York Light enjoy musicals old and new in A Night With The Light at Friargate Theatre

Jonny Holbek: Directing York Light Opera Company in A Night With The Light

YORK Light Opera Company’s summer show, A Night With The Light, runs at Friargate Theatre, Friargate, York, from tomorrow until Saturday.

In the wake of York Light’s production of Evita, directed by Martyn Knight at York Theatre Royal in February, the amateur company presents a feel-good programme of powerful, funny, emotive and irreverent numbers from favourite musicals and new ones too.

Under the direction of Jonny Holbek and musical direction of Martin Lay, the show features songs from Hamilton, Waitress, Wicked, Chicago, Chess, Avenue Q, The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables, The Sound Of Music and plenty more.

Taking part will be: Abby Wild; Alexa Chaplin; Al Elmes; Annabel van Griethuysen; Chloe Chapman; Clare Meadley; Emily Hardy; Emma Louise Dickinson; Grace Harper; Helen Eckersall; Henry Fairnington; Kathryn Tinson; Kirsten Griffiths; Matt Tapp; Pascha Turnbull; Paul Hampshire; Pippa Elmes; Rachael Cawte; Ruth Symington; Ryan Richardson; Tom Menarry and Victoria Rimmington. The producer is Helen Eckersall.

“Come join us as we have Magic To Do!” say Jonny and Martin ahead of this week’s 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday matinee.

Tickets cost £10 upwards on 01904 655317 or at ridinglights.org/a-night-with-the-light/.

More Things To Do in York and beyond in search of algorithms, rhythm and a Snake. List No. 88, courtesy of The Press

Algorithm & blues: Coder and post-classical pianist Larkhall at Micklegate Social. Picture: Samuel White

GLASTONBURY? Out of sight, out of mind, out of pocket, Charles Hutchinson prefers to stay up north for arts and crafts aplenty.

Curioso gigs of the week: Larkhall, Micklegate Social, Micklegate, York, tonight, 8pm; Brudenell Piano Sessions, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Grand Theatre, tomorrow, 4pm

RECOMMENDED to Nils Frahm and Max Richter neo-classical devotees, Larkhall combines creative coding with beautiful post-classical piano pieces and makes algorithmically created visuals as he plays.

Larkhall is the performance alias of Minnesota mining town-born, Cambridge University-educated, Bath-based composer, coder and new-media artist Charlie Williams, whose intimate York show coincides with this week’s release of his third album, Say You’re With Me, with its theme of men’s mental health.

Can algorithms be art? Charlie reckons so. “My shows are an experience of algorithms creating beauty instead of, like, getting us to buy more stuff,” he says. Box office: larkhall.org.

Frankie Valli: Fronting The Four Seasons in one day at Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Nostalgia of the week: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, tonight, gates, 6pm

THE Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, chronicling the life and times of Frankie Valli and his New Jersey group, has brought so many songs to a new generation.

Cue Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Frankie playing Scarborough at 88 with The Four Seasons, performing Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man, Rag Doll, Let’s Hang On, My Eyes Adored You, Who Loves You, December, 1963 (Oh What A Night), Grease et al. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.

Leg up for comic effect: Thom Tuck and Dennis Herdman’s double act in The Play What I Wrote at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Play of the week: Birmingham Rep in The Play What I Wrote, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Thursday, 2pm; Saturday, 2.30pm

WRITTEN by The Right Size comic coupling of Sean Foley and Hamish McColl in tandem with Eddie Braben, the chap what wrote little Ern’s plays, The Play What I Wrote is both a dissection of double acts and a celebration of Morecambe and Wise.

Thom Wall insists on performing yet another of his hapless plays, an epic set in the French Revolution. Partner Dennis Hayward prefers to continue with their failing comedy duo instead, believing a tribute to Morecambe & Wise will restore Wall’s confidence. First, he needs to persuade a mystery guest to appear in the play what Thom wrote, with a different star for each show. Box office: 01904 623658 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Snake Davis: Saxophonist plays Cop’ Carnival’s debut jazz night on Tuesday

Community event of the week: Cop’ Carnival Day, Copmanthorpe Recreation Centre, Barons Crescent, York, July 2, 11.30am to 6pm

NOW in its 51st year, Cop’ Carnival Day retains its familiar format of dance troops, bands, traditional games and attractions next weekend. Tickets cost £5 in advance or £8 on the day.

In addition, Cop’ Carnival’s first jazz night, hosted with York Gin, presents An Evening With Snake Davis, saxophonist to the stars, on Tuesday at 7pm. Two nights later, the carnival’s comedy bill features Steve Royle, Tom Wrigglesworth, David Eagle and compere Alex Boardman from 8pm.

Throughout the festival, 30 artists are exhibiting at Copmanthorpe Methodist Church nightly from 7pm, admission free. Box office: copmanthorpecarnival.org.uk.

Strictly between them: Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice team up for Him & Me

Dance moves of the week: Anton & Giovanni, Him & Me, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

 STRICTLY Come Dancing judge Anton du Beke and 2021 champion professional Giovanni Pernice are joined by dancers and singers for Him & Me, a night when the Ballroom King meets the Jive Master. Expect dance, song, light-hearted fun and banter.

Both Strictly stars will be making their second York appearance of 2022; Anton & Erin’s Showtime played York Barbican in February; Giovanni’s This Is Me followed suit in March. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.

Fran, frankly: Fran Lebowitz’s evening of acerbic New York wit and astute observation at Grand Opera House

Social commentator of the week: An Evening With Fran Lebowitz, Grand Opera House, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

FRAN Lebowitz, New York purveyor of urban cool, cultural satirist and author, will be typically forthright and unapologetically opinionated in her dry-humoured social commentary on anything and everything, with a Q&A to boot.

After Pretend It’s A City, Lebowitz’s Netflix documentary series directed by filmmaker and friend Martin Scorsese, here comes her acerbic insights on gender, race, gay rights and the media, plus her pet peeves of celebrity culture, tourists, and baby strollers. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.

Who’d be a teacher? Sam Jackson’s Nick struggles with more than the paperwork in Foxglove Theatre’s The Brink

Shock of the new: Foxglove Theatre in The Brink, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Thursday to Saturday, 7.30pm

IN Brad Birch’s darkly comic, explosive psychological thriller, history teacher Nick is a normal person, working a normal job, who lives a normal life, but he suffers a downward spiral fuelled by dreams and whispers of a bomb buried under the school.

“Thrilling, turbulent, unconventional, The Brink is an unwavering dive into dark and prominent subject matter, alien to the established York stage,” says Nathan Butler, director of new York company Foxglove Theatre. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Suzanne Vega: Booked into York Barbican for February 2023 concert

Big signings of the week for 2023: Suzanne Vega, York Barbican, February 22; Mike + The Mechanics, York Barbican, April 12

GLASTONBURY acoustic stage headliner Suzanne Vega will play York Barbican as the only Yorkshire show of the New York folk singer-songwriter’s 14-date tour next year, with Luka, Marlene On The Wall and Tom’s Diner to the fore.

