THE Legendary Scarborough Spa Orchestra In Concert or, rather, two concerts will mark the New Year’s arrival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
The ever-popular New Year’s Day concert by Great Britain’s last remaining professional seaside orchestra will go ahead this winter despite its usual venue, the Scarborough Spa, being temporarily closed.
Instead, the orchestra will strike up in the Round at the SJT at 2pm and 5.30pm on January 1 2021, when the two performances will feature a programme of Spa Orchestra favourites, taking in songs from the shows, light orchestral pieces and a few Viennese waltzes.
Paul Robinson, the SJT’s artistic director, says: “We’re absolutely delighted to be able to team up with our friends at Scarborough Spa to make sure this year’s New Year’s Day concert goes ahead.
“We think it’s the first time a full orchestra, albeit a small one, has played in our Round. They will be playing to a socially distanced audience, so tickets will be very limited. Early booking is advised.”
Rachel Nicholson, of Scarborough Spa, says: “We are very grateful to the Stephen Joseph Theatre for hosting the Spa Orchestra New Year’s Day concert while we are temporarily closed.
“I am sure everyone will enjoy their performance and we look forward to welcoming the audience back to the Spa as soon as it’s possible to reopen.”
Tickets, priced from £10, are available on 01723 370541 and online at sjt.uk.com.
THE Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, will unwrap a Christmas Selection Box of festive screen favourites from December 15 to 24.
The mini-festival of films and show recordings for all ages will feature the Royal Opera House’s The Nutcracker; It’s A Wonderful Life; Die Hard; Love Actually; Home Alone and The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Presented on the McCarthy screen at the former Odeon cinema, the screenings will be OC (open captioned), where stated.
The Christmas Selection Box comprises:
The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, recorded in 2016, December 15, 6.30pm; December 17, 1.30pm
PETER Wright’s interpretation of The Nutcracker has been enchanting children and adults alike since its first performance by the Royal Ballet in 1984.
Filmed in 2016, this charming and magical production of Lev Ivanov’s 1892 ballet, combined with Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous, iconic score, are presented in a festive period setting with vivid designs.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), December 16, 6.30pm, and December 18, 1.30pm
JAMES Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers, as Clarence the angel, star in Frank Capra’s classic festive fantasy, considered by many to be the greatest Christmas film ever.
Die Hard (1988), December 17 at 6.30pm; December 18 at 6.30pm; December 19 at 1.30pm (OC)
JOHN McTiernan’s action thriller is the ultimate “Is it or isn’t it a Christmas movie?”. Definitely it transformed Alan Rickman from a British stage actor into a top-notch international screen villain, starring alongside Bruce Willis, Alexander Godunov and Bonnie Bedelia in a wild romp around Los Angeles’s Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve.
Love Actually (2003), December 19, 6.30pm; December 21, 6.30pm
THERE are stellar casts…and there are stellar casts. Love Actually finds room for Bill Nighy; Colin Firth; Liam Neeson; Emma Thompson; Martin Freeman; Joanna Page; Chiwetel Ejiofor…
…Hugh Grant; Martine McCutcheon; Andrew Lincoln; Nina Sosanya; Julia Davis, Alan Rickman and Adam Godley. Even Ant and Dec sneak in there.
Then accommodate cameos from Billy Bob Thornton, January Jones and Jeanne Moreau, and it must be one of the starriest movies ever.
Home Alone (1990), 30th anniversary screenings, December 21, 1.30pm; December 22, 6.30pm; December 23, 1.30pm
SCHITT’S Creek fans will enjoy seeing a young Catherine O’Hara as Kate, trying desperately to return home to her eight-year-old son Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), who has been left – yes – home alone and apparently at the mercy of two ruthless burglars, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Guess who comes out on top!
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), December 22, 1.30pm; December 23, 6.30pm; December 24, 1.30pm
IT should not work, but it does: the Muppets’ take on the Dickens Christmas story sees Michael Caine’s Scrooge meet his match in Kermit and Robin the Frogs’ Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, alongside all the familiar Muppet characters. It all adds up to the perfect introduction to a perennial favourite for younger members of the family.
Tickets can be booked at sjt.uk.com/whatson or on 01723 370541 (Tuesday to Saturday, 12 noon to 5pm, or to 8pm on days with live performances, for both phone calls and in-person bookings).
GHOST stories are as much a part of Christmas as pantomime dames.
What a delight, then, that Alan Ayckbourn is revisiting his 1994 play Haunting Julia in a brand-new audio recording that will feature the voice of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s director emeritus.
Or, rather, the three voices of Ayckbourn, 81, who will be playing all three parts in the online version, available exclusively on the SJT website, sjt.uk.com, from December 1 to January 5.
