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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. 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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. 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: ticketsource.co.uk/yorktoberfest.

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: yorkrotary.co.uk/a-song-for-everyone 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 ncem.co.uk.

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: atgtickets.com/york.

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 ncem.co.uk.

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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

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: burningduckcomedy.com.

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, wegottickets.com/event/581816; Leeds, wegottickets.com/event/581817.

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: atgtickets.com/york.

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: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk

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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. The tour visits Cast, Doncaster, from July 5 to 8; castdoncaster.com. 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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Also: Cast, Doncaster, July 5 to 8; castdoncaster.com. 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: visityork.org/resfest.

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: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

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 yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

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:  thecrescentyork.com.

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: atgtickets.com/york.

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: thecrescentyork.com.

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 yorkceramicsfair.com/ticket-info.

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: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal teams up with Tilted Wig for second Around The World In 80 Days travels, this time going nationwide

The cast for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s 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 from February 2 to July 22 2023. Rehearsals will begin in York next Monday.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story first toured all four corners of York in August 23 days in 2021, not in a hot-air balloon, but on a trailer, whose sides could be dropped down for the set to be built around, 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 Tilted Wig’s new tour of England, Scotland and Wales will open from February 2 to 4.

In Forster’s version, Verne’s original characters are transformed, embracing different modes of transport in the frantic race to travel around the world in 80 Days. 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 circus performers embarks on a daring mission to recreate Phileas Fogg’s journey.

Eddie Mann: Returning to the roles of the Knife Thrower and Detective Fix

Phelps will play the determined Ringmaster and Fogg, having appeared in As You Like It for Shakespeare’s Globe/CBeebies, When Darkness Falls for Park Theatre and Hamlet for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Actor and puppeteer Brown will be the Acrobat and Nellie Bly; Sabherwal, the Trick Rider and Aouda; Wilson Benedito, the Clown and Passepartout, and New Zealander Mann, the sharp-witted Knife Thrower and Detective Fix.

Writer-director Forster said in 2021: ““There was a risk that a show would have a stuffy gentlemen’s club, outdated feel to it because it’s a male-dominated story, so I thought, ‘how do we make it a play for today?’. That’s when I decided to put Nellie Bly’s story in there too.”

For the uninitiated, Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, an American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker, who made her own record-breaking trip around the world – and did so with more alacrity than the fictional Fogg.

The original York Theatre Royal cast for Around The World In 80 Days in August 2021, including Eddie Mann, centre. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“I read her book about going around the world: a beautiful piece of travel journalism with such lovely detail, and I thought, ‘maybe we should just do her story’, but then I decided, ‘no, let’s look at finding a form for a play that fits bit both stories in’,” Juliet said.

Move forward to 2023’s revival, and the director says: “I was amazed that we generally know more about Jules Verne’s fictional characters than we do about Nellie Bly. I knew I had to tell her story. I found that this approach allowed interesting themes to emerge around whose stories get told, whose stories dominate and who should stand aside to give space to the untold ones.”

Tour producer Tilted Wig Productions was formed in 2017 by Katherine Senior and Matthew Parish, who have more than 15 years of experience producing and touring plays throughout the UK, taking 20-plus productions on the road, such as Philip Meeks’s Murder, Margaret, and Me, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Picture Of Dorian Gray.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster: Writer-director of Around The World In 80 Days

“Our shows now tour around some of the biggest theatres in the UK, yet our original ethos has always remained the same: whether Titled Wig are producing a classic play or a vibrant new adaptation, we always aim to inspire a bright and innovative creative team to take our stories UK-wide,” they say.

Juliet is joined in the production team by set designer Sara Perks; lighting designer Alexandra Stafford; composer and sound designer Ed Gray; movement director Asha Jennings-Grant and fight director Jonathan Holby.

Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal present Around The World In 80 Days at York Theatre Royal on February 2, 2pm and 7.30pm, February 3, 7.30pm, and February 4, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Also: Cast, Doncaster, July 5 to 8; castdoncaster.com. Age guidance: seven plus.

The tour poster for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

UPDATE 9/1/2023

REHEARSALS have begun today for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s six-month tour of Around The World In 80 Days.

Gathering for the first time were Wilson Benedito, left, Katrina Brown, Genevieve Sabherwal and Alex Phelps. Missing was fifth cast member memberEddie Mann, who will join rehearsals later. Picture by Anthony Robling.