Curtain falls on York’s glorious summer

Macbeth at the Rose Theatre, York. Picture: Charlotte Graham
Macbeth at the Rose Theatre, York. Picture: Charlotte Graham
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The final curtain will fall tomorrow on the poor players who have, since late June, strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage, but who may yet, even after the final performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, be heard once more.

It had been such stuff as dreams are made on, made glorious summer by what has this year been the unusually warm sun of York.

The Elizabethan village that had sprung up in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower had been a magnet for theatregoers and sightseers alike and become, in just 10 weeks, part of the city’s tourism fabric, but it was a show that had to end.

Created of little more than scaffolding and corrugated iron, Europe’s first “pop-up” Shakespearean theatre was created for a single season. After the weekend, work will begin to return the site to its 21st century life as a car park.

The 13-sided Rose Theatre had been designed more or less as in Shakespeare’s day – with 600 people seated on three tiered balconies around an open-roofed courtyard with standing room for 345 “groundlings”.

Since its blessing by the Archbishop of York, a total of 78,000 people – some 10,000 of them schoolchildren – have seen the 140 performances of Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and Macbeth, as well as the fantasy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, under the directorship of the Olivier-winning Damian Cruden and Lindsay Posner. A further 20,000 have visited the themed stalls and food wagons.

James Cundall, a son of York – his father was a livestock auctioneer at the old market where the Barbican now stands – had conceived the idea on a Scottish fishing trip when the fish weren’t biting, and said it had been an “immense privilege” to oversee the productions.

Mr Cundall, an international financier and showman whose Welburn-based company has also mounted international productions of The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and The Sound of Music, said: “Entertaining 100,000 people is it’s not something you do lightly.

“I think it’s wonderful that we have done something unique in our home city – something we can be all incredibly proud of.”

Dropping hints of an encore, he said: “It’s an open secret that we’re in talks with the city council to come back and I think there’s an appetite for that to happen. It demonstrates that some sort of permanent exhibition space on this site, once they’ve got rid of car parking, would be exciting.

“I know that whatever they do with the area, they want to incorporate an event space and I hope that over the years many people will stage wonderful things here. We were just the first.”

Meanwhile, he added, the show could go on the road.

“York is where this belongs, but we’ve been approached and we’re talking to people from other parts of the country and from overseas.”

Praising the technical and creative teams behind the project, he said: “A production of this scale is only as good as its weakest link, and we’ve been very blessed with the people working on it, from the directors down to the to the ushers – everyone has embraced it.”

The shows themselves have garnered positive reviews from the highbrow critics, though their audience has been untypical, with Mr Cundall classifying the demographic as “young and old, theatre purists and non-theatre goers, date night teenagers to passing visitors who have just stumbled across us”. Steve Brown, head of the city’s tourism body, Make it York, said he was “overwhelmed” by the success of the event.

“We knew that Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre would be a fantastic offering this year, but it truly has brought residents and visitors alike into the city centre in overwhelming numbers, making this summer one of the best York has ever seen.”

He added: “We know the weather has helped, but having such an event in our city has given us the edge.”

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