REVIEW: The HandleBards’ biker-groovy Macbeth, York Theatre Royal ***

Something wickedly funny this way comes: Jenny Smith, left, Natalie Simone and Kathryn Perkins as the ‘Weird Sisters’ in The HandleBards’ Macbeth

The HandleBards in Macbeth, York Theatre Royal, tonight (26/1/2022) at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THE Scottish Play becomes The Skittish Play when recycled by eco-conscious pedalling enthusiasts The HandleBards in pursuit of daft laughs on their return to York Theatre Royal.

Tragedy takes a hike up the Scottish Highlands, soliloquys lose out to a rising cacophony of noise, and The Porter’s knock-knock interlude vanishes like the secret midnight hags into the dreek mists.

Often cut for being Shakespeare’s one (not-very-funny) comic interlude, as unwelcome as a drunken heckler, presumably this time Macbeth’s bouncer has been axed for being the one character that did not require conversion to comedy.

The HandleBards like to break down barriers, as Emma Sampson’s cast demolishes theatre’s fourth wall from the off when perky Kathryn Perkins, towering Natalie Simone and professional debutante Jenny Smith introduce themselves and who they will be playing. These days, it is called meta-theatre, a form of heightened awareness that a play is indeed all about playing.

Crowning gory? Kathryn Perkins’ hell-for-leathers Macbeth

Or it could just be that The HandleBards just want to “shake a spear” at all that seriousness that emanates from so many Shakespeare productions.

Macbeth has broad shoulders and can pretty much take anything you throw at it, on stage or screen, although there was one time on a Leeds stage where the lead actor was so hapless that he not only murdered all around him, he murdered Macbeth.

That does not happen here, but Perkins’ Cockernee Artful Dodger Macbeth does tend to play second fiddle to the weird sisters, the Witches pulling Macbeth every witch way, every which way in this all-female production.

If you want punk irreverence, you will find it here, not least in the biker costume designs of Lucy Green that echo the Seventies’ clobber of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, tartan trim and all.

Jenny Smith’s Donalbain in The HandleBards’ Macbeth

Cycling paraphernalia is omnipresent too, from the bell to signify scene changes to the tyres on the Macbeth’s biker jacket; from the bicycle pedalling that provides the power for scenery to turn around to the honking of a horn to add to the anarchic silliness. Macbeth and co are bikers, not cyclists, as indicated by the HandleBards’ use of handlebars to signify motorbikes and a child’s toy for the sound of a revving engine.

There is abundant comic energy here, indeed an excess of it, that leaves Macbeth’s text struggling for air by comparison with last May’s visit of Romeo & Juliet that had a better balance between HandleBards’ comic mayhem and teen tragedy.

Imagine Eric Morecambe undermining Ernie Wise’s attempts to present one of those “plays what I wrote”, but then overplaying it as clarinet and shruti box drown out Perkins’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy. In such a moment, something of the play is lost in choosing to tell it by behaving like Shakespeare’s idiot, full of sound but not fury, signifying what?  

Elsewhere, the comic tone works better, as does the editing out of the dull political stuff down in England. Natalie Simone’s Strictly Come Dancing-loving Lady Macbeth is a scream, blessed with the best comic timing; Jenny Smith has bags of clowning physicality; Perkins’s Macbeth is sacrificed to the constant playfulness.

Dancing queen: Natalie Simone’s Strictly-loving Lady Macbeth

You will enjoy women sending up Macbeth and MacDuff comparing their manliness; the Witches’ percussive musicianship, singing and later rapping; the impatience at MacDuff taking forever to comprehend the news that his wife and bairns are all dead (spoiler alert); the use of red confetti to signify blood; the dagger attached to Macbeth’s head to “see before me”.

Look out too for two Coronavirus references, two well-placed insertions of topical comedy where, elsewhere, Sampson’s cast sometimes pushes too hard for lightweight laughs at the cost of storytelling.

Sampson had decided to not replicate the use of baked beans and tomato soup for blood from the original HandleBards’ Macbeth, preferring the less messy confetti, but there are moments where the production could be cleaner, less prone to over-excitement, less busy.

This Macbeth is neither ‘bloody’ funny, nor dead funny, in a hammy Hammer horror style; more of a Five Go Camp Acting jaunty jape instead.

