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:; Helmsley, 01439 771700 or; Selby, 01757 708449 or; Goole, 01405 763652 or; Acomb,; York, 01904 623568 or

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 or the venue box offices, selbytown or 01757 708449 and 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 or on 01904 623568.

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