More Things To Do in and around York for Grayson Perry’s ‘normal people’. List No. 47, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s up Duck? The Dead Ducks sketch comedy troupe head for Theatre@41 Monkgate, York

CLOWNS, ominous things, Grayson, James, tango, chamber music, horrible British history and watercolours in teamwork add up to shows aplenty for Charles Hutchinson and normal people alike to check out.

Sketch comedy show of the week: The Dead Ducks: Ducks Out Of Water, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (3/9/2021), 8pm

UNIVERSITY of York Comedy Society sketch troupe The Dead Ducks make their Theatre@41 debut with Ducks Out Of Water as a cast of five serves up fun scenes that range from the relatable to the ridiculous.

Be prepared for completely original content in a humorous mix of parody and farce with a delectable side order of top-notch acting.

Look out for pirates, cowboys, clowns and assorted animals, alongside Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse “like you have never seen them before”. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk/events/.

Sunset Gazing, by Suzanne McQuade, on show at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York

Exhibition of the week: Suzanne McQuade, Touch Of Tranquillity, Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, until Octoger 23; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm

LEEDS watercolourist Suzanne McQuade quit her long-standing customer service job five years ago to take the plunge and become a full-time artist.

“Using watercolours is like teamwork; I have to allow the watercolour to move and merge, and utilise the patterns it creates,” says Suzanne, who loves how this medium’s translucency enables light to flood into her landscapes and seascapes.

Drawing inspiration from the British countryside and coastline, she paints what she finds captivating, from a dramatic sky to underwater rocks. “I try to make the scene in front of me to be as beautiful as possible,” she says.

Alexander Wright: Performing Small, Small Ominous Things with Megan Drury at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

Open-air theatre show of the week: Small Small Ominous Things, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday, 8pm

LOOK out for a tiny red gun hidden in the grass; a picture of a puppy eating a toy dinosaur; a dull feeling in the pit of your stomach; a bug burrowing into your skin.

Welcome to a late-night mix of stories, tales and unsettling considerations from partners Megan Drury and Alexander Wright, Australian actor, writer and creative artist and North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator respectively.

Gather around the fire as they collaborate for the first time live At The Mill, bringing small, small ominous things out into late-summer’s fading light. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/

Making a splash: The new Normal for artist Grayson Perry, performing on tour at York Barbican

Who-knows-what-to-expect gig of the week: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, York Barbican, Monday, 7.30pm

IN his own words, despite being an award-winning artist, Bafta-winning TV presenter, Reith lecturer and best-selling author, Grayson Perry is a normal person – and just like other normal people, he is “marginally aware that we’re all going to die”.

Cue Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, where Grayson takes you through an enlightening, eye-watering evening wherein this kind of existentialism descends from worthiness to silliness. “You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” his show patter promises.

Grayson asks, and possibly answers, these big questions in a show “sure to distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Home, James? Briefly, yes, when rehearsing at Broughton Hall, near Skipton. Scarborough Open Air Theatre awaits. Picture: Lewis Knaggs

Gig of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9, gates open at 6pm

WHERE better for James to play a summer show in the wake of releasing their 2021 single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

The Manchester legends will be combining myriad anthemic favourites with selections from their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June.

Fronted by Clifford-born Tim Booth, James are completing a hattrick of Scarborough OAT visits after shows in May 2015 and August 18. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com

Prima Vocal Ensemble artistic director Ewa Salecka with Misatango composer Martin Palmeri

Well worth the wait: Misatango: Prima’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration, Temple Hall, York St John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, September 11, 7.30pm

AFTER a year’s delay, Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka is thrilled to be holding the York choir’s tenth anniversary concert at last at a socially distanced Temple Hall.

At the concert’s core will be “the fabulous Misa a Buenos Aires, Misatango, an exhilarating fusion of Tango and Latin Mass”, by Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri, performed with the Mowbray Orchestra string quartet, bandoneon virtuoso Julian Rowlands, pianist Greg Birch and mezzo-soprano soloist Lucy Jubb. Box office: primavocalensemble.com.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 16 to 18

CANADIAN pianist Angela Hewitt plays YCMF’s opening recital on September 16 and joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, for the closing gala concert on September 18, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.

Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the NCEM on September 17.

Festival director Lowe joins pianist John Paul Ekins for the first 1pm concert at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on September 17; on the next lunchtime, Ekins plays works that connect Beethoven and Liszt. Box office: tickets@ncem.co.uk.

The Horrible Histories poke fun at Barmy Britain at the Grand Opera House, York, in October

History in the re-making: The Horrible Histories in Barmy Britain, Grand Opera House, York, October 21 to 24

CAN you beat battling Boudicca? What if a Viking moved in next door? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Can evil Elizabeth entertain England?

Will Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin? Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria?

So many questions for The Horrible Histories’ Live On Stage team to answer with the aid of the 3D illusions of Bogglevision as skulls hover, dams burst and missiles fly into the family audience. For tickets for Birmingham Stage Company’s eye-popping, gruesome, scary and unbelievable trip through British history, go to atgtickets.com/york.

More Things To Do in and around York as corny summer panto ride arrives at a maze. List No. 42, courtesy of The Press, York

Detective at work: Sir David Suchet will dig up his past at York Theatre Royal in October

SUMMER panto in a maze, David Suchet on Poirot, Yorkshire Day celebrations, a SeedBed of new ideas, riverside art, a cancer charity fundraiser and comedy at the double catch Charles Hutchinson’s eye.

New signing of the week: David Suchet, Poirot And More – A Retrospective, York Theatre Royal, October 13, 3pm and 8pm

SIR David Suchet retraces his steps as a young actor in his 20-theatre tour of Poirot And More, A Retrospective, where he looks back fondly at his five-decade career, shedding a new, intimate light on his most beloved performances.

Geoffrey Wansell, journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of Poirot And Me, interviews the actor behind the detective and the many characters Suchet has portrayed on stage and screen. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshing around: After York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime last Christmas, now Josh Benson s magic beans have created the new Crowmania Ride summer panto at York Maze

Summer pantomime on wheels? Yes, on York Maze’s Crowmania Ride until September 6. Maze opening hours: 10am to 6.30pm; last admission, 3.30pm

CORNTROLLER of Entertainment Josh Benson is the creative mind behind the new Crowmania Ride at York Maze, Elvington Lane, York.

