When asked by Northern Broadsides to write something as part of a series of blogs my mind zipped around various possibilities. I thought about writing about my experience of watching the company 25 years ago, as I grew up in Leeds. I could talk about seeing 10 years of productions by NB at Salts Mill and what was then the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I considered discussing the role of ‘The Fool’ in Shakespeare and what I have learned about it through playing Touchstone in As You Like It. There was the potential topic of revisiting the North to perform after 15 years of living in London. And then I got distracted, ‘coz we had to close for a week coz of bloody Covid!

Joe Morrow

I arrived in Scarborough 6 days ago, to gloriously sunny weather, I might add, for a week of Shakespeare on the Yorkshire riviera. First, a beautiful Sunday evening amble around Scarbados, followed by a bus trip up and back to Whitby the next day for a bit of Dracula-spotting, abbey-ogling and a slap up fish and chip tea at The Magpie (if you’ve never been, its worth it). After a picturesque bus trip via Robin Hood’s Bay, I got back to my digs for a couple of glasses of wine, a bath and an early night before setting up camp at The Stephen Joseph Theatre for a week. 

The Stephen Joseph Theatre

Sadly, it was not to be. We arrived to the news that one of our number had received the dreaded double line on the daily lateral flow.  Despite the changing guidelines, we have decided to continue daily testing in order to try and protect each other, the audiences and the show. Action stations; Broadsides crew and management had devised a solution before we had even stepped foot on the stage for our technical rehearsal and re-blocking. A new actor would be swooping in to save the day and the show would go on.

The Company of As You Like It

24 hours later and, as has proved the pattern, Lady Rona had passed herself round the company even further, like the wanton strumpet she is like to be, and we were faced with the news that we would be puling the week’s shows. It was with a heavy heart that we hastily packed up the belongings we had just unpacked, cleaned out our dressing rooms and headed back digs-wards to await further instruction. The plan was to all keep testing daily and meet back up in York, should the results be on our side. Having paid for the week and being admittedly somewhat of a miser, I decided to make the most of it/get my money’s worth and have an extra 2 days at the coast before heading home in anticipation for news on whether or not we will get to play our next week. All signs point in the right direction, but if there’s one thing you can be sure about this current situation, is that it’s unpredictable. The only certainty is uncertainty.

A negative COVID-19 test in front of a beautiful Scarborough sea view

So, here sit I, on a packed LNER train back to The Big Smoke, reflecting on this experience. I was unfortunate enough to have a tour cut short at the beginning of the recent pandemic 2 years ago, almost to the day, and the dread naturally kicks in. My mind does what it is prone to do; panic. What will happen? What can we do? Who’s responsibility is it? Have the government shafted us once again with ineptitude and bad planning? How will we ever be able to mount productions again without the huge financial risk of cancellation, not to mention the knock on effects on one’s mental health? Should I have stayed in the bedsit in Scarborough for another 48 hours to squeeze every penny out of Booking.com? And then I take a breath and tell my inner cynic to take a break for five minutes. There are positives to be seen here, and not just on a PCR test. 

Whitby, by Joe Morrow

Despite the trauma we have all been though over the last two years, the devastating blows to every industry, the financial, emotional and personal struggles that everyone thought ‘unprecedented’; Despite all this, we have found a way back into theatres. Venues have opened up. Audiences have come back. The want and need for collective experience and group participation in storytelling is as prevalent as ever, maybe even more so at present. Our human instinct is to assemble and receive catharsis, whether it be through theatre, sport, religion or music. We want to gather and share. And so far for three months we, as part of this ensemble, have been able to facilitate that and we will, with careful planning, be able to continue to do so until we reach the end of our little journey together in July. 

Joe Morrow as Touchstone

So, here’s my message to my apocalyptic brain and to yours, if it helps: The government may have, be it wise or not, decided to relax measures and restrictions, but we won’t. We will continue to keep audiences, ourselves and each other safe. We may have to pause here and there to regroup. We might have to find alternative ways to tell the stories and get them to people. Who knows, hopefully the alternatives we’ve found over the last 24 months will allow more people to access the work, after all necessity is the mother of invention. We, in As You Like It,  have come together with a company of 20 other people to work on and share a 500 year old play thats about love, life and laughter (I think that was on a bit of driftwood on my bedsit wall) and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’ll have to adapt to, embrace and navigate all of these challenges, but that’s always been the job of a band of players. We’ve been told to learn to live with ‘The New Normal’ – but who wants to be normal? Sounds boring. 

Stay safe.



Joe Morrow – Touchstone in As You Like It