What’s worth watching: autumn 2012

So, the Fringes are over, but the autumn programmes are out for most theatres in the north-east. I’ve been scouring them looking out for things of interest.

Usual rules apply: these recommendations may be based on other work by the same writer/director/company, a promising description of what the play’s about, recommendations from people whose opinions I trust, or a combination of all three. All other things being equal, cheap low-budget productions are more likely to get a recommendation that high-budget expensive ones. This is partly my way of encouraging theatres to keep their plays affordable, and partly so that small theatres and small groups stand a fair chance against big ones such as the Theatre Royal and Sunderland Empire.

And theatre that grabs my interest the most is Darlington Civic Theatre. First up is John Godber’s classic play Bouncers (14-17 November), directed by Godber himself. This was the play that shot Godber to stardom, nominally about four bouncers in a dive nightclub, but also about the people who go to the club. The four men double all of these parts, from assorted Nuts-reading lads to the bitchy and tarty girls’ night out (which gets particularly interesting when the hip-grinding songs begin). This is one of the plays where’s it’s worth seeing how the writer directs it. Normally, any director who knows what they’re doing should be able to faithfully recreate the play from a script, but this is one of these plays that comes from the writers’ vision first and the words on the page a long way second. In short, if you want to be sure you’re seeing Bouncers the way John Godber wants it done, you’ve got to see John Godber do it.

One oddity I’ve notices is that John Godber is directing this for “Watershed Productions“. As some of you might might following, John Godber ended his long-standing association with Hull Truck Theatre last year and instead started directing his plays as the “John Godber Company” associated with the Theatre Royal Wakefield, so it’s not clear why he’s now directing under a third banner in as many years. He hasn’t stopped directing under the John Godber Company because Lost and Found at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was actually a SJT/JGC co-production, and the John Godber Company is also touring another Godber play, Happy Jack, with Godber as director. (This will be coming to the Georgian Theatre in Richmond on 2-3 November and the tickets look cheap, so that’s also worth a look.) If anyone knows what’s going on, please share it with us because it’s a bit of a puzzle.

Shortly afterwards at Darlington is Haunting Julia (27 Nov – 1 Dec). I am normally sceptical about Ayckbourn plays not directed by Ayckbourn, not because I think they can’t be directed by anyone – they can provided the directors know what they’re doing – but because Ayckbourn plays are very easy to butcher. For example, I’m ignoring the version of Relatively Speaking coming to Newcastle Theatre Royal because: 1), The photo they’ve used for their posters is Philip and Sheila smiling over a nice relaxing breakfast in the garden, which is most definitely not what the play is about; 2) It’s promoting itself on which celebrities are in it: Sheila and Ginny are being bandied all over the place because they’re played by Felicity Kendal and Kara Tointon; and 3) I can’t help feeling that anybody who likes to hear Relatively Speaking described as “charmingly English” is getting it badly wrong.

Haunting Julia was performed in 2008 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, but sadly it never toured further than the New Vic in Stoke, so it would be great if this play can be brought to more of the country by this tour. I’ve got a hunch that Hall and Childs will do a good job, mainly because of their choice of play. Haunting Julia is, I feel, one of Ayckbourn’s best plays, but more importantly, this play is far from the middle-class farce Ayckbourn is associated, so they are clearly not pandering to this stereotype. But I’ll wait and see what they make of it and give my verdict in due course.

Although Relatively Speaking at the Newcastle Theatre Royal is not on my list of things to catch, One Man, Two Guv’mors (6-10 November) is. This transplants 1743 Italian comedy The Servant with Two Master to 1963 Brighton, and has been one of the National Theatre’s most successful shows. They describe it as “a glorious celebration of British Comedy” with “satire, songs, slapstick and glittering one-liners”. I’m cautious of these sales pitches as this can mean anything from comedy classic to painfully unfunny, but I’m recommending this on the basis that everybody who’s seen this play has told me how good it is. Don’t let me down.

Northern Broadsides is doing A Government Inspector, which is based on Gogol’s play of the (almost) same name. If you’ve never heard of The Government Inspector, It’s the basis of the Classic Fawlty Towers episode The Hotel Inspectors. The idea is that in a corrupt 19th-century Russian town, where everybody has their finger in every pie, word reaches the mayor that a high-ranking government official is coming to investigate. So they plan to pamper and bribe him, but unfortunately mistake a sponging narcissistic low-grade civil servant at their man. Luckily for Gogol, this play is highly portable and can just as easily be set in a corrupt 21st-century town. It’s showing at Harrogate Theatre until 21 September, then tours, including the Stephen Joseph Theatre (16-20 October) and York Theatre Royal (27 November – 1 December). Let’s hope the councils of Harrogate, Scarborough and York have a sense of humour.

The bad news is that December is coming up. which means one months of pantomimes, pantomimes and more pantomimes. Great for families, not so great for miserable child-haters such as me. If you want refuge from the pantomimes, the Stephen Joseph Theatre is showing The Importance of Being Earnest (18 December – 5 January). It’s fair to say that, like Blithe Spirit last year, it’s one of Chris Monks’s safer and less adventurous productions, but he does this plays well, and when it’s a classic such as this one you can’t complain.

And finally, I am going to break my rule on not review/recommending plays of people I know just for a moment to endorse Kevan Ogden’s Ersatz (People’s Theatre, 20-24 November). I don’t know this particular play, but I’ve read other scripts of his that looked very promising. I’m thrilled he’s won the People’s Play competition, so I wish him the best of luck come November.

So there you go. Come back in four months and see if I’m still standing by what I said.