Five years after his retirement as artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, there is no sign of Alan Ayckbourn's dramatic input at Scarborough slowing down. This year, before the premiere of his 78th play, Roundelay, in September, there is a wonderful piece of semi-Ayckbourn for all ages to enjoy through the summer.
Unfortunately I have never seen the play and the highest praise I can give this version is to say that it's difficult to imagine it as a non-musical. It's also a delight to be reminded of Ayckbourn's brilliance as a director of other people's work, as, to an extent, this is.
Kevin, a 10-year-old boy, insists on reading in bed and, as he reaches a tense moment in the latest saga of Rockfist Slim, the hard-boiled detective, he is pitched feet first into Rockfist's attempts to escape the machinations of the evil Monique (nobody with a French accent so impenetrable could be other than evil) and save the world from destruction. Kevin and Slim prove a neat twosome, the 10-year-old rather the shrewder, even when they fall into the other books on Kevin's shelf. I think Rockfist saved the world; I certainly hope so.
The energy, imagination and eye for detail of Ayckbourn's direction are matched by Michael Holt's designs: pop-up sets and costumes that explore the traditional (Slim is a ringer for Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade) and the crazy. Jason Taylor (lighting) and Sheila Carter (choreography) are equally ingenious and have the same sense of fun.
The adaptation is economical, adding to the pace of the production; the lyrics are witty, singable and stuffed with clever rhymes; the tunes are always attractive and catchy, now and again rather more meaty than that implies; Mark Warman's musical arrangements get maximum impact from the keyboard/guitar/reeds trio.
Evelyn Hoskins, an astonishingly convincing Kevin, radiates curiosity and resourcefulness, and Nicolas Colicos, supremely dry as Rockfist Slim, shows it's possible to play a stereotype with subtlety. Together they form a terrific duo, playing off each other perfectly – and they sing well! As for the four remaining cast members, listing all their bizarre manifestations would take too long and spoil the surprises, so let's just say that Katie Birtill, Natasha J. Barnes, John Barr and Stephen Matthews form a gloriously eccentric ensemble.
The Boy Who Fell into A Book continues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough until 31 August 2014.