York Maze reopened for the first time since 2019 on July 17, with York actor, magician, comedy turn and pantomime star Benson and his team of actors taking the redeveloped Crowmania attraction “to a new level” on a trailer towed by a tractor every 20 to 30 minutes from 11am to 5pm. “The scariest thing is the bad puns!” promises director of operations David Leon.

In a 20-minute pantomime on wheels, Crowmania’s loose plot involves The Greatest Crowman encouraging the crows to eat farmer Tom’s corn, while his villainy stretches to creating genetically modified corn-based creatures too. Expect theatrical set-pieces, multitudinous curious animatronics and special effects. 

Erika Noda: Reflecting on her dual heritage on tonight’s SeedBed bill at At The Mill, Stillington

“Fantastic nights of artistic creation”: SeedBed at At The Mill, Stillington, near York, tonight until Saturday, 7pm to 10pm nightly

BILLED as “New Work. Good Food. Big Conversations”, the first ever SeedBed promises three nights, three different line-ups, three opportunities to see new ideas on their first outings, each hosted by Polly from Jolly Allotment, who will cook a nutritious supper each evening and discuss nourishment.

Tonight features At The Mill’s resident artists, plus Paula Clark’s class-and-disadvantage monologue Girl, Jack Fielding’s stilt act in Deus and Erika Noda’s Ai, examining growing up dual heritage in predominantly white York.

Tomorrow combines Robert Douglas Finch’s Songs Of Sea And Sky; Jessa Liversidge’s Looping Around set of folk tunes, original songs and layered looping and Henry Bird’s combo of classical poetry extracts and his own words.

Saturday offers The Blow-Ins’ A Gentle Breeze, an acoustic Celtic harp and guitar set, to be experienced in silence; Gong Bath, a session of bathing in the sound of gongs, and Jessa Liversidge’s second Looping Around (Your Chance To Sing) session.

Papillon, by Adele Karmazyn, who is taking part in Saturday’s York River Art Market

York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, York, Saturday and Sunday, 10.30am to 5.30pm

MORE than 30 artists and makers will take part in days five and six of this summer’s riverside weekend art markets, organised by York abstract painter and jewellery designer Charlotte Dawson.

Given the busy traffic across both days last weekend, Charlotte is considering doing more full weekends next year rather than the present emphasis on Saturdays.

Among Saturday’s artists will be York digital photomontage artist and 2021 YRAM poster designer Adele Karmazyn and Kwatz, the small indie fashion label directed by Amanda Roseveare. 

On Sunday, look out for York College graphics tutor Monica Gabb’s Twenty Birds range of screen prints, tea towels, mugs, cards, bags and hanging decorations; York artist Linda Combi’s illustrations and Louise Taylor Designs, travelling over from Lancashire with her floral-patterned textile designs for cushions, tea towels, oven gloves and more besides.

Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie: Headlining Meadowfest

Festival of the week: Meadowfest, Malton, Saturday, 10am to 10pm

MALTON, alias “Yorkshire’s food capital”, plays host to the Meadowfest boutique summer music and street fodder festival this weekend in the riverside meadows and gardens of the Talbot Hotel.

On the bill, spread over two stages, will be headliners Lightning Seeds, Arthur “The God of Hellfire” Brown, York party band Huge, Ben Beattie’s After Midnight Band, Flatcap Carnival, Hyde Family Jam, Gary Stewart, Penny Whispers, The Tengu Taiku Drummers and more besides.

“Expect a relaxed festival of uplifting sunshine bands, all-day feasting and dancing like no-one’s watching,” says the organisers. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/visitmalton/

Forge Zine and Hallmark Theatre present Yorkshire Day: Night Of Arts! at The Crescent community venue in York on Sunday

Marking God’s Own Country’s wonderfulness: Yorkshire Day: Night Of Arts!, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm

FORGE Zine and Hallmark Theatre band together for a Yorkshire Day night of creativity, fun and varied entertainment, replete with actors, musicians, writers and artists.

Expect spoken word, visual art, live music, scene extracts and comedy on a pleasant, relaxed, wholly Yorkshire evening, bolstered by the chance to buy artworks and books. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.

Steve Cassidy: Joining up with friends for the Songs And Stories For York Against Cancer fundraiser

Fundraiser of the week: Songs And Stories For York Against Cancer, with Steve Cassidy Band and friends, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Sunday, 7.30pm

A NIGHT of songs and stories by some of York’s best-known performers, who “celebrate a return to normality” by supporting a charity that helps others still on the road to recovery.

Taking part will be Steve Cassidy, Mick Hull, John Lewis, Billy Leonard, Graham Hodge, Graham Metcalf, Geoff Earp and Ken Sanderson. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Sara Barron: Playing York, Leeds and Selby on her debut British tour of Enemies Closer

Barron nights: Sara Barron on autumn tour in Yorkshire in Enemies Closer

AMERICAN comedian Sara Barron examines kindness, meanness, ex-boyfriends, current husbands, all four remaining friends and two of her 12 enemies in Enemies Closer at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on October 9.

Further Yorkshire gigs on Barron’s debut British tour will be at Sheaf St, Leeds, on October 20 and Selby Town Hall on September 29.

“Touring this show is truly the fulfilment of a dream,” says Barron. “Come if you dig an artful rant. Stay at home if think you’re ‘a positive person’.” Box office: York, at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk; Leeds and Selby, via berksnest.com/sara.

In need of a reviving cuppa: Omid Djalili has just had to change his Pocklington plans for a second time

Third time lucky: Omid Djalili moves Pocklington gigs again, this time to 2022

OMID Djalili’s brace of shows on July 22 at Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) have been moved to May 18 and 19 next spring.

British-Iranian comedian, actor, television producer, presenter, voice actor and writer Djalili, 55, originally had been booked for this month’s cancelled Platform Festival at the Old Station, Pocklington.

He subsequently agreed to do two shows in one night at PAC to ensure all those who had purchased tickets for his festival gig would not miss out. The uncertainty brought on by the Government’s delay to Step 4 scuppered those plans. Tickets remain valid for the new dates.

American comedian Sara Barron promises artful rant on meanness in Enemies Closer on debut tour at York, Selby and Leeds

Barron nights: American comic Sara Barron to play York, Leeds and Selby on 30-date British tour. Pictures: Karla Gowlett

AMERICAN comedian Sara Barron examines kindness, meanness, ex-boyfriends, current husbands, all four remaining friends and two of her 12 enemies in Enemies Closer at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on October 9.

