FRIENDS, readers, Yorkshiremen, lend me your time; I come neither to bury Atri Banerjee’s Julius Caesar, nor to praise it.
Recruited to direct Shakespeare’s political thriller through the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Hire initiative “to improve transparency and access to freelance creative jobs in theatre”, Banerjee brings his South Asian heritage to a production of global scope, one where he plays with gender identity too, as well as playing with the artform of theatre.
A play is called a play because it is an act of play, one that gives free rein to artistic expression and interpretation refracted through present times. In our case, Covid, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Trump, the climate crisis, three Conservative Prime Ministers in a matter of months, and progression from LGBT to LGBTQIA+.
Some reactions have suggested that Banerjee is playing with his audience, from his warm-up exercise crowd-opening with all the opera-sized RSC cast running on the spot and howling, to casting Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira), Cassius (initially Kelly Gough, now the non-binary Annabel Baldwin) and Octavius Caesar (Ella Dacres) as women, to a ghostly Caesar (Nigel Barrett) waving insouciantly at Brutus.
You could argue that Banerjee is playing instead with audience expectations, in a case of when in Rome, don’t do as the Romans do, by taking on the po-faced antediluvians who think such a serious play should be taken more seriously, because politics is no laughing matter, although any number of political sketches by John Crace or Marina Hyde’s columns in the Guardian counter that view.
What’s more, Banerjee is being serious, very serious, if modish in his delivery, in asking the big question: how far would you go for your principles?
Presented as part of the RSC’s Power Shifts season, Julius Caesar reflects how political change appears to be happening ever faster, (although despotic leaders have a way of re-writing the rule books – or commandeering the ballot box – to allow themselves to stay in power).
This week alone, Italy has come to bury – and reappraise – the first of the modern wave of populist leaders, Silvio Berlusconi, while another, Boris Johnson, has had his political career buried underneath a stinking mound of lies about lying.
Julius Caesar was the populist ruler of his time, here played in casual shirt sleeves by Barrett with rather more commanding order to his delivery of the blank verse. His crime, as William Robinson’s Marc Antony ascribes four times to Brutus, is ambition. Yet Marc Antony calls Brutus “honourable”, just as Othello calls Iago “honest” and Macbeth is praised for his valour and worthiness. Vaulting ambition did for him too, of course.
Misjudgements may have proliferated in modern politics, our age of narcissistic frontmen, but this is no longer the age of lies, damn lies and statistics, or truths and half-truths, but “alternative truths” and “post-truths”.
Caesar was a “divisive ruler”: he surely would have thrived in our era of divide-and-rule leaders, nourished by an equally divisive media in print, on screen and on air. In his time, however, he was removed, despatched, without a plan of what might come next, other than a craving for a “better future”. (Don’t all politicians say that when first entering the House of Commons before the Whip-cracking and corruptive need to keep power take over?)
Death after death, as it turns out, is the result here, all gathered in what has become known flippantly as the “ghost bus” on Rosanna Vize’s revolving stage. At that point, they are restored to clean clothing, whereas those assassins still alive are still stained by Caesar’s blood, here black and sticky as newsprint rather than red.
Those death blows had been applied in smearing actions, rather than as 33 stab wounds, to be followed by a PAUSE, announced in big letters, accompanied by a two-minute countdown before Caesar’s exit, taking almost long as an opera death by aria. This would be one of those moments that has made Banerjee’s Julius Caesar as divisive as the ruler himself,
It finds its echo in the INTERVAL countdown on screen, 20 minutes ticking by to the mournful repetitive sound of a single trombone: in keeping with the sombre mood, or irritating, depending on how you reacted to the 90-minute first half. Or, maybe, a sonic tool that theatres could use in future to drive customers to the bar.
Banerjee’s “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” style of production is full of ideas: the Caesar wave; the rising multitude of ghosts, giving a sense of time running out; Joshua Dunn’s Cinna the Poet re-emerging all in ashen grey after his death; the use of a York community chorus (Hilary Conroy, Astrid Hanlon, Elaine Harvey, Stephanie Hesp, Anna Johnston and Frances Simon, under Jessa Liversidge’s musical direction), only to employ them rather less than a traditional Greek chorus role; not enough ill wind in their sails.
Better is the casting of the power seekers as young, like the Blair intake in 1997, still learning the political ropes and prone to mistakes and rash judgements. You will enjoy the nods to Dominic Cummings and Malcolm Tucker in Matthew Bulgo’s administrator, Casca.
Frustrations? Why does Teixeira’s Brutus not find her footing until deep in the mire? Why is Niamh Finlay playing the Soothsayer in red tracksuit bottoms with juddering, jagged dance movements like Happy Mondays’ Bez, as if three Macbeth witches trapped in one body?
Why, after making much of changing the gender dynamics of Julius Caesar’s world, does Antony’s eulogy to Brutus still conclude: “This was a man”? Ask Atri! He may be making a point about women having to mirror men to fit in, to succeed.
Ultimately, in the play for power, will we ever decide that Brutus was right: “Good words are better than bad strokes”?
Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm tonight plus 2pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
ATRI Banerjee directs Shakespeare’s fast-paced political thriller Julius Caesar on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s return to York Theatre Royal from tonight (13/6/2023) to Saturday.
Concerned that divisive leader Julius Caesar (Nigel Barrett) poses a threat to democracy, revolutionaries take the violent decision to murder him but without a plan for what happens next. As the world spins out of control, chaos, horror and superstition rush in to fill the void. Civil war erupts and a new leader must rise, but at what cost?
This production asks: how far would we go for our principles? “We know it’s a political play, a play that speaks to our politics, speaks to who gets to be a leader, and asks us to think about what you do when you don’t agree with the people in power,” says Atri, who is directing his first Shakespeare production for the RSC through the Open Hire scheme, set up Josh Roche and Derek Bond to encourage a more transparent application process within the theatre industry to stop it feeling like a closed shop.
Atri had first studied Julius Caesar at university. “I really felt, when coming to the play this time last year when I got this job, that this was a play that speaks about power, who holds it, who challenges it, and the gulf between politicians and the people they are meant to be leading.
“It speaks not only to the Ukraine situation but to the idea of governance in this age of Covid and Partygate. What I find interesting is that Shakespeare does not make either the leader or the conspirators the hero.”
Atri reflects on the prevailing political environment wherein Shakespeare penned Julius Caesar. “He was writing the play at a time when Elizabeth I was coming to the end of her reign. There had been plots against her, and there was a question of who would succeed her,” he says. “So even in Shakespeare’s day he was using this Roman story to talk about Elizabethan England and what happens when there is a possible power vacuum.”
Atri wanted to make a production that “felt like it could speak about today”. “I think we live in a world where a series of crises have happened, particularly over the last seven years, from Brexit, to Trump, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, events that have revealed the massive rifts we have in our society between class, gender, race, disability, across every intersection of power,” he says.
“The questions I was asking myself were, ‘when you feel like the world is in a bad place, what steps do you actually take to make the world a better place? What are the limits of peaceful activism? How do we react, for example, to the likes of Extinction Rebellion, or the two young women who threw tomato soup at the Van Gogh painting?’.
“I’m also very aware that it’s easy to put Julius Caesar in a Donald Trump wig and cast him as the baddie in a way that’s quite black and white. But I’m more interested in creating a production that makes an audience feel the conspirators were both totally right to kill Julius Caesar, and totally wrong to kill Julius Caesar at the same time.
“I wanted to capture that ambivalence that’s central to what Shakespeare has written. Shakespeare isn’t offering any solutions. I don’t think he is saying one way is good and one way is wrong. Because the actions the conspirators take to assassinate Julius Caesar plunges Rome and the world into even more chaos.
“So, what appealed to me about directing Julius Caesar is that it felt like a play that could think about these huge moral grey areas that we exist in without trying to draw any easy conclusions.”
Consequently, we can always ask questions of our own society. “Cassius and Brutus were called liberators and saw themselves as trying to enact political change, seeing what might be possible through an act of radical violence,” says Atri.
“It’s about people just putting one foot in front of the other, rather than thinking about the devastating consequence for the nation, plunging people into a civil war, even though Brutus and Cassius came from a position of wanting to do the right thing, stopping autocracy by dramatic action.”
Atri continues: “I think theatre is the space for nuance; theatre can be a place for political change; not the play itself, so much as people in the audience contemplating the play afterwards, having conversations in the bar or on the way home.
“Whether it’s Novak Djokovic speaking about the Serbia-Kosovo conflict; Israel and Palestine; Stop The Boats, there is nuance in every case, and we should try to be alive to as many nuances as possible in any theatre production we do.
“The reason we keep coming back to these classics is we know Julius Caesar will be assassinated but Shakespeare’s play gives you a vessel within which you can think about things in a safe environment and look at them in a new way.”
Atri hopes audiences will come away from his production asking the questions, “What would I do? Would I go as far as to kill someone who is my best friend if I really thought that was going to make the world a better place?”
“The answer is probably no to murder(!), that’s the extremist version of it. But at what point do you glue yourself to Downing Street; at what point do you put yourself in front of a horse like the suffragettes did?” he ponders.
“We live through waves of political crisis, and activism tries to combat the crisis, but at what point do we resort to violence?”
As for the setting of his Julius Caesar, “it’s not in Westminster, but neither is it in ancient Rome,” Atri says. “It draws on elements of the modern and the ancient world to create our own world really.
“Taking influences from impressionist theatre, from choreographers like Pina Bausch, and from German theatre to make a world that feels quite stylised and heightened.
“I’m also very keen to convey a sense of the supernatural and time running out. The play has ghosts, omens and prophecies. The Soothsayer famously tells Caesar to beware the Ides of March. Characters are always worried about the time, and time running out.
“That relates to the climate crisis we face: if we don’t act now, we will reach the unmanageable temperature for living. It feels to me that Julius Caesar, like the world we live in today, is a play that’s set in a place of emergency. The threat of apocalypse feels very close.”
Atri’s fresh interpretation casts a female Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira) and non-binary Cassius (Annabel Baldwin). “Along with several other parts across the company, we’ve re-imagined the roles of Brutus and Cassius to tell a story about power today: who holds it, who wields it, and who gets to challenge it,” he says.
“Julius Caesar is the perfect play for our age of emergency, asking uncomfortable questions about today. When asked to imagine a better future for us all, what resources do we have left? What are the limits of peaceful activism? How far would you, personally, go to make the world a better place?
“By thinking of the roles in this play across intersectional lines – gender, race, class, disability, among others – we’re inviting audience members to think of their own place within the status quo and what might be at stake for each of us within it.”
Atri adds: “With the way we have cast it, we’ve not pitched the struggle between Caesar and Brutus and Cassius entirely on gender, but it brings different associations to that dynamic and asks us to look at the changing dynamics of power now.
“Both Thalissa and Annabel are young actors, and that means that young audiences, though not only young audiences, can identify with these characters, whereas men in togas might have felt more foreign. If people see people that look like themselves on stage, which is a question of representation, then they can identify with their situation and the question of: ‘if you were in this situation, what would you do?’.
“We have undergone seismic changes, from the Brexit vote, the election of Trump as president, Covid, Black Lives Matter, the legacy of slavery and the British Empire, all sorts of historical pressures, and that means that within the space of the arts and culture, there is such an increased awareness of gender identity and the so-called culture wars that prevail now.
“I would encourage anyone who is making the judgement, ‘oh, they are casting Brutus as a black woman’, to slow down and reflect, and I speak as someone of South Asian origin taking on directing this play.”
History repeats itself down the years. “There will always be dictators, always be politicians, tyrants and non-tyrants,” says Atri. “The idea of democracy will rise and fall, rise and fall, with the passing of time, and Shakespeare was very aware of that. Shakespeare has that meta-reality that this play will resonate through time, through the ages, and will speak to different generations.”
Was working for the RSC always on Atri’s radar? “I come from Oxford, so the RSC was somewhere I used to visit as a teenager as it’s only an hour away [in Stratford-upon-Avon],” he says. “I saw productions like Rupert Goold’s The Merchant Of Venice and Maria Aberg’s As You Like It.
“I directed a community production for the RSC at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury in Autumn 2021 called Error, Error, Error. Over half the company was made up of people affiliated with Canterbury Umbrella; adults with mental health or learning disabilities and those who are isolated in the community.
“It was an extraordinary experience to work on a show that gave this group of people the opportunity to experience what theatre making is.”
Now he is directing his first professional Shakespeare production.“It feels like a homecoming,” he says.
“It’ll be my first show to play York too. The Theatre Royal is a very beautiful space.”
Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 13 to 17, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Atri Banerjee: back story
WON The Stage Debut Award for Best Director and a UK Theatre Award nomination for his production of Hobson’s Choice at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.
Other credits include: The Glass Menagerie (Royal Exchange, Manchester); Britannicus (Lyric Hammersmith); Kes (Octagon Theatre,Bolton/Theatre By The Lake, Keswick); Harm (Bush Theatre, London, also broadcast on BBC Four) and Utopia (Royal Exchange Theatre).
Named in The Stage 25 list of theatre-makers to look out for in 2022 and beyond.
In November 2022, along with Rachel Bagshaw, he was awarded a Peter Hall bursary by the National Theatre to support him in developing work for the NT’s stages.
Recruited for role as director of Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar through Open Hire, a new initiative to improve transparency and access to freelance creative jobs in theatre.
“I got into directing when I was still at school,” says Atri. “I wrote a version of Macbeth with two of my friends, set in 1950s’ Hollywood and called Big Mac. I didn’t really know I wanted to be a director as a teenager, but I saw lots of shows – at places like the Oxford Playhouse, where I grew up – so regional theatre and touring theatre are really important to me.
“I went to university to study English and then did a Masters in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, and throughout that time I did a lot of shows with my student drama society, including quite a bit of Shakespeare.
“When I left university, I still didn’t know if I wanted to be a director, partly because of the freelance struggle of it all, so I got a job as the press assistant at the National Theatre, where I met lots of amazing creatives and artists, and I decided that directing was the thing I wanted to do.
“I did a Masters in directing at Birkbeck [University of London], where the first year is training and the second year is a placement. I was at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, where I stayed for a couple more years.
“Some of my career highlights to date include Hobson’s Choice, my first big show at the RoyalExchange, which was a South Asian version of [Harold] Brighouse’s play; Harm at the Bush Theatre, and more recently, Kes at the Bolton Octagon; Britannicus at the Lyric Hammersmith; and The Glass Menagerie, again at the Royal Exchange. The Glass Menagerie had been cancelled by the pandemic, so it was amazing to finally bring it to the stage.”
COMEDY aplenty, musical collaborations, dental mystery adventures and soul seekers make a convincing case for inclusion in Charles Hutchinson’s list.
Children’s show of the week: David Walliams’ Demon Dentist, Grand Opera House, York, Thursday, 1.30pm, 6.30pm; Friday, 10.30am, 6.30pm; Saturday, 11am, 3pm
CHILDREN’S author David Walliams has teamed up with Birmingham Stage Company for Demon Dentist, their third collaboration after Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy, aapted and directed by Neal Foster.
Join Alfie and Gabz as they investigate the strange events happening in their hometown, where children are leaving their teeth for the tooth fairy and waking up to find odd things under their pillows. No-one could have dreamed what Alfie and Gabz would discover on coming face to face with the demon dentist herself in this thrilling adventure story. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Therapy session of the week: Isabelle Farah: Ellipsis, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.45pm
STAND-UP is the outlet that keeps you sane, where the nature of the game is to turn everything into punchlines. But can you do it if you feel all-consuming sadness, ponders comedian/actor/writer/nightmare Isabelle Farah in Ellipsis.
“I wanted my therapist to come and watch me to see how hilarious I am, but I thought how odd it would be performing to someone who’s seen so far behind my mask,” she says. “Would he even find it funny or just sit there knowing what I was hiding?” Cue her exploration of grief, authenticity and being funny.
Classical concert of the week: Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony, York Minster, tonight, 7.30pm
YORK Musical Society and Philharmonischer Chor Münster from York’s twin city in Germany mark 30 years of concert collaborations with Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony, using text from Walt Whitman poems.
Toward The Unknown Region, another Whitman setting, takes a journey from darkness to light, followed by the beautiful orchestral work Serenade in A minor. Tonight’s soloists are soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson and bass Julian Tovey. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; on the door from 6.45pm.
Great Scot of the week: Frankie Boyle, Lap Of Shame, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday, 7.30pm
SCATHING Scottish comedian, surrealist, presenter and writer Frankie Boyle, 50, is on tour. “Buy a ticket, because by the time I arrive, the currency will be worthless and you and your neighbours part of a struggling militia that could probably use a few laughs,” advises the often-controversial Glaswegian.
Only a handful of tickets are still available at atgtickets.com/york. Please note: no latecomers, no readmittance.
Great Scott of the week: Scott Bennett, Selby Town Hall, Sunday, 7.30pm
SCOTT Bennett has been blazing a trail through the stand-up circuit for the best part of a decade, writing for Chris Ramsey and Jason Manford too.
After regular appearances on BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz and The Now Show and his debut on BBC One’s Live At The Apollo, he presents Great Scott! in Selby. Box office: selbytownhall.co.uk.
Rescheduled gig of the week: Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri, Helmsley Arts Centre, Sunday, 7.30pm
MOVED from March 3, Bradford soul singer Kiki Dee and guitarist Carmelo Luggeri head to Helmsley for an acoustic journey through stories and songs, from Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra covers to Kiki’s hits Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, I Got The Music In Me, Loving And Free and Amoureuse. Songs from 2022’s The Long Ride Home should feature too. Box office: 01439 771700 or helmsleyarts.co.uk.
Re-arranged show announcement: Neil Warnock, Are You With Me?, York Barbican, moving from June 15 to May 31 2024
ARE you with Neil Warnock on Thursday? Not any more, after “unforeseen circumstances” forced the former York City captain and Scarborough manager (and town chiropodist) to postpone his talk tour until next spring. Tickets remain valid.
After guiding Huddersfield Town to safety from the threat of relegation in the 2022-2023 season, Warnock, 74, was to have gone on the road to discuss his record number of games as a manager, 16 clubs and 8 promotions, from non-league to Premier League, and a thousand stories along the way that have never been told. Now those tales must wait…and whose season might he rescue in 2023-24 before then?! Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Discovery of the week: Kyshona, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm
UNRELENTING in her pursuit of the healing power of song, community connector Kyshona Armstrong has the background of a licensed music therapist, the curiosity of a writer, the resolve of an activist and the voice of a protest singer.
As witnessed on her 2020 album Listen, she blends roots, rock, R&B and folk with her lyrical clout. Past collaborators include Margo Price and Adia Victoria. Now comes her Pocklington debut. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Tribute show of the week: The Illegal Eagles, York Barbican, Friday, 8pm
THE Illegal Eagles celebrate the golden music of the legendary West Coast country rock band with musical prowess, attention to detail and showmanship. Expect to hear Hotel California, Desperado, Take It Easy, New Kid In Town, Life In The Fast Lane and many more. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Soul show of the week: Shalamar Friends 40th Anniversary Tour, York Barbican, June 17, 7.30pm
SHALAMAR mark the 40th anniversary of Friends, the platinum-selling album that housed four Top 20 singles, A Night To Remember, Friends, There It Is and I Can Make You Feel Good, outsold Abba, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Culture Club and Meat Loaf that year and spawned Jeffrey Daniels’ dance moves on Top of The Pops.
Further Shalamar hits Take That To The Bank, I Owe You One, Make That Move, Dead Giveaway and Disappearing Act feature too. Special guests are Jaki Graham and Cool Notes’ Lauraine McIntosh. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Celebrating England’s musical legacy: Academy of St Olave’s, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York, June 17, 8pm
THE Academy of St Olave’s chamber orchestra rounds off its 2022-23 season with a summer concert centred on England’s musical legacy, from symphonies written for London audiences by the great Austrian composers Mozart and Haydn, to works by English composers Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Paul Patterson.
The concert is book-ended by Mozart’s first symphony and Haydn’s hundredth, known as “The Military”. Mozart composed his work in London during his family’s Grand Tour of Europe in 1764, when the boy wonder was eight. Likewise, Haydn’s work was one of his 12 “London symphonies”, to be performed during his second visit to England in 1794-95. Box office: academyofstolaves.org.uk or on the door.
In Focus: Who are the York community chorus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar at York Theatre Royal?
SIX women – all inspirational leaders within the York and North Yorkshire community – will form the Chorus when the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production of Julius Caesar visits York Theatre Royal from June 13 to 17.
Step forward Hilary Conroy, Astrid Hanlon, Elaine Harvey, Stephanie Hesp, Anna Johnston and Frances Simon, under the musical direction of community choir leader Jessa Liversidge, from Easingwold, with Zoe Colven-Davies as chorus coordinator.
The women in next week’s chorus have roles in the community spanning activism and campaigning to charity and social work, lecturing, teaching and coaching. In their day-to-day lives they each make an impact on the York community, whether through fighting for social change, championing community voices, supporting vulnerable groups or encouraging engagement in the creative arts.
Between them, they lead and support a diverse range of groups and community causes, including supporting disabled and neurodivergent people, those impacted by dementia and mental health issues, people affected by loneliness and those suffering from domestic abuse. They empower others through the creative arts and performance and champion wellbeing in marginalised groups.
Leading the York group is music director Jessa Liversidge, calling on her wealth of experience with community choirs, inclusive singing groups and working with people of all ages to inspire them through music.
Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal’s creative director, says: “It’s a huge privilege for us to have these voices heard alongside the RSC’s actors, and we are so thankful for their input and commitment to the project.
“This production explores what makes a leader and asks questions about gender and power. Who better to take part than women who are already leaders in our community and in their workplace?
“The opportunity is exciting and empowering and is strong evidence of how committed the RSC is to meaningful collaboration with its regional theatre partners. We are incredibly proud to be able to contribute a local perspective into this nationwide conversation, and I can’t wait to see what our York women do.”
Explaining the role that the York community chorus will play, RSC director Atri Banerjee says: “Julius Caesar is a play about a nation in crisis, a play about the gulf between politicians and the people they are trying to rule.
“It just makes so much sense to me that this production would include ‘real’ people from where we are touring. So, alongside the professional acting company, we have found a way of integrating the communities from all the areas the show is playing.
“Community work has always been important to me, making work with non-professionals, whether that’s young people or non-professional adults.
“It’s not unusual for productions of Julius Caesar to have a chorus who come on to be the citizens of Rome and say ‘Read The Will’ and then you never see them again. But I wanted to include them to amplify the supernatural, apocalyptic terror within the play. They’ll be singing, using their voices, and will be present on stage for significant parts of the play. They will be something akin to the chorus you’d see in a Greek tragedy watching the action.
“Premonitions of death really. Premotions of figures who embody death in ways that go beyond these characters.”
Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 13 to 17, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
PRIDE is loud and proud this weekend in a city full of ideas, heated politics and apocalyptic music, as recommended by Charles Hutchinson.
Diverse celebration of the week: York Pride, city-centre parade at 12 noon, followed by festival until after-hours on Knavesmire
NORTH Yorkshire’s largest LGBT+ celebration sets out on a parade march from Duncombe Place, outside York Minster, processing along Bishopthorpe Road to the festival site on Knavesmire.
Hosted by Sordid Secret and Mamma Bear, the Main Stage welcomes Claire Richards, from Steps, Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, Union J’s Jaymi Hensley and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK finalist Kitty Scott-Claus. Plenty more acts take to the YOI Radio Stage and Family Area and the new Queer Arts Cabaret Tent (1.30pm to 7pm, headlined by York’s pink-attired Beth McCarthy). Full festival details at: yorkpride.org.uk.
Festival of the week and beyond: York Festival of Ideas 2023, until June 15
THIS University of York co-ordinated festival invites you to Rediscover, Reimagine, Rebuild in a programme of more than 150 free in-person and online events designed to educate, entertain and inspire.
Meet world-class speakers, experience performances, join entertaining family activities, explore York on guided tours and more! Topics range from archaeology to art, history to health and politics to psychology. Study the festival programme at yorkfestivalofideas.com.
Don’t myth it: The Flanagan Collective in The Gods The Gods The Gods, York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm; Slung Low at Temple, Water Lane, Holbeck, Leeds, tomorrow, 7.30pm (outdoor performance); Hull Truck Theatre, Stage One, June 29,7.30pm
WRIGHT & Grainger’s myth-making The Gods The Gods The Gods is performed as a 12-track album in an exhilarating weave of big beats, heavy basslines, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken word. In the absence of co-creators Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Megan Drury in New York and Australia respectively, Easingwold birthday boy Phil Grainger, 34 today, will be joined by Oliver Towse and Lucinda Turner from the West End original cast of Wright’s The Great Gatsby.
The 65-minute performance links stories of two youngsters who meet when out dancing, destined to fall hard; a woman on a beach, alone at night, looking at the stars, and a bloke on a bridge, thinking about jumping, just before dark, all at the crossroads where mythology meets real life. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Leeds, slunglow.org; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.
Comedy gig of the week: Patrick Monahan, Classy, Pocklington Arts Centre, tonight, 8pm
IN a world of groups, hierarchies and class systems, everyone tries so hard to fit in. What’s wrong with being a misfit? Be you, be proud!
From the caravan to the middle-class neighbourhood, Irish-Iranian comedian Patrick Monahan, 46, has taken four decades to realise this. Time for the Edinburgh Fringe regular to pass on his observations on living his contemporary life alongside stories of his upbringing. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Apocalypse now: Late Music presents Late Music Ensemble, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm
YORK Late Music concludes its 2022-23 season on a spectacular – if not entirely optimistic! – note tonight when the Late Music Ensemble, conducted by Nick Williams, opens up the End Of The World Jukebox.
Composers and players re-imagine the pop songs they would like to hear if Armageddon were nigh in arrangements of Imogen Heap’s Hide And Seek, David Bowie’s Warszawa, Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye and Bob Dylan’s Cat’s In The Well. The Beatles will be represented by The End from Abbey Road, alongside new works by Christopher Fox and Anthony Adams.
Williams’s nine-strong ensemble promises a broad musical spectrum through the presence of Edwina Smith (flute, piccolo), Jonathan Sage (clarinet, bass clarinet), Iain Harrison and Lucy Havelock (saxophones), Murphy McCaleb (bass trombone), Kate Ledger (piano, toy piano, voice), Tim Brooks (keyboards, piano), Catherine Strachan (cello) and Anna Snow (voice).
Due to unforeseen circumstances, today’s lunchtime concert by Stuart O’Hara has been postponed. It will, however, be rescheduled in the 2023-24 season, whose programme will be announced in the next few months.
While the End of the World cannot be avoided, York Late Music adminstrator Steve Crowther is an optimist who believes that, for now at least, the end is no nigher. A 6.45pm, pre-concert talk by Christopher Fox includes a complimentary glass of wine or fruit juice. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.
Folk gig of the week: Spiers & Boden, The Crescent, York, Wednesday, doors 7.30pm
THIS weekend the focus falls on the City of York Roland Walls Folk Weekend at the Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green. Meanwhile, the organisers, the Black Swan Folk Club, have teamed up with The Crescent to present Bellowhead big band cohorts Spiers & Boden in a seated concert next week.
John Spiers and Jon Boden re-formed their instrumental duo in 2021 after a seven-year hiatus to release the album Fallow Ground. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Defiant gig of the week: Mike Peters presents The Alarm (Acoustic), The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm
AFTER a year of health challenges, The Alarm leader Mike Peters returns to the stage this spring with a new album set for release in the summer.
Co-founder of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, the 64-year-old Welshman will be performing a one-man band electro-acoustic set list of songs from all four decades of The Alarm discography. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Troubadour of the week: Steve Earle, The Alone Again Tour, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm
AS his tour title suggests, legendary Americana singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, novelist, short story writer and radio presenter Steve Earle will be performing solo and acoustic in York: the only Yorkshire gig of a ten-date itinerary without his band The Dukes that will take in the other Barbican, in London, and Glastonbury.
Born in Fort Monroae National Monument, Hampton, Virginia, Earle grew up in Texas and began his songwriting career in Nashville, releasing his first EP in 1982 and debut album Guitar Town in 1986, since when he has branched out from country music into rock, bluegrass, folk music and blues. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
Brass at full blast: Shepherd Group Brass Band: Stage And Screen, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 10, 7pm
SHEPHERD Group Brass Band’s late-spring concert showcases music from across the repertoire of stage and screen, featuring five bands from the York organisation, ranging from beginners to championship groups, culminating with a grand finale from all the bands. Tickets update: only the last few are still available on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Power play: Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 13 to 17, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees
ATRI Banerjee directs this fast-paced political thriller on the RSC’s return to York Theatre Royal in a fresh interpretation of Julius Caesar with a female Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira) and non-binary Cassius (Annabel Baldwin) that asks: how far would we go for our principles?
Concerned that divisive leader Julius Caesar (Nigel Barrett) poses a threat to democracy, revolutionaries take the violent decision to murder him but without a plan for what happens next. As the world spins out of control, chaos, horror and superstition rush in to fill the void. Civil war erupts and a new leader must rise, but at what cost? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
IN her school days, Diane Page decided Shakespeare was not for her.
And yet, look who is directing the Shakespeare’s Globe touring production of Julius Caesar as it plays York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (10/6/2022).
“Maybe because of the environment I was in – I was at quite an academic school, a comprehensive in New Cross – and I just thought, ‘Shakespeare isn’t for me’,” recalls the Londoner, who studied Shakespeare for her English Literature GCSE. “Being dyslexic made it even more difficult.
“But after I left school, one of the plays I read in my breaks when I worked as an usher in the West End was Julius Caesar and I really loved it. Then I read it again in lockdown and thought, ‘Gosh, this is a really amazing play that I want to direct’, seeing it through a contemporary lens, with some interventions to reflect now, but without changing the text.”
A year’s planning has gone into the production since Diane first took the idea to Shakespeare’s Globe artistic director Michelle Terry.
As attributed to Prime Minister Harold Wilson in a lobby briefing to journalists in 1964, “a week is a long time in politics”, and so the machinations of Shakespeare’s epic tragedy are being played out against a backdrop of the paranoid Vladimir Putin’s Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and the populist but increasingly unpopular Boris Johnson’s night of the half-drawn knives with his splintering Conservative MPs on Monday.
“The links with today resonate through the play, but what really stands out is how characters are constantly reacting out of fear, which feels really interesting when related to our times, when you look at how power works and reflect on contemporary politics,” says Diane, who notes how “the play has these amazing speeches but they haven’t been thought of in that way”.
Page confronts today’s rising tide of regime change through the prism of Shakespeare’s brutal tale of ambition, incursion and revolution in Ancient Rome, where the conspiracy to kill, the public broadcast of cunning rhetoric and a divisive fight for greatness echo down today’s corridors of power.
Cassius and Brutus’s belief that Rome’s leader, Julius Caesar, poses a political threat to their beloved country could be matched by the rhetoric of Tory rebel MPs seeking to justify their motion of No Confidence in leader Boris Johnson (although more likely it is rooted in fearing the loss of their seats and a General Election defeat when seeking an unprecedented fifth successive term in power for the Conservatives).
“That’s something I’ve drawn on, both historically and from now: how society responds to a leader and what people want in a leader,” says Diane. “Particularly what we’ve drawn on is the contrast between the public persona of Julius Caesar and this frightened, paranoid leader in private.
“Tragically, throughout history, we’ve seen this idea of populism [in political leaders] and how long it lasts, and it’s fascinating that it happens again and again and again.
“One of the things we’re asking people as they watch the play now is, ‘what is it that we need to do differently when we’re voting for our leaders. We’re not drawing on any particular era or political figure in regard to Caesar, but when Trump was first happening, you think, ‘this will never happen’, then you think, ‘this might happen’, and then, ‘oh, it’s happened’. For me, part of Brutus’s flaw is to think that everyone will think the same, but history tells you a different story.”
Does Diane see parallels between Caesar and Putin? “It’s important to say that though it’s not explicitly written in the play, we do feel that Caesar does rule by imposing fear on others, but at the same time he’s fearful,” she says. “There’s also the paranoia that’s transmitted into the community around him.
“So it did feel like we had an extra responsibility to handle these subjects with sensitivity once Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Diane has cast two women, Charlotte Bate and Anna Crichlow, as Cassius and Brutus respectively. “As I read Julius Caesar in the first lockdown, I thought, ‘I think they’re women’. It was instinctual, in my exploration of power and women in power, so it was a very conscious choice, and casting Brutus as a black woman adds another dimension,” she says.
“In thinking about the theme of power, we’re asking what it means now, how it has transcended through the years, and what it means for women to be in power. If we’re still shocked by that, then we think, ‘well, just how many women are in power?’.”
“We know the play is based on historical events, but it’s been fictionalised by Shakespeare, so I felt we had artistic licence to look at what power means now, and those speeches transfer well to women speaking them.
“Looking at friendship between women brings another dynamic to it, and because Julius Caesar is such a masculine play, it’s interesting to flip it or re-angle it.”
Diane is asking questions, rather than providing answers, in her interpretation of Julius Caesar. “That’s how I feel about Shakespeare: his plays are so universal, whatever challenges someone may face, but for me, the production has to be about what the play means now, though the words remain exactly the same,” she says.
“It did feel important, with such a masculine play and with what’s happening now, to ask questions about women in power. If a play is about us, then it is for us to think about these questions and to discuss them.”
Roll on tomorrow and Saturday’s performances at York Theatre Royal as Diane’s production moves indoors for the first time after open-air shows at the Globe and on tour. “I’ve written a comprehensive plan for my assistant because I’m now working on another show,” she says.
“It’s going to take some adapting because outdoors we use the yard or where the audience are seated, and indoors there’ll be different logistical needs, but not so many that it’ll become distinct from the outdoor performances.”
Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour presents Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York
Who is Diane Page, award-winning theatre director?
Training: MFA in theatre directing, Birkbeck, University of London; BA in theatre and drama studies, first class honours, Birkbeck, University of London.
Award winner: 2021 JMK Award for her production of Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act.
Shakespeare’s Globe work: Assistant director for Bartholomew Fair, 2019; director for Julius Caesar, Globe On Tour, from April 2022.
Theatre as director: Lost And Found, Royal Opera House, London; Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond; Out West, co-director, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, London; In Love And Loyalty, also writer, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre.
Theatre as associate director: Ghost Stories, West End and UK tour, playing Grand Opera House, York, in March 2020.
NOT only a certain platinum jubilee is cause for a party. Charles Hutchinson finds reasons aplenty to head out.
What can you say in five minutes? Green Shoots, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.30pm
NEW work commissioned by York Theatre Royal from 20 York and North Yorkshire professional artists will be premiered in Green Shoots.
Poets, performers, singers, dancers and digital artists will be presenting bite-sized performances focused on “rebooting post-pandemic and looking to the future of the planet”.
Among them will be Fladam; Bolshee; Alexander Flanagan-Wright; Paul Birch; Hayley Del Harrison; Butshilo Nleya; Hannah Davies and Jack Woods; Gus Gowland; Joe Feeney and Dora Rubinstein. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
That’s all folk: City of York (Roland Walls) Folk Weekend, Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, today, 1pm to 11pm, and tomorrow, 1.30pm to 10.30pm
THE Black Swan Folk Club’s two days and nights of free music and song take in a marquee concert stage; rolling folk club; musicians’ sessions; singarounds; Japanese drumming; indoor concerts; the Poems & Pints hour and workshops.
Playing over the weekend will be Kaminari Taiko, The Ale Marys, The Duncan McFarlane Band, White Sail, Clurachan, Two Black Sheep And A Stallion, Holly Taymar, Blonde On Bob, Les Rustiques, Caramba, Miles And The Chain Gang, Tommy Coyle, Chechelele, Leather’O and more besides. Full programme: blackswanfolkclub.org.uk.
Art event of the month: North Yorkshire Open Studios 2022, today, tomorrow, then June 11 and 12, 10am to 5pm
FROM the rugged coastline near Whitby to the rolling Yorkshire Dales, 108 artists and makers invite you inside their studios and workshops.
Over four days, this is the chance to discover secret studio spaces and inspiring locations, watch artists at work, learn about their creative practices and buy contemporary art and design directly from the makers. To plan a route, visit nyos.org.uk to download a free brochure.
Coastal party of the weekend: Yorkshire’s Platinum Jubilee Concert, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, today, 6pm
NATIONAL treasure Jane McDonald will be joined by musical theatre stars The Barricade Boys and drag artiste La Voix outdoors in Scarborough this evening.
“It’s going to be amazing,” says Wakefield singer and television presenter McDonald. “A really rousing night, full of song. It will be a real sing-along event, so bring your voices. I expect it’ll be emotional too, but above all else we’ll have a good old party.” Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.
Guitar god of the week and his (in)famous friend: Jeff Beck, with Johnny Depp, York Barbican, Tuesday, 8pm, sold out
NEWS flash. Fresh from winning his US defamation lawsuit against former wife Amber Heard, Hollywood frontman Johnny Depp, 58, is doing an impromptu victory lap as the special guest of South London rock, blues and jazz guitarist and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Beck, 77, on a tour rearranged from April 2021.
Beck will take to the York stage with Rhonda Smith, bass, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, cello, Anika Nilles, drums, Robert Adam Stevenson, keyboards, and Depp, riffing off his piratical Keith Richards vibe no doubt, on guitar. Box office for returns only: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Political drama of the week: Shakespeare’s Globe in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 10, 7.30pm; June 11, 2.30pm and 7.30pm
PREPARE to confront today’s political landscape as Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar takes on startlingly new relevance in Diane Page’s account of this brutal tale of ambition, incursion and revolution.
When Cassius (Charlotte Bate) and Brutus (Anna Crichton) decide Roman leader Julius Caesar (Dickson Tyrrell) poses a political threat to their beloved country, ancient Rome feels closer to home than ever amid the conspiracy to kill, the public broadcast of cunning rhetoric and a divisive fight for greatness. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Soul legend of the week: Dionne Warwick, She’s Back: One Last Time, York Barbican, June 10, 8pm
DON’T walk on by. Dionne Warwick’s rescheduled She’s Back: One Last Time itinerary now carries the Farewell Tour tag too, making next Friday’s concert all the more a Must See event.
Now 81, the six-time Grammy Award-winning New Jersey singer, actress, television host and former United Nations Global Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture will be performing such Bacharach/David favourites as I Say A Little Prayer, Do You Know The Way To San Jose and Walk On By, plus material from her May 2019 album, She’s Back. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Hottest ticket of the week: Gary Barlow: A Different Stage, Grand Opera House, York, June 9, 10 and 11, 7.30pm; June 12, 2.30pm
FIRST, Take That’s Gary Barlow announced Friday and Saturday solo shows, then he added a Sunday matinee, and, finally, Thursday too. Ticket availability is best for the opening night; barely a handful remain for the others.
“I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” says the Wirral singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author. “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.
“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.” Box office, without delay: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Whatever the weather with you, Crowded House play Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 11; gates open at 6pm
CROWDED House are heading out on their first European tour in more than ten years with a line-up of founding members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, producer and keyboardist Mitchell Froom, guitarist and singer Liam Finn and drummer Elroy Finn, Neil’s sons.
Such favourites as Weather With You, Don’t Dream It’s Over, Distant Sun and Private Universe will be complemented by material from the Antipodeans’ seventh studio album, June 2021’s Dreamers Are Waiting, their first since 2010’s Intriguer. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.