Breaking Bard as Yorkshire stages arts revolution

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“ALL the world’s a stage” according to the immortal lines first penned by William Shakespeare more than 400 years ago.

And were the late, great Bard around today, he would see that Yorkshire has taken his maxim to heart.

An increasing number of the region’s heritage sites, museums and tourist attractions are being transformed into arts venues in a bid to engage new audiences and remind residents of what Yorkshire has to offer.

In a sure sign the region is a leading light, English Heritage has chosen God’s Own Country to host a Shakespearian production this weekend – a first for the organisation. The ancient ruins of Middleham Castle, which was the boyhood home of Richard III, will provide the setting for a film screening of the play about the notorious monarch, with voices provided by actors.

The event, organised with the University of York, is a double celebration to mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and the discovery of Richard III’s remains. Tickets for tonight’s production have already sold out, while tomorrow’s spectacular also looks set to play to a full-to-capacity audience.

“Our ultimate aim is to bring history to life,” said English Heritage’s events manager, Lucy Hutchings. “It’s quite a departure for us, but there has been huge interest and we’re really looking forward to it. It shows how we’re using our sites in different ways.

“Arts and heritage go hand in hand, so it makes sense. While bringing the history of our sites to life needs to remain our focus, we’re always open to new ideas.”

Meanwhile in South Yorkshire, Sheffield’s Opera on Location, formed just a year ago, has already established a nationwide reputation for breaking with convention and putting on performances in unusual locations.

After a sell-out run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the city centre’s Winter Garden last year, the company has taken up temporary residence in Graves Gallery, where it is halfway through a run of Puccini’s much-loved classic La Bohème. Each night, the surroundings provide an intimate setting for the love story and have enthralled audiences.

“We are incredibly excited to be working with Museums Sheffield and are delighted to have been given the opportunity to work in this fantastic space,” said producer Gareth Lloyd. “The works in the Graves Gallery are filled with drama and emotion – we couldn’t wish for a more appropriate backdrop for La Bohème.

Bosses claim the success of the show paves the way for similar events in the future.

Museums Sheffield’s chief executive, Kim Streets, said: “It’s been wonderful to see, and hear opera in the Graves Gallery.

“For us, partnership productions like these are great ways to animate our museums or galleries and bring them to life after hours.

“It’s always refreshing to see different art forms collaborating to produce something fresh and inspired.”

The Government has held up Yorkshire as a shining example of how to transform experience of the arts for all.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: “The way in which Yorkshire’s heritage sites, museums and galleries are opening their doors to stage performances makes perfect sense. The audience gets a distinctive and different experience, the venue welcomes a new audience, and very often the performance itself is lifted by its new setting.

“I wholeheartedly support this.”