York Theatre Royal Studio to reopen with Tutti Frutti, haunting Female Gothic and Nightwalkers tales and Polish soldier’s trials

York playwright Mike Kenny: Updated adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess And The Pea for Tutti Frutti in York Theatre Royal Studio

YORK Theatre Royal Studio will reopen this autumn after lockdown hibernation and temporary use for storage.

The capacity has been reduced from 100 to 71, a Covid-safety measure that means the theatre space will now be head-on only, with seating no longer on the sides.

First to bed into this configuration will be Leeds children’s theatre company Tutti Frutti with York playwright Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Princess And The Pea from October 21 to 26.

Imagine a place where what you see is not what it seems, with forgotten stories and forgotten things, say Tutti Frutti. Imagine princesses who don’t know they are princesses and a prince who doesn’t want to be king. Imagine a real prince, discovering a real princess, and a story that ends happily ever after.

Inside the Museum of Forgotten Things, three musical curators tell the amazing tale of the museum’s artefacts, most notably the mystery of a little green pea and how it ended up there.

Tutti Frutti promise an hour of humour, memorable songs and a romp through every type of princess you could imagine, replete with costumes to match.

“The audience will meet a demanding queen, an array of wannabe princesses and our main characters, an unknown girl, who is blown into the palace by a gust of wind, and an indecisive prince under pressure to find his real princess,” says Mike. “Will he ever find a real princess or his happy-ever-after?”

This show was first made by Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal in 2014 for an extensive tour and Christmas run at the Sheffield Crucible before playing to sell-out audiences in Hong Kong and Singapore in January 2015.

“In the dark between life and death, a haunted woman tells strange and terrifying tales”: Rebecca Vaughan in Female Gothic

Now it returns in a new and updated adaptation by Kenny and the inventive Tutti Frutti in a funny, original, beautiful retelling suitable for children aged three upwards and their families. Evening performances will start at 6pm, complemented by Friday shows at 10am and 1pm, Saturday, 3pm, and Tuesday, 11am and 2pm.

Dyad Productions producer Rebecca Vaughan will perform her adaptation of Female Gothic, directed by Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson on October 28 and 29 at 7.45pm.

In the dark between life and death, a haunted woman tells strange and terrifying tales; eerie stories, dusty and forgotten. Until now. “It’s the Hallowe’en season, so come along and be thrilled by three lost gothic spine-tinglers from the great Victorian female writers,” says Rebecca, who has appeared in such Dyad shows as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Christmas Gothic, I, Elizabeth and Austen’s Women.

Summoning the magic of the contraries, storytellers Jan Blake & TUUP will present Nightwalkers on October 30 at 7.45pm: a night of “disturbing, comedic and poignant tales of ghosts, duppies, jumbies, loogaroos, soucouyants and other supernatural beings that haunt the Caribbean and the Americas”.

Jan Blake, the queen of Afro-Caribbean storytelling, and TUUP – the acronym stands for The Unorthodox, Unprecedented Preacher – will explore the sorcery, shape-shifting and deep magic that has endured to sustain some and punish others through thunderous storytelling designed to raise the roof as well as neck hairs.

In Imagine If Theatre’s new production, My Old Man, on November 18 at 8pm, Michal Piwowarski’s whole world changes when his granddaughter Tasha finally moves out. The school dinner lady becomes his favourite person, a new neighbour moves onto the street and he has to face his biggest battle yet.

Imagine If Theatre allow people to “imagine if” within their own lives through their thought-provoking productions, creating theatre designed to be “inspiring, entertaining and unashamedly honest for intimate audiences”.

They make theatre shows based on the world around them, comprising real stories from real people, and in the case of the heartfelt and humorous My Old Man, that story revolves around the trials and tribulations of Michał, an old, blind Polish soldier.

Full details of the upcoming York Theatre Royal Studio season can be found at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

RhymeNReason ask questions aplenty in Yorkshire short plays at Theatre@41

The artwork for RhymeNReason’s Put On Shorts at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

WHAT was Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with Jimmy Savile? Why did a Yorkshire pensioner try to smuggle a fruit cake through Australian customs? What really happened on day three in the Garden of Eden? How should a perfect murder end in a real cliff hanger?  

Questions, questions, all these questions, will be answered at the RhymeNReason Put On Shorts four-day run at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from tomorrow (29/9/2021).

These funny, thought-provoking short plays by Yorkshire writers David Allison, Steve Brennen, Lisa Holdsworth and Graham Rollason were first performed in Leeds, as part of Slung Low Shorts or Leeds Pub Theatre/Leeds Literature Festival, and at York Theatre Royal Studio at Script Yorkshire’s Page To Stage competition.

“They thoroughly deserve another airing,” says Theatre@41 chair Alan Park. “What better way to mark the beginning of live theatre being back to normal? That is a rhetorical question. Answers on postcards are not required.”

Tickets for the 7.30pm performances on September 29 to October 2 are on sale at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

York Musical Theatre Company say Hooray For Hollywood in escapist November show

Six of the best for Hooray For Hollywood: Paul Laidlaw’s cast for York Musical Theatre Company’s November show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

YORK Musical Theatre Company will head off to Hollywood in November with a desire for escapism from months of pandemic lockdowns.

