words matter exclusive: interview with the director of the ‘yorkshire scandals’, a new drama launching in york this week

By Harriet Bartle

Our Harriet Bartle was offered exclusive behind the scenes access to a new dramatic production making its debut in York this week: ‘The Yorkshire Scandals.’ Below, Harriet reflects on her one-to-one conversation with the director of this exciting endeavour, Ben Pruiser.

As part of a hurried team endeavour to capture a moment in theatre taking place in York this week, I was enthused to be offered the opportunity to meet up with the director of one of the plays being performed as part of two in Yorkshire Scandals, Ben Prusiner. After the snowfall of last week put off the initial meeting, we were finally able to meet up for a quick chat in the Theatre Royal café on St Leonard’s Place on the quiet Monday lunchtime, the first day of classes in the new semester. As I sat down early with my earl grey tea, I realised somewhat too late that I didn’t know what Ben looked like; hastily, I hammered his name into Google on the phone I’d had to borrow after my own mobile had reached the end of its life only the day before. I was off to a great start as anyone can see, and so sat myself in the café and hoped that I could pull the day around with this interview.

An image from the Yorkshire Scandals poster.

The series of comedic errors on my part, however, were not to set the tone; once the identity of interviewer and interviewee was firmly established with a handshake, we got down quickly to the business of discussing the productions. After introductions, I simply asked of Ben that he talk about whatever he felt was relevant and interesting about the productions that open on Thursday the 25th and close on Sunday the 28th.

Ben began with a brief history of A Yorkshire Tragedy, which I was to learn was a “one-act play from the Renaissance, which is extremely rare […] and appears to have been part of an evening of four one-act plays in total, but the other three have been lost.” It was in part due to this loss that the Yorkshire Scandals production came about; it was Ben’s suggestion to commission a second, new, one-act play, that focused on current events in Yorkshire so that it could be “a counterbalance, or to be in dialogue with [A Yorkshire Tragedy]”. As the idea was shaped, the brief was sent out to the writers of the local branch of Script Yorkshire; eventually, Bill Hodson’s concept of The Tasker’s Trials came about and was written to compliment and support the original piece.

This was new information to me – I had known about the missing plays connected to A Yorkshire Tragedy, but did not know that The Tasker’s Trials had been written specifically to support the classic play. I mentioned that, as I had not known this before and had been intending to ask how the two plays were working together, the plays would naturally work well together and, as Ben eloquently stated, we’ll have to see what my fellow Words Matter blogger Nicoletta Peddis’ review is like after she sees the production later this week!

We then continued to discuss the plays and their contents, to further establish how it is that the pieces compliment one another. The “family annihilation” carried out by Yorkshire gambler and murderer Walter Calverley that is the central crime in A Yorkshire Tragedy works well (or, will work well!) in dialogue with the amalgamation of modern news stories used to create The Tasker’s Trials, in which a joy-riding incident involving the family’s eldest son puts a young woman in a coma. Both are or have been current events in Yorkshire at some point in time; both involve the plight of Yorkshire families; both are one-act plays “ripped from the local headlines,” as it is written on the flyers for the productions.

The next and final topic at hand was, then, the news reporting style of the productions; after some discussion about the use of puppets and newspapers in the production, Ben informed me of the language in the play that prompted this creative choice; A Yorkshire Tragedy is “almost like a piece of news reporting, as even some of the dialogue is very close to what’s in the pamphlet [about the original crime]”. The puppetry, Ben explained, is used as “both plays deal with the theme of control over your life [and] puppetry is a wonderful metaphor of control,” and that it was from this the other aesthetics of the productions came about.

The productions begin, as previously stated, on the 25th of January and run to the 28th, 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It’s on at the Friargate Theatre and you can find more details here.

Details about ticket prices can be found online or on the posters and flyers in the ILS notice boards on the first and second floors.

Finally, a huge thanks to Ben Prusiner for granting the Words Matter blog this interview and the best of luck to all involved as opening night approaches fast – break a leg!