Imagine a bunch of strangers putting on a Shakespeare play in a day in York? Welcome to “Shakespeasy” at Theatre@41

Stranger things: Actors will meet up for the first time to stage a Shakespeare’s Speakeasy play in a day in York

SHAKESPEARE’S Speakeasy is heading to York for the first time on May 16, making its debut at Theatre@41, Monkgate.

“It’s Shakespeare, but it’s secret,” says the theatre’s website. “Can a group of strangers successfully stage a Shakespearean play in a day? Shakespeare’s Speakeasy is the place for you to find out.

“Taking an irreverent and entertaining view of the Bard’s work, this one-night-only production promises you an hilarious take on one of Bill’s best known plays. But which play will it be? Well, like all good Speakeasys, that’s a secret.”

Why so secret? Let artistic director Steven Arran explain: “We don’t actually unveil the play until the curtain goes up. ‘Speakeasys’ are supposed to be secret after all!  And if I unveiled our reason for choosing it, that will probably give the game away. You’ll just have to come along and find out.”

Introducing the cast: Claire Morley. No stranger to Shakespeare, having performed his words for many years in York with companies such as York Shakespeare Project and Well-fangled Theatre. Latterly had fun with the characters of Malvolio (ALRA North), Macbeth (Northumberland Theatre Company), Aufidius (1623 Theatre) and Titania (Hoglets Theatre). “Ready for the adrenaline rush of the Speakeasy, I’m also excited to get a shot at another character long on the bucket list,” says Claire. “For the May 16 event I’m helping them to create some connections in York.”

Shakespeare’s Speakeasy started in Newcastle upon Tyne on September 11 2018. “We performed our first show at a great Fringe venue, the Alphabetti Theatre, but post-pandemic we migrated to The People’s Theatre, where we’ve developed a very enthusiastic and loyal audience who have responded well to our anarchic and irreverent style,” says Steven.

“As to why we started, that’s a horse of many colours. I’d been working in Canada as an actor, where I performed in a lot of outdoor Shakespearean productions. In North America, Shakespeare was treated like a holy text with a major focus on treating every line as sacrosanct – the major focus being on the poetry.

“For me, this really detracted from the characters being real humans with human emotions, and I knew that it was the latter I was more invested in as an audience member.”

This prompted Steven to think of his experiences watching Shakespeare in the UK. “No-one was really staging Shakespeare in Newcastle, and I realised the majority of opportunities I had to watch in Newcastle was if the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] or the National Theatre rolled through town at the Theatre Royal, and you’d pay top dollar for the privilege to watch a lot of posh boys and girls recite lines that you remembered from school,” he says.

“This did not make me feel included. The price made it feel like ‘a treat’ and the accents made me feel like Shakespeare was something for ‘them’, not for everyone. My drama school training had really opened my eyes that this should not be the case, and so I was resolved to cast local actors to produce shows for local audiences, in which they would see people like them reflected on the stage.

Introducing the cast: Tempest Wisdom, writer, director, performer and educator based in York. Specialises in clown, mask and Shakespeare, “making the Speakeasy a perfect fit,” Tempest says.

“Also, these plays are SO funny and entertaining, something lost in many productions, and I wanted to inject that excitement into my shows. Shakespeare’s audience was a rowdy lot for the most part, and we like ours to be too!”

Why begin in Newcastle? “No more exciting an answer than this is my home and I wanted to give my home opportunities that it didn’t already have,” says Steven. “When I was coming up as a young actor, the scene felt like a closed shop, and what little was being produced that we had access to felt very much of the ‘it’s grim up north’ variety.

“No-one was producing Shakespeare bar amateur dramatics groups, and even then it was often in a very affected style. After my experiences at drama school, where I was encouraged to use my own voice, I wanted to see more Geordies doing classical works without being forced to do an RP [Received Pronunciation] accent. It’s still something we run up against all the time though. People think Shakespeare and they think ‘posh’ and it’s simply not the case.”

Steven is the only core member of the Shakespeare’s Speakeasy production company. “One of primary aims is to ensure we employ as many directors and performers as possible, and so there is no wider team so to speak,” he says. “We employ and cast locally to give regional actors opportunities to direct classical pieces that they may not usually get a chance to professionally stage.”

Introducing the cast: Esther Irving, actor and theatre-maker from North Yorkshire with big passion for Shakespeare

This philosophy has led to the decision to spread Shakespeare’s Speakeasy’s wings to York in its sixth year. “The Yorkshire accent is so rich and versatile, and we want people to hear that on stage,” reasons Steven.

“A primary aim of Shakespeare’s Speakeasy is to champion local performers with local accents and disabuse people of the notion that Shakespeare is ‘posh’ or ‘done in a certain way’. We plan, eventually, to expand to several cities in the North. Venues in Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool have already been confirmed.”

So far Shakespeare’s Speakeasy has tackled Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, The Comedy Of Errors, Macbeth, As You Like It, The Taming Of The Shrew, Love’s Labours Lost, Measure For Measure and Hamlet, some staged more than once.

“We mostly stick to the comedies, but have done a few tragedies, which our irreverent style has made a laugh riot,” says Steven. “It’s hard to make people feel the ‘feels’ of Hamlet in 70 minutes, so you may as well make them laugh at some of the more ridiculous elements.”

May 16’s inaugural York performance will be Shakespeare’s Speakeasy’s 13th show. “Unlucky for some, let’s hope it’s not us!” says Steven.

Introducing the cast: York actor Ian Giles, part of an international company that created Working Title for the York International Shakespeare Festival in April

Among those taking part will be Claire Morley, Esther Irving, Tempest Wisdom, Alice May, Ian Giles, Rowan Naylor Miles and Jake Wilson Craw. “We’ve assembled a really talented troupe for this production but, honestly, we could have cast the play three times over,” says Steven.

“It was humbling to see the enthusiasm we were greeted with by York’s acting community. Applicants came via word of mouth – actors who have worked with us voluntarily spread the word – and also through various social media groups. Theatre@41 and York Theatre Royal were also very gracious in spreading word of the opportunity. The cast has since had four weeks to learn their lines.”

The day will be a long and challenging one, but full of laughter and play too, for actors and director alike. “The actors will meet at 9am – the first time they meet in person – and do a line run of the whole play,” says Steven. “After that, we’ll spend the day, approximately eight hours, going through the show scene by scene, getting it on its feet and doing the basic business of blocking and tech on the fly.

“It’s a very collaborative experience. Actors are encouraged to share ideas they have for scenes, and we’ll give them all a try as long as we have the time. Whilst the directors always have a vision – we’ve done a Lion King version of Hamlet, Twelfth Night in a Butlins-style holiday camp – it’s really important for us to let the actors offer their suggestions. A good idea can come from anyone.”

The climactic performance will be fully teched and costumed. “Not to RSC standards, mind you. Expect cardboard sets, plastic swords and all manner of ridiculousness,” promises Steven. “This is Shakespeare as pure entertainment”.

Introducing the cast: Jake Wilson Craw, actor and writer from Newcastle returning to Shakespeare’s Speakeasy ranks in York debut

Asked to define the characteristics of a typical Shakespeare’s Speakeasy experience, Steven says: “I’ve reached out to some loyal audience members for this answer, as well as my own thoughts. The characteristics would be funny and local. Chaotic. Very silly. We’re entertaining first and foremost.

“We want you to have a good time, and because of that we’re often irreverent, sometimes bawdy, and sometimes downright daft. We want you to see the people you know in your everyday life on stage, not vaunted legendary characters. You will always leave with a smile on your face.”

Looking ahead, will Steven be seeking to make Shakespeare’s Speakeasy a regular event in York? “Hopefully yes,” he says. “Since our inception, we’ve staged 12 productions in Newcastle and see no reason why our format cannot be replicated in York and other cities in the north.