Devised by director Paul Laidlaw, Hooray For Hollywood’s celebration of songs from Hollywood’s golden age was first performed by YMTC at the York Theatre Royal Studio in 2007. 

From November 8 to 10 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Laidlaw’s revival of his slick and sophisticated six-hander show will explore the musical masters of the classic Hollywood of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

Laidlaw’s cast is made up of four women and two men: Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs, Henrietta Linnemann and Helen Spencer, joined by Richard Bayton and John Haigh.

This nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of Hollywood is packed with love songs, torch songs, and comic numbers from the bygone days of  Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Director Laidlaw says: “We’ve actually performed the show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre before, as well as at the Theatre Royal Studio. As we head into our 120th year next year, it felt right to be a bit nostalgic and look back at some of our original pieces that audiences loved and revive them for new audiences.

“We loved performing The World Goes ’Round [a revue of Kander and Ebb’s songbook] a few years ago, and this show has a similar feel in that it’s a small cast and is fast paced and slick but will take the audience on a magical musical journey.”

Tickets for the three 7.30pm performances cost £15, £12 for age 18 and under, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or on 01904 501935.

Out go Peter Pan and panto play, in comes Luke Adamson, digital stream filmmaker

Luke in the mirror: Luke Adamson as Fanny Wood in his film Five Minutes With Fanny

NORTH Yorkshire actor Luke Adamson is responding to theatre’s lockdown mothballing by setting up a subscription streaming service for his work.

“As the theatres are closed, I’m taking my creativity online to try and earn a living by creating Luke Adamson TV, featuring all-new content written and created by myself.

“In December alone, I’ve created three short films and live-streamed my panto play, Oh No It Isn’t!, and there’ll be at least two new films coming in January.”

Subscriptions to Luke’s streaming service start from only £5 per month and you can sign up at https://www.patreon.com/lukeadamson.

Luke had been playing Tootles in OVO and Maltings Theatre’s Peter Pan – the play, not the pantomime – at the Alban Arena, St Albans, when Hertfordshire’s move into Tier 3 status put paid to that show on December 19 after eight out of 38 performances.

A London production of the award-winning Oh No It Isn’t! had to be called off too. “It was going to have a short run at The Library Theatre in Crystal Palace, a new venue that my friend Joe [co-producer Joseph Lindoe] and I have instigated at the Upper Norwood Library Hub,” says Luke.

“We were supposed to launch the venue in March last year but… well, you know, we’re hopeful to get a full theatre programme up and running there as soon as Covid allows.

“But with the Oh No It Isn’t! run cut off by Covid, we worked our little Christmas socks off to live-stream the piece to YouTube instead.”

Luke Adamson as Tootles, fourth from left, in Peter Pan at the Alban Arena, St Albans, curtailed by Covid Tier 3 restrictions after eight performances in December. Picture copyright: Elliott Franks

Luke’s prior commitment to playing Tootles in St Albans had necessitated employing John Gregor and Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare’s Robbie Capaldi – Luke’s co-star in performances at York Theatre Royal Studio in April 2019 – for the Crystal Palace show.

“I directed the live-stream performance, which we shot there using the library’s live-streaming capability and some equipment hired in at great personal expense,” he says.

Based in London since his drama-school days at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in Wandsworth, Selby-born Luke had returned north to play villainous David Leonard’s daft sidekick Useless Eustace in York Theatre Royal’s Jack And The Beanstalk in 2017/2018: a performance that brought him a Great British Pantomime Award nomination no less.

Earlier, he had first appeared in Dame Berwick Kaler’s Theatre Royal pantomimes as a bairn during his Selby childhood, as well as in amateur pantos in Thorpe Willoughby.

Luke drew on those panto experiences, on stage and backstage, to write Oh No It Isn’t!, his humorous and moving account of “the best of [Ugly] sisters on stage but the worst of friends off it”.

“The play is set at the final performance of Cinderella in a moth-eaten regional theatre, where backstage tensions threaten to boil over on stage,” he says. “Will the egotism, one-upmanship and sexual politics remain confined to the dressing room?

“Will the ugly sisters keep the professional professional and the personal personal?
Will we ever find out what happened during Babes In The Wood?”

Oh No It Isn’t! explores the highs and lows of life in the theatre. “Using real anecdotes and stories, it’s an impassioned yet tender love letter to the world of performance,” says Luke.

Slapstick: Luke Adamson, standing, and Robbie Capaldi as the two warring Ugly Sisters in Adamson’s play Oh No It Isn’t at York Theatre Royal Studio in April 201

“It’s something that had been in my head for a while: writing a play set on and off stage, with the dynamic of the calm, graceful swan on stage and the feet paddling frantically off stage to keep everything afloat.

“I wanted to show the effect of the trials and tribulations that go into creating a show. Within three weeks, I wrote it, we rehearsed it and put it on stage, and we ended up getting five-star reviews.”

Oh No It Isn’t! is complemented by three shorter films so far: Five Minutes With Fanny (in reality 15 minutes!); Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge (15 minutes) and Radio Lifebuoy FM (30 minutes).