Further Yorkshire gigs on Barron’s debut British tour from October 2 to November 14 will be at Sheaf Street, Leeds, on October 20 and Selby Town Hall on September 29 on .

As an American comic, I can’t be like, ‘Yeehaw, this tour is gonna be awesome’ without forcing my UK audience into a full-body cringe,” says Sara, from Chicago, Illinois. “But. May I just say…I think it *will* be awesome, but I’m saying it in an ‘I-live-in-Britain-and-buy-all-my-bras-from-M&S’ kinda way. 

“The UK comedy scene is one of my great beloveds – alongside crafty passive-aggression – so touring this show is truly the fulfilment of a dream. Come if you dig an artful rant. Stay at home if think you’re ‘a positive person’. I hope to see you there!”

“Come if you dig an artful rant, Stay at home if think you’re ‘a positive person’,” advises Sara Barron

Barron first performed the no-holds-barred Enemies Closer at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, having made her Edinburgh debut with For Worse in 2018, when she was nominated for Best Newcomer in the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and Chortle Awards. Two sold-out runs of For Worse ensued at the Soho Theatre, London.

She has since appeared on the BBC’s Live At The Apollo, Would I Lie To You?, Frankie Boyle’s New World Order and Richard Osman’s House Of Games; Channel 4’s 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Dave’s Hypothetical.

On radio, Sara’s credits include BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, The Now Show, Where’s The F In News? and Woman’s Hour and BBC Radio Scotland’s Breaking News; she has published two essay collections, People Are Unappealing and The Harm In Asking, and her writing has featured in Vanity Fair and on This American Life.

In New York City, frequently she has hosted the cult storytelling show, The Moth: True Stories Told Live.

York tickets for Enemies Closer are on sale at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk; Leeds and Selby tickets, via berksnest.com/sara.

Olga Koch up north for Homecoming autumn stand-up show at Theatre@41

Olga Koch: “Figuring out who on earth she is, as an immigrant and certified teen drama queen” in Homecoming

“WHAT does it mean to belong and where is home?”, ponders Russian-born, English-dwelling, story-telling stand-up Olga Koch in Homecoming, on tour at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on October 8.

New passport in hand, Olga will try to figure out who on earth she is, as an immigrant and certified teen drama queen.

Homecoming will be the third tour for Olga, 28, in the wake of 2018’s Fight and 2019’s If/Then, and once more she has created “cathartic performance art in the privacy of her own home”.

She was nominated for the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s Best Newcomer Award for Fight, her debut “multimedia extravaganza” that took her audience through the making of modern Russia after Olga’s father – who went from “janitor to Mayor to Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, to game-show host, to dissident” – was stopped by authorities on the Russian border, resulting in the most surreal year in her family’s life.

Olga Koch: up for a Fight in her debut stand-up show

A British tour followed in 2019, visiting the Burning Duck Comedy Club at The Basement, City Screen, in February that year, where the tracksuit-sporting Olga dissected this real-life spy drama with nothing but a projector and her comedic insights. The show – an hour of Olga Koch starring in From Russia With Gloves Off – has since been aired as a special for BBC Radio 4 and is being adapted as a television sitcom. 

Olga’s If/Then debuted at the 2019 Edinburgh before touring the UK and was nominated for Best Show at the Leicester Comedy Festival. The show challenged Olga to tell a love story through the medium of computer programming, a subject she studied at university (“and, like, barely ever brings up”).

“In her feminist investigation into what happens when we can’t separate love and technology, Olga will teach you how to code and explore what happens when our expectations for love, happiness and Michael Bublé no longer compute,” the show brief said.

Like Fight, If/Then is now in development for television. Oh, and while on the subject of TV, Olga has appeared on QI, Mock The Week, King Gary, The New Comedy Show and Channel 4’s Sparks.

Ever busy,  she has released the podcast Tech Tech Boom on BBC Sounds and has a new series, OK Computer, running on BBC Radio 4.

Olga Koch’s poster for her newly announced Homecoming autumn tour

Now comes Homecoming, prompting Olga to say: “After various attempts to bring this show to life, I (a stand-up comedian who hopefully hasn’t forgotten how to do stand-up) cannot wait to bring this feel-good extravaganza to an audience (who hopefully hasn’t forgotten how to laugh).”

Homecoming will form part of a full programme of autumn events at Theatre@41. Check out the programme at 41monkgate.co.uk; tickets are on sale at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Did you know?

OLGA Alfredovna Koch was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia on September 1 1992. She was educated at TASIS England, aka The American International School in England, an American international boarding and day school.

She studied computer programming at New York University and trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, New York, and the Soho Theatre and the Free Association in London.

Olga Koch’s Homecoming will find a home at last this autumn after “various attempts to bring this show to life”

Twenty four years after Kes, Ian Stroughair returns home to York Theatre Royal stage in guise of drag diva alter ego Velma Celli

“I feel over-excited! I cannot wait! Get me on that stage!” says Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli ahead of Saturday’s Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag show at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK musical actor Ian Stroughair will return to the York Theatre Royal stage for the first time in 24 years on Saturday, in the guise of his cabaret alter ego, drag diva deluxe Velma Celli.

“I last performed there in Kes, appearing in the ensemble, and sadly I’ve never been back,” says Ian, 38, who has settled back into his home city since Lockdown 1, leaving London behind.

“I’ve tried to do shows at the Theatre Royal but it’s never happened, so it’s great to be back now. I love what Tom [chief executive Tom Bird] is doing there.”

Love is the drag for Ian this weekend when Velma Cella takes part in the Theatre Royal’s spring-reawakening Love Season, performing one of Velma’s regular shows, re-titled Love Is Love: A Brief Of History Of Drag specially for the 8pm occasion.

Ian has taken A Brief History Of Drag to New York and Australia and on a British tour, as well as staging performances in London and York. “I’ve been doing it for four years now on and off, and I’m so glad the Theatre Royal wants the show,” he says. “I feel over-excited! I cannot wait! Get me on that stage!”

Ian created the show when he was in “stuck in Africa for a few weeks”. “I was in Dar Es Salam, in Tanzania,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘let’s write a show’ and it ended up being about how I got into drag and a celebration of the impact of drag in theatre, music, film and popular culture.

The regular poster for Velma Celli’s A Brief History Of Drag, retitled with the precursor Love Is Love for The Love Season at York Theatre Royal

“It’s part-story, but most definitely a celebration, and it’s an ever-changing show. I find new nuggets and add them in all the time. There’s so much stuff to cover in our story.”

