REVIEW: Tilted Wig Productions in The School For Scandal, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday **

Alex Phelps’s Joseph Surface, left, and Joseph Marcell’s Sir Peter Teazle in Tilted Wig’s The School For Scandal. Picture: Anthony Robling

WHEN The School For Scandal premiered at Drury Lane in 1777, the audience laughed so loudly that a passer-by thought the building was collapsing.

Roll forward to 2024, when Sean Aydon’s 1950 setting of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy of manners fails to bring down the house. “They’re finding themselves funnier than we are,” came one barb of Dorothy Parker bite over the interval drinks.

It had looked so promising, from the stellar casting of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air butler Joseph Marcell as the lordly Sir Peter Teazle to the programme design in the style of the Town & Country high society fashion magazine. Anthony Tittle, editor in chief, Henry Tattle, editor at large, Ted Talk, production director; you get the picture. Never judge a play by its programme cover, however.

“We felt that what our audiences needed more than anything was an evening of pure fun,” reckoned Aydon in the wake of the pandemic gloom. “An evening of aural and visual pleasure without a moment of darkness…”

Darkness is indeed absent from Sarah Beaton’s set and costume designs. A plethora of peach drapes, three peach ceiling lamps, and blue-and-white checkerboard floor tiles rather than regulation black and white, set the tone, but that mood board is muted. Peach is not peachy but pallid.

Out go 18th century wigs and ruffles that “can feel like a barrier”, reasons Aydon, but equally “it didn’t feel right to set it in the modern day as the world of the play has very different rules to our own, particularly with regards to marriage as a financial agreement”.

Wanting to retain a sense of Sheridan’s gossip-driven milieu being one of wealth, style and the height of fashion, Aydon settled on the mid-20th century as a “great place aesthetically”, whose vibrant colours and evocative textures could be appreciated “while knowing we are not in our 21st century world”.

For all the witty detail, such as the three phones on a row of plinths that emphasise the ever-bubbling babble of society chit-chat, the new setting remains a barrier to the highly mannered 18th century comedy being funny.

No feeling is more deflating on a night at the theatre than a comedy failing to spark, when laughs are as muted as those peach drapes. Audiences have to connect, to bond, to care, to warm to characters, but The School For Scandal is all surface – and not only in having three characters by that surname – and surface is not enough.

Snappy dialogue matters more than a snappy dress sense. Compare and contrast with Richard Bean’s revitalisation of Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 Italian comedy The Servant Of Two Masters, relocated to 1963 Brighton as One Man, Two Guvnors with a scabrous new script.

It did everything that Aydon craves for Tilted Wig’s The School For Scandal: “Theatre is important for many reasons: it can challenge us, provoke us, shock us, teach us to question the world around us. But it can also provide deep and unadulterated joy.” True for that Bean feast of comic chaos, but not here.

Sheridan’s names for his “outrageous characters”, from Snake to Weasel, Backbite to Careless, Lady Sneerwell to Mrs Candour, promise more than they deliver in this slow-moving account of Sir Peter Teazle (Marcell) believing that his young wife, the country maid Lady Teazle (Lydea Perkins), is playing away from home, as Lady Sneerwell’s scandalmongers spread the word. Not true, but if he thinks she is, why not give it a go, she decides.

Characters come and go, come and go again, the words pile up, the laughs don’t, as Aydon’s wish for us to “celebrate the joy of being alive” is unfulfilled, for all the striving of Marcell’s Sir Peter, Garmon Rhys’s Charles Surface/Benjamin Backbite and Emily Jane McNeill’s Lady Sneerwell.  

There is one exception to this frustrating experience. Having delighted York audiences previously in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Twelfth Night and York Theatre Royal & Tilted Wig’s Around The World In 80 Days, Alex Phelps parades his comic craft once more with delicious timing, peacock elegance and physical  comedy chops worthy of a Chaplin, Wisdom or Wall, both as the manipulative, hypocritical Joseph Surface and in a tipsy, scene-stealing cameo as Bumper.

An Act Two scene with Phelps’s Joseph, Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, involving a chaise longue, a screen and a cupboard, is the one moment of “unadulterated joy”. Elsewhere, alas, Sheridan’s top of the fops comedy feels dated, and it hasn’t dated well.

Tilted Wig in tandem with Malvern Theatres and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, present The School For Scandal, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday; 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

More Things To Do in Ryedale, York and beyond “the carriage ride of your life”. Hutch’s List No. 11, from Gazette & Herald

Katherine Lea: Making her Hotbuckle Productions debut in Pride & Prejudice

BUCKLE up for Austen’s sister act, Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes and Sheridan’s scandalous comedy of manners, plus music, art and poetry in the library, baroque and blues concerts and tragic opera, advises Charles Hutchinson.   

Ryedale play of the week: Hotbuckle Productions in Pride & Prejudice, Helmsley Arts Centre, Saturday, 7.30pm

IN artistic director Adrian Preater’s humorous, multi role-playing adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Hotbuckle Productions enter the world of the Bennets.

From headstrong Elizabeth to proud Mr Darcy, rich characterisations abound as five sisters deal with marriage, morality and misconceptions. “Hotbuckle up for the carriage ride of your life” with Joanna Purslow, Tomas Mason and company newcomer Katherine Lea. Box office: 01439 771700 or

Patricia Qua: Ceramicist and graphic designer taking part in York Open Studios for the first time in Hempland Drive, York

Art around every corner: York Open Studios, Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm

AS many as 156 artists and makers who live or work within a ten-mile radius of York will be welcoming visitors to 106 workspaces to show and sell their art, ranging from ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery and mixed media to painting, print, photography, sculpture, textiles, glass and wood. Among them will be 31 new participants. Full details and a map can be found at Look out for booklets around the city too.

Keeping an eye on things: English Touring Opera in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at York Theatre Royal

Opera of the week: English Touring Opera in Manon Lescaut, York Theatre Royal, Friday, 7.30pm

ENGLISH Touring Opera returns to York in Jude Christian radical production of Giacomo Puccini’s heartbreaking Manon Lescaut, for which she brings incisive direction to her sharp, poetic new translation.

Puccini’s 1892 breakthrough hit presents a devastating depiction of a woman wrestling with her desire for love on her own terms and the rigid double standards imposed on her by society. Box office: 01904 623568 or

London Obbligato Collective: Opening the York Baroque+ Day at the NCEM

Classical concert of the week: London Obbligato Collective, York Baroque+ Day, National Centre for Early Music, York Saturday, 12 noon  

FORMED by Masumi Yamamoto, the new London Obbligato Collective focuses on “accompanied harpsichord sonatas”, where the harpsichord is given the solo role within the trio sonata texture, highlighting and enriching the colours and nuances of the instrument.

