IS there a busier hive of activity in York than the specially constructed rehearsal village for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre at the York Designer Outlet?

Eight plays are being prepared for the second instalment of Europe’s first pop-up Shakespearean theatre, four new shows for the original site by Clifford’s Tower at the Castle car park in York; four more re-activated from last year for Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

Seven separate marquees have been put up, covering 22,600 sq feet, to house a company of 150, including 75 actors, 12 musicians, 41 crew and 22 creatives, under the artistic directorship of Damian Cruden, the soon-to-depart York Theatre Royal artistic director.

For York, the new repertoire of plays for 2019 will be Hamlet, Henry V, The Tempest and Twelfth Night, running in rotation from June 25 to September 1.

Blenheim’s quartet will run from July 8 to September 7, with Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream being revived from last summer and Romeo And Juliet and Richard III being given wholly new productions.

Mirroring last year’s model, the plays will performed in repertory by two companies of actors based at each location.

Cruden, who directed Macbeth last year, is at the helm for Hamlet this summer; Joyce Branagh, Kenneth’s sister by the way, is directing Twelfth Night; Philip Franks, The Tempest, and Gemma Fairlie, Henry V.

For Blenheim, Tom Wright is the associate director for Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal’s associate director, is directing Romeo And Juliet this time after directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year. Lucy Pitman-Wallace is putting a fresh imprint on Richard III.

To detour briefly, York Theatre Royal principal gal Suzy Cooper will be playing unprincipled Lady Macbeth in Macbeth down south, more of which in a later edition.

Here, however, the focus of this piece is on the four directors at work on the York shows, as put in place by Damian. “Joyce said she wanted to do Twelfth Night; Philip was keen to do The Tempest; Gemma has always wanted to do Henry V... and I was left with Hamlet!” says Damian.

Joyce Branagh is delighted to be directing Twelfth Night, this year’s comedy in the four-hand of plays. “I saw Macbeth and Midsummer last year and dropped Damian a line to say, ‘Can I have a job?’! I love the atmosphere created in that space, and the fact that the audience were invited to be part of the story and felt very involved was special too,” she says.

Her emphasis will be on “fun”. “I love the daftness of this play with its identical twins, comedy characters and people falling in love at the drop of a hat, but with some sadness and loss too before the comedy is restored by the end,“ says Joyce.

“We’ll be setting it in the 1920s, which lends itself to gorgeous costumes and jazz music, so there’ll be lovely musicians and singers, with the band very much on stage, and we hope the audience will be dancing by the end.”

Philip Franks has a long association with Shakespeare’s epic late play The Tempest. “I’ve been in it three times and directed it once before, at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2005,” he says. “It was the first play I ever saw when I was six at Stratford, with Tom Fleming as Propsero and Ian Holm as Ariel, when I probably understood one word in ten but I loved it.

“Having done The Comedy Of Errors at Regent’s Park and had a wonderful time there, I know there’s something very special about the atmosphere of theatre under an open sky that makes audiences have a really good time.”

The talking point of Gemma Fairlie’s production of Henry V is her casting of Maggie Bain, from Netflix’s Black Mirror, in the title role. “We are very lucky in this day and age in that we don’t have restrictions on who can play Shakespeare roles, and we can see actors of all genders in those roles,” she says.

“Maggie was the best choice for Henry. I believe you would follow her Henry into battle at Agincourt, but also she brings out the vulnerability and the search for legitimacy of this complicated character. Maggie is the person to make us fall in love with Henry in his quest.”

l Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre will run at Shakespeare’s Village, Castle car park, Tower Street, York, from June 25 to September 1. Box office: 0844 847 2483 or 01904 623568 or at

Charles Hutchinson