HOME, I’m Darling is back at work after taking leave from the SJT stage for an extended Covid-enforced hiatus.
A positive test among the company de-railed Liz Stevenson’s production from July 19 to July 27, then a second one until August 2, but as if with foresight, thankfully Laura Wade’s play had been booked in for a long run from July 9 to August 14.
This still leaves plenty of time to see the SJT’s co-production with Theatre by the Lake, Keswick and Octagon Theatre, Bolton.
Already this summer the SJT has played host to a play with past and present interwoven into one story: Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door, where 1942 wartime rubs up against 2020 Covid times, a gap of 78 years yet only a garden hedge.
In Laura Wade’s 2018 comedy, the setting is now, but “perfect couple” Judy (Sandy Foster) and Johnny (Tom Kanji) embrace 1950s’ family values, from their clothes to their décor, their meals to their bedroom bliss.
It is like flicking through an old catalogue, all glossy and surely too, too perfect, behind the beautifully stylised playing of Foster and Kanji. 21st century reality is knocking ever louder on the door: Judy had been made redundant from her job in finance at 38, choosing to be the out-of-Stepford wife, cleaning, baking, making lemon curd, but this puts extra pressure on Johnny to gain a promotion and to meet the mortgage.
What’s more, withdrawing from the outside world leaves Judy as the bird in the gilded cage, controlling but losing control, switched off from the news, paddling against the tide with her impressionable friend Fran (Vicky Binns), vulnerable to being duped by the predatory Marcus (Sam Jenkins-Shaw).
Billed as a comedy, the tone turns from frothy farce to being ever darker, pricklier too, the stylish surface scratched away by the grit, the reality check coming in the form of a devastating lecture from Judy’s mother, Susan Twist’s Sylvia, whose Twist of the knife elicits provokes a spontaneous burst of applause from the entire audience.
Parallels have been drawn with Ayckbourn’s bleaker comedies, high praise indeed, and Stevenson’s direction elicits superb performances from her cast, who remain believable, for all the heightened playing of the early scenes, as the tension rises.
This production is all the more timely, when people have been asked to stay at home in Covid lockdown, and amid rising job losses for women, but Wade’s themes of feminism and gender roles pre-date the pandemic, as she bursts the bubble of outward contentment with an Ibsen scalpel.
By the end, Fifties’ nostalgia has had its day, but Wade’s couple have a future, Home, I’m Darling duly living up to Stevenson’s promise that it will “send people out on a high, and that’s something we all need at the moment after what we’ve been through”.
It is all the better for being staged in The Round, where Helen Coyston’s Fifties’ retro set looks so at home yet simultaneously awkward. Just as it should.
YORK community arts collective Next Door But One are teaming up with Explore York for a library tour of Matt Harper-Hardcastle’s Operation Hummingbird from Thursday.
James Lewis Knight will play 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 to talk to our younger self.
Death, dying and bereavement have been prevalent factors in Next Door But One’s artistic programme for many years now, led by artistic director Matt’s own loss in 2016.
“When my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my whole family turned to what they did best: some looking after all the paperwork, others the planning of appointments and medication, while I turned to what I knew, telling stories,” he says.
“From keeping a blog up to date so that friends and family were in the loop of what was going on, to telling stories of my mum to keep her memory alive”.
This quickly transferred to the stage in 2016 when Next Door But One produced Matt’s autobiographical play about his relationship with his mum, Any Mother Would. “The reaction to this relatively low-key performance was quite remarkable, with audiences saying they wished they had the space and tools to share memories and process their own grief in this way,” he recalls.
This set in motion a core strand of activity for Next Door But One, who ran a series of creative Death Cafés; hosted Playback Theatre performances for people to share stories of loved ones who had died; ran art and bereavement workshops for carers and produced Laura Wade’s Colder Than Here as part of York’s Dead Good Festival 2019.
Alongside this, Matt’s original blog was published as a book by The Writing Tree under the title of The Day The Alien Came. In response to this memoir of his mother’s death and his experience of living with loss, “people were then asking, ‘do you think your book will ever become a play?’,” he says.
