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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Of The Press, York

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

Rosemary Bentley RIP: ‘Warmth, honesty and compassion at York Theatre Royal’

Rosemary Bentley

THE funeral of York Theatre Royal stalwart Rosemary “Bud” Bentley will be held tomorrow (18/1/2022).

Rosemary, who passed away on Christmas Eve, will journey with family members from their home onto Bishopthorpe Road, down Scarcroft Road and across to English Martyrs RC Church, on Dalton Terrace, for the 10.30am celebration of her life. The family would welcome smiling faces on the route.

Rosemary, who was 74, worked at York Theatre Royal for more than 20 years in catering, costume hire and front of house.

She died from a stroke in York Hospital where she was being treated for fractured ribs following a fall while ushering at the St Leonard’s Place theatre.

Rosemary also was a former teaching assistant at St George’s Primary School for many years, participated in amateur dramatics at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre and was prominent in the Friends of Rowntree Park voluntary organisation, helping to establish the Sensory Garden.

She leaves husband Hugo, son Paul and foster daughter Caitlin. Born and raised in Surrey, she had met Hugo when hiking at Ben Nevis and they moved on York in 1979. They were married for 49 years.

Those attending tomorrow’s Requiem Mass are invited to wear a splash of colour with their mourning attire “as Rosemary would have wanted”. Light refreshments will be served at English Martyrs Church Hall afterwards; Rosemary’s family will be there after a private ceremony at Bishopthorpe Crematorium.

The family has asked that there be flowers only from close relatives but donations to St Leonard’s Hospice would be appreciated greatly.

Hugo thanks everyone who has sent messages of condolence and those who have shared memories of how Rosemary has touched their life in some way.

The Theatre Royal’s website announcement paid tribute to “our much-loved friend and colleague”.  “We all loved Rosemary for her warmth, honesty and passion for our theatre,” it reads. “She lit up our organisation whenever she was around, and we will miss her very, very much. All our thoughts and love are with Hugo and all their family and friends at this time.”

Chief executive Tom Bird said: “We all loved Rosemary, and she loved the theatre. We’re absolutely heartbroken that she’s gone. We’ll remember her warmth, honesty and compassion – and her husband Hugo remains a much-loved and valued part of our team.”

God bless you, Rosemary, and thank you for always adding joy to a night at York Theatre Royal, no matter what took place on that stage, whether good or not so good. The end of a show was often the beginning of our chats, full of your humour, candour and wisdom, sharing that love of the world of theatre, its characters, gossip and magic. Happy, happy memories to treasure at your final curtain.

Bird’s eye view on the Spring! season ahead at York Theatre Royal after panto success

The Bone Sparrow: Pilot Theatre’s world premiere at York Theatre Royal

AFTER the Summer Of Love, the Haunted Season and the pantomime revolution, York Theatre Royal has a Spring! in its step for 2022’s diary of new beginnings.

“Our strategy is not middle of the road with our programming,” says chief executive Tom Bird. “We are either being ambitious commercially or ambitious artistically.

“When we make new work, we want it to resonate with the times; we want it to be relevant to York audiences and we want it to be experimental. We used to do a lot of plays that were ‘in the middle’, but where we are now, even though we do them rather well, we can’t do Chekhov and Ibsen, because no-one came.

“But we’re going to do loads of new work over the year ahead and we have to balance it with commercial work, because we want to have a full theatre that is a community-engaged theatre.”

In a nutshell that means accommodating Pilot Theatre’s The Bone Sparrow, York Light Opera Company’s Evita, Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre’s As You Like It, Dancing On Ice winner Jake Quickenden and Darren Day in the 1980s’ musical Footloose and Mischief and Penn & Teller’s Magic Goes Wrong in one season.

“As a creative theatre, we’re co-producing – and hosting rehearsals for – York company Pilot Theatre’s tour of The Bone Sparrow; we’ll be doing a community play, yet to be named, probably indoors in the summer,” says Tom.

“We’ll also be doing something at Easter and something about Guy Fawkes in November, so there’s plenty of new work in the pipeline. We’ll also continue to make ‘micro-community’ shows, like the Love Bites nights that reopened the theatre [after Lockdown 3] in May.” Watch this space as more details emerge.

Directed by artistic director Esther Richardson, Pilot Theatre’s world premiere of award-winning Australian playwright S. Shakthidaran’s adaptation of Zana Fraillon’s novel The Bone Sparrow will open at York Theatre Royal from February 25 to March 5 before touring to fellow co-producing houses Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Derby Playhouse.

Fraillon’s story of a Rohingya refugee boy who has spent his entire life living in a detention centre in Australia forms the third liaison between Pilot and the four theatres, who formed a new partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences. 

“The way this consortium has worked is that, over a four-year period, each theatre takes its turn to make a show with Pilot. Derby Playhouse made Noughts & Crosses, Coventry made Crongton Knights,” says Tom.

“This time, we’re producing The Bone Sparrow in York. It’s a brilliant time to be doing this play, as it’s set in a refugee camp, when sections of the media and certain politicians try to demonise refugees. This play pushes back against that really powerfully.

“It’s also super-exciting that Arun Ghosh is doing the music and sound. Arun is an incredible Indian musician who I worked with on a show called Lions And Tigers, by Tanika Gupta, at Shakespeare’s Globe.”

Just as York Theatre Royal and pantomime partners Evolution Productions were determined to draw a wider, younger audience to Cinderella – and did so with 65 per cent visiting the Theatre Royal for the first time – so Tom is passionate about attracting young audiences to other shows too.

“It’s great to do work for this [teenage] age group with Pilot. We were worried because Crongton Knights was a tough sell, as it did feel its experiences specifically spoke to South London, but this latest show has really taken off,” he says.

“It seems to be a story that everyone is relating to, even thought it’s set in Australia, but then Australia is a good place to set such a story because the way Australia handles refugees and asylum seekers is a bleak vision of how it could be in our country.” 

Politics lies at the heart of another centrepiece of the season: Nottingham Playhouse, Northern Stage (Newcastle) and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh’s co-production of Red Ellen, on tour in York from May 24 to 28.

Caroline Bird’s new play tells the inspiring and epic story of Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson “who was forever on the right side of history, forever on the wrong side of life”.

Caught between revolutionary and parliamentary politics, Ellen’s fight for a better world took in encounters with Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway; battling to save Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany; campaigning for Britain to aid the struggle against Franco’s Fascists in Spain; leading 200 petitioning workers on the Jarrow Crusade from Newcastle to London and serving in Churchill’s Cabinet – and she had affairs with Communist spies and government ministers alike.

“Caroline Bird, no relation, is an amazing new playwright, and this play is an absolute corker. It’s great to do that new work here, just as we were delighted to stage The Young’uns’ show The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff in the autumn,” says Tom.

“A new play by a female playwright, on a large theatrical scale, doesn’t happen that often and definitely not often enough.

“I just wanted to give it a stage in Yorkshire because it was already going to be performed in Scotland, the North East and the Midlands: places it should be seen in, but otherwise it wouldn’t be coming to Yorkshire.”

On March 17 and 18, Oladipo Agboluaje’s Here’s What She Said To Me follows three generations of proud African women, connecting with each other across two continents, across time and space.

First staged at Sheffield Crucible Theatre, the play was conceived and directed by Mojisola Elufowoju, who cut her theatrical teeth while studying at York St John University. “Moji did a lot of work at the Theatre Royal and has now put together this incredible company [Utopia Theatre] to tell the story of what happened to these Ugandan women,” says Tom.

“We have to keep going with tackling diversity in theatre; we’ve changed from being aware of the need to be diverse to reflect our community to a position of having to take a lead on this, going beyond reflecting diversity in our community to be always representing the contemporary world on our stage, because York is changing faster than we realise.”

In Michele Lee’s Rice, on April 13 and 14, two women form a powerful if unlikely bond:  Nisha is  a headstrong hotshot Indian executive working for Australia’s largest producer of rice and Yvette, an older Chinese migrant, is the cleaner with entrepreneurial ambitions of her own.

“Actors Touring Company are continuing our strand of Chinese and Asian theatre, which is becoming important to us because the largest community in York, aside from the white community, is Chinese,” says Tom.

“We’re trying to develop more work to reflect the city’s demographic, like when we did a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie set in Hong Kong. Over seven percent of the audience was Chinese/Asian, compared with one per cent normally.

“Matthew Zia is a brilliant directing talent and we’re really excited to be bringing this European premiere to York.”

York Light Opera Company follow up Oliver! and Grease with Andrew Loyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, the rags-to-riches story of Eva Person’s rise to First Lady of Argentina, from February 9 to 19.

“The last thing that would ever go from here would be shows like this, because work by York companies is so important to us,” says Tom. “It now fits in with Arts Council England’s new direction of travel, where it wants to encourage the chance for people to fulfil their creativity on our stage.”

Halifax company Northern Broadsides return to the Theatre Royal with their 30th anniversary production, Shakespeare’s sylvan comedy As You Like It, performed by a northern cast of 12 in the first visit to York under Laurence Sansom’s direction.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players as gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in this celebration of the transformative power of love and the natural world.

“Laurie is a great appointment as artistic director, and As You Like It is really on the nose as a choice of play with all the focus on climate change right now,” says Tom.

Many more shows tumble out of the brochure: The HandleBards pedalling into York with their all-female, bicycle-powered, irreverent Macbeth on January 25 and 26; Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens’ tribute to Eric & Ern on February 1 and 2, and Treasure Island, La Navet Bete’s follow-up to Dracula: The Bloody Truth, on March 10 to 12.

Among further returnees are York’s drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, with Me And My Divas, a celebration of Mariah, Celine, Whitney, Aretha, Cher and Britney, on March 19; English Touring Opera on April 8 and 9 with Puccini’s La Boheme and Rimsky Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel and Show Stopper, The Improvised Musical, on April 23.

For full Spring! season details and tickets, go to: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Box office: 01904 623568.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Cinderella at York Theatre Royal ****

Rev-olution: Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s ugly, brash, “aren’t-we-brilliant” sisters, Manky and Mardy, herald the new dawn for pantomime at York Theatre Royal. Oh, and yes, they are brilliant!

Cinderella, York Theatre Royal/Evolution Productions, runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THIS is a new age for the York Theatre Royal pantomime, both an Evolution and a revolution, and the earlier start and finish to the shorter production run is only part of the story.

On Tom Bird’s watch as chief executive, the Theatre Royal has decided to look to the future with a new pantomime broom ushered in by (kitchen maid) Cinderella after last year’s Covid-enforced detour into a Travelling Pantomime around the city wards.

Enough has been said of the toxic finale to Dame Berwick Kaler’s unique, unrepeatable era. Let’s focus, instead, on what’s rosy in the new panto garden, cultivated by the award-laden Evolution Productions’ partnership with the Theatre Royal.

Faye Campbell’s Cinderella and the ensemble in Cinderella

The seeds were sown with last winter’s witty, snappy, pretty, compact Travelling Pantomime, written by Evolution’s astute director, Paul Hendy, directed by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and choreographed with bags of character by Hayley Del Harrison.

This team re-assembles for Cinderella, bringing along two of last winter’s panto players, Faye Campbell, for the title role, and Robin Simpson, who switches from dame to a rumbustious double act with big, boisterous Paul Hawkyard as scary-bikers Ugly Sisters Manky and Mardy. The beards may have gone since the press launch day, but they are still unmistakably two blokes in shock-frocks.

Forster knew they had chemistry from playing two of the Rude Mechanicals – Hawkyard was Bottom, by the way – in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s riotous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream in York. Now they form a rouge-and-ready, rowdy partnership, each as funny as the other, with fabulously over-the-top couture, and their Strictly Come Dancing send-up of clunky, hair-in-their-eyes hosts Tess and Claudia is a scream.