Should you be wondering how and why the term “drag” was coined, let Ian explain: “Shakespeare! It’s a script/stage direction abbreviation. ‘Man enters stage dressed as a girl’. D.R.A.G.”

The drag persona of Velma Celli emerged 13 years ago when Ian was playing Mary Sunshine in the West End run of Chicago. Did she arrive fully fledged or bloom gradually?  “Progression. Like developing any role or idea, time is needed,” says Ian, who remembers exactly how he felt when he first took to the stage in drag. Confident? Nervous? Born to play the role? “Unleashed,” he says.

Velma Celli, who made a sassy cameo appearance in EastEnders, draws inspiration from “the greats”. “Lily Savage, Dame Edna Everage, Bowie, the movies, musicals and many unknown queens who blazed the trail,” he says.

Velma Celli in David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane trademark make-up

Now, he is planning a Velma Celli show built around David Bowie: singer, songwriter, actor, artist, cultural icon, iconoclast, fashion shaper and androgynous shape-shifter.

“I think Bowie is a master at illusion and character development but also reinvention. Something I completely relate to as an artist,” says Ian, whose “Irreplaceable. The Almighty Who Inspired Legends” show will “celebrate Bowie and the artists he inspired”.

Meanwhile, Velma Celli’s regular York residency is on the move. Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

“Velma loves the limelight; Ian enjoys the anonymity,” says Ian Stroughair, who “repels fame”

In comes a resplendent residency from last Friday at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“The first show was incredible,” says Ian. “The atmosphere was electric. I’ll never forget it. The new venue is so plush and the staff are excellent.”

The Velma Celli Show residency will not be Velma’s only gig in the first-floor Impossible Wonderbar. “On June 5, we’ll be holding the first Drag Brunch, with Velma, surprise guest drag queens, bottomless cocktails and brunch,” says Ian, looking forward to hosting the “ultimate diva brunch in homage to all the queens”, from Whitney to Tina Turner plus many more besides.

That day, there will be two 90-minute sittings, the first from 12 noon, the second from 2.30pm. Tickets are on sale via info@impossibleyork.com or on 01904 864410.

Last year, Ian had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool, thwarted by Killjoy Covid, and the pandemic strictures put paid to his international travels too.

Already he has had his two Covid-19 vaccine jabs to enable Ian to take a week’s travel to Mexico for a Velma Celli show in Cancun, however. “Thank god for that because the next cruise is not until October. I lost all the cruise-ship shows last year, and I’d already lost five cruise bookings this year, when in one day I lost three more cruise bookings,” he reveals.

Ian Stroughair on the balcony outside his new abode In York after moving back to his home city from London

The ships may be down, but Ian has shown resilience throughout the pandemic, streaming Velma Celli concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and later from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge. Last December was spent playing the villainous Flesh Creep in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

Just as this interview moves freely between Ian and Velma, where does Ian, son of Acomb, stop and Velma, drag diva alter ego, start? “She arrives during the make-up process and getting into costume. But human interaction is where it clicks in,” says Ian. “I need my audience.”

Repelling fame, Ian defines the distinction as “Velma loves the limelight; Ian enjoys the anonymity”. “Fame isn’t necessary for me,” he says. “In fact it makes me uncomfortable. I like my private life with my loved ones and I’m very protective of that and mostly them. A stage: that’s where I come alive.” 

Tickets for Velma Celli’s Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag can be booked at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568. For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

Just One More Thing…

What do you think of the RuPaul’s Drag Race TV shows? Good news for drag?
“It’s made it more mainstream but I don’t think it’s the essence of drag. Gentrification, for sure, but a celebration, of course. That can only be a good thing.”

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: York Stage, Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, until Sunday

Girls just wanna have fun: The first night of Songs From The Settee -Live On Stage

Review: York Stage in Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, until Sunday. Box office: yorkstagemusicals.com

SOFA, so good, that Nik Briggs decided to transfer Songs From The Settee from a streaming home service in lockdown to the John Cooper Studio for the first step in Step 3’s return to live theatre.

The York Stage producer-director had expected the home-recorded song sessions to run for maybe three weeks, instead they stretched to ten, as he told Thursday’s first-night audience in his role as master of ceremonies at the reopened Theatre @41.

Seating was cabaret-style, in social bubbles around tables, and protective Perspex screens were in place, just as they had been for Jack And The Beanstalk, the Covid-curtailed York Stage pantomime. Masks were obligatory; drink orders brought by staff to the tables.

Last summer, York Stage had resumed performing with a brace of songs-from-the-shows programmes in the open air of the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, showcasing the singing chops of members past and present, socially distanced but able to combine solo spotlights and duets with lightly choreographed group numbers.

For Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, nights one and two feature one company of solo singers under the musical direction of Jess Douglas; tomorrow and Sunday, different soloists under MD Stephen Hackshaw.

Across the four nights too, Nik and his two MDs are determined to turn the spotlight on recent stage-school graduates amid such difficult times for studying and breaking into the profession.

Solo performances are dominating, book-ended by group opening and closing numbers, last night being launched by Joanne Theaker, Lauren Sheriston and  Sophie Hammond in Waitress mode for What Baking Can Do, one for all those who filled lockdown hours perfecting banana bread.

Assured, chuffed-to-be-playing-to-an-audience showcases followed for graduates with a York Stage teenage past, Stephanie Bolsher and Talia Firth, and, in between, University of York music student Elodie Lawry, ahead of her degree show on the theme of the underdog in musical theatre on Monday before becoming an Army musician. Holly Smith will have her showcases too over the remaining shows.

Nik Briggs and Jess Douglas: York Stage director and musical director for the first two nights of Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage

Joanne Theaker, in a skirt of Liquorice Allsorts colours, set a very high bar, as she always does, with a superbly balanced set, from Carole King’s big hug of an opener, You’ve Got A Friend, to a singalong Shout, via a humdinger of a duet with Briggs for Written In The Stars from Aida and the haunting Maybe This Time from Cabaret.

Best of all was the character piece, the tear-inducing Scarborough from Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical version of Calendar Girls. York Stage have acquired the performing rights and you can bet your house on Joanne being in the cast.

Lauren Sheriston wondered how she could match up to Jo, but she has always been a stand-out in her York Stage shows, and her voice has matured wonderfully, equally at home in the contrasting Son Of A Preacher Man, Will You, from Ghost, and She Used To Be Mine, from Waitress, while Landslide from the Stevie Nicks repertoire for Fleetwood Mac was an inspired pick. We Will Rock You’s Somebody To Love was the Mount Everest of a finale, and Lauren climbed to the peaks with panache.

