REVIEW: The Handlebards’ biker-clad Macbeth, York Theatre Royal ***

Jenny Smith, left, Natalie Simone and Kathryn Perkins in The HandleBards’ Macbeth

The HandleBards in Macbeth, York Theatre Royal, tonight at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THE Scottish Play becomes The Skittish Play when recycled by eco-conscious pedalling enthusiasts The HandleBards in pursuit of daft laughs on their return to York Theatre Royal.

Tragedy takes a hike up the Scottish Highlands, soliloquys lose out to a rising cacophony of noise, and The Porter’s knock-knock interlude vanishes like the secret midnight hags into the dreek mists.

Often cut for being Shakespeare’s one (not-very-funny) comic interlude, as unwelcome as a drunken heckler, presumably this time Macbeth’s bouncer has been axed for being the one character that did not require conversion to comedy.

The HandleBards like to break down barriers, as Emma Sampson’s cast demolishes theatre’s fourth wall from the off when perky Kathryn Perkins, towering Natalie Simone and professional debutante Jenny Smith introduce themselves and who they will be playing. These days, it is called meta-theatre, a form of heightened awareness that a play is indeed all about playing.

Or it could just be that The HandleBards just want to “shake a spear” at all that seriousness that emanates from so many Shakespeare productions.

Macbeth has broad shoulders and can pretty much take anything you throw at it, on stage or screen, although there was one time on a Leeds stage where the lead actor was so hapless that he not only murdered all around him, he murdered Macbeth.

That does not happen here, but Perkins’ Cockernee toughie Macbeth does tend to play second fiddle to the weird sisters, the Witches pulling Macbeth every witch way, every which way in this all-female production.

If you want punk irreverence, you will find it here, not least in the biker costume designs of Lucy Green that echo the Seventies’ clobber of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, tartan trim and all.

Cycling paraphernalia is omnipresent too, from the bell to signify scene changes to the tyres on the Macbeth’s biker jacket; from the bicycle pedalling that provides the power for scenery to turn around to the honking of a horn to add to the anarchic silliness. Macbeth and co are bikers, not cyclists, as indicated by the HandleBards’ use of handlebars to signify motorbikes and a child’s toy for the sound of a revving engine.

There is abundant comic energy here, indeed an excess of it, that leaves Macbeth’s text struggling for air by comparison with last May’s visit of Romeo & Juliet that had a better balance between HandleBards’ comic mayhem and teen tragedy.

Imagine Eric Morecambe undermining Ernie Wise’s attempts to present one of those “plays what I wrote”, but then overplaying it as clarinet and shruti box drown out Perkins’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy. In such a moment, something of the play is lost in choosing to tell it by behaving like Shakespeare’s idiot, full of sound but not fury, signifying what?  

Elsewhere, the comic tone works better, as does the editing out of the dull political stuff down in England. Natalie Simone’s Strictly Come Dancing-loving Lady Macbeth is a scream, blessed with the best comic timing; Jenny Smith has bags of clowning physicality; Perkins’s Macbeth is sacrificed to the constant playfulness.

You will enjoy women sending up Macbeth and MacDuff comparing their manliness; the Witches’ percussive musicianship, singing and later rapping; the impatience at MacDuff taking forever to comprehend the news that his wife and bairns are all dead (spoiler alert); the use of red confetti to signify blood; the dagger attached to Macbeth’s head to “see before me”.

Look out too for two Coronavirus references, two well-placed insertions of topical comedy where, elsewhere, Sampson’s cast sometimes pushes too hard for lightweight laughs at the cost of storytelling.

Sampson had decided to not replicate the use of baked beans and tomato soup for blood from the original HandleBards’ Macbeth, preferring the less messy confetti, but there are moments where the production could be cleaner, less prone to over-excitement, less busy.

This Macbeth is neither ‘bloody’ funny, nor dead funny, in a hammy Hammer horror style; more of a Five Go Camp Acting jaunty jape instead.

Coming next will be a tour of Twelfth Night; dates are yet to be announced.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

If there’s a funny side to Macbeth, be assured The HandleBards will find it

Crowning gory? Not when Kathryn Perkins plays Macbeth in The HandleBards’ Macbeth. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

SOMETHING wickedly funny this way comes in irreverent Shakespeare troupe The HandleBards’ all-female Macbeth, the first burst of York Theatre Royal’s Spring! Season on January 25 and 26.

Anyone fearing that “The Scottish Play” will be all gloom and doom instead will encounter “The Skittish Play”, with the tragedy-trampling promise of a frantic, delirious, full-of-beans farce delivered by Kathryn Perkins, Natalie Simone and Jenny Smith. 

Director Emma Sampson, now returned to Australia, says: “Working with The HandleBards is always the most fun job of my calendar year and the all-female cast has been a delight to direct. They are truly three of the funniest women I have ever met in my life.”

Tom Dixon, co-producer and co-founder of these cycling purveyors of environmentally sustainable Shakespeare, concurs. “Having three women playing all the roles brings real joy to poking fun at all the toxic masculinity in Macbeth. There’s a tradition of finding men dressed as women funny, and this way we can mock men by having women play them.

Jenny Smith’s Donalbain. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

“Lucy Green’s design has gone for a rocker biker theme, so lots of the costumes have bicycle motifs. Macbeth’s leather jacket has tyres on the shoulder pads, and for the motorbikes we have bicycle handlebars and children’s toy parts too.

“We also have Macbeth and MacDuff squaring off and comparing sizes, shall we say, because they’re such ‘manly men’, with all the humour that goes with that when played by women.”

Revelling in The HandleBards’  “very weird ‘Weird Sisters’” taking on all before them in Macbeth, Tom suggests Shakespeare’s tragedy is a joy because it is “such a giving play”, one that continues to draw myriad reinterpretations, whether on stage or screen, where Joel Coen’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth, starring  Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, is the latest addition.  

“I’m sure you can think that Shakespeare wrote some scenes with comedy in mind, not just the Porter’s scene but how Macbeth addresses everyone towards the end,” says Tom, The HandleBards’ artistic director. “That’s something we like to have fun with when finding a theme for our productions.

“In 2015, when we first did Macbeth, we went for a camping theme, with half baked beans/half tomato soup for all the blood, but Emma vetoed that for the new production. Back in 2015, it was the original [all-male] company that performed it, and we were very willing to get messy!

Every witch way: Jenny Smith, left, Natalie Simone and Kathryn Perkins in The Handlebards’ irreverent Macbeth. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

“Maybe Emma thought, ‘that was back then, but we don’t want it to be so messy’. Now it’s more about ‘meta-theatre’, with one of the characters always trying to play the clarinet behind every Macbeth soliloquy, much to Macbeth’s annoyance.”

Extracting the toxic masculinity from Macbeth meets a counterpoint in Lady Macbeth’s plea to “unsex me here”. “It’s that whole idea that being a woman and committing these acts [of murder] is something that a woman just wouldn’t do, which makes her such a fascinating character.

“We do explain why she says it but we come to a silly conclusion, where our Lady Macbeth really loves Strictly Come Dancing. What’s fun for us is that we’ll have these serious discussions about what masculinity means but then that breaks out into silly jokes.”

Not everyone finds The HandleBards’ pursuit of humour to be a barrel of laughs. ”To be fair, we do meet some people who don’t like our style, and that’s fair enough,” says Tom. “It’s not for everybody, but I would argue we have a wider reach than most, because a lot of people think Shakespeare is not for them, but, look, he wrote for the masses.

“We get this situation a lot of the time, where someone, usually a man, comes along with a friend who bought a ticket for them, and they come for a nice picnic, but they leave converted. Our shows can be a gateway to Shakespeare for them, thinking they would now be prepared to go to a more serious production.

Out, damned spot! Natalie Simone’s Lady Macbeth. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

“But our productions are always grounded in the truth of the text. We still hold the text in the highest esteem, and we keep the dialogue in period. We’re Shakespeare nerds but we like to have fun, and with Macbeth, there are so many iconic images, like the floating dagger and the Witches, it gives us themes to explore humorously.”

As a generalisation, The HandleBards can have more fun with a tragedy than a straight-up Shakespeare comedy. “A lot of what Shakespeare finds funny is now outdated, which sets a challenge, so it’s nice to be able to surprise people with a silly version of Macbeth, where we can take the tragedy and make it funny,” says Tom.

Last May’s Theatre Royal visit with Romeo & Juliet showed The HandleBards could make the most of a tricky mix of Mercutio-led comedy making way for murder and tragic teen suicides. Now prepare for an all-female, bewitching, unhinged, dead funny take on Macbeth.

The HandleBards present Macbeth, York Theatre Royal, January 25, 7.30pm, and January 26, 2pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

York Theatre Royal to support artist or company at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe

York Theatre Royal: Taking part in Pleasance Theatre’s Edinburgh National Partnership programme for this summer’s Fringe festival

A YORKSHIRE or Humber artist or company could receive up to £2,000 and a guaranteed place in the 2022 Pleasance Edinburgh Fringe programme in a York Theatre Royal scheme.

The partnership with the Pleasance Theatre’s Edinburgh National Partnerships programme will provide support both financially and artistically.

York Theatre Royal is “delighted to be working with the Pleasance Theatre once again as part of their programme to identify and support exceptional local artists and companies who want to take work to the Fringe.”

Each partner is a leading national producing house with a commitment to supporting and developing new artists.

Fellow partner organisations in the scheme are: Bristol Old Vic, Leicester Curve, HOME Manchester, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Scotland, and Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

The Theatre Royal statement adds: “Working with the Pleasance, we will identify dynamic artists at different stages in their careers, with the primary aim of the scheme being to uncover and support the best companies and artists from Yorkshire and Humber, and across the UK, to present work at the Fringe.”

The successful applicant will receive:

* Up to £2,000 financing from the Pleasance towards the costs of presenting their show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

* Guaranteed inclusion within the Pleasance Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme.

* Edinburgh Fringe registration covered by York Theatre Royal.

* A minimum of one week’s in-kind rehearsal and development space at York Theatre Royal.

* A programming option in the Pleasance London transfer run post-Edinburgh Fringe.

* Support to deliver accessible performances as part of the Fringe run.

* Mentorship, support and advice from both York Theatre Royal and the Pleasance leading up to and during the Fringe.

