More Things To Do in and around York as chocolate spreads the love over Easter break. List No. 78, courtesy of The Press

WHAT’S in the chocolate box of Eastertide delights? Charles Hutchinson unwraps the goodies in store, from a sweet-flavoured festival to a musical premiere, a Led Zeppelin legend to two Big shows.

My cocoa shoe: Edible high heels at York Chocolate Festival

Festival of the week: York Chocolate Festival, oozing chocolate in Parliament Street, York, until Easter Monday, 10am to 5pm

RUN by York Food Festival and Make It York, York Chocolate Festival returns over the Easter weekend for the first time since 2019 in celebration of York’s heritage as the Chocolate City.

More than 40 stalls are complemented by workshops, demonstrations by chocolatiers, a chocolate sampling trail and chocolate pairing sessions with wine and whisky for adults. Look out for stands selling specialist origin chocolates, eggs, cakes, truffles, brownies, macarons, chocolate-flavoured drinks and liqueurs, even savoury outliers such as chilli jams, artisan pizzas and pies. Entry is free; some events are ticketed.

Robert Plant and Suzy Dian fronting Saving Grace, on tour at Grand Opera House, York

York gig of the week: Saving Grace with Robert Plant and Suzy Dian, supported by Scott Matthews, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 7pm

SAVING Grace, the folk-blues co-operative led by Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, play York tonight, followed by a further Yorkshire gig at Halifax Victoria Theatre on April 26.

Singer and lyricist Plant, now 73, will be joined on the April and May tour by Suzi Dian (vocals), Oli Jefferson (percussion), Tony Kelsey (mandolin, baritone, acoustic guitar) and Matt Worley (banjo, acoustic, baritone guitars, cuatro). Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Celebrating the music of The Dubliners: Seven Drunken Nights rolled into one Sunday in York

Irish jig of the week: Seven Drunken Nights – The Story of The Dubliners, Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

FROM their roots in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin, Seven Drunken Nights raises a toast to the 50-year career of The Dubliners, telling the story of the Irish folk band that took the world by storm.

Irish musicians, singers and storytellers will evoke the atmosphere, theatre and cultural history of Ireland while invoking the spirit of Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna, John Sheahan, Ciaran Bourke and Jim McCann on a tour that will take in 20 countries in 2022 and 2023. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Bonding together: The BBC Big Band perform the 007 hits, shaken and stirred, at York Theatre Royal

Bond and band in harmony: The BBC Big Band, The Music Of James Bond…and Beyond, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday, 7.30pm

THE BBC Big Band are joined by guest vocalists Emer McPartlamd and Iain Mackenzie for a celebratory concert inspired by the music of James Bond film franchise.

Theme songs by York composer John Barry feature prominently in a set list sure to include Diamonds Are Forever, Thunderball and Goldfinger, alongside Monty Norman’s James Bond theme.

Expect a selection of more contemporary songs from the 007 musical library too, performed in the BBC Big Band’s inimitable style. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

BIG news: CBeebies’ Justin Fletcher is heading for York Theatre Royal on the BIG Tour

Children’s show of the week: Justin Fletcher in Justin Live, The BIG Tour, York Theatre Royal, Thursday and Friday, 11am and 2.30pm

CBEEBIES superstar and children’s favourite Justin Fletcher presents an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular extravaganza on The BIG Tour.

Justin is a TV institution, piling up BAFTA award-winning appearances on Something Special, Justin’s House, Jollywobbles, Gigglebiz and Gigglequiz, as well as providing character voices for Tweenies, Boo, Toddworld and Shaun The Sheep, latterly voicing Shaun in the Aardman movie Farmageddon. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Normal service resumed: Grayson Perry presents his rearranged Harrogate performance of A Show For Normal People on Friday

Who-knows-what-to-expect arty gig of the weekGrayson Perry in A Show For Normal People, Harrogate Convention Centre, Friday, 7.30pm

IN his own words, despite being an award-winning artist, Bafta-winning TV presenter, Reith lecturer and best-selling author, Grayson Perry is a normal person – and just like other normal people, he is “marginally aware that we’re all going to die”.

Cue A Show For Normal People, Grayson’s enlightening, eye-watering evening where existentialism descends from worthiness to silliness. “You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” he promises.

At a show rearranged from last autumn, Grayson asks, and possibly answers, the big questions on a night “sure to distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can.” Box office: harrogateconventioncentre.co.uk.

York Stage Musicals’ poster for the York premiere of Calendar Girls The Musical

Musical of the week: York Stage Musicals in Calendar Girls, Grand Opera House, York, Friday to April 30

THE true story of the Calendar Girls from Rylstone Women’s Institute has been turned into a beautifully poignant musical by writer Tim Firth and composer Gary Barlow.

Join York Stage Musicals as they bring the show to York for the first time. “Be prepared to laugh and cry throughout a truly memorable evening filled with unforgettable songs that prove there is no such thing as an ordinary woman,” says producer Nik Briggs. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

The Chemical Brothers: Big beats and dance moves at Castle Howard this summer

Rave of the North Yorkshire summer: The Chemical Brothers at Castle Howard, near Malton, June 26

HEY boy, hey girl, electronic pioneers The Chemical Brothers will take to the grass at Castle Howard this summer.

Manchester big beat duo Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, both 51, will galvanize rave diggers in the North Yorkshire stately home’s grounds where gates will open at 5pm for the night ahead of Setting Sun, Block Rockin’ Beats, Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Let Forever Be, Galvanize, Go et al. Box office: castlehoward.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond, as musicals abound, comedy turns angry and Madchester revives. List No. 58, courtesy of The Press, York

So frustrated: Paul Chowdhry has his say on Covid, fame, England’s football team and Tom Cruise’s chopper at the Grand Opera House, York, tonight

IMAGINE if you could have a busy week ahead? Let Charles Hutchinson fill your diary.

Angriest comedy gig of the week: Paul Chowdhry, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 8pm

AFTER barely surviving the pandemic, British-Asian stand-up Paul Chowdhry tackles the UK’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis and why the rules of six only worked for white people in Family-Friendly Comedian (No Children).

Two years of pent-up frustration go into this new tour show, where Londoner Chowdhry also discusses fame, England football fans and Tom Cruise landing his helicopter in someone’s garden. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Chesca Cholewa: Writer of Imagine If Theatre Company’s My Old Man

Studio play of the week: Imagine If Theatre Company in My Old Man, York Theatre Royal Studio, tonight, 8pm

IMAGINE If Theatre Company, from Leeds, is touring a part-theatre, part-film production of Chesca Cholewa’s humorous and heartfelt play My Old Man.

