‘When a joke makes a good point, I think people enjoy it,” says York-bound Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne: Topping the bill at York Theatre Royal next Thursday

JULY I will be Ed Byrne’s night in York when the observational Southern Irish comedian headlines an all-star bill for the Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night.

Byrne, 49, from Swords, County Dublin, has presented the television shows Just For Laughs and Uncut! Best Unseen Ads and co-hosted BBC2’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Dara And Ed’s Big Adventure and Dara And Ed’s Road To Mandalay with fellow Irish humorist Dara O Briain.

He is a regular guest on numerous television panel games, most notably Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You and has appeared on TV cooking shows, such as Comic Relief Bake Off 2015. As a semi-professional hill-walker and fully paid-up humanist, he brought a refreshing warmth and honesty to BBC2’s The Pilgrimage.

Byrne last played York in March 2018, presenting his Spoiler Alert tour show at the Grand Opera House, where he explored the thin line between righteous complaining and brattish whining as he asked: “Are we right to be fed up or are we spoiled?”

Joining the self-deprecating Bryne will be Mock The Week’s whip-smart wordsmith Rhys James and Have I Got News For You panellist-in-lockdown Maisie Adam, who performed from her living room on the second Your Place Comedy bill with prankster Simon Brodkin last May, as part of the virtual home entertainment series organised by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones.

July 1’s 7.30pm show will be hosted by legendary compere-beyond-compare Arthur Smith, the veteran gloomy weather-faced comedian and presenter from Bermondsey, London.

Tickets cost £20 at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

The importance of being honest: Ed Byrne will play Harrogate Theatre on his autumn tour

ED Byrne’s Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night in York next Thursday is a one-off, detached from his If I’m Honest tour.

To see that show in North Yorkshire, you will have to wait until October 12 at Harrogate Theatre, when he will delve into a father’s sense of responsibility, what it means to be a man in 2021, and whether he possesses any qualities worth passing on to his two sons.

Noted for his whimsy, Byrne is more serious in tone in If I’m Honest. Take gender politics, for example. “I’ll admit that there are things where men get a raw deal,” he says. ‘We have higher suicide rates, and we tend not to do well in divorces, but representation in action movies is not something we have an issue with.

“It was Mad Max: Fury Road that kicked it all off, even though nobody complained about Ripley in Alien or Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. Of course, social media means this stuff gets broadcast far and wide in an instant, which emboldens people.”

Byrne continues: “The problem with men’s rights activists is that it’s not about speaking up for men’s rights, it’s about hating women. If you’re a men’s rights activist, you’re not going to care about the fact that there’s an all-female Ghostbusters remake.

“That’s nothing to do with men’s rights or female entitlement. That’s everything to do with being, well, a whiny baby.”

Byrne judges how to be provocative without being too polemical. “I did stuff about Trump and the Pizzagate right wing conspiracy, and a couple of the reviewers said, “Oh, I would have liked to have watched a whole show of this’. And I think, ‘well, you might have, but the average person who comes to see me would not like to see that’. I like to make a point or get something off my chest, or perhaps I’m talking about something that’s been on my mind, but the majority of stuff is just to get laughs,” he says.

“People who come to see me are not political activists necessarily, they’re regular folk. If you can make a point to them, in between talking about your struggles with ageing, or discussing your hernia operation or whatever it is, you can toss in something that does give people pause as regards to how men should share the household chores.”

“There’s something very satisfying about your audience growing old with you,” says Ed Byrne, who will hit 50 in 2022

Byrne goes on: “It’s not that I feel a responsibility. I think it just feels more satisfying when you’re doing it, and it feels more satisfying when people hear it. When a joke makes a good point, I think people enjoy it. It’s the difference between having a steak and eating a chocolate bar.”

As the show title would suggest, If I’m Honest pumps up the tendency towards self-deprecation. “I do genuinely annoy myself,” he admits. “But the thing of your children being a reflection of you gives you an opportunity to build something out of the best of yourself, only for you to then see flashes of the worst of yourself in them. It’s a wake-up call about your own behaviour.”

Byrne observes that “self-aggrandising humour is a lot harder to pull off than self-deprecating humour”. “A lot of people get really annoyed when Ricky Gervais is self-congratulatory,” he says. “I always find it very funny when he accepts awards and does so in the most big-headed way possible. I think it’s a trickier type of humour to pull off, talking yourself up in that way.

“I don’t think I’m being massively hard on myself. The fact is when you’re the bloke who is standing on the stage with the microphone, commanding an audience’s attention, you’re in a very elevated position anyway.”

If I’m Honest expresses the frustration that comes with middle age. “I’m bored looking for things, I’m bored of trying to find stuff, because I can never find it, and it is entirely my fault,” says Byrne.

“Nobody’s hiding my stuff from me. Although my wife did actually move my passport on one occasion.”

Amid the mordant and occasionally morbid humour, If I’m Honest accommodates quietly triumphant moments too. “I thought I was being quite upbeat talking about the small victories,” says Byrne. “You know, finding positivity in being able to spot when a cramp was about to happen in your leg and dealing with it before it does. I was very happy with myself about that.”

Next April, Byrne will turn 50. “You see comics who are my age and older but are still retaining a level of ‘cool’ and drawing a young crowd. I can’t deny that I’m quite envious of that,” he says. “But there’s also something very satisfying about your audience growing old with you.”

Ed Byrne, If I’m Honest, Harrogate Theatre, October 12, 8pm. Box office: 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Why playwright Amy Ng has transferred Strindberg’s Miss Julie to 1940s’ Hong Kong

Jennifer Leong as Christine in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie

ON the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, celebrations are in full swing when Julie, daughter of the island’s British governor, crashes the servants’ party downstairs.

What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night in the Pearl River Delta in British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s once-banned Swedish play.

On the eve of New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s new tour opening at York Theatre Royal, Amy takes part in a quickfire question-and-answer session. 

How does it feel to be able to bring Miss Julie back to live audiences, from tomorrow at York Theatre Royal?

Amazing.  Hopeful.  Anxiety-inducing.  Hostage to Covid-variants.”   

Why did you choose to transfer Strindberg’s 19th century play to 1940s’ Hong Kong, and what does it add to the story? 

“The initial idea to adapt Miss Julieto Hong Kong came from Alex Clifton, artistic director of Chester Storyhouse. He envisioned a contemporary Miss Julie that could comment directly on the political situation in Hong Kong now, caught between its British colonial past and the realities of rule by Beijing. 

“On reflection, I felt that a contemporary adaptation of Miss Juliewas not possible as the social taboos surrounding sexual relationships across class and race are simply not as strong now as they were in the past.  

“I thought that the set-up of two servants versus an aristocrat was full of potential — if we made the two servants Chinese and the aristocratic lady a daughter of the British colonial elite in Hong Kong.  I picked the late 1940s because this was the time when social structures and racial hierarchies started to quake.  The British colonial masters had lost prestige and respect after their defeat in Hong Kong by the Japanese, and things were never quite the same even after they resumed power after the war.”    

Playwright Amy Ng

What does the transposition to Hong Kong add to the story? 

“Obviously transposing the story to Hong Kong allowed me to explore racial relations and colonialism, which are themes completely absent from the original Strindberg play.  It also allowed me to counter the misogyny in the Strindberg version by building up the character of Christine, envisioning her as a member of the sisterhood of domestic servants (“sor hei”), who chose celibacy to retain their freedom in a patriarchal society where wives were subjected to their husbands.  

What do you hope audiences take away from watching Miss Julie? 

“How race, class and gender hierarchies distort personal relationships; how those tensions can destroy everything that is genuine and beautiful in relationships unless we challenge those hierarchies.”    

Finally, what would you say to anyone considering buying a ticket for the show?

“You won’t regret it!  Director Dadiow Lin has created a beautiful production with the amazing actors Jennifer Leong, Sophie Robinson and Leo Wan.”  

New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s 2021 tour of Miss Julie opens at York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26, 8pm nightly; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Amy Ng:  the back story

AMY Ngis a British-Hong Kong playwright, whose theatre credits include Under The Umbrella (Belgrade Theatre/UK tour), Acceptance (Hampstead Theatre) and Shangri-La (Finborough Theatre).

She is under commission to the Royal Shakespeare Company and ice&fire, is developing her play Thatcher In China at the National Theatre Studio and is part of the inaugural Genesis Almeida New Playwrights Big Plays programme.

Sex, power, money and race collide on a hot Hong Kong 1940s’ night in timely Miss Julie

“What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night” in Amy Ng’s adaptation of Miss Julie for New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse, Chester. Pictured here are Leo Wan’s John and Sophie Robinson Julie

NEW Earth Theatre’s director and cast are in the York Theatre Royal Studio, having arrived on Tuesday for rehearsals for their touring revival of Amy Ng’s timely and politically charged take on Miss Julie.

Come Tuesday, Sophie Robinson, Jennifer Leong and Leo Wan will switch to the main house for the opening night of Dadiow Lin’s production, first staged with co-producers Storyhouse in Chester last year.

Out goes August Strindberg’s original 1888 setting for his full-length once-act drama Froken Julie, once banned in his native Sweden (of all places!) for its strong language and sexual imagery and for being too radical in its account of a psycho-sexual pas de deux between a count’s unstable daughter, Julie, and his ambitious valet, John.

In comes British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s new setting of the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, when Julie (Robinson), daughter of the island’s British governor, crashes the servants’ party downstairs. What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night in the Pearl River Delta.

“I’m not a fan of the original version,” says New Earth Theatre director Dadiow Lin

“I’m not a fan of the original version,” says Dadiow of a Strindberg play now viewed commonly as being misogynist. “The reason I’m loving doing this play is because of Amy’s adaptation. What we get from Strindberg, if there is any message, is that every drama comes down to people and relationships, and he does a great job of building up the pressure over the night, but there’s something in his original work that I don’t appreciate. Amy has given it more life, a more current feeling, that resonates with people.”

Amy Ng is far from the first writer to re-visit Miss Julie’s depiction of gender and class. In 1995, English playwright Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie relocated Strindberg’s naturalist tragedy to an English country house in July 1945, on the night of the Labour Party’s post-war landslide General Election triumph.

In 2012, in South African director and playwright Jael Farber’s Afrikaans’ version, Mies Julie, it became an apartheid story in a remote, bleak farm in modern-day South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert.

“Clearly there is something in the nub of the story that’s attractive and interesting to other playwrights, who undertake big re-workings of the text: Marber, Farber and now Amy’s new setting in Hong Kong,” says Leo Wan, the Sheffield actor who plays valet John.

Jennifer Leong’s Christine and Sophie Robinson’s Julie in Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal from June 22 to 26

“Strindberg’s politics remain of his era, but we can make them current to talk about them now,” says Dadiow.

“So there’s something there, but writers feel they want to re-write it,” rejoins Leo.

Amy’s Hong Kong location and its topicality in light of the protests against Beijing-imposed laws strike a chord with Dadiow. “It definitely resonates with me and my own background. I grew up in Taiwan when we were experiencing similar events, so a story like this, to me, while I never feel ‘I want to tell you things’, it feels dear to me as a story I’m familiar with.

“It’s very emotional. You can look at Romeo & Juliet and feel moved, but this feels very close to me, because of Taiwan being colonised by Japan until 1945. I feel very emotionally connected to the history and culture.”

Jennifer Leong, who plays the role of Christine newly created by Ng, has spent time aplenty in Hong Kong. “My early school years were there and I still have family there,” she says.  “I lot of people watched it when we did a run of live-streams from Storyhouse earlier this year, especially with our production being set in Hong Kong.

