Theatre review: ‘Scarborough’, Stanley Halls

By - Monday 21st November, 2016

It’s not fair: Scarborough fails to excite

Image by South London Theatre, used with permission.

I suspect that the tourist board in Scarborough may have mixed feelings about being the name of a new-ish play by Fiona Evans. Of course, there’s that famous saying that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ – but having a Scarborough B&B depicted as a location where PE teachers take their pupils for a dirty weekend is perhaps not how they’d like to see their town portrayed. Plus, the Scarborough room in which the play is performed seemed rather old fashioned and didn’t even seem to contain a TV. Although Fiona Evans has a good ear for dialogue, it’s the structure of Scarborough that lets down what could have been a touching, thought-provoking drama.

The play opens with a female PE teacher and her 16-year-old pupil (and lover) sitting on the edge of the bed. She’s trying to persuade him not to share information about their illicit relationship, and upset as he is about being ‘dumped’ by the not-so-responsible adult, he agrees that he will obey her request and that the memory will be ‘deleted’. The rest of the first half of the play shows the drama of the unravelling relationship that led up to this point. We are invited to observe how a mutual attraction between two people, which most people would frown upon, and in which one partner is breaking the law and risking their job, is fated to fall apart because of the fears and concerns of the person in the position of responsibility. And as soon as it becomes clear that the teacher is too scared to leave the room because she’s afraid someone will recognise them together, you begin to see how such a relationship is inevitably doomed.

Despite the attempts at humour, there is an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, as both characters in this fraught tragedy seem increasingly imprisoned within their two respective roles. The pupil is shown – rather stereotypically – as naïve and childlike, buying a copy of the Sun for his teacher, and getting very excited by the new electronic device that she buys for him for his birthday. The older, supposedly more ‘grown-up’ teacher is shown as the one who is most trapped, trying to be sensible and realistic about the necessity of ending such a doomed relationship.

Despite some fine acting, I was struggling to believe in the situation

It is when the pupil overhears the teacher talking to her long-standing partner on the phone – when she thinks her pupil’s asleep – that the supposedly ‘real’ reason for ending this brief affair becomes apparent. My willing suspension of disbelief was somewhat stretched by her admission that she is still going out with the swimming coach who started a relationship with her when she was a teenager. Not only that, but that her older boyfriend had organised a surprise wedding for them both overseas, which she was willing to acquiesce to. Of course, she only ‘sort of’ loved him… Needless to say, for the young and confused lover and pupil, this is the last straw, and so the first half of the play finishes with the same conversation at the edge of the bed, to which the audience had been subjected to at the beginning.

Despite some fine acting, I was struggling to believe in the situation. I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in the second act, when the play seemed to have already run its natural course. You might perhaps imagine my disappointment when I realised I was merely going to be subjected to a repeat of the script of the first half with two different actors and with the gender roles reversed. So now we have a male PE teacher and his young 16-year-old pupil/lover, who seemed to have exactly the same lives, situations and – worst of all – words as the two players in the first act.

It seemed as though the playwright had decided it would be much easier just to write a repeat, than provide the audience with two new characters. It’s hard to maintain much interest in a play when you know exactly what is going to happen, and what is going to be said next. It could have been even worse, though, save for some fine acting by Jane Herbert as the young pupil/lover. Indeed all the actors were excellent, but I left the theatre wishing that they’d had a better play in which to display their undoubted talents.

Charles B. Wordsmith

Charles B. Wordsmith

A newcomer to Croydon, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle.

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  • Andy Hylton

    I was born and raised in Scarborough so my ears prick up at the very mention of it. The local Council have recently closed their tourist information office. As far as bad press goes, the Council are trying to bury their connections to Jimmy Savile and his local cohort, the fiendish (Ice-Cream lord, ex-Mayor and Councillor) Peter Jaconelli. As a writer Charles, you must take a visit, especially this time of year. Local characters are mesmerising, like stepping into a David Lynch film where the seagulls are so out of control that they swoop down and attack children and pets.

    The lack of TV in this play sounds quite realistic and strangely attractive. Having stayed in a few atmospheric hotels up there recently, lack of home comforts just adds to the cinematic feel of the town. The epic Grand Hotel above the Scarborough seafront reminds me of the Overlook in The Shining and has a sign that proudly advertises that the rooms have ‘Soap & Towels’. Probably why Alan Aykbourn lives and launches all of his new plays at a redeveloped art-deco Odeon cinema, the world famous Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. I don’t think Scarborough will mind the sordid representations, the reality is much darker.

    • Charles Barber

      You certainly make Scarborough sound like it’s got a lot of material for a writer, and you may be surprised to learn that my wife and I did stay at a hotel there last year when visiting friends. I must confess it was actually pretty awful but I’d hoped it was merely a rare rotten apple in an otherwise healthy barrel. My problem with the play though was less to do with its depiction of Scarborough (which only having visited for one night, I don’t really feel qualified to judge), but in its structure, which required the audience to sit through exactly the same script in the second half as in the first.

      There were some laughs in the play, but I suspect listening to you reminisce about the horrors of Scarborough down the pub, would have made for a far more entertaining evening.