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

Claire Morley: Performing new works in Scarborough and York

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

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

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

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

Me For You writer Rachel E Thorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you know?

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

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

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

Did you know too?

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

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

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

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

No rehearsal, no director, no sight of the script in advance. Six actors, one per show, take on White Rabbit, Red Rabbit in York

Maurice Crichton: In the dark tonight, just as much as the audience for the hush-hush White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

AN actor’s nightmare will be an audience’s dream, promises producer Jim Paterson, when White Rabbit, Red Rabbit makes its York debut from tonight (7/11/2023) to Saturday at Theatre@41, Monkgate.

This groundbreaking play requires the actor to perform the script having never seen it before setting foot on stage.

Originally written in 2011 by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, who at the time was forbidden to leave his native Iran, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a play designed to travel the world in his place. Whereupon the audience will join each different performer on a journey into the unknown.

Soleimanpour’s 70-minuite play has been performed all over the world by actors such as John Hurt, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, Martin Short, Sinead Cusack and Dominic West, all taking to the stage with no prior sighting of the script.

Now White Rabbit, Red Rabbit receives its York premiere at the hands of six actors, each performing the script for one performance only. “They will never have seen the script until I hand them an envelope to open as they enter the stage,” says Jim. “They are told almost nothing in preparation. There is no rehearsal or director.” 

Sanna Jeppsson: Saturday night performance

Given that the play relies on no-one knowing the plot, details cannot be shared in advance, and so audience and actor alike will be in the same position of not knowing what will happen, duly creating an “exciting and truly unpredictable show”.

“One of the best things about going to the theatre is that it’s a live experience where each performance is different and unpredictable,” says Jim. “Times that by 100 and you’ve got this play. Both the actor and the audience don’t know what’s going to happen from moment to moment, which I think will create a really exhilarating atmosphere.

“Each of our six actors is only performing the play once with no preparation – so each performance will be entirely unique for that audience. That’s why we’ve put on a ticket offer, so that you can come back to watch another actor perform it for half-price, and see what will be an entirely different take on the play.”

Jim adds: “A lot of us have had that dream where we’re suddenly in a theatre and are expected to go on stage in a play when we don’t know the lines or what we’re supposed to be doing. So, I’m massively grateful to these performers for agreeing to take the leap and make that scary dream a reality!”

First to step into the unknown tonight will be Maurice Crichton, stalwart of York Settlement Community Players and much else besides on the York theatre scene. “I think it’s going to be about the audience experiencing an actor being surprised by what they’re in, and – to an extent – vicariously experiencing those feelings themselves,” he says. “It excites me to see if I can relax enough to do the play justice!”

Alan Park: Friday man

Fresh from Settlement Players’ Government Inspector, Sonia Di Lorenzo will perform the Saturday matinee. “I’m looking forward to finding out what it’s about,” she says. “It sounds really intriguing from what I know of it – which is just the title! I’m excited to see how it unfolds and what it entails and where it’s all going to lead.”

Sanna Jeppsson will take on the Saturday night challenge. “It’s exciting and scary because I don’t know how I’m going to react in the moment: what my body’s going to feel like, what my pulse is going to be doing, what my breath is going to be doing – I just don’t know! But I’m very interested to find out,” she says.

Presented by York company Black Treacle Theatre, in association with Aurora Nova, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit will be performed by Maurice Crichton tonight; Lara Stafford tomorrow; Maggie Smales, Thursday; Theatgre@41 chair Alan Park, Friday; Sonia Di Lorenzo, Saturday matinee, and Sanna Jeppsson, Saturday night.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, November 7 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: https://tickets.41monkgate.co.uk. Tickets are £10 full price and any ticket buyers for one performance can see another one for £5 (plus booking fee).

Did you know?

BLACK Treacle Theatre produced Nick Payne’s Constellations in March 2022 and Gary Owen’s Iphigenia In Splott in March 2023, both at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York.

