YORK Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar resume in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre from this evening.
Not so secret that the pesky rain could not find Friday’s first performance at 6pm, but this new location for YSP affords protection under parasols and the natural shade of the garden itself, plus the availability of umbrellas and tea towels for wiping down seats. Ah, the joys of the English summer.
YSP had favoured Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens for several years before switching to socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September in a pragmatic response to Covid safety requirements.
The audience is seated once more for Sonnets At The Bar, but there is movement aplenty by Emilie Knight’s cast of sonneteers, each emerging from different corners and paths for their allotted time in the spotlight.
Knight has moved up from playing Covid Nurse last year to nursing the 2021 production through rehearsals, introducing four debutant sonneteers and five Shakespeare sonnets new to YSP service.
Noting how the Bar Convent is a hive of community activities, some held outdoors for Covid safety, she hit on the structure of each sonneteer playing someone either hosting classes, groups or meetings or attending them, all under the often irascible care of Mick Taylor’s seen-it-all-before, seen-it-all-once-too-often caretaker, Mr Barrowclough, in effect our hurry-up host for the hour.
It takes little to rile him, as he hectors Luke Tearney’s amicable busker off the premises and later ponders how much money he could have made from a PPE contract, given the omnipresence of discarded face masks he has to pick up. In a nutshell, Taylor’s brusquely humorous Barrowclough prefers talking to the trees, giving each a punning name.
From each character’s thoughts and actions emerges a sonnet, starting with Sally Mitcham’s vexed Zumba class attendee Karen (O From What Power Hast Thou This Powerful Might), followed by Helen Wilson’s jaunty Scouser Julie, always cajoling at her side (Whilst I Alone Did Call Upon They Aid).
Frank Brogan’s fever-browed Simon is in a bad place, or rather the wrong place, as he discovers all too late after unburdening himself at what he assumes to be an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. His rendition of When In Disgrace With Fortune And Men’s Eyes, so troubling and confessional as he strives to come to terms with the loss of his wife, feels like invading grief even though he has been brave enough to go public.
Taylor’s Mr Barrowclough brings out all his exasperation in Tired With All These, For Restful Death I Cry before West End musical actor Aran MacRae makes his return to the York stage as Paul, a principled parish clerk weighed down by skeletons and impropriety all around him, who delivers Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars with a sombre down-beat.
Darkness makes way for all the colours under the sun in Sindy Allen’s Persephone, a yoga instructor determined to keep doom at bay through indefatigable brightness of spirit and even brighter hair and clothing. Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry has all the bounce of Tigger when escaping her lips.
Youngest participant Josh Roe’s Joseph Smythe has been using lockdown to teach himself assorted musical instruments, and dressed as if for the Proms, he conducts his audition with precocity and youthful lack of self-awareness, making way for a suitably assured account of Music To Hear, Why Hear’st Thou Music Sadly?.
Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson, one of the 2021 newcomers, has a naturally theatrical voice, one that draws you in to her role as Liz, an ebullient grandmother too busy for “swiping right”, as she undertakes childminding duties. “Some Say Thy Fault Is Youth, Some Wantonness” takes on a knowing air.
None other than Judith Ireland could play Sister Colette, radiating wisdom and serenity, in a finale that interrupts her peace in the garden with the vomiting interjection of Luke Tearney’s surly, scowling, cussing Tim, a bad lad or maybe just one in need of re-direction, courtesy of remediuk.org.
He brings anger, frustration and desperation to ’Tis Better To Be Vile Than Vile Esteemed in an eye-catching performance of much promise, and who better to restore calm than Ireland’s nun with No More Be Grieved At That Which Thou Hast Done. Amen to that.
Taylor’s Mr Barrowclough has to have the final word, one last harrumph before we leave, the rain having desisted. Three Saturday performances would subsequently pass without a downpour, despite a dodgy forecast, a blessing that producer Maurice Crichton put down to “the power of the Bar Convent sisterhood’s prayer”.
All hell will return come the autumn when YSP’s two-decade passage through Shakespeare’s plays will resume with Leo Doulton’s apocalyptic account of Macbeth in October.
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, until August 7. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm, Saturday. Tickets: 01904 623568 or at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk.