Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Yerney Project by Ray Brown

L-R  Dick Downing, Stephen Anderson, Jem Dobbs, Everal A Walsh, Jamie Smelt, Derrick "Digger" Holt                          Photos: Richard Wilcocks


Yerney  Derrick “Digger” Holt
Jurincic, Andrew, Thief, Bosnian  Dick Downing
Judge, Jailer, Inkeeper, Mayor   Jem Dobbs
Gostach   Stephen Anderson
Italian father, Spy, Costic, Micho   Everal A. Walsh
Young Sitar, Tony, Koshir, Prison Cart Driver   Jamie Smelt
Stage manager and script writer    Ray Brown

Roberta Stabilini writes:
Yerney is an old farmer and former bailiff. He has been working near his hometown, earning the respect of the local community. The story begins when a new young bailiff takes Yerney’s place when his partner dies.  Even though he is the son of Yerney’s old master, with whom Yerney worked for forty years, he bullies him, telling him that he is old, and that he should find some other place to stay (“Time flows. All things must end”). Yerney tries to reason with him, telling him that he and Sitar built that master house together when they were young. But when he realises that he cannot convince Young Sitar, he decides to go look for justice by himself.

     Ray Brown      
Thus, failing to get justice from the local Mayor, Yerney goes to Ljubljana to discuss his situation in court. However, the judges do not take him seriously because of his clothes, his countryside manners and his repeated and agitated requests to “put this on paper.”  As a result of his talk with the judges, Yerney gets very upset and thus is sent to prison. However, despite the hostile circumstances, he keeps asking for “justice for those who deserve it, and mercy for those who don’t.”

He is aware of the rightfulness of his behaviour and he is determined to be treated according to his rights “When justice is done, they will be ashamed. They will regret their behaviour.”

Despite all the previous vexations, Yerney decides to go to Vienna, the capital of the empire, to speak with the Emperor himself.  Once again, he is not taken seriously; he is jailed, mistreated  and then shipped back to his hometown.  The play ends when Yerney goes back to Sitar’s house to get his pipe and the house is set on fire.

The story of Yerney is told very realistically and movingly in The Yerney Project. The play perfectly portrays the indifference of powerful, corrupt men in front of the requests of an old, poor, hard-working countryman.  The Yerney Project is a quest for justice, in which Yerney bravely strives to find the meaning of his life, of all those years spent working, only to discover he would lose his place in the community once old.

The play was beautifully staged by the actors, who succeeded in mesmerising the audience throughout the performance.  A wonderful opportunity to see a Slovene classic with so many echoes for today.

The play is based on a novel by Ivan Cankar (d1918) - you can find out about him by clicking HERE.

Audience comments:

Wonderful.  Very moving!  Superb actors.

So good to have the opportunity to see new work.  Thank you.

Very interesting play – the innocent who believes in justice and still retains his dignity despite his maltreatment.  Very good performances and moving too.

Very engaging.  Well performed and imagined for a confined space.  Lots of energy and interesting adaptation.

Enjoyed ‘intimate’ presentation in a small space.  Actors appeared to be speaking to us individually.  In turn therefore possible to follow the ‘plot’ because every actor could represent a number of players, so it was enabled to enlarge the political system against the individual.

Felt the piece was very intense and the inevitability somewhat crushing/saddening.  Found it had great universal  truth and therefore engaging.  Greatly enjoyed the work of the cast.

Ideal venue for performance.  Well acted, great clear characterisations.  Poignant story well told.

A moral and affecting piece.  Excellent performances all round.  A very worthwhile evening.

Very interesting – good to have a play from a different cultural background.  Well performed.

This was my first time at LitFest and I came because I am Slovene.  I was interested in this particular event because I know the original short novel this play is based on.  I was very impressed and enjoyed the play very much.  It was cleverly written and very well performed.  I would be interested in coming to more events organised by LitFest in the future.

A brilliant piece of writing, powerful and timeless (unfortunately!)

A very good opportunity to see a new (I think) and v interesting piece of work without the cost or hassle of going to the theatre in town.  Thank you.  Well worth seeing and well done.

Very good, suitable venue.  Very thought-provoking play.  Well done.

A gripping play – very glad I came.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play.  It was engrossing, credible and took me wholly along with the story of Yerney.  The author captured the despair of a dispossessed simple man.

Excellent and moving tale of injustice.  Well researched and well performed.

A very enjoyable, well acted and well written performance worth the trip out.

Well written, acted and a comfortable venue.

A real heartfelt play. Full of soul during time of hardship!

Very powerful play.  Excellent writing and construction – very poignant.  Well acted, and spoken – deserves a wider audience and prestigious venue.

Interesting project.  Good acting.  Perhaps next year we can have some sporting interest, hopefully cricket!

I found the play gripping and the plot very plausible.  One felt sympathy for Yerney – we should be grateful for Legal Aid and Citizens Advice Bureaux!  Well acted – each character was well defined. 

Bravo a tutti

It was amazing play that I’ve ever seen before.  The script (story) and actors have carried the audience to another dimension.  Thank you for arranging this play and the unexpected night.

Very well acted.  Moving, depressing but worthwhile. A good adaptation.  Thank you!

Excellent. Atmospheric, funny, poignant and powerful.  Very punchy, well acted.

Unusual subject and period of interesting mix of accents to bring the characters to life.  Well executed play

Powerful drama, well acted by excellent cast. 


Excellent acting.  Ending was too fast to follow.

Really enjoyed it.

Great to see a ‘read’ performance.  V enjoyable storytelling that echoed so much present injustice!  Let’s have more.

Very moving play, very well performed by company.  Lots of food for thought.

Very powerful and moving radio play

Thought-provoking original new work.

Really vivid portrayal.  Moving and real.

Very impressive performance of a fascinating play.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Debate on censorship at Ralph Thoresby School

The two teams. In the middle - Paul Thomas
Comments from young people involved:

Organiser comments:

A debate on the nature of censorship in art was enhanced by a special customised performance by Trio Lit of the show they had performed for LitFest a couple of weeks earlier.

I thought that it was a really nice little event last night and I would certainly like to continue working to raise the profile of these kind of events. “  said teacher Thomas Stubbs of a collaboration between Headingley LitFest, the Leeds Salon and Ralph Thoresby school. 

Just a quick note to say the debate and performance all went off as planned -- in the end we did the entertainment while the judges were out of the room, making the decision, so the audience had that nice element of suspense to add a spark to their attention. They seemed to really enjoy Censored! and even became an enthusiastic crowd shouting at the end (Weavers Out!)…   He (the teacher who organised it) was brilliant -- a great good thing all round, for positive input and unflagging energy!”  Jane Oakshott, one third of Trio Lit.

“Though having a teacher on each side meant that there was too little of the pupils really – though they both did well and showed their potential as debaters, and the teachers were also able to set a good example of debating. But it should also still add to the knowledge and experience of those who took part and those in the audience towards the future – and I hope you’ll take part again in the qualifying rounds for next year’s Festival school debating competition.” Paul Thomas, Leeds Salon organiser

A quote and a poem from Censored! performance:
“Assassination is the extreme form of censorship” from The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet  by George Bernard Shaw, 1911
           Atrocities, by Siegfried Sassoon

?       Did Sassoon’s publisher reject this version in 1917 because it was not up to Sassoon’s usual standard, or because he thought the content was subversive for wartime?

           Original version, written 1917

           You bragged how once your men in savage mood

           Butchered some Saxon prisoners. That was good.

           I trust you felt no pity when they stood

           Patient and cowed and scared as prisoners should.

           How did you kill them? Speak and don't be shy.

           You know I love to hear how Germans die.

           Downstairs in dugouts "Kamarad" they cry

           And squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

           I'm proud of you. Perhaps you'll feel as brave

           Alone in no-man's-land where none can save

           Or shield you from the horror of the night.

           There's blood upon your hands - go out and fight.

           I hope those Huns will haunt you with their screams

           And make you gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams.

           You're good at murder. Tell me, can you fight?

    Revised version, pub 1983 in The War Poems ed.Rupert Hart-Davies

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,

How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!

I'm sure you felt no pity while they stood

Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don't be shy:

You know I love to hear how Germans die,

Downstairs in dug-outs. "Camerad!" they cry;

Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick

When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick

And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,

Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

Stories from the War Hospital in the Leeds Library

Richard Wilcocks                                         Photo: Laura Cummins
Charlotte Gray writes:
It was a bit of a privilege to be able to set foot in the members-only Leeds Library for today’s event. Bedecked floor to ceiling with books and hiding seemingly secret passageways atop spiral staircases, its atmosphere was one that could only have been kept alive by the most dedicated of bookworms. In this vein, it was the perfect venue in which to be given a glimpse into a book that seems to have been a true labour of love.

Richard Wilcocks’s talk on his acclaimed book  Stories from the War Hospital was an engaging insight into the lives of the people that were treated and worked at the Beckett Park military hospital in Headingley during the First World War. The detailed and careful way with which he retold some of the more personal aspects of wartime life in Leeds really worked to shed light on previously forgotten elements of the city’s wartime history.

What really stood out for me was that Richard’s approach to the hospital’s history was a personal and heartfelt one. A testament to this was the fact that family members of those featured in the book were present in the audience and that Richard took the time to include photos of them in his presentation and to engage them in discussion during the talk.

Some of the most interesting moments were those in which Richard shared unexpected anecdotes about the hospital and about life in First World War Britain. One of the highlights for me was the picture shown of soldiers at Beckett Park dressed in Pierrot costumes who called themselves the ‘Cheeros’. We were told that British military hospitals were often equipped with these kinds of costume as it was firmly believed that humour and entertainment were significant aids to recovery.

Personal and heart-warming insights like this – plus the love stories, drawings, and poems of the staff and patients of Beckett Park - were what set the event apart. I, for one, am eager to read the book and find out more about this rich and previously untouched piece of Leeds’ history.

Book's website is at

Audience comments:

Great to have a chance to visit Leeds Library. No bag/coat policy a little disconcerting. Quote from the 1923 book well-chosen: "They came with the soil of France upon their great-coats... Some were entirely covered from view and of these some would not have been recognised by those who knew them best." A pen picture which enhanced the presentation. 

Powerpoint was well-paced. Good to have Mr Bass with us - a living link. Eva Dobell poem made me tingle. Rousing song! Great range of sources to inspire empathy in us for WW1 folk.

The best contribution to First World War history of Leeds I have yet come across. Could the Playhouse perform your play?

A very interesting and informative presentation of an interesting topic with memories of my grandparents and parents. Thank you.

Really enjoyed Richard's talk. Interesting facts. A very succinct speaker. It was lovely to hear about my grandma and grandad and for their name to carry on. I was extremely impressed that Richard did the whole talk from memory. His knowledge and interest are inspiring!

I found the talk really interesting from my Spanish point of view. I feel I know now a bit more of Leeds and its history.

I really enjoyed the talk. It was full of interesting information and personal stories involving the hospital. My grandfather, who I never knew, served in the First World War and he was very ill with his chest. I have been wondering whether he may have attended the hospital, but I don't think so now.

Having already read the book the talk illuminated it very effectively. A good idea.Maybe we should try the formula again with other books on Headingley matters.

A subject that should have been researched earlier.

Informative especially as I am not a local! Would have preferred a different venue so I could see the slides.

Excellent record of the stories of patients, nurses and doctors at the Beckett Park hospital. Richard has a wonderful lively manner of recalling stories, adding his skills of singing.

A very interesting talk - clear, relaxed, good pace. Some new information and fascinating stories of individual cases of the wounded, the medical team and the nursing team.

Very interesting and quite funny stories about the war hospital. Richard Wilcocks was quite funny when he was describing about the staff and patients at that hospital. I have been inside the Thackray Medical Museum a bit and found that very interesting.

Interesting and informative, with lots of opportunities for questions.

Very interesting "shaft of light" on a previously unknown piece of Leeds history.

Liked the presenter's sense of humour - a lively - though sobering presentation.

A fascinating light shone on the buildings and how they were used in wartime. Adds another dimension to my local knowledge.

Thoroughly enjoyed talk and slides, especially as missed it last year. Would love to see the play performed!

A very informative session. A great story well-told in an entertaining way. Thankyou for the opportunity to find out more about the background to the book.

I have read the book and seeing the photographs added another dimension. Varied and interesting. Extremely well presented.

Lots of fascinating local knowledge. Very well researched. A great addition to local literature.

Didn't know of the hospital previously. Interested to hear of pioneer medical work at this hospital and of who staffed it. Also, funded by private subscription.

Very engaging stories about individual doctors, VADs, nurses and patients at the hospital brought this talk alive.

Excellent thank you.

Fascinating talk full of well-researched information and well-illustrated with photographs. I have a copy of the book which is equally interesting.

Fascinating stories from the people who lived in wartime Beckett Park. A building I lived close to for over 20 years without realising its history.

Very interesting and moving stories about the history of the trained nurse, the treated soldiers and the war hospital. Definitely, my views toward the building used as the old hospital have been broadened. Thank you.

Well done and very interesting.

Well-presented and very interesting. Thank you.

Very informative and interesting talk.

Interesting and very well presented.

A fascinating talk. Thank you.

Poetry by Heart

Rosemary Jackson writes:
Paul Adrian          Photo: Rosemary Jackson
--> Last night, LitFest teamed up with the monthly event Poetry by Heart at the Heart Centre Cafe. Amongst the line up were a number of acclaimed poets including Mike Barlow and Paul Adrian, both winners of the National Poetry Competition and Carole Bromley, winner of the Brontë Society Literary Competition 2011.

As I arrived at the Heart Centre I was pleased to see an impressive number of people entering the building and inside the cafe was buzzing with poetry fans. Holding the event in the Heart Cafe is a brilliant idea, with the relaxed atmosphere complimenting the tone of the evening. It was also great to be able to grab a coffee or even a glass of wine throughout the show.

The first poet was Jane Routh, who specialises in poems about nature and wildlife. Last night she treated us to some of her collection The Gift of Boats, which captured the spirit of the sea perfectly. Next was Ron Scowcroft. It was particularly interesting to hear that Ron was first influenced to write poetry by listening to Bob Dylan Records and this comes across in his poem My Father’s Phonograph where he describes his old ritual of record playing with his father. Helen Burke then read a range of her poetry, from poems about her mum, dad and her hometown, to her experiences in New York, to one about hens inheriting the earth; her work was full of character and wit.

Paul Adrian read a variety of his work, including one about drinking alone with the moon. It was impressive to hear that when Paul won the National Poetry Competition with his poem Robin in Flight, which was sent just before the deadline and he did not have high hopes for it, but since then he has gone on to write a number of successful poems. Carole Bromley, creative writing teacher at York University, read us some of her touching poems primarily about death and mourning. The poem I found especially moving was about her best friend who passed away. It explains how she had a feeling she should get in touch and so sent her a bunch of flowers, but they never made it to her in time. The final poet of the evening was Mike Barlow whose reading included an interesting poem about his time as a probation officer, capturing the life of a charming young man he once supported.

Audience comments:

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

British Surrealism Opened Up

Jeffrey Sherwin                 Photo:  Richard Wilcocks
Charlotte Gray writes:
Headingley library was packed out last night for Jeffrey Sherwin’s talk introducing his new book: British Surrealism Opened Up. Having had surrealism pop up in my studies before, but never having encountered the British side of the movement, I was interested to find out more.

What struck me about Jeffrey’s delivery was the honesty with which he talked about art. He wasn’t apprehensive about admitting that he wasn’t an art historian, but just a man lucky enough to have been friends with artists and who had collected their work. For a newcomer to the concept of British surrealism, this honesty allowed for an engaging talk on a subject that could have been quite intimidating.

He said that what appealed to him about specifically British surrealist art was the placing of everyday elements of British life in a new and interesting context, which immediately intrigued me. He then went on to show photographs of several works that made up his collection and showcased this turning of the familiar on its head.

As well as providing a background to the art itself, Jeffrey made room in his talk for unexpected anecdotes about well-known artists. As a former Leeds City Councillor and leading figure in the building of the Henry Moore Institute, he had delightfully Yorkshire-based stories to tell about Moore himself. He also turned out to be quite an authority on the history of Salvador Dali’s moustache!

British Surrealism Opened Up was an altogether enjoyable evening that inspired me to find out more about the art of the British Surrealist movement. Framed by jokes, anecdotes, and plenty of pictures, the talk introduced a book that looks set to be an enjoyable and accessible way in to a fascinating group of artists.

Audience comments:

A most informative and amusing lecture – clearly explained especially as Dr. Sherwin has had direct contact with many of the artists. Please may we have another talk on surrealism next year?

A fascinating account of a unique private collection – a collection of extremely rare British surrealist painters. It was very interesting that Jeffrey took a shine to the quaintness of surreal paintings and sculptures at the very start of that particular art movement. As he says, he would not be able to afford his own collection today.

Informative, very passionate and enthusiastic when discussing white male surrealists. Doug was vey good, very professional and dealt with Jeffrey well.

Informative, delivered in an entertaining manner. The lecture was accompanied by excellent slides of works of art and of artists.

A pleasant wander through a collection and its raison d’être.

A unique and personal view of surrealism by a collector. Most interesting.

An excellent idea to have an expert lecture on an aspect of art – makes a change from the many artistic performances. Much appreciated.

Great to hear all the stories behind the art especially the sordid ones.

A very entertaining evening – what a remarkable man and collector. Learned a lot! Thanks.

Very engaging and entertaining delivery. Worthwhile experience.

A most enjoyable presentation. Easy on the eye and the ear.

Excellent talk. Interesting, informative and amusing. Learned a lot.

