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Ukrainian actors granted special permission to leave war zone for York International Shakespeare Festival 2023

Published: 18 April 2023

  •   Featured
A shouting perfomer wearing a flower crown

Credit: Oleksii Tovpyha

The biennial York International Shakespeare Festival returns to York on Friday 21 April 2023, with world and UK premieres, storytelling in schools and libraries, book launches, seminars, lectures and exhibitions. York St John University is proud to partner on this highlight of the cultural calendar,

One of the most historic cities in Britain and backed by the Government to receive Unesco World Heritage status, York was the powerhouse of Northern England in Shakespearean times and is the ideal location to reflect on the variety and complexity of Shakespeare as Europe’s playwright. 

A number of festival events are being hosted by York St John University, with a highlight being a dynamic and uplifting production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre from Ukraine.  

Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are currently prohibited from leaving the country so this extraordinary trip meant the 10 strong theatre team needing exit permits as well as visas to travel. The Artistic Director of the York International Shakespeare Festival contacted the Minister of Culture in Ukraine directly to put the case that this was an important cultural visit, and permission has now been granted. 

The company will be here for 3 days, with over 24 hours travelling in each direction to make the trip. There are no flights from Kyiv so they will travel by train to the border and then on to Krakow in Poland. From there, a flight to Leeds Bradford, and then a minibus across to York.  

During their time here they will be connecting right across the community. There’s a workshop with Theatre and Performance students from York St John University on Thursday 27 April, their main performance on Friday 28 April in the York St John Creative Centre and on Saturday 29 April, also at the University, an open workshop for actors from across York. This will be a unique opportunity to experience a whole new way of working, followed by a Q&A with the company about theatre in Ukraine at this time.  

Philip Parr, Artistic Director of the York International Shakespeare Festival said: “The invitation to the company from Kyiv came about as a result of having seen their performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and met them at the Shakespeare Festival in Verona in 2022.  

“The audience reaction to their performance was extraordinary and the power of their story telling was immense. I can safely say it’s one of the best productions of the play that I’ve seen. 

“So I invited them. They were excited to come but then came the problems. 

“It’s quite an adventure for them and for us. Thankfully we’ve now managed to overcome the issues and we’re excited to have them here in York. Being able to host them means not only a chance for audiences to experience their work but also to demonstrate the significant cultural connection that is created through international festivals.” 

Dr Saffron Vickers Walking, Festival Advisor and Senior Lecturer in English Literature at York St John University said: “This year we are honoured to be showcasing the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Ukraine on the main stage in our new Creative Centre. These productions act as windows into other cultures and encourage us to understand them better. 

“This is one of a number of exciting, award-winning productions we’re hosting, alongside workshops, readings, talks, displays and our afternoon exploring Shakespeare and Sanctuary. 

“This festival aligns closely with York St John University’s commitment to social justice, inclusion and diversity, and in these sometimes divisive times, we celebrate how Shakespeare can bring us together.” 

The York International Shakespeare Festival 2023 runs from Friday 21 April to Monday 1 May 2023.

Other highlights hosted by York St John University include: The Tragedy of Macbeth presented by Flabbergast Theatre; Tim Crouch in Truth's a Dog Must to Kennel and the world premiere of the English translation of Marin Sorescu’s Cousin Shakespeare.

For more details and to access the full festival programme please visit our Events pages

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