YORK Shakespeare Project is to hold auditions for its new season of Shakespeare Sonnets on June 11 from 1pm and June 13 from 6.30pm at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York.
“It’s an opportunity for people to dip their toe into Shakespeare in a really enjoyable and proven format,” says director Tony Froud. “Each actor develops a character guided by Helen Wilson’s script and my direction.
“It’s not too big a commitment and there are only 14 lines of Shakespeare to navigate with lots of support on offer. We’ll be delighted to welcome both new faces and past sonneteers.”
YSP’s Sonnet productions have been staged variously in Dean’s Park, behind York Minster; the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate; in Sonnet Walks on York’s streets and in the Bar Convent’s secret garden.
“This year we will again be bringing our audience into the Bar Convent garden, this time to witness the comings and goings of the visitors and staff of a York hotel. It will be surprisingly similar to and yet curiously unlike the Bar Convent,” says Tony.
Rehearsals will run from June 25, leading to performances from Friday, August 11 to Saturday, August 19 at 6pm and 7.30pm nightly plus 4.30pm on Saturdays.
To apply to audition, send an email to Tony via email@example.com.
YORK Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar resume in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre from this evening.
Not so secret that the pesky rain could not find Friday’s first performance at 6pm, but this new location for YSP affords protection under parasols and the natural shade of the garden itself, plus the availability of umbrellas and tea towels for wiping down seats. Ah, the joys of the English summer.
YSP had favoured Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens for several years before switching to socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September in a pragmatic response to Covid safety requirements.
The audience is seated once more for Sonnets At The Bar, but there is movement aplenty by Emilie Knight’s cast of sonneteers, each emerging from different corners and paths for their allotted time in the spotlight.
Knight has moved up from playing Covid Nurse last year to nursing the 2021 production through rehearsals, introducing four debutant sonneteers and five Shakespeare sonnets new to YSP service.
Noting how the Bar Convent is a hive of community activities, some held outdoors for Covid safety, she hit on the structure of each sonneteer playing someone either hosting classes, groups or meetings or attending them, all under the often irascible care of Mick Taylor’s seen-it-all-before, seen-it-all-once-too-often caretaker, Mr Barrowclough, in effect our hurry-up host for the hour.
It takes little to rile him, as he hectors Luke Tearney’s amicable busker off the premises and later ponders how much money he could have made from a PPE contract, given the omnipresence of discarded face masks he has to pick up. In a nutshell, Taylor’s brusquely humorous Barrowclough prefers talking to the trees, giving each a punning name.
From each character’s thoughts and actions emerges a sonnet, starting with Sally Mitcham’s vexed Zumba class attendee Karen (O From What Power Hast Thou This Powerful Might), followed by Helen Wilson’s jaunty Scouser Julie, always cajoling at her side (Whilst I Alone Did Call Upon They Aid).
Frank Brogan’s fever-browed Simon is in a bad place, or rather the wrong place, as he discovers all too late after unburdening himself at what he assumes to be an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. His rendition of When In Disgrace With Fortune And Men’s Eyes, so troubling and confessional as he strives to come to terms with the loss of his wife, feels like invading grief even though he has been brave enough to go public.
Taylor’s Mr Barrowclough brings out all his exasperation in Tired With All These, For Restful Death I Cry before West End musical actor Aran MacRae makes his return to the York stage as Paul, a principled parish clerk weighed down by skeletons and impropriety all around him, who delivers Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars with a sombre down-beat.
Darkness makes way for all the colours under the sun in Sindy Allen’s Persephone, a yoga instructor determined to keep doom at bay through indefatigable brightness of spirit and even brighter hair and clothing. Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry has all the bounce of Tigger when escaping her lips.
Youngest participant Josh Roe’s Joseph Smythe has been using lockdown to teach himself assorted musical instruments, and dressed as if for the Proms, he conducts his audition with precocity and youthful lack of self-awareness, making way for a suitably assured account of Music To Hear, Why Hear’st Thou Music Sadly?.
Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson, one of the 2021 newcomers, has a naturally theatrical voice, one that draws you in to her role as Liz, an ebullient grandmother too busy for “swiping right”, as she undertakes childminding duties. “Some Say Thy Fault Is Youth, Some Wantonness” takes on a knowing air.
None other than Judith Ireland could play Sister Colette, radiating wisdom and serenity, in a finale that interrupts her peace in the garden with the vomiting interjection of Luke Tearney’s surly, scowling, cussing Tim, a bad lad or maybe just one in need of re-direction, courtesy of remediuk.org.
He brings anger, frustration and desperation to ’Tis Better To Be Vile Than Vile Esteemed in an eye-catching performance of much promise, and who better to restore calm than Ireland’s nun with No More Be Grieved At That Which Thou Hast Done. Amen to that.
Taylor’s Mr Barrowclough has to have the final word, one last harrumph before we leave, the rain having desisted. Three Saturday performances would subsequently pass without a downpour, despite a dodgy forecast, a blessing that producer Maurice Crichton put down to “the power of the Bar Convent sisterhood’s prayer”.
All hell will return come the autumn when YSP’s two-decade passage through Shakespeare’s plays will resume with Leo Doulton’s apocalyptic account of Macbeth in October.
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, until August 7. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm, Saturday. Tickets: 01904 623568 or at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk.
ARAN MacRae joins Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe in the four new sonneteers corralled for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 from this evening.
Not that Aran is “new” to the acting scene. Far from it, the York actor, singer, songwriter and self-taught guitarist and percussion player returned to his home city in March 2019 after building momentum in his career in London, Europe and beyond.