“I did them pretty much single-handedly,” says Luke. “Having done a diploma in media production at Selby College, I had all the required technical abilities. I’ve been writing scripts since 2010 and acting since, well, forever! So, it was just a case of putting it all together.

“I used my girlfriend’s Canon DSLR to shoot the video; a Zoom H1N recording device to record the audio, and edited it all together on Final Cut Pro. So far, I’ve shot most of them in or around my flat due to lockdown but did manage to shoot Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge on Waterloo Bridge one night before Christmas.”

Luke was able to call on assistance from friends. “Joe was my cameraman and security on Waterloo Bridge and I’ve used music written by my friend and actor Dan Bottomley,” he says. “I’ve also featured small performances from other friends, such as Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter [York musical double act Fladam] in Radio Lifebuoy FM.”


Five Minutes With Fanny introduces the unsuspecting world to Fanny Wood and her world of Wetherspoons, gender politics and Only Fans. “You discover how she came to be, in this adults-only piece inspired by stories from real Only Fans models,” says Luke, who plays Fanny.

“This 15-minute monologue inspired by Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads gives you a funny, sometimes dark peek into the life of a very unique person.”

Luke Adamson as high-flying city boy Lee in a still from his film Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge

In Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge, high-flying city boy Lee takes up his annual vigil on Waterloo Bridge on Christmas Eve, having escaped the office Christmas party.

“Overlooking the late-night lights of London, he ruminates on the emptiness of his success and wonders when it was that Christmas lost its sparkle,” says Luke.

Radio Lifebuoy FM charts how a local radio DJ’s Christmas goes from bad to worse after his wife kicks him out and he is forced to host the station’s amateur singer call-in competition, We’ve Got The X(Mas) Factor. Will he manage to keep it together until he is off air?

“Inspired by shock-jock Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio and featuring a host of my talented friends and a sprinkling of favourite festive songs, this is guaranteed to put a smile on your face,” promises Luke.

Explaining how he created his film characters and revealing whether they were based on people he knew, Luke says: “In a way they’re all versions of me, but with licence to be more outrageous, more hilarious, more dark than I would be as myself.

“Fanny, in Five Minutes With Fanny, is a character I’ve been developing for a while. I remember Paul O’Grady once saying he felt much more confident and brave as Lily Savage than he ever did as himself, and that stuck with me, so I was developing Fanny with the plan of taking her on the stand-up circuit but…well, you know.”

Luke continues: “The styles of the pieces vary and are inspired by people I’ve long admired: Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett, (Steve Coogan’s) Alan Partridge, Joe Orton and Harold Pinter.

“I suppose there may be aspects of other people. I’ve always been quite observant and perceptive and I love to poke fun at very human foibles, inspired I suppose by the comedies of Anton Chekhov.”

TV star: Luke Adamson has set up Luke Adamson TV as a way of diversifying his creativity

In one of the pandemic’s more contentious statements, Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested those working in the arts should look at pursuing alternative careers, but are there ways to diversify within the profession? Like Luke making films, for example?

“I think most jobbing actors have a massively diverse set of skills already, so it isn’t a case of having to restart and diversifying, it’s more refocussing your energies,” he suggests.

“Whereas before I would be writing most days, skimming through the Spotlight Jobs board or Backstage looking for opportunities, I’m now focussing on things that were small-time earners for me in the past: showreel editing (and script/scene writing for them); graphic design (show posters, programmes, flyers, etc); and acting or directing tuition.

“I created Luke Adamson TV as I started creating video content in the first lockdown and people were enjoying it and I thought, ‘well, this is what I’m trained to do and I’ve spent all my life honing this craft; why don’t I try and earn from it while the theatres are closed?’

“So, I upped the production values: writing proper scripts; spending money on new equipment; no more ‘one-take, it’ll do’ improvised stuff. And if only ten people subscribe, that’s £50 a month and it goes towards my food bill at least.”

New year, same Covid stranglehold, how is Luke approaching 2021 after the draining year that has gone before? “Semi-full of gin, my eyes closed, my arms outstretched and my fingers crossed,” he says.

As for his hopes for the year ahead: “To avoid bankruptcy without having to leave the industry.” A sobering final thought indeed.

Luke Adamson: Actor, director, writer, theatre programmer and Academy of Live and Recorded Arts board member

Should you be wondering, “Who is Tootles”, Luke Adamson’s role in Peter Pan?

Tootles is the humblest of the Lost Boys!” says Luke. “Often described as Peter’s favourite, he’s the one that shoots Wendy with the arrow; defends her when she decides to leave Neverland and return home; becomes the boatswain when Peter takes over the Jolly Roger, and ultimately marries Wendy when they all go back to London and grow up. He’s the most important character, in my opinion.”

Story Craft Theatre’s Janet and Cassie to raise funds for Shine21 charity for 21 hours

Lift-off: Story Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce, left, and Cassie Vallance are ready to Shine for York charity. Picture: Lucy Bedford Photography

STORY Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance are to provide 21 hours of craft and storytelling fun this month to raise vital funds for York charity Shine21.

Since Lockdown 1, the pair have moved their interactive storytelling sessions online, attracting audiences from all over the world to their creative and educational classes, held three times a week via Zoom. 

