Writer/Director: Mark Stratton
This year Mark Stratton adds another strand to his CV: apart from actor, director and co-founder with producer Sheila Carter of Esk Valley Theatre, he has written this year’s play which will spend the best part of August at the Robinson Institute. The result is strange, ingenious, entertaining, always holding the attention.
The programme also claims that, after 19 years, the company is offering a play set locally (relatively) on the North York Moors. Graham Kirk’s set is bleak: bare walls, bags of cement, creaky floors, above all a covered-over well. Will that play a prominent part in the story or is it simply to divert the audience’s attention, Hitchcock-style?
Danny Stevens has taken this cottage without consulting his wife, Jen, who is horrified at the primitive state of the place and protests, in ever-more strident estuary English, that they can’t live there. So far we are in comedy-land, with worms in the water and screech owls on the roof, the move apparently because they have to lie low for a while because of a financial collapse.
Gradually the deceptions pile up. The angry group of shareholders apparently contains bad men who may track them to Yorkshire and murder them (shareholders of a type Jen – or anyone else – has never heard of); Danny pries up a loose floorboard and fills in with bundles of bank notes; he then announces that he has to return to London that night. Jen, left alone, struggles through a conversation with neighbour Wink Towson and decides to invent an alter ego: after mugging up on Yorkshire dialect and removing her make-up, she emerges as the odd job woman, getting on perfectly with the nice gardener, Jed Winter, who helps her knock the garden into shape.
And that’s the mystery that gradually unfolds as Danny returns from London in a panic earlier than expected. Stratton maintains a nice sense of detachment and casts a wryly ironic eye over proceedings: the animal and bird noises, for instance, spread terror (initially unfounded) from the start, but Oscar the pig has a say in the final denouement.
Dominic Rye is suitably shifty as Danny Stevens and pleasantly open as Jed Winter – a neat double! Clara Darcy projects all the tension and metropolitan horror of Jen, and also plays the odd job woman extremely well. Elizabeth Boag also shows up in a more exotic role later – no spoilers! Mark Stratton enjoys himself as a bluff Wink Towson.
Runs until 26th August 2023