Holy Moly! Here come The Crackers as Pocklington Arts Centre revs up to reopen

Holy Moly & The Crackers: “Always putting on such an energetic, vivacious show”

FIERY gypsy folk’n’rollers Holy Moly & The Crackers will return to Pocklington Arts Centre on October 16 as the East Yorkshire venue “excitedly resumes its live events”.

The North Yorkshire and Newcastle band are noted for sparking up a raucous, feelgood party atmosphere at their blazing live shows, built on soul, rock indie and Balkan folk.

Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer says: “Holy Moly & The Crackers always put on such an energetic, vivacious show, featuring their unique sound that has our audiences foot stomping and dancing in the aisles, so we can’t wait to welcome them back after their sold-out show back in February 2019.”

The band formed in 2011 almost by mistake, when singer, guitarist and trumpet player Conrad Bird, fellow singer and violinist Ruth Patterson and costume designer and accordion player Rosie Bristow met at a house party in Leamington Spa, of all places, in their late teens.

Enamoured by Rosie’s party-prop accordion, the three decided to start playing music together, mainly stomping Irish, American and Balkan folk and drinking songs at open mics and dive bars, as an alternative to Smack, Leamington’s main student club that provided the only other option for a night out.

After moving north, the founders were joined by jazz/funk bass player Jamie Shields and drummer Tommy Evans in 2015, when they released the single A Punk Called Peter, a “sort of New Orleans funeral march mixed with some fine and highly danceable reggae”.

Holy Moly & The Crackers’ artwork for Take A Bite, their 2019 album

Second album Salem marked the 2017 launch of their own label, Pink Lane Records, and a heightened profile for the band after lead single Cold Comfort Lane was picked up by Hollywood producers to turbo-boost the stick-it-to-the-man comedy crime caper Ocean’s 8 in 2018. 

Classically trained but psychedelic and DIY punk-inspired guitarist Nick Tyler came on board that year to add to The Crackers’ grunt and diesel power.

Reuniting with Salem producer Matt Terry, they recorded swaggering third album Take A Bite in 2019, once again at Vada Studios, built in a 1260 chapel near Alcester on the Warwickshire /Worcestershire border.

“Apparently it’s called Vada Studios because the owner is obsessed with Star Wars’ Darth Vader,” says Conrad, whose band stayed in one of the outhouses.

Teaming up with Terry for a second time proved fruitful. “He’s worked with bands like The Prodigy and The Enemy and he has really good ideas for pop sensibilities,” says Conrad. “I was always against ‘pop’, but there’s a real skill to it. There was a chance for us to go with another producer, but we felt we could do more with Matt to develop our sound.”

Whereupon The Crackers hit the road in full throttle, joining shanty punks Skinny Lister on tour around Europe, before appearing at more than 30 festivals and undertaking a victorious headline lap of the UK, culminating in selling out their biggest show to date at Sage Gateshead on the banks of the Tyne. Ruth and Conrad tied the knot that busy year too.

2020 saw the band blasting out of the blocks with the single Road To You, “a shot of espresso that comes loaded and ready to work in a short, sharp shock”. Twenty-seven dates across ten countries should have added up to their biggest European tour to date, to go with support slots for fan Frank Turner across France and Germany and a return to Glastonbury for its 50th anniversary, but we all know what happened next.

Tickets for Holy Moly & The Crackers’ 8pm gig cost £20 at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Tom Rosenthal: The last show at Pocklington Arts Centre before the first lockdown last March

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre (PAC) has been closed to the public since March 17 2020, curtailing that year’s 20th anniversary celebrations after comedian Tom Rosenthal’s Manhood show on March 14, but the venue will hopefully be re-opening our doors this summer”.

Watch this space for further updates, but already director Janet Farmer and venue manager James Duffy have confirmed that the PAC-programmed Platform Festival at the Old Station, Pocklington, has been called off for a second successive summer.

Festival shows by the likes of comedian Omid Djalili, Richard Thompson and Shed Seven duo Rick Witter and Paul Banks in acoustic mode initially had been moved from 2020 to 2021, although former Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant’s Saving Grace acoustic gig with fellow vocalist Suzi Dian never had a new Platform date set in place.

“Robert hasn’t rescheduled any of his 2020 shows, originally because he was recording with Alison Krauss in Nashville,” says James.

“We looked into moving Richard Thompson’s date too, but he’s cancelled his plans because amid the continuing uncertainty over Covid, he’s not sure where he would stand, what with being based in the United States.”

More details are yet to be confirmed, but Pocklington Arts Centre is contemplating reopening with a film programme from July 2, followed by the full reopening in September, with greater clarity once the Government roadmap is rubber-stamped.

Velma Celli: Drag diva to play Pocklington Arts Centre in December

“It will be a slow re-start at first to restore audience confidence in coming to PAC, and film is a good way of doing that,” says Janet. “With films, you naturally socially distance to get the best view.

“But that’s why we couldn’t go ahead with the Platform Festival, because there are still uncertainties and it made sense to call it off.”

Plans are afoot instead for Primrose Events, a short series of outdoor shows in a 60 to 70-capacity woodland setting at Primrose Woods, Pocklington, in late June and early July. Two shows are pencilled in for PAC in July too, subject to the Government’s Covid statements. Again, watch this space for more info as and when.

