Stuart Vincent graduates to lead role of Amir in The Kite Runner’s redemptive tale of friendship across cultures and continents

Tiran Aakel, left, Stuart Vincent and Amar Aggoun in a kite-flying scene in The Kite Runner. Pictures: Barry Rivett

STUART Vincent was three weeks into his cover role on the 2020 tour of The Kite Runner when the Covid pandemic sent the world into lockdown.

“The tour got cancelled, including the possibility of going to America,” he recalls. “But then I was contacted in December, when they asked if I was available and if I’d like to come back for the new tour. I said I’d love to try out for one of the lead roles – how about Amir?”

Stuart auditioned successfully, graduating from understudying the villainous Assef to playing Amir on a tour that began in late-February and brings Californian university professor and playwright Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation to York Theatre Royal for the first time since October 2014 next week.

Based on Khaled Hosseini’s novel, this haunting tale of friendship spans cultures and continents as it follows Amir’s journey to confront his past and find redemption. That past was in Afghanistan when the country was on the verge of war and best friends Amir and Hassan were soon to be torn apart on a beautiful afternoon in Kabul, when a terrible incident at a kite-flying tournament would shatter their lives forever.

Giles Croft’s production is as resonant as ever, given the fracturing of the overheated political world and its clashing cultures. “It really is prescient, and we get a beautiful response every time we step out on stage,” says Stuart. “The roars we receive, the standing ovations.”

The innocence of playing cowboys, of sharing mythical stories, will disappear as the boys – played by adults – become entangled in a web of betrayal and guilt in a male-dominated world of masters and servants, bullies and victims, where Amir’s blossoming talents as a writer are not appreciated by his macho father, Baba.

Reconciliation and redemption will come eventually, but what a terrible price has been paid, as Stuart’s Amir leads the story between his past and haunted present.

Childhood friends: Stuart Vincent’s Amir, left, and Yazdan Qafouri’s Hassan in The Kite Runner

“The character of Amir is difficult because he’s trying to make the right decisions, but they backfire on him, and he must then try to make things good again,” he says.

“As the audience follows his journey, they really get involved, especially with him talking directly to them over the two and a half hours.

“It’s been a challenge, for sure, with so much storytelling to do. In rehearsal, first of all you have learn all the lines and then there’s the other element of keeping the audience engaged at all times, and as an actor you put so much pressure on yourself to do that.

“But with the trust of the director [Giles Croft] and associate director [Damian Sandys], and the training I’ve been through, all you need to do is tell the story organically and really feel the lines.”

Stuart continues: “You don’t have to have loads of visuals, just fill it with emotion, as the writing paints with imagination, capturing what Afghanistan used to be like, painting that spectacle – how beautiful it once was.”

A sense of impotent rage, despair and frustration grows among audiences every time The Kite Runner goes on tour. “History is always repeating itself, with all these heartbreaking things that are happening in the world. Look back 50 years and you see the same things are happening again, everything that Hosseini’s characters are going through,” says Stuart.

Croft has assembled a multicultural cast. “We understand the issues of immigration and that culture, and that’s why it’s important to tell this story because it’s happening to us all,” says Stuart.

“This is a play for everyone, with so many themes,” says Stuart Vincent

“It may be about different cultures, but this is a play for everyone, with so many themes – love, brotherhood, betrayal, friendship and redemption – that everyone in the audience has been through and can relate to.

“Whether they’ve had a friendship that meant the world to them, or they made mistakes or had to redeem themselves.”

Stuart develops this theme further. “One of the things that I’ve been taught is that we are unique individuals, but at the same time we’re all the same, because we all go through these kinds of emotions. Take away the cultural differences, that’s what we can all relate to: love; how alive you feel, like a kid again sometimes.”

Now 34, Stuart reflects on the lasting impact of childhood friendships. “With those friendships, you have one hell of a wild imagination, with no sense of hazards or warnings,” he says.

“I remember climbing up walls, and standing on the top, fearless, whereas now I think about vertigo. As a child, you have no thoughts of health and safety; in your imagination, one minute you’re a cowboy, the next, an astronaut.

“When I go back to some of the things I did with my friends and my cousins when I was young, I think, ‘I wouldn’t do that now’.”

The Kite Runner, York Theatre Royal, June 18 to 22, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

In Focus: Actor Bhavin Bhatt on playing villainous Assef in The Kite Runner

Bhavin Bhatt’s Assef in The Kite Runner

BHAVIN Bhatt never set out to be an actor. He was just another schoolboy before his acting potential was spotted by a teacher.

“I was 12 or 13 years old and there was an annual Christmas show at my school and people were thinking about auditioning,” he says. “I was umming and aahing when my drama teacher – with whom I’m still in touch – said to me after class, ‘I want you to audition’.

“I did audition and got one of the roles! One of the leads in a cast of about 40. One night the drama teacher and director said they were going to bring in some (acting) agencies because they felt there was a lot of talent there. Luckily enough I got signed up and have been working as an actor ever since.”

Bhavin arrives at York Theatre Royal on Tuesday on the latest British tour of The Kite Runner in the role of Assef, the one that won him the Best Newcomer award at the Asian Media Awards while he was in the West End production.

Bhavin sees Assef as more than the villain of the piece. “When you read the book or the script for the first time, he comes across as a rough-and-tough bully. But the detail, especially in the book, gets inside the mind of a psychopath,” he says.

“As the story goes on, you see all the stages and the full-on psychopath he becomes later on. There are so many nuances and small details that enable you to bring out from your physicality and voice the way you deliver the lines. That makes it so interesting for an actor to play.

“We have managed to add a comedy element into the story, which I think is completely needed,” says Bhavin

“The playwright has been just so genius with the way he’s put everything that’s in the book into the script.”

Bhavin’s first experience of the play was in a smaller role, which meant he saw another actor portraying Assef. Was that a help or a hindrance when he came to play him? Neither, he says. “The person playing the part was great, but when I got the chance to play Assef I chatted with the director and decided to start again from scratch.

“My performance didn’t have to be a copy or based on anyone else’s performance. It was beautiful to go through the rehearsal process, doing your own research.”

Returning for the 2024 tour has seen much the same approach of starting from scratch. This is Bhavin’s first villainous character: fun to play, but the rehearsal process, with the need to ‘get into the mind of a psychopath’, was challenging, he says.

Humour assists Giles Croft’s production, perhaps why it has proved, and is still proving, so popular on tour. “We have managed to add a comedy element into the story, which I think is completely needed,” says Bhavin. “We take audiences on a rollercoaster ride. They’re laughing out loud at one scene and then on the edge of their seat the next.”

Bhavin Bhatt’s Assef and Stuart Vincent’s Amir in The Kite Runner

He is enjoying touring again with The Kite Runner. “It takes you away from home, from family and friends, so you have to adjust as you can. We’re doing seven or eight shows a week, so you have to look after yourself physically and vocally,” he says.

“Every single show we have to keep fresh. It’s interesting as you go up and down the country and see how audiences in different parts of the country react in different ways.”

A previous 2020 tour was cut short by the pandemic lockdown but not before the production had played the Dubai Opera House. “That building was absolutely stunning and the production was received incredibly well there,” says Bhavin.

His pursuit of diverse roles has been, and still can be, difficult, he reveals. “I remember when I was applying to drama schools and the way I was treated wasn’t nice. Some very hurtful and racist comments were made towards me. I have always tried to push for diversity, not just for myself but other people,” he says.