REVIEW: Shared Space Theatre in Every Brilliant Thing, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday ****

Alan Park in one of those “things in stripes” that makes the seven-year-old boy’s list of brilliant things in Every Brilliant Thing
  1. Make a list of reasons why you should see Every Brilliant Thing.
  2. Thank Duncan Macmillan for writing Sleeve Notes, his book of lists.
  3. Thank actor Jonny Donahue for helping Macmillan to turn it into a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London and New York.
  4. Put yourself in the shoes of the seven-year-old schoolboy who writes a list of every brilliant thing, every small miracle, to make his suicidal mum realise life is worth living.
  5. Ice cream.
  6. Water fights.
  7. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
  8. The colour yellow.
  9. Things with stripes.
  10. Rollercoasters.
  11. People falling over.
  12. Often ordinary things, but brilliant in their own way.
  13. Mum keeps trying to take her life, and so he keeps adding to the list.
  14. You should do the same. Make a list, I mean.
  15. Especially if you are feeling listless.
  16. Start now.
  17. Well, not until you have read this review.
  18. Thank Theatre@41 supporter Cate Birch for recommending Every Brilliant Thing to chair Alan Park.
  19. Thank Alan for reading it.
  20. Thank Alan, professional actor to boot, for deciding he should perform it himself.
  21. Thank Duncan Macmillan for saying yes to York’s new company Shared Space Theatre making it their debut production.
  22. Thank Alan for asking Maggie Smales – responsible for York Shakespeare Project’s best ever production, the all-female Henry V – to direct him.
  23. Thank brainbox Alan for having the mental powers to remember the script for his lead role in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and Every Brilliant Thing in quick succession.
  24. Thank his Maths teacher of bygone years for Alan being good with numbers. So many numbers, one for every brilliant thing on a list now running to 1,000,000.
  25. Alan doesn’t have to remember all that list but he does have to remember what goes with each number that features in the show.
  26. And remember a running order that is not as easy as 123 to remember.
  27. Because it is not in numerical order.
  28. And sometimes a number is repeated.
  29. And repeated.
  30. Again.
  31. Much later.
  32. It all adds up to a breathtaking and sometimes breathless display of skills in breaking down theatre’s fourth wall.
  33. Result: The audience immediately feels part of the hour-long show.
  34. Whether reading out a brilliant thing from the list on a number cue.
  35. Or having fun when gently enticed by Alan into playing a role.
  36. Such as?
  37. A teacher with a sock puppet of a dog, requiring Alan’s recruit to remove a shoe and sock to play the part.
  38. Or the boy’s father, but then switching with Alan for him to play the father and you, the son, en route to hospital, asking “Why” in response to everything he says.
  39. Why?
  40. Because that’s what children do.
  41. Why?
  42. Don’t ask.
  43. Later play the father again, this time in a wedding breakfast speech…revealing a Texan accent.
  44. Prompting Alan’s character – he has no name – to comment on suddenly discovering unexpected American roots.
  45. Describe a woman with an orange top and blonde hair from Macmillan’s story…and promptly ask a woman in the front row in orange, with blonde hair, to play that character.  
  46. Make eye contact with another female member of the audience.
  47. She happens to be an actress, serendipitously. A rather good one.
  48. Flo Poskitt.
  49. One half of Fladam.
  50. York’s musical comedy double act with Adam Sowter.
  51. Catch them in Green Fingers at next week’s TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal.
  52. May 27, 3pm.
  53. Box office: 01904 623568.
  54. Or yortheatreroyal.co.uk.
  55. She willingly plays a woman called Sam with whom Alan’s character bonds over a love of books.
  56. They fall in love.
  57. They marry…after Flo’s Sam goes down on one unsteady knee to propose to him in an equally unsteady voice.
  58. Prompting a comment from Alan.
  59. He’s good at that.
  60. The impromptu stuff.
  61. Off the cuff.
  62. On the mark.
  63. It all helps that we are seated in two rows in the round, with no-one allowed upstairs under Macmillan’s strict rules of democracy to create a shared experience.
  64. There are a few empty chairs.
  65. But that’s good.
  66. Because Alan is only too happy to occupy any empty chair, next to whoever, and spring from chair to chair.
  67. Because, as George Osborne once said: “We are all in this together.”
  68. Although not in Chancellor George’s case, we weren’t.
  69. But definitely in Every Brilliant Thing.
  70. The list keeps growing.
  71. Music.
  72. Lots of music.
  73. The way Ray Charles sings “You” in Drown In My Own Tears.
  74. But not jazz.
  75. Instrumental jazz, to be precise.
  76. Music that “sounds like it’s falling down the stairs”.
  77. Music to signify you should stay out of dad’s way at that moment.
  78. The marriage ends. Wham bam, exit Sam.
  79. The list stops.
  80. Suddenly.
  81. Well past 800,000.
  82. Only to start again years later.
  83. Like suddenly revisiting an old diary and feeling inspired to begin Dear Diarying all over again.
  84. Alan’s character has a serious point to make.
  85. Suicide. Don’t do it. There has to be something to live for, he says. Hence the list. Hence this show.
  86. And if the play has troubled you, Alan will be on hand afterwards to talk about its themes.
  87. This week’s production happens to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.
  88. More details at mentalhealth.org.uk.
  89. Every Brilliant Thing does address depression, suicide, death (beginning with the family pet), but it is uplifting, joyous, funny too.
  90. A difficult balancing act.
  91. But negotiated skilfully by Macmillan and Donahue, and now Park and Smales. Never glib. Often profound. Comforting. Thought provoking.
  92. Life changing?
  93. You decide.
  94. There are still three opportunities to see Every Brilliant Thing.
  95. Tonight at 7.30pm.
  96.  Tomorrow at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
  97. At the venue that won Best Entertainment Venue at Thursday night’s YorkMix Choice Awards 2023.
  98. Congratulations, Alan and all the team at Theatre@41.
  99. Another reason to…
  100. Add Every Brilliant Thing to your list of what to do this weekend. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

“It really is one of the most uplifting plays I’ve ever read,” says Alan Park as he stars in Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing

Alan Park: So happy to be performing Duncan Macmillan’s solo show Every Brilliant Thing. Picture: Ben Lindley

YOU are seven years old. Your mum is in hospital. Your dad says she has “done something stupid”. She finds it hard to be happy.

You make a list of everything that is brilliant about the world. Every small miracle to make mum realise life is worth living. 1. Ice cream. 2. Water fights. 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. 4. The colour yellow. 5. Things with stripes 6. Rollercoasters. 7. People falling over.

Prompted by a mother’s attempted suicide, what starts as a small gesture turns into thousands of entries that follow the boy throughout a life spent trying to define and capture happiness.

That list’s mission to prove life is beautiful is the basis of Every Brilliant Thing, a one-man play based on Paines Plough playwright Duncan Macmillan’s short story Sleeve Notes, adapted for the stage with input from actor Jonny Donahoe.

Settled after two years of improvisation and Donahoe performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, in London and at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, Macmillan’s text now forms the debut production by new York company Shared Space Theatre, directed by Maggie Smales.

Theatre@41 chair Alan Park will be on home turf, performing the solo show only weeks after stepping in to play the lead in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing at York Theatre Royal Studio.

Alan Park and Victoria Delaney in a scene from York Settlement Community Players’ April production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing

“Everyone I have spoken to about doing it has said ‘oh, we need that show now more than ever’,” says Alan. “A friend [Theatre@41 supporter Cate Birch] suggested we try and book the show to tour into York but when I read it, and found there were no other productions around, I decided to apply to do it myself.”

Much to Alan’s delight, Macmillan gave his approval to Shared Space staging a production in York. “It really is one of the most uplifting plays I’ve ever read. It’s a brilliant thing,” says Alan. “The world does feel a bit of a challenge right now, not just because of the Covid years but for longer than that.

“What I like about it is how it responds to our tendency not to focus on brilliant things but on things that go wrong, so we then miss out on appreciating the obvious things, like ice cream, which is the first thing on the boy’s list that becomes a list of 1,000,000.

“On the list at number 123,321 is palindromes, which a nice joke on the meaning of ‘palindrome’, while number 2,001 is movies that are better than the book such as 2001: A Space Odyssey], but basically it’s saying the best things in life are just ordinary.”

Every Brilliant Thing will be staged in the round, lending an intimate atmosphere to Theatre@41, where the audience will play a crucial role in compiling the list of brilliant things.

“The result is an unforgettable communal experience that reminds us of the power found in connecting with the people around us,” says Alan, whose production run coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week (May 15 to 21).

“I’m loath to call it a play about mental depression as it’s about brilliant things,” says Alan Park

“I’m loath to call it a play about mental depression as it’s about brilliant things. The great premise within it is that the audience can play their part, though you can be as involved or uninvolved as you want to be.”

Director Maggie Smales has emphasised the need for Alan to be fleet of foot in each performance. “I have to react to whatever happens. Equally, the audience has the chance to play characters within the story, such as a teacher and the boy’s father, and you have to be prepared for the possibility of everybody’s reaction being different.

“That’s why it’s difficult to rehearse as you will have to come out with all these possible responses.”

Macmillan has decreed that the audience should be seated as democratically as possible. “No-one will be sitting upstairs as that wouldn’t be democratic,” says Alan. “There’ll be two rows of seating in the round, with a very blurred line between the performer and audience and no theatrical lighting, no props and no set.

“It’s very much a storytelling show and that’s partly what drew me to it, that emphasis. I don’t mind shows with sets, but they can be distancing, whereas what you want to do with a show like this is engage people directly in a story for an hour with naturalistic storytelling.”

Shared Space Theatre in Every Brilliant Thing, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk

List entries as a teenager in Every Brilliant Thing include:

Number 324: Nina Simone’s voice.

761. Deciding you are not too old to climb trees.

995. Bubble wrap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are the roles divided between the three witches?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does NTC’s Macbeth have a particular period setting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

York Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York team up for Good Friday and Easter Sunday instalments of York Radio Mystery Plays

Director Juliet Forster, top left, and the cast for The Resurrection at a rehearsal on Zoom

BBC Radio York will broadcast two more instalments of the York Radio Mystery Plays in collaboration with York Theatre Royal.

While the Theatre Royal has been closed in Lockdown 3, actors and creatives have been working behind the scenes to record The Crucifixion for Good Friday and The Resurrection for Easter Sunday.

The plays have been adapted by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and writer husband Kelvin Goodspeed from excerpts from the York Mystery Plays, dating back to the 1300s, for recording by a combination of community and professional actors. 

These latest recordings follow on from the audio versions of Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, broadcast on BBC Radio York last June.

“I’m delighted to have returned to the York Radio Mystery Plays series this Easter,” says Juliet. “The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city. They belong to the people of York and have brought people together to create, perform, watch, laugh and cry since the 14th century.

“The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is and has always been to human beings, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.”

The sourcing of the scripts, recruitment of actors and provision of music has been conducted by the Theatre Royal. In keeping with the social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to rehearse remotely on Zoom, then record their lines on a smart phone from home, whereupon the recordings were sent to BBC Radio York for mixing and collating into finished crafted instalments.

Acting assistant editor Allan Watkiss says: “We’re excited to be working with York Theatre Royal once again to keep the centuries-old tradition of the Mystery Plays alive during the pandemic.”

York Radio Mystery Plays director Juliet Forster

The York Mystery Radio Plays project is part of the Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of creative community engagement taking place while the building is closed under Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Joining director Juliet in the production team are Edwin Gray, composition, foley and sound design, and Madeleine Hudson, Theatre Royal Choir musical director, songs.

The cast for The Crucifixion is: Andrew Isherwood, as John; Daniel Poyser, 1st Soldier; Toby Gordon, 2nd Soldier; Adam Kane, 3rd Soldier; Ged Murray, 4th Soldier; Stephanie Wood, Mary, mother of Jesus; Joe Osborne, Pilate; Jared More, Jesus; Elizabeth Elsworth, Mary Cleophas; Maria Gray, 1st Thief on the cross, and Kelvin Goodspeed, 2nd Thief on the cross.

Poyser, Gordon, Kane, Murray, Wood, Osborne, More and Elsworth reprise their roles in The Resurrection, performing alongside Sarah Woodmansey as Angel, Dora Rubinstein as Mary Magdalene and Maggie Smales as Caiaphas.

“Like we did before, we’ve gone for a mix of professionals and community actors, but everyone is new for this production as we’ve moved from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and I wanted to reflect that by using new voices,” says Juliet.

BBC Radio York will air The Crucifixion on Good Friday, April 2, at 6.30am and 1.30pm; The Resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 4, 6.30am and 9.30am. They will be available too on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/radioyork

Actor credits:

Elizabeth Elsworth performed in the York Mystery Plays 2012 and the Wagons Festivals in 2014 and 2018. She appeared in York Theatre Royal’s community productionsBlood + Chocolate, In Fog and Falling Snow and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, as well as several productions for York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players.

Toby Gordon as Lucifer in the 2016 York Minster Mystery Plays, when he memorably switched to playing Jesus during the last week of the run

Toby Gordon appeared in the York Mystery Plays 2012 as Workman, in the 2016 York Minster Mystery Plays as Lucifer and in Two Planks & A Passion as Edward Young. Other credits include Antigone (Barbican, London) and The Great Gatsby(Guild of Misrule).

Maria Gray trained at East 15 Drama School (BA Acting) and Flic Circus School in Turin, Italy. She works as an actor, voice-over artist and movement director. Credits include Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre); The Machine Stops (York Theatre Royal/Pilot Theatre); The Beggars Opera(York Theatre Royal) and The Girl Next Door (Teatro Regio). Shewas movement director for A Midsummer Night’sDream and Macbeth (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre) and Elves And The Shoe Makers (York Theatre Royal).

Andrew Isherwood has been performing on York stages since the York Mystery Plays in 2012, taking on leading roles in classical and musical productions for Pick Me Up Theatre, the York Shakespeare Project and at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre. He regards playing Max Bialystock in The Producers as his career highlight so far.

Jared More trained at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, graduating from the Project A actor training programme in 2019. He is a creative associate of York company Riding Lights, where his credits include Roughshod Deliver, The Selfish Giant and The Kaleidoscope Tour, as well as writing and editing on various projects.

Ged Murray’s first role in the Mystery Plays was as Joseph in the 1992 production at York Theatre Royal. He has since been in the cast in 1996, 2000 (again as Joseph), 2012 and 2016, along with being involved in the Wagon Plays since their resurrection in 1994. He last appeared in the Plays in December 2019 as Shepherd One in the Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s Nativity. His wider acting roles range from Shylock in York Shakespeare Project’s The Merchant Of Venice to the Dame in village pantomimes. 

Exchange of views: Paul Joe Osborne’s Sergeant-Major Reg Drummond and Rory Mulvihill’s Acting Captain Teri Dennis in Privates On Parade in March 2019 . Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Paul Joe Osborne featured in the 2012 York Mystery Plays 2012 but that time at the other end of the Bible, starring as Noah in the Potters Cast. He has played assorted characters at York Theatre Royal Studio in The Seagull, Twelfth Night, Breathing Corpses and Waiting For Godot and Sgt Drummond in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Privates On Parade at Theatre @41 Monkgate. He has also explored TV and film opportunities too in Peaky Blinders, Coronation Street, Ghost Stories and the York comedy horror Chestersberg.

Daniel Poyser trained at Arden School of Theatre.  He has played multiple roles for the National Theatre, as well as appearing in The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess Theatre, London); The Crucible (West Yorkshire Playhouse); The Island and The Three Musketeers (Young Vic, London); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Les Blancs (Royal Exchange, Manchester); An Enemy Of The People (Sheffield Crucible); Blue/Orange(nominated for MEN Best Actor Award), The Merchant of Venice and The BFG (Bolton Octagon), and Strangers On A Train, Arms And The Man and Blue/Orange (Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria). He has myriad television and radio credits too.

Dora Rubinstein trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Credits include A Page A Day (Northern Stage), Cinderella (Cast, Doncaster), Digital Ghost Hunt (York Theatre Royal), Peter Pan and Aladdin (The Dukes, Lancaster), The Wizard Of Oz (Leicester Square Theatre), Romeo And Juliet and Macbeth (Young Shakespeare Company) and The Ballad Of Robin Hood (Southwark Playhouse). She performs and teaches circus skills, such as contortion and acrobatics, and is developing an interactive circus/theatre show for families in partnership with Dance City, Newcastle. 

Maggie Smales is a York theatre maker with both directing and acting credits. She has directed The Stepmother; an all-female Henry V; Blue Stockings and When The Rain Stops Falling. Among her acting roles: York Mystery Plays, A Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, Follies, Legacy, Twilight Robbery and Tom’s Midnight Garden.

Stephanie Wood trained at the Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art and worked professionally for several years, most notably appearing in the cult TV show Knightmare as Elita the Cavern Elf.She has been involved in many of York Theatre Royal’s community shows and was last seen as Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, whose run in the Theatre Royal Studio concluded shortly before the first lockdown.

Sarah Woodmansey is training at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, on the contemporary performance practices course. She has acted in York Theatre Royal productions of In Fog And Falling Snow, Dick Whittington (And His Meerkat), The Beggar’s Opera and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes.