How safe are women on the streets of York, ask Next Door But One in Rachel Price’s touring play She Was Walking Home

Anna Johnston as Cate in Next Door But One’s She Was Walking Home. Picture: James Drury

WHEN York community arts collective Next Door But One first took She Was Walking Home on tour in 2022, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had just released data on safety in different public settings.

One in two women felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home or in a busy public place, and two out of three women aged 16 to 34 had experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months.

Now, as NDB1 take their revived testimonial-based performance to schools, colleges and universities throughout York and North Yorkshire, as well as to York Theatre Royal Studio tonight (5/10/2023), the need for more conversations around women’s safety and the role we all play in it has been strengthened by a report from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

It reveals that more than half a million offences against women and girls were recorded in England and Wales between October 1 2021 and March 31 2022 and that violence against women and girls accounts for at least 15.8 per cent of all recorded crime.

Director Kate Veysey in rehearsal for Next Door But One’s She Was Walking Home. Picture: James Drury

First produced as an audio walk around York city centre in 2021, She Was Walking Home is a series of monologues created by writer Rachel Price from the testimonies of women living, working and studying in York. 

“This project was initially called into action by the female creatives and participants we work with, who were all having more and more conversations around their own safety after a number of attacks and murders reported in the media,” says director Kate Veysey.

“With each stage of development, it has been the community that has guided us: the audio walk was created from 33 testimonies of local women; the 2022 tour was produced through feedback from listeners who wished to bring their friends, colleagues and social groups to engage in the conversation.

“The resounding message from that audience was the want from parents for their children to see this, for teachers wanting their schools to witness, and young women wanting their male peers to come with them. So that’s what we are doing.”

Emma Liversidge-Smith’s Joanne in She Was Walking Home. Picture: James Drury

People think of York as a safe place to be, says NDB1 creative engagement manager El Stannage, “but as a woman I can tell you it isn’t”. “We collected documentary information both written and conversational, keeping that door open for information for about a month, and it came streaming in,” she says.

“We had plenty to work with, then collected our own thoughts and commissioned Rachel to put those stories together as one tapestry, telling stories of women at different stages of life, their different experiences, whether harassment or abuse, focusing on the impact it’s had on their their lives, the ripples it’s had.

“For the latest tour, we’ve stayed with the original piece of theatre but kept abreast with what’s been happening, and we’ve kept in touch too with IDAS [Independent Domestic Abuse Services] and the Kyra Women’s Project, the York charity that helps women to make positive change in their lives.”

This autumn’s performances in schools, colleges and universities will not only inform students of the lived experience of women in their own communities, but also empower them to make the change now and see the benefits in their own futures; understanding the impact of their actions, ways in which they could intervene, question their own thinking or those of their peers.

Mandy Newby’s Jackie. Picture: James Drury

El says: “We’re really excited to be working with schools [age 14 upwards], colleges and universities this time, after the feedback we got from last year’s public performances that we needed to do that.

“The young people we get to work with in our participation programmes are bright, forward thinking and actively seeking ways to play a part in the growing world around them, so for us it just makes sense to bring this conversation to them, as they are the next generation to make change.

“But also, real change can only happen when the full community listen up and play their part too. That’s why we’re hosting public performances in the evenings at the same schools, colleges and universities, so that parents, carers, siblings, friends, teachers and other local residents can join in the same vital conversation.”

Through the autumn tour of this all-female production, performed by a cast of Fiona Baistow, Anna Johnson, Emma Liversidge-Smith and Mandy Newby, the mission will be to amplify the voices of York women, while also prompting conversations around where responsibility and accountability lies for their safety.

Fiona Baistow’s Millie in a scene from She Was Walking Home. Picture: James Drury

“Since the original walk, listened to by almost 800 people, there have been further attacks and murders of women, and still the rhetoric seems to be skewed towards rape alarms, trackers, self-defence classes and dress codes being the solution,” says NDB1 artistic director Matthew Harper-Hardcastle. “We needed to continue and challenge this conversation. The invitation is to come and watch but also to think.”

One audience feedback quote on NDB1’s website is particularly illuminating. “I like to think I’m aware of these issues and as a man have been ultra-conscious that just being on the same street can heighten anxiety,” it reads.

“This performance made me cry, but it’s such an important way to foster change, I left feeling that if more men could see and engage with it, we might just be able to smash that ‘block of granite’.”

Next Door But One’s She Was Walking Home is on tour until October 27 with student performances complemented by public performances at York High School, Malton School, York College, Scarborough TEC, York Theatre Royal Studio tonight at 7.45pm, University of York, October 20 at 7.45pm and York St John University, October 25 at 7.30pm. Box office details:

Comedian Mark Thomas takes the reins off for new role in Ed Edwards’s political play England & Son in York Theatre Royal Studio

From stand-up to sit-down: Mark Thomas devours the stage in England & Son. Picture: Alex Brenner

GROUCHY godfather of political comedy Mark Thomas is taking to the stage for the first time in a one-man show written by someone else, playwright Ed Edwards.

Warmed up for last month’s award-laden Edinburgh Fringe run in a work-in-progress performance at Selby Town Hall in July, England & Son returns to North Yorkshire tomorrow (22/9/2023) and on Saturday in the York Theatre Royal Studio.

Set when The Great Devouring comes home, Edwards’s play has emerged from characters Thomas knew in his childhood and from Edwards’s experience in prison in the early 1990s, when jailed for three years for drug offences. [Edwards would write the first of his five novels while inside].

Promising deep, dark laughs and deep, dark love, Thomas undertakes a kaleidoscopic odyssey where disaster capitalism, empire, Thatcherite politics, stolen youth and robbed wealth, domestic violence, addiction, hope and recovery merge into the simple tale of a working-class boy who just wants his dad to smile at him.

Serendipity brought the two polemicists together in 2018. “I came out of a performance of Ed’s play The Political History Of Smack And Crack at Edinburgh and turned to my mate and said, ‘that was amazing’. This voice behind me said, ‘I wrote that’!” recalls Mark.

“So we met up, got on like a house on fire and became mates, coming to gigs, talking till the early hours about politics, and we always said it would be great to work together.”