“People opened doors for me, and I would like to leave a legacy of opening doors for other people. It’s been tough but I really hope it’s moving in the right way. I think it is but there’s so much more to be done.”

Interview by Steve Pratt

Can Charlie convince his bored sister that reading is fun? Find out in Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book at York Theatre Royal

“Discovering the wonderful world inside a book”: Georgie Samuels’s Mum, left, Pierre Hanson-Johnson’s Charlie and Freya Stephenson’s Izzy in Little Angel Theatre’s Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book. Pictures: Brian Roberts

LITTLE Angel Theatre’s new adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book is booked into York Theatre Royal from today to Saturday.

The touring production for three to eight-year-olds reunites adaptors Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane – who also directs – after their Olivier-nominated collaboration on The Smartest Giant In Town, another picture book Donaldson and illustrator Scheffler published by Macmillan Children’s Books.

Charlie Cook loves reading, especially books about pirates, but his sister hates it. “It’s boring!” she protests. Can Charlie convince her that reading is fun? Perhaps if she read a book about a pirate, who is reading a book about Goldilocks, who is reading a book about a knight…

Little Angel Theatre invites you to delve into a range of books with Charlie, brought to life with puppetry and enchanting songs, and “maybe you will be able to help his sister discover the wonderful world inside a book”.

Pierre Hanson-Johnson’s Charlie in Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, on tour at York Theatre Royal from today to Saturday

“I am delighted that Little Angel Theatre has adapted Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book for the stage,” says Julia Donaldson. “It is a book that celebrates the joy of reading in many forms: books, magazines and even encyclopaedias.

“It is a book within a book within a book – in fact in there are 11 books in total – complete with pirates, ghosts, dragons and aliens, to name a few. I am excited that the story has moved from page to stage, complete with puppets and songs, and that the production will travel across the UK this year.”

Axel Scheffler adds: “Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book is very different to the other stories by Julia that I have illustrated, as it is made up of many stories in one book. I enjoyed illustrating the different genres and creating the various characters, and it is great to see my illustrations now come to life on the stage.

“Animal puppets appear out of their individual books as their stories happen”: A scene from Little Angel Theatre’s Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book

“Little Angel Theatre’s clever production team has designed and created animal puppets that actually appear out of their individual books as their stories happen, which is such a brilliant idea. I am delighted to see Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book come to life on stage and I know that all our readers, young and old, will enjoy this production.”

Little Angel Theatre, The Lowry and Rose Theatre, Kingston, present Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, York Theatre Royal, today, 4.30pm; tomorrow, 10.30am (relaxed performance), 1pm, 4.30pm; Saturday, 10.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm. Age guidance: three to eight. Box office:  01904 623568 or

Did you know?

GEORGIE Samuels, a familiar face around the Yorkshire cultural scene, such as when she was events manager at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, is making her professional stage debut as Mum in Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book after studying for a BA Hons in Acting at Leeds Conservatoire.

Georgie Samuels, right, in her professional stage debut as Mum in Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book

Tempest Wisdom appointed director of York Shakespeare Project’s autumn production The Two Gentlemen Of Verona

Tempest Wisdom: Writer, director, performer and teaching artist

TEMPEST Wisdom, York theatre-maker and educator, will direct York Shakespeare Project’s autumn production of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona at Theatre@41, 41 Monkgate, York.

Chair Tony Froud says: “Tempest [they/them] emerged from a strong field of applicants to direct the play. Their imagination, infectious enthusiasm and love of Shakespeare won the day. I cannot wait to see their production.”

Since moving to York in 2021, Tempest has made their mark with their work for York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre and as assistant director for York Theatre Royal and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s New Plays Festival, as well as in numerous stage appearances.

This year, they directed Jules Risingham’s Anorak in Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios at York Theatre Royal Studio and appeared in Shakespeare Speakeasy at Theatre@41 and Wittenberg Revisited, as part of the 2024 York International Shakespeare Festival.

Look out too for Tempest as the writer, producer and MC of Bard At The Bar, the bi-monthly “Shakespeare karaoke” readings at the Micklegate Social bar.

“I have exciting plans for the production, set in a Victorian music hall,” says Tempest. “I’m looking for a diverse and multi-talented ensemble of lively actors to bring Shakespeare’s comedy to life for a contemporary audience.”

Auditions for the October 23-26 production will be held at Southlands Methodist Church, in Bishopthorpe Road, on June 19 and 20 with callbacks on June 23. For further information and details of how to apply, contact Tempest via

Tempest Wisdom (they/them): the back story

Writer, director, performer and freelance teaching artist.

Originally hails from United States of America, where they wrote, directed, performed and taught for several years. Received Bachelor’s degree in theatre and performance studies from University of Chicago in 2018.

Relocated to York in 2021 to pursue Masters in theatre-making. Now here to stay!

Specialises in clown, mask and comedy work, with majority of training stemming from Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte.

REVIEW: Simple8 in Moby Dick, York Theatre Royal, on the hunt till tomorrow ***

Guy Rhys’s Captain Ahab in Simple8’s Moby Dick

THE publicity for Simple8’s Moby Dick promised a “fun, fast and joyous” production: three words not usually associated with Herman Melville’s labyrinthine leviathan novel.

What’s more, writer Sebastian Armesto described his adaptation as “mercifully brief”. “If you haven’t read the novel, you can watch our show and then pretend that you have,” he said, wryly.

Fun? No? Joyous? No. Fast? First half, yes, but the second half began to lull before a storming finale. Overall, “mercifully brief” would be doing a disservice to the intelligence and theatrical invention behind Royal & Derngate artistic director Jesse Jones’s production, although it never quite reaches the sublime heights, beauty, tragedy and surprising humour of Ockham’s Razor’s circus adaptation of Tess at the Theatre Royal last month.

The two touring productions share a use of planks of woods and sheets, an ensemble cast and a script pared back from a weighty 19th century novel, along with a combination of physicality and psychology that is the essence of theatre.

Spoiler alert, the whale of the title that cost Captain Ahab his leg turns up only in the “last few pages” as Guy Rhys’s Ahab takes his vendetta against the sperm whale to reckless extremes with his Pequod crew.

The rest is imagination: getting inside the head of Ahab and, first, the equally single-minded Ishmael (Mark Arends), the schoolmaster drawn to Nantucket to experience whale hunting on the Pequod.

The unseen threat of Moby Dick – mirroring Covid’s creeping progress, as Armesto commented in his interviews – is conjured through description and even in the shape of bones held aloft by cast members as we await the leviathan’s stealthy arrival. The only puppet is a porpoise pulled from a bucket.

Equally, Captain Ahab is the subject of much discussion, the last to arrive on board, inducing fear, adrenaline and stomach butterflies as much as the whale. His delayed entry, when it does come, is preceded by the thud of his stump, raising the blood pressure still more.

Arends’s Ishmael, rather than Ahab, is the narrator, the thinker, the innocent, intrigued outsider, learning as we do, gradually consumed by Ahab’s obsessive mission for vengeance.

In keeping with the duties of a crew, Jones’s ensemble cast of actor-musicians are “all in this together”.  “Everyone does everything for a really live, complicit experience,” as Armesto puts it. They act, they move scenery, they sing rousing, haunting sea shanties, all the while evoking the dangers of the sea and the mystery and the wonder of whales.

Who needs water or the shape of a whaling ship when you can make do with plenty of floorboards, scaffolding, sheets, a raised platform and a crow’s nest.