Coming next will be a tour of Twelfth Night; dates are yet to be announced.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Why Luke Adamson’s Twelfth Night will be at sixes and sevens on a Selby rugby field

Director Luke Adamson and actor Martha Godber in rehearsal at Selby RUFC for JLA Productions’ Twelfth Night

“I’M just getting in touch to announce that we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!”, teases the email from Luke Adamson.

The Selby actor, writer, London pub theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray Adamson will be returning to the scene of his “greatest triumphs” – two times winner of Selby Rugby Club’s Stars in Their Eyes competition, no less – to present Twelfth Night on August 20 and 21.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, his raucous musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play” will be staged on Selby RUFC turf by JLA Productions with Adamson as the foppish comic foil Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with acting talent from York, Selby, Leeds and Hull, who began rehearsals at the rugby club on Monday this week.

Luke’s good friend from York youth theatre days, John Holt-Roberts, frontman of boisterous York band Hyde Family Jam, will play Sir Toby Belch; Millie Gaston, Maria; Martha Godber, playwrights John and Jane’s daughter, Olivia, and Imogen Ruby Little, Viola.

Emilio Encinoso-Gil and Imogen Ruby Little in a tender scene in rehearsal for Twelfth Night

Double-barrelled Emilio Encinoso-Gil will be on double duty as Feste and Orsino; likewise Aidan Thompson-Coates, for Sebastian and Malvolio.

Twelfth Night is the Shakespeare one where identical twins Sebastian and Viola are separated at sea after their ship sinks. When Viola washes up on the shores of Illyria, she must disguise herself as a man to gain employment with the local Duke, Orsino.

In a nutshell, as Luke puts it: “Orsino is in love with Olivia; Olivia is in love with Viola (who she thinks is a man called Cesario); Malvolio thinks Olivia is in love with him; Viola is in love with Orsino (who also thinks she is a man called Cesario).

“Antonia is in love with Sebastian; Sir Andrew is trying to woo Olivia; Feste is stirring the pot and Sir Toby Belch and Maria are getting drunk and making mischief.”

Millie Gaston, as Maria, and John Holt-Roberts, as Sir Toby Belch, in rehearsal for Twelfth Night

Ah, yes, that one! “Out go pantaloons, cross garters and big fluffy collars,” says Luke. “In come yellow and black rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair for a fast, funny, family-friendly show filled with slapstick comedy, famous songs and more than a few modern references.”

Luke, artistic director of JLA Productions and The Bridge House Theatre, in London SE20, is no stranger to the Selby RUFC pitches. He once played scrum half alongside his formidable fly-half father Ray, who toured Australia and Fiji as part of England’s squad in 1988.

“It was for Selby fifth team,” recalls Luke, who later returned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon in July 2017 as part of the squad for Leeds company Slung Low’s free Selby Arts Festival performance of Lisa Holdsworth’s Rugby Songs: the show with headsets for the crowd, first staged at assorted Yorkshire grounds during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Ray reached the rugby heights, not only as a player for Wakefied but also as a referee, and Luke showed promise too. “I played in the North Yorkshire squad for one season in my age group, but by then I was starting to go to youth theatre in York and I knew that was the route I wanted to go down, but I did still play that season with the Selby fifths with my dad in 2006-2007,” he recalls.

Ray Adamson, Wakefield and Selby fly half, 1988 England squad member and actor Luke’s father, in his playing days

Now he will return to Selby RUFC for all the fun and games of Twelfth Night. “Initially I was contacted by Selby rugby club because they were looking at diversifying their programme after recent events,” says Luke.

“During the lockdowns, the bar couldn’t open for hospitality, and there was no rugby being played, but they still had to support the clubhouse, the ground staff, so they were looking at fundraising.

“They asked me if I’d be interested in doing a show and I said, ‘Absolutely! Yes!’. My mind went straight back to when I’d done Permanently Bard pub theatre in collaboration with Fullers.”

Over three years, Permanently Bard took Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night to pubs in London and the south. “I just thought it was a very informal, very relaxed and anarchic way to perform, giving the opportunity to play with people, when normally they would never go to their local theatre, but hopefully they would go to their local pub, and if something was on, they’d happily pay for it,” recalls Luke. “They loved it!”