“It’s a very powerful story about the lines that we draw socially,” says Jennifer Leong of Miss Julie

“They were very interested and said they really appreciated the specificity of the world that Amy has set the play in. We learn that the white, British people lived ‘on the peak’, exclusive to the British, and I have family with memories of that, so to hear about that context from them made it very powerful – and even if you didn’t know that context, it’s still a very powerful story about the lines that we draw socially. Now we add the race element to the class element of colonial times.”

Dadiow says: “Even though it’s set in the 1940s, you connect it with what’s happening in Hong Kong now, with the Chinese Communist take-over, where you’re seeing the rule of Communism really seeping in [with the national security law].”

Leo describes Strindberg’s Miss Julie as a chamber piece with a domestic setting, but one that expands in its impact through Ng’s 75-minute script. “It’s good to give a realistic context of what Hong Kong was like at that time, to show Britain when it still had an empire, with Hong Kong being the last great bastion of that empire,” he says.

“In this play, you see the repercussions of that, where if you colonise somewhere, and if you then stop that, you still have a moral responsibility to deal with what you have created, like the responsibility of now saying to Hong Kong citizens you can move to the UK [under a new visa scheme].

Sophie Robinson as Julie, the daughter of the island’s British governor, who crashes the servant’s party downstairs in Amy Ng’s 1940s’ Hong Kong take on Miss Julie

“Unfortunately, those who tend to be superpowers are singularly lacking in moral leadership…

…”But the one thing that British rule did well was to implement a legal system that Hong Kong is still proud of, and to an extent freedom of the press too,” interjects Jennifer.

Why book tickets for this Miss Julie, Dadiow? “Anyone who doesn’t like the original should see this version,” she urges. “This play is a psychological thriller with a real sense of danger in the room between mistress and servant, where you never know when they will cross the line, wondering what’s going on and will they cross it.”

That’s why the flyer still carries the content warning: Miss Julie contains some strong language, violence and scenes of a sexual nature.

Miss Julie, York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26, 8pm and 3pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in and around York before and after Johnson’s “Terminus Est”. List No. 37, courtesy of The Press, York


A fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night: Sophie Robinson as Julie in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal

FREEDOM Day is delayed but Boris Johnson has reached for the Latin dictionary again with his promise of “Terminus Est”.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, life goes on in Charles Hutchinson’s socially distanced diary.

Play of the week ahead: Miss Julie, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26

ON the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, the celebrations are in full swing when Julie, the daughter of the island’s British governor, crashes the servants’ party downstairs.

What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night in the Pearl River Delta in British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s adaptation of Strindberg’s psychological drama in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s new touring production. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Reopening today: Leeds Grand Theatre auditorium will be welcoming an audience for the first time in 15 months

Reopening of the day: Leeds Grand Theatre

WHEN Leeds Grand Theatre first opened its doors on Monday, November 18 1878, a playbill declared it would “Positively Open”. Now, after 15 months under wraps, it is “Positively Reopening” today (17/62021) for a socially distanced run of Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake until June 26.

In Northern Ballet‘s emotive retelling, Anthony’s life is haunted by guilt after the tragic loss of his brother. When he finds himself torn between two loves, he looks to the water for answers.

There he finds solace with the mysterious swan-like Odette as the story is beautifully reimagined by David Nixon, who will be leaving the Leeds company after 20 years as artistic director in December. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at boxoffice@leedsheritagetheatres

Abba Mania: Saying thank you for the superSwedes’ music at York Racecourse on June 26

Staying on track: Sounds In The Grounds, Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, June 25 to 27

JAMBOREE Entertainment presents three Covid safety-compliant Sounds In The Grounds concerts next weekend with socially distanced picnic patches at York Racecourse.

First up, next Friday, will be Beyond The Barricade, a musical theatre celebration starring former Les Miserables principals; followed by Abba Mania next Saturday and the country hits of A Country Night In Nashville next Sunday.

Opening each show will be York’s party, festival and wedding favourites, The New York Brass Band. Tickets are on sale at soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com or at the gate for last-minute decision makers.

The poster for the return of the York River Art Market

Welcome back: York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, York, from June 26

AFTER the pandemic ruled out all last year’s live events, York River Art Market returns to its riverside railing perch at Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, for ten shows this summer in the wake of the winter’s online #YRAMAtHome, organised by Charlotte Dawson.

Free to browse and for sale will be work by socially distanced, indie emerging and established artists on June 26, July 3, 24, 25 and 31 and August 1, 7, 14, 21 and 28, from 10.30am to 5.30pm, when YRAM will be raising funds for York Rescue Boat.

On show will be landscape and abstract paintings; ink drawings, cards and prints; jewellery and glass mosaics; woodwork and metalwork; textiles and clothing and artisan candles and beauty products.

Alexander Wright: Contemplating his debut solo performance of poems, stories and new writing on July 10. Picture: Megan Drury

He’s nervous, but why? Alexander Wright: Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 10, 7.30pm

LET Alex tell the story: “In a potentially remarkable act of narcissism, I am doing a solo gig of my own work in a theatre I built (with Phil Grainger and dad Paul Wright) in my back garden. 

“It’s the first time I have ever done a solo gig. I write lots of stuff, direct lots of stuff, tour Orpheus, Eurydice & The Gods to hundreds of places. But I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it.”

Expect beautiful stories, beautiful poems and a few beautiful special guests; tickets via atthemill.org.

Ringmaster and Dame Dolly Donut in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldilocks And The Three Bears at Pocklington Arts Centre

Summer “pantomime”? Yes, in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldlilocks And The Three Bears, Pocklington Arts Centre, August 12, 2.30pm

ALL the fun of live family theatre returns to Pocklington Arts Centre this summer with Doncaster company TaleGate Theatre’s big top pantomime extravaganza.

In Goldilocks And The Three Bears, pop songs, magic and puppets combine in a magical adventure where you are invited to help Goldilocks and her mum, Dame Dolly Donut, save their circus and rescue the three bears from the evil ringmaster. For tickets, go to: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys: Headliners to be found at The Magpies Festival in Sutton-on-the-Forest in August

Festival alert: The Magpies Festival, Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest, near York, August 14, music on bar stage from 1.30pm; main stage, from 2.30pm

SAM Kelly & The Lost Boys will headline The Magpies Festival in the grounds of Sutton Park.

