York Shakespeare Project to perform Shakespeare’s Songs in buildings ancient and modern from September 22 to 24

Shakespeare’s Songs producer and composer Nick Jones with, front pew, Meg Ollerhead and Lowen Frampton, and, second pew, Emma Scott, left, and Tracey Rea. Picture: John Saunders

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.

Producer Nick Jones: At the helm of a light-hearted revue of Shakespeare’s Songs. Picture: John Saunders

“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.

Maurice Crichton in his role as fisherman Hector in York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar in the Bar Convent ‘s secret garden last month. Picture: John Saunders

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.

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.

Paul French’s lessons in Shakespeare start with All’s Well That Ends Well and end well with York Shakespeare Project’s finale

Paul French’s Prospero, right, with Effie Warboys’ Miranda and Jacob Ward’s Ferdinand in York Shakespeare Project’s The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

PAUL French first performed in a Shakespeare play in his York Shakespeare Project debut in All’s Well That Ends Well in 2014.

By 2016, he was playing Lear in King Lear and now is the lead once more, cast as Prospero in The Tempest, in YSP’s climax to performing all 37 Shakespeare plays in 20 years, concluding at York Theatre Royal tonight.

“I’d never done any Shakespeare until 2014, so it was an amazing development for me,” he says. “I didn’t start acting until my early forties, then I moved up here, and I had no idea I would like doing Shakespeare until I did it.

“I had a family and job but now I’ve retired, though it’s been a slow process with doing theatre, after doing a job that gave me the flexibility to do the York Mystery Plays [in York Minster] in 2016, and it just so happened that Ben Prusiner, from that production, was directing Lear, and then I did Volpone with Ben’s own company [Re:Verse Theatre].

Paul French’s Lear and Charlotte Wood’s Cordelia in Ben Prusiner’s King Lear in 2016. Picture John Saunders

“It’s all been pretty fortuitous. None of it was planned. My wife is now asking, ‘is this going to be your last Shakespeare?’, and I say, ‘I don’t know’, because I didn’t know I’d ever do one, but I love it, especially the rehearsals.”

Over the past few years, Paul has attended acting classes to develop his skills further and done films to diversify his craft too. Everything helps towards playing such a demanding role as Prospero.

“I remember when I did All’s Well That Ends Well, playing the king, which is not a huge part, saying to a fellow actor, ‘I’d love to do Lear and I’d love to do Prospero’, and you think, ‘how will that work out, with all the people who can do it?’, and yet here we are now, with all these blessed words to get out of my head!” says Paul.

He has enjoyed that experience. “It’s been very interesting to develop Prospero from having first read the play and having ideas of what he’s about and then exploring it. It’s a pleasure working with the other actors, starting with the huge scene with Miranda [Effie Warboys], setting up the story,” he says.

Paul French’s Prospero and Effie Warboys’ Miranda in rehearsal for Philip Parr’s production of The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

“It’s fascinating how it all develops, and I now think Prospero is more like me than I first thought he was.”

Director Philip Parr chips in: “That’s sort of how it should work. The part should become greater than the actor by an alchemical process.”

Assessing the art of acting, Paul goes on to say: “Acting is reacting; acting is listening; acting is being in the moment.” Philip chips in again: “Acting is not acting!”

“I think it won’t happen with this cast, but with actors who are not experienced, there’s a tendency to not know how to react if the performance is suddenly different on one night,” says Paul. “But here, for The Tempest, we want it to be different, to just see what happens!”

York Shakespeare Project in The Tempest, York Theatre Royal, tonight (1/10/2022), 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on York Shakespeare Project in The Tempest, on tour until Saturday ***

The Ariel Collective confronts Stuart Lindsay’s Sebastian in York Shakespeare Project’s The Tempest at Thorganby Village Hall. All pictures: John Saunders

YORK Shakespeare Project (YSP) is completing its 20-year mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays with its 35th production and first tour.

Only 35 productions? Twice, plays were amalgamated into a unified presentation. Whatever path was taken, however, The Tempest was always to be the finale, concluding in an “icing on the cake” staging at York Theatre Royal this weekend.

The tour opened at Thorganby Village Hall last Friday and then headed to Strensall and Towthorpe Village Hall for two Saturday performances.

Tonight comes Helmsley Arts Centre; tomorrow, Selby Town Hall; Thursday, The Junction, Goole; Friday, Acomb Parish Church Hall; Saturday, the York climax, to be followed by a Sunday party.

Paul French’s Prospero laying down the lore to suitor Ferdinand (Jacob Ward) and daughter Miranda (Effie Warboys)

Each venue presents different challenges: some have lighting, others do not; some have stage exits,others not so. This has led to one-size-fits-all halls design: Richard Hampton’s stage cloth with a tree daubed on it, along with a brace of monkeys on the branches, and a Pride/rainbow-coloured band, sand and sea around the edge. On that perimeter are placed wooden boxes and chests, swept ashore from the storm.

Thorganby Village Hall’s interior is cream coloured and equipped with most welcoming facilities for serving tea and biscuits. Paul French’s Prospero takes a seat by the door as everyone enters, overseeing proceedings even before the start.

The lighting is of the harsh, stripped variety, beloved of such village halls since the Seventies. Director Philip Parr (of Parrabbola and York International Shakespeare Festival) had talked of touring with a rig for Ian Frampton’s lighting design but decided on keeping the Thorganby hall lights on. Not ideal, but them are the breaks, as a departing Prime Minister quaffed only the other week.

On first night, that denied The Tempest of one of its primary elements in a play as rooted in nature as Macbeth is. In its absence, sound and spectacle became more important, indeed the crux of Parr’s interpretation. Maybe lighting can further add to the atmosphere elsewhere.

Tom Jennings’s Stefano happens across Andrew Isherwood’s Caliban and Jodie Fletcher’s Trincula (covered) with the offer of a reviving stiff drink

One key asset of community productions is the potential for a large cast without the professional companies’ burden of having to pay actors. This manifests itself in the role of Ariel, the freedom-craving spirit.  Make that 17, yes, seventeen Ariels: any one of the 350 actors who had appeared in a YSP play had an open invitation from Parr to be part of The Ariel Collective.  

Good call! These restless Ariels are everywhere, seated on the boxes, or suddenly springing up to assault the reckless shipwrecked; sometimes speaking separately, sometimes together; scoffing at Caliban’s claim to own the island; mocking anyone with pretensions. Not only shape-shifting sprites, but voice-shifting too, they speak for the island, as much as they answer to Prospero.

In the two decades of YSP, this is one of the very best directorial innovations, rivalling Maggie Smales’s all-female Henry V.  A round of applause too, please, for Blacksmith Shop Crafts, in Foggathorpe, and cast members who conjured the Ariel costumes, as decorative as an African wedding.

Head of wardrobe Judith Ireland has overseen The Tempest’s array of costumery, whether dandy for Jacob Ward’s Ferdinand or elegant for French’s waistcoated Prospero or free-floating for Effie Warboys’ Miranda.

Young lovers: Jacob Ward’s Ferdinand and Effie Warboys’ Miranda

The all-important storm scene is drowned in sound, the multitude of Ariels kicking up a right swell of noise, through which Harry Summers’ Boatswain and Lara Stafford’s Gonzala must strive to be heard as they cling to the mast. Yes, words are lost, but they would be in a tempest.

Having already played Lear for YSP, now Paul French takes on Shakespeare’s other veteran role. He has no book of spells, no rod, he must craft his own magic, and his Prospero, the wronged, exiled Duke of Milan, is a man no longer wild with anger, but sanguine and aware of his fading powers in pursuance of revenge.

He prefers calm control, a quiet word, whether in proudly coaching young daughter Miranda (full of wonderment in Warboys’ turn) or seeking to tame Andrew Isherwood’s enslaved monster, Caliban, before administering forgiveness in a radiant glow.

Often too, French will pause for thought before delivering both sentence and his next sentence, always choosing the mellifluous when greater variation of tone could be explored.  

In his Northern Broadside actor-manager days, Barrie Rutter decried the convention of Shakespeare’s swansong play being very dark in hue, bringing in blues and yellows and jettisoning the black thunder and rough magic.

Swept ashore: Tony Froud’s prone Alonso and Lara Stafford’s Gonzala, attended to by Andrea Mitchell’s Antonia and Stuart Lindsay’s Sebastian

Parr has retained the thunder but matched Rutter, not only in the bright garb of the Ariel Collective, but also in the humour to be found in those Ariels and Ward’s love-struck Ferdinand, working up a sweat in the interval as he keeps moving the Ariels’ boxes, only for them to move them back (in a representation of collecting wood for Miranda).

