Stephen Joseph Theatre to re-open in August but with films and streamings first

The Stephen Joseph Theatre announces its imminent re-opening on its Art Deco frontage

SCARBOROUGH’S Stephen Joseph Theatre will re-open on August 20 but for films and streamings only.

The wait for the return of theatre performances must go on, although the SJT statement does tantalise by saying: “The world-famous theatre is also aiming to announce a programme of live theatre for later in the year shortly.”

The first focus will be on films, including new releases and the streaming of West End shows “captured live”, shown upstairs in The McCarthy.

The SJT is introducing a comprehensive programme of measures for the safety and comfort of cinema patrons, such as limited capacities and aisle access for every pair of seats booked. You can find out more at: sjt.uk.com/were_back.

The SJT has been awarded VisitEngland’s We’re Good To Go industry standard mark, signifying its adherence to government and public health guidance. 

“We’re all absolutely thrilled to be able to welcome audiences back into the building,” says SJT artistic director Paul Robinson. Picture: Richard Davenport

Artistic director Paul Robinson says: “We’re all absolutely thrilled to be able to welcome audiences back into the building after our enforced break, and we’re working hard to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable in the cinema environment. 

“We’ll be announcing further screenings for September very soon and are also working hard to programme an innovative and exciting programme of live theatre for later this year – watch this space!” 

Films and streamings from August onwards initially will be screened on Thursdays to Saturdays, then Tuesdays to Saturdays – with a few exceptions – from early September.

Back in a Flash, the SJT will mark its re-opening with a 7pm screening of Flash Gordon – 40th Anniversary, a remastered version of Mike Hodges’ “We only have 14 hours to save the Earth” film from 1980, the one with all that Queen music, Sam J Jones as Flash, Max von Sydow as Ming The Merciless and Yorkshireman Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan. A further screening will follow on August 22 at 2pm.

Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 British comedy-drama Emma will be shown on August 21, 22 and 27 at 7pm. Adapted from Jane Austen’s Georgian novel, it casts Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse, a sometimes misguided, often meddlesome matchmaker.

Gordon’s alive again for 40th anniversary celebrations: Brian Blessed and Sam J Jones in Flash Gordon

Peter Cattaneo’sMilitary Wives, on August 28 at 7pm and August 29 at 2pm, stars Kristin Scott-Thomas, Sharon Horgan and Jason Flemyng in a British film inspired by the true story of the Military Wives Choir.

The first streaming of the West End musical season will be 42nd Street, captured live, on August 29 at 7pm, with its story of a theatre director trying to mount a musical extravaganza at the height of the Great Depression.

Dates for September films and streamings will be announced soon. Look out for the West End musicals Kinky Boots and The King & I, Andre Rieu’s Magical Maastricht – Together In Music and Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, all captured live.

Coming up too will be writer-director Jessica Swale’s new British feminist fable, lesbian love story and wartime drama, Summerland, released this coming Friday.

Meddlesome matchmaker: Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse in Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. Picture: Focus Features

Gemma Arterton plays cantankerous writer Alice, whose reclusive life on the Kent coast is turned upside down when Frank, an evacuee from the London Blitz, is left in her care. Gradually her shut-down emotions are awakened anew by him.

On their way too are The Secret Garden, filmed partly at the Walled Garden in Helmsley, and Michael Ball And Alfie Boe: Back Together.

Cinema tickets at the SJT cost £7 (concessions £6, Circle members/NHS/under-30s £5) for films; £12 for event cinema, including captured live; £17 for a live streaming.

To book, go to: sjt.uk.com/whatson.

REVIEW: Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino…and return to acting after 56 years

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Review: Alan Ayckbourn’s Anno Domino, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, online at sjt.uk.com until 12 noon on June 25.

HERE is a sentence your reviewer never thought he would write. 81-year-old Alan Ayckbourn is playing an 18 year old in his new audio play.

Such is the impact of life in lockdown limbo, when the Corona crisis put paid to this summer’s Stephen Joseph Theatre premiere of the director emeritus’s 83rd play, Truth Will Out.

As chance would have it, that now mothballed play portends the impact of another type of virus, “a virulent computer virus that brings the country to a standstill, in a doomsday scenario piece, perhaps not too cheering in these darker days,” as Ayckbourn reflected.

“Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus,” he said. Ayckbourn and SJT artistic director Paul Robinson promptly hatched a plan for an alternative AA premiere, one that could be recorded at home and aired exclusively on the Scarborough theatre’s website for free.

Former radio producer Ayckbourn duly unlocked a shelved piece of writing from its own lockdown for a new lease of life as the equivalent of a radio drama that marks the first time he has written, directed and performed in one of his plays. Not to mention parade his foley artist skills for sound effects, Anno Domino rose-pruning secateurs et al.

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in Two For The Seesaw at Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964

Ayckbourn last appeared on a professional cast list in the 1964 Rotherham Civic Theatre programme for Two For The Seesaw. Sharing the stage in William Gibson’s American two-hander was Heather Stoney. “We were both totally unsuitable,” he recalled of taking on roles broken in by Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft.

Still in his twenties, Ayckbourn played a middle-aged Nebraskan businessman; Stoney, a young Jewish dancer from the Bronx. Fifty-six years since that exit stage left, Ayckbourn now plays four characters ranging in age from 18 to mid-70s, and so too does Stoney, his wife.

Billed by Ayckbourn as “altogether lighter and more optimistic” than Truth Will Out but still with “dark corners”, and introduced on the audio recording by Robinson as “huge fun”, Anno Domino charts the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn, from the land of sand, Scarborough. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”

He divides Anno Domino into two acts, the 56-minute Preparations and 48-minute Repercussions. Those Preparations are for successful West Sussex architect Sam and reasonably successful lawyer Milly Martin’s silver wedding anniversary party, where we learn they will be making a big revelation.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre artwork for Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino

At the hotel party will be Sam’s parents, gruff retired criminal lawyer Ben, set in his wary ways, prone to forgetting to put on his trousers these days, “staggering on to the finishing line” with his brusque wife Ella, the play’s “darkest corner”.

There too will be Ben and Ella’s daughter Martha, a nursery-school teacher blighted by phobias and a troubled past, now six weeks into her relationship with garage mechanic Craig, a dour, kind-hearted Yorkshireman from Heckmondwike, after depressing “waste of space” poet Sefton left her.

Martha’s taciturn teen son Raymond, or Raz as he insists on being called, will eventually turn up too to, phone in hand, cheeky eye on young waitress Cinny.

The big revelation – the break-up announcement, brought on by boredom with each other – triggers the Repercussions of Act 2, where the dark corners are ultimately turned..

The best scenes, in interchanges with advice-seeking, out-of-his-depth Craig and later Martha, centre on the domineering, blinkered Ella, Ayckbourn once more writing so brilliantly for his female characters, recalling Woman In Mind. “Because I know men,” says Ella, who has the dismissive manner of a Lady Bracknell, when in fact she does not know men at all.

The poster artwork for Alan Ayckbourn’s virus play Truth Will Out, the SJT summer production scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic strictures

Ayckbourn, in that playing-things-down way of his, described making the play with Stoney as “just mucking about in our sitting room”, but it is an utter joy to hear them performing and, more to the point, performing together, with their natural chemistry,  moving from voice to voice, the recording given a final mix of pleasing clarity by Paul Steer. There is pleasure too in visualising the characters from those voices.

Ayckbourn’s tone may be “lighter”, from an S&M/M&S in-joke with the listener to the pronunciation of fuchsia, but the barb is still there too with digs at cynical, untrustworthy, ruthless, amoral lawyers and an authorial comment on the negative perception of “light on their feet” people in the arts. Yet again, he has found more to say about love too.

“Ah well, life goes on, I suppose, life goes on, doesn’t it,” says Ben, at the play’s close. It does indeed, and there may yet be life anew for Truth Will Out.

“I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten,” said Ayckbourn in last week’s interview. “The SJT have agreed that this was merely a postponement. Shame to lose it as it’s a lot of fun. Watch this space, as they say.”

In the meantime, tune in to Anno Domino, an Ayckbourn rose in full bloom but with very prickly thorns too.

Charles Hutchinson

Truth Won’t Out, but a new lockdown Ayckbourn play will, and he’s acting in it

Alan Ayckbourn and his wife Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic meant Truth Will Out would not be out this summer in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn responded by unlocking a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

And not only has he written it, but he is performing in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage.

What’s more, the 81-year-old Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show, his 84th play.

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in his last professional stage appearance in Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964

The world premiere of Anno Domino will be available for free exclusively on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday, May 25 to noon on June 25. 

Ayckbourn had been due to direct the world premiere of Truth Will Out, from August 20 to October 3, alongside his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, in an SJT summer season completed by artistic director Paul Robinson’s production of The Ladykillers.

However, after the SJT’s summer was scuppered by the Corona crisis, former radio producer Ayckbourn and Robinson hatched a plan to create a new play that Ayckbourn and Stoney could record and present online: “just mucking about in our sitting room,” as Ayckbourn put it.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Re-united in a production for the first time in 56 years. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Hey presto, Anno Domino, Ayckbourn’s audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration for Anno Domino came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”  

Anno Domino marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and starred in one of his own plays – and even done the sound effects too. Performed by Ayckbourn and Stoney, with a final mix by Paul Steer, it requires the duo to  play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s. This Stephen Joseph Theatre audio recording is the first occasion they have acted together since Ayckbourn’s stage exit left in William Gibson’s two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964.

“We can’t wait for our audiences to hear Anno Domino,” says Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson. “It’s one of Alan’s ‘lighter’ plays, a hopeful and rather joyous piece”

Ayckbourn subsequently pursued a prolific, glittering writing and directing career, while Stoney continued to act, appearing in many Ayckbourn world premieres. Her last full season as an actress was at the SJT in 1985, when she appeared in the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind. 

Robinson enthuses: “We can’t wait for our audiences to hear Anno Domino. We were all hugely disappointed to have to suspend our summer season. We were so looking forward to seeing the brilliant Just Between Ourselves – ‘the one with the car on stage’ – and the world premiere of Alan’s up-to-the-minute satire, Truth Will Out.

“Anno Domino is one of Alan’s ‘lighter’ plays, a hopeful and rather joyous piece, which will provide perfect entertainment in these troubled times. This is a hugely exciting and very contemporary response to the current situation and shows yet again how Alan has always moved with the times.”

“All relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand,” says Alan Ayckbourn . How apt for a play written in Scarborough.

The now mothballed Truth Will Out was written by Ayckbourn in late-2019 as a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation.

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

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

The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s artwork for this summer’s now-postponed world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s Truth Will Out

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