Paul Crewes will be leader & team player as he takes over as Theatre Royal chief exec

Paul Crewes: The new chief executive at the helm of York Theatre Royal

WHAT a sight to greet new chief executive Paul Crewes at Tuesday’s opening night of Frantic Assembly’s pulsating reinvention of Kafka’s Metamorphosis: a full house at York Theatre Royal, with excited school groups to the fore.

Appointed in June, after Tom Bird flew off to Sheffield Theatres in January, Paul  took up his post last week, when Rambert’s Death Trap marked his arrival with two Ben Duke works full of the turbulence of life and death.

Metamorphosis? Death? New life? Re-birth? Paul will give himself time, letting his feet settle under his desk in St Leonard’s Place, before making his mark on the way forward post-Covid, post-Bird, post-De Grey Rooms.

His official statement put it this way: “I am thrilled to have now joined the great team at York Theatre Royal. Over the next few weeks and months, I’m looking forward to meeting our audiences, participants, creatives, members, donors and partners and hearing from them what makes this fantastic theatre so important in the life of our wider community.

“I will continue to build on all that work – supporting great artists and practitioners as well as attracting and growing new audiences. This is an exciting time at York Theatre Royal and I’m looking forward to getting started.”

Impact on the wider community. Supporting artists and practitioners, locally, nationally and internationally. Cultivating new audiences. Exciting time to arrive.  These are the bullet points, the right goals, at the right time.

No wonder his appointment made so much sense to the York Citizens’ Theatre Trust board of trustees, whose chair, Ann Green CBE, said at the time of his appointment: “Paul has a huge breadth and depth of knowledge and experience, and a passion for the positive role theatre can play in community life.

“Building on all the fantastic work the team have created in recent years, we are all excited to be embarking on a new, fresh and confident chapter in the life of York Theatre Royal together.”

At 62, Paul’s vast experience in theatre and the arts as a chief executive, producer and artistic advisor takes in organisations both in Great Britain and the United States. From 2015 to 2021, he was artistic director of the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Los Angeles, where theatre, dance, music and film vied for attention.

Before that, he was executive producer and chief executive officer of Kneehigh, the Cornish company that went national and international in a model of groundbreaking, exhilarating, innovative theatre expansion.

Earlier, Bristol Old Vic, Paines Plough, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Plymouth Theatre Royal, the Lowry, Salford, Phoenix Dance Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse (2001-2004) in Leeds all benefited from his producing skills, and he had three years as director of technical training at RADA too.

“I started my career at the Bristol Old Vic and I shall probably end it here in York,” says Paul. “I love the history of these theatres.”

He was born in Brixton, South London in May 1961, where his Methodist minister father was the chaplain at Brixton Prison in the Sixties. “He got to know the Richardsons, Charlie Kray, Ronnie and Reggie too, and the youth club he ran was raided daily by the police,” recalls Paul.

He went on to study English and History at Roehampton Institute, part of London University, where he served as social secretary of the students’ union in his second year. “I loved creating events, whether a ball, a party or a theatre show, working with a very small budget,” he says.

He did “get his head down” in his 3rd year, albeit while being social secretary for the rugby club – sport is his other great love – and was then elected to the sabbatical post of  students’ union treasurer, “looking after everything” and mothballing his plan to study teacher training in English and PE at Westminster College, Oxford.

Ken Baker’s vision for education in Margaret Thatcher’s Government prompted him to write a dissertation on why he would not be going into teaching. “At that point, I didn’t feel ready to teach,” he says.

He was, however, developing the skills that would take him into producing for theatres, having already stage managed a school production of Max Frisch’s Andora that played the Edinburgh Fringe, even picking up a review in the Scotsman. “That’s quite an experience for a 17-year-old,” he says.

“At university, I directed a play, Ball Boys, a two-hander by David Edgar, and had such a great time doing it. I never saw theatre as a career, but as a hobby, so when I entered that  world in 1985, I wasn’t planning for the long term.