Not for the first time in YSP colours, Jodie Fletcher mines the comedy to broadest effect in her Trincula, matched by Tom Jennings’s vainglorious, preening butler Stefano.

Nick Jones, with a dozen YSP productions to his name, combines Ariel duties with composer and musical director credits. He favours Early Music instrumentation and delivers one of the highlights of Parr’s production, the Masque, where Emma Scott and Nell Frampton, last seen as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, reveal pure singing voices as Ceres and Iris, joined by Tracey Rea, always a belting-good singer.

Like the play itself – the prog-rock final flourish to Shakespeare’s gilded career – YSP’s The Tempest is good in parts, underwhelming in others, but that Ariel Collective will live long in the memory.

What next for YSP? Apparently, they will be starting all over again, adding plays by the Bard’s contemporaries too. This represents a chance to shake, rattle and roll out Shakespeare in disparate ways, reflecting changing times through the years ahead and the changing character – and characters – of York too.

The first steps will be taken at YSP’s annual general meeting on October 26 at the Black Swan Inn when the “shadow” committee will table its proposals for the next phase and a and a new chair will be elected.

Box office: yorkshakespeareproject.org; Helmsley, 01439 771700 or helmsleyarts.co.uk; Selby, 01757 708449 or selbytownhall.co.uk; Goole, 01405 763652 or junctiongoole.co.uk; Acomb, eventbrite.com/e/the-tempest-tickets-400909710737; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Shakespeare Project to kick up storm on debut Yorkshire tour in The Tempest in magical finale to ambitious 20-year journey

Storm brewing: York Shakespeare Project cast members in rehearsal for Philip Parr’s production of The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

YORK Shakespeare Project completes its mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays inside 20 years with its first tour, staging The Tempest across North and East Yorkshire from tomorrow (Friday).

Once described by Professor Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute director at the University of Birmingham, as “the most ambitious amateur Shakespearean venture in the country”, the project has drawn 350 actors and 300 backstage crew since its debut with Richard III in 2002.

Parrabbola director Philip Parr, founding council member and chair of the European Shakespeare Festivals network and director of York International Shakespeare Festival, has the honour of overseeing YSP reaching its target with a company led by Paul French as Prospero, Effie Warboys as Miranda and Jacob Ward as Ferdinand.

“It’s the final fling, putting pressure on Philip and Paul,” says YSP chair Councillor Janet Looker, former Lord Mayor of York and a stalwart of the project since its inception in 2001.

“Certainly, it comes with issues of responsibility, not just for the production, but for the whole project,” says Philip. “I don’t think you can divorce the play from the event, or the nature of that event, the final production, so there’s a responsibility to those who first thought of doing it 20 years to bring it to a conclusion that feels right.

Lara Stafford’s Gonzala in rehearsal. Remember her Rosalind in As You Like It in the Residence Garden, York Minster, in July 2008 when she was Lara Pattison?

“It’s been impossible not to plan this production without thinking about the context of it being the end of this remarkable mission. We’ve been able to recruit a cast full of people who have performed in different YSP productions across the years, along with some who are performing with YSP for the first time.”

Fiona Mozley, 2017 Man Booker Prize-nominated author of Elmet, Hot Stew and Soho (AdN) had hoped to re-join the YSP ranks for The Tempest but is no longer able to add to her teenage performances in The Taming Of The Shrew and Love’s Labours Lost.

Bringing the stormy play’s island setting and disrupted world to life through communal storytelling in a new interpretation that highlights colonisation, reconciliation and change, The Tempest is an ideal grand finale, argues Philip.

“Shakespeare’s last play deals with many themes that are relevant both to this moment for YSP, but also ones that our society continues to grapple with today:  disconnection, corruption, reconciliation and the difficulty of generational change,” he says.

“I’m excited about the way we’re approaching telling this story, using the performing collective to create the island and the ‘magic’ that permeates it, and using the musical skills of many of the performers to ensure the ‘isle is full of noises’.

““Creating a sense of place in the audience’s mind is even more important in this play, because so much of it is storytelling, narration. There’s very little theatre in terms of dramatic events. People just talk a lot and you have to frame that up.”

Effie Warboys’ Miranda makes her point to Paul French’s Prospero in rehearsals for The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

The YSP committee had taken the decision to undertake a tour as the finale long before Philip was involved. “Originally, we’d always intended to do the last week at York Theatre Royal but the finances got too complex, so it was suggested, ‘well, let’s do something completely different’: a tour. Being at the Theatre Royal on the last night will be the icing on the cake,” says Janet.

“Doing this tour is an example of how YSP has never sat still but has always looked at new ways of doing  things, taking on new challenges dynamically.”

Philip adds: “It has a sense of reward for the project to finish at York Theatre Royal and to end with these eight performances, seven on the road, at six venues, concluding back in York. That’s more performances than many productions get; a two-week run with a big cast to present it.

“It’s a big commitment to make and it’s a tour that comes with different demands: some venues have stage exits, some don’t; some have lighting, some don’t, so we’ll be taking a small lighting rig to illuminate the stage.

“I haven’t been to all the venues. I’ve been to some, had video tours of some, but that’s not unusual for a tour. We’ve created a set that’s not difficult to grapple with too, fitting easily into each venue.”

York Shakespeare Project’s banner image for The Tempest

The cast will feature no fewer than 17 Ariel spirits, “The Ariel Collective” as they will be known. “You want to do a celebratory production, so I had a rule that said, ‘if you have been in a YSP production, you have the right to be Ariel’, and it’s been nice that so many people have come out of the woods!” says Philip.

Twenty years of YSP leads to this finale, a play that reflects on ageing, politics and leadership, acquiring knowledge, and the power of magic to transform. “The more experiences you bring into it, the more you see in the conversations about human nature and the chance the play gives to all the characters to go back to where they were but with new knowledge, just as we’d like to be able to go back 20 years but with the knowledge acquired in those years.

“The Tempest might have been Shakespeare wishing that too, and now it’s a treat to find that across all the characters. Because Shakespeare has learnt it all, he can do it all in this play at a time when everyone believed in magic.

“Part of what I was looking at was, if you don’t believe in magic, who is Ariel? By having so many Ariels, Ariel can be in anything that is there. They can make things happen, but in a natural way.”

Janet adds: “Having so many Ariels means they can project from all around the stage because is Ariel is never in only one place.”

Jacob Ward’s Ferdinand and Effie Warboys’ Miranda in a scene from York Shakespeare Project’s The Tempest. Dress rehearsal picture: John Saunders

Philip rejoins: “With so many voices, you have a spectrum from high soprano to low bass, and how Ariel speaks depends on Prospero’s tone. Then, if they want to tell him off, a lower voice will be used. Prospero has to learn that ruling is about husbanding your resources.”

Philip could not have been more thorough in his preparations for staging The Tempest. “I’ve seen 15 productions this year,” he says. “Three in Poland at the last Shakespeare festival there, which was all about The Tempest. Two in Rumania, one in Italy. A couple here, and more! I had to stop in the end, but every one of them has been an influence.

“You take ideas from past productions, then come up with a thousand ideas and throw 999 of them away.”

Janet says: “The actors then have to take it over and you can’t stop them at that point.” Philip agrees: “That ownership is important because you have to make a choice and then everyone needs to go with that decision. At each performance, that decision is inspired by all sorts of things: the audience, the space, the mood of the night, the actors.”

Twenty years, 37 plays in 35 productions, the mission is complete. Appropriately, the last word goes to Janet, the chair: “It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 20 years since our very first production. We thought we were being rather ambitious when we started – would we really be able to keep this going for 20 years? And we weren’t always sure we’d get there, especially with the events of the past two years.

The Ariel Collective confronting Stuart Lindsay’s Sebastian in the dress rehearsal at Thorganby Village Hall. Picture: John Saunders

“But the commitment of the many supporters who have participated in our productions over the years has seen us reach this last play. We always knew we wanted to finish with something special, and this tour and a finale at York Theatre Royal will be an exciting and unique experience for all the actors and crew, and will give us a chance to share not just the story of The Tempest, but the community ethos of York Shakespeare Project, with a much wider audience. It is a very fitting way to mark the end of this journey.”

The celebratory party the next day (October 2) will be well deserved.

