What will Mark Stratton uncover in Esk Valley Theatre premiere of debut moorland ‘thriller drama’ Deals And Deceptions?

Clara Darcy’s Jen Stevens in Esk Valley Theatre’s premiere of Mark Stratton’s Deals And Deceptions. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

IN artistic director Mark Stratton’s first play for Esk Valley Theatre, Danny and Jen leave London and head to an isolated cottage in the North York Moors. City clashes with country, dark forces are at work and humorous situations arise.

“We may think we know the person we are married to, but do we?” asks Stratton, who is joined in the cast by Clara Darcy, Dominic Rye and late addition Elizabeth Boag at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby. “What someone chooses to show the world is not always who they are. If they trade in deals and deceptions, then a day of reckoning will surely come.”

Here Mark discusses triple threats, London versus Yorkshire, debut plays and the impact of making a house move with CharlesHutchPress.

What prompted you to write a play for Esk Valley Theatre and why now, Mark?

“Ever since Esk Valley Theatre was formed, we’ve looked for a contemporary play that reflected something of life in the North York Moors and haven’t discovered anything suitable in nearly 20 years! So, I thought it was time for me to have a go at writing one and Deals And Deceptions is the result.”

Does your experience as a director and actor help you to write a play?

“Certainly. Actors and directors probably absorb more knowledge of play writing than they realise. I think it was Stephen Joseph who thought that all actors should have a go at writing. It definitely makes you appreciate the craft and gives a greater understanding of what makes a play work.”

A Rye look: Dominic Rye as investment company boss Danny Stevens in Deals And Deceptions. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

What inspired you to write Deals And Deceptions?

“Over the years I’ve had a growing fascination with the way people manipulate their personality to suit a particular situation.  Deals And Deceptions looks at some of the ways people shift personality and that is the driving force behind the play.”

What is the style of the piece?

“Good question. I personally find it difficult to put a label on it, but some people have described it as a thriller drama. Having said that, it generates good amounts of laughter and if you have any knowledge of farming and life in the Moors then I think it reflects something of the dry Yorkshire humour that exists in our communities.”

What is the tone? Gravely serious or darkly humorous or both?

“A bit of both, although the tone is lighter to begin with and gradually shifts to a darker place as the narrative unfolds.”

Leaving London for the North York Moors…dare CharlesHutchPress mention American Werewolf In London?!

“I guess leaving London for the North York Moors is where the similarities end and there are no attacking wolves!”

Mark Stratton as North York Moors farmer Wink Towson in Deals And Deceptions. “He’s an amalgamation of a number of farmers that I’ve met over the years,” says Mark. “He’s got a twinkle in his eye and a wry sense of humour”. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Why do people learn more about themselves when they change their living environment?

“I’m pleased you’ve asked that, because one of the central themes is about the journey of self-discovery that Jen goes on. She’s forced to adapt to a new way of life and finds joy and enlightenment through leaving her past behind.”

How much does the isolated North York Moors setting add an extra character to the play?

“The North York Moors is definitely an additional character and the presence of the Moors looms large throughout the play.”

What attracts people to move from London to Yorkshire?

“The dream of a better way of life with cleaner air to breathe? A romantic vision of country life? I guess there are many reasons, but in Deals And Deceptions Danny and Jen leave because they have to. They are on the run, but only Danny knows why.”

Elizabeth Boag: Answering the late call to return to Esk Valley Theatre for summer 2023

Describe the characters of Danny and Jen Stevens…

“When we first meet them, they appear as a thirty-something city couple who’ve done well for themselves, and it seems that Danny runs some kind of investment company. But is Danny speaking the truth? They have to leave London in a hurry… and I can’t give away any more than that!”

Why pick Dominic Rye and Clara Darcy for these roles?

“We held our usual round of auditions and Dominic had all the attributes we were looking for. They are tremendous.

“We also had a late addition to the cast with Elizabeth Boag stepping in at the last minute to play ‘The Woman’. Liz is a phenomenal actor who was in our production of Same Time Next Year and luckily for us, she was able to join the company at a moment’s notice.”

How much does the isolated North York Moors setting add a fifth character to the piece?

“The North York Moors is definitely an additional character and the presence of the Moors looms large throughout the play.”

Esk Valley Theatre’s poster for the premiere of Mark Stratton’s debut play Deals And Deceptions

Writing, directing and performing the role of farmer Wink Towson: the triple threat, Mark Stratton style! Discuss…

“It’s something I always said I would never do! I guess I always thought it would signify an out-of-control ego. However, I wrote the play initially with two actors in mind to play five characters and we’ve now ended up with four actors. Because Wink is older than the others it made sense for me to take it on. It’s very much a cameo and I hope the ego remains firmly in control.”

Have you sought any advice on writing a play from esteemed Esk Valley Theatre supporter Sir Alan Ayckbourn?

“Not directly, but I have had the great pleasure of working with Alan as an actor and also working with him as an assistant director last year. I’ve seen a huge number of his plays over the years and he remains the foremost influence on everything I do in the theatre. He is a giant in the industry and a master of his craft. It would be a fool who couldn’t learn something from him.”

Esk Valley Theatre in Deals And Deceptions, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, Whitby, until August 26; Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm matinees on August 10, 12, 15, 17, 22 and 24. Box office: 01947 897587, 10.30am to 1pm; 3.30pm to 7.15pm, or eskvalleytheatre.co.uk.

Cast: Clara Darcy asJen Stevens; Dominic Rye as Danny Stevens and gardener Jed Winter; Elizabeth Boag, The Woman; Mark Stratton, Wink Towson. Writer and director: Mark Stratton.