“But then came the sudden realisation that if I’m going to do something, it must be something I enjoy, and that I should train in it from the very bottom, beginning at the end of the pier at Great Yarmouth, working on four shows seven days a week.”

His career was up and running, with the focus on producing and gradually overseeing the creativity that comes into the building. “Whether it’s programming or production managing, for the last 24 years, I’ve been involved in the producing side, working with great creative teams. For me, it’s always been about working with the team, and that will continue at Theatre Royal, brokering and guiding and at times being guided too, but ultimately with control in my hands.”

He thrives on such responsibility. “People are brought up being afraid to make mistakes, and that’s part of the problem with the arts, where they’re scared of failing, where you have to create prototypes, but if you’re not frightened of failing, then something more exciting will come out of it.”

Kneehigh’s success would be a case in point, and now York Theatre Royal should benefit from his artistic and commercial vision.

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: The 39 Steps, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until July 29 ****

Niall Ransome, left, Olivia Onyehara, Dave Hearn and Lucy Keirl in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s even better 2023 revival of The 39 Steps. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE 39 Steps has enjoyed a happy association with Yorkshire, first in North Country Theatre founder Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble’s initial stage concept of taut thriller and comic release.

Next came Patrick Barlow’s frantically fast-moving yet unflappable West Yorkshire Playhouse adventure with seeds sown in the earlier show.

Barlow’s spiffing version has since played here, there and everywhere, first given Stephen Joseph Theatre comedic top spin by artistic director Paul Robinson in June 2018.

Five summers on, Robinson revisits that slick, playful jaffa of a show, with the promise of 39 new gags, one for each step, to supplement the elegance, eloquence and elasticity of this dapper and dastardly clever whodunit.

Niall Ransome is back from 2018, in the same role (make that multiple roles) but now called Clown 1, rather than Man. Significantly, he teams up with fellow Mischief maker Dave Hearn, duly mining the hugely popular Mischief brand for dextrous feats of physical comedy rooted in a battle of wits and will against chaos and catastrophe.

York audiences have experienced Hearn’s manic craft already this year in Original Theatre’s three-hander account of HG Wells’s The Time Machine, another comedy vehicle steered by a short-handed cast in a race against time.

On that occasion, in a play within a play conceit, his assertive, egotistical Dave Wells was in such a hurry, he wore tracksuit trousers and trainers.

This time, in a play with a novel and a film within it, Hearn is playing more of an old-fashioned, cigarette-card matinee idol, Richard Hannay, side-parting in his immaculate haircut, side splitting in his comic clambering on the Forth Bridge, reminiscent of a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton. Suspense in suspension.

This is but one of a series of scenes that re-creates setpieces from The Master’s movies, complemented by pastiches and references to other Hitchcock classics, with new additions among those 39 new jokes.

The novel is John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps; the film is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 British spy thriller, based loosely on Buchan’s serialised 1915 work. Barlow and in turn Robinson marry the two together, gravely serious in replicating the tone and dramatic peaks of both against all logical odds, while finding comedy at every opportunity without turning everything into a stiff upped-lipped send-up.

This is Hearn’s skill too, serving Hannay’s dispirited mien first and foremost before the John Cleese school of alarm-bell comedy bursts through. Dashing and upright, yes, with pipe and pencil-slim moustache, but newly returned to his lonely Portland Place abode, he is tired of life and its mounting pile of problems. Felling anything but alive in 1935. Suicidal even. 

What he needs is…a night at the theatre (don’t we all, especially one like this!), only for a much bigger problem to ensue once there. Not only must he navigate his way through hairpin bends of Buchan’s book and Hitchcock’s film, but now too he finds himself  murder suspect number one when a mysterious German woman, Annabelle Schmidt (Olivia Onyehara), dies in his arms after insisting on leaving the London Palladium by his side, desperate to impart vital information.

In a moment typical of the comic invention in Hearn’s performance, he extricates himself from beneath the dead weight of the woman’s body by using the knife in her back as a lever.

Hannay must hot-foot it to Scotland by train. On his fluttering jacket tail are policemen, secret agents and assorted women, all delivered with elan by Ransome and Lucy Keirl’s Clown combo, parading accents and exaggerated characters stride by stride, sometimes side by side.

