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Sun of York shines on ‘Scots play’ as show goes on

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IT had bad luck written all over it, but the sun of York smiled on the performance of the “Scottish play” which opened a 10-week season at Europe’s first pop-up Shakespearean theatre yesterday afternoon.

Stage folklore has it that actors should avoid quoting lines from Macbeth, especially those spoken by the witches, before they go on stage – but the penance of spinning around three times, cursing and knocking to be allowed back in, was waived for the Archbishop of York.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, on stage blessing the theatre and the cast of Macbeth

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, on stage blessing the theatre and the cast of Macbeth

In glorious summer weather, two hours before the Rose Theatre’s first matinee performance, Dr John Sentamu had not only walked on stage with the cast, but, in a gesture that could have shortened the play from five acts to five minutes, hooked his pastoral crosier around the king’s neck.

The Archbishop had been there to formally open York’s Shakespearean summer, which will see a cycle of four plays performed twice-daily, to an audience of up to 950 each time, between now and the beginning of September.

The enterprise, led by producer James Cundall and three of the country’s leading theatre directors, Damian Cruden, Lindsay Posner and Juliet Forster, is housed in an open-air auditorium built out of scaffolding, in what had been the car park next to Clifford’s Tower.

Alongside it, a free show of music and entertainment in an Elizabethan-style setting, will run throughout the summer.

The entire site will be dismantled at the end of the season.

Before Dr Sentamu performed the blessing and a town crier declared the theatre open, Mr Cundall compared the first production to the TV series, Game of Thrones.

“The fight scenes are brutal. It’s blood, mud and leather,” he said.

The Archbishop said he was “delighted” to bless the theatre, which he thought would be “a fantastic opportunity to experience some great theatre”.

It had been the idea of Mr Cundall, a Scarborough native and former financier, whose company, Lunchbox Productions, stages large-scale shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

He said: “If Shakespeare were to come here, he would recognise the theatre totally. It’s very intimate, it’s open to the skies and it’s just a beautiful environment.”

The audience is accommodated in three seated tiers in the round, with an Elizabethan “groundlings” area in front of the stage and open to the elements, for standing patrons.

Mr Cruden, the artistic director of York Theatre Royal, who directed Macbeth, said: “It’s very close to an Elizabethan theatre. Having people standing and sitting is part of the fun, and there’s a real connection between actors and audience, with the characters making some of their entrances through the crowd.”

In the theatre grounds, a Romeo and Juliet garden by the award-winning designer Sally Tierney, and themed catering by the Halifax-born television chef Brian Turner completes the atmosphere.

Mr Cundall said: “There are thatched roofs and a dovecot with real doves – so even if you don’t come to see a play, you can drop in and have a coffee. Maybe you’ll be tempted to take in a play while you’re here.”

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