Tag Archives: York Settlement Community Players

Review: The Mai

16 Mar
“It’s not fair they teach us desperation so young, or if they do, they should never mention hope.”
Desperation, dejection, and disappointment seem to be the order of the day in Marina Carr’s 1995 play The Mai about a year in the life of a large Irish family full of brilliant but flawed women. Despite being a long and wordy play, with Carr displaying a flair for lyrical as well as naturalistic language, the plot is not the draw here; rather it is the characters and their inner lives that are so interesting and relatable, and the actors, without exception, skilfully bring them to life.
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Beth Sharrock as Millie (all photos by Michael J Oakes)

“I wanted my life to be so huge and heroic and pure.”
The title role of The Mai is a fantastic and exposing part for actor Beryl Nairn, which she clearly relishes and excels in, squeezing every last inch of emotion from this challenging and changeable character. The Mai’s daughter, Millie is our ‘narrator’ throughout, yet her speeches tend to be more poetic than expositional, which sometimes left the timeline of the story confused. However, Beth Sharrock (who plays Millie) shines in her myriad of metaphorical monologues and handles them sensitively and with genuine emotion, never overplayed. Millie, and her son, stand at the end of a long line of generations of wilful women who seem to have passed unfulfillment down through the ages like a dusty heirloom, and we are left wondering what her fate will be. At the top of this line is old Grandma Fraochlan, who gets all the best one-liners and is expertly played by Elizabeth Elsworth, with sparkling wit and expression. The family relationships are all nicely drawn, from that of The Mai and her husband Robert (Damian Fynes in a fine YSCP debut), to the three sisters The Mai, Connie (Helen Sant) and Beck (Jessica Murray), to the aunts Agnes (Vivienne Clare) and  Julie (an eminently watchable Sophie Buckley).

Elizabeth Elsworth as Grandma Fraochlan

“I’m not drunk, I’m trapped!”
This sort of play is exposing for an actor and the cast have obviously been sensitively directed by Jan Kirk to bring the best of themselves to their roles, their performances also aided by Helen Taylor and Maggie Smales’ costume design and Natalie Heijm’s make-up. Despite a slow start at the preview performance, the drama soon began to fizz and, particularly in the second half, the rapport between the actors was evident as the quick wit sparked between them and the tension grew to its foreshadowed conclusion.
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Beryl Nairn as The Mai

The Mai is a fantastic example of the talent York has to offer, both on stage and off, with set, costume, sound and lighting all playing their part, and you should take the chance to see this little performed claustrophobic and distinctly Chekhovian play.

2015 – A Theatrical Year.

4 Mar

So, as I did after 2014, I felt it was time to write a summary of theatrical exploits in 2015. As I said before, a lot of this is for me to look back and reflect on what went on, and to look forward to the next lot of fun! So without further ado..


January- Started the directing journey for Drums in the Night by auditioning the cast.

I entered my short script Blu to Script Factor and won the heat.

February- Rehearsals for Drums in the Night began. I was flattered and excited to be working with such a strong cast and crew on a text which I had studied in the original German at university.


March- See above!

April- Drums in the Night opened at Friargate Theatre. It was fantastic to be back in the directing chair but the joy of the play was everything coming together as I had envisaged thanks to lots of hard work from everyone.

May- Drums in the Night came to a close and I had my audition for Henry V..

June- Henry V rehearsals start!

July- This always seems to end up being a busy month!

We had the Drama Club Summer play at school – called The School Trip which I co-wrote and co-directed.

Also, it was the 8-11 Youth Theatre’s performance of The Hairdo That Got Away which was great fun.

I put on Blu as part of The Love Arts Festival at Friargate Theatre with my company Bird on Head Theatre.


.. and it was the Script Factor final. I wrote a play called The Absolute which was based on the theme of Relativity and was about a couple’s relationship, told from after one of their deaths. It came second place!


August- Henry V rehearsals started up again.

September- See above. That was literally my life for the second half of the year.

I also began to co-run Script York.

October- Henry V with my Barnbows. What more can I say? I loved loved loved this experience. It is hard to put it into words.

November- A bit of a rest but with Script Factor and some Shakespeare meet ups thrown in!

December- Assisting on the school production of The Wizard of Oz to round off the year.

And some of the things I watched..

– South Pacific (York Theatre Royal)

– Les Acteurs et La Dispute (TFTV York)

-Hamlet (Royal Exchange in cinemas)

-Romeo and Juliet (Flanagen Collective)

– Shakespeare in his Cups (YTR)

– Timon of Athens (YSP)

– The Comedy of Errors (Handlebards)

– High Society (Old Vic)

– Henry V (RSC Schools/Hull Truck)

– The Maids (Hedgepig)

– Richard II (Bronzehead)

– In Fog and Falling Snow (YTR/NRM)

– The Railway Children (YTR/NRM)

– Avenue Q (West End tour/GOH)

– Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix Theatre)

– Dick Whittington and his Meerkat (YTR/NRM)

– The Great Gatsby (The Guild of Misrule)


And 2016??

The first project of 2016 is Pericles with The York Shakespeare Project in April. More about that soon…




Drums in the Night

18 Apr

Again, another months’ long silence!

In my last post in January I mentioned some exciting news for 2015, well that exciting news was/is that I am back in the directing chair for Drums in the Night by Bertolt Brecht, performed by York Settlement Community Players who were also behind The Stepmother that I posted so much about.

A week today we will be getting ready to ‘get in’ at Friargate Theatre, where the play will be performed from 30th April – 2nd May.

In my whistle-stop tour of Brecht on my German course at university, I studied the play – Trommeln in der Nacht in German – and it is great to be able to revisit it now and to bring it to life with talented actors and a committed production team.

The play was written when Brecht was still in his early twenties, before his theories of Epic Theatre and Verfremdung, when he was a jobbing writer just wanting to make money! He chose the topical subject of the end of the First World War and the Spartacist Uprising – an uncertain time in Germany: many Berliners starving; soldiers returning with no homes to return to; an abdicated ruler etc etc- and placed a love-story in amongst this backdrop. All humanity is inside its 18 characters – good and bad, crude and innocent, funny and tragic. I think it’s great and I hope, if you come to see it, that you will too.

Emma Dubruel (Anna) and George Stagnell (Kragler). Credit Michael J Oakes (1)

Goodbye 2014

17 Jan

Wow, so I haven’t updated this blog in ages, so I thought I would write a short post even just to jog my memory and remind me that I DID do theatre last year! Actually, it’ll be remembering it all and sorting it into vague dates that will be the hard bit!

My year in theatre 2014..

January- Auditioned for The Stepmother with YSCP and got the part of Lois Relph. This took up most of the first third of the year and was a brilliant experience. Also continued work with YTR Youth Theatre 16+.

February- See above!

March- See above!

April- The Stepmother at York Theatre Royal. So much love for this play and the people involved.

May- Entered my first Script Factor heat with my play Butter-side Up and won the round!

Butter side up John Saunders

June- In rehearsals for July…

July- A very busy month! It was the final of Script Factor at York Theatre Royal, and my play Going Up got the runner up place which I was really happy about.

Going Up - John Saunders

Then more acting with The Envelope Project and Richard Kay’s play Good Grief. Then there was The York Mystery Plays, acting as Annas in YSCP’s production Christ before Annas and Caiaphas – just about managing to escape the rain and eating many satsumas disdainfully in the process.

August- Assistant Directed on a YTR Play in a Week – Persephone, which was a really fun summer project. Also took Going Up to the Arts Barge Riverside Festival, although we’ll know to have microphones next time!

September- Took Butter-side Up to Leeds Corn Exchange as part of West Yorkshire Theatre Network’s NEXUS festival. It was a fantastic experience to take a little play of mine to an arts festival and get some good feedback – it was performed under my company Bird on Head. I also started assisting with the 8-11s at Youth Theatre.

October- In rehearsals for November…

November- Treading the boards again with York Shakespeare Project as the pretty sadistic Morgan in All’s Well That Ends Well. Some great people and a play in the round, which was really fun to do.

December- Co-writing and co-directing the school play for the Christmas concert! And also receiving some exciting news regarding 2015…

And some of the things I watched..

– The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (National Theatre in Cinemas)

– The Crucible (Old Vic)

– 1984 (Headlong)

– Bondagers (Lyceum Edinburgh)

– Where the White Stops (ANTLER)

– The Importance of Being Earnest (Theatre Mill)

– Fiddler on the Roof (Hull New)

– Les Miserables (Rowntree)

– Twelfth Night (YSP)

– A Number (YTR)

– Blithe Spirit (YTR)

– The Wind in the Willows (YTR)

– Betrayal (YTR)

– Mother Goose (YTR)

The Stepmother Blog 2: Props, Posing and Publicity

14 Feb

A quick update by way of photos. See my previous post for some more background to the production of The Stepmother, and the bottom of this post for ways to get more information…

Hunting around the York Theatre Royal costume hire, we found a very sweet case complete with a beautiful little photo of two women. I’ll probably be using this as my cigarette case (Lois is a 20 a day kinda gal), pretending that the two women are my stepdaughters. It’d be lovely to know the story behind the case and who these people were.

This is one of my costumes (without the 1920s hair), found at the West Yorkshire Playhouse costume hire. This will be Lois’ work outfit, as she is a business woman. The dress itself luckily fits very well and I love the feel of it – it’s so silky! I quite like the 1920s style. Most people will think of the ‘flapper’ style dresses, but as Lois is a married woman in her late 20s, something like this is probably more suitable! One of the things I loved about this dress is that the back looks like it is done up by hundreds of buttons which look fantastic, but luckily, and in the spirit of the quick-change, the fastenings are actually clasps which will help when I have to quickly get out of it into another ‘frock’!

Yesterday our director Maggie and some of the cast popped into Radio York to record an interview about the play – here’s Simon who plays Peter Holland and Catherine who plays Mary. Hopefully you’ll be able to listen in on Sunday 2nd March.

York Settlement Community Players present Githa Sowerby’s The Stepmother at York Theatre Royal 5th-15th March

More The Stepmother blogs can be found here

A preview can be read here

More information about the production and information on tickets can be found here

Follow YSCP on twitter and receive updates about the production here

The Stepmother Blog 1: Finding Lois’ feet.

18 Jan

From 5th-15th March I will be performing in Githa Sowerby’s The Stepmother with the York Settlement Community Players (YSCP). The play, which has largely been left unperformed since it was written in the early 20th century, follows a young girl (Lois), unexpectedly left a huge inheritance, and the older man (Eustace) who takes her in and marries her for her money. What happens next is a fascinating tale of betrayal and what happens when secrets bubble up to the surface.

For me, being cast as Lois is hugely exciting. Too often roles for young actresses in classic plays are classified by the character’s sex life – deemed either a bolshy whore or a simpering virgin. Sex does play a role in the play but it doesn’t define who Lois is. In fact, she is many things – a business woman, a mother, a wife, a lover – but first and foremost a woman trying to do what she thinks best in any given situation and trying to keep her head, and the heads of those she cares for, above water.

Some might therefore call Lois a ‘strong woman’, but I tend to dislike such a label on female characters seeing as it’s never applied to men. This would also force a blanket term on her and, in my opinion, she operates on so many different levels throughout the play and is certainly not always ‘strong’. When we first meet her, she is a vulnerable but sparky 19 year old girl and when we meet her again ten years later (and after the First World War), she has blossomed into a confident 29 year old woman (albeit not entirely worldly wise). This is my first challenge as an actor – to be able to play both ages convincingly. I think the fact that I fall pretty much slap bang in the middle of her two ages is an advantage, but I still have to convince the audience that time has passed! Luckily, I am helped so much by Sowerby’s text. Lois is written so beautifully on the page, and I cannot help but read the older Lois’ dialogue as more self-assured.

Rehearsals so far have been really interesting and we have had many organic discussions with Maggie, our director, about our characters and their relationships. Some of my favourite passages are Lois and Eustace’s many ‘discussions’, which get gradually more heated as their marriage becomes colder. It would be easy to play them all as shouting matches, but then you wouldn’t get the many sides of their characters and situation. Also, I’m not entirely sure the audience would warm to Lois’ personality as easily. The words I’ve noted down during these passages are, therefore, deliberately varied – Steely, matter-of-fact, honest, teasing, genuine, sneaky, harsh, direct, scared, practical, panicked, calm, uncomfortable, incredulous, guilty, angry, suspicious, sincere, frustrated… sometimes I think she is feeling all of these in just one short moment!

After my first reading of the text, I would have called Lois a ‘modern woman’, and I still think this is true to some extent. Even today there are discussions about whether women can have it all, juggling a career, a partner, children etc. Yet as we rehearse the play chronologically, there have been glimpses that she is still very much of her time and bound by morals and conventions that we may not completely recognise today.

I suppose I want an audience member to be enthusiastically cheering her on, yet at the same time wanting to give her a slap in the face. And then I will convince them to join me in singing this.

More The Stepmother blogs can be found here

A preview can be read here

More information about the production and information on tickets can be found here

Follow YSCP on twitter and receive updates about the production here