Mike + The Mechanics will return to York Barbican next spring on their Refueled! 2023 Tour, promising “all the hits and a drop of Genesis” – Mike Rutherford’s other band – plus songs from latest album Out Of The Blue. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

The Play What I Wrote doubles up on double acts with nod to Eric and Ernie in York Theatre Royal week of mystery guests

The long and short of it: Dennis Herdman and Thom Tuck argue over who should be Eric Morecambe in their Morecambe & Wise tribute. Picture: Manuel Harlan

THE Play What I Wrote is both a dissection of double acts and a celebration of Morecambe and Wise.

Written by The Right Size comic coupling of Sean Foley and Hamish McColl in tandem with Eddie Braben, the chap what wrote little Ern’s plays, the West End and Broadway hit is doing the rounds anew, playing York Theatre Royal from Monday for a week in a Birmingham Rep touring production directed by artistic director Foley.

Premiered in 2001, Foley and McColl wanted their play to be inspired by Eric and Ernie rather than a tribute act to the beloved double act, and so they came up with a comedy duo of their own.

“The show is a tease,” says Foley of the combination of the expected and unexpected. “It’s a really lovely dance between the idea of you’re watching a Morecambe and Wise tribute show but actually you’re not. So, whenever we tease people with ‘here’s a bit of them’, they come to understand what the show is – which is a sophisticated but daft homage.”

The duo’s partnership is in trouble after 12 years. The shorter, prickly one, has grown professionally jealous of the tall one with the gags, insisting the failing partnership will revive only if they present the latest of his 72 unpublished plays, a very serious French Revolution epic with a hapless, innuendo-bedevilled script and a guest star.

Through a series of elaborate deceptions, the lanky one and oleaginous producer David Pugh dupe the little’un into thinking the play will be presented with Sir Ian McKellen in the company. In reality, he has signed up the comic duo for a Morecambe & Wise tribute, minus Sir Ian.

The Play What I Wrote is at once a delightful nostalgic re-creation of Eric and Ernie’s comic sunshine – you wish for even more of the old magic – and a smart post-modern analysis of the often complex chemistry and vulnerability of double acts. In a show of unalloyed joy, the happy conclusion finds the comedy duo abed, just like Morecambe & Wise, affirming why each needs the other.

The two clashing comedians will be played by Dennis Herdman and Thom Tuck, joined by Mitesh Soni, playing their comedy sidekick Arthur and all manner of other roles.

The cast can spot quickly if Eric and Ernie devotees are present. “But I don’t actually think it’s important at all for people to know Morecambe and Wise,” says Tuck.

“It’s just an extra sprinkling for the people who enjoy it, but at the first reference to them you can tell what percentage of the audience are Morecambe and Wise fans because you can hear the murmur ‘they’re doing it’.

“In a later scene, we do ‘What do you think of the show so far? Rubbish’. Some days that will get a round of applause and some days it will get a big laugh, but it doesn’t really matter between the two.”

The Play What I Wrote nods to Eric and Ernie by having a mystery guest in each performance, in keeping with their television shows: a convention that requires the cast to rehearse constantly with new actors.

During the Birmingham run, Tom Hiddleston, Kara Tointon and Sue Holderness were among those to pop up, but the guests for York remain a mystery, as an exploratory call to communications manager Amy Goodman affirmed.

“There are big changes depending on the guest star and the audience will react differently as well,” says Herdman. “They all bring something unique and change our dynamic instantly and we’re all either fawning around them or trying to pull the rug from under them.

“It’s fun! It’s lovely to have them on stage and be able to take the mickey and play with them. They’ve all been up for it and most have been terrified as well! It’s nice that they have a certain status and yet they are also clearly flesh and blood and a nervous human being.”

Director Foley praises the energy of Herdman, Tuck and Soni. “What is dazzling, and these guys do it completely brilliantly, is making all of the show look like it’s a high-wire act and things can go wrong at any time. That is really brilliant comic acting.

“Someone said to Eric Morecambe, ‘I love all your improv lines and your ad-libs’ and he responded, ‘It takes a lot of rehearsal to get them right’ and that’s the same with The Play What I Wrote.

“With this show you need the chemistry between the cast. We were very lucky that from final auditions, when we saw Dennis and Thom together, they were immediately a double act. Then we added Mitesh in and it just worked.”

Tuck notes how Eric and Ernie’s humour crosses generations through fitting into a comic tradition. “The ingrained thing about British people is that we like cheekiness and there’s a sort of ‘anti-establishmentism’ in Morecambe and Wise’s work,” he says.

“Whether it’s a look direct to camera which says ‘we know this is stupid’ or the play with the guest star, it’s ‘let’s muck about’. British audiences from variety onwards have had that sort of fun. It’s always high on the priority list.”

The Play What I Wrote, York Theatre Royal, June 27 to July 2. Box office:  01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Deafinitely Theatre tell Everyday true stories of deaf women and non-binary people’s experiences of surviving abuse

Cherie Gordon in Deafinitely Theatre’s Everyday. Picture: Becky Bailey

FOUR people come together to perform a ritual of community and catharsis in Deafinitely Theatre’s Everyday at York Theatre Royal tonight and tomorrow.

Gathering up true stories of deaf women and non-binary people’s experiences of surviving abuse, they form a witches’ coven like no other: one with a cauldron of newt’s eyes and butterflies, deep scars, and blazing signs.

Commissioned by New Diorama Theatre, writer-director Paula Garfield’s visually rich, playful and urgent world première combines British Sign Language and spoken English in the company’s distinctive bilingual style.

Drawing on interviews with women and non-binary people exploring domestic abuse in the deaf community, Everyday is a defiant and empowering new work that marks Deafinitely Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

Writer-director Paula Garfield, centre, in rehearsal for Everyday

Here Paula Garfield discusses her new play:

What can audiences expect from this 20th anniversary world premiere?

“A fantastically skilled cast of three women and one non-binary person in a collaborative ensemble telling, for the first time, the stories of deaf people’s diverse experiences of domestic violence.

“We’ve seen raised discourse within mainstream media, with the likes of the #MeToo movement; however, domestic violence remains a taboo subject within the deaf community and the stories of deaf and disabled people have yet to be told.

“Everyday’s audiences will see these heartfelt and diverse stories told through the mediums of visual and physical theatre using British Sign Language, English and creative captioning.”

What was your writing process and what research did it involve?

“When Deafinitely Theatre was first established, we began creating devised productions, using the experiences of the deaf community to inspire those stories. We then shifted towards adapted screenplays, using scripts of well-known playwrights, such as Shakespeare and Sarah Kane.

Giving the finger: Cherie Gordon, Zoë McWhinney, Fifi Garfield and Bea Webster in a scene from Everyday. Picture: Becky Bailey

“This time, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I wanted to revert to our original method of working and create a devised play.

“During lockdown, I couldn’t help but see the numerous news reports showing the rapidly increasing rates of domestic abuse due to the impact of the pandemic. The problems were exacerbated by people unable to go out or to work and feeling trapped in their own homes.

“This prompted me to post on Facebook to see if anyone would come forward about their own experiences, and being a member of the deaf community, people knew me, and felt they could entrust me with their stories.”

What happened next?

“After speaking with several women and non-binary people, I invited some of them to be involved in a period of research and development with the actors, and I asked survivors to oversee the script. At the end of each stage of research and development, we shared our progress with an invitation-only audience and asked them for feedback upon which we would build.”

“The deaf community needs deaf-led theatre: deaf directors, deaf creatives, deaf people and deaf stories,” says Everyday writer-director Paula Garfield. Picture: Becky Bailey

What do you hope audiences will take away from Everyday?

“I really want our audiences to be struck by this production and the vulnerability of deaf women and non-binary people facing domestic abuse. I want people to see the vital need for equal rights as their hearing counterparts when it comes to accessing domestic-abuse support services.

“A lot of the services across the UK are not accessible to deaf people; SignHealth is the only deaf-led organisation that provides support for deaf adults who experience domestic abuse. However, they can only support those who live in England, and I think this is mainly due to funding.

“We are lacking in refuges that accept members of the deaf community, as many will not house them due to ‘health and safety reasons’, which takes us right back to the issue of deaf rights, which in this context, seem to be almost non-existent.

“We’re also in need of more deaf Independent Domestic Violence Advocates, with very few trained practitioners expected to offer support to those all over the country. I believe we have a responsibility to create more training opportunities and to encourage more deaf people to pursue this career pathway where services are so desperately needed.”

 Zoë McWhinney and Cherie Gordon in Everyday

What are you most looking forward to about taking the production on tour?

“I’m so pleased to be touring the production because the deaf community isn’t only based in London, there are strong deaf communities across the UK. I’d love for us to be touring even wider and further afield one day.

“Working with Birmingham Rep Theatre has been a long-standing dream of mine, so I’m over the moon that we’re included in their programme. The same is true for our collaborations with Northern Stage and York Theatre Royal; I have hopes that this marks the beginnings of many more touring productions for Deafinitely Theatre in the future.

“I’d love for theatres across the UK to become aware that they have deaf communities and audiences who need to see themselves represented in theatre. The deaf community needs deaf-led theatre: deaf directors, deaf creatives, deaf people and deaf stories.”

“To drive improvements, we need to raise awareness, and that is a part of what I hope Everyday will achieve,” says Paula

Why should York audiences see Everyday tonight or tomorrow?

“I believe Everyday has poignant messages for both deaf and hearing audiences. I hope that Everyday will empower a deaf audience, making them aware of some of the more nuanced signs of abuse, help break the stigma surrounding abuse, and raise awareness of support services.

“I hope that deaf audiences will feel seen and understood, and for those who may have experienced domestic abuse to know that they are not alone.

“I want a hearing audience to understand that anyone can experience domestic abuse and that for deaf people there are additional barriers. The community have faced historical oppression by means of language, education and access to services and many of these difficulties still exist today. To drive improvements, we need to raise awareness, and that is a part of what I hope Everyday will achieve.”

Deafinitely Theatre in Everyday at York Theatre Royal on June 21 and 22 at 7.30pm. Box office:  01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age recommendation: 16 plus

More Things To Do in and around York for June 18 to June 26, as the Romans invade again. List No. 87, courtesy of The Press

Cherie Gordon in Everyday, on tour at York Theatre Royal in Deafinitely Theatre’s 20th anniversary tour. Picture: Becky Bailey

FROM the Pride parade to Roman festivities, Americana musicians to English prog legends, defiant deaf theatre to bracing art, Charles Hutchinson savours a diverse diary ahead.

Empowering play of the week: Everyday, Deafinitely Theatre, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.30pm

FOUR people come together to perform a ritual of community and catharsis. Gathering up true stories of deaf women and non-binary people’s experiences of surviving abuse, they form a witches’ coven like no other, replete with a cauldron of newt’s eyes and butterflies, deep scars, and blazing signs.

Commissioned by New Diorama Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre’s playful, urgent, defiant world premiere by writer-director Paula Garfield combines British Sign Language and oral English as it draws on interviews to explore domestic abuse and mental health in the deaf community. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Davina De Campo: Performing at York LGBT Pride at Knavesmire

Fiesta of the week: York LGBT Pride, June 18, from high noon

THE York Pride Parade leaves from outside York Minster at Duncombe Place. Best advice: arrive at 11.45am, ready for departure at 12 noon, with the parade arriving at Knavesmire (Tadcaster Road end) between 1pm and 1.30pm.

On the main stage, hosts Miss Sordid Secret and DJ Kira introduce live music and entertainment from Nadine Coyle, Davina De Campo, Duncan James, Marcus Collins and Jo O’Meara. York Pride is a free family-friendly event, but donations are welcome.

Dolphin Hotel, by David Finnigan, at According To McGee, York

Exhibition launch of the week: Contemporary Painting: Elementals and Synthesis by Freya Horsley and David Finnigan, According To McGee, Tower Street, York, June 18 to July 11

EXHIBITING Freya Horsley, from York, alongside David Finnigan, from Scarborough, is “not so much a duo show, more like two exhibitions in one gallery,” says According To McGee co-director Greg McGee.

“Freya and David are far removed in terms of subject and mark making, but there’s enough intersection to be able to build an event like this.”

Horsley’s Elementals works focus on seascapes full of bristling light and spray, serenity and inner-lit joy; Finnigan’s four new Synthesis paintings are geometric abstractions influenced by sound and modulation. 

Sunday’ll be the day for That’ll Be The Day! at Grand Opera House, York

Tribute gig of the week: That’ll Be The Day!, Grand Opera House, York, June 19, 7pm

THIS long-running show, now into its 36th year, celebrates the golden age of rock’n’roll and pop from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

That’ll Be The Day combines comedy sketches and impersonations with stellar vocals and musicianship, fronted by director, producer and vocalist Trevor Payne. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Courtney Marie Andrews: Third time lucky for Phoenix singer-songwriter as she returns to Pocklington at last

Americana gig of the week: Courtney Marie Andrews, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 19, 8pm

AMERICAN singer, songwriter, poet, musician and now artist Courtney Marie Andrews makes her long-awaited return to Pocklington this weekend.

Phoenix-born Courtney, 31, twice had to postpone the follow-up to her December 2018 gig. The focus was expected to be on the 2021 Grammy-nominated Old Flowers, but now that she has announced the October 7 release of ninth album Loose Future on Fat Possum, hopefully she will showcase new material too. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Yes, it is Yes: Playing Close To The Edge at York Barbican

Progressing to the past: Yes, York Barbican, Wednesday, 8pm

PROG rock pioneers Yes’s Album Series Tour 2022 celebrates the 50th anniversary of Close To The Edge, the September 1972 album inspired by Siddharta and their “state of mind” at the time.

Wednesday’s concert combines the iconic album in full with further Yes classics, performed by Steve Howe, guitars, Geoff Downes, keyboards, Jon Davison, vocals, Billy Sherwood, bass guitar, and Jay Schellen, drums and percussion. Legendary Yes artwork artist Roger Dean opens the show with a video wall of images and graphics and a reflection on his long history with the band. Tickets remain valid from the postponed May 19 2021 date. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

The Felice Brothers, James, second from left, and Ian, right, with band members Will Lawrence and Jesske Hume

If you are yet to discover…The Felice Brothers, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

THE Felice Brothers, the folk rock/country rock band from the Hudson valley of upstate New York, are led by Ian and James Felice, joined on this tour by Will Lawrence on drums and Jesske Hume on bass.

Inspired equally by Woody Guthrie and Chuck Berry, they began in 2006 by playing subway platforms and sidewalks in New York City and have since released ten albums, the latest being 2021’s From Dreams To Dust. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Charge! The Eboracum Roman Festival is on its way

Festival of the week: Eboracum Roman Festival, June 25 and 26, all day

THE Legions of Rome take over York Museum Gardens for a packed weekend of outdoor festivities featuring a Roman Living History Encampment between 10am and 5pm each day; the Kids Army and Roman-themed family activities run by Playful Anywhere from 11am to 3pm on both days. Entry is free.

Head inside the Yorkshire Museum to discover Roman treasures, especially the new exhibition The Ryedale Hoard: A Roman Mystery.  

Authors of Roman fiction and non-fiction will chat and sign books in the Tempest Anderson Hall from 10am to 4pm each day.

The Chemical Brothers: Get ready for Block Rockin’ Beats at Castle Howard

Big beat of the week: The Chemical Brothers, Castle Howard, near York, nearer Malton, June 26; gates open at 5pm 

HEY boy, hey girl, electronic pioneers The Chemical Brothers are taking to the stately-home grass this summer as Manchester big beat duo Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, both 51, galvanize rave diggers.

Expect such dancefloor nuggets as the chart-topping Setting Sun and Block Rockin’ Beats, Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Let Forever Be, It Began In Afrika, Star Guitar, Galvanize, Do It Again. Got To Keep On and Go. Camping will be available. Box office: castlehoward.co.uk.

Kyiv City Ballet dancers arrive for fundraising show at York Theatre Royal UPDATED 14/6/2022

The Kyiv City Ballet company arrives at York Railway Station on Monday night with York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, back, centre, in blue and yellow Ukrainian colours. All pictures: Ant Robling

KYIV City Ballet will give their first British performance since Ukraine came under bombardment from Russia at a sold-out York Theatre Royal tonight (14/6/2022).

Visas rubber-stamped, a combination of Eurostar and LNER delivered the Ukrainian dancers from their temporary base in Paris, with Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird on board the evening train from London.

Led by general director Ivan Koslov and his wife, assistant director Ekaterina Koslova, the exiled troupe made their way immediately to a Civic welcome at York Mansion House before taking a City Cruise on the Ouse.

“It’s a huge honour to be hosting Kyiv City Ballet at York Theatre Royal,” says Bird. “This is the company’s first UK appearance since their city came under attack, and we are proud that York is able to stand in solidarity with Kyiv by supporting these extraordinary dancers for this one-off visit.”

Kyiv City Ballet assistant director Ekaterina Koslova and general director Ivan Koslov at York Mansion House

Bird personally invited Kyiv City Ballet to perform in York after learning of the company being stranded in France, where they had flown to Paris to perform on February 23, only to learn that their country had been invaded by Putin’s forces.

The dancers still went ahead with that night’s performance, and whereas mobile phones usually would be prohibited in the environs of the stage during a show, they were left on in the dressing rooms by the troupe, as relatives rang from home as the performance progressed.

At the invitation of the Mayor’s office, the dancers have been based in Paris ever since that night, one “lost in a fog” before the full enormity of what was unfolding was apparent.

“It’s been very hard to be away from home, but people around here in Paris are helping us a lot,” says Ivan, speaking by Zoom from the French capital.

Cards from well wishers on the York Mansion House railings to greet Kyiv City Ballet on their arrival

“We’re staying in hotel accommodation, everyone under one roof. Our group right now is 38, with the dancers, ourselves and a costume mistress.”

Ivan says “right now” because the number has decreased since that day of arrival in France, after some men in the troupe decided to head home to serve the Ukrainian cause.

The rest have remained in France, where they have been raising awareness and relief funds through performing in Paris and other cities too. “The Mayor of Paris has generously given us a residency at the Theatre de Chatelet since March 6, right in the heart of the city,” says Ekaterina, or Katya, as she introduces herself.

“It means we have a place to continue to rehearse and choreograph works, and it keeps our spirits up as it’s good that we can be together.”

Kyiv City Ballet dancers Ilona Moskalenko, left, and Diana Potapenko at York Mansion House

Ivan adds: “We’re able to go to classes at their theatres as well as having the possibility of doing our own classes. As a ‘cultural exchange’, it’s a very good experience for our dancers; they can see how Parisian dancers train. They’ve invited us to their studios and some choreographers have proposed to choreograph works with us, but it’s too early to be able to do that.”

During their French exile, Kyic City Ballet have performed “almost everywhere”, latterly in Toulouse, Lyon and Saint Marlo.

“In regular times, we’ve always been welcomed by the public very nicely, but now it’s an even better, warmer welcome, with so much applause and everyone staying and continuing to cheer at the end, helping to keep spirits up,” says Ivan. “Sometimes we’ll see Ukrainian flags too.

“It can be difficult to focus on working, but we’re dancers, not fighters; we’re helping in the one way we can.”

The Kyiv City Ballet company on the steps of York Mansion House with Town Crier Ben Fry; York Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird; Sheriff of York Mrs Suzie Mercer; Lord Mayor of York Councillor David Carr and Lady Mayoress Mrs Lynda Carr

Now comes the chance to perform in York. “We received a message inviting us to York Theatre Royal, and very quickly we arranged a phone call and were very excited to confirm the show,” says Katya. “Our performance in York is one of the only things we’ve all been talking about.”

Ivan cannot recall if he has ever been to York previously. “You know the dancer’s life: you leave the hotel, rehearse, do the show, come back to the hotel, move on,” he says.

Katya is more definite. “I haven’t been to England, though I’ve wanted to come for as long as I can remember,” she says.

“We’re in discussion to do more shows here, but it’s already been a real logistical challenge to do so much in such a short time. We don’t have dates to announce yet but we have plans to return to the UK and we hope York will be the first of many performances.”

Kyiv City Ballet dancers Nazar Korniichuk and Anastasia Uhlova reading the messages on the York Mansion House railings

Given that the Russian invasion shows no sign of abating, Katya cannot turn her thoughts to the day when she might return home. “I’m rehearsing every day with our dancers, focusing on that, and, for me, the most important thing is what we can bring through our dancing,” she says.

Thoughts turn to tonight, when 100 per cent of ticket sale proceeds will be donated to UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal from a two-and-a-half-hour special performance split into two parts.

“The first part will be a ballet class, which will be showing the audience how we  normally prepare for a performance,” says Katya. “Ivan and I will be on stage with the dancers, showing how we warm up, why we do certain movements, and we’ll do questions and answers too.