Within PAC, the lavatories have been refurbished and upgraded; air-purifying units to increase air flow are being installed around the building; a Covid-secure screen is in place at the box office, and such Covid measures as an app for ordering drinks, anti-bacteria spray “foggers” and hand-sanitising stations will be the way forward.

The frustrating year of lockdown x 3 has kept Janet and James busy rearranging concerts by, for example, The Felice Brothers and Courtney Marie Andrews three times and New Yorker Jesse Malin twice.

The management duo have been working their way through 20 years of paper work in the attics and have set up a beehive on the flat roof as part of a PAC environmentally friendly package.

So, now there is a buzz about the place in more ways than one, and on the Pocklington horizon is a theatrical ghost-walk promenade, commissioned from Magic Carpet Theatre founder Jon Marshall for the dark nights of November before the December dazzle of glam cabaret supreme in the company of York drag diva deluxe Velma Celli (date TBC).

Mission Impossible! Velma Celli finds new wonderbar home for York drag residency

“It’s happening!” says Velma Celli as York cabaret star moves residency to Impossible, York, from next month. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK’S drag diva deluxe Velma Celli is on the move.

Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

In comes a resplendent residency from next month at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“It’s happening!” says an excited Velma Celli, the exotic international drag alter ego of musical actor Ian Stroughair, last seen on a York stage in December as the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

“Velma has a new residency!! My very first live gig at the utterly fabulous Impossible, York. May 21st.  Doors 7pm. Show 8pm! My very special guest is [York soul sister] Jessica Steel (obvs). More special West End guests to be announced! Grab those tickets as it will sell out!”

Take that advice, Velma insists. “50 per cent of tickets have gone! If you want to come to opening night, don’t wait to book! This baby is flying!!!!”

Tickets are on sale at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/the-velma-celli-show-impossible-york-tickets/10900325, priced at £22 for VIP front cabaret table seats and £16.50 for reserved seating.

“Basically, it’s replacing the shows at The Basement, where we don’t know when it will reopen for shows under Covid guidance as it’s a small space,” says Ian, as he switches from the impossible to Impossible, York.

“I met the Impossible manager, Stephanie, in December, meeting her between Jack And The Beanstalk shows, and then five weeks ago she knocked on the window saying, ‘I’ve been trying to contact you!’.

How the other half lives: Exit alter ego Velma Celli, enter Ian Stroughair, musical actor, playing Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk

“And so the first Velma Celli Show there will be on May 21, up the stairs, in the fabulous Impossible Wonderbar setting overlooking the square, with more shows to be announced later. This one will be fun, comedic, with stand-up, impressions, the usual mix of rock, pop and the blues, plus Jess and guests.”

Ian first moved back to York for Lockdown 1 when the pandemic sent him home from a Velma Celli Australian tour and he plans to settle back in his home city permanently from May, travelling to London for three days a week when necessary.

Streamed concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and latterly from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge, have kept Velma Celli’s voice in spectacular working order, sometimes accompanied by Jessica Steel, leading light of Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising A Night To Remember shows at York Barbican.

“Jess is reopening her salon [Rock The Barnet in Boroughbridge Road] from Monday, so we did our last stream together last night, Last Online – A Grand Finale, that ticket holders can see until Sunday,” says West End star Ian, who has appeared in such musicals as Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, but had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool last year, thwarted by Killjoy Covid.

For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

Velma Celli and Jess Steel to serve up streamed show from Earl Grey Tea Rooms

LOCKDOWN cabaret streaming duo Velma Celli and Jess Steel are going on location to the Earl Grey Tea Rooms for their Showbizzy Shambles show in York tomorrow (5/2/2021).

After the camply nautical, naughty fun of their water-themed Fabulously Flooded online gig last week, they are vacating the riverside abode of Ian Stroughair, drag diva Velma’s creator, by Lendal Bridge for light relief and camp cabaret belting.

“We’re getting the keys to the Earl Grey Tea Rooms in Shambles and filming it there,” says Ian/Velma. “We’ll be going vintage, so join in with your apparel, peeps, if ya feel like it. Not essential but fun.”

Tickets for Showbizzy Shambles grant access to the streamed show any time from 5pm tomorrow to Sunday evening (7/2/2021). Go to http://bit.ly/3pAtBAF for all the details. “Please feel free to invite all your mates,” says Ian/Velma.

Here, everything stops for tea questions and more besides as Charles Hutchinson grills Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli.

How is your house now, post-flooding?  Fully recovered?

“Yes! Thank RuPaul (God)! It took a lot of scrubbing, but I got there!” 

Where did you end up recording your January 22 show when water had seeped in through the front door and back door?

“Still in the house. The kitchen is lower than the living room, so we were cool.” 

What songs on a water theme did you perform in last week’s Fabulously Flooded show? Something by The Waterboys?  Peter Gabriel’s Here Comes The Flood?  (Lendal) Bridge Over Troubled Water, maybe? So many possibilities!

“Ha ha, so many! It’s Raining Men (obvs). Waterloo. River Deep Mountain High. Cry Me A River. You get the drift.” 

No! No song by The Waterboys featured in Velma and Jess’s water-themed cabaret show

How has the streamed gig at the Earl Grey Tea Rooms come about?

“Clare and Howard [Proctor] are very good old friends and they’re fabulous supporters of all my Velma and Ian appearances.