Now, Janet and Cassie will host classes for you to enjoy on Zoom on November 27 and 28, running all day each day from 7am. All the duo ask in return is a donation to Shine21.

Story Craft Theatre’s logo

“There are lots of storybook adventures to choose from: Going On A Bear Hunt, The Gruffalo, Hairy Maclary, Aliens Love Underpants and so many more,” says Cassie. “We’re even providing hour-long interactive craft classes.” 

All the sessions can be booked online at: www.bookwhen.com/storycrafttheatre. “As these classes are interactive, numbers are limited, so we advise you to book in advance to avoid disappointment,” says Janet. “Tickets are now on sale.

“This 21-hour storytelling event is an opportunity for you to help Shine21, where you don’t even need to attend the two-day event to donate. So, please feel free to donate whatever you can.”

Shine on: Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance will be spending 21 hours telling stories and doing interactive crafts for York charity Shine 21 on November 27 and 28. Picture: Lucy Bedford Photography

Donations can be made at: justgiving.com/fundraising/storycraft21. Please note, 100 per cent of the money raised through Story Craft will go directly to the charity. 

Story Craft Theatre is a York children’s theatre company run by professional actors and mums Janet Bruce, who appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street in the West End, and Cassie Vallance, part of the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre company at the Castle car park in 2019 and last seen in Park Bench Theatre’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park, York, this summer.

Together, Janet and Cassie have hosted sell-out shows at York Theatre Royal and Goose play centre, at Hornbeam Business Park, Harrogate, and this Christmas, Story Craft Theatre will team up with Matt Aston’s Engine House Theatre at Castle Howard, near York.

Ready, Teddy, go: Cassie Vallance performing in Park Bench Theatre’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park in August. Picture: Northedge Photography

From December 4, they will present Stories With Santa In The Courtyard Grotto. “Come and join us for a magical storytelling event here in the historic Courtyard,” they say. “Meet Santa’s helpers as they guide you through into our festive library, where children will get to meet Santa, make their Christmas wishes and settle down to hear a brand new, enchanting winter’s tale, The Snowflake, by popular children’s author Benji Davies.”

Last Christmas, Cassie performed in writer-director Aston’s stage adaptation of Davies’s The Storm Whale at the York Theatre Royal Studio.

The Shine21 charity helps to enhance the lives of children with Down Syndrome and their families. Janet Bruce’s second child was born with Down Syndrome and a heart condition, both being discovered after birth.

Whale meet again: Cassie Vallance in The Storm Whale at York Theatre Royal Studio last December. Picture: Northedge Photography

“The diagnosis was unexpected and at first, scary, but the support and advice offered by Shine21 was phenomenal,” says Janet. “Shine21 have supported me and my family every step of the way and introduced us to others who have been through a similar experience.  

“The charity does invaluable work to help children and their families, but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they have not been able to raise the vital funds they need this year. So, we’re providing this chance for you to help Shine21.”

For Castle Howard bookings, go to castlehoward.co.uk/whats-on/Christmas for more details.

REVIEW: Settlement Players in The Seagull, York Theatre Royal Studio

Benedict Turvill’s troubled playwright Konstantin and The Seagull of the title in York Settlement Community Players’ production. All pictures: John Saunders

REVIEW: The Seagull, York Settlement Community Players, York Theatre Royal Studio, until March 7, 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

IT didn’t end well for the goat in Edward Albee’s The Goat at Theatre @41 Monkgate last week. It doesn’t end well for the seagull – borrowed from the National Theatre, no less – in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Theatre Royal Studio, but there is awkward comedy aplenty in both plays.

Absurd comedy in Albee’s jaw-dropping 2002 piece; tragicomedy in Chekhov’s 1895 dysfunctional family drama, as Helen Wilson completes her ten-year project to direct all four of the Russian playwright’s major works for Settlement Players in the York company’s centenary year.

As with Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters, the adaptation is by Michael Frayn, who has praised Settlement, and by implication Wilson, for not tampering with period, location, genders and politics to “make them more relevant” for modern audiences.

Livy Potter’s Nina performs Konstantin’s radical but mannered new play in The Seagull

“People in York are evidently made of sterner stuff,” Frayn said. “Just occasionally, perhaps, it’s worth trying to catch the sense and feel of what Chekhov actually intended.”

Wilson has pursued the same directorial policy once more, placing her trust in Frayn’s dialogue, replete with dramatic and comic irony, complemented by an uncluttered set design by Graham Sanderson, with a plain backdrop, chairs and a mini-stage, bedecked with flowers, for Konstantin’s play within a play.

Frayn knows that territory from his own 1982 backstage comedy Noises Off, a classic English unruly farce, but like Frayn’s appraisal of York audiences, The Seagull is made of sterner stuff.

Forlorn love: Lucy May Orange in black, playing Masha, destined to be forever ignored by Konstantin (Benedict Turvill)

“They’re all vulnerable, every one of them,” says Wilson of Chekhov’s characters, and she has made a spot-on judgement call in wanting vulnerability and warmth in equal measure in her staging. Enter Lucy May Orange’s Masha, dressed in black to match her forlorn conviction that her love for troubled young playwright Konstantin (Benedict Turvill) will be forever unrequited.