“The second part will be made up of excerpts from our repertoire, both from classical ballets, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and from pieces that we’ll be performing next season.”

The Kyiv City Ballet company on board the City Cruise on the River Ouse on Monday night

Look out for a premiere tonight: “One of the pieces is being choreographed by one of our dancers, Vladyslav Dobshyinskyi, who will perform a solo from his new work,” says Katya.

Kyiv City Ballet can but pray for the day when they set dancing feet on Kyiv soil once more. In the meantime, here in York, will be another chance to raise money for those in need back home.

The Yorkshire ballet community is playing its part too: Leeds company Northern Ballet are providing the dance floor for tomorrow’s performance, York Dance Space, the ballet bars.

Come Wednesday morning, the Kyiv City Ballet troupe will be heading to Manchester Airport to fly to the southwestern French Basque coast to perform in Biarritz that night.

Kyiv City Ballet at York Theatre Royal, tonight (14/6/2022), 7.30pm. SOLD OUT

Julia Donaldson’s dragon Zog has lift-off in second stage call on flying doctor duty

Zog and Si Gadabout in Zog And The Flying Doctors

JULIA Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Zog And The Flying Doctors swoops in on York Theatre Royal in Freckle Productions and Rose Theatre’s world premiere tour on June 24 and June 25.

Dragon Zog, super-keen student turned air-ambulance, lands with a crash-bang-thump in a rhyming story for children aged three upwards. Zog and his Flying Doctor crew, Princess Pearl and Sir Gadabout, must tend to a sunburnt mermaid, a unicorn with one too many horns and a lion with the flu.

Alas, Pearl’s uncle, the King, has other ideas as to whether princesses should be doctors, and soon she is locked up in the castle, in a crown and silly frilly dress once more.

However, with help from friends and half a pound of cheese, can Pearl make her uncle better and prove princesses can be doctors too?

Princess Pearl: “Locked up in the castle, in a crown and silly frilly dress”

Freckle Productions reunites the creative team behind Zog, Emma Kilbey and Joe Stilgoe, for this modern take on a classic fairytale.

Where did Julia Donaldson’s inspiration for Zog come from? “Well, that one was quite unusual, in that the initial idea didn’t come from me. My editor said to me, ‘it would be lovely to have a story about a dragon’, so I started thinking about it and the name ‘Madam Dragon’ came into my head, which I thought had a nice sound.

“And then I thought, ‘what could Madame Dragon do, who could she be?’. I came up with various ideas and a schoolteacher was one of them, so I took it from there. Originally it was going to be about a knight and a dragon, but it ended up being about a Princess and a dragon – the story came to me bit by bit”.

Julia’s husband, Malcolm, who is a doctor, had some input here. “When I was planning the story, I knew that Zog would keep meeting the Princess, and originally I was going to have them play together and toast marshmallows,” she recalls. “Malcolm said, ‘that’s a bit soppy, couldn’t it be something with a bit more oomph?’. And then I came up with the doctor angle”.

Zog writer Julia Donaldson

Zog is far from the first animal to star in one of Julia’s stories. Whether a cat in Tabby McTat, a fish in Tiddler or the iconic Gruffalo, animals are regularly Julia’s most memorable creations. “It’s often used as a convention – like in Aesop’s Fables, where the animals aren’t really animals; they represent a quality or a characteristic,” she says.

“I also think it would be far more boring for the reader if Mouse in The Gruffalo was just a small but clever person, or The Gruffalo itself was a big, scary but rather stupid person. Or, in The Snail And The Whale, if the Whale was just a big person and the Snail a little person; I think you need animals to represent the qualities”.

One enduring facet of Julia’s stories is her partnership with German illustrator and animator Axel Scheffler, who has brought so many of her characters to life. How does this collaboration work? “It’s always through the editor,” Julia reveals.

“I never exchange a word with Axel about the pictures until my editor shows him the book – and then I have a nail-biting moment, wondering if he likes it and wants to do it. Then he’ll do some character sketches which I’ll look at.

The King lays the down the law in Zog And The Flying Doctors

“Sometimes, after he’s created sketches for every picture, I’ll think ‘oh hang on, I’m going to change that little bit of text, because I like what he’s done with that’.”

When Julia has had the characters in her head for so long, what happens if the illustrations turn out to be different to what she imagined? “I always say it’s like going on holiday:  you’ve got an idea in your head of how it’s going to be, and then it’s always totally different. But once you’re there and enjoying it, you just forget what was in your head before,” she says.

“Also, I usually know when I’m writing something whether I want Axel to work on it – in which case I’ve got his style in my head as I’m working. It doesn’t influence the storyline, but it will influence how I picture the characters. So, I’m usually not surprised when I see Axel’s interpretation.”

Many of Julia’s books have been adapted for film or theatre, where they are reimagined all over again. “For me, it’s like an extension of working with an illustrator,” she says.

Leap to it: Zog takes to the air

“Handing it over to a theatre company or film company, you know it’s going to change a bit; the end product will be a blend of my words and their artistic vision. And they do usually consult me and tell me what they’ve got in mind.”

Stage adaptations of Julia and Axel’s books, from Zog to Stick Man, are often a child’s first experience of live theatre, much to Julia’s delight. “I remember going to see The Nutcracker when I was a child and I found the whole thing completely magical. I can still remember how I felt when the curtain went up,” Julia says.

“I suppose in a way it’s the same thing that a book gives you, in that while you’re reading or watching, you believe in a different reality. And if it’s a good show, parents love to see that their children – even very young ones – can just be transfixed by it.”

Freckle Productions and Rose Theatre present Zog And The Flying Doctors, York Theatre Royal, June 24, 4.30pm; June 25, 11am, 2pm and 4.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as city welcomes Ukrainian dancers and bees buzz. List No. 86, courtesy of The Press

Poised for Theatre Royal performance: Kyiv City Ballet dancers, heading from Paris to York

FROM Ukrainian dancers to the ukulele, hairdryer music to German comedy, a new but ancient story to medieval street plays, Charles Hutchinson has a fiesta of ideas for venturing out.

Cultural/political event of the week: Kyiv City Ballet, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday, 7.30pm, sold out

AT the invitation of Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, the dancers of Kyiv City Ballet are to perform in Britain for the first time since taking up temporary residence in Paris after Russia invaded Ukraine. All ticket sale proceeds from the sold-out show will be donated to UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal.

Under the direction of Ivan Kozlov and Ekaterina Kozlova, a company dance class will be followed by excerpts from  Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, contemporary pieces and a premiere. 

To bee or not to bee: The Mind Of A Bee is the subject of Lars Chittka’s online talk on June 14 at 8pm at the York Festival of Ideas

Festival of the week: York Festival of Ideas, today to June 24

UNDER the banner of The Next Chapter, more than 150 free in-person and online events promise to educate, entertain and inspire in a festival of speakers, performers, panel discussions, family fun activities and guided tours.

Topics span archaeology to art, history to health and politics to psychology, from the natural history of slime to female Rugby League players; secret Beatles lyrics to the mind of a bee; Holgate Mill to Frankie Howerd. Head to yorkfestivalofideas.com to download a brochure.

