Writer: John Godber
Director: Sheila Carter
Designer: Graham Kirk
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
For 12 years Esk Valley Theatre, in the persons of co-founders Mark Stratton and Sheila Carter, has brought high-quality small-cast theatre to the North York Moors by taking over Glaisdale’s Robinson Institute for the month of August for its annual production. Now EVT has expanded its scale, in both time and place, with a March/April tour of nearly 20 North Yorkshire venues, mostly village halls, culminating in a sold-out week at York Theatre Royal’s Studio Theatre.
September in the Rain is an ideal choice, from the practical point of view no less than the sentimental reason that this was the play that launched Esk Valley Theatre. A cast of two, with one part eminently suited to EVT Director Mark Stratton, and a minimal set are ideal for a tour taking in a different village hall each night. Graham Kirk’s curving kerb, set with old-fashioned lamps, is enough, together with chairs and deck chairs as needed and supported by effective lighting and sound, to suggest a series of wet Septembers in Blackpool. Most importantly, the play still has the humanity and humour to appeal to most audiences – especially Yorkshire audiences, with its unashamed regionalism.
Liz and Jack, a married couple of indeterminate age, but no longer young – Jack has stopped driving long distances because of heart trouble – face out front and start to tell the audience their story. Or, rather, Liz does, Jack confining himself at first to monosyllables and protests against going into intimate detail. Over the years, in September (the Leger week holiday), often in the rain, they have holidayed in Blackpool, in various guest houses, travelling by coach or by car, on their own or with their children, quarrelling and making up.
Jack, belligerent when roused, most of the time just wants to be left in peace. Liz, edgier by temperament, would value more signs of affection and, in the early years, has a tendency to let an initially trivial argument drive her to the brink of leaving Jack. Liz, determined to enjoy herself in the approved manner, pesters the peacefully reading Jack with demands to sunbathe or go paddling. Jack, unable to realise that he is the only one of the two obsessed with The Student Prince, embarrasses Liz by loudly telling her the story during the performance and then blubbing at the emotional bits. There are comical recollections of fellow boarding house guests, a minor accident at the Preston bottleneck (pre-M62) and the terrors of Blackpool Tower. Gradually a picture emerges, not complete, but convincing, of an enduring, but hardly trouble-free, relationship.
In Sheila Carter’s economic production Una McNulty and Mark Stratton give truthfully understated performances, always alert to the possibility of comedy and occasionally slipping in neat cameos, mildly caricatured, of hotel guests and assorted Lancastrians.
Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Ceri Oakes