Poets aplenty take part in short films of readings and chat for SJT summer school

A plethora of poets for the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s online film project and summer school

NINE British poets are teaming up with Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre to present three short films showcasing their work.

Taking part are Toby Campion, Martin Daws, Hayley Green, Ray Hearne, Zara Jayne, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Otis Mensah,  Nima Taleghani and Beverley Ward.

The three films will be online for a month from 5pm on August 11, 13 and 15, each marking the end of a day of Summer School classes from the SJT. Each one will feature three poets discussing their work and reading at least one of their poems.

Curator Nadia Emam says: “These films feature some fantastic poets from all over the UK, performing a couple of their poems but also including a short interview about them and their work.

“Viewers will get to watch a poetry performance, but also hear a little more about the journey of each poet, which I hope will be an inspiration to anyone curious about writing poetry and making a living from it themselves.”

The nine poetry videos and interviews have been shot individually under lockdown conditions and then edited and tied together into three films by Sheffield filmmaker Brett Chapman. 

Curator Nadia Emam also will lead an hour-long performance poetry workshop at 3pm each day at the Summer School. She was a member of the SJT’s Youth Theatre and is now an actor, poet and director in Sheffield, where she is a Crucible Theatre supported artist.

In addition to Nadia’s poetry workshop and the films, the SJT Summer School includes:

Tuesday, August 11:  Movement and street dance with Marcquelle Ward and puppetry with Andrew Kim, for nine to 13 year olds;

Thursday, August 13: Musical theatre with Alex Weatherhill and HowTo Do Accents with Alix Dunmore, for 14 to 18 year olds;

Saturday, August 15:  Conducting an orchestra (a beginner’s guide) with Shaun Matthew and public speaking with York-born SJT actress Frances Marshall.

Frances Marshall, pictured in Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings at the SJT, will host a Summer School session on public speaking

Access to the poetry films is free. To watch, visit the SJT’s YouTube channel from  August 11 at: youtube.com/channel/UCUChChdq-MZrUIqOAhEIB7w.

The SJT’s online Summer School costs £18 per day for all three sessions. Individual sessions can be booked at £7 each. To book, go to: sjt.uk.com/event/1050/online_summer_school_

The poets in profile:

Toby Campion: Poet, playwright, former UK Poetry Slam Champion and World Poetry Slam finalist. His debut collection, Through Your Blood, was longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize.

Recipient of the 2019 Aurora Prize for Poetry, he has performed around the world, at  Glastonbury Festival and on The Arts Show with Jonathan Ross. He will   read Oyster and Nits.

Martin Daws: Active as a spoken-word poet for more than 20 years, performing in the UK, USA and Eire, delivering commissions and residencies and publishing two collections. He was Young People’s Laureate for Wales, 2013 to 2016, and will read Under The Slates, Weekend: Saturday Afternoon and Together.

Hayley Green:  Originally from Nottingham, now based in Scarborough, she performs across the UK and Europe. She teaches poetry and creative writing in schools, colleges and communities, using poetry and creative writing to explore self-harm, mental health, sexuality, gender and identity, often the focus of her own poetry and performance. She will read Changing Rooms and Playtime

Ray Hearne: His poem A Sing Song For Stainless Steel was cut into 14 benches in Sheffield city centre. Now he is working with a stonecutter in Barnsley to devise words for a Grimethorpe Trail.

His songs have been performed and recorded by the late Roy Bailey, Kate Rusby and Coope Boyes and Simpson. The Ballad Of Wentworth and Elsecar awaits publication in autumn 2020. He will read Werewolves Of Rotherham and Living On Broad Yorkshire Street.

Zara Jayne: Started writing at the age of ten when she had her first poem published in Cosmic. Her poems have appeared in the charity magazine Sense and in the book A Blind Bit Of Difference; a short play was put on at a London theatre.

She performed in Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis at the SJT in 2019 and will read Ghostlight and A Dirty World.

Zara Jayne, left, as Brenda-Marie, with Emma Churchill, as Josie, in Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2019.

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan: Educator, writer and poet from West Yorkshire. Her work disrupts narratives of history, race, knowledge and power, interrogating the political purpose of conversations about Muslims, migrants, gender and violence.

She works to provide herself and others with “the tools to resist systemic oppression by unlearning what society and the education system have instilled in us”. She will read British Values.

Otis Mensah: Self-proclaimed mum’s house philosopher and rap psalmist, offering an alternative take on contemporary hip hop and spoken word.