Confirmed for the folk-flavoured line-up too are: Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra; Blair Dunlop; fast-rising Katherine Priddy; The Magpies; York musician Dan Webster; East Yorkshire singer-songwriter Katie Spencer; the duo Roswell and The People Versus. Day tickets and camping tickets are available at themagpiesfestival.co.uk/tickets.   

A variation on Malvolio’s cross-gartered stocking theme: Yellow and black rugby socks for Luke Adamson’s version of Twelfth Night on the Selby RUFC pitch

Fun and games combined: JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm

“I’M just getting in touch to announce we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!” promises Luke Adamson, Selby-born actor, London theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, a raucous, musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play”, Twelfth Night, will be staged with Adamson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with Yorkshire acting talent.

Out go pantaloons and big fluffy collars, in come rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair. Box office: jlaproductions.co.uk.

‘It’s one of those shows that people love,’ says The Damned United actor Luke Dickson as Clough’s tragedy plays York NEWSFLASH…

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s splenetic Brian Clough in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

NEWSFLASH!

THE Damned Pandemic curse strikes again as tonight’s performance of The Damned United is OFF after one of the actors had an inconclusive lateral flow test. The show has been rearranged for Thursday, July 15, kick-off 7.30pm. Tickets remain valid.

BRIAN Clough lasted all of 44 days as manager of Leeds United in the cauldron of hatred in the summer of 1974.

By comparison, Luke Dickson is in fourth tour of playing Clough in his brief, bruising, self-destructive tenure when Elland Road turns into Helland Road in The Damned United.

“It keeps coming back,” says the Leeds-born actor, whose latest fixture list sends him to York Theatre Royal in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s touring production tomorrow night.

“I think we’ll have done something in excess of the 120-show mark, with me, David Chafer and Jamie Smelt in the cast, and we just keep returning! It’s one of those shows that people love.”

Ah, love. That might explain The Damned United’s otherwise baffling inclusion in The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, given how much spite and loathing, and not one heartbeat of love, pumps through the Leeds chapters of the Clough story.

The truth is more prosaic, as explained by chief executive Tom Bird: Rod Dixon’s show was booked in already when the reopening season’s theme took shape.

The cover to the alternative “War and Peace”, David Peace’s biographical novel The Damned Utd

Enfant terrible Clough despised Don Revie’s “Dirty Leeds” and the feeling was mutual, drawing Dewsbury-born author David Peace to construct a psychodrama inside the life of Brian’s head: the biographical novel The Damned Utd, published in 2006.

Tom Hopper’s film, starring Michael Sheen, ensued in 2009 under the title The Damned United, and Leeds company Red Ladder have since presented various stage manifestations of Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation, built around the double act of Clough and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor.

Heading deep into the tortured mind of a flawed genius, slamming up against his limits, The Damned United brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power battles. 

The performing rights were donated by Peace to Red Ladder for all of £3.68 – a penny for each page in the novel – as a show of support for the Leeds company when it suffered a 100 per cent cut to Arts Council funding.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough – which lends itself brilliantly to theatre.

“Anders’ adaptation captures the grit, poetry and darkness of David Peace’s writing, and by charting the fall of Brian Clough and exposing what made ‘Old Big ’Ea’ tick, audiences are given a fascinating insight into the troubled but brilliant mind of a flawed genius – who, to this day, remains one of the most controversial figures in sporting history.”

“As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough,” says Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon

Dickson loves author Peace’s definition of his character study of Clough, a figure as divisive yet as indelibly part of British Seventies and Eighties’ life as Margaret Thatcher. “He said it isn’t a photograph; it’s a portrait; it’s interpretative, not merely biographical, but creative, trying to get inside the troubled head of Clough, quite horrifically, but poetically too,” he says.

Raised in Leeds, Dickson supports LUFC, albeit without the dedication of a season-ticket holder, but he knows Clough is the Hamlet of football roles on stage. “I enjoy football, like anyone, and I’m working in a show where everyone is a staunch supporter of a club, more so than me, and everyone has an opinion on Clough, saying, ‘he did this’ or ‘he did that’,” he says.

“I thought, ‘just leave it with me; I need to find my own path to his character, so I read a lot about him, particularly his childhood, his life around football, and what gave him such a big chip on his shoulder, and that aggressive, cruel tendency to lay into people.

“It’s more about the man than the manager, which is where the drama lies, the human condition, in Clough’s story.”

Dickson’s Clough, Chafer’s right-hand man Peter Taylor and Jamie Smelt’s “everyone else” last toured The Damned United two and a half years ago, and while returning to the play in part mirrors climbing back on a bike after a fall, there is more to the revival than that.

“You can definitely play with the nuances, the intonations, to keep it fresh on stage for us as actors, playing a scene a little differently,” says Luke. “David might come up with something different, and I have to react, and we also have to find a way to slow it down, to let it breathe more, when it’s so fast paced, to find the moment.

Double act: David Chafer as Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson as Brian Clough in The Damned United

“We first did it at the Edinburgh Fringe, where everything has to be under an hour, whereas the original incarnation at the West Yorkshire Playhouse was around 75 minutes.

“Our version now runs just over an hour, with no interval apropos of Covid, and the script hasn’t changed from the last tour. I have to say there’s a fun feel to it this time, and once people are in the auditorium, sitting down, all those Covid thoughts wash away, and you’re all just there to enjoy the show.”

How has Dickson dealt with performing to audiences in masks? “Do you know, the masks haven’t affected it. You can still hear people talking during the show, saying ‘I was at that match’, because you’re playing to a football crowd as much as a theatre crowd,” he says. “Funnily enough, there are always people who stand up after 45 minutes, because that’s when it’s normally half-time!

