YORK Shakespeare Project is rediscovering the secret garden at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York, for another season of Sonnets At The Bar from August 11 to 19.
“The invitation is as warm as ever,” says this year’s director, YSP chair Tony Froud. “On a summer’s evening, it has always proved a lovely experience. While sipping your complimentary drink in the convent’s delightful garden setting, sit back and enjoy a taste of Shakespeare that is both entertaining and accessible.”
Reprising the familiar format, the show features a host of larger-than-life modern characters, each with a secret to reveal. Each character in turn will speak a Shakespeare sonnet to expose the heart of their story, to the surprise of the audience.
On this occasion, audiences will watch the comings and goings as hotel staff and guests take a turn in its garden. “Eavesdrop on the gossip,” reads the invitation. “They may take you into their confidence – perhaps revealing more than they intend – and each will have a Shakespeare sonnet to share.”
“It’s a simple device that always seems to work,” says Tony. “Very often the actor can be halfway through the sonnet before the audience realises that the language has become Shakespearean.”
York Shakespeare Project first brought Shakespeare’s sonnets to life in 2014 with Sonnet Walks, wherein peripatetic audience members encountered colourful characters as they walked around the streets of York.
“Many people will remember the Sonnet Walks fondly,” says the show’s writer, Helen Wilson. “But staging the show in a single setting has great advantages, allowing characters to meet, exchange conversations and reappear.”
Helen, who created the original walks in 2014 in tandem with YSP stalwart Maurice Crichton, has shaped the 2023 script based on the cast’s improvisations. “We have been inspired by the show’s hotel setting, but our hotel is very different to the Bar Convent,” says Helen.
“The combination of eccentric staff and a whole variety of residents with fascinating back stories has offered great possibilities.”
Tony’s cast features actors aplenty familiar to YSP regulars and a new face. “A big part of the fun in the show is guessing which unusual characters they will be playing,” says Helen.
Tony, Helen and Maurice will be joined in the garden by Frank Brogan, Harold Mozley, Judith Ireland, Diana Wyatt, Nigel Evans and new sonneteer Sarah Dixon.
“The show will be around 45 minutes long,” says Tony. “Our sonnets are aimed at those aged 14 plus but may be enjoyed by younger folk with the right support from their accompanying adult. Two under 14s per adult will be admitted for free. We very much look forward to seeing you.”
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar in the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre garden from August 11 to 19, except August 14, at 6pm and 7.30pm, plus 4.30pm Saturday performances on August 12 and 19. Box office: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or 01904 623568. The price (£10, £5 for 14 to 17 year olds) includes a drink.