When Michal Piwowarski’s granddaughter, Tasha (played by Cholewa), finally moves out, his whole world changes. The school dinner-lady becomes his favourite person, a new neighbour moves on to the street, and Michal (Paul Shelley) has to face his biggest battle yet as My Old Man follows the trials and tribulations of this old, blind Polish soldier. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk.

Songs and Stables’ leadership: Kate Stables brings her band This Is The Kit to The Citadel tomorrow night

Experimental gig of the week: This Is The Kit, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

KATE Stables’ experimental folk quartet This Is The Kit return to York for a special show at The Citadel, the former Salvation Army HQ, presented by Please Please You, The Crescent and Brudenell Presents. Support comes from Nuala Honan and Pavey Ark. Box office: brudenellsocialclub.seetickets.com.

York artist Karen Winship, taking part in the Inspired Christmas event at York Cemetery Chapel

Christmas shopping? Opportunity presents itself at Inspired, York Cemetery Chapel, Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

INSPIRED, the annual Christmas show by York artist and designer makers, will be held at York Cemetery Chapel, in Cemetery Road, York, this weekend.

Taking part will be Jo Bagshaw and Richard Whitelegg, jewellery; Catherine Boyne-Whitelegg, pottery; Petra Bradley, textiles; Sally Clarke, collage printmaking; Angela Newdick, collage and surface pattern design; Adi French and Karen Winship, painting, and John Watts and Wilf Williams, furniture.

PQA York’s poster for Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr at the JoRo

Children’s show of the week: PQA Productions in Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tomorrow and Saturday, 7.30pm

PAULINE Quirke Academy (PQA) York journeys under the sea with Ariel and her aquatic friends in Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr, adapted from Disney’s Broadway show and film, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of sacrifices made for love and acceptance.

Young mermaid Ariel longs to leave her magical ocean home and fins behind for the world above. First, however, she must defy her father, King Triton, make a deal with evil sea witch Ursula and convince Prince Eric she is the girl whose enchanting voice he has been seeking. Separate casts perform the two shows. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Adam Sowter, Florence Poskitt, Alexandra Mather and Andrew Roberts in rehearsal for Saturday’s Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny

Witty and warm songs of the week: Fladam and Friends’ Musical Comedy Hootenanny, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

FLADAM duo Florence Poskitt and pianist Adam Sowter take to the Theatre@41 stage with thespian friends Alexandra Mather, Andrew Roberts and Andrew Isherwood for two shows of musical comedy joy.

Fladam’s own topical witty ditties will be complemented by a celebration of Morecambe & Wise, Bernard Cribbins, Victoria Wood and more. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Scarlett Waugh, left, and Libby Anderson: Sharing the role of Dorothy in NE Musicals York’s production of The Wizard Of Oz

Sparkling slippers of the week: NE Musicals York in The Wizard Of Oz, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday (23/11/2021) to Saturday

DIRECTOR Steve Tearle has assembled a cast of 60 for NE Musicals York’s energetic staging of The Wizard Of Oz, led by Libby Anderson and Scarlett Waugh, who will alternate the role of Dorothy.

Further roles go to Maia Stroud as Glinda; YO1 presenter Chris Marsden, the Wizard of Oz; Perri Ann Barley, Wicked Witch of the West; Finley Butler, the Scarecrow; Kristian Barley, the Tin Man, and Tearle himself as the Cowardly Lion.

Expect an all-singing, all-dancing production with special effects by Adam Moore’s team at Tech247. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Phoenix rising again: Phoenix Dance Theatre celebrate their 40th anniversary this autumn, opening their tour at York Theatre Royal

Dance celebration of the week: Phoenix Dance Theatre in 40 Years Of Phoenix, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.30pm

PHOENIX Dance Theatre launch their milestone 40th birthday programme at York Theatre Royal, bringing together highlights from the Leeds company’s groundbreaking history.

Phoenix will combine celebration and reflection in a show featuring Lost Dog duo Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer’s Pave Up Paradise; former artistic director Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Heart Of Chaos; Henri Oguike’s Signal; Shapiro and Smith’s satirical piece Family and Jane Dudley’s 1938 masterpiece Harmonica Breakdown. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Director Nik Briggs, left, choreographer Emily Taylor and lead actors Sophie Hammond and Damien Poole at the launch of York Stage Musicals’ festive show, Elf! The Musical

Christmas musical of the week: York Stage Musicals in Elf! The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 25 to December 3

YORK Stage Musicals present the York premiere of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s Elf! The Musical, directed by artistic director Nik Briggs.

Based on Will Ferrell’s 2003 film, Elf! follows orphan child Buddy to Santa’s North Pole abode, where, unaware he is human, his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth.

Given Santa’s permission, Buddy (Damien Poole) heads to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity and help the Big Apple to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Amaka Okafor: Taking part in the staged readings of Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland at Friargate Theatre, York

Play readings of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company presents Maryland, Friargate Theatre, York, November 26, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

TWO staged readings of Lucy Kirkwood’s 30-minute protest play will feature Amaka Okafor, from the original Royal Court Theatre cast, Laura Pyper, Mark Holgate, Cassie Vallance, Kesiah Joseph, Patricia Jones and Meg Blowey.

Kirkwood wrote Maryland as a “passionate and furious act of resistance to draw attention to the shocking numbers of women who repeatedly suffer violent abuse throughout Britain. The play is not specific; it addresses issues of police behaviour and a culture of violence against women and girls”.

After sold-out performances in London, the Royal Court offered Maryland for free for theatre companies to perform in solidarity and protest. York company Riding Lights has taken up that opportunity, with associate director Bridget Foreman directing the readings. Box office: 01904 613000.

James: Teaming up with Happy Mondays for a Manchester night out in Leeds

Gig of the week ahead outside York: James and special guests Happy Mondays, Leeds First Direct Arena, November 25, doors, 6pm

ALL of 33 years ago, Factory label mates James and Happy Mondays first toured together. Now, two of Manchester’s champion bands reunite for a November and December arena tour.

 “Last played with them in 1988, hopefully this time they won’t steal our rider or try and spike my drink,” tweeted Tim Booth, James’s Clifford-born frontman, when announcing the dates with rapscallion rascals Shaun Ryder, Bez and co.

James, who played Scarborough Open Air Theatre this summer, will be showcasing their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June. Box office: firstdirectarena.com. Stage times: Happy Mondays, 7.30pm; James, 9pm.

More Things To Do in and around York as records are set straight and dark nights lit up. List No. 53, courtesy of The Press, York

Setting the record straight: Adrian Lukis’s roguish George Wickham in Being Mr Wickham at York Theatre Royal

AUTUMN’S fruits are ripe and ready for Charles Hutchinson to pick with no worries about shortages.

Scandal of the week: Being Mr Wickham, Original Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal, tonight until Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Saturday

ADRIAN Lukis played the vilified George Wickham in the BBC’s television adaptation of Pride And Prejudice 26 years ago this very month.

Time, he says, to set the record straight about Jane Austen’s most charmingly roguish character in his one-man play Being Mr Wickham, co-written with Catherine Curzon.

This is the chance to discover Wickham’s version of famous literary events. What really happened with Mr Darcy? What did he feel about Lizzie? What went on at Waterloo? Not to mention Byron. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Cate Hamer in rehearsal for the SJT and Live Theatre, Newcastle co-production of The Offing. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Play of the week outside York: The Offing, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until October 30

IN a Britain still reeling from the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on an adventure at 16: to walk from his home in Durham to Scarborough, where he hopes to find work, but he never arrives there. 

Instead, up the coast at Robin Hood’s Bay, a chance encounter with the bohemian, eccentric Dulcie Piper leads to a lifelong, defining friendship. She introduces him to the joys of good food and wine, art and literature; he helps her lay to rest a ghost in Janice Okoh’s adaptation of Benjamin Myers’s novel for the SJT and Live Theatre, Newcastle. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.  

Simon Wright: Conducting York Guildhall Orchestra at York Barbican

Classic comeback: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, Saturday, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra return to the concert stage this weekend after the pandemic hiatus with a programme of operatic favourites, conducted by Simon Wright.

The York musicians will be joined by Leeds Festival Chorus and two soloists, soprano Jenny Stafford, and tenor Oliver Johnston, to perform overtures, arias and choruses by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Rossini, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Adam Kay: Medic, author and comedian, on visiting hours at Grand Opera House, York, on Sunday

Medical drama of the week: Adam Kay, This Is Going To Hurt, Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor, Grand Opera House, Sunday, 8pm

ADAM Kay, medic turned comic, shares entries from his diaries as a junior doctor in his evening of horror stories from the NHS frontline, savvy stand-up, witty wordplay and spoof songs.

His award-winning show, This Going To Hurt, has drawn 200,000 people to sell-out tours, the Edinburgh Fringe and West End runs, and the book of the same name topped the best sellers list for more than a year and is soon to be a BBC drama. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Boyzlife: Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden unite in Boyzone and Westlife songs at York Barbican

Irish night of the week: Boyzlife, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm; doors, 6.30pm

PUT Irish boy band graduates Brian McFadden, from Westlife, and Keith Duffy, from Boyzone, together and they become Boyzlife, as heard on the July 2020 album Strings Attached, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

On tour with a full band, but not the ‘Phil’, they choose songs from a joint back catalogue of 18 number one singles and nine chart-topping albums.

So many to squeeze in…or not: No Matter What, Flying Without Wings, World Of Our Own, Queen Of My Heart, Picture Of You, Uptown Girl, You Raise Me Up, Going Gets Tough, Swear It Again, Father And Son, Love Me For A Reason and My Love. Find out on Sunday. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk

Thumper: Dublin band play Ad Nauseam and much more at Fulford Arms, York, on Tuesday

 Loudest gig of the week: Thumper, Fulford Arms, York, Tuesday, 8pm

THUMPER, the cult Dublin band with two thumping drummers, are back on the road after you know what, promoting a 2021 mix of their single Ad Nauseam: a cautionary tale of repetition, vanity and becoming too close to what you know will eat you.

From the Irish city of the equally visceral Fontaines DC and The Murder Capital, Thumper have emerged with their ragged guitars and “bratty, frenetic punk rock” (Q magazine).

Now their debut album is taking shape after the band were holed up in their home studio for months on end. The Adelphi, Hull, awaits on Wednesday.

At the fourth time of planning: Mary Coughlan, Pocklington Arts Centre, Tuesday, 8pm

Mary Coughlan: Life Stories in song at Pocklington Arts Centre

GALWAY jazz and blues chanteuse Mary Coughlan had to move her Pocklington show three times in response to the stultifying pandemic.

“Ireland’s Billie Holliday” twice rearranged the gig during 2020, and did so again this year in a switch from April 23 to October 19.

At the heart of Mary’s concert, fourth time lucky, will still be Life Stories, her 15th album, released on the wonderfully named Hail Mary Records last September. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Spiers & Boden: Resurrected folk duo head to Pocklington on Wednesday

Double act of the week ahead: Spiers & Boden, Pocklington Arts Centre, Wednesday, 7.30pm

AFTER years of speculation, much-loved English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together, releasing the album Fallow Ground and bringing a live show to Pocklington this autumn with special guests. 

First forming a duo in 2001, John Spiers, now 46, and Jon Boden, 44, became leading lights in big folk band Bellowhead, resting the duo in 2014, before Bellowhead headed into the sunset in 2016. Solo endeavours ensued but now Spiers & Boden return. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Matilda takes on Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical Jr

Musical of the week: Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, October 20 to 24, 7.30pm; 2pm, 4.30pm, Saturday; 2pm, Sunday.

ONLY the last few tickets are still available for York Stage Musicals’ York premiere of the Broadway Junior version of Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story.

Matilda has astonishing wit, intelligence, imagination…and special powers! Unloved by her cruel parents, she nevertheless impresses teacher Miss Honey, but mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull hates children and just loves thinking up new punishments for those who fail to abide by her rules. Hurry, hurry to the box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntheatre.co.uk.

People We Love: Curtailed by the second Covid lockdown, the York Mediale exhibition has a second life at York Minster from this weekend

Worth noting too:

PEOPLE We Love, the York Mediale exhibition, reopening at York Minster from Saturday. York Design Week, full of ideas, October 20 to 26, at yorkdesign week.com; Light Night Leeds 2021, with a Back To Nature theme for this art and lights festival tonight and tomorrow, at whatson.leeds.gov.uk; Live At Leeds gigs across 20 venues with Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Sports Team, The Night Café, The Big Moon, Dream Wife, Poppy Adjuda, The Orielles and Thumper, at liveatleeds.com.

Actor, musician and now sonneteer, Aran MacRae joins York Shakespeare Project for Sonnets At The Bar in ‘secret garden’

“Secret mission”: York actor Aran MacRae looks forward to making his York Shakespeare Project debut as a sonneteer in Sonnets At The Bar in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre

ARAN MacRae joins Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe in the four new sonneteers corralled for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 from this evening.

Not that Aran is “new” to the acting scene. Far from it, the York actor, singer, songwriter and self-taught guitarist and percussion player returned to his home city in March 2019 after building momentum in his career in London, Europe and beyond.

After training in musical theatre for three years at the Guildford School of Acting, post-graduation in 2017 he had originated the role of 14-year-old Tink in the West End premiere of the Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf musical Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum, following up with the Canadian run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.