“But back to masks, they’re becoming so commonplace now, it doesn’t really have an impact on me, and even if you can’t hear a smile, you can hear the chatter.”

On a fourth tour, Dickson is still discovering “new things” within The Damned United. “There’s such a lot to this story. How many times has this play been done in Leeds? It must be well into double figures now, but we still get good audiences. I must be eight years older now than Clough was when he was at Leeds, but I’ve still got a good head of hair!”

At the core of The Damned United is the Clough and Taylor double act, with all the highs and lows, the friendship and fall-outs, that go with such partnerships, and now in turn the bond of Dickson and Chafer.

Glory, glory Leeds United…or gory, gory Leeds United? The Don Revie squad, 16 internationals et al, before the arrival of Brian Clough

“We were talking the other day about what we might feel, in a year’s time, if other people were brought into the cast, and it would feel strange now if that happened, because we really need each other on stage,” says Luke.

“Looking at Clough and Taylor, there have been numerous books written about them, and it’s like a platonic male friendship that’s really deep running with all the ups and downs that can go with that, which I recognise from my own friendships that can feel unbreakable.

“But then you’re spending less time with them or you’re not in touch, which happened with Clough and Taylor, but because they had football within their friendship, they had to mix business and pleasure. Clough demanded such loyalty but then he had no compunction in deciding to leave Brighton for Leeds.”

The Damned United has the heightened intensity of a Greek tragedy, albeit leavened by dark humour. “It’s a tragic tale and Anders’ script brilliantly captures the central chapters within that tale in only an hour, which is no mean feat – though he would say he had wonderful source material. It’s a fantastic micro-display of friendship between two men.”

The Damned United tour is playing against the counter attraction of the Euro 2020 tournament, but on the other hand that means football is uppermost in people’s chat. “I’ll have to miss live matches, but that’s a cross I’ll just have to bear,” says Luke.

Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow (16/6/2021), kick-off 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond that Euro football tournament. It’s all kicking off in List No. 36, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s the pecking order here? Twirlywoos Live! at York Theatre Royal

EUROS 2020? What Euro 2020? The sun is out and so is Charles Hutchinson’s diary as he points you in the direction of curious CBeebies favourites, acoustic concerts, a dockyard Romeo & Juliet, a large painting, Clough v Leeds United and more ideas aplenty. 

Children’s show of the week: Twirlywoos Live!, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow at 1.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am and 2pm

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York on board their Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

Curious, inquisitive and eager to learn about the world, these small, bird-like characters from the CBeebies television factory will be brought to life with inventive puppetry, mischief, music and plenty of surprises.

Written by Zoe Bourn, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages 1+; babes in arms are welcome too. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: York prog-folk musician will perform in a Songs Under Skies double bill on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

Outdoor gigs of the week ahead: Songs Under Skies 2, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, York June 14 to 16

SONGS Under Skies returns to the NCEM’s glorious gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, for acoustic double bills by Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell on June 14, Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe concerts is presented by the NCEM in tandem with The Crescent community venue, the Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates open at 6.30pm for each 7pm to 8.30pm concert with a 30-minute interval between sets. Tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Art at large: Subterranea Nostalgia, by Corrina Rothwell

Biggest painting of the week award: Corrina Rothwell’s Subterranea Nostalgia, in The Cacophany Of Ages at Pyramid Gallery, York, until July 1

CORRINA Rothwell’s exhibition of abstract works features the largest canvas painting in the near-30 years that Terry Brett has run Pyramid Gallery in York.

“Subterranea Nostalgia measures 1600mm by 1600mm. That was fun, getting it upstairs!” says Terry, whose gallery is housed in a National Trust-owned 15th century building in Stonegate. “The painting has a real impact. If you know anyone with really big walls, it would be perfect for them!”

Nottingham artist Corrina favours mixed media and acrylic on canvas for the paintings, on show at Pyramid and online at pyramidgallery.com.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough goes to hell and back in his 44 days in charge of Leeds United in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

Football, football, football, not on the box but in a theatre: Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, York Theatre Royal, June 16

THE choice is yours: Italy versus Switzerland at the Euro 2020 on ITV at 8pm or the inner workings of Brian Clough’s troubled mind at Elland Road in 1974 at York Theatre Royal, kick-off 7.30pm.

Adapted from Yorkshireman David Peace’s biographical novel by Anders Lustgarten, The Damned United is a psychodrama that deconstructs Old Big ‘Ead’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United, whose Don Revie-tutored players he despised as much as they loathed him.

The double act of Luke Dickson’s flawed Clough and David Chafer’s avuncular Peter Taylor are joined by Jamie Smelt as everyone else in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles, demons and defeats.

That’s a good idea…

Festival of the month: York Festival of Ideas 2021, running until June 20

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of York’s bright idea of a festival dedicated to educating, entertaining and inspiring.

Under the banner of Infinite Horizons to reflect the need to adapt to pandemic, the Festival of Ideas is presenting a diverse programme of more than 150 free online and in-person events.

The best idea, when needing more info on the world-class speakers, performances, family activities and walking trails, is to head to yorkfestivalofideas.com/2021/.

You kiss by the dock: Husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy as Romeo and Juliet in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Hull’s former dry dock

Outdoor play outside York announcement of the month: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, July 15 to August 7

AFTER John Godber Company’s Moby Dick completes its run at the converted Hull dry dockyard this Saturday, next comes Hull Truck Theatre’s al-fresco staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

The title roles in Romeo & Juliet will be played by Hull-born husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, who appeared in The Hypocrite and The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca in 2017 as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture celebrations.

Metcalfe and Elsworthy, who married in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite, will play a stage couple for the first time, performing on a traverse stage to emphasise Verona’s divided society. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

Hitting the Heights: Lucy McCormick’s wild-haired Cathy in the Wise Children poster for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, bound for York Theatre Royal

Looking ahead to the autumn: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, November 8 to 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children company is teaming up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and the Bristol Old Vic for her elemental stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland story of love, vengeance and redemption.