Armesto has called his play “a ripping yarn, a great piece of theatre for all ages”. It has humour, especially in the first encounter of Ishmael and Tom Swales’s Queequeg; it has spectacle too, but it is primarily a psychological drama full of existential fear and isolation, more than a seafaring (mis)adventure, leading to the loss of momentum until the climactic clash of whaler and whale.

For all that talk of being “fun, fast and joyous”, you should not expect to have a whale of a time, but Armesto, Jones and a highly committed cast deliver a deep dive into Moby Dick.

Simple8 in Moby Dick, York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 623568 or ***

What’s On in Ryedale, York and beyond, whether whales, walks or water. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 19, from Gazette & Herald

Guy Rhys’s Captain Ahab, centre, leads the whale hunt in Simple 8’s Moby Dick, on tour at York Theatre Royal

SEEKING a whale of a time? Head off to Moby Dick, open studios and musicals full of physical exercise, suggests Charles Hutchinson.

Touring play of the week: Simple8 in Moby Dick, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

SEBASTIAN Armesto’s stage adaptation captures the romantic, ambiguous, richly allegorical spirit of Herman Melville’s novel for Simple8, specialists in creating worlds out of nothing in bold new plays that tackle big ideas with large casts.

Armed with sea shanties played live on stage, planks of wood, tattered sheets and a battered assortment of musical instruments, the ensemble of actors and actor-musicians, led by Guy Rhys’s whale-seeking Captain Ahab, brings Moby Dick ingeniously to life. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Wildlife and landscape artist Jonathan Pomroy: Opening his studio at 4
Pottergate, Gilling East, for North Yorkshire Open Studios

Art event of the week: North Yorkshire Open Studios 2024, Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm

STRETCHING from the coast to the moors, dales and beyond, 169 artists and makers from North Yorkshire’s artistic community invite you to look inside their studios this weekend.

Among them will be Steve Page (Sheriff Hutton); Russell Hughes (Easingwold); Richard Gray (Easingwold); Justine Warner (Sheriff Hutton); Patrick Smith (Sheriff Hutton); Calum Balding (Thornton le Clay); Sue Walsh (Cawton); Jonathan Pomroy (Gilling East); Stephen Bird (Ampleforth); Mary Raynar (Helmsley); Ruth King (Boltby) and Marcus Jacka (Boltby). For full details, go to: A full brochure is available.

Tim Pearce’s poster artwork for Life Forms In Motion at Blossom Street Gallery, York

York exhibition of the week: Life Forms In Motion, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street, York, until June 30

SIX Yorkshire artists give individual responses to the challenge of interpreting the motion of life forms in a range of static media. In a nutshell, time and space condensed into single, dynamic images.

Taking part are Tim Pearce, painting and sculpture; Cathy Denford, painting; Jo Ruth, printmaking; Adrienne French, painting; Mandy Long, ceramic sculpture, and Lesley Peatfield, photography. Opening hours: Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm; Sundays, 10am to 3pm.

Save our lido: Drip Drop Theatre in All Those On Board at Helmsley Arts Centre

Making a splash: Drip Drop Theatre in All Those On Board, Helmsley Arts Centre, tomorrow, 7.30pm

NORTH Yorkshire company Drip Drop Theatre presents the premiere of E C R Roberts’s new musical All Those On Board, wherein Bingham-by-the-Sea’s Save The Lido group members are determined to save the town’s long-closed 1930s’ swimming pool from demolition.

They need to come up with the funding before the deadline, no matter to what lengths they must go. Fifteen original songs, live instruments, leg-kicking choreography and colourful swimming hats combine in this lido-themed show for fans of upbeat musical theatre and outdoor swimming in whatever form. Box office: 01439 771700 or

Gary Stewart: Playing the Paul Simon songbook at Helmsley Arts Centre

Ryedale gig of the week: Gary Stewart, The Only Living Boy In (New) York: The Songs of Paul Simon, Helmsley Arts Centre, Friday, 7.30pm

PERTHSHIRE-BORN singer, songwriter, folk musician and Hope & Social drummer Gary Stewart’s compositions are influenced by Sixties and Seventies’ folk artists. Chief among them is New Jersey’s Paul Simon, whose songs Easingwold-based Stewart grew up learning and performing.  

Here he interprets such Simon standouts as The Boxer, Mrs Robinson, Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, Kodachrome and Graceland. Box office: 01439 771700 or

Ryedale Primary Choir: Taking part in Across The Whinny Moor at St Peter’s Church, Norton, on Saturday

Ryedale Festival community event of the week: Across The Whinny Moor, St Peter’s Church, Norton, Saturday, 4pm

THE world premiere of the Community Song Cycle: Across The Whinny Moor follows the trail of North Yorkshire’s Lyke Wake Walk, meeting cheeky hobs, angry mermaids, resourceful giants and wise witches along the way. 

The all-age cast for a walk through stories and songs by John Barber and Hazel Gould includes the schoolchildren of the Ryedale Primary Choir, the Ryedale Voices, Harmonia and The RyeLarks choirs, Kirkbymoorside Town Junior Brass Band, storyteller Rosie Barrett and mezzo-soprano soloist Victoria Simmonds, conducted by Caius Lee. Box office:

Mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds: Singing in Across The Whinny Moor

Tribute gig of the month: The Belgrave House Band presents Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, Milton Rooms, Malton, June 16, 8pm

THE Belgrave House Band, specialists in reimagining classic albums, have visited Malton previously with their interpretations of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

Now they return with their take on Amy Winehouse’s second album, 2006’s Back To Black, joined by London vocalist Lydia Kotsirea and a full horn section, backing vocalists and rhythm section from the burgeoning Leeds jazz scene. York singer-songwriter Maggie Wakeling supports. Box office: 01653 696240 or

The poster artwork for Calamity Jane, whip crackin’ its way to the Grand Opera House, York, next spring

Show announcement of the week: Carrie Hope Fletcher in Calamity Jane, Grand Opera House, York, April 29 to May 3 2025

IN the week when Nikolai Foster’s production of An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical is on tour at the Grand Opera House, the York theatre announces the booking of another show with the North Yorkshire director at the helm, this one bound for the West End.

Three-time WhatsOnStage Best Actress in a Musical winner Carrie Hope Fletcher will star in the whip-crackin’ musical as fearless Dakota gun-slinger Calamity Jane. “She is one of those roles that doesn’t come around all too often,” she says. “She’s action, romance and comedy all packed into one character, and I can’t wait to take on the challenge of filling her shoes.” Box office:

Simple8’s “mercifully brief” Moby Dick for pandemic times sails into Theatre Royal

Driven by a vendetta: Guy Rhys’s Captain Ahab in Simple8’s Moby Dick. Picture: Manuel Harlan

MOBY Dick, Herman Melville’s leviathan tale of vengeful whaler versus great white whale, keeps returning to the Yorkshire stage.

Remember Slung Low’s The White Whale on water at Leeds Dock, the one with headphone sets for the audience, in September 2014?

Or John Godber and Nick Love’s version for the John Godber Company, the one with crates and bicycles, in the repurposed dock of Hull’s amphitheatre Stage@TheDock in June 2021?

Now, from Thursday to Saturday, York Theatre Royal plays host to Sebastian Armesto’s adaptation for Simple 8, the indoor one with sea shanties, planks of wood, tattered sheets and a battered assortment of musical instruments.

