YORK companies Re:Verse Theatre and Wildgoose Theatre delve into Yorkshire Scandals, a double bill of one-act domestic dramas ripped from local headlines that explore class, control and the importance of the news at Friargate Theatre, York, from tonight to Sunday.

Directed by Re:Verse Theatre's American director, Ben Prusiner, A Yorkshire Tragedy is a Jacobean domestic tragedy originally assigned to William Shakespeare, but the cause of hot debate for centuries as to whether Shakespeare or, more likely, Thomas Middleton wrote it. Beyond this authorship dispute, it is most definitely a verse re-telling of the true 1605 crime scandal of the murderous gambler Walter Calverley, of Calverley Hall, near Leeds, who was put on trial in York.

Newly commissioned from Bill Hodson by Wildgoose Theatre director Andy Love, The Taskers' Trials is based on an amalgam of current news stories and depicts the Yorkshire family of the Taskers, who are struggling to keep their heads above water in the aftermath of a devastating accident. Joy-racing in an uninsured car, their eldest son runs over a young woman, leaving her in a coma. What can they do to keep their family from falling apart?

Both productions feature the same cast of Mark France, Anna Rose James, Annabel Lee, Jai Rowley, Josh Dowden, Emily Thane and Claire Morley; puppetry by Rachel Price inspired by the classical Japanese style, with puppet designs by Laura Elizabeth Rice; set design by Maggie Smales; costumes by Jenny Anderton and fight direction by Neil Tattersall.

Whether A Yorkshire Tragedy is the work of Shakespeare or Middleton – "it does feel more like Middleton in its writing style," says Prusiner – it is "just very well written", he argues. "Middleton is the writer with the closest skills to Shakespeare's, and the way the language moves is almost hypnotic and has a stream of consciousness that is kind of unique!

"More and more as we rehearse it, what strikes you us how well it works. There are some cases where we've tried to make the characters more complex than they're written and we play the scene against the way it's written, when it feels so fast getting to the next piece of action, but the play does have psychological truths, and though the characters can seem extreme and controversial, it is the way that people do respond, so I hope the audiences will comment on that, as it does say something provocative."

Even at a running time of 45 minutes, A Yorkshire Tragedy is "a very heavy play, though it can be done quite comically," suggests Prusiner. "However, I've made the choice, and the company has embraced that choice, to take it very seriously, to take it to darker places and discover truths.

York Press:

Jai Rowley, left, Annabel Lee, Josh Dowden, Anna Rose James and Emily Thane, lying on the floor, rehearsing The Taskers' Trials. Picture: Michael J Oakes

"I didn't want to be dismissive and play it as a black comedy, which would have been a valid response, but not this time. But how will the audience react from show to show? Will it get more humorous or will it get darker. I'm curious to find out as I've never seen this play performed."

The original idea behind The Taskers’ Trials was to devise a story based on real, contemporary events, but with a comic tone, to act as a counter-balance to A Yorkshire Tragedy, but Bill Hodson soon changed tack. "When I put the words ‘Yorkshire family’ into the search engines of regional newspapers, it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t much hilarity to be found," he says.

"A consistent picture emerged of families in poverty, facing financial hardship and homelessness, battling the impact of crime, and suffering the effects of long-term illness. Not exactly the stuff of comedy. In the end, the subject matter determined the tone of the play, although there are still some comic incidents. Life is never all doom and gloom."

Hodson took four recent, news stories and brought them together in one fictional family, the Taskers. "As in A Yorkshire Tragedy, we meet a family with three children struggling to make ends meet and driven to take extreme actions," he says. "However, the Taskers are from a very different social class and the root of their problems is a tragic accident that knocks them off course. They have no easy choices. Unable to pay their way, each one decides to do something to improve their chances for the future."

Most of these choices are misguided and dangerous. "But I don’t intend them to be a convenient vehicle to enable the rest of us to feel morally superior," says Hodson. "The Taskers are not a stereotype of some kind of excluded under-class, although it often feels that way to them. They are, at heart, ordinary people who are trying to cope with extraordinary circumstances. In that sense, they challenge us to consider – what would we do in their place?

"And they are active. They do not allow themselves to be the passive victims of their fate. Even though many of the things they do are wrong, we can see why they have decided to fight their way out of poverty in any way they can. Above all they want to stay together as a family and to have control over their lives. That’s something all of us can relate to."

Re:Verse Theatre and Wildgoose Theatre present Yorkshire Scandals at Friargate Theatre, York, at 7.30pm tonight to Saturday and at 3pm, Saturday and Sunday. Box office: 01904 613000 or at ridinglights.org/friargate/. Suitable for age 14 upwards.

Did you know?

Ben Prusiner will direct The Harrowing Of Hell for the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in the Waggon Plays staging of The York Mystery Plays on September 9, 12 and 16 on the streets of York.