Thomas Truax with The Hornicator, left, and Mother Superior, two of his wonderfully weird instruments

Double bills of the week: Songs Under Skies, Mayshe-Mayshe & Thomas Truax, Monday; Testament and Maddie Morris, Wednesday, National Centre for Early Music, York, both 7pm

SONGS Under Skies takes over the gardens of St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, for the third time for two nights of outdoor live music by four musicians making their NCEM debuts.

Mayshe-Mayshe, alias Alice Rowan, blends dreamy art-pop with rich storytelling, her songs incorporating choral vocals, vintage synths and the occasional hairdryer. Thomas Truax, an American musician with a mad scientist’s brain, utilises weird self-made instruments in songs about insects, trees, technology and all things lunar.

Lyrical rapper, human beatboxer and composer Testament is joined BBC Radio2 Young Folk Award winner Maddie Morris, from Leeds, whose protest songs address LGBTQ rights, feminism and trauma issues. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Formidable on four strings: George Hinchcliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Anarchy in the Ukulele? George Hinchcliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, 7.30pm

QUESTION: Who is to blame for the worldwide phenomena of ukulele orchestras and ukulelemania? The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, that’s who!

Led by George Hinchliffe, these independent rock-stars of the “bonsai guitar” promise entertainment, joy, fun, strum and artistry on four strings on all manner of cover versions from the pop, rock and musical worlds beyond. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

How the land lies: Storyteller Alexander Flanagan Wright deep in thought in the the field behind Stillington Mill

Storytelling premiere of the week: Alexander Flanagan Wright, Monster, Work In Progress, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm. UPDATE: 13/6/2022: POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Ticket holders will be refunded.

A BLOKE in a fancy suit is stood in the Nevada desert. A warrior holding the head of Medusa is stood on top of a hill. The sky is lit bright with the neon lights of Vegas. We are trying to set foot in places no-one has ever been.

So runs the introduction to Alexander Flanagan Wright’s Monster, wherein he sets out to tell a story about finding places that we should never have found, about the difference between discovery and ownership, and the need to be a hero.

“Some of that story happens now. Some of it happens millennia ago. All of it is to do with people,” he says, welcoming instant feedback at the story’s close. Box office: atthemill.org.

Roarsome! The Tyrannosaurus Rex rocks up in Dinosaur World Live

Children’s show of the week: Dinosaur World Live, York Theatre Royal, June 17, 4.30pm; June 18 and 19, 11am and 2pm

DARE to experience the dangers and delights of this interactive family show for age three upwards as intrepid explorers discover a prehistoric world of remarkably lifelike dinosaurs in a mind-bending 50-minute Jurassic adventure whose arrival in York just happens to coincide with the big-screen opening of Jurassic World Dominion.
Watch out for the flesh-eating, giant Tyrannosaurus Rex and the supporting cast of a Triceratops, Giraffatitan, Microraptor and Segnosauris. A 15-minute meet and greet post-show offers the chance to be up close and personal with these creatures. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Wringing endorsement for German comedian Henning Wehn

Comedy top-up? Just say Wehn: Henning Wehn, It’ll All Come Out In The Wash, York Barbican, Friday, 8pm

HENNING Wehn, Germany’s Comedy Ambassador and former marketing ideas man for Wycombe Wanderers Football Club to boot, plays York Barbican for the first time since his impatient Great Yorkshire Fringe gig in July 2019, Get On With It!

On his return, Wehn gives everything a good rinse as he wrings sense out of the nonsensical. “An unbiased look at a certain virus might be inevitable but I have no agenda,” says Wehn. “I just happen to be always spot on. It’s a curse.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Duran Duran: Playing the stately pile of Castle Howard

Open-air gig of the week: Duran Duran, Castle Howard, near York, Friday, supported by Dry Cleaning; gates open at 5pm

FRESH from one outdoor engagement by the Buckingham Palace gates with guest guitarist Nile Rodgers at last Saturday’s Platinum Party At The Palace, Duran Duran play another in Castle Howard’s grounds.

The Birmingham darlings of New Romantic synthpop will be complementing last weekend’s brace of Notorious and Girls On Film with such Eighties’ favourites as Planet Earth, Save A Prayer, Rio and Hungry Like the Wolf. Could last October’s 15th studio album, Future Past, feature too? Tickets update: still available at castlehoward.co.uk or ticketmaster.co.uk.

Taking the chair: Paul Morel in Oddbodies’ one-man King Lear

Shakespeare shake-up of the week: Oddbodies’ King Lear, Helmsley Arts Centre, June 18, 7.30pm

ARMED with only a drum, a guitar, a knife and a chair, Oddbodies’ inventive, irreverent one-man account of Shakespeare’s King Lear is told from The Fool’s point of view by writer-performer Paul Morel.

Directed by John Mowat, he brings all the characters from this sad and sorry tale to glorious life, from the bipolar Lear to the bastard Edmund, haughty Goneril to poor deluded Gloucester, oily Oswald to sweet Cordelia and mad Tom, in a fast, funny, poignant and ultimately heart-breaking production full of physical ingenuity and visual flair. Box office: 01439 771700 or at helmsleyarts.co.uk.

2022 York Mystery Plays artistic director Tom Straszewski, pictured with Jess Murray, who is directing The Appearance Of Jesus To Mary Magdalene for the Guild of Media Arts and Guild of Scriveners

Street plays of the month: Guilds of York present York Mystery Plays, York city centre, June 19 and 26, 11am onwards; The Mysteries In The Market, Shambles Market, June 22 and 23, 7.30pm

EIGHT plays from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays will be wheeled around York city centre on wagons for Sunday performances, processing from College Green (free) to St Sampson’s Square (free), St Helen’s Square (free) and King’s Manor (ticketed).

Those plays include York Guild of Building’s Creation To The Fifth Day; the Company of Butchers and Riding Lights Acting Up’s The Crucifixion and Death Of Christ, the Guild of Media Arts and Guild of Scriveners’ The Appearance Of Jesus To Mary Magdalene and the Company of Merchant Adventurers’ The Last Judgement, directed by Alan and Diane Heaven, no less.

In addition, a selection of five plays will be staged in special Midsummer midweek performances at the Shambles Market (ticketed, limited to 100). Box office: yorkmysteryplays.co.uk.

Diane Page directs Julius Caesar for divisive age of Putin and Johnson as Shakespeare’s Globe heads indoors at York Theatre Royal

Diane Page directing a rehearsal for Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring production of Julius Caesar. Picture: Helen Murray

IN her school days, Diane Page decided Shakespeare was not for her.

And yet, look who is directing the Shakespeare’s Globe touring production of Julius Caesar as it plays York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (10/6/2022).

“Maybe because of the environment I was in – I was at quite an academic school, a comprehensive in New Cross – and I just thought, ‘Shakespeare isn’t for me’,” recalls the Londoner, who studied Shakespeare for her English Literature GCSE. “Being dyslexic made it even more difficult.

