York Theatre Royal and Riding Lights’ Two Planks and a Passion – the third of the former’s main house ensemble plays – is a credit to York and to regional theatre. A charming and entertaining script by Anthony Minghella, a large and talented community cast, and atmospheric music by Christopher Madin give this production (on until 16th July) a big heart.
Set in York and based around King Richard III’s visit to the city and to the mystery plays in the late fourteenth century, the play focuses just as much on the royals (played by professionals) as on the ‘normal’ citizens of York and on the competition between two of the guilds putting on two of the plays. Ambitiously, there are two community casts, totalling more than 50, which are alternating the run, and the cast I saw (the Taylors) had been impeccably cast; there wasn’t a weak link. Most impressively, voice projection, even discounting the fact that it was a largely amateur cast in the round, was spot on – here we have, quite clearly, professional amateurs (if there can be such a thing). Rory Mulvihill and Rebecca Beattie, in particular, had great vocal presence.
The cast had clearly thought hard about their characters as there were some great nuances and subtleties to certain performances. It almost goes without saying that Jonathan Race (as King Richard), Michael Lambourne (as Oxford) and Emily Pithon (as Queen Anne) were on form, but it was to the community cast’s credit that they did not seem to ‘stand out’ so significantly as to be distracting. Gemma Shelton, playing a wife of one of the players, gave a very truthful performance, and Paul Stonehouse, as the non-too-holy Father Melton, was pitch perfect.
The promised spectacle of the 2012 Mystery Plays in York will need to build on the success of Two Planks and a Passion but it is without a doubt a great introduction to the project and an entertaining, if slightly over-long, stand alone production.
TWo Planks and a Passion is playing at York Theatre Royal until 16th July. For information and tickets, see the website here.