* Support to build new touring relationships with other National Partnership venues.

To apply, artists and companies should send a pitch to admin@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk, detailing the piece of work to be presented (synopsis, design ideas etc), the creatives involved and information on past productions (reviews, footage, etc).

The closing date for applications is Monday, January 31 at 10am. The application form can be found at: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/latest/york-theatre-royal-and-pleasance-pathways-call-out/.

Rosemary Bentley RIP: ‘Warmth, honesty and compassion at York Theatre Royal’

Rosemary Bentley

THE funeral of York Theatre Royal stalwart Rosemary “Bud” Bentley will be held tomorrow (18/1/2022).

Rosemary, who passed away on Christmas Eve, will journey with family members from their home onto Bishopthorpe Road, down Scarcroft Road and across to English Martyrs RC Church, on Dalton Terrace, for the 10.30am celebration of her life. The family would welcome smiling faces on the route.

Rosemary, who was 74, worked at York Theatre Royal for more than 20 years in catering, costume hire and front of house.

She died from a stroke in York Hospital where she was being treated for fractured ribs following a fall while ushering at the St Leonard’s Place theatre.

Rosemary also was a former teaching assistant at St George’s Primary School for many years, participated in amateur dramatics at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre and was prominent in the Friends of Rowntree Park voluntary organisation, helping to establish the Sensory Garden.

She leaves husband Hugo, son Paul and foster daughter Caitlin. Born and raised in Surrey, she had met Hugo when hiking at Ben Nevis and they moved on York in 1979. They were married for 49 years.

Those attending tomorrow’s Requiem Mass are invited to wear a splash of colour with their mourning attire “as Rosemary would have wanted”. Light refreshments will be served at English Martyrs Church Hall afterwards; Rosemary’s family will be there after a private ceremony at Bishopthorpe Crematorium.

The family has asked that there be flowers only from close relatives but donations to St Leonard’s Hospice would be appreciated greatly.

Hugo thanks everyone who has sent messages of condolence and those who have shared memories of how Rosemary has touched their life in some way.

The Theatre Royal’s website announcement paid tribute to “our much-loved friend and colleague”.  “We all loved Rosemary for her warmth, honesty and passion for our theatre,” it reads. “She lit up our organisation whenever she was around, and we will miss her very, very much. All our thoughts and love are with Hugo and all their family and friends at this time.”

Chief executive Tom Bird said: “We all loved Rosemary, and she loved the theatre. We’re absolutely heartbroken that she’s gone. We’ll remember her warmth, honesty and compassion – and her husband Hugo remains a much-loved and valued part of our team.”

God bless you, Rosemary, and thank you for always adding joy to a night at York Theatre Royal, no matter what took place on that stage, whether good or not so good. The end of a show was often the beginning of our chats, full of your humour, candour and wisdom, sharing that love of the world of theatre, its characters, gossip and magic. Happy, happy memories to treasure at your final curtain.

What’s going in 2022’s arts diary to amuse, agitate, excite and exasperate Two Big Egos In A Small Car’s Chalmers & Hutch?

Pilot Theatre’s The Bone Sparrow: Premiering at York Theatre Royal next month

PODCASTING culture vultures Graham Chalmers & Charles Hutchinson pick their way through what lies ahead in their 2022 arts diary, from formulaic films to pioneering theatre in Episode 72 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Plus tributes to Joan Didion and Dean Stockwell RIP, when you head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9850438

Velma Celli marks birthday with Impossible York gig before American cruise ship shows

Velma Celli in the Wonderbar at Impossible York

YORK drag diva supreme Velma Celli is heading off to America for a month of cruise-ship shows, but not before a birthday bash at Impossible York.

Velma, the fabulous cabaret creation of West End musical actor Ian Stroughair, will mark Ian’s birthday on Thursday (13/1/2022) with an 8pm performance of The Velma Celli Show in the Wonderbar.

Then come those cruise-ship engagements for Atlantis Gay Cruises, whose publicity proclaims: “Gonna be FUN! Get on board the biggest event of 2022 for Atlantis’s 30th anniversary! 

“5,500 guys. Superstar performers. Cutting-edge productions. Legendary concerts. Mind-blowing parties. And you! All on the world’s largest and most spectacular ship.

“We’re finally turning 30 with the greatest production in Atlantis history as we sail the best of the Caribbean for the perfect start to 2022.” 

Here, CharlesHutchPress sets Velma/Ian the challenge of firing off quick answers to quick questions in a short break from packing for the travels ahead.

Velma Celli’s new show, God Save The Queens, will be premiered on the Atlantis Gay Cruises

How old will you be on Jan 13?

Twenty-one. It’s a New Year miracle!”

What would be the perfect birthday present?

“World peace.” 

What songs will you be performing at Impossible York?

“It’ll be a mixture of mine and the audience’s favourite from years gone by. A mixture of Whitney [Houston], Amy [Winehouse], Queen, Judy [Garland] and many more. Lots of impressions, banter and general camp fun! Doors at 7pm; show at 8pm.”

What show will you perform on the cruise ships and how often on each cruise?

“I’m performing two shows, A Brief History Of Drag and my new show, God Save The Queens, which is a celebration of British female recording artists. Adele. Annie Lennox. Amy. Dua Lipa. Four shows a week.”

Where will the two cruises sail to? 

“OOOOO, so many places! Miami, Bahamas, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Puerta Vallarta and many more!”

Have you worked with Atlantis Gay Cruises before? 

“I’m on contract number five. There should have been so many more but bl***y ‘Rona’ entered our lives, didn’t she!”

Any update on plans to present Irreplaceable, your David Bowie show, in York? 

“YES! February 26th at Theatre@41 Monkgate, 8pm, when I’ll be celebrating Bowie and the artists he inspired.”

Velma Celli’s Aladdin Sane sash for Irreplaceable, the Bowie tribute show

What’s coming up for you in York after that?

“Me And My Divas on March 19th on my return to York Theatre Royal, where I sold out A Brief History Of Drag last May. Line-up to be announced, but you can expect ‘an overindulgent diva fest celebrating the songs and behaviour of all your favourite divas: Céline, Mariah, Whitney, Aretha, Cher, Britney (maybe not!) and many more.”

Of all those divas in that show – 2021 Best Cabaret winner at the Perth Fringeworld in Australia – who is your favourite vocalist and why? 

“Whitney Houston! Hands down the greatest singer of all time, in my humble opinion.” 

What else is in your diary for 2022?

“SO many more gigs at Impossible York, including my Drag Brunches and solo shows. We’re starting a new evening show called Back To The 80s and another brunch called Matinee Musicals Brunch! Tickets go live soon!” 

What are your hopes for this year? 

“No more ‘Rona’, lots of laughter and PEACE!” 

What are your hopes for the arts world at large this year?

“A thriving community and lots of new writing! We all love a ‘Les Mis’ etc, but ’tis time to shine a light on new writing, artists, creatives and producers. A shout-out to Lambert Jackson Productions, who have been smashing compelling and fantastic new work pre and throughout this pandemic. Proud!”

The Velma Celli Show, Impossible York, St Helen’s Square, York, Thursday, January 13; doors at 7pm; show, 8pm. Box office: ticketweb.uk/event/the-velma-celli-show-impossible-york-tickets/11662445.

Velma Celli: Irreplaceable, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 26, 8pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Velma Celli: Me And My Divas, York Theatre Royal, March 19, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

PS. Ian Stroughair will turn 39 on January 13.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as something wickedly funny this way comes. List No. 64, courtesy of The Press, York

When shall we three meet again? When the hurlyburly’s done in The HandleBards’ Macbeth at York Theatre Royal

AS the pantomime season draws to a close, Charles Hutchinson turns his focus to new seasons and new reasons to venture out.

The skittish play: The HandleBards in Macbeth, York Theatre Royal, January 25, 7.30pm; January 26, 2pm and 7.30pm

THE HandleBards were the first professional company to play York Theatre Royal after Lockdown 3, lifting the long gloom with a ridiculously funny Romeo And Juliet. Now the three-pronged troupe opens the Spring! Season with an all-female, bewitching, unhinged, bicycle-powered, dead funny take on Macbeth, starring Kathryn Perkins, Natalie Simone and Jenny Smith.

Expect music, mayhem, murders, unusual applications of cycling paraphernalia and more costume changes “than you can Shake a spear at” in this irreverent, skittish romp through Shakespeare’s tragic “Scottish play”. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Charles Court Opera in The Mikado, visiting Harrogate Royal Hall on Sunday. Picture: Bill Knight

Oh, Vienna: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival’s New Year celebration, Harrogate Royal Hall, today and tomorrow, 7.30pm.

ENCHANTMENT awaits in the Magic Of Vienna New Year Gala Concert today when the National Festival Orchestra, conducted by Aidan Faughey, presents works by Johann Strauss, Mozart and Lehar. International opera stars James Cleverton and Rebecca Bottone will be the soloists.

Charles Court Opera’s London production of G&S’s The Mikado will be performed on Sunday night, accompanied by the National Festival Orchestra. Box office: 01422 323352 or at gsfestivals.co.uk.

One Iota: Debut album launch at the JoRo

York album launch of the month: One Iota, supported by Odin Dragonfly, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 21, 7.15pm

YORK band One Iota are launching their debut album, More Than You Take, recorded at the venerable Abbey Road studios, in London, and Fairview Studios, Willerby.

Adam Dawson, James Brown, Andy Bowen and Phil Everard’s alt-pop group grew out of their three-piece tribute to The Beatles – The Threetles, of course – when they acquired a taste for writing their own songs in lockdown.

One Iota’s debut live show promises a full line-up, featuring live string arrangements for the Fab Four-influenced songs marked by rich vocal harmonies, innovative melodies and “more hooks than a cloakroom”. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Jacob George: Soloist for Schumann’s Violin Concerto at the Academy of St Olave’s January concert

By George, he’s back: Academy of St Olave’s Winter Concert, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York, January 22, 8pm

THE Academy of St Olave’s Winter Concert features Jacob George, son of musical director Alan George, as soloist for Schumann’s Violin Concerto. He returns to solo duty for the York chamber orchestra after performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto in 2019.

The ASO’s first concert since last September’s sold-out resumption also includes two works inspired by Italy: Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style, and Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No. 4. Box office: academyofstolaves.org.uk.

Nunkie Theatre Company’s artwork for the third instalment of their M R James Project, A Warning To The Curious

Ghosts at play: Nunkie Theatre Company in M R James’s A Warning To The Curious, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, January 28, 7.30pm

NUNKIE Theatre Company bring two of M R James’s eeriest and most entertaining ghost stories back to life in Robert Lloyd Parry’s candlelit one-man show. Lost Hearts, an early work, is constructed around one of his most memorable villains, the predatory scholar Mr Abney.

Lloyd Parry pairs it with perhaps James’s most poignant and personal story, inspired by his holidays in Aldeburgh: A Warning To The Curious’s account of a young archaeologist being haunted and hunted by the guardian of an ancient treasure. Has the English seaside ever looked so menacing? Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Yvette Stone’s life-size puppet of The Creature, as first seen in Blackeyed Theatre’s Frankenstein in 2016. The new tour visits Scarborough next month. Picture: Alex Harvey-Brown

Monster smash: Blackeyed Theatre in Frankenstein, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, February 9 to 12

NICK Lane has reinterpreted John Ginman’s original 2016 script for Blackeyed Theatre, built around Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel, wherein nothing can prepare Victor Frankenstein for what he creates in pursuit of the elixir of life.

Eliot Giuralarocca’s highly theatrical production combines live music and ensemble storytelling with Bunraku-style puppetry to portray The Creature, in the life-size form of Yvonne Stone’s 6ft 4inch puppet, operated by up to three actors at once. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Four decades of topical songs and glamour: Fascinating Aida’s Liza Pulman, left, Dillie Keane and Adèle Anderson. Picture: Johnny Boylan

Never tire of satire: Fascinating Aida, York Barbican, February 12, 7.30pm

DILLIE Keane, Adèle Anderson and Liza Pulman’s latest Fascinating Aida tour show features old favourites, songs you haven’t heard before and some you wish you’d never heard in the first place.

“But the songs are mostly topical and the glamour remains unstoppable,” say the satirists, who have been capturing the political and social fixations of our times for nigh on 40 years, from 1984’s Sweet FA to 2012’s Cheap Flights and beyond. All tickets remain valid from the postponed May 5 2021 date. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Marc Almond fronting The Loveless, headliners at late-October’s Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival in Whitby

Looking ahead to Halloween: Marc Almond’s The Loveless, headlining the Saturday bill at Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival 2022, Whitby Pavilion, October 29

THE Loveless make their Tomorrow’s Ghosts debut with a headline set of their devilishly dark arts at Whitby Pavilion next Halloween.

In a project designed to take its constituent parts back to where they all began, Soft Cell singer Almond, Sigue Sigue Sputnik axeman Neal X, Iggy Pop’s touring rhythm section of Mat Hector and Ben Ellis and haunting Hammond organist James Beaumont “pledge themselves to the pulp appeal of garage rock in its rawest, most gripping guise”.

The Loveless draw material from Almond’s expansive back catalogue, Lou Reed and David Bowie’s canons, warped 1960s’ R&B staples and lost garage-rock gems. Box office: ticketweb.uk/event/tomorrows-ghosts-festival.

Artist Stephen Todd in his Sheffield studio

Weekend opening: Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, today and tomorrow

NEW year, New Beginnings and a website “going live again at last” adds up to the start of 2022 for Ann Petherick’s gallery in her home at Kentmere House, York.

Among the works on show today and tomorrow from 11am to 5pm are Allotments In Autumn paintings by featured artist Stephen Todd, from Sheffield.

Kentmere House Gallery also will be open for the York Residents Residents’ Weekend on January 29 and 30, 11am to 6pm each day.

Bird’s eye view on the Spring! season ahead at York Theatre Royal after panto success

The Bone Sparrow: Pilot Theatre’s world premiere at York Theatre Royal

AFTER the Summer Of Love, the Haunted Season and the pantomime revolution, York Theatre Royal has a Spring! in its step for 2022’s diary of new beginnings.

“Our strategy is not middle of the road with our programming,” says chief executive Tom Bird. “We are either being ambitious commercially or ambitious artistically.

“When we make new work, we want it to resonate with the times; we want it to be relevant to York audiences and we want it to be experimental. We used to do a lot of plays that were ‘in the middle’, but where we are now, even though we do them rather well, we can’t do Chekhov and Ibsen, because no-one came.

“But we’re going to do loads of new work over the year ahead and we have to balance it with commercial work, because we want to have a full theatre that is a community-engaged theatre.”

In a nutshell that means accommodating Pilot Theatre’s The Bone Sparrow, York Light Opera Company’s Evita, Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre’s As You Like It, Dancing On Ice winner Jake Quickenden and Darren Day in the 1980s’ musical Footloose and Mischief and Penn & Teller’s Magic Goes Wrong in one season.

“As a creative theatre, we’re co-producing – and hosting rehearsals for – York company Pilot Theatre’s tour of The Bone Sparrow; we’ll be doing a community play, yet to be named, probably indoors in the summer,” says Tom.

“We’ll also be doing something at Easter and something about Guy Fawkes in November, so there’s plenty of new work in the pipeline. We’ll also continue to make ‘micro-community’ shows, like the Love Bites nights that reopened the theatre [after Lockdown 3] in May.” Watch this space as more details emerge.

Directed by artistic director Esther Richardson, Pilot Theatre’s world premiere of award-winning Australian playwright S. Shakthidaran’s adaptation of Zana Fraillon’s novel The Bone Sparrow will open at York Theatre Royal from February 25 to March 5 before touring to fellow co-producing houses Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Derby Playhouse.

Fraillon’s story of a Rohingya refugee boy who has spent his entire life living in a detention centre in Australia forms the third liaison between Pilot and the four theatres, who formed a new partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences. 

“The way this consortium has worked is that, over a four-year period, each theatre takes its turn to make a show with Pilot. Derby Playhouse made Noughts & Crosses, Coventry made Crongton Knights,” says Tom.

“This time, we’re producing The Bone Sparrow in York. It’s a brilliant time to be doing this play, as it’s set in a refugee camp, when sections of the media and certain politicians try to demonise refugees. This play pushes back against that really powerfully.

“It’s also super-exciting that Arun Ghosh is doing the music and sound. Arun is an incredible Indian musician who I worked with on a show called Lions And Tigers, by Tanika Gupta, at Shakespeare’s Globe.”

Just as York Theatre Royal and pantomime partners Evolution Productions were determined to draw a wider, younger audience to Cinderella – and did so with 65 per cent visiting the Theatre Royal for the first time – so Tom is passionate about attracting young audiences to other shows too.

“It’s great to do work for this [teenage] age group with Pilot. We were worried because Crongton Knights was a tough sell, as it did feel its experiences specifically spoke to South London, but this latest show has really taken off,” he says.

“It seems to be a story that everyone is relating to, even thought it’s set in Australia, but then Australia is a good place to set such a story because the way Australia handles refugees and asylum seekers is a bleak vision of how it could be in our country.” 

Politics lies at the heart of another centrepiece of the season: Nottingham Playhouse, Northern Stage (Newcastle) and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh’s co-production of Red Ellen, on tour in York from May 24 to 28.

Caroline Bird’s new play tells the inspiring and epic story of Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson “who was forever on the right side of history, forever on the wrong side of life”.

Caught between revolutionary and parliamentary politics, Ellen’s fight for a better world took in encounters with Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway; battling to save Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany; campaigning for Britain to aid the struggle against Franco’s Fascists in Spain; leading 200 petitioning workers on the Jarrow Crusade from Newcastle to London and serving in Churchill’s Cabinet – and she had affairs with Communist spies and government ministers alike.

“Caroline Bird, no relation, is an amazing new playwright, and this play is an absolute corker. It’s great to do that new work here, just as we were delighted to stage The Young’uns’ show The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff in the autumn,” says Tom.

“A new play by a female playwright, on a large theatrical scale, doesn’t happen that often and definitely not often enough.

“I just wanted to give it a stage in Yorkshire because it was already going to be performed in Scotland, the North East and the Midlands: places it should be seen in, but otherwise it wouldn’t be coming to Yorkshire.”

On March 17 and 18, Oladipo Agboluaje’s Here’s What She Said To Me follows three generations of proud African women, connecting with each other across two continents, across time and space.

First staged at Sheffield Crucible Theatre, the play was conceived and directed by Mojisola Elufowoju, who cut her theatrical teeth while studying at York St John University. “Moji did a lot of work at the Theatre Royal and has now put together this incredible company [Utopia Theatre] to tell the story of what happened to these Ugandan women,” says Tom.

“We have to keep going with tackling diversity in theatre; we’ve changed from being aware of the need to be diverse to reflect our community to a position of having to take a lead on this, going beyond reflecting diversity in our community to be always representing the contemporary world on our stage, because York is changing faster than we realise.”

In Michele Lee’s Rice, on April 13 and 14, two women form a powerful if unlikely bond:  Nisha is  a headstrong hotshot Indian executive working for Australia’s largest producer of rice and Yvette, an older Chinese migrant, is the cleaner with entrepreneurial ambitions of her own.

“Actors Touring Company are continuing our strand of Chinese and Asian theatre, which is becoming important to us because the largest community in York, aside from the white community, is Chinese,” says Tom.

“We’re trying to develop more work to reflect the city’s demographic, like when we did a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie set in Hong Kong. Over seven percent of the audience was Chinese/Asian, compared with one per cent normally.

“Matthew Zia is a brilliant directing talent and we’re really excited to be bringing this European premiere to York.”

York Light Opera Company follow up Oliver! and Grease with Andrew Loyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, the rags-to-riches story of Eva Person’s rise to First Lady of Argentina, from February 9 to 19.

“The last thing that would ever go from here would be shows like this, because work by York companies is so important to us,” says Tom. “It now fits in with Arts Council England’s new direction of travel, where it wants to encourage the chance for people to fulfil their creativity on our stage.”

Halifax company Northern Broadsides return to the Theatre Royal with their 30th anniversary production, Shakespeare’s sylvan comedy As You Like It, performed by a northern cast of 12 in the first visit to York under Laurence Sansom’s direction.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players as gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in this celebration of the transformative power of love and the natural world.

“Laurie is a great appointment as artistic director, and As You Like It is really on the nose as a choice of play with all the focus on climate change right now,” says Tom.

Many more shows tumble out of the brochure: The HandleBards pedalling into York with their all-female, bicycle-powered, irreverent Macbeth on January 25 and 26; Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens’ tribute to Eric & Ern on February 1 and 2, and Treasure Island, La Navet Bete’s follow-up to Dracula: The Bloody Truth, on March 10 to 12.

Among further returnees are York’s drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, with Me And My Divas, a celebration of Mariah, Celine, Whitney, Aretha, Cher and Britney, on March 19; English Touring Opera on April 8 and 9 with Puccini’s La Boheme and Rimsky Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel and Show Stopper, The Improvised Musical, on April 23.

For full Spring! season details and tickets, go to: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Box office: 01904 623568.

Copyright of The Press, York

Cinderella resumes tomorrow at York Theatre Royal after Covid forced week off

CBeebies’ Andy Day as Dandini in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

YORK Theatre Royal’s pantomime resumes tomorrow for its final run of shows after a Covid-enforced week off.

Positive tests among cast members and understudies meant the management was seeking its fourth Cinderella when the decision was made to stop the revolving door of replacements and extra rehearsals.

Now, Cinderella will be going to the ball again, extra shows and all, until January 2, and among those returning to the stage will be Andy Day’s Dandini, Faye Campbell’s Cinderella, Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and ventriloquist Max Fulham’s Buttons (along with his dummy, the cheeky monkey Gordon).

CBeebies’ presenter Andy Day had already made one appearance in York this year before Cinderella…with his band, Andy And The Oddsocks. “We did nine festivals this year – we usually do loads of shows over the festival season – and among those getting in touch was York Balloon Fiesta, where we played in late-August,” he says.

“It was one of our favourites gigs, playing next to the racecourse. I’d been to York only a couple of times before, but my dad is a massive fan of York, so he’s coming to see the panto. He’s not bothered about seeing me, just seeing York!”

Andy is performing in his sixth panto for York Theatre Royal’s pantomime partners, Evolution Productions. “The first one I did for them was Cinderella: that was the last time I did Cinderella, playing Dandini that time too, in St Albans,” he says, going on to recall making his panto debut at 21 as the Genie in Aladdin in Ilford.

Andy is synonymous with CBeebies, not only as a presenter but as an actor too. “I was very fortunate to get into kids’ TV 16 years ago. I always wanted to do that; that was my aim when I was doing stuff at the Millennium Dome and theatre in education in Italy, which I really enjoyed.

“From there, I got an audition for CBeebies, and out of 2,000 applicants, I got down to the last 11, and it just so happened I was different to the others and so I was chosen.”

His wide-eyed expressions, affability, strong singing voice and bond with children make him a natural for pantomime. “The great thing about Evolution pantomimes – and I love Paul Hendy’s writing – is that they really are a show for everyone, making it my favourite form of family entertainment, because parents can enjoy it as much as their children,” Andy says. “Good comedy, good music, something for the adults, and then there’s the magic of it all, especially in Cinderella.”

Andy has worked with Cinderella director Juliet Forster previously, having appeared in her TV production of CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, premiered in April. “They’re always great fun to do,” he says. “I’d done The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, and though I don’t class myself as a Shakespearean actor, it’s really nice to do the roles and enjoy Shakespeare – and Juliet is a real joy to work with.

“I played Lord Capulet, after I was Caliban in The Tempest: I always seem to play the slightly nasty one, whether in CBeebies’ pantos or Shakespeare! Though I was Peter Quince, one of the Mechanicals, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so that was a humorous role.”

Luton-born Andy is making his York Theatre Royal debut at 40, but where might his pantomime ambitions lead him next? “I’d love to play Captain Hook [in Peter Pan] one day. That would be my dream panto role,” he says.

Faye Campbell’s “independent, modern-day” Cinderella

Faye Campbell tweeted her excitement at returning to York today to prepare for tomorrow afternoon’s resumption of stage business. Just as she had been excited at landing the title role. “I got a first taste of working with Juliet last year when I was in the Travelling Pantomime that we took around the city.

“We did a few performances on the main stage at the start and the end of the run, putting the Travelling Pantomime set on that stage, so I have been on a ‘stage’ on that stage before!”

Faye previously did a school tour of Snow White in late 2018, in the title role. “It was similar to the Travelling Pantomime, going to community centres and primary schools for hour-long performances,” she recalls. “Now, Cinderella is my first panto on a theatre main stage.”

As a child, Faye went to pantomimes at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre (and sometimes at Birmingham Hippodrome too). “We used to go every year, and it was my first experience of theatre, as it is for many families,” she says.

“That’s why panto is so special for everyone: they go to pantomimes, even if they don’t go to anything else. Pantomime is more accessible, which I think is important.”

When Faye does not have an acting commitment, she works at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre as an usher. “For a lot of people in the industry, we can’t pretend work has not been slow or hard to get, but it’s just exciting to see theatres re-opening – and it’s very emotional for theatres to be able to present pantomimes again,” she says.

Her Cinderella fits the 21st century style of the Theatre Royal and Evolution co-production. “I’m playing her more as an independent, modern-day woman,” says Faye. “I think it’s important to represent a strong, independent woman today, with the same themes as before but with an edge to her.”

Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

Benjamin Lafayette could not have had a more contrasting start to his professional career, first making his debut in the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello at The Mill Theatre, Dundrum, South Dublin, followed by his pantomime bow as Prince Charming in Cinderella.

“This is my first time in York, my first time working with Evolution Productions,” says Benjamin, continuing the theme of firsts. “It came about through my agent. I got the call in a busy period because I’d just found out I was going to do Othello in Dublin.

“I was already packing my bags, and then my agent said, ‘Oh, I have an audition for you for a pantomime’. I’d never done a panto, but I’m the kind of person who will give anything a shot’.”

His audition negotiated successfully, Benjamin headed off to Dublin, and then briefly to York. “The launch day for Cinderella was during my rehearsals for Othello, so I flew in and out on the same day,” he says. “I’d just rehearsed Othello’s final scene, and then had to fly in and be…charming at the Theatre Royal launch!”

What an experience was in store for him under the direction of Geoff O’Keefe in Dublin. “Safe to say, I was exhausted after every show, doing two performances a day after the intensive rehearsal period,” he recalls.

There was no hiding place; there was so much to do, but it was brilliant. I’m still quite young, and playing Othello so young, at 24, was really special to do so early in my career. It was a real learning experience and I’ve really grown as an actor, realising the importance of different stage crafts.”

Performing in a cast with seven Irish actors, alongside Michael Ford from Surrey, Birmingham-born Benjamin drew good reviews – or so he was told. “I really try not to read them at the time, but from what my family and friends said, it went really well,” he says.

Benjamin completed his Othello run on October 22, and when he began rehearsals in York in November, doing pantomime initially “felt really foreign”, but gradually “the glitter of it all” took over.

“Prince Charming is seen as one of the ‘straight’ panto characters but we’ve been given licence by Juliet to have fun with our characters, which is an actor’s dream,” he says. “There are definitely moments of wanting to be part of the joke.”

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his misbehaving monkey puppet, Gordon

Plenty of the humour in Cinderella emanates from Max Fulham and his irrepressible Monkey in the ventriloquist’s York Theatre Royal debut.

Already he has a prestigious award to his name: Best Speciality Act at the Great British Pantomime Awards from his 2019-2020 season in Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. “Because of lockdown, I received that award at home, eating crisps, getting a nice little trophy,” says Max. “I was in such esteemed company: I think we beat Sooty and a dance group.”

He began doing ventriloquism – talking with his mouth closed – at the age of nine. “The puppet came first. I’ve always loved puppets, and I’m from the era where it’s not like I saw someone doing a ventriloquist act at a theatre. No, I saw a video on YouTube,” says Max.

“I typed in ‘puppet’, watched a ventriloquist, watched some more, old and new, and I became obsessed with everything, from Paul Zerdin and Jeff Dunham to the earlier talents of Arthur Worsley and Ray Alan, who was the master technique-wise. Phenomenal.”

Max first acquired a monkey puppet when he was ten. “I named him Gordon and he stayed with  me as I developed routines, starting to do children’s parties when I was 12/13, in Farnham, after we’d moved from Scotland, where I’d lived from when I was four to 11,” he says.

“I grew up there watching acts at the Edinburgh Fringe every summer, which made me think ‘I could do this’. I used to do shows for my grandmother when my parents were out at work, and I did my first paid gig for £25 when I was 12 for old people in a hall at a New Year’s party.”

Max performed his ventriloquist act throughout his school years. “Yes, of course I was seen as an oddball as I was talking to myself, though comedy is a social survival mechanism for us oddballs,” he says.

“It meant I could entertain people and I’ve always loved making people laugh. Now I can be a professional oddball, and a professional twit is a good thing to be. I like being unusual!”

Max was still in the sixth form when he did his first pantomime in 2017. “I was just turning 18, and I’d just learned to drive and had to drive from Surrey to Lincolnshire, so that was a baptism of fire, as was doing pantomime, because it’s so full-on. It’s great fun but it demands a lot of hard work,” he says.

He has performed in panto each winter since that Spalding debut, taking him to Cambridge, Bromley and the Garrick Theatre in Lichfield last year. “We managed to do our rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk, but saw what was developing, so we did a film version that was then streamed online when the performances were cancelled,” Max says.

Thankfully, this winter, Fulham has been able to perform to the Max in Cinderella…until the Covid outbreak in the cast intervened, but now the show can go on again in the finishing straight.

Cinderella’s remaining performances at York Theatre Royal: Thursday, 2.30pm, 7pm; Friday, 11am, 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1pm, 5.30pm. Tickets are available for all shows on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

UPDATE at 1.55pm on December 30

EVERYONE from the Cinderella principal cast is back on stage today except for Sarah Leatherbarrow. Amy Hammond, from the ensemble, will deputise as the Fairy.

Guitarist and bass player Luke Gaul is the musical director in place of Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price. Christian Mortimer, from the ensemble, is missing too. All three absences are Covid-related.