York Shakespeare Project to stage Richard III and Lucrece at York International Shakespeare Festival on 25-year mission

Harry Summers: Facing a winter of discontent as Richard, Duke of Gloucester in York Shakespeare Project’s Richard III

AS in 2002, York Shakespeare Project launches a mission to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays with Richard III, staged at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, from April 26 to 29.

The first cycle concluded with a tour of The Tempest last September, and now YSP has initiated a bold endeavour to combine Shakespeare’s works with the best of his contemporaries over the next 25 years.

Esteemed York thespian John White directed YSP’s debut production of Richard III in Elizabethan garb at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from October 30 to November 2 2002.

In contrast, Daniel Roy Connelly’s 2023 incarnation of “the York play”, part of the York International Shakespeare Festival, is rooted firmly in the 21st century. His production is set in a frenetic, calculating and brutal Westminster, with endless Machiavellian bloodletting and daily treacheries.

Connelly espouses that the England of Richard III could hardly be closer to today’s political minefield. “Telling Shakespeare through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the county, the play explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown,” he contends.

“I believe that a parliamentary telling of Richard III is not only long overdue, it’s also bang on time. Prepare then for British politics as played out, murderously, on the floor of the House of Commons.”

Daniel Roy Connolly: Former diplomat directing York Shakespeare Project for the first time in Richard III

Audiences may find Connelly’s contemporary vision remarkably familiar. Richard and Buckingham excel as social media manipulators within a world of warring political parties. In the shadowy corridors of power, everyone is culpable.

Richard’s watchword? “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain”.

Making his YSP bow, Connelly is a former British diplomat, theatre director, actor, author and academic. He has acted in and directed theatre in the United States, the UK, Italy and China, where his 2009 production of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly was forced to close by the Chinese secret police.

In his cast will be: Harry Summers as Richard, Duke of Gloucester/Richard III; Rosy Rowley, Duke of Buckingham; Miranda Mufema, Lady Anne;  Emily Hansen, Queen Margaret; Andrea Mitchell, Queen Elizabeth; Frankie Hayes, Duchess of York/Sir William Catesby, and Matt Simpson, Duke of Clarence.

So too will be: Jack Downey, Sir Richard Ratcliffe; Clive Lyons, Lord Hastings; Michael Peirce, Young York/Lord Grey/Murderer; Nell Frampton, Prince Edward/Rivers; Frank Brogan, King Edward IV/Stanley; Thomas Jennings, Sir James Tyrell; Nick Jones, Earl of Richmond; James Tyler, Archbishop, and Anna Kedge, Marquis of Dorset.

Tickets for the 7.30pm evening performances and 2.30pm Saturday matinee are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights and on 01904 655317.

Elizabeth Elsworth’s regal, calculating Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, opposite Jim Paterson’s Mark Antony in York Shakespeare Project’s Antony And Cleopatra in 2019. Now she is directing YSP’s semi-staged version of Lucrece in her directorial debut

YORK Shakespeare Project will mark Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23 with three performances of Lucrece, a semi-staged version of his early narrative poem The Rape Of Lucrece, at Friargate Theatre, York.

Its original production was set to play at the Mansion House in April 2020 as a culminating feature of then YSP chair Councillor Janet Looker’s year as Lord Mayor, until the pandemic lockdown enforced its postponement.

Now it will be presented under Elizabeth Elsworth’s direction in performances at 2.30pm and 6pm on Sunday and 6pm on Monday as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival.

By the time of the poem’s publication in 1594, Shakespeare already had written the three parts of Henry VI, Two Gentlemen Of Verona and Richard III. When an outbreak of the plague caused a Tudor lockdown that closed London’s theatres, Shakespeare turned to poetry, exploring the theme of misplaced desire in Venus And Adonis and again in Lucrece, as it was entitled on the original frontispiece.

Extremely successful in his lifetime, these poems established Shakespeare as a poet but are rarely heard today. Just as his plays are celebrated for giving extraordinary life to their characters and stories, so he charts the inner worlds and challenges of the characters in The Rape Of Lucrece.

Emma Scott in the title role for York Shakespeare Project’s semi-staged version of Lucrece

In doing so, he gives voice to the unspeakable, his writing taking his audience to the heart of the matter. A voice is heard and actions will have consequences. In verse both gripping and heartfelt, he depicts an action resonating beyond Lucrece herself as she faces life-changing questions. How do you speak to power? To whom do you complain?

Lucrece speaks to the “MeToo” generation about situations and decisions that touch lives so deeply in a rare opportunity to experience Shakespeare’s writing at it most poignant and immediate.

Making her directorial debut, Elizabeth Elsworth has been a familiar face in many YSP productions, notably playing Katherine in Henry VIII in 2017 and Cleopatra in Antony And Cleopatra in 2019.

Emma Scott, who played Macbeth in Leo Doulton’s 2021 production of “the Scottish play”, takes the title role of Lucrece, alongside Stuart Lindsay as Tarquin; Diana Wyatt, Maid/Narrator; Judith Ireland, Player Queen/Narrator; Catherine Edge, Brutus/Narrator; Paul French, Lucretius/Narrator;  Jay Wadhawan, Collatine and a female chorus of Sally Mitcham, Sonia De Lorenzo and Lydia McCudden.

Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights or 01904 655317.