York Shakespeare Project presents The Tempest on tour at Thorganby Village Hall tomorrow (23/9/2022), 7.30pm; Strensall and Towthorpe Village Hall, Saturday, 2.30, 7.30pm; Helmsley Arts Centre, September 27, 7.30pm; Selby Town Hall, September 28, 7.30pm; The Junction, Goole, September 29; Acomb Parish Church Hall, September 30, 7.30pm and  York Theatre Royal, October 1, 7.30pm. Box office: yorkshakespeareproject.org and venue box offices; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Shakespeare Project’s plot summary for The Tempest:

PROSPERO uses magic to conjure a storm and torment the survivors of a shipwreck, including the King of Naples and Prospero’s treacherous sister, Antonia. The embittered Caliban plots to rid himself of Prospero but is thwarted by the spirit Ariel.

The King’s young son Ferdinand, thought to be dead, falls in love with Prospero’s daughter Miranda. Their celebrations are cut short when Prospero confronts his sister and reveals his identity as the usurped Duke of Milan.

The cast comprises:

David Denbigh; Sonia Di Lorenzo; Jodie Fletcher; Nell Frampton; Paul French; Tony Froud; Emily Hansen; David Harrison; Bronte Hobson; Judith Ireland; Andrew Isherwood; Tom Jennings; Nick Jones; Stuart Lindsay; Michael Maybridge; Sally Maybridge; Sally Mitcham; Andrea Mitchell; Tim Olive-Besley; Megan Ollerhead; Tracy Rea; Eleanor Royse; Emma Scott; Julie Speedie; Lara Stafford; Harry Summers, Effie Warboys and Jacob Ward.

Production team:

Director, Philip Parr; assistant director, Terry Ram; stage managers, Janice Newton and David Harrison; musical director, Nick Jones.

History in the making as York Shakespeare Project completes mission to perform all 37 plays with plans to start all over again!

How it all began: John White’s production of Richard III at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in 2002. Picture: Jeremy Muldowney

YORK Shakespeare Project’s tour of The Tempest will complete “the most ambitious amateur Shakespearean venture in the country”.

Such is the judgement of Professor Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute director at the University of Birmingham, describing the mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays inside 20 years.

York Shakespeare Project (YSP) was formed in 2002 by a group of actors seeking to replace the challenge and excitement of taking part in the York Minster Millennium Mystery Plays in 2000.

Alan Lyons, an early chair of the project, described its origins in the programme for YSP’s first play, Richard III, staged at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from October 30 to November 2 2002. “There I was, sitting with Frank Brogan as he dreamt up the idea of the York Shakespeare Project. ‘It won’t work,’ I said. An hour later I changed my mind.

“Maybe I was captivated by the idea. Maybe it was Frank’s persuasive tongue. I am still not sure why. This show [Richard III] is the result of hard work and effort put in by a great number of people since Frank had his original idea.”

After a few years away, Frank Brogan is once more a member of the YSP committee that oversees the project. “In the early days, it was said that the actor who would play Miranda in our concluding production of The Tempest had yet to be born”, Frank recalls.

It almost worked out that way. University student Effie Warboys was not even three months old at the time of Richard III’s opening night in 2002. Now she has been cast by director Philip Parr as Miranda in a tour that adds up to eight performances, seven on the road, at six venues, climaxing at York Theatre Royal on October 1.

Janet Looker, YSP chair and former Lord Mayor of York, has seen every YSP play. “There have been so many memorable productions”, she says. “For 20 years, York Shakespeare Project has frequently surprised and delighted me with the wide variety of performances put on under its banner.

York Shakespeare Project’s 2019 production of Cymbeline. Picture: John Saunders

“So many highlights! A memorable Romeo And Juliet, set in the Fifties’ street gang culture with an amazing female Mercutio [Cecily Boys]: a bravura performance!

“As You Like It in the shade of York Minster, an outdoor production that used the trees and landscaping of the Minster garden to brilliant effect in creating the Forest of Arden – and a Rosalind [Lara Pattison] and Orlando [Toby Gordon] who were probably genuinely as young as the original concept.

“A funny, but moving outdoor production of Much Ado about Nothing, set in the immediate post-war era of the 1940s with Land Girls and ARP wardens and brilliantly evocative use of contemporary music.”

More highlights, Janet? “Hamlet in an old church with ghost and eavesdroppers appearing from behind gloomy pillars, and the background of a dim church around us.