“I adore this place as much as its owners and it’s been a real struggle over the past year, as you’d imagine, so I wanted to raise them up.

“Not only because it’s such a fabulous tea room – to get you all chomping at the bit to visit, as soon as we move tiers – but also to highlight just how hard it is right now, not just in my sector of live performance but in the hospitality industry too!

“Clare and Howard have worked so hard for years, so I wanted to use my platform to shine a spotlight on them.”

Velma Celli and Jess Steel’s social-media artwork for their Fabulously Flooded show last week

In which room will you record the show?

“Undecided. Each one is so quaint. Will depend on lighting, darling.”

Water theme last week.  Any tea and cake songs this week? Can’t think of a crumpet song….

“We are going vintage. From the 1940s, but all the way up to Lady Gaga and everything in between.

“Why not prepare yourself an afternoon tea with scones, finger sandwiches, tea pots filled with fizz, and let us entertain you, direct and safely in your own home.”

What is your perfect afternoon tea and where? 

“Earl Grey Tea Rooms of course! Best scones ever. I love their Coronation Chicken jacket, followed by a cream tea with English brekky! You must all go as soon as they reopen. Such quality and atmosphere.”

Jess Steel: Showbizzy Shambles will be the sensational singing hairdresser’s last streamed concert with Velma Celli “for a few weeks”

Earl Grey, Darjeeling or Lapsang Souchong?

“All. But my favourite is English Breakfast in the morning and Orange Pekoe on an afternoon.” 

Cream first or jam first on a scone?

“Cream!!!!!!!!” 

Favourite cake?

“Traditional Victoria Sponge.” 

Have you ever left a cake out in the rain, a la MacArthur Park?

“No. Come rain or shine, Velma never neglects confection.” 

What’s coming next?

“Tomorrow is the last show with Jess and me for a few weeks as I have some solo live- stream bookings to perform.”

Come Hell or, in this case, high water, Velma Celli and Jess Steel WILL play streamed gig

Jess Steel and Ian Stroughair (aka Velma Celli) will defy a flooded house to perform their streamed gig in York

NOT even a flooded house will stop York drag diva divine Velma Celli and sensational singing hairdresser Jess Steel from recording their latest streamed gig.

“Streamed”…what an ironic word that is right now, as Velma’s creator, musical actor and international cabaret star Ian Stroughair, and “work bubble” Jess survey the “carnage” in Ian’s riverside pad by the Ouse.

Exit Storm Christoph, re-enter the defiant duo, who will follow up last Friday’s double bill with the second instalment of An Evening With Velma & Jess, put back from today (22/1/2021) to tomorrow, with the recording having had to be delayed.

Tickets are on sale at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/an-evening-with-velma-and-live-stream-tickets/10829655 until 5pm tomorrow, when the link to watch the show will arrive moments later. Please note, the recording will remain available for viewing for 48 hours.

The show must go on for Velma Celli, even when the floodwater calls for wellies

Looking forward to still making a splash this weekend, Ian/Velma wades through Charles Hutchinson’s snappy questions.

How are you coping in the flood, Ian? What’s the latest state of play?

“It’s been a long, semi-sleepless couple of days. Fortunately, it hasn’t increased overnight but the kitchen is flooded and I cannot leave by either door. The back door is up to five feet in water and the front is inaccessible. It’s windows and wellies at the moment.”

Without giving the precise location, where is your riparian abode?

“I am right by Ouse Bridge. So, pretty much at the worse possible area but I have food and gin, so I’m gooooood!”

In which room will you now record the streamed gig?

“I think we may be OK to stick to the living room. If not, the four-poster master suite will be perfect!” 

Will you adjust the setlist to take in songs about rain and flooding?

“Ha ha! Of course! Titanic meets Babs meets Abba.” [Water-loo?, editor ponders].

Have you ever had to cancel a gig (other than for killjoy Covid) and, if so, what was the best reason for a gig not going ahead?

“It’s never fun to cancel. I did once get stuck in Oz longer than expected and had to cancel a London date.”

Can you say anything at this stage of your plan to play gigs in York restaurants?

“Not too much yet! We are sorting the finer details. As soon as York goes into a tier where we can eat in restaurants, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops.” 

Velma Celli and Jess Steel bubble up for York lockdown streamed concert tonight

A midwinter night’s stream: The poster for An Evening With Velma & Jess tonight

AFTER last Friday’s Large & Lit In Lockdown Again solo show online, York drag diva Velma Celli forms a bubble double bill with powerhouse singing hairdresser Jess Steel tonight.

Together they will be presenting An Evening With Velma & Jess, streamed from the riverside abode of Ian Stroughair, the musical actor inside the fabulous international cabaret creation.

Jess, leading light of Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising A Night To Remember shows at York Barbican, runs the Rock The Barnet salon in Boroughbridge Road, where her clientele can listen to their favourite vinyl on a classic record player while having their hair styled or enjoying a beauty treatment.

Tonight’s 8pm show is the second in a new series of hour-long Velma Celli streamed gigs in lockdown. “It’s the day of the show, ya’ll,” says Velma on Facebook. “So much work and love has gone into this, so if you fancy some lockdown fun, please tune in and support Jess and I.

“Tickets come off sale at 5pm and you have 48 hours to watch it just in case ya busy, Barbra’s.” To book, go to: http://bit.ly/2XxMqrG.

