Taking Steps and A Brief History of Women

Production shot from Taking Steps

SKIP TO: Taking Steps, A Brief History of Women

It took a few years to settle down after Alan Ayckbourn left as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, but a pattern has finally emerged: the earlier summer season is where his artistic director successor does his stuff, with a revival of a successful earlier Ayckbourn introduced later in the summer, and then a new Ayckbourn play in September and October. 2017 was no exception. For once, I couldn’t catch them in Scarbourough, but luckily, I can count on a transfer to the New Vic that’s now in easy reach of me.

It is difficult to tell how new Ayckbourns will turn out in advance. Ayckbourn has a lot of tricks up his sleeves, but a lot of his new plays have been using old tricks in new ways. Don’t dismiss that – when it works well, it’s outstanding, but it’s always a bit a of pot luck involved to see how the new offering turns out. But the revival on offer is something that I recommended, not just because I know and like the play – but because this play is one of the few where it’s important to see it done by someone who knows how it’s meant to be done. That’s where we shall begin. Continue reading


Goth Weekend: more Goth please


Skip to: Di, Viv and Rose

Paul Robinson’s new writing debut for the Stephen Joseph Theatre is an interesting insight into to misunderstood world of subcultures. That is where Goth Weekend was at its strongest.

Ever since Chris Monks unexpectedly announced his departure from a theatre in Scarborough with a very famous predecessor, one of the big questions was where the Stephen Joseph Theatre would go next. Paul Robinson’s appointment was announced in early 2016, with a strong indication that the theatre wanted to go in the direction of new writing, but such is the long timescale of planning theatre programmes that it wasn’t until late 2017 that we had our first real indication of what kind of new writing we can expect. Goth Weekend isn’t Paul Robinson’s first play directed at the SJT, but it is the first next play, so all eyes were on this.

There were two things notable about this choice of play. Firstly, it’s a co-production between the SJT and Live Theatre. This might seem a tall order, with these two theatres’ audiences having very different tastes, but the crossover has worked before, and brings a unique touch to both theatres. Secondly, it shares in common with And Then Come the Nightjars, Paul Robinson’s last touring production in his previous job at Theatre 503, a setting of a world described in detail. Then it Bea Robert’s story of a farm during and after the foot and mouth outbreak – now it’s Ali Taylor’s play the world of Goth subculture. Continue reading

Around the World with Little Voice

SKIP TO: Around the World in 80 Days, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Apologies to everyone who’s been waiting on reviews – I have been directing a play which just went insane with its workload, and I’ve had little time for anything else. But I’ve finally got this out of the way, and I’ve manage to upgrade  sanity level up from “gibbering wreck” to “slightly less gibbering wreck”. So now’s as good a time as any to catch up, in a sort-of chronological order.

So, in early July, I caught two plays in the round as part of a round trip involving the Buxton Fringe launch, a visit to a sister and a photo stop in the Pennines. Both were high-profile shows and both are revivals, so there’s little need for me to give either constructive advice or encourage people to come along, but here’s my verdicts nonetheless.

Around the World in 80 Days

img_6331-1170x780Jules Verne’s famous circumnavigation-themed novel is a tough to to adapt faithfully. So detailed is the story that it’s next to impossible to capture the train-by-train-by-boat-by-train-by-elephant etc. epic in that level of detail. In fact, one of the biggest oddities is that some people consider the most accurate adaptation to be the 1980s children’s series Around the World with Willy Fogg. Even though all the characters are animals and they introduced extra characters such as the sneaky master of disguise wolf Transfer who tries and fails to sabotage the journey every episode, the 26-episode format meant the whole journey could be captured very faithfully. But this is theatre, where you have two and a bit hours, trains and boats on stage are not an option, and getting a lion to play Mr. Fogg is unworkable for several reasons. Continue reading

More alternative Christmas: No Knowing and Snowflakes

Skip to: The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes, No Knowing

Damn. December is usually my catch-up month where all the theatres show pantomimes, which I avoid like the plague. However, this year, there have been an unusually high number of non-pantomimes in December I’ve wanted to see. I’ve already reviewed How Did We Get To This Point?, which was unexpectedly outstanding. Now for the two other standard plays I saw in December, both of which were pleasing.

The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes

The most remarkable thing about this studio piece at Live Theatre is its critical reception. I  don’t often mention other people’s reviews in my own reviews (most of the time, I avoid reading the other reviews completely to avoid influence on mine). However, this time the acclaim was unprecedented. Five stars from the Guardian. Local reviews need treating with a bit of caution, but it’s big achievement for any play to get that rating in a national newspaper; for a studio production from a first-time writer to get it (let alone get a reviewer up at all), it’s phenomenal. Continue reading

So much for Ayckbourn’s retirement 2: Henceforward, Karaoke Theatre, Consuming Passions

REVIEWS: Skip to: Henceforward …, Karaoke Theatre Company, Consuming Passions

Hey, Alan, aren’t you supposed to be having a rest? He stepped down over six years ago, but perhaps to cover a Chris Monks-shaped hole in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s programme, he’s directing three plays – four if count the lunchtime shows as two. And he’s doing the Christmas production too. He was never normally this busy when he was Artistic Director. I suppose his final season as Artistic Director back in 2008 might have been a little busier depending on how you count things, but really, what happened to this retirement of his?

The good news, of course, is that Ayckbourn-heavy seasons in Scarborough rarely disappoint, and this is no exception. So let’s get stuck in.

Henceforward …

Zoe faces Nan

Ayckbourn trivia 1: Alan Ayckbourn wrote and directed Henceforward … during his two-year sabbatical at the National Theatre. Yes, even when he was wowing crowds at the National with A Small Family Business and other plays, he still found time to produce at Scarborough. Ayckbourn trivia 2: Henceforward … was a return to a genre he’d not visited ever since a very early (and now abandoned) play Standing Room Only, that being science fiction, with a heavy emphasis on a dystopian future, breaking a twenty-five run of plays dominated by middle-class suburbia. He’s done other decent science fiction plays since, but this remains his most acclaimed, and this year it returned to Scarborough just shy of its 30th anniversary. Continue reading

And Then Come the Nightjars: an unexpected friendship

Scene from And Then Come the Nightjars

Bea Roberts’ And Then Come The Nightjars could have been moving play set at the hight of the foot and mouth crisis. Instead, it’s so much more.

Paul who? That might be the reaction to anyone thinking of seeing this touring production from Theatre 503, with Paul Robinson seen as just another director of just another touring company doing just another two-day run at Live Theatre. But if you haven’t heard of Paul Robinson, you will soon. He’s the new artistic director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. So far I’ve only been able to speculate what he’ll bring, but now we had our first proper clue. For better or worse And The Come the Nightjars is likely to be the shape of things to come at Scarborough.

Set in Devon at the height of the second foot and mouth crisis, this two-hander is the story of Jeff, a vet, and Michael, a farmer. Writer Bea Roberts draws very heavily on her own observations of rural Devon, and one of many observations is how often farm vets visit farms and become good friends with the farmers. They end up chatting one night – ant then come the nightjars. There’s a superstition that the coming of nightjars fortells the coming of death. The nearby outbreak of foot and mouth is mentioned only briefly, but it’s clearly something that weighs heavy on Michael’s mind. A more detached observer might think that, with the compensation regime better than the days of the 1967 outbreak, a farmer like Michael could make a fresh start if the worst happens. And maybe it is. But money is the last thing on his mind. The herd is his lifetime’s work. His pride and joy. His herd is practically family to him; he always refers to his cows as “my girls” and give them all names. Continue reading

The National Joke: a stereotype too far

Hot on the heels of two excellent plays, The National Joke is a decent play – but an avoidable flaw stands in the way of a hat trick.

The three women from The National Joke, staring at the sunPerhaps I’d set my expectations too high. At the start of this year, I’d seen one good play and one so-so play from Torben Betts prior to 2016, and then I saw two great plays earlier this year: his adaptation of Get Carter for Northern Stage, and the Original Theatre Company’s tour of earlier success Invincible. It was the latter play that gave me the most hope: Invincible was a comedy that sharply observed the attitudes some middle-class socialists hold of the real working class which was funny and astute without getting preachy. Work this magic on this play, this time set at the other end of a political spectrum, and there’s be every reason to believe this should be such a success.

And for the first three quarters of the play, I kept the faith. Out goes a grotty northern street and in comes the home of a Tory MP so extravagant it makes moat cleaning and duck islands look positively frugal. Still, that’s all so last decade. How Rupert St John-Green MP really stands to grab the public’s attention is a performance that could have been scripted by Andrew Mitchell himself. Taking a break from watching a solar eclipse in his home, he wanders on to the nearby beach and ends up giving a most, shall I say, “memorable” exchange with a group of disaffected constituents. Rupert of course strongly denied calling them “proles” – he insists he used nothing stronger than “oiks” – but luckily it’s been filmed and put on YouTube so that the entire country can make up their own minds. Continue reading