Lee Mattinson’s Chalet Lines isn’t the gentle drama about Butlins it’s made out to be – but when you take it for what it is, it’s very enjoyable.
Live Theatre has always taken risks with its new writing. As a result, it’s very much a hit-and-miss affair. It’s worth it for the hits, because when it gets it right it produces runaway successes such as And a Nightingale Sang and The Pitman Painters. The first half of this year, however, has been on the the other end of the scale. By almost all accounts, Nativities was a disappointment and Utopia was a disaster. Geordie Sinatra and Close the Coalhouse Door were successes, but they were co-productions where the lion’s share of artistic credit really goes to the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Northern Stage respectively. Fortunately, Live can call upon playwrights with past successes and loyal followings. Steve Gilroy brought The Prize to Live last month, and now it’s the turn of Live veteran Lee Mattinson to bring Chalet Lines, directed by Madani Younis, artistic director of the Bush Theatre where this play was co-produced.
I’ll start with the problem: this is a play that doesn’t do what it says on the tin. I got this impression that this was going to be a play about what made families who went to Butlins in the 70s and 80s. In a modern world of package holidays and Easyjet, it would have very interesting subject to see what made people go to the same British resort year after year. Instead, this is play focuses on a disintegrating family, mostly set in the last two decades, and the setting of Butlins is only incidental. I noticed several people (presumably people who were expecting something gentle like Hi-di-Hi!) not return to their seats after the interval. You could argue that the play’s not for those people, and that you’ve already got their money anyway, but Live is pushing their luck. They’ve frequently marketed their plays differently to what’s in them: recently we’ve had Faith and Cold Reading which little to do with faith or cold reading, and I haven’t a clue what Nativities had to do with the Nativity. This is a bad habit and will cost Live future ticket sales if they’re not careful.