“If you shave off your beard, you’ve got the part,” he was told at the last audition: a wonderful start to life on the professional boards.

“We did the show for 13 months and it gave me such an insight to musical theatre and to rock’n’roll too, going to Toronto and falling in love with a beautiful woman who’d just joined the cast there,” he says.

Aran then appeared in the immersive promenade production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent at the world’s oldest working paper mill, Frogmore Paper Mill in Apsley, Hertfordshire, in July 2018 and sang in Midas’s Twelve Tenors tour across Europe and South Korea in 2018 and early 2019.

His profile on Mandy states he is now “busking in my hometown of York, playing acoustic covers and putting together lyrics and music for solo material”.

Sonnets At The Bar brings him back to theatre work in the city where, in York College days, he had starred in York Stage Musicals’ The Flint Street Nativity and Mayhem, NUEMusic Theatre’s Bare, Bat Boy The Musical and Rent and Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita, Che Guevara beard et al. If memory serves, he was the singer in The Frizz too, in even younger days.

“I’d been living in Potters Bar in London, plying my trade as an actor, when I decided to come back to York in Spring 2019,” says Aran. “I was aware of York Shakespeare  Project and got in touch straightaway to join their mailing list because I knew that Macbeth and The Tempest were coming up and I was really up for directing The Tempest.  

“Then ‘the Cloud’, as I shall call it, came along and slowed things down; Macbeth was put back, but then I saw they were doing Sonnets At The Bar and I jumped on to it.

Aran MacRae originating the role of Tick in Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum in 2017

“I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s sonnets: not that  they need a lot of investigating, but they explore the concept of love in a manner full of thought and consideration, and what is very special about them is the answer that’s given to any Shakespeare question: they are timeless and you can find modern-day parallels in them.”

Directed by Emilie Knight and produced by fellow company regular Maurice Crichton, Sonnets At The Bar 2021 will be staged in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, from tonight to August 7.

Emilie, who played a Covid nurse in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard in Goodramgate, has come up with the conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities, some of them outdoors in the garden on account of Covid, with the sonneteers either hosting classes or groups or attending them, all under the watchful eye of the caretaker, Mr Barrowclough.

In YSP’s now time-honoured fashion, each character has a sonnet to set up, the pairing of character and sonnet opening up unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.

Aran will be performing Sonnet 25, Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars, in the role of Paul, clerk to the parish council in this age of new awareness of parish-council machinations after the explosive Jackie Weaver and Handworth shenanigans on Zoom went global.

“He’s a little bit righteous, I think,” he says. “He’s not got a point to prove but when he witnesses injustice, he takes it on his shoulders to deal with it, leaving him between a rock and a hard place.

“He has to have a lot of integrity and non-bias and that’s an incredibly lofty responsibility, when you’re dealing with care for the community and injustice, though what he’s witnessed is more to do with internal parish [council] matters, rather than the community.”

Analysing Sonnet 25, Aran says: “My sonnet is about idol worship, and I can certainly find modern-day resonances within it. I’m sure Shakespeare wasn’t thinking of me 420 years ago (!), but I’m thinking of him 420 years later, taking me to an emotional place. It’s like time travel.”

Aran has relished rehearsals under Emilie’s guidance. “It’s been really free spirited, and that freedom has been wonderful, especially in ‘the Cloud’,” he says. “Not only does everyone jump in and sound ideas off each other, but Emilie basically gave each of us a small piece of text to set up each sonnet and said, ‘if you’d like to ad-lib the lead-in to the sonnet, go for it, or if you’d like to add to it, do that’.

Che days: Aran MacRae’s Che Guevara with Robyn Grant’s Eva Peron in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in April 2013

“That was quite testing for me because I then had to look at the structure of what the character was going to say, working out how the parish clerk would communicate in a way that was more astute and level-headed than I would be in that situation!”

Initially, Aran had envisaged “just performing the sonnet and walking off with my chest out”. “But doing it this way, building up a character, allows me to test my writing skills too…because if I’m going to be in a film, I’m going to have to write it myself!” he says.

Where does Aran see his future? “Doing Bat Out Of Hell gave me an insight into where I want to direct my abilities. I loved being in a musical, with all that high energy and lots of post-teens diving around saying ‘this is it’, ‘it’s punk!’, but sometimes I wanted to be thinking more about the task in hand, when it was on stage.

“I want to pursue my career by continuing to work in musical theatre but also look to break into theatre, even though it’s such a closed circle.

“Coming back to the city where I’d lived from the age of three to 21, suddenly there was that ‘Cloud’ and a lot of solitary confinement, so I’ve been reading the classics after I’ve not had the time to read for years, in order to consider it as a career when it’s your heart that calls you to this profession.”

One classical role Aran will not be giving us is his Lady Macbeth in York Shakespeare Project’s promenade production of Macbeth in October, staged at Theatre@41 Monkgate by director Leo Doulton in a “corrupted world of moving forests, daggers from the dark and cyberpunk dystopia, falling from civilisation into a civil war between darkness and light”.

Lady Macbeth, Aran?. “I put my two-penneth in at the auditions to play her as I thought, ‘what better chance to play one of the great string-puller roles, like in The Hunger Games in a past of such apocalyptic brutality, with suave sophistication,” he says. “I gave it a good shot…”

The role has gone to Nell Frampton instead, but Aran can still apply to direct The Tempest, with no production dates set in place yet for York Shakespeare Project’s final play.

York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, today (30/7/2021) until August 7; no show on August 2. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm on both Saturdays. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the YTR box office.

REVIEW: York Stage, Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, until Sunday

Girls just wanna have fun: The first night of Songs From The Settee -Live On Stage

Review: York Stage in Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, until Sunday. Box office: yorkstagemusicals.com

SOFA, so good, that Nik Briggs decided to transfer Songs From The Settee from a streaming home service in lockdown to the John Cooper Studio for the first step in Step 3’s return to live theatre.

The York Stage producer-director had expected the home-recorded song sessions to run for maybe three weeks, instead they stretched to ten, as he told Thursday’s first-night audience in his role as master of ceremonies at the reopened Theatre @41.

Seating was cabaret-style, in social bubbles around tables, and protective Perspex screens were in place, just as they had been for Jack And The Beanstalk, the Covid-curtailed York Stage pantomime. Masks were obligatory; drink orders brought by staff to the tables.

Last summer, York Stage had resumed performing with a brace of songs-from-the-shows programmes in the open air of the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, showcasing the singing chops of members past and present, socially distanced but able to combine solo spotlights and duets with lightly choreographed group numbers.

For Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, nights one and two feature one company of solo singers under the musical direction of Jess Douglas; tomorrow and Sunday, different soloists under MD Stephen Hackshaw.

Across the four nights too, Nik and his two MDs are determined to turn the spotlight on recent stage-school graduates amid such difficult times for studying and breaking into the profession.

Solo performances are dominating, book-ended by group opening and closing numbers, last night being launched by Joanne Theaker, Lauren Sheriston and  Sophie Hammond in Waitress mode for What Baking Can Do, one for all those who filled lockdown hours perfecting banana bread.

Assured, chuffed-to-be-playing-to-an-audience showcases followed for graduates with a York Stage teenage past, Stephanie Bolsher and Talia Firth, and, in between, University of York music student Elodie Lawry, ahead of her degree show on the theme of the underdog in musical theatre on Monday before becoming an Army musician. Holly Smith will have her showcases too over the remaining shows.

Nik Briggs and Jess Douglas: York Stage director and musical director for the first two nights of Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage

Joanne Theaker, in a skirt of Liquorice Allsorts colours, set a very high bar, as she always does, with a superbly balanced set, from Carole King’s big hug of an opener, You’ve Got A Friend, to a singalong Shout, via a humdinger of a duet with Briggs for Written In The Stars from Aida and the haunting Maybe This Time from Cabaret.

Best of all was the character piece, the tear-inducing Scarborough from Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical version of Calendar Girls. York Stage have acquired the performing rights and you can bet your house on Joanne being in the cast.

Lauren Sheriston wondered how she could match up to Jo, but she has always been a stand-out in her York Stage shows, and her voice has matured wonderfully, equally at home in the contrasting Son Of A Preacher Man, Will You, from Ghost, and She Used To Be Mine, from Waitress, while Landslide from the Stevie Nicks repertoire for Fleetwood Mac was an inspired pick. We Will Rock You’s Somebody To Love was the Mount Everest of a finale, and Lauren climbed to the peaks with panache.

   
Sophie Hammond favoured the most contemporary set, one that made CharlesHutchPress feel a tad out of touch at 60, when encountering Breathe (In The Heights), Kiss The Air (Scott Alan), Issues (Julia Michaels), Ready For You (Matthew Stuart Price) and Don’t Forget Me (Smash).

Sophie’s choice would have benefited from a wider range of tempo, but Helpless, from Hamilton, was a knock-out, Monster, from Frozen, was full of Disney drama and Domino knocked spots off Jessie J’s original.

How else could the all-female bill end but with Joanne, Lauren and Sophie all smiles, happy to be back on stage, in tandem for a celebratory Girls Just Wanna Have Fun after perhaps a few too many sad songs overall.

Thanks, too, to Jess Douglas’s ensemble on keyboards, bass/double bass and drums . Over to Stephen Hackshaw for tomorrow and Sunday, when Grace Lancaster, Conor Mellor, Damien Poole and Emily Ramsden will be on the bill.

As for the “Settee” of the show title, familiar to York Stage regulars from past company service, it took a back seat. “Is it clean?” asked Joanne. “Yes,” said Nik. Anti-bac and all that, to meet the demands of presenting Covid-secure performances. No doubt it will be this way for some time yet, but step by step, theatre will revive, and York Stage will be to the fore.   

And what about your own seat for the show? Hurry, hurry, only a few were still available at the last time of checking.

The York Stage poster for Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage, the first show at Theatre @ 41, Monkgate, since late-December


York Stage to take Songs From The Settee out of the home and into Theatre @41 in return to live shows UPDATED 16/4/2021

YORK Stage are to present Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage from May 20 to 23 at Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, in the wake of a hit series of online shows.

Director/producer Nik Briggs and his York production company never let the first pandemic lockdown grind them down, instead bringing together their performers, musicians and technicians remotely for a streamed concert season that played out over ten weeks under the title of Songs From The Settee.

“The idea was to keep the city entertained with top-quality musical theatre while we were in uncharted territory,” says Nik. “We thought the weekly publications would last three to four weeks, but before we knew it, we were at ten!

“We were blown away and driven by our friends and followers, who were engaging with the series and sending us messages, saying how we were helping them get through the week.”

The first online recording, Heroes All Around, was released on April 9 2020. “So, it feels like the perfect date, one year later, to announce what we’ll be bringing to our audiences as theatres are set to reopen with social distancing from May 17: Songs From The Settee – Live On Stage,” says Nik.

“From May 20 to 23, we have two different concerts that will run back to back under the same title at 7.30pm each evening.

“Musical director Jess Douglas will start the ball rolling with her band and some of York Stage’s finest vocal talents on May 20 and 21, before passing the baton to Stephen Hackshaw, who will bring in a new band and showcase more of the York Stage talent pool on May 22 and 23.”

York Stage director Nik Briggs and musical director Jess Douglas

The event will be staged in the Covid-secure John Cooper Studio at Theatre@41 on Monkgate, where audiences will be seated at cabaret tables, socially distanced from other bubbles around the studio. Drinks and refreshments will be served throughout the show with a table-service offering.

“Having produced a socially distanced pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41 over Christmas, we know we can bring a show with full Covid compliance to the venue successfully and very much look forward to doing so,” says Nik.

The announcement of Lockdown 3 sadly stopped Jack and his Beanstalk antics short of the early January finishing line when theatres were forced to close on December 30.

“Up to that point, I’d been thinking about what shows I could be making for January and February, but as the days passed, I realised that was not to be!” he says.

“We knew it was coming, but the real blow was not getting our New Year’s Eve shows in. It felt like we’d been robbed of something we’d fought for after the most difficult year ever; to see through to the last day of the year weirdly seemed at the time as though it would have taken the sting out of the closure.

“But it feels so good to be returning to the venue and reopening public performances with these concerts. Boris says the reopening will be irreversible, so fingers crossed that it’s the first of many events for 2021.” 

Tickets can be bought online at yorkstagemusicals.com from April 10.

Conor Mellor, performing at Rowntree Park last August, will take part in the Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage shows on May 22 and 23

Here CharlesHutchPress fires off a fusillade of questions for a round of quickfire responses from artistic director Nik Briggs:

What will be the format of each concert? Will each one have a separate theme?
“Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage will bring some of the our online performances to the stage for the first time, alongside lots of other musical theatre and pop songs.

“There will be some group numbers of course, but the main part of the evenings will be made up of a series of cabaret/live lounge-type sets that will see our performers take to the stage solo with a collection of songs that mean something to them! 

“Throughout lockdown, we saw a lot of people setting up their ring lights and creating mini- recording studios in their homes in order to continue to create and be creative and the evenings are set to celebrate the tenacity performers showed across the industry and the work they created in lockdown.

“I often say to younger performers who I work with, ‘Sing like you sing in your bedroom mirror and now it’s time to see what that mantra brings from our older performers!”

Will Jess and Stephen decide on each concert’s content or will you be involved too?

“This one is set to be a real collaboration between the artists, musical directors and myself due to the nature of the evening.”  

Joanne Theaker in the York Stage psychedelic igloo at last summer’s first Rowntree Park open-air concert

Who will be the singers and the musicians for Jess’s shows and Stephen’s shows?

“On May 20 and 21, Jess will be working alongside Sophie Hammond, Lauren Sheriston, Joanne Theaker and some recent graduates who are yet to be confirmed.

“On May 22 and 23, Stephen will be returning to the musical director’s chair after a year for his concerts and he’ll be working with Grace Lancaster, Conor Mellor, Damien Poole, Emily Ramsden and, again, recent grads who are TBC.

“The directors are currently working on the set lists with the singers in order to work out which instrumentalists will be best suited for their evenings. Due to Covid guidelines, we’re limited to the numbers we can have on stage and in the band, so we have to really plan these things and work out what is best for all involved.”

How will the stage be dressed for each show?  What will be the dress code for the performers?
“Well, we’re indoors this time, so we’ll not need as many layers as when we had our sell-out shows in Rowntree Park last August and September. Umbrellas certainly not called for! “There’s is no real dress code for this one though; our performers will be dressed to make them feel suitably fabulous and ready to entertain.” 

Just wondering: will there be a settee (or ‘sofa’ as my mother has always insisted I should say) on stage?

“Of course! How could we have Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage without a settee? I joked that we should maybe have a sacrificial burning or destruction of the settee at the end of each show to symbolise Boris’s plans that these reopening will be very much irreversible.

The many faces and facets of Grace Lancaster: now singing in the Songs From The Settee: Live On Stage shows at Theatre @41, Monkgate, on May 22 and 23

“The venue will be beautifully lit again from Adam Moore and his Tech 24:7 team.”

 
What did you learn from mounting the Songs From The Settee shows online series; will “streaming” continue to play a role in York Stage’s work?

“Who knows. What I think it showed was yet again York Stage are adaptable. We responded and worked hard to ensure we continued and provided top-notch entertainment for the city, even in the darkest, hardest times for theatre.

“As you yourself have often commented in reviews, we really aim to set the bar high with everything we do as a producer in York. We are unique in that we proudly sit between others in the city where we continually mix professional performers and production teams with only the best of York’s community actors.

“That is what makes us exciting and ensures we are are able to bring huge West End and Broadway titles to the city, alongside smaller concerts, plays and studio pieces, which all have high production values, the best performances and stories that are filled with spirit and heart.” 

What’s coming up next for York Stage on stage?

“We have lots planned over the coming years. We’re starting with the Christmas spectacular, ELF the Musical, at the Grand Opera House this November and December; tickets on sale soon!” 

What are York Stage pantomime fairy Livvy Evans’s wishes for 2021?

Walking in a winter wandland: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

LIVVY Evans is back home in York for the winter, playing Fairy Mary In York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk.

Here she waves her magic wand at Charles Hutchinson’s quickfire questions.

What was the first pantomime you ever saw and what do you recall of it?

“First panto I can remember going to, I think, was Jack And The Beanstalk at the Grand Opera House, starring John Altman (Nasty Nick Cotton in EastEnders) as the baddie, I just remember him and being terrified!”

What was your first pantomime role?

“I played Happy the dwarf in Snow White at the Grand Opera House.”

What has been your favourite pantomime role?

“Princess Yasmin in Aladdin: my first professional job, also at the Grand Opera House. Playing Fairy Mary is shaping up to be a contender too!”

Who have you not yet played in pantomime that you would love to play?

“When I’m a bit older, I’d love to play the Wicked Queen. And, although traditionally male characters, I’ve always wanted to play a Buttons/Simple Simon-type character too.”

Who is your favourite pantomime performer and why?

“Being from York, I’d have to say Berwick Kaler, of course. His Dame is legendary!”

“Just feeling the excited presence of an audience is wonderful for us performers,” says Livvy Evans. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

This year’s pantomime will be an experience like no other…what are your expectations of performing a show in these strange circumstances?

“It will be strange at first, especially with the discouragement of vocal participation from the audience. However, I think they will get used to it very quickly, once they get engrossed in the magic. Just feeling the excited presence of an audience is wonderful for us performers.”

Which pantomime role should Boris Johnson play and why?

Boris doesn’t have the skill set to be an actor. He can just carry on playing the part of ‘Bumbling fool No. 1’.”

Who or what has been the villain of 2020?

“There are definitely more than a handful of villains this year. For me, personally, it’s Rishi Sunak. His comments surrounding the ‘non-viability’ of actors were pretty low. I would love to see him last a week in my profession!”

Who or what has been the fairy of 2020?

“It’s definitely a toss-up between Captain Sir Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford. Both have done incredible, selfless things this year and it proves that a big old heart is all a true hero needs.”

How would you sum up 2020 in five words?

“Exceptionally strange yet surprisingly adaptable.”

Butterfly wings: Livvy Evans’s costume for Fairy Mary from behind. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photogrphy

What are your wishes for 2021?

“I hope that everyone stays safe and continues to treat each other with some of the kindness and compassion we discovered this year.”

What are your hopes for the world of theatre in 2021?

“I hope that the theatre industry gets back on its feet ASAP and that people support it as much as they can.”

York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3 2021.

Show times: December 28, 11am, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm (sold out); December 29, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 30, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; New Year’s Eve, December 31, 12 noon (sold out); January 2, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; January 3, 1pm and 6pm.

Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Jill and Stephen Outhwaite bow out of theatre costume hire as Dress Circle closes

The end of the clothing chapter: Jill and Stephen Outhwaite are closing their Dress Circle of York costume hire enterprise. Picture: Melissa Gresswell, Liss Photography

THE final curtain falls on costume-hire emporium Dress Circle of York after 18 years tomorrow when Stephen and Jill Outhwaite will bow out.

“I’ve counted up the number of companies, schools, film companies, event companies and more that we’ve dealt with, and I’m sure I’ve missed out some, but it must be around 160, and then there are all the individuals over the years,” says Jill.

York Stage Musicals, the Rowntree Players, Bev Jones Music Company, Helmsley Arts Centre’s 1820 Theatre  Company and Stephen Tearle’s NEMS York are but five of those companies grateful to theatre costumiers Stephen and Jill and their team of Sophie, Sue, Elaine, Caroline, Emily, Susan and Guy.

“We would like to thank all of valued customers for their support, laughs, friendliness, understanding, cakes and chocolate over the past 18 years,” says the official notice on the Dress Circle website.

“We will miss you and wish you all the very best of luck in the future. Stay safe and well as we take our final bows.”

Dress Circle of York is run in converted buildings of the Outhwaite family farm at Low Grange Farm, off Moor Lane – more and more lane, it is a long lane – in Haxby, near York. “After 0.75 miles, there is a sharp right bend in the road, continue straight down the ‘no-through road’ for 1 mile,” the website advises. “Turn left into the farm yard at white sign ‘Low Grange Farm’.”

Many a farm has diversified, whether into ice cream, maze attractions, fields for solar-heating generation or wedding party teepees, wind farms, holiday cottages, film studios, business parks, beer breweries, the list goes on…

Items for hire, in a flashback to the 1980s, at Dress Circle of York. Picture: Liss Photography

…But theatrical costume hire? Pantomimes, fancy dress, make-up and accessories too, that is another world, one of fantasy, fable and fabulous fun, where a farewell visit just had to be made to thank Stephen and Jill.

All that was missing, and the eyes could not possibly take in everything, was a Daisy the Cow, front and back end, down on this 150-acre farm.

“Dress Circle of York came into being in 2002 when Jill and I brought the theatrical costume-hire business into an empty barn,” says Stephen, who has a history of acting, directing, theatrical make-up and running a youth theatre [he founded and ran Flying Ducks Youth Theatre in York for many years].

“Combined with Jill’s experience of costuming shows and a history degree and encouraged by the Government and our accountant to diversify, when the farming wasn’t that good, we took the first step into developing Dress Circle, acquiring stock from Geraldine Jevons and Sue Morris.

“The business has grown and developed in a way not dreamt of, as we built up a team of staff with a wealth and diversity of experience in costume and the theatrical world.”

In a normal year, from the end of October through to early December would be Dress Circle’s busiest time, but this was the abnormal year where the Covid Grinch cancelled Christmas and much more besides. “Over the past few years, we have, on average, dressed 30 shows in those few weeks, but not this year of course,” says Jill.

In 2020 Dress Circle costumed 170 shows all told; in 2020, only 39, as theatres went dark and largely stayed dark. “Shows that would have been going out, until lockdown kicked in, now aren’t. Even those provisionally booked for next year, the orders couldn’t be confirmed,” says Jill.

Everything a panto dame could dream of matching with over-bold lippy and a wig” at Dress Circle of York

Not only theatre companies called on their Aladdin’s barn of costume opportunities. So too did those seeking clothes for weddings and even funerals; war-themed weekends; big parties with a dress code; bikers gathering in Helmsley for a charity Christmas ride; vintage car enthusiasts headed for the Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex.

Everything could be found, from Lady Gaga and Tina Turner styles to Madonna cones; from Victorian and Edwardian clothes, through Seventies’ Glam to the modern day; from the full kit bag for Cinderella, Beauty And The Beast and Monty Python’s Spamalot to a Gruffalo; from Father Christmas outfits to The Pink Panther.

No fewer than 16,000 costumes and much more besides: hats and more hats; prop after prop; military attire; blazers and tailcoats; socks and handkerchiefs; umbrellas and swords; waistcoats up to a 60-inch chest, ties, scarves, suits-you-sir suits, dress upon dress. Aprons. Everything a panto dame could dream of matching with over-bold lippy and a wig. Anything for a Steampunk sci-fi enthusiast.

“We’re the biggest business of our type in the north east,” says Jill. “We cover as far as Blyth, in Northumberland, down to north Lincolnshire.”

So much glamour, such theatrical flourish, is promised in these most untheatrical of premises. “It was built for cattle, and over the years we had pigs and grain in it too,” says Stephen.

“We insulated all the walls, but heating-wise you don’t want gas because it puts moisture into the atmosphere, electricity is expensive, so I enquired about a wood burner.”

No ordinary wood burner, it turns out. It is as big as a fledgling dancer’s dreams. “We got it from Dowling Stoves in Scotland, though originally he was from Helmsley,” says Stephen. “It’s the only heating we need in here; it keeps a nice dry barn, really good for drying costumes.” Two washing machines can be heard too, yet tomorrow they will fall silent.

“No fewer than 16,000 costumes and much more besides: hats and more hats; prop after prop” at Dress Circle of York. Picture: Liss Photography

“When I was at school, I wanted to be either a farmer or an actor, so I started with farming – better the devil you know – but then I flipped to acting, and I did everything but opera,” says Stephen.

Not that the farming has ever had its final harvest. BSE (“Mad Cow Disease”) put paid to the beef farming, he gave up on sheep too, but pigs – “bed and breakfast weeners” – have played their part and so too have contract grass-seed drilling and diversification into growing 40 acres of miscanthus, a biofuel for greener times.

Somehow, Stephen has found time to spread his wings still further, whether into piloting Flying Ducks Youth Theatre, or providing theatrical make-up services, or building sets for theatre shows.

“The make-up work was by chance initially but then it blossomed into film work too and the Vikings Roadshow, designing the make-up,” he says. “It toured Europe, then came to the Museum Gardens in York.”

Stephen will turn 70 next year, Jill, 67, and 2020’s stultifying pandemic has pressed them into making the decision to call time on Dress Circle. “We have such good staff; we had seven, but three have left already, and that was the toughest thing,” says Jill. “We feel awful; they’re all good friends and we get on so well. We’re a costume-hire team with the personal touch.

“We tried to keep going, and the furlough scheme was a godsend, but there’s just nothing happening in the theatre world. Theatres have to get going again first, and then we could have got going again, but we’d already decided to retire anyway.”

As a reminder of a year brought to a shuddering halt, the costumes for Bev Jones Music Company’s Calamity Jane, stopped a day before opening by the pandemic lockdown, are still hanging unused on a rail.

Cleopatra Rey as Deloris and Joanne Theaker as Sister Mary Roberts in Sister Act, one of York Stage Musicals’ productions that used costumes from Dress Circle of York

“We’re trading to December 19 and then looking at the possibilities of what we can do,” says Jill. “The closure announcement is on Facebook, and ideally we’d like to sell Dress Circle as a going concern, and we’d love it to go locally preferably.”

Stephen reflects on the path ahead. “Time goes on and there comes a time when you have to say, ‘it’s time to move on’…

…“But there is room for this business still to grow if someone takes it on,” urges Jill, who can be contacted at jill­­_outhwaite@btconnect.com.

Not all theatrical enterprises will be ending at Low Grange Farm. Flying Ducks will continue to rehearse in one of the buildings and Steve will still be making set designs, keeping that wood burner alight.

Thank you to Dress Circle of York, so many shows, so many memories of nights in the theatre and contented customers beyond.   As Nik Briggs, artistic of York Stage Musicals, puts it: “Dress Circle have been a great asset to the York theatre scene. Jill and her team will be a huge miss.