What cracking casting in Ransome making his return in tandem with Keirl, who is as delightful as she was in Nick Lane’s Cinderella at the SJT last winter.  

Onyehara, a familiar name to Yorkshire credits lists from her work with Pilot Theatre, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, Hull Truck and York Theatre Royal, is terrific too. Not only as anguished Annabelle, but also as femme fatale Pamela and shy but far from retiring Scottish farmer’s wife Margaret, each drawn to the cut of Hannay’s jib.

Ever straight as Geoffrey Boycott’s bat at North Marine Road, Hearn’s narrator Hannay takes on whatever is thrown at him, defying the need to lead the story-telling with such limited resources, improvising emergency props and scenery, chalking up those extra gags amid the comic carnage.

Robinson’s 2023 company applies even quicker sleight of hand to Barlow’s spinning plates of verbal wit, theatrical anarchy, satirical savvy and visual panache, somehow pulling off their Hitchcock homage without a hitch.

Simon Slater’s sound design, compositions and nods to swing tunes play their part too, as do Helen Coyston’s fabulous, fun costumes and set design, stretched by Robinson’s direction beyond the SJT stage to the aisles and director’s box too.

Look out for the ushers blocking the exits at one particularly urgent moment. Even the theatre is against Hannay! Make sure you too are trapped in his breathless, befuddled world before this month is out. Box office: 01723 370541 or

Reece Dinsdale no longer shies away from talking about himself. Take a seat at the actor-director’s York Theatre Royal show

Reece Dinsdale: Actor, director, Twitter phenomenon and now raconteur

THURSDAY’S evening of conversation with Yorkshire actor/director Reece Dinsdale in the York Theatre Royal Studio is billed more simply as “Reece’s Pieces”.

Or, as he puts it, “just a bloke beginning to find his voice” in his anecdotes, revelations and stories, after his uncanny knack of finding voices on stage and screen since the age of 12, whether playing Shakespeare’s Richard III or fellow son of the West Riding Alan Bennett.

“It started in lockdown as a challenge to myself,” says Normanton-born Reece, 62. “As an actor I had never felt comfortable speaking publicly unless I was playing a role, so I thought I’d face a few demons by attempting to talk live online to my Twitter followers. 

“What I discovered was that when I got started…I couldn’t stop! Reaching the age of 60, I realised I might have a tale or two to tell.”

Indeed he does, having performed extensively in theatres across the country, as well as for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. He has starred in myriad TV dramas too, ranging from leading roles in the BAFTA Award-winning Threads and Jim Henson’s Storyteller, through Spooks, Minder, Silent Witness and Life On Mars, to Joe McIntyre in Coronation Street and the comedy series Home To Roost, playing opposite the late John Thaw when drawing 14 million viewers each week.

In 2020, he joined the cast of ITV’s Emmerdale, on the understanding his bad-lad character, Paul Ashdale, would be killed off in 2021, and he now directs episodes of the Yorkshire village soap.

Reece’s Pieces has brought about his return to the theatre spotlight but in a different format: as himself. “I’ve not been on stage in a play since (The Fall of) The Master Builder [at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in October 2017, playing predatory architect Alvard Solness in Zinnie Harris’s contemporary Yorkshire re-imagining of Henrik Ibsen’s play during his tenure as the Playhouse’s associate artist],” he says.

“I’ve been so busy doing other things, but I really miss theatre. What I can say is I’ll be doing something somewhere on stage in 2023. Whatever I do, acting on stage, acting on screen, directing, acting on stage is the last thing I’d want to stop doing.”

He might have returned to treading the boards sooner. “I was going to play Benedict [the ‘eternal bachelor’] in Much Ado About Nothing for Northern Broadsides. Conrad [director Conrad Nelson] had asked me if I’d do it, and my reaction was, ‘I’m far too old’, but he said, ‘No, you’re not’.

“But then we got to the first day’s rehearsal and I learned my father had three months to live, so I had to pull out. I can’t wait to get back to performing on stage again.”

