REVIEW: Calendar Girls The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday ****

Laurie Brett’s Annie, left, Maureen Nolan’s Ruth, Honeysuckle Weeks’s Cora, Helen Pearson’s Celia, Lyn Paul’s Jessie and Samantha Seager’s Chris in a village hall scene in Calendar Girls The Musical. Picture: Jack Merriman

CALENDAR Girls The Musical had its belated York premiere in the reet Yorkshire hands of York Stage in April 2022 at the Grand Opera House.

Now its sunflower power radiates from a bunch of music, stage and television stars in Jonathan O’Boyle’s touring production, playing York with four changes of cast since its November run at Leeds Grand Theatre.

It was in this Leeds theatre that Take That head boy Gary Barlow and playwright and screenwriter Tim Firth – fellow sons of the Wirral and friends since teenage days – premiered their very Yorkshire yet universally appealing musical in 2015 under the title of The Girls.

Now toured by Bill Kenwright Ltd, O’Boyle’s 2023-204 production is a stripped-back version of the nude calendar story of a fund-raising group of North Yorkshire Women’s Institution villagers. Stripped back in that the three teenage children’s roles have been removed, although reference is still made to one.

The reasoning: Firth wanted to put the maximum focus on the women in the story, and given the presence of familiar faces (and voices) in the cast, from EastEnders’ Laurie Brett and Foyle’s War’s Honeysuckle Weeks to the New Seekers’ Lyn Paul and Maureen Nolan, that makes sense.

Composer Gary Barlow

You surely know the story, as told previously in the 2003 film, scripted by Firth, and the stage play, but Barlow and Firth’s musical is even better, wittier too, the format suiting what is already an opera-scaled, tragicomic human drama of ordinary women at the centre of an extraordinary story.

When much-loved National Park wall builder and sunflower grower John ‘Clarkey’ Clarke (John R Campbell) dies from leukaemia, his wife Annie (Brett) teams up with Knapely Women’s Institute rebel Chris (Samantha Seager, from Coronation Street), her friend for 40 years, to raise funds to buy a new sofa for the relatives’ room at Skipton General.

They vow to defy the new but old-stick WI chair Marie (Liz Carney) by posing with fellow members for the nudie calendar in John’s memory, honouring his unbreakable call to be inventive and not to follow the well-beaten track.

The curtain, adorned with a giant sunflower, rises to a scene-setting ensemble anthem, Yorkshire, that resonates all the more in the county’s capital before Brett’s Annie sings the first part of a narrative song in three sections interwoven with further songs and scenes.

Each section tells John’s back story, accompanied by vignettes at home, in the village hall, at the hospital, that capture his humour, his spirit, his character, while charting the devastating path of his blood cancer and the creeping dread of what is to be lost.

Namely, the minutiae of marriage. Why we connect. Love, familiarity, companionship, routine, shared memories, the stuff of the show’s best song, Scarborough, and its Act Two sequel, Kilimanjaro, sung so powerfully by Brett.

Maureen Nolan’s Ruth, nursing her “Russian friend”, the vodka bottle, in Calendar Girls The Musical. Picture: Jack Merriman

To the wit and wisdom of Alan Ayckbourn, Victoria Wood and Willy Russell’s dramas, add Firth, a master of observant humour, northern nous and pathos, writ large here in both his dialogue and lyrics, accompanied by multi-faceted tunes from ballad king and pop puck Barlow, whose keyboard-led compositions so suit the vogue for story-telling, highly emotional musical theatre.

One by one, we meet Brett’s grieving but resilient Annie; Seager’s agitated, brazen Chris; Weeks’s piano-playing Cora, the vicar’s no-nonsense daughter; Helen Pearson’s reupholstered, flashy Celia, the golf-loving former air hostess; Paul’s Jessie, wise-owl ex-teacher and knitting enthusiast, and Nolan’s reserved Ruth.

Each is a given a character-revealing, story-telling solo number, each met with abundant applause from Wednesday’s enthusiastic matinee crowd. Weeks’s Hallelujah Silent Night is a Christmas blast; Pearson’s confessional So I’ve Had A Little Work Done is both cheeky and defiant; Paul’s What Age Expects is all-knowing, and Carney’s Spring Fete is assertively strict, her Mrs Rebellious, scornful. Bloody-minded ‘Yorkshireness’ is everywhere.

In her interview, Maureen Nolan talked of her role as being about “quality over quantity”, and no song is better delivered than My Russian Friend And I, as Nolan’s Ruth reveals how vodka is more present in her life than her philandering husband. 

Firth’s writing is matched by the chemistry of Brett’s Annie and Campbell’s Clarkey, whose parting has the audience reaching for tissues. Equally as affecting is the bond of Annie and Chris, as the strains and stresses of friendship play out under the utmost duress.

Sunflowers all round: The Calendar Girls, in trademark black, in the celebratory finale. Picture: Jack Merriman

Calendar Girls is about more than the Girls, even if the men’s roles have been reduced to Campbell’s Clarkey and professional debutant Andrew Tuton’s Rod, the photographer with the idea for the now notorious calendar. 

Firth’s best decision is to mirror The Full Monty in making that photoshoot the climax, each month’s calendar girl strip-off greeted with a yet bigger cheer or whoop.

O’Boyle’s direction is equally strong on individual characterisation and teamwork, complemented by Jos Houben’s movement direction on an open-plan set radically different from the 2015 premiere, where Robert Jones built Yorkshire as a green and pleasant Jerusalem with hills made from furniture that turned into doors and prop cupboards too.

Gary McCann favours a more conventional design ideal for touring: a village hall with a kitchen to one side and a Yorkshire Dales skyline beyond the doors and windows, the structure taller to the front, the floor an open expanse to accommodate a piano, a sofa, hospital signage, a meeting of the WI national federation, or a home, whatever each scene demands.

Hurry, hurry, make room on your kitchen calendar to see this Yorkshire story of tears and cheers, grief and loss, spirit and renewal, humour and humanity, cakes and buns, songs and sunflowers.

Performances: 7.30pm, tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york

On your marks, get set, go, go, go, Joseph as York Stage opens audition registration

GO, go, go, Joseph! Audition registration time is here for York Stage’s “dazzling” spring production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

“Alongside our main adult casting, we’re also looking for children aged seven to 12, at the time of the audition, to join our cast,” says producer Nik Briggs.

Auditions will be held this month, beginning with initial adult auditions on January 9 from 7pm, followed by children’s ensemble auditions on January 11 from 7pm and recall auditions on January 14 from 1pm, all at Theatre@41, Monkgate. Nik will aim to release the cast list within 48 hours.

To resister for an audition, go to: www.yorkstage.com/event-details/joseph-2024-auditions. The full audition pack can be found at: www.yorkstage.com/_files/ugd/ce9cd2_86a604a4aafa470e82d1c030ef479fb4.pdf.

Joseph was first written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice at the request of a friend of Andrew’s father, Colet Court School choirmaster Alan Doggett, for the school’s 1968 end-of-term concert.

The full-scale musical will be presented by York Stage at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 12 to 20, at 7.30pm, except Fridays and Sunday; Fridays, 5pm and 8pm, and Sunday matinee, 4pm.

Set in ancient Egypt, this vibrant musical tells the biblical story of Joseph, his coat of many colours, and his prophetic journey as he learns that dreams really can come true. Among the songs are Any Dream Will Do, Go, Go, Go, Joseph, Close Every Door and the Elvis pastiche Song Of The King.

Tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.

REVIEW: York Stage in Festive Feast, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, ends Friday ****

Putting the East into Festive Feast: Finn East with Carly Morton, left, and York Stage newcomer Jess Parnell. All pictures: Kevin Coundon

YORK Stage director Nik Briggs likes to try out different shows for the Christmas season.