Here Ian/Velma answers Charles Hutchinson’s rapid-fire questions ahead of showtime.

How did last week’s show go? What were the highlights?

“It was SO much fun and camp. I loved singing all new songs and just having a laugh… with myself!”

Having moved from Bishopthorpe to a riverside house, how did the new location work out?

“Lovely! I am living in my friend’s dreamy townhouse at the moment. Posh!” 

What will you be singing tonight?

“OOOOOO, Cilla, Disney, ’60s, ’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s. It’s a real mixed bag this time.”

What will Jess be singing?

“Dolly. Gaga. Amy.” 

How come you can perform together in lockdown?

“I am in Jess’s bubble. Yes!”

How would you sum up Jess in five words?

“Talent. Kind. Hilarious. Generous. Fabulous.”

How did you celebrate your birthday yesterday in lockdown?

“With snacks. Facetime. Gin.”

What’s the best birthday present you have ever received?

“Another year to have a go at being better.”

Drag diva Velma Celli kickstarts 2021 with Large & Lit In Lockdown streamed show

Velma Celli: Large & Lit In Lockdown Again but from a new location

AFTER his “Fleshius Creepius” panto villain in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, Ian Stroughair planned to pull on his drag rags for a live Velma Celli show on January 15 at his adopted winter home of Theatre @41 Monkgate.

He anticipated more shows would have followed too, but then came York’s new impediment of Tier 3 status post-Christmas, and inevitably tighter restrictions still to come until the jabs make their point.

Consequently, he announces instead: “Darlings, as we head back into a lockdown in York, Velma Celli is back on the streaming! My first show, Large & Lit In Lockdown Again, is on Friday (8/1/2021) at 8pm. I would love you to join me for an hour of camp cabaret fun! Get those requests and shout-outs in!”

In 2020, Velma hosted a series of streamed shows from Case De Velma Celli, alias the drag diva’s Bishopthorpe kitchen. Firstly, on April 29, a fundraiser for St Leonard’s Hospice, followed by Large & Lit In Lockdown and virtual versions of the cabaret queen’s hit shows Equinox, Me & My Divas and A Night At The Musicals.

Usually to be found once a month gracing The Basement stage at City Screen, York, Velma returned to live performance in York by signing up for a rugby club – York RI Rugby Union Football Club, in New Lane, Acomb, to be precise – for An Evening Of Song outdoors under the September stars.

Jack And The Beanstalk saw Ian turn to the dark side as the vainglorious “Fleshius Creepius”, and now, newly moved into a riverside abode in York, he is ready to return to Velma Celli mode from Friday.

Tickets for Virtual Velma start at £10 via http://bit.ly/3nVaa4N. Watch this space for news of an online show every Friday from Ian’s new HQ.

Here, Ian answers Charles Hutchinson’s quickfire questions at the outset of a new year still shrouded in uncertainty for the arts world.

From where will you be streaming the January 8 show?  Still as a kitchen-sing drama or from a different room at your new riverside pad?

“The living room.”

On a technical level, what did you learn about doing digital streams from your earlier series of shows?

“That tech is stressful but once you have a system, it’s a piece of cake.” 

Ian Stroughair as Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

What will the new show feature: any songs making their debut?

“Expect lots of divas as per. I’m gonna whack in some classic Amy Winehouse too: Back In Black.”

Will a remote guest be joining you?

“Not this time. You get Velma all to yourself.”

Your 2020 ended on a high with the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.  How did it feel to be back on stage in a show with a proper run to it?

“It was EVERYTHING. Such a joy and a wonderful experience. Feel so lucky and positive for a return of theatre as a whole!” 

What did you enjoy most about performing this pantomime – a new hybrid of “pansical” or “musical theatre with pantomime braces on” – in your home city?

“Working with the entire team. Everyone was sensational. The most talented cast I’ve ever worked with.” 

What were your highlights of 2020, aside from the pantomime?

“Reconnecting with York. I’ve fallen in love with it big time. Growing up here was a very different place and time, especially for the LGBTQIA+, but now it’s SO much more diverse.”

What realistic hopes do you have for yourself in 2021?

“That I can stay afloat until venues can open. It’s hard but, my lord, I’ll plod on.”

What hopes would you still have for 2021 in an ideal world?

“That theatre and the arts in general would have a boom and rebirth. I’m hopeful but realistic it may take longer than I dream.”

If you could address the Government, why do the arts matter?

“We need the arts more than we ever thought. It’s entertainment. It’s escapism. It’s culture. We all need it.” 

More Things To Do in and around York and at home in 2021, whatever barriers may yet lie ahead. List No 23, courtesy of The Press

Grayson Perry: Two shows in York in 2021; one an exhibition of “Lost Pots” at York Art Gallery, the other, his existentialist gig, A Show For Normal People, at York Barbican

AFTER a year where killjoy Covid-19 re-wrote the arts and events diary over and over again, here comes 2021, when the pandemic will still have a Red Pen influence.

Armed with a pantomime fairy’s magic wand rather than Madame Arcati’s crystal ball from Blithe Spirit, when what we need is a jab in the arm pronto, Charles Hutchinson picks out potential highlights from the New Year ahead that York will start in Tier 3.