Reece, who spent 24 years in London, but has since returned to Yorkshire and now lives in Harrogate, has made the stage his second home for 50 years. “I was press-ganged into being an actor at school when I was 12 and found it was the way to express myself without using my own emotions, and I’ve always been happy to be someone else on stage, rather than me,” says miner’s son Reece, who graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1980.

“But, as it happens, now I’m happy to talk as me, now I’m getting there, I’m happy to do Reece’s Pieces. It started with me taking to Twitter, and I’m now doing this for my dad, after he said ‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Go and show people what you’re about and what you can do’.

“I thought, ‘I’m 59, nearly 60, I’ve been around the block maybe 15 times; how do I go about doing this, being myself in a way that would be comfortable for me and for others?’. There’s this feature on Twitter called Periscope, where you go on there for ten minutes, asking people to ask you questions. Well, I did it and it ran to 45 minutes! After ten weeks it was up to an hour and three quarters with 30,000 people logging on.

Last stage role…until next year: Reece Dinsdale in (The Fall of) The Master Builder at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in 2017

“This was in lockdown, so I didn’t confine it talking about myself but also to talking about mental health, hopefully helping people through lockdown, and so many people connected with it…and as you can tell now, from this conversation, once I get started, I don’t shut up. In answering one question, it would be 25 minutes later before we’d finally go on to the next one.”

Cue Leeds Playhouse artistic director and great friend James Brining contacting Reece to say: “We need to re-open; will you do a show? I’ll host it for you.” And so, leaving behind the front room, the stage format was born for Reece’s Pieces, one where Reece invites an actor friend, presenter or journalist to anchor the evening, with radio presenter and writer Bob Fisher doing so in York tomorrow (3/2/20220, just as he did at Harrogate Theatre last Thursday.

No longer the reluctant raconteur, it is now a case of “Let’s just go with what happens,” says Reece, with his list of 1,000 potential questions from meeting a thousand wonderful people known and unknown in his work, from Peter Ustinov to David Bowie, Jack Lemmon to Alan Bennett. “Then we open it up to the audience; we have a laugh and a joke, so it’s both funny and touching.

“Some people have been to the show three or four times, and I say, ‘Look, I’ve only had one life’, but they say, ‘No, we love it; we’ve got something different out of it each time’. It’s extraordinary!”

As someone who admits to having been shy off stage, going on stage as himself, rather than in character, has been a chance to “face a few demons”. “It’s been very good for me, and because I’m a director, I remember when I started ten years ago, I was frightened because you need to be a master communicator, and my ability to do that needed to be addressed,” he says.

“That’s been really useful for Reece’s Pieces, and with the roundabout way these shows have been come about, it’s been fascinating bringing all these things together.”

Should you be wondering how Reece came to direct Emmerdale, he had directed dramas already for Jimmy McGovern and Ian Bevan, winning a Royal Television Society Award for Eighteen from McGovern’s Moving On series, and it was Bevan who facilitated the opportunity for him to direct a couple of episodes initially.

“I’m a good pupil, I listen, and on the last day I was shooting, I got word that the executive producers wanted to see me, and they showed me to the comfortable sofa, rather the hard chair, which was a good sign!” Reece recalls.

“They said, ‘We’d like you to direct…but in a year, because we want you to be in the show first’. It was meant to be for seven months, playing this bad guy, who would die at the end of it, but it turned to be for a year as Covid caused such havoc.

“They offered me a block to direct, and I said, ‘How about two blocks?’, and as soon I finished filming in March 2021, I started directing, from April. I’ve done three blocks of shows now, and I’ll be hotfooting it from the studio for the York show.”

From this spring, he will be swapping Yorkshire for Lancashire, or more precisely Emmerdale for Weatherfield, as he takes one the new challenge of directing Coronation Street. “I’m not sure there’s anyone who’s previously been in and directed both soaps,” he says.