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his very cheeky monkey, Gordon

Campbell, meanwhile, looks even more at home on the big stage than she did in the community halls and sports centres last December, with her radiant smile, family audience appeal, sassiness, dance moves and soulful voice for Cinderella.

Appealing to families has been put at the forefront of the Theatre Royal’s panto mission, and while that might seem obvious, given pantomime’s traditional audience, it does need bolstering to build a new following. Producer Hendy and director Forster have dipped into commercial panto’s usual resources, but not in a cloying way.

Ever-so-amiable Andy Day, from CBeebies, is a canny pick for Dandini, often a straight-bat role, but here full of fizz, playful humour and natural rapport. Likewise, ventriloquist Max Fulham arrives in York with a 2020 Great British Pantomime Award in his pocket for Best Speciality Act and a very cheeky monkey called Gordon on his arm, who says everything that Fulham is thinking but wouldn’t get away with uttering.

A shoe? Bless you. CBeebies’ Andy Day, centre, with Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and Max Fulham’s Buttons

Fulham, as fresh faced and dimple cheeked as Michael McIntyre, is a music-hall classicist yet inventive in his ventriloquism partners (not only Gordon, but a fly and a pedal bin too), and he is both quick thinking and dexterous, juggling four skills at once at one point. His Buttons shines from start to finish; a big future lies ahead of him.

Benjamin Lafayette has just made his professional bow after Mountview Academy as Othello at the Mill Theatre, Dublin. From such a heavyweight tragedy, he switches with handsome grace and charm to Prince Charming, a very contrasting role but one he plays with a lovely lightness of touch, matched by his singing.

Sarah Leatherbarrow’s forever-enthusiastic Fairy Godmother gleefully overcomes the impediment of her left leg being in a protective boot, with her rapper’s delight in her rhyming couplets, to complete a strong principal cast, highly individual yet good team players too.

Hop to it: Sarah Leatherbarrow’s Fairy Godmother, defying her protective boot

Hendy and Forster introduce a second speciality act, the Duo Fusion aerialists, to accompany Campbell and Lafayette’s romantic ballad to breathtaking effect; the climactic first-half transformation scene is spectacular, and only the opening and closing screen presence of an animal-loving, BBC Radio 2 presenter from Liverpool feels like an unnecessary concession to glitzy modern pantoland. The novel variation on the time-honoured ghost scene is far more rewarding.

Even with a running time of two hours 35 minutes (including the interval), there is not a wasted moment in Hendy’s script, with its combination of puns, social comment, romance, slapstick, knowing nods to panto tropes, crisp storytelling and sheer love of making you laugh. 

Forster’s direction enhances all these winning ingredients, full of pace, energy, visual delight and verbal dexterity, while Harrison’s choreography bursts with life, fun and even funkiness in a series of familiar pop songs, with the ensemble playing their part to the full.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions’ producer, director and writer Paul Hendy

Musical director Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price enjoys plenty of interplay with the cast, while guitarist Luke Gaul has his moment in the solo spotlight. Helga Wood’s costumes are at their best for the Ugly Sisters, except for the wobbly hats; Phil Daniels and Michelle Marden’s set designs are solidly reliable, rather than full of inventive originality or beauty, but that is mere background detail. 

Typified by the glorious chaos of Fulham, Simpson and Hawkyard’s Disney-picture slapstick routine,  everyone is having a ball in Cinderella, setting a high benchmark for 21st century pantomime at its best.

In another break with last-night tradition, we even know the name of next year’s Theatre Royal & Evolution panto collaboration already: Peter Pan. That one will surely fly too.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Romantic pursuit: Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming, accompanied by the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

York Theatre Royal awarded £294,952 in third round of Cultural Recovery Fund

York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird: “Delighted and grateful”

YORK Theatre Royal is to receive £294,952 from the Government’s third round of Culture Recovery Fund grants.

This award will support the St Leonard’s Place theatre’s community-focused winter programme.

Chief executive Tom Bird said: “We are delighted and grateful for this grant from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, which supports our recovery and underpins a hugely exciting winter programme at York Theatre Royal. This award allows us to continue to help the people of York enjoy the benefits of a creative life.”

The Theatre Royal is among 925 recipients to benefit, with more than £100 million being awarded to cultural organisations across the country as they deal with ongoing reopening challenges, ensuring they can thrive in better times ahead. 

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Culture is for everyone and should therefore be accessible to everyone, no matter who they are and where they’re from.

“Through unprecedented Government financial support, the Culture Recovery Fund is supporting arts and cultural organisations so they can continue to bring culture to communities the length and breadth of the country, supporting jobs, boosting local economies and inspiring people.” 

More than £1.2 billion already has been awarded from the Culture Recovery Fund, supporting around 5,000 individual organisations and sites across the country, ranging from museums to West End theatres, grassroots music venues to festivals, plus organisations in the cultural and heritage supply chains. 

Darren Henley, Arts Council England’s chief executive, said: “This continued investment from the Government on an unprecedented scale means our theatres, galleries, music venues, museums and arts centres can carry on playing their part in bringing visitors back to our high streets, helping to drive economic growth, boosting community pride and promoting good health.

“It’s a massive vote of confidence in the role our cultural organisations play in helping us all to lead happier lives.” 

In the first response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Arts Council developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90 per cent coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support.

Who’s who in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Cinderella? Meet the cast…

O, happy Day: CBeebies presenter Andy Day will play Dandini in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

CBEEBIES presenter Andy Day will be joined by Travelling Pantomime familiar faces Robin Simpson and Faye Campbell for York Theatre Royal’s homecoming pantomime, Cinderella.

Presented in tandem with perennial panto award winners Evolution Productions, creative director Juliet Forster’s production will run from December 3 to January 2: an earlier start, shorter run and much earlier last night than past main-house pantos.

Day, who will play Dandini, joined CBeebies in 2007, since when he has presented animal and nature programmes, whether tackling dinosaurs, investigating baby animals and going on safari.

Sister act: After his Dame Trott in the Travelling Pantomime, Robin Simpson will be back in York as one of the sourpuss Sisters

Nominated for a Children’s BAFTA award for best presenter in 2009, he has pantomime history, appearing in the CBeebies annual televised panto, as well as playing the Genie in Aladdin, Dandini in Cinderella, Muddles in Snow White and Billy Goose in Mother Goose.

Day is no stranger to director Forster, by the way, having been in the cast for her 50-minute CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, screened on April 2 and available subsequently on BBC iPlayer.

Day fronts his own live band, Andy And The Odd Socks, who once again will be launching Odd Socks Day for Anti-Bullying Week in schools up and down the country alongside the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a charity for whom Andy is a patron.

Look who’s back: Faye Campbell moves on from The Hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime to the title role in Cinderella this winter

Faye Campbell will take the title role in Cinderella after playing The Hero in Jack And The Beanstalk and Dick Whittington in the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 16 York wardslast December.

Actor-storyteller Robin Simpson will be returning too, following up his Dame Trott last winter on the back of a three-year damehood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. For Cinderella, he will form an (Ugly) Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard.

Comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham, set to shine as Buttons, has played leading comedy roles in pantomimes throughout the UK, being voted Best Speciality Act in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards for his Washee in Aladdin at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. 

Award-winning ventriloquist Max Fulham: Making his York Theatre Royal debut as Buttons

Fulham has created his own comedy series, Drivel Pedlar, for his You Tube channel. Next summer, he will head to Australia to play Muddles in Snow White at the new Sydney Coliseum.

Forster’s cast for the first main-house Theatre Royal pantomime since the Dame Berwick Kaler reign will be completed by Benjamin Lafayette’sPrince Charming and Sarah Leatherbarrow’sFairy Godmother.

Written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy, the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella will relocate the timeless rags-to-riches story to York, as the stage “comes to sparkling life with magical transformations, glittering sets, stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Sister double act: Paul Hawkyard as the other Sister, teaming up with Robin Simpson in Cinderella

Audiences should expect a ”brand-new pantomime for everyone with the promise of a truly epic spectacle and heaps of hilarity”, directed by Forster, who was at the helm of both the Travelling Pantomime’s tour of community venues and this summer’s Around The World The World In 80 Days, her circus-themed adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel that visited four York school playing fields in 16 days before a Theatre Royal finale last week.

Chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’re over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York – one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much.

“The phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella, set with pride in our amazing city.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer and writer Paul Hendy

Evolution Productions, started by Emily Wood and Hendy in 2005, have built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and highly humorous scripts. Two-time winners of Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards, they are the team behind Sheffield Theatres’ “extraordinarily successful” panto at the Lyceum Theatre.

Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on Cinderella. We’re huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast and a genuinely funny script.”

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal to go all around York in 23 days in All Around The World In 80 Days

Travelling players: top row, Ali Azhar and Ulrika Krishnamurti; bottom row, Eddie Mann, left, Dora Rubinstein and Emilio Iannucci, the cast for Around The World In 80 Days

YORK Theatre Royal is going global, visiting all four corners of York in 23 days with its family show Around The World In 80 Days.

After taking the Theatre Royal’s debut Travelling Pantomime to 16 of York’s 21 wards at Christmas, creative director Juliet Forster will be at the helm once more for this summer spectacular.

Juliet’s new circus-themed adaptation of the Jules Verne novel will play four York playing fields from August 6 to 21 before heading home for a finale at York Theatre Royal from August 25 to 28.

“As one of the characters in the play says: ‘If you can’t travel to exciting parts of the globe this summer, don’t despair, we are here to bring the world to you!’,” says Juliet. “That’s the spirit of this production really. 

“Many of us are feeling disappointed that there are still a lot of restrictions around travelling this summer, so this show is the perfect opportunity for some armchair tourism – or, rather, picnic-blanket tourism.”

Juliet continues: “Jules Verne’s story is a lot of fun as the characters race against time to complete a full circuit of the Earth, and in this version, fact and fiction also go head to head as real-life investigative journalist Nellie Bly puts in an appearance. It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story, delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best.”

“It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story,” promises Juliet Forster, director of York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

Forster, who also directed Love Bites, the love letter to live performance that re-opened the Theatre Royal after Covid restrictions eased on May 17, will be joined in the outdoor production team by Sara Perks, designer of the Theatre Royal productions of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes and Brideshead Revisited; movement director Asha Jennings-Grant; composer and sound designer Ed Gray; lighting and sound engineer Mike Redley and assistant director Sam Bond.

Around The World In 80 Days will be staged outdoors on school playing fields at Carr Junior School, August 6 to 8; Copmanthorpe Primary School, August 10 to 12; Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14 to 16, and Joseph Rowntree School, August 18 to 21, followed by the Theatre Royal home run.

Tree-climbing enthusiast Emilio Iannucci, previously seen at York Theatre Royal in The Book Of Dragons and Hello And Goodbye and at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Richard lll, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2018/2019, will lead the cast as the Ringmaster and Phileas Fogg.

Ali Azhar will play The Clown and Passepartout; Ulrika Krishnamurti, The Trick Rider and Aouda; Eddie Mann, The Knife Thrower and Detective Fox, and York actor Dora Rubinstein, The Acrobat and Nellie Bly.

To add to the international flavour of Forster’s production, Ali Azharis a French-Moroccan actor born in Paris, where he studied classical theatre before further training at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London, and Broadway Dance Centre in New York.

Emilio Iannucci, the son of satirist, writer, director and radio producer Armando Iannucci, is of Italian heritage; Ulrika Krishnamurti is a singer of Indian classical music and this summer Eddie Mann celebrates his tenth year of traveling around the world in 24 hours to settle in Britain after leaving his native New Zealand.  

Who’s playing which roles?

As a member of post-punk trio Circus Of Bones, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mann has toured Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Cyprus, as well as Britain five times, and had a residency at Cafe de Paris in, er, London.

Stretching things a little, Dora Rubinstein runs workshops in flexibility, contortion, acrobalance, handstands, and aerial adroitness in York and Leeds.

Looking forward to a summer of globe-trotting in York, Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird says: “Following the success of our hugely popular indoors family summer shows, including Swallows And Amazons and The Wind In The Willows, we’re excited to be going outdoors and to all four corners of York with Around The World In 80 Days. This madcap adventure, full of fun and frivolity, is just what we need right now. Enjoy!”

York Theatre Royal in Around The World In 80 Days:

Carr Junior School, August 6, 7pm;  August 7,  3pm and 7pm; August 8, 2pm and 6pm.

Copmanthorpe Primary School, August 10, 7pm; August 11 and 12, 3pm and 7pm.

Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14, 7pm; August 15, 2pm and 6pm; Aug 16, 3pm and 7pm.

Joseph Rowntree School, August 18, 7pm; August 19, 3pm and 7pm; August 20, 7pm; August 21, 2pm and 6pm.

York Theatre Royal, August 25 to 28, 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm.

Suitable for age 7+. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

REVIEW: Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night, York Theatre Royal, July 1

Ed Byrne: Unexpected cameo…on the phone

ED Byrne did appear at the debut Live At Theatre Royal Comedy Night after all. On late substitute Milton Jones’s mobile phone in an impromptu exchange where Jones had the last word, over and over, setting up Ed for his genial jibes like Federer putting away a backhand passing shot.

“Byrne out” had struck this gig when the whimsical Irishman’s own phone had pinged him with the message of our times: “You Need To Self-Isolate” , until 23.59pm on July 7.

Byrne was indeed at home, doing passing-the-time things, by way of contrast with this fast-moving, no-interval comedy bill, kept on its toes in brisk fashion by host Arthur Smith, who was largely in rather jollier mood than his usual lugubrious, Grumpy Old Man schtick, as casual as his summer shorts.

So, here was the alternative Smith and Jones show, plus Rhys James in his first gig since times BC (before Covid) and Maisie Adam, the Pannal humorist familiar from panel shows, still defiantly sporting her half-shaven lockdown hair.

Maisie Adam; Hair-larious set back in God’s Own Country

James, looking impossibly boyish as he hits 30 this year, is from the time-honoured school of cheeky chappy comedy, full of wry observations and a winning line in self-deprecation, not least over sharing a name – albeit spelt differently – with England’s full back Reece James. He found his feet back on the comedy turf rather better than his namesake in his Euro 2020 debut against Scotland.

Maisie Adam, enthusiastic football player in a Brighton women’s team and fabulous storyteller, was loving being back home in Pannal, visiting Ripon and taking the train across the Knaresborough viaduct.

Like James, she was adjusting to a return to audience interaction after a surfeit of streamed gigs into the silent digital ether, an experience much like howling into the wind, and how she relished the sound of laughter, so vital to a comic’s timing and rhythm. Such delightful, sometimes daft, often astute company, the fearless, forthright Maisie is on the unstoppable rise, you better Adam and Eve it.

In the absence – save for that surprise phone cameo – of ‘edliner Ed Byrne, comedy paradise was found in Milton, the joker with a quip in every soundbite, a pun-slinger always one step ahead of the audience guessing games.

Milton Jones: Late substitute struck comedy gold

Hair wilder than Doddy, Hawaiian shirt as over-excitable as a teenager’s first holiday away from the parental grip, Jones had a hit rate of word-play gags so consistent, so precise, it was the equivalent of reducing a dartboard to only the bullseye and still never missing.

Behind the deadpan delivery, his abundant sense of mischief, gift for mimicry, smart political sensibility and unerring radar for what’s funny without the need for offence, all wrapped inside his endless joy in a one-liner, were such welcome light relief after so many months of darkness.

In Damian Cruden’s two decades of artistic directorship, comedy nights were strangely absent from the York Theatre Royal calendar, but chief executive Tom Bird is now taking a different tack, and you can surely expect more bills to follow the lead of the Smith and Jones show.

York Theatre Royal goes global for Summer Of Love on playing fields and back indoors UPDATED 4/6/2021

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal creative director will be going around York in rather fewer than 80 days with Around The World In Days In 80 Days

MOVE over 1967. Here comes the new Summer Of Love at York Theatre Royal.

What’s more, after the success of last winter’s Travelling Pantomime tour to 16 York locations, the Theatre Royal will be on the move again, going global for a fresh adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days.

A soon-to-be confirmed further outdoor location for August 10 to 12 is to be added to the playing fields of Carr Junior School, August 6 to 8; Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14 to 16, and Joseph Rowntree School, August 18 to 21, before a main-stage indoors finale back at base from August 25 to 28.

The adaptation is by the Theatre Royal’s creative director, Juliet Forster, director of both the Travelling Pantomime and Love Bites, the love letter to live performance that launched The Love Season after Covid restrictions eased on May 17. 

“As one of the characters in the play says: ‘If you can’t travel to exciting parts of the globe this summer, don’t despair – we are here to bring the world to you!’That’s the spirit of this production really,” says Juliet, who will be working with Sara Perks, the designer of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes and Brideshead Revisited at the Theatre Royal.

“Many of us are feeling disappointed that there are still a lot of restrictions around travelling this summer, so this show is the perfect opportunity for some armchair tourism – or, rather, picnic blanket tourism.

“Jules Verne’s story is a lot of fun as the characters race against time to complete a full circuit of the Earth, and in this version, fact and fiction also go head to head as real-life investigative journalist Nellie Bly, puts in an appearance. It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story, delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best.”

Delighted by the ticket sales and audience response to the socially-distanced, Covid-secure Love Season so far, Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird has a similar policy in place for post-June 21, given the rising uncertainty surrounding “Freedom Day’s” removal of all strictures.

“We’re moving through the gears, one step at a time, one mini-season at a time,” says York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

“We’re moving through the gears, one step at a time, one mini-season at a time,” he says. “We knew we couldn’t do a Covid-safe community play this summer, though we’d really like to do one soon.

“But we got the bug for moving shows out and about around York with the Travelling Pantomime, and when it looked like there was a possibility of theatres still not reopening fully, we looked at doing an outdoor show and chose one with a wonderful sense of adventure and the spectacular, Around The World In 80 Days, where it will feel like a circus has parked in your nearby field.”

Juliet’s adaptation, co-created in rehearsal through July with a five-strong cast of circus performers and actors, will add a new layer to Verne’s story. “She got really interested in this amazing woman, Nellie Bly, who went around the world in only 72 days at the end of the 19th century,” says Tom.

“Juliet has interwoven Nellie Bly’s story with Phileas Fogg’s story to present one tale they may well not know inside one they probably do. It really hurtles along and is a very dynamic piece, where the framing device involves the circus performers deciding they want to tell Nellie’s story.

“Juliet is a really talented dramaturg, and that’s a skill it’s good for us to make use of, bringing a new voice to a classic novel.”

Looking further ahead, audiences can travel to Africa too in the Summer Of Love when Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me has its delayed world premiere from September 9 to 18. Theatre Royal artistic associate John R Wilkinson’s production was scheduled to debut in May 2020 but postponed under the Covid pandemic restrictions.

Presented by York Theatre Royal and English Touring Theatre, writer-performer Munyevu’s play charts the rise and fall of controversial Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father.

“We are so proud of this play, doing the world premiere, co-produced with English Touring Theatre,” says Tom. “It’s one for the lovers of politics and how it’s never quite as clear cut as you think it is: the way Mugabe moved from hero to villain and how that played out in millions of Zimbabweans’ lives.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me: World premiere at York Theatre Royal

“It’s such an interesting piece in the way that it looks at how one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter: the way that Mugabe broke the old system of rule but then ended up founding a new form of tyranny.  As well as that, the play is about being part of that new [Zimbabwean] diaspora.”

Tom is delighted to be linking up with Tonderai Munyevu once more. “I worked with him at Shakespeare’s Globe on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival,” he recalls. “He did a wonderful two-man version of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona and then he was in Black Men Walking when it toured the Theatre Royal in September 2019.

“Now, Mugabe, My Dad & Me will be rehearsed in York, made here, and will open here before going on the road, and it’s been made into an audio book so it will have a digital life too.”

Tom praises director John R Wilkinson too. “He’s a massive talent, now directing for the Young Vic as well as for the Theatre Royal, and it’s great to have him back after his production of Athol Fugard’s Hello And Goodbye in the Studio in November 2019.”

Broadening his thoughts, Tom says: “There was no good way to make the job cuts that we had to make last year [after the pandemic restrictions cast the theatre into the dark], but I’m pleased with the way we decided we’d cut a bit from each department, rather than closing a department.

“This way allowed us to continue to produce plays. I’ve always been passionate about that; despite all the pressures of, first, austerity and, then, the pandemic, it feels important to still do that.

“It gives us that agility, allowing us to make work that suits the venue, the city, the times, whereas if you cut it, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back because regional-producing theatre is very difficult to do under Arts Council funding.”

Tom continues: “To have two of our three Summer Of Love shows home produced is something we’re incredibly proud of, and it also allows us to use artists from York, like we did for the Love Bites shows when we reopened in May. If we can’t provide that opportunity, then we’re not doing our job right.

“I’ve worked in repertory theatre in Russia and Eastern Europe and there’s a lot to be said for it. You keep gazing at it longingly, but then you think, ‘how did they do that?’.”

Bookish and boozy: Stephen Tompkinson as university tutor Frank in Educating Rita

In between the two in-house productions will be David Pugh’s Theatre by the Lake touring production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, from August 31 to September 4.

Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980 and later made into an award-winning film with Julie Walters and Michael Caine, Russell’s heart-felt comedy drama follows married Liverpool hairdresser Rita and her encounters with heavy-boozing university tutor Frank while studying on an Open University course.

Max Roberts, emeritus artistic director at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, directs a production that bedded in at the cliff-edge Minack Theatre, Cornwall, last summer. “As it was outdoors, David Pugh was able to put on a long run there after the first lockdown ended,” says Tom.

“It’s great that Max is directing it because he’s directed lots of Lee Hall’s pieces, like The Pitmen Painters, and having Stephen Tompkinson in the cast keeps up our wish to bring big-name actors to York after Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in July.”

Education, education, education, plus humour, politics and life’s fateful twists make for a winning combination in Educating Rita.  “It’s entered folklore,” says Tom. “What’s interesting is we thought people would come because of Stephen’s popularity, but lots of people are saying they’re booking because they just love the story.”

Tickets for the Summer Of Love are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Love Bites, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, May 17 and 18

Send in the clown : James Lewis-Knight in his Love Bite, Staying Connected. Picture: Tom Arber

YORK Theatre Royal has reopened after 427 days. The longest, darkest hiatus since the Second World War at England’s longest-running theatre has ended with a declaration of love.

More precisely, 22 love letters to the power of theatre, a craving for freedom of movement, expression and identity and the need for human connection: a collective, anything-but-cautious hug that was as much a sigh of relief as a breath of fresh York air in the form of a fiesta of five-minute vignettes commissioned from 220 applicants.

Let’s repeat that. 22O applicants for £1,000 commissions from York’s diverse arts community that refuses to accept Rich Boy Risha Sunak’s slight that such talents are non-viable. A community that will laugh off the Beano comic’s laughable Hilarity Report finding that the average York resident laughs only 14 times a day, the second lowest in the country. Are you joking? Laugher aplenty could be heard on Monday night, alongside the joy, the sadness, the uncertainty but hope.

Indeed, The 22 would surely challenge York Mix e-letter writer John Wolfe’s scalding, agent-provocateur assertion that York is a city of “no real festivals or decent venues. No sports centres or entertainment for locals. No chance of change either. Why do you think all of the young people move away? Outside of its history it’s drab and bl**dy awful.”

Crying Wolfe? Well, John, in the city of the York Community Stadium, four state-of-the-art cinemas, myriad theatres, ever more restaurants, café bars, coffee houses, independent galleries and a rising tide of street art, perhaps you should go York Theatre Royal, one of the country’s great theatres, tonight (Tuesday) to see the spread of talent, both young and older.

Some were born in the city and are determined to stay here, when the arts are becoming less London-centric; others have been drawn to the city from, for example, Canada and Zimbabwe, and here they gathered under one rainbow umbrella to express their love for York and their place in it. 

Trouble is, John, you can’t buy a seat because, as with the first night, tonight’s Love Bites have sold out at the outset of a Love Season pulsing with life, vigour and, yes, love, topped off by Ralph Fiennes performing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in late-July.

In the words of chief executive Tom Bird, Love Bites and The Love Season are a chance to “experience again the electric excitement that only live performance can bring. This spring and summer, we’re putting on a season of brave, bold love stories to celebrate the return of human connection. We’re doing it with passion, fervour and heart, as you’d expect.”

Monday night began with the much-loved veteran BBC broadcaster Harry Gration in host mode, toasting his 50-year love affair with the Theatre Royal before making way for the flurry of short pieces.

The screen backdrop could and probably should have been used for announcing each show title, writer and performer, especially as flicking through the e-programme on your phone in the dark would have been distracting for others, even in the socially distanced seating with the capacity reduced from 750 to 340.

Actor Toby Gordon’s hair has grown to Dave Grohl length in locks-down lockdown, but the golden tongue that delivered both Satan and later Jesus’s lines in the York Minster Mystery Plays now glistened anew in the questing, vexed poetry of W H Auden’s O Tell Me The Truth About Love.

Film would feature on several occasions through the night, first in a cinematic riparian soundscape by Ben Pugh to accompany the poetic ebb and flow of Robert Powell and Kitty Greenbrown’s The Angels Of Lendal Bridge, imagining those painted “angels” conversing above the Ouse, recalling so much water that has passed under their iron bridge amid a rising tide of love.

Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles in The Art Of Losing. Picture: Tom Arber

CAPA College student trio Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles, in glowing green and pink socks to suit the occasion, were nevertheless in contemplative mood in The Art Of Losing, tempo slow, bodies graceful, in what they emphasised were three “non-love stories”, but instead felt more like a lament; a year’s absence making the heart grow fonder for “what it means to have contact with one another”.

Playwright, poet and slam champ Hannah Davies’s tweets at @davieswords have charted her enervating health frustrations, but no York shaper of words captures a sense, meaning and memory of place so movingly, so evocatively, and what a joy it was to see back on a stage for Love Song To Spring.

Accompanied by Jack “Pascallion” Woods’s exploratory guitar paths, her lockdown love story journeyed through the freshly discovered joys of city walking and spring renewal in York’s myriad green spaces. Listen to Hannah, and you will step into spring with added spring in your step.

New discovery of the night was much-travelled Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who “wondered if my pockets are big enough to carry home with me” as he moved to York.

Explosive bursts of drumming and film imagery by Sunnie Hsia of Butshilo on York streets, stairways and in the dank Leeman Road tunnel formed a triptych with his soliloquy, Ekhaya, Love Them Both?, as he mulled over place, love and self, with humour rooted in observation of York’s idiosyncrasies, but a deeper wish to find his place, wherever he plays his drum, whatever life throws at him. One to watch, definitely.

For aeons, a Nightingale’s nocturnal song has had writers reaching for metaphors for love and beauty. Musician, performance writer and actor Tom Nightingale’s song, Elaine, is to “show everyone my gratitude to the only lady who has ever helped me”, his wife.

In its cautious yet unguarded way it was a song of love and beauty suffused with unshaven, wry, deadpan frankness, delivered in the spirit of John Otway and Jonathan Richman beneath Martin Stephenson’s cocked hat. Nightingale writes as a “therapeutic outlet”, to make sense of life; on Monday, it worked for your reviewer; hopefully it does for Elaine too.

The name in the Love Bites e-programme and in her Q&A answers to CharlesHutchPress is Erika Noda, but the Japanese-English actor and East 15 graduate born in York introduced herself on Monday as Aiaka, the name that a teacher found so difficult, she called her ‘Ai’ and banished her from the classroom for insubordination in challenging her.

So began the journey to Ai, Erika/Aiaka’s semi-autobiographical debut solo-writing work, examining her dual heritage and encounters with racist “microaggression”, growing up in York, (a city once so white it was dubbed “Persil Town”). On the evidence of Ai, this quest for identity remains unresolved, a bumpy ride with such familiar stones in the road as “no, but where are you really from?”.

Even the inventor of Zoom apparently has had enough of all those enervating Zoom-and-gloom meetings, but loveable York musical-comedy double act Fladam (pianist-singer Adam Sowter and funny face-puller and singer Florence Poskitt) found the funny side of this digital bridge to connecting in lockdown-separation in the tartly topical Love Bytes. Aptly, the cheeky, witty, melodious encounter was long-distance, Adam on stage, Flo online, filling the screen with a squelchy face as ripe for comedy as Thora Hird or Victoria Wood.

Surprise of the night? Seeing Paul Birch on stage and then wondering why he does not frequent this space more often. Maybe he is just too busy writing and directing, and running Out Of Character, the York company for artists with experiences of mental illness.

His twisting-and-turning five-minute gem, Lost For Words, was a mind-game in motion as the quicksilver Birch fought to save his most precious relationship in a race against time where a killjoy voice from beyond kept stripping him of the right to use letters from the alphabet, letter by letter. You found yourself joining him in his mental exercise, smugly spotting him still using a ‘V’ when barred from doing so, but cheering him on as he tried to keep his head above water as the wds rn t. Could this be a game show in the making?

All around is frown time, but clown time is never over for the red-nosed James Lewis-Knight, actor and artistic director of Clown Space, purveyor of comical pandemonium amid a pandemic. After a year as the Clown in Lockdown, wandering the busking streets of York turned silent, James unlocked his dusty case to make his mimed plea for Staying Connected. He kept saying “Picnic”, but where Birch was lost for words, James was a little lost for meaning, one punchline short of his Picnic having more bite.

If you heard Dora Rubinstein’s perkily assertive rendition of Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York blind, you would swear it was from a musical. Sure enough, Gowland, latterly moved to York, is a musical theatre writer/composer with the award-winning Pieces Of String to his name. Gowland’s celebration of Gentleman Jack Anne Lister’s wedding vows in a York church will surely grow from a love letter to a full-blown show, a progression the Theatre Royal should encourage and activate.

Janet-Emily Bruce and Cassie Vallance in Story Craft Theatre’s She Can Go Anywhere. Picture: Tom Arber

In a night of storytelling, butter-rich with words, the shadow puppetry of children’s theatre company Story Craft Theatre silently spoke volumes to the accompaniment of Jonathan Glew’s beautiful score in She Can Go Anywhere. Who knew you could say so much with a sheet, folded and unfolded by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce as if a cotton version of origami, freeing imaginations when the pandemic has shrunk the world to the home, transforming life’s caterpillars into butterflies.

Hannah Wintie-Hawkins was a dancer at the double in her terpsichorean love letter In The Beginning, at once on stage and in digital artist Aaron Howell’s accompanying film, dancing with baby Mabel in her arms.  It was as though Hannah, like us, was watching in wonder at the joy of a new arrival: a beacon of hope amid the pandemic turbulence, only in her case it was moving her to break out into a dance. The dual focus, however, was not wholly satisfying, as she danced with herself, the one distracting from the other, rather than intertwining like mother and daughter on screen.

Richard Kay, actor, singer, pantomime writer and Zoom choir leader, asked his choir members two questions: how and why do you like singing? Whereupon he compiled the answers into the composition For The Love Of Singing, a song as nimble on its feet as Fred Astaire and wittily delivered in the crisply enunciated manner of a Richard Stilgoe, with digital choir backing and the projection of words dancing in and out of formation in David Todd’s playful animation. Clever, humorous, warm and briskly energetic, and tuneful to boot, it would sit well in a cabaret revue.

How did it feel to be back in the theatre after 427 days? Actor Maurice Crichton caught those feelings as he cast his net of observations in Where Are We Now, You And I?, and he looked in such a hurry to deliver his thoughts, it was as if he had come straight from a rehearsal room in tracksuit trousers and The Show Must Go On T-shirt, hair unkempt.

Not that he rushed through his sage counsel, instead understanding feelings of anger, advising a policy of gentleness with each other and not expecting too much too soon, while breathing in the wonder of theatre once more.  How right he was; how emotional too.

Canadian-born papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, countertenor and composer James Cave and libretto editor Bethan Ellis promised Magic and delivered it too in a four-minute mini-musical, set in a constantly evolving paper theatre that grew ever prettier under Elena’s delicate guidance.

Elena seeks to discover “magic and meaning in everyday, mundane experiences”, the transcendent magic rising through her imagery and the beauty of James’s singing, and in the stasis of the pandemic, a walk, birdsong, gardening, baking banana bread, have indeed taken on a heightened magical air.

On their Twitter account, non-binary, unapologetically autistic creator Ashleigh J Mills (they/them) calls themselves Angry Black Changeling. Identity and accessibility into theatre lay at the heart of In Progress, their spoken-word exploration of the “interplay between race, self-understanding and the shifting boundaries of gender over the span of a solitary year” when experiencing life on the margins.

Ashleigh has kept a Good Words List for four years, and on the screen behind them, the constant, measured flicking through a book revealed word after word standing proud from the text, each building a picture of Ashleigh’s questing, creative fascination with words.

Those words were knitted together to form their soliloquy, a still-evolving expression of Ashleigh as a work in progress in changing times, and only good words can be said of their poetic candour.

Of all the five minutes, nothing brought a broader smile than the sheer joy in dancing together of Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope, friends since Northern Ballet School days, who burst out of a restricted year of living-room creativity to revel in a Love Letter To Female Friendship on the dancefloor in the face of such trying times. They were so in their moment, they were in their own world, but one we all could recognise and wish to join in.

The title, Mise En Aby-Me, may have been baffling, but life model, milliner and costumier Claire Spooner made a fascinating body of work in her physical theatre piece that testified to her desire to tell a story through the human form, rather than words, in this case aided by Richard Stephenson’s artwork and LEMNIS’s music.

Claire turned herself into a Russian doll, peeling off layers, adding masks, revealing how she presented herself in relationships, love in different guises, until nothing could hide the constant persona within, beauty beyond the eye of the beholder.

Deaf director and “self-proclaimed proactive busy-body” Harri Marshall composed a semi-autobiographical love letter to oneself via cards and correspondence collected over the past year…and then handed over the task of interpreting them aloud to Sarah Huggett, accompanied by the exact wording on the screen behind.

I say “exact” because text and voice did not always say the same lines and you found yourself checking for differences as much as concentrating on Harri’s flow of meaning. What’s more, the rhythm of the language was broken too, screen and voice going in and out of synch. Hopefully, I Often Think Of You had a better second night.

Before Reverie came a nightmare, thankfully only briefly, as a flick of a switch belatedly awoke the somnambulant keyboard for composer, pianist and piano teacher Vanessa Simmons’s retelling of a dream in musical form. Ah, what peace, after the fizzing fireworks, as an unperturbed Vanessa rejoiced in “the beauty, sorrow and power of real love”.

Last, but anything but least and rightly chosen as the finale was 5 Minute Call, penned by esteemed York playwright Bridget Foreman, writer of 30 plays, both large and solo, with another, My Place, on the way.

Chief exec Tom Bird’s Irish-accented actor wife, Laura Pyper, took on the guise of a theatre “techie” five minutes before curtain-up, taking instruction on checking lighting for stage positions while capturing how the theatre itself felt about the return of life on its boards, warming up to the reunion with its lifeblood, both performers and audiences. The feeling of love was mutual, as the Pied Pyper led us back to our spiritual home.

These Love Bites left their mark, so much so, let’s hope York Theatre Royal can look to open further seasons with showcases for the city’s talents, £1,000 commissions et al.

Review written on May 18 with later additions