Whether staging the company’s one-off pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, in the Covid winter of a socially distanced 2020 at Theatre@41, or his sparkling, exuberant Elf The Musical at the Grand Opera House in 2021, he has come up trumps.

This winter, he is presenting not one, but two shows, back at Theatre@41. By day, Mick Liversidge’s Mr Claus and Joanne Theaker’s Mrs Claus are to be found in their very busy house, preparing for the big day but still finding time to entertain children with 45 minutes of sing-a-longs, Christmas stories, interactive wonderment and Christmas songs aplenty each day until Saturday in Santa’s Sing-A-Long.

By night, diverse York Stage vocal talent is serving up a Festive Feast of Christmas songs, ranging from the traditional chestnuts to modern pop, washed down with lashings of musical theatre favourites, under the musical direction of Adam Tomlinson.

Always on hand with quips or quiz questions at the keyboard, he is accompanied by Rosie Morris on bass and Alex Woolgar on drums to one side of the raised end-on stage in an auditorium bedecked with festive lighting, a red bow and grey backdrop, decorations, ceiling baubles, a wood burner, Christmas stockings, tinsel tassels and assorted Christmas trees. Merry Christmas reads the lettering above the mantlepiece.

Jess Main, left, Hannah Shaw and Katie Melia up front in an ensemble number in York Stage’s Festive Feast

To the other side are gathered 11 singers, who will be a constant presence, either seated on chairs or stools and gazing stage-wards supportively, when not singing, or leaping up to take centre stage in solos, duets, trios or quintets or to share in an ensemble number.

In glittering party frocks, York Stage regulars Katie Melia, Jess Main, Tracey Rea, Cyanne Unamba Oparah, Hannah Shaw and Carly Morton are joined for the first time by Guildhall School of Music & Drama student Jess Parnell.

Alongside the bow-tied, dinner-jacketed Matthew Clarke, Stuart Hutchinson and Jack Hooper is Finn East, all in black at Friday’s performance, adding a Jack Black in School Of Rock vibe to the festive formality around him. Welcome back Finn. So pleased to see you restored to the York Stage ranks; we have missed you, big fella.

The first half opens with That Time Of Year (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure), a chance for all the company to loosen their vocal chords, before Matthew Clarke confirms It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and Finn East reaches for his guitar in Chris Rea’s winter warmer Driving Home For Christmas.

The Festive Feast company, bar Stuart Hutchinson: Hannah Shaw, left, Carly Morton and Matthew Clarke; middle, Jess Main, left, Jack Hooper and Jess Parnell; back, Cyanne Unamba Oparah, Tracy Rea, Katie Melia and Finn East

Musical theatre is represented in the spot-on choice of Turkey Lurkey Time from Burt Bacharach and  Hal David’s Promises, Promises, and those promises are certainly delivered by Carly Morton, Katie Melia and Jess Parnell.

Oh, what fun it is for Hutchinson, Clarke, Jess Main, Cyanne Unamba Oparah and Tracey Rea to sing James Lord Pierpont’s Jingle Bells, surely the jolliest ride to Christmas of all the seasonal favourites.

Rea’s rendition of Christmas Song, full of diva drama, leads off a run of solo numbers. Unamba Oparah, in red, turns up the heat in the cheeky Santa Baby, then Hannah Shaw impressively rides the Weimar cabaret-style twists & turns and mood changes of a woman scorned in Surabaya Santa, from Jason Robert Brown’s 1997 musical Songs For A New World: another inspired pick for a set list with room to surprise and seek out less familiar pearls. Whereupon Jess Parnell announces a new talent to watch with Christmas Lullaby, pure and midnight clear.

Songs from Christmas films are heralded by, what else, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from 1942’s Holiday Inn, in a dreamy duet for a crooning Clarke and Melia. Bags of personality filter through the combative You’re A Mean One Mr Grinch, Jack Hooper and East jousting ever more grouchily with each retort from behind magic light books in the show’s comedic high point.

Hip hippo hooray: Breathless excitement from Katie Melia in I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas

A Christmas at the Movies Medley, arranged delightfully by Tomlinson, sees out the first half in the merriest Christmas spirit.

Bohemian Rhapsody might not be an obvious choice for a Festive Feast, but Queen’s rock-operatic behemoth twice topped the Christmas chart, in 1975 and 1991, a month after Freddie Mercury’s death. What an second-half opener it proves in an ensemble number that showcases the company’s singing chops, nods to the iconic video’s torch-lit operatic Galileo section, then rocks out gloriously.

Another Christmas number one, 1983’s Only You, is transformed from the Flying Pickets’ a cappella sextet to Only Stu, Hutchinson flying solo with all the bleak midwinter yearning of Vince Clarke’s paean to lost love.

Melia seeks out a reviving cocktail mid-song in the breathless rush of the daffy I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas and Shaw’s Holly Jolly Christmas sure is perky and bright. Parnell excels again in the Basque folk carol Gabriel’s Message, to Tomlinson’s minimalist accompaniment, as the mood turns more reflective, and magical too, in the ensemble performance of another folk carol, Gaudete, as popularised in Steeleye Span’s 1973 a cappella hit. Stepping out from behind the keys, Tomlinson extracts spine-tingling choral interplay from his singers.

Carly Morton: Outstanding renditions of River and All I Want For Christmas Is You

Joni Mitchell’s River, from 1971’s Blue album, was never released as a single but has become her second-most covered song. Here, company leading lady Carly Morton’s gorgeous version re-emphasises why, capturing the heartbroken Mitchell’s wish for a river she could skate away on.

Christmas can be a season of tears as much as good cheer, as represented in Festive Feast’s programme, but it feels right that the home straight should accentuate the joys, from Hooper’s It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year to Unamba Oparah and Shaw’s all-female reinvigoration of Baby It’s Cold Outside, a song that some considered to be coercive in its original man-cajoling-woman call-and-respond format.

Jess Main’s A Place Called Home is as warming as that wood burner looks on stage, and now is the time for what Tomlinson calls “a bit of a Christmas banger”. “I’ll try” says Morton, as she starts to climb the vertiginous vocal slopes of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You…and duly hits the peaks, joined in joyful celebration by her fellow singers.

No better way to finish than with We Wish You A Merry Christmas, served a cappella, as York Stage revels in parading vocal prowess beyond the realms of musical theatre.

York Stage in Festive Feast, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York. Further performances, Tuesday to Friday, 8pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk (for Santa’s Sing-A-Long too).

More Things To Do in York and beyond as panto time arrives and Christmas shows abound. Hutch’s List No. 50, from The Press

Me babbies, me bairns, me Berwick: Berwick Kaler’s dame, Dotty Dullaly, in Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse, his third Grand Opera House pantomime. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

‘TIS the season for pantomime as three start at the same time amid a glut of Christmas shows, from kitchen disco to classic rock, as Charles Hutchinson reports.  

York pantomimes at the treble: Rowntree Players in Cinderella, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today until next Saturday, except Monday; Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until January 7 2024; Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse, Grand Opera House, tonight until January 6

ROWNTREE Players “rollicking pantomime” director Howard Ella is joined in the writing team for the first time by comic Gemma McDonald, who will be playing Buttons alongside Sara Howlett’s Cinderella, Laura Castle’s Fairy Flo and the baddie trio of Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Wicked Queen, York ghost walk host Jamie McKeller’s Cassandra and Michael Cornell’s Miranda.