“Henry VI – in two parts – in York’s Guildhall, a building older than the play, but less than a mile from the very gate where the Duke of York’s head was placed: “that York may overlook the stones of York”.

“A stunning all-women cast for Henry V, which was set during the First World War and movingly married the France through which Henry marched, with the trenches in Flanders Field. As an added bonus, one night it was acted on St Crispin’s Day, giving an added shiver to the famous speech.

“Henry VIII, set in King’s Manor, the house where Henry himself stayed when he visited the city, again adding an extra frisson.

“So many memories, and I look forward to adding The Tempest, our last production, to that list. Thank you a hundred times to YSP for giving one Shakespeare fan so much pleasure over the project.”

Toby Gordon: Progressed from York Shakespeare Project minor roles to playing the Devil in the 2016 York Mystery Plays at York Minster. Picture: T Figgins

Since 2002, more than 350 performers have taken part in the plays, aided by 300 backstage crew. Some have appeared only once, but one, retired lecturer Nick Jones, has made as many as 12 appearances. “The project was always a crazy but wonderful idea,” he says. “When I returned to York in 2010, it was already 15 plays in, so of course I couldn’t resist getting involved.

“It was never obvious that we would survive but here we are, approaching our last play, in which I’ve got a small part and am arranging the music. It’s been a unique experience.”

In the desire to avoid a clique, no company of regulars was ever established. Every play has started with genuinely open auditions, with each of the 24 directors being granted total discretion over casting.

YSP has been the stepping stone for many a York actor to move onto greater things. Toby Gordon progressed from minor parts in the 2007 production of Henry VI and a volatile Hotspur in the 2010 Henry IV to star as the Devil in the 2016 York Mystery Plays at York Minster.

He will be playing Joey in the final London run of The Guild of Misrule’s immersive staging of The Great Gatsby, produced by Immersive Everywhere at Gatsby’s Mansion within Immersive/LDN, in Mayfair, until January 7 2023.

Charlotte Wood, who played Cordelia in King Lear in 2016, will take the title role in Cinderella, this winter’s pantomime at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole.

After appearing for YSP in Maggie Smales’s Henry V in 2015 and Madeleine O’Reilly’s Coriolanus in 2018, Claire Morley is completing her hattrick of all-female Shakespeare productions in Chris Connaughton’s three-hander version of Macbeth for Northumberland Theatre Company, whose tour visits Pocklington Arts Centre on September 29.

Mediaevalist and 2017 Man Booker Prize-nominated author Fiona Mozley cites her appearances in YSP productions not only as an essential formative influence on her writing but as fun: “Aged 15, I was cast as Biondello in YSP’s second production, The Taming Of The Shrew. I had a great time and have fond memories of the rehearsals and performances,” says the writer of Elmet, Hot Stew and Soho (AdN) .

Claire Morley, centre, as Henry V in Maggie Smales’s all-female Henry V. Picture: Michael Oakes

“Early exposure to the arts is gold. We all know that the books we read as teenagers stay with us for life, and this is doubly true of acting in plays. I can vividly remember whole passages of the text and regularly think about the complex ideas Shakespeare was teasing out. I learnt a huge amount from my participation in YSP, not only The Taming Of The Shrew but also Love’s Labours Lost, and carry it with me in my own writing.”

Fiona had hoped to re-join the YSP ranks as part of the Collective Ariel (18 actors in total),  returning to the boards alongside her father Harold Mozley, who has been an active member of YSP for the past 20 years, but now neither Fiona, nor Harold, is able to do so.

Janet Looker looks back with pride and forward with optimism. “I’ll be passing on the baton to a new chair and a revitalised committee, which will take the project forward. Plans are in place. It’s not in our nature to sit on our laurels.

“The project will continue and intends to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays all over again, this time alongside the best of his contemporaries, and maybe some of the modern takes on the plays too. That might take a little longer. Maybe a 25- year project this time.

“This is the end of York Shakespeare Project One, completed with the odd slippage, given the impact of Covid, but there’s a very strong desire to take the project onwards with YSP Two. We have a very committed committee wanting to take on the next step.

“Some of us will bow out, but YSP Two will find its feet; the challenge is to keep driving it forward. We’ve never had a consistent committee, we’ve always had different people coming on board, but there’s always been a core vision. I look forward to supporting YSP, and particularly the younger faces very keen to give it new momentum.”

York Shakespeare Company’s productions

Richard III, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, October 30 to November 2 2002. Director: John White

The Taming Of The Shrew, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 13 and 14; Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 17 to 21 2003. Director: Paul Toy

The Comedy Of Errors, Friargate Theatre, York, December 3 to 6 2003. Director: Chris Rawson

Titus Andronicus, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 21 to 24 2004. Director: Paul Toy

Peter Watts’s Hamlet in John Topping’s 2013 production. Picture: John Saunders

Love’s Labours Lost, Friargate Theatre, York, December 1 to 11 2004. Director: Chris Rawson

Romeo And Juliet, Rowntree Park, York, July 13 to 24 2005. Director: Sarah Punshon

Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Friargate Theatre, York, November 29 to December 3 2005. Director: Ali Borthwick

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rowntree Park, York, July 19 to 30 2006. Director: Mark France

King John, Friargate Theatre, December 5 to 9 2006. Director: Jeremy Muldowney

Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 & 3, produced in two parts, York Guildhall, July 12 to 22 2007. Director: Mark France

As You Like It, Residence Garden, York Minster, July 16 to 27 2008. Director: Roger Calvert  

The Merchant Of Venice, Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 12 to 22 2008. Director: Cecily Boys

Julius Caesar, Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, June 10 to 20 2009. Director: Mark Smith

Richard II, Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 17 to 21 2009. Director: Hugh Allinson

Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York, July 29 to August 15 2010. Director: Tom Cooper

Much Ado About Nothing, Rowntree Park, York, June 29 to July 9 2011; The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, July 16 2011. Director: Paul Taylor-Mills

Troilus And Cressida, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 15 to 19 2011. Director: Paul Toy

The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Rowntree Park, York, June 25 to June 27, May 30 to Diamond Jubilee Tuesday, June 5 2012. Three performances rained off. The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, June 10 2012. Director: Tom Straszewski

Paul French’s Lear and Charlotte Wood’s Cordelia in Ben Prusiner’s King Lear in 2016. Picture John Saunders

Othello, York Theatre Royal Studio, October 23 to 27 2012. Director: Mark France

Hamlet, St Martin-cum-Gregory Church, Micklegate, York, July 18 to August 3 2013; The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, August 11 2013. Director: John Topping

Measure For Measure, Friargate Theatre, York, December 5 to 8 2013. Director: Matt Simpson

Twelfth Night, York Theatre Royal Studio, April 3 to 12 2014; The Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon, June 7 2014. Director: Mark Smith

All’s Well That Ends Well, Friargate Theatre, York, November 27 to 30 2014. Director: Maurice Crichton

Timon Of Athens, De Grey Rooms Ballroom, York, May 14 to 17 2015. Director: Ruby Clarke

Henry V, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, October 21 to 31 2015. Director Maggie Smales

Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, April 19 to 23 2016. Director: Sophie Paterson

King Lear, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, November 30 to December 10 2016. Director: Ben Prusiner

Henry VIII, King’s Manor, Exhibition Square, York, March 30 to April 1 2017. Director: Ben Prusiner

The Winter’s Tale, John Cooper Studio@41 Monkgate, York, October 24 to 28 2017. Director: Natalie Quatermass

The Two Noble Kinsmen, by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, De Grey Rooms Ballroom, York, May 2 to 5 2018. Director: Tom Straszewski

Coriolanus, Friargate Theatre, York, November 28 to December 1 2018. Director: Madeleine O’Reilly

Cymbeline, Merchant Taylors’ Hall, Aldwark, York, March 1 to 3 2019. Director: Ben Prusiner

Antony & Cleopatra, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York,  October 28 to November 2 2019. Director: Leo Doulton

Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 26 to 30 2021. Director: Leo Doulton

The Tempest, on tour, September 23 to October 1 2022. Director: Philip Parr

Did you know?

YORK Shakespeare Project’s tour of The Tempest is being accompanied by a retrospective exhibition in celebration of 20 years of YSP productions, running in the York Theatre Royal foyer until October 1. Admission is free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip says: “It’s impossible not to plan this production of The Tempest without thinking about the context of it being the end of this remarkable 20-year mission. We’ve been able to recruit a cast full of people who have performed in different YSP productions across the years, along with some who will be performing with YSP for the first time.”

Should you need a quick refresher course on The Tempest, a tragicomedy first staged on November 1 1611, here is YSP’s plot summary. Prospero uses magic to conjure a storm and torment the survivors of a shipwreck, including the King of Naples and Prospero’s treacherous sister, Antonia.

The embittered Caliban plots to rid himself of Prospero but is thwarted by the spirit Ariel. The King’s young son, Ferdinand, thought to be dead, falls in love with Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. Their celebrations are cut short, however, when Prospero confronts his sister and reveals his identity as the usurped Duke of Milan.

“The Tempest deals with many themes that are relevant both to this moment for YSP, but also ones that our society continues to grapple with today: disconnection, corruption, reconciliation and the difficulty of generational change,” says Philip.

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

“I’m excited about the way we’re approaching telling this story, using the performing collective to create the island and the ‘magic’ that permeates it, and using the musical skills of many of the performers to ensure the ‘isle is full of noises’. We can’t wait to share it with audiences this autumn.”

Janet Looker, chair of York Shakespeare Project – and 2019 Lord Mayor of York, Labour councillor for City of York Council’s Guildhall ward since 1985 and family lawyer to boot – says: “It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 20 years since our very first production. We thought we were being rather ambitious when we started: would we really be able to keep this going for 20 years?

“And we weren’t always sure we’d get there, especially with the events of the last two years. But the commitment of the many supporters who have participated in our productions over the years has seen us reach this last play.

“We always knew we wanted to finish with something special, and this tour and a finale at York Theatre Royal will be an exciting and unique experience for all the actors and crew, giving us a chance to share not just the story of The Tempest, but the community ethos of York Shakespeare Project, with a much wider audience. It’s a very fitting way to mark the end of this journey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: A Resurrection For York, York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, 3/7/2021

Emily Hansen’s Pilgrim as Mary Magdalene in A Resurrection For York. Picture: John Saunders

A Resurrection For York, Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York

HAPPENSTANCE may have led to this pandemic-delayed production being staged at the Residents Garden in Dean’s Park, but A Resurrection For York made a compelling case for the York Mystery Plays to take up residence there.

The gardens are self-contained, behind iron railings that facilitate curious passers-by taking a look; the acoustics are clear, without echo; the Minster bells chime on the quarter hour to both complement and compliment the atmosphere, and the setting is perfect for open-air theatre: spacious, green and on a hillock that cries out to be used for moments of high drama or an important monologue.

As Saturday morning’s audience gathered under grey clouds, Philip Parr’s cast members for this York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster tripartite production were already in situ for the first of six performances in two days.

The premise was that they were playing pilgrims, two canvas tents pitched at the back, everyone in walking boots, with roll-up sleeping mats, blankets, rucksacks and picnics in Enid Blyton retro brown paper bags.

Intentionally, community cast and community audience became indistinguishable: we were all in this together, albeit socially distanced; pilgrims all, gathered to tell each other stories, led by Nick Jones and Sally Maybridge’s exhorting narrators.

From this canvas would emerge Parr’s Pilgrims, dotted around the grass, some staying in that guise, others taking on specific roles, both alongside and on the two static wagons rolled out for significant scenes, one to set the cross in place.

The cross always will be the most potent symbol of the York Mystery Plays, and here it was especially central to Parr and 2018 York Mystery Plays director Tom Straszewski’s hour-long story, adapted from the Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed.

The most powerful image was in fact an absence, the dying Christ being represented instead by a shroud, wrapped around the cross pulled high by the grafting soldiers, one declaring himself too tired to finish the task in one of those brief interjections of humour that the Mystery Plays – the street theatre of its time – suddenly throw up.

The shroud became the motif woven through Parr’s production, daubed in blood, later folded up across a wagon to signify Christ’s body placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (Tony Froud), and then being worn by a tall, dark-haired figure, again emerging from the crowd.

In keeping with medieval tradition, the pilgrim playing Christ was not credited, although a reference to “plus David Denbigh” in the list supplied to CharlesHutchPress may indicate it was him.

Judith Ireland’s Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Emily Hansen’s Mary Magdalene stood out in a cast strong on diction and clear delivery. Music played its part too, largely acappella, choral or folk, with minimal accompaniment, and used sparingly but sung lustily or movingly.

What comes next? 2022 is very likely to see the York Mystery Plays being staged on wagons in June, maybe at the Residents Garden. Watch this space.

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.