Aidan Thompson-Coates having a Malvolio moment during rehearsals for Twelfth Night

Rather than performing in the Selby clubhouse, Luke and his company will be taking to the grass, entering the pitch from exactly where the first XV does. “The outdoor show will suit all ages,” he says. “There’ll be stuff for older ages, and stuff that children will like as Twelfth Night is the perfect starter play with a lovely plot and fun characters.

“We’re trimming it down to 90 minutes plus interval, and we’ll be performing with our native accents, but the key thing is to do it with clarity, cutting out the things that may have been clever wordplay in Shakespeare’s time but don’t work now.

“There’s room for adlibbing with the audience too, certainly for Feste; we’ll be adding original music by Stefan Galt to complement Shakespeare’s songs, and the scale of the show will be epic but simultaneously intimate!”

As for giving a nod to the rugby setting, “We might even have some tackle shields as part of the set,” promises Luke.

JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, kick-off, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale at jlaproductions.co.uk with discounts available for family bookings.

Perfect pitch! Luke Adamson, left, and fellow Slung Low cast members Sally Ann Staunton, Nadia Imam and Tyron Maynard for Rugby Songs, performed at Selby RUFC in July 2017

Copyright of The Press, York

Scrum down for Luke Adamson’s fun and games with Twelfth Night at Selby RUFC

A variation on Malvolio’s cross-gartered stocking theme: Yellow and black rugby socks for Luke Adamson’s version of Twelfth Night on the Selby RUFC pitch

“I’M just getting in touch to announce that we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!”, promises the email from Luke Adamson.

The Selby actor, London pub theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray Adamson will be returning to the scene of his “greatest triumphs” – two times winner of Selby Rugby Club’s Stars in Their Eyes competition, no less – to present Twelfth Night on August 20 and 21.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, his raucous, musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play” will be staged on Selby RUFC turf by JLA Productions with Adamson as the foppish comic foil Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with Yorkshire acting talent.

Twelfth Night is the Shakespeare one where identical twins Sebastian and Viola are separated at sea after their ship sinks. When Viola washes up on the shores of Illyria, she must disguise herself as a man in order to gain employment with the local Duke, Orsino.

“Filled with slapstick comedy, famous songs and more than a few modern references, our Twelfth Night promises to be a fast, funny, family-friendly show for all ages,” says Luke Adamson, Selby actor-director and former Selby RUFC fifth team scrum half

In a nutshell, “Orsino is in love with Olivia; Olivia is in love with Viola (who she thinks is a man called Cesario); Malvolio thinks Olivia is in love with him; Viola is in love with Orsino (who also thinks she is a man called Cesario),” runs the plot.

“Antonia is in love with Sebastian; Sir Andrew is trying to woo Olivia; Feste is stirring the pot and Sir Toby Belch and Maria are getting drunk and making mischief.”

Ah, yes, that one! “Out go pantaloons, cross garters and big fluffy collars,” says Luke. “In come rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair. Filled with slapstick comedy, famous songs and more than a few modern references, it promises to be a fast, funny, family-friendly show for all ages.”

Luke, artistic director of JLA Productions and The Bridge House Theatre, in London SE20, is no stranger to the Selby RUFC pitches. He once played scrum half alongside his fly-half father Ray, who toured Australia and Fiji as part of England’s squad in 1988.

Perfect pitch! Luke Adamson and fellow Slung Low cast members Sally Ann Staunton, Nadia Imam and Tyron Maynard for Rugby Songs, performed at Selby RUFC in July 2017

“It was for Selby  fifth team” recalls Luke, who later returned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon in July 2017 as part of the squad for Leeds company Slung Low’s free Selby Arts Festival performance of Lisa Holdsworth’s Rugby Songs: the show with headsets for the crowd, first staged at assorted Yorkshire grounds during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Luke knew Slung Low director Alan Lane from doing Blood + Chocolate with him in York in 2013 and festival director David Edmunds from when his Dep Arts organisation helped him to  tour One Last Waltz, a play about Alzheimer’s.

“The prospect of doing a show with rugby songs at rugby club grounds was something I wanted to get involved with, so I contacted Alan,” he says.

“I’d played Rugby Union since junior days, as a scrum half, starting at seven years old, and my dad went on tour with England in 1988, when he was playing for fly half and full back for Wakefield, and he was also in the squad for the Five Nations, so it was interesting when the script came through, with stories such as when England fans first sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, at Twickenham that year.”

Ray Adamson, Wakefield and Selby fly half, 1988 England squad member and actor Luke’s father, in his playing days

Chris Oti, England’s black winger, had scored a second-half hattrick of tries that March afternoon in a 35-3 victory, prompting the Twickenham throng to burst into their tribute song. “‘I was there’, my dad said. ‘What, you were in the crowd?’ I asked him. ‘No, I was on the England bench’!”

Ray reached the rugby heights, first as a player then as a referee, and Luke showed promise too. “I played in the North Yorkshire squad for one season in my age group, but by then I was starting to go to youth theatre in York and I knew that was the route I wanted to go down, but I did play a season with the Selby fifths with my dad in 2006-2007,” he recalls.

The July 2017 sold-out performance took place on Selby RUFC’s first-team pitch with the crowd on the touchlines, hearing every note and story behind each national song, from New Zealand’s Haka to South Africa’s Shosholoza, through hi-tech headphone technology, the trademark of Slung Low’s outdoor productions.

Luke, who appeared in the 2015 production too, performed with Nadia Imam, Tyron Maynard and Sally Ann Staunton, each kitted in myriad national rugby shirts.

The post for JLA Productions’ Twelfth Night at Selby RUFC

“Doing it in the middle of summer, it was so hot as we each had to have six jerseys on at one point – and we had to make sure we’d all got them on in the right order,” he says Luke.

The Kiwis’ Haka is traditionally the most fearsome sight and sound in world rugby, but Luke fondly remembers that not being the case on that Sunday afternoon. “I’m not sure it’s quite as intimidating when you have just four actors,” he concedes. “But the message was very profound and philosophical about life and death.”

Now he will return to Selby RUFC, for all the fun and games of Twelfth Night, later this summer.

JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale at jlaproductions.co.uk with discounts available for family bookings.

More Things To Do in and around York before and after Johnson’s “Terminus Est”. List No. 37, courtesy of The Press, York


A fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night: Sophie Robinson as Julie in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal

FREEDOM Day is delayed but Boris Johnson has reached for the Latin dictionary again with his promise of “Terminus Est”.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, life goes on in Charles Hutchinson’s socially distanced diary.

Play of the week ahead: Miss Julie, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26

ON the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, the celebrations are in full swing when Julie, the daughter of the island’s British governor, crashes the servants’ party downstairs.

What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night in the Pearl River Delta in British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s adaptation of Strindberg’s psychological drama in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s new touring production. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Reopening today: Leeds Grand Theatre auditorium will be welcoming an audience for the first time in 15 months

Reopening of the day: Leeds Grand Theatre

WHEN Leeds Grand Theatre first opened its doors on Monday, November 18 1878, a playbill declared it would “Positively Open”. Now, after 15 months under wraps, it is “Positively Reopening” today (17/62021) for a socially distanced run of Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake until June 26.

In Northern Ballet‘s emotive retelling, Anthony’s life is haunted by guilt after the tragic loss of his brother. When he finds himself torn between two loves, he looks to the water for answers.

There he finds solace with the mysterious swan-like Odette as the story is beautifully reimagined by David Nixon, who will be leaving the Leeds company after 20 years as artistic director in December. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at boxoffice@leedsheritagetheatres

Abba Mania: Saying thank you for the superSwedes’ music at York Racecourse on June 26

Staying on track: Sounds In The Grounds, Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, June 25 to 27

JAMBOREE Entertainment presents three Covid safety-compliant Sounds In The Grounds concerts next weekend with socially distanced picnic patches at York Racecourse.

First up, next Friday, will be Beyond The Barricade, a musical theatre celebration starring former Les Miserables principals; followed by Abba Mania next Saturday and the country hits of A Country Night In Nashville next Sunday.

Opening each show will be York’s party, festival and wedding favourites, The New York Brass Band. Tickets are on sale at soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com or at the gate for last-minute decision makers.