Shedding light on “existential commonalities through vulnerable expression”, he uses  aesthetic language to paint worlds of thought. Appointed the first poet laureate of Sheffield by former Lord Mayor and MEP Magid Magid, he will read Ode To Black Thought and Shifting Sands.

Nima Taleghani: Actor, writer and workshop facilitator. Theatre and screen credits include Romeo And Juliet and The Merry Wives Of Windsor(RSC), Hatton Garden (ITV) and Casualty (BBC).

A selector and London Ambassador for the National Student Drama Festival, Nima will read King Arthur and This City.

Beverley Ward: Writer, facilitator and coach who writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction and is passionately in love with the creative process of writing.

She has run writing workshops for adults and children for more than 20 years and has her own writers’ workshop in Sheffield and a retreat in Bridlington.

She has published poems, stories and two books: Archie Nolan: Family Detective, for children, and the memoir Dear Blacksmith. She will read What If, The Swing In An Empty Playground and Poem For Kids Leaving Primary School.

The curator: Nadia Emam was awarded a placement last year with the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme at the SJT, where she curated the poetry evening Still I Rise, celebrating female poets. Her debut poetry film won the WEX Short Film Competition and was part of BFI’s Northern

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.

Dancing in your street? If you live in Eastfield, Scarborough, here’s your chance

“It should be a really fun thing to do. We’re hoping people get dressed up, get creative and get dancing!” says VOXED artistic director Wayne Parsons, introducing the #Goggledance project

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre and dance storytellers VOXED are uniting for an innovative new project in Scarborough.

They are inviting residents of the East Coast resort’s Eastfield area to bid to take part in #goggledance, a co-production wherein participants will watch a dance performance taking place outside their own homes, while filming themselves watching – and joining in.

Their footage will be incorporated into a series of short films that will include professional footage of the performance too.

The films will be posted online and on social media by both VOXED and the SJT over several weeks in the autumn.

The project is the brainchild of choreographer and director Wayne Parsons, the founder of VOXED, formerly Wayne Parsons Dance.

“We’ll be staging five live performances right outside people’s homes in Eastfield: a personalised show for that household and their neighbours,” he says.

“At an agreed time, we’ll turn up on their street and a solo dancer will perform a ten-minute piece. The live performance will be in three sections: Watch Us, Follow Me and finally a Be You section.

“All they need to do is record themselves during the show – on a mobile phone will be fine. They then send us their film and we’ll create short videos combining our performance with their homemade films that can be shared online.”

Wayne adds: “Everyone that applies will be included, even if they’re not selected as one of the final five. Everyone will be sent a short dance to learn that has a moment at the end where each household can showcase their creative sides. These submissions will then be included in our digital distribution, using the hashtag #goggledanceus”

“It should be a really fun thing to do. We’re hoping people get dressed up, get creative and get dancing! The idea is to get loads of people having a boogie and sharing with their local community and their local theatre. They’ll be able to showcase their talents for the world!”

SJT artistic director, Paul Robinson, says: “When Wayne first came to us with the idea for #goggledance, we knew we couldn’t say no! It’s one of the most innovative, inclusive and exciting dance projects we’ve seen in a long time. We’re delighted to be able to bring it to Scarborough.”

If you want to  take part in #goggledance, email goggledance@sjt.uk.com by Saturday, August 8. Please include a short video introduction to you, your family and anyone else who will be there on filming day, plus the view from the window from where you will be watching and the room that you will be in.

“It’s not essential, but if you have a talent, whether it’s dancing, singing or playing a musical instrument, include it in your video submission,” advises Wayne.

Live performances will take place on August 22 and the films will be available online on the VOXED and SJT Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Tik Tok accounts.

For more information, go to: sjt.uk.com/event/1048/goggledance or voxeddancetheatre.com.

Did you know?

VOXED artistic director Wayne Parsons is a director, choreographer and movement director with more than 15 years’ experience of working in dance and theatre.

He graduated from London Contemporary Dance School before embarking on a performance career that spanned 13 years, working for Sydney Dance Company, Richard Alston Dance Company and the National Dance Company of Wales.

As a choreographer, Wayne regularly makes for his own company VOXED, formerly Wayne Parsons Dance, touring work across the UK and abroad. In theatre, he has choreographed shows at Shakespeare’s Globe, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Hampstead Theatre.

“VOXED creates work that is, at its heart, all about storytelling,” he says. “Our aim is to bring people together through the shared experience of dance. Whether it be through our indoor work, our outdoor work or our participation projects, we aim to reflect the world we live in and the stories we share through the work we do.”

The Domino effect as Ayckbourn’s hit audio play extends online run by a week to July 2

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Performing together for the first time in 56 years in Anno Domino. Picture:Tony Bartholomew

ALAN Ayckbourn’s debut audio play, Anno Domino, will run online for an extra week in response to huge demand from theatregoers worldwide.

Available exclusively on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s website, at sjt.uk.com, Ayckbourn’s 84th premiere had a cut-off point of June 25 at 12 noon, but the deadline is being extended to July 2 at midday.

The extension was announced this morning after feedback suggested that plenty of theatre fans were still keen to listen to Ayckbourn, 81, and his wife, actress Heather Stoney, performing together for the first time in 56 years.

In one of his lighter pieces, charting the break-up of a long-established marriage and its domino effect on family and friends, Ayckbourn and Stoney play four characters each, aged 18 to mid-70s.

“We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says former radio producer Ayckbourn, who wrote, directed and performed the lockdown play, as well as overseeing the sound effects at their Scarborough home.

The SJT’s artistic director, Paul Robinson, says of the extension: “So far, more than 12,500 people have heard Anno Domino, nearly 1,000 of them last weekend alone. That represents 31 complete sell-out performances in our Round auditorium, where Alan’s shows are usually premiered.

“People have listened in from all over the globe, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.

This could have been the last time: Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in the 1964 production of Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre. Now, instead, they are performing together again in Ayckbourn’s 2020 audio play Anno Domino

“We’re keen to make it accessible to as many people as possible, so we’ve decided to extend the listening period by a week, but this really will be your last opportunity to hear it!”

Anno Domino proved particularly popular in the United States – where Ayckbourn’s plays are performed regularly in New York – after being reviewed favourably in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and featuring on Morning Edition, the nationwide flagship show of National Public Radio.

This summer, Ayckbourn should have been directing the world premiere of his 83rd play, Truth Will Out, ironically featuring a virulent computer virus, preceded by his revival of his 1976 comedy, Just Between Ourselves, “the one with the car”, that would have opened last Thursday until the Covid-19 pandemic intervened.

Instead, recording at their Scarborough home, Ayckbourn and Stoney acted together for the first time since performing in William Gibson’s American two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964: Ayckbourn’s exit stage left from treading the boards on a professional stage.

Stoney’s last full season as an actress was at the SJT in the 1985 repertory company that presented the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind.

Ayckbourn says of Anno Domino: “The inspiration came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand! 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.”  

This SJT production, with a final audio mix by Paul Steer, marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and performed in one of his own plays: one of a multitude of reasons to tune in before noon on July 2. Make the most of the extension. No excuses.

No press night tonight, but Ayckbourn’s Just Between Ourselves is under discussion just between playwright and archivist

Alan Ayckbourn’s 1976 premiere of Just Between Ourselves at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

TONIGHT should have been the press night for Emeritus director Alan Ayckbourn’s revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy, Just Between Ourselves, at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre.

However, as with the no-longer upcoming world premiere of his 83rd play, Truth Will Out, the summer production of this rarely staged Seventies’ gem has been scuppered by the Coronavirus crisis that has led to the SJT being closed.

Instead, why not head to @ArchivingAlanA for Simon Murgatroyd’s exclusive new interview with the Scarborough playwright, who discusses his classic play and his thoughts on it now. Find it at archivingayckbourn.home.blog/?p=1100@Ayckbourn.

In “the one with the car”, set on four birthdays, Dennis thinks he is a master at DIY and a perfect husband but in reality he is neither. When he decides to sell his car, Neil turns up as a potential buyer, wanting it for his wife Pam’s birthday.

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

In Ayckbourn’s dissection of man’s inhumanity to woman, as two couples become unlikely friends, aided and abetted by Dennis’s meddling live-in mother, Marjorie, a collision course becomes inevitable.

Sheridan Morley said of the 1977 West End premiere: “I had the feeling I’d seen Uncle Vanya rewritten by and for the Marx Brothers.” Bernard Levin’s verdict in The Sunday Times proclaimed: “Ayckbourn has gained an immense reputation with a series of plays in which puppets dance most divertingly on their strings. Here he has cut the strings and then stuck the knife into the puppets.”