Two years ago, they made the commitment to crack on with it. “We used to talk about stories, his story, my story, and then we’d work on it. I’d remember half of it, then make up the rest, and then I didn’t see the finished script until the first day of rehearsals, but I knew he’d written a banger, an absolute stormer.”

So much so, England & Son has won a Scotsman Fringe First Award, Entertainment Now Best Theatre Award, Lustrum Award for Unforgettable Festival Shows and Holden Street Theatres’ Award for its run under the direction of Cressida Brown at The Roundabout, a theatre-in-the-round tent.

Now Londoner Mark, 60, is back on familiar territory, on the road, albeit in an unfamiliar setting. “I get to play characters, be the narrator and me, all of that, in a show that’s all about how you tell a story, where you will do the voices, little shrugs and mannerisms, with me charging around the stage and knowing you can’t take your foot off the pedal for a second,” he says.

“The thing about stand-up is you have to be in the moment, but there’s a massively structured script with this show, though we always call it jazz, because if you do the same show twice, you will fail, but that’s good because it makes each show special.

“If you put yourself on stage telling a story, you can’t coast, you can’t cruise, you have to put in 100 per cent, otherwise cancel the show,” says Mark Thomas. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

“I’ve got a great opportunity to go and do something I’ve never done before, and because I’d never done it before, I didn’t know what to expect – I’ve been doing stand-up for 37 years – and what’s brilliant is you see the impact and you want that every night.

“If you put yourself on stage telling a story, you can’t coast, you can’t cruise, you have to put in 100 per cent, otherwise cancel the show.”

Mark “wants people to be rent asunder in the desolation of the emotional wreckage” in England & Son. “I’ve always tried to do stuff that does more than make people laugh. Stand-up is in the moment, whereas theatre takes you into an emotional place and I’ve always dabbled in both, but now I’ve taken the reins off and it’s thrilling. I’ve loved it, but I got Covid at the end of the [Edinburgh] Fringe, so I was livid! I couldn’t wait to get back out there.”

Already Mark has “some ideas to get another play out there”, having so enjoyed working with Edwards. “The interesting thing with Ed is that he’s an addict, who got clean before going to jail, and I’ve had issues with alcohol, so we both recognise addiction. There’s something about being in a room with brutally honest people, which has been an influence on this show,” he says.

“Addicts and alcoholics are always telling their stories at meetings and consultations, and what we do in the comedy workshops I run with addicts is to turn it into something beautiful, making it into art.

“Because of my own issues, I’d ask them questions and say, ‘go and write something stupid that you did’, and then I’ll give them my list. It’s a meeting of people as equals.”

More of those workshops are on the way, along with Mark’s England & Son travels, rooted in the political philosophy that any nation that devours another will one day devour itself. “It’s Ed’s title and it’s about England’s relationships, about fathers and sons and families, the damage they can do to each other, but also the hope,” he says.

“As Studs Terkel’s book said, hope dies last, and there’s something with addiction where there can be a thin line between hope and illusion, and that’s why people keep going to those meetings that are profoundly honest.”

England And Son captures a basic human instinct too: “Every single one of us, from the moment we are born, we want the love of our parents,” says Mark. “We want their attention.” 

Wanting attention? That applies to writers, performers, comedians too. Give England & Son yours. Five-star reviews demand it.

Mark Thomas in England & Son, York Theatre Royal Studio, September 22, 7.45pm; September 23, 2pm and 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

The artwork for Mark Thomas in Ed Edwards’s England & Son. Picture: Design By Greg

Ed Edwards: the back story

STARTED his creative career as a circus performer but stopped at the age when you start to think, “This is actually dangerous”. He now juggles a writing career, lecturing, making films and rearing two sons.

Virtually illiterate at the age of 11, Ed eventually managed to educate himself, go to university and become a professional writer. Today he is “only one-third illiterate”, he says. 

He did three-and-a-half years in prison in the early 1990s for drugs offences, publishing his first novel while inside. He has five novels and a children’s book to his name and has worked for several continuing television dramas, including Holby City and the now defunct Brookside and The Bill, although he maintains that is not the reason they died.

​ He has written several original plays for BBC Radio 4 and made short films for Channel 4. He has turned to guerrilla film-making, directing short films and co-directing and producing the feature film Scrambled.

His plays include The Political History Of Smack And Crack and England And Son. He misses the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro and loves making jam and writing about himself in the third person.

Did you know?

MARK Thomas has done shows about visiting the West Bank, starting a comedy club in Jenin, espionage, lobbying Parliament, walking in the footsteps of the highest NHS officials, playing at the Royal Opera House, stopping arms deals and creating manifestos.

Devouring the stage: Mark Thomas in England & Son. Picture: Alex Banner

The artwork for Mark Thomas in England & Son. Picture: Design By Greg

“If you put yourself on stage telling a story, you can’t coast, you can’t cruise, you have to put in 100 per cent, otherwise cancel the show,” says Mark Thomas. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

More Things To Do in York and beyond when truth will out for tips for trips on days ahead. Hutch’s List No. 38, from The Press

Dawn French: Frank confessions of a comedian at York Barbican

FRENCH comedy, a very English murder thriller, state-of-the-nation politics and police procedures stir Charles Hutchinson into action for the week ahead.

Comedy gigs of the week: Dawn French Is A Huge Twat, York Barbican, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm

HER show is so named because, unfortunately, it is horribly accurate, says self-mocking comedian and actress Dawn French. “There have been far too many times I have made stupid mistakes or misunderstood something vital or jumped the gun in a spectacular display of twattery,” she explains. 

“I thought I might tell some of these buttock-clenching embarrassing stories to give the audience a peek behind the scenes of my work life.” Tickets update: Limited availability at

Tonight, meanwhile, Sarah Millican plays a Work In Progress gig at Pocklington Arts Centre at 8pm. Sold out already alas.

A scene from Original Theatre Company’s touring production of Torben Betts’s new play, Murder In The Dark, starring Tom Chambers and Susie Blake. Picture: Pamela Raith

Thriller of the week: Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

TOM Chambers and Susie Blake star in Torben Betts’s new ghost story chiller cum psychological thriller, set on New Year’s Eve, when a crash on a deserted road brings washed-up singer Danny Sierra and his dysfunctional family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England.

