More Things To Do in York and beyond from March 9 onwards. Hutch plays his cards for List No. 11 for 2024, from The Press

2023 Strictly champ Ellie Leach’s Miss Scarlett, front right, with her fellow colourful characters in the new whodunit comedy Cluedo 2, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Alastair Muir

A WHODUNIT comedy, mischievous theatre as a team game, a wicked return, cocktail-bar tales, political satire and one-liners and a very muddy pig are Charles Hutchinson’s clues to the best upcoming shows.

Whodunit, with what and where, of the week: Cluedo 2, York Theatre Royal, March 12 to 16, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

STRICTLY Come Dancing 2023 champion and Coronation Street star Ellie Leach is making her stage acting debut as Miss Scarlett in the world premiere British tour of Cluedo 2, marking the 75th anniversary of the Hasbro boardgame. Next stop, York.

This follow-up to the original play (based on Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film Clue) is an original comedy whodunit, set in the Swinging Sixties, with a script by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Birds Of A Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Dreamboats And Petticoats) and direction by Mark Bell (Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong). Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Ash Hunter’s Macbeth and Jessica Baglow’s Lady Macbeth in Amy Leach’s revival of Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse. Picture: Kirsten McTernan

Something wicked this way comes…again: Macbeth, Leeds Playhouse, until March 23

AMY Leach reactivates her 2022 Leeds Playhouse production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a wickedly good cast, now led by Ash Hunter, who returns to Yorkshire after his terrific Heathcliff in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights at York Theatre Royal.

“Macbeth investigates the nature of belief, love, ambition and desire, asking us to root for two humans who drive each other to do utterly terrible things,” says Leach. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or leedsplayhouse.org.uk.   

Let the games begin: Gemma Curry, left, Claire Morley and Becky Lennon in Hoglets Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Mischief at York Theatre Royal Studio

Shakespeare shake-up of the week: Hoglets Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, York Theatre Royal Studio, March 9, 10.30am

EVERYTHING is kicking off as the fairies in the forest start a fight, but which side will you be on? Team Titania or Team Oberon? York company Hoglets Theatre presents an interactive, fun, larger-than-life production for young children, based on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Expect wild characters, raucous singalong songs, puppets, stunts and some frankly ridiculous disco dancing from director/writer Gemma Curry and fellow cast members Claire Morley and Becky Lennon. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Comedian Matt Green: “Trying to make sense of the world”. Picture: Karla Gowlett

Political satire of the week: Matt Green: That Guy, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March 10, 8pm

THE debut national tour by That Guy (@mattgreencomedy) is a stand-up show full of jokes both political and non-political after he achieved millions of views for his online satirical videos launched in lockdown.

Green is touring his first show “since the madness of Covid/Johnson/Truss/Lord-knows-what-else began”, trying to make sense of the world in another year of elections and culture wars. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Jake Bugg: Playing our city on his Your Town Tour

Singer-songwriter of the week: Jake Bugg, Your Town Tour 2024, York Barbican, Tuesday, doors 7pm

ON his 15-date tour, Nottingham singer-songwriter Jake Bugg is performing two sets per night, first acoustic, then electric, as he rattles through his biggest hits, plus songs from 2021’s top three-charting Saturday Night Sunday Morning.

Two nights earlier, founder member Graham Gouldman leads art pop and soft rock innovators 10cc on their Ultimate Ultimate Greatest Hits Tour 2024 at 7.30pm. Ticket availability is limited. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Peppa Pig’s Fun Day Out: Songs, muddy puddles and snorts at the Grand Opera House

Children’s show of the week: Peppa Pig’s Fun Day Out, Grand Opera House, York, Wednesday, 1pm and 4pm, and Thursday, 10am and 1pm

PEPPA Pig is joined by her family and friends as they head to the zoo and the beach for a special party, with the promise of a fun-packed day. Prepare to sing with colourful scarecrows, feed the penguins, build big sandcastles and even swim in the sea in a show packed with songs, dancing, muddy puddles, giggles and snorts. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Facing the shift from hell in the worst bar in town: Sophie Bullivant, Abi Carter, Holly Smith and Laura Castle in Rowntree Players’ Shakers

Comedy play of the week: Rowntree Players in Shakers, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, March 14 to 16, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

WELCOME to Shakers, the worst bar in town where everyone wants to be seen. Carol, Adele, Niki and Mel face the shift from hell. The lights are neon, the music is loud, and shoes must be smart. No trainers.

Jane Thornton and John Godber’s 1984 comedy exposes the sticky-floored world behind the bar on a busy Saturday night. Here come the girls, the lads, the yuppies and the luvvies, all played by Sophie Bullivant, Laura Castle, Abi Carter and Holly Smith under the direction of Jamie McKeller, who worked previously with Bullivant and Castle on Godber’s Teechers in 2023. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Rebecca Vaughan in Dyad Productions’ Austen’s Women: Lady Susan, scheming at Theatre@41 for two days

Solo show of the week: Dyad Productions in Austen’s Women: Lady Susan, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, March 15, 7.30pm and March 16, 2.30pm

FROM the creators of I, Elizabeth, Female Gothic, Christmas Gothic and A Room Of One’s Own comes a new Austen’s Women show, based on Jane Austen’s first full-length work from 1794, performed by Rebecca Vaughan.

Created entirely from letters, this one features the devil-may-care Lady Susan, the coquettish, scheming black widow, hunting down not one, but two, fortunes. Then add oppressed, rebellious daughter Frederica; long-suffering sister-in-law Catherine; family matriarch Mrs De Courcy and insouciant best friend Alicia in this darkly comic tale of Georgian society and the women trapped within it. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Shock in shirts: Comedian Milton Jones will be displaying his sartorial eloquence in his Ha!Milton tour show

Gig announcement of the week: Milton Jones, Ha!Milton, Grand Opera House, York, September 7; Sheffield, City Hall, December 4; King’s Hall, Ilkley, December 8

MILTON Jones, the shock-haired master of the one-liner, will take his 2024 tour, Ha!Milton, on the road from September 3 to December 15. “This is not a musical,” says Jones, in a nod to the title.

“I am tone deaf and have no sense of rhythm, but at least I don’t make a song and dance about it. This is a whole new show of daftness. You know it makes sense.” Topics will include giraffes…“and there’s a bit about tomatoes”. Box office: miltonjones.com; York, atgtickets.com/york; Sheffield, sheffieldcityhall.co.uk; Ilkley, bradford-theatres.co.uk.

In Focus: Navigators Art & Performance, GUNA: Views and Voices of Women, City Screen Picturehouse, York


Collaborative banner by Navigators Art workshop group, including first-time artist
s, for York International Women’s Week 2024

YORK collective Navigators Art & Performance presents GUNA: Views and Voices of Women, at City Screen Picturehouse, Coney Street, York, from March 10 to April 5.

Run in association with York International Women’s Week 2024, this exhibition explores and celebrates the creativity of women and non-binary artists.

On show in the cafe and the upstairs gallery is an array of paintings, textiles, collages, photographs and more by 20 emerging and established York makers, curated by York artist Katie Lewis.

Navigators Art & Performance’s poster for GUNA: Views and Voices of Women


“Women have used textiles as an art form to tell their stories and express views for centuries,” says Katie. “Many of the artists are using recycled fabrics that give further meaning to their work.”

The official launch night event on March 11 offers the chance to meet the artists over a complimentary drink from 6pm.  All are welcome, with no need to book; more details at  https://www.facebook.com/events/6804352783003925

The exhibition is free to enter every day during cinema hours. City Screen is fully accessible.

Suffragette City, by Katie Lewis

NAVIGATORS Art & Performance will co-host GUNA: An Evening of Music, Spoken Word, Performance Art and Comedy to complement the exhibition and further celebrate the creativity of women and non-binary artists in The Basement at City Screen on March 23 from 7pm to 10.45pm.

GUNA is a version of the ancient Greek word for ‘woman’, leading to a line-up of
poets Danae, Olivia Mulligan and Rose Drew; performance artist Carrieanne Vivianette; global songs and percussion from Soundsphere; original music from Suzy Bradley; comedy from Aimee Moon; and a rousing appearance by the multi-faceted singer, author and artist Heather Findlay.