Velma Celli: Had planned to present A Brief History Of Drag at Theatre @41 Monkgate in January; now heading online at home instead

Back on screen: Velma Celli, Large & Lit In Lockdown Again, streaming on January 8

AFTER his “Fleshius Creepius” panto villain in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, Ian Stroughair was planning to pull on his drag rags for a live Velma Celli show in January, and maybe more shows to follow, at his adopted winter home of Theatre @41 Monkgate.

Instead, he writes: “Darlings, as we head back into a lockdown in York, I am back on the streaming! My first show is next Friday at 8pm. I would love you to join me for an hour of camp cabaret fun! Get those requests and shout-outs in!” Tickets for Virtual Velma start at £10 via http://bit.ly/3nVaa4N; expect an online show every Friday from Ian’s new riverside abode.

Shed Seven: Headlining all-Yorkshire bill at The Piece Hall, Halifax, in the summer

Open-air one-off event of the summer: Shed Seven, The Piece Hall, Halifax, June 26

FRESH from releasing live album Another Night, Another Town as a reminder of what everyone has had to miss in 2020, Shed Seven have confirmed their Piece Hall headliner in Halifax has been rearranged for next summer.

The Sheds have picked an all-Yorkshire support bill of Leeds bands The Wedding Present and The Pigeon Detectives and fast-rising fellow York act Skylights. For tickets, go to lunatickets.co.uk or seetickets.com.

Cocktail Party 1989, copyright of Grayson Perry/Victoria Miro, from the Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition, opening at CoCA, York Art Gallery, in May

Most anticipated York exhibition of 2021: Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years, York Art Gallery, May 28 to September 5

CHANNEL 4’s  champion of people’s art in lockdown, Grayson Perry, will present his Covid-crocked 2020 exhibition of “lost pots” at the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) next spring and summer instead.

The Pre-Therapy Years reassembles Perry’s earliest forays into ceramics; 70 “explosive and creative works” he made between 1982 and 1994. Look out too for the potter, painter, TV presenter and social commentator’s existentialist September 6 gig at York Barbican: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, wherein he will “distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can”.

Chris Moreno: No festive cheer at Christmas, but now he looks forward to presenting The Great Yorkshire Easter Pantomime, Aladdin, on Knavesmire, York, in spring 2021

A pantomime in the spring? Yes, The Great Yorkshire Easter Pantomime in a tent on Knavesmire, York, March 19 to April 11

CHRIS Moreno, director of Three Bears’ Productions four pantomimes at the Grand Opera House from 2016 to 2019, will direct York’s first ever “tentomime”, Aladdin, this spring with a cast of “21 colourful characters”.

The Great Yorkshire Easter Pantomime will be presented in the luxurious, heated Tented Palace, Knavesmire, in a socially distanced configuration compliant with Covid-19 guidance.

The big top will have a capacity of 976 in tiered, cushioned seating, while the stage will span 50 metres, comprising a palace façade, projected scenery and magical special effects. Look out for the flying carpets.

Going solo: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World at York Theatre Royal from February 16

Falling in love again with theatre: The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, February 14 to April 21

ON December 15, York Theatre Royal announced plans to reopen on St Valentine’s Day for The Love Season, with the audience capacity reduced from 750 to a socially distanced 345.

Full details will be confirmed in the New Year with tickets going on sale on January 8, and that remains the case, says chief executive Tom Bird, after hearing yesterday afternoon’s statement to the House of Commons by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“We’re carrying on with our plans, including presenting Coronation Street and Broadchurch actor Julie Hesmondhalgh in husband Ian Kershaw’s one-woman play, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, from February 16 to 20,” he confirmed.

Van Morrison: A brace of bracing nights at York Barbican in May

Six of the best at York Barbican in 2021

YORK Barbican has remained closed since the March lockdown, foregoing even the UK Snooker Championships in November and December.

A reopening date is yet to be announced but mark these shows in your diary, if only in pencil: Rob Brydon, A Night Of Songs & Laughter, April 14; Jimmy Carr, Terribly Funny, May 2; country duo The Shires, May 23; Van Morrison, May 25 and 26; Paul Weller, June 29, and Rufus Wainwright, Unfollow The Rules Tour, October 13.

Ceramicist Beccy Ridsdel: Looking forward to the 20th anniversary of York Open Studios

Anniversary celebration of the year: York Open Studios, April 17 and 18; 24 and 25, 10am to 5pm

2020 turned into a virtual Open Studios with displays online and in windows, but already 140 artists and makers are confirmed for the 20th anniversary event in the spring when they will show and sell their work within their homes and workspaces.

Many of 2020’s selected artists have deferred their space to 2021, but new additions will be announced soon, the website teases. “We’re channelling the optimism and enthusiasm from all our artists to ensure this year’s 20th show is one of the best,” says event co-founder and ceramicist Beccy Ridsdel.

Dr Delma Tomlin: Administrative director of the 2021 York Early Music Festival, running from July 9 to 17

And what about?

Festivals galore, as always, in the self-anointed “City of Festivals”. Coming up are the Jorvik Viking Festival; York Fashion Week; York Literature Festival; York Early Music Festival; York Festival of Ideas, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and more besides. 

Move over drag diva Velma Celli, here’s Ian Stroughair’s York panto villain Flesh Creep

Welcome to the dark side: York musical actor, singer and dancer Ian Stroughair casts off his drag diva act, Velma Celli, to play Flesh Creep in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk this winter

YORK has seen plenty of Ian Stroughair this year, online largely, from his Bishopthorpe kitchen in his cabaret guise as drag diva divine Velma Celli.

