YORK Theatre Royal’s St Valentine’s Day reopening has been given the kiss-off by the Lockdown 3 strictures.
As the killjoy Covid curse strikes again, The Love Season is being postponed, but socially distanced love will out in the end.
Tickets were due to go on sale tomorrow (8/1/2021), but the launch has been put on hold while theatre programmers rethink plans for a season to be performed to a Covid-secure reduced capacity.
Explaining the inevitable decision, chief executive Tom Bird says: “We are committed to spreading the love and sharing the joy of live theatre with The Love Season as soon as we are able to do so safely. We’ll be announcing our revised plans and reopening date as soon as possible.
“The Love Season is designed to remind us that human connection – love, sympathy, kindness, mutual understanding, warmth, equality – is what makes us the wonderful human beings we are. In 2021 we want to celebrate humanity, our own community and a sense of togetherness.
“We want to do that with words, music, dancing, film and even food! It’s going to be fun and we can’t wait.”
Aside from two previews of York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime on a pop-up stage on December 2 and 3, the Theatre Royal auditorium has remained dark since the March shutdown.
Once the green light is given, The Love Season will be played to a main-house capacity reduced from 750 to a socially distanced 345.
When first announced, the season was to have opened with a York In Love “special event” on February 14, to be followed by plays from around the world embracing love in its many forms, running until April 21.
First up, booked in for February 16 to 20, was the debut tour of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, a one-woman show for Coronation Street and Broadchurch actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, premiered at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in 2019, when she won the The Stage Edinburgh Award for her performance.
The putative 2021 itinerary took in further Yorkshire shows at Hull Truck Theatre, from January 29 to February 6, and the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from March 9 to 13.
Recalling the play’s roots, Hesmondhalgh said: “I had a notion, a romantic notion, that my husband, the writer Ian Kershaw, should write a one-woman show for me and we could tour it together into our dotage, like travelling troubadours (or something).
“A couple of Christmases ago, Ian kept disappearing to the cellar for an hour at a time, wrapping presents maybe, I thought. And then he presented me with this lovely thing.
“A beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one – literally! – about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark on the world – and maybe beyond – that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy.
“It was the best present I ever got. In these dark and confusing times, it offers a bit of love and light as we end this difficult year and enter 2021 with fresh hope.”
The Love Season programme also includes the premiere of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad And Me, one of the productions postponed when the Theatre Royal had to close.
Theatre Royal associate director John R Wilkinson directs writer-performer Munyevu in this co-production with English Touring Theatre: a one-man show that charts the rise and fall of Robert Mugabe, the controversial Zimbabwean revolutionary and president, through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father.
Watch this space for updates on the revised Love Season.
Did you know?
YORK Theatre Royal has been granted the use of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre’s See It Safely mark. This certification affirms the theatre is complying with the latest Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and audiences.
AFTER a year where killjoy Covid-19 re-wrote the arts and events diary over and over again, here comes 2021, when the pandemic will still have a Red Pen influence.
Armed with a pantomime fairy’s magic wand rather than Madame Arcati’s crystal ball from Blithe Spirit, when what we need is a jab in the arm pronto, Charles Hutchinson picks out potential highlights from the New Year ahead that York will start in Tier 3.
Back on screen: Velma Celli, Large & Lit In Lockdown Again, streaming on January 8
AFTER his “Fleshius Creepius” panto villain in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, Ian Stroughair was planning to pull on his drag rags for a live Velma Celli show in January, and maybe more shows to follow, at his adopted winter home of Theatre @41 Monkgate.
Instead, he writes: “Darlings, as we head back into a lockdown in York, I am back on the streaming! My first show is next Friday at 8pm. I would love you to join me for an hour of camp cabaret fun! Get those requests and shout-outs in!” Tickets for Virtual Velma start at £10 via http://bit.ly/3nVaa4N; expect an online show every Friday from Ian’s new riverside abode.
Open-air one-off event of the summer: Shed Seven, The Piece Hall, Halifax, June 26
FRESH from releasing live album Another Night, Another Town as a reminder of what everyone has had to miss in 2020, Shed Seven have confirmed their Piece Hall headliner in Halifax has been rearranged for next summer.
The Sheds have picked an all-Yorkshire support bill of Leeds bands The Wedding Present and The Pigeon Detectives and fast-rising fellow York act Skylights. For tickets, go to lunatickets.co.uk or seetickets.com.
Most anticipated York exhibition of 2021: Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years, York Art Gallery, May 28 to September 5
CHANNEL 4’s champion of people’s art in lockdown, Grayson Perry, will present his Covid-crocked 2020 exhibition of “lost pots” at the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) next spring and summer instead.
The Pre-Therapy Years reassembles Perry’s earliest forays into ceramics; 70 “explosive and creative works” he made between 1982 and 1994. Look out too for the potter, painter, TV presenter and social commentator’s existentialist September 6 gig at York Barbican: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, wherein he will “distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can”.
A pantomime in the spring? Yes, The Great Yorkshire Easter Pantomime in a tent on Knavesmire, York, March 19 to April 11
CHRIS Moreno, director of Three Bears’ Productions four pantomimes at the Grand Opera House from 2016 to 2019, will direct York’s first ever “tentomime”, Aladdin, this spring with a cast of “21 colourful characters”.
The Great Yorkshire Easter Pantomime will be presented in the luxurious, heated Tented Palace, Knavesmire, in a socially distanced configuration compliant with Covid-19 guidance.
The big top will have a capacity of 976 in tiered, cushioned seating, while the stage will span 50 metres, comprising a palace façade, projected scenery and magical special effects. Look out for the flying carpets.