Why should you see this one? “It’s mercifully brief and means that if you haven’t read the novel you can watch our show and then pretend that you have,” says a droll Sebastian.

“Mercifully brief”? Two hours, including the interval, should you be wondering, as Royal & Derngate artistic director Jesse Jones’s ensemble cast of nine actor-musicians presents “a fun, fast and joyous production that transports you right to the heart of the hunt for the most famous whale on Earth”.

Mirroring whaling voyages, Jones’s ensemble must apply graft, not only conjuring ships, seas, storms and even whales from sparse means, but also playing and singing all the sea shanties live, in the Simple8 house style of “poor theatre” of multiple roles and minimal materials where “everyone does everything”.

Then add the task of taking the nautical indoors as Guy Rhys’s Captain Ahab and the Pequod crew seek vengeance on Moby Dick, the whale responsible for taking his leg.

Sea shanty singing in Simple8’s Moby Dick, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Manuel Harlan

“Not only the setting is a challenge, but so is the size of the novel the play is adapted from, the ‘ginormity’ of the beast, the scale of the drama, the sky, the sea, and then there are the massive themes of the novel,” says Sebastian.

“In taking it indoors, there’s an element within it that suits the forced imaginative leap, where the suspension of disbelief inherent in theatre is directly within the fabric of the novel too.

“In the book, there are chapters and chapters about what a whale is – its bulk, its history – so it’s a novel that’s trying to devise meaning for everything. The whaling industry. Ahab’s character. Whale behaviour.  The existential crisis.”

Sebastian continues: “The idea that you have to do it with nothing on stage sort of aligns with the novel’s struggle with itself. That’s my justification for not doing it in a dry dock, though I might enjoy that.

“I’ve seen a Norwegian production with puppets, a dance production, John Huston’s [1956] movie starring Gregory Peck and Orson Welles: whalers in pursuit of Moby Dick to their eventual demise, just as it will destroy you in pursuit of it. I’m sure it’s folly to try to adapt such books, but it’s also part of the pleasure.”

Sebastian reckons Melville’s novel is “one of those books that people would rather prefer they didn’t have to read, with its meandering passages”, but nevertheless he has a long association with Moby Dick.

“I adapted it a long time ago, previously completing an adaptation in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2013 that we first staged it, when I directed it,” he recalls.

“I was told that I did turn into Captain Ahab, obsessed with physical movement, to the detriment of everyone else, which doesn’t surprise me – and I apologise for that.”

Guy Rhys’s Captain Ahab, centre, leading his crew on the Pequod in Simple8’s Moby Dick. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Reviving his adaptation for Simple8’s tour, the script has changed, “as it inevitably will because it will never be complete,” he says. “Watching it fires me with more ideas and more things that I can do. This production and the text are evolving: the play is fluid, rather than solid.

“It’s been rewarding to go back to it. There are bits that I had forgotten, parts of the novel too, though in the end, there are things in the re-write that have not made it into the new version on stage for practical reasons.”

Significantly too, the existential fear and threat of the Covid 19 virus, its  enforced lockdowns and resulting isolation, have given new resonance to the psychological and psychiatric impact of an unknown threat in Moby Dick.

“I come back to the initial discussion about putting Moby Dick on stage, being forced to imagine, when even the characters in the book don’t see Moby until the last 15 pages,” says Sebastian.

“Mime is very important to this production, particularly the idea that the actors are collectively committing to something that is completely imaginary, so there’s a lot of very intense physical storytelling, emphasising how they are grappling with something that they don’t fully understand.

“Post-pandemic, everyone has been grappling with something they couldn’t see, didn’t understand and were contained and confined by. That sense of being pursued by an unseen threat, endangering your survival, is really clear post-Moby Dick, with its imprint on other stories, from Joseph Conrad’s novels to Jaws.”

Simple8, in association with the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, present Moby Dick, York Theatre Royal, June 6 to 8, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Sebastian Armesto: the back story

Sebastian Armesto: Actor, writer and director

Born: June 3 1982. Son of historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto.

Education: Eton College.

Occupation: Film, television and theatre actor, writer and director.

Acted in high-profile theatre productions in Great Britain, including shows at National Theatre and Royal Court, London.

Writes and directs theatre with Simple 8 company.

Productions include directing and adapting Les Enfants du Paradis; co-writing and directing play based on William Hogarth’s The Four Stages Of Cruelty and new versions of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Moby Dick.

Influence on directing style: 1981 Ashes-winning cricket captain, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Mike Brearley’s book The Art Of Captaincy: What Sport Teaches Us About Leadership.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Pride comes out to play. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 23 for 2024, from The Press, York

Angels Of The North: Headlline drag act at York Pride today

PRIDE pageantry and wartime memoirs, open studios and open-air Status Quo lead off Charles Hutchinson’s recommendations.

Celebration of the week: York Pride, Knavesmire, York, today

NORTH Yorkshire’s biggest LGBT+ celebration opens with the Parade March for equality and human rights from Duncombe Place, outside York Minster, at 12 noon, processing through the city-centre streets, up Bishopthorpe Road to the festival’s Knavesmire site.

Pride events will be spread between the main stage, Queer Arts’ cabaret tent, Polymath’s dance tent and a funfair, complemented by a licensed bar and marketplace. Among the main stage acts will be headliners Angels Of The North, alias winner Ginger Johnson, Tomara Thomas and Michael Marouli, from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 5, plus Max George, Big Brovaz & Booty Luv, Jaymi Hensley, Janice D and Eric Spike.  Full details:

Into the woods: George Stagnell as Dennis “Hank” Haydock in the short film In The Footsteps of Hank Haydock, premiered at Helmsley Arts Centre tonight

D-Day landmark of the week: Everwitch Theatre, Bomb Happy D-Day 80, In The Footsteps Of Hank Haydock (film premiere) and Sleep/Re-live/Wake Repeat (live performance), Helmsley Arts Centre, tonight, 7.30pm

TO commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Bomb Happy playwright Helena Fox has created two poignant, lyrical new works telling the stories of two Yorkshire Normandy veterans from conversations and interviews she held with them in 2016.

Featuring York actor George Stagnell, the short film In the Footsteps of Hank Haydock: A Walk In The Park was shot on location in the Duncombe Park woodland with its lyrical account of Coldstream Guardsman Dennis “Hank” Haydock’s experiences in his own words. In Sleep/Re-Live/Wake/Repeat, playwright Helena Fox and vocalist Natasha Jones bring to life the first-hand experiences of D-Day veteran Ken “Smudger” Smith and the lifelong impact of PTSD and sleep trauma through spoken word and a cappella vocals. Box office: 01439 771700 or

York artist Adele Karmazyn: Taking part in North Yorkshire Open Studios

Art event of the week: North Yorkshire Open Studios 2024, today and tomorrow, June 8 and 9, 10am to 5pm

STRETCHING from the coast to the moors, dales and beyond, 169 artists and makers from North Yorkshire’s artistic community invite you to look inside their studios over the next two weekends.

Taking part in and around York will be Robin Grover-Jacques, Adele Karmazyn, Anna Cook, Boxxhead, Simon Palmour, Duncan McEvoy, Evie Leach, Jane Atkin, Jane Dignum, Jen Dring, Parkington Hatter, Jo Walton, Kitty Pennybacker, Lu Mason, Robert Burton, Lincoln Lightfoot, Sharon McDonagh, Claire Castle, Rosie Bramley, Emma Welsh, Lesley Peatfield, Gonzalo Blanco and Freya Horsley. For full details, go to: A full brochure is available.