“The venue is small and our shows often sell out, so book soon,” advises Navigators’ organiser, Richard Kitchen. Full details and TicketSource booking are available at https://bit.ly/nav-guna

Strictly champion Ellie Leach turns Scarlett for theatre debut in comedy whodunit Cluedo 2 at York Theatre Royal

Ellie Leach, front right, as interior designer Annabel Scarlett with fellow cast members Hannah Boyce, Jack Bennett, Edward Howells and Jason Durr in Cluedo 2, on tour at York Theatre Royal fromTuesday to Saturday. Picture: Alastair Muir

WHAT did 2023 Strictly Come Dancing champion Ellie Leach do next?

The answer: Make her stage acting debut as Miss Scarlett in the world-premiere British tour of the comedy whodunit Cluedo 2, marking the 75th anniversary of the Hasbro boardgame.

Next stop, York Theatre Royal, from March 12 to 16, a run that will coincide with Manchester-born Ellie’s 23rd birthday next Friday.

She replaced Helen Flanagan in the five-month tour after her fellow former Coronation Street star was advised to withdraw for medical reasons. “It all happened very quickly,” says Ellie. “I went into rehearsals while I was doing the last week of the Strictly tour. They were already in their second week when I joined.

“It was very hectic, but as soon as I arrived, everyone made me feel so welcome. I’ve been having lots of fun!”

She jumped at the chance to take to the stage in her first role since playing Faye Windass in the ITV soap from 2011 and 2023.

Scarlett fervour: After Coronation Street and Strictly Come Dancing, Ellie Leach is enjoying the new challenge of her stage theatre debut in Cluedo 2. Picture: Alastair Muir

“Cluedo is such an iconic board game, isn’t it. Everyone enjoys playing it,” says Ellie. “I read the script and I loved it. The writers have an amazing track record.”

Those writers are the BAFTA Award-winning stage and screen-writing duo Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, of Birds Of A Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Dreamboats And Petticoats fame no less. Then add a director with comedy clout too: Mark Bell, who directed Mischief Theatre’s alarmingly funny catastrophic capers in The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. “The team behind this show is incredible,” says Ellie. “Who wouldn’t want to work on it?!  I feel very lucky to be part of the show’s journey.”

Cluedo 2 – The Next Chapter, the follow-up to the play based on Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film Clue, is an original comedy whodunit, set in the Swinging Sixties. Cue new house, new bodies, new suspects, in a tale of murder, mystery and secret passageways.

What happens?  Fading rock’n’roll legend Rick Black (Liam Horrigan) is broke, desperate for cash to run his expensive new home, Graveny Manor, and prepared to do anything to regain his fame and fortune.

Excited to reveal his long-awaited comeback album, Black has assembled his supermodel wife, the Honourable Emerald Peacock (Hannah Boyce); his manager, Colonel Eugene Mustard (Jason Durr, from Heartbeat and Casualty); long-time roadie “Professor” Alex Plum (Edward Howells), trusted interior designer Annabel Scarlett (Leach) and housekeeper Mrs White (Dawn Buckland), who came with house and who knows all its secrets.

However, someone is missing: Black’s former song-writing partner “The Reverend” Hal Green (Gabriel Paul), who disappeared mysteriously at the same time that Black’s career went downhill. What’s more, where did that butler, Wadsworth (Jack Bennett) come from?

First meeting: Jason Durr’s Colonel Eugene Mustard introduces himself to Ellie Leach’s Annabel Scarlett in the comedy whodunit Cluedo 2. Picture: Alastair Muir

As the bodies start to pile up, the ever-colourful characters move from room to room trying to escape the murderer and survive the night, while PC Silver (Tiwai Muza) and audience alike look for the clues to unravel the secrets, seeking to work out whodunit, with what, and where!  

“What’s really fun is playing a character that’s evolved from a board game,” says Ellie. “You can do a lot with it, and there’s so much that’s different about Miss Scarlett from the first play.

“Every Cluedo character is iconic but you can put your own stamp on it; there’s lots of layers to each one and it’s been interesting to delve into them: how they are when they’re together; how they are when they’re on their own.”

Miss Scarlett by name, but is she scarlet by nature? “People may have that perception of her, but she has more to her than that,” says Ellie, as the company continues rehearsals under Bell after opening the tour in Richmond, Surrey, on February 29. “There’s hints of scarlet, but other things too!”

Ellie is “so excited to join the cast of Cluedo 2 after an incredible year”, the year when she waltzed her way to winning Strictly Come Dancing with Italian dancer Vito Coppola last December. “It was an absolute dream come true to take part but for us to lift the Glitterball Trophy with Vito was something I will cherish for the rest of my life,” she says. “I treasure that feeling of joy at the public voting for us each week.”

Cluedo 2 runs at York Theatre Royal, March 12 to 16, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

In the red: Ellie Leach’s Miss Scarlett looks alarmed in Cluedo 2. Picture: Dave Hogan

REVIEW: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Blue Beard at York Theatre Royal *****

Tristan Sturrock’s Blue Beard versus Katy Owen’s Mother Superior in Wise Children’s Blue Beard

PRESS night for Wise Children’s Blue Beard coincided with Thursday’s release of the findings of Lady Elish Angiolini’s inquiry into the murder of York-born Sarah Everard by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens.

That murder was among the triggers for Wise Children writer-director Emma Rice deciding to write her version of the fairy tale Blue Beard, a gruesome tale of controlling women that she had previously avoided and never liked, “not wanting to add to the number of dead women scattered throughout our literature and media”.

Haunted by “the regular and painful chime of murdered woman in the news”, Rice woke one morning with the story knocking powerfully at her dreams. She duly wrote what she calls a wonder tale of vibrant, flawed, joyful living women, working together to turn the tables on the violent aggressor, “taking down the ones who threaten us” in a revenge story of female friendship, intellect and survival that is both defiant and hopeful.

The review to this point is quoting in depth from Rice’s interview, outlining her need, brought on by anger, to use her craft, platform and experience to make a small difference. Her motive was not to understand or excuse Blue Beard but to breathe life into the women he sought to control, celebrating them in “all their wild and surprising glory”, saying “enough is enough; we will not be afraid anymore.”

Emma Rice: The snap, crackle and pop of modern theatre

“It certainly won’t be boring,” she promised. Boring? Has any Emma Rice production, whether for the pioneering Kneehigh Theatre or now Wise Children, ever been boring, whether Brief Encounter, Malory Towers or Wuthering Heights?!

Blue Beard, her fifth supernova of a Wise Children show, is everything modern theatre should be: intelligent, topical, provocative, surprising; full of music, politics, “tender truths”, mirror balls and dazzling costumery; comedy as much as tragedy; actors as skilled at musicianship as acting and dancing to boot; embracing the Greek, Shakespearean, cabaret, kitchen sink and multi-media ages of theatre.

Seamless scene changing too by designer Vicki Mortimer, with a combination of furniture on wheels, doors centre stage, and curtains being closed and opened to conceal and reveal as if by magic. That’s how to stage a show. Then add Rice’s Blue Beard (Tristan Sturrock) now being a magician. Cue knife-throwing with a real point to it.

Emma Rice makes audacious theatre, full of mischievous imagination and stylish innovation in her vow to “entertain, move and transport”. She does so with a bravura flourish that means broad comedy and terror, a potty-mouthed nun and a filmic slow-motion climactic fight, a dig at Jamie Oliver cookbooks and CCTV film footage of the lead-up to a murder can collide and elide in one play, replete with gutteral physicality and grace.

Welcome to the Convent of the Fearful, the F****d and the Furious, where the nuns all wear shades and the terrific Katy Owen’s blue-bearded Mother Superior rules with waspish wit, fearless frankness, frightening zeal and a shrill referee’s whistle.

Revenger’s tragicomedy: Patrycja Kujawska’s Treasure wreaks vengeance on Tristan Sturrock’s Blue Beard in Wise Children’s Blue Beard

Into Rice’s overlapping stories are woven the young, modern-day Adam Mirsky’s Lost Brother and Mirabelle Grimaud’s guitar-playing Lost Sister, and the timeless triumvirate of sisters Lucky (Robyn Sinclair), Trouble (Stephanie Hockley) and their mother, Treasure (Patrycja Kujawska), reminiscent of the Witches in Macbeth.  Enter Blue Beard, whom Trouble will marry – and if he’s looking for Trouble, he’s in the right place, as he meets his match. 

All the while, be beguiled by the playing of Stu Barker’s Sister Susie of the Dulcimer and the superb movement direction and choreography of Etta Murfitt.

In the words of Rice: “Using music, dance, and storytelling, I want the production to seduce with high comedy, tragedy, magic, romance and just a sprinkle of spine-tingling horror. It’s a blockbusting rollercoaster!”

Couldn’t put it better! Rice’s Blue Beard is bloody funny, but shocking; violent, furious, dark yet enlightening; as romantic and joyful as it is fearful; empowering in its feminism, pulling reality from fantasy, haunting yet hopeful at the last. Remarkable, breathtaking theatre for today yet rooted in the ages, demanding a better tomorrow. You MUST see Blue Beard. It’s certainly not boring, Emma.

Wise Children presents Blue Beard at York Theatre Royal until March 9, except Sunday and Monday. Performances: 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 7.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

‘I’m just sorry that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye,’ says retiring dame Berwick Kaler as he exits stage left after 47 years

Berwick Kaler’s dame Dotty Dullaly in his last pantomime, Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

BERWICK Kaler, Britain’s longest-running pantomime dame, is “bowing out gracefully after 47 years of getting away with complete nonsense” on the York stage, but there could yet be one final show.

“It has crossed my mind to maybe do a one-off performance as a thank-you, a show of appreciation to the staunch fans of our pantomime,” says Berwick.

Most likely it would be held at the Grand Opera House, host to the Kaler panto for the past three winters.

“I don’t want to say too much but the farewell has been handled wrongly,” says Berwick. “I’ll be 78 later this year [October 31], I’m ready to retire, but I would like to have made the decision in a better way.”

A seven-minute standing ovation had concluded the final night of Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse – written and directed by and starring the dowager dame as ever – but ticket sales for the December 9 to January 6 run had been underwhelming, even prompting a discounted price campaign.

“All those panto companies in the business, they need to make money,” acknowledges Berwick. “But I just thought, after the reception from the audience to that last show, which was totally amazing…

“…I’ve always said that every show I’ve done was ‘rubbish’, but that standing ovation, I don’t know if they knew something that night.

“I know it can’t go on forever. It can’t. I’ve not spoken anyone apart from [UK Productions managing director] Martin Dodds, who rang to let me know, so I’ve kept it to myself for a week.

“What I don’t want is for us to continue and for me to find that my energy levels – which were as good as ever for Robinson Crusoe – were suddenly not there. I smoke, I drink, I’m lucky to have got to the age I have!”

The last gang show: Martin Barrass, left, dame Berwick Kaler, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and AJ Powell promoting Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse outside the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

That thought would seem to rule out any suggestion of a move for Kaler and co to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre for winter 2024, in favour of a farewell one-nighter.

“I’ve had a pacemaker for eight years,” says Berwick, who also had a double heart bypass operation in July 2017. “I wanted to get out of hospital the day after the pacemaker was fitted. They said ‘No’, but I did leave the next day!

“I’m just sorry that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to our most wonderful audiences, to say ‘thank you’ on my part and everyone in the panto gang’s part too. Now it’s about just getting used to looking after my two dogs on my own in Acomb.”

And now, the end is here, the final curtain falling after panto producers UK Productions decided not to retain the services of veteran dame Berwick, who had transferred across the city after 40 years at York Theatre Royal to stage Dick Turpin Rides Again and subsequently Old Granny Goose and Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse.

“I would love to thank everyone in York for giving me a career that would not have gone on this length of time without their support, because every minute I’ve been on stage I’ve just bounced off the audience’s energy, and I’m so grateful for that,” says Berwick.

“When we went to the Grand Opera House, it continued to be ‘the York pantomime’, and that’s a reputation I hope will go on.”

Exiting panto stage left too will be Kaler’s “loyal gang”: long-serving comic stooge Martin Barrass, vainglorious villain David Leonard, principal golden gal Suzy Cooper and “luverly Brummie” A J Powell after their three-year run at the Cumberland Street theatre.

Thanking his co-stars for “putting up with me for so many years”, Berwick says: “I don’t know why UK Productions, even if they didn’t want me anymore, wouldn’t want to keep David, the best villain in the country, the amazing Suzy, Martin and AJ.”

Born in Sunderland, Berwick moved to London in his teenage years to be a painter and decorator, but the acting bug bit. Initially, in pantomime Berwick took to the dark side as a villain but 1977 found him donning his wig as Ugly Sister Philomena in Cinderella at the Theatre Royal after playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that summer.

This would be the last time: Berwick Kaler’s dame Dotty Dullaly in familiar rudimentary wig and workman’s boots with contrasting laces in Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

He would go on to play dame, write the script, ignore conventional plot lines, ad lib ad nauseam and direct “the rubbish”, year after year, bringing him the Freedom of the City, an honorary doctorate from the University of York and a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Great British Pantomime Awards.

“I came to York, not known to the Theatre Royal audience, but the thing is, they take a comic actor to their heart and that was case with me,” he says.

He retired once… “Don’t forget, when I announced my retirement from the Theatre Royal, I was ready to retire. It was that thing of marking 40 years.”

He soon regretted that decision, even more so after writing, co-directing and appearing on screen in the 2019 panto, Sleeping Beauty, and particularly so after the Theatre Royal decided to part with the Kaler gang to make way for a new partnership with Evolution Pantomimes.

The invitation to take up a three-year contract at the Grand Opera House brought about his comeback in 2021, but his finale to his last interview with The Press turned out to be prescient.

“I’m not going to announce my retirement. I’ll just go quietly, whenever. I’ve had my big send-off already [after 40 years at the Theatre Royal],” he mused last December.

“When they announce the next Grand Opera House pantomime, it will either be with us or without us.”

The reality is, “without us”, but with a new “star casting” instead for Beauty And The Beast’s run from December 7 to January 5 2025, with tickets on sale from Monday, March 11 at 4pm  at atgtickets.com/york.

As for that Berwick Kaler farewell show, watch this space.

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in York and beyond when it ‘definitely won’t be boring’! Here’s Hutch’s List No. 9 for 2024, from The Press

Wise Children “open the bloody door” to Emma Rice’s beguiling but disturbing Blue Beard at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday. Picture: Steve Tanner

PANTO dame tales and a comedian’s first-time memories, a classic thriller and a feminist fairytale, a community choir festival and a prog-rock legend make Charles Hutchinson’s list of upcoming cultural highlights.

Play of the week: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Blue Beard, York Theatre Royal, February 27 to March 9, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

BLUE Beard meets his match when his young bride discovers his dark and murderous secret. She summons all her rage, all her smarts and all her sisters to bring the curtain down on his tyrannous reign as writer-director Emma Rice brings her own brand of theatrical wonder to this beguiling, disturbing tale.

Applying Rice’s signature sleight of hand, Blue Beard explores curiosity and consent, violence and vengeance, all through an intoxicating lens of music, wit and tender truth. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Rick Wakeman: Last return of the Caped Crusader at York Barbican

Catch him while you can: Rick Wakeman, Return Of The Caped Crusader, York Barbican, tonight (24/02/2024), 7.30pm

PROG-ROCK icon and Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, 76, is to call time on his one-man shows to concentrate on composing, recording and collaborating, but not before playing York. “I always planned to stop touring by my 77th birthday,” he says. “For those of you who wish to send me a card, it’s 18th May!”

Saturday’s show opens with Wakeman’s new arrangements of Yes material for band and vocalists, followed after the interval by his epic work Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Box office for returns only: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Robin Simpson on dame duty in York Theatre Royal’s All New Adventures Of Peter Pan

Pantomime revelations of the week: Robin Simpson: There Ain’t Nothing Like A Dame, Rise, Bluebird Bakery, Acomb Road, Acomb, York, tomorrow, 6.30pm

ALREADY confirmed for his return for Aladdin from December 3 to January 5 2025, York Theatre Royal’s resident dame, Robin Simpson, takes a peak behind the wigs into the glitz and glamour of life as a pantomime dame.

Simpson provides an insight into the origins of the character, backstage antics and classic cheeky panto humour as he reveals “what it’s really like to frock up and tread the boards”. Expect cheesy gags, naughty nonsense and even a silly sing-song.

“I’ve run this event before and it was mostly for slightly older children and adults. Ages 7/8 and above really,” says Robin. “The show includes stories, song-sheet sing-alongs and silly poems. It’s not at all serious!

“It’s fun to approach storytelling from the perspective of the dame. It’s a little more anarchic. I also start with a brief history of the pantomime, from Roman times to the modern day.

“I do this while getting dressed and made up into the dame with the idea that, by the time I’m talking about Dan Leno and the Victorian dame, I’m completely changed. There’s room for questions and chat too about being in a panto and what happens on stage and backstage. Like I say, it’s for KS2 and adults really.”

Earlier in the day, at 4.30pm, in an interactive one-hour event for children aged three to six, Robin and Susanna Meese will be spinning the Storywheel to reveal much-loved nursery tales. “It’s a wheel of fortune-style story generator where random fairytales are told and there’s lots of dressing-up, musical instruments, songs, props, puppets and play,” says Robin.

Afterwards, children can delve into story bags full of goodies and stay and play with the hosts, who will have everything needed for the children to tell the tales, including puppets, props, and costumes. Box office: bluebirdbakery.co.uk/rise

Maura Jackson: Public speaker, charity boss and now comedian, playing Theatre@41 tomorrow

Storyteller of the week: Maura Jackson: More O’ Me, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

AT 53 Maura Jackson cannot decide if she is a keynote speaker, charity CEO or comedian. Thanks to “the recklessness of menopause”, she is all three.

After living a life and a half and taking up stand-up in 2022 on a whim, storyteller Jackson takes tomorrow’s audience on a humorous rollercoaster of life-defining moments, good or bad. Despite her professed aversion to drama, she is surrounded by it. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Neil McDermott, left, and Todd Boyce in Sleuth, “the thriller about thrillers”, at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

Thriller of the week: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday

TODD Boyce, best known for playing Coronation Street’s notorious baddie Stephen Reid, will be joined by EastEnders soap star Neil McDermott in Anthony Shaffer’s dark psychological thriller about thrillers, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh.

What happens? A young man arrives at the impressive home of a famous mystery writer, only to be unwittingly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and gamesmanship, where nothing is quite as it seems. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Rob Auton: Star of The Rob Auton Show, full of firsts, from memories to girlfriends to jobs

Comedy gig(s) of the week: Rob Auton, The Rob Auton Show, Burning Duck Comedy Club, The Crescent, York, February 28, 7.30pm; Mortimer Suite, Hull City Hall, February 29, 7.30pm; The Wardrobe, Leeds, March 1, 7.30pm

ROB Auton, Pocklington-raised stand-up comedian, writer, podcaster, actor, illustrator and former Glastonbury festival poet-in-residence, returns north from London with his self-titled tenth themed solo show.

After the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleep, hair, talking, time and crowds, Auton turns the spotlight on himself, exploring the memories and feelings that create his life on a daily basis. Box office: York, thecrescentyork.seetickets.com; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk; Leeds, brudenellsocialclub.seetickets.com.

Skylights: Lighting up York Barbican in November

Gig announcement of the week: Skylights, York Barbican, November 2

YORK band Skylights will play their biggest home-city show yet this autumn, with tickets newly on sale at ticketmaster.co.uk in a week when latest release Time To Let Things Go has risen to number two in the Official Vinyl Singles Chart.

Guitarist Turnbull Smith says: ‘We’re absolutely over the moon to be headlining the biggest venue in our home city of York, the Barbican. It’s always been a dream of ours to play here, so to headline will be the perfect way to finish what’s going to be a great year. Thanks to everyone for the support. It means the world and we’ll see you all there.”

In Focus: York Community Choir Festival 2024

Jessa Liversidge: Directing Easingwold Community Singers’ performance at the York Community Choir Festival

York Community Choir Festival 2024, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 25, 6pm; February 26 to March 1, 7.30pm; March 2, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

THE 8th York Community Choir Festival spreads 31 choirs across eight concerts over six days at the JoRo. On the opening evening, Easingwold Community Singers will be premiering director Jessa Liversidge’s arrangement of The Secret Of Happiness from the American musical Daddy Long Legs, with permission of composer and lyricist Paul Gordon.

“Festival organiser Graham Mitchell wanted a choir to perform this song,” says Jessa. “I bought the music but couldn’t find a choral arrangement, so I chanced my arm on contacting the composer to ask if there were any arrangements or could I do one, and he said, ‘yes, you can’.

“It’s a lovely gentle song. Hopefully it will go well, and I can then send Paul a recording.”

Choirs range from York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir to The Rolling Tones, Sounds Fun Singers to York Military Wives Choir, Selby Youth Choir to Track 29 Ladies Close Harmony Chorus. Six choirs from Huntington School perform next Friday, taking up all the first-half programme. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

York Community Choir Festival: the programme

Sunday, 6pm

Selby Youth Choir, Bishopthorpe Community Choir, Eboraca, Easingwold Community Singers.

Monday, 7.30pm

Community Chorus, York Celebration Singers, Euphonics, York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir.

Tuesday, 7.30pm

Jubilate, Some Voices York, Sounds Fun Singers, Abbey Belles Chorus.

Wednesday, 7.30pm

Stagecoach Youth Junior Choir, The Garrowby Singers, In Harmony, Stamford Bridge Community Choir.

Thursday, 7.30pm

York Military Wives Choir, Harmonia, Spirit of Harmony Barbershop Chorus, Heworth Community Choir.

Friday, 7.30pm

Huntington School Choirs, Vivace! Aviva York Choir, Main Street Sound Ladies, Barbershop Chorus

Saturday, 2.30pm

Singing Communities, Fairburn Singers, Daytones Harmony Chorus,

The Rolling Tones.

Saturday, 7.30pm

Headlands Primary School, York Sing Space Musical Theatre Choir, Track 29 Ladies Close Harmony Chorus, The Wellbeing Choir.

REVIEW: Pilot Theatre in A Song For Ella Grey, York Theatre Royal, Hull Truck Theatre and on tour ****

Pilot Theatre’s Jonathan Iceton, left, Beth Crame, Olivia Onyehara, Grace Long and Amonik Melaco in A Song For Ella Grey

NEWCASTLE. Shopping for vintage clothes. Nights on the toon. Bamburgh Beach. Camping out. Beach parties. Cheap supermarket plonk. Best friends for life. First tingle of love.

Such is the teenage stuff of David Almond’s novel for young readers, and the stuff too of Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson’s days of growing up in the North East. Been there, done that, bought the book, the first one she read after taking up her post with the York company.

Eight years later, Richardson is directing Pilot’s touring co-production in partnership with York Theatre Royal and Northern Stage, in Newcastle, where rehearsals and the first peformances took place.

Almond has adapted past works for the stage, but this time Pilot commissioned Zoe Cooper, a playwright and dramaturg who has an M Phil in playwriting from the University of Birmingham and cut her teeth on the Royal Court Young Writers programme. Both her script and Almond’s book are on sale alongside the brownies and chai lattes at the café counter.

Working in tandem, Richardson and Cooper have pitched this particular theatrical tent on the cornerstones of storytelling, music, sound and vision to seek to capture the elusive nature of Orpheus, the “man-god” (as Richardson calls him). I say ‘him’, but this Orpheus is called ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, at various points, depending on who is speaking.

Pilot’s primary target audience is teenage, studying Eng Lit, maybe theatre, and indeed schoolchildren were clustered in the dress circle at Thursday’s matinee, but peppered around the stalls were Theatre Royal matinee regulars.

Overhearing one in the interval and chatting with them afterwards, they praised the performances but had reservations over the storytelling. More specifically, the clarity of what we were watching. In a nutshell, not only was Orpheus elusive, so too was the story.

Your reviewer wholeheartedly agreed about the uniformly excellent cast, but did find himself drawn into the mysteries and murk of Almond’s modern-day re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, one that carried this contents notice in the foyer: References to death of a young person, bereavement/loss and adoption.