   
Sophie Hammond favoured the most contemporary set, one that made CharlesHutchPress feel a tad out of touch at 60, when encountering Breathe (In The Heights), Kiss The Air (Scott Alan), Issues (Julia Michaels), Ready For You (Matthew Stuart Price) and Don’t Forget Me (Smash).

Sophie’s choice would have benefited from a wider range of tempo, but Helpless, from Hamilton, was a knock-out, Monster, from Frozen, was full of Disney drama and Domino knocked spots off Jessie J’s original.

How else could the all-female bill end but with Joanne, Lauren and Sophie all smiles, happy to be back on stage, in tandem for a celebratory Girls Just Wanna Have Fun after perhaps a few too many sad songs overall.

Thanks, too, to Jess Douglas’s ensemble on keyboards, bass/double bass and drums . Over to Stephen Hackshaw for tomorrow and Sunday, when Grace Lancaster, Conor Mellor, Damien Poole and Emily Ramsden will be on the bill.

As for the “Settee” of the show title, familiar to York Stage regulars from past company service, it took a back seat. “Is it clean?” asked Joanne. “Yes,” said Nik. Anti-bac and all that, to meet the demands of presenting Covid-secure performances. No doubt it will be this way for some time yet, but step by step, theatre will revive, and York Stage will be to the fore.   

And what about your own seat for the show? Hurry, hurry, only a few were still available at the last time of checking.

The York Stage poster for Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, the first show at Theatre @ 41, Monkgate, since late-December


York Stage take Songs From The Settee out of the home and into Theatre @41 UPDATE

TONIGHT’s opening performance of York Stage’s Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage has sold out.

Only a handful of tickets are still available across the next three nights at Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, where director/producer is staging the series in the wake of a hit series of online shows. Hurry, hurry to book at yorkstagemusicals.com.

Briggs and his York production company never let the first pandemic lockdown grind them down, instead bringing together their performers, musicians and technicians remotely for a streamed concert season that played out over ten weeks under the title of Songs From The Settee.

“The idea was to keep the city entertained with top-quality musical theatre while we were in uncharted territory,” says Nik. “We thought the weekly publications would last three to four weeks, but before we knew it, we were at ten!

“We were blown away and driven by our friends and followers, who were engaging with the series and sending us messages, saying how we were helping them get through the week.”

The first online recording, Heroes All Around, was released on April 9 2020. “So, it felt like the perfect date, one year later, to announce what we’d be bringing to our audiences as theatres reopen with social distancing from May 17: Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage,” says Nik.

“From May 20 to 23, we have two different concerts that will run back to back under the same title at 7.30pm each evening.

“Musical director Jess Douglas will start the ball rolling with her band and some of York Stage’s finest vocal talents on May 20 and 21, before passing the baton to Stephen Hackshaw, who will bring in a new band and showcase more of the York Stage talent pool on May 22 and 23.”

The event will be staged in the Covid-secure John Cooper Studio at Theatre@41 on Monkgate, where audiences will be seated at cabaret tables, socially distanced from other bubbles around the studio. Drinks and refreshments will be served throughout the show with a table-service offering.

“Having produced a socially distanced pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 over Christmas, we know we can bring a show with full Covid compliance to the venue successfully and very much look forward to doing so,” says Nik.

Nik Briggs: York Stage artistic director

Here CharlesHutchPress fires off a fusillade of questions for a round of quickfire responses from artistic director Nik Briggs:

What will be the format of each concert? Will each one have a separate theme?
“Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage will bring some of the our online performances to the stage for the first time, alongside lots of other musical theatre and pop songs.

“There will be some group numbers of course, but the main part of the evenings will be made up of a series of cabaret/live lounge-type sets that will see our performers take to the stage solo with a collection of songs that mean something to them! 

“Throughout lockdown, we saw a lot of people setting up their ring lights and creating mini- recording studios in their homes in order to continue to create and be creative and the evenings are set to celebrate the tenacity performers showed across the industry and the work they created in lockdown.

“I often say to younger performers who I work with, ‘Sing like you sing in your bedroom mirror and now it’s time to see what that mantra brings from our older performers!”

Will Jess and Stephen decide on each concert’s content or will you be involved too?

“These shows will be a real collaboration between the artists, musical directors and myself due to the nature of the evening.”  

Who will be the singers for Jess’s shows and Stephen’s shows?

“On May 20 and 21, Jess will be working alongside Sophie Hammond, Lauren Sheriston, Joanne Theaker and some recent graduates.

“On May 22 and 23, Stephen will be returning to the musical director’s chair after a year for his concerts and he’ll be working with Grace Lancaster, Conor Mellor, Damien Poole, Emily Ramsden and, again, recent grads.

“Taking part across the four nights will be graduates Stephanie Bolsher, Holly Smith and Talia Firth, who have all performed with us previously, and Elodie Lawry, who will be graduating from the University of York this year.”

How will the stage be dressed for each show?  What will be the dress code for the performers?
“Well, we’re indoors this time, so we’ll not need as many layers as when we had our sell-out shows in Rowntree Park last August and September. Umbrellas certainly not called for! “There’s is no real dress code for this one though; our performers will be dressed to make them feel suitably fabulous and ready to entertain.” 

Just wondering: will there be a settee (or ‘sofa’ as my mother has always insisted I should say) on stage?

“Of course! How could we have Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage without a settee? I joked that we should maybe have a sacrificial burning or destruction of the settee at the end of each show to symbolise Boris’s plans that these reopenings will be very much irreversible.

“The venue will be beautifully lit again by Adam Moore and his Tech 24:7 team.”

 
What did you learn from mounting the Songs From The Settee shows online series; will “streaming” continue to play a role in York Stage’s work?

“Who knows. What I think it showed was yet again York Stage are adaptable. We responded and worked hard to ensure we continued and provided top-notch entertainment for the city, even in the darkest, hardest times for theatre.

“As you yourself have often commented in reviews, we really aim to set the bar high with everything we do as a producer in York. We are unique in that we proudly sit between others in the city where we continually mix professional performers and production teams with only the best of York’s community actors.

“That is what makes us exciting and ensures we are are able to bring huge West End and Broadway titles to the city, alongside smaller concerts, plays and studio pieces, which all have high production values, the best performances and stories that are filled with spirit and heart.” 

