York International Shakespeare Festival welcomes Ukrainian A Midsummer Night’s Dream among 40 live events in 11 days

From Ukraine, with love: Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Picture: Oleksii Tovpyha

THE fifth edition of the York International Shakespeare Festival will begin tomorrow after tonight’s opening show, a Right Here Right Now Shakespeare Special comedy improv night at the home of Riding Lights Theatre, was scuppered by unforeseen circumstances.  

Running until May 1, the 11-day programme comprises more than 40 live events, and others online, featuring international, national and York-made performances, talks, workshops, exhibitions and discussions.

Look out too for tomorrow’s Shakespeare Sonnet Marathon in the York Theatre Royal garden (weather permitting!) from 11am; storytelling in libraries and schools, and the launch of a book celebrating the festival’s community placemaking project in lockdown, York Loves Shakespeare (Friargate Theatre, Sunday, 5pm)

Flabbergast Theatre’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth. Picture: Michael Lynch

“We are delighted that the Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre have accepted our invitation to showcase their dynamic and uplifting production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (York St John University Creative Arts Centre Auditorium, April 28, 8pm)” says festival director Philip Parr.

“The Ukrainian company will also offer workshops for students and the community and will talk about the current nature of theatre in Ukraine. We are thrilled to have this company in York to not only present the quality of their work but also to demonstrate the significant cultural connection that is created through international festivals.”

Selected by the European Shakespeare Festival network from an international call-out, festival highlight Flabbergast Theatre’s visceral and lucid The Tragedy Of Macbeth (York St John University Creative Centre Auditorium, April 26, 8pm) has garnered responses such as comedian Stewart Lee’s recommendation: “Everything you want – stuff being banged, terrifying puppets, polyphonic singing, mess, mud, noise, wine, party hats, and an amazingly talented international cast”.

York actress Judith Ireland promoting York Loves Shakespeare, the York International Shakespeare Festival’s lockdown community project. Picture: John Saunders

The Stage critic Susan Elkin meanwhile enthused:  “The term ‘physical theatre’ doesn’t actually do it justice. It’s an understatement.”

Bognor Regis-born experimental theatre maker, actor, writer and director Tim Crouch presents his Fringe First-winning Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel (York St John University Creative Centre Auditorium and Atrium, April 29, 8pm)  fresh from seasons in Edinburgh New York and London. In this daring modern piece of storytelling and stand-up, he explores King Lear in a post-pandemic world as a virtual reality headset meets Shakespeare as Crouch ponders the essence of live performance.

Artists from Poland, Croatia and Romania join the festival for a series of staged play readings of European texts inspired or influenced by Shakespeare or by writers roughly contemporary to him. All are in new English translations, each receiving first performances, and all three will be heard in the UK for the first time in any language.

Tim Crouch in his virtual reality head set for Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel. Picture: Stuart Armitt

On the York front, York Shakespeare Project begins its second cycle with Dr Daniel Roy Connelly’s modern-day staging of Richard III, set in the House of Commons, at Friargate Theatre from April 26 to 29 and Elizabeth Elsworth’s innovative theatrical interpretation of Shakespeare’s long poem, here retitled Lucrece, at Friargate Theatre on Sunday and Monday.

“For 11 days, York will become the city of Shakespeare, but perhaps not the Shakespeare you might expect,” says Philip, artistic director of Parrabbola and chair of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network.

The full festival programme and ticket details can be found at www.yorkshakes.co.uk.

York International Shakespeare Festival: the back story

Philip Parr: Director of York International Shakespeare Festival

THE festival was established in 2014 and presented its first programme in 2015 with the aim of bringing exciting and innovative international productions to Great Britain and to showcase work from York and the North.

The festival is programmed and managed by Parrabbola, an arts organisation with many years’ experience in community arts and festivals.

Running every two years, the festival began as a partnership with Parrabbola, York Theatre Royal and the University of York, but has now broadened its reach to take in such York organisations as the National Centre for Early Music, Riding Lights Theatre Company, York Shakespeare Project, York Explore and Bronzehead, embedding the festival firmly in the city.

From 2023, YISF is working closely with York St John University in a new partnership designed to create a new opportunity for staff and students to produce this festival annually.

Wagons wheeled in for A Resurrection For York setting of Mystery Plays at Dean’s Park

Preparations are gaining momentum for A Resurrection For York at Dean’s Park on July 3 and 4. Picture: John Saunders

A WEEK to go for A Resurrection For York and everything is dropping into place, the cross and all, at the Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York.

Initial plans for the open-air play had to be put on hold under pandemic restrictions, but partners York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster then settled on new performance dates of July 3 and 4.

Directed by Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola, the show’s format will be retained: one hour long, performed outdoors, on two static wagons, and the staging will be compliant with Covid safety requirements for audience social distancing for each day’s 11am, 2pm and 4pm performances.

Since his appointment in March, Parr has worked on the new script with Tom Straszewski, director of the York Mystery Plays’ wagon production in 2018, and auditioned a community cast, subsequently conducting rehearsals on Zoom.

Previously, Parr directed York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre, York, in December 2019.

Tickets are selling well – some performances have sold out already – and a civic party will attend the opening Saturday performance, followed by the Dean of York, the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Frost, at a Sunday show.

The arrival of the wagons, loaned by the Guilds of Butchers and Merchant Taylors, was an uplifting moment, as the team of Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson manoeuvred the trailer and wagons through the Dean’s Park gates, despite the tight squeeze.

Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson delivering the wagons, or waggons as the York Mystery Plays historians are wont to call them. Picture: John Saunders

On those wagons, the cast will be performing a script by Straszewski and Parr, created from the York Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed.

Michael Maybridge, who will play Pilgrim 2, says: “What this script brings to mind is the experience of the very earliest Christians. We might think of our play in terms of the medieval citizens of York, reminding themselves of the narrative of their faith by telling each other stories.

“Many of those Christians found themselves travelling, just like the pilgrims in our play. They carried on telling their stories, and it seems uncontroversial to say that, in doing so, they changed the world.”

Jodie Fletcher, taking the role of Mary Cleophas, says: “The Mystery Plays are a unique part of history, and for me the magic comes from the beautiful and poetic language. It has been wonderful to be creating theatre once more and I hope audiences will find the experience revitalising.”

On July 3, the 2pm performance will be livestreamed on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=UXChGFomf5M and on Facebook at facebook.com/events/584796139152052/.

In addition, the Saturday performances will be filmed as a “record to view later”. “Watch this space. We’ll let you know when it’s available. What’s more, it’s free,” says the latest York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust newsletter.

“Attending a Saturday performance? There may be incidental filming of audience members, so if you do not wish to feature, please let one of the front-of-house stewards know. You can tell them by their face mask and name badge,” it adds.

Wagon wheelers: Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson

Please note, as seating will not be provided for audiences, make sure to bring a rug or folding chair. Gates will be open to the garden from 10.30am.

Tickets for A Resurrection For York are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/

Who will be in the cast for A Resurrection For York?

Pilgrim 1, Wilma Edwards; Pilgrim 2, Michael Maybridge; Pilgrim 3, Victoria Rooke; Pilgrim 4, Mary Callan; Pilgrim 5, Nick Jones (Narrator); Pilgrim 6, Sally Maybridge (Narrator, Peter); Pilgrim 7, Chris Pomfrett (John); no Pilgrim 8.

Pilgrim 9, Julie Speedie; Pilgrim 10, Judith Ireland (Mary, Mother of Christ); Pilgrim 11, Jodie Fletcher (Mary Cleophas); Pilgrim 12, Tony Froud (Joseph of Arimathea); Pilgrim 13, Sonia di Lorenzo (Nicodemus); Pilgrim 14, Emily Hansen (Mary Magdalene).

Pilgrim 15, Raqhael Harte (Thomas); Pilgrim 16, Samuel Valentine (Centurion); Pilgrim 17, Joy Warner (Soldier 1); Pilgrim 18, Harold Mozley (Soldier 2); Pilgrim 19 Janice Barnes Newton (Soldier 3), and Pilgrim 20, Colin Lea (Soldier 4). Plus David Denbigh.  

Production team credits:

Director, Philip Parr; associate director, Terry Ram; producer, Simon Tompsett. 

York Mystery Plays to be staged in Dean’s Park in A Resurrection For York in July

Raqhael Harte’s Mary with the infant Jesus in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York in December 2019 at the Spurriergate Centre, York. Picture: John Saunders

A RESURRECTION For York will undergo its own resurrection this summer after Covid-19 put the kibosh on the original theatre production.

Plans for the play had to be put on hold earlier this year under pandemic restrictions, but partners York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster have settled on new performance dates of July 3 and 4.

Directed by Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola, the show’s format will be retained: one hour long, staged outdoors, on two static wagons.

The location will be the Residents Gardens, at Minster Library, Dean’s Park, alongside York Minster, where the limited audience size for each day’s 11am, 2pm and 4pm performances will be governed by the prevailing social-distancing guidelines.

Linda Terry, chair of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, says: “With our partners, we have been working hard to bring back live theatre to the city after such a difficult time. The York Mystery Plays have survived past plagues; we wanted to play our part in a new beginning, creating an optimistic and safe event, bringing people together in a vividly imagined drama from York’s literary and cultural inheritance.”

York Festival Trust director Roger Lee is equally enthusiastic: “With arts and culture among the last areas of our lives allowed to return, York Festival Trust is delighted to be part of this project to bring York Mystery Plays back to the city this summer and to support the rebirth of live performing arts,” he says.

The Dean of York, the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Frost, is “delighted that after the lockdown we have all experienced, events crucial to the life and story of York are beginning to happen again”.

“The theme for the York Mystery Plays this year is resurrection,” he says. “It would be hard to think of a more appropriate focus for a society, community and city coming back to life after a torrid journey. I do hope everyone will find time to enjoy the Mystery Plays.”

Since his appointment as director in March, Parr has been working on the new script with Tom Straszewski, director of the 2018 wagon production of the York Mystery Plays, and auditioning a community cast.

Previously, Parr directed York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre, York, in December 2019.

Tickets for A Resurrection For York are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/

York International Shakespeare Festival is ON and you can play your part, but make it snappy! Here’s how…

Masked ball, pandemic style, in Romeo & Juliet: Not exactly kissing by the book in The HandleBards’ irreverent production at York Theatre Royal

TODAY is William Shakespeare’s 457th birthday: the perfect time to reveal what will be happening with this year’s York International Shakespeare Festival in May and how you can play your part.

“Covid, Brexit and all the issues around travel and funding mean that this won’t be the usual ‘YorkShakes’ experience,” says festival organiser Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola.

“Festivals and theatre are facing tricky times, but all is not lost. Undaunted, we’re going ahead and have an exciting programme for you. Our festival may be little, but from May 25 to June 6, we’re fiercely determined to bring some international Shakespeare to York and to share work being made in the city.” 

The festival promises films of exciting international productions; the announcement of a new ongoing collaboration programme with colleagues in Taiwan, and “even some live Shakespeare”, courtesy of cycle-everywhere company The HandleBards’ irreverent Romeo & Juliet at a socially distanced York Theatre Royal on May 25 and 26.

Created by three actors cooped up together during lockdown, fuelled by cabin fever and a determination to forget the tears and the tragedy, the result is “an unhinged and bonkers, laugh-out-loud version of Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers” that also will form part of the Theatre Royal’s Love Season.

“The festival climax will be a new, online filmed production of a fast-paced, pared-back Pericles by York company Riding Lights, and we’re also going to launch the world’s first ever – we think! – collection of all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, each recorded in a different language or dialect,” says Philip.

“And we want you to be part of the festival too in the form of York Loves Shakespeare, a photographic project for people who live, work or play in York, and who love Shakespeare.”  

Here’s how to be involved: “We want you to propose your favourite line from a Shakespeare play and then we’re going to choose one line from every play (so either 37, 38 or a few more plays),” says Philip.

“If you and your line are selected, we’ll photograph you with that line at a location in York that is relevant, iconic and perhaps personally specific. The results will be presented on Instagram and other social media during the festival and then collected on a webpage – and might perhaps go further!

“It’s a simple commitment and can be done legally and safely under current pandemic rules. You’ll need to go to your venue, but it will be only you and the photographer working together. John Saunders, who is well-known around York, has agreed to take our photographs and we’re grateful to him for being a vital part of the team.”

To take part in this celebration of Shakespeare and York, just email Philip Parr at info@yorkshakes.co.uk and propose your play and your line. “The deadline is May 1, so not much thinking time – t’were well it were done quickly!” both he and Shakespeare advise.

“Once we’ve made our choices, we’ll be back in touch to discuss the how and where and when. We need you! Come and join in,” adds Philip.