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Theatre review: Blood + Chocolate, York city centre

A hugely ambitious production transports an audience back to 1914 in a part-walking tour, part-multimedia journey

We are all going to have to get used to those feelings of intense sorrow and blinding anger which bubble up so readily when confronted with the slaughter of the First World War. Next year marks the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities and much is planned to commemorate the event.

But of course it was not the donkey generals of the early 20th Century who invented man’s inhumanity to man – though the fields of France saw a step shift in the scale of the carnage thanks to the industrialisation of the previous century.

This was a thought all too apparent standing in the unseasonal warmth of an October night beneath York’s Clifford’s Tower – the medieval castle and scene of Britain’s worst pogrom -  watching the heart-breaking finale of this hugely ambitious and sold-out production.

The city is a living storybook of Britain and Western civilisation – something that was cleverly harnessed by writer Mike Kenny, artistic director Alan Lane and a large creative team.

The three production companies - Pilot, Slung Low and York Theatre Royal have fashioned something that is part-walking tour, part-multi-media journey through a live film set, transporting us back to 1914.

Surprise is everything here. There are some splendid coups de theatre in the atmospheric winding streets. Scenes are played out against the magisterial architecture of the Minster and elsewhere as we eavesdrop on the farewells of lovers on our headphones from afar.

The mixed professional and community cast nearly 200 strong give this both an epic feel and an authentic voice drawing on the strengths of the famous Mystery Plays.

Yet the storyline of the Christmas box of chocolates sent by city dignitaries to every Yorkie serving in the trenches is merely a thread on which to hang the larger issues.

York, a city built largely on the Quaker wealth of its chocolate factories is pitched into a cruel dilemma by the outbreak of war. How does it reconcile its pacifist beliefs with the drumbeat of nationalism that propelled the pals’ battalions to the mud and blood of Flanders?

You know tragedy, the dread telegram bearing bad news, is inevitable although this does not make it any easier to take when it comes – despite the passage of a century. Bring a hankie.

To 20th October