The Summer programme at the Stephen Joseph Theatre always seems admirably planned to allow the holiday-maker a varied theatrical experience in a short space of time whilst giving the theatre-going resident a substantial well-balanced package. An important element in this is the staging of one-act plays in The McCarthy, often two small-scale plays linked by a common cast and some thematic connection, performed in single lunch-time performances and evening double-bills.
This year the balance of performances seems slightly to have shifted towards double-bill performances, both afternoon and evening. Doubtless this is for a good reason, but I always like the idea of matinees of 50 minute plays for holiday-makers seeking a break from routine – or the rain. As it is, Lost and Found are in many ways ideal choices: two new plays with overlapping characters, setting and theme, neatly dovetailed together. The fact that they are written by husband and wife, John Godber and Jane Thornton, doubtless helps them to have common features, whilst retaining differences of style and tone.
Lost, written by Jane Thornton and directed economically by Chris Monks, is set in the ballroom of a Scarborough hotel at the start of the season. The Palm Court Boys have been delayed and two of the hotel staff are forced to improvise a play. They take the parts of an ageing couple (he capable only of complaint, she on the verge of revolt) trying to recover something of what they had when first they came to the resort. It’s funny and true, well acted, both actors spared the need for convincing as older people by playing younger characters conventionally ageing up.
Found takes us to the end of the season and the parting of those same two employees. Written and directed by John Godber, it has Matthew Booth as a surfboarding Ph. D student and Jacky Naylor as a hard-drinking middle-aged man-eater. While it sets up some pretty obvious academia v hedonism conflicts, it also springs a few surprises and is not afraid of ambiguity or difficult questions: who despises whom or can envy and contempt co-exist?
Both actors show admirable versatility, with Naylor’s elderly wife especially telling, and the rapport between the two never fails. Pip Leckenby’s designs are simple and attractive, with a deliberate “improvised” element to Lost – I’m not sure the reliance on mime instead of props really works. It’s an enjoyable, unpretentious evening’s entertainment, but rather slight for a formal staging. I would love to have come across Lost actually being performed in a Scarborough hotel – or even the restaurant of the Stephen Joseph Theatre!