“I didn’t feel I could make it into a play but wanted to create something from the book’s themes and the parallels between the different experiences that have been shared with Next Door But One over the years”.
The result is Operation Hummingbird, to be performed on August 5 at New Earswick Folk Hall at 3.30pm and Dringhouses Library at 7pm and on August 12 at York Explore, 2pm, and Hungate Reading Café, 7pm. Seating will be limited to ensure Covid safety.
The mini-tour will finish in September with a closed performance, hosted by The Gillygate pub, in Gillygate, specifically for members of York Carers Centre, who have recent experiences of loss. Tickets are on sale at: nextdoorbutone.co.uk/Operation-Hummingbird.php
Commenting on the partnership with Explore York, creative producer El Stannage says: “We felt it made sense to partner with Explore on this production, as not only is the play connected to a story and a book, but after 18 months we have all experienced different losses through the pandemic.
“This way we are able to connect with audiences to the north, south and centre of York, providing them with a heartfelt portrayal of an experience we hope they can relate to.”
Next Door But One are not only excited to be taking their work out into the community once more, but also buoyed by taking up resident status at The Gillygate after re-launching live performances in Step 2 lockdown-eased York with Yorkshire Trios in the new outdoor theatre space in Brian Furey’s pub garden on April 23 and 24.
“We now have a home, a place to create and rehearse in the heart of the city, and with the support of The Gillygate, and their shared ethos of community engagement, our potential is rapidly expanding,” says Matt.
Ahead of Thursday’s opening performance, Matt answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions on play titles, dealing with death, talking to our younger selves, Hamlet versus King Lear, working with Explore York and taking up a residency at The Gillygate.
What is the significance of the title Operation Hummingbird, Matt?
“The title alludes to the central character’s childhood coping mechanism for dealing with his mother’s terminal diagnosis; rather than trying to grapple with medical terminology he draws parallels to battles he is more familiar with, like those on his games console.
“The hummingbird is a reference to who the character’s mum hopes she can become ‘afterwards’. So together, ‘Operation Hummingbird’ is the character’s fight to save his mum, which turns into his journey of living with loss.”
Death is a difficult subject to discuss; for some it is still taboo. Yet facing up to your mother’s death instead has awoken the need for you to contemplate grief in myriad ways. What has been the impact of all that creativity, both on others and on yourself?
“Well, it’s been a real snowball effect. We’re not good at talking about death, even though deep down we know we need to. Many people just need an opportunity presented to them that feels safe and more recognisable.
“People came to watch Any Mother Would and wanted to write their own stories, which led to us running the Death Cafés and Playback Theatre on loss, which gained momentum and put us at the heart of York’s Dead Good Fest 2019.
“The experience of grief can be a very lonely and isolating one and the main impact we’ve seen from participants and audiences is reassurance that their feelings are valid and shared by others.
“For me personally, I thought I would be completely consumed by the grief of my mam’s death, but through creativity, I’ve been able to own it and take control over how it manifests itself in my life. So, strength is the impact it’s had on me.”
Given how widely you have addressed this theme already, what new elements are you looking to bring out in Operation Hummingbird?
“In writing the play, even though I’ve leaned into themes and emotions I’ve experienced myself, it’s been really important to weave in all the stories of death, dying and bereavement that have been shared with us over the years so that they are represented as the collective they’ve become.
“In terms of how Operation Hummingbird complements our existing repertoire on this topic…we’ve had the celebration of a life lived (Any Mother Would), the reaction to a terminal diagnosis (Colder Than Here) and now we are looking at the long-term impact of bereavement and the role it plays in shaping our identity as we age (Operation Hummingbird).
“So, quite serendipitously, we’ve ended up with almost a trilogy of death, dying and bereavement spanning from 2016 to the current day.”
Knowing that we can’t go back to talk to our younger selves, but wish we could, why do we wish it? Some would see it as a futile exercise, but here you are devoting a play to that theme. For what reason? Are you addressing other selves who are still young?
