Arts editor Charles Hutchinson's pick of the arts and culture events of 2016 in York and beyond

Stage production of the year: The Machine Stops, Pilot Theatre/York Theatre Royal, in Theatre Royal Studio, May/June.

IN the year when Phillip Breen directed the York Minster Mystery Plays on the grandest scale and York Theatre Royal re-opened with Bryony Lavery's new adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, it wasn't the expected big hitters that left the deepest impression.

Instead, an obscure EM Forster sci-fi work, The Machine Stops, became a play for our times in the hands of the Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and Pilot Theatre in the Theatre Royal Studio.

Amid the stench of Brexit and Trump intolerance, here was a cautionary story of science friction and human heart told superbly artistically by a cast of four, writer Neil Duffield and electronic composers John Foxx and Benge with humanity's worst and best attributes thrust against each other. Good news, The Machine Stops starts up again in 2017, playing the Theatre Royal from February 10 to 18.

York Press:

Common Ground Theatre in The Lumberjills

Outdoor production of the year: Common Ground Theatre in The Lumberjills, Dalby Forest, near Pickering, July

COMMON Ground Theatre playwright Hannah Davies would not have been alone in not being aware of the Lumberjills, when she first saw Ray Lonsdale's sculpture, Pull Don't Push, on a site visit to Dalby Forest. His memorial to their woodland wartime labours prompted the York writer to pen a site-specific play about the young women recruited to the Women’s Timber Corps.

Production designer Jessica Watson's set of a 1940s' military campsite with canvas awnings, log seating and wood shavings at the end of Dalby Forest’s Ellerburn Trail required a 20 to 30-minute walk from the visitor centre, well worth it for the reward of seeing Jannah Warlow, Ashleigh Cordery and Amie Burns Walker's moving performances. Rumour has it, The Lumberjills may return for a tour of Forestry Commission woodlands.

Theatre trend of the year: Gender fluidity was all the rage. Shuna Snow played three men, the stuffed-shirt Bridey Flyte, the wastrel German Kurt and the Canadian moneybags Rex Mottram, in Brideshead Revisited at York Theatre Royal.

Myriad roles switched to the distaff side in American director Ben Prusiner's King Lear for York Shakespeare Project, among them Helen Wilson's eye-gouged Gloucester.

And who was Elexi Walker, the tall woman with the luxuriant moustache, long hair and even longer dress playing in Sherlock Holmes: The Hound Of The Baskervilles, at the Theatre Royal? Dr Watson, you presume correctly, referred to as "he" throughout.

York Press:

Playwright Charley Miles

New writer of the year: Playwright Charley Miles, from High Kilburn, near Thirsk, for her first play, the coming-of-age rural drama Blackthorn, performed in the Barber Studio at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in September.

She duly won a bursary to become the Playhouse’s writer in residence for 2017 and rightly so.

Children's show of the year: Nick Lane's Pinocchio at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in December.

Lane’s dialogue fizzed with so much energy, wit, naughty-boy playfulness, magical drama and a sense of danger too, and if you think Elvis Presley has no place in Pinocchio, think again.

York Press:

Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Quiet gig of the year: Benjamin Francis Leftwich, The Crescent, York, May 1.

YORK singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich, bereft at the loss of his father to cancer, took five years to release a second album, moving to London but never cutting his umbilical connection with his home city.

The wait went on until August for After The Rain, but Ben gave York a taster of what was to come in a magical May Day concert at The Crescent, a working men's club blossoming anew as a community centre and gig venue.

On the ticket desk was a note asking for the audience to note this would be an acoustic night with a respectful request for quiet; if anyone could bring a full house to hushed reverence, it was Ben with his hymnal and poetic songs that remind you of the broken Nick Drake.

A word of praise for The Crescent too, where Please Please You gig promoter Joe Coates, in particular, is maximising its potential.

York Press:

The Human League in concert

Retro-futuristic gig of the year: The Human League, A Very British Synthesizer Group Tour, York Barbican, December 15

BIZARRELY, Sheffield's electro romantics The Human League had never played York until this autumn, but here were Phil, Joanne and Susan Ann at last, still the crucial three from Dare, 35 years on, Phil's hair gone, their industrial Sheffield songs of love action serving as a party antidote to the bitter-pill politics of Terry Hall's gruel-Britannia Coventry crew The Specials at the Barbican a few weeks earlier.

A very British synthesizer group brought everyone together in electro dreams, their show being contemporary, politically aware, brilliantly designed and far from a mere heritage act re-tread of faded glories.

Are there too many festivals in York, as a City of York Council scrutiny report suggested?

WELL, it depends on what you do with them. Here are reasons to be cheerful, parts one, two, three and more besides. York Festival of Ideas, so full of ideas; the TakeOver Festival, when the young run York Theatre Royal with such vim; and York Early Music Festival and the York Early Music Christmas Festival, leaders in their European field under Delma Tomlin's tireless direction.

You want more? Miles Salter's York Literature Festival, punching above its weight because he won't take no for an answer.

York Press:

Jason Bruges's Light Masonry installation at York Minster

Illuminating York was back at its bright best after a disappointing 2015, with such highlights as Jason Bruges Studio's beautiful Light Masonry installation in the York Minster Nave and David Ogle's Lumen in The Quad at York St John University.

Impresario Martin Witts' passionate commitment to York saw him expand the summertime Great Yorkshire Fringe beyond Parliament Street, and it will be bigger again in 2017.

So too will the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, such a success again last autumn, and now stretching to a fifth day of films and more besides in myriad locations in 2017 under the inspirational artistic directorship of Cherie Federico.

Comeback of the year: Plenty of choice here...

YORK Theatre Royal, with its snug new auditorium, after the £6million refurb.

The York Minster Mystery Plays, back in the Minster after 16 years, but the streets and open air still suit them better.

Actor Martin Barrass, recovering from his life-threatening motorcycle accident, and soon to return to the stage in Richard Bean's English Civil War drama The Hypocrite for the Hull UK City of Culture 2017.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich, as highlighted earlier.

Theatre Mill, returning after a lull, with Moby Dick in York Guildhall; site-specific theatre at its best.

York Press:

Suzanne Shaw as Princess Yasmin in Aladdin, the Grand Opera House pantomime

The winner, however, is the Grand Opera House pantomime, under the new direction of Three Bears Productions, whose debut show Aladdin was a palpable hit.

Arts champions of the year:

Martin Witts, for the GYF and his plans for the St Saviourgate Methodist Church.

Playwright and director Alexander Wright for The Flanagan Collective's plays Some Some Love Story and Fable and The Guild of Misrule's The Great Gatsby, even greater at 41 Monkgate.

Robert Readman for his Pick Me Up Theatre musicals Assassins and Into The Woods and his remarkable refurb of 41 Monkgate.

Alan Ayckbourn for no fewer than four shows in a year at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

York Press:

Don Walls

Poet and The Beggars Of York verse drama writer Don Walls, a sage voice amid the mire.

Gone, but not forgotten, in memoriam:

In 2016, the York arts community bade farewell to photographer Kippa Matthews and soul revue impresario David Gest, distinctive host of memorable York Barbican shows. Cherish the memories.