James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger and Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal’s fourth collaboration with Evolution Productions goes green with Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap and CBeebies’ James Mackenzie’s villainous Luke Backinanger joining returnee Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott, Anna Soden’s Dave the Cow, Mia Overfield’s Jack and Matthew Curnier’s very silly Billy in Jack And The Beanstalk.

Dowager dame Berwick Kaler tackles Robinson Crusoe for the first time in his 43rd York panto and third at the GOH. Jake Lindsay takes the title role alongside the Ouse crew’s regulars, Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or 01904 501935 (last few tickets); yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or 01904 623568; atgtickets.com/york.

Matheea Ellerby: Shining as Sparkle in Pocklington Arts Centre’s The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas

Debut of the week: The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas, Pocklington Arts Centre, until December 16

WRITER Elizabeth Godber and director Jane Thornton are at the helm of Pocklington Arts Centre’s inaugural in-house production: the children’s story of Jingle, Sparkle and Daredevil Dave, who have gingerbread to cook, peas to find and shoes to make. But who gives the Elves their Christmas? Surely they too deserve a break? Dylan Allcock, Jade Farnill and professional debut-making Matheea Ellerby star. Show times and tickets: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Cooking up her hits with Christmas trimmings in her Kitchen Disco at York Barbican

Yuletide on the dancefloor: Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Christmas Kitchen Disco, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm

WHAT began as a lockdown online sensation from Sophie Ellis Bextor’s kitchen turned into her 2022 Kitchen Disco tour. Now she follows up Cooking Vinyl’s June release of her seventh studio album, Hana, with her Christmas Kitchen Disco tour for 2023. Hits from throughout her career will be combined with festive classics, served in her seasonal disco style. Tickets update: Sold out. Could be murder on the dancefloor to acquire one now. Box office for returns only: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Mostly Autumn: Christmas classic rock at The Crescent

Homecoming for Christmas: Mostly Autumn Christmas Show!, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm

BEFORE heading off to Belgium and the Netherlands next week, York classic rock band Mostly Autumn play a home-city Christmas show heavily influenced by 1970s’ progressive rock, trad folk and, increasingly, contemporary influences after 28 years together led by guitarist Bryan Josh.

Meanwhile, York folk-covers, busker rock’n’roll troupe Hyde Family Jam have sold out both Thursday and Friday’s Christmas Party gigs, but tickets are available for Tuesday’s 7.30pm double bill of folk trio The Magpies and York singer-songwriter Dan Webster. Box office: thecrescentyork.

Bootleg Beatles: Get back to York Barbican on Wednesday

Tribute show of the week: Bootleg Beatles, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

PERFECT timing for the Bootleg Beatles to return to York this Christmas with their nostalgic whirlwind trip through the Fab Four Sixties, after the reissue of the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ compilations and especially the chart-topping renaissance of Now And Then.

And yes, that reactivated ghost of a John Lennon song will feature in a set combining the then and the now as Steve White’s Paul, Tyson Kelly’s John, Steve Hill’s George and Gordon Elsmore’s Ringo re-create the sound and look of each Beatles’ phase in fastidious detail, accompanied by a brass and string orchestra. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

A mouse on skis in A Townmouse Christmas at Fairfax House, York

Mouse in the house: A Townmouse Christmas, Fairfax House, Castlegate, York, until January 7, 10.30am to 4.30pm, last entry 4pm

FAIRFAX House’s 2022 festive exhibition, A Townmouse Christmas, returns this winter with double the magic and double the mice, causing even more mayhem and mischief amid the Georgian Christmas festivities.

Hundreds of merry mouse guests can be spotted swinging from the ceiling and bursting out of drawers as they play among the 18th century décor, festive foliage and displays of Georgian Christmas traditions. Tickets: fairfaxhouse.co.uk.

Hands up who’s coming to town: Santa Claus looks forward to York Stage’s Santa’s Sing-a-Long

Busiest company of the week: York Stage presents Santa’s Sing-a-Long, Wednesday to December 23; Festive Feast, December 15, 16, 19 to 22, 8pm, both at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

JOIN Mr and Mrs Claus in their busy home as they prepare for the big day, entertaining children with 45 minutes of sing-a-longs, Christmas stories, interactive wonderment and Christmas songs aplenty. Santa has a Christmas book for every child to take away to read on Christmas Eve. Show times and tickets: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

At night, York Stage vocal talent, accompanied by Adam Tomlinson and his band, dishes up a Festive Feast of Christmas songs, ranging from the traditional to modern pop, plus lashings of musical theatre favourites.

On song will be Katie Melia, Jess Main, Tracey Rea, Matthew Clarke, Cyanne Unamba-Oparah, Carly Morton, Finn East, Jack Hooper, Hannah Shaw, Stuart Hutchinson and York Stage debutant Jess Parnell. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Mike Paul-Smith: Musical director of Down For The Count at the Royal Hall, Harrogate

Christmas in full swing: Down For The Count, Swing Into Christmas, Royal Hall, Harrogate, December 16, 7.30pm

MIKE Paul-Smith trained as a doctor but is now principal conductor of London vintage orchestra Down For The Count, specialists in bringing jazz’s Swing Era back to life, in this case with a festive focus.

Paul-Smith and arranger Simon Joyner re-create the music of Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and many more in a luscious 30-piece orchestral setting, evoking Capitol Studios recordings. Cue original arrangements of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting) and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, alongside Let’s Face The Music And Dance and S’Wonderful. Box office: 01423 50211 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Reopening of the week: Victorian Christmas at York Castle Museum, Eye of York, until January 7 2024

Story Craft Theatre’s Cassie Vallance and Jane Bruce with their Museum Mice at York Castle Museum

YORK Castle Museum’s Victorian Kirkgate street has reopened for a magical Yuletide experience full of activities and performances for all ages.

Highlights include Chris Cade’s Scrooge shows; a Victorian green-clad Father Christmas; carol singing on Sundays, and Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance’s Story Craft Theatre bringing cute Museum Mice to life with puppets, games and family fun, followed by a craft activity on several weekdays. To book tickets: https://beta.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/york-castle-museum/admission-tickets

More Things To Do in and around York? Here come Halloween screams and Noises Off. Hutch’s List No. 44, from The Press

Noises Off: Michael Frayn’s on-stage and off-stage comedy on York Theatre Royal’s main stage from Tuesday. Picture: Pamela Raith

HALLOWEEN films and double bills, classic comedy and a time-travelling York legend, a Disney deep freeze and a punk/jazz collision help Charles Hutchinson leave behind October for November frights and delights.  

Play of the week: Noises Off, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

MATTHEW Kelly, Liza Goddard and Simon Shepherd lead the cast in Theatre Royal Bath’s touring revival of Michael Frayn’s riotous Noises Off, directed by Lindsay Posner, who staged Richard III and Romeo And Juliet for York’s first season of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre productions in 2018.

Structured as a play within a play, this cherished 1982 farce follows the on and off-stage antics of a touring theatre company stumbling its way through the fictional farce Nothing On, from shambolic final rehearsals to a disastrous matinee, seen silently from backstage, before the catastrophic final performance. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Nick Naidu and Imogen Wood in Punch Porteous – Lost In Time at All Saints North Street

York legend of the week: Punch Porteous – Lost In Time, All Saints North Street, York, tonight, 7pm.

HAVE you heard or indeed seen the eccentric, evasive York legend Punch Porteous: soldier, philosopher, worker (when absolutely unavoidable), husbandman, connoisseur of ale and now the subject of poet Robert Powell, creative practitioner Ben Pugh and producer John Beecroft’s “multi-media drama experience”?

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster directs Powell, Nick Naidu and Imogen Wood in Powell’s story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary predicament, lost in time in York. While the city shape-shifts around him, he is catapulted unpredictably into different eras of its history from c.70 to c.2023. Box office: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/punch-porteous-lost-in-time/.

The poster for Navigators Art & Performance’s Punk/Jazz explorations at The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York

Music, poetry and comedy bill of the week: Navigation Art & Performance present Punk Jazz: A Halloween Special, The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York, tonight, 7.30pm

COMPLEMENTING the ongoing Punk/Jazz: Contrasts and Connections exhibition at Micklegate & Fossgate Socials, Navigators Art & Performance bring together energetic York punk band The Bricks;  intense improvisers Teleost; the Neo Borgia Trio, formed for the occasion from a University of York big band; grunge-influenced Mike Ambler and the experimental Things Found And Made.

Taking part too will be firebrand polemical poet Rose Drew and comedians Isobel Wilson and Saeth Wheeler. Box office: https://bit.ly/nav-punkjazz.

The Gildas Quartet: Presenting the String! concerts at the NCEM

Children’s concerts of the week: MishMash presents String!, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, tomorrow, 11.30am and 2pm

THE Gildas Quartet lead tomorrow’s double celebration of the string quartet in informal 40-minute performances featuring a diverse programme from Haydn to Jessie Montgomery, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to Dvorak, and everything in between.

Staged creatively to bring the audience into the music, these fun concerts are suitable for ages seven to 11 and their families. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Community film event of the week: The Witches (PG), Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow, 2.30pm

MAKE It York and The Groves Community Centre team up for a Halloween screening of Robert Zemeckis’s visually innovative 2020 film The Witches. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel, it tells the darkly humorous, heartwarming tale of an orphaned boy who goes to live with his loving Grandma in late-1967 in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis, where they have an run-in with the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway). Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Emily Portman & Rob Harbron: Delving into folk traditions to emerge with a fresh sound

Folk concert of the week: Emily Portman & Rob Harbron, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

EMILY Portman, from The Furrow Collective, and Rob Harbron, who performs with Leveret, Fay Hield and Jon Boden, have formed an inspired collaboration to delve into English folk traditions with an intricately woven contemporary sound.

Portman (voice, banjo and piano) and fellow composer Harbron (concertina, guitar and voice) released their debut album, Time Was Away, last November, comprising eight English folk songs and two 20th century poems set to music. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Chris Green accompanying FW Murnau’s Nosferatu

Halloween screaming/screening of the week: Nosferatu: Live Silent Cinema, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

CHRIS Green’s score was commissioned by English Heritage for an outdoor screening of FW Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist vampire film at Dracula’s spiritual home of Whitby Abbey. Now the composer plays his haunting blend of electronic and acoustic instruments for the first time in York to accompany the first cinematic interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, one that gave birth to the horror movie. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Please Please You’s poster for Steve Gunn’s Rise solo concert

Double bill of the week: Please Please You presents Steve Gunn & Brigid Mae Power, Rise@Bluebird Bakery, Acomb, York, Wednesday, doors 7.30pm

EXPERIMENTAL Brooklyn guitarist and songwriter Steve Gunn’s “forward-thinking” songwriting draws on the blues, folk, ecstatic free jazz and psychedelia, suffused with a raga influence. His website says he is “currently somewhere working on new music”, although York will be the first of 12 solo gigs in Britian, Spain and Poland in November.

Wednesday’s gig will be opened by Irish singer-songwriter Brigid Mae Power, whose latest folk-tinged dreampop album, Dream From The Deep Well, arrived in March. Box office: seetickets.com/event/steve-gunn/rise-bluebird/.

Meet York Stage’s young princesses in Disney’s Frozen Jr

Musical of the week: York Stage in Disney’s Frozen Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

IN a story of true love and acceptance between sisters, Disney’s Frozen Jr follows the journey of Princesses Anna and Elsa, based on the 2018 Broadway and West End musical set in the magical land of Arendelle, with all the Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez songs from the animated film.

Producer Nik Briggs directs a cast led by Megan Pickard, Bea Charlton, Matilda Park and Esther de la Pena as the princesses. Malachi Collins plays the Duke of Weselton, Lottie Marshall, Bulda, and Oliver Lawery, King Agnarr. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

In Focus: Say Owt Slam, with special guest Polarbear, The Crescent, tonight, 7.45pm

Spoken word artist and writer Polarbear: Making an apperance at tonight’s Say Owt Slam at The Crescent, York

SAY Owt, York’s loveably gobby gang of performance  poets, take over The Crescent community venue twice a year for a raucous night of spoken word and poetry in the form of a stellar slam.

Fast, frantic and fun, a slam gives each poet three minutes to wow the audience. Regular host Henry Raby enthuses: “We love doing Say Owt on a Saturday night, because it’s a party! A poetry party!

“Although one poet will be crowned a Say Owt Slam Champion, this isn’t a bitter battle. It’s a celebration as poets bring a variety of styles and forms. In the past, we’ve had tender personal reflections, hilarious laugh-out-loud comedy poems and fiery political tirades.”

Special guest at tonight’s Say Owt Slam in York will be Polarbear. “The last time he graced our city, Polarbear (a.k.a Steven Camden) was supporting Scroobius Pip and Kae Tempest,” says Henry. “He’s an internationally acclaimed spoken word artist and award-winning writer from Birmingham, whose poetry drips with gorgeous storytelling.

“He talks about people and places with a unique ear for language: celebrating the tiny human characteristics.”

Since first stepping on stage in 2004, Polarbear has performed his work and led creative projects from Manchester to Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur to California, as well as featuring on BBC Radio1, 3 and 6Music, attracting 155,000 views on YouTube and releasing a live album on Scroobius Pip’s Speech Development record label.

A few surprises might be in store tonight too. Box office: thecrescentyork.com/events/say-owt-slam-featuring-polarbear/ or on the door.

REVIEW: York Stage in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Grand Opera House, York, moving the earth until Saturday ****

Grace Lancaster at the piano in her role as Carole King in York Stage’s York premiere of Beautiful. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

BEAUTIFUL is “filled with the songs you remember – and a story you’ll never forget”, says Nik Briggs, director and producer of York Stage’s York premiere of The Carole King Musical.

Put another way, there are songs you know but may not know they are by Brooklyn-born Carole, whose story stayed in the background, much like Carole herself did until moving centre stage with Tapestry, before Douglas McGrath wrote the book for the musical. Tony and Grammy awards have ensued.

Leeds Grand Theatre played host to the first British tour in June 2018, and now Briggs delivers a sparkling York production every note as enjoyable, as lushly musical and, typical of Briggs, visually impactful too, with a wonderful lead performance by Grace Lancaster, a York-raised triple threat of singer, musician and actress.

McGrath’s book does not reveal the full tapestry – King’s flop 1970 debut album, Writer,  is as absent as James Taylor – but it wholly captures the spirit, courage and resilience of her constant creativity that blossomed as a teenager, told here with warmth, wit and charm, pathos too, and bursts of frank Jewish humour in her exchanges with her wise, if cautious mother, Genie Klein (Sandy Nicholson, perfect casting), a Manhattan teacher who would prefer her daughter to follow that career path too.

Teenagers in love: Grace Lancaster’s Carole King and Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin in Beautiful. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Bookended by Carole’s celebrated performance at Carnegie Hall, with Lancaster at the grand piano, Beautiful’s storyline opens with ordinary schoolgirl Carole Klein writing incessantly at 16, landing her first songwriting deal with Donnie Kirshner (an urbane Bryan Bounds) as Carole King.

Utilising cast members for scenery moves, Beautiful cracks on in a whirl, much like Carole’s songwriting success. She meets lyricist and putative playwright Gerry Goffin (Frankie Bounds), her fellow teen, and is pregnant and married at 17. What a productive partnership!

