'Shakespeare for everybody' - how York's Rose Theatre is bringing the Bard's beauty and brilliance to new audiences

Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York is all about having fun with the Bard's great works and not creating "intellectual snobbery", its founder has said.

The open-air pop-up venue by Clifford’s Tower is a month into its second season as the region basks in a heatwave similar to last year's performance conditions.

The Tempest at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York. Picture by Charlotte Graham - CAG Photography.

The Tempest at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York. Picture by Charlotte Graham - CAG Photography.

Review: The Tempest at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre

Audiences can enjoy four of the playwright's famous productions, Hamlet, Henry V, The Tempest and Twelfth Night until Sunday September 1.

Founder and CEO of managers Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, James Cundall MBE, told The Yorkshire Post: "We just try and produce good quality, interesting Shakespeare that anybody can go have a good evening with.

"We're not trying to create intellectual snobbery, we're just trying to have fun with it. Shakespeare for everybody. Which is what Shakespeare was all about. Shakespeare was the man on the street."

James Cundall MBE cutting the ribbon at the beginning of last year's season at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre. Picture by James Hardisty.

James Cundall MBE cutting the ribbon at the beginning of last year's season at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre. Picture by James Hardisty.

Inspired by the Rose Theatre of 1587 in London’s Bankside, the theatre - constructed using state-of-the-art scaffolding technology, corrugated iron and timber - houses an audience of 900, with 560 seated in three covered tiers around an open-roofed courtyard with standing room for 340 "groundlings".

There is also Shakespeare Village outside the venue, where visitors - including those without a ticket for a show - can enjoy food, drink and entertainment.

"You can go out in the interval and get a pint and bring it back, as you would in Shakespeare's time," said Mr Cundall.

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Twelfth Night at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York. Picture by Charlotte Graham - CAG Photography.

Twelfth Night at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York. Picture by Charlotte Graham - CAG Photography.

An example of how the theatre is reaching new people is the 4,749 school children and their teachers it has welcomed, from more than 100 schools across the North of England, so far this season.

Of that number, 2,196 pupils were able to attend for free thanks to funding from private donors and charities working with the Rose Bursary Scheme, which enables disadvantaged children to enjoy the thrill of live theatre in the Shakespearean setting. Every £10 donated enabled a child to attend for free.

Many of the pupils from York, Leeds, Manchester, Doncaster, Sheffield, Newcastle, Halifax, Middlesbrough, Bradford, Rochdale, Hull, Sunderland, Scarborough, Knaresborough, Scunthorpe, and Harrogate were watching Shakespeare performed live for the first time.

Mr Cundall said: "If you can show children live entertainment whilst they're at school, there's a chance it sticks with them. You may go on to be a wonderful actor, you may work in the technical side of theatre or may just have an appreciation of it."

He added: "We believe that all young people should have the opportunity to attend outstanding theatre, irrespective of their cultural, social or economic background."

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Included at the Shakespeare Village are ‘wagon’ performances of Elizabethan-style entertainment, with comic mini-plays and speeches and Yorkshire food and drink housed in the oak-framed and reed-thatched Bear Arms pub.

Yorkshire garden designer Sally Tierney has created an Elizabethan garden with ornate box-edged beds of roses, cottage flowers and herbs as well as a water fountain.

Mrs Tierney is the winner of a Silver Gilt medal at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, and created the Elizabethan garden at the theatre last year too.

The theatre has also expanded this year to a second site in the UK, in the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, with a nine-week season running until September 7, where two companies are performing the repertoire of plays from the first season in York: Romeo & Juliet, Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth.

The previously announced cast for York this year includes Maggie Bain (Netflix’s Black Mirror, film Dark Sense and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe) as Henry V; ITV’s Victoria star David Oakes as Hamlet; Sam Callis (Game of Thrones, The Bill) as Prospero in The Tempest; and returning from last year’s theatre, Olivia Onyehara as Viola, Mark Holgate as Orsino, and Leandra Ashton as Olivia’ in Twelfth Night.

Speaking about the power of the playwright's works, Mr Cundall said: "Shakespeare was probably one of the best storytellers you will ever hear about."