Yorkshire Theatre Newsletter: What's On This Week (Sep 3-9)
A fictional murder in Brighton, a real murder in Malta and why, at 1am this morning, I felt I could use a drink. PLUS: Scarbados review
It’s back-to-school time. I always feel like this in September, though it’s years since I had anything to do with the education system. We might, or might not, have a few weeks left of stolen summer but for me this is the annual moment to buckle up and knuckle down.
The Autumn brochures have landed. And we’re in a timewarp — so many of these shows were strangled at birth in Spring 2020 and are now being resurrected. One such, which I’ll be tuning into, is Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats (Sep 2-4, £12), which is being livestreamed by Hull Truck on Sep 3 (£10). Forgive the company’s puerile name — they began life as performance artists. This is the very grown-up story of how Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit took a trip to Malta to do a ‘secret Brexit play’ in front of the many British exiles there and encountered corruption, a deadly migrant crisis and politically inspired murder.
I saw a couple of things over August. Third Angel’s show 600 People was livestreamed from the Alphabetti Theatre as part of Newcastle Fringe Festival. It was a slick lecture on astrophysics, written and performed by Alexander Kelly, which somehow in less than two hours managed to deliver life, the Universe and everything.
One to watch…
The other was Northern Edge Theatre Company’s Scarbados at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York. Written and directed by Sam Milnes, it caught my eye because it’s the sort of thing I admire — an aspiring playwright who instead of dispatching their work to the local theatre’s ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited scripts, gets off their arse and puts the show on the road. And if it’s a Northern writer exploring ‘Northern’ themes (or I should say, human themes in a recognisably Northern setting) then so much the better.
Milnes made good use of his drama degree from the University Of Manchester. The play, set at a dodgy bar somewhere on Yorkshire’s East Coast, never lacked direction or pace — and any show that can get the audience to its feet dancing to Agadoo (that terribly ‘resort’ number by Black Lace) is okay with me.
It was a crowd-pleaser, no question. The staid, middle-England audience loved its ‘daring’ themes of tolerance and acceptance. Thirty-one years after the soap opera EastEnders featured the first male gay kiss on British television (a whole 15 years before the Americans managed it), the audience accepted the scene without a murmer.
But I’m a critic, which means I’m sometimes here to be nasty. I was struck by the unevenness of the performances — some actors, notably Red Ladder’s Tom Swift, delivered human warmth, depth and subtlety. Others resorted to mugging. But the real issue lay deeper, in the writing — because what else can an actor do when their part is, say, a sketchy caricature of that comedic staple, the Northern Slag out on the lash? You play it for physical humour. For what you can find.
Getting your own drama on its feet in full performance, let alone creating a short tour of medium-sized theatres, is a great achievement. And it’s the fastest and most brutal way to learn. But judged by the standards of the very best playwrights (and why not? We have some of them living right here in this region) I’d say Milnes is still writing out of received opinions and second-hand wisdom. Without offering too many plot spoilers, we were introduced (zzzzz…) to snooty Southerners and bigoted builders. How about — just this once — a bigoted Southerner and a snooty builder?
The result, though well-received, lacked acuity. In this dirty, chaotic world, the truth is, to quote Oscar Wilde, ‘rarely pure and never simple’. There are more things in heaven and Earth, etc… The next level will happen for this playwright when he becomes impatient with everything he's been taught and writes directly from his own heart, eyes and intellect. Oct 2, Wellington Rooms, Halifax, Oct 10, Square Chapel, Halifax, £10
What’s On This Week (Sep 3-9)
Gone are the days when theatre was in hibernation and my self-appointed task was to hoover up all the livestreams and downloadable resources. The issue now is abundant and ever-expanding choice. Notably, Northern Ballet are doing their wonderful thing to the music of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in Dangerous Liaisons at Leeds Playhouse. The ballet, choreographed by David Nixon OBE, is based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s chilling novel of power and sexual exploitation in 18th century France. To Sep 11, £15-£45
Here are some other mainstage options this weekend:
For a big, double-vaccinated night out full of starry-eyed glamour, there’s Jodie Prenger in Don Black and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic 1980s musical Tell Me On A Sunday at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre. To Sep 4, £15-£45.
For belly laughs (and we deserve a few of those) there’s Magic Goes Wrong at Leeds Grand Theatre. Penn & Teller designed the tricks and the trigger warning (which must be taken with a pinch of salt) includes a live bear. To Sep 4, £20.50-£42
And there’s a homegrown production of the ever-popular Rodgers & Hamerstein musical Oklahoma! at Theatre Royal Wakefield, directed by Louise Denison. It also, unbelievably enough, has a trigger warning. To Sep 4, from £18.50
Meanwhile, for more cautious souls, Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre are streaming Alan Ayckbourn’s time-shifting lockdown drama The Girl Next Door until Sep 19 (£12-£20). You can catch a live performance until Sep 4 (£10-£31)
Later in the week we have Looking Good Dead at Leeds Grand Theatre. Oh, I do love a good theatrical thriller. This one, set in Brighton, is adapted from a book in Peter James’s popular Roy Grace series and has a suitably soap-starry cast — the headliners are Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye. Sep 6-11, £20.50-£41.
You can still grab an outdoor show. Chapterhouse Theatre present Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Valley Gardens, Harrogate on Sep 3 and Knaresborough Castle on Sep 4, with Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland at the Spa Gardens, Ripon on Sep 5 (all £11 & £18).
Or, you could watch the alternative Dream being presented by The Rubbish Shakespeare Company at Theatre Deli in Sheffield. Will four idiots dressed in coloured wigs and bedsheets do justice to the wood near Athens? Probably not, but it’s a family-friendly riot. Sep 4, £8 & £10
Fans of the small-scale and the quirky will also enjoy:
Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show in John Hewer’s acclaimed tribute to the comedy genius, Helmsley Arts Centre, Sep 4, £14
Mrs Beeton, My Sister, with playwright Alison Neil exploring the brief but extraordinary life of the Victorian celebrity at Rural Arts, Thirsk, Sep 9, £10
Opera Della Luna’s Curtain Raisers consisting of two comic shorts by Gilbert & Sullivan and Offenbach — Cox & Box and Les Deux Aveugles, CAST, Doncaster, Sep 8, £10 & £18
And those who enjoy their musical comedy both lewd and highly accomplished, can end the week with the unmissable cabaret duo Frisky & Mannish in Huddersfield on Sep 9 & 10, £8.
At the start of the Autumn brochure season there’s — obviously — an overwhelming selection. But two shows that stand out for me are Lone Flyer at Hull Truck, the story of Yorkshire flying ace Amy Johnson’s last flight (Oct 7-30, £10-£28.50) and The Trial, an ambitious touring production under construction at Proper Job Theatre. Kafka’s terrifying novel receives a timely update at the hands of Two Guv’nors’ Richard Bean and Leeds rising star Chris O’Connor. The Civic, Barnsley, Oct 22 & 23 (£12 & £14, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, Oct 26 & 27 (£16), CAST, Doncaster, Oct 28 (£12 & £15), Harrogate Theatre Oct 30 (£12) and Seven Arts, Leeds, Oct 31 (£15).
And finally a shout out to my former PA Media colleague Thomas Johnson, with whom I unexpectedly found myself sharing a breakout Zoom session at 1am this morning. Tom writes Salty Popcorn, a Substack devoted to all things cinema, and we were attending the by-invitation Substack Grow course aimed at helping us develop our readership.
Being Brits, we both confessed to being quite pissed, and then launched a gossipy PA catch-up session in front of four bemused Americans operating on Standard Pacific and East Coast Time.
Trying to get my head around a trigger warning for Oklahoma... Meanwhile, and there's no way to say this without risking a whiff of condescension, really gobsmacked by what this (ghastly) expat is learning from you about the Yorks theatre scene. So many plays I wish I could see....