Good Godber! Stephen Joseph Theatre to re-start indoor live shows next month. Hull Truck Theatre to reopen too in November

Family drama: Playwright John Godber with wife Jane Thornton and daughters Martha and Elizabeth

LIVE indoor theatre will return on the East Coast this autumn at both Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre and Hull Truck Theatre.

Today, the SJT announces an “innovative autumn and winter season for 2020 that has been carefully crafted to combine live theatre for socially distanced audiences with digital work for those that prefer to stay at home”.

In the SJT’s headline news, the waiting for Godber’s new play is over. The world premiere of the ground-breaking former Hull Truck artistic director’s Sunny Side Up! will be a family affair, starring John Godber, his wife Jane Thornton and their daughter Martha Godber from October 28 to 31 in The Round.

Written and directed by Godber, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! depicts a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it. “Join proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in this seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about,” invites John.

Further news bongs go to a new audio recording by former SJT artistic director Sir Alan Ayckbourn and a one-woman Christmas show, likely to be one of the few in the region, specially rewritten to adapt to prevailing Covid-19 pandemic circumstances.

After the lockdown success of his debut audio play, Anno Domino, premiered by writer-director Ayckbourn and his wife, actor Heather Stoney, Ayckbourn goes solo for Haunting Julia, his ghostly 1994 play, wherein he will play all three parts. As before, his master’s voice can be heard only via the SJT website, sjt.uk.com, with the play being available online “throughout December”, although the exact dates are yet to be rubber-stamped.

Going solo: Sir Alan Ayckbourn will re-visit his 1994 ghostly play Haunting Julia in a solo audio recording in December

The SJT Christmas show, from December 4 to 30, reassembles the crack team behind the hit productions of the past four winters: director Paul Robinson, writer Nick Lane and musical director Simon Slater, the latter two both serving up shows earlier in the season too.

Adapted by Lane from the Hans Christian Andersen story, the solo version of The Snow Queen will be performed by Polly Lister, who played Mari in Jim Cartwright’s The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and Di in Amelia Bullmore’s Di And Viv And Rose when part of the SJT’s 2017 summer repertory company.

Scarborough-born Slater, an SJT associate artist, will appear in Douglas Post’s one-man thriller Bloodshot from October 21 to 24 in The Round, where all productions will be mounted, save for the online performances.

Slater will play Derek Eveleigh, a photographer with a serious drinking problem, who pursues a mysterious female subject across 1950s’ London from racially troubled Notting Hill to the raucous entertainments of Soho.

Often comedic Nick Lane’s sardonic, surreal and “intensely autobiographical” first straight play, My Favourite Summer, was premiered at Hull Truck in January and February 2007. This autumn, the original cast and the belting Nineties’ soundtrack will return in the torrid tale of Dave, who spends a month working alongside a nutcase called Melvin in the summer job from hell in 1995. 

Winter chill: Polly Lister in the SJT’s one-woman Christmas show, The Snow Queen, written by Nick Lane

Saving money to take the girl he loves away on holiday, before she disappears out of his life forever, has never been so hard. Still, at least the weather’s nice in a comedy for “everyone who’s ever been in love and lived to tell the tale”.

Lane, whose adaptation of The Sign Of Four was well received by SJT audiences last year, will direct the semi-staged 2020 performance of My Favourite Summer in a run from November 12 to 14.

The autumn/winter season will begin on October 1 with a live performance on Zoom of Love Letters At Home. “In response to our desire for connection in times of physical distance, Uninvited Guests have created an innovative, digital, wholly personal and wonderfully live experience,” the SJT announces.

By collecting song requests and dedications from audience members, Uninvited Guests create a show guaranteed to be unique to each audience. Join them on Zoom to raise a glass to long lost and current loves, to mums and dads, and to absent friends.

Light entertainment: A switched-on Katie Arnstein in her one-woman show Sexy Lamp

“Have you ever been treated like an inanimate object?” asks Katie Arnstein in her solo show Sexy Lamp on October 15. Katie has suffered that slight, she says, although in reality she is a “friendly, lovable and hilarious real-life person”.

Join her as she re-lives, through story and songs, all the times she was not seen as one, however. Billed as “somewhere between the comedy of Victoria Wood, the comfort of going for a drink with your best mate and the high drama of Hamlet”, Arnstein’s show won both Show of the Week and Pleasance Pick at last year’s VAULT Festival in London. “It’s nothing like Hamlet,” she corrects herself.

In Alison Carr’s dark comedy, Dogwalker, on November 6 and 7, Helen finds a dead body in the local dog park, whereupon suddenly everyone is paying attention to her. At least for a little while.

Now she has had a taste of the limelight, Helen will not fade into the shadows without a fight in a play that first dropped through the SJT Open Script Submissions window and is being developed for a potential run at the Edinburgh Fringe under the direction of Chelsey Gillard, the SJT’s Carne Trust associate director.

Carr, by the way, had the disappointment of her sold-out performances of The Last Quiz Night In Earth in March being scrapped under the Coronavirus theatre shutdown.

On the beach: Serena Manteghi, in her guise as teenage single mum Yasmin in Build A Rocket. In November, she returns to the SJT. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

After writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright and musician Phil Grainger’s performances of linking shows Orpheus and Eurydice in the At The Mill season at Stillington Mill and York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, Serena Manteghi will be in the cast for SJT performances from November 19 to 21.

Serena premiered Eurydice to award-winning success in Australia, when joined in the two-hander by actor and designer Casey Jay Andrews. She will be familiar to SJT audiences from playing LV in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and Yasmin in the premiere of Christopher York’s Build A Rocket.

From The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre stable, Orpheus and Eurydice are modern re-tellings of ancient Greek mythology, interweaving a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods.

A series of rehearsed play readings will take place in the theatre on October 7, 13 and 20, then each Tuesday from November 3 to 24, including Sarah Gordon’s The Underdog, Katie Redford’s Tapped and Rebecca Jade Hammond’s Canton. 

Further shows will be announced soon, among them an evening of conversation with Hull-born Maureen Lipman and an innovative online show from outspoken Denby Dale comedian Daniel Kitson.

“We see it as part of our ongoing civic role to open as soon as is reasonably practicable and to present irresistible work,” says SJT artistic director Paul Robinson

The re-opened SJT has been showing films in the McCarthy at the former Odeon cinema building since last month and will continue to do so. Now, artistic director and joint chief executive Paul Robinson is looking forward to the return of live theatre.

“We’ve worked hard to create an ambitious season of relatively small-scale work, but one that promises great entertainment and really does have something for everyone, including shows for those who are happy to return to the building, and also for those who aren’t.

“We see it as part of our ongoing civic role to open as soon as is reasonably practicable and to present irresistible work alongside meticulously thought-through health and safety measures.

“Our family show at Christmas, for instance, was originally written for five actors, but that would have made rehearsing impossible under current guidelines. Writer Nick Lane has adapted it into a remarkable one-woman show that we’re confident will be every bit as much fun as the original and will really showcase the multi-talented Polly Lister.” 

The SJT has introduced comprehensive measures for the safety and comfort of its audiences – full details at https://www.sjt.uk.com/were_back  – and has been awarded VisitEngland’s We’re Good to Go industry standard mark, signifying adherence to government and public health guidance.

On a knife edge: Simon Slater in Bloodshot, playing the SJT from October 21 to 24

“Everything will pay proper heed to social distancing, for both the audience and for our staff and performers,” says Robinson. “The seating capacity in The Round will vary from show to show but the socially distanced maximum will be 185.”

All the autumn and winter events will be added to the SJT website shortly; booking will open for Circle members from September 8 and for general sales from September 11. 

To book, visit sjt.uk.com/whatson or call the box office on 01723 370541. The box office is open Thursdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for both phone calls and in-person bookings.

HULL Truck Theatre will reopen with the Hull Jazz Festival from November 12 and a seating capacity reduced to 20 to 30 per cent, but The Railway Children will not go ahead.

A statement from the Ferensway theatre announces: “The Hull Jazz Festival is a key part of our autumn season and we are really pleased that after eight months of closure, we are able to work with long-term partners J-Night to open the building with their exciting programme. Audience capacity will be smaller as we adhere to social distancing, but the programme and experience will still be the same great quality.”

York playwright Mike Kenny’s The Railway Children will be back on track in December 2021 after being de-railed from its 2020 Hull Truck Theatre Christmas run by the Covid curse

However, the theatre bosses have had to make the “difficult decision” to postpone the 2020 Christmas production of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children, scripted by York playwright Mike Kenny in a re-visit of his award-winning adaptation for York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum (2008/2009) and Waterloo Station, London (2010).

“The creation of one of our Christmas shows usually begins in August but without an announced date from the Government on when theatre performances can resume without social distancing, a show of this scale would not be economically viable,” the Hull Truck statement reads.

“The Railway Children will be postponed until Christmas 2021 and all tickets will be automatically transferred into the equivalent date, time and original seat selection. We will be contacting all customers with details of their ticket transfer and, with our reduced team, we ask that customers do not contact the box office at this time.”

The statement continues: “While we may not be able to do something in our auditorium on the scale of The Railway Children, we remain committed to creating magical Christmas experiences for our audiences and are delighted to announce we will be producing an alternative show for 2020.”

The new show will be a promenade production of Prince Charming’s Christmas Cracker that will enable audiences to enjoy a festive adventure within small groups and under social-distancing measures as they move through the theatre.

“We are very excited to have a reopening date,” says Hull Truck Theatre artistic director Mark Babych

What lies in store? Every year on Christmas Eve, Prince Charming – soon to be King and deluded Crooner – celebrates the festive season with an annual knees-up:  the Christmas Cracker. This year, a big announcement is imminent and you are all invited.

Further details and on-sale dates for Hull Jazz Festival and Prince Charming’s Christmas Cracker will be announced in September, alongside up-to-date information on how Hull Truck is being made a safe place to visit within Government guidelines.

Announcements on the updated January to March 2021 season will be made later in the autumn, once Hull Truck has more information regarding social-distancing guidelines.

“We are dependent on Government advice on social distancing regarding the ability to stage productions and therefore whether they are financially viable,” the statement emphasises.

Artistic director Mark Babych and his joint chief executive officer, Janthi Mills-Ward, say: “We are very excited to have a reopening date to bring alive our wonderful theatre again. We will obviously be operating at a much-reduced capacity – 20 to 30 per cent – while social distancing is in place, which makes re-opening a difficult financial jigsaw of what and how we present work.

Truck on: Hull Truck Theatre’s main auditorium, reopening from November 12

“But with meticulous planning to ensure the theatre is a safe place and innovative ideas for a programme that is possible with social distancing, we look forward to sharing the joy of live theatre again.”

They continue: “Part of this will be doing Christmas differently this year, which presents lots of creative challenges for the Hull Truck team to work on together, as well as opportunities for freelance artists. 

“Our vision is to create a joyful, fun and uplifting production that takes audiences on an exciting journey through the theatre and we are sure this show is going to be just what we all need to get us in the Christmas spirit after a difficult year!”

Please note, Hull Truck “asks for your patience and kindness at this time as the box-office team work to contact all customers who have booked for The Railway Children”.