REVIEW: York Shakespeare Project in Sonnets At The Bar, Bar Convent garden, Blossom Street, York, until Saturday ***

Helen Wilson’s Sister Augusta looks to the heavens…but the weather forecast is encouraging for the rest of the garden run at the Bar Convent. Picture: John Saunders

FIRST came the Sonnet Walks around York from 2014 to 2019; next, the alliterative Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, and now Sonnets At The Bar, in its third year in Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s “secret” garden.

Or not-so-secret, judging by the word-of-mouth popularity of York Shakespeare Project’s “entertaining and accessible” summer season of sonnets in the open air, delivered to the accompaniment of a complimentary drink in the admission price.

Each year’s splay of sonnets is supported by an overarching theme, devised this summer by Helen Wilson, who has been prompted by the Bar Convent’s convivial hospitality to conjure the merry-go-round whirl of a York hotel’s comings and goings, eccentric staff and guests on a mission in the rush of the summer wedding and tour traffic.

Judith Ireland’s receptionist Bronwyn and Harold Mozley’s Mr S, the hotel manager on a short fuse, in York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar. Picture: John Saunders

Judging by the character she plays – the hen-tending, egg-collecting Sister Augusta – she has been inspired too by the presence of the resident community of sisters at England’s oldest surviving Catholic convent.

The convent garden serves as the hotel garden, where York Shakespeare Project’s nine sonneteers make their entrances and exits and re-entries and re-exits too on the breakfast-is-served morning after the wedding the night before. The setting is modern-day, the language likewise until each sonneteer’s conversational thoughts elide into a Shakespearean sonnet and then back out again as each character reveals a secret.

First up is YSP veteran Frank Brogan’s deluded, ageing romantic rock god – long white hair, long dark coat, head band and gold chain – from the wedding party band, who is wondering what happened to the young sprat he failed to hook last night. His Flash Hunter struts and frets his five minutes upon the stage, gone in a flash, the failed hunter, returning later, still forlorn.

Nigel Evans’s Colin, the DJ with the platter patter, in Sonnets At The Bar. Picture: John Saunders

Your reviewer has been asked not to give too much away, as to what happens. Let’s focus on the coterie of characters instead. Judith Ireland takes willingly to a more comedic role than usual, Ireland turning Welsh to play the hotel’s psychic receptionist, Bronwyn Jones, with her vibes and talk of auras and energies.

Harold Mozley’s enervated hotel manager Mr S (for Scruton) is a no-nonsense sort, a stickler for timekeeping. We are told he “barks a lot”, but in this case his bite is even worse than his bite, especially if you happen to be tour guide Stevie Sykes from Betterway Travel, a dodgy East End firm run by Reggie and Ronnie. “Cut the bunny and hop it,” Mr S advises.

Director and YSP chair Tony Froud makes much of this slippery, often apologetic character, who turns the audience into his tour party.

Sarah Dixon’s wedding guest Susie (seated) in discussion with Diana Wyatt’s mother-of-the-bride Moira. Picture: John Saunders

We meet the agitated mother of the bride, Diana Wyatt’s mortified Moira; debutant sonneteer Sarah Dixon’s wedding guest Susie, as she encounters a former crush with hopes of re-kindling that flame, and the morning DJ with a cheesy lyric in every thought, Nigel Evans’s chirpy Colin.

Enter YSP producer Maurice Crichton’s “derelict” Scottish-born lobsterman Hector, in his eye patch and rather fetching fisherman’s gansey jumper, talking of coastal erosion at his adopted home of Skipsea. Aha, climate change comes to Sonnets At The Bar.

Hector has a lunch date, one to whom he will pick up a guitar to sing one of Crichton’s own compositions, a maritime ballad with a kiss at its heart and the chance for an audience singalong.