“One of our primary aims is to give regional actors more work. You shouldn’t have to move to London to work in the field you love – and the only way to do that is to stage productions.”

Shakespeare’s Speakeasy York, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, May 16, 7.30pm. Box office:

Steven Arran: back story on North East actor, theatre maker and artistic director behind Shakespeare’s Speakeasy

Steven Arran: Artistic director of Shakespeare’s Speakeasy

“I WAS a professional actor for ten years. I trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and was lucky enough to work in the UK and North America. My interest in Shakespeare only really emerged during this time when we spent a term at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

“Being in that space, realising how the environment informed the play scripts and, most importantly, being encouraged to perform the text in my own accent and not an affected RP, really opened my eyes to how accessible Shakespeare could be.

“Seeing shows there whilst in the pit for £5 a pop didn’t hurt either. You can feel both financially and culturally excluded from Shakespeare and we aim to break down that assumption.

“I also wanted to give young local actors the opportunity to act in their own town, and to become familiar with classical plays, which they may have had no access to other than reading along in English class. (Not how we should be experiencing them).

“To date we’ve employed more than 80 actors from the North East and hope to do similar in different regions.”

Steve Arran’s profile on LinkedIn:

PROFESSIONAL actor, committed writer, passable stand-up, enthusiastic gamer, fanatical art historian and total cinephile. Very skilled in classical theatre and improvisation. Screenplays’ relation to historical events a speciality.

Did you know?

STEVEN Arran works with International House language school, helping non-English speakers to learn the language through acting in mini-Shakespeare productions.

REVIEW: York Shakespeare Project in The Taming Of The Shrew, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, ends tomorrow ****

Nick Patrick Jones’s Hortensio, left, Stuart Green’s Grumio, Mark Simmonds’s Vincentio, Sam Jackson’s Lucentio, hidden, Mark Payton’s Gremio, back, Rosy Rowley’s Baptista Minola, front, Kirsty Farrow’s Bianca, Joy Warner’s Merchant/Widow and Flo Poskitt’s Katherine in York Shakespeare Project’s The Taming Of The Shrew. Picture: David Kessel

TWENTY one years have passed since York Shakespeare Project first staged The Taming Of The Shrew as its second ever production.

Staging Shakespeare’s “most controversial” comedy has become even more awkward in that time. The term “Gaslighting” is in common parlance; the #MeToo movement has found its voice; misogyny and sexism are a minefield of social media debate, Andrew Tate et al.

In 2003, Paul Toy, YSP’s director for Shrew, talked of the “welcome gains of feminism leaving it as less of a comedy, more of a problem play”. In 2009, Mooted Theatre’s Mark France saw the 1592 play’s sexual politics as “a gradual meeting of minds” in a war of words between Kate and Petruchio where both subvert the roles that society has determined for them. He coined the term “casual cruelty” to encapsulate the ploys of deception conducted by Tranio, Lucentio and Hortensio.

In 2003, Toy reversed the usual gender casting of the lovers and their servants, with Alice Borthwick, a tall Scot with a pageboy haircut, playing Petruchio in strapping manner opposite John Sharpe’s Katherina with his/her pale commedia dell’arte face and rouge lips. “There is now no pretence that what you see is `real’,” he said. “Hopefully, the play can be seen as less of a treatise and more of a game”.

Now, Maggie Smales, whose all-female version of Henry V in 2015 lingers in the memory, returns to the YSP director’s chair for ‘Shrew’, assisted by Claire Morley [her Henry , from that production].

Smales had played a serving wench in a South Yorkshire For Youth production of ‘Shrew’ in the mid-Sixties in Rotherham and Bianca in 1972 on her Bretton Hall drama course, now recalling them as “exemplifying the hypocrisy of a time that seemed to be offering the opportunity of gender equality without any real shift in attitudes”.

“We thought we were shaping a new world order with altered values,” she laments. “But there’s still quite a lot to be done about gender equality”.

Florence Poskitt’s Katherine in York Shakespeare Project’s The Taming Of The Shrew

No better time to start than now with this bracing production of ‘Shrew’, astutely edited by Smales and Morley. In their hands, ‘Shrew’ remains a combustible, hot and bothered drama that does not shy away from the “inherent misogyny” and gaslighting abuse in Petruchio’s regime of sleep deprivation and starvation rations for Katherine.

Crucially, however, Florence Poskitt’s feminist Katherine has the last say, not so much a shrewish shrew as shrewd in determining her path, rather than “melting” to Petruchio’s taming techniques after their calamitous nuptials.

Smales has set Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes/war of words in 1970, when the sun was setting on the Summer of Love and Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch, a landmark statement in the feminist movement.

More precisely, Smales’s ‘Shrew’ opens in 1960 with a reimagined induction/prologue (replacing the Christopher Sly one), the cast exchanging presents beside the Christmas tree. The players then find themselves transported into a 1970 world wherein they experience and perform the play.

Judith Ireland’s costumes, from her own collection apparently, evoke that psychedelic age of flares, scarves, long hair, dark glasses and headbands, matched with the hits of Hendrix, The Who and Credence Clearwater Revival.

Ah, the whiff of nostalgia, the look, the sounds, setting up the boisterous fun and games that play out in the hands of Lara Stafford’s Tranio and Sam Jackson’s Lucentio, swapping clothes, genders and roles, and the deluded sparring of Nick Patrick Jones’s Hortensio and Mark Payton’s Gremio (in professional actor turned Shakespeare teacher Payton’s ‘first proper acting experience for almost 20 years’ – and what a joyful return he makes).

Stuart Green’s Grumio, with his guitar and shades, adds to the rock concert vibe, along with Joy Warner in her roadie cameo, while Rosy Rowley and Poskitt both perform a song, Rowley in the rowdy spirit of a Janis Joplin; Poskitt, in white, in a quiet solo spotlight in Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’.

Jim Paterson’s Petruchio. Picture: David Kessel

Rowley is playing Baptista Minola, traditionally Katherine and Bianca’s father, but here turned into their mother: a significant change that alters the male-dominated dynamic. A decision typical of Smales’s good judgement that always marks out her direction.

The “Taming” remains a battle waged between the needs of individual freedom and the demands of social conformity that decree that Katherine should be wed and that Petruchio seeks to apply in his unconventional way.

Poskitt, who took on her role with only a week to learn her lines and another to join the last week of rehearsals, is known for her wide-eyed comedy chops and singing, but there is much more lurking inside that comes out here (as it did in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None). Wild, scolding-tongued, as those around her decry, her subversive Katherine is ultimately more than a match to Petruchio’s prodding. Not so much a woman ‘tamed’ at the end as one establishing her own rights.

Paterson’s Petruchio pulls off the balancing act of being a rock music-loving, preening popinjay but humorous too for all his outrageous behaviour. Rik Mayall, Rupert Everett, that brand of English humour.

Maggie Smales has conquered Shakespeare’s problem play, no problem. This ‘Shrew’ is funny, furious, feminist, with an eye to the future too, as peace, love and equality are secured at last. 

Performances at 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow, as part of York International Shakespeare Festival. Box office:

Hoglets Theatre in the mood for mischief in Shakespeare’s Dream of a children’s show

Hoglets Theatre’s Gemma Curry, left, Claire Morley and Becky Lennon in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

EVERYTHING is kicking off in the forest as the fairies start a fight, but which side will you be on in the York Theatre Royal Studio on Friday and Saturday? Team Titania or Team Oberon?

Be prepared for York company Hoglets Theatre’s interactive, fun, larger-than-life production for young children – ideally aged two to nine, but everyone is welcome – spun around Shakespeare’s daftest romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Expect wild characters, raucous singalong songs with lyrics by Andy Curry and Lara Pattison, puppets, stunts and some frankly ridiculous disco dancing from director/writer Gemma Curry and fellow cast members Claire Morley and Becky Lennon.

