ONE of the biggest events in York this summer is being staged by a Ryedale-based company.

The Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre project - Europe’s first-ever “pop-up” Shakespearean theatre - which will be constructed at the foot of Clifford’s Tower, is the brainchild of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, based in Westow.

Lunchbox puts on theatrical shows all over the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The company’s founder, James Cundall, who grew up here and still lives in the area, runs the whole international operation out of Ryedale, a task he says is only achieved with modern technology.

“You have to work some odd hours at times,” he says. “But these days we’re connected all the time.”

This summer’s series of Shakespearean shows in York is unlike anything that Lunchbox - or indeed anyone - has done before.

The original Rose Theatre was built in 1587 on the south bank of the River Thames in London. Now, the vast replica structure will stand beside Clifford’s Tower. It is to combine state-of-the-art scaffolding technology, corrugated iron and timber with the historic, 13-sided design of a 16th-century Shakespearean theatre.

It will house an audience of 950, with 600 seated on three-tiered balconies around an open-roofed courtyard and standing room for 350 “groundlings” - standing room in front of the stage.

Describing the project, James says: “It’s a monster. We are creating a full village around the theatre.”

There will be oak-framed, reed-thatched food and drink huts, an Elizabethan garden designed by award-winning Yorkshire garden designer Sally Tierney, and the production team are also busy sourcing performers for the Village, which will feature a regular schedule of “wagon entertainment” with speeches, sonnets and medieval music, as well as juggling jesters.

Yorkshire-born chef Brian Turner is creating a street food menu with leading Yorkshire street food vendors, and there will be locally-made ice cream and a fully licensed bar.

Much of the labour used in the project’s creation, as well as the food and drink on sale, will be local.

“Everything we can source from York, we are,” James says. “It’s a showcase, we hope, for our county.”

In the theatre itself there will be four different plays being put on, including tragedies, comedies and histories: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III.

James chose the plays. He says his love of Shakespeare dates back to his time at school when he auditioned for the role of witch in a school production of Macbeth - but lost out to one Stephen Fry.

“Unashamedly, I chose them because I like them and I think they’re approachable,” he says, and uses Richard III as an example. “It’s violent, complex, bloody. It’s like Game of Thrones. And it’s got a link to York. This is Shakespeare for everybody. You don’t have to have seen Shakespeare before, just come along.”

Part of making it accessible is a bursary scheme for children which will give free tickets to some 2,500 schoolchildren who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to go. James says theatre can leave a lasting impression for young people.

“When I was eight the first show I saw was at the open air theatre in Scarborough. I’ll remember it all my life,” he says.

The shows will be intimate. Action will sometimes take place in amongst the audience, and no seat in the theatre will be more than 15 metres from the stage.

Both Romeo and Juliet and Richard III will be directed by the West End’s renowned Lindsay Posner, while York Theatre Royal’s Olivier Award-winning artistic director Damian Cruden will direct Macbeth, and associate director Juliet Forster will be putting her stamp on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Auditions for the two companies of actors are currently taking place in London and York, with casting and details of the creative team to be announced later this month.

With less than three months to go, the scale and ambition of the project is still remarkable.

James attributes the ability to have big ideas - then plan and execute them - to Lunchbox’s base in the countryside. “It’s perhaps because we live in this glorious part of the country. It gives us the breathing space to think properly,” he adds.

The plays will be performed in repertory by two companies of actors during the 10-week season, from Monday, June 25 to Sunday, September 2.

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