York Stage to take Songs From The Settee out of the home and into Theatre @41 in return to live shows UPDATED 16/4/2021

YORK Stage are to present Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage from May 20 to 23 at Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, in the wake of a hit series of online shows.

Director/producer Nik Briggs and his York production company never let the first pandemic lockdown grind them down, instead bringing together their performers, musicians and technicians remotely for a streamed concert season that played out over ten weeks under the title of Songs From The Settee.

“The idea was to keep the city entertained with top-quality musical theatre while we were in uncharted territory,” says Nik. “We thought the weekly publications would last three to four weeks, but before we knew it, we were at ten!

“We were blown away and driven by our friends and followers, who were engaging with the series and sending us messages, saying how we were helping them get through the week.”

The first online recording, Heroes All Around, was released on April 9 2020. “So, it feels like the perfect date, one year later, to announce what we’ll be bringing to our audiences as theatres are set to reopen with social distancing from May 17: Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage,” says Nik.

“From May 20 to 23, we have two different concerts that will run back to back under the same title at 7.30pm each evening.

“Musical director Jess Douglas will start the ball rolling with her band and some of York Stage’s finest vocal talents on May 20 and 21, before passing the baton to Stephen Hackshaw, who will bring in a new band and showcase more of the York Stage talent pool on May 22 and 23.”

York Stage director Nik Briggs and musical director Jess Douglas

The event will be staged in the Covid-secure John Cooper Studio at Theatre@41 on Monkgate, where audiences will be seated at cabaret tables, socially distanced from other bubbles around the studio. Drinks and refreshments will be served throughout the show with a table-service offering.

“Having produced a socially distanced pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 over Christmas, we know we can bring a show with full Covid compliance to the venue successfully and very much look forward to doing so,” says Nik.

The announcement of Lockdown 3 sadly stopped Jack and his Beanstalk antics short of the early January finishing line when theatres were forced to close on December 30.

“Up to that point, I’d been thinking about what shows I could be making for January and February, but as the days passed, I realised that was not to be!” he says.

“We knew it was coming, but the real blow was not getting our New Year’s Eve shows in. It felt like we’d been robbed of something we’d fought for after the most difficult year ever; to see through to the last day of the year weirdly seemed at the time as though it would have taken the sting out of the closure.

“But it feels so good to be returning to the venue and reopening public performances with these concerts. Boris says the reopening will be irreversible, so fingers crossed that it’s the first of many events for 2021.” 

Tickets can be bought online at yorkstagemusicals.com from April 10.

Conor Mellor, performing at Rowntree Park last August, will take part in the Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage shows on May 22 and 23

Here CharlesHutchPress fires off a fusillade of questions for a round of quickfire responses from artistic director Nik Briggs:

What will be the format of each concert? Will each one have a separate theme?
“Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage will bring some of the our online performances to the stage for the first time, alongside lots of other musical theatre and pop songs.

“There will be some group numbers of course, but the main part of the evenings will be made up of a series of cabaret/live lounge-type sets that will see our performers take to the stage solo with a collection of songs that mean something to them! 

“Throughout lockdown, we saw a lot of people setting up their ring lights and creating mini- recording studios in their homes in order to continue to create and be creative and the evenings are set to celebrate the tenacity performers showed across the industry and the work they created in lockdown.

“I often say to younger performers who I work with, ‘Sing like you sing in your bedroom mirror and now it’s time to see what that mantra brings from our older performers!”

Will Jess and Stephen decide on each concert’s content or will you be involved too?

“This one is set to be a real collaboration between the artists, musical directors and myself due to the nature of the evening.”  

Joanne Theaker in the York Stage psychedelic igloo at last summer’s first Rowntree Park open-air concert

Who will be the singers and the musicians for Jess’s shows and Stephen’s shows?

“On May 20 and 21, Jess will be working alongside Sophie Hammond, Lauren Sheriston, Joanne Theaker and some recent graduates who are yet to be confirmed.

“On May 22 and 23, Stephen will be returning to the musical director’s chair after a year for his concerts and he’ll be working with Grace Lancaster, Conor Mellor, Damien Poole, Emily Ramsden and, again, recent grads who are TBC.

“The directors are currently working on the set lists with the singers in order to work out which instrumentalists will be best suited for their evenings. Due to Covid guidelines, we’re limited to the numbers we can have on stage and in the band, so we have to really plan these things and work out what is best for all involved.”

How will the stage be dressed for each show?  What will be the dress code for the performers?
“Well, we’re indoors this time, so we’ll not need as many layers as when we had our sell-out shows in Rowntree Park last August and September. Umbrellas certainly not called for! “There’s is no real dress code for this one though; our performers will be dressed to make them feel suitably fabulous and ready to entertain.” 

Just wondering: will there be a settee (or ‘sofa’ as my mother has always insisted I should say) on stage?

“Of course! How could we have Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage without a settee? I joked that we should maybe have a sacrificial burning or destruction of the settee at the end of each show to symbolise Boris’s plans that these reopening will be very much irreversible.

The many faces and facets of Grace Lancaster: now singing in the Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage shows at Theatre @41, Monkgate, on May 22 and 23

“The venue will be beautifully lit again from Adam Moore and his Tech 24:7 team.”

 
What did you learn from mounting the Songs From The Settee shows online series; will “streaming” continue to play a role in York Stage’s work?

“Who knows. What I think it showed was yet again York Stage are adaptable. We responded and worked hard to ensure we continued and provided top-notch entertainment for the city, even in the darkest, hardest times for theatre.

“As you yourself have often commented in reviews, we really aim to set the bar high with everything we do as a producer in York. We are unique in that we proudly sit between others in the city where we continually mix professional performers and production teams with only the best of York’s community actors.

“That is what makes us exciting and ensures we are are able to bring huge West End and Broadway titles to the city, alongside smaller concerts, plays and studio pieces, which all have high production values, the best performances and stories that are filled with spirit and heart.” 

What’s coming up next for York Stage on stage?

“We have lots planned over the coming years. We’re starting with the Christmas spectacular, ELF the Musical, at the Grand Opera House this November and December; tickets on sale soon!” 

Pick Me Up Theatre to stage American hit show SpongeBob The Musical in December UPDATED 8/4/2021

SpongeBob The Musical: Broadway hit to be staged in York by Pick Me Up Theatre in December

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre are to stage SpongeBob The Musical in the 2021 Christmas season at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Director Robert Readman and musical director Sam Johnson will present the musical originally called SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, from December 7 to 18.

“Pick Me Up are thrilled to have secured the rights to bring this intrepid, heroic sponge and his friends to York audiences when live theatre once more returns to the York stage,” says Robert.

“I was happily scrolling through the Concord Theatricals website late last year and there it was! I didn’t even know it had been released for performance. It took months to get permission from the rights holders though!

“Now, we’re looking forward to auditioning this summer for this joyful musical: a perfect choice to brighten everyone’s Christmas.”

Readman and Johnson will hold auditions at Theatre @41 Monkgate in July and August – exact dates to be confirmed – for performers aged 15 to 23 with one proviso. “If you are an actor-musician, you can be any age and we’d love you to audition for the Bikini Bottom Band,” says Sam.

Anyone interested is asked to email pickmeuptheatre@gmail.com for an audition form to provide contact details including a photo, age and performance history.

“We’re also looking for costume makers, hair designers and prop builders to magically create the world of SpongeBob SquarePants,” says Robert, who saw the Broadway show live-streamed on Nickelodeon.

Based on the animated Nickelodeon series created by Stephen Hillenburg, the American musical has a book by Kyle Jarrow, with original songs by Yolanda Adams; Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, of Aerosmith; Sara Bareilles; Jonathan Coulton; Alexander Ebert, of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros; The Flaming Lips; Lady A; Cyndi Lauper; John Legend; Panic!  At the Disco; Plain White T’s, and They Might Be Giants and T.I.

Songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley feature too, along with additional lyrics by Jonathan Coultonand additional music by Tom Kitt.

“The show is whacky and very colourful, with plenty of scope for lots of varied performers, but mainly it has a terrific score written especially by some of the foremost pop composers from the last two decades,” says Robert.

Fans of the 21-year-old cartoon will delight in the mostly humanoid re-creations of favourite characters, such as Squidward; Patrick; Eugene Krabs; his daughter Pearl, who is inexplicably a whale; Larry the Lobster; Sandy Cheeks, the squirrel in a diving suit, and Sheldon J. Plankton, who functions as the villain, Gary.

What distinguishes the musical from Nickelodeon TV series? “A live-action re-imagining takes the cartoon into new territory, so it’s not slavishly copying the original but transforming it into a unique stage show for all the family,” says Robert.

“Plenty of crabbie laughs, lots of squid dancing, delicious pineapple ballads: what more could you ask than to be at the bottom of the sea for Christmas?!”

In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic put paid to no fewer than four Pick Me Up Theatre shows, the first three at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate: Stephen Sondheim 90: A Birthday Concert on March 22; The Pirates Of Penzance, the company’s first foray into the topsy-turvy world, April 17 to 25, and Alan Combes and Steve Cassidy’s musical drama Black Potatoes, September 18 to 26.

The fourth, the American musical 42nd Street, should have run at the Grand Opera House from November 6 to 14.

In the absence of being able to stage shows, Robert has nevertheless kept himself busy. “I have so loved the break, allowing me to catch up on decorating, extending the garden, eBaying props and costumes,” he says.

“I know it’s been hard for so many people, but I just thought it was a really great chance to take stock of life – theatre is only a small part of mine – and just remain as positive as possible. I still haven’t got around to tidying the insides of the sheds though…maybe next week??”

Those sheds, should you be wondering, are the former chicken shed warehouse at Bubwith that houses all manner of theatrical costumes, props and much more besides.

Maybe the tidying can wait; the return to working on shows beckons, and come December, SpongeBob The Musical will be making its York debut.

“Why should people see this musical? Because everyone wants to live in Bikini Bottom and this is your chance!” says Robert.

“Or, as Patchy the Pirate says: ‘This is one under-the-sea spectacular that you don’t want to miss’.”

Bean there, done that! What we learned from Nik Briggs’s debut York Stage panto

“I’ve been blown away by the response we’ve had to our panto,” says York Stage artistic director Nik Briggs. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

IN the original 2020 vision of York’s pantomime season, Dame Berwick Kaler made his comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again in his newly adopted home of the Grand Opera House.

York Theatre Royal had a ball with Cinderella, bedding in a new partnership with Evolution Productions, and the Rowntree Players filled the Joseph Rowntree Theatre with community spirit as ever.

Then, however, the pandemic, rather than pantomime, became the P word on all lips, tearing up the script for the winter ahead. Dick Turpin never left the stable; the Theatre Royal took to the road with the Travelling Pantomime; Rowntree Players made plans for 2021 instead.

Along came a newcomer, however, in the form of York Stage’s inaugural pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, full of beans, routines, slapstick and musical theatre songs at the Covid-secure Theatre @41 Monkgate, under the direction of debutant writer Nik Briggs.

The post-Christmas impediment of Tier 3 status for York curtailed the panto fun and games on December 30, rather than the planned finale of January 3, but Nik can look back on a job well done with reduced-capacity, socially distanced full houses for the majority of shows since opening on December 11.

Losing his head: Nik Briggs emerging from the costume for the front end of Daisy the cow in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. At the back end is socially distanced stage manager Lisa Cameron. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“I’ve been blown away by the response we’ve had to our panto,” he says. “The respect I have for the art form and the recognition of how panto inspires so many children every year meant it wasn’t an option for me not to have a panto with real scale and spectacle over Christmas in York.

“It’s something I’ve hopefully brought into my own productions across the years. The respect I have for the art form and the recognition of how panto inspires so many children every year meant it wasn’t an option for me not to have a panto with real scale and spectacle over Christmas in York.”

Reflecting on penning his first panto script, Nik says: “It was certainly nerve wracking putting my own script out, having never penned a show before! Especially in York, following in the footsteps of Berwick [Kaler], who I respect greatly.

“Between lockdowns, I went over for a coffee with him, talked through my ideas and came away with the confidence to put pen to paper. He was so encouraging. I’ve had so many great responses to the script, which is a big compliment.”

Described by Nik as “musical theatre with pantomime braces on” and by choreographer Gary Lloyd as a “pansical”, York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk was distinctive from past pantos in York.

Alex Weatherhill as Dame Nanna Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk: part of Nik Briggs’s cast of “super-talented actors, singers and dancers”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

“The triple-threat West End cast were probably the show’s biggest surprise to a York audience. Having all eight performers be at the top of their game, being super-talented actors, singers and dancers,” says Nik.

“I always knew my panto would be very much a musical fairy-tale, which would feature all the elements of panto that are traditional included into the mix. I cast it knowing I’d need brilliant performers who could bring the skills that the show’s structure demanded. You’ll not see songs like the ones we had in a panto any time soon again, not only in York but across the country.”

 In picking his cast of May Tether’s Jill Gallop, Jordan Fox’s Jack Trott, Ian Stroughair’s villainous Fleshius Creepius, Livvy Evans’s Fairy Mary, Alex Weartherhill’s Dane Nanna Trott and an ensemble of dance captains Danielle Mullan, Emily Taylor and Matthew Ives, Nik was seeking “three things”.

“Firstly, talent: the triple-threat capability of every cast member. Secondly, strong links to the city and region, and, finally, they had to be lovely people who would be fun to work with,” he says.

“A lot of the cast I’d worked with before and all of them I’d work with again. We brought together eight actors who became a panto family in less than six weeks! They worked tirelessly to create our sensational show and were a nothing short of a beautiful, talented, naturally diverse collection of Yorkshire talent.”

West End choreographer Gary Lloyd in rehearsal for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Nik was adamant his panto should have a Yorkshire flavour, not least May Tether revelling in using her Goole accent in a show for the first time. “Being a Geordie import to York, having lived here for over ten years, one thing that has always blown me away about the city is the amount of talent that stems from here,” he says.

“It’s a no-brainer, therefore, that I would use talent from the area primarily! Especially at Christmas, and with what’s going on at the moment, it was always important that this was a show made in York for the people of York.”

In a coup for York Stage, Nik was able to call on the choreographic skills of West End hotshot Gary Lloyd, whose touring production of Heathers remained in hibernation. “I’ve known Gary’s work for many years [his sister is York Stage Musicals regular Jo Theaker]; I’m always knocked out by his choreography and musical staging,” he says.

“We’d spoken before about working together and this time last year I’d have laughed if you’d said we’d be doing a panto as our first show together, but it has been a brilliant experience. His storytelling through choreography is just so inspiring! As a creative, he was fantastic to work with; he really did inspire me in the rehearsal room every day.”

Given the Government’s ever-changing pandemic rules, navigating a safe passage for a show in late-2020 was a challenge like no other for a theatre director, not least the late rule change that cut the capacity from 80 to 55 (with the audience divided into bubbles divided by Perspex screens either side of the traverse stage).

Ian Stroughair’s villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

“The whole process was filled with challenges, but we knew, going into the project, it was never going to be easy,” says Nik. “We took every day as it presented itself to us. I’m very comfortable with change and the need to adapt, so as producer I felt confident leading the production through the Covid storm.

“Some days were harder than others, but we knew what we were doing was too important to walk away from.”

One of the talking points of Nik’s first pantomime was the inspired marketing coup of transforming the famous Bile Beans wall sign on Lord Mayor’s Walk into Bile Beanstalk to point passers-by in the direction of Theatre @41 Monkgate.

“It summed up our production perfectly,” he says. “Something new, something well executed, something in York we’re used to, being flipped on its head and turned for a short period into something new! People’s reaction was brilliant; they understood we were having fun and being playful while respecting the landmark.”

On the subject of creating “something new” for York, what more could Nik bring to a pantomime if he could do such a show under normal circumstances? “Who knows?! Talent and spectacle will always be the main two factors in my shows,” he says.

Pantomime transformation scene: York Stage ‘talk’ a good show by adding to the Bile Beans sign on Lord Mayor’s Walk

“I’m always looking to push forward and bring the biggest and best theatre to the city. York’s got two new pantos in 2021 with Qdos and Evolution, two of the country’s biggest panto producers, going head to head at the Grand Opera House and York Theatre Royal. How will that end?” 

Looking ahead, Nik’s plans for 2021 cannot be set in concrete while the pandemic still refuses to relent: “Have you got a crystal ball?” he says. “We’ve got rights secured for some brilliant titles over the next two years, but they will only be possible to stage when social distancing is over.

“The next big show we can realistically hope to stage is Elf The Musical at the Grand Opera House next November/December. Before that, we’ll be working on smaller shows with brilliant casts, which will be announced throughout the year.”

Through the year too, Nik will be busy running York Stage School, remotely while Covid regulations prevail, but then returning to Theatre @41 Monkgate. “We’ll be continuing to work with our students through 2021 and will be striving to bring them the best theatrical training possible,” he says.

York Stage’s poster for Jack And The Beanstalk, the pantomime where “giant magic can grow in the smallest places”

“We have survived two lockdowns and created brilliant work with them and that will continue this term.”

One lasting memory of Jack And The Beanstalk will be Nik’s impromptu emotional moment at the close of the final show, urging everyone to keep supporting theatre. “I don’t do last-night public speaking: it’s not my style and I cringe at it as people don’t come to hear me speak,” he says.

“They come to be entertained and forget whatever is going on outside, but I was ambushed – while I didn’t have any shoes on – and having received notice only a few hours before that our show would have to close that night, emotions were running high around the building.

“It’s scary producing shows at the moment: Will people support us? Will they come if we stage things? Will this bankrupt me?

“The Government closing theatres in Tier 3, where thousands have been spent to keep people safe, but allowing people to still shop and go around picking up produce just doesn’t make sense. It’s idiotic!”

Jordan Fox’s Jack Trott, front, with ensemble trio Matthew Ives, Emily Taylor and Danielle Mullan and May Tether’s Jill Gallop in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Nik develops his point: “There are no recorded transmissions in theatre, that’s important to stress. So, it’s important audiences do support whatever is being produced. Otherwise, things won’t be produced, things won’t happen, and that’d make for a very sad cultural landscape,” he says.

“A lot of people have said we were lucky to get to perform 40 of the 45 shows scheduled. At first, I agreed, but with hindsight I’ve re-evaluated and realised that is a very dangerous way to think.

“We all worked tirelessly and sacrificed a lot to ensure we created a brilliant show that people could enjoy safely. There was no big financial reward dangling at the end of the run to tempt us to cut corners; we simply wouldn’t have staged the show if we thought we were doing anything unsafely or were creating risk.

“Our friends and family were among the audiences; we wouldn’t have risked them. So, we were lucky we didn’t fall short sooner because of the Governments poor management but there was nothing lucky in losing our final five shows.”

The timing of the Elf production rules out a second York Stage pantomime next winter, but what are Nik’s wishes for 2021? “To get people vaccinated quickly so we can get back to sitting close together, sharing stories and experiences in theatres across the city,” he says.

The end: York Stage’s pantomime cast bid farewell at the close of Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography