THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company's February production of Kiss Me, Kate marks the start of a £3 million fundraising push to extend and improve the JoRo theatre, in Haxby Road, York.

The in-house company was founded by producer-director Kayleigh Oliver, ably supported by assistant director Alex Schofield, and Kayleigh is in her element readying the Cole Porter musical comedy for next Wednesday's opening night.

"I've been producing shows for a while, having started when I studied at the University of Hull from 2006 to 2009, when I read English Literature," says the North Easterner, who has performed on the Jo Ro stage many times.

"I've performed Gilbert & Sullivan since I was 11, when I went to an all-girls school in Sunderland, where they would cross-cast and I was always being cast as an older man!"

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Charlotte Wood in rehearsal for playing Lois Lane. Picture: John R.Saunders

Kayleigh went on to do a Masters in theatre, writing, directing and performance at the University of York and also set up a company, Dauntless Theatre, made of students and teachers, that ran in the summer holidays and won the UniFest prize at the 2016 International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Harrogate with their production of The Mikado.

"My shows are all very low budget; I excel at putting on shows at a low cost, and what I enjoy most is working with people. I believe you go to see people perform, not for the sets, especially with amateur theatre shows."

Kayleigh's partner, Alastair Bush, is on the Joseph Rowntree Theatre board and she has participated in discussions on the future of the theatre. "I pitched to the theatre the idea that if they put on low-cost, fundraising shows, there was a chance they would get quite a lot back from it," she says. "I find that you do better if you focus on performers, rather than set design, as they pitch in together to help raise funds for the theatre."

Kayleigh, who also runs the York Makery shop in Gillygate, duly set up the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, whose debut production, The Producers, was staged last February. "We decided we wanted to open with a big splash, and The Producers was an ideal choice. This time we're doing a more traditional, classic musical with a big ensemble cast with a wide range of skill sets and a wide range of characters," she says. "We also couldn't find any record of Kiss Me, Kate having been done at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre before, which was an interesting point in favour of doing it."

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Kiss Me, Kate cast members in rehearsal

The cast size has risen from 25 for The Producers, when many played four or five roles, to 39 for Kiss Me, Kate. "It turns out to have been a lot more different to work on this show than I expected. It's a monster, this one, but in a good way!" says Kayleigh.

She is leading a production team of ten, including assistant director Alex Schofield, choreographer Julie Shrimpton, assistant producer Tom Davey-Rogerson and musical director Tim Selman, who is new to the York stage scene. "It's such a good cause, raising funds for the Rowntree theatre, that people really want to be involved," she says.

Leading roles on stage go to Jim Paterson, playing Fred Graham after a long hiatus from performing, Hull actress Roselyn Shallcross as Lilli Vanessi and Charlotte Wood as Lois Lane.

Looking ahead, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company's next fundraising show will be A Musical Extravaganza, a night of West End hits, on July 28 at 7.30pm.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Kiss Me, Kate, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 6 to 9, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at