Directed by Ayckbourn, the “comic but scary” Haunting Julia was recorded at his Scarborough home studio, where he and his wife, Heather Stoney, had made his first ever audio play, his 84th premiere Anno Domino, in the first lockdown.
Released by the SJT in May, Ayckbourn’s tale of marital breakdown and toxic politics drew a worldwide audience. “We enjoyed the experience,” says Alan. “I think it went pretty well and the response was good, very positive.
“Although we did jump in at the deep end a bit, as we hadn’t acted on stage for years, Heather even more so than me.
“The only time I would act is when doing a new play and I would act it out at the first reading.”
After the Coronavirus pandemic put paid to this summer’s Ayckbourn’s stage premiere of Truth Will Out, he turned his attention to Anno Domino instead. “That kept my hand in, when the lockdown was announced and we thought, ‘what the hell are we going to do?’,” he recalls.
“My new play was kicked into touch, along with everything else, but then I got the taste for the audio play and we ended up rather enjoying it – though Heather has had enough after one play! So, I thought I’d do my only all-male play.”
Ayckbourn, who played characters ranging in age from teenage to septuagenarian in Anno Domino, will now take the parts of Julia’s father, Joe, her former boyfriend, Andy, and psychic Ken in Haunting Julia, wherein “other voices” – previously off stage – are provided by Naomi Petersen.
Haunting Julia is set 12 years after the suicide of musical prodigy Julia Lukin. Her father Joe, still struggling with her death, meets with her boyfriend and a psychic to seek out the truth, but some questions are better left unanswered.
“Over the years, I have always enjoyed creating off-stage characters almost as much as on-stage ones. They serve to provide, at their simplest, a depth and perspective to an overall stage picture,” says Alan.
“I consider Julia Lukin to be among the most complex and intriguing of my characters never physically to appear. Although a male three-hander, the play definitely belongs to her.”
Haunting Julia was premiered at the SJT in its former home at Westwood in 1994 and its ghostly presence has haunted many theatres since then, not least in two revivals at the SJT.
“I started it as a response to the phenomenal success of The Woman In Black, the most successful play we ever did, thinking ‘oh, there’s gold in them thar hills’.”
Seven years would pass between the SJT premiere of Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novella and Ayckbourn’s birth of Haunting Julia, his first ghost play, as he strove to settle on a distinctive, winning format.
“You have to build up the audience’s confidence in the story first, and then scare them, which is not that different from a farce, where you’re trying to make them laugh by surprising them,” he says.
“The first thing I discarded was the supernatural. Instead, I wanted to explore these three men, with the girl, Julia, being a very strong off-stage character, having an enormous influence on them.
“I became interested in writing a séance, where the three men see her from different angles, creating her as a hologram where the audience will know her better than the three men.
“It was an exploration that took me on another journey, rather than pursuing the P D James thriller style, but it still has a spooky element to it, though the aim was not to make people jump from horror shocks.”
Dealing with pressure became the driving force of the play. “I wanted to set up a story where the parents had a gifted child and the obvious gift you could give them was a musical talent,” says Alan.
“Children rarely write a novel at three or four, but they do create elemental music, so I wrote about an ordinary couple who gave birth, quite by chance, to a musical prodigy, and then show their bewilderment, yet pride, thinking ‘it’s not our music, we listen to pop music’, whereas she becomes a serious Radio 3 composer.
“Then, because of the mounting pressure that ends her life, it was fascinating for me to explore what that meant to the people left behind. Suicide is tragic and awful, but what about those people left, who ask ‘what did we do wrong?’. The questions they ask themselves are just as awful as the suicide itself.”
Analysing how being gifted, be it musical, sporting or whatever, can be isolating, even to the point of someone contemplating suicide, Alan says: “It’s always interesting reading about people you admire, and you read the section where they say they ‘got so depressed, they felt they were going nowhere’.
“You think, ‘why did they lose confidence in their special gift?’. On the other hand, is it something they don’t quite understand or treat in the way they should? I don’t think I solved that question.”
As with Anno Domino, Alan faced the prospect of recording differing, distinguishable voices for the audio play. “Joe is much older than the other two, and they are all well-defined,” he says. “Joe is a bluff, successful northern businessman; Andy was a contemporary of Julia, being her boyfriend, and his accent is more southern RP [Received Pronunciation].
“Ken, I had to find another voice for, and he comes into my stock range of little men that started with Sidney Hopcroft [a small-time tradesman] in Absurd Person Singular in 1972, so I’ve given Ken my own native Cockney.”
The age range “wasn’t that challenging,” reveals Alan. “I would do Joe in the morning, when my voice was rougher, and Joe and Ken in the afternoon.”
Important to the recording too is Ayckbourn’s prowess with soundscapes, or “sound effects as they used to be called”. “When I do a new play, I always do the soundscapes,” says Alan, who honed his skills when working for five years at the BBC Sound Studios in Leeds.
“For years, back in the Sixties, I was dubbing stuff on reel-to-reel recordings, tapes, then mini-discs. Now it’s all computers and it’s become increasingly sophisticated, where I can mix in all sorts of effects.
“When doing a production at the SJT, the main scenic elements, apart from the set, are sound and lighting, so the soundscapes can be even more crucial to an audio play – though Haunting Julia doesn’t call for huge soundscapes, except at the end.” You will have to listen to find out what that ending involves.
Rather than recording a new work, Alan settled on exhuming Haunting Julia for the SJT’s winter season. “I could see a time-frame, once I’d finished Anno Domino, that if we started another recording, we wouldn’t be finished much before autumn, which would be good for the Christmas programme, and Paul [artistic director Paul Robinson] jumped at it,” he says.
“With the second lockdown now happening, thankfully we got it in the can in good time. It’s opportune timing for a ghost story; I don’t think I could have launched it on Midsummer’s Day, but now, with the light drawing in for winter, if you’re going to tell a story around a fire, then a ghost story is ideal.”
At 81, prolific writer-director Alan is at an age where the greatest care must be taken in the face of Covid-19; likewise, Heather has turned 80.
“I’m still optimistic for the future of theatre, but not so optimistic for myself. We’re in the vulnerable bracket,” he says. “Days of jumping into rehearsals with a lot of actors breathing all over each other is not a good idea, so I’m not going to be doing that.
“The other thing is, how long will I keep going? The only dispiriting feeling is thinking, ‘Are my new plays going to get done?’. There are four or five now. Normally, a play is written and then it’s performed and that’s wonderful encouragement, but for me, until a play is done, has run the gamut of rehearsals, performances, audience response and post-mortem, I’m marking time, but the plays keep coming.”
Tickets for Haunting Julia can be booked any time up to and including January 5 2021, either via https://www.sjt.uk.com/event/1078/haunting_julia or from the box office, initially by phone only from 10am to noon, Monday to Friday, on 01723 370541 until December 2. Opening times for booking in person will be announced as soon as possible.
Once a £12 ticket has been bought, the buyer can access the audio show as often as they want between December 1 and January 5, and as many people as are in their household or social bubble can listen in. Go to the website for more details.
IN light of Lockdown 2 starting on Thursday, this week’s semi-staged readings of Alison Carr’s Dogwalker are moving from Friday and Saturday to tomorrow (4/11/2020) at 6.30pm and 8.30pm. “And we have some availability!,” says the SJT. “Your last chance to get your live theatre fix for a little while… http://sjt.uk.com/event/1066/dogwalker
QUESTION. Whose testing play, The Last Quiz Night On Earth, should have been performed at a sold-out Stephen Joseph Theatre in March before you know what struck?
Answer: Alison Carr, award-winning playwright from Bishop Auckland. Good news for Alison comes next week with the November 6 and 7 semi-staged debut reading of her new play, Dogwalker, at the reopened Scarborough theatre.
Performed by Deborah Tracey in The Round at 7.30pm each night, Carr’s dark comedy forms part of a season of pared-back work that permits the SJT to operate at social distance.
In Dogwalker, Helen’s main responsibility since losing her job has been to pick up her dog Harvey’s poo. When she finds a dead body in the neighbourhood dog park, suddenly everyone is paying attention to her. At least for a little while.
Now she has had a taste of the limelight, however, Helen refuses to fade into the shadows without a fight.
Dogwalker’s dark hue of humour should appeal to devotees of Fleabag, I May Destroy You and I Hate Suzie, as well as those who encountered Carr’s play Caterpillar, either in the SJT’s 2017 season of play readings or a full visiting production there in 2018.
Dogwalker was submitted through the SJT Open Script Submissions window and was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting. Now, the SJT is developing it for a potential run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Deborah Tracey has pursued a wide and varied career in television, film and on stage, last year performing in artistic director Robert Hastie’s production of Richard Hawley and former York student Chris Bush’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge at the Crucible, Sheffield. Dogwalker is directed by the SJT’s Carne Trust associate director Chelsey Gillard. Tickets cost £10 on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.
Oh, and if you had to miss Box Of Tricks Theatre Company’s production of The Last Quiz Night On Earth in March, Carr’s immersive, innovative pre-apocalyptic comedy was aimed at theatre and pub quiz enthusiasts alike, with its promise of “a very different experience of live performance”.
“BUMPING” into Britain’s second most performed living playwright as paths crossed while stretching a lockdown leg at Pocklington Canal Head in early July, one question had to be asked.
“Must be plenty of material for a play about Covid-19, John?”. “No comedy there,” replied John Godber.
Nevertheless, the waiting for Godber’s new play is over. Presented by the John Godber Company and Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! will open in The Round at the SJT tonight (October 28).
Depicting a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, the world premiere of the former Hull Truck artistic director’s holiday drama will be a family affair, starring the Godber lockdown bubble of writer-director John, wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha. Elder daughter Elizabeth – who has just enrolled for a PhD at Hull University, studying the poetry of Emily Dickinson, by the way – is participating too as the company stage manager.
“What a strange time it’s been,” says John. “Shortly after I saw you at Pocklington Canal Head, I got a phone-call from Paul Robinson [the SJT artistic director] saying, ‘We want to open in October; I know you’re in a social bubble with Jane, Liz and Martha; would you like to do a new play together this autumn?
“It was like winning the Oscar, to have the opportunity to do your trade again – we’ve not received any Arts Council funding – and just to be clear, we could only do it in these circumstances as a family bubble.”
Reflecting on life in lockdown and beyond in Covid-19 2020, John says: “If we are following the science, which science is it? Watching all the news coverage on TV ends up making you feel ill,” says John.
“We live in a significant property with a lot of space but we’re still going mad, climbing up the walls. What’s it like for those living in a cramped apartment with no garden in lockdown? It must be like [Jean-Paul] Sartre. Do politicians understand that?”
John, the son of an Upton miner, has “always voted Labour for lots of reasons”. “We know Covid has been a challenge, but the Government can find all this money for Test and Trace and to pay nine million people’s wages in furlough, yet what an own goal to refuse to support free meals for schoolchildren in the holidays,” he says.
Sunny Side Up! is not a political comment on Covid times, but more so on how we have reacted to lockdown. “When Paul asked me to write a play, we’d been doing lots of family walks, going to the coast, walking on bridal paths, by canals,” says John.
“I thought there might be something in thinking about what our seaside towns might look like to people going there for the first time or going back after a long time.
“You have to take Scarborough and Filey out of the equation, but I wondered what the function of our seaside towns and villages is. I think they remind us of where we’ve come from, in terms of families enjoying simpler times.”
Fraisthorpe Beach, four miles south of Bridlington, has been one such coastal haven for John. “Have you been there? Mile after mile after mile of unbroken sand, which is just amazing,” he says.
“We’ve started to look at places locally through Covid eyes. I’m certainly looking at simplicity in our lives now. In the early part of lockdown, going on walks from the house, you’d look at a field for the first time that we must have walked past for 30 years and you suddenly think how beautiful it is.
“Or through walking along the Pocklington Canal, you start looking at the Industrial Revolution and the growth of Pocklington at that time.”
Summing up his philosophy brought on by Covid restrictions, John says: “It’s not about regression; it’s about simplicity.”
This set him on the path of writing Sunny Side Up!, wherein struggling Yorkshire coast B&B proprietors Barney, Tina and daughter Cath share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in a “seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about”.
“This is not a play about Covid, though it has references. It’s more about social mobility,” says John.
“Sunny Side is a fictitious East Coast Yorkshire resort that is so small, you wouldn’t find it on the map, where B&B owner Barney is very much a Brexiteer, a little Englander.
“Graham, a retired university pro-vice chancellor who’s done very nicely through education is invited there by his sister, Tina, and coming up 70 he’s going back to where he came from – a very ordinary background – but he’s never gone back since…until now.
“He sees it’s a place where they have turned the oxygen off. No jobs; no trains; two buses to get there; the nearest dual carriageway 15 miles away.
“But these are fantastic places, almost mythical, where the colouring and the sweep are incredible, so it’s a play about this guy coming to terms with ‘why haven’t I been back here, because it’s amazing?’. He realises his separation from his small-town roots doesn’t match with his reading of the world.”
A fast-moving one-act play, 64 minutes straight through, Sunny Side Up! is a “funny, fish-out-of-water story, but it has pathos and there’s magic realism too”, says John. “It’s not rubbing anyone’s nose in it, but those who get it will know what it’s about.
“You can go anywhere in the country and see places that are suffering, places that have been left behind, places that need water…but many of us wouldn’t spot a real person if we passed them in the street, like Graham wouldn’t.
“But here he’s confronted by people he thinks he’s been addressing [in his academic work], only to find he’s not been able to change that world. Just as the Westminster bubble dilutes the politicians from the reality.
“But having said that, this play is also a very humane, very touching, very funny story of a relationship between a brother and a sister.”
Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and renewed talk of a widening North-South divide, John says: “I think we are becoming divisive. There’s a line in the play that says, ‘we have to start again’. We’ve reached that point where we do have to re-start. I’m 64 now and you would have thought this would have been sorted out when we were younger men. Has it ossified, with social mobility no longer being a thing, but why?”
Rehearsed at home, Sunny Side Up! is the second John Godber work in lockdown. “The first one was in May, when I decided to write a 15-part radio drama for BBC Radio Humberside called Essentials, about a family needing to talk to each other,” says John.
“We recorded it in Liz’s walk-in wardrobe, with Martha’s boyfriend, Henry, doing the technical stuff, and we were all in each eight-minute episode.
“It was like The Archers, set around the family breakfast, with the father being a delivery driver for Tesco, delivering essentials.”
When the invitation came to write a play for the SJT, John initially saw it as a chance to “draw anything on the canvas” in the prevailing Covid circumstances. “It had a lot of politics in the early version, with them all saying ‘I think you’ll have a legal problem with that’, and I decided, ‘I don’t think people want to sit there in a mask with me ranting about Boris Johnson.”
Under social-distancing measures, the audience capacity is heavily reduced: a new experience for Godber. “It’s fascinating because I’ve had a career of trying to fill theatres, but now you don’t have to ‘fill’ theatres,” says John, whose seven SJT performances have sold out.
“So it’s a bit like the early stuff: Happy Jack, September In The Rain, which I was going back to with The Scary Bikers last year. It’s that meta thing: taking in politics, self-analysis, class, all neatly told with four chairs and a suitcase.”
Those four chairs and a suitcase will next travel to Hull, after Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych asked Godber to bring Sunny Side Up! to his former stomping ground. “It’s like Back To The Future; all the props in a suitcase and all our stuff in the back of my car,” says John.
As for working in a family bubble: “Martha’s all over me like a rash about the play! She and Liz don’t let me get away with anything. I can take it from Jane, but now it’s from my kids too!”
John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 28 to 31: 7.30pm, Wednesday; 1.30pm, 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. All sold out. Hull Truck Theatre, November 17 to 22: 7.30pm, Tuesday; 2pm and 7.30pm, Wednesday; 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday; 2pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk/whats-on/drama/sunny-side-up/
SCARBOROUGH Creatives, a networking group for creative people in the Scarborough borough, will launch next month.
Leading the forum will be led by the Stephen Joseph Theatre and its new associate company, community producers Arcade, in collaboration with COAST, Scarborough’s Local Cultural, Education and Community Partnership.
The group will provide a network for creative talents to talk, share information and collaborate, meeting monthly, initially by Zoom.
Open to all art forms, artistic practices, abilities and levels of experience, professional or otherwise, it will be hosted by Rach Drew, from Arcade, and co-led by Ceri Smith, although it is envisaged this role eventually will be passed onto a freelance artist.
Rach says: “We’re hoping to engage with anyone in the borough who is creative in their everyday lives. That could be a professional actor or artist looking for people to develop projects with, or someone who knits and is unsure how to sell their work.
“We’ll be providing creative and practical help and, eventually, we aim to introduce a programme of inspiring speakers, based on what members need.”
Paul Robinson, the SJT’s artistic director, says: “We recognise there aren’t currently as many opportunities for professional development, training, funding or paid work in our area as there are in cities and other regions of the country.
“We’ll be aiming to promote and support people along their creative journey and help create opportunities to develop funding bids together.”
Scarborough Creatives is an inclusive and anti-racist group, open to people from all backgrounds. “The aim is that sessions will be as accessible as possible,” says Rach. “Please let us know if you have any access requirements when you express interest.”
REVIEW: Simon Slater in Bloodshot, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: sjt.uk.com/whatson or 01723 370541
SIMON Slater in Bloodshot? Make that a quartet of Simon Slaters in Bloodshot, a one-man, four-part noir tale of murder, vaudeville, magic and jazz, wherein he plays a booze-addled London photographer, a ukulele-strumming Irish comedian, an American saxophonist and a Russian magician.
In this Covid-restricted new theatre age of small casts and bubbles, Scarborough-born Slater’s Swiss Army Knife of skills makes him perfect for the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s return to live performances when even the Christmas show, The Snow Queen, will be a solo piece for Polly Lister.
Save for a quick look-around the Pavilion Theatre on the Cromer Pier while on holiday in Norfolk earlier this month, Wednesday night marked the first time CharlesHutchPress had set foot in a theatre auditorium since Pick Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, on March 13.
Rather than the clock striking 13, time came to a devastating stop for theatres only three days later, but the SJT has come out of hibernation this autumn, first for films upstairs in the McCarthy and now for theatre shows too.
A one-way system is in operation at the former Odeon Art Deco building, where you still enter through the familiar glass doors, but exit by the usually unseen back stairs. You take a temperature test, screen the NHS test and trace app, apply hand sanitiser and make your way to your seat, rather than to the bar, although drinks can be ordered from the ushers, ever busy on the stairways with trays in hand and sanitiser at hand.
No exhibition is in place on the corridor, no programmes are available, but the shop is still open.
The 569 capacity in The Round is reduced to 80 for this show, with the audience on three sides only, each available socially distanced seat marked with a tick that makes you feel positive about being back in a theatre at last.
Yet how strange it feels. Normally 80 in the house would represent a flop; now it is a full house and a cause for celebration. Wearing a mask throughout your time in the building is the new norm. We must adjust, and so must the performer, as Slater observes. “You know that theatre expression, ‘you can’t hear a smile’. Well, now you can’t see one either,” he says, comparing his experience to playing to 70 Lone Rangers.
It feels good to break the ice with the first laugh and to burst into applause when Slater sings a song like an Irish variation on George Formby, or plays the jazz sax from behind dark glasses or munches his way through razor blades before regurgitating them on a piece of string in a magic routine rooted in his childhood love of Dinsdale’s, the Famous Joke & Trick Shop on the Scarborough sea front.
Now an associate artist at the SJT, Slater knows the theatre well, just as he knows Bloodshot well. He has chalked up 300 performances in the nine years since asking American playwright and good friend Douglas Post to write him a solo thriller over a late-night drink in a Chicago bar.
He last performed Bloodshot four years ago in Chicago before returning to the “only one-man thriller I’ve ever heard of”, but now attuning to the loneliness of the socially-distanced solo performer at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, for four weeks this autumn under the fluent direction of Patrick Sandford.
Now comes the Scarborough finale, preceded by a Monday night rehearsed reading with Jemma Redgrave of Simon Woods’s brutally honest political satire, Hansard.
Slater’s Derek Eveleigh, enervated and broken, is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide as the play starts at the end. Aided by back-projected photographic slides, music and video, Slater is at once narrator, protagonist and character actor, to go with his aforementioned deft skills of magic and music and his ear for an accent.
The setting is London, 1957, and Eveleigh reveals he is a former policeman whose photography of murder scenes brought on the alcoholism and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that led to his dismissal.
He has since made a career of filming women in public, but has fallen on hard times, and when a mysterious envelope arrives from a stranger asking him to take secret pictures of an elegant young Caribbean-born woman, Cassandra, in Holland Park, the reward is too handsome to refuse.
Eveleigh is sucked into a seedy Soho nightlife suffused with dubious underground characters: the ageing Irish comic, New York sax player and club-owning Russian magician. Witnessing a bloody event, he vows to learn the truth, in particular how the three shady men, with their differing, contradictory stories, were connected to Cassandra.
Making light of a damaged shoulder, Slater says the show is “absolutely knackering”, but he throws himself into the murky maelstrom, combining his set-piece skills with a potent psychological portrait of the increasingly troubled, infatuated, sensitive Eveleigh, who is no angel among villains in a convoluted but increasingly rewarding murder mystery with surprises to the last.
A thrilling night in every way as theatre makes its SJT comeback.
SIMON Slater, Scarborough-born actor, musical director and composer, is revisiting familiar ground on his return to his hometown.
From Wednesday to Saturday at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, he will perform Douglas Post’s Bloodshot, a one-man, four-role thriller he premiered nine years ago.
“This autumn, I’ve been doing it four weeks at the Watermill, Newbury, playing to a socially distanced 80-capacity audience, then I finish with five performances in The Round at the SJT,” says Simon.
“Doing a one-man show, you’re so alone. One stage manager and a lighting guy at each venue, as technically, it’s quite a big show with slides, music and videos.”
Alone, yes, but Simon fills the stage with four contrasting characters in Post’s gripping yarn of vaudeville, murder, magic and jazz, wherein the central character is Derek Eveleigh, a down-on-his-luck, yet skilled photographer in 1957 London.
A mysterious envelope arrives from a stranger asking Eveleigh to take secret pictures of an elegant young woman as she walks in Holland Park. The reward is handsome, but the irresistible assignment takes a sudden, shocking turn.
Entangled and compelled to understand, Derek is led into a seedy Soho nightlife populated by dubious characters: an Irish comedian, a New York saxophone player and a Russian magician.
“An Irishman, an American and a Russian…it sounds like the start of a joke, doesn’t it?!” says Simon, who calls on his diverse skills to play them all under Patrick Sandford’s direction.
What have they to do with the bloody event Eveleigh has witnessed and how are these men connected to the woman in Holland Park? In attempting to learn the truth, Eveleigh will find his whole life being turned upside down.
Simon has been involved with the globe-trotting Bloodshot from the very start. “Douglas Post is an American writer, who wrote a thriller called Earth And Sky that I did at the Nuffield Theatre, and we became mates. I was holidaying in Chicago, where my brother has a house, and we met up in a late-night bar, where I said, ‘Go on, Douglas, write me a play.”
Post duly did so, incorporating Simon’s mastery of magic, composition and ear for accents. “I’ve always done magic since I was a kid, when there was a magic shop on the Scarborough front called Dinsdale’s [Famous Joke & Trick Shop],” he says.
“He knew I was a musician too, so I get to show off all my meagre talents! There I am, on stage, talking to myself in a schizophrenic way in various accents. I offend everybody equally by stereotyping three nations with my accents…but offending in a nice way!”
As for the music, “I sent Douglas a CD of George Formby songs for inspiration for the Irish comedian’s ukulele song. God knows what a Chicago writer would have made of that!” recalls Simon, who has been teaching saxophone on Zoom during lockdown and beyond, by the way.
He has performed Bloodshot around 300 times, in London, Canada, Vienna and Chicago. “But never Scarborough…until now,” he says. “I last did it in Chicago four years, and the dialogue did come back quickly when I started rehearsing for the Watermill run.
“But if you think too hard, you have no idea where you are and sometimes you can’t remember a particular word. Like the other night, when I couldn’t remember ‘boat’. My late father [celebrated one-legged Prospect Of Whitby yachtsman Arthur Slater] would be turning in his grave!
“I talk side to side, back and forth, like schizophrenia, but if you get the timing wrong, it’s most extraordinary. I remember when I forgot my line as Derek and the Russian magician prompted me and felt very smug at doing that. It’s a complete internal conversation that’s going on.”
Simon describes the experience of performing Bloodshot as “absolutely knackering”. “I think to myself, ‘why am I doing this? No-one to talk to for two hours except me!” he says.
“It’s the only one-man thriller I’ve ever heard of, and whether my body can hold up, we’ll see, as I damaged my shoulder playing squash with my son. My rotator cuff. It’s b****y painful. My squash days are over, which is a relief…especially for my son!”
Simon, who played Sam Carmichael in Mamma Mia! in the West End for five years and appeared regularly as Inspector Kite in The Bill, will be doing one other performance while back in Scarborough: a rehearsed reading of Simon Woods’ brutally funny political satire Hansard tonight (October 19).
SJT artistic associate Simon will be teaming up with theatrical dynasty luminary Jemma Redgrave for the sold-out 7.30pm show, directed by SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, in The Round.
Premiered at the National Theatre, London, in August 2019, Hansard’s witty and devastating play takes place on a summer’s morning in 1988, when Tory politician Robin Hesketh has returned home to the idyllic Cotswold house he shares with his wife of 30 years, Diana, but all is not as blissful as it first seems.
Diana has a stinking hangover, a fox is destroying the garden, and secrets are being dug up all over the place. As the day draws on, what starts as gentle ribbing and the familiar rhythms of marital sparring quickly turns to blood-sport.
“It’s set at the time of Section 28 [banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools, enacted by Margaret Thatcher’s Government on May 24 1988] and as a play it’s a bit like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? with a political edge to it,” says Simon.
“It was Paul who found the play – which I haven’t seen – and we’ve been rehearsing it on Zoom with my friend Jemma to perform as a reading with chairs and lecterns. Paul is yet to decide whether to stage the play next year, so let’s see what happens.”
Looking forward to spending this week at the SJT, Simon says: “It’s going to be quite busy! It’s almost like a career.”
Ever in demand as a musical director and composer, whether as MD for Amadeus at the National Theatre or writing more than 300 original scores for theatre, film, TV, radio and theatre, Simon has one further engagement at the SJT in the winter ahead.
Having provided the score for Nick Lane’s past four Christmas shows in the Round, he will do so again for The Snow Queen, now revised by Lane as a solo show for Polly Lister from December 4 to 30.
“The songs will all be recorded on click track and I can be in a bubble for rehearsals,” says Simon. “I’m also writing the music for Winchester Theatre Royal’s panto for four socially distanced actors, Four Dames, written by James Barry with lots of routines about dames, obviously!”
In Newbury, Simon has been adapting to performing in Covid times, the audiences masked up and distanced from each other. “You know that theatre expression, ‘you can’t hear a smile’. Well, now you can’t see one either,” he says.
“Audiences have been quite self-conscious in this new way of watching live theatre: it’s like playing to 65 Lone Rangers.”
Nevertheless, let’s celebrate that the Stephen Joseph Theatre is presenting theatre once more…and that tickets are selling well for Simon’s five performances as he prepares to play to a home crowd.
Simon Slater in Douglas Post’s Bloodshot, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
The Snow Queen will run from December 4 to 30. Box office: sjt.uk.com/whatson or call 01723 370541 (Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for both phone calls and in-person bookings).
SCARBOROUGH six-piece Raven will perform their socially distanced 2020 Christmas concert in the Round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on December 15.