Isobel Staton: Directing Cain and Abel for A Creation For York, today’s York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust promenade production

York community play of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Creation For York, around Micklegate, York, today, from 2pm and 3.30pm

YORK Mystery Plays Supporters Trust stages a trilogy of 20-minute plays from the Creation cycle, directed by Katie Smith, Dan Norman and Isobel Staton under Dr Tom Straszewski’s mentorship.

The promenade procession starts with Smith’s The Creation Of Man at St Columba’s, Priory Street, at 2pm and 3.30pm, and progresses to Holy Trinity, Micklegate, for Norman’s The Fall Of Man at 3pm and 4.30pm, then onwards to St Martin’s Stained Glass Centre, Micklegate, for Staton’s Cain And Abel at 4pm and 5.30pm. Tickets:

The poster artwork for Navigators Art & Performance’s night of live music, spoken word and comedy, The Basement Sessions #4, at City Screen Picturehouse

Navigators Art & Performance at York Festival of Ideas (festival running from today until June 14)

YORK arts collective Navigators Art & Performance presents the Micklegate Art Trail, a collaboration between shops, restaurants, artists, makers and community groups, from today until June 23, 10am to 4pm, including a special exhibition at Blossom Street Gallery. Tomorrow is the “official” launch day with activities in participating venues from 11 am.

Tomorrow comes As I Walked Out One Evening, An Exploration of W H Auden’s Poetry in Words, Music and Performance with York musicians, poets and performers at Museum Street Tavern, York, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. On June 8, The Basement Sessions #4 offers a night of music, spoken word and comedy at The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse at 7pm with Percy, Amy Albright, Cai Moriarty, Danae, Suzy Bradley, Kane Bruce, Rose Drew and John Pease. Tickets and full festival details:

Rain or shine: Francis Rossi, left, leads veteran band Status Quo at Scarborough Open Air Theatre tomorrow

Coastal gig of the week: Status Quo, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Sunday, gates 6pm

DENIM rock legends Status Quo open the 2024 season at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, where they played previously in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Led as ever by founder Francis Rossi, who turned 75 on Wednesday, they must pick their set from 64 British hit singles, more than any other band. The support act will be The Alarm. Box office:

Georgia Lennon, as Paula Pofriki and Luke Baker as Zack Mayo in An Officer And A Gentleman, on tour at Grand Opera House, York

Musical of the week: An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, June 4 to 8, 8pm, Tuesday, 7.30pm, Wednesday to Saturday, plus 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees

NORTH Yorkshireman Nikolai Foster directs Leeds-born actor Luke Baker as fearless young officer candidate Zack Mayor in the Curve, Leicester touring production of An Officer And A Gentleman.

Once an award-winning 1982 Taylor Hackford film, now Douglas Day Stewart’s story of love, courage and redemption comes re-booted with George Dyer’s musical theatre arrangements and orchestrations of pop bangers by Bon Jovi, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie and the signature song (Love Lift Us) Up Where We Belong. Box office:

Guy Rhys, centre, as Captain Ahab in Simple8’s Moby Dick, setting sail at York Theatre Royal next week

Touring play of the week: Simple8 in Moby Dick, York Theatre Royal, June 6 to 8, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

SEBASTIAN Armesto’s stage adaptation captures the spirit of Herman Melville’s novel – romantic, ambiguous and rich with allegory – for Simple8, specialists in creating worlds out of nothing in bold new plays that tackle big ideas with large casts.

Armed with sea shanties played live on stage, planks of wood, tattered sheets and a battered assortment of musical instruments, the ensemble of actors and actor-musicians, led by Guy Rhys’s whale-seeking Captain Ahab, brings Moby Dick ingeniously to life. Box office: 01904 623568 or

In Focus: Northern Silents presents G W Pabst’s film Diary Of A Lost Girl, starring Louise Brooks, at NCEM, York, June 11

“From the pit of despair to the moment of personal awakening”: Louise Brooks’s

TRAILBLAZING New York raga pianist Utsav Lal will provide the live score for Diary Of A Lost Girl, a rarely shown gem of German silent cinema starring Louise Brooks, at the National Centre for Early Music, York, on June 11 at 7.30pm.

Premiered in Vienna, Austria, on September 12 1929, and now screened by Northern Silents, G W Pabst’s film traces the journey of a young woman from the pit of despair to the moment of personal awakening.

Directed with virtuoso flair by Pabst, Diary Of A Lost Girl (PG, 104 minutes) represents the final pairing of the Czechia-born Austrian filmmaker with American silent screen icon Louise Brooks, mere months after their first collaboration in the now-legendary Pandora’s Box, for which Brooks had arrived in Berlin on October 14 1928 to play alluring temptress Lulu.

In Diary Of A Lost Girl, she is pharmacist Robert Henning’s innocent daughter Thymian, who is traumatised by the suicide of housekeeper Elisabeth after her father expels her from the house.

Even more so when Henning’s assistant rapes Thymian. Pregnant, she refuses to marry her assailant, prompting her outraged father to sendher to a reformatory for “wayward women”, where a cruel regime prevails. Henning, meanwhile, makes advances towards new housekeeper, Meta, who insists Thymian should not be allowed to return home.

Thymian escapes with her friend Erika but discovers that her child has passed away. She joins Erika in working at a brothel, then marries a count, but can she ever escape her past?

Pianist Utsav Lal, noted for his innovative performances at Carnegie Hall, Southbank Centre and around the world, will improvise a unique live score at the 7.30pm screening.

Huddersfield-based Northern Silents will return to the NCEM with another fusion of new music and vintage film on October 15. Watch this space for more details.

Tickets for Diary Of A Lost Girl are on sale on 01904 658338 and at

In Focus too: Anita Klein, 30 Years In York, exhibition launch at Pyramid Gallery, York, today at 12 noon

Poster artwork for Anita Klein’s 30 Years In York exhibition at Pyramid Gallery, York

ARTIST Anita Klein will attend today’s opening of her Thirty Years In York exhibition of paintings, linocuts and etchings at Pyramid Gallery, York.

“Anita was one of the first artist printmakers to be shown here and has shown her work in York constantly since June 1994,” says Terry Brett, owner and curator of the gallery in Stonegate.

That first exhibition marked a dramatic change in both the look of the gallery and its fortunes under the new ownership of Terry, who took the keys to Pyramid Gallery on May 31 1994 with his then partner and wife Elaine.

“As soon as Elaine and I had taken over the gallery, I contacted the Greenwich Printmaking co-operative who ran a shop in Greenwich market,” Terry recalls. “They agreed to do a show and I collected work by 15 artists in my car.

“Several of those artists have supplied Pyramid Gallery regularly for 30 years. The first print that sold was a small drypoint print by Anita Klein, which I had put in the window one evening, before the show had opened.”

Terry continues: “Anita was not a big name in the art world in 1994, but she certainly had a following and has since had a very successful career as an artist with features on BBC Radio and national newspapers and magazines.

Pyramid Gallery curator Terry Brett with Anita Klein works and a copy of her 2022 book Out Of The Ordinary, charting her career since 1982

“‘From working with Anita and other former Greenwich artists, such as Mychael Barratt, Trevor Price and Louise Davies, I have come to realise that the relationship between artist and gallery is something that is really worth nurturing. I place great importance on visiting the South East London-based artists, personally collecting the work for each show.”

