REVIEW: Esk Valley Theatre in Deals And Deceptions, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale; the plot thickens until August 26 ****

Clara Darcy’s Jen takes on a new life in the North York Moors in Mark Stratton’s thriller drama Deals And Deceptions. Picture:Tony Bartholomew

YORKSHIRE countryside shapes lives, from Wuthering Heights to All Creatures Great And Small, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country to…Mark Stratton’s debut thriller drama for Esk Valley Theatre, his moorland home for nigh on 20 years.

“The presence of the North York Moors looms large in the play,” said EVT’s director in his CharlesHutchPress interview.

Londoners Danny and Jen Stevens (Dominic Rye, Clara Darcy) have had to hurry north to an isolated cottage, finding little more than an echo, a bare light bulb, one picture at a tilt on the wall…and a loose floorboard that opens a cupboard when walked on. That quirk will go on to play a significant role…

Leaving behind a flash lifestyle, they set up home with the impermanence of camping equipment: fold-out beds, a small table and misbehaving fold-up chairs. Needs must, but what was the reason for the midnight flit? Only Danny knows why.

In the presence of Darcy’s Jen, Rye’s Danny is reassuring, jack the lad, everything will be OK. Alone, he is as twitchy as a malfunctioning kettle (or that cupboard door), on the lookout, because everything could be KO, not OK.

The clue is in the title: deals and deceptions are afoot, dark deeds at work, dark forces at play. Not wishing to give everything away, let’s just say Danny’s deals may not be as clean as the Yorkshire air, and off back to London he heads to sort things out. Only a few days, he says, in his latest act of deception to Jen. Before leaving, he will buy her a little runaround car, but tell her to keep her encounters with the locals brief and to the minimum.

Yorkshire, however, has a way of introducing itself to these incomers as Stratton relishes the chance to play to a home crowd with sounds and happenings familiar to us. The alarming screams of screech owls; peacocks from the neighbouring country house tapping at the door; the snuffling and shuffling of a farmyard pig. Not so much ‘introducing’ as intruding, you might say, but each one loosens the  release valve for humour, after the initial shot of fear, as the truth is revealed.

Stratton’s cameo role, rooted in two decades of encounters with the Esk Valley farming community, is the very personification of Yorkshire introducing/intruding. Without invitation, his frank-speaking farmer, Wink – short for Winston – Towson, arrives at the door. His accent and phraseology are a mystery to Jen, but this gentle giant is a helpful sort.

In dodgy Danny’s absence, Jen makes a deal with God’s own country and begins a deception of her own by necessity, creating the new persona of a Yorkshire lass from Barnsley, as she Teaches Thissen T’Talk Tyke in a delightfully humorous transition to begin a journey of shell-shedding self-discovery.

This North-South divide is superbly delineated by the impressive Darcy throughout the resulting scenes. Jen grows to love the new life, bonding with gardener Jed Winter (part two for Rye), her blossoming summer of content as she takes up gardening. Rye is so convincing in this second role that at the end, as the cast took its bows, a whisper could be heard enquiring ‘where’s Jed?’!

Stratton combines licorice-dark humour with Yorkshire wit as dry as a moorland stone wall, and even knowing nods to Four Yorkshiremen stereotypes, while revealing a storytelling sleight of hand and a feel for suspense, twists and timing of arrivals to recall the manipulative noose-tightening of Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslighting and the intrigue of Peter James’s psycho-dramas.

The last “arrival” is The Woman, a suitably evasive name for Elizabeth Boag’s climactic cameo in Milk Tray advert black and an accent not from around here. A hit performance, in every way, just like Stratton’s debut play. Replete with deceptions, new beginnings, intrigue, murky mystery, the joy of gardening, farming folk and a love of Yorkshire, it is the real deal.

Esk Valley Theatre in Deals And Deceptions, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 26; Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm matinees on August 22 and 24. Box office: 01947 897587 or, 10.30am to 1pm; 3.30pm to 7.15pm.

What will Mark Stratton uncover in Esk Valley Theatre premiere of debut moorland ‘thriller drama’ Deals And Deceptions?

Clara Darcy’s Jen Stevens in Esk Valley Theatre’s premiere of Mark Stratton’s Deals And Deceptions. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

IN artistic director Mark Stratton’s first play for Esk Valley Theatre, Danny and Jen leave London and head to an isolated cottage in the North York Moors. City clashes with country, dark forces are at work and humorous situations arise.

“We may think we know the person we are married to, but do we?” asks Stratton, who is joined in the cast by Clara Darcy, Dominic Rye and late addition Elizabeth Boag at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby. “What someone chooses to show the world is not always who they are. If they trade in deals and deceptions, then a day of reckoning will surely come.”

Here Mark discusses triple threats, London versus Yorkshire, debut plays and the impact of making a house move with CharlesHutchPress.

What prompted you to write a play for Esk Valley Theatre and why now, Mark?

“Ever since Esk Valley Theatre was formed, we’ve looked for a contemporary play that reflected something of life in the North York Moors and haven’t discovered anything suitable in nearly 20 years! So, I thought it was time for me to have a go at writing one and Deals And Deceptions is the result.”

Does your experience as a director and actor help you to write a play?

“Certainly. Actors and directors probably absorb more knowledge of play writing than they realise. I think it was Stephen Joseph who thought that all actors should have a go at writing. It definitely makes you appreciate the craft and gives a greater understanding of what makes a play work.”

A Rye look: Dominic Rye as investment company boss Danny Stevens in Deals And Deceptions. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

What inspired you to write Deals And Deceptions?

“Over the years I’ve had a growing fascination with the way people manipulate their personality to suit a particular situation.  Deals And Deceptions looks at some of the ways people shift personality and that is the driving force behind the play.”

What is the style of the piece?

“Good question. I personally find it difficult to put a label on it, but some people have described it as a thriller drama. Having said that, it generates good amounts of laughter and if you have any knowledge of farming and life in the Moors then I think it reflects something of the dry Yorkshire humour that exists in our communities.”

What is the tone? Gravely serious or darkly humorous or both?

“A bit of both, although the tone is lighter to begin with and gradually shifts to a darker place as the narrative unfolds.”

Leaving London for the North York Moors…dare CharlesHutchPress mention American Werewolf In London?!

“I guess leaving London for the North York Moors is where the similarities end and there are no attacking wolves!”

Mark Stratton as North York Moors farmer Wink Towson in Deals And Deceptions. “He’s an amalgamation of a number of farmers that I’ve met over the years,” says Mark. “He’s got a twinkle in his eye and a wry sense of humour”. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Why do people learn more about themselves when they change their living environment?

“I’m pleased you’ve asked that, because one of the central themes is about the journey of self-discovery that Jen goes on. She’s forced to adapt to a new way of life and finds joy and enlightenment through leaving her past behind.”

How much does the isolated North York Moors setting add an extra character to the play?

“The North York Moors is definitely an additional character and the presence of the Moors looms large throughout the play.”

What attracts people to move from London to Yorkshire?

“The dream of a better way of life with cleaner air to breathe? A romantic vision of country life? I guess there are many reasons, but in Deals And Deceptions Danny and Jen leave because they have to. They are on the run, but only Danny knows why.”

Elizabeth Boag: Answering the late call to return to Esk Valley Theatre for summer 2023

Describe the characters of Danny and Jen Stevens…

“When we first meet them, they appear as a thirty-something city couple who’ve done well for themselves, and it seems that Danny runs some kind of investment company. But is Danny speaking the truth? They have to leave London in a hurry… and I can’t give away any more than that!”

Why pick Dominic Rye and Clara Darcy for these roles?

“We held our usual round of auditions and Dominic had all the attributes we were looking for. They are tremendous.

“We also had a late addition to the cast with Elizabeth Boag stepping in at the last minute to play ‘The Woman’. Liz is a phenomenal actor who was in our production of Same Time Next Year and luckily for us, she was able to join the company at a moment’s notice.”

How much does the isolated North York Moors setting add a fifth character to the piece?

“The North York Moors is definitely an additional character and the presence of the Moors looms large throughout the play.”

Esk Valley Theatre’s poster for the premiere of Mark Stratton’s debut play Deals And Deceptions

Writing, directing and performing the role of farmer Wink Towson: the triple threat, Mark Stratton style! Discuss…

“It’s something I always said I would never do! I guess I always thought it would signify an out-of-control ego. However, I wrote the play initially with two actors in mind to play five characters and we’ve now ended up with four actors. Because Wink is older than the others it made sense for me to take it on. It’s very much a cameo and I hope the ego remains firmly in control.”

Have you sought any advice on writing a play from esteemed Esk Valley Theatre supporter Sir Alan Ayckbourn?

“Not directly, but I have had the great pleasure of working with Alan as an actor and also working with him as an assistant director last year. I’ve seen a huge number of his plays over the years and he remains the foremost influence on everything I do in the theatre. He is a giant in the industry and a master of his craft. It would be a fool who couldn’t learn something from him.”

Esk Valley Theatre in Deals And Deceptions, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, Whitby, until August 26; Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm matinees on August 10, 12, 15, 17, 22 and 24. Box office: 01947 897587, 10.30am to 1pm; 3.30pm to 7.15pm, or

Cast: Clara Darcy asJen Stevens; Dominic Rye as Danny Stevens and gardener Jed Winter; Elizabeth Boag, The Woman; Mark Stratton, Wink Towson. Writer and director: Mark Stratton.

More Things To Do in York & beyond, from musical mischief to hen night shenanigans. Here’s Hutch’s List No.32, from The Press

Bull: Headlining The Boatyard Festival at Bishopthorpe Marina today

SHAKESPEARE in gardens, music and magic by the riverside, an LGBTQ musical premiere and a riotous hen party on stage are among Charles Hutchinson’s eye-catchers for upcoming entertainment.

Festival of the week: The Boatyard Festival, The Boatyard, Bishopthorpe Marina, Ferry Lane, Bishopthorpe, York, today, 10am until late

THIS family-friendly music festival will be headlined by ebullient York band Bull. Look out too for Bonneville, Tymisha, London DJ Zee Hammer, Yorky Pud Street Band, The Plumber Drummer, City Snakes, Rum Doodle and Hutch.

Further attractions will be stilt walkers, a hula-hoop workshop, a giant bubble show, magic, face painting, fayre games, stalls, food and drink, with free admission for accompanied children. Box office: head to for the QR code to book.

Four Wheel Drive director Alfie Howle and cast member Alison Gammon park up at the National Centre of Early Music for a garden of delights in A Midsummer Day’s Dream

Crazy chaos of the week: Four Wheel Drive presents A Midsummer Day’s Dream, National Centre for Early Music, York, today at 11am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm

FOUR Wheel Drive, producers of “off-road theatrical experiences” in York, invite children aged seven to 11 and their families to a musical, magical and mystical diurnal reimagining of William Shakespeare’s romcom in the NCEM gardens (or indoors if wet).

Four Athenians run away to the forest, only for the sylvan sprite Puck to make both the boys fall in love with the same girl while also helping his master play a trick on the fairy queen. Will all this crazy chaos have a happy ending? Anna Gallon and Alfie Howle’s interactive 45-minute adaptation will allow children to engage in the mischief-making Midsummer action, performed by Gallon, Katja Schiebeck and Esther Irving. Grab a boom-wacker and book tickets on 01904 658338 or

Three in one: Esk Valley Theatre writer, director and actor Mark Stratton

Debut of the week: Esk Valley Theatre in Deals And Deceptions, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, Whitby, until August 26

IN artistic director Mark Stratton’s first play for Esk Valley Theatre, Danny and Jen leave London and head to an isolated cottage in the North York Moors. City clashes with country, dark forces are at work and humorous situations arise.

“We may think we know the person we are married to, but do we?” asks Stratton, who is joined in the cast by Clare Darcy and Dominic Rye. “What someone chooses to show the world is not always who they are. If they trade in deals and deceptions, then a day of reckoning will surely come.” Box office: 01947 897587 or

Is this the hen party from hell? Will best friends fall out in Bridesmaids Of Britain? Find out tomorrow night

Hen party comedy heads to hen party haven: Bridesmaids Of Britain, Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow, 7pm

BILLED as “the girls’ night out to remember”, welcome to Diana Doherty’s Bridesmaids Of Britain. Becky is the overly loyal maid-of-honour whose life unravels as she leads best friend Sarah on a wild ride down the road to matrimony.

Things go awry, however, as competition between Becky and Tiffany – Sarah new BFF (best friend forever, obvs) – over who is the bride’s bestie threatens to upend the wedding planning that has been in the making since primary school. Be prepared for dance-offs, sing-offs and eventually shout-offs at the “hen do of the year”, held in a caravan. Will this wedding story have a happy ending, or will these best friends rip each other apart? Box office:

Dan Crawfurd-Porter’s Whizzer and Chris Mooney’s Marvin in rehearsal for Black Sheep Theatre Productions’ Falsettos, opening at the JoRo on Wednesday

York premiere of the week: Black Sheep Theatre Productions in Falsettos, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee.

YORK company Black Sheep Theatre Productions has been granted an exclusive British licence by Concord Theatricals and composer/lyricist William Finn to stage Finn and James Lapine’s “very gay, very Jewish” musical Falsettos, thanks to the persistence of director Matthew Clare.

In its late-Seventies, early-Eighties American story, set against the backdrop of the rise of Aids, Marvin has left his wife Trina and son Jason to be with his male lover Whizzer, whereupon he struggles to keep his Jewish family together in the way he has idealised. Box office: 01904 501935 or

Pennine Suite: Topping Friday’s bill of York bands at The Crescent

York music bill of the week: Northern Radar presents Pennine Suite, Sun King, Everything After Midnight and The Rosemaries, The Crescent, York, Friday, 7.30pm to 11pm

PENNINE Suite play their biggest headline gig to date in an all-York line-up on a rare 2023 appearance in their home city. The five-piece draws inspiration from the alternative rock movements of the 1980s and 1990s, interlaced with shoegaze and pop melodies, typified by the singles Far and Scottish Snow. Box office:

Garden secrets: Which character will York Shakespeare Project veteran Frank Brogan play in Sonnets At The Bar? It’s all hush-hush until August 11

Bard convention: York Shakespeare Project in Sonnets At The Bar, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Friday to August 19 (except August 14), 6pm and 7.30pm plus 4.30pm Saturday performances

YORK Shakespeare Project returns to the secret garden at Bar Convent for another season of Shakespeare sonnets, this time directed by Tony Froud. Reprising the familiar format, the show features a series of larger-than-life modern characters, each with a secret to reveal through a sonnet.

Inside writer Helen Wilson’s framework of the comings and goings of hotel staff and guests, the characters will be played by Diana Wyatt, Judith Ireland, Sarah Dixon, Frank Brogan, Maurice Crichton, Nigel Evans, Harold Mozley, Froud and Wilson. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Ceridwen Smith in Next Door But One’s The Firework-Maker’s Daughter . Picture: James Drury

Talking elephants of the week: Next Door But One in The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, York Theatre Royal patio, August 12, 11am and 2pm

YORK theatre-makers Next Door But One’s adventurous storyteller travels to Lila’s Firework Festival in this intimate, inclusive, accessible and fun stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel, replete with talking elephants, silly kings and magical creatures.

As Lila voyages across lakes and over mountains, she faces her biggest fears and learns everything she needs to know to become the person she has always wanted to be. Makaton signs and symbols, puppetry and audience participation play their part in Ceridwen Smith’s performance. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Grace Petrie: Switching from folk musician to stand-up comedy act on tour in York, Leeds and Sheffield

Change of tack: Burning Duck Comedy Club presents Grace Petrie: Butch Ado About Nothing, The Crescent, York, September 17, 7.30pm

FOLK singer, lesbian and checked-shirt-collector Grace Petrie has been incorrectly called “Sir” every day of her adult life. Now, after finally running out of subject matter for her “whiny songs”, she is putting down the guitar to work out why in her debut stand-up show, Butch Ado About Nothing, on her return to The Crescent.

Finding herself mired in an age of incessantly and increasingly fraught gender politics, the Norwich-based Leicester native explores what butch identity means in a world moving beyond labels, pondering where both that identity and she belong in the new frontline of queer liberation. Petrie also plays Old Woollen, Leeds, on August 31 (8pm) and The Leadmill, Sheffield, on September 10 (7.30pm). Box office:; York,; Leeds,; Sheffield,

Alan Ayckbourn plays with time and space, history and the present, in Family Album

Alan Ayckbourn directing rehearsals for Family Album, his 87th full-length play. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

NO sooner has the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s 86th full-length play All Lies concluded at the tiny, moorland Esk Valley Theatre than his 87th opens at his regular home, Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Family Album is one of five plays penned by Ayckbourn in lockdown, or is it six, as Esk Valley Theatre producer Sheila Carter suggested on press night?

“Oh lord, I’ve rather lost count, but there are two more waiting after All Lies and Family Album,” says Sir Alan, whose number of plays now outstrips his age of 83.

“Once lockdown occurred, I was like one of those ocean liners that chugged on with no brakes until running out of fuel, but there was all that frustration of no productions going on.”

What joy for Sir Alan when he could at last return to the rehearsal room in May last year for the SJT’s summer production of The Girl Next Door. “Doing that play gave me a huge charge of the batteries,” he says.

This year, already he has directed All Lies in its premiere at The Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness, in May and the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, last month. Now he is pulling the strings on Family Album as writer, director and sound designer, directing Elizabeth Boag, Georgia Burnell, Tanya-Loretta Dee, Antony Eden and York-born Frances Marshall as he tenderly chronicles the trials, tribulations and temptations of three generations of one family across 70 years in the same home.

Presented, as ever, in The Round, Ayckbourn interweaves his account of a moving-in day in 1952, a birthday party in 1992 and a moving-out day in 2022, “when all the skeletons are suddenly jumping out of their cupboards”.

York actress Frances Marshall in an early rehearsal for the 1992 storyline in Family Album. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Join housewife Peggy (Burnell) and RAF veteran John (Eden) as they proudly move into the first home they can really call their own; daughter Sandra (Marshall), frantically negotiating the challenges of her ten-year-old daughter’s birthday party without her AWOL husband; and granddaughter Alison (Boag) and her partner Jess (Dee), finally escaping the house she has somewhat unwillingly inherited.

 “My inspiration was a programme on BBC4 called A House Through Time, a fascinating piece of social history [presented by historian David Olusoga]. I thought, I could do this on a smaller scale – I didn’t want to go back centuries, so I started within my lifetime, in the 1950s.

“We have three time periods layered on top of each other happening simultaneously in the same house, following a family from the grandparents in 1952, to the children in 1992 and then the grandchildren today.”

Ayckbourn is no stranger to playing with time, but not in this way before. “For me it’s new: I’ve used time so much – I’ve run it backwards and forwards, and I’ve run it sideways, and I’ve occasionally run it forwards and backwards simultaneously and at different speeds, but never in this way,” he says.

Parallels have been drawn with Ayckbourn’s 2018 premiere, A Brief History Of Women, a comedy in four parts, each set 20 years apart, focusing on an unremarkable man and the remarkable women who loved him, left him, or lost him over sixty years, and the equally remarkable old manor house that saw and heard it all happen.

“That play was the story of the house seen through the eyes of the people who ‘mucked about with it’, as it changed from a country house to a country-house hotel,” says Sir Alan. “This time, it’s the people, seen through the house. 

“I’ve realised with age, when you have a choice, you can either look back, and I can look back to the wartime 1940s, with my first conscious memory of an air raid shelter, right up to 2022, which is one choice, or you can look forward, the other choice.

Antony Eden rehearsing his role as RAF veteran John in Family Album. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“It’s no coincidence that our most successful children’s writers, Morpurgo and Rowling, have looked at science fiction in order to reach a generation they’re not able to reach otherwise – and the best science fiction reflects what’s happening now.

“I can write plays for my near-contemporaries, but my plays for young people also give me the chance to make up my own rules, which can apply to both me and the children I’m writing for.”

Family Album reflects on the past and its impact on the next generation, especially on women. “One of the themes is the enormous journey women have been on. My God, they have moved a long way, and the most interesting thing for me to do was to write a play set in 1952, 1992 and 2022, that would be much more interesting if I interweaved all three.

“It’s my latest exploration of the theatre space offered by The Round, which goes back to How The Other Half Loves [written in 1969], with everyone in the play occupying one space.”

Ayckbourn says a “stinging contemporary play” is not in his armoury at present – the romantic All Lies, for example, was set in 1957-58 – and he does not foresee writing “directly” about our rotten age. Instead he will continue looking at changing times. 

“I do explore the changes in men in future plays,” he says. “I’m very curious to see quite where men will go. Many men have changed; for every dyed-in-the-wool chauvinist, there is a new man.”

Alan Ayckbourn’s Family Album runs at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until October 1. Box office: 01723 370541 or

Georgia Burnell, who plays housewife Peggy, rehearses a scene from the 1952 storyline in Family Album. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

REVIEW: Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies, Esk Valley Theatre, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 27

Luke Dayhill’s Sebastian Goodfellow and Saskia Strallen’s Posy Capstick in All Lies. Picture: Steven Barber

ALAN Ayckbourn wrote five plays in the lockdown lull for live theatre, says Esk Valley Theatre director Mark Stratton. Or six, according to Sheila Carter, when CharlesHutchPress chatted with the producer pre-show.

Is it five? Or is it six? What’s the truth? Well, All Lies is definitely Scarborough knight Sir Alan’s 86th full-length play, soon to be followed by his 87th, Family Album, opening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on September 2.

His 84th, Anno Domino, took the form of an audio play performed by Ayckbourn and his wife, Heather Stoney, in an online fundraiser for the SJT during the first 2020 lockdown, and later that year he played three principal roles in an online audio reinvention of Haunting Julia.

Why mention this? Because All Lies equally would have suited being presented as a radio play, given its somewhat static style of performance, where the focus falls on the to and fro of letters until the finale when the play’s young lovers are seen sitting together for the first time, albeit at opposite ends of a coffee-bar table.

For so long a supporter of Esk Valley Theatre’s small-scale but highly professional summer productions in a village hall on the North York Moors, writer-director Ayckbourn offered All Lies to Stratton and Carter to complement the initial May run at The Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness, with Stratton taking on the assistant director’s role for the EVT run.

In tight, Covid-shadowed financial times, it fitted the bill with its cast of three and shared costs, and not least the kudos of staging an Ayckbourn world premiere. As ever, EVT devotees have been turning up by the busload, on this occasion for an enjoyable triangular drama, but not one with Ayckbourn’s usual visual flair.

Alan Ayckbourn: Prolific play-writing in lockdown. Picture: Tony Bartholomew, May 2020

Roger Glossop’s set design amounts to three chairs, each facing the audience, two to the side at the front, the other central and raised, at the back. They look socially distanced, but that feeling may just be a hangover from Covid restrictions.

Here, the magical flourishes and application of the imagination must come from Luke Dayhill’s Sebastian Goodfellow and Saskia Strallen’s Posy Capstick, who both gild the lily when trying to present the best of themselves to each other. Or tell little white lies, if you you want to be brutally honest.

In Ayckbourn’s sparse presentation, they are not shown doing this directly to each other, but in letters that they read out as they write them: Posy to a friend; Sebastian to his frank, eventually exasperated family-outcast sister Sonia (Rhiannon Neads, occupier of the central third seat), who in turn shares her thoughts with sceptical, scathing gay lover Bobbie and then responds to Sebastian.

Letters, you say? Yes, the setting is 1957-1958, when people still took to pen and paper. It puts the emphasis on the verbal on stage, with Ayckbourn letting the audience enjoy being one step ahead of the two young lovers, later joined by the letters’ recipients being likewise.

Ayckbourn is writing in the age of fake news, Trumipian alternative truths, Johnsonian obfuscation, social-media misinformation, government disinformation. “The sad thing is there’s a lot of lying going on these days,” he says in his programme notes.

Ayckbourn has always been about truths, home truths, especially about the domestic lie of the land. Hence, rather than “the massive lies (allegedly) told every day by presidents and prime ministers”, he focuses on “those harmless, rather pathetic little everyday lies we tell, usually about ourselves, to improve our image”.

To and fro of letters: Luke Dayhill’s Sebastian Goodfellow, Saskia Strallen’s Posy Capstick, right, and Rhiannon Neads’s Sonia in All Lies. Picture: Steven Barber

Today, that “slight make-over” would involve photoshopping pictures on social media or falsehoods on (Love Me) Tinder. In 1957, the “unattainable handsome boy”, Sebastian Goodfellow, and “the unreachable beautiful girl”, Posy Capstick, do it brazenly face to face, although we see it only in reportage, in those letters, before the curtain falls on chair number three.

The effect is somewhat distancing, keeping the characters at one step removed until the wit, wisdom and warmth of Ayckbourn’s ever-astute writing permeates the rigid surface, as he weighs up the pros and cons of lies, whether they can ever be innocent or are destined to haunt you.

This is not one of his darker pieces, nor one of his more substantial works, but a sage one with a note of forgiveness and understanding, one with a smile on its face, a lightness of step, as lie trumps lie, after Posy’s Last Night of the Proms outing turns into a first night of a new romance with trouser salesman Sebastian, who claims to be a cellist with the Halle Orchestra and later a spy. He bluffs, she bluffs, and the lies become ever more elaborate, but ultimately these love birds are naughty but nice.

“The truth is out there somewhere,” says Ayckbourn, but is the truth in there too in All Lies?In this instance, love is more powerful than all the nervous, desperate-to-please fantasies the lovers spin. Does that ring true? You decide, but how lovely to see the old romantic at work in Sir Alan, helped enormously by his making jack-the-lad, reticent Sebastian and the more assured, clipped Posy such young charmers for Dayhill and Strallen to embellish with relish. Neads adds amusement aplenty with Sonia’s rising bemusement.

Black-and-white kitchen-sink dramas of the late-Fifties and early Sixties would tell a different truth, a darker one, not least through Billy Liar’s Billy Fisher. He was the schemer; Sebastian and Posy are a midsummer night’s dreamers.

Box office: 01947 897587 or

Review by Charles Hutchinson

The plotting thickens: Saskia Strallen’s lady of letters in All Lies. Picture: Steven Barber

How come an Alan Ayckbourn world premiere is being staged in a moorland village institute? The truth on All Lies

Will the truth hurt in Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies when Luke Dayhill’s Sebastian and Saskia Strallen’s Posy fall in love? Picture: Steven Barber

ESK Valley Theatre is presenting the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 86th full-length play in a North Yorkshire moorland village.

All Lies is running at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, six miles from Whitby, until August 27, directed by Ayckbourn himself. And yes, that is the truth.

“We were approached by Alan,” says a delighted Mark Stratton, Esk Valley Theatre’s artistic director, who is Ayckbourn’s assistant director for the three-hander, written in the quietude of the pandemic lockdowns.

“All Lies was already booked for two weeks at the Old Laundry Theatre, in Bowness-on-Windermere, in May, but the feeling was that was too short a run for an Ayckbourn premiere.

“Alan has been a big supporter of our work for years and has seen many of our plays, so he said, ‘would you like to take it?’. We thought, ‘well, why don’t we put it on in our regular August slot as the institute is busy for other parts of the year?’.

“The way we’ve done it, the actors signed contracts for Bowness and then contracts for us, with Alan holding two days of rehearsals in Scarborough to help to prepare for the re-start in Glaisdale.”

Initial rehearsals had been conducted at Alan’s Scarborough studio for two weeks from April 19, “before the whole shebang moved over to Bowness” for its debut. “We’re billing our run as the ‘world premiere production’ because it’s the same production,” says Mark.

“Alan’s involvement has been right the way through until he handed over to me in order to start rehearsals for his next play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre [Scarborough], Family Album.

“My role has been minimal, as ‘caretaker’ director, while keeping the production’s Ayckbourn integrity. We’ve been wanting Esk Valley Theatre to be involved as a producer on an Ayckbourn play, without treading on the SJT’s toes, and this has been our opportunity.”

All Lies is set in 1957-1958, when a chance meeting elicits love at first sight! The person of your dreams! But will they feel the same? Once you tell the truth about yourself, will you even be worthy of them? Do you take the plunge and reveal all? Or choose the dangerous alternative and tell them…All Lies?!

Luke Dayhill as Sebastian Goodfellow, Rhiannon Neads as sister Sonia Goodfellow, back, and Saskia Strallen as Posy Capstick in All Lies. Picture: Steven Barber

Questions, questions, so many Ayckbourn questions, in a play of subtle wit and shifting sands where the truth is in there somewhere when a young couple falls in love but the little lies develop into something much bigger.

Can Mark reveal a little more? “Well, the clues are in the title! It’s one of those plays where one thing leads to another, so you don’t want to give too much away, but yes, lies are told, and where do lies lead when you spin a web of deceit?!” he says.

“It’s very much a play about two people wanting to show their best side to each other when they first meet, but what happens when someone exaggerates who they are? What happens down the line?

“It becomes that catalogue of things that happen when lies are told, but it’s also about the fragility of egos and how we want to be seen in the best light when we don’t have the confidence just to be ourselves.”

What is the significance of the Fifties’ setting? “It was the age of letter writing, pre-mobile technology, when people wrote letters to express themselves deeply in a way they don’t show themselves so emotionally now,” says Mark.

“Alan is so good at picking at things, exposing them, and while it’s set in 1957, it reflects on how we’ve changed as a society.”

All Lies is not in Ayckbourn’s darkest vein by any means, suggests Mark. “There are just a few dark undertones. It’s a light and frothy piece in many ways,” he says. “It’s more…it’s not Noel Coward but it has a lovely light comedy quality about it with beautiful wordplay.”

At 83, Ayckbourn is as prolific as ever, so much so that he has a backlog of new work accruing from theatres going into hibernation in lockdown. “Alan’s brain is so brilliant,” says Mark. “You can’t but marvel at him. Most writers would be happy with five plays in a lifetime, but Alan has written five in a matter of months!”

Esk Valley Theatre presents Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies at Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 27 with a cast of Luke Dayhill, Rhiannon Neads and Saskia Strallen. Box office: 01947 897587.

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, presents Alan Ayckbourn’s Family Album from September 2 to October 1. Box office: 01723 370541 or

Say cello, wave goodbye? Will love crumble when the truth is out for Sebastian and Posy in Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies at Esk Valley Theatre?

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in and around York on walls, in parks, by water, on stage and in future. List No. 94, courtesy of The Press

The Cure’s Robert Smith backstage, by Alison O’Neill, from her debut exhibition of 1980s’ music photos at City Screen, York. Copyright: Alison O’Neill

FROM The Cure’s Eighties’ photos to Ayckbourn’s lies, folk, riverside and walls festivals to folk’s future, Charles Hutchinson picks his highlights of the week ahead and beyond.

Exhibition launch of the week: Trapped In The Light, 1980s Music Photos by Alison O’Neill, Sky Lounge, City Screen Picturehouse, York, Sunday to September 10

ALISON O’Neill loved photographing The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Cramps in the 1980s, but those black-and-white concert and backstage images have been in hibernation for more than three decades, never exhibited until now.

Why? “Shyness,” she says, but with the encouragement of a photographer friend in Berlin, she is letting those nocturnal photographic encounters see the light of day at last at City Screen.

Play of the week: Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies, Esk Valley Theatre, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 27

When the little white lies start: Luke Dayhill and Saskia Strallen as the young couple in Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies at Esk Valley Theatre. Picture: Steven Barber

FOLLOWING its initial run at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, in May, Esk Valley Theatre presents the world premiere production of writer-director Alan Ayckbourn’s 86th full-length play.

The setting is 1957/1958, when a  when a chance meeting elicits love at first sight! The person of your dreams! But will they feel the same? Once you tell the truth about yourself, will you even be worthy of them? Do you take the plunge and reveal all? Or choose the dangerous alternative and tell them…All Lies?!

Questions, questions, so many Ayckbourn questions, in a play where it may be all lies but the truth is in there somewhere. Box office: 01947 897587.

Inside a tipi at the Boatyard York Festival

New festival of the week: The Boatyard York Summer Festival, Ferry Lane, Bishopthorpe, York, today, 11am to 7pm

THE Boatyard plays host to its first summer riverside festival this weekend, featuring live music from York bands and musicians, such as Up In Smoke, and an array of street food to suit meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

Organised by Eva Brindley, this family-orientated day promises a Punch & Judy show, face-painting, fare stalls and games, ping pong and volleyball, plus canoe, kayak and day boat hire. Look out for the Bosun’s Oven café, wood-fired pizzas and summery drinks from the horsebox bar. Dogs are welcome; entry is free.

Lewis Capaldi: First visit to Scarborough Open Air Theatre since 2019

Outdoor gig of the week; Lewis Capaldi, supported by Wild Youth and Aine Deane, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Thursday, gates 6pm. CANCELLED

UPDATE: 10/8/2022

LEWIS Capaldi has pulled out of his August 11 gig at Scarborough Open Air Theatre. The reason? Illness.

Ticket holders will be reimbursed fully.

SCOTTISH singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi spent ten weeks at the top of the charts with his May 2019 debut album, Divinely Inspired To A Hellish Extent. Alas, the wait goes on for the follow-up, and all the while you will find such questions as “Is Lewis Capaldi quitting?” and “What has happened to Lewis Capaldi” on the internet.

In July, the 25-year-old Glaswegian told his Latitude festival audience “I have no new music to play you”, calling himself “horribly lazy” when faced with “needing to finish my new album”. Looks like you will have to make do with Before You Go, Grace, Hollywood, Bruises et al once more on Thursday; the heartbeat of his first visit to Scarborough OAT in 2019 . Box office:

Much ado about Nothing & Everything Else…and Z Is For Zelda at Theatre@41

Double bill of the week: Black Sheep Theatre in Nothing & Everything Else/Z Is For Zelda, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, August 10 to 13, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

SHOWCASING the work of playwright and director Bethany Shilling, the first play is an offbeat comedy about a young woman performing at her very first stand-up comedy open-mic night where she uses the time to check in with herself mentally. 

The second is an attempt by Zelda Fitzgerald to share her life story. In doing so, she flits between her polished, performed self and the obscure ramblings that consume her mind. Is she mad or is this the final act of Zelda’s undeniable character? Box office:

Seth Lakeman: Next Saturday’s main-stage headliner at The Magpies Festival. Picture: Tom Griffiths

Folk festival of the week: The Magpies Festival, Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest, near York, August 12, music from 6pm; August 13, music from 12.30pm

THE Magpies Festival has expanded from one day at last summer’s inaugural event to two in 2022, hosted again by The Magpies’ transatlantic folk trio of Bella Gaffney, Kate Griffin and Holly Brandon, ahead of this autumn’s release of their new album, Undertow.

Next Friday’s line-up will be: Jaywalkers; Elanor Moss; John Smith; Chris Elliott & Caitlin Jones and headliners Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra. Next Saturday presents Honey & The Bear; Dan Webster Band; Katie Spencer; The People Versus; David Ward Maclean; The Jellyman’s Daughter; Rory Butler; The Magpies plus guests; The 309s; The Drystones and main-stage headliner Seth Lakeman. Look out too for the food market and craft fair. Box office:

The poster for York Walls Festival 2022

Heritage event of the week: York Walls Festival 2022 Summer Weekend, August 13 and 14

THE Friends of York Walls will be partnering with York organisations and community groups to tell stories and promote “our shared community, history and heritage” next weekend.

The Friends look after the 500-year-old Fishergate Postern Tower on behalf of City of York Council and it is sure to feature in the festival, along with the Bar walls and Red Tower. For festival updates, head to:

Joshua Burnell & Band: Autumn tour takes in The Crescent in his home city of York. Picture: Elly Lucas

The future of folk: Joshua Burnell & Band, The Crescent, York, October 16, 8pm

JOSHUA Burnell & Band will play a home-city gig at The Crescent on his nine-date folk-fused baroque’n’roll autumn tour.

Multi-instrumentalist singer Burnell will be joined by globe-trotting violinist Frances Archer, guitarist Nathan Greaves, multi-instrumentalist Oliver Whitehouse, drummer Ed Simpson and vocalist Frances Sladen. “Think The War On Drugs meets Seth Lakeman on Ziggy Stardust’s spaceship,” he suggests. Tickets: or

REVIEW: Esk Valley Theatre in Shirley Valentine, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 28 ****

Greece is the word: Ashley Hope Allen’s Shirley Bradshaw with her holiday tickets. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

ESK Valley Theatre producer Sheila Carter has strived for five years to acquire the performing rights for Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine.

“I knew it would really suit us and our audience,” she said, beaming, as Tuesday’s full house gathered outside the Robinson Institute for a pre-show catch-up after a Covid-enforced fallow summer in 2020.

Persistence paid off when, bingo, Carter spotted the 2021 availability of Russell’s one-woman play. A contract was duly signed to complete Esk Valley Theatre’s hattrick of Russell comedies after the two-hander Educating Rita in August 2016 and the push-the-boat-out tenth anniversary production One For The Road with its cast of four two summers earlier.

From four to two to one, the cast size drops, but what a one: size really does not matter here! Quality over quantity, as the saying goes.

Director Mark Stratton has picked a right good one too in Ashley Hope Allan, who Coronation Street devotees will recall from her soap role as TV star medium Crystal Webber.

A medium is defined as “a person who claims to be able to contact and speak to people who are dead, and to pass messages between them and people who are still alive. Without stretching the connection with Ashley’s soap role too far, Russell’s story serves as a medium for bored, enervated Liverpool housewife Shirley Bradshaw as she reconnects with her younger self, the Shirley Valentine of the title, wondering where she had gone, in a death of sorts.

“We’ve probably all felt a bit like Shirley recently,” says Stratton in his programme notes. “Stuck in our homes with a life we don’t want. It feels appropriate that we can join her, as she re-discovers who she is and sets off on an adventure that will change her life forever.”

Everything is brown at the start: the Seventies’ décor in the kitchen of Shirley’s semi-detached Liverpool house in Graham Kirk’s set design, matched by costume designer Christine Wall’s mood-board palette for Hope Allen’s skirt. Her marriage is brown too: she and husband Joe are attached yet detached, in a rut of routine and rotas.

Shirley is stuck in a world of domestic monotony at 42; her children are already grown up and no longer at home; Joe expects his set tea on the set table at the set time each day, on the dot of his arrival home from work.

If Shirley hasn’t yet been driven up the wall, she is certainly talking to it – isn’t she, wall? Today should be steak day, but Joe will just have to do with chips and egg, prepared in real time by Hope Allan’s Shirley in Act 1, Scene One.

Here comes the sun: Hope Ashley Allan’s Shirley feeling so at home with the Greek way of life in Esk Valley Theatre’s Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Pouring herself a glass of white as the one perk-up of her day, Shirley pours out her heart to…us. Immediately this feels more intimate, more personal, than the 1989 film that starred Pauline Collins, Tom Conti and Alison Steadman in its expanded focus, but Russell’s stage version is all the better for everything being seen through Shirley’s eyes.

From slicing potatoes to frying the egg, Shirley chats away about her happier past and drab, flat-tyre present with Joe; her son’s cheeky Nativity Play exploits back in the day; and her sudden chance to escape to a Greek island for two weeks with best friend Jane, without telling Joe, because she knows exactly what he would say.

Confessional Shirley is engaging, amusing, frank company, fearless in self-expression in a way she has not been in her stymied day-to-day, no-holiday grind. Just as she brings herself back to life, so every character is brought to life by vocal dexterity and facial expression, and when applied with the chameleon skills and comedic timing of Hope Allan, this is Valentine’s day all over again as she emboldens herself to head for the sun.

Come Act Two, Kirk’s design swaps a backdrop of grey Liverpool postcards for sun-tanned Greek island ones, and brown wallpaper makes way for everything in signature Greek blue and white, right down to the beachside recliner.

In sun hat, sunglasses and floaty beach wear, Shirley is revived by the weather, the food and new company alike as she switches from conversing with a Liverpool wall to a Greek rock.

Russell, whose economical yet still rich script never wastes a word, now taps into tenderness to add to the comedy and drama, rather than echoing the pathos of ancient Greek plays. Instead of bitterness or regret, Shirley looks forward, to bright skies and a brighter future, responding to re-connecting with her Valentine heart.

Under Stratton’s light-touch, just-right direction, Hope Allan is a joy to behold, both fun and funny: spot-on with her accents and characterisations, uplifting in spirit, astutely paced and rhythmical in her storytelling, always aware of when and where to move.

Russell’s sharp, yet blunt Liverpool humour resonates anew. For all its period setting, the play’s truths hit home more than ever, four decades on, all the more so for the emotional honesty of writer and performer alike.

A glorious surprise awaited at the end: after all those disparate voices, Ashley Hope Allan turned out to be Scottish. Who knew!

Esk Valley Theatre’s Shirley Valentine can be seen at 7.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays, until August 28, complemented by 2.30pm matinees on August 19, 24 and 26. Tickets cost £16, concessions £15, on 01947 897587 or at

More Things To Do in and around York as deathly silence is broken at libraries. List No. 43, courtesy of The Press, York

James Lewis Knight, left, as Jimmy and Matt Stradling as James in Next Door But One’s library tour of Operation Hummingbird in York

GO forth and multiply the chance to see the summer spurt of theatre, musicals and outdoor shows, urges Charles Hutchinson, who also highlights big gig news for autumn and March 2022.

Breaking the library hush: Next Door But One in Operation Hummingbird, in York, today and August 12

YORK community arts collective Next Door But One are teaming up with Explore York for a library tour of Matt Harper-Harcastle’s 45-minute play Operation Hummingbird.

James Lewis Knight plays Jimmy and Matt Stradling, James, in a one-act two-hander that takes the form of a conversation across the decades about a sudden family death, realising an opportunity that we all wish we could do at some point in our life: to go back and talk to our younger self.

Today’s Covid-safe performances are at 3.30pm at New Earswick Folk Hall and 7pm, Dringhouses Library; August 12, York Explore, 2pm, and Hungate Reading Café, 7pm. Box office:

Exit-kitchen-sink drama: Ashley Hope Allan as bored Liverpool housewife Shirley, planning a holiday to Greece in Esk Valley Theatre’s production of Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Play launch of the week outside York: Esk Valley Theatre in Shirley Valentine, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, tonight until August 28

ESK Valley Theatre complete a hattrick of Willy Russell plays with Shirley Valentine from tonight, under the direction of artistic director Mark Stratton as usual.

In Russell’s one-woman show, Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan plays middle-aged, bored Liverpool housewife Shirley in a story of self-discovery as she takes a holiday to Greece with a friend, who promptly abandons her for a holiday romance. Left alone, Shirley meets charming taverna owner Costas. Box office: 01947 897587 or at

It’s here at last! Heathers The Musical opens its delayed tour at Leeds Grand Theatre tonight. Picture: Pamela Raith

Musical of the week outside Leeds, Heathers The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, tonight until August 14

HEATHERS The Musical launches its touring production in Leeds from tonight with choreography by Gary Lloyd, who choreographed the debut York Stage pantomime last Christmas.

Produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills and directed by American screen and stage director Andy Fickman, this high-octane, dark-humoured rock musical is based on the Winona Ryder and Christian Slater cult teen movie.

The premise: Westerberg High pupil Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) is just another nobody dreaming of a better day, until she joins the impossibly cruel Heathers, whereupon mysterious teen rebel JD (Simon Gordon) teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at

Round To Low Horcum, by Sue Slack, one of the 33 artists and makers taking part in Ryedale Open Studios

Art event of the week: Ryedale Open Studios, Saturday and Sunday and next weekend, 10am to 5pm each day

THE newly formed Vault Arts Centre community interest company, in Kirkbymoorside, is coordinating this inaugural Ryedale Open Studios event, celebrating the creativity and artistic talent of Ryedale and the North York Moors.

Artists, makers and creators will be offering both an exclusive glimpse into their workplaces and the opportunity to buy art works directly. Full details of all 33 artists can be found at; a downloadable map at

Serena Manteghi: Performing in Eurydice at Theatre At The Mill this weekend

Hit and myth show of the week: Eurydice, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday and Sunday, 7.30pm

THIS weekend, Serena Manteghi returns to the play she helped to create with writer Alexander Wright, composer Phil Grainger and fellow performer Casey Jane Andrews with Fringe award-winning success in Australia in 2019.

Manteghi, a tour de force in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Build A Rocket, will be joined by Grainger for the tale about being a daily superhero and not giving in to the stories we tell ourselves.

Woven from spoken word and soaring live music, Eurydice is the stand-alone sister show to Orpheus; her untold story imagined and reimagined for the modern-day and told from her perspective. Box office:

Kaiser Chiefs: Yorkshire anthems galore at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on Sunday

Yorkshire gig of the week outside York: Kaiser Chiefs, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Sunday, gates open at 6pm

LEEDS lads Kaiser Chiefs promise a “no-holds-barred rock’n’roll celebration” on their much-requested return to Scarborough OAT after their May 27 2017 debut.

“We cannot wait to get back to playing live shows again and it will be great to return to this stunning Yorkshire venue,” says frontman Ricky Wilson. “We had a cracking night there in 2017, so roll on August 8!”

Expect a Sunday night of such Yorkshire anthems as Oh My God, I Predict A Riot, Everyday I Love You Less And Less, Ruby, Never Miss A Beat and Hole In My Soul. Box office:

Simon Amstell’s hippy-chic poster for his autumn tour show, Spirit Hole, visiting York, Sheffield and Leeds in the autumn

Comedy gig announcement of the week: Simon Amstell, Spirit Hole, Grand Opera House, York, September 25, 8pm

INTROSPECTIVE, abjectly honest comedian Simon Amstell will play the Grand Opera House, York, for the first time since 2012 on his 38-date Spirit Hole autumn tour.

Agent provocateur Amstell, 41, will deliver a “blissful, spiritual, sensational exploration of love, sex, shame mushrooms and more” on a tour with further Yorkshire gigs at The Leadmill, Sheffield, on September 12 and Leeds Town Hall on October 1.

York tickets are on sale at; York, Sheffield and Leeds at

Look sharp! Tickets are on sale for Joe Jackson’s second-ever York concert…next March

York gig announcement of the week: Joe Jackson, York Barbican, March 17 2022

JOE Jackson will play York for only the second time in his 43-year career on his Sing, You Sinners! tour next year.

Jackson, who turns 67 on August 11, will perform both solo and with a band at York Barbican in the only Yorkshire show of his 29-date British and European tour, promising hits and new material.

“We’ve been dealing with two viruses over the past two years, and the worst – the one we really need to put behind us – is Fear,” he says. “Love is the opposite of fear, so if you love live music, come out and support it!” Box office:

Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan to play Shirley Valentine for Esk Valley Theatre

Exit-the-kitchen-sink drama: Ashley Hope Allan as Shirley Valentine in Esk Valley Theatre’s Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

ESK Valley Theatre complete a hattrick of Willy Russell plays with Shirley Valentine at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, from Thursday to August 28.

In Russell’s one-woman show, Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan plays middle-aged, bored Liverpool housewife Shirley in a story of self-discovery as she takes off to Greece with a friend, who promptly abandons her for a holiday romance. Left alone, Shirley meets charming taverna owner Costas.

After a gap year brought on by the Covid lockdown, Esk Valley Theatre, a professional theatre company rooted in the North York Moors National Park, return with Russell’s 1986 play, the winner of two Olivier Awards and a Tony before its conversion into Lewis Gilbert’s 1989 film starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti.

Ashley Hope Allan in rehearsals for Esk Valley Theatre’s August production of Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Director Mark Stratton says: “Shirley Valentine is the third Willy Russell play we’ve produced after Educating Rita, with Amy Spencer as Rita and Ian Crowe as Frank in August 2016, and One For The Road, with Laura Bonnah, David Smith, Andrew Cryer and Joanne Heywood, in our tenth anniversary show in August 2014.

“It’s always a joy to direct his work. He has an economy of style and precision in his writing that always hits home and his ability to capture the wit and humour of Liverpudlians is second to none.”

Actor Ashley Hope Allan played the television medium Crystal Webber in Coronation Street, having appeared earlier in Emmerdale, The Crown and Nuzzle And Scratch.

Esk Valley Theatre’s Ian Crowe as Frank and Amy Spencer as Rita in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita in 2016. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Among her stage credits are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and As You Like It for the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival and Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

Director Stratton is joined in the production team by producer Sheila Carter, designer and lighting designer Graham Kirk and costume designer Christine Wall.

Mark, who set up Esk Valley Theatre with Sheila in 2005, has had a varied career in theatres across Britain, as well as appearing in numerous television shows and films, most notably with Anthony Hopkins in Across The Lake, as a guest detective opposite Felicity Kendall and Pam Ferris in Rosemary & Thyme and as an American professor opposite Vidya Balan in the Bollywood movie Shakuntala Devi, released in July 2020. 

The Esk Valley Theatre cast and production team for Willy Russell’s One For The Road in 2014

Mark has performed in more than 20 pantomimes and will add Widow Twankey in Aladdin at Cast, Doncaster, to that list this winter.

Sheila has choreographed for many of Britain’s leading theatre companies, enjoying a long association with Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, where she has worked on many of his premieres.

She choreographed By Jeeves, the Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that ran in London, played at several theatres in the United States and ended up on Broadway.

Valentine’s day: Ashley Hope Allen in an early scene in Esk Valley Theatre’s production of Shirley Valentine, in rehearsal for the Robinson Institute run in Glaisdale. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

She directed and choreographed Where Is Peter Rabbit? in its two London runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and has choreographed for film and TV too, including Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre in 1996.

Esk Valley Theatre’s Shirley Valentine can be seen at 7.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays, from August 5 to 28, complemented by 2.30pm matinees on August 7, 12, 14, 17, 19, 24, and 26. A post-show talkback will be held on August 18. 

Tickets cost £16, concessions £15, on 01947 897587 or at