William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous playwright there ever was. Surely everybody has heard of him and is aware of at least one piece of his work? After all, studying a Shakespeare play is pretty much mandatory for GCSE English literature in the UK. But I confess, I am not really a fan – or I wasn’t until last night when we visited Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York to see The Tempest.
Disclosure: I was given tickets to go and see this show by the theatre company in return for a review on my blog. This, however, doesn’t influence my review and this is very much my honest take on the whole experience.
Shakespeare and I
Before we get into my review of the whole experience we had, I think it’s important to set the scene with a brief history of the bard and me.
The year is 1993 and I am a fresh-faced 13-year-old entering high school. This is the first time I will experience moving around a school into different subject classes and having separate English language classes to literature classes is very much foreign to me.
We were studying Romeo & Juliet. Sure this has to be Shakespeare’s most famous piece? Nevertheless, I’d never heard of it. Reading wasn’t my most favourite pass time and reading a play was like a form of torture. I found it really hard going and I never actually read the whole thing. I very much winged it and considering that this was one of my set pieces for the GCSE exam I am always proud that I achieved a ‘B’ grade.
Beyond school, I did try watching the modern take on Romeo & Juliet – that film Leonardo DiCaprio was in. Blimey did that blow my mind. Not because I thought it was an outstanding piece of work, not at all. No, I just couldn’t get into it. My excuse has always been that I could not get on with the fact that the script was 100% Shakespeare but it was set in the modern world. Nope, not having that.
However, a few years ago (2012 to be precise) we found ourselves at the Royal Shakespeare Compay in Stratfor-upon-Avon. Lydia’s primary school at the time had been involved in working on some Shakespeare pieces and this culminated with some school being invited down to the RSC to perform scenes from the plays they had worked on. Being in that theatre was an incredible experience and Lydia will always be able to say she performed at the RSC.
Beyond that, aside from the film Shakespeare In Love, I can’t say I have seen much of his work performed.
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre
In the summer of 2018, I became aware that something was going on in York. People were posting on Facebook about this new theatre they’d visited. There were photos of them enjoying drinks in sunlight courtyards and very much looking like they were having a great time. It was Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre. We never visited.
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions have literally built a pop-up 13-sided Elizabethan style playhouse in the centre of York – right next to Clifford’s Tower and the Castle Museum. If you have any idea of the Globe theatre in London then this is very much in that style.
It took a team of 30 people 3 weeks to build the theatre from 30,000 cubic metres of scaffolding. The structure is 37m wide and stands taller than 3 double-decker buses. It’s impressive.
There are 3 levels of seating plus the floor area for standing spectators. As you can see from the photo above, most of the standing area is exposed to the elements. Directly opposite the stage, there is a raised wheelchair-accessible platform. This area is also exposed but there is a covered accessible area too. The seating is arranged in blocks, each block having 4 rows of 8 seats. The seats, while not as comfortable as a regular theatre are slightly padded and not too bad.
Outside the theatre lies the village area offering up food and drink, and the obligatory merchandise stall. As we had already eaten we didn’t try any of the food on offer. The prices were a little steep for our family of 6 had we opted to eat here. We did get the girls an ice cream tub each at the interval; they were £3.50 each! Yes, I spent £14 on 4 ice creams! It’s a tricky one for me is this as I realise that they have some serious operating costs in this venture, but when you have a large family it could become a very expensive night out.
Given that we didn’t pay for our tickets I didn’t feel too upset by the prices and when we’re lucky to be given these opportunities it’s only right we give something back. That’s why we also splashed out on a t-shirt each for the girls from the merchandise stall. Prices here are probably what you would expect. A child’s size t-shirt was £10 and adults were £12. If we just compare that to the t-shirts from the Matilda tour we went to see in Bradford – those were £10 each.
When I was offered tickets to the Shakespeare Rose Theatre I was given the choice of the play we could see. Factoring in our availability and what I thought our younger two daughters (10 and 9) might enjoy (or at least sit through) I chose The Tempest.
I had at least heard of the title and yet had absolutely no clue what it was about. The synopsis I then read and the trailer I saw on their website assured me I would probably enjoy it. I wasn’t wrong.
Yes, following Shakespeare’s lingo isn’t easy. Delilah turned to me quite early in the performance to say she didn’t have a clue what was going on. I had to agree as I was adapting to the language being used. But visually it was awesome and the quality of the acting was second to none.
I got into it and started following it quite well really.
As I’ve said, the acting was second to none. They were so engaging and, given our seats opposite the stage on the lower level, it often felt like they were addressing me directly.
Sam Callis as Propero was so engaging I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. To be able to hold an audience like that is an awesome talent. Alexandra Guelff plays Miranda, her movement and watchability, even when others had the dialogue, was amazing. Incidentally, Alexandra is also a very talented photographer as well as being a fabulous actress.
I could list the whole cast and call out their sheer brilliance individually. The spirits, in a musical you might call them the chorus, were outstanding. Often overlooked but they play such an important role in this play. They don’t confine themselves to the stage either, quite often dashing out into the audience and really creating a visual spectacle.
The intensity of the performance was so engaging. The physicality of the actors’ movement was awesome. It was only in the second act that I realised there were no microphones either and they were projecting their voices such that we could hear every word.
Each act is just over an hour long. It never, ever felt like I was clock watching. As a self-confessed musical theatre lover, this was outside my normal theatre experience on so many levels. But it’s one that I think shall live long in the memory and in large that is down to the performers on that stage.
The other plays
As well as The Tempest there are 3 other plays being performed in York this year; Hamley, Henry V and the Twelfth Night.
Amazingly there are two companies performing two plays each. The Company that performed the Tempest are also performing Henry V. Incredible!
In addition, this year there is also a kid’s themed shows called Billy Shakes: Wonderboy! that is ideal for children age 4+.
A night out at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre
You can rock up and buy ticket tickets from the box office (providing it’s not sold out) or buy online from TicketMaster.
Prices range from £11 to £60.
Adult tickets are from age 17 upwards, so therefore the children’s tickets are for age 16 and under. There is a family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) too. I will not rant here about my bugbear with family tickets at many venues no considering that they come in different sizes.
The theatre is open up to up to the 1st September 2019.
Food & Drink
I’ve already mentioned that there is a village with various food and drink outlets.
According to the website FAQs you are prohibited from bringing your own food and drink into the venue.
Prices are average for a theatre venue – so with a larger family, it can get costly.
York is serviced by a variety of transportation and the central location of the theatre means it’s easy to get to.
We went on a damp Sunday evening an had no problem parking in the castle car park right next to the theatre. There are various car parks in the area and of course, there is the park and ride service. Note though, that the park and ride services don’t run late in the evening so not a good option for the night time performances.
Find out more
To find out more about Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Yor visit their website – shakespearesrosetheatre.com.
I thoroughly recommend a visit
I have to say that I wasn’t sure I would be into watching Shakespeare and now I’m like – “when can we go again?”.
This is an experience I really enjoyed and Helen did two. The teenagers seemed to get it but our younger girls, aged 10 and 9, struggled a bit to follow the story. However, we have some children’s Shakespeare books at home that they have never touched and now they’re sat reading them over breakfast!
If you get the chance to go, then do it – you won’t regret it.
Thanks for reading