, will run from October 28 to November 12, directed by Gemma Fairlie as Monty Python meets Blackadder.

“We’ve had the script since before I came here in December 2017,” says Tom. “David [one third of the The Penny Dreadfuls comedy trio] is a local writer; the script is brilliant and funny, and the pre-sale of tickets is fantastic.”

Co-director Juliet Forster, left, and playwright Maureen Lennon with JORVIK Viking Centre’s model of The Coppergate Lady

Further explaining the Rumours And Rebels season title, Tom says: “The other reason for ‘Rumours’ is the impact of social media, where it feels like we’re surrounded by an unsolicited swirl of rumour that could lead to action, even to direct rebellion, like you saw with Trump’s supporters marching on Capitol Hill.

“Uncurated rumours bother us a lot, and that’s why we’re curating the summer and autumn programme under this title to highlight the importance of curation when news has stopped being that and so many people no longer trust experts.  Theatre is a place for resistance and for celebrating it since Athenian times.”

Standing alongside Reed’s Guy Fawkes tragi-comedy in the season ahead will be Maureen Lennon’s community play The Coppergate Woman, wherein a Valkyrie woman with the answers rises again to move among the people of York, a goddess resisting the havoc wrought by pandemic, from July 30 to August 6.

These in-house productions will be preceded by Northern Stage, Nottingham Playhouse and Royal Lyceum Theatre’s touring production of Red Ellen, Carol Bird’s epic story of inspiration Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson, who was forever on the right side of history, forever on the wrong side of life, from May 24 to 28.

“We’re super-excited about Red Ellen, which had been planned by Lorne Campbell before he left Northern Stage to move to the National Theatre of Wales. After The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff, this is another unsung political hero to be celebrated by Northern Stage.”

Flicking through the brochure, in Shakespeare’s Globe’s Julius Caesar, on June 10 and 11, the protagonists fear power running unchallenged as Diane Page directs this brutal tale of ambition, incursion and revolution; in Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country, from September 5 to 10, the chimes of freedom flash through a story rooted in Bob Dylan’s songs;  in Pilot Theatre’s revival of Noughts & Crosses, from September 16 to 24, the love between Selby and Callum runs counter to the politics of their segregated world.

In Frantic Assembly’s reimagined 21st century Othello, from October 18 to 22, Othello faces a barrage of racial persecution in Shakespeare’s tragedy of paranoia, sex and murder; the year ends with the Theatre Royal’s third pantomime collaboration with Evolution Productions, where Peter Pan joyously stands up to the tyranny of time, from December 2 to January 2.

York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

Delighted to welcome Shakespeare’s Globe, Tom says: “I left the Globe to move here, and as the Roman Quarter project gets underway in Rougier Street, we were interested in doing a Roman-themed work.

“We’d known for a while this would be a rebellion season, and the Globe knew we were keen to link up with them, so they gave us a couple of options. National companies are getting really good at that, and it’s great to have the Globe back for the first time since they did Henry VI.”

Tom says the season fell into place partly through the stars aligning. “If Frantic Assembly’s Othello is on tour, you take it,” he says. “It fitted perfectly with our own choices of Guy Fawkes and [York company] Pilot Theatre reviving Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses.

“The first tour did really well, there’s since been the TV series, and it’s a story really loved by young audiences as a Romeo & Juliet for the 21st century. It’s a no-brainer to bring it back.”

Bringing a “big show” to York Theatre Royal is not easy, says Tom, given the seating capacity of 750, but that does not deter him from seeking to do so. Take the double Olivier Award-winning West End and Broadway hit Girl From The North Country, written and directed by The Weir playwright Conor McPherson.

He reimagines the songs of Bob Dylan in a universal story of family and love set in the heartland of America in 1934, when a group of wayward souls cross paths in a time-weathered guesthouse in ‘nowheresville’ [Duluth, Minnesota]. As they search for the future and hide from the past, they find themselves facing unspoken truths about the present.

“God we had to fight to get it but I’m seriously glad we did,” says Tom. “It premiered at The Old Vic and it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Bob Dylan had been badgered for years about doing a jukebox musical, and he said, ‘only if it’s a bit weird’. Luckily, he was involved in Conor getting to do it.

Girl From The North Country: “Doing a Conor McPherson on a Bob Dylan jukebox musical”

“It’s a marriage made in heaven! He does a Conor McPherson on a Bob Dylan jukebox musical: it’s an incredible, haunting story with a cast of odd characters you’d find travelling on a Greyhound bus, when you gather all this eccentricity in America and you can’t escape them, set to Dylan’s songs.

“Everyone knows Bob Dylan songs are sung better when Dylan doesn’t sing them, and for this show, they take a genuine cross section of songs from across his career, not only the Sixties.”

Among further highlights, York Stage will make their Theatre Royal debut in a 40th anniversary production of Howard Ashman and and Alan Menken’s musical Little Shop Of Horrors, from July 14 to 13, and Original Theatre will present Susie Blake as Miss Marple in Rachel Wagstaff’s new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, from October 4 to 8.

“I’d been a bit worried whether a murder mystery is still what people want as we’ve seen that move from drawing-room plays to musicals in audience tastes, but The Mirror Crack’d has gone like a train at the box office,” says Tom.

Summing up the philosophy behind Rumours And Rebels, he concludes : “It’s not easy to have a themed season when we put on such diverse work here, but when we see ways to do seasons with connected themes we will do it, like the Theatre Royal did with seasons focusing on Yorkshire and women before I came here.

“By having a theme, hopefully it will encourage people to see more plays in the season having enjoyed one.

“Overall, for me, what we’re eliminating from York Theatre Royal is the middle-of-the-road. When we bring in touring shows, we might as well go ‘big’, bringing in new audiences; when we produce plays, we’re going to do new work like The Tragedy Of Guy Fawkes and The Coppergate Woman, not Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which might be my favourite play but wouldn’t get an audience.”

For the full programme and tickets details for Rumours And Rebels at York Theatre Royal, go to: Box office: 01904 623568.

Copyright Of The Press, York

Susie Blake as Miss Marple in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d