The Stephen Joseph is one of the best of those undervalued national treasures – our regional theatres, all fighting hard to keep our communities provided with food for hearts and minds. Its director, Chris Monks, continues to cook up a varied season in spite of local government cuts. Monks refines the recipe developed by Alan Ayckbourn, who had improved on the ingredients left by his predecessor, Stephen Joseph - extending the company's tours to non-theatre venues in the region and making its repertory seasons diary musts for theatregoers nationwide by premiering his own internationally acclaimed plays in the art deco converted cinema. This commitment to improving the region's theatrical diet was highlighted yet again by last Monday's announcement that Ayckbourn's much sought-after archive will go to the University of York, to be savoured by schoolchildren as well as students and academics.
When the latest Ayckbourn opens in Scarborough on Thursday, it will join the rep season with Marlene and the double bill of Brian Friel's The Yalta Game and Arthur Miller's Elegy for a Lady. Friel's adaptation of Chekhov's short story The Lady with the Dog is set in a 19th-century Crimean resort; Miller's play in an expensive New York boutique store. Each explores the shocks and surprises of adulterous love between an older man and younger woman – and the ways that love challenges our assumptions of reality. In other summers, these short two-handers would have toured beyond the theatre studio to village halls, pubs, etc. This year, a slash to funding means they won't. In the studio, the finely tuned performances by John Elkington and Jennifer Rhodes convey the situations with touching closeness; in the immersive atmosphere of less formal venues the effect would be devastatingly intimate. To measure this loss – it's just impossible.