The hits keep piling up from their Kirshner-administered songwriting factory for the likes of The Drifters (Faisal Khodabukus, Christopher Knight, Munya Mswaka and Baz Zakeri) and The Shirelles( Cyanne Unamba Oparah, Maria Ghurbal, Nicole Kilama and Lauren Charlton-Matthews, who also plays Janelle Woods). Delightful performances all round.

Even their babysitter (Kilama’s Little Eva) hits the chart peak with The Loco-Motion – and everyone’s doing The Loco-Motion in black and white in the show’s best ensemble choreography by Danielle Mullan-Hill.

Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin, centre, performing Pleasant Valley Sunday in an ensemble number in Beautiful. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Unlike too many jukebox musicals, McGrath’s script does more than link the songs, telling the story behind them with breezy dialogue, yet giving due space to life-changing events, as the story moves between recording studio, record company offices, the home and the concert hall.

If Beautiful underplays the ugly side of the story, the restless, unfaithful Goffin’s straying from the happy-at-home Carole, Frankie Bounds (in his Marlon Brando white vest) seeks to invest the role with more darkness of the soul. He is no pantomime villain, even though one stage entry is greeted with a boo from one voice in the dress circle at Saturday’s matinee.

For contrast with the brooding Bounds’s increasingly troubled Goffin and the downward spiral of the Goffin-King marriage, the friendly rivalry at Kirshner’s 1650 Broadway building with fellow songwriting partners Barry Mann (Alex Hogg) and Cynthia Weil (Harriet Yorke) is depicted with lightness and plenty of laughter, as they progress, step by slower-than-Gerry and-Carole step to a number one hit (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling) and wedding bells. Hogg’s somewhat hangdog, anxious Mann is ever humorous; Yorke’s Weil more spiky.

Canny operator: Bryan Bounds as recording company boss Donny Kirshner. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Throughout, Lancaster conquers York. What a talent! Leeds Conservatoire tutor by day, New York Brass Band saxophonist and clarinet player by night, she has polished up her piano playing too to complement her delightful singing voice, as uplifting and moving as King’s, especially on Tapestry’s songs from the broken heart.

From precociously gifted yet demure teenager, to diligent young mother, to solo singer-songwriter, embracing the spotlight at last after such hurt, Lancaster evokes all facets of the King character. Her renditions of It’s Too Late and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman are the crowning glory for King and Lancaster alike.

You will feel the earth move, thanks not only to Lancaster, but also to Briggs’s potent direction, full of drama, emotion and humour, to go with his snappy, snazzy costumes and Phoebe Kilvington’s hair and make-up, propelled by the fabulous playing of Stephen Hackshaw’s band, always in view at the back.

Tickets for Tuesday to Saturday’s 7.30pm evening performances and Saturday’s 2.30pm matinee are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.

More Things To Do in York and beyond when feeling the earth move. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 37 for 2023, from The Press

Gracing the stage: Grace Lancaster in the role of Carole King in York Stage’s York premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

FROM Carole King’s beautiful songs to Velma Celli’s pop queens, an artistic family to a poet’s biscuits, Charles Hutchinson adds to the September sunshine as cause for heading out and about.

Musical of the week: York Stage in Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Friday to September 23

YORK, are you ready to feel the Earth move, asks director Nik Briggs, ahead of the York premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. “This show has taken the world by storm, and for good reason, with its inspiring story of Carole King, a woman who rose to fame in the music industry during a time when female songwriters were few and far between”.

Singer, actress and pianist Grace Lancaster takes the lead role in this celebration of perseverance, passion and the power of music to unite. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Damon Gough: Marking 25 years of Badly Drawn Boy

Treasured songwriter of the week: Badly Drawn Boy, The Crescent, York, Monday, 7.30pm

DAMON Gough is undertaking his Something To Tour About: 25 Years Of Badly Drawn Boy tour, playing a sold-out standing show in York with Liam Frost in support.

Chorlton singer, songwriter, guitarist and piano player Gough, who released Banana Skin Shoes as his first studio album in ten years in May 2020, first made his mark with the Mercury Prize-winning The Hour Of Bewilderbeast in 2000. Eight albums on, he has plenty to tour about.

Rosie Jones: Unadulterated joy in Triple Threat at Leeds City Varieties and York Theatre Royal

Comedy gig of the week: Rosie Jones: Triple Threat, Leeds City Varieties Music Hall, Wednesday, 8pm; York Theatre Royal, Thursday, 8pm

COMEDIAN Rosie Jones’s show is guaranteed to be full of unapologetic cheekiness, nonsensical fun and unadulterated joy from the triple threat herself.

Theatre@41 honorary patron Rosie has hosted Channel 4’s travel series Rosie Jones’ Trip Hazard and Mission: Accessible and made numerous appearances on The Last Leg, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Hypothetical, Mock The Week, The Ranganation and Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back. Box office: Leeds, 0113 243 0808 or leedsheritagetheatres.com; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. 

Jessica Steel: Powerhouse vocals at A Night To Remember

Fundraiser of the week: Big Ian Presents A Night To Remember, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm

HUGE frontman Big Ian Donaghy hosts his annual charity fundraiser as George Hall leads a 20-piece All Star House Band with a 12-strong brass section in a night of cover versions of Kate Bush, Bill Withers, Take That, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner, Queen, Wham!, Elvis and more.

Taking part will be Jessica Steel, Heather Findlay, Beth McCarthy, Graham Hodge, The Y Street Band, Boss Caine, Gary Stewart, Simon Snaize, Annie Donaghy, Kieran O’Malley, Las Vegas Ken, the Huge Brass Boys, Hands & Voices, musicians from York Music Forum and Jessa Liversidge’s fully inclusive group Singing For All. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

John Hegley: Biscuits all round at Stillington Mill

Poet of the week: John Hegley: Biscuit Of Destiny, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Friday, 7.30pm

POET John Hegley, star of radio, television and school assemblies, heads north with a clutch of new verses, a few older favourites and a cardboard camel with a moving jaw.

The biscuits in the show derive Romantic poet John Keats’s phrase: “a scarcity of buiscuit”. Not the sort of phrase nor spelling you expect from a Romantic poet, notes Hegley, who delves into the more eccentric side of Keats, alongside everyday goings-on in the Hegley homes of now and yesteryear. Expect drawings of elephants, myths, discos, daleks, optional community singing and the search for a sense of self-worth. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/939591.

Velma Celli: Reigning over York Theatre Royal on Friday in a celebration of British pop royalty, God Save The Queens. Picture: Sophie Eleanor Photography

Brit icons of the week: Velma Celli’s God Save The Queens, York Theatre Royal, Friday, 7.30pm

YORK cabaret superstar Velma Celli, the vocal drag diva alter ego of musical theatre actor Ian Stroughair, introduces her new celebration of British pop royalty.

Accompanied by Scott Phillips’s band, Velma’s night of rapturous music, risqué comedy and fabulous entertainment features the songs of Adele, Amy Winehouse, Annie Lennox, Florence Welch, Leona Lewis, The Spice Girls, Kate Bush, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black and Bonnie Tyler, plus a tribute to Sinead O’Connor.

Katya Apekisheva: Russian-born pianist playing at York Chamber Music Festival, sometimes solo, sometimes in the company of string players

Festival of the week: York Chamber Music Festival, September 15 to 17

FESTIVAL artistic director and cellist Tim Lowe is joined by John Mills and Jonathan Stone, violins, Hélene Clément and Simone van der Giessen, violas, Jonathan Aasgaard, cello, Billy Cole, double bass, and British-based Russian pianist Katya Apekisheva for three days of concerts.

Highlights include Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op. 13, Dvořák’s String Sextet, Elgar’s late Piano Quintet, Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Brahms’s Cello Sonata No. 1 and Schubert’s last Piano Sonata in B flat major. For the full programme and venues, head to: ycmf.co.uk/2023-programme. Box office: 01904 658338 or ycmf.co.uk.

Ewa Salecka: Conducting Prima Vocal Ensemble in Songs From The Heart

Choral concert of the month: Prima Vocal Ensemble, Songs From The Heart, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, September 30, 7.30pm

ARTISTIC director and producer Ewa Salecka leads York choir Prima Vocal Ensemble in an intimate evening of contemporary classical and popular choral music with Greg Birch at the piano.

Works by Randall Thompson, René Clausen, Stephen Paulus and Elizabeth Alexander will be followed by a second half of moving and energetic arrangements of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Freddie Mercury songs. Ahead of their 2024 New York City reunion, Prima perform a Christopher Tin number too. Box office: primavocalensemble.com.

Copyright of The Press, York

Hannah Arnup and Ben Arnup with bowls by Mick Arnup and a bronze dog by Sally Arnup at the Arnup Centenary exhibition, opening today at Pyramid Gallery

In Focus: Exhibition launch of the week

Hannah Arnup, Ben Arnup, Tobias Arnup and Vanessa Pooley, Arnup Centenary, Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, 11am today to October 30

THE Arnups, two generations of artists with roots in York, work in pottery, painting, wildlife sculpture, figurative sculpture and ceramic sculpture. The late Mick and Sally Arnup set up home and studio in Holtby in the 1960s, and three of their family, Ben, Hannah and Tobias, have followed careers in the arts.

This exhibition by the three second generation artists and Tobias’s wife, Vanessa Pooley, coincides with the centenary of their father’s birth in 1923. In recognition of their parents’ influence on their own artistic journeys, a few pieces by Mick and Sally will complement the new works.

Gallery visitors can expect to see new work by ceramist Ben Arnup, who specialises in slab-made flattened boxes and vessels that play with the viewer’s sense of form and space, alongside Hananh Arnup’s wheel-thrown bowls and plates with sgraffito decoration and Vanessa Pooley’s gently curvy female forms in ceramic and bronze. On the walls, the still life paintings by Tobias Arnup will sit alongside ceramic wall pieces by Ben and Hannah.

Ben’s intriguing Trompe L’Oeil forms are well known to collectors of ceramics and visitors to Pyramid Gallery. Formerly a landscape designer, he creates shapes that explore drawn perspective using coloured clay slab-constructed stoneware, “having fun with the way we see form”.

After studying sculpture at Kingston Art School and specialising in ceramics at Goldsmith College, London, Hannah has lived and worked for much of her adult life in Ireland where she owns and runs Ballymorris Pottery. Latterly, she has set up a new studio in the family home in Holtby near York, re- purposed as a community of artists’ studios.

Vanessa works with bronze and ceramic to create sculpture of mostly female forms with an individual and distinctive style that takes inspiration from the work of Henri Laurens and his studio assistant Balthazar Lobo, as well as Marino Marinni and the sculptures of Picasso and Matisse. Her work is to be found in collections around the world.

Tobias studied at Camberwell School of Art and went on to teach at Blackheath School of Art before a change in career to be an art therapist.

“I was helping run a course at Blackheath School of Art and I found I was more interested in the people that sat in my office at lunchtime complaining about their fellow students or about their parents or about not getting their art right or wondering what they were going to do, or who were just not really coping with life very well,” he says.

After his training, Tobias started an art therapy department at Holloway Prison, which was in existence until the women’s prison closed in 2016. 

During his 35-year career, he also worked in secure units in mental health hospitals, finding that art could engage traumatised people when other methods of therapy had not.  

In his art, Tobias has evolved an individual style that begins with a black outline of still life objects and flowers, drawn in ink with a goose quill. He then adds colour in gouache, filling the spaces between or on top of the black lines.

Depending on what he feels is necessary, he might add more black ink lines, or redo the original lines, then more colour and maybe finish with more black lines. This layering of lines and colour is done slowly and carefully in a process that he describes as meditative. The result is intriguing, distinctive and joyful, with pastel colours contrasting with the black outlines, that have a bold and purposeful feel mixed with occasional random unevenness.

Gallery owner Terry Brett has worked with Ben and Hannah for many years, as well as with Mick and Sally, and looks forward to his inaugural showing of paintings by Tobias and bronze and ceramic sculpture by Vanessa.

“‘For me, this is one of the most satisfying moments in my time as an exhibition curator,” he says. “Not only for the quality of the work and diversity of styles, but also because I am pleased to be representing Vanessa and Tobias for the first time.

“To be hosting the family with an exhibition that is paying respect to Mick and Sally in a collective show is a very special moment for both myself and the gallery.”

Tobias Arnup with his gouache and ink paintings

Tobias Arnup on his artistic practice

THE play between line and colour has always been central to Tobias’s work as a painter.
“Undoubtedly my main influence of this has been that of my father, Mick,” he says. “However, I still remember the impact of being taught by the wonderful art master at Pocklington School, Nigel Billington, who encouraged a proper attention to composition and to drawing, particularly with ink.

“It was hardly a surprise when I chose Camberwell School of Art, in London, as the place to study for my Fine Art degree and where I was lucky enough to teach drawing myself for a while.”

Only relatively recently has Tobias experimented more with different media. “For many years my favourite was egg tempera, which I learnt about at Camberwell and used to
mix up myself,” he says.

“Depending on how much it was diluted, tempera has both the ‘gloopy’ quality of gouache and the richness of a watercolour glaze. It was working on paper, though, that has allowed me to work more flexibly.

“Using water-soluble pencil, Indian ink, watercolour and gouache – although not necessarily in that order – I seem to be forever swinging between creating chaos and trying to excerpt some sort of order on the composition.”

He continues: “These days the chaos of my ink marks is being brought under some sort of control by the flat, mat gouache. When things get a bit too tidy, out comes the ink bottle again.

“There cannot have been many options for school teachers at the time. Mr Billington’s huge
set-ups suited me perfectly, however. They were there ready for me – a constant resource,
I realise now, that is currently replicated in my own studio.

“Although they stray into more abstract concerns, I regard all these works as still-lives. When I am a bit stuck, it’s the ink and the goose-feather quills that I turn to, although I have used up my store of Chinese geese quills that I collected up from the garden when I was young.”

Pyramid Gallery opening hours are: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. The displays can be viewed at pyramidgallery.com too.

REVIEW: York Stage in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday ****

New face in town: Ryan Addyman in his York Stage debut as Jamie New in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition. All pictures: Matthew Kitchen

MADE in Yorkshire, “the hit musical for today” began life at Sheffield Crucible Theatre in 2017. Now comes its York premiere in the Teen Version with a cast of 13 to 19-year-olds led by Ryan Addyman, 17, from Knaresborough, in his York Stage debut.

Inspired by the Firecracker documentary Jamie: Drag Queen At 16, composer Dan Gillespie Sells (from Horsham’s finest pop practitioners The Feeling) and writer/lyricist Tom MacRae worked their magic from an original idea by director and co-writer Jonathan Butterell.

What emerged was the completion of a populist trilogy of Sheffield comedy dramas: the defiant spirit and sheer balls of The Full Monty, the classroom politics and fledgling frustrations of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, and now Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the unapologetic story of the boy who sometimes to be wants to be a girl, wear a dress to the school prom and be a drag queen.

Since Jamie’s blossoming, two on-topic television shows have had a stellar impact: the couture and coiffeur catwalk and cat-talk contests of RuPaul’s Drag Race on the Beeb and the sass, too-cool-for-school dress sense and multi-cultural diversity of Sex Education, the Netflix binge-watch through lockdowns.

Sex Education shares Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s bold humour, jagged wit and spot-on social awareness as a barometer of our changing times and attitudes towards gender, bigotry, bullying, homophobia, absentee fathers and the right to self-expression.

Jaia Howland’s teacher Miss Hedge

Meet the Year 11 pupils of Mayfield School, a typical comprehensive classroom of 16-year-olds full of hopes and aspirations, filtered through the realities of life in a northern town.

Among them is Addyman’s Jamie New, from a Sheffield council estate, but feeling out of place, so restless at sweet 16 to be “something and someone fabulous”. After Billy Liar’s Billy Fisher and Kes’s Billy Casper, here is another young Yorkshire dreamer in need of escape from the grey grime, this time in a classic teen rebel story, told from the teen perspective, but rooted in kitchen-sink northern drama rather than the white-toothed gleam of an American high-school musical.

It does nevertheless share one characteristic with the all-American Hairspray, for example, by giving the adult viewpoint in spades. Step forward Jamie’s world-weary, self-sacrificial, ever supportive mum Margaret (Maggie Wakeling, in terrific voice in her heartfelt ballads, If I Met Myself Again and especially He’s My Boy, the show’s most powerful vocal performance).

Always on the lookout for a bargain and ready with a comforting word or a putdown for authority is Margaret’s no-nonsense, cheery best friend Ray (an amusing Eve Clark), and further support comes from dress-shop boss Hugo/veteran drag act Loco Chanelle (resolute Sam Roberts).

Giving Jamie grief are his stay-away, mullet-haired Dad (Tyler Costello) and narrow-minded teacher Miss Hedge (Jaia Rowland).

Maggie Wakeling’s Margaret, Jamie’s mum

The Teen Edition necessitates giving these adult roles to young actors but all respond with performances that convey the age gap, not least in their singing performances.

As for the teens playing teens, not only Addyman’s Jamie scores high marks among the classroom performers, so too do Jack Hambleton, outstanding yet again on a York stage as the everybody-hating, self-loathing bully Dean Paxton, the big fish soon to lose his small pond, and Erin Childs’ quietly impressive, self-assured doctor-in-waiting Pritti Pasha, whose solo number It Means Beautiful is an Act II highlight.

Above all else, everyone will be talking about Addyman’s Jamie. A new face to York audiences, he is Jamie to the manner born: high of voice and heels, a shaker and a heartbreaker, a lippy kid in lip gloss, confident on the swan surface but naïve and vulnerable, wanting to strut before he can walk. Ugly In This Ugly World is his best number, almost matched by his kitchen duet with Wakeling’s Margaret, My Man, Your Boy.

Serious points are made in MacRae’s book, where the multiple confrontations carry both poignancy and punch, and you will love the Yorkshireness of it all: the blunt, knowing humour and the rough-rouge glamour of drag queens Sandra Bollock (George Hopwood), Tray Sophistacay (George Connell) and Laika Virgin (Harvey Jardine), Sheffield’s answer to the travelling trio in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.

Gillespie Sells’ tunes and MacRae’s lyrics are a delight too, led off by the immediately infectious And You Don’t Even Know It, through the irresistible title number to the show-closing defining statement of Out Of The Darkness (A Place Where We Belong).

Sam Roberts’s dress-shop owner Hugo recalling Loco Chanelle’s days as a drag diva

Musical director Jessica Viner works with a recorded score, but never sits back, always in view of the hugely energetic cast from the mezzanine level. Emily Taylor’s choreography is as vigorous and fun as ever, relished by leads, supports and ensemble alike. 

Jo Street’s wardrobe and Phoebe Kilvington’s make-up and hair add to the spectacle, while the design combines glamour with grit: the John Cooper Studio is bedecked in shiny tinfoil and gold leaf with room for Margaret’s kitchen, the classroom and Hugo’s shop to glide on and off.

Nik Briggs’s direction goes to the top of the class, capturing the spirit of a show that “celebrates being yourself and finding a place where you belong”. Individuality and teamwork in tandem, the place where everyone here belongs is on stage, once more emphasising why the arts should never be undervalued in young lives, why there should always be a place for the Jamies of this world to express themselves.

How apt that this thrilling, uplifting production’s weekend climax should coincide with York Pride.

York Stage in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm, sold out; Saturday, 2.30pm (last few tickets) and 7.30pm, sold out. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond in a mighty crowded calendar. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 22 for 2023, from The Press, York

Rob Auton (self portrait): Seeking a crowd in Pocklington and Leeds

WHICH shows will draw the crowds? Charles Hutchinson prepares to join the merry throng across the summer beyond the Bank Holiday sunshine.

Crowd pleaser: Rob Auton, The Crowd Show, Pocklington Arts Centre, tonight, 8pm; Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds, June 5, 7.30pm

CHARMINGLY offbeat Pocklington-raised poet, stand-up comedian, actor, author, artist and podcaster Rob Auton heads back north from his London abode on his 2023 leg of The Crowd Show tour to play Pock and Leeds.

After his philosophical observations on the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleep, hair, talking and time, now he discusses crowds, people and connection in a night of comedy and theatre “suitable for anyone who wants to be in the crowd for this show”. Box office: Pocklington, 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk; Leeds, hydeparkbookclub.co.uk.

Antler alert: Comedian Tim Vine in his alarming headwear for Breeeep! at the Grand Opera House, York

“Witness the stupidity” comedy gig of the week: Tim Vine: Breeeep!, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 7.30pm

EXPECT a mountain of nonsense, one-liners, stupid things, crazy songs and wobbly props, plus utter drivel, advises punslinger Tim Vine.

“Tim’s like the manager of a sweet shop where all the sweets are replaced by jokes, and he serves them in a random order,” says the show blurb. “So it’s like a sweet shop where the manager just throws sweets at you. Enjoy the foolishness and laugh your slip-ons off.” Sold out; for returns only, check atgtickets.com/york.

Amy May Ellis: North York Moors singer-songwriter promotes her debut album at The Crescent

Homecoming of the week: Amy May Ellis, The Crescent, York, tomorrow, 8pm

NOW moved to Bristol, singer-songwriter Amy May Ellis was raised on a remote dale on the North York Moors, playing her early gigs at The Band Room, Low Mill, Farndale.

Steeped in the culture, scenery, folklore and wildlife of the countryside that surrounded and shaped her as a child, she wrote her debut album Over Ling And Bell – named after two types of heather – in a secluded moorland farmhouse, mostly alone but sometimes with friends. Released on Lost Map Records on May 12, it is available on digital platforms and limited-edition vinyl. She will be joined by her new band for tomorrow’s gig, when North Yorkshire-London combo Wanderland support. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Ryan Addyman as Jamie New, right, in York Stage’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Musical of the week: York Stage in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees

JAMIE New lives on a council estate in Sheffield with his loving mum. At 16, he doesn’t quite fit in. He may be terrified about the future, but Jamie is going to be a sensation.

The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s coming-of-age musical follows the true-life story of Sheffield schoolboy Jamie Campbell as he overcomes prejudice and bullying to step out of the darkness to become a drag queen. York Stage artistic director Nik Briggs directs. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Sarah Dean: Plucking strings at the City of York Roland Walls Folk Weekend at the Black Swan Inn

City of York Roland Walls Folk Weekend, Black Swan Folk Club, Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, June 2 to 4

TOM Bliss and The Burning Bridges open the three-day folk fiesta at the Black Swan on Friday night, to be followed by afternoon and evening sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

Among the weekend’s acts will be: Stan Graham; Eddie Affleck; The Barbarellas; Blonde On Bob; Clurachan; Union Jill; White Sail; Edwina Hayes; Minster Stray Morris; Caramba; The Old Humpy Band; Tommy Coyle; Paula Ryan; Judith Haswell; Sarah Dean; Chris Euesden and Ramshackle. Full details at: blackswanfolkclub.org.uk/programme.cfm.

Alexander Ashworth: Baritone soloist for Elgar’s Dream Of Gerontius at York Minster. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

Purgatory awaits: University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra, Elgar’s Dream Of Gerontius, York Minster, June 14, 7.30pm

THE University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra perform Edward Elgar’s Dream Of Gerontius with soloists Joshua Ellicott (Gerontius), Kitty Whately and Alexander Ashworth, conducted by John Stringer.

Elgar dramatically sets to music Cardinal Newman’s poem depicting the journey of Gerontius’s soul from his deathbed to judgement before God. On his way, he encounters angels and demons, colourfully portrayed by the chorus, before settling finally in purgatory. Box office: 01904 322439 or yorkconcerts.co.uk.

The poster for City Screen Picturehouse’s outdoor cinema season, Movies In The Moonlight, at York Museum Gardens in July

Outdoor cinema: City Screen Picturehouse presents Movies In The Moonlight, York Museum Gardens, Museum Street, York, July 14 to 16, from 7.30pm

MUSEUM Gardens play host to City Screen Picturehouse for three nights of summertime open-air film action, opening with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, starring Chris Pratt and Anya Taylor-Joy on July 14. Next come Mamma Mia!, featuring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, on July 15 and Steven Spielberg’s 1975 shark attack classic Jaws on July 16.

All these outdoor cinema events start at 7.30pm. Films will be shown at sundown; drinks and snacks will be on offer but guests can bring picnics. Box office: picturehouses.com/outdoor.

Ruby Wax: Presenting the latest Wax work, I’m Not As Well As I Thought, at the Grand Opera House, York, this autumn

Looking ahead: Ruby Wax: I’m Not As Well As I Thought, Grand Opera House, York, September 28, 7.30pm

AFTER four years, American-British actress, comedian, writer, television personality and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax, 70, follows up her How To Be Human show with a stage adaptation of her May 11 book, I’m Not As Well As I Thought, promising her rawest, darkest, funniest show yet. 

In 2022, Wax began a search to find meaning, booking a series of potentially life-changing journeys: swimming with humpback whales in the Dominican Republic; joining a Christian monastery; working in a Greek refugee camp; undertaking a silent 30-day mindfulness retreat in California. Even greater change marked her inner journey. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Tom Allen: Completely and utterly at York Barbican

Recommended but too late for tickets

ACERBIC comedian Tom Allen’s Completely gig at York Barbican on Sunday at 8pm has sold out. Completely.

Under discussion will be Allen’s life updates, his vegetable patch and the protocol for inviting friends with children for dinner.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies into Grand Opera House with York Stage at the wheel

Alex Papachristou’s Baron Bomburst and Jackie Cox’s Baroness in York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

THE Sherman brothers’ fantasmagorical musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, takes to the air at the Grand Opera House, York, from tonight.

Produced and directed by Nik Briggs, with musical direction by Adam Tomlison and choreography by Damien Poole, York Stage’s production of Ian Fleming’s story of madness, mayhem and magic features not only a big cast but a quartet of cars too.

“One of them is parked in the en-suite! That’s Baron Bomburst’s car, more of a vintage, turn-of-the-century car than Chitty, slightly more primitive, that we’ve brought here from Brighton,” says Nik. “The Baron wants inventor Caractacus Potts to fit it with a ‘float and fly’ features.

“There’s the battered old Chitty that the children find in a junkyard, and the Chitty with the title role, the 16ft long, 6ft wide, four-fendered Chitty, weighing 1,000kg, that magically flies over the Grand Opera House stage. We’ve hired that car from a company down south that built it specially for stage productions.

“We also have a smaller version of Chitty that was created for a production in Malton five or six years ago.”

Adapted from James Bond novelist Fleming’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, written for his son in 1962 and published as three books in 1964, the musical tells the tale of whacky inventor Caractacus Potts (played by Ned Sproston), his two children and the gorgeous Truly Scrumptious (Carly Morton).

Can they outwit bombastic Baron Bomburst (Alex Papachristou), who has decreed that all children be banished from his kingdom? Watch out, here comes the evil Childcatcher (Richard Barker), who will be “popping up, here, there and everywhere, you never know where next”, Nik promises.

Nik Briggs: Producer-director for York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

“Yes, we have the flying car, but at its heart, it’s a really lovely story of Caractacus and his children, who are so imaginative. Even though Chitty is burnt out when they find her, they see designs of the car and that leads them off into a fantasy world, where the Baron is desperate to have the car.

“His wife, the Baroness (Jackie Cox), will do anything to please him and so she sends spies Boris and Goran (Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball) – obviously not the most intelligent of spies – from Vulgaria to retrieve the car from England.

“We have a broad style of playing these characters, with various Germanic and Vulgarian accents rather than a uniform one,” says Nik. “We’ve deliberately allowed everyone to find the fun in their character, so they all have their different styles. It’s almost comedy in the ’Allo ’Allo! style.

“Traditionally you have a fall guy to set up the gag, but with the Baron and Baroness and the spies too, it’s more like being on a see-saw; they’re the fall guy for each other, so anything goes.”

Barlby-raised Alex Papachristou is returning to the York stage, where he first caught the eye,  to take over the role of Baron Bomburst at short notice, heading up from London over the past fortnight for weekend rehearsals, to be followed by tech week.

“They’re ridiculous characters, like a parody of themselves, but it’s also good to see the consequences of the Baron and Baroness’s greed. He’s like a 1910 version of Donald Trump, saying he’s going to make Vulgaria great again!” he says.

“The villains do have a Bond villain quality about them. The Baron doesn’t have a cat but he does have a teddy bear.”

York Stage’s poster artwork for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as Chitty takes to the sky over York

Nik adds: “The Jeremy Sams version of the musical that we’re using does feature the Baron and the Baroness and the two spies a lot more than the 1968 film, so you get the story of Caractacus Potts, his children and Truly Scrumptious, but more of the baddies too.

“It’s also interesting to have a story about a single father. Caractacus is this loving character who will do anything for his children, giving them their creative outlets and liberating them to do whatever they want. When the romance with Truly Scrumptious comes along, they are from two different worlds, but they find love.”

Alex’s Baron will differ from the screen version. “I don’t play him like in the film. I play him as a 33-year-old spoilt young Baron, not a baron in his sixties. Of the roles I’ve played before, he’s quite similar in that way to Herod [performed as a white-faced, cross-dressing vaudeville act in York Stage Musicals’ Jesus Christ Superstar in 2011, when Briggs was Pontius Pilate], but not similar to anyone else,” he says.

“I’ve had to work really hard at this role as he wasn’t a natural fit. I even had Brian Blessed in my head for a while! The humour is more dry, more subtle, than in the film, and these characters are so well written that there’s a lot of elasticity to play around with them: you could really do it 100 ways, but as long as the children in the audience hate you and the adults love you, that’s all that matters!

“On the surface, the Baron and Baroness love each other, but underneath, they can’t stand each other, and it’s good to play someone who has more than one level to their character. These are the parts that are a joy to do and it’s always fun to be the villain.”

York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, today to April 15, 7.30pm nightly except April 9, plus 2.30pm matinees, tomorrow, Saturday, April 12 and 15. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Copyright of The Press, York