Badapple Theatre are back at York Theatre Royal after a decade tonight with the haunted dance hall comedy Elephant Rock

Haunted happenings: Jessica Woodward, left, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in Badapple Theatre Company’s Elephant Rock

GREEN Hammerton theatre-on-your-doorstep purveyors Badapple Theatre Company return to York Theatre Royal for the first time in a decade tonight (10/5/2022).

At the invitation of TakeOver 2022, the arts festival run by York St John University, Kate Bramley’s travelling troupe will be presenting Elephant Rock, a “lighthearted comedy about finding your place in the world” set against the backdrop of environmental change.

“We were last at the Theatre Royal with Back To The Land Girls roughly ten years ago and it feels very exciting to be back. We’re delighted,” says writer-director Kate. “It’s come about through the York St John performing arts students, who, as part of their final-year work, have the chance to put together a week of performances in a festival.

“They came to us and asked if we could do Elephant Rock, so we juggled things around a bit on the tour, and here we are, on the main stage, which is lovely for us, having the chance to use more than the five lanterns we take on tour for the lighting!”

Badapple Theatre Company artistic director Kate Bramley: Delighted to be returning to York Theatre Royal

Set in a storm-battered seaside village, Kate’s upbeat play with original music and songs by Jez Lowe follows the fortunes of a family trying desperately to keep the struggling pier-front Palace Theatre open, come hell or high water.

“The heyday of the great British seaside holiday may have gone but the memories remain,” says Kate. “So too does the old Palace Theatre, once perched proudly on the pier in sight of the mighty Elephant Rock, and boasting its own fabulous attraction, The Amazing Mechanical Elephant.

“But the relentless tides have chipped away at the coast, and Elephant Rock and its mechanical counterpart are long gone, as if instinct and longing have lured them off to the land of their ancestors.

“Amid the comic yet heartfelt attempts of the mismatched team who are determined that the Palace doors stay open, they discover a surprising family history that stretches across a hundred years and five thousand miles, from the rocky coast of England to the sweeping grasslands of Sri Lanka.”

Jessica Woodward: Pink dress, pink umbrella, in Catherine Dawn’s typically colourful design for Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock’s subject matter was prompted by a family visit to Withernsea, the East Riding resort noted for its Pier Towers, sandy beach, Valley Gardens and lighthouse. “A few years back, we were staying there, and where there used to be a road, now there was just a drop with a sign saying ‘End’,” says Kate.

“It was partly that observation that set me thinking about erosion, and we’d also heard the story of the Elephant Rock, just off the coast at Hartlepool, standing there for many years and then ‘wandering off’, disappearing into the sea – though we’ve had sightings of ‘Elephant Rocks’ elsewhere: one was in Iceland and another off the Vietnamese coast.

“It seems to be a phenomenon to do with coastal erosion that leaves rock in the shape of an animal.”

While the Elephant Rock story was a “bit of trivia”, Kate noted how coastal communities were being hit by climate change and the impact of erosion. “I thought about how people need to move and migrate, and I wondered whether people had to come from a place to call it ‘home’, when the coast plays host to a fluctuating community, such as carnival troupes that come and go.”

Entertainment on the pier: Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in the vintage dance hall in Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is set in the present day while harking back to the past. “The three principal characters are stuck in a dance hall where these comedic hauntings happen to them as they try to decide what to do with a magical box,” explains Kate.

Those roles and no doubt more besides are played by Jessica Woodward, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson. “They’re a lovely bunch, all Yorkshire actors – quite by chance it’s fallen that way – and they’re having a lovely time together on what is our ‘comeback tour’ to full-scale touring after these past two years. Thankfully all these venues have stayed loyal to us,” says Kate.

“Robert worked with us in The Carlton Colliers and The Last Station Keeper before we lost him to Northern Broadsides and the West End, but now we’ve tempted him back to the north!

“Jess graduated from ALRA [Academy of Live and Recorded Arts] a couple of years ago and this is her first long tour. She’s a whiz, a classic ALRA all-rounder. Stephanie is a lovely actor from Leeds, who’s done some rural touring and telly and does the bulk of the singing in the show.”

Look out for new compositions by Jez Lowe that are set within the action of the play, recounting what happened to Elephant Rock, and he has delivered some fun Fifties’ jive numbers too.

Stephanie Hutchinson: Making her Badapple Theatre Company debut

Kate has been delighted at the response to the show that opened on April 22 and will be on the road until June 19 in Badapple’s 24th year of touring original productions with professional actors to the “most unexpected of places”: the smallest and hardest-to-reach rural venues and village halls in Yorkshire and beyond.

“It seems people are resting more easily around the Covid situation, and it feels like a transitional show, reminding people that they can go out,” she says. “We’ve had people saying ‘I’ve really missed it’ – and that is our role, to go out there on rural tours, bringing joy to communities.

“There’s still some generation caution about going out, with older people proving to be more cautious, but that said, equally some people feel far safer going to their village hall than going into town to see a show.”

Should you miss tonight’s 7.30pm show, Badapple’s spring and summer tour has plenty more performances in the York vicinity: May 17, Green Hammerton Village Hall (box office, 01423 331304); May 18, Terrington Village Hall, 8pm (01653 648394); May 20, Sutton upon Derwent Village Hall (01904 608524); June 10, Low Catton Village Hall (07837 330421); June 12, Skipsea Village Hall (01262 469714), and June 15, Galtres Centre, Easingwold (01347 822472, Monday to Friday, 9am, to 5pm). Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

Tickets for tonight and all the TakeOver 2022 festival events are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal Studio season promises queer history, a potato Faustus, a gaming romcom and Woolf’s talk on feminism

York puppeteer and performer Freddie Hayes’s Potatohead: “A starch-raving mad adaptation of Faustus with puppets”. Picture: Sophie Jouvenaar

YORK Theatre Royal’s Studio season will read the Riot Act on June 9 in a show created and performed by Alexis Gregory as part of a Pride Season tour.

Fresh from his success in Sex/Crime at London’s Soho Theatre, Gregory is directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair in his journey through six decades of queer history, told by those who helped to shape it from Gregory’s interviews with a survivor of the Stonewall Riots, a radical drag queen and an AIDS activist.

Ahead of her Edinburgh Fringe run, York puppeteer, performer and writer Freddie Hayes presents Potatohead, her humorously bizarre solo adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus And The Seven Deadly Sins, on June 10.

Directed by by Sh!t Theatre, Potatohead is saturated with potato puns from start to finish as Hayes tells the story of a humble spud who dreams of becoming a cabaret superstar.

Elements of kitsch cabaret and old-school entertainment characterise Hayes’s “one-potato show” show that blends puppetry, clowning and comedy in an unadulterated celebration of silliness. Expect sexual content and references to religion and the devil, hence the age guidance of 14+.

Hayes’s debut UK tour of her hour-long “starch-raving mad adaptation of Faustus with puppets” takes in a further North Yorkshire date in The McCarthy at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on June 14 at 7.45pm (box office, 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com).

Happy Meal, Tabby Lamb’s joyful queer romcom directed by Blythe Stewart, will be staged by Tadcaster’s Roots and Theatre Royal Plymouth from August 30 to September 3.

What’s the story? Bette, a teenager who knows her Neil Diamond, is into gaming alone, whereas Alec likes Swedish goth rock and multiplayer gaming. In the real world, they would never meet, but online these unlikely best friends can be everything they wanted to be.

Dyad Productions return to the Theatre Royal on October 6 and 7 to present A Room Of One’s Own, a wry, amusing and incisive trip through the history of literature, feminism and gender with a “21st century take on Virginia Woolf’s celebrated pre-TED talk”.

Tickets for these 7.45pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal Studio season takes in queer history, a potato Dr Faustus, an online gaming romcom and Woolf feminism

YORK Theatre Royal’s Studio season will read the Riot Act on June 9 in a show created and performed by Alexis Gregory as part of a Pride Season tour.

Fresh from his success in Sex/Crime at London’s Soho Theatre, Gregory is directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair in his journey through six decades of queer history, told by those who helped to shape it from Gregory’s interviews with a survivor of the Stonewall Riots, a radical drag queen and an AIDS activist.

Ahead of her Edinburgh Fringe run, York puppeteer, performer and writer Freddie Hayes presents Potatohead, her humorously bizarre solo adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus And The Seven Deadly Sins, on June 10.

Directed by by Sh!t Theatre, Potatohead is saturated with potato puns from start to finish as Hayes tells the story of a humble spud who dreams of becoming a cabaret superstar.

Elements of kitsch cabaret and old-school entertainment characterise a show that blends puppetry, clowning and comedy in an unadulterated celebration of silliness. Expect sexual content and references to religion and the devil, hence the age guidance of 14+.

Hayes’s debut UK theatre tour of her one-potato show has a further North Yorkshire performance on June 14 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (box office, 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com).

Happy Meal, Tabby Lamb’s joyful queer romcom directed by Blythe Stewart, will be staged by Tadcaster’s Roots and Theatre Royal Plymouth from August 30 to September 3.

What’s the story? Bette, a teenager who knows her Neil Diamond, is into gaming alone, whereas Alec likes Swedish goth rock and multiplayer gaming. In the real world, they would never meet, but online these unlikely best friends can be everything they wanted to be.

Dyad Productions return to the Theatre Royal on October 6 and 7 to present A Room Of One’s Own, a wry, amusing and incisive trip through the history of literature, feminism and gender with a “21st century take on Virginia Woolf’s celebrated pre-TED talk”.

Tickets for these 7.45pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Storyteller Sam Freeman combines love, a projector and a notebook in his rom-com for the lonely hearted in Harrogate and York. Hear his podcast interview…

Storyteller Sam Freeman

FORMER York Theatre Royal marketing officer and 2009 TakeOver Festival co-director Sam Freeman heads back to his old stamping ground on Friday night with his solo rom-com for the lonely hearted and the loved-up, armed with a projector, a notebook, wonky spectacles and nods to Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill.

This 7.45pm performance of Every Little Hope You Ever Dreamed (But Didn’t Want To Mention) will be preceded on his ten-date tour by tonight’s 7.30pm show at the Cold Bath Brewery Co Clubhouse in Harrogate.

Freeman, marketeer, occasional writer, director and stand-up comedian, combines storytelling and whimsical northern comedy in his multi-layered story of a chance encounter between two soulmates, how they fall in love, then part but may meet again. 

Performed by a man in a red checked shirt, black jeans, red Converse, a passable knowledge of Powerpoint and an inexplicable love of Excel spreadsheets, Every Little Hope You Ever Dreamed (But Didn’t Want To Mention) is about “love, Calippo lollies, lazy days under blues skies, cats, answerphones, stabilisers, dangerous places to eat, Google Earth, the necessities of strong planning, dead phones and wiggling toes, time standing still, crazy-paved driveways, mountains, hills, bravery and high-fives. But mostly, love,” says Sam.

Against a film backdrop, Freeman interweaves five stories that start separately and in isolation before gradually coming together as themes, characters, objects, words and callbacks.

Sam says: “The show’s a beautiful mix of storytelling and comedy. It’s warmly influenced by the Richard Curtis rom-coms like Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral but with a more whimsical, Northern feel.

“It has part of me written into it, places I’ve been and seen, from travelling home on the Transpennine express when the snow has fallen, to moments of being a hopeless (and often failed) romantic. It’s a show written for the lonely hearted and those in love.”

For Harrogate tickets, harrogatetheatre.co.uk; for York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

For Charles Hutchinson and Graham Chalmers’ interview with podcast special guest Sam Freeman, head to the Two Big Egos In A Small Car listening link at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10231399.

More Things To Do in York and beyond, when Jason’s gig is but one good reason to go out. List No. 71, courtesy of The Press

Michael McIntyre: Road-testing new gags at the Grand Opera House, York

FROM McIntyre to Macbeth, two Aussies to an English celebration, a Ugandan story to a pioneering Welsh icon, Charles Hutchinson spreads his net wide.  

Talking point gig of the week: Michael McIntyre: Work In Progress, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 8pm

COMEDIAN Michael McIntyre will put new material to the test in a “York In Progress” show hastily arranged mid-month for February 28.

Tickets sold out within two hours of going on sale on February 15 for the 45-year-old Londoner’s latest dollops of observational comedy, wherein he turns everyday situations into outpourings of startled exasperation.

The jovial Big Show and The Wheel host previously played a three-night run of Work In Progress gigs at the Grand Opera House in July 2012. For returns only, 0844 871 7615.

Tachia Newall and Jessica Baglow in a masked rehearsal for their roles as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse

Play of the week outside York: Macbeth, Leeds Playhouse, tonight until March 19

DIRECTOR Amy Leach and designer Hayley Grindle have created a vibrant, raw and visceral vision of Shakespeare’s thrilling tragedy, Macbeth.

Tachia Newall plays the ambitious northern warrior, who does whatever it takes to gain power and, ultimately, the throne, propelled further into darkness by his wife, Jessica Baglow’s Lady Macbeth, whose hands bear witness to her own greed and corruption. Look out for York actress Ashleigh Wilder as one of the witches. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk.

She Drew The Gun: Songs decrying corruption, abuse and division at The Crescent, York

York indie gig of the week: She Drew The Gun, The Crescent, York, tonight, 7.30pm

PASSIONATE, principled, and refreshingly plain-spoken, proud socialist, feminist, bi-sexual mother of one Louisa Roach will not be cowed into silence.

As She Drew The Gun, the Wirral singer-songwriter uses punk-infused psych-pop as a vehicle for exposing injustice and for advocating a fairer and more tolerant society.

Written in lockdown and recorded at McCall Sound Studios in Sheffield, latest album Behave Myself decries corruption, abuse and the continued divisions between rich and poor that have only worsened in the pandemic. Annabel Allum supports. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Jason Donovan: So many reasons to celebrate his York Barbican concert

Third time lucky: Jason Donovan, Even More Good Reasons, York Barbican, Monday, 8pm

AFTER postponements in September 2020 and November 2021, Aussie heartthrob Jason Donovan’s 52-date tour to mark the 30th anniversary of his debut album, Ten Good Reasons, is finally happening. That anniversary actually passed as long ago as May 2019 on a faraway pre-pandemic planet!

“Having not done my own live shows for a while, I can’t wait to get out there again among my fans and deliver a new energetic show that is both personal, creative and reflective – something that is both nostalgic and just a good night out,” says the one-time Neighbours soap pin-up turned star of pop, stage musicals and theatre. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Writer-performer John Rwothomack in his one-man show Far Gone at York Theatre Royal Studio

Solo show of the week, John Rwothomack in Far Gone, York Theatre Royal Studio, Thursday and Friday, 7.45pm

WRITTEN and performed by John Rwothomack, Far Gone is set in northern Uganda, where Okumu’s village is attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), changing Okumu and his brother’s lives forever.

The story of a young boy’s journey from childhood innocence to child soldier is seen through the eyes of those that love him and those that betray him, as presented by Ugandan-born, London-trained and Sheffield-based Rwothomack in his debut play as writer and performer, prompted by himself nearly being kidnapped by the LRA guerrilla rebel group.

He explores complex issues of war, religion and power, drawing on the contrast between his experiences as a child in Uganda and as a young black man in Britain, and how perceptions of “Africa” have affected his own narrative. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Tommy Emmanuel: Playing his best “Tommysongs” at the Grand Opera House, York

Guitar virtuoso of the week: Tommy Emmanuel, Grand Opera House, York, March 6, 8pm

LAST seen in Britain performing on the Transatlantic Sessions Tour, Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel returns for 13 dates in February and March with dobro master Jerry Douglas as his special guest.

Emmanuel, 66, who improvises big chunks of each concert, will be showcasing The Best Of Tommysongs, a double album of re-recordings of his best original songs from the past 30 years with new modern arrangements.

Angelina, Lewis & Clark, It’s Never Too Late, fan favourites Mombasa and Train To Dusseldorf and new compositions Fuel and Song For A Rainy Morning will be aired in York. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Simon Wright: Conducting York Guildhall Orchestra’s St George’s Day debut at the JoRo

Bring out the flags: York Guildhall Orchestra, St George’s Day Concert, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 23,7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra and conductor Simon Wright make their Joseph Rowntree Theatre debut with a celebration of patron saint St George in an evening of light music with the spotlight on English composers.

Expect a variety of favourite pieces alongside some lesser-known gems, but not a dragon in sight in this joyful springtime programme. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Going Underground: Velvet pioneer John Cale to play York Barbican at 80

Gig announcement of the week: John Cale, York Barbican, July 19

VELVET Underground icon John Cale will play York as the only Yorkshire gig of his seven-date summer tour, his first British itinerary in a decade, with tickets going on sale on Wednesday at 10am.

The Welsh multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, who turns 80 on March 9, will perform songs from a career that began in classical and avant-garde music before he formed The Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in New York in 1965.

Over six pioneering decades, Cale has released 16 solo studio albums, most recently M:Fans in 2016, while also collaborating with Brian Eno, Patti Smith, The Stooges, Squeeze, Happy Mondays, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Super Furry Animals and Manic Street Preachers. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

REVIEW: York Settlement Community Players in Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind ****

Desperately seeking Susan, as she loses her mind: Victoria Delaney in the Settlement Players’ Woman In Mind. All pictures: John Saunders

Woman In Mind, York Settlement Community Players, York Theatre Royal Studio, until Saturday, 7.45pm and 2.45pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

ANGIE Millard “seemed to have avoided Alan Ayckbourn” in her past directorial choices, but she had one play in mind for the Settlement Players’ return to York Theatre Royal after two years.

Ayckbourn’s sad, haunting, darker than dark-humoured psychological drama Woman In Mind had struck a chord in the pandemic climate of isolation and mental health issues.

Premiered in 1985 but still feeling present day in 2022, it remains Ayckbourn’s supreme study of a trapped woman, older than Nora in A Doll’s House but just as affecting as the desperate flight of Henrik Ibsen’s proto-feminist, Susan’s story being told from inside her woozy head.

The setting is 48 hours in her south London garden and beyond: the place where the world is refracted through the prism of Susan’s psyche.

Playing fantasy families: Victoria Delaney’s Susan raises a glass to husband Andy (Paul French), daughter Lucy (Amy Hall) and brother Tony (Neil Vincent)

Following in the footsteps of Julia McKenzie, Stockard Channing and Helen Mirren, in her first stage role since October 2019, Victoria Delaney opens the play on her back and never leaves the stage (interval aside).

Delaney’s suburban housewife is coming round from unconsciousness, after knocking herself out when stepping on a garden rake, as Chris Pomfrett’s cautious yet accident-prone family doctor, Bill Windsor, attends to her. In a brilliant Ayckbourn conceit, his words, like her vision, go from a gobbledygook blur to being clear.

With the bang on the head comes the comforting concern of her champagne-golden  family, as if torn from a Mills & Boon cover or a desirable clothes catalogue: first, handsome old devil husband Andy (Paul French); then tennis-playing brother Tony (Neil Vincent) and her auburn-haired darling of a daughter, Lucy (YSCP debutante Amy Hall).

Too, too perfect, surely, and yet played as straight down the line as Tony practising a backhand winner, they could – at first at least – be real. We see and hear them, just as Susan sees and hears them, but only she does so, just like only urbane novelist Charles Condomine and the audience see and hear his deceased first wife, Elvira, in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

Living on a prayer: Paul Toy as vicar Gerald

The grim reality is very different: husband Gerald (clergyman’s son Paul Toy) is a self-obsessed priggish vicar, always in another room writing his interminably dull, interminably long parish history since 1387. They have reached the separate bed stage already.

Live-in sister-in-law Muriel (Helen Wilson) is obsessed with reconnecting with her late husband and is forever making foul-tasting beverages and even fouler meals, defeated by the lack of labelling on kitchen ingredients.

Wastrel son Rick (YSCP newcomer Frankie-Jo Anderson) is estranged and strange, having joined a cult in Hemel Hempstead, but suddenly he arrives with news.

Where once Susan loved being a wife and mother, now she is neglected by husband and son alike and unfulfilled in her humdrum, loveless domestic domain, Symbolically, the garden plants in Richard Hampton’s design are reduced to twigs, with the only flowers being on the backdrop tapestries, Susan’s bench and Muriel’s cardigan. What lies ahead beyond Susan’s disillusioned forties, her days as frustrating and stuck as a buffering laptop screen?

Muriel (Helen Wilson) serves up another gruesome beverage to vicar Gerald’s (Paul Toy) distaste

Ayckbourn, and in turn Millard and Delaney, capture a “woman on the verge”, and as the real and unreal worlds collide increasingly beyond her control, so too do the ever-blackening humour and pathos, her sanity crumbling and the words returning once more to gobbledygook.

Delaney’s performance is deeply unsettling, her Susan being full of vulnerability, waspish of tongue, her mind grasping desperately at the cliff’s edge, happiness out of reach.

Pomfrett, in particular, provides the comedy, perfectly in step with Ayckbourn’s rhythms; Toy makes the supercilious vicar utterly unbearable but splendidly sets himself up for laughter at his expense; Wilson judges just right how to be annoying yet not annoying as the never-wanted-where-she-is Muriel. Anderson’s disingenuous Rick would fall out with anyone.

French, Hall and Vincent are perfectly well cast as the fantasy family that gradually turns into a nightmare and Woman In Mind becomes a woman out of her mind.

Angie Millard was right: Ayckbourn’s play has indeed taken on even more resonance under the pandemic microscope, where already unhappy marriages have cracked under the strain and the desire to escape has been heightened in enforced isolation.

‘There are so few plays that feature a woman like this,’ says Woman In Mind director Angie Millard. ‘Hedda Gabler and that’s it.’ Meet Alan Ayckbourn’s Susan

Victoria Delaney and Neil Vincent shelter under an umbrella in a February rehearsal for the Settlement Players’ production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind. Picture: John Saunders

ANGIE Millard has directed myriad plays but “seemed to have avoided” Alan Ayckbourn…until now.

“The present climate of isolation and mental health issues led me to Woman In Mind, which is a perfect choice for this time,” she says, ahead of her York Settlement Community Players production opening on Saturday in the York Theatre Royal Studio.

One of 87 full-length works by the Scarborough playwright, 1985’s Woman In Mind’s portrait of a woman in the verge finds housewife Susan stuck, unfulfilled and neglected in her humdrum marriage.

As played by Victoria Delaney, who remains on stage throughout, Susan’s growing disillusionment with everyday life is brought to a head when she steps on a garden rake and is knocked unconscious.

Whereupon her minor concussion and hallucinations combine to surround Susan with the ideal fantasy family, handsomely dressed in tennis whites as they sip champagne. However, when her real and imaginary worlds collide, those fantasies take on a nightmarish life of their own in Ayckbourn’s hotbed of humour and pathos.

“You can see Ayckbourn’s plays over and over again and still see something new in them each time; they’re so rich in detail,” says Angie. “I love Woman In Mind, and I’m working with very talented and creative people who make every rehearsal a joy, though the problem we’ve faced is the limited amount of time we’ve had to rehearse.

“We’ve been doing just three hours on Sundays, two hours on Mondays and Wednesdays, with the Mondays for intensive sessions for the two-hander scenes, followed by a week in tech.

Victoria Delaney: On stage from start to finale in Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind

“You need the time to explore the lines, to find the humour, to bring a light touch to it, as it’s that subtle, offhand way that Ayckbourn has in his writing.”

Explaining her reasoning behind selecting Woman In Mind, Angie says: “Because of Susan. I feel there are so few plays that feature a woman like this. Hedda Gabler and that’s it.

“That’s important now in a society where people are having mental health problems – and Susan has massive mental health problems. The pandemic has also thrown up an increased awareness of isolation and of not being happy in a relationship, which has been exacerbated in the lockdowns.”

Angie notes how Susan’s husband Gerald, busy writing his magnus opus on the history of the parish, “doesn’t know how to deal with Susan”. “Men in Ayckbourn’s plays rarely do. It’s a position they take where, over the years, they slide away from their responsibilities in relationships or in their workplace, and that’s rarely something women get to do,” she says.

“But this is where Ayckbourn is really clever, because you also see Susan for who she is. You ask yourself, ‘why did she marry him?’. When Gerald asks, ‘what did I do wrong?’, she says, ‘’Married me’.

“Yes, he’s let her down, he’s a disappointment, but marriages are about a contract and a bargain. It’s about acceptance.” 

Putting Susan’s character on the psychiatrist’s couch, Angie says: “Most people who end up unwell mentally have an addiction, though with Susan, I can’t attribute an addiction to her, except an addiction to perfection.

York Settlement Community Players’ poster for Woman In Mind

“If you’re classically depressed, it’s because the world doesn’t see you as you see yourself, but you have to get over that and not see yourself as so important.”

Victoria Delaney will be joined in Millard’s cast by company stalwarts Chris Pomfrett, Paul Toy, Helen Wilson and Paul French and newcomers Frankie-Jo Anderson, Neil Vincent and Amy Hall in Settlement Players’ first Theatre Royal production since Chekhov’s The Seagull in pre-Covid March 2020.

“This is the first role I’ve done since Covid started,” says Victoria. “My last one was in a play I wrote myself, Mad Alice, in October 2019, and my plan at the time was to start my own company, do a Yorkshire tour and then maybe take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, but then the pandemic happened and it just wasn’t possible. I’ll wait for things to settle down and then I can return to that plan or more writing.

“So, when I saw the casting call-out for Woman In Mind, I jumped at it. I did my research and requested to audition for two roles, Susan and Muriel, as I love comedy and I would have loved to play Muriel too, but what a peach of a part Susan is.”

Victoria initially took a break from her professional acting career after her divorce to focus on being a single mum with an autistic son – who will turn 20 in the summer – and she now works remotely from home giving legal advice on Zoom to families with special educational needs up to the age of 25.

Her acting and writing come into play when the opportunity arises.  “But in my work, I do also sometimes have to think creatively about how the law might get over a problem,” she says.

Rehearsing for an Ayckbourn play has been such a stimulating challenge. “It’s a comedy but it’s a dark comedy, which means I can show lots of sides to Susan. There are moments where I can play the comedy; moments where she’s really vulnerable, or indignant, or annoyed,” says Victoria.

“I’m going to really miss her because she takes you over,” says Victoria Delaney of playing housewife Susan in Woman In Mind. Here she is pictured by John Saunders, masked up in the rehearsal studio

“There’s just so much to her character, and because I never leave the stage, I get to interact with so many characters. I’m going to really miss her because she takes you over. I’ve been called for every rehearsal because Susan is in every scene, and as I have to go through so many emotions, I then need to let those emotions , that adrenaline, seep away.”

To learn all those lines, “I’ve been walking around the village, doing laps at 6am, listening to the play,” says Victoria, who lives in Wheldrake.

She finds liberation in playing a character of such emotional contrasts. “I’ll say things on stage that I would never say myself. Things that I would consider rude. I’d have too many filters to go through to say them!” she says.

“But the absolute drug of acting is to be able to show the audience all these emotions, this sadness, and when you feel them connect with you, I love that connection.

“I’ve meet lot of actors that have a certain shyness about them in their own lives. I mask it, but I have a shy side, and when people say, ‘but you go out on stage’, I say, ‘yes, but I’m playing someone else and I love doing that’.”

As chance would have it, when facing such a demanding week ahead, “luckily the performances are over half-term”, says Victoria, breathing a little more easily at the prospect.

York Settlement Community Players in Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind, York Theatre Royal Studio, Saturday until February 26, except February 20; 7.45pm plus 2.45pm, February 26. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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