After training in musical theatre for three years at the Guildford School of Acting, post-graduation in 2017 he had originated the role of 14-year-old Tink in the West End premiere of the Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf musical Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum, following up with the Canadian run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.
“If you shave off your beard, you’ve got the part,” he was told at the last audition: a wonderful start to life on the professional boards.
“We did the show for 13 months and it gave me such an insight to musical theatre and to rock’n’roll too, going to Toronto and falling in love with a beautiful woman who’d just joined the cast there,” he says.
Aran then appeared in the immersive promenade production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent at the world’s oldest working paper mill, Frogmore Paper Mill in Apsley, Hertfordshire, in July 2018 and sang in Midas’s Twelve Tenors tour across Europe and South Korea in 2018 and early 2019.
His profile on Mandy states he is now “busking in my hometown of York, playing acoustic covers and putting together lyrics and music for solo material”.
Sonnets At The Bar brings him back to theatre work in the city where, in York College days, he had starred in York Stage Musicals’ The Flint Street Nativity and Mayhem, NUEMusic Theatre’s Bare, Bat Boy The Musical and Rent and Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita, Che Guevara beard et al. If memory serves, he was the singer in The Frizz too, in even younger days.
“I’d been living in Potters Bar in London, plying my trade as an actor, when I decided to come back to York in Spring 2019,” says Aran. “I was aware of York Shakespeare Project and got in touch straightaway to join their mailing list because I knew that Macbeth and The Tempest were coming up and I was really up for directing The Tempest.
“Then ‘the Cloud’, as I shall call it, came along and slowed things down; Macbeth was put back, but then I saw they were doing Sonnets At The Bar and I jumped on to it.
“I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s sonnets: not that they need a lot of investigating, but they explore the concept of love in a manner full of thought and consideration, and what is very special about them is the answer that’s given to any Shakespeare question: they are timeless and you can find modern-day parallels in them.”
Directed by Emilie Knight and produced by fellow company regular Maurice Crichton, Sonnets At The Bar 2021 will be staged in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, from tonight to August 7.
Emilie, who played a Covid nurse in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard in Goodramgate, has come up with the conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities, some of them outdoors in the garden on account of Covid, with the sonneteers either hosting classes or groups or attending them, all under the watchful eye of the caretaker, Mr Barrowclough.
In YSP’s now time-honoured fashion, each character has a sonnet to set up, the pairing of character and sonnet opening up unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.
Aran will be performing Sonnet 25, Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars, in the role of Paul, clerk to the parish council in this age of new awareness of parish-council machinations after the explosive Jackie Weaver and Handworth shenanigans on Zoom went global.
“He’s a little bit righteous, I think,” he says. “He’s not got a point to prove but when he witnesses injustice, he takes it on his shoulders to deal with it, leaving him between a rock and a hard place.
“He has to have a lot of integrity and non-bias and that’s an incredibly lofty responsibility, when you’re dealing with care for the community and injustice, though what he’s witnessed is more to do with internal parish [council] matters, rather than the community.”
Analysing Sonnet 25, Aran says: “My sonnet is about idol worship, and I can certainly find modern-day resonances within it. I’m sure Shakespeare wasn’t thinking of me 420 years ago (!), but I’m thinking of him 420 years later, taking me to an emotional place. It’s like time travel.”
Aran has relished rehearsals under Emilie’s guidance. “It’s been really free spirited, and that freedom has been wonderful, especially in ‘the Cloud’,” he says. “Not only does everyone jump in and sound ideas off each other, but Emilie basically gave each of us a small piece of text to set up each sonnet and said, ‘if you’d like to ad-lib the lead-in to the sonnet, go for it, or if you’d like to add to it, do that’.
“That was quite testing for me because I then had to look at the structure of what the character was going to say, working out how the parish clerk would communicate in a way that was more astute and level-headed than I would be in that situation!”
Initially, Aran had envisaged “just performing the sonnet and walking off with my chest out”. “But doing it this way, building up a character, allows me to test my writing skills too…because if I’m going to be in a film, I’m going to have to write it myself!” he says.
Where does Aran see his future? “Doing Bat Out Of Hell gave me an insight into where I want to direct my abilities. I loved being in a musical, with all that high energy and lots of post-teens diving around saying ‘this is it’, ‘it’s punk!’, but sometimes I wanted to be thinking more about the task in hand, when it was on stage.
“I want to pursue my career by continuing to work in musical theatre but also look to break into theatre, even though it’s such a closed circle.
“Coming back to the city where I’d lived from the age of three to 21, suddenly there was that ‘Cloud’ and a lot of solitary confinement, so I’ve been reading the classics after I’ve not had the time to read for years, in order to consider it as a career when it’s your heart that calls you to this profession.”
One classical role Aran will not be giving us is his Lady Macbeth in York Shakespeare Project’s promenade production of Macbeth in October, staged at Theatre@41 Monkgate by director Leo Doulton in a “corrupted world of moving forests, daggers from the dark and cyberpunk dystopia, falling from civilisation into a civil war between darkness and light”.
Lady Macbeth, Aran?. “I put my two-penneth in at the auditions to play her as I thought, ‘what better chance to play one of the great string-puller roles, like in The Hunger Games in a past of such apocalyptic brutality, with suave sophistication,” he says. “I gave it a good shot…”
The role has gone to Nell Frampton instead, but Aran can still apply to direct The Tempest, with no production dates set in place yet for York Shakespeare Project’s final play.
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, today (30/7/2021) until August 7; no show on August 2. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm on both Saturdays. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the YTR box office.