Falling in love again with theatre: The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, February 14 to April 21
ON December 15, York Theatre Royal announced plans to reopen on St Valentine’s Day for The Love Season, with the audience capacity reduced from 750 to a socially distanced 345.
Full details will be confirmed in the New Year with tickets going on sale on January 8, and that remains the case, says chief executive Tom Bird, after hearing yesterday afternoon’s statement to the House of Commons by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“We’re carrying on with our plans, including presenting Coronation Street and Broadchurch actor Julie Hesmondhalgh in husband Ian Kershaw’s one-woman play, The Greatest Play In The History Of The World, from February 16 to 20,” he confirmed.
Six of the best at York Barbican in 2021
YORK Barbican has remained closed since the March lockdown, foregoing even the UK Snooker Championships in November and December.
A reopening date is yet to be announced but mark these shows in your diary, if only in pencil: Rob Brydon, A Night Of Songs & Laughter, April 14; Jimmy Carr, Terribly Funny, May 2; country duo The Shires, May 23; Van Morrison, May 25 and 26; Paul Weller, June 29, and Rufus Wainwright, Unfollow The Rules Tour, October 13.
Anniversary celebration of the year: York Open Studios, April 17 and 18; 24 and 25, 10am to 5pm
2020 turned into a virtual Open Studios with displays online and in windows, but already 140 artists and makers are confirmed for the 20th anniversary event in the spring when they will show and sell their work within their homes and workspaces.
Many of 2020’s selected artists have deferred their space to 2021, but new additions will be announced soon, the website teases. “We’re channelling the optimism and enthusiasm from all our artists to ensure this year’s 20th show is one of the best,” says event co-founder and ceramicist Beccy Ridsdel.
And what about?
Festivals galore, as always, in the self-anointed “City of Festivals”. Coming up are the Jorvik Viking Festival; York Fashion Week; York Literature Festival; York Early Music Festival; York Festival of Ideas, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and more besides.
YORK Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime has been brought to a sudden stop by the Spectre of Christmas Present: the rapid rise in Covid cases in York.
Nevertheless, despite the loss of four post-Christmas shows this week, the decision to go on the road to as many of York’s 21 wards as possible has been vindicated.
Creative director Juliet Forster’s cast of Josh Benson’s rubber-bodied comic turn, Reuben Johnson’s Meerkat-accented villain, Anna Soden’s bass-playing funky fairy, Faye Campbell’s assertive hero and Robin Simpson’s droll dame played to full house after full house.
Despite no recorded transmission of the virus at any performance from December 2 to 23, the Theatre Royal has ruled the show must not go on, foregoing the resumption of its 70-minutes-straight-through, socially distanced touring production, having initially added a handful of post-Christmas shows.
Exit stage left too early, but we still learnt that Josh “Just Joshing” Benson, pocket-dynamo York magician, clown, comic, actor and children’s entertainer, is a natural fit for the silly billy/daft lad role. No magic tricks this time, but that skill is up his sleeve for the future.
Likewise, Robin Simpson’s dame, less outwardly demonstrative but more subtly sophisticated than the average panto man in a dress, is utterly comfortable, cheekily conspiratorial and joyful in the most revered of all pantomime parts.
So far, so good, but the still-blossoming Josh is tied into a contract as the Viaduct Theatre’s pantomime comic turn in Halifax, after making his debut there in Beauty And The Beast last winter, while Robin lives in Huddersfield, where he is bedded in as the Lawrence Batley Theatre’s dame. Both are set to return to fruitful past pastures next winter.
Johnson, York actor Soden and Campbell all made their mark too in shows blessed with terrific scripts by Paul Hendy, the award-winning co-founder of Evolution Productions, the Theatre Royal’s new partner in pantomime.
The handing-over of the panto baton after last winter’s toxic severance from Berwick Kaler’s 41-year venerated damehood should have seen the triumvirate of Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, creative director Juliet Forster and Evolution director, producer and writer Paul Hendy presenting Cinderella on the main-house stage.
However, the pestilent Coronavirus pandemic cancelled invitations to the ball, after the St Leonard’s Place building was cast into darkness on March 16. Lockdown 1 and ever-changing rules ensued but in mid-September, the panto trio made the decision to take theatre to the people in the form of the pop-up Travelling Pantomime.
Each location, ranging from church halls to community centres, the Theatre Royal pop-up stage to social clubs and sports halls, had to be Covid-secure, adhering to Government guidance for staging socially distanced performances with capacities ranging from 35 to 50.
At each show, the audience members could vote for whether they wanted to see Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk or Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
Hendy switched smoothly to this new writing task, for a cast of five, with no dance ensemble and no house band: just another challenge faced by Evolution Productions, who have still been involved in seven pantomime productions in this Covid-compromised year.
“In a strange way, I quite enjoyed Lockdown, time with the kids, and not the constant pressure of putting on shows; just the contrast of going out and listening to the birds,” says Paul.
Once the path ahead became clearer, although still shrouded in uncertainty, he and Evolution set to work on co-producing six shows, along with Paul providing the York scripts and directing Dick Whittington, The Pompey Panto at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth.
From Operation Sleeping Beauty to Nurse Nanny Saves Panto to Damian Saves Panto, Paul penned a series of one-off new shows attuned to Covid times, while his York scripts sought to bottle and preserve the essence of pantomime.
“Awaiting the Government pandemic update on December 16, all we could do was roll with it, go ahead and start rehearsals – which qualified as ‘going to work’ and set about our aim to save pantomime,” says Paul.
“It doesn’t feel fair that the Government can say, ‘No, you can’t go ahead’, when there’s no evidence there’s been an outburst of Covid after theatres reopened with social distancing, especially as a lot of theatres have spent a lot of money on the infrastructure to make theatres a safe place to go, but what can we do?
“But then the pandemic is not fair on anyone in all sorts of industries, and that’s why, at this time, people needed pantomime more than ever.”
Thankfully, York’s Tier 2 status ensured that the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime could roll out across York with Hendy’s scripts built around the baddie trying to steal the essence of pantomime. “The shows had to be full of laughter, community spirit and topical gags, as there’s so much material there this year,” he says.
Paul relished the opportunity to take pantomime into all manner of venues. “I’ve always said that pantomime can work in a black-box setting with just five actors because of that compact configuration and connection with the audience, and this year that’s what’s happened,” he says.
“It still works because pantomime is an interactive theatre genre – and how many other forms of theatre can you say appeal to five year olds and 95 year olds alike?”
One emotion above all others permeated through Paul’s pantos. “The one thing I always want to do is bring joy, make it funny of course, but ultimately make it a show driven by joy – and we did that,” he says.
Josh Benson and Robin Simpson may not be back in Theatre Royal colours next winter, but Paul Hendy most definitely will, when Cinderella and York alike will have a ball.
THE wheels have come off York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime within touching distance of the final curtain.
The rapid rise in York’s Coronavirus cases has brought the runaway success of the sold-out show to a shuddering halt as the Covid curse strikes yet again.
Despite no recorded transmission of the virus at any performance so far, the Theatre Royal has decided the show must not go on, foregoing the resumption its 70-minutes-straight-through, socially distanced, Covid-secure touring production, having initially added a handful of post-Christmas shows.
The rolling seven-day Covid rate for the City of York Council area in the week to December 23 was 218.4 per 100,000 population, higher than the regional average of 189.1 for Yorkshire and The Humber, and the big-city rates of 172.4 in Sheffield, 190.6 in Bradford and 184.8 in Leeds, but still much lower than the national average for England of 401.9.
The figure is higher than the average of 174.7 for North Yorkshire and 179.1 for East Yorkshire. Most disturbingly, York’s rate his risen steeply since a figure of 65 cases per 100,000 population a fortnight ago, an acceleration to which the influx of rule-breaking Tier 3 visitors and Christmas shoppers is thought likely to have contributed.
Explaining the decision, Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird says: “It is with great regret we have decided that the pantomime will not resume for its post-Christmas performances. This has been a tough decision to make, but we feel it is the right one.
“I pay tribute to the whole of the York Theatre Royal team for producing so many performances under such extraordinary conditions, and their diligence and hard work is borne out by the fact that we have no recorded transmission of the virus at the pantomime.”
After two previews at the Theatre Royal, the Travelling Pantomime team took the show to community venues in Tang Hall, Dunnington, Wigginton, Holgate, Clifton Moor, Elvington, Poppleton, Acomb, Carr Lane, Strensall, Copmanthorpe, Fulford, Heworth and Guildhall, to meet the aim of visiting all 21 wards in the city.
This week’s performances by Josh Benson’s comic turn, Robin Simpson’s dame, Anna Soden’s fairy, Faye Campbell’s hero and Reuben Johnson’s villain would have taken the company close to that target by the December 31 finale.
“The theatre wants to thank the brilliant audiences, who have supported the pantomime in their local venues, and City of York Council, who have helped to distribute over 200 free tickets to families in need on the run-up to Christmas.”
Box-office staff will be in touch with ticket holders for cancelled performances in the next few days. Those shows would have taken place at Moor Lane Youth Centre, Dringhouses, last night; Southlands Methodist Church Hall, Bishopthorpe Road, tonight, and York Theatre Royal, tomorrow and Thursday.
The York Theatre Royal pantomime, co-produced with 2020 pantomime partners Evolution Productioms, will return to the main house for Cinderella from December 3 to January 2 2022.
Now that the Traveling Pantomime van has parked up for the last time, CharlesHutchPress can reveal that each audience’s vote to pick a panto from Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk and Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs in reality came down to a choice of two.
Courtesy of writer Paul Hendy, each show’s early gag about the Rule of Six ruled out the Seven Dwarfs. “We had to lose one of the dwarfs,” said Robin Simpson’s dame. “Wasn’t Happy!” Boom! Boom!
YORK’S other pantomime, York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, will continue to run at Theatre @41 Monkgate, unless the Government’s Covid briefing tomorrow pronounces a change in York’s Tier 2 status.
Writer-director Nik Briggs’s show has upcoming performances until January 3 2021 with full details at yorkstagepanto.com. Watch this space for an update tomorrow.
REVIEW: York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, New Earswick Folk Hall, York, 5/12/2020
NO Rolling Stones show goes by without rock’n’roll’s greatest paleontological survivor, Keith Richards, leaning into his microphone to mumble: “It’s good to be here…it’s good to be anywhere”.
Lo and behold, “It’s great to be here…it’s kind of great to be anywhere,” says York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime’s comic turn, Josh “Just Joshing” Benson, at the outset of Saturday evening’s Covid-secure, socially distanced, temperature-tested, bubble-seated pantomime.
How right he is. Saturday was day four of the new dawn of the York Theatre Royal pantomime, the first after 40 years in the wildness of the Dame Berwick Kaler era. Until Covid-19 became the joyless new villain, out to destroy the land of theatre, Cinderella was to have marked the transition from Kaler capers to a new partnership with regular Great British Pantomime Award winners Evolution Productions.
When invitations to the ball turned to cinders, chief executive Tom Bird, creative director Juliet Forster and Evolution writer-director Paul Hendy decided to tear up the script and compose three new ones instead to take the panto to the people.
Hence it is indeed great to be here, there and everywhere, because, while the Theatre Royal main stage awaits resuscitation in 2021, the Travelling Pantomime will definitely be pitching up at 16 of York’s 21 wards, possibly more if Covid-safe passage can yet be guaranteed to others. At least four more shows are being lined up for after Christmas and a recording of the second-night preview will be made available for streaming soon too.
On Saturday, New Earswick Folk Hall was transformed into a theatre for the first time, creating an impromptu stage with Hannah Sibai’s red-curtained, green-framed travelling theatre frontage and a traditional pantomime backdrop.
Everything is slimmed down – a cast of five, no ensemble, no live band, no interval, no panto cow, but less just means being more inventive and cramming so much into what we are told will be an hour but stretches gladly well beyond.
Edinburgh Fringe shows work to tight running times, and quality, not quantity, rules here too. To Paul Hendy, that means bottling up the “the essence of panto” and right now, in Covid-19 2020, that essence is Joy.
Once we are introduced not just to Just Josh’s rubber-bodied comic, but also Robin Simpson’s classic dame, Faye Campbell’s modern hero, super-tall Reuben Johnson’s villain and Anna Soden’s trumpet/guitar/bass-playing fairy, we must vote for our choice of show: Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk or Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Seven dwarves, note; there is a knock-out joke a’coming.
Jack won out on Saturday: Josh becoming, well, Josh, with the daftest streak of blond in his hair since Kevin Petersen pummelled 158 against Australia with a skunk plonked on his bonce in 2005. He is a lovably daft ball of energy, cheeky but not saucy, and if he kept his magic tricks up his sleeve this time, what an asset for the future.
Simpson, on loan from Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre, is the penniless but pun-full, mirthful Dame Trott, reaching for both a cuppa and the gin; Johnson, all in black with a dash of red to match his Russian accent, is a Flesh Creep with an amusingly dismissive air and a mischievous hint of Borat.
Campbell’s Jack must fight the old prejudices against girls being fit for purpose for heroic tasks while keeping the name Jack. Soden’s rapping, funky, blue and pink-haired Fairy is more likely to hit the bass line than wave a wand, as flashy as her lit-up boots.
Juliet Forster directs with momentum, brio and thrills rather than frills, complemented by Hayley Del Harrison’s fun, compact choreography and musical director James Harrison’s rapid-fire bursts of high-energy songs.
Yes, there is a beanstalk and a Giant called Pundemic. Above all, York Theatre Royal have hit the jackpot with Paul Hendy’s script-writing prowess, love of a double-act routine and a knowingly contrived, convoluted path to a pay-off line.
He handles the pandemic crisis with a success rate to make the Government jealous, throwing in topical references galore with witty, often unpredictable Pandemime punchlines, but nothing insensitive in such traumatic times.
A magazine title slapstick to-and-fro between Benson and Simpson is already a contender for panto scene of the year, and if there are jokes for adults, Hendy favours a Gilbert O’Sullivan song title, rather than adult material or in-jokes.
Pantomime 1, Pandemic 0, the Travelling Pantomime triumphs on its already sold-out run to December 23. Hendy will be back next winter for the full Evolution to roll out; Benson is due to return to the Victoria Theatre panto in Halifax next Christmas, alas, but his Theatre Royal day will surely come, even if he can’t magic his way out of that one.
THIS is a sentence that could not have been foreseen at the outset of 2021: all performances of York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime have sold out.
This was the year when the first Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions co-production of the post-Dame Berwick Kaler era should have been Cinderella, but Covid-19 cancelled all invitations to the ball.
Instead, in a tempestuous year like no other for theatre at large, the Theatre Royal vowed that if audiences could not come to the theatre, then now was the time to take theatre to the people.
Permitted by the Government’s Covid-secure regulations to “go to work” to rehearse behind closed doors through Lockdown 2, creative director Juliet Forster’s Travelling players have now been given the green light for the December tour by York’s Tier 2 status.
Preview performances last night and tonight on a pop-up stage at the Theatre Royal – the first shows inside the St Leonard’s Place building since the March shutdown – will warm up comic Josh Benson, dame Robin Simpson, fairy Anna Soden, hero Faye Campbell and villain Reuben Johnson for socially distanced shows in Covid-secure church halls, village halls, community centres, schools, a reading room and even an hotel.
Chief executive Tom Bird is delighted the show can go ahead, or, more precisely, each show’s audience choice from three pantomimes penned by Evolution Productions’ Paul Hendy: Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk and Snow White.
“A huge amount of work has gone into the Travelling Pantomime already, organising everything with the venues, and it’s great that every show has sold out, so people are really interested in getting back to seeing shows,” he says.
“The plan was to tour to all 21 York wards, and it’s touch and go whether we’ll do that, but we’ve added Strensall – sold out already! – to take the total to 16 and we’re still in negotiations with others.
“The venues have to be right, we have to be sure they are Covid-safe and that’s quite a challenge in some venues, but we’re still hopeful of adding a few more.”
For those unable to see a live performance, the Theatre Royal will be filming tonight’s preview on the Theatre Royal main stage for streaming from a date yet to be confirmed.
Tom watched the tech rehearsal last Friday, as the treading of boards returned to the Theatre Royal. “The whole atmosphere felt heavy with emotion,” he says. “After the year we’ve all had, it must be like a shop opening again or a pub landlord re-opening.