How frustrating there will be no SJT revival this summer, but make sure you do listen to Ayckbourn’s 84th premiere, his audio play for lockdown, Anno Domino, starring Ayckbourn himself and his wife Heather Stoney,

In one of his lighter pieces, charting the break-up of a long-established marriage and its domino effect on family and friends, Ayckbourn, 81, and Stoney play four characters each, aged 18 to mid-70s. “We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says Ayckbourn of a world premiere available for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, until noon on June 25. 


The SJT’s Funky Choir and Global Voices re-unite for Zoom sessions to make videos

Global Voices, pictured by Mark Lamb in pre-Coronavirus social-distancing days

SCARBOROUGH’S Stephen Joseph Theatre is taking its two community choirs online from next week to work on songs culminating in a video.

The Funky Choir and Global Voices each have around 30 members and both always welcome new members.

The SJT’s associate director for children and young people, Cheryl Govan, herself a  Funky Choir member, says: ”Singing is a great way to unwind – we all do it in the shower! – and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a brilliant singer or not. Singing is scientifically proven to make you feel happier. 

“Don’t be put off if you think you can’t sing: this is about having a good time. The best bit about Zoom choirs is that only the people in your own house can hear you!”

The Funky Zoom Choir will meet on Tuesdays at 7pm from June 30 after going from strength to strength in the past few years, developing a varied and colourful set of lively pop, funk, disco and soul covers.

Musical director Mark Gordon, a prominent face on the Scarborough music scene for more than 30 years, performs regularly with many bands and takes on the role of musical director for theatre shows.

The Funky Choir, one of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s two community choirs, will be meeting on Zoom from June 30. Picture: Mark Lamb

Mark teaches music in Scarborough schools and runs youth orchestras, jazz bands, rock workshops and choirs, as well as being a private piano teacher. 

The Global Voices Zoom choir will gather remotely on Thursdays at 7pm from July 2 to resume singing songs from around the world, from warm-ups, short rounds and chants to more complex, exciting songs.

Choir leader, music teacher and composer Sarah Dew creates musical journeys in soundscapes that blend her field recordings, melody and ambient sound art. Poetic narrative features in many of her ethereal works and she has written extensively for her band Raven, whose performances around the region over many years celebrate life, love and the universe.

Looking forward to next week’s re-start, Cheryl Govan says: “The Funky Choir will be learning Car Washby Rose Royce – a funky song if ever there were one! The end result will be a fun and lively video.

“Global Voices will be learning Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, giving participants the chance to reflect on what freedom means to them. This reflective, but super-fun, process will result in a thoughtful video to accompany the song.”

Membership of The Funky Choir and Global Voices costs £35 each for a five-week term. For more information, go to: sjt.uk.com/getinvolved/adult.

Stephen Joseph Theatre takes OutReach classes online for summer sessions

Playwright Nick Lane: Leading the Beginner’s Playwriting online course. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

SCARBOROUGH’S Stephen Joseph Theatre is moving its OutReach classes online from next week.

The first to do so will be the Beginner’s Playwriting course, running for five weeks from Tuesday, June 9, led at 11.30am each week by South Yorkshire playwright Nick Lane, who has written the SJT’s Christmas show for the past four years.

“Has lockdown got you feeling locked up? Have you had enough of seeing/posting pictures of homemade frittatas on Instagram? Are you looking for something creative to do before you watch the whole of Netflix again?” asks Nick, whose adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story The Sign Of Four played the SJT last spring.

“If you fancy trying your hand at playwriting, the SJT has got you covered with a course for first-time writers covering everything from character to dialogue to plot, through structure, editing and rewriting…which you can now do from your own home. 

“You could even do it while watching Netflix and making a frittata.* The course is simple, it’s fun and it might just help you uncover a talent you didn’t know you had.”

Why did you put the asterisk after that “making a frittata” line, Nick? What’s the caveat? “It’s not recommended. Seriously, you might burn yourself.” Good point!

Rounders, the SJT youth theatre, will go online from Tuesday for five weeks, led by the SJT’s associate director for children and young people, Cheryl Govan, and associate director Chelsey Gillard.

They will deliver three free virtual sessions per week: on Tuesdays, for ages eight to 11; Wednesdays, for 15-plus; Thursdays, for 12 to 14 years, each from 4pm to 5pm.

Cheryl says: “For all our current members, we’ve not forgotten about you! Rounders will be moving online. It won’t be the same, but we can assure you it will be fun and a great chance to catch up with all your friends for some virtual Rounders nonsense. Make sure your parents check their emails: we’ll be in touch!”