From December 11, the West End musical actor, singer and dancer can be enjoyed in his home city like never before, making his York pantomime bow in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk at the Covid-secure, socially distanced Theatre @41 Monkgate.

Given his glamorous, glorious-voiced alter ego as Velma, you may have expected Ian to slip into the dame’s costumes, but “perhaps I’m a little young for dame,” he says.

Instead, 6ft 5 in his boots and stove pipe top hat, Ian will be switching to the dark side, entering stage left as Flesh Creep in writer-director Nik Briggs’s 90-minute production on a traverse stage.

“Yeah, finally I’m doing a panto in York,” he says, wiping away the face paint from his photo-call session. “Before the pandemic lockdown changed everything, I was supposed to be auditioning for the York Theatre Royal pantomime [Cinderella, pre-lockdown], but that didn’t happen.

Smokin’! The poster for Large & Lit In Lockdown, one of Velma Celli’s kitchen-sing dramas streamed from
Ian Stroughair’s Bishopthorpe kitchen

“Just like I was going to be doing Funny Girls for three months, taking over from Betty Legs Diamond, so I should have been going up to Blackpool for that, but then all the theatres shut suddenly. So instead I got on the train and came home to York.”

In globe-strutting Velma Celli mode, Ian had been performing in Australia before the escalating Coronavirus pandemic sent him packing back to Blighty, quarantining in York from a week before lockdown.

He refused to be downtrodden, instead writing and cycling to keep show-fit and embracing the nascent possibilities of steaming concerts live and sparkly from the improvised Case De Velma Celli kitchen stage.

“It was tricky at first because we were trying to navigate the technology to make it look and sound good, so it was a big learning curve, but so many friends were just sitting at home moaning, and I thought, ‘no, there are still ways to be artistic and you just have to think outside the box and work harder than everyone else,” recalls Ian, who began with an April 29 fundraiser by Velma for St Leonard’s Hospice, York.

Later, for his kitchen-sing dramas, he presented Velma in Large & Lit In Lockdown and virtual versions of the cabaret queen’s hit shows Equinox, Me & My Divas and A Night At The Musicals.

Minus the make-up: York actor and international drag queen Ian Stroughair

Usually to be found once a month gracing The Basement stage at City Screen, York, Velma returned to live performance in York by signing up for a rugby club – York RI Rugby Union Football Club, in New Lane, Acomb, to be precise – for An Evening Of Song outdoors under the September stars.

Velma playing to playing a rugby club crowd in York on a Friday night…that’s brave, Ian? “Someone suggested there and I went down and met the lovely Caroline Knight and I was sold. Lovely people there and I grew up in Acomb, so it just felt right,” he says.

“The crowd turned out to be mainly people who come to my shows at City Screen, but we did have a LGBTQ rugby team in!”

Rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk began at Theatre @41 on November 23, reuniting Ian with West End choreographer Gary Lloyd, who has headed north to York, where his sister, Jo Theaker, is a leading light with York Stage.

“Gary directed and choreographed me in a show called What A Feeling! for a UK tour and the London Palladium,” Ian recalls. “I was 23, so it was nearly 15 years ago. It’s still the hardest-working show I’ve ever done because Gary’s choreography is always spectacular, so it’s great to be working with him again. He’s one of the very best.”

Ian has previous form in pantomime, playing Dandini in 2015/16 in Cinderella at the Regent Theatre, Stoke.  “I loved every minute. We were fortunate to win a couple of Great British Pantomine Awards,” he says.

Ian Stroughair in Velma Celli mode

“I was nominated too, for Best Actor, which was lovely. Julian Clary beat me. It was me, Julian and Samuel Holmes, who were nominated; they’re both panto veterans, Julian with his £20,000 worth of costumes at the Palladium…and then me in my panto debut!”

Now comes the sinister sidestep to playing the baddie Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk. “I’ve never done baddie before, so I’m going to take out Velma’s ‘potty’ mouth and replace it with some sinisterly articulated elocution,” says Ian, elongating his words.

Having lost his mother a few years ago, Ian says Christmas “can be a difficult time”, but “if you can’t laugh at a pantomime you must be dead inside”. “So, I can’t wait to be spreading the joy this Christmas. I’m loving it, after the only things that got me through this year were fried food and wine!”

Looking to the day when he may yet emulate his “idol and a living legend”, York’s long-running dame Berwick Kaler, Ian says: ”Panto producers do keep trying to get me to play Ugly Sister, and  should I ever play dame, it’s a role where it’s all in the rhythm and instinctive comedy timing. That’s something you can’t teach but you can get better at it.

“It’s an exhausting role and should be the heart of every great panto. I prefer the dame to not be too polished aesthetically; a tad rough around the edges ideally.”

York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from December 11 to January 3; show times, Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve, 12 noon. Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Look who’s in the Bean team as York Stage announce panto at Theatre @41 Monkgate

Full of beans! The York Stage cast for Jack And The Beanstalk, from top left: Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan

CHRISTMAS in York would not be complete without a family outing to the pantomime, reckons York Stage producer Nik Briggs.

