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Learn more about Playback Theatre York and meet our members

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Playback Theatre

Playback Theatre is community theatre, where the real moments, dreams and stories of the audience are spontaneously improvised.

Tell your story with the help of our conductor, choose the actors to play the parts and then sit back and watch as it is brought to life by our company of actors and musicians. Sometimes people come with stories they want to tell, and sometimes stories are inspired by the performance. Sometimes people come simply to watch.

This positive and enjoyable process demonstrates that everyone’s story is worth telling. Stories can be hilarious, humdrum, tragic or joyful – any moment, however small, can make a Playback story.

Playback Theatre is a unique experience that can be entertaining, thought provoking and surprising.

Playback Theatre has been used by many different groups, companies and organisations:

  • As a stimulus for further debate

  • As a forum for hearing various points of view

  • To dramatise issues

  • To explore change

  • To improve relationships

Sharing a personal story, and seeing it brought to life, can increase self-awareness, help to express feelings, and bring fresh insight. It's a process that celebrates individual differences whilst building connection within and across communities - revealing the universality of our collective experience.

Playback Theatre York can provide pre- or post performance workshops which, using a variety of action-based methods, can work with issues of current concern to your group.

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Playback Online

The restrictions resulting from the Covid 19 pandemic led to the Playback form being adapted creatively for online purposes.  


This innovation has enabled Playback Theatre York to continue rehearsing and performing. It has been enriching to reach out to audiences that can now join from all over the country and from all over the world.



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The Listening Hour concept in this form was founded by Jonathan Fox at the early days of the Covid- 19 pandemic in order to support those people who had to stay in isolation. The foundations of the Listening Hour build on Jonathan's 40 years of work with Playback Theatre, which is an improvisational form of theatre where audience members tell personal stories and watch them honoured by theatrical enactment. Besides, Listening Hour builds on Jonathan's theory of Narrative Reticulation, which investigates how our stories communicate with each other and with their tellers. The Listening Hour movement started in April 2020.



*Our personal experiences, stories

*Our small and big life events

*Past, present or future

*Images as well as words

*Releasing tension

*Creating connection

*Respectfully listening to each other

*Community, opportunity to understand each other

Listening Hour promotes the wisdom and knowledge residing in our everyday experiences which we often forget. Apart from that the session offers space for dialogue through our stories instead of our opinions and ideologies.

The maximum number of participants in a session is 6 people, which makes it possible for everyone to tell if they want to. The sessions are short enough to hold our attention, nurture us instead of taking our energy away.



* Not a problem solving tool, however it might help to find new solutions

* Not a brainstorming session, however promotes a creative atmosphere

* Not a course, however participants can practice the teachings of listening and attention

* Not a therapy, however participation can contribute to the decrease of anxiety and stress

* Not a place to discuss or analyse, however the shared experiences/stories will help to create a cooperative atmosphere


Sessions are led by Listening Hour Guide registered with the international Listening Hour community.


The next section is dedicated to company history, and its development through the years. 


Each year in the 1980s York St. John University in York, held a week-long Dramatherapy Summer School. Towards the end of that decade the organiser, David Powley, invited a Swedish Psychodramatist, Christina Hagelthorne, to lead one of the therapy training groups. Having herself trained with Jonathan Fox, she also happened to be the founder of the first Swedish Playback Company and the International Theatre of Spontaneity. David asked her to add a Playback workshop to her offering at the summer school. Susanna Cunningham, a professional actress and dramatherapist, attended that workshop and fell in love with Playback. She set about gaining more experience of it and introducing it to fellow dramatherapists and friends. This in turn led to bringing Christina back to York in June 1991 to lead a weekend training workshop at the University and for the participants to formerly set up a new Playback Company,  now the longest running in the UK (and one of the longest running in the world).

In November 1991, also at the University, they met for their first training weekend as a company. As luck would have it, the current Dramatherapy Diploma students were booked in at the same time for their residential weekend. So Playback Theatre York was able to give their first performance as a constituted company for a particularly sympathetic audience.

Naturally, as several of the company members were themselves Dramatherapists, many of their early performances were for Dramatherapy Association events. However, those same members were already well established professionals in education, health, the arts, community work and management, some at a high level, bringing with them their own professional networks. Added to which more than half of all members were not Dramatherapists and contributed an even wider range of experience and contacts. That continues to be the case.

Thus, as it has evolved over the years, Playback Theatre York is very well placed to understand and respond to the needs of an increasingly wide range of individuals and organisations.
Under the health and care umbrella, for example, we have performed for many national and regional conferences for providers of a wide range of specialisms, especially in mental health and social services. We have also worked with commercial organisations, such as British Airways and  T-Mobile.

Our work with smaller organisations has included, mental health day centres, psychiatric services, care homes for the elderly, hospices, schools, colleges, universities, training
courses for GPs and GP Trainers, a book launch, a farewell event, arts festivals, a wedding and a variety of local community organisations and groups. Whatever and wherever your event is, as long as you have a space suitable for our
company to perform in and the audience to sit in, we could  provide a thought provoking and entertaining focus for whatever is the main purpose of your gathering.



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