Costumes by Julia Smith, set design by Andy Curry and choreography by Charlotte Wood – who appeared in earlier performances – all add to the magic of Hoglets Theatre’s tenth show, one that requires no previous experience of Shakespeare.

“It’s the most accessible of his plays – with fairies in it – and definitely the easiest to get into,” says Gemma. “We first did it five years ago with Lara Stafford, Rachel Wilkinson and me – all of us with two-year-old children at the time! – and children would hear the name ‘Bottom’ and laugh, and we thought, ‘oh yes, we’ve got it with this one’!

“We always have so much fun when we do it: for a morning or an afternoon, I can pretend to be a fairy, not a grown-up!”

Each performance starts with the cast – in this instance Curry, Morley and Lennon – covering their fairy wings in the cloaked guise of Macbeth’s three Witches, arguing over which play they should do.

“One says ‘Macbeth’, one says ‘Hamlet’, one says ‘A Winter’s Tale’,” Gemma says. “They have this huge argument and then decide that Shakespeare should decide via a version of [The Human League’s] Don’t You Want Me Baby?, changing the lyrics to take in all of Shakespeare’s plays as they perform in coats, wigs, moustaches and bald caps.

Claire Morley, left, choreographer Charlotte Wood and Gemma Curry in an earlier Hoglets Theatre performance of A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

“The last words to the song are Midsummer Night’s Dream, so we decide to do that one. Then we ask, ‘do you want to be involved?’, and that’s gone really well, apart from in Skipton, where this older chap ended up having to do all the roles!”

Curry, Morley and Lennon take on the role of three of Shakespeare’s four fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mustardseed, Moth and Peaseblossom, who will spilt the audience down the middle to take sides as Team Titania (Queen of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s play) and Team Oberon (King of the Fairies).

“In the years we’ve done the show, Peaseblossom was done originally by Lara Pattison, then by Charlotte Wood, and now in comes Becky, and it’s lovely how everyone brings their own personality to it,” says Gemma.

“We change characters with the change of a hat, so whoever wears Titania’s hat is Titania; the same for Puck. We skim over the young lovers, but we do have a little song about who loves whom that gets quicker and quicker, sillier and sillier, and becomes more and more exhausting for us.”

Hoglets Theatre’s show revels in Puck’s final speech in Shakespeare’s play – “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended” – in the lead-up to a variation on Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. “We do it as Shake A Spear with a disco ball and flashing lights, and the children love it,” says Gemma.

Children have plenty of opportunities to be involved, inviting them to play the four lovers, four fairies and four ‘mechanicals’ towards the end. “So many schools don’t do music or drama now or don’t have a creative outlet, so it’s lovely to involve them,” she says.

Away from her Hoglets productions, Gemma is working on a project in tandem with York Theatre Royal on the theme of children’s mental health, developing a piece called The Girl Who Stole Smiles.

“I wrote the original story seven years ago, when I had post-natal depression after the birth of Berowne. To explain how I felt to Berowne, I wrote a story about a girl who was unhappy, who stole smiles by building a machine that sucked smiles off people’s faces,” she says.

Hoglets Theatre’s poster for A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

“I had this story for ages and arranged to meet Juliet [creative director Juliet Forster]  at the Theatre Royal, knowing she was heavily involved with a mental health charity. Last year Becky, Charlotte and I spent three months working with Knavesmire, Dunnington and Westfield primary schools with funding from city council ward funding.

“We did three 90-minute workshops for children aged four to nine, asking them what they understood about their mental health and the mental health of people around them. Then we looked at the commonalities and recurring themes between the three schools, working with the NHS Wellbeing In Mind team that goes into a number of York primary and secondary schools.

“We now have a 50-page report on children’s mental health in primary schools, highlighting what affects them most. I thought that after the pandemic the answer would be ‘depression’, but no, it’s ‘anxiety’.”

A week of research and development followed at York Theatre Royal. “We adapted the script so that the girl now had a worry that no-one took seriously until finally her smile broke, and so shew builds the machine to steal smiles,” says Gemma.

“We’re now going back into the Theatre Royal for more research and development with Juliet co-directing it. She’s been so supportive, but the Arts Council has turned us down three times for funding, so we’re looking at different avenues.”

Hoglets Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, York Theatre Royal Studio, Friday, 4.30pm and Saturday, 10.30am. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Did you know?

HOGLETS Theatre’s last show was a spectacular Christmas performance of The Nutcracker at York Minster, accompanied by the cathedral organ no less.

Did you know too?

HOGLETS Theatre performed A Midsummer Night’s Mischief at Bradford Literature Festival to 1,000 children. “That was the most terrifying day of my life,” says Gemma. “I had to give an opening speech about Shakespeare to all these children, and loads of academics were there too.”

Team Titania or Team Oberon? Which side will you be on in Hoglets Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Mischief?

Hoglets Theatre’s poster for A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, playing York Theatre Royal Studio on March 8 and 9

THE fairies in the forest are starting a fight, but which side are you on? Team Titania or Team Oberon? Come on down! It’s all kicking off in the forest in Hoglets Theatre’s Shakespeare-loving children’s play A Midsummer Night’s Mischief at York Theatre Royal on March 8 and 9.

Based on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the York company’s interactive, larger-than-life, fun production is designed especially for five to 11-year-old children, but everyone is welcome.

Expect wild characters, raucous singalong songs, puppets, stunts, and some frankly ridiculous disco dancing,” says Hoglets Theatre founder, writer and performer Gemma Curry. “While we love the bard, no previous experience of Shakespeare is required!”

A Midsummer Night’s Mischief is the tenth Hoglets production, following on from their sell-out Yorkshire tours of Wood Owl And The Box Of Wonders and The Sleep Pirates and December 9’s two spectacular Christmas performances of The Nutcracker at York Minster, accompanied by the cathedral organ no less.

Writer Gemma will be joined in the cast at York Theatre Royal by Claire Morley and Becky Lennon, who replaces Charlotte Wood from earlier performances. Song lyrics are by Andy Curry and Lara Pattison; costumes by Julia Smith; set design by Andy Curry and choreography by Charlotte Wood.

Hoglets Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, York Theatre Royal Studio, March 8, 4.30pm; March 9, 10.30am. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Claire Morley, left, Charlotte Wood and Gemma Curry in an earlier performance of Hoglets Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

Hoglets Theatre CIC: the back story

Not-for-profit children’s theatre company and associate children’s theatre company of York Theatre Royal.

Stages original theatrical productions across the country, aimed at primary and preschool-aged children.

Runs interactive workshops for schools, libraries and groups.

Provides child-centric consultation and content creation for museums, organisations, apps and publications.

Mission statement: “Everything we do is centred around storytelling and the amazing impact that stories, imagination and creativity can have on young minds.”

Find out more at

Claire Morley to perform reading of Rachel E Thorn’s Me For You at SJT and take part in Yorkshire Trios at York Theatre Royal

Claire Morley: Performing new works in Scarborough and York

YORK actresses Claire Morley and Elizabeth Hope will perform a script-in-hand reading of Rachel E Thorn’s new play, Me For You, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on January 30.

This is the latest in the SJT’s regular series of readings of works by up-and-coming writers, chosen from submissions to the literary department, in this case one longlisted for the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing.

In Me For You, Holly (played by Elizabeth Hope) knows that human beings have screwed the planet, but she is still desperate to have a baby of her own. She has tried doing the right thing, but can using a bamboo toothbrush really reverse global warming?

In a bid to save the planet, Holly has joined Extinction Rebellion and just wishes her girlfriend, Alex (Claire Morley), would sign up too.

Me For You writer Rachel E Thorn

“Me For You is a play all about love in the face of overwhelming evidence that we’re a despicable race of selfish parasites,” says Rachel E Thorn, a writer and actress from Sheffield, who pens comedy for BBC Radio 4 and has collaborated with impressionists Alistair McGowan, Charlie Hopkinson and Darren Altman.

Rachel also tours the country with her improvised shows that have taken home the Best Improv Show awards from the Leicester Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Fringe.

Claire’s preparations are under way for this month’s one-off reading. “I was sent a draft of the script in November, so that I can get an idea of the themes of the play and the characters, but really most of the work is done on the day as there might be new edits,” she says. 

“On the morning of the performance, I’ll meet with Fleur Hebditch, a producer at the SJT, writer Rachel and Elizabeth for the first time. We’ll spend the day discussing the script and have a rehearsal before a sharing in the evening, script in hand.

Elizabeth Hope: Performing Me For You with Claire Morley at the SJT

“There’ll also be a Q&A with the writer afterwards. Rachel has written a cracking piece so I’m excited to get stuck in.”

Claire first took part in a Stephen Joseph Theatre reading in August 2021. “We did Emma Geraghty’s play Lagan,” she recalls. “It then became These Majestic Creatures, which was produced by the SJT as a fully realised production last autumn [in the McCarthy].

“The emphasis is really on the development of the work for the writer. That’s why it’s so great to work with them during the day as you can find out their vision and do your best in fleshing out this character for them, often for the first time.”

Claire continues: “Rehearsed readings are a great opportunity to work on complex characters and interesting writing without the pressure of line-learning! I enjoyed being part of one with Live Theatre, Newcastle, last April as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, along with their special guest, Roger Allam, who played my father in Shelagh Stephenson’s An Experiment With An Air Pump.”

Claire Morley’s Henry V, centre, at Agincourt in York Shakespeare Project’s Henry V in 2015

Born and bred in York, Claire is a graduate of ALRA (Academy of Live & Recorded Arts) North Drama School, in Wigan, Greater Manchester, and a former teacher.

She caught the eye on the York stage in the title role in Maggie Smales’s all-female version of Henry V for York Shakespeare Project (YSP) in 2015 and as Kastril in Bronzehead Theatre’s masked production of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist at the 2019 York International Shakespeare Festival.

In 2022, she completed a hattrick of all-female Shakespeare performances, after YSP’s Henry V and Coriolanus in 2019, starring as Macbeth in Chris Connaughton’s three-hander version of Macbeth for Northumberland Theatre Company in a tour that visited Stillington Village Hall, near York, and Pocklington Arts Centre.

Claire Morley’s Kastril, right, in Bronzehead Theatre’s The Alchemist in 2019. Picture: Jtu Photography

Coming next after Me For You will be Claire’s participation in York community arts collective Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios at York Theatre Royal Studio on March 26 and 27.

Through a series of commissions, York actors, writers and directors are being supported by NDB1 to produce original, short pieces of theatre – five to 15-minute solo performances – that respond to the overall theme of Top of the Hill.

Directed Jacob Ward, Claire will perform Yixia Jiang’s Love Letters Before Dawn. ”Jacob and I should be receiving Yixia’s script later this week, so I actually know very little at this stage,” she says.

Claire Morley’s Macbeth in Northumberland Theatre Company’s 2022 tour of Macbeth

“I do know it’s about a soldier defending a battlefield despite all seeming lost, and how to persevere and find hope. I’m excited to read it. We’ll be having a handful of rehearsals between now and joining up with the other trios for the performances in March.” 

Me For You, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, January 30, 7.15pm. Tickets: £5, on 01723 370541 or at Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios, York Theatre Royal Studio, March 26 and 27, 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Did you know?

CLAIRE Morley first made the pages of The Press, York, on August 18 2007 after she achieved A grades in five A-levels at All Saints’ RC School, York.

Claire, from Osbaldwick, achieved top marks in English literature, German, history, philosophy & ethics and general studies at 17, going on to study a four-year modern languages course at Somerville College, Oxford University, specialising in German.

York Shakespeare Project’s psychedelic promotional image for Maggie Smales’s production of The Taming Of The Shrew, set in 1970

Did you know too?

CLAIRE Morley will reunite with Henry V director Maggie Smales to be her assistant director for York Shakespeare Project’s spring production of The Taming Of The Shrew.

“Make Love Not War,” reads the invitation to Maggie’s 1970 setting of Shakespeare’s problematic comedy. “As they emerge from the post-Second World War greyness, the baby boomers are growing up, primed and ready to do their own thing.

“A psychedelic world is opening up, promising peace, love and equality. Kate was born, born to be wild. She wants a voice of her own. The Times They Are A’Changin’ and the old order is dead. Or is it? Find out in The Taming Of The Shrew, Shakespeare’s controversial battle of the sexes.”

York Shakespeare Project’s The Taming Of The Shrew runs at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from April 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

Yorkshire Trios confirmed for Next Door But One’s theatrical showcase at York Theatre Royal Studio next March. Who’s taking part?

In the line-up for Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios in the York Theatre Royal Studio next March: top row, Sarah Rumfitt, left, Kate Bramley, Connie Peel and Nicola Holliday; second row, Jules Risingham, Tempest Wisdom and Bailey Dowler; third row, Yixia Jiang, Jacob Ward and Claire Morley; bottom row, Paul Birch, Harri Marshall and Livy Potter

AFTER receiving more than four times as many applications as commissions available, York theatre company Next Door But One has assembled the next band of Yorkshire Trios – and a quartet – for March 2024.

“That many applicants is a sign of a few things,” says chief executive officer and artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle. “Just the sheer amount of talent that is within the local area; that there’s still a need after Covid for local creatives to be supported to get their own work out there, and hopefully that we as a company are seen as approachable and that people want to connect with us.”

Through a series of micro-commissions, York actors, writers and directors are being supported by NDB1 to produce original, short pieces of theatre that celebrate their individual skill and creativity.

“The brief is to create a five to 15-minute solo performance that in some way responds to the overall theme of ‘Top of the Hill’, so this is already resulting in stories of motherhood, grief, love, war and even Kate Bush!” says Matt.

“The writers are working on their second draft after receiving dramaturgical support from our team, and then rehearsals will begin in the early new year.”

The artists taking part will be Sarah Rumfitt, Kate Bramley, Connie Peel, Nicola Holliday, Jules Risingham, Tempest Wisdom, Bailey Dowler, Yixia Jiang, Jacob Ward, Claire Morley, Paul Birch, Harri Marshall and Livy Potter.

“This version is really building on everything that we learned and achieved from the first time around,” says Next Door But One artistic director Matthew Harper-Hardcastle

They will be working towards a showcase of original performances at York Theatre Royal next March, with more details on performance dates and how to book tickets to be released in the new year.

NDB1’s inaugural 2021 showcase of Yorkshire Trios in the garden performance space of The Gillygate pub marked the first live show in York after the lifting of Covid restrictions.

“At the time, many local performing arts professionals were feeling disconnected from their artistry and were extremely anxious about the future of their careers,” recalls Matt.

“So we listened to their concerns and created a series of micro-commissions to form new collaborative trios of an actor, writer and director, from which original work could be produced.”

One 2021 creative described Yorkshire Trios as “a total lifeline; a lighthouse in a stormy sea”. “Since then, Next Door But One has supported a further 44 creatives with mentoring in such areas as job applications and funding bid writing,” says Matt.

Yixia Jiang: Writing Love Letters Before Dawn for Yorkshire Trios

“We’ve always wanted to be an approachable company where creatives can hang their hat. We really believe in investing in the York cultural ecology, so this new iteration of Yorkshire Trios sits alongside our professional development programme, Opening Doors, and our Company Coaching provision.

“That provision is giving quarterly business and peer mentoring to five arts-based companies, Thunk-It Theatre, Story Craft Theatre, Terpsichoring dance company, Moon Dust and CoCreate, each with a different focus and at different stages of their development.”

Looking forward to next March’s showcase, NDB1 associate director Kate Veysey says: “It was really encouraging and humbling to read people’s honest reflections on what Yorkshire Trios could do for them within the application process.

“Some who had never been able to showcase their work in their hometown, others who had faced challenges in creating a professional network or establishing their careers on their own terms, and others who really respected our work and wanted to align their practice with our values. We feel really confident in being able to offer solutions to these points through this project.”

Emerging writer Yixia Jiang’s play Love Letters Before Dawn will be performed by Claire Morley, directed by Jacob Ward. “Working with this group of amazing people in York gives me a chance to take a glance into the local theatre industry and help establish myself as a playwright here,” he says.

Bailey Dowler: Performing Jules Risingham’s Anorak

York actor Bailey Dowler will perform Jules Risingham’s Anorak under the direction of Tempest Wisdom. “I wanted to get involved with Yorkshire Trios because there’s a lot of local talent in York and this is a perfect opportunity to widen my creative circle,” says Bailey.

“I cannot wait to work so closely with a writer and director. It’s such a rarity to have a one-to-one experience in the rehearsal room and so I’m excited to collaborate together, creating beautiful theatre, fuelled with passion.

“Next Door But One has a fantastic support system and I’m looking forward to being mentored and learning more about the process of creating a play, from outside the eyes of an actor.”

Fellow actor Nicola Holliday will present Sarah Rumfitt’s Toast, directed by Kate Bramley, artistic director of Badapple Theatre Company, and Connie Peel. “Having heard from friends what an incredible and inclusive company NDB1 was to work with, I was eager for the opportunity and chuffed to bits to be cast in Yorkshire Trios,” says Nicola.

“As an autistic, full-time working parent, finding flexible inclusive work can be a challenge and being welcomed with open arms, kindness and understanding by the whole NDB1 team has been lovely.

Nicola Holliday: Performer for Sarah Rumfitt’s Toast

“Meeting my Yorkshire quartet, such a talented creative and passionate bunch of local folks, I cannot wait to see our piece grow and develop, to be really challenged as an actor and to make some more meaningful connections here in York.”

Writer Sarah Rumfitt says: “Yorkshire Trios has given me an opportunity to explore my own voice within writing, something I have had little time for since becoming a mum.

“Being a creative is incredibly rewarding but also at times lonely. After an initial meeting with NDB1 and the other trios, I already feel more connected and part of an exciting community of Yorkshire-based creatives.”

Co-director Kate Bramley adds: “I’m really delighted to be working with Next Door But One on a brand new short play and mentoring another young director to boot, which makes us a unique four-person ‘trio’! I’ll be very excited to get started in the New Year.”

The fourth Yorkshire Trio comprises writer Paul Birch, actor Livy Potter and director Harri Marshall, combining on Running Up That Hill, the Kate Bush one.

Now that all the Yorkshire Trios have been introduced to one another, they can start creating performances that “really reflect who they are”. “We’ve provided the stimuli of ‘Top of The Hill’,” says NDB1 creative engagement manager El Stannage. “Not only because it then provides an overall theme to the final performances, but also because it brings a bit of the NDB1 ethos into the process.

Writer Sarah Rumfitt: Toast pops up at Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios showcase

“As a team, we often talk about what it’s like for us at the ‘top of the hill’; what it looks like when we are at our best, and that’s really what we want to instil in our trios. We want to celebrate each of them and applaud the incredible talent in our area.”

Highlighting how the 2024 Yorkshire Trios will differ from 2021, Matt says: “This version is really building on everything that we learned and achieved from the first time around.

“We’ve scheduled our Opening Doors programme to run alongside Yorkshire Trios this year, so we can offer development workshops for all the actors, writers and directors. We’ve included additional mentoring or adapted roles to suit the desired outcomes of certain creatives.

“The showcase of work will be performed in the York Theatre Royal Studio so we’ll be able to include more aesthetic decisions. And finally, we’ve reduced the number of commissions this time around so that we can increase the commission sum so that it’s more reflective of the work and energy each creative puts into it.”

Matt is delighted that the chosen artists are so diverse in representing York’s arts community in 2024. “As a company we really lead with who we are, and as an LGBTQ+ and disability-led company, we call to others who want to do the same, or want to be in those same spaces,” he says.

“Then the more that happens, the more others see themselves represented in both the industry and on stage, which then calls to more people, and so the process continues. So, it was really important to us that we had a real diversity across our trios, both in terms of identity and also experiences/stages in their career.”

The 2024 Yorkshire Trios – and a quartet

Kate Bramley: Co-directing Sarah Rumfitt’s Toast

Toast by Sarah Rumfitt

Performed by Nicola Holliday and directed by Kate Bramley and Connie Peel

AFTER giving birth, the midwife brings you toast; simple, medium cut, white Hovis that’s done a quick dip in the toaster, barely browned, overly buttered but the best thing Becky’s ever tasted. If only she knew what was coming…she’d have asked for the full loaf. Following a year-long struggle with post-natal depression, Becky and her son set off on their first walk together; they are going to the top of the hill; a place Becky would often walk alone before becoming “Mum”.

Livy Potter: Performing Paul Birch’s Running Up That Hill

Running Up That Hill by Paul Birch

Performed by Livy Potter and directed by Harri Marshall

ALEX is lost. Alex hates running but loves Kate Bush. They know all the facts about Kate Bush. Kate Bush drinks milk before recording and knows Lenny Henry. Alex is

running and Kate’s voice seems to help. Hill running is the worst and one (bastard) hill has them (almost) beat. This is the story of what Alex is running from and what they are running towards.

Prison is behind them as is their escape from a controlling relationship. Running up that hill is presently painful but it’s a different kind of pain from the past; besides, running up that hill might finally give Alex a clear view…

Harri Marshall: Directing Running Up That Hill

Love Letters Before Dawn by Yixia Jiang

Performed by Claire Morley and directed by Jacob Ward

A SOLDIER has been defending a battlefield from a hill for the past 100 days. Today he has given up on all chances to defend this place. All hopes seem lost.

However, the soldier keeps hold of his bravery and pride by remembering his fallen commander’s words: “We don’t persist because there is hope. It’s because of persisting, there shall be hope.”

Jacob Ward: Directing Yixia Jiang’s Love Letters Before Dawn

Anorak by Jules Risingham

Performed by Bailey Dowler and directed by Tempest Wisdom

THOMAS (no relation to The Tank Engine) loves trains. His whole life has been spent chasing trains, and always chasing after him was his partner, Charlie. Charlie did not like trains but loved Thomas. Thomas sits alone in his camping chair, on the top of his and Charlie’s favourite hill, looking down on the valley below, waiting for a train to pass that never seems to arrive.

With little to write about in his journal, he spends this time reflecting on his life with Charlie – and working out how to overcome his newfound grief. Thomas achieves a new understanding of grief, and how to keep living in the absence of our loved ones.

Jules Risingham: Writer of Anorak

York Shakespeare Project to kick up storm on debut Yorkshire tour in The Tempest in magical finale to ambitious 20-year journey

Storm brewing: York Shakespeare Project cast members in rehearsal for Philip Parr’s production of The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

YORK Shakespeare Project completes its mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays inside 20 years with its first tour, staging The Tempest across North and East Yorkshire from tomorrow (Friday).

Once described by Professor Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute director at the University of Birmingham, as “the most ambitious amateur Shakespearean venture in the country”, the project has drawn 350 actors and 300 backstage crew since its debut with Richard III in 2002.

Parrabbola director Philip Parr, founding council member and chair of the European Shakespeare Festivals network and director of York International Shakespeare Festival, has the honour of overseeing YSP reaching its target with a company led by Paul French as Prospero, Effie Warboys as Miranda and Jacob Ward as Ferdinand.

“It’s the final fling, putting pressure on Philip and Paul,” says YSP chair Councillor Janet Looker, former Lord Mayor of York and a stalwart of the project since its inception in 2001.

“Certainly, it comes with issues of responsibility, not just for the production, but for the whole project,” says Philip. “I don’t think you can divorce the play from the event, or the nature of that event, the final production, so there’s a responsibility to those who first thought of doing it 20 years to bring it to a conclusion that feels right.

Lara Stafford’s Gonzala in rehearsal. Remember her Rosalind in As You Like It in the Residence Garden, York Minster, in July 2008 when she was Lara Pattison?

“It’s been impossible not to plan this production without thinking about the context of it being the end of this remarkable mission. We’ve been able to recruit a cast full of people who have performed in different YSP productions across the years, along with some who are performing with YSP for the first time.”

Fiona Mozley, 2017 Man Booker Prize-nominated author of Elmet, Hot Stew and Soho (AdN) had hoped to re-join the YSP ranks for The Tempest but is no longer able to add to her teenage performances in The Taming Of The Shrew and Love’s Labours Lost.

Bringing the stormy play’s island setting and disrupted world to life through communal storytelling in a new interpretation that highlights colonisation, reconciliation and change, The Tempest is an ideal grand finale, argues Philip.

“Shakespeare’s last play deals with many themes that are relevant both to this moment for YSP, but also ones that our society continues to grapple with today:  disconnection, corruption, reconciliation and the difficulty of generational change,” he says.

“I’m excited about the way we’re approaching telling this story, using the performing collective to create the island and the ‘magic’ that permeates it, and using the musical skills of many of the performers to ensure the ‘isle is full of noises’.

““Creating a sense of place in the audience’s mind is even more important in this play, because so much of it is storytelling, narration. There’s very little theatre in terms of dramatic events. People just talk a lot and you have to frame that up.”

Effie Warboys’ Miranda makes her point to Paul French’s Prospero in rehearsals for The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

The YSP committee had taken the decision to undertake a tour as the finale long before Philip was involved. “Originally, we’d always intended to do the last week at York Theatre Royal but the finances got too complex, so it was suggested, ‘well, let’s do something completely different’: a tour. Being at the Theatre Royal on the last night will be the icing on the cake,” says Janet.

“Doing this tour is an example of how YSP has never sat still but has always looked at new ways of doing  things, taking on new challenges dynamically.”

Philip adds: “It has a sense of reward for the project to finish at York Theatre Royal and to end with these eight performances, seven on the road, at six venues, concluding back in York. That’s more performances than many productions get; a two-week run with a big cast to present it.

“It’s a big commitment to make and it’s a tour that comes with different demands: some venues have stage exits, some don’t; some have lighting, some don’t, so we’ll be taking a small lighting rig to illuminate the stage.

“I haven’t been to all the venues. I’ve been to some, had video tours of some, but that’s not unusual for a tour. We’ve created a set that’s not difficult to grapple with too, fitting easily into each venue.”

York Shakespeare Project’s banner image for The Tempest

The cast will feature no fewer than 17 Ariel spirits, “The Ariel Collective” as they will be known. “You want to do a celebratory production, so I had a rule that said, ‘if you have been in a YSP production, you have the right to be Ariel’, and it’s been nice that so many people have come out of the woods!” says Philip.

Twenty years of YSP leads to this finale, a play that reflects on ageing, politics and leadership, acquiring knowledge, and the power of magic to transform. “The more experiences you bring into it, the more you see in the conversations about human nature and the chance the play gives to all the characters to go back to where they were but with new knowledge, just as we’d like to be able to go back 20 years but with the knowledge acquired in those years.

“The Tempest might have been Shakespeare wishing that too, and now it’s a treat to find that across all the characters. Because Shakespeare has learnt it all, he can do it all in this play at a time when everyone believed in magic.

“Part of what I was looking at was, if you don’t believe in magic, who is Ariel? By having so many Ariels, Ariel can be in anything that is there. They can make things happen, but in a natural way.”

Janet adds: “Having so many Ariels means they can project from all around the stage because is Ariel is never in only one place.”

Jacob Ward’s Ferdinand and Effie Warboys’ Miranda in a scene from York Shakespeare Project’s The Tempest. Dress rehearsal picture: John Saunders

Philip rejoins: “With so many voices, you have a spectrum from high soprano to low bass, and how Ariel speaks depends on Prospero’s tone. Then, if they want to tell him off, a lower voice will be used. Prospero has to learn that ruling is about husbanding your resources.”

Philip could not have been more thorough in his preparations for staging The Tempest. “I’ve seen 15 productions this year,” he says. “Three in Poland at the last Shakespeare festival there, which was all about The Tempest. Two in Rumania, one in Italy. A couple here, and more! I had to stop in the end, but every one of them has been an influence.

“You take ideas from past productions, then come up with a thousand ideas and throw 999 of them away.”

Janet says: “The actors then have to take it over and you can’t stop them at that point.” Philip agrees: “That ownership is important because you have to make a choice and then everyone needs to go with that decision. At each performance, that decision is inspired by all sorts of things: the audience, the space, the mood of the night, the actors.”

Twenty years, 37 plays in 35 productions, the mission is complete. Appropriately, the last word goes to Janet, the chair: “It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 20 years since our very first production. We thought we were being rather ambitious when we started – would we really be able to keep this going for 20 years? And we weren’t always sure we’d get there, especially with the events of the past two years.

The Ariel Collective confronting Stuart Lindsay’s Sebastian in the dress rehearsal at Thorganby Village Hall. Picture: John Saunders

“But the commitment of the many supporters who have participated in our productions over the years has seen us reach this last play. We always knew we wanted to finish with something special, and this tour and a finale at York Theatre Royal will be an exciting and unique experience for all the actors and crew, and will give us a chance to share not just the story of The Tempest, but the community ethos of York Shakespeare Project, with a much wider audience. It is a very fitting way to mark the end of this journey.”

The celebratory party the next day (October 2) will be well deserved.

York Shakespeare Project presents The Tempest on tour at Thorganby Village Hall tomorrow (23/9/2022), 7.30pm; Strensall and Towthorpe Village Hall, Saturday, 2.30, 7.30pm; Helmsley Arts Centre, September 27, 7.30pm; Selby Town Hall, September 28, 7.30pm; The Junction, Goole, September 29; Acomb Parish Church Hall, September 30, 7.30pm and  York Theatre Royal, October 1, 7.30pm. Box office: and venue box offices; York, 01904 623568 or

York Shakespeare Project’s plot summary for The Tempest:

PROSPERO uses magic to conjure a storm and torment the survivors of a shipwreck, including the King of Naples and Prospero’s treacherous sister, Antonia. The embittered Caliban plots to rid himself of Prospero but is thwarted by the spirit Ariel.

The King’s young son Ferdinand, thought to be dead, falls in love with Prospero’s daughter Miranda. Their celebrations are cut short when Prospero confronts his sister and reveals his identity as the usurped Duke of Milan.

The cast comprises:

David Denbigh; Sonia Di Lorenzo; Jodie Fletcher; Nell Frampton; Paul French; Tony Froud; Emily Hansen; David Harrison; Bronte Hobson; Judith Ireland; Andrew Isherwood; Tom Jennings; Nick Jones; Stuart Lindsay; Michael Maybridge; Sally Maybridge; Sally Mitcham; Andrea Mitchell; Tim Olive-Besley; Megan Ollerhead; Tracy Rea; Eleanor Royse; Emma Scott; Julie Speedie; Lara Stafford; Harry Summers, Effie Warboys and Jacob Ward.

Production team:

Director, Philip Parr; assistant director, Terry Ram; stage managers, Janice Newton and David Harrison; musical director, Nick Jones.

History in the making as York Shakespeare Project completes mission to perform all 37 plays with plans to start all over again!

How it all began: John White’s production of Richard III at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in 2002. Picture: Jeremy Muldowney

YORK Shakespeare Project’s tour of The Tempest will complete “the most ambitious amateur Shakespearean venture in the country”.

Such is the judgement of Professor Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute director at the University of Birmingham, describing the mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays inside 20 years.

York Shakespeare Project (YSP) was formed in 2002 by a group of actors seeking to replace the challenge and excitement of taking part in the York Minster Millennium Mystery Plays in 2000.

Alan Lyons, an early chair of the project, described its origins in the programme for YSP’s first play, Richard III, staged at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from October 30 to November 2 2002. “There I was, sitting with Frank Brogan as he dreamt up the idea of the York Shakespeare Project. ‘It won’t work,’ I said. An hour later I changed my mind.

“Maybe I was captivated by the idea. Maybe it was Frank’s persuasive tongue. I am still not sure why. This show [Richard III] is the result of hard work and effort put in by a great number of people since Frank had his original idea.”

After a few years away, Frank Brogan is once more a member of the YSP committee that oversees the project. “In the early days, it was said that the actor who would play Miranda in our concluding production of The Tempest had yet to be born”, Frank recalls.

It almost worked out that way. University student Effie Warboys was not even three months old at the time of Richard III’s opening night in 2002. Now she has been cast by director Philip Parr as Miranda in a tour that adds up to eight performances, seven on the road, at six venues, climaxing at York Theatre Royal on October 1.

Janet Looker, YSP chair and former Lord Mayor of York, has seen every YSP play. “There have been so many memorable productions”, she says. “For 20 years, York Shakespeare Project has frequently surprised and delighted me with the wide variety of performances put on under its banner.

York Shakespeare Project’s 2019 production of Cymbeline. Picture: John Saunders

“So many highlights! A memorable Romeo And Juliet, set in the Fifties’ street gang culture with an amazing female Mercutio [Cecily Boys]: a bravura performance!

“As You Like It in the shade of York Minster, an outdoor production that used the trees and landscaping of the Minster garden to brilliant effect in creating the Forest of Arden – and a Rosalind [Lara Pattison] and Orlando [Toby Gordon] who were probably genuinely as young as the original concept.

“A funny, but moving outdoor production of Much Ado about Nothing, set in the immediate post-war era of the 1940s with Land Girls and ARP wardens and brilliantly evocative use of contemporary music.”

More highlights, Janet? “Hamlet in an old church with ghost and eavesdroppers appearing from behind gloomy pillars, and the background of a dim church around us.

“Henry VI – in two parts – in York’s Guildhall, a building older than the play, but less than a mile from the very gate where the Duke of York’s head was placed: “that York may overlook the stones of York”.

“A stunning all-women cast for Henry V, which was set during the First World War and movingly married the France through which Henry marched, with the trenches in Flanders Field. As an added bonus, one night it was acted on St Crispin’s Day, giving an added shiver to the famous speech.

“Henry VIII, set in King’s Manor, the house where Henry himself stayed when he visited the city, again adding an extra frisson.

“So many memories, and I look forward to adding The Tempest, our last production, to that list. Thank you a hundred times to YSP for giving one Shakespeare fan so much pleasure over the project.”

Toby Gordon: Progressed from York Shakespeare Project minor roles to playing the Devil in the 2016 York Mystery Plays at York Minster. Picture: T Figgins

Since 2002, more than 350 performers have taken part in the plays, aided by 300 backstage crew. Some have appeared only once, but one, retired lecturer Nick Jones, has made as many as 12 appearances. “The project was always a crazy but wonderful idea,” he says. “When I returned to York in 2010, it was already 15 plays in, so of course I couldn’t resist getting involved.

“It was never obvious that we would survive but here we are, approaching our last play, in which I’ve got a small part and am arranging the music. It’s been a unique experience.”

In the desire to avoid a clique, no company of regulars was ever established. Every play has started with genuinely open auditions, with each of the 24 directors being granted total discretion over casting.

YSP has been the stepping stone for many a York actor to move onto greater things. Toby Gordon progressed from minor parts in the 2007 production of Henry VI and a volatile Hotspur in the 2010 Henry IV to star as the Devil in the 2016 York Mystery Plays at York Minster.

He will be playing Joey in the final London run of The Guild of Misrule’s immersive staging of The Great Gatsby, produced by Immersive Everywhere at Gatsby’s Mansion within Immersive/LDN, in Mayfair, until January 7 2023.

Charlotte Wood, who played Cordelia in King Lear in 2016, will take the title role in Cinderella, this winter’s pantomime at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole.

After appearing for YSP in Maggie Smales’s Henry V in 2015 and Madeleine O’Reilly’s Coriolanus in 2018, Claire Morley is completing her hattrick of all-female Shakespeare productions in Chris Connaughton’s three-hander version of Macbeth for Northumberland Theatre Company, whose tour visits Pocklington Arts Centre on September 29.

Mediaevalist and 2017 Man Booker Prize-nominated author Fiona Mozley cites her appearances in YSP productions not only as an essential formative influence on her writing but as fun: “Aged 15, I was cast as Biondello in YSP’s second production, The Taming Of The Shrew. I had a great time and have fond memories of the rehearsals and performances,” says the writer of Elmet, Hot Stew and Soho (AdN) .

Claire Morley, centre, as Henry V in Maggie Smales’s all-female Henry V. Picture: Michael Oakes

“Early exposure to the arts is gold. We all know that the books we read as teenagers stay with us for life, and this is doubly true of acting in plays. I can vividly remember whole passages of the text and regularly think about the complex ideas Shakespeare was teasing out. I learnt a huge amount from my participation in YSP, not only The Taming Of The Shrew but also Love’s Labours Lost, and carry it with me in my own writing.”

Fiona had hoped to re-join the YSP ranks as part of the Collective Ariel (18 actors in total),  returning to the boards alongside her father Harold Mozley, who has been an active member of YSP for the past 20 years, but now neither Fiona, nor Harold, is able to do so.

Janet Looker looks back with pride and forward with optimism. “I’ll be passing on the baton to a new chair and a revitalised committee, which will take the project forward. Plans are in place. It’s not in our nature to sit on our laurels.

“The project will continue and intends to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays all over again, this time alongside the best of his contemporaries, and maybe some of the modern takes on the plays too. That might take a little longer. Maybe a 25- year project this time.

“This is the end of York Shakespeare Project One, completed with the odd slippage, given the impact of Covid, but there’s a very strong desire to take the project onwards with YSP Two. We have a very committed committee wanting to take on the next step.

“Some of us will bow out, but YSP Two will find its feet; the challenge is to keep driving it forward. We’ve never had a consistent committee, we’ve always had different people coming on board, but there’s always been a core vision. I look forward to supporting YSP, and particularly the younger faces very keen to give it new momentum.”

