‘Interactive community theatre’ is a term that would have most Britons’ upper lips stiffening with distaste. Wouldn’t they rather sit in the dark and clap sporadically, if they felt like it? Possibly. And yet, when it comes to National Pride – despite a vocal minority of cynics – the Queen’s Jubilee and Memorial Sunday have reported record attendances in the last few years. We respect our tradition and recognise our history as much as we worship the tealeaf.
So, in the run-up to the centenary of World War One, Pilot Theatre’s vision; of nightly leading a 300-strong crowd around some of York’s landmarks, while tearful sweethearts’ farewells and re-enactments of warfare explode around us, is a bold and daring one which pays off in trench-digging spades.
Meeting in Exhibition Square, the crowd is treated to a ration tin of chocolate to set the scene (each British soldier was sent off to war with this humble but welcome gift from the Lord Mayor). As the show’s title suggests, York’s long history with chocolate forms the backbone of this experience; and ‘experience’ is the correct word to describe it. You’re led down York’s narrow streets as if you’re being sent off to war yourself; rosy-faced urchins cheering you along in their naïve patriotism and causing one or two stifled tears. It’s the closest thing to time travel you’ll have the chance to witness.
At the halfway point, shortly after a show-stopping trench scene, we’re given hot chocolate in a warm church, courtesy of York Cocoa House, and it’s at this point that the ‘community’ part of the whole venture really sinks in: the hundreds of thousands who died serving their country are paid a great honour by the hundreds of cast, crew and technical geniuses pulling together to make Blood + Chocolate transcend anything we’ve seen before, or could have expected.
With nary a technical hitch, the crowd is led across the city to their ‘final watching place’ of Clifford’s Tower, lit with ghostly pallor to reveal the fate of all the central characters, from the conscientious objector to the brothers toiling in the trenches. This final representation of the landscape of war, framed by a gauze-covered tree in an overrun hospital, sends you off shell shocked but glad and grateful that you’ve suffered the cold night air to gain even the tiniest perspective on the horrors of what those at war – and moreover, at home in York – experienced.
Blood + Chocolate, from Pilot Theatre and Slung Low, runs every night from 7:00pm. Performances are sold out but returns MAY be available on the night from York Theatre Royal box office. A live stream of the event will take place on Thursday 17th October here.
Written by Mike Kenny
Directed by Alan Lane
Designed by Anna Gooch