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.

As York Shakespeare Project opens phase two with Edward III at Black Swan Inn, director Tony Froud looks at the future

Mark Hird: Taking the role of King Edward in tonight’s rehearsed reading of Edward III by the York Shakespeare Project at the Black Swan Inn

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.”

Tony Froud: Directing York Shakespesare Project’s rehearsed reading of Edward III

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-518511741577Looking 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.

York Shakespeare Project launches phase two with January auditions for Richard III UPDATED 4/1/2022

York Shakespeare Project in The Tempest in Autumn 2022. A new chapter will open in springtime

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.

Those interested are asked to fill out the form below to secure an audition slot: https://forms.gle/T4F7Q7aHJCFAqnWe8

Dr Daniel Roy Connelly: Director of York Shakespeare Project’s 2023 production of Richard III

“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.

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.

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.

More Things To Do in York and beyond than Prospero could shake a stick at. Charles Hutchinson’s List No. 98, from The Press

Paul French’s Prospero and Effie Warboys’ Miranda in rehearsal for York Shakespeare Project’s touring production of The Tempest. Picture: John Saunders

STORMY Shakespeare, bountiful balloons, rebellious schoolchildren, heaps of horror movies and Sherlock’s farewell tour are right up Charles Hutchinson’s street.

Theatre event of the week: York Shakespeare Project in The Tempest, on tour from September 23 to October 1

YORK Shakespeare Project’s 20-year journey to stage every Shakespeare play concludes with a Yorkshire tour of The Tempest, the Bard’s powerful last play, directed by Parrabbola artistic director Philip Parr with Paul French as Prospero.

When an unusual collection of people is thrown together on an island by a storm, old injuries must be resolved, a new generation makes new plans and everyone is driven to find something of themselves in a disrupted world.

Parr uses communal storytelling in a new interpretation to highlight themes of colonisation, reconciliation and change. Full tour and ticket details can be found at beta.yorkshakespeareproject.org/the-tempest/.

What’s on Watson’s mind? Mark Watson reckons This Can’t Be It in comedy tour dates in York, Helmsley and Selby. Picture: Matt Crockett

Comedy gig of the week: Mark Watson, This Can’t Be It, Burning Duck Comedy Club, The Crescent, York, tonight (17/9/2022), 7.30pm

EVERYONE has been pondering the fragility of life in Covid’s shadow. Don’t worry, Bristol comic Mark has it covered. At 42, he is halfway through his days on Earth, according to his £1.49 life expectancy calculator app.

That life is in the best shape in living memory, but one huge problem remains. Spiritual investigation meets observational comedy as Watson crams two years’ pathological overthinking into one night’s stand-up. “Maybe we’ll even solve the huge problem,” he ponders. “Doubt it, though.”

Watson also plays Helmsley Arts Centre on October 7 and Selby Town Hall on November 17. Box office: York, thecrescentyork.com; Helmsley, 01439 771700 or helmsleyarts.co.uk; Selby, 01757 708449 or selbytownhall.co.uk.

Mikron Theatre Company’s tour poster for Raising Agents

History in the baking: Mikron Theatre Company in Raising Agents, Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York, Sunday, 4pm

MIKRON Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary tour brings the Marsden travelling players to York for a second time this summer this weekend. After the premiere of Lindsay Rodden’s Red Sky At Night at Scarcroft Allotments in May, here comes Rachel Gee’s revival of Maeve Larkin’s play about the Women’s Institute, Raising Agents.

Bunnington WI is somewhat down-at-heel, with memberships dwindling, meaning they can barely afford the hall, let alone a decent speaker. However, when a PR guru becomes a member, the women are glad of new blood, but the milk of WI kindness begins to sour after she re-brands them as the Bunnington Bunnies.

A battle ensues for the very soul of Bunnington, perhaps the WI itself, in a tale of hobbyists and lobbyists that asks how much we should know of our past or how much we should let go of it.

Raising Agents features not only a cast of Hannah Bainbridge, Thomas Cotran, Alice McKenna and James McLean but also songs by folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, Mikron’s Marsden neighbours of Gentleman Jack theme-tune fame. Box office: email willyh@phonecoop.coop; ring 07974 867301 or 01904 466086; call in at Pextons, Bishopthorpe Road, York.

Boyzlife and balloons: Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden headline next Saturday’s line-up at the Yorkshire Balloon Fiesta

Festival of the week: Yorkshire Balloon Fiesta, Knavesmire, York, September 23 to 25

THE largest hot air balloon and music festival in the north will take off in York for the last time from Friday before moving elsewhere next year. Expect hot-air balloon launches, children’s entertainment, live music, a funfair, a Labyrinth Challenge obstacle course, food and drink and Friday and Saturday Night Glow lit-up balloons.

Friday’s acts will be Sam Sax, Scouting For Girls and DJ Craig Charles’s Funk and Soul Show; on Saturday, Huge, Brainiac Live (science show), Gabrielle, Heather Small and Boyzlife; on Sunday, YolanDa’s Band Jam, Andy & The Odd Socks, Howard Donald (DJ set) and Symphonic Ibiza, before a fireworks finale. Full details and tickets: yorkshireballoonfiesta.co.uk.

Clash of wills: Sam Steel’s headmistress Miss Trunchbull and Juliette Sellamuttu’s special-powered pupil, Matilda, in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Matilda: The Musical Jr. Picture: Matthew Kitchen 

Children’s show of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical Jr, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, September 23 to October 2

REBELLION is nigh when Robert Readman’s York company Pick Me Up Theatre presents Matilda Jr, a gleefully witty ode to the anarchy of childhood and the power of imagination. 

Packed with high-energy dance numbers and catchy Tim Minchin songs, this joyous girl power romp will have audiences rooting for the “revolting children” who are out to teach mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull a lesson, led by Matilda, the child with astonishing wit, intelligence, courage and…special powers! Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

All’s well that’s John Bramwell: I Am Kloot frontman to play “super-intimate” gig at Ellerton Priory. Picture: Ian Percival

Whatever happened to I Am Kloot? Off The Beaten Track presents John Bramwell, Ellerton Priory, Ellerton, near York, September 24, 7.30pm. UPDATE: 22/9/2022: GIG CANCELLED AFTER FAMILY BEREAVEMENT

FROM the team behind shows by Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys and The Beta Band’s Steve Mason in Stockton on the Forest Village Hall comes a “super-intimate” gig by I Am Kloot singer, songwriter and guitarist John Bramwell.

Since 2016, Bramwell has reverted to being a solo artist, releasing the home-recorded Leave Alone The Empty Spaces in 2018 and performing with John Bramwell & The Full Harmonic Convergence. The follow-up album, a more expansive affair with a working title of The Light Fantastic, is “scheduled for 2022”. Tickets are on sale via thecrescentyork.com or seetickets.com.

20 years later: Danny Boyle’s 2002 British post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later will be shown in the Classic slot at the Dead Northern Horror Festival at City Screen. Copyright: Fox Searchlight

Film event of the week: Dead Northern Horror Festival ’22, City Screen Picturehouse, York, September 23 to 25

YORK’S only horror film festival returns to City Screen for three days, “bigger and bloodier than ever”, with a line-up of horror and fantasy-themed entertainment, new and classic feature films, live horror entertainment, parties, Q&As, special guests and exclusive merchandise.

Among the feature films will be After She Died, The Lies Of Our Confines, Shadow Vaults and Dog Soldiers on September 23;  three world premieres with Q&As, Searching For Veslomy, Calling Nurse Meow and The Stranger, plus Eating Miss Campbell, on September 24, and The Creeping, The Group and 28 Days Later on the last day, when Paul Forster will host a séance at 7pm. Box office and full programme: deadnorthern.co.uk.

Farewell, but not goodbye: Dominic Goodwin’s Dr Watson, left, and Julian Finnegan’s Sherlock Holmes return in their long-running show, Holmes And Watson: The Farewell Tour

Double act of the week: Pyramus & Thisbe Productions in Holmes And Watson: The Farewell Tour, York Theatre Royal Studio, September 23 and 24, 7.45pm

JULIAN Finnegan’s Sherlock Holmes and Dominic Goodwin’s Dr Watson team up in Stuart Fortey’s “utterly bonkers” two-man play, wherein the detective has prevailed on the doctor, landlady Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to join him in a farewell tour of the British Isles before he retires.

For the first time ever, they will re-enact one of Holmes’s most baffling unrecorded cases, The Case Of The Prime Minister, The Floozie And The Lummock Rock Lighthouse, an affair on whose outcome the security of Europe once hung by a thread. Will Professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime, make an appearance? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Not before time: Suede announce their first York Barbican gig in a quarter of a century. Picture: Dean Chalkley

Gig announcement of the week: Suede, York Barbican, March 15 2023

SUEDE are to play York Barbican for the first time in 25 years on the closing night of their 2023 tour, in the wake of this week’s release of their ninth studio album, Autofiction, their first since 2018.

Next March’s tour will combine the London band’s classics, hits and selections from Autofiction, climaxing with their first Barbican appearance since April 23 1997. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk and ticketmaster.co.uk.

The poster for the York Printmakers Autumn Print Fair

Art event of the week: York Printmakers Autumn Print Fair, York Cemetery Chapel & Harriet Room, York, September 24 and 25, 10am to 5pm

INNOVATIVE printmaking can be discovered at York Cemetery Chapel, spanning etching, linocut, collagraph, monotype, screen print, solar plate and stencilling. Now in its fifth year, the York Printmakers Autumn Print Fair brings together a thriving, diverse group of enthusiastic artists who work independently but support and challenge each other by sharing opportunities, ideas and processes. 

Hundreds of original prints will be on show and entry is free; prices range from £2 to £300.  Some members run printmaking courses, so next weekend is a chance to find out more by chatting to the artists behind the prints.

York Printmakers’ member Russell Hughes printing in his “pop-up studio” in an empty office in York

York Printmakers: the background

EMILY Harvey started the group in 2015. “A new arrival in York contacted me via my website to ask if there was a printmakers’ group in the city, at that time the answer was ’no’,” she recalls.

“But I knew there were quite a few printmakers here, so I thought ‘why not?’.  A few phone calls later, nine printmakers were sat round a table in the pub, and York Printmakers was born.”

The group now numbers about 50 from a wide range of printmaking backgrounds, from art students to professional artists who exhibit widely.

Emily loves the group’s “unconventional streak”. “We like to experiment with new methods and ideas,” she says. “Printing plates made from eggshells and prints developed using GPS tracking are just some of our recent adventures. Sharing these innovations helps to keep our work lively and relevant.” 

York Printmakers’ member Jane Dignum in lino-printing mode

The group’s monthly meetings feature a sharing practice slot where printing problems and solutions are discussed.  During the Covid lockdown, the group started a themed postcard-sized print challenge, the results being shared in Zoom meetings.   Not only did this help the printmakers maintain their creativity, but it also produced some surprising and innovative results.  Many of these small prints will be on display during the fair.

Group member Jo Ruth says: ‘One of the joys of being part of this group is the variety of experience among us.  Some members are expert printmakers, others are just starting out, but we all have a lot to offer and to learn from each other.”

Members produce their work in their own spaces, some in purpose-built studios but many in far more humble surroundings, such as at their kitchen tables.  Exhibitions and events showcase the group’s array of skills with printing processes that date back hundreds of years, through to those that push the boundaries of contemporary practice with innovation in laser-cut plates, digital elements and 3D techniques.

During the past year, work from the group has featured in events across the country, including the Rheged Centre in Penrith, The Inspired By…Gallery in Danby and Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.

Russell Hughes’s collagraph printing materials

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

Actor, musician and now sonneteer, Aran MacRae joins York Shakespeare Project for Sonnets At The Bar in ‘secret garden’

“Secret mission”: York actor Aran MacRae looks forward to making his York Shakespeare Project debut as a sonneteer in Sonnets At The Bar in the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre

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.

Aran MacRae originating the role of Tick in Bat Out Of Hell at the London Coliseum in 2017

“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’.

Che days: Aran MacRae’s Che Guevara with Robyn Grant’s Eva Peron in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Evita at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, in April 2013

“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.

Michael Lambourne contemplates mortality after cancer treatment in Black Shuck, How It Came For Me at Theatre At The Mill

Michael Lambourne: Researching the story of Black Shuck, the Demon Dog of East Anglia

“NEVER look into the eye of Black Shuck,” warns actor, director, teacher and now writer Michael  Lambourne, a familiar face and booming voice to York theatregoers.

Now relocated to his Fenland roots, he returns north this weekend to present the Theatre At The Mill premiere of Black Shuck: How It Came For Me, his “responsive storytelling experience” based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia: a hound of unnatural size and omen of misfortune to those who encounter its stare.

“According to the folklore tale of the black dog, if you see its eyes, it foretells your demise,” says Michael, who is yet to have such a creepy canine experience but has come across myriad versions of the story, whether of the scratch on the Blythburgh church door, or from Bungay, Blakeney Point or Chatteris Fen.

“The Darkness have a song called Black Shuck on their first album, Permission To Land, as they’re Lowestoft boys,” he continues. “Originally it’s a story from Norse mythology, from the Danes who took over East Anglia, telling of life and death, about everyone’s mortality.”

He is speaking en route to Southend-on-Sea earlier this week to teach his theatre students before setting off to North Yorkshire to perform Black Shuck on Saturday evening (24/7/2021) under the sails of At The Mill’s outdoor theatre at Stillington Mill, near York, where he played Prospero in The Flanagan Collective’s production of The Tempest by the mill pond in June 2016.

“I’ve been wanting to tell stories about where I’m from, and I thought, ‘what better way to tell East Anglia’s story than with a ghost story’, as I look to create art myself, stepping to the fore doing my own work, writing it, creating it and performing it, and hopefully it will appeal!” he says.

“Saturday will be the first airing of the new piece, and this performance came from a kind of call to arms that Alex [At The Mill co-founder, playwright, storyteller, musician and director Alexander Wright] made two to three months ago.

Michael Lambourne with fellow Flanagan Collective cast members Amie Burns Walker, back, and Holly Beasley-Garrigan in the grounds of Stillington Mill when performing The Tempest in June 2016

“I thought, ‘what better time than the present to do that?’, and for this first show, I’m just going to use the ambience of the beautiful garden and my vocal timbre. By the time dusk comes around, there’ll be the hoots of owls.”

Exploring the enduring effect that Black Shuck has on Fenland folklore, Michael’s performance will offer a personal account of how a rural myth can become a chilling part of the present day.

The choice of folklore tale and its portent of exit stage left chimed with his own experience. “I went from a happy 40 year old to being in hospital with the doctor telling me my symptoms could signal my demise,” recalls Michael, husband of Paines Plough co-artistic director Katie Posner (formerly associate director of Pilot Theatre in York) and father of Heidi.

In the doctor’s hand was the scan that would signify whether Michael had cancer that would need an operation and “could shuffle me off my mortal coil”.

“I’d had a biting pain in my leg for months, where it got to the point I couldn’t walk – it was almost like a dog had bitten me in the leg. I was still way off from thinking of going for an MRI scan, but then I heeded Katie’s advice.”

Scans at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge revealed a black hole in his spine, where his number two vertebrae should have been. Five days of being prodded and poked in hospital followed.

Michael was diagnosed with lymphoma, the blood cancer. “It had manifested itself in my back, apparently after I fractured my spine, though I can’t think of any time in my life when my back has caused me problems,” says the walking and cycling enthusiast.

The poster for Michael Lambourne’s new show, Black Shuck: How It Came For Me at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions were necessary, but not an operation. “As well as ‘demise’, the Black Shuck folklore signifies your life is about to change, and how you respond to it is up to you. I embraced it, but not that thing where people talk of ‘fighting’ cancer,” says Michael.

“I want to build my body back into balance, using art as catharsis. It just so happens that ball was passed to me and I handled it this way.

“At the final session of chemotherapy, I was overcome with emotion; the nurse would have loved to have given me a hug, but she couldn’t because of the Covid situation, so she just took me by the hand. But by then it wasn’t even a sense of relief. It was just emotion.”

Happily, Michael conducting this interview and performing Black Shuck would indicate his ongoing recovery. “I’m in remission now and hopefully I’ll be able to tell this story for many years to come,” he says.

“I don’t dwell on it in Black Shuck, though it’s an inherent part of the story. The piece is 95 per cent there and now I’m confronting that thing of deciding ‘what is the real message?’.”

Push him further, and Michael urges: “Time is precious and we need to spend it well. Rather than waiting for things to happen, you must actively change it yourself.”

What better way to do that tomorrow night than to experience the stare of Michael Lambourne as he relates the story of Black Shuck. “I’ll be telling the tale in my natural Fens accent, connecting with the place I come from, as my family are truly from the Fens. That’s my heritage,” he says. “It’s not a great stretch to think my forefathers knew about Black Shuck and talked about the demon dog in the pub.”

Shona Cowie: Scottish storyteller of visionary tales

SCOTTISH storyteller Shona Cowie will open the evening with her tale of Bruadarach (noun: dreamer/visionary) at 7.30pm.

Once a creative associate at York Theatre Royal, Shona presents myths of re-imagining and transformation from the Scottish oral tradition, myths called on for centuries as guides through times of change.

A highly physical performer, who brings mime and song to the traditional Celtic style, she is dedicated to bringing front and centre those who have too often been pushed to the margins of stories.

“I worked with Shona at the Theatre Royal, and now we’ll both be doing our ‘fireside chats’ at Stillington,” says Michael Lambourne. “Her work is very lyrical and spiritual, told with a wonderful Scottish lilt.”

In addition, on Sunday at 2pm, Shona will present Beware The Beasts, a show for families (age five upwards), where she will provide case studies from leading monster evaders and offer instruction on the most effective ways to avoid being squashed, eaten or turned into a nugget.

For tickets for tomorrow or Sunday, go to: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/. 

Did you know?

Here is the opening verse to Black Shuck by The Darkness:

“In a town in the east
The parishioners were visited upon
By a curious beast
And his eyes numbered but one and shone like the sun
And a glance beckoned the immediate loss
Of a cherished one
It was the coming of the… Black Shuck”

Tragic news as York Shakespeare Project confirms Macbeth run. Auditions ahoy!

Emma Scott: Retaining her lead role in York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth, delayed by the pandemic until October 2021

SOMETHING wicked this way comes…at last.

The curse of “the Scottish Play” had struck again – in the form of a global pandemic, no less – to stop York Shakespeare Project’s penultimate production, Macbeth, only days before its opening night on March 30 2020 at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

Fifteen months later, however, committee member Tony Froud can confirm this morning: “Hot on the heels of announcing our reboot of our ever-popular Sonnet Walks for this summer’s Sonnets At The Bar, we are very pleased to confirm that our production of Macbeth is returning, with Leo Doulton continuing as director. Rehearsals will start in September for performances in the week commencing October 25.”

Rather than Lady Macbeth in her end-of-days fevers, the constant hand washing, over and over again, has been bestowed on the rest of us in these Hands-Face-Space times of Macbeth’s mothballing.

At the time of the postponement, Tony had said with the foresight of one of Macbeth’s Witches: “The ideal solution would be to pick it up again with the same company of actors later in the year, but there could yet be complications.”

How right he was. “After 15 months, circumstances have changed and sadly some actors are no longer available. However, this means there’s an opportunity for new actors to join the company,” says Tony, who will still play Ross in Shakespeare’s dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces.

“Many of the original cast will be continuing in the roles they had already worked hard bringing to life, but some roles, including Lady Macbeth, are open for audition.”

Director Leo Doulton: Setting his production of Macbeth in a dystopian “cyberpunk” future, to be performed in a promenade style

These roles are: Lady Macbeth, Duncan, Lennox, Lady Macduff and Third Witch/Third Murderer/Caithness/Seyton.

“The first round of auditions will be held over Zoom on the evenings of Thursday, June 17 and Friday, June 18 and during the day on Saturday, June 19, taking no more than ten minutes,” says Tony. 

“A small number of applicants will then be called back for in-person auditions on Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27.”

Actors interested in auditioning should contact yorkshakespeareproject@gmail.com with their availability on the above dates, indicating which role or roles they are interested in.

Emma Scott will still lead the cast in the title role in Doulton’s “cyberpunk”Macbeth; Clive Lyons will play Banquo/Siward; Rhiannon Griffiths, Fleance/Donalbain/Son/Young Siward; Harry Summers, MacDuff; Eleanor Frampton, Malcolm; Sarah-Jane Strong, Angus; Joy Warner, First Witch/First Murderer/Doctor, and Alexandra Logan, Second Witch/Second Murderer/Gentlewoman.

Amanda Dales (Lady Macbeth); Jim Paterson (Duncan, Lady Macduff, Menteith), Nick Jones (Lennox) and Chloe Payne (Third Witch, Third Murderer, Caithness, Seyton) are unavailable for this autumn’s run, hence this month’s auditions.

Out! Spot now available. The role of Lady Macbeth is up for grabs in York Shakespeare Project’s pandemic-delayed Macbeth after Amanda Dales left York for pastures new in Cambridge

Although Macbeth is play number 29 in Shakespeare’s chronology of 38 plays, YSP had held back the Bard’s tragedy big hitter until production number 36 of 37 as part of a grand finale to the 20-year project planned for 2020, with The Tempest as the final curtain last autumn.

Alas, theatre’s harbinger of bad luck and its Weird Sisters then delivered double, double toil and trouble to YSP. “We were six rehearsals short of the finishing line, when the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed.” says Tony.

When Macbeth and we hopefully more than three shall meet again, we shall encounter a Leo Doulton production set in a dystopian “cyberpunk” future and performed in a promenade style, with the action taking place on the move, around the audience.

“Macbeth is a magnificent tragedy about the earthly struggle between the forces of order and chaos, and how the world becomes corrupted by Macbeth’s strange bargains,” says Leo, who made his YSP directorial debut at the helm of October 2019’s stripped-back Antony And Cleopatra.

“Cyberpunk is an exciting genre for exploring, highlighting and visualising those ideas for a modern audience. We no longer fear witches, but we are still scared of our society being shaped by powers with no concern for those below them.”

The date for The Tempest to conclude YSP’s Shakespeare cycle is yet to be put in Prospero’s book, but the final production is more than likely to be accompanied by an exhibition charting YSP from 2001 formation to stormy finale. “The York Explore library is expressing an interest in presenting it, ideally to coincide with The Tempest’s run,” said Tony in March last year.