“From creating Broadway-worthy sparkly nuns and a bunch of Seventies’ New York gangsters for our production of Sister Act, to creating a wardrobe for our Von Trapp children and the people of Austria on the brink of Anschluss in The Sound Of Music, their work has always been brilliant!”

“How do you fancy getting your dame on this Christmas, Alex?”. The answer is Yes!

Trott along now: Alex Weatherhill in all Dame Trott’s finery in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

ALEX Weatherhill took a call from York Stage artistic director Nik Briggs in the quietude of September.

“How do you fancy getting your dame on this Christmas,” asked Nik, having decided he would stage a pantomime at Theatre @ 41 Monkgate to close out a year blighted by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The sight of Alex in full dame attire and face paint at the October 30 photocall to launch Jack And The Beanstalk provided the answer to that request.

“Right now, I would normally be in Spain, as quite often I do a guest musical-directing spot for the Institute of Arts in Barcelona,” he said that autumn day. “I very luckily have managed to get on board to do projects there three times with their second and third-year students, then flying back to go straight into working on pantos.”

Alas, this accursed year has been different, however. No musical directing in Barcelona, nor his usual pantomime commitments for Paul Holman Associates. “I’ve been a musical director for Paul, including for pantomimes at The Carriageworks in Leeds, and then, four years ago, I made the move across to director,” says Alex.

“I directed the panto [at the Spotlight] in Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, for three years and I was due to direct Sleeping Beauty at The Harlequin Theatre in Redhill, Surrey, this winter until it was cancelled.”

Hence the September call from Nik Briggs, inviting him to make the journey from his home in Speeton, the easternmost village in North Yorkshire, on the cliff top between Filey and Bridlington, to be Dame Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk.

Alex Weatherhill, as Bernadette, right, with Joe Wawrzyniak, as Tick, left, and Jacob Husband, as Adam, front, in York Stage Musicals’ Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, The Musical, at the Grand Opera House, York., in September 2017. Picture: Benedict Tomlinson

“I would last have been on a York stage for York Stage Musicals in Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert,” says Alex, recalling his drag-queen role as Bernadette at the Grand Opera House. “It was so much fun to do, but very intense.”

He is no stranger to wearing women’s clothing on stage. “I’ve played a lot of middle-aged ladies: the number is probably running into double figures by now, so I suppose it was inevitable I would play dame one day,” says Alex.

“But I’d shied away from it, as it’s a role unto itself, particularly here in York, with all the history of Berwick Kaler’s shows, but now I’m looking forward to it, my first time as the dame, and any trepidation will go during rehearsals.”

Reflecting on past roles, Alex says: “Everything that I’ve done has been character acting, almost trying to fool the audience so they don’t know they’re watching a man playing a woman, starting with Mary Sunshine in Chicago, where there’s no drag element to it. You are there to trick the audience. The way of becoming a woman for that role is very different from playing the pantomime dame.”

Alex has been settling on his brand of dame “who happens to be in Jack And The Beanstalk this year”. “I’m drawing on Patricia Routledge, Maureen Lipman and Julie Walters as my influences, so Nik has been writing with those influences and mannerisms in mind, and they’ll come out in my voice and movements,” he says.

Routledge crossed with Lipman and Walters? What fabulous fun awaits!

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. 

Jacob Husband, as Adam, front, Alex Weatherhill, as Bernadette, and Joe Wawrzyniak, as Tick, in York Stage Musicals’ Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, The Musical, at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Benedict Tomlinson.  September 2017

May is so at home with her Yorkshire accent in professional panto debut for York Stage

May Tether as Jill in her professional debut in York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

MAY Tether will make her professional stage debut in Jack And The Beanstalk back home in Yorkshire after her graduation from London drama school Trinity Laban in July with first class honours. 

From December 11, she will play Jill in York Stage’s debut pantomime at Theatre @41 Monnkgate, as she rejoins the company where she became a favourite in such roles as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical and office martinet Roz in 9 To 5: The Musical: American roles all.

Back then, May was known as Maya, studying musical theatre at York College before heading from Goole to London.

“Do you know what I’m loving about the panto script?” she says on the first day of rehearsals under writer-director Nik Briggs. “It reads really well in my own accent when I’m used to playing parts with heavy American accents or Cockney character roles as I’m a character actress, but for this, when people put on a Yorkshire accent, they sound like me!

“I’ve never had the chance to use my own accent, so this will be the first role in my native tongue, which is great.”

May Tether – in her earlier York Stage Musicals days as Maya – in the lead role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde The Musical

May, 23, has worked with Nik plenty of times previously, most recently when performing in York Stage Musicals’ first open-air concert to a socially distanced audience at the Rowntree Park amphitheatre in August post-Lockdown 1.

Exciting too is the rehearsal-room presence of West End choreographer Gary Lloyd, a Premier League signing to Briggs’s production team. “I’m thrilled to be working with Gary because doing  a show on this scale, with a cast of eight, rather than a big West End cast, gives a lovely insight into how he choreographs,” says May.

“When I was Trinity Laban, I did a piece for my dissertation about Gary’s choreography because some of his work is so abstract!”

In a year when the pandemic brought theatre to a stop, May is shaking off the dust from the quiet months. “What’s strange for me is that it does feel like riding a bike, acting again…though not the singing! With the acting, I was thinking, ‘I’m back and I’m really in my comfort zone!’,” she says.

May Tether performing in York Stage Musicals’ open-air concert in Rowntree Park, York, in August. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“I’m known as being quite ‘belty’ as a singer, and I couldn’t do it just straight out, so I had a bit of a panic attack, but actually then it was OK for the Rowntree Park concert.

”Singing in that tent in that field, I’ve never been so happy to see everyone there, watching a show in the rain. It was unbelievable to see how much people cared about going out to see a show after so long with no theatre.”

May is looking forward to performing on a traverse stage, a configuration with the audience on either side of the performance space. “I love traverse. It’s my favourite,” she says. “I just enjoy being able to look around and taking in everyone’s gaze. You’ve got to include everyone, be unselfish and keep moving. It’s very Shakespearean and I love Shakespeare.

“With the audience sitting in bubbles, we need to make the panto feel as inclusive as possible. Where normally you have a ‘fourth wall’ to break down, this show isn’t traditional. There’s a pandemic going on, audience sizes have to be reduced, but it’s very exciting to be doing a panto in such an intimate setting. Nik has a way of making everything he does a huge spectacle and this will be no exception.”

May in December is focusing fully on her return to the stage. “Now I’m back working in the theatre, I’m not thinking about Christmas. I just want to do my job again,” she says. “It’s really nice to be thinking, ‘I’m back on my feet, doing something I love so much’. My family haven’t thought about Christmas yet either because they just want to see the show. They can’t wait!”.

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.