No wonder he is excited to announce his company will be  bringing a brand new professional staging of Jack And The Beanstalk to the city  this winter, billed as “a panto made in York for the people of York”. 

Running from December 11 2020 to January 3 2021 at Theatre @41  Monkgate, York, the 90-minute, Covid-secure show will feature Ian Stroughair, alias York’s  international drag diva Velma Celli, in wicked mode in the cast of eight laden with West  End talent from Yorkshire and the North East. 

Nik says: “Join us this December for some magical Christmas entertainment as we  present Jack And The Beanstalk in the Theatre @41 building in the heart of York on  Monkgate. 

York Stage’s poster for Jack And The Beanstalk, the pantomime where “giant magic can grow in the smallest places”

“Our traditional family pantomime will be performed in a traverse setting in the John  Cooper Studio, with the audience placed either side of a central stage with a capacity of 80 and no interval in the show.” 

“Covid-secure safety measures will be in place and, for the first time at a York Stage  show, Perspex safety screens will be placed between households and support bubbles  so that our audiences can safely enjoy the show.” 

Introducing his cast, Nik says: “We’re so excited to be bringing a sensational show to  York this Christmas with the most exciting casting!”  

Taking on the challenge of climbing the beanstalk will be West End actor Jordan Fox  (from Kinky Boot, Friendsical, Beautiful) as Jack, who must take on the evil Flesh Creep, played by Ian Stroughair (Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, as well as award-winning drag vocalist Velma Celli).  

Ian Stroughair, pictured here in Velma Celli drag diva mode, will switch to the dark side as the villainous Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk

Supporting Jack on his quest will be another York-born West End talent, Livvy Evans  (Tina, Motown, Soho Cinders), as Fairy Mary and Alex Weatherhill (Chicago, All Male  G&S) as Dame Trott.  

York Stage are thrilled to be giving May Tether, a favourite of past York Stage Musicals  shows, her first professional contract, playing Jill, following her graduation from London  drama school Trinity Laban in July. 

Completing the cast will be Matthew Ives (The Boyfriend, Closer to Heaven, La Cage Aux  Folles); Emily Taylor (Great British Pantomime Award nominee and regular choreographer  of the Grand Opera House pantomime) and Danielle Mullan, the North Easterner who  captained the dance team in Berwick Kaler’s York Theatre Royal pantomimes for  many years.   

Looking forward to York Stage adding a new string to their bow after this summer’s open-air musical theatre concerts in Rowntree Park, Theatre@41 board chairman Alan Park  says: “Christmas isn’t Christmas without panto. We’re delighted York Stage are taking full  advantage of Theatre@41’s flexible space to ensure York families will still be able to safely  enjoy a full all-singing and all-dancing pantomime.

May Tether: Signed her first professional contract after drama school to play Jill in Jack And The Beanstalk. Here she is pictured singing in York Stage Musicals’ first summer concert at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre in August. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“We can’t wait to welcome audiences  back and for the building to echo with music and laughter again.”  

Summing up what lies in store in Jack And The Beanstalk, Nik says: “With an exciting  cast filled with West End talent, all born and bred in Yorkshire, and a  creative team made up from those who brought shows such as Shrek, The Sound  Of Music and Hairspray to York, audiences can be assured of a show of true  panto magic!” 

“Expect glitzy sets and costumes, a show filled with singing and dancing, lots of laughs  and, of course, a huge beanstalk! Audiences can book now for a giant slice of traditional Christmas fun at one of the city’s most magical, bean-sized theatres for  all the family!” 

Tickets for the 40 performances are on sale at yorkstagepanto.com

Jack And The Beanstalk in a nutshell

Writer, director and producer Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

PANTOMIME: Jack And The Beanstalk, presented by York Stage Ltd.

WHERE: John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, YO31 7PB.  

WHEN: December 11 2020 to January 3 2021.  

SHOW TIMES: Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve,  12 noon.  

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes with no interval.   

AUDIENCE CAPACITY: 80, seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

PRICE: Ranging from £20 to £27.  

TICKETS: Available online only, via www.yorkstagepanto.com

Writer, director and producer for York Stage Ltd: NIK BRIGGS  

Musical director: JESSICA DOUGLAS 

Cast: JORDAN FOX as Jack; MAY TETHER as Jill; IAN STROUGHAIR as Flesh Creep; LIVVY  EVANS as Fairy Mary; ALEX WEATHERHILL as Dame Trott; EMILY TAYLOR,  MATTHEW IVES and DANIELLE MULLAN, Ensemble.  

More Things To Do in and around York and at home, as opposed to a “social gathering” for the joy of six. List No 14, from The Press

Helen Wilson in a damned spot of Scottish bother in York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate, York. Picture: John Saunders

MUSICAL theatre in a park, drag cabaret at a sports club, Shakespeare sonnets and songs in churchyards, high-speed film action at an airfield and chamber music online catch Charles Hutchinson’s eye

Graveyard smash of the week: York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets, Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate, York, until Saturday

WHEN York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth bit the dust in March, put on hold by the Covid lockdown, York’s purveyors of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks decided to stage a sit-down, but not as an act of protest.

Director Mick Taylor and producer Maurice Crichton hatched a plan to present assorted familiar Shakespeare characters, brought into the modern world, to reflect on the pandemic with an accompanying sonnet.

Holy Trinity’s churchyard, with its five park benches, tree shelter and mown grass, provides an ideal socially distanced open-air setting. Bring a rug, cushion, camp chair, flask and biscuits, suggests Maurice, to performances at 5.45pm and 7pm, plus 4.15pm on Saturday.

Polly Bolton: Sharing a double bill with Henry Parker in the NCEM churchyard

Double bills in another churchyard: Songs Under Skies, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, tonight, September 16 and 17

SONGS Under Skies brings together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for an open-air series of acoustic concerts.

The opening night with Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton on September 2 was driven inside by the rain. Fingers crossed for more clement conditions for Wolf Solent and Rosalind tonight, Polly Bolton and Henry Parker on September 16 and Elkyn and Fawn the following night.

Gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. 

The Bev Jones Music Company in a socially distanced rehearsal for Sunday’s show at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre

Musical theatre showcase part one: Bev Jones Music Company, Strictly Live In The Park, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, Sunday, 3pm.

THE Bev Jones Music Company stage a full-sized musical theatre concert with more than 20 socially distanced singers and a five-piece band on Sunday afternoon.

Strictly Live In The Park promises a “spectacular show for all the family, with popular show music, pop music, dance and comedy”, under the musical direction of John Atkin with choreography by Claire Pulpher.

Expect numbers from Adele to Robbie Williams, Cabaret to Hairspray, Mack & Mabel to South Pacific, The Full Monty to Chess, Miss Saigon to the finale, Les Miserables, all arranged by the late company driving force Bev Jones. Also expect temperature tests on arrival.

Conor Mellor in York Stage Musicals’ first show at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York. He will be back for the second one too. Picture: Jess Main

Musical theatre showcase part two: York Stage Musicals present Jukebox Divas, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, September 18 to 20, 7pm

AFTER the sold-out three-night run of York Stage Musicals’ first ever outdoor show last month, producer/director Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas return to their Rowntree Park psychedelic igloo to stage Jukebox Divas.

Jessica’s band line-up has changed, so too has the singing sextet, with Conor Mellor from the debut show being joined by Dan Conway, Sophie Hammond, Grace Lancaster and Eleanor Leaper.

“With music from We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! and more modern releases like + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, audiences will be entertained for 90 minutes with vocal tributes to artists such as Elvis Presley, Queen, Meat Loaf, Katy Perry, Carole King and many more,” says Nik.

Baby Driver: one of the films with high-speed thrills to be screened at AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema at Elvington Airfield

Car experience of next week: AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema, Elvington Airfield, near York, September 18 to 20

AFTER Daisy Duke’s Drive-in Cinema on Knavesmire, now comes a celebration of high-speed thrills and derring-do skills at Elvington Airfield…on screen, courtesy of AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema.

Tickets have sold out already for the September 19 screenings of James Gunn’s 2014 space chase, Guardians Of The Galaxy (12A), at 2.30pm and James Mangold’s 2019 Ford v Ferrari race-track clash, Le Mans 66 (12), at 7.30pm.

Bookings can still be made, however, for Guardians Of The Galaxy on September 18 at 2.30pm and September 20 at 7.30pm and Edgar Wright’s 2017 getaway-car heist thriller, Baby Driver (15), September 18, 7.30pm, and September 20, 2.30pm.

No more kitchen-sink dramas for Velma Celli as York’s drag diva deluxe swaps live-streaming for the great outdoors in Acomb tomorrow

Stepping out of her Bishopthorpe kitchen into the York open air: Velma Celli: An Evening Of Song, York RI Community Sports Club, New Lane, Acomb, tomorrow, 8pm.

AFTER a spring and summer of concerts live-streamed from home, York drag diva Velma Celli takes to the outdoor stage at a sports club.

“The show will be a mixed bag of whatever I fancy on the day – pop, rock, impressions and some musical theatre obviously – and of course requests online. Message me on Facebook,” advises Velma.

Very special guests are promised: definitely York soul powerhouse Jessica Steel will be among them.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival artistic director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 18 to 20

THE 2020 York Chamber Music Festival is going online to live-stream three concerts from the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, in a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Festival artistic director and cellist Lowe will be performing with Simon Blendis and Charlotte Scott, violins; Matthew Jones, violin and viola; Jon Thorne, viola, and Katya Apekisheva, piano. For full details on the programme and on how to watch the concerts, go to ycmf.co.uk.

Strictly between us: Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice’s tour poster for Him & Me next summer at the Grand Opera House, York

One for the 2021 diary: Anton & Giovanni, Him & Me, Grand Opera House, York, July 12

STRICTLY Come Dancing staples Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice will link up for their debut tour together, Him & Me, next year.

Details are sketchy, but the dapper Sevenoaks ballroom king and the Italian stallion say: “This show promises to be the best night out in the Summer of 2021 for all ages…A true dance extravaganza!”

Anton and Giovanni will be joined by a “world-class cast” of dancers and singers for a show produced by Strictly Theatre Co and directed by Alan Burkitt.

And what about…?

A visit to the reopened Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre exhibition in Blossom Street, York. Malton Harvest Food Festival on Saturday. New Light Prize Exhibition, with more than 100 artists, opening at Scarborough Art Gallery on September 19. York Walking Festival, running or, rather, walking until Sunday (details at iTravel York website).

Jon, by Laura Quin Harris, at the New Light Prize Exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery