The Theatre column with David Bown

Andrea Dunbars Rita, Sue and Bob Too is set to be a cracker.
Andrea Dunbars Rita, Sue and Bob Too is set to be a cracker.

I finished my planned summer mini-tour of Northern Italy with the family in Pisa at about noon on the 22 August, returned to Leeds Bradford airport, got straight on a train at Harrogate for York, travelled up to Edinburgh and was sat in a show at midnight, which although being brilliant, contained some nudity.

The following morning I found myself sat in a shipping container, in the pitch black taking part in a séance and being scared witless. Yes, I visited the Fringe Festival once more this summer. As usual it was both glorious and surreal.

The stand out show for me was Give Me Your Love presented by Ridiculusmus.

A two hander, with an ex-soldier who suffered from PTSD, sat in an upturned cardboard box while his friend stood outside his bedroom trying to coax him out.

You never saw either actor for the entirety of the play. The two actors were presented with awards for acting at the end of the festival. Totally deserved.

The Fringe is such a rich source of new and emerging work and it is where Harrogate Theatre identifies exciting companies for our artistic programme.

Indeed two shows that started their life in Harrogate were very prominent on this year’s ‘must see’ Fringe list; Futures Theatre’s Offside – about women in football and Eamon Fleming’s Confabulation – a brilliant piece about remembering.

Both shows played to critical acclaim in our studio in spring and early summer of this year.

Well September is of course back to school… literally and figuratively for most and we kick off with two award winning crackers. The Weir by Conor McPherson is on this week followed by Andrea Dunbar’s tragi-comedy Rita, Sue and Bob Too next week. The first, in association with English Touring Theatre, is haunting and beautifully written ghost story that took London by storm when it opened in 1997 and immediately transferred to Broadway.

It is regarded as one of the best plays of the last century. Following on from that we will host Rita, Sue and Bob Too by Andrea Dunbar, which is an Out of Joint and Royal Court Theatre co-production.

The play, set in Bradford, is largely regarded as a contemporary classic that has since been made into a memorable film with George Costigan.

Max Stafford-Clark who directed the very first production 30 years ago, will return to the helm and there will be a Q&A with the cast after the first performance.

It’s tremendous that companies and artists of this calibre want to come and work with Harrogate Theatre.

We are into our 9th Comedy Festival in October and then believe it or not we start rehearsing pantomime. I’ve just had the final script meeting with my co-writer and director of the show Phil Lowe. This year it is Beauty and the Beast if you didn’t know.

It’s such a great story that has been very popular this summer because of the Disney film. We have some old favourites returning amongst the cast.

Phil Stewart will be our dame, Katy Dean will be the evil sorceress and of course Tim Stedman as the silly billy. There are new additions and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Maisey Bawden In the title role of Beauty.

This year’s Christmas cracker will be particularly exciting as Channel 5 will be airing a documentary about Harrogate at Christmas and our pantomime promises to have a prominent role in the making.

This is scheduled to be aired just before Christmas so look out for it.