Hyde Park is an updated classic coming to York soon. So, we caught up with associate director Ollie Jones and some of the actors and actresses to get the lowdown on this upcoming show, how they’ve brought a tale set in the 17th century into the modern day and all their influences.
By Jane Howkins
Hyde Park is a new production which will be performed at Heslington Campus East of the University of York in June. What can you tell us about the production?
Associate Director, Ollie Jones: Hyde Park is TFTV’s (Theatre, Film and Television) show of the year. It’s a devastatingly funny play by one of the great playwrights of the British stage, but it is rarely staged – the last professional production was at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s. The show is a collaboration between staff and students, lead by director Professor Mike Cordner. In the play, three young women are beset by suitors, and they proceed to run rings around the men, and eventually choose whether or not to accept their advances. This is all set against the backdrop of London’s Hyde Park, a place for festivals, races, and dark corners to escape for some privacy…
‘Carol’, Hannah Eggleton: It is a 17th century play but we’ve set it in the modern day. It’s massive and an exciting thing to tackle – you have to find the reasons relationships work and pull out the humour, and it translates really beautifully.
‘Bonavent’, Ben Kawalec: It’s a play with three interweaving plots, but it’s so cleverly crafted that none outshines the other. I play a mysterious character who appears at the beginning of the play and no-one recognises. It’s the kind of character you might play villainously, but it’s proving fun to discover different layers.
Hyde Park was originally written by James Shirley in the 1600s, however this is a modern retelling of the original. Why did you decide to change the time period?
OJ: This feels like such a young, modern play – these are guys in their 20s, enjoying life, falling for each other, competing and playing tricks. And Shirley writes so clearly that it feels like a recent play, without some of the more floral speech you might expect in Shakespeare!
HE: The play has themes which we feel are important today, and the relationships between characters, and their dysfunction resonate with a modern audience.
BK: Setting the play now lends a familiar context, and this helps us understand an older play more easily.
As this is a modern version of Hyde Park, this production will differ from the original due to the setting and time frame. What else has changed about the show, and how much has been kept the same?
OJ: First and foremost, this is a show in modern dress; the setting is here and now. Our costume designer, one of our alumni, Amy Milton, is working with our student costume assistants to dress the actors in contemporary clothes, and our designer Rob Del Pino has developed a gorgeous modern set which will use projections and animation. There’s no need for furniture; this is a pacy, exciting production which moves quickly from a house to a wedding to the park and back again. But that’s also how Shirley intended, how it was originally done in 1632 (maybe not with the projections!).
What was it that made you decide to do a version of James Shirley’s Hyde Park in the first place? Is it a play that you already enjoyed or something totally new?
OJ: The play has always been one of the director (Prof Mike Cordner)’s favourites. He recommended it to the RSC when they produced the play in ’87. Now we can take advantage of the amazing theatre in the Department, and tackle all the spectacle the play calls for, including racing, and live music. For most of us, though, the play was entirely new, and it’s been great to work through bringing a classic to the modern stage.
HE: It was completely new to me. I enjoy classical texts but it’s liberating to tackle something not many have heard of – it gives us a real freedom and it’s a fun process.
BK: For me it was a chance to try something new and a chance to learn from a professional director, and produce something more than most student theatre. Working in this way gives you an idea of what the industry is like – and it’s good fun.
What/who would you say you are most influenced by, especially when choosing a piece to perform?
OJ: There’s always a lot of noise around Shakespeare – this anniversary year in particular – but there are so many fantastic plays by his contemporaries which deserve to be staged more frequently. Since the department opened in 2010 we’ve been bringing some of these plays back – we pipped the RSC to the post by staging Middleton’s A Mad World, My Masters in 2011 and followed it up with The Dutch Courtesan by John Marston and John Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife (and you can watch them online too, see our website for links). Shirley’s play seemed a great next step, and we plan to keep going!
How do you find the creative arts scene in York? There often seems to be a lot going on within the city.
OJ: I’m always struck by the quality of work going on in York, and the sense of community – some of the recent collaborations between Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal have been astonishing. With the YTR’s revamp, and the city’s UNESCO City of Media Arts, the future looks bright!
HE: I love that there’s lots happening in unusual places – a few weeks ago I went to an opera in a church I didn’t know existed! There are lots of opportunities for creating new work in eclectic spaces.
BK: It’s pretty diverse, and lots going on that people don’t realise, particularly on campus. I want to see more of these things going on!
The production is being put on by theatre staff and students from the University of York. What is the arts scene like there and how does it compare to the rest of York?
HE: The campus scene is really vibrant, and there are lots of opportunities to cut your teeth on something challenging but in a friendly environment.
BK: Again, it’s pretty diverse. You mainly think of Dramasoc and the TFTV theatre society Platform, but there’s so much more with PantSoc, Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and more, plus tons of, independent productions. Being on campus it’s really easy to tap in to that and there’s a real buzz.
Are there any other similar events being put on at the University at the moment?
OJ: We are part of the University’s Festival of Ideas, which is putting on hundreds of events, including performances, free talks and workshops, for the public and the wider university. There are some great things coming up, check it out – http://www.yorkfestivalofideas.com
Do you have plans for any future productions after Hyde Park?
OJ: Plenty! We stage at least ten public productions a year in the department. Next term the plan is that our third year students will work on two modern plays, Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia and Alistair McDowall’s Pomona – really exciting, challenging plays. After that, well, we’ve got some exciting plans in the works…
HE: I’m working up to drama school auditions, so I’m choosing projects carefully to help that.
BK: We’ve got our final year productions, which we’ve just announced, and I’m looking forward to finding out what Dramasoc plays puts on. Further ahead, I’m already planning to head to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
OJ: Come see the show!
HE: I’m hugely proud and feel privileged to be part of this show, so come and have a really fun and enjoyable evening, and say hi in the bar after!
BK: I want to become a professional actor and it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity. This has been a great chance to work with professionals and I’ll become a much better actor for it.
Hyde Park will be performed at the University of York on Thursday 9 to Saturday 11 June 2016