To mark the start of Terry Brett’s 30th year as a gallerist, Anita Klein is travelling up from London to attend today’s opening from 12 noon to 2pm, when she will sign copies of her 2022 book, Out Of The Ordinary, too.

Australian-born Anita began her career by studying painting on degree and post-graduate courses at the Slade School of Art, where she was influenced by Paula Rego, who encouraged her to “draw what she wanted to draw”.

In response, she started to capture scenes depicting ordinary moments of her own life. Given expert guidance at the school, she learnt to reproduce those sketches using the various techniques of printmaking.

She met her future husband and artist Nigel Swift at the Slade. From the outset, Anita’s artistic diary of her life has often featured amusing or romantic scenes of the two of them or sometimes only  ‘Nige’ in the throes of some activity that Anita has observed and captured in a sketch.

In 1984 she was awarded the Joseph Webb Memorial prize by the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers to spend the summer drawing from the Italian masters. Anita and Nigel stayed in a flat in Arezzo, Tuscany, and filled sketch books with sketches of Italian frescoes.

Casserole, linocut, by Anita Klein

Soon after, they married and had two children, Maia and Leia, Anita recording it all in many small prints using techniques that included woodcuts, etching, lithograph, aquatint and drypoint. When their daughters were small, she made small sketches while they were asleep and developed them into drypoint prints at a printmaking evening class.

For her first solo show in 1986, she had a year to prepare enough images to fill a gallery in London, which led her to simplify the way she worked. Fortunately for all her followers and collectors, the first show was successful and led to another solo show elsewhere.

Many years later, after she supplied her work to as many as 60 galleries, the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers elected Anita to the prestigious position as president. During those 38 years, her work and life has been profiled in national newspapers and magazines and on BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths, presented by John Peel.

In 2007, Anita and Nigel bought a flat in a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany. After painting large oils from her studio in London for many years, she started to paint in acrylics on canvas when staying in Italy.

By using acrylics, she was able to roll up the paintings and carry them back to London, which in turn enabled Pyramid Gallery to show a few of her paintings, along with a larger exhibition of the prints.

For Terry, the choice of Anita Klein to begin a year of anniversary celebratory shows, is apt. “My own family life corresponds quite closely with Anita’s in that I got married about the same time and had two daughters, Elinor and Suzy, just two years prior to the births of Maia and Leia,” he says.

Artist Anita Klein: 30 years of exhibiting at Pyramid Gallery, York

“I could relate to almost every image that Anita created about her family life. When I was helping my two daughters learn to drive, Anita produced a print that could easily have been about us. We even had a similar car. ‘Picking Maia and Leia up from School’ or ‘Driving to Ballet’ could also easily have been about my own family.”

When asked how she came to start documenting her own life, Anita says: “There was no plan to start with. Drawing my everyday life was at first a continuation of the kind of drawings I did as a child. And as I spent the first 20 or so years of my career bringing up my two children with no extra childcare help, it was really the only subject matter I knew.

“Looking back, I can see that I have always wanted to hold onto and celebrate the ordinary. The small repetitive joys that can so easily go unnoticed and unappreciated.”

 Knowing how fortunate he is still to be able to represent an eminent London artist with such a large following, Terry asked Anita: “What does Pyramid Gallery and York mean to you?”.

“Pyramid Gallery has been very good to me over the years, showing and selling my work from the very early days of my career while other galleries have come and gone,” she says. “At one point I had prints in over 60 galleries worldwide.

“These days I have cut this down substantially – the Internet and social media enables me to reach a wide audience, and Pyramid is one of only a small handful of galleries that has a large selection of my work.” 

Eating Pizza, linocut, by Anita Klein

Mounting this exhibition has enabled Terry to pause a while and “take a long look at the gallery more as a pleasurable activity than as a business”.

“Sometimes I can become a bit too focused on the sales figures and the marketing, but in recent weeks I’ve been looking forward to celebrating the landmark of having been nurturing the gallery for three decades, as if it were a part of me that I have to ease through challenges and crises,” he says.

“Pyramid Gallery has become a meeting point for those that need to create and those that need the joy of feeling moved or inspired. It really is more about people than it is about art.

“It gives me a glowing feeling of warmth that I am able to connect a great artist like Anita, who is a storyteller and recorder of social history and of human emotions, with those who visit the gallery for exactly the same experience that inspired the creation of the images.”

For Terry’s 30th anniversary show, Anita will be showing two or three acrylic paintings alongside coloured linocut prints and many black-and-white images of various sizes with a price range from £96 for a small etching up to £7,000 for a large painting.

Here Terry Brett puts questions to Anita Klein

Pyramid Gallery owner Terry Brett with works by Anita Klein

You first supplied Pyramid Gallery as part of a show by Greenwich Printmakers in 1994. How important was that co-operative to you and was it an easy decision to be part of that show?

“Greenwich Printmakers was a vital first step to exhibiting and selling my work, both through their gallery in Greenwich Market and through their ‘outside exhibitions’. Those exhibitions introduced my work to a number of regional galleries, including Pyramid.

“In the days before social media it was crucial to get your work seen as much as possible in galleries, so that first show was a great opportunity for me. 

In those days you were bringing up two small daughters and doing your art on the floor when they were napping. Many of your drypoints were quite small – was this by choice or a necessity?

“I did some painting when my children were small, but without a studio in the early days I was limited to small-scale work. I drew my drypoints while the children slept and printed them once a week at a printmaking evening class.” 

Do you enjoy being ‘dragged out’ of London to open a show in York?

“It’s wonderful to have exposure of my work in York, and it’s always a pleasure to visit such a fascinating and vibrant city.” 

When did you realise that other people would very quickly find parallels in their own lives and connect so easily with your work?

“It came as a surprise at first that other people saw themselves in my work. I thought my life was unique! Now I know that we are all much more alike than we think, especially in the most private parts of our lives.” 

Cold water wild swimming has become an important activity to you. Does the need for a new image in your art ever drive you to do find new places to swim?

“Not really. I can always make up the backgrounds! But I’m always on the lookout for beautiful places to swim, so just as with all other parts of my life this feeds into my work.”

June Flowers, linocut, by Anita Klein

Whale alert! Simple8 take to the sea in Sebastian Armesto’s staging of Moby Dick at York Theatre Royal from June 6 to 8

Simple8’s Moby Dick scriptwriter, Sebastian Armesto

OCTOBER 1839. The Pequot is soon to sail out of Nantucket and her skipper, one Captain Ahab, needs a crew in Simple8’s production of Moby Dick, on tour at York Theatre Royal from June 6 to 8.

Seeking fortune and adventure, a humble schoolmaster named Ishmael ships aboard, joining a company charged with one task: to wreak revenge in the hunt for the white whale that took Ahab’s leg – the infamous Moby Dick.

Combining theatrical flair and invention, Sebastian Armesto’s adaptation captures the spirit of Herman Melville’s novel – romantic, ambiguous and rich with allegory – for the award-winning Simple 8, specialists in creating worlds out of nothing in bold new plays that tackle big ideas with large casts.

Complete with sea shanties played live on stage, planks of wood, tattered sheets and a battered assortment of musical instruments, the ensemble of actors and actor-musicians brings Moby Dick ingeniously to life.

Guy Rhys plays Captain Ahab, joined by Mark Arends (Ishmael), Jonathan Charles (ensemble), Hannah Emanuel (Starbuck), Syreeta Kumar (Manx), Hazel Monaghan (ensemble), James Newton (Flask), William Pennington (Stubb) and Tom Swale (Queequeg).

