TODAY marks the first anniversary of the imposition of Lockdown, a year when killjoy Covid has cast the arts into darkness, but the artbeat refused to stop.
Here CharlesHutchPress doffs its cap to those who kept the flame alive in the 2020-2021 Hutch Awards, while scowling at a few irritations too.
Uplifting experience of the year? The first socially distanced live theatre enterprise, Park Bench Theatre, mounted by Matt Aston’s Engine House company in the Friends Garden at Rowntree Park, York.
Three solo shows, Chris Hannon in Samuel Beckett’s First Love, Cassie Vallance in Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Lisa Howard in Aston’s lockdown play Every Time A Bell Rings, were all first class, and this venture surely will be rolled out again in Summer 2021.
Summer ventures that reminded you why culture matters, dear Rishi: Badapple Theatre’s tour of back gardens with Danny Mellor’s Suffer Fools Gladly; Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger’s week of two-handers, full of music and poetic magic at Stillington Mill; the collaboration between the NCEM, Fulford Arms and The Crescent for a series of acoustic double bills in St Margaret’s churchyard in Walmgate; York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate.
York is still the home of pantomime, part one: Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House had to be stabled for a year, but his former home, York Theatre Royal, took panto to the people with the Travelling Pantomime, the first venture with new partners Evolution Productions, full of wit, energy, fun and mischief.
York is still the home of pantomime, part two: York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate. Nik Briggs, director turned debutant writer, assembled a cast of fabulous Yorkshire talents and West End choreographer Gary Lloyd for a slick slice of “musical theatre with pantomime braces on”. The Biles Beanstalk publicity campaign was a gem too.
Family show of the year: John Godber and his family bubble of wife Jane, actress daughter Martha and stage manager daughter Elizabeth staged his Sunny Side Up! premiere at the socially distanced Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. “Seeing all those masks, at first it felt more like being in an operating theatre, not a theatre,” said John.
Solo stage performance of the year outside York: Polymath Polly Lister, playing everyone and everything, from Gerda and Kai and a “silly Sorceress” to a Goth raven poet and a grumpy Brummie deer, in Nick Lane’s Christmas show for the SJT, The Snow Queen, transformed from a five-hander to a one-woman show under Covid restrictions and all the better for it.
Lockdown audio show of the year: Alan Ayckbourn x 2, first recording new play Anno Domino with his wife, Heather Stoney, for the summer and then continuing the multiple role-playing in a ghost story for winter nights as he revisited his 1994 play Haunting Julia, both for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. His master’s voice, as you have not heard him before, at 81.
Television art show of the year: Grayson Perry and wife Philippa hosting Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4, championing people’s art with such empathy, wisdom, wit and love.
Festivals that would not lie down but embraced the virtual instead: York Early Music Festival and Christmas Festival; York Festival of Ideas; Aesthetica Short Film Festival, much lengthened online.
Reinvention of a festival at short notice for Covid times: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, revamped by artistic director Jamie Walton to still go ahead with socially distanced audiences in a Welburn Abbey marquee with the apt theme of Revolution in August.
Comedy innovation of the year: Your Place Comedy livestreams, wherein a monthly double bill of comedians performed from their living rooms into yours.
Organiser Chris Jones, Selby Town Council’s arts officer, rounded up ten, then a dozen, independent Yorkshire and Humber venues to support three series of remote gigs by the likes of Mark Watson & Lucy Beaumont, Shappi Khorsandi & Justin Moorhouse and Hal Cruttenden & Rosie Jones.
Resilient spirits of the year: Chris Sherrington, Fulford Arms; Delma Tomlin, NCEM; Joe Coates and Harkirit Boparai, The Crescent; Cherie Federico, Aesthetica; Greg and Ails McGee, According To McGee; Kate Bramley, Badapple Theatre.
Statement-of-pandemic-times exhibition of the year: Karen Winship’s portraits of NHS frontline workers, first at York Art Gallery, then on the railings at All Saints Church, Pocklington. Harrowing yet life-affirming too.
Gallery launch of the year: Photographer Duncan Lomax’s Holgate Gallery in his front room in York.
Kitchen-synch drama of the year: York drag diva Velma Celli’s chic cabaret shows online from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and a riverside abode with flood water lapping at the door. Alter ego Ian Stroughair also had a ball as Flesh Creep in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.
Sign of the times: York Theatre Royal’s morale-boosting, we’re-all-in-this-together retro lockdown poster, in Keep Calm And Carry On wartime mode, designed by marketing manager Olivia Potter
Most irritating words of the year: Ramp up; pivot; baked-in; granular; lockdown…again; uptick; Stay Alert; postponed; cancelled; closed; non-viable.
Song of the year: Bird song, although Bonnie & The Bailers’ Baby Drive ran it close.
Album of the year: the always-touched-by-your-prescience-dear Human Contact by The Howl & The Hum.
Good news of the year: The ebullient Bull becoming the first York band to sign to a major record label since Shed Seven. Raise a glass to Tom Beer and co, whose album, Discover Effortless Living, will be out on Virgin EMI Records on Friday (26/3/2021).
Frustration of the year: The much improved second iteration of the York Mediale, the festival of digital media arts, defied budget cuts only to be cut short by Lockdown 2, meaning many missed out on the Kit Monkman-led art installation People We Love at York Minster and the Human Nature triptych of installations at York Art Gallery. It must be hoped People We Love can be revived.
Missed most: Interaction; connection; communication; banter; bursts of cheers and applause and…spontaneity.
Gone but not forgotten: Martin Witts’s Great Yorkshire Fringe; poet, writer, storyteller, blogger and performer Adrian Spendlow; Café Concerto, in High Petergate, York; York City at Bootham Crescent.