York Shakespeare Project in Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee; all sold out. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
SOMETHING wicked this way comes…eventually, delayed from March 2020 by lockdowns, rather than the notorious Macbeth curse per se.
Leo Doulton, “sometimes director, sometimes writer, repentant historian”, as his Twitter feed puts it, has persisted with his original vision of a “cyberpunk” Macbeth.
Eight cast members remain from the original unlucky-for-some 13, stopped in their tracks a week away from opening night last year; three have changed roles; five new additions have come on board, most notably Nell Frampton taking over from Amanda Dales as The Lady.
Crucially, however, Emma Scott’s Macbeth is still leading Doulton’s company, hurled into a dystopian, dizzying future as Doulton and his set and costume designer, Charley Ipsen, slice up Shakespeare’s dark, dreak tale of vaulting ambition, multiple murders and supernatural forces in new ways.
First of all, this is a shortened Macbeth, with no interval, no tedious, unfunny Porter scene, done and dusted in under two hours. Everything, everyone, is in a hurry; not once does Scott’s Macbeth sit down; nor do the guests at the dinner ruined for Macbeth by the ghost of Banquo (Clive Lyons). Instead, they stand, dotted around the perimeter of the John Cooper Studio’s rectangular black-box design.
Frampton’s The Lady is in a rush too, so much so, they trample loudly through several lines as they move around the fringes, imparting instructions in noisy boots. Tony Froud’s Ross and Frank Brogan’s gruff Yorkshireman Macduff are restless too, delivering a line, moving, delivering another, moving on again.
This sense of impermanence is deliberate, and maybe that is one reason why the walls are lined to the brim with swatches of wallpaper, rather than full rolls. Equally, this dissonant imagery is part of the cyberpunk mood board, just as the dried leaves around the ramps evoke Macbeth’s stultifying impact on nature’s course.
Doulton has responded to the pandemic, he says, by emphasising the uncertainty of the play’s inhabitants. “None of them, except perhaps the Witches, knows what’s going on,” he reasons. Hence a production that never stops moving in “an ever-changing world of illusory realities”.
In effect, all the world’s a stage here. The audience is seated around four ramps with a central dais that may or may not signify the Stone of Scone (but is not made of stone). Rarely is centre stage used as centre stage, except by the rightful king, Duncan (Elizabeth Elsworth).
Scott’s Macbeth will as likely deliver a soliloquy from the up-lit recesses as from the epicentre; Frampton’s The Lady plots from the shadows; likewise, the discussions of Rhiannon Griffiths’s strategist Malcolm and Brogan’s exhausted Macduff are framed by the walls.
As for the spectral weird sisters, those midnight hags, the three Witches (Joy Warner, Diane Wyatt and Xandra Logan), they hover amid the parched twigs and branches on the mezzanine level, Macbeth never in touching distance, and they disappear from view as quickly as they enter.
The implication is that the once “worthy” Macbeth and The Lady know they will not be king and queen for the long haul, once their knives are out, hence that centre stage is so often barren.
On the one hand, this is an audacious directorial move by Doulton, but, on the other, you will likely have to move your head and body position more often than a learner driver negotiating that all-important three-point turn in their test but for much longer. The stage configuration is not the same as a theatre-in-the-round, where you become accustomed to not being able to see a face at all times. You may decide, on occasion, to sit and listen, rather than turning round.
In his interview, Doulton made the interesting point that Macbeth is not all about death, death, more death and the fear of death, although he did note: “It would be impossible to present Macbeth in the same way as when we started work on it before the pandemic. We’ve moved from a world where we fear quite specific things to one where we fear more pervasive, invisible ones, such as the pandemic and the climate crisis.”
Naming uncertainty, innocence and corruption’s constant presence as the themes and motifs that stood out in our new times, he suggested Shakespeare’s tragedy is “more concerned with the art of being human while alive and mortal: how to act, what legacy we’ll have, and how to understand a world far larger than us. Its deaths are from violence and the supernatural, not disease.”
In other words, this is not a Covid-clouded Macbeth, but one that in the absence of moral certainty and leadership, fears a longer damaging legacy, not least the impact of climate change, when there may no longer be trees to move from Birnam Wood to Dunsinane.
Nevertheless, Doulton and Ipsen have fun with the cyberpunk setting, serving up blue drinks, having blue rather than red blood, and staging the fight scenes in a stylised, no-contact manner, while Neil Wood’s menacing lighting captures both light and shade.
As for Scott’s Macbeth: at times, she is as much Hamlet as Macbeth, young, poetic, burdened; more worrier than warrior.
THE curse of Macbeth combined with Lockdown 1’s imposition to put a stop to York Shakespeare Project’s Scottish Play just one week before its March 2020 opening.
Rising like the ghost of Banquo, but sure to be better received, Leo Doulton’s resurrected production will run at Theatre@41, Monkgate, from tomorrow’s open dress rehearsal (26/10/2021) to Saturday as the 37th play in the York charity’s mission to perform all Shakespeare’s known plays in a 20-year span.
Doulton will be casting Emma Scott’s Macbeth into a dystopian future, using a cyberpunk staging to bring to life this dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces.
“It would be impossible to present Macbeth in the same way as when we started work on it before the pandemic,” he says. “We’ve moved from a world where we fear quite specific things to one where we fear more pervasive, invisible ones, such as the pandemic and the climate crisis.”
Here, on the eve of something wicked this way coming, director Leo Doulton answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions.
You had to put your production on hold only a week from opening night in March 2020. How have you gone about building up it up again? Did you start from scratch? Pick up where you left off?
“The image I’m using with the cast and crew is imagining that our 2020 production was a floating city, where light and dark were clearly divided. That city has now crashed, and we’re building something new in the rubble. Some of the rubble can be reused, other bits repurposed into something else, and other parts are from other places entirely.
“More practically, the answer is ‘a bit of both’. I always wanted to make sure that as many of the original cast as were able could re-join us, so that led to a degree of continuity.
“Some of the core ideas, like cyberpunk as a genre of systems beyond mortal understanding, remained useful. But any production has to speak to its audience, and is made by people, all of whom have been changed by the past years.
“Once we knew the show was definitely coming back, I sat down and re-read the play from a blank script, noting which themes, motifs and ideas stood out to me in our new times: uncertainty and innocence, corruption as a constant presence and so on. From that, and discussions with the whole team, came the latest evolution of the show.”
How many cast members and roles have you had to change?
“Five cast members out of 13 and one member of the production team, plus three members of the original cast shifting to new parts. It was especially sad to lose Amanda Dales as The Lady; she was just about to deliver a wonderful performance.
“However, I’m very pleased to have so many new people entering the cast. There’s a unique bond among those of us who entered the pandemic together, but that could easily lead to stagnation were it not for having new thoughts and approaches joining the room, without preconceptions based on the previous iteration of this production.”
Death and the fear of death is everywhere in Macbeth, as indeed it has been around us all since March 2020 in these pandemic times. How has that had an impact on how you present Macbeth and those who will be watching it?
“Most obviously, the pandemic means that our audience and actors will be socially distanced and we’ll be asking people to wear masks to keep one another safe.
“You know, I’m not sure Macbeth is an especially death-heavy play, certainly not more so than any of Shakespeare’s other tragedies.
“While I’m confident that someone will treat us all to a Covid-Macbeth, to my mind the play is more concerned with the art of being human while alive and mortal: how to act, what legacy we’ll have, and how to understand a world far larger than us. Its deaths are from violence and the supernatural, not disease.
“In many ways, that is the main change caused by the pandemic. Before it, this was a production where we made a world of clearly defined good and evil; where evil was a known thing you could point at.
“Now, we have spent a long time in a world of lingering menace; where something as innocuous as a doorknob might be a deathly threat. People have been isolated. Uncertainty about what will happen next, or who might be infectious, has infiltrated daily life. Everybody has been affected.
“I’m sure that played into a reading where the Macbeths no longer open a door that taints them alone – the whole world is touched by what comes through, and few remain entirely unchanged. The uncertainty of the play’s inhabitants is more important now: none of them, except perhaps the Witches, knows what’s going on. We’ve reshaped the play to draw out those ideas.”
Why are you setting Macbeth in a dystopian cyberpunk future?
“Because I am a colossal nerd!
“More seriously: you’ll be familiar with period productions, productions in modern dress and really abstract conceptual productions.
“Period productions allow the play to sit in the world it’s written for, but demand the audience do advance reading to see beyond Ye Olde Worlde Thingy. Modern dress gives a cultural language that the audience understand but struggle every time someone mentions a sword or castle. Conceptual productions are great at pulling out the ideas of the play, but often lose some of the dramatic effect.
“An imagined future gives us the best of all three: a world built using a cultural language the audience understand, while also supporting the play’s world and bringing out its ideas.
“In this case, cyberpunk is a genre that features individuals in a system far beyond them, in an ever-changing world of illusory realities that is corrupted in many ways. It’s perfect for Macbeth– and because we’d built a new world just for this production, it meant that it was very easy to rebuild that world for 2021 in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with other approaches to the play.
“Cyberpunk is an exciting genre for Macbeth, allowing us to explore Shakespeare’s ideas of lurking corruption, a disintegrating reality and the search for some moral certainty.”
How will that be reflected in Charley Ipsen’s set and costume design?
“Ooh, you’re in for a treat. Once you’ve entered the space, you’ll feel the play’s world surrounding you and creeping in. But I’m not going to spoil it, other than to say that Charley’s made something really rather special: they’ve outdone themselves, especially on a tight budget.”
If one play were going to stop York Shakespeare Project in its tracks, it would always be the Scottish Play. Lo and behold, only two productions from the finish line, the curse of Macbeth meets the curse of Covid! Discuss…
“If I had a quid for every time I’ve heard that joke since March 2020.
“I can’t say I’m superstitious in that way. Though our dramaturge, Dr Kelsey Ridge, did share an interesting theory about why the superstition arose: Macbeth is a play that will almost always bring an audience, which means that it’s often one of the last plays a company will do to try and balance the books before going bankrupt.
“Not sure if it’s true, but it’s a good theory.”
Macbeth is back in the headlines for the James McArdle-Saoirse Ronan coupling in Yael Farber’s staging of The Tragedy Of Macbeth at the Almeida, London. What will the coupling of Emma Scott (she/her) as Macbeth and Nell Frampton (they/them) as The Lady bring to your production?
“I haven’t seen that production, having been in York, but having heard that it runs at three and a half hours, apparently our actors at the very least speak faster! (Our Macbeth lasts for only one hour and 40 minutes with no interval.)
“There are as many ways of playing The Lady and Macbeth as there are actors.
“Spoilers ahead: I think the magic Nell and Emma bring is the tenderness of the initial relationship, followed by its unravelling as both are racked with the poison they invite into the world.
“They’re both young, and in many ways that’s helped give their Macbeths’ relationship interesting flavours of hopefulness, enthusiasm and almost innocence at the start of the play. It’s heart-breaking to see that fall apart.
“Nell was playing Malcolm in 2020, and they’ve certainly shown their range as an actor, creating a Lady with a delicious mix of urgency, love, and craving to become something more.
“Emma’s Macbeth has been cooking since late 2019. There’s power and monstrosity, but underpinning it all an almost boundless humanity, caught up in society, temptation, the need for security, the want of a legacy, and of course the great question: do our actions matter in any moral sense? She’s created something very special.
“The relationship Nell and Emma have crafted between The Lady and Macbeth is remarkably done: one striding ever onwards into corruption, the other trying to step back from something she cannot escape. It’s been great fun rehearsing with them, especially since both are, in their own ways, scholars of early modern European literature and interested in cyberpunk and related genres.”
When did you first see a production of Macbeth and what do you recall of it?
“I remember watching about five minutes of the Ian McKellen/Judi Dench production at school, though beyond it being rather dark I remember very little. It’s now one of my favourite productions.
“Like many people, Shakespeare at school was treated more as a matter of translation than as a source of drama and joy.
“It was years later, when I was just starting to discover why people love Shakespeare, that I first saw a full production of Macbeth: a very intense one at the Young Vic, which managed to compress the whole thing into an hour of action, fear and dread.
What makes Macbeth a great play to stage and, equally, a great part to play?
“For the play: I could answer this for hours; this is one of my favourite plays! How compact the play is, the beautiful lines, the range of ways to approach it for each different team, the vastness and intimacy of its ideas about humanity and the world, the way it presents the Macbeths’ ever-worsening bargains and compromises.
“I’d argue that many plays can be great in the right hands, but Macbeth’s range of ideas and vivid archetypal roles makes the task far easier.
“As a role, Macbeth gives the actor a lot of opportunities to make it their own. With several iconic monologues and 30 per cent of the lines, the actor can build a world around their interpretation and always find something new.
“Those monologues are iconic for a reason: Macbeth’s reflections on the right way to live, what we leave behind, and his shifting views on his own moral state give the actor plenty to play with. You start playing someone who is virtuous and worthy and step by step leaves that behind.
What makes Macbeth a difficult play to stage and, equally, a difficult part to play?
“Mostly, people constantly bringing up those who have gone before! It can be very distracting, though I’ve got rather good at ignoring what others have done to try and read it as though I didn’t know its long tradition, and it was a new play.
“It’s pleasingly intricate. Even after an extra two years working on it, I haven’t reached the bottom of what it can do, while still being amazed at how clear it all is.
“As a role, it offers the chance to make a genuine masterpiece. But that requires excellence across the board, both in mechanical things like vocal, physical and text-preparation techniques, and in the deeper artistic matters of finding and nurturing an interpretation, working with the rest of the team, and bringing that to life. I do think Emma has risen astoundingly to the challenge.”
How have you found the experience of working on your second YSP production after your 2019 debut?
“Fantastic. I was very pleased to direct Anthony And Cleopatrain 2019, becoming part of a larger mission. Coming back for Macbeth in 2020 was a delight; coming back after a year of lockdowns has been a joy. Working with people who love Shakespeare so much, with such a strong sense of purpose, and a real range of approaches and ideas, is always a pleasure.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
“The whole team have done amazing work. Even if you’re not normally a Shakespeare person, this is a great play to try: it’s pacy, dives from love to fear to action to the supernatural, and, at the end of the day, only costs £5 if you come on the right day, and we’ll be doing what we can to make it as safe as possible. Hopefully, we’ll see you there!”
York Shakespeare Project in Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 26 to 30, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. SOLD OUT. Box office for returns only: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
MOOR, Moor, Moor and much more, more, more besides are on Charles Hutchinson’s list for the week ahead.
Surrealist stand-up theatre of the week, Ben Moor and Joanna Neary mini-season, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, today until Saturday
BEN Moor and Joanna Neary combine to deliver five offbeat comedy shows in three days in their Theatre@41 debut.
Moor contemplates performance, friendship and regret in his lecture about lectures, Pronoun Trouble, tonight at 8pm. Tomorrow, at 7.30pm, Neary’s multi-character sketch show with songs and impersonations, Wife On Earth, is followed by Moor’s Who Here’s Lost?, his dream-like tale of a road trip of the soul taken by two outsiders.
Saturday opens at 3pm with Joanna’s debut children’s puppet show, Stinky McFish And The World’s Worst Wish, and concludes at 7pm with the two-hander BookTalkBookTalkBook, a “silly author event parody show”. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Alternative history lesson of the week: Horrible Histories’ Barmy Britain, Grand Opera House, York, today at 1.30pm, 7pm; tomorrow, 10.30am and 7pm; Saturday, 3pm, 7pm; Sunday, 11am, 3pm
WHAT if a Viking moved in next door? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Can evil Elizabeth entertain England? Will Parliament survive Gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin?
Questions, questions, so many questions to answer, and here to answer them are the Horrible Histories team in Barmy Britain, a humorously horrible and eye-popping show trip to the past with Bogglevision 3D effects. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
Reopening of the week: York Theatre Royal Studio for Tutti Frutti’s The Princess And The Pea, today to Tuesday; no show on Sunday
YORK Theatre Royal Studio reopens today with a capacity reduced from 100 to 71 and no longer any seating to the sides.
First up, Leeds children’s theatre company Tutti Frutti revive York playwright Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story, set in a place where what you see is not what it seems: the Museum of Forgotten Things.
Three musical curators delve into the mystery of how a little green pea ended up there in an hour of humour, songs and a romp through every type of princess you could imagine. Box office and show times: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Open Studios of the week: Anita Bowerman, Dove Tree Art Gallery and Studio, Back Granville Road, Harrogate, Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm
HARROGATE paper-cut, watercolour and stainless steel artist Anita Bowerman opens her doors for refreshments and a browse around her new paintings of Yorkshire and Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen, prints and mugs.
“It’s a perfect chance for inspiration before the Christmas present-buying rush starts,” says Anita, who has been busy illustrating a new charity Christmas card for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance featuring the Yorkshire Shepherdess.
York Design Week gig of the week: Drawsome!, Mollie Coddled Talk More Pavilion, Spark:York, Saturday, from 3pm
AS part of Drawsome’s day of workshops and an Indy Makers Market to complement MarkoLooks’ print swap exhibition of illustrators and printmakers, York’s Young Thugs Records are curating a free line-up of live music.
Taking part will be The Hazy Janes, Kell Chambers and Rachel Croft, singer, songwriter and illustrator to boot.
Welcome back of the week: Breabach, Selby Town Hall, Saturday, 8pm
GLASGOW folk luminaries Breabach will be the first touring band to play Selby Town Hall for almost 20 months this weekend.
“Leading lights of the Scottish roots music scene and five-time Scots Trad Music Award winners, they’re a really phenomenally talented band,” says Chris Jones, Selby Town Council’s arts officer. “It’s an absolute thrill to have professional music back in the venue. It’s been far too long!” Box office: 01757 708449, at selbytownhall.co.uk or on the door from 7.30pm.
Eighties’ celebration of the week: Level 42, York Barbican, Sunday, doors 7pm
ISLE of Wight jazz funksters Level 42 revive those rubbery bass favourites Lessons In Love, The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up), Something About You, Running In The Family et al at York Barbican.
Here are the facts: Mark King’s band released 14 studio, seven live and six compilation albums, sold out Wembley Arena for 21 nights and chalked up 30 million album sales worldwide.
This From Eternity To Here tour gig has been rearranged from October 2020; original tickets remain valid. Box office for “limited availability”: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Guitarist of the week: Richard Thompson, York Barbican, Monday, doors 7pm
RICHARD Thompson plays York Barbican on the back of releasing Beeswing, his April autobiography subtitled Losing My Way And Finding My Voice 1967-1975.
An intimate memoir of musical exploration, personal history and social revelation, it charts his co-founding of folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention, survival of a car crash, formation of a duo with wife Linda and discovery of Sufism.
Move on from the back pages, here comes Richard Thompson OBE, aged 72, songwriter, singer and one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 20 Guitarists of All Time. Katherine Priddy supports. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Something wicked this way comes…at last: York Shakespeare Project in Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 26 to 30, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee
THE curse of Macbeth combined with Lockdown 1’s imposition to put a stop to York Shakespeare Project’s Scottish Play one week before its March 2020 opening.
Rising like the ghost of Banquo, but sure to be better received, Leo Doulton’s resurrected production will run as the 37th play in the York charity’s mission to perform all Shakespeare’s known plays over 20 years.
Doulton casts Emma Scott’s Macbeth into a dystopian future, using a cyberpunk staging to bring to life this dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Dance show of the week: Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday, 7.30pm
ARTISTIC director Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black return to York with a double bill full of lyrical contrasts and beautiful movement.
Will Tuckett blends classical ballet, poetry and music to explore ideas of home and belonging in Then Or Now; fellow Olivier Award-winning choreographer Mthuthuzeli November contemplates the purpose of life in The Waiting Game. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Exhibition of the week: Fylingdales Group of Artists, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street, York, until November 30
TWELVE Fylingdales Group members are contributing 31 works to this exhibition of Yorkshire works, mainly of paintings in oils, acrylics, gouache and limonite.
Two pieces by Paul Blackwell are in pastel; Angie McCall has incorporated collage in her mixed-media work and printmaker Michael Atkin features too.
Also participating are David Allen, fellow Royal Society of Marine Artist member and past president David Howell, Kane Cunningham, John Freeman, Linda Lupton, Don Micklethwaite, Bruce Mulcahy, Sue Slack and Ann Thornhill.
THE curse of Macbeth combined with Lockdown 1’s imposition to put a stop to York Shakespeare Project’s Scottish Play just one week before its March 2020 opening.
Rising like the ghost of Banquo, but sure to be better received, Leo Doulton’s resurrected production will run at Theatre@41, Monkgate, from October 26 to 30 as the 37th play in the York charity’s mission to perform all Shakespeare’s known plays in a 20-year span.
Doulton is casting Macbeth into a dystopian cyberpunk future, using a dramatic new staging to bring to life this dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces.
“This production has had an unusually long journey, and I’m grateful to everyone involved for their wonderful creativity and resilience over the years, whether they’re a veteran of the original production or a newcomer,” he says.
“It would be impossible to present Macbeth in the same way as when we started work on it before the pandemic. We’ve moved from a world where we fear quite specific things to one where we fear more pervasive, invisible ones, such as the pandemic and the climate crisis.
“Cyberpunk is an exciting genre for Macbeth, allowing us to explore Shakespeare’s ideas of lurking corruption, a disintegrating reality, and the search for some moral certainty. It is a magnificent play, and I look forward to sharing this production at long last.”
YSP secretary Tony Froud says: “We were all disappointed not to see Macbeth take place last year, when we were so close to the finish line, especially after the hard work of Leo and the cast and crew.
“During lockdowns and restrictions on performance, we’ve done our best to stay engaged with our community with online play readings and two successful outdoor productions of Sit Down Sonnets, but we’ve always been planning to return to this play and the resumption of our 20-year mission.
“We’re really pleased that Leo and so many of the cast have been able to return, and we can’t wait to share this production with a wider audience.”
York Shakespeare Project in Macbeth, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 26 to 30, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Tickets cost £15; £5 for students, means-tested benefit recipients and under-18s. The October 26 performance is an open dress rehearsal with tickets at £5.
YSP’s plot summary
MACBETH receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become king. Torn between duty and the chance of greatness, Macbeth and his devoted wife murder King Duncan and take the throne for themselves. Macbeth slowly turns into a tyrant, as corrupt as the strange witches. Meanwhile, the forces of virtue realise what Macbeth has become and a civil war begins.
Macbeth: Emma Scott
The Lady: Nell Frampton
Banquo, Siward: Clive Lyons
Fleance, Donalbain, Son, Young Siward: Meredith Stewart
Macduff: Frank Brogan
Duncan, Lady Macduff, Menteith: Elizabeth Elsworth
Malcolm: Rhiannon Griffiths
Lennox: Andrea Mitchell
Ross: Tony Froud
Angus: Sarah-Jane Strong
First Witch, First Murderer, Doctor: Joy Warner
Second Witch, Second Murderer, Gentlewoman: Diana Wyatt
Third Witch, Third Murderer, Caithness, Seyton: Xandra Logan
Director: Leo Doulton
Set and costume designer: Charley Ipsen
Lighting designer: Neil Wood
Sound designer: Jim Paterson
Poster design: Charles Keusters
Company back story
YORK Shakespeare Project (YSP) was established in 2001 with a commitment to perform all of Shakespeare’s known plays in York over 20 years.
Debut production Richard III took place in 2002, since when YSP has staged 35 productions, covering 36 of Shakespeare’s plays. Despite the pandemic-enforced delays, YSP still plans to complete the project in 2022.
For more information, go to: yorkshakespeareproject.org.
Coming up at CharlesHutchPress: Director Leo Doulton discusses his dystopian, cyberpunk Macbeth.
YORK Settlement Community Players return from lockdown mothballing with Harri Marshall’s production of The 39 Steps at Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, from November 11 to 14.
Patrick Barlow’s two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning comedy thriller – a hit in the West End, on Broadway and on multiple tours – asks the cast to play more than 150 characters in recreating an against-the-odds combination of both John Buchan’s 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film.
The task is to tell the fast-moving story of Richard Hannay, a man with a boring life, who meets a woman with a thick foreign accent who claims to be a spy. When he takes her home, she is murdered.
Soon, a mysterious organisation called “The 39 Steps” is hot on the man’s trail in a nationwide hunt that climaxes in a death-defying finale in Barlow’s adaptation, based on an original concept by North Country Theatre’s Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble.
Aran MacRae, a professional actor who returned home to York in lockdown after working on the London musical theatre stage and on tour overseas, will play Richard Hannay, fresh from Aran being one of the sonneteers for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021.
Sanna Buck will take the roles of Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret, while Stephen Wright, Andrew Isherwood, Jim Paterson, Matt Pattison, Matt Lomax and Dan Boyle will be The Clowns, whereas normally they are played by only two actors rushing around frantically trying to do most of the 150-plus characters.
York Settlement Community Players’ last live theatre production was Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio in March 2020, when the run ended a week before the theatre went dark for the first pandemic lockdown. Since then, the company has hosted play readings and social meet-ups online.
The 39 Steps will be Harri Mashall’s second production for YSCP, after directing Nanci Harris’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes at Theatre@41 in the autumn of 2019.
“For the past eighteen months, the UK feels like it’s lost its theatrical mojo, which is why I’m excited to bring this light, wickedly funny play to Theatre@41 to share in the love and laughter and to showcase some brilliantly inventive theatre,” says Harri, who identifies as a deaf director.
“Rehearsals are going very well; we started at the deep end, plunging into the logistics of how to re-create those fabulous iconic scenes that made The 39 Steps famous when it debuted on the West End.
“This includes re-creating chase sequences on board the Flying Scotsman and a live on-stage plane crash.”
Harri adds: “I’m very lucky to be working with such a talented cast. Every single performer is a brilliant star in their own right. Their collective repertoire includes credits at the London Coliseum, York Theatre Royal, York Light Opera, the York Mystery Plays, Pick Me Up Theatre and previous successful York Settlement Community Players’ shows, such as The Cherry Orchard and The Red Shoes.”
This amateur production of The 39 Steps is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.
Tickets for the 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees in the John Cooper Studio are on sale at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
YORK Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 played to record attendances, surpassing the annual summer event’s previous peak by 190.
Running from July 30 to August 7 in YSP’s new Sonnets location of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s “secret garden”, in Blossom Street, York, Emile Knight’s production drew 428 people. The past best was 238.
Producer Maurice Crichton reflects: “We took a few chances with the weather and got through all 18 planned performances without a real downpour. I think we may well return to the same venue next year when the perils of Covid and pinging interdicts will hopefully be fully behind us.
“I was particularly pleased that we managed to involve three young men – Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe – who all contributed to a very strong company bond. There’s something special about a group of players aged from 15 to 60 plus.”
Next up for York Shakespeare Project will be Leo Doulton’s production of Macbeth in October. Watch this space for more details to follow.
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.
YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret location for its latest sonnet adventures, the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York.
After several years of Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens and the socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September, here come Sonnets At the Bar 2021, directed by Emilie Knight and produced by Maurice Crichton from tomorrow (30/7/2021) to August 7.
Emilie, who played a Covid Nurse in last year’s performances, 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 some unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.
Here, Emilie answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions on plays versus sonnets, topical characters, outdoor performances, new sonneteers and Covid times.
What draws you to Shakespeare’s sonnets by comparison with his plays?
“The sonnets provide an instant hit of the Bard’s language and turn of phrase, and while you may need to read it over and for some do a little research, when you do get it, it’s striking. Each one tells a story or even more than one as we’ve explored with the Sonnets productions.”
What struck you most about performing the topical Covid Nurse role in last September’s production?
“Although there was a touch of humour in the role, I found playing the nurse very moving. I have no healthcare experience and felt a tinge of imposter syndrome, especially when I was leafleting in Goodramgate between performances in my scrubs and people came up to me assuming I was campaigning for the NHS, which in a way, I was.”
What did you learn from that outdoor staging – in one location, rather than moving around York’s streets and gardens – that you can bring to this summer’s production?
“There was a stillness in Holy Trinity churchyard – apart from the restaurant kitchen noises that punctuated some of the performances – that enabled the audience to really focus on the character and their sonnet without distractions from passers-by and traffic.
“I was keen to replicate that while introducing the movement that the sonnet walks allows. In this case, the characters are moving through the space rather than the audience moving through York.”
What do you see as the director’s role in this production?
“Very much as an introducer of ideas. I had a strong image of how I wanted the production to look and feel, but from my own experience as a sonneteer also knew that the organic nature of this sonnets concept relies on the ideas we have and sometimes accidental discoveries we make throughout the rehearsal process.
“It’s also been my role to ensure that everyone has fun. We’re a community group with jobs, studying, family responsibilities to deal with, all coming together because we love theatre and never more so than now after the challenging times we’ve all experienced.”
How did you settle on this year’s Shakespeare Sonnets conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities?
“Within hours of finishing our last production, I’d started mulling over possible future themes, and by the beginning of this year, it struck me that through the pandemic our hobbies and community activities had been completely turned upside down.
“I asked myself, ‘how is it going to feel to return to gatherings in person after doing everything online for so long?’ and whether there would be any hesitation in doing so. We heard a lot about how desperate everyone was to ‘get back to normal’, but I did wonder whether some people would prefer it to stay as it is, and that’s when Harry Barrowclough popped into my head.
“Then I thought about all the different things that go on in community centres that, unless you’re involved in yourself, you barely give any thought to. A major consideration in the early days was where to stage the production and, given the community connection and the fabulous garden, theBar Convent seemed a perfect fit and it has been.
How did you decide on the characters? Did you give the actors leeway to create them or did you create the characters first and then let them work on them?
“I had very clear characters in mind and drafted a working script as a starting point. But you never know who’s going to audition; through that process I was able to identify some who fitted a particular character exactly as I thought of them or who delivered something completely different from how I imagined it and it just worked.
“From day one of rehearsals, I invited the sonneteers to play with their character and dialogue and try out different ideas until we settled on the perfect fit. For me, the joy of the YSP Sonnets programme is very much that it is a creative process for everyone involved and together we develop something very special.”
Five “new” sonnets feature among the selection. What made you choose those ones?
“I chose all the sonnets first with a few extra, without reference to which had been used before, and by a happy coincidence there were new ones. Some I chose for their direct relevance to a character and situation I had in mind; others I simply found very beautiful and knew I wanted to use them and so devised a way to make them suit.”
How have you rehearsed the sonnets in Covid times?
“We were very fortunate that the Bar Convent embraced our production from the beginning and made it possible for us to rehearse in the space, which, being open air, made everything instantly more Covid safe.
“We’ve also been lucky with the weather…so far! Of course, we’ve had the ongoing challenge of cast members being ‘pinged’ at any moment and have all been committed to keeping each other safe and will continue to do so for ourselves, the Bar Convent community and our audiences.”
Among the cast, you have selected four actors new to York Shakespeare Project. Who are they?
“Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe. I’m so excited about this production and very proud of all the work everyone has put in, most especially the youngsters.
“With the cuts in arts education generally and worryingly more to come, and the reduced opportunities for our youth to explore the creative arts, it’s been very rewarding to have been able to offer this chance for them to shine.”
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, tomorrow (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.
FROM circus at York Theatre Royal, to Moby Dock on a Hull dry dock, Benedetti in Pickering to Riding Lights on film, Charles Hutchinson enjoys his ever busier perch to spot what’s happening.
Circus in town: Ockham’s Razor in This Time, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 8 and 9, 8pm
CIRCUS theatre company Ockham’s Razor’s This Time is a show about time, age and the stories we tell ourselves, presented by a cast ranging in age from 13 to 60.
Circus and aerial skills, autobiographical storytelling and original equipment combine in a visual theatre piece that looks at love, support and struggle in families, alongside perceptions of strength and ability: how we are strong in different ways at different times in our lives.
Festival residency of the summer: Nicola Benedetti: Live and In Person, Ryedale Festival 40th Anniversary Launch Concert, Pickering Parish Church, tomorrow (4/6/2021), 4pm and 8pm
TOMORROW, in-person music making returns to Ryedale Festival at Pickering Parish Church, when Scottish-Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti opens her 2021 festival residency by launching the Live and In Person series.
She will join her regular chamber music partners, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk, to perform one of Beethoven’s wittiest and most loveable works and an inspired piano trio by Brahms.
Outdoor play of the month: Moby Dick, John Godber Company, Stage@The Dock, next to The Deep, Hull, until June 12
JOHN Godber and Nick Lane’s radical reworking of Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby Dick, is being staged in Hull’s dry dock amphitheatre by an East Yorkshire cast of eight from the John Godber Company
Adhering to Covid-safe rules, and with a playing time of 70 minutes and no interval, this fast-paced physical production transports socially distanced audiences to the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship the Pequod in his catastrophic battle with the monster white whale, Moby Dick.
Godber’s production references Hull’s global importance as a port, its former prowess as a whaling centre and contemporary conservation issues of conservation.
“Film” of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company in Pericles, York International Shakespeare Festival, online, tomorrow (4/6/2021) to Sunday
YORK company Riding Lights present their sparkling, streamlined, 80-minute theatre-on-film performance of a lesser-known but still gripping Shakespeare work, Pericles, The Prince Of Tyre, online.
In a “perilous voyage through the storms of life”, brave adventurer Pericles sets off to win the girl on everyone’s lips. Uncovering a sinister truth, he plunges into a rolling surge of events that leaves him broken, gasping for life.
Topical themes of abuse of power, desperate crossings of the Mediterranean and sex trafficking ensure this extraordinary saga sails uncomfortably close to home. For tickets, go to ridinglights.org/pericles.
York gig announcement of the week: Roger Taylor, Outsider Tour, York Barbican, October 5.
QUEEN legend Roget Taylor will play York Barbican as the only Yorkshire show of his “modest” 14-date Outsider tour this autumn.
In a “surprise announcement”, rock drummer Taylor, 71, confirmed he would be on the road from October 2 to 22. “This is my modest tour,” he says. “I just want it to be lots of fun, very good musically, and I want everybody to enjoy it. I’m really looking forward to it. Will I be playing Queen songs too? Absolutely!”
Outsider, his first solo album since 2013’s Fun On Earth, will be released on October 1 on Universal, dedicated to “all the outsiders, those who feel left on the sidelines”.
On the move: Changes afoot at Scarborough Open Air Theatre for 2021 and 2022
CANADIAN rocker Bryan Adams is moving his entire ten-date UK outdoor tour from 2021 to the summer of ’22, now playing Scarborough Open Air Theatre on July 1 and Harewood House, near Leeds, on July 10. Tickets remain valid for the new shows.
In further OAT changes, Kaiser Chiefs have moved to August 8; Keane, August 21; Olly Murs, August 27; UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro, August 28; Snow Patrol, September 10, and Duran Duran, September 17. Westlife stick with August 17; Nile Rodgers & Chic with August 20.
For next summer’s line-up, Ru Paul’s Drag Race: Werq The World has changed to May 29 2022; Crowded House, June 11; Lionel Richie, July 2, and Lewis Capaldi, July 7.
Exhibition of the week: Summer Eclectic, Blue Tree Gallery, Bootham, York, until July 3
SUMMER Eclectic marks the reopening of Blue Tree Gallery after a run of online shows.
“It’s good to see York open again for all to visit and enjoy, as we help to keep York culturally alive, safe and well,” say Gordon and Maria Giarchi and their gallery team. “We’ll be open to the public with this show and it’s available online too.”
On view are original paintings by Yorkshire artists Janine Baldwin, Colin Cook, Deborah Grice and Karen Turner.
Auditions of the week: York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar, Bar Convent, York, Friday and Saturday
YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret new location for its latest sonnet adventures, the secret garden of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York, for Sonnets At the Bar 2021 from July 30 to August 7.
Open-to-all auditions will be held at the Bar Convent tomorrow (4/6/2021) from 5pm and on Saturday from 10am. Those wanting to arrange an audition time should contact director Emilie Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org, putting ‘Sonnets’ in the heading and indicating a preference of day and time day and time.
“I will provide details of everything you need to prepare when confirming your audition time,” says Emilie, who performed in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets.
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.”
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 email@example.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.
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.