York Theatre Royal goes on neighbourhood watch for three Travelling Pantomimes UPDATED

Not just Josh: York comic and magician Josh Benson and Patricia the cow team up to to go on the road with the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime. Picture: Anthony Robling

CINDERELLA, you shall not go to the ball, because no pantomime will run at York Theatre Royal this Christmas. There will, however, be three Theatre Royal pantomimes this winter instead. Yes, three.

Rather than the traditional transformation scene of pumpkin and mice into carriage and horses, this Covid-enforced conversion will be a switch from the still-shut St Leonard’s Place building to the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime.

In tandem with new pantomime partners Evolution Productions, this pop-up enterprise will take the Theatre Royal on the road to every neighbourhood in York – all 21 wards – during December and January.

Each location, ranging from community halls to social clubs and sports centres, will be Covid-secure, adhering to Government guidance for staging socially distanced performances with capacities ranging from 35 to 50, and at each show, the audience members can vote for whether they want to see Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk or Aladdin.

The Travelling Pantomime retains the previously announced Cinderella triumvirate of Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird, who oversaw the breaking of the chain from 41 years of Dame Berwick Kaler pantomimes, associate director Juliet Forster as director and award-winning Evolution director and producer Paul Hendy as the writer, who will pen three scripts with York references aplenty.

“We believe that Evolution are the most exciting pantomime company in the country right now,” says York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird

Their first big signing is the pocket-sized bundle of York energy Josh Benson, magician, children’s entertainer, actor and Corntroller of Entertainment at York Maze, who had signed up for a further two years as the daft-lad comedy turn in the Halifax Victoria Theatre pantomime after his debut in Beauty And The Beast last winter.

Once confirmed that Victoria devotees would not be amused by Jack And The Beanstalk this winter, however, Josh was available to play his home city, and fresh from performing his Just Josh magic show at the Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, he quickly came on board for the panto road show.

‘I’m so chuffed to be able to play a part keeping York’s panto tradition alive, in a year where it feels like the majority of traditions have pretty much gone out the window,” says Benson. “What’s really special for me personally is the ‘full circle’ that’s happened, having actually started my professional career with York Theatre Royal, aged ten, in their 2007 panto Sinbad The Sailor.

“It’ll be so great to be back home for Christmas this year, finding a way to spread some panto joy amongst the current craziness.” 

Details of venues, performance times and further casting – possibly a cast of five, but more likely four, local actors – will be released in the coming weeks.

A sign of the panto times: Josh Benson prepares to travel all over York in December and January

Tom Bird, who has experience of mounting travelling shows when executive producer at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, says: “Our Travelling Pantomime will be a rip-roaring Christmas treat for the whole family. Audiences can expect hilarity and chaos, music and magic as our amazing actors visit every corner of York.

“It’s called the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime because it does exactly what it says on the tin and will travel to every York neighbourhood. It’ll be a small-scale show with a cast of four or five, where we’ll do whatever we need to do to meet the Government guidance at that time.

“We want it to be this generous offer to each community, where the audience gets to choose between three pantomimes, which gives scope for even more comedy. It’s quite a challenge for the designer [yet to be confirmed], having to design a set for three shows, but still having to taking the audience into another world.”

Bird is delighted that the Travelling Pantomime will still mark the debut of the new Theatre Royal and Evolution partnership. “We believe that Evolution are the most exciting pantomime company in the country right now: they won the Best Panto award again [for750 to 1,500-seat theatres] for Cinderella at Sheffield Lyceum in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards,” he says.

“Their pantomimes are dynamic, they’re electric, they’re funny and fabulous, and they’re not snooty, and Evolution are a belting company. I remain convinced that we’ll have one of the best pantomimes in the country when we do Cinderella in 2021 and, in the meantime, we have this exciting opportunity this winter.

Pantomime partnership: York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and executive director Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer Paul Hendy

“It’s great that Paul is writing the three scripts: his writing for pantomimes is graceful and funny and his shows are not blue, just good fun, and they’ll have a local flavour too.”

Bird is quick to stress that the Travelling Pantomime shows should not be seen as a Covid-necessitated compromise. “It’s a massive logistical enterprise, taking a show to all 21 York wards,” he says.  “I have a history of doing shows like this, taking small-scale projects around the world for Shakespeare’s Globe.