At this point we laugh in recognition, not least because she is saying this to smitten teacher Medvedenko (Samithi Sok), seemingly oblivious to her indifference towards him, and soon we shall find Turvill’s over-sensitive Konstantin in torment at putative girlfriend Nina (Livy Potter), his muse and actress for his “ground-breaking” play, not worshipping him the same way her worships her.

Turvill’s radical theatre-maker Konstantin has an even more troubled relationship with his mother, faded actress Arkadina (Stephanie Hesp), than Hamlet had with Gertrude, merciless in her dismissal of his writing talent, so insensitive in stealing attention away from Nina’s performance of his bold but admittedly dreadful play at Sorin’s increasingly anguished house party one lakeside summer evening.

Clinging on: Stephanie Hesp’s Arkadina losing the attention and affections of her lover, Ben Sawyer’s Trigorin

Sorin (Glyn Morrow), Arkadina’s ageing brother, wants the next generation to thrive, to blossom; so too does Maurice Crichton’s Scottish-accented doctor, Dorn. Paul Joe Osborne’s retired lieutenant, Shamrayev, now Sorin’s steward, loves a story, and Osborne has a splendid night in his mimicry and comic timing; wife Polina (Elizabeth Elsworth) is his best audience.

The Seagull is a play with a generation gap that grows wider the more the drama unfolds, It goes from what Wilson calls the “comic souffle” of the playful Act One, when we can “laugh at these slightly inept, sometimes pretentious characters thinking they’re something they’re not”, to the painful, poignant consequences of such ineptitude and self-deception, when youthful dreams are dashed and unfulfilled ambitions turn bitter amid the fractious artistic egos.

Chekhov “likes to lob a bomb into the room in Act Three” in his plays, as Wilson puts it, and here the incendiary device is Arkadina’s lover, vainglorious novelist Trigorin (Ben Sawyer, suitably smug), under whose spell the impressionable Nina falls.

Twinkle in the wry: Maurice Crichton as Dorn, the doctor

In a naturalistic play with theatre and writing and creativity at its heart, but ennui and abject despair eating away at the tumultuous edges, Wilson’s company extract the ironic, perverse comedy to the full, then bring out all the damaging familiar failings of those prone to so much sterile philosophising.

Frayn would be delighted with the performances of Settlement’s experienced hands, while both Turvill and Potter (by day York Theatre Royal’s marketing and press assistant) impress in their first principal roles for Wilson in the intimacy of the Studio space.

Yes, the seagull dies, but not before The Seagull flies high, full of art and too much hurt heart.  

What happened when a boy bit Pablo Picasso? Find out at York Theatre Royal

The Boy Who Bit Picasso: art and fun at York Theatre Royal Studio today and tomorrow. Picture: Geraint Lewis

WHEN Picasso comes to stay, anything can happen at York Theatre Royal Studio today and tomorrow.

Untied Artists invite four year olds and upwards to “come and play down on the farm with Tony and Picasso”.

“We’ll have loads of fun, make crazy pictures and tell the true story of how a young boy became friends with one of the greatest artists who ever lived,” they say.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso is an interactive piece of theatre with storytelling, music and chances to make your own art – whether mask-making, collages or drawings – in a hands-on, humorous family show that introduces the influential 20th-century Spanish artist through the eyes of a young boy.

Inspired by Antony Penrose’s book of the true story of how a boy became friends with Pablo Picasso, Untied Artists’ show is directed by Jake Oldershaw and originally was co-produced with Oxford Playhouse.

Tickets for today and tomorrow’s 11am and 2pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Benedict and Livy enjoy being all at sea as storms brew in Chekhov’s The Seagull

TORRID TIMES: Benedict Turvill as Konstantin and Livy Potter as Nina in The Seagull. Picture: John Saunders

TUMULTUOUS passions and artistic egos collide in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio.

The February 26 to March 7 run completes director Helen Wilson’s ten-year project to stage all four of the Russian playwright’s major works in York, after Three Sisters in 2010, The Cherry Orchard in 2015 and Uncle Vanya in 2018.

Chekhov’s 1895 tragicomedy follows famous Russian actress Arkadina (played by Stephanie Hesp) as she brings her novelist lover Trigorin (Ben Sawyer) to spend the summer at her brother’s lakeside estate.

Arkadina’s son Konstantin (Benedict Turvill) is preparing for the premiere of his bold new play starring his girlfriend Nina (Livy Potter). For the assembled audience of family and friends, the play’s first and only performance sets off a series of events that will alter the course of all their lives, forever.

Wilson’s multi-generational cast also features Maurice Crichton as Dr Dorn; Glyn Morrow, Sorin; Paul Joe Osbourne, Shamrayev; Elizabeth Elsworth, Polina; Lucy May Orange, Masha, and Sami Sok, Medvedenko.

Helen says: “Chekhov always wrote for an ensemble cast with wonderful parts for women. The Seagull is no exception. Actors love Chekhov and it’s my mission to bring the public round to him too.

“He is so often misunderstood. The Seagull is a comedy, as Chekhov describes it, and laughter and tears often spill over into each other.”

