As so often happens with any new initiative, there were a few teething problems, and the Project’s first production – Richard III – was somewhat delayed by a change of director half way through the rehearsal period.
Moreover, there were some obvious questions concerning the choice of Richard III for a first production in York! Richard the MAN is certainly popular hereabouts, but Richard the “Shakespearean Villain” might prove another matter altogether. However, Richard III is one of the early plays and the decision was taken to go ahead with it.
So, after some initial hiccoughs, an entirely creditable – if conventional – production was staged at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in 2002. Though generally well received, audience numbers were not good. (It has to be said there really is a prejudice against this play in York; perhaps tabling the “controversy card” so early in the game didn’t quite pay off!)
Nonetheless, most people involved were sufficiently encouraged to press on, and the Project began to take shape as originally envisaged, returning to the Rowntree Theatre for decidedly innovative productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus. The Shrew was taken on tour – at least as far as Pocklington Arts Centre – and Titus was imaginatively set in the Ancient Far East. Meanwhile, two Autumn shows were staged at the rather more intimate Friargate Theatre: The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labours Lost.
Friargate, for all its small size, proved a better venue in many respects. It is both remarkably adaptable and very close to the city centre. Small audiences were still an issue (though less so in a smaller theatre!) and to some extent the Project still felt that it was battling against a popular assumption either that Shakespeare wasn’t for “ordinary people” or that amateurs couldn’t “do” it properly.