Next Saturday’s programme includes 18th century music by Felice Giardini, Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Lydea Perkins, as Lady Teazle, and Joseph Marcell, as Sir Peter Teazle, in Tilted Wig’s The School For Scandal. Picture: Anthony Robling

Touring play of the week: Tilted Wig, Malvern Theatres and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, present The School For Scandal, York Theatre Royal, April 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 7.30pm Saturday matinees

JOSEPH Marcell, fondly remembered as Geoffrey the butler in the American comedy series Fresh Prince of Bel Air, stars in Seán Aydon’s new production of Richard B Sheridan’s comedy of manners The School For Scandal, where gossip never goes out of fashion.

Marcell plays Sir Peter Teazle, who believes his young wife is sleeping with someone else. Not true, but she is starting to think that if her husband believes it, she should give it a go. After all, if you are going to cause a scandal, you may as well enjoy it. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Florence Poskitt: Stepping in to play Kate in York Shakespeare Project’s The Taming Of The Shrew

Seventies’ Shakespeare play of the week: York Shakespeare Project in The Taming Of The Shrew, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, April 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday

IN a late change of cast, actor-musician Florence Poskitt, from the York musical comedy duo Fladam, is taking over the principal role of Kate in Maggie Smales’s production of Shakespeare’s controversial battle of the sexes, now set in 1970.

A psychedelic world is opening up, promising peace, love and equality, but Kate was born to be wild and wants a voice of her own. The times they are a’changin’ and the old order is dead…or is it? Let battle commence. Box office:

Redfish Blues Band: Returning to Milton Rooms, Malton

Blues gig of the week: Redfish Blues Band, Ryedale Blues Club, Milton Rooms, Malton, April 25, 8pm

NOMINATED for Blues Band of the Year and Blues Album of the Year in the UK 2024 Blues Awards, Redfish Blues Band return to Malton with Christian Sharpe on vocals and guitar, Steve McGuckin on Hammond, Rod Mackay on bass and Steve Gibson on drums.

As witnessed on their Together Is Better album and Soho Rising (Girls, Girls, Girls) single, they play a delicious, bubbling gumbo of blues, soul, gospel and funk in live performances defined by energy and restraint. Box office: 01653 696240 or

Kai West’s poster for Bull’s Live At The Library day on May 19, based on the Cluedo board game design

Gig announcement of the week: Bull present Live At The Library, York Explore Library & Archive, Library Square, York, May 19, from 12 noon

YORK Explore and Please Please You team up with York band Bull for a day of music, art and poetry to celebrate Explore York’s tenth birthday and raise funds for York’s libraries. The climax will be a 6.30pm to 10pm gig by Bull, Marnie Glum, Rowan and performance poet Stu Freestone (tickets,

Free activities include open mic-style performances run by Bull frontman Tom Beer in the Marriott Room from midday, featuring Gabbie Lord, Maggie, Gilles, She Choir, Filipe, Old Time Rags, Eve Thomas & Co and more,  plus art workshops for all ages hosted by Izzy Williamson (lino printing, 1pm) and Bull bassist and illustrator Kai West (T-shirt design and screen printing, 12 noon to 2pm) in the Garden Room, with donations welcome.

Alex digs beneath the Surface to bring out the comedy in The School For Scandal

“Joseph Surface is selfish, hypocritical, vain, manipulative,” says The School For Scandal actor Alex Phelps. ” I’d say he would think he’s quite charming too!” Picture: Anthony Robling

GOSSIP never goes out of fashion, whether in the 1770s, 2020s or 1950s, the new setting for Tilted Wig’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Georgian comedy of manners The School For Scandal.

“We wanted to allow our audience to get to as close to the heart of the play as possible and sometimes the baggage that goes with 18th century theatre, all the wigs and ruffles, can feel like a barrier,” reasons director Sean Aydon, ahead of next week’s run at York Theatre Royal.

“The actors of the 1770s would be wearing the height of fashion and we wanted our audiences to get a sense that these people were wealthy, stylish and take great care of their personal appearances.

“However, it didn’t feel right to set it in the modern day as the world of the play has very different rules to our own, particularly with regards to marriage as a financial agreement.”

Sean continues: “We felt the middle of the 20th century would be a great place aesthetically as our audience could enjoy the vibrant colours and evocative textures, appreciating its style while knowing we are not in our 21st century world.

Alex Phelps’s Joseph Surface, left, seeks to deceive Joseph Marcell’s Sir Peter Teazle in Tilted Wig’s The School For Scandal. Picture: Anthony Robling

“It also allows us to play with some recognisable comedy tropes from the Fifties, including some rather brightly coloured telephones.”

Aydon’s cast is led by Joseph Marcell, once the butler in NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, now the lordly, wealthy aristocrat Sir Peter Teazle, who believes his young wife is sleeping with someone else. Not true, but if her husband believes it, she may as well give it a go.

Enter into the scandalous scenario one Joseph Surface, played by Alex Phelps, whose adroit comedy talents last graced the York stage in February 2023 in Tilted Wig’s touring collaboration with the Theatre Royal in the circus-themed Around The World In 80 Days in the dual roles of the Ringmaster and the unscrupulous globe-trotting Phileas Fogg.

Earlier Alex had stolen the show when playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek with such brio in Joyce Branagh’s Jazz Age take on Twelfth Night for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre at the Eye of York in June 2019.

Introducing his latest role as Joseph Surface, Alex says: “Lots of things are going on beneath that surface. He’s selfish, he’s hypocritical, he’s vain, he’s manipulative. I’d say he would think he’s quite charming too, which is a deception. That’s his undoing in a way, thinking he’s got it all going on, but then it all begins to unravel.”

Alex Phelps in the role of the Ringmaster/Phileas Fogg in York Theatre Royal and Tilted Wig’s co-production of Around The World In 80 Days in 2023. Picture: Anthony Robling

Phelps’s Surface succeeds in convincing Sir Peter that he is the epitome of goodness. “Initially it goes incredibly well for him, and he manages to get inside Sir Peter’s head, but then he tries to seduce his wife.”

Wrong move. “The reason I love playing this kind of character is that they have so far to fall. That lovely twist of someone thinking they’re the best thing in the world and convincing everyone else of that too, but then they begin to fall very quickly, as they try to be high status but do so in a way that betrays them. When you play against that barrier, it becomes funnier.”

Alex is working with director Sean Aydon for the first time. “It’s been really wonderful,” he says. “We discovered that Sean had been in the third year at my drama school – Manchester School of Theatre – when I was in my first year, but you don’t really mix with the third years, who are busy doing plays, so I didn’t get to know him there. It’s only now, ten years later, that we’ve done that.”

Alex has revelled in Sean’s adaptation. “The language has stuck entirely to its period, with Sean not trying to change its 1777 style. Sheridan’s razor-like wit really comes through, but what Sean has done is set it in 1950 with a minimalist set with three telephones on plinths,” he says.

“Like Richard Bean did so well with One Man, Two Guvnors [relocating Carlo Goldoni’s play from 1746 Italy to 1963 Brighton], in Sean’s version, 18th century social conventions for men are still there in 1950, but what Sheridan did was to give women incredible power in the play: they are the driving force.”

Alex Phelps, middle, back row, playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Twelfth Night in York in 2019

Working on stage with Joseph Marcell has been rewarding too. “I’m blessed in the sense that each night I get back to sit back and learn from him and his skills and his crafts. He’s been at the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company], on the board at Shakespeare’s Globe, and he has such incredible amount of experience, I would be a fool, as someone who loves this craft, not to watch him and learn from him,” he says.

“Sometimes, I’ll sit there with puppy dog eyes, thinking, ‘gosh, I’m on stage with one of the greats, someone with comedy in his bones’. He’s a lovely man and a great actor.”

Alex has learned to be alive to the unpredictability of live performance, how a show, especially a comedy, can change from night to night. “When you’re on stage, all your senses are heightened; you listen to see if the audience is coming with you, if a laugh makes something work. It’s incredibly elusive because it’s different every night. Like a bar of soap, sometimes it slips, but sometimes you catch it!”

Tilted Wig in tandem with Malvern Theatres and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, present The School For Scandal, York Theatre Royal, April 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Copyright of The Press, York

Joseph’s journey from the butler in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air to aristocratic Sir Peter Teazle in The School For Scandal

Joseph Marcell’s Sir Peter Teazle in The School For Scandal. Picture: Ant Robling

THE last time Joseph Marcell played York Theatre Royal, the March 2020 visit of Alone In Britain was stopped mid-run by the imposition of Covid restrictions.

Next week, he returns in Tilted Wig’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy of manners The School For Scandal in the lead role of Sir Peter Teazle, who believes his young wife is sleeping with someone else. Not true, but she starts to think that if her husband believes it, she should give it a go. After all, if you are going to cause a scandal, you may as well enjoy it.

Now 75, Saint Lucia-born actor and comedian Marcell is best known for his NBC sitcom role as Geoffrey, the snooty butler, in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air from September 1990 to May 1996.

His other TV credits include Mammoth and I Hate You for the BBC and this year he is to appear in Candice Carty-William’s Queenie on Channel 4.

His prolific stage credits include the Young Vic’s Hamlet with Cush Jumbo; Kathy Burke’s Lady Windermere’s Fan; extensive work with Shakespeare’s Globe, such as the titular role in Bill Buckhurst’s King Lear and Derek Walcott’s Omeros, as well as seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He is taking to the road in Seán Aydon’s staging of The School For Scandal after starring in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s debut feature film, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.

Alex Phelps and Joseph Marcell in a scene from Seán Aydon’s production of The School For Scandal. Picture: Ant Robling

Here he discusses his latest stage role; The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air; Sir Patrick Stewart; leaving electrical engineering for theatre; Saint Lucia and Queenie.

How does Sir Peter Teazle fit into the plot of The School For Scandal?

“Sir Peter is an aristocratic, wealthy and well-respected lord. He decided to marry. A country girl was chosen after a fairly long courtship. The difference in their ages and outlook has become a constant issue.

“Lady Teazle has become a full member of the WITS, a set of gossip mongers. Sir Peter is at his wits’ end. This school for scandal is the bane of his life and the cause of the endless bickering. However, he loves and cares for Lady Teazle.

Would you agree with Sheridan’s 1777 play being called “one of the greatest comedies ever written”?

“Yes, I would agree. The language, settings, characters and themes are amusing. And at the time of the play’s first production that aspect of comedy had not been enjoyed by a British audience.”

What differentiates Tilted Wig’s staging of The School For Scandal from past productions?

“We are set in the 1950s. Although we are not in wigs and frock coats, the sentiment of those times as best as we can imagine is fully respected. The characters are of a time gone by and we are totally respectful to the language, because without that there is no play The School For Scandal.”

Lydea Perkins’s Lady Teazle and Jospeh Marcell’s Sir Peter Teazle in The School For Scandal

Will today’s audiences be scandalised by The School For Scandal?

“I am not too sure of that. But I am certain that within the world of the play a modern audience would empathise. Gossip and scandal to me is not the actual story; it’s the embellishments that happen in the retelling of the tale. We, a modern audience, really do understand the importance of ‘fact-checking’.”

What is the best bit of gossip you have heard about yourself?

“That I am an American actor. That I am married to an American woman from California and a British woman from Berkshire at the same time.”

How did a young actor born in Saint Lucia and living in London get cast in an American TV comedy, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air? Didn’t Patrick Stewart have something to do with it?

“Ah, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Well, I was touring the Universities of Southern California with an organisation called ACTER (Alliance for Creative Theatre and Research), which was created by Sir Patrick Stewart and Professor Homer Swander, of UC [University of California] Santa Barbara, under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Tilted Wig’s poster image for The School For Scandal

“We were playing in Los Angeles in 1987 in a five-person production of Measure For Measure directed by Patrick Stewart. I played Angelo and three other roles. This flagship company was created for actors who had played leading roles in the plays of William Shakespeare, and our presence in Los Angeles, especially under the RSC banner, was a theatrical event. Anybody who was anybody came to the theatre over those days.

“Then, in 1990, Brandon Tarticoff (NBC) and Quincy Jones decided to produce the show The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. They needed an English butler and one of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Someone remembered me as Angelo in Measure For Measure; searched and located me, and then made me an offer, which I would have been foolish to refuse. So yes, Sir Patrick Stewart created the space for me. And for that, I am very grateful.”

Are you still recognised from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and do you keep in touch with co-star Will Smith and the cast?

“Yes, I am very much recognised. From America to Zimbabwe. Wherever in the world I visit. We do all keep in touch and have a biannual lunch in Malibu, California. These reunions are fun.”

How much of a culture shock was it when you and your family moved from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean to Peckham in London in the mid-1950s?

“My father had been resident for a year before the family joined him. We arrived via Genoa, Italy, to Waterloo, London, in November. The fog and the cold temperature was a shock but the denuded trees with no leaves was astonishing. The paraffin heaters took a long time to get used to. Having to play cricket in the rain was boring.”

Last time at York Theatre Royal for Joseph Marcell: Playing Inspector Esherick in Alone In Berlin in March 2020

You trained as an electrical engineer, so how did the acting start?

“Purely by accident. There was a theatrical event in London at that time called The World Theatre Season, created by a man called Michael Saint-Denis. I went to a play by the American Negro Theatre.  I believe the play was called Black New World. They were later to become the lauded Negro Ensemble. That was it for me. I found my road to Damascus. I said goodbye to electrical engineering.”

Your TV break came in Empire Road, a contemporary soap with an almost completely black cast, on the BBC in 1978. How difficult has it been to get diverse roles?

“In my opinion, I believe it is more difficult in these times. The loss of the repertory theatres and the advent of streaming has not been helpful. There’s nowhere to learn and practise the craftsmanship required.”

The last time you were appearing at York Theatre Royal in Hans Fallada’sAlone In Berlin, the theatre had to close mid-run because of the Covid epidemic. How much of a disappointment was that?