Taking principal roles for Helen for the first time will be Benedict Turvill, 22, last seen in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre in December, and Livy Potter, 26, whose last role was “being blokey” in York Shakespeare Project’s Antony And Cleopatra at Theatre @41 Monkgate last autumn.

Benedict Turvill and Livy Potter: performing for Settlement Players director Helen Wilson for the first time in The Seagull

“Playing Konstantin and his girlfriend Nina, they have such emotional journeys to go on,” says Helen. “They must go from being so in love in Act One to being in abject despair in Act Four. For young actors, The Seagull has everything in it for them.”

Livy says: “The ‘realness’ of the language can sometimes take your breath away. You read it for the first time and then read it again later, after you’ve experienced something, and the humanness of those words is so affecting.”

Benedict says: “When I’ve read Chekhov in the past, I’ve always thought it was a rather rigid attempt at being natural, but once it comes off the page, as you rehearse it, it really works.”

“When you get to that point, you can really open your performance to it,” says Livy, who will be performing at the theatre where she works as the marketing and press assistant.

“I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I’ve seen a lot of plays in that Studio space and I know what works and what doesn’t and that makes it an exciting prospect to be on that stage. It’s an awareness of how to use that space that is the key.”

Adapting to that space, Helen says: “I’ve learnt from the past productions not to have so much on stage, like having a piano and chaise longue previously. There’ll be a soundscape and lighting, but what really matters is that the play will be absorbing to watch in such an intimate space.”

Amid such intimacy, Chekhov’s comedy will blossom. “There’s such humour in the pretentious characters,” says Benedict. “Playing a funny character who’s not consciously funny, the audience will laugh at you, not with you.”

Roll on Wednesday, when The Seagull takes flight until March 7. Tickets for the 7.45pm evening performances and 2pm matinee on February 29 are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Emma Whitelock’s Epiphany, now featuring in the poster for York Settlement Community Players’ production of The Seagull

Did you know?

YORK artist Emma Whitelock has provided the promotional artwork for the Settlement Players’ production of The Seagull.

Describing her painting Epiphany, Emma says: “Its lone figure on the shore echoes perfectly Chekhov’s mood of longing in The Seagull. The piece was inspired by a misty winter sunrise on the Yorkshire coast and aims to capture a poignant moment; the outer world reflecting the inner.”

Emma’s artwork explores land, sea and solitude, her inspiration coming from the dramatic Yorkshire moors and coast, together with the exceptional light and vibrancy of Cornish summers.

Artist Emma Whitelock in her studio

Using acrylic with mixed media, she builds layers that evolve intuitively to create textured, semi-abstract works, marked by big skies, atmospheric colours and an expressive style. “I aim to transport the viewer to wild places, resonant with memories or possibilities,” she says.

The next chance to see Emma’s paintings will be at York Open Studios 2020 at Venue 43, 11 Trentholme Drive, The Mount, York, on April 18, 19, 25 and 26 from 10am to 5pm, preceded by a preview evening on April 17.

Cosmic Collective on course to make out of this world theatre with Heaven’s Gate

Anna Soden, Joe Feeney, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

FOUR‌ ‌cups‌ ‌of‌ ‌Apple‌ ‌Sauce.‌ ‌Four‌ ‌canvas‌ ‌camp‌ ‌beds.‌ ‌One‌ ‌Comet.‌ ‌Heaven’s‌ ‌Gate‌ ‌is‌ ‌closing‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Away‌ ‌Team‌ ‌are‌ ‌ready‌ ‌for‌ ‌Graduation, but whatever you do, don’t mention the C-word. Cult, that is.

Premiered by the new York company Cosmic Collective Theatre at last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York, ‌‌the 55-minute Heaven’s Gate is orbiting Yorkshire on its first tour, playing the Visionari community programming group’s Studio Discoveries season at the York Theatre Royal Studio tonight (February 7) at 7.45pm.

Written by company co-founder Joe Feeney, this ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy ‌imagines‌ ‌the‌ ‌final‌ ‌hour‌ ‌of‌ ‌four‌ ‌fictionalised‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌real-life ‌ ‌‌UFO-theistic‌ ‌group, Heaven’s Gate.‌ ‌

“As‌ ‌they‌ ‌prepare‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‘Graduation’‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘Kingdom‌ ‌of Heaven’, initially the excitement is palpable, but soon the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear,” says Joe, an alumnus of York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.‌

Is‌ ‌the Heavenly‌ ‌Father‌ ‌really‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌spaceship?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌actually‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌recycled?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌castration‌ ‌obligatory‌ ‌or‌ ‌not?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌Turkey‌ ‌Potpie‌ ‌an‌ ‌underwhelming‌ ‌last‌ ‌supper?‌ ‌ ‌

“I’ve always been interested in slightly unusual stories, like the paranormal,” says Joe. “I remember reading about the Heaven’s Gate cult, a real-life cult in San Diego, California, who believed God was an alien in a space ship and they were aliens too but wearing the bodies of humans, but actually being versions who would be beamed up to heaven.

“A lot of their religious mantras were from Star Trek and Star Wars, and they all had matching hair-dos and tracksuit clothing.”

Joe was not aware of any previous fictionalised works telling the Heaven’s Gate story. “About 18 months ago, I was watching this BBC Four documentary about meteorites, and it got to 1997 and they started talking about the Comet Hale-Bopp in the sky in March that year,” he recalls.”