“It’s actually the futility you mention that is central to the narrative; often we wish we could fast forward grief, that someone could give us an end date, or that someone has all the answers on how we ‘get over it’. When, in reality, the only way to deal with grief is to live through it, to feel every emotion, to articulate what’s going on and find a way to live alongside it.
“I guess that’s the take-away message of the play. Even when presented with this unachievable opportunity, our older character struggles with how much to tell his younger self for fear of changing the person he becomes.”
How did you settle on the play’s structure of a conversation across the decades (about a sudden family death)?
“As you said before, we can’t actually have this conversation between younger and older self, so there’s something really freeing as a writer to set a play in this liminal, non-attainable space where the usual rules of time and conversation can be blurred.
“I’ve always found inspiration in Emily Dickinson’s ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’; the cold hard truth given to us directly can make us disengage, but set reality on a fictional foundation and look at it through a creative lens and it becomes easier to digest. Meaning that something classed as ‘taboo’ can be moved closer toward, rather than running away from.”
In Operation Hummingbird, you ask: “Does our grief age as we do?”.As I grow older, King Lear is becoming more significant to me than Hamlet, and yet Ian McKellen is playing Hamlet at 82, having already played Lear. Interesting! Discuss!
“Very interesting! Maybe it’s just because I’m in the throes of Operation Hummingbird, but maybe casting McKellen as Hamlet is to show the power that grief and loss can hold over us at any age?
“I wonder what the interpretation of a 28-year-old Lear would be? Discuss!”
How long will the show be?
“The play is 45 minutes in length. I think lockdown has solidified my preference for a one-act play.”
What is the significance of linking up with Explore York for this library tour?
“There are three key reasons. Firstly, we wanted to bring live theatre closer to people, especially in light of Covid. So, having performances to the north and south of the city, as well as centrally, should hopefully give a space for everyone.
“Secondly, libraries are buildings that exist to house stories, so why not make a live one happen there too.
“Thirdly, some slight inspiration from my late mam. She was a librarian in west Cumbria and saw the building as central to the community. It’s where people connect with others, learn skills, tap into new interests, seek help, understand the area they live in, and that’s true to the ethos of Next Door But One’s work, so it seemed like the perfect partnership.”
The Gillygate’s Brian Furey is a good friend to the arts, whether putting on Alexander Wright’s shows, both indoors and in a tent, or your York Trios shows. How did you cement the relationship to become the company in residence? What benefits will it bring to Next Door But One?
“There’s a genuine generosity that The Gillygate has to its staff and community that we admire. Little did we know that the Fureys were also admiring the same qualities in us when supporting Yorkshire Trios.
“The residency was cemented by us both discussing the fundamentals of what we were trying to achieve and realising that it was the same; we want to bring members of the community together to enjoy and benefit from a shared experience.
“So, in its simplest form, ‘two heads (or companies) are better than one’ when there’s a shared goal. As a company it now means that we have a home; we have office, rehearsal and performance space, giving us more autonomy over our programming.
“But above all, partnering with The Gillygate means we have a real community champion in our corner and that’s invaluable.”
HOME, I’m Darling will have to be Darling, I’m Home until August 2, resting up after a second company member of the Stephen Joseph Theatre co-production tested positive for Covid.
Already, Laura Wade’s 1950s-meets-the 21st century comedy comedy had been subject to ten days of darkness that would have ended tonight but now the hiatus must continue.
The official statement from the Scarborough theatre reads: “As you may know, we recently had to cancel performances of Home, I’m Darling due to a company member returning a positive test over the weekend.
“At that time, everyone within that company bubble took a test, all of which returned negative results, but of course, they all isolated in case they later developed symptoms.
“Unfortunately, a further member of the company has developed symptoms and returned a positive test, which means we have to cancel Home, I’m Darling for a further period as their isolation will now be longer. We’ll welcome it back to our stage on Monday, August 2.”
Ticket holders for a performance before that date will be contacted by the box office shortly to offer the option to move the booking to a later date, to ask for a refund or to credit to their account.
“We’d be grateful if you could wait for our box office to contact you rather than calling them, if possible,” the statement adds. “They’re going to have to make many phone calls and emails over the next few days, and the faster they can do that, the sooner they’ll get to you.
“The company are in good spirits and desperate to get back to the show! In all other respects, it’s business as usual at the SJT. Our cinema, play readings and Eat Me Café are operating as normal and within strict Covid safety guidelines.”
Directed by Liz Stevenson,the SJT co-production with Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, and the Bolton Octagon Theatre, will run until August 14, once clearance to resume is given. Tickets are still available at sjt.uk.com.
HOME, I’m Darling has turned into Darling, I’m Home for ten days after a company member at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, tested positive for Covid-19.
All performances of Laura Wade’s 1950s-meets-the 21st century comedy are cancelled until after the 7.30pm show on Tuesday, July 27
A statement on the SJT website says: “We’d like to reassure you that the person who has tested positive has not come into direct contact with any members of the public inside our building, and any members of our team that they have come into contact with are also isolating.
“If you have a ticket for one of the cancelled shows, our box office will be in touch soon to organise either a different date for you, a refund or a credit. We’d be grateful if you could wait for our box office to contact you rather than calling them if possible – they’re going to have to make many phone calls and emails over the next few days, and the faster they can do that, the sooner they’ll get to you.”
Home, I’m Darling, an SJT co-production with Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, and the Bolton Octagon Theatre, will run until August 14, once clearance to resume is given.
In the meantime, box-office staff will be running through the cancelled shows in chronological order, so those with a booking for a later show “may not hear from them for a few days – but we promise they’ll be in touch soon,” says the SJT.
“Please be assured that our [socially distanced] Covid security measures within the building will remain as rigorous as ever. In all other respects (our cinema, Eat Me Café, shop, play readings), we will be operating as normal.”
SWEET peas in the garden; homemade lemon curd in the kitchen; marital bliss in the bedroom; Judy and Johnny seem to be the perfect couple. Sickeningly happy, in fact.
Yet is their marriage everything it seems? Are there cracks in their happiness? What happens when the 1950s’ family values they love so much hit the buffer in the 21st century, as the couple discover that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?
So runs the bumpy course of Laura Wade’s comedy, Home, I’m Darling, premiered in 2018 by Theatr Clwyd and the National Theatre and now revived in a co-production between Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, and Theatre by the Lake, in Keswick, with a cast of Sandy Foster, Tom Kanji, Vicky Binns, Sam Jenkins-Shaw, Sophie Mercell and Susan Twist.
The director is Liz Stevenson, Theatre by the Lake’s artistic director, best remembered in York for her beautiful 2018 touring production of The Secret Garden at the Theatre Royal.
“Home, I’m Darling is the perfect way to welcome back audiences to live theatre again,” she says. “Sharp, funny and incredibly timely, it’s one of those plays that will have everyone chuckling, discussing and debating long into the evening. I can’t wait to bring this brilliant play to life in-the-round with this incredible creative team and with three fantastic northern theatres.”
Home, I’m Darling has taken longer than first planned by Liz to find a northern home (or three!). “I’d heard so much about the first production, read the script and thought it would be a really interesting play for Theatre by the Lake, but then the pandemic happened and stopped everything,” she recalls.
“There’d been no firm plans; I just thought, ‘one day I bet this play will sit really well on the Keswick stage’. But when Theatre by the Lake, the Octagon and the SJT started talking about play titles for a partnership, this play came up.
“Then we started an online play-reading club with a group of about 40 people of all ages, and this was one of the plays we discussed, and it just confirmed it would go down really well if we ever did it.”
Roll on to summer 2021, and here comes Liz’s production. “It’s very funny, very entertaining, and because it’s in this 1950s-style household, there’s lots of fun and colour to it, but because the play is set now, there are lots of relatable, modern-day issues: feminism, gender roles…” she says.
… “We spoke to Laura [Wade] during rehearsals about people thinking about spending more time at home when losing their jobs, and then of course that’s what happened with the Covid lockdowns.
“People have had to spend time at home, where we’re all expected to have a family, hobbies, a clean home and a talent for baking. Pre-Covid, in this play, here we have someone who wants that life, who wants to be the contented housewife and wants to see people’s reaction to that.”
Perfect timing for her production, then. “It’s a play that will send people out on a high, and that’s something we all need at the moment after what we’ve been through,” says Liz.
Without giving too much away, Liz, what’s the plot? “Judy is 38, she’s been made redundant, and she’s thinking, ‘Do you know what, I’m not going to get another job, working in finance, working very long days, working at weekends’,” she outlines.
“Now she’s becoming an expert baker, an expert cleaner, and it looks like everything is perfect, but then cracks appear and over a fortnight you see things fall apart, as they think, ‘Do we want to spend our lives like this?’.
“She has a home that’s beautiful, where she has control, looking after that home and husband Johnny, but when you push that, it becomes unhealthy as friends start poking holes into this ‘perfect’ bubble, where she has shut herself in a world that she’s kept so small.
“That’s the realisation that Judy has by the end of the play, where she says, ‘I think I’m scared that I’m going to struggle to catch up with the world’. It’s about balance in your life and Judy doesn’t have that balance; she’s gone from one extreme to the other.”
“But what’s brilliant about Laura’s writing is that she’s not being heavy-handed; she’s putting questions out there, rather than coming up with answers, and those questions have become even more relevant with people working from home.”
Home, I’m Darling is a comedy with darkness at its edges. “A few people at the play-reading club who read it likened it to an Ayckbourn play, where it’s very funny, but there’s a lot of tension,” says Liz.
“The whole play is set in one space with the actors doing their brilliant thing as the characters’ behaviour affects each other and you see the tension rise within that concentrated setting.
“This production is the first time this play has been staged in the Round, so whereas previously the stage was like a doll’s house with the roof taken off, the benefit of the Round is you are so close to the actors, you will spot every pulling of a raised eyebrow.”
Like so many who work in theatre, Liz has experienced an unparalleled past 15 months. “It’s been really tough for us at Theatre by the Lake; we closed in March last year and we’re still closed, though we have lots of activity in the community and we’re doing a festival with English Touring Theatre at Crow Park [Keswick] in August,” she says.
“But when we do Home, I’m Darling from October 6 to 30, it will be my first show IN the theatre two years after my appointment as artistic director, though we have been rehearsing it inside the building, which has been lovely, and we can’t wait to see a show being put on here again.”
“Darlings, we’re home,” she can finally say at that point.
Home, I’m Darling, Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough, tonight until August 14. Box office: sjt.uk.com
AHEAD of Monday’s already trailered Step 4 pronouncement, Charles Hutchinson unmasks events aplenty, from Open Studios to heavy metal heaven, theatre comedy to theatre tragi-comedy, musical celebrations to a triple exhibition.
Big art event of the next two weekends: York Open Studios 2021, preview night tomorrow, 6pm to 9pm; July 10/11 and 17/18, 10am to 5pm
AFTER the Covid-enforced fallow year of 2020, York Open Studios returns this weekend for its 20th parade of the city’s creative talent.
The event sees 145 artists and makers open 95 studios, homes and workplaces, and among them will be 43 debutants, with full details at yorkopenstudios.co.uk.
York’s biggest annual art showcase spans ceramics, collages, digital art, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, printmaking, photography, furniture, sculpture and textiles.
Hardcore gig of the week: Old Selves, Blight Town, Cast Out and Realms at The Fulford Arms, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm.
“WHAT at an absolute heavy metal treat,” enthuses Fulford Arms supremo Chris Sherrington, ahead of tomorrow’s headbanger fiesta, headlined by fiery Yorkshire four-piece Old Selves.
Playing loud too will be Nottingham progressive post-hardcore/math rock quintet Blight Town, York punk’n’roll/metalcore crossover band Cast Out and Yorkshire post-hardcore act Realms, who “make music for people who never grew out of their emo phase”. Tickets: thefulfordarms.bigcartel.com/ or on the door.
Make a trip to Scarborough for: Home, I’m Darling, Stephen Joseph Theatre, July 9 to August 14
SWEET peas in the garden; homemade lemon curd in the kitchen; marital bliss in the bedroom, Judy and Johnny seem to be the perfect couple. Sickeningly happy, in fact, in Laura Wade’s domestic comedy-drama.
Is their marriage everything it seems, however? Are there cracks in their happiness? What happens when the 1950s’ family values they love so much stop working in the 21st century as the couple discovers that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
Liz Stevenson directs this co-production between Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and the SJT. Box office: thesjt.uk.com.
Theatre resurrection of the week ahead: The Flanagan Collective in Beulah, Summer At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 14 to 16, 8pm to 10pm
AN island sets sail into the sunset; a boy watches a lion running out of the sky, and an old man is sleeping as Alexander Wright’s Beulah reawakens in Stillington.
Inspired by William Blake’s world of a “mild and pleasant rest”, Wright plays with notions of reality, of the permeable times of day and liminal states of being, in a show woven with storytelling, puppetry and soaring live music, first staged at York Theatre Royal in the bygone summer of 2012.
Directed by Tom Bellerby, Beulah is performed by actor-musicians and composers Jim Harbourne and Ed Wren. Box office: atthemill.org.
Exhibition launch of the week times three: Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, Friday to September 5
ERUM Aamir, Debbie Loane and Linda Combi form the suitably triangular structure of Pyramid Gallery’s summer show. Not one, but three exhibitions will run in two upstairs rooms.
For Celestial Garden, Manchester ceramic artist Erum Aamir has made intricate porcelain sculptures that fuse her scientific research and artistic imaginations, complemented in the front room by seascape and landscape paintings by Easingwold artist Debbie Loane under the title of The Peace Of Wild Places.
York artist Linda Combi presents The Last Gardener Of Aleppo, a series of original collages and mixed-media artworks and giclee prints that form a moving tribute to Abu Waad in aid of The Lemon Tree Trust and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency.
Second time lucky: The Damned United, Red Ladder Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal, July 15, kick-off 7.30pm
THE Damned Pandemic curse struck again when June 16’s performance of The Damned United was postponed after one of the actors had an inconclusive lateral flow test. Tickets remain valid for the post-Euro 2020 new date.
Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation of David Peace’s book about Brian Clough’s 44 days in purgatory as Leeds United’s manager is built around the double act of tortured genius Clough (Luke Dickson) and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor (David Chafer).
The beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, bursts out of a story of sweat and booze, fury and power battles. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Raise the roof booster: Black Sheep Theatre, For The Love Of Musicals, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 24, 2.30pm and 7.30pm
MUSICAL director Matthew Clare and his merry band, plus a heap of York singers, present a concert programme packed with musical delights as they seek to prove that “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.
The song list for this Black Sheep Theatre fundraiser for the Joseph Rowntree York, spans Annie Get Your Gun, the classics and more recent shows, such as Dear Evan Hansen. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Intimate gig announcement of the week: Joshua Burnell, Live At Forty Five, Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, August 14, 7.30pm
JOSHUA Burnell, progressive York purveyor of folk-fused baroque’n’roll for the modern world, performs in a three-piece line-up, including Frances Sladen, at Forty Five Vinyl Café next month.
Expect a showcase for latest album Flowers Where The Horses Sleep and his new EP, Storm Cogs, featuring songs about a folk singer who went missing for 30 years (Shelagh McDonald), a storm-chasing flying machine and a childhood memory, “written and recorded in lockdown and released as the world recovers”.
Elsie Franklin supports. Tickets are on sale at fortyfiveuk.com/events/joshua-burnell-live-at-fortyfive.