Storywriter -- Victoria Hall

Back in the 1980s HYT were slick, surprising, spellbinding and splendid, and deserved all the praise I regularly gave them.

Then I made a critical comment about the length of two of the youth theatre's flagship productions.

Retribution came swift and sharp as HYT devoted some of its next show to revealing that I fell asleep during a Shakespeare play.

I don't recall criticising HYT much in the intervening 16 years, but last week the group took another pop at yours truly.

This was just one of the blasts from HYT's glorious past in one of its most striking and memorable productions of recent years.

Big themes and inventive production, inspired comedy and menacing realism, trust exercises, playing games with the audience, with plotting, with reality. Qualities like this made HYT special two decades ago and with their latest musical it's clear they still do.

Storywriter concerned a young boy bullied by his family, his teacher and all the other children in the neighbourhood. Sam found solace in writing stories that came true, allowing him to defeat his enemies in one fell swoop.

But Sam's superpower was a story within a story, and his reality was in itself a story created by the HYT youngsters.

Jonathan Crossley's script kept this multi-layered play understandable, while his 12 songs -- among his most tuneful, varied and appropriate -- added even greater depth. There were many strong performers among the 22-strong cast but I have to single out Dean Knapper for his superb portrayal of Sam.

David Knights

Murdered to Death -- Keighley Playhouse

Send-ups are among the hardest comedies to attempt, and the pace and performances have to be pitched just right.

Despite a game try with this Agatha Christie spoof, Keighley Playhouse don't quite pull it off this week. There are some terrific performances and a few chuckles, but not enough of either, and some sections are quite boring.

The play opens in a typical Christie setting, a 1930s country house where various weekend guests have reasons to hate their host. Soon Mildred lies dead in the dining room and a bumbling detective and amateur sleuth vie to find the killer.

For such a spoof to work it has to have either over-the-top exuberance or a strong and original plot. Peter Gordon's script has neither, treading a pedestrian path along a well-worn street with only a pocketful of good gags.

Kevin Moore's direction perks up in the second half but overall allows too many pregnant pauses by the actors. Thankfully, he has his experienced cast adopt the right tone -- just the right side of hammy -- and many of them succeed delightfully.

Best among these lively performers are Mavis Walsh as the dotty Mildred, Guy Wilman as a nice-but-dim colonel and Laura Judge as a bitchy socialite.

* Tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Phone 08451 267859.

David Knights

Choral concert -- Skipton Parish Church

Keighley Vocal Union pulled off a major musical coup in bringing the Australian Children's Choir to the district.

The dates of the choir's European tour read like a who's who of the musical world, with performances in Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, York, Edinburgh, London, Cambridge -- with the Keighley choir, in Skipton.

Their hectic European schedule had prepared the young choristers and they continued the theme of musical tour as they travelled the world in song, with pieces by Mozart, Spanish cellist Pablo Casals and the traditional American song Amazing Grace in an arrangement by Roger Emerson.

They added Edelweiss from The Sound of Music and the old Irish ballad Danny Boy. From Australia they sang two pieces by modern composer Stephen Leek, including the haunting Dreamtime Land.

It was a magical evening which had been opened by the Vocal Union and ended on a high when the two choirs joined together. Without rehearsing together they performed the 23rd Psalm "The Lord is My Shepherd", probably now better known as the theme from The Vicar of Dibley, and "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" by John Rutter.

The richness of the young and older voices combined ringing around the ancient church was stunning. "It shows that music truly is an international language," said Andrew Wailes, artistic director of the Melbourne-based Australian choir.

John Heald