“They mentioned an American cult who said it was a calling from God and they could see a UFO in the trail that would take them to heaven.”

These are the facts: On March 26, 1997, the San Diego County Sheriff’s department discovered 39 bodies of Heaven’s Gate members in a house in the suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.  They had participated in a mass suicide, co-ordinated in ritual suicides, in the belief they would reach the aforementioned extraterrestrial space craft trailing in Comet Hale-Bopp’s slipstream.

“Learning about this, the story quickly went from humour to thinking that, ‘oh my god, people need to hear this story and the terrible things they all went through,” says Joe.

“That’s why I’ve written about the fictionalised last hour of four members, drawing on the iconography and ideology of other cults, as well as Heaven’s Gate, in the play.”

Joe has created four “relatable characters”. “They are everyday people who found themselves in the right or wrong place and who felt themselves being swept up in it,” he says.

His writing tone is humorous but darkly so. “The play is a comedy, albeit a black comedy that takes the subject seriously but in a satirical way, managing to find a critique within that satire,” he says.

In the publicity material, Cosmic Collective Theatre make a point of saying “Don’t say the C-word. Cult!”. Why not, Joe?

“The word ‘cult’ always has a stigma to it, but a lot of people in cults don’t know they’re in a cult. They think that they’re in a religion. I don’t want to stigmatise it,” he says. “What’s the difference between God being in a UFO and God being someone with a white beard?

“We hope there are 39 people in a spaceship on the other side of the world. That’s a lovely thought, but the reality is those people are buried somewhere in America.”

Joe was keen to address another subject in the play, amid the rising tide of intolerance and division in the 21st century. “Heaven’s Gate is also about identity, how we make our journey through the world, when we’re now living in a polarised world where we all pin our beliefs to the mast,” he says.

Cosmic‌ ‌Collective‌ ‌Theatre‌, who enjoyed a sold-out run at the‌ ‌Drayton‌ ‌Arms‌ ‌Theatre‌, ‌London, after the York premiere, have so far played Harrogate Theatre Studio and The Carriageworks, Leeds, on tour. Still to come are Hull Truck Theatre Studio, on February 14 at 8pm and Slung Low at Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, on February 16 at 5pm.

‌Joining Joe and Anna in the cast are ‌Lewes‌ ‌Roberts‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Cresswell‌. “The four of us all went to Mountview [Academy of Theatre Arts]. Myself, Lewes and Kate were there from 2015 to 2018; Anna was in the year above – and we’d already been part of the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre together and worked backstage there too,” says Joe.

“We started the company with a punk ethos, and this time last year I wrote Heaven’s Gate and we managed to get it into the Great Yorkshire Fringe festival last summer. On the back of that, we got a London run, and now we’ve booked this winter tour, stopping off at venues all four of us have admired or performed in,

“We kind of shot for the moon with all the venues we wanted to do, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We had a bucket list of ideal locations and virtually all of them said ‘yes’. Doing the tour at the start of the year is great too, as we can then plan the rest of the year, like going back to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

Performing at York Theatre Royal has particular resonance for Joe and Anna. “This‌ ‌is‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌special‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,” says Joe. “I’ve been ‌‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌Royal‌ ‌for‌ ‌more than‌ ‌20‌ ‌years. I was a ‌Youth‌ ‌Theatre‌ ‌member‌ ‌for‌ ten-plus years and‌ ‌have worked‌ ‌as‌ ‌crew‌ ‌backstage‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌off‌ ‌since‌ ‌2010.‌

“‌As‌ ‌an‌ ‌actor, I’ve ‌ ‌performed‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌internationally, but‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌will‌ ‌compare‌ ‌to‌ ‌performing‌ ‌at‌ ‌home‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌wonderful‌ ‌theatre. It’s honestly‌ ‌a‌ ‌dream‌ ‌come‌ ‌true.”‌ ‌

Anna‌‌ ‌agrees: ‌‌“I‌ ‌wouldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌working‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌industry‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌for‌ ‌York‌ ‌Theatre Royal Youth‌ ‌Theatre,‌ ‌which‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌greatest‌ ‌youth‌ ‌theatre‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌country!” she says. “‌To‌ ‌return‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌years‌ ‌later‌ ‌and‌ ‌perform‌ ‌here‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌professional‌ ‌actor‌ ‌is‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌privilege.”‌

Explaining why Cosmic Collective Theatre  are so named, Joe says: “First of all, we were a collective, with our own individual strengths, but given that our first play is ‘astronomical’, ‌and we want to make theatre that is out of this world, we settled on that name and we’ve gone from strength to strength.

“It was our first goal to do the Great Yorkshire Fringe and we had the honour of doing the first play on The Arts Barge’s new home, the Selby Tony barge on the Ouse, so we can always say we had our world premiere on water and then our world premiere on land in the Basement at City Screen a couple of days later…on two days that happened to be the hottest two days of the year!

“Me and Anna have been involved with Arts Barge for ten years, with Anna’s mum performing in the Bargestra, and so it felt like a homecoming doing the first show. As does this return now, performing as professional actors at the Theatre Royal for the first time.”

York tickets for Heaven’s Gate can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk; The Holbeck, slunglow.org/event/heavens-gate.  ‌

Please note: Heaven’s Gate ‌contains‌ ‌references‌ ‌to‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and‌ ‌suicide and has ‌mild swearing.‌ ‌Age recommendation: 15 plus.

Preacherman in One Foot In The Rave, the closing show of Visionari’s Studio Discoveries programme

DO mention the C-word. Cult!

The Visionari community programming group’s final choice for this week’s Studio Discoveries season is One Foot In The Rave, the debut verse play by writer and performance poet Alexander Rhodes at the York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow (February 8) at 7.45pm.

Rhodes relates the story of a disillusioned 23-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, who breaks free free from the cult and lands on the Ecstasy-fuelled dance floors of Nineties’ clubland. Shunned by everyone he knows, he is not prepared for what lies ahead.

“In 1976, Sean’s world changes for ever. Dragged into a doomsday cult, by parents who are struggling to find their own identities, the family are brainwashed into believing the end of the world is nigh. But the route to salvation is not as it seems,” says Rhodes, introducing his his verse play.

Billed as “an energetic mix of agony and total Ecstasy”, One Foot In The Rave is set to a backdrop of club classics as Rhodes moves hypnotically between the characters and scenes to deliver the chemical highs and pitiful lows. Expect wry observations, chemically induced inspirations and twisted logic in a warmly witty, soulful, self-aware story of survival.

Who Is Alexander Rhodes?

“Alexander Rhodes” is just an idea…says “Alexander Rhodes”.

This idea is, in fact, the third incarnation of a career as a DJ and producer spanning 18 years. Having moved through three different genres, each with its own stage name and distinctive sound, the Alexander Rhodes music project became a spoken-word and performance art project in early 2015.

“If you look hard enough you will find a few house music mixes here, the odd chill out track there, echoing in the digital ether,” he says.

Since 2015, “Alexander” has written and performed spoken word all over the UK. He started Plymouth’s Pucker Poets, hosts of a regular poetry slam for cash competition.

Rhodes has taken part in numerous poetry slams and will take One Foot In The Rave on tour in April and May 2020.

Visionari Studio Discoveries presents Alexander Rhodes: One Foot In The Rave, York Theatre Royal Studio, tomorrow (February 8), 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or atyorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age guide: 16+; show contains drug and alcohol references.

HIV+ queer artist Nathaniel Hall tells all as he recalls the first time at York Theatre Royal’s Studio Discoveries

Heart-breaking: Nathaniel Hall in his one-man show First Time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Pictures: Andrew Perry

DAY three in the Studio Discoveries festival house, and York Theatre Royal’s Visionari community programme group will be presenting Nathaniel Hall’s First Time tomorrow night.

Can you remember your first time? Nathaniel can’t seem to forget his. To be fair, he has had it playing on repeat for the last 15 years, and now he is telling all in his one-man show on tour in North Yorkshire this month.

After playing the VAULT Festival in London, Hall has embarked on his travels, taking in the McCarthy at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre last night, Harrogate Theatre’s Studio Theatre tonight and York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow as part of Studio Discoveries, a week of new theatre chosen by Visionari.

The party is over, the balloons have all burst and Nathaniel is left living his best queer life: brunching on pills and Googling ancient condoms and human cesspits on a weekday morning…or is he?

“Join me as I blow the lid on the secret I’ve been keeping all these years,” says Nathaniel Hall

After playing the Edinburgh Fringe for four weeks last summer, HIV+ queer artist and theatre-maker Hall takes First Time on the road as he strives to stay positive in a negative world. “Join me as I blow the lid on the secret I’ve been keeping all these years,” he says.

Conceived, written and performed by HIV activist Hall, this humorous but heart-breaking 75-minute autobiographical show is based on his personal experience of living with HIV after contracting the virus from his first sexual encounter at 16.

“Narratives of HIV often portray people living with the virus as the victim. First Time doesn’t accept this stance,” says Hall. “It not only transforms audiences into HIV allies, but also helps them rid toxic shame from their own lives.”

First Time takes up Hall’s story after an all-night party, when “he hasn’t been to bed and he hasn’t prepared anything for the show. He’s only had 12 months and a grant from the Arts Council, but he can’t avoid the spotlight anymore and is forced to revisit his troubled past”.

“First Time not only transforms audiences into HIV allies, but also helps them rid toxic shame from their own lives ,” says Nathaniel Hall

His path leads from sharing a stolen chicken and stuffing sandwich with a Will Young lookalike aged 16, through receiving the devastating news aged 17 and heart-breaking scenes devouring pills and powder for breakfast, to a candlelit vigil and finally a surprising ending full of reconciliation, hope…and a houseplant from Mum.

Commissioned by Waterside Arts and Creative industries Trafford and developed with Dibby Theatre, the original production led the Borough of Trafford’s 30th World AIDS Day commemorations in 2018.

Directed by Chris Hoyle and designed by Irene Jade, with music and sound design by Hall, First Time will be staged at 7.45pm at each location. Tickets: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Visionari’s Studio Discoveries festival runs until Saturday. For full details, visit the Theatre Royal website.