The poster for the return of the York River Art Market

Welcome back: York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, York, from June 26

AFTER the pandemic ruled out all last year’s live events, York River Art Market returns to its riverside railing perch at Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, for ten shows this summer in the wake of the winter’s online #YRAMAtHome, organised by Charlotte Dawson.

Free to browse and for sale will be work by socially distanced, indie emerging and established artists on June 26, July 3, 24, 25 and 31 and August 1, 7, 14, 21 and 28, from 10.30am to 5.30pm, when YRAM will be raising funds for York Rescue Boat.

On show will be landscape and abstract paintings; ink drawings, cards and prints; jewellery and glass mosaics; woodwork and metalwork; textiles and clothing and artisan candles and beauty products.

Alexander Wright: Contemplating his debut solo performance of poems, stories and new writing on July 10. Picture: Megan Drury

He’s nervous, but why? Alexander Wright: Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 10, 7.30pm

LET Alex tell the story: “In a potentially remarkable act of narcissism, I am doing a solo gig of my own work in a theatre I built (with Phil Grainger and dad Paul Wright) in my back garden. 

“It’s the first time I have ever done a solo gig. I write lots of stuff, direct lots of stuff, tour Orpheus, Eurydice & The Gods to hundreds of places. But I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it.”

Expect beautiful stories, beautiful poems and a few beautiful special guests; tickets via atthemill.org.

Ringmaster and Dame Dolly Donut in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldilocks And The Three Bears at Pocklington Arts Centre

Summer “pantomime”? Yes, in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldlilocks And The Three Bears, Pocklington Arts Centre, August 12, 2.30pm

ALL the fun of live family theatre returns to Pocklington Arts Centre this summer with Doncaster company TaleGate Theatre’s big top pantomime extravaganza.

In Goldilocks And The Three Bears, pop songs, magic and puppets combine in a magical adventure where you are invited to help Goldilocks and her mum, Dame Dolly Donut, save their circus and rescue the three bears from the evil ringmaster. For tickets, go to: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys: Headliners to be found at The Magpies Festival in Sutton-on-the-Forest in August

Festival alert: The Magpies Festival, Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest, near York, August 14, music on bar stage from 1.30pm; main stage, from 2.30pm

SAM Kelly & The Lost Boys will headline The Magpies Festival in the grounds of Sutton Park.

Confirmed for the folk-flavoured line-up too are: Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra; Blair Dunlop; fast-rising Katherine Priddy; The Magpies; York musician Dan Webster; East Yorkshire singer-songwriter Katie Spencer; the duo Roswell and The People Versus. Day tickets and camping tickets are available at themagpiesfestival.co.uk/tickets.   

A variation on Malvolio’s cross-gartered stocking theme: Yellow and black rugby socks for Luke Adamson’s version of Twelfth Night on the Selby RUFC pitch

Fun and games combined: JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm

“I’M just getting in touch to announce we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!” promises Luke Adamson, Selby-born actor, London theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, a raucous, musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play”, Twelfth Night, will be staged with Adamson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with Yorkshire acting talent.

Out go pantaloons and big fluffy collars, in come rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair. Box office: jlaproductions.co.uk.

Review: Teddy Bears’ Picnic…One sandwich short of a picnic or a top banana drama?

One sandwich short of a picnic: Cassie Vallance’s Jo clowns around on her Friends Garden park bench in a scene from Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Picture: Northedge Photography

REVIEW: Teddy Bears’ Picnic, Park Bench Theatre, Engine House Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York until September 5. ****

THROUGH stealth and goofy coming timing, Cassie Vallance had stolen Twelfth Night, the Jazz Age hit of last summer’s Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York before the rest of Joyce Branagh’s superb cast could do anything about it.

After that Pop-Up Elizabethan theatre season on the Castle car park, Vallance has popped up again at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, presenting Crafty Tales with her Story Craft Theatre cohort Janet Bruce last Saturday lunchtime.

She would have done so again this Saturday too at 1pm but for the fact she needs to be at Rowntree Park for the 1.30pm performance of Teddy Bears’ Picnic, her solo performance for this summer’s Park Bench Theatre season.

For all her oodles of comic energy, not even Vallance can be in two places at once and so Janet Bruce will be bringing a picture-book story to life on her own on the patio this weekend.

Any good at the hurdles? Cassie Vallance tries to negotiate the gate to enter the Friends Garden. Picture: Northedge Photography

In between Twelfth Night and Teddy Bears’ Picnic came Vallance’s starring role in director Matt Aston’s adaptation of Benji Davies’s The Storm Whale stories for the York Theatre Royal Studio’s Christmas show for children.

Now, Aston, artistic director of Engine House Theatre, resumes his creative partnership with Vallance for this season’s Park Bench Theatre resurrection of outdoor theatre for the post-lockdown age.

Together, they have co-created a new version of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic story spun from the threads of the popular children’s ditty and an original idea by musical director Julian Butler; Aston directing, Vallance performing with all that impish clowning, physical comedy and pathos that has marked the York actor’s performances over the past year.

If you go down in the Covid-secure Friends Garden tomorrow, or on various dates until September 5, you are in for a children’s show to delight three year olds and upwards. Take a picnic, take a child or two, or more, within a family bubble to sit in socially distanced pods marked out by chalk circles, with room to accommodate your favourite teddy bear too.

Juggling tea cups: Cassie Vallance keeps her balance in Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Picture: Northedge Photography

On arrival, you will pick up the necessary equipment to listen on a head set to the feed of Vallance’s storytelling, sound effects (from lasers to a send-up of The Six Million Dollar Man intro for the adults present) and reprises of the familiar song, complemented by Julian Butler’s incidental music.

Vallance is playing Jo, struggling with her big case as she tries to negotiate her way through the not very high gates to the Friends Garden on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

Eventually, she does so, taking up residence on and around the park bench beneath the linden tree in the garden corner, as a squirrel looks on, front paws in that distinctive squirrel position where they look to be on the cusp of bursting into applause.

Vallance’s Jo is in three quarter-length dungarees with yellow buttons and matching head band and anything but matching pumps (purple instead), her bravura attire denoting a funny woman has just entered the garden.

Who would name a teddy after a beach? Cassie Vallance’s Jo does, holding Filey aloft in Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Picture: Northedge Photography

Jo begins to unpack the case, taking out case after smaller case, as if opening up a Russian doll. She puts up bunting, does a spot of juggling. Vallance has said nothing, as much mime artist or silent movie actor to this point, but once she puts on a pair of spectacles, she “realises” she has an audience and starts talking…excitedly.

She seeks to give this re-telling a context for Covid-19 2020, as Jo talks to the children about the experience of coming out to play again, to see friends again, to be outdoors again, to be enjoying a Teddy Bears’ Picnic again, after being stuck inside in lockdown for an eternity.

“It’s a bit weird,” she says, and who would disagree. “There’s been lots of Zooming,” she notes. “For a word that sounds so fast, it seems to take so long!”

Picking a banana from her picnic, Vallance’s Jo bounces around the audience, revelling in “just being”, “feeling happy”, “enjoying stuff”, but then her thoughts turn to memories. “All memories are important. They may not be happy, but that’s OK, they can help us learn,” she says.

A show with bite…a horsefly bite for Teddy Bears’ Picnic director Matt Aston

At this juncture, Jo transforms into her younger self, recalling childhood Teddy Bears’ Picnics in Rowntree Park, surrounded by her teddies, all except her favourite, Kelly, who came off worst in an unfortunate encounter with her father’s Flymo mower.

Vallance’s crestfallen pathos at this juncture is a joy, so too are the Scottish and Welsh accents she adopts for Jo’s mum and dad (even though they are from Welwyn Garden and Fulford!).

Aston and Vallance’s charming short story ends on a positive and reassuring note in these strange times for children and adults alike, Jo saying that things can and always will change…and “change can be really, really good”.

Ironically, the only sting in this tale was, well, not a sting but a horsefly bite suffered by director Matt Aston pre-show. Kelly went to hospital in the story, Aston to A&E with his arm swollen. Is ted not dead? Did both have a happy ending? That would be telling!

Performances: August 21 and 22, 27 to 29 and 31; September 1 to 5; 11.30am and 1.30pm. Box office: parkbenchtheatre.com