My report on UK theatre, part 2
Posted by: krebsman 08:49 pm EDT 10/09/19

Finally finishing this report on UK theatre that I started two or three weeks ago. After I left London, I went up to Scarborough, a charming seaside resort on the east coast of northern England, where Alan Ayckbourn premieres all his plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. (He was the head honcho of this theatre for decades.) The theatre seats 404 people, with arena-style staging, the steeply raked audience on all four sides. [The theatre has a website where you can find out more about the theatre and what kind of work it does.] My visit to Scarborough was on a Saturday through Monday, so the schedule worked out that I could see two of the shows in their repertoire. On a Friday night I saw a revival of Ayckbourn’s 1980 play, SEASON’S GREETINGS, which I would describe as a Chekhovian farce. It’s basically a broad comedy about the worst Christmas ever, but it has serious undertones. The nine-member cast gave an energetic performance. I don’t think this one has been done in New York. I found it consistently entertaining, but I was a little disappointed in the ending, perhaps because it wasn’t what I was expecting. But maybe that was the point. I really don’t know. Ayckbourn directed these plays himself. I wondered if another director might have made the ending less ambiguous. The other show was the one I really wanted to see. Alan Ayckbourn (pronounced “ache-born,” according to a local man I spoke with) was celebrating his 80th birthday later that week. His new play, BIRTHDAYS PAST, BIRTHDAYS PRESENT, is his 83rd play! I liked this one a lot, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It has a four-actor cast and is presented in four scenes that go backward in time. The first scene takes place on the father’s 80th birthday, the second scene takes place on the mother’s 60th birthday, the third on the son’s 30th birthday, and the last on the daughter’s (who is never seen) 17th birthday. The costumes, makeup, wigs, set were all excellent, as the characters age backwards. The actors were all terrific, especially the younger woman who plays four different mates (or potential mates) for the son: 1) a pretty and sensitive church lady that the son is dating, 2) the son’s unhappy wife, 3) a prostitute that the son’s randy uncle has sent him for his birthday, and 4) the daughter’s nerdy best friend. With stars I think this could be a hit on Broadway. But that’s my opinion. What was really great about the theatre was that seemingly everybody in town supports it. Several times people heard me speak and asked me what an American was doing there. I told them that I came to see the Ayckbourn plays. The reaction was always something like, “I thought it was so funny!” or “I haven’t seen it yet, but I hope it’s as good as THE CHINESE ELVIS” [a play the theatre had done recently]. That was my favorite.” Alan Ayckbourn is truly blessed to have a theatre that does all his work, as well as an adoring audience. I would add that Ayckbourn writes really good two-character scenes. Actors looking for material to do in acting class or auditions could do worse than to get acquainted with Ayckbourn’s plays.

The next time I went to the theatre was in Aberdeen, on the northeast coast of Scotland. I asked a man at the local tourist office if there was any theatre in town, with the proviso that I was not interested in seeing productions of Broadway or West End musicals. (There are tours all over the UK of ANNIE, CATS, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, WE WILL ROCK YOU, LES MIZ, etc.) He suggested I try “A Play, a Pie, and a Pint.” That’s not the name of the play, but a kind of theatre that seems to be popular in Scotland now. The name of the play was “Number One Fan.” It was presented in a pub called The Lemon Tree, which is located in the Aberdeen arts complex. The house opens at 5:00 PM and the show starts at 6:00. For 11 pounds (about 15 dollars these days), you get the three “p”s. There’s a stage at one end of the room where you get your “play,” a window in one wall where you pick up your “pie” (You have your choice of “mince” or “macaroni”—Mrs. Lovett works here), and a bar at the other where you pick up your “pint.” (You can have wine or something non-alcoholic if you don’t like beer or ale.) The tables are in the center of the room. I shared a table with two sweet elderly Scottish ladies. The play was a one-act comedy (about 50 minutes long, I’d say) by local playwright Kim Miller. I would describe it as a feminist comedy about a wife’s revenge when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. It was well-written, with an unexpected twist or two, and rather clever. It wasn’t terribly deep, but the expectations are different here. People are here to have a good time after work for a little while before going home and spending time with the family. I think this is a great idea and might work in the outer boroughs, Long Island, New Jersey. I think it would be too expensive to do in Manhattan and the expectations would be different.

The last show I saw in the UK was in London the night before I left: The Young Vic’s production of BLOOD WEDDING. I thought this was just misguided from the word go. Lorca is about as Spanish as you can get and this production tried to pretend that Spain was Ireland. The names were Spanish, but the actors spoke with Irish accents and behaved and dressed like Irishmen. It was just strange and I didn’t buy it.
I was in the UK for three weeks, primarily to do research, but I did manage to see seven shows (TINA, PETER GYNT, and A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON I reported on previously). There weren’t as many commercially produced revivals available as in previous years I had been there, nor as many original British musicals. Adaptations of books and films seem to be popular. There also seemed to be LESS Shakespeare than previously (uh-oh). The West End has mostly the same long-running shows playing on Broadway. The only show I wanted to see, but didn’t see was Ben Jonson’s BARTHOLOMEW FAIR at Shakespeare’s Globe, but its playing dates in the repertory were not compatible with my schedule.

Next: re: My report on UK theatre, part 2 - AlanScott 12:50 am EDT 10/10/19

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