From the moment they arrive, inexplicable events begin to occur…and then the lights go out, whereupon deeply buried secrets come to light. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Robin Simpson: Pantomime dame and storyteller, bringing Magic, Monsters and Mayhem to York tomorrow afternoon. Picture: Joel Rowbottom

Children’s show of the week: Magic, Monsters and Mayhem with Robin Simpson, Bluebird Bakery, Acomb Road, Acomb, tomorrow, 4.30pm

YORK Theatre Royal pantomime dame Robin Simpson – he will be playing Dame Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk this winter – switches to storyteller mode to journey back to magic school on Sunday afternoon.

He will be telling stories of wonderful creatures, exciting adventures and “more magic than you can wave a wand” as he places the audience in charge of an interactive show ideal for Harry Potter fans.  Suitable for Key Stage 2, but smaller siblings are welcome too, along with Potter-potty grown-ups. Box office:

Hannah Baker, left, Harvey Badger, Eddie Ahrens and Rachel Hammond in Mikron Theatre’s A Force To Be Reckoned With. Picture: Anthony Robling

Police spotted operating in the vicinity: Mikron Theatre in A Force To Be Reckoned With, Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York, tomorrow, 4pm

IN Amanda Whittington’s new play for Marsden travelling players Mikron Theatre, fresh from police training school, WPC Iris Armstrong is ready for whatever the mean streets of a 1950s’ northern market town can throw at her.

Joining forces with fellow WPC Ruby Weston, they make an unlikely partnership, a two-woman department, called to any case involving women and children, from troublesome teens to fraudulent fortune tellers. Box office: 07974 867301 or 01904 466086, or in person from Pextons, Bishopthorpe Road, York.

Kathryn Williams and Polly Paulusma: Songwriters at the double at Pocklington Arts Centre

Songwriting bond of the week: Kathryn Williams & Polly Paulusma: The Big Sky Tour, Pocklington Arts Centre, Tuesday, 8pm

AS label buddies on One Little Independent Records, Kathryn Williams and Polly Paulusma met on a song-writing retreat. They wrote songs together and tutored courses at Arvon Foundation and as their friendship developed and strengthened, they supported each other over lockdown.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that they would tour together at some point. Finally, those Thelma and Louise dreams – hopefully without the killing or the cliff finale – come true on a month-long itinerary, playing solo sets and uniting for a few songs. Box office:

Mike Skinner: The Streets’ composer-turned-filmmaker discusses his debut film in Q&A appearances at Everyman Leeds and Everyman York

Streets ahead: Mike Skinner’s film The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light and Q&A, Everyman Leeds, September 21, 8pm; Everyman York, September 25, 7pm

THE Streets’ Mike Skinner presents his debut feature film, the “neo-noir” clubland thriller The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light, in an exclusive Q&A tour to Everyman cinemas.

Birmingham multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Skinner funded, wrote, directed, filmed, edited and scored his cinematic account of the seemingly mundane life of a DJ whose journey through London’s nightclubs turns into a tripped-out modern-day murder mystery. Each screening will be followed by a live question-and-answer session with Skinner, giving an insight into the music and story behind the film. Box office:

Mark Thomas: Comedian stars in Ed Edwards’s one-man play England And Son at York Theatre Royal Studio

Political drama of the week: Mark Thomas in England And Son, York Theatre Royal Studio, September 22, 7.45pm; September 23, 2pm and 7.45pm

POLITICAL comedian Mark Thomas stars in this one-man play, set when The Great Devouring comes home: the first he has performed not written by the polemicist himself but by playwright Ed Edwards.

Edinburgh Fringe award winner England And Son has emerged from characters Thomas knew in his childhood and from Edwards’s lived experience in jail. Promising deep, dark laughs and deep, dark love, Thomas undertakes a kaleidoscopic odyssey where disaster capitalism, Thatcherite politics and stolen wealth merge into the simple tale of a working-class boy who just wants his dad to smile at him. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Rowntree Park, by Jo Rodwell, one of 26 printmakers taking part in the York Printmakers Autumn Fair

Print deadline: York Printmakers Autumn Fair, York Cemetery Chapel and Harriet Room, September 23 and 24, 10am to 5pm

IN its sixth year, the York Printmakers Autumn Fair features work by 26 members, exhibiting and selling hand-printed original prints, including Russell Hughes, Rachel Holborow, Michelle Hughes, Harriette Rymer and Jo Rodwell.

On display will be a variety of printmaking techniques, such as linocut, collagraphs, woodcut, screen printing, stencilling and etching. Artists will be on hand to discuss their working methods and to show the blocks, plates and tools they use.

Sir Alan Ayckbourn: The truth will out when he takes to the SJT stage tomorrow afternoon. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

In Focus: Theatre event of the week: Alan Ayckbourn’s Truth Will Out, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, tomorrow, 2.30pm

IN a rare stage appearance, Sir Alan Ayckbourn plays Jim in a rehearsed reading of his Covic-crocked 2020 SJT premiere Truth Will Out, joined by John Branwell, Frances Marshall and the cast of his 89th play, Constant Companions.

Truth Will Out is an up-to-the-minute satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation, wherein everyone has secrets. Certainly former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy and senior civil servant Sefton do.

Enter a tech-savvy, chippy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down, and maybe everyone else’s along with them, in Ayckbourn’s own “virus” storyline, written before Coronavirus stopped play.

“It’s ‘the one that got away’, with most of the cast in place, and we even did a season launch,” says Sir Alan. “The play was one of my ‘What ifs’: what if a teenager invented a virus that brought the whole thing down. A ‘virus’ play, like Covid, with the virus escaping and the play ending in the dark, waiting till dawn.”

Racism, trade unionism and infidelity all play their part in Truth Will Out too. “It’s a melting pot of wrongdoings,” says Sir Alan. Tickets update: limited availability on 01723 370541 or

REVIEW: The Sweet Science Of Bruising, York Theatre Royal Studio ****

On the ropes: Kate Whittaker’s Polly Stokes feels the force of Zee Williams’s Matilda Blackwell on the attack in The Sweet Science Of Bruising

York College & University Centre BA (Hons) Acting for Stage and Screen Graduating Students in The Sweet Science Of Bruising, York Theatre Royal Studio, July 20 and 21

TWO years of intense training have gone into this climactic graduating production by York College & University Centre’s first cohort of Acting for Stage and Screen BA students.

They deliver a knockout punch with Joy Wilkinson’s torrid 2018 drama The Sweet Science Of Bruising, an epic tale of passion, politics and pugilism set in the underground world of 19th-century women’s boxing.

Mirroring the rounds of a boxing bout in its dramatic rhythm, each scene is short and sharp, some dominated by jabs, others by body blows, some completed with a count to ten. Every step of the way, director James Harvey duly has his cast floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

Philippa Hickson’s Violet Hunter, left, with Shell Murphy’s Aunt George

Already, the students had staged a spring showcase for agents at the Theatre Royal, one of two industry partners in the course alongside Screen Yorkshire. An auditorium buzzing with energy greets them – CharlesHutchPress was ringside for the Friday performance – and ever louder cheers meet each scene’s denouement in the compact Studio, where the actors are within punching range.

These exultations peak in response to the retaliatory barrage of punches unleashed by Molly Shackshaft’s Anna Lamb on her vile creep of a gaslighting husband, Andrew Joseph-Hilyer’s anything-but-angelic Gabriel Lamb.

Liam Wilks’s Victorian-moustachioed “Professor” Charlie Sharp doubles as silver-tongued master of ceremonies at Islington’s Angel Amphitheatre – egging on the audience’s responses from round one – and twinkle-eyed, if thin-skinned, subversive boxing promoter with his roster of fledgling female talent.

Jim Carnall’s title-chasing boxer Paul Stokes with Liam Wilks’s boxing promoter “Professor” Charlie Sharp

Each protagonist has a reason for turning to boxing: Shackshaft’s young mother and charity crusader Anna Lamb has been pushed too far by her cheating, controlling, belittling, physically abusive husband; Philippa Hickson’s trainee doctor Violet Hunter has found her path to progression in the medical profession blocked by Jordan Benson’s insufferable Dr James Bell.

Zee Williams’s resourceful, Descartes-quoting Irish lady of the night and typesetter for The Times newspaper, Matilda Blackwell, craves a puncher’s chance of a fresh opportunity to make money; Kate Whitttaker’s hardy north easterner Polly Stokes is steeped in boxing from the bouts of her “brother” Paul (Jim Carnall), with preternatural punching power of her own. Her performance matches it in its impact.

Wilkinson’s script is combative and comedic, fiery and feminist, startling and exhilarating, a hit to the head, a punch to the gut. This is gloves-off theatre, fuelled by Wilkinson being drawn to “powerful women whose bodies contrast with ‘feminine ideals’ and force us to rethink what we’re capable of”: women such as Fay Weldon’s She-Devil, Alien’s Ellen Ripley and Terminator’s Sarah Connor.

Zee Williams’s prostitute Matilda Blackwell and Andrew Joseph-Hilyer’s callous client Gabriel Lamb

Reactions in the audience are all the stronger for Wilkinson’s play being refracted through our age of #MeToo, high-profile boxing champs such as Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor, Roe v Wade and a rising repression of women’s rights, whether in Afghanistan or the United States.

What a superb choice of play by programme leader Harvey, his decision made in part in response to the preponderance of woman in the 2021 intake. His cast responds with a champion performance.

In boxing parlance, did this Bruising encounter leave you reviewer seeing stars (in the making), courtesy of Kaitlin Howard’s fight direction? It would be unfair to pick out any performer over another, given the high quality all round. Instead, let’s hope to see them again as they join the professional ranks.

REVIEW: York Settlement Community Players in The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal Studio, until Saturday ****

Alan Park’s playwright Henry and Alice May Melton’s actress Annie in York Settlement Community Players’ The Real Thing. All pictures: John Saunders

IS a play ever the real thing or just playing? What is love? What is art? What is truth? What is artifice? Can Tom Stoppard write good roles for women? Can you even trust this review? So many questions, and none of them will be answered conclusively.

He may be considered one of the greatest, smartest of British playwrights, knighted for his clever, clever dramas with their iridescent, intellectual language and adroit structures. But Tom Stoppard is not British by birth and nor is it his original name.

He was born Tomás Straüssler in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, and was raised in Singapore and India, taking the name Stoppard from his stepfather before moving to England in the post-war aftermath. He quit school (Pocklington School, by the way), becoming a journalist…and you know what they say about journalists and their relationship with the truth.

Written in 1982, The Real Thing revels in confusion, confusion that becomes even greater at the finale, or does it? Trust me, it certainly considers the nature of honesty in a play full of dishonesty and infidelity, where you may well not be able to tell when it is being a play within a play or a play being re-written within the play within the play or just a play.

Charlotte (Victoria Delaney) has a word with errant husband Henry (Alan Park) in The Real Thing

Stoppard’s protagonist is a playwright, Henry (Alan Park, performing on a Theatre Royal stage for the first time since playing Jack in Pilot Theatre’s Lord Of The Flies 19 years ago).

He is married to Charlotte (Victoria Delaney), an actress, who is playing an actress, also called Charlotte as it happens, opposite Max (Mike Hickman) in Henry’s new play. Charlotte reckons he never writes her a decent role (an in-joke from Stoppard about his own writing).

Max in the play within a play is being played by an actor also called Max (Hickman), who is married to an actress, Annie (Alice May Melton).

Soon Henry and Annie are shacking up; dischuffed Charlotte and free-spirited daughter Debbie (Hannah Waring) moving on. Into the story come Billie (Rebecca Harrison), a lesbian young actress with a thing for Annie, and Brodie (Livy Potter), a troubled young writer whose frank and frankly badly written play is taken up by Annie. At least, I think that is what you are watching.

Alice May Melton’s Annie and Rebecca Harrison’s Billie in The Real Thing

For sure, two years pass between Act and Act II, because the programme note says so, but Oxford School of Theatre graduate, professional actor and former Theatre Royal youth theatre fledgling Jacob Ward revels in the deliberate complexities in his first full-length production as director.