York Shakespeare Company’s productions

Richard III, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, October 30 to November 2 2002. Director: John White

The Taming Of The Shrew, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 13 and 14; Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 17 to 21 2003. Director: Paul Toy

The Comedy Of Errors, Friargate Theatre, York, December 3 to 6 2003. Director: Chris Rawson

Titus Andronicus, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 21 to 24 2004. Director: Paul Toy

Peter Watts’s Hamlet in John Topping’s 2013 production. Picture: John Saunders

Love’s Labours Lost, Friargate Theatre, York, December 1 to 11 2004. Director: Chris Rawson

Romeo And Juliet, Rowntree Park, York, July 13 to 24 2005. Director: Sarah Punshon

Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Friargate Theatre, York, November 29 to December 3 2005. Director: Ali Borthwick

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rowntree Park, York, July 19 to 30 2006. Director: Mark France

King John, Friargate Theatre, December 5 to 9 2006. Director: Jeremy Muldowney

Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 & 3, produced in two parts, York Guildhall, July 12 to 22 2007. Director: Mark France

As You Like It, Residence Garden, York Minster, July 16 to 27 2008. Director: Roger Calvert  

The Merchant Of Venice, Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 12 to 22 2008. Director: Cecily Boys

Julius Caesar, Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, June 10 to 20 2009. Director: Mark Smith

Richard II, Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 17 to 21 2009. Director: Hugh Allinson

Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York, July 29 to August 15 2010. Director: Tom Cooper

Much Ado About Nothing, Rowntree Park, York, June 29 to July 9 2011; The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, July 16 2011. Director: Paul Taylor-Mills

Troilus And Cressida, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 15 to 19 2011. Director: Paul Toy

The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Rowntree Park, York, June 25 to June 27, May 30 to Diamond Jubilee Tuesday, June 5 2012. Three performances rained off. The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, June 10 2012. Director: Tom Straszewski

Paul French’s Lear and Charlotte Wood’s Cordelia in Ben Prusiner’s King Lear in 2016. Picture John Saunders

Othello, York Theatre Royal Studio, October 23 to 27 2012. Director: Mark France

Hamlet, St Martin-cum-Gregory Church, Micklegate, York, July 18 to August 3 2013; The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, August 11 2013. Director: John Topping

Measure For Measure, Friargate Theatre, York, December 5 to 8 2013. Director: Matt Simpson

Twelfth Night, York Theatre Royal Studio, April 3 to 12 2014; The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, June 7 2014. Director: Mark Smith

All’s Well That Ends Well, Friargate Theatre, York, November 27 to 30 2014. Director: Maurice Crichton

Timon Of Athens, De Grey Rooms Ballroom, York, May 14 to 17 2015. Director: Ruby Clarke

Henry V, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, October 21 to 31 2015. Director Maggie Smales

Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, April 19 to 23 2016. Director: Sophie Paterson

King Lear, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 30 to December 10 2016. Director: Ben Prusiner

Henry VIII, King’s Manor, Exhibition Square, York, March 30 to April 1 2017. Director: Ben Prusiner

The Winter’s Tale, John Cooper Studio@41 Monkgate, York, October 24 to 28 2017. Director: Natalie Quatermass

The Two Noble Kinsmen, by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, De Grey Rooms Ballroom, York, May 2 to 5 2018. Director: Tom Straszewski

Coriolanus, Friargate Theatre, York, November 28 to December 1 2018. Director: Madeleine O’Reilly

Cymbeline, Merchant Taylors’ Hall, Aldwark, York, March 1 to 3 2019. Director: Ben Prusiner

Antony & Cleopatra, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York,  October 28 to November 2 2019. Director: Leo Doulton

Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 26 to 30 2021. Director: Leo Doulton

The Tempest, on tour, September 23 to October 1 2022. Director: Philip Parr

Did you know?

YORK Shakespeare Project’s tour of The Tempest is being accompanied by a retrospective exhibition in celebration of 20 years of YSP productions, running in the York Theatre Royal foyer until October 1. Admission is free.

After Henry V and Coriolanus, Claire Morley completes her hattrick of all-female Shakespeare shows with NTC’s Macbeth

Seat of power: Claire Morley, as Macbeth, in Northumberland Theatre Company’s modern-day Macbeth. Picture: Jim Donnelly

YORK actor Claire Morley is starring in Chris Connaughton’s all-female, three-hander version of Macbeth for Northumberland Theatre Company.

Directed by associate director Alice Byrne, she is joined in Shakespeare’s “very gruesome” tragedy by Gillian Hambleton and Melanie Dagg on an autumn tour to theatres, community venues, village halls and schools that visits Stillington Village Hall, near York, tonight (8/9/2022) and Pocklington Arts Centre on September 29.

This streamlined, fast-paced, extremely physical re-boot of Macbeth with original music will be told largely from the witches’ perspective, exploring ideas of manipulation through the media and other external forces. Expect grim, gory grisliness to the Mac max in two action-packed 40-minute halves.

Claire Morley and Gillian Hambleton in a scene from Northumberland Theatre Company’s Macbeth. Picture: Jim Donnelly

Here CharlesHutchPress puts Claire Morley on the damned spot, demanding quick answers, like Macbeth confronting the “secret, black, and midnight hags”.

How did you become involved with Northumberland Theatre Company, Claire?

“I saw they were holding auditions earlier this year and went along as I liked the sound of the company and its mission to take shows to rural places who might not have regular access to the theatre. Then, about a month ago, I moved up to Northumberland for rehearsals.

What does an all-female cast bring to what is often seen as a toxic, machismo play, where even Lady Macbeth says “unsex me here”?

“To be honest, it’s not something that has massively concerned us in rehearsals as we’ve been exploring the characters and their relationships first and foremost. There are some lines about what it is to be a man, which I imagine might ping out more to the audience and make them see the text in new ways.”

Cut out to be king: Claire Morley, Melanie Dagg and Gillian Hambleton in Macbeth. Picture: Jim Donnelly

How are the roles divided between the three witches?

“Chris Connaughton has adapted the script so that the witches bookend the play; this gives us room to play with the witches in the sense that they are manipulating and telling the story.

“So, in the first scene you will see us choose who gets to be Duncan and Macbeth, for example. As there are only three actors, we do all play multiple roles, which has been really fun.”

What are the benefits of staging Macbeth as a three-hander?

“Well, practically, it’s much easier to tour with only three actors in the van! But I’ve also found that it means we have had to really streamline the script and think about what serves the story and what is superfluous.

“I think this makes the production pacy and easy to follow and will be great when we take it to schools for those students studying it for GCSE.” 

“As there are only three actors, we do all play multiple roles, which has been really fun,” says Claire Morley, left. Picture: Jim Donnelly

What is the set design and costume design for NTC’s Macbeth?

“As NTC is a rural touring company, we take everything with us in the van, so, when we get to a venue, we build our stage and lighting rig and set up costumes and props.

“Where we can, such as in Stillington, we’re performing in traverse, which means that the audience sit either side of the stage. I think this gives the show an immediacy as the audience will really feel part of the action, and privy to our thoughts.

“When we’re at Pocklington, for example, we’ll be performing on their stage, so we have to adapt to the venues we’re in! 

“The sound and lighting design really add to the atmosphere and help us change scenes and moods without elaborate set changes.” 

Claire Morley, centre, as Henry V at Agincourt in York Shakespeare Project’s all-female Henry V in 2015. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Does NTC’s Macbeth have a particular period setting?

“We’ve given the play a modern feel. You’ll see how the witches receive some of their prophecies on mobile phones!”

How does this production compare with your previous all-female Shakespeare experiences in York in Maggie Smales’s Henry V, in 2015, and Madeleine O’Reilly’s Coriolanus in 2018.

“I had an absolutely amazing time working with York Shakespeare Project on Henry V and Coriolanus and I hope that all theatre companies continue to implement diverse casting.

“What differs this time is more the circumstances. I’ve never been on tour before and that is the biggest difference! It’s hard work travelling and doing the get-ins and get-outs but I’m in fantastic company and I’m having a great time.” 

Something wicked this way comes: Northumberland Theatre Company in Macbeth, Stillington Village Hall, near York, tonight (8/9/2022); Pocklington Arts Centre, September 29, both 7.30pm. Box office: Stillington, 01347 811 544 or on the door; Pocklington, 01759 301547 or

The tour poster for Northumberland Theatre Company’s Macbeth, playing Stillington and Pocklington