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.”
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!”
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.
ST Mary Bishophill Junior, probably the oldest working church in York, will swap hymns for Shakespeare’s Songs on September 22 and 23.
Taking over the ancient building – dating in parts to before the Norman conquest – York Shakespeare Project (YSP) will perform acoustic songs and instrumental music written specially for productions of As You Like It (2008), Troilus And Cressida (2011), Twelfth Night (2014) and The Tempest (2022), complemented by new songs from The Winter’s Tale and Love’s Labours Lost.
St Mary’s churchwarden, Graeme Thomas, says: “We’re always delighted to welcome visitors to our historic church. We’ve had theatre here before, and it will be an atmospheric setting for Shakespeare’s Songs.”
The venerable church has a Roman arch and Anglo-Saxon stonework and would have been centuries old already in Shakespeare’s own time. In contrast, the music by Nick Jones, Fergus McGlynn and York International Shakespeare Festival director Philip Parr is more contemporary, with Jones’s cast singing and playing instruments from guitars, ukelele and mandolin to cello, oboe, recorders and cajon.
Among those performers will be Maurice Crichton, who played Sir William Maleverer in York Theatre Royal’s community play, Sovereign, and fisherman Hector in YSP’s Sonnets At The Bar this summer; Emma Scott, the lead actress from YSP’s Macbeth and Rape Of Lucrece, and musical theatre regular Tracey Rea. Cast members from YSP’s Twelfth Night and The Tempest will feature too, alongside familiar faces from York Mystery Plays productions.
Introducing his new compositions for the show, producer Nick Jones says: “From The Winter’s Tale we have two new settings of songs for Maurice Crichton’s Autolycus, the pedlar with a taste for cheating and petty theft, in which he sings about his roving life: When Daffodils Begin To Peer and Jog On.
“From Love’s Labours Lost, Emma Scott and Sally Maybridge will sing the final song, When Daisies Pied. The play ends with an anticipated marriage halted by a death. The suitors are told to wait a year and prove their seriousness. The year passes in the course of the song, as winter follows spring. I think it’s Shakespeare’s most lovely song.”
Nick, who has devised Shakespeare’s Songs, says: “The York Shakespeare Project was set up in 2001 with the aim of performing all the Bard’s plays in York and completed that initial mission last year with Philip Parr’s production of The Tempest that toured North Yorkshire before a final performance at York Theatre Royal.
“Original music by local composers has often been a highlight of YSP’s productions and we thought it deserved to be heard again, in a light-hearted revue.
“Staging a musical celebration of our 22-year history, we’re marking that achievement with Shakespeare’s Songs, revisiting the original music from several of those plays and introducing some new songs with a cast of YSP regulars. It should be fun – and we’re exploring a couple of new venues to us, separated by about 1,000 years of architectural history.”
After the St Mary’s performances (7.30pm, September 22; 3pm and 7.30pm, September 23), Shakespeare’s Songs will switch to the thoroughly modern Super Sustainable Centre, Derwenthorpe, Osbaldwick, on September 24 at 7.30pm.
YSP heads into the autumn on the back of Sonnets At The Bar taking over the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s secret garden from August 11 to 19. “We were blessed with dry weather and delighted with the response, drawing a record 600+ audience,” says chair Tony Froud.
The next production will be the first of YSP’s expanded mission to embrace works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries in the project’s second cycle, namely Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from October 17 to 21 at 7.30pm nightly plus a 2.30pm Saturday matinee.
Edward II is king at last. Determined to shower his loved ones with gifts, he summons his exiled lover, Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall. King, court and country are intoxicated by their passions, whereupon the Queen takes her own lover and the nation is torn apart in a merciless divorce.
Their child watches from the shadows, desperate to mend his broken family and nation, or bring them to heel, in Marlowe’s poetic play about power and love: who has it, who seeks it and who suffers for it.
Box office: Shakespeare’s Songs, yorkshakespeareproject.org/shakespeares-songs or, if available, on the door; Edward II, tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Shakespeare’s Songs: the cast in full
Maurice Crichton, York stage regular, fresh from a summer playing Sir William Maleverer in York Theatre Royal’s Sovereign and Hector the fisherman in YSP’s Sonnets At The Bar.
Emma Scott, from YSP’s Macbeth and The Rape Of Lucrece.
Tracey Rea, musical theatre stalwart ( such as York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, April 2023).
Meg Ollerhead, from YSP’s The Tempest and York Mystery Plays.
Lowen Frampton, from York company Baron Productions and YSP’s The Tempest .
Michael Maybridge, from YSP’s The Tempest and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity For York and The Baptism Play from the Mysteries.
Sally Maybridge, from YSP’s The Tempest and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity For York and The Baptism Play from the Mysteries.
Tim Olive-Besly, from YSP’s The Tempest.
Nick Jones. “Apparently I’ve been in more YSP plays than anyone else, most recently The Tempest,” he says.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/sonnets-at-the-bar-2023/ or 01904 623568.
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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or 01904 623568. The price (£10, £5 for 14 to 17 year olds) includes a drink.
EIGHT plays from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays will be wheeled around York city centre on waggons by the Guilds of York and York Festival Trust on Saturday and June 26.
Under the direction of Tom Straszewski, from 11am each weekend, the Plays will process from College Green (free admission) to St Sampson’s Square (free), St Helen’s Square (free) and King’s Manor (ticketed).
In addition, five of the plays will be staged in ticketed Midsummer midweek performances in Shambles Market on Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm.
Taking part in all of the performances will be a familiar bearded face on the York stage, Maurice Crichton, playing Noah in Paul Toy’s staging of The Building Of The Ark and The Flood for the Company of Cordwainers and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust.
Maurice is steeped in Mystery history. “I did the Settlement Players’ waggon play in 2010, as Pontius Pilate; Riding Lights and York Theatre Royal’s Two Planks And A Passion in 2011; Pilate in the 2012 Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens; Herod in York Minster in 2016, and Soldier 1 in The Crucifixion for the Company of Butchers and St Chad’s Church in 2018,” he says.
“But I’ve never done a Supporters Trust play, so that’s a first, and I’ve never done Noah before. It’s a delightful part, and we’ve tried to go for the humour, although there’s not so much humour in ‘The Ark’, but as soon as Paul [Toy] mashed the two plays together, that helped with the tone.”
What draws Maurice back to the York Mystery Plays time after time? “First of all, it connects me to the city where I live,” he says. “It’s the one piece of world theatre that the city is really connected to, so I enjoy that aspect, and the more I’ve done the plays, the more I’ve looked into the history.
“It’s similar to Shakespeare, where you have the script but you have no idea how it was done when it was first performed. You’re like a detective, and the more you look into the plays, the more the options open up as you de-code the text, and that’s exciting.
“That’s what differentiates the Mystery Plays from plays of our time, where the writer is still around to help you to prepare. For a role like Noah, you have to think, how do I ‘see’ this line; what actions will go with that? It’s a case of, the more you take these words into your head, the more you think about what cadence is needed, what freedom have I got; what’s the rhythm; what’s the meaning?”
Maurice makes a further comparison with Shakespeare’s texts. “Sometimes you feel the audience isn’t going to follow this because the language is dated,” he says. “I’ve had discussions with Paul where I’ve said, I think the original version works better for its musicality, rather than the new adaptation, but elsewhere I’ve said, can I modernise a line, so it cuts both ways.”
Performing on bustling city-centre streets makes particular demands on actors. “The first thing to say is the plays are not being done where they should be, in the tight streets, rather than the open squares, but that’s for practical reasons,” points out Maurice.
“Now, there’s no reverb off the walls to help you, much as College Green is a beautiful setting, but the plays used to be done in streets like Stonegate, as old pictures show.
“You also have to imagine how the streets of York used to be; they’ve all become wider, apart from Shambles, to deal with traffic.
“The danger is that if you’re worried about your audibility, you’re going to punish your vocal cords because you’re trying to be too loud. I remember in 2010 I was hoarse by the end of the day after the four performances. I needed someone to say ‘that’s loud enough’.”
Maurice continues: “Having not been to drama school, I didn’t know what to do in that situation, but what I’ve learned is you really need to keep your face pointed forwards towards the audience at all times when you have something to say, using your arms for gestures.
“It doesn’t help to look at your partner on stage. But when they’re talking, you do look at them; you’re fully responsive in your expressions, turning to face them to show very positively you’re engaging with them through your eyes.
“It’s a different discipline to acting on a stage indoors, because you wouldn’t perform that way in natural speech. Indoors, these days you’re mainly trying to achieve naturalism, but performing on the streets requires the opposite of the norm. Outdoors, it looks like you’re in a Victorian melodrama.”
Given the “noises off” that confront street theatre, with shoppers, stags and hens and open-air cafe tables to negotiate, Maurice says: “The reality is, you’ll be able to count on one hand the number of actors you can hear clearly 90 per cent of the time.
“In St Helen’s Square, for example, there’s a massive amount of distractions, as people move from one shopping street to another, and the challenge is to be so focused and confident in your lines that you can keep going, stopping to do a funny aside, if necessary, but always keeping your face head on to the crowd, of course!”
Meanwhile, Easingwold actor Mick Liversidge will play Satan in the midsummer Mysteries In The Market performances in Shambles Market on Wednesday and Thursday evening, following in the crepuscular footsteps of James Swanton’s Lucifer in The Mysteries After Dark in September 2018.
“As a huge fan of outdoor theatre, I was absolutely delighted to be offered this role,” says Mick, who will act as narrator, steering the 100-strong audience and linking each of the five plays to be presented.
“I’ve performed in many local plays both in York and around Yorkshire, so it’s a pleasure to be involved in such a great community event. I’m looking forward to guiding the audience and seeing their reactions as the plays unfold.”
Mick has appeared in everything from York productions of Wind In The Willows, Calendar Girls The Musical and A Christmas Carol to Shakespeare, short films, Coronation Street, Channels 4’s It’s A Sin, The Queen And I on Netflix, the 2019 film version of Downton Abbey and this year’s Bengali-language adventure thriller Swastik Sanket.
Full details of the 2022 York Mystery Plays can be found at yorkmysteryplays.co.uk, including bookings for the ticketed performances at King’s Manor and Shambles Market.
Copyright of The Press, York
What will the eight plays be?
* Creation To The Fifth Day, York Guild of Building, directed by Janice Newton
* The Fall Of Man, Gild of Freemen and Vale of York Academy, directed by Bex Nicholson
* The Building Of The Ark and The Flood, Company of Cordwainers and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, directed by Paul Toy
* The Three Kings and Herod, St Luke’s Church, directed by Mike Tyler
* The Last Supper, Company of Merchant Taylors and Lords of Misrule, directed by Dr Emily Hansen
* The Crucifixion and Death Of Christ, Company of Butchers and Riding Lights Acting Up!, directed by Kelvin Goodspeed and Jared More
* The Appearance Of Jesus To Mary Magdalene, Guild of Media Arts and Guild of Scriveners, directed by Jess Murray
* The Last Judgement, Company of Merchant Adventurers, directed by Alan and Diane Heaven
2022 York Mystery Plays director Tom Straszewski has confirmed the plays for Mysteries In The Market:
June 22, 7.30pm: Fall Of Adam and Eve; The Flood; The Last Supper; The Crucifixion and The Last Judgement.
June 23, 7.30pm: Creation To The Fifth Day; The Flood; The Last Supper; The Crucifixion and The Last Judgement.
YORK Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 played to record attendances, surpassing the annual summer event’s previous peak by 190.
Running from July 30 to August 7 in YSP’s new Sonnets location of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s “secret garden”, in Blossom Street, York, Emile Knight’s production drew 428 people. The past best was 238.
Producer Maurice Crichton reflects: “We took a few chances with the weather and got through all 18 planned performances without a real downpour. I think we may well return to the same venue next year when the perils of Covid and pinging interdicts will hopefully be fully behind us.
“I was particularly pleased that we managed to involve three young men – Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe – who all contributed to a very strong company bond. There’s something special about a group of players aged from 15 to 60 plus.”
Next up for York Shakespeare Project will be Leo Doulton’s production of Macbeth in October. Watch this space for more details to follow.
YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret location for its latest sonnet adventures, the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York.
After several years of Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens and the socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September, here come Sonnets At the Bar 2021, directed by Emilie Knight and produced by Maurice Crichton from tomorrow (30/7/2021) to August 7.
Emilie, who played a Covid Nurse in last year’s performances, has come up with the conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities, some of them outdoors in the garden on account of Covid, with the sonneteers either hosting classes or groups or attending them, all under the watchful eye of the caretaker, Mr Barrowclough.
In YSP’s now time-honoured fashion, each character has a sonnet to set up, the pairing of character and sonnet opening up some unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.
Here, Emilie answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions on plays versus sonnets, topical characters, outdoor performances, new sonneteers and Covid times.
What draws you to Shakespeare’s sonnets by comparison with his plays?
“The sonnets provide an instant hit of the Bard’s language and turn of phrase, and while you may need to read it over and for some do a little research, when you do get it, it’s striking. Each one tells a story or even more than one as we’ve explored with the Sonnets productions.”
What struck you most about performing the topical Covid Nurse role in last September’s production?
“Although there was a touch of humour in the role, I found playing the nurse very moving. I have no healthcare experience and felt a tinge of imposter syndrome, especially when I was leafleting in Goodramgate between performances in my scrubs and people came up to me assuming I was campaigning for the NHS, which in a way, I was.”
What did you learn from that outdoor staging – in one location, rather than moving around York’s streets and gardens – that you can bring to this summer’s production?
“There was a stillness in Holy Trinity churchyard – apart from the restaurant kitchen noises that punctuated some of the performances – that enabled the audience to really focus on the character and their sonnet without distractions from passers-by and traffic.
“I was keen to replicate that while introducing the movement that the sonnet walks allows. In this case, the characters are moving through the space rather than the audience moving through York.”
What do you see as the director’s role in this production?
“Very much as an introducer of ideas. I had a strong image of how I wanted the production to look and feel, but from my own experience as a sonneteer also knew that the organic nature of this sonnets concept relies on the ideas we have and sometimes accidental discoveries we make throughout the rehearsal process.
“It’s also been my role to ensure that everyone has fun. We’re a community group with jobs, studying, family responsibilities to deal with, all coming together because we love theatre and never more so than now after the challenging times we’ve all experienced.”
How did you settle on this year’s Shakespeare Sonnets conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities?
“Within hours of finishing our last production, I’d started mulling over possible future themes, and by the beginning of this year, it struck me that through the pandemic our hobbies and community activities had been completely turned upside down.
“I asked myself, ‘how is it going to feel to return to gatherings in person after doing everything online for so long?’ and whether there would be any hesitation in doing so. We heard a lot about how desperate everyone was to ‘get back to normal’, but I did wonder whether some people would prefer it to stay as it is, and that’s when Harry Barrowclough popped into my head.
“Then I thought about all the different things that go on in community centres that, unless you’re involved in yourself, you barely give any thought to. A major consideration in the early days was where to stage the production and, given the community connection and the fabulous garden, theBar Convent seemed a perfect fit and it has been.
How did you decide on the characters? Did you give the actors leeway to create them or did you create the characters first and then let them work on them?
“I had very clear characters in mind and drafted a working script as a starting point. But you never know who’s going to audition; through that process I was able to identify some who fitted a particular character exactly as I thought of them or who delivered something completely different from how I imagined it and it just worked.
“From day one of rehearsals, I invited the sonneteers to play with their character and dialogue and try out different ideas until we settled on the perfect fit. For me, the joy of the YSP Sonnets programme is very much that it is a creative process for everyone involved and together we develop something very special.”
Five “new” sonnets feature among the selection. What made you choose those ones?
“I chose all the sonnets first with a few extra, without reference to which had been used before, and by a happy coincidence there were new ones. Some I chose for their direct relevance to a character and situation I had in mind; others I simply found very beautiful and knew I wanted to use them and so devised a way to make them suit.”
How have you rehearsed the sonnets in Covid times?
“We were very fortunate that the Bar Convent embraced our production from the beginning and made it possible for us to rehearse in the space, which, being open air, made everything instantly more Covid safe.
“We’ve also been lucky with the weather…so far! Of course, we’ve had the ongoing challenge of cast members being ‘pinged’ at any moment and have all been committed to keeping each other safe and will continue to do so for ourselves, the Bar Convent community and our audiences.”
Among the cast, you have selected four actors new to York Shakespeare Project. Who are they?
“Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe. I’m so excited about this production and very proud of all the work everyone has put in, most especially the youngsters.
“With the cuts in arts education generally and worryingly more to come, and the reduced opportunities for our youth to explore the creative arts, it’s been very rewarding to have been able to offer this chance for them to shine.”
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, tomorrow (30/7/2021) until August 7; no show on August 2. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm on both Saturdays. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the YTR box office.
YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret new location for its latest sonnet adventures, the secret garden of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York.
After several years of Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens and the socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September, here come Sonnets At the Bar 2021, directed by Emilie Knight and produced by Maurice Crichton, from July 30 to August 7.
“Emilie Knight and I have struck up a good working relationship at the Bar Convent with James Foster, the chief operations officer,” says Maurice. “They have a lovely ‘secret’ garden with plenty of room and a surprisingly quiet, voice-friendly acoustic for a space so close to one of the busiest road junctions in the city.”
Looking forward to mounting this summer’s spree of Shakespeare sonnets, Maurice enthuses: “York Shakespeare Project wants to involve people in a close engagement with Shakespeare’s writing, and as Jonathan Bate says in every Royal Shakespeare Company edition of the plays: ‘The best way to understand a Shakespeare play is to see it or ideally to participate in it’.
“Emilie is setting up auditions ‘open to all’ and we want to get the word out as widely as possible to try to involve some new faces in this format.”
Those auditions will be held at the Bar Convent onJune 4 from 5pm and June 5 from 10am. Anyone wanting to arrange an audition time should contact Emilie at firstname.lastname@example.org, putting ‘Sonnets’ in the heading and indicating a preference of day and time.
“I’ll provide details of everything you need to prepare when confirming your audition time,” says Emilie, who performed in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets in role of Covid Nurse at Holy Trinity Church.
Outlining the format of this summer’s performances, she explains: “We’ll be bringing our audience into the secret garden of the Bar Convent to witness the comings and goings of the ordinary people of York as they pursue their hobbies and interests at a community venue.
“The characters cover a range of age and gender and a couple also require some musical ability (instrument or vocal). We welcome all levels of experience, as commitment, enthusiasm and a certain amount of flexibility will determine the success of this production. And, we want you to have fun!”
Rehearsals will be held outdoors, initially in West Bank Park, Holgate, and then at the Bar Convent.
The eight evening performances from July 30 to August 7 – no show on Monday, August 2 – will be complemented by late-afternoon matinees on both Saturdays. “We’re going to include a drink in the ticket price and this will be provided by the heritage centre’s café,” says Maurice.
YORK Theatre Royal has reopened after 427 days. The longest, darkest hiatus since the Second World War at England’s longest-running theatre has ended with a declaration of love.
More precisely, 22 love letters to the power of theatre, a craving for freedom of movement, expression and identity and the need for human connection: a collective, anything-but-cautious hug that was as much a sigh of relief as a breath of fresh York air in the form of a fiesta of five-minute vignettes commissioned from 220 applicants.
Let’s repeat that. 22O applicants for £1,000 commissions from York’s diverse arts community that refuses to accept Rich Boy Risha Sunak’s slight that such talents are non-viable. A community that will laugh off the Beano comic’s laughable Hilarity Report finding that the average York resident laughs only 14 times a day, the second lowest in the country. Are you joking? Laugher aplenty could be heard on Monday night, alongside the joy, the sadness, the uncertainty but hope.
Indeed, The 22 would surely challenge York Mix e-letter writer John Wolfe’s scalding, agent-provocateur assertion that York is a city of “no real festivals or decent venues. No sports centres or entertainment for locals. No chance of change either. Why do you think all of the young people move away? Outside of its history it’s drab and bl**dy awful.”
Crying Wolfe? Well, John, in the city of the York Community Stadium, four state-of-the-art cinemas, myriad theatres, ever more restaurants, café bars, coffee houses, independent galleries and a rising tide of street art, perhaps you should go York Theatre Royal, one of the country’s great theatres, tonight (Tuesday) to see the spread of talent, both young and older.
Some were born in the city and are determined to stay here, when the arts are becoming less London-centric; others have been drawn to the city from, for example, Canada and Zimbabwe, and here they gathered under one rainbow umbrella to express their love for York and their place in it.
Trouble is, John, you can’t buy a seat because, as with the first night, tonight’s Love Bites have sold out at the outset of a Love Season pulsing with life, vigour and, yes, love, topped off by Ralph Fiennes performing T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in late-July.
In the words of chief executive Tom Bird, Love Bites and The Love Season are a chance to “experience again the electric excitement that only live performance can bring. This spring and summer, we’re putting on a season of brave, bold love stories to celebrate the return of human connection. We’re doing it with passion, fervour and heart, as you’d expect.”
Monday night began with the much-loved veteran BBC broadcaster Harry Gration in host mode, toasting his 50-year love affair with the Theatre Royal before making way for the flurry of short pieces.
The screen backdrop could and probably should have been used for announcing each show title, writer and performer, especially as flicking through the e-programme on your phone in the dark would have been distracting for others, even in the socially distanced seating with the capacity reduced from 750 to 340.
Actor Toby Gordon’s hair has grown to Dave Grohl length in locks-down lockdown, but the golden tongue that delivered both Satan and later Jesus’s lines in the York Minster Mystery Plays now glistened anew in the questing, vexed poetry of W H Auden’s O Tell Me The Truth About Love.
Film would feature on several occasions through the night, first in a cinematic riparian soundscape by Ben Pugh to accompany the poetic ebb and flow of Robert Powell and Kitty Greenbrown’s The Angels Of Lendal Bridge, imagining those painted “angels” conversing above the Ouse, recalling so much water that has passed under their iron bridge amid a rising tide of love.