“It is a great pleasure to bring together this supremely talented ensemble of performers,” says director Jesse Jones. “Together, as a company we will conjure the world of the play using their musical ability, dynamic physicality and powerhouse performances to breathe life into this poignant yet playful production.”

Simple8, in association with Royal & Derngate, Northampton, present Moby Dick, York Theatre Royal, June 6 to 8, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or

In focus: Guy Rhys on playing Captain Ahab

Guy Rhys’s Captain Ahab, centre, leading his crew in Simple8’s Moby Dick. Picture: Manuel Harlan

SOMETIMES, as he makes his first appearance on stage in Moby Dick, Guy Rhys becomes aware that heads are turning in the front row as audience members wonder, “Is it real?”

The ‘it’ is Captain Ahab’s peg leg, a legacy of the seaman’s brush with a mighty whale – the Moby Dick of the title – that the vengeful Ahab is determined to hunt down and kill.

The answer is that the leg is fashioned from one of Guy’s old prosthetics to resemble Captain Ahab’s whalebone peg leg. The leg previously made an appearance, wrapped in leather, when the actor played a one-legged pirate.

Guy, who was born with a leg deformity that led to amputation when he was eight, does not consider himself a disabled actor and has only shown his prosthetic leg in four shows.

Those roles included Hercules . “I’d just got this brand-new blade and thought I’d show it off. I thought it would make Hercules look cool,” he says.

“The lack of a leg hasn’t been an issue as an actor. I only show the prosthetic when it’s suitable for the show. It’s got to be right. If you’re playing a pirate in Peter Pan, why not use the prosthetic? And obviously if you’re playing Captain Ahab, you’ve got to use it.

“One of my prosthetics has been redesigned as a peg leg. It looks great and the noise that my right leg and left peg leg make on the wooden boards has been put into the music. The musical director, Jonathan Charles, has mimicked the sound I make walking as Ahab and turned it into a sound bite.”

Simple8’s production of Moby Dick is very physical, and consequently the peg leg can become uncomfortable. Guy makes what he calls ‘pit stops’, when he leaves the stage to pull off the prosthetic for a few seconds to stop his leg swelling up. “I wouldn’t spend a day on that peg leg,” he says.

He does not know if the producers were looking specifically for an amputee for the part of Ahab but sees such casting as being in the spirit of a show that does not hide anything. There is no trickery. Everything is real, everything is done on stage with no hiding as Ahab and his crew hunt the whale that cost him his leg. Sea shanties are sung live; Ahab’s boat, the Pequot, is built before the audience’s eyes.

Guy was already well acquainted with Melville’s story because John Huston’s 1956 film version is one of his favourite films. “I’m an amputee so Captain Ahab is a bit of a legend to me,” he says.

“This stage version is like the film – action-packed. The 850 pages of the book are down to 63 pages in this version by Sebastian Armesto. It has really interesting spectacle and is really quite punchy.”

Moby Dick marks Guy’s first visit to York Theatre Royal in a career taking in roles in everything from Macbeth to Grimm Tales, from Much Ado About Nothing to Mother Courage. Yet acting was not always a goal. He was washing dishes for a living when theatre first entered his life and he “needed something to do on a Monday night”.

This turned out to be a theatre group that more or less took over his life. “I ended up virtually living in the theatre, going to Russia and meeting Peter Brook,” he says, referring to the great director.

Then Guy decided to go to drama school but lacked the necessary finance. His path instead took him to managing a Blockbuster Video shop.

“I watched films, read plays, went to art galleries and finally applied to the Drama Centre in 1997,” he says. “They offered me a place on the spot and I got three scholarships. The past has been a rollercoaster ride which is like every theatre career.”

Paul Hawkyard returns to dark side to play Abanazar in York Theatre Royal’s Aladdin

Villain’s return: Paul Hawkyard’s Abanazar

HE’S bad and he’s back. Paul Hawkyard will return to the villain’s role in the 2024-2025 York Theatre Royal & Evolution Productions pantomime after a year’s hiatus.

The towering Leeds-born actor and wildlife artist will play Abanazar in creative director Juliet Forster’s production of Aladdin, written by Evolution director Paul Hendy in a new York adaptation of the script he premiered at The Marlowe, Canterbury, last winter with Strictly Come Dancing alumnus Kevin Clifton as the baddie.

Clifton, by the way, is among The Marlowe’s record-breaking eight nominations for the UK Pantomime Association’s 2024 Pantomime Awards for Best Newcomer to Pantomime for his debut as Ivan Tochachacha, in essence Abanazar re-booted with a dancing moniker.

Writer Hendy was nominated too for Best Script, alongside Best Pantomime (over 900 seats), Best Dame, Best Lead, Best Magical Being, Best Supporting Artist and Best Contribution to Music.

Leeds-born actor Paul Hawkyard

The winners will be announced in an awards ceremony at G Live, Guildford, on June 18, when York Theatre Royal will be represented by Jack And The Beanstalk cast members Mia Overfield and Anna Soden.

Overfield is nominated in the Best Early Career Newcomer category for her role as Jack in her panto debut, a year after completing her musical theatre studies at Arden School of Theatre, Manchester.

In her home-city panto, Soden played Dave the talking cow, a very different kind of pantomime cow, in a scene-stealing turn that has led to her nomination in the Best Supporting Artist category. 

Meanwhile, back to Aladdin in York, where Hawkyard will be renewing his fruitful, feisty pantomime partnership with regular dame Robin Simpson, returning for his fifth successive Theatre Royal panto.

Rev-olution: Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard roar onto stage in their irreverent Ugly Sister double act Manky & Mardy in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

Hawkyard and Simpson received a UK Pantomime Awards nomination for their Ugly Sister double act Manky & Mardy in 2021-2022’s Cinderella, then bonded in baddie badinage over the next winter as Captain Hook and Mrs Smee respectively in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan.

Hawkyard and Simpson first worked together in the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre company at the Eye of York, sharing a dressing room from the day they started. In 2022, they reunited for Harrogate Theatre’s HT Rep season of three plays in three weeks, Simpson appearing in all three, Abigail’s Party, Gaslight and Men Of The World; Hawkyard in the first and last.

They will be joined in Aladdin by CBeebies and CBBC presenter Evie Pickerill as the Spirit of the Ring. Further casting will be announced shortly.

Tickets for Aladdin’s run from December 3 to January 5 2025 are on sale on 01904 623568 or

What’s On in Ryedale, York and beyond food, glorious food. Here’s Hutch’s List No 17 for 2024, from Gazette & Herald

Jeanette Hunter’s Wicked Witch, right, in rehearsal for York Musical Theatre Company’s The Wizard Of Oz with Daan Janssen’s Lion, left, Rachel Higgs’s Scarecrow, Zander Fick’s Tin Man, Sadie Sorensen’s Dorothy and Toto puppeteer Adam Gill

FOOD for thought for the cultural week ahead, from the Yellow Brick Road to Heaven revisited, a foodie festival to Laurie Lee, seascapes to coastal Dexys, as Charles Hutchinson reports.

Musical of the week: York Musical Theatre Company in The Wizard Of Oz, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

YORK stage stalwart Jeanette Hunter will play a villain for the first time next week, starring as the Wicked Witch in York Musical Theatre Company’s The Wizard Of Oz.

Following the Yellow Brick Road will be Sadie Sorensen’s Dorothy, Rachel Higgs’s Scarecrow, Zander Fick’s Tin Man and Daan Janssen’s Lion, while further principal roles will go to Liz Gardner as Glinda, Marlena Kellie as Auntie Em and Martin Hunter as the Wizard. Box office: 01904 501935 or 

Velma Celli’s Show Queen: Celebrating the best of London’s West End and Broadway musical theatre hits at York Theatre Royal

Cabaret celebration of the week: Velma Celli’s Show Queen, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow (23/5/2024), 7.30pm

DRAG diva Velma Celli, the alter ego of York actor Ian Stroughair, goes back to Ian’s roots in Cats, Chicago, Fame and Rent for a new celebration of the best of London’s West End and Broadway musical theatre hits.

The show “takes us to every corner of the fabulous genre, from Kander & Ebb and Lloyd Webber to Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked and Schönberg’s Les Miserables and many more,” says Velma. “Like, more than Six!”. Special guests will be burlesque star Miss Betsy Rose and belting York singer Jessica Steel. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Rebecca Ferguson: Liverpool soul singer’s last album and tour at 37

Soul gig of the week: Rebecca Ferguson, Heaven Part II Tour, York Barbican, Friday, 7.30pm

LIVERPOOL soul singer and The X Factor alumna Rebecca Ferguson is touring her fifth and final album, Heaven Part II, released last December 12 years to the day since her debut, Heaven.

Working with new contributors and original Heaven writers and producers, Ferguson sings of love, family, joy, liberation and her journey to happiness over the past seven years. She is, however, calling time on recording and touring to “find a way to have a relationship with music which is positive”. Friday’s support acts will be York country singer Twinnie and Eloise Viola. Box office:

Malton Spring Food Lovers Festival: Look out for the festival guide and map on site

Festival of the week: Malton Spring Food Lovers Festival, Saturday, from 9am; Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, from 10am

ON the streets of “Yorkshire’s Food Capital”, Malton Food Lovers Festival celebrates Yorkshire’s supreme produce and cooking over three days of 120 artisan stalls and street food vendors, talks, tastings, chef demonstrations, brass bands and buskers, festival bar, food shops, sculpture trail, entertainment, blacksmith workshops, vintage funfair and family fun with Be Amazing Arts’ Creativitent, Environmental Art’s Creative Chaos and Magical Quests North.

The live musicians will be: Saturday, Malton White Star Band, 11am to 1pm, The Rackateers, 1pm to 3pm, and Oz Ward, 6pm to 8pm; Sunday, White Star Training Band, 11.30am to 12.30pm, and The Rackateers, 1pm to 3pm, and Monday, The Acoustic Buddies, 11am to 12pm and 2pm to 3pm. Festival entry is free.

Kirkby Soul: Playing outdoors at Hemsley Walled Garden on Saturday

Fundraiser of the week: Kirkby Soul, Helmsley Walled Garden, Helmsley, Saturday, 7.30pm

RYEDALE eight-piece band Kirkby Soul present an evening of soul music in aid of Helmsley Arts Centre and Helmsley Walled Garden. Bring chairs, cushions, blankets, dancing shoes and picnics. A paying bar will be operation in the orchid house. Come prepared for the British weather! A marquee will be erected just in case. Box office: 01439 771700 or

Anton Lesser: Performing in Red Sky At Sunrise, Laurie Lee in Words and Music at Grand Opera House, York

Literary event of the week: Red Sky At Sunrise, Laurie Lee in Words and Music, Grand Opera House, York, May 26, 7.30pm

AUTHOR Laurie Lee’s extraordinary story is told in a captivating weave of music and his own words in Red Sky At Sunrise, performed by actors Anton Lesser and Charlie Hamblett, accompanied by David Le Page’s musical programme for Orchestra Of The Swan.

Together they celebrate Lee’s engaging humour, as well as portraying his darker side, in a performance that has startling resonance with modern events, tracing Lee’s path through Cider With Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Moment Of War as he ended up fighting with the International Brigades against General Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. Box office:

Jo’s Place, seascape, by Carolyn Coles, from her Home Is Where The Heart Is exhibition at Bluebird Bakery, Acomb

Exhibition launch: Carolyn Coles, Home Is Where The Heart Is, Bluebird Bakery, Acomb, York, May 30 to August 1

CREATING atmospheric, impressionistic and abstract seascapes, South Bank Studios artist Carolyn Coles paints mostly with acrylics on stretched canvasses, using an array of techniques and implements.

Known for evoking emotional responses, Carolyn reflects her love for the Yorkshire landscape, offering a direct response to the feelings and connections to places that feel like home. Everyone is welcome at the 6pm to 9pm launch on May 30, when Carolyn will be happy to answer questions.

Dirty Ruby: Ryedale Blues’ headliners at Milton Rooms, Malton

Blues gig of the week: Ryedale Blues presents Dirty Ruby, Milton Rooms, Malton, May 30, 8pm

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE five-piece Dirty Ruby have drawn comparisons with Seventies’ bands Stone The Crows and Vinegar Joe in their energetic, sharp-edged blues rock, combining Hammond organ and bluesy guitar with soulful lead vocals. Box office: 01653 696240 or

Dexys: Showcasing The Feminine Divine at Scarborough Spa

Coastal trip of the week: Dexys, Scarborough Spa Grand Hall, May 30, doors 7pm

AFTER playing York for the first time in their 45-year career last September, Dexys return to North Yorkshire on the latest leg of The Feminine Divine Live!

Led as ever by Kevin Rowland, Dexys open with a theatrical presentation of last year’s album, The Feminine Divine, to be followed by a second soulful set of beloved hits, from Come On Eileen and Jackie Wilson Said to The Celtic Soul Brothers and Geno. Box office: 01723 376774 or

In Focus: The 1879 FA Cup clash of Darwen FC and the Old Etonians in The Giant Killers at Milton Rooms, Malton

The tour poster for Long Lane Theatre Club’s The Giant Killers

MANCHESTER United meet “noisy neighbours” Manchester City in the 143rd FA Cup final on Saturday, coinciding with the tour launch of a fitting theatrical tribute to the competition’s early days.

Staged by Long Lane Theatre Club, The Giant Killers tells the story of how Darwen FC came to the public’s attention in 1870s’ Lancashire to proclaim Association Football as a people’s game and not only the preserve of the upper classes.

Good news for Malton, the story of Darwen’s FA Cup clashes with the toffs of the Old Etonians is booked to appear at the Milton Rooms on July 4 (now confirmed as the date for another battle, the 2024 General Election).

The Giant Killers recounts how a ragtag bunch of mill workers in Darwen took on the amateur gentleman’s club of the Old Etonians in the FA Cup quarter-final in 1879. The Old Etonians were winning 5-1 but Darwen rallied to force a replay after a 5-5 draw. 

One replay turned into three, with one abandoned through bad light. Forced to travel to London a very expensive three times and with team members losing a day’s work, Darwen eventually succumbed 6-2, but their story of working-class men inspiring a nation enabled the top hats in football crowds to turn into ‘’a sea of flat caps’’.

Kick-off – or kick-toff! – will be at 7.30pm for Andrew Pearson-Wright & Eve Pearson-Wright’s story of how Darwen FC rose up against prevailing social prejudice and the might of the Football Association to earn a place in history as the first real ‘‘giant killers’’ in English football. Box office: 01653 696240 or