18th century priests’ vestments from Bar Convent secret chapel’s inaugural mass reunited for York Georgian Festival

Special collections manager Dr Hannah Thomas sets out the Georgian priests’ vestments in the Bar Convent chapel for the York Georgian Festival. Picture: Charlotte Graham

GEORGIAN vestments worn at the Bar Convent’s Opening Illegal Mass are being reunited in the chapel for the first time since 1769 from August 3 to 5 as part of the York Georgian Festival.

Now Great Britain’s oldest living convent, it was established in Blossom Street in 1686 when Roman Catholicism was illegal in this country. The chapel was built in complete secrecy, taking more than 20 years to complete, with the three priest vestments being designed for the inaugural mass, held on April 29 1769.

The vestments were worn together in the chapel only on that occasion. One has since been on display in the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s exhibition; the others have been in the possession of other Roman Catholic churches in York – until now.

Special collections manager Dr Hannah Thomas says: “Historically, these three vestments have been lent to different churches in the city, and it has taken some time to arrange for their return to their original home.

“These incredibly significant vestments were designed and made as a set specifically for the opening of this very special chapel and we are both thrilled and moved to be able to share this historic reunion with the public.”

Hannah continues: “The vestments will be displayed behind the altar in the chapel where they were first worn together more than 250 years ago, at great risk to the priests and all those who attended.

“Not only have these Georgian vestments survived a time in which Catholic material was regularly seized and destroyed, but also the fact that the chapel and the convent have survived against all the odds is an incredible story that we will be highlighting as part of the inaugural York Georgian Festival 2023.”

A private view will be held on August 3 from 5.30pm to 7pm; tickets (£15) can be booked at barconvent.co.uk. Guests are invited to enjoy private access to the house where they can discover the story behind its Georgian architecture, including the secret 18th century chapel. Dr Thomas will give an introduction to the history of the Bar Convent and the vestments; a glass of fizz is included on arrival.

A second ticketed event, Secrecy & Survival: Georgian York Through The Eyes Of A  Catholic Convent, will take place on August 5 from 12.30pm to 1.30pm, when the £10 ticket will include admission to the exhibition after the expert talk.

Dr Thomas will explore how the sisters ran an illegal convent under the nose of the authorities without being caught. How did they construct a secret Catholic chapel? What did the rest of York think of what was happening on 18th century Blossom Street? Over to you, Hannah.

Little-known items from the Bar Convent collections will feature as Dr Thomas delves into the archives to find out more.

Bar Convent special collections manager Dr Hannah Thomas with the Georgian priests’ vestments, going on display in the chapel from August 3 to 5. Picture: Charlotte Graham

The Vestments (1769): the back story

DIFFERENT types of priest’s vestments are worn within the Roman Catholic Church. This style is called a chasuble, a sleeveless vestment worn as the top layer by Catholic or High Anglican priests when celebrating Mass.

The shape has varied over time, but this is typical of the 17th and 18th centuries. There is a matching stole too: a narrow, long piece of fabric to be worn underneath the chasuble.

Chasubles often have elaborate embroidery, and these particular vestments are a fine example of 18th century craftmanship. Given that they were made to be worn for the opening of the secret chapel in 1769, the design is befitting of the occasion.

They are handmade with gold threads on a background of silk damask and feature an early use of sequins on liturgical clothing in England.

The icon of the pelican on the back is a direct reference to the pelican on the altar in the Bar Convent chapel. In Roman Catholicism, the pelican is used to symbolise Jesus, as legend has it that the pelican fed its young with its own blood, as Jesus also sacrificed himself for others.

The beautiful flower designs are a symbol of Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

York Georgian Festival, August 3 to 6

THIS summer, the glorious Georgians are taking over the city of York.

The fabulous fashions of dashing dandies, extravagant feasting and romantic country dancing add up to the vibrant tale of a golden social scene hidden within the brickwork of York’s abundant 18th century architecture.

In celebration, York Mansion House is collaborating with York museums, venues and historical experts to present York’s first ever Georgian Festival.

Dust off your petticoat and powder your best wig for a plethora of engagements at Fairfax House, Bar Convent and elsewhere. Learn to dance the minuet, discover Georgian family life with Horrible Histories writer Terry Deary, solve the mystery of tricky Dick Turpin’s missing corpse in an immersive murder mystery night and take a peep behind-the-scenes with York’s curators.

For full festival details, head to: mansionhouseyork.com/yorkgeorgianfestival.

Heritage pink is the ‘in’ colour as Bar Convent and New Visuality team up for young artists’ display embracing AI tech

Bar Convent Overgrown (with pink), by Ethan Wood, from the Colour! display

YOUNG York artists are adding a colourful twist to the city’s iconic heritage landmarks for a summer display at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street.

Award-winning York arts charity New Visuality has worked with children aged five to create the fun, fresh and vibrant artworks, on show in the Colour! exhibition until September 23.

The combination of arts and culture continues in the Bar Convent garden, where an outdoor sketch space has been created with easels and drawing materials, with the invitation to take inspiration from the exhibition and collections to create your own artistic interpretations. Easels are subject to availability and weather permitting.

Boom, by Evie Measor, at Clifford’s Tower

Under New Visuality’s wing, York’s young artists have reimagined the city’s heritage bolstered by funding from City of York Council’s Micklegate, Clifton, and Westfield wards. They visited the Bar Convent and other heritage sites to find inspiration for their work.

Charity co-director Ails McGee says: “We always love coming over to Bar Convent Heritage Centre with groups of young people. Many of our young participants initially report that heritage and culture are just not for them, for one reason or another, but the warm welcome they receive as soon as they come here helps dispel that notion.

The Minster And Pollen, by Isla McGee

“It’s our job, as a visual charity, to build on the groundswell of enthusiasm and encourage creative responses that we can then exhibit.”

New Visuality spent time working in the Bar Convent archives, helping to realise the vision behind Colour! by briefing the young artists to take photos, find photos and use innovative AI technology for the first time to create digital pieces such as Ethan Wood’s Bar Convent Overgrown (with pink), Rosie Measor’s Beatles and Alfie Wood’s Hippopinkimus.

Knip, by Evie Rose, on the city walls

Co-director Greg McGee says: “Heritage without innovation is just history. This project has brought so much joy to our young artists and is a microcosm of what Bar Convent continues to do so well, which is to intersect tradition and technology. The future is indeed bright.”

Dr Hannah Thomas, Bar Convent’s special collections manager, says: “We’re thrilled to be involved in this wonderful project that has enabled us to host these amazing and talented young people.

Hippopinkimus, by Alfie Wood, in Shambles beneath a pink sky

“The purpose of sharing our collections and history with the public is to preserve the legacy of our house and to celebrate the lives of those who changed the course of history. The younger generations are custodians of this legacy.

“Many young people feel that museums are not for them, and perhaps have a perception of them being boring and dusty places. With the fantastic work done by New Visuality, we can begin to change that idea and show that heritage is for everyone.”

The Colour display is included in admission to the Bar Convent exhibition from 10am; last admission, 4pm. Tickets: 01904 643238 or barconvent.co.uk.

Beatles, by Rosie Measor, at Bootham Bar

Sonneteers sought for York Shakespeare Project’s June performances at Bar Convent. When are the auditions?

Shakespeare Sonnets director Tony Froud in the secret garden at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre

YORK Shakespeare Project is to hold auditions for its new season of Shakespeare Sonnets on June 11 from 1pm and June 13 from 6.30pm at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York.

“It’s an opportunity for people to dip their toe into Shakespeare in a really enjoyable and proven format,” says director Tony Froud. “Each actor develops a character guided by Helen Wilson’s script and my direction. 

“It’s not too big a commitment and there are only 14 lines of Shakespeare to navigate with lots of support on offer.  We’ll be delighted to welcome both new faces and past sonneteers.”

York Shakespeare Project sonneteer Judith Ireland performing in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York

YSP’s Sonnet productions have been staged variously in Dean’s Park, behind York Minster; the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate; in Sonnet Walks on York’s streets and in the Bar Convent’s secret garden.

“This year we will again be bringing our audience into the Bar Convent garden, this time to witness the comings and goings of the visitors and staff of a York hotel. It will be surprisingly similar to and yet curiously unlike the Bar Convent,” says Tony.

Rehearsals will run from June 25, leading to performances from Friday, August 11 to Saturday, August 19 at 6pm and 7.30pm nightly plus 4.30pm on Saturdays.

To apply to audition, send an email to Tony via yorkshakespeareproject@gmail.com.

Innovative art to bolster summer fayre as New Visuality charity collaborates with Bluberry Academy on June 8 event

Artwork by Alex Utley for Blueberry Academy Summer Fayre

YORK charity New Visuality is bringing newly designed innovative artworks to the Blueberry Academy Summer Fayre the Melbourne Centre, Escrick Street, York, on June 8.

“This annual event is increasingly popular with its learners, learners’ families, and its staff,” says charity co-founder Greg McGee. “Traditionally it has consolidated the work of Blueberry Academy’s commercial arm, Blueberry Academy Pop Up Shop, now at 108 Walmgate,York. Now organisers are keen to widen the net to attract the wider community.”

Curriculum manager Laura Kent says: “The promise of lovely items available for purchase, plenty of tea and coffee and as much cake as you can eat has served us well in the past and is a good reflection of the positive energy created at our events.

“However, we’d like to see members of the public attend, so if people could please spread the word, that would be great. Our collaboration with New Visuality has meant that we have been able to work on the exhibitions we have here on display, as well as items for sale that have been designed using AI software.”

Alex Utley: Artist and activist

Formed in 2007 by Andy Bucklee and Andrew Cambridge, Blueberry Academy provides specialist support for young people and adults with learning differences, autism, social, emotional and mental health needs and/or other disabilities, with employability and independence as educational priorities.

New Visuality, directed by artist husband-and-wife team Greg and Ails McGee, has collaborated on visual arts projects since the beginning. “We received funding from Arts Council England’s National Lottery project grants to work with York’s wheelchair-using community,” says Greg.

“The project, Better Wheels, has gathered a groundswell after working with wheelchair-using residents in Acomb, Westfield, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without. Our plan is to integrate York’s wheelchair-using community with artists in sessions and exhibitions, interfusing traditional skills with innovation, celebrating access to cultural sites.

“It’s been a great success with art displays at Sanderson House, Take5 and Dalton Terrace’s Art Camp. When it comes to Blueberry Academy’s Summer Fayre, we thought, ‘this is an opportunity to build on the work we’ve been doing and to bring in some humour, AI technology and a game-changing exhibition’.”

Be Your Best Planet, by Alex Utley

New Visuality invited digital artist Alex Utley to participate. “Alex is an activist and artist, whose vision on accessibility provides the perfect portal for what Better Wheels has become,” says Ails. “The paintings I created were inspired by him, and the title, Shot In The Dark, a tribute to the Ozzy Osbourne song, was his idea.

“Basically, it’s a series of paintings shot through with positivity. That’s what we got from Alex, and the curatorial decisions were in the main part taken by him, with help from other Blueberry learners.”

Shot In The Dark will be on view for visitors to the summer fayre, alongside stalls selling prints, candles, jewellery, cards and much more, including coasters designed by Alex using innovative AI software, Canva.

He is pleased with the results. “Accessibility is such a massive issue in York, and though I and thousands like me have frustrations, there has been a lot of good work over the past few years,” he says.

 Blueberry Academy learner Joe P curating the summer fayre exhibition 

“I thought it would be better to focus on the humorous side of what it is to be a resident like me in a heritage city in 2023. The coasters incorporate my ideas visually, I’m really proud of them and I’m looking forward to the next limited-edition series.”

Greg is confident the project will continue to engage. “We have kiosks around Acomb where members of the public can leave ideas in a light-hearted way on what access means to them. We have plans to exhibit art based on access with the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre in Blossom Street.

“We’re set to sit down with policy makers from City of York Council on how we can continue to make progress on York’s accessibility. In the meantime, the summer belongs to Blueberry Academy. We hope to see you there.”

Blueberry Academy Summer Fayre, Melbourne Centre, Escrick Street, York, June 8, 1pm to 3pm. Please note: no parking is available.

Bar Convent and New Visuality charity launch appeal for origami doves from York public for Christmas installation

Bar Convent office manager Hannah Wilkinson with an origami dove

THE Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre is launching an appeal for origami peace doves to add to a symbolic installation this Christmas.