Joseph Marcell: Returning to York Theatre Royal

“A great disappointment. The role of Inspector Esherick, a detective in 1930s’ Berlin, was a dream of a role for a non-white actor. The director, James Dacre, had the imagination to cast me in that role. Very brave of him too. Such a talented director. In one move the diversity aspect was vanquished, for a while.

“And yes, the Covid pandemic did cut us off in our prime. Thankfully we have all survived and are in good health. Yet Alone In Berlin was a tremendous production and should have had a much longer life.”

You will next be seen on TV in Queenie, an adaptation of Candice Carly-Williams’s bestseller, on Channel 4. Who do you play?

“Grand Pa Wilfred. Of ‘the Windrush Generation’, he’s a lovely man who has embraced the situation in which he finds himself. One of the unsung heroes of the Caribbean migration to the United Kingdom.”

Tilted Wig in tandem with Malvern Theatres and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, present The School For Scandal, York Theatre Royal, April 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

A quartet of questions for director Seán Aydon

Seán Aydon: Directing Tilted Wig’s production of The School For Scadal, set in 1950

Are you doing your production in period or in a modernised setting?

“We wanted to allow our audience to get to as close to the heart of the play as possible and sometimes the baggage that goes with 18th century theatre, all the wigs and ruffles, can feel like a barrier.

“The actors of the 1770s would be wearing the height of fashion and we wanted our audiences to get a sense that these people were wealthy, stylish and take great care of their personal appearances.

“However, it didn’t feel right to set it in the modern day as the world of the play has very different rules to our own, particularly with regards to marriage as a financial agreement. We felt the middle of the 20th century would be a great place aesthetically as our audience could enjoy the vibrant colours and evocative textures, appreciating its style while knowing we are not in our 21st century world. It also allows us to play with some recognisable comedy tropes from the Fifties, including some rather brightly coloured telephones.”

Would you agree that Sheridan’s play is “one of the greatest comedies ever written”?

“I think it’s absolutely one of the best comedies ever written! You can see so many hallmarks of contemporary comedies and the great plays and films of modern times. It’s a classic sitcom plot with wicked wit, alongside slapstick, farce and some very silly physical comedy.

“Working on it, it seems easy to see its influence on so many of our favourite comedies from Blackadder to Noises Off.”

What differentiates this staging of The School For Scandal from past productions?

“This production really puts the relationship between the actors and the audience first. It is truly theatrical, an experience you can’t have on your sofa. At the same time, I think our new setting will make it feel very easy to relate to and understand from the very off while celebrating everything that makes this play exceptional.”

Will today’s audiences be scandalised by The School for Scandal?

“I don’t want to spoil anything, but those ghastly scandal-makers get what they deserve. In that respect it feels very contemporary; as a nation, we’re still pretty obsessed with the gossip columns!

“But I think our audiences will leave feeling rather warm and fuzzy – and with sore sides of course.”

REVIEW: Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal ****

Eleanor McLoughlin’s Doctor Victoria Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson’s The Creature in Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein

AFTER their liaison with York Theatre Royal for a tour of Juliet Forster’s production of Around The World In 80 Days earlier this year, Tilted Wig make a welcome return north with Frankenstein. In Halloween season, as chance would have it, in a tour running from September 14 to November 25.

Forget Halloween. This is not Frankenstein’s monster of six Hammer horror films or Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. This is Frankenstein reimagined by Séan Aydon after Mary Shelley, as the cover to Tilted Wig’s elegantly designed programme denotes.

An earnest, deadly serious, deeply humanitarian Frankenstein with only one shard of humour and two significant changes: scientist Doctor Victor Frankenstein has become Doctor Victoria Frankenstein (Eleanor McLoughlin), and the gothic sci-fi novel’s 1818 setting has moved to wartime 1943 in Poland.

Neither the Nazis, nor the Second World War in name is mentioned, but the shadow of eugenics, and indirectly the creation of a master race, an Aryan nirvana, casts a dark shadow over Doctor Frankenstein’s experiments and the ruthless university philosophy of Basienka Blake’s Richter.

Aydon’s production opens in a dry ice fog in a wooden hut, the spartan emergency home of Blake’s first character, Captain. A frantic knock on the door: McLoughlin’s exhausted Victoria Frankenstein is seeking shelter and sustenance.

Here are two women “hiding from their past at what feels like the very end of the world”. One of them, Frankenstein, has a terrifying story to tell; the other has a gun in her hand, demanding that she tell it.

Whereupon Nicky Bunch’s set peels back to reveal Frankenstein’s laboratory, where a storm is brewing on the perfect night for sufficient electricity to spark her creation, made from body parts, into life.

In Bunch’s design, the profusion of laboratory jars lights up,like beacons, as if in response to Doctor Frankenstein’s excitement at this golden opportunity for scientific progress. She will share her exact plans with Francine (Annette Hannah in her impressive professional theatre debut), but not with husband Henry (Dale Mathurin), and nor with her sister Elizabeth. On her first visit in six months, with no letters home in that time, Victoria is too preoccupied to have dinner with her.

The Creature’s sudden surge into life as the storm crackles is an electrifying piece of theatre in every way, visually, aurally, musically: the peak of Eamonn O’Dwyer’s sound designs in a scree of discordant strings. Horrifying, remarkable, breathtaking, amid the rusted operating equipment.

Aydon has created a thriller as much as a horror story, one with a sense of moral responsibility that suits its wartime setting but resonates anew in our new age of artificial intelligence and robotics and our fears over the route this AI is taking.

Aydon’s exploration of “the very fabric of what makes us human and the ultimate cost of chasing ‘perfection’” puts both McLoughlin’s Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson’s Creature under the spotlight.

She is thrilled anew at the possibility of creating a partner for The Creature, at his demand, until she is challenged by Hannah’s Francine over her own status, as a dwarf. Where does that fit in with this pursuit of “perfection”? 

A shattering moment, indeed, one that confronts all human experimentation and scientific exploration, just as in Michael Mann’s film Oppenheimer this summer.

Robertson’s Creature is never given a name by Doctor Frankenstein. He calls her “Mother” when they finally meet after his escape on that first night through a broken window. Another deeply impactful moment that makes Aydon’s production so powerful in its transition from Shelley’s series of letters to theatre of the imagination, a ghost story of the haunted Frankenstein.

The Creature, left to fend for himself, teaches himself how to talk, to learn Shakespeare too. That will make for an extraordinarily moving finale when The Creature reprises Hamlet’s final speech:  What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

“The rest is silence,” he concludes, just as Hamlet did. Silence does indeed fall across the Theatre Royal auditorium, but then explosive applause follows, and the conversations begin.

A Frankenstein for today, a cautionary tale with a fearful message for tomorrow, Tilted Wig’s reinvention demands to be seen.  

Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or Not suitable for under 12s.

Tilted Wig reimagine Frankenstein with a female Doctor and a Second World War setting in Halloween run at Theatre Royal

Eleanor McLoughlin as Doctor Victoria Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson as The Creature in Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein, on tour at York Theatre Royal. All pictures: Anthony Robling

TILTED Wig’s Frankenstein is an electrifying reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Gothic 19th century horror story, now set in 1943, on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday for the Halloween season.

While Europe tears itself apart, two women hide from their past at what feels like the very end of the world. One of them has a terrifying story to tell.

Adapted and directed by Sean Aydon, this new thriller explores the very fabric of what makes us human and the ultimate cost of chasing “perfection”, with a cast led by Eleanor McLoughlin as Doctor Victoria Frankenstein, alongside Basienka Blake as Captain/Richter, Cameron Robertson as The Creature, Dale Mathurin as Henry, Lula Marsh as Elizabeth and Annette Hannah as Francine. 

“When I first approached the script, I wanted to make it feel more contemporary, to relate more to the ethical questions of today and to make it feel more real,” says Séan. “But setting it in 2023 felt too clean and clinical. There is something far less scary about lasers and steel in comparison to rusted operating equipment.”

Why pick the Second World War? “There is no historical context that we have a better shared understanding than that of World War II. We are all aware of the horrors of the time, and by setting our play amongst them it raises the stakes immeasurably; the Doctor’s experiments have the power to change the whole world in a way we can all imagine,” says Séan.

“By exploring it through the prism of that time, a world where eugenics and racial purity were growing in popularity, I’m also hoping that the audience question the ethics of today and the dangerous path that chasing ‘perfection’ leads to.”

Eleanor McLoughlin’s Doctor Victoria Frankenstein and Lula Marsh’s Elizabeth in a scene from Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein

Séan’s gender swap of Shelley’s protagonist, transforming Victor to Victoria Frankenstein, influences the play’s dynamics and overall message. “The biggest impact of having a female doctor is the use of the word ‘mother’ and all the connotations that go with it,” he says.

“When the Creature calls her ‘Mother’ it’s a chilling reminder of the responsibility we have when creating life and how distorted the relationship can become.”

Séan approached the original text as a starting point for an entirely new play. Although major plot points remain intact, little dialogue was lifted from the novel, allowing for the exploration of Shelley’s ideas in a fresh context.

“The book itself is not particularly theatrical; it is told in a series of letters. But I wanted to retain that element of it feeling like a ‘ghost story’ told in the past tense,” he says. “I love the idea of two people sitting by a fire, telling a story that grows in the audience’s mind until the tension is almost unbearable. True fear exists in the imagination.”

Doctor Frankenstein’s story is enduringly popular, resulting in interpretations over the years on both stage and screen. Next up, Emma Stone will be a female Frankenstein’s monster in the upcoming film Poor Things, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

Boris Karloff’s 1931 creature is often lauded as definitive, while the 1957 Hammer horror reworking featuring Christopher Lee spawned six sequels. Less scary, but still impactful, was Mel Brooks’s 1974 parody, Young Frankenstein, starring and co-written by Gene Wilder.

Dale Mathurin’s Henry in Séan Aydon’s production of Frankenstein

In 1999, Frankenstein’s story received a somewhat different treatment in the direct-to-video Alvin And The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein. In 2012, Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie was voiced by the likes of Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and Martin Short.

At the National Theatre, London, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature in Danny Boyle’s 2011 production, subsequently sharing the Laurence Olivier Award and Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.

Séan attributes this endless fascination to several factors: Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel, still captivating audiences as scientific advancements bring its themes closer to reality.

Secondly, its themes are timeless: humanity’s responsibility toward one another is questioned continually, while the rise of AI [artificial intelligence] has thrust the progress of science and technology into the news headlines.

Thirdly, the eternal question of nature versus nurture will always strike a nerve with parents and carers.

Horror stories on stage and screen represent our inherent desire to be scared. Whereas cinema crafts realistic portrayals of horror, theatre taps into the power of the imagination and the present moment in an immersive experience that heightens the tension and fear.

Eleanor McLoughlin’s Doctor Victoria Frankenstein at work on creating The Creature

Witness Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories that terrified Grand Opera House audiences in York in March 2020 or Robert Icke’s psychological horror adaptations.

Now comes Tilted Wig’s reinvention of Frankenstein. “I want people to leave realising they haven’t relaxed any of the muscles in their body for the last hour,” says Séan.

“If you love gripping drama; if you love a good story well told; if you want to be laughing and before you know it find your heart in your mouth; if you want to be left arguing about which character was in the right for the next few days, you should book to see Frankenstein.”

Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal, October 24 and 26 to 28, 7.30pm; October 25 and 26, 2pm; October 28, 2.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or Not suitable for under 12s.

Did you know?

SEAN Aydon was assistant director on the world premiere of Tom Fletcher’s The Christmasaurus at the Hammersmith Apollo, London, and adapted and directed the national tour of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

Did you know too?

TILTED Wig’s Frankenstein features an original score by Eamonn O’Dwyer, who provided the score for Shakespeare Rose Theatre’s Twelfth Night and Henry V in York in 2019.

More Things To Do in York and beyond when you’re not only here for the beer. Hutch’s List No. 43, from The Press

Velma Celli: Vocal drag entertainment with chutzpah and cheek at Yorktoberfest, York Racecourse

BAVARIAN revelry and riotous Russian politics, Frankenstein in wartime and jazz era Joni, comedy and charity nights entice Charles Hutchinson to do battle with Storm Babet.

Festival of the week: Jamboree Entertainment presents Yorktoberfest, Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, Knavesmire Road, York, today, 1pm to 5pm; Friday, 7pm to 11pm; next Saturday, 1pm to 5pm and 7pm to 11pm

YORKTOBEFEST returns for a third autumn season of beer, bratwurst, bumper cars and all things Bavarian in a giant marquee. Look out for the Bavarian Strollers, with their thigh-slapping oompah tunes and disco classics, and York’s international drag diva Velma Celli with her stellar singing and saucy humour.  

Dancing is encouraged, as is the wearing of Lederhosen, Dirndls or any other fancy dress, with nightly competitions and prizes for the best dressed. Box office:

Steve Cassidy: Playing hits spanning six decades at St Peter’s School tonight

Fundraiser of the week: York Rotary presents A Song For Everyone, Memorial Hall, St Peter’s School, Clifton, York, tonight; doors 7pm, concert 7.30pm to 10.15pm

YORK singer and guitarist Steve Cassidy and his band are joined by guest vocalist Heather Findlay to perform a “huge range of popular hits covering six decades”. Expect rock, ballads and country music. Proceeds from this fundraising concert will go to St Leonard’s Hospice and York Rotary Charity Fund. Box office: or on the door.

Heather Findlay: Guest vocalist at A Song For Everyone. Picture: Adam Kennedy

Spooks at Spark: Halloween Makers’ Market, Spark:York, Piccadilly, York, today, 12 noon to 4pm

THE Halloween edition of Spark:York’s Makers’ Market features “spooktacularly” handcrafted work by independent makers. Taking part will be Wistoragic Designs, Enthralled Yet, Gem Belle, A Forest of Shadows, Kim’s Clay Jewellery and the Mimi Shop by Amelia. Entry is free.

Hejira: Celebrating the jazz days of Joni Mitchell at the NCEM

Jazz gig of the week: Hejira: Celebrating Joni Mitchell, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, tomorrow, 6.30pm 

JAZZ seven-piece Hejira honour the works of Canadian-American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and painter Joni Mitchell, mostly from the late 1970s, in particular Mingus from her “jazz period” and the live album Shadows And Light, recorded in 1979 with a Jazz All Stars line-up featuring saxophonist Michael Brecker and guitarist Pat Metheny.

Hejira is fronted by Hattie Whitehead, who – in her own way – has assimilated the poise, power and beauty of Joni’s vocals and plays guitar with Joni’s stylistic mannerisms. Joining her will be Pete Oxley, guitar; Ollie Weston, saxophones; Chris Eldred, piano and keyboards; Dave Jones, electric basses; Rick Finlay, drums, and Marc Cecil, percussion. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Go Your Own Way: The Rumours are true, they are playing Fleetwood Mac songs at the Grand Opera House tomorrow

Tribute show of the week: Go Your Own Way – The Fleetwood Mac Legacy, Grand Opera House, tomorrow, 7.30pm

GO Your Own Way celebrates the Fleetwood Mac era of Rumours and that 1977 line-up of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Christine McVie and Mick Fleetwood in this new tribute show. Dreams, Don’t Stop Rhiannon, Gold Dust Woman, Everywhere, Little Lies and Big Love all feature. Box office:

Jonny Best: Piano accompaniment to Monday’s screenings of The Great Train Robbery and The General. Picture: Chris Payne

Film screening of the week: Northern Silents Film Festival presents The Great Train Robbery (1903) and The General (1926), National Centre for Early Music, York, Monday, 7.30pm

NORTHERN Silents artistic director and pianist Jonny Best brings musical commentary to a pair of silent cinema’s most famous railway chase films.

The 12-minute escapade The Great Train Robbery still packs a punch after 120 years, while Buster Keaton’s greatest achievement, the 80-minute The General, is both a brlliantly staged American Civil War epic and a comedy-thriller packed with visual humour, daring stunts and dramatic tension.

Keaton plays railroad engineer Johnny Gray, whose beloved locomotive, The General, is stolen by Yankees, stirring him to strive to get it back against the odds. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Eleanor McLoughlin as Victoria Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson as The Creature in Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein, on tour at York Theatre Royal

One for the Halloween season: Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday; 7.30pm October 24 and 26 to 28; 2pm, October 25 and 26; 2.30pm, October 28

TILTED Wig’s Frankenstein is an electrifying reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Gothic 19th century horror story, now set in 1943. While Europe tears itself apart, two women hide from their past at what feels like the very end of the world. One of them has a terrifying story to tell. 

Adapted and directed by Sean Aydon, this new thriller explores the very fabric of what makes us human and the ultimate cost of chasing “perfection” with a cast featuring Eleanor McLoughlin as Doctor Victoria Frankenstein, Basienka Blake as Captain/Richter and Cameron Robertson as The Creature. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Burning Duck Comedy Club welcomes Tom Lawrinson, Erin Tett and Mandy McCarthy to Spark:York

Comedy bill of the week: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Tom Lawrinson & Friends, Spark:York, Piccadilly, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

AFTER Tom Lawrinson and Eryn Tett starred in Burning Duck’s inaugural Spark Comedy Fringe, promoter Al Greaves has invited them back to spark more laughs.

Absurdist alternative comedian Tett opens the show; Lawrinson, who made his Edinburgh Fringe debut with Hubba Hubba, is the headline act. In between come two shorter spots (wait and see who those “friends” will be), with guest host MC Mandy McCarthy holding everything together. Box office:

Comedian Helen Bauer: Girl’s talk at The Crescent and Hyde Park Book Club

A word or two on women: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Helen Bauer: Grand Supreme Darling Princess, The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm; Hyde Park Book Club, Headingley, Leeds, Friday, 8pm

HELEN Bauer, Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer nominee, Late Night Mash star and Trusty Dogs podcaster, heads to York and Leeds with a show about the women in her life, from her mother to her best friend and that one girl who was mean in 2008. Oh, and Disney princesses, obviously. Box office: York,; Leeds,

One dalmatian, 100 more are on their way to the Grand Opera House in a new musical in November 2024. Picture: Oliver Rosser, Feast Creative

Spotted in the distance: 101 Dalmatians The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 5 to 9 2024, not 2023

A NEW musical tour of Dodie Smith’s canine caper 101 Dalmatians will arrive in York next autumn.  Written by Douglas Hodge (music and lyrics) and Johnny McKnight (book), from a stage adaptation by Zinnie Harris, the show is reimagined from the 2022 production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London. The cast and creative team are yet to be announced.

When fashionista Cruella de Vil plots to swipe all the Dalmatian puppies in town to create her fabulous new fur coat, trouble lies ahead for Pongo and Perdi and their litter of tail-wagging young pups. Smith’s story will be brought to stage life with puppetry, choreography, humorous songs and, yes, puppies. Box office:

In Focus: Political drama of the week: York Settlement Community Players in Government Inspector

Director Alan Park, back row, right, and his Settlement Players cast for Government Inspector at Theatre@41, Monkgate. Picture: John Saunders

IN his first time in the director’s seat for 15 years, Theatre@41 chair and actor Alan Park directs the Settlement Players in David Harrower’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Russian satirical exposé of hypocrisy and corruption in high places, prompted by a simple case of mistaken identity.

Park’s ensemble cast of eccentrics will undertake a fun, chaotic journey through 1980s’ Soviet Russia. “Communism is collapsing, it’s every man, woman and dog for themselves. What could possibly go wrong?” he asks, as the bureaucrats of a small Russian town are sent into a panic by news of the government inspector’s imminent arrival.

Harrower’s version premiered at the Warwick Arts Centre in May 2011 and transferred to the Young Vic, London, later that year. Now it provides “the perfect platform for Settlement Players’ hugely talented ensemble”, led by Mike Hickman as the town’s Major.

Andrew Roberts plays Khlestakov, accompanied by Paul French as his long-suffering servant, Osip. YSCP regulars combine with newcomers in Park’s company of Alison Taylor as the Major’s wife; Pearl Mollison, the Major’s daughter; Katie Leckey, Dobchinsky; Sonia Di Lorenzo, Bobchinksy; Maggie Smales, the Judge; Matt Pattison, Postmaster; Mark Simmonds, Head of Hospitals; Paul Osborne, School Superintendent; Adam Sowter, Police Superintendent; Florence Poskitt, Mishka, and Alexandra Mather, Dr Gibner.

Jim Paterson will lead a live band, made up of cast members, such as Pattison and Sowter, to help transport next week’s audiences to a 1980s’ provincial Soviet town full of eccentric personalities. Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

REVIEW: Around The World In 80 Days, Tilted Wig/York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal, today, 2.30pm, 7.30pm ****

Ride on time: Alex Phelps’s Phileas Fogg in Around The World In 80 Days. Picture: Anthony Robling

THE circus will leave town after a three-day home run concludes with today’s two performances, ahead of a nationwide tour until July 22 in Tilted Wig’s collaboration with York Theatre Royal.

Creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel was first staged on the school playing fields of York in the socially distanced summer of 2021, big-topped off by a finale back indoors at the Theatre Royal.

After rehearsals on Sara Perks’s fabulous travelling set in the Studio, the striped flags and organ music of Vernes Circus have taken up temporary residence in the main house with a multi-disciplined cast of five tasked with playing circus performers in turn playing a minimum of two of Verne’s characters each.

In prickly English Victorian gent Phileas Fogg’s wager with his stuffy Reform Club cronies that he can traverse the globe in 80 days, Forster wastes no time in pricking the balloon that Fogg travelled in such a form of transportation. In screen versions, yes; in the Frenchman’s novel, no. Besides, budget constraints rule it out, decrees Alex Phelps’s punctilious Ringmaster.

The imagination, however, needs no budget, and so, just as in Patrick Barlow’s parody re-creation of John Buchan’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of The 39 Steps, Forster’s cast must apply physical theatre panache, dextrous elasticity, props and even costume to convey anything from an elephant to a train and a trading vessel in often unexpected ways.

Calling on the stone-faced grace of Buster Keaton, Phelps’s immaculate, unflustered, tea-drinking, not-always-scrupulous Fogg/immaculate/flustered Ringmaster seeks to control proceedings with the help/hindrance of Wilson Benedito’s Clown/servant Passepartout.

Weaving their way into the fast-moving, helter-skelter story are Genevieve Sabherwal’s Trick Rider/Indian princess Aouda, Katriona Brown’s whip-cracking Acrobat/Nellie Bly and returning 2021 cast member Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower/spiv Detective Fox. From assorted accents to assorted circus skills, they reveal a restless, constantly changing repertoire of theatrical alacrity with relish.

As the revolving signage announces each new destination, so everything could be in too much of a rush. Except that Forster runs the parallel story of ground-breaking American journalist Nellie Bly’s real-life race around the world, related by Brown’s Bly in elegant travelogue prose that benefits the production with its change of pace, all the while amusingly winding up Phelps’s Fogg.

Favourite scenes? The slow-motion bridge collapse denoted by ladders and the heavy-drinking tussle between Mann’s Fix and Benedito’s Passepartout on a see-saw, where everything is in the balance.

As you would want, Forster’s second act surpasses the first, the company’s teamwork becoming ever funnier, their flamboyant, fun circus acrobatics stacking up, with high praise for Asha Jennings-Grant’s movement direction and Edwin Gray’s sound design too. Perks’s designs and costumes delight throughout.

Just as York Theatre Royal’s The Railway Children took off for London and Toronto success, Tilted Wig must be thanked for giving new air to Forster’s Around The World In 80 Days, now travelling around the country for 171 days. Fans of Mischief’s mischief-making, calamitous comedies will love it.

York box office: 01904 623568 or The tour visits Cast, Doncaster, from July 5 to 8; Age guidance: five plus.

After CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet, Alex Phelps and Juliet Forster reunite for Around The World In 80 Days circus escapades

On your bike: Alex Phelps, front, in rehearsal for his dual roles as the Ringmaster and Phileas Fogg in Around The World In 80 Days

TILTED Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days – in 171 days, to be precise – after a month of rehearsals in York.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s first toured all four corners of York in August 23 days in 2021, not in a hot-air balloon, but on a trailer, in the tradition of travelling players going from town to town.

Forster’s circus-themed production played four York playing fields – Carr Junior School, Copmanthorpe Primary School, Archbishop Holgate’s School and Joseph Rowntree School – followed by a last stop, back indoors, at the Theatre Royal, where producers Tilted Wig’s new tour of England, Scotland and Wales will open from Thursday to Saturday.

In Forster’s version, Verne’s original characters are transformed, embracing different modes of transport in Phileas Fogg’s fictional frantic race to travel around the world in 80 days.

One original cast member, New Zealander Eddie Mann’s sharp-witted Knife Thrower and Detective Fix, will be joined by Alex Phelps’s resolute Ringmaster and unscrupulous Fogg; actor-puppeteer Katriona Brown’s Acrobat and real-life globe-traveller Nellie Bly; Wilson Benedito’s Clown and Passepartout and Genevieve Sabherwal’s Trick Rider and Aouda.

Around The World In 80 Days director Juliet Forster

Phelps had first made an impression on Forster when playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek with such brio in Joyce Branagh’s Jazz Age take on Twelfth Night for Shakespeare Rose Theatre in York in June 2019.

“That was the first time I’d seen Alex performing, though we’d met at Theatre By The Lake, and I was really keen to consider Alex for the role of Phileas Fogg last time around in 2021, when there were only two names I wanted on my list: Alex and Emilio (Iannucci), but Alex was already committed to doing Justin’s House for CBeebies.”

This time around, Emilio decided not to do the tour, much as he would have like to do so, opening the door for Alex.

“I was doing the CBeebies’ Christmas show when Juliet contacted me, and had a Zoom meeting with her while I was in the dressing room for Dick Whittington And His Cat,” he recalls. “I managed to find a quiet little corner where the wi-fi worked, while everyone wondered what was going on!”

And so, as fate would decree, Juliet has ended up working with both her preferred picks for Fogg.  “It does feel like it was meant to happen this way,” she says. “It’s not that you have to typecast a particular role, but there is something about the essential nature, or spirit, of a person that sits right with the role, and that was the case with both Emilio and Alex.

Alex Phelps: Actor noted for his comic skills of physicality and playfulness

“One of my strengths as a director is how I cast and I do a lot of work through the casting process, where interpretation of a character is a big part of that, and if someone is not quite aligned with my thinking…

“But Alex is completely right for it. Playfulness is really important in this role, and I would find it hard to work with someone who didn’t want to be playful, which also brings out the truthfulness.”

Alex concurs: “It’s an important element that can be overlooked, but you’re putting on a play that’s all about ‘playing’. Like two people playing tennis, you’re on either side of the net, and the other person has to hit it back.

“The audience are ahead of the cast – the circus performers playing Verne’s characters – where they know the goal is to complete the journey in 80 days, so the excitement is: how will they get there in that time?

“It’s a comedy, and I really believe great comedy has to tread the razor’s edge of great tragedy, as it does in Aguecheek’s case too, where’s it all very tragic for Aguecheek but very funny for the audience.”

Alex has been studying Buster Keaton for his latest role. “I’ve gone back to his films for Fogg because what he’s so good at is how his face never changes, but all his physical expression comes through his body and that tells the audience everything they need to know,” he says.

Alex Phelps’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek, back row, centre, with Cassie Vallance’s Fabian and Fine Time Fontayne’s Sir Toby Belch, winding up Claire Storey’s Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Twelfth Night in York in 2019. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Juliet and Alex have worked together before, joining forces when she directed CBeebies’ version of Romeo And Juliet, recorded under lockdown restrictions. “Having seen how funny he is physically as an actor and knowing what a genuinely lovely person he is, I kept nagging the CBeebies’ producer to cast Alex as Mercutio, which was going to be a small role but needed someone who would fill it with personality immediately,” she says.

“Under Covid conditions, we had proximity devices to stop you getting within two metres of each other, lunch was at separate tables; everyone had to be completely separate  at the hotel.

“It was difficult not to want to direct close-up, and you could only be close to someone for a maximum of 15 minutes in a day, but none of us got Covid, so maybe it was the best way to work, even if it was a bizarre experience.”

Alex would go on to do more CBeebies’ shows, not least being asked to join Justin Fletcher’s Mr Tumble in Justin’s House and making Christmas specials.

Now it is time for his playful Phileas Fogg to fly under Juliet’s direction.

Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal present Around The World In 80 Days at York Theatre Royal on Thursday, 2pm and 7.30pm, Friday, 7.30pm, and Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or Also: Cast, Doncaster, July 5 to 8; Age guidance: five plus.

More Things To Do in York when a Yorkshireman’s favourite price is on offer. Hutch List No. 5 for 2023, from The Press

Hannah Davies: Poetic monologues at York Explore Library in Pilot Theatre’s Monoliths for York Residents’ Festival

THE best things in life are not always free, but plenty are this weekend for York residents. Charles Hutchinson also highlights the best value in theatre, music, art and comedy.  

Event of the week: York Residents’ Festival 2023, today and tomorrow

ORGANISED by Make It York, York Residents’ Festival 2023 combines more than 100 attractions, events and offers this weekend. Historical attractions such as York Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre, Fairfax House, York Castle Museum, Barley Hall and The Guildhall will be opening their doors for free to residents.   

Further highlights include wizard golf at The Hole In Wand; free river cruises with City Cruises; chocolate tours at York’s Chocolate Story; behind-the-scenes tours of York Theatre Royal and a virtual reality experience with Pilot Theatre’s Monoliths, featuring poetic monologues on city, country and coastal northern landscapes by Hannah Davies, Carmen Marcus and Asma Elbadawi  at York Explore Library. Restaurants, cafés and shops are taking part too. For full details, go to:

Fat chance…to see Sofie Hagen in her Fat Jokes show at Theatre@41

Comedy gig of the week: Sofie Hagen: Fat Jokes, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday, 8pm

EDINBURGH Fringe comedy award winner Sofie Hagen presents Fat Jokes, a storytelling show bursting with big jokes, fat punchlines and unforgettable moments. “Come as you are and enjoy an actual fat person at the top of her game,” says the Danish-born, London-based comedian’s publicity blurb. Box office:

Travelogue of the week: Around The World In 80 Days, York Theatre Royal, Thursday, 2pm and 7.30pm; Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

PRODUCERS Tilted Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days in creative director Juliet Forster’s circus-themed version of Jules Verne’s story, first staged on York playing fields in 2021.

Original cast member Eddie Mann will be joined by Alex Phelps, Katriona Brown, Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal, who each multi-role as the rag-tag band of travelling big-top performers embarks on a daring mission to recreate Phileas Fogg’s fictitious journey, interwoven with the true story of Nellie Bly’s globe-travelling deeds. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Anna Meredith: Genre-crossing composer and musician heading for The Crescent in Independent Venue Week. Picture: Gem Harris

Innovators of the week: Please Please You presents Rozi Plain and Mayshe-Mayshe, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm; Anna Meredith and Elsa Hewitt, The Crescent, York, Friday, 7.30pm

WINCHESTER singer-songwriter Rozi Plain showcases her fifth album, Prize, released on Memphis Industries on January 13. Highlights among its ten tracks include the blissful single Agreeing For Two, the synth explorations of Painted The Room and the woozy jazz inflections of Spot Thirteen.

Later in the week, in a special show for Independent Venue Week, The Crescent welcomes Anna Meredith MBE, the genre-crossing composer and producer whose work straddles contemporary classical, art pop, electronica and experimental rock. Guitar, drums, cello and tuba feature in her band. Box office:

Liam Brennan’s Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Political thriller returns: An Inspector Calls, Grand Opera House, York, February 7 to 11, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Thursday matinees

PREMIERED at the Theatre Royal in 1989, Stephen Daldry’s radical take on Yorkshireman J B Priestley’s thriller An Inspector Calls returns to York next month with tour regular Liam Brennan once more in the role of Inspector Goole.

Written at the end of the Second World War and set before the First, Priestley’s time play opens with the Birling family’s peaceful dinner party being shattered by the inspector’s call and subsequent investigations into the death of a young woman as the dangers of casual capitalism’s cruelty, complacency and hypocrisy are highlighted. Box office:

Leroy Virgil: Teaming up with York band The Black Skies at The Crescent

Country gig of the week: Hellbound Glory & The Black Skies, The Crescent, York, February 7, 7.30pm

RENO resident and Hellbound Glory main man Leroy Virgil has single-handedly invented an outlaw country music sub-genre he affectionately calls “Scumbag Country”.

His stories from the seedy underbelly of the place he calls home in sunny Nevada are full of character observations and introspection, set to a soundtrack of folk and blues-laced Americana. His York gig will be one of only three on his debut British tour to promote latest long player The Immortal Hellbound Glory: Nobody Knows You.

Young York alt/rock band The Black Skies will be his backing band as well as playing their own set at this double bill of whisky-drenched, low-slung country and rock’n’roll from the American mid-west and Yorkshire. Box office:

The poster for York Ceramics Fair 2023

Going potty for pottery: York Ceramics Fair, York Racecourse, March 4, 10am to 5pm, and March 5, 10am to 4pm

AFTER a short break to find a new venue, York Ceramics Fair makes a March return indoors at York Racecourse for a fourth instalment with an “impressive line-up of ceramicists”, complemented by activities, events, talks and more besides.

A free shuttle bus will be running between York Racecourse, on Kavesmire Road, and the Memorial Gardens Coach Park, in Station Road, York. Tickets: via Eventbrite at

Nik Briggs: Directing York Stage in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: Teen Edition

Looking ahead: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, May 29 to June 3

YORK Stage will be holding the first round of auditions for the Teen Edition of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie today, seeking black, Asian and mixed-race performers aged 13-19 to fulfil Nik Briggs’s company’s commitment to represent the diverse community of Sheffield, the show’s setting, through his casting. A second audition day follows on February 4.

Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s coming-of-age musical follows the true-life story of 16-year-old Sheffield schoolboy Jamie Campbell as he overcomes prejudice and bullying to step out of the darkness to become a drag queen. Box office: