FOR one night only, Freddie Jones will play Lear for the first time in a rehearsed reading of King Lear to raise funds for York Theatre Royal’s Access For All Fund. All proceeds from the night will go towards making the theatre’s expansion into the next-door De Grey Rooms accessible.

Shakespeare’s tragedy will be recorded at 6pm on the main stage, where Jones will be joined by his son, Toby Jones, as The Fool; Nicholas le Provost, as Gloucester; David Neilson, as Kent; Niamh Cusack, Goneril; Rachel Pickup, Cordelia; Sally Bretton, Regan; Geoffrey Beevers, Albany; Alex Ginannini, Cornwall; Paterson Joseph, Edgar; Lex Shrapnel, Edmund; and Niall Costigan, Oswald.

George Costigan and Polly Thomas are co-directing the show, and all the actors are giving up their time for free to help the Theatre Royal’s fundraising efforts at an event that also will celebrate Freddie Jones’s life in the theatre, television and film industry.

The Access For All Fund is important for the Theatre Royal, according to artistic director Damian Cruden. “When we move into the De Grey Rooms this year, the space will be for rehearsals and our costume department, but most importantly it’s for the whole community to use for workshops, readings, meetings and performances,” he says.

“In order for us to use the building, it’s vital that we offer access to all of our community and this will involve installing a lift. Our target is £50,000 and we’ve already started to raise funds, when I and some of the staff ran the Scottish Marathon earlier this year.”

DAVID Neilson is best known for his soap opera role as timid café owner Roy Cropper in Coronation Street. On Sunday, he will appear on the Theatre Royal stage for the first time.

How did you come to be involved in this rehearsed reading, David?

“George [Costigan] asked me to do it.

“He’s got this incredible energy that he’s always using, and when he was doing Emmerdale, he said to Freddie Jones [who plays Sandy Thomas in the Yorkshire soap], ‘You must have played King Lear’, but he said no, he hadn’t and didn’t have the puff for a long theatre run but could do it for radio.

“So George rang round some friends, and it’ll be really interesting to see Freddie do the role and be part of that experience with him.”

What will that experience entail?

“We have five hours’ rehearsal for a four-hour play, from meeting up on Saturday lunchtime, and what will happen, will happen, though I know we’re cutting it down, but we will be prepared and it has a nice feeling of an event about it.

“It will work on a lot of enthusiasm and a bit of experience!”

Have you ever appeared in King Lear?

“No, I’ve never been in it, though I’ve done Twelfth Night – I played Sir Andrew Aguecheek – and Timon Of Athens and I was Romeo in Romeo And Juliet at drama school.

“I played Gonzalo in The Tempest, who’s extremely old, pretty soon after leaving Central [School of Speech and Drama)…oh, and then I did Romeo And Juliet again, at the Belgrade in Coventry, playing all the bits and pieces, with John Hurt as Romeo, Lisa Harrow as Juliet and Simon Cadell as Mercutio.”

That was an impressive cast, David.

“It was just before John Hurt played Quentin Crisp, I think, and in a way, when you’re young, you just take it in your stride.”

When were you last on stage?

“I did Waiting For Godot two years ago – I played Lucky, with the one big speech – at the Library in Manchester, so I was working in the day doing Coronation Street and doing the play at night, which was quite shattering, but very rewarding as they make different demands on you. Selfishly, as an actor, it pushes you, which is good for you.”

Who will you play in King Lear?

“I shall be giving my Kent!

“He’s a faithful old dog, really. He’s almost part of Lear, to the extent that he’s his conscience and isn’t frightened to speak up when Lear is behaving unreasonably – so Lear banishes him, but he takes the disguise of Caius to return from exile as his servant, to be on his side and go through the whole story with him. It’s a good part to play: he’s funny; he gets the chance to be different characters in disguise; and there’s a lot of poetry and humour to it.”

Will this performance be something of a journey of discovery for you all?

“None of us knows how each of us is going to receive the lines!

“I’ve never worked with Freddie – I’ve never met him but I’ve met his son, Toby.

“I know George Costigan and his son Niall, and I worked with Niamh Cusack in Peter Whelan’s play Captain Swing in Leeds; one of the last plays at the old Playhouse.”

Access For All is important in theatres, isn’t it?

“Yes, absolutely, and it’s amazing how things have moved on in the past 20 years, but we still need to keep moving forward.

“That’s an added bonus of the night: it will be a good experience and some good will come out of it.”

* King Lear, York Theatre Royal main house, Sunday, 6pm. Tickets: £25, including glass of wine; £5, gallery, without glass of wine.

Box office: 01904 623568 or

Sunday’s rehearsed reading will be recorded to radio standards for possible broadcast. Watch this space.