I have always considered myself lucky to be from Yorkshire. Growing up amongst the beautiful countryside landscapes and experiencing the rich culture within each village, town and city, being surrounded with friendly northern accents and an incomparable warmness of people. The latter is a difficult trait to shake, that Yorkshireness is so engrained in me, I rarely make a train journey without making a new friend! We just love to chat!
But when I became interested in theatre, I found a whole new appreciation for my home. Especially within the city of York. My friends, most of whom were made through some show or another, are all there, I always worked there in the little cafes and pubs and when I return home from Liverpool, it is the first place I see when I get off the train. The range of opportunities in theatre I was able to take part in as a young person, was vast. From musicals to plays, Shakespearean sonnet walks to large scale community productions. The experience I gained was eclectic and for such a small city, there is really something for everyone in terms of the companies and productions that tour to and showcase within the city. The York Theatre Royal being the matriarch of the city's theatre scene, played a great part in inspiring a younger me to create female led work and the two productions I was part of in the summer of 2017; Jessica Swale's Blue Stockings with York Settlement Community Players and the theatre's community production Everything is Possible; The York Suffragettes were such massive influences to me as a young creative, I'm not sure where I'd be without them.
Last year though, the bar was well and truly raised. The introduction of the Shakespeare Rose Theatre in York was a highly anticipated event. The buzz from the four productions lasted the entire summer and I counted myself very lucky to catch all four of the fantastic debuts for the company; Midsummer Nights Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and Macbeth. They were fresh and exciting, showcasing immense talent from across the board of both cast and creatives. The Rose Theatre was truly special and unlike anything that I had experienced before. After all, the luxury of experiencing an Elizabethan theatre is often reserved for those in London who have access to The Globe. The atmosphere in the accompanying Shakespeare village was just fantastic, with local companies staging short pieces on a platform out front and a delicious mixture of local food and drink to indulge in. Though this was the first time York had had anything like this on this scale, it just seemed to fit. The theatre, located in the castle car park next to Clifford's Tower, felt very much at home in the city and I felt very privileged to experience it with so many of my friends and family last year. Also with the groundling tickets available at just £13.75, it was some of the most affordable theatre I'd been able to see for a long time.
I left last summer with my fingers crossed that this venture would return for another season but alas, with the arts climate as it is currently, I knew that might possibly not be the case. To my own delight however, as to so many others the theatre’s formidable success in 2018, winning several awards and boasting over 78,000 visitors over the 9 weeks they were open, with another 25,000 visiting the village alone, the theatre announced its comeback for Summer 2019. I was also very happy to learn about the Rose Bursary Scheme allowing 3,000 disadvantaged children to see a Shakespeare play, something that needs to take precedence in today’s times with schools’ arts funding constantly being cut. The programme’s foreword from Founder, James Cundall MBE, said they were to welcome ’85 primary, secondary and special needs schools to the theatre’ this season and after taking my little brother last year, who is only twelve, I saw the impact of seeing Shakespeare come to life can have on young people’s perspective. So often his works are over intellectualised and school age children grow into adults who think Shakespeare is ‘boring’ and feel uninspired by just the words on a page. Encouraging widespread; children, especially those who perhaps wouldn't have the opportunity to otherwise, to see Shakespeare on stage invigorates so many as they see it how it was written to be seen!
Speaking of being inspired, I went to see Artistic Director, Damien Cruden’s Hamlet last night with my Dad. I took him twice last year and he was really overwhelmed by it, he was talking about it for months afterwards so this year I made it his birthday treat! It honestly filled me with such pride seeing his face light up as he watched Hamlet with totally fresh eyes, completely new to the story, absolutely loving every second. It was a very proud moment for me. Way to make a stagey daughter proud Dad! For me this was testament to how relevant and exciting Shakespeare can be to all ages who have never experienced it like this before. I know it has influenced a love of the bard in my old Dad that will hopefully last a lifetime.
The shows I've managed to catch this year, two productions by the same company, both Twelfth Night and Hamlet were phenomenal. The design, led by Creative Designer Sara Perks, a past guest for my Deeds Not Words Women Blog Series, on each is sublime and the performances are stellar across the board. It’s also a true delight to see one company engage in two vastly different but equally challenging plots and do it so expertly. It also made me realise the whole experience as a dream job. The opportunity to explore two roles in such contrasting plays within the same season is scarcely seen in the arts world of today. It was a treat to watch and left me feeling mightily inspired. It was also nice to spot a LIPA grad Niall Costigan, in the programme for the other company. I hope I can make it back to catch him and the rest of the cast in The Tempest and Henry V before the run is out.
I really cannot recommend it enough. To anyone. Whether you be a creative yourself, a regular theatre goer, or someone who would never dream of fancying Shakespeare live on stage. It’s important to support such ventures when we are lucky enough to have them on our doorstep. I hope to see The Shakespeare Rose Theatre again next year and long may it last - a true 'Made in Yorkshire' feat!