MOVE over 1967. Here comes the new Summer Of Love at York Theatre Royal.
What’s more, after the success of last winter’s Travelling Pantomime tour to 16 York locations, the Theatre Royal will be on the move again, going global for a fresh adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days.
A soon-to-be confirmed further outdoor location for August 10 to 12 is to be added to the playing fields of Carr Junior School, August 6 to 8; Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14 to 16, and Joseph Rowntree School, August 18 to 21, before a main-stage indoors finale back at base from August 25 to 28.
The adaptation is by the Theatre Royal’s creative director, Juliet Forster, director of both the Travelling Pantomime and Love Bites, the love letter to live performance that launched The Love Season after Covid restrictions eased on May 17.
“As one of the characters in the play says: ‘If you can’t travel to exciting parts of the globe this summer, don’t despair – we are here to bring the world to you!’That’s the spirit of this production really,” says Juliet, who will be working with Sara Perks, the designer of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes and Brideshead Revisited at the Theatre Royal.
“Many of us are feeling disappointed that there are still a lot of restrictions around travelling this summer, so this show is the perfect opportunity for some armchair tourism – or, rather, picnic blanket tourism.
“Jules Verne’s story is a lot of fun as the characters race against time to complete a full circuit of the Earth, and in this version, fact and fiction also go head to head as real-life investigative journalist Nellie Bly, puts in an appearance. It’s going to be a joyful, very energetic, very silly and highly acrobatic re-telling of the story, delivering the kind of experience that live theatre does best.”
Delighted by the ticket sales and audience response to the socially-distanced, Covid-secure Love Season so far, Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird has a similar policy in place for post-June 21, given the rising uncertainty surrounding “Freedom Day’s” removal of all strictures.
“We’re moving through the gears, one step at a time, one mini-season at a time,” he says. “We knew we couldn’t do a Covid-safe community play this summer, though we’d really like to do one soon.
“But we got the bug for moving shows out and about around York with the Travelling Pantomime, and when it looked like there was a possibility of theatres still not reopening fully, we looked at doing an outdoor show and chose one with a wonderful sense of adventure and the spectacular, Around The World In 80 Days, where it will feel like a circus has parked in your nearby field.”
Juliet’s adaptation, co-created in rehearsal through July with a five-strong cast of circus performers and actors, will add a new layer to Verne’s story. “She got really interested in this amazing woman, Nellie Bly, who went around the world in only 72 days at the end of the 19th century,” says Tom.
“Juliet has interwoven Nellie Bly’s story with Phileas Fogg’s story to present one tale they may well not know inside one they probably do. It really hurtles along and is a very dynamic piece, where the framing device involves the circus performers deciding they want to tell Nellie’s story.
“Juliet is a really talented dramaturg, and that’s a skill it’s good for us to make use of, bringing a new voice to a classic novel.”
Looking further ahead, audiences can travel to Africa too in the Summer Of Love when Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me has its delayed world premiere from September 9 to 18. Theatre Royal artistic associate John R Wilkinson’s production was scheduled to debut in May 2020 but postponed under the Covid pandemic restrictions.
Presented by York Theatre Royal and English Touring Theatre, writer-performer Munyevu’s play charts the rise and fall of controversial Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father.
“We are so proud of this play, doing the world premiere, co-produced with English Touring Theatre,” says Tom. “It’s one for the lovers of politics and how it’s never quite as clear cut as you think it is: the way Mugabe moved from hero to villain and how that played out in millions of Zimbabweans’ lives.
“It’s such an interesting piece in the way that it looks at how one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter: the way that Mugabe broke the old system of rule but then ended up founding a new form of tyranny. As well as that, the play is about being part of that new [Zimbabwean] diaspora.”
Tom is delighted to be linking up with Tonderai Munyevu once more. “I worked with him at Shakespeare’s Globe on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival,” he recalls. “He did a wonderful two-man version of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona and then he was in Black Men Walking when it toured the Theatre Royal in September 2019.
“Now, Mugabe, My Dad & Me will be rehearsed in York, made here, and will open here before going on the road, and it’s been made into an audio book so it will have a digital life too.”
Tom praises director John R Wilkinson too. “He’s a massive talent, now directing for the Young Vic as well as for the Theatre Royal, and it’s great to have him back after his production of Athol Fugard’s Hello And Goodbye in the Studio in November 2019.”
Broadening his thoughts, Tom says: “There was no good way to make the job cuts that we had to make last year [after the pandemic restrictions cast the theatre into the dark], but I’m pleased with the way we decided we’d cut a bit from each department, rather than closing a department.
“This way allowed us to continue to produce plays. I’ve always been passionate about that; despite all the pressures of, first, austerity and, then, the pandemic, it feels important to still do that.
“It gives us that agility, allowing us to make work that suits the venue, the city, the times, whereas if you cut it, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back because regional-producing theatre is very difficult to do under Arts Council funding.”
Tom continues: “To have two of our three Summer Of Love shows home produced is something we’re incredibly proud of, and it also allows us to use artists from York, like we did for the Love Bites shows when we reopened in May. If we can’t provide that opportunity, then we’re not doing our job right.
“I’ve worked in repertory theatre in Russia and Eastern Europe and there’s a lot to be said for it. You keep gazing at it longingly, but then you think, ‘how did they do that?’.”
In between the two in-house productions will be David Pugh’s Theatre by the Lake touring production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, from August 31 to September 4.
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980 and later made into an award-winning film with Julie Walters and Michael Caine, Russell’s heart-felt comedy drama follows married Liverpool hairdresser Rita and her encounters with heavy-boozing university tutor Frank while studying on an Open University course.
Max Roberts, emeritus artistic director at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, directs a production that bedded in at the cliff-edge Minack Theatre, Cornwall, last summer. “As it was outdoors, David Pugh was able to put on a long run there after the first lockdown ended,” says Tom.
“It’s great that Max is directing it because he’s directed lots of Lee Hall’s pieces, like The Pitmen Painters, and having Stephen Tompkinson in the cast keeps up our wish to bring big-name actors to York after Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in July.”
Education, education, education, plus humour, politics and life’s fateful twists make for a winning combination in Educating Rita. “It’s entered folklore,” says Tom. “What’s interesting is we thought people would come because of Stephen’s popularity, but lots of people are saying they’re booking because they just love the story.”
Tickets for the Summer Of Love are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
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