A West End play will tell the story of the people who have 'stayed behind' in Whitby

An adaptation of a classic Shakespeare play at a West End theatre will be set in Whitby.

Freelance director Matt Harrison grew up in Whitby and has used his hometown as the inspiration for the National Youth Theatre's upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Matt, 32, has set the play, which is running at the Criterion Theatre in London's West End until January, in Whitby and adapted the plot to tell the story of the tight-knit community as they experience the challenges of a changing world.

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Is Whitby really a rip-off? We investigateAnd his childhood memories have shaped his decision to focus on those who 'stayed behind' in Whitby.


Matt is from the village of Aislaby and became interested in drama while a pupil at a tiny church primary school with just 32 children on the roll. With no youth theatre locally, he had to travel 40 minutes to Scarborough to attend acting classes.

He felt misunderstood by teachers at Whitby Community College, who were unimpressed with his A Level English language coursework - a project where he recorded drunk people in Whitby's pubs on a dictaphone and analysed their speech.

He became involved with the National Youth Theatre as a teenager, and remembers his parents 'going without' to pay for his travel to London so he could spend the summer holidays appearing in shows.

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At 18, Matt left Whitby to attend drama school in Essex, but regularly returns home and has witnessed how much the town has changed as tourism has boomed.

Freelance theatre director Matt Harrison grew up in WhitbyFreelance theatre director Matt Harrison grew up in Whitby
Freelance theatre director Matt Harrison grew up in Whitby

"London was a real culture shock - I felt like a horse that had had its blinkers taken off! The people that you meet, the food, the music scene - it's such a different pace of life.

The story of how Whitby became the goth capital of Britain"You grow up with people who have a very similar story to your own - you've lived in the same place, and Whitby could be fairly insular. We'd have to go to Scarborough or Middlesbrough for any culture or to go to the cinema - the Spa Pavilion didn't have much on back then. I was almost overwhelmed and the world opened up for me."

All of the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream are under the age of 25, so Matt wanted to adapt Shakespeare's comedy for a modern audience.

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"It's tempting to set these sort of plays in an inner-city environment, with blocks of flats and kids in tracksuits, but I've seen quite a lot of that in theatre. I wanted to tell the story of where I'm from and of the community that I recognise.

"There's this working-class narrative (in the arts and media) of misery, it's grim up north...films like Kes. It wasn't until I saw the BBC documentary The Mighty Redcar that I felt I was watching something about a place I knew.

"There's also that 'Billy Elliot' storyline of people who have to leave to better themselves. While it's true that there aren't many opportunities for young people in the creative industries, I also want to celebrate the people who have stayed in Whitby and built a life there - my mates who work in the scampi factory or for their family businesses.

"I don't want them to be portrayed as uneducated and stuck in failing northern places. The play is about young people who want to leave, but also about the way that society forces people to behave."

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Inside the Whitby pub where Captain Cook and Charles Dickens once drankMatt thinks Whitby has changed 'massively' since he moved to London in the mid-2000s.

"It's always comforting to go back home, there are certain pubs that still have the same songs on the jukebox. The heart of the town has been preserved and people will fight hard for it.

"But there has been a huge influx of holiday lets, and the traditional on/off tourist season is now all year-round. The young people can't buy houses any more as prices have been pushed up in places like Sandsend and Runswick Bay.

More than just fish and chips: How Whitby became Yorkshire's top visitor destination"Whitby is better connected now, and there are more big chains. My mum doesn't have to drive 45 minutes to a supermarket now! The challenge is making sure they don't impact on the independent traders.

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"The needs of the visitors have changed - we have cocktail bars and Michelin-starred chef Andrew Pern's restaurant, Star Inn the Harbour.

"Going back used to feel frustrating - the shops weren't open 24 hours, the music scene was only one genre. But now I appreciate the time and space more. I would move back at the drop of a hat if I could do what I do for a living back in Whitby."