YORK Shakespeare Project is to hold auditions next month for its first foray into staging a play by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
A diverse ensemble of 12 to 15 actors is sought for Christopher Marlowe’s intimate drama Edward II, to be staged by returning director Tom Straszewski at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York.
“We were delighted that Tom emerged from a strong field to be chosen as the director of the first non-Shakespeare play of YSP’s new project,” says chair Tony Froud.
“Strasz brings great knowledge and wide experience of directing Elizabethan and Jacobean drama and promises an innovative interpretation of Marlowe’s fascinating text.
“He previously directed The Merry Wives Of Windsor in 2012 and The Two Noble Kinsmen in 2018, now joining Paul Toy, Mark France and Ben Prusiner as three-time directors for YSP. We look forward to a memorable follow-up to Lucrece and Richard III, the first plays of phase two of YSP.”
In Marlowe’s historical tragedy, Edward II is finally king. Eager to bestow his gifts on those he loves, he calls back his exiled lover, Piers Gaveston. King, court and country are caught up in the heady atmosphere of their passions.
“This is a play about power and love – who has it, who gives it, who takes it, and who suffers for it,” says Tony. “For this production, we’ll begin by exploring the play through creative workshops, editing a script that reflects the people in the room.
“No characters will be cast until after this process: you will help decide this, alongside the director and rest of the ensemble.”
To audition, please complete this application form: https://forms.gle/DUGsmNVaLxkrJVZq5. To arrange your audition and/or if you have any questions, email Strasz at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating your preferred day(s) and time.
Auditions will take place in York at a venue yet to be confirmed on Tuesday, July 4 and Wednesday, July 5 at 6.30pm onwards and Saturday, July 8, 2pm onwards. “You’ll be asked to work in a small group on a short scene from the play,” says Tony.
“You will have the opportunity to review the play extract in advance of auditioning and do not need to learn a speech. All we want to see is how you work together and approach the text with adaptability and inventiveness.”
Those cast for YSP’s amateur production must be available for five evening/weekend workshops in late-July, the production week from October 15 to 22 and the majority of the rehearsal period.
“There will be two or three rehearsals per week between August and October, though you are unlikely to be required for every one,” says Tony. “If you are likely to be away for more than two weeks during the rehearsal period but are keen to audition, we’ll see if we can make this happen.”
YSP is seeking recruits for a technical team for make-up, sound, lighting, captions and videography too. If you can help, please email Strasz at email@example.com.
ROUND Two of York Shakespeare Project begins with the knockout punch of “the York play”, Richard III. Here come 37 Shakespeare plays in 25 years, plus works by his contemporaries, in the sequel to “the most ambitious project ever mounted on the York amateur theatre circuit”.
Can the second cycle of the First Folio plus one surpass such ambitions, fulfilled after 20 years with The Tempest tour last autumn? Surely there would be no point starting to re-climb this artistic Everest otherwise.
Certainly, Dr Daniel Roy Connelly, former diplomat, actor, writer, academic, podcaster and director home and abroad, is in a fighting mood to match Shakespeare’s Richard in his YSP debut after moving to York.
“The opportunity to re-boot YSP’s cycle of the canon was very attractive to me,” he said in his CharlesHutchPress interview this week. “I’m someone who always wants to go either first or last, to set the bar high or to leave everyone with something to go home with.”
As befits the True & Fair Party (“We all deserve better”) prospective parliamentary candidate for York Outer at the next General Election, Connelly has placed Richard’s winter of discontent in our “frenetic, calculating and brutal 21st century Westminster with its endless Machiavellian bloodletting and daily treacheries”.
This is rather more the world of Malcolm Tucker’s The Thick Of It than Jim Hacker’s Yes, Prime Minister, Connelly being in mischief-making mood with his use of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg memes and a photo montage of political fashion statements (Churchill, jogger BoJo and Hague’s baseball cap faux pas) on a video screen kept in regular use from its opening shot of the House of Commons benches and cry of “Order, order”.
Putin, Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping pop up on there too, as do PlantageNews headlines and social-media posts from media manipulators Richard, Duke Of Gloucester (Harry Summers) and the Duke of Buckingham (Rosy Rowley), updating on Richard’s progress to the throne and beyond.
Paranoia is everywhere, laptops constantly being tapped behind twitching drapes to each side of Richard Hampton, Jeremey Muldowney and Sarah Strong’s set design but always in view of the audience, in a merry-go-round of briefing and counter-briefing from the chairs’ ever-changing occupants.
Summers’ Richard, with his rock’n’roll quiff, oversized Harry Hill shirt collars and flamboyant cane, has a vaudevillian air, even a hint of Blockhead Ian Dury. For Shakespeare’s character assassination too, he has a stump of a left arm, a leg calliper and a facial scar, and like Ian McKellen’s film portrayal, he is pretty nifty with his only hand.
Summers’ Richard is less the wintry malcontent, more the ever-quotable narcissist who relishes the rough and tumble of politics with a Johnsonsian thick skin and lack of moral compass. He is darkness with the shrug-of-the-shoulders nonchalance of Cabaret’s Emcee and a love of breaking down theatre’s fourth wall for choice asides, almost too likeable in the manner of a camp panto villain.
Around him, amid the pinstripe suited superficial civility, spin furtive turns by Rowley’s Buckingham and Clive Lyons’s Lord Hastings and Frank Brogan’s fevered performance as a Yorkshire-voiced King Edward IV in a considerable casting upgrade from his Second Murderer/Messenger spear-carrying in John White’s Richard III in YSP’s 2002 debut!
Frankie Hayes (Sir William Catesby/Duchess of York), Jack Downey (an amusingly heartless Sir Richard Ratcliffe), Miranda Mufema (Lady Anne) and YSP’s new Nick Jones (a commanding Earl of Richmond) make their mark too. For stage presence, look no further than Thomas Jennings’s crop-haired hitman, relishing every cull with a glint in his eye and the click of his mobile phone camera.
Eli Cunniff’s costume designs, red and white buttonhole roses et al, together with Connelly’s spot-on soundbite selection of blues, jazz and more, underscore the noir vib, as the cultural references keep a’coming.
Cue a drunken chamber the morning after Richard’s coronation (a la lockdown “parties” at Number 10); Richard calling out to Alexa for answers as much as his kingdom for a horse in his hour of need, and Richard and Richmond sporting stab vests in white and red in the style of Banksy’s Union Flag design for Stormzy at Glastonbury.
Connelly conducts parliamentary business briskly, no prevaricating here, before the first-night pace and focus slips at the battlefield finale until Jones’s Richmond steers the reins in the home straight in more classical Bard style.
Throughout, Friargate Theatre’s compact, close-up stage feels crammed to the gills, especially with the shadowy figures in the wings, adding a noose of claustrophobia to Richard’s tyranny in Connelly’s state-of-the-nation’s rotten politics report. As promised, he does indeed “leave everyone with something to go home with”.
York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights.
THE first production of York Shakespeare Project’s second cycle of Shakespeare plays opens on Wednesday, directed by York newcomer Dr Daniel Roy Connelly.
As when YSP began its 20-year mission to present all the Bard’s works with John White’s Elizabethan production of Richard III at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in 2002, so “the York play” will be the opening act of a 25-year new project, this time at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival.
Dr Connelly, newly moved to the city, is at the helm, having acted and directed in places as diverse as Rome, the United States, the Edinburgh Festival and Shanghai, where his 2009 production of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly was forced to close by the Chinese secret police.
This is but one highlight from the diverse career of the former British diplomat (or “Foreign Office office boy” as he calls himself on his podcast). Step forward: theatre director. Actor. Poet. Author. Professor. Teacher. Prospective parliamentary candidate. That all adds up to a polymath.
Now, leading off YSP’s new era of staging Shakespeare’s First Folio and plays by his contemporaries, Dr Connelly is taking on “Shakespeare’s astonishing depiction of Richard III as both physically and mentally deformed, and, as a result, inherently evil”.
His modern-day makeover is set in a frenetic, calculating and brutal 21st century Westminster with its endless Machiavellian bloodletting and daily treacheries. In his contemporary vision, Richard and Buckingham excel as social-media manipulators within a world of warring political parties. “In the shadowy corridors of power, everyone is culpable,” he says.
While on the subject of politics, Dr Connelly will be the prospective parliamentary candidate for the True & Fair Party for York Outer at the next General Election.
To catch a flavour of his philosophy on life, head to The Anarchist Monastery, the podcast he co-presents with Hugh Bernays, the York artist and craftsman who believes “it is better to work under-cover”, although he does surface to do a weekly show.
Here Dr Connelly discusses Richard III, the play, the rotten reputation and relationship with York, York Shakespeare Project, York International Shakespeare Festival, diplomacy, 21st century politics and podcasting with CharlesHutchPress.
What brought you to York after such an itinerant career, Daniel?
“My son moved here from Rome four years ago. I miss him enormously and it was time to pack up and follow him substantively. And what a beautiful city to find myself in…”
Why did Shakespeare give Richard such a sour portrait when York and the Richard III Society view him much more favourably and therefore feel antipathy towards the Bard’s characterisation?
“Thirty years after Richard’s death, Sir Thomas More, the Tudor statesman and Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, described Richard as ‘malicious, wrathfull, envious, and from afore his birth, ever frowarde’. He was also ‘close and secrete, a deepe dissimuler’. Hardly a glowing reference.
“Elizabeth I – the last of the Tudors – was the granddaughter of Henry VII, who vanquished Richard at Bosworth Field. Politically, Richard’s characterisation had for long been warped and Shakespeare wrote in line with the various 16th-century mythologies.
“His portrait of Richard III may not serve the interests of history, but then that’s hardly the concern of a master storyteller on the stage. So, while I have some sympathy for the Ricardians and the people of York over Shakespeare’s unsubtle appropriation of Richard’s character, drama loves conflict and the best dramatists, put simply, make stuff up to enable it.
“The best remedy, then, would be for the pro-Richard camp to write the play they believe Richard deserves.”
As a former diplomat yourself, how do you think Shakespeare’s Richard III would have fared in the diplomatic services. Would his skill set be suitable or unsuitable?
“It’s said that a diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip. As such, and in the service of government, diplomacy is a career that upholds dissimulation.
“In Shakespeare’s Richard we see a master of guile, no more so than when he speaks of clothing his naked villainy in order to ‘seem a saint, when most I play the devil’. ‘Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,’ he says in the immediately prior play Henry VI, Part 3. With that kind of skill set, he’d be an absolute high-flyer in the Diplomatic Service.”
What attracted you to working with York Shakespeare Project, as the outset of the 25-year phase two?
“The opportunity to re-boot YSP’s cycle of the canon was very attractive to me. I’m someone who always wants to go either first or last, to set the bar high or to leave everyone with something to go home with.
“YSP have been very supportive of my attempts to bring a contemporary Richard to the stage – I have a stellar cast and crew – and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a partnership that has worked very well. I have nothing but enthusiasm for YSP’s commitment to producing Shakespeare’s remarkable output.”
Discuss how Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen’s screen portraits – 40 years apart – of Richard as “a petty, narcissistic and vengeful psychopath” have prompted you to stage a modern-day Richard III in the House of Commons to highlight parallels with the politics and politicians of today.
“If the above clutch of adjectives sounds familiar, we need look no further than contemporary British politics, which is why I have decided to set my version in our parliament.
“Telling Shakespeare’s Richard through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the country, the play – and I hope my interpretation of it – explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown.
“I believe that a parliamentary production of Richard III is not only long overdue, it’s also bang on time. Prepare, then, for British politics as played out, murderously, on the floor of the house.”
This production forms part of the York International Shakespeare Festival, and you have experienced an international career as a diplomat and theatre director. What makes Shakespeare’s work so universal?
“I’ve seen Shakespeare performed across the globe in many cultures and languages. I’ve also taught his work in America, Europe and Asia. Actors and students well know there’s never been a storyteller like him.
“Shakespeare takes our humanity, creates recognisable conflict in recognisable people, which often – in tragedy at least – leads to dire consequences. He also shows us what love is and what love isn’t, hate too, and what loss means and how joy and comedy can elevate our lives. In doing so, he expands our understanding of what makes us human and offers us ready advice as to how we can survive such a troubling condition.
“In 2012, Shakespeare’s Globe in London produced 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 languages, including Maori, Swahili, Pashto and Mandarin. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals 140 Shakespeare festivals in the United States alone. It’s hard to argue against that kind of reach and durability. He’s doing something right for sure.”
What are the tenets of the True and Fair Party, for whom you are the prospective parliamentary candidate for York Outer?
“There’s no point in continuing to drink from the well if the water is poisoned. Essentially, Gina Miller’s True & Fair Party came into being to clean up the UK’s polluted politics and to propel national governance into the 21st century, with more accountability, openness, and a focus on a kinder, more empathic way of doing business.
“The party also has a broad swath of unique and compelling manifesto commitments, such as introducing legally binding contracts for MPs, switching to the proportional representation the country is crying out for, or banning the sale of alcohol on the parliamentary estate.
“But first and foremost, the party is committed to disinfecting our country’s political slurries and to showing the electorate that not all politicians are in it for themselves; that there is desire and energy for meaningful change.
“These are the tenets that drew me to True & Fair, and so I’d like to show the voters of York Outer that a better, more compassionate and caring way is possible.”
What topics do you discuss with Hugh Bernays in a typical episode of your made-in-York weekly podcast The Anarchist Monastery?
“Hugh and I have just started our podcasting journey in a place we call The Anarchist Monastery, where we have a weekly discussion of our lives here in York – both of us as outsiders, one long-standing and one newbie.
“We also chat about my many global travels, our mental health and our lives as lovers of history, theatre and literature. All in all, it’s an interrogation of wayfaring. We’re learning all the time about what’s needed to make a successful podcast and we’re having a blast doing it.”
York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, April 26 to 29, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights.
Introducing: The Anarchist Monastery podcast
THE Anarchist Monastery is not so much a building, more a state of mind, one shared by craftsman and resident Hugh Bernays and Dr Daniel Roy Connelly, a visitor, teacher, theatre director and author.
From the 2000-year-old-city of York, Hugh and Daniel interrogate each another to try to ascertain who we are and how we got here, probing little known histories of this beautiful city in search of where ‘here’ really is.
“If you’re the kind of person who values the use of the imagination and likes to take the road less travelled in coming to an understanding of the world, The Anarchist Monastery is the podcast for you. Don’t be late – join the siblinghood,” they say.
SHAKESPEARE all shook up, a trio of musicals, a singular Magic Number, orchestral Potter and Tolkien and rocking Goths put Charles Hutchinson’s week ahead in good shape.
Dance show of the week: Strictly Ballroom The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees
STRICTLY Come Dancing champ Kevin Clifton is joined by Dancing On ice runner-up and Coronation Street soap star Faye Brookes in Baz Luhrmann’s Australian romantic comedy musical.
Directed by Strictly’s Aussie-born judge Craig Revel Horwood, it follows rebellious ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Clifton) as he falls out with the Australian Federation and finds himself dancing with Fran (Brookes), a beginner with no moves at all. Inspired by one another, this unlikely pairing gathers the courage to defy both convention and families. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Festival of the week and beyond: York International Shakespeare Festival, various venues, running until May 1
THIS festival’s fifth edition combines more than 40 live events with others online, taking in international, national and York-made performances, talks, workshops, exhibitions and discussions.
Look out for the Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre, from Ukraine, performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (April 28); Flabbergast Theatre’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth (April 26); artists from Poland, Croatia and Romania and Tim Crouch’s exploration of King Lear in a post-pandemic world, virtual-reality head set et al, in Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel (April 29). For the full programme and tickets, go to: yorkshakes.co.uk.
Soundtracks of the week: The Music Of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit and The Rings Of Power In Concert, York Barbican, Monday, 4pm; The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert, Monday, 8pm
THIS brace of concerts has been rearranged from April 6 to 24, both featuring a symphonic orchestra, choir, star soloists and an original actor. The first, a two-hour matinee celebrating the music inspired by the work of J R R Tolkien, spans the threatening sounds of Mordor, the shrill attack of the black riders and the beautiful lyrical melodies of the elves.
The second showcases the Harry Potter film soundtracks by John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat, complemented by music from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child stage show. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
“Petty, narcissistic and vengeful psychopath” of the week: York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee
PHASE Two of York Shakespeare Project, projected to run for 25 years, is launched with former British diplomat Daniel Roy Connolly’s modern-day account of “the York play”, Richard III, set amid the frenetic, calculating and brutal politicking of the House of Commons.
“Telling Shakespeare through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the country, the play explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown,” he says. Harry Summers leads the cast. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights.
Low-key gig of the week: An Evening With Romeo Of The Magic Numbers, Fulford Arms, York, Sunday, 7.30pm
O ROMEO, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo Stodart on Sunday night? The lead vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter of indie rockers The Magic Numbers will be in lonesome mode at the Fulford Arms. Expect Magic Numbers gems and equally magic numbers from 2011 solo album The Moon And You. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.
Bewitching show of the week: NE in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee
STEPHEN Sondheim’s darkly witty musical is a grown-up twist on the classic fairytales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack And The Beanstalk, here narrated by NE director Steve Tearle.
After the curse of a once-beautiful witch (Pascha Turnbull) leaves a baker (Chris Hagyard) and his wife (Perri-Ann Barley) childless, they venture into the woods to find the ingredients needed to reverse the spell. Encounters with all manner of fairytale favourites ensue, each on a quest to fulfil a wish. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Musical premiere of the week: Gus Gowland’s Mayflies, York Theatre Royal, April 28 to May 13, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees
THREE into two will go when York Theatre Royal stages the world premiere of resident artist Gus Gowland’s musical Mayflies, wherein he explores how people present different versions of themselves in relationships and how it can then all come crashing down.
Three actors, Nuno Queimado (May), Rumi Sutton (May/Fly) and Emma Thornett (Fly), will alternate the roles, with each pairing offering a different perspective on the relationships within this contemporary love story, traced by Gowland from first flourish on a dating app to the last goodbye in person. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Goth gathering of the week: Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival Spring Gathering 2023, Whitby Pavilion, Whitby, April 28 and 29
BACK in black in the home of Dracula, Whitby’s premier gothic music and alternative arts festival returns with headline appearances by Cold Cave (April 28) and New Model Army (April 29) and a Friday club night into the early hours by Leeds living legends Carpe Noctum.
