Shakespeare cast unites for first rehearsals of pop-up plays in York

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In the foyer of York Theatre Royal, an exciting hubbub indicated the start of something that has been long awaited.

A cast of 17 performers from screen and stage gathered for the first time to begin eight weeks of rehearsals for four classic William Shakespeare plays, all to performed in medieval York like never before.

Actors Leandra Ashton and Richard Standing, who will co-star as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in the forthcoming series of plays at York's Shakespeare Rose Theatre. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

Actors Leandra Ashton and Richard Standing, who will co-star as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in the forthcoming series of plays at York's Shakespeare Rose Theatre. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

The city’s Shakespeare Rose Theatre will be Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean theatre when it is erected in a car park next to 13th century landmark Clifford’s Tower in time for opening day on June 25.

It will have the 13-sided design of a 16th century Shakespearean theatre and will seat 600 spectators on three tiered balconies around an open-roofed courtyard. There will also be standing room for another 350 people.

Owing to its intimate design, everyone in the audience will be just 15m from the stage.

Read more: Cast announced for summer programme of plays at the new Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York

The cast of the Shakespeare Rose Theatre plays gathered at York Theatre Royal today for the first day of rehearsals.

The cast of the Shakespeare Rose Theatre plays gathered at York Theatre Royal today for the first day of rehearsals.

Running until September 2, four plays will be performed, Romeo and Juliet and Richard III directed by the West End’s renowned Lindsay Posner, Macbeth directed by York Theatre Royal’s artistic director Damian Cruden and A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by the Theatre’s associate director Juliet Forster.

On the first day of rehearsals, former Coronation Street stars Richard Standing, who hails from Ackworth near Pontefract, and Leandra Ashton, who lives in York, spoke to The Yorkshire Post.

Read more: ‘One of the reasons for establishing the Rose Theatre was to turn young people onto Shakespeare’

Mr Standing plays Macbeth opposite Ms Ashton as Lady Macbeth. He said: “Lots of actors have tried to make their name in that role and failed because he’s not a hero and not a villain. I’ve been chosen and I trust Damian (the director). It’s really exciting.

Richard Standing (left) said he had done extra preparation to be ready for taking on the role of Macbeth, while Leandra Ashton (right) said she was thrilled to assume the role of Lady Macbeth in her own home city of York.

Richard Standing (left) said he had done extra preparation to be ready for taking on the role of Macbeth, while Leandra Ashton (right) said she was thrilled to assume the role of Lady Macbeth in her own home city of York.

“I’ve done a lot more prep than normal. I was down at the car park this morning doing a couple of bits, just for my own sense of pretentiousness I think. There was a couple of people and a goose, I think we’ll sell better than that!”

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Ms Ashton said: “I have always wanted to play Lady Macbeth. It’s ridiculously exciting. I’ve lived here (in York) for five years so having a job that is here is a bit of a dream come true really.”

This week’s rehearsals are for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and director Ms Forster told of her excitement as the actors arrived.

“You get a lovely energy from all these people coming with all their expectations, excitement and creativity together,” she said.

On the rose theatre, she added: “The actors will be a lot more aware of the audience because they are really in the same space.

“That connection and that ability to play off the audience will make it very playful and a really good experience.”