“The advice for life I was given was ‘always keep coming out of different corners, always keep them guessing’, and I think I’ve kept them guessing for 40 years. I’ve lost that young man’s burning ambition; now all I want to be is creative every day, and long may that continue.

“I’m happy – and I’m just as passionate as I was when I was 20, leaving drama school.” And now, he is only too happy to talk about it in Reece’s Pieces.

Reece’s Pieces: An Evening of Conversation with Actor/Director Reece Dinsdale, York Theatre Royal Studio, tomorrow (3/2/2022), 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623 568 or at

War and Peace as The Damned United plays out Clough’s hatred of Dirty Leeds

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson as embittered, embattled Leeds United manager Brian Clough in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

THERE is much hatred and not a whole lotta love in The Damned United, but nevertheless the story of Brian Clough’s splenetic 44 days as champions Leeds United’s manager in 1974 forms part of The Love Season at York Theatre Royal.

Why so? The truth, as explained by chief executive Tom Bird, is that Rod Dixon’s touring production for Red Ladder Theatre Company was booked in already when the reopening season’s theme took shape.

Enfant terrible Clough despised Don Revie’s “Dirty Leeds” and the feeling was mutual, drawing Dewsbury-born author David Peace to construct a psychodrama inside the life of Brian’s head: the biographical novel The Damned Utd, published in 2006.

Tom Hopper’s film, starring Michael Sheen, ensued in 2009 under the title The Damned United, and Leeds company Red Ladder have since presented various stage manifestations of Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation, built around the double act of Clough and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor.

Heading deep into the tortured mind of a flawed genius, slamming up against his limits, The Damned United brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles. 

The performing rights were donated by Peace to Red Ladder for all of £3.68 – a penny for each page in the novel – as a show of support for the Leeds company when it suffered a 100 per cent cut to Arts Council funding.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough – which lends itself brilliantly to theatre.

The book cover to David Peace’s The Damned Utd

“Anders’ adaptation captures the grit, poetry and darkness of David Peace’s writing, and by charting the fall of Brian Clough and exposing what made ‘Old Big ’Ea’ tick, audiences are given a fascinating insight into the troubled but brilliant mind of a flawed genius – who, to this day, remains one of the most controversial figures in sporting history.”

As Leeds actor Luke Dickson’s Clough and David Chafer’s Taylor head to York next Wednesday, joined by the multi role-playing Jamie Smelt, here comes a tale of War and Peace: a Q&A with author David Peace.

How did this stage adaptation of The Damned United come about?

“The original idea came up one afternoon in the Maypole pub in Ossett, back in the summer of 2014. When Red Ladder lost their Arts Council funding, the project became a bit more concrete and urgent.” 

How closely do you feel Anders Lustgarten’s stage adaptation of The Damned United captures your novel?

“Anders keeps the essential atmosphere and mood of the book, and obviously the plot itself, but he’s also made it something else, something new and something more, and which is what any great adaptation does.”

Double act: David Chafer’s Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough in The Damned United

What did you take from watching The Damned United as a stage play?

“More than anything else, for me, it was just a wonderful, humbling and exciting experience to see the original 2016 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse [now Leeds Playhouse], to see what so many talented people had brought to the work, and then how much the audience loved and appreciated it.”

Are there things that a theatre adaptation can do that a novel or film cannot?

“Very much so, and particularly in this case; football itself, at every level, is drama, theatre and spectacle played out before a living, breathing and usually very partisan audience. This is what I feel Anders, Rod and everybody involved brought to the story which neither the original book nor the film could do.”

What makes Brian Clough such a compelling figure?

“I think we simply recognise him, in ourselves, as human beings, with all his complexities and foibles, his good side and his bad, his triumphs and his defeats.”

Why do you think The Damned United holds so much appeal with non-football audiences as it does fans of the beautiful game? 

“Well, though few of us will sadly ever win the league or the European Cup, I think many of us have found ourselves in a new job with folk who were less than welcoming, and then perhaps not handled the situation as best we might. And then there’s always the mystery: why did Brian Clough put himself in that situation; ,why do we put ourselves in these situations?”

Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 16, kick-off at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at