Not a patch on his subsequent performances: Maurice Crichton’s lobsterman Hector at the dress rehearsal. The eyewear would be added on the first night. Picture: John Saunders

Northern humour, pathos, morsels of gossip, a missing guest, assorted love stories and spilled beans are stirred into the hotel melting pot by Wilson and Froud as each vignette adds more spice. As for which sonnets feature, you will have to attend to find out.

Next up from York Shakespeare Project will be Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, to be staged at Theatre@41, Monkgate, from October 17 to 21, as YSP spreads its wings beyond the Bard.

York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar in the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre garden until August 19, 6pm and 7.30pm, plus a 4.30pm Saturday performance. Box office: or 01904 623568.

Meet the hotel staff and guests gathering for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar in Bar Convent’s secret garden

Frank Brogan: Returning to the Bar Convent secret garden next week. Picture: John Saunders

YORK Shakespeare Project is rediscovering the secret garden at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York, for another season of Sonnets At The Bar from August 11 to 19.

“The invitation is as warm as ever,” says this year’s director, YSP chair Tony Froud. “On a summer’s evening, it has always proved a lovely experience. While sipping your complimentary drink in the convent’s delightful garden setting, sit back and enjoy a taste of Shakespeare that is both entertaining and accessible.”

Sarah Dixon: New sonneteer for York Shakespeare Project. Picture: John Saunders

Reprising the familiar format, the show features a host of larger-than-life modern characters, each with a secret to reveal. Each character in turn will speak a Shakespeare sonnet to expose the heart of their story, to the surprise of the audience.

On this occasion, audiences will watch the comings and goings as hotel staff and guests take a turn in its garden.  “Eavesdrop on the gossip,” reads the invitation. “They may take you into their confidence – perhaps revealing more than they intend – and each will have a Shakespeare sonnet to share.”

Maurice Crichton: Co-founder of York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnet Walks, now starring in Sonnnets At The Bar. Picture: John Saunders

“It’s a simple device that always seems to work,” says Tony. “Very often the actor can be halfway through the sonnet before the audience realises that the language has become Shakespearean.”

York Shakespeare Project first brought Shakespeare’s sonnets to life in 2014 with Sonnet Walks, wherein peripatetic audience members encountered colourful characters as they walked around the streets of York.

Judith Ireland: Regular sonneteer for York Shakespeare Project. Picture: John Saunders

“Many people will remember the Sonnet Walks fondly,” says the show’s writer, Helen Wilson. “But staging the show in a single setting has great advantages, allowing characters to meet, exchange conversations and reappear.”

Helen, who created the original walks in 2014 in tandem with YSP stalwart Maurice Crichton, has shaped the 2023 script based on the cast’s improvisations. “We have been inspired by the show’s hotel setting, but our hotel is very different to the Bar Convent,” says Helen.

Who will Diana Wyatt play? Find out from August 11 to 19. Picture: John Saunders

“The combination of eccentric staff and a whole variety of residents with fascinating back stories has offered great possibilities.”

Tony’s cast features actors aplenty familiar to YSP regulars and a new face. “A big part of the fun in the show is guessing which unusual characters they will be playing,” says Helen.

Tony, Helen and Maurice will be joined in the garden by Frank Brogan, Harold Mozley, Judith Ireland, Diana Wyatt, Nigel Evans and new sonneteer Sarah Dixon.

Helen Wilson, pictured performing in the 2021 Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, has written the hotel scenario for Sonnets At The Bar

“The show will be around 45 minutes long,” says Tony. “Our sonnets are aimed at those aged 14 plus but may be enjoyed by younger folk with the right support from their accompanying adult. Two under 14s per adult will be admitted for free. We very much look forward to seeing you.”

York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar in the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre garden from August 11 to 19, except August 14, at 6pm and 7.30pm, plus 4.30pm Saturday performances on August 12 and 19. Box office: or 01904 623568. The price (£10, £5 for 14 to 17 year olds) includes a drink.

Director Tony Froud with the Sonnets At The Bar banner on the railings at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre in Blossom Street, York

REVIEW: York International Shakespeare Festival, York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, York ***

Harry Summers’ Richard, Duke of Gloucester addressing the House of Commons benches in York Shakespeare Project’s Richard III. Pictures: John Saunders

ROUND Two of York Shakespeare Project begins with the knockout punch of “the York play”, Richard III. Here come 37 Shakespeare plays in 25 years, plus works by his contemporaries, in the sequel to “the most ambitious project ever mounted on the York amateur theatre circuit”.

Can the second cycle of the First Folio plus one surpass such ambitions, fulfilled after 20 years with The Tempest tour last autumn? Surely there would be no point starting to re-climb this artistic Everest otherwise.

Certainly, Dr Daniel Roy Connelly, former diplomat, actor, writer, academic, podcaster and director home and abroad, is in a fighting mood to match Shakespeare’s Richard in his YSP debut after moving to York.

Frank Brogan: Appearing in York Shakespeare Project’s two Richard III productions 21 years apart

“The opportunity to re-boot YSP’s cycle of the canon was very attractive to me,” he said in his CharlesHutchPress interview this week. “I’m someone who always wants to go either first or last, to set the bar high or to leave everyone with something to go home with.”

As befits the True & Fair Party (“We all deserve better”) prospective parliamentary candidate for York Outer at the next General Election, Connelly has placed Richard’s winter of discontent in our “frenetic, calculating and brutal 21st century Westminster with its endless Machiavellian bloodletting and daily treacheries”.

This is rather more the world of Malcolm Tucker’s The Thick Of It than Jim Hacker’s Yes, Prime Minister, Connelly being in mischief-making mood with his use of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg memes and a photo montage of political fashion statements (Churchill, jogger BoJo and Hague’s baseball cap faux pas) on a video screen kept in regular use from its opening shot of the House of Commons benches and cry of “Order, order”.

Clive Lyons, drink in hand, and a dismissive-looking Nell Frampton in the Westminster wars of York Shakespeare Project’s Richard III

Putin, Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping pop up on there too, as do PlantageNews headlines and social-media posts from media manipulators Richard, Duke Of Gloucester (Harry Summers) and the Duke of Buckingham (Rosy Rowley), updating on Richard’s progress to the throne and beyond.

Paranoia is everywhere, laptops constantly being tapped behind twitching drapes to each side of Richard Hampton, Jeremey Muldowney and Sarah Strong’s set design but always in view of the audience, in a merry-go-round of briefing and counter-briefing from the chairs’ ever-changing occupants.

Summers’ Richard, with his rock’n’roll quiff, oversized Harry Hill shirt collars and flamboyant cane, has a vaudevillian air, even a hint of Blockhead Ian Dury. For Shakespeare’s character assassination too, he has a stump of a left arm, a leg calliper and a facial scar, and like Ian McKellen’s film portrayal, he is pretty nifty with his only hand.

Grim prospects: Miranda Mufema’s Lady Anne and Frankie Hayes’s Duchess of York

Summers’ Richard is less the wintry malcontent, more the ever-quotable narcissist who relishes the rough and tumble of politics with a Johnsonsian thick skin and lack of moral compass. He is darkness with the shrug-of-the-shoulders nonchalance of Cabaret’s Emcee and a love of breaking down theatre’s fourth wall for choice asides, almost too likeable in the manner of a camp panto villain. 

Around him, amid the pinstripe suited superficial civility, spin furtive turns by Rowley’s Buckingham and Clive Lyons’s Lord Hastings and Frank Brogan’s fevered performance as a Yorkshire-voiced King Edward IV in a considerable casting upgrade from his Second Murderer/Messenger spear-carrying in John White’s Richard III in YSP’s 2002 debut!

Frankie Hayes (Sir William Catesby/Duchess of York), Jack Downey (an amusingly heartless Sir Richard Ratcliffe), Miranda Mufema (Lady Anne) and YSP’s new Nick Jones (a commanding Earl of Richmond) make their mark too. For stage presence, look no further than Thomas Jennings’s crop-haired hitman, relishing every cull with a glint in his eye and the click of his mobile phone camera.

Eli Cunniff’s costume designs, red and white buttonhole roses et al, together with Connelly’s spot-on soundbite selection of blues, jazz and more, underscore the noir vib, as the cultural references keep a’coming.

If looks could kill: Thomas Jennings’s brazen hitman

Cue a drunken chamber the morning after Richard’s coronation (a la lockdown “parties” at Number 10); Richard calling out to Alexa for answers as much as his kingdom for a horse in his hour of need, and Richard and Richmond sporting stab vests in white and red in the style of Banksy’s Union Flag design for Stormzy at Glastonbury.

Connelly conducts parliamentary business briskly, no prevaricating here, before the first-night pace and focus slips at the battlefield finale until Jones’s Richmond steers the reins in the home straight in more classical Bard style.

Throughout, Friargate Theatre’s compact, close-up stage feels crammed to the gills, especially with the shadowy figures in the wings, adding a noose of claustrophobia to Richard’s tyranny in Connelly’s state-of-the-nation’s rotten politics report. As promised, he does indeed “leave everyone with something to go home with”.

York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrowBox office:

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.

York Shakespeare Project to complete 20-year mission with tour of The Tempest

The Tempest blows in: Dates are confirmed for York Shakespeare Project’s final production of a 20-year venture to present every Shakespeare play bard none. Picture: John Saunders

YORK Shakespeare Project will go on tour for the first time this autumn with The Tempest, the final production of its 20-year journey to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays.

YSP’s ambitious mission will be completed with an October 1 performance at York Theatre Royal after a North and East Yorkshire itinerary that will take in Selby, Goole and other towns and villages.

On tour from September 23, The Tempest will be directed by Philip Parr, director of Parrabbola and York International Shakespeare Festival and chair of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network.

Founded in April 2001 by artist, actor and philosopher Dr Frank Brogan with funding from the National Lottery’s Awards For All and York Challenge Fund, YSP performed its first production, Richard III, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from October 30 to November 2 2002 with York Settlement Community Players stalwart and drama teacher Alan Booty in the title role.

That debut had been delayed from April after a change of director from “young hotshot” Ben Naylor to esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actor John White, but “it’ll be all White on the night” immediately affirmed YSP’s resolute, punning slogan, “It’s An Act of Will”.

Since that bumpy start, YSP has woven its way into the city’s theatrical fabric, attracting hundreds of residents to participate as either actors or crew members over two decades, many of them taking their first steps in theatre.

Philip says: “It’s impossible not to plan this production of The Tempest without thinking about the context of it being the end of this remarkable 20-year 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 will be performing with YSP for the first time.”

Should you need a quick refresher course on The Tempest, a tragicomedy first staged on November 1 1611, here is YSP’s plot summary. 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, however, when Prospero confronts his sister and reveals his identity as the usurped Duke of Milan.

“The Tempest 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,” says Philip.

“I’m excited about the way we’re approaching telling this story,” says The Tempest director Philip Parr

“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’. We can’t wait to share it with audiences this autumn.”

Janet Looker, chair of York Shakespeare Project – and 2019 Lord Mayor of York, Labour councillor for City of York Council’s Guildhall ward since 1985 and family lawyer to boot – says: “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 last two years. 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, giving 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’s a very fitting way to mark the end of this journey.”

YSP regular Paul French will play Prospero, Effie Warboys, Miranda, and Jacob Ward, Ferdinand, but more details on casting will be kept under wraps for now to enable YSP to “reveal some surprises about how this large cast will tell the story in due course”.

Watch this space for updates, but in the meantime, here is the list of further confirmed cast members: Victoria Delaney; Sonia Di Lorenzo; Henry Fairnington; Jodie Fletcher; Nell Frampton; Tony Froud; Rhiannon Griffiths; David Harrison; Bronte Hobson; Judith Ireland; Andrew Isherwood; Helen Jarvis; Nick Jones and Stuart Lindsay.

Taking part too will be: Aran MacRae; Michael Maybridge; Sally Maybridge; Sally Mitcham; Andrea Mitchell; Fiona Mozley; Harold Mozley; Janice Newton; Megan Ollerhead; Tracy Rea; Eleanor Royse; Emma Scott; Phyl Smith; Sadie Sorensen; Julie Speedie; Lara Stafford; Harry Summers; Lisa Valentine and Sam Valentine.

Philip Parr will be joined in the production team by assistant director Terry Ram, stage managers Janice Newton and David Harrison and musical director Nick Jones.

The Tempest tour will open at Thorganby Village Hall on September 23 with further performances rubber stamped for Selby Town Hall on September 27 and The Junction, Goole, on September 28. Additional dates will be confirmed soon. Tickets are available from or the venue box offices, selbytown or 01757 708449 and or 01405 763652.

Tickets for the final performance at York Theatre Royal on October 1 at 7.30pm go on sale at 1pm today at £16, concessions £10, at or on 01904 623568.

The end: The Tempest concludes York Shakespeare Project’s journey through 37 plays. Picture: John Saunders

How much hand sanitiser will Lady Macbeth get through? Take a seat for YSP’s Sit-down Sonnets in a churchyard for the answer

Mick Taylor, York Shakespeare Project’s director for Sit-down Sonnets, aptly takes a seat for last Saturday’s rehearsal at the Rowntree Park amphitheatre

YORK’S purveyors of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks are staging a sit-down, but not as an act of protest.

Instead, the mood will be celebratory as York Shakespeare Project present a special production of Shakespeare’s sonnets from Friday, allowing audiences to enjoy live theatre outdoors.

YSP’s Sit-down Sonnets can be seen at the Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, where the 45-minute production will feature Shakespearean characters responding to the pandemic, each sharing a famous Shakespeare sonnet as part of their monologue.

“The conceit this time is that the sonneteers are well-known Shakespeare characters in the present day, coping as best they can with lockdown,” says producer Maurice Crichton. “In what is now time-honoured fashion, each has a sonnet to tee up, the pairing of character and sonnet hopefully opening up some unknown sonnets in an accessible way and giving some well-known ones a new angle.

York Shakespeare Project cast members Shirley Williams, left, and Di Starr performing Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks in 2019 in the churchyard at Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, where Sit-down Sonnets will open on Friday

“Thinking of some of the characters I’ve played, I wondered how might they each be placed? Ulysses is no longer troubled that Achilles won’t come out of his tent because all the Greeks are stuck under canvas waiting for the latest R number estimates.

“Claudius is annoyed he’s had to postpone his marriage to Gertrude but is relieved there are no trains home from Wittenburg for Hamlet to catch; Feste can’t sing in public, so he’s planning an online concert from a willow cabin he’s constructing at Olivia’s gate…It’s a fun game to play and not just with Shakespeare.” 

Conceived and directed by Mick Taylor and produced by Crichton, the sonnets show will be performed by Frank Brogan; Nigel Evans; Emily Hansen; Sue Harris; Margaret Hillier; Judith Ireland; Emilie Knight; Mick Liversidge; Phyllis Carson-Smith; Di Starr; Mick Taylor himself and Helen Wilson, “sharpening up her Miss Jean Brodie act”.

As to who they will play, Maurice teases: “We are being coy about which Shakespeare characters you will see…but Mick has had some fun pulling a script together.”

Note the face mask: York Shakespeare Project’s topical poster for September’s Sit-down Sonnets

For the past few years, the York community theatre company has produced Sonnet Walks, a guided walk around York where the audience meets a range of connected characters with a story to tell and a Shakespearean sonnet to share.