The Friday bill features a rare performance from American goth rock special guests Christian Death, alongside sets by The Rose Of Avalanche and Siberia. Saturday features special guests Lebanon Hanover, Ist Ist and The Nosferatu. Box office: ticketweb.uk.
AS in 2002, York Shakespeare Project launches a mission to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays with Richard III, staged at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, from April 26 to 29.
The first cycle concluded with a tour of The Tempest last September, and now YSP has initiated a bold endeavour to combine Shakespeare’s works with the best of his contemporaries over the next 25 years.
Esteemed York thespian John White directed YSP’s debut production of Richard III in Elizabethan garb at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from October 30 to November 2 2002.
In contrast, Daniel Roy Connelly’s 2023 incarnation of “the York play”, part of the York International Shakespeare Festival, is rooted firmly in the 21st century. His production is set in a frenetic, calculating and brutal Westminster, with endless Machiavellian bloodletting and daily treacheries.
Connelly espouses that the England of Richard III could hardly be closer to today’s political minefield. “Telling Shakespeare through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the county, the play explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown,” he contends.
“I believe that a parliamentary telling of Richard III is not only long overdue, it’s also bang on time. Prepare then for British politics as played out, murderously, on the floor of the House of Commons.”
Audiences may find Connelly’s contemporary vision remarkably familiar. Richard and Buckingham excel as social media manipulators within a world of warring political parties. In the shadowy corridors of power, everyone is culpable.
Richard’s watchword? “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain”.
Making his YSP bow, Connelly is a former British diplomat, theatre director, actor, author and academic. He has acted in and directed theatre in the United States, the UK, Italy and China, where his 2009 production of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly was forced to close by the Chinese secret police.
In his cast will be: Harry Summers as Richard, Duke of Gloucester/Richard III; Rosy Rowley, Duke of Buckingham; Miranda Mufema, Lady Anne; Emily Hansen, Queen Margaret; Andrea Mitchell, Queen Elizabeth; Frankie Hayes, Duchess of York/Sir William Catesby, and Matt Simpson, Duke of Clarence.
So too will be: Jack Downey, Sir Richard Ratcliffe; Clive Lyons, Lord Hastings; Michael Peirce, Young York/Lord Grey/Murderer; Nell Frampton, Prince Edward/Rivers; Frank Brogan, King Edward IV/Stanley; Thomas Jennings, Sir James Tyrell; Nick Jones, Earl of Richmond; James Tyler, Archbishop, and Anna Kedge, Marquis of Dorset.
Tickets for the 7.30pm evening performances and 2.30pm Saturday matinee are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights and on 01904 655317.
YORK Shakespeare Project will mark Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23 with three performances of Lucrece, a semi-staged version of his early narrative poem The Rape Of Lucrece, at Friargate Theatre, York.
Its original production was set to play at the Mansion House in April 2020 as a culminating feature of then YSP chair Councillor Janet Looker’s year as Lord Mayor, until the pandemic lockdown enforced its postponement.
Now it will be presented under Elizabeth Elsworth’s direction in performances at 2.30pm and 6pm on Sunday and 6pm on Monday as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival.
By the time of the poem’s publication in 1594, Shakespeare already had written the three parts of Henry VI, Two Gentlemen Of Verona and Richard III. When an outbreak of the plague caused a Tudor lockdown that closed London’s theatres, Shakespeare turned to poetry, exploring the theme of misplaced desire in Venus And Adonis and again in Lucrece, as it was entitled on the original frontispiece.
Extremely successful in his lifetime, these poems established Shakespeare as a poet but are rarely heard today. Just as his plays are celebrated for giving extraordinary life to their characters and stories, so he charts the inner worlds and challenges of the characters in The Rape Of Lucrece.
In doing so, he gives voice to the unspeakable, his writing taking his audience to the heart of the matter. A voice is heard and actions will have consequences. In verse both gripping and heartfelt, he depicts an action resonating beyond Lucrece herself as she faces life-changing questions. How do you speak to power? To whom do you complain?
Lucrece speaks to the “MeToo” generation about situations and decisions that touch lives so deeply in a rare opportunity to experience Shakespeare’s writing at it most poignant and immediate.
Making her directorial debut, Elizabeth Elsworth has been a familiar face in many YSP productions, notably playing Katherine in Henry VIII in 2017 and Cleopatra in Antony And Cleopatra in 2019.
Emma Scott, who played Macbeth in Leo Doulton’s 2021 production of “the Scottish play”, takes the title role of Lucrece, alongside Stuart Lindsay as Tarquin; Diana Wyatt, Maid/Narrator; Judith Ireland, Player Queen/Narrator; Catherine Edge, Brutus/Narrator; Paul French, Lucretius/Narrator; Jay Wadhawan, Collatine and a female chorus of Sally Mitcham, Sonia De Lorenzo and Lydia McCudden.
Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights or 01904 655317.
REHEARSALS are under way for Richard III, the first production of York Shakespeare Project’s phase two.
Dr Daniel Roy Connelly’s cast will be led by Harry Summers in the winter-of-discontent role of Richard Duke of Gloucester/Richard III.
Further roles will go to Rosy Rowley, Duke of Buckingham; Miranda Mufema, Lady Anne; Emily Hansen, Queen Margaret; Andrea Mitchell, Queen Elizabeth; Frankie Hayes, Duchess of York/Sir William Catesby; Matt Simpson, Duke of Clarence, and Jack Downey, Sir Richard Ratcliffe.
Clive Lyons will play Lord Hastings; Michael Peirce, Young York/Lord Grey/Murderer; Nell Frampton, Prince Edward/Rivers; Frank Brogan, King Edward IV/Stanley; Thomas Jennings, Sir James Tyrell; Nick Jones, Earl of Richmond; James Tyler, Archbishop, and Anna Kedge, Marquis of Dorset.
As was the case when YSP began its 20-year mission to present all 37 of the Bard’s works with the 2002 production of Richard III at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, so Richard III will be the opening play once more, this time at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York from April 26 to 29.
A newcomer to York, theatre director, actor, poet, professor and former British diplomat Dr Connelly is at the helm after directing in places as diverse as Shanghai, Rome, America and the Edinburgh Festival. He will refract Richard’s turbulent tale of politics, power and corruption through today’s lens.
Richard III will be one of two YSP productions at the 2023 York International Shakespeare Festival, along with Liz Elsworth’s semi-staged version of Shakespeare’s narrative poem The Rape Of Lucrece.
YSP begins a new chapter in 2023 with a 25-year project to stage not only those plays again, but also the best works by his Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporaries.
PHASE two of York Shakespeare Project (YSP) begins tonight with a staged rehearsed reading of Edward III upstairs at the Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, at 7.30pm.
This rarely performed 1592 history play is now widely accepted as a collaboration between William Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, replete with its celebration of Edward’s victories over the French, satirical digs at the Scots and depiction of the Black Prince.
Rehearsed February readings will be a regular part of YSP’s broadened remit to include work by the best of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, alongside a second staging of all his works, over the next 25 years.
Tony Froud’s cast will be led by Pick Me Up Theatre luminary Mark Hird in the title role. “At short notice, I’ve been able to bring together a strong cast that mixes YSP stalwarts, such as Liz Elsworth and Emma Scott, with new faces to us, such as Mark,” says Tony.
Hird’s King Edward will be joined by Elsworth’s Derby and Queen Philippa; Scott’s Gobin de Grey, Villiers, Frenchman 3 and Captain; Ben Thorburn’s Prince Edward; Nell Frampton’s Warwick and Salisbury; Bill Laverick’s Audley and Messenger and Stuart Lindsay’s Lodowick, Frenchman 4 and King David.
In the company too are: Sally Mitcham’s William Montague, Jon Copland, Herald 1, Frenchman 2 and Earl Douglas; Joy Warner’s Squire, Artois and Frenchman 1; Tom Jennings’s Herald 2 and Prince Charles; Jodie Fletcher’s Herald 3, Lorraine, Mariner and Messenger 2; Harry Summers’ King John and Lara Stafford’s Prince Philip and Countess Salisbury.
“It will be a one-night-only show, following the pattern of Ben Prusiner’s season of John Fletcher comedies and Jim Paterson’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which showed the impressive quality of performance that can be achieved in a short time by a good cast,” says Tony.
“The rehearsed reading puts a great emphasis on the language, so do come along to meet some colourful characters and hear some fabulous language in a plot that will take you from London to Calais via Northumberland and Crecy.”
YSP completed its mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays within 20 years with last September’s tour of The Tempest, but it had long been decided the project would continue. “The committee made the decision after about 15 years that YSP would do another cycle,” recalls Tony.
Why do Phase two? “Shakespeare is always relevant and will always find a new audience, and YSP will continue to find new ways to present Shakespeare suitable to the times,” says Tony.
“We will always be open to challenging ways of performing Shakespeare, like we did for Maggie Smales’s all-female Henry V.
“When you think that YSP’s first production of Richard III was in 2002, 21 years later we will look at politics, power and corruption through today’s lens in our new Richard III in April. All those things will be pertinent to anyone who has had their eye on Westminster in the last few years.”
More than 300 actors have performed in YSP productions to date. “It’s a matter of principle that we always have open auditions for our directors and our actors, so we ensure that we’re open to new ideas and new talent,” says Tony.
“That will continue with Dr Daniel Roy Connelly’s cast of 16 for Richard III, which will be a rich mix of faces familiar and new. We’ve often gained from our association with York’s universities and that will again be reflected in this cast.”
Tony welcomes the decision to expand YSP’s brief in phase two. “It’s very exciting to open up the opportunity to perform the best writing of the time beyond Shakespeare to see how his contemporaries have contributed to that extraordinary period of dramatic writing,” he says.
“We’ll be doing that when we put on Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, and also through the annual series of rehearsed readings, which will allow us to explore less commercial texts too.”
Next year’s plays are scheduled to be on the theme of the Plantagenets. “It will be interesting to see what ideas come up for combining Shakespeare’s plays in different ways to phase one,” says Tony.
YSP will be looking to add new sites too. “Like we did outdoors at Holy Trinity Church and the Bar Convent [Living Heritage Centre], which both made very atmospheric venues for our Sonnets shows,” says Tony. “Doing Edward III upstairs at the Black Swan is another example of doing that.
“We plan to open up to new audiences, especially in the summer when we do the Sonnets, and we’ll look to do more of what we did on the outdoor space at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.”
Since last October’s annual general meeting, a new committee of nine has been in place. “The likes of Frank Brogan and Janet Looker, who had seen the original project through to its completion, decided to take a well-earned rest from their long involvement.
“Now we have a committee of mainly young members, who will be bringing a lot of energy and new ideas,” says Tony, 68, who will represent the older brigade alongside Sam Valentine. “Hopefully a lot of the younger members will still be involved in 25 years’ time.”
York Shakespeare Project has charity status and its shows must keep a tight rein on budgets. “We have to be very careful with our finances. Very few of our Shakespeare productions have made a profit, so we have to be creative and look elsewhere to ensure our continued success,” says Tony.
“The directors receive an honorarium, but outside that role, we rely on the talents and generosity of a host of volunteers for each production.”
Tickets for tonight’s 7.30pm performance cost £5 on the door or at eventbrite.com/e/edward-iii-tickets-518511741577. Looking ahead, Dr Daniel Roy Connelly’s debut YSP production of Richard III at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, will run from April 26 to 29.
DR Daniel Roy Connelly is to direct the first production of York Shakespeare Project’s second cycle of Shakespeare plays.
As was the case when YSP began its 20-year mission to present all the Bard’s works with the October-November 2002 production of Richard III at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, so Richard of York’s winter of discontent will be the opening play once more, this time at Friargate Theatre from April 26 to 29.
Dr Connelly, a newcomer to York, will be at the helm, having directed in places as diverse as Shanghai, Rome, America and the Edinburgh Festival.
This former British diplomat, theatre director, actor, poet and professor will hold auditions at Southlands Methodist Church, in Bishopthorpe Road, on January 10 and 11, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm, and January 14, 2pm to 5pm.
“If you want to audition, but these dates don’t suit, please indicate on the form and we will see what we can do,” advises YSP’s Facebook notice.
Richard III will be one of two YSP productions at the 2023 York International Shakespeare Festival. Auditions for a semi-staged version of Shakespeare’s narrative poem The Rape Of Lucrece, directed by Liz Elsworth, will take place in late-January.
This autumn, YSP completed its goal of performing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays with its 35th production and first tour: Philip Parr’s production of The Tempest, whose travels concluded at York Theatre Royal on October 1.
YSP begins a new chapter in 2023 with a 25-year project to stage not only those plays again, but also the best works by his contemporaries.
“This expanded remit allows both for a new generation-spanning mission to perform the whole canon of Shakespeare’s works, alongside a wider vision of celebrating and sharing Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre with new audiences,” says YSP.
Guy Fawkes, Rumours and Rebels season, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly plus 2pm, Thursday and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
FOR all the teeth-breaking toffee apples, pumpkin soup, fizzing fireworks and sausages – two forms of bangers, if you will – we take Guy Fawkes very seriously in York, more so than that scoundrel Dick Turpin. Born in this city, Christened at St Michael le Belfrey, no effigy burns on Bonfire Night at his old school, St Peter’s (likewise in Scotton, where Fawkes lived in his teenage years).
Yet just as he was mocked for his affected moniker Guido Fawkes, he is ridiculed for the ultimate incompetence of the Gunpowder Plot that ended with the treasonous traitor’s execution in January 1606, along with the hanging, drawing and quartering of his fellow conspirators. Cue comedic stereotyping of Popish knave Fawkes down the centuries.
Like the bungling incompetents in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 crime thriller Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Fawkes’s story lends itself to black comedy, but like Vinnie Jones’s notorious line, “it’s been personal” for York-born writer and actor David Reed.
He first wrote a radio drama of Guy Fawkes for The Penny Dreadfuls, his troupe of purveyors of historical comedy spoofs, aired in 2009 on BBC Radio 4. Director Gemma Fairlie thought it should transfer to the stage, and rather later than first planned, it now forms Reed’s first stage play, billed as “an explosive new comedy”, one that takes the form of interlocking sketches more than a play in full flow, on Carla Goodman’s revolve set (to signify revolution).
Reed and Fairlie decided it should seek to weave together the two faces of theatre – comedy and tragedy – by combining high farce in the manner of Blackadder, Upstart Crow and Monty Python with the pathos of the futility-of-war finale to Blackadder Goes Forth, forever entrenched in the memory, like the poems of Owen and Sassoon. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder? Seriously serious. One barrel of home brew among them. Comedy! The play seeks a more even balance, but ultimately to the detriment of both, never becoming a tragicomedy.
Lace in brief, witty bursts of metatheatre, referencing Shakespeare’s King Lear, the audience’s changing standards of theatre attire and a nod to Covid naysayers, dismissing the Plague as “a hoax”. Apply Horrible Histories’ flair for debunking history. Toss in a sword fight with The Three Musketeers panache. Crumbs, so much to play with, to squeeze in, so many elements to rub against each other, like sticks to start a fire. More of which later.
A pre-show chat with York actress Florence Poskitt, of musical comedy duo Fladam, and her father revealed he had once written a comedic musical version of Guy Fawkes. So many possibilities, and yes, this Guy Fawkes has music, of the incidental variety in the Jacobean style, by composer and sound designer Eamonn O’Dwyer.
The way it plays out, Reed’s Fawkes treacherous trigger man is the grave one, driven by the detremination to return Roman Catholicism to the throne by blowing up Westminster, haunted by seeing the pregnant Catholic martyr Margaret Clitherow compressed to death in York, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder from years of fighting in Spain, and now hell-bent on death and destruction back home.
Whereas Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder is a cynic, full of putdowns, Reed’s Fawkes is already too damaged to be a clown with a frown. Darkness to the light around him, let others do the historical mockery; he is a man on a mission, and Reed wants us to better understand his motives, to tell his side of the story, to highlight his tragic flaws, rather than merely decry him as a pantomime villain, just as the Richard III Society seeks to paint a fuller picture of another derided son of York, Richard III, to counter the slings and arrows of Shakespeare’s play.
Fawkes is the northern late arriviste to a bunch of southern-softie amateurs: revolutionary fops who gather regularly at their local to discuss and plot James I’s overthrow, keener on the snacks and the gossip than getting the job done under stressed-out, coffee bean-chewing ringleader Robert Catesby (a delightfully nuanced, dyspeptic comedic turn from Robin Simpson, continuing his run of superb autumn performances after a trio of roles in Harrogate Theatre’s H2 Rep season).
Broader comedy is to be mined in Greg Haiste’s blustering, preening Thomas Percy, aping Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart with chutzpah; Northern Broadsides favourite Andrew Pollard’s more melancholic, thwarted idealistThomas Winter (of discontent), donning a bear’s costume as a forlorn distraction, and Jamie Zubairi’s camp Kit Wright, still in thrall to Fawkes from York schooldays.
Guy Fawkes is two clashing plays within one, matched by the theatricality of Goodman’s costumes, with the gap being bridged by Cassie Vallance’s Martha Percy, Fawkes’s rekindled love from yore, who begins as a riff on Blackadder’s Queenie, but grows to match Fawkes’s political zeal. Their showdown is Reed’s best scene, one that shows the alternative direction that this play could have taken from the start, potentially far more combustible, more dramatic too, for being more troubled, like Fawkes himself.
Ironically, both in Reed’s script and Fairlie’s direction, the comedy is the play’s stronger suit, but as the plot thickens, the gunpowder never catches fire. Or rather, when it briefly does, symbolically it is stamped out.
Maybe the truth is Guy Fawkes could never be a tragic hero, such were his intentions, but when Reed’s Fawkes says at the close “God, I’m weird”, no-one laughs. In an out-and-out comedy, you would, but the line belongs in a wholly darker drama.
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, 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.