York International Shakespeare Festival May 25 – June 6

We’re delighted to announce an exciting and wide-ranging programme for the 2021 edition of the York International Shakespeare Festival – which is our fourth festival.

Covid, Brexit and all the issues around travel and funding, mean that this won’t be the usual YorkShakes experience. Festivals and Theatre are facing tricky times. So, for this ‘no-budget’ celebration of all things Shakespearean, we’ve moved the festival entirely online apart from the opening performances of Romeo and Juliet by The Handlebards at York Theatre Royal. And, thanks to the inventiveness of our artistic friends in York in making new projects with us, and the generosity of our Shakespeare friends around the world who have allowed us to share their work online, we have a fantastic programme full of Shakespeare surprises that we are sure will be new to you. And best of all, it’s almost all free!

The full programme is on our website, www.yorkshakes.co.uk but here’s a snapshot.

All our filmed productions feature fresh approaches and striking, innovative interpretations.

From Poland, Teatr Strefa Otwarta, who regular festival audiences will remember from their visits in 2015 and 2019, have put their most recent production on film. Po Otellu brings together Othello and Desdemona in an afterlife, to explore their destructive relationship. Beautifully filmed in a disused theatre it is gripping and passionate.

We celebrate a new, long term collaboration with the Shakespeare community of Taiwan, with three exciting interpretations from Bangxi Theatre. These Hunan opera productions focus on the human relationships within King Lear – Questionning Heaven, The Merchant of Venice – Bond, and Measure for Measure – Measure, Measure, and feature stunning and dramatic music and settings.

Becoming Otello – a Black Girl’s Journey, is the moving story of Debra Ann Byrd from a complex childhood to founding the Harlem Shakespeare Festival in New York and a triumphant portrayal of Othello. Told through a powerful solo performance, we are honoured to share this with our audiences. Debra Ann is one of the artists who will be part of our interview series that accompanies the films.

It was a great disappointment in 2019 when we were unable to bring La Tempestad from Honduras to perform in York. This colourful and energetic production of The Tempest, made with and for the communities of The Mosquito Coast, is a powerful exploration of the issues of colonization that Shakespeare exposes, and we’re thrilled to have a filmed version to share with you.

Our final filmed production is a world premiere made for Yorkshakes 2021!

Our good friends at Riding Lights Theatre Company have made a sparkling, streamlined version of Pericles, Shakespeare’s great adventure story. With its topical themes of abuse of power, desperate crossings of the Mediterranean and sex trafficking, this extraordinary saga sails uncomfortably close to home. And yet there is a delightfully unexpected end to the journey to steer us into port.

York itself features strongly in the festival programme, led by our unique photo project, York Loves Shakespeare, where we’ve asked people who work, live or play in York to be photographed around the city with their favourite line from Shakespeare’s plays. Look out for these on our social media streams @parrabbola. We have a talk illustrated with performance elements exploring Shakespeare and Mystery Plays – it’s widely accepted by scholars that Shakespeare would probably have seen the cycle in Coventry, and with that knowledge it’s interesting to consider how the Mysteries influence both style and content, and Rowena Hawkins and Tom Straszewski host a performance led exploration of those links. A new short film from Sharpstick Productions, The Scandal of Retire, exploring the Molehill speech from Henry Vi pt 3 and inspired by the 550th anniversary of Henry’s death in 2021, locates the speech on the battle site at Towton and features York actor Mark Burghagen. Finally local company Bronzehead offer a rehearsed reading of The Northern Lass (1629) – a unique dialect driven comedy by Richard Brome who was one of Shakespeare’s successors in The King’s Men.

All our films and events will have a 24 hour access, going live, or starting live at 7:30 pm each evening – so you can join in with the energy of a live event. And on the website you’ll also find details of other artist talks and post show discussions.

You’ll also find details of the World Sonnet Project. This is a world first, as we begin the collection of a unique series of films of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, each in a different language. We’ll be launching the first of these recordings during the festival, and building the collection into the future. It’s our way of celebrating both the world reach of Britain’s best-known cultural export, and the beauty of languages across the globe.

See you online. There’s so much to share and enjoy!