In an intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Rice’s company of performers and musicians will be led by Lucy McCormick’s Cathy.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky,” says Rice. “I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

An Evening With Julian Norton, vet, author and now show host, is booked in for Pocklington Arts Centre

Veterinary appointment in 2022: An Evening With Julian Norton, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 18

JULIAN Norton, author, veterinary surgeon and star of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, will share amusing anecdotes from his work with animals in North Yorkshire, bringing to life all the drama and humour in the daily routine of a rural vet.

Following in the footsteps of James Herriot author Alf Wight, Norton has spent most of his working life in Thirsk. His latest book, All Creatures: Heart-warming Tales From A Yorkshire Vet, was published in March. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

REVIEW: Drag diva Velmi Celli at York Theatre Royal and Impossible, York

Velma Celli: York’s queen of vocal drag in the age of RuPaul’s Drag Race. PIcture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Velma Celli, Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, 29/5/2021; Velma Celli’s Impossible Drag Brunch, Impossible Wonderbar, Impossible, York, 5/6/2021

IT takes balls to be a drag act.

Velma Celli knows it, shows it and indeed sometimes them too in a leg-crossing, leg-uncrossing, let’s-sit-and-chat-on-the-stage-lip moment at York Theatre Royal.

In York drag diva deluxe Velma’s case, it takes more than balls, however. Pointedly, the fabulous, fruity, funny creation of musical actor Ian Stroughair bills herself as “the queen of vocal drag”.

“I can sing,” says Velma, throwing a ta-da shoulder shrug as she calls out the parade of kitch’n’synch acts that strut and pout on RuPaul’s Drag Race conveyor belt.

Velma Celli’s regular poster for international hit A Brief History Of Drag

Velma, or rather Ian, first sang on his home-city Theatre Royal stage in a musical version of Kes – that sounds camp!  – at the age of 14. Twenty-four years later, coinciding with theatre’s return from a long Covid quarantine, Ian/Velma is back on this stage at last, and not before time, bitches, as Velma is wont to address the throng.

“Can I just say, it must be such a privilege for you to be here tonight,” says Velma, who has wrapped a clingy, plunging little black number over his very tall, leggy frame. Although this night is not all glamour: off come the false eyelashes when they start playing up in the stinging heat.

The drag persona of Velma Celli emerged 13 years ago when Ian was playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago in the West End. Wednesday was meet-up night for the boys from Chicago, Priscilla etc at Madame Jojo’s, the legendary Soho home of burlesque and cabaret, dressing up glam to sing.

Ian went as Chicago’s nightclub star and murderess Velma Kelly, slurped on his vermacilli dish, and took to the stage. Velma Celli was born, or rather, “unleashed”, as Ian puts it.

“When you’re good to Velma, Velma’s good to you,” promises Velma Celli in her signature showstopper

This is but one story from A Brief History Of Drag, a show that Ian put together when stuck in Tanzania and has since taken to Australia and the USA, as he celebrates “burlesque, debauchery, defiance and…shoes”. Velma duly points to a silvery pair that glisten even more than Dorothy’s heel-clickers in The Wizard Of Oz.

“Unleashed” is exactly the right word for a Velma Celli performance: a tornado, a toreador in vocal form, here stirred to ever greater heights by super-talented musical director Ben Papworth, high-heeled boots tucked beneath his keyboards.

This is a proper, proper show: Velma, up front and out there; three-piece band (Papworth, keys, Clark Howard, drums and gold lamé jacket; Al Morrison, guitar); two backing singers, Kimberley Ensor and rising York talent Grace Lancaster; two guests, soul queen Jessica Steel, York partner in lockdown streamed concerts, and musical actor Jordan Fox, partner in pantomime for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.

When Velma takes the stand beneath a rockabilly quiff, she can not only sing the sing and dance the dance, she can talk the talk too, witty and waspish, as we learn of drag’s history, Velma and Ian’s past, her staging posts, the abiding influence of unloving mothers and the importance of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, New York in 1969 and the Stonewall LGBT charity over here.

The poster for the first Impossible Drag Brunch on a York Saturday afternoon

For the Theatre Royal’s Love Season, love is in the air and in the one-off prefix to the show title: Love Is Love. Omnipresent is the love of song and those who take risks: for example, Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Show’s Sweet Transvestite); Freddie Mercury and David Bowie – the latter, Velma’s astute choice for her next show – for a spectacular Under Pressure and La Cage Aux Folles’ Albin for the climactic I Am What I Am.

Mind you, Velma can be picky, not liking Culture Club’s hits, but loving Boy George’s musical, Taboo, and its signature number, Stranger In This World. Gorgeous, Georgeous.

Velma loves a duet too, taking a seat side by side with Jess for a stand-out Always Remember Us This Way (from Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born), accompanied on guitar by Stuart Allan. Later, in the latest update to the show in a nod to the impact of Russell T Davies’s devastating series It’s A Sin, Velma is joined by Fox for the Pet Shop Boys’ anthem, poignant yet celebratory too.

Velma’s voice warms, expands, stretches and strengthens as the show progresses, shown off to the max in a set-piece send up of lip-synching acts on RuPaul’s Drag Race, mimicking their physical impersonations while accentuating the vocal tics and mannerisms of Britney, Bjork, Bassey, Gabrielle, Cher et al.

Ending with an encore medley from Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Velma/Ian will surely not have to wait for another 24 years to return to the Theatre Royal.

Fancy a Shambles Mule? The cocktails list at the Impossible Drag Brunch

In the meantime, Velma is bedding in a new monthly residency for The Velma Celli Show in the big-windowed first-floor Wonderbar at Impossible, York, and last Saturday afternoon Velma Celli’s Drag Brunch was launched there too. Covid-safe; socially distanced; no masks needed when seated, but yes if you want to stand to dance around.

Judging by the support for the two sittings at 12.30pm and 2.30pm, it is likely to become a monthly fixture too as part of Impossible’s cabaret and comedy portfolio.

The show is fast-moving, fizzy and fun, with “bottomless cocktails, small plates and a side order”  (Halloumi Bites and Truffle Chips for CH) and two sets by Velma, introduced by DJ Zoe on afternoon release from Funny Girls in Blackpool, armed with a potty mouth, party-igniting disco classics and the backing tracks for Velma’s vocal tour de force.

It may not surprise you to learn that, looking around, the debut Drag Brunch partygoers are predominantly female, but the smattering of men are having a fab time too (but need to be willing to be the butt of DJ Zoe’s bawdy humour).

York, 3.50pm, June 5: Velma Celli and her ladies at the climax to the Impossible Drag Brunch

The Wonderbar, with its profusion of plants, wood and glass, recalls the conservatories and cocktail bars of the 1930s and makes for a fabulous cabaret setting. The cocktails list embraces the classics and the up to date (Salted Caramel Espresso), the Mojito and the No-jito (for the mocktail option).

General manager Stephanie Powell’s staff are everywhere, busy, busy, busy with their table service of drinks and choice of Chicken Skewers/Halloumi Bites/Cauliflower Wings/Hotdog (mini-version) with Skinny Salted Fries/Truffle Chips/Salad.

Gliding down the stairs, Velma is in sparkly black and silver, topped off in the second set with a shimmering silvery bob wig, and as she promises: “When you’re good to Velma, Velma’s good to you”. From Feeling Good to the obligatory Divas-meets-Drag Acts setpiece, I Want To  Break Free to “torches out” for Bowie’s Starman and a ruder lyric for Queen’s Somebody To Love, Velma walks the room as she works the  crowd. Everything is drag, nothing drags.

Girls, and boys, make sure to be in Velma’s camp for your Saturday afternoon pleasure.

Cheers! Another “bottomless” cocktail hits the rocks at the Impossible Drag Brunch

War and Peace as The Damned United plays out Clough’s hatred of Dirty Leeds

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson as embittered, embattled Leeds United manager Brian Clough in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

THERE is much hatred and not a whole lotta love in The Damned United, but nevertheless the story of Brian Clough’s splenetic 44 days as champions Leeds United’s manager in 1974 forms part of The Love Season at York Theatre Royal.

Why so? The truth, as explained by chief executive Tom Bird, is that Rod Dixon’s touring production for Red Ladder Theatre Company was booked in already when the reopening season’s theme took shape.

Enfant terrible Clough despised Don Revie’s “Dirty Leeds” and the feeling was mutual, drawing Dewsbury-born author David Peace to construct a psychodrama inside the life of Brian’s head: the biographical novel The Damned Utd, published in 2006.

Tom Hopper’s film, starring Michael Sheen, ensued in 2009 under the title The Damned United, and Leeds company Red Ladder have since presented various stage manifestations of Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation, built around the double act of Clough and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor.

Heading deep into the tortured mind of a flawed genius, slamming up against his limits, The Damned United brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles. 

The performing rights were donated by Peace to Red Ladder for all of £3.68 – a penny for each page in the novel – as a show of support for the Leeds company when it suffered a 100 per cent cut to Arts Council funding.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough – which lends itself brilliantly to theatre.

The book cover to David Peace’s The Damned Utd

“Anders’ adaptation captures the grit, poetry and darkness of David Peace’s writing, and by charting the fall of Brian Clough and exposing what made ‘Old Big ’Ea’ tick, audiences are given a fascinating insight into the troubled but brilliant mind of a flawed genius – who, to this day, remains one of the most controversial figures in sporting history.”

As Leeds actor Luke Dickson’s Clough and David Chafer’s Taylor head to York next Wednesday, joined by the multi role-playing Jamie Smelt, here comes a tale of War and Peace: a Q&A with author David Peace.

How did this stage adaptation of The Damned United come about?

“The original idea came up one afternoon in the Maypole pub in Ossett, back in the summer of 2014. When Red Ladder lost their Arts Council funding, the project became a bit more concrete and urgent.” 

How closely do you feel Anders Lustgarten’s stage adaptation of The Damned United captures your novel?

“Anders keeps the essential atmosphere and mood of the book, and obviously the plot itself, but he’s also made it something else, something new and something more, and which is what any great adaptation does.”

Double act: David Chafer’s Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough in The Damned United

What did you take from watching The Damned United as a stage play?

“More than anything else, for me, it was just a wonderful, humbling and exciting experience to see the original 2016 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse [now Leeds Playhouse], to see what so many talented people had brought to the work, and then how much the audience loved and appreciated it.”

Are there things that a theatre adaptation can do that a novel or film cannot?

“Very much so, and particularly in this case; football itself, at every level, is drama, theatre and spectacle played out before a living, breathing and usually very partisan audience. This is what I feel Anders, Rod and everybody involved brought to the story which neither the original book nor the film could do.”

What makes Brian Clough such a compelling figure?

“I think we simply recognise him, in ourselves, as human beings, with all his complexities and foibles, his good side and his bad, his triumphs and his defeats.”


Why do you think The Damned United holds so much appeal with non-football audiences as it does fans of the beautiful game? 

“Well, though few of us will sadly ever win the league or the European Cup, I think many of us have found ourselves in a new job with folk who were less than welcoming, and then perhaps not handled the situation as best we might. And then there’s always the mystery: why did Brian Clough put himself in that situation; ,why do we put ourselves in these situations?”

Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 16, kick-off at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

‘It’s time,’ says Emma Rice as Wise Children’s long-promised Wuthering Heights is confirmed for York Theatre Royal

The first poster for Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights, starring Lucy McCormick as Cathy. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

YORK Theatre Royal will play host to the world premiere of Emma Rice’s long-touted adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights from November 8 to 20.

Rice’s company, Wise Children, is mounting the touring co-production with the Theatre Royal, the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic (in the city where Wise Children are based in Spike Island).