Maintaining the tradition of creating a meaningful, community-spirited festive display, the Bar Convent, in Blossom Street, York, is partnering with New Visuality, an award-winning York charity that seeks to advance the arts, culture and heritage.

Prompted by the outbreak of war in Ukraine, and countries still at war around the world, the partnership will design a display of origami doves – the universal symbol of peace and love – and is appealing for the public to participate by making their own.

Sister Ann Stafford, superior at the Bar Convent, says: “The world is in need of prayer, especially for peace. The Ukraine has been suffering since February and there are other countries at war too. This is not what God wants for our world.

Ails and Greg McGee: Co-directors of York charity New Visuality

“God sent the Angel Gabriel to ask a young girl called Mary to be the mother of a baby who would redeem the world. That is what we celebrate at Christmas: the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Here the angels came to the shepherds and announced this special news. The message to the shepherds was one of ‘Peace on Earth’.

“This is why, this year, our Christmas theme will be the dove; an enduring and universal symbol of peace and love.”

Sister Ann continues: “We would like to create a meaningful display of origami doves to show our solidarity and support to those countries at war and encourage prayers for peace.

“We are asking for help to create the display, and we would love for schools, community groups, parishes and individuals to be a part of it by contributing their own origami doves.”

Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre. Picture: Gareth Buddo

New Visuality co-director Greg McGee says: “This is an opportunity for people to not only get creative but to see their creativity exhibited in a world-class space.

“We will display all the doves inside Bar Convent; we’ll get professional artists to provide neon designs to hang alongside; we’ll capture footage that will be projected as illuminations at a later date, and everyone who gets involved will be able to say, years from now, they were exhibiting artists at a game-changing art exhibition.”

Co-director Ails McGee concurs: “It’s a perfect moment for inclusivity. For too long, people have seen heritage as something you have to hurt your neck to look up to. This allows the young artists to take ownership of one of the city’s most exciting venues and visit with friends and family and know that they’re a part of it.”

Instructions and an accompanying video is available on the Bar Convent website at bar-convent.org.uk.

Origami doves should be sent in or dropped off by 5pm on Monday, November 21, to go on display from November 29.

Punk expressionist Tom Wilson empties kitchen for first exhibition in ten years. Sale proceeds will go to the people of Ukraine

“My art looks like an explosion,” says York artist Tom Wilson

PROMPTED by his friends’ urges  “to do something” with all that artwork filling his small York bungalow, Tom Wilson is to hold his first exhibition in ten years in aid of the people of Ukraine.

From 10.30am to 6.30pm tomorrow (15/9/2022) and Friday, myriad riots of colour by artist, playwright, theatre director and tutor Tom will be on display and for sale at St Bede’s, 21 Blossom Street, York, with free admission.

“I wish to thank the very kind and supportive staff at St Bede’s Pastoral Centre and the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre,” says Tom. “They’ve been so accommodating. Just wonderful!

“There’ll be food and drinks available for all the visitors we’re expecting, and for those who’ll be disappointed they can’t make the exhibition, there’s still an opportunity to browse the work and purchase paintings online at https://north.art/directory/artist/tom-wilson/.”

In the frame: York artist Tom Wilson with two of his artworks

Originally from Salford, polymath Tom has lived in York for more than 16 years and started painting in 1996 after the loss of a good friend to cancer while living in Roehampton.

“I found it a comforting therapy and a kind of a healing activity,” says Tom, who has held three previous shows, the last one taking place in 2012 at the Friends’ Meeting House, in Friargate, to raise funds for the Haiti Earthquake Foundation.

“Starting to paint helped me to process losing this friend, who died very quickly, at only 50 years old. I did this painting, The Night Form, which was like an apparition, or typically what a kid would think of. Adults can think of things that are scary, but children’s minds go to places where there’s no structure, it’s just endless, so their experience is darker.

“But once you articulate something, get it on to a page or a canvas, it becomes less terrifying. More manageable. That’s how I felt.”

Embroiled, by Tom Wilson

Linking his painting past to his present, The Night Form will be on show at St Bede’s among the newer works.

“After living in London for more than 20 years, York gives me incredible peace of mind,” he says. Peace of mind that leads to Tom’s artistic expression both as an artist and playwright, as witnessed in August last year when council chaos and Covid clashed in his timely anarchic farce The Local Authority, presented by the Naloxone Theatre Ensemble at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

He is delighted to be mounting his first exhibition in a decade. “At least if I sell one or two paintings, I’ll be able to find my way in and out of the kitchen without risking life and limb,” says Tom, who is disabled and lives alone with his cat, Pendle. “I’m hoping to sell enough to make a difference by sending proceeds to support the people of Ukraine.

“It’ll definitely help with clearing out my bungalow. I got a new shed but filled that up within a day; I was going to try to use it as studio but that never came off! So I just use whatever space I’ve got, the kitchen mainly, but it’s not ideal. Unless you’re moving work on, there’s no point doing new work as it just clutters the place up.”

The poster for Tom Wilson’s anarchic farce, The Local Authority, premiered at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in August 2021

His dynamic abstract artwork is influenced by Kandinsky, Max Earnst, Otto Dix, Outsider art, German Expressionism and Rayonism (Russian Expressionism). “Rayonism was like a punk movement, breaking away, to try to paint ‘rays of light’, and I took my ideas from their freedom from convention.

“However, it’s also important to find your own voice and your own style,” he says, after being excited and motivated by seeing multiple visceral and dramatic pieces of art.

“I tend to use lots or orange and green in my work, and I think it’s all about the volume, not as in ‘amount’, but as in ‘turning up the amp’, like Jimi Hendrix did with his guitar, so the volume goes up.”

To achieve that Hendrix hum in his art, Tom favours painting on black boards, applying orange, Irish green and turquoise, mystical colours that “conjure up a feeling of vibrations”.

“There’s a lot of happy accidents with my stuff,” says Tom Wilson

“I’ve been using Sennelier crayons, oil crayons rather than wax ones, that are very soft, almost like lipstick, and not easy to work with. Picasso first commissioned them; they were made just for him, when he was struggling to find exactly what he wanted.

“A studio said to him, ‘you tell us what you want, we’ll make it for you’, and if it was good enough for Pablo Picasso, then it’ll do for me!”

Describing his artistic style, Tom says: “There’s a lot of happy accidents with my stuff. Some of it is manipulated experiments, like putting paint on one canvas, then putting another canvas on top of that and then pulling them apart like layers of skin.

“Sometimes it’s about ‘unlearning’ something that you loved or remembered in a painting and just going for it.”

“It’s all about the volume, not as in ‘amount’, but as in ‘turning up the amp’, like Jimi Hendrix did with his guitar,” says Tom Wilson of his painting style

In a moment of sudden candour, Tom says: “I can’t paint! My art looks like an explosion. I’ll be honest, I think I’m a chancer, not a natural-born painter. I can’t even draw. I’ll draw a dog and it looks like a dinosaur…an angry dog!

“But it’s important to have that freedom. Art isn’t a competition; it’s the way you articulate something. That’s the essence of creativity.

“Painting is like a voyage of discovery for me. Maybe other artists start with a painting they loved, maybe a seascape, but I’ll start without a plan. I’ll start with a mood, then make a shape, maybe a curve, and start following it, like jazz musicians improvising. It’s about the vibe, just as it is with jazz.

“Again, rather like music, I can do ten paintings to arrive at the one I want, so those ten paintings are like a rehearsal to get to where I need to be. You don’t show people the departure point; you show them the arrival.”

“I start with a mood, then make a shape, maybe a curve, and start following it, like jazz musicians improvising,” says Tom Wilson

He makes a further comparison with the jazz world. “Ask Ornette Coleman or Thelonious Monk what they’re going to play, and they’d say, ‘I don’t know’ and then start playing. It’s the same with one of my paintings,” says Tom.

“On top of that, I think it’s about expressing an anarchic humour, like John Lennon, Salvador Dali, Picasso.

“What happens is you go into an inner-child mentality, almost like writing with the opposite hand, and you find an area to explore and then the adult takes over to say, ‘right, we’ll take it this final point’.”

Tom loves applying boldness in his work; he can go four days without painting then suddenly have a flurry of six in two days, rampant with all those orange and green outbursts, and even applying Tippex, but not to correct faults! “No, it’s because it’s always ultra-white, almost like false teeth, whereas white paint can go grey,” he clarifies.

A profusion of orange, green and turquoise bursts out of a Tom Wilson artwork

The challenge with each painting is “knowing when to stop, that cut-off point”. “That’s one of those lessons I’m still learning. Don’t keep going back to it. Don’t be the ‘Tinker Man’, like Claudio Ranieri!” says Tom.

As for size, in the absence of a studio, in the confines of his kitchen, he tends to use A3 or A4. “But I’d love to be like Rothko, lobbing paint around a big studio!”

In the meantime, Tom’s rather more compact jazzy paintings at St Bede’s will be priced from £60 to £400. “But for those who can’t afford some of the artwork, there’s an alternative way to support the plight of the people in the Ukraine, by buying one of the T-shirts on sale,” he says. “They feature images of my art and very fine they look too.”

The banner for Tom Wilson’s exhibition at St Bede’s, York

Young talents’ work to go on digital display at According To McGee after Easter’s New Visuality art camp at Bar Convent

Director Greg McGee, right arm raised, leads the cheers at New Visuality’s Easter Art Camp for York school children

YORK charity New Visuality is to illuminate the wall of its gallery window space at According To McGee with the artwork of the city’s young talent.

After holding creative workshops for 25 participants over Easter and renewing its collaboration with University of York’s SplashBy, New Visuality will mount a showcase of digital projections of art, films, and slogans at the Tower Street art space from early May to early June.

“Not only do we want to get the projections up and running before the summer evenings take over,” says charity director Greg McGee. “But also the artwork has been so good, and the links made between grassroots football clubs, community cafés and the city’s heritage so healthy, that a digital exhibition in our window opposite the newly refurbished Clifford’s Tower makes perfect sense, especially if it’s to be done in a timely manner.”

New Visuality’s Art Camp sessions, funded by City of York Council’s Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme, focused on healthy eating, physical exercise and how to reflect these issues in painting and digital art.

New Visuality Art Camp participants at Bar Convent at Easter

Teenage art ambassadors from York High School, All Saints School, Millthorpe School, and Archbishop Holgate’s School led the sessions. “Generally, the younger people came from the west of York,” says Greg, “So the visual reference points were West Bank Park, Hob Moor, Acomb Front Street and Acomb Green, but there was also a York-wide conversation to be had.

“One thing we found was that there are so many young people who haven’t experienced heritage in their city, so we organised a trip to Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre.

“As ever, the welcome was warm and the experience was a real buzz, especially the reading session we had with internationally published author Karen Langtree.”

Bar Convent staff were delighted to see the young artists sit down and draw, take photos with professional cameras and listen to the excerpts.

“I Hope We Can Play Footy”: Artwork by Erin from the New Visuality Art Camp, soon to feature among the digital projections at According To McGee

Volunteers manager Lauren Masterman says, “It was a joy to welcome these young artists to the Bar Convent. They brought great energy and enthusiasm as they explored the chapel and the collections in our exhibition, and it was lovely to see how much they enjoyed Karen Langtree’s interactive storytelling session. We’re very much looking forward to seeing the artwork they have produced.”

The activities were fuelled each day with fresh food from Choose 2 Cafe, a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Hull Road. “The food was great and led to lots of discussions on how fast-food outlets manipulate catchy slogans and attractive colour schemes to reel you in,” says Greg.

“To help hammer home how important a healthy lifestyle is, we knew we had to get in someone who the young people could relate to, so we gave grassroots football club York RI a call.”

Step forward Under-14s players Matteo and Niall. “Their careful guidance and knowledgeable overview of what to eat and how to make fresh fruit as attractive an option as fast food were humbling,” says Greg.

Food, football and now art ambassadors: Niall, left, and Matteo, from the York RI Football Club’s Under-14s team, dispensing healthy tips and fodder at the New Visuality Art Camp

“As far as we’re concerned, Matteo and Niall can proudly call themselves art ambassadors and can count on similar paid opportunities in the future. I’m looking forward to watching them continue to help develop the creativity of the young people we work with.”

Matteo was delighted to take part in the activities, “It was great to be around creative people and help inspire them with how to draw art linked with sport and to give advice on what to eat and how to exercise.” 

Look out for the digital projections in the window of According To McGee from May 5, every night from 5pm to 10pm, for a month. “The artwork itself is excellent, and now we have the technology we can get it out in an elegant, immersive way and allow it to develop with the artwork from future art camps,” says Greg.

“Watching this project evolve from a school holiday art camp into a far-reaching collaboration with York schools, Bar Convent, and York RI Football Club has been a highlight of my career.”

York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar draw record crowds to secret garden

York Shakespeare Project’s sonneteers take a bow at the finale to Sonnets At The Bar in the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s “secret garden” in York

YORK Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 played to record attendances, surpassing the annual summer event’s previous peak by 190.

Running from July 30 to August 7 in YSP’s new Sonnets location of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s “secret garden”, in Blossom Street, York, Emile Knight’s production drew 428 people. The past best was 238.

Producer Maurice Crichton reflects: “We took a few chances with the weather and got through all 18 planned performances without a real downpour. I think we may well return to the same venue next year when the perils of Covid and pinging interdicts will hopefully be fully behind us.

“I was particularly pleased that we managed to involve three young men – Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe – who all contributed to a very strong company bond. There’s something special about a group of players aged from 15 to 60 plus.”    

Next up for York Shakespeare Project will be Leo Doulton’s production of Macbeth in October. Watch this space for more details to follow.

REVIEW: York Shakespeare Project, Sonnets At The Bar, “Secret Garden” at Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, York

Mick Taylor’s caretaker, Mr Barroclough, tells busker Luke Tearney to vacate the Bar Convent garden pronto. Picture: Simon Boyle

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.

Helen Wilson’s doggedly enthusiastic Julie in York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar

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.

Frank Brogan’s Simon: It feels like we are invading grief, even though he has been brave enough to go public

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.

Aran MacRae, seated in the Bar Convent garden in the lead-up to Sonnets At The Bar’s opening performance

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?.

York Shakespeare Project debutant sonneteer Josh Roe at the dress rehearsal for Sonnets At The Bar

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.

Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson: One of those voices that can bathe words in deepest warmth

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.

Mick Taylor’s caretaker Mr Barrowclough looks to the heavens, knowing something else will be coming along soon to irritate him

Actor, musician and now sonneteer, Aran MacRae joins York Shakespeare Project for Sonnets At The Bar in ‘secret garden’

“Secret mission”: York actor Aran MacRae looks forward to making his York Shakespeare Project debut as a sonneteer in Sonnets At The Bar in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre

ARAN MacRae joins Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe in the four new sonneteers corralled for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 from this evening.

Not that Aran is “new” to the acting scene. Far from it, the York actor, singer, songwriter and self-taught guitarist and percussion player returned to his home city in March 2019 after building momentum in his career in London, Europe and beyond.

After training in musical theatre for three years at the Guildford School of Acting, post-graduation in 2017 he had originated the role of 14-year-old Tink in the West End premiere of the Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf musical Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum, following up with the Canadian run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.

“If you shave off your beard, you’ve got the part,” he was told at the last audition: a wonderful start to life on the professional boards.

“We did the show for 13 months and it gave me such an insight to musical theatre and to rock’n’roll too, going to Toronto and falling in love with a beautiful woman who’d just joined the cast there,” he says.

Aran then appeared in the immersive promenade production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent at the world’s oldest working paper mill, Frogmore Paper Mill in Apsley, Hertfordshire, in July 2018 and sang in Midas’s Twelve Tenors tour across Europe and South Korea in 2018 and early 2019.

His profile on Mandy states he is now “busking in my hometown of York, playing acoustic covers and putting together lyrics and music for solo material”.

Sonnets At The Bar brings him back to theatre work in the city where, in York College days, he had starred in York Stage Musicals’ The Flint Street Nativity and Mayhem, NUEMusic Theatre’s Bare, Bat Boy The Musical and Rent and Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita, Che Guevara beard et al. If memory serves, he was the singer in The Frizz too, in even younger days.

“I’d been living in Potters Bar in London, plying my trade as an actor, when I decided to come back to York in Spring 2019,” says Aran. “I was aware of York Shakespeare  Project and got in touch straightaway to join their mailing list because I knew that Macbeth and The Tempest were coming up and I was really up for directing The Tempest.  

“Then ‘the Cloud’, as I shall call it, came along and slowed things down; Macbeth was put back, but then I saw they were doing Sonnets At The Bar and I jumped on to it.

Aran MacRae originating the role of Tick in Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum in 2017

“I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s sonnets: not that  they need a lot of investigating, but they explore the concept of love in a manner full of thought and consideration, and what is very special about them is the answer that’s given to any Shakespeare question: they are timeless and you can find modern-day parallels in them.”

Directed by Emilie Knight and produced by fellow company regular Maurice Crichton, Sonnets At The Bar 2021 will be staged in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, from tonight to August 7.

Emilie, who played a Covid nurse in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard in Goodramgate, has come up with the conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities, some of them outdoors in the garden on account of Covid, with the sonneteers either hosting classes or groups or attending them, all under the watchful eye of the caretaker, Mr Barrowclough.

In YSP’s now time-honoured fashion, each character has a sonnet to set up, the pairing of character and sonnet opening up unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.

Aran will be performing Sonnet 25, Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars, in the role of Paul, clerk to the parish council in this age of new awareness of parish-council machinations after the explosive Jackie Weaver and Handworth shenanigans on Zoom went global.

“He’s a little bit righteous, I think,” he says. “He’s not got a point to prove but when he witnesses injustice, he takes it on his shoulders to deal with it, leaving him between a rock and a hard place.

“He has to have a lot of integrity and non-bias and that’s an incredibly lofty responsibility, when you’re dealing with care for the community and injustice, though what he’s witnessed is more to do with internal parish [council] matters, rather than the community.”

Analysing Sonnet 25, Aran says: “My sonnet is about idol worship, and I can certainly find modern-day resonances within it. I’m sure Shakespeare wasn’t thinking of me 420 years ago (!), but I’m thinking of him 420 years later, taking me to an emotional place. It’s like time travel.”

Aran has relished rehearsals under Emilie’s guidance. “It’s been really free spirited, and that freedom has been wonderful, especially in ‘the Cloud’,” he says. “Not only does everyone jump in and sound ideas off each other, but Emilie basically gave each of us a small piece of text to set up each sonnet and said, ‘if you’d like to ad-lib the lead-in to the sonnet, go for it, or if you’d like to add to it, do that’.

Che days: Aran MacRae’s Che Guevara with Robyn Grant’s Eva Peron in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in April 2013

“That was quite testing for me because I then had to look at the structure of what the character was going to say, working out how the parish clerk would communicate in a way that was more astute and level-headed than I would be in that situation!”

Initially, Aran had envisaged “just performing the sonnet and walking off with my chest out”. “But doing it this way, building up a character, allows me to test my writing skills too…because if I’m going to be in a film, I’m going to have to write it myself!” he says.

Where does Aran see his future? “Doing Bat Out Of Hell gave me an insight into where I want to direct my abilities. I loved being in a musical, with all that high energy and lots of post-teens diving around saying ‘this is it’, ‘it’s punk!’, but sometimes I wanted to be thinking more about the task in hand, when it was on stage.

“I want to pursue my career by continuing to work in musical theatre but also look to break into theatre, even though it’s such a closed circle.

“Coming back to the city where I’d lived from the age of three to 21, suddenly there was that ‘Cloud’ and a lot of solitary confinement, so I’ve been reading the classics after I’ve not had the time to read for years, in order to consider it as a career when it’s your heart that calls you to this profession.”

One classical role Aran will not be giving us is his Lady Macbeth in York Shakespeare Project’s promenade production of Macbeth in October, staged at Theatre@41 Monkgate by director Leo Doulton in a “corrupted world of moving forests, daggers from the dark and cyberpunk dystopia, falling from civilisation into a civil war between darkness and light”.

Lady Macbeth, Aran?. “I put my two-penneth in at the auditions to play her as I thought, ‘what better chance to play one of the great string-puller roles, like in The Hunger Games in a past of such apocalyptic brutality, with suave sophistication,” he says. “I gave it a good shot…”

The role has gone to Nell Frampton instead, but Aran can still apply to direct The Tempest, with no production dates set in place yet for York Shakespeare Project’s final play.

York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, today (30/7/2021) until August 7; no show on August 2. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm on both Saturdays. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the YTR box office.