Shakespeare has come to York. I was really in York to find delicious food, but when Ana from Visit York told me that I could watch Shakespeare I couldn’t resist! The Rose Theatre York is a pop-up theatre that is just here for 10 weeks over the summer and is a fantastic opportunity to see one of Shakespeare’s plays in a unique setting in York.
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre York
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre is set up next to Clifford’s Tower and the York Castle Museum, on a site known as the Eye of York. The design of the theatre is inspired by the famous Rose London Playhouse, built in 1587, where Elizabethan spectators would have watched the plays for the first time. Combining modern scaffolding technology, corrugated iron and timber with the historic 13-sided design of a 16th-century Shakespearean theatre, there is space for an audience of 950 people – 600 seated on tiered balconies, and 350 ‘groundlings’ standing in front of the stage.
The best thing is that every seat is within 15m of the stage, so there is no danger of missing any of the action here! I also discovered that parts of the plays are quite interactive, with the actors sprinting around the standing area to leap up the steps to the stage – so if you choose the standing area tickets, don’t be alarmed! You can check the layout of the theatre and ticket prices here, standing tickets start from £12.50 so as Shakespeare intended, everyone can afford to see one of his plays.
Over the season, which runs over the summer until 2nd September, four of Shakespeare’s most famous plays will be performed here, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo & Juliet and Richard III. The plays are each shown on different nights of the week, so check the schedule to see what is playing when you are in York. Most impressive of all is that all of the actors have parts in two of the plays, so they have to remember all the lines for two plays which may be one night after the other, and even two performances in the same day when there is a matinee showing. However, they are a talented bunch, and the cast all have various credits to their names from theatre, film and television.
Romeo and Juliet at the Rose Theatre York
I had a ticket to go and see Romeo and Juliet, on 11th July. Unfortunately, this was also the night of England’s world cup match against Croatia, so the theatre was really quiet (as was the rest of the city) as most of the population retreated indoors to watch the match. However, this didn’t alter my enjoyment of the play. Romeo and Juliet is the only Shakespeare play I know well, after studying it at school, and of course after watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the Hollywood version of the play. I knew the story of the star-crossed lovers, but this version was a little different. The costumes weren’t as they would have been in Shakespearian Verona, oh no. The Rose Theatre version was set in the 1930s under the shadow of Mussolini’s rule, and there are more than a few surprises in store.
I enjoyed the portrayal of traditionally male characters as female, and the humour of some scenes is emphasized with knowing glances and cheeky winks at the audience. The costumes are sumptuous too, in particular, the party scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet and the Capulet ball – and I loved the 1930s trousers & braces combinations for the younger men and women in the cast. Of the older cast members, Juliet’s Nurse is good fun, although I found her accent a little hard to understand in places. Friar Lawrence is excellent too as the misguided but well-meaning holy man attempting to bring the tragic lovers together, and Lord Capulet is entertaining with a cockney accent and spats bringing a true gangster feel to the character.
I had forgotten actually how long Romeo and Juliet is, as of course in the Hollywood version a lot of the later scenes are cut – but my school memories came flooding back as Paris duels with Romeo in the murky crypt. I really enjoyed the performance and was glad of a cheeky ice cream during the interval. If you are in York this summer, I highly recommend getting tickets to your favourite play and experiencing a blend of Elizabethan and Modern interpretation of Shakespeare here in York.
The theatre isn’t the only attraction here, there is also Shakespeare’s Village outside the entrance to the theatre has food and drink, the Rose Theatre teamed up with Yorkshire-born celebrity chef Brian Turner to source local fare to feast on, and a licensed bar to wet your whistle. There are also performances here too, as actors recreate the feel of Elizabethan times with medieval music, speeches and a jester to keep you entertained before the show. Anyone can enter the village to experience this, you only have your ticket checked to actually go inside the theatre.
Tips to Enjoy Your Visit to the Rose Theatre
The performances are quite long in some cases; Romeo and Juliet lasted about 3 hours, including a short interval, so have an early dinner before you watch the play as it will be 10.30pm before you come out of the theatre.
The seating area is covered, however, the standing area is completely open to the elements, so if it rains you will get wet. Even the seated area is likely to get some blown rain in harsh weather, so come prepared with waterproofs if the weather forecast is poor – umbrellas are not allowed. Bear in mind too that even on warm days, it can get chilly sitting down for so long so warm layers are a good idea.
You can only bring food and drink purchased in the Shakespearian Village inside the theatre, here you’ll find a bar and some food stalls, as well as posh portaloo toilets.
You can find more information about the plays, tickets and facilities at the Rose Theatre York on the website here.
Where to Stay in York
I stayed at the wonderful No. 21 York, winner of the 2018 ‘B&B of the Year’ at Visit York Tourism Awards. The rooms are comfortable with all the amenities you might need, and Simon and Andrea who run the B&B are fabulous. The breakfast is also amazing, and will set you up for the day!
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Thank you to Shakspeare’s Rose Theatre and Visit York for arranging my tickets. Although I received complimentary tickets in exchange for a review, all opinions are my own.
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