Two productions of classic plays caught my eye this month. One was a headline production at the Gala Theatre, continuing its transition back to a producing theatre. The other was a smaller-scale production down in Yorkshire. Both are excellent scripts where there is little the producing company can do other than be faithful to it, so let’s get straight on with how they did.
Skip to: Educating Rita, September in the Rain
Starting at the Gala, this is their second in-house production since they restarted this last year with The Fighting Bradfords (or the third if you count their small-scale immersive piece No Turning Back). Last year it was new writing, this year it’s the revival of a classic. Not everyone who came to see last year’s friends will be interested in a revival; but there again, not everyone who watches a tried and tested play wants the lottery of a new work. As the only major theatre in Durham, I think it’s fair enough to have different plays appealing to different audiences. “Rita” (not really her name, but that becomes relevant later) signs on with the Open University wanting to learn more about literature. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. The barrier is partly snobbery – even supportive tutor Frank sometimes lets his casual prejudices slip in – and partly her own fear of this snobbery, but it’s mostly the inverse snobbery of friends, family, and husband who all expect her to stop learning and have a baby like everyone else. Continue reading
Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers is a decent play but nothing out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is where Esk Valley Theatre perform it.
Amateur dramatics faces an uphill battle against being dismissed as amatuerish – sometimes this impression isn’t fair, sometimes it is. But nothing has a worse reputation than the dreaded village hall play. The wonderful Social Stereotypes portrays the typical group as Chalfont St Oswald, where Pamela writes the play, directs the play, writes the songs, and casts herself into all the most glamorous parts even though she’s far too old for fishnet tights. The equally wonderful Hot Fuzz has an equally unflattering portrayal of a village hall production of Romeo and Juliet. Whether this reputation is warranted is open to debate, but I can see one big problem: if your intended audience is the rest of the village and everyone in the village knows someone in the production, there’s not much motivation to try to be any good.
But not every village hall wants to settle for “Didn’t they all try hard?” this cannot be truer than in Glaisdale, home of Esk Valley Theatre. This runs one month every year in August, and it’s converted into a makeshift theatre with temporary seats and lighting. Nothing out of the ordinary here; plenty of venues are temporary theatres that have other functions the rest of the year, such as most of the spaces at the very famous arts festival that runs during the same month. But here’s the unusual bit: in spite of the Glaisdale barely scraping a population over 1,000, it has a fully professional cast, and audiences come from all over the North York Moors. It’s endorsed by Alan Ayckbourn and Pip Leckenby, who designs most of the sets for him, is usually the set designer for their plays.