“It really does give a project an artistic energy when you face logistical challenges, like we are in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Taking the Travelling Pantomime into the York communities is very direct, I hope it’s very democratic and it acknowledges the virus because there may be people that might not want to go into town on a bus but will go round the corner from their home to see a show.”

Bird is delighted to have snapped up the comedic, mischievous nuttiness of Josh Benson. “We’re very excited to have Josh in the show. When we saw him on the patio doing his Just Josh show, we thought, ‘this is exactly what we need’. He’s warm, he’s very engaging, he’s local and he’s loved by people in York, and he’ll help to shape the shows.

“I would really love to be involved in suggesting ‘how about this or how about that?’ for the shows,” says Josh Benson, as full of beans as ever

“It’s also important, coming out of the old panto into the new era, that we should make our pantomime a show for families and Josh helps us to do that.”

Looking forward to leading the Theatre Royal pantomime in his home city, Benson says: “It’s been said of me, ‘if you turn Josh upside down, it says ‘Made In York’, and it’ll be lovely to be in York this winter because I don’t really want to be anywhere else in this strange year.

“I’d signed for one year for the Victoria Theatre panto in Halifax and they then offered me for four more in the comic role, effectively taking over from Neil Hurst, who’d done it for five years before me, and I said, ‘let me do another two’, but when Jack And The Beanstalk had to be postponed, the Travelling Pantomime feels a lovely thing to be able to do and a real  honour too.

“It’s nice to be part of a new beginning for the Theatre Royal pantomime, which I think will be great. What’s good for me is that I can dip my toe in a York panto and they can do the same with me.”

He believes it is important to spread his talent wherever possible when still on a learning curve at 22. “This summer aside, I usually do the whole season at York Maze, so you could have too much of a good thing if I do the winter season as well in panto, doing the same jokes and routines!” he reasons. “I’m very much playing the long game, working up to going to the Edinburgh Fringe with a solo show.”

Benson will have to learn not one, but three pantomime scripts. “But that’s a hugely exciting thing to be doing: a choice of three shows each performance. Tom [Bird] did that at the Globe too, and what’s clever about it is that it’ll have a rough-and ready-feel to it, like a village-hall panto, but as Tom has said, it’ll still be a York Theatre Royal panto, with the award-winning Paul Hendy writing it.

“His writing for pantomimes is graceful and funny and his shows are not blue, just good fun, and they’ll have a local flavour too,” says Tom Bird of Paul Hendy’s award-winning pantomimes

“As a pop-up panto, you can open it in that rough-and-ready style, in a conversational tone, so it’s different from the very start, with me going out there as Josh, just like with the kids’ parties I do, jumping up on stage and just talking, whereas normally with a panto in a theatre, the audience are looking at the stage, thinking, ‘Go on, impress me’.”

Doing three shows throws up extra comedic possibilities too for the comic turn with the potential for daft-lad confusion. “I love the idea that I can go, ‘Right, Dick…Jack…I mean, Aladdin’, so suddenly you’re doing that ‘times three’ thing,” he says.

Benson is restlessly creative – he had written and prepared a drive-in show for York Maze, should owner “Farmer Tom” Pearcy have decided to re-open his attraction this summer post-lockdown – and so he will not merely be turning up to rehearsals for the Travelling Pantomime.

“I would really love to be involved in suggesting ‘how about this or how about that?’ for the shows, so I’m going to meet Juliet [director Juliet Forster] in September to talk about  it,” he says.

In the meantime, he will keep busy with children’s party magic shows in gardens – whatever the “Rule of Six” permits – after a multitude of lockdown shows on Zoom and Facebook.

Tickets for York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will go on sale in November. Oh, and Cinderella, you shall still go to the ball, the glittering party merely postponed from 2020/2021 to 2021/2022.

The box-office team will be in touch with ticket holders with the option of moving tickets to next year, cancelling the booking or donating some or all of ticket cost to York Theatre Royal. Ticket holders are being asked NOT to contact the box office, whose reduced team will contact them as quickly as possible in coming weeks.

Joshing around: Josh Benson in his Just Josh magic and balloon show

Just Josh? Just who is Josh Benson? Let him introduce himself:

“HAVING not conventionally trained in anything, 22-year-old ‘Josh of All Trades, Master of None’ is winging his way through the entertainment industry. But don’t tell his mum…she thinks he’s at university studying for a proper job!

As an actor, Josh’s credits include playing Little Ernie in the award-winning BBC Morecambe and Wise biopic Eric & Ernie; being hit by a car in BBC1’s Casualtyand a cameo in Monroefor ITV. He played Tommo in Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls musical The Girls from 2015 to 2017, both in the world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre and The Lowry, Salford, and at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End. 

A huge part of Josh’s work is at York Maze, where he is the Corntroller of Entertainments – genuine job title – for the summer season. There, he writes, manages and co-hosts three live-action experiences: a stage show, tractor trailer ride and pig racing. This role has sprung from Josh being a professional children’s and family entertainer for the past seven years, having proudly entertained at hundreds of children’s parties and events, on cruises and in shows.

He is a professional close-up/stage magician and comedian, having performed four seasons of The Good Old Daysat Leeds City Varieties Music Hall, later taking his act down to the Big Smoke for Players Music Hall and the Cockney Sing-Alongat Charing Cross Theatre and Brick Lane Music Hall respectively. 

Eric and Little Ernie: Josh Benson in sunshine-bringing dance mode alongside a statue of Eric Morecambe when he landed the role of young Ernie Wise in the BBC’s Eric & Ernie in 2010

As a “grown-up”entertainer, Josh last year debuted his first one-man cabaret evening, It’s Not The Joshua Benson Show/Josh Of All Trades, a two-act show of all his “pointless yet entertaining” skills. This show tours the UK constantly, “whenever it can fit in between everything else”!

In pantomime, Josh’s career began in 2007, at the tender age of ten, among the babbies and bairns in York Theatre Royal’s Sinbad The Sailor. He was lucky enough to more festive fun in 2008 for Dick Turpin and in 2011 returned to York Theatre Royal as John Darling in Peter Pan,part of the In The Round summer season. 

Christmas 2018 saw Josh’s panto comic debut as Buttons in Cinderellaat the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, and last year he took over as comic at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax, for Beauty And The Beast.

He was due to return there this year for Jack And The Beanstalk, now postponed until 2021. He is delighted – and feels incredibly lucky! – to have been offered the fantastic alternative of York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime for the winter season.” 

Pop-Up On The Patio heralds return of live shows at York Theatre Royal…outdoors

Top of the Pop-ups: Musician Phil Grainger and writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill when performing Orpheus in a week of At The Mill shows. Now they head to Pop-Up On The Patio. Picture: Charlotte Graham

WHO will be popping up at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival from August 14 to 29?

Taking part in a Covid-secure summer season of outdoor performances, on a terrace stage designed by Yorkshire theatre designer Hannah Sibai, will be “Yorkshire’s finest theatre and dance makers”.

Step forward York Dance Space; Mud Pie Arts; Crafty Tales; Fool(ish) Improv; The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre; puppeteer Freddie Hayes; Cosmic Collective Theatre; performance poet Henry Raby; Say Owt, the York outlet for slam poets, word-weavers and “gobheads”; magician, juggler and children’s entertainer Josh Benson and singer Jess Gardham.

They will perform at one end of the patio, decorated with “Glastonbury-style bunting”, performing to audiences of a maximum of 35 in demarcated bubbles.

“We’re so excited to have been able to bring live theatre back to our city this summer,” says Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth, who has co-ordinated the festival programme of theatre, dance, music, magic, puppetry, improvised comedy, storytelling and slam poetry.

“Our building may still be closed, but we didn’t want that to stand in the way of entertaining the people of York during this difficult time. Pop-Up On The Patio gives us the opportunity to showcase the work of brilliant home-grown performers, many of whom are part of our freelance family, who have been disproportionally affected by this pandemic.”

“We wanted to go hyper-local with the festival to give a platform to York artists,” says York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird

Looking forward to staging the first shows on the Theatre Royal premises since March 17, executive director Tom Bird says: “It’s been a short but intense preparation period: we wanted to go hyper-local with the festival, to give a platform to York artists, and we’re absolutely delighted at getting a very local, highly skilled bunch across so many genres.”

Explaining the decision to focus the festival on Friday evenings and Saturdays, Bird says: “We are easing our way back from a total stop, turning everything off in March, so we’re feeling our way in, and we want to make sure that everything is safe, for the audience, performers and staff.

“The world is changing all the time, so we wanted to give ourselves breathing space in what we’re doing by restricting ourselves to three weekends for the festival, but  who’s to say we won’t do more patio shows.”

The Theatre Royal management has implemented extra safety measures to keep visitors and staff safe during the three festival weekends, reconfiguring the patio to allow for a socially distanced audience and stage. These measures will be under constant review and apply to all the performances.

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and must be bought in advance.

THE FESTIVAL PROGRAMME:

Dance steps: Dance // Shorts launches the Pop-Up On The Patio festival

Dance // Shorts, August 14, 7pm

CURATED by York Dance Space, this evening of live contemporary dance theatre in an outdoor, intimate setting will be a compilation of bite-size solos and duets from “some of the most interesting and exciting young artists from across Yorkshire and the Humber”.

Performances include solo work from Alethia Antonia, from the James Wilton Dance Company; Coalesce Dance Theatre; Daisy Howell, from Brink Dance Company, and Namiuki Dance.

Look out too for a selection of Doorstep Dances from Hull artists Tamar and Jo, spanning contemporary, Northern Soul, jazz dance and physical theatre styles. Suitable for age 12 upwards.

Mud, glorious Mud: Mud Pie Arts duo Nicolette Hobson, left, and Jenna Drury

Mud Pie Arts, August 15, 22 and 29, 11am, for age 4 to 11

“WHAT is easy to get into but hard to get out of?” askMud Pie Arts drama practitioners Jenna Drury and Nicolette Hobson. “The answer? Trouble, of course!

“So, join us for Saturday elevenses in our Silly Summer Stories show. There’ll be interactive storytelling, riddles, games and all kinds of family tomfoolery.”

Have you heard the one about the old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle, or the farmer who fished for sausages? Now is the chance to enjoy those stories. “Come and find us on the patio every Saturday this month to celebrate all things daft,” say Jenna and Nicolette.

Crafty: Story Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce, left, and Cassie Vallance

Crafty Tales, August 15 and 22, 1pm, for two to six year olds

YORK Theatre Royal’s Story Craft Theatre return with an outdoor version of Crafty Tales, presented by Cassie Vallance and Janet Bruce.

“As always, there’ll be a story to tell plus songs, games and dancing, all designed around a brilliant picture book with interactive and imaginative play,” they say. “Although Crafty Tales is aimed at two to six year olds, all children are welcome.”

Made up: Fool(ish) Improv’s poster since 1793

Fool(ish) Improv, August 15, 4pm 

FOOL(ISH) Improv is a bite-sized comedy show with absolutely no plan or permission, created by York writer and director Paul Birch.

Strap in for 60 minutes of improvised mayhem where you, the audience, provide the suggestions for the actors to make stuff happen. Instantly.

“Taking nothing seriously – and everything for granted – our merry band of charlatans and misfits will bring music, comedy and appalling levels of acting to give you a delightful hour of spontaneous comedy,” says Paul.

“You bring the ideas, we’ll bring the performance, and together we’ll make a joyous family show that has no business being indoors. Now, you have to come. We couldn’t do it without you.”

The poster for The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Orpheus

Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre in Orpheus, August 21, 6pm

ALEXANDER Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger should have been heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe to present the British premiere of The Gods, The Gods, The Gods this month after its Antipodean premiere before Covid-19 intervened.

Instead, they have been presenting Orpheus in socially distanced performances in back gardens and a week of At The Mill shows in Alex’s own back garden at Stillington Mill, near York, last week.

Written by Alex, with incidental music and songs by Phil, the international award-winning Orpheus is a thoroughly modern, beautifully poetic re-telling of an ancient Greek myth.

Dave is single, stood at the bar; Eurydice is a tree nymph, and Bruce Springsteen is on the juke box in this tale of impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music, where Alex and Phil weave a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

Eurydice: “A story about a woman” with a Superman costume, a bee tattoo and a sting in the tale

Eurydice, The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, August 21, 8pm

LENI is five years old, holding a Superman costume for her first day at school. Eurydice is five years into the rest of her life, sporting a bee tattoo on her wrist, in Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s story of someone defined by someone else’s myth.

This tale of making changes, taking leaps and being a daily superhero is billed as “a story about a woman told by women”.

That was the case when performed by Alex and Phil Grainger’s co-creators, Serena Manteghi and Casey Jane Andrews, to 2019 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre award-winning success. Now, Alex and Phil take over to weave a world of day-to-day power and beauty and goddesses, told through heart-stopping spoken word and live electronica.

Flat caps at the double: Freddie Does Puppets puppeteer Freddie Hayes with grumpy pub landlord Fred in Fred’s Microbrewery

Freddie Does Puppets in Fred’s Microbrewery, August 22, 4pm

FRED’S Microbrewery is the world’s first Puppet-in-a-Pub theatrical experience, a modern-day Punch and Judy story courtesy of York puppeteer Freddie Hayes.

Grouchy Fred and his bitter and twisted wife Sharon are two very grumpy Yorkshire puppets cum pub landlord and landlady of the Fred’s Microbrewery, where the frank, fractious duo serve beer-infused banter to adult audiences in an afternoon of debauchery and puppet profanities. 

Fred and Sharon have sparred at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe and had plenty to say at the Edinburgh Fringe, Shambala Festival, Moving Parts Festival and Folkestone Puppet Festival too.  

In lockdown and beyond, Fred and Sharon have been living inside a laundry bag in Freddie’s attic. Now, bag unzipped, she is ready to unleash them once more in a show with an age guide of 15-plus on account of the strong language and adult themes.

Heaven’s above: Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate, Cosmic Collective Theatre, August 28, 4pm

FOUR cups of apple sauce. Four canvas camp beds. One comet. Heaven’s Gate is closing and the Away Team are ready for graduation, but whatever you do, don’t say the C-word.  ‘C’ for ‘cult’, that is.

Presented by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre – satirical writer Joe Feeney, Anna Soden, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell – Heaven’s Gate imagines the final hour of four fictionalised members of the real-life UFO-theistic group.

As they prepare for their “graduation” to the “Kingdom of Heaven”, the excitement is palpable, but all too soon the cracks appear. Is the Heavenly Father really waiting for them on a Spaceship? Is Planet Earth soon to be recycled? Is castration compulsory? Isn’t Turkey Potpie an underwhelming last supper?

Cosmic Collective Theatre’s intergalactic pitch-black comedy comes with adult themes and strong language – but no C-word, of course – to give it a 15-plus age guide

Taking the mic: York punk performance poet Henry Raby

Henry Raby: Apps & Austerity, August 28, 6.30pm

“2010-2019. What was going on?” asks York-grown punk performance poet, activist and Say Owt artistic director Henry Raby as puts the word into sword to slice up the past decade.

From the memes and scenes, from riots to Royal Weddings to Referendums, Henry sums up a decade of technology and austerity with attitude, humour and insight.

Slam champ and Deer Shed resident poet Henry has performed across the UK, from festivals front rooms. “This is my fifth solo show, so I must have got something right by now,” he says.

Say Owt Showcase, August 28, 8pm

YORK’S lovable and raucous poetry gang proudly present an assortment of noisy slam-winning performance poets, word-weavers, and gobheads. “Spice up your Friday night with a glass-raising toast to the spoken word,” says host Henry Raby.

Say Owt word-warriors have delighted in ripping up stages at the Great Yorkshire Fringe and the Arts Barge in York, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Manic magic: All-action York magician Just Josh

Josh Benson in Just Josh’s Ultimate Family Show, August 29, 1pm

CALLING all families! Just Josh is “hugely excited” to be back performing live with his family magic, juggling and balloon show!

If you have encountered Josh Benson previously, you will know that he is one of Yorkshire and indeed the UK’s “biggest kids”, noted for his boundless energy and shameless attempts to do absolutely anything in pursuit of a laugh from a crowd.

Josh, Corntroller of Entertainments at York Maze and regular pantomime silly billy, has taken his magic all over the UK and beyond, returning home from his P&O Cruises stint in February.

“My show is suitable for kids from four to 104, with laughs and, all being well, amazement for the whole family” says Josh.

All roads lead Jess Gardham to…the Pop-Up On The Patio stage at York Theatre Royal

Jess Gardham, August 29, 4pm

YORK pop, soul, blues and acoustic singer-songwriter, musical actress and 2018 MasterChef quarter finalist Jess Gardham closes Pop-Up On The Patio with an afternoon set.

Jess has performed all over Britain, the United States, Europe and Canada and supported the likes of Paul Carrack, KT Tunstall, The Shires, Wilko Johnson and Martin Simpson.

Her songs have been played regularly on BBC Introducing and her debut album, Beyond Belief, was picked up by BBC Radio 2.

Jess has taken lead roles in theatre productions such as Hairspray, Ghost The Musical and Rock Of Ages. “I hope to perform in theatre again when they’re open again,” she says.

SAFETY MEASURES

Arriving
YORK Theatre Royal will open the entrance to the Pop-Up patio a quarter of an hour before every performance starts.

“There will likely be some queueing, but we will do everything we can to keep this to a minimum,” says the festival website. “Please arrive in good time for any performance.”

All tickets will be digital and checked without contact at a social distance at the entrance to the patio area, where refreshments will be available.

Departing
STAFF will be managing the departure from the performance area “so that we don’t have large crowds all leaving at the same time”.

Loos
THE loos in De Grey House next to the patio will be open throughout. All loos will be stocked with anti-bacterial hand soap and stringent hand-washing guidelines are in place.

Social distancing
EACH household or social bubble will be seated at a safe distance from other households or social bubbles, in line with Government guidance at the time of the performance.

“You will be directed to a designated ‘social bubble spot’ by our staff,” says the website. “Please be patient with them and sit where they direct – they know best!”

Food and refreshments
A LIMITED range of soft and alcoholic drinks will be on sale, alongside ice creams and chocolate.

Ticketing policy
IF you have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been diagnosed with the virus or have been in direct contact with a diagnosed individual in the past 14 days, you must not attend the event.

If you are unable to attend as a result of illness, please email boxoffice@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and a ticket transfer can be arranged. Tickets can only be refunded if the booked performance has sold out.

Additional cleaning
THE patio area will be thoroughly cleaned between each performance. “Our already high cleaning standards have been enhanced by a cleaning programme designed to clean and sanitise the high touch points,” assures the website.

More information can be found at: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/be-part-of-it/collective-acts/pop-up-on-the-patio/. 

Garden of delights: Hannah Sibai’s design for Pop-Up On The Patio at York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal to make job cuts to ensure future. “Devastating,” says director

Silent night: The empty York Theatre Royal stage and auditorium bathed in “emergency red” on the nationwide #LightItInRed campaign night on July 6

YORK Theatre Royal is to make “some redundancies”, faced by the need to reduce costs significantly in the Coronavirus blight.

A statement headlined “York Theatre Royal takes steps to ensure its future” was released today, announcing that, “like so many theatres around the country”, the St Leonard’s Place theatre would be entering into consultations with staff that would “regrettably lead to some redundancies due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic”.

“The theatre has been unable to open its doors for performances since March 17 and, despite Government allowing the return of socially distanced performances from August 1, the theatre’s survival will depend on it reducing costs significantly,” the statement continued.

Eighty-nine per cent of the Theatre Royal’s annual income is generated through ticket sales and from revenue streams associated with welcoming audiences. A £196,493 grant from the Arts Council England Emergency Fund, announced on July 7, will support the theatre, but only to September 30, and crucially details are yet to be announced as to how the much vaunted £1.57 billion Government relief package for cultural institutions will be distributed.

The “crown jewels” of British culture are expected to be at the top of the pecking order, although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has talked of the need to protect small-scale theatre enterprises too.

York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird, pictured in happier times. “It is devastating to me that in the coming weeks we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions,” he says

In the statement, Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird said: “Since 1744, the people of York have enjoyed, supported and celebrated this theatre. It is our job, as custodians of this great community asset, to do whatever we can to ensure its survival for the people of our city.

“All of the leadership team have taken big pay cuts, and we have maximised our use of government [furlough] schemes.

“It is devastating to me that in the coming weeks we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions. But the theatre can survive this and we will make sure that, when we are able to re-open our doors, York Theatre Royal will come roaring back with an epic programme to help re-energise our community’s creativity.”

Tom added: “I want to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of people who are donating to the theatre at this time, as a result of our heightened fundraising messages. This is making a real difference.” Donations can be made online via yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Vicky Biles, the Theatre Royal director of communications and development, said: “We’re not going to add anything else at this time.”

That leaves questions aplenty. How many redundancies? When will the Theatre Royal learn if any slice of the £1.57 billion aid package is bound for York? Will Cinderella still be going to the ball in the Theatre Royal’s first pantomime collaboration with Evolution Productions from December 4 to January 10 2021? Watch this space for the answers, whenever they may come.

York Theatre Royal boosted by emergency funding from Arts Council England

York Theatre Royal’s stage and auditorium bathed in “emergency red” when taking part in the #LightItInRed campaign on Monday night

YORK Theatre Royal is to receive £196,493 from Arts Council England’s emergency response fund.

Executive director Tom Bird tweeted: “We’re massively grateful for the @ace_national support from their emergency fund. It keeps us going so we can keep supporting & developing creativity in this wondrous city. Thanks @ace_thenorth. Back to it.”

Bird told CharlesHutchPress: “We received the sum we requested, and it was strictly done on the basis of ‘what do you need to get you through to September 30’.

“But I must stress it is only a sum to take us to that point, when the reality is that we’re a venue usually with an annual turnover of £4 million.”

From Arts Council England’s £33 million pot for National Portfolio and Creative People & Places Organisations, York Museums Trust has received £362,000; Harrogate Theatre, £395,000; Leeds Playhouse (Leeds Theatre Trust), £669,326; Northern Ballet, Leeds, £500,000 and Sheffield Theatres Trust, £675,569.

York Theatre Royal goes into the red…to highlight the need for emergency support

Red sky at night : York Theatre Royal taking part in the #LightItInRed campaign tonight

YORK Theatre Royal will be bathed in “emergency red” tonight as part of the nationwide #LightItInRed campaign.

The 9pm event was announced before the Blues came to the arts industry’s aid in the dead of night last night when the Government suddenly announced a £1.57 billion grant and loan package after the Covid-19 pandemic left theatres and music venues in the dark, both physically and as to when they might re-open both safely and economically viably, stymied by social-distancing measures.

The choice of red has turned out to be prescient, given the most well-worn reaction of the day being that “the devil is in the detail”.

Taken as red: The foyer “mushrooms” pictured on #LightItInRed night at York Theatre Royal

Organised by Clearsound Productions in partnership with the Backstage Theatre Jobs, the #LightItInRed project sees theatres, arts and music venues up and down the country lighting their buildings in red to “raise awareness of the difficulties facing the UK events industry as a result of the Coronavirus crisis”.

Unlike for other industries, no set date is in place for live events, shows, festivals and performances to re-start after the COVID-19 lockdown, against the backdrop of the “creative sector” usually generating around £110 billion annually for the UK economy, based on figures from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Since mid-March 16, however, major events have been prohibited, leaving more than 25,000 businesses without any income. York Theatre Royal, for example, has lost £650,000 in expected income since its closure on March 17. 

In a statement today, the Theatre Royal “welcomes, with gratitude, the announcement that the government will support the arts with a £1.57bn funding package and keenly awaits the details of how the funding will work”. 

“We currently have no clear time frame as to when our doors will be able to re-open,” says York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird

Before the late-night announcement of a deal thrashed out by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and the Chancellor, Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, the Theatre Royal’s executive director, Tom Bird, had warned that “the clock is ticking” after Dowden initially announced a road map for theatre’s return “that a child could have drawn up”.

Others had called the five-step plan – short on detail, devoid of dates – a road map to nowhere, a faulty SatNav leading only to a cliff’s edge.

Today Bird called for a “clear time frame” for urgent action beyond the words. “York Theatre Royal makes a huge social and economic impact in our city, and we have been working very hard behind the scenes to ensure we come roaring back with an epic programme for all the community to enjoy,” he said.

Silence is…red: The York Theatre Royal stage and auditorium, as empty as they have been since March 17, on the #LightItInRed campaign night

“We are delighted and grateful that the Government have committed £1.57bn to support the arts sector. However, our theatre remains closed, and we currently have no clear time frame as to when our doors will be able to re-open.

“Just 11 per cent of our annual income comes from state funding, the rest is made up by our audiences: the thousands of people who come to be entertained and inspired by us every year.

“We are pursuing all possible sources of funding, including the Government support, but we ask that you join the many who have already supported us by donating to us.”

Tom continued: “This is a difficult time for our building, but it is an incredibly difficult time for the freelancers who make up such an important part of our theatre family. 70 per cent of people who work in theatre and performance in the UK are freelance, and it’s for this workforce that the impact of the current situation is most acute. Our freelance family are very much in our thoughts and plans for the future.” 

On red alert: The Joseph Rowntree Theatre, the York community theatre in Haxby Road, taking part in tonight’s #LightItInRed emergency campaign

The Theatre Royal is asking people to share photos of the red-lit building in St Leonard’s Place on social media, using the hashtag #LightItInRed. Donations to York Theatre Royal can be made online at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Tonight, York Theatre Royal, the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House will be among 564 “iconic landmarks” to be lit up in “emergency red to draw attention to the critical condition of the live events and entertainment industry”, in a campaign inspired by Germany’s #NightofLight protest in June that triggered €1billion in emergency arts funding.

A spokesman for #LightItInRed said: “While we welcome the rescue package from the Government, we await clarification about what this means for freelancers, suppliers and those in the wider theatrical and events industry.  We continue to light buildings red this evening to show we are still standing by to reopen.”

Taking part too tonight will be the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, whose chair of the board of trustees, Dan Shrimpton, said: “We want to show our support for this movement.  Our theatre is all about involvement and community and because of the generous support given to us by local company Technical Stage Services, we’ve been able to get the ‘Emergency Red’ lighting set up quickly. “

Shortly before the closure of theatres, the JoRo, in Haxby Road, York, launched its Raise The Roof appeal to raise a £90,000 shortfall for roof repairs, with the remaining costs coming from reserves. 

“A prolonged closure will result in the theatre needing to dip into those reserves to meet running costs, so the charity will be keeping a watch to see if it will be able to apply for grants or loans from the government’s scheme,” said Dan.

Evolution, not revolution, heralds new age of pantomime at York Theatre Royal

New pantomime partnership: York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and executive director Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer Paul Hendy,

THE new age of pantomime at York Theatre Royal will involve Evolution rather than revolution.

For the first panto of the post-Berwick Kaler era, the Theatre Royal is teaming up with award-winning pantomime producers Evolution to present Cinderella.

The show dates will be December 4 to January 10 2021, an earlier start and finish than the December 7 to January 25 run for Sleeping Beauty, Dame Berwick’s last pantomime as co-director and writer after a 41-year association with the Theatre Royal.

Cinderella will be directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster, who directed Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2018 and Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge in the Theatre Royal main house last September, as well as children’s shows aplenty.

Juliet Forster, who will direct York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

The script will be written by Evolution co-founder and producer Paul Hendy in tandem with York-born comedy writer and podcaster David Reed, who has returned to his home city and will provide additional material.

The cast is yet to be announced but will not be a star vehicle, with variety acts and blossoming pantomime talent and a “York flavour” likely to be to the fore instead. The set designer, not confirmed yet, will be charged with creating magical transformations and glittering sets to complement the “stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Formed in 2005 by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, Evolution Productions present “bespoke pantomimes of epic spectacle and hilarity” for the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; The Hawth Theatre, Crawley; Garrick Theatre, Lichfield; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury; Alban Arena, St Albans; Octagon Theatre, Yeovil, and Grove Theatre, Dunstable, now joined in a co-producing partnership by York Theatre Royal.

Juliet Forster and Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird were exhilarated by Evolution’s 2019-2020 pantomime for Sheffield Theatres, starring long-running dame Damian Williams in Cinderella at the Lyceum.

Paul Hendy’s script from that hit show will provide an early template for Reed to set to work on giving it a York branding, with Cinderella’s rags-to-riches story being switched to this historic city in a “new pantomime for everyone”.

Evolution producer Paul Hendy: co-writer of Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

Executive director Bird says: “We are 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. 

“Our recipe includes two of the most exciting voices in our city, David Reed and Juliet Forster, together with Emily Wood and Paul Hendy, the finest makers of pantomime in the country – a fairytale combination.”

Bird continues: “This 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. It’s a pantomime for the new decade, set with pride in our amazing city.”

Evolution Productions has built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and funny scripts, twice winning Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards.

Producer and writer Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on this year’s pantomime. We are 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.”

Ticket prices will remain the same as for 2019-2020. Family tickets and Sunday shows are being introduced, as well as schools and groups discounts so that “everyone can go to the ball”.

Theatre Royal members’ ten-day priority booking opened today; members’ five-day priority booking on February 8; 9am in person at the box office, 10am online and phone booking. General booking opens on February 13; same times as above. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Meanwhile, Berwick Kaler’s first pantomime at his new York home, the Grand Opera House, will be Dick Turpin Rides Again, with writer, director and revived dame Kaler being joined by regular cohorts Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell for Qdos Entertainment’s panto partnership with the Ambassador Theatre Group.