CAPA College student trio Luella Rebbeck, Jamie Marshall-White and Isla Bowles, in glowing green and pink socks to suit the occasion, were nevertheless in contemplative mood in The Art Of Losing, tempo slow, bodies graceful, in what they emphasised were three “non-love stories”, but instead felt more like a lament; a year’s absence making the heart grow fonder for “what it means to have contact with one another”.
Playwright, poet and slam champ Hannah Davies’s tweets at @davieswords have charted her enervating health frustrations, but no York shaper of words captures a sense, meaning and memory of place so movingly, so evocatively, and what a joy it was to see back on a stage for Love Song To Spring.
Accompanied by Jack “Pascallion” Woods’s exploratory guitar paths, her lockdown love story journeyed through the freshly discovered joys of city walking and spring renewal in York’s myriad green spaces. Listen to Hannah, and you will step into spring with added spring in your step.
New discovery of the night was much-travelled Zimbabwean playwright Butshilo Nleya, who “wondered if my pockets are big enough to carry home with me” as he moved to York.
Explosive bursts of drumming and film imagery by Sunnie Hsia of Butshilo on York streets, stairways and in the dank Leeman Road tunnel formed a triptych with his soliloquy, Ekhaya, Love Them Both?, as he mulled over place, love and self, with humour rooted in observation of York’s idiosyncrasies, but a deeper wish to find his place, wherever he plays his drum, whatever life throws at him. One to watch, definitely.
For aeons, a Nightingale’s nocturnal song has had writers reaching for metaphors for love and beauty. Musician, performance writer and actor Tom Nightingale’s song, Elaine, is to “show everyone my gratitude to the only lady who has ever helped me”, his wife.
In its cautious yet unguarded way it was a song of love and beauty suffused with unshaven, wry, deadpan frankness, delivered in the spirit of John Otway and Jonathan Richman beneath Martin Stephenson’s cocked hat. Nightingale writes as a “therapeutic outlet”, to make sense of life; on Monday, it worked for your reviewer; hopefully it does for Elaine too.
The name in the Love Bites e-programme and in her Q&A answers to CharlesHutchPress is Erika Noda, but the Japanese-English actor and East 15 graduate born in York introduced herself on Monday as Aiaka, the name that a teacher found so difficult, she called her ‘Ai’ and banished her from the classroom for insubordination in challenging her.
So began the journey to Ai, Erika/Aiaka’s semi-autobiographical debut solo-writing work, examining her dual heritage and encounters with racist “microaggression”, growing up in York, (a city once so white it was dubbed “Persil Town”). On the evidence of Ai, this quest for identity remains unresolved, a bumpy ride with such familiar stones in the road as “no, but where are you really from?”.
Even the inventor of Zoom apparently has had enough of all those enervating Zoom-and-gloom meetings, but loveable York musical-comedy double act Fladam (pianist-singer Adam Sowter and funny face-puller and singer Florence Poskitt) found the funny side of this digital bridge to connecting in lockdown-separation in the tartly topical Love Bytes. Aptly, the cheeky, witty, melodious encounter was long-distance, Adam on stage, Flo online, filling the screen with a squelchy face as ripe for comedy as Thora Hird or Victoria Wood.
Surprise of the night? Seeing Paul Birch on stage and then wondering why he does not frequent this space more often. Maybe he is just too busy writing and directing, and running Out Of Character, the York company for artists with experiences of mental illness.
His twisting-and-turning five-minute gem, Lost For Words, was a mind-game in motion as the quicksilver Birch fought to save his most precious relationship in a race against time where a killjoy voice from beyond kept stripping him of the right to use letters from the alphabet, letter by letter. You found yourself joining him in his mental exercise, smugly spotting him still using a ‘V’ when barred from doing so, but cheering him on as he tried to keep his head above water as the wds rn t. Could this be a game show in the making?
All around is frown time, but clown time is never over for the red-nosed James Lewis-Knight, actor and artistic director of Clown Space, purveyor of comical pandemonium amid a pandemic. After a year as the Clown in Lockdown, wandering the busking streets of York turned silent, James unlocked his dusty case to make his mimed plea for Staying Connected. He kept saying “Picnic”, but where Birch was lost for words, James was a little lost for meaning, one punchline short of his Picnic having more bite.
If you heard Dora Rubinstein’s perkily assertive rendition of Gus Gowland’s The Streets Of York blind, you would swear it was from a musical. Sure enough, Gowland, latterly moved to York, is a musical theatre writer/composer with the award-winning Pieces Of String to his name. Gowland’s celebration of Gentleman Jack Anne Lister’s wedding vows in a York church will surely grow from a love letter to a full-blown show, a progression the Theatre Royal should encourage and activate.
In a night of storytelling, butter-rich with words, the shadow puppetry of children’s theatre company Story Craft Theatre silently spoke volumes to the accompaniment of Jonathan Glew’s beautiful score in She Can Go Anywhere. Who knew you could say so much with a sheet, folded and unfolded by Cassie Vallance and Janet-Emily Bruce as if a cotton version of origami, freeing imaginations when the pandemic has shrunk the world to the home, transforming life’s caterpillars into butterflies.
Hannah Wintie-Hawkins was a dancer at the double in her terpsichorean love letter In The Beginning, at once on stage and in digital artist Aaron Howell’s accompanying film, dancing with baby Mabel in her arms. It was as though Hannah, like us, was watching in wonder at the joy of a new arrival: a beacon of hope amid the pandemic turbulence, only in her case it was moving her to break out into a dance. The dual focus, however, was not wholly satisfying, as she danced with herself, the one distracting from the other, rather than intertwining like mother and daughter on screen.
Richard Kay, actor, singer, pantomime writer and Zoom choir leader, asked his choir members two questions: how and why do you like singing? Whereupon he compiled the answers into the composition For The Love Of Singing, a song as nimble on its feet as Fred Astaire and wittily delivered in the crisply enunciated manner of a Richard Stilgoe, with digital choir backing and the projection of words dancing in and out of formation in David Todd’s playful animation. Clever, humorous, warm and briskly energetic, and tuneful to boot, it would sit well in a cabaret revue.
How did it feel to be back in the theatre after 427 days? Actor Maurice Crichton caught those feelings as he cast his net of observations in Where Are We Now, You And I?, and he looked in such a hurry to deliver his thoughts, it was as if he had come straight from a rehearsal room in tracksuit trousers and The Show Must Go On T-shirt, hair unkempt.
Not that he rushed through his sage counsel, instead understanding feelings of anger, advising a policy of gentleness with each other and not expecting too much too soon, while breathing in the wonder of theatre once more. How right he was; how emotional too.
Canadian-born papercut artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner, countertenor and composer James Cave and libretto editor Bethan Ellis promised Magic and delivered it too in a four-minute mini-musical, set in a constantly evolving paper theatre that grew ever prettier under Elena’s delicate guidance.
Elena seeks to discover “magic and meaning in everyday, mundane experiences”, the transcendent magic rising through her imagery and the beauty of James’s singing, and in the stasis of the pandemic, a walk, birdsong, gardening, baking banana bread, have indeed taken on a heightened magical air.
On their Twitter account, non-binary, unapologetically autistic creator Ashleigh J Mills (they/them) calls themselves Angry Black Changeling. Identity and accessibility into theatre lay at the heart of In Progress, their spoken-word exploration of the “interplay between race, self-understanding and the shifting boundaries of gender over the span of a solitary year” when experiencing life on the margins.
Ashleigh has kept a Good Words List for four years, and on the screen behind them, the constant, measured flicking through a book revealed word after word standing proud from the text, each building a picture of Ashleigh’s questing, creative fascination with words.
Those words were knitted together to form their soliloquy, a still-evolving expression of Ashleigh as a work in progress in changing times, and only good words can be said of their poetic candour.
Of all the five minutes, nothing brought a broader smile than the sheer joy in dancing together of Alice Boddy and Leanne Hope, friends since Northern Ballet School days, who burst out of a restricted year of living-room creativity to revel in a Love Letter To Female Friendship on the dancefloor in the face of such trying times. They were so in their moment, they were in their own world, but one we all could recognise and wish to join in.
The title, Mise En Aby-Me, may have been baffling, but life model, milliner and costumier Claire Spooner made a fascinating body of work in her physical theatre piece that testified to her desire to tell a story through the human form, rather than words, in this case aided by Richard Stephenson’s artwork and LEMNIS’s music.
Claire turned herself into a Russian doll, peeling off layers, adding masks, revealing how she presented herself in relationships, love in different guises, until nothing could hide the constant persona within, beauty beyond the eye of the beholder.
Deaf director and “self-proclaimed proactive busy-body” Harri Marshall composed a semi-autobiographical love letter to oneself via cards and correspondence collected over the past year…and then handed over the task of interpreting them aloud to Sarah Huggett, accompanied by the exact wording on the screen behind.
I say “exact” because text and voice did not always say the same lines and you found yourself checking for differences as much as concentrating on Harri’s flow of meaning. What’s more, the rhythm of the language was broken too, screen and voice going in and out of synch. Hopefully, I Often Think Of You had a better second night.
Before Reverie came a nightmare, thankfully only briefly, as a flick of a switch belatedly awoke the somnambulant keyboard for composer, pianist and piano teacher Vanessa Simmons’s retelling of a dream in musical form. Ah, what peace, after the fizzing fireworks, as an unperturbed Vanessa rejoiced in “the beauty, sorrow and power of real love”.
Last, but anything but least and rightly chosen as the finale was 5 Minute Call, penned by esteemed York playwright Bridget Foreman, writer of 30 plays, both large and solo, with another, My Place, on the way.
Chief exec Tom Bird’s Irish-accented actor wife, Laura Pyper, took on the guise of a theatre “techie” five minutes before curtain-up, taking instruction on checking lighting for stage positions while capturing how the theatre itself felt about the return of life on its boards, warming up to the reunion with its lifeblood, both performers and audiences. The feeling of love was mutual, as the Pied Pyper led us back to our spiritual home.
These Love Bites left their mark, so much so, let’s hope York Theatre Royal can look to open further seasons with showcases for the city’s talents, £1,000 commissions et al.
THE Love Season will soon set hearts pulsing at York Theatre Royal, where the Step 3 reopening will make its mark with Love Bites: a love letter to live performance and a toast to the city’s creative talent.
More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged on May 17 – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and May 18.
The 22 short pieces selected will be performed each night at 8pm under the overall direction of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster. Each “bite” will take hold for five minutes.
In the first in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As,YorkactorMaurice Crichtonhas five minutes to discuss his work, Where Are You Now, You And I?
How did you hear about Love Bites, Maurice?
“I reckon I saw it come up on Facebook and of course via charleshutchpress.”
What is your connection with York?
“I came south from the Glasgow area to university here in the early 1980s and have been here ever since. My three children grew up here. Then in 2009 I got involved in the York amateur theatre scene and theatrical pursuits are now a big part of my life.”
What will feature in your Love Bite, Where Are We Now, You and I?, and why?
“I can tell you it is a solo piece which I have written and that my partner Helen Wilson is going to bring to bear her considerable directing expertise to try to make sure I don’t make a complete fool of myself.
“The brief was simple and clear for a very special occasion. A love letter to light up the YTR stage after such a long period of darkness. I had an immediate and personal response to the brief, which I hope will do justice to the opportunity.
“I was in Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion in 2011 in the main house when it was reconfigured in the round. I did a slightly daunting read-through as Pilate for the 2012 Mystery Plays from the main stage to a big audience the following year. But nothing else in that space. So, for lots of reasons, even though it is only five minutes, for me personally it’s going to be a big five minutes.”
So, where are we now, you and I and the rest of us?
“I hope just about OK. I have been very lucky. With any unexpected trauma, it doesn’t really hit home until the danger is past. What has it cost us all? It’s too early to say.”
In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre?
“Being able to take for granted that it’s alive and well in our city and has a future.”
What’s coming next for you?
“I’ve done some filming work on a piece called The Whispering House with Damian Cruden (director) and Bridget Foreman (writer), about the Census in Tang Hall and Heworth, in which I play a Swedish immigrant completing the 1911 census.
“His name is Enoch Stanhope, a real person. He lived at Yew Villa, Heworth Village, and had a jewellery shop on Coney Street. I hope the fruits of that work will be released soon.”
“I’m producing another Sonnets production – the sixth – this summer for York Shakespeare Project. Emilie Knight is going to direct and we hope to able to announce dates for this year in an exciting new outdoor venue very soon.
“I’m also working on a little project for York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to take a guided walk along the route of the medieval Mystery Plays. (YMPST, along with York Festival Trust are staging A Resurrection For York on wagons in the Residence Garden, Dean’s Park, beside the Minster Library on July 3 and 4, directed by Philip Parr.)
What would be the best way to spend five minutes if you had a choice?
“Right now, it would be to ring my Mum’s doorbell in Fife and give her a hug or to make a surprise second visit to my new granddaughter (aged four weeks) in Bath and to bounce little Emma on my knee.”
Tickets for Love Bites cost Pay What You Feel at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.