Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre returns to York
- Credit: Charlotte Graham
The York season of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre returns for its second year, we talk to founder James Cundall MBE about tradition, Yorkshire pride and what to expect
It's time again for the award-winning Shakespeare's Rose Theatre to descend upon York and James Cundall, CEO of international theatre company, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, which is behind the theatre, couldn't be more excited.
The award-winning pop-up Shakespearean theatre sits at the foot of historic Clifford's Tower, and will be home to four productions of Shakespeare's most popular plays - Hamlet, Henry V, The Tempest and Twelfth Night.
Constructed using corrugated iron and timber, the theatre is inspired by the Rose Theatre of 1587 in London's Bankside, which was built from timber, with a lath and plaster exterior and thatch roof. This year it will house an audience of 900, with 560 seated in three covered tiers around an open-roofed courtyard with standing room for 340 'groundlings'.
So, if an authentic Shakespearean theatre experience is something that you're after, then that is exactly what you will get. 'There were two points that excited me when making this and one was to create a traditional theatre,' enthuses Cundall.
'My ancestor happens to be Henry Condell who published the first folio in 1626 and I wanted to create a venue that, if Condell came to it, he would say it was totally recognisable with all the trappings of what they were used to working in. No one is more than 15 metres away from the audience - the intimacy is important.'
Also important to the project was to create a Shakespearean village outside. 'You can expect free entertainment, a traditional Yorkshire theatre wagon and oak-framed and reed-thatched food outlets curated by chef Brian Turner,' says Cundall. 'We've also got an Elizabethan garden designed by Sally Tierney, who won a Silver medal at the Chelsea Flower Show and lives in York.' The shows are fun and vibrant, and for everyone to enjoy - even those who may not usually choose to watch Shakespeare.
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'Last year was a great success with 76,000 people coming and another 22,000 coming to the village too,' Cundall smiles. I discover that half way through last year, Blenheim Palace approached Cundall and asked if they could see a performance. It was from there that they said they would like one this summer too - clearly, the company is going from strength to strength. Not content at stopping there though, Cundall tells me of their plans to go to Dublin next year as well and the long-term aim is to end up international, with the individual shows going anywhere in the world.
As a farmer's son from North Yorkshire, Cundall is outwardly proud of his Yorkshire roots. 'There are some great things going on in our county,' he says. 'Look at some of the things coming out of Sheffield at the moment like Everybody's Talking about Jamie - which was such a wonderful production - and Life Of Pi which opened in June and will hopefully go around the world. It doesn't have to be the big things; there are lots of wonderful people doing great things in the arts with no budget. I'm very proud of our county, we punch above our weight!'
I wonder what the bigger aims are of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre for York and the wider Yorkshire communities. 'We want to make sure we get children to it, and not only the one's who have parents that can afford it but disadvantaged children too,' Cundall tells me.
And what is he most excited about for this year? 'I'm excited for the audience to have a great afternoon and evening out. We are trying to make it fun and I want people to put down their iPhones and iPads for a few hours and just enjoy,' he smiles.
'There is something so magical about watching Shakespeare in a venue that it was actually written for. When the lights go down you can see the stars above you on a clear night and, if it rains, you get dripped on if you're one of the groundlings, but it's all part of it. Last year we had pigeons that kept flying around in the performance but it was kind of cool - it's what it was like!'
The York season of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre will run from Tuesday 25 June-Sunday 1 September, with four new productions: Hamlet, Henry V, The Tempest and Twelfth Night