Already, on stage in York, at Stillington Mill, in Australia too, Wright & Grainger have explored the myth in a trilogy of exhilarating spoken-word and music shows, Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods, billed as “stories from Greek mythology, told as if they were happening today”.

What Pilot Theatre’s production shares is both modernity and rich imagination in the storytelling, in this case the story of Ella Grey (Grace Long), who was adopted at the age of two and dreams of Orpheus singing to her in the company of her biological parents.

Ella prefers to spend her days and nights with Claire (Olivia Onyehara), her intense best friend since she was four, and Claire’s more open parents, with their baked aubergine suppers and ultra-comfy, tweedy sofas from a Scottish cottage industry. They understand her better, she protests.

Studying Eng Lit etc at A-level, they hook up regularly by the Northumbrian coast with Sam (Amonik Melaco), with his perfectly manicured eyebrows and far from perfect attitude towards young women; the more sensitive birdwatcher Jay (good name for a birdwatcher, Jonathan Iceton) and the ever-curious-to-experiment Angeline (Beth Crame, outstanding).

Craving a feeling of belonging, Ella is ever more drawn to Orpheus, represented here by a silhouetted figure with a crown of twigs behind white curtaining, by distant song and music too. Only she hears the voice at first, but gradually…well, that would be telling.

The content warning serves as a spoiler alert of her death, represented at the sea’s edge by her vintage dress, leaving so many questions to be answered for her friends, audience and Orpheus alike in Act Two.

Designer Verity Quinn switches the colour scheme for the two circular mounds that serve as beds and rocks on the beach from white to funereal black, accompanied by the squawk of a murder of crows and even a crow in the twig head gear worn by Claire.

All the while, Adam P McCready’s all-pervasive sound design (water, water everywhere), Chris Davey’s lighting and especially Si Cole’s video designs on the white backdrop give the atmosphere psychological depths.

Most evocative of all are the compositions of Emily Levy, whose programme note talks of her starting points of “voice (spoken and sung), folk song, and the crossover point where naturally occurring sound morphs into music”. Her songs “pass through and between the performers”, beautifully, spellbindingly so, and they evoke the mystical North East as much as The Unthanks do.

The links with the Orpheus and Eurydice of yore grow ever clearer in song and storytelling alike, as the tragedy and pain of human fallibility, the impossibility of immortality, heighten once in the underworld, but come the finale, Almond and Cooper still allow teenage dreams to be so hard to beat as new worlds beckon for Ella’s friends.

Musician Zak Younger Banks rightly joins the cast on stage to take a bow: thoroughly deserved for his vital contribution. 

Performances: York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm; tomorrow, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Hull Truck Theatre, March 5 to 9, 7.30pm; 2pm Wednesday & Saturday matinees. Box office: 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.

‘It certainly won’t be boring,’ says Emma Rice as she turns Blue Beard into a wonder tale celebrating women at Theatre Royal

Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice. Picture: Carmel King

WISE Children director Emma Rice has an admission to make ahead of Blue Beard’s arrival at York Theatre Royal on Tuesday.

“I love fairy tales, but I’ve actually never liked the story of Blue Beard,” she says. “Not wanting to add to the number of dead women scattered throughout our literature and media, I have always avoided the gruesome tale.

“However, haunted by the regular and painful chime of murdered woman in the news, I woke one morning with the story knocking powerfully at my dreams. I pulled my copy from the shelves and, with some trepidation, unlocked the door of Blue Beard’s castle.”

Emma thought Blue Beard was a story of controlling women, telling them off for asking questions and being curious. “But something changed a couple of years ago, and the story started to nag at me,” she says.

“What I found hidden in those pages was a story not about dead women but about vibrant, flawed, joyful living ones. Here was a story about female friendship, intellect and survival. It’s also a story in which, by working together, the aggressor is vanquished.

“And this is precisely why I want to tell Blue Beard now. In my middle years I want to join forces with those I love and take down the ones who threaten us. I, for one, have had enough, and for Zara Aleena, Jack Taylor, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Daniel Whitworth, Sarah Everard and the thousands and thousands of others who have died at the hands of violent men – Blue Beard is my defiant and hopeful answer.”

Emma had become more and more haunted by “the regular chime of women being attacked, murdered and abused”. “Sarah Everard’s shocking murder and the ensuing chaos of her vigil captured the public’s imagination,” she says. “However, for me, it was the murder of Zara Aleena that really brought home my anger and made me think about adapting Blue Beard.

“She was just walking home. A week later, her family, friends, and people she would never know, met at the spot where she was killed and walked her memory home. This was the moment that I knew I wanted to walk Blue Beard’s victim’s home. I wanted to use my craft, my platform, and my experience to make a small difference.”

“I want the production to seduce with high comedy, tragedy, magic, romance and just a sprinkle of spine-tingling horror,” says director Emma Rice. Picture: Steve Tanner

Emma realised she wanted to tell this story, not to understand or excuse Blue Beard, but to breathe life into the women he tried to control. “I wanted to express not just the rage, grief and heartbreak so many of us feel at lives cut short, but also to celebrate brilliant living women in all their wild and surprising glory,” she says.

“So, my version of Blue Beard is very definitely about the women, about celebrating women and about saying enough is enough! We will not be afraid anymore.”

Adapted for the stage by Emma, Blue Beard carries the weight and power of a classic drama, she contends. “It’s almost Shakespearean and most definitely Greek in structure; I hope audiences will feel entertained, moved and transported.

“We found the subject matter very powerful in rehearsals and there have been lots of laughter and tears. I hope audiences will share the joy, the darkness, the fury and the hope. It certainly won’t be boring!”

Blue Beard, Emma’s fifth show for Wise Children, finds her returning to her roots at Cornwall’s now disbanded Kneehigh Theatre, where she specialised in folk tales before her brief encounter as the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe.

“After the shared trauma of lockdown and, in its wake, the long haul of getting back into the world, it felt like the right time to go back to my roots. ‘Wonder tales’ (as I like to call them) are an enduring source of inspiration for me,” she says.

“Magical and universal, they are ripe for re-interpretation and reinvention. They challenge and delight in equal measure and allow me to explore complex and important themes without having to be literal or naturalistic. They lend themselves to music and movement and I love them! With Blue Beard, I am back in my theatrical element.”

Given the themes of male violence and control, can York audiences expect a challenging evening? “Well, yes – in some way,” says Emma. “Our production does not shy away from violence and its devasting effect, but it is also hopeful and empowering.

Wise Children in a scene from Emma Rice’s Blue Beard, heading to York Theatre Royal from Tuesday. Picture: Steve Tanner

“I don’t think audiences will come away thinking everything’s awful and it’s never going to change. Instead, I want people to look these issues squarely in the eye and think: ‘right, that’s it. The world does not have to be like this, and I feel inspired to do something about it’.

“It’s also worth saying that I’m not a ‘naturalistic’ director. We use lots of different storytelling techniques to give the subject layers and nuance. This means a violent act could feature on stage as a dance, or a song. It won’t be graphic and unpleasant. Sometimes violence is suggested, sometimes it is shown in a metaphorical way and, at the end, we have a huge, bloody real life struggle.”

Although the underlying themes are urgent and dark, Emma’s show is not all darkness by any means. Blue Beard pulses with stylish theatricality, gritty reality and genuine emotion,” she says. There’s also comedy. Katy Owen, an actor I’ve worked with for many years, is one of the most brilliant comic actors working today, and she plays a nun at the Convent of the Fearful, F****d and Furious – so you can imagine where that goes!

“Using music, dance, and storytelling, I want the production to seduce with high comedy, tragedy, magic, romance and just a sprinkle of spine-tingling horror. It’s a blockbusting rollercoaster!”

As a practitioner of ‘devised theatre’, Emma likes to work closely with a composer throughout the rehearsal process, shaping, refining and reworking the music as the production develops.

“Music is shot through this magical tale,” she says. “I’m working with my longtime friend and collaborator Stu Barker, who I also worked with on Brief Encounter, Tristan & Yseult, and many, many more.

“Stu is a composing genius, who knows just when a song, a sting or an underscore is needed. I’m particularly loving working on this show because almost all my actors are also musicians. This means the music comes straight out of the heart of the show: it’s all performed live by this incredibly talented ensemble of actor-musicians.

“They jump seamlessly between playing and acting, and I marvel at their talent. The songs are dynamite, and I go to sleep with them running through my head and wake up singing them.”

“This is certainly the most ambitious piece of writing I have ever done,” says Emma Rice of her script for Blue Beard. Picture: Steve Tanner

In Emma’s account of the fairytale, Blue Beard is a magician, requiring actor Tristan Sturrock, Emma’s long-term collaborator, to work with several magicians in preparation for the show.

“He can now make coins vanish and cards appear, cut ladies in half and throw knives. It has been brilliant fun and creates fantastic ‘old school’ entertainment,” she says.

“I decided to make my Blue Beard a magician because it felt like a funny and surprising way to explore themes of lies, control and violence. The glamour of the magician’s assistant, mixed with the casual misogyny of these enduring acts, creates a heady cocktail which is the perfect match for Blue Beard.”

After adapting three novels, Angela Carter’s Wise Children, Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for Wise Children productions, Emma has created her own version of Blue Beard.

“The piece has taken shape slowly, as I’ve been working on this project for over two years, and it has been a joyful and surprising path to this place,” she says. “But it’s certainly no less complicated than adapting, because, although I could have chosen to write about anything, I seem to have chosen something quite complex!

“We have three narratives running through the piece: the magical world of Blue Beard, a modern world where we hear the story of the Lost Brother and Sister, and then there’s a framing narrative, set in the extraordinary world of the Convent of the Fearful, F****d and Furious.”

Workshops have allowed Emma to explore these three worlds with her actors and musicians. “The narrative threads intertwine to bring meaning and perspective to the Blue Beard legend. It’s a tricky structure but one that pays great dividends,” she says.

“I’ve relished taking charge of the material and this is certainly the most ambitious piece of writing I have ever done. It feels great to be pushing myself artistically – and yet still allowing myself to be just a little bit silly.”

Blue Beard’s tour takes in Theatre Royal Bath, HOME Manchester, the Lyceum in Edinburgh, Birmingham Rep and Battersea Arts Centre, as well as York Theatre Royal. “I love touring!” says Emma.

“With Blue Beard, I am back in my theatrical element,” says writer-director Emma Rice of Wise Children’s premiere. Picture: Steve Tanner

“I look forward to the food and architecture in Bath, the cool shops in Manchester, the museums in York, the magnificent natural beauty of Edinburgh, the Bullring in Birmingham and the fabulous moody and smoke-damaged Grand Hall at Battersea Arts Centre.

“Four of our tour venues – Manchester, York, Edinburgh and Birmingham – are co-producers on the show, meaning not only have they helped to finance it, but, more importantly, they have brought all their skills and experiences to the creation of the show, helping us to make something more wonderful, and better resourced, than we could have done alone.

“It’s such a hard time for theatres, but these particular venues have all been superstars, backing us, believing in us, and making it possible for us to bring this show to their audiences.”

Emma has celebrated five years of Wise Children by opening a new venue, The Lucky Chance, in Frome, Somerset, renovating and transforming the early 20th century Methodist Chapel into the company’s creation space and base for their training programmes.

“It’s been wonderful. In the true sense of the word,” she says, after the move from Bristol. “I begin to realise that this has always been my dream: to create a home for the work and the people that make it. The Lucky Chance is a place to create, to party, to take shelter in and to return to.

“It gives Wise Children roots and a beautiful space to welcome our diverse community of friends, audiences, neighbours and students alike. I couldn’t be prouder or happier. It’s called The Lucky Chance because that is exactly what it is.”

Wise Children presents Blue Beard, York Theatre Royal, February 27 to March 9, except next Sunday and Monday; 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 7.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Wise Children’s Blue Beard: the back story

BLUE Beard the Magician makes hearts flutter and pupils dilate. With a wink, a stroke and a flick, things just seem to vanish. Cards, coins, scarves…and women. When someone tells you not to look, open the bloody door, advises Wise Children’s world premiere, adapted and directed by artistic director Emma Rice.

Emma brings her brand of theatrical wonder to this beguiling, disturbing tale with her signature sleight of hand to explore curiosity and consent, violence and vengeance, all through an intoxicating lens of music, wit and tender truth.

Artistic director Emma Rice outside Wise Children’s new venue, The Lucky Chance, in a former Methodist Chapel at Frome, Somerset. Picture: Carmel King

More Things To Do in Ryedale, York and beyond when comedy bites. Here’s Hutch’s List No 3, from Gazette and Herald

Deaf comedian Steve Day: Playing on the Hilarity Bites bill at Milton Rooms, Malton

A DEAF comedian and history-charting musicians, a classic thriller and a feminist fairytale, a community choir festival and a prog-rock legend make Charles Hutchinson’s list of upcoming cultural highlights.

Ryedale comedy gig of the week: Hilarity Bites Comedy Club, Steve Day, Ashley Frieze and Carl Jones, Milton Rooms, Malton, Friday (23/02/2024), 8pm

THE first Hilarity Bites bill of 2024 will be headlined by Steve Day, who describes himself as “Britain’s only deaf comedian and if there are any others he hasn’t heard them”! Actually, a couple of others have started since he wrote that joke, but it is only a joke after all.

On the bill too are guitar-toting funny man Ashley Frieze, with his charming, daft and warm brand of music-infused stand-up, and Midlands storytelling comedian Carl Jones, a football fanatic who interviews comedy cohorts for his ​Premier League nostalgia podcast When Football Began Again. Box office: 01653 696240 or themiltonrooms.com.

Chris Green and Sophie Matthews: 600 years of music crammed into 90 minutes at Pocklington Arts Centre

Musical tour of the week: Green Matthews: A Brief History Of Music, Pocklington Arts Centre, Friday, 8pm

STRING player Chris Green and woodwind player Sophie Matthews take in 600 years of musical history in 90 minutes, spanning the Middle Ages to the 20th century in a whistle-stop tour of Western music.

Featuring long-forgotten songs, tunes and jokes too, Green and Matthews paint a vibrant and vivid picture of our musical DNA, mixing the familiar and the obscure, the raucous and the reflective and the courtly and the commonplace. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Skylights: Lighting up York Barbican in November

Gig announcement of the week: Skylights, York Barbican, November 2

YORK band Skylights will play their biggest home-city show yet this autumn, with tickets going on sale on Friday at 10am at ticketmaster.co.uk in a week when latest release Time To Let Things Go has risen to number two in the Official Vinyl Singles Chart.

Guitarist Turnbull Smith says: ‘We’re absolutely over the moon to be headlining the biggest venue in our home city of York, the Barbican. It’s always been a dream of ours to play here, so to headline will be the perfect way to finish what’s going to be a great year. Thanks to everyone for the support. It means the world and we’ll see you all there.”

Rick Wakeman: Return Of The Caped Crusader at York Barbican

Catch him while you can: Rick Wakeman, Return Of The Caped Crusader, York Barbican, Saturday, 7.30pm

PROG-ROCK icon and Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, 76, is to call time on his one-man shows to concentrate on composing, recording and collaborating, but not before playing York. “I always planned to stop touring by my 77th birthday,” he says. “For those of you who wish to send me a card, it’s 18th May!”

Saturday’s show opens with Wakeman’s new arrangements of Yes material for band and vocalists, followed after the interval by his epic work Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Box office for returns only: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Jessa Liversidge: Directing Easingwold Community Singers’ performance at the York Community Choir Festival

Choirs galore: York Community Choir Festival 2024, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 25, 6pm; February 26 to March 1, 7.30pm; March 2, 2.30pm and 7.30pm

THE 8th York Community Choir Festival spreads 31 choirs across eight concerts over six days at the JoRo. On the opening evening, Easingwold Community Singers will be premiering director Jessa Liversidge’s arrangement of The Secret Of Happiness  from the American musical Daddy Long Legs, with permission of composer and lyricist Paul Gordon.

Choirs range from York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir to The Rolling Tones, Sounds Fun Singers to York Military Wives Choir, Selby Youth Choir to Track 29 Ladies Close Harmony Chorus. Six choirs from Huntington School perform next Friday, taking up all the first-half programme. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Todd Boyce, left, and Neil McDermott in Sleuth, on tour at Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

Thriller of the week: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday

TODD Boyce, best known for playing Coronation Street’s notorious baddie Stephen Reid, will be joined by EastEnders soap star Neil McDermott in Anthony Shaffer’s dark psychological thriller about thrillers, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh.

What happens? A young man arrives at the impressive home of a famous mystery writer, only to be unwittingly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and gamesmanship, where nothing is quite as it seems. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Emma Rice: Writer-director of Wise Children’s Blue Beard, playing York Theatre Royal from next Tuesday

Play of the week: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Blue Beard, York Theatre Royal, February 27 to March 9, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees

BLUE Beard meets his match when his young bride discovers his dark and murderous secret. She summons all her rage, all her smarts and all her sisters to bring the curtain down on his tyrannous reign as writer-director Emma Rice brings her own brand of theatrical wonder to this beguiling, disturbing tale.

Applying Rice’s signature sleight of hand, Blue Beard explores curiosity and consent, violence and vengeance, all through an intoxicating lens of music, wit and tender truth. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Rob Auton: Star of The Rob Auton Show, full of firsts, from memories to girlfriends to jobs

Comedy gig(s) of the week: Rob Auton, The Rob Auton Show, Burning Duck Comedy Club, The Crescent, York, February 28, 7.30pm; Mortimer Suite, Hull City Hall, February 29, 7.30pm; The Wardrobe, Leeds, March 1, 7.30pm

ROB Auton, Pocklington-raised stand-up comedian, writer, podcaster, actor, illustrator and former Glastonbury festival poet-in-residence, returns north from London with his self-titled tenth themed solo show.

After the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleep, hair, talking, time and crowds, Auton turns the spotlight on himself, exploring the memories and feelings that create his life on a daily basis. Box office: York, thecrescentyork.seetickets.com; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk; Leeds, brudenellsocialclub.seetickets.com.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as arts take to the bike & beach. Hutch’s List No. 8 for 2024, from The Press, York

Pilot Theatre’s cast for A Song For Ella Grey at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Topher McGrillis

BEACH encounters with Orpheus, tandem cyclists divided by Brexit,  a joyful mess in art, an Eighties rom-com revisited, Ukrainian opera and big summer concerts brighten Charles Hutchinson’s days ahead.

York play of the week: Pilot Theatre in A Song For Ella Grey, York Theatre Royal, February 20 to 24, 7pm plus 1pm, Thursday and 2pm, Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, March 5 to 9, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday

IN Zoe Cooper’s stage adaptation of David Almond’s novel for York company Pilot Theatre and Newcastle’s Northern Stage, Claire and her best friend, Ella Grey, are ordinary kids from ordinary families in an ordinary world as modern teenagers meet ancient forces.

They and their friends fall in and out of love, play music and dance, stare at the stars, yearn for excitement, and have parties on Northumbrian beaches. One day, a stranger, a musician called Orpheus, appears on the beach and entrances them all, especially Ella. Where has Orpheus come from and what path will Ella follow in this contemporary re-telling of the ancient Greek myth. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.

Displayful artists Luke Beech, Wendy Galloway, Kate Fox and Liberty Hodes, exhibiting at Scarborough Art Gallery. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Coastal exhibition of the season: Displayful, Scarborough Art Gallery until May 7

DISPLAYFUL celebrates happy accidents and joyful mess, aiming to brighten the winter months by inviting visitors to enjoy uplifting contemporary artistic responses to objects from the collections of Scarborough Museums and Galleries.

The show combines new work by five regional artists, Luke Beech, Kate Fox, Wendy Galloway, Liberty Hodes and Angela Knipe, alongside historical artefacts and asks audiences to consider new possibilities for the lives of objects.

Amber Davies’s Vivian and Oliver Savile’s Edward, centre, in a scene from Pretty Woman The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, next week

Musical of the week: Pretty Woman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, February 20 to 24, 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees

BILLED as Hollywood’s ultimate rom-com, live on stage, Pretty Woman: The Musical is set once upon a time in the late 1980s, when Hollywood Boulevard hooker Vivian meets entrepreneur Edward Lewis and her life changes forever.

Amber Davies plays Vivian opposite Oliver Savile’s Edward; 2016 Strictly Come Dancing champion Ore Oduba, last seen at this theatre in fishnets in March 2022 as Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show, has two roles as hotel manager Barnard Thompson/Happy Man, and Natalie Paris will be Vivian’s wisecracking roommate Kit De Luca. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

The poster artwork for Dnipro Opera’s Madama Butterfly at York Barbican

Opera of the week: Dnipro Opera in Madama Butterfly, York Barbican, February 20, 7pm

DNIPRO Opera, the Ukrainian National Opera, returns to British shores after last year’s visit to perform Puccini’s favourite work, Madama Butterfly, sung in Italian with English surtitles (CORRECT).

Set in Japan in 1904, this torrid tale of innocent love crushed between two contrasting cultures charts the affair between an American naval officer and his young Japanese bride, whose self-sacrifice and defiance of her family leads to tragedy. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Carly Bednar in rehearsal for her role as Leila Arden in Griffonage Theatre’s Rope at Theatre@41, Monkgate

Thriller of the week: Griffonage Theatre in Rope, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 21 to 24, 7.30pm

HALFWAY through her MA in theatre studies, Katie Leckey directs York company Griffonage Theatre in their Theatre@41 debut in Patrick Hamilton’s thriller Rope, with its invitation to a dinner party like no other.

Set in 1929 against the backdrop of Britain’s flirtation with fascism, this whodunit states exactly who did it, but the mystery is will they be caught? Cue a soiree full of eccentric characters, ticking clocks and hushed arguments. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

An Eiffel and an earful: Don (John Lister) and Carol (Kate Caute) share a cycle but not political views in Paris in 1812 Theatre Company’s Scary Bikers

Ryedale play of the week: 1812 Theatre Company in Scary Bikers, Helmsley Arts Centre, February 21 to 24, 7.30pm

HELMSLEY’S 1812 Theatre Company stage their first John Godber comedy next week, his 2018 two hander Scary Bikers. Outwardly, redundant miner Don (John Lister) and former private school teacher Carol (Kate Caute) have little in common, but beneath the surface their former spouses are buried next to each other. Soon widowed Don and Carol bump into each other.

An innocent coffee leads to a bike ride through the Yorkshire Dales, then a bike tour across Europe to Florence. All looks promising for a budding romance, but their departure date is June 23 2016 and Don and Carol are on the opposite sides of the Brexit fence. Box office: helmsleyarts.co.uk or in person from the arts centre.

S Club: Post-racing party songs at York Racecourse on July 27

Bring it all back: S Club, York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend, July 27

JULY 27 will be S Club Party time after the Saturday afternoon race card on the Knavesmire track. Once S Club 7, now the five-piece S Club comprises Jo O’Meara, Rachel Stevens, Jon Lee, Tina Barrett and Bradley McIntosh, following last April’s death of Paul Cattermole from heart complications at 46 and Hannah Spearritt not featuring in 2023’s 25th anniversary tour.

This month finds S Club in the USA playing Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Roll on summertime to enjoy chart toppers Bring It All Back, Never Had A Dream Come True, Don’t Stop Movin’ and Have You Ever, plus You’re My Number One, Reach, Two In A Million, S Club Party et al in York. Tickets: yorkracecourse.co.uk.

James: Returning to Scarborough Open Air Theatre in July. Picture: Paul Dixon

Yorkshire gig announcement of the week: James, supported by Reverend & The Makers and Girlband!, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 26

MANCHESTER band James play Scarborough Open Air Theatre for the fourth time on July 26, the night when Leeds lads Kaiser Chiefs finish off the evening card at York Races.

“If you haven’t been there before, then make sure you come,” says James bassist and founder member Jim Glennie. “It’s a cracking venue and you can even have a paddle in the sea before the show!” New album Yummy arrives on April 12. Box office: James, ticketmaster.co.uk from 9am on Friday; Kaiser Chiefs, yorkracecourse.co.uk.

Orpheus in the underworld moves to Ella Grey’s teenage world on the beach in Pilot Theatre premiere at York Theatre Royal

Grace Long as Ella Grey, left, and Olivia Onyehara as Claire in A Song For Ella Grey. Picture: Topher McGrillis

THE first book Esther Richardson read after being appointed Pilot Theatre’s artistic director was A Song For Ella Grey.

Eight years later, she is directing the York company’s co-production of Zoe Cooper’s stage adaptation of David Almond’s Northumbrian novel. Next stop for a play full of music, sound and storytelling will be York Theatre Royal, from Tuesday to Saturday.

“It’s my favourite of David’s books,” says native north easterner Esther, who is directing a work deeply connected to her own story and upbringing for the first time. “I got totally swept up in his translation of the timeless myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the locations in which I grew up.

“I lived in Teesside until I was 11, then we moved to Durham, to be nearer to my dad’s family, and my aunts were all in Newcastle. If you grow up in Durham, you go out in Newcastle, so that was a big part of my youth.

“My uncle used to take us up to the beach at Bamburgh Castle, and that’s where I camped when I did the Duke of Edinburgh awards.”

Monday morning was Esther’s first official working day back in York since she began rehearsals on January 2 at production partner Northern Stage’s rehearsal studios in Byker, ahead of its February 1 opening in Newcastle, where “it’s gone really well”.

Esther has wanted to stage A Song For Ella Grey ever since reading it. “Landscape is very important to the story and that landscape was very much part of my growing up,” she says. “That entry to Newcastle on the train, with all those bridges across the Tyne is so mythic; it’s majestic, so is the coast. Doing this play is a love letter to them both.

Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson

“When I read the book, it spoke to my heart, as I recognise the kids; the running away to Edinburgh; hanging out in very specific places in Newcastle; traipsing around the shops there. It’s that whole rendering of what it’s like to be a teenager in Newcastle.”

Published in 2014, Almond’s novel for young people relocates the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and its story of enduring love and loss to the north east in a lyrical retelling set among a group of teenage friends – “ordinary kids from ordinary families in an ordinary world” – that fall in and out of love, play music and dance, stare at the stars, yearn for excitement, and have parties on Northumberland’s beaches.

“So often working-class stories are told through a male lens, but this one is told from the perspective of a survivor, of a young queer woman,” says Esther. “It takes place in the liminal space between childhood and adulthood when you become aware you can never go back. You can never be a kid again.”

The focus falls on the bond between Claire and her friend Ella Grey, one that is as close as it could be until one day they encounter a stranger, Orpheus, a lyre-playing, Dr Martens-wearing young man, on Bamburgh Beach. He entrances them all, especially Ella, but what path will she follow in this tale of modern teenagers and ancient forces?

Cooper’s stage adaptation is written from Claire and Ella’s perspective as they re-tell their story to one another and the audience. “The idea is that they are making what happened to them into a myth,” reasons the playwright.

“The myth of Orpheus is so powerful,” says Esther. “Is he a man or a god? He’s a man-god, who goes into the underworld and is told, ‘you can bring someone back from the underworld, but only if you don’t look back at her before you re-enter the world above.

“But of course, there’s an inevitability that he will look back. Our humanity is our mortality, and we know you can’t bring someone back from the dead.”

Incoming message: Grace Long’s Ella Grey. Picture: Topher McGrillis

Esther continues: “It’s also about creativity and art, and that thing of something being out of reach when you’ve woken and it first seemed so clear. What that’s doing is chasing a fever dream, and that’s the most powerful part of being human.

“How we want to over-reach, to be immortal, to turn back the clock. Modern art can do that, like a photograph freezing a moment in time. So there’s a really spiritual dimension to the story that connects with us really deeply, and it was a beautiful, tantalising prospect to put it on stage.”

She commissioned Zoe to write the adaptation on account of the lyricism she shared with Almond. “I wanted someone who wouldn’t be afraid of that lyricism. I didn’t want it to be domestic; I wanted it to be epic,” she says.

“With Orpheus, David has created this elusive figure; you have a character who is a spirit, who is music, who’s in the landscape; sometimes he’s there and he’s real; sometimes he’s not real and can’t be found as he disappears into the night – which is really difficult to stage.

“The first thing that Zoe and I talked about was how do we adapt that for the stage, and we decided we should not make the slippery Orpheus a single human form because that would have killed the lyricism.

“What Zoe has done is create a text where Orpheus has the potential to appear in many different forms, sometimes human, but mainly an elusive being in the world.”

Pilot Theatre’s cast for A Song For Ella Grey. Picure: Topher McGrillis

Teenage audiences have “really hooked into” Cooper and Richardson’s production in the Newcastle run. “At first we thought, ‘are we being too oblique?’, but you have to commit to imagination, and if you create a really good structure and architecture for the story, audiences will go with it,” says Esther.

“We trusted our audience, having tested a scene at a school in Cramlington, which gave us the confidence that we were doing the right thing.

“As theatremakers, we try to stay in touch with childhood, and with our shows, whether Noughts & Crosses or A Song For Ella Grey, quite often teenagers get what’s happening ahead of adultds, with teens explaining things to perplexed adults!”

From the very start, Esther knew music would be important in A Song For Ella. “There was a clue in the title!” she says. “You think, ‘well, what is the ‘song’?”

She duly commissioned composer Emily Levy – noted for her use of folk traditions and song – to work with Pilot for the first time. “I love music and I love working with composers,” she says. “I had Emily at the edge of my thinking, as I’d heard her work with Streetwise Opera, who work with homeless people, and I knew she was passionate about using the voice as an instrument and that she could do amazing choral scores.

“A happy accident was that David [Almond] was a huge fan of Emily’s music, which I didn’t know in advance – and I trust him as being so creative, with amazing insights. So I met Emily, Zoe thought she was terrific too, and everything span off from there.”

Beth Crame as Angeline in A Song For Ella Grey. Picture: Topher McGrillis

The music in Pilot’s production is “incredible,” says Esther, “But it can’t offer all the solutions. That’s when I got the designer, Verity Quinn, involved to bring Orpheus into the play in a different way.

“Making theatre on the mid-scale, looking into that rectangle, you have to deliver something epic: that starts with the words but you disregard the visual at your peril.

“In the end, my work is very stripped back, not just because of Pilot’s level of resources, but because we all respond to colour emotionally, and the visual is rocket fuel to how you create meaning and how you connect to the human heart and mind in the audience. By stripping back you encourage the use of imagination.

“Theatre offers a reflective space, and in that moment, you use your imagination and your humanity comes to the fore. You are aware of who you are. It’s so difficult to find a space where you can just be present, listening to a story, being part of a story, and kids need that more than anyone else.”

In that last sentence, Esther sums up the essence of Pilot Theatre and why the pioneering York company continues to be at the forefront of theatre with a young voice.

 Pilot Theatre, Northern Stage and York Theatre Royal present A Song For Ella Grey, York Theatre Royal, February 20 to 24, 7pm plus 1pm, Thursday and 2pm, Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, March 5 to 9, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.

Author David Almond on A Song For Ella Grey

Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson, left, with novelist David Almond and playwright Zoe Cooper. Picture: Mark Savage

Why revisit the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice?

“People have been telling this story forever,” he says. It’s one of the oldest stories ever told. There are endless versions of it, in cinema, on stage, in books and poetry and songs. I knew, at some point, I was going to write my version of it.”

Why Newcastle and Bamburgh beach?

“It made sense to set it among a group of normal Tyneside teenagers,” says Almond, whose daughter was a teenager at the time he wrote the book, giving him the awareness of “being young and falling in love, experiencing the possibility of loss, the possibility of bliss. Plus, I like the idea of Hades being under Newcastle.”

What does his lyrical writing celebrate?

“The beauty of northern rhythms, of the beats of northern language, to find something that is distinctively regional which can reach out to the rest of the world.”

From page to stage…

“There’s nothing like live theatre,” says Almond. “It’s our oldest form of art. It’s a very ancient way of telling a story. It’s how we told each other stories when we were still in caves 1000s and 1000s of years ago.”

“There’s nothing like live theatre,” says Almond. “It’s our oldest form of art. It’s a very ancient way of telling a story. It’s how we told each other stories when we were still in caves 1000s and 1000s of years ago.”

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