Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Shakespeare at Kirkstall Abbey cancelled

It is very dissapointing this year that the British Shakespeare Company performances have been cancelled at Kirkstall Abbey due to a lack of funding.

This event is the jewel in the crown of the Leeds events calendar, and the only one that I attend religiously every year, and have done right back since 1998. This year we were all looking forward to A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play for which the company have historically offered up magical performances. The first time I attended this play at the Abbey in 1998 I was enchanted and then again in 2005 and 2006.

The arrival of the British Shakespeare Company to Leeds each year represents the backbone of the Leeds events calendar and puts bigger more populist events such as Opera in the Park and Classical fantasia absolutely in the shade - in my opinion at least.

Don't even get me started on about what Leeds City Council is offering up as alternative entertainment to the Shakespeare festival - eh hem - balloon modelling and face painting. Some real thought went into that one. In fact about as much thought as went into trying to restore the Abbey and make it visitor friendly - you don't put a new roof on a twelfth century abbey, especially when part of the attraction and history underpinning its interest rests in the dissolution of the monasteries and it having its roof pulled off. Its an act of vandalism that effectively erases an important part of our history, and its the same philistine approach to the Abbey that is behind this failure to support the British Shakespeare Company through hard times.

I can't help feeling that Leeds is suffering from something of a cultural crisis at the moment, while many other large cities in the UK are enjoying a cultural renaissance - Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham to name but a few, everything in Leeds seems to be experiencing something of a dull ebb - from the diet of lacklustre theatre offered up by the playhouse, the lack of classical venues, live music and bands that are slim pickings except in really small and well-trodden venues such as Joseph's Well or the Pack Horse and everything else besides. Add to this the demise of Caberet Heaven in 2007 and it all starts to look rather grim.

Ok I admit Opera in the Park is a great evening, and the Leeds Mela is always a great experience, but we seem to be lacking something in high culture and the more avante garde culture that many other cities enjoy in abundance. I'm starting to think that Leeds City Council really needs a kick up the arse, and probably the whole of Leeds needs a kick up the arse before we get any sort of re-awakening - we are becoming a city of shopping and lacklustre wine bars, which is really the equivalent of a small town that has little to offer but musty pubs and charity shops.

Anyway, please show your support for the British Shakespeare Company and Robert J. Williamson here: http://www.britishshakespearecompany.com/diary/?p=241 - they have done us proud for the past twelve years and it would be a terrible shame if they were unable to come back. Bite your thumb at Leeds City Council and let them know just what barren practicers they are.

Here's some of my favorite memories from the performances over the past twleve years -

  • 2006 - Wayne Sleep trying to have a quiet drink in the Vesper Gate pub while being pestered by a semi-sober girl with a voice that sounded like a slab of concrete being dropped on a squeeky toy.

  • Sliding off my chair after mis-judging how much wine I could down by the end of the first interval during Romeo and Juliet in 2006

  • Taking a Mongolian bloodline princess to see The Taming of the Shrew in 2005

  • Robert J. Wiliamson playing Hamlet with a semi-healed broken leg in 2003 - how did he do it and how ironic?

And much much more.

I've always hoped that events like this might be Leeds' passport to extend its repetoire of Reniassance drama beyond Shakespeare and to give us a better taste of the variety of the Renaissance theatre, but no such luck. The playhouse gave us a real treat with the Duchess of Malfi in 2006, as well as (okay its Shakespeare but not performed as much as it deserves) a great adaptation of Cymbeline in October 2006 - but aside from this its been really slim pickings, and now we're going backwards rather than forwards. ho hum, and why does the rain it raineth every day?

Lastly, and before I forget to mention it - just to add a kick in the nuts to a fart in the face - Comedy in the Park 2008 has been cancelled as well.

1 comment:

WillShakespeare said...

I had this link sent to me and I would like to thank you personally for you kind comments and support. You are clearly a person of impeccable taste but of course I would say that.

We will be returning to Leeds and have begun talks with Harewood House but of course it will be a very different event. We are of course doing everything we can to return to Kirkstall Abbey and do have a meeting for September 2nd and we have said that the future has to be decided then. We invited Councillor Procter to A Midsummer Night's Dream at Arundel Castle along with an a personal invitation from the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk for a private dinner at Arundel Castle as he has never seen our work. Unfortunately we did not hear back from him.

There are a few conflicting reports but to clear the record a little all we asked for was that the NEW fees that were introduced were removed as they were too much of an additional burden on an event that was losing money already. When our Norwegian patron offered to pay the fees for this year we were told the event could not take place on health and safety grounds. They would not enlighten us as to what this referred to as we have never had so much as a stubbed toe at the event.

We offered the festival to Leeds to produce as their own event like Opera etc but this was turned down. This would have cost the six figure sum quoted in the press but the council producing it they would have free box office and no fees and therefore the event would break even at the box office. So it fact it would not cost the tax payer one penny. This was also turned down.

We are currently in talks with York Council to build a copy of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in their new cultural quarter and it is looking very positive, we hope to announce this soon. Sir Ben Kingsley has become the patron of this project. Oh and yes we offered it to Leeds first and you guessed it, they turned turned down.


Robert J. Williamson

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