Today it is an unlovely council car park. Next year it will be, as Shakespeare put it, “made glorious summer by this sun of York”.
Half of the parking lot next to Clifford’s Tower, the largest remaining part of York Castle, will be transformed in June into a Shakespearean village, complete with an Elizabethan-style theatre modelled on the one that preceded the Globe, entertainment on wagons in the 16th century style, and a food court run by the Yorkshire TV chef Brian Turner, serving period menus.
It will be, the city’s tourist industry was promised, “a gift”.
As tickets went on sale for the 140 performances of four plays between June 25 and September 2, James Cundall, who conceived the idea on a Scottish fishing trip when the fish weren’t biting, reflected: “Lots of people would like to see the car park done away with altogether.”
Mr Cundall, a native of the York area and an international financier and showman whose company has mounted international productions of The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and The Sound of Music, said he had always believed that Europe’s first “pop-up” Shakespearean theatre should be in Yorkshire.
The description betrays its complexity. The 13-sided Rose Theatre will be constructed from scaffolding clad in 15,000 sq ft of corrugated iron and timber, and will take up to 50 people three weeks to construct. A firm from down the road in Sherburn-in-Elmet, which specialises in exhibition structures, will oversee it.
The makeshift theatre will be more or less as in Shakespeare’s day - with 600 people seated on three tiered balconies around an open-roofed courtyard, and standing room for 345 “groundlings”.
The sets will be simple and the lighting mostly natural. A company of actors will perform double duty on Romeo and Juliet and Richard III, and a second company will take on Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Casting has yet to take place, at auditions in York and London, but the project already has the support of Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ben Kingsley, and the Olivier-winning directors Damian Cruden and Lindsay Posner are on board.
Mr Cundall, whose father was a livestock trader in the old market on the site of the Barbican, and whose ancestor, Henry Cundall, was a partner of Shakespeare and the publisher of an early folio, said: “It’s a commercial venture - there are no grants. But we hope to raise £150,000 from our sponsors so that 15,000 children from the region can come free.”
He said the city council had been supportive, once assured that they would be recompensed for the loss of income from the car park.
David Carr, the council leader, said it the project would “kick start the regeneration of the urban gateway” and “act as an important step towards the regeneration of the site”.
Steve Brown, managing director of Make It York, said it was “a fantastic opportunity and a gift” for the tourism sector”.
Sir Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire, added: “It will do for arts and culture what bicycles have already done for Yorkshire.”
The choice of plays at the Rose Theatre next summer includes, inevitably, Richard III, Shakespeare’s take on the last king of the House of York who is buried, somewhat controversially, in Leicester.
Lindsay Posner, who will direct the production, said all the plays would have a contemporary feel, despite the traditional staging, but that the local crowd could not entirely escape Shakespeare’s unkind portrayal.
“In the text he is inescapably a villain,” he said. “On the other hand, he is also a charming seducer – of the people on the stage and in the audience.”