For five weeks from June 10, from 11.30am to 1.30pm each Wednesday, fun and friendly Script Reading classes will explore the work of Restoration playwrights. 

Participants will read aloud texts from the 17th century and work with SJT associate director Chelsey Gillard to look at the themes, stories, writing styles and historical context.

Digital copies of plays, including George Etheredge’s The Man Of Mode and Aphra Behn’s The Rover, will be provided and participants will be given a link to join each weekly session.

“I’m very excited that we will be exploring this unique era of playwriting that delighted audiences when theatres reopened after an 18-year ban [in 1660 at the start of Charles II’s reign],” says Chelsey.

“Theatre became a way to celebrate and reflect on society, so it’s the perfect inspiration as we wait to also re-open our doors.”

Script Surgeries in one-to-one sessions on Zoom will be available with professional literary consultant Suzy Graham-Adriani, who is best known for creating the National Theatre’s Connections programme.

She will read scripts in development to give individual, detailed feedback, exploring ways to take the script to the next draft and, if appropriate, ways to move it forward.

Suzy was responsible for commissioning and developing the first 100 plays and musicals from writers such as Alan Ayckbourn, Bryony Lavery, Mark Ravenhill, Dennis Kelly and Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. 

Cheryl concludes: “We are, of course, really looking forward to re-opening the theatre and welcoming our community back to our popular classes. But until that’s possible, we hope that as many people as possible will join us online. We’ll be adding more soon.”

For more information on the online classes, go to: sjt.uk.com/getinvolved#classes. The Beginner’s Playwriting course costs £35 for all five sessions; Script Reading classes, £5 per week or £20 if you book all five; Script Surgeries, £100.

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

SJT and National Literacy Trust unite for young writers’ online project Your Stories

Author Saviour Pirotta. Online story creation adventure. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre and the National Literacy Trust are calling on young writers across North Yorkshire to tell Your Stories.

Children’s author Saviour Pirotta, actor and poet Nadia Emam and illustrator Simon Whittaker are on the team for this new project: an online story creation adventure for five to 12 year olds.

For six weeks from Monday, June 1, daily content will be released via the National Literacy Trust’s local Facebook page to encourage creativity through story creation and reading for young people along the North Yorkshire coast.

This will include exercises on how to create characters and settings, such as storytelling bingo, role-playing, drawing comic strips and sound recording, and using all kinds of everyday things to create the adventure.

There will be short vlogs from Saviour Pirotta, writer of children’s novels The Orchard Book Of First Greek Myths, The Ancient Greek Mysteries Series and The Unicorn Prince, and Nadia Emam, who has worked extensively at the SJT and with Slung Low Theatre Company, including playing Gloriana in the BBC’s televised version of the Leeds company’s Flood: Part 2.

The pair also will give dramatic readings of some of the submitted stories and recommended books in the form of accessible e-books and audiobooks.

Nadia Emam: Dramatic readings

At the end of each week, illustrator Simon Whittaker, from House Of Deadleg, will create drawings based on stories submitted. He also will give video tutorials on creating illustrations.

The SJT’s associate director, Chelsey Gillard, says: “Participants can choose to engage every day, or just dip in and out as they like. By the end of the six weeks, they will have all they need to create an exciting adventure set in their hometown.

“Our artist will create illustrations of the characters and settings of the stories, as well as drawing elements from them to create one brilliant mega story curated by Saviour Pirotta.”

Liz Dyer, Our Stories manager, says: “We can’t wait to hear your stories. We’re thrilled to be partnering with the Stephen Joseph Theatre on this project. Having the tools to tell your own story builds confidence in young people that supports them at school, at home and in the future.”

To take part in Your Stories, simply visit the Our Stories website.

The National Literacy Trust’s local Facebook page is: facebook.com/Our-Stories-Whitby-Scarborough-Filey-115012336805179/.

“I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus,” says Alan Ayckbourn after Corona crisis puts paid to Truth Will Out

ALAN Ayckbourn’s play number 83, Truth Will Out, will not be out this summer after Covid-19 intervened, but spookily another virus struck the Stephen Joseph Theatre world premiere. From within.

Let Ayckbourn explain. “Truth Will Out is concerned with another type of virus, a virulent computer virus, though, which brings the country to a standstill.

“A type of doomsday scenario piece and perhaps not too cheering in these darker days. Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus.”

Truth Will Out may yet have its day at the Scarborough theatre. “I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten,” says Ayckbourn. “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.”