Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th play Truth Will Out mothballed as SJT takes Coronavirus measures for summer season

Sir Alan Ayckbourn: Summer 2020 premiere and revival cancelled at the SJT, Scarborough. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE world premiere of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th full-length play, Truth Will Out, will not go ahead this summer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Nor will his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, both productions scuppered by the Coronavirus crisis that has led to the SJT being closed.

Booked into the summer repertory season to run between August 20 and October 3, Truth Will Out was written by 80-year-old Ayckbourn in late-2019 as a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation.

“Everyone has secrets,” says the tantalising synopsis in the SJT summer-season brochure. “Certainly, former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy, and senior civil servant Sefton, do.

Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director and joint chief executive Paul Robinson

“All it’s going to take is one tech-savvy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down – and maybe everyone else’s along with them. A storm is brewing.”

When that storm will now break cannot be forecast. Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website states: “It is not known what the future holds for Truth Will Out…”, but the truth will out on its path forward in due course.

Ayckbourn’s website also reveals he had written another play, Just Mercy, earlier in 2019 for his 2020 premiere before turning his attention to Truth Will Out instead. He still hopes Just Mercy “will be produced at some point in the future”.

As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the world, joint chief executives Caroline Routh and Paul Robinson said today: “Like everyone else, we are in uncharted territory, but our current plans are based on probably being closed for most of the planned summer season, which means we’ll no longer be presenting Just Between Ourselves, The Ladykillers or Truth Will Out this year.”

Matthew Wilson and Nicola Stephenson in Hull Truck Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s co-production of Two, directed by Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych

Artistic director Robinson’s production of Father Ted and Black Books writer Graham Linehan’s  stage adaptation of the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers would have run from July 9 to August 15, with its story of the sweetest of sweet little old ladies, alone at home but for a parrot with a mystery illness, at the mercy of a ruthless gang of criminal misfits.

The SJT is making plans to be “up and running again as quickly as possible once it’s able to”.

“We are already thinking about what might be possible should restrictions start to lift earlier than expected,” say Routh and Robinson. “We are extremely lucky in that we have a couple of shows which are ready, or almost ready, to go.

“Jim Cartwright’s Two, our co-production with Hull Truck Theatre, had already opened there, so can be on our stage at relatively short notice, while Little Red Riding Hood, which was due to fill our Easter slot for families next month, is cast and the set is nearly complete – we just need a couple of weeks’ rehearsal.”

Charlotte Brooke: one of the cast members for the SJT OutReach production of Little Red Riding Hood

Adapted by Saviour Pirotta, Cheryl Govan’s SJT OutReach production of this fabled story of not judging a book by its cover, or a wolf by its teeth, features a cast of Charlotte Brooke, Marcquelle Ward, Nicola Holliday and Charlotte Oliver, who were to have taken to The McCarthy stage from April 7 to 11.

Routh and Robinson continue: “While we couldn’t, of course, see an instant return to normal, we could start up our film programme again, schedule some pieces of visiting theatre, or stage a rehearsed reading or two, all of which will bring our building back to life quite quickly.”

The SJT’s box-office team is being kept busy, working remotely to contact those who have booked tickets for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.

Routh and Robinson say: “We’ve already contacted all those who’d booked tickets for shows and films during our initial week-long closure, and we were amazed by how many of them refused a refund, preferring instead to donate the cost of their tickets or credit their account.

The new message on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s former Odeon cinema frontage after the Coronavirus shutdown

“It’s so touching to see how many people are showing faith in our future and are keen to support us – our heartfelt thanks to all of them.

“We aim to remain an essential part of the wider community in the borough of Scarborough throughout this period, and really look forward to welcoming you all back when our doors re-open.”

The SJT is closed to the public, but until further notice the box office will be accepting phone and email enquiries from noon to 6pm, Mondays to Fridays, on 01723 370541 or at

The SJT will be posting regular updates on its website and social media channels: @thesjt.

REVIEW: Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table does not add up to riotous comedy, alas

Robert Daws’ committee chairman Ray, left, and Mark Curry’s pedantic Councillor Donald Evans in Ten Times Table. Pictures: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, The Classic Comedy Theatre Company, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or

IMPRESARIO and prolific producer Bill Kenwright has his name on multiple shows that frequent the Grand Opera House, from musicals to the Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen To Stage companies.

Now add The Classic Comedy Theatre Company to that list, making their debut tour either side of Christmas with Ten Times Table, Alan Ayckbourn’s “calamitous comedy by committee” from 1977, the year when committees popped up everywhere to mark HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Those stellar names of British theatre, Kenwright and Ayckbourn, are complemented by a third: Robin Herford, perennial director of The Woman In Black and much else, not least past productions of Ayckbourn’s Just Between Ourselves at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Relatively Speaking, Confusions, Bedroom Farce and Season’s Greetings elsewhere.

What’s more, Ayckbourn cast him as pedantic, punctilious, punctuation and procedure-obsessed Councillor Donald Evans in his SJT premiere of Ten Times Table in January 1977.

Everything sounded so promising for Herford’s touring production, not least a cast starring Robert Daws, Robert Duncan, Mark Curry and Deborah Grant. Certainly, more promising than the gloomy forecast that the River Ouse floodwaters could be seeping beneath the Grand Opera House doors by 6am, prompting senior management to stay on watchful guard through the night.

Thankfully, such concerns turned out to be a false dawn. Alas, Ten Times Table proved to be a damp squib too: that rare occasion when an Ayckbourn play just isn’t very funny any more.

Maybe we are spoilt by Sir Alan’s revivals of his classics at the Stephen Joseph Theatre each summer season; maybe they better suit the bear-pit setting of the SJT’s theatre in the round: more intimate, more inclusive, more apt for the combative nature of his vintage comedies. Maybe it is significant that Ten Times Table has never been among those revivals.

Misfiring: Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Ten Times Table fires blanks in Robin Herford’s touring production

Here in York, on a proscenium-arch stage, as with the body of a giraffe, Ten Times Table feels like the work of a committee. Or the work of a committee like the one we are watching as they assemble maybe ten times around the table (although your reviewer lost count).

Welcome to the “miscellaneous assemblage” of the Pendon Folk Festival committee, gathering beneath the erratic lights of the faded grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel, as Seventies as hotel grey gravy and over-boiled veg and as tired as the comedy in Michael Holt’s design.

The pathway to the Pendon Pageant will be a bumpy one, all the more so for the irascible, over-excitable disposition of chairman Ray (Robert Daws), who bores everyone, audience included unfortunately, as he recounts Pendon’s most dramatic news story of the past.

Now the 18th century army massacre of the radical Pendon Twelve agricultural agitators is to be re-enacted on pageant day. Ayckbourn duly sets up matching class warfare: middle-class conservatism on one side, represented by smug Ray; his constantly peeved, overbearing wife Helen (Deborah Grant); a mad, revolver-toting military dog-breeder, Tim (Harry Gostelow), and ineffectual dullard Councillor Evans (Mark Curry).

Always accompanying Evans is his octogenarian mum Audrey (Elizabeth Power), the minute-taking but pretty much deaf committee secretary who never delivers the minutes, dithering dottily except when a drink or the chance to play the piano comes her way.

On the other side, representing the agitators, is the truculent Marxist martyr, comprehensive schoolteacher Eric (Craig Gazey), and his acolytes, the ever-underwhelming Sophie (Gemma Oaten), even a disappointment to herself, and the almost impossibly quietly spoken costume maker Philippa (Rhiannon Handy).

No idea where he is, the sozzled Laurence (Robert Duncan) stumbles from marital crisis to the next marital crisis.

Ayckbourn depicts the minutiae of committee conduct with trademark mischief making but somehow this Ten Times Table does not add up amid the personality and ideological clashes. The power-driven Ray is as irritating as the banging on the floor above; plenty of others follow suit, and, especially in the long first half, the comedy feels too slow, too forced, the timing……

Charles Hutchinson

Ten Times Table adds up to three times in Ayckbourn committee comedy for Curry

Mark Curry’s pedantic Donald, right, with Robert Daws’ hapless committee chairman, Ray, in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, presented by Bill Kenwright’s Classic Comedy Theatre Company. All pictures: Pamela Raith

ALAN Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table is the one with “the committee from hell and a fete worse than death”.

Premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1977, when inspired by the myriad committees that formed for The Queen’s Silver Jubilee that year, Ayckbourn’s calamitous comedy by committee now forms the inaugural production by the Classic Comedy Theatre Company, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, from Monday.

This is the latest theatrical enterprise from impresario Bill Kenwright, whose Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen to Stage companies are familiar to York audiences over the past 15 years in shows replete with star names.

Among the company, alongside the likes of Robert Daws, Robert Duncan and Deborah Grant, is Mark Curry, the former Blue Peter presenter, now 57.

Taking on the role of pedantic Donald brings back memories of his own encounter with Ayckbourn, artistic director of the SJT at the time, when Mark was pretty much straight out of drama school.

“Apart from auditioning for Alan back in the day, I’ve never met him since then, but I’d love to do as he’s such a brilliant man, and I’d love to sit him down and ask him about the characters in Ten Times Table,” he says.

What did Ayckbourn say when he did audition you, Mark? “He said, ‘you’re not quite ready yet, but you have such energy’.” As perceptive as ever in his people-watching, Ayckbourn highlighted a characteristic that Curry has since brought to his career, whether on Blue Peter, in theatre roles or as a radio presenter.

As chance would have it, Ayckbourn still did play his part in Mark’s milk-teeth days as a professional actor. “I was in rep [repertory theatre] for about three years at Harrogate Theatre, when Mark Piper was the artistic director, and one of the parts I did was a non-speaking role in, ironically, Ten Times Table,” he recalls.

You’re fired! The Pendon Folk Festival committee meeting reaches crisis point in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table

“I played Max Kirkov, a really strange character who walks on and carries off the leading lady, played in that production by Jean Fergusson, who went on to be Marina in Last Of The Summer Wine for so many years.”

In fact, Mark knows Ayckbourn’s comedy very well, for this latest tour is his third encounter with Ten Times Table, a “predominantly sedentary farce” – the Scarborough playwright’s own description – set in the long-since grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel.

Here, a most miscellaneous assemblage has gathered to conduct the business of the Pendon Folk Festival, led by excitable chairman Ray. Unfortunately for Ray, his committee quickly divides as his wife Helen has a bone to pick.

Then add a nitpicking councillor, a Marxist schoolteacher, a military dog-breeder and an octogenarian secretary, and turbulence is on its way.

Second time around, Mark played Ray, the fulcrum of all the chaos, on a six-week tour. Now, director Robin Herford has cast him as Councillor Donald Evans, a character whose pen portrait for auditionees describes him as “a professional committee man who likes nothing better than a good agenda. A glasses-wearing pedant who is precise to the point of obsession; always accompanied by his mother, Audrey.”

“What made me do it this time was that Robin was directing. He was the first person to play Donald for Alan Ayckbourn in 1977, by the way, and I’d done Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre in London, with Robin directing, as he always does with that play, in 1994.  

“I remember saying to him, ‘I want to play the older guy [in Woman In Black]; I’m really ready for it’.”

Instead, Mark played The Actor, the younger role in Stephen Mallatratt’s play, but perhaps he could work on Herford during the Ten Times Table run to suggest he is even more ready now, 26 years on, to be cast as Arthur Kipps.

That’s all, folk. Another moment of despair at the Pendon Folk Festival committee meeting in the Classic Comedy Theatre Company production of Ten Times Table

Mark is no stranger to Ayckbourn plays, having appeared in Bedroom Farce, How The Other Half Loves, Season’s Greetings and Joking Apart too, and after resuming the Ten Times Table tour in late-January that began with six weeks of shows before Christmas, he is greatly enjoying the role of Donald.

“He’s described as ‘grey man’. Well, I’m grey now! He’s this pedantic, boring little man and it really bothers him when there’s a spelling mistake or grammatical error! Apparently, Alan had encountered someone like that in a committee meeting!

“Anyway, Donald, who still lives with his mum, is really obsessed with details. It’s a role as real as you could make it, and there’s so much more to this part than just being a boring little man.”

Mark is rather less enamoured by committee meetings. “I remember being on a tennis club committee at a lovely club in Horsforth. I volunteered and was very enthusiastic, but what I soon realised was that while we all had one thing in common – we all loved tennis – we were all different characters who’d end up arguing, even though we all wanted the club to thrive,” he recalls.

“You think, if this is what happens with a small-scale committee, imagine what it must be like when it matters on a world scale!” 

What next might come Mark’s way? Would he, for example, fancy playing dame in pantomime, now that such a vacancy exists at a theatre not far from the Grand Opera House? “The dame is the only role I could do in pantomime now,” he says. “It would be lovely to do it.” Watch this space!

The Classic Comedy Theatre Company in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

Copyright of The Press, York

Ayckbourn’s 84th play will be a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation at Scarborough’s SJT

Alan Ayckbourn: 84th full-length play Truth Will Out will be premiered this summer at the SJT. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE truth is out. Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th full-length play will be premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer.

Truth Will Out, Ayckbourn’s up-to-the-minute satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation, will run on various dates in the SJT programme between August 20 and October 3.

Written and directed by the former SJT artistic director, it follows hot on the heels of Ayckbourn’s 80th birthday play, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, in 2019.

“Everyone has secrets,” entices the new play’s synopsis. “Certainly, former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy, and senior civil servant Sefton, do.

“And all it’s going to take is one tech-savvy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down – and maybe everyone else’s along with them. A storm is brewing…”

Jemma Churchill and Naomi Petersen in Alan Ayckbourn’s 80th birthday play, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, at the SJT in September 2019. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

As is customary in the SJT summer season, Ayckbourn also will direct an Ayckbourn revival, this time his 20th play, the very dark Just Between Ourselves, premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on January 28 1976, followed by its London premiere at the Queen’s Theatre on April 20 1977.

Ayckbourn calls it one of his “winter” plays, written in the winter months, like Ten Times Table and Joking Apart, wherein he attributed their darkness to being penned at this time of year.

Booked into the SJT diary for performances on various dates from June 18 to October 3, Just Between Ourselves dissects man’s inadvertent inhumanity to woman.

Dennis thinks he is a master at DIY and a perfect husband. In reality, he is neither of those things. When he decides to sell his car, Neil turns up as a potential buyer, wanting it for his wife Pam’s birthday.

The two couples become unlikely friends, aided and abetted by Dennis’s meddling live-in mother, Marjorie. A collision course is inevitable in “the one with the car”, set in a garage and a garden over four successive birthdays.

Northern Broadsides head from Halifax to Scarborough with Quality Street in May

SJT artistic director Paul Robinson will direct The Ladykillers, Graham Linehan’s spin on the 1955 Ealing comedy motion picture screenplay by William Rose, by special arrangement with StudioCanal and Fiery Angel, London.

This in-house production, playing on various dates between July 9 and August 15, will re-tell the story of the sweetest of sweet little old ladies, alone at home but for a parrot with a mystery illness. Both of them are at the mercy of a ruthless gang of criminal misfits, who will stop at nothing to achieve what they want. Surely there can only be one possible outcome?

Linehan’s writing credits include Father Ted, Black Books, The IT Crowd, Count Arthur Strong and Motherland. Now comes The Ladykillers, to be directed by Robinson with the stylish madcap humour that he brought to The 39 Steps in 2018.

Meanwhile, the SJT has confirmed South Yorkshireman Nick Lane will write the winter show for The Round for the fifth year in a row after his off-the-wall Christmas adaptations of Pinocchio, A Christmas Carol, Alice In Wonderland and Treasure Island.

Lane’s idiosyncratic take on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Snow Queen will be directed by Robinson, with music and lyrics once more by Simon Slater, for a run from December 3 to 30. 

Katie Arnstein in Sexy Lamp: playing the SJT on May 26

The SJT’s own productions will be complemented by a busy season of visiting shows, such as The Canary And The Crow on May 7 and 8, Middle Child’s grime and hip hop-inspired gig theatre show about the journey of a working-class black child accepted into a prestigious grammar school.

In Where There’s Muck There’s Bras, on May 7, North Yorkshire stand-up poet Kate Fox offers a comical and thought-provoking insight into “the real Northern Powerhouse: Northern Women – the sung and the unsung”.

On May 9, Roald Dahl And The Imagination Seekers presents a thrilling story told through performance, games and creative play that explores such extraordinary Dahl tales as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The BFG and The Twits.

Quality Street, new artistic director Laurie Sansom’s directorial debut for Halifax company Northern Broadsides, will be on tour at the SJT from May 12 to 16. This Broadsides production is a rare revival of Peter Pan author JM Barrie’s delicious farce, a play so well known in its day that it gave its name to the ever-popular British chocolates, made in Halifax since 1936.

Key date for Alistair McGowan: piano and comedy on May 21 at SJT

Alistair McGowan: The Piano Show on May 21 combines the satirical Evesham comedian’s impressionist skills with his new-found prowess on the piano.

In It’s Miss Hope Springs, on May 23, self-confessed “blonde bombsite” Ty Jeffries plays the piano and sings mind-bogglingly catchy numbers from her all-original self-penned repertoire.

Scarborough’s Elvis tribute act, Tony Skingle, presents ElvisThe ’68 Comeback on May 24. Two nights later, Sexy Lamp asks: “Have you ever been treated like an inanimate object?” in Katie Arnstein’s show that combines comedy, original songs and storytelling to “shed a bright light on how ridiculous the industry can be and why Katie is refusing to stay in the dark”.

Sexy Lamp is pitched “somewhere between the comedy of Victoria Wood, the comfort of going for a drink with your best mate, and the high drama of Hamlet (although it is nothing like Hamlet”.

Hope springs eternal : It’s Miss Hope Springs plays SJT on May 23

Anglo-Japanese theatre company A Thousand Cranes visit Scarborough with The Great Race! on May 29 and 30. This thrilling story of how the Eastern Zodiac calendar was created is billed as “the perfect show for children in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics”.

Forged Line Dance Company’s Treasure, on June 3, will be a fearless and physical dance performance that explores “our innate human fascination with our seas and coastlines”.

In Chores on June 20, two brothers must hurry to clean their room before their mum comes back. What could possibly go wrong in a circus-comedy for the whole family, all the way from Australia?

Great Yorkshire Fringe favourites Morgan & West serve up Unbelievable Science on September 19, when they combine captivating chemistry, phenomenal physics and bonkers biology in a fun-for-all-the-family science extravaganza.

Mischievous magical science double act Morgan & West in Unbelievable Science on September 19

Tickets for all shows are priced from £10 and will go on general sale from Friday, March 13, preceded by priority booking for the theatre’s membership scheme, The Circle, from March 6, on 01723 370541 or at