A wonderful talk, Jeffrey. Thanks.

Interesting, witty, a real character. Loved it!

Informative, witty, entertaining.

Very enjoyable evening.

Great stories!




Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Mestisa at Mint Café

Mestisa                                           Photo:  Richard Wilcocks

For bookings:
Tamara Carew writes:
We were treated to authentic South American sounds by a Yorkshire-based band, Mestisa. The foursome performed in Mint café, a very warm and intimate venue in Headingley. When listening to Mestisa's music it was hard not to feel as if you were being transported to some hot, sunny beach, or to a village high in the Andes. Their music choices were from across South America including Colombia, Paraguay and Peru. 

The songs, all of them in Spanish, many of them beautifully delivered by Ana Luisa Muñoz, often had humorous tales behind them, which the band was more then happy to share with the audience. I remember one song in particular that was dedicated to men with commitment issues. The rhythms - and the emotions - were strong. Towards the end of the evening, they played several cumbia pieces: this is a popular music genre throughout South America, especially in the Andean region. It is the result of musical and cultural fusion between Native Colombians, Panamanians and colonial Spanish people and was originally a courtship dance. Several members of the audience certainly danced in the Mint back room, though at a guess they were already married rather than courting

Towards the end of the first set there was some lovely poetry based on life lessons and learning from one's mistakes read in English by Richard Wilcocks -  I’ve learned by Paolo Coelho (Eu tenho aprendido), the most famous poet in Brazil, which was very moving. 

** Paolo Coelho's inspiring and symbolic story The Alchemist (O Alquimista) was first published in Portuguese in 1988, and has since been translated into many other languages. Take a look at his current blog to see the words of I've learned by clicking on 

Audience comments:

A fantastic evening. Delicious food, great music and fantastic singing and songs.

La música fue bellisima. Me encantó escuchar la idioma de español. Gracias.

Una noche maravillosa! Todos los miembros de la banda son verdaderos profesionales que tranmiten perfectamente toda la emoción de la música latinoamericana. El poema de Paolo Coelho fue leído muy bien en inglés. Creo que ahora voy a comprar su libro 'El alquimista'.

Brilliant. Very uplifting. Great music. Great food. Great poetry.

Fascinating and very moving music and poetry. Delicious food and friendly staff and patrons. A truly special and wonderful evening! Let's have more please.

Wonderful and cosy.

The music/poetry mix was very unusual and worked well in this wonderful, friendly, intimate venue. The musicians surpassed themselves with their virtuosity and sheer talent and the food was superb.

Beautiful music, lovely intimate and friendly venue. Great to experience Latin culture locally and Mestisa never disappoint. The reading was lovely too.

The evening especially the music was like a wonderful pot pourri of (unfinished)

Music was great and poetry was fabulous.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Tales of the Unexpected - Maggie Mash's house event

Serene Leong writes:
I walked up the gravel path to a red door, not sure of what to expect at Maggie Mash’s house event Tales of the Unexpected.

In a lovely room, an expectant crowd of fifty sat happily on mismatched chairs, many of them borrowed from neighbours. For an hour or so, we listened to poems from Maggie Mash and Linda Marshall, short stories from Jane Oakshott and readings by Tony Todd, David Robertson and Frances McNeill. There was even a sneak preview by Stuart Fortey of his new detective story Scandal in Scarborough.

As the warm spring sunlight filled the room, we sang along with Teresa O’Driscoll and John Kilburn -  the Retrolettes. Harmonising to Climbing the Mountain with a Baby got me really excited and everyone there was giving their best shot at making sure we stayed in tune! 

It was a wonderful afternoon, full of exciting performances and much laughter. Tales of the Unexpected was a little scary, a little magical and a whole lot of fun. Thank you to Maggie and family for the great hospitality! 

Maggie Mash

Here, she is the character Death in a Somerset Maugham story.
Jane Oakshott

At the end of her delivery of a mock-gothic tale, the audience jumped out of its collective skin.
David Robertson

He read from The Turn of the Screw - really frightening.

Stuart Fortey

Playwright Fortey has written his first detective story - set in Scarborough.
Frances McNeill

A new Kate Shackleton story set in the ghostly old Leeds Library - includes an exorcism.

John Kilburn

Brilliant and accomplished as ever. YouTube doesn't do him full justice.

Teresa O'Driscoll

Brimming with charm and musicality. Should cover more Carter Family numbers.
Linda Marshall

Headingley's poet laureate. Well, one of them...
Tony Todd

He read from his first novel - and left us cliffhanging

Audience comments: