York International Shakespeare Festival welcomes Ukrainian A Midsummer Night’s Dream among 40 live events in 11 days

From Ukraine, with love: Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Picture: Oleksii Tovpyha

THE fifth edition of the York International Shakespeare Festival will begin tomorrow after tonight’s opening show, a Right Here Right Now Shakespeare Special comedy improv night at the home of Riding Lights Theatre, was scuppered by unforeseen circumstances.  

Running until May 1, the 11-day programme comprises more than 40 live events, and others online, featuring international, national and York-made performances, talks, workshops, exhibitions and discussions.

Look out too for tomorrow’s Shakespeare Sonnet Marathon in the York Theatre Royal garden (weather permitting!) from 11am; storytelling in libraries and schools, and the launch of a book celebrating the festival’s community placemaking project in lockdown, York Loves Shakespeare (Friargate Theatre, Sunday, 5pm)

Flabbergast Theatre’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth. Picture: Michael Lynch

“We are delighted that the Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre have accepted our invitation to showcase their dynamic and uplifting production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (York St John University Creative Arts Centre Auditorium, April 28, 8pm)” says festival director Philip Parr.

“The Ukrainian company will also offer workshops for students and the community and will talk about the current nature of theatre in Ukraine. We are thrilled to have this company in York to not only present the quality of their work but also to demonstrate the significant cultural connection that is created through international festivals.”

Selected by the European Shakespeare Festival network from an international call-out, festival highlight Flabbergast Theatre’s visceral and lucid The Tragedy Of Macbeth (York St John University Creative Centre Auditorium, April 26, 8pm) has garnered responses such as comedian Stewart Lee’s recommendation: “Everything you want – stuff being banged, terrifying puppets, polyphonic singing, mess, mud, noise, wine, party hats, and an amazingly talented international cast”.

York actress Judith Ireland promoting York Loves Shakespeare, the York International Shakespeare Festival’s lockdown community project. Picture: John Saunders

The Stage critic Susan Elkin meanwhile enthused:  “The term ‘physical theatre’ doesn’t actually do it justice. It’s an understatement.”

Bognor Regis-born experimental theatre maker, actor, writer and director Tim Crouch presents his Fringe First-winning Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel (York St John University Creative Centre Auditorium and Atrium, April 29, 8pm)  fresh from seasons in Edinburgh New York and London. In this daring modern piece of storytelling and stand-up, he explores King Lear in a post-pandemic world as a virtual reality headset meets Shakespeare as Crouch ponders the essence of live performance.

Artists from Poland, Croatia and Romania join the festival for a series of staged play readings of European texts inspired or influenced by Shakespeare or by writers roughly contemporary to him. All are in new English translations, each receiving first performances, and all three will be heard in the UK for the first time in any language.

Tim Crouch in his virtual reality head set for Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel. Picture: Stuart Armitt

On the York front, York Shakespeare Project begins its second cycle with Dr Daniel Roy Connelly’s modern-day staging of Richard III, set in the House of Commons, at Friargate Theatre from April 26 to 29 and Elizabeth Elsworth’s innovative theatrical interpretation of Shakespeare’s long poem, here retitled Lucrece, at Friargate Theatre on Sunday and Monday.

“For 11 days, York will become the city of Shakespeare, but perhaps not the Shakespeare you might expect,” says Philip, artistic director of Parrabbola and chair of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network.

The full festival programme and ticket details can be found at www.yorkshakes.co.uk.

York International Shakespeare Festival: the back story

Philip Parr: Director of York International Shakespeare Festival

THE festival was established in 2014 and presented its first programme in 2015 with the aim of bringing exciting and innovative international productions to Great Britain and to showcase work from York and the North.

The festival is programmed and managed by Parrabbola, an arts organisation with many years’ experience in community arts and festivals.

Running every two years, the festival began as a partnership with Parrabbola, York Theatre Royal and the University of York, but has now broadened its reach to take in such York organisations as the National Centre for Early Music, Riding Lights Theatre Company, York Shakespeare Project, York Explore and Bronzehead, embedding the festival firmly in the city.

From 2023, YISF is working closely with York St John University in a new partnership designed to create a new opportunity for staff and students to produce this festival annually.