THIS is one of the quiet success stories of Yorkshire theatre.
Each year since 2005, Esk Valley Theatre has staged a summer production at the Robinson Institute in Glaisdale, a farming village six miles from Whitby that requires a drive across the moors with the heather in full purple array.
Word has spread – not alas to the ears of Arts Council England funders – to the extent that director Mark Stratton and producer Sheila Carter can present Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees as well as evening shows, Monday to Saturday, through August.
What’s more, with the financial aid of Scarborough Borough Council and Create’s Arts Development Grant funding, they have pushed the boat out in the company’s tenth anniversary year by doubling the cast size from the usual two to four, enabling Stratton to direct One For The Road.
This is the Willy Russell comedy from the mid-1980s that is staged far less often than his school trip classic, Our Day Out, but shares the scabrous Scouse humour, a desire to rebel against rules and a low-level threshold for boredom (the two Bored Girls in the school comedy, lead character Dennis Cain in One For The Road).
Dennis (David Smith) is hitting his mid-life crisis on his 40th birthday, as the sentiments of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album cry out to him, when perma-immaculate wife Pauline (Laura Bonnah) prefers “a bit of classical”, that nice Richard Clayderman, and just as nice, just as blond and bland country boy John Denver.
The Cains have moved into a new dormer bungalow on the fictional northern housing estate of Castlehills, a move rather more driven by the aspirational Pauline, you suspect. Even more upwardly mobile friends Roger (Andy Cryer) and Jane Fuller (York actress Joanne Heywood) arrive for the birthday party in traditional disruptive sitcom neighbours mode: think of a more northern, nuggety The Good Life, with Heywood’s glorious comic creature as a less posh variant on Penelope Keith’s Margot.
Dennis’s parents can’t navigate their way through the anonymous estate, phoning regularly with their latest tale of woe of taking a wrong turn. Dennis knows the feeling, although it is not so much a case of his life taking a wrong turn as being stuck in a cul de sac.
He craves an escape, anywhere, right now, from his magnolia and pale pink hell (with a matching lounge design of thin walls and thin doors by Lucy Campbell-Skelling).
Will he escape? This is the darker side of a comedy built around sitcom frictions of family and friends, and Smith captures Dennis’s frustration yet inertia within a framework that is undeniably dated but still works, thanks to the cast’s comedic skill. It is very much a period piece, with its digs at Margaret Thatcher, cultural references and old-fashioned social/socialist comment, which may explain why One For The Road has been overlooked and off the road in recent years, but human characteristics don’t change through the years.
That’s why the pathos of Dennis, the neutered man, still has resonance, if not the weight of an Arthur Miller play.
One For The Road, Esk Valley Theatre, The Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 30, 7.30pm plus 2.30p, Tuesday and Thursday. Box office: 01947 897587 or at eskvalleytheatre.co.uk