What’s worth watching: autumn/winter 2013

So, folks, it’s that time of year to feel gloomy. Partly because of the colder days or longer nights, but more so because The X Factor has started. On the theatre scene, the Fringes are finished, and it won’t be long until Pantomime season begins, then it’s nothing but Cannon and Ball for a month and a half. So it’s best to make the most of theatre before then, and here are my recommendations based on previous work.

And my first pick for this season is John Godber’s September in the Rain, directed by Godber himself. This is on tour and it will be calling at Darlington Civic Theatre on, quite fittingly, the last week in September, on the 24th-28th September. I don’t always recommend Godber plays. Great though the classics are, such as Bouncers and Teechers, one thing you notice about Godber after you see a few plays is that the same themes keep coming up again and again – teaching, modern class divides, petty greed, and an awful lot of couples based on his parents. This one, I suspect, is going to heavily re-use the final theme.

But, strangely enough, I’ve got a soft spot for this theme. There’s plenty of plays where a couple is in a doomed marriage and the bubble finally bursts, and some of those plays are excellent. But then you have plays like Happy Jack, which I saw last year, where not that much happens. That was about a couple who marry young and stay together their whole lives, with the occasional minor squabble being worked out and life goes on. September in the Rain looks like it’s a similar story: a another couple who go on holiday to Blackpool every year over four decades – and why not? In the scramble for storylines about failing marriages, something the happy ones get forgotten about. Also, this is a 1982 play, and in my experience the old ones that keep getting revived tend to be the good ones. (Note: I don’t actually know this play, and I don’t want to spoil it by reading the plot beforehand. If I’ve got this wrong and it turns out I’m sending you to a play about four decades of wife-beating, I apologise in advance.)

Promotional photo: happy-looking man leaping over thingsThe other travelling company which grabs my attention is Northern Broadsides, with The Grand Gesture.  Look, the posters have a man beaming away, jumping for joy! Sounds like a nice cheery play, wonder what it is? Ooh, it’s an adaptation of a play by Nikolai Erdman, called … The Suicide. Oh. Maybe not so cheery after all. This is all about Simeon (Seymon in the original), who can’t face things and thnks about ending it all. But don’t worry – there are plenty of devious people intent on using his grand gesture as a way of further then own agendas. Yes, this play is a comedy.

And the reason I recommend this is that this is another partnership of Deborah McAndrew and Conrad Nelson, who did the brilliant A Government Inspector last year, and Accidental Death of an Anarchist before that. They have a unique way of taking classing texts and adapting them into all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganzas that keep the intelligence and humour of the originals. This is currently on at the Harrogate Theatre up to the 21st September, then tours the country, with the closest visit to the north-east being the Stephen Joseph Theatre on the 19th-23rd November. But why oh why doesn’t Northern Broadsides ever come to the north-east proper? We need you.

There’s a couple of fringe productions taking in the north-east on their tours that I recommend. The Trials and Tribulations of Mr Pickwick comes to York Theatre Royal studio on the 13th September. Yes, that’s this Friday. I saw it as this year’s Brighton Fringe and I highly recommend it. But if you’re in Durham like me, the play you absolutely must see is Mess. This visited Newcastle earlier this year, and it’s now coming to Durham as part of the Take Off Festival. It’s showing on the 22nd October at 10 a.m. and 7.30 at Durham Johnston School, and although the festival is primarily aimed as teenagers (including a play about anorexia is this festival is a very good idea), teenagers are by no means the only target audience for this play. If you didn’t see it in April, you have no excuse to miss it this time.

If you’re wondering what’s going on with Chasing Rainbows, which I recommended last time, it’s been postponed so that the script can be reworked. Don’t worry – this might seem alarming if you’re used to bigger theatres announcing a date months in advance and sticking to it, but that’s not as unusual as you might think. Behind the scenes new scripts and read, written and re-written on ever-changing timescales, and the entry in the printed programme is normally the last step in a long process. And – crucially – MyLovelyProduction who intend to perform this are sticking with this as their upcoming headline show in spite of the slippage. The last I’ve heard is it’s due to be performed in the autumn, so I will update this as soon as I hear anything definite.

Finally, along comes December, and theatres are overrun by hordes of screaming children. Oh joy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a blanket child-hater. I know plenty of perfectly acceptable children, such as my nephew and niece, and plenty more such as … um, I’ll get back to you about that. Anyway, in the event that you fancy something in December that doesn’t involve an over-publicsed has been shouting “OH NO HE DIDN’T!” you can take refuge at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, who will be showing Arthur Pinero’s The Schoolmistress. Now, this play apparently involves the headmistress of a Ladies college married to petty con-man Vere Queckett, whilst sheltering a runaway bride hiding from her father, who ends up having to pretend to be an opera singer – could this be a farce?

This play is said to the inspiration for St. Trinian’s, but pretty much every farce written before 1940 set in a school says that, so take that claim a pinch of salt. What I do know is that lately the Christmas plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre to be light-hearted and not too demanding, but still enjoyable, well-produced and – the clincher – not a pantomime. This is on between the 14th December and 4th January.

So there you go. Enjoy it while you can.

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