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Sit-Down Sonnets Allow Audiences to Enjoy Socially-Distanced Shakespeare

Written by on September 1, 2020

A York community theatre company is presenting a special production of Shakespeare’s sonnets this September, allowing audiences to enjoy live theatre outdoors.

York Shakespeare Project is staging ‘Sit-Down Sonnets’ from 4-12 September at Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate. The 45-minute production features classic Shakespearean characters responding to the pandemic and each sharing one of Shakespeare’s famous sonnets as part of their monologue.

The company has produced ‘Sonnet Walks’ for the last few years – a guided walk around York where the audience meets a range of connected characters with a story to tell and a Shakespearean sonnet to share.

Director Mick Taylor said, “Like everyone involved with theatre, we’ve missed being able to enjoy and take part in live performance. Having staged the Sonnet Walks previously, we knew that, as a format, it could be adapted in a way that would allow us to perform to a seated audience outdoors. And Holy Trinity is a beautiful place to do it – a leafy sanctuary in the centre of the city.”

“In these Sit-Down Sonnets, we’ve taken some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters and written new monologues for them as they find themselves in the middle of this pandemic. How might things have turned out for them if they’d been stuck in lockdown? How can Brutus kill Caesar when all the senate meetings are on Zoom? Where can Romeo get his fateful poison if the apothecary’s on furlough? And how much hand sanitiser will Lady Macbeth get through? They’ll share their thoughts on a world of lockdowns, masks, and social distancing, along with a sonnet that reflects their feelings.”

“Shakespeare himself was no stranger to the impact a pandemic can have on theatre. Between 1603 and 1613, the theatres were closed for a total of six and a half years due to the bubonic plague. Thankfully, we can return in performances like this a little sooner!”

York Shakespeare Project was just over a week away from opening night for its production of Macbeth when lockdown began at the end of March. The company has a 20-year mission to produce all of Shakespeare’s known plays by 2021, with just Macbeth and The Tempest left to perform.

Committee member Tony Froud said, “We were obviously very disappointed to have to postpone Macbeth, and, like other companies, we are waiting to see how and when indoor live performance can safely return before deciding when we can prepare to stage the plays again.”

“That’s why we’re so pleased to be able to perform Shakespeare in front of an audience in this way. Mick and Maurice (Crichton, Producer) have done a tremendous job in a short amount of time to prepare a production that audiences can enjoy safely and that brings the beauty of the sonnets to life in new ways. We hope that people will be able to join us for what should be a fun and unique performance, and a long-overdue chance to watch live theatre.”

Sit-Down Sonnets runs from Friday 4 – Saturday 12 September (with no performance on Monday 7 September). Performances are at 5.45pm and 7.00pm, with additional afternoon matinees at 4.15pm on Saturdays. Tickets are available now from York Theatre Royal’s website (www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk) and are £7 for adults, £4 for 14-17 year-olds, and two under-14s may accompany each adult for free.