“But after I left school, one of the plays I read in my breaks when I worked as an usher in the West End was Julius Caesar and I really loved it. Then I read it again in lockdown and thought, ‘Gosh, this is a really amazing play that I want to direct’, seeing it through a contemporary lens, with some interventions to reflect now, but without changing the text.”

A year’s planning has gone into the production since Diane first took the idea to Shakespeare’s Globe artistic director Michelle Terry.

As attributed to Prime Minister Harold Wilson in a lobby briefing to journalists in 1964, “a week is a long time in politics”, and so the machinations of Shakespeare’s epic tragedy are being played out against a backdrop of the paranoid Vladimir Putin’s Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and the populist but increasingly unpopular Boris Johnson’s night of the half-drawn knives with his splintering Conservative MPs on Monday.

“The links with today resonate through the play, but what really stands out is how characters are constantly reacting out of fear, which feels really interesting when related to our times, when you look at how power works and reflect on contemporary politics,” says Diane, who notes how “the play has these amazing speeches but they haven’t been thought of in that way”.

Page confronts today’s rising tide of regime change through the prism of Shakespeare’s brutal tale of ambition, incursion and revolution in Ancient Rome, where the conspiracy to kill, the public broadcast of cunning rhetoric and a divisive fight for greatness echo down today’s corridors of power.

Cassius and Brutus’s belief that Rome’s leader, Julius Caesar, poses a political threat to their beloved country could be matched by the rhetoric of Tory rebel MPs seeking to justify their motion of No Confidence in leader Boris Johnson (although more likely it is rooted in fearing the loss of their seats and a General Election defeat when seeking an unprecedented fifth successive term in power for the Conservatives).

“That’s something I’ve drawn on, both historically and from now: how society responds to a leader and what people want in a leader,” says Diane. “Particularly what we’ve drawn on is the contrast between the public persona of Julius Caesar and this frightened, paranoid leader in private.

“Tragically, throughout history, we’ve seen this idea of populism [in political leaders] and how long it lasts, and it’s fascinating that it happens again and again and again.

“One of the things we’re asking people as they watch the play now is, ‘what is it that we need to do differently when we’re voting for our leaders. We’re not drawing on any particular era or political figure in regard to Caesar, but when Trump was first happening, you think, ‘this will never happen’, then you think, ‘this might happen’, and then, ‘oh, it’s happened’. For me, part of Brutus’s flaw is to think that everyone will think the same, but history tells you a different story.”

Charlotte Bate as Cassius in a Shakespeare’s Globe performance of Julius Caesar at Morden Hall Park in April. “As I read Julius Caesar in the first lockdown, I thought, ‘I think Cassius and Brutus are women’,” says director Diane Page

Does Diane see parallels between Caesar and Putin? “It’s important to say that though it’s not explicitly written in the play, we do feel that Caesar does rule by imposing fear on others, but at the same time he’s fearful,” she says. “There’s also the paranoia that’s transmitted into the community around him.

“So it did feel like we had an extra responsibility to handle these subjects with sensitivity once Russia invaded Ukraine.”

Diane has cast two women, Charlotte Bate and Anna Crichlow, as Cassius and Brutus respectively. “As I read Julius Caesar in the first lockdown, I thought, ‘I think they’re women’. It was instinctual, in my exploration of power and women in power, so it was a very conscious choice, and casting Brutus as a black woman adds another dimension,” she says.

“In thinking about the theme of power, we’re asking what it means now, how it has transcended through the years, and what it means for women to be in power. If we’re still shocked by that, then we think, ‘well, just how many women are in power?’.”

“We know the play is based on historical events, but it’s been fictionalised by Shakespeare, so I felt we had artistic licence to look at what power means now, and those speeches transfer well to women speaking them.

“Looking at friendship between women brings another dynamic to it, and because Julius Caesar is such a masculine play, it’s interesting to flip it or re-angle it.”

Diane is asking questions, rather than providing answers, in her interpretation of Julius Caesar.  “That’s how I feel about Shakespeare: his plays are so universal, whatever challenges someone may face, but for me, the production has to be about what the play means now, though the words remain exactly the same,” she says.

“It did feel important, with such a masculine play and with what’s happening now, to ask questions about women in power. If a play is about us, then it is for us to think about these questions and to discuss them.”

Roll on tomorrow and Saturday’s performances at York Theatre Royal as Diane’s production moves indoors for the first time after open-air shows at the Globe and on tour. “I’ve written a comprehensive plan for my assistant because I’m now working on another show,” she says.

“It’s going to take some adapting because outdoors we use the yard or where the audience are seated, and indoors there’ll be different logistical needs, but not so many that it’ll become distinct from the outdoor performances.”

Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour presents Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

Diane Page: Director of Julius Caesar

Who is Diane Page, award-winning theatre director?

Training: MFA in theatre directing, Birkbeck, University of London; BA in theatre and drama studies, first class honours, Birkbeck, University of London.

Award winner: 2021 JMK Award for her production of Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act.

Shakespeare’s Globe work: Assistant director for Bartholomew Fair, 2019; director for Julius Caesar, Globe On Tour, from April 2022.

Theatre as director: Lost And Found, Royal Opera House, London; Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond; Out West, co-director, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, London; In Love And Loyalty, also writer, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre.

Theatre as associate director: Ghost Stories, West End and UK tour, playing Grand Opera House, York, in March 2020.

Ghost Stories, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, in March 2020

Meet the Bolshee trio, the York company behind female-driven creative projects

Driving forces: Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes, left, at the wheel, Megan Bailey, back seat, and Paula Clark, co-driver

BOLSHEE, the York company for creative projects set up by theatre practitioners Paula Clark, Megan Bailey and Lizzy Whynes, will be performing at Green Shoots tonight and tomorrow at York Theatre Royal.

One of 20 new commissions from York professional artists, Boss B***h will “explore the infamous statement made by influencer Molly-Mae Hague and ‘celebrity nightmare’ Kim Kardashian that we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce”.

“Let’s challenge the toxic boss bitch narrative,” proclaim the Bolshee trio, who will deliver five minutes of female voices, beats and moves.

“We set up Bolshee creative projects in lockdown after I decided to leave my job at York Theatre Royal,” says Paula, who is now a freelance creative director and artist and runs Paula Clark Co-Creative Projects.  

“There were loads of reasons why I left, but it’s important to say I’m still good friends with YTR! It’s where Megan, Lizzy and I all met and we still have a lot of love for it.

“But it was time for me to move on. Over that decade, I’d been a youth theatre practitioner, director (when cover for maternity leave), creative skills promoter, overseeing the TakeOver festival, and outreach director.

“There’s always a glass ceiling,” says Paula Clark after 20 years of working in theatre

“I found I enjoyed my job in the pandemic because I could do more than I would normally do, but there’s always a glass ceiling, and that’s not unique to York Theatre Royal. It’s across arts buildings.”

Coincidentally, Megan had left her job and so had Lizzy. “It wasn’t connected, but there were lots of similarities about our negative experiences of the arts industry,” says Paula.

“We’ve all experienced profound sexism in the arts industry and I’ve struggled, being from a working-class background, to make headway, be heard and create change in the way I wanted.

“It feels like there’s a holding on to power by people who are worried about a disruption of power, a sharing of power across the industry and all the talk of wider representation. People are frightened, so they’re holding on to the old way. It’s not a level playing field.”

Paula recalls “starting to feel like a tick box”. “I was tired of being called ‘authentic’ by patronising old men on boards. I wanted to be in charge of my own creative direction, and I want to do more for social justice,” she says.

Cue the arrival of Bolshee. “I have over 20 years’ experience in theatre and community arts and my dream is that Bolshee creates projects that promote social justice, lift people up and include everyone in a creative industry environment that still doesn’t value women enough,” says Paula.

“We have something to offer that isn’t quite like anyone else in York because we are not afraid to be Bolshie,” says Paula Clark, left, of her Bolshee partnership with Megan Bailey, centre, and Lizzy Whynes. Picture: Matthew Jopling

“It’s important that as a company we particularly support and encourage working-class women and girls. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Megan and Lizzy, both extremely talented young women. We feel like we have something to offer that isn’t quite like anyone else in York because we are not afraid to be Bolshie!”

The name Bolshee is a reclaiming of that word, ‘bolshie’ (definition: deliberately combative or uncooperative). “Assertive women have always been told they are Bolshie. We want to cast off the negative connotations. We’re ready and proud to be Bolshee women!” says Paula.

Megan is delighted that Bolshee is up and running. “It’s been a long while in the pipeline,” she says. “In those two years during lockdown, we’d sit on Zoom thinking about what we could do to be our own bosses on projects.

“There’s an elite that doesn’t want to let younger, bolshie women challenge what they’ve been doing, sitting in their leadership roles for a long time, but we want to find our space.”

Lizzy points out how the working environment in the arts world has changed. “Now you’re only employed for six months, a year at most,” she says. “All the jobs I went for were for three months; all short-term contracts.”

Paula rejoins: “People are holding on to the idea of arts buildings, but I don’t want to work in that structure. There’s all sorts of forms that can be brought together to involve people in culture. What’s brought the three of us together is that we’re more than just theatre makers.”

“We want to find our space,” says Megan Bailey

Megan, for example, has a background in set design from her theatre degree days at the University of York and has worked on websites too. “I also did an MA at Leeds University in culture, creativity and entrepreneurship because you need to have business acumen to run theatre and arts organisations.

“I definitely feel that can be lacking, particularly in human resources structures, where these things can get forgotten but it’s important to make your workforce happy, and important to learn how to make the arts sustainable financially.

“Because I worked for so long in buildings, doing funding applications and strategies, I’m very aware of what’s needed.”

Paula, 40, feels lucky to be working in tandem with Lizzy, 29, and Megan, 25. “The landscape has changed, and younger people have their finger on the pulse, understanding how things work,” she says. “It’s harder for older people in theatre to understand that, but we have the right mixture: Lizzy and Megan with their finger on the pulse and me with 20 years of experience.

“We don’t need a building, but we have a good understanding of theatre in York and we know that partnerships are a good way to work.”

Lizzy adds: “We want to be collaborative, rather than competitive, bringing some fun, bringing some culture, through the art we make.” Just as she did when she was artistic director of York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver Festival at the National Railway Museum in October 2015, picking up two awards to boot.

“We want to be collaborative, rather than competitive, bringing some fun, bringing some culture, through the art we make,” says Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes, left

Bolshee may have taken root when all three left their jobs at the time, “but I think it’s important to say, we all love the jobs we’re now doing,” says Paula. “I’ve worked on the York St John University Prison Partnership Project and also work with Stockton ARC as a freelance, as well as with the Listening Project for Pilot Theatre.”

Theatre maker, dance artist, director, movement director and facilitator Lizzy works for CAST’s youth theatre in Doncaster and as a freelance for York Dance Space and Phoenix Dance Theatre’s youth academy in Leeds.

Megan is a creative producer at Kaizen Arts Agency in York, working on York Design Week, the Drawsome Festival and the ArtBank at Spark:York. At the time of this interview, she had just been offered the job of community and participatory knowledge exchange co-ordinator at Leeds Arts University.

“One of the reasons why we think this makes us a little different is that we celebrate all the work we do in different areas,” says Paula. “That keeps us relevant and keeps us connected with different organisations, but Bolshee is what connects us all.”

Megan adds: “Bolshee empowers us in what we want to do and what we want to make, and I’m very much a believer that anyone can be an artist, from a child to someone who has retired and wants a new hobby. We want people to find their voices.

“It’s about wanting to celebrate who we are, what we do, in the city we love, with all the people we get to work with.”

“Because we have a diverse skill set, we can be varied in what we do,” says Lizzy Whynes

A feeling of wellbeing should be encouraged too, says Megan: “We believe in being kind to ourselves. That’s important at a time when we need to respect ourselves, when we all do jobs where contracts are short.”

Paula adds: “Our thing about championing women and girls is that it’s our time. I’m 40, and after all that grafting, I want to have some of the joy with people I like, sharing our imaginations.

“I was a young mum at 19, experienced childhood hardships on more than one occasion, things that make this artistic path a difficult one to choose, and because of that, I will work the hardest, stay the longest, always trying to prove to myself that if I work the hardest, I could be the next manager, working in that hierarchy…

“…but now I believe success is being comfortable with yourself, owning who you are and helping other people in similar circumstances see their opportunities come to fruition.”

Bolshee have already held a free workshop at Young Thugs Studios at the Drawsome Festival in York in May and have funding applications in place with universities, rather than Arts Council England, for future projects.

“Our work will be diverse,” says Lizzy. “It could be a Bolshee open-mic night; a participatory workshop in a school hall or a neighbourhood pop-up installation. You might find us working in a school with at-risk girls. Because we have a diverse skill set, we can be varied in what we do.”

Tuned in: Bolshee trio Paula Clark, left, Lizzy Whynes and Megan Bailey at Dance Dance Dance, A Damn Big Dance Party at At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York

Paula adds: “We want everyone to feel they belong because everyone is invited. It’s not about stepping into a cultural place; it’s about joining in.”

Megan concurs: “It’s about that connection with people; making work in that space, not putting work on in conventional arts spaces, which won’t be our ambition.”

Paula rejoins: “We want people to feel safe. We want to talk about what matters to women; urgent things that need addressing.”

Lizzy loves taking projects out of theatres, whether in her TakeOver days at the National Railway Museum, or doing community work with young people in informal settings for Harrogate Theatre, or now for a CAST youth theatre production at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum and a York Dance Space project at York Art Gallery. “I have loads of experience of site-specific work and I’m all about getting people together to do amazing things,” she says.

Exit “Bolshie” women; here comes Bolshee. “Being called ‘bolshie’ implies women don’t have a right to be assertive,” says Megan. “But it’s our prerogative to be how we want to be, and we want to be Bolshee,” says Paula.

Bolshee perform Boss B***h at Green Shoots, York Theatre, Royal, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

The logo for York creative projects trio Bolshee