12 August 2010 by Kevin Berry
There might be some gloom in the theatre world but not at the Robinson Institute, a deservedly popular venue with small touring companies. After successive years of two-handers, the locally based Esk Valley Theatre company's new summer show has a cast of five and the house full sign is in regular use.
Serving a remote, strikingly beautiful area inland from Whitby the company pulls in holidaymakers from near and far, lots of local residents and many farmers who have never previously dared go to a theatre.
They will all adore this sharply funny and faithful staging of the David Nobbs comic novel. Its put upon, bullied hero Henry Pratt is played with touching innocence and naivety of thought by Dudley Rees.
A stark but cleverly adaptable set, washed entirely in light blue, lets the audience imagine young Pratt's world. It's all that is needed. A willing cast, playing with a measure of collective style does the rest. Each has a multitude of roles. Gemma North in particular gives full bodied detail to everyone she plays, so detailed that this reviewer had to keep checking the cast list. A total of five actors and not six. Yes, it was there in black and white.
The actors do have rather a lot of fetching and carrying of rather a lot of furniture between scenes. It is restricting them but that could easily be solved
2:00pm Saturday 21st August 2010 by Charles Hutchinson
ESK Valley is synonymous with Goathland, Grosmont, Heartbeat and Ian Carmichael, but gradually word is spreading about Esk Valley Theatre too.
It takes some finding does the Robinson Institute in Glaisdale your reviewer has never taken the same route twice on the 48-mile trek from York but more and more people are discovering the summer home to Mark Stratton and Sheila Carter's professional theatre company.
Every performance has sold out since Wednesday of last week, and Thursday's phone lines had been typically hot, a stream of callers being greeted with a "Sorry, we're sold out" apology, revealed Mark. No wonder, the company is contemplating "extending the season slightly" next year.
Even sceptical locals are warming to the annual presence of Stratton's company. One farmer had never been before "culture" wasn't for him, he reasoned but he bit the bullet this summer, sat in the front row and loved it.
The chances are that you will too. Stratton and Carter have taken the brave decision of increasing this year's cast size to five, facilitating the opportunity at last to stage Michael Birch's wry stage adaptation of David Nobbs's northern rites-of-passage novel.
Set between 1935 and 1953, it traces the oft-troubled childhood of Henry Pratt, a boy almost as unfortunate as his surname, but as resilient as the British in the war years that form the centrepiece of an episodic, yet smooth-flowing show stuffed with humour, pathos and nuggety northern nous.
Complemented by Graham Kirk's mood-enhancing lighting, Pip Leckenby's blue-toned set even the foul-mouthed parrot is blue makes clever use of fold-out walls for the quick changes of scene so vital to Stratton's delightful two-hour production.
He has cast superbly well, too. Dudley Rees, no stranger to comedy from his sketch group ComComedy, has just the right innocence, open manner and eternal expectation of disappointment for Henry. Around him, James Hirst, Nigel Lister, Catriona Martin and Gemma North flesh out 30 characters between them without ever resorting to caricature.
Lister's effete southern public-school boy Lampo Davey and drunken magician The Amazing Illingworth are particular favourites, while the outstanding North's eight characterisations span so many emotions and stages of life.
The finishing line is approaching for this Sack Race, so don't dilly-dally, book now and good luck with the route-planning.
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Friday 20th August 2010 by Paul Pearson
PEALS of laughter, and maybe a few quiet tears, were prompted by Esk Valley Theatre's latest production.
Second From Last In The Sack Race, performed by a talented group of actors in the intimate surroundings of the Robinson Institute at Glaisdale, in the heart of the North York Moors, is adapted by Michael Birch from a novel by David Nobbs.
The author is probably bestknown for the creation of 1970s' comic character, Reggie Perrin, and his talent for making people laugh is clearly demonstrated in this play.
It tells the story of Henry Pratt and his struggles to deal with a childhood overshadowed by poverty and loss during the Second World War and its aftermath.
The austerity of life at that time is effectively conveyed by Pip Leckenby's simple set design, while the use of songs and music from the period helps to create a real sense of time and place.
Despite the traumatic events which characterise the play, it is suffused with a warmth and humour which derive mainly from the snappy, witty dialogue delivered faultlessly by the five-strong cast.
Four of them take on several roles, moving seamlessly from one character to the next.
Nigel Lister is equally effective as Henry's no-nonsense working class father Ezra and as upper class public school homosexual Geoffrey Porringer, while Gemma North Catriona Martin and James Hirst also capture the nuances of very different characters.
The only cast member who plays the same character throughout is Dudley Rees, whose portrayal of Henry is central to the success of the play. His performance was so effective that it was easy to forget that we were not really watching a small boy on stage.
His progression from vulnerable, dim-witted child through awkward adolescence to confident young man is seamless and impressive.
The comedy is interspersed with moments of real poignancy, expertly handled by the cast, but the mood is never serious for long.
That said, it is a many-faceted play which has important things to say about the clash between classes, social aspiration and the pain and joy of growing up.
The production aims to be both funny and moving and really hits the spot. All in all, an excellent evening's entertainment from a professional company which deserves great credit for bringing highquality theatre to a rural audience.
The play is performed at 7.30pm. every night except Sunday. until Saturday, August 28, with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm.
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