Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door to move back in for four days at SJT in September

Wartime reunion: Naomi Petersen as Lily and Linford Johnson as Alf in Alan Ayckbourn’s The GIrl Next Door. All pictures: Tony Bartholomew

ALAN Ayckbourn’s premiere of his 85th play, The Girl Next Door, will return to Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in September for a limited run of only six performances.

The SJT resumption from September 1 to 4 will be followed by a touring run at the New Vic Theatre, the SJT’s fellow theatre in the round in Newcastle-under-Lyme, from September 7 to 18.

Directed by Ayckbourn, The Girl Next Door received its world premiere in Scarborough from June 4 to July 3, performed by two alternate casts to protect against Covid-19.

Lolling around in lockdown: Bill Champion as jaded and jaundiced actor Rob in The Girl Next Door

September’s returning cast will be Bill Champion, Linford Johnson, Alexandra Mathie and Naomi Petersen, who performed the bulk of the shows in the original summer run.

Written by Ayckbourn in lockdown, The Girl Next Door finds veteran actor Rob Hathaway stuck at home during the summer of 2020, with only his sensible, Government mandarin older sister for company.

Rob has little to do but relive his glory days when, as the star of the nation’s favourite television period drama National Fire Service, he ruled the roost as George ‘Tiger’ Jennings: wartime hero and living legend among firefighters.

Alan Ayckbourn in his garden in Scarborough in May 2020 during the first lockdown

One day, Rob spots a stranger hanging out the washing in the adjoining garden. Strange, he thinks, because the neighbours have not been around for months. Just who is the mysterious girl next door, and why is she wearing 1940s’ clothing?

“I was born in 1939, so my earliest memories are of a sort of lockdown: of crowding into Anderson shelters or subway stations; of sleeping in deckchairs or on my mother’s lap. Things have come full circle for me,” says Ayckbourn, 82.

“The Girl Next Door is an affirmation of love across the generations – I hope it’s positive and hopeful for those today crawling out of their metaphorical Anderson shelters blinking into the light.”

Dressed for a Zoom meeting: Alexandra Mathie as Alex in The Girl Next Door at the SJT

For a time-hopping story divided by 78 years but only a hedge, Ayckbourn is joined in the production team by the SJT’s departing associate director, Chelsey Gillard, designer Kevin Jenkins and lighting designer Jason Taylor.

The Girl Next Door can be seen in the Round at the SJT on Wednesday, September 1 at 7.30pm; September 2, 1.30pm and 7.30pm; September 3, 7.30pm, and September 4, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Tickets are on sale at £10 upwards on 01723 370541 and at sjt.uk.com. Prompt booking is advised.

The girl next door in The Girl Next Door: Naomi Petersen as Lily

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