Betwixt scenes, actors move three door frames into different configurations – on Richard Hampton’s open-plan set design – that may or may not signify what is real and what isn’t.

A multitude of doors traditionally denotes we are in the presence of a theatrical farce, but here it is more a case of moving the goalposts or rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as the grip on reality sinks.

Park’s playwright Henry has the best lines (of course he does!), and what he says carries the greatest weight as effectively Stoppard’s voice on stage in this heavily autobiographical drama.

Mike Hickman’s Max

What is reality, what is merely appearance, applies to the relationships within the play, where fronts keep being put up and lies told.

Ironically, such is the language he uses, Stoppard’s characters are often not wholly believable, being conduits for his own cleverness or point-making, but the greater truth here is a writer’s struggle to express love in his writing: the gap between Henry’s feelings for Annie and putting them on the page.

Amid the obfuscation of a multi-storey of levels on stage, Stoppard’s grasp of the complications of love is the one real thing in this Tony Award-winning romantic comedy that is more romantic in spirit than action.

Whatever the truth within, Ward’s cast is the real deal, Park a powerhouse of opinion and conviction, Melton full of intrigue and resolve, mysterious and elusive too; Delaney delightfully forthright; the rest wholly committed to spinning plates ever faster.

York Settlement Community Players present Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal Studio, 7.30pm nightly until Saturday, plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office

Don’t be confused! Jacob Ward is the real deal as he directs Settlement Players in Stoppard’s confusing play The Real Thing

Jacob Ward directing a rehearsal for York Settlement Community Players’ production of The Real Thing. All pictures: Ben Lindley

YORK Settlement Community Players return to York Theatre Royal’s Studio this Eastertide with Tom Stoppard’s typically smart and unsettling comedy drama The Real Thing.

Premiered in 1982 by the Pocklington School alumnus, this beguiling play of surprises and erudite wit follows Henry – possibly the sharpest playwright of his generation – who is married to actress Charlotte. Into the story Stoppard weaves a second couple, Max and wife Annie.

Henry, meanwhile,  has written a play about a couple, who happen to be called Max and Charlotte – just to muddy the water – whose marriage is on the brink of collapse.

Soon they will discover that sometimes life imitates art in Stoppard’s world of actors and writers, wherein his exploration of love and infidelity is designed to make audiences question: “What is the real thing?”

Alan Park’s Henry and Alice May Melton’s Annie rehearsing a scene from The Real Thing

Directing the Settlement Players for the first time, professional actor Jacob Ward says: “I’m very excited for an audience to interact with our modern-day version of this play. Its subject seems simple but, as we see through the eyes of various characters, we realise its complexity, and enjoy having our views on love and relationships broadened.

“The writing is nothing short of genius – it really is. Even after 20-plus times of reading, I’m still finding impossible connections and meaning. It’s a joy to direct and will be a thrill to watch: hilarious, heart-warming and thought-provoking all in one. We have a brilliant cast of actors to take you on the journey and a truly dedicated production team to bring the play to life.”

Ward’s cast will be led by Alan Park, chair of Theatre@41, Monkgate, as Henry and Alice May Melton, a stand-out in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s December 2022 production of A Nativity of York, playing Annie.

Victoria Delaney quickly follows up her turn as Kath in York Actors Collective’s debut production of Joe Orton’s farce Entertaining Mr Sloane with her role as Charlotte. Mike Hickman will be Max, Rebecca Harrison, Billy, and Hannah Waring, Debbie. Settlement chair – and Ward’s partner to boot – Livy Potter has taken over the part of Brodie at short notice, only weeks after starring in Gary Owen’s one-woman drama Iphigenia In Splott.

Seeing the funny side: Victoria Delaney’s Charlotte in The Real Thing

“I’d been in The Real Inspector Hound in 2006, directed by Laura Attridge, the opera director, who now lives in York, by the way,” says Jacob, recalling his first experience of performing in a Stoppard play in his Newcastle University days where he also co-directed new writing pieces and did likewise on scratch nights for Northern Stage and Alphabetti Theatre.  

“I went to see The Real Thing with my dad, when I was at university. I was at a loose end that day and it just happened to be on at the Old Vic. We both really enjoyed it, but I remember having no idea of what happened in the play as it’s designed in every way to confuse the audience!

“So, when Settlement put out a call to direct this season’s production, I thought, ‘here’s an opportunity to do the play that confused the hell out of me, to see if I could make any more sense of it for the audience!”

Reading the script, Jacob realised “it’s not meant to be anything but confusing”.  “Stoppard says it’s like a magic trick,” he says. “As a director, I’m thinking, ‘well, why has he made it so difficult?’, but that’s the point. You have all these characters reading something different into the same situation, mainly relating to their relationships.”

Stepping in: Livy Potter is taking over the role of Brodie in The Real Thing

How has Jacob responded to the intricacies and layers of Stoppard’s script? “His writing has a uniqueness because so few writers are so good that every single stage direction, every piece of grammar, really matters.

“They’ve all been thought out so well that you know when you’ve hit the right note, as it’s intricately designed to perfection, so that ultimately it only works one way in my head – which is always a brilliant Stoppard way.

“Working with the cast, we have to keep playing with it, delving into it, to make sense of it, until suddenly it takes on a greater meaning when all the pieces fit together. Everyone in the cast has enjoyed doing the play because you get these Aha! Moments.”

What is real in The Real Thing, Jacob? “There are many real things that he’s talking about, in general and specific terms: love, relationships and sex as part of love,” he says.

Alan Park’s Henry and Hannah Waring’s Debbie in the rehearsal room

“He’s also looking at how people put on facades; what’s real and what’s a front; what’s real writing, what isn’t; what’s real art, what isn’t.

“Then ‘class’ feeds into it too, how someone who’s not been educated to a certain level can live a full life but not articulate it, whereas someone else can articulate but may not know as much about life as they think they do.

“We don’t get answers with Stoppard, but lots of viewpoints to go away and discuss. I love how this play has a reason to exist and that reason is to talk about it afterwards.”