Lucy McCormick’s Cathy will lead artistic director Rice’s company of performers and musicians for an elemental stage adaptation that brings new life to the epic Yorkshire moorland story of love, revenge and redemption with Rice’s trademark musical and visual style.

Emma said today: “It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights. So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope – but there was no need!

“Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky. I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

“I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most,” says Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice

Should you need a reminder, this is the Brontë one where, rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights, finding a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw as a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

“Shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Emma Rice transforms Emily Brontë’s masterpiece into a powerful and uniquely theatrical experience,” the tour publicity states. “Lucy McCormick leads the company of performers and musicians in this intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time, with set and costume design by Vicki Mortimer; sound and video by Simon Baker; composition by Ian Ross; movement and choreography by Etta Murfitt and lighting design by Jai Morjaria.”

Rice’s production will open at Bristol Old Vic with previews from October 11 and livestreams to be confirmed for the first week in November. Before all that, this summer Rice directs her Wise Children adaptation of Percy and Eleonore Adlon’s Bagdad Cafe at The Old Vic, in London, from July 17 to August 21, with a livestream for Old Vic: In Camera 25 on August 28.

Wise Children – the company Rice formed when her artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe ended in acrimony in April 2018 after only two seasons – will be completing a hat-trick of visits to York Theatre Royal after staging Rice’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s Wise Children in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers in September that year in a co-production with the Theatre Royal.

On that visit came the promise of first news of “a third collaboration between Wise Children and York Theatre Royal, this one with a Yorkshire core and National significance in 2020. Watch this space,” as The Press, York, teased. In other words, after much more space watching than first planned, here comes Wuthering Heights and the National Theatre as co-producers.

In her 2016-2018 tenure at Shakespeare’s Globe, Rice directed Romantics Anonymous, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Little Matchgirl (and Other Happier Tales).

Class act: Wise Children’s stage adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal in September 2019

For the previous 20 years, she had worked for Kneehigh Theatre as an actor, director and artistic director, putting the company on the national map and becoming favourites at West Yorkshire Playhouse (now Leeds Playhouse) on regular sold-out visits to Yorkshire with bravura shows replete with magical storytelling, rumbustious music and circus daring.

However, in a tale of Rice and fall, the news of Wuthering Heights’ tour comes only a day after Kneehigh announced their exit stage left bereft after “changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward”.

In March, founding artistic director, actor, director and teacher Mike Shepherd announced his departure – “the end of this glorious book,” he said – after more than 40 years at Kneehigh. Only two months earlier, deputy artistic director Carl Grose had left too.

The company statement reads in full: “With sadness and regret, the trustees of Kneehigh are announcing the winding down of Kneehigh Theatre.

“While the last year has been a difficult time for many people, including those employed in the arts, performance and theatre, Kneehigh’s financial stability has enabled the company to continue to create work throughout the pandemic.

“Kneehigh is grateful to its principal funder, Arts Council England, and for the significant support received from the Culture Recovery Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Coastal Communities Fund, Cornwall Council and Garfield Weston Foundation.

“Recent changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward. The trustees and company reflected on a possible new future but concluded that it was better and more responsible to close Kneehigh and ensure an orderly wind-down.”

Farewell, Kneehigh

“The company wants to thank everyone who came to watch the performances, the artists they have had the pleasure to work alongside, the industry collaborators and partners, the volunteers and community groups who shared their time, knowledge and stories, as well as the funders and the friends – all of whom made the work possible.”

Hedda Archbold, chair of the board, said: “The board wants to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for the Kneehigh team. We want to thank them for the excellent work they have done and pay tribute to their passion and commitment to Kneehigh.

“Last Saturday, the brilliant Random Acts Of Art had its final performance. The project has been a high point on which to end. These bold, playful, humorous and thought-provoking creative works brought together dozens of collaborators all across Cornwall, and delighted audiences out and about as well as online.

“Eclectic, anarchic, inspiring and inclusive, it embodied the spirit of Kneehigh we have loved for the past 40 glorious years. Despite the challenges of the past year, it has been an incredible journey filled with joy and delight.”

Bless you, Kneehigh, for the treasured memories, whether at the Playhouse in Leeds or on a holiday visit to the Asylum at Heligan Gardens, Cornwall, in September 2018 for Fup: A Modern Fable. Thank you and goodnight after many a good night. Your work here is done: you changed the face, the reach, the possibilities, of theatre.

Rice’s snap, crackle and pop theatre goes on, however, and tickets are sure to sell fast for Wuthering Heights on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

CBeebies faves Twirlywoos are on their way to York Theatre Royal in the Big Red Boat

Twirlywoos Live!: Expect mischief, music and surprises aplenty at York Theatre Royal

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York next week on board the Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

These CBeebies TV favourites will be brought to life with inventive puppetry on stage from June 11 to 13 when mischief, music and plenty of surprises are in store for “little ones”.

For the uninitiated, the Twirlywoos are “four small, bird-like characters who are inquisitive, enthusiastic and always looking to learn something new about the world. Ever curious, they seek adventure and fun wherever they go. Whether in the real world or on their big red boat, they love to hide, imitate and be surprised as they discover fresh things”.

Twirlywoos was first broadcast on CBeebies in 2015 and celebrated its 100th episode in 2017. The series was co-created by Teletubbies devisor Anne Wood, and Steve Roberts, Wood’s co-creator of the BAFTA-winning CBeebies series Dipdap.

Inquisitive, enthusiastic and always looking to learn something new: the world of the Twirlywoos

Twirlywoos Live! is brought to the stage by MEI Theatrical, the producers behind  CBeebies favourite Sarah And Duck Live On Stage and the smash hit The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show

Written by by Zoe Bourn, whose stage-transfer credits include Thomas And Friends and Fireman Sam Live!, Twirlywoos Live! is recommended for ages 1+. Babes in arms are welcome.

Performances will be at 1.30pm and 4pm on June 11, then 10am and 2pm, June 12 and 13, with a running time of 55 minutes and no interval. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.