REVIEW: Off night at The Offing, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

James Gladdon’s Robert and Ingvild Lakou’s Romy in The Offing. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

The Offing, Stephen Joseph Theatre/Live Theatre, Newcastle, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until October 30. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com

BOOK club favourite The Offing, Hebden Bridge writer Benjamin Myers’s life-affirming account of a journey of discovery from Durham to the North Yorkshire coast, finally makes it to Scarborough after all.

A word of caution, however. Janice Okoh’s adaptation, with additional material by Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson, deviates from the book in its structure and tone.

In the words of The Crack’s Book of the Month recommendation, quoted on the paperback sleeve: “If The Offing was a play, it would be a classic two-hander, but any theatrical version would be missing Ben Myers’ bucolic prose, which he imbues with all the evocative rhythms of the passing seasons. This is what folk music would look like if it came in the written form.”

Well, Robinson’s premiere gives us the folk music in the compositions of hauntingly voiced singer Ana Silvera, recorded with Rob Harbron, Lau fiddler Aidan O’Rourke and Jasper Høiby. Lyrical, poetic, poignant, the score and sound design score highly.

The false note, alas, is struck by the disruptive decision to forego a two-hander’s ebb and flow in favour of a jarring three-hander and a ghost story to boot, rather than the gradual revelation of the sub-plot’s mystery.

It would be wrong to say the impact rivals the late Banquo’s arrival at Macbeth’s dinner table, but the subtlety and nuance of Myers’ book is dissipated, and the SJT autumn brochure’s billing of a “sensitive” adaptation might well raise eyebrows, particularly at the sight of a desperate hand suddenly reaching through the shed wall after the sound of scratching. This is not a Stephen King story and it is out of place.

For those not familiar with Myers’s best-seller, The Offing is a coming-of-age story, wherein miner’s son Robert Appleyard (James Gladdon) has left his County Durham pit community on a trek with an open mind and no termination date, working casual labour shifts en route to Scarborough.

Already, at 16, he has the wish to escape life down the pit; he has the wit, but not the tools. This is post-war, still-on-rations Britain: grey, anti-German and narrow (resonating with Brexit Britain).

We pick up his story just up the Yorkshire moorland coast at Robin Hood’s Bay. Narrator Robert is 90, tapping away at a typewriter, 74 years on from when he first chanced upon the bohemian Dulcie Piper (Cate Hamer).

Removing his jacket, and those 74 years, he encounters her out walking her German Shepherd dog, Butler (or ‘Butters’, for short, “although it’s not shorter”, he notes, in the kind of observation that will mark him out for his future career).

Ingvild Lakou’s Romy and Cate Hamer’s Dulcie in The Offing. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Initially, the focus is on their story, the one that leads to a lifelong friendship. Gladdon’s callow, diffident but keen lad needs awakening; Homer’s libertine Dulcie – haughty yet naughty, once well connected and rebellious, still opinionated, waspishly witty and impassioned but now disconnected, shut down, austere and alone – needs reawakening.

As she feeds his body on epicurean food and wine – “you have butter!” he says, eyes lighting up – and his mind with great art and the literature of Keats, John Clare and the sex texts of DH Lawrence, the culture-clash chasms of the book begin to bubble away. Albeit with surprising softness by comparison with David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s wartime friendship tale Goodnight Mister Tom, but an elephant has taken up residence in the corner too.

Or, rather, two elephants. The first is omnipresent: Helen Goddard’s clunky set sits squarely at odds both with The Round’s configuration and with nature, the outdoors, the flowers and fruits, God’s Own Country Yorkshire, that should be as nurturing as the food and the literature.

Goddard plays instead to the memory-play interpretation of Okoh and Robinson by  constructing a heavyweight house interior and the shed where Robert beds down, an interior that has been stripped down to bare wood and faded, dusty pictures, furniture and items. The warmth is stripped away too.

Not only mice are scratching away in the corner. So too is elephant number two:  what to do with the secondary story of Dulcie’s long-gone lover, German poet Romy. She could be a mysterious, haunting presence through her poetry, or even Silvera’s music, but this version of The Offing turns from a coming-of-age story to a coming-off-page story, instead  having Ingvild Lakou’s Romy as an almost equal third player.

You would expect that in a film adaptation, but one of theatre’s great gifts, shared with books, is the deployment of imagination, a gift to let fly that is rejected here, and so The Offing becomes more prosaic than poetic, and so too does Romy, who fails to match the magnificence or mystery of Dulcie’s descriptions.

Writer and director seem unsure what to do with her when she is present, and Romy becomes a dead weight, stultifying what made the book so cherished.

Through no fault of the playing of Hamer, Gladdon and Lakou – always accurate to the script – The Offing and its characters feel weakened by transfer from page to stage, the relationships less impactful, the humour and colours muted, the overplayed ghost story failing to replace tension with (unnecessary) suspense.

Sadly, this misreading only makes you want to read the book instead.

The Offing will head back north for a November 3 to 27 run at Live Theatre, Newcastle. Box office: 0191 232 1232 or at live.org.uk.

More Things To Do in and around York as records are set straight and dark nights lit up. List No. 53, courtesy of The Press, York

Setting the record straight: Adrian Lukis’s roguish George Wickham in Being Mr Wickham at York Theatre Royal

AUTUMN’S fruits are ripe and ready for Charles Hutchinson to pick with no worries about shortages.

Scandal of the week: Being Mr Wickham, Original Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal, tonight until Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Saturday

ADRIAN Lukis played the vilified George Wickham in the BBC’s television adaptation of Pride And Prejudice 26 years ago this very month.

Time, he says, to set the record straight about Jane Austen’s most charmingly roguish character in his one-man play Being Mr Wickham, co-written with Catherine Curzon.

This is the chance to discover Wickham’s version of famous literary events. What really happened with Mr Darcy? What did he feel about Lizzie? What went on at Waterloo? Not to mention Byron. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Cate Hamer in rehearsal for the SJT and Live Theatre, Newcastle co-production of The Offing. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Play of the week outside York: The Offing, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until October 30

IN a Britain still reeling from the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on an adventure at 16: to walk from his home in Durham to Scarborough, where he hopes to find work, but he never arrives there. 

Instead, up the coast at Robin Hood’s Bay, a chance encounter with the bohemian, eccentric Dulcie Piper leads to a lifelong, defining friendship. She introduces him to the joys of good food and wine, art and literature; he helps her lay to rest a ghost in Janice Okoh’s adaptation of Benjamin Myers’s novel for the SJT and Live Theatre, Newcastle. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.  

Simon Wright: Conducting York Guildhall Orchestra at York Barbican

Classic comeback: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, Saturday, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra return to the concert stage this weekend after the pandemic hiatus with a programme of operatic favourites, conducted by Simon Wright.

The York musicians will be joined by Leeds Festival Chorus and two soloists, soprano Jenny Stafford, and tenor Oliver Johnston, to perform overtures, arias and choruses by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Rossini, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Adam Kay: Medic, author and comedian, on visiting hours at Grand Opera House, York, on Sunday

Medical drama of the week: Adam Kay, This Is Going To Hurt, Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor, Grand Opera House, Sunday, 8pm

ADAM Kay, medic turned comic, shares entries from his diaries as a junior doctor in his evening of horror stories from the NHS frontline, savvy stand-up, witty wordplay and spoof songs.

His award-winning show, This Going To Hurt, has drawn 200,000 people to sell-out tours, the Edinburgh Fringe and West End runs, and the book of the same name topped the best sellers list for more than a year and is soon to be a BBC drama. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Boyzlife: Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden unite in Boyzone and Westlife songs at York Barbican

Irish night of the week: Boyzlife, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm; doors, 6.30pm

PUT Irish boy band graduates Brian McFadden, from Westlife, and Keith Duffy, from Boyzone, together and they become Boyzlife, as heard on the July 2020 album Strings Attached, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

On tour with a full band, but not the ‘Phil’, they choose songs from a joint back catalogue of 18 number one singles and nine chart-topping albums.

So many to squeeze in…or not: No Matter What, Flying Without Wings, World Of Our Own, Queen Of My Heart, Picture Of You, Uptown Girl, You Raise Me Up, Going Gets Tough, Swear It Again, Father And Son, Love Me For A Reason and My Love. Find out on Sunday. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk

Thumper: Dublin band play Ad Nauseam and much more at Fulford Arms, York, on Tuesday

 Loudest gig of the week: Thumper, Fulford Arms, York, Tuesday, 8pm

THUMPER, the cult Dublin band with two thumping drummers, are back on the road after you know what, promoting a 2021 mix of their single Ad Nauseam: a cautionary tale of repetition, vanity and becoming too close to what you know will eat you.

From the Irish city of the equally visceral Fontaines DC and The Murder Capital, Thumper have emerged with their ragged guitars and “bratty, frenetic punk rock” (Q magazine).

Now their debut album is taking shape after the band were holed up in their home studio for months on end. The Adelphi, Hull, awaits on Wednesday.

At the fourth time of planning: Mary Coughlan, Pocklington Arts Centre, Tuesday, 8pm

Mary Coughlan: Life Stories in song at Pocklington Arts Centre

GALWAY jazz and blues chanteuse Mary Coughlan had to move her Pocklington show three times in response to the stultifying pandemic.

“Ireland’s Billie Holliday” twice rearranged the gig during 2020, and did so again this year in a switch from April 23 to October 19.

At the heart of Mary’s concert, fourth time lucky, will still be Life Stories, her 15th album, released on the wonderfully named Hail Mary Records last September. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Spiers & Boden: Resurrected folk duo head to Pocklington on Wednesday

Double act of the week ahead: Spiers & Boden, Pocklington Arts Centre, Wednesday, 7.30pm

AFTER years of speculation, much-loved English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together, releasing the album Fallow Ground and bringing a live show to Pocklington this autumn with special guests. 

First forming a duo in 2001, John Spiers, now 46, and Jon Boden, 44, became leading lights in big folk band Bellowhead, resting the duo in 2014, before Bellowhead headed into the sunset in 2016. Solo endeavours ensued but now Spiers & Boden return. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Matilda takes on Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical Jr

Musical of the week: Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical Jr, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, October 20 to 24, 7.30pm; 2pm, 4.30pm, Saturday; 2pm, Sunday.

ONLY the last few tickets are still available for York Stage Musicals’ York premiere of the Broadway Junior version of Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story.

Matilda has astonishing wit, intelligence, imagination…and special powers! Unloved by her cruel parents, she nevertheless impresses teacher Miss Honey, but mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull hates children and just loves thinking up new punishments for those who fail to abide by her rules. Hurry, hurry to the box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntheatre.co.uk.

People We Love: Curtailed by the second Covid lockdown, the York Mediale exhibition has a second life at York Minster from this weekend

Worth noting too:

PEOPLE We Love, the York Mediale exhibition, reopening at York Minster from Saturday. York Design Week, full of ideas, October 20 to 26, at yorkdesign week.com; Light Night Leeds 2021, with a Back To Nature theme for this art and lights festival tonight and tomorrow, at whatson.leeds.gov.uk; Live At Leeds gigs across 20 venues with Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Sports Team, The Night Café, The Big Moon, Dream Wife, Poppy Adjuda, The Orielles and Thumper, at liveatleeds.com.

Stephen Joseph Theatre boosted by big grant from Garfield Weston Foundation

Stephen Joseph Theatre chief executives Paul Robinson and Caroline Routh. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre has been awarded £237,752 by the Garfield Weston Foundation to support its work over the coming year.

The Scarborough theatre will put part of the grant from the foundation’s Weston Culture Fund towards its summer and autumn season.

That programme is likely to feature a new play by the SJT’s director emeritus, Alan Ayckbourn; a show in the slot filled previously by The 39 Steps and Stepping Out, and the autumn commission of The Offing, adapted from Benjamin Myers’ novel, set in nearby Robin Hood’s Bay.

The grant also will contribute towards equipment and training to allow film recordings of the SJT’s live shows, plus a programme of community-focused “pop-up” screenings of the films, aimed at engaging those who might not usually access live theatre.

The SJT’s joint chief executives, Caroline Routh and artistic director Paul Robinson, say: “We are absolutely delighted that the SJT and Scarborough have benefited from the great generosity of the Garfield Weston Foundation, which has done such remarkable work over the past 60 years.

Stephen Joseph Theatre: “Benefiting from the great generosity of the Garfield Weston Foundation”. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“We are, of course, conscious of how fortunate we are at a time when so many of our colleagues are struggling in this age of great uncertainty. This grant will allow us to create more much-needed opportunities within the sector, as well as contributing to the wider economy of Scarborough.”

The SJT grant is part of a £30 million programme of grants to arts organisations across Britain announced today by Garfield Weston Foundation’s Weston Culture Fund.

In deciding to support the SJT, the foundation took into account “a wide range of factors, including local cultural provision, the interconnectivity of the sector, the potential accessibility of donors, and accessibility and outreach”.

Foundation director Philippa Charles says: “Our cultural sector is at the heart of our local communities, providing not only entertainment but also education and inspiration for many.

“Our trustees were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit shown across the arts in response to Covid-19 and it was a privilege to hear what organisations had been doing to not only survive but also to reinvent the way they reach audiences.

Alan Ayckbourn: New play expected in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 2021 programme. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“What really stood out was the level of collaboration and support they had for each other and the determination to keep going, despite the increasingly difficult situation.” 

Philippa adds: “We all want and need our cultural sector to thrive and, if anything, our time away from the arts has shown just how important they are to us, bringing much-needed pleasure and enrichment to our lives.

“Arts organisations are desperate to re-open and get back to what they do best, and we hope that this new funding will help many of them do exactly that.”

Established in 1958, the Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded grant-making charity that supports causes across the UK and gave more than £88m last year. In all, the foundation has donated more than £1bn to charities over the past 62 years.

The foundation’s funding comes from an endowment of shares in the family business that includes Twinings, Primark, Kingsmill and Fortnum & Mason. From small community organisations to large national institutions, the foundation supports charities and activities that make a positive impact in the communities where they work. Around 2,000 charities across the UK benefit each year from the foundation’s grants.