Now comes the sit-down variation, under Taylor’s direction. “Like everyone involved with theatre, we’ve missed being able to enjoy and take part in live performance,” he says. “Having staged the Sonnet Walks previously, we knew that, as a format, it could be adapted in a way that would allow us to perform to a seated audience outdoors. And Holy Trinity is a beautiful place to do it: a leafy sanctuary in the centre of the city.”

Explaining the 2020 format, Mick says: “In these Sit-down Sonnets, we’ve taken some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters and written new monologues for them as they find themselves in the middle of this pandemic.

“How might things have turned out for them if they’d been stuck in lockdown? How can Brutus get near to Caesar to put his knife in when all the senate meetings are on Zoom? Where can Romeo get his fateful poison if the apothecary’s on furlough? And how much hand sanitiser will Lady Macbeth get through? They’ll share their thoughts on a world of lockdowns, masks and social distancing, along with a sonnet that reflects their feelings.”

How prescient: York Shakespeare Project founder Frank Brogan predicts the end of the world in last summer’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks. Cue Covid-19…

Making an historical link, Mick points out: “Shakespeare himself was no stranger to the impact a pandemic can have on theatre. Between 1603 and 1613, the theatres were closed for a total of six and a half years. Thankfully, we can return in performances like this a little sooner!”

York Shakespeare Project were just over a week away from the opening night for their spring production of Macbeth when lockdown began in late-March, stalling the 20-year mission to produce all of Shakespeare’s known plays by 2021 on the home straight, when only two big hitters, Macbeth and The Tempest, were left to perform.

Committee member Tony Froud says: “We were obviously very disappointed to have to postpone Macbeth and, like other companies, we are waiting to see how and when indoor live performance can safely return before deciding when we can prepare to stage the plays again.

“That’s why we’re so pleased to be able to perform Shakespeare in front of an audience in this way. Mick and Maurice have done a tremendous job in a short amount of time to prepare a production that audiences can enjoy safely and that brings the beauty of the sonnets to life in new ways.

Take a seat: York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets cast members listen to director Mick Taylor, fourth from right, when rehearsing in Rowntree Park, York, last weekend

“We hope that people will be able to join us for what should be a fun and unique performance, and a long-overdue chance to watch live theatre.”

YSP pass on their thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust and the volunteers at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, for accommodating Sit-Down Sonnets this summer.

“We looked at Dean’s Park and the Museum Gardens but in both cases that would have involved opening late specially for us,” says Maurice. “Last year, Ed van der Molen at Holy Trinity Church was very responsive to our idea of bringing our Sonnet Walks through the churchyard and this year even more so: he could not have been more welcoming.

“The review in The Press last year said: ‘What can be more lovely than a marriage of Shakespeare’s golden verse and York’s heritage’. Holy Trinity is a jewel in York’s heritage and its churchyard a haven in the city centre. It was our first choice for trying out this new format.”

Frank Brogan in rehearsal for the Sit-down Sonnets

The Covid-secure Sit-down Sonnets will be presented from September 4 to 12 (except September 7) at 5.45pm and 7pm nightly, bolstered each Saturday by a 4.15pm matinee.

“The audience capacity is ten social bubbles or 20 souls, whichever maximum we reach first,” says Maurice. “We don’t really know how it will feel to have a static show rather than a walk, but the sonnets will come thicker and faster and it will be colder, so dress warmly.

“There are five park benches in the churchyard, which we will be using, so a cushion would be a useful thing to bring, as would a rug and a camp chair. Maybe a flask and a packet of biscuits too.

“We’re delighted to see that the latest weather forecast for this week’s opening performances is: Friday, 16C, 5% chance of rain, 11mph breeze; Saturday, 15C, 6% chance of rain, 9mph breeze.” 

Tickets are available at, priced at £7 for adults, £4 for 14-17 year olds, and two under-14s may accompany each adult for free. To find out more about dates, tickets and the production, go to: