Ayckbourn’s play of the summer The Girl Next Door is now the SJT’s film of the week

Naomi Petersen and Bill Champion in The Girl Next Door at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre film of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest stage premiere, The Girl Next Door, is available on the Scarborough theatre’s website from 6pm this evening.

Directed by Ayckbourn, his 85th play can be seen in The Round until Saturday and now via sjt.uk.com, in a filmed recording in front of a live audience, until midnight on Sunday (4/7/2021).

In The Girl Next Door, veteran actor Rob Hathaway is stuck at home during the summer of 2020 with only his sensible older sister for company. Rob has little to do but relive his glory days when, as the star of the nation’s favourite TV period drama, National Fire Service, he ruled the roost as George ‘Tiger’ Jennings: wartime hero and living legend among firefighters.

One day, Rob spots a stranger hanging out the washing in the adjoining garden, but his neighbours have not been around for months. Who is the mysterious girl next door? And why is she wearing 1940s’ clothing?

Ayckbourn says: “I was born in 1939, so my earliest memories are of a sort of lockdown: of crowding into Anderson shelters or subway stations; of sleeping in deckchairs or on my mother’s lap. Things have come full circle for me.

“The Girl Next Door is an affirmation of love across the generations – I hope it’s positive and hopeful for those today crawling out of their metaphorical Anderson shelters blinking into the light.”

Writer-director Alan Ayckbourn in his Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

The filmed production features a cast of Bill Champion, Linford Johnson, Alexandra Mathie and Naomi Petersen.

The SJT’s artistic director, Paul Robinson, says: “We were delighted that part of the funding we received from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund last year was to go towards filming our productions.

“It means that audiences who can’t get to the theatre to see the show, for whatever reason, still have chance to see a high-quality version in the comfort of their own home, and Alan couldn’t have got us off to a better start than with this hit play.”

Written and directed by Ayckbourn, assisted by the SJT’s associate director Chelsey Gillard, The Girl Next Door is designed by Kevin Jenkins with lighting design by Jason Taylor.

Tickets for the film cost £12 each, with a group ticket available at £15 and a version with bonus features, including interviews with Ayckbourn and Jenkins, priced at £20, on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com. To check ticket availability for the last week of the stage production, visit the website.

‘A year ago, I couldn’t have looked you in the eye and said, ‘this is going to be OK’,’ says York Theatre Royal chief exec Tom Bird

Tom Bird: Looking forward to tonight’s reopening of York Theatre Royal after 15 months like no other

YORK Theatre Royal will re-open tonight after 427 days, but chief executive Tom Bird feared this day might never have come.

Aside from two preview performances of December’s Travelling Pantomime tour, the main house stage has been in Covid-enforced hibernation since March 14’s performance of Alone In Berlin.

In the ensuing months, shorn of 89 per cent of its annual income being generated through selling tickets and associated revenue streams, the Theatre Royal had to cut its permanent staff by one third – seven voluntary redundancies and nine staff made redundant – after extensive consultations against a grim national picture where an estimated 40 per cent of theatre workers have lost jobs over the past 15 months.

Last September too, the Theatre Royal’s divorce was announced from the neighbouring De Grey Rooms, home to the theatre’s leased rehearsal rooms, workshops, offices and below-stairs costume department, as well as weddings, parties, award ceremonies and performances in the glorious ballroom.

Had Tom ever thought that the pandemic might be the final curtain for the Theatre Royal, England’s longest-running theatre outside London?  “Yes, as early as last May, I started wondering. I remember it well because the weather was gorgeous, but the outlook was bleak, though it was at that stage that Arts Council England were brilliant, in that they moved very quickly to provide £160 million Emergency Funding to theatres like us,” he recalls.

Josh Benson: The comic turn in York Theatre Royal’s upturn with The Travelling Pantomime last December

The Theatre Royal received £196,493 to help to cover costs in the fallow months from last July to September 30. “The ACE grant was about ‘What do you need right now not to collapse?’,” said Tom at the time.

“But when 89 per cent of your income revolves around ticket sales, you’re looking at that situation thinking, ‘that’s 89 per cent of our revenue gone, a turnover of £4.5 million; what business survives that?’.”

What’s more, Tom and the theatre faced the problem of running an old, if recently refurbished, building that is both huge and hard to heat, “so much so that it costs £475,000 a year just to keep it open, without staffing, to cover heating, lighting, water and safety,” he reveals.

“At that point, we didn’t know that Culture Recovery Funding would be made available by the Government, though there was a lot of noise, and we didn’t know if the pantomime [Cinderella, in the Theatre Royal’s first collaboration with Evolution Productions] could go ahead.

“What we did was to get brave at that point, making big decisions, giving up the lease of De Grey House and the De Grey Rooms, going back into our old offices in the gorgeous, ramshackle Tate Wilkinson House.

“Then there’s the decision you never want to have to make: having to lose staff, and that decision still haunts me. But in a way, the need to make savings was pretty black and white; it wasn’t a case of looking to be a bit more efficient. We had to take steps now, and last summer was pretty tough.”

The Pop Up On The Patio festival stage on the York Theatre Royal terracing last August

A Pop Up On The Patio festival season on the theatre terracing ran from August 14 to 29, a positive step in showcasing York and Yorkshire talent, but through the huge glass panes of the Theatre Royal could be seen the dormant foyer, box office and closed doorways to the main house and Studio: out of reach and shrouded in uncertainty.

Once the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund was announced, the Theatre Royal was awarded £230,000 to assist the theatre until March 31, but the pandemic’s grip put paid to any chance of Cinderella going to the ball at the Theatre Royal.

“What picked us up was deciding to do the Travelling Pantomime that we took round York’s wards: it gave us something to focus on, not just thinking ‘is the Theatre Royal going to survive?’,” says Tom.

“It energised us all, and it was such a great show to do, but the truth is, a year ago, I couldn’t have looked you in the eye and said, ‘this is going to be OK’.

“We didn’t even know what was going to happen through that year ahead, but I have to say that the Yorkshire producing theatres have been brilliant. York, Hull [Hull Truck], Leeds [Playhouse], Scarborough [Stephen Joseph Theatre] and Sheffield [Sheffield Theatres] have got together each week on Zoom, which has been a really good case of peers supporting each other…

“…and we are where we are now, reopening to coincide with Step 3 of the roadmap. Love is in the air at the Theatre Royal!”

Clown time: James Lewis-Knight’s in rehearsal for Staying Connected, one of the Love Bites at York Theatre Royal tonight and tomorrow. Picture: Tom Arber

Tom is referring to The Love Season, already trailered in CharlesHutchPress [April 29 2021], that opens with Love Bites: two nights of two nights of letters from the heart tonight and tomorrow at 8pm that have both sold out.

The Love Season should have opened on St Valentine’s Day, February 14, but Lockdown 3 put yet another red line through diary plans. However, a second round of the Cultural Recovering Fund grants has put a £324,289 spring in the Theatre Royal’s step, coupled with the third stage of lockdown loosening from today.

Love Bites will turn the spotlight on the creativity of artists from in and around York, whether poets, performers, singers, dancers or digital artists, who have been commissioned to write love letters celebrating the return to live performances after the easing of the Government’s pandemic restrictions.

Introduced by Look North alumnus Harry Gration, Love Bites will explore the idea of love letters, dedicated to people, places, things, actions, occupations and more besides in five-minute specially commissioned bite-sized chunks.

The Love Season’s focus on human connection, the live experience and a sense of togetherness will embrace solo shows by stage and screen luminary Ralph Fiennes and Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh (The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…); a new Ben Brown political drama about writer Graham Greene and spy Kim Philby, A Splinter Of Ice, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, transposed to 1940s’ Hong Kong by writer Amy Ng and director Dadiow Lin.

Ralph Fiennes in rehearsal for T S Eliot’s Four Quartets

The number one talking point is Ralph Fiennes’s Theatre Royal debut, in six performances from July 26 to 31, directing himself in the world-premiere tour of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets: a solo theatre adaptation of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Giddings, a set of poems first published together in 1943 on the themes of time, nature and the elements, faith and spirituality, war and mortality.

Tom says: “Ralph is rehearsing in London, opening at the Theatre Royal, Bath, from May 25 and then touring. We’re so chuffed to have Ralph coming to York. We can’t believe it!

“We’re thrilled that Ralph’s show became a possibility for us, and it’s a huge credit to him to recognise the need to support theatre around the country at this time. Let’s say it, it’s rare for an actor of his profile and standing to do a regional tour, but he’s seen that he can help to save some incredibly important producing houses, like this one, by doing a tour – and it’s not an act of charity; it’s an important and really exciting piece of work.”

Performances in The Love Season will be presented to socially distanced audiences, adhering to the latest Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and audiences with a reduced capacity of 344, but should Step 4 of the roadmap roll-out go ahead as planned on June 21, there is scope for more seats to go on sale for shows later in the season. Over to you, Mr Johnson and the Indian Variant fly in the ointment.

For full details of The Love Season, go to: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Tickets can be booked at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; on 01904 623568, Monday to Saturday, 12 noon to 3pm, and in person, Thursday to Saturday, 12 noon to 3pm.

In the name of love: York Theatre Royal’s reopening season

Bedern Hall to introduce new heritage interpretation project when reopening

Roger Lee: Overseeing new heritage interpretation programme at Bedern Hall, York

BEDERN Hall, in York, will reopen on May 19 with a new heritage interpretation programme.

Visitors will see how the historic hall, in Bartle Garth, St Andrewgate, was restored and how it operated as the refectory for the Vicars Choral of York Minster, learning about their lifestyle and how they built the hall and discovering some of the things they left behind.

The hall’s later periods, and its many different uses over the centuries as tenemented accommodation, a bakery and a pork-pie maker’s curing hall, will be featured too.

Located a two-minute walk from York Minster, Bedern Hall has been seeking ways to open to new users and has received a Culture Recovery Fund grant to support its development plans.

The grant has begun to assist a new volunteer programme too that will bring additional opportunities for people to take part in the new opening arrangements.

Roger Lee, of the Bedern Hall Company, says: “Bedern Hall is one of York’s small but important historic venues and as we seek new ways for visitors to experience and learn about the hall, this is a timely change of direction for the business as we emerge from Covid-19 restrictions.

“It’s also a new opportunity for people to volunteer to help us with this vision to retell the Vicars Choral Story and the hall’s restoration.”

Bedern Hall will be open to visitors four days a week, from Wednesday to Saturday, 10.30am to 4.30pm. New signs, interpretation information boards, a children’s trail and tours of the Bedern area are planned with guides.

A new Bedern Hall Tour App that visitors can access via QR codes on their smartphone or tablet device will provide information in text, audio, and video in up to ten languages and will doubles as a self-guide tour. 

The hall will continue to offer facilities for wedding ceremonies and receptions, craft events, social events, community groups and business meetings. Its clientele include corporate organisations, private companies, social services and community groups. 

“The aim is to bring the history of hall to the attention of visitors and local people and its continuing benefit to the city as one of York’s most important medieval meeting halls that’s often overlooked due to its location,” says Roger, who operates Bedern Hall, runs Time and Place Caterers from there and is a Freeman of the City.

Anyone interested in volunteering opportunities should contact Roger on 01904 646030 or by emailing roger@bedernhall.co.uk.

The Bedern Hall heritage interpretation project is funded by the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage. The Culture Recovery Fund is being delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England, using funds provided by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.

York Early Music Foundation receives £25,000 from Culture Recovery Fund to benefit NCEM and Beverley music festival

“This support ensures that we can continue promoting our year-round programme of events and to re-open our doors into the summer,” says Delma Tomlin, director of the York Early Music Foundation and the NCEM

THE York Early Music Foundation, the charitable body that administers the National Centre for Early Music, will receive £25,000 from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

The foundation is one of more than 2,700 recipients to benefit from the second round of awards.

The grant will aid the foundation to recover from loss of income over the past year, and the CRF2 monies also will help to ensure that the Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival can take place again in May 2021.

This will enable the foundation to welcome both a small, socially distanced, audience and a new online public to the Beverley event, as well as supporting East Yorkshire school-aged children to enjoy their music-making.

The Beverley festival, postponed in 2020, is supported by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council and is acknowledged as one of the region’s cultural highlights.

Delma Tomlin, director of the York Early Music Foundation and the NCEM, said today: “We would like to say a huge thank you to Arts Council England for awarding us this much-needed grant. This support provides an important lifeline to help the organisation recover from lost revenue, ensuring that we can continue promoting our year-round programme of events and to re-open our doors into the summer.”

The York Early Music Foundation is among thousands of cultural organisations across the country to benefit from awards of more than £300 million from the Culture Recovery Fund announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today.

More than £800 million in grants and loans has been awarded already to support almost 3,800 cinemas, performance venues, museums, heritage sites and other cultural organisations dealing with the immediate challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The second round of awards made today will help organisations to look ahead to the spring and summer and plan for reopening and recovery. After months of closures and cancellations to contain the virus and save lives, this funding will be a much-needed helping hand for organisations “transitioning back to normal” in the months ahead. 

Mr Dowden said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced.

“Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors, helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in the better times ahead.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England, said: “Investing in a thriving cultural sector at the heart of communities is a vital part of helping the whole country to recover from the pandemic. These grants will help to re-open theatres, concert halls and museums and will give artists and companies the opportunity to begin making new work. 

“We are grateful to the Government for this support and for recognising the paramount importance of culture to our sense of belonging and identity as individuals and as a society.”

The funding awarded today comes from a £400 million pot that was held back last year to ensure the Culture Recovery Fund could continue to help organisations in need as the public health picture changed. The funding has been awarded by Arts Council England, together with Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.