York Settlement Community Players in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal, April 5,  6 and 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm April 15 matinee. No performances from April 7 to 10.  Post-show Q&A session on April 12. Box office: 01904 623568 or

What is Jacob Ward directing next?

Director and actor Jacob Ward

JACOB Ward is directing a script-in-hand reading of Old Stan, aka A Fool Fooled, by Marin Držić , “the Croatian Shakespeare”, at the York International Shakespeare Festival next month.

The performance of the 1551 comedy’s first ever translation into English will take place in the Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building, Humanities Research Centre, University of York on April 27 at 6pm, preceded by an introduction to the work of the greatest Slavic Renaissance playwright at 5pm.

In Old Stan, an old peasant is fooled by tales of false fairies whose magic supposedly restores youth. Držić’s delicious, sparkly play, written entirely in verse, was commissioned for a wedding feast of a Ragusan nobleman, and he joked that nobody could marry without him in Dubrovnik, his home city.

Translated for the first time in 471 years by Filip Krenus – again entirely in verse – the comedy follows Stan’s misadventures that we might associate with Bottom or even Falstaff in riotous proof of Držić’s uncanny kinship with Shakespeare.

Držić devotees will be travelling over from Dubrovnik to attend the performance. Box office:

Did you know?

JACOB Ward played the god Tyr in York Theatre Royal’s community production of Maureen Lennon’s The Coppergate Woman last August.

In York Shakespeare Project’s final production of its first full cycle of Shakespeare plays, he took the role of suitor Ferdinand in The Tempest on tour last September.

Jacob Ward’s Ferdinand and Effie Warboys’ Miranda in York Shakespeare Project’s The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

Copyright of The Press, York

Rob Ward’s play The MP, Aunty Mandy And Me looks at gay grooming in political world

Writer-performer Rob Ward explores consent, coercion and grooming within the gay male community in The MP, Aunty Mandy And Me

THE MP, Aunty Mandy And Me’s bittersweet tale of political campaigns, sexual consent and steam trains plays out at York Theatre Royal Studio on Saturday night. 

Written and performed by Manchester-based Rob Ward, who brought Gypsy Queen’s unconventional love story between two fighters to the Studio in 2019, this 2022 Edinburgh Fringe show relates the story of young gay Dom, who craves being an #instagay #influencer.

The problem is, no-one likes his posts, he cannot find a bloke who shares his love of steam trains and he lives with his MDMA-popping, Simply Red-loving mum in the small, sleepy northern village, where he grew up, five miles from the nearest gay.

“He’d love a fabulous life with the A-Gays in a swanky city-centre apartment, but his crippling social anxiety prevents this from being a reality. It’s all a bit of an effort,” says Rob.

“Then, one day, a chance encounter with his local MP, Peter Edwards, leads to a job, turning everything upside down, but in pursuit of the life he thinks he wants, just how much does Dom have to give up?

“There are many more conversations to be had,” says Rob Ward as he turns the spotlight on gay grooming

The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me – the “Aunty Mandy” refers to Dom’s mum’s MDMA habit – explores consent, coercion and grooming within the gay male community through Ward’s combination of jagged humour and contemporary social commentary. 

Rob’s play should have been touring in 2020, but the pandemic put paid to that after only two performances at Curve, Leicester. Yet the 2022 summer run in Edinburgh and autumn tour could not be better timed. “At one point this year, there were 56 MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct, and when there are 650 MPs, that’s a high proportion,” says Rob.

“The play started as a reflection of personal experiences. I saw a play by a friend of mine, Tom Ratcliffe, called Velvet [about a young actor with a #metoo-style story to tell], and I had a conversation with him about how this behaviour [of coercion] can manifest itself, and I drew on that for my play.

“It’s that very careful planning, almost plotting, that takes place where the abuser gets you in a situation where you’re vulnerable or feel in need of them and then they move on.”

Rob’s research involved reading articles to learn of people’s experiences and having conversations with Duncan Craig OBE, the chief executive officer of Survivors, a Manchester charity for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Rob Ward on the stage set for The MP, Aunty Mandy And Me

“The roots of the play probably go back to the #metoo movement in 2017, listening to those stories, thinking about those power dynamics, and then realising that there probably wasn’t a male gay voice being heard in that movement, though of course it was quite right that the focus was on women with #metoo.

“But then you start hearing about theatre and film directors exploiting gay men, and I started talking with other gay men about how this happens within their community.”

Rob felt driven to highlight how such coercive abuse can prevail. “It’s an issue in society, where we’re coming to terms with it, but there are many more conversations to be had. I thought, ‘let’s open it out beyond the world of theatre’, and as I’m interested in politics, I decided I’d look at gay grooming in that world.

“Frequently, the power imbalance is a key part of it; what you face when you first step on to the gay scene, who you meet.”

Rob does not write with a didactic or polemical tone. “I try to avoid that,” he says. “I’m much more keen on asking questions and seeing what answers the audiences come up with. I prefer to steer clear of polemic. Instead, I like people to say, ‘oh, I hadn’t thought about that before’.

Rob Ward in his publicity picture for “the play about a Labour MP with a fetish”

“It’s essentially an exploration of ideas, rather than coming down on one side or the other, and hopefully people will then want to reflect on it and look into it further.”

Rob writes of the social-media world of the #instagay #influencer in his play. “I’m not a social influencer on Instagram, but it’s important that theatre addresses these issues and keeps our voices being heard in the wider community. As increasingly right-wing governments start to form, you have to be wary that liberties that have been fought for, for so long, can be taken away very quickly.”

After 17 Pleasance Dome performances at the Edinburgh Fringe,” trying it out, seeing what works, what needs working on, like a comedian testing gags, or being in a laboratory”, Rob is on tour, taking in both York and Harrogate in October.

“It’s been going down really well,” he says of an 80-minute eye-opener quickly becoming known as “the play about a Labour MP with a fetish”.

