Stage is set for Theatre Royal change

An artist’s impression of how the exterior of the theatre will look after the renovations

An artist’s impression of how the exterior of the theatre will look after the renovations

First published in Theatre

HOW will York Theatre Royal spend the nine months while the theatre’s £4.1 million redevelopment is carried out next year?

From March, the theatre will work out of the next-door De Grey Rooms in St Leonard’s Place, combining administration with continuing to run rehearsals and the youth theatre from there, as well as the events business and more performances in the Ballroom.

That, however, is only half the story., as artistic director Damian Cruden and chief executive Liz Wilson revealed at Monday’s launch of both the redevelopment plans and the artistic programme during the months of temporary closure. “We’ll be doing something hugely important for maintaining theatre in the city,” said Liz.

York Theatre Royal will take up residence at the National Railway Museum in Leeman Road, a link first forged so fruitfully for Cruden’s award-winning production of The Railway Children in 2008 and 2009. Whereas those performances were staged in a converted freight depot, this time a purpose-built tented space with a 1,000-seat capacity will be constructed in the museum grounds, by the sidings of the South Yard, where Mike Kenny’s adaptation of The Railway Children will be staged for a third time in York.

In the light of the success of theTheatre Royal’s staging of the 2012 York Mystery Plays on a specially constructed stage in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens and the 2013 production of Blood + Chocolate on the city-centre streets, the Theatre Royal and NRM are to work on a community play with the working title of Steam. Designed to tell York’s railway story in the steam era, it will allow audiences to explore the museum’s on-site collections in “innovative and exciting ways”.

Will Mike Kenny write this one too, after The Railway Children, the Mystery Plays and Blood + Chocolate? No announcement was forthcoming on Monday, so wait and see. but the prolific York playwright has shown no signs of running out of steam.

Paul Kirkman, director of the NRM since last July, welcomed the renewed and expanded partnership. “One of the most exciting things that ever happened at the National Railway Museum was when The Railway Children was staged here, so when the Theatre Royal asked about an eight or nine month residency at the NRM, we said ‘Absolutely’.”

Paul went on to reveal there would be a third co-production too of “much wider relevance”, without giving any further details behind a smile. “From our point of view it’s a fantastic opportunity and we’re really happy to be able to provide space to enable the Theatre Royal to continue performing during next year,” he said. “It’s also benefit to the NRM as we’re always looking to bring in new audiences and there are all sorts of people that come in through these collaborations.

“We’re both in the business of telling stories, but we can learn so much from the Theatre Royal about the theatrical ways of doing that , while also benefiting our work with young people. We’re so excited about having the NRM as our playground,” said Liz, who went on to make a more serious point. “How we tell stories and how the NRM tells stories is a hugely significant development nationally, not just locally. I think it’s really important for us to learn from each other and it will be great for us to learn from the NRM’s curatorial team.”

Away from the NRM project, the Theatre Royal will take part in another new theatre enterprise in York next May: the first International Shakespeare Festival at the University of York, in partnership with Parabola, who already are involved in Shakespeare festivals across Europe.

While no mention of it was made on Monday, it is an open secret that West Yorkshire company Northern Broadsides will be taking part in the festival with Jonathan Miller’s production of King Lear. Who will play Lear?

What’s On will hold fire on that name for now.

It won’t be Berwick Kaler, by the way. The venerable dame’s 2015-2016 pantomime will, however, mark the re-opening of the Theatre Royal in December next year.

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