Theatre review: Blood and Chocolate @ York Theatre Royal (well, sort of)

Published by theartsdesk

VIDEO: Blood and Chocolate trailer

Never before has “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” been a more fitting opening gambit. This sprawling wartime spectacle knew few bounds as it marched across York’s cobbled streets for an evening that produced watery eyes, open mouths and, admittedly, tired legs.

Treading the ever-narrowing waters between theatre and cinema was a travelling audience that followed the action through the city centre while listening on headphones. From the starting point in Exhibition Square, where young lad George (played by Luke Adamson) and his sweetheart Maisie (Edith Kirkwood) were introduced in a flickering projection on the neo-classical De Grey Rooms building, to the stirring finish at Clifford’s Tower – every minute beggared belief.

This innovative collaboration between York Theatre Royal, Pilot Theatre and Slung Low builds on the concept of Mapping the City – a smaller-scale theatrical experiment that took place around Hull as part of the Cultural Olympiad – and of course last year’s remarkable outdoor Mystery Plays in the York Museum Gardens.

Blood and Chocolate’s cast of 180, boosted by the 600-odd volunteers, was what it took to make Anna Gooch’s mobile set as epic as Olivier Award-winner Mike Kenny’s script, which examines the First World War’s transformative effects on some of York’s residents.

“There’s nowt to worry about,” says George, as, preparing to join the front line in 1914, he tries to reassure his mother (Lisa Howard) about his safety. With the conflict looking like it will continue past Christmas, the Lord Mayor of York decides to send a tin of Rowntree’s chocolate to every serving soldier from the city. “It smells jus’ like ‘ome,” George giddily tells another Tommy, opening his tasty treat while bombs explode on distant battlefields.

Maisie, meanwhile, has found work in the chocolate factory, and waits for George to return home. And waits. But when he does, shell-shock prevents him from functioning in society. “I imagined myself taking care of his bairns on a weekend,” says George’s mother between teary gasps. “We’ll have to think of something else to do with the rest of our lives.”

Couples and families huddled closer in those final moments – and not entirely because it was 9.30pm on an October night. The past-present juxtaposition on the city-wide stage made this tale of human love, loss, strength and weakness in times of war particularly heart-wrenching.

It was touching just seeing these wartime friends, lovers and dreamers lining the same streets as their bemused real-life counterparts who, standing by at cashpoints and outside pubs, might easily have been part of the lost generation themselves. (Although, on the night, they might have been forgiven for confusing some of the actors for Freshers in fancy dress.)

The marketing buzzwords “theatrical experience” are a thousand miles from summing up the sheer impact of Blood and Chocolate, which, quite simply, needs to be seen to be believed.


Blood and Chocolate continues until 20 October.
All performances are now sold out.


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