Remarkable Blood and Chocolate

Production shots for Blood + Chocolate - York - Friday 4th October

Production shots for Blood + Chocolate - York - Friday 4th October

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BLOOD and Chocolate, currently being staged on the streets of York, is an unusual and memorable theatrical experience.

Blood and Chocoate staged in York City Centre by Pilot Theatre, Slung Low and York Theatre Royal.

BLOOD and Chocolate, currently being staged on the streets of York, is an unusual and memorable theatrical experience.

For one thing, the audience - other than a trip to the box office to collect tickets - doesn’t actually set foot in a theatre.

Instead the sold-out production begins in Exhibition Square, opposite the Theatre Royal, where the audience are given headphones and receivers, as well as a small tin of chocolates.

The introduction to the more than two-hour play is largely done through film projected on to the front of the impressive De Grey Rooms, and then we’re off.

Marching through cheering crowds of community actors, the promenade-style production visits some of York’s most famous landmarks, where the action - set during the First World War - is staged as the life of the 21st century city goes on all around.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the Lord Mayor’s decree at Christmas 1914, that all men from the city serving in the armed forces should be sent a bar of chocolate, then York’s main export.

Through a series of set pieces we observe the lives of the men on the frontline and the women they left behind, from touching farewells to the full horror of the battlefield and its aftermath.

For example, the Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor, becomes a factory production line, where the women of the city banter as they pine for the men who’ve gone to war.

Drinkers from a nearby pub flock to the doors to watch and passers-by wander through between cast and audience, but that simply adds to the sense of being part of something big.

Guiding a 300-strong audience through an ancient city like York is a feat in itself, but it is done stylishly and safely by wardens who use torches to point out the location of each scene.

It’s a long walk, around a mile or so and there is a good deal of standing, so an intermission - seated in a local church where hot chocolate is provided as a choir performs - is welcome.

And then on to the finale, in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower, real-life scene of terrible events further in York’s past.

The ending is an anti-climax, with little opportunity for the audience to show their appreciation as the huge and spirited cast - a mix of locals and professionals - drift off into the night.

But that’s a minor quibble. Blood and Chocolate is a remarkable production and a breathtaking experience.

Janet Harrison