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Watching Shakespeare at the Rose Theatre York

Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York

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.

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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.

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Shakespeare's Rose Theatre York Peaking out Behind Clifford's Tower
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre York Peaking out Behind Clifford’s Tower

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.

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The Stage and the tiered seating at the Rose Theatre York
The Stage and the tiered seating at the Rose Theatre York

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.

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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.

Romeo & Juliet begins at the Rose Theatre York
Romeo & Juliet begins at the Rose Theatre York

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.

Some of the seats at the Rose Theatre York are this close to the action!
Some of the seats at the Rose Theatre York are this close to the action!

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.

Shakespeare's Rose Theatre York, next to the Castle Museum
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre York, next to the Castle Museum

Shakespeare’s Village

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.

My View of Romeo & Juliet at the Rose Theatre York from the first level
My View of Romeo & Juliet at the Rose Theatre York from the first level

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.

Ticket costs and Seat Plan for the Rose Theatre York
Ticket costs and Seat Plan for the Rose Theatre York

Where to Stay in York

Hostels in York

Hostels are opening up again now, and with the right safety protocols in place can be a great way to enjoy York on a budget, whether you are ready for a dorm room or prefer to book a private room.  Check the details of what new procedures have been brought in and make sure you feel confident in the hostel before booking. 

Astor York

Astor York is a lovely hostel in a listed building about 10 minutes walk from the centre of York. It gets great reviews for the staff, amenities and social activities.

The Fort Boutique Hostel

The Fort is in a great location right in the centre of York.  It gets great reviews for the location, comfy beds and cleanliness.  It’s above a bar so could be noisy at the weekends, but a pair of earplugs should sort that out.


Hotels in York

There is no shortage of great hotels in York. I especially love the smaller independently run bed and breakfast style hotels in York, where the owners really go out of their way to take care of guests.  

No.21 York

I stayed at the award-winning No.21 York Bed & Breakfast and loved it!  Owners Simon and Andrea are so kind and welcoming it felt like home.  The Bed and Breakfast is located close to the Museum Gardens, and the rooms are comfortable and spotlessly clean.  Simon and Andrea use local ingredients for their delicious breakfast and homemade bread, and source as many of their produce & services as possible from within a 20-mile radius of York. 


Tower Guesthouse

Tower Guesthouse is another popular choice when visiting York.  It is slightly further out of the city than No. 21, about a mile away from York Minster, but the boutique style and luxurious decor makes up for the walk.  Guests also loved the great breakfast and friendly staff.  


If neither of those takes your fancy, you can browse all hotels in York here.

Airbnb in York

There are also lots of options for Airbnbs in York.  If you are looking for a private room, how about this gorgeous loft in a townhouse or this lovely suite with private bathroom.

For a whole place to yourself, this riverside studio has onsite parking and gets great reviews for cleanliness and for its location 5 minutes from the Shambles.  Of if you’re really looking to push the boat out, this stunning flat could be the one for you!

Alternatively, you can check out all the options for Airbnb in York.


If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $52 credit to use on your first trip!  Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.


If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to York, get a quote now from World Nomads.

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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.

Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!

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Last updated: August 7, 2020

14 thoughts on “Watching Shakespeare at the Rose Theatre York

  1. Jennifer Melroy says:

    I keep meaning to see a Shakespeare play while in England. I really want to see Macbeth in one of the replica theaters. It would be cool to see it as close to possible as the original performances.

    • Claire says:

      It was really interesting to see the theatre itself, I’d love to go to the Globe Theatre too, live theatre is so much better than the TV! 😀

  2. Carrie says:

    I love pop-up theater, and even better if it’s Shakespeare! Great that they’re offering standing-room-only tickets. How often can you see that caliber of theater for 12 pounds??

  3. sherianne says:

    I have never heard of a pop up theater, it’s a great design. I’ve been to York and love the city. Seeing Shakespeare while there sounds perfect, actually, I would add a sweet treat from Betty’s and then it’s perfect!!

  4. Indrani says:

    How exciting to be able to see Shakespeare’s plays in a unique setting in York! Your description: traditionally male characters as female, and the humour of some scenes is emphasized with knowing glances and cheeky winks at the audience – is so SO interesting. Loved the seating arrangement. Very thoughtfully done.

  5. Andi says:

    It looks like an extraordinary experience! I would love to see Romeo & Juliet in an environment like that! Thanks for bringing this to my attention, it definitely wasn’t on my radar before!

  6. Drew says:

    I had no idea that York had an theatre like the Globe in London. I went to the Globe a few years ago to watch Macbeth, and it was awesome (Lady Macbeth was played by Lady Stark from GOT!). Seeing a Shakespeare performance in a venue such as the Globe or Rose is something special. The standing can be a bit tough, and the length doesn’t help, but it is a fantastic experience.

  7. Marcus and Mel says:

    Looks a great experience and as you mention, wherever you are you will still be close to the stage. We’ve been really lucky with the weather this summer so even the outdoor part wouldn’t be as wet as usual. York is a great city to visit anyway and this is another reason to visit.

  8. Shweta says:

    I love the idea of pop-up theatres over small towns and spreading abit more of culture. The tiered seatings in the Rose York Theatre look good, give everyone a good view of the stage. I also remember mainly the movie, Romeo and Juliet which is a pity.

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