Highlights of the new autumn season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough
Theatres at this time of year tend to be quite quiet, a combination of the industry decamping to North of the border during the Edinburgh Festival and the fact that, to borrow a theatrical phrase, it’s too darn hot for audiences to be thinking about stepping inside a dark building while the temperatures soar outside.
It’s the time of year, therefore, that I tend to turn my attention to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a venue that lives in a sort of upside down world compared to the rest of the region.
The Scarborough venue makes hay while the sun shines – folk heading to the North Yorkshire coast for a break swell the seaside town’s population, giving the theatre a bigger pool of possible audience to tempt inside. Conversely, it tends to be quieter on the beaches come winter time, when the rest of the region’s theatres are gearing up for their biggest seasons of the year.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s impressive artistic director, Paul Robinson, has been working hard to secure a year-round audience and is succeeding in that battle, but he’s no fool and is well aware that there is, this month, a bigger potential audience than usual.
It’s why his critically acclaimed production of Brief Encounter is such a boon for the venue, a summer hit when the crowds are in town is exactly what the theatre needs.
It also feels like the perfect time to see what Robinson has in store for the coming months when his impressive theatre might have a less healthy footfall through its home town.
There is a varied, challenging and quite brilliantly curated season on the way at the SJT, with the kind of work that will continue to stretch and make demands of an audience: Robinson is running this theatre in the right way.
Of course before any of that there is the tradition of a new Alan Ayckbourn play – like I say, Robinson is doing things right up in Scarborough.
This year’s offering from the adopted son of Scarborough and knight of the realm is Family Album. Directed as ever by the author, he promises a story which ‘tenderly chronicles the trials, tribulations and temptations of three generations of one family across 70 years in the same home’.
It sounds like classic Ayckbourn, a prospect to make theatre fans salivate. Set across moving in day in 1952, a birthday party in 1992 and moving out day in 2022, Ayckbourn has been surprisingly candid in revealing the source of the story.
“My inspiration for Family Album was a programme on BBC4 called A House Through Time, a fascinating piece of social history,” he says.
“I thought ‘I could do this on a smaller scale’. I didn’t want to go back centuries, so I started within my lifetime, in the 1950s. So we have three time periods layered on top of each other, happening simultaneously in the same house, following a family from grandparents in 1952 to the children in 1992 and then the grandchildren today.
“For me it’s new: I’ve used time so much, I’ve run it backwards and forwards and I’ve run it sideways and I’ve occasionally run it forwards and backwards simultaneously and at different speeds, but never in this way.”
It’s delightful that the master technician, who turned 83 this year, is still excited about playing with form – and it’s even more delightful that we get to enjoy the results.
A new Alan Ayckbourn play is, of course, the major tentpole of any autumn and winter season in Scarborough, but the theatre is welcoming a huge number
of shows over the coming
Next week the programming is aimed squarely at the family audience with a new, interactive show based on the classic tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, featuring live puppetry and music.
Currently winning fans in Edinburgh, the theatre will host the autumn tour of Red Ladder’s highly regarded and critically praised My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored. Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s new play is described as an urgent interrogation of racial identity and is just the kind of work that it takes the boldness of a leader like Robinson to programme.
Not that it’s all necessarily boundary-pushing. While he is a surprisingly radical theatre maker, John Godber is considered a safe bet – in the nicest possible way; in the sense that he gets bums on seats.
He’s teamed up with playwright wife Jane Thornton to update Shakers for the stage. The sister play to the contemporary classic Bouncers, this production is co-produced by the John Godber Company and Theatre Royal Wakefield.
In October the theatre hosts Steptoe and Son Radio Show. Marking 60 years since the first ever broadcast, three original episodes from the long-running smash hit BBC sitcom will be faithfully recreated as a live radio recording. October also sees Robinson take the helm of a new production of Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations. The play bagged Payne the Evening Standard Best Play award in 2012 and a West End revival last year was one of the hottest tickets around – to say it’s exciting to have this kind of quality coming to the region is an understatement.
And, with apologies for writing the word during our second heatwave in as many months, Christmas will be here before you know it and this year’s offering from SJT is a typically anarchic take on a classic story from Nick Lane, this year it’s Cinderella.
Brief Encounter runs at SJT until August 27.