Emmerson & Ward Productions and Curve, Leicester present Rob Ward in The MP, Auntie Mandy And Me, York Theatre Royal Studio, Saturday (October 1), 7.45pm; Harrogate Theatre Studio, October 20, 8pm. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or

More Things To Do in York and beyond than Prospero could shake a stick at. Charles Hutchinson’s List No. 98, from The Press

Paul French’s Prospero and Effie Warboys’ Miranda in rehearsal for York Shakespeare Project’s touring production of The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

STORMY Shakespeare, bountiful balloons, rebellious schoolchildren, heaps of horror movies and Sherlock’s farewell tour are right up Charles Hutchinson’s street.

Theatre event of the week: York Shakespeare Project in The Tempest, on tour from September 23 to October 1

YORK Shakespeare Project’s 20-year journey to stage every Shakespeare play concludes with a Yorkshire tour of The Tempest, the Bard’s powerful last play, directed by Parrabbola artistic director Philip Parr with Paul French as Prospero.

When an unusual collection of people is thrown together on an island by a storm, old injuries must be resolved, a new generation makes new plans and everyone is driven to find something of themselves in a disrupted world.

Parr uses communal storytelling in a new interpretation to highlight themes of colonisation, reconciliation and change. Full tour and ticket details can be found at

What’s on Watson’s mind? Mark Watson reckons This Can’t Be It in comedy tour dates in York, Helmsley and Selby. Picture: Matt Crockett

Comedy gig of the week: Mark Watson, This Can’t Be It, Burning Duck Comedy Club, The Crescent, York, tonight (17/9/2022), 7.30pm

EVERYONE has been pondering the fragility of life in Covid’s shadow. Don’t worry, Bristol comic Mark has it covered. At 42, he is halfway through his days on Earth, according to his £1.49 life expectancy calculator app.

That life is in the best shape in living memory, but one huge problem remains. Spiritual investigation meets observational comedy as Watson crams two years’ pathological overthinking into one night’s stand-up. “Maybe we’ll even solve the huge problem,” he ponders. “Doubt it, though.”

Watson also plays Helmsley Arts Centre on October 7 and Selby Town Hall on November 17. Box office: York,; Helmsley, 01439 771700 or; Selby, 01757 708449 or

Mikron Theatre Company’s tour poster for Raising Agents

History in the baking: Mikron Theatre Company in Raising Agents, Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York, Sunday, 4pm

MIKRON Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary tour brings the Marsden travelling players to York for a second time this summer this weekend. After the premiere of Lindsay Rodden’s Red Sky At Night at Scarcroft Allotments in May, here comes Rachel Gee’s revival of Maeve Larkin’s play about the Women’s Institute, Raising Agents.

Bunnington WI is somewhat down-at-heel, with memberships dwindling, meaning they can barely afford the hall, let alone a decent speaker. However, when a PR guru becomes a member, the women are glad of new blood, but the milk of WI kindness begins to sour after she re-brands them as the Bunnington Bunnies.

A battle ensues for the very soul of Bunnington, perhaps the WI itself, in a tale of hobbyists and lobbyists that asks how much we should know of our past or how much we should let go of it.

Raising Agents features not only a cast of Hannah Bainbridge, Thomas Cotran, Alice McKenna and James McLean but also songs by folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, Mikron’s Marsden neighbours of Gentleman Jack theme-tune fame. Box office: email; ring 07974 867301 or 01904 466086; call in at Pextons, Bishopthorpe Road, York.

Boyzlife and balloons: Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden headline next Saturday’s line-up at the Yorkshire Balloon Fiesta

Festival of the week: Yorkshire Balloon Fiesta, Knavesmire, York, September 23 to 25

THE largest hot air balloon and music festival in the north will take off in York for the last time from Friday before moving elsewhere next year. Expect hot-air balloon launches, children’s entertainment, live music, a funfair, a Labyrinth Challenge obstacle course, food and drink and Friday and Saturday Night Glow lit-up balloons.

Friday’s acts will be Sam Sax, Scouting For Girls and DJ Craig Charles’s Funk and Soul Show; on Saturday, Huge, Brainiac Live (science show), Gabrielle, Heather Small and Boyzlife; on Sunday, YolanDa’s Band Jam, Andy & The Odd Socks, Howard Donald (DJ set) and Symphonic Ibiza, before a fireworks finale. Full details and tickets:

Clash of wills: Sam Steel’s headmistress Miss Trunchbull and Juliette Sellamuttu’s special-powered pupil, Matilda, in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Matilda: The Musical Jr. Picture: Matthew Kitchen 

Children’s show of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical Jr, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, September 23 to October 2

REBELLION is nigh when Robert Readman’s York company Pick Me Up Theatre presents Matilda Jr, a gleefully witty ode to the anarchy of childhood and the power of imagination. 

Packed with high-energy dance numbers and catchy Tim Minchin songs, this joyous girl power romp will have audiences rooting for the “revolting children” who are out to teach mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull a lesson, led by Matilda, the child with astonishing wit, intelligence, courage and…special powers! Box office:

All’s well that’s John Bramwell: I Am Kloot frontman to play “super-intimate” gig at Ellerton Priory. Picture: Ian Percival

Whatever happened to I Am Kloot? Off The Beaten Track presents John Bramwell, Ellerton Priory, Ellerton, near York, September 24, 7.30pm. UPDATE: 22/9/2022: GIG CANCELLED AFTER FAMILY BEREAVEMENT

FROM the team behind shows by Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys and The Beta Band’s Steve Mason in Stockton on the Forest Village Hall comes a “super-intimate” gig by I Am Kloot singer, songwriter and guitarist John Bramwell.

Since 2016, Bramwell has reverted to being a solo artist, releasing the home-recorded Leave Alone The Empty Spaces in 2018 and performing with John Bramwell & The Full Harmonic Convergence. The follow-up album, a more expansive affair with a working title of The Light Fantastic, is “scheduled for 2022”. Tickets are on sale via or

20 years later: Danny Boyle’s 2002 British post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later will be shown in the Classic slot at the Dead Northern Horror Festival at City Screen. Copyright: Fox Searchlight

Film event of the week: Dead Northern Horror Festival ’22, City Screen Picturehouse, York, September 23 to 25

YORK’S only horror film festival returns to City Screen for three days, “bigger and bloodier than ever”, with a line-up of horror and fantasy-themed entertainment, new and classic feature films, live horror entertainment, parties, Q&As, special guests and exclusive merchandise.

Among the feature films will be After She Died, The Lies Of Our Confines, Shadow Vaults and Dog Soldiers on September 23;  three world premieres with Q&As, Searching For Veslomy, Calling Nurse Meow and The Stranger, plus Eating Miss Campbell, on September 24, and The Creeping, The Group and 28 Days Later on the last day, when Paul Forster will host a séance at 7pm. Box office and full programme:

Farewell, but not goodbye: Dominic Goodwin’s Dr Watson, left, and Julian Finnegan’s Sherlock Holmes return in their long-running show, Holmes And Watson: The Farewell Tour

Double act of the week: Pyramus & Thisbe Productions in Holmes And Watson: The Farewell Tour, York Theatre Royal Studio, September 23 and 24, 7.45pm

JULIAN Finnegan’s Sherlock Holmes and Dominic Goodwin’s Dr Watson team up in Stuart Fortey’s “utterly bonkers” two-man play, wherein the detective has prevailed on the doctor, landlady Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to join him in a farewell tour of the British Isles before he retires.

For the first time ever, they will re-enact one of Holmes’s most baffling unrecorded cases, The Case Of The Prime Minister, The Floozie And The Lummock Rock Lighthouse, an affair on whose outcome the security of Europe once hung by a thread. Will Professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime, make an appearance? Box office: 01904 623568 or

Not before time: Suede announce their first York Barbican gig in a quarter of a century. Picture: Dean Chalkley

Gig announcement of the week: Suede, York Barbican, March 15 2023

SUEDE are to play York Barbican for the first time in 25 years on the closing night of their 2023 tour, in the wake of this week’s release of their ninth studio album, Autofiction, their first since 2018.

Next March’s tour will combine the London band’s classics, hits and selections from Autofiction, climaxing with their first Barbican appearance since April 23 1997. Box office: and

The poster for the York Printmakers Autumn Print Fair

Art event of the week: York Printmakers Autumn Print Fair, York Cemetery Chapel & Harriet Room, York, September 24 and 25, 10am to 5pm

INNOVATIVE printmaking can be discovered at York Cemetery Chapel, spanning etching, linocut, collagraph, monotype, screen print, solar plate and stencilling. Now in its fifth year, the York Printmakers Autumn Print Fair brings together a thriving, diverse group of enthusiastic artists who work independently but support and challenge each other by sharing opportunities, ideas and processes. 

Hundreds of original prints will be on show and entry is free; prices range from £2 to £300.  Some members run printmaking courses, so next weekend is a chance to find out more by chatting to the artists behind the prints.

York Printmakers’ member Russell Hughes printing in his “pop-up studio” in an empty office in York

York Printmakers: the background

EMILY Harvey started the group in 2015. “A new arrival in York contacted me via my website to ask if there was a printmakers’ group in the city, at that time the answer was ’no’,” she recalls.

“But I knew there were quite a few printmakers here, so I thought ‘why not?’.  A few phone calls later, nine printmakers were sat round a table in the pub, and York Printmakers was born.”

The group now numbers about 50 from a wide range of printmaking backgrounds, from art students to professional artists who exhibit widely.

Emily loves the group’s “unconventional streak”. “We like to experiment with new methods and ideas,” she says. “Printing plates made from eggshells and prints developed using GPS tracking are just some of our recent adventures. Sharing these innovations helps to keep our work lively and relevant.” 

York Printmakers’ member Jane Dignum in lino-printing mode

The group’s monthly meetings feature a sharing practice slot where printing problems and solutions are discussed.  During the Covid lockdown, the group started a themed postcard-sized print challenge, the results being shared in Zoom meetings.   Not only did this help the printmakers maintain their creativity, but it also produced some surprising and innovative results.  Many of these small prints will be on display during the fair.

Group member Jo Ruth says: ‘One of the joys of being part of this group is the variety of experience among us.  Some members are expert printmakers, others are just starting out, but we all have a lot to offer and to learn from each other.”

Members produce their work in their own spaces, some in purpose-built studios but many in far more humble surroundings, such as at their kitchen tables.  Exhibitions and events showcase the group’s array of skills with printing processes that date back hundreds of years, through to those that push the boundaries of contemporary practice with innovation in laser-cut plates, digital elements and 3D techniques.

During the past year, work from the group has featured in events across the country, including the Rheged Centre in Penrith, The Inspired By…Gallery in Danby and Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.

Russell Hughes’s collagraph printing materials

Fringe First winner Happy Meal to serve up Millennial meets Gen X rom-com story of transition at York Theatre Royal Studio

Sam Crerar in the Fringe First-winning Happy Meal

FRESH from winning a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe, Tabby Lamb’s joyful trans romantic comedy Happy Meal visits the York Theatre Royal Studio from tonight to Saturday.

Lamb invites the audience to “travel back to the quaint days of dial-up and MSN, where you’ll follow two strangers on their journeys to become who they always were, in a funny, moving and nostalgic story of transition: from teen to adult, from My Space to TikTok, from cis to trans”.

Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel reprise their roles from the Traverse Theatre run in Edinburgh, directed by Jamie Fletcher, whose 2022 production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch drew five-star reviews at Leeds Playhouse.

Allie Daniel and Sam Crerar: “Capturing the intensity of the onlife life of 21st century teenagers”

In a story where Millennial meets Gen Z and change is all around, transgender teenagers Alex and Bette find one another on the internet, become close friends, but then experience whole worlds of estrangement, as relatively middle-class Alex makes a transition to student life as Alec, while Bette struggles to come out as trans to anyone except her online best friend.

As described by the Fringe First judges, Happy Meal “fully captures the intensity of the online life of 21st century teenagers in a simple one-hour tale of young love made complicated by society’s attitudes to shifting gender, but now free enough to find a true happy ending”.

Played out on a witty Ben Stones set, this Roots and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production in association with English Touring Theatre (ETT) and Oxford Playhouse is suitable for age 12 upwards. Tickets for the 7.45pm evening performances and 2.45pm Saturday matinee are on sale on 01904 623568 or at

Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel in Tabby Lamb’s funny, moving and nostalgic story of transition

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