Noted for their enchanting harmonies and haunting melodies, Raven will take their 7.30pm audience on a magical Christmas ride through traditional festive songs and their own winter music.
In the all-female line-up are: Jaye Lewis, vocals, tenor recorder, flute and percussion; Karen Chalmers, vocals, keyboards, piano accordion, recorder and percussion; Nia Davidson, vocals, ukulele, recorder and percussion; Pat Edmond, vocals, guitar, recorder and percussion; Sally Lidgley, vocals and percussion, and Sarah Dew, vocals, keyboards, penny whistle, bass guitar and percussion.
The versatile sextet has performed across Yorkshire, from the Grassington Fringe Festival, Coastival, Woodend and Filey Festival, to the Spotlight Theatre, Bridlington, Helmsley Arts Centre, Selby Abbey and Castle Howard.
Raven have created original soundtracks for Scarborough’s Animated Objects Theatre Company’s large-scale community projects Leviathan and Orpheus The Mariner. Now they are working on The Odyssey, a three-year project for the Yorkshire Coast.
The SJT has introduced comprehensive measures for the safety and comfort of audiences (visit sjt.uk.com/were_back for more details) and has been awarded the VisitEngland We’re Good To Go industry standard mark and UK Theatre’s See It Safely standard mark.
Tickets for Raven cost £12 at sjt.uk.com/whatson or on 01723 370541. The SJT box office is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for both phone calls and in-person bookings.
STEPHEN Joseph Theatre artistic associate Simon Slater is teaming up with theatrical dynasty luminary Jemma Redgrave to present a rehearsed reading of Simon Woods’ Hansard.
Directed by SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, the reading will take place in the Round at the Scarborough theatre on Tuesday, October 20 at 7.30pm.
A witty and devastating new play, Hansard premiered at the National Theatre, London, in August 2019.
On a summer’s morning in 1988, Tory politician Robin Hesketh has returned home to the idyllic Cotswold house he shares with his wife of 30 years, Diana, but all is not as blissful as it first seems.
Diana has a stinking hangover, a fox is destroying the garden, and secrets are being dug up all over the place. As the day draws on, what starts as gentle ribbing and the familiar rhythms of marital sparring quickly turns to blood-sport.
Robinson enthuses: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have attracted two actors of the stature of Jemma and Simon to bring a reading of Simon Woods’ brutally funny, but ultimately moving, political satire to the SJT.”
Jemma Redgrave played the title character in four series of Bramwell from 1995 to 1998 and has a recurring role in Doctor Who as Kate Stewart, head of scientific research at UNIT. Her wide and varied theatre and film career has included the role of Evie Wilcox in the Bafta Award-winning Merchant Ivory adaptation of Howards End in 1992.
Simon Slater was born and grew up in Scarborough. He played Sam Carmichael in Mamma Mia! in the West End for five years, had a regular role as Inspector Kite in the ITV series The Bill and narrates audiobooks, such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
He is in demand too as a musical director, latterly for the National Theatre’s Amadeus, and he has composed more than 300 original scores for theatre, film, television, radio and theatre, not least for the past four Christmas shows at the SJT. He will be doing likewise for The Snow Queen this December.
After Hansard, Slater will perform Bloodshot, Douglas Post’s one-man thriller, in the Round from October 21 to 24 at 7.30pm plus a 2.30pm Saturday matinee.
In a story of vaudeville, murder, magic and jazz set in London in 1957, Derek Eveleigh is a skilled photographer, very down on his luck.
A mysterious envelope arrives from a stranger, asking him to take secret pictures of an elegant young woman as she walks in Holland Park. The reward is handsome, but the irresistible assignment takes a sudden, shocking turn.
Entangled and compelled to understand, Derek is led into a seedy Soho nightlife populated by dubious characters. What do an Irish comedian, an American saxophone player and a Russian magician have to do with the bloody event he has witnessed? And how are these men connected to the woman in Holland Park?
In seeking the truth, Derek finds his whole life turned upside down as Post’s thriller examines the turbulent human heart and keeps you on the edge of your seat in Patrick Sandford’s surprise-laden production.
The SJT has introduced comprehensive Covid-secure measures for the safety and comfort of its audiences and has been awarded both the VisitEngland We’re Good To Go industry standard mark, signifying its adherence to Government and public health guidance, and UK Theatre’s See It Safely standard mark. Full details can be found at https://www.sjt.uk.com/were_back
Bookings for Hansard go on sale from £10 from 10am tomorrow (October 2), and please note that under social-distancing restrictions, numbers are extremely limited for this one-off event.
To book for Hansard or Bloodshot (tickets already available), visit sjt.uk.com/whatson or call the box office on 01723 370541, open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for both phone calls and in-person bookings.