“Just seeing the lights on and watching Juliet directing, it’s so exciting to be back, not yet back as we knew it before, but at least we’re back. Being on home turf for the first game of the season feels good.”
Tom believes the early decision to mount a Travelling Pantomime in a year of so much uncertainty has proved judicious. “We felt basically that for a number of reasons getting out and about was the best way to go this year. We know that transport can be complicated in the pandemic, so it’s best to keep the shows local,” he says.
“We could have done shows to 344 people with social distancing at the Theatre Royal, and that would have been completely legal, but we still felt the Travelling Pantomime was the best thing for now, showing a generosity of spirit to the city.
“Mounting a Christmas show was always going to be a logistical Everest in 2020, whether at the Theatre Royal or on the road, but it just felt crucial to do it. It’s so important for us, it truly is, because you want to give people a laugh but also to remind people that we are here.”
Rehearsals have been joyful, even under the shadow of the pandemic. “Juliet has really enjoyed it; the creative team have really enjoyed it, and we have a good mix of actors, some comparatively new to pantomime, some who’ve done zillions.
“Every week in rehearsals and every second day during the production run, they’re being Covid-tested, which does put everyone at east. It costs quite a lot, but it’s absolutely been worth it.”
Tom has had to oversee a pandemic-blighted year when ticket income all but dried up until the Travelling Pantomime; the neighbouring De Grey Rooms lease was not renewed, and 16 redundancies had to be made.
In October, the Theatre Royal was awarded £230,000 from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to help the theatre until March, having earlier received £196,493 from Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund in July to cover the fallow months until September.
The latter grant will facilitate the Theatre Royal looking to the future, with Tom taking on the new title of chief executive, replacing his executive director tag. “It’s more for ease of messaging within the system. It’s just for tidying things up,” he says. “Nothing more than that.”
Juliet Forster switches from associate director to creative director. “I’m not the world’s biggest fan of ‘associate’ titles, especially when Juliet is absolutely crucial to the theatre – she’s been with the Theatre Royal for 13 years.”
After focusing on Pop Up On The Patio festival and the Traveling Pantomime since summer, now Tom and the artistic planning team, including producer Thom Freeth and artistic associate John Wilkinson, are turning their attention to re-opening the Theatre Royal.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve started to arrive at a position where we’re formulating a way of re-opening with social distancing, as we’ve been in receipt of funds [from the Cultural Recovery Fund],” says Tom.
“We don’t yet have a date in mind, but we’re planning to open maybe sooner than the spring. We’ll get through the pantomime first and then make an announcement not long after that.”
For full details on the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime itinerary, go to yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
LOCKDOWN 2 wears the mask of uncertainty for another fortnight until the next Government proclamation on when and how it will all end in tiers.
Leaving predictions to the betting shops, this column will state the facts as they stand now on what – definitely or hopefully – will be happening in the weeks and months ahead as we wait for a prick to make a difference.
Charles Hutchinson consults his diary, written in pencil just in case, to help to fill yours.
Virtual shopping goes arty for Christmas: York River Art Market online
AFTER summer stalls by the Ouse were Covid-cancelled, York River Art Market will host a series of online markets in the lead-up to Christmas.
The #yramathome Virtual Winter Art Markets will run from 10am to 5pm each Sunday from November 22 to December 20, plus the last Saturday before Christmas Day, December 19.
Online shoppers can browse and buy artworks from a selection of 20-plus different “indie makers” at each market day via Instagram. Information on each weekend’s makers, along with instructions on how to shop, will be shared via the York River Art Market (YRAM) Facebook page.
Exhibition of the week: The Christmas Show, Blue Tree Gallery, York, online initially
ORIGINAL paintings by Colin Cook, Giuliana Lazzerini, Nikki Monaghan and Sharon Winter feature in The Christmas Show, the latest Blue Tree Gallery exhibition in York until January 16 2021.
Lockdown 2 means the show is starting online only at bluetreegallery.co.uk/christmas-show-2020, but the Bootham gallery will re-open in December, subject to the new Government rules and regulations.
Driftwood sculptures by Natalie Parr, Christmas-themed ceramics by Kath Cooper and oxidised steel hanging decorations by David Mayne will be tempting Christmas buyers too.
Live-stream of the Week: Say Owt’s Lovely Lockdown Lyricism, Friday (20/11/20200), 7pm to 7.45pm
SAY Owt, York’s battleground for warring wordsmiths in slam clashes and regular host to spoken-word artists du jour, switches to online transmission for a night of alliteratively entitled Lovely Lockdown Lyricism.
Whirling wisps of wordy wonder in Livestream 2: In Owt/Shake It All About, will be Say Owt’s A-team of anarchic administrator Henry Raby, co-founder Stu Freestone, associate artist Dave Jarman and playwright, tutor, theatre director and slam champ Hannah Davies.
Tune in for “good Friday vibes” at facebook.com/events/283791622875447. Looking ahead, Say Owt hopes to re-convene in socially distanced mode at The Crescent, York, on December 11.
Let it snow in York: Badapple Theatre Company, The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, December 5, 2.30pm, 7.30pm; December 6, 1pm, 6pm
GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre are to revive their 2019 Christmas show, The Snow Dancer, for two days only at the Covid-secure JoRo Theatre, newly equipped with chair wraps to denote the socially distanced seating plan.
Last year’s cast of Anastasia Benham and Danny Mellor will re-assemble to perform writer-director Kate Bramley’s cautionary global-warming tale, set in the Great Wood, where something is awry.
The animals are desperate for sleep, but with the onset of climate change, the weather is just too warm. Step in Mellor and Benham’s intrepid heroes, who decide they must seek out the mysterious Snow Dancer if there is to be any chance of ever making it snow for Christmas.
Christmas concert at home: Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Day, December 12, 7.30pm
THE 2020 Kate Rusby At Christmas tour will not be happening, ruling out her South Yorkshire pub carol concert at York Barbican on December 20.
However, in response to the Covid restrictions, the Barnsley folk nightingale has decided to go online instead, presenting Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Day on December 12.
At this special concert, streamed worldwide, expect all the usual Rusby Christmas ingredients: familiar Carols but set to unfamiliar tunes; wintry Rusby songs; sparkly dress, twinkling lights; her regular folk band and brass quintet; Ruby Reindeer and a fancy-dress finale. For tickets, go to: katerusby.com/happy-holly-day/
Drive-in home for Christmas: Daisy Dukes Winter Wonderland, Elvington Airfield, near York, December 18 to 20
AFTER Knavesmire in July and Rufforth Airfield for Halloween, the apostrophe-shy Daisy Dukes Drive-in Cinema finds a new Covid-secure home for Christmas: Elvington Airfield. Father Christmas, elves and screen characters will be driving by too.
December 18 will offer Frozen 2, Home Alone, Edward Scissorhands and Die Hard; December 19, Elf, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Gremlins and Bad Santa; December 20, The Polar Express, Home Alone 2, Batman Returns and Love Actually.
The Friday and Saturday programmes will start at 12 noon; the Sunday shows at 11am. Audio will be transmitted via a specially assigned FM frequency direct to vehicles’ radios and food can be delivered to customers’ cars.
Looking ahead to 2021: Red Rose stalwarts James and Happy Mondays to invade the White Rose
JAMES have had to forego their traditional winter tour in 2020. Moving on, however, they will play Leeds First Direct Arena on November 25 2021, supported by fellow Manchester mavericks Happy Mondays.
“Feels like a new dawn to trumpet a celebratory tour, a week after the first news of hope,” said Clifford-raised frontman Tim Booth on Twitter. ”So looking forward to seeing you.”
Tickets will go on general sale from 9.30am tomorrow with more details on the Live page at wearejames.com. Look out for a new James live double album and DVD, Live In An Extraordinary World, on December 11.
And what about?
As trailered previously, York has two upcoming pantomimes. York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will be making its way around all 21 wards from early December with a choice of three shows, Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Snow White.
York Stage will be full of beans from December 11 to January 3 at Theatre @41 Monkgate with writer-director Nik Briggs’s production of Jack And The Beanstalk, choreographed by West End hotshot Gary Lloyd.
At home, TV is in the crowning season: The Crown season four and The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and the crowning of The Great British Bake Off champion on Channel 4 on Tuesday night.
Albums to discover: Elvis Costello’s Hey Clockface; Fleet Foxes’ Shore, This Is The Kit’s Off Off On and, what joy, Songhoy Blues’ Optimisme.
STORY Craft Theatre’s Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance are to provide 21 hours of craft and storytelling fun this month to raise vital funds for York charity Shine21.
Since Lockdown 1, the pair have moved their interactive storytelling sessions online, attracting audiences from all over the world to their creative and educational classes, held three times a week via Zoom.
Now, Janet and Cassie will host classes for you to enjoy on Zoom on November 27 and 28, running all day each day from 7am. All the duo ask in return is a donation to Shine21.
“There are lots of storybook adventures to choose from: Going On A Bear Hunt, The Gruffalo, Hairy Maclary, Aliens Love Underpants and so many more,” says Cassie. “We’re even providing hour-long interactive craft classes.”
All the sessions can be booked online at: www.bookwhen.com/storycrafttheatre. “As these classes are interactive, numbers are limited, so we advise you to book in advance to avoid disappointment,” says Janet. “Tickets are now on sale.
“This 21-hour storytelling event is an opportunity for you to help Shine21, where you don’t even need to attend the two-day event to donate. So, please feel free to donate whatever you can.”
Story Craft Theatre is a York children’s theatre company run by professional actors and mums Janet Bruce, who appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street in the West End, and Cassie Vallance, part of the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre company at the Castle car park in 2019 and last seen in Park Bench Theatre’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park, York, this summer.
Together, Janet and Cassie have hosted sell-out shows at York Theatre Royal and Goose play centre, at Hornbeam Business Park, Harrogate, and this Christmas, Story Craft Theatre will team up with Matt Aston’s Engine House Theatre at Castle Howard, near York.
From December 4, they will present Stories With Santa In The Courtyard Grotto. “Come and join us for a magical storytelling event here in the historic Courtyard,” they say. “Meet Santa’s helpers as they guide you through into our festive library, where children will get to meet Santa, make their Christmas wishes and settle down to hear a brand new, enchanting winter’s tale, The Snowflake, by popular children’s author Benji Davies.”
Last Christmas, Cassie performed in writer-director Aston’s stage adaptation of Davies’s The Storm Whale at the York Theatre Royal Studio.
The Shine21 charity helps to enhance the lives of children with Down Syndrome and their families. Janet Bruce’s second child was born with Down Syndrome and a heart condition, both being discovered after birth.
“The diagnosis was unexpected and at first, scary, but the support and advice offered by Shine21 was phenomenal,” says Janet. “Shine21 have supported me and my family every step of the way and introduced us to others who have been through a similar experience.
“The charity does invaluable work to help children and their families, but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they have not been able to raise the vital funds they need this year. So, we’re providing this chance for you to help Shine21.”
For Castle Howard bookings, go to castlehoward.co.uk/whats-on/Christmas for more details.
REHEARSALS are underway for York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, the neighbourhood show that will tour to all 21 wards in York.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s confirmation that theatre rehearsals could continue behind closed doors during Lockdown 2, despite all entertainment venues being closed from November 5, has facilitated director Juliet Forster bringing the cast together for sessions in the Covid-secure billiards room in the De Grey Rooms.
“It was a huge relief,” says Juliet, the Theatre Royal’s associate director. “We anticipated he would because he’d said film and TV rehearsals wouldn’t stop, but he hadn’t mentioned theatre at that time, so there was that awful feeling of not knowing, but it was great when the news came out at 9pm that night.”
Welcoming the cast of Robin Simpson, entertainer and magician Josh Benson, actor-musician Anna Soden, Reuben Johnson and Faye Campbell, chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’ve put Covid safety measures in place and will be carefully following Government guidelines over the weeks ahead, but we’re thrilled that we can carry on with our plans to take our pantomime out to the people of York this year.”
Revised dates – moved to a later start after Lockdown 2 was announced – are now in place for a run from December 3, with more to be added. The preview night on a pop-up theatre on York Theatre Royal’s main stage on December 3 will be filmed for broadcast so anyone who misses out on a ticket can still enjoy the show, co-produced by York Theatre Royal and new pantomime partners Evolution Productions.
“Be assured, one way or another, York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime will be coming to you,” says Tom.
“Panto really benefits from the input of the live audience, so that’s why it was always our intention to do the recording in front of an audience,” says Juliet.
Joined in the production team by Pop-Up On The Patio designer Hannah Sibai, choreographer Hayley Del Harrison and musical director James Harrison, Juliet will be working on not one, but three 70-minute pantomimes written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy for each audience to vote whether to see Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington or Snow White.
Three pantomimes? Plenty to rehearse there, Juliet?! “It’s do-able, and thanks to the Government, we have a bit more rehearsal time now,” she says.
A cast of only five will help too. “Because we’re working on a small touring stage, it wouldn’t have made sense to do a big-sized show with a dance ensemble,” says Juliet. “You may lose some spectacle, but in terms of story-telling, chatting with Paul [writer Paul Hendy], we decided that having just the five key characters intensifies the story, investing in each character’s journey.”
Actor and writer Reuben Johnson will play Fleshcreep and Ratticus Flinch, the villain’s roles, after working previously with Juliet last year, appearing as the thoroughly decent Marco in the Theatre Royal’s autumn production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge.
“It was quite a different show from doing a panto!” he says. “We met on Skype to talk about it, and it’s a perfect chance to work on something fun in such dark times.”
“Reuben has such comedic funny bones, which you wouldn’t have seen in A View From The Bridge, but even there he mined a few comic moments,” says Juliet. “Sometimes you get someone in your head when you read a script, and they keep coming back into your head, like Reuben did, even though I think of him as a very serious actor. Some of my best casting has come that way.”
Reuben may be a pantomime debutant but says: “I’m a theatre fan in general. I love Shakespeare, new plays, physical comedy, pantomime. Panto wouldn’t normally be number one, but I enjoy all theatre and we do need some big fun right now.”
Reflecting on taking on the villain’s role, he says: “I’ve played baddies quite a bit, and what I like to think I can bring to them, when playing stereotypical villains, is trying to find the humour and likeability of that character, which really contradicts the audience’s thoughts and expectations about that person.
“When I watched them as a child, I often thought that bad guys were hilarious to be around, very rowdy, exciting. Now I’ve got the chance to go to town with it in pantomime.”
One rule of acting asserts that you do not have to sympathise with the characters you play, but you should at least empathise with them. “As long as you know your motivation, it’s how you then go about playing the villain,” says Reuben.
“In pantomime, you’ll want to hear people both laughing at you and with you. It’s that love/hate thing.”
Robin Simpson was last seen on the Theatre Royal stage in Northern Broadsides’ Much Ado About Nothing in May 2019 and has Theatre Royal credits to his name in The Railway Children, The Wind In The Willows, Pinocchio and Pygmalion.
This winter he returns in the juiciest of all pantomime parts, the Dame, a role he has played for the past three years at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. “This time feels very different because of the current situation and the nature of the show,” says Robin, who played Dame Dolly in Jack And The Beanstalk, Widow Twankey in Aladdin and Nanny Fanny in Sleeping Beauty.
“We didn’t mine that name for any humour, I can assure you! We were all very grown up about it, weren’t we!”
Defining the dame’s importance to pantomime, Robin says: “It’s like being the best kind of party host, being welcoming, over the top, ebullient, everyone’s friend, which is so nice to play.”
In dame tradition, from Dan Leno to Berwick Kaler, he has settled on his distinctive persona. “If you’ve got something that works, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Robin says of the upcoming prospect of playing three variations on Dame Dolly next month.
“My dame is like Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck rolled into one! There won’t be any variation, except trying to remember who I’m playing each time, with the different frocks denoting the character.
“It’s very much a case of the dame generally being a working-class single mother, with numerous children; hard working, straight talking and funny. I’m sort of basing it loosely on northern women when I was growing up. That Ena Sharples character [in Coronation Street], gossiping over the wall; that matriarch; that Les Dawson send-up with Roy Barraclough.
“There’s lots of love there, but she’s also as hard as nails, and you don’t see that much anymore, but hopefully it’s still recognisable. But ultimately with the dame, she comes on stage as a bloke in a dress who tells jokes.”
Lockdown in March turned the lights out on stages across the country but both Johnson and Simpson have sought to keep busy. “I’ve done OK,” says Reuben. “Fortuitously for me, I write as well, doing spoken-word, so I’ve got by on that, with a few little acting jobs as well, but I’ve been craving getting back to work on a stage and that’s not been possible until now. Returning to the rehearsal room has been like a dream.”
Robin, who is also a storyteller, working in schools, libraries and museums all over the country, says: “I don’t want to complain too much because I know people have been going through worse. I’ve worked online, recording stories, learning skills like how to record and creating little films and kids’ stories on Facebook Live for Oldham Libraries,” he says.
“I think there’s merit in recording shows as I can reach places I couldn’t do with live performances for the library service, though you’ll never beat the ‘liveness’ of a show.”
Juliet rejoins: “It all comes back to the shared experience.” “That’s what we’re all desperate for,” says Robin.
“That’s why we couldn’t let go of the need to do a Theatre Royal pantomime this Christmas, even when we knew we weren’t going to be able to open the theatre,” says Juliet. “The prospect of not doing a panto felt wrong.
“We’d talked about community touring and rural touring, and our research told us that audiences would feel more comfortable going to a show locally with their neighbours, rather than coming to the theatre with people from all over the place.
“That’s why we decided to take something so synonymous with Christmas out of the theatre into York’s community centres, church halls and schools for families to have some festive fun with Paul’s shows that are really warm, funny for all ages, packed full of good characters and not innuendo.”
For tickets, dates and more details for The Travelling Pantomime, go to yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
YORK THEATRE ROYAL’S TRAVELLING PANTOMIME schedule of performances. Confirmed so far:
December 2: Members-only preview, York Theatre Royal (pop-up theatre on main stage).
December 3: Preview, York Theatre Royal (pop-up theatre on main stage).
December 4: Tang Hall Community Centre, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 5: New Earswick Folk Hall, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 8: The Reading Room, Dunnington, 7pm.
December 9: Wiggington Recreation Hall, 7pm.
December 10: St Barnabas Primary School, Holgate. Afternoon school performance; public
December 11: Clifton Church Hall, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 12: Elvington Village Hall, Wheldrake, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 13: The Poppleton Centre, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 15: Acomb Parish Hall, 7pm.
December 16: Carr Junior School. Afternoon school performance; public performance, 6pm.
December 18: Copmanthorpe Methodist Church Hall, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 19: Clifton Green Primary School, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 20: York Pavilion Hotel, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 22: Heworth Christ Church, 4.30pm and 7pm.
December 23: Archbishop Holgate’s School, 4.30pm and 7pm.
Additional venues to be confirmed.
Tickets cost £10 for adults, £5 for children, with a maximum party size of six people in a household or support bubble.
Up to 25 per cent of tickets will be made free of charge to families in need this Christmas.
Capacity at some venues is small. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone living in a York city ward.
Did you know?
TRAVELLING Pantomime musical director James Harrison was musical supervisor/director for Evolution Productions’ award-winning 2019-2020 pantomime, Cinderella, at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre. He was awarded the Best Music prize at the Great British Pantomime Awards.
Please note: York Theatre Royal’s planned 2020/21 pantomime, Cinderella, will not go to the ball until next winter.
MARTIN Barrass will be starring in a York pantomime after all this winter.
Dame Berwick’s perennial comic stooge may be missing out on the Covid-cancelled Kaler comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House, but now he will lead the pantomime section of Strictly Xmas Live In The Park.
Presented by the Bev Jones Music Company in a Covid-secure, socially distanced, open-air performance at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, the show will be a one-off on Sunday, December 13 at 2pm.
“I met Lesley Jones, widow of the formidable York producer and director Bev Jones, five or six weeks ago about doing a Christmas show to get people out and about on a crisp winter’s day,” says Martin.
“I’m thrilled to be taking part, and if you’re wondering why I’m wearing black and pink in the publicity picture, they were Bev’s favourite colours.”
Producer Lesley says: “We are delighted to welcome Martin into our company for this special guest appearance and he fits in so well to the company personality. He will lead the audience in the Christmas song with a drop-down song sheet.”
“I’ve chosen the first song-sheet I ever did at the Theatre Royal…about Yorkshire Puddings!” reveals Martin, as he breaks into song from memory: “‘You can’t beat a better bit of batter on your platter than a good old Yorkshire Pud!’
“I did that with Berwick in Sinbad The Sailor in 1984, and I always remember thinking, ‘Are they going to respond?’, but of course they did!” Nobody does it batter, Martin!
Expect a few seasonal jokes too from Barrass, who will be joined in the festive concert’s panto sequence by Melissa Boyd’s Princess, Terry Ford’s villain and Charlotte Wood’s Silly Billy.
“In addition, we’ll have the Dame, the Fairy Godmother, Prince Charming, Jack Ass and other characters,” says Lesley.
“The concert will include all the favourite Christmas songs, such as Santa Baby, Jingle Bell Rock and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, as well as the fun panto section for all the family.
“There’ll be a visit from Santa Claus for all the children, followed by a moving Carols By Candlelight finale, encouraging a sing-along for everyone.”
Rowntree Park Amphitheatre will play host to a non-alcoholic Festive Mulled Wine Van, selling hot drinks for all the family, whether tea, coffee, hot apple juice or children’s drinks, served with light complimentary snacks.
Rehearsals will be held at Rufforth Institute Hall , socially distanced and